Hometown Beer

My brother and I were standing in the back of the bar looking across the room when a young man with a hard hat walked through the brightness of the door and then up to the bar. The helmet on his head shined from the lamp above the brim. I told my brother, I don't know what, but that is a great scene for a joke.

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Bottle Shops: Good, Bad & the Ugly

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THE SESSION #128— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

Deep Beer will be hosting The Session #128 — Beer Blogging Friday for October 2017. The theme chosen is Bottle Shops: Good, Bad & The Ugly. I find bottle shops interesting and would like to learn other perspectives on these places many of us purchase our favorite quaffs. We love our beer and have a variety of options in acquiring it. Some home brew, others like to visit their local pubs, beer tourism and beer destinations have become a trend, but the ever popular bottle shop is often the best and most reliable means for finding our next beer.

Of course, not all bottle shops are the same.

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Themes to Consider

Below, I offer a few topics for your consideration and to perhaps spark your imagination, but of course, you can choose your own.

  • What defines a great bottle shop —selection, knowledgeable staff, location, prices, other factors
  • Iconic bottle shops — Like to share your favorite shops, surprising stories of discovery
  • Discovering great bottle shops — have successful methods for finding great bottle shops
  • Being a great bottle shop — If you own or work in a shop, do you have tips for success or precautions against failure
  • Hacking the bottle shop — secrets to getting what you want or How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Bottle shop travel preparation — do you have a reconnaissance plan when you travel for finding good beer away from home or other beer travel tips
  • Other topics of bottle shop curiosity — you choose

Round Up

Our deadline is October 6. Put a link to your post on our bottle shop theme in a comment to this announcement and shortly after our Friday rendezvous I will write a wrap up summary of all of the articles. I'm looking forward to reading your posts. Cheers!


First, I want to thank all of this month's contributors. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your bottle shop adventures. This episode of The Session again takes us all around the world — Burma, Bend OR, San Francisco via Portland OR, Belgium, San Jose CA, into many ventures and experiences of the Bottle Shop: Good, Bad & The Ugly.

SMaSH Beer

THE SESSION #125— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

This month's theme is SMaSH Beers and is hosted by Mark Linders at Bend Beer Librarian. The question posted by Mark is SMaSH beers (single malt, single hop). 

I jokingly asked myself if single malt and single hop beers can be considered a “thing” (trendy, etc.) until we have coffee-infused, barrel-aged, and fruit SMaSH beers.
— Mark Linder, Bend Beer Librarian

Really, There is a SMASH Beer

I enjoy the topics that people come up with for these BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY themes. Sometimes the strike a familiar cord and I can't wait to jump in and begin sharing my thoughts on whatever the topic chosen. Then other times, I have to admit, I simply let the theme go, like a gentle breeze that was here and it's gone. Then there are even some times I'll begin writing with some clever — I think it's clever — take on the chosen topic, never to finish it. I hate that, but it happens all to often.

But SMASH beer? I thought I'd heard of everything under the beery sun but that... is it a term, a style, a joke? Mark obviously is a home brewer and SMASH beers seem to be a style that is popular among that group. So I had to do a bit of research beyond what Mark had provided in is introduction.

Rate Beer

Rate Beer knows that SMASH is a real thing! They list 50 beers under the label of SMASH beers. 

I can say I haven't had any of these beers noted as SMaSH beers. Nor do I think I could find any at my local beery shops. That isn't to say that I haven't had a single malt, single hop beer, it's just that it wasn't identified as such. Honestly, I've seen brewers promote the fact that they were multi-malt and multi-hop more often. Southern Tier is an excellent example.

Draft Magazine

Draft Magazine declares the perfect SMASH six-pack in their Sixer: SMaSH beers piece. Of these six, three were ID of SMASH and three did not. So perhaps I have had a SMASH beer and didn't know it.

Reviewing my list of unique beers tasted on my Untappd account, I didn't find anything referencing a SMASH beer. Entering "smash" into the Search and scrolling through that list, I didn't I'd any that I've had nor would have easy access to.

Conclusion

So, my conclusion is this:

  1. I didn't know SMaSH beer was a style — formal or otherwise — but I do now it is
  2. I do know that when I see one, I will very intentionally try it
  3. And perhaps I will update my notes for this writing when I have this new expanded thinking of SMASH

 

 

Imported Beer: One Opinion

THE SESSION #122— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

This month's theme is Views on Imported Beer and is hosted by Christopher Barnes at I Think About Beer. The question posted by Christopher is based on the writer's location, either North America or otherwise: 

  • For American and Canadians: What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?
  • For Non North Americans: How are American beers (imported into YOUR country) viewed? What is their place in your market?

In The Beginning

It seems like so long ago now, probably because it was, when I first began exploring the world of beer. It wasn't anything like a study, but a casual curiosity. A good beer was Michelob, a special beer was Becks. I felt the need to stand out from my peers, so mine was the dark one. Imports were premium beers — for those who wanted to treat themselves to the finer things. I still remember my beer epiphany, the moment I had a really good beer. I've written about this before, but I do like to think about it again. A bar in Baltimore, a bit of time before a weekend conference, a bartender perhaps wanting to upsell me. Nonetheless, I was interested in learning more. So he suggested this English beer, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. Smitten, I was. After that, nothing was the same. It was difficult to find this beer, but I did. It was more expensive than my normal beer. So it was on special occasions I would bring home a 500 ml. bottle. That must have been around 1991.

Fast Forward

I began working in a local fine wine, beer and spirits shop that was opening just a few minutes from my house just over nine years ago. It was a move to help pay some schooling bills and thought to be a temporary job. I gave it two or three years. Right! That was nine years ago. Why am I still there? Well two things really, I enjoy the people and two, I enjoy learning about the stuff. All of it, wine, spirits and especially the beer. And the good beer (some call it craft) business certainly has changed over this time.

The more I learn about beer, the more I realize I don't know. There are many people who are willing to teach. And, I'll have to say, I've done a lot of study on my own. Grin!

So, good beer began with me as imported. Then the American scene has grown up, again. And we don't have to look across the pond to find good beer, there is plenty to be found on our own shores. And for that matter, right in our own backyard. It continues to surprise me the number of small town breweries are popping up. And they are producing some really good beer.

Do Americans Need Imported Beer

Do we still need to seek our "good beer" fix from imports? Of course not. But I still often do. That is, because the American beer scene has started a new beer revolution, that has caused me to learn more about the beer I'm drinking. And if you haven't noticed, many of those great American beers have Old World names, referring to the classic European styles from our brewing legacies. Oatmeal stout, kolsch, altbier, gose, guese. Check out the Beer Judge Certification Programs list of beer styles. How many were founded in Europe and are now taking on an American swagger.

Last year we celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, aka the German Purity Law of 1516. Some of the interviews of contemporary German brewers described were how hand-tied they felt from the restrictions of that law and the need to brew to those simple list of ingredients to remain in the German brewery associations. They wanted to break out and explore the world of ingredients like many of the new American brewers. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head stated in an April 2016 The Daily Meal article that, "The reinheitsgebot is nothing more than modern art censorship."

Now that the good beer movement has introduced and attracted partakers to what well made beer is like, many are willing to venture beyond the IPA and discover the classic styles, whether from to old-country or domestic versions. Pilsner is making a comeback in America. Of course it is, it is a great beer.

So yes, imported beer does matter. It is a great teacher of history, technique, ingredients and geography. For example, as much as you hear about terroir is important to wine, the same holds true with beer. Try an American made pilsner, then have one from Germany or a Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. Same style, far different beer experience.

I recently taught a beer tasting class where the focus was on four iconic beers, three of which were imports. The purpose being that many of the beers we enjoy today have a lineage back to Europe. In order to fully appreciate the beer being produced and offered in pubs and bottle shop today, it is best to understand from where they came. 

Final Thoughts

The era of industrial American light lager not only reduced the choices of what beer drinkers were offered, it turned many off to beer, period. With the establishment — or re-establishment — of an American good-beer industry and culture, beer drinkers are exploring and expanding their tastes. And while Americans are being introduced to classic styles after our IPA binge, brewers are leading the way with their versions of the classics, take the list of gose that has been introduced and become so popular during the last few years. The concern that foreign brewers are keenly aware, are the Americans are doing such a good job of it!

A Deeper Shade of Brown

Brown by any other name is still the same color but not necessarily the same beer

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THE SESSION #120— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

This month's theme is Brown Beer and is hosted by The Fatal Glass of Beer

The colour brown has certain connotations, some of which I won’t dwell on. But used in reference to beer, it can signify a kind of depressing old fashioned-ness - to refer to a traditional bitter as ‘brown’ seems to suggest it belongs to a bygone corduroy-trousered era. As breweries who pride themselves on their modernity focus on beers that are either decidedly pale or unmistakably black, the unglamorous brown middle ground is consistently neglected.

So for Session 120, let’s buck the trend and contemplate brown beer. This might be brown ale, or the aforementioned English bitter; it could be a malty Belgian brune, a dubbel or a tart oud bruin; even a German dunkel might qualify.
— The Fatal Glass of Beer

What Is Brown

Brown my any other name is still the same color — marrone, marron, bruin, brun, bruin, braun or brown—or is it. And beer styles may be similar but still very, very different. Some brown or brownish beer styles include: Oud Bruin, British Brown Ale, American Brown Ale, Brown IPA, London Brown Ale, dunkel, dubbel. So its a wide field. Brown is not black but a brown ale can be black. Take the Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron for example.

Touring Dogfish

I had the pleasure of touring the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton DE a few years ago. Part of the tour took us by the Palo Santo Marron wooden tanks. These were impressive to stand near. It has been reported that the barrels costs $140,000 and were questionable whether those costs would ever be recouped. The founder, Sam Caligione (Youtube: his take on Palo Santo Marron), said in a New Yorker magazine article (see reference below) that if worked for a publicly owned corporation that he would have been fired for this move. I assume they have paid for themselves, but it does make for a good story.

For the greater story, jump over to an excellent 2004 article by the New Yorker entitled A Bitter Brew which describes the story of the journey to Paraguay, the discovery of the wood behind the beer as well and the man behind the wood (and beer).

A Big Drink

My first experience with this beer was not a pleasant one. The tasting notes on the side of the bottle suggest caramel and vanilla. Remembering my first sip all I could think of was a huge black licorice bomb, which at the time I thought was too big and not pleasant at all. I had purchased a four-pack, so I had three more to level out my opinion. The second seemed more mellow, but still a big beer. By the time I'd finished the fourth, I was a convert. Now it is one of my favorite beers and high on my DFH list of brews. To drink one, it is an opaque black beer (darker brown) and pours a big tan colored head that quickly fades. As read on the label, you get notes of caramel, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate. At 12% ABV you are going to get some boozy character, but it is a very well balanced beer. There are hints of the wood but not overpowering like you might expect. BeerAdvocate labels is as an American Brown Ale and rates it at 93 points.

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The Tree & Its Wood

The barrel was more than a year old, but the wood smelled freshly milled. A sharp, spicy, resinous scent came off it, like incense and mulled wine. To stand up to its aroma, Calagione said, he had filled the barrel with a strong brown beer. It was made with three kinds of hops, five kinds of wheat and barley, a dose of unrefined cane sugar, and a sturdy Scottish ale yeast. It had a creamy head when poured, like a Guinness stout, and contained about twelve per cent alcohol—two and a half times as much as a Budweiser. Calagione called it Palo Santo Marron. It was an extreme beer, he said, but to most people it wouldn’t have tasted like beer at all. There were hints of tobacco and molasses in it, black cherries and dark chocolate, all interlaced with the wood’s spicy resin. It tasted like some ancient elixir that the Inca might have made.
— A Better Brew, The New Yorker (2008)

Palo Santo wood is highly prized for its properties, even before it became famous for its beer improvement characteristics. In an article 11 Things You Never Knew About Palo Santo, it describes when Spanish monks first discovered the wood and experienced its ability to seemingly cleanse and heal, they named the tree “palo santo,” which means “holy wood” or “the wood of the saints.” The tree grows in the South American rainforest and its scientific name is bursera graveolens, or “a bag of oil” and the naturally aromatic wood from this truly unique tree is used in several ways for energetic and healing purposes. Its primary use is to burn small palo santo sticks as incense (which you can find find online at such places as Amazon.com). On the hardness scale, it is measured as three times harder than oak and one of the hardest in the world.

 Palo Santo: The wood, barrel, and beer

Palo Santo: The wood, barrel, and beer

Final Thoughts

I find this beer fascinating not only as a wonderful drink to enjoy, but also for the effort exerted to bring it into being. The fusion of the wood and beer, ancient culture and domestication makes me pause as I sip it in — and not only because its 12% ABV. Not all browns are created equal — this certainly is a deep shade of brown.