Archive for cicerone program

My Road To Cicerone No. 3

Posted in beer, cicerone with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2014 by cueball

Since I am studying the Road To Cicerone: German Beer Styles Course I have had German beer styles and lagers on the brain.  I am just finishing up the fermentation section (I just have to finish the tasting activities) and that has me deep into lager and ale yeasts (and weissbiers).

This corresponds to a conversation I had with a patron at Craft last night.  He ordered a couple of flights and with it being Sunday I had a lot of time to talk to him.  We were talking about the beers he had and his favorites from the flights.  We also explained a couple of beer styles to his girlfriend.  At some point we got into a local highly respected and loved brewer who specializes in following the Reinheitsgebot.

We both agreed that the beers are all very good and very well made.  I happen to absolutely love their dunkel.  We also happened to agree that their new space is gorgeous and a great place to sit back and enjoy a beer or five.  However, we both agreed that lagers are not our favorite beers.  No matter how well made and high quality a beer maybe neither one of us gravitate towards lagers.

The discussion question for the fermentation unit in German beer styles course asks you to pick your favorite beer and choose an alternative fermentation organism and explain why you choose it.  My main trouble with this question is trying to pick a favorite beer style.  I guess, if forced, I would pick brown ales, but I go through periods where I just want to drink porters, ipas, stouts, saisons, tripels, dubbels, etc.  For the sake of this question I will say brown ales.

Using a lager yeast instead of ale yeast for a brown beer basically gives you a schwarzbier.  So, I would actually be interested in what would happen with a classic brown ale malt bill is fermented with Brettanomyces.  Brett isn’t naturally sour (that comes from the addition of lactic acid in conjunction with brett), so I would hope for a fruity clove-like taste to go with the caramel or toffee flavor from the malt.  This would be more of a dessert beer mimicking fruit dipped in caramel or toffee.

That’s my answer for that question.  Now, back to the question of ales vs. lagers.  I prefer ales because ale yeasts provide a greater complexity of tastes and aromas then do lager yeasts.  There is no other real explanation.  I drink both, but my preference leans towards the esthers of ale.

Drinking most lagers is satisfying in the way a diner is satisfying.  There are no bells and whistles, just good food infused with a straight forward soul.  You can also get meat and vegetables at a tapas restaurant, but that is where the difference ends. A tapas restaurant gives you complexity through different flavors and textures and allows you to mix and match for a different experience every time.

Both places serve food that makes you happy, but they have different ways to do it and play different rolls in your food experiences. It is the same with beer.  Depending on when and where you are sometimes you want a solid lager and sometimes you want a complex ale.  In beer terms I prefer ales, but in food terms I prefer diners.  A diner that serves good craft beer would be ideal.


My Road To Cicerone No. 1

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by cueball

I recently passed the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam and have started on my “Road To Cicerone.”  As part of that I have started working through the German Beer Styles Course Cicerone released this year.  As part of the work book each unit has a set of activities at the end. The end of unit one asks the question, if you could write a law similar to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law for your country, what would you include in it?

Ask any beer geek about the Reinheitsgebot , and he/she will tell you about the three ingredients (yeast hadn’t been discovered at the time).  The idea of it is still used in marketing with the idea that it points to quality and simplicity above all else.

The problem is the law was not written necessarily for the sake of beer.  Yes, I’m sure Duke Wilhelm IV wanted to drink the best beer possible, but the idea of restricting beer ingredients was done to at least a great part in order to prevent price competition between brewers and bakers for grains.  That way the price of bread would not get outrageous for the people.  By restricting brewers to barley malt, bakers were given the only access to wheat and rye keeping the prices of those grains as low as possible.

So, if I were creating a beer purity law for the United States, I would say I cannot because the way the laws of the United States are set up hands control over alcohol to the states.  So, for my Beer Purity Law of North Carolina, I would not start with the beer itself. I would start with the distribution and tax system that governs beer and alcohol in this country.

  • Lift the self-distribution cap from 25,000 barrels to 60,000. If any brewer produces over 25,000 barrels, that producer is forced by law to use a third party distributor.  That not only increases the cost of the beer, which will be passed on to the consumer, it also takes away many of the producers brand rights meaning they lose control of much of their own name.
  • Reduce state excise taxes overall and specifically cut excise taxes for breweries producing less than 60,000 barrels by 50%, 60,001 to 2 million barrels by 25%, and 2 million barrels and above by 10 %. Currently, North Carolina taxes small brewers at a rate 8 times that of Colorado and California.

The goal would be to promote and protect local and (usually) smaller breweries by reducing their tax burden and making it easier to distribute their beers without having to rely on a distributer.

As an aside in 2013 there were 2,768 American craft brewers, as defined by the Brewer’s Association, and they produced 15,302,838 barrels of beer.  That is an average of 5,528 per brewer.  The vast majority of craft brewers in this country are small.  They are even smaller in North Carolina with the 91 breweries producing on average 2,895 barrels.

For all the talk of the craft brewing explosion in the United States, most are of the small business variety.  To promote the growth of those breweries they need special consideration.  The brewers who need the most protection are the ones producing from somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels.

Now for the purity law, the ingredients. The rules for the ingredients would be simple, you have to have a grain bill containing at least 51% barley malt.  I believe codifying any restrictions on ingredients that are not harmful if ingested stifles the creativity that is the craft beer movement’s great advantage over the big industrial brewers.

This is a good start.  More to come.

My Road To Cicerone No. 2

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by cueball

“If you were going to make an American IPA using only German hops, which hop variety do you think you would choose for the flavor and aroma additions and why?” – Road To Cicerone German Beer Styles Course Discussion Question

The thing I love about The Road To Cicerone series are the discussion questions at the end of each unit.  On unit 3 about German hops the above is the question asked.  These questions are about getting you to really think about each subject in a way to help you truly understand how each part plays into the whole of beer and beer culture.

My answer is Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops for flavor and Tettanger for aroma.  The Tettanger hops will provide the familiar American IPA citrus and grass aromas. The Hallertauer will give the beer a nice spicey and herbal flavor with notes of cedar/leather/tobacco. That would provide an interesting taste alternative in a world of piney and citrusy American IPAs.

This and the other discussion questions not only highlight the different ways each of the four ingredients can be swapped in or out to affect the taste of the beer, it also highlights in a small way, what I think is the next wave of craft beer innovation in the US.

Brewers have spent the last ten years pushing the boundaries of beer making them hoppier, heavier, and boozier.  As the outer limits of those experiments are being reached the next step is the softening of the lines between styles and their traditional ingredients.

Home brewers (many of whom have and will become future brew masters) have long experimented with swapping ingredients from one brewing tradition into beer styles of another brewing tradition.  This breath of experimentation has created new styles or sub-styles like the Belgian IPA or black IPA.  Not only are traditional ingredients being shuffled around into different styles, ingredients that until now had not been used in beer or hadn’t been used in beer in a century are being brought back.  The next phase of growth in craft beer will see the blurring of styles and the creation of new ones.

One thing I am interested in, which is why the discussion question put my brain into over drive, is the reintroduction of the traditional European and noble hops into American style beers.  What does using Hallertauer or Fuggles do to an American IPA or a black IPA or an American style stout?  It goes back to how styles and traditions are blurring as long as brewers continue to try to innovate and find something new and don’t get bogged down into making and serving the same beers over and over simply because they sell.  As I’ve written recently, brewers should use their seasonal beers and special releases to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.  That is the only way to find the next pumpkin beer.

Finding Happiness By Going Goalless

Posted in life, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 2, 2014 by cueball

This is the time of the year when health clubs expand their membership, all the vegetables at the grocery store fly off the shelf, and people buy actual books.  It is resolution time.  People make resolutions to exercise more, eat better, and read.  Only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions manage to keep them, but people continue to try because they know they should and they at some level do want a better life.

So why isn’t that the resolution?  Why don’t people just say, “This year I will live the life I want to and/or should live.”  We all want to improve ourselves, but are we going about it the right way?  Are we going about it in a way that actually improves our lives and makes us happy?

Besides the hobby of improvement we also like lists and goals.  We like goals with achievable and measurable outcomes.  I did the same thing.  I would create a goal, set my objectives, define the outputs to use to achieve the objectives, give myself a time period to achieve these objectives, and create measurable outcomes to show my success.

If that sounds overly methodical, it is.  I was a grant writer for many years and in crafting grant proposals one of the main things the grantor wants to know is what are you going to use the money and how will you measure if you are successful.  That is where SMART comes to play.  Your objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

The problem was they became things I simply wanted to achieve or do.  They were points on a checklist and as such they lost meaning to me.  They were always things I really wanted and if achieved should have given me some sense of happiness, but by making them tasks I became fixated on getting the things done and not enjoying doing them.

Essentially, the tasks became too myriad and too big to easily achieve and it became so much about completing them that I would abandon them.  So this year I will simplify it.  These are things that align more with the life I want to live and believe will make my life happier.  I’m trying not to set goals.  I am trying to change the fundamental nature of how I live.

In no particular order, here are the four things I will do this year:

I want my life to be about beer and literature.  Will I do things over the course of the year that could be seen as tasks to facilitate these four things?  Yes, I will probably seek to be published.  I did write a book last year and I may edit or rewrite it or I may write a whole other book.  I may try to find another job that will give me time and access to the things that will make achieving those four things possible and easier.  Giving up the idea of goals is not about giving up the idea of achieving the things you want on in life.  It is about achieving them while keeping yourself happy.

If I do the four things I listed, I believe I’ll be happier in general.  So, if I were to say there is a goal for this year, it would be mindful of everything I do, be present in each moment, and try to do the thing that is right for me and those around me at all times.  Be Mindful, Be Present, Be Happy.