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Mead tasting at Dahlia’s Pour House to highlight ancient beverage

Mead-1-While not strictly considered a beer, mead does loosely fall into the same category. Whereas beer uses mainly malted grains for its fermentable sugars, mead uses primarily honey. Often meads are made with fruits, grains and even hops to impart unique aromas and flavors. It is often a potent drink with alcohol levels ranging from 8% ABV to over 20%.

The exact origin of mead is lost to the veils of time, but many archeologists believe that, like the best discoveries, it was a sort of happy coincidence. Thousands of years ago, man lived a nomadic existence in Africa. He stayed in a particular place only as long as the food held out. As he wandered the plains of Africa, one nomad found himself in need of something to sate his thirst.

A common feature of the African plains is the baobab tree. These massive trees have trunks that are as big around as tanker trucks and its lower limbs were often used by elephants to scratch hard-to-reach itches on their backs. Occasionally, a limb would break off during these scratching sessions causing a hollow in the trunk of the tree.

During the dry seasons, the hollows in the tree trunks made an excellent location for bees to build their hives and make honey. But, during the wet seasons, those same hollows would fill with water swamping the hives and mixing the honey with water. Windborne yeast would infiltrate the honey-water mixture and fermentation would begin.

The nomads, knowing that the hollows in the baobabs often contained water, sought out the trees for the water contained in the hollows. One day one nomad came across a hollow that had held a bee hive and tasted the water collected inside. It was sweet, cool and delicious. After drinking his fill he began to feel a strange euphoria and attributed it to the syrupy liquid. He drank more and, finding himself unable to walk far, decided to lay down for a nap. Unbeknownst to him, he had just discovered one of the world’s first alcoholic drinks and was about to discover the bane of all drinkers, the hangover.

As history progressed, so did the making of mead. Archeologists have discovered evidence that the drink was produced by man as early as 2,000 years before the Christian era by the Chinese. But, they have also uncovered proof that Europeans fermented mead around the same time. Descriptions of mead can be found in the sacred books of Hinduism as well as the teachings of Aristotle. During the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, mead was said to be the drink of choice by both aristocracy and commoners alike.

Today mead is a much more sophisticated drink than it was in history and is brewed with as much care and craftsmanship as craft beers. It is produced in a meadery and, depending on the way it is made, can be classified one of several different ways. Like wine, mead can be dry, semi-sweet or sweet. Mead that is made with spices such as cloves, cinnamon or nutmeg or herbs such as meadowsweet, hops, or even lavender or chamomile, is called a metheglin. While mead that contains fruit such as raspberry, blackberry or strawberry is called a melomel. A mead that is fermented with grape juice is called a pyment. These are just a few of the many types of mead available that are brewed using a variety of methods and adjuncts.

On Friday, February 28, Dahlia’s Pour House in the King Street Beer District, is holding a mead tasting that will include eight meads to try as well as light snacks to enjoy them with. The meads that will be offered include:

Redstone Meadery’s Black Raspberry Nectar made with black raspberries, Sunshine Nectar with apricots and Nectar of the Hops an intriguing blend of hoppiness and honey.

B. Nektar Meadery’s Necromango made with mango juice, honey and black pepper, Black Fang sparkling session mead made with honey, blackberry, clove and orange zest and Zombie Killer an apple cider mead with Michigan honey and cherry juice.

Twisted Pine Brewery’s West Bound Braggot brewed with a light grain bill, orange blossom honey, pungent Citra hops, Tasmanian pepper berries, and Buddha’s Hand, a fragrant citrus fruit, and then fermented this unique ale with Belgian saison yeast.

Crafted Artisan Meadery’s Pollinator that is dry-hopped with Cascade hops and spiced with blackberry hydromel.

Tickets for the event are available at Dahlia’s Pour House and are $35 in advance of $40 at the door. If you are looking for a unique Valentine’s Day gift for your sweetheart, you can purchase a couples’ tickets before February 14th for $60. For more information contact Dahlia’s Pour House at 2695 Post St, Jacksonville, FL 32204.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Beer Tasting

 

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The Price is Wrong is oh so right

The-Price-is-WrongAdam Sandler, in his 1996 sports comedy, “Happy Gilmore,” coined the phrase, “The Price is Wrong…” followed by a mild expletive. Well, in honor of that infamous phrase, and with its own backstory, SweetWater Brewing Co. has released its new Dank Tank offering. The brew, named The Price is Wrong of course, is a bronze Belgian-style monster that holes out at 79 IBUs and 9% ABV.

The Price is Wrong is a classic Belgian with a SweetWater twist,” said SweetWater’s head brewer Nick Nock in a company press release. We’ve enhanced it with some of our favorite hops to bridge two styles together for a big refreshing beer.”

The beer boasts a malt bill that includes Maris Otter, Pilsner, 2-row and wheat that is balanced out with Nugget, Centennial and Simcoe hops that provide herbal and pine notes. The brew is then dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo hops for a citrus nose. Belgian yeast adds to the character of the beer and takes it to a whole new level of complexity.

As is the case with all Dank tank brews, the fun-loving guys and gals over at the brewery have created a backstory for The Price is Wrong. In this episode Danky, the hapless mascot of SweetWater’s Dank Tank brews, is fresh off tour as caddy to Boob Barker with whom he gets into a golf course scuffle. The predicament leads to a rigged appearance on The Price is Wrong game show, shenanigans ensue. Get the whole, hilarious story at http://sweetwaterbrew.com/brews/dank-tank/.

The Price is Wrong hit shelves and taps on Monday, August 12, 2013, so head on out and grab a few bombers while you can.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Beer, Craft Beer Brewery

 

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Beer: Just four ingredients, infinite possibilities

Pilsner Urquell in its original glass

Pilsner Urquell in its original glass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Brief History

Thousands of years ago, an urn of water was sitting under a table being used to process grain. Some of that grain fell into the urn and, over the course of several weeks (housekeeping was not a top priority in those days), the water slowly transformed into an early form of what we now call beer. About that time, a thirsty wanderer came along and, seeing the urn of liquid, decided to drink it. He (or she) was surprised by the sweet taste of the concoction. The beverage was definitely not water, but it tasted so good they continued to drink. After drinking a while, they noticed that they felt strangely euphoric and slightly out of control. With a full belly, they decided to sleep off the strange feelings and awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. Thus, the first hangover was suffered.

Since then beer has been used for everything from currency to sponsor of beach volleyball. During its long history it helped to save the human race, assisted monks to survive 40 days of fasting at Lent, and was instrumental in founding our country.

Ingredients: The Early Years

If you were paying attention to the story I just told, you heard two of the ingredients of beer; water and grain. And, in the beginning, that I all that the simple people of that time knew about. But, as the process of brewing beer was refined, more ingredients made it into the brew pot.

Archeologists agree that the Vikings that first conquered and settled northern Great Britain used to flavor their beer with heather flowers. The ancient Chinese are known to have used hawthorn fruit in beer over 9,000 years ago and ancient Hondurans used cocoa, chilies and honey in their brew.

Delaware brewery Dogfish Head has made several brews based on ancient recipes that used such ingredients as chamomile, oregano and palm fruit. But, apart from specialty brews such as Midas Touch or Ta Henket – both brews based on ancient recipes – beer is traditionally made from a just a few base ingredients.

Ingredients: The Law

Beer as we know it today owes a debt to the Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV who, in the town of Ingolstadt decreed in 1516 that beer could be made of only certain ingredients. Those ingredients were: barley, hops, and water. The fourth ingredient, yeast, had not been discovered yet and this was not included in the law until it was understood to be a part of the fermentation process as explained by Louis Pastuer in 1857. The law was known as the Reinheitgebot or more simply, the German Purity Law.

It is from these basic ingredients that beer as we know it today is crafted.

Over the next hour we will discuss each and how it affects the finished product. We will also taste examples of beer styles that highlight each ingredient.

Water

Seemingly the simplest of the four ingredients in beer, water is surprisingly a very complex part of the final product. Water comprises more than 95 percent of beer and, depending on its mineral content, can lend distinct flavors to the beer that is made with it. Water hardness or softness is something to which every good brewer pays very close attention.

Some of the world’s oldest and most well-known breweries have been using water from the same source to brew their distinctive beers for hundreds of years. And, when the brands go global, some of the flavor characteristics simply cannot be reproduced. An example of this is the debate that rages on in beer circles of whether Guinness tastes better in Ireland than anywhere else. Detractors say that it is simply romanticism that makes the beer taste better on the Emerald Isle while proponents insist that differences in the water used at contract breweries simply is not the same and thus the flavor of the beer is off because of this. In fact, a serious study was undertaken to put this argument to rest. The result: Guinness brewed in Ireland did taste better to a panel of experts in a blind taste test.

Another famous example of water playing a pivotal role in the flavor of beer is that of Pilsners brewed in Pilzen, Czechoslovakia. Bohemian Pilsners are more malt forward despite the fact that they are hopped more heavily than other Pilsner styles. This is due to the incredible softness of the naturally occurring waters used in brewing. Pilsner Urquell is an excellent example of how water affects the final taste of a beer.

Malt

Traditionally, and according to the German Purity Law, malt is made from barley grain. This was part of the law in part to ensure bakers had enough wheat and rye to make bread. Today, however, beer is brewed with a variety of grains including wheat, rye, oats, even quinoa. The mega brewers use other, cheaper grains such as rice and corn as well.

Malt is made by soaking the grain in water until it begins to sprout. At that point the grain is converting its starches into the simple sugars that are needed for fermentation to take place. The grain is removed from the water and halted from further germination by drying with hot air in a kiln.

Beers styles that are traditionally malt-forward include Scottish ale, doppelbock, Vienna lager, and English barleywine. These beers are typically sweeter with a deeper color and rich maltiness. But, other styles that are influenced heavily by malt include stouts and porters that are made with malt that is roasted longer in the kiln until almost black in color. This process lends the chocolate and coffee flavors that are so prized in these styles. Still another style of beer – hefeweizen – is light, slightly sweet and yeasty in flavor. This style gets its characteristic golden color and hazy appearance from wheat grain. An excellent example of this style is the original Blue Moon.

Hops

The flower of the plant that bares their name, hops provides the bitterness in beer that offsets the sweetness of the malt. Also known as cones, the hops flowers contain chemical compounds known as Alpha Acids that provide their bitter punch. But, hops were originally used for another reason in addition to as a flavoring; hops kills off bacteria and has preservative properties. In fact, it is these properties that may have contributed to beer saving humanity. Water in Medieval Europe was often swarming with microbes that caused sickness and disease. But, beer was found to be safe in part because of the anti-bacterial effects of the hops used in the brewing process. The preservative properties of hops lead to the discovery that beer that was highly hopped could last longer on long sea journeys and arrive in far-flung locales such as India still drinkable if a bit more bitter than the average ale. Indeed, this is the origins of the beer style known as India Pale Ale or IPA.

There are over 50 recognized styles of hops that provide flavors that range from extreme bitterness like that of a grapefruit or pine needle to milder citrus flavors that are just right for cutting the sweetness of malts.

Beers that truly showcase the flavors possible due to hops are the afore mentioned IPAs. Decidedly hop-forward, IPAs have evolved from monstrous hop bombs that lead full-on assaults of your senses to well-rounded and carefully crafted beers that employ skillful blends and additions of hops at different stages of the brewing process to produce complex brews that challenge the palate as well as the mind of the taster.

Yeast

In ancient times, brewers did not understand that the process of beer brewing would be incomplete without the contributions of yeast. It is likely that ancient brews were spontaneously fermented due to the addition of wild yeasts suspended in the air. Today, however, the true function of yeast is understood and, with the exception of lambics, most beers are intentionally infected with specific strains of yeast that are known to impart certain flavors.

Yeast is separated into two types for the purpose of brewing beer – ale and lager. Ale yeasts typically ferment at warmer temperatures and impart a frutier and fuller flavor to the beer. On the other hand, lager yeasts prefer cooler temperatures and produce crisper, cleaner beers that taste best when served ice cold.

Examples of flavors you may detect due to yeast include banana, crackers, cloves or tartness. In some cases, brettanomyces and Lactic Acid bacteria are used to produce extreme beers that present sour or extremely funky flavors. Another example of a sour beer is a lambic. These beers are made in a specific area of Belgium near Brussels and uses naturally occurring yeasts in the air to ferment the beer spontaneously.

Four Ingredients, Infinite Possibilities

Though beer is traditionally comprised of just the four ingredients we have discussed today, there are infinite combinations that can affect the flavor and character of the final product. Through skillful manipulation of these ingredients hundreds of styles of beer have been produced. Toss in a few other ingredients like fruits, flowers or even Rocky Mountain Oysters and you expand the possible flavors that can be extracted from beer exponentially. Regardless of the reputation beer has had as an inferior drink, it can be affirmatively argued that it is actually much more complex than any other alcoholic beverage.

Beer has been the drink of Pharos and the wage that helped build the pyramids, it has been used in ancient rituals and as sustenance during the most holy of times, it is a staple at sporting events and backyard barbecues. In short, it is one of the most popular beverages in the world behind water and tea. If that is not deserving of a hearty toast, nothing is!

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Beer, Beer Education

 

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Brewers Association adds historical styles to 2013 guidelines

BA_logoEvery year the Brewers Association (BA) updates and releases its guide to beer styles that sets the bar for brewers across the nation. This year’s version, the 2013 Beer Style Guide was released Monday, March 4 with a few new styles and several modifications to existing styles. The BA is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting craft breweries in the United States through educational programs and advocacy.

In this year’s edition, the number of recognized styles has grown from 140 to 142. The two additional styles are Adambier and Grätzer. Both brews are historic brews that have been appearing more and more in American breweries. Adambier is a German beer that was popular around Dortmund, while Grätzer is native to Poland.

Adambier, also called Dortmunder Adambier or Dortmunder Alt, is a potent, smoky beer often weighing in above 10% ABV. Traditionally the beer was strong, dark, and sour with high hopping rates and, in historic batches, a significant amount of wheat. The beer was typically barrel-aged for at least a year and often much longer.  The new style guidelines according to the BA are:

“Light brown to very dark in color. It may or may not use wheat in its formulation. Original styles of this beer may have a low or medium low degree of smokiness. Smoke character may be absent in contemporary versions of this beer. Astringency of highly roasted malt should be absent. Toast and caramel-like malt characters may be evident. Low to medium hop bitterness are perceived. Low hop flavor and aroma are perceived. It is originally a style from Dortmund. Adambier is a strong, dark, hoppy, sour ale extensively aged in wood barrels. Extensive aging and the acidification of this beer can mask malt and hop character to varying degrees. Traditional and non-hybrid varieties of European hops were traditionally used. A Kölsch-like ale fermentation is typical Aging in barrels may contribute some level of Brettanomyces and lactic character. The end result is a medium to full bodied complex beer in hop, malt, Brett and acidic balance.*”

The second new addition, Grätzer, gets its name from the town where it originated, Gratz in what used to be Prussia. The town is now called Grodzisk and is located in the province of Wielkopolski in western Poland. The region has a well-established brewing history as evidenced by the output of the port city of Gdansk. In the 15th century, the city on the Baltic Sea managed to produce well over 6 million gallons of beer at over 300 breweries. The Grätzer style of history is that of a smoked, white wheat beer. Traditionally the wheat malt was smoke with oak or birch wood. The guidelines for the style set out by the Brewers Association state:

“Grätzer is a Polish-Germanic pre-Reinheitsgebot style of golden to copper colored ale. The distinctive character comes from at least 50% oak wood smoked wheat malt with a percentage of barley malt optional. The overall balance is a balanced and sessionably low to medium assertively oak-smoky malt emphasized beer. It has a low to medium low hop bitterness; none or very low European noble hop flavor and aroma. A Kölsch-like ale fermentation and aging process lends a low degree of crisp and ester fruitiness Low to medium low body. Neither diacetyl nor sweet corn-like DMS (dimethylsulfide) should be perceived.*”

It is important to note that the style guidelines set forth by the BA are used as the basis for judging beers at the Great American Beer Festival held every year in Denver, Colo. and at the World Beer Cup. These style may differ slightly from style guides produced by other beer judging organizations, but are by far considered the Gospel by many brewers both hobbyist and professional.

The addition of historical styles as well as popular style indicates that craft brewing is coming into its own. Interest in traditional styles is on the rise allowing for new generations of beer enthusiasts to experience the delights inherent in each. As new historical styles are discovered and rise in popularity, they too will no doubt find their place in future Brewers Association guidelines.

*2013 Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines used with permission of Brewers Association.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Beer, Beer Styles

 

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All hopped up

Deutsch: Hopfengarten (Humulus lupulus) nahe A...

Deutsch: Hopfengarten (Humulus lupulus) nahe Au in der Hallertau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even though it only has four main ingredients, beer is an infinitely diverse beverage. I n skilled hands,, those four ingredients – water, malt, yeast, and hops – can be combined to create anything from a light, crisp pilsner to a thick and hearty stout. In between those two extremes are hundreds of styles and variations. Add in a variety of adjuncts, and the possibilities become astronomical.

But, beer did not always have all four of the main ingredients that we enjoy in the modern brew. In fact, one of the most famous beer purity laws, the German Reinheitsgebot, originally identified only three ingredients – water, malt, and hops when it was first enacted in 1516. The law was later amended when yeast was discovered by Louis Pasture in the late 1800s.

Still, there is one ingredient in what we know as beer that was not always a staple. That ingredient is hops. Used to add the characteristic bitterness inherent in many beers, hops are a relatively new addition to a beverage that has been with humanity since the very beginning of civilization. Tests of pieces of pottery found in modern day Iran have produced evidence that a fermented grain drink was produced and enjoyed over 7,000 years ago.

The first brews were thought to be rather simple concoctions of crushed grains and water that were left outside to ferment. Of course, the makers of these early brews had no idea that by leaving these early beers out in the open air, they were being spontaneously inoculated by wild yeast and thus the process of fermentation had begun. And, those first brewmasters had no idea about the flavor enhancing properties of hops.

It is 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.

Contrary to popular belief, hops were not first used in beer by early Germans; instead it was the French that added the bitter cones to their brews first. The Germans were nearly 300 years behind. The key text that points to this is written by Abbot Adalhard of the Benedictine monastery of Corbie. In statutes that spell out how to run the monastery, the Abbot specifically mentions that hops gathered in the wild are to be given to the porter for the making of beer.

Since the introduction of hops into beer, things have never been the same. Hops, with their natural preservative properties, are responsible for the development of many of today’s favorite beer styles. The English introduced copious amounts of hops into ales that were shipped to India in order for the beer to arrive unspoiled bringing the world IPAs. Pilsners get their delicious crisp, dry flavor from the addition of hops. And, Imperial stouts get their impressive and deeply satisfying wallop from the bitter cones, too.

Depending on the flavors a brewer wants to impart to his brew, he or she will chose from the wide variety of hops. There are hops that will add citrusy flavors, piney flavors, and vegetal flavors. There are hops that are added specifically for the aroma they bring to a brew and there are hops that are used to add pleasant floral or fruity notes to beer. The bottom line is that brewers have a wide variety of hops to choose from both for bittering and aroma. In the right hands, this simple plant can be used to elevate a mediocre beer to heights that can only be described stratospherically.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Beer, Beer Education

 

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