Tag Archives: bjcp

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why (Kind Of), 2/22/17

Here is a cool article about a very small brewery in Toledo, OH named Black Frog Brewery and the brewer who started it.  Go read it.  When you are done come on back, I’ve got some other stuff to say.

I received a Twitter reply from a person who reads my blog from Sweden the other day.  She says I’ve begun to repeat myself and should write new things differently than I have in the past.  If I didn’t already have that sense, I would have ignored the tweet.  What I must do is move past the philosophizing about the issues I see in craft beer and try to find solutions.

Major League Soccer spent the first six years of existence marketing itself to everyone but American soccer fans.  They did everything possible to attract families with kids and tweaked rules to make it more appealing to the average American sports fan.  All of that led to the league almost running itself into the ground and forced a contraction of 2 teams.

In my head, I often link MLS and craft beer together.  Their resurgences almost coincide.  Whereas MLS faced its existential crises early, craft beer is just now facing up to its own.  Three things have happened.  One, the natural enemy to craft beer, big beer, has evolved its strategy from disdain to treating craft beer as a respected enemy.  That means instead of just ignoring it waiting for it to go away, big beer is using its normal “aggressive” distribution tactics to stifle craft beer’s growth and then buying up competition to prop them up as their own versions of “craft” or “high end” beers.

Another thing that has happened is the number of breweries and the craft beer audience has expanded faster than anyone was ready for over the last 5 years.  That means the number of breweries has increased while the number of quality brewers hasn’t at the same time the number of novice craft beer drinkers has skyrocketed.  So, a lot of new drinkers are drinking mediocre at best beer and propping up new breweries.  The new drinkers aren’t learning what a good beer is and the breweries aren’t forced to do better.

Finally, this dramatic increase of breweries is happening at the same time the number of bars and available tap handles have started to shrink.  That means this fraternity of brewers that prided itself on its friendly competition is getting less friendly.  Though it is happening out of the sight of the public. For the most part.

In short, craft beer is having growing pains.  More accurately, it is a recent graduate out in the real world where his idealism and optimism is meeting the cynicism of capitalism.  How do you hold on to who you are and what you believe when everything coming at you attacks those things?  How does craft beer navigate in this new and changing world without compromising the thing that makes it special and different?

Demand more from ourselves as ambassadors and teachers

If we are going to take on the role of watchdogs for the industry, we should have the tools to do so.  Become a Cicerone or Beer Judge.  Make your staff do the same (if you have staff).  Then impart the knowledge you’ve gained to customers when it makes sense and without being a condescending jerk.  All these novice drinkers need to learn about beer somewhere.  It’s better that they learn it from us then out on these streets. Also, if you are going to sit down and taste beer with a new brewer trying to sell you beer, it helps to be able to talk to them in brewing terms when you give your feedback.  If you show, you know something about beer, they may take any criticism you give better.

Demand better from new brewers

Everyone in the industry needs to be honest with new brewers.  The collegiality and fraternity are great.  However, if one brewery is making bad beer it effects all the brewers in the area.   Everyone with the experience and gravitas should taste new brewers’ beers and be honest.  Have a dialogue with them to find out what their intent was with the recipe and whether they think they’ve successfully hit it.  Be respectful but be honest and make the new brewer be honest with himself.  Craft beer buyers for bars and restaurants should be equally honest.  When a brewery rep or owner comes in to bring you beers to taste, tell them the truth and don’t buy beers that aren’t good.  However, you too should give them constructive feedback on the beer.  Explain why you aren’t buying it; what flaws you taste.  The people within the industry must be the ones to take care of the industry.

Remember who the enemy is

It isn’t the brewery that just opened down the road from you.  It is the one whose headquarters are in Belgium or South Africa.  The collegiality and fraternity I sometimes mock in craft beer is part of the reason I love craft beer so much.  You are competing with other craft brewers, but they aren’t the ones trying to destroy you.  Understand that you may not always have a tap handle up in a good craft bar.  Just remember, it is better that you will be up later and that the tap handle replacing yours for the moment is another brewer you like and respect.  That is much better for all involved than if it was a faux craft brand out of a big beer company’s high-end portfolio.

Beer Counselor, What’s Your Favorite?

During this wedding weekend, someone asked what my favorite beer is.

I can answer that question in two ways.  The first is as a critic.  When I taste a beer as a critic I am trying to see how the beer matches up with the BJCP/GABF/Cicerone guidelines.  I am tasting a beer and trying to break down its constituent parts and compare it to the style guidelines.  I’m not necessarily trying to tell you if you will like it, but if it is a well-constructed beer. People are sometimes surprised at the GABF winners list. They will see a beer local to them and wonder who did that win.  What you have to understand that a competition is trying to find beers that are perfect distillations of the style guidelines.  That is why in the last paragraph of my reviews I give my overall impression to help you know if you’ll like it or not.

My favorites list and my best lists are different.  There is overlap, but they are not the same.  Unless I’m doing a real tasting for publication or competition, I turn off my critic’s mind after the second sip.  At that point, I just want to enjoy the beer.

You need to remember the difference between favorite and best when you read a beer review.  If you are reading a review that breaks the beer down into its component parts, skip to the end to find the overall impression.  That’s where you will find out if you should drink it.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t read the rest of it, especially if you are trying to learn more about beer.  If, however, you are just trying to find something to drink at a bar you don’t need to worry about whether it has good head retention, you just need to know if someone else likes it and why.

Your favorite beer should be more that.  It should be more than how it hits certain checkboxes on a rating sheet.  It’s about where you are, who you are with, and how you feel.  Finding your favorite is about why we drink.

We drink because it makes us feel good.  We drink for social lubrication.  We drink to hang out with friends and loosen up with strangers. When you combine the best of those things you find your favorite beer.  Favorite is some kind of combination of who, what, when, and where that you can’t measure on a tasting form.

My two favorite beers involve sitting with good friends and drinking good beer.  First up, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti.  It was with my best friend since high school in the old Great Divide tasting room in Denver.  It was my second time in town and my first trip to the GABF.  One of my favorite people, in one of my favorite cities, during my favorite time of year.

Number two on the list is, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy.  Again, I was with best friends in a cool spot, Oskar Blues in Brevard. I was drinking great beer in a great place with great friends.  Honestly, that is pretty much all I want out of my life.

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.

Growler Taste Test: Blowing Rock Schwarz Bier

I had a customer from Philadelphia say the other day, in Philly she would go to a bar and ask for a lager.  They would hand her a Yuengling.  When she does that in Charlotte, they ask which one.

If you ever have the chance, you should go to the medal winners’ page on the Great American Beer Festival website. First, there is the sheer number of beers you’ve never heard of much less drank.  For our purposes today, there is also the mind boggling number of categories.

The Beer Judge Certification Program style guide is even more complicated with categories and subcategories and then different styles underneath. To make it even better, there are still styles of beer that aren’t categorized because they have been lost to history.

All of that is a preface to talk about schwarzbier.  This isn’t a style recently resurrected from history, but it is a style not too familiar to the general public. The name is German for “black beer” and it is best described as a dark brown lager.

20150713_170235The Blowing Rock Schwarz Bier has a pleasant dark brown look with a thick long lasting off-white head.  It has a good lager like aroma with hints of roasted chocolate and coffee. The hop aroma is very low with just a touch of herbal and floral hops.

For a dark beer, it has a light medium mouthfeel.  There isn’t a lot of alcohol feel and taste to it.  There is a heavy chocolate and roasted coffee taste with a hint of hops underneath.  It has a low carbonation that along with its chocolate taste makes this definition of a smooth beer.

Blowing Rock has created another well-constructed beer that isn’t trying to be anything other than a good drinkable beer experience.

When in doubt about what to listen to with beer, I usually go with The National.

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.

The Beer Counselor Is In: How To Taste Beer

178110-libbey-belgian-taster-b1_2You are wondering, why would I read something to teach me to drink beer?  I already know how to drink beer.  You put the bottle, can, or glass to your mouth, sip and swallow. Not hard.

A good beer should be evident without going through all the affectations I will describe later.  A good beer tastes good the moment you put your glass to your lips.  There really is not any need to hold the glass up to the light, sniff it, and then swirl it around in your mouth before you swallow it just to enjoy a good beer. That is why you taste, however.

Part of the reason craft beer has taken off like it has is the deeper you get into it, the deeper you get into it.  All the flavors and aromas you get in a good craft beer makes you curious.  The first time you taste a hefewiezen your mind wonders, “Is that bananas I’m tasting.” You begin to marvel at the different components in beer and how they work together to make a good beer.  This guide is for that.

I will describe two ways of tasting.  One is more pretentious looking then the other.  The first will get you the raised eyebrow and shake of the head in a bar while the other is reserved for times when you are alone or with close beer friends and trying to do really dig deep into the beer (see it already sounds pretentious).

You go to your favorite beer bar, you scan the tap wall and you see a beer you’ve never had before. Your bartender sits it down in front of you.

  • First, let it set for a bit. You want it to warm up (we serve craft beer way too cold in this country) just a touch so that the aromas and the flavors come more to the forefront.
  • While you wait, look at it. What color is it in the glass (hopefully you are served in a clear glass)?  What does the head look like, is it fluffy or thin, does it match the color of the beer?
  • Then bring it up to your nose and take a short sniff. What is your first impression?  Do you get hops, do you get fruit, do you get bread?
  • Then take a drink. Let it roll around to all parts of your mouth.  You don’t have to swish, just move it around so that it touches all the taste buds on your tongue. You are also trying to figure out how it feels on your tongue:  heavy, medium, light, oily (viscous), tart, drying, etc.

That’s it.  That is all you have to do.  It takes less than a minute and you have done a quick exploration of how it looks, how it smells, how it tastes and how it feels.

The more complicated tasting will involve proper glass ware, taking notes, lighting, etc.  Not really.  The only thing you really need to do is take notes.  The cool thing, is it is basically the same as the first way.  Here is how I break it down:  What does it look like, What does it smell like, What does it feel like, What does it taste like.

  • First, pour the beer into your glass. Fill the glass about half way.  Ideally, if you don’t want to spring for a set of Belgian goblets, just use a wine glass because the shape of the glass holds the aromas in better.  When you pour make sure you get a nice head.  You’ll want to inspect the features of the head and a good head releases more aromas.
  • Now, what does it look like? What is its color?  Is it clear or hazy?  Is the head big and fluffy or thin and sporadic?  Does the head match the color of the beer:  white, off-white, etc.?
  • What does it smell like? Now swirl it around with your hand on the bowl of the glass to help warm it up. Take a short sniff, then take another short sniff.  What do you smell first?  Grassy, piney, verdant hop aromas. Bready, toasty, caramel, malt aromas.  Yeast esters like banana, clove, or dark fruit.
  • Next, write down what you see and what you smell immediately. This gives your nose a rest (yes, I’m serious) and you need to gather your thoughts on what you are drinking.  Your nose can pick up hundreds if not thousands of smells you literally can’t put into words so it needs to rest.
  • Now, take another couple of sniffs and describe what other aromas you can pick up now.
  • Here is the fun part, take a sip. Let it move around and touch all parts of your mouth and tongue.  That will get the beer onto all of your taste buds and let you figure out what it feels like.
  • What does it feel like in your mouth? Was it drying, did it coat your mouth, was it carbonated?
  • What did it taste like? Swallow and write down what your first impressions of the taste and feel were. Did you taste alcohol, hops flavor, malt flavor?  Is it really bitter or is it sweet?  Is it tart?  Do you get a funkiness from the yeast?  Did the taste last for a long time or not
  • Take another slightly bigger sip and explore what other tastes you can get from it. With the beer in your mouth take a deep breath through your nose to help the aromas come into your nasal passages that way and see if you get any other aromas that you hadn’t noticed at first.

That is pretty much it.  Finish drinking the beer (that’s what you want to do anyway) and write down your impressions.  Remember, the more you taste, the more you will taste.  If you do this a few times you will taste more and smell more in each beer and be able to describe what it is you like in the beer better.

Also, the only thing that really matters is do you like the beer.  No amount of tasting or words will help you like the beer.   It will help you understand what it is you do or do not like about the beer. That’s it.  You will find, even if the beer is well made and constructed perfectly to the style guidelines you may still hate it.

To help you along with your tasting here are a couple of links I use all the time:

Now, go forth and drink.