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 IBUs 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 IBUs.
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 IBUs, 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 IBUs. (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 IBUs.
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 IBUs.
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 IBUs.
Fulton 300 IPA
A very distinctive IPA (it’s that Mosaic hops) from another local brewery.
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.
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.
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.
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?