Welcome to the Mashtun

Here we discuss everything that is Craft Beer: from exciting tastings and style guides, to homebrewing and close looks at different ingredients. Tune in weekly for articles dripping with beer geekery as my colleagues James Otey, Carl Crafts, and I explore the fascinating world of Craft Beer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weekly Review: 2007 Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise

A weekly review from James Otey

Time for an unadulterated raspberry infused lambic. A blend of various 2 year old Cantillon lambic with ridiculous amounts of fruit...mmmm

She pours a beautiful ruby-garnet with a lively pink head that expediently dissipates with an audibly lively fizz. What is left is a thin pink hued veneer that sticks to the edges of the glass, with numerous tiny bubbles rising up from various nucleation points. The aroma is powerful and pronounced in a nasal burning, Cantillon-typical rude fashion. I love it. Raspberry puree abounds, as does pear and apple cider. These cider notes intermingles with the slightest acetic acid note to make for a mild vinegar quality. The BJCP says this acetic acid profile is undesirable, and I think they’re full of shit. Gratuitous earth, funk, farm manure, and oak are all decidedly prevalent. The first sip brings about the laceratively rude qualities I’ve come to love from Cantillon: Huge funk and puckering sourness is only slightly tamed by raspberry and further cider notes. A slight tannic oak melds into a swirling torrent of goat and horse balls- a desirable quality indeed (not sarcasm). The palate is incredible for the style: a nice full weight sits on the tongue, complemented nicely by a pillowy effervescence. The mouthfeel is slippery as the quaff takes place, and finishes bone dry and super attenuated. Perhaps the best framboise in my book- second only to Hommage- but I guess that's a hybrid and it would be cheating...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Weekly Review: Cigar City Humidor Series Jai Alai India Pale Ale

A weekly review from James Otey:

This week I will be reviewing a new and interesting take on a older, but still revolutionary style: The India Pale Ale. With the advent of modern barrel aging techniques, it was only a matter of time before the subtle, spicy characteristics of cedar were used to enhance the flavor of an IPA. Thank's to the gentlemen at Cigar City Brewing for this bottle:

Without further ado-my review:
She pours a cloudy orange color with a noticeable haze and a magnanimous, beautifully proportioned white frothy head that is cappuccino like and topographic. It only takes a mild, playful splash to completely rejuvenate the head to a condition superior to the original pour. The best head retention I’ve ever seen in an IPA. The aroma is nothing like I’ve ever experience before in an IPA: though evergreen (in the form of pine and spruce) and orange-citrus come through obviously, there are unique notes of angel food cake dough and yeasty breadiness that prevail as well. The malt sweetness is very subtle, with notable incarnations of light nectar fruit, mandarin, tangerine, and ultra sweet tropical fruit sugars. The flavor is out of this world unique: at first I as met with doughy, bready, and caramel oriented malt sweetness with is closely followed by lightly resinous orange, peach, nectarine, and spicy pine. The bitterness is much more balancing than the aroma would suggest, allowing for a wholly delightful quaff. The arrangement of flavors is not only complex, but well placed with excellent levels of each. The palate is full for the style with supple effervescence and a caressing pillowy mouth feel. She finishes clean, but not resinous; smooth but not slippery. One of the most unique IPAs I’ve had to date- the cedar aging presents a unique facet that is hard to place a finger on, but is surely detectable. I was pleasantly surprised that the oxidation levels of the alpha acids remained minimal- good to have this fresh I suppose. This is my first Cigar City brew to date, and the trend will dictate many more in the future…

And the Style of the Month is.... Bock!

           Oh the unadulterated Maltiness of Bock.. This was the style of beer I first truly fell in love with.  Although I turned into a hophead, and now profess to be a sourhead, my head was originally full of rich malty thoughts.  The Bock can be dated back to the 14th century to the city of Einbeck, Germany.  In Einbeck they produced a delicious, mellow, light lagered beer that they exported across Europe.  The beer was enormously popular because of its clarity and distinct flavors, as opposed to the muddled brown ales of the time.  Another brewing city in Germany, Munich, lived under the shadow of Einbeck's success and sought to rise to the same level.  In 1612 Maximillian I invited Elias Pichler, Einbeck's head brewer, to the city to show them his brewing technique.  At the time, Munich was producing a darker brown beer that resembled a predecessor to modern day Dunkels.  When the brewers at Munich employed Pickler's technique they created a darker, stronger beer with the same clarity as the Einbeck.  It became very popular and is the predecessor of present day Bocks.

           Bocks get their rich Malt flavor from the inclusion of Melanoidins, which are produced when sugars and ammino acids combine at the boil (the Maillard reaction).  Vienna and Munich malts are considered high Melanoidin malts because of the kilning process that takes place when they are made. Another factor to consider when making a bock is using a decoction mash.  Decoction is when you take some of the mash and bring it to boil and then add it to the rest of the mash.  This causes the temperature of the mash tun as a whole to rise slowly from the protein rest to mash-out temperatures.  To increase the levels of melanoidin further you can add more decoction steps.

           Bocks can be divided into four main sub-styles: Bock, Doppelbock, Maibock/Hellesbock, and Eisbock.
  •          The Bock is a dark, strong, lager that pours a light to dark brown.  It is classically very clean, made with Vienna or Munich malts, and employs no non-malt adjuncts.   Continental European hops are usually used and the beer rarely exhibits any hops in the aroma and only the mildest ballancing bitterness in the mouth. Flavors are very complex, toasted malts and can include sweet and clean caramel malt richness and sometimes booze notes.  ABV hovers around 6-7%
  •          The DoppelBock - The first Doppelbock has been attributed to Paulaner Brewery in Munich.  Doppelbocks are stronger, darker incarnations of the bock and require an original gravity of 1.072.   Like the regular Bock, this tasty brew has no hop aroma, and just enough hop bitterness to ballance the complex malt flavors derived from decoction.  Doppelbocks tend to have a darker brown pour than Bocks with a boozier, richer nose.  Flavors are complex malts on the tongue with caramel and some light chocolate and sometimes slight flutters of roast.  ABV hovers around 7-10%
  •            The Maibock/HellesBock - The  Maibock (May bock) and Hellesbock (Bright bock) are classically brewed during the winter and released at the start of summer.  They tend to be paler bocks and take the rich complexity of the bock style and put it into a lighter, fresher context.  Hops are often added to increase this freshness, making the Mai/Hellebock the hoppiest of bocks.  The development of the Mai/Helles Bock was largely due to the pale malt revolution in the 19th century, and the first was created by Hofbrauhaus in Munich.  Following the craze of the time, they produced a pale lager but with all the complex maltiness that Munich was known for.  The slight difference between the Hellesbock and Maibock come in the color and flavor.  The Maibock uses Munich malts generally and tend to have a darker amber color and are generally bready, rich and toasty.  The Hellesbock pours golden and uses pilsner malts.  Decoction mellows it out into a softer malt character. ABV hovers around 6-7%
  •          The Eisbock - The Eisbock is a beer that has undergone a process of freeezing to remove water, thus rendering it more concentrated both alcoholically, and with respect to sugar concentration.  Generally these are made with the same ingredients as a doppelbock.  They tend to have intense, rich malt flavors and significantly more fruitiness then other bocks.  This fruitiness comes from the Munich malts and not from yeast esters.  Abv hovers around 9-14% 

           There are a lot of variations on these styles, as brewers tend to like experimenting with styles.  In my mind, though, the classical interpretation is far superior to most of these incarnations.  The addition of adjuncts tends to muddle the rich yet clean maltiness that is the trade mark of the style.  Chocolate bock comes to mind as a perversion of this purity.  The addition of chocolate nibs, to me, only serves to overpower the multilayered, complex maltiness of the bock beer.  Some may argue that it serves to add more complexity to the overall flavor, but in this beer drinker's humble opinion, there's no bock better than one that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot. 

    Some suggestions for those looking to delve into bocks -
  • Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
  • Smuttynose Smuttonator
  • Spaten Optimator
  • Smuttynose Maibock
  • Rogue Dead Guy Ale
  • Kulmbacher Eisbock
  • Schneider Aventinus Eisbock
James Blauvelt


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oxidation: Friend or Foe?

Recent fervor surrounding the aging of beer has brought about a revolution of barrel aging techniques, and a frenzy of internet banter. Beer geeks from all round the globe accumulate massive cellars and stockpile rows upon rows of different vintage brews in pursuit of aging their malt beverages to perfection. “Verticals” (beers of a certain type from every year’s production) are feverishly sought after, while people spend massive amounts of money on decade or older beer bottles. But why? Many will tell you that certain beers can only get better with age, and to some extent, they are correct. But mostly I believe they are not…
The prevailing opinion among beer aficionados is that the higher the alcohol (and generally sugar as well), the better the brew will age. Barley wines, Imperial Stouts, and strong Belgian ales most readily tend to fall into this category. With their robust ethanol percentages and high gravities, they tend to succumb to the woes of oxidation to a lesser degree. Many say that a few years on a good high alcohol barley wine or stout will ‘mellow it out’ and bring out ‘more depth in flavor.’ Thought the former might be true in some cases of highly hopped American style barley wines or imperial stout, I surely could not endorse the latter with any degree of fortitude.
Modern packaging equipment allows for no more than 50 ppb of oxygen in beer. It is quite amazing that brewing technology has brought us to this point, though perfection has still not been attained. Almost all types of beer will fall victim to this minute problem and will be faced with serious problems down the road with respect to staleness as a function of oxidation. This malice comes in at least 4 main forms: Lipid oxidation, hop quality deterioration, polyphenol oxidation, and Maillard reactions. Though there are dozens of beer specific variables that determine the nature of each of these forms of degradation, each is interesting in its own way.
It is true that some examples of high alcohol brews mellow out with age. It is especially true, however, for beers with a high percentage of bittering compounds such as α-acid, β-acids, and iso-α-acids. For a beer to take on the qualities required for a hop-induced perception of bitterness, hops must be boiled so as their bountiful bittering acids can isomerize and thus become soluble in water. It’s all downhill from here as the dreaded oxidation has already set in. Oddly enough, β-acids have largely already oxidized during both hop storage and during the boil due to the instability of their chemical nature. This evil it seems, cannot be avoided. Even the most minute quantities of oxygen (on the order of PPB) has an effect on the structure of α-acids and iso-α-acids, and as such time will only dull the flavors associated with a nice fresh IPA.  But how does this translate to a beer without the qualities of a hop-forward style such as an IPA or DIPA? I find that it is most noticeable in American style barley wines and Imperial stouts with high levels of α-acids and iso-α-acids. Because hop flavors tend to be the first thing to go when aging beer, those abrasively bitter barley wines will become much more sweet, allowing for the dimensions of the malt character to come out more fully. The same is true for imperial stouts, though the change isn’t as profound for me due to the already ridiculous gravities imperial stouts posses. Be careful though, for there is a sensitive curve: age too long and you will face other problems, which I’ll discuss in more detail later.
Despite many pre-supposition held by beer-geeks and the beer naïve alike, all beer does contain a small amount of lipids, or fat. The mass-marketed macro breweries are all pushing super light, low carbohydrate beer, which is reasonable due to the fact that the majority of calories in beer do come from carbs. It only takes a small amount of chemical conversion to create a mess of problems in a beer, and as such, it is useful to look on a smaller scale. Though many of the lipids related problems are largely unavoidable, they must be addressed as well. The specific problem lipid type for brewers and beer agers comes in the form of the unsaturated fatty acid. Through either enzymatic or autoxidative processes (both of which occur because of high heat levels during the wort boil), reactive oxygen species are created, which in turn damage double bonds on the fatty acid structure, finally leading to production of 2-nonenal. This final byproduct is thoroughly unpleasant and can be likened to aromas of oldness, staleness and cardboard. Luckily, the addition of yeast during fermentation mitigates this production to some extent, which is why levels of 2-nonenal are generally imperceptible. This process does, however, have implications of oxygen-introduction moderation during the brewing process as 2nonenal producing processes following the boil.     
Maillard reactions tend to be much more severe to the longevity of beer as far as quality is concerned. A Maillard reaction is any reaction between a reducing sugar (glucose and maltose as far as we beer drinkers are concerned) and an amino acid. Many positive features can come out of many of these reaction types, which for our purposes include flavors and aromas of nut, bread, toast, roast, and most importantly, melanoidin production. These qualities are gained primarily during the wort boil, but can also occur at elevated temperatures during cellaring. Interestingly enough, the production of melanoidins has been shown to have an anti-oxidant property, though the chemicals production is limited to the time of the boil, thus its positive properties do not get better after bottling. Maillard reactions can also create intermediaries such as α-dicarbonyl, and Strecker aldehydes, which are associated with negative flavor profiles. So what should you do to mitigate these factors? Obviously you should drink your beer fresh whenever possible, but if you must age, age cold.
Polyphenols are generally associated with negative flavor profiles, though the chemical is inherent in all beer. Through their oxidation with extended aging, these compounds can also become oxidized, leading to reactions with certain proteins that cause the dreaded oxidation haze. Depending levels and aging time, this can greatly affect the astringency and tannic nature of an aged beer.  
Can all these forms of oxidation be chalked up as necessary evils? Future research will suggest not. At its core, beer oxidation comes from reactions of OH- (which is highly reactive) and Peroxide (which has the propensity to decompose into a highly reactive free radical form) with ethanol, sugars, polyphenols, and fatty acids. This of course leads to the staling cardboard-like nature of your prized brew. So what about anti-oxidants? Could the famed health enhancer be used to make higher quality, longer lasting beer? It’s certainly possible.
Sulfite has long been recognized in the wine industry as having preservative, anti-oxidation effects. Sulfite and all forms of anti-oxidants act by quelling peroxides and metals that contribute to free radical formation. Hydrogen peroxide and hyroperoxide are stable enough for staling effects to be mitigated by antioxidants, though OH- radicals are not stable enough to be quelled, thus will react with ethanol to produce negative compounds such as acetaldehyde and hydroperoxyl radicals- yuck! Even if sulfite was completely effective at eliminating this issue, it tastes and smells horrible in high enough concentrations. Though other chemicals such as lactone have been shown to delay the onset of oxidation (read US patent 5455052), further study still must be conducted for the field as it relates to the brewing industry.  
What is the general theme of this article? There are certain cases where aging beer can have positive effects on your perceptions. Be careful though, because if you wait too long everything will become one dimensional, possible stale or musty, and contain homogenized flavors which just may be nasty. I suppose I enjoy a 4-year old Thomas Hardy’s just as much as the next guy- all I’m saying is take a step back and think about it. If you must cellar, keep it dark and keep it cold.
There are certain exceptions to the rules of oxidized beer, but you won’t be looking at any high gravity or ABV statistics: Enter the lambic and the gueuze. Sour beer in general has an interesting resistance to the phenomenon of aging, but more on that with my next update...

-  James Otey

Vanderhaegen, B, Nevin, H, Verachtert, H, & Derdenlinckx, G. (2004). The Chemistry of beer aging- a
      critical review. Elsevier, Retrieved from


Welcome to the Mash Tun,
Here I will discuss everything that is Craft Beer: from exciting tastings and style guides, to homebrewing and close looks at different ingredients.  Every week I'll profile a beer style, yeast, hop varietal, malt, or adjunct used in brewing.  Ill also be making several beer recommendations and you will be privy to my great hunt for rare and exciting beer!  You will follow me on Kate the Great day in Portsmouth, NH and Extreme Beerfest in Boston, MA. 
As a craft beer fanatic, I've only been drinking and hunting for it for two years, yet I have gotten access to some of the more elusive beers in the world.  I'll show how, without spending a fortune, and without traveling all over the world, its possible to expand your palate and build your cellar.  Prost!