Thursday, February 11, 2016

Beer Review: Dundee Pilsner

Picked these up in a variety pack the other day, following is a review from 2011. 

Another fine brew from the summer craft pack, new this year. The first thing I noticed was the hard-to-describe taste most often associated with Belgian Wits or farmhouse Ales. From there, the hops clamored for attention, but didn't get all obnoxious on me. A solid lager and an appropriate summer brew.

And a few added remarks:
There's a little mango and apricot, but very, very subtle. I just found out that Dundee is owned by Genessee, an upper New York brewery. This is a great representation of the classic pilsner style. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Beer Styles: The Classic Imports

Early in my beer drinking career there were far fewer choices than there are now, and most of these choices were American pale lagers. Budweiser and its higher status cousin, Michelob, Miller and local varieties like Schmidt's and Schaeffer's. However, for the adventurous among us, there were the imports.

During the sixties the notion that European-brewed beer was superior to American beer took hold. Returning servicemen who had been stationed in Germany sang the praises of German beer in particular and imported lagers began to develop a following in the United States. The imported beers that I recall from my youth are Heineken, Becks, Lowenbrau and Guinness. Back then, I really didn't know squat about beer, and drank imports because they made me seem more knowledgeable and sophisticated than I actually was.

Guinness was possibly the only stout that I encountered before the craft beet explosion of the last twenty years. A lot of people that I knew drank Guinness on St. Patrick's Day, but I didn't see a lot of consumption during the rest of the year, although it was considered by many to be one of the "good" beers. A persistent misconception about Guinness is that it is stronger than "regular" beers, which is not true. The alcohol content is in the same general range as an American pale lager and in my opinion it's not appreciably heavier than run-of-the-mill lagers. Their is a noticeably higher hop content and a roasted malt character that differentiate it from pale lagers. Guinness is what most people are referring to when they think of "dark beer", whether they like it or not!

Heineken, Becks, and Lowenbrau were all pale lagers, although they all made dark versions; Heineken was from Holland and the others were from Germany. I remember thinking, when drinking a Heineken, that there as something wrong with it. Part of it was that the European beers were hoppier and had more flavor than an American beer, but part of it was that the beer had skunked. The main reason that a beer can go bad is the influence of ultraviolet light which will cause the beer to take on a "skunky" aroma and taste. Since these beers were packaged in clear glass bottles there was ample opportunity for UV contamination, especially since they did not sell as fast as cheaper-priced American beers. For years I thought that this was just how German and Dutch beers tasted and eventually moved away from them. However, now Heineken can be purchased in cans - I notice that the canned version tastes a lot better than the glass version.

Other imports that have gained in popularity, but that I did not see much in my younger days are Fosters, Corona and Negra Modelo. Fosters is Australian in origin and comes in their signature 24 oz. cans. Corona and Negra Modelo are Mexican brews.

These days you can get imports from all over the world. Specialty beer stores carry beers from the U.K., Russia and Japan as well as Germany and Belgium. But back in my younger days, there wewre few to choose from.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Beer Styles: American Pale Lager

Much maligned, the American pale lager was (and based on sales, still is) the most popular beer style in the United States and perhaps the world. There are several different reasons for this. One is the fact that in the late 1800's, early 1900's there was a large influx of German immigrants, and many of them had been brewers back home. There had been beer brewing from the earliest days of North American colonization, but that had been mostly by small local brewers. Frederick Pabst, Adolphus Busch, and immigrant brewers with names like Stroh, Miller and Schlitz turned it into a serious business. At the time of this "German Invasion", the pilsener style was the cool new thing in Europe. A hoppy, pale lager that was crisp and clear, pilseners had nudged out many of the local varieties of beer in the European beer-drinking regions, so it was natural that the newly American beer producers would seek to emulate this style. A second influence on what would become classic American beer styles was the difference between European (2 row) barley and American (6 row) barley. The American variety had several characteristics which negatively influenced the taste of American-brewed beer, so corn was added to the grain mix. Later, during a period of grain  rationing, rice was also added - this practice continued after rationing ended.

The big influence on how beer developed in the United States was Prohibition. For thirteen years it was illegal to brew or consume beer. Most of the smaller brewers went out of business, with only the largest able to weather the storm by producing root beer, ginger beer and other items. When beer production geared up after the 21st Amendment was passed, it was no longer a predominantly local affair. The surviving brewers now had to appeal to a wide clientele, not just the tastes of the drinkers in their city, so the beers post-Prohibition were geared to theoretically appeal to everyone. A style that we now refer to as Vienna Lager may have been representative of the pre-Prohibition beers. Vienna, now in Austria, was home to many German-speaking brewers who emigrated to North America, including Mexico. Representatives of this style include Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Yuengling, Negra Modelo and Bohemía. Post-Prohibition lagers were brewed with a lower hop profile and what many refer to as a least-common-denominator flavor, not only to appeal to the largest segment of the population, but to appeal to women as well.

None if this is to suggest that mass-produced beers taste bad, it's just that they don't vary much from  one to another and the flavor is overly processed - think your run-of-the-mill white bread or a McDonald's hamburger - okay, but nothing special. Until recent years there wasn't much to choose from outside of the giants: Budweiser, Miller, Coors etc were all pretty similar, the only variety one might find in most markets came from the imports: Guinness Stout (for the adventurous), Heinekin and Lowenbrau were the ones that I recall from my youth. In the next installment, we'll look at those "classic" imports

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beer Styles: Lager Origins

Even though lagers are the more recent type of beer, most mass-produced beers today are lagers in one form or another. Let's examine why.

Beer has been produced for millennia. However for most of that time, brewing was a seasonal activity, confined to the cold months. Before pasteurization, before refrigeration, before anyone even knew about microorganisms like yeast, let alone understood what they did, beer had to be brewed during the time of year when the heat wouldn't cause it to spoil quickly. Local water and local strains of yeast determined in large part how a beer would turn out. Beer makers in Germany discovered the process of lagering fortuitously. In order to be able to have some beer available in the warmer months, some German brewers stored some of the beer brewed at the tail end of winter in mountain caves (Ger. lager), packed in snow and ice. What they didn't realize was that the beer would continue to mature while stored in this manner. And although they didn't know about the role of yeast in brewing, they were in effect breeding hardier, bottom-fermenting yeast that eventually made for more stable beers. This style of beer became known as a lager, typified by the use of bottom-fermenting yeast that was able to ferment at lower temperatures. Despite most modern lagers being light-colored, lagers of this era tended to be darker, probably as a result of the high heat used in the malting processing. Several different styles of lager emerged from this new method of brewing. One is the style that we now know as Oktoberfest. In keeping with the habit of summer lagering, the last beer of the winter batch was set aside in March to be cracked open again in October, these Märzens are the backbone of the yearly Munich Oktoberfest. Bocks are beers that, rather than being laid down in March, are generally consumed in March, brewed with a higher alcohol contact, their ostensible purpose was to provide sustenance throughout the Lenten season. Bocks generally are a bit hoppier than average, and are charecterized by a robust malt profile and tend to be a little sweeter. In my opinion there's a dearth of bocks these days. The mainstream, run-of-the-mill lagers were divided up into two main varieties: helles (light or pale) and dunkel (dark), although the helles came along later, after the advent of the pilsener.

In 1842, in the town of Plzen in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) the first golden lager was produced. Since most beers, both lagers and ales, of that time tended to be dark brown in hue, the appearance of a pale, clear beer was quite unique. The golden color was in large part due to a new method of heating the malt - indirect heat, which prevented a darkening  and smokiness of the brew that direct heat caused. The water was unusually mineral-free (soft) which contributed to the clarity of the beer. The brewers in Plzen and surrounding areas also were very free with hops, giving the new style a bitter edge. This style became so popular that many of the brewers who eventually emigrated to America specialized in it once they set up their own breweries in The States. The Plzen style, or Pilsener became the dominant style of the major brewers and was what most Americans thought of as "beer" through most of the 1900's, although the mass producers eventually modified their beers to be less hoppy and added adjuncts (grains other than barley) to produce a more consistant product.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Boulevard Tasting Room Series: Belgian Style IPA

The hue of an over-ripe pineapple, or perhaps an apricot of a certain age, with a cumulus-inspired three-finger head that coquette-ishly recedes to a thin lacy coverlet, this Belgian style ale is the real deal. Wheat, bananas, clove, a hint of bubble gum and a melange of citrus all contribute to this masterpiece of brewing artisanship. It clocks in at 57 IBUs, but doesn't seem overly hoppy, to my surprise, especially since they did some dry hopping. Overall an outstanding brew that I'd recommend any day of the week.

Bouevard Tasting Room Series: Black Pale Ale

Ours a deep brown, almost black, with a two-finger head the color chocolate milk. Despite it being billed as a pale ale that just happens to be dark, it tastes more like a light, hoppy porter to me. There are some chocolate and coffee notes that you wouldn't usually get in a pale ale. If you ignore what they're calling it and just drink it, you'll appreciate it a lot more.

Beer Styles: Lager vs. Ale

Many of the readers of Ill-Gotten Booty Beer Reviews know their beer. This is just a reminder for most of you!

Ales and lagers are the two main subdivisions of beer. Ales are beers, lagers are beers. Generally, a beer is an alcoholic beverage derived from fermented grain. Most beer comes from barley, with a significant minority deriving from wheat. Most American mass-produced beers also include adjuncts, like rice and corn. Rye has also become popular in recent years. Beverages that are produced using fermented fruit are, in general, classified as wines or ciders. with fruit-flavored beers, the fruit is usually a flavoring, while there is still a grain base that is being fermented. Fermentation takes place due to the action of microorganisms (yeast) upon sugar, which they convert into alcohol.

Prior to the scientific advances that led to the discovery of bacteria and other microorganisms in the 1800's, fermentation was poorly understood. The various yeasts that catalyzed fermentation were "wild" yeasts that were to be found in the environment where the brewing took place. It was not until the last several century or so that yeast strains were cultivated and stored to ensure standardization in the brewing process. The Lambic style is one of the few that still employ the use of wild yeasts.

Of the two main categories of beer, ales are the oldest. The naturally occurring yeasts were "warm fermenting" or "top fermenting", meaning that a certain amount of heat was involved and the used up yeast floated to the top of the ale once the fermentation was done. For centuries, perhaps millennia, all beers were what we would classify as ales.

Before the science of microbiology was developed, the reason, not only for fermentation, but for spoilage, was not understood. Some brewers in the colder regions of Germany, however, discovered that keeping an ale cold would extend its life. They began the custom of brewing a batch in March, before it started warming up in the Spring, and storing it in a cave (German: lager) packed in the last ice and snow of the season, to be brought out in October - hence the Oktoberfest festival. (these beers were, and still are, called Märzen Ales, German for "March"). They soon discovered that, not only did this process preserve the beer, but it continued to ferment and "condition", producing a clearer and crisper tasting brew. Thus began the style that we now call the lager. Later, when the role of yeast was better understood, it was discovered that the strains of yeast that survived the lagering process were hardier and when introduced into fresh batches "bottom fermented" and would ferment at a lower temperature than the ale yeast.

Today, most mass-produced beers are lagers. The lagering process allows for greater standardization. What we think of as "beer" is largely shaped by what the large brweries put out. Most small-batch, craft and micro-brews are ales. Brewing an ale allows for more subtle flavor profiles, as the warm fermentation process releases more of the "esters" that give an ale a distinctive flavor. There is also the matter of the lagering process being more time consuming - a small brewer often cannot afford to tie up their equipment for the time required.

Future posts will discuss the many styles and substyles of ales and lagers, as well as hybrids such as Kölsch and Altbier.