Beer!

God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.

So goes the Billy Currington song, and it certainly does sum up three important points of view. (Three points with which I tend to agree in case anyone is wondering.) In this case, we’re concerned with the second of those items: beer.

Beer is one of those luxuries, delights, vices, pleasures that’s been around a long time. Its origins are lost in the mists of history. Since its beginning, it’s become an exquisite craft that, for some, approaches religion. It comes in thousands upon thousands of forms; a beer for any taste, season or reason.

Beer is primarily made from (malted) barley, which is why it’s sometimes called “(cold) barley soup” or “barley wine” (especially the really strong beers, some of which approach or exceed the alcohol content of wine). That beer is basically a grain product is why I lovingly refer to it as “liquid bread.”

There are some different barley families, but a key factor in the character of the beer comes when the barley is malted and then roasted. The degree of roasting (from light to nearly charcoal) has a great deal to do with the beer’s flavor.

If you’ve ever tasted Post Grape-Nuts, you know what roasted malted barley tastes like, because Grape-Nuts is made from baked wheat and barley.  (Grape-Nuts was one of my favorite cereals as a kid. I especially liked it with honey or brown sugar on it.)

Beer is also made from hops, which serves to balance the sweetness of the malted barley. Hops also provides fragrance to the beer, and there are a variety of different hops families and a variety of different ways of using hops (mainly having to do with what point the hops is added during the process).

I have a beer-making friend who has several hops plants growing in his (Minnesota) backyard. Every winter, the vines die, but every summer they grow back and cover his fence and overhead trellis. They provide lush cover and the fragrance reminds one of the better (and more hopped) beers. It’s fun to pick a cone, crush it in your hands and get a real hops blast.

There is water, of course, and the final key ingredient is the magical yeast critter, the very special, very important tiny animal responsible for all forms of alcohol.

The yeast provide both the alcohol and the bubbles (the carbonation). Yeast produce carbon dioxide, which carbonates beer (and makes bread rise) and alcohol. (Specifically ethanol, a rare solvent humans can consume without dying an immediate and painful death.) In both cases, these are waste products due to the yeast consuming carbohydrates (the malted barley in this case).

Basically, yeast eat sugar and piss alcohol; something to try to not remember when drinking. (Mmmm, what tasty yeast piss this is, eh?)

In olden days, before microscopes revealed the tiny yeast critter, it was known that beer foam (barm) from an existing batch was necessary to start a new batch (hence transferring the yeast). There is a widely accepted legend that they called this “godisgoode” or “goddes god” (God’s gift).

And those four ingredients, water, barley (malt), hops and yeast are all it takes to make beer.  A German law, Reinheitsgebot,  from 1516, specifies that “beer” consists of only those things (you could make it other ways, but you couldn’t call it “beer”). In fact, the law doesn’t mention yeast, since they weren’t discovered until the 1800s by Louis Pasteur (you may have heard of him; the term pasteurizing comes from his work and is named in his honor).

Something to keep in mind: Beer has food value, but food has no beer value! Clearly beer is superior to food. (Liquid bread!)

There is also this old German poem (and when it comes to beer, the Germans knew whereof they spoke): “Water is drank by the four legged beast; man prefers it with hops, malts, and yeast.


Here are some of my current and past favorites (they’re more or less listed in order of currency and favor):

beer-cygnus-x1Flat Earth Cygnus X1 Porter

Currently my all-time favorite, and hands down my favorite porter! Part of the delight is that it’s named after the first black hole discovered (and the song).

Based on an old English porter recipe, they add rye malt to give it a very distinctive, dry flavor. It clocks in with a 6.5% ABV, 45 IBU, 1.065 O.G. and has a wonderful black color.

Winter is the usual time for porters and stouts, but I’d drink this beer in any season!

beer-out-of-boundsAvery Out of Bounds Stout

A really close second to the Cygnus X1, and unquestionably my favorite stout by a long shot. Wonderfully dry and mellow.

This one clocks in with a 6.3% ABV, 51 IBU, 1.065 O.G. and (of course) a rich black color.

After my first six-pack I hunted stores unsuccessfully for about a month trying to find more. Problem was, I’d forgotten the brewery and was looking for it as a Great Lakes Brewery beer. And getting very frustrated that stores had all sorts of GLB beers, but not that one. Once I realized it was Avery Brewing, I found it just fine.

beer-ellies-brownAvery Ellie’s Brown Ale

A very serviceable, rather mild, brown ale. Plus it’s named after a dog and from a dog-friendly brewery, so it really appeals to the dog-lover in me.

Beer stats: 5.5% ABV, 28 IBU, 1.056 O.G. with (as you’d expect) a nice brown color.

A friend of mine had a beloved border collie named Nellie, and I think of this beer a memorial ale for Nellie.

Newcastle Brown Ale

This became a standard beer for me long before it became so popular you could find it at most liquor stores and restaurants. When I started drinking it, you had to look for it. You needed to find a store that stocked it and sold it. You didn’t want it to be stale.  That’s always an issue with imports that have traveled a ways. It’s also an issue with non-mainstream beers due to a low turnover rate. When the beer comes in clear glass bottles, all the worse.

Smithwick’s Irish Ale

A really delicious dark ale from Ireland. Surprisingly mild for such a full-bodied beer.

Very good with soup or chili!

Negra Modelo

Another beer you’ll usually find in my fridge. This is a Mexican dark beer that is mild. I love Mexican food (Tex-Mex, actually), and this beer goes great with it.

Strong enough to match the food, but well-balanced.

New Belgium Fat Tire

This is a new entry in my beer pantheon. I discovered this a few years ago at a local hangout that served it. In very short time it’s become a standard in my fridge.

New Belgium Brewing has a large line of beers, and so far I’m thumbs up on each one I’ve tried.


So, what’s in your fridge?


15 responses to “Beer!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Here’s a good article about beer making:

    The science and magic of beer

  • TellyGeek

    Smithwicks is good but this Irish girl prefers her Harp Lager which is made by the same folks that make Guinness.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I know of Harp, but have never tried it. Guinness, I must admit, is on the borderline for me (although it’s been a while, and I find my beer tastes to evolve over time).

  • Nandini Godara

    Holy crap that’s a good lookin’ fridge!

  • the Urban Strategist

    I love your beer fridge! Something tells me you would have enjoyed making bacon oatmeal stout with my friends and I. It was a fabulous experience. A few of my friends come from brewing families and own their own label- so making beer with them is typically filled with advice, and focused on truly getting everything right from nose to finish! It’s quite a lot of fun, and besides, it’s always better when there’s bacon! 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ha! Well, it’s true that I love bacon as much as the next guy,… bacon beer? Well, why not! I’ve already covered the topic of bacon suits and bacon coffins! (The article I just set a link to has become one of the most popular articles I’ve published recently. I’ve been assuming that’s due to “Toyota Jan” but I wonder if it’s the bacon?)

      I have a beer-making buddy (who’s thrilled his daughter has taken up the interest) who’d be totally into the bacon idea! He’s at the level of roasting his own malt and growing his own hops. Doesn’t own his own label, though. For myself, I lean towards beers produced under the Reinheitsgebot law, whereas my buddy lives for the fall when the pumpkin brews come out. (All I can say there is, “Ewwwwww!!”)

      Well, let’s see… so far I’ve learned you like beer and bacon! Very commendable, especially in these wine-cooler, vegan days. (I did not claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat nuts and berries! (Although I do like nuts and berries… you know, as side dishes! :)))

      • the Urban Strategist

        lol! That’s fantastic!- roasting his own malt and growing his own hops! Now, that is dedication. Commendable to you and your fellow brewers! Hops is by far my favorite, however I am secretly allergic (makes me feel like I have hayfever) but I can not help myself enough and enjoy it regardless! Okay, I am a bit of a sucker for pumpkin beer, however typically I only try the local pumpkin beers like Howe Sound, Granville Island, Steamworks, or whatever… I know when Oktoberfest rolls around here the downtown core sports a lot of raspberry beers, and yuck. To me beer should taste like blood, sweat, and tears at the end of a long day all sloshed into a delicious brew of icy cold refreshment. (Can you tell I like a hearty beer?) But I have found once too much fruit is added to beer, I might as well have a cooler. Not typically my thing.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It blows me away how much variety comes from beers made using just the Basic Four. (And, really, it’s mostly the malt and hops, although there are strains of yeasts.) I’ve had beers that you’d swear had to have chocolate in them, but nope… just “chocolate” malt.

        My loving parents, big on vegetables they are (dad had a big veggie garden every year), despair that they never passed on their love of veggies to their son. As a mature adult there are many vegetables I can eat without making faces (and a few I actually like), but gourds will never be on that list. There’s a taste and texture thing going on there that puts them on the opposite side of the room from me. So pumpkin brews… and I’ve tried them (I’ll try almost anything)… are not on my menu! More for you!

        You probably like the Surly beers. Hops is a funny thing — an allergy is very believable. When hops is strong in a beer, people react to it differently. Some get a banana-like hit off it, some get a strong sense of pine. I’m in that latter group. A strongly hopped beer, especially a late-hopped beer, often gives me the sense I’m drinking pine-needle juice. I’m definitely on the malty side, although a strong well-balanced beer is even better (Smithwick’s Irish Ale or, better yet, Schmaltz’s Alt from New Ulm… a beer so black a powerful flashlight is seen through it only as a dim red glow, but one of the most balanced beers I’ve ever had considering how much malt it must have in it).

        The mark of a really good beer is that it tastes yummy not ice-cold. Those Coors commercials bragging about the can coldness indicators… yeah, so your utterly tasteless beer has even less chance of tasting like something. Good beer spoils you. I was at a party long ago and someone handed me an MGD. I was into the conversation, so I mindlessly opened the can and took a sip. My brain thought I was sipping mildly flavored bubbly canned water. But my brain had no record of being given a can of Mendota Springs water, so it made my head look down at the can in puzzlement.

        Beer! Huh! … This shit really does taste like water!!

  • nannus

    A few recommendations: Timothy Taylor Landlord: the best beer I had in England, with a flowery taste.

    Any kind of Belgian lambic. They use special brewing processes, involving uncommon microorganisms. These beers have complex tasts, they are generally more or less sour, very unusual. If you should ever visit Belgium, don’t miss the opportunity. Try beers from Lindemans, Bellevue etc. There are also interesting specialties with fruits. Belgium has a lot of other interesting specialties as well.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Funny you should read this page and comment. I was just thinking a couple of days ago that I really need to update the beer list. There’s only one of those four beers that still regularly inhabits my fridge (the Newcastle). That has more to do with discovering beers I like better rather than any disappointment (although I do seem to have moved past the Fat Tire).

      I’m not particularly a fan of the lambics. As you say, they deliberately allow local bacteria to get into the beer during fermentation, and this literally “spoils” the beer (as bacteria are want to do). Done right, it creates a sour beer that many love. (Done wrong, it also creates a sour beer, but an undrinkable one!) I’ve found I’m not a fan of sour in beer (or much else), so I tend to leave the lambics alone. Many of the Belgian brewers add fruit and other interesting things, but I’m pretty strictly devoted to beers that follow the Reinheitsgebot.

      The Timothy Taylor Landlord sounds interesting, so thanks for the recommendation. I looked it up, it’s a strongish pale ale, and I do enjoy pale ales during the summer. It looks like the closest place I can buy it is 175 miles away, though. I’ll have to add it to the list of beers to try if I ever actually see them. (Have you had Innis & Gunn? That’s another British beer that’s the latest one added to my “Try This!” list.)

      • nannus

        I am living in Germany and British beers are a bit hard to get here. I drank that beer when I was in Birmingham, where you can have it in several pubs, but I have seen on the internet that they also bottle it. I think they use some special hops that gives it a somehow flowery taste.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Hops is one of the two things that hugely account for a beer’s character (malt being the other). And it’s not just the variety of hops (of which there are many, many), but how much is added and when it’s added to the brewing process.

        Added early, the fragrant volatiles are boiled off, and the bittering oils are extracted. This, in part, controls the beer’s sweetness-bitter spectrum. The amount (and type) of malts provide the sweetness. Beers with a lot of both can be balanced — neither too sweet nor too bitter. Beers where one or the other predominates will be bitter or sweet.

        Added late (and in some cases even after the boil), the hops doesn’t contribute much bitterness, but does contribute the fragrant volatiles. This gives beers their hoppy flavor or fragrance. Hoppy beers are really big in the USA right now. I’m generally not a fan of hops — I lean towards balanced, or even somewhat malty, beers.

        Pale Ales tend to have a rather hoppy flavor and some of them have a hoppy “nose”. Different brewers use different recipes and “pale ale” has a very large domain space. I most favor India Pale Ales (IPAs), which tend to be more balanced and high on both malt and hops.

        At least in the summer, when hoppier beer goes along with the heat. In the winter it’s all porters and stouts for me. Darker, maltier beers with a lot of malt flavor. Mmmmmm!

        Had a bottle of a local brewery’s porter last night. It’s one of my all-time favorite beers, and you might get a kick out of the brewery name (The Flat Earth Brewery) and the beer: Cygnus X-1 — named after the first black hole discovered. And it is a black porter, very well balanced, and just the right amount of burnt malt to give it a wonderful dry smoky flavor.

      • nannus

        Personally, I also like darker, maltier beers a lot. I also like beers that have a flowery or fruity taste due to special types of hops. I am not such a fan of very bitter ones. Unfortunately, a lot of German beer is just Pils, which is normally quite bitter. Not the type I really like.

        But I also do like lambic (if they are not too sour). That is, however, something totally different, so it is maybe outside the real beer category.

        However, I am not such a big beer drinker, after all. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You would likely enjoy porters and stouts and most brown ales. Pale ales will be hoppier, although many IPAs have enough malt to balance the beer (but be aware some don’t).

        “Beer” these days covers a lot of ground, and pretty much any cereal-based malted beverage can be called “beer” (certainly if the cereal involved is barley). I learned recently that in Medieval England, “beer” was a malted cereal beverage — usually dark — with hops, but “ale” was a malted cereal beverage — usually pale in color — without hops. Some considered hops a “noxious weed” that would destroy their precious ale. 🙂

        On the flip side, the German Reinheitsgebot law said you can only call it “beer” if it’s made from the classic ingredients. German brewers made all sorts of malted cereal beverages, but couldn’t necessarily call them beer. Having contributed so much to the progress of beer, it’s sad that beer and breweries seem in decline in Germany. Younger Germans are seeking out other beverages apparently.

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