What Brewers could learn from the world of wine. Simplicity

Simplicity hops malts beerWine can be looked at as beer’s more mature younger brother. While evidence suggests that beer may have been invented earlier, wine has experienced years of refined interest with little of the stigma and lulls that have affected beer such as the poor quality beer that dominated America in the last century. Wine’s perceived superiority may not seem that way to the craft beer aficionado, but if two people talked about what they drank the night before, one a Chateau Lafite Rothschild, the other a Hair of the Dog’s Dave, it would be assumed that the person who drank the fine wine was more affluent and mature. This would be in spite of the fact that in this example the beer is not only the rarer of the two, but equally expensive per volume. Beer still has a ways to go in leveling the playing field. In this series we will offer some ideas brewers could use in that regard.
Wine is fermented grapes at its simplest form. There are only a single variety of grape and yeast in most wine. Beer on the other hand is far more complex, often containing several varieties of both malt and hops, and many times from crops grown in several locations. Some beers even use multiple strains of yeast in addition to the other ingredients. The benefits of using several types of each ingredient are control and consistency. Any variation in the quality of one ingredient is less pronounced due to the fact that it simply makes up a smaller portion of the recipe as a whole, therefore creating a consistent product over time. Also, the use of several ingredients allows the brewer to gain the control to utilize the best qualities of each ingredient.

Now what if a brewer used only one malt from a single piece of land, one yeast strain, and one variety of hop, also from a specific local? It may seem as though the beer would be lack luster, but there would be many benefits, especially when applied to full body styles such as barley wines because of the massive amount of flavor inherent in the style.

Hop Vines at Jester King Brewery (photo by Rasy Ran

Hop Vines at Jester King Brewery (photo by Rasy Ran)

The first of these benefits is transparency and, by result, the application of the vintage to beer. More often you might hear the term “vintage” used for beer that has been aged. In this context we are using “vintage” to describe a beer that varies from year to year. A minimalist beer would allow variations from year to year to be more noticeable. Things like drought and temperature could vary the quality of the malt or, more likely, the hops in such a way as to give the consumer sense of terroir (the flavor imparted to a beverage by the environmental conditions its ingredients were exposed to) that connects them on a deeper level to their drink. We not only see this practiced with fine wines, but also with single malt scotch, where each region has different qualities found in the finished product due to the environment and other factors surrounding where the scotch was distilled or the wine was made.

Another benefit would be a better understanding of beer ingredients for consumers. When a beer is minimal, each ingredient can be more easily identified. Subtleties of different malt and hop varieties would be more pronounced and therefore more easily appreciated. This can be seen in some of the traditional German styles, such as Pilsner.

Brewers can use minimalist beers to showcase their talent, as it takes far more technique and skill to make a complex beer from few ingredients than from several. Also, beer that is minimal enough to showcase variations of vintages could be used to sell contracts for specific amounts of beer before the beer is ready, known as futures. While futures contracts could be used for any beer, successful use of them comes when tied to a product where yield and/ or quality are variable. Look for a more in depth article on beer futures in the future, pun intended.

Ben Webster is a co-founder and the educational writer for Beer Drinkers Society.

Jester King releasing a Bière de Garde-inspired ale that makes you think of French barns

From Jester King:
Jester King BarnWe’re very excited to introduce Jester King Reposé — a farmhouse ale brewed with hay and slowly fermented in French brandy barrels with native yeast and bacteria.

The inspiration for Reposé came from dusty, hay-filled barns like the one nearJester King where we store our aged hops. We attempted to capture some of our sensory experience of the barn by adding ingredients found in the attic to the beer. We added bales of hay to the mash and old hops that had spent many months in burlap bags to the boil. Further providing inspiration for Reposé was Bière de Garde, a traditional French farmhouse beer that likely originated out of the stone-walled barns that dot the landscape of northern France. Bière de Garde was historically brewed in fall and winter to take advantage of cooler fermentation temperatures, and aged for months before drinking. Similarly, Reposé was brewed during February of 2014 and slowly fermented for months prior to being blended and packaged in January of 2015.
Jester King Brewery French Brandy Barrels

The wort for Reposé was brewed with Texas Hill Country water from our well, malted barley, hay, aged hops, and fresh hops. It was then pitched with JesterKing’s unique mixed culture of brewer’s yeast and native yeast and bacteria harvested from the air and wildflowers around our brewery. After an initial fermentation in stainless steel, Reposé was then slowly fermented for months in Brandy barrels we received from France. It is 8.3% alcohol by volume, 12 IBU, has a finishing gravity of 1.004, and was 3.25 pH at the time of bottling. The label art is by Jester King’s Josh Cockrell.

Repose BottleReposé will be released at Jester King when our tasting room opens on Friday, February 27 at 4pm. It will be available by the glass, as well as to go in 750ml bottles ($18, limit 4 per customer per day). Approximately 4,500 hundred bottles are available. The price point for Reposé is slightly higher than some of our previously released barrel-fermented beers, due to the extra cost associated with bringing in special barrels from overseas. At this point, we do not anticipate Reposé being available beyond Jester King, aside from a few special events.

Bohemian vs. German Pilsners

It can be said that pilsners are the underdogs of the craft beer movement. I myself have written them off as flavorless and bland. To be sure, when compared to hop bombs and full bodied stouts, pilsners might be mistaken as such. Under guidance from Ray Daniels via the Road To Cicerone program, I have learned to identify the subtleties of the Pilsner styles, and when identified these subtleties make for an all around refreshing and flavorful beer that has a place in your craft beer rotation.

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Pilsner Malt

There are two basic styles of Pilsner, Bohemian and German. Both the flavor and namesake come from the use of Pilsner malts. Developed by Pilsner Urquell in 1842 in the city of Plzen in what is now the Czech Republic by Josef Groll, the style quickly became one of the most popular beers in the world. Pilsner Urquell became what is now known as Bohemian Pilsner, as Plzen was once in the kingdom of Bohemia. Soon after, many breweries began imitating the style. Now typical examples include Pilsner Urquell, Krušovice Imperial 12°, Budweiser Budvar (Czechvar in the US), Czech Rebel, Staropramen, Gambrinus Pilsner, Zlaty Bazant Golden Pheasant, and Dock Street Bohemian Pilsner (as sourced from the BJCP guidelines.)

In Germany, the style would be adopted, however changes would have to be made to adapt the style to conditions found in Germany. This evolution of Pilsner now is available in these examples: Victory Prima Pils, Bitburger, Warsteiner, Trumer Pils, Old Dominion Tupper’s Hop Pocket Pils, König Pilsener, Jever Pils, Left Hand Polestar Pilsner, Holsten Pils, Spaten Pils, and Brooklyn Pilsner (also sourced from BJCP guidelines.)

German Pils Assortment (photo courtesy of www.soccerphile.com)

German Pils Assortment (photo courtesy of http://www.soccerphile.com)

Both Bohemian and German Pilsners use the same malt typically. Pilsner malt has a flavor profile that includes descriptors like white flour, cracker, or white bread center (as supposed to the crust that contains more cooked or roasted flavors.). These light and inoffensive flavors are part of the formula that has made Pilsner so popular.

Now we start to see the deviation of the two styles in the water. The city of Plzen has very soft water (low in minerals), and this is paramount to the brewer in producing such a light and subtle beer. German varieties still use soft water, but it contains higher sulfate levels than typically found in Bohemian examples.

Yeast strains are also different. Bohemian and German pils use Czech and German lager yeasts, respectively. Of course each brewery can have a unique yeast, and pilsners lack a strong yeast presence, so it should not be expected that variations in yeast will have an overwhelmingly noticeable flavor to all but the most developed pallets.

Now hops are where I start to notice the majority of difference. Bohemian Pilsners use Saaz hops typically, where German

"Natty Boh" a very famous Bohemian Pils in Baltimore (label courtesy of tiger.towson.edu)

“Natty Boh” a very famous Bohemian Pils in Baltimore (label courtesy of tiger.towson.edu)

varieties use a wide range of German hops, but mostly noble varieties. All give a more floral (think wood, spice, and lavender) character to the style while keeping bitterness low due to the low alpha acid content (alpha acids cause the back of the throat bitterness found in IPAs, for example. Beta acids, on the other hand contribute to aroma rather than taste.) The flavor variations between specific hops used is an article within itself, but almost always German Pilsner can be identified by the more prominent hop profile.

In the end, the differences between these two styles are close enough to me easily mistaken for one another. The only thing I can recommend to easily distinguish between the two is the refinement of your taste buds through repeated exposure. What a great way to learn!

Ben Webster is a co-founder and the educational writer for Beer Drinkers Society.

What Brewers can Learn from the World of Wine (large format bottles)

IMG_1031Craft beer is found in range of containers; 12oz cans, 12oz bottles, the less common 375 ml bottle, the bomber at 22oz., and the 750ml wine bottle. All of these fall under the realm of small (12oz and 375ml) and standard (bomber and 750ml) formats. (Note: when referring to wine, only 750ml is considered standard). However, there are a range of larger bottle sizes that could be utilized a bit more by breweries, if only for certain beers. These bottles that hold more liquid than the standard bottles are collectively known as “large format”, and it is on these bottles that we will focus for this article.

Larger formats of bottles have two qualities that make them attractive to consumers. The first is simply appearance. I generally consider myself as not affected by novelty, but I still enjoy seeing my large format bottles in my cellar. Sommeliers and wine aficionados have long loved the theatrical nature of pouring wine from a large format bottle. Some retail locations have even practiced offering glasses from large format bottles with little or no markup. This both puts on a show for patrons as well as allowing younger drinkers to be able to experience the next benefit to large format bottles.
The second benefit is that wine, and as we can assume beer, ages better in larger bottles due to the increased ratio of beer to air and oxygen in the bottle. This allows the liquid to age slower with less chance of the ill effects of oxidation. Wine lovers prefer this slower aging process because it causes a more complex range of flavors in the aged wine. With so many similarities between the aging of wine and beer, we can expect the same results of large format packaging of beer.

There are a whole range of sizes, but for the sake of some kind of semblance to brevity, we will only discuss those of note.

The first is the magnum bottle. This will be the large format bottle you are most likely to see. In the world of wine, this bottle is relatively common. Both Anchor brewing (with “Our Special Ale” )and Stone ( Their yet to be delivered collaboration series) have used magnums. Chimay, Duvel, and even Heineken have used this format. With a volume of 1.5 liters, it is loosely equivalent to the volume of about two standard bottles of beer or wine or a four pack of 12oz bottles.

The next common size up is the Jeroboam or double magnum, and as you can guess this is a three liter bottle, two times the 1.5 liters of a standard magnum (equivalent to four standard bottles). Much less common, I have only seen a few beers in this size. Chimay is also available in this size, and Stone bottled not only Vertical Epic 12.12.12 in a double magnum (as a going away present), but also Double Bastard.

After this we start to come across the huge bottles. The six liter methuselah or imperial , the nine liter Salmanazar ( Gouden Carolus’ Cuvée van der Keizer Blaw was available in this size for a brief period of time, and examples are exceedingly rare), the fifteen liter Nebuchadnezzar, and up to the largest of them all- the 30 liter (!!!!!!!) Midas or Melchizedek!

Photo courtesy of London Wine Tribe

Photo courtesy of London Wine Tribe

So why are large format bottles not more prevalent? Simple economics. Brewers typically reserve these for special occasions, if at all, because of the range or difficulty of calibrating bottling lines. Add to this that large format bottles severely reduce a Brewers customer base. While a magnum might only cost 20-40 USD, double magnums cost about 100 USD, and the costs skyrockets from there. Not too many consumers will spend that kind of money on a single bottle of beer that they will most likely only consume in the company of a fairly large group.

Still, the benefit to aging is there, and as more consumers move to put beers in the cellar, Brewers should look to offering cellar worthy beers in at least magnum and double magnum formats. Also, with the need for breweries to carve out a niche in an increasingly competitive and crowded market, large format bottles can surely make an impact on consumers. In a sea of standard bottles, a double magnum will surely draw attention and set an image if innovation and quality in the consumers mind.

Ben Webster is a co-founder and the educational writer for Beer Drinkers Society.

903 Brewers go Canned!

From 903:
903 cans
(SHERMAN, Texas) – 903 Brewers, a local microbrewery in Sherman, Texas, today shipped the company’s first cases of canned signature craft beers. The brewery recently began canning operations to increase production and grow product availability to consumers in the North Texas area.

In addition to the beers already on tap in restaurants and bars, 903 Brewers will ship 1,200 cases this week, making the brewery’s signature beers available for purchase in more than 70 stores in the Metroplex, including specialty liquor stores and major grocery retailers. The cans will feature 360 Lids, which allow the entire top to be removed.

“We are extremely excited to begin our canning operations and make 903 beers available to more consumers throughout North Texas,” said Jeremy Roberts, founder and head brewer for 903 Brewers. “Not only will cans grow our distribution, but they are actually better for the beer. In addition to being more environmentally-friendly, aluminum cans do not allow light to deteriorate the beer or carbonation to leak slowly from the package like bottles.”

903 Brewers will initially release four signature beers in cans, including the 903 Blonde, Chosen One Coconut Ale, Sasquatch Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout, and Roo’s Red, which is named in honor of Austin College’s mascot. The Sasquatch Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout will be sold in four-packs, while the other beers will be available in traditional six-packs.

In order to increase production and begin canning, 903 Brewers received funding from the Sherman Economic Development Corporation.

For a comprehensive list of where consumers can find 903 beers at restaurants, bars or retail stores, visit Find 903 Beer.

Jester King is going to Chicago?!

From Jester King:
Encendia LabelWe’re excited to announce that this Saturday, February 21st from 1pm to 4pm at West Lakeview Liquorswe’ll be having the Chicago release of Encendía — our Mezcal barrel aged farmhouse ale brewed with agave nectar, epazote and ancho chiles. Encendía was brewed in collaboration with our dear friend Kristina Bozic, owner of West Lakeview Liquors, to celebrate the 25th year anniversary of her store. Jester King founders Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffing will be on hand for the release.

The release will include bottles for sale (limited quantities) of Encendía, Le Petit Prince, Noble King, Das Wunderkind, Mad Meg, Wytchmaker, El Cedro, Gotlandsdricka, Ambrée, and Snorkel. Jester King glassware for Colour Five, World’s Worst Twin, Provenance, Kollaborationsbier, Detritivore, and Natural Union will also be for sale. Jeff and Michael will be pouring samples of JesterKing beer during the release.

Encendía is now over two years old, having been brewed in January of 2013 atJester King. It was aged in Mezcal casks for about a year, then bottled in March of 2014, and initially released at Jester King in May of 2014. The Chicago release at West Lakeview Liquors probably would have happened sooner, but there was a long delay in getting Encendía approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) due to our use of epazote in the recipe. We are quite happy with how Encendía has matured over the years, and think you will enjoy it. Encendía is 11.1% alcohol by volume, 3.4 pH at the time of bottling, and has a finishing gravity of 1.000.

Like we mentioned, we’re really excited to have the Chicago release for Encendía at West Lakeview Liquors. Kristina Bozic is one of the people who inspired us along the way and helped us get our brewery off the ground. It was an honor to brew with her, especially in light of her store’s 25th year anniversary. We hope to see you in Chicago on Saturday!

Artisit Profile: Amanda Willshire of Awd aRT turns bottle caps into vivid mosaics and sculptures

AwdaRT Great Divide Brewing

Amanda Willshire likes craft beer. I mean she really likes craft beer. So much that she creates large two- and three-dimensional works with steel and craft beer bottle caps.

I was introduced to Willshire’s work on Instagram (@AwdaRT), thanks to Alan Moore, who you may remember from my last artist profile. Being a beer nerd myself, I immediately fell in love.

Willshire knows beer — it’s evident by her personal buddies that own local Colorado breweries and bars to the beer she drinks, all the way down to the bottle caps she uses in her art. Willshire’s works are continually showcased in breweries, in retail and bar establishments, to help raise awareness for charity causes and as custom art for folks like you and me.

Willshire’s road to becoming a craft-loving metal artist began as a graphic designer at the Arkansas Democratic Gazette and as a freelance designer for companies like Creative Advantage, where she produced material for Wolfgang Puck. She then decided to open her own firm because “I love art and design … and working hard. Then I get to play hard.”

When not biking or snowboarding, Willshire spent some of her free time creating tables and outdoor decor in a traditional mosaic style for friends. Then she was introduced to the work of Los Angeles artist, Tony Berlant, who builds sculptures from old candy tins. Willshire was inspired to use metal as a medium after reading many of Berlant’s books.

“I love, love, love beer and have a lot of friends that love beer,” she says. So Willshire started her first piece, a Colorado Beer Garden Table, with flattened caps that she and friends collected.

Next, she created Bloodletting in Banff, a piece that gained its name after she tore a chunk from her finger while building the trees from the stiff (and sharp) caps. From that early emergency room visit Willshire learned, “Kevlar gloves are a metal worker must! I also learned to use plaster casting in my art from this incident. When I was in the ER getting checked-n-stitched, the staff took an interest in how I got such an injury. I had pics on the phone so I showed them. When I was almost out of there, a hospital worker walked in carrying a big box.”

The staffer donated to Willshire an outdated plaster mold kit used in constructing casts. From that kit Willshire began using plaster for 3-D structures like Biggie the pig (now on display at Old Major in Denver) and her current project, a yet unnamed donkey for the new Boston restaurant, Tavita’s.

Biggie (on display at Old Major in Denver)

Biggie (on display at Old Major in Denver)

Willshire now focuses 80 percent of her time on her craft beer cap structures. If you’d like to see her work in person, pick a craft brewery or bar in Colorado and they probably have some displayed. Her work has shown at Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Left Hand Brewing Co., Oskar Blues Brewery, Great Divide Brewing Co., Highland Tap & Burger and Hops & Pies (to name a few).

The rest of her days are spent assisting clients, like Martina Navratilova, as a personal photographer and photo archivist. She also photographs works for Karen Kristin, the fantastic painter that channels Michelangelo in her sky scenes painted inside some well-known spots like Caesar’s Palace and The Venetian casinos in Las Vegas.

Head up to Colorado to see Amanda Willshire, buy her a Left Hand Polestar, appreciate some of her work while fussing over a pint of your own, and maybe even join in on one of her projects at Burning Can in Colorado or North Carolina.

Patrons joined in on a crowd project at Upslope Get Down, an all-day music fest from Upslope Brewing.

Enjoy Your Craft,
Ben Esely is a co-founder and the Brewer Interviewer for Beer Drinkers Society.