Posts Tagged With: history

Exploring German Bier: The Kölsch Ale

After spending the last few months exploring the ales of the New World, it’s time to get back to the birthplace of modern beer: Europa! Specifically, we take our beer magnifying glass and old-timey pipe back over to Germany to inspect some styles that are oft written off as simply “easy to drink” and “not particularly interesting.” If you walk into bar with over five taps, chances are you will find a Hefeweizen or a Pilsner. However, other German beers do exist and this month we are going to study one style a week in order to make clear the differences between each type of beer.

To get started, we will be consuming the Kölsch Ale–a warm-fermented and cold-conditioned (“lagered”) ale straight outta Cologne (Köln), Germany. This ale, a variant of the wheat beer, was first produced in 1906, and the term “Kölsch” appeared in 1918. But as these things go, there’s more to this story….

note the Cologne Cathedral in the background

History of Kölsch

The Kölsch ale was not a wild hit when Sünner Brauerei produced the first modern version in 1906.  No, it was the lager that maintained popularity throughout Germany. This all changed after World War II. During the war, over 95% of the breweries in Cologne were destroyed. After the war,  these breweries slowly rebuilt their facilities, and the brewing industry was revitalized by the 1950s. It was at this point that the Kölsch began to reign the Cologne beer market.

The Kölsch is a reliable ale–you won’t find too much variation from one Kölsch to the next. This is largely due to the fact that the beer is defined by the Cologne Brewery Association in the Kölsch Konvention of 1985(1). Like the infamous Reinheitsgebot, a Kölsch is only a Kölsch if it meets the terms in this Konvention. Certainly, there are other German breweries–and American breweries–that produce Kölsch-like ales; however, they aren’t (and shouldn’t be!) labeled “Kölsch.”

(1) In case you were wondering what the Kölsch Konvention stipulates: 1) the beer must be brewed in the Cologne metropolitan area, 2) must be pale, 3) must be top-fermented, 4) must be hop-accented, 5) must be filtered, and 6) it must have a gravity between 11-14% plato. 

The good Kölsch name was further protected in 1997 when it became an appellation of origin under EU law. This means that, much much like Parmesan cheese or Bordeaux wine, only Kölsch beers brewed in the designated region can be referred to as a Kölsch.

Regardless of these exclusive protective regulations, the Kölsch isn’t all that popular outside of the Cologne MSA. Less than 1 out of 20 beers consumed in Germany is a Kölsch. In Cologne proper, the  Kölsch accounts for about half of beers downed in das bierhaus.

Kölsch Ale is not a German Lager

What is particularly special about the Kölsch, is that not only is it one of the few ales in Germany, it is actually a hybrid beer–neither a true ale nor a true lager. An ale, as you may know, is a warm-fermented, top-conditioned beer, and a lager, the opposite. A Kölsch is a combination of these two techniques: it is warm-fermented, but bottom-conditioned, and it sits for about two months before consumption, which is typical of a lager.

Cologne was an anomaly in German beer history. According to moderately credible sources, lagering techniques slowly made their way to Cologne. While lager was all the rage in most of Germany, Cologne only really began brewing lagers with the advent of refrigeration. Instead of jumping on the lager bandwagon, the stadtvaters (city fathers), decreed that top-fermented beers (ale) were to be brewed in the city in 1603. Later, the city outlawed lager production after Bavaria prohibited summer brewing due to potential quality and spoiling concerns. Lagers, which are cold-conditioned (i.e., designed to sit in the winter), were brewed in the winter and ales in the summer. Thus, it was illegal to brew ales in Bavaria. Cologne and neighboring Dusseldorf had no intention in following Bavarian trends, and began producing a “Keutebier”–a wheat-based ale falling somewhere between a Belgian Wit Ale and a German Hefeweizen–which was consumed between the 1500-1800s. Slowly, the wheat content of Keutebiers petered out and slowly transformed into the beer we know today as the Kölsch–an all barely ale. Dusseldorf produced a slightly darker, copper ale called an Altbier, or old beer, referring to medieval pre-lager (ale) techniques.  The major difference between the Kölsch and the Altbier is that the latter is brewed with Munich malts (giving it a dark, amber color–like a Marzen) and the former with Pils malts (giving it a pale, straw color–like a pilsner). They are both barely-based and filtered, unlike German’s popular ale, the Hefeweizen, which is wheat-based and unfiltered.

A Cologne Ritual 

As the Kölsch is a regional speciality, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there are a number of cultural rituals attached to the consumption of this hybrid ale. For one, the Kölsch is a party beer: this is a beer that is often served in large quantities via special beer-carriers (kranz), and this is also a beer that is meant to be consumed quickly. Lots of beer consumed quickly = PARTYBIER. Further, while the Koln Konvention stipulates how the beer is brewed and with what ingredients, there might as well be a Konvention that mandates how the beer is served. Kölsch ales are served in something called a stange–a 200 ML narrow glass.

Köbes mit einem Kranz Kölsch

Köbes, or male waiters in Cologne, deliver these beer holders while wearing a long blue apron and a money pouch. As you finish a beer, the Köbes will replace your empty stange with a new one until you admit yourfail at life by putting a coaster over your stange, or you become a bierleichen (beer zombie) and fall asleep at the table.

someone couldn’t keep up…

What to Expect

Brewed with one malt, the pale Pils malt, and the quintessentially German Hallertauer hops, expect the following from your Kölsch:

Sight: Clear, pale straw-colored body with a little head that quickly dissipates.

Smell: The aroma should be slightly apple-y, hoppy, and fresh.

Taste: Light hop bitterness, with a hint of sweetness from the malt, and a slight fruity flavor from a special yeast.

Feel: Dry with medium carbonation that will become slightly flat if you let it sit for too long.

malthop

As you go forward with your Kölsch drinking, make note that it is traditionally served in a tall cylindrical glass called a “stange,” or pole. As the story goes, these ales are served in small glasses because they lose their flavor as they sit. So, get yourself a Stange, a Kölsch, and drink quickly.

prost!

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Brown Ales: A History More Complex Than Its Nondescript Name

As the leaves turn from the color of a sunset to a dreary murky brown, we try not to think about what we’ve lost, but instead, what beer we can drink next. In honor of the fading, and ultimately falling, leaves that have given their lives to provide us with shelter, we will celebrate by focusing on Brown Ales this month.

Brown has such a bad rep. I mean, whose favorite color was brown…ever? Brown is associated with many unfortunate things, from dirt to well…so who in their right mind would really reach for a six pack of Brown Ale when you could walk away with an IPA or a festive seasonal? The India Pale Ale invokes a sense of adventure and bright, refreshing flavors. The Brown Ale? Oh, who even knows. And that breweries call their Browns “Moose Drool” doesn’t make this situation any better. Well. We are making it our mission this month to change the perception of what a Brown Ale is by drinking as many as possible and showcasing their goodness. Well, we’ll see about the latter at least.

Bring on the Moose Drool!

Moose drool…fresh from Missoula, MT.

Like with our early discussion of the Porter, the term “Brown Ale” has been associated with a number of different beer recipes throughout its history. It encompasses a number of regional British beers, a Belgian ale, and the American Brown Ale. Talk about an international sensation.

Marketing Matters

You might have noticed by now that most beer styles have an origination in Germany, Belgium, or the UK. This month, our story begins in England.

The “Brown Ale” has been around since the 17th century, although you would not recognize it among its contemporary counterparts. The original Brown Ale was simply a British Mild Ale that was brewed with 100% brown malts, rendering the ale a dark brown. This darker ale disappeared in the 18th century, as British brewers quickly made the switch to a new, cheaper malt (pale malt). Can’t blame them. RIP Brown Mild Ale.

A Regional Divide

This might have been the end of the Brown Ale for all eternity if  Mann Brewery didn’t market one of their products as a “Brown Ale” in the 19th century. With help from a marketing campaign advertising it as “the sweetest beer in London,” this beer wooed the London populace with its rich roasted malt and chocolate flavors. By the 1920s, Mann’s Brown Ale was one of the most popular beers in the area. Other British brewers quickly hopped on the Brown Ale bandwagon hoping to make a pretty pence. Perhaps you’ve heard of Newcastle? While Mann Brewery might have revived the Brown Ale (at least in name), Newcastle put the style on the beer map. Newcastle was established by Lt. Colonial James Porter in 1927. Working with a chemist, Lt. Porter developed this Brown Ale during an attempt to emulate Bass ale. Although he considered the initial recipe a failure, as you might note that Newcastle tastes nothing like Bass, it was an instant hit for its sweet malt flavors and high alcohol content. In fact, the story goes that this alcoholic ale was so popular, that the local police asked Porter to reduce the ABV because citizens were wastedly running amok and filling up the prisons for their misdeamonrs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had felt that way after drinking Newcastle. I guess I’m doing it wrong.

What? I know it’s the wrong country, I’m just illustrating a point.

So this little story about Mann’s Brown Ale and Newcastle turned out to play quite a significant role in the history of the Brown Ale. There are now two types of Brown Ale in Britain: Northern Brown Ale (ala Newcastle) and Southern Brown Ale (ala Mann). The Northern Brown Ale is light in color, light in hops, and light in carbonation. The predominant character of these is a sweet caramel malt. Some Northern Brown Ales are also called ‘nut brown ales’ for their resemblance to, well, the color of nuts. The Southern Brown Ale is a darker, more robust brew. It is characterized by a strong, fruit and malt profile with very little hops. If this was war, you could claim the North champion: Mann Brewery was purchased by Usher Brewery in 1964, which was recently purchased by Wychwood Brewery, who does not produce a Brown Ale. After near extinction, there is, allegedly, a Southern Brown Ale revival emerging in England…while Northern Brown Ales are exported across the globe. Newcastle FTW.

…And Back in America

So that’s the English story. Like many beer histories beginning in 17th century Britain, there was also an American story. Colonies developed their own Brown Ale, adapted from British recipes with ingredients found in the US. Molasses was a key ingredient in early American Brown Ale days.  Later, as Brown Ale production picked up in England at the turn of the century, its production followed suit in the US. Copycats.

“Nut Brown Ales” were advertised in the early 1900s as a winter seasonal brew and a traditional ‘Olde English’ beer. While little is known about the actual style of the beer, its association with England and its fancy beer drinkers was aggressively linked to this “Brown Ale.” This type of marketing persisted into the 1940s.

Pittsburgh Brewing’s Nut Brown Ale
(source: zythophile.wordpress.com)

The “Nut Brown Ale” fell out of fashion after WWII, only to be revived during the early craft beer movement of the 1980s. In true American fashion, these early home brewers developed a unique version of the British Brown Ale. The first American Brown Ale (ABA) was brewed in Texas. As with everything in Texas, this ABA was bigger, stronger, and meaner. It had a high hop content, high malt content, and a matching high ABV. As brewers in California and across the country began brewing their own versions of ABAs, they lost a little bit of their bite and evolved into a more balanced beast.

RIP, Wicked Pete

The most prevalent and successful American Brown Ale was Pete’s Wicked Ale, one of the first mass marketed craft beers. Pete’s Wicked Ale took the Northern Brown Ale recipe and added a helluva lot of hops. American, and all. However, as of this year, Wicked Ale is no longer in production due to the decline of the Brown Ale’s popularity in the US (according to Pete’s owner). I mean, it makes sense. Today, microbrew enthusiasts are searching for the incredibly hoppy, obscure, or bizarre. And while once Americans found the Brown Ale chichi, you know, coming from the classy British Isles and all, now they just find it boring. But! There are still some in production, and we will be the judge of their ability to appease and entertain our self-proclaimed classy palates.

Oh! We had mentioned that Belgium also produces a Brown Ale. It does. There are two types of Brown Ales made in Belgium: the Oud Bruin and the Bruin (or Brune). The Oud Bruin (or Flanders Brown) is a twice fermented Flemish ale that is aged for about a year (hence the name “oud”). These yeasty, funky beers are aged in oak, which give them a brown color (hence “bruin”). The Bruin is a darker, less funky Oud Bruin. Honestly, I wouldn’t have mentioned anything about these Belgian dudes if I hadn’t already purchased a Bruin to review this month. They’ll get their own profile another month.

What to expect

Since we’re really discussing three types of beer here, there will be much variation in each of these categories.

Sight: The color will range from a deep copper to a dark brown. While most Brown Ales are clear, the traditional recipes are unfiltered and will be a little cloudy.

Smell: Whether you are enjoying a Brown Ale in the Highlands or in Dallas, your Brown Ale will smell quite malty and you’re not going to get much hops on the nose. Some other aromas to expect include caramel, nuts, chocolate, and grains.

Flavor: You won’t be getting any bombastic, dynamic flavors from your resident Brown Ale. However, expect a malty and generally balanced beer. Some Brown Ales will have a more roasted, toffee taste (Northern Browns), while others will be sweeter and have a fruit and molasses flavor (Southern Browns). The hops will be largely undetectable, but some American Browns will serve you your daily dose of hops (thanks, America).

Feel: The body will be pretty thin with low carbonation from the British and slightly more from the Americans.

We will be the judge of just how light your dark side is, Newcastle.

Nice, straightforward history, huh? Well as most histories go, things were not this simple at the time. After reading a piece arguing that there is in fact no such thing as an “English Brown Ale” because the term does not convey any type of cohesive style, we feel especially compelled to make our own assessment before agreeing with his well-researched argument. While drinking a Newcastle Brown Ale and a Southern Brown Ale one after the other would likely prove his point, we will go a step further and drink thirty Brown Ales to prove our point: drinking beer is good. And if we can substantiate or disprove his argument along the way, all the better.

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PROST! A History of Oktoberfest and the Märzen

Annnnnd we’re back! For the next two weeks, we will be celebrating the 16-day Oktoberfest alongside the Germans and fortunate foreigners drinking copious litres of beer and snacking on brezn at Oktoberfest 2012 in Munich. Oktoberfest, now in its 202nd year, evolved from a royal festival celebrating the marriage of Konig Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (trying pronouncing that after a few beers).

Happy wedding, Ludwig and Therese, you crazy kids!

The festival was such a hit in Bavaria that the party never actually stopped. Oktoberfest has been held on the field in front of the historic city gate since 1810 (with some exceptions, such as years during cholera outbreaks and those wars). Over two centuries later, Oktoberfest is now the world’s largest festival, with over 6.4 million attendees in 2010. There have been some minor changes to the fest over the last two hundred years. What were once beer stalls to spend time between horse races are now beer tents that can accommodate thousands of thirsty celebrators. Swings have been replaced by multiple-looped roller coasters (I still don’t know whose good idea that was). Nevertheless, what was once a celebration of love, is now a celebration of the love of beer.

Oktoberfest: Then and Now

BUT! It’s not just a celebration of any beer. No, at Oktoberfest, you drink Oktoberfestbier. Maß und Maß of Oktoberfestbier. While your local liquor store will have a number of Oktoberfestbier-style six-packs on the shelves, there are only six beers in the world that hold the title of Official Oktoberfestbier. In order to qualify as a true Oktoberfest, the beer must be brewed in Munich by a Munich brewery and meet a number of other technical criteria, from ABV to gravity levels. This pretty much leaves six breweries with the permission to serve their Oktoberfest brews at Oktoberfest: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu-München, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten.

So what IS an Oktoberfestbier, exactly? Is it called as such for its association to the event? Or is there a unique style only produced this time of year? The answers are ‘absolutely’ and ‘it’s not that simple.’ Since the dawn of Oktoberfest, the Märzen has been the only style served. Märzen, which comes from the German word “März” for March, was a dark amber lager brewed in March and left to ferment all the summer long in dark caves. Thus, Märzens were available for enjoyment just in time for Oktoberfest. Over the years, the Oktoberfestbier has slightly deviated from the historic Märzen recipe. Now, you’ll find Oktoberfesters drinking a lighter Märzen (Helles Märzen), for example. But we’re avoiding the stein-sized question in the proverbial room: WHAT IS A MARZEN?

MARZEN TIME!

DAS MARZEN, or Märzen-Oktoberfest-Wiener

As can be inferred by its provenance, the Märzen is a Bavarian beer. Like many other Bavarian beers, the Märzen appeared on the scene sometime in late 15th century. Brewing occurred in March, as it was prohibited to brew beer in the summer to prevent spoilage. In order to maintain fermentation through the summer, more hops and sugars were introduced to the wort. Lo and behold, this made for a more alcoholic and fuller beer than other German lagers. Unsurprisingly, it was a hit.

A major moment in Märzen history occurred in 1840. Two brewers, one from Spaten Brewery and one from Austrian Dreher, decided to add a new malt to the Märzen recipe. This malt, the Vienna malt, rendered the beer sweeter and lighter than the Bavarian counterpart. This new brew was known as Märzen “brewed the Vienna way” in Germany and as a Vienna Lager in Austria.

Before long, Spaten retooled their recipe and added a Munich malt. This new recipe was marketed as THE “Oktoberfestbier” and is the one we drink today. It is almost unrecognizable from the original full-bodied, dark amber Märzens that were first consumed on Oktoberfest grounds. However, these lighter Märzens (Helles Märzen, or Wiesens) go down with a certain ease, enabling the attendees to sit in the beer tents for hours on end until they fully transform into Bierleichen. This is German for beer corpses. I think this term needs to be introduced into everyday English.

Bierleichen of all varieties.

So, what to expect from a Märzen/Oktoberfestbier?

While there are a number of variations, the major characteristic is that these beers are freaking balanced. A slightly more alcoholic lager, the average Märzen is between 5.8-6.3%.

Sight: The color will vary greatly from Märzen to Märzen. If you find yourself at Oktoberfest, you’ll be looking at a golden body with a springy white head. Most American Märzens hark back to historic recipes and will be a dark amber or copper.

Smell: Depending on the brewery, a strong Vienna or Munich malt will be the predominant aroma. Hops will be undetectable.

Flavor: This beer is all about the malts. There will be flavors of  toasted malts, sweet malts, biscuity malts. The Bavarian Märzen will have little to no hop presence. However, American breweries do as they do, and an inappropriate amount of hops will sneak through.

Feel: Expect a medium body with moderate carbonation and an overall creaminess. It will also be quite dry and crisp, a result of a longer fermentation.

SO. MUCH. BEER. (Getty Images)

So, then, it would seem that all Oktoberfestbiers are Märzens, but not all Märzens are Oktoberfestbiers. From this discourse, it ought not be surprising that the definition of a Märzen-Oktoberfest-Vienna is somewhat ambiguous. The best way to wrap your head around the many variations of this style? Drink as many as possible! So, go forth and join us on the two week Oktoberfest challenge! May we all be Bierleichen for weeks to come.

Motherf’ing PROST.

——–

Tip: there are many Oktoberfest celebrations happening in the tri-state area. Clearly going to one of these is the best way to get into the Oktoberfest spirit, short of booking a very expensive ticket to Munich. I highly recommend checking out Zum Schneider (try the Paulaner Original Wies’n), Radegast Hall (try the Hofbrau Oktoberfest), Pilsner Haus (try the Ramstein Oktoberfest), and Zeppelin Hall (try the Spaten Oktoberfest).

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Beercation 2012: Thailand Edition

Where in the world was TYIB?

The fourth and final Asian destination was the truly exotic and intoxicating Thailand. Well, those are definitely not words I would use to describe the beers of Thailand. I’ll be honest, beer reviewing (not drinking) took a back seat on this leg of the trip. Time normally spent thinking about the nuances of malts and hops was replaced with endless site visits to temples and pad thai street stalls. Regardless, the following photograph accurately depicts the beer scene in Thailand.

Beer is a relatively modern phenomenon in Thailand. The first brewery, Boon Rawd Brewery, was opened in 1934. This is likely due to the fact that Thailand was the only country in the region not subjected to European colonialism. Boon Rawd, producer of ‘premium’ Singha, ruled the beer market for most of the 20th century, only facing competition from Chang in 1995, the sweetheart of ThaiBev. Boon Rawd also began producing Leo, a ‘non-premium’ and cheaper lager later in the game and ThaiBev countered with its own ‘non-premium’ beer, Archa. While the aforementioned beers are the heavy hitters in Thailand, there are regionally-produced brews as well (which are generally the more interesting ones). For example, Phuket Beer (yes, found in Phuket) is actually brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law). Unfortunately for me, I did not travel south and was unable to find Phuket.

There are very few foreign options, as Thailand imposes a heavy duty on foreign imports. As a result, a number of large international beverage companies have made deals with the Thai beverage industry (ahem, ThaiBev and Carlsberg) in order to get in on the beer market.

One country simply cannot be home to both the best food and beer in the world (just look at Germany as an example). Thus, the fate of Thailand’s beer is to be mediocre and flavorless for years to come. Don’t cry over this unfortunate situation; just go to the closest noodle station instead. You’ll forget there was ever a problem in this world.

Beer: Leo
Brewery: Boon Rawd Brewery
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%

A Thai favorite (their website is iloveleo.com), Boon Rawd’s budget beer is not any worse than, let’s say, Milwaukee’s Best or Coors. Like many beers in the region, the body is pale gold and the flavor profile is predominantly corn and grain. The mouthfeel is a little thinner than other Southeast Asian lagers, and actually a bit oily. Despite the adorable leopard on the label, I would not drink this again. It was almost a pour-out, but my hotel room was hot and I forgot to buy water at the nearby 7-11.

Beer: Singha
Brewery: Boon Rawd Brewery
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5%

Singha is indisputably the best mass-produced beer in Thailand (sorry, Chang). While it also comes attached to the highest price tag, it’s worth the extra Thai baht. Singha is light, crisp, and is free of any unpleasant aftertastes. There’s actually a trace of hops in there, and it’s not impossible to detect an aroma. However, Singha is best had in Thailand; I purchased a six-pack the other day to indulge in my Southeast Asian nostalgia. The mission was a complete bust, as it didn’t come alongside a carton of mango sticky rice. Also, at the end of the day, it is just a pale lager.


Beer: Chang
Brewery: Cosmos Brewery (ThaiBev)
Style: Pale Lager
ABV: 5.0%

While Singha might be the best beer in Thailand, Chang is the most readily available. I’ll be honest, 90% of the time I drank a cold Chang alongside a large plate of Pad See Ew. This pairing was deceptive: I was convinced that Chang was best beer I’d have ever tried. However, the illusion was shattered when I went to a bar and ordered a Chang sans noodles. Turns out, Chang tastes like water and sweet corn. It does have an exceptional mouthfeel, but it fails every other “premium quality beer” test.

All in all, do not go to Thailand for the beer. I can give you a hundred other reasons to go…just try to sneak an IPA or Tripel in your suitcase.

TYIB, exploring mediocre lagers, one beer at a time.

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Beercation 2012: Bali Edition

Where in the world was TYIB?

The first destination of the summer was Bali, perhaps one of the most romanticized islands in the world. Known for its beaches, Hindu temples, and epicurean delights, Bali is as much a surfer’s dream as it is a spiritual center. Annnnd where there is tropical weather, tourist sites, and spicy food, I’ve learned, there is a generic pilsner-style lager lurking nearby to cool down the body, mind, and mouth. Bali was no exception. The Balinese cold one? “International Quality” BINTANG. Oh, and no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: this label looks exceedingly similar to that of “International Quality” Heineken. Oh, how the remnants of Dutch colonialism linger!

Beer: Bintang
Brewery: Multi Bintang Indonesia
Style: American “Adjunct Lager” (haha not even a real Pilsner–nice try, Bali)
ABV: 4.7%

Serving Style: Bottle
Glassware: Pilsner glass
Drinking Establishment: some cafe on Monkey Jungle Road
Primary Consumer: Kerensa
Secondary Consumers: Traveler-in-crime Lauren

OVERALL RATING:



Sight: Clear, pale yellow body with a thin white head.

Smell: Not completely unpleasant, but reeks of corn and mediocrity.

Flavor: It tastes like carbonation. Yes, it also feels like carbonation, but because of its dearth of flavor, the predominant taste is…carbonation. There are faint traces of hops, but that could’ve been from the last IPA I had back in the States.

Feel: See above.

Concluding Remarks:  Well, I didn’t come across any articles on the booming craft beer scene in Indonesia, so I wasn’t expecting a wide variety of Balinese beers upon arrival. However, Bintang appeared to be the only beer available, at least in the center of Bali (Ubud) where we stayed. (If you are interested in reading about the beers I missed in Bali, check out this guy’s survey.) As I concluded all that I can about Bintang in the above remarks, I will leave you with a bit of information that might save your ass in trivia night:

Bintang facilities were constructed under Dutch Colonial rule in 1929. After Indonesian independence in 1949, the facility was called “Heineken’s Indonesian Brewery Company.” The Indonesian government wasn’t having any of this association with the Dutch, and took control over the brewery in 1957. However, the powerful forces of Heineken reigned supreme, and they reclaimed brewing authority in 1967. It was in 1981 that the brewery finally received a Dutch-free identity: Multi Bintang Indonesia. While it certainly has a nice exotic ring to it, a pale lager is still a pale lager.

TYIB, exploring world history, one beer at a time.

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A Beer By Any Other Name Would Taste As Spiced: The Witbier.

After celebrating July American-Style, we head back to Belgium for the fine month of August. As we begin to enjoy–and savor–the last month of summer, we will explore a light yet flavorful style. Thus, Witbiers are the focus of our palates this month.

All Witbiers are wheat beers, but not all wheat beers are Witbiers (repeat that three times fast). Wheat beers are brewed with a high proportion of wheat, and are top-fermented–thus, ales. The Witbier, which is derived from the Flemish name for “white beer,” should not be confused with the Weissbier, which is German for “white beer.”  Confusing, no?  Well, to clarify, let’s look at the numbers: Weissbiers are brewed with 50% wheat and 50% malt, while Witbiers are brewed with more wheat and are flavored with an array of spices–from coriander to orange zest.  The wheat protein, along with the yeast that remains suspended in the brew, makes the Witbier look cloudy, or white, when cold.

BEER SNOB ALERT: As we begin this exploration, we kindly ask you to ignore the fact that Blue Moon claims to be a Witbier. It is not (really) a Witbier. Alright, maybe it’s a Belgian-style Witbier in some right, but it is certainly not indicative of the style. Do not be fooled!

The History

The Witbier has its origin in 14th century Belgian monasteries. France also likes ’em and calls the style “bière blanche.” And of course, American breweries have adopted this style as their own and sometimes refer to them as “Wittes.” The more names for a style, the more delicious the beer (if the Witbier is any indication).

If you’re hopped out from last month’s serving of brutal IPAs, this month is the one for you: the Witbier was created in medieval times as an alternative to using hops. Instead of dousing the brew in hops, a mixture of spices called “gruit” was introduced to preserve the ale. Historically, gruit included a wide variety of spices and herbs; now, it’s largely coriander and orange, and sometimes a nontraditional ingredient.

The Witbier was insanely popular among farmers in Belgium for the same reason that Saisons were: they were light, crisp, and had a low ABV.  (Witbiers typically range from 4.0-7.0%.)  These farmers, predominantly of grain and beet, hailed from east Belgium, where two breweries developed two different Witbiers: one from Louvain, and the other from a small town called…wait for it…Hoegaarden. Believe it or not, the beer from Louvain was more popular throughout Europe (where it was called “bière blanche de Louvain”) than its Hoegaarden counterpart–clearly history vilifies them in the end.

While both were widely consumed for centuries, the inception of the lager in the 19th century and, later, the decline of beer consumption post-WWII led to the Hoegaarden facility shutting down production in the mid-1950s.  (Louvain followed in suit in the mid-1970s.) But it wasn’t long before milkman-turned-beer savior Pierre Celis decided to revive the Witbier in the 1960s at the Hoegaarden facility.

To call the revival a success is an understatement: Hoegaarden is now owned by megabeeropolis Interbrew (apparently a forced sale between Celis and Interbrew), and Celis has since opened a brewery in Austin, TX and produces Celis White.

Pierre Selis, the man who resurrected the Witbier

So, what to expect from a Witbier?

Sight: The Witbier is unfiltered, and thus quite cloudy. The color can range from a pale yellow (think Hoegaarden) to a medium orange.  As mentioned, the cloudiness is also due to the suspended yeast and wheat proteins seen when the beer is cold.

Smell: Coriander, citrusy, and peppery, with a light grain aroma.

Flavor: Witbiers are always spiced, so coriander and other spices will be prevalent, but not overpowering.  (Coriander, when not used appropriately, can give it a slight ham-like taste.)  There may be a sweetness, like honey or vanilla, and citrus, like orange peel.  It could be very slightly hopped, and due to the presence of lactic acid, could be a little tart or sour, like a lambic.  Witbiers are the ones you tend to see served with a lemon; but be forewarned: that will obviously change the flavor profile of the beer.

Feel: Crisp but a little creamy, with a thin-to-medium mouthfeel and lively carbonation.

So call it what you will–a Witte, a Bière Blanche, or a Witbier–but whatever your preference, this month, cool down during the dog days of summer with this fine Belgian (or Belgian-style) wheat beer.  Cheers!

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The American IPA: Amber waves of grain…and malts…and of course, hops.

For the month in which we celebrate the birthday of America, it was an easy choice to decide on which beer style to celebrate: the American IPA!  Not unlike our own great country, this is a brew that originated in England; but like all great things made in the U. S. of A., we’ve take the style and made it our own: strong, bold, and patriotically hop-tastic.

A Brief History of the IPA: Survival of the Fittest

The India Pale Ale, or IPA, traces its roots back to the earliest Pale Ales of the 14th century–ales which were brewed from pale malt.  But when the 18th century rolled around, England wanted to begin sending beer to its troops stationed around the world, including in India, where the warm climate was none too conducive for brewing.  To prevent spoilage during the six-month trip overseas (these were the days before refrigeration and pasteurization), brewers raised the alcohol content of their beer and added hops–both of which help to prevent the growth of bacteria in beer.  The result?  A strong, bitter beer that the English soldiers, and eventually, the general public, happily embraced.  And so, the IPA was born.

George Hodgson: Man or Myth?

Many histories of the IPA credit a brewer named George Hodgson with “inventing” the first IPA in 1785; but really, this man, who worked at the Bow Brewery (located a bit east of London, near the Middlesex-Essex border), was just the first to gain supremacy in the Indian market through his dealings with the East India Company.  It is more likely that other brewers, including those in Burton upon Trent (a town well known for its brewing industry), were creating similar brews as Hodgson was selling his, as any brewer worthy of his title would know that beers high in alcohol and hops would have the best chance of surviving a long journey overseas.  And as for the date–1785–that is the year during which an advertisement ran in the Calcutta Gazette for the Hodgson-style Pale Ale; but 1785 was simply the date that this British-Indian newspaper was first published, not necessarily the year that Pale Ale began its existence in India.  In fact, there are records going back to the early 1700s in which the India-style Pale Ale is mentioned–and from Burton brewers, no less.  So we can probably say with some confidence that although Mr. Hodgson might’ve helped popularize the IPA, he most likely didn’t invent it.

America, Fuck Yeah!

Okay, so we know America likes to take things and make them bigger, better, faster, and stronger; well, the IPA is no different, and nowadays you’ll be hard-pressed to find a craft brewery in the U.S. that doesn’t have an original IPA in their line-up.  In the American IPAs you’ll find hops a-plenty, in regional varietals: Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo, Tomahawk, Warrior, Nugget, et al, with an ABV clocking in at around 6.0-8.0%.  (The Brits like to stick to their own hop varieties, such as Golding, Fuggles, and Bullion, and the ABV usually falls somewhere between 4.0-6.5%.)  And of course, America kicks it up a notch by offering Double IPAs (also known as Imperial IPAs), which are stronger in both flavor and alcohol content (~7.0-14.0%), i.e. hop flavor to the maxxx.  This style originated on the West Coast, but has made its way cross-country, because even gals in New Jersey need to get punched in the face with a fistful of hops every now and then.  As Brendan Moylan, founder of the Moylan Brewing Company in Novato, CA, puts it, “We’re the same country that put men on the moon, and we’re taking the same approach to beer…We passed the rest of the world by ages ago, and they’re just waking up to it.”  Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Brendan.  Fuck yeah.

(Read more about Mr. Moylan in this great New York Times article about how X-TREME America is in its IPA brewing.)

Uncle Sam wants YOU to drink beer.

So, what to expect from the American IPA?

Sight: Look for a color ranging from very pale gold to reddish amber, with a white or off-white sticky head.  Most American IPAs will be relatively clear, but the unfiltered or dry-hopped varieties will appear a bit hazy.

Smell: The aroma of an American IPA is of course that of American hops: citrusy, floral, piney, herbal, or fruity.  Oh, and don’t forget bitter.  You might get a slight note of malts, but not as strong as you’ll find in an English IPA.

Flavor: As expected, the dominant flavor will be hops, hops, and more hops.  The same citrus-flower-pine-or-fruit notes from the American hops will be present, and a clean maltiness will balance out some of the hoppy bitterness, although it’s the bitterness that will probably be the main lingering aftertaste.  Some of the more alcoholic varieties will likely (but not surprisingly) give you some notes of alcohol as well.

Feel: A smooth, medium-bodied mouthfeel.

So, happy birthday, America.  This month, we celebrate our life, our liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–and by happiness, we mean the consumption of delicious, delicious beer.  Cheers to American IPAs!

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Fit for a Farmer: The History of the Saison

Saison…say WHAT? This month’s beer investigation brings us to the farmlands of Southern Belgium. The Saison (French for “season”) is a Farmhouse Ale, with an origin story situated in the French-speaking Wallonian countryside in the 1700s. It has been described as a “rustic agrarian beer.”

This is where Wallonia is.

Fueling the Farm

One could say that the Saison was an early form of fuel on pre-industrialized farms, a crucial component to a productive harvest on the Wallonian farm and in the Wallonian farmhouse. Potable water was often unavailable in these rural areas, so developing a drinkable beverage was essential to the livelihood of the farm, farmers, and workers. Farmers brewed Saisons in the fall so that it would ferment in the winter (pre-refrigeration times and all) and would be ready in the summer. This ale was especially critical during these hot summer months, as seasonal workers (“les saisonniers”) essentially survived on Saisons while tending the crops. These Farmhouse Ales initially had a low ABV, at about 3.5%, in order to quench the thirst of les saisonniers without rendering them le wasted. (You’ll be happy to know that modern Saisons clock in between 5-7.5%.)

A Belgian farmhouse.

Each farm had its own recipe, and so early Saisons varied wildly from one another. There were some similarities, however. Saisons often contained a fair dose of hops, which helped to prevent spoilage, and many contained a slew of spices. Also, many farmers combined the new ale with older Saisons or Lambic fruit beers in order to add acidity to the beer. A funkiness also emerged in many brews, as poor farmers would re-pitch the same yeast every year. Even to date, many consider Saisons to be less of a definitive style, and instead, a collection of refreshing summer ales.

Over time, many of these small farms and farmhouses were converted into small breweries. The production and recipe of Saisons were slightly altered: they became more alcoholic as they were no longer produced for workers, and new spices and ingredients were introduced, such as beet juice and Havana sugar. Saisons became regarded as “regional specialties” as opposed to regional necessities.

Les Saisons Moderne

As farming became industrialized post-WWII, there was little need for les saisonniers on the Wallonian farms. Further, the miracle of refrigeration and drinkable water assuaged the requisite for summer ales. Thus, the production of Saisons petered out in the 1950s, with only a few small, artisanal Belgian breweries continuing the seasonal tradition. However, the popularity, production, and appreciation of Saisons has been resurrected in the last decade. In fact, Saison Dupont by Brasserie Dupont (considered to be the quintessential and model Saison) was named “Best Beer of the Year” by Men’s Journal in 2005. Dozens of American breweries have since experimented with this rustic approach to brewing, either deferring to existing Belgian models (such as the Saison Dupont) or taking the Belgian farmer’s approach to Saisons (i.e., Make It Work).

The French counterpart of the Saison is the Biere de Garde, which is a more robust, maltier brew.

What to expect

Modern Saisons are warm-fermented ales, and are generally unfiltered and bottle-conditioned, and sometimes dry-hopped. They are often brewed with Pilsner malt, and occasionally candi sugar, typical of Belgian ales, are used. Noble, Styrian, and East Kent Goldings hops are the most common in Saisons, creating the style’s characteristic dryness. The yeast strain is often temperamental and produces a tangy taste. As mentioned, there is not one singular recipe for Saisons, but many delicately include herbs and spices (such as pepper, coriander, and orange peel).

Sight: As to be expected, Saisons vary greatly in terms of sight, smell, and taste. Saisons are unfiltered and have a high yeast protein content, which gives them a cloudy, hazy appearance. While the quintessential Saison is light yellow, the color can range from straw to a deep, dark honey color. Most Saisons will produce a large, billowy white head.

Smell: Many Saisons will have a slight phenolic aroma (i.e., banana/bubble gum), like Belgian Tripels or German Hefeweizens. They will vary with the inclusion of different spices. Hops are likely to be detectable, as is a slight sour note.

Taste: Always complex, Saisons are spicy, tangy, sweet, citrusy, tart. American Saisons will be hoppier than their Belgian counterparts.

Feel: Saisons are exceptionally effervescent, with a thin-to-medium body. Some will even evoke the sensation of Champagne. Yes, please.

Saisons are one of the more complex beers out there in our fine world, partially due to the vague, ambiguous style guidelines and partially because of the unique flavor profile. They are sweet, yet tangy, and some are quite hoppy. The incredibly appealing mouthfeel and refreshing citrusness make the Saison the perfect beer to transition into summer, whether you’re lounging or working in the field.

Un saisonnier apres dix Saison. Salut!

Categories: Saison | Tags: , | 8 Comments

From the Caves of Plzeň Emerges the Pilsner: A History

What better way to ring in the outdoor drinking season than to focus on one of the most consumed beer styles in the world, the Pilsner? According to the German Beer Institute, nine out of ten beer consumed worldwide are Pilsners. This style is often misidentified as a “light beer” (e.g. Coors Light) or as synonymous with a Lager. And while both a lighter beer and a style of Lager, the nuances of this session beer have been generally under-appreciated. No longer, we say!  Bring the Pils our way!

The glory of the Pilsner.

The Pilsner is commonly found in the Czech Republic and Germany. While the Czech Pilsner and the German Pilsner have similar traits, there are some noticeable differences. You may have heard of Pilsner Urquell? That is a Czech beer, and one of their most popular (or at least most widely-distributed; in the Czech Republic itself, Staropromen is the more popular brew).  In Germany, the popular Pilsner is Jever.

The Origin of the Czech Pilsner

The history of the Pilsner in the Czech Republic actually has its roots in the Ale.  Apparently, in the 1830s, the citizens of the Czech town Plzeň (then Austria Hungary) saw a horrifying sight one day: barrels and barrels of Ale were being poured down the city streets by consumers unhappy with the increasingly deteriorating quality of their beer. At the time, bacteria was prone to grow in Ale yeast, and the brewers were growing increasingly frustrated by their production of an unconsumable product.

In 1840, a group of brewers in Bohemia sought a new way of producing beer. They commissioned Bavarian brewer Josef Groll to teach them how to brew in the bottom-fermenting method (a.k.a. the method used to produce a Lager), as Germans were renowned for this method. Groll brought with him Lager yeast–the first time it had crossed into the Czech lands. Using the Lager yeasts and local Saaz hops (closely familiar to the Noble hops that Groll would have used in Germany), Groll began brewing a new Lager, in the German style of a Helles bock, alongside the Bohemian brewers in the caverns of Plzeň.

The beer that emerged out of these caves was clearer than anything Groll & Company had expected; the Czech brewers were accustomed to brewing dark, murky Ales, not this clear, straw-colored, super-refreshing Lager. And in those caverns, in 1842, the Pilsner style was born. The name became a brand in 1859, and the first Pilsner to be mass-produced was the aforementioned Pilsner Urquell in 1898.

The iconic gate outside of the Pilsner Urquell brewery that is found on their logo.

While a number of variations on the recipe have emerged over the last one-and-a-half centuries, Pilsners are most commonly made with Saaz hops, Lager yeast, and soft water, which brings out the flavor of the grains. The recipe has been tinkered with by major American breweries, such as Budweiser, as it is such a crisp, drinkable style. These breweries, to reduce costs, have replaced some barley with rice, cutting the alcohol (and flavor) content. These variations, sometimes still marketed as a “Pilsner,” are more actually  “American Light” lagers, so…BEWARE. If you go out and try to find a Pilsner tonight, don’t be fooled when Coors tells you it’s a Pilsner. It’s not; it just wishes it was.

Molson’s “Old Style Pilsner”…Old Style apparently meaning a time when Native Americans lived in teepees while early airplanes flew overhead and cars cruised around country roads.

While the origin story of the Pilsner has its roots in Bohemia and Bavaria, the Pilsner did not make its way to Germany until a little while later (Radeburger debuted a Pilsner in 1872). The style is slightly different there, too. The German Pilsner (or Pils, as it’s sometimes abbreviated to) is more bitter and earthy. Popular German examples are Jever and Becks’s (found in the North) and Bitburger (found in the South). German Pilsners also vary depending on their geographic orientation. Northern Pilsners are associated with an even more bitter, almost aggressive, hop presence and zest due to the hard water in this region and the Southerners are generally more mellow.

Imitators have since popped up in Belgium, Poland, and other neighboring countries, where they are often sweeter and are more closely aligned with the European Lager. Although we slammed the early American adaptation of the Pilsner, there have been a number of craft breweries that have done what US craft breweries do best: take a traditional style and amp up the alcohol content. The Imperial Pilsner emerged in the US in the last few decades, and they are generally spicier, more bitter, and a helluva lot more alcoholic. Go, Team USA.

So, what to expect?

Sight: Look for a clear, straw body with a light, white, long-lasting head.

Smell: The aroma will be of light malts, a little spice, and little hop.

Flavor: Expect a crisp grain taste with a lingering hop bitterness. Czech Pils will also have a floral note (characteristic of the Saaz hop). The German counterpart will be on the bitter-er side, but will be balanced with a citrus presence.

So, go get your Pilsner on!

What we’re trying to say is, enjoy the month. Go outside, order a Pilsner (Urquell or otherwise), and drink that 4.5% beer until it finally gives you a buzz. Frequent your favorite local beer garden, order some smažený sýr (fried cheese) or wurst, and let the glory of this simple yet delicious beer sink in whilst you sit outside in the sun. What. Is. Better. Than. That?

The Czechs consume the most beer per capita in the world; now’s the month to discover why! (Just please, be wary of American Light impostors.)

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Ein Bock, Dopplebock, Maibock, und mehr!

To celebrate the coming of spring, we are taking a trip to the Vaterland of Bier…Deutschland! While Germany has become synonymous with Oktoberfest, Hefeweizens, biergartens, and the future of the Eurozone, our favorite bierlande has more to offer than wheat beer and festivals (though who could possibly need more than that?) Thus, we turn our attention to the lesser-known Bock, a malty lager from the small city of Einbeck.

North-South Translation

While most popular German beer was developed in Bavaria (a state in southern Germany), the Bock has its roots in Einbeck, a small medieval city in the northern state of Lower Saxony. During the 13th century, Einbeck had a hold on the ale manufacturing market. The beer produced in Einbeck was exported all over the world through the Hanseatic League. Like many other beers-en-route, the ale made by Einbeck brewers was extra strong to endure lengthy journeys. The Dukes of Bavaria, upon reception of the Einbecker ale, were so enamored with the strong ale that they eventually developed their own recipe so that they could produce it in their own courts in Munich. After the dissolution of the Hanseatic League after the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, the shipping routes from Einbeck were closed and production slowed. But back in Bavaria, in order to make sure the recipe was as close to the Einbeck original as possible,  Duke Maximillian employed the services of Einbecker brewmaster Elias Pichler to oversee its production in the newly constructed Hofbräuhaus. The first Munich Einbeck beer was tapped in 1612.

The Bock travels South.

There was a major difference between the northern and southern recipes, though. While the Einbecker had been brewed with a top-fermenting ale yeast, the only yeast available in Munich was a bottom-fermenting lager yeast. Thus, the Bavarianization of the original Einbeck brew transformed the beer from an ale to a lager.

The Naming of the Bock

Bock, bock, oh where for art thou name from? And why are there always so many goats on your labels? Well, there are a few cute explanations. One theory is that it was brewed during the Capricorn sign (the zodiac symbol of the sea-goat). However, the most accepted origin is that in Munich, people looking for a beer from Einbeck would ask for “Ein Bock” (which means “goat” in German).

Goat Beer.

Style

The Traditional Bock is a strong lager, with an ABV at over 6.5%. It has a complex, toasty maltiness with a very slight hop presence. The malts, usually Munich and Vienna malts, tend to manifest in a sweet caramel taste with no roasted or burnt note.

Types

There are a number of substyles that have emerged over the years:

Doppelbock: While the Bock was consumed for purposes of pleasure, a similar style was also brewed by the Munich monks of St. Francis of Paula during periods of fasting (e.g. Lent and Christmas) in order to sustain them. When the Paulaner beer (still available today as the Salvator) was inevitably made available to the public on April 2, 1751 (the celebration of St. Francis of Paula), they had sworn they had tried it before…it tasted just like the Ein Bock! They called this the Doppelbock instead and it understandably became associated with Lent. However, under Napoleon, a creed was instituted that separated church and state; thus, the Church was unable to engage in commerce, and the production of Paulaner beer came to an end. However, in 1806, the owner of another Munich brewery rented the Paulaner facility and, in 1830, decided to return the Salvator recipe from its Napoleonic demise. It was released to celebrate the arrival of Lent. While no fasting was involved, a helluva lot of Doppelbock drinking was.

Wanting to get in on the Doppelbock action, other Munich brauhauses developed their own versions of the Salvator. However, Paulaner got a trademark patent on the name Salvator, so other breweries developed other “-ator” names, such as the Celebrator, Maximator, and Triumphator.

The Doppelbock is usually richer, drier, and hoppier. It has a little bit of a roasted and chocolate note and a higher ABV at 6-9%.

Maibock/Hellesbock: While there is not a general consensus if Maibocks and Hellesbocks are the same, the brews are nevertheless similar: both are paler, clearer versions of the Bock, with less maltiness and more hoppiness. The Hellesbock, it is thought, was developed in the 19th century when other lighter beers such as the Pale Ale and Pilsner were created. The Maibock is considered a “fest” beer, produced for the Maifest. It is basically a seasonal Helles, and sometimes is a bit spicier. Hellesbocks and Maibocks are usually between 5.5-8%.

Eisbock: The Eisbock, or Ice Bock, is a badass Doppelbock that has been made in Bavaria for centuries. Simply enough, it is produced by freezing and concentrating a Bock.

The Eisbock legend is that it was made by accident in the Bavarian city of Kulmbach. Apparently, a young brewer was too tired to put a freshly brewed Bockbier barrel into a cellar after production and left it outside. However, the night turned cold and the Bock froze over night. Consequently, the barrel exploded as the frozen beer expanded. However, the brewers discovered that the alcohol had separated from the water and concentrated at the center of the barrel. The brewers were none too pleased with the young brewer for ruining the Bock, so they forced him to drink this concentrated liquid. He discovered, however, withh joy, that this concentrated liquid was the sweetest and most alcoholic beer he had tasted. Thus, the Eisbock was born!

The making of Eisbock.

Today, the Eisbock is made according to the accidental techniques  of the young brewer: a strong Bock is frozen and then strained to get rid of most of the water. The resulting beer concentrate makes for more of a spicy, fruitier beer. Most Eisbocks have an ABV of 8 to 9%, but some are over 12%.

Weizenbock: The “bock” in Weizenbock is deceptive: Weizenbocks, a stronger Hefeweizen, are actually top-fermented ales and not bottom-fermented lagers. Also, they are produced using wheat malt and not barley malt (hence the “weizen!”) The flavor profile is ester alcohol, spice, dark fruit, cloves (from the top-fermenting yeast), and a generally more complex malt character. They are usually 7-10% ABV. There are two stronger variations of the Weizenbock: the Weizendoppelbock (extremely malty) and the Weizeneisbock (maltier and sweeter, with a steep ABV at ~12%).

Prost!

So, let the celebration of spring begin! Pick up a Maibock, a Doppelbock…well, any and all Bocks, and help us enjoy the month of the Bock!

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