In Review – Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide To The World’s Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher

Let it now be said, straight up (coincidentally or not, that’s the way I like my whiskey) – I reveled in the digi-pages of Randy Mosher’s book, Tasting Beer: An Insiders Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Just wanted to get that out there right away, you know, for those who have no interest in reading the rest of this review; or those who lack the attention span to do so, sufferers of Internet ADHD.

It’s brilliant, well written, not condescending so as to turn away initiates, not so bland as to trouble the cognoscenti. You want to be a beer critic or evaluator? Well, read this here book. (All the bored people can leave now).

After reading the following quote from the book, I instantly understood why I needed it. “If you take the time to develop an approach and a vocabulary,” states Mosher, “even casually tasted beers may reveal themselves in greater depth, meaning, and eventually, pleasure.”  This book should be required reading for anyone who reviews beers, whether a professional or a simple blogger.

I have heard Mosher’s name oft mentioned in the beer world.  However, this is the first time I’ve read him.  He has a fatherly, mentor-like voice.  It’s authoritative and assuring.

Beer History
The first chapter covers some of beer’s backstory and the author was succinct without leaving gaps; his synopsis leaves the reader filling fulfilled and enlightened.  Plus, he touches on some cool subjects right away.  For example, he discusses technology’s impact on brewing.  After reviewing the dramatic increase of production in the early 1800s, he notes that the “new industrial scale is important, because it increased pressure on brewers to find efficiencies that had been insignificant in a smaller setting.”  Ah, the demon seed of corporate brewing!  Efficiency, distribution, pressure – to the dark side do these lead.

Adroitly does Mosher explain how this country really had no culture when it began.  Culture was brought to it via immigration.  He writes:  “Those flooding in had a strong affinity for beer … a world without the joys of a few lagers in the garden on a Sunday afternoon was just unthinkable, and … they set about rebuilding their beer culture.”  Mosher goes on to explain why their reconstruction efforts eventually led to the fizzy mainstream dishwater we are so familiar with now.

Drinking Beer
After providing the cultural context, Mosher moves on to the important part:  drinking the beer.

Chapters 2 through 6 focus on understanding and analyzing beer.  Mosher provides a vocabulary for the beer judge, explains how beer should be presented, consumed, written about.  I discovered that an easy way to increase your vocabulary of descriptors for beer is to append a ’y’ on another word. Thus, a beer can be “yogurty” or perhaps “bubble gummy” or “diesel exhausty”.   My shiner black lager tastes steaky. Think I likey.  Well, you get the idea. So, if you see a -y copiously in the notes below, it’s because I’m trying to apply.

I was able to read this book via Inkling (more about the Inkling format below) and the file comes with tasting records that can be completed right there in the book, on your iPad.  Cool.  One of the beers suggested as a ‘beer to try’ was Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont, a Belgian saison (as you could tell from it’s fancy name).  Let’s see what I came up with.

In chapter five we are told to first smell the beer.  I wrote that this one smelled “solventy, dirt tinged with worm.  The dirt came from a citrus orchard, to be sure.  Musty, skunky, Heinekeny.”  Then we take a look at the beer.  It is “pale yellow.  Witty, Budweisery.  Pours a frothy white head.”  Next, take a sip.  This saison is “light, somewhat slick body.  Fizzy.  Lemony.  Acidic base under that fizz.”  It was supposed to have a slight tang, which I think I indicated in my sparse notes.  Whiffs of orange are appropriate.  I missed the peppery-ness of it, but I did need to take Nyquil later that night.

One humorous note on beer presentation:  I have always fancied the shaker pint glass, thinking it symbolic of the modern quaffer of craft beer. Mosher denounces it, to a degree, and now I find myself shamed to own so many. Oh, what a rube I am for possessing them!  I must procure some English pub glasses with the fancy pop out rim. At least I have two elegant English mugs that properly display the play of light through the body of the beer.

Truly, reading about the origins of the beers and what certain tastes and smells arise from was a boon.  I look forward to using some of this material in my own brewing and writing.

Beer and Food and Styles
Several years ago a good friend purchased one of Stone Brewing‘s Vertical Epics.  Since I had this book and that beer and the time was right, I tried to follow the guidelines in chapter 7 of the book to make a memorable dinner paired with a memorable beer.   We had stew with Shiner Black Lager (roasted grains with roasted meat) and consumed the 06-06-06 Vertical Epic with brownies after dinner.  It wasn’t complicated but it was great.  The chocolate and the Epic were a perfect match.

After talking a little about how to host beer dinners and pairing food and beer, Mosher then moves on to the various beer styles.  He tells us where they came from, what they used to be, what they should be; it’s a glorious ride through the beer world.  Granted, some of us feel beer is art and should be unfettered by these silly styles; Mosher addresses this and the reality of beer styles.  As you may have guessed from comments and notes above, I loved the “Suggested Beers to Try” lists.  I have not had enough of the beers he lists.  Now I have crucial additions to my own Beers I Want List.  Thanks!

Unfortunately, some of the histories and the suggested beers leads to some bad feelings on my part.  For example, I remember trying Sam Adams Cream Stout many, many years ago.  It had “chocolate malt” in it.  I discovered that wasn’t what I thought it was, but, whatever!  It did make me look into beer.  Mosher writes regarding cream stouts:  “[It] devolved into a rather feeble, soft, sweet, and roasty style … By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was positioned as a drink for invalids.”  Feeble?  Invalids?  I don’t know how to feel about this beer that I enjoyed.  Feeble, I suppose.

Last Call
I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It is well researched, evenly presented, crisply written and eternally motivating.  Let me allow Mosher to sum it up best:  “Uncap something special and pour it into a treasured glass. Give it the time it needs to settle into perfection. Ahh, beer! Raise the glass, as have countless others before you, and toast someone special. Pause for a sniff, and then drink deep. Grain, water, hops — and yet so much more. Use your head, your heart, and your soul, and you can taste the whole world in it.”

Beautiful book, beautiful drink.

Inkling Format
Now a word about the Inkling book format.  This was the first time I’ve used this app at all.  I enjoyed it.  Book pages scroll up just like a website, which is different than other readers which mimic the page turns of paper books. The sidebars and pictures in the text are separate embedded items.  In other words, on page ninety-eight there is a banner titled “Forms of Bottled Beer” with an arrow on the right side.  Tap it  and another page scrolls out displaying what’s in the box on that page, or a picture, etc.  Swipe to the right and you are back on the main page.  Keep swiping right and you uncover navigation for each chapter and navigation for the entire book.  Pages just pile on top of each other, like on a desktop, waiting to be swiped and read.   The left side of the screen shows your progress through chapter.

It’s also social media wrapped up in an e-reader.  You can highlight portions of the text and leave comments on it.  These comments can be viewed by others with Inkling accounts and you can follow them or they can follow you.  The notes are a fun way to keep track of your thoughts of a book or a theme.  It’s all very interactive, which is exactly what the company is seeking – bravo!

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Kingman’s Beer and Brat Festival

Being less than impressed by my visit to this festival last year it is surprising I find myself here once more. I blame my sister. She wanted to go this year. Since it is a beer event (loosely) and I am slightly attempting to keep tabs on these things in Kingman, and it seems decent to preserve consanguineous relations, well, here I am.

The weather is decidedly worse this year. Heavy gray clouds are threatening to bring forth a downpour of some kind of precipitation. The temperature is too low. At least it’s not raining yet.  It’s about a quarter to five and so far there are approximately twenty people here.  My sister and I just missed the polka band. Good or bad?

One big improvement his year is: I made it in time for the good beer. Beck’s Octoberfest and Mudshark’s Oktoberfest is not sold out yet.  Of course, I did not realize that Mudshark had a presence at the Octoberfest until I’d ordered a Beck’s.  Ah,well; I’ve got cash for more beer.  The Beck’s had a good head. It was orangey in color. It was a little thin. However, it was better than other choices. Bud Light, Budweiser, Shocktop Pumpkin.

But Mudshark’s Oktoberfest was the best. Who’s shocked? Really? I chose a seat in the sun to try to keep warm but the downside is that it was near the road,  The aroma of the Mudshark beer was masked by exhaust. How lovely. But the taste was present. Bread, caramel, cigarette smoke – what the?  Stupid smokers.

It’s more brown than I expected.  But, I am looking at it through a mildly opaque plastic cup.

Still, it was enjoyable.  Two cups worth.

What else happened?  Well, I learned that Budweiser has a presence in Fort Collins, Colorado.  I can’t say I was thoroughly happy with that.  My sister visited the brewery when she lived in Loveland.  I realized that I hate that there are some nice locations in this town and they are ruined by various things:  trains, people.  That’s right, Locomotive Park downtown isn’t bad, just not utilized right.  The cursed train rolled through at least three times.

The event is still boring.  I mean, the beer was decent this time.  But there was too much downtime.  We waited way too long for the next band to setup with nothing to do but listen to pre-recorded Bryan Adams and watch some people make googly eyes at each other – and they weren’t young enough for it to be cute.  Neither activity was exciting.   Two hours in, maybe forty people have arrived.  The googly eye couples, as noted, some older people (rotary club members?) and a couple of groups of young people who seemed to be enjoying their socializing.  The event organizers expected four grand in total attendance. Wonder if it will happen?

There was a big police presence; didn’t notice them last year. Makes me wonder if something happened last time around.

My sister had a good time because she was introduced to Mudshark. and got to talk.  Those young people seemed to have a good time.  This thing might be better if you had more friends with you.

Kingman’s Oktoberfest wasn’t the total waste of time it was last year, but it still needs more beer.  Much, much more beer.

An Octoberfest in Kingman, Arizona

Cleanse yourself of every defilement of flesh and spirit I have read.   Thus, I sit here with my last Samuel Adams Octoberfest gently rinsing away the icky from a paltry, so-called beer festival/Octoberfest I hath just attended.

Kingman‘s “Oktoberfest” is now in its fourth year.  It’s been held in downtown Kingman at Locomotive Park right across from the Powerhouse.  I did not attend the first three because I knew this was Kingman and had a faint idea of what a beer festival in its infancy here would be like.  For some reason, a streak of optimism and unfounded hope shot through my brain yesterday and I decided I’d try it this year.  After all, I am a novice beer writer, eh?  I’m trying to research and delve into the world of beer, right?  It’s sort of my responsibility to keep abreast of beer functions and beer culture in my town.

Thus and so I arrived, with an old friend in tow.  There was no organization apparent.  There was one traffic sign that indicated there was a “special event” ahead and that was it.  No signs, no directions as to where to park.  We discerned, though, that we needed to park at the Powerhouse.  The park was, as noted, across the street.   Being in traffic in Kingman, be it vehicular or pedestrian, is taking your life in your own hands.  But, we managed to cross the street.  The first thing I noticed was that there was no energy in the air at all.  No excitement.  There were a few other tents/booths set up for people to hawk their wares – rugs, decals, tattoos, other junk – all facing the inside of the park.  There was nothing along the road, nothing facing out, nothing inviting people to stop and check out the event.

I was utterly disappointed.  As I continued moving on towards the beer tent, I became appalled.  At the entrance to one tent I did meet one person I knew; we shook hands and chatted for a moment.  He gave me some guidance as to how to proceed into the venue.  I’m glad he was there or else I’d have had no idea where to start or where the beer was.  That’s right, it’s a beer and brats Oktoberfest and you couldn’t find the beer serving spot without help and couldn’t smell even one brat cooking.  No one else really spoke to us at all; they were busy focusing on, I don’t know, themselves.   The one good thing I can say about the whole experience is:  it was free to get in.  Things went downhill after that.  Downhill after free?  Indeed.

I was told to check out the menu then pay up for whatever food I wanted.  There were a few choices:

  • Brat and kraut
  • Pretzel and cheese
  • Soda
  • Water
  • Something else hidden behind junk on the table

I decide on a pretzel.  I pay my $3 for it, am given a ticket and proceed around the table to the spot where the pretzels are.  I give the woman behind the counter my ticket, she tosses it in the ticket jar and then proceeds to find out that there are no pretzels ready.  She digs my ticket out of the jar and tells me it will be just a few more minutes.  Fine.  I figured I’d go grab a beer whilst I wait.  I’d heard that there were to be German beers at this party.  I was intrigued.  Here’s the beer menu for Oktoberfest:

  • Budweiser
  • Bud Light  (with lime, if you choose)
  • Mudshark’s Octoberfest (I apologize if the name is inaccurate; the beer was sold out and marked out on the cheesy beer menu board, thus obscuring the actual name)
  • Beck’s Octoberfest
  • Maybe something else, a regular Beck’s, I think

Really?  German beer?  Oh, they must have meant Beck’s.  It cost $4.00 for a twelve ounce cup.   I buy a couple and wait.  And discovered that the classic customer service attitude of Kingman was on display.  What’s that, you say?  Kingman has a customer service attitude?  Well, by that I mean that the vendors and servers give the customers attitude.   There is no sense of service or interest at all.   My friend and I stand nearby the beer truck and its quickly erected tables, just standing there, observing, sipping the Beck’s Oktoberfest (the lesser of greater evils), not in anyone’s way at all.  In fact, no one was line at the time.  The beer serving girl comes out to us and snottily tells us that we need to go one way or another; get out of the way basically.  So, like, I just forked out $8 for crappy beer from this woman and she can’t even be civil.  She has no idea how to deal with the public.

I go back to the pretzel table and it still isn’t ready.  It’ll be another twenty minutes.  Fine.  Me and my friend weave our way through the closely placed, cheap plastic tables and chairs and around all the little cliques and find some seats to wait.  There’s a band playing.  They’re okay, not great, but not terrible; don’t know if they were from Kingman or not.  And they weren’t playing country.  Oh, look, I found a second good thing to say.  We sit for a while and I go to get my pretzel.  It’ll be another five minutes.  Meanwhile, during the last seven minutes of waiting about three other people around me get pretzels.  Then, the girl who initially took my ticket, then discovered there were no pretzels and had to dig my ticket back out of the big ticket jug, gets a little huffy when I show back up to get the pretzel she told me to come back for.  “Oh, I already took their tickets, I’ll get to you when they’re done,” she tells me and starts serving others.  Finally, though, I get my pretzel.  My beer is gone.  It wasn’t worth buying another one.

We’re downtown near the train tracks.  So, after the band is done with their set a man whom I will assume is one of the organizers of this event begins bellowing out trivia questions via an underpowered public address system the train was roaring away behind us, sort of, you know, drowning him out.  Go figure.  Who would have thought that the train would come through then?  Oh, that’s right, it regularly passes through Kingman.

Now, listen, I didn’t go there with a bad attitude, expecting bad things.  I was actually looking forward to it.  I didn’t expect a lot, but I was hoping that maybe Kingman was growing up a little.  I wanted it to be a good experience.  Instead:  snotty vendors, crappy beer and a bunch of old people who get toasted off Bud Light and decide to dance with each other in between closely placed tables to blues music that was okay, but not great.  And in Kingman fashion, everyone showed up with other crackheads that they know so they sat about in their little cliques, no milling about, no socializing.  It was a giant, open air, overpriced Kingman bar with the accompanying social outcasts and idiots and their cigarettes.  Oh, and they brought their kids.  Small kids, six and seven and eight.

There is no beer culture here.  Well, I take that back.  There was no beer culture there.  No culture at all, in fact.  It was full of dull, crass, unsophisticated Kingmanites.  It is worth noting, however, that Mudshark’s beer was the first to sell out.  There are those here who can recognize good beer.  I’m sure all twelve of them showed up before me and my friend and quickly emptied the keg of good stuff.

I will not be attending another of these so-called “oktoberfests.”

I may very well organize my own.  If any out there are with me, let me know.

bottledroger@gmail.com

Down the Double Barrel

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Throughout the years that craft brewing has been on the rise, I’ve heard the name Firestone Walker bandied about.  Not with reverence, like Lost Abbey or Dogfish Head, but certainly with respect.  I recall them winning some award a few years back at the Great American Beer Festival.  I may have tried some of their beers then, I don’t really remember.  But I know I haven’t had any since.  Part of the reason has been the inability to get them in the town in which I live.  It finally arrived, though.

I’ll just say it now, I wasn’t filled with wonderment.

I had their Double Barrel Ale.  It’s their version of a British pale.  It’s an adequate beer.   The crystal and chocolate malts come through during the initial aromatic escape upon pouring, as do the noble hops.  It’s a good mix, really, not dominated by any one smell.  The head is the right color and consistency of a good pub pale.  The collar stays throughout the life of the beer nicely floating on the body.  It’s amber in color, orangey-brown.  It reminds me a lot of a Sam Adams Boston Lager although this is not, of course, a lager.

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The body is, well – I hate to use this word from the chumps over at Craft Beer Radio but it does come to mind – aqueous, or watery.  They state that there are vanilla tones in the body along with toasted oak flavors.  But I just couldn’t find them.  It’s a standard pale.  Maybe I expected too much.  Maybe there’s so much good beer out there these days that standard isn’t really a demeaning description.  I can deal with that.

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Smokin’ Malt

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More Sam Adams this weekend.  My wife and I caugt up with some old friends and he’d just bought a Harvestpack and enjoyed a couple of beers from it.

My fave was this Rauchbier.  The smoked malt was well balanced; it was pronounced, tasting like charcoal or the burnt edges of a good ribeye, but complementary.  The hop bitterness and acridness of the smoke provided a fascinating blend of flavor.