Better late than never, eh?
This month’s session is brought to you by The Homebrew Manual and focuses on the relationship with beer between brewers and drinkers. I consider myself both, but I know of many who are more one or the other. It does taint one’s appreciation of beer, but I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other.
Let’s start with me. I used to be a drinker only. My thinking was that I could never brew something as good as a commercial brewer. And many of the homebrewers I knew proved this to be true. Their beers were mediocre at best and didn’t offer the same wow factor that many commercial breweries offered. I just didn’t see the point of brewing 40-50 bottles of something that wasn’t nearly as good the various different beers I could find at the store or in bars. That and many of these homebrewers seemed ignorant to the tide of craft beer developing under their noses. High IBU’s and ABV’s seemed impossible. “Throw more spice and have another malty beverage!”
So, I threw myself into the craft beer movement. I bought every new release. I built a cellar that might not be the largest you’ve ever seen, it’s still solid in its variety and quality. I lost track of how many beers I had before Untappd (BU), but I have since achieved Legendary status (500 unique beers recorded) with a solid progression toward Extraordinary (1000 different beers). I steeped myself in the culture and blogging community so as to further my enjoyment of craft beer.
Then – I don’t remember whose beer it was – it hit me. It is possible to brew beer at home that’s as good or even better than what the pros produce. It was like a second epiphany. So, I tried some homebrewing. At first, it was a kit that seemed pretty pedestrian, but I didn’t care. It was mine. From there, I completely changed the hop additions and developed an incredible single-hopped Simcoe IPA and the rest was history.
Now, granted, I’ve never moved beyond extract brewing. Some would argue that I don’t really brew. However, I haven’t moved on to all-grain for two simple reasons. First, extract brewing requires less time and is generally simpler. I can steep some specialty grains before I boil for added complexity. Extract brewing is just so easy. Second, my beers have generally been considered “better than extract.” Few have been able to sense the extract and all have loved my beers. I’ve done some insanely hoppy IPA’s/DIPA’s, potent imperial stouts, a ridiculously popular saison, and there’s a boozy Belgian Quad bottle conditioning right now that is loaded with that raisin flavor/aroma brewers strive for.
So, I’m a brewer and a drinker. I don’t think one understands beer better than the other. Brewers can break down a beer into its components, altering the enjoyment from aesthetic-based to one of utility. Each beer is judged like a puzzle, stirring inspiration for the next batch while developing metacognition along the way. Drinkers, however, are not lost in the details and enjoy beer in the moment. Where the brewer tries to experiment with technique and ingredients, the drinker collects and hoards his own variety. Both can be generous with knowledge and refreshment. Both know their stuff. But, most importantly, both appreciate and love beer.
As is usual for this blog, I can find an applicable comparison to musicians and music fans. I am of the latter and not the former. I wish I could play music. I tried teaching myself guitar and bass at one point, but there just wasn’t time in my schedule. Despite my love of the DIY movement, I’ve never really felt that playing music was in the cards for me. However, I don’t appreciate music any less than musicians. I have several musician friends who – for whatever reason – like to read this blog, talk music with me, or come hear me spin. I’m more than a fan. I curate.
But I digress.
Does one need to brew (or play music) to properly appreciate beer (or music)? No. The appreciation is just different. I know a lot more about beer and appreciate a well-made pale ale or Pilsner because of what I know about brewing. However, there are some times when I want to suspend that knowledge and just enjoy the beer for what it is at that moment. Who cares what causes the head retention or that tartness. I just want to appreciate the beer for being a beer.
I don’t ever want to be the brewer that analyzes every beer, sucking out the enjoyment. I don’t want to swayed by technique over the ephemeral. Conversely, I don’t want to drink a beer blindly, ignorant to the efforts that went into making it so great. It’s all about balance.
We need balance in the beer community as well. Drinking beers with only brewers or drinkers makes for a dull, monotonous experience. Beer, as complex as it is, can become a rather boring thing if only
seen tasted smelled experienced through one perspective. Beer needs a diversity of thought to be fully appreciated. So, there’s plenty of room for both brewers and drinkers. Also, those of us who float somewhere in between.
Pete Brown charged the beer blogosphere with this month’s session. We have been asked to write about our beer moments, whatever that is. Mr. Brown left it up for interpretation, but it’s not that easy.
Just as there are many kinds of beers and contexts in which we drink beer, there are many different moments for which one finds a love for beer. To only write about one moment would ignore the many others that make beer so enjoyable. There are moments when the anticipation of a rare beer comes to a head, a discovery or epiphany is reached, or a moment in context with something else, only circumstantially connected to beer. All of these moments are valuable to the beer enthusiast.
So, I’ve opted to describe a few of my favorite beer moments. There are more than I can include in this one post, but I’ll pick a few favorites that keep me coming back to beer, particularly of the craft variety. And since I do the whole beer/music thing here, I may even give a musical metaphor for what I’m describing.
Beer Moment #1: Pshh… A bottle opening is maybe the greatest sound I know. It’s akin to dropping the needle on a record. What’s being released is more than some CO2. That single “pshh” is unleashing the anticipation for what’s inside. Especially when a beer has been bottle conditioned, that sound represents magic. The only thing left is to pour the contents once contained by that now-slightly-mangled cap into your glass.
Beer Moment #2: The smell of whole hops or even those wafting from an IPA or DIPA is all the intoxication most hop-heads need. In that moment when we hover our noses just above the glass, we discover citrus fruits, pine needles, even cat pee (and we like it!). This is the smell that turns most beer drinkers into beer thinkers. Who knew that beer could taste or smell this way? It’s the same as that moment the B3 organ enters a song or the silence is broken with the pounding of drums. It cuts the air, destined to destroy your tongue. Even those who don’t care for hops acknowledge its power.
Beer Moment #3: This is one for the beer hunter. There’s that moment when we enter a store, hoping to find what they’ve come so far to obtain. Sometimes, it’s a Tweet or Facebook post that prompts us to drop everything and run to the store. On several occasions, I’ve hit the store in a narrow window in order to score my Hopslam, CBS, or some other rarity only known to a few of us (or so we think). We nervously cradle our bottles to the check-out, pay, and dash to the store, only to stop once securely in our cars to admire our booty. I feel the same rush when I find a record that has long eluded me only to finally become mine when I least expect it.
Beer Moment #4: Sometimes I go to a rock show expecting almost nothing. It may occur during an unknown opener or while a band I came to see but am not so sure about starts to play.Then, it happens. What they’re playing is good, brilliant even. What have I stumbled upon? Does anyone else know about this? The same goes for that one beer I bought on a whim while on vacation or at the local watering hole. That moment of discovery is hard to top.
Beer Moment #5: While released anticipation, hop bombs, the hunt, and discoveries make beer enthusiasm a fun and worthy hobby, it’s hard to beat the moment when we reach pure satisfaction. I’m talking about the cold Oberan chilling your throat on the first hot day of the spring; the time you drank your beer while floating down the river straight from the can, despite beer snobbish pretensions; the warmth of an unholy imperial stout filling your being with booze and sweetness; or the first beer you’re served at happy hour after a long week of work. These are the times when a beer makes you smile. It satisfies like no other indulgence. It’s perfect for every situation, but especially the one you’re in at that moment the beer touches your lips. For me, this also happens when my favorite band hits their stride playing that song or I barely realize I’ve been driving for an hour until one of my prized albums comes to an end, requiring me to search the iPod for another long-player.
Beer fills many moments, but these are five moments I think of often. It reminds us we have souls and feelings. These are moments we feel alive. One doesn’t have to have a beer to have his/her own moments, but I’ve found that it helps. What is your beer moment? Are any of yours like these? Is there something else to fills these moments for you that isn’t beer?
This month’s session almost threw me for a loop. Here’s the premise from session curator Mario Rubio of Brewed for Thought:
With the New Year looming and a month of Christmas and Holiday parties to enjoy there are plenty of opportunities to get into a different beverage besides beer, alcoholic or otherwise. It was with this in mind that I was reminded of a conversation I had one day with Jay Brooks. Looking for advice on how to squeeze some blood from this stone of beer blogging, Jay told me a lot of writers have to look outside of beer to help make a complete income. Upon bringing this up as a Session topic he even offered up a much better title than I would have thought up.
So as we are all incredibly interesting people, and almost always drink beer, let’s talk about what we drink when not drinking beer. Maybe your passion for coffee rivals that of craft beer, or it could be another alcoholic beverage such as scotch. My daughter being a root beer fan would appreciate her dad reviewing a few fizzy sodas. Maybe you have a drink that takes the edge off the beer, be it hair of the dog or a palate cleanser during the evening.
Beer cocktails, wines, ciders, meads, you name it as long as it’s not beer. Try to tie it in with craft beer in some way for extra credit. Be creative and I’ll see you guys in the new year.
Why would this throw me for a loop? Well, aside from my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee and water, I’ve cut out just about all other drinks. I feel that I can have a beer that will satisfy me better than any cocktail or glass of wine could ever do. So, why would I want to wast my liver and bladder on another drink?
Then, I considered the past holiday season. Every Christmas Eve, we have a Polish dinner. It’s tradition to toast each course with a shot of Polish vodka. We’ve always preferred Żubrówka or Bison Grass Vodka. However, the Eastern European market here in town was out. To add insult to injury, all the liquor stores in town don’t carry it. Our dinner guest supplied a nice Polish vodka, but it was absent the bison grass and just didn’t taste the same.
What exactly is Żubrówka and why is it so good?
Well, the Żubrówka one buys here in the States is different than what can be had in Poland. The original contains a blade of grass that grows from bison pastures. We’re all adults with a decent amount of education. So, I’ll let you figure out the connection from there. Anyway, said grass contains a carcinogen, making it extra “effective”. The US government looks down upon such ingredients. The American version shares the same green tint, herbal flavor, and even a blade of grass. However, there are no carcinogens. Still, my wife who’s had the Polish version, says it’s pretty close to the original. This means that a certain amount of herbal goodness, akin to an apple pie, exists in this green-tinted treat.
The spirit is an integral part of our family’s history. My wife’s family has a Polish background and she spent some time in Poland while her brother served in the Peace Corps there. Żubrówka was plentiful. Even the children were served their share, mixed with apple juice for a drink called a “szarlotka”. When we were married, we concluded the ceremony (and started the party) with a shot of Żubrówka for all. It’s tradition for our liquor cabinet to be stocked with the grassy booze, but our supply ran out and was left empty somehow.
After the Christmas Eve without our favorite accoutrement, we were determined to not let another holiday pass us by without some Bison Grass Vodka. Thankfully, Wine & Cheese Place in St. Louis (or in Clayton to be more specific) exists. I normally go there for beer, but this was a vodka emergency and a bottle of the green stuff was to be secured. W&C pulled through and we had vodka shots for New Year’s Eve!
Of course, I also consumed some Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Brut (an awesome “New Year beer…fermented with ale yeast, brettanomyces and enzymes…aged three months in Austrian white wine casks”), Life & Limb 2 (Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada-collaborated imperial stout with distinctive notes of chocolate and maple syrup), and Schalfly Reserve Barley Wine-style Ale (a 2008 vintage where the only thing I could taste was oak and no malt after 3+ years in the bottle). So, I didn’t drink just vodka harvested from the grass of buffalo dung, but the vodka certainly helped to ring in the new year the right way even if leaving me a bit hungover.
Cheers to Mario for forcing me out of my comfort zone and to reflect on and appreciate what is a rather enjoyable spirit, Żubrówka.
This month’s session is “Beery Confessions: Guilty Secrets/Guilty Pleasure Beer” which is not the sort of thing budding beer bloggers want to share. We have reps to protect. However, if anything, it should demonstrate that even I will stoop to a lesser beer out of sheer pleasure and not just necessity. I’ll skip the opportunity to tell you about an embarrassing drunken escapade. There are just too many of those to share. Instead, I’ll stick with the guilty pleasure angle.
This past summer, my wife and I traveled to Spain, spending much of our time with a close friend. Spain is not known for great beers, but I had a lot of fun searching out the best. There were fresh pilsners to hold me over and even a few interesting craft finds. Overall, I can’t complain about the beer I had, but there is one beer choice I made on several occassions that I’m not completely proud of.
As most beer nerds do, I checked out the tap handles at every bar, cafe, and restaurant we passed. While in Barcelona, we would often hang out at the cafe just below the apartment we were renting. Like most, smaller establishments, they had two beers on tap from the same brewery: Damm. One tap was reserved for the brewery’s flagship beer, Estrella Damm, while the other was reserved for my new guilty pleasure, Damm Lemon.
Yes. The beer geek who goes for 10% imperial stouts and DIPA’s measuring close to 100 IBU’s chose a shandy. The Damm Lemon (or “damn lemon” as it became known in our circle) was comprised of six parts cervaza to four parts lemon. It was the weekest of session beers in that it was low in alcohol (3.1%) and even lower on anything resembling beer.
My first clue should have been when I finally decided to order a damn lemon. First of all, my Spanish is terrible. I try to piece together what to say, usually pronouncing everything with a French accent. So, I think I asked for a “cervatha de la lemón.” I don’t know whether the girl laughed at my lame attempt at ordering in Spanish or the fact that I was ordering a shandy. Somehow, I suspect both. She corrected me and told me it’s called a “lata” or something that sounded like that. I drank two and recieved the same odd look both times. The second time around made me think that I was choosing a girly drink. Normally, this doesn’t bother me, but my inner-12-year-old cringed at the thought. Although, in retrospect, it may have been more of a case of “Why is this old guy drinking a kid’s beer?”
When our friend arrived in Barcelona, I introduced him to Damm Lemon and he loved it. we made a pact to purchase a sixer one night for dinner. The agreement was realized one evening after a long day of sight-seeing, tapas, and plenty of drinking. We were already a little buzzed. So, some 3% lemonade beer wasn’t going to hurt. We dutifully finished the entire sixer despite tipsiness to start with and what I remember to be a rather decadent dinner of various things soaked in olive oil, bread, lots of pork products, and a boatload of cheese.
I tasted many good things during my trip to Spain, but none could be quite equal the guilty pleasure Damm Lemon turned out to be. We even tried ham-flavored potato chips and that doesn’t seem as guilt-inducing as a shandy. Still, I don’t regret a thing and would likely do it again.
I pay a lot of attention to label art for both beer and records. The album cover is one of the most revered pieces of accidental art/marketing ploys in modern history. However, I don’t know that I’ve ever really written about either all that much. Regardless, for this month’s session, we’re writing about label art. This month’s host is Hop Head Said… Basically, the goal is to choose one’s favorite artwork as depicted on bottles, cans, caps, and coasters.
This was a difficult choice to make. I love so many different craft beer labels. It’s hard just to choose one. I collect Stone bottles as I love the entire approach they have for marketing their beers. It used to be more difficult to accumulate these bottles before they came to Missouri. Now, it’s much, much easier.
I considered Mikkeller and Stillwater. I actually met the guy behind Stillwater’s artwork, tattoo artist Lee Verzosa, and he’s a nice guy. However, I write a lot about these breweries and figured it would be hard just to choose one label that rose above the rest.
Then, I considered the beer label that answered my prayers. It was a Friday after a long week of work. I wanted to sit back with a good beer. In fact, I had recently rediscovered my preference for really hoppy IPA’s. So, I went to the store in search of the hoppiest thing I could find. It so happens that Bell’s Hopslam had recently arrived. It’s label featuring a man being crushed by some giant hops was the sign for which I was looking. The rest is history.
Has there ever been a better image to represent the recent progression to bigger and hoppier beers? The image perfectly encapsulates this trend and matches the name perfectly. The beer itself is much more nuanced than the name Hopslam would suggest, but the image does the trick in warning consumers of the hop bomb within. Here are a couple images I’ve used of the infamous label and caps (which were a new touch this year).