beer column

here are my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast:

I sometimes bring in beers for Stephen Quinn and I to taste in the studio. This week I brought in not one, but four beers for tasting - but you won't find these beers at the liquor store or at a local brewery. These beers were brewed at home.  (We only got to the first three on air, but see below for my tasting notes on all four.)

Whoa!  Isn't it difficult to brew beer yourself? Shouldn't we just leave it to the professionals?

Hardly!  Brewing beer at home is actually quite easy and involves a minimal financial investment. You can purchase the basic brewing equipment in Vancouver at Dan's homebrew shop for $70, and you'll need a 19 litre stock pot (another $24) as well as the basic brewing gear.  A beer making kit of ingredients will cost you between $17 and $35. If you want to follow a recipe and put the ingredients together yourself you're looking at approximately $25-45 for ingredients (Dan's has several recipes you can follow, or you can find plenty online). One batch of beer will give you 23 litres (or approximately 66 bottles). Because I love you, I've done the math for you, and including the basic beer equipment, 19 litre pot and higher end ingredients, the cost is $2.20 per bottle for your first batch of beer, going down to a mere $0.68 for subsequent batches; making home brewing a very cost effective way to drink beer!

The actual brewing of beer is very easy. You boil some water, add your malt - for beginners I would suggest using malt extract instead of actual grains - add your bittering hops, keep boiling for an hour, depending on your recipe you might add more hops at various points during the boil, then you cool the wort down, move it to your fermenter (carboy or plastic pail), add your yeast, wait a couple of weeks, and you'll have beer.

However, brewing good tasting beer can take several tries. I would suggest tagging along with friends who homebrew and observing and helping them on a brew day to pick up tricks and tips, watching youtube videos of homebrewing techniques, and joining your local homebrew club.

If you live in Vancouver, your local homebrew club is the VanBrewers.

VanBrewers has around 130 members currently. Meetings are held on the last Thursday of the month above the Legion on Commercial Drive. Checking their website/Twitter/Facebook page will keep you up-to-date on club happenings.

Their big club contest, the VanBrewer Awards, is held in the Spring. This past year they had 330 entries from across Canada, making it the second largest contest in Canada for the third year in a row.

During the rest of the year they host in-house contests for their membership, take part and organize contests with breweries and provide the majority of the judging base in Vancouver. The club has around 20 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) ranked judges of differing levels, which is an asset to the quality of beer being made and consumed locally.

VanBrewers sends entries to 5-8 other homebrew competitions in Canada, and to the National Homebrew Competition in the US. Last year they shipped around 150 entries, this year they're going to try and double that. One of the perks of membership is free shipping to contests across Canada. Annually VanBrewers members are awarded around 60 medals in total.

VanBrewers members who have gone pro: Tak Guenette and John at Steamworks, Ethan Allured at Coal Harbour, Graham With, Danny Seeton and John Adair at P49, Ted Christie at Red Truck, Anders McKinnon at Persephone, Kylo Hoy at Four Winds, Zak Plowright at Central City. 

For the record, I am a proud member of VanBrewers (and I have the t-shirts to prove it) but I have yet to brew a beer that I would share with anyone, let alone enter into a contest.  However, I have high hopes that one day, one bright shining wonderful day, I will brew something awesome!

And on to the beers we got to sample!  Many thanks to Scott Butchart of VanBrewers for collecting and delivering the beers to me, and for his excellent information sharing of all things VanBrewers for these notes and the show!
We tasted the three Dan Small Homebrew Award winning beers from the BC Beer Awards on air:
1st Place - John Folinsbee with an Oktoberfest-Marzen beer

2nd Place - Takashi Guenette with a Munich Helles

3rd Place - Adam Crandall and Dan Helmer with an Oatmeal Stout with cocoa nibs, vanilla and lactose

Also for fun, alas not sampled on air, we had Scott Butchart's Spruce Tip Pale Ale.

At the bottom are the BJCP style guidelines for each of the beers.  Below are my tasting notes, and the joyful comments of CBC personnel (and friends) who got to try these beers with me:

John Folinsee's Oktoberfest-Marzen:  Survey says everyone is in love with this beer.  If we could homebrew this well we'd never leave our homes.  Packs an alcohol punch disguised as an easy-drinking sessionable Oktoberfest.  Nice malts, clean finish, satisfying yet light.  Clear with a generous, short-lived head.

Tak Guenette's Munich Helles:  Nice light coloured pilsner.  Smooth tasting, clean finishing and easy-drinking.  Stephen Quinn may have gotten banana on this one, but no one else did!  Just a damned nice pilsner.  Pleased everyone.  Clear with a good head.  People thought it tasted like the pilsners of their youth.

Adam Crandall and Dan Helmer's Oatmeal Stout:  A big crowd pleaser!  Everyone spent a lot of time with their noses in this one just absorbing the cocoa notes.  Not a discernable vanilla flavour.  Opaque with a long-lasting creamy mocha coloured head.  For an oatmeal stout it sure did have a sharp finish, which added to the pleasure of drinking it.  Quite effervescent and made a very satisfying whoosh-pop everytime I flipped the pot-stopper open - you just can't over-rate a good whoosh-pop!
**this just in - there was no vanilla in the stout!  no wonder we didn't taste any!**

Scott Butchart's Spruce Tip Pale Ale:  The crowd was divided on this one - everyone at CBC loved it, I loved it, half the friends loved it.  The other half just weren't so sure about it.  Its a very interesting brew - the spruce tips give it a nice spruciness... but also a sweetness, which is what confused the nay-sayers.  The rest of us went with it and want more!  Cloudy without much head, but oh, the nose!

BJCP - Style Guidelines:

3B. Oktoberfest

Aroma: Rich German malt aroma (of Vienna and/or Munich malt). A light to moderate toasted malt aroma is often present. Clean lager aroma with no fruity esters or diacetyl. No hop aroma. Caramel aroma is inappropriate.

Appearance: Dark gold to deep orange-red color. Bright clarity, with solid, off-white, foam stand.

Flavor: Initial malty sweetness, but finish is moderately dry. Distinctive and complex maltiness often includes a toasted aspect. Hop bitterness is moderate, and noble hop flavor is low to none. Balance is toward malt, though the finish is not sweet. Noticeable caramel or roasted flavors are inappropriate. Clean lager character with no diacetyl or fruity esters.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, with a creamy texture and medium carbonation. Smooth. Fully fermented, without a cloying finish.

Overall Impression: Smooth, clean, and rather rich, with a depth of malt character. This is one of the classic malty styles, with a maltiness that is often described as soft, complex, and elegant but never cloying.

Comments: Domestic German versions tend to be golden, like a strong Pils-dominated Helles. Export German versions are typically orange-amber in color, and have a distinctive toasty malt character. German beer tax law limits the OG of the style at 14?P since it is a vollbier, although American versions can be stronger. “Fest” type beers are special occasion beers that are usually stronger than their everyday counterparts.

History: Origin is credited to Gabriel Sedlmayr, based on an adaptation of the Vienna style developed by Anton Dreher around 1840, shortly after lager yeast was first isolated. Typically brewed in the spring, signaling the end of the traditional brewing season and stored in cold caves or cellars during the warm summer months. Served in autumn amidst traditional celebrations.

Ingredients: Grist varies, although German Vienna malt is often the backbone of the grain bill, with some Munich malt, Pils malt, and possibly some crystal malt. All malt should derive from the finest quality two-row barley. Continental hops, especially noble varieties, are most authentic. Somewhat alkaline water (up to 300 PPM), with significant carbonate content is welcome. A decoction mash can help develop the rich malt profile.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1.050 – 1.057
IBUs: 20 – 28
FG: 1.012 – 1.016
SRM: 7 – 14
ABV: 4.8 – 5.7%

Commercial Examples: Paulaner Oktoberfest, Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen, Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest, Hofbräu Oktoberfest, Victory Festbier, Great Lakes Oktoberfest, Spaten Oktoberfest, Capital Oktoberfest, Gordon Biersch Märzen, Goose Island Oktoberfest, Samuel Adams Oktoberfest (a bit unusual in its late hopping)

1D. Munich Helles

Aroma: Pleasantly grainy-sweet, clean Pils malt aroma dominates. Low to moderately-low spicy noble hop aroma, and a low background note of DMS (from Pils malt). No esters or diacetyl.

Appearance: Medium yellow to pale gold, clear, with a creamy white head.

Flavor: Slightly sweet, malty profile. Grain and Pils malt flavors dominate, with a low to medium-low hop bitterness that supports the malty palate. Low to moderately-low spicy noble hop flavor. Finish and aftertaste remain malty. Clean, no fruity esters, no diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation, smooth maltiness with no trace of astringency.

Overall Impression: Malty but fully attenuated Pils malt showcase.

Comments: Unlike Pilsner but like its cousin, Munich Dunkel, Helles is a malt-accentuated beer that is not overly sweet, but rather focuses on malt flavor with underlying hop bitterness in a supporting role.

History: Created in Munich in 1895 at the Spaten brewery by Gabriel Sedlmayr to compete with Pilsner-style beers.

Ingredients: Moderate carbonate water, Pilsner malt, German noble hop varieties.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1.045 – 1.051
IBUs: 16 – 22
FG: 1.008 – 1.012
SRM: 3 – 5
ABV: 4.7 – 5.4%

Commercial Examples: Weihenstephaner Original, Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Gold, Bürgerbräu Wolznacher Hell Naturtrüb, Mahr's Hell, Paulaner Premium Lager, Spaten Premium Lager, Stoudt's Gold Lager
13C. Oatmeal Stout

Aroma: Mild roasted grain aromas, often with a coffee-like character. A light sweetness can imply a coffee-and-cream impression. Fruitiness should be low to medium. Diacetyl medium-low to none. Hop aroma low to none (UK varieties most common). A light oatmeal aroma is optional.

Appearance: Medium brown to black in color. Thick, creamy, persistent tan- to brown-colored head. Can be opaque (if not, it should be clear).

Flavor: Medium sweet to medium dry palate, with the complexity of oats and dark roasted grains present. Oats can add a nutty, grainy or earthy flavor. Dark grains can combine with malt sweetness to give the impression of milk chocolate or coffee with cream. Medium hop bitterness with the balance toward malt. Diacetyl medium-low to none. Hop flavor medium-low to none.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full to full body, smooth, silky, sometimes an almost oily slickness from the oatmeal. Creamy. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: A very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavor.

Comments: Generally between sweet and dry stouts in sweetness. Variations exist, from fairly sweet to quite dry. The level of bitterness also varies, as does the oatmeal impression. Light use of oatmeal may give a certain silkiness of body and richness of flavor, while heavy use of oatmeal can be fairly intense in flavor with an almost oily mouthfeel. When judging, allow for differences in interpretation.

History: An English seasonal variant of sweet stout that is usually less sweet than the original, and relies on oatmeal for body and complexity rather than lactose for body and sweetness.

Ingredients: Pale, caramel and dark roasted malts and grains. Oatmeal (5-10%+) used to enhance fullness of body and complexity of flavor. Hops primarily for bittering. Ale yeast. Water source should have some carbonate hardness.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1.048 – 1.065
IBUs: 25 – 40
FG: 1.010 – 1.018
SRM: 22 – 40
ABV: 4.2 – 5.9%

Commercial Examples: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Young's Oatmeal Stout, McAuslan Oatmeal Stout, Maclay’s Oat Malt Stout, Broughton Kinmount Willie Oatmeal Stout, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Tröegs Oatmeal Stout, New Holland The Poet, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout

10A. American Pale Ale

Aroma: Usually moderate to strong hop aroma from dry hopping or late kettle additions of American hop varieties. A citrusy hop character is very common, but not required. Low to moderate maltiness supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity). Fruity esters vary from moderate to none. No diacetyl. Dry hopping (if used) may add grassy notes, although this character should not be excessive.

Appearance: Pale golden to deep amber. Moderately large white to off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.

Flavor: Usually a moderate to high hop flavor, often showing a citrusy American hop character (although other hop varieties may be used). Low to moderately high clean malt character supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity). The balance is typically towards the late hops and bitterness, but the malt presence can be substantial. Caramel flavors are usually restrained or absent. Fruity esters can be moderate to none. Moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish. Hop flavor and bitterness often lingers into the finish. No diacetyl. Dry hopping (if used) may add grassy notes, although this character should not be excessive.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Carbonation moderate to high. Overall smooth finish without astringency often associated with high hopping rates.

Overall Impression: Refreshing and hoppy, yet with sufficient supporting malt.

History: An American adaptation of English pale ale, reflecting indigenous ingredients (hops, malt, yeast, and water). Often lighter in color, cleaner in fermentation by-products, and having less caramel flavors than English counterparts.

Comments: There is some overlap in color between American pale ale and American amber ale. The American pale ale will generally be cleaner, have a less caramelly malt profile, less body, and often more finishing hops.

Ingredients: Pale ale malt, typically American two-row. American hops, often but not always ones with a citrusy character. American ale yeast. Water can vary in sulfate content, but carbonate content should be relatively low. Specialty grains may add character and complexity, but generally make up a relatively small portion of the grist. Grains that add malt flavor and richness, light sweetness, and toasty or bready notes are often used (along with late hops) to differentiate brands.

Vital Statistics:






1.045 - 1.060

1.010 - 1.015

30 - 45+

5 - 14

4.5 - 6%

Commercial Examples: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stone Pale Ale, Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale, Full Sail Pale Ale, Three Floyds X-Tra Pale Ale, Anderson Valley Poleeko Gold Pale Ale, Left Hand Brewing Jackman's Pale Ale, Pyramid Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond


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