Sunday, 29 October 2017

10 things you wanted to know about lager, but were too busy drinking to ask

Because knowledge = appreciation

 
Epic Loral, a "New World" NZ lager using a single experimental hop variety


This fortnightly series endeavours to explore all things beer, with 10 short sharp facts you mightn’t already know. I figured it might be ideal to start off with the deceptively simple world of lagers and Pilsners.

Lager is as ubiquitous as brand-name soft drinks, motor vehicles and smartphones. Nine in every 10 beers consumed worldwide are lagers. The style - even once well regarded German examples thereof - has since found itself relegated to the realm of those aforementioned modern conveniences thanks to sleek marketing and industrial-scale production.

Over the past few years, smaller scale craft breweries have embraced the challenge of making lager something worth celebrating again. Indeed lagers are a challenging style to brew. Not only do smaller breweries not have the luxury of age-old hand-me-down experience, hyper-modern laboratories needed to maintain consistency, nor the storage space for “lagering,” the style is highly unforgiving in that any fault has little to hide behind.

Craft brewed lagers and “New World” Pilsners (those utilising hops originating outside of Central Europe) are often hop-forward to the point of being criminally unbalanced. There are, however, plenty of lagers that hit the mark. A handful of brewers, such as Dainton Beer, have gone beyond the pale (helles) lager style by exploring dark malts and global hop varieties. In so doing they have reinvigorated the Schwarzbier lager style. Meanwhile New Zealand’s Garage Project has gone even further by experimenting with adjuncts and even Champagne yeast to full effect.

With summer on the way, why not set aside some shelf space for a handful of lagers of Pilsners? As well as the 10 facts below, Blind Taste Test has also dutifully suggested the “Ultimate Lager & Pilsner Sixer” to get you started.

Without any further ado, here’s the need to know stuff on all things lager and Pilsner.

1. Not all lagers are Pilsners, but all Pilsners are lagers. This is to say Pilsner is a regional variety of lager (in the traditional Old World sense at least).

2. A key difference between German and Czech Pilsners is the acceptability of diacetyl. Though not essential in Czech Pilsners, this perceived fault is acceptable when restrained. Otherwise the German Pilsner is, according to BJCP guidelines, a carbon-copy of the Bohemian Pilsner style adapted for German brewing conditions.

3. Water minerality means everything to lagers. The water used to brew German Pils is higher in sulfate which lends itself to a slightly more aggressive fermentation, while the water found in Czech Pilsners is softer. Water higher in sulfate lends itself to a crisper, drier lager beer.

4. German Pils are not to be confused with Helles lagers. Helles, meaning “pale,” lagers are more subtle in the hop character department. They are by nature malt driven.

5. Old World lagers feature Noble hop varieties such as Saaz, Hellertauer, Spalt and Tettnang. These hops are known for imparting floral, grassy and slightly spicy characters. Commercially brewed Australian lagers tend to use Pride of Ringwood, American Pilsners favour cluster and/or modern Noble crosses, while New World examples may feature a combination of Noble hops and almost anything from across the spectrum.

6. Germany is arguably the only country where spring seasonal beers are common. Sure, “Best beers for spring” lists are a dime a dozen - heck they might even include a German Schwarzbier (black lager). However, when talking seasonal beer it’s important to note the matching of beer to seasonal festivals, gatherings and centuries-old traditional customs (Lent, Oktoberfest, Maifest, etc.) As such, Maibocks are common during May in German (hence “Mai” bock, Maifest).

7. Bock beers are a stronger version of lager. Malt driven, varying in colour from golden through to darker amber hues. Maibocks are at the lighter end of the spectrum; bocks hold things up in the middle; and doppelbocks and eisbocks head up the pointy end. Doppelbocks are incredibly malty with caramelised sugar notes dominating while Eisbocks (“ice” bocks) are even stronger still due to a portion of water being frozen during the brewing process.   

8. The word “lager” came from the German word “lagern” (which means “to store”).Whether or not lager beers are an overarching categorical style or different to ales once the yeast has fermented the otherwise agnostic wort is up for debate. However, the defining feature of lager beers is “bottom fermentation.” Moreover, maturation occurs at colder temperatures following fermentation with the yeast resorbing unwanted characters. Once filtered the result is a clean crisp appearance and complexion.

9. Budweiser is as much a hotly contested trademark (fought by AB InBev and the brewers of Budvar) as it is a generic name for a regional beer style. Just as Pilsners originated in Plzen, beers originating from Budweis are known as Budweisers.

10. Forget the shame of the football hooligan stereotype and the incessant and unfounded rhetoric that IPAs go great with spicy food. Modern curries, particularly spicy ones such as Rogan Josh, beef vindaloo and (albeit inauthentic) spicy rendang lend themselves well to enjoying with a lager because of cleansing and complimentary elements. A pale lager’s carbonation strips the tongue of the fat and spicy heat, while the floral spicy notes compliment those of the curry. Go for a Czech Pilsner if your curry is a creamy though no less spicy number as the slight sweetness will play off both elements nicely.

Just remember that beer does not temper spicy food. Both alcohol and capsaicin are irritants and will conspire together on your tongue. Not even a 5 per cent lager will save you!





Combination Singapore/Malay curry; replete with spicy lamb, hot rendang, pumpkin and more; appropriately paired with a draught-poured pint of Tiger Beer. Perfection! 


The Ultimate Lager & Pilsner Sixer

It is worth noting the following six beers are generally available at most independent retailers and Dan Murphy’s stores, with an emphasis on Australian and new Zealand offerings where freshness is a factor. A last confirmed sighting is also included in the description.

Budvar: Czech Lager
Last confirmed sighting: Readily available almost anywhere
While this blog endeavours to showcase as many fresh Australian beers as possible, it’s worth going back to school with a few Old World examples of any given style. Just be sure to investigate best after / bottling dates when looking at imported beers lest you end up buying a beer with all the hop character of Skippy the Kangaroo following a three-day bender. Budvar, when fresh, is the quintessential Czech Pilsner. Its distinct slightly sweet backbone is offset by fresh cut grass, floral and restrained bitter Saaz hop characters.

Weihenstephaner: Pils
Last confirmed sighting: Dan Murphy’s, Canning Vale
The oldest still-operating brewery in the world is for many a gateway into craft - or well crafted - beers, although most drinkers go down the Hefe-weissbier route. Ignore the Pils at your peril, however, for it is among the world’s most essential beers. With the higher water sulfate level as is common in Germany, the finish on Weihenstephaner’s Pils is drier, hoppier and more refreshing than that of Budvar.

Balter Brewing: Pilsner
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
Lovers of Old World lagers and Pilsners will find a lot to celebrate here. Queensland’s overnight success story Balter has created an Australian (in location only( take on a traditional Pilsner. Using all Noble hops and no fancy gimmickery, you won’t be able to stop at just one. Given its freshness and much shorter time spent travelling than any given imported lager, it’s easy to see it stocking fridges from Mandurah to Minnamurra and from Gympie to Glenorchy.

Garage Project: Hops en Pointe
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
Garage Project is back on Australian shelves following a short hiatus. Among the newly arrived offerings is the esoteric, boundary pushing Hops en Pointe, a Pilsner utilising Champagne yeast during fermentation. As fresh as the first sunny day after a week of rain in Champagne, Hops en Pointe is guaranteed to have you sliding over towards the 5 when checking it in on Untappd.

Garage Project: Day of the Dead
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
With every Ultimate Sixer the objective is to share the love among the brewers, but with Garage Project’s 2017 release of Day of the Dead and its hotter, spicier sister (pun very much not intended!) La Calavera Catrina incoming, resistance proved futile. Day of the Dead is a dark lager infused with blue agave, cocoa and a hint of chilli, inspired by the Aztec xocolati drink. The resulting beer is well rounded, nuanced and delicate with notes of sweet cocoa, smoke and vanilla. What’s not to love?

Dainton Beer: New World Dark Lager
Last confirmed sighting: Mane Liquor, Perth
Carrum Downs’ Dainton Beer (formerly Dainton Family Brewery) took inspiration from Franconian Schwarzbiers but went full throttle with its hop profile to create something refreshingly new. Hellertau Blanc hops form the base before the beer is vigorously dry-hopped with Ella, Motueka (formerly Brooklyn) and Mandarina Bavaria varietals. The resulting beer is a slightly smoky, chocolatey and bitter affair though balance is maintained throughout.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Boatrocking the USA @ Carwyn Cellars (Sat 20 May 2017)

Words by Graham Frizzell


Those who were lucky enough to attend last year's Boatrocker Rarities event at Carwyn Cellars will attest it was one of the highlight events of Good Beer Week 2016, if not the year.  Of course, The 64 Million Dollar Question is: Could the combined forces top it this time around during Good Beer Week 2017?



Where last year's event took in five beers from Boatrocker paired with five from around the world (with Belgium being a key focus), Saturday 20 May would see five brews from Boatrocker matched with five inspirational beers from the USA (in keeping with the Pint of Origin: USA theme).  With Boatrocker owner and master brewer Matt Houghton at the helm, the stage was set for a thoroughly engaging and tasteful excursion in to beer wonderland - tenfold.


Setting up for proceedings



BOATROCKER: BLANC DE BLANC

This wet hopped (with Enigma hops) Berliner-weisse beer takes its name from Enigma hops whose character resembles sauvignon blanc, hence its quirky name.



On the nose it's funk, oak, sauvignon blanc and a touch of citrus tang.  These notes transpose to the palate with a hint of honey - and honey dew melon.  There are subtle vinous undertones too.  Its mouthfeel is mellow, vinous, almost silken with subtle carbonation riding on top.  Here, Boatrocker has brewed a unique and enjoyable take on the Berliner-weisse - which is no mean feat given many new world examples don't quite end up being true to style.

   

ALMANAC: EL DORADO

Almanac is of course among the most recognisable exponents of sour beer in America, and since the brewery's arrival into the Australian market, a cult following has grown.  El Dorado is among many twists on Almanac's Belgian blond ale (kettle soured, fermented with Brettanomyces and aged in foeders), the twist here being El Dorado dry hopping.



Funk and citrus dominates the nose here too, but the flavour is a much sharper affair.  Finger lime is most apparent, while a touch of oaky vinous tonality is also present.  Carbonation is a little higher, hence this is a refreshing example of the style.



The overall effect of this pairing is one of both contrast and compliment.  Berliner-weissbiers and Belgian blond ales might contain the familiar ingredient of wheat, but stylistically the two are worlds apart (acidity being a noteworthy differential).  But the two are highly complimentary of another owing to vinous undertones and dominant fruity esters.  What a great match-up to kick off proceedings!

Left: Blanc de Blancs and Right: El Dorado




BOATROCKER: 6 BRETTS

Aged in French oak barriques (a small Burgundian barrel characterised by its relatively slim-lined shape and capacity of 300 litres / 59 US gallons), Boatrocker's 6 Bretts was the first among the day's surprise offerings.  As its name suggests, the Brettanomyces yeast strain and its wonderfully funky (in more ways than one) effect is the focal point here.



Throughout this wonderful experience - from sniff to swallow -  there is plenty going on.  Sharp, but not overbearingly so, summer fruit leads the way before horseblanket funk follows.  Much like Almanac's offering, 6 Bretts is a fantastically refreshing beer.



BROOKLYN BREWERY: WILD STREAK

Joe Soriero from Brooklyn stepped up to introduce Wild Streak, which turned out to be one of the real highlights among a stellar lineup.  Wild Streak is a Brooklyn Brewery "legacy beer" from its Brett and barrel-ageing program.  Originally a Brooklyn Ghost Bottle, first bottled in 2014.  A Belgian blonde ale, Brett fermented and aged in Bourbon barrels...  Just looking at the formula would have anyone with even a passing interest in barrel-aged beers fall into a state of shuddering blissfulness.



Put simply, this beer is extraordinary, and a great counter-point to Boatrocker's 6 Bretts.  Complex, rotund and profound; Wild Streak can hold its neck up as being one of the most unique beers on the planet.  Bourbon rolls upon the tongue like a grown up child in the autumn leaves, while mellow malt and pungent esters complete this Picasso-of-beers picture.



As stated earlier, this pairing was all about contrast.  Both the barrel and Brettanomyces impart various magical flavours to beer, and as evidenced here, those characteristics are as varied as the day is long.  Moreover, both 6 Bretts and Wild Streak marry up remarkably well to good stinky cheeses both hard and soft.

The Boatrocker 6 Bretts bottle sits between 6 Bretts (left) and Wild Streak (right)




BOATROCKER: WILDE CHERRY ALE

Boatrocker just loves acetic acid, in the right proportions of course. Made with 100kg of cherries, this year de-stemmed...  By the cherry farmer's wife...  (The previous year the cherries arrived stem and all, so the brewers asked politely if they could be removed).



Currently Boatrocker has a 20L cask but the guys have dreams of one day having a foeder hall.  As Adam Holliday said foeders are functioning works of art.  Suffice it to say Wilde Cherry is very similar in style to Rodenbach's finest and other Flanders red examples.



Cherry pits, sour cherry flesh, measured acetic acidity funk and oak is the order of the day here.  Much like Rodenbach, oakiness is indeed plentiful.  Were it not for cherries being in short supply, the whole world should be drinking this blissful fruit beer.



NEW BELGIUM: LA FOLIE

20 years ago New Belgium had Rodenbach come over and set up a foeder program, at a time when sour beers were virtually unheard of.  The rest, as they say, is history.  La Folie is a Flanders-style brown ale, and above all is testament to the brewery's rich brewing, barrel-ageing and sour blending tradition. 



On the nose, La Folie is a thing of beauty.  Oak, earth, berries and cherries intermingle in perfect harmony.



Once again, the impression of this pairing turned out to be  contrasting and complimentary.   La Folie's somewhat more rotund mouthfeel and earthier flavour contrasted Wilde Cherry's effervescence and brighter flavour profile.

Left: Wilde Cherry and Right: La Folie




BOATROCKER:  JABBER JAW IIPA (IMPERIAL IPA)

Boatrocker is of course all about Belgian inspired ales, but why not add a double IPA to the rotation?  Indeed, Jabber Jaw is its first to hit the Braeside brewery's portfolio and it's sure to hold its head up high.



Though it was inspired by the beer that follows (below), it could be said Jabber Jaw's closest compadre is Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum (pre-2017 refresh).  Melon and mango lead from the front followed by spicy, earthy and resinous hops.  This is another fine Australian IIPA, one that will surely raise the profile of the country and it is undeniable proof Boatrocker are masters at their craft.



RUSSIAN RIVER: PLINY THE ELDER

With huge thanks to Carwyn Cellars' Chris and Juanita for bringing back a case of this landmark beer from the US!  Pliny the Elder surely needs no introduction, especially to the lupulin inclined.



Pine forest and earthy tones dominate the nose.  The palate is then awash with honey, mango, stone fruit; then the hops come crashing in like a Hawaiian king wave the likes of which only blind Brasilian surfers could handle.  Pine, resin and a long, almost hairspray (in a good way) dryness round out the immense hop driven finish.



A rare treat, particularly for those who have yet to visit the US west coast.  Suffice to say this match-up was deeply complimentary - and deeply satisfying!

Left: Jabber Jaw, Centre: Pliny the Elder and Right: The prized Pliny the Elder bottle




BOATROCKER: RAMJET (2015)

Boatrocker's Starward whiskey barrel-aged stout is of course among another of Australia's finest.  On this occasion, the crowd was treated to a 2015 vintage.



Indeed, Bourbon barrels are hard to come by, even if they have become something of a commodity.  Hence Boatrocker struck up what became a firm and long-lasting relationship with Melbourne whiskey distillers New World Distillery (the makers of Starward).  Since its first incarnation (2014), Ramjet has risen to the highest echelon of Australia's finest beers, one that has surely elevated the country's beer and brewing profile on the world stage.



As one might expect, this vintage has aged spectacularly well.  On the nose, whiskey and oaky character is bountiful, so too roasty malt.  Raisin character, smooth cocoa and well measured roasty notes dominate the mid-palate.  Whiskey rides atop from the moment the beer touches the lips through to the swallow, backed up by a somewhat rotund mouthfeel.



FIRESTONE WALKER: PARABOLA

Firestone Walker's Parabola is a beast of a beer - over 14% beastly!  A top draw Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout from a brewery whose output (until now) has seldom been seen on Australian shelves.



On the nose Parabola presenta big, bold and brash Bourbon character.  The same Bourbon influence rolls beneath a cascade of dark fruit, berries, raisins, dates and ash over the palate.  Amazingly the booze is concealed well, though the heavy mouthfeel certainly does not.



This final pairing offered up contrast by way of the different flavours imparted by whiskey and Bourbon barrels, while the two complimented one other in terms of stout flavours and characteristics as much as they contrasted.  Ramjet is as smooth as silk in its flavour, whereas Parabola burst in like a freight train with its robustness and dark fruit accented flavour.  All in all the two were evenly matched in every department except alcohol content.

Left: Ramjet (2015) and Right: Parabola




10 beers and two-and-a-half hours later, it was all over.  A massive thanks must go to Boatrocker Brewing Co, Matt Houghton, Brooklyn Brewery's Joe Soriero and the dedicated team at Carwyn Cellars for staging this amazing event.  An unfathomable amount of blood, sweat, tears and hard graft went into procuring the rare beers showcased on the day, and I feel tremendously privileged to have been among the lucky few who attended.



I sincerely hope there will be a third instalment next year, and if so, I implore you to get onboard the day tickets go on sale.  Roll on Good Beer Week 2018!