Experimentation in Beer: An Outlet For Creativity

You can taste craft beers brewed by members of the Marquette Home Brewers at local U.P. breweries like Cognition, Pictured Rocks Brewing Company, and Chocolay River Brewery. (photo by AROON)

By Kris Thompson

Let’s face it; you’re already an outsider. You’ve grown tired of the readily available mass marketed beers available around you and have chosen to craft your own at home. You hastily pieced together a “Frankenbrew” system out of old coolers, some PVC and a little of that do-it-yourself attitude. You may or may not take pride in your current status but you should know you are no longer considered “normal” to most people. So why, after all your creativity and drive to get to this point, do you continue to brew so simplistically? Let’s change that.

Within beer there are four main areas to focus on experimentation in beer and they are:

Grain Bill
Hop Selction
Yeast Style

Let’s delve into each category more in depth.

Grain Bill: Here we can play with both selection of grains and amounts. Every all grain brewer goes through the process of balancing out the grain bill to hit an ale that matches a select style closely. Why not change that up and try something new? Who says you can’t make a stout with 50% wheat malt like a hefeweizen? An IPA with copious amounts of raisiny Special B malt? How about a beer that uses no base malts at all and only uses specialty malts? Somewhere in your head you’re referencing an unwritten rule of balancing and checking the bill to assure you’ll get to style. Stop that. Let it go and see what comes out the other end. You could end up creating an entirely new and delicious beer that would otherwise been undiscovered.

Hop Selection: The amount and variety of hops you choose for a beer will greatly affect end bitterness and aroma. Throughout history we have established a table of acceptable bitterness in beer styles. For our purposes here let’s forget that exists. Why not triple dry hop that cream ale you just made? How about a stout hopped as aggressively as a double IPA? Instead of getting that citrusy aroma and flavor from your current hop switch them for a floral or piney character. There are endless combinations within the hop selection process to radically change any beer.

Yeast Style: Yeast and proper temperature control will ultimately get you to that desired style. Yeast has some much to do with the why beer finishes that you can drastically change any beer by switching out yeasts for other options. Who says a stout can’t be fermented with a lager yeast strain? Instead of adding a clean American yeast to your IPA, pitch in some Belgian strain. That blonde ale is just screaming for a whole mess of wild bugs to sour it up and add complexity and depth. You could even go so far as to use multiple stages of fermentation to achieve a large depth of flavor from multiple strains of yeasts. Why not try mixing multiple yeasts together right at first pitch to see what comes out? These practices will completely change the final taste of your beer.

Adjuncts:  This is the category that I personally have the most experience in. By adding in new flavors to any step in the brewing process we can create an infinitely weird and wonderful world of beer. How does a coconut curry hefeweizen sound? Throw in some hot chilies into that IPA for a rush of heat and flavor. Any flavor you can think of is more than likely attainable in your beer. I once brewed a Bloody Mary beer that included sun dried tomatoes, dried onions, garlic, hot sauce, black pepper, mustard seeds, wasabi powder, celery salt and horseradish directly into the boil to achieve the flavor. Sure the boil smelled like soup but the final carbonated beer tastes exactly like a Bloody Mary. It is very easy within the world of homebrewing to experiment with adjuncts. Split your batch into multiple versions and try out different ideas to see which work. Here’s the recipe for the aforementioned Coconut Curry Hefeweizen I brewed to give you an idea of what you can accomplish with only a few added ingredients.

Coconut Curry Hefeweizen

5 lbs Pale 2-Row Malt
5 lbs Wheat Malt
1 lb Munich Malt
2 oz Czech Saaz Hops (60 Min)
1 oz Hallertau Hops (5 Min)
Wheat Beer Yeast
1 lb Toasted Coconut Flakes (Secondary)
2 Tablespoons Curry Powder (Secondary)

Marquette Home Brewers members learn from one another as they enjoy tasting and talking beer while brewing together. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Marquette Home Brewers members learn from one another as they enjoy tasting and talking beer while brewing together. (photo by Ron Caspi)

These four main categories are not the end of where you can experiment in beer and it’s flavors. You can go on to extended aging and even blending beers to unlock a new frontier of creativity and uniqueness. Let your imagination and insights into the process this far take you away from the simplistic and straightforward to the complex and confusing.

I once read and article about the stigma of homebrewers and the “right” way of doing things. The internet provides a vast library of knowledge on all homebrewing topics, but many people take things written in a forum post as gospel and believe it’s the one true way of doing it. No one has ever written the definitive rules of homebrewing because homebrewing is an ever-changing amalgamation of each and every homebrewer’s shared knowledge and creativity. I wouldn’t be where I am today as a homebrewer without the help and guidance of many homebrewers before me, but I’ve assimilated that help and forged a path all my own. A path filled with adjuncts and strange selections. A path of mixing and experimenting where I see fit. A path of undiscovered combinations and unknown flavors. I mean, it’s only five gallons, what could go wrong?

Brewing Sour Beers: A Kettle Souring Primer

Kettle souring trades complexity and flavor development for quick turn-around. (photo by Ron Caspi)

by Todd Stephens

Brewing sour beers has always been a challenge due to the potential of contaminating one’s brewing equipment with the microbes used to sour wort. Many brewers dedicate separate equipment for fermenting, transferring, bottling, or kegging clean and sour beers, which can get expensive and take up a lot of space. Although the risk of cross-contamination can be minimized by using strict sanitation procedures, it only takes a small number of living microbes from a sour batch to ruin a clean beer, so the margin of error is very small. Also, the time required for traditional development of acidity in a sour beer can range from several months to years, requiring space in a somewhat temperature-controlled area to store batches while they develop.

Kettle souring trades complexity and flavor development for quick turn-around. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Kettle souring trades complexity and flavor development for quick turn-around. (photo by Ron Caspi)

The technique of kettle souring has become more popular with its ability to turn around a batch of sour beer in just a few weeks without the risk of cross-contamination, using equipment most brewers already own. All the souring is done in the boil kettle prior to boiling, so the bacteria are killed before the wort is transferred into the fermenter. These quick-soured beers do not display the range of complexity of an aged Belgian Lambic or Flanders red, and do not evolve over time in the bottle, but sometimes a simple, light, tart beer can be the perfect thing on a hot summer afternoon.

Kettle souring is not an advanced or difficult process. There are a couple of tricks to improve the final product, but it’s really a fairly simple task. At a high level, the process of kettle souring starts with the production of wort like any other all-grain batch through mashing and sparging grains, or for an extract brewer, by dissolving the malt extract in the appropriate amount of water. The wort is then inoculated with lactic acid bacteria and allowed to sour until the desired sourness is reached over the course of several hours to a few days. The wort is boiled to kill off the lactic acid bacteria and finished in the fermentor with clean brewer’s yeast. Since the fermentation is done exclusively with brewer’s yeast, the beer can be packaged and served in the same time frame as any other clean beer. Also, the sourness level is locked in at the time of the boil, so the brewer has greater control over the finished product.

Beer was traditionally soured pre-boil via sour mashing, which uses the naturally occurring bacteria on the grain husks to create lactic acid. This process has a well-deserved reputation for creating horrible smells, due to the multitude of other microbes present on the grain which could lead to spoilage before the lactic acid bacteria could drop the pH sufficiently to prevent off-flavors and toxins from forming in the wort. In the presence of oxygen, naturally occurring bacteria on the grain can produce isovaleric acid, which has a distinct aroma of parmesan cheese or sweaty socks, or butyric acid, which has an aroma of bile. If done properly these issues can be avoided, but the process of kettle souring wort eliminates these risks by controlling the microbes used to sour.

For quickly souring pre-boil wort, a culture of lactobacillus must be used. A culture can be made from grain, probiotic drinks and capsules, or a cultured dairy product containing live cultures, such as sour cream or yogurt. A pure culture can also be purchased from any of the major yeast laboratories. Commercially available lactobacillus species include lactobacillus delbrueckilactobacillus buchnerilactobacillus brevis, and lactobacillus plantarum. Of the four, l. brevis and l. plantarum are probably the most reliable for quick souring. The metabolism of lactic acid bacteria is not as well documented as for brewer’s yeast, but there is some evidence that lactobacillus multiplies until about pH 3.8, at which point the lactic acid inhibits cell growth. As such, making a small 1-liter starter to increase the number of active cells will help ensure quick souring of the wort.

Kettle souring beer a style that is meant to be consumed young and utilizes a fairly easy technique. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Kettle souring beer a style that is meant to be consumed young and utilizes a fairly easy technique. (photo by Ron Caspi)

What do heteros and homos have to do with beer?

Lactic acid bacteria can be classified as heterofermentative or homofermentative. In reality it is a little more complicated than this, but as long as the bacteria are not exposed to oxygen during growth, then they can be considered one or the other. Homofermentative means that the bacteria eat sugar in the wort and produce only lactic acid. Heterofermentative means that the bacteria convert sugar to both lactic acid and ethanol. Many brewers have noticed large krausen and significant gravity drop from using pure cultures of lactobacillus, and it was assumed that this was due to heterofermentative lactobacillus. Some new research, however, has shown that pure cultures of heterofermentative lactobacillus under controlled conditions can only create fractions of a percent of alcohol. The natural explanation for this is that many commercial bacteria cultures available to homebrewers are often contaminated with yeast, which is responsible for the drop in gravity and the creation of alcohol.

It’s important to know whether your lactic acid bacteria culture creates alcohol, because if it does it will produce carbon dioxide and a large krausen in the souring vessel, and may require a blow-off tube. Also, ethanol produced by yeast in a contaminated lactobacillus culture will evaporate during the boil, so this may affect your decision to boil the wort after souring or just pasteurize it. If your bacteria starter shows any bubbling or airlock activity, then it is safe to assume that there is yeast in the culture. Although not guaranteed, lactic acid bacteria cultured from grain husks will more than likely be contaminated with wild yeast, so some ethanol will probably be produced during souring.

Pre-acidifying the wort to a pH of 4.5 has some advantages when kettle souring. This can be done with food-grade lactic acid, and should happen after collecting all the wort in the boil kettle so that the mash pH can be kept in the proper range. Ideally this would be measured with a calibrated pH meter, but brewing water calculators can be used to get close. When using wild lactic acid bacteria from grain, dropping the pH to 4.5 will inhibit the growth of unwanted microbes and reduce the risk of off-flavors and spoiling the wort before the lactobacillus can get to work. In addition, some lactic acid bacteria produce an enzyme that can break down the proteins that aid in foam retention. These enzymes are only active around a pH of 5, so pre-adjusting the pH to around 4.5 will help in producing a sour beer with good head retention.

But that’s enough science and background information.

Here’s how to do it.

The pre-boil wort can be collected in the boil kettle the same way it is done on any other brew day, through lautering and sparging. A mash-out in the 170-180F temperature range should bring the grain bed up to pasteurization temperatures, but if a completely sanitary wort is desired it can be brought up to a short boil in the kettle, or held at 170F for 15 minutes or so to pasteurize the wort. Keeping the wort below 180F will also prevent any DMS from forming. Don’t add any hops yet – hops only serve to inhibit the growth of lactobacillus, which is counter-productive in quick souring. If some hop presence is desired, they can be added during the boil later.

The wort should be cooled to the optimal growth temperature for the type of lactobacillus used, which is 80-100F for l. plantarum, or 110-120F for other lactobacillus cultures. Especially for wild cultures, keeping the temperatures at the higher end of the range will favor the growth of the lactobacillus and inhibit the growth of spoilage bacteria. Third, the wort should be adjusted to pH 4.5 and the lactic acid bacteria culture pitched.

At this point:
Oxygen is the enemy. If a wild lactobacillus culture is used, oxygen exposure can lead to butyric or isovaleric acid. Some pure cultures, such as l. plantarum, can produce acetic acid if exposed to too much oxygen, so it’s best to take steps to minimize it. If left in the kettle, the headspace can be purged with carbon dioxide and sealed with tape and plastic wrap, and a layer of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the wort to keep out oxygen. The wort can also be transferred to a carboy with an airlock. Wrapping the vessel with a thick blanket or sleeping bag can help maintain temperature during the souring period, although the mass of the wort may be high enough that it will hold temperatures long enough to sour. Depending on the lactobacillus species, this may be anywhere from 12-24 hours for l. brevis and l. plantarum, or a few to several days for l. buchneri or l. delbruecki. Knowing whether your variety of lactobacillus is heterofermentative will also help avoid a mess from a blown-out lid or airlock.

Once the desired sourness is reached, the souring is stopped by heating to pasteurization temperatures to kill the bacteria, and can be boiled and hopped as any other brew. If a lactic acid bacteria culture containing some yeast was used, the presence of ethanol in the wort after souring may affect whether you boil the wort after souring or just pasteurize it, as the ethanol will certainly evaporate during the boil. If a significant gravity drop is measured, pasteurizing at 165-170F for 15 minutes will minimize the amount of ethanol lost, as ethanol boils at 173.1F. For styles such as Berliner Weisse and Gose that do not have a significant hop presence, pasteurizing the soured wort and cooling to yeast-pitching temperatures is a good approach, and boiling the wort is not necessary. For styles that do require some hop presence, such as porter or saison, the wort can be boiled and hopped as normal.

Since the low pH and oxygen level creates a somewhat hazardous environment to yeast, pitching the yeast at double the normal rate is a good idea and will help ensure a good fermentation of the sour beer. Some yeast varieties are more tolerant than others of acidic environments. For liquid yeasts, acid tolerant strains include saison and kolsch yeasts, and for dry yeast US-05 works well. This is certainly not a complete list – many varieties can perform well in an acidic environment, but if in doubt, these examples should work fine.

And that’s it. Kettle soured beers can usually be bottled or kegged after two or three weeks, but as always, let the hydrometer be the real guide. Had the souring bacteria not been killed by boiling the wort, the fermentation time could easily stretch out to several months as wild yeast and bacteria can slowly ferment longer-chain sugars over time leading to over-carbonation and possibly fracturing bottles. The real trade-off with kettle souring is complexity and flavor development for quick turn-around. For a style of beer that is meant to be consumed young, though, this is a fairly easy technique in your toolbox to add a different dimension in your homebrewed beers.

How to Get Started in Home Brewing

Marquette Home Brewers club members David Gill (left) and Mark Iocapelli (right) grind grains for homebrewing using simple items found at most any hardware store. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Marquette Home Brewers club members David Gill (left) and Mark Iocapelli (right) grind grains for homebrewing using simple items found at most any hardware store. (photo by Ron Caspi)

by David Gill

OK, I’m a guy with a lot of hobbies. On a good day, maybe I qualify as being multi-talented, but there are those days when I feel like maybe I’m spread too thin. Of all the hobbies out there, the only one I can think of that I haven’t dabbled in is golf. I have nothing against golf, but between biking, fishing, boat-building, playing guitar, keyboard, and ukulele, various construction projects, cooking, camping, welding, reading, (and did I mention I have a full-time job?) I just don’t think I need another hobby that might turn into a passion. I’m fairly certain my wife would agree. After all, some of these hobbies are expensive to get into, and time-consuming to be involved in. Actually, I take that back. All of them are.

There is, of course, one conspicuous omission from the above list, and if you read the title, you know I am referring to home brewing. Yes, it’s true. I left it off because it really needs to be considered separately from the other hobbies. In fact, home brewing is actually a large and diverse set of many hobbies that go together, making a list as long as the one in the previous paragraph. If you don’t believe me, just listen: Home brewing consists of brewing, of course, but there is also fermenting, building stuff, bottling, kegging, operating a yeast lab, tasting, collecting, traveling, reading, experimenting, designing recipes, bacteriology, hop cultivation, filtration, conditioning, fining, barrel aging, making tinctures, infusions, and more. Bear with me, though, because now I’ll start sharing some of the reasons why home brewing has become such a rewarding part of my life and why it could and should become part of yours.

Bottom line? Among all hobbies, home brewing beer is one of the most satisfying, fun, interesting, social, fascinating activities you can be involved in. Because of home brewing, I have met some amazing friends, learned to appreciate and evaluate craft beers of all styles (I still have a lot more to learn though), traveled throughout Michigan and across the U.S., tasted some craft brews that have opened up new realms of flavor for me, read some fascinating books, participated in experiments, seminars, and conferences, and have had the chance to brew with the pros and see a recipe I formulated served on tap at a local brewery. I have met the local professional brewers and had a chance to see and talk about what they do. More than anything, I have enjoyed forming friendships with other brewers through the Marquette Home Brewers’ club, which I feel you should join immediately if you are thinking of trying the hobby of home brewing. Believe me, it’s more enjoyable in a community of like-minded people, and the opportunities for fun and education are endless.

Truthfully, home brewing need not be expensive or time-consuming when compared to other hobbies. How much does it cost to get involved in golf? Fishing? How about mountain biking? Let’s face it; hobbies are expensive, and later I will show you various ways to get into the hobby of home brewing ranging from a few hundred dollars all the way down to, well, virtually free.

Did I just say “virtually free?” Well, yes, I did. An annual membership to Marquette Home Brewerscosts $24. If you merely attend a meeting and speak some magic words, equipment will be lent to you almost immediately. The magic words are, “Hey, my name is (insert name here) and I would really like to try brewing but I don’t have any equipment yet.” There are plenty of us in the club with enough extra equipment to get you started and we are happy to let new members borrow it. If you don’t want to go it alone, you could always attend one of our monthly “Big Brew Days.” That’s right, several of us brew side by side at least once each month. At a Big Brew Day, you would have the chance to brew your first batch surrounded by helpful and knowledgeable brewers. It’s been done before!

Marquette Home Brewers members learn from one another as they enjoy tasting and talking beer while brewing together. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Marquette Home Brewers members learn from one another as they enjoy tasting and talking beer while brewing together. (photo by Ron Caspi)

The “inexpensive but not free” route would consist of buying a starter kit like this one for just over $200, which includes absolutely everything you need to brew beer, including bottles, a brew kettle, ingredients and instructions for your very first batch. Or perhaps you have 50 empty beer bottles (not twist-top though) and a 5-gallon kettle at your house already. If that’s the case, then this kit would serve your needs for just over $100. Either of these kits would serve you well for your first year or two, or perhaps even longer if your interest level doesn’t spur you into new realms such as yeast harvesting, brewing lagers, or any of the other “hobbies within a hobby” that I mentioned in paragraph two. But you certainly don’t need to explore any of that in order to enjoy consistently brewing good beer. Where you go in this hobby relies entirely on your own level of commitment, enjoyment, and interest.

A homebrewer stirs grains and water together using a wooden spatula and a portable cooler during an on-location demonstration of home brewing by the Marquette Home Brewers. (photo by Ron Caspi)
A homebrewer mashes-in with a simple pot and portable cooler during an on-location demonstration of home brewing by the Marquette Home Brewers during the Angry Bear Festival at the Ore Dock Brewing Co. in Marquette, MI. (photo by Ron Caspi)

A final option for putting together your basic brewing kit is to piece it together yourself using locally available items. This is an option I recommend if you are not intimidated by shopping lists and if, like me, you appreciate supporting local businesses. Most of these items can be found at White’s Party Store in Marquette. The 5-gallon brewing kettle may be tricky to find locally, though I highly recommend using one made of stainless steel and with a nice, heavy bottom to avoid scorching the sugars when you boil. I personally have this kettle, and although I have now outgrown it as a primary brewing kettle, it still serves me for other brewing purposes. So here is your shopping list if you want to put together your own brewing kit:

  • 3/8” Plastic Bottling wand

  • Bag of Bottle Caps

  • Bottle Capper (hand-held)

  • Reusable Mesh Steeping bags or cheesecloth

  • Plastic Spoon

  • Funnel

  • 6.5-gallon plastic fermenting bucket

  • Plastic Bottling/Sanitation Bucket with Spigot

  • Package of Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) or One-Step Sanitizer

  • Airlock

  • Rubber Stopper for fermenting bucket with Hole for airlock

  • 5ft Vinyl Transfer Tubing, 3/8” Inner Diameter

  • Sterile Siphon Starter (Contains Racking Cane with Tubing, Air Filter and Carboy Hood)

  • Dial thermometer or waterproof digital thermometer

  • 2 Cases of (12) 22oz Bottles or 50 12-oz bottles (not twist-top)

  • 5-Gallon Stainless Kettle

Helpful but not necessary right away:

  • Hydrometer

  • Hydrometer tube

  • 5-gallon glass or plastic carboy (for secondary fermentation, a step you can skip at first)

  • Kitchen scale that weighs in grams and oz.

And there you have it. The hobby of home brewing is one of the most fascinating, rewarding, fun, and enjoyable activities you can get involved in, and there is no end to how far you can go with it. So what are you waiting for? Come on down and join the club, and get brewing! Get yourself a kit or use some of our equipment. There are many events and activities going on in the Marquette Home Brewers every month, and many people to help you get started. The only thing we need is you!

Cellaring Beer: Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

By Mark Iacopelli

You just bought that coveted Russian Imperial Stout you have been searching for, and now the question is, drink it now or wait and see how it ages? Okay, maybe stouts are not your thing, but what other beers can you age?

Using amber bottles and keeping in cool dark environment are two important factors when cellaring your favorite craft beers. (photo by Grafvision – Fotolia)
Using amber bottles and keeping in cool dark environment are two important factors when cellaring your favorite craft beers. (photo by Grafvision – Fotolia)

Styles That Benefit From Aging

Typically, people believe that only high alcohol (8% or more) beers can be aged. This belief stems from the fact that alcohol helps kill and restrain bacteria growth in the beer. Big beers such as Barley wines and Imperial Stouts are usually great candidates for aging. They are typically heavy in body and have a lot of bold flavors that can be overpowering when the beer is young. With time those flavors mellow and meld together to create a more complex and refined flavor. Some other styles that are high in alcohol are Old Ales, Belgian Triples/Quadruples and Scotch Ales. As a general rule, beers that can be aged have a high alcohol content and a strong malty backbone.

However, sour ales are typically low in alcohol content (usually ranging between 3-5%) and also benefit from extensive aging. These beers gain their sourness from the use of bacteria such as Lactobacillus and/or Bettanomyces. These organisms are slow acting as they consume the sugar in the beer and drive the pH down. Sours typically condition for 6 months to several years before getting bottled. More often than not the longer sour ales age, the more sour they get.

Most hoppy beers are best when consumed young because hop character deteriorates within 6 months or so. There are rare exceptions to this, such as when a double or triple India Pale Ale (IPA) has a strong malt balance. The hop character will still diminish with time, but the maltiness will remain and have characteristics similar to a barley wine or old ale.

Proper Storage

The proper storage of your beer makes the difference between cellared beer or just an old beer. First off, most of the beer you decide to age should be set aside for at least 1-5 years. Longer aging than that is perfectly fine if you possess the willpower to not drink that lovely beer calling your name.

Another thing to remember is that all beer should be stored upright, even if it is a corked beer. People tend to worry about the cork drying out, but this is usually not an issue, even if you are cellaring for 10+ years. Although, if stored in a refrigerator this can be an issue as they are usually designed to keep humidity levels down. Because of this, it is ideal to store your beer in a cellar that has some humidity.

This brings me to my next point – proper storage temperature. The short answer is that your beer should be stored between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Dark beers or high alcohol beers can keep well at up to 60F, while light beers or low alcohol beers can go as low as 45F.

The last thing to consider is light. It is best to minimize light as much as possible, especially sun light. Exposure to sunlight can “skunk” or stale a beer in as little as a few minutes. This is why most craft beers are stored in amber bottles as they can at least help slow this process by blocking out more light than other glass containers.

A Note on Purchasing and Tasting

When purchasing a beer that you intend to age, usually it is best to get at least 2 bottles: one to drink immediately for a comparison, and one that you intend to age. With beers you really like, I recommend getting 4 bottles and drinking one after each consecutive year of aging. It is also a good idea to purchase another 4 bottles each year in order to keep a continuous, rolling set of vintages. This way, each year you will be able to have a vertical tasting on every previous year plus the current year up to 5 years. By doing these vertical tastings you may find that the beer peaks at a certain year and then begins to decline after that point.

Great Michigan Brews to Cellar

Now to help you start your new beer cellar here are a number of Michigan made beers I recommend to help you start your cellar.

Bell’s Brewery – Black Note (Russian Imperial Stout)

Bell’s Brewery – Third Coast Old Ale (Old Ale)

Bell’s Brewery – Expedition Stout (Imperial Stout)

Brewery Vivant – Wizard Burial Ground (Belgian Quadruple)

Dark Horse Brewing Company – Plead the 5th (Imperial Stout)

Dark Horse Brewing Company – Double Crooked Tree (Triple IPA)

Founders Brewing Company – KBS (Russian Imperial Stout)

Founders Brewing Company – Backwoods Bastard (Scotch Ale)

Founders Brewing Company – Imperial Stout (Imperial Stout)

Founders Brewing Company – Curmudgeon (Old Ale)

Founders Brewing Company – Devil Dancer (Triple IPA)

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – Literally any of their beer (all sours)

New Holland Brewing Company – Dragons Milk (Imperial Stout)

New Holland Brewing Company – Pilgrim’s Dole (wheat wine)

Short’s Brewing Company – Bourbon Wizard (American Barley Wine)

Cheers and happy waiting!

Check out these great articles on craft beer & homebrewing by the Marquette Home Brewers:

Read About Breweries In The Upper Peninsula

Yeast: What’s The Big Deal?

by Todd Stephens

As homebrewers, we tend to obsess over all the details on brew day, from having the best choices of malts and hops, to hitting proper temperatures, maintaining a good boil with hop additions at proper times, and chilling as fast as possible. At the end of brew day, however, all we’re left with is a fermenter full of sweet, sticky wort. It’s up to the yeast to do the rest of the work, and we tend to get the best results when we have created the most ideal conditions for them to transform the cooled wort to finished beer. But what kind of effect does the choice of yeast have on the finished beer?

To the non-brewer, yeast is just yeast. Some may be aware that there are different yeasts for bread, beer, and wine, but most don’t know how profound those differences can be. In fact, a change of yeast strain alone can change a beer into a completely different beer. To understand why, we need to look at some of these yeast strains.

Brewers Yeast fermenting on top of beer wort. (photo by Matthew Jones – Fotolia)
Brewers Yeast fermenting on top of beer wort

There are wild yeasts everywhere in the environment around us. Before Louis Pasteur discovered in the mid-1800s that yeast was responsible for the fermentation process, these wild or naturally-occurring yeasts in the brewery resulted in fermentation of the finished beer. Generally we take steps to eliminate these wild yeasts when home-brewing, but they are still a key part of certain regional styles of beer, such as Belgian Lambics. For cidermakers, the yeast present on the skins of apples can be used to naturally ferment the pressed ciders. The dusting on grapes and blueberries are wild yeasts that can be grown up and used to ferment wort.

Almost all fermented beverages today use yeast belonging to the genus Saccharomyces, or “sugar fungus.” Most commercially available or home-brewed beers, and many wines and meads, are fermented with one of two different species of Saccharomyces yeast – Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Saccharomyces pastorianus. Of these two yeast species, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different strains that are used by brewers around the world to create vastly different beers, with the specific strain of yeast often lending a critical nuance of flavor or mouth-feel to the finished beer.

Yeast is the final component necessary in the brewing process to ferment the beer. (photo by Dmitriy Buyanskiy)
Yeast is the final component necessary in the brewing process to ferment the beer. (photo by Dmitriy Buyanskiy)

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is what we generally call ale yeast, and is the same species used by bakers for making bread. These yeasts, known as “top croppers,” make a large mass of foam on the surface of the fermenting beer and tend to prefer warmer fermentation temperatures. Typically, the warmer they are fermented, the more yeast character they provide. There is a tremendous amount of variation seen between these yeast strains, which makes it critical to choose the appropriate strain for the style of beer being brewed. West-coast IPAs are often fermented with a very “clean” ale yeast, which leaves very little yeast presence allowing the hops to stand out. Contrast this with east-coast IPAs which tend to have more of a malt presence; the fruity esters contributed by certain strains of ale yeast can really stand out in the overall experience. English-style beers, such as brown ales and bitters, get some of their character from the varieties of ale yeasts used, which leave more residual sugars in the beer and introduce some subtle esters. For a beer such as a Kölsch, the yeast is the defining element, with the slight haze and pear-like aroma contributed by yeast suspended in the beer.

On the other hand, Saccharomyces pastorianus, or lager yeast, is fermented cool to minimize any yeast-derived flavors. Special attention is paid to reduce or eliminate any compounds generated by the yeast, such as diacetyl or acetaldehyde. These beers are then stored at near-freezing temperatures for long periods of time to create a “clean” and “crisp” beer. Some examples of beers that use this type of yeast include the popular American lagers, as well as European style pilsners, bocks, and Oktoberfest. Although one can get close to brewing a lager with a very clean ale yeast, they really can only be achieved by using a true lager yeast and fermenting it correctly.

Saccharomyces is not the only player in the fermentation game, though. Considered by some as a contaminant, Brettanomyces is another type of yeast that can be used for fermentation. Brettanomyces, or “British fungus,” was discovered in the early 1900s as responsible for spoilage in the British brewing industry. It was also likely responsible for giving character to aged porters and other British ales. When used as the primary yeast for fermentation, Brettanomyces produces results very similar to Saccharomyces yeast. Where it really shines is when it is used in conjunction with other yeast, as Brettanomyces can metabolize products formed by Saccharomyces into its characteristic flavors. These flavors are often described by such earthy names like barnyard, horse-blanket, and aged leather, to fruitier compounds such as peach, tropical fruit, and pie cherry. Brettanomyces also has the ability to break down longer-chain sugars that Saccharomyces cannot metabolize. This is where malt extract can provide a big benefit over an all-grain batch – the Saccharomyces yeast will only eat the short chain sugars, but the non-fermentable longer chain sugars in malt extract provide a nice meal for Brettanomyces.

Although not yeast, this article would not be complete without mentioning lactic acid bacteria. The two types of lactic acid bacteria used – Lactobaccilus and Pediococcus – are the primary contributors of acidity in sour beers. Lactobacillus is used in the production of cultured dairy products, such as sour cream and yogurt. The whey from yogurt can actually be used to grow a culture of Lactobacillus for souring a beer. Lactobacillus can convert sugar into lactic acid quickly, but is not very tolerant of alcohol and the anti-microbial compounds in hops, so it is usually used at the start of fermentation for light, low-hop beers like Berliner Weiss and Gose.

Pediococcus, which can be found in naturally fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, works very slowly but has higher tolerance of alcohol and hops. It is used in beers such as Lambic and Flanders Red, which are stored for months or years before consumption. Pediococcus creates a lot of diacetyl, which can give a beer a buttery, oily mouthfeel. It can also create a type of polysaccharide that can transform a perfectly normal beer into a gooey, half-congealed mass of slime. A beer that goes through this phase is appropriately called a “sick” beer, and many of the top sour beer producers in Belgium consider it beneficial for a beer to go through this phase. For this reason, beers that are fermented with Pediococcus also need to have a strain of Brettanomyces added, as the Brettanomyces can metabolize both of these compounds into its characteristic flavors.

And here’s the beauty about homebrewing – as with all aspects of this hobby, anyone is free to make it as simple or complicated as they like! Whether you’re making the simplest of blond ales or starting out a years-long fermentation of a traditional barrel-aged geuze, knowing the role the yeast and microbes play in your home brew can be a critical element in any recipe.

3 Basic Homebrewing Methods

By Matt Burling

Marquette Michigan – Brewing beer has many different approaches. Depending on your level of interest and commitment you can choose a variety of different tools, ingredients and methods to arrive at the beverage you wish to produce. The three main methods to brew beer from a home brewing perspective are extract, partial mash and all-grain. They do however all share common themes; combine water, malt, hops and yeast to create beer. These have varying degrees of difficulty and basically allow you either basic or complete control of your finished product.

I’m going to go a little bit into what each process grants you and give you some DIY projects that allow more interested people to get into the more involved all-grain brewing.

 homebrewing methods

Extract Brewing

Extract brewing is the first process most home brewers start with. It is a fairly bare bones approach to brewing. Here you take containers of pre-steeped and concentrated malt in the form of  ‘extracts’ and add them to water. When you combine the water and malt this now becomes what brewers call ‘wort’. The wort is then boiled for usually an hour to rid it of unwanted yeast and organisms. During the boil you also add your hops at different times to allow the bittering agents (alpha acids) to go into the wort. The longer the hops are in the boil, the more bitterness you will get. This is basically called hop utilization.

After the boil is done the wort is then chilled, yeast added (pitched) and sealed off in a clean container with an air lock as quickly as possible to reduce the chance of wild yeast and bacteria getting into the beer. This is when fermentation happens and after about two weeks you can bottle with some additional sugars (priming sugar) to create carbonation. Extract brewing has had a bit of a negative connotation from the home brewing world in the past due to sub par malt extracts only being available during the home brewing boom in the 80s and 90s. But nowadays we have excellent quality extracts and a growing variety to choose from.

Partial Mash

The partial grain method uses all of the concepts from extract brewing but before the boil you steep in some specialty grains to adjust the profile of the wort. These specialty grains include chocolate, black, crystal, wheat, rye and many others.

All-Grain Brewing

In all-grain brewing you take on the preparation and steeping of grains along with the rest of the brewing. The steeping process is called mashing and requires special equipment called a mash tun. This vessel allows the brewer to hold the grains soaked in water at a certain temperature for usually a period of about an hour. After the hour you ‘mash out’ and then by a few different procedures rinse the grain with additional water to allow more sugars to flow out, this is called sparging. After all this you are left with a wort that is ready to be boiled.

The creation of a mash tun can be relatively easy and cheap. Most homemade vessels are constructed with a water or picnic cooler that can be picked up most anywhere. The conversion process requires very little tools and extra parts. Most, if not all, parts can be picked up at a local hardware store. This basically requires you to take the cooler and create a drainage field within the casing to allow the steeped mash (wort) to drain out. Here are a couple of example builds and walk-throughs that show explain in detail what you need and how to complete the process:


Another commonly used tool of a homebrewer is a wort chiller. Like I stated before, when you’re done with a boil you want to chill the wort as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of wild yeast and bacteria from infecting your beer. This is easier with something like an immersion chiller. One of the easiest and cheapest routes to construct an immersion chiller is to get a length of copper tubing, usually around 25 feet, twist it in a spiral manner and put plastic tubing fittings on each end to allow easy hook-up and drainage of water. Here is an excellent example of how to build one: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/diy-cost-effective-immersion-wort-chiller.html

The last DIY project I have for you is a bit more of a preference. A hop spider is an apparatus that allows you to boil your hops in the wort without leaving a bunch of leftover particles and material (trub) behind. This simple idea only requires you to suspend a piece of water permeable material in the wort while it is boiling. This allows you to add your hops into the bag to be able to soak into the wort but when the boil is done it can be removed and all hop trub with it. Some research has been done into whether or not getting this type of trub out of the beer before it is fermented is actually beneficial but most examples point to this being mostly a personal preference. A great example of hop spider is here: https://byo.com/build-it-yourself/item/2427-build-a-hop-spider-projects
So in the end brewing, like most hobbies, is all about how much you want to put into it and what you expect to get out of it. These three examples can help you in the various methods of brewing but in the end they’re just tools. The final products that you come up with are entirely up to you. Happy brewing, kippies!

Check out more great articles on craft beer & homebrewing by the Marquette Home Brewers:

Read About Breweries In The Upper Peninsula

A Sustainable Approach to Homebrewing

By Kris Thompson

Brew day is over. You eye up the spoils of your hard work. A carboy filled perhaps with a dry stout or a hop heavy IPA. Yeast is pitched. You feel accomplished. You survey the area once more and spy the mash tun, full of spent grain, and a sudden, crushing realization hits you: I have to throw away all this grain. Don’t do that. Let’s focus on the spent grain and what we can do with it.

A hops garden can benefit when spent grains from the beer brewing process are recycled back intot the soil. Photo by Fotolia
A hops garden can benefit when spent grains from the beer brewing process are recycled back intot the soil. Photo by Fotolia

You may ask what exactly is spent grain? Spent grain is simply the grain you’ve extracted the sugars from by mashing. An average of 12 pounds of grain in a 5-gallon batch of beer will ultimately end up spent. Most homebrewers and commercial breweries create more spent grain than they know what to do with. There are numerous way you can use these grains to your advantage. I’ll cover a few ways here to help you achieve a more sustainable brewing process.

 The first and most obvious use for spent grains is compost material. Take the grain and either add it to an existing compost area or till it into your soil. The grain has little sugar left in it from mashing so it’ll begin to breakdown organically and enrich any soil it is added to. The grains can also be (and most certainly are) used to feed livestock. Many smaller breweries set up pick-up times with local farmers to use the grains as they see fit. The grain is still considered a good source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. These minerals provide animals with a lean energy source that is easy on the environment as it can be mixed up to 50/50 with un-malted dry grains. This reduces the demand for new product and the spent grain is usually donated making it a win-win for the brewer and farm as well as the environment.

“Chumley”, master brewer for the Vierling Restaurant and Brewery in Marquette, MI, empties spent grains from the beer brewing process into bags to be composted. (MarquetteMagazine.com photo by Ron Caspi)
“Chumley”, master brewer for the Vierling Restaurant and Brewery in Marquette, MI, empties spent grains from the beer brewing process into bags to be composted. (MarquetteMagazine.com photo by Ron Caspi)

Within the realm of composting and animal feed you can continue the spent grain’s cycle back into your own homebrew by planting your own hops in compost made from previous batches. Since the grains break down so easily and contribute great organic material into the soil, your hop rhizomes will grow beautifully. A simple hop pole or trellis will eventually yield fresh hops for use in a wide array of styles. Once these hops, which were grown with spent grains, are used the whole cycle can repeat, minimizing the strain on the environment.

The second way spent grains can be used is as a food base. With all the minerals left in the grain and the fact that it’s a great dietary fiber since it’s been broken down by mashing, spent grain is a very beneficial cooking ingredient. Many rising brewpubs take their grain and incorporate it into the pub food they serve to their customers. Almost every brew pub this writer has dined in has used their grains in at least one recipe, and I almost always choose it to see what flavors they bring to the dish.

Spent grains from the beer brewing process can be saved for a number of things from eating to composting instead of being thrown into the trash. (MarquetteMagazine.com photo by Ron Caspi)
Spent grains from the beer brewing process can be saved for a number of things from eating to composting instead of being thrown into the trash. (MarquetteMagazine.com photo by Ron Caspi)

Many homebrewers take the grains and use them in bread-based recipes. Popular end destinations for spent grains can range anywhere from focaccia to bread bowls. Another very popular way to cook with spent grains is to include them in a veggie burger. The following recipe comes courtesy of The Brooklyn Beer Shop.


  • 1 cup spent grain, wet (or Dried Spent Grain re-hydrated with 1/2 cup hot water)

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa

  • 2 eggs

  • 5 tablespoons barbeque sauce

  • 3/4 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs

  • olive oil

  1. In a bowl combine spent grain, quinoa, eggs, salt, and barbeque sauce with a fork until eggs are broken up and mixture becomes cohesive. Stir in breadcrumbs.

  2. Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Because the consistency is so moist, it’s helpful to scoop the mixture into the hot skillet, and use a spatula to form into rounds.

3 Let cook undisturbed for 5-8 minutes on one side, until bottom is golden brown and the burger can be easily moved. Flip and repeat on the other side. Makes about 8 sliders.

There are many more uses for spent grains and other homebrewing by-products. You can grow mushrooms off of properly prepared spent grains. Remember that batch of beer that just didn’t turn out? Take it and turn it into some homemade malt vinegar. The yeast from one batch can be used to ferment the next or even harvested and used in baking or turned into nutritional yeast found in your local natural food store. Those are topics for another time and another article, but you’ll get there someday.

I hope that this article has shown you the value of the biggest brewing by-product. From breads to new batches of beer, spent grain can be reincorporated into almost every stage of your brew process. Look for new ways to use them. Create a new recipe that uses them. Just please don’t look at them as a useless by-product. Bring that homebrewing ingenuity one step further and find a use for them, both for you and the planet.

Cheers! (or Skal! as a proper Norwegian should say)

Read About Breweries In The Upper Peninsula

Exploring Belgian Beer

By Sean Dombrowski

Not so long ago choosing a beer in America was not much different than choosing a sports team. It was a choice born of geographic convenience, or lack of alternatives. Often your beer was chosen for you; handed down from elders like a family name. You swore allegiance to those team’s colors for life regardless of their quality or relevance.

Wooden casks and thick glass bottles pay homage to beers brewed in the old Belgian tradition. (photo by Grafvision – Fotolia)
Wooden casks and thick glass bottles pay homage to beers brewed in the old Belgian tradition. (photo by Grafvision – Fotolia)

Much of this uninspired consumption stemmed from the fact that many of the beers that were available offered little to distinguish themselves from one another aside from the bottles they were packaged in.

A quick look inside the beer cooler at practically any retailer, and it is pretty evident how much different circumstances are today. Indeed, many experts agree that the United States has abruptly risen to be one of best places to drink beer based on the sheer variety available. The previous undisputed holder of that crown was Belgium – a distinction made even more impressive by the fact that much of that variety was largely composed of styles native to the region.

It is curious then, that Belgian beer styles make up a relatively minor portion of the staggering variety that is available in most U.S. markets. Disappointing too, as these styles can offer some of the most interesting and complex flavors found in beer.

Historically, the Belgian brewing tradition is not confined by political boundaries. It bleeds across national borders, and shows up in beers from neighboring countries such as The Netherlands and France. Brewery images from the region often eschew the sleek, stainless, industrialism evoked by German lager brewers to the East. Instead, much romance is drummed up with views of cobblestone streets and Flemish farmhouses, hooded monks and cobweb-laden barrels.

Taste more than geography, however, drives the definition of a Belgian beer. Yeast strains used in Belgian fermentation are notable for producing relatively high levels of phenols; compounds which are responsible for flavors and aromas often reminiscent of spices or smoke. While a defining characteristic of the style, phenols often have a secondary presence in the best examples. High levels in poorly-produced samples can be off-putting, making the beers taste of plastic or rubber. These same yeast tend to be much more comfortable fermenting at high temperatures, allowing them to express large bouquets of fuity esters and vinous aromas. This is no doubt a hint at their closer relationship to wine yeasts than yeasts used by other European breweries.

Beer mash is boiled and stirred during the brewing process. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Beer mash is boiled and stirred during the brewing process. (photo by Ron Caspi)

The higher fermentation temperatures also help the yeast to ferment more completely, which further dries out the beer and ratchets up the already-high alcohol percentages. A stigmatized act in other countries, it is common practice for Belgian brewers to add simple sugars to beer prior to fermentation. Counterintuitively, this does not result in a sweeter beer, as these sugars are converted almost completely to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Aggressive yeasts and sugar additions must certainly have played a part in the much higher carbonation levels many of these beers share. Large glassware and a careful pour are often necessary to contain the billowing, merengue-like heads produced at these levels. Bottles also evolved to restrain the beer, armored by much thicker glass to accommodate the high pressures without bursting. Large-format bottles with a punted bottom, and finished with a cork and cage are readily recognized as Champagne bottles. Truth be told, these are actually beer bottles that early champagne makers repurposed to fit their similarly-carbonated beverage.

Local brewer “Chumley” is known for his talent in brewing classic Belgian style beers at the Veirling in Marquette, MI. (photo by Ron Caspi)
Local brewer “Chumley” is known for his talent in brewing classic Belgian style beers at the Veirling in Marquette, MI. (photo by Ron Caspi)

Although our beer selection is not inundated with Belgian samples, high-quality examples can still be easily found, even in the city of Marquette. Belgian witbeers were essentially extinct until Pierre Celis revived the style with his now-iconic Hoegaarden. Although now owned by the beverage giant AB/InBev, the brand seems to have retained much of its original charm. These “white” wheat-based beers are low in alcohol, and exceedingly pale in color. Their already whitish appearance is further pronounced by suspended yeast. Classically, these beers are spiced with orange peel and coriander, and these players are delicately at the forefront of Hoegaarden’s aroma. Doughy malt flavors and a lightly wintergreen finish combine refreshingly with the beer’s spicing and phenolic character – the intensity of which is nowhere near its clovey-tasting Bavarian cousins.

With apologies better-known brands, Duvel is truly the champagne of beers. Musty grape and lychee notes spring forth from the glass, and the first sip explodes with abundant carbonation and overripe fruit. Fresh, leafy hops show themselves boldly, though this beer is only moderately bitter. It would easily be at home in a champagne flute if the abundant head would ever behave itself. The brilliantly-clear straw color is reminiscent of mass-market lagers, which belies its dangerously-drinkable 9% abv. This deception is largely responsible for the beer’s name, which translates to “Devil”. Other brews inspired by this golden beer are often similarly named after duplicitous or unsavory characters as a nod to the original.

Religion and beer intertwine more often in history that one might think. In Belgium, monasteries have long held traditions of brewing beer. It is a commodity that always has eager buyers, even in soft markets. So, many sects have taken up the practice as a way to fund their more pious endeavors. The monks at the Notre-Dame de Scourmont abbey brew three beers under the brand name Chimay. The three are subtitled, but are better known by the color of their labels and caps: Premiere (red), Cinq Cents (white), and Grande Reserve (blue). The Grande Reserve is the strongest of the three, and pours a dark chestnut color. It smells of raisins and bread pudding, and the mouth-filling carbonation washes over the tongue with waves of cocoa-dusted figs. It has a great affinity for rich foods, and is a foil for even some of the funkiest cheeses.

Belgian beers have set the standard for good beer over the years. (photo by gosphotodesign – Fotolia)
Belgian beers have set the standard for good beer over the years. (photo by gosphotodesign – Fotolia)

Equally at home with foods of almost all kinds are the fruity, peppery saisons. Falling under the “farmhouse ales” umbrella, saisons were traditionally brewed to provide refreshment and sustenance for seasonal field workers. Despite their humble heritage, the best modern saisons nimbly balance rusticity and class. Marquette’s own Ore Dock Brewery brews such an example. Juicy melon and pear notes are mounded upon a foundation of floral aromas and dandelion bitterness. It is always a treat to sample brewery-fresh beer on tap, but the much higher carbonation in the bottled offering tightens up the beer, and makes it worth seeking out.

Most things in life that are worth seeking out, though, often take a little work. Belgian ales are no different in this regard. Additional research and effort may be required to pick them out amongst the myriad IPA’s and pumpkin peach ales lining a beer store’s shelves. And, some exploration might be in order to acquaint your palate to the eccentric and sometimes startling flavors these ales can offer. But, isn’t that how you came to appreciate craft beers in the first place? I assure you, it will be worth the journey.

Why To Try a “Craft” Beer

By Mark Wilson

Now as the title mentions this article is for those who don’t drink “craft” beer, or for that matter beer at all. I will not state that by the end you will like craft beer (from here on no quotations and we will just call it beer), but I do hope to open your mind to trying some styles of beer that you may not have tried yet.

(photo by Brent Hofacker – Fotolia)
(photo by Brent Hofacker – Fotolia)

When I hear someone say they don’t like beer my normal response is, “Which ones have you tried?” and many of the answers I receive are a list of American Pilsners and American Light Lagers. I am not here to bad mouth Miller Lite, Bud Light or the like, but let me say they are simply one style of beer and many people who don’t like craft beers do like one of these.

Perhaps you don’t like craft beer because you have tried one or two beers recommended by a friend or someone you know who loves craft beer, and these are often the ones at the very edge of the scale. I must say I really like most of the beers all the way at the edge, however there are multitudes of beers that fall much closer to the center that are awesome and deserve a shot.

Now before I can talk too much about beer styles we need two things: a list of styles to try and some of the vocabulary for describing beers. In defining styles, there are several criteria to choose from but for this article we will use the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) list from 2008.

In the BJCP 2008 there are 23 recognized styles. Many have subcategories, with a total of 79 styles which include #23 Specialty Beers. I’m using the 2008 guide because in 2014 it was redone, which added many more styles and to be honest, I’m less familiar with them.

Second, we need the vocabulary. There are characteristics we won’t get into in this article such as clarity, color, and lacing. These are all important in judging a beer but not as much for tasting. There are four characteristics I’m going to use to describe the styles of beer. There are two more I’m going to define and I’ll start with those.

Carbonation:  The level of CO2 in a beer can change the way you perceive its taste. Higher carbonation will cut the sweetness some and add that tingly feeling in your mouth while lower carbonation will tend to make a beer feel smoother.

Mouth feel:  This can range from watery to thick, chewy or viscous.

The four characteristics that I’m using are Sweet, Bitter, Fruity, and Malty. These come from John Palmer’s beer spectrum, which can be found at:

This spectrum involves two scales. The first scale is Sweet to Bitter. Sweetness comes mostly from non-fermented sugars in the malts although in some cases it is added separately and can come from candy sugar, lactose or other sweeteners.

John Palmer’s Beer Spectrum. (“Used by permission, copyright 2000, howtobrew.com”)
John Palmer’s Beer Spectrum. (“Used by permission, copyright 2000, howtobrew.com”)

Bitterness as we will define it here comes primarily from hops added to the beer in the early stages of the boil (I’m not going to get too far into when and how, if you are interested in learning to brew stop by a Homebrew club and check them out). At this point I should also note that hops add a lot of flavor to beer and depending on where in the process they can add much of it without adding bitterness.

The second scale is Fruity to Malty. Most fruity flavor comes from hops and yeast but can also come from juice or other flavorings. Malty comes almost exclusively from the grains and how they are prepared and there are techniques to get more of that flavor in the beer.

The five styles I want to describe fall in each of the four corners and the middle of the spectrum. They are Barley Wine, English brown, Belgian triple, Altbier, and Kolsch.

19c American Barley Wine:

A Barley Wine has a reasonably high ABV (Alcohol By Volume) and ages well. It falls in the sweet and fruity corner has a full bodied mouthful and alcohol warmth.

11c Northern English Brown:

Is in the malty and sweet corner and often has notes of toffee and caramel.

18c Belgian Triple:

Also a higher ABV beer which falls in the fruity and bitter corner has a medium body and mouth feel and should be a marriage of spicy fruity and alcohol with esters reminiscent of citrus fruit with a dry finish.

7a Northern German Altbier:

This one falls in the bitter and malty corner and is fairly bitter yet balanced by a smooth sometimes sweet malt character.

6c Kolsch:

Falling towards the center of our scale, Kolsch is a balanced beer with a delicate flavor with medium bitterness and a slight malty flavor and should be smooth and crisp.

As mentioned before these are just 5 of 79 styles but they represent some of the range of flavors you can find in beer. If you have tried “craft” beer and found it too bitter, or too thick, thought that it was too sweet or too dark, consider trying different styles and if all else fails find a craft beer buddy to help navigate these waters with you. There is an amazing array of beer out there to try. Drink up!

So You’re Not a Hop-Head

Craft Beer Enjoyment for the Rest of Us

By David Gill

Marquette, MI – OK, I get it.  You don’t like hoppy beer.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, or maybe I should say mug of ale.  But it seems like hoppy beers are everywhere, and the hop-head crowd just can’t get enough of that bitter, complex taste sensation.  Let’s face it: hops are trendy right now. 

green beer hops photo (Vera Kuttelvaserova – Fotolia)
green beer hops photo (Vera Kuttelvaserova – Fotolia)

If you’re not a hop-head, you might feel like you’ve fallen through the cracks in the craft beer revolution.  Well let’s put that idea to rest.  You can certainly enjoy craft beers, and even become a bona-fide beer snob without ever plunging into the world of hoppy beers.   But a little knowledge about them will go a long way.  Knowledge, after all, is power, and I’m here to help.
There are hops in almost every beer you will ever drink, and they make significant flavor and aroma contributions to even the least “hoppy” beer styles.  Why are they there?  There are many reasons, including preventing beer spoilage, but the main reason is that they provide flavor and aroma balance to a beverage that could otherwise be bland and even a bit sweet.

Prior to the widespread use of hops in beer beginning around the 13th century, brewers used a mixture of ingredients including bitter herbs and berries, wormwood, evergreen boughs, flowers, spices, and sometimes less palatable ingredients.  These mixtures were collectively called “gruit,” and were so important to brewing that local churches and governments did their best to control and tax the gruit trade.  To make a long story very short, once hops came onto the scene, gruit all but disappeared, and today nearly 100% of beers contain hops as the only bittering ingredient.
There are some simple rules of thumb regarding hops in beer.  First, dark beers are rarely hoppy, and if they are, their name will reflect it.  Stout, for example, is a very dark beer, and although it has some bitterness from dark-roasted grains, there should be little or no hop bitterness in a stout unless it is called a hoppy stout.  The same goes for porter, black ale, and most other visibly dark styles, as well as brown ales and amber ales.  So if you don’t like hops, you are safer drinking a darker-colored beer.

There is a tool you should learn about called the “IBU Scale.”  It is the most common way to measure hop bitterness in a beer and is calculated using a formula that takes into account how bitter the hops used, the quantity used, and how long they were boiled.  It is important to understand the IBU Scale whether you are a hop-head or not.  A beer with 0 IBU would have no hops at all, while the human pallet maxes out at around 120 IBU, beyond which we lose the ability to taste more hops. Around 10-20 IBU is just enough to provide some balance to the malt, but you will not taste a noticeable bitterness.  At 30 IBU, you will notice some hop bitterness, while at 40 IBU, the hops will be quite obvious but probably not overwhelming.  Around 50-60 IBU is where beer starts to taste quite bitter, and I would suggest you avoid anything over 40 IBU if you don’t like a hoppy beer.

Even for the non-hophead, there are some good reasons to learn more about hops.  First, you want to be able to talk knowledgeably about the beer you are drinking and hold your own in a craft beer conversation. Second, you may eventually want to branch out into beers that have just slightly more hops than the ones you are drinking now, and you want to do it on your own terms.

The first thing you need to know is how to properly approach a new beer, and this means using your eyes and nose first.  Don’t just go straight for that first sip, as tempting as it may be.  Evaluating your beer properly will make you look sophisticated, but more importantly, it will actually prepare your pallet for that first sip.

First take a look at your beer:

  • Hold it up to the light and evaluate its color, clarity, and head.
  • Look for bubbles rising in the beer, note the thickness and color of the head, and form an overall impression of the beer from its visual characteristics.
  • If the beer is dark, it may have flavors and aromas of bread crust, burnt toast, coffee or chocolate, and it may have dark fruit flavors such as raisins, prunes, or figs.  Brown beers may be nutty or toasty tasting, while ambers may have malty, bready, or caramel flavors and aromas.
Holding your glass up to the light and taking a good look is the first step in preparing to truly taste your beer. (HappyAlex – Fotolia)
Holding your glass up to the light and taking a good look is the first step in preparing to truly taste your beer. (HappyAlex – Fotolia)

After your eyes, use your nose.  This is where you can start to prepare your pallet for the flavors you will soon taste, including those from hops.  It’s important to prepare your pallet properly, especially where strong flavors are concerned, and hops can definitely bring some strong flavors to the table.

I compare tasting beer to trying a new food.  Have you ever eaten a kumquat?  If you bit right into one without knowing what to expect, the taste would be shocking.  But if you knew that it was going to have a strong citrus peel flavor with some sweetness coming shortly after, then you would be ready for that initial burst of tartness and not be so shocked by it.  If you don’t know what to expect, you may dislike kumquats, whereas proper expectations will set you up for an intensely flavorful treat.  Beer can be like that too, with craft beers representing a wider range of flavors than all the styles and varietals of wine in the world.

So use your nose to prepare your pallet.  Take two short sniffs, followed by a longer, deeper inhalation through the nose, then let it out slowly, also through the nose.  This will engage your sense of smell more fully since it will stimulate both your orthonasal (inhaling) and retronasal (exhaling) sensations.  Remember those words; next time you taste beer with your beer snob friends, you might need them.  Oh, you’re not picking up a piney aroma?  Well, I’m mostly getting it in my retronasal.  Get your nose right next to the beer, inhale, exhale.

Think about the aromas, and prepare your pallet so the flavors won’t be a total surprise.

Every hop variety brings more to the table than just bitterness.  To guide your thought process as you explore the aromas, you should know some of the most common flavors imparted by hops.  Besides that distinctive bitter hoppy aroma, other hop-derived flavors can be:

  • piney
  • herbal
  • floral
  • citrus
  • tropical fruity
  • earthy
  • spicy

Yes, you might actually smell hints of mango or fresh pine trees.  You might smell lavender or licorice.  Then there is the classic grapefruit peel aroma found in Cascade hops, a common variety in many American IPAs.  These aromas and flavors are not in your imagination; hops produce many essential oils and flavor compounds, and many of these are the same ones found in herbs, fruit, or flowers.  It’s best to let your nose search these flavors out before you taste them so your palate will be prepared.

So you don’t like hoppy beer?  There is still a whole world of delicious craft beer out there to enjoy and explore, and who knows – maybe your craft beer journey will eventually take you to hoppier heights than you ever imagined.  Either way, a little knowledge of hops will help your craft beer experience be a better one, and put you in charge of your own pallet.  Now get out there and hoist a pint, but don’t forget to use your eyes and nose first.  Prost!