Sharing my hard work in learning about, brewing and even drinking beer.

I am a beer nerd, homebrewer and hopefully future beer competion judge. I am working my way through sampling, learning about and hopefully brewing all eighty current BJCP beer styles. It's hard work, but somebody has to do it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

2A: German Pilsner

Even though Pilsner originated in the Czech Republic (in the city of Plzen), for some reason the Germans are 2A and not the Bohemians. Must be some kind of conspiracy. Today's sampling was of two German Pilsners, Bitburger and Warsteiner and an American German Pilsner, Brooklyn Pilsner. The style guidelines for the pilsner style are very narrow, so there is not a lot of wiggle room within with to express yourself. Pilsner is also the original style that most light-flavored lagers are (however loosely) based upon.

Pilsners are supposed to have a grainy/bready malt character with floral or spicy noble hops. They should be clean, crisp and easy-drinking.

Starting with the Bitburger, the first thing that I noticed was the lack of a head. This style should have a "creamy, long-lasting white head". I got none of that with either the Bitburger or Warsteiner. I'm going to guess that this is more of a handling issue, since these are both imports. There was definitely a light, floral hop aroma to this beer. Interestingly, since I did my research and read the style guideline before tasting, it said that there may be a graham-cracker aroma. Whether that was just stuck in my mind, or it is indicative of the style, I noticed it in all three beers, with Bitburger being the strongest.

Overall, the Warsteiner was the best with a nice floral/herbal hop aroma meshing well with the sweet grainy malt. It also had the cleanest finish. Unfortunately Brooklyn Pilsner did not hold up to its German counterparts. While the floral hop aroma was stronger, the finish was a little too bitter and sulfury. All of these beers would go well at a summer picnic or sporting event, and none were bad, but I would definitely not recommend the Brooklyn Pilsner if the other two were available, especially since they were the same price at my local 6-pack shop.

Beer + Cheese = Happy

In addition to beer, I really like cheese. Luckily for me, my wife does too. Double luckily for me, beer and cheese are fantastic companions. Along with the sampling of the saisons last Friday, my wife and I helped ourselves to a cheese sampling from the wonderful people at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. They have a great selection and the Strip is a great place to walk around on a weekend morning.

We picked up a half-pound of Humboldt Fog, a half-pound of young Manchego, and a small package of organic chevre. I got the Manchego for sentimentality's sake, as it was the only decent cheese available while living in Morocco for a year. The Manchego and chevre were good, with the chevre pairing nicely with the saisons, but the Humboldt Fog was out of this world. How have I not heard of this before? It's like chevre, wrapped in Camembert, with vegetable ash in the middle to give it a kick. Amazing! And perfect with saison. The next time that you are invited to a fancy gathering (especially with wine people) bring along some Humboldt Fog and a bottle of Saison DuPont and you will surely dazzle them all. You might even get some converts to the world of beer.

16C: Saison

Friday was quite a learning experience. While saisons are not my favorite style, I recently brewed one since I had a lot of leftover ingredients with which to make it. The leftover ingredients were from a Belgian Tripel that I made to celebrate when I found out that my wife was pregnant, along with some bottled yeast from Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night Saison that I recultured.

Saisons are traditional Belgian beers that were brewed in the early spring and designed to last until harvest time to offer to the workers as part of their compensation. Saisons are a tough style to explore, since there are not many commercial examples, and the ones that do exist are a touch on the expensive side. However, it is also rare that there is one offering that is considered the paragon of the style, and in this case Saison DuPont is widely claimed to be the premier representative of the style. I swung by 3 Sons Dogs and Suds again and claimed a bottle of Ommegang Hennepin and Saison DuPont Vielle Provision. In my few experiences with Belgian beers I noticed that they had a similar 'slick' mouthfeel. I expected the same from the saisons that I bought. I was wrong. Both examples were very tart and acidic, and, while fruity, were not overwhelmingly sweet. In fact, they both finished quite dry and refreshing. I can see how this beer would have been a staple for Belgian farmhands come harvest-time.

The Saison DuPont has a fresh aroma with a hint of herby hops and citrus, along with a slight straw and yeasty scent. It poured a pale straw color with some haziness from the yeast and a huge frothy head. The flavor was tart and acidic with some lemon flavor. The finish was quite dry and refreshing. This would make a great summer beer. It is also presented beautifully in a 750 mL bottle with champagne cork.

The Hennepin had a similar aroma and flavor, however it poured crystal clear, although it was also bottle-conditioned. It also had a large white foamy head. It's color was slightly darker than the Saison DuPont. It had less of a yeasty flavor and aroma.

Both of these beers were very good, and surprising. If you need a fresh, crisp summer beer with unique flavor I would recommend one of these saisons. I can definitely see a couple of Belgian farmhands pouring themselves a glass or two in the afternoon to restore themselves and be able to keep working until sundown. I might just do the same to help me get through posting this. It's sweaty work, all that typing and clicking.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

14B: American IPA

So all my friends ditched me on wing night (with friends like these...) so I jumped on the the chance to redirect my hard-earned money from the alehouse to the six-pack shop in order to begin my journey through the eighty beer styles. Tonight I'm going with three selections from the BJCP 'classic' examples for American IPA. I know what you're thinking, "Wow, American IPA, how exciting (not)." Well, all day I was craving a nice bitter IPA and I thought about going with English IPA's but they were all crazy expensive, and since I just spent $17 on two bottles of Saison last week, I thought I'd take it easy on the budget. In case you're good at math and noticed something missing, the other half of the six-pack was 2A: German Pilsner; more on that later.

The lucky contestants for this night's festivities were Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Avery IPA and Founder's Centennial IPA. Surprisingly the citrus-hop character in all three was quite mild. I don't know if my tastebuds were not quite warmed up, but I was grateful to not be assaulted with three grapefruit bombs. Also characteristic of all three was a nice malty sweetness in both the flavor and aroma, with the beers manifesting this in differing shades of caramel and toffee. All three had a nice smooth bitterness to them, as would be expected, with smooth being the key. No harshness to be found. All three of these beers were flavorful without being overwhelming. The mouthfeel for all of them was almost identical in a medium body with nice, almost creamy carbonation.

Of the three beers, Founder's Centennial IPA was my favorite, as the malt character stood out on its own and was wrapped very well in the hops and bitterness.

On another note, I really need to work on my sense memory as these beers were not at all subtle, but I couldn't pull the aromas and flavors out of my brain. I need one of those kits with all the possible aromas and flavors so that I can compare them.


I like beer. I really like beer. I like reading about beer, brewing beer, and sometimes even drinking it. Paradoxically, the more that I learn about beer, the more that I realize that I don't know. So, after getting "Brewing Classic Styles" out of the library I decided that I want to sample, learn about, and eventually brew all eighty of the current BJCP styles/substyles with the main goal of becoming a certified BJCP judge some day. While a self-professed beer nerd, I couldn't tell you the difference between a bock and a dopplebock. To resolve this unfortunate dilemma I am subjecting myself to a grueling regimen of beer tasting and brewing. Picture a Rocky montage crossed with Beerfest. Along the way, I will also explore the wondrous topics of pairing beer with food (woe is me), experimenting with hops, and other beer-related fun.

Since I'm a big nerd in most areas, even ones that don't involve beer, I made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the beers that I've tried. You can follow along here, or if you like it, you can download the template here. If somebody wants to take the template and prettify it, it would be most appreciated. I'm a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy, not so much with the design.

Disclaimer: In case you have not picked up on this yet, I do not claim in any way to be any sort of expert. In fact I do not even claim to know anything about anything. This is a learning process, and I hope that you will enjoy learning along with me.