Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Beercraft seminars, coming weekly to a pub near me!

Bruce and I have been asked by the management of Monty's Korner in Rochester, NY to put on a series of seminars that will introduce casual consumers to craft beer. We've agreed ('cause we get like a free pint, or something).

The first one will be held Thursday, March 8, at 7pm. In keeping with the season, we'll be talking about Irish stout. We'll briefly discuss the history and aspects of the style,then taste a range of Irish stouts. Everyone in attendance gets a free pint of Stout, too.

It's a casual focus, so we're not getting into the hardcore date: degrees Lovibond, IBUs, that sort of thing. Still, all are welcome and we hope to see you there.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beercraft newspaper column #34- The anatomy of beer

The anatomy of beer
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

I think we can all agree that beer in its modern form is the pinnacle of human achievement. But when it comes to educating the masses about beer, there’s still a long way to go. Not everyone’s a home brewer or beer connoisseur, so let’s take a look at what’s really in your pint glass.

Beer is simple yet complex, like Mexican food. There are only four main ingredients, but the variety of colors, flavors, and aroma is staggering. Today, we’ll talk about those ingredients and what they do.

First off, there’s the water. It might all be clear, but water varies in hardness, acidity, salinity, and proportion of mineral salts, and has a tremendous impact on the beer in which it goes. Great brewing towns like Munich or Burton-on-Trent have become brewing centers because the quality of the water in those areas was the best for brewing.

Interestingly, the water from Hemlock Lake is quite similar to the water in southern Germany, which is why many German brewers set up shop in the Flour City during the 19th century. With dissimilar H20, it would have been much more difficult to brew their beer to the style they were looking for.

Malted barley is the primary grain used in brewing. To make malt, the barley is germinated and then dried. This creates enzymes that convert the grain’s starch into fermentable sugar.

The germinated grain is dried in a kiln, and often roasted to various degrees. When you roast barley, it gets dark. That’s where dark beer comes from. Stouts like Guinness are made from barley that’s roasted until it’s almost black, whereas a light lager would use malt that’s just dried in the kiln.

Because of its sugar content, malt by itself would make for a very sweet beer. What’s needed is a flavor that balances that sweetness. That’s why we have hops.

Hops are a flower that stabilizes the beer and imparts bitter and floral characteristics. They also work as an antibiotic that kills microorganisms competing with the yeast. By themselves, hop flowers are oily and strong-smelling, and there are many types. The Saaz and Hallertau hops used in German beer differ noticeably in flavor and smell than the Fuggles and Goldings hops used in British ales. American IPAs often contain the piney Cascade hops from Washington State and Oregon.

For centuries, brewers combined these ingredients in various ways, adding a little beer from a previous batch, and then waited, and presto! New beer. It wasn’t until guys like Louis Pasteur came along in the middle of the 19th century that the function of the fourth essential ingredient, yeast, was understood.

Yeast is a microorganism that eats sugar and poops out alcohol. When introduced to the wort (as the freshly brewed pre-alcoholic beer is called), the yeast begins a wild orgy of gorging and reproduction, converting the sugars to alcohol until all that fuel is used up. Brewers can measure and control the sweetness and alcohol content by stopping the fermentation at the appropriate measurement.

As you’ve probably already guessed, there are multiple types of yeast, each with its own long, Latin name you probably don’t care about. Suffice it to say there are two categories: Top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting.

The top-fermenting yeast makes ale. It foams up on the surface of the wort, thriving at higher temperatures than its bottom-feeding cousin. Lager is made from the bottom-fermenting stuff. These yeasts need a longer, colder fermentation period, and impart a crisper taste.

Finally, there are adjuncts: Grains like rice and corn that are fermentable, but cost less than barley. American macro brewers use them to lower the cost of brewing so their shareholders can be happy. These grains also have their taste characteristics, as anyone who’s ever suffered through a warm Molson Golden can tell you, and give American light lager its signature flavor.

We don’t condemn the use of adjuncts, although our consumption of these beers is minimal. You drink what you like, and if you like Bud, than by all means, gulp away.

We, on the other hand, will be searching the internet for the definition of Reinheitsgebot.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

Monday, February 26, 2007

A surprise from Rohrbach

I gotta be honest. When Jen at Monty's Krown first told me about the Rohrbach Brewing Company Java's Espresso Stout (made with real Java Joe's coffee) they had on hand-pull, I was a little skeptical. Coffee can be overwhelming in beer when not used judiciously, and Rohrbach isn't exactly the best at the specialty ales.

But I tried a sample. I then ordered a pint.

The stuff is good. There's a nice coffee essence that doesn't domintate the flavor of the beer, followed up by a pleasant porter flavor that could probably use a bit more body, but went down nicely nonetheless. Thanks to Rohrbach for nailing down a first-rate pint.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What makes a good beer bar?

First off... I got the sense from their last column that the Democrat and Chronicle's Beer Buddies are getting their homebrew hats on. They've been threatening to do so for over a year. Good luck, guys, and save some for us! We'll be gentle. We Swear!

Now, to the topic at hand. What makes a good beer bar? Is it as simple as the presence of good beer? I don't think that's enough. For a bar to earn the esteemed title Beer Bar from the esteemed likes of Bruce and myself, certain criteria must be met.

There must be a broad selection of styles.
A bar that features beer from 15 different craft breweries is great, but when each beer is an IPA, it tends to fatigue my taste buds. Show me something across the range. Have at least one good lager, a hearty stout, and, dare I suggest, something on hand-pull.

The staff must know what the f*ck they're talking about
Everyone doesn't have to be a zymurgist, but a basic knowledge of beer styles, flavor characteristics, and, most importantly, pronunciation is nice. I once tried to order a Kapuziner Hefe-Weizen. After a few minutes of back and forth, the server came back with "Oh, you mean Ka-PEW-zinn-er!"

Bartenders and servers, you can pronounce "chipotle" without a hitch. Why can't you take two minutes at the start of your shift to nail the pronunciation of what your customers are going to be asking for? Communication is a wonderful thing.

The place has to be comfortable
There's nothing worse than a stuffy beer bar. I'm fortunate to live in Rochester, which has some nice, knowledgeable pubs that fit (and sometimes smell) like an old shoe. In bigger cities, the places with the best selection tend to be huge and corporate, with 100% monthly staff turnovers and slick margarita menus. I can never feel at home in one of those places.

That's all it takes to make me happy. I just wish places like that weren't so rare.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An unlikely scenario, part two: Bruce's list

My top ten beers to have if I were stranded on a desert island.

Southern Tier Phin and Matts Extrordinary Ale
Zywiec Porter
Spaten Lager
Catamount 10th Anniversary IPA-(unfortunately no
longer produced)
Paulaner Hefe-Weizen
Bittburger Pils "Bitte ein Bitt"
Sheaf Stout
Tucher Bajuvator Doppelbock
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Yup, that's right, 5 of 10 are from Germany

Monday, February 19, 2007

An unlikely scenario

Bruce and I were enjoying an excessive quantity of Spaten Marzen yesterday, and the conversation turned to beer, as it so often does. Gazing down a line of 85 taps, we discussed which brews sucked, which were great, and which were totally indispensable (and therefore should be most frequently dispensed).

Eventually, the dreaded question was asked. "If you were stranded on a desert island with only 10 beers, which ones would you pick?"

Now assuage the more literal-minded readers, this is a purely hypothetical question that does not take into account temperature, storage, or an other external factor. We'll just assume everything is perfect, every time.

Mark's top 10:
For tomorrow, I'll try to get Bruce off his lazy ass and post his list. As always, I'm eager to hear your choices as well. Even if they're not as good as mine.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Liverpool...

It's time for the annual Real Ale Frenzy. 5000 tickets sold out in two hours. Not bad for a style that nearly died out in the 1970s. Thanks, CAMRA, for all your contributions over the years.

Hmm... I could do with a pint of Fuller's myself...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blogger is driving me to drink

So I foolishly switched over to the 'new' google-powered version of blogger, and now everything's fucked up. All my extra code is gone. It'll take me a while to fix all this (and add a blog search engine).

In the meantime, I'll talk more about beer. Bruce and I hit the new Webster MacGregor's for the second time. They just opened on Super Bowl Sunday, and appear to be firing on all cylinders. 85 taps and a very friendly server named Amanda will surely be the latest cause of my ruin.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I may be lame, but I'm not extreme

(actual conversation with a reader)

"Your blog is getting really lame."

"I know I haven't been posting a lot. What sort of stuff would you like to see in the blog that would bame it better?"

"Anything but what you're posting."

Well shit, with constructive criticism like that, I can really gauge what's on the minds of the beer-oriented public. Personally, I don't want to write a lame blog; there are enough of those out there already. But that's why comments are enabled.

After writing about beer on a regular basis for over a year, it gets tough to think of new topics and takes. There is nothing I'd like more than input and subject suggestions from readers, but it's pretty rare. On the day ebaum's world linked to us, we had 3400 visitors. 3 left a comment.

So please, dear faithful, I want to know what you guys are interested in. I need your ideas. A vague put-down doesn't exactly help me make things more interesting.

Let's use that rant as the worst segue in the world, and get to today's topic, which is the extreme beer debate. Over the last few years, the trend in microbrewing, and microbrew distribution, has been toward ludicrously strong, comically bitter beers that strangle you with hop vines and leave you unable to drive home. These Imperial Pilseners, Imperial IPAs Quadruple bocks, and dubbel barley wines are simultaneously being heralded as the new revolution in American craft brewing and the scourge of the beer culture.

Personally, I don't view beer as vehicle with which to demonstrate my machismo. I also don't see it as a bullet-train delivering alcohol to my bloodstream as rapidly as possible. If I need a fast buzz that badly, vodka would be the superior choice.

Beer is social. When I'm out with my friends, it's far preferable to order several glasses of a weaker "session" beer that's perfectly brewed to style than a rosin-saturated alcohol bomb.

I guess I just like my nights to last longer than twenty minutes. Hey barkeep! Another Pilsener, and make sure there's nothing imperial about it.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Beercraft newspaper column #33- Oh Canada!

Canadian beer

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

One nice thing about living in Western New York is our proximity to another country. Although a trip to Canada won’t result in an overt amount of culture shock, there’s still a palpable difference on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Highway signs read in kilometres. People as close as the opposite side of the Niagara River Gorge speak (and spell) with a noticeably different accent.

Canadians, however, gets overshadowed by its gargantuan neighbor to the south, and it has become something of a point of pride to nurture and develop all things Canadian in a quest for national and cultural identity. Bookstores in Canada showcase indigenous authors. U2 and Dave Matthews share the airwaves with the likes of Sloan, The Tragically Hip, and Spirit of the West. And then there’s the beer.

Whereas Americans have no problem making fun of our fizzy domestic lagers, Canadians tend to latch onto their brew with a fierce sense of civic pride. For the most part, Canadian mass-market lager is identical to ours, but it’s regarded as an expression of national culture by our friends north of the border.

And even though the Canadian beer industry has been gutted by takeovers, buyouts, and mergers, even though most Canadian beer has less character than Terrell Owens, even though there are some real duds (I’m talking to you, Alexander Keith’s “I.P.A.”), there are still some beers up there which really warrant a drive up to the duty-free shop.

Beers like Steam Whistle Pilsner. Brewed right at the base of Toronto’s CN Tower, in an old rail yard roundhouse that must have been murderously expensive to convert, Steam whistle has turned the microbrewery business model on its ear. They only make Pilsner, a technically demanding and comparatively expensive style to produce. They don’t have a restaurant or even a real bar, offering only tasting samples at the brewery.

What Steam Whistle does have is the best pilsner in North America. You could taste this, blindfolded, along with some of the finest from Czech and German pils, and have difficulty discerning which one comes from Canada. Now if only they’d start distributing in the friggin’ USA so we wouldn’t have to drive two hours to get our fix!

The other great Canadian brewery is Quebec’s Unibroue. They produce a range of excellent, mostly strong, francophonically-titled ales which are relatively common in this region’s beer bars. Our personal favorite is “Le Fin Du Monde,” which, roughly translated, means “Go Habs,” or something like that.

No, seriously, it means “The End of the World,” and that’s precisely what you’ll wish for if you drink this Belgian style strong ale to excess. A sweet, citrus aroma, rich tawny gold color, and peppery sweet flavor make it a sensual beer. The warm, alcoholic finish offers plenty of warning about what you’re getting into.

Le Fin du Monde is a fantastic pairing beer, a perfect complement to meat, sausage, and strongly flavored fish dishes. It would also go nicely with fruit-based desserts. However, at 9% alcohol by volume it’s most frequently, however, it gets paired with Ibuprofen, inappropriate comments, and the barroom floor.

These are just a couple prominent examples of what’s going on in Canada beyond the beer assembly lines of Molson and Labatt. There’s much more, and it’s best experienced on home turf in the frozen north (or frozen west, in our case). Personally, we feel that it’s important to get beyond all the stereotypes about Canada’s slightly socialist political stance, the idiosyncrasies of the Canadian accent, and their perceived obsession with hockey. What better way to do this than to go up and sample the nation’s beer?

Isn’t that what international cooperation is all aboot?

In other beers:

The Old Toad has just held a Beer and Dessert Pairing. Toad employee (and certified English girl) Katie Streets put together a five-course dessert flight, each cunningly paired with an appropriate, sometimes surprising beer. Among the highlights: Crème Brulee mated to Glenmorangie-infused Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout and Fresh Mint Chocolate chip Ice cream paired up with Brooklyn Chocolate Stout.

The desserts were made from scratch, the presentation excellent. It really highlighted the notion that beer is so much more than a buzz generator. Congrats to Katie and her fellow Toadies for going out on the limb,

Now if only they’d do a German beer and sausage pairing, but it’s doubtful that there’s much room for Old Jerry in this most English of pubs.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to