beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast with stephen quinn:

I'm feeling optimistic enough about the arrival of Spring to talk about Spring beers.

I think we can all agree that it is nice to get out of the dark days of winter and celebrate with a beer that looks lighter in the glass than a stout.

Of all the seasons of the year though, Spring has the fewest beer styles associated with it.  Traditionally, and when I say traditionally, I mean in the Olde Worlde of beer (aka Germany and Belgium) – traditionally a bock was the beer style that indicated spring had arrived.

Bocks are strong lagers from Germany.  You know it’s a bock if there’s a goat on the label.  The beer style is said to have originated in Einbeck, and then when it was adopted by Munich brewers in the 17th century, it was often mispronounced as Ein Bock, which means a billy goat.  So the beers became known as Bocks and often the label goes for the pun with a photo of a goat.

There are several versions of the style:  

Maibocks or helles bocks are paler, hoppier versions brewed for drinking in the spring.
Doppelbocks are essentially a “double” bock – very high alcohol (7-12%) and quite sweet.  And a little more beer history for you – these are the beers drunk by the Bavarian monks during the fasting period of Lent, so they have become associated with Christian religious festivals like Christmas and Easter.  They usually have a name that ends in “ator”, after the original doppelbock brewed by monks – salvator (or saviour).

Weizenbocks are wheat bocks and generally more associated with the fall season.  They also tend to be ales rather than lagers.

Eisbocks are super strong beers made by freezing a doppelbock and removing the ice to concentrate the flavour and the alcohol.  These tend to be 9-13% abv.  The flavour is very rich and sweet.

Bocks are not a terribly popular style locally, but you can still find some bocks here.  Tree Brewing’s Captivator is a doppelbock – note the keeping up the tradition of their name ending in “ator”!.  Vancouver Island Brewing’s Hermannator is an Eisbock.   And Granville Island Brewing has a limited edition doppelbock as part of their new cellar series.

Aside from bocks, I love a Berliner Weiss or a gose in the springtime – both are lightly sour wheat beers, that are big on effervescence.  I will admit to drinking them all year long, perhaps because they feel like springtime in a glass to me.  The acidity from the wheat also makes them extra thirst-quenching.

In a Berliner weisse the malts are kilned at low temperatures to keep the colour down to a minimum.  These are very sessional beers, usually around 3% abv, and are fermented with lactic acid.  You will often see these beers served with an option of flavoured syrup (like raspberry or woordruff).

Goses are also often sessional beers of 4-5% alcohol, and are also fermented with lactobacillus.  What sets a gose apart though is its saltiness.  Goses also contain coriander.  I find the spice and the salt, along with the carbonation, very satisfying on my tastebuds and really savour these beers.

Saisons are also wonderful spring beers.  Saisons were traditionally brewed during the cooler months in Belgium, then stored for drinking by farm workers during the summer months.  Saisons tend to be fruity and light bodied, but historically they did not have set characteristics.  Rather they varied from farmhouse to farmhouse.  Now there is a set style profile, but brewers still experiment a lot within it – like with combinations of yeast strains, fruit additions and spices.  Regardless, saisons are very refreshing beers and that definitely draws me to them as the weather warms up.

Beer Tasting:

I brought in the Graff, which is a collaboration between Ravens Brewing and Steel & Oak brewing, and it is a collaboration between beer and cider too!

This is not a snakebite, which is a mix of beer and cider.  Nope, this is a different beast entirely!  This graf is brewed as a beer initially, then it undergoes a secondary fermentation with the addition of unfiltered local apple juice.  Then it gets dry-hopped!

Graf is one of those drinks that has quite an interesting origin – graf was an apple-based beer in the Stephen King series The Dark Tower.   There were no details on how to make graf in the books, so of course homebrewers started experimenting!  Because there are no style guidelines for graf, it’s up to the brewer to decide whether they’ll make a cider with some beer in it, a beer with some cider in it, or an even balance of the two.

Tasting Notes:  crisp, dry, juicy bouquet of pear, apple, tangerine and stone fruit

Beer Picks:

Granville Island doppel bock:  Last year’s version won silver at the Canadian Brewing Awards.  This year’s version has been tweaked a bit, and is the first beer in GIB’s new Cellar Series.  These small batch beers can be cellared for up to three years.  If you buy a few bottles, you can try them at various points in time and see what aging does to the flavour.  The doppelbock is a strong, full-bodied and sweet dark lager.  The doppelbock is only available at the Granville Island retail store in 650 ml bottles.  8.2%  And there’s a double-headed goat on the label!

Fieldhouse collaboration with Brassneck Brewing:  In this edition of their Coolship collaboration series, Fieldhouse teamed up with Brassneck to make a Wild Brett Wasp Sour.  If you think the name is a mouthful, wait until you hear about all the different elements that went into making this beer.  Yeast from a wasp was extracted and used in the beer.  The beer was also allowed to rest in the coolship overnight to attract some microflora.  Then it was finished with Brettanomyces.  Aromas of fruit and caramel, flavours of honey and tart fruit.  Light bodied and mildly sour.  6.5%.  Available in 750 ml bottles while supplies last.

(The coolship is a broad, open-top, flat vessel in which to cool the wort (the sugary liquid extracted from the malts that will be fermented into beer).  Because it is open-topped, the wort is exposed to any yeasts and bacteria in the air.  These microorganisms can spoil a beer – but they can also sour it!  The process is known as spontaneous fermentation, and is the process used in traditional Belgian lambics.  The results are unpredictable, but I think that’s where the real fun is for brewers.)

When I’m back in two weeks’ time, I’ll be giving away a ticket to the Siris Cask Festival – this is a celebration of women in brewing to be held in Port Coquitlam on April 22nd.  So make sure you’re listening next time for your chance to win a ticket!


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