Friday, September 29, 2017

Michigan Craft Beer: Grand Rapids & Traverse City

At the conclusion of the 2017 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Milwaukee, Owen Ogletree of and Don Beistle from Southern Brew News took the fast ferry across Lake Michigan to visit outstanding craft beer destinations in Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

Grand Rapids is known as an American craft beer hot-spot. In and around the city, be sure to hit locales that include...
  • Founders Brewing
  • Hideout Brewing
  • Greyline Brewing
  • Creston Brewery
  • The Mitten Brewing Company
  • New Holland Kickerbocker
  • Atwater Brewery Taproom
  • B.O.B.'s Brewery
  • Grand Rapids Brewing Company
  • HopCat
  • Brewery Vivant
  • ELK Brewing
  • Harmony Brewing

Grand Rapids even offers a "Beer City Brewsader" passport book. Fill the book with stamps from brewery visits and score a nifty craft beer t-shirt.

Traverse City Beer Trek

After the beer tour of Grand Rapids, Owen and Don rented a car for the short drive north to Traverse City - a fantastic craft beer town in its own right. Traverse City ranks as a welcoming, scenic city filled with appealing attractions. 

Trevor Tkach with Traverse City Tourism notes, "Traverse City offers a relaxed, laid-back setting to enjoy a bountiful craft beer scene.  You can put down your guard, put up your feet and soak in one of the country’s premier beach towns while sampling a wide variety of beers that incorporate natural ingredients and homegrown creativity."

Video from Our Traverse City Brewery Visits...

Our Traverse City Craft Beer Map...

The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City

Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Best-of-Show Beer Styles Session

At the end of a homebrew judging competition, the first place beers from each style category head to a best-of-show (BOS) round where a small panel of beer judges picks the top beers that best illustrate specific styles. Owen Ogletree gathered The Beer Wench, Thel Melton, Ashton Smith, Ian Meents, Flavia Costa, Andrew Borchert and Dean & Gail Graves for a BOS practice round showcasing 12 American craft beers that were served at the recent Classic City Brew Fest in Athens, Georgia. Look below for the judges' comments and list of winners - all based on BJCP style guidelines.

Photos by Ashton Smith and Melissa Melton

First Place
Gose with lime juice & peel, black limes and sea salt
Comments from the judges: intense lime notes; nice fruit and salt character, moderate acidity; mineral-like; pleasant lactic acidity; bright flavors; good balance with lime; attractive lime aroma; exactly as described; almost flawless for style.

Style summary from the BJCP: 
A highly-carbonated, tart and fruity wheat ale with a restrained spice and salt character and low bitterness. Refreshing, with bright flavors and high attenuation, this specialty example should have well balanced lime complexity.

Second Place
German Pils
Comments from the judges: lemony; sweet, honey-like flavors; crisp and clean; nice light malts; pleasing hops in the finish; attractive golden color; floral hops; good malt sweetness for balance. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
A light-bodied, highly-attenuated, gold-colored, bottom-fermented (lagered) bitter German beer showing excellent head retention and an elegant, floral hop aroma. Crisp, clean, and refreshing, a German Pils showcases the finest quality German malt and hops.

Third Place
Double IPA
Comments from the judges: smells of lemongrass; malty; lemon; citrus; lavender; light toffee, quite herbal; nice hop flavor; somewhat sweet finish; clean; good malt/hop balance; delicious example of style; lingering hop bitterness is pleasant; big malt. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
An intensely hoppy, fairly strong pale ale without the big, rich, complex maltiness and residual sweetness and body of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped, but clean, dry, and lacking harshness.

Honorable Mention
American IPA
Comments from the judges: pours cloudy with sediment; pine, citrus aromas; low bitterness; fruity notes; bitterness comes through as beer warms; good balance of malt and hops; could be a bit more hop forward; good malt backbone; pleasant hop flavor. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties with notes of citrus, pine, berries and/or tropical fruits.

Smoked American Porter
Comments from the judges: dark malts; light smoke note; burned plastic; chocolate hint; fruity; cocoa aroma; charcoal hint; fusel-like hint; smoked meat nuance; chocolate malt ball character; body is a bit thin.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A smoke-enhanced beer showing good balance between the smoke and beer character. A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character. More bitter and often stronger with more dark malt qualities and dryness than English Porters.

Cream Ale with coffee
Comments from the judges: green bell pepper notes in aroma and flavor; a touch vegetal from the coffee; creamy; green apple hint; green coffee beans; sweet, malty cream ale character comes through.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A clean, well-attenuated, flavorful American “lawnmower” beer. Easily drinkable and refreshing, with more character than typical American lagers. This specialty example should showcase balanced coffee notes, with the cream ale base remaining recognizable.

Black Saison
Comments from the judges: black pepper notes; licorice; clove, fruity esters; spicy; subtle dark malt notes; saison fermentation notes; slightly smoky; green apple hints; burnt notes.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A spicy, highly-attenuated, moderately-bitter, moderate-strength Belgian ale with a dry finish. Typically highly carbonated, and using non-barley cereal grains and optional spices for complexity to complement the expressive yeast character that is fruity, spicy, and not overly phenolic. This dark variation includes dark malt character.

Strong Bitter 
Comments from the judges: malty; sweet taste; low bitterness; caramel notes; fruity; toffee; light fruity esters; hops are restrained; malt-forward; could use a bit more hop bitterness for balance.

Style summary from the BJCP:
An average-strength to moderately strong British bitter ale (ABV: 4.6 – 6.2%). The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

American Pale Ale
Comments from the judges: hoppy but also fruity; malt is a touch sweet for style; tea tannins; low bitterness; ripe fruit; wood-like notes; black tea hints; light citrusy hops; could use more crisp hop character.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A pale, refreshing and hoppy ale, yet with sufficient supporting malt to make the beer balanced and drinkable. The clean hop presence should reflect American or New World hop varieties. An average-strength, hop-forward beer that's lighter in aroma, flavor and body than American IPAs.

American Porter
Comments from the judges: dark chocolate; molasses hints; roasty; slightly smoky; cocoa hints; dry finish; creamy body; roasted malts come through; hops are restrained; fruity with a berry note; dark chocolate; burnt malt hints.

Style summary from the BJCP:
A substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character. More bitter and often stronger with more dark malt qualities and dryness than English Porters. Less strong and assertive than American Stouts.

American Wheat Beer
Comments from the judges: banana; strawberry hint; wheat flavors are light; fruity; mild hops; pleasant cereal malt note; light flavors of wheat; sweet malt comes through; hops are quite light for style; melon hint; light bready character; cloudy appearance is attractive.

Style summary from the BJCP:
Refreshing wheat beers that can display more hop character and less yeast character than their German cousins. A clean fermentation character allows bready, doughy, or grainy wheat flavors to be complemented by hop flavor and bitterness rather than yeast qualities.

Oatmeal Stout with coffee
Comments from the judges: light mouthfeel for style; hints of coffee; clean; roasted malt; body seems a bit thin for style; espresso hint; dry; lacks slickness and viscosity from oats; mild aroma and flavor; cream and coffee aroma; could use a touch more coffee and oat character. 

Style summary from the BJCP:
A dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavor and enhanced mouthfeel from oats. The sweetness, balance, and oatmeal impression can vary considerably. This specialty version should showcase balanced coffee notes, with the underlying Oatmeal Stout style still shining through.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

2017 Brewtopia IPA Bracket Challenge

Photos by Ashton Smith, Gail Graves and Mark Hall

Owen Ogletree set up 16 noteworthy American IPAs that were poured at last April's Classic City Brew Fest in Athens in an IPA blind tasting bracket. The panel of tasters and beer judges moved a beer forward from each group or pair that seemed to have the most clean, impressive IPA character and hop profile.

The tasting panel was comprised of Owen Ogletree, The Beer Wench, Sachin Patel of Five Points Bottle Shops, Ian Meents, Ashton Smith, Mark Hall, Dean Graves, Gail Graves and Jeff Rapp.

From the BJCP American IPA style description...

American IPA: A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties. The balance is hop-forward, with a clean fermentation profile, dryish finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1.056 – 1.070
IBUs: 40 – 70
FG: 1.008 – 1.014
SRM: 6 – 14 
ABV: 5.5 – 7.5%

Here's how the blind brackets went down...

Comments from the tasting panel...

- Golden amber color; mild grapefruit; slightly earthy; light hop character; dry finish; orange aroma; fruity; malty; pleasant.

02.  ALPINE DUET - First Place Best-of-Show
- Resiny; crisp; dry finish; mineraly; golden amber; nice citrus and grapefruit; medium body; fresh hops and orange zest; citrusy; complex; delicious; slight herbal note; complex hop profile; zesty; good malt backbone; resin nose.

- Attractive golden/amber color; herbal, grassy hops; mild bitterness; slightly earthy note; light hay note; fruity esters.

- Golden yellow in color; big initial hop aroma; long finish with mild bitterness and sweet malt; light musk; sweet toffee note in malt profile; big fruity esters.

- Sweet malt nose backed by moderate hops; citrusy; big malt component that lingers; not dry; finishes a bit sweet with light bitterness; toffee hints.

06.  QUEST ELLIDA IPA - Honorable Mention
- Amber in color; slight alcohol presence; citrus; well balanced with malt and hops; quick, dry finish; citrusy hops; malt comes through more as the beer warms; orange; malty; biscuit; toffee hint; orange marmalade tone; fruity; good bitter finish; floral aroma.

- Citrus; pine; slightly sweet finish; attractive golden color; good bitterness; hops are bold and upfront.

- Citrus and pine resin aromas; a hint of a vegetal note; honey; complex hop character; seems well balanced between malt and hops.

- Over-ripe fruit; lemons; dry finish; citrusy; lemon peel; a hint of acidity in the finish; only mildly bitter.

- Kiwi, grapefruit, papaya and other tropical fruit notes; musky hops; a touch earthy; catty hops; nice bitter finish.

11.  GOOD PEOPLE IPA - Second Place
- Nice hop aroma; pleasant malt and hop balance; good bitterness; deep golden color; light nose; body and mouthfeel borders between an American Pale Ale and an IPA; good balance; lightly hopped; slightly light body for style; citrus; quick finish; perfume-like hops; clean citrus; toasted malt hints; good, lingering bitterness.

- Slight haze; resin in aroma; dry, crisp flavors; piney, citrusy hop notes; clean hops; moderate malt; 

- Light aroma; sharp bite in the finish; fruity esters; earthy aroma; veggie hints; a bit astringent; more malty than hoppy; could be more crisp and clean.

14.  RED HARE GANGWAY IPA - Honorable Mention
- Sweet, malty aroma; slightly sweet finish; tea-like hints; somewhat light body for style; hints of pepper; mild flavor notes; mild hops; light bitterness in the finish; attractive color for style; finishes a bit sweet; some piney hop notes.

- Fragrant, perfumy nose; fruity esters are apparent; American hop character is subdued; more malty than hoppy; could be a touch more crisp and hoppy for style.

- Complex, earthy hops; grainy aromas; nice bittering hops; fruity; tropical; intriguing hops.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Frank Boon: Lambic Icon, Artisan

By Owen Ogletree

Beer styles sometimes become extinct. Trying to imagine the countless varieties that have disappeared over the past thousand years seems hopeless. Thankfully, a few almost forgotten styles of ale and lager have been snatched from the brink of oblivion – often by the passionate efforts of a handful of brewers.

Frank Boon and His Lambic Barrels

Frank Boon, probably Belgium’s most noted Lambic brewer and blender, ranks as one of the world’s most dedicated Lambic conservationists. Boon brews in Lembeek, the village outside of Brussels that gave Lambic its name. Boon’s history in preserving Lambic traditions, creating beers of exceptional quality and generating renewed interest in this ancient beer style will be apparent when he addresses attendees at the 2017 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference in Milwaukee in a full conference session Saturday, August 5th.

In the time-honored tradition, Lambic producers only brew during the colder months of the year and chill freshly boiled wort overnight in shallow vessels known as “coolships.” Carried on the breeze through open windows, wild yeast and bacteria sneak into the coolship to have their way with the wort – beginning the spontaneous fermentation that later continues in a variety of wooden barrels and foeders. When done properly, the process spawns a wheat beer of remarkable complexity with notes of soft lactic acidity, Brettanomyces character and esters reminiscent of apple, kiwi, rhubarb, citrus and honey. Geuze is a sparkling blend of old and young Lambic that can mature and evolve in bottles for decades.

In the late 1800s, multiple Lambic breweries and blenderies were scattered throughout the Pajottenland region just west of Brussels, but by the mid-1900s only about a dozen remained. The once ubiquitous rural beer style had fallen out of favor with the locals, replaced by bland lagers. Frank Boon loved the depth of character in a great Lambic and discovered the Geuze blender René De Vits of Lembeek in 1971. “René made a fine, delicate, old-style Geuze on a small scale,” recalls Boon. “When René was 65-years-old that year, he wanted to close the blendery. I made a financial plan, worked at first in a small blendery, and found a bank loan. I bought De Vits in 1978 and renamed it Boon. People thought I was crazy.”

Many modern beer geeks erroneously use the generic and overly simplistic term “sours” when referring to beers with acidity. Boon points out that Lambics should never be called “sours.” Boon suggests, “Lambics should have some acidity but not more than a white sparkling wine, and if acetic acid is dominant, this is a mistake. Lambic is not beer vinegar. One day a homebrewer gave me a sample of his beer and told me that he made a Lambic by accident. The beer tasted like vinegar – a good salad dressing but not a Lambic.”

Young Lambic can be refreshing, but taking the beer to new levels involves blending. “The quality of Lambic is expressed best in its bottled version – Oude Geuze,” Boon explains. “I will blend Lambic in the proportions of 60% one-year-old, 30% two-year-old and 10% three-year-old. The young Lambic provides the body of the Geuze, the two-year gives character and depth and the three-year creates a pleasant, winey taste. Refermentation in the bottle with the wild yeasts present in the two and three-year-old Lambic is responsible for the final touch that expresses the Brettanomyces character.”

Global Beer Network partnered with Brouwerij Boon in a bold new push to import Boon brands into the U.S. this summer that will include traditional Oude Geuze Boon, Framboise Boon with fresh raspberries and wild cherries, Kriek Mariage Parfait with 400 grams of wild cherries per liter, kegs of Lambic Boon and Oude Kriek, and bottles of the dry and intricate Oude Geuze Boon Black Label. Made from 40% unmalted wheat, 60% barley malt, aged hops and wild yeasts, the exquisite Oude Geuze Boon Mariage Parfait rests for three years in oak before blending. Oude Geuze VAT 109 is a blend using Lambic from Boon’s 100-year-old foeder number 109. “Our oldest casks host some of our most remarkable colonies of wild yeasts,” says Boon.

Boon concedes that spontaneous fermentation of beer may be possible in most places around the world, but nothing compares to the true Lambics born only around the Zenne River valley near Brussels. He points out, “The reason Lambic is linked to the coolships from our Pajottenland region is that the local wild yeasts belong to the proper airborne strains, and they overgrow other microorganisms to make our delicious beer. 20 years ago, the terms ‘Geuze’ and ‘Lambic’ were protected by E.U. appellation regulations, and it’s important that brewers everywhere in the world respect the use of these names.”

It’s safe to say that no one respects the production, culture and history of Lambic more than Frank Boon. Taking into account his vast knowledge, zeal and experience, Boon’s discussion at BBC17 could easily fill an entire day, but attendees will have to settle for an hour or so.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

2017 Beer Styles Bingo

Photo by Ashton Smith

Owen Ogletree gathered a group of 15 craft beer enthusiasts and beer judges on April 29, 2017 for another round of Beer Styles Bingo. Each taster was given a list of ten beer styles with short descriptions from the Beer Judge Certification Program (see below). Beers were presented one at a time in blind fashion and in random order, and participants tried to match each beer to its appropriate BJCP style. It seems easy but turns out to be quite challenging when comparing ten different beers...

Belgian-Style Saison
90% identified this style correctly.
Most commonly, a pale, refreshing, dry, moderately-bitter, moderate-strength Belgian ale. Well carbonated, and using some wheat and optional spices to complement the yeast character that is fruity, spicy, and not overly phenolic (plastic, clove, band-aid like).

Fruit Beer - American Pale Ale with orange peel
80% identified this style correctly.
An average-strength, hop-forward, citrusy pale ale with light fruity character and citrusy, piney American hops and additions of light orange peel. More session-able than American IPAs.

Belgian Dubbel
70% identified this style correctly.
A deep reddish-copper, moderately strong, malty, complex Trappist ale with rich malty flavors, dark or dried fruit esters, and light alcohol blended together in a malty presentation that still finishes fairly dry.

Belgian-Style Tripel
70% identified this style correctly.
A pale, deep golden, somewhat spicy, dry, strong Trappist ale with a pleasant rounded malt flavor and firm bitterness. Quite aromatic, with spicy, fruity, and light alcohol notes.

English-Style Porter
90% identified this style correctly.
A moderate-strength, dark brown beer with a restrained roasty character and bitterness. May have a range of roasted flavors, generally without burnt qualities, and often has a chocolate-caramel-malty profile. Lacks the citrusy, piney American hops of an American Porter.

Weissbier (Hefeweizen)
90% identified this style correctly.
A pale, refreshing German-style wheat beer with high carbonation, moderately dry finish, fluffy mouthfeel and a distinct banana/clove (sometimes bubblegum) yeast character.

Munich-Style Helles
100% identified this style correctly.
A clean, malty, light golden German lager with a smooth, grain-sweet, malty, honey-like flavor and a soft, dry finish. Restrained spicy, floral or herbal hops keep the balance malty but not overly sweet.

American Brown Ale
60% identified this style correctly.
A malty but hoppy beer frequently with mild chocolate and caramel flavors. The hop flavor and aroma complements and enhances the malt rather than clashing with it. Should be medium brown in color - not black or opaque.

Sweet Stout with coffee
100% identified this style correctly.
A very dark, sweet, full-bodied, slightly roasty ale that can suggest coffee-and-cream, or sweetened espresso. This example has additions of coffee.

American IPA
80% identified this style correctly.
A hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale, showcasing modern American or New World hop varieties with citrus and pine notes. The balance is hop-forward, with a crisp, clean fermentation profile, dryish finish and supporting, deep golden malt backbone. More alcohol and body than a pale ale.