In this op-ed for FSR (Full Service Restaurant), I tackle the topic of overly long draft lists. From 31 flavors of ice cream to–more to my point–99 bottles of beer on the wall, consumers want what they want—so, why would any bar manager or restaurateur limit their patrons’ options? And yet, not to throw the good folks at places such as the Yard House under the bus, but the Irvine, California–originated chain with some 60 locations offers between 130 and 250 beers on its tap lists. Typically, no fewer than 30 of them are IPAs. And while bright, fruity West Coast IPAs are miles apart from chewy, richer imperial IPAs, I think the customer becomes bombarded by options and stands a good chance of not being able to zero in on the beer that best suits the meal. Put in idiomatic terms: Sometimes less is more.
this story for All About Beer, I take a look at some breweries’ most rare beers. No, not the kind that enjoy a super limited release and wind up being traded as “whale bait” on trading sites, but the ones that are readily available provided you solely drink it fresh at the source. These aren’t the one-off rare iteration beers but, quite often, the recipes no longer in favor for a wider audience but the brand’s diehard fans would have a conniption if no longer brewed.
Taking cues from the world of wine, brewers are blending and aging beers to create fascinating, complex bottles that vary with each new vintage. While most blended beers are some combination of beers that have slept in barrels (whiskey or wine, most commonly), they can also be fruit-infused, and usually harness various yeast strains and bacteria. All occupy the deepest end of the beer pool. From viscous, rich, bourbon-aged imperial stouts to tart, acidic and funky framboises, they’re rare oneoffs and not replicable; each batch is a singular experience. Even if these projects are brewed annually, fans are enthralled with discerning nuances among subsequent vintages. If you swim in said waters, you’ve likely attended a bottle share or waited in line at a brewery for your chance to taste one of these blends.
Edit: This story was awarded 2nd place in the Technical Writing category at the 2017 North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) awards. While I’m extremely grateful to the judges, it’s humbling yet a li’l embarrassing that the estimable technical beer writer Randy Mosher placed 3rd for this cool story, “Hot Process: Exploring the role of heat in brewing” in All About Beer. Stan Heironymus took 1st place with his story on brewing with honey, also in AAB.
Remember Top Secret? Remember that great song in it, How Silly Can You Get? That’s how I think of a lot of beers. How alcoholic can you get? Brewmeister’s Snake Charmer has an ABV of 67.5% How bitter can you get? Flying Monkey’s Alpha-fornication packs 2,500 IBU. From OG/FG to SRM, brewers have a lot of measurements and acronyms to tell the consumer just how something something is. For sour heads, ours may come in the form of TA. Titratable Acidity. Firestone Walker Brewing isn’t the first to use TA in their lab, but they are the first to put how quantifiably sour their beer is right on the label of their funky Barrelworks offerings.
Now, a quick word about this story on Titratable Acidity just published in the November issue of BeerAdvocate: it’s crazy heavy on the chemistry-spiel, and I barely passed high school chemistry. I do this from time to time–I really challenge myself to wrap my head around a story. I had never heard the word “titratable” or “titration/titrating” before pitching this. I bludgeoned these poor master brewers, master blenders, and folks with Ph.D.s in food and brewing science with questions first so I could begin to understand what’s going on with the acidity in certain beers–specifically what types of acids are present and how they got there–and once I felt semi-comfortable with that, I had to write it up for the readers who didn’t have the same access I got. SO… if you think this story is “TL;DR” just imagine poor little me for whom it was nearly TL;DW. (And here I massively applaud my editor at BA, Ben Keene, for whom this must’ve been challenging to no end but did a masterful job, even if he originally assigned me 1,800 words, then caved and gave me 2,000, and somehow got it way, way down to 2,300!)
Funny where inspiration will hit. For me, it was at a G. Love concert at a music venue that serves beer from such dirty tap lines I’d vowed never to drink there again. Until I made a valuable discovery. Actually, it was a $2 discovery.
For an industry defined by its antithesis to cheap, macro light lagers, does its growth hinge on emulating that model?
Although bursting with a sour punch and finishing with a pinch of salinity, the once arcane Gose is not a margarita in beer form. Today, some iterations continue to hinge on the style’s tradition while others boldly bring it into the 21st century. As with many beer styles, brewers in the United States update them in distinctly American fashion. Ironically, for a nation of hop-loving beer drinkers salt is perceived as a flavor enhancer even though it suppresses bitterness. (Odds are, if your grandpa didn’t shake salt into his beer, some of his buddies did.) Which begs the question: will the building Gose wave—Nielsen reported that Gose revenue grew by 291 percent last year—win over palates with a tsunami of salt?
Edit: This story was awarded 1st place in the “Short Form” category at the 2016 North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW) awards.
No one raises their eyebrows when black currants are used in a beer these days, but yogurt? To create the desired tartness and acidity in The Commons Brewery’s Biere Royale—a riff on the cassis-based Kir Royale cocktail—head brewer Sean Burke pitched tubs of the stuff. Specifically Nancy’s brand Greek yogurt. Burke is from Eugene, Ore., not far from the creamery’s location. Plus, it was in his fridge. Remarkably, the creation of that beer for the 2013 Portland Fruit Beer Festival is one the first uses of Lactobacillus found in unpasteurized yogurt to acidify beer. Instead of extensive aging in barrels inoculated with acid-producing bacteria, Burke went with a probiotic-rich dairy product.
“We knew we wanted to have a high amount of acidity,” said Burke at the time. “We took Nancy’s Greek yogurt and created a starter and soured in the kettle. Nancy’s has multiple strains of Lactobacillus… We mashed into the mash tun, lautered into the kettle, then soured the collected wort.”