Yeast News: Migrating Birds And Sheboygan

One of my slowest moving interests in beer comes in the form of a trickle of stories about the origins of lager yeast. In 2008, there was the tale of the two Bavarian caves. Then there was the dinosaur era yeast story. Then in 2011, the ur-yeast for lager was found in Argentina. Now, it turns out that little bit of goodness shows up elsewhere, too:

It is the first time the microbe has been found in nature in North America, or indeed outside of Patagonia. Found by UW-Madison undergraduate student Kayla Sylvester, a member of Hittinger’s group, the yeast occurs only at a very low frequency and was likely accidentally introduced, just as an ancestor found its way to Europe and kick-started the production of cold-brewed lager beer hundreds of years ago. “If I had to bet, I’d lay money on ski bums or migrating birds” as the agents responsible for transporting the microbe to Wisconsin, says Hittinger. “What we think is happening is that well-established, genetically diverse populations are sending migrants around the world. Generally, they’re not successful, but occasionally they are.”

I love this stuff. One of my proudest moments was when the yeasty eggheads jumped in the conversation and gave me more details in the comments. I even got corrected and edjificated that the proper written form is “egg head.” The goal of all this is “to tap into biodiversity and find the strains that ferment better” according to study lead UW-Madison Professor of Genetics Chris Hittinger. Which beats the hell out of making synthetic yeasts to get more of that candy store mango taste into out future beer.

As Boak and Bailey noted today, there is an end to the pursuit of the merely novel, the manufactured. The law of diminishing returns demands no less. But the exploration of the actual, the natural and traditional? I’ll buy that, too.

Evan Rail Ensured My New Glarus Mules Were Happy

Does that make sense? My co-workers have family in Wisconsin which means I get a share in New Glarus mixed cases once in a while. Moon Man Pale Ale. Me happy. To keep them happy in return – because only a fool does not want to keep that deal going – I share some of my beer travel findings and have been pleased to hear that a beer like Hennepin or a timely biere de garde is well received. To keep them really happy, hitting good beer folk up for tips when they travel is clever and, as they just were traveling in Prague, it means a plea from me goes to Evan and, in return, I get treats from Prague including this nice glass and bottle as well as a couple of Primator 16s.

Ain’t life great? Thanks Evan. Life lesson for today: treat your mules well and they will treat you well.

Wisconsin: Moon Man Pale Ale, New Glarus

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the USA and I am celebrating. Mainly because I’ve been sick since the middle of last weekend’s Victoria Day long weekend up here. Being in a border town it’s not a great stretch even if I can’t get over to witness one of the glories of the western world, a small town US parade. Eat a hot dog this weekend, woudja?

This beer was launched just a few weeks ago and arrived in a mixed 12 pack care of my Wisconsin mule – oddly by way of a village in north western Quebec. It gives off the aroma of peaches and apricots at an alarming level. It pours light burnished gold with an actively sustain pure white foam. On the swallow, theres a wall of pale malt sweet graininess with black tea hop with a weedy floral overlay. The finish is a bit tea, a bit bitter green with a squirt of juicy malt right at then end. Yum.

Structurally, it’s quite singular – a overly perfumed kolsch? And at 5% its a reasonably sessionable beer but I bet it could be rolled back to 4.4% with reasonable integrity. BAers got the love thang.

Wisconsin: Stone Soup, New Glarus, New Glarus

A Belgian pale ale from the USA’s Upper Midwest. This one smells good. Either that or I smell really bad. I’ve just finished two 16 hour days so it is not beyond the realm of possibility. But I’ve been in a jacket and tie the whole time. So it’s likely the beer or the guy next to me was inordinately polite.

Medium pale golden ale under a thin rim of white. Apple and pear on the nose with a little nutmeg. More in the mouth framed in a sweetish effervescent rich ale. Plenty of bready yeastiness. Dryish ending with black tea and twiggy hops and that lingering spice. A reasonable session beer at 5.3%. Part of a New Glarus mixed 12 pack that made the trip from near Lake Superior to the east end of Lake Ontario. A respectable level of BAer respect but probably not enough.

Is It A Mooing Monk Or A Cornval?

This is the second in my triptych of posts about blending New Glarus Spotted Cow with Belgian ales of note. In the first its blending partner was Duval and I came to like the 66.7% Spotted Cow 33.3% Duval ratio the best. Tonight? Who knows?

50% Spotted Cow – 50% Orval: On the nose, this brew is eerily like Oro De Calabaza from Jolly Pumpkin: musty brett, sweet malt and a touch of light plummy fruit. In the mouth, not so much with the ODC but not bad. The corniness of the Spotted Cow does not stand out so much as you might have thought as brett masks it well. But the sweetness is there and is well cut by the must and antiqued hops. Well worth doing to stretch out the quality.

33.3% Spotted Cow – 66.7% Orval: No. Not enough corn to assert itself above the brett making just for a weirdly diluted Orval with some off flavours. Don’t try this at home.

66.7% Spotted Cow – 33.3% Orval: Here the sweetness has more corniness standing out and the ODC effect is gone. Yet, it is still a brew with brett. The Spotted Cow stands out as a quality brew with none of the off flavours of the Orval heavy version.

Results? I am really surprised by the 50%-50% blend as it was what I had in mind but was way better than I could have imagined. It bodes very well for mixing Orval with other slightly sweetish beer as sort of a brett concentrate. Is that disrespect? No more than calling this blend a Cornval. Beer blendings that say bugger off to the barley bullies.

Wisconsin: Spotted Cow, New Glarus, New Glarus

Knut made an interesting observation today about the way social media (a far better phrase than “community”) creates the unexpected, brings beer fans and brewers together on the level. No one is in charge and each is responsible for their own degree of honesty. I was so interested that I tried to use Google’s Swedish to English translator to see what the hubbub was all about and here is what I learned:

Holds up the cup. Noting that it is indeed good dark to be an IPA. For the glass to my nose to pull me in a lot of pine and citrus. Wait? May run down your nose a good way down to the glass to feel something, and facing me is not the fresh hops, you might think should be there given that it is nybrygd. The taste is quite sweet, feels a little stale and boring, not very bitter, either. Nejdu, the batches were no further at all! Really sad, it felt more like a brown ale than an IPA on the verge of DIPA.

I was stunned. It was like looking in the mirror – beer tasting notes are actually the universal language. Forget Latin. To hell (dare I say) with Esperanto. We are all one though the power of “May run down your nose a good way down to the glass to feel something.” Frère! Tovarich!!

This made me want to do the unexpected myself, bring the distant nearer. And, oddly, do it with corn. I worry about corn. And I am worried about the anti-corn forces out there, the barley storm troopers who would have you believe it is the drinker’s fault – your fault – that the maize beer is simply no good, that rice beer is the sole dominion of the macro-industrial Babbitt. I like to think corn has its place. I like to think that the Einstein or Newton of alt-grain brewing has yet to be born. He may even be among us. Uncelebrated. Unloved. He might be that lump over there on your sofa right now.

So, I took it upon myself to do what I can in the cause of corn and to start with the highest expression of corn, New Glarus Spotted Cow and add to it a Belgian of dignity / snob appeal to come up with some thoughts about what a corn brew might be. Tonight, that test is being done with Duval. I had hoped for Orval but the local LCBO was out of it. So Duval will have to do.

100% Spotted Cow: it pours a lovely slightly lemon golden. On the schnoz, it’s creamed corn (which I love), a little cream of wheat (which I also love) and a zig or a zag of yeasty goodness (who doesn’t like that?). Light bodied, slightly yogurt soured lager yeast, a bit of steely hop, fresh corn (not boiled like some of the unbest beer) and graininess. Finish is light – steel, grass, corn. What is not to like? Pure homage to the golden age of American beer. Wish it came in a can at my own corner store.

50% Spotted Cow – 50% Duval: slightly lighter with the Duval whipped egg white head. The smell is very nice. On the sniff, the sweetness of the corn now has bracing from the light spice of the Duval. On the mouth, there is a bit of a nullification like when two waves come up each other out upon the ocean… and disappear. Less corn but also less Belgian bubble gummy spiced goodness. But there is body and at the back end heat. You could see that a well handled tripel or Belgian strong gold could handle a little corn.

33.3% Spotted Cow – 66.7% Duval: More whipped egg head but not enough corn flavour to justify the blending. While both beers are more fine in flavour than most I sip on an average day, the Duval spice really overpowers here and the corn is just a weird intrusion. No, this experiment really needs to be about Duval as a adjunct to the adjunct laced brew and not the other way around. Yet, there are some flavours that start to remind me of less than thrilling biscuity fruity sparkling wines.

66.7% Spotted Cow – 33.3% Duval: This is good with the blend breaking out into a two step with the Spotted Cow sitting up front and the Duval carrying up the rear. Just a white froth head with open watery corny on the first swish followed by greater complexity with the finish marked by spice. The best of the blends and gives me hope for that ultimate Orval smackdown.

There you have it. The experiment you have all been waiting for. What did I learn? That you have to be careful pouring Duval into a shot glass as it readily explodes into a meringue of a head in the blink of an eye. And that Spotted Cow is a grand brew worth the respect given by the BAers. I have two more of these corny treats to go. What to blend with them?

Wisconsin: Wisconsin Belgian Red, New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus

Is that not the most repetitive title to a post yet? I wonder if New Glarus is in New Glarus County…or maybe Wisconsin county. Anyway, this is simply an incredible beer. Stan and Daria brought it to us when they visited this summer. Once upon a time, I had a small old farmhouse and it was near a small cottage owned by another branch of the family. We had pin cherries, black cherries and choke (or is it choak?) cherries as well as juneberries and other bush fruit we planted over the years. Small bush fruit in the cherry family is the best – all relating to but not being defined by that toothpaste, cough drop or pie filling flavour that gets associated with the word “cherry” these days. This beer reminds me of the complexity of those natural flavours.

The beer is pie in a glass. Insanely fresh tart cherry backed by a cream of wheat richness. It pours cloudy reddish amber, like lightly oxidized fruit. Snow white froth and foam on top. Bright and cheery from the effervescent carbonation. Meaty fruit in the mouth with tangy acidity and that aroma which evokes the whole of the plant, the twigginess, the almondy scent you get when you peel new bark. It’s almost ammonia sharp but not. Is that brett? It is like with Orval, that dry lavender aspect. Is this a creation of hopping that moves the cherry from meaty and sweet to something more like scent of an orchard? Dandy. Not quite sour but in the neighbourhood. Makes me want to plan a trip to the other end of the Great Lakes.

I threw a couple of these ounces into twice as much a Burton Bridge porter just to see. Good but something of a waste. BAers love it. Is this the best fruit beer ever?

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.

Can’t We Just Admit We Like Corn Sometimes?

One of the things I don’t get about beer lovers is the seething disrespect of corn – aka maize for some of you. OK, maybe not seething but my comment the other day that I now craved New Glarus Spotted Cow was met with particular surprise by Jeffery Glazer of Wisconsin’s Madison Beer Review who wrote to say that “Spotted Cow is good, but to drive halfway across the country for it? I’d be really curious to hear what was said about it to cause such a reaction.” In response I wrote:

It’s the king o’corn, baby! I like the ur-cream ale Genesee Cream but I also like cream corn, corn chowder, corn on the cob and corn chips. I think the taste of corn gets a bum steer as far as corn and beer goes. Why praise other grains yet diss the maize? I have grown corn, have watched it grow and, I have to admit, admire it privately. Stan brought the Spotted Cow (as well as a few other New Glarus) and this corntastic beer made me love it. It is clean, has the raw chew-the-cob sweetness and is also balanced and without a tinge of chemical, the hallmark of modern corn-y brew…Did I mention it comes with corn?

I asked Stan when we were sipping his giftie if it had flaked corn and he thought maybe it was just corn sugar but was not in the know. I would be surprised if there is that much unfermentable corn in it from just a powder. Nonetheless, I am here to bear witness, bretheren and the real lesson here is that cream ale like Spotted Cow is corn ale and cream ale should be great! It is just a style, after all. Corn is, folks, and corn should be more than the flakes in your breakfast bowl. As I mentioned, I understand that there are two ways to get corn into beer. The most common is through glucose or corn sugar which is derided as an adjunct gone mad in American macro lagers but praised in Belgian tripels when, as I learned from Al Korzonas in his useful Homebrewing, Volume 1, simply combined with a little fructose to make candi sugar. This sort of addition of corn gets you a little more alcohol and a little less body but not much flavour – and certainly not the creamed corny goodness that is at the heart of Spotted Cow. Flaked maize is more like rolled barley or oats, a raw grain product that leaves plenty of unfermentables to add flavour. That is what I think I am tasting in that brew.

Maybe you know more than me but where are the rest of the corny adjuncts – the malted corn, the roasted corn or the crystal corn that some agronomist or another sort of lab-coated egghead should have developed by now? Surely a grain as versatile as corn could be subject to more treatments that might make for some other great beers. Surely there is a Department of Cornology in some Midwest US state working on coaxing more flavours from the humble yellow kernal. As far as may daydreams of future beer goes, I would think that the residual sweetness of corn could work in a roasty stout. The huskineess of a dried cob might also work when blended with a little rye malt. And Jeffery pointed out that it would also fit with the local and sustainable trends we are seeing becoming more and more important.

If corn can make a fine whiskey, why not a beer? And are there other fine corn beers out there, some modern chichas, that I do not know about?

Is Wisconsin The Continent’s Beervana?

Slumming around the internet, I came across this article about beer and Wisconsin which made me wonder whether it is the beer friendliest jurisdiction in North America.

From handing out free samples at grocery stores to shunning a proposed tax increase, Wisconsin lawmakers love their beer. One of the first bills they passed this year made sure bar patrons didn’t lose drinking time when the clock jumped back an hour this spring. Other pro-beer bills are brewing.

Free beer at the grocery store! Good Lord. There are places in Canada where they hold exorcisms for folks who think like that. But then there is this: “Wisconsin is also one of only a handful of states that allows parents to purchase alcohol for their children to consume in their presence.” Holy Moly. I had no idea. Well, sure, this is progressive and good and all – especially if you believe like most conservatives that the family is the source of the best instruction and all that stuff…but I had no idea. Who knew?