Tasting Notes: Katastrophic Humiliation

These notes will be in media res, unedited, rough drafts.  They happened at the tapping party, with friends, in the crowd. 

For those who don’t know, Kingman’s local brewery, Black Bridge, entered several beers earlier this year in the Arizona Strong Beer Festival. The gold medal went to Katastrophic Humiliation, a barley-wine style ale made by Black Bridge.  To celebrate and commemorate the win, the brewery had a tapping party for the newest iteration of Katastrophic tonight, May 12, 2017. This is not the recipe that won gold but a new version. 

Brewer Tim Schritter has always been inspired by the beers at Stone Brewing. This is evident in his hop-forward, high alcohol interpretations of every beer style.  For Katastrophic, he followed the Stone ideal of recipe tweaking and added some different hops to the 2017 version of Katastrophic. 

Here are my notes and impressions. They are not final verdict on the beer, simply my thoughts and those of my drinking compatriots. Support your local, y’all, go find out for yourselves if it’s gold medal worthy. 


That Smell…

It smells tropical. Interesting. I didn’t catch that during the sneak drink earlier this week. There were no hops evident at all then. So, this soft tropical, maybe papaya smell, that’s gotta be the Mosaic hops, which is the new ingredient this year.  I am right.  Seriously, it smells fantastic. I love Mosaic. Brilliant hops. 

In Appearance…

Reddish copper body. Good head retention.  Red and purple appear. Hmm. Okay, well, my wife and a friend were wearing purple, so maybe I am biased. But the color was solid.  Just what a barley wine should be.  

But The Taste …

Tastes of plum.  Maybe Jamaican coconuts … hahaha, anyway.  No not really. No coconut.  That reference was for something else.  The tropical taste was there, the … melons, let’s say, are very apparent. There are a few readers who will dig that reference.   (Wink-wink,  nudge-nudge, say no more …).

Its got a medium body, but feels heavier.  High alcohol, I’m guessing.  It is incredibly sweet and a little tart.  Just like a good wife….

Almost like a Reisling?  Hmm.  Well, it is a barley wine, so that’s cool. 

A B3 patron was cognizant enough to have a sample of the 2016 gold medal winning beer on hand. There are not enough thanks we can give this craft beer enthusiast.  Here is the comparison:

The 2016 gold medal beer is vastly superior. Fine. Not vastly. Just mostly.  It has a splendiferous malty and bready body, clean and precise at the edges like a dense Dostoyevsky novel. Gorgeous and intimidating.  Age gives it a brilliant attenuation and a cleaner, crisper taste. There are no hops apparent in the nose or the body.  The Mosaic hops softens the character of the 2017 batch.  That is not in any way derogatory. After a year of aging, this new batch could easily outshine the 2016 version.

The Conclusion of the Matter …

Wow, what to say about this beer. According to BJCP guidelines for English Barley Wines, the aroma should be “very rich and strongly malty, often with a caramel- like aroma in darker versions or a light toffee character in paler versions. May have moderate to strong fruitiness, often with a dark or dried fruit character, particularly in dark versions.”  This isn’t really a dark barley wine; however, those elements are present. Vinous and complex alcohol flavors definitely present themselves.  American barley wines should have hop flavor and bitterness. This one has just the flavor. It does possess a well integrated alcohol presence. It also has the alcohol warmth and chewy complexity of a British Strong Ale and the raisin/apple smell and taste of a Belgian dubbel. 

Schritter has again produced a beer that is just what it should be, yet something it shouldn’t be. If this beer were a book, it would be a Lovecraftian work, a libation of expectation and madness and something you know has completely altered your palate.

I’ve got to give him homebrew cred, too. He realized in the midst of brewing that he did not have the hops he wanted. But there was no going back; the beer had to be made, had to have hops.  He improvised.  The Mosaic hops were on hand and in the quantity he needed.  How many times does that happen to us as homebrewers?  You’ve just got to work with what you have. And how often does that brewing crisis lead to a beautiful beer?  Most of the time!  And that’s the case here.  The universe wants good beer, y’all!  Deny it not. 

If it were a book it would be, if not Lovecraft, Cloud Atlas

If it were a movie it would be Inception

I’m still not a fan of the beer’s name. It’s cadence just doesn’t work for me.  And I still hold to what I said four years ago. This beer has no “attitude” in the arrogant, supercilious sense.  It is dignified and sure of itself.  That is so much cooler. It is what it wants to be, which is not what you think it should be.  Very well done. 

Cheers, B3! 

Further Research Into Tiswin, A Native American Beer

Despite dwelling in the desert for decades, I did not know the following about Saguaro cactus:

  • When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.
  • An adult saguaro is generally considered to be about 125 years of age. It may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. The average life span of a saguaro is probably 150 – 175 years of age. However, biologists believe that some plants may live over 200 years.
  • It is estimated that a saguaro can produce some 40 million seeds during its lifetime. However, few will survive to become a seedling. Fewer still will become an adult. The low survival rate of seedlings is due to drought, prolonged freezing and animals eating them.

These silent sentinels beneath Sol’s bright eye are impressive plants and can be adjuncts, or maybe the base, of tiswin, a Native American beer which I began writing about here.  Now, I know quite well that I am an amateur and novice in this field of tiswin and Native American life and culture. I have not made nor even sampled the libation as yet.  I’m collecting information. So, I apologize for any errors I may write. Please comment on this post (or any future ones) and let me know where I was wrong and give me some advice and guidance.

Tiswin seems to also go by the moniker “tesguino” (apparently pronounced tes-ween-o).  At first I thought the two names represented two distinct alcoholic drinks: 1) tiswin, a beer produced with corn; 2) tesguino, an alcoholic drink produced with fruit from the saguaro.  But I think that in actuality the twain are the same libation¹.  I also found the spellings “tezvino” and “tizwin” and references to “tulpi” and “tulapa.”  All seem to refer to a maize based drink to which other ingredients, such as the aforementioned saguaro, may be added².  Yet, adding to my confusion is this publication from the National Park Service.  In that brief brochure it mentions a “Saguaro fruit wine imbibing ceremony to bring the summer monsoon” performed by the Tohono O’odham people, a native nation you can read about here.  There is no mention of the name of this fruit wine, so it may just be me conflating two separate drinks.  The Saguaro fruit wine would be great to sample.

Another helpful article that has a brief discussion about tiswin is  Tepache & Tesguino, at Edible Baja Arizona. I believe it was that article that lead me to information on the Tarahumara Indians, also known as Raramuri, whom may best be known as the pinnacle of long distance runners. They, too, make tesguino and brewing it and drinking it is a spiritual act for them. They sound like good people.  “Their ancient theology was not based on dogma or abstract concepts; nor is their new Christianity. Rather it is a day by day practice of living in harmony with nature and their fellow man.”³  Of course, there are many that claim to do the same and the world is still the world we see today.  But I suppose that’s another story.

 The Raramuri say to one another bosasa which means “fill up, be satisfied, be contented.”†  Kinda like saying “cheers.”  Therefore, bosasa, beer friends!


¹ That confusion came from this source:  http://www.oocities.org/xxi1933/recipes-exotic.html.  It notes solely saguaro fruit juice as the ingredient in the drink.

² This is helpful index of native, undistilled liquours by American anthropologist Weston La Barre.

³ http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1924-the-tarahumaras-an-endangered-species

http://www.npr.org/templates/text/s.php?sId=4532569&m=1

Brewing Fun

These sentiments recently appeared in an article at CraftBeer.com:

Why do so many people love beer? It’s because beer presents a fun experience to nearly everyone, no matter their background or level of knowledge. Yes, there are people who love beer without really knowing anything about how it’s made. For some, however, the experience becomes more satisfying as more effort is put into learning about beer.

 

If you are truly interested in beer and brewing, whether it’s home brewing or craft beers, your local is the best place to be.  For Kingman, that’s Black Bridge.  Here’s a few things they’ve been doing recently that I thought were fun and have expanded the beer knowledge of their crew and community.

  • Angry Elf.  A Russian Imperial Stout brewed originally by a local home brewer and employee at Black Bridge.  His recipe won gold at a home brew competition and is an outstanding beer on it’s own and is occasionally offered at the brewery.  They brewed it again this year, added cherry puree and some chocolate and called it Sexual Chocolate.  It’s a wonderful stout, highly recommended, especially if you like dessert.  It may already be gone, though, but maybe it’ll come back.
  • Pete LaFass.  A heavily smoked scotch ale.  Honestly, that thing is for hardcore beer fans.  It tastes and smells like a hospital inferno, latex, nitrile and band aids burning in diapers or something. These are all usually bad. But, somehow, it works in this beer.  You may only be able to cope with a small sample, but it’s worth a try. It’s from a local home brewer.
  • No Pricks Allowed.  A Belgian blonde that is a gorgeous pink/purple color, from the prickly pear addition, so it’s using locally found ingredients from a cactus.  A true desert beer.
  • Hop Tart.  Another beer from a home brewer who won a contest at Black Bridge; it’s been a while since I’ve had this beer, so I can’t say a lot about it.  I only remember that I didn’t hate it, so, that’s got to be good.  I believe I read that it’s coming back on tap soon.

 

Anyway, these beers may or may not be on tap at B3 by the time you read this and they are by no means the only beers there.  Doubtlessly, I’ve left off beers that were inspired/brewed by other locals and B3 crew, the above beers are just the ones I know about right now.   The brewery is a place to get good brewing advice, inspiration for your own beers, and to get goaded into a new hobby.  And, really, the point is that the brewery is sponsoring local brewing culture and I think that’s cool.  And I have a self-important blog.  So I’m going to write about it.  Because I can.  And you can even get beer there, fun and all.

Beer Journaling

2016

December 21

-somewhere in the desert

The Week draws close now; the Week of willing sequestration wherein I will eschew all social things.  Responsibility will be a shadow seeking life at high noon.  I shall be a veritable hermit reveling in silence and nothingness.  Now, family is inviolable so my immediate relations will still have access to me.  I have not yet decided how this will affect my relations with John Barleycorn at the local malty grotto.  But I know I shall be in the company of beer whether by visitation of the local, rushing the growler, or my own fine home brew.  Mayhaps I’ll take the time to re-examine beers I have rejected in the past.  The dreaded industrial beers.  Since I’ve been told these past two years that I am a “beer snob” and “self-important” and “judgmental” I feel it may be time to Star Trek my beer universe.  Does “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” hold true in the vast frontier of beer?

It seems, to be sure, that home made neck oil will rule the day.  At home I have two batches bottled and waiting.  One is called Shistory and it is a black(ish) saison.  The black pepper is unmistakable upon warming.  The other beer is called Old Ben and it is a clone of Guinness Stout, without the well known nitrogen.  It is slightly creamy and a little toasty and very tasty.  In addition to drinking said home brewed beers I’ve got ingredients shipped for to make an additional two batches.  One of those batches will be a modification of the stout mentioned above, Old Ben.  Instead of using stout malt for the base I will use Rahr 2-row.  I am intrigued to discover what the difference may be, however subtle.  The other beer will be a Belgian blonde produced with pilsner malt and flaked barley and a Belgian yeast.

 

 

The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

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. 
—–———–

*A cover, I know. Sweet.  

A Herald of Light

It is spring.  The light comes early.  Thoughts turn to the estate and its upkeep.  This includes proper landscaping and organization of the garage.  All such things have gone undone during the dark of winter.

Any project I  undertake has a beer factor.  Since, theoretically, my cognitive skills will be engaged with the tasks noted in the opening paragraph that same cognition cannot be derailed by dissecting a home brew.  Therefore I need to brew a beer that is light like the season, refreshing and easy on the palate and the neurons.

In my recipe register there is a dark mild.  It is named Herald.  It brews fast, two weeks from mash tun to bottle.  It seems a good idea to take that recipe and modify it slightly.  A little pilsner malt and some wheat in place of the chocolate.  I’m just not sure which yeast to use yet.  American Ale or Kolsch?  I’m leaning towards the Kolsch strain.

My inner eye has seen the mash.  I have seen the transference of liquid.  I can envision the krausen.  It must be done.

Mergers and Takeovers:  Has the Beer Revolution Been Completed?  Did Someone Win?

It seemed like it was all about love and art; love for taste and character of true beer and the art of creating it. The zeitgeist of activism seemed to cloak the revolutionary struggle between small breweries and the behemoth corporations. Craft brewers gave the world IPAs, saisons, ambers, chocolate stouts, sea salt gose, browns, etc. craft breweries, such as Four Peaks here in Arizona, pushed legal boundaries for production and capacity for craft brewers. 

And then …

Then they started selling out to the mega corporate brewers. Now, takeover after takeover concerns me. Of course, it can be argued that this signals the fact that AB has recognized that we all want good beer. They see the growing numbers of craft beer. Now they want a portion of those increasing sales and are providing distribution to said good beer. So, good beer won the revolution.  

It just feels so icky. 

Were all these brewers just in it for the money? Have they now become the enemy they allegedly fought? Now I am forced to decide: is it about the beer or the philosophy? If the character of these craft beers does not change, if they hold onto the quality and the vision that made them great beers, must I abjure them solely because I disagree with their business model? 

It feels like it’s just about the distribution now and, thus, the profits.  (That seems to be indicated here).  They want their beers all over the country. And, on one hand, why blame them for that? That’s what business is all about and so, on one hand, they can’t be faulted. Interestingly, this is the same capitalistic tumor that afflicted Busch and Pabst and Uihlein and Miller and their ilk at the beginning of the 20th century. They wanted their products all over the nation and ruthlessly pursued that goal. They all did make a solid and consistent product. A product, mind you, not a craft beer. The quality is good, consistent, stable. They have a lot of scientific and marketing resources to throw at their beers. They were in the manufacturing business and were successful. 

Corporate resources and national distribution. I suppose in the beer world this can be seen as the achievement of the American Dream. A small business struggled, fought, created and now has the opportunity to be globally recognized. Success! I guess. It all depends on your definition of that word. 

In regard to corporations and resources, I wonder also how this will help or hinder the raw materials vendors of barley, wheat, and hops? Or the yeast labs? I assume they will still sell the same volume, unless a consolidation of beer recipes occurs at AB’s new breweries or a reduction of offerings is enforced. Doubtless, AB has purchasing contracts and pricing agreements with many of those vendors. So, if they are selling domestic grains at lower prices to AB and higher to other smaller breweries, will that change now to the standard AB cost for the breweries just purchased? I am not a professional brewer and am not familiar with all the pricing structures therein, so I wonder. I wonder, too, how this might affect the home brewing markets. And what about corporate decisions to use GMOs? Oh, super, now the conspiracy begins. 

The world is becoming more and more homogenous it seems. Now the choices in the beer market will be given us. We shall pick from amongst what “they” tell us to pick from. Like good little drones we will say, “behold what many beers there are.” The free market. 
Hiwever, another thought is – what if the beers do not change? What if operations at the breweries don’t change? If Kiltlifter remains Kiltlifter, why should I not drink it on occasion? What makes Four Peaks less of a destination if it remains essentially unchanged?    But some comments by the creators of Four Peaks makes me worry.  They say here that “the beer will improve.”  So they are toying with the recipes?  

That really is the question. Will these breweries remain unchanged? If the taste of the beer is the same, well, what am I whining about? Isn’t it all about the beer?  That leads also to darker questions. If these craft breweries can become part of a corporation and retain their inherent goodness, does that indicate that the beers the corporations have been brewing all this time are actually acceptable products and I’ve just been swept up in an emotional boycott of their business practices? Is it time to rethink my viewpoint on those beers? Dear God, am I going to start drinking AmberBock again?

My solution to avoiding those latter questions is twofold.

Drink Local

A nano brewery in your hometown is most likely not owned by a giant corporation. (Right, Tim, right??) It is the place that creates beers you can only find at home, locally. The white whale beers. Additionally you are supporting your local economy. You’re paying people you know. The people at the brewery are making beer for people they know. At least drink there until the place gets so big it wants to go corporate. 

Drink Your Own.

This whole takeover and merger fiasco fuels my desire to home brew. That is the only true craft beer. Home brew is truly unique, it has true character. It an expression of the home brewer. Yeah, that means at times you get some wonky beers. But some times you also get irreproducible masterpieces. Those beers will be the stories that live on.