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.“
Below are some of my current and past favorite beers. I’ve gone through a number of distinct eras, I’m in the fifth or sixth currently. Here are some of my current favorites — beers likely to be found in my fridge:
Surly Furious IPA
This was one of the first IPAs I ever drank, and at the time I didn’t very much enjoy it. I felt as if I was drinking a pine tree. (There’s actually a cute story about that night. A little joke my ex-wife and I played on a co-worker of mine. We pretended we were strangers and that I picked her up.)
It’s funny how much my taste has changed since then (on several counts). Now a Surly is kind of a default backup beer if a joint doesn’t have something more interesting. I also don’t usually buy it for my fridge unless, again, choice is wanting.
Surly is a local brewery that has been around for 14 years, and they have a huge selection of regular and seasonal beers. I’ve sampled many of them but tend to stick with Furious.
It weighs in at hefty 6.7% ABV with a lot of IBU that come from five different kinds of hops (Warrior, Ahtanum, Cascade, Simcoe, Amarillo).
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Beer from Delaware, our President’s home state!
As the name suggests, this stuff is hopped for 60 minutes, so it’s all the hoppy. If that’s not enough hops for you, they also have a 90 Minute IPA and a 120 Minute IPA. (In fact, the 90 Minute IPA is the original; this stuff is a sequel.) I buy the 60 Minute IPA because that’s what’s usually in stock where I shop.
It weighs in at 6.0% ABV and declares 60 IBU.
Another reason I stick with this one is that the 90 Minute IPA weighs in at 9.0% ABV, which is a bit strong for me. It declares 90 IBU, which is fine, but 9.0% alcohol is a bit much.
The 120 Minute IPA is basically a barley wine in my book, with its 12–20% ABV.
A classic West Coast IPA, dry and bitter. I drank a lot of these on the train trip to Seattle and came to really love it.
Along with the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA above, I give it extra points for being a pale IPA (which, after all, is what the “P” stands for). This is entirely specious on my part. When the British use the word “pale” with regard to beer, they just mean it’s not black or dark brown. But, still, I like my IPAs pale, and Stone IPA is, as you see, one of the palest.
Stone is based in Escondido, California, and they’ve been around since 1996. They’re famous for their Arrogant Bastard Ale (which, come to think of it, I haven’t seen in a while). You’ll notice the can artwork is upside down. That’s intentional. Part of their “Leave no stone unturned” campaign.
Their classic IPA, simply named Stone IPA, weighs in at a whopping 6.9% ABV and declares 71 IBU. (That 6.9% made the train trip extra fun.)
Bad Weather Hopcromancer IPA
A very flavorful IPA from another local brewery that’s been around since 2013. They don’t say, and none of the beer pages I checked seemed to know, but I think the great flavor comes from Mosaic hops.
The science fiction and fantasy fan in me just loves the name, Hopcromancer! Cool design on the can, although that’s not unusual in the craft beer space. Neither are really cool names, for that matter. Creative people craft beer brewers.
This one is another ass-kicker, weighing in at 7.0% ABV and declaring 75 IBU.
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
Another very flavorful IPA. Its flavor — from the Citra and Mosaic hops — is so distinctive I almost believe I could pick it out in a blind taste test.
Like the Surly Furious, the Fresh Squeezed IPA is fairly dark. (But again, the British would still call this a pale ale.)
It weighs in at 6.4% ABV and declares 60 IBU.
In fact, it’s a little on the sweet side for an IPA (which is why I think I could identify it blindfolded). I wonder if they focused on late hopping for major aroma but not so much bittering.
Indeed Flavorwave IPA
This is a new addition to my fridge, a beer I tried when my beer warehouse was out of Hopcromancer one time so I tried something new.
And I liked it a lot. I especially love the artwork on the cans. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it’s really busy. (As I mentioned above, really interesting artwork on the cans is common for craft beers. It’s an art form all its own.)
Indeed is another of our many local breweries. (The list is long enough to surprise even me. Craft beer has become extremely popular, although shifting tastes do make me wonder about a bubble. A lot of breweries have folded, too.)
Flavorwave weighs in at 6.2% ABV and declares a nice 75 IBU.
Fulton 300 IPA
A very distinctive IPA (it’s that wonderful Mosaic hops) from another local brewery. I like all their beers, but the 300 IPA is my favorite by bar.
It was originally only available in 16-ounce cans (in four-packs) and 12-ounce bottles. Recently I’ve seen 12-ounce can cases, so yay!
It’s a little on the not-pale side, but not compared to many, and the flavor and aroma more than make up for what’s a silly conceit on my part anyway.
It’s fairly dangerous with its 7.0% ABV and high drinkability. It declares a hefty 74 IBU, so it’s definitely an IPA.
It’s one of my favorites although the fairly heavy mouth feel and high ABV mean you don’t treat it as a session beer.
New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA
I haven’t had a Fat Tire (see below) in many years, although the glasses in this sequence of beers are my New Belgium Fat Tire glasses (the ones I liberated from bar slavery). It’s just not a beer that appeals to me any more; I’m pretty much stuck on the IPAs these days.
The Voodoo Ranger line, as I recall and can’t be bothered to check, started with a double IPA, Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA. It has an ABV of 9.0% and 70 IBU. Good stuff.
Then they came out with this one and a Juicy Haze version, and Voodoo Ranger turned into a whole line of beers. (It’s a successful attempt for New Belgium to get back on top after a post-Fat Tire slump.)
This plain old Voodoo Ranger IPA weighs in at 7.0% ABV and a milder 50 IBU. It has a nice pale color, and the can artwork is pretty great (even in an industry known for great beer can art).
Elysian Space Dust
Picked this up on a lark because I liked the name and Elysian is a local company. I decided I liked it a lot.
I haven’t checked out any of their other beers, just the Space Dust IPA, but looking at their beers, I’ll have to see if I can find them. For a local company, I can’t recall seeing their products at the local beer warehouse.
It’s a bit of an ass-kicker with 8.2% ABV. It’s a respectable IPA with 73 IBU and a reasonable pale color. Drinks a little too smoothly for something with that much kick. Very dangerous!
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It’s hard to judge such things, but if my First Era was the initial discovery of beer, and my Second Era was discovering craft beer, then the beers below come from my Third and Fourth Eras.
Flat 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!
Avery 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.
Avery 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!
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?
August 18th, 2012 at 7:45 pm
Here’s a good article about beer making:
The science and magic of beer
October 30th, 2012 at 5:37 am
Smithwicks is good but this Irish girl prefers her Harp Lager which is made by the same folks that make Guinness.
October 30th, 2012 at 9:03 am
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).
April 14th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
Holy crap that’s a good lookin’ fridge!
April 14th, 2013 at 2:26 pm
I like my fridge to look like a very small liquor store with excellent taste!
December 25th, 2013 at 11:13 pm
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! 🙂
December 26th, 2013 at 11:10 am
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! :)))
December 26th, 2013 at 2:49 pm
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.
December 26th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
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!!
May 16th, 2015 at 8:01 am
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.
May 16th, 2015 at 4:17 pm
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.)
May 17th, 2015 at 5:35 am
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.
May 17th, 2015 at 12:45 pm
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.
May 17th, 2015 at 2:47 pm
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. 🙂
May 17th, 2015 at 3:35 pm
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.