Why Do Names For This New Beer Style Kinda Suck?

Forget the question of whether styles are real and essential. Forget the question of whether beer styles have been accurately described and traced historically. The real issue is that the names of beer styles are a mess and cause consumer confusion. Andy raises the question of the name of one black hoppy brew and seeks resolution for this very good reason:

Well, I believe that styles are important, if for no other reason than consumers can have some reasonable understanding of what they might be getting when they select a certain beer. It is in the hopes of creating some logical détente that I humbly offer the following suggestions for resolving this seemingly intractable debate.

He then goes on to ask us to choose from a number of choices that have been bouncing around beer nerd circles like Black IPA, India Black Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale. There is only one problem. They all suck as names. Let’s be clear. They aren’t related to India and they aren’t pale, as Andy notes, but also no one outside of the Pacific NW actually knows what “Cascadian” really means. Plus, while the picture of me from 1992 shows I have a great long love of the Vermont Pub and Brewery and the work of the late Greg Noonan, the idea of calling it “Noonan Black Ale” suffers from the same problem, needing to know some sort of back story. Also, there is a minor sort of beer – perhaps not a style at all – that you see from time to time called Dark Ale. What’s it taste like? Dark? That’s like something tasting ice cold.

We can do better. We can make sense. If the point of the name of the style is to inform let’s get to the point. The beer is black and it is bitter. Keep it simple. So call it Black Bitter. I might even try the stuff if it was called a name as swell as that.¹

¹Plus it already comes with its own 70s rock tune for the ad campaign. Just have to change the words a bit: “Whoa-oh Black Bitter! Bam-a-lam!!!” And, yes, I want credit.

Illinois: IPA, Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago

On a Monday night when elementary school children are melting down all around you, it is hard to imagine Friday. Friday is that tiny light at the end of a long tunnel. A legend you hear about only in whispers in that place between waking and sleeping. And, worse, it’s four days away.

But at least I booked the afternoon off as well as the next Monday to watch some World Cup soccer over a long weekend. Apparently, the USA is one of the teams playing and this might be the beer I save for this Saturday game against Engerlant. It pours a swell orange amber with a swell clingy white head and the smell of freesias and marigold. It has a great mouth feel with a good bit of body, a bit cream, a bit of heat from the hop acids and plenty of white grapefruit pine sour, too. The brewer has a pretty full spec sheet but suffice it to say it’s yum without being like aiming a can of aerosol furniture polish at the back of your throat like so many of the big bomb IPAs these days. You won’t need a Rolaid mid-bottle, either. Great BAer respect – and if England pulls into the lead, well, I can switch to Honkers just to be safe.

So, if this is the beer for USA… what does one have with Uruguay?

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 4)

hag1Well, I finished the book on Wednesday watching kids softball practice. The short message really is that if you are reading this blog you should buy the book. Well written, informative without being stuffy, funny yet quite personal. Likely the best beer book of 2009.

And I checked. I didn’t make the credits. I didn’t think I would but you never know. You never know if you are going to see a note about the whack job who was emailing about the (Inter-)National Toast for Michael Jackson on 30 September 2007, a few days into the tall ship portion of the trip. But no. No, I got something better. On page 248, when he was ten days from Brazil, experiencing one of his lowest points of the entire trip what did he write?

…And even if I had been successful, so what? Who would actually have cared apart from a handful of blogging beer geeks? What was I going to do?

I was verklempt. When one feels like an utter loser and that one’s mission is a dud who springs to mind? Beer bloggers, that’s who. I am sure it was really thoughts of Knut rather than me that steadied our man Pete in that hour of darkness upon the high seas but it’s the general idea, right?

You should buy it. So, go buy it – still 50% off at amazon.co.uk. Review part 1, part 2, part 3.

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 3)

hag1OK, we have moved from page 145 to, what, 332? Yes, that’s it. So, I’ve work through almost central half of Hops and Glory this weekend – still 50% off at amazon.co.uk by the way – and our lad, Pete, has gone on a cruise liner, a tall ship to Brazil and then a container ship to India. As before there is a patch of the life of Pete Brown, then a patch of the history of the English beer trade to service the East India Company’s needs. Pete, beer. Pete. Beer. But then something funny happens. From 237 to 306 the pattern is dropped. Not much history. Mainly just Pete and his boaty bits.

“What was he doing?” thought I. If I use the hockey analogy and, being Canadian, I will – it gets a bit second period. A bit “boy not yet realized which girl he really should love” if we analogize to date movies. Which got me thinking about Tristram Shandy, that odd proto-novel-deconstruction thing from 1759 or so which I now know is just three years after “grog” was set out in British navy regulation. It’s an interesting book, Tristram Shandy, because it is self-conscious and is a bit about what a novel would be if one could not suspend one’s imagination or if one did entirely or something like that. Eighteenth century literature class was 26 years ago, you know. I’ll let you can judge the value of the academic investment. It’s also about the bleaker end of age of enlightenment as was, we learn, the East India Company.

Anyway, the point is that for 237 to 306, Brown takes us into his internal experience – into the doldrums of the sailing ship and then into the small heart of darkness that is the international shipping trade today – by seemingly forgetting to slip back into the history. It’s a good technique. It weighs a bit, wears a bit. But it still takes us along as if to say “it’s alright, Al, no need for you to ever go on a container ship from Brazil to India all alone for five weeks… I’ve done it… don’t bother.” Thanks Pete. I won’t. It’s off my to do list.

Book Review. Part 1. Part 2.

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 2)

hag1Well, I am up to page 145 of 451 and believe we have a romp on our hands.

Hops and Glory (now 50% off at Amazon.co.uk) is a very entertaining read as well as a better introduction to larger questions of British history in India than I had expected. The format of a chapter on Pete’s travel and then a chapter on India keeps it lively. I don’t recall whether the format is exactly what I recall from my reading of Brown’s 2006 Thee Sheets to the Wind but the cheery tone certainly is. You know, I am not sure, now that I look back, whether I actually did a review of TSTTW as opposed to just the Norwegio-Canuck interview. But like his last book, well, the man may well turn out to be a pain in the arse were we ever to meet in the corporeal rather than digital worlds – but he sure paints a pleasant portrait of himself as well as his struggles to undertake the journey.

Which is an interesting point in itself. Most travel books are about journeying to another place. But this book is a little more self-conscious as it is in large part a book about the writing of this book given that the book is about a task and an education and a telling all wrapped up together. It also tells the tale, at least up to page 145, of one of my favorite parts of history, the British Empire of the 1700s. The later Victorians get all the attention as far as I can tell but living in a city which was created in 1783 as a key westerly outpost of the same Empire it is interesting to see the similarity and differences in how British North America developed compared to British India.

In particular the vast scale of alcoholic celebration simply stuns the modern perspective. One of my favorite guys is William Johnson, 1st Baronet of New York and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies, who may as well have set up my town though he died nine years before it was settled by refugee Loyalist troops and their families. His mastery of the New York frontier was based in large part on his ability to celebrate on a scale that the Iroquois nations could respect. Herds of Johnson’s cattle and cart loads of his rum were driven up the Mohawk Valley in the 1750s when parlays were called for and days were taken in the consumption of it all. Similarly, Brown describes how the social lives of those in East India Company were lived on a scale really quite unfathomable – let alone repeatable – to our times. In 1716, we read, one outpost of 19 East India company staff over just one month consumed 894 bottles of claret, 294 bottles of Burton ale, 2 pipes and 42 gallons of Madeira as well as 6 flasks, 274 bottles, 3 leaguers, 3 quarters and 164 gallons of various other forms of booze. I would say it boggles the mind but I think the mind would have been completely boggled by no later of the ninth of that particular month.

But Hops and Glory is not just dipsography. Brown’s struggles to figure out exactly why he’s doing the trip are honestly and humorously told. Which is why I am about to go turn to page 146. More later.

Book Review: Hops And Glory, Pete Brown (Part 1)

hag1A big lump came in the mail today. For someone who is used to packages with DVDs or even VHSs of 1970s sci-fi slipping through the mail slot, this package looked like a lump. When I opened it and saw it was Pete Brown’s new book sent from the publisher I knew it would be a good week after all. Monday evening rarely gives you that promise even one in June.

There was a sad moment, however, when I pulled out my invite to last week’s launch party. Sure, it was an ocean away and, sure, 6:30 pm is just after lunch my time meaning I would have had some very special explaining to do with both my family and my boss. But it would have been good to have had to try.

Who is kidding who? I can’t make it down the street most days let alone across the ocean. These days I am more of the curling up with a good book lump of a man than anything like my former “jumping on a plane with a backpacking” youth. And it does look like a good book. From the first few pages it appears to be about yachting. I am hoping he’s on the coal scuttle later, too. Good for Pete to stretch out a bit. There’s no money in writing about good beer.

Maybe I will hit him up for an interview like with the last book. What could I ask him? What would you like me to ask?

Wisconsin: Bitter Woman IPA, Tyranena Brewing, Lake Mills

My mid-west beer territory has expanded care of Stan’s visit the other day. The New Glarus Spotted Cow of the other night was my first WI brew (of the non-cricketing WI that is) and here’s the next one – Bitter Woman IPA from Lake Mills’ Tyranena. The brewer tells us that the bitter woman in question was one Aunt Cal, an old sweetheart of the famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and early local resident. See – a literary connection overcomes political correctness every time. And, well, I suppose that’s better than being a headless man, one of whom their alt is named after.

But what about the beer? It pours a smoked orange ale under a huge cream head releasing a bit of an orange marmalade aroma. In the mouth, a sweet wave of fruit-filled malt: plenty of graininess but also the sweet smoothness of residual maltose…mmmm, maltose. In the malt there is marmalade, sultana and kumquat. At least two distinct hop sensations with the black tea on the tongue as well as a bit of hot pine more to the back, cresting on the swallow. Plenty to chew on for a very reasonable 5.75%. Nothing thumb-index-pinkie salute here yet high praise from the BAers.

This might be the beer you really wanted.

Big Hop Bombs: India Pale Ale, Meantime, London, England

I picked up a couple of big format bottles of Meantime beers at some point in my travels last year. I needed a Stonch-like moment to try this micro from the centre of the known universe like the one from last March when he tried this beer on an English spring afternoon. Apparently, this first Wednesday evening in February with a blizzard coming was it.

The brewery has given me some confidence that this beer is fit for the Big Hop Bomb category, if we go by this description on their website:

Jam packed with English Fuggles and Goldings, the beer is brewed with as many hops as we can physically get into the copper. We then fill the lauter tun with hops for a further infusion and then we dry hop with the beer with even more hops using our own unique circulation process to ensure maximum contact between the hops and the body of the beer. All this gives us a final hopping rate of well over 2lbs of hops per barrel.

What a gorgeous beer. Orange straw ale under a rich cream mousse head. French bread and herbed lemon curd nose. Very rich and one has visions of slow roasting chickens that have soaked whole in a bucket of this. Plenty of hop floaties like I last saw in a Founder’s Harvest ale. A succession of quickly changing hop effects spark. None burn like in a big US IPA but there are garden bitter greens, tangerine zest and something like licorice. The body is lighter than a full throttle DIIPA, say, but there is plenty of mildy apple and sultana raisin pale malt balancing this 7.5% brew. A bit of arugula to dry the lightly sweet malt finish. Big BA support.

Ontario: Sgt. Major, IPA, Scotch Irish Brewing

smipa-1aNothing like a six of stubbies if you’re over 40 and a Canuck. I wrote about this beer in March 2005 and again in March 2006 when it compared very nicely in a side-by-side with Victory’s HopDevil. Careful sifters of clues will note however, that the address on the six-pack box above shows a different address from that mentioned in the previous two reviews. That is because for the last year or more Scotch Irish Brewing has been a branch or division or whatever of Heritage Brewing of Carleton Place, Ontario makers of interesting or at least daring seasonals especially that Maple Bush Lager. But the word was it was not so whatever-it-had-been now so I thought it was about to to try it again to see how things were going.

Starting with some non-fluid related observations, first thing I notice is that I like that they package has a lot number on it, in this case F077, which I understand means it is their 77th lot of the year and it was made in June. Someone will correct me I am sure but I am operating under the illusion that this beer is fresh. Next, I like the stubby. For those of you who are not aware, for people of a certain age, the stubby which ruled Canadian brewing for around 20 years from the mid-60s to the mid-80s is a bit of an icon for we of the Great White North. smipa-2But one things that concerns me is the panicked look in the face of Mr. Sgt. Major. Look at him. While the last lad had a dull if determined air about him, this lad looks quite nervous, as if someone knew something about him and that that something was bad. We’ll have to find out if it relates to his job for the brewery and the beer or something in his private life like, say, a Zulu attack.

As for the beer, it left a lot of lace after the fine creamy head subsided and had a nice orange-amber hue all of which which is comparable to the 2006 picture and both sets of notes. As well, there is the soft water and pale malt graininess that I remember from before. The malt also is very much their with bread crust, sugar cookie and sultana raisin. What is different is perhaps a notch less hopping. While it is still a sharp shock of sour white grapefruit rind goodness, it does not seem to have quite the stomach ache producing acidity that I recall, less of the green hop fire in the finish.

But is that such a bad thing, if I am recalling correctly? For me, compared to many of the hard water beers of south western Ontario, that softness is something I would compare much more to the moreishness of many central New York micros. If you are a hard water fan, this might make it seem flabby but for me it is all good, giving a richness you might not find elsewhere in Ontario pale ales of any degree. So all in all a good experiment again. I will have to check-in in another year or so to see how this beer is doing.

Big Hop Bombs: Simcoe Double IPA, Weyerbacher Brewing, PA

Rich fine tan creamy head over deep caramel ale. The smell is orange marmalade with a sort of distinctly garlic-y hot heat. In the mouth eucalyptus and mint hops with orange peel and rich creamy malt closing into heat. A really fine double IPA, balanced – at 9% not overwhelming. A kinder gentler sibling of the same brewer’s Eleven. A fine thing in the shade on the hot day with a stinky blue cheese and a good loaf as children draw with chalk around you.

Planned by the brewer to be a softer gentler version of a big hop bomb. 100% BAer approval noted and well worthy.