By Lucy Zachman
Contrary to proper seasonal beer drinking, we kicked off our first summer meeting with a tasting of the good, strong beers from Unibroue. But who are we to complain...
I like to think that I was the first of our gang to "discover" these beers. While at an insurance industry convention in Quebec more than three years ago, I called home to Eric to tell him of a wonderful new brew I had found. Initially, I had thought it was a Belgian import. Not only did it have a rather enticing label (which is generally how I choose a beer if none look familiar), but the beer itself was just the thing I needed after a long day of listening to the latest developments in insurance legislation. When I found it available at a great downtown Quebec nightspot, I was informed it was local and commended for my good taste.
Laurent Gilbert, general manager, provided us with many samples of the Canadian company's mostly-Belgian-style ales. Although not a brewer himself, Gilbert offered a number of interesting stories on the company and the beers.
Blanche de Chambly is the Canadian top-seller from Unibroue and is now (or was) on tap at Mugs. This is a refreshing white beer made with 5% wheat malt. It is just "perfumed" with hops and has a hint of orange peel. Most of us notice a distinct difference between the tap version and the bottled, with the tap being lighter in flavor and consistency. Gilbert explained that this is due to the fact that the yeast that adds more character to the bottles is absent in the kegs. Blanche de Chambly may be Unibroue's lightest beer at only 5% alcohol.
You may be more familiar with Maudite, the double fermented spicy ale with the flying canoe on the label. This beer had a deep rich color and flavor, with more hop character. Gilbert said that Maudite is not brewed as a true double, but for a balance of flavors. It too will be available on tap this fall. The label, by the way, depicts a seen from a Canadian fable about a group of workmen back in the 18th century who could not get home to their families for the holidays. The sold their souls to Satan for the chance to go home and Satan made their canoe fly. (OK, when Gilbert told the story it was much more touching, but we only have so much space here.)
La Fin du Monde was brewed in honor of the first explorers to the New World. This triple-style beer is 9% alc. by volume. Even with it's high alcohol content, it is rather light and effervescent with nice coriander and curacao flavors. Trois Pistoles is the company's latest brew. Also at 9% alcohol, an interesting anise flavor makes this beer truly unusual. It contains caramel malt and chocolate malt along with orange peel and a bit of licorice.
Also from Unibroue are Raftman's which uses peat smoked whiskey malt, La Gaillarde, a spicy brew with orange peel, L'eau Benite, a golden fruity ale, and Quelque Chose, one of their latest recipes steeped several months with cherries. We can expect to see a Pilsner style in the months to come.
Gilbert informed us that Unibroue began producing in 1990. It was started by Andre Dion, a hardware magnet, who imported a Belgian brewer to Canada to recreate some of his favorite beer styles. The beers were first imported to the U.S. four years ago. (Just after I discovered them, I'm sure!) France is actually their largest market, but the U.S. is quickly catching up. Exports account for only 15% over Unibroue's overall sales, with the U.S making up 8-10% of exports. I'm sure their latest brews will boost those numbers even higher.
On a final note, a few congratulations are due to Andrew and George for their winnings at the Great American Beer Festival in Baltimore. Andrew's Cream Ale took second place in category and George's IPA was 1st in its category while his Wheat beer took best of show! See ya next time!
Over the Memorial Day weekend, Bob and I took another trip to the Southampton Publick House. After an energetic bike ride from Westhampton, we arrived at the brewpub ready for a beer. I had a tasty hand drawn cask conditioned 80 shilling ale. This copper-colored ale had a faint malt aroma (we found that all of the beers we tried had very low aroma overall) and it was very smooth with a subtle malt profile, some caramel notes, and a light hop bitterness in the finish. This beer was also served by a nitrogen dispensed tap; we found this version to be lacking in both aroma and flavor, which seemed to have been overwhelmed by the smoothness of the nitrogen. Bob tried their Maybock (sic) which had a beautiful crystal-clear, light gold color. While it didn't have much head retention and had a slightly sulfur aroma, it was a wonderful interpretation of a Maibock. A very clean malt flavor dominated the beer; the hop presence was only noticed in the slight bitterness of the finish. Our on-site quote: "Delicious!"
After a short bike ride, we returned for dinner. We were somewhat disappointed by the food this time, but we were able to sample more of the beers, which was much more important! The Publick House Porter was very dark and had some roasty notes in the aroma (our olfactory glands were somewhat clouded by cigar smoke at this point). It had a very pleasant roasted flavor complemented by coffee notes and wasn't too aggressive or bitter. Their Secret Ale (an Alt) was copper-colored and very clear. It had a rich malt aroma with some toasty notes. This bold malt profile carried through to the flavor, with hop bitterness kicking in at the finish. Overall, a clean, well-balanced beer. The golden East End India Pale Ale surprised us with its serious malt flavor, given that most brewpub IPA's are one-dimensional hop beverages. It did have the requisite hop bitterness, but it was nicely balanced with substantial malt. The Golden Lager lived up to its name with a beautiful straw gold color. It had a subtle pilsner malt aroma complemented by Saaz hops. This very clean lager had a big malt character, but a rather low hop profile. It was very drinkable nonetheless.
The main fault of all of the beers (except for the cask-conditioned one) is the serving temperature. They are served too cold and in chilled glasses, which could be the reason why all of the beers had such muted aromas. The bartender told us that it was because that's what the patrons like, but that he'll serve beer in unchilled glasses to his serious beer drinkers (but even then, the beer is too cold).
Our next beer trip took us to New England. We re-visited the Ipswich Brewing Company in Massachusetts and once again had a very informative and comprehensive tour. They didn't have as many beers on tap to sample this time, but we did try their Pale Ale, which was nicely balanced between hops and malt; their Dark Ale, which was surprisingly hoppy with a pleasant roasted malt character; and their IPA, which screamed, "HOPS".
Since we had a coupons for free beer at the Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, NH (courtesy of the GABF program guide), we had to stop there. It's a huge facility with a spacious restaurant area; the last time we were there we took the tour which is quite interesting because of its scale and professionalism. I'm not, however, the biggest fan of the Redhook beers; I find them to be lacking in character, and in all honesty, the only reason for us to visit this time was to get the free beer. We tried the Redhook Rye (unfiltered) and the Hefeweizen. The rye had very little head retention or aroma, and a little malt flavor, a little hop bitterness, and a little tartness, but not much of anything. If it weren't for the name, we'd never have known it was a rye beer. The Hefeweizen was even worse; it had absolutely no aroma and the flavor was incredibly bland except for some uncharacteristic hop bitterness in the finish. On-site quote: "What is this?"
We didn't get a chance to make it to the Portsmouth Brewery this trip (always well worth the visit). But we did try some other New Hampshire beers. Smuttynose Brewing Co. has come out with a "Big Beer" series, including a Maibock and an Imperial Stout. The deep copper-colored Maibock had a pleasant yet somewhat subtle malt aroma and a strong malt flavor with caramel notes as it warmed up. It finished with faint bitterness and a touch of alcohol. We also detected some esters and off-flavors; recent experiences with other Smuttynose products have shown similar off-flavors (and over-carbonation in one instance), leading us to suspect a problem at the brewery. Other beers that we tried, but neglected to take any notes on were Nutfield's Hopfest, a nicely hopped pale ale; Shipyard's (Maine) cask-conditioned Old Thumper, which was surprisingly oxidized; and Maine's Katahdin, which went well with lobster.
by John Dittman
As water comprises 90-95 percent of any beer it is one of the most important aspects of the brewing process. Generally speaking brewing water should be clear, bright, unpolluted and have agreeable taste. Tap water is often suitable for brewing after adjustments are made to it's makeup. As a simple rule, all brewing water should be of high quality, known mineral content and have minimal microbiological contamination. Chlorine, added to sanitize water systems, is the primary enemy of the brewer. It is added as either free dissolved chlorine gas (FAC) or chlorine compounds. Chlorine should be completely removed from brewing water. If not removed the chlorine will form chlorophenols and impart a medicinal or phenolic taste to the beer.
Charcoal filtration is the best way to remove both types of chlorine. Boiling will remove FAC, but not the chlorine compounds, and chlorophenols will still be formed. Filtering will also remove any solids that may be present in the water. pH is and indicator of the ratio of acidity to alkalinity of the liquid. Enzyme activity, kettle break and yeast performance all rely on the acidity of the wort. Waters with a neutral pH near 7 are preferred as this will give a pH near the optimum range of 5.2 - 5.4 at mash in. The use of naturally acidic toasted malt is on of the oldest forms of water treatment in beer making. The acidity released by intensive kilning can overcome the alkalinity of even moderately alkaline water. Several elements present in the brewing water are important to the brewing process. Calcium, magnesium and sulfates act to bring the pH of the water down, while bicarbonates drive the pH up. Magnesium will also enhance dryness, but at levels greater than 30 ppm can lead to astringency. Magnesium is also an essential trace element in yeast metabolism and calcium ions are essential to break formation and haze reduction. Overdone levels of sulfates can lead to a harsh and bitter taste. Most water contains positive ions (calcium, magnesium, sodium) and negative ions (bicarbonate, sulfates and chlorides).
Water hardness is simply described as the degree of dissolved minerals in the water. It is commonly measurable by how hard it is to raise a lather with the water. There are permanent and temporary types of hardness. Permanent hardness is caused by calcium, magnesium and other minerals. It is not affected by boiling. Temporary hardness is caused by bicarbonates. These can be reduced by boiling. The sodium and chloride ions contribute a fullness and mouth-feel to the finished beer. This effect is reduced by high levels of sulfates. In large amounts the sodium and chloride will give the beer a salty taste.
If you are trying to mimic a particular style of beer the water you use should be close in composition to the water used by the local brewers of that style. However, in many case the original water used by these brewers is unsuitable for brewing and the recipe has been adapted to fit the water. An example of this would be water high in carbonates where the recipe is adjusted by adding dark malts. The most famous example of a particular water being directly linked to a specific beer is the water of Burton on Trent. Other famous examples are the waters of Pilsen, Dortmund, Munich, and Dublin.
Burton: Pale Ale. The Mecca of Pale Ales, Burton water is unique and complex. The water is high in calcium, magnesium and sulfates and also contains marked quantities of sodium and chloride ions. The calcium and sulfates act to drive down the pH level of the water. Since Burton water is also high in bicarbonates, which act to drive the pH up, the calcium and sulfates help balance these bicarbonates. The sulfates also impart a dryness to the beer and accentuate the hop bitterness.
Dortmund: Dortmunder Export. The water of Dortmund is similar to the water of Burton in that it has high levels of nearly all the water minerals. Dortmunder Export lagers require water with large amounts of calcium carbonate and sulfates. The water is also very hard with levels of dissolved solids almost as high as Burton. The sodium and chloride levels in Dortmund water, like the Burton water, help contribute body to the Dortmund Export lagers.
Pilsen: Pilsner. Pilsen's water is very soft with a very low mineral content. Dissolved solids are less than 50 ppm. This allows the brewer to make a pale beer with a high, clean hop bitterness. The bitterness, although high, does not linger in the finish and ends rather abruptly.
Munich: Munich has water that is hard, very low in sodium, low in permanent hardness and high in bicarbonates, or temporary hardness. The high carbonate content leads to low hopping rates and darker color found in Dunkel and Bock.
Dublin: Stout. Dublin's water has a very high carbonate content that requires the use of acidic dark malts to achieve a neutral pH. This is a wonderful explanation of why Dublin stouts, such as Guinness, include 10 percent roast barley in their grist.
Vienna: Amber lager. Low sodium and chloride levels surrounded by high overall hardness. The city is famous for production of well-balanced amber-style lagers.
London: Porter and Mild. Carbonate, plus high levels of sodium and chloride, encourage balanced, smooth dark beers.
On Wednesday, July 8, 7:30 PM, the Malted Barley Appreciation Society will have our next monthly meeting. The guests Are Paul Sayler and Paul Sullivan of the Commonwealth Brewery, in Rockefeller Center.In addition, many good homebrews should be available for the tasting. As usual, the meeting will be held at Mug's Ale House, 125 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. See you there!
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