05/26/12

The Fall of Mankind, Natty Ice in Space

In Star Trek the Motion Picture an unknown distant alien species discover a Voyager satellite, upgrade it and sends it back in Earth’s direction. In a nutshell, thanks to the alien upgrades, it became self-aware on its journey back to Earth and it turns out the Universe’s emptiness and lack of purpose can be quite depressing on self-aware space probes. In its depressed state it began blowing stuff up, including three new Klingon spaceships. In the end the Enterprise was able to resolve the problem before things got too far out of hand.

But, this irate space probe made me ask myself what grudge were the very hostile aliens from the movie Independence Day holding against the human race. The only alien to speak in the movie, using someone’s lifeless body as a puppet, said one thing, we want you to die. What could have possibly caused this visceral reaction across an entire alien species? The aliens mercilessly flattened our planets greatest cities killing millions of people without even the courtesy of a hello.

Today I found my answer. As the aliens in Star Trek discovered and upgraded Voyager Six, I fear the Independence Day aliens may have intercepted the amateur space program’s biggest mistake, launching Natural Ice into space. Imagine the delight on the aliens’ faces first realizing they have an opportunity to try one of Earth’s greatest creations, but it was the sound of that can opening that likely sealed mankind’s fate.

04/22/10

When Two Rights Make a Wrong: Flavored Saisons

Long time no see loyal reader. I’d like to try and get some momentum going again on the blog and shake out some of my blogging cobwebs before starting on another project, blogging on Boston area restaurants with some friends of mine. So here’s what’s been on my mind lately in the world of beer.

People who know me know that Saison is one of my favorite styles; an odd outlier in my repertoir of heavy, dark, roasty, thick-enough-to-chew favorites. Something about it just works. It’s crisp and light – or more accurately it’s percieved as light because it’s dry and usually a bit heavily carbonated. Like most Belgian styles, Saisons generally feature a complex yeast profile from the use of special yeast and generally warmer fermentation temperatures, which kicks up the fruity ester character, and sometimes adds a spicy phenol touch.

But more to the point, they are a relatively delicate beer, which further accentuates the yeast characters. Based on White Labs’ yeast profiles and the BJCP style guidelines, the attenuation of, say, a British style Pale Ale is something on the order of 70-75%, whereas a Saison tends more toward the neighborhood of 85-90%. This means more sugar is removed during fermentation and the result has a very light malt character that isn’t overwhelming. Then the hop character has to be restrained accordingly to keep the beer in balance (especially since the Belgians don’t really seem to care for hops anyway, they are known for aging their hops to remove the bittering and flavor characteristics before use-which I think I wrote about but was apparently never posted. We’ve got some catching up to do…) BJCP guidelines put the Saison at 20-35 IBUs (a measure of hop bitterness) whereas a Pale would be more like 30-50 IBUs. We’ve also talked about the BU:GU ratio before, which is a way to measure the balance of a beer based on the IBUs and the original gravity. Higher numbers are more bitter, lower numbers less. On this measure, Saison comes in around 0.4-0.5, and a Pale is more like 0.6-0.8.

So, science aside, what we’re talking about here is a relatively light, malty beer with a delicate flavor that allows the complexity of the malt and yeast character to really shine. And Saisons happen to be one of this beer snob’s favorite summertime options, not to mention a perfect stand-in for white wine or champagne with food, any time of year. For my favorite examples, see Brooklyn One (didn’t care for Brooklyn Two as much) or the classic Saison DuPont from Brasserie DuPont in Belgium. Other good examples include Southampton Saison, Victory Saison and Ommegang Hennepin.

CBC has a new(ish) beer on tap called Sgt Pepper, which is a peppercorn flavored Saison. I say newish because it’s been brewed in past seasons, and also because, well, I haven’t posted in a while. Since I love Saison, and I love peppercorns (mmm…Steak au Poivre…) you’d think I’d be all over this one. And every year I think the same thing, and every year…I’m wrong.

See, you try to take in the bouquet on this one and you sneeze. It’s just way too much peppercorn for a saison in my opinion. The Punks have a long standing bias against flavored Saisons for this reason, no matter what you put in them the flavor seems to overpower that delicate malt and yeast character which is the hallmark of the style. I thought we were alone on this one, and I don’t mean to second guess some of my favorite brewers here, but anecdotal evidence from my friends bears out that this one isn’t for everyone. Taste it before you get a full one.

There is one more thing to keep in mind here. Several of my beer and brewing gurus (see Charlie Papazian, or Stan Hieronymus) are quick to decry the practice of beer snobs like me judging a beer against style guidelines. That’s important for competition, but flavored beers are, by necessity, kind of unique beasts. This is why they created specialty categories at beer competitions to begin with; to encourage creative brewing rather than stifle it. So please, do try it, you might like it. Just do so with caution. And maybe don’t breathe too deep on that first sip.

08/14/09

Finally, a Beer Fit for Breakfast!

Reports are coming out of a very unique beer in the works from the Brooklyn Brewery. My hope is that it finally makes drinking beer before 10 AM a socially acceptable, respectable act. It seems that brewmaster Garret Oliver is looking for ways to get bacon into beer.

The reports are sketchy at best, but it appears the beer is starting out with two parallel threads that will be blended at the end. As Garret puts it  “Either this will be the most amazingly disgusting thing you’ve ever tasted in your life, or I shall rule the earth.” I must agree, but how’s he doing it?

  • A barleywine has been brewed using malt that was smoked in the same room as a batch of Benton’s bacon (Allan Benton is apparently a legend among bacon producers).
  • A brown ale is being infused with the essence of bacon fat by a process known as “fat washing.” This process has already been used to produce bacon flavored rum and bourbon apparently (who knew?). The fat is heated until completely liquid, then mixed into the beer. Then the whole thing is chilled until the fat congeals back to a solid state and rises to the top of the beer, where it’s skimmed off. In the process, the non-fat goodness of the bacon is left behind, dissolved in the beer, while the fat is removed from it. This keeps the beer from developing a greasy mouthfeel (also lipids in beer have a nasty effect on head retention as they interfere with the formation of the protein matrices that form bubbles). The brown ale will then be aged in Bourbon barrels.

In the end, these two forces will combine like antimatter to produce a beer that may very well change the world as we know it. I wait with bated breath, very excited and a little afraid…

08/11/09

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout: The World’s Best Extract Brew?

I just spotted an article on CNN’s website about the success story of Guinness in Nigeria. I didn’t expect to find anything amazing here, just another affirmation of Mike’s hypothesis about the amazing international growth opportunities for brewers as the developing world’s growing middle class acquires a taste for beer (and frankly they could do much worse than Guinness in my opinion, I salute Nigeria’s good taste!) It turns out that Nigeria now consumes more Guinness than Ireland, and is second only to the UK in consumption of this most renowned of dry stouts. That’s not to say that Ireland is slouching here; Nigeria is a nation of 150 million people, the UK about 60 million, and Ireland only about 6 million…I’d say they’re pulling their weight, for sure.

What was surprising to me is that in Nigeria, Indonesia, and other markets in which Guinness is brewed under contract this way, Guinness is apparently an extract beer.

Without getting too technical, there are two ways to brew beer, all grain or extract. An all grain brewer steeps malted grains like barley in warm water (a process called “mashing”), which creates a sort of tea by dissolving sugars and other compounds out of the grain and into the water. This “tea” is then called wort. Hops are added, the mixture is boiled for sanitization and to trigger certain chemical reactions, then the result is cooled and the yeast are unleashed, creating beer. All grain brewing is like making soup from scratch, if you will.

Extract brewing on the other hand can be thought of more like making condensed Campbells soup. A manufacturer of malt mashes the grains at the factory, then dehydrates the wort, extracting as much water as possible, which improves the shelf life. Sometimes hops are added, sometimes not, and then the dehydrated mixture is diluted by the brewer and boiled.

Homebrewers usually start out with extract brewing because it is easier, but then switch to all grain when they feel they can handle the challenge and want to increase the quality of their brews. However, this doesn’t mean that all extract beers are bad; I’ve heard of many extract homebrews going on to win awards at major competitions, and have also heard of professional brewpubs that make extract brews exclusively, among them two in Canada (one in Calgary, the other in Nova Scotia) and another in California (Pacific Coast BC in Oakland). I haven’t been to any of the three but have always been secretly skeptical, even though I’m sure that a good brewer can make proper use of any ingredient to make good beer, so long as they are smart about selecting and using it.

As for Guinness Nigeria, they use an unfermented, hopped extract shipped in from Dublin and add it to unspecified local ingredients. My guess is that certain ingredients are easy to get locally, the others are not of the same quality (or quantity) as those available in Dublin, so the extract replaces those that are harder to come by.

The Nigerian brewery was the first outside of Ireland and Great Britain and has seen torrid growth despite a global economic recession and challenging operating environment (including failing infrastructure and unpredictable governance according to CNN). I’d love to get my hands on their product and see what extract Guinness tastes like, but I don’t think it’s distributed in the US, so I’ll have to wait for now.

08/4/09

Jurassic Pub: Truly Ancient Ale

Mad scientists extracting ancient DNA molecules from fossilized amber, resurrecting long dead beasts and unleashing them on an unsuspecting modern world as part of some half-baked, twisted commercial scheme. Hollywood horsepucky you say? Think again my friend. Truth, you see, can be even stranger than fiction. A certain hybrid, made possible by frightening science, has recently come to my attention: The Tyrannosaurus Rat. No, not the ones living in the sewers under Manhattan; I’m talking about a beer, one unlike any the world has ever seen.

The first batch was brewed in 2006, when Peter Hackett of northern California brewpub Stumptown teamed up with famed mad scientist (and real-life inspiration for the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park) Raul Cano of California Polytechnic to brew a hybridized version of his Rat Bastard pale ale that is nothing short of an abomination. What was so different about this simple pale ale? It was brewed with yeast that had lain dormant for 45 million years, buried deep in amber – fossilized tree sap – from an age before man, at the dawn of modern mammals.

Cano had generated a great deal of interest and controversy in the mid nineties by claiming to have cultured microorganisms (thousands in all) from the remnants of amber. Among the many species in his catalog were several strains of yeast closely related to Saccharomyces cerevisiae-he had found ancient ale yeast and brought it back to life! Cano never intended his research to create tasty beverages. In fact he had started his company, Ambergene, with the far loftier goal of synthesizing new antibiotics from the microorganisms, but the company later folded by 1997 when the investors (among them several major pharmaceutical companies) lost patience in the lack of progress. The only marketable idea that seems to have come from the venture was when a homebrewer on Cano’s staff decided to culture up some of the ancient yeast and brew a series of beers from it: T-Rex Lager, Stegosaurus Stout, Jurassic Amber Ale, and Ancient Ale. These beers were served at the wedding of Cano’s daughter, as well as the wrap party for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.

So how do you bring bugs back to life after 45 million years? Many microorganisms (including yeast strains) actually go into a state of deep hibernation when they run out of the things necessary to sustain life. If they are preserved from exposure to the elements, say by being trapped in virtually air- and water-proof fossilized amber, they can apparently stay alive and hibernate…for a very long time. This makes it relatively simple (I’m sure!) to reconstitute them; simply sanitize the bejeezus out of the outside surface of the amber (Cano used disinfectant, ultrasound, ethanol, and fire) to prevent modern contaminants from interfering with the sample, then dip it in liquid nitrogen to make it brittle, break it into many small pieces, and then stick it in a solution of microorganism chow and other nutrients and wait. The controversy I spoke of wasn’t so much over the risk of culturing some sort of andromeda strain from the amber or other ethical concerns, but more about the risk of modern contaminants. Most of the bacteria and other microorganisms Cano found were actually closely related to modern species, and considering 95% of modern bacteria has not been identified, let alone studied by scientists, it was hard to say whether Cano’s bugs were coming from inside the amber or outside. Even Cano initially thought the cultures growing in his petri dishes were contaminations that were keeping him from studying the dead bugs he was looking for, but with time this hypothesis changed, he isolated thousands of species, and his work was peer reviewed, replicated on several occasions by other teams, and eventually published in the journal Science.

And what about the beers? Cano’s Fossil Fuels Brewing Company is currently working with two northern California brewers: Hackett at Stumptown Brewery is producing a pale ale, and Joe Kelley at Kelley Brewing makes what can be referred to as a “Belgian” hefeweizen. Neither are available outside of northern California at the moment, but reports from the field indicate that the yeast features clove and other unique phenolics that gives the hefeweizen a bit of a “Belgian” feel. The strain has also been described by hacket as having a “gingery” tang, and several sources make mention of smooth fruity notes, citrusy but not overly sour. Either beer appears to be a must-have if you can get one.

So when will we get it on the east coast? Hard to say. They are expanding draft offerings (with presumably fake amber chunks in the tap handles) throughout California as we speak, and are in talks with contract brewers to ramp up production of bottles for wider distribution, but considering the fledgling brewing company has taken nearly three years to get this far, there’s no telling how long that will take.

So in the meantime, us Punks will have to wait (or pull together funds for that Pacific Coast Highway road trip we’ve always wanted to take) and see where this truly unique yeast will show up next. Reports indicate that Joe Kelley of Kelley Brewing would like to see it in a scottish wee heavy, so you’ll likely find it there before you find it at our local Sunset Grill and Tap, unfortunately.

If you want to listen to me geek out on this truly astonishing yeast strain from the perspective of a knowledgable homebrewer, don’t forget to check out my Technical Addendum.

08/4/09

Jurassic Pub: Technical Addendum

In another post, we’ve told you all about the ancient yeast Raul Cano resurrected from fossilized amber, and the very special pale ale and hefeweizen that were created with it. Now down to business…time for this homebrewer to geek out on what makes this ancient yeast so very unique, and why the entire story is so special to begin with.

It should be noted right from the start that creating beer from ancient yeast was quite a long shot from the very beginning, and Peter Hackett of Stumptown knew this when he signed on to collaborate with Cano on the project. Even though we speak of ale yeast as a species (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), there is a great deal of variation within that species; the very variation that helps gives rise to the plethora of variety present among ales brewed the world over. Many strains of the yeast simply don’t perform well in the hostile environment that is wort, with its alcohol and acidity, not to mention the limited availability of oxygen. Any homebrewer knows that viability (health) of the yeast is very important, even with modern yeast…what effect would 45 million years in amber have on the viability of the strain? The bottom line is, this yeast was very unlikely to create a reasonable beer at all, let alone a critically acclaimed one which Hackett himself said was like nothing he’s ever had before.

To his credit, Hackett decided to press on, and found that this was indeed a very unusual strain. When first pitched, the yeast takes longer than most modern ale yeast to kick in, but when it does – make room. It has a very vigorous, even violent, top-fermenting initial phase that creates a very thick foam at the top of the fermenter. Then it does something I’ve never heard of in an ale yeast. It drops to the bottom of the fermenter, leaving the wort nearly clear. Normally this would be called flocculation and mark the approximate end of fermentation, when the yeast goes dormant to wait for more food (though more accurately a small portion of the yeast would remain in suspension and keep working longer, after other cells had flocculated). But Cano’s yeast doesn’t stop working. It keeps going, fermenting on the bottom of the vessel like a lager yeast would. Eventually, when fermentation slows to the point where the brewer is ready to put an end to it, they “crash” the yeast by cooling it to near freezing temperatures, causing any remaining yeast in suspension to finally give up and flocculate to the bottom so that they can be removed and the beer can be bottled. But here again, Cano’s yeast had other plans; refusing to crash, it simply keeps going – for another month! Apparently a 45 million year nap leads to an epic case of the munchies…

There are two other unique features about the yeast I’d like to mention. One is that it likes to work hot, even for ale yeast. It’s been used in a pale ale that ferments above 70 F, and a wheat beer that ferments at 68 F. My sources suggest that typical temperatures for these two styles would be something around 67 for a pale and as low as 62 for a hefeweizen (though there is some debate that would place it as high as 67, but I’ll go with Jamil Zainasheff on this one). I would speculate that this is because the Eocene epoch from which the yeast hails had a much warmer, tropical climate than the one we currently inhabit, and the yeast was evolved to this climate. My intuition would be that this higher temperature would mean more esters and phenols (fruit and spice) in the finished beer, and tasting notes of others (which were discussed in our other article) seem to bear this out.

Another unique feature is that the strain is apparently unable to digest any but a small range of carbohydrates, far fewer than modern brewer’s yeast. Cano believes this also contributes to the spicy character of the finished beer, though I’m not sure why since I’ve never heard of unfermentable sugar lending a spicy character to beer. On the other hand, unmalted wheat and rye are often described as lending a unique spiciness regardless of the yeast used, so maybe he is on to something. This does remind me of something I read recently about the difference between beer yeast and wine yeast. Apparently wine yeast also works with a smaller range of carbohydrates, and this gives beer made with wine yeast a cloying (overly sweet) finish, unless it is coupled with a beer strain or enzymes are added to the wort to break up the larger carbohydrates into simpler ones. They seem to have gotten around this for the Pale ale by using a lower starting gravity instead – less sugar in the beginning means that even though less is eaten, there is still less residual sugar at the end. A typical pale ale would start at a specific gravity of about 1.058 to 1.065, but the pale ale brewed by Hackett starts at only 1.050, which means that there is roughly a fifth less sugar dissolved in the wort at the start of fermentation.

As for those bottles they intend to roll out to the rest of the country…Cano has patented the yeast strain, and sequenced its genome so that he can enforce the patent. This would prevent unauthorized brewers from conjuring up cultures of the stuff from the dregs of these bottles (apparently Cano doesn’t intend to filter the product). I am ambivalent about this, because while I respect his right to protect his “babies” as he calls them, I’d like to see such a unique strain be as widely available as possible to further the cause of innovation and creativity with its use. However, I suppose this is where homebrewers come in to play; after all, Rogue’s patent on its PacMan yeast hasn’t stopped many a homebrewer from trying their hand with a sample.

08/4/09

Liquefied Sweat Sock: The Geuze

One of the topics we intend to cover on this blog, which is not well understood by alot of American craft beer drinkers, is the insane beauty that is Belgian brewing. The Belgians do things a little differently than everyone else. The best way I can think of to introduce this concept is to talk about The Geuze.

We Punks always refer to “The Geuze” in a monolithic sense, with a simultaneous reverence and terror. This is a very unusual beer. In reality it is simply the most extreme version of the Lambic style of Belgian beer. Other examples of Lambic beer are far less extreme, examples including the fruit lambics such as Framboise (blackberry) or Kriek (cherry). If you’ve ever met a girl that claimed not to like beer, get them a Lindeman’s fruit lambic. They won’t believe it’s beer, but it’s sure to please; Lindeman’s Kriek tastes like black cherry soda in my opinion. Those of you that think Sam Adams makes a Cranberry “Lambic” might want to leave the room now. The beer may be tasty but it’s certainly not a lambic.

What sets Lambics apart from other beers is that they are not fermented by carefully cultivated, house broken Saccharomyces yeast. No, these beers undergo a process known as Spontaneous Fermentation. This is precisely what it sounds like: the unfermented wort is pumped into a kuhlship (an empty one from Allagash is shown in the image to the left) and left at the mercy of whatever little beasties happen to be present in the rafters of the brewery (or farmhouse as is often the case) or even blowing in through the open windows. This invites all kinds of species, not just wild yeast but even bacteria such as Lactobacillus to leave their mark on the wort. This brings us to the title (and one of the most pronounced flavor characteristics of The Geuze for many drinkers) – Lactobacillus is a bacteria that produces lactic acid, which is commonly found in sweat and gives The Geuze a sour odor that many people describe as similar to foot odor. Traditional Lambics are primarily brewed in a small area around Brussels, seasonally from October to May, when the weather limits the presence of undesirable bacteria. This reigns in this character a bit, but pick up any Geuze at your local liquor store and it will likely be unmistakable.

Spontaneous fermentation also gives rise to one of the more unique aspects of brewing a true Belgian Lambic: the art of blending. Just as different malts of scotch are blended, and in times of yore aged beer was cut into batches of new beer to “bring it forward” with a hint of aged complexity and tanginess (a tradition that Guiness still carries on in a way with intentionally soured batches for their Foreign Extra Stout), so do highly trained Belgians round out the differences in flavor from year to year by blending batches. If one year’s vintage got too much Lacto, that sourness can be offset by blending it into a previous year’s vintage that just wasn’t quite sour enough.

In this way, you can start to see why Belgian breweries have been around for so long and have not really changed much in the hundreds of years they have been brewing the same beer. Indeed there are stories of breweries that had to be shut down when it became necessary to move the old farmhouse the beer was brewed in; because the environment had simply changed just enough that they could not produce the same beer. There are also jokes about breweries whose beer simply didn’t taste the same after the old farmhouse dog died, because he wasn’t there to sneeze in the vats anymore.

And what about those fruit lambics? The sourness here tends to be undercut by the introduction of fruit after an initial period, which sets off a whole new round of fermentation. But if homebrewers are any indication, the insanity doesn’t end here. I have heard reports of otherwise sane and reasonable home brewers smashing their fruit and simply throwing it into the batch without any particular sanitation protocol, under the theory that any microorganisms on the fruit itself will simply add complexity to the fermentation character of the beer. Supposedly the results are quite good, if not exactly reliable.

As for tasting notes, the Punks have tried The Geuze on three occasions. First (always the guinea pig) I tried the Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene at home, and was unimpressed. The flavor was simply far too sour to get behind, though oddly (and disturbingly) the foot odor nose on it started to almost grow on me by the end of the bottle – almost. Maybe the worst of it dissipates with time, or maybe you become desensitized.

Eager to share the unpleasantness, I talked Mike into trying a Cantillon Geuze, also at home. Mike was forever changed. He said, and this is an exact quote, “I may never be able to drink Belgian fruit beer again.” (Remember, the Belgian fruit beers are built on a Lambic base, so some of the same flavor characteristics were present, but in a far more pronounced way in The Geuze.) He has largely kept good on this, as I have never seen him order a Belgian fruit beer since, and this was one style he would often try, before he met The Gueze.

The third occasion, however, brings us to the heart of the matter. Once at the Sunset I heard someone order a Cuvee Rene, and struck up a conversation with the gentleman. He said that he really enjoyed The Geuze, they had a certain dry complex character that reminded him of wine. Lindeman’s website describes The Gueze as cidery, winey, and reminiscent of dry vermouth. Tasting the Cuvee Rene with that for a new point of reference, I could almost (not quite) see what some people like in the stuff. Frankly, it’s not my thing, but it almost made sense to me, for a fleeting moment. This is why when the Punks refer to The Gueze, it is with both fear and reverence. This is, perhaps, the Mount Everest of beer appreciation, and the complexity of producing it is surely the pinnacle of insane, beautiful brewing.

07/20/09

Warm, Flat, and Delicious: A Primer on Cask Ale

Perhaps you’ve seen it at your local watering hole, at the end of a long line of colorful, gimmicky tap handles. It sits alone, in a corner, often barely visible on the inside corner of the bar: a long curvy brass neck and an old fashioned looking, unadorned wooden handle.

Surely it’s just kitsch, you think. A decorative throwback, reminiscent of the hand-pumped water wells of the frontier days. Then one day an unassuming beer geek wanders in with a notepad, speaks to the barkeep, and you watch him as he wrestles, through sheer brute force, what looks like beer out of that decrepit old device. No, my friends, that’s not decor; it’s called a beer engine, and is home to one of the true gems of the beer world: cask-conditioned ale. Many have seen it, some even know what it is, and yet in America it is a most overlooked and underappreciated piece of beer culture. That’s why I’ve chosen to try my hand at convincing a skeptical public why they would ever want to drink warm, flat beer.

Cask-conditioned ales, based on a loose interpretation of the definition offered by the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) in the UK, has two primary characteristics: it has been naturally conditioned by the action of yeast, and has not been pasteurized or filtered. Let’s compare this to two more familiar data points to see what makes cask-conditioned ale so different.

Typical tap or keg ale is filtered to remove yeast and other sediment, giving it more of a crystal clear appearance and better shelf stability. You see, many of the compounds that are removed by filtration would otherwise decompose and undergo reactions over time that can degrade – or sometimes improve – the flavor of the beer as it ages. Inconsistency is the bane of the commercial brewery, and over time the commercial brewers have had a great deal of influence on consumers’ tastes and preferences, even among craft beer drinkers to a lesser extent.

Shelf stability is further improved by pastuerization, which kills off any microorganisms that might still exist in the beer at the end of fermentation. This keeps infections from wild yeast or bacteria from impacting the flavor stability over time, but it also eliminates any yeast still suspended in the beer that hasn’t flocculated (i.e. went to sleep on the bottom of the fermenter when it ran out of food). This makes bottle or cask-conditioning the beer impossible, and so it is force carbonated by pressurized carbon dioxide. That is, the brewers place the beer in a keg or tank and applies high pressure CO2 until the gas dissolves into the beer, giving it carbonation, then the full and carbonated keg, bottle, or can is sealed tight to keep the carbon dioxide from escaping until the beer is served to the consumer.

Then there’s lagers. These too are mostly pasteurized, filtered, and force carbonated, but only after a secondary fermentation and lagering period. After primary fermentation is complete (or nearly complete) the beer is stored for a long period of time at a low temperature, and the yeast clean up a lot of the mess they’ve left behind during primary fermentation. Things like esters, phenols, and higher alcohols that contribute yeast based complexity to some ales but are unwelcome in most clean-drinking lagers.

So what makes Cask Ale different? First of all, it’s alive. The beer is not pasteurized or filtered in any way, the brewer simply adds fining agents to it that encourage the yeast and other sediment to sink to the bottom of the cask so that it doesn’t end up in your glass. But the yeast is still there, and still actively working in the bottom of the tank, imparting flavors to the beer that lies above it. The beer is, in fact, fermenting while it is being served. This secondary fermentation is different from that undertaken by lagers because it doesn’t take place over a long period or at low temperature. The goal is the production of carbon dioxide which is trapped in the cask and naturally carbonates the beer. Another goal is the continued production of yeast byproducts such as esters, phenols, and higher alcohols – the yeast is not cleaning up after itself like it would during lagering, since there is still enough sugars to continue eating. The yeast actually continues to make a mess of the beer. That mess, however, lends a greater complexity to the beer.

Next is the carbonation. As the beer conditions inside the cask, a cellar master can control the level of carbonation by using corks of varying density in one of the holes on the cask (shown sticking out of the top of the casks pictured above). A denser cork allows less of the carbonation to escape and will result in a more heavily carbonated beer, where as a lighter cork allows more to escape, resulting in flatter beer. But since the beer is served through a beer engine (and your barkeep’s own elbow grease) rather than being forced through the tap lines by high CO2 pressure, and because the beer is naturally carbonated rather than by force carbonation at high pressure, the beer tends to be noticeably flatter than tap beer.

Why on earth drink flat beer? Most of us have, at one time or another, thrown a kegger and had some beer left over the next day. We know that this flat, oxidated beer is inferior to the beer we had the night before. Those of us who were in college at the time probably drank the beer anyway because beer money was too hard to come by in those days. But the reason this beer tasted so bad (aside from oxidation) was that it was designed to be served under heavily carbonated conditions – most of the popular frat house beers in this country are. They are bland, and nearly flavorless, and simply don’t taste good without the crisp bite you get from forced carbonation. You see, higher carbonation distracts the taste buds from tasting the complexity in beer; bubbles coat the tongue, separating the beer from your taste buds, and the carbonation raises the acidity of the beer, creating the only real balance in frat house beers, since many of them use hops extremely sparingly. High carbonation reduces your ability to taste complexities in the beer, which makes it a good thing only if the beer has no complexity to begin. The fizzy yellow lagers of my youth had none; the craft beers I enjoy today do.

There is one tradeoff to this lower carbonation rate, however. Carbon dioxide dissolved in the beer under pressure begins to be released when the beer is served, bubbling up to the top and out of the beer completely. In the process it drives with it a multitude of aroma compounds, for example the volatile compounds found in hop oils. This means that without a high carbonation rate, there is no rush of gas escaping when the beer is served, and the nose will be far less potent. On the other hand, this also means that the aromatics aren’t escaping into the atmosphere; they stay in your glass for the most part until they find their way to your belly. This is why, in my opinion, the best cask ales are IPAs and other heavily hopped beers. Not only do they have enough potency in the nose to still shine when served with low carbonation, but cask-conditioning and proper serving really helps the delicate and volatile hop compounds come into their own. In this Punk’s opinion, there is no greater pleasure in the beer world than a properly poured pint of cask-conditioned IPA (until recently my beloved local, the Sunset Grill and Tap, had a Dogfish Head 60 Minute that would nearly bring me to tears every time I had it…I miss it terribly).

Then there’s the temperature. The proper serving temperature of cask ale (often referred to as cellar temperature because traditionally the casks were kept in cool cellars below ground, before the age of refrigeration) is 54-57 F. Refrigerator temperature, where most beers are served, is typically around of 40 F, and room temperature is about 70 F. This means that these beers are meant to be served fairly warm – certainly cool rather than chilled – another forbidden act for the average fizzy yellow beer drinker. (Author’s note: I have been known to drink good quality lagers, especially darker ones such as Bocks and Dunkels, at cellar temp all the same, because I feel they deserve it; it really gives their malty complexity a chance to shine. In fact I’ve been known to drink good quality ales at nearly room temperature. It’s not for everyone, but hopefully after reading this you might understand why I would do such a thing.)

Again, the reason this higher temperature works is the differences between craft ales and fizzy yellow lagers. Cold has a tendency to numb the sense of taste so that it obscures some of the complexities of a good beer. Again, if a beer has no complexity, this works in its favor. Think about that the next time a beer commercial touts its product as “frost brewed” or accentuates the cold refreshing aspects of it, or tries to associate itself with snow covered mountains and brisk mountain streams. What exactly do they have to hide?

Furthermore, warmth excites the volatile compounds we spoke of earlier, so that the drinker of a properly served cask beer gets a slightly more aggressive aroma from the beer, whereas chilled beer tends to reign in the release of volatile compounds.

There’s one more thing conspicuously missing from a cask-conditioned beer that is off-putting for some drinkers: a nice frothy head. There is great debate in the world of cask ales about the use of special taps and other methods to coax some frothiness out of cask ale, and we’ll get into that in another article. The simple fact though, is that cask beers in general will not achieve the kind of head that is expected on a tap beer.

Head forms in tap beer when the carbon dioxide comes out of solution and bubbles to the top of the glass. The bubbles surrounding the escaping gas are made of various proteins and other compounds that are pulled out of solution along with the CO2. Think of this as a less invasive form of filtration; whenever you pull these compounds out of the beer and into the head, you disturb the balance of the beer and potentially rob it of some complexity. Again, fine if the beer has no complexity, but a nice cask ale can really show its chops when served without a head.

The reason tap beer has such a vigorous and lingering head is that it is continually replenished for a while after the beer is poured, as more and more CO2 comes out of solution and drags precious hop oils with it. The only way to accomplish a head like this on a beer that is not force carbonated is to agitate it as it goes through the line or the spout between the cask and the glass, or to hold the glass below the tap and let the beer be agitated as it falls into it (not unlike the way frothy “pulled tea” is served in east Asian cultures). But since there’s not enough carbon dioxide dissolved in a cask ale to continue to feed the head, this head will die down shortly, and will have robbed the beer of some of the more delicate and volatile flavor compounds. Depending on how the recipe was formulated, this might be OK (hence the debate I alluded to) but if the recipe is meant to be served without a frothy pseudo-head, why sacrifice flavor for the sake of eye candy? Does anyone out there really like the taste of a beer’s head? Judge a beer by the taste, not according to what beer commercials condition us to think it should look like.

Now I’m not saying that cask-conditioned ales are plug-and-play for the average beer consumer. They’re a lot like certain Belgian beers, it’s something a little odd and funky you might have to work your way up to over time. Even now, I often find it takes a few moments for me to adjust my expectations and my palate to really get the best out of a cask ale, especially if I’ve been drinking tap beers beforehand. But if you’ve been on a brewery tour and had a chance to try “green beer” that isn’t done conditioning, or if you love hoppy beers, cask ales are definitely worth a look. Just know that the quality varies widely based on the serving conditions maintained by the barkeep, so try asking for a sample before you order a full pint, especially until you get comfortable with cask ale’s unique characteristics and the reputation of the purveyors you frequent. Furthermore, try asking a beer guy like me for a recommendation where to find a good one (in good old Beantown, I’m a huge fan of the Sunset as I said, but stay away from John Harvard’s Brewhouse! they serve it way too cold). In fact, take a beer guy with you so they can confirm or deny the quality and authenticity of the particular specimen in realtime.

But in the unlikely event you can’t find a beer guy near you, just know that these gems are worth looking for, even with their variable quality, and don’t let your preconceived notions about warm, flat beer stop you from enjoying one of life’s greatest pleasures.

This was just an overview; we’ll return to the topic of cask-conditioned ales in the weeks and months to come, since there’s a lot of ground to cover here about the different ways they are kept and served, the history and culture behind them, and the modern efforts to save them. Stay tuned.

07/16/09

Fear of the Dark

We all know one. There’s one in every group. The “I don’t like dark beer” person. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, and it’s time I addressed it.

I have a theory that when the average beer drinker says they don’t like dark beer, what they really mean is that they don’t like Guinness. Let me be frank, I love Guinness with a long-standing passion. I like the slightly acrid, burnt coffee bitterness, and the velvety, so-good-you-have-to-chew mouthfeel. It’s far and away my favorite mass produced, near universally available beer. And when I say near-universally, I’m not blowing smoke; resident Punk globetrotter Mike can testify to the fact that Guinness is enjoyed ubiquitously everywhere around the world. But despite this, Guinness is not for everyone.

Consider toast for a moment. If you start out with bland, puffy white bread (say something with balloons on the label) and put it in the toaster for a little while, the sugars brown, and the flavor and texture become delightfully complex, at least comparatively speaking. I would venture to guess most people would say that humble white bread tastes better when toasted.

Now take that toast, put it back in the toaster, and turn the knob until it breaks off. When you come back, you will find a charred brick, whose delightful complexity has turned bitter and, for most people, unpleasant. You burned the toast.

What does this have to do with beer? The reactions taking place in the toaster are very similar to the reactions that take place in malt as it is kilned and/or roasted. All beer is made of malted grains, that is grains (like barley) that have been steeped in water, allowed to germinate, then kilned (or baked) to stop the process before the grain (which is really a seed) sprouts a new plant. This is true of light and dark beers alike; the difference between the two comes from what happens next.

Some malts are kilned, or heated, longer or hotter than others. Heating sugars causes a complex set of chemical reactions known as the maillard reactions, similar to the ones that brown toast, steaks on a grill, or even dulce de leche for that matter. Depending on the environment in which these reactions take place, the resulting character of the malt could be described as anything from bready or biscuity all the way to dark fruit (plum or raisin) coffee or even chocolate. However they are carried out, though, the malt is darker, and so is the finished beer.

Darker grains also make a less fermentable wort, because yeast is not equipped to process the complex sugars created by the maillard reactions. This means that a beer making generous use of darker malts will have more complex sugars dissolved in it after fermentation, giving it a more substantial body, greater malt complexity, and more residual sweetness. This residual sweetness also tends to make them less “crisp,” as a crisp finish comes primarily from having a more fully fermented beer that has less residual sweetness to linger on the palate.

Beer is never (to my knowledge) made with all dark malt because the result would not be fermentable enough to be called beer, and would likely be oppressively acrid like the burnt toast I spoke of earlier. Dark beers use a lighter malt as the base (usually more than half of the total malt content) and the darker malts are used in smaller portions to add just an accent to the beer’s flavor.

Now back to Guinness, and toast. Some people like Guinness, some people don’t. Some people like their toast dark; some actually like it completely burnt. There really is no accounting for taste. But it is the very ubiquity of Guinness (it is actually the only dark beer many American consumers are ever exposed to) that turns many people away from dark beer, at least that’s my theory.

Truly, much as I like it, Guinness and other dry stouts are at the harsh end of the dark beer spectrum. It has a bit of a tang to it; in the case of Foreign Extra Stout this comes from the fact that the brewers actually spoil a portion of the batch with bacteria to give it a vinegarlike flavor, then fold those portions back into the batch. Generally speaking Dry Irish Stouts include considerable amounts of unmalted roasted barley, which is roasted quite dark and lend the beer coffee notes and a dry bitterness that is characteristic of the style. Furthermore, according to Ray Daniels in Designing Great Beers, it is one of the most unbalanced styles in the world, with a low original gravity and relatively judicious IBUs, giving it a BU/GU ratio near 1.0. (See our previous post on IBUs for a discussion of balance and how it is measured).

So despite its rich complexity and 250 year old tradition of quality, Guinness is not for everyone. But the reader would do well not to let a bad experience with a single beer chase them away from the rich malty complexity of other dark beers. There are plenty of examples of styles that maintain the complexity of dark malt without sacrificing “drinkability” as one brewer would put it.

So how can we help our friends get over their fears? As always it depends on their particular tastes.

People who drink lighter colored craft beers in the British tradition (like pale ales and IPAs) would do well to dip their toes in with an amber ale. This is a great gateway beer for folks who are OK with full flavored beer and the fruity yeast aspects of other British ales, and it gives you a good helping of the bready, slightly toasted malt character dark beers have to offer without going too far beyond the familiar. If that works, try a brown ale next. They are roasted a bit darker still, bringing out some delightful nutty qualities in the malt. If I haven’t lost you yet, try a Porter. There is a great variety within the style, so it’s hard to really describe exactly what you can expect here. They tend to have all the dark complexity of a dry stout without the harsh bite, owing to a greater portion of pale base malt and more balanced BU/GU ratio (about 0.7-0.9 according to Ray Daniels).

Those whose taste leans to the lager side (which would include fizzy yellow stuff) want to think German. Any one of the darker German lager styles would be a good choice, since German beer is always, above all else, extremely drinkable, clean, and generally crisp. None of which generally comes to mind when the average consumer thinks of dark beer. But try a Munich Dark (Dunkel) or Black Beer (Schwarzbier) and you will change your mind quickly. In fact, schwarz in particular has always reminded me of Guinness with all of the sharp edges filed down. For something a bit more ambitious, try a Bock or Doppelbock; this is the boldest of all the German lagers with tons of delicious malt complexity and a high alcohol content, but they are still amazingly clean and easy drinking. Another safe bet that’s very easy to find in decent liquor stores would be Negra Modelo, a dark lager first brewed in Mexico by Austrian immigrants.

And what about the grape juice drinkers? I always point wine people toward the Belgians…it’s a long shot, as Belgian beers are very complex and might be offputting to casual beer drinkers, but if there’s any chance of getting a wine person to drink beer, this is it. Quads are extremely complex, fruity strong dark ales; that’s a good place to start. There are also many fruit lambics that are dark and would work quite well for wine people, such as Kriek (cherry) or Framboise (raspberry), though the darkness here is likely from the fruit, rather than the malt.

The various styles of dark beer cover alot of ground, and are largely unexplored by the average American beer consumer. This is not acceptable. The next time you hear someone claim to not like dark beer, don’t just roll your eyes. Roll up your sleeves and show them the error of their ways. And if you fear the dark, please seek help. There is a better life waiting for you.

07/11/09

Just One More (I Promise) on Harpoon

I thought I was done with this, but turns out there’s one more in me relating to Harpoon. I promise this is the last one for a long time; this is not a Harpoon fansite after all, it’s a beer blog. That said…

First a recap. In our last article I discussed that there are two very important flavor compounds in yeast: esters (which taste fruity) and phenols (which taste spicy). Different yeast strains produce these in varying amounts, and Harpoon’s leans to the estery side without much phenolic character. I also discussed that brewers have various ways of reigning in the character of the yeast and making it less-estery or less-phenolic, but that they can’t turn esters into phenols, the character is what it is. With this in mind, I examined Harpoon’s lineup and found that they had selected styles that are defined by the BJCP style guidelines to contain either an estery profile or a clean profile (no esters or phenols to speak of). This is what allows them to brew consistently good beer in so many styles with only a single yeast strain.

This is a new way of looking at things for me. As a home brewer I don’t generally start with an ingredient and try to find ways to use it; I start out wanting to brew a specific beer or style of beer and then figure out how best to produce it. Homebrewers have this liberty because we are working in smaller batches and don’t have to worry as much about our supply chain. Our local homebrew shop always has what we need in appropriate quantities regardless of what style of beer we are brewing. But professional brewers make their lives much easier if they find a way to make many styles of beer without using niche ingredients or a dozen different strains of yeast.

I couldn’t help but think it would be fun to play brewmaster and try to brainstorm where they could go next. Just a quick disclaimer, I’m not so bold as to second guess the professionals (yet) and indeed Harpoon may have already brewed or be planning to brew any one of my ideas. Furthermore, they could have already tried and failed because the ideas themselves are no good; sometimes things that sound like they should work just don’t. No, I’m not being vain here, this is just a fun little exercise I decided to share with everyone; trying to climb inside the head of a professional brewer for a moment.

First, there’s the ales of the British and American tradition. As I said in the previous article, beers from these traditions tend to have an estery profile, so any of them would probably be a good choice. Indeed the Harpoon lineup already includes several of these styles for just this reason, but others are missing. However, the natural fit between this category and Harpoon’s estery yeast strain also makes this category less interesting, so I won’t dwell on it long. (Also, I apologize to the Scots and Irish for lumping them into the British category here, but you do share a somewhat similar brewing heritage, so think of it as shorthand not a slight. Slainte!) Styles missing from the current lineup include:

  • Scottish Ales of any kind (one of my favorite categories), for which some fruity esters would be appropriate. If I were to add one to the lineup, however, I’d err on the cleaner side, Scottish Ales are supposed to be about malt, not esters.
  • Stouts, which personally wouldn’t work for me. The roastiness would largely cover the esters, and if the esters showed through I’d view it as an unwelcome intrusion. The possible exception would be a sweet stout, for which some fruitiness might be nice, but I’d trade this one in for the absolute no-brainer:
  • Porter. When I started thinking about it, I can’t for the life of me understand why Harpoon doesn’t already make one. Many good porters have fruity characteristics, and the Harpoon lineup is conspicuously light on dark beers (the wonderful Munich Dark being the main exception). I would even argue that the Porter would be a more natural fit for their yeast than the Munich Dark, which is based on a lager style that doesn’t play well with fruity esters.

Another obvious group to consider would be the hybrid beers. They’ve started making a Kolsch already (Summer Beer), which works quite well. Essentially, hybrid beers are beers that either use a lager yeast (which tend to be cleaner than ale strains) at higher temperatures to encourage esters and other byproducts, or use an ale yeast (which tends to be fruitier than lager strains) at lower temperatures to reign in the byproducts and estery flavor. The result is not quite a lager and not quite an ale (hence the name hybrid beer), but exhibits limited esters in an otherwise clean lager-like palate. I would encourage a push by Harpoon into the hybrids category since their yeast would play well here, and it would diversify their otherwise Brit-Am ale heavy lineup. Possibilities include:

  • California Common (commonly known as Steam Beer, but that’s trademarked by Anchor Brewing Company). They’d want to make sure the beer finishes somewhat dry, and not go crazy on the esters.
  • German Altbiers would also work, but I wonder if it would concern them to be playing in the same space as the widely popular Long Trail Ale. I don’t personally know of any other American breweries that make an Alt (pipe up if you do), but Long Trail is quite popular in Harpoons breadbasket of New England, so the competition might not be welcome.
  • Cream Ale is an interesting option in my book. My first exposure to this style was a restaurant near South Street Seaport in Manhattan that served Genessee’s cream ale for a dollar a can (completely unheard of in Manhattan). I wasn’t quite a connoisseur back then, but it was a mighty fine cheap beer. Brewing this one to style is something Harpoon would have no interest in most likely, however, since the BJCP seems to make DMS (a compound found mainly in cheap beer that tastes and smells like cooked vegetables and is generally frowned upon) and the use of corn adjuncts a requirement. But I see no reason why cream ale can’t be a craft beer. One of the highlights of the Punks’ recent visit to Montreal was McAuslan‘s cream ale, which was nitrogenated for a velvety (you might say “creamy”) mouthfeel and sported a delightful, estery profile. Our notes don’t mention anything about cooked vegetables; it was quite refreshing and delicious. I can definitely see Harpoon making a splash in this style if they bend the style guidelines a bit like McAuslan did. And this is another style rarely touched by craft brewers, McAuslan is the only example that comes to mind, and that’s not distributed widely (if at all) in the US, so this one could definitely be a good move for Harpoon, I feel.

What about the lagers? We’ve already seen that Harpoon can make a reasonably good Munich Dark and a seasonal Octoberfest by toning down the esters of their yeast a bit. They might have a tad more esters in there than they would if they used a lager yeast, but this can be said to provide some additional complexity even if it’s not appropriate to style. Surely they could have similar success in many of the other lager styles, but some might be better choices than others. Let’s take a look at just a sample of what’s out there:

  • Lighter lagers (like Pilsner or Helles) might not be a very good fit. I’m most familiar with the Pilsner style so I’ll work with that, but the category shares alot of similar characteristics and the analysis would likely apply to most of them. Good Pilsners are relatively delicate in character. They are full flavored for sure (Pilner Urquell is not your grandfather’s “true pilsner beer” – unless of course he emigrated from the Czech Republic) but the fullness of the flavor comes as much from good balance and restraint as anything else. Like soft chamber music, the notes may not be loud but they go together. I feel that even the restrained esters seen in some of Harpoon’s other lagers might overwhelm this style’s delicate sensibilities.
  • Dark and amber lagers (like many american craft lagers, vienna lagers, and the german black “schwarz” beer). Harpoon already brews a Munich Dark that works out quite well. This is a bit safer territory than the lighter lagers for such an estery yeast, because (as I’ll be explaining in another post later this week) dark beers tend to exhibit a more complex malt character than lighter ones. This added complexity and boldness would help cover an errant ester or two from the yeast. However, since they already brew a munich dark, a beer in this category might not be differentiated enough to pursue.
  • This leaves us with one of my all time favorites: the Bock. According to BJCP, traditional bocks and double (doppel) bocks are permitted to have some esters and fruitiness in their profile. I’ve tasted some very good bocks with fruit notes. The big problem here is that we are largely talking about different kinds of fruit. I would describe the profile of Harpoon yeast as mostly citrus fruity, with a hint of something else I’m going to call berry-like because it reminds me vaguely of berries, particularly strawberries. Most often bocks are described as similar to darker fruits such as plums, prunes, raisins, or even grapes. This flavor comes not from the yeast, but from the darker malts and from reactions that take place during the boil (again this will be discussed further later this week). I still think it would be an interesting addition to the lineup if the yeast is reigned in somewhat and a generous helping of darker malts and melanoidins is added to give the darker fruit notes. I can picture a brew where the brighter citrus and berry notes balance the rich dark fruity notes and create a fuller, more complex palate. I’m not sure it would work, but I am sure it would be fun to try.

Finally, the Belgians. I have to admit I wasn’t sure where to begin with this one, since I don’t know much about their beer styles. I love Belgian beer with a passion, but it tends to be difficult to lump into categories; so much so that when I try beers side by side from a single Belgian style, I can scarcely recognize that they have anything in common. Furthermore, the Belgians make extensive use of two things that would be problematic in this exercise: brettanomyces and sugar. Brett yeast would be out of the question here since that’s the entire point of this exercise, and the use of simple sugars rather than malt, while not wrong in any way, would be uncharacteristic of the other Harpoon beers, which are brewed entirely with malt. Nevertheless, I did my best to overcome these limitations and here’s what I came up with:

  • According to BJCP, Belgian Pale Ales do tend to exhibit an estery profile. Using BJCP guidelines and Jamil Zainasheff’s Brewing Classic Styles I was able to find that the difference between a Belgian and the more familiar British Pale Ale appears to be 1) the use of noble hops rather than British varieties, which would lend a spicier hop character as opposed to citrusy or pine resiny, and 2) a slightly more phenolic (spicy) yeast character, though it seems that the phenols should be restrained by lower temperature fermentation. Harpoon could concievably pull this one off, since the phenols are more of an accent flavor than the main event here. However, if you remove the phenols you are left with a relatively small change in hop character, and the beer probably wouldn’t be far enough differentiated from Harpoon Ale (which is somewhere between an Amber and a Pale).
  • Then there’s another Punk favorite, the Saison. This is an unusual one for me to like: very citrusy and very fruity, light in body, and heavily carbonated it represents the exact opposite end of the spectrum from my other favorite styles. But for some reason doing everything wrong just seems to turn out right in my book. The flavor profile of a Saison is an excellent match for Harpoon yeast, heavy on citrus and berry. BJCP does mention that light phenols can be present, or that they can be substituted for the use of actual spices – a practice I generally frown on. But in this case I might make an exception. The spritzy, highly carbonated, light bodied nature of Saisons seems to obscure some of the finer points of the flavor profile, and might successfully hide the use of spices in place of yeast characteristics. I think the real challenge here would come from the light body and dry finish; these come from exceptionally high attenuation by the yeast (that is the yeast keep working and eat a far larger portion of the sugars in the wort before shutting down, leaving a lighter body and not much residual sweetness, which gives the beer a dry character to the finish. Generally this is accomplished by the use of specialized yeast strains, different mash techniques, or the use of simple sugars in place of a portion of the malt. I’m not sure what level of attenuation the Harpoon guys can get out of their yeast, but if they are willing to let some sugar into the batch just this once, they could concievably pull it off. They might end up with a fantastic beer that is very different from others in their lineup, and makes great use of the unique estery profile of their yeast that they are so proud of. It might not make it into the main lineup, but would certainly make a great limited edition or specialty offering, similar to Brooklyn Local One from the Brooklyn Brewery.

So after going over the many possibilities, here’s my picks for what I’d most like to see next from Harpoon. A porter would be a natural fit, extending the British portion of their lineup and adding a bit more color to a relatively light lineup. Also a good fit, a cream ale, brewed not to the BJCP guidelines but to craft beer standards instead – more along the lines of McAuslan than Genessee (not to knock Genessee, it along with Yuengling are my personal lawnmower beers of choice, or would be if I had a lawn to mow).

Then there’s the extra credit, swing-for-the-fences brews. A bold, dark Bock style beer with a hint of Harpoon’s signature ester profile to balance the rich fruity malt notes, and a true-to-style Belgian-inspired Saison that really showcases, loud and clear, the citrus and berry notes I pick up in other Harpoon beers. Both of these, if they worked out, might work better as limited edition brews.

It was a fun exercise stepping into the head of a professional brewer and looking at the relationship between beer and yeast backwards for a change. I’m very pleased with the outcome and hope my rambling was either entertaining, educational, or both. Now enough harping on Harpoon for a while, later this week I’ll be discussing why some beer drinkers are afraid of the dark (beers that is) and why I think they shouldn’t be.