Air Travel and Great Beer is Taking Flight


Photo credit: Cathay Pacific

The summer travel season will be upon us again soon and for many that means air travel. Anyone brave enough to face the line at TSA deserves more than just a tiny bag of pretzels and a half cup of soda. They deserve a cold, refreshing beer. But, though airlines often tout the quality of their food (in first class, of course) and wine selection, quality beer is often jettisoned in favor of low flavor national brands.

A quick online search of the major American airlines will provide a look at what is offered in the friendly skies. And, though things are looking better for the craft beer lover than it did several years ago, the choice is still sparse. Take American airlines for instance, a recent flight found four mass produced brews and just two craft brews – Sam Adams Boston Lager and New Belgium Voodoo  Ranger Lager. With the most craft beers is JetBlue. Fliers on that airline can choose from Angry Orchard Hard Cider, Brooklyn Lager, Sam Adams Oktoberfest and Lagunitas Pale Ale. Delta has taken to providing a regional craft beer on some of their flights.

There’s another problem frequent flyers who happen to enjoy good beer have to deal with; the difference in taste. Yes, beer tastes different when you are over six miles up in the sky. The reason for this is the very low humidity and pressurization in the airplane’s cabin.

The very dry air also dries out your sinuses and causes your taste buds to temporarily become less sensitive to salty and sweet flavors. The loss of your ability to sense sweetness tends to cause bitter flavors to become more pronounced.

The altitude also reduces the carbonation in beer. Less atmospheric pressure equates to less carbon dioxide bubbles. Lower carbonation, like dryer air, leads to degradation of flavor.  Beer that feels flat tends to lose a great deal of its mouthfeel and along with that its appeal. The right amount of carbonation in beer leads to its refreshing, crisp flavor. Flat beer tastes dull and lifeless.

One airline, albeit not an American airline, has tried to overcome the short-comings of beer at altitude. Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong-based airline, has created Betsy, a beer specifically formulated to taste great even at 35,000 feet.

The brew is served on the airline’s flights between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom using ingredients from both countries. Ingredients like dragon’s eye fruit lend sweetness and textural enhancements while honey amps up the sweetness a bit more to fight the bitterness brought out by the dry pressurized air of an airliner’s cabin. The addition of British Fuggles hops rounds out the flavor with a pleasing earthiness.

Other airlines have made forays into making beer better while flying. Danish brewers Mikkeller have teamed up with Scandinavian Air to create a beer that is enjoyable in the air. And Dutch airline KLM struck deal with Heineken to serve draft beer in first class. For this the brewery and airline had to work together to create a new to send beer to the tap since pressurized CO2 is far too dangerous to use on an airplane.

So, as you head out on your travels this year, you may want to check with the airline to see if you can expect to enjoy your flight a bit more or just more of the same ol’ thing.

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Posted by on April 25, 2019 in Beer


Go Ahead, Give It a Poke


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Though they were not the originators of beer, the German people embraced the drink with a passion akin to obsession. Because of their love of the stuff, beer and Germany are inextricably intertwined in the collective consciousness of the entire world. Traditions sprang up around the consumption of beer, some commonplace like bier gartens and bier fests and as esoteric as using bierstacheln.

Wait, bierstacheln?

Bierstacheln, or beer spikes, are red hot metal pokers – pubs and taverns often used loggerheads, a common tool for 19th century shipbuilders – to rapidly warm beer that was too cold. In the process, the sugars in the beer became caramelized and carbonation was decreased leaving a sweeter, smoother beer. The spikes were also used to warm up other drinks such as toddies and a unique beer cocktail known as a flip that contained beer, rum, sugar and sometimes egg and cream. Disturbingly, the spikes were reportedly used to cauterize wounds, too.

According to German beer website,, “Beer spikes were invented by blacksmiths in the Middle Ages. If their after-work beer was too cold for them, they briefly dipped a glowing poker into it. So they could quickly bring their beer to drinking temperature after hard work.”

The best beers to use bierstacheln with are bock beers. First brewed in the northern German town of Einbeck in the 14th century, bock beer quickly became a favorite in the southern German city of Munich. Because of the differing accent of southern German speech, the origin city of Einbeck was pronounced “ein bock” a phrase that referred to a billy goat. As the heavy, malty and highly alcoholic lager grew in popularity the name stuck and brewers often included a goat on the label as a bit of visual humor.

Bock beer gave rise to several variations; dopplebock, literally double bock, is a stronger version of bock at 7% to 12%; maibock is a lighter, yet still strong version; eisbock is a version that is froen to remove some of the water and raise the alcohol content; and finally weizenbock is a wheat version of the brew.

For the purpose of beer poking, the darker versions of bock are the best as are stouts, browns and porters.

The practice of beer poking – some American breweries call it gustungling, but I could not find a translation for the word – has become something of a novelty in the U.S., particularly at breweries in the colder climates of the country.

Minnesota seems to be the epicenter of American beer poking with both Fitger’s Brewhouse and Lake Superior Brewing poking their beers for several years now. But, it was Strange Land Brewery in Austin, Tx. that made headlines when it held a beer poking in 2017.

While sticking a hot poker in your beer may not sound like something you might want to try here in the warm climate of Florida. The novelty of how it might bring new flavors from beer is appealing. Just be sure to not attempt this technique after too many beers or you may end up cauterizing yourself wound or not.


Minnesota has been ground zero for the phenomenon. Fitger’s Brewhouse and Lake Superior Brewing have been giving bocks the brûlée treatment at their joint Bockfest for some years, and just last month, Northbound Smokehouse offered patrons the chance to warm up their Eisbock with red-hot Rebar.

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Posted by on April 18, 2019 in Beer


The Bigger the Better

utopiasYou often read me writing about big beer. Usually I am referring to the megalithic brewers that produce the lion’s share of all beer consumed around the world. But, this week big beer refers to high alcohol beer. I mean really high. Like over 20-percent alcohol by volume. Beer so strong a pint will put you down for several days.

The alcohol content of most beer ranges from around 3-percent for some sours and lambics to around 16-percent for a particularly big stout. What you don’t see very often are beers that break the 20-percent barrier. And there’s good reason for that. Making a beer with that much alcohol is very difficult. It requires yeast that can survive in a high alcohol environment and often employs some rather labor-intensive brewing methods.

Coming in at the low-end of the big beer spectrum is Samuel Adams Utopias. At just 28-percent, Utopias is a light weight compared to some of the other big beers out there. It’s worth mentioning because it is also an example of crafting a beer that not only has an eyebrow-raising ABV, but also an extraordinary flavor profile reminiscent of a fine sherry. The brew is created by blending several other beers – some that have been aging in barrels for over 24 years – with multiple strains of yeast, three different types of hops and several different malts. The result is a smooth, boozy, non-carbonated beer that deserves to be sipped from a snifter on a cold night in front of a roaring fire.

Don’t run off to the local liquor store to look for Utopias, though. The beer is only release every other year (2019 is its next release year), only about 17,000 bottles are released and it costs a cool $200 a bottle.

The mad men over at Scotland’s BrewDog got into the high-alcohol beer game with their oddly-named Tactical Nuclear Penguin. This bombastic imperial stout boasts 32-percent alcohol by volume and is said to be both bitter and tart. Its flavor is enhanced by aging it in whiskey barrels for more than a year.

Not to be outdone, Belgian brewery Struise, created their Black Damnation series and, through the use of Eisbock techniques – the beer is brought just below the freeing point of water, the ice is removed leaving a higher alcohol concentration – have elevated the ABV to 39-percent. For reference, most spirits are 40-percent ABV.

Back at BrewDog, another super strong brew, this time an imperial IPA, emerged from the breweries depths called Sink the Bizmarck. This brew upped the alcohol ante to an astounding 41-percent. This bitter bomb packs more wallop than most vodkas, but does not mix well with vermouth.

But, the brewery that tops the charts with the booziest brews is Scottish brewers  Brewmeister. And they have not one, but two insanely alcoholic brews; Armageddon at 65-percent and Snake Bite at 67.5-percent. These two brews are on the same level of strength as Absinth which is said to induce hallucinations. The brewers maintain that they should be savored like a fine scotch or whiskey and have great complexity beyond its mind-numbing booziness.

In the world of big beer, there are some real heavyweights. But, if you do get your hands on one of these amazing brews, remember; sip, don’t gulp.

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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in Beer


Great Beer is a Religious Experiment

monk beerOften, when discussion of great beer gets going, the topic of Trappist beer comes up. Beer brewed by Trappist monks is often lauded as some of the best beer in the world. Indeed, Westvleteren XII from the Belgian St. Sixtus monastery is often referred to as the best beer in the world – it also happens to be one of the most difficult to obtain. The point being, the beer being brewed by monks in the 14 Trappist breweries around the world is not only good, but it is a time worn institution that goes back centuries.

“Trappist” refers to monks of the Order of Reformed Cistercians, a Roman Catholic religious order that follows the Rule of St. Benedict. The name comes from the original monastery from which the order sprung: La Trappe Abbey in the French district of Normandy.

The Rule of St. Benedict is a long document written by Benedict that, among many other things, enjoins monasteries to be self-sufficient through their own hard work. It also requires monasteries to provide food, drink and shelter to travelers and especially pilgrims.

All of this brings us to Trappist beer. As a means of self-sustenance beer became a popular beverage for monks to brew. Not only did it help keep them hydrated in a time when water was dangerous at best and deadly at worst, but it also provided sustenance and nutrients during times of fasting when monks where prohibited to eat. Excess beer was allowed to be sold to help support the monastery.

In 1997, the International Trappist Association was formed by six Belgian monasteries and one each in Germany and The Netherlands. The aim of the ITA was to curb the use of the Trappist name on beer not produced by Trappist monasteries. A logo was created and is now added to the labeling on all beer and other products produced by certified Trappist monasteries.

To obtain the right to use the logo, Trappist monasteries must conform to several strict rules. According to the ITA’s website, Trappist beers:

  • Must be made within the immediate surroundings of the abbey;
  • Production must be carried out under the supervision of the monks or nuns;
  • Profits should be intended for the needs of the monastic community, for purposes of solidarity within the Trappist Order, or for development projects and charitable works.

Beer was so important within the Catholic faith that a bevy of saints were adopted by brewers as their patron saints. One of the best known is St. Arnulf of Metz, also known as St. Arnold. The good saint claimed his status as a patron saint of beer after his death. The story goes that the parishioners of Metz so adored St. Arnulf that after his death and burial at a distant abbey, they asked for dispensation to exhume his body and reinter it in Metz. It was a particularly hot time of year when the parishioners were bringing the remains and plenty of beer was consumed on the journey. Before long, their beer supply had nearly run out when one of the parishioners cried out, ““By his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnulf will bring us what we lack.” Moments later it was discovered that their beer supplies had been miraculously replenished.

In recent years and with the help of the craft beer renaissance, monasteries are returning to the old ways to raise funds. Breweries are popping up in monasteries all across the globe. But, for a true Trappist ale, be sure to look for the logo and give thanks for the monks who perfected the craft.

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Posted by on April 4, 2019 in Beer


St. Louis Tapped for American Oktoberfest

stloktoberfest(ST. LOUIS; November 28, 2018)—The North American Society of German Culture and Heritage announces today a new Oktoberfest destination for 2019 without having to leave the country. St. Louis, Missouri will be the host city for a celebration of the best of German food, beer, and culture unfound in North America. The event will differ from other Oktoberfest celebrations in North America as it will not only be family-friendly, but also feature award-winning brewers of German-style beer. The Great North American Oktoberfest will take place on Friday, October 4 through Sunday, October 6, 2019 in St. Louis with the site location to be announced in early 2019.

 The festival grounds will include games and rides for guests of all ages, and the main event will take place in a large tent adorned in traditional Bavarian decorations. The event will feature beers from German breweries as well as North American breweries that have won a gold medal in either the World Beer Cup or Great American Beer Festival in a German style.

“We want to bring the Munich Oktoberfest experience to this side of the pond,” explains Board President Martin Howell. “We evaluated a number of host cities from Washington, D.C. to Seattle, but St. Louis’ deeply-rooted German history and central Midwest location made it the perfect destination for our premium event. St. Louis is also located within the German Triangle, an area defined by the points of Milwaukee to the north, St. Louis to the southwest, and Cincinnati to the southeast.”

 St. Louis has a history steeped in German culture that began with a large influx of German immigrants from the early 1800s and continues today with a large amount of German neighborhood festivals, German-style breweries, and German cultural/historical societies. In addition to its history, St. Louis was a fit for the festival due to the city’s central flight hub at St. Louis Lambert International Airport; over 38,000 hotel rooms; mass transit system; and more. St. Louis also has a spirit of embracing new ideas while showcasing an appreciation for its roots with one of the fastest growing startup economies in the country.

 The North American Society of German Culture and Heritage (NASGCH) is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit comprised of people from across the country who are passionate about German culture and seek to host an authentic Oktoberfest event, reminiscent of the celebration in Munich, Germany. The organization felt it was imperative to appoint a St. Louisan to lead the charge for the Gateway City to host the three-day festival and named Jared Opsal as executive director. Opsal has extensive experience in supporting city initiatives when he served as executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and a board member with various civic entities.

 “It’s a point of civic pride for St. Louis,” he states. “We have the opportunity to deliver an Oktoberfest experience as authentic as a trip to Munich. We want to connect people through a unique experience, with a celebration of German cuisine and beer at the heart of it all.”

 Opsal and team traveled to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest this year and are committed to bringing an authentic Bavarian experience to attendees. Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration highlights many different styles of German beers and dozens of traditional foods. NASGCH is inviting the top German and North American brewers to participate in this premiere event, and chefs from the area will be invited to serve traditional German foods along with their German-inspired dishes.

 The event will also be family-friendly as well. Opsal explains, “It was really amazing in Munich to see how everyone takes part in the celebration. We plan to bring that family environment to the festival grounds as well.” Guests of all ages will be able to enjoy rides and games. A traditional biergarten will be built on the festival grounds for the entire family to relax while they enjoy German music and food. For those of legal drinking age, there will also be a large, traditional festival tent, decorated similar to the ones in Munich, that will seat thousands of people.

 The organizers anticipate tens of thousands of attendees over the festival’s three-day period making the event a significant tourism driver for the city in 2019. “This is an opportunity for St. Louis to step into the spotlight and showcase how we can celebrate a piece of our rich cultural history and host a destination-worthy event,” says Opsal.

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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Beer


Sip, Sip, Pass

potbeerIn the history of the world certain dates have come to hold more meaning than others; the fourth day of July is noted as the day the United States secured its freedom from the British, December 25th is recognized around the world as the day Christ was born and Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May annually. But, to a certain set of people, today – April 20 — is a holiday, too. Known as 420 Day, the day is unofficially set aside as a day to celebrate all things cannabis.

As laws criminalizing the use of marijuana fall around the country, cannabis culture is seeing a particularly strong surge in popularity. This rise in cannabis culture runs concurrent with the rise of craft beer culture leading to the crossing of the two with some interesting results.

But, let’s back up a bit and take a look at another interesting coincidence, cannabis and hops are actually closely related plants. In fact, back in 2002, a group of biologists looked at the characteristics of both plants and concluded that hops, Humulus lupulus and marijuana, Cannabis sativa share a common ancestral plant and are therefore part of the same genealogical family, Cannabinaceae.

Now, hops are a relatively new addition to the drink that we now call beer. It was not until 77 AD that hops are even mentioned in any historical text. And even then, the references to the plant were not connected to brewing. The first descriptions of the plant were more like botanical cataloging and were recorded by Pliney the Elder of the naturally occurring plant. The first written record of humans cultivating the plant does not appear until 736 AD nearly 660 years later. And it is another 82 years until the first known reference to hops being used in beer. Since the early 800s though, hops have come on strong and we simply would not think of a drink without them as beer.

Back to the intersection of beer and pot; because of the popularity of both substances it was inevitable that brewers would embrace cannabis culture. Often the connection between the two is conveyed with a wink and a nod through names that reference marijuana or its culture. A prime example of that is Oskar Blues’ Pinner Throwback IPA. The joke to the name of this beer is that a “pinner” is stoner slang for a small joint. Another, not-so-subtle reference comes in the name of SweetWater’s 420 Extra Pale Ale, a straight-on reference to stoner culture.

The connection between the two cultures is growing so strong that, a website that bills itself as, “…the world’s largest cannabis information resource,” has a Beer & Cannabis Flavor Pairing Guide. The guide includes information on how to pair strains of cannabis with particular styles of beer. For instance, a descriptively-named strain of marijuana called Agent Orange – so named for its orange flavors – might pair well with Belgian-style hefeweizen because of the frequent addition of orange peel to the brew.

Perhaps the closest mash-up of both beer and Maryjane cultures come in the form of beers that use parts of the marijuana plant as an ingredient. Humboldt Brewing Company of California brews their Brown Hemp Ale with, well, toasted hemp seeds. While hemp is cannabis, it does not have the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so it is completely legal to produce and drink anywhere.

As more and more states legalize weed, you can bet that brewers will find ways to tap into its popularity. Toke on, dudes!

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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in Beer


Beers for Your Thanksgiving Table

Every year I get asked what beers will be on my Thanksgiving table. So, in order to help you decide what to serve with your feast, I put together this little primer.

Thanksgiving feasting begins the moment you walk through the front door with my family. Generally there are platters of cheese, crackers, and other salty, savory snacks. These types of snacks are perfect for a well-hopped Pale Ale. A perfect local choice for this is Intuition Ale Works’ People’s Pale Ale. Another excellent choice is Dales Pale Ale from Oskar Blues or the granddaddy of all American Pale Ales: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. These beers also pair well with appetizers like shrimp cocktail or bruchetta with tomatoes and basil.

Often, the actual Thanksgiving meal begins with a salad in our home. A hit with my family is my mother’s favorite oriental-style salad that includes dry Ramen Noodles crumbled in at and a dressing made with sesame seed oil and vinegar. The sweet salad dressing deserves a beer that will not over-power it so my first thought is to pair it with a Belgian White Ale like Blanche de Bruxelles. The wonderful balance of coriander and citrus of this brew should enhance the sweet and tangy dressing. Try this beer with other similar salad dressings since the spices can hold up to the vegetable flavors – sweet lettuce, tomato, carrot, and cucumber — in the salad and most lighter dressings.

For the main course of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, cranberry sauce, and so on. You have to decide a direction to go. I have always aimed for a beer that would take a middle road through all of these flavors, enhancing them without distracting from them. Oktoberfest-style beers have many of the characteristics of Brown Ales, but tend to have a cleaner finish. To me that is important. I want a beer that is going to refresh and cleanse my palate between bites, not leave a lingering malty flavor. One of my favorite Oktoberfest beers is Ayinger Oktoberfest. You may still be able to find some at your local beer store, so hurry on out for it. Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest and Flying Fish Oktoberfish are also great choices.

At the end of the turkey gorging, there are always all those wonderful desserts. In our family that means pumpkin pie, apple pie, and rich chocolate cake. But, I have also seen families who serve mouth-watering desserts such as trifles and carrot cake. For me, the only way to go is a rich, dark stout that is redolent of chocolate, coffee and perhaps some spices. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout fits the bill perfectly.

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Posted by on November 21, 2018 in Beer