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Friday, January 17, 2014

Holiday Break

The BOTB Guys took a holiday break, which is not to say we didn't still get together and have some great beer. We just got together and had some great beer. We didn't rate it, we merely enjoyed it. With no ratings this month, I thought I'd just empty out my "Beer Thoughts" folder, a place for random beer-related ramblings, and see what might be worthy fodder for the beer aficionados who stumble upon this site from time to time.

But first...

A big thanks to Saranac and Sam Adams for sending along some brews to help us celebrate the holidays. Sam sent their Boston Lager and Ruby Mild. Their lager is, of course, familiar to all - certainly one of the best lagers out there. Ruby Mild was an interesting beer. It had a nice nutty, caramel sweet taste (though not overly so). It is, as the name implies, mild - as in a very easy drinking and pleasant beer. Very nice session

Saranac sent along a nice selection of beers: their Pale Ale, Spice Christmas Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, 4059 Porter, Decoction Concoction, and Moonshadow Black IPA. It is, in fact, the beers from this year's 12 Beers of Winter. As you might guess, our favorite was the Moonshadow Black IPA. It had a nice solid hop kick to it that blended well with the dark malts. But the 4059 Porter was a really tasty brew - a porter with a nice little hop kick to it also. Decoction Concoction made for a nice session beer - it's a red lager that tastes like a pale ale. The  was a drinkable mildly spiced ale. A touch of ginger, perhaps. Lighter bodied and more of a session beer than a lot of Christmas beers, which is not a bad thing; some are just so heavily spiced that they lose their basic beer-ness. The Belgian is very representative of that style.
Christmas Ale

Just got a look at Saranac's Twelve Beers a Springing mixed 12 and it looks good. It includes Prism White Ale, Forbidden IPA, Red IPA, Dry Hopped Lager, and Irish Stout. Another reason to look forward to spring.

A Tip of the Mug and a Wag of the Finger

When we began this beer Odyssey a few years ago, we contacted a number of craft breweries to see if we could get any samples sent to us to rate. A shameless attempt to obtain free beer, you say? Well, yes. But, on the other hand, we would be discussing their beer in a forum that would reach literally thousands of craft beer lovers.Through Dan's relentless pursuit, we were able to get a number of breweries on board. But a funny thing happened on the way to the blog - with some of these breweries (which shall remain nameless) all was well until we gave a negative review of one of their beers. Then suddenly it was crickets out there. Our reviews are never nasty, they are simply honest. If we liked a beer, we said so, if not we merely say it's not our pint of brew, so to speak. Didn't matter. Suddenly, no more beer, no more correspondence. This is not the case with both Sam Adams and Saranac. We have reviewed several of their beers and the results have ranged from "Leave it on the Shelf" to "Can't Get Enough!" These breweries get that not every beer will appeal to every taste - and that's okay. If we aren't honest about the beers we aren't crazy about, how can we be trusted when we say a beer is great? So... A tip of the mug to Saranac and Sam. A wag of the finger to those who can't handle our truth!

If You Can't Make It Good, Make It Cold

I've never been a big fan of the taste of milk. Even as a kid. I liked it on cereal or with a cookie, but not just plain. Not without something else to mask the taste. Then one day the parents of a friend of mine installed one of those milk dispensers like they have in restaurants. You know, those big metal refrigerated units you load up with big plastic bags filled with milk. The bag has a little hose that sticks out of the bottom of the unit and you dispense the milk by lifting up on a big handle. For whatever reason, the milk that came out of that dispenser was ice cold, and I found I could down a glass of it on its own. Why? Well, it was ice cold, as I said, and the colder something is, the harder it is for our taste buds to perceive the taste. It is why a good red wine should never be chilled, and why frozen products such as ice cream and shushees need to be so sweet. While people have known this for years, the underlying cause of this phenomenon was revealed in a study by researchers at Belgium's Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. They identified microscopic channels in our tastebuds - called TREM5 - which they determined were responsible for perceiving different tastes at different temperatures. As the temperature of liquid or food increases, our ability to perceive the taste increases. (Food

So, what do you do if you have a product that doesn't really have much in the way of flavor to begin with? How do you market said product which, for the sake of argument, is an adult libation? Check out those Coors Light commercials for a hint. Nothing about hops, malt, or taste - just cold. They even make cans that tell you when the beer is cold enough. The overriding motif of all of their ads is ice, ice, baby. The whole marketing strategy is based on temperature, and for good reason. Ever had a light beer that wasn't ice cold? Awful!

On the other hand, I had some beer in our unheated solar room the other day (or what I like to call my walk-in beer cooler in the winter). I grabbed a Flower Power and was a bit disappointed that I wasn't getting my usual hop fix. Then I realized the outside temperature was sub-zero, making the temperature in the solar room in the thirties. I allowed the beer to warm a bit and was rewarded with the hoppy deliciousness I had come to expect. 

I remember for years hearing of the horrors of warm beer in places like England. The truth is today most any British bar will have Bud or Miller or Coors Light served ice cold. It is the locally brewed beers, usually on old fashioned pump taps pulling the beer from kegs stored in the basement at around 45 - 55 degrees that are perceived as warm because they're not ice cold. Thing is, they're also good. The reason they don't need to be ice cold? Flavor.

Is Bitter Better?

These are general levels - various brewers may well
color outside these lines.
International Bittering Units (IBUs) is a measurement of a beers perceived bitterness. Beers range from a low of around 5 for some light lagers to a high of 100 for some potent IPAs. (Some brewers claim to exceed the 100 IBU mark, but the official scale tops out at 100). For comparison purposes, Budweiser Lager comes in at around 12 IBUs, Guinness Stout at around 40, while Ithaca's Flower Power weighs in at 75 IBUs. It is the addition of hops that gives beer its bitterness. The balancing act between hops and malts is one of the things that can make beers of a similar style so markedly different. Some brewers prefer to pour on the hops when they make their IPAs, pushing the IBUs into the upper range of the scale - that 70 - 100 range. Others like to balance out the hops with a maltier presence, bringing the IBUs down into the 60s (and really, anything below 60 shouldn't be called an IPA - I'm talking to you Henry Weinhard Woodland Pass IPA at a paltry 43 IBUs). 

So why is bitter a good thing? Don't we associate bitterness with an unpleasant taste? Ever taken a bite of pure baking chocolate? That is unbridled bitterness, and it is not pleasant at all. Obviously many beer drinkers prefer a beer with a low bitterness factor. Thus the popularity of Bud, Miller, Coors etc. But hops don't just impart bitterness, they also give beers flavors variously described as citrusy or piney or spicy or earthy or flowery, depending upon the hop variety. Add to that the flavors contributed by the malts and yeast and now there is a complexity that fills the mouth rather than merely quenching the thirst. 

Next Month - Black or Dark Beers -
The BOTB Guys


  1. Thanks for the education, Teach.
    Looking forward to your blog comments from your west coast tour this year.

    1. A West Coast tour sounds wonderful.