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 howsomething 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!)
Bruery Terreux once made a gose with truffle salt. But this collab with Libertine uses ocean water. Photo by Brian Yaeger
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?
The inspiration behind this story was actually heading home for the holidays and having my cousin pour me some geeky, ultra-unobtainable bottles
The Bruery offers limited bottles through its Preservation Society, Reserve Society and Hoarders Society. (Photo courtesy The Bruery)
. I definitely enjoyed getting to drink some of these beers, but wondered how it was that those were the types of beers he typically drinks instead of, like me, on special occasions.
Some beers get fussed over. Some are downright coveted. Rarely are such specimens found perched on the shelf of your local grocer or even in the chiller at your nearest bottle shop. It wasn’t terribly long ago that interesting beer was hard to find on supermarket shelves. Now, the more rare the beer, the faster it disappears from said real estate. Increasingly, smaller breweries are turning to pricey memberships to get their most artful expressions straight to the mouths of devout fans.
Gray Market/White Whale wasn’t just a fun story to write for All About Beer (Vol. 31, Iss. 2, 2010), I got to expense three beers at the top of my own personal Wants list! Livin’ and drinkin’ the dream. The story about the pursuit of so-called “white whales” also opens with the line I’m happy to say amused editor Julie Johnson to pieces: Call me BeerMail.