Remember the 1980′s movie Cocktail? Brian Flanagan’s friend Doug quotes…”Beer is for breakfast, drink or be gone!” It’s one of my favorite movie lines. That’s how beer used to be. Watery, low alcohol, yellow beer (I suppose that type of beer is still on the market), that’s light enough to pour over your bowl of Cheerios. Part of your nutritious breakfast! This was before the days of high ABV craft brews. In the past decade of this craft beer revolution, the trend has been to cram as much alcohol into a pint of beer, while still retaining some sort of hop/malt balance.
Most recently however, the pendulum from the high gravity beers seems to be swinging back. More and more people are demanding session style beers, light enough to have a few pints and not fall off your bar stool, but enough ingredients to give you the complex flavor you are craving.
I love a full-bodied, full-flavored craft beer as much as the next person. But a lot of times that means high alcohol to go along with it. I don’t know about you, but I’m not always in the mood to drink to get drunk. I have a pretty good tolerance, but for a 5’6″, 125lb female – one and a half pints of a 9% beer and I’m ramping up for a late night.
Luckily brewers are getting the hint and crafting some mighty tasty low ABV beers these days; beers that will get you through an evening at the bar with your best buddies without feeling the wrath the next morning. These beers are starting to become more accessible - your favorite local brewery may even have a session style ale or lager. But what exactly is a session beer?
The style has actually been around since World War I, but has remained dormant until recently. As the story goes, during WWI shell production in England, workers were only allowed to have a few pints at their local watering hole during government regulated “sessions” of 11am-3pm and 7pm-11pm. Since they were shift workers and many of them were returning to work at odd hours, they could only be served low alcohol beer in order to avoid being sauced on the job. Heavy equipment + drunk Brits is a bad combo.
Here is the official definition from Beer Advocate:
Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication.
Probably the most well known session style beer theses days is (aptly named), Session Lager, by Full Sail Brewing Company. Winner of the World Beer Awards 2010 and coming in at 5.1% ABV. There are numerous other beers classified as session style as posted on the label, and still others that you might just have to classify on your own. A new summertime favorite and perfect boat beer is Cisco Brewing Sankaty Lager in both bottles and cans, at 3.8% ABV. Not specifically a “session” beer, but I am going to go ahead and classify it as one.
The hot days of summer are just around the corner. Now is the time to seek out your new favorite session beer!
As a Greek god worshiped over 3000 years ago from 1500-1100 BC, Dionysus was praised as the god of all things wine. His duly services include watching over humankind who were involved in wine-drinking for pleasure, drunkenness, wine-drinking for good health, grape harvest, grape tending, wine making, wine types, wine regions, and wine merchants and commerce (evidently, in the instance that things go awry here at Decanted, he’s the go-to guy). He is also known by his Roman name, Bacchus and the two are used interchangeably.
As the story goes, “When Bakkhos saw the wild grapes with a bellyful of red juice…he dug into the rock, he hollowed out a pit in the stone with the sharp prongs of his earth-burrowing pick, he smoothed the sides of the deepening hold and made an excavation like a winepress and made the first ever batch of wine.” That sounds almost too easy, but I guess if you are a god, then I suppose anything is relatively easy.
Since these events weren’t recorded as accurately as maybe they should have been, we have no idea of knowing how the skill and art of wine making was passed along into the hands of us mere mortals, but it was very kind of him to share his discovery to say the least.
From the unimaginative and strictly logical perspective, I’m going to throw a left handed pitch here. If Greek and Roman gods are in fact “myths”, then I’m guessing that wine was around before the god Dionysus was conceptualized one night around the campfire. If humans made up the story about him inventing wine, then…dare I ask…was it in fact humans that invented wine? And if so, wouldn’t we want to take credit for it? Maybe it was just an excuse to put the work of mankind up onto a pedestal. Gray areas and mysteries of the past forever to remain unanswered.
In any case, stories are always fun and I will leave you with a jovial quote from Mnesitheus, Greek physician and wine drinker; “the gods had revealed wine to mortals, to be the greatest blessing for those who use it aright… For it gives food to them that take it, and strength in mind and body. To those who mix and drink it moderately, it gives good cheer”
To accommodate the growing craft beer industry and those breweries that are coming close to surpassing the previous maximum on the number of barrels which constitute a craft brewer, the Brewer’s Association has changed the rules. The previous definition capped out a craft brewer at 2 million barrels per year. The new definition of a craft brewer, as of December 20, 2010, has been bumped up to 6 million barrels. To give you an idea of the quantity of beer we are talking about…1 beer barrel equals 31 gallons of beer, that’s about two kegs worth. 6 million barrels equals 12 million kegs. That’s one hell of a party.The Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams beers is staged to become the first craft brewer to surpass the 2 million barrel mark within the next few years.
Although some may not be thrilled about the idea of such a large brewery continuing to segment itself in the craft beer market, in comparison, Anheuser Busch produces over 125 million barrels per year. That’s a heck of a lot more beer than Sam Adams is making.
Nick Matt, a Board Member for the Brewer’s Association, commented on the recent change: “Rather than removing members due to their success, the craft brewing industry should be celebrating our growth.”
As larger craft breweries such as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Magic Hat and Dogfish Head continue to grow and popularity increases, expect to see more of these companies getting closer to the larger volume production that The Boston Beer Company is at. The flood gates are open, the craft beer movement is in full swing. Cheers to that.
If you would like to see the full definition of a craft brewer, visit the Brewer’s Association website
Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan
About: Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale is the first beer in the world made with whole roasted pecans. The pecans are used just like grain and provide a nutty characteristic and a delightful depth to the flavor profile. This beer is very lightly hopped to allow the malty, caramel, and nutty flavors shine through. The color is dark mahogany.
Ratings: Bronze Medal in the 2006 World Beer Cup, B+ Beer Advocate
Price: $2.10 12 oz
Boulder Brewing Company Singletrack Copper Ale
From: Boulder, Colorado
About: Refreshing yet full flavored, medium bodied copper ale. Not too dark, not too light…it’s just right.
Ratings: Silver Medal in the 2002 World Beer Cup and Bronze Medal in the 2004 World Beer Cup
Price: $1.75 12 oz
Bells Brewing Oberon Ale
From: Kalamazoo, Michigan
About: A wheat ale fermented with Bell’s signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The addition of wheat malt lends a smooth mouthfeel, making it a classic summer beer.
Ratings: B+ Beer Advocate
Price: $2.25 12 oz
Cigar City Brewing Bolita Double Nut Brown
About: An imperial northern English brown ale. Huge malt flavor and aromatics.
Ratings: A- Beer Advocate
Price: $11.25 750 ml
Southern Tier Choklat – RE-RELEASED! LIMITED QUANTITIES
From: Lakewood, New York
About: The Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, unfolds a complex web of mystery around a beverage known as xocoatl (ch-co-atle). At Southern Tier, we’re not surprised that hieroglyphs of the ancient Maya depict chocolate being poured for rulers and gods. Brewed with bittersweet Belgian chocolate this is the perfect dessert beer.
Ratings: A Beer Advocate
Price: $9.25 22 oz
Looking for a great beer to pair with sushi? You are in luck. Rogue Ales out of Newport Oregon has teamed up with Chef and Restaurateur Masaharu Morimoto, best known for his appearances in Iron Chef, to develop a line of specialty beers to specifically pair with his Japanese fusion style cuisine.The beers include Morimoto Imperial Pilsner, Morimoto Soba and Morimoto Black Obi.
My personal favorite, the Morimoto Soba Ale is brewed with roasted soba, a buckwheat grain which is a staple in the Japanese diet and used to make the traditional soba noodle. Buckwheat is known for its nutritional value, being high in potassium, phosphorous, vitamin B and protein. The best part of all though, is that it is virtually fat free!
The beer itself is light and crisp, especially for an ale, and has a slight nutty finish. When you think of the typical beers that are served with sushi, often Sapporo, Kirin and Asahi come to mind; light lagers with limited taste. While they still may be refreshing and great in their own way…the flavors of sushi, with accents of wasabi, ginger and sodium filled soy sauce tend to overpower those light beers and make pairings complicated with fuller bodied ales. Thank goodness for Chef Morimoto, Rogue Ales, and ingenuity.
Morimoto Soba Ale, $7.75
If you like beer and television, the new TV series “Brewmasters” is your new favorite show. Founder of Dogfish Head Brewing Company, Sam Calgione, created a TV series based on the craft beer industry, adventure and travel, as well as the trials and tribulations of everyday operations. If you are a serious beer geek like myself, you may have seen every episode already…plus all the re-runs.
In his premier episode that aired on November 21st at 10pm on The Discovery Channel, we follow Sam and his crew as they embark upon the task of creating “Bitches Brew” as a tribute to Miles Davis album of the same name’s 40th anniversary. He has a tight deadline to create a custom brew that will please palates. They bring us along as they follow daily operations where anything can happen, as well as travels across the globe to seek out new beer recipes and ingredients.
As a craft beer drinker, it’s fantastic to see someone like Sam portraying craft beer in positive light in the mainstream. It gives me hope that one day a larger percentage of Americans will opt for a craft beer over adjunct based mass produced beer when given the choice.
You can watch video clips and find a weekly schedule at http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/brew-masters
Nestled in the midst of rolling vineyards and an abundance of wine-o’s, the Smith family took a leap of faith, embracing the craft beer movement by opening Napa Smith Brewery. They are hoping by using the name “Napa” in their brewery name, that instead of conjuring up images of vineyards and wine, images of artistry, craftsmanship and fine beverages will come to mind.
In the spirit of fine beverages, leave it to a brewery right out of Napa Valley to create a series of beers that are meant to pair with food. Napa Smith currently produce three varieties of ales; a Pale Ale, an Amber and a Wheat beer. They believe there are certain foods that beers pair with easier than wine and that certain beers will actually make the food taste better. Their three beers are meant to pair with a large range of food types including seafood, pasta, chicken and pork.
Family owned and operated, they believe that life is about having fun and that good food should be accompanied with great beer.
Ranked in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 25 Beers, Napa Smith’s Amber Ale is a crowd pleaser. $9/4 pack
Napa Smith’s Amber Ale uses seven malt varieties, and three unique selections of hops in order to achieve deep complex flavors. The taste starts slightly sweet and then progresses to a clean, dry finish.
You can find Napa Smith beer and other craft beers at Decanted 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Naples FL 34108 or online at http://www.decantedwines.com
Microbrews are making a presence these days. Wine Enthusiast, which for years has been there to lend us a helping hand by providing us information and education in the vino department, has jumped on the beer wagon. Starting in 2009, Wine Enthusiast has rated the top 25 beers, complete with a points system.
Their 2010 list just came out. Here is a list of the beers that we can get our hands on here in Southwest Florida.
#1. Allagash Black (Belgian Style Stout) 7.5% ABV 750 ml, Maine – 96 Points
#5. Southern Tier Mokah Imperial Stout 11% ABV 22 oz, New York- 96 Points
#6. Victory Prima Pils 5.3% ABV 12 oz, Pennsylvania – 94 Points
#8. Avery duganA IPA (American Double/Imperial IPA) 8.5% 22 oz, Colorado – 93 Points
#9. Stone Imperial Russian Stout 10.5% ABV 22 oz, California – 95 Points
#12. Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo ( English Strong Ale) 8% ABV 550 ml, England – 93 Points
#13. Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop Ale (American IPA) 7% ABV 12 oz, Maryland – 92 Points
#14. Smuttynose Big Beer Series Scotch Ale 7.1% ABV 22 oz, New Hampshire – 92 Points
#15. Full Sail Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter 9.85% ABV 22 oz, Oregon – 93 Points
# 16. Left Hand Fade to Black Ale Volume 1 (Foreign/Export Stout) 8.5% ABV 12 oz, Colorado – 92 Points
#19. Widmer Brothers The Original Drifter Pale Ale 5.7% ABV 12 oz, Oregon – 91 Points
#20. Fuller’s London Pride English Pale Ale 4.7% ABV 12 oz, England – 91 Points
#24. Napa Smith Amber Ale 5.75% ABV 22 oz, Napa Valley California – 90 Points
Visit Wine Enthusiast’s website for the complete list:
London Porters originated in the early 1700′s as a heavy brown beer. The British market lost interest throughout the centuries until the 1900′s. In the meantime this beer style made its way to the Baltic countries where they have since evolved into higher gravity black beers. These days, every Baltic country brews its own Baltic style Porter. This includes the countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Denmark and Sweden. It was originally introduced from Britain using top-fermenting techniques (ale), but since many of the large breweries in the cooler northern countries brewed lagers, the style is now almost always brewed by bottom-fermentation (lager). This creates a rich, full bodied beer with toffee and roasted malt flavors and a surprising light finish. Now, I’m not going to say it tastes as light as a Heineken, but it doesn’t taste heavy like Guinness either.
One of my new favorite Baltic Porters is Victory’s Baltic Thunder. They do their best to accurately represent an authentic Baltic Porter. An ABV of 8.5% keeps it true to style. Smooth and very drinkable with low bitterness and slightly sweet in character, this new release from Victory will be available year round. $6.25 for a 22 oz bottle.
Decanted is located at 1410 Pine Ridge Rd in Naples, FL. For more information and online ordering, visit http://www.decantedwines.com
Ahh, the beers of Autumn. The weather breaks its summer swelter, it’s time to move to something a bit darker to accompany the hearty and rustic meals on menu. With butternut squash and wild mushrooms, pumpkin pie and apple tarts, the aromas of sage and ginger, cinnamon and cloves, food friendly beers are becoming increasingly popular with traditional holiday meals.
It seems that every brewery these days are making some sort of pumpkin or fall spiced brew. Rightly so, as autumn beers are the most popular of all the seasonals. From Late Harvest to Autumn Maple, Apple and Pear Cider, Oktoberfest Marzens and Pumpkin Spice, there is a beer for ever fall meal. But where to start, and how to pair?
If you are sticking with traditional turkey, stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, you will find that the variety of flavors that can be found in this meal are at all ends of the spectrum. From savory to citrus, sweet and spicy, many find it a difficult task to pair an appropriate wine for the occasion. Luckily, beer is here to save the day. An Oktoberfest Marzen pairs wonderfully with the diverse flavors that come along with this meal. Try Paulaner Oktoberfest, light in body, full in malty flavors, it won’t overpower anything, but is still big enough to hold its own – $10.80 for a 6 pack. If you are looking for a beer that will pack some bigger flavors, try Dogfish Head Pangaea. It has a warming ginger tone, but a light crisp finish that will cleanse your palate – $10.50 for a 750 ml bottle. For those of you that prefer a lighter, Champagne-y style beer, go for a cider. Ace Joker Cider $4.50 for a 22 oz bottle, pairs fabulously with a pork roast slow cooked with Granny Smith apples and rosemary. Serve it in a Champagne flute and impress your guests.
If you have ham with orange glaze on the menu, try a Weizen such as Franziskaner Hefeweizen, spicy and light with notes of citrus, coriander and clove – $10.80 for a 6 pack. If you prefer a bolder ham with perhaps a mustard glaze, try a darker styled weizenbock or dunkel weiss such as Julius Echter Dunkelweiss, – $3.50 for a 22 oz bottle. The smooth malts will cut the acidity in the mustard, and with the low hop content it won’t leave you with a bitter aftertaste in your mouth.
For the prime rib, roast tenderloin and brisket lover, try a Scotch ale, a Porter or a heavy German Dopplebock. Spaten Optimator is one of those big, scary dark beers (my favorite!), and be careful of the alcohol content at 7.2%. Certainly not a slugging beer. Perfect for beef with a good amount of peppery flavors or whole peppercorns – $10.80 for a 6 pack. If you choose a rich, dense gravy, Rogue Mocha Porter will do the trick – $13.50 for a 6 pack.
And on to dessert – pumpkin pie, pecan pie and gingerbread cookies go famously with a pumpkin spiced beer. Try Dogfish Head Punkin – $9.90 for a 4 pack. If you simply want beer for dessert, try Southern Tier Creme Brulee (tastes just like burnt cream) $9.25 for a 22 oz and Southern Tier Pumking (tastes like biting into pumpkin pie crust) $7.50 for a 22 oz - a side of vanilla bean ice cream will suffice.
Most of these beers are seasonal and they do sell out. The next time you can get your hands on these fall specialties won’t be until next year, so grab them while you can and enjoy the holidays!