Monthly Archives: September 2016

The beers of Goose Island, with founder John Hall

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‘One thing we pride ourselves on is that we make balanced beers,’ says Goose Island founder John Hall. ‘Drinkable beers.’

I caught up with him at the Goose Island Block LDN party in Shoreditch. It was a sell out event, with a band, food stalls, lots of Goose Island beer and a relaxed, alternative vibe.

John Hall, founder, Goose Island

John Hall, founder, Goose Island

‘Beer has been around for the ages, and the most popular beers that people drink are the balanced beers,’ says Hall. ‘That’s what makes beer such a popular drink.’

Hall’s story is an interesting one. ‘I was in corporate America, and I spent a lot of time in Europe,’ he recalls. ‘When you came over here you saw a much wider variety of beers than we saw in the States.’

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So in 1988 Hall decided he’d start making his own beer. He opened a brewpub in Chicago. ‘It was the best decision I ever made,’ he says. ‘I patterned it as much as anything after Fullers.’

A big moment for Goose Island was in 1992. Hall’s son Greg had begun working with him, and Greg met Jim Beam’s grandson at a cigar/beer/bourbon tasting. He had the idea of putting beer in a bourbon barrel. These barrels could only be used once, so there was a plentiful supply of them. Greg and John got six of them, and made beer in them. They were the first commercial brewery to do this style, and when they entered a beer in the Great American Beer Festival in 1995, it was a real hit. But the beer got disqualified, because it didn’t fit into any category. Now Bourbon-aged stout is an official category!

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A short film of the Block Party, with John Hall giving a speech:

 

In 2011 Hall sold Goose Island to Anheuser-Busch InBev. He’s now on the board. The world was watching: was quality going to suffer from this take-over, and inevitable expansion of production? Hall says he never had any doubts that quality would be maintained, and in some cases he thinks it has been improved. ‘The recipe hasn’t changed,’ he says. Hall is an advocate of balance. ‘I like a balanced beer,’ he says. ‘If it’s not balanced then I’m not crazy about it. I’m sensitive to ABV now.’

We tasted through a range of the beers, including some special production brews. These were a very exciting set of beers indeed.

Goose Island Sofie Saison
6.5% alcohol
Lively, spicy and vivid with lovely freshness and detail. Complex, spicy and food friendly with an almost saline edge to it. A lovely beer. 9/10

Vans x Goose Island Golden Lager
5.1% alcohol
This pilsner style beer is zippy and hoppy with subtle herby hints. There’s some spiciness and real bite. 7.5/10

Goose Island Juliet Sour
This is a sour made in white wine barrels with 50 lbs of blackberries in each. It’s inoculated with brettanomyces and spends around 10 months in barrel. Tangy and a bit spicy with lovely fruitiness. Very lively with a wine-like fruity quality and nice texture. There’s some sweetness here. 8.5/10

Goose Island Illinois Double IPA
8.4% alcohol
This is dry hopped with Citra, Cascade and Meridian hops. Sweetly textured and powerful with lovely spice, herbs and tangy hoppiness. Rich yet balanced. Lemon and tangerine peel notes here. There’s a hint of bitterness on the finish. A really lovely beer. 9/10

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
14.2% alcohol
This is a truly remarkable beer, and it’s from the 2014 batch. Opaque black in colour, it’s so rich and powerful with complex flavours of treacle, toffee, roast coffee and vanilla. There’s lots of chocolate and vanilla, and also some black cherry. Astonishing stuff. Apparently it went to barrel at 11% alcohol and came out at 14.2. 9.5/10

Goose Island Bourbon County Templeton Rye
13% alcohol
51% rye. Rich and textural with spicy, dense, intense flavours of toffee and treacle. Bold, but not as sweet as the stout. Pretty serious stuff. 9/10

Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale
8.4% alcohol
This is is made to an old fashioned recipe with 4-5 lbs of hops per barrel. Initially it is too bitter to drink, but time in oak mellows it, while the alpha acids keep bacteria at bay. After 11 months in barrel it has picked up alcohol and lost bitterness. Lively, tangy and herby with real power and zippy acidity. Tangy and bitter but balanced and lovely. 9/10

Goose Island Lolita Sour
8.5% alcohol
A sour aged in barrels on raspberries. Tangy and intense with a nice spicy bite and some fresh citrus notes. Lovely raspberry and cherry fruit with some noticeable volatile acidity. Detailed and exotic, and quite wild. 8/10

Sovina IPA Cerveja Artesanal, Portugal

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I’m currently sitting in The Yeatman, looking over the river to Porto, and drinking a craft beer from the city. This is delicious and a bit different. Cervejas Sovina is the first Portuguese craft brewery I’ve come across, and this is a delicious beer that’s a sort of English/American hybrid in style.

Sovina IPA Cerveja Artesanal, Portugal
6% alcohol
Golden bronze in colour, with nice grippy, spicy hoppy notes complementing a rich malt core. There’s a savoury, earthy, herby edge to the palate which shows some bitter hoppy character but also a trace of more exotic fruity notes, too. Tangy, spicy finish is really refreshing. I’d say this is more English in its flavour profile but more American in its intensity and richness. 8/10

Camden Hells Lager

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Camden Town Brewery is a small craft brewery that by all accounts was fixing to be friendly with a big brewery, and ended up selling to AB InBev last year (one of the globes biggest brewers) for 70 odd million quid. There have been a spate of craft breweries selling to large brewers: the large brewers are terrified by declining sales of their key brands and see buying much hipper craft beer brands, which they can then scale up, as being the way forward. The flip side of this is suddenly there’s more beer and better availability, and the consumer wins – but only if the quality is maintained. Beer is recipe-driven and a brand can be scaled up, as long as no compromise is made with the ingredients. But some of these ingredients are expensive, and big breweries just love to cut back on costs, so there’s real peril. This Camden Hells is pretty good.

Camden Hells Lager
4.6% alcohol
Half way between a pilsner and a helles in style, using bavarian lager yeast and pilsner malts, with perle and hallertauer hops. This is a bright, fresh, yet flavourful lager with zippy citrus notes, a nice bitterness, and juicy lemony fruitiness. I really like it: it’s not the most complex beer, but it is very fresh and has plenty of flavour. 7/10

Aldi’s Oktoberfest beers: five from Schwaben Bräu, Germany

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To celebrate Oktoberfest, Aldi are launching five new beers in store from German brewery Schwaben Bräu. They are each priced at a very reasonable £1.79 for 500 ml, and they will be available from September 15th. It’s a large brewery based in Stuttgart (website is here).

Schwaben Bräu Volkfestbier
5.5% alcohol
Yellow/gold in colour. Malty and broady with herbs and toast and toffee notes. Has a hint of sweetness and nice smooth, broad flavours with a bit of tanginess. Finishes a bit spicy. Like a full flavoured lager. 6.5/100

Schwabern Bräu Das Naturtrübe
5% alcohol
Unfiltered Pilsner. Fresh, complex and tangy with a sweet herbal edge to the lively citrus, pear and pith on the palate. This is concentrated, spicy, lively and refreshing with an attractive spiciness. 7/10

Schwaben Bräu Helle
5% alcohol
Lively, tangy, bright and citrussy with a refreshing, zippy sort of personality. Lovely hoppy bitterness counters the fruity notes. Nice weight and focus here with good balance. 7.5/10

Schwaben Bräu Das Weizen Here Hell
5% alcohol
Bright and textured with herbs, coriander and spices. This has a lovely density to it: it’s mouthfilling, with a lovely spicy yeastiness adding extra dimensions to the flavour. Finishes with a tangy, citrussy bite. So delicious, well balanced and complex. 8/10

Schwaben Bräu Schwarze 
4.9% alcohol
Brown colour. Herby, tangy and tarry, with some treacle notes and a bit of spiciness. Malty and tangy with a very spicy citrus peel edge to it. 6/10

 

Beer, the lineage of the Pilsner: a seminar and tasting with Melissa Monosoff

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This Texsom seminar, presented by Melissa Monosoff, was an interesting exploration of the invention of the Pilsner, and its spread across the globe. It’s now the most imitated, most popular beer in the world. For example, Bud Light and Budweiser alone sold 11 billion dollars worth of beer last year. How did we get here, from a small town making a specific style of beer?

She began by asking what beer was like before the Pilsner, and the first beer we tasted was a clean version of what people were drinking in the mid 1800s and earlier. The beers were malt focused, with a malty, toasty nose. They were cloudy and dark. There wasn’t a lot of knowledge on how yeast worked, and no electricity or refrigeration.

Hofbrauhaus Munchen Dunkel, Munchen, Germany
Brown colour. Malty and sweet with a fresh tangy citrussy edge. Bright with a bit of bitterness on the finish. Interesting mix of sweetness and richness and freshness. 7/10

So, to the Pilsner. In the late 1830s the people of Pilsen were upset about the quality of their beer. It wasn’t very good. Back in those days every town had its brewery: it was very regional. If their beer went bad people were really upset. But no one really knew why it was bad because at that time they didn’t understand yeast and spoilage: they had no understanding of microbes.

The solution? Pilsen decided to build a new brewery. They also recruited Bavarian brewer Josef Groll and sent him abroad to research brewing. He came back with some new ideas, including some ideas about malt he’d learned while in England. When these were implemented, the result that a new style of beer that was to take the world by storm. Pilsner Urquell, the original Pilsner, was first brewed in 1842.

People had never seen a beer like this before.

Pilsner Urquell The Original Pilsner, Plzen, Czech Republic
Malty and broad with nice texture and depth. Fresh but with a rich nutty, malty character. 7/10

What is special about Pilsner? First of all, the malt: a very specific Moravian barley. The hops are distinctive, too: Saaz, with a specific flavour, high in aromatics but low in bitterness. The water: soft sandstone, with few ions in the water. This placates the hops and makes them seem softer and rounder.

Pilsner brewers were originally ale brewers, and they began to learn about lager brewing. They didn’t understand yeast at the time. They knew there was something going on, but it wasn’t specific. The lager yeast was cleaner than anything they had before.

Underneath the town they dug out 9 km of underground cellars to keep their barrels in. These cool cellars were part of the production process, because they allowed the specific bottom fermentation used to make lager, rather than the ale top fermentation.

But it was the kilning of the malt, without direct heat, that was really revolutionary. Back then the grains were kilned in direct fire heat, so some were burned. These dark, burned grains don’t work, and the underdone grains don’t work either. Indirect heat created a consistent pale malt that no one had seen before. Add this to the local hops, and it produced a beer that people went mad for.

The development of the railways (enabling the easy movement of beer) and the availability of Bohemian glass also contributed to the rise of pilsner. Previously people had drunk beer out of opaque steins and now with the Bohemian glass, suddenly people could see what they were drinking. And the development of refrigeration, allowing people to enjoy their beer cold, also helped.

But the town of Pilsen didn’t have any intellectual property rights with Pilsner, and others soon began making it too.

The German reaction to pilsner was that their breweries tried to make their own version. We tried one: the Bitberger Premium.

Bitburger Premium Beer, Eifel, Germany
4.4.% alcohol. Herby, hoppy, fresh and bright. Nice citrus. Tangy with nice acidity. Lively and with some grip. 7/10

The next element of the German reaction to Pilsner was the Helles from Munich. In Munich, the younger generation recognized the need for their breweries to be commercially viable. Spaten was the first to try making a light-coloured beer. The Munich water is not soft, and it accentuates the hops, and it took until 1894 to make the Helles style. Helles means bright, and this was the first bright beer made in Munich.

Spaten Premium Lager, Munich, Germany
Fruity and malty with some sweetness on the palate. Nice nutty, yeasty character with some attractive toffee notes as well as lovely sweet fruity character. Refreshing and generous. 6.5/10

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Belgium had to respond to Pilsner too, and begin making lighter beers. The Duvel is made with Saaz hops and lighter malts, but it has personality. It is an ale: ales produce stronger aromas. It’s the recipe of the Pilsner with the twist of the Belgian yeast, which is a very specific strain.

Duvel Golden Ale, Belgium
Citrussy and intense with a hint of coriander and lovely vivid spiciness. It’s textured, yeasty and complex with a lovely vivid spiciness. Just delicious, fresh and pure. 8/10

How did the pilsner come to the USA? From the 1840s until 1900 a million people emigrated to the USA from Germany and Czechoslovakia. They brought their brewing techniques and yeasts. But it became expensive bringing ingredients over, and they realized they needed to start using American ingredients, such as barley and corn.

The reason corn became an ingredient is that the first barley-only beers they tried to make just didn’t taste good: the barley here is six row, rather than two. This has more protein content and doesn’t work so well. And they didn’t like the local hops. So they used corn to tone down the harshness of the malt and the American hops. This was actually a more expensive ingredient than barley back then. It’s more recently that corn and rice have been used as a cheaper sugar source to make more neutral, cheaper lagers.

The late 19th century really was a golden age of brewing in the USA.

Full Sail Brewing Company Session Premium Lager, Hood River, Oregon
Very interesting lemon, peach and tangerine fruitiness. Fresh with a bit of hoppiness. So fruity and pure with lovely precision. Nice tanginess, with real personality. 8/10

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If the late 19th century was the golden age, then the dark ages were 1933-1971. Prohibition had removed most of the small brewers, and the scene became dominated by the big breweries. The USA went from regionality and specificity to commercial and national level scale. They brewed with more corn and more rice. The industry decided to target women, because most of the men were off at war. So they brewed nice light beers for women. People drank whatever the big breweries were making. It had become commoditized.

The revival began in the late 1960s when the Anchor Brewing Company was founded. In 1971 they produced their Anchor Steam beer.

When prohibition started there were 4000 breweries in the USA; in 1970 there were just 50. Now we are back to 3800.

So, the craft beer movement began, and the last thing that they wanted to make was a lager. They wanted lots of flavour. It has taken a long time for craft lagers to emerge, but now they are starting to become popular. The original craft brewers went for intense IPAs. Now we are seeing a reversal: people want something more refreshing and less hoppy.

Currently, in 2016, the sales of the big companies are dropping, so they are consolidating and buying smaller breweries. There’s the emergence of brands that look like craft. Over the last year there were 25 transactions where large brewers brought a small craft brewery.

We finished by trying thee craft PIls.

Victory Brewing Company Prima Pils, Downington, Pennsylvania
Lively complex and malty. Crisp with a herby, weedy hoppy edge to the bright citrus and pear fruit. Concentrated, complex and full flavoured with a lovely hoppiness and a bit of bitterness. 7.5/10

Real Ale Brewing Company Hans Pils, Blanco, Texas
Crisp and fresh with lovely refreshing citrussy notes, and also a tangy, spicy hoppiness. Taut and complex with nice weight. Intense and complex with nice precision of flavour. 7.5/10

Firestone Walker PIVO Hoppy Pils, Central Coast, California
So hoppy and detailed with nice herby, weedy hoppiness. Citrussy and bright with a grippy edge. Broad, complex, delicious and very hoppy. So distinctive. 8/10