Thursday, August 30, 2012

Presidential beer update

President Obama went on reddit yesterday to answer users' questions. Among many more substantive issues addressed was this:

What's the recipe for the White House's beer?
It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.

It's the issue du jour. Maybe he's waiting for Romney to release his tax records, or maybe it will be the centerpiece of the upcoming convention. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's time to get involved in politics!

This is my kind of politicking.
Let the VP kiss the babies.
We've known for a while that the president is a beer drinker, but what apparently escaped me was news in March that the White House would be serving home-brewed beer on St. Patty's day. The White House Honey Ale was brewed by Obama himself according to some unreliable sources cited by NPR (the Drinking Buddies have explained before that beer journalism is of a different caliber than other sorts, although where and when we explained this escapes my memory).

That's not the end of the story. NPR later discovered a petition on the White House website for the president to release his home brew recipe. I think this is a fine cause, but its outlook is grim: 25,000 signatures are needed by September 17 for the petition to be considered, but as of today, there are only 1,036. That includes me, having just now added my John Hancock, my signature is not yet dry (or whatever the cyber equivalent of that is). In case you were waiting to get involved in politics until the right moment, the time is now! The relationship between beer and democracy is a glorious one (if you have any info to back that up, please send it my way), so rise up and let your voice be heard! Here's the link to the petition so that you might share it with 23,964 of your friends:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Post Summer Festival and Homebrew Update

After reading all of Ryan's Germany adventures, I felt very quaint. I mean, here I am, all tucked away in my little Michigan enclave! What a small world I live in! It also made me notice how long it has really been since I had tasted an imported brew. I can't even think of the last Belgian Ale I've had that was actually from Belgium. Time to visit my local store and grab a few samples.

Side Note: If you are in the Southeast Michigan area, Ashley's of Westland does a Belgian Beer Festival in the fall that is really grand. The diversity and selection is unrivaled. They even import the brewery glassware to complete your Belgian experience.

Side Note #2: Anyone remember this Belgian guy from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?
He looks like he could use a Trippel about now.
Back in America, The Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Festival was intoxicating. This year's trend reared its head in a variety of imperial stouts typically infused with some other addition. Fruits were typical, but the recent popularity of breakfast stouts gave rise to the various barrel-aged/coffee/chocolate/bacon/Canadian bacon additions. While I can appreciate the thought - I love Founder's take on the Breakfast Stout - it can get to be a little much over the course of a festival. I equate it to eating too many pancakes.

I also got to try my newer homebrews. The wheat was similar to the recipe for my previous wheat attempt, but I added an extra pound of wheat and used a Belgian yeast strain (Wyeast 3942). I honestly prefer my previous recipe for the simple fact that I find the new version lingers around in your mouth too long. Summertime demands a quick exit.

I had some of a stout I made with orange zest. I must have overestimated the power of the zest (about 1 1/2 oranges worth) because I did not get any of that in the flavor profile. Still, it was thick, black as midnight, and smooth, which is exactly what I wanted to make. Now if only it had a bit more body...

Not to find another reason to say Belgian in this article, but I'm about three days away from tasting my repeated bath of Saison, as mentioned here. I extracted less sugars this time, which was probably due to my rather impatient sparging. This was offset, at least in technical measurement, by the better fermentation (lower final gravity). In the end, the efficiency of the whole process ended up being exactly the same. And, yes, it did clear a bit from when I last posted. I shall compare the two batches when ready and share the results soon.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Beer gardens and museums: Report from Munich

Grüß Gott! I've recently returned from Munich, the "capital" of Bavaria, and am eager to share my experiences. Any readers who have visited the region will find no surprises in my report, but for those of you who have not been, let me regale you with tales of my voyage. Germany holds an esteemed position in the world of beer-making, both historically and now. The last time I visited, I was too young to appreciate much about this. I was 15 and the fine folks of Germany won me over just by letting me have any beer at all. Moreover, I was overwhelmed when I was handed a bottle whose label read something along the lines of "proudly brewed since 1272". This was my first visit to Bavaria, a region known for it's friendly, easy-going people and as the B in BMW. I was even told that Munich is jokingly referred to as the northernmost Italian city because of the character of it's people. This is a stretch, having been to Italy. Or maybe it's a dig at the northern Germans. Probably both.
Folks wearing lederhosen just 'cause
We visited two beer gardens during our visit: one in the Viktualienmarkt, and the one in the Englischer Garten. The Viktualienmarkt is a giant food market made up of open-air stalls in the center of Munich. Its beer garden is a big expanse of picnic tables in the center of the market with a single stall serving beer. It's a place to relax and nosh on some of the food you've found with a cold one. At first I was turned off by the long line, but they move people through with crazy efficiency, all with a smile.

The Viktualenmarkt beer garden
The line for beverage.
Is it beer you're looking for?
A few things surprised me about the offerings. First was that they only served Paulaner. I found it to be the norm that establishments serving beer offered only one brand (more on this later). Second was the dunkelweiss, a beer style I had never seen or heard about. Of course I had to try it. Lastly, there were ample nonalcoholic options, including two juices and alkoholfrei (alcohol free) beer. Looking around at the gathered people, I noticed that quite a few opted for juice.

A new discovery.

Enjoying a dunkelweiss at the Viktualenmarkt.

"Dunkel" means dark, which is the opposite of "Hell" which means pale. Dunkelweiss is pretty much what you'd expect: a wheat beer with a bit more malt character than a traditional wheat beer. I wonder whether this style will show up stateside in the future. Certainly there has been an increased interest in wheat ales, as highlighted by Trevor in last month's Beer of the Month feature.

The Englischer Garten is an even bigger affair and more of a main attraction. Any visit to Munich in the summer should include this giant park and its vast beer garden. It's like central park but bigger. There's a river that can be surfed and a nude sunbathing area with lots of naked dudes. The beer garden is a huge array of picnic tables flanked by beer and food stalls and a five story Chinese-style pagoda. I spent the entire afternoon there with my wife and father-in-law. Even on a Wednesday afternoon, it was pretty busy. We brought sandwiches and watermelon and bought a whole roasted fish at one of the stalls. Beer comes in 1L and .5L mugs. Once again, only one brand was available: Hofbrau. About an hour after our arrival, a brass band started playing from the pagoda. All sorts of people were there: tourists, locals, old folks, families, etc. Because the picnic tables are separate from the beer vendors, there is no obligation to buy anything. This, along with the plentiful alcohol-free options, gives the whole place a supremely relaxed atmosphere. Unlike a bar, drinking beer is not the focus. You can read a book or chat with friends for as long as you like. You might enjoy a liter of beer while your grandma has an apple juice. And don't worry about bringing a designated driver, the subway system is fantastic and will get you anywhere you need to go.

The Wednesday afternoon crowd.
My wife and father-in-law.

Why not finish with fried cake and plums?
Hours later.

By my observation, Bavarians predominantly drink pale lagers. The standard offering each place we visited was light lager, dark lager, light weissbier and dark weissbier. At restaurants, a pilsner might be on offer (how pilsners differ from other light lagers continues to evade me).

Finally, let me tell you about my visit to Munich's Bier and Oktoberfestmuseum. According to their website, it is "Well worth visiting and culinary pleasures". Unfortunately, I can't recommend this museum, especially if you can't read German. The rooms are disjointed and spare, with not much to look at. There is a lot of text on the walls in German, with maybe 10% of it translated into English. Even so, there is no particular narrative or flow to it. There are three floors: The fist is focused on the history of beer brewing in Munich, the second on Oktoberfest and the third has a constantly looping movie about how beer is made. Although I couldn't understand what was being said in the movie, it seemed to be aimed at people who had never before considered what it takes to brew beer. I'll skip talking further about the Oktoberfest section since I understood very little and the exhibits were minimal. As for beer history, here's the most elaborate exhibit:

Accompanying this full scale diorama was a paragraph in German, presumably remarking on how beer was historically used to combat the pallor associated with living in a room without windows.

This seems interesting and culturally significant - if only I could learn something about it! There's text in neither German nor English. Oy vey!

I'll stop hating to report the bit of information I was able to learn: Before 1800 there were many breweries in Munich, but because of mergers and other reasons known only to German MBA students, only six remain.  Most of these large-scale operations went global in the second half of the 20th century. You have undoubtedly heard of a few of them: Spaten, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. It's pretty easy to find the first three here in Baltimore. They commonly have agreements with restaurants to serve only their brand, which makes it very hard for craft brewers to grab any market share. I would be interested to learn whether there currently are any craft breweries in Germany.

After Munich, my wife and I spent three days in Rome. At the end of my last post I asked whether I would find anything in Italy other than Peroni. Answer: not really. Peroni is dominant. There are a few other unremarkable pale lagers that taste just like it. Still, they get the job done. Italy gets hot and these beers are smooth and refreshing. Nuff' said.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Beer of the Month (August)

Dear Drinking Buddies,
   Today i was reminded once again of the importance of the "save" feature. This marks the third beer-related loss of data in one week. Please, remember to save your documents, and always spay or neuter your pets.

   So let's see. I originally started off this Beer of the Month entry by pointing out just how difficult it was for me to avoid the expression "that time of the month". Meta-humor is very "in", you see. I quickly progressed into an explanation that the adjectives preceding the beer style for each month is purely for literary flavor and is otherwise meaningless. "Noble" last month wasn't referring to the hops, but rather the innate honor and royalty of the wheat ale style.  This month's contestant is

The Acerbic India Pale Ale

   Like many beer connoisseurs i fell victim to one of the classic beer blunders, the greatest of which is never to get involved in a land...what?  That's not right?  Never mind. I had heard and believed the story that the IPA got its name because the extra hops provided necessary preservatives for the long journey from England to colonial India. That's only peripherally true. The connection to India is well established, but hops' preservative qualities are disputed -- and in any case there's a better explanation. As all homebrewers know, a strong, green hops flavor mellows out over time. This is the reason why we condition our beers. I suspect that this relatively new beer style (the IPA dates to around 1850) not only benefited from a lengthy conditioning period as it traveled in casks over sea, but it allowed the brewers to avoid having to cellar that brew for as long -- which would improve profits. There are some other theories regarding gravity and export taxes, but these arguments feel extraneous to the moniker of IPA.
   In this second attempt to write this article i'll change pace slightly and give very brief impressions of each featured beer before i digress.

North Peak American Wheat IPA
IBU: 66.7
ABV: 6.7%
Hops: Cascade, Perle, Willamette.  Dry-hop: Cascade, Amarillo.

I appreciate what these brewers from Traverse City, MI, were trying to do with the inclusion of a whopping FOUR hop strains. I also enjoy the squat bottle and two-tone retro label.  However, many of the hops are quite similar and the pine flavor of the Cascade hops dominates. The inclusion of wheat malts balances the flavor profile somewhat and gives the beer an overall quite pleasurable body.

Founders Red's Rye P.A.
IBU: 70
ABV: 6.6%
Hops: Amarillo

Founders is a Grand Rapids institution. It has also developed a bizarre hipster following -- this beer competes for a corner on the niche IPA market here in Michigan bars with Bell's Two Hearted. The Two Hearted is hopped with 100% Centennial hops, but swaps the picture of the grizzled old man (Red, i presume) with a trout, which i guess isn't as popular among that crowd? In any case, the spiciness in the Rye P.A. matches nicely with the natural kick in rye malts. I don't know how i got around to this analogy, but in the first iteration of this article i compared Barq's and A&M root beer to these two beers. Because Barq's and Red's Rye have bite and...A&M has waitresses on roller skates? I'm not sure, it was a sketchy analogy the first time around, too.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA
IBU: 90
ABV: 9.0%
Hops: Amarillo Gold, Simcoe, Magnum (needs verification)

Dogfish Head has made a valiant attempt and probably successful attempt to benchmark the IPA style -- which is particularly impressive since the Pacific Northwest grows the overwhelming majority of US hops (Dogfish Head is located in Delaware). With 60, 90, and 120 Minute IPAs regularly brewed and a 75 Minute blend on special reserve, these brewmasters aim to impress new craftbrewers by the numbers. With flavor notes on their own website that list brandied fruitcake and raisins and a whopping 9% ABV the 90 IBU are in good, balanced company that make this beer taste considerably less bitter than either of the previously showcased beers this month. Since i prefer to savor rather than guzzle my beer, that's just fine with me.

   A note regarding IBU -- i take exception to Dogfish Head's (and many others') claims of IBU above 120. It smacks of the absurd recent advertising campaign Miller has pursued with their "triple hops brewed" slogan. Anyone who knows enough about beer to care about hops addition techniques isn't going to be suckered by that ad. Adding a tiny amount of hops at three points during brewing doesn't change the fact that Miller Lite has an IBU of somewhere around 8. Perhaps their advertising company knows something i don't.
   There are two problems with Dogfish Head and their claims of exceptionally high IBU. First, there is contention as to whether or not a human can distinguish between bitterness levels above a certain threshold around 100 IBU. Second, when searching for the measurement system that Dogfish Head itself used to measure their IBU, an assistant brewmaster posted on their forums the following formula:

IBU = (((oz. of hops)*(% BH utilization)*(% alpha acid)*.7489)/(Vol. of final wort))

   There's nothing wrong with this formula for a homebrewer. However, it somewhat oversimplifies the complexity of hop attenuation in a boil, especially in the higher IBU ranges. My point is that even if you have some perverse desire to chew on hop flowers, IBU measurements become meaningless without a huge amount of additional information. Unless you're drinking the Flying Monkeys Alpha Fornication which has a self-reported IBU of 2500 and 13.3% ABV. No, i didn't mistype that.
   If that's really what you're looking for, i think you can buy hop liquor extract for foods on its own. Wasn't "hops" an episode of Iron Chef?
This looks like orange juice, but it's the Alpha Fornication.  Gross.
   Finally, a few additional notes about hops -- did you know that hops are a dioecious plant? The hop cluster used in brewing are harvested exclusively from the female hop plant. The male hop plant is used exclusively for breeding purposes.
   Crossbreeding species of hops has resulted in a number of quite new hops varietals. For example, Cascade hops are a cross of the little known Serebrianka hop and a male Fuggle plant. Centennial hops are 3/32 Fuggle, and Willamette hops are a Fuggle seedling.

   An honorable mention goes out to Magic Hat's Blind Faith IPA which helped me power through this rewrite. I think it's called the Blind Faith because it's made with sweet, sweet blindness-inducing methanol.