Archive for: January, 2011

Beer 501: German beers

Jan 28 2011 Published by under Beer, Life

If you have been to Germany and drunk the beer commonly served in bars, or have partaken of the German brews generally served at Oktoberfests you may have come to the conclusion that Germans can only brew pisswasser. Not so! The most common beers in Germany are pilsners. These are light on flavor. They are brewed specifically to be downed in great quantity. A litre at your morning break, a litre at lunch, a litre at afternoon break, a litre after work, a litre with dinner and then several more after... The goal here is quantity over quality. What many may realize is that all beer-loving countries tend to have something similar - mass produced beers designed specifically to be drunk in quantity. Budweiser calls it's beer "The Great American Lager." The "Great" is clearly indefensible, but it is a lager - a pale lager, or German-style pilsner to be precise. Pisswasser. Pisswasser brewed with rice in it. But I digress...

And continue to digress for a moment. As I noted above, all beer-chugging nations have their mass-produced pisswasser. Germany has its pilsners (or pils), Australia is the land o'lagers (but not necessarily pilsners), England has ales, the US pilsners and other lagers, and so on. Quantity over quality. Mostly, but not necessarily all, forgettable stuff. Bottom line: don't judge a country's beer quality by it's mass-produced dross.

Back to Germany. If all you have sampled from this country are its pilsners then you have missed out. There are bocks (strong lagers), doppelbocks (double bocks), wheat beers (but not necessarily the yeasty Belgian kind), dunkels (amber to dark ales) and even rauchbier. Below I will briefly discuss some of my favorites and others I have sampled.

The goal when brewing any dunkel (or amber ales in general) is to aim for a balance of the malt, hops and yeast flavors. That might sound like all amber ales will be pretty much alike, but that's not the case. Even within the restriction of balance there's a lot of variation available to the brewer. A good amber ale is a refreshing beer with a noticeable, but not strong, hops flavor. A good German one is Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel.

It would be a mistake to lump these in with the common mass-produced lagers. These have higher alcohol (7-12%) and are much maltier. I'm a big fan of hoppy beers, but really enjoy a good doppelbock on occasion. Originally brewed by monks to consume during their fasts,* doppelbocks have a malty, slightly sweet, almost toasty flavor. The names of these often end with "-ator" (pronounced "ah-tor" - channel your inner-Arnold Schwarzenegger when ordering one). My personal favorite is the Ayinger Celebrator. Good toasty flavor. The Spaten Optimator is another good choice.

Wheat beers:
As is obvious from the name, wheat is used in the brew. Many of you have likely tried the yeasty Belgian wheat beers. These tend to be a little sweet with a citrus undertone. German wheat beers are not necessarily the same. Belgian brewers like to highlight the yeast, Germans more the grains and hops. I'm not a huge fan of wheat beers in general, but do like Erdinger Pikantus - a dark wheat beer. Yes, a dark wheat beer. This has a good toasty flavor.

Rauchbier means smoke beer. Before brewing any beer the malted barley is dried in a kiln. Over the centuries brewers have experimented with different levels of drying from just barely dry up to roasted malts (more about those next week). The brewers at the Brewery Tavern Schlenkerla in Bamberg tried something different - smoked malt. Yes, smoked like you would smoke meat. And that's what this interesting brew, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, tastes like. It has a very strong smoked flavor. In fact that's all you taste with the first sip. And the second. By the third you begin to notice the malt a little, and perhaps the hops on the fourth sip. To be honest, I didn't get past the fourth sip. It's like drinking this. Not pisswasser to be sure, but not drinkable either. Might make a good marinade though.

That's it for today. Your assignment for this week is to go taste a non-pilsner German beer and report back in the comments.

Next week: Stouts. More than just Guinness.

* I always imagine two monks solemnly approaching each other in the darkened cloisters.
"Brother," the first nods at the other.
"Brother," he replies.
"The Lent fast approaches."
Brief pause.
"YYYYEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!!" they yell together while high-fiving and belly-bumping.
Then off they go in their solemn way.

19 responses so far

Beer 501: The Wonderful World of Beer - Introduction

Jan 21 2011 Published by under Beer, Life

Settle down class. Settle down. Right, welcome to Beer 501: The Wonderful World of Beer, a course for graduate students and advanced undergraduates pursuing a degree in any of the alcohol-related sciences. This course is designed to educate you about the wonderful world of beer. Today we'll take care of some administrative stuff and introduce the course.

First up, Beer 101: Chuggable Beers for College Students is a prerequisite for taking this course, no exceptions. Anyone not take 101? Good.

Now this course will meet roughly once a week, most likely on Fridays. Attendance is not mandatory, but grades are 100% based on participating in weekly assignments, so attending is probably a good idea.

I don't mind if you bring laptops to take notes, but I won't tolerate twitting, tweetering or whatever it's called during class. CPP, if you see anyone being a twit you have my permission to hit them on the head with a heavy blunt object.

If you're in this class because you have to be, not because you want to be, and want to sit in the back and surf porn sites on your laptops, I won't stop you, but please mute your computers. Yes, GR, I'm looking at you. Old Professor Schmirnoff will be in therapy for a long, long time after that Mexican midget and donkey porn incident in Vodka 220.

My Qualifications
I'm not a cicerone. I have no formal training in the art of beer. But I am Australian and have sampled a great many beers from all around the world. I've also been known to brew my own beer. Good enough for me.

What Will Be Covered
We are going to talk about a wide variety of beers during this course. There is no formal syllabus. We will talk about beers by country, type or whatever else strikes my fancy. Yes, I will be making this up as we go along. Hopefully we will have a guest lecturer or two as we go along.

What Will Not Be Covered
Heavily fruit-based beers. Dross like Magic Hat #9 and Samuel Smith's Organic Raspberry. Abominations such as these are not worthy of the title "beer." Anyone who likes to drink these namby-pamby, frou-frou "beverages" best served with a little umbrella and slice of pineapple held in place by a cherry-skewered toothpick should drop this class now. Go on, bugger off.

Some beers brewed with a hint of fruit, primarily citrus, may be discussed.

What is Beer Anyway?
At it's simplest beer is brewed using just water, hops, malted barley and yeast. Other grains are sometimes used. Wheat is common. Others such as rice, rye and corn can be encountered. Some brewers will add hints of herbs or spices. Perhaps chocolate or coffee. But in the end, most of what you taste will come from the grain, yeast and hops.

The Beer Experience
Let's talk about the drinking of beer. It's an experience, not just something you chug down to get a buzz. Firstly, draught is best. Then bottled, preferably poured into a glass. Cans should be avoided if possible.

Beer should be savored. When you have a beer, before you drink, look at the beer. What color is it? Is it clear or cloudy? Does it hold a head? Is it heavy on carbonation, or are there few bubbles? All these things vary tremendously between beers and have a profound effect upon their taste. Then take note of the aroma. As you should all know, much of what we generically refer to as flavor actually comes from aromas. Think about what you can smell before you drink. Only then should you begin drinking. Hold that first sip in your mouth. Swirl it around a little. Enjoy the complexity of flavors. After you swallow take note of the after-taste - the finish. Take a second sip. Compare to the first. No, it won't always be just like the first. Enjoy the beer.

But wait, color, aroma and flavor are not all. The circumstances under which you are having that beer are important as well. A beer that tastes good when drinking alone can be elevated to very good when it is drunk in good company. Of course a really bad beer is always a really bad beer, but it's all in the experience and you should take note of that.

And that in fact brings me to your first assignment. I want you to describe to me, in the comments, the worst beer you have ever drunk. Not just what the beer was, but the circumstances that may have contributed to to it being the worst.

To get the ball rolling, let me tell you about my worst. When I first moved to the US I hung out with a local rugby team. A good bunch of lads who would drink copious quantities of very forgettable beer. Copious, copious quantities. After an early Fall game where the temperature approached 90F - hot for rugby - I piled into a car with five of the team for the one hour trip home. Being the smallest I was asked politely to sit in the very back of the station wagon. That is, I was thrown in the back. Along with a number of sweaty uniforms. Did I mention this was a Ford Pinto? And that I was in the very back, inches above the gas tank?* Anyway, it got rather hot back there with the smelly uniforms, so I was passed a beer. An Old Milwaukee. An Old Milwaukee that had been sitting in the hot car all day. Now this is a truly dreadful beer to begin with, but a hot Old Milwaukee in the back of a Pinto station wagon, where there's no ventilation, with freshly used rugby kit? I'll let your imagination fill in from there.

That's it for today. Don't forget you grades are based on participation, so do that assignment.

Next week: German beers. Not all are pisswasser.

* Okay, I'll 'fess up, it wasn't one of the exploding models. But it does make for a good story.

65 responses so far

So far from my former home

Jan 18 2011 Published by under Life, Uncategorized

[I had hoped to get the first post in my promised Beer 501 series by now, but life intervened. Hopefully later this week...]

One of, if not the hardest part of having settled in a country the opposite side of the globe from the land of my origin, is being so far from family and friends. This becomes particularly difficult when it comes to life events. Last year I couldn't attend the christening of my nephew. That sucked. Illness and deaths are the worst. I had to miss the funeral of an uncle of whom I was particularly fond. And now my mother's health is deteriorating.

I feel guilty for not being there.

As far as anyone can tell she's not about to kick the bucket. On the contrary, being the paranoid cantankerous old battle-axe that she is, I suspect she's made it her life's goal to hang around as long as possible to a) find out who is to blame for everything* and b) make the lives of her caregivers as miserable as possible. And that's the rub. The caregiver's right now are primarily my sister and her husband.** It's that they are taking the brunt of all this that makes me feel most guilty. One of my brothers also lives in the US, and our other brother lives about 260 miles from my mother. My sister lives but a few blocks from her...

My mother is a difficult woman. I'm not close to her. I used to try, but in the end I got tired of being pushed away. In many ways this is "pushing away" is a form of abuse.*** After a couple of months in this country I came to realize I needed to be far away from her. Not really the kind of epiphany you want to have about a parent.

If there's one thing she's really, really good at it's this pushing people away. Unfortunately this is a skill that she chooses to practice most when she really needs help. Yes, yes, I know it's a cry for help. I feel guilty about that too. But my mother has raised pushing people away to an art form. How do you help someone who refuses to be helped?

Her health has deteriorated to the point that soon she will need to be moved into some kind of assisted living facility. She has made it clear that that will only happen over her dead body. Oh joy.

* Did I mention her paranoia?
** According to my mother they're currently the ones to blame. For everything.
*** I know I'm not giving sufficient detail for you to decide whether or not this is the case, but trust me, it is.

10 responses so far

Here I be

Jan 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

19 responses so far