Tag Archives: beer styles

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 2/27/17

There really isn’t anything that interesting this morning in the world of beer.  Georgia is about to update its beer laws to let breweries sell beer to actual people.  Other than that, the most interesting thing to happen last night happened 5 or 10 minutes after I went to bed.

I spent all day watching the Daytona 500 which was extra-long because rule changes had the field bunched together for the duration of the race which resulted in fun driving and lots of wrecks.  Then the end of the Oscars happened. This tick-tock of what happened in the Washington Post is as good a way to figure out how everything went wrong.

I have a problem applying objective standards to a completely subjective competition.  Who is to say whether Casey Affleck’s performance is better than Denzel Washington’s or that Moonlight is better the La La Land?  Anyone can tell you which they like better, but who can honestly say one is objectively better than the other?

The question is often asked, “Do styles matter?” I would answer yes, but maybe not for the reasons you would think.  The style guidelines are the starting point. They are the outline of the screenplay.  It is what you do with that outline that makes brewing a creative endeavor.  You need style guidelines to point you in the right direction and to know what you are rebelling against.

That is why reviewing and critiquing beer is a different endeavor than critiquing a movie.  You can look at a beer and know what color range it should be in for its style. You can smell it and know what aromas to expect from a style.  Just as you can with taste.  That also provides the difference between judging for competition and saying whether you like a beer.

I like this new kind of beer called a blonde stout.  They are usually a blonde or pale ale infused with coffee.  They cannot be called a stout because they have none of the color characteristics of a stout because they don’t use the correct malt.  Are they a blonde?  Maybe, but the aroma and flavor profiles don’t fit either.  The ones I’ve had so far, Wooden Robot’s Good Morning Vietnam and Newgrass’s Lily Bean, are good beers. I love drinking them.  However, I don’t know how I would judge them in a competition because they don’t meet the guidelines for either blondes or stouts.

This is the beauty of beer.  Styles and guidelines do matter.  To win awards, as a brewer, you need to show the mastery of your craft.  The ability to make a saison that hits all the benchmarks while having that intangible thing that makes you smile as you drink it is a hard, hard thing to do.  It is also just as important to create experimental beers that make people go, “I like that.” That is just as hard and just as impressive.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/1/16

This is as good an article as any to highlight today.  I don’t mean to sound so flip about the article.  It is well written and has good information.  It’s just an article about non-hoppy beer styles.

What do I like about this article?  First, it has a simple premise: If someone says they don’t like beer maybe it is that they don’t like hoppy beers, so here are some other choices.  The writer then goes through the list of all the malt heavy usual suspects breaking down their general flavor profiles to help a reader find something they like.

One of the things I ask when someone comes into the bar and says they don’t like beer is, “What about the beer you’ve drank do you not like?” Many craft beer drinkers do their non-craft friends a disservice when the first craft beer they have them try is a big IPA.  Imagine that the most exotic beer you’ve ever tried is a Heineken and someone hands you a juicy east coast IPA that looks like a glass of orange juice and tastes like pine needles and freshly cut grass.  That person may not react well.

Creating a simple premise is a key to writing a good piece like this. One of the things that annoys me about much of today’s entertainment (books, movies, television in this case) is that they are too high concept.  They seek to ask too many complicated questions sometimes without answering them.  That can be fun in a Lost kind of puzzle way.  However, a good narrative is relatively simple:  A character or group of characters is motivated to do something and the story is how do they do it.

By keeping the premise simple, you give yourself a much bigger field to play with as a storyteller.  Battlestar Galactica had a simple premise:  How does humanity move on after civilization is destroyed?  Keeping the premise simple gave the creators a huge canvas to ask big philosophical questions and explore characters in depth.

Sometimes as writers because what we do seems inconsequential, so we try to increase our importance by overcomplicating what we do.  I like this article because it doesn’t try to do that.  Simplifying things and breaking things down to their essential parts is an important skill in writing as well as life.

That is one the things writing has taught me.  When in doubt, simplify.  Cut things back. Cut things out. Get back to the core of the idea that you are trying to express.  That is why I think Hemingway became such an important writer to me.  I like a lot of people avoided Hemingway because of his misogyny and false bravura in his guise as “Hemingway, the writer.”  However, when you go back to the work, it is brilliant in its simplicity and ability to cut to the heart of a thing in as few words possible.  It is the same with Raymond Carver.

A rule I try to follow is: say as much as you can with as few words possible.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 10/4/16

How do you deal with having to make pumpkin beers when the market for pumpkin beers is shrinking?  Brewers in Texas as well as others across the country are faced with this.

Brewers cut their production of pumpkin beer this year yet it still sits on shelves gathering dust.  Anecdotally, draft sales of the style are still going OK, but bottles not so much.

I never really ate pumpkin pie. I was raised on sweet potato pie instead.  There were really on three uses for pumpkins for us: jack-o-lanterns, where you got pumpkin seeds to roast, and as something to be shot or blown up.

Anyway, back to beer.  This isn’t about pumpkin beers per se as much as it is about something that is happening all across the craft beer world all across styles.  What do you do when a beer that has been successful for you stops being successful?

This is a symptom of why I find craft beer so interesting at the moment and it is something I’ve mentioned before.  As an aside, it is the same reason as a soccer fan I find Major League Soccer so interesting.  We are watching craft beer grow and mature before our eyes.  It is an industry, much like the tech industry where change and innovation are not just buzzwords, but important to the overall survival of individual breweries.

This discussion of pumpkin beers leads me to wonder how do you navigate tapping into something that is popular without pandering?  Are you brewing a pumpkin beer because you have an interesting take on the style that you want people to try or are you making a pumpkin beer just to have one in your portfolio?

One of the things that amazes me is how every year brewers collectively decide to make a certain style.  Sometimes brewers seem like the kids on the U8 soccer team I coached for a couple of years.  They all just follow the ball around like bees.  One year its goses, then its kolsches, then its barrel aged anything.  This year it seemed everyone had to try putting mango in IPAs with varying degrees of success.

When it’s a brewer going, “Oh, that sounds interesting, I wonder what I can do with that,” it turns out OK. The beer may not be good, but at least it is interesting.  When it’s a brewer (or more likely the sales and money people) saying, “We need one of those. Let’s go make one,” it usually doesn’t work out so well because the beer sucks and it isn’t interesting.

Remember, at its core craft beer is at least in part a creative enterprise in which chasing trends and popularity doesn’t work over the long haul.  I agree with Lance Higdon at the end of the article, “…it’s only those breweries that can keep delivering artful brews with a real commitment to craft’s DIY roots that will make the cut…”

500 Words On One Article You Need To Read, 9/27/16

In the past year, I’ve tasted a lot of beer that tastes great, but doesn’t fall into a neat category.  Many of them are of the Northeast IPA variety that is described in this article about Tired Hands HopHands IPA.  Many of these beers look exactly like a glass of orange juice and have a wonderful malt and hop balance.  However, they do not follow the style guidelines for an IPA.

What beer drinkers are starting to discover is that the concept of style isn’t fixed.  Ask anyone tasked with creating a style guide.  Any description of a style that you read from the Great American Beer Festival or the Beer Judge Certification Program is a snapshot in time of that style.  What is described as an IPA today is different from what it was 10 years ago and is different from what it will be 10 years from now.

When organizing a festival or a judging competition there has to be some rules to govern how you are going to judge or present the beer.  Basically, you have to call the beer something and if you are judging you have to organize how you are going to taste the beers to make it a fair competition.  However, as we are seeing the guidelines can’t keep up with the speed of that brewers change styles.  As a judge, you have to base your decisions on the guidelines.  You may taste a beer that is awesome, but when you break it down and compare it to the guidelines you may find it outside category.  If you’re an attendee, you are just looking to drink good beer and may wonder how the judges are so stupid that they missed that one really great beer.  The answer is they probably didn’t miss it, they just couldn’t award it a medal because it doesn’t fit the guidelines.

I have often had the moment, in the recent past where I’ve tasted a great beer and then looked at the description and said to myself, “Nope, it really isn’t one of those, but I really like it.”  Often at beer festivals they will have a judging competition where they award winners via categories.  These festivals will also occasionally also have a best of show type award for attendees to award.  Usually, the attendees popular pick is something that finishes first, second, or third in its category in the eyes of the judges. However, we are in a time when that is not necessarily going to always be the case.

As someone who believes in the need for critics and who is working towards getting Cicerone certification I believe in the need for some type of structure in beer styles.  However, I know some the of the greatest artistic achievements came from people who looked at the rules of their particular discipline and decided to break every one of them.  That is where growth and innovation come from and we should all embrace it.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest 2016 Review

Each year as Summer turns to Fall during the last two weeks of September through the first weekend of October on the Theresienwiese in Munich since 1810, Oktoberfest has taken place.  It wasn’t until 1872 that Spaten brewery named a beer Oktoberfeistbier for the even.  This first Oktoberfeistbier was probably a high abv bock brewed in 1872 by Spaten brewery and stayed popular at the event until World War I.  Since then the strength of the beer has lessened and the color has lightened to its current version.  This version has been codified in German law since 1990.  There are also only six Munich breweries legally allowed to brew a beer called Oktoberfeistbier:  Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrauhaus, Lowenbrau, Paulener, and Spaten. (Thanks to The Oxford Companion To Beer for all that.)

German Oktoberfeistbiers are lighter in color and mouthfeel then their American cousins.  That is what makes this year’s Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest brewed in collaboration with Mahrs Brau in Bamberg.

When you pour it into the glass it is immediately apparent that this is not the same as other American versions of oktoberfeistbier.  It is a much lighter deep golden color instead of the usual amber color that American versions tend toward.  The lagering also makes this beer crystal clear with a nice carbonation that creates a thin but persistent head.  The aroma is nice and biscuity sweet balanced with a good amount of German hops.

The mouthfeel is light, again in comparison to an American version, and it has a slight slickness on the tongue.  Like all beers in the marzen, Vienna lager, oktoberfeistbier family this is a wonderfully malty and sweet beer on the front of end of its taste with a good spicy hop bitterness on the back end to keep it balanced. However, it still manages to have a light mouthfeel and taste.  Combined with its relatively low abv, the 2016 Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest makes a good easy drinker.

That is what makes this beer interesting. It combines two things that are often on opposite sides of beer taste and flavor: maltiness and lightness.  Most malty beers are at least a medium mouthfeel.  Most beer with a lighter mouthfeel tend more towards crispness.  It is a hard balance to pull off successfully.

German oktoberfeistbiers are also interesting as a look at style development.  As most styles evolve over time they evolve up (mass produced American pilsners being a notable exception) meaning they get darker, get higher in ABV, get hoppier.  In this case, the Oktoberfeistbier style has evolved down over time.  The first version was a higher abv, darker bock.  The version that was codified into German law in 1990 is lighter and lower in abv then it has been at any point in its history and is certainly lighter than its American cousins.

Compare that with the IPA in England where English brewers have slowly adopted a more American style approach to IPAs, i.e. hoppiness.  While there as still many brewers making traditional English style IPAs both in England and the US, the trend for the style is usually darker and almost always danker.  Leave it to the Germans to not only hue towards tradition, but to then codify that tradition in its laws.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 6/10/16

It’s Friday and your week is almost over.  Have a beer.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 8/26/15

Computer issues got me started late this morning, but here we are and here we go with the Five Articles.

The Beer Counselor Is In: Questions Are Good & Don’t Be A Jerk

The modern craft movement has ridden a wave of IPAs to its current status as growth industry of the moment.  As the movement continues a lot of new people are hopping on board with just enough information to make themselves more confused than necessary.

Quick story.  Currently on tap at Craft is Lookout Brewing’s Black Mountain IPA on tap. You may have read a review of it.  A customer comes up to the bar talking to his friend and is trying to describe a black IPA.  He proceeds to order the black IPA on tap. I look at him confused and say, “There isn’t a black IPA on tap.”

“Yes, there is, the one from Lookout Brewing.”

He wasn’t from North Carolina so he had never heard of Black Mountain, he saw Black and IPA in proximity and just thought it was the beer style he heard so much about.

That brings up another point, most good craft beer bars will have the names of the beers written above the taps so you can read the information yourself.  This is a participatory endeavor by the way.

Yet I digress.

There are so many styles that people hear about and read about that it can be confusing.  How does someone who is just getting into craft beer navigate all the information and how does someone who has been in the craft world for a while help newbies without being condescending?

If you want a good overview of beer styles, go the craftbeer.com and click on the Beer Styles section.  This will give you nice surveys of almost all beer styles and also give you commercially available examples of each style.

If you want to get even more in depth go the Beer Judge Certification Program page and click on Style Guidelines.  This will give you a listing of every beer style that is judged in competition.  It goes deep into the style including acceptable characteristics (including stats such as AVB and color range) as well as the history of each style.

Another way is to ask your bartender questions. If it is a good bar, they will know enough information to get you started at the very least.  I love answering questions about beer and talking about beer.  Also I would rather you ask me what DIPA stands for, then have you order a double IPA, start drinking it, and complain that it is really hoppy and has lots of alcohol in it.

That leads to the next point, which is that we who know about beer cannot be condescending jerks to people who don’t know about beer.  If you go to a bar and ask questions and the bartender is a jerk, don’t go back.

The internet can create the illusion that knowledge in a specific area is common to everyone.  On the web, it is easy for all of us to participate in communities, like craft beer, where that is true.  That is huge fantasy. Not everyone knows what a DIPA is or what the difference is between a dopplebock and an altbier. As people who have lots of knowledge about craft beer we should seek to spread that knowledge to others while not coming off as a snotty know it all.