Rob Widmer calls his Doppelbock “liquid bread.” It’s full and wholesome, filling and satisfying. It tastes like whole grains, toasted nuts, and milk chocolate. But on the other hand, this is an eight and a half percent dopplebock. It warms your belly and stings with dry alcohol. Thus the “helmet required” warning.
According to legend, the doppelbock style was once brewed in during lent by fasting monks. They couldn’t eat any food but cleverly realized beer is not food — even monks exploit technicalities to avoid church rules (see also: the famous beaver is fish decision). A few years back a brave Iowan followed the monks’ lead and made it forty-six days on a liquid diet of doppelbock. Beer is full of healthy elements — vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates — but even so the part-time monk lost over twenty-five pounds.
If you drank Widmer’s interpretation for sustenance, you wouldn’t lose much weight, but you might wake up with a head injury.
There is more than one way to sour a beer. Traditional lambic is left open to wild yeast; Berliner weisse is dosed with bacteria in the mash tun; Flanders style red ales are aged in oak foeders that have been inoculated with brettanomyces and bacteria; in the U.S., all these methods have been explored and new methods are being created as we speak.
The sour Biere Royal is based on the classic champagne cocktail, the kir royale, a mixture of black currant liqueur and sparkling wine. The Commons Brewery hasn’t disclosed their method for making Biere Royale, but it produces a unique beer bursting with complex flavor.
Biere Royale has a strong flavor of fresh picked berries and a snappy acidity from lactobacillus much like a modern Berliner weisse, but that’s not where the story ends. The nose has a distinctly grassy scent, something reminiscent of cut grass. On the tongue, the acid stands out, but around the edges there is a raw graininess and a little farmyard funk and perhaps a hint of vinegar. Biere Royale light and fruity but satisfying.
I’m not sure how they did it. Biere Royale has the fizzy body and snappy acidity of a Berliner weisse with just enough funkiness to round off the body and fill out the flavor.
During the 2008 hop shortage, something something, 21st Amendment made their hoppiest beer ever. Bitter citrus, earth, pine — it’s aged on oak spirals, only a hint of wood in the finish, not super vanilla-y — I think I’ve written this all before.
But we may be only a few years from another shortage, the worldwide hops supply regularly goes through periods of boom and bust. With the incredible growth of breweries in the United States and abroad, the demand for hops, especially aroma and flavor varieties, is exploding. The problem is the supply of hops doesn’t expand as easily. Stringing new plants requires time and money, investments that can’t be made lightly. At the very least, the next few years will see increased prices for brewers as growers expand their fields, but one bad season could see another shortage.
If you’re interested in hops, you have to read Stan Hieronymus. He wrote the book on hops, and last week he wrote a about the 2014 hop forecast for his excellent blog, Appellation Beer.
In order to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced, ever broadening beer marketplace, with its synergies and informatics, a brand must expand their core product line with exciting offshoots and dynamic specialty products. Hopworks Urban Brewery has complimented their core lineup of bottled and canned beers with both a series of single hop IPAs and a premium Belgian-style line in wax dipped bottles.
The latest Belgian-Style branded bottle is an excellent, bubbly saison. The champagne like carbonation explodes with all the energy of a good TED talk. The flavors of hay and apples meet a tangy, lemony, citrus acidity like a Bay Area startup disrupting your known paradigm. And then the tingly bubbles tickle the inside of your nose and the roof of your mouth like a really great — like a perfect… Uhh… I can’t think of any more jokes.
But the beer is good.
Maiden the Shade
I’ve been so focused on the great European styles lagers coming out of Eugene, I forgot about Ninkasi’s regular offerings. The new Ninkasi seasonal, Maiden the Shade, is billed as a summer IPA. It’s not super fruity or citrusy. It’s not particularly light. It’s really just a regular IPA.
Maiden the Shade is flowery, like a potpourri of pine needles and lavender petals. The malt character is clean and pale without any crystal or caramel flavored malts to distract from the hops. My one complaint is that the beer has a hard bitterness in the finish, but that seems like a Ninkasi signature.