Archive | April, 2013

Some common beer myths…

29 Apr

A guy walks into a bar and asks to try the IPA they currently have on tap.  For this example let’s just say it is Harpoon’s (this may or may not be a true story).  Bartender pours a taste and the customer begins to comment on the beer. 

“This beer is too light in color to be an IPA, and it’s not hoppy enough.  Also, it doesn’t seem to be high enough in alcohol content.”  Bartender smirks. 

“So what would you like?” She asks.

“A Sam Adams lager.”  The bartender nods her head and pours the beer.  End scene.

This may or may not be a true story, but the point I’m getting to is that these days, a lot of people consider themselves to be beer experts—now that craft beer is becomes   mainstream and it’s popularity grows even greater everyday, the average beer drinker at any given bar probably knows what an IPA is.  Or at least they think they know. 

I’m a big fan of healthy debates and I’m definitely not a “know-it-all,” when it comes to beer.  There’s always more we can learn and I don’t consider myself to be an expert yet.  Michael Jackson and Garrett Oliver?  Maybe.  But, definitely not me.  At the same time I have worked (and do everyday) to expand my beer knowledge by reading books (like Randy Mosher’s “Tasting Beer” or Charlie Papazian’s “The Homebrewer’s Companion”), becoming a Certified Server through the Cicerone program (the lowest of the 3 tiers although I’d love to become Certified Cicerone or even a Master), and of course, drinking a lot of beer (or as I like to say “expanding my palate”). 

So there are two beer-related matters this week that I’ve been pondering about and would like to share MY opinion of.  The first one is more of a “myth,” while the second one is a style debate. 

#1) Beers light in color tend to be lighter in alcohol content while beers darker in color tend to have a higher ABV.  In general. 

Someone said this to me the other day.  I didn’t really know how to respond.  (Yes it was the same guy who “sampled” the Harpoon and ordered a Sam Adams.  And I’m the bartender.  Hence my idea for this post).  This guy has obviously never had a Belgian Tripel before (and that’s perfectly fine—I’m totally not a snob). 

As you may know, beer color in the United States is measured by the Standard Reference Method or degrees SRM, the standard determined by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC).  So, your typical American Light Lager is going to be a 1.5 on this scale (pale straw) and your Imperial Stout is going to go above 40 SRM’s (more like 50-80).  A “typical” IPA can fall anywhere between 5 and 12 SRM’s aka “deep gold,” to “medium amber.”  A typical IPA also falls between 4.5-7.5% ABV, while some American Imperial IPA’s are much higher than this (Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, for example, is way above that designation).  So I guess what I’m trying to say here is, there is no such thing as a “typical IPA.” Unless, maybe, you’re a certified Beer Judge through the BJCP, and you’re judging a homebrew competition based on the best example of that style…but let’s face it, we’re all judges sometimes.  That’s why Beer Advocate exists, right? You can’t really judge a beer by it’s color and know what the ABV is going to be based on that alone.  A dry Irish stout will be extremely high on the SRM scale (40+) but should be lower in alcohol (4.5-5.0% ABV).  And what about Barley Wines or American Strong Ales?!  Those mofos can be very misleading.  Barley Wines can range anywhere from 11 SRM’s (“pale amber” to “medium amber”) to 21 SRM’s (straight up “brown”).  But their ABV’s are always on the high side: 8-12%: Not your typical session beer.  You can, however, blind taste a bunch of beers (both ales and lagers) and based on how they appear to you (color-wise), guess what kind of style it may be.  But outright determining the ABV?!  I’m not sure if that’s probable.  Because when it comes to tasting beer, we really need all of our senses, and sight and taste are just two of them.  Hearing and touch may not be the most important senses when it comes to beer sampling, but sight, smell and taste are definitely important.  And tasting beer involves more than just swallowing it.  In conclusion: Can you judge a beer by it’s color?  Maybe a little bit—but it’s color won’t really tell you too much about it’s ABV… so, don’t judge a beer by its color!  Give it a chance…

 

 

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Being Brewer for a Day at Empire Brewpub in Syracuse!

19 Apr

 

Last month (yes it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog!) I wrote about Empire Brewery’s “12 Pack Challenge,” that my bf and I completed during New York City Craft Beer Week back at the end of February.   So it turns out, we won! (Ok so he technically won but I’m sharing the credit since it was definitely a joint effort!).

Next thing I know, we’re being whisked off to Syracuse (in an Amtrak train) and put up in a sweet hotel so that we can spend the day brewing with Empire at their brewpub located in Armory Square, a trendy neighborhood in downtown Syracuse. 

Being at the brewpub is like hanging out with your family: the cooks, servers, and bartenders, and the staff in general are all just a great group of people who seem to really enjoy their work.  The pub serves up great grub as well as their signature beers and is definitely worth a visit (or 2) if you happen to be in the area. 

While Empire brews their beer both on premise at the brewpub (where we brewed) and on contract at Greenpoint Beer Works in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (a brewery where Kelso and the Heartland chain also brew their beer), they are about to break ground for their own farm-house brewery in Cazenovia, New York, a town about 30 minutes southeast of the city of Syracuse.

David Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing Co., and president of the New York State Brewers Association, has been super-busy with this project but was still able to spend some time with us during our upstate visit.

 He was most recently awarded the F.X. Matt “Defender of the Industry,” award at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference and it is a well-deserved title for this pioneer who has had a heavy hand in aiding with the passing of some new brewer-friendly laws that were recently approved in New York state.  Plus, he’s just a really nice guy who acted as a gracious host during our brief visit up there last week.  I can’t wait to follow the progress of this new brewery, sure to be a state-of-art facility with an emphasis on local ingredients and resources. 

So what was it like to brew at Syracuse’s Empire Brewpub?  Amazing, of course.  After a hearty Monday dinner at Dinosaur Barbeque (you can not visit Syracuse without eating here—it’s a definite must!) and a few beers afterward at the brewpub, Brewmaster Tim Butler reminded us to get a good night’s rest (aka don’t be too hung-over tomorrow) since we would meet him bright and early the next morning to start the brewing process.

Thank goodness for the hearty breakfast served up at our hotel, The Jefferson Clinton, conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the Empire Brewpub.

We entered the brewery (a pretty small space) and were greeted by Tim as he searched for the recipe we’d be making that day.  He had a special surprise in store for us and while some home-brewers and brewmasters may scoff at the idea of brewing a simple pale ale, I believe it’s a benchmark brew that every great brewer should master.  Empire does not currently have a Pale Ale on tap and brews the style seasonally (at harvest time using fresh hops from local Central New York farmers).

Nat, the assistant brewer, showed us to their storage room (where they keep their grain), requiring a walk through the kitchen.  We helped him left 10 bags of malt, each weighing in at 55 lbs. (those bags were heavy!) and wheeled them back to the brewing room. 

The brewing room is located behind the bar and adjacent to the dining room, so if you are having lunch or an afternoon beer at the pub, you can watch the brewers at work. 

We (kind of) helped Nat empty the grain bags into the mill where a long black pipe carried the grains into the mash tun.  Tim stood above the tun making sure the mash temperature was correct and stirring in the grains.  While we were there to brew, I have never worked on commercial equipment before (just a stove in my kitchen) so Nat and Tim pulled the levers and set the temps while explaining the process to us.

Next we helped empty one of the fermenters, which was full of their delicious coffee Scotch Ale, Local Grind, and was probably the last of the batch for this year, since the beer is more of a winter seasonal.  The fermenter yields about 12 barrels which are then stored into the cooler or driven down to NYC.  The brewpub serves 10-12 of their house-made beers at any given time, but they only brew about twice a week on a regular basis. 

Throughout the hours-long brewing process we watched Nat work his butt off, making sure everything stays clean and sanitized at each step along the way.  The brewing room felt like a sauna, and we were told it becomes unbearably hot in the summer time. 

Brewing beer is tedious and physically challenging as I discovered that day, and although the process is essentially the same as it is home-brewing in our kitchen, it is of course on a much larger scale.  Time for a beer break (because we were there to drink as well as brew): I went for their seasonal maibock, Empire Strikes Bock, which seemed an appropriate beer to drink during a long day of brewing. 

After mashing, the wort is piped into the brew kettle where it has to reach a boiling point.  This is the fun part: adding the hops!  We added a series of hops every 15 minutes or so, finishing off with Chinook (for aroma) and after 60 minutes, the brew is cooled before being blasted off into the fermenter where the hungry yeasties lie dormant, waiting for their meal. 

Overall, it was a simple process, and we did a lot more watching than brewing but we enjoyed the experience fully.  Nat talked us through the entire process, letting us know exactly what he was doing with every pull of the lever and every hose that he hooked up. 

In a few weeks, we hope to drink our beer with the Empire crew on their next visit down to New York City! 

After lunch and brewing, we went across the street to the Blue Tusk, which seems to be the spot the Empire crew hangs out at while not working at the pub and it’s easy to see why!  The “Tusk,” as it is fondly referred to by the natives, has an amazing tap selection that ranges from local to rare to imports.  Certainly a well-curated collection, as the owner, Mike, truly knows his beer. 

Knowledgeable Brewmaster, Tim Butler, gave us a mini-tour of the surrounding area, describing a scene on the Armory’s grassy lawn where he revived a man during his days former to being a brewer. A native of Syracuse, Tim told us about the history and the architecture in the neighborhood and made a great tour guide.

After a nap (completely necessary after a day of brewing and imbibing some brews), we were treated to a lovely dinner at the brewpub and plenty of Empire schwag to take home with us, including a couple of growlers filled with their well-balanced and easily quaffable IPA and one of my personal favorites, Deep Purple.

I can’t wait until their new brewery is up and running, and the building of it is a process I will be following closely.  Thanks to Tim, Dave, Nat and all the crew at Empire for showing us a good time and letting us brew at their facility!  I can’t wait to try our beer…