Discomfort Beer (Session #119)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Discomfort beer” is hosted at mostly about beer … by Alec Latham.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

“For Session 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your comfort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were compromised, defective, flat, off etc because this is about deliberate styles. It would be interesting to see if these experiences are similar in different countries.

I think this could be a good archive for people researching fads, the origins of styles and the dearths of others – but especially how new ones were initially perceived.”

My wife told me to keep this simple and focus on this one specific aspect of the question. I will attempt to do that but from there I hope to extend the same concept because my discomfort beers are like that.

Not talking about

And to get it out of the way, as the host said, “bad” beer was not on the table. I agree. I am a BJCP Certified judge and I taste a few discomforting beers while judging; and, to be fair, the same is true at the one professional craft beer awards I judge at. Beer that is infected or full of diacetyl when inappropriate and so on. Bad beer.

I am also not including styles I simply do not like or even beer with ingredients I don’t like in beer; except in one instance. To cut to the chase, I have had to drink a few peanut butter beers to realize I do not think it a proper ingredient for beer that I am going to drink. They exist; drink them if you enjoy them. Same goes for most nuts. Nuts are simply too oily for beer, for me (Although Ninkasi’s versions of Ground Control Imperial stout with Oregon hazelnuts were exquisite). Same goes for a few other ingredients and that includes almost every instance of spiced beer. Fremont and a few others can pull off spicing, for me, but most cannot. I will not be going into detail about these beers in this post.

Styles not loved as a whole

What I will talk about are a few styles that I do not love as a whole; that is, I do not love the entire spectrum but a only very narrow slice of that style spectrum appeals to me; immensely so. Two particular instances are IPAs (any strength) and American sours. There are a handful of IPAs—that I am aware of and can get routinely—that I simply adore. The bounty of Oregon and nearby surrounds, again.

The same is true for American sours, although I am aware of and get fewer. My wife does not like any sours so being my primary drinking partner I get them at bottle shares and on draft here and there on occasion. But most American sours are way overdone for me. Making a beer sour for the purpose of being sour is just as unbalanced of a beer as going extreme on anything else (IMHO and not saying they are all made with that intent as that’s silly). I like very few of these. I do love many Belgian sours and Berliner Weiss and … though. Different animals often.

So I particularly love a (few) very narrow slice(s) of the IPA and American sour spectrum and there are large slices that are, to me, nasty beers. There are, of course, some that are tasty enough and are also superbly executed beers but simply not to my palate.

The point

The point is that to find this narrow slice of heaven that my sensory palate adores implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer. It is not that I inherently dislike the entire style nor is it that I “need to adjust” to them. The world is rarely that simple.

My palate / Judging

I have a long, interesting and hopefully fun, journey ahead of me but I have a pretty good handle on what my palate likes within a huge range of the beer spectrum, although there is always so much more to learn, which I am actively attempting to do.

Helping others is the point of judging, for one. It forces me to be better about recognizing my experience for what it is, as it is happening, and to turn that into words useful to the brewer of that beer. It also forces me to learn all about brewing and the causes and fixes of issues, and to have a good grasp of many styles. I did this for me for my own learning but the ethical duty is towards others.

As BJCP judge I must drink in styles that I do NOT like. But I can objectively tell the difference between a bad beer and whether or not it is to style (as codified currently). These are discomfort beers that I consume out of a sense of duty. Getting certified as a judge tends to bring along with it the duty of actually judging—everybody always needs judges—and sometimes you have to judge styles you do not like. “Christmas” spiced beers—and others—on a 90°F (32.2°C) day in May; for example. But you must be professional (and ethical) and do your best to determine whether the beer is within the style, if not so how not, and whether the brewing processes were successful, and if not, what and how to overcome. That is completely different than “do you want to be drinking that beer ever” or “just not right now.” This again implies drinking quite a bit of discomforting beer.

Reductionism is (generally) futile

Of course, I earlier critiqued the idea of “you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to” as being simplistic. So is my current topic/reduction of “I think a few exemplars of this style are the bee’s knees of the beer world but I could not care less for the rest of the broad spectrum of the style” or I simply do not like that style or ingredient.

Because sometimes as you figure out whether you do or do not like a style (I find it sad to rule out a whole style unless you simply cannot do, say, sour then OK all of the sours are out, I guess, but, again, it is rarely that simple. IMHO.) or perhaps as you “adjust” to higher ABV/IBU/pH/… levels you are in the quandary as presented. There are other ways to be in it too but those seem the basics to me. Those are only some of the slices of life that can lead to consuming discomforting beer, as I see it, is what I am saying.

Complexity

I have presented two other angles above, and now I want to make it more complex.

There are also the styles I particularly love, my go-to-styles, if you will—Pilsners, Imperial stouts and barleywines, bourbon-barrel aged Impy stouts—to name a few.

But here’s the thing, you can’t just put some crap Imperial in a bourbon barrel and have me call it good. See the discussion of my palate above. I have a great handle on how my sensory enjoyment prefers these. There are few combinations of the various elements that can vary within ranges but I know what I like; even if it is a new combination. I also know the difference between a well-executed one and a bad/off one, as above.

The same goes for these other styles: Pilsners, stouts, barleywines. I might tend to stand a broader range of the style from “amazing” down to “meh” than I do for say, American sours, but that still implies I drank a lot of potentially discomforting beers to find this narrow slice of sensory heaven for myself.

Bringing it together

Within the beer styles of which I choose to drink any exemplars—whether I love the style as a whole or not—there is a very narrow slice of heaven for me. Those are the beers I want to drink as routinely as possible. But I also like experiencing many different beers, although that is slowing down. So maybe I’ll be better able to put this hard-won and often discomforting information to even better use.

To find out what my preferred flavor profile is for any individual style implies drinking lots of discomforting beer (Not to imply the many “merely good” beers also consumed are discomforting).

Secondarily, as a BJCP judge I have an ethical responsibility to both judge and to accept sometimes judging styles I would really prefer not to even consume. Lots of discomforting beers.

Main point, recapped, in brief

I experience discomforting beer in looking for outstanding examples of a narrow range of these styles to both learn what I do like and what I do not and to also learn that I do not like a style/ingredient wholesale and then being called on to consume them anyway.

Hales, ed. – Beer & Philosophy

Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking edited by Steven D. Hales; foreword by Michael Jackson

Date read: 5 April / 15-24 September 2016
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016nfc

Cover image of Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking edited by Steven D. Hales

Paperback, x, 233 pages
Published 2007 by Blackwell
Source: Summit / Own

Table of Contents

  • Foreword: Michael Jackson.
  • Editor’s Introduction: Steven D. Hales (Bloomsburg University).

Part I: The Art of the Beer:.

  • 1. Thirst for Authenticity: An Aesthetics of the Brewer’s Art: Dale Jacquette (Pennsylvania State University).
  • 2. The Beer Matrix: Reality vs Facsimile in Brewing: Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery).
  • 3. The Truth About Beer: Michael P. Lynch (University of Connecticut).
  • 4. Good Beer, or How to Properly Dispute Taste: Peter Machamer (University of Pittsburgh).
  • 5. Quality, Schmality: Talking Naturally about the Aesthetics of Beer; or, Why is American Beer So Lousy?: Martin Stack (Rockhurst University) and George Gale (University of Missouri).
  • 6. Extreme Brewing in America: Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Craft Brewing).

Part II: The Ethics of Beer: Pleasures, Freedom, and Character:.

  • 7. Mill v. Miller, or Higher and Lower Pleasures: Steven D. Hales (Bloomsburg University).
  • 8. Beer and Autonomy: Alan McLeod (Senior Legal Counsel for the City of Kingston, Ontario).
  • 9. Another Pitcher? On Beer, Friendship, and Character: Jason Kawall (Colgate University).

Part III: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer:.

  • 10. Beer and Gnosis: The Mead of Inspiration: Theodore Schick (Muhlenberg College).
  • 11. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Beer: Neil A. Manson (University of Mississippi).
  • 12. What’s a Beer Style?: Matt Dunn (University of Indiana at Bloomington).

Part IV: Beer in the History of Philosophy:.

  • 13. Drink on, the Jolly Prelate Cries: David Hilbert (University of Illinois at Chicago).
  • 14. Beer Goggles and Transcendental Idealism: Steven M. Bayne (Fairfield University).
  • 15. Beyond Grolsch and Orval: Beer, Intoxication, and Power in Nietzsche’s Thought: Rex Welshon (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs).
  • Index

That subtitle is ridiculous [The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking]. Too easy of a shot and entirely incorrect. Although a propensity to examine one’s beer can be a fine thing, sometimes, in some contexts, beer just does need to be simply drank; not thought about and deity forbid “examined.”

The foreword by Michael Jackson is, of course, sensible. The only issue is that it is somewhat dated now, as many of these pieces are, due to a rapidly changing industry.

“When Fred [Eckhardt] and I first met, his home town, Portland, Oregon, had one brewery” (x).

It is far closer to 90 now.

“Today, there are between 50 and 100 styles of beer being produced in the US, by about 1,500 breweries” (x).

No idea on current number of styles–and by whose counting?–but we’re much closer to 5000 operating breweries in the US, with ~6500 permitted ones.

Certainly not Michael’s fault that the market has changed and, as I said, this is a fault with several of these pieces. Many times market examples are simply that, but sometimes someone uses them to do philosophical analysis and that is pretty much a non-starter. Sure. There is sometimes little choice but I would have hoped the editor focused on more time-insensitive discussions. [MJ is not doing analysis, just commentary, so he gets a bye on this.]

Anyway, the work as a whole is not completely time-bound.

Editor’s Introduction: provides an overview of the chapters themselves and of the groupings (Parts) into which they were put.

Part I The Art of Beer

1 Jacquette: primarily on “authenticity” but is confused, confusing, and extremely prejudiced. Poor philosophy and with the amount of prejudice shown should never have been included in this collection. Period. Certainly should not have been the first piece; although, it did set a very low bar for the rest.

While discussing glassware we get things like the following:

On the Bavarian Maß he says:

“Still, if such tankards are used extensively in certain places where good beer is made, doesn’t this mean that they are an authentic part of beer-drinking culture?

The answer, as we can say in few areas of philosophy, is an unqualified no. Big heavy glass mugs are out” (20) [emphasis in text].

Just. What. The. Actual. Fuck?! The editor should be smacked for allowing this asinine shit. Even if the Bavarians have only been using the Maß for several decades–not his point, or my claim–that does not make it inauthentic. In fact, sitting in a beer garden drinking a Bavarian Lager out of most anything but a Maß would be inauthentic.

“I have seen brandy-snifter beer glasses for specialty beers, and these are often acceptable, if perhaps a little pretentious” (21).

Um. Fuck you, Jacquette.

He finally goes on to decide, quite reluctantly, that a Maß is authentic for current Bavarian culture, but only after deriding the glass for another few pages. Yes, it has issues as a “proper” glass for some purposes but that does not give him license to dismiss it out of hand. Nor are his personal preferences in “an optimal vessel” either (21). Simply not relevant to a philosophical discussion of authenticity.

He is also highly confused on, perhaps ignorant of, how styles evolve. He claims “the good European beers have had in some cases as much as a thousand years, and most at least several hundred, in developing their craft” (27). So I guess Oktoberfest Bier is no longer authentic then.

On whether we must enjoy the truly authentic:

“I may not like Belgian kriek (cherry-flavored) beers — indeed, I personally loathe them — but I think I can recognize an authentic kriek, which in the first place I do not consider to be an authentic beer, without appreciating the flavor, enjoying the taste, or approving the concept” (28).

This is a critically important point but it is again shot through with utter prejudice. He does not show or analyze why kriek maybe ought not be considered authentic but only claims it is not. He also blurs (conceals?) the real point about being able to recognize authenticity despite not enjoying the authentic item or even the concept of it as authentic.

His method for pouring beer (p. 23)–which he calls “[t]he proper method”–is ridiculous and wastes beer.

His ideals of authentic beers are Grolsch, Pacifico, Dos Equis, Red Stripe, Little Kings Cream Ale and so on. In other words, Euro-Lagers are the sine qua non of authentic beer for him. Jacquette is not an idiot but he certainly acted like one in this piece, as did the editor in including this piece.

2 Oliver: “artificial”

Mass market beer is NOT “real beer,” he claims (32).

Based on his butter –> margarine –> butter example, “artificial” is (sometimes) determined by fashion (33).

When he gets to where “the concept of beer style becomes useful” (36) he uses “Pilsner.”  But to the Czechs it is unique—the Pilsner just is Urquell. What he goes on to describe he labels “Pilsner-style beer” (36). Not a huge deal but I think he understood this was a fraught example but kept at it anyway; especially as it helps later with his argument that American mass market lagers are artificial.

All in all this is a definite improvement over the 1st essay.

At the end, he admits that we all have those things we accept as artificial. So the point was …?

3 Lynch: A fairly clear epistemological romp to sort out what sort of truth can be known; mostly in a “good”/ranking way. Quite short and an easy read.

Probably should have been in Part III though.

4 Madamer: doesn’t really get anywhere but is a nice ride. Discusses aesthetic description, evaluation and enjoyment.

The three aesthetic activities he is concerned with are describing, evaluating, and enjoying (53).

Under description:

“This is the main point: Descriptions, of anything, are produced by people for certain purposes. Descriptions are speech acts. As actions they accomplish their purpose or not, but the purposes themselves have to be judged as good or bad on independent grounds” (56).

This is a basic and important point. If you cannot grasp it then you ought never use Untappd or Ratebeer or generally even attempt to provide descriptions to anyone other than yourself.

“Sometimes metaphors are all we have” (60).

Amen! Another basic point about language.

Glad to see we are on an improving quality track so far.

5 Stack & Gale: aesthetic evaluation of beer.

“It can safely be said that the universal, worldwide estimation of these beers [American mass-market] is that they are of poor quality” (66)

“Universal”?! Um, no. They do later back off this claim a bit but it is too late. Two academics–one a philosopher–and they make this basic mistake. I know they are writing “pop” philosophy but who gives a fuck? You still can’t go making universal statements.

 “Acidity, perceived tartness, is measured by the pH scale: …” (67).

No, pH does not equal perceived tartness!

“CoSeteng and others (1989) showed that solutions of citric, malic, tartaric, lactic, and acetic acids with equivalent pH and titratable acidity gave significantly different sour taste responses. Likewise, Pangborn (1963) found no relation between pH, titratable acidity, and relative sour taste intensity of several organic acids at both threshold and suprathreshold concentrations” (R34).

The evidence that it is not that simple by a long shot is immensely varied. And large. Humans and other animals seem to have multiple channels for the sour taste and these channels differ widely across species.

“Although significant efforts have been made to understand the chemistry of sour taste, it is not currently possible to accurately predict and modify sour taste intensity in foods by simply knowing the concentrations of acids and pH” (R35).

Both above quotes from:

Neta, E. R. D. C., Johanningsmeier, S. D., & McFeeters, R. F. (2007). The Chemistry and Physiology of Sour Taste—A Review [Concise Reviews and Hypotheses in Food Science]. Journal of Food Science, 72(2), R33–R37. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00282.x

“Barley is the sine qua non of beer production, and thereby, the foundation of beer quality. That’s where the process begins” (68).

Another universal and, again, incorrect. “Sine qua non” means “an essential condition” and barley is not that. For most beers known to much of the world, yes, but it sure as heck is not essential (in either the common or philosophical sense).

Their understanding of the brewing process is also close to bonkers. Few mashes are done over “several hours” (69). Adjuncts do in fact add (or at a minimum, change the) flavor despite their claim otherwise (69). It just goes on.

“The question of the relation between barleys and adjunct-brewing in American beers deserves a few remarks. Though turn-of-the-century American farmers …” (71).

This book was published in 2007. Which damn century do you fools mean? I grok it from context and perhaps most will but that was two turns-of-the-century ago.

No good passages to point to but import beers (into America) get a consistent pass throughout. I want to know why. Some of those are no better than American mass market ones either (see 74 and others prior).

They created a strategic map, or model, of the industry to compare price against advertising (80-81) but, of course, the market has now changed. Tis not good philosophy to include historically contingent market analysis as a more permanent feature of a phenomenon under analysis.

6 Calagione: I like Sam’s writing well enough but this is mostly “Kumbayah” and “Hail, Columbia!” He says normal Sam things here but they are unwelcome in philosophy.

“Big breweries make a product, small breweries make consumable art” (86).

Give me a fucking break! There may be more art [how is this measured?] in a small brewery’s beers but they are all products.

“As craft brewers we are not in the business of growth — we are in the business of making world-class beer. Growth is just a by-product of our business. Money is a means to our end and not an end in itself” (90-91).

Well ain’t that just convenient? And utter bullshit.

Anyway, if you know how Calagione talks and writes then you got this. Not bad overall but what was the point actually other than to sit around the fire basking in the glow of the craft beer brotherhood? Please tell me we are past this now.

Part II The Ethics of Beer: Pleasure, Freedom, and Character

7 Hales: Mill on pleasures. The pragmatics of polling competent judges is completely avoided as it was in hedonic calculus. They do, though, address what constitutes a competent judge in a domain.

“In short, it is a mistake to hold that pleasures are desirable because the competent judges desire them. Far more reasonable is the view that competent judges desire certain pleasures because those pleasures are antecedently desirable, and the judges, informed and educated about that kind of pleasure, are able to reliably detect the qualities that make those pleasures desirable” (103-4).

“The recognition of quality comes at a cost” (107).

Indeed.

The upshot is that we should, within our means, pursue high quality pleasures (109). Thus, become a knowledgeable beer geek.

8 McLeod: Nice. Shows how Canadian liberty is constrained by ridiculous beer laws; although it applies to all governments. Nicely argued and well-written.

He provides an intro and then covers the law in relation to homebrewing, making beer commercially, traveling with your beer, packaging and advertising and the public experience, and wholesale and retail: taxes, fees and price and how one’s autonomy is curtailed across all of those areas.

Highly recommended!

9 Kawall: friendship. Nice. Basically asks if our “beer buddies” can be true friends.

“So it is here that we begin to see the especial value of beer-inclusive friendships. They include a regular practice which encourages openness and extended conversation, a practice that will improve and deepen a friendship” (128).

Part III The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer

10 Schick: William James (& others) on altered states of consciousness/truth/reality

“The dominant theory of knowledge in the West is known as “empiricism.” It holds that sense experience is the only source of knowledge. But it doesn’t indicate what state of consciousness we must be in to acquire knowledge. Ordinary waking consciousness may not be the only state of consciousness that puts us in touch with reality” (140-1).

I do disagree with a few small points but overall is quite good.

The knowledge gained under the influence of beer (or other alcohol or drugs) is neither propositional knowledge/knowing that nor performative knowledge/knowing how, but

          = knowledge by acquaintance/knowing what

11 Manson: a riff on Hume’s dialogue. Meh.

12 Dunn: Read this a couple times as why I looked at the book in the first place after seeing mentioned in some blog post comment thread.

Yes. Yes. Natural kinds are highly problematic. Is OK but could have been much clearer. His conclusion, though, is correct: beer/styles are the wrong kinds of things to have “right” criteria.

13 Hilbert: Berkeley, Bishop G. and his ridiculous “God saves it all, except matter, argument.” It isn’t a bad overview of Berkeley’s argument. It’s just that it is a bad argument; then and still.

14 Bayne: primary / secondary qualities. Kant on space & time. Not especially interesting; what was the larger point but to ramble on about Kant?

15 Welshon: Nietzsche’s antagonism of beer yet praise for intoxication. Again, not bad, but not sure what the point was.

Most of these final chapters seem to be excuses for the authors to write “pop” intros/overviews to their pet philosophers, which is almost always a bad idea.

If we look at the fifteen chapters, they were authored by 16 individuals [one chapter had two authors]. Ten chapters were authored individually by academic philosophers, one by an academic management person and an academic philosopher, and one by a PhD student in History & Philosophy of Science. Only three of the fifteen were authored by non-academics: two by brewmasters and one by a lawyer (and beer blogger).

I gave each chapter a score from 0 [did not like; no point] to two [liked] with one [meh to OK]. If you add up the scores and divide by number of chapters it seems the non-academics did a bit better for me than the academics, but that is also driven mostly by Alan McLeod’s excellent chapter. If I was a bit tougher on Oliver and Calagione, as I probably should be, then that groups score would tank.

  • Academics: 12 / 12 = 1.0
  • Non-acads: 4 / 3 = 1.33

Maybe I ought make three categories and then we would get:

  • Academics: 12 / 12 = 1.0
  • Brewers: 2 / 2 = 1.0 [or less]
  • McLeod: 2 / 1 = 2.0

Overall score per chapter is 16 / 15 = 1.066 so mostly “Meh” or OK.

Not sure what any of that adds up to in the larger scheme. There were three chapters by philosophers that I gave 2s to but also four by academics that I gave 0s.

All in all, is quite variable and I say that some of those folks ought have been able to do better. Much better. Get it from the library unless you’re a philosophy geek like me.

This is the 24th book in my Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

Cantwell & Bouckaert – Wood & Beer

Wood & Beer: A Brewer’s Guide by Dick Cantrell and Peter Bouckaert

Date read: 17 July – 19 September 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016nfc

Cover image of Cantwell & Bouckaert's Wood & Beer book

Paperback, xxiv, 228 pages
Published 2016 by Brewers Publications
Source: Own

This was an excellent book, particularly for the pro brewer, but also for the homebrewer with the cash and fortitude to undertake fermenting and/or conditioning/aging in barrels. Of course, other ways to get wood into beer—spirals, chips, powder, etc.—are also covered.

Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword by Frank Book
  • Foreword by Wayne Wambles
  • Introduction
  • 1. The History of the Barrel, or There and Back Again
  • 2. Cooperage
  • 3. Wood & Wooden Vessels
  • 4. Wood Maintenance
  • 5. Flavors from Wood
  • 6. Flavors in Wood
  • 7. Blending and Culture
  • Appendix A: Techniques for Wood- and Barrel-Aging for Homebrewers
  • Appendix B: Wood Primer for Homebrewers
  • Bibliography
  • Index

I utterly recommend this book if you are considering barrel/wood-aging at any level. It can get quite deep at times —but always fascinating—but you only need to absorb small bits as a homebrewer. All in all, a lot of great stuff to be aware of even if you never stick any beer in wood or vice versa. This book will help you gain an even better appreciation of the art of cooperage and that of the barrel-aging of beer.

The bottom line: Every individual barrel [or piece of wood] is its own special snowflake. That is the starting point. Good luck!

This is the 22nd book in my Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

The role of beer books (The Session #115)

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

This month’s Session is hosted by Blog Birraire (Joan Birraire in Barcelona) and is on “the role of beer books.

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. There’s also the -bad- role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.

The Session has been about books before just once, and it was about those that hadn’t already been written. I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session. To participate in the current Session just write a comment down here with a link to the article on -or before- September 2nd, so that I can include it on my Round Up.”

05 September 2016: Update posted below

Being me and being about books this is long and perhaps even rambling. Sue me. I’m a reader, a librarian and a cataloger.

The short version: the role of beer books is education to entertainment, and hopefully a bit of both at the same time, along with any other roles between or on other, orthogonal axes that people may have for any particular book in a time and a place.

First beer books

I doubt that it was my first “beer book,” as I had been collecting beer cans since the age of 12, but I received a copy of Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer, 1st US ed. for Christmas 1978. As I was a 19-year-old US soldier stationed in then West Germany, this is the book that first opened my eyes more fully to the world of beer, as it did for many, many others.

Prior to that I was given a copy of Will Anderson’s, The Beer Book; an Illustrated Guide to American Breweriana, 1st US ed. by my parents for my 16th birthday (1975). Somewhere in and around here I also got copies of The Beer Cans of Anheuser-Busch: an Illustrated History (©1978 so one of my earliest “beer books”) and The Class Book of U.S. Beer Cans (©1982), both new. Somewhere in there I also acquired a copy of The International Book of Beer Can Collecting (©1977).

Of course I read all of these books, some, in particular Jackson’s World Guide, several times.

More Recently

For a long time my interest in reading about beer waned as did my can collecting. I am simply ecstatic that I never got rid of any of my early beer books, unlike many other books over the years or like the vast majority of my can collection that was actively worked on for almost two decades. Too many moves. Too many dollars spent on storage. Most of the cans had gone long before we moved to Oregon, although most were shed over a ~20 year period.

Books Owned

More recently since moving to Bend, Oregon my interest in all aspects of beer has been rekindled. According to LibraryThing—which until now has served as my personal catalog—I own 87 books having something to do with beer or brewing, plus there are a couple that aren’t in as they need manual cataloging and I haven’t yet.

Books Read

My Goodreads account has 118 books on my beer shelf. Bouncing that off of the read shelf I show 74 as read, 1 skimmed, 1 gave up on (had a better version), 1 on pause, and 3 currently being read. Many of those would have come from assorted libraries, both public and academic.

My beer blog

My blog is named “By the barrel; or, the Bend Beer Librarian.” Sadly, I have done a poor job at reviewing all of these books. There are many reasons for that, only a few of which are actually good/legit ones. I always strive to do better although I see seven beer books waiting for reviews on my review-these-damned-books-already (physical) shelf next to my desk. There are of course many more that aren’t sitting here needing reviews. Some of those currently waiting are:

  • Alworth – The Beer Bible
  • Acitelli – The Audacity of Hops
  • Zainasheff & Palmer – Brewing Classic Styles
  • Papazian – The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, 4th ed.
  • Amato – Beerology
  • Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide
  • Herz and Conley – Beer Pairing

Others waiting to be reviewed, not directly related to beer but of immense overlap and interest possibly, include:

  • Halloran – The New Bread Basket
  • McQuaid – Tasty

Of course, these are just those books still to hand. ::sigh::

The Role of Beer Books

So what do I consider the “role of beer books”? I may not be much of a reference librarian—my specialty is elsewhere—but as a reader (and a cataloger) that “role” is completely dependent upon the context(s) brought to bear by the reader and cannot really be given much in the way of an answer unless that context is included.

Education

Education is the simple and most relevant generic (and specific) answer. As you can see from just the above list, my personal beer book-enabled education covers a lot of ground from brewing to the history of craft beer to style knowledge to beer and food pairing to almost encyclopedic works and on from there to the revival of craft grain/malt production to the science of taste.

Early spring this year I went on a book buying binge to ensure I had most of the books in the BJCP Judge Certification Program “BJCP Beer Exam Study Guide” [see pg. 3-4] as I was involved in a 12-week tasting exam prep class and hoping to take the tasting exam [I did manage to take it on 23 July and now get to spend a few agonizing months waiting on my score]. I already had quite a few of the books listed but I got almost all of the others, except for the individual style books in the Classic Beer Styles Series from Brewers Publications I didn’t already own.

To backup, my very first beer books were books about beer can collecting and were for both education (history, production) and to see far more of the variety of what was out there (can porn) than I could encounter in my Midwest home town and surrounding environs. Will Anderson’s book is more generally about breweriana and so helped broaden my education beyond cans.

Michael Jackson’s book was given to me just a few months after I had arrived in Europe for my first tour of duty. I knew styles existed, of course, but this book was a real eye opener.

Nowadays my interests are far broader and I have a massive amount to learn! I want to be a competent and confident beer judge. I want to brew beers well that Sara and I like, along with understanding their historical and current cultural contexts. I want to be solid at beer and food pairing. I want to understand how we got to where we are culturally via archaeology, anthropology, ethnology and so on (across cultures). I want to understand as much of the science of brewing as I can. I want to enjoy what I read, at least some of the time. I could probably elucidate many other reasons for a desire to learn about beer and to be entertained by beer writers.

On Bend, Central Oregon and Oregon beer

If you are interested in the beer, breweries, and history of Bend, Central Oregon and Oregon then I highly recommend the following:

  • Jon Abernathy – Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon
  • Brian Yaeger – Oregon Breweries
  • Logan Thompson – Beer Lover’s Oregon: Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars

For the larger region but covering Oregon also are:

  • Lisa M. Morrison – Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest: A Beer Lover’s Guide to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia
  • Gary and Gloria Meier – Brewed in the Pacific Northwest: A History of Beer Making in Oregon and Washington

All of these books are a bit dated; some more than others. They are either primarily history (Abernathy & the Meiers) or Regional guidebooks (the rest; and the most dated).

“Beer books” is a non-category

I think beer books is too broad a “category” to consider as a whole; as in it isn’t really a category, far too amorphous. In 2013, I gave a talk on beer books during Central Oregon Beer Week and this is how I broke down what I talked about:

Those I addressed:

  • General
  • Beer porn
  • Reference
  • Beer business
  • Historical
  • Breweriana
  • Trivia
  • Regional Guidebooks

Those I did not:

  • Homebrewing
  • Brewing science

No doubt other categories could be named as no doubt some of these could be split further.

The role of a regional guidebook is generally going to be much different than a book of beer porn or one on the business of beer or one on brewing science and so forth. A book of beer can porn serves one role to a collector and another to a student of mid- to late-20th century commercial art.

Conclusion; or, a return

Thus, I am going to say that the role of beer books is education to entertainment, and hopefully a bit of both at the same time, along with any other roles between or on other, orthogonal axes that people may have for any particular book in a time and a place (context).

Update

I have received a few comments regarding the Brewers Publications Classic Styles series. I believe that I could have been a bit clearer in places in my post but let me offer some comments to take or leave as you please.

I believe that the only books I explicitly recommended were under the heading ON BEND, CENTRAL OREGON AND OREGON BEER. All of those are technically historical documents at this point; one always was and a second mostly was. But the first four are still close enough to the present to be useful even if lots of newer breweries are left out. Any other book(s) mentioned I meant to neither recommend nor not; many I would but that was not my point. I was attempting to discuss the role of books from my perspective and not which were good or bad. Perhaps I should have had a small section on the use/role of books that have bad or contested information. That would include pretty much every beer-related book ever written to some extent. The reason I mentioned the Classic Styles series was in the context of acquiring the recommended books to study for the BJCP exams. Clearly I did not believe that those style guides were necessary for my studying.

I am aware that there are some definite issues with the Classic Styles series books. I do not have enough brewing chops to provide much useful critique though, except in the rarest of circumstances and that would still be based on book learning. I do know that some of the “history” is definite bunk. I also realize that they still sell. I have even picked up a couple—all used—as primarily archival documents, if you will. Not necessarily to learn how brew the styles, nor to believe everything written in them—I do that with no book; do you?—but to take them as an artifact of a time and a place.

I do my best not to slog products here—especially those creative endeavors of one or two authors—but rather avoid them or discuss them in a context that hopefully doesn’t entail recommending them. Others far better qualified have addressed the deficiencies on the individual Classic Styles titles and I leave it to them.

I have read several books—some of them fairly new—by big names in the beer world and I thought them either not at all worth the paper they were printed on; there are more older books that fit in that category, thankfully. I gave them a low rating in Goodreads and moved on without writing a review. I do not believe in the “If you don’t have something nice to say …” school of thought but I also see little reason to be an ass for the fun of it. I get excitable enough, which turns me into something of an ass on occasion, that I do not need to pursue it as hobby.

Besides, I have too many outstanding reviews still to be written for books that I do want to recommend to bother writing reviews for ones I find lacking.

I apologize if I failed to pull apart some of these issues but they did not seem particularly pertinent to me in my thinking on the role of beer books at the time I was writing my post. That does not mean they couldn’t have, and maybe should have been, included; or, I could have been clearer about what I was recommending and what I was not. But that was also not my point.

My point is that use of any particular book is up to the individual reader. And while we may or may not be privy to the specific failings of any given book, that too is a part of the context that we need to attempt to bring to it, even before reading sometimes. That is often difficult after reading it. Makes life a little less uncertain to say the least but you should regard pretty much all of your knowledge as potentially fallible and kept open to actual experience anyway.

To decide if a given book is relevant to your own purpose(s) is a critical, complex, and, yes, often fraught undertaking.

That was an awful lot of words to say that “mentions do not imply endorsement.”

Strong – Brewing Better Beer

Brewing Better Beer: Master lessons for advanced homebrewers by Gordon Strong

Date read: 09-19 February 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016nfc

Cover image of Strong's Brewing Better Beer book

Paperback, xvii, 316 pages
Published 2011 by Brewers Publications
Source: Own

This was an amazing book and it has vaulted to the very top of the list of homebrewing books (as far as I’m concerned) for anyone beyond ultimate beginners. I intend to get very good use from this. Strong writes that it’s meant for advanced homebrewers but as Michael “Musafa” Ferguson writes in the Foreword:

“Gordon would say that this is for the experienced home brewer already brewing all-grain recipes. I say that this book is a book for anyone who has ever contemplated or attempted homebrewing, from the newbie looking in through the window to the professional brewer who has returned to his or her roots, not unlike what I have done” (xiv).

I think the author of the foreword makes the more accurate assertion, although I disagree with the whole “anyone who has ever contemplated …” claim. I believe it would be a bit overwhelming for them. But it is for anyone else with almost any amount of experience, and especially if any of that is with all-grain.

Highly recommended for everyone except those who have only contemplated trying brewing, and somewhat reluctantly for those who have only done extract brewing.

[I finished this book a month ago. I would prefer to write the review that this book actually deserves but I am seriously backlogged on book review writing and want to get something out. I guess I am telling myself that I will revisit the review and improve on it, just as I intend (and already am) revisiting the book. Perhaps I can give you enough of an overview to make a decision whether it is for you or not; that is kind of the idea anyway.]

With that in mind, I have provided the outline of each chapter at one step below the chapter heading so that you may gauge the book’s coverage. Keep in mind, there are a couple levels below many of those headings also.

Contents:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Philosophy
  • Chapter 1. The Philosophy of Brewing
  • Part II: Mastering Your Craft
  • Chapter 2. Mastering Techniques
  • Chapter 3. Mastering Equipment
  • Chapter 4. Mastering Ingredients
  • Part III: Applying Your Knowledge
  • Chapter 5. Evaluating Your Own Beer
  • Chapter 6. Envisioning Your Beer
  • Chapter 7. Troubleshooting
  • Chapter 8. Finishing Beer
  • Chapter 9. Competition Brewing
  • Chapter 10. Conclusion
  • List of Recipes
  • Index

Foreword [by Michael “Musafa” Ferguson]

I liked several things Ferguson said. The first is in relation to book forewords and does go on just a bit more for a little more clarity but this excerpt is what you get. The others are more directly about the book in hand.

“There are basically two reasons to read a foreword. You have either already bought the book and are looking to get everything out of it you can, or you are contemplating buying the book and are looking for insight into whether or not you should spend the money.” xiii

“This book, however, is not a how-to book; it’s a “do you want to” book.” xiii

“This book is just like having a mentor.” xv

“This book flows along the lines of analogy, technique, and practice.” xv

Introduction

  • Blown Up, Sir
  • The Journey Is the Reward
  • Structure of This Book
  • Using This Book
  • But Why Nothing on Extract Beers?

The recipe for Old Draft Dodger, an English Barley Wine [p. 3], gave me a solid slap upside the head in full acknowledgment of how large a mash tun I need. And since my mash tun will also be my boil kettle—am going to use Brew in a Bag—that was a good and solid bit of info. I had been working with estimates of 25 lbs but this uses 30.25 lbs of malt + 1 lb muscovado sugar [yields 8 gal to boil down to 6 gal]. Thus, this was a critical equipment and process control point, for me, which I will discuss in a bit.

There is a fair bit in the intro but mostly Strong lets us know what he isn’t about and a touch of what he is attempting to be about. In the process, he gives the authors and texts he turns to in a pinch or otherwise necessary, as he does throughout the book. Pay attention as he tells you exactly who he turns to for a topic.

What the book is not

  • “isn’t a textbook or a purely technical brewing book.”
    •     SEE brewing reference textbooks – “De Clerck, Kunze, Narziss, Briggs, Bamforth, and Lewis.” 5
    •     more towards homebrewers SEE Fix and Noonan 5
    •     “online technical studies by A.J. deLange and Kai Troester that describe practical experiments, ….” 5
  • “isn’t a scholarly study; …” 5
  • “is not a recipe book, but I provide many of my award winning recipes.” 6
    •     illustrate points & add color
    •     “If I’m looking for a new recipe, I often look at books by Zainasheff/Palmer, Noonan, or the Classic Styles Series published by Brewers Publications.” … “If I’m looking for ideas on formulation, I’ll look to Daniels and Mosher.” 6
  • “is not a basic brewing book and it doesn’t discuss extract brewing at all; … … won’t teach you how to get started brewing or give you step-by-step procedures for bsic brewing processes.” SEE Palmer, Korzonas 6

What the book is

“What this book does is fill an unaddressed niche in homebrewing literature. It describes how to think about brewing, how to select and apply proper techniques, and how to continue to learn and develop your own brewing style.” 6

Stories, recipes, and anecdotes are used to illustrate points, analogies (and other influences) will be used liberally, and he states strong opinions based on his experience. [quasi-paraphrase] 6

Part I: Philosophy

Chapter 1. The Philosophy of Brewing

  • Everyone Has a Story
  • Channeling Influences [Write out your own]
  • Mastering Skills [On what it means to be a master]
  • Developing Your Own Style

“Think about your own style being your framework for brewing. You’ll find out the details as you learn and grow in your abilities. Select the tools and methods you want to use and learn. Work towards mastering a core set of skills that let you make the beer styles you enjoy most. …” 23

“Reconsider what you are able to do whenever you make modifications to your system.” 23

Part II: Mastering Your Craft

“In the next three chapters, I will review the stages of brewing, the choices to make, identifying the critical control points, and what your choices will imply later.” 25

Books for all-grain knowledge:

“My favorites are John Palmer’s How to Brew and Greg Noonan’s New Brewing Lager Beer. Noonan’s book is more advanced and is really a great reference text. I also like Al Korzonas’ Homebrewing: Volume I as a source  of useful information, although it doesn’t cover all-grain brewing. For a person first learning to homebrew, I still like Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide. All of these books have given me information that I still use today.” 25-6

Some of the things that will come up in the next several sections are control points [e.g., single-infusion mash], decision points [e.g., lautering options], techniques of interest [to me], and critical process/system decisions [e.g., moving liquids]. These are strewn throughout the book and add immense value to Strong’s clear system thinking.

Chapter 2. Mastering Techniques

  • Transforming Grain
  • Mash Temperatures, Final Gravity, and Maltsters
  • Step Mashing for Attenuation Technique
    • Tripwire–Belgian Tripel (recipe)
  • Decoction and Tannins
  • Hochkurz Double Decoction Mash Technique
    • Procrastinator Doppelbock (recipe)
  • Step and Decoction Mashing Techniques Combined
    • El Hefe German—Hefeweizen (recipe)
  • Cold-Steeped Roasted Grains Technique
    • Headlights On Sweet—Stout (recipe)
  • Unusual Technique: The Overnight Oven Mash by Joe Formanek
  • Lautering
  • Part-Gyle Technique Producing Two Beers
    • Seven-Year Itch—English Barley Wine (recipe)
    • Session Slammer—Northern English Brown Ale (recipe)
  • No-Sparge Technique
    • Pride of Warwick—Strong Bitter (recipe)
  • Managing the Boil
  • Intentional Caramelization Technique
    • Gunn Clan Scotch Ale (recipe)
  • Using Hops
  • First Wort Hopping and Late Hopping Techniques Combined
    • Avant Garde–American Pale Ale (recipe)

An example of control points [for single-infusion mash] under Transforming Grain:

  •     mash temperature
  •     rest time
  •     mash thickness
  •     mash pH [measured at mash temp; NB: pH is temp dependent; generally regulates itself] 33-34

Lautering Options are a [decision point]

“The method used to get the wort into the kettle is a decision point for the brewer: Will sparging be used, and if so, what technique? We examine the techniques of continuous sparging, parti-gyle sparging, batch sparging, and the no-sparge method.” 50

Some decision points under Using Hops are:

  •           Varieties to use
  •           Form of hops
  •           How much of each
  •           Techniques used during/after boil 65

All-Late Hopping [technique of interest]

“In a nutshell, the techniques involves adding all your hops within the last 20 minutes of the boil, adjusting your amounts to compensate for the reduced utilization.”  … You will want to watch out for excessive vegetal and grassy flavors coming from the increased hop material (as weel as the volume loss due to absorption). The advice to keep your total hop bill to less than 8 ounces (227 grams) per 5-gallon (…) batch still applies.” 66

Chapter 3. Mastering Equipment

  • Matching Equipment to the Task
  • Learning Your System
  • Optimizing Your Brewing

“In order to be a great brewer, you have to learn your brewing system in detail and make it your own. You have to know its strengths and weaknesses and how it responds to different brewing conditions.” 75

“The major topics in this chapter are selecting your equipment, learning your system, and optimizing your brewing.” 75

Matching Equipment to the Task tells us to:

“Start with what you need to accomplish, then find devices to best meet those needs.” 76

“Consider your equipment selections along with your process choices.” 76

“In this section, I’ll walk through the common brewing tasks that require equipment and discuss alternatives and tradeoffs. 76

This section is most valuable for brewery planning. I am really happy that I have read this before I finalized my ideas on what I think I am doing. Nothing changed except I feel better prepared and better educated/validated in my decisions. I appreciate that. [I have read quite a few how-to-brew books. This one works for me.]

To give you some idea of the further breakdown and amount of information covered by Strong, Matching Equipment to the Task covers all of the following: Measuring Ingredients, Crushing Grain, Moving Liquid, Managing Heat, Mashing, Lautering, Boiling Wort, Chilling and Separating Wort, Fermenting and Conditioning, and Packaging.

Moving Liquids under Matching Equipment to the Task brings in the most important decision, per Strong, as to system design:

“Water and wort have to be moved between vessels during brewing. This is generally accomplished manually, with gravity, or with pumps. To me, this decision, along with the number of brewing vessels, is what drives the overall design of your system.” 79 [critical process/system decisions, emphasis mine]

“The phases of this that are important in this step are how water gets into the hot liquor tank, how brewing liquor is added to the mash tun, how sparge water is added to the mash tun, how the outflow of the lauter tun is directed to the kettle, and how the boiled wort is moved to the fermenter.”  79

Learning Your System contains a massive amount of useful advice, again, especially still validating your system design.

“Think of systems in abstract terms, like black boxes with inputs and outputs. … This is the systems approach for managing complexity; it allows you to learn the system a piece at a time.” 89

Some of the key things to understand about your system: The range of anything that can be adjusted, How those changes affect the outcome of each step?, …. 90

Some examples of process control points: How accurate are your thermometers and other instruments?, …, When step mashing, how do I increase temps? Direct fire, how long continue to rise after cut-off? Responsiveness of thermometer?, …, What is my evaporation rate?, How much loss do I have from final boil volume to initial fermenter volume, and from initial fermenter volume to final finished beer volume? Also from mash volume to IFV, …, In general, how many pounds of grain needed to hit different gravity targets?, …, What kinds of techniques are possible on my system? How difficult are they to perform? 90-93

Not all control points are of equal importance; focus on those that make a big difference first. 94

Optimizing your Brewing

“…, since the difference between a competent brewer and an expert brewer is often measured in how efficiently and effectively they perform the same tasks.” 94

“… internalizing the techniques and processes so that thoughts and desires are more directly translated into actions and outcomes.” 94

“Some of this mastery comes through simple repetition and understanding of processes and techniques we’ve previously discussed, while executed on your particular system. However, other parts involve changing the way you think and plan your brewing, and how you approach tasks.” 94

Planning Your Brew Calendar under Optimizing your Brewing

Provides several reasons why to plan out your brew calendar, including the most obvious … have a beer available for a certain date but there are others. 95

Planning Your Brew Day, also under Optimizing your Brewing, provides reassuring ways to think about planning out your brew day, even if you’ve never done it on your own before.

  • Think like a chef; do the prep work before cooking. Mise en place, having all that you need to cook ready and waiting. 96
  • Start with breaking down all of the steps. Think about order, equipment needed, ingredients needed, time required.
  • What consumes the most time? If can start longest task first you may shorten the brew day.
  • “Critical path,” from project management : the sequence of dependent tasks that must be completed to get the job done on time. ID the minimum time needed to complete a complex project involving multiple tasks.”
  • Checklists help to not forget certain tasks 97
  • Have extra consumables on hand in case run out : extra propane, DME or LME, …
  • Pay attention during brewing sessions and take notes of things to improve in future; sticking points, etc.
  • Prioritize tasks also; where do I need to focus my energy and attention? 98
  • Avoid wasted effort by understanding the end-to-end process of brewing, and what decisions drive the quality of my final beer.
  • Now, how can I extend this critical path planning if add a 2nd or 3rd batch?
  • “Finally, remember that brewing is often a series of small course corrections.” 98

Chapter 4. Mastering Ingredients

“I’m going to focus on how you categorize, characterize, differentiate, and select each of these types of ingredients.” 103

“The goal is for you to be able to choose ingredients that allow you to brew what you want, to be able to understand cause and effect and how ingredient choices affect the finished beer, and to be able to evaluate new products …” 103

“For each of the types of ingredients I’m discussing, I provide some background on the key points you need to know to properly work with them. I’ll also share the selections I’ve made, and how I approach using these ingredients.”103 His selections are in the So What Do I Do? sections under all of the individual ingredients.

  • Assessing Ingredients
  • Malt
  • Adjuncts
  • Hops
  • Yeast
  • Water

Part III: Applying Your Knowledge

Chapter 5. Evaluating Your Own Beer

  • Understanding Beer Styles
  • Developing Your Palate
  • Critically Assessing Your Own Beer

Chapter 6. Envisioning Your Beer

  • Basic Beer Math
  • Recipe Formulation
  • Adjusting Balance
  • Avoid Clashing Flavors
  • Recipe Formulation Examples
  • Conceptualizing New Styles

Chapter 7. Troubleshooting

  • Detecting Beer Faults
  • Technical Brewing Faults
  • Style-Related Faults

Chapter 8. Finishing Beer

  • Factors Affecting Beer Stability
  • Conditioning
  • Lagering
  • Clarifying
  • Carbonation and Packaging
  • Final Adjustments
  • Blending

Chapter 9. Competition Brewing

  • Brewing for Quality
  • Brewing for Quantity
    • Three Beers From One Base Beer by Steeping Specialty Grains
    • Two Beers From One Mash, Using Different Yeast
    • Making a Fruit Beer Using Mead
  • Winning BJCP Competitions

Chapter 10. Conclusion

  • Expanding Your Knowledge
  • Staying Current
  • Final Advice
  • Staying Alive

My conclusion

Highly recommended for everyone except those who have only contemplated trying brewing, and somewhat reluctantly for those who have only done extract brewing. I have already gained immense benefit from this book and intend to get even more from it. It has been a blessing in planning out my brewing system and processes.

You know? This may be all you’re getting review-wise for this book. I would much rather spend time making this book useful to me than telling you about it. As you can probably tell, my notes aren’t even fully typed up as I decided to invest in the reading first.

You ought have enough to go on to decide if it is of use to you. You can also attempt to look at it at a bookstore–new or used–or see if your library can get it for you, which I deem as highly likely. Then buy a copy! Or buy your library a copy, if you can.

This was actually the 11th finished nonfiction book I finished this year but it is the 14th review written and posted.

This is the 14th book in my Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

The Session 109 Roundup: Porter

Thank you all for your participation in this month’s Session! The roundup follows, and while I hope I got them all if I somehow managed to overlook yours PLEASE do leave a comment below and I will correct the oversight immediately.

Your contributions

Juan Fajardo of Beer 511 (Juan’s Beer Blog) was first with his post, “The Session #109: Porter.” Having “settled pretty clearly on saisons, “farmhouse” ales, and sours. porter holds some strong and dear associations” for Juan. We learn about his journey into homebrewing, porters, and of a couple porters from Lima, Peru.

John Duffy at The Beer Nut went “Back to the source.” We learn about two versions of porter brewed for Marks & Spencer by Meantime, London Porter, and Greenwich Winter Porter with cinnamon and allspice. “Simple is best where porter is concerned. In 1750 and today.” Can’t say I disagree.

Gary Gillman’s Beer et seq. “The Session – What Is Porter?” provides a brief history lesson on the differences between porter and stout, and why it is all porter in the end. There are times and reasons to differentiate but this is certainly my thinking.

Jessica Boak  & Ray Bailey at their eponymous Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog dash off “Session #109: Porter” where they tell us “It is like drinking a Dickens novel.” Hear! Hear! Boak & Bailey spit out some rapid fire thoughts on porter and remind us that they have done some previous writing on the topic. Think if it as background material for this post, if you will.

By the way, have you read their book Brew Britannia? You should consider their Gambrinus Waltz also but I have so far failed to review it. Consider this a hearty recommendation. [Amazon US | Amazon UK]

Alistair Reece at Fuggled in “#TheSession – Head East Young Man” takes a look eastward and provides a story of Baltic Porter.

Sean Inman of Beer Search Party lets us know in “The Session # 109 – “Porter”” that he is clearly not a fan of porter with it being “…,  well, boring and solid” but seeing as this is an election year in the US he does bring in several political references. Who said beer and politics can’t mix?

By the Barrel; or, Bend Beer Librarian, “Porter (The Session #109),” in which I, your host, waffle on about a local cherry Baltic porter and The Brewers’ Project beers (currently) available from Guinness.

Thomas Cizauskas of Yours for Good Fermentables reminds us in his “In Praise of Porter. (The Session: Beer Blogging Friday.)” that “Modifiers heaped upon modifiers yield differences of kind not degree.” Be “honest and respectful” and call your Imperial chocolate coffee peanut butter porter something besides porter. I fully agree. We also learn about his homebrewing and professional brewing background that led to this respect for porter.

Kate Bernot at Draft Magazine writes an ode to porter after first almost dismissing them as a topic in her “We should all swipe right on porters” post.

Looke at Likely Moose “The session – Porter” could only find one in his British supermarket, Guinness West Indies Porter, which was “nice,” but ends with a question, “My question, are dark beers really just for beer geeks because the powers that be think most people dont want to drink it.” I certainly hope not.

Derrick Peterman at Ramblings of a Beer Runner is in search of porter in his post, “The Session #109: In search of Porter.” Derrick has to work at finding a few porters among the plethora of other choices, whether at his local bottle shop, the supermarket, or at local bars. He succeeds but the numbers are not heartening to us fans of the style.

[Despite what I said above about agreeing with Thomas that too many modifiers/ications takes one away from the style itself I would love to try that Heretic Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. Maybe I’d decide it had gone beyond porter but was tasty nonetheless. That said, getting nuts right in beer is, in my opinion, almost impossible. Peanuts, “Blergh!,” but I have had one or two well-executed hazelnut beers.]

Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin gives us “Session #109: Loving Porter.” Please tell me that you are aware of Jay Brooks’ more recent undertaking, Typology Tuesday! It takes place on the last Tuesday of the month, and addresses where he prefers that The Session itself had stayed centered. As he says, “So I want to make more of a concerted effort to explore the nature of different kinds of beers, how they can, or should, be organized, divided, dissected and shuffled around, preferably with one in my hand.” There’s a tad bit more to it if you need a better explanation but see that Typology Tuesday page. In January we did Barley Wine; February was Bock [Sadly I was unable to find one and was unable to participate.]; March will be Irish-Style Dry Stout, for which I have already secured a couple; and April will be Saison. Please consider joining Jay and others and let’s get this look at styles off the ground and running.

Why did I write all of this? Well, as one of my suggestions was to “Construct a resource along the lines of Jay Brooks’ Typology style pages,” he did just that for Robust Porter. Check it out.

A Good Beer Blog, “Session 109: Porter And Our Shared Georgian Culture,” is written by Alan McLeod and brings us an image “from the commonplace book of William Maud, evidently of Wetherby, York, England, b. 1787 who served as a customs official in Great Britain; he was employed at the excise office in Leeds in 1830.” It includes recipes for both strong and common porter. As he writes, “Porter is Georgian Britain’s gift to us all. It comes in many forms.”

Quite possibly my favorite contribution from Georgian Britain.

Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site in “The Session #109: Porter” drinks a classic local [Bend, Oregon] porter, the flagship of what I often think of as our “little local brewery” [due to the pub] despite the fact that they are squarely in the top 7 or so craft breweries in America, along with a much newer, adjectified, er, flavored, porter from one of our newest local breweries that really has people talking.

Sorry about the timing regarding “Porter,” Jon and Sherri. But coincidence, serendipity, outright strange things cropping up seems to be some kind of metaphor or description of my life.

At my blog, By the Barrel; or, Bend Beer Librarian, my wife, Sara Thompson contributes “The Session: Lovely Time Warp” in which she expounds on the Bend Brewing Lovely Cherry Baltic Porters we shared and a lesson she learned regarding beer awards.

** Updated submission 08 March 2016 **

“The Session #109: Porter” by Dan at Community Beer Works in which we learn that he is just as confused as many others as to what exactly a porter is; “For me, stouts, porters and brown ales are sort of like a pie graph mixed with a venn diagram that then gets beer spilled on it ….” Sounds about right to me.

Some of us might want to pull that apart a bit but I actually kind of love that metaphor for the (few) non-pedantic moments in life.

Final comments

All this talk of porter and flavored porters, whether for or against, put the wife and I in mind of a few of ours that need drinking. We settled on our last Ninkasi Ground Control Imperial Stout released in April 2015. It is a flavored with Oregon Hazelnuts, star anise, and cocoa nibs and it is fermented with ale yeast shot into space. Seriously.

Photo of a bottle, box, bottle cap and glass of Ninkasi Ground Control Imperial Stout

I think this is one of the best nut-infused beers that I have ever had but nonetheless did not want to risk the hazelnut going rancid. I first had it less than a week after it was released in the tasting room of the brewery in Eugene, Oregon (April 2015). It was particularly exquisite 2 1/2 months later. From there it has tapered off, in my opinion, but it is still quite tasty. It will never be my favorite Imperial stout, as I much prefer them “simple” as John said and “honest and respectful” as Thomas said. It was quite good with a bit of homemade chocolate chip cookie, which brought out a really nice rum barrel-aged quality that it doesn’t actually have. Yum.

Thank you all for your contributions to this month’s Session and I hope we can find room to appreciate one another’s viewpoints whether or not we agree.

The Session: Lovely Time Warp

tl;dr: If you like your cherry porter sweet and fruity, have this beer fairly fresh. If you prefer your cherry porter smoother and a touch sour, age this beer for at least year or more. [Guest post from my wife, Sara]

Comparing two vintages of Bend Brewing Company’s Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter made me realize something embarrassingly obvious: beer awards, like restaurant reviews or the Oscars, are entirely subjective and won’t necessarily match up with my own tastes. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to apply such common sense to beer when I’m so good at it keeping it in mind about other things.

The Lovely originally won Bronze in 2012 at the GABF and comments from the judges indicated that a bit of age on the beer would make all the difference. Sure enough, BBC submitted the same beer the next year — now aged as suggested — and it took home the 2013 Gold.

As friends know, we love to age beers. For the dark, roasty, full-bodied brews we enjoy, aging tends to bring out hidden notes and depths not found in the beer’s first few months.

And yet … the outcome was very different for me with this beer.

I first checked in a Lovely on Untappd in December 2013, calling it “a wonderful symphony of flavors” and noting that I was “looking for a touch more body after aging.” In honor of the Session theme of porters, we opened up two different bottles of Lovely side by side – one aged since 2013 and the other brewed much more recently, sometime between late 2015 to early 2016. Now, it could be that the recipe has been tweaked ever so slightly over the past couple years, so perhaps not all of my observations can be pinpointed just to aging.

The 2013 Lovely had an aroma of licorice, cherry, and maple. The flavor reminded me of a watermelon jolly rancher … not entirely in a positive way. The mouthfeel was definitely smoother than the 2016, which surprised me given that the 2013 had more head and a lacing that lingered much longer. I kept coming back to the 2013 because the mix of flavors was just so darn, well, confusing. Jollyrancher one moment, and wild raw honey the next. Ultimately though, the 2016 held my interest longer.

At first, the aroma of the 2016 hinted at far more hops than it’s older sibling. Subtle hops, but definitely bitter.  Fortunately, the flavor was all fruit — juicy, prickly cherry fruit that had me smacking my lips together for the sheer yumminess of it.

This is probably unfair to the beers, but the deciding factor came down to some nuts. Yes, nuts. A couple days before the tasting, I had roasted some pecans with maple syrup, nutmeg, and cinnamon (nom nom nom!). The stark difference in how the pecans paired with the two versions of the same beer was rather startling!  For the 2013, the sweet and roasty flavors of the pecans actually made the beer even more sour.

I don’t like sour.

At all.

The 2016, on the other hand, became more wine / sherry / port-like with the pecans. A delicious combination. For the record, Beecher’s Marco Polo cheese paired very well with both beers.

All this to say, don’t look a beer award in the mouth (is that the right metaphor? I don’t even know.). And if a porter isn’t broken, you don’t do anything – not even aging – to fix it.

Porter (The Session #109)

This is my entry for the 109th Session, which I am in fact hosting, on the topic of porter. My post will cover some tasting notes of several different porters. We drank a couple vintages of Bend Brewing’s Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter and I had three different porters from the Guinness boxed set, The Brewer’s Project.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

See here at Brookston Beer Bulletin for an intro to The Sessions.

Bend Brewing’s Lovely Cherry Baltic

On Sunday, 28 February 2016, the wife and I compared a 2013 and a 2016 bottling of Bend Brewing’s Lovely Cherry Baltic. BBC is the third oldest brewery in Central Oregon and the second oldest in Bend proper. They celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2015 on my birthday, which means they are now over 21.

I respect the hell out of Lovely but it is one of my wife’s favorites, not mine (because of sour cherries). The label states that it is an Imperial porter aged on Montmorency cherries but makes no mention of yeast used. Is it truly a Baltic? Who knows? And it would depend on whose style guidelines you used anyway.

We had a bottle we acquired in October 2013 and another we just got on 13 February during Zwickelmania at the brewery. We asked the brewer’s wife, Jen, about the origins and she asked Ian (the brewer) and they confirmed it was bottled this year, which I assume means it was actually brewed sometime in 2015.

This is a beer that was originally brewed by Tonya Cornett before her departure for 10 Barrel. See this post at New School Beer for a profile of her from shortly after her departure.

For a profile of current head brewer, Ian Larkin, see “Bend Brewing anniversary and profile of Head Brewer Ian Larkin” at The Brew Site.

See Jon Abernathy’s post, “Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter,” also at The Brew Site, to read one of the earliest reviews of this beer and learn a bit about its bottling history.

We compared them head-to-head and tasted them with assorted cheeses, chocolate, and roasted sweet potatoes, apples and pecans.

Two photos of a glass and a bottle each of 2013 and 2016 Lovely.

2013 on left; 2016 on right. artist Ken Knish of Sisters; styled realism of the 1940-60s. http://www.knish-artwork.com/

They were definitely different beers but clearly also the same beer. The wife, who will be writing her own [guest] post, definitely preferred the 2016 bottling. I guess that means we best drink the other 2013 and the two 2014s and the other “random” one we found in our refrigerator.

For the record, I am not the biggest fan of sour cherries or even cherries, period, although I like the sweeter cherries more. But considering I am not a huge fan that then makes them an ingredient that, while I agree they can work in beer, I am not usually a fan of in beer. Nonetheless, this is a well-executed, award winning, beer.

Awards:

  • 2013 GABF Gold Medal in Aged Beer
  • 2012 GABF Bronze Medal in Aged Beer

I wrote a lot of notes on both of these beers but I just don’t know …

I kept waffling between them depending on temperature of the beer as it varied from cold to warm (and back to cold … as we refilled our small snifters) and as paired with different foods. I started out preferring the 2013 and at the end of the night just when I thought I was preferring the 2016 I decided to drink the rest of it off so I could finish with the last of my 2013. Different in lots of ways but sort of a tie. In the end though I think I prefer the older version. If I had to drink them by themselves and not together then I would choose to drink more of the aged one.

Tasting Notes:

2013

Aroma:

cold: med low sour cherry; med dark fruit

warm: med sour cherry

Color: Clear dark red-brown with dark tan head, extra fine with some small fish eyes, non-persistent

Taste:

cold: Full-bodied and creamy; initially sweet with slight sour bite from cherries, quickly moves to darker malt flavors arriving at chocolate in the swallow. Finishes dry with lingering light-med sour cherry and darker malt flavors of chocolate

warm: Tastes much thinner; but, in fairness, most of the carbonation would have been swirled out at that point. I believe it is a combination of the temperature of the beer and all of the swirling.

2016

Aroma:

cold: dark malts but far from prominent; can’t find cherry

warm: very light chocolate and cherry

Color: Clear dark red-brown (carbonation interfering with visual inspection; head same as 2013

Taste:

cold: Full-bodied and creamy; less sweet than 2013 at beginning; goes into darker malts rapidly; some very light cherryish notes in finish. A bit more bitter; from malt? [Didn’t seem a hop bitterness.]

warm: no notes

They were vastly different with assorted foods:

  • Egmont cheese
  • Beecher’s Marco Polo cheese
  • Rosey Goat cheese (rosemary): No! enhances soapiness of the rosemary
  • Roasted sweet potato
  • Roasted apples
  • Roasted pecans

The 2013 was more complex than 2016; while in the 2016 the cherry, which was very subdued, came out nicely with assorted foods.

Again, I have the utmost respect for this beer but the cherry is not my thing. Give me BBC and Ian’s Big Bad Russian or The Raven Baltic Porter or Currant Volksekt or Salmonberry Sour or Ludwig German Pilsner. Ludwig is one of the very best Pilsners available in Bend, which is something with Crux’s amazing Pilsners available here, which also makes it extremely good. Period.

Guinness The Brewers Project Taste-Off

We saw our friend, Ryan Sharp, at Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Café last Friday evening and he told us Costco had Guinness’ The Brewer’s Project 18-pack in and he had only tried one so far but was looking forward to the other two. I went to Costco Saturday morning and got one.

Picture of a carton of Guinness' The Brewers Project box

Here’s an article about this project at Ad Age.

And here’s a 0:30 video from Guinness, which truth be told irked me after giving up an exact birthdate for age verification. In particular, my gripe is that that is it for info available there. Um. OK.

Photo of description of the beers on the carton

Yes, they used “brewers,” “brewers’” and “brewer’s” and they left a period off one description. Grammar? Sort of. Sad they can’t get the name standardized.

Dublin Porter [1796]

ABV 3.8% “Dublin Porter is inspired by a reference in our historic brewers’ diaries dating back to 1796. It is a sweet and smooth beer with subtle caramel and hoppy aroma notes and burnt biscuit finish.”

Aroma: Sweet; very light grape. Slight tang emerges as warms.

Color: All are about the same color but lighting was also sub-par; very light tan, fine-bubbled head, non-persistent.

Taste: Very slightly vinous, very light smoke, definitely light tang?, very light grape; finishes very lightly sweet and then dries out long. Thinnest of the three.

West Indies Porter [1801]

ABV 6.0% “A style with origins from our brewer’s diaries dating back to 1801, West Indies Porter is complex yet mellow, hoppy with notes of toffee and chocolate”

Aroma: Light smoky sourness.

Color: All are about the same color but lighting was also sub-par; light brown, fine-bubbled head, non-persistent.

Taste: Light but lingering smoke; med dry finish with light astringency. Light chocolate as warms.

Guinness Original [1800s]

ABV 4.2% “Guinness Original is the closest variant to Arthur Guinness’ original stout recipe and was first introduced in Dublin around 1800’s as a premium porter. Still sold today in the UK as Guinness Original, this brew is very similar to Guinness Extra Stout. It’s hoppy, roast and crisp with a bittersweet finish.”

Aroma: Very light chocolate. Extremely light grape as warms.

Color: All are about the same color but lighting was also sub-par; fine-bubbled head, non-persistent, in between other two in color

Taste: Creamiest [mostly due to carbonation]; very light sweetness and extremely light tang across middle; finishes with hint of chocolate, med dry but sweeter than West Indies Porter. Very light astringency and mild chalkiness late in the finish.

Comparison. Color of the beers and all aspects of the head were pretty much the same with the biggest, yet still small, difference in head color. As for body, all were very similar yet different.

None of them are really that good but they are respectable. I will most likely use the remaining 13 for cooking with unless I have a friend visit who simply must taste them.

Concluding thoughts

I am looking forward to seeing everyone else’s thoughts on porter and in how they interpreted the fairly wide-open prompt.

I adore some porters and if you include stouts as forms of porter, as Terry Foster and Martyn Cornell do, then I love lots of them but I much prefer some forms of porters and stouts to others, to say the least, and even then I don’t love every example within each sub-style. As for “regular” porters I prefer them to be sliding into stout territory in body and roastiness along with a slightly broader range of bitterness acceptable.

Even if none of these are my favorite examples within their various sub-styles I quite enjoyed spending some time tasting and comparing all of them while trying to work on my sensory perceptions and translating those into words. Usually a good exercise.

See you in a couple days with a Session #109 Roundup post. Cheers!

Announcing the next Session #109: Porter

For The Session 109—my first as host—I would like us to discuss porter. It seems that this highly variable style has not been done in The Session before.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

What is The Session?

“The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry” (The Sessions at Brookston Beer Bulletin).

It takes place on the first Friday of every month, so 4 March 2016 for this one.

Porter

“The history of porter and the men who made it is fascinating, for it deals with the part that beer has played in the development of Western Culture. Conversely, of course, much of porter’s growth was the result of profound changes in the nature of British society. It is also a microcosm of how our industries have developed; events in porter’s history explain the structure of the modern brewing industry, not only in Britain, but in the other major Western countries.

Porter is intimately tied in with the Industrial Revolution, in which Britain led the world. Through the growth it enabled the brewers to achieve, it was instrumental in the development and technological application of a number of important scientific advances” (Foster, Porter, 17).

I am not talking about your long dead relative’s porter—although you might be—but about all of the variations currently and previously available. Hey, feel free to write about the porter of the future or some as-yet-unrecognized sub-style of porter.

There are English porters, Brown porters, Robust porters, American porters, Baltic porters, Imperial porters, Smoked porters, barrel-aged variants of most of the preceding, and so on.

With as many variations as there are it is hard to believe that porter is perhaps a neglected style. Then again, it did disappear for a while [see Foster, Porter, and others]. Of 14 beer people asked about overrated and underrated styles three of them said porter was most underrated and no one suggested it as overrated in our current market climate. [Yes, I know that is from Thrillist; feel free to ignore it.]

I would like you to sit down with one or more porters of your choosing. Pay a few minutes attention to your beer and then use that as a springboard to further thoughts on the style.

Possibilities include:

  • Contrast and/or compare two or more of the styles
  • Contrast and/or compare two or more beers within/across porter styles
  • The history and development of the style
  • Your love/hate relationship with any porter style
  • Baltic porter – ale or Lager or a mixed fermentation?
  • Is hopping the only difference between English and American styles?
  • Food pairings with your favorite porter or style of porter
  • Review the porter(s) you are using as a creative springboard
  • Construct a resource along the lines of Jay Brooks’ Typology style pages, see for example American Barley Wine or Bock [I’ve already collected some of the information below for you.]
  • Recipe and procedures for brewing your version of a great porter

How to Participate in this month’s The Session

On Friday 4 March, you may comment on this post and leave the URL to your Session post in your comment, or you may email me with your URL at mark . r . lindner @gmail . com, or you may tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession and it wouldn’t hurt to @ me too @bythebbl.

By the way, my blog’s comments are moderated for first-time commenters but it will be quickly approved as long as it doesn’t look like spam.

Within a day or two of the first Friday (March 4th) I will post a round-up of all of the submissions with links.

Further Resources

To give you some food for thought I am providing some resources below:

I took some inspiration from Jay Brooks’ new Typology Tuesday [see this for example] but being inclusive of all the porter variants precludes doing anything close. There’s no way I am copying and pasting all of the descriptions from all of the style guides I can find for all of the versions.

Style References

BJCP

  • Baltic Porter BJCP 9C [Strong Euro Beer]
  • English Porter 13C [Brown British Beer]
  • American Porter 20A [American Porter and Stout]

The only mention of Imperial Porter in the 2015 BJCP is in a comment under Baltic Porter.

Comments: May also be described today as an Imperial Porter, although heavily roasted or hopped versions are not appropriate for this style. Most versions are in the 7–8.5% ABV range. Danish breweries often refer to them as Stouts, which indicates their historic lineage from the days when Porter was used as a generic name for Porter and Stout” [9C, p. 17).

Brewers Association 2015

  • Brown Porter : British Origin Ale Styles : Ale Styles
  • Robust Porter :British Origin Ale Styles : Ale Styles
  • American-Style Imperial Porter : North American Origin Ale Styles : Ale Styles
  • Smoke Porter :  North American Origin Ale Styles : Ale Styles
  • Baltic-Style Porter : Other Origin Lager Styles : Lager Styles

World Beer Cup 2016 or PDF  

  • 17B American-Style Imperial Porter : Other Strong Beer : Hybrid/Mixed Beer Styles
  • 31F Smoke Porter : Smoke Beer : Hybrid/Mixed Beer Styles
  • 34 Baltic-Style Porter : Styles of European and German Origin : Lager Beer Styles
  • 74 Brown Porter : Styles of British Origin : Ale Beer Styles
  • 75 Robust Porter : Styles of British Origin : Ale Beer Styles

GABF 2015 or PDF   

  • 17B American-Style Imperial Porter : : Other Strong Beer : Hybrid/Mixed Lagers or Ales
  • 31E Smoke Porter : Smoke Beer : Hybrid/Mixed Lagers or Ales
  • 47 Baltic-Style Porter : Lager Beer Styles
  • 82 Brown Porter : Ale Beer Styles
  • 83 Robust Porter : Ale Beer Styles

BreweryDB

This looks a lot like the Brewers Association style breakdown. I wonder if they’re using an older version of the guidelines. Seeing as the schema is the same as BA above,  I am just going to list and link these.

Periodic Table of Beer Styles

  • Brown Porter 34
  • Robust Porter 48

UnTappd

UnTappd lists the following styles of porter: American, Baltic, English, Imperial/Double, Other

Other References

Foster (2014) – Brewing Porters & Stouts: Origins, History, and 60 Recipes for Brewing Them at Home Today

I consider this to be a significant update to Foster’s Porter below. My reasoning is included in my reviews [the links].

Foster (1992) – Porter (Classic Beer Styles 5) [Publisher’s page]

Pattinson (2012*) – Porter! [see here for a bit of info on author]

Eckhardt (1989) – The Essentials of Beer Styles

Alworth (2015) – The Beer Bible pp. 140-165

Daniels (1996) – Designing Great Beers chap 23, pp. 263-282

Klemp – “BIG BALTIC PORTER” (Stylistically Speaking column), All About Beer, 29:1, March 2008 [There may be others.]

Fodor – “Robust Porter: Style of the Month” Brew Your Own, December 1997.

Dornbusch – “Robust Porter: Style Profile” Brew Your Own, September 2006.

Zainasheff – “Robust Porter: Style ProfileBrew Your Own, September 2012 [May be others.]

Michael Jackson – Beer Styles: Porter

Oliver, ed. (2012) – The Oxford Companion to Beer 

Baltic porter, 82. See also porter

porter, 27, 30, 84, 107, 166, 179-80, 195, 356-7, 422, 439, 479, 483, 485, 494, 587-88, 638, 660-64, 770-1, 792-93, 824, 841; Americanized porters, 663; Baltic porter, 663; comeback of, 663; craft brewers, 663-64, decline of, 663; origins of, 661; robust porter, 663; smoked porter, 688; stout porters, 663. See also stout (index)

[Main entry for porter by Horst Dornbusch and Garrett Oliver]

Oliver (2005) – The Brewmaster’s Table 

porter beer, 30, 43, 137

American, 47, 313-25

British, 135-38, 145-52

food with, 138-39, 314-16

producers of, 145-52, 316-25 (index)

And, to leave you with some potential choices although I suggest going further afield than some of these, according to Men’s Journal on Yahoo the “15 Best Porter Beers From Across the Globe

For more history, see Cornell (2003) – Beer: The Story of the Pint and for recipes see, among many others, Lutzen & Stevens (1994) – Homebrew Favorites chap. 5, pp. 97-116 or Zainasheff and Palmer (2007) – Brewing Classic Styles which contains recipes for Baltic, brown and robust porters, including smoked and vanilla porters.

See you and your thoughts on porter—whatever that is for you—on Friday, March 4th.

Foster – Brewing Porters & Stouts

Brewing Porters & Stouts: Origins, History, and 60 Recipes for Brewing Them at Home Today by Terry Foster

Date read: 31 January – 04 February 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Challenges: 2016nfc

Cover image of Foster's Brewing Porters & Stouts

Paperback, 211 pages
Published 2014 by Skyhorse
Source: Own

I loved this book! It was everything I was hoping it would be as an update to the author’s 1992 entry in the Brewers Association Classic Beer Styles Series, 5, Porter, which I reviewed here.

There is more history, a great update on the proliferation of ingredients available to the homebrewer, far more recipes, and I love the inclusion of the stouts. There are also more opinions and they are awesome. Dr. Foster is full of opinions and he tells you why and then it is up to you to choose where you stand. Most are well-reasoned and I generally agree with him.

Highly recommended!

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: How It All Began…And Nearly Ended
  • Chapter 2: Porter and Stout Definitions
  • Chapter 3: Porter and Stout Raw Materials
  • Chapter 4: The Other Ingredients
  • Chapter 5: Brewing Porters and Stouts—Recipes
  • Selected Bibliography

Introduction

“I started brewing my own beer in Britain, just as the craft of homebrewing was beginning to be revived, then moved to the United States just as homebrewing was legalized here. I have therefore lived through two homebrewing revolutions, and of course through the great craft brewing revolution here. The quality of beer I can now produce at home, and that of those craft beers I can buy, has improved dramatically. Proudly numbered among all these new beers are many porters, stouts, and their sub-styles, and new variations on these are appearing almost daily. Therefore, it seemed that this was a good time to review those styles, their histories, and their brewing methodologies” (2).

Chapter 1: How It All Began…And Nearly Ended

“Since this book is essentially about brewing porters and stouts, I needed to condense this history, and have chosen to do so in a fairly loose chronological manner. That means there may be some omissions of material that other brewing historians consider to be significant enough to be included. I have limited the number of references in the text for reasons of brevity, and have instead appended a list of some of my sources. Note that some of the points I make are purely of my opinion, although I have endeavored to base them on as much fact and general brewing knowledge as possible. I make no apology for this; rather, I hope I might stimulate some intriguing debates on them!” (7-8).

The history of porter and stout is broken into sections by century, from the eighteenth to the twenty-first.

There are a couple times here and elsewhere, and I have seen it in other books, where he writes something like, “And in 1875, Whitbread, for the first time, brewed more ale than porter or stout” (33). What?! They are ales. Were they not thought of that way earlier? And I do believe this sort of thing crops up historically or when writing about beer history so perhaps so. Or is this simply an ‘ales other than stouts and porters’ thing? I believe I got the point in this case and often do when this kind of reference crops up but it seems disconcerting. If it is the case that they were definitely not considered ales in, say, the eighteenth century I think making that explicit would go a long way towards educating the reader. Very small point, I concede.

Chapter 2: Porter and Stout Definitions

This section discusses the style parameters, from the perspective of the Brewers Association, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), and his own. He discusses where they overlap and where they disagree. For instance, he does not consider smoked porter to be its own substyle but merely a variant (53). From this he narrows down the styles/substyles he will be discussing in the rest of the book and providing recipes for.

“I am therefore going to stick to considering the nine designations of brown, robust, and Baltic porters, along with dry, sweet, oatmeal, foreign extra, American, and Imperial stouts. Since most of them have demonstrable historical pedigrees (even the American stout), these categories are useful as a way of looking at these beers. However, they do not include every variety of porter available commercially (let alone those brewed at home)” (53).

From this he goes on to provide sections on each of these nine, plus a couple page discussion of flavored porters and stouts.

Chapter 3: Porter and Stout Raw Materials

This chapter covers malt (and other grist products) primarily, with a small diversion into a few flavorings (lactose, licorice, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and ‘barrels’). Hops, water and yeast are covered in the next chapter.

The ‘malts’ covered go from the general to the very specific, while he covers how much of what to use in all of the assorted styles he is discussing. They include: base malts (including Vienna and Munich), malt extract, specialty malts (caramel/crystal, Special B, two particular biscuit malts, Special roast malt, Melanoidin, amber, brown, chocolate, black, roasted barley, flaked barley, oat malt/flakes, rye malt, and smoked malts. Foster also includes a section on making your own amber and brown malt.

Chapter 4: The Other Ingredients

Hops, yeast, water, and finings get the Foster treatment here.

Chapter 5: Brewing Porters and Stouts—Recipes

For many this will be the gist of the book and I do look forward to making use of it but, so far, I believe I have and will get the most value from his thoughts in chapter 3 on malts and other grist ingredients.

For each style/substyle he discusses he has included several recipes. These include a couple of all-grain ones and a couple extract and extract plus partial mash recipes per style. After that is a section he entitles, “My Ten Most Interesting Recipes.” Five of these are historical recreations (as best as possible) and the other five he says “are based on modern craft-brewed beers” (189).

At the end of this chapter is his addendum to recipes where he discusses carbonation, kegging, bottling, and stout dispense and nitrogen gas.

One thing not included, unlike in his previous work, are recipes for one-barrel batches. Craft brewers (and homebrewers wanting more than 5-gallon batches) would be on their own to scale up the recipes. Personally, I find that a fair tradeoff for all of the new and updated information, the additional recipes, and the inclusions of the stouts. Recipe scaling information can be found elsewhere.    

Selected Bibliography

This bibliography is much more extensive than the one in the Classic Beer Styles Series from 1992 but he also cites a fair few works in the text that are not listed in the back. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, nor does he intend it to be. Nonetheless, it is several times longer than the one in the 1992 work.

Final comments

Again, I loved this book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the brewing of stouts and porters. I will be visiting and revisiting it, no doubt.

This is my favorite book of 2015 so far. It may seem a tad early to make this claim but I did write “so far.” I have also completed 25 books so far this year so not a completely absurd statement.

This is the 6th book in my Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader