TGIF Beer: Mirror Mirror

No, the folks at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, weren’t stuttering when they named their first barley wine Mirror Mirror.

Mirror Mirror fermentingThe press release calls it “a beer so nice we named it twice” but if it isn’t exactly double Deschutes’ Mirror Pond Ale it comes close enough. Barley clearly is the star in this beer, with hops – still distinctively Northwest – and wood adding secondary layers of complexity.

Mirror Mirror is the first selection in Deschutes’ newly created Reserve Series. The brewery plans to offer one or two Reserve beers a year, subject to how inspiration grabs the brewers. This is actually the second version. The first draft-only batch was brewed in 2004, aged in a potpourri of barrels (Pinot Noir, bourbon, port) and then blended. By many accounts, it could have used more focus.

For Mirror Mirror 2.0, started in February 2005, the brewers stuck to only French oak wine barrels. The beer was already 10 months old (four in wood) when they dry hopped it a few days and bottled it early in 2006.

You can’t exactly call a barley wine that’s 9.9% abv restrained, but the bitterness (52 IBUs) is low by Northwest standards. Hop aromas intermingle with higher alcohols to provide a perfume-like floral impression as well as typical American hop citrus character. Dark fruits, particularly raisins, arrive at the start and linger through a long husky finish.

It has the malt depth to signal this is a beer to age, but the balance to drink now – which might make it hard to keep around for long. Nonetheless, the questions are fun to think about: Will the citrusy hops continue to give way to whisky undertones? Will the emerging dessert-apple tone turn toward toffee? What direction will the wood take the beer?

Beer’s ‘new’ image: Part I

After month’s of discussion about improving beer’s image, brewing giant Anheuser-Busch will put its money where its mouth is. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the brewer will provide one of its coveted Super Bowl spots for an ad promoting the industry.

“It wasn’t too difficult of a decision because everyone in our company realizes the need for Anheuser-Busch to lead an industry platform,” said Bob Lachky, executive vice president of global industry development at A-B’s domestic brewing unit.

The spot, dubbed “Slainte,” in reference to a Gaelic toast, will air during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, in which 30 seconds of ad time sells for about $2.5 million.

“It starts to send a different signal about the demographics of beer,” Lachky said. “It starts to paint a slightly different picture than what people might come to expect (from beer), and it totally puts a different face on beer.”

Beer Therapy will comment Monday after seeing the spot, and surely add some comments of our own about beer’s image.

A-B certainly isn’t overlooking any possible new ways to reach potential consumers. The company will make its Super Bowl ads available for postgame downloading at Budweiser.com. The beer giant worked with Maven Networks of Massachusetts to create an application that allows consumers to download their favorite beer commercials and watch them on video iPods, laptops, and computer screens.

The “Slainte” spot will also promote a new website, www.herestobeer.com, that goes live on Sunday. It features sections that educate consumers about the brewing process and offers food-pairing suggestions, historical facts, recipes using beer and “beertails,” suggested ways to mix beers.

The importance of the campaign became more apparent on Wednesday when A-B announced the impact of flat sales and higher costs in the fourth quarter, with profits plunging almost 40% from a year ago.

A-B’s problems reflect those of all the largest brewers. Overall beer sales were flat in 2005, although early reports indicate the craft segment grew at about a 7% pace.

Miller adMiller Brewing has already told distributors about its plans revive the flagging Miller Genuine Draft brand by targeting young adults in their 20s and 30s. The campaign goes national March 1, with a “bridge” advertisements already launched. Miller’s advertisements – featuring the catch phrase, “Beer. Grown Up.” – are aimed at those in their late 20s to 30s who have drifted away from mainstream beers and switched to other alcohol-based drinks, or even craft beers or imports.

“We’ve found our target consumer, 26- to 40-year-old strivers that are being neglected by the beer category,” brand director Terry Haley said in introducing the campaign. “It is perfect for Miller Genuine Draft.”

Gluten-free beers

Good news for those who have celiac disease – two American brewers now offer gluten-free beer.

– Passover Honey Beer is made by the Ramapo Valley Brewery of Hillburn, N.Y. It contains no barley nor any grain. It’s brewed with just honey, a “hint” of molasses, hops, kosher-certified yeast and water.

That may sound more like mead than beer, but Ramapo’s co-founder, Egon Lizenberg, insists that Passover Honey is a beer. “I haven’t seen any wine with hops yet,” he said. The federal labeling authorities apparently have agreed.

– Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery last fall began selling New Grist, an all-sorghum beer. In releasing the beer, the brewery noted: “New Grist is the first ‘official’ gluten free beer in the U.S., although it cannot technically be called ‘gluten-free’ until established governmental guidelines are determined for all products claiming ‘gluten-free’ status. In the interim, this Celiac-safe beer can be called ‘barley-free.’ ”

What your drink says about you

Waiter Rant “reveals” what your drink says about you and takes no prisoners.

Of course we have to point to the beer entry: “Blue collar, simple, and an old standby. (I think a girl wearing a t-shirt and jeans while drinking a good ‘ol Bud is very sexy.)”

A few more:

Chardonnay – You know what you like. Boring. Predictable. The Missionary Position of White Wine.

Sour Apple Martini – You have a sense of fun but overindulgence might cause dancing on tables and bad karaoke singing. (Beth?)

Campari and Soda – You’re a gourmand. A good aperitif. A bitter drink for bitter people.

Champagne
– You’re reserved, classy, or a stripper.

And then there is one of the comments: “Not subidviding “Beer” is somewhat like not distinguishing between wines. Someone drinking Budlight isn’t THAT similar to someone drinking microbrews.”

Amen.

Beer as good for you as wine

You probably already knew this but we like to repeat it a few times a day: the health benefits of beer are not all that different from the benefits of wine.

Here’s a nice report about how “Beer Isn’t All It’s ‘Cracked Down’ to Be.” On the list:

– Bone protection.
– Lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
– Better heart attack survival.
– Improved cholesterol levels.
– Sharper brains.
– Healthier kidneys.
– Antioxidant effect.

St. Pauli Girl 2006

St. Pauli GirlWe learned long ago that the best time to buy beer at our local Oktoberfest is when the St. Pauli Girl shows up to sign posters – because that’s where the line will be.

So as a public service announcement we offer this: To mark the annual selection of a new St. Pauli Girl the brewing company will give away 400 free posters each day on the brand’s website. Additionally, from March through May, another 40 free posters will be given away each day to consumers on a first-come, first-served basis. And, a downloadable version will be available on the St. Pauli Girl Beer website as a screensaver.

By the way, Brittany Evans is model chosen to adorn the 2006 poster and represent the brand throught the year.

Weekly Therapy: Why skunky beer is skunky

Cheers to the Wall Street Journal for a deciphering the code large brewers use in listing “freshness dates.” (Unfortunately, WSJ is a paid site, so we only linked to the front page).

It begins: “A loaf of bread has it. So does a carton of milk. But if you’re looking for the expiration date on a bottle of beer, forget about it — for many brewers, that information is a closely guarded secret.”

But reporter Bruce Knecht reveals some of the secrets. For example:

Take Sapporo, a Japanese beer we purchased in Los Angeles, which was imprinted with “K1205FL” on the bottom. Lost in translation? Well, the code indicates the beer was made Oct. 12, 2005. In the case of Sapporo, the first letter represents the month of manufacture: “A” for January, “B” for February and so on, through “M” for December. (As if the system weren’t complicated enough, this one, like many of these codes, has an extra twist: The month code skips over the letter “I” and uses “J” for September.) The next two digits, “12,” refer to the day of the month, and the two numbers after that, “05,” are the last two digits of the year.

Corona uses two different alphabetical codes. The year, the first character, is coded from A for 2001 to F for 2006, while the months go from L for January to A for December. The day of the month is expressed numerically. So the bottle we bought with the code “EE08” was made Aug. 8, 2005. The company doesn’t publicly disclose its code, but people familiar with the company’s practice confirm our translation.

Track down a copy of the Weekend edition if you can, or find it in your local library. The story includes a chart telling you how to read the code on 15 beers, ranging from Anchor to Tecate.

Although “skunky beer” is at the center of the story, it doesn’t exactly explain how that ties into freshness. So just in case you were wondering . . .

Few beer tasting terms are more descriptive or straightforward than “skunky.” Quite simply, a skunky beer emits an aroma it didn’t have when it left the brewery.

The smell is the product of the chemical reaction that takes place in the bottle when bright light strikes the hops, creating what’s technically known as “light struck” beer. The reaction is stronger with paler and hoppier beers. The resulting chemical is identical to that in a skunk’s defense system, and light-struck beer puts off one of the most powerful aromas around.

Green and clear bottles do little to protect a beer from skunking, and while dark brown bottles are much better they are far from perfect. Because many of the best known imports come in clear or green bottles consumers have come to associate a skunky aroma with imported, often more expensive beer. That doesn’t mean their brewers intended them to taste that way.

The brighter the light and the longer bottles sit in that light the stronger the skunky smell will be. Even dark brown bottles won’t guard a beer from the bright fluorescent lights popular in grocery stores and many other beer retail outlets for very long.

You don’t have to settle for that beer. In some stores you’ll see six-packs sitting on tops of cases. Don’t grab that one, but get your beer from inside the case. A sealed case is even better. If you want beer from the cooler don’t be shy about asking if there are unopened cases in the cooler and buying a six-pack from one of those.

Buying beer that has been kept out of the light gives you a better chance of getting a “skunk free” beer. It’s up to you to keep it that way — mostly by continuing to keep it out of direct light — until you drink it.

How tall is the lime?

Corona Extra, the best-selling imported beer in America, is buying big twin signs at Times Square. The signs, which are scheduled to go up on Monday, each measure about 92 feet high by 35 feet wide and show open bottles of Corona with limes wedged into the necks.

[Via the New York Times, free registration required]

Barley Wines of the Times

“Wines of the Times” means barley wines this month, as a New York Times (free registration) panelists curl up by the fireside with 25 or so.

The panel made Hog Heaven from Avery Brewing in Colorado its favorite, giving it 3-and-a-half stars. Flying Dog Horn Dog (Colorado), Anchor Old Foghorn (California) and J. W. Lees Harvest Ale 2003 (England) all received 3 stars.

The story notes:

The quality in general was so high that we could not possibly include all the ales we liked in our top 10. Not to be forgotten are ales like Dogfish Head’s Old School, which managed to mask its 15 percent alcohol behind fruitcake flavors; Young’s Old Nick, a creamy-rich British classic that is a mere 7.2 percent; and (Garrett) Oliver’s own Brooklyn Monster Ale, another creamy, balanced brew.

It also points out the difference between British and American offerings:

I was mightily impressed by the entire field. These ales were superbly brewed, and the range of styles was fascinating. Some – the British versions in particular – were sweet and creamy, yet not cloying, their complexity offering enough intrigue to keep me coming back for more. The American ales tended to be dryer, more robust and spicy, with heavy doses of American hops, which offer piney aromas and a pleasing bitterness.

Must be time to see if 2006 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot has arrived at the local beer store.

Blind Tasting Test

Oregon Craft Beer Week gets more packed with events every year.

News comes from Portland that the Oregon Brewers Festival has added a fundraiser the evening before the festival officially starts. The inaugural OBFl Blind Tasting & Test, a benefit for the Oregon Blind Commission, will take place from 5-9 p.m. July 26 on the festival grounds at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

The Blind Tasting & Test begins with the tasting portion, in which a total of 24 different beers will be served: 12 IPAs brewed in Oregon, and 12 Pale Ales brewed in Oregon. Beers will be served on a tasting tray in two-ounce samples. Patrons will be encouraged to vote for the “People’s Choice,” one vote for each of the two styles. Following the tabulation, the winning brewery from each beer category will be announced, with the two winners receiving a trip to a European beer festival for the brewer and a guest.

For the Blind Test, patrons will be asked to identify each of the 24 beers served. Votes will be tabulated, and a winner from each category will be selected. The two winners of the identification test will also receive a trip each to a European beer festival for themselves and a guest.

At the conclusion of the blind test, all 24 of the beer taps will be opened and the attendees will be invited to sample beer in their souvenir mugs until the taps close at 9 p.m.

The festival itself runs July 27-29.

Weekly Therapy: Books and history

You might already know that the name of bock beer comes from the German town of Einbeck. But did you know this?

“About the composition of Einbeck beer we learn that is was made two-thirds of barley malt and one-third of wheat malt, but lightly kilned, and was brewed only in winter. Of course, it was a top-fermented beer, ‘but very different from the top-fermented beers of nowadays,’ and is said to have been hopped very strong, and with hops that grew in the environs of Einbeck, where numerous hop-yards were in cultivation.”

Origin and HistoryJohn Arnold wrote that in Origin And History Of Beer And Brewing, one of two books rich in beer history recently made available in reprint form from BeerBooks.com. The other is Louis Pasteur’s Études sur la Bière (Studies On Fermentation).

BeerBooks.comfounder Carl Miller said he has seen a strong and growing demand for rare and early brewing literature in recent years. We hope this is a sound business venture, because we’ve long benefited from his affection for beer history. Visit BeerHistory.com to see what we mean.

“We’re reprinting these works because beer enthusiasts have become more sophisticated in the types of material they seek out,” Miller said. “Many have moved beyond the contemporary books on brewing history, and want to go a little deeper. They want to get closer to the roots of the subject, and these books help them do that.”

Miller contracted with a leading library preservation institution to digitally scan, enhance and reproduce each book directly from a first edition copy. “We want readers to see the pages as they were first published,” he said. “Illustrations, original pagination, even graphic style and page layouts can be almost as important as the text itself.”

Arnold makes the scope of his book apparent in the introduction, writing he was guided by “the conviction that a history of beer ought to be written only by duly weighing the intimate connection existing with the general cultural history of those race, nation, peoples who habitually make and consume it, in so far at least as it is a history dealing not merely with the technical development of brewing.”

The book doesn’t contain much that happened after the 18th century and doesn’t try to be a comprehensive history – for instance, leaving much of what occurred in England to other texts.

Pasteur coverIt’s hard to imagine now, but before Pasteur proved them right in the mid-19th century, the few biologists who held that yeast was the cause of, and not the product of, fermentation were ridiculed. Manufacturers of wine, vinegar and beer didn’t know if a week or two after production they’d have something they could sell or would have to dump – and the scientific establishment offered no help.

That set the state for Pasteur to prove that living cells (yeast) were responsible for forming alcohol from sugar, and that contaminating microorganisms turned the fermentations sour. He identified and isolated the specific microorganisms responsible for normal and abnormal fermentations in production of wine, beer, and vinegar. He showed that if he heated wine, beer, and milk to moderately high temperatures for a few minutes, he could kill living microorganism and thereby sterilize (pasteurize), the batches and prevent their degradation.

It should be surprising that the sub-title of Studies on Fermentation is The Diseases of Beer, Their Causes, and the Means of Preventing Them.

In the preface, he writes: “I need not hazard any prediction concerning the advantages likely to accrue to the brewing industry from the adoption of such a process of brewing as my study of the subject has enabled me to devise, and from an application of the novel facts upon which this process is founded. Time is the best appraiser of scientific work, and I am not unaware that an industrial discovery rarely produces all its fruits in the hands of its first inventor.”

As Randy Mosher points out in Radical Brewing, ancients were clearly aware of the magic yeast (the Sumerians had 50 words for it) performed. But today we’re happy today to still marvel at that magic and not end up with sour beer (unless, of course, that’s what you want). You don’t have to read Pasteur to understand why, but it’s as close as we’ll ever come to listening to him discuss his breakthrough work.

Be warned that these books are neither light nor necessarily easy reading. Pasteur was writing late in the 19th century, in French and interested in communicating with scientists and brewers trained in science. Arnold first wrote Origin and History in German, then it was translated into early 20th century English.

And, for obvious reasons, you won’t find anything about modern brewing practices or beer’s role in contemporary society. Arnold makes reference to the temperance movement that would soon bring Prohibition to the United States, but obviously you won’t find him comparing the roles of spirits, wine and beer in American society with that after Prohibition was repealed.

You’ll have to connect the dots. If Miller is right, a growing number of beer enthusiasts are inclined to do that.

It’s the chips, dummy

A Danish study published in a British Medical Journal reports that people who buy wine also buy healthier food and therefore have healthier diets than people who buy beer.

Note that the issue is that bag of chips you have along with beer, not the beer itself. We must admit that there are tradeoffs when it comes to beer and your health. Here’s one point and countrpoint:

Point
Beer contains significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, and is chock full of B vitamins.

Counterpoint
Alcohol destroys Vitamin C and Vitamin B complex. Drinking beer that has not filtered out the Vitamin B (such as English “real ale,” many microbrewed beers and homebrew) will help combat the effects of alcohol — most notably a hangover.

More comparisons.

Barley wine tops at CAMRA festival

A Over T from Hogs Back Brewery, Surrey was named as the Supreme Champion Winter Beer of Britain 2006 by a panel of judges at CAMRA’s national winter celebration of beer. A Over T, which stand for Aromas Over Tongham, is a barley wine.

Gales Festival Mild won the silver. “Congratulations to Hogs Back. A Over T is a fantastic Barley Wine that fully deserves this accolade. I hope this will encourage more beer drinkers to try this style of beer,” said Steve Proscott, festival organizer. “It is also excellent news that Gales Festival Mild won the national Silver award. We hope this recognition will encourage Fuller’s to continue brewing this excellent brew at Horndean in Hampshire.”