beer column

here are my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio's on the coast
where i chatted with gloria macarenko about crowlers and the joys of infusing beer

Beer is a growing industry.  And that means that beer gear is taking off too.  Have you heard of the "crowler"?
No one in the Lower Mainland is equipped to do them yet, but it may just be a matter of time!  A crowler is basically a canned growler.  You go to a brewery that is equipped to fill a 32oz can with fresh beer and then seal it.  You carry it home, and pop it when you’re ready for some delicious fresh beer. 

Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado invented the crowler and has been filling them since December.  Designed to keep beer fresh for longer than a growler, did a taste test on a crowler five months after fill and reported that it was as fresh as the day it was poured.  Now, 32 oz cans have been around for a while in America, but freshly poured 32 oz cans?  That’s new!  Not as eco-friendly as a growler that you keep refilling, but the crowler is recyclable and intended to stand beside the growler rather than replace it.  Both have their place in the beer geek’s bag of tricks. 
Oskar Blues is a brewery that cans their beers, so this innovation just makes sense in their evolution of brewing.  The can is filled from a tap and then seamed using a table top design similar to those used to can homemade food.  CO2 is purged to ensure that there is no oxygen in the can, which is what gives the cans their long shelf-life.  They are also opaque, which ensures the beer does not get light-struck.  You don’t even want me to tell you how little Oskar Blues charges for a crowler, as there is no way anyone in the Lower Mainland could ever offer beer for so little!  ($6)

I'm not sure the idea will catch on outside Colorado, but I sure would like to try it! 
Another beer innovation is the beer infuser.  The one I have was given away by Alexander Keith’s as a promotional item.  It is a plastic cup with a strainer.  You put a substance you would like to infuse your beer with into the cup, pour your beer in and let it steep for a couple of minutes.  You then pour the beer out, through the strainer, into a glass and enjoy your infused beer.  If you weren’t lucky enough to receive the official Alexander Keith’s infuser, which I am guessing most of you did not, you can still infuse beer on your own – it only takes beer, imagination and a strainer.

I have talked here before about how much I love Storm Brewing’s basil IPa, so I tried to make my own basil infused IPA.  I had some friends helping me with taste testing and everyone loved the results.
We first infused a macro lager as we didn’t want to potentially ruin a good beer!  Just a little basil and that macro lager was delicious!  We didn’t even need to muddle the basil, just whole leaves were enough to change the whole experience.

macro swill and basil infusing its way into a tasty beverage
I also brought a growler of Storm Basil IPA with me, just to make sure that our infusing experiments had a proper yardstick to measure against.  Everyone liked the infused beer as much as they did the flavoured beer.  Which surprised me.  I went into the experiment expecting to have fun, but to come away disappointed in the results.  Silly me – freshly infused beers are delicious, even when you don’t start with the tastiest beer as a base.  I am in no way suggesting that the infuser replace quality craft beer for anyone, just that if you have a beer that you're not in love with, you might want to try infusing it.  Maybe that will make it palatable.  If not, there's always cooking with beer!
We kept the fun going with several other infusion flavourings, including muddled blueberries and cherries in with the basil.  We had that one with cider – very yummy and a great way to have a fruit cider that isn’t too sweet – and with beer.  The infuser also worked really well with soda water instead of beer.

cider being infused with basil - delicious!
Infusing beer isn't a new idea, Dogfish Head in Delaware invented the Randall for infusing draft beer and if you have been to Bomber Brewing or Parallel 49, the Randall is the cylinder filled with tasty treats that draft beer is pushed through before serving it.  You can have one at home, but generally they are used at a bar.  Dogfish Head also came up with a personal infuser, called the Randall Jr.  You can find those original infusers on the Dogfish Head website, or Ebay.  The Alexander Keith's infuser is also available on Ebay.
The personal infuser allows you to have just a single beer infused with a flavour, then you can clean it out and re-use it immediately with a different flavour, or you can keep layering flavours.   And you can control how much of a particular flavour you want to impart.  If you put just a little bit in the infuser, you’ll just get a hint of that flavour.  If you put a lot in, muddle it, and let it steep longer, you’ll get a more intense flavour.  As the friend who gave me my infuser helpfully pointed out, you probably don’t want to put the entire chopped hot pepper in the infuser... just a slice will do!
The infuser is my new favourite toy.  

Beer Picks:
In honour of International IPA day which is on Thursday, August 7th, my beer picks are all IPAs:

Four Winds IPA – available in bottles, and if you can find the Juxtapose Brett IPA around, get that too!  Library Square has it on tap.
Parallel 49 Filthy Dirty IPA – available at the tasting room currently, launching in bottles later this month.

Storm Brewing Basil IPA – available for growler fills at the brewery.
And of course, the ubiquitous Driftwood’s Fat Tug, available in bottles and on tap almost everywhere in Vancouver.


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