Beer, Beer, & Better Beer | HopCat

Beer, Beer, & Better Beer

Craft Beer 101: The Oud Bruin is a perfect gateway sour
By Adam Roberts, HopCat Regional Beverage Program Manager | February 22, 2018
craft beer, Sours

Oud Bruin (Old Brown) also known as Flanders Brown, is a beer style that originates from the East Flanders province, within the Flemish region of northern Belgium.

A lightly soured style, Oud Bruin is considered a close relative of the Flanders Red style, as they have many similarities. Names can be deceiving though, as color largely overlaps with Oud Bruin's, reaching only slightly further into the darker spectrum, and Flanders Red into the lighter. Oftentimes beer will be labeled using both color descriptors, such as Flemish red/brown ale, making clear categorization a bit more difficult. The most noticeable differences between the two are that Oud Bruins are brewed with more dark malt, resulting in more malty, caramel-like, and dark fruit flavors, and are generally aged in stainless steel rather than wood barrels, which produces a softer acidity.

Using multiple yeast or bacteria strains, known as mixed fermentation, produces a beer of great complexity. Ale yeast in addition to multiple souring bacteria's, most often added intentionally, but sometimes spontaneously by letting the wild yeast in the atmosphere takeover, will produce the soft sour character typical of the style. After fermentation, they are generally aged for several months or years, and then blended with young (freshly brewed) beer, to tone the acidity down, add some sweetness for balance, and provide some new sugars for conditioning in bottled versions.

While freshly brewed examples are quite good, this style only benefits from extended aging, which produces a more pronounced sour character and sherry-like qualities from gentle oxidation, among other benefits. Cellaring these beers for 10 years or more is common. Even with age though, these beers should never be overpoweringly sour or vinegar-like.

The best examples can exhibit flavors and aromas of raisins, figs, cherries, chocolate, caramel, and nuts. Bitterness is very low, and hop flavors are generally unnoticeable. Brewers often use these advantageous flavors when blending the base beer with fruit to produce variations. Try the Liefman's Cuvee-Brut or Kriek Brut blends. They're among my favorite fruited beers.

Liefman's brewery, with roots as far back as the 1600's, exemplifies the Oud Bruin style admirably. They produce several variations, with Goudenband being a higher ABV blend of more mature (older) beers. This is a perfect mid-level sour enthusiasts choice. If you're is looking for an approachable sour without the extreme lip puckering quality often associated with sour beers, you have found a perfect match.

Adam Roberts is a Certified Cicerone.

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Craft Beer 101: Separating Wee Heavy myth from fact
By Adam Roberts, HopCat Regional Beverage Program Manager | February 7, 2018
craft beer, wee heavy, education

Also known as “Strong Scotch Ale” or simply “Scotch Ale” (and not to be confused with the tamer “Scottish Ales”), Wee Heavy is the strongest of the range of Scottish origin beers.

With ABV ranging from 6.5%-10%, these beers are rich, full-bodied and malt-forward and have very low hopping rates, producing sweeter beers of considerable complexity that have strong caramel or toffee components, and smooth but noticeable alcohol character.

Aroma will generally mirror flavor. Color can range from light copper to dark brown and is traditionally derived mostly from pale malt. Wee Heavy’s use high mash temperatures and kettle caramelization rather than depending on darker malts for color, except a small amount of roasted barley.

The modern yeast varieties used ferment at the lower (cooler) range of Ale types, resulting in a slower fermentation, producing less fruity esters, and letting the caramelized malt character shine through as the star of this beer. The small amount of esters that develop may suggest plum, raisin, or other dried fruit.

While commercial examples do exist that use Peat Smoked Malt to add a smoky Scotch type character, as this is sometimes thought of as being historically accurate, there is little evidence to suggest that this is true. The best examples should exhibit extremely low levels of smoky presence, if any.

Another romantic -- but probably, or at least debatably, historically inaccurate -- popular belief is that the low hopping rates came from Scotland's desire to remain as independent of England as possible. Because of the near-impossibility of growing hops in Scotland, hops would have to be imported from England, thus the Wee Heavy’s mythic creation from importing as little of the highly taxed English hops as possible.

Later, factual research of trade records indicate that Scotland may have actually imported and used a comparable amount of hops as England and exported hoppy versions of Scottish beers to many locations around the globe.

My favorite Wee Heavy is Founders Dirty Bastard, as this beer drinks brilliantly on a cool night in the fall or winter. This should be paired with rich foods such as roasted or grilled game, beef, smoked salmon, softly smoked cheese, caramel or chocolate flavored desserts. If you’re at HopCat, try it with the Vladimir Poutine!

Adam Roberts is a Certified Cicerone. 

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Craft Beer 101: Back to the basics on lagers and ales
By Adam Roberts, HopCat Regional Beverage Program Manager | January 30, 2018
craft beer, lagers, ales, fermentation

What is a Lager? A Lager is a beer that is fermented with a yeast strain that favors cool fermentation temperatures, and is stored for an extended period at cold temperatures to condition. This process is known as "lagering." It can take many weeks, or even months for a lager to be ready for consumption.

What is an Ale? Ale is a beer that is fermented with a yeast strain that favors warm fermentation temperatures, and is ready for consumption immediately. No additional storage or conditioning process is used. Ales can be ready for consumption in as little as a week.

In simplified terms, those are the two main differences: yeast and fermentation temperature. Ales ferment fast and hot. Lagers ferment slow and cool.

Lager-type yeast varieties enjoying a slower, cooler fermentation will produce very little in the way of yeast derived flavors. This makes for a clean, crisp character. During their period of cold conditioning, the settled yeast will absorb many of the off flavors that they may produce while fermenting. What you are left with is a beer with flavors and aromas derived almost solely from the malt and hops, and how they play with the water chemistry.

Ale-type yeast varieties enjoying a faster, warmer fermentation, will produce many yeast-derived flavors called esters and phenols. These by-products can give ales a fruity, spicy, or even solvent-like character. If you've ever noticed pepper, banana, or nail polish, in a beer, you're probably noticing the esters or phenols. Ales derive flavors and aromas from a combination of malt, hops, yeast, and water interactions.

A common misconception is that lagers are always light in color or low in alcohol. While this can sometimes be true, it definitely is not always the case. There are many lager styles that are deeper in color, even black and can be just as strong as any ale. Some popular examples are: Schwarzbier (black lager); Dopplebock (strong, malty, and deep colored); and Marzen (a rich, malty, amber colored beer).

Keep in mind there are exceptions to every rule, and these are not definitions set in stone, but rather general guidelines that are used to characterize these two sub-categories of beer. Several variations exist that combine processes, use yeast hybrids, etc. Some popular examples are: Kolsch - which uses an ale yeast and ferments at warm temperatures, followed by a short cold storage (lagering) period; California Common - which uses a lager yeast at warmer fermentation temperatures; or Altbier - which uses an ale yeast, ferments at slightly cooler temperatures, and is lagered.

Bonus Question: Does a Baltic Porter use Ale or Lager type yeast? Answer: Lager yeast is (usually) used in this style. Historically brewed with ale yeast, most breweries made the switch to using lager yeast as lighter lager styles became popular in Europe.

Adam Roberts is a Certified Cicerone.

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