Hey, craft beer lovers! I don’t know about you but I can hardly believe 2010 is coming to an end. I find myself reflecting on what’s been a rewarding but demanding year for me professionally and a bittersweet year personally. I look back at things lost and things gained, good-byes and hellos, and I realize I’m always a bit reflective at this time of year. This is of course enhanced by a mellow few brews, and drinking them with friends.
And I’m thankful for the opportunity to share the world of craft beer with you, Transition Voice readers.
I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of craft beers this year and hopefully you’ve done the same. There’s a lot more out there so let’s make a New Year’s Resolution to explore the world of craft beer even more in 2011! I’ll be here every month to hold you to it.
A new beer for a new year
Craft beer is about unique experiences: enjoying a high quality drink made with care, skill, and attention. Recently I joined other craft beer enthusiasts in sampling a newly released beer so unique it’s being marketed as an entirely new style – Infinium from Samuel Adams.
Sam Adams has found such enormous success that even craft beer novices are familiar with the The Boston Beer Company. In fact, Sam Adams has grown so successful (on the cusp of exceeding 2 million barrels of production annually) that the company is challenging the Brewers Association criteria for a craft brewery.
Founded by legendary American brewer Jim Koch in 1984, Sam Adams quickly became the face of the craft beer renaissance. It’s not surprising they’ve grown so much. And their reputation for quality and passion for innovation in brewing has served the movement well.
I can’t resist a little beer history
This reputation for innovation brought Sam Adams together with Weihenstephan, a German brewery that considers itself the world’s oldest—their brewing began in 1040!
Much of Weihenstephan’s beer is still brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, the fabled Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. Actually a price control measure to protect other grains, the law stated that the only ingredients of beer were to be water, barley, and hops (the existence of yeast was not yet understood). The law remained until 1988 when it was superceded by EU rules. Yet German brewers proudly treasure this tradition and many still adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, leading to a very conservative brewing culture dominated by pilsners.
Foreign exchange students
Boston met Bavaria when Weihenstephan reached out to Sam Adams to stretch their knowledge and technique beyond Germany. The resulting beer, Infinium, is said to be the first new style developed under the Reinheitsgebot in over a century.
The brewers developed a new brewing process to create the unique profile of Infinium while remaining within the confines of the Reinheitsgebot. The resulting beer is a crisp ale that brewers are calling “champagne-like.” My tastebuds agree. Sold in a gorgeous 750 mL magnum like champagne, the beer pours with lots of bubbles and a big head. I recommend a champagne flute to get the full effect. Alternatively, use a fancy ale horn to drink out of to look like a real ale expert! You can find these on alehorn.com.
A beautiful golden color, Infinium has a wonderful, effervescent mouth feel that is indeed like champagne. There’s a nice malty quality but Infinium is crisp like bubbly, though the malt and hop character subtly remind you that you are actually drinking beer. I found that a bite of milk chocolate really helped bring out the champagne qualities of Infinium. I recommend that all good-hearted and curious people give Infinium a try; it’s truly something different and perfect for the celebratory season. Flutes of Infinium would make an excellent toast to start a beer dinner, or an earthy toast to the start of 2011. And the package and story can’t be beat if you’re looking for something to impress guests or take to a host for New Year’s Eve.
Spice up your holidays
From the heart of the Midwest in greater St. Louis, Missouri come the delightful brews of Schlafly Beer. I was lucky enough to acquire some of their Christmas Ale at a local brewpub and beer store. Normally Schlafly is only available within a 3-4 hour driving distance of their brewery because of their commitment to and focus on being local first. But I got lucky. If you nose around, you might, too.
Part of being a craft beer enthusiast is enjoying the traditional seasonal offerings of the year’s beer calendar, and so I’ve been waist-deep in Christmas ales since November.
Schlafly Christmas Ale is very spicy, even for your typical Christmas ale, with a full nose of hops, orange peels and cloves right at first whiff. The taste is almost all spice but with a broad malty sweetness. I enjoyed the flavor of this beer but found the strong malt and heavy spice overwhelming by the end of the bottle. However, other folks tasting with me loved it. But I confess my palate tends toward bright, hoppy beers, so I’m putting aside my prejudices and letting my friends’ tastebuds help recommend Schlafly Christmas Ale for malt or spice lovers this holiday season.
You can’t handle the truth
Stone Brewing Co. has quite a reputation in the craft beer world for its “big character” beers. In particular they’re known for a series of highly hopped beers, such as Ruination IPA (dubbed for how it ruins your palate with hop bitterness) and the “Bastard” series – Arrogant Bastard Ale, Double Bastard Ale, Lucky Basartd Ale (misspelling intentional), and OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale.
Stone labels are well worth a read, so check them out. They throw down a challenge, questioning your ability to enjoy and appreciate the big character of their beers. As a hophead and a craft beer enthusiast I’ve stepped up to the plate a number of times over the years to enjoy the fine brews of Stone, yet somehow the OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale eluded me…until recently. A tragedy. I urge you not to make the same mistake.
Arrogant Bastard is a high hop, high ABV marvel of beer making that’s legendary in its own right. Several years into brewing the geniuses at Stone came up with the idea of aging Arrogant Bastard with oak. The result is one of the most complex beers I’ve ever tasted. On opening a bottle the oak smell is pronounced, but so is the hop aroma – an early indication of the unique balance of this beer.
The beer is a stunning almost brick red color, and the oak nose awakens even more as the beer sits in a glass. In the mouth the beer feels nice and malty with a bite on the back end from the oak and hops. The woody taste stays with you and although very hoppy, the oak aging mellows the hop bite, producing a deep, balanced flavor. Definitely a strong flavored beer that is not for the light of heart, but I was fascinated by the flavor achieved by the oak and hops in combination. Highly recommended to experience a truly complex flavor profile.
That ought to keep you busy for a few weeks. When I come back in January I’ll have some tastes to set 2011 hopping on the right foot. Happy New Year!