Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Farmhouse Ales

Phil Markowski’s Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftmanship in the Belgian Tradition is a well-written and fascinating book focusing on two basic beer styles: Wallonian saisons and French bière de gardes. As Markowski notes, “this book’s core objective is to better define two styles of ale that are often misunderstood. The many interpretations of these styles do not fit into predefined style categories. As a result, many observers brush them off as insignificant or unimportant” (6). In part, this is because “French and Belgian farmhouse brewing evolved as a ‘third way’ apart from German and English brewing, the sources of so much of our brewing philosophy” (8). In this sense, I think Markowski hits it on the nose—while this book was written in 2004, his words still hold true today, even in the über-experimental American craftbrewing scene: the lack of knowledge of what actually distinguishes these two styles, coupled with a traditional focus on English and German brewing, has led to a lot of pedestrian American attempts to recreate these beers. Think sweet, think sticky, think over-spiced. Which is really only another way of saying that doing whatever the hell you want does not make something a saison, even if it is an interesting beer.

Photo from here.

Tracing the historical development of these two beers offers numerous insights into the way these two beers are a product of similar and yet different social, political, and cultural forces. Markowski points out that there are “two primary ways to formulate a brew to help keep it stable over months of storage—increasing the hopping rate or elevate the alcohol content” (11). And as he continues, each of these beers follows one of these paths: higher hopping rates for the saison, and increased alcohol content for the bière de garde. Thus, as Markowski notes, “The higher alcohol content of today’s bière de garde evolved as a result of brewers’ efforts to make them more ‘special’” (34). More special indeed. Sounds like Belgium beat America to the punch on this one. As well, local legislation had its own influence: “for several decades of the nineteenth century, unmalted brewing grains were taxed at a lower rate than malt, providing an extra incentive” for the use of non-traditional grains like wheat, spelt, and buckwheat in saisons (155). Coupled with the shared historical background both within regions—“The use of old hops was frequent, bringing saisons close to traditional lambic” (104)—and across regions—“Modern bière de garde may have evolved from the tradition of making bière de Mars, a seasonal ale with origins similar to German Oktoberfst Maerzen” (36)—Markowski’s text provides a thought-provoking read for those equally interested in style, method, and tradition.

Practical brewing advice is also prevalent, relevant to those interested in fine-tuning their brewing ability. For example, in saisons, “bitterness is obtained by the use of a massive amount of hops low in alpha acids” (121). While two ounces of American Magnum can do the trick, understanding the total landscape and not just the shortcut is important. Then there is this gem: “The addition of spices can be thought of in much the same way as adding hops to a brew” (166). In other words, not only in regards to bittering, flavor, aroma, and dry-spicing additions, but with forethought and intentionality that takes the entire beer into consideration. Markowski also discusses yeast history: “the Dupont strain may have originally been a red wine yeast that over time adapted itself to a brewery environment” (172). My personal experience with Wyeast French Saison 3711 (which is not the Dupont strain) would tend to confirm this; not only is 3711 an extremely aggressive yeast that readily outcompetes (or even kills off) other yeasts, it exudes a good amount of fruit (specifically cherry) esters, especially when placed under stress. But it does make a damn good beer. Sorry, Phil, but I like it better than the Dupont strain.

Finally, Markowski offers historical asides designed to cohere the different threads of the text; he notes that “As saison was considered the drink of farm workers, grisette was the brew of the miners” (131). Before reading the book, I knew that the two names existed (Sly Fox does a Grisette), but not the reciprocal distinctions existing between the two. I did know more about grisettes prior to reading this, but in another context; not surprisingly, the two share historical roots (see the Sly Fox description and you’ll figure it out). As well, another gem: “Based on the works of sociologist and historian Léo Moulin, it can estimated that consumption levels of low gravity beer for a manual laborer in the Middle Ages was around 5 liters per day!” (99). Holy les saisonniers! And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out my newest vocabulary word: chaptalization, which is boosting fermentable sugar content through additions of sucrose. Basically, it means adding table sugar to create a leaner, drier beer. But using chaptalization should make you sound like a rock star. Or an academic, which is pretty much the same thing. Oh, and if you’d like to see some other reviews of the book, go find them yourselves, you lazy bum. Just kidding! Check out All About Beer and the Mad Fermentationist (so angry!). Word.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ohio Brew Week Beer Judging

Ohio Beer Week, my annual excuse to visit Jackie O’s, came knocking again. Jeff, Jeffrey, and myself rolled on into Athens last night in a borrowed mini-van, and hit up the town. Today, though, was about the beer judging, which meant that I ate all the bacon I could find at the free continental breakfast. Yes, all of it. Nothing says due diligence like proper preparation.

4th beer of the day: 10:14 am

The morning flight was 13B. Sweet Stout, and nothing against the beers entered, but the less said, the better. If I ever decide to brew a sweet stout, I will remember the two things I learned this morning: 1) a sweet stout needs to be sweet, so I will mash my grains higher that 150˚ F and also include an addition of lactose in the boil to help provide the necessary residual sweetness and mouthfeel, and 2) roasted barley/black malt requires a judicious hand, even in a stout, so I will use care not to make my beer acrid and bitter via large additions of either grain.

The afternoon flight was 23. Specialty Beer, and, well, it was huge. Twenty four beers for two sets of judges from all over the map: my group judged, among other things, a Rye IPA, an Indian Brown Ale (which ended up 3rd in BOS), a Black IPA, a gose, a historically-based Wee Heavy (soured with a lactic acid-producing bacteria), a doppelbock with espresso, and a Double Black IPA. Plus several others. It was some work, but there were some good beers in the mix.

After all the judging was said and done (well, except for the BOS), we hung around for a bit of “Worst In Show” sampling, our patented name for randomly selecting and trying beers that didn’t win, and then headed up to Jackie O’s for dinner, beers, and the awards ceremony. I entered two beers, both of which did well: the Belgian Quad I brewed with Jeff Fortney won in the Belgian and French Ale category, and my APA got 3rd in the APA category. After that, the wheels pretty much came off the wagon. Highlights from the evening include the successful quest for a taco for Jeffrey and watching people attempt to ignore a dancing Vanderglas. Just when I thought we were about done for the evening, we had three more pitchers of beer (one of which was Fat Head’s Texas Brown, which was delicious), I scored us some wings, and we took our cab-ride of victory back to the hotel.

P. S. One added bonus that needs noting: the next morning, we got to have brunch with Jennifer Hermann of Market Garden Brewery and Tom Robbins and Scott Randolph of Lagerhead’s Brewing Company & Smokehouse, where we all talked about our shared love of hot peppers and Futurama. Seriously. I couldn’t make this stuff up. It was awesome.


Friday, June 22, 2012

520. Jackie O’s Raspberry Berliner Weisse

The benefit of being a beer judge and attending beer judging events is the opportunity to sample the local flora and fauna of different regions. Well, that, and the occasional perk like a free hotel room. And let’s be honest: Jackie O’s is reason enough to head to Athens by itself, so if you throw in that free hotel option, the ability to say no becomes exponentially well-nigh impossible. Enter Ohio Brew Week 2012, and, well, the fickle hand of fate is set in motion. Not surprisingly (as you can tell by the picture), I headed to Athens with the normal cast of characters, our phasers set on “chicanery” (or “idiocy,” depending who you were asking). Earlier examples of the craftsmanship of Brad Clark include Bourbon Barrel Smoked & Portered, OPA, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Impy Razz (plus a bonus beer along the way—it’s at the bottom).

Raspberry Berliner Weisse came served in a tulip; it is a cloudy light pink (basically, a pink grapefruit) with only a hint of a quickly dissipating head. And the nose is, well, beguiling: bright lactic aromas mixed with raspberry tartness, and just a slight touch of yeastiness in the background. Flavors were equally intoxicating, opening with a clean, bright combination of malty bread dough mixed with both citric and lactic bite before moving into a sharp, thirst-quenching, and palate-cleansing middle that prefaces the slightly citric and raspberry finish. Besides the raspberry, there are hints of jam and fruit in the finish as well, even with the brisk, clean finish. The body has a touch of wheat gumminess, although still light and gentle, while the carbonation is crisp & bright. Certainly a well-rounded beer—it exudes the best of both fruit and berliner weisse beers—and the two parts are in perfect balance. In fact, the delicate balance is in many ways the best part of the beer, as all the superlatives I want to throw at this beer—refreshing, bright, thirst-quenching, tart, yummy—all stem from the simultaneous interplay between the fruit and the beer. Needless to say, I’ll be hitting up this beer the entire time I’m in Athens.

ABV: 3.5%


Thursday, June 14, 2012

519. Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA

 More Deschutes. After all, if I am in the Pacific Northwest, shouldn’t I indulge the local scene? Besides being from Deshutes, Hop Henge is part of the Bond Street Series, which is just another way of loving lupulins. As previously inferred, we’ve sippy-sipped Chainbreaker White IPAConflux No. 2 White IPA, The Abyss, Black Butte Porter XXI, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, Hop Trip, Inversion, and Red Chair IPA. Do that.

Hop Henge pours a rich, deep caramel with a thick creamy eggshell head. There is even some lacing. Let’s be honest—it looks British. The nose is more eccentric: it starts with chewy caramel malt and a creamy butterscotch before the hops kick in. Then you get the hop bitterness and aroma: pine and resin with touches of earth and vanilla. The delicate aromas of citrus, must, orange, and pear flirt at the edges, but are a bit lost in the caramel. See? More British. Flavors follow the nose, with a spicy caramel at the start before the hop assault takes over. Then it is a herbal pine and evergreen blast. The bitterness picks up in the middle, and continues on into the finish, with pine resin and creamy butterscotch duking it out towards the end. The bitterness in the finish is just short of sharp, while the lingering bitterness carries a hint of mintiness on the roof and back of the mouth. There is some alcohol warmth in the by finish as well, but it is gentle, not harsh. As well, there is a touch of grassiness and hop astringency in the medium to heavy body. In keeping with the British beer references, I am tempted to call this a British IPA on steriods—the beer is more balanced between the malt and hops than many American IPAs, and lessening the malt body would reciprocally improve the hop punch. I know this is a Northwest IPA, but even by those standards it is very British. The Deschutes characteristics shine through—clean, balanced, malty, and delicious—but a reduced malt profile in conjunction with the same hop profile would yield an IPA that better fit the “experimental” label of the Hop Henge profile. Nonetheless, a good beer: this is a beer with a British malt character and an American hop profile that sacrifices nothing. While the final product may itself be a bit unbalanced, aren’t most cultural collisons equally hectic and chaotic? After all, this is what makes Deschutes so refreshing. Damn the naysayers and full speed ahead!

From the bottle: “Stonehenge is a mystery. Hop Henge is a discovery. Out monument to hops—Hop Henge is brought to life by the uncompromising creativity of our brewers.
With an immense hop flavor and bitter finish, this experimental IPA will stand the test of time.”

From Deschutes: “Hop Henge Experimental IPA is our annual exercise in IBU escalation. An outrageous amount of Centennial and Cascade hops are added to each barrel, with a heavy dry-hop presence as well. It is dense and muscular, with a blend of crystal, pale and carastan malts creating an overall biscuity characteristic. It’s all hop, no apologies.”

ABV: 8.96%
IBU: 95
Malt: Pale, Munich
Hops: Millennium, Northern Brewer, Cascade, Centennial, Zeus, Simcoe, Brewers Gold, Citra
Best By: 6/28/2012  


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

518. Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA

“The trail to tasty is never safe and gentle.”
from the bottle

Another bike-themed beer, which is, of course, awesome. We love bike-themed beer: see here and here for proof of our lofty claims. And regardless of what Jake Harper tells us, this strikes us more as a revision of the Conflux No. 2 than something brand spanking new, which is really a fantastic thing, because it means there is more of that delicious Deschutes White IPA to be had. But I digress. Our previous run-ins with Deschutes include Conflux No. 2 White IPAThe Abyss, Black Butte Porter XXI, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, Hop Trip, Inversion, and Red Chair IPA.  

Chainbreaker pours a soft yellow & hazy straw with a delicate white head that offers good staying power and decent lacing. The nose is perfume-y, with citrus lemon and grapefruit competing with a slight earthy hop  bitterness, coriander, and a touch of tropical fruit. Flavors open with earthy bitterness mixed with citrus and herbal spiciness; there is a soft, slightly gummy malt character that loudly declares “I’ve got a wheat malt backbone,” but is rounded by a light candy malt sweetness. The middle brings in a slight graininess and huskiness, along with a delicate citrus bitterness, shifting to the clean gentle bitterness in the finish that is is slightly spicy and herbal from the coriander. The body is light, bright, & spritzy with a fresh and punchy character that is simultaneously delicate and restrained. The gentle, celan malt character plays well with the hop, spice, and yeast character of the beer. Much like the
Conflux No. 2, this is a delicious beer, but there are subtle differences. While the Belgian character is still present, this is closer to an IPA than Conflux, which struck me as more saison-like in the delicate nuance. This beer is still delicate, but the sage is gone, replaced with citrus and an increased coriander/herbal spice character that suits the beer well. As well, the hop character is more complete across the beer—more flavor and aroma, and a more nuanced bitterness playing across the beer. The ABV is also appropriately toned down from the 7.3% of Conflux to make this a wee bit easier on the stump-jumpin’ mountain bike racing crowd. Not like they couldn’t handle it, but it is drinkable enough that they’ll want more than one or two.

From the Deschutes website: “Deschutes is taking you into the next beer frontier. Brewed with wheat and pilsner malt; this IPA displays beautiful citrus aromas from Cascade and Citra hops that meld with the esters of Belgian yeast. Think thirst quenching hopped-up wit beer with enough IBUs to warrant the IPA name.”

ABV: 5.6%
IBU: 55
Malt: Pilsner, Wheat, Unmalted Wheat
Hops: Bravo, Citra, Centennial, Cascade
Other: Sweet Orange, Coriander


Monday, June 11, 2012

517. Cigar City Guava Grove

Our friend Jeff came over for dinner this evening, and he was strapped with liquid gold. After a couple of preliminary beers to open the evening, he pulled this out—he said he’d been saving it for us to try since he went down to Tampa a year ago (same trip that brought the José Martí American Porter into our lives). So we cracked that sucker and got down to business. Tragically, this is only our second beer from Cigar City (well, that we’ve blogged about—there may have been others we kept a secret); the last one was José Martí American Porter, and it was delicious as well. Methinks we need to go to Tampa.

Guava Grove pours a crystal clear dark urine color—pretty much the color you’d find in the morning after a night of drinking—with a profuse creamy tan head fed by the streaming small bubbles up the side of the glass. I did get mocked for my color description; Jeff called it a buttery caramel edging on copper, which certainly sounds prettier, while Elli just shook her head. The nose was fantastic: dirty band aid mixed with tropical fruit. The balance between the tart and acetic character sour character was fantastic—it did get more citric as it warmed. As well, while the nose (and the flavor) was reminiscent of a Flanders Red-esque beer, most of this appears to be fruit derived rather than yeast derived: Jeff called this bottle much much much more approachable than the bottle he had a year ago in regards to the tartness. So doubly interesting. Anyway, flavors open with fruit and candy of the tropical/passion fruit variety. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is the guava, but never having had guava, I don’t want to lay claim to that which I don’t know. The sharp tartness starts in the front and builds into the middle, leaving the tongue dry and clean; with warmth, this shifts more towards a clean citric tartness. The finish is slightly creamy and tart, but with a mineral tang that gets left on the tongue. Underlying this profile, there is also a soft malt character that is slightly chewy. There is a lot of contradiction in this beer: the beer is soft on the palate while simultaneously tangy and tart on the tongue, and the mouthfeel is light, sharp, tart, but clean. Whatever it is, it is fantastic—it left small sweaty rosettes on my cheeks from the sourness, which is always a good hallmark for any sour beer in my book, even if this is not a yeast-derived sour beer. If that actually is the case, I’m certain this beer has fooled many an unsuspecting drinker. It is also hard to detect the saison characteristics underneath the fruit and tartness; regardless, it is a delicious and delightful treat. If we had one, we’d give Cigar City the official what we’re drinking seal of approval. Money in the bank!

Update: Looks like I was wrong. I e-mailed Cigar City regarding the yeast and process, and got the following reply from Wayne Wambles, Cigar City’s head brewer: “Initially, we used what we thought was just a mutated biere de garde strain. Come to find had brux in it. So the very first batch that we made was what I believed to be fruit tartness but in actuality did have a small amount of brux in it. The following year it became outrageous. The owner decided to use a 30 bbl horizontal dairy tank that we bought to initially use as a cold liquor tank but decided that the footprint was too big. It was a big open fermenter that had no cooling apparatus. We used the same yeast as year one but this time we knew we were using brux. Things went well during the colder months. I was washing the yeast with chlorine dioxide between pitches to kill the bacteria and allowing the brett and mutant strain to be the top dogs. The weather became much warmer as we moved into summer and acetobacter started to become more prominent. It eventually became so forward that we had to cease production in this particular fermenter. The following year, we switched to a clean saison strain and stayed the course.” Thanks, Wayne! Looks like we need to score a bottle of the new, clean version to compare with the older version.

Photo by Phil Farrell

From the bottle: “Guava Grove is a Belgian-style ale that sees a secondary fermentation and extended aging on one of Tampa’s favored fruits, Guava. The complex flavors imparted by both the Belgian yeast strain and the Guava are unlike anything you are likely to encounter in other beers. The flavor is a complex weave of banana, guava, and tropical fruit with hints of clove. This elegant beer pairs well with fresh fish, mussels, fresh tropical fruits, and earthy cheeses. It also makes a fine accompaniment to Guavaween festivities.”

From the Cigar City website: “One of Tampa’s nicknames in addition to the Cigar City is the Big Guava. It earned the moniker from local newspaper columnist Steve Otto in the 1970's. The nickname eventually gave rise to one of Ybor City's most popular annual events, Guavaween. We brew Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa’s fruity nickname. Guava Grove is brewed with a French strain of Saison yeast and sees a secondary fermentation on pink guava puree.”

ABV: 8%
IBU: 18


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mild Brewday

Time for more of that delicious mild I so love.I bumped the mash temperature up from the last version, the goal being to increase mouthfeel and body through more residual dextrins left in the final product. No coffee this time, however. I did undershoot the final volume a bit, which means that the starting gravity is a bit high. I'll just consider it my attempt to give you more bang for your buck. In fact, that might just have to be the new name for this beer. Woot.

120. More Bang for Your Buck Mild
2 lbs. Simpsons Golden Promise
2 lbs. Muntons Maris Otter
1 ½ lbs. Breiss 2-row
1 lb. Muntons 2-row Pale
½ lb. Muntons Dark Crystal 135-165° L
½ lb. Muntons Crystal 60° L
½ lb. Crisp Pale Chocolate
½ lb. Breiss Flaked Maize
2 oz. MFB Kiln Coffee
1 oz. Simpsons Roasted Barley

Mash @ 156° F for 60 minutes w/ 3 gallons of RO water; collected 2 gallons @ 1.068
Batch sparge @ 166° F for 20 minutes w/ 4 gallons RO water; collected 4 gallons @ 1.020

Collected 6 gallon, brought to a boil (60 minutes), & added:
w/60 to go: 1 ½ oz. Sonnet Golding leaf 4.1% AA

w/15 to go: 1 tsp. Irish Moss

Chilled, racked to carboy, pitched mason jar of Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire from 119. Kevin Lolli SOB

Brewed: 6/7/2012 @ 68° F; dropped to 65° F
Secondary: 7/26/2012 @ 1.018
Bottled: 7/29/2012

OG: 1.044
FG: 1.018

Tasting Notes (2/4/2012): I’ve been waiting to type up notes on this beer because I’ve been waiting to see if the off-flavors in the beer were an infection on the rise or merely something that didn’t mesh in the beer. Since it tastes nearly the same as it did when first bottled, I’m guessing the latter, but then again, I’m not certain—there is a faint slight burnt flavor that reminds me of the harsh clash found in 119. Kevin Lolli SOB—albeit a fair bit worse—along with some of the oxidized fruit that seems to hint that the problem is the attempt to marry Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire with darker grains: here, the MFB Kiln Coffee, Simpson Roasted Barley, and Crisp Pale Chocolate. It’s like the flavor of disappointment in an otherwise interesting beer. It pours a rich and clear deep chocolate with a wispy wafty thin white head—more ring than anything else—and has stone fruit and rum raisin in the nose along with a touch of oxidized paper verging on sawdust. Flavors are where the wheels start to come off the wagon: it opens with chocolate and caramel before the burnt flavor hits the tongue, accompanied by a fair amount of drying of the palate. After the crest of the burnt, there are oxidized paper and dark fruits, leading into the astringent finish with chalk and cardboard. I will point out that the harsh components of the burnt flavor have been on the wane in the last couple of months—I’ve been drinking one of these beers every two weeks or so to see where it is at as a form of penance for making bad beer—and it has moved from shame and failure to mere disappointment. I am glad to almost be finished with this beer, which I enjoy in inverse proportions to the first beer I made with this yeast, 118.Rockit Cup Chris Wyatt’s Landlord. That beer was stupendous. This one is not. Stupid failure.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

516. Victory Summer Love

Oh, Victory Summer Love, we’ve only just met, but I know we’ve found something special. You, you’re the edgy working class dance instructor at the summer resort my family frequents, and me, I’m the doe-eyed city girl naive to the ways of the world. We can make it work, though, can’t we Summer Love? I don’t care what my family thinks—I’ll give it all up for you and the soft siren call of your gyrating loins. Dance for me, Summer Love, dance the forbidden dance that will make us forget the foolish social norms that keep us apart. But remember, Summer Love, nobody puts Baby in a corner. Previous illicit summer liaisons with Victory include Headwaters Pale AleYakima Twilight (now Yakima Glory), Saison du Buff (the collabo with Stone and Dogfish Head), plus Prima Pils, Baltic Thunder, HopDevil, and WildDevil.

Summer Love bursts from the bottle in rich cascades of loving clear gold that are capped with a lustrous white head; the nose is redolent with crystal and pilsen malt (although that could just be the Saaz telling me what I want to hear) and earthy and spicy hops—it’s got a faux-lager thing going on for the fresh loving rays to rock out on. The front is slightly sweet—more crystal malt than caramel, but not quite candy bright—with earthy and (this is for Fortney) maybe even some loamy hop flavor. The middle is bitterness; light, clean, and even to balance with the sassy light body still carrying a twang of spiciness, while the finish is where the faux-lager smell struts its stuff in flavor form. Touches of both the earthy and spicy hops continue into the final third of the beer, followed by the well-nigh classic lager finish: a clean, bracing bitterness that is crisp, light, and all summer long. The mouthfeel and medium body points to the actual ale pedigree of the beer; while the carbonation, hop profile, and even malt contribute to the faux-lager feel, the body is not as clean and bright on the tongue as it needs to be, although it is still tasty.Plus, it does say “ale” on the label. Let’s just say that Victory’s dyed its roots for the summer having heard somewhere that for summer makeovers, blondes have more fun. I’m pretty certain that the usual minions will be queuing up to call this a gateway beer made for the average drinker, but I’m gonna have to snap back that this is just how Summer Love tastes in the land of Victory. Can I get an amen? Who don’t?

From the bottle: “All this talk about peanuts and crackerjacks can really make you thirsty. Especially in a town like Philadelphia where we flock to the ballpark like birds coming home from winter vacation. There’s no better place to sip a Victory Summer Love, our refreshing ale brewed in Downington, just outside of Philadelphia, than in the warm summer sun, waiting to catch a glimpse of greatness (or a foul ball). Whether you’re reading this label behind home plate or under a shady tree by the river, we hope that these pale malts and German hops help connect you to the magic that is Summer Love.”

From the Victory website: “With the sublime, earthy familiarity of noble, American and German hops backed up by fresh and clean German malts, Summer Love Ale® ends with a surprising burst of lemony refreshment from fistfuls of American whole flower hops. Love Summer, now.”

ABV: 5.2%

Extra credit for the first person to correctly identify the mixed metaphor in the label description. And no, I’m not referring the gender-shifting I do between the first two paragraphs (you can figure that one out on your own). I’d call this a contest, but as no one has ever bothered to respond to any contest I’ve ever done in the past, we’ll kick that kiss of death to the curb.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Brewing with Wheat

Es ist war ein gutes Biere die Golarische Gose,
Doch wenn man meint, sei sei im Bauch,
So lieght sie in der Hose.

It is indeed a good beer, Goslar Gose
Though when you think it is in your belly,
So it is in your trousers.

Brewing with Wheat, Stan Hieronymus’ most recent tome, gets into the nitty gritty concerning the history and diversity of wheat beers. It is witty (pun intended) and well-written: Hieronymus has an eye (and an ear) for a well-turned anecdote, and uses them brilliantly to build his narrative. For example, the above lyrics are drawn from his discussion of gose in the chapter “Beers the Reinheitsgebot Never Met,” and are used to set up a short history of the beer (157). As well, one of the most interesting overall points of this book is noted by Yvan De Baets in his “Foreword”: “For a modern brewer it is indeed funny to see that the key to a style resides in what is now considered the Evil in our breweries: lactic acid bacteria!” (xii).

Hieronymus opens by noting that “wheat is not a style” (7) before going on to discuss the breadth and diversity of wheat beer brewing. In “Wheat, Beer, and Bread,” he offers the history of wheat in beer, including the effect of the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 on wheat beer: “Among other things the ‘beer purity’ law allowed barley as the only grain in beer, ensuring that wheat and rye would be reserved for breadmakers” (18). The backdrop on this “beer purity” law, coupled with the anecdotes concerning the longstanding feud between wheat-eaters and rye-eaters, offers a broader (and certainly amusing) context in which to place the Reinheitsgebot in brewing history. When added to the geographically specific location the Reinheitsgebot initially represented, “That some would have violated the Reinheitsgebot doesn’t matter, because the rest of Germany did not adopt the Bavarian ‘beer purity’ law until 1906, and even then with some loopholes” (150). Well put.

The most useful aspect of the book—at least to me—is the depth of insight into the different ways brewers create and produce wheat beers. While Hieronymus clearly indicates that this book is not a brewing manual complete with clone recipes, it certainly does provide the “details” to understand the “challenges of brewing with wheat” (11). Thus, I found numerous comments, observations, and insights that will (well, at least hopefully) improve the quality and complexity of the beers I produce. Thus, not only did I use this as a reference last summer when I tried my hand at brewing a gose, I’ll be referring to it again shortly when I attempt to brew a grätzer. Additionally, I do love a book that provides new terminology. First, I finally got a definition of “torrified” that made sense (27). But the best new term was “shankbier”: “German law requires the starting gravity of shankbier must be between 1.028 and 1.032 (7 ˚P to 8 ˚P), producing a beer of about 3 percent alcohol by volume” (153).

My favorite anecdote is that Dan Carey of New Glarus was initially inspired by Olympia: “Dan Carey has been a sucker for copper kettles since he was a kid and saw them shimmering in the giant window at the Olympia Brewery in Tumwater, Washington” (123). It’s always nice to hear that my personal obsession with Olympia is at least partially shared by others. Other observations worth noting: historical context for the lemon garnish (86-7), the potential historical connection between wits and gose (42) as well as gueze and gose (sorry, I can’t find that reference), and finally, this gem: “In a curious turn of history the first wheat beers in Bavaria were known as ‘Bohemian’ and the first lagers in what was previously ale-brewing Bohemia were called ‘Bavarian’” (79). Awesome. As well, for other reviews of note, see Beervana and A Good Beer Blog. Then, of course, there is the press release from the Brewers Association, which interesting in its own right.