Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Sober Saturday

"There can't be good living where there is not good drinking." – Ben Franklin

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.


  1. First off, I really want to thank you for in no way responding to my questions about overfoaming bottles and River Horse brewery. It really makes my comments and questions feel deeply considered and respected. Sorta like a mangy cat that you kick aside, but with beer...

    I have tried Lambic beers. Let's face it, I have tried most beers. Your guess about the champagne version of barleywine is pretty close actually. They are not my particular oevre. But as I understand it they inspire quite a following - especially in Europe.

    So one more time - what about overfoaming bottles? How does this happen and why? It really bummed me out. River Horse is a delicious brewery, but every time I have gotten a twelve pack, I have lost at least 2 bottles to this overfoaming thing!

    As always, I am mysterious and anonymous...

  2. Anonymous,

    Can I call you JS? I'm going to call you JS. I, by no means, meant to make you feel like a mangy cat. I had every intention of looking into River Horse brewery when I can drink again. I don't think it'd be much fun for me to discuss a particular beer without having the opportunity to try it. Expect a post exclusively on this beer as soon as I can find it.

    Thanks for your comments, JS.

    Kyle, trip to Argonaut soon? I'm still determined to try these.

  3. "When I am king... I will make it a felony to drink small beer."
    -Henry VI part 2, IV,ii

    (also anonymous)

  4. You haven't lived until you've tried a proper Belgian lambic beer. I recommend Cantillon -, which produces lambic in the traditional way using spontaneous fermentation. This means that the beer (Gueuze - blended from different lambics that ferments again in the bottle) can only be brewed during the winter as the yeast is not active in other months. It also means the beer is expensive and may not be available in the US.

    Gueuze is beautifully sour, with citrus flavours and couldn't be further from barleywine!

    Kriek (cherry flavour) is also based on lambic beers and tends to be a little sweeter. Faro is lambic blended with another beer and some brown suger and is a lot sweeter.

    If you can't get hold of Cantillon then try Boon, Mort Subite, Lindemans or Girandin.

  5. I had my first lambic about three years ago and love Lindemans Lambic Framboise ( I don't know what a champagne version of barley wine would taste like, but this lambics tastes a bit like a raspberry champagne spritzer.

    I've tried other one or two other lambic framboise and a few of the other varieties of Lindeman's (peche and kriek, I think) but none have been as tasty or memorable as this one. If you prefer a drier, less sweet taste you might like the Kriek. I didn't, despite my fondness for cherries.