The differences between two different beers within the same style can run the gamut - from barely noticeable to disconcerting; from “I’m not sure if these two beers are the same or not” to “these beers can’t possibly both be from the same style.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise. While beer styles are determined through a single, unifying style guide (the Beer Judge Certification Program’s collection of detailed styles), there’s nothing that stops a brewery from calling its beer whatever it likes. For example: we all fell in love with the traditional American pale ales - Boulevard, Summit, Sierra Nevada, but my favorite “American pale ale” - Grand Teton’s Sweetgrass American pale ale - is barely an American pale ale at all. (Nerdy things like IBU measurement and more logical things like general flavor tell us it’s more of an IPA.)
When sipping beers on their own, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between one beer and the next. Supertasters may be able to squirrel away the nuances of a beer they tried weeks ago, but I need a side-by-side comparison. I need to be able to refer back, to move back and forth, to test my assumptions with these beers in real-time.
It’s why I’ve always loved creating flights within a same style. I’ve written a articles about Belgian wits and American pale ales and porters, highlighting each beer’s differences - both those that are to style and those that feel way out of scope. In the past few months, we’ve seen breweries make this process a little easier, creating their own “style sampler packs”, allowing us to try the differences between similar styles or, in some cases, allowing us to compare the subtle differences between one single style.
Sierra Nevada, creator of the nation’s first popular pale ale, has shipped a new sampler pack, “4-Way IPA.” This sampler gives you the chance to breeze through all of IPA’s recent branches, from the easy-drinking session IPA to the doubled-up and boozy double IPA. Trying these in tandem gives you a glimpse into the lengths in which the IPA label can go.
Nooner (session IPA) is almost too easy to drink, thin and tame compared to the rest of this sampler’s stars but still worth knocking back in mid-afternoon on a lazy Saturday. Torpedo (double IPA) is an extra strong and extra piney hop lover’s dream, the rare double that isn’t too cloying. Blindfold (black IPA) pulls some char into the mix, feeling like someone accidentally dropped porter grains into the brew kettle, while Snow Wit (white IPA) imagines the opposite - a Belgian wit that’s been overhopped. None of the beers are top of their style - Torpedo is excellent, but it’s a crowded field on top of the double IPA mountain - but their all great introductions to both the individual sub-styles and the new expanded IPA umbrella as a whole.
Schell’s, on the other hand, doesn’t want you to worry about all of those sub-styles - they want you to learn the subtle changes that history has on an individual style. In a few weeks, we’ll start seeing the Pilsner Series sampler, a celebration of Schell’s Pils’ 30th Anniversary, which will include four different pilsners: the original 1984 recipe, the current 2014 recipe, and two new beers - a Roggen Pils and a Mandarina Bavaria Pils.
We’ve seen the definitions of beers expand, and we’ve seen breweries fight to distinguish themselves by going harder, faster, stronger. We’ve seen certain styles shift to include extremes, and we’ve seen beers that simply call themselves whatever they want. This will always happen, which is why side-by-side comparison - self-education into what we really like about each style - is always going to be a fun experiment.
And then, sometimes, that side-by-side comparison can really be a lesson in history. I can’t imagine there’s a huge difference between Schell’s Pils 1984 and Schell’s Pils 2014, but tasting them in tandem will do more than highlight what I like most about a German pils - it will help bridge 30 years of craft brew history, to a time when the only styles we really cared about were those that differentiated themselves from mass-produced American light beer.
- Corey Vilhauer
Portland, OR….Sipping and rambling across Stump City!
I’m sure some of you still haven’t recovered from Brrrvana quite yet. I can only imagine it was full of flavor.
Myself, I’m still experiencing withdrawals from a weekend trip to Portlandia. To commemorate a special year in our marriage, Jo (my queen beer bee) and I spent the weekend in Portland, Ore.
visited the state that ranks in the top five in the United States for number of breweries, breweries per capita and craft beer production and consumption. With stats like that, it was a no brainer!
It’s nearly impossible for me to write about all the places we visited and beers we sampled during our trip, so I think an insightful, yet somewhat blurry (I’m happy I took notes), guided tour is in order.
Day one consisted of a Pearl District/Downtown Beer Crawl. With the likes of Deschutes Brewery and Public House, Rogue Distillery and Public House, Bailey’s Taproom and Pints Brewing Co. all within a 5- to 15-minute walk of one another, we felt it best to keep in close proximity to our hotel, since we had been up since 1:30 a.m. Portland time. Thankfully, both Deschutes and Rogue offerings can be found in South Dakota! We opted for specialty or brewer’s reserve options at both locations. Deschutes Jubel Kriek was the best either brewery had to offer. Jubel Kriek is a special take on their fall/winter seasonal. Aged for more than two years and slightly soured with a cherry tartness, Jubel Kriek is a true delight. Now that we were primed with familiarity, we ventured into the unknown.
The next stop was Bailey’s Taproom, ranked as one of the top craft beer bars in the United States with 24 ever-rotating draft lines primarily focused on serving Oregon beers. We were in for a real treat! Laurelwood Brewing’s (Portland, OR) Mammoth Imperial IPA, a big West Coast IPA chock full of juicy and bitter hops, was the winner. Delicious!
Pints Brewing Co. was our night cap destination. Brewing on a 3.5 barrel system, Pints makes an impressive array of brews. Their Mattika Smoked Baltic Porter was the most impressive. I’m not normally a fan of smoked beers, but this one proved different with its great balance and flavor. Small batch beer heaven!
With the rarity of the partly cloudy skies, intermittent sunshine, no rain and temperatures in the 50s, day two was ripe for a 45-minute walk across Morrison Draw Bridge to the Industrial East/Southeast Beer Crawl portion of our trip. Cascade Brewing Co., Green Dragon Craft Beer Bar, Tugboat Brewing and The Upper Lip Craft Beer Bar were some of our stops.
With more than 10 sour beers on draft and a knowledgeable bartender, Cascade Brewing was declared the best of our trip. Queen Beer Bee and I We shared a 10-sample flight of all their sours. Figaro Sour Ale reigned supreme. Figaro is a strong blonde ale aged and soured for more than 12 months in Chardonnay barrels with the addition of sweet figs, golden raisins and citrus zest. Outstanding!
Green Dragon Craft Beer Bar was next. It’s owned by Rogue Brewing, but is a craft beer bar with 50-plus well appointed draft offerings. It’s well worth the stop. Next was Tugboat Brewing, Portland’s oldest extant microbrewery. Cozy isn’t quite the right word. Tugboat has room for 50 in search of their unfiltered, keg-conditioned Northwest ales. Walls of books and a warm glow create an atmosphere conducive to any good dimly lit dive. Their Chernobyl Russian Imperial Stout was unreal!
Our night cap took us outside of Oregon to California. We opted to share a rare bottle of Russian River Brewing Co.’s (Santa Rosa, CA) 2009 offering of Consecration Sour Ale at the Upper Lip Craft Beer Bar. The Upper Lip had an incredibly well-curated selection of bottled beers. A fantastic day was had!
Continued beautiful weather provided for a three-hour walking/hiking trip to Portland’s gorgeous Washington Park to start our third and final leg of our our journey. Washington Park is home to The International Rose Test Garden and Japanese Gardens. Admired as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden is a destination of serene beauty nestled in the scenic west hills. To reward ourselves, we opted for the Off The Beaten Path Beer Crawl. Some of our stops included MoMo’s Craft Bar, Scooter’s Craft Bar, Bridgeport Brewing and a return trip to Bailey’s. Every stop had something special to offer from the region. MoMo’s had Boneyard Brewing Company’s (Bend, OR) RPM IPA on draft. RPM was so good, having only one was not fair! At Scooter’s, we indulged on Ecliptic Brewing Company’s (Portland, OR) Coalsack. A solid offering in the Cascadian Dark Ale/Black IPA arena. Over to Bridgeport Brewing, Oregon’s oldest craft brewery, for their extensive introductions into the IPA style. Finally a return trip to Bailey’s was in order. We were glad we did! About 50% of their draft line up was new, just tapped with amazing offerings. A couple that shined supreme were Falling Sky Brewing’s (Eugene, OR) 3rd Rauch From the Sun Rauchbier, and Reverend Nat’s/Cider Riot’s (both Portland cideries) CiderKin. This was an off dry hard cider and a tasty break from beer. With both of us buzzed and slightly tuckered, we sadly called it a night.
Not knowing when we will return to such overall beauty, we both found ourselves silent and shedding a slight tear as we waited to board our flight home Sunday.
Thank you Oregon for everything!
From simple ingredients to complex flavors, beer is one of the world’s great metamorphoses, evolving over years of practice and tons of luck to become a multi-billion dollar industry and savior to thirsty football-watchers everywhere. It has fueled economies and inspired art. It has been at the center of major political warfare and it has spread culture.
That same metamorphosis can be seen in people. Like simple ingredients, we’re built out of simple skills that fuel change, turning us into complex beings who are capable of participating in the wider global discussion. Sometimes these skills are practical, such as learning to code or speak in front of groups. Others are rare and valuable, such as learning to lead with empathy or understanding sociological trends.
But sometimes those skills are things that most of us take for granted. Sometimes those skills are as simple as learning how to read, a skill that feels so basic most of us couldn’t imagine living without it.
Wait. Why am I comparing hops and yeast to the ability to read?
Because this Saturday is the annual Brewhaha - a fundraiser put on by Reach Literacy (the former Sioux Falls Area Literacy Council) - and it’s theme is metamorphosis, highlighting how the simple things in life can often change us in ways we never imagined.
(The details: this Saturday, February 22, 7-10pm at the Museum of Visual Materials. Check out the site at www.siouxfallsliteracy.com for more info.)
Literacy is a personal touchpoint. I was raised in a bookstore, surrounded by books bad and good. I am a self-taught writer and a former book reviewer. I spent six years as a board member for the South Dakota Humanities Council, an organization backed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and tasked with celebrating and promoting history and literature across the state.
I’m also, by nature of my career, a professional communicator - the person who helps plan and account for the words you see on the web. I’m a writer. When it comes to literacy, I owe it to you - and to myself - to make sure the word gets around. Without readers, I have no reason to write. My career (no, I don’t drink beer for a living, thanks) can be boiled down to one thing: helping people understand the web. But it goes one step further: helping people understand language and message, regardless of ability.
Brewhaha will promote literacy and celebrate storytelling as five of the area’s best speakers tell their tales of metamorphosis. The spaces in between will be filled with good beer, good food from Chef Dominique and a literacy auction.
Johnson Brothers is doing the beer part of the event, and for those who don’t follow the distribution back channel that fills your local beer cooler, I’ll tell you that they’re responsible for a handful of local beers and a whole ton of great imports, from the venerable Samuel Smith brewery to personal favorite Ayinger.
If you were going to tour those breweries, you’d encounter dozens of dialects within several languages. Yet, those languages would be a luxury - there are hundreds just here in Sioux Falls who have trouble with their first language. So let’s help them out and have some delicious German lagers while we’re at it.
I’ll be at this year’s Brewhaha. And so should you. See you there.
- Corey Vilhauer
Beers are generally best when fresh. Unlike wine, most beers do not improve with age. There are exceptions, however. Barrel-aged beers tend to be brewed with some level of aging in mind. There is some history to this. Some barrel-aged beers weren’t necessarily aged for the flavor the barrel imparts, but were brewed to survive long trips — for example, the many months required to sail from England to its more distant colonies in the 1700s (think IPAs). The Belgians have been known for a few centuries to ferment red ales in oak casks before blending.
Barrel-aging currently is something of a fad for American craft breweries. And it’s resulted in some quite tasty brews. These beers tend to have higher-than-average alcohol contents — this helps the beer age better.
Central Waters Brewing Company (Amherst, WI) recently flowed into South Dakota. Just how recently, you ask? Yesterday. Hopefully you were able to partake in one of the many launch parties throughout Sioux Falls or were able to stop by your favorite bottle shop to experience their greatness.
Here are three from Central Waters Brewer’s Reserve Series. All the bourbon barrels used are from Heaven Hills Distillery, a private family-owned and operated distillery headquartered in Kentucky, where bourbon is meant to come from!
2014 Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout
The American Double Stout gets some of it inspiration from the Russian Imperial Stout. Many of these are barrel aged, mostly in bourbon/whiskey barrels, while some are infused with coffee or chocolate. Alcohol ranges vary, but tend to be quite big. This American-style stout is aged for one year in used 12-year-old bourbon barrels. The big barrel character flexes its muscle with vanilla. Chocolate, a little bourbon heat, and some small amount of coffee/roast comes out. Overall, an epic, beautiful beer from every angle. Everything I hoped it would be, in all honesty. So rich, so big, so complex. Highly recommended deliciousness!
2014 Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Barleywine Ale
American Barleywines typically show high levels of American hop aroma, flavor and bitterness, as well as rich caramel and toffee flavors in a robust, high-alcohol ale — a style akin to Imperial IPAs. This is a true sipper. The bourbon and age have done wonders on this barleywine. The one year in the barrel has created an awesome liquid to be savored by all. The age has mellowed out most of the bitterness. Barrel aging barleywine should occur more often, in my opinion. It creates a wonderful marriage of flavors. There is a dominating presence of vanilla, caramel, raisins, and plums. This was a Gold Medal winner at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.
2014 Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Peruvian Morning Brand Stout
Brewed with organic, fair trade coffee from Emy J’s located in Stevens Point, WI. The aroma is unreal! Fresh press coffee/espresso with big notes on marshmallow, maple, vanilla, brownie, fudge, cocoa. Insane!
Taste is butter, maple syrup, walnuts, caramel, espresso latte-esque, vanilla, and rich chocolate fudge. I feel like this truly is a morning delight!
Not only is Central Waters producing mouth-watering brews, their environmental practices are top notch as well. They are recognized as one of the “Greenest” breweries in operation today in the US.
If you care about your beer and our planet, please do us all a favor and indulge in the entire lineup from Central Waters Brewing.
Ale, Sun, Earth, and Sky.
Seven of RateBeer’s top 100 beers in the world are made by a brewery called Hill Farmstead in Greensboro, Vermont, a town of 770 just 40 miles south of Canada. It’s small; compared to beer heavyweight Russian River (with whom they share the most beers on the list) they are hardly a blip on the beer landscape, delivering only 60 thousand gallons a year - just over 2% of what a brewery like Sam Adams delivered in 2012 - serving only a select number of Vermont bars.
An hour down the road in Waterbury, Vermont, a family brewery called The Alchemist brews just one beer - the top rated beer on BeerAdvocate - a double IPA called Heady Topper that has created a clandestine black market where one might still grab a case for up to $825.
Discussion around these small breweries fall away into two camps - the one that focuses on size and sustainability, marveling at a brewer’s restraint in staying small despite a fast-selling product, and one that focuses on a sense of honesty and honor, how great beer doesn’t need big-name lineage, and it sure doesn’t need a large population surrounding it.
We’ve been trained over the past decade to think of craft beer as something that is born organically from a handful of brewing hot spots, each spawned from yet another of the country’s fertile crescents: Fort Collins, San Diego, the Pacific northwest. These few areas brought together a perfect mix of recreation and freewill - the sun or the snow, or the endless optimism, the thought that summer will never cease so let’s throw stakes down and start making beer. There’s pedigree in these cities, and these are the cities where hot new breweries are born: a backbone of former Stone and New Belgium employees are bound to create critical darlings like Societe and Funkwerks. That’s how it’s done. That’s business.
Yet, that’s not exactly what’s happening anymore. Craft beer is no longer the parlance of the places with the FUN colleges - no longer tied to the fortunes of southern California, the northwest or Colorado.
Now, the craft beer movement - and let’s be honest, it’s far past “movement” status and into full-fledged revolution - has given a new generation of brewers the ability to create and hone their craft wherever they are. Yes, New Glarus has been around forever, and everyone in Minnesota has stumbled into a glass of Summit EPA, but when cold, brutal Minneapolis and Wisconsin become new centers of brewing’s future - where we KNOW the summers cease, and we KNOW freewill can be hampered by a 12” snowfall - you can tell things are shifting, expanding, and spreading like a very delicious wildfire.
With that movement - and with the expansion in selection - even the smallest of states are producing unforgettable beers.
It’s why there can be so much buzz about Topping Goliath’s Pseudo Sue - a nearly perfect citra-hopped IPA from Decorah, Iowa. Toppling Goliath - three beers on that top 100 list, by the way - is sold in only in Iowa and Wisconsin, brewed in a town that only 1 in 100 people nationwide have even heard of. But Toppling Goliath is no fluke - I snagged a growler of Pseudo Sue this past weekend and fell deeply in love - a fresh and clean IPA that doesn’t smack you in the face, stacked with citrus and drinkable to the point that our growler was gone before we knew what hit us.
Great beer was once a regional experience, where only the very exceptional made it past state lines and gems were smuggled down highways like Smokey and the Bandit. Now, our nation is closer - connected through publications and message boards and homebrew culture and a new speed in distribution. Great beer can’t be quiet anymore - even if it’s from northern Iowa, or the middle of Vermont. Great beer moves. Great beer is found.
No more are the 100 ratings on BeerAdvocate stuck in California and Colorado. No longer are the New York Times articles confined to Chicago or Brooklyn. Now, the next big boom might be sitting just down the road. How long until Crow Peak or Wooden Legs breaks into the hearts of beer traders around the world. And how long until we forget how rare that used to be?
- Corey Vilhauer
Are you going to ‘surprise’ your partner this Valentine’s Day with roses and chocolates? Absolutely not!
Instead, why not tempt your lover’s tastebuds with the succulent flavors of vanilla, chocolate, espresso and cream?
Let me show you the way to savory success. Here are three delicious beers exploding with sweet divine:
Make your first move with Empyrean Brewing Co. (Lincoln, NE) Dark Side Vanilla Porter. This scrumptious American Porter definitely sets the mood. With half a pound of whole vanilla beans added to this brew, the vanilla still remains subtle. It’s sweet in front, dry in back. The flavor is very roasty, with chocolate, vanilla marshmallow, and light coffee. The silky, smooth texture and consistency are almost identical to a melted chocolate milkshake, creamy and viscous.
Now we’re heating up! Let’s move on to Breckenridge Brewing Co.’s (Denver, CO) Vanilla Porter. For the style with the vanilla, chocolate, and caramel offerings present here, this is very nearly perfect. Slick, oily and rich, the brew is both smooth and heavy. This beer tastes great immediately, and is truly worth high praise as the flavors linger.
We’ll drive this trifecta home with a Tallgrass Brewing Co. (Manhattan, KS) Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat Stout. The strong aroma is from the copious amount of vanilla beans added to this sweet, milk stout. Full, robust flavors of heavy cream, vanilla, rich milk chocolate, sugar, dark roasted malts, caramel, and coffee, along with flavors of toasted nuts, this brew is reminiscent of cookies and ice cream. A perfect dessert.
If my advice helps enhance the romance, share the thanks. If all else fails, you have a solid set of brews to try yourself. You’re a winner either way!
Save the flowers for when you’ll really need them….getting out of the doghouse.
- Kosta Theodosopoulos
"The most necessary disposition to relish pleasures is to know how to be without them," Marquise de Lambert says in her missive A Mother’s Advice to Her Son, and while this 1726 tome might feel like a pre-Revolution guilt trip to some, it’s also a lesson in being humble and honorable (though, admittedly, as humble as honorable as you can be as a wealthy young male heir in the 1700s).
The thought is simple enough: moderation leads to greater love. A person who eats cheeseburgers every day will no longer understand how special a good cheeseburger is. But restrict cheeseburgers to once a week, and only cheeseburgers worth eating? That’s a recipe for a better appreciation and love for cheeseburgers.
Over the year and a half I’ve been writing this column, I have tried every kind of beer from every place I visited. I tried beers when I didn’t feel like beers. I tried beers for lunch and dinner. I’ve gone out of my way to get rare beers, and travelled to small breweries just to add another beer to Untappd. I did it for you, a little, but really I did it because the discovery and quest are just as important as the drink itself.
It’s only natural for a bit of fatigue to set in. My eyes roll at another hop bomb. My mind wanders as someone describes their latest red IPA. The prospect of new breweries flies over my head and the racks of Russian imperials are ignored. I’m in a beer rut, everyone. And I’ve got the expanding waistline to prove it.
Time for a break. Time to change my disposition. Time to go without.
Time for a beer fast.
This month, Jim of Beer & Whisky Brothers undertook No-Drink January, a mini-self-Prohibition suggested in a surprisingly serious Gawker article. Jim’s reasons aren’t as serious, but just as important: October to January is a gluttonous time, and it’s worthwhile to take a break. Halloween leads to Thanksgiving leads to the holidays and new year, each milestone studded with promises to “just make it through” and begin anew.
I read Jim’s post a few weeks into the year, so I wasn’t able to start on day one, but I - bolstered by an “are you sure you can do that” look from Kerrie - promised myself a beer fast. It was for my health. It was for my taste buds. It was for the good of the state of beer itself.
The idea: no beer for however long I can handle it, or at least until January 31, when I will be within blocks of Dangerous Man Brewing and I cannot be held accountable for my actions.
Has it been successful? Yes. Well, no. I mean, I went a week - one week without, until I gave in and had a couple of beers while watching football on Sunday. (What did you expect? Two of my favorite beers - Schell’s Bock and Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye - were finally released!)
Will it continue? Yes. I’ve made it over the first hurdle already: that nagging voice that suggests when you’ve failed once, you’ve failed completely. My slip-up bolstered me - I am twice as dedicated now, and look forward to continuing even after I return from Minneapolis at the end of the month.
There is no moral posturing. There is no judgement or pity. There is only my attempt to drop a few pounds and reenergize my love for hops and grain. There is a promise of a better disposition. To relish pleasures. To know how to be without them. And to understand the right times to make that decision.
- Corey Vilhauer
Lucid Brewing Co. from Minnetonka, Minn., is coming to Sioux Falls.
But don’t rush out to your nearest bottle shop or favorite craft beer watering hole just yet. Lucid’s invasion is soon, but it’s not here yet. I am fortunate, however, to have connections in the Sioux Falls craft beer world, and my palate was blessed with three savory samples from Lucid.
First up is Lucid Air, an American Pale Wheat Ale. At 4.5 percent ABV, it’s a great entry level craft beer. This is a hazy, golden ale— almost cream ale-like. The taste is dry, crisp and clean. If you are determined to put fruit slices in your beer (and I wish you weren’t), this easy brew could suffice your cravings even without a lemon or an orange slice. As we can only dream of warmer days at this time, Air will be ideal for evening deck drinking, humid camping nights and post-mountain biking refueling. Not my go-to style, but if you’re even slightly curious about craft beer, breathe/drink in some Lucid Air.
Lucid Duce, pronounced (doo-chay) is an oak-aged Imperial Red Ale coming in at 8 percent ABV. The color is brick red Crayola crayon. It has a nice aroma and malty, wonderful oak flavors. Lucid Duce is a full-flavored, malt-forward red ale with robust caramel, vanilla and biscuit flavor profiles. The hops add a nice compliment of citrus and pine. The bitterness is low, but enough to make this a nicely balanced beer. The finish has just a touch of alcohol. Duce, Italian for “duke,” is a bold, powerful ale for the winter season. To feel like royalty — reach for a Duce.
Last on my plate is Lucid Foto, an American India Pale Ale coming in at 6.5 percent ABV. Foto pours a nice golden honey-orange. The beer tastes so fresh, and it’s bursting with hop flavors right away. It leads with the citrus and grapefruit hops, with just the right amount of sweet bready/biscuity malt for balance. The alcohol is well concealed. It is unbelievably clean, crisp and refreshing, while still delivering a top-notch hop experience.
Not often do I comment on beer labels, but I can’t help but be drawn to the Lucid’s graphic novel look. Craft beer labels are becoming works of art. Additionally, with all the great breweries in Minnesota, it speaks volumes that the Star Tribune named Lucid as the Best New Brewery of 2013. With intoxicating brews, colorful labels and huge kudos, Lucid Brewing Co. delivers.
- Kosta Theodosopolous
Outdoor temperature and weather can be a real annoyance — both in the news and to your life — but it’s an important ingredient in enjoying beer. We’re not just talking about creating warmth through a boozy barleywine or kicking off your sandals with a light hefewiezen. We’re talking about physics and the temperature of the beer itself.
Glasses can affect the temperature of beer. Thicker glass actually makes a beer warmer faster because the glass itself pulls coldness away (convection: it’s science). But that plays on the assumption that you always want your beer to be cold. Not true.
Truth is, the colder a beer is, the less you’ll be able to taste. Howard Hillman’s “The New Kitchen Science” says that chilling beer below 60 degrees begins to reduce taste awareness, and reducing it below 50 degrees significantly masks a beer’s flavor.
You know it’s true when you look at the styles recommended to serve at the lowest temperatures — pale lagers, malt liquor, Canadian. These are typically beers you don’t want to taste in the first place. Ever wonder why breweries like MillerCoors constantly convince you to drink their beer cold? Ice-cold beer is refreshing and, oftentimes, pretty awesome. But it’s not something you worry about pairing with your beef bourguignon.
Yet, if you’re spending $8 on a 6-ounce pour of some Russian imperial stout, you want those aromas to be released. You want the warmth of the alcohol to be paired with a high (for beer) temperature of roughly 61 degrees.
Most places that sell those booze bombs are adept at adjusting the temperature to suit the style — at least to a point where it only take a minute or so to warm up. Our bottles of Bourbon County Brand Stout have never been refrigerated — they just stay in our cool basement and are opened at that temperature.
So where do you draw the line? How do you know where your bock should be compared to your English bitter? Michael Jackson (no, not that one) created a five-level temperature scale for beers:
Well chilled (45 degrees): Light beers and pale lagers
Chilled (46 degrees): Wheat beers of all styles — from hefewizens to Belgian whites to Berliner Weisse
Lightly chilled (48 degrees): Pale ales, dark lagers, less-boozy stouts and a bunch of German lagers
Cellar (55 degrees): British ales, Saisons, Belgians
Room (60 degrees): Imperial stouts, barleywines, double/triple IPAs
Does it really matter? Depends on where you’re at. If you challenge me to distinguish between 45 degrees and 48 degrees, I’m not going to pretend I know. But I know when my Old Rasputin’s being served too cold, and I’m going to wrap my hands around it and cool it down.
Is it worth it? Yes. It takes one sip of a room temperature Russian imperial stout — the deep chocolates hit your nose, the burn of the alcohol coats your tongue, the warmth pulling you into a black hole — to change you on drinking beer at near freezing ever again.
Corey Vilhauer, For Link
When the deep, dark, gray horizon leads to slightly smoky skies overhead, the freshly fallen snow coats the ground pure white and the all-too-often subzero temperatures give me little encouragement to ever leave my home, I turn to a crackling fire, Hüsker Dü’s “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” on the hi fi, and dark, chewy brews to keep my soul aligned.
As my turntable started to kick out “These Important Years,” I cracked open a collaboration brew between Odell Brewing Co. and Leopold Bros. Microdistillery: Fernet Aged Porter. This über unique brew is a combination of 50 percent Cutthroat Porter and 50 percent Cutthroat Porter aged in Fernet Barrels. Fernet is an Argentinean staple believed to have healing medicinal properties, and this spicy and herbal liqueur is very present. You can really taste the mint, pepper and ginger, along with a potpourri of floral notes. A friend described this beer perfectly: “It tastes like Jägermeister infused in a rich, robust porter.”
Time to flip the LP, carefully place the needle to engage side two and peel away the wax-dipped seal of a Deschutes Brewing Co. 2013 Abyss. This is a special yearly offering of an imperial stout barrel-aged in oak bourbon barrels, oak barrels and oak wine barrels and infused with molasses, licorice, cherry bark and vanilla. Journeying further into the darkness of the Abyss complemented my musical companion perfectly. For me, the beer and band were one.
On to the second album of this double LP (which is a classic example of Minneapolis garage/post-punk sounds from the ’80s), I decided such stellar licks deserved a special brew. I felt a North Coast Brewing Co. 2011 Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin XIV, cellared for more than two years, was a perfect way to pay tribute to one of my favorite bands. This beauty is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. Slightly boozy and exceptionally smooth, this beer is outstanding.
To all craft beer lovers, we can only hope 2014 will continue to keep our palates challenged and invigorated. I do have some insider info to pass along — keep salivating because a new brewery offering will be in our midst soon. Stay tuned.
- Kosta Theodosopolous