Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
It turns out that when you get your wisdom teeth taken out you’re not supposed to drink for a week afterward. So my week of not drinking has been extended an extra four days and I’m spending the weekend beer-free, or at least beer-consuming free. But don’t fret; next week is already filled with plans involving beer to compensate for my down time.
In the meanwhile, I figure it’s time to learn more about beer.
Last year at the Great American Beer Fest I bought the “3rd edition Beer Drinker’s Guide to Colorado,” a map that lists all the breweries in Colorado and includes a ridiculous amount of Colorado and beer based information ranging from the Colorado fourteeners to tips on home brewing to which glasses are appropriate for which beers. From here on out, this wonderful source of information will be known as my “beer map.”
On my beer map there is a beer tree – a diagram that divides the various types of beer along limbs and branches. It looks like this:
Since the blog is still in its developmental stages, I figure now is as good a time as ever to explore a little bit of the different genres of beer and to see what I can find out about them.
All of the various kinds of beer come down to three types: ales, lagers and lambic (I’m not going to lie, before looking at this diagram I had never heard the word “lambic” before. In fact, the closest word that comes to mind is “iambic” and I’m sure that there is no correlation between beer and poetic verse. Except, of course, when Shakespeare talked about beer, but we’re getting off topic).
As you can see on the diagram, ales and lagers are differentiated by the kind of fermentation they undergo, which is determined by the kind of yeast used. The yeast found in ales ferments at temperatures between 10 to 25 degrees Celsius. The yeast usually creates a foam at the top when it ferments (there are some British yeasts that are the exception to this rule). Ales are usually stored for three weeks, although certain kinds may be aged for months or even years.
The yeast found in lagers has a bit of history to it, going back to a beer that claims to be the “best in the world,” Carlsberg. For the record, I disagree. But I appreciate their contribution to beer history.
In the late 19th century, the head of Carlsberg Brewing laboratory, Emil Christian Hansen, developed a method for isolating single yeast cells by storing them in cold caves. The wild yeasts survived the cold (around 10 degrees Celsius) and would continue to ferment the beers after the other yeasts had died. As you may have guessed, these yeasts tend to collect at the bottom. This new kind of beer was then stored near freezing point for about a month, allowing it to mellow and develop a smoother taste. And, after that time, a lager is created, preferably one that tastes better than Carlsberg.
At least that’s how you used to distinguish the two different kinds of beers (I’m ignoring this lambic business for the time being). Now, since homebrewers and microbrewers continue to experiment and develop the beer-making process, the difference between ales and lagers is the yeast’s ability to process raffinose. Given I only had my wisdom teeth extracted four days ago and I’m still not entirely with it, I’m going to give this chemistry-related information a miss and will come back to it at a later date, probably about the time I can find someone who knows science and can explain it to me in a way I understand.
A bit of information on Lambic Beers.
Apparently these are only available in a specific region of Belgium -- the Pajottenland region, which is southwest of Brussels and Brussels itself. It’s made through spontaneous fermentation by exposing the beer to wild yeasts and a particular kind of bacteria that is native to the Sienne valley. The beers are the "winiest of all beers" -- dry and cidery with a slightly sour aftertaste. I expect them to taste like the champagne version of barleywines. I also don’t expect to like them, but I'll at least give them a shot. Someday. (If you know anything about lambic beers, or can suggest one I should try, please comment below or email me.)
Of course I’ll be going through ales, lagers and, yes, even lambic beers in more detail in the months to come. For now, I’m going to return to the Nuggets game and hope that my team remembers how to score free throws before the half is over (Come on, boys, it’s Rocky’s birthday!). And halfway through the week, I’ll return to my regular, beer-drinking self. I promise. As always, email or leave comments if you have questions, comments or suggestions.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I’m taking a week off from drinking. I know how this sounds. I blog about beer, how can I go a week without drinking? Well if a particular Nuggets guard had gotten you as drunk as he got me last Thursday, you’d feel the need to give your liver a break as well. Dear god.
Fortunately, there are ways to blog about beer without consuming it, so I’m still writing, even while sober.
Time for some random beer facts.
-Alcohol was created by the Egyptians. I imagine this is a fairly well known fact (see photo), but for the sake of my friends in Team Cairo, I’ll mention it anyway. A few other Egyptian beer facts: beer was used for medicinal purposes (texts from 1600 BC list 100 medical uses for it!) and was considered a necessity in the burial process for the journey to the afterlife. (I expect much the same at my own funeral.)
-Last Egyptian fact: if an Egyptian man offered a woman a sip of his beer, they were betrothed. I’m trying to decide if this is either the best way to get engaged or would just get me in heaps of trouble. I’m guessing the latter.
-Among Noah’s provisions on the Ark was beer. Add that to the list of Bible facts I will actually remember.
-Molson brewery was founded in 1786 making it the oldest brewery in North America. Score one for the Canadians. However, the founding fathers Washington and Jefferson operated their own private brew houses. William Penn (the founder of Pennsylvania), stepped it up a notch by operating a full commercial brewery. Sam Adams, of course, did too.
-Yet it was James Madison who did us the greatest favor (at least in the opinion of this Coloradan) by proposing “that Congress levy a low 8-cent duty per barrel on malt liquors to encourage ‘the manufacture of beer in every State in the Union.’” I have a new favorite founding father.
-Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery. It was established in 1829 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. They survived prohibition by brewing near beer, meaning de-alcoholized beer, and dairy products. Glad to know my favorite cheap beer has some history to it. And given how much better it is than Molson beers, I retract my previous statement about the Canadians winning.
-Another prohibition related piece of information. During beer festival week in Colorado, the Brown Palace Hotel – one of Denver’s historic hotels and landmarks, served beer in teapots. Supposedly, during prohibition beer was served in teapots to mask the drink. I’m sure that the more elite beer drinkers would object to pouring beer in such a way, but, I have to say, it’s a lot of fun drinking beer out of a teapot. My drinking buddy and I agreed that the Brown Palace should offer beer in teapots year round.
-And, perhaps the most important fact of all, in 1977 Jack McAuliffe opens the New Albion brewery in Sonoma, California. It didn’t last long, but it goes down in history as America’s first Microbrewery. Eighteen years later, there were around 500 breweries operating in the U.S., increasing at a rate of three to four per week. Last July the count was at 1,525 total breweries in the country.
I think that'll do it for this post. Expect another sober post later this week. And come the weekend, I’ll resume my normal course of blogging (e.g. drinking). Until that time, someone go have a good beer for me.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Monday I had an appointment to have my wisdom teeth extracted. However, the lovely folks at my dental insurance managed to lose any record of me in their system…so the appointment was postponed. As mad as I was at the time, it worked out for the best. The suckers are being taken out next week and I had the opportunity to watch the Nuggets game, and Melo was back after a five game absence.
But on to beer.
To help me recuperate from my frustrating day my friend, Kyle, agreed to tolerate watching a Nuggets game with me. We met at his local, Don’s, which is conveniently down the street from me. Now that I have this blog, every drink becomes a lesson and a potential blogpost. Given the circumstances I took it as a sign that I should pay attention to my beer, not just the game, and contribute to the blog.
Having received a request to discuss Flying Dog on my last post (I have a feeling I know who you are, anonymous.), I figured I’d try their Tire Bite Golden Ale, which Don’s carried on tap.
I’ve never found one of their beers that I really love, but I do have a personal appreciation for their craft. It was while drinking Flying Dog in New York City years ago that I solidified my friendship with the woman who suggested I start this blog. Maybe it’s the number of unfiltered beers they carry, or that I just haven’t tried the right one, but it’s not among my favorite breweries, or even close.
Tire Bite reminds me of Samurai, Great Divide’s rice ale, but with a weaker flavor, so it’s easier for me to drink more than one. It has a slight bitter taste, which I felt seemed out of character for a golden, or at least my expectations of what a golden should be. Turns out I was wrong.
Golden ales are, from what I’ve gathered, intended to be a more complex lager with malty flavors and a slight bitterness that contrasts the spicy or citrusy flavor also found in the beer. It’s expected to have a dry flavor, which Tire Bite definitely did, and four to five percent alcohol. Knowing all this, I need to revisit the beer. All I know is after two beers, I swapped to Titan IPA.
Now some information about the brewery:
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I didn’t notice this before, but sometimes I miss the obvious. It turns out that Flying Dog has connections to one of my favorite journalists, the man who proved to me that journalism was still entertaining when I was dragging through the second half of my degree: Hunter S. Thompson.
The reason this is an embarrassing lapse of knowledge is among Hunter’s other contributions to the brewery, which includes a hefty unpaid tab, is introducing the brewers to Ralph Steadman. Ralph Steadman is one of those names I should know, but can never remember. Simply put he did this:
As well as this:
Flying Dog is Gonzo beer. And my respect for their brewery just grew. (This is the kind of trivia I love. Expect more of it in posts to come.)
The question posed to me by “anonymous” was about Flying Dog moving from Colorado to Maryland. At the end of 2007, the brewers at Flying Dog acquired a state-of-the-art facility in Fredrick, Maryland, about 45 minutes outside Washington D.C. (D.C. friends, you should go visit for me.) Before moving, the brewery sold about 60% of their beer east of the Mississippi and with an increase in the cost of raw materials (hops, malt, glass, etc), moving their brewery would make it more efficient. Overall smart business. The corporate office remained in Denver, maintaining Flying Dog’s, at least in my opinion, status as a Colorado brewery. And with an Aspen-based history like that, it’s hard to deny that they’ll always be Coloradans.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I attribute a lot of this to growing up in Colorado. While traveling, I found that most people associate Colorado with Coors. But anyone who has even a small interest in beer knows that Colorado is much more than the watered down piss “born high in the Rocky Mountains” (sorry, Coors drinkers, but I’m a beer snob, you had to see it coming). I consider Colorado to be a beer drinker’s heaven. And by winning the title of the nation’s top beer-producing state in 2007, I can’t be far from wrong. There is a staggering number of breweries and brewpubs all over the state (121 according to my beer map), a wonderful assortment of bars and restaurants to learn about the beers, as well as a population who is as passionate about their beer as they are about their mountains. Being a beer lover is something I consider to be a fundamental part of being a Coloradan.
I’ll admit that I don’t know that much about beer, given how much I love it. I can’t describe the different ways beer is produced, or what the separates a porter from a stout – other than taste. But that’s part of my intention towards this blog – to educate myself (and hopefully you) about beer; everything from the different types of beers to how one brewery compares to another, history, random facts and more.
To get you going, here’s a list of my five favorite beers:
-New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat
I am well aware that this is hardly an exciting beer. However, it was the first beer that I tried and thought “wow, this is really good.” I consider it to have taken my beer-virginity, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. In addition to that, New Belgium is an absolutely amazing brewery and company, with remarkable business ethic and a dedication towards sustainability and environmentally friendly practices.
-Great Divide’s Espresso Oak Aged Yeti
I love a good stout or porter. The Yeti line of stouts is amazing and Great Divide does a phenomenal job pairing it with espresso. It doesn’t hurt that the coffee used in the beer comes from the coffee shop down the street. I would be more descriptive, but as a seasonal beer, I haven’t been able to drink it since last March and, frankly, talking about it more will just sadden me. Expect a post about this beer in the start of February.
-Tommy Knocker’s Alpine Glacier Lager
All those Coors ads I mocked? This is what they are striving for. It is a light, refreshing beer, but it’s still a beer. There’s a slight sweet taste to it -- the first time I had it, it reminded me of rosewater -- but it has substance as well. It’s perfect for hot summer nights, but not something I would turn down in the wintertime either.
-Avery’s Ellie’s Brown
Something between the lights and the darks. I honestly didn’t notice how hoppy it was until a friend mentioned that to me recently. Prior to that, I found it to be a refreshing beer that is heavier than the lagers or wheats that I would normally drink in the warmer months. My friend's comments about the hoppiness verify the complexity of the beer – the variety of tastes it has without being overwhelming. Avery is a brewery that prides itself in making experimental beer -- many of their beers have intense flavors and strong overtones that are often too complicated for my palate. Ellie’s is where they mastered it, there are enough diverse flavors that it is interesting but not so strong that you can only drink one.
-Steamwork’s Third Eye Pale Ale
While most IPAs I can only distinguish from one another in terms of how hoppy they are, Steamwork’s has a unique taste – a sweetness and flavor that other IPAs lack, without straying far from the strong hoppiness that an IPA requires. In a blind taste test, this is the one IPA I would be able to tell apart from the others and then I probably wouldn’t give it back. If you haven’t had it before, get it now – I understand that Steamworks is going to stop distributing outside of Durango soon.
I’m well aware that this list is exclusively Colorado microbrews -- those tend to be what I drink. But I will expand my beer geography; I understand Oregon knows a thing or two about brewing.
This is only a starting point.
And with that, here’s what you can expect from the blog:
-Reviews of beers (frequent), bars (occasional) and breweries (as many tours as I can fit into my life). After all, the point of this blog is to write about beer.
-Lessons in beer: facts, history, overall beer knowledge. I intend to educate myself about beer, so while I’m at it, I might as well educate you too.
-(Hopefully) Stories from my first attempts at homebrewing. We’ll see how that goes.
-Random anecdotes, stories and other useless pieces of information.
Like I said before, I consider myself a beer fanatic not a beer expert. I am certain that there are a number of great beer blogs, websites and reviews out there written by people who truly know what they’re talking about. This isn’t one of those (yet). This blog is an opportunity for me to further my understanding of beer and to share the experience with you. So if you’re looking for extensive beer knowledge and expert opinions, you aren’t going to find them here. If you’re looking for thoughts on beer from a curious girl with a passion for hops, please check back frequently. I’m hoping this will be quite an adventure.