Sunday, December 21, 2008

We're heading for 18+ inches of snow in 48 hours here in my neck of the woods. Great day to tap into some Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock. This was the first double bock I ever tried, some time in the early 80's when availability of some interesting brands were beginning to be imported by Merchant du Vin. Ayinger's is a departure from others in that is robustly fortified with the use of a type of roasted malt referred to in the english vernacular as "chocolate" malt. In addition, although I am not privy to the brewery's formulations I suspect there is a highly heat cured "caramel" or "crystal" malt being used to provide the rich, toffee/treacle (molasses) note that really provides the foundation of this delicious beer. The use of both of these malts rides a fine line, both can yield too much astringency, roasted acidity or cloying sweetness in the case of the crystal malt. I have always felt that Ayinger's Celebrator presents the best of what these malts can do together; a seamless balance of richness, sweetness and roasted character of dark chocolate and coffee, and a beautiful intense reddish-brown color. My own forays into brewpub sized batches of double bock are usually less "roasty", and heavy on the toffee flavors of high dried munich, melanoidin malt, and hopefully not-too-much Weyermann Cararoma. I generally omit the "chocolate" malt, preferring to use that in schwarzbier and other dark lager styles. The color of my double bock is deepest red with almost purplish -brown highlights and a tan head. Lagering time is always a factor in these beers, and I generally shoot for eight weeks. Quite memorably my crew and I cellared a quarter barrel of "Accelerator" for 14 months, which we tapped the day before the current year's offering was to be put on tap. We were quite pleased with the results, smooth and luscious with a warming alcohol finish. Gone in less than two hours, yet still living in my memory. If only we had enough cellar to always do this!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Clay for Beer

Haven't been able to warm my bones since the freezing temperatures from last weekend. In an effort to conserve, I have the temperature set at 55 degrees, and the drafty old farmhouse is trying to kill me with hypothermia. As I finish up the business plan for Brewery Hall, and review a potential client's information, my thoughts turned to beer mugs. I have been meaning to spend some time researching locally made mugs for our "mug club" at the brewery. After a bit of googling and seeing some just OK stuff, I happened upon Hatchville Pottery in Falmouth, Massachusetts and stopped. I used to play in the mud back when I attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in fact in the long buried old ceramics studio there I had my first Anchor Steam Beer in about 1983. I walked in for class in the first week, and this cheery guy smiles and asks if I want a beer. I knew then I had picked the right school, but more importantly, that beer helped me along to my ultimate calling; craft brewing. I loved pottery, and as the renovated Asian wing at the MFA opened when I was in school, I was exposed to Japanese ceramics and glazes. That's what I find appealing about Hollis Engley's style; he works deftly within the ideals of this particular discipline. Organic, natural, relaxed forms and glazes. Very zen, and hard for the non-appreciating public to understand at times. But the pots look like they were born of the earth; they are earth after all, and the human hand and mind must be sympathetic and bound to this to succeed. What may look a bit "sloppy" to the unaware, is in fact the potter's connection to a deeper force; to let go of the desire to throw a precise, clean and accurate pot (although that requires skill as well), and allow that tantalizing chaos seep in and capture the essence of clay. Never mind the alchemy of glazing! I would love to drink beer from such a pot, and I am sure I will.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


My dear friend Jodi from Dutchy World sent me some great home-made (Sis-in Law I believe) chow-chow, local pickled cauliflower, and some dark, caramelized, lard-fried potato chips from Zerbe's of Denver, PA. Having had the pleasure of travelling some in the Amish Country, and had my all-too-willing arteries clogged with lard chips, scrapple, double-smoked lebanon bologna, I can truly say there is no greater "down-home" cuisine than in that charming land. And no better beer than that made by Stoudt's Brewery where one can find Jodi and her wonderful family cavorting periodically in lederhosen and the occasional dirndl. I always eat my vegetables when they are pickled, who knew that would be the simple secret?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Talking to Myself

Hello, you "Lost Barrel" you. What does "Lost Barrel" mean to me? Well, as a professional American Craft Brewer, it refers to a wooden (French Oak for the most part) barrel, filled with beer, intentionally left to age and develop into something hopefully special; "Lost" if you will. I began working on these very traditional, typically sour "wild" beers several years ago, inspired by my love of the uncommon, if not rare sour brown or "Red" ales of the Flanders region of Belgium. Fine beers like "Duchess de Bourgogne" from the Brouwerij Verhaeghe, or what Rodenbach Grand Cru once was. Alas, this brewery (Rodenbach) was closed for many years and to my taste does not seem to live up to my perhaps inaccurate recollection. As a brewer, I had of course used many strains of saccharomyces, both cerevisiae and ovarum (ale and lager) but was intrigued by the potential of the broader spectrum that other yeast, and bacterial fermentations could provide. Most ancient food process was the result of a "happy accident" and many extraordinary foods and fermented beverages are the characterful fringe of what we consume today. Without a doubt, the "sour ales" were the result of a mistake, whether a "lost barrel" or otherwise, but their unique and unexpected flavors found an appreciative marketplace. Modern food process quite dangerously seeks to eradicate or "blandify" these flavors to achieve consistency and attractiveness to a lower common denominator, and generally the popular market supports this. Sour ales and beers fermented and aged with brettanomyces strains of yeast are generally outside of what most consumers of beer consider within normal parameters today. Yet it is their inherent natural "wildness" that makes them both fascinating, and for the adventurous palate, delicious and satisfying. This wild character tests both the drinker, and the brewer alike. Without a doubt "managing" a wild, or "natural" fermentation requires an uncanny ability from a brewer to maintain what is a living organism, and make sound judgements to guide and nurture this living thing towards a palatable, multidimensional and unique end. When one ponders this subject deeply, one finds an ever shifting balance of mysterious chaos and natural order, quite beautiful and intensely engaging. To achieve success embodies physical action, intuition and a subtle cooperation with the forces of nature. Generally the art and science of brewing is straightforward, controlling the brewing environment with cleanliness, proper sanitation, choice of material, material handling, managing healthy fermentations, all can contribute to a beer of high quality. However quite often it is the intangible, the intuitive that can make a quality beer a great one. Too often, brewers rely on one or the other to mediocre effect. Within the American Craft Movement, there is tremendous opportunity for the New World artisan brewer to start a legacy. We have only just begun.