View Full Version : Pardon my beer ignorance, but...
Okay, I've just never gotten into beer, though I've enjoyed a couple of Jeff's home brews http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/iagreejeff.gif. But, there is a local liquor store that has a fair number of 'dusty old bottles' of high-alcohol beer (over 6% is sold in liquor stores in Tennessee, though we can't sell standard beer). Are they likely to be flat, or does beer hold onto freshness in a properly sealed bottle?
If so, I'll grab 'em and either learn about beer, or treat at a Gazebo gathering. If not, I'll buy bourbon! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif
Unlike bourbon, I'd stay away from old and older bottles of beer. Only a few specialties imporve with aging, e.g., barley wine, Imperial Stout. The genius of beer is in its fresh, malty character, generally, and fresh hop effect.
Okay, thanks, Gary -- that's what I thought.
I'm nearly 50 years old, and last night I bought beer for personal consumption for the first time. I'm non-plussed about it, personally -- don't really think of it as a big deal, but note that it interests even me to ponder the happenstance.
Anyway, I've enjoyed small-ish tastes of a couple of Jeff's home brews, and Cliff (Barrel_Proof) purchased a mixed 12-pack of Flying Dog ales which he and Randy (doubleblank) enjoyed during our outing last month in Nashville. I took the remaining handful of bottles home, and depleted them at the rate of about one a week. Also, I enjoyed a local draft brew (Yazoo) with Randy while doing some Nashville-area touring.
I discovered a couple I didn't particularly care for among the Flying Dogs, but also a couple that I liked well enough to try again -- the In-Heat Wheat hefeweizen and the Tire Bite golden ale (interesting in itself, since one is on the malty side while the other hoppy). Recently, while browsing a local grocer's beer cooler, I discovered that same Flying Dog 12-pack and a Widmer Brothers unfiltered hefeweizen and took the plunge (I'd purchased bottled beer for cooking -- or for others -- before, but never for myself).
Anyway, some sketchy first impressions (I had one of the Widmer wheats last night with a late-night imitation of supper after working at the liquor store all day): these ain't gonna replace bourbon as the drink of choice, but you can't gulp bourbon (at least not comfortably or economically) to wash down a meal. I've found even on the occasions of those beers I liked, the first half of the bottle/glass was more enjoyable than the last half, and accompanying food helps, too. So, while I may not continue to be a stranger to beers, I figure these current 18 (now 17) bottles to be about a month's supply.
My corruption continues -- and you all are complicit!:lol:
Beer is generally (there are exceptions) a low gravity product so all things being equal, I think it tends to be more responsibly consumed than hard liquor, by the average person anyway. Whiskey of course should be consumed responsibly too but even for experienced hands it is easy to pour a larger-than-one serving drink, whereas one beer is one beer. Anyway, the thing with beer is the balance between the malt and hops. You want a good malty taste (cereal-like, like Ovaltine or malted milk in a sense) with a proper balancing from hops (the bitter element, which can also be floral, earthy or steely). The right yeast note is important, too. All great beers get the balance right.
I would start with the best examples of commercial beers and then try more assertive examples. A very fresh Michelob (the original one, not any of the line extensions mentioned by Dane although many are good) is excellent provided it is very fresh. We had some a few weeks old (literally, from packaging) at Bettye Jo's party last year and they were great and snapped up in a minute. Of course, more assertive beers such as what Jeff brews take more experience to appreciate, ditto the microbrews such as Samuel Adams lager. The Widmer wheat beer you mentioned Tim is very good and an established part of the craft beer scene and has been for many years.
In my opinion, the best beers in the world are cask-conditioned or bottle-conditioned, where residual yeast is left in the container and the beer reaches a final maturation from continued fermentation. Every beer style is different. At Gazebo I am bringing to Jeff and will add extra bottles for people to try a six-pack of Imperial Russian Stout as made by a small Ottawa Valley brewer in Ontario, the beer is called Tsarina Katarina. At first these beers taste a little strange but once you know what to look for many people enjoy them greatly. This beer has a strong roasted malt element with an expresso coffee-like intensity. It is hopped well but not excessively. To me it is as good as any of the beers mentioned above, just different.
The great beers though (apart from the stout styles such as the said Imperial Russian one) are (IMHO) the English ales. I may drive down this time and will try to put a bunch of beers I like in the car, Tim. A very fresh English or English-style ale, with a good balance of rich biscuity malt against an earthy tone from English hops, is an unbeatable beer experience. For me, a beer precludes a whiskey in the sense that I always know (or almost always) how much I will consume on a given occasion. Sometimes if it would have been two whiskeys, I'll drink one beer and one whiskey instead and can derive as much or more enjoyment. And of course sometimes beer is appropriate and whiskey is not. If anyone is interested to learn more about beer the great works of Michael Jackson are indispensable. My favourite is his Beer Companion and also his 1977 World Guide To Beer (his first book). It was only when I read Jackson that I started really to appreciate what beer is and what great beer is. In the course of learning about beer I realised many beers (especially some micro beers) are not that great, often because they are too old or otherwise spoiled by the time they get to the consumer, but also because sometimes the recipe, while it may please the brewer and some others, just isn't "right". Anyone proposing to sample draft beer of any kind (even commercial brands) might think about how fresh is the beer, does the restaurant or bar have a good turn-over and does it clean the beer lines regularly? Second, regarding microbrewed and imported bottled and canned beers, one should be attentive to the best-by dates (most bottles and cans state them and usually they are not hard to decipher). Beer that is too old will taste lousy except for certain Belgian and other specialties. Only experience can tell you what is likely to be good (in the sense of being in the condition the brewer intended, not just the essential taste itself) but generally you can't go wrong buying something very fresh. Recently in Ontario I bought some Pilsener Urquel in cans, the great Czeck lager. I always buy it in tins, this precludes light getting through the green glass and skunking the beer from a photosynthesis reaction with hops which some green glass beer is liable to. The carton indicated a manufacture date in mid-December '05. The beer was just 6 weeks old, most domestic beer anyone will drink will be at least that old, and the beer was matchless in taste despite being in a can and pasteurised. If you tasted it at 6 months old, and even more so a year old, it would be quite different and many people would say, "what's the fuss about?" and possibly, "ugh".
So as for whiskey there is lots to know and learn if one is interested in beer.
Just one more note. I see Tim referred to 6% ABV beers or over being available in Tennessee. Some of these will be very good even if a year or two old (or older in some cases). Belgian ales, especially Trappists such as Chimay and Rochefort, and the great ale of Orval, benefit from that amount of time and it is not necessarily important that they be chilled, in fact prolonged chilling can ruin them (e.g., throw chill hazes which despite what you read are often hard to get rid of). English and American Imperial Stouts and barley wines also can last for years. So as a general rule again, youngest beer (after release from the brewery) is best, but there are exceptions and these apply usually to strong, bottle-conditioned beers (which all the said Trappists are). Most German beers in my experience are better within a few months from brewing at most but no doubt a dopplebock or other strong specialty can go for some years.
Tim, there is a better way to learn to drink beer. A close friend some 20 years ago used to drink CHEAP wines, Boones Farm, TJ Swann, etc.... when the rest of us were drinking beer. He just couldn't get used to that first taste of beer. We talked him into allowing us to convert him. We put him on the six pack a night program and VOILA! No more Strawberry Hill, Kountry Kwencher, Easy Nights or Steppin Out. Unfortunately we created a monster though. When we'd pool our money for a twelve pack for three of us, two of us MIGHT get a second beer......
Tim, I'm 54 and I have never bought beer for my own consumption. Why waste money on low proof when it could be better spent on 90 proof. (and much better taste IMHO)
AH, but it's a question of variety. While there may be 200 bourbons and rye, 50 canadian and maybe 300-500 other world whiskies, there are over 2000 domestic brews 800 from belgium plus thousands from the rest of the world.(all figures are order of magnitude guesstimates). You could spend your entire life vatting whiskies and not have that much variety.
Belgian ales, especially Trappists such as Chimay and Rochefort, and the great ale of Orval, benefit from that amount of time and it is not necessarily important that they be chilled, in fact prolonged chilling can ruin them (e.g., throw chill hazes which despite what you read are often hard to get rid of).
Hmmm... Good to know that. I looooooove an occasional bottle of Chimay (I go for the Grande Reserve - blue label, 9%). I haven't had any problem with them when I bought them from the refrigerated display case, but I'll have to keep that in mind, and maybe buy it warm and chill before drinking.
Another import that I recently discovered is Zywiec, a Polish lager. There's a Polish smorgasbord about 45 minutes from where I live that serves it - and it goes down nicely with the pierogies, blintzes, kielbasa, etc. I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it, though - my guess is something like /zhoo-viets/. There's a little hook on the top of the Z.
...I see Tim referred to 6% ABV beers or over being available in Tennessee. Some of these will be very good even if a year or two old (or older in some cases). Belgian ales, especially Trappists such as Chimay and Rochefort, and the great ale of Orval, benefit from that amount of time and it is not necessarily important that they be chilled, in fact prolonged chilling can ruin them ...Gary
Interesting and informative, Gary, as always. Thanks. We, in fact, carry a line of several varieties of Konings Hoeven Trappist ales at the store, currently have a couple of bottles of Chimay, and have stocked occasionally an Orval. I will check out current items when I work tomorrow night, and see if anything stimulates my curiosity.
Just tonight in a local restaurant I had a bottle of Chimay Bleue (Chimay Blue cap) which was outstanding. It is dated on the label (this from memory) to 2010! This improves for up to 5 years and will hold for years afterwards. Mine was about 1 year old - a young'n. This has a high ABV, and slight oxidation over the years (imparting port-like flavours) only seems to improve the beer. It is a classic of the beer world as is its lower gravity red cap brother, Chimay Red.
I've always been quite partial to Chimay. I particularly like the middle brother of the bunch, the White Cap.
Here, here on the Chimay, I believe it is actually an Ale (the differences between lager, ale, pilsner et al escapes me and please don't educate me on this I don't care to learn) but who cares it is great! I chill it and then pour into a very large wide mouthed wine glass, it’s truly a splenderrific pour.
I find it very interesting that a few of the bourbon aficionados here have never drank much or any beer. Nothing wrong with that I just find that like good bourbon, a good beer (and yes I even consider Budweiser a good beer) is something to be enjoyed. Also I guess it just fits in better on a hot day out in the sun at the BBQ, ice cold bud select just fits in where a glass of GTS doesn’t; possibly just because it might spontaneously combust being within 5 feet of the BBQ! Anyway just one of those things, if I know I am going to be drinking something for a while and then potentially driving I’ll typically opt for beer because I can more easily control my intake where with bourbon I tend to put down a bit in a hurry and then slow down – feeling it I know I shouldn’t drive…
If I were you I would grab those dusty ale bottles onn the shelf,if they are not in sunlight all the time. At my bar I store a couple of bottles for ageing for 5 to 6 years.I charge more for these aged beers.The few Hair of The Dog's I have will age for 10 years(Portland) and the magnum bottle of Chimay Blue the Grand Reserve will age real good too.Right now I serve 20 Belgian,10 USA Micros,10 Scotch Ales,20 domestic micros,2on tap,and a whole more from all over the world. There all great, but I love the Gonzo from Flying Dog !
I agree with Koji and the beers he mentioned by name, e.g., Hair of the Dog (circa 10% ABV), Chimay are classic unfiltered strong beers and will benefit from long aging to a point. Some strong Scotch ales, e.g., McChouffe, will do likewise. When you have so much extract and alcohol and dextrin in the beer, slight oxidation can't harm it and seems often to improve it. Then too some people like an oxidative taste in beer more than others. Oxidation is the key to many alcoholic beverages, it is a major part of the reactions that occur in whiskey maturation, it helps (vitally) to mature the classic port and sherries, and it is essential in the long aging of the great red wines. In beer, apart from certain strong specialties, I find it interferes with the essential beer tastes. Brewers go to great lengths to ensure they sell non-oxidative beer and they like their customers to sample the beer as fresh as possible except again for certain specialties (there are exceptions to every rule!). There is one beer I like, Saison Dupont, a strongish French Belgian beer (from the Ardennes) that can stand years in the bottle and not only that, a green bottle. Age doesn't harm it, it only improves it. The beer has when young an acidulous taste, possibly from brett or other wild yeast-type influence, and perhaps that protects the beer as it ages. But take say the great commercial beers of Japan, like Sapporo which is a personal favourite. They are best as new as possible. In that form they have style and subtlety; when too old they become dull. Same thing for all American commercial beers. Drink a Ballantine XXX or Michelob when young it is very good. When too old it has a "cooked" flavor that does not appeal.
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