Craft Beer Tasting

On Wednesday August 10th 2011 I hosted a craft beer tasting at the Royal Canadian Legion branch 232, Texada Island, B.C. In preparation for this event I learned quite a lot about beer (I had to try to sound intelligent after all.) I also had to choose 8 beers available in the Powell River area that were up to my standards for such an event. They had to be delicious, diverse in taste and style, and available locally. (In case, by some stretch of the imagination, the folks who attended this event ACTUALLY liked the beers that I chose, they could purchase some for themselves.) Next year I may order some obscure beers that attendees may never get their hot little hands on again.

Learning so much about beer was inspiring and exciting. I really, really want to make my own beer. Like Rob Nagy, I will start simple. It would be very cool, however, to eventually start from scratch. I would love to grow the cereal grains, make my own malt, use my own selection of hops/herbs for flavour, etc. There is some experimentation possible with “kit brewing”, of course, but half of the art of beer making lies in the malt – white sugar and generic cans of malt just won’t cut it!

A few points that I shared with the guests at the tasting:

-Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, it outsells wine by 400% (It is also the 3rd most popular beverage over all, after only water and tea.)

-Brewers’ yeast is very high in trace minerals such as magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, and all of the B vitamins. (No wonder some people call it “liquid bread”) Ergo, beer may be high in calories, but clearly it has a lot of nutritional value too! There are worse things to get fat from.

-The term “beer” refers to a beverage produced by fermenting the sugars derived from cereal grains (such as barley, wheat, oats, corn, rice, etc..) and does not necessarily contain hops. In fact, before the 17th century beer rarely contained hops and was flavoured instead with various herbs that were native to the particular brewing region. Hops are popular because they give beer its iconic (and delicious) bitter flavour and also act as a natural preservative.

-Rice and corn are commonly used in commercial American beers. Many people believe this is because corn and rice are cheaper than other grains, but in reality they are added because they produce a very light tasting, easy to drink beverage. This practice became commonplace after prohibition ended in the 30’s and beer started to become mass produced. True “ale” recipes that were more traditional apparently did not suit North-Americans taste.

-Hops are often added more than once during the boiling of the wort. Similar to steeping a cup of tea, the longer the hops are in the hot liquid, the more bitter they become. Hops may be added at the beginning to achieve a bitter taste, and then again added towards the end of boiling to retain the more floral, “hoppy” flavour.

-The cooled wort (which is malt + water + hops) is then put into the fermenter with yeast for a length of time that is determined by the brewer, it can be weeks, months, or in rare circumstances years. Bottom fermenting yeasts may also be left in the beer after packaging so that fermentation can continue, or sometimes the yeast may be filtered out and new yeast added before packaging.

-When beer is put into a keg, it is normally pressurized with CO2, but to get a rich, creamy, tight head, such as Guinness or other cream stouts/ales, nitrogen is used instead of CO2, or in combination with CO2. The “beer widget” (a ping-pongesque ball found in some beer cans) was invented in the 80’s by Guinness and releases nitrogen to achieve a perfect, rich pour every time.

-Beer cans, although often associated with lower-end beers, are great in the sense that they keep out light, preventing “skunked” beer. Many people say that green beer bottles are the worst for keeping beer for any length of time.

-Glassware is of course important, with many breweries designing custom glasses to alter the perception of their beers. Glasses change the way the beer is viewed, but also the way it lands on your tongue, and the way you hold it. Glasses with stems keep your grimy bear paws from warming the beer up (if you are smart enough to hold it by the stem.) Glassware is also a great marketing gimmick, probably resulting in people buying more beer.

-Temperature also affects the way the beer tastes. One might say that the colder the beer, the more refreshing it is, but the warmer the beer, the more that the flavours and aromas become available to your pallet. According to the Wikipedia page on “Beer” a general drinking-temperature guide to beer is as follows:
7 degrees Celsius – light beers
8 degrees Celsius – wheat beers
9 degrees Celsius – dark lagers
13 degrees Celsius (cellar temperature) – British ales/stouts/Belgian Specialties
15.5degrees Celsius – strong ales/Trappist Beers

-Pouring obviously plays a role too. Rate of flow, tilt, and position are all important. I won’t go into detail, it just takes practice. Get drinking.

The beers, in order that they were tasted:

1.Grandville Island Hefenweizen (3.5 out of 5 heads)
A delicious wheat beer. Made from malted barley and wheat. Top fermented. Cloudy and translucent like most wheat beers.

2.Fraoch Heather Ale (4 out of 5 heads)
This is a delicious Scottish pale ale brewed without hops. Heather flowers are used for flavour. It is very botanical and refreshing. See Tom Nagy’s review for more info.

3.Kilkenny Cream Ale (3.5 out of 5 heads)
A delicious, smooth cream ale, brewed in Ireland by the same brewery that produces Guinness. The can contains a nitrogen filled “beer widget”. This is the only one of the 8 beers that is actually available from the liquor store here on Texada. (The rest are available in Powell River, a half-hour ferry ride away.)

4.Tree Brewing Company – Hophead IPA (3.5 out of  5 heads)
This delicious IPA is, as its name implies, very hoppy. It was not a favourite of the tasters, but here in B.C. it is a favourite of mine. It may be too bold, spicy and bitter for your average pale ale/pilsner drinker. I had originally special ordered 2 flats of Mill Street Tankhouse Ale to serve at the tasting, but instead decided on Hophead at the last minute simply because it is more accessible. (The minimum order is 2 flats, which is 48 beers.) Too bad, I had to drink all that Tankhouse myself! Hophead is comparable in price and flavour to Tankhouse. It’s also reminicent of Hoptical Illusion.

5.Leffe Blonde (4.2 out of 5 heads)
A delicious, strong Belgian Ale. Both Leffe Blonde/Brun have their very own unique flavour. The blonde is the only one available locally. It was a hit at the tasting. At about $15 per 6-pack, it’s a bit more pricey, but packs a good bang for your buck.

6.St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout (4.5 out of 5 heads)
A delicious, very dark, rich beer. Contains malted barley and oats. See my previous review for more info. I think I gave it the same rating when I reviewed it before, but I didn’t double-check just now. So glad that this one is always available here, I find myself going back to it often.

7.St. Peter’s Honey Porter (5 out of 5 heads)
Holy shit, thank-you thy heavenly Saint for creating such a beverage. See my previous review for more info. Talk about a deep, dark, rich, delicious honey/beer experience. This stuff is holy shit.

8.Chimay Blue (5+ out of 5 heads)
What can I say? This amazingly complex masterpiece of a beer was a hit. By far the definite winner of the popularity contest, even amongst beer amateurs. Those fucking monks know what they’re doing. I still have yet to gain enough will power to leave one of these bottom-fermenting beers untouched in storage someplace long enough to age to full maturity. I am curious to know if there is a noticeable difference in taste. Doesn’t matter, still the best of the best.

And that’s that.


5 Responses

  1. Awesome stuff, Jesse. I am glad that the beer tasting was a success and your selection of chosen beers are top notch. What was everyone’s favorite brew? Will the highest rated beer by the tasters be served at the legion?

  2. Damn. Wish I was able to attend this event. Sounds like it was a good time. Excellent beer choices and excellent reviews as well.

    We should set up some kind of similar event here in Onscaryo when you’re back.

    If that legion will serve Grande Reserve… sign me up!

  3. Well who knew?

    I had a wort on the bottom of my foot once.

    “There are worse things to get fat from.” And that about sums it up!

    Fun read.

    (ps. The Chimay Blue was the ‘definite winner”. READ the article Mr. T. ;D )

  4. Chimay Blue is a definite winner. Awesome post, you should definitely have another beer tasting event.

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