As long as I’m on a roll I might as well keep playing. I already wrote about Deschutes Brewery’s entry into the Minnesota beer market in my last post on their Mirror Pond Pale Ale. So I’ll just cut to the chase this time and get to the porter. Here’s my notes: Black Butte Porter
Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon
Style: Robust Porter
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle
Aroma: Chocolate and coffee with a slightly smoky roast malt char. Caramel sweetness blends with an oaty bread or cookie dough aroma. Lightest touch of minty floral hops.
Appearance: Dark brown. Appears black in the glass. Very clear. The moderate and creamy tan head persisted moderately.
Flavor: Malt is king with a regal display of chocolate, burnt caramel, and that same oaty, doughy character from the aroma. Like semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate cookies. The caramel sweetness is balanced by moderate hops and roasted malt bitterness and a very light touch of floral and resinous hops flavor. It goes out on a long, sweet, chocolate finish with just a hint of lingering roast bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Low carbonation accentuates a creamy, smooth, oily feel that one expects from an oatmeal stout. This beer feels good in your mouth.
Overall Impression: Like the Mirror Pond Pale Ale, balance is key with this beer. It’s full flavored, but doesn’t knock you over the head with it. It tantalizes the taste buds without having to dare you to like it. One could drink several of these without burning out or falling out of the chair. If they don’t use oats in this beer I would like to know what they do to get that rich, creamy, oatmeal character. This remains one of my favorite black beers.
Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon entered the Minnesota market this week. The sixth largest craft brewery in the country, Deschutes began brewing beer in 1988. They make a full line of seven year-round beers along with several limited release and seasonal offerings. To start with they are bringing their flagship beers to Minnesota, Mirror Lake Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter. A very limited number of cases of their holiday offering Jubel 2010 and their imperial porter Black Butte XXI were also made available this week. Good luck finding any of those. I first encountered Deschutes when I picked up a sixpack of Black Butte Porter on a trip to the west coast a few years back. It instantly became one of my favorites. Now I learn from a brewery press release that I am not alone. They claim it is the number one selling craft porter in the nation. I had a bottle of the Mirror Pond Pale Ale with grilled turkey brats tonight. Here’s my notes: Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon
Style: English Best Bitter
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle
Aroma: A light citrusy floral hop rides atop sweet grainy malt with touches of caramel. The aromas are fairly balance between the two. Background breaths of orange and English yeast fruitiness. Very much in the English style. There is something very tea-like in the aroma, like orange pekoe. Nice.
Appearance: Dark orange/amber and crystal clear. The small, off-white head dissipated quickly leaving a gauzy film of foam on the surface.
Flavor: Flavors balance delicately between malt and hops. The moderately high bitterness hangs on throughout, supported by grassy hops character like fresh-mowed hay. The malt carries this well with grainy sweetness and light caramel. Undertones of orange, English yeast fruit, and a flavor some call “farty” that is frequently found in English beers. But this is a good thing. The finish is dry, dry, dry with lingering bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Light body with low carbonation. Crisp and dry with a slight tannic quality.
Overall Impression: The Deschutes website says this is a “quintessential American pale ale.” I say it’s a very nice English bitter, and I do love a nice English bitter. Great balance and articulation of flavors. Each flavor comes clearly but works together with the others to make a delicious whole. Earlier in the day I had a glass of Coniston Bluebird Bitter, my desert island beer. Mirror Pond Pale Ale compares very favorably.
When doing Perfect Pint beer tasting events I am frequently asked to clarify the difference between “malty” flavors and “hoppy” flavors in beer. Nearly every day someone stumbles upon this blog with the search query “malty beers vs. hoppy beers.” I find that people can often describe the flavors they taste, but aren’t necessarily able to attribute those tastes to one or the other source ingredient. As malt and hops form the base of the beer flavor triangle (yeast being the third point), it seems to me that some attempt at clarification would be useful. We should begin with a basic description of what each of these ingredients actually is.
Malt – Malted cereal grains are the meat and potatoes of beer. They provide the sugars that are fermented by the yeast to create alcohol and CO2. They are the primary source of beer color and contribute significantly to flavor and mouthfeel. The most common of the malted grains is barley malt. Others include wheat, rye, and oats. In addition to the malted grains, some unmalted cereal grains are used in brewing including corn, rice, wheat, rye, oats, and sorghum. Malting is a process of controlled sprouting and kilning of the grains. The sprouting activates enzymes within the grain that begin to break down the hard, starchy insides into simpler carbohydrates, making them accessible to the brewer. Kilning gives the grains differing degrees of color and flavor. There are four categories of brewing malt. Base malts receive the least kilning. They are the lightest malts and make up the bulk of any beer recipe. Crystal or caramel malts are made by allowing enzymes in the grain to convert complex carbohydrates into simple sugars before kilning. Kilning then caramelizes the sugars in the grain. Crystal malts range in color from light to dark with correspondingly intense flavors. Toasted or kilned malts are dry-kilned to a range of colors and flavors. Roasted Malts are kilned at the highest temperatures until they are very dark brown or even black.
Hops – Hops are the spice of beer. They provide bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt, as well as flavors and aromas ranging from citrus and pine to earthy and spicy. Hops are the cone-like flower of a rapidly growing vine (a bine actually) in the cannabis family. Waxy yellow lupulin glands hidden within the leaves of the flower contain the acids and essential oils that give hops their character. Bitterness comes from alpha acids that must be chemically altered through boiling in order to be utilized. Hop flavors and aromas come from essential oils that are easily dissolved into hot wort, but are also highly volatile. Flavor and aroma hops must be added late in the boil or these properties will be lost with the steam. Hops more than any other brewing ingredient are subject to the phenomenon of terroir, as different growing regions produce hops with different flavor and aroma characteristics. The chief hop growing regions are the Northwestern US, Southern England, Germany, Czech Republic, and China.
So what is the flavor of malt? To begin with, it is helpful to repeat that malt is the source of fermentable sugars in beer. But not all malt sugars are fermentable, some are left behind. Thus any sweetness perceived in beer is the product of the malt. It is also helpful to remember that malt is grain. Think of other products that are made with grain, like bread, crackers, pasta, or polenta. The grainy flavors found in those foods are also found in beer and come from the malt.
Beyond these basic flavors, each type of malt brings its own particular set of flavors. Base malts are logically the most basic and give beer the most basic and grain-like flavors. Common descriptors would include grainy, corn, bready, saltine cracker, and husky. The crystal or caramel malts bring a range of caramelized sugar flavors. Common descriptors for these flavors include caramel, toffee, brown sugar, molasses, and burnt sugar. The darkest of these malts can impart rich dark fruit flavors like plum and prune. When maltsters toast malt the same chemical reactions occur as when you toast bread. The flavors of the toasted malts are correspondingly similar to those of toasted bread and include toast, biscuit, nutty, graham cracker and bread crust. The roasted malts are the darkest of the brewing grains and are responsible for the flavors associated with stouts and porters. They are kilned nearly to the point of becoming charred and have strong roasty and char flavors. Descriptors for these grains include roasted, burnt, smoky, chocolate, and coffee. The roasted grains also give beer bitterness like that found in a cup of espresso.
Aside from the espresso-like, roasted grain bitterness mentioned above, bitterness in beer comes from hops. For people who say they don’t like beer, hop bitterness is the most commonly identified reason. The level of bitterness depends on the alpha acid content of the hops, the amount of hops used, and the length of time the hops were boiled. Bitterness can range from very light, as in Scottish ales and German wheat beers, to aggressive as in American double IPAs.
The hop flowers added to beer contain a large amount of leafy vegetative matter. The flavors associated with hops tend to be correspondingly plant-like. The particular flavors of hops vary with variety and growing region. Hop flavors and aromas tend to fall into one of seven broad categories, Floral, fruity, citrus, herbal, earthy, piney and spicy. More specific descriptors include perfume, rose-like, geranium, current, berry, grapefruit, orange, minty, grassy, woody, resinous, spruce, licorice and pepper.
One great way to help yourself better identify the flavor contributions of malt and hops is to smell and taste the raw ingredients. If you live near a homebrew store or brewery, stop in and taste some grains. The flavors released as you chew are the same ones that will show up in beer. While I wouldn’t recommend chewing on raw hops, you can smell them. Rubbing a hop flower between your fingers releases the essential oils. What you smell is what you get. Some malt-forward beer styles to try are Scottish ale, doppelbock, Vienna lager, and English barleywine. Some hop-forward styles are pilsner, American pale ale, India pale ale, and Double IPA.
If you think very much about Scandinavian beer (and it’s doubtful that you do) you probably have images of middle-of-the-road golden lagers. Until recently, with some notable exceptions, that is what you would find. But recently the Scandinavian countries have been experiencing a microbrewing boom inspired in large part by the craft beer industry in the United States. As of a couple years ago Denmark led the world in breweries per capita. Innovative brewers are pushing local palates from Norway to Finland with Nordic twists on American, Belgian and English styles. Scandinavian craft brewers tend toward bigger beers and hoppy styles, but exercise a balance that ties them closely to English and continental traditions.
For this meeting we’ll sample selections from some of the most innovative of the Nordic breweries, Mikkeller, Nøgne-Ø, Huvila, and Haand Bryggeriet to name a few. We’ll also try some of those exceptions that I mentioned above, like Carnegie Stark Porter. It’ll be a celebration of our Minnesota Scandinavian roots (even if you’re not from here).
There are still a few spots open for the ABCs of Beer class that I am teaching at Cooks of Crocus Hill. The class is on Friday night March 26th. Cooks has a 15% discount sale on selected classes going on now. This one is filling up, sick so check out the Cooks website to reserve your spot. ABCs Of Beer Friday, March 26, 6 – 8 PM, $47
What’s the difference between and ale and a Lager? What’s the best glass for my favorite beer? Which beers can I cellar and which ones should I drink young? Join Certified Cicerone (the beer expert equivalent of a sommelier) Michael Agnew as he shows you all the basics and then some. You’ll learn how to taste, select and care for beers of all types and styles. Includes a selection of Craft Beers from around the world representing basic styles and light snacks.
Some new beer numbers summing up 2009 were released yesterday and things are looking good for the future of the craft beer industry. The Brewers Association, a national craft beer industry advocacy group, released their report of 2009 craft brewers sales. They show that in a year of overall sales decline in the beer industry, craft beer sales increased by 7% in volume and 10.3% in dollars. Craft beer sales represented 4.3% of the total volume and 6.9% of the total dollar amount of beer sold in the US. American craft beer continues to take market share from the big three lager producers. Here’s some stats from the short fact sheet.
Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2009 was 7.2% by volume and 10.3% by dollars compared to growth in 2008 of 5.9% by volume and 10.1% by dollars.
Craft brewers sold an estimated 9,115,635 barrels* of beer in 2009, up from 8,501,713 in 2008.
Overall, US beer sales were down 2.2% in 2009.
Imported beer sales were down 9.8% in 2009, equating to a loss of 2.8 million barrels.
The craft brewing sales share in 2009 was 4.3% by volume and 6.9% by dollars.
Craft brewer retail dollar value in 2009 was an estimated $6.86 billion, up from $6.32 billion in 2008.
1,585 breweries operated for some or all of 2009, the highest total since before Prohibition.
And from another source, a survey of chefs done by the National Restaurant Association puts locally produced wine and beer as the number five top trend for 2010. Locally produced beer and wine are number four in the alcohol and cocktails category with beer and food pairings coming in at number five.
In the third of three events held on consecutive nights at various locations around the Twin Cities, Summit Brewing Company celebrated the release of India Rye Ale, the newest of the Unchained Series beers last Friday at Tracy’s Saloon in Seward. Summit Founder Mark Stutrud and India Rye Ale brewer Mike Lundell were on hand along with a small coterie of other Summit representatives. Tracy’s offered two-for-one Summit pints and $4 house-cured Tasso ham sandwiches all night long and a lucky few got to partake of a delicious six-course tasting menu paired with Summit beers prepared by Chef Joseph Madigow and Sous Chefs Robyn Carley and Sean McDonald. It was a loud night at Tracy’s and everyone seemed to be having a good time. I observed several pints of the new beer being consumed.
There was a loose theme of rye and cured meat running through the six-course tasting menu, appropriate for the release of the new rye ale. The variety and complexity of the menu was far more than I expected from Tracy’s, which I usually associate with good bar food. The best dishes and most successful pairings in my view were the first two. The meal started with a bouillabaisse crudo of bluenose and opah fish on rye flatbread with a rouille sauce. Paired with India Rye Ale, the flatbread was a perfect complement to the rye toast flavors in the beer while the spicy sauce and the light meatiness of the fish added contrasting flavors and textures. The second course offered rabbit meatballs with eggplant vermicelli in a roasted red pepper vinaigrette paired with Summit Pilsner. The meatballs were a bit tough, but the eggplant was outstanding and paired nicely with the pilsner.
The next three courses included a soup trio that was the most interesting presentation of the night, a potato stuffed ham hock on a bed of rye with a rich parsley and garlic butter sauce, and a baked oyster topped with a Summit IPA Sabayon. These were paired with Summit Horizon Red Ale. An octopus carbonade made with Summit Pilsner was the hit of the soup trio, with little bacon-like bits of grilled octopus floating in a smokey, Dijon mustard flavored broth that smacked of cured meat. It was tasty, but also salty, a trend that continued for the rest of the meal. While I expected the ham hock to be salty, the saltiness of the sabayon on the oyster overpowered the sweetness of the oyster meat and the tarragon in the sauce. I found myself craving a Summit IPA to accompany these dishes.
A most intriguing pre-desert plate consisted of tiny bites of house-cured pork fatback and aspic with a streak of tart cranberry sauce. The aspic had a nicely sweet floral green tea flavor and the combination of the fatback with the cranberry sauce was to die for. Summit Great Northern Porter ended the meal paired with a rye éclair filled with hazelnut cream and topped with a porter ganache.
Following the dinner I led a Q&A session with Mike Lundell and Mark Stutrud. It was interesting to me to learn just how brewer-centered the Unchained Series is. It originated from a suggestion by the brewers and they have total control over it, with neither Stutrud nor the sales department having veto power over the beers that they create. As Lundell said of the process, “I was totally on my own.” Lundell has been working at Summit for thirteen years. He started as a bottler and worked his way up to brewer. He reported that he spent a lot of time tasting ingredients during the recipe formulation process, but said, “In the end I really didn’t know what it was going to taste like. I tasted it every couple days and then all of a sudden at about six weeks I tasted brown sugar. I ran around telling everyone, ‘I taste brown sugar. I taste molasses.’” In answer to the question “why rye?” he answered, “Rye not?” Lundell said that he is thrilled to have his beer celebrated at these release events, but gestured to those in attendance as he added, “It’s not really my beer. It’s all of theirs. I made it for all of them.”
Last summer I attended a BBQ at the home of the owner of my favorite local beer store. Of the actual party, site no more will be spoken. Trust me, it’s for the best. However, I DO remember that we made several trips into the basement of his humble abode to survey and sample from the beer cellar. Atop what should have been a workbench were a collection of small refrigerators filled with beer, a fact that apparently caused his spouse some consternation. (Who hasn’t experienced that?) But I think my friend’s explanation to his wife perfectly sums up the rationale for the beer geek’s beer cellar. “The beers upstairs are the beers you drink. These are the beers you don’t drink.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Anyone who is at all serious about beer has a collection of “beers you don’t drink.” I myself have a good supply of saving beers stashed safely in the basement. There’s the vertical collection of Lee’s Harvest Ale from 1997 through 2009, the miscellaneous crusty bottles of Samuel Adams Triple Bock, and a couple of 1999 Thomas Hardy Ales to name just a few. And that doesn’t even count the cases of homebrewed barleywine, bretty imperial stout, and sour beers that I intentionally drink only very slowly.
My problem is not the “beers you don’t drink.” I’m fine with those. I don’t even worry particularly about finding the right occasion to open one. They are after all the “beers you don’t drink.” My problem is the sizeable collection of beers in my cellar that I never really meant to save. These are beers that I bought fully intending to drink that instead found their way to the basement only to be forgotten in the stacks of cases on the shelves. Some of these beers will age just fine. There are barleywines, imperial stouts, and a full case of sours among them. Some of them though were never intended for aging and won’t necessarily benefit from the passage of time. I’m talking about saisons, hop-heavy double IPAs, and the bottle of 2007 Left Hand Goosinator Smoked Doppelbock with the quarter inch of sediment on the bottom. With these beers it isn’t a question of finding the right occasion to drink them; it’s more a matter of finding any occasion. I simply have too much beer in the cellar and I’m constantly buying or being given more beer. I periodically impose beer-buying moratoriums on myself, but they never last. What am I thinking? I can only drink so much and the beers are piling up. I’m being buried in beer.
I realize that to some this might not seem like a problem. Perhaps I shouldn’t see it as one either. Perhaps I should start viewing these beers as experiments, controlled (or maybe not so controlled) explorations into the effects of ageing on beer. How long will a bottled hefeweizen last before it becomes undrinkable? What is the half-life of hop flavor? Can oxidation ever benefit a Belgian wit? Perhaps my cellar can yield valuable information that will forever change the way craft beer is packaged and stored. Perhaps I’ll go down in history as the one who finally cracked the code on this recently rediscovered practice of cellaring beer…
Or maybe not. While waiting for future beer writers to define my legacy I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away. I think I’ll start bringing one beer a week up from the archives to be consumed and enjoyed. As someone said (I no longer remember who it was), “A beer not consumed is a beer wasted.” I don’t like to waste beer.