Brown Beers Matter

IMG_0953The Session this month is a brown study; participants have been in ‘a state of deep absorption or thoughtfulness’ about the color brown and maybe even induced a moody daydream about brown beers.

In my limited experience a color divide remains in beer audiences, light versus dark.  Of course, brown beers fall right in the middle of this divide – darker than a pale ale but not yet donning the black.  One of my friends who accompanies me to Kingman’s local brewery, Black Bridge, was at first ambivalent about this craft beer experience on which I was leading him. He only knew the macro’s. He drank some a cream ale that they offered at the time and was still on the fence. It was K-Town Brown that converted him.  It wasn’t overpowering but it had actual flavor and nuance.  Now he tells me that he’s been “ruined,” he can only drink real beer. I smile knowingly. Brown beers are good gateway beers. Well, in this instance, at least.

In the beer world we have brown ales, brown porters, altbiers, schwarzbiers and rauchbiers, perhaps; mild ales and barley wines sometimes have a solid brown color; to me, some reds seem to border on brown but maybe it’s just the school I attended.  There are certainly more. They are not all suited to the gateway experience as noted above; it would be a dubious experiment to introduce a beer novice to the woody smokiness of a rauchbier.

Stouts and porters are my favorites but a brown beer is just as tantalizing and neither drab nor boring. I have a home brew recipe for a dark mild which I have made several times; perhaps that’s why I’m partial to British browns, dark mild ales and the American brown. These beers all seem to have a sunset at their edges, orange and calming. Generally they have a faux ivory collar that’s a little sticky. It is as sugary at commencement as it is dry at denouement, like a Stirling engine of taste. Sometimes walnut flavors arrive. K-Town Brown noted above was enjoyable and Wagonwheel, also offered occasionally at Black Bridge, is one of my all-time favorite brown ales.  Ask for them when on tap, you will not be disappointed.

Brown ales also pair well with food. Pretty much any food. It is a beer for all ages, for all tastes, for all occasions.  I used to drink Pete’s Wicked with every dinner.  Well, it seems so in memory.  Pete’s was a wickedly delightful brown … .  Newcastle is overrated.  I hope that does not cause a ruckus.  It’s just my opinion and can be dismissed if you disagree.  Cheers.  Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale is a good choice for a brown.  Oh, and Oak Creek Brewing in Sedona, Arizona has a Nut Brown Ale, too, that’s worth a pint.

For more discussion of brown beers and Black Bridge’s contributions, listen to  the first half of the first episode of the Cartoon Casual podcast.  It’s produced by two locals, Joe Fellers and Paul Gaines.  And as both Joe and Paul will tell you, the show could be offensive to some so use discernment.

The color brown is a study in contrast. It is the hue and tincture of earth and soil, wood and bark, hair and flesh. Earth is our source and home, the surface upon which our diverse temples are built. These bodies are our avatars in this reality allowing concourse and conversation. Logic would indicate we hold these things in high regard.

Therefore, brown can represent quality. The best food, the best drink, the best friends. “Some browns can show a degree of sophistication or elegance, depending on other colors associated with the brown. For example, brown with a soft white or ivory can appear stylish and classy,” states the website Empowered By Color.  Not convinced?  Here …

iu-2Hepburn.  The epitome of stylish and classy.  In a brown hat.

Yet, … “According to public opinion surveys in Europe and the United States, brown is the least favorite color of the public; the color most often associated with plainness, the rustic, and poverty.” Brown can be perceived as drab and boring and even as stingy or cheap. Quite a contrast!

Maybe browns just seem common, wonted.  I mean, they were pretty much the only kind of a beer for a time.  Isn’t that one of the reasons pilsner became such a thing?  People were all, “hey,  it’s …. yellow.”  Indeed, there is an everyman motif to the brown beer.  There is no creative flair associated with them, peradventure. In other words, no awesome hops bouquet or astronomical IBU rating. No heavily roasted grain profile. No eccentric ingredients.  I have nothing against the aforementioned qualities; they all have their rightful place in the beer pantheon.  Browns are honest, straightforward beer.  Of course, that does not mean none of those things can be added to the brown.

Oh, another aspect of brown – people with brown eyes “are the greatest kissers of all.”

Pretend that glass of brown beer is a kiss from your favorite brown-eyed girl … or guy.  And introduce them to a possibly overlooked beer style.


Sources:

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The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami

I don’t really know who that author is; I found that quote on Goodreads. It seems a good fit for The Session this month. The beer blogging Friday host Joan Birraire posited this for a subject:

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. … I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.”

I am certain that the “culture” referenced above is not of the sort found in the pages of this book: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.   It would refer more to this kind of culture: “the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society or group.” – This definition contributed by Vocabulary.com. The following are the books that have influenced me and that I feel added to the ideas, customs and intellectual conditions of beer and brewing.

Do you remember the Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action?”  Yes, the one where Kirk and Spock get to act like caricatures of gangsters from the 1920s (it also introduced the geniotic card game, fizbin, but that doesnt play into this story, so never mind that part). The entire species on the planet the Enterprise crew was visiting had been influenced by a single book that a previous starship had left, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties.  So, Joy of Homebrewing is that book for home brewers. It has influenced, maybe not the planet, but a huge percentage of the home brewing population. Just a few days ago I was commanded to follow the Papazian Mantra – relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew – and that’s, what, about thirty years post-publication! Good show, Mr Papazian. The book is full of great advice and technique, to be sure, and it has a little history, and certainly it contains the home brew philosophy that many of us live by, especially on Brew Day. As far as importance to culture, I put it at numero uno.  

  • A side note: the Trek episode reminded me of this treasure from Retroactive*.  (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Black Bridge – Def Leppard Friday’s should be a Thing!)

As far as quick reference goes, Miller’s book, Brewing the World’s Great Beers is fantastic, in my opinion. It is categorized in sections for extract, partial mash and all grain, quickly lays out the basic grist bill and instructions for all the basic beer styles. It’s often where I start in recipe formulating. I like the sparse nature of the book, too. No fluff, just beer stuff; knowledge at your fingertips. Like the JoH above, this book has served me well for years of successful home brewing and has survived two children, several dogs, and lots of Brew Days. 

I am enthralled by Belgian beers so it was a lot of fun to read Brew Like A Monk. There are recipe breakdowns throughout, but also brief histories of breweries and the philosophy of the brewers. I am more beholden to beer styles than I realized, though I like to consider myself more creative than to be restricted by rules since they are, like time and reality, just societal constructs and from what I got out of this book the monk brewers are not interested in styles. They make a beer over and over and know it and treat it like a living thing that must be cared for. As far as culture of beer goes, it seems to me that these monks possessed a proto-Papazian RDWHAH thinking.

Randy Mosher enjoys uncovering the arcane secrets and tastes of beer, firing the desires of other brewers. I’ve only read Tasting Beer, but it was enlightening. It again provided some history and discussed the derivations of various beer types. I’ve also been able to hear some of his talks from the home brewers convention. He seems to be always searching for beer knowledge and wants to correct inaccuracies in technique or folk knowledge or wherever so that all can enjoy true beer. 

History flavors culture. At least, it gives us context which is vital for insight into character, decisions, goals. It is the first step to subtext. You can navigate life without being aware of context, but it just makes you appear egotistical, foolish or a bully. No finesse. So books like Ogle’s help provide context to the beer world. Ambitious Brew was a fun read about brewing history in the United States. It provides a glimpse of the goals of those we refer to now as Big Brewers. What stood out to me was their need to expand. Expand. Expand. Take over. Etc. Now, a century later they still expand, by buying independently owned breweries. Stop helping them do that! I think books like this can serve as caution tape for craft brewers who are huge. While it’s nice to have good beers available nationally when do you draw the line between beer passion and building empire? I remember a time when it was the thing to mock Bud for being the SAME product from one end of the country to another. No character, as it were. Now I can pick up a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale anywhere and it’s gonna taste the same – granted its still a better taste than Bud. Before all the proverbial hackles are raised, this is not any kind of indictment, I am not qualified to make a judgement like that about brewery business and goals. What I’m really saying is history books can add to beer culture because it can make us discuss beer ethics. Ethics are the reason I choose to avoid big beer whenever possible. It’s not the taste, it’s the … context. It’s also why I prefer to drink at a local brewery whenever that’s an option. Speaking of local:  this will be out soon, Brewing Local.

To all the beer book authors out there: Thank You. Your work is being appreciated. You are affecting people’s thinking about beer. Cheers. 
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*A cover, I know. Sweet.  

Flotsam, Jetsam and Me

Black Butte Porter Cap

I like to feature bottle caps in some of my pictures. Something about how they are bent is intriguing. It’s a reminder of the cool physics and chemistry at work in the drink ready to be consumed. It’s also a symbol of craft beer; none of those silly twist-off caps here …




This picture also has a nice shot of the beer label. Some of them are intriguing such as this  from Speakeasy. Cool black and white skyline, a dirigible.  This label seems to reference the Prohibition time period, but also seems steampunk-ish.  Cool.

What?  There should always be plenty of bottle openers around.  I really like the ring opener.  I’ve made that and the blue multitool (with a bottle opener) part of my everyday carry (EDC).  There are probably one or two openers that I forgot to include in this picture.  Truly, it would be hard to remove the above noted bottle caps without a bottle opener.  I think they deserve to be included in the “tangential” category of this month’s Session.


Coasters are useful for protecting tables and also starting conversations.  We recently went to Las Vegas and met some new friends.  While at lunch, I noticed our host had several coasters on his table – all from craft breweries.  So, we had an instant connection and one source for locution.  Had a great time.

The coaster below was acquired at a Great American Beer Festival a few years ago.

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And one other interesting piece of detritus:

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Yes, a pallet.  And because it pleases me, I imagine it came directly from the Sapporo brewery.

Arizona Brews: A Native American Fermented Drink, Tiswin

IMG_0953az and lost beer

This brief essay is a contribution to The Session, a monthly beer blogging event. You can read more about it here.  The subject for June is from Reuben Gray at A Tale of the Ale.  He presented this:

“If you have a local beer style that died out and is starting to appear again then please let the world know. Not everyone will so just write about any that you have experienced. Some of the recent style resurrections I have come across in Ireland are Kentucky Common, Grodziskie, Gose and some others. Perhaps it’s a beer you have only come across in homebrew circles and is not even made commercially.

There are no restrictions other than the beer being an obscure style you don’t find in very many places.”

I recently listened to the podcast Invisibilia. One of the episodes dealt with how our brain categorizes the world around us. Thus, we are not shocked, surprised or dumbfounded every time we walk into a pub, for example, and are handed an open cylinder of see through material that has something unstable sloshing around within it. We know right away that this is called a “glass” and the unstable sloshy stuff is “beer.” Further, as beer drinkers, I would say we also categorize both objects as a “pint.”

This issue of categorization arose for me personally as I thought about tiswin, the lost beer style I wanted to write about. It’s a Native American fermented beverage made from corn. The article, “Was Geronimo A Drunk” from True West Magazine explains it well:

“Mildly intoxicating in its basic composition, it figured in most Apache ceremonial and social occasions … Tiswin was beer brewed from corn. The corn was shelled, soaked in a can of water, spread out on a blanket or other fabric in the sun until it sprouted, then ground into a meal and poured into a can of boiling water. When half the water boiled away, it was replenished and brought to a boil again. The water was then strained, cooled and poured into another can or barrel, and allowed to stand until it sent up bubbles. … In the hands of skilled women, tiswin could range from mild to powerful and sour to savory.”

When I think “beer” I always consider a product of only barley (or wheat) and hops and water and yeast. It’s the barley/hops combination, I think, that distinguishes my conception of that word, beer; that is how I categorize it.  But this description of tiswin sounds like making beer, only with corn. Well, barley and maize, or corn, are both cereal grains in the Poaceae family, if I did my research correctly.  This tells me I need to not have a rigid definition of beer, I just need to enjoy the art of brewing any kind of fermented beverage.

It seems tiswin would be a good choice for the Southwest as it can tie itself to the history of the region. Native Americans were making this drink long before the Spanish or the English came to the continent and introduced them to other alcohol, another categorical thought. Tiswin could possibly be used as a further eductional tool, therefore, to extol a culture that has suffered.

Here is a simple recipe:

  • 5 lbs dried white corn
    2 gallons water
    1 1/2 c brown sugar
    2 dried orange peels
    3 cinnamon sticks
    1 t ground cloves
    mstheme mstheme

    Oven-roast corn at 300 degrees until light brown, stirring frequently. Grind
    coarsely in food chopper or in small quantities in blender. Wash (using several
    rinses, clean water each time), and discard hulls.
    Put in crock and stir in water and other ingredients. Cover and let sit in a barely
    warm place for five or six days or until fermented. Strain through cheesecloth
    and serve.

All About Beer also mentioned that saguaro pulp is used instead of maize as the base.  Securing saguaro pulp would be problematic, I suppose, since that cactus is protected.  Many recipes included orange peels and cinnamon. Another source* mentioned tiswin being based on mescal instead of either of the above.

It would be interesting to make this beer via one of the traditional recipes. I’d like to know what it tastes like – the corn, saguaro and mescal versions. Then, what would be best?  Make the tiswin ingredients adjuncts in a traditional barley/wheat beer?  Brew both separately and then blend?

Some breweries are doing similar things.  For example, Blue Moon has a fantastic beer infused with horchata.  Dogfish Head is making a chicha.  Shiner has wheat beer with prickly pear as an adjunct.

So, this is by no means a comprehensive or even elementary treatment of this drink. It is simply one I ran across and wanted a little more information about, so these are my notes. I would like to do further research. Doubtless there are many skilled brewers and beer-historians who know much more about this drink. Please put some additional sources and comments on this article, and thank you very much!

Further reading:

Beer Brewed Long Ago by Native Americans – Live Science

The Geronimo Campaign by Odie B Faulk

Getting Primitive – All About Beer

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*The Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s by Jessica Dawn Palmer

Lunch at College Street Brewhouse & Pub

Up on a hill, parking is a little confusing but not terribly.

It is family friendly.

Big Blue Van served with blueberries in the glass. Don’t know that they add flavor but they add to the presentation. Makes a fun game trying to snag a blueberry.

Jesse’s Lager is heavy and clean with a hops void. I think I love this beer.

We had for lunch: chicken caprese wrap, margherita pizza, and pirate johns BLT. Sweet a Devil Stout was a surprising compliment to the BLT. Gotta be the smokiness. I know I love it. One of the best stouts ever. Ever.

Tall building
Gordon Biersch-y
Patio looks cool

Brewhouse is stainless and utterly gorgeous. Utterly.

No readily available beer menu, like a board it something. Gotta rely on servers. They’re not bad.

Food is fantastic!

Their Octoberfest is … Well, there is a bitter aftertaste that I’m not happy with. Good color, great head, but that hops at the end … Dunno. Not happy with it.

Conclusion: nice place. Would I come here again? Yes.

Is it better than Mudshark, the other Lake Havasu brewery?

No.

Sweet Devil is one of the best stouts ever. Big Blue Van is more intriguing and refreshing than it has any right to be. But Full Moon is the Einstein of wit beers and Mudshark’s atmosphere is far more liberated.

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My First Belgian: The Session Number Ninety-One

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The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.

The topic that Elisa and I have chosen for this month’s Session is ‘My First Belgian.’

My first Belgian home brew I named Clawed. Herein lies the recipe:

2 lbs Belgian Pale malt
7 lbs 6 row
2 oz Sterling hops (boil)
1 lb candi sugar
Wyeast 1214

I do not recall any of the mash particulars. It was a five gallon batch. This was about five years ago.

It was a good beer, close to what I supposed a Belgian beer should be – orange and mysterious. There are two beers that I want to brew again – this one and a barley wine I made fifteen years ago. Maybe some day …

Clawed was well received, by me and those to whom I gave a bottle or two. I don’t think this beer was terribly Belgiany otherwise many of the beer recipients would have been terrified by it. However, it had just the right amount of citrusy spice to make it appealing. It was made during a summer, so it was refreshing, too.

The Belgian beers I’ve had possess an intangible quality that appeals to me yet is hard to convey. Certainly there’s the spice, the earthiness, the venerable moth-eaten pall of long storage; but there’s also the tastual juxtaposition of this libation. It’s a beer, but it’s not a beer. These Belgian creations are never what you expect. That sense of discovery, experimentation and surprise.

I do not think I crafted that essence. But, it was a shadowy homage to the beer legends. At some point, I shall go forth and attempt it once more.