A How-To Guide to Beer Excellence
The exciting thing about beer is that there is so much to enjoy beyond the sensory pleasure of drinking it. Of course, it all starts and ends with flavor, but beer lovers have extended their interests to include the packaging and labeling of beer, the people who make it, brewing history, festivals devoted to beer, and crafts and collections based on beer. We study the stuff, celebrate its traditions, collect its artwork, debate its merits, and categorize its styles.
Here is a manual to build your beer knowledge—practical insights and personal passions that can augment what we already know: beer tastes great.
How To Sound Like A Beer Expert
Master a few basics, and you’ll know more than anyone else at the bar.
Your friends have noticed that you order imported beer at the bar. You always bring a six-pack of something tasty back from vacations. Now, they’re starting to call you “Mr. Beer,” or “Ms Beer” (as the case may be).
They’re kidding you. But they’re also looking to you for leadership. They’ve seen that you take beer seriously, even if the truth is that you are just taking your first steps into the subject, yourself.
Never fear, with this handy crib sheet, you can master the basics, and answer ninety percent of the questions about beer that ever float around the bar. Commit these answers to memory, and you can also qualify for a job answering ninety percent of the questions that come to the staff of All About Beer.
Q: What are pilsners, ales, lagers, etc? What does “bottom fermented” mean? And when you say “lagered,” what exactly does that involve?
A: “Beer” refers to any fermented beverage made from grain. Lagers and ales are the two families of beer, distinguished by the type of yeast and the temperature of fermentation. Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures by so-called “bottom fermenting” yeast. Beers in the lager family need to be conditioned—or “lagered”—somewhere cool for a number of weeks before they are ready to drink. Ales are fermented at warmer temperature by top-fermenting yeast strains, and are ready to drink sooner.
There are many distinct styles of beer within the lager and ale families: for example, pilsner is one of the most popular lager styles; and porter and stout are examples of ale styles. And in both families, beers can run the gamut from light to dark-colored, and from weak to strong alcohol.
Q: Who invented beer?
A: The earliest records of beer and brewing have been found in Sumeria, which is in modern Iraq. They date back over 4,000 years ago, so there isn’t really a “who.”
Q: Is there a way to turn non-alcoholic beer into alcoholic beer?
A: People who ask about putting the A back in NA beer are generally a) living in the Middle East, b) under age, or c) in prison. I leave it to you to weigh the consequences of breaking whatever law you are up against.
You can add sugar and yeast to NA beer and generate a little alcohol, but it will taste nasty. Homebrewed beer—even bad homebrewed beer—will taste better. Alternatively, our ancestors coped with Prohibition by creating “needle beer”—NA beer with a syringeful of grain alcohol added.
Your best and safest bet is to a) change countries, b) grow up, or c) get released.
Q: How many calories in beer?
A: There are about 150 calories in a 12-ounce serving of standard beer, the same amount as those little pots of fruit yogurt dieters like so much. I know which is my choice: when I want a cold one after work, I don’t mean a cold yogurt. A light beer will contain about 100 calories. Some hefty styles such as barleywines contain about 300 calories. Remember: it’s not the beer, it’s the nachos.
Q: How many carbs are in a beer?
A: Ah, an Atkins dieter. There are about 13 carbs in a standard beer, 5 in a light beer.
Q: I’m allergic to wheat. How can I be sure the beer I drink is safe for me?
A: The basic ingredients of beer are malted barley, hops, water and yeast. Some brewers add wheat, oats, rice, or corn—the last two, in particular, are used by the big brewers to create a lighter flavor and save costs. So, to make sure you don’t get any ingredient you’re sensitive to, look for beers that explicitly say they are made only from malted barley (“malt”), hops, water and yeast. Or look for beers that say they are brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, or the “Bavarian beer purity laws of 1516,” which stipulates the use of the same four ingredients.
Q: What is the proper way to pour a beer?
A: If you pour the beer slowly down the side of a tilted glass, a smaller head is formed, and more CO2 remains dissolved in the beer. If you hold the glass upright and pour straight into the glass, more gas is released, and a larger head will form. Real aficionados will insist that different beers have different ideal pours, but you are a mere expert, not an aficionado. Pour an ale so that it has about half an inch of head, lagers with a larger one, and allow a wheat beer to throw a big, pillowy head.
Q: My girlfriend won’t drink beer. How can I convert her?
A: When she says she won’t drink beer, the kind of beer she won’t drink is probably the standard light lager that dominates the market. There are another seventy some-odd defined styles out there: persuade her to try a wheat beer, or a Belgian ale. If that fails, tell her that until recently, brewing was the province of women: she owes it to her sex to like beer.
Q: May I have a chilled glass, please?
A: No, you may not.
Q: O.K., Mr. Beer, what’s the best beer in the world?
A: (Dodge this one. Experts avoid this question like the plague, lest they offend the next brewer they want to visit). Say! Isn’t that Michael Jackson over there?
—Julie Johnson Bradford
How To Judge Beer
Sniff, stare, sip, swish, savor, swallow. Simple.
Throughout the United States—indeed, throughout the world—homebrewers have been holding competitions for over 20 years. Of course, in order to have a winner, someone has to judge the beer. An organization formed in 1985 by the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association and the American Homebrewers Association trains and certifies homebrew judges. This group, now an independent nonprofit organization, is called the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and it has over 2,500 members throughout the United States, Canada and many other countries.
To become a beer judge with the BJCP, an individual must study for and pass a written test comprising 10 essay questions that cover the history of beer, the many styles of beer, the chemistry of beer, and the techniques for brewing beer, as well as a practical tasting and evaluation of four different homebrewed beers using the official BJCP score sheet. The test takes three hours to complete.
According to BJCP guidelines, the task of judging beer falls into five distinct categories of evaluation in a 50-point scoring system. Here’s how you can judge a homebrew following this system.
Bouquet/Aroma (10 points): Immediately after the beer has been poured, take a sniff while the sniffing’s good. In less time than you think, the volatile esters that make up the beer’s aroma will be gone. What you’re looking for are the dominant aromas of the beer. Is it sweet, sour, roasty, earthy, herbal, flowery, citric or any one of a number of other aromas? A strong malt presence will be sweet. Sourness and tartness often, but not always, are a result of an infected beer. Roasty aromas derive from roasted grains, such as the highly roasted, unmalted barley used in an Irish stout. Different varieties of hops impart earthy, herbal, flowery and citric aromas. Ales are often fruity. German wheat beers and many Belgian ales are yeasty and spicy.
Appearance (6 points): Is the beer clear? Most beers are filtered and should be clear. Or is the beer cloudy? Unfiltered wheat beers are supposed to be poured so that the yeast on the bottom of the bottle is roused and poured into the glass. What color is the beer? Each beer style has its own color parameters: golden for pilsners, amber for most pale ales, orangey-reddish-amber for Oktoberfests, black or near-black for stouts. Does the beer have a nice foamy head and good head retention, or is the head weak and anemic? Does beautiful lace cling to the sides of the glass or does the beer wash down the inside of the glass like dishwater?
Flavor (19 points): Here you’re looking for a number of characteristics, many of them similar in definition to the bouquet/aroma characteristics. Is the main flavor one of malt (sweet or roasty) or hops (earthy, herbal, flowery, citric)? Does an added fruit take over the flavor? Is the beer tart or sour? Wheat beers are often pleasantly tart. Many Belgian beers are tart or yeasty or spicy or something totally different. How does the flavor change from the first impression into the middle and to the finish? Is the finish a slam-bam “That’s all folks!” or does it linger with a particular taste?
How do all these flavors play off each other? In beer-judge talk, that’s called “balance.” Is the balance good, or does one flavor drown out all the others in a nasty show of brute strength? How well is the beer “conditioned,” by which beer judges mean the age of the beer and how the flavors have all come together? Is the level of carbon dioxide pleasant or overpowering?
Body (5 points): What’s the mouthfeel of the beer? Is it thin and watery (like a standard American lager) or full and chewy (like an Imperial stout)? Does the beer sparkle or is it flat and dull looking?
Drinkability & Overall Impression (10 points): Finally, beer judges make comments about how they perceive the beer as a whole, adding kudos where appropriate and constructive criticisms when necessary: “This is a great example of an American pale ale, full of malt body and lots of fresh, lovely Cascade hops aroma and flavor.” “This was entered as an Irish stout, but there’s almost no roasty malt aroma or taste, and the color is brown, not black.”
One thing must be clear from the above examples. In order to judge beer, you have to know beer. Beer styles. The BJCP lists 26 main categories of beer styles with many more subcategories. Study these by buying and tasting as many commercial examples as possible and you’re on your way to becoming a knowledgeable beer judge.
The BJCP website (www.bjcp.org) will be a great help in learning the definitions and characteristics of all the beer styles you’re ever likely to encounter. Have fun studying.
How To Match a Friend with the Perfect Beer
You know they’re made for each other: how do you bring them together?
Scene at a brewpub: A group of friends gathers on a Friday afternoon after work. Many are wearing beer-related T-shirts and most seem to know the beer lineup well. They tend to order the darkest and hoppiest beers on the menu. One member of the group has a Bud Light in his hand.
A few minutes later, the brewpub owner stops by the table with a small taster of kölsch and hands it to the Bud Light drinker.
Does this story end with our drinker stepping up to more flavorful specialty beer? Perhaps even having an IPA or Imperial stout with his buddies? That we don’t know. But the chances seem better now that he has had a craft beer he was ready for as opposed to trying to start with something from Hopland.
If you want to introduce friends unfamiliar with flavorful beer to your favorite beverage, then you should first consider what they have experienced. Perhaps they drink only light beer, wine, or rum and coke. They might tell you that they love the taste of beer but have tried only light American lagers. They might tell you they hate the taste of beer but have tried only light American lagers.
Think of it like fixing up a friend on a blind date. The match has a lot higher potential for success if you base it on your friend’s tastes rather than your own. With that rule in mind, here are five exercises that should smooth out the introduction to flavorful beer. Feel free to adapt them and allow them to inspire similar ideas.
What’s not to like? Start by finding out what your friend doesn’t like about beer, and either prove there are better, similar beer flavors or offer an alternative. Is it the musty smell of cigars and stale beer remembered from dad’s basement poker games? Offer a fresh (but not too hoppy) pilsner. Is it the in-your-face hoppiness of another friend’s homebrewed India pale ale? Consider something like a Bavarian weiss beer or a less extreme member of the pale ale family (Fuller’s London Pride, for instance).
The beer shake. Thanks to writer Stephen Beaumont for this one. He creates a shake by mixing a robust beer with gourmet ice cream—for instance, McEwan’s Scotch Ale and a local vanilla ice cream. In this case, the rich caramel character of the beer perfectly complements the intense vanilla beans. No matter the pairing, the mixture is a great example of the role that “mouthfeel” plays in beer.
Brews all day long. The coffee-beer crossover is so obvious that Redhook made a stout with Starbucks coffee, but you may still have to point that out to your friend who has grown used to the more intense flavors of gourmet coffees. A stout made with some black patent malt (providing a different sort of bitterness than hops) is a fine place to start. Also, consider introducing a latte drinker to the beer shake.
Perfect pairings. Ask your friend about some favorite dishes and find out what she or he usually drinks with them. Then serve one of those dishes along with an appropriate beer and the usual drink. The beer won’t win every time, so it doesn’t hurt if you pick a beer-friendly pairing. Some examples: fried seafood and pilsner, oysters and stout, pork roulade and Vienna lager, or grilled vegetables and weiss beer.
The taste challenge. Use two similar beers. You’ll have to gauge how intense their flavors should be. Maybe you’ll pick two Oktoberfest beers (this works well with Spaten, Ur-Märzen and Paulaner Oktoberfest), or perhaps two brown ales (try to find two hopped to the same level). Fill two small glasses with one beer, and pour the second beer into a third glass. You should know what is in each glass; your friend shouldn’t. Ask him or her to pick out the beer that is different. (To be fair, you might then have the friend pour the beer and you see how you can do.) This exercise will get him or her focusing on the flavors. When you’ve done that, more often than not, you have a convert.
How To Brew Beer in a Coffee Maker
The great things you can do with basic kitchen equipment…
Brewery tours are a golden opportunity for brewers to educate visitors about the art of brewing. But any brewery employee who has been assigned tour guide duty has seen the confusion on people’s faces when you describe the brewing process. To the visitor, brewing can sound like a return to high school chemistry—with some alchemy thrown in.
The process of brewing coffee, I discovered, was a good way to relate the brewing process to people who do not understand zymurgy, the technical term for making beer. This became more than a useful analogy: with familiar kitchen equipment, you can repeat the steps of the process that goes on in breweries large and small—and make a very small batch of beer.
For this mini-homebrew, you’ll need the following kitchen equipment:
An electric drip coffee maker with a water-heating compartment and a hot plate (Mine is a West Bend Quick Drip, and all the measurements here are based on that machine.)
A wooden rolling pin (marble is too heavy)
One coffee filter
A saucepan, larger than 2 quarts
2 1-quart canning jars with lids
2 6-inch squares of cheesecloth
Two rubber bands
1/2 gallon filtered—not distilled—water
Brewing ingredients, from a homebrew supply store:
1 1/4 cups malted barley. You can use all “base malt,” such as 2-row or pilsner. Base malt provides the sugar content for fermentation. Or use 1 cup of base malt and 1/4 cup specialty malt(s), such as crystal or chocolate malt, which will provide added color and flavor.
5 to 7 hop pellets, which are the cones of the hop plant compressed into little nuggets. Hops add bitterness to the flavor of beer, and help preserve it. The variety is your choice.
1/2 packet of champagne yeast (or you can even use baker’s yeast)
Before you begin: cleanliness is a huge concern with brewers, because any unwanted microorganisms or residual chemicals can taint the beer. Make sure everything you are using is as close to sanitary as possible. Use a dishwasher if you have one. Set the drying cycle to heat dry with no rinsing agent.
In brewing—whether coffee or beer—parts of a plant (coffee beans or grains of barley) are steeped in hot water to extract soluble material. To make this extraction more efficient, you grind the coffee beans, or you mill the barley grains.
Measure 1 1/4 cups of malted barley. Using the rolling pin, gently apply just enough pressure to the grains to crack them. You do not want to make flour.
Place the cracked grains into the coffee pot. Place 2 cups of filtered water into the coffee machine and turn it on. The temperatures of the water-heating chamber and hot plate—170 degrees F and 150 degrees F, respectively—are perfect for brewing! Let the coffee maker do its thing; it will keep the water/grain mix at a constant temperature for about an hour before it shuts off.
This is called “mashing-in.” Enzyme activity in the grain breaks down starches and complex sugars into simple, fermentable sugars.
Strain the liquid through the coffee filter, and place the filter full of grain into the filter basket. Pour the strained liquid back into the water-heating chamber. Add 1 cup of water to the strained liquid in the chamber and turn the machine back on. After the liquid flows into the coffee pot, turn off the machine and pour the liquid back into heating chamber. Repeat five times, adding another cup of water each time. Keep a close eye to make sure it does not overflow.
This is called “lautering.” Lautering is the process of washing hot water over the grain to extract the simple and complex sugars. The higher temperature stops the enzymes from breaking down the grain any further.
Now you have a sugar-rich liquid called “wort” (pronounced “wert”), or sweet liquor. Place the wort into the saucepan and get it to a rolling boil. After 20 minutes of boiling, add 5 to 7 pellets of hops, boil for an additional 30 minutes, then turn off the burner.
Stir until you have a whirlpool. This will pull leftover sediment into the center of the pot. Carefully pour the wort into the canning jar, pouring down the side of the jar without splashing. Splashing hot wort would allow unwanted air-borne organisms to get established.
Next, you need to bring the temperature of the wort down to a level where yeast—the organisms you want in your wort—will thrive. The brewery uses a wort chiller or heat exchanger; you just place the jar into a sink filled with cold water.
Let it cool until the liquid reaches between 60 and 70 degrees F. Screw the top on the jar and shake vigorously; this aerates the wort. Take the top off the jar and add yeast.
The jar is now your fermentation tank. Place a piece of cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band; the cheesecloth will keep stuff from falling in your wort, and the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation should keep out other contaminants.
Place the jar in a cool, dark place. The sweet liquor will become beer in five to seven days. Wasn’t that easy?
How To Find an Obscure Beer
The Holy Grail of beer is worthy of a noble quest. The internet helps.
The search for an elusive brew—the much-decorated beer you’ve read about, the beer you drank in a little town in Germany when you were in the army, the beer that bears the same name that you do—can grow into a Medieval quest-like compulsion.
Here are a few things to know about beer, its availability, and how to track it down.
First, do you know the name of the beer, the name of the brewery, and where it is produced? It is particularly tricky to find an old favorite if all you can remember is that it was called “Roadhouse Red.”
Not all beer—even beers you see in the pages of this magazine—will be available in your area. The brewery may choose to limit distribution to a region of the country, or even just a few states. A smart brewery will only distribute as far as it can guarantee freshness, and in quantities its capacity will allow.
Worse luck, your state may not allow the beer of your dreams in. A handful of benighted states place a cap on maximum alcohol content that is low enough to severely restrict choice. If you can find a genuine barleywine on the shelves of your local retailer, the forces of reason have prevailed in your state legislature.
How can you find out if the beer is for sale anywhere within your reach? Your ally is the beer buyer at the best retailer in your area—one where range of choices is good and the beer is lovingly kept. The buyer deals regularly with distributors’ reps, and will have a good idea of the full range of beers available locally. Many states have a central list maintained by the state liquor control agency, and the buyer might have a copy you could consult.
If that’s the “bottom-up” approach, starting the search at the local level, the internet is a useful “top down” approach. Most breweries have websites, as do many importers. For imported beers, there may only be the home country website, but some of those include limited US contacts.
The beer’s label must, by law include the name and address of the brewer and—in the case of imports—the name and address of the importer. If you don’t have a label in hand, examine a printed copy in this magazine or in an ad for the contact information. Or call a good beer buddy in another market and have them read off the importer’s name.
What you are looking for is someone to contact by phone or e-mail and ask “Is your beer distributed anywhere near MyState, USA?” Get the name of the nearest local distributor, then call and get the name of the nearest retail account.
If that “nearest” retailer is three states away the local distributor won’t be able to help you. What then? There are a small number of mail order sources that specialize in hard-to-find domestics and imports, as well as beer-by mail clubs, where you don’t have a choice of beers, but can still count on receiving the selection of uncommon beers featured each month. However, depending on state law, you may not be able to participate in these clubs.
What you can’t do, generally, is call the brewery, give them a credit card number, and have them ship the beer directly to you. The so called “three-tier system” in the US requires, with few exceptions, that alcoholic beverages must pass from producer to distributor, to retailer, to you—with no missed steps.
Say all this fails. You’ve researched the beer, called the brewery, lobbied the distributor, quizzed the clubs, and searched the mail order houses—all to no avail. You have no choice: drag your suitcase off the shelf and get yourself to where the beer is. Travel doesn’t just broaden the mind: it broadens the beer selection.
—Catherine Lemin and Julie Bradford
How To Build an Airplane Out of Beer Cans
Don’t just crush them on your forehead, use them to decorate.
8 empty, clean beer cans
1 wire hanger
Awl or long nail
Block of scrap wood
1 bottle cork
a small length of 4 mm tubing, or insulation stripped from a 2 mm wire
Techniques for joining metal (no soldering):
1. “Rivetless rivet” for joining two surfaces together: Align the two pieces correctly and place on the wooden block. With the hammer and awl, drive a hole through both pieces. Turn the pieces over. With the ballpeen end of the hammer, tap the hole to flatten the flanges of metal around the hole tight against the surface.
2. Tab joint for joining two pieces at an angle: With right-angled cuts, trim the end of one piece into a tab shape. Cut a slit the same size as the tab into the receiving piece. Slip the tab through the slit and flatten the tab on the reverse side of the receiving piece. For extra strength, use a double-thickness of metal for the tab piece and spread the tabs apart like an envelope clasp.
Cut the tops and bottoms off six cans. Discard the tops. Tap a hole in the center of each bottom. Cut the can bodies from top to bottom and smooth the rectangular sheet flat.
From one sheet, cut six long struts 1” x 3 1/2”. Fold in half lengthwise, crimp, shape the ends into tabs and set aside. Cut two short wing struts 1 1/2” x 2”, fold in half crosswise, crimp, shape the ends into tabs and set aside.
Wheels: Carefully press two bottoms together, convex sides out, and ease the rim of one bottom around the other. Repeat for second wheel.
Wheel strut: Cut a 7” length of wire hanger. Cut a 5” x 3” rectangle; fold in half lengthwise with the wire tightly crimped into the fold. Tap a hole in the center of the sheet, trim the metal.
Wings: From a flat sheet, cut two strips 3 1/2” wide. Overlap the strips to make a rectangle 3 1/2” x 13”. Rivet the overlapping area. Cut two slits to fit the tabs on the long struts on each wing, 2” from the end. Round both wingtips. Crease 1/2” of the long side over a hard edge to form a U-shaped channel. Repeat on the second long side. Tap a hole in the center of the finished wing. Repeat for second wing.
Propeller: Cut two strips 2” x 8”, rivet together. Round the tips. Tap a hole in the center. Crease the tips diagonally, pinwheel style. Sandwich the last two can bottoms around the long strip so the center holes are aligned, and ease the rim of one bottom around the other.
Tail: Upright: cut a rectangle 3” x 7”, fold in half crosswise; trim to shape; rivet. Make four 1/2” cuts along the bottom surface, creating five tabs. Tabs one, three, and five will be inserted into the body of the plane; tabs two and four will be split apart to support the tail. Make a single slit in the upright.
Horizontal tailpieces: Cut a rectangle 3” x 6”, trim to shape. Cut three slits to receive the three tabs on the tail upright. Cut a slit in the surface of each side of the horizontal tailpiece.
Push the three tabs on the upright through the slits on the horizontal tailpiece. Do not fold back yet. On each side of the upright, run a thin strut between the upright and the horizontal surfaces, flattening the tab on the reverse side.
Tail rest: cut a 3” x 3/4” strip, fold crosswise, trim, rivet.
Fuselage: Cut the tops only from two cans, discard tops.
Rear can: Cut three slits in a line on the top surface to receive the three tabs on the tailpiece. Cut two side-by-side slits on the underside near the can bottom to receive the two tabs on the tail rest. Attach both pieces: insert the tabs, reach inside the can and split the tabs and fold them flat against the inside.
Front: Tap a hole in the center of the can bottom. Cut two 4” long slits 1” apart along the length of the underside of the can. Tap a hole in the underside of the can, between the two slits, 1” from the bottom edge. Tap another hole opposite, on the top surface. Half an inch on either side of the top hole, cut slits to receive the short wing struts.
Thread one wing, unpainted side out, through the slits. Follow with the wheel strut. Center both pieces. Bend the two halves of the wheel strut away from the body at an 80˚ angle; bend the bare wires outwards at a 90˚ angle. Thread the wheels onto the wires, cap the ends with 1/4” piece of plastic tubing.
Cut a 2 1/2” piece of wire. Push 1” into the bottle cork. From the inside of the can, push the wire through the hole in the can bottom. Thread on 3/4” of plastic tubing, then the propeller, then cap with 1/4” of tubing.
Attach top wing to the fuselage with the two short wing struts, set at diagonals. Attach the upper and lower wings to each other with the four long wing struts. Cut a 6” piece of wire and pass it through the holes in the wheel strut, lower wing, underside of fuselage, top side of fuselage, and upper wing. Bend the wire ends into small loops for hanging.
Anyone who has read this far has way too much time on their hands.
—Julie Johnson Bradford
How To Survive Oktoberfest
But you’ll never get the “Chicken Dance” tune out of your head.
So, you have some time off in late September or early October and you want to visit the world’s largest beer party and street fair. Of course, so does just about every other beer-drinking, fun-loving person on the globe! Here are a few things you should know to help you survive the raucous Oktoberfest atmosphere and have a great time.
Getting around Munich. Munich has a good subway system with a stop very close to the Oktoberfest grounds at the Theresienwiese (Wies’n for short). You can take the U-Bahn train to this stop. For info on the Munich transport system, check out www.mvv-muenchen.de. Be aware that there are plain-clothes ticket inspectors who check for a valid ticket, and you will likely be fined about 30 euros (approximately US $30) if you do not have one!
Accommodations. Most accommodations in Munich are booked by late summer each year. The tourist offices can try to find you a room (for a $5 to $10 fee) and, if you are lucky, you may get one. (The Munich tourism site is www.muenchen-tourist.de).
The later you go during the fest, the better chance you will have. As the fest runs from September 21 through October 6 in 2002, it will be easier to find rooms during the first week of October. Also, the weekends are more heavily booked than weekdays. Try to arrive during the week and secure your room for the weekend in advance.
Another option is to stay in cities close by, like Augsburg, and commute in by train. Given the quality of German rail and frequent connections, this is a good alternative and will likely also cost less than comparable accommodations in Munich during the O’fest. Of course, you won’t be able to party all night in Munich’s discos, but if you are on a beer vacation, who needs that anyway?
At the O’fest. Generally, only cash is accepted. Getting cash in Europe these days is a snap, as ATMs abound in larger cities.
In order to be served a beer at the Oktoberfest, you must be seated! This can be a problem if you arrive late, especially on a weekend (or in the early days of the fest). Beer is served from 10:00 am until 10:30 pm Monday to Saturday, and from 9:00 am to 10:30 pm on Sundays and holidays. Most tents close at 11:30 pm. On weekends, I recommend getting there as early as you can. On weekdays, it would be good to have seats by 3:00 or 4:00 pm, before the locals get off work and come out for an evening of beering!
Once you arrive at the Oktoberfest, you must pick a tent in which to imbibe. The big six Munich brewers are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner (which owns Hacker-Pschorr) and Spaten. Where you go depends on what kind of atmosphere you want. The rowdiest and most tourist-filled tent is usually Hofbrau.
The trendiest, hippest tent is the Hippodrom, where movie and TV actors and other VIPs come to drink. This tent also has a younger crowd, with more singles (you get the picture). The beer is Spaten Brau (although if you are a VIP, you may be drinking champagne).
Another tent, this one with a good wine selection (and Paulaner Weissbier, if you tire of the Oktoberfest style of beer) is the Weinzelt. This tent is smaller than most, with a capacity of 1,300. It has a more subdued atmosphere, and is open until 1:00 am. The Weinzelt is also known, like the Hippodrom, for attracting famous guests.
A tent with a younger set and a decidedly not subdued atmosphere is the Hacker Festzelt, which has a rock ’n’ roll band after 5:30 pm each day. The beer is Hacker-Pschorr.
There are a total of 14 tents where you can drink beer and other libations. For more info, check out www.oktoberfest.de. Additionally, many of the tents have their own websites!
What you will pay. If you can get a decent double room for US $100 a night in the city, consider yourself lucky. All prices rise during the O’fest, especially lodging. A liter of beer will cost you between 6.3 and 6.8 euros this year (about US$6.50 at the moment). There is no entry fee to the Oktoberfest tents.
Practical tips. A secure money belt is a good idea—there are some that fit inside the shirt, or even down your pants! Protect your passport, as it will be hard to replace overseas. You can have some spending money in your pocket, and get more out of your money belt while on a bathroom break. Keep an eye out for the occasional pickpocket.
Speaking of a bathroom break, the uniform sign in Europe is “W.C.,” for the English “water closet.” The German word is “toiletten.” You should not have too much of a problem finding one—just follow the crowd, and make sure someone is reserving your seat!
Sensible, comfortable shoes are a must: a pair of light hiking boots and a good pair of walking shoes.
And while imbibing beer by the liter, a food break is always a good idea. Pork, fish and chicken are very popular and make good, filling meals to absorb all that beer. The tents all have a specialty, and there are other vendors outside. You will pay $3 or $4 for a big pretzel, and a similar amount for other appetizer-type food. Prices can range up to $20 or $25 for a full meal at some of the tents, though you can typically get a good meal for $10 to $15.
Do your research, buy your guidebooks and money belts, and go have a great time. Oktoberfest is the one event every beer lover should attend at least once.
How To Take an International Beer Tour
Have church key, will travel.
Travel is fun. Travel is enlightening. Travel broadens our perspective on the world around us. Travel can also be beery. That can be the most fun part.
A true beer lover will want to infuse his or her travel to a foreign land with as many new beer experiences as possible. Several beer themes lend themselves to exploration.
First on the list, and most obvious, is a sampling of beers you’ve heard of or read about, but have never found at home. Perhaps these beers aren’t sold in your state. Or maybe they’re not exported at all.
Second is a visit to breweries, large and small, and brewpubs.
Third is the seeking out of cafés, pubs, bars and restaurants that serve special beers.
Fourth, you can look for beer shops that sell the unique beers of the country you’re visiting.
Fifth, beer festivals abound in many countries at all times of the year. They can be a great destination for a beer lover.
The question is, of course, how do you find all these places?
A great first source of information is the Internet. The web is chock full of beer information. Conduct a joint search of the country you’re planning to visit and the word “beer.” You’ll be amazed at the hits you’ll get. Also, explore the website of the target country’s tourist bureau. Many beer-savvy tourist agency people know that visitors to their country enjoy food and drink as part of their visit, and beer destinations will often be listed.
For European travelers, the website of the European Beer Consumer’s Union (EBCU) (www.pint.nl/ned/ebcu-web.htm) is a great first stop. Links are available to the websites of the 12 full and associate member country beer organizations of the EBCU. Each of these sites contains a wealth of information on breweries, brewpubs, special beer cafés and festivals. If you e-mail the website’s contact address, you might even receive a reply from a fellow beer lover who can answer your specific questions.
European Pub & Beer Guides (www.xs4all.nl/~patto1ro/index.htm) is another source of European beer information. And believe me, you’ll find many more worthwhile sites.
All About Beer Magazine’s calendar (www.allaboutbeer.com/calendar/index.html) contains a listing of all of the major international beer festivals.
The beer books of the major international beer writers, such as Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, include detailed information on the beer scene in many countries.
If the website of a country’s tourist agency doesn’t provide enough beer information for you, call or write their US office. These offices are usually located in major American cities, but if there’s only one US office, it’s definitely in New York City. The trade associations of many countries are another good source.
One last piece of advice. More than likely, you’re going to want to bring home some beer. Maybe a lot of beer. There’s a great way to transport beer home and not have to lug it onto the plane: Travel with an empty piece of luggage. Well, not completely empty. Pack it with as much bubble wrap as will fit and a roll or two of strong packing tape. Before leaving for home, wrap every bottle tightly with one or two layers of bubble wrap and tape them up. Then line all sides of the piece of luggage with layers of bubble wrap. If you do a thorough job, you can check this piece of luggage through with the rest of your baggage and not a bottle will break.
How To Tap a Keg
Be a hero on your own back patio.
Got a big party tonight with lots of draft beer? Tapping those kegs can be a little intimidating—given the importance of the task—and messy. Tapping a keg isn’t rocket science, but a little forethought and practice will go a long way toward making your bash a blast. Learn the basics and you, too, can be a party savior and wear the badge of beer spray with honor. Here are a few considerations.
The Correct Fittings. Most important, of course, is getting the proper tap to fit your keg. No secret there. When you pick up your keg, you will be given a tap to go with it. Before you leave the store, ask the person you dealt with to show you how to attach the tap. This will ensure that they have given you the proper, and properly functioning, device. He/she might even demonstrate on an empty keg.
Some tap/keg matings are designed differently even though they will fit the same keg. For example, a Sankey type, the most common kind for American kegs, has a threaded, twist mechanism that seats when turned, much like a sprinkler. Another Sankey tap has a release lever that must be manipulated to attach the tap. It is slightly more complicated, but there is less chance that it will loosen when some drunken brute tries too hard to get himself a brewski.
Another consideration is the pump mechanism. Some have a bulb, while others have a piston-like tube with a pump handle. The piston will deliver more gas with each stroke. As you can see, you have a choice in some cases. Exercise it!
Considering that there are many types of taps—my local store carries seven different kinds—it is possible to be given the wrong one, especially on a graduation or homecoming weekend when things get hectic. This is the only really important issue with a keg. Focus!
The Proper Technique. If you’ve never seen someone spritzed with beer while tapping a keg, you haven’t been to enough keg parties. It’s almost a given, like getting dirty while working in the garden, or getting sticky while brewing. Roll up your sleeves, bite your lip, make sure you have firm footing, stare directly into the eye of the monster, suck it up, and tap. Whew!
Assess the Flow. There is one more consideration—beer flow. Realize that the keg is under pressure already; it will not need any additional gas, and nobody likes too-foamy beer anyhow. A fully chilled keg will flow much more softly than a warm one.
Open the tap and assess the flow rate. You may draw several beers before the flow slows down. Pump as needed. If the keg continually loses pressure or is hard to draw from, you may need to re-tap the keg, as the seat may not be optimal. Common sense.
The curtain opens. You feel a rush of adrenaline as you prepare to deliver your much-anticipated, beery soliloquy. You take a deep breath, feign composure and proceed. It seems like minutes, but it’s over now. Was it a success? The din of the crowd tells you that you were marvelous. Bravo! Bravo! Let the festivities begin!
—K. Florian Klemp
How To Launch a Beer Festival
Scores of brewers, hundreds of beers, thousands of revelers, fistfuls of aspirin.
“Hey, guys! We all love good beer, right? We know about beer and food, and we know all the brewers in the region. Let’s put on a beer fest!”
The preceding may sound like an updated conversation from a 1940s Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie. Instead, it’s a conversation that takes place all across the country at microbreweries, brewpubs and many nonprofit organizations. Beer fests are popular, and they can be quite successful, but they are a great deal of hard work to produce. The following is a primer for hosting a successful beer fest.
The costs. The costs of running a beer fest are high and varied, but they can often be paid on an “after the event basis,” especially when the beneficiary of the event is a nonprofit or charitable organization. There are, of course, exceptions; city permits, for example, usually must be paid up front.
The major areas of cost for a beer fest include advertising, insurance, rental of the outdoor site (including portable johns, if necessary) or indoor hall, the site prep (tents, electrical, stages, sound equipment, lighting, tables, chairs and the crew to set up and install all this), security, entertainment, an on-site ambulance/medical service, entrance tickets, wristbands, cups, beer and food tokens, a logo design and printed program, and shirts for the staff. And ice. Get plenty of ice and find a nearby refrigerated spot to keep it frozen.
What to charge. The entrance fees at beer fests vary across the country from a low of $10 to $25 or more. At some beer fests, the ticket price allows attendees unlimited samples (usually 2 to 3 ounces each). At other events, the admission fee includes several beer tokens that can be redeemed for samples. After that, the attendee must buy additional tokens for a slight fee (50 cents to $1). At most beer fests, attendees are given commemorative plastic mugs or cups with the festival logo (often undated, so leftovers can be used the following year).
The staff. Except for the paid crews for the site prep and security, most beer fests use all-volunteer help. Volunteers can be solicited from the community at large and from members and friends of a nonprofit organization or charity benefiting from the event. Local homebrew clubs are a great source of volunteer help.
These volunteers provide the front gate staff—handling all money transactions, checking IDs, selling tickets and tokens, and issuing wristbands. They also may help the brewers pour beer and cart beer and ice from a central location to the brewer’s booth. At the end of the fest, volunteers can help with the daunting task of cleanup. You can never have enough people to move kegs.
Volunteers who pour beer should be given basic training in what to receive from each person (beer tokens, if they are used), what to look for (a wristband or hand stamp), how to handle intoxicated persons, whom to serve and not to serve, and whom to contact if there are problems. A national program called TIPS® (www.gettips.com) provides this service.
Definite do’s. Hire security, whether private or local police. Volunteers tend to be somewhat lax about security, especially late in the event, and a solid security force impresses city officials that issue the necessary permits.
Plan the event well in advance. The city will want you to obtain permits for things such as liquor, handicapped access, electrical, and sanitation among others, depending on the city codes. Obtaining these permits can sometimes take months.
Put out many water stations and dump buckets.
Advertising and promotion. Depending on your budget, a combination of print and radio advertising, along with banners and posters, works well. Partnering with a local newspaper and radio station as sponsors (free publicity for them) helps defray these costs. Radio stations often like to hold live remotes at the beer fest and introduce the musical acts.
Food and merchandise. Food is usually provided by local restaurants. They set up their own booths and charge what they want for their offerings. Contact your favorites and they’ll probably be happy to attend. You can charge food vendors a booth fee.
You can also sell booth space to merchants who sell things such as cigars, T-shirts, glassware and other beer and non-beer-related items.
Music. A big part of the attraction of many beer fests is the music. Popular local bands, followed by a national headline act, if the budget allows, will always be a big draw.
How to treat your exhibiting brewers. Treat them like gold. Make the beer fest a fun, easy, pleasant experience for the brewers and they’ll come back next year. Give them as much volunteer help as possible setting up, breaking down and throughout the day. Feed them. Feed them well. Hold a get-together the night before the fest for early arrivals. Search out discounts for local hotel rooms.
Post beer fest. After the cleanup and the number crunching, publicize the results of your beer fest to local media, city officials and the brewers who attended. Several weeks later, throw a party for your volunteers with the leftover beer. (There will be cases and cases of beer left over, don’t worry about that.) Enjoy your success and start planning for next year.
How To Customize a Beer
Remember, if you can describe it, you can brew it.
Ah, the glow of pride a homebrewer feels when one of their brews gets the unequivocal stamp of approval. If homebrewing is your hobby, approval is what you strive for. It’s really not too difficult to make drinkable beer, but hacking through the jungle of information available is somewhat daunting. Where do you start? What if your finished product isn’t close to what you intended? How do you modify it properly? Here are some suggestions to help you get to the Promised Land.
Three major things can make or break a beer: technical aspects, system adeptness, and recipe formulation.
First, let’s assume you’ve eliminated or reduced the frequency of technical problems: you’ve learned all you can about sanitizing; your fermentation conditions are within range—neither too hot nor too cold; and your yeast is healthy.
Next, you’ve mastered your brewing setup. There are as many systems as there are brewers. Even the simplest can work and work well. Perfect reproducibility isn’t necessary—it is homebrew, after all—but you should be able to establish some sort of consistency from batch to batch with regard to extraction rates, hop utilization, and such.
The third step, recipe formulation, lets a brewer fine-tune ingredients, temperatures and timing to get exactly the result he or she wants. Here are a few variables that the brewer can tweak:
You want a full-bodied beer. Use a less attenuative yeast (one that converts fewer sugars to alcohol), malt with more character (carapils for light beers or caramel for darker ones), higher mash temperature, or less adjunct (grains in addition to barley).
You want a lighter-bodied beer. Use a more attenuative yeast, malt with less character, or lower mash temperature, add some adjunct.
You like a darker beer. Use more color malts like caramel, chocolate and black, but be judicious at first. Increase boil time.
You want a lighter-colored beer: Use less or no color malts; pale ale or pilsner malt alone is OK. Combine extra light dried malt extact with minimal color malts. Reduce boil time.
Your last batch was too sweet. Incomplete fermentation is the culprit. Check fermentation temperature. Make sure your yeast is healthy when you pitch. Aerate well.
You like a lot of hop bitterness. Use more hops early in the boil; get a handle on your system’s utilization.
The last batch had a rough hop bitterness. Use low alpha acid hops in greater quantity for bittering.
You love hop aroma. Use copious amounts of hops in late additions for IPAs and pilsners. Don’t be afraid to add them very late, or experiment with secondary fermenter hopping or dry-hopping.
You like the definitive hop character of certain beers. Use the appropriate hops: Cascade for American, East Kent Goldings for English, Tetnang or Halletau for German, and Saaz for Czech beers.
You like a lot of malt character. Try decoction mashing, use Munich malts, use melanoidin malts.
Recipe formulation can be approached from many directions. Get a recipe from a brewer who always seems to hit what he/she wants. Experienced, good homebrewers are worth their weight in Kent Goldings. Join a homebrew club and learn some really obscure tips.
You can also consult one of the many books that exist. Here are a few. For general recipe formulation, cite Ray Daniel’s Designing Great Beers. For overall brewing methodology, there are the staples, The Homebrewer’s Companion and The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing by the whimsical and practical pioneer himself, Charlie Papazian. A new book entitled How to Brew by John Palmer is just as comprehensive as the Companion. For lager brewing, check out famed brewer/author Greg Noonan’s fairly technical Brewing Lager Beer.
Michael Jackson’s The Beer Companion and The Great Beers of Belgium are not brewing books, but they provide enough data for a savvy homebrewer to design a beer. Finally, download a copy of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines. Like Jackson’s publications, the information is not extensive relative to a homebrewing book, but enough is there to get started.
One other key point to remember—stick with traditional ingredients as much as possible. In other words, German ingredients for German beers, English ingredients for English beers, etc. Also give some thought to water treatment.
Remember, if you can describe it, you can brew it.
—K. Florian Klemp
How To Talk Beer to Wine People
Despite an old adage that grape and grain don’t mix, wine guys and beer guys get along just fine.
Talk about making mistakes you can learn from. We were two beers and one wine into a beer and wine tasting at Rio Chama Steakhouse in Santa Fe, NM. Next up were a La Folie beer from New Belgium Brewing Co. and a 1995 cabernet sauvignon from Santa Fe Vineyards.
Backing up a bit: The premise of the afternoon was to sample beer and wine at the same table, with the beers ones that are sold in corked 750-ml (wine-size) bottles and that are clearly not ordinary. The tasters were all members of the wine and restaurant industry in Santa Fe.
The idea for the gathering came from a conversation with Mark Matheson—who brews beer at Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. in Rio Rancho and makes wine at Santa Fe Vineyards—about beers that include grapes as an ingredient.
“If you taste a beer and then a wine, you’re going to notice a totally different structure,” he said. “But you also get some of the same flavors, things about the two that are the same.”
In fact, only one of the beers in the “official” tasting, the Port 15th anniversary Ale, was made with grapes, although we had Midas Touch from Dogfish Head Brewing in Delaware to finish off the afternoon.
Back to La Folie and the Cab. Tom Peters of Monk’s Café in Philadelphia likes to talk about introducing wine drinkers who say they don’t like beer to beer they do like by pouring them a glass of Rodenbach from Belgium. La Folie, which is available only at New Belgium’s brewery in Fort Collins, CO, is a very similar beer.
We popped the cork on the La Folie. Glasses were poured and smiles went away. “Everything you have off in beer and wine, you have in this,” Matheson said.
“This is an acquired taste, right?” said Phil Effenbeck, who runs the tasting room at Santa Fe Vineyards.
“You’d have to have some food with this,” said Rio Chama general manager Jim Hargrove. “I just don’t know what it would be.”
The lesson is not to serve a beer laced with brettanomyces to a bunch of guys who know when they open a bottle of wine and get a whiff of “bret” that they’ve got a spoiled bottle. They’ll soon be buying the customer a new bottle of wine. Beyond this little setback, the afternoon reinforced the idea that despite an old adage that grape and grain don’t mix (the adage refers mostly to taking steps to avoid a hangover), wine guys and beer guys get along just fine.
We didn’t talk about “legs” (mostly a wine term) or “attenuation” (beer talk). We did talk more generally about flavor and about how customers order beer or wine. Jordan Dilts, who does the wine buying and advises customers at La Casa Sena—a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner with more than 1,000 different wines—treats wine and beer questions much the same.
“I start by asking them what they like; I want to get the direction from them,” he said, talking first about wine. “The last thing I want is to sell somebody a bottle for $75 and have them walking out hating it.”
His restaurant offers only bottled beer, and New Mexico beers from Santa Fe Brewing and Sierra Blanca sell particularly well. “I try to get a descriptor from the customer,” Dilts said. “And I have to find out what they consider dark.”
For the record, the beers we tasted were Southampton Biere de Garde from Southampton Publick House on Long Island, Golden Monkey from Victory Brewing Co. in Pennsylvania, the La Folie, 90-Minute IPA from Dogfish Head, and Port 15th Anniversary Ale from Pizza Port Solana Beach Brewery in California.
All provoked discussion. “It’s bread,” Hargrove said at the first whiff of the Biere de Garde. Brewer Phil Markowski—who operates in the midst of more than 30 vineyards and has made a beer using grapes—worried that the wine experts would be bothered by some corkiness in the beer. “A little musty,” Effenbeck said, “but not in an unpleasant way.”
Perhaps it was chance, but the star of the afternoon was the beer made with grapes. Pizza Port brewers Tomme Arthur and Jeff Bagby brewed the beer in the fall of 2001 for a spring celebration of the 15th anniversary of the opening of Pizza Port in Solana Beach.
The beer is a strong ale fermented from 1.080 to 1.008, then finished with grapes. “The goal was to get a port quality,” said Arthur. The beer was fermented with a saison yeast, then aged in American oak barrels. Some of the beer was blended in oak with grape juice (Carignane grapes) and fermented a second time with cabernet wine yeast.
“Whoo,” Effenbeck said, letting out a deep sigh. “I’ve never had anything like this.”
“I wonder if I could keep it on gas,” Dilts said, referring to how La Casa Sena dispenses wine sold by the glass. His mother lives not far from Solana Beach (the beer is sold only at Pizza Port, for $10 a bottle). “If your mom is going, let me know so she can pick me up some,” Hargrove said.
“I’m going to call her on the way out,” Dilts told him.
What might all of this teach you about how to get your wine-loving friends to consider a wine and beer tasting, or even a beer-only tasting? It’s easier if you choose beers with an interesting story behind them. This crowd was fascinated to learn how Dogfish Head continuously adds hops in the 90-Minute IPA.
They also liked interesting beers. “What a creamy texture,” Effenbeck said of the Golden Monkey, a spicy Belgian tripel. “This is a beer for people who like oaky chardonnay,” Dilts added.
It doesn’t hurt to consider such things as well. For wine to beer comparisons, try to find a beer with similar flavors to those a friend prefers in wine. But don’t make it as simple as comparing colors.
There are a several of “this wine-this beer” lists out there—some so detailed as to suggest particular varieties of grapes. But the following one that Michael Jackson put together for his Beer Companion is nicely general and specific at the same time.
How To Build Your Own Beer Cellar
May I interest you in a Westvleteren 12º ’86? Dive into the world of vintage beer.
Most beer tastes best when it’s fresh. But some beers grow more complex with time. For some beer lovers, tracking down these unusual beers, then tending them into their maturity, opens up new flavor experiences.
So, you are one of these people and you want to build your very own beer cellar. Where do you start? No, not with a shovel. By “beer cellar,” I mean a collection of rare beers that improve with age and a suitable place in which to store them.
A cellar or basement is ideal. The temperature in your storage area should be about 45 to 60 degrees F, optimally in the 50 to 55 degree range. It should also be dark. One of the most important factors in cellaring beer is to store your bottles away from sunlight or other bright light, particularly fluorescent light.
What gives some beers their aging potential? Higher alcohol content is one of the primary factors. Alcohol is a preservative, so stronger beers, such as Samichlaus (14 percent alcohol by volume) and Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout (18 percent abv) will stand the test of time much more gracefully than beers with less alcohol. Another very important factor is bottle conditioning. This process leaves live yeast in a beer so it will continue to age and develop over time.
Malt and hops also play a role. Malts must be used in much larger amounts in very strong beers to balance the high alcohol, and this gives a lot of body to such beers. Hops are a preservative, like alcohol, so high hopping rates will contribute to a beer’s aging well.
But it is not only higher alcohol brews that are suitable for aging. Belgian lambic beers such as Cantillon Gueze and Boon Kriek Marriage Parfait can be very good with 10 or even 20 years of cellaring. Their alcohol levels are moderate, usually in the 5 to 6.5 percent abv range.
Barley wine is another style of beer that is well suited to cellaring, with alcohol typically ranging from about 9 to 12 percent abv. A couple of American examples include Bridgeport Old Knucklehead and Victory Old Horizontal.
Belgian (and Belgian-style) strong ales are among the top beer styles for aging. Tripels, Christmas beers, and abbey style beers like Ommegang can benefit from cellaring. The Trappist brews, such as Rochefort or Westvleteren, are good choices. Victory Brewing’s Golden Monkey Tripel and their new V-10 beer, a strong, dark brew, should be good examples of American-brewed Belgian-style ales suitable for aging.
Old ales, such as Thomas Hardy’s and Lee’s Harvest Ale, both from England, are great beers for cellaring. Another style that is more common in the United States is Imperial stout. American versions include Bell’s Expedition Stout from Kalamazoo (MI) and Old Rasputin Imperial Stout from North Coast (CA).
Less common brews that will improve with age are strong Baltic porters, such as Sinebrychoff Porter from Finland and Okocim Porter from Poland. A US-brewed example is Perkuno’s Hammer from Heavyweight Brewing in New Jersey.
Eisbocks, such as Kulmbacher Reichelbrau Bayrisch G’frorns and Aventinus Weizen Eisbock, should be prime candidates for cellaring, with their extremely malty character and higher alcohols.
Now that you have an idea of what styles of beer will age well, where do you buy your beer? This will all depend on where you live. If you are lucky enough to have a good local beer retailer, let him/her know of your interest. Internet sites like www.beertravelers.com also list stores with good selections. Posting a question on the various beer newsgroups on the web often will achieve results.
And how much do you buy? This depends on how much you like the beer, how much you drink, and how much you want to have for the future. If a particular beer is released annually—as is the practice for barley wines, for example—you may want to buy enough to have a bottle a year for many years. With several vintages aging in your cellar, you can plan a “vertical tasting,” comparing several vintages each year to see the different effects of aging.
Having a cellar at home is a real pleasure—you can break out a great beer whenever the mood hits, as you are already prepared!
How To Organize Your Label Collection
Memory and meaning in a shoebox.
Like the commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, there’s no right way to organize your label collection. Over my two decades of collecting what I drink, I’ve tried a variety of organizational systems. The one to which I essentially “defaulted” works for me because it’s a reflection both of me and of the beer. It’s all about what I find so exciting and interesting about beer, and it’s a historical snapshot of where beer’s been and where I’ve been. More about that later; first, a little about the system itself.
There are two parts of organization—ordering and storing.
Ordering refers to the system of organization. For example, you might use a very straightforward ordering, such as alphabetical by brewery or beer name. Another would be geographical by brewery location or country of origin. The possibilities are numerous.
Storing is, naturally enough, the physical framework imposed around the ordering—shoebox, card file, photo album. Like ordering, storing can be a creative exploration limited only by your imagination.
You might think that ordering and storing are two entirely distinct areas, with no overlap. But, in some cases, a system can incorporate both. For instance, you might arrange your collection based on breweries in a particular state and store it as a collage suitable for framing and display.
The system of ordering that I use is based on time—a simple chronological filing of the ales and lagers I’ve enjoyed. Sound unimaginative? Perhaps boring? Remember what your mother said about judging a book by its cover. And this is truly a book, a personal, historical archive of my journey through life.
Go below the surface, and you’ll find that your collection charts your past in so many different ways. It’s a record of moves across the country to go to college or take a new job. It’s a memory of special events and special friends.
For me, it’s a record of two years spent in Illinois in the mid-eighties sampling the best the Midwest had to offer: Leinenkugel’s Bock, the full portfolio of Heileman’s products, and others. Why I needed 14 of Cold Spring’s contract-brewed Red Ass Ale labels peeled direct from 14 cold ones is a part of that history even I can’t explain.
Then it was back East to Pennsylvania, with my collection standing as a testament to a couple of years drinking the Keystone State’s finest brews, mixed with recollections of my first real job and marriage. Among the many Yuengling, Lion, Straub and Stoney’s labels are a sprinkling of imports—still rather exotic in those days and high-priced enough that these labels remain merely a colorful interlude in the vast desert of browns, golds and beiges of Stegmaiers, Esslingers and Bartels.
I could go on, but you get the point. Your label collection can be a two-dimensional history. On the one plane, it’s a very real and interesting record of beer, from the days when the handful of heritage breweries provided the only alternative to mass-market brew, through the days when Moosehead was exotic, to the heady days of craft beer that we are now enjoying. On the second level, it’s a personal history of the collector.
Enjoy living your collection!
How To Design a Beer Label
The first taste is with the eyes.
In our cut-and-paste universe, designing a beer label can be just about as fast as saying Ayinger Altbarish Dunkel—properly. It can also be a labor of love, requiring years of thought and training, not to speak of talent.
Begin the designing process with a properly served beer, preferably the one for which you’re designing the label. Some label designers fail to recognize that the beer is more important than the label! This would be a good time to target your competitor, damn them!
The label is the beer’s birth certificate and, in that regard, designing a beer label is a little bit like conception. The act of procreation is a pleasure, but secondary to the joy of seeing your child (in this case, the beer) enter the world, well received, in his fancy new blanket.
Like having a baby, a critical step is deciding on a name. Popular categories include animals, mountain ranges, national monuments, fairy tales, saints and sinners, place names, people’s names (mostly men’s) and ribbon colors. Straying from these categories is seldom successful.
Top designers think of the name and visualize the illustration at about the same time. Be creative here. Consulting multiple sources for inspiration is smart. Being sued for copyright infringement is not. Remember that Sunday school lesson about thou shall not steal.
Being able to supply the sales department—or your significant other—with a label mock-up for customers and/or friends even before the actual birth is a plus.
Slightly boring, but necessary for commercial brewers, is adding all the government-required (federal and state) information, including address, contents, brand name, description of product (beer), UPC code and health warning. Homebrewers feeling guilty may optionally add these details to their labels. Any questions? Contact your friendly and helpful Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. They are there to help.
Visualize getting to know your printer, for mock-ups and for the finished label. Determine whether you want to print on paper, plastic film or directly on the bottle (silk screen.) Forget about costs. You are still in the creative phase.
Now it’s time to move that beer to your desktop (not too close) and assemble all the elements. Things to consider here are label size, type style, colors, and placement of the illustration. How big to make Aunt Emma’s photograph can be as contentious as choosing a name, should designing be a team effort, so I recommend that one team member volunteer to be the boss.
Once the design is finished, before a label can be applied to a single bottle, approval for the finished product must be sought at various government levels. Is the label misleading? Is the illustration obscene? Are all the warnings in place? I once had a label rejected because it lacked a comma.
Never underestimate the importance of the label. Attention to detail will determine whether your offspring’s fate will be famous or flawed. That’s a big responsibility for the label designer. Like beer, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
How To Win Beerdrinker of the Year
Your dedication and extreme level of beeriness must shine.
There’s no simple course. There are no sure-fire tricks. Becoming Beerdrinker of the Year is not a popularity contest, nor is it a beer-guzzling chug-a-thon. This nationwide competition, originated by Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Co. in 1997, is an analysis of personal commitment, a measure of knowledge, a true test of passion—all about beer.
Entering the annual BDOY competition begins with a beer résumé, a simple 3-page statement of the extent of your beer fanaticism. Almost anything goes. Rules are intentionally vague to promote creativity, but eager applicants usually include lists: beers consumed; breweries visited; festivals attended; beer books read; periodical subscriptions; labels, bottles and coasters collected; homebrewing experience, etc. Most important, your beer résumé must include your personal beer philosophy—basically, a written description of what beer means to you.
Your résumé is all that the first-round judges see of you, so take care in preparation. Neatness counts. Originality helps. Do not overstate your beer experiences; if you do, you may embarrass yourself in Denver.
When all the résumés have been gathered, Wynkoop P.R. man Lew Cady and owner John Hickenlooper narrow the field down to a dozen or so competitors. From this group of finalists, a panel of beer publication editors and past BDOY winners reviews the candidates, voting for their favorite three—the final finalists.
The Oral Exams, as Cady calls the Wynkoop proceedings, are the ultimate gauntlet. With Wynkoop’s Mercantile Room as the stage, the chosen trio faces a Supreme Court of Beer. In addition to Hickenlooper, past judges have included AHA’s grand poobah Charlie Papazian, AHA director Paul Gatza, festival organizer Sharon Mowry, beer writer Dick Kreck, and other beer industry insiders. Past winners also participate as judges.
No question is forbidden. Curve balls are common. Topics range from trivia to history to advertisement jingles to stranded-on-a-desert-island queries to just about anything. Prepared in advance, your opening and closing statements should be concise, accurate, maybe even a little cute, though your dedication and extreme level of beeriness must shine. The recently added Beer Whispering session, in which you proposition, caress or otherwise verbally fondle the beer before you, should also be given considerable thought in advance. In other words, your beer foreplay should be carefully scripted.
At this point, a finalist, like any exuberant game show contestant, should be bubbly, outgoing and prepared. Even though the beer is free, do not over imbibe. Your wit, opinion and expressiveness should be keen. Judges expect innovative answers to their evertricky questions. There’s no point system or scoreboard. Your ability to impress the judges is the real key to winning this face-to-face confrontation.
And then it’s over. Adorned in black robes and itchy white wigs, the judges retire to their chamber to debate the attributes of each candidate. With some fanfare, the winner is announced. Prizes are awarded (free beer for life at Wynkoop). Photos are taken. Congratulations bestowed. Next, it’s time to celebrate your victory with some of Wynkoop’s great brew.
How To Display 5,000 Beer Bottles
“5,000 bottles of beer on the wall, 5,000 bottles of beer, if one of those bottles should happen to fall…”
When I tell people that I have nearly 4,800 different beer bottles in my house, they often picture bottles on every wall of every room and even on the ceiling. Until last summer, they would have been nearly right. I lived in a 14- by 70-foot mobile home and the bottles were displayed in one room, on a jumble of furniture, loose boards and shelving—bottles upon bottles, with a small pathway to navigate.
By the time I built my new home, I knew what I wanted: one room that could accommodate the collection in a comfortable atmosphere, with all the things in my life that are beer related. What better place to do this but in a finished basement that includes large windows along the back wall?
The shelves that support the bottles are 50 feet in length and wrap around the basement along three of its six walls. They are sturdy enough for a grown man to climb. The shelves are 2 feet apart, so that adjustable shelving can be added in between fixed shelves. The four shelves vary in width from a 24” bottom shelf to the 12” top shelf.
The room also includes a bar, built at one end of the room and seen immediately as one enters. The bar is L-shaped, 50 inches tall and 16 feet long. Behind the bar is a hutch that is used for displaying a beer glass collection. A small storage room by the bar serves for conditioning beers. There’s enough room for a small bathroom underneath the stairs.
Soon to be added to the bar are a double bar sink, beer fridge, microwave, and three taps. Eventually, the upper and lower levels of the bar will be fitted with dark briarwood‚ and the bar top will be sealed with glass. Bar stools and a foot railing, and all will be complete.
The walls of the basement are concrete blocks, covered with joint compound that fills in the lines where the blocks meet. I spray-painted the walls and the shelves with a water-based antique white paint. Further, I painted the 3-inch front edge of each shelf, all support posts and beams dark green. The ceiling is 11 feet high and unfinished, which I consider a very natural look for a bar and bottle room.
This is a place where one can look at the bottles but also enjoy a game of pool or darts, or watch the game and have lunch. Decorative, beer related pictures are an additional accent.
The bottles are organized by country, with 103 countries represented in the collection. New bottles must be logged into the collection before they are placed on a shelf. Simply stated, I counted the first 992 bottles. The other 3,758 bottles are listed in numerical order on a clipboard that now has 37 double-spaced pages of listed beers.
Fifty-five percent of the bottles are from American brewers. There are more than 375 different Belgian bottles in the collection, including vintages dating back to 1985 that were purchased in Stockholm. There are 23 bottles from Russia (one from the USSR). Latin America totals 110 bottles. The Far East and South Pacific have added 78 bottles to the collection. You will find bottles of traditional sahti from Finland, South African Sorghum PET beers, and even a scratch-off ‘“nudie” beer from Wyoming. The most recent additions are Castel Beer from Mali, Urpin from Slovak Republic, and Argo from the Republic of Georgia.
I collected most of the bottles myself on three European trips, going from Scandinavia (including Tallin and St. Petersburg) to Italy and from Belgium to Prague. I also trade and have beer friends that support my collection.
When I travel, I take a $14 fold-up “beer cart,” purchased at Wal-Mart, that can carry two boxes (40 beers). I use two rubber luggage straps. I take four rolls of bubble wrap and plan during my first couple of days to visit a nice beer store like Beer Konig in Amsterdam. There I stock up on bottles, pack and mail! I rarely lose a bottle.
Why do I collect bottles? Each bottle has a “beer” experience or special memory. When I held bottles of Emerson’s, McEllie’s and Mike’s Mild for the first time, I almost passed out. I never thought that I would ever be able to drink these beers. For me, it is the beer that matters: the bottle is proof, you might say—the trophy in my collection.
How To Import Beer
Because sometimes a suitcase is just too small.
I can hear it to this day. “Hell, hide it in your suitcase—just make sure you wrap the bottles well,” I, at 10 years old, smartly told my mom. “Wrap ’em in your bra and panties; they will never look there.”
It was during Prohibition in Oklahoma and we had taken a vacation in our new Dodge across the state line to Missouri. Those were the days when Joplin was Missouri’s liquor store capitol.
As we headed home on Route 66, I thought to myself, “That wasn’t too bad.” It was then that I decided to become an importer.
Years passed. Oklahoma voted “wet,” and I moved to New York and began a quarter-century career as a wine and beer importer. It’s been a long road, and when All About Beer asked me how it’s done, it was like coming home.
First things first. Slow down and pour a beer, preferably one that you want to import. If you have no beer to import—yet—pour a really special beer and fetch a globe. Close your eyes and spin it. Wherever that globe stops there is likely to be a brewery. If you land in Iran, Iraq or any of the Gulf states, go to the closest democracy. There will be a brewery there.
No matter what country, most breweries you look at will be brewing international pilsner-style beer, so you have to ask yourself if the US market can absorb yet another one. The fact is that it probably can, if the country of origin is exotic enough. But if you are lucky, you will find an unusual beer style from an undiscovered location.
With e-mail and the Internet, contacting even the remotest breweries can be fast. It’s important to know whether the brewery you are communicating with is privately held, publicly owned, a monastery, or a foreign government monopoly. Beware of dictatorships. In any case, you’ll be safe in asking for the boss.
Most brewers are friendly and anxious to access the US market. Many are well educated and speak English, but a little language training always helps. With luck, your initial e-mail and telephone contact will lead to a trip to taste the beers and work out the agreement. How to dress? These people appreciate US casualness. Jeans and a beer t-shirt speak American. Don’t forget to ask how fast the bottling line fills—in their native language.
Tell them that being a beer importer has always been you dream and in order to realize that dream, you must import their brand. Cry in their beer if you need to.
Work toward a contract. Until you have it signed in bock, the brewery has you over a barrel. Most agreements specify annual sales volume goals. Be conservative here. Until you have had time for focus group and intensive market surveys, it’s hard to be committal.
Once you have a contract, the dirty work begins—getting a license to import beer, having the beer label approved. This is a subject that is much too complicated for me to explain here, or for that matter, for me to understand.
When all your legal worries are behind you, you are officially an importer. You can purchase beer from a brewer in another country. However, you can’t sell the beer directly to eager American drinkers. In this country, alcoholic beverages must pass from a producer to a wholesaler/distributor, to a retailer, and only then to the consumer.
So the only thing you can influence directly is the choice of a good distributor. To choose your distributor, look in the phone book under “beer.” Pick a distributor that sounds important and make an appointment with the sales manager. Be straight and earnest. Tell her that your beer is the biggest selling brand back in Bertuliruse or wherever it comes from. Tell her that you are considering awarding XYZ wholesaler the exclusive territory for your brand, but only if you can be assured of eye-level shelf space in all the best retail accounts. Don’t be discouraged if she says no. It’s a very competitive market.
As you expand into new regions, you will need to be licensed in each new state. State alcoholic beverage control agencies sometimes subject importers to finger printing. It goes without saying that it is always good to be honest about your criminal record when filling out the myriad forms required.
Once, when I was fingerprinted in Ohio, I thought of what would have happened had the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stopped my parents with their illegal import in the suitcase. My career might have taken a different path. As it is, I have enjoyed every minute.
How To Install Your Own Draft Beer System
Yes, we are talking kegerator.
You love to drink beer, draft beer. You enjoy going down to the pub to socialize and quaff, but at 4 bucks a pint, plus tip, the cost can get a little prohibitive. Maybe it’s time to bring the pub to your place.
A versatile home draft beer system isn’t the complicated task it sounds. It requires only a small amount of mechanical aptitude and an ability to read directions. The necessary components are a refrigerator, a CO2 tank, and a delivery system (connectors, hoses, taps, etc.). If there is a homebrew shop or bar supply business nearby, you already have a leg up.
Why should you get a home system? You can justify it to the planning committee/financial planner this way: Tell him/her that you can get all the needed components for between $300 and $800. There are 124 pints in a standard keg, at about a buck a pint. Those same pints would cost about the same amount at the pub as your uptown, new “kegerator” will cost. Carbon dioxide is fairly cheap and the cost to run the fridge is minimal.
Your own keg system has mental and socially redeeming qualities, too, in that you get to fool around with those tools in your toolbox, and you will become more popular than you ever imagined. How could you not have one?
Refrigerators. The options include a standard one or one that is designed specifically for this purpose. Each type has strengths as well as caveats. The plain ol’ household fridge can be yours for little money, maybe even free. Check the ads in your local paper and you can probably find one for less than $100. Remove the shelves and you have plenty of space. It also has a freezer for chilling glassware. The caveat is that it will require a little extra modification, like hole drilling. The specially designed keg refrigerator is shorter, more portable, and requires little modification, but is more expensive.
Gas Tank Setup. This is nothing more than a standard gas tank, made specifically for carbon dioxide, that can be purchased at a welding shop or homebrew shop. They come in several sizes—5 and 10 pounds are the most common—and can be filled at welding shops, fire extinguisher shops, and some homebrew shops. You will also need a two-stage regulator designed for CO2. Tank and regulator are about $140 together. Fill-ups cost between $10 and $20 each, but will last quite some time.
Delivery System. This is where your mechanical moxie and patience come into play. You will need an assortment of connectors, hoses, taps and fittings (gas in, beer out). This limited column doesn’t allow an extensive description of all the components, so check with your local homebrew shop or get a catalog from a bar supply outlet to get the scoop.
The standard fridge will require that you drill one or more holes in the door, and also attach a drip tray beneath the taps. The keg refrigerator has these items already in place. All you need to decide is how many and what kind of taps you will need.
Before you buy the connector that mates with the keg, call your local keg beer supplier and find out what type goes with your favorite beer. Barbed fittings allow you to switch them out easily if you want some variety. If you also make homebrew, invest in a Cornelius keg and some quick connectors so you have that option also. It is possible to have multiple taps installed, depending on the size of your fridge.
Take the plunge—it’s easy to do and easily justifiable. Ready for a cold one?
—K. Florian Klemp
Donald Bible works with hearing impaired children. During the summer, he often travels abroad in search of new beers for his bottle collection. Beers, beers and more new beer (bottles), along with his very wonderful Slovakian girlfriend, are his top passions in life.
Julie Johnson Bradford is the editor of All About Beer Magazine and beer columnist for The News and Observer in Raleigh, NC.
Bobby Bush, winner of the 1998 Beerdrinker of the Year contest, now writes regular columns for Ale Street News and Celebrator Beer News, and hosts a website with over 250 beer travel articles at www.realbeer.com/library/authors/bush-b.
Chuck Cook is a freelance writer living in Chapel Hill, NC. He travels to Europe to drink beer as often as possible, with Belgium and Germany being favorite destinations. Closer to home, he has become very familiar with the better beer stores in Virginia, DC, and Maryland in the course of building his own collection of cellared beers.
Bill Drew worked as a brewery specialist at Highland Brewing, NC, and is now the beer coordinator for the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC. His dream is to own the only distributorship in North Carolina specializing in beer over six percent abv.
Charles Finkel designs labels for some of the world’s finest beers, wines, spirits, soft drinks and speciality foods. Merchant du Vin Corp, founded by Charles, is a pioneer in the marketing of craft beers. He is also the founder of The Pike Brewing Co., one of Seattle’s busiest brewpubs and microbreweries. Charles writes for All About Beer Magazine, Slow Food and other publications.
Gregg Glaser, news editor for All About Beer Magazine, has covered the beer beat since 1994. He also writes regular columns for Modern Brewery Age, Yankee Brew News and Beverage Media and appears as a guest on several TV and radio programs.
Stan Hieronymus is the author of The Beer Lover’s Guide to the USA (St. Martin’s Griffin) with co-author Daria Labinsky.
Pete Johnson, program director for the Brewers’ Association of America, is enthusiastic about any beer-related subject, especially those that intersect with his interest in history.
K. Florian Klemp is an award-winning homebrewer and writer who draws a paycheck from Duke University Medical Center, NC.
Catherine Lemin is the advertising manager for All About Beer Magazine. Catherine seeks out new and exotic beers to introduce to you in our pages—and for the office fridge.