Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Erdinger Glass

You can look at a hundred brewery logo pint glasses and you're apt to find very little, if any, variance in the shape of the glasses themselves. Inasmuch as the tumbler has become synonymous with the concept of "the pint glass," this venerable glass is the primary design of choice when it comes to branded drinking vessels for breweries large and small.

Contrast that with the Weissbier glass, discussed in this space recently. While there are general design parameters that seem to govern the construction of these glasses, there are variations to found among various breweries' interpretations of this classic design.

Case in point: this shapely specimen from Germany's Erdinger. Decidedly taller and slimmer around the middle than some examples, this glass reminds us that Weissbier glasses' proportions are far from fixed.

Check out some others: Ayinger | Schneider | Tucher | Franziskaner

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Weissbier Glass

Weissbier (in German, Weßbier) goes by many names: Wheat Beer, Hefeweizen, Weisse, Weizen, Weizenbier and Hefe are common variations. But proper German Weissbier, no matter what you choose to call it, is a staple of sun-dappled Bavarian beer gardens and the drinking hand of anyone looking for that frame of mind, and is as strongly connected with a particular glass as beer styles get.

Like the Bavarian barmaid you imagine delivering that frothy cup of goodness, Weissbier glasses are almost universally tall, curvaceous and of course brimming with radiant blonde beauty. They're typically sure-footed, with a slender midsection beneath a round, ample top. I'm sorry, are we still talking about glassware?

Hefeweizen is a good-looking beer (click here for proof), and its glassware, tall and shapely, compliments that aesthetic well. Highly carbonated, Hefe also benefits from the roomy upper reaches of this glass, allowing plenty of space for that fluffy white head a well-poured Hefe boasts.

(Confession time: I'm not a huge Hefeweizen/Weissbier fan. And not for lack of sampling. For whatever reason, while I can recognize quality, I have a hard time getting revved up for this style. I keep telling myself I'm going to brew some again to try and break my stubbornness.)

No surprise here, this glass is best suited for Hefeweizen/Weissbier/pick your moniker. And while I believe all beer should be drank from a glass, I think that's especially so with this style. Hefe should be poured to allow some of that exuberant carbonation go free, lest you get little more than an explosion of gas and bubbles in your mouth on every sip from the bottle. What's more, the delicate yet complex flavors and aromas of this style are best explored from the proper glassware.

One last quick note: There's nothing to prevent one from pouring other beer styles into this glass. Indeed, I know of at least one chain of beer bars that uses this glass for extra-large Happy Hour pours. Its tapered mouth helps collect aromas and flavors up top, so there's nothing particularly offensive about the design. I'd probably stay away from Belgians and high-gravity styles if only because the sheer volume of the Weissbier glass would put it out of range of such beers, which tend to be consumed in smaller servings. But lighter beers and American and British ales? The well-equipped beer drinker probably has better glasses to reach for, but otherwise...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Columbia Pale Ale

Q: Whom or what is the city of Columbia, S.C., named for?
A: Famed explorer Christopher Columbus. Columbia, as it happens, is the poetic form of Columbus.

How appropriate, then, that this Columbia resident would name a recent Pale Ale, hopped with 100 percent Columbus hops, in honor of both the varietal it showcases and the city where it's enjoyed.

Real quick, a history of this beer: I had purchased a bunch of Columbus hops and wanted to get to know them. Few better ways of doing that than using them as the sole hop in a beer. This beer was also a little experimental in that I made only two hop additions: first-wort hops (FWH) and dry (keg) hops.

The recipe:

OG 1.053 FG 1.010
ABV 5.6% AA 80%
IBUs 46 SRM 9

90% Canadian two-row
5% Crystal 40
2.5% Crystal 60
2.5% Crystal 80

46 IBUs (1.38 oz.) Columbus FWH
1 oz. Columbus dry hop (keg)

Wyeast 2450 "Denny's Favorite 50"

At first I thought this beer was much more bitter than its calculated 46 IBUs. (Calculating IBUs from first-wort hopping is something many homebrewers debate, but there is at least some consensus that the while the real number may be higher, FWH imparts a "gentler" bitterness such that the perceived IBUs are equivalent to a hop charge two-thirds through the boil. So, for a 75-minute boil, I and many others calculate FWH IBUs as if the hop charge came at 25 minutes.)

Before long, however, I came to regard the 46 IBUs estimate as accurate enough for my purposes. At any rate, I entered this beer in a recent competition as an American Pale Ale and it did rather well; one judge noted the bitterness was a little on the high side, consistent with my initial impression. But no way is this an IPA.

It could use a little more hop flavor (through some alchemical process first-wort hops are said to have their flavor fixed in a beer despite going through an entire boil, and I'd say that's true – but when does a little extra hop flavor ever hurt?) and also aroma. I'm a little surprised at how low the hop aroma is (something else the judges picked up on) considering there's a full ounce of hops in the serving keg. But on the other hand, there were no late hop additions in the kettle to help bolster that aroma.

I really like Wyeast 2450 for American beers that have a dash of character – in other words, basically anything APA and up. I used 2450 in a Blonde Ale not long ago and found the yeast's esters, while not unpleasant, were just a little too much in such a simple style like that – to my tastes, anyway. But with hops and a dash of malt thrown in the mix, this yeast's mostly clean, smooth profile is a great match. I've also used it in an IPA and a Smoked Porter, all with fine results. Definitely one to keep in the rotation.

As for the Columbia Pale Ale, this beer reinforced what Adam Avery had already taught me by way of his glorious Hog Heaven Barleywine – that there's no reason you can't lean on Columbus hops start to finish. Sure, I'll ramp up the dosage next time, but only because I know it's a good idea. Until then, here's to an intrepid adventurer, a town that honors him, and a hop that just embodies New World goodness.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Session #23 – Last Year/This Year

It's the first Session for 2009, so host "Beerme" at Beer and Firkins has asked us, appropriately enough, to look back on The Year in Beer 2008 (what will we miss?) and also think about what might await us in '09. (Check out the roundup at B&F.)

So here's the partly-abbreviated-but-not-really tale of a fine beer experience I had in 2008 – one which I surely miss and will continue to long for in that misty-eyed, alco-romantic way.

I spent a good chunk of late spring/early summer in Europe, enjoying such places as Paris, southern France, Spain and London. As is often the case when I vacation, the trip consisted of me trying to beer-hunt as much as possible without driving my travelmates crazy.

Enjoying beer in strange lands is always an exhilarating experience, but perhaps never more so than when those lands are some of the world's great beer hotspots, where you can take in classic beer styles as fresh as can be and in the places where and among the people with whom they were meant to be consumed.

For that reason I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have visited Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic in the past (and let's not forget, to live in the United States right now), and to have spent time in London last year. Anyone moderately versed in beer styles and beer history knows why England is a special place for people like ourselves, and a visit to the pubs of London should almost be considered requisite for those who have the inclination and the means. For me, it was little short of a revelation.

I had drank cask-conditioned (American) beers in the past, and liked them. I had drank plenty of English ales in the past, and depending upon the style either liked them very much or felt indifferent at best. But English cask ales, in England? Hoo boy.

The first thing worth remarking is how plentiful hand-pulled real ale is in London. Any "authentic-looking" pub worth visiting (now here's a circular definition) has several cask ales on offer. Yes, some pubs carry only a major brand (Fuller's rules at The Hung Drawn and Quartered – that's just one of plenty of examples) but England's many free houses feature small, independent breweries that even a devoted Yankee beer snob is likely never to have heard of. Either way, who cares – it's delicious and it's authentic.

And how about the fact that many of these ales boast alcohol percentages in the low 3's. You may at first have to reset your thinking from a low alcohol = low flavor mindset. Give me a hand-pulled, 3.2-percent Dark Mild any day, thank you. Give me several, in fact. That is, after all, the idea.

The whole experience was enough to make this hitherto English-ale-agnostic homebrewer seriously consider going on a British brewing binge. Speaking of which, I'll wrap this up neatly by naming that as my beer item to look forward to in 2009. It's just a damn shame I don't have a beer engine...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Culture Bière Glasses

Paris is, unquestionably, a wine town. Yes, the City of Lights has its beer bars (Au Trappiste is recommended) and even a good beer shop or two (La Cave à Bulles = excellent), but let's not kid ourselves – in Paris, as in just about all of France, they love their grape juice and it shows.

So it's nice to find a house of beer worship located right smack in the middle of the Champs Elysées: Culture Bière, a swanky, upscale suds joint/restaurant run by and featuring some of the lesser known brands of Heineken International. (That last detail might chafe the anticorporate, grassroots-oriented beer purists among us, and perhaps not unreasonably so, but let's acknowledge that such a sleek, well-designed and expensively located joint could only have been made possible thanks to deep pockets like Heineken's.)

The Culture Bière glasses, like the restaurant where they are put in service, are well-made and attractive. Two are seen here – there is also at least one additional design, a squatter version of the glass in the right-hand side of this photo.

These two glasses are elegantly shaped, with thick round stems atop solid circular feet. As you can see, the taller of the two glasses widens slightly toward the top, while the other tapers a bit. Both feature an etched version of the Culture Bière logo. (Elsewhere, the vertical lines are of progressively darker colors, to represent diversity among beer hues.)

Slender and attractive, these glasses are fine fits for lighter beers like Pilsner or, as in this example, Blonde Ale. For beers that offer up much more in the aroma department, I usually try to reach for something whose design is more conducive to swirling, gathering smells, and all that.

No, France may not be known as can't-miss destination for beer devotees, but hats off to Culture Bière for taking on no small challenge in bringing sincere beer evangelism to all those oenophiles in Paris, and for whipping up some sharp-looking glasses while they're at it.
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