my name is dev, and you sound like an ass.

This is a quick response to an article that David Chang wrote for GQ Magazine titled “My Name is David Chang and I Hate Fancy Beer.” The amazing Garrett Oliver penned a response a few days later: “My Name is Garrett Oliver and I Hate Crappy Beer.” Please read both, as both are interesting and give some insight into the rising tide of disdain for beer geeks and the craft brewing industry. My comments were originally posted to a comment on Eater.com, but I have made some changes for this blog.

I love craft beer. I love it because I love seeking out new flavors and experiences and the people who work in the industry. It is my passion. I love educating others about beer and its history and complexities and how to pair it with food. Beer challenges me and delights me and makes me happy.

What I don’t like are people who judge others for their drink choices. Those who think that someone else’s decisions somehow negatively affect them. If you want to drink industrial beer and like it, great! Go for it! But if you ask me for a suggestion on what to drink, I’ll steer you towards a good craft or import that you might enjoy, just to expand your palate.

David Chang’s article was obnoxious and pretentious. His choice to constantly crow about his supposed “love” for industrial beer is just a way for him to put down those around him seeking different choices. He comes off as a prat, and one I wouldn’t want to eat or drink with. The fact that he has repeatedly approached Garrett Oliver, one of the gods of the craft beer industry, and “bragged” about how much he loves mass market brews just shows how crummy his character is. Also, the title of his article is about how he “hates fancy beer.” Except that he doesn’t. He flat-out says that he enjoys the flavors of many craft beer styles and that he has “seen the sunrise from the bar at Mikkeller” (good for you). This just proves that his headline is nothing but click bait. He is making the point that even though he has access to some of the best beers in the world – and clearly has favor with some brewers that many of us would kill to hang out with – he would rather shove it in their faces that he would prefer mass market beer.

And if he eschews beers even he calls “delicious” for mass market, flavorless beer… what does that say about his food? And if he is willing to be a creep to some of the greatest minds (and palates) in the beer industry, how does he treat others in his own? As someone not nearly famous or rich enough to be able to get a reservation at Momofuku, I can only speculate.

Oliver’s response is great. I love that he calls Chang out on the carpet and doesn’t let him get away with what is so clearly a cry for attention.

Yes, beer geeks (and foodies and wine snobs) can come off as pretentious. I know we can. I’m sorry for that – it’s really not (the majority of us, at least) our intention. We are just seeking out something new and different and exciting. We don’t want to waste our time and money and experiences (and calories, let’s be real, here) on something boring. I don’t think anyone has had an epiphany while drinking a Bud or felt true, deep delight while supping an MGD. But I cried when I first tried Westvleteren XII and I giggled in excitement when I tasted the Rare Barrel‘s Egregious.

Beer, for me, is so much more than something to quench my thirst.

And that’s okay. Just as it’s okay for beer to JUST be something to quench your thirst. But Chang’s crowing about how he so proudly struts his industrial beer love in the face of people just trying to do their jobs and share their enthusiasm makes him come off as a pretentious jerk. A pretentious jerk with bad taste, at that.

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lagers don’t get no lovin’.

Ah, lagers. Much adored by the populace at large and much maligned by craft beer lovers. But while the mass market breweries have done their durndest to make sure that the word “lager” is synonymous with “crap”, those with taste buds and a penchant for contrarianism know better. And while some of us (me) might want to keep these things to ourselves (more for me!), in order to see more of these fine beers come forth from fermenters across the land, we must share our crisp, clean little secret.

First: what the hell is a lager? OR the family tree of beer.

This is the headboard in my guest room. No, really. (c) Pop Chart Labs

This is the headboard in my guest room. No, really. (c) Pop Chart Labs

As this nifty poster from Pop Chart Labs demonstrates, the family tree of beer has many, many branches. But, there is really just one trunk with two off-shoots: ales and lagers. Often, people ask what the difference between a beer and a lager or a beer and an ale is. Well, like that old brain teaser of all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles, so it goes with beer. All ales are beer, but not all beers are ales. All lagers are also beer, but all beers are not lagers. And all beer is either an ale, a lager, or a hybrid of the two (and yes, we can debate that hybrids are technically either ales or lagers, but this is neither the time, nor to post to do so).

But what makes a beer an ale or a lager? It all comes down to that wiley little microorganism, the yeast. Ale yeast is top- or warm-fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It loves temperatures in the low 60s through low 70s, takes a couple of weeks to ferment, and produces lovely, fruity esters in the finished beer. Ale is the yeast that produces everything from IPAs to (the majority of) porters to red ales.

Then you have the wallflower of craft brewing: lager yeast, Saccharomyces uvarum (domestic strains of lager yeast are often referred to a Saccharomyces pastorianus or Saccharomyces carlsbergensis. You can read more about the ins and outs of yeast taxonomy here). This yeast is bottom- or cold-fermenting. It likes much lower temperatures in which to ferment (with the exception of certain strains used in the production of California Common – but there is always an exception, it seems), but also takes much, much longer to complete: from around six weeks to several months. Lager yeast tends to be more crisp and clean and leaves less of a “yeast character” in the beer than an ale. They also tend to be less cloudy by virtue of their long fermentation time that allows for the particulates to settle out prior to serving.

The term “lager” comes from the German word for “storehouse” and early German lagers were called lagerbier or “beer for keeping” after the long amount of time the beer was kept in cold caves before being consumed. What does confuse things somewhat is that the word lager is used not only to describe the style of beer as determined by the yeast, but also the process by which beer is kept in cold storage for secondary fermentation. So, lager is both a noun and a verb. Gotta love language! Ale comes from an old Norse word for beer – ǫl – and has long been used by the British to describe their indigenous beers pulled from casks. Of course, the terms lager and ale are not confined by these original definitions and, as we all now know, are dependent on their yeast and not exclusively the way they are brewed or served.

Most Americans are familiar with what the BJCP refers to as “American Adjunct Lager” – that is, a lager beer made with adjuncts such as corn or rice in addition to the standard water, hops, malted barley, and yeast. These beers are light in color, body, and flavor and mass produced for quantity and drinkability (read: closeness to water) and are not concerned with being interesting or distinct. It’s why it is so hard to tell one mass market beer from another.

Craft lagers – and, indeed, many import lagers – are a whole different animal (fungus, I guess, to be technically accurate). On the lighter end of things you have German, Bohemian, and American Pilsners, Helles, and Dortmunders. Then you move into Traditional Bocks, Vienna Lagers, and Marzens (Oktoberfest beers). Black Lagers, Dunkels, and Schwarzbier are “dark” lagers that challenge everything you thought you knew about deeply-colored beers. Then you have those seemingly style-defying beers such as the Baltic Porter. There is also the ultra-strong Eisbock, which is an ice-distilled version of a Bock. And in America, we are now seeing India Pale Lagers and similar ale styles being brewed with lager yeast.

But that’s not a new trend – rather an old trend reborn. Back when German folk first started immigrating to the United States, they brought their beer of choice – the Pilsner. As the popularity of this easy to drink, mildly hoppy lager grew and the ales that had been traditionally consumed in America lost favor (but not flavor!), American brewers realized they needed to get in on the trend. But, as with so many American things, we decided we needed to do it our way. So, rather than just start brewing these German Pilsners, those inventive brewers created Cream “Ale.” Cream Ale is a light-colored, light-bodied beer traditionally brewed using a mix of malt and corn (as corn was a readily available, and inexpensive, fermentable grain to our aforementioned brewers). Some brewers sought out this “new” yeast from German friends and decided to experiment with it, creating a crisper form of Cream “Ale.” Other brewers chose to stick with what they knew and brewed the beer with ale yeast, but they did tend to brew it slightly colder and some chose to lager their beer in an attempt to rid it of some of the ale’s fruitiness and make it more closely match the Pilsner they were competing against. While this style was popular for a while, it died out in popularity as the Pilsner continued it’s nearly parasitic takeover of American palates (albeit in a much watered down version), but has seen a resurgence in recent years as the interest in indigenous American beer styles has grown.

Because of the tendency to use different yeasts, and to lager Cream Ales, they are one of several styles that are considered “hybrid” beers. Other examples are Kolsch (which are brewed with ale yeast, but lagered), California Common (lager yeast brewed at ale temperatures), and altbiers (either ales fermented at lager temperatures or lagers fermented slightly warm).

So, while so many picture buxom blondes touting the benefits of “cold filtering” and “triple hopping” at the mention of lagers, they are actually far more complex than what marketing wants you to believe.

If you are interested in making a foray into lagers, but aren’t quite sure where to start, here are some suggestions:

If you enjoy… Than you should try…
Pale Ale Bohemian Pilsner, Maibock
IPA IPL (obviously), Maibock, Colorado Common (a hoppier version of California Common)
Brown Ale Dunkel, Black Lager, Traditional Bock, Vienna Lager
Amber Ale California Common (aka Steam Beer), Amber Lager, Altbier, Black Lager, Marzen
Porter Schwartzbier, Traditional Bock
Stout Baltic Porter, Dopplebock
Light Lager American Black Lager (don’t be afraid!), German Pilsner, Kolsch, Dortmunder, Cream Ale

Obviously, this list is far from inclusive, but it is a good start when dipping your tongue into the myriad of lagers available on the market today. Some of my favorite lager brands available are Pug Ryan’s Dead Eye Dunkel and Peacemaker Pilsner, Big Choice Colorado Common, Full Sail Sessions Black Lager, Boston Beer Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Yazoo Dos Perros Vienna Lager, Brewery Rickoli Enormous Richard Double Cream Ale, Grand Lake Fall Fest Marzen, French Broad Gateway Kolsch, Rogue Dead Guy Maibock, Saint Patrick’s Centennial State Pilsner.

And, speaking of Saint Patrick’s Brewing Company, this is a brewery that is only brewing lagers, and are making some of the most refined, most experimental beers available. Right now they are tiny (they don’t even have a draught system and are lagering in bottles), but once they get larger (lager?), expect to change the craft brewing industry. On April 24th, they are releasing a flight of four different Pilsners, and I was lucky enough to get a preview, so look for my write-up tomorrow.

Lagers are also the perfect partner for so many different foods. Their effervescence works to scrub the tongue of heavy flavors, and their lighter hop characteristics make them a perfect match for spicy food. Why do you think Vienna Lager has become such a popular beer to drink with Mexican food? Or why a rice lager always seems to go so nicely with sushi? Or why nothing tastes quite as good with a big ol’ German brautwurst than a mug of dunkel? Just like ales, lagers love food, and (trust me) the feeling is mutual.

In conclusion (oh lord – it’s like an AP English paper), lagers are as diverse, and can certainly be as interesting as, ales. Even though light lagers are the kudzu of beer doesn’t mean that their buddies don’t make some rather tasty beverages. So – what are you waiting for? Go out! Imbibe!

Thanksgiving pairing.

I received a text from a former coworker today. It read, simply:

What’s the best thing to get?

This would seem rather random to normal, sensible human beings. But for me, I go directly to one of two things: beer or dogs. Since I know this gentleman already has a dog, by process of elimination, he must mean beer.

At the brewery? Or in general?
[Side note: “the brewery” refers to Brewery Rickoli, where I am currently “Doer of Stuff”]

For Thanksgiving.

Ah… Thanksgiving. That most food-centric of all American celebrations. And, as he asked, what to drink?

Garrett Oliver, in his excellent book on beer and food titled The Brewmaster’s Table, posits that the best beer you can possibly pair your Thanksgiving feast with is Bière de Garde. While I can’t debate that point (the earthiness, the herbaceous quality, the general funkiness), I did have some slightly more accessible options to offer up as well.

Now, my friend probably expected me to reply with “the IPA” or something similarly brief and to-the-point. HA! While I could do that (and make his life simpler, I suppose) I would rather give him the education of not only which beer to choose, by why.

I SHALL FORCE KNOWLEDGE UPON YOU, WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT!

My response was a wall of text that need not be reproduced here. Instead, I will go the more refined route and actually format and punctuate my thoughts.

Beer pairings with a “typical” American Thanksgiving meal. In this case, I will qualify “typical” as Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. My friend threw a wrench into my plans by giving me green bean casserole as well. Since I wouldn’t touch the stuff with my neighbor’s absurdly large television antenna , I am going off of what I know the individuals components taste like.

– Munich Dunkel: I just love dunkels. There is something about them: malty, slightly rich, roasted with a lovely chocolate back note, but still crisp because of the lagering. They are my go-to beer for so many dishes. Again, here, a dunkel will play nice with all of the different parts of the menu. The cranberries will contrast nicely with the chocolatey notes and marry with the refreshing lager character. The melanoidins (the lovely brown bits created when you put high heat to food) in the stuffing and (yes, again) the turkey skin are perfectly matched by commiserate flavors in the beer. There is little to no spice in a dunkel, so those flavors will have no competition. Dunkels are the least alcoholic of my recommendations (4.5-5.6% ABV), and can be a really nice session beer to sup from early morning turkey prep through late evening turkey comas. Specific brand: Yazoo Dos Perros (technically a Vienna Lager, but it’s dark enough to qualify as a dunkel), Pug Ryan Dead Eye Dunkel. I am absolutely addicted to this beer and grab several six-packs where ever I can find them.

– American Brown Ale: malty, slightly toasty – to pair with the turkey skin – but with enough hop bite to handle the richness of the potatoes and bring out some of the tartness of the cranberries. Because of a chocolate/nutty/caramelly characteristic, this beer will also be stellar with the pie. I can’t think of many things better than sitting in front of a fire with a big slice of berry pie, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a solid American brown ale. Since the majority of American brown ales are relatively low in alcohol (4.3-6.2% ABV), this beer can also be enjoyed all evening without much worry. Specific brands: Big Sky Moose Drool, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, Brewery Rickoli Elke.

– Belgian Golden Strong or Belgian Dark Strong: Belgian golden strong ales are fruity, dry, and spicy. Belgian dark strong ales have many of the same flavors of the golden strong, but with more toasty, chocolatey notes and more residual sweetness. Both have enough Belgian/European ale yeast funk to match with the much maligned green bean casserole. The dark strong will go better with some of the more roasted aspects of the meal (stuffing, that horrible sweet potato marshmallow monstrosity, and turkey skin) while the golden strong will cut through richer aspects and lift some of the more delicate flavors (mashed potatoes, any version of sweet potatoes not spawned by the devil himself, and Brussels sprouts). Anytime you reach for a Belgian or French beer, you can be fairly certain that it was brewed with food pairings in mind. And Thanksgiving bears many of the aspects of a good European meal (plenty of meat, rich sides, and bread). As denoted by their names, Belgian strong ales are strong (7.5-11% ABV), and may not be the beer you drink all day if you want to avoid the status of drunkicorn.* Specific brands of dark: Chimay Blue, Rochefort 8. Specific brands of golden: Delirium Tremens, Duvel, Russian River Damnation, Brewery Rickoli Quicher Bichen (a Dutch Golden Strong Ale, so a little milder in the spice category, but very easy to drink. A fine gateway beer).

– Bière de Garde: this beer has some of the great European yeasty funkiness of the Belgian strong ales, but with an added herbaciousness that will work wonders with stuffing and side dishes and, shockingly, the turkey skin. Bière de Gardes can run the gamet in color from blonde to reddish-brown and each offers its own contribution to the menu. I would recommend leaning more towards the copper Bière de Gardes as they will pick up on the melanoidins without sacrificing any of the dry cutting power. Slightly less alcoholic than Belgian strong ales, Bière de Gardes are still formidable, so should be consumed in quantity with caution. Specific brands: Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi, Brewery Ommegang Bière de Mars, 3 Monts Amber Ale On Lees.

– Christmas beers: these beers are often laden with caramel, toffee, toast, and chocolate flavors that make them both a joy and a challenge. These beers will clash with green bean casseroles, most salads, and Brussels sprouts. However, they will marry nicely to the turkey (and skin!), sweet potatoes, and dessert. Maybe not your go-to for the entire meal, but a good consideration to mix things up a bit. Make sure you find a beer that isn’t too spicy (as in nutmeg and pepper, not chili peppers) or it will overwhelm everything else. The ABV on these beers varies wildly, so be aware of that as well. Specific brands: Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (I just cracked open this beer from 2009, and despite an ABV of only 6.9%, it was still gorgeous), Corsendonk Christmas Ale, Anchor Our Special Ale (varies year after year).

Beyond these four examples, here are some of the flavor profiles to look for when considering what to pair with your Thanksgiving meal:

Turkey, stuffing, gravy: toasty, roasty, herbal

Mashed potatoes, bread: effervescent (to cut the fat), herbal, earthy

Sweet potatoes (not the unholy marriage of marshmallows and sweet potatoes. I will live in denial that anything so profane exists): caramel, chocolate, earthy

Green bean casserole: herbal, effervescent (again, the cutting power), bright hops

Pumpkin pie: spices, caramel, toasty

Fruit pie: caramel, toasty, fruity, bright hops

It is rare that everyone will agree on a single beer that goes best with an entire meal. Especially a meal as diverse as Thanksgiving. However, by doing a little bit of homework and planning ahead, it is easy to pick a variety that you know will work wonderfully, and will give people the illusion that they have created these amazing pairings on their own. Because it’s all about that warm fuzzy feeling (and beer, mostly, it’s about beer).

* Drunkicorn (n):

The host of a party who begins to drink so early in the preparations that they are inebriated well before the beginning of the “main event”. Distinguished by the propensity of said individual to pass out and their friends to break off a massive icicle and place it on the individual’s head to make them look like a unicorn.