Beer 201: Mosaic Hops

Meet the fruity hop varietal that opened exciting new doors for brewers worldwide. By all accounts, Mosaic hops are the baby of the family – they’ve only been around for about four years now. Not so different from what farmers have been doing since farming existed, this hops was cross-bred and selected for the properties that growers were most interested in: in this case, berry flavors, mango, and floral notes.

Bred by the same company that is responsible for Simcoe and Citra hops, Lagunitas and other small craft brewers were early adopters of this big-bodied varietal. A popular example of a Mosaic-forward beer is Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA. It’s becoming popular for single-hopped IPAs and session beers. – and we’re definitely in a single-hopped beer boom right now.

In order to have a successfully executed single-hop, the hops need to be dynamic and distinct – no middle of the road wallflower hops here. Mosaic’s flavor profile is juicy and fruity without being sweet, pleasantly resinous, and it also features a balanced bitterness for a crisp, dry finish.

I”m excited to try more beers that prominently feature Mosaic. The ones on my wishlist include:

Beer 101: Lacing

Just what is that thin smattering of foam that sticks to the inside of the beer glass after the head has fallen and you’ve drank some of the beer down? It’s called lacing, and there are a wide variety of factors that contribute to its appearance and nature – but lacing is not a direct indicator of beer quality.

To clarify, the head of the beer is the fluffy foam at the very top of the beer and the lacing is the leftover white/cream that clings to the glass at every point where the head comes to sit as you deplete your beer. It’s made up of a protein structure, as is the head, which is why it can sometimes be quite tall and stiff, depending on how much protein is hanging out with the CO2. This protein, LTP1, is hydrophobic (it avoids contact with water if at all possible) forms a coating around a bubble and helps head keep its structure this way. More on this later.

Some of the things that influence beer lacing are:

  • cleanliness of the glass
  • dryness of the glass
  • malt levels
  • hop levels
  • freshness of hops
  • alcohol content
  • amount of carbonation
  • type of carbonation
  • and more!

A clean glass with no soap residue promotes lacing (if the beer is prone to lacing in the first place), but it must be properly dried. A wet glass makes it nearly impossible for lacing to form and cling to the sides of the glass.

Certain malt varietals are said to promote lacing and head retention, but not all of them do this. Hops, however, can interact with the LTP1 protein and make more clingy, rigid foam.

Beers with higher alcohol content tend to have less head and lacing, but more legs (the streaks of liquid that slowly flow down the sides of the glass after swirling or drinking beer or wine).

Nitro beers also tend to have a very different textured and structured head and lacing than their traditional counterparts as nitrogen is largely insoluble in water, so it creates many small bubbles and a thicker mouthfeel.

Bar and Beer Review: Mully’s Brewery

Located in a little industrial park in Prince Frederick, MD, Mully’s is nestled along the Patuxent River in a sleepy little area. There’s farm land all around with signs announcing fresh eggs , plants, and herbs for sale every mile or so. After Sunday D&D, I followed my DM’s big old pickup truck to his favorite brewery so I could buy him a drink for his upcoming birthday. I’d had quite a few of Mully’s beers since the DM often has growlers from them for us to enjoy during play.

I enjoyed a flight of six of their beers that day and went home with one of their flagships: Patuxent Pale Ale, which is easy drinking while still flavorful. The Shucker Stout was sturdy, but unremarkable. The Jack Straw IPA was a little hoppier than I liked, but well-crafted. They were out of a pepperjack ale of some kind, so this broke my heart a little. Their Belgian strong dark ale was really well-executed.

There is limited seating, some of which faces large windows into the brewery, where massive stainless steel tanks ferment away in the next room over. Pints were all $6 each and, also for $6, my flight was an exceptionally good deal. There’s also a good deal of charming wall art around the small place. I will likely go back again in the future after some game days.

As far as one beer in particular, I especially liked the one-off JedIPA. It was a nerd beer for a nerd day, which is right up my alley. It’s a fairly cloudy, deep golden color with no real head (but a bad growler pour on my part might be responsible for that). It’s hoppy, maybe a touch floral, and a little bit sweet-smelling. There’s a pretty sweet taste up front with moderately hoppy, fresh green (but not piney/resinous green) flavors. Never dry and easy drinking.

Both JedIPA and Mully’s Brewery earn a five out of five mugs even though it’s nowhere near my house!

 

Five American Beers to Drink on July 4th

Cracking open a few beers sounds like an excellent way to celebrate that American classic, the Fourth of the July. Here’s a quick rundown of five interesting and refreshing beers made here in the good ol’ US of A.

21st Amendment Hell of High Watermelon

This strange (and strangely refreshing) wheat beer made with watermelon isn’t usually something I’d enjoy. I’ve had watermelon beers before, and often found them to have a sort of candy-like sweetness that was unpleasant. Hell or High Watermelon, however, beats that rap and is exceptionally good to drink on a hot day. It’s en excellent beach beer, let me tell you.

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA

Coming in at a little over 7% ABV, this beer packs a bit of a wallop. It’s got some hop bitterness to it, paired with some decent grainy flavors, but it’s an incredibly smooth drinking beer in spite of the alcohol content. If you like your IPAs with a punch of flavor, this is a great choice for sunset on the back patio.

Bell’s Oberon Ale

A wheat ale with a little sourdough funk and some light notes of fruit, Oberon is a great go-to for a wheat ale with some character (and comes highly recommended by my friend, M). It has a fairly light body and some decent carbonation (though not too much), which keeps it feeling nice and refreshing. It’s got enough flavor to stand up to food, so try it while grilling or chowing down.

Anderson Valley Briney Melon Gose

I think you all know where I stand on gose beers. This is a personal favorite (though Anderson Valley makes at least two others that are fantastic) as it’s tart, faintly salty, and incredibly bright. It’s a very easy beer to drink, as long as you like the decent sour punch, and is perfect for hot weather.

Union Craft Brewing Anthem

As a celebration of the recent 200th anniversary of the penning of the Star Spangled Banner, this Baltimore brewery whipped up a golden ale to delight the senses. With a decently grainy base and a Mosaic hop finish, this pairs great with the classic American grilled goods that we so love in summer.

Review: Ballast Point East to West IPA

Fresh out of undergrad in 2006, I packed up my life and moved to Japan to teach English for a year. Kind of crazy, sure, but I didn’t know what the heck to do with my life at that point (I had been so sure that I wanted to be an English professor and write and teach and then, while working on my senior thesis, I realized that it just wasn’t for me – so I felt totally lost) so I figured some adventure abroad would be the right choice. I spoke the language well enough to survive – and picked up a ton more through immersion – and was ready to give it a try.

Overall, it was a great year. My health, unfortunately, forced me to come home after just one year, when I had planned to stay for two to three. There are parts of me that regret not having more time there, but then my life would have turned out drastically differently… and I hate the What If game.

Ballast Point East to West IPA has been on a journey as well. It’s a collaboration between California-based Ballast Point and COEDO in Japan , and a close relative of another Ballast Point beer (West to East IPA), which uses sake rice and yuzu peel. This beer, however, uses the same recipe only with brown rice and Meyer lemon. It’s got some roots in Japan, but it’s been given a twist and a home back in the US.

I had this on draft at Frisco Tap House in April. It’s a deep goldenrod-colored pour that’s nice and clear in the glass. There’s no head, really, just a light smear of foam on top. There’s not much clinginess in that foam and so there’s no real lacing, either. The nose is bright, with citrus and floral notes. The hops smell is also fresh and fruity. This is, I think, what’s often referred to as “juicy.”

The taste is fairly tropical with a sharp brightness to it. That fruit-forward taste is balanced with just a hint of dankness from the hops. And there’s that late kettle addition of lemons, giving it a zippy flavor as well. The mouthfeel is light and the carbonation is fairly low.

I think it’s great for a warm, sunny spring day. I’d happily drink this all summer long. It’s just my speed. I sometimes like a big, piney hop flavor, but a nice fruity IPA can win my heart, too. Five out of five.

Review: Old Dominion Grapefruit Pale Ale

Old Dominion Brewery started life as a humble brewery in Ashburn, VA, way back in 1989 (this is fairly old by craft brewery standards, considering that much of the craft movement didn’t gain traction until the 2000s). They lovingly crafted beer and sodas for many years, supplying the Mid-Atlantic with reputable products in bottles and kegs. In 2007, they joined up with Fordham brewery out of Annapolis, MD – and in 2009, the breweries consolidated and moved their base of operations to Dover, Delaware. These two breweries are partners with the Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD, who keeps several of their beers on rotating taps at all times.

I was meeting friends for dinner at Rams Head one April evening and, as per usual, I was heinously early. I grabbed a pint of this Grapefruit Pale Ale, their summer seasonal, which had just premiered earlier that week. Worth noting, I really don’t like trying to snap pictures of my beers in this venue because the lighting is so dark and kind of red-orange saturated. It doesn’t make for good photography.

This is (probably) a pretty, honeycomb gold color (again, those lights make it hard to tell) with a fluffy, off-white head on its beery shoulders. There’s plenty of full-bodied lacing remaining inside of the glass as the head settles. The nose is faintly hoppy, fairly grainy, and with some light notes of citrus fruit in it.

The bartender described it as “bright” and I agree: it’s very easy to drink and nicely crisp. Now, I don’t really usually like grapefruit anything, so this beer was kind of a risk – but it paid off. It’s great served cold on a warm day. It’s a little piney and reminiscent of an IPA in that way. The finish is a little dry (probably the number one complain that I make on this blog…), but not so dry that I’d never get this again. I think I would order it in the future, especially to support local craft beer.  Four out of five frosty mugs!

Beer 101: Fermentation

I know I’m skipping around a little bit (after all, there are several steps that come before fermentation in the brewing process), but it’s kind of because fermentation is my favorite. After all, it’s responsible for some of the best-tasting things in life: beer, wine, cheese, and chocolate to name a few. It’s a  crucial step, chemically, as it creates the alcohol that we all enjoy (presumably you enjoy alcohol – you are on a beer blog).

Beer 101 Fermentation
Photo from uncommoncaribbean.com

The Basics

Fermentation, at its very simplest, is the chemical process by which yeast converts the malts‘ sugar (glucose) into ethyl alcohol and C02 gas – this yields both the alcohol content and the carbonation that make beer, well, beer.

 

We’ve explained a little bit that temperature is important for this process, depending on the kind of yeast being used and the beer style that is being made – an ale needs to be kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks and a lager needs to stay at 48 Fahrenheit for about six weeks. This process creates a lot of heat as a byproduct and so the container in which the fermentation happens generally needs to be carefully cooled.

To avoid contamination by stray, wild yeasts, fermentation tanks are generally sealed off from the air with only a small vent for the CO2 buildup to exit the tank.

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The Details

I’m no chemist, so I’m not going to go into that level of detail! However, there are some interesting things that go on during the fermentation process that need to be addressed. Yeast basically works in two stages during fermentation: the primary stage and the anaerobic phase.

In the primary stage, the yeast consumes all of the oxygen in the cooled and aerated wort mixture. During this stage, sterols (which are a type of cholesterol that make up part of the yeast’s cell wall) are produced. These sterols allow the cell wall to be permeable so sugar and alcohol can move in and out of the yeast cells; they also allow the yeast to survive in an increasingly alcoholic environment

Once that oxygen is gone, the yeast moves into the anaerobic phase, during which most of the sugars in the wort are turned into ethanol and CO2. Additionally, flavor compounds like esters (fruity notes) , diacetyl/ketones (butterscotch notes), fusel alcohols (responsible for a hot or burning sensation), and other chemicals that can make or break the flavor of a final beer.

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Other Uses for Fermentation

Cacao seeds must be fermented (often out in the sun, on large tarps) before being dried and then roasted in order to create the chocolate flavor that we know.

In winemaking, fermentation begins naturally when the skin of grapes is broken and the wild yeast on them and in the air begin the primary fermentation stage, turning sugar in to alcohol.

Fermentation happens several times along the journey from milk to cheese, developing flavors and even creating the famous holes in Swiss cheese.

The workhhorse of bread making, yeast-based fermentation creates the textures, flavors, and rise in bread doughs.

Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, and more can be fermented during the pickling process, allowing natural bacteria to create acids needed to preserve foods.

 

Review: New Belgium Brewing Company Fat Tire

If you’re on the east coast like me, this is a pretty prevalent beer. It’s easy to find six packs of it, even in convenience store fridges, and it’s not hard to locate it on tap at many bars. Even if you’re at a dive bar or sports bar, which may not serve the widest variety of brews, Fat Tire is becoming a more common option on draft. For me, it’s a solid go-to beer in bars that I might otherwise be very unhappy in.

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New Belgium Brewing Company, based out of Fort Collins, CO, has been brewing since 1991. They opened a second location in 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, a notoriously beery town. This opened up their ability to distribute in the east and southeast of the US and the beer has spread like wildfire since then. As of October 2016, New Belgium beers are available in 45 states.

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It pours a dark golden color with a slight reddish hue to it. There’s a small, off-white head that sticks around for some time. The beer smells grainy and bready to me, but doesn’t have a particularly strong nose to speak of.

The taste is malty and balanced with almost no hops at all. It’s sweet (but not cloying or unpleasant) with caramel and toffee notes. I’d say that the mouthfeel is a little on the thin side and with a higher carbonation level. It paired well with chicken breast roasted with Turkish spices (garlic, cumin, oregano, paprika, and sumac) and some roasted root vegetables. I’d say it stood up fine to some of those stronger flavors and continued to be refreshing as it warmed up.

Beer 101: Yeast

Yeast is one of the four main ingredients that go into making beer, beautiful beer. The others are hops, malt, and water (this post is next in my Beer 101 series). There are certainly other ingredients that can be added to the beer process, but these four are the core pillars that hold up the whole thing.

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These itty bitty single-celled microrganisms are technically classified as a fungi. They reproduce by an asymmetric division process called budding. Their job is to convert fermentable sugars from the malt into alcohol and other byproducts. There are hundreds of varieties and strains of yeast out there, some of which are commonly used to brew beer.

Yeasts are generally put into one of two categories: ale yeast (top fermenting) or lager yeast (bottom fermenting), depending on how they behave during the fermentation process. There’s also a nebulous third category, known as spontaneously fermenting yeasts, which result when beer is left exposed to the air and is literally infected with wild yeast strains as they wander by – this is what creates sour beers.

yeast-cells

Ale yeasts generally sit on top of the beer-to-be, fermenting away between temperatures of 10° to 25°C (though some yeasts won’t activate below 12°C). These guys rise up to the surface, forming a thick raft of a head as they bubble away. These yeasts tend to yield beers higher in esters, which are the chemicals that give fruits their characteristic flavors. In the case of Hefe Weizen beers, the yeast produces the ester iso-amyl acetate, the same one that is found in bananas. Other esters include ethyl acetate, which can be flowery, and ethyl caproate, which is kind of wine-like and fruity. Top-fermenting yeasts are used for brewing ales, porters, stouts, Kölsch, Altbier, and wheat beers.

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Lager yeasts create much less of a head and tend to settle at the bottom of the tank as fermentation nears completion. They grow less rapidly than the ale yeasts and don’t create that layer of thick foam on top of the beer. These yeasts work at lower temperatures, around 7° to 15°C.

yeast-spoon

In addition to making beer the alcoholic beverage that we so enjoy, it also has a large impact on the flavor of the final beer. The flavor and aroma of beer is complex and is influenced by  many factors, including malt, hops, and the yeast strain. The synthesis of yeast creates many byproducts, including ethanol (alcohol), CO2 (carbon dioxide), and also some flavor compounds like clove, butterscotch, and green apple.

Yeast may be tiny and invisible to the naked eye, but it plays a huge role in making beer what it is.

 

 

Review: Great Divide Samurai Rice Ale

Normally, gluten-free or rice-based beers are just not up my alley. Rice is often an additive in cheap, mass-market swill and so it has, to me, a negative connotation (which is maybe an unfair attitude of mine, but that’s another post for another day). GF/rice-based beers have, generally, been fine, but a relatively unimpressive lot. All the same, I have to say that I enjoyed Great Divide‘s Samurai Rice Ale.

Now, I have to clarify: Samurai is not a gluten-free beer; barley is still used in the brewing process.

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I enjoyed this beer on draft at Noraneko Ramen in the waterfront district of Portland, OR. And let me tell you, Noraneko is an experience not to be missed. I know ramen shops are a bit popular these days, but not all of them do an amazing job. Noraneko really does. I ordered their regular  shoyu ramen with the “special egg” (a soft-boiled egg soaked in vinegar and soy sauce, if I know my ramen toppings) and the pork belly chasyu (slowly braised to perfection).  I also ordered kara age (fried chicken) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) for the table to share.

The chicken and some of the pickles may have been a little too salty, but the ramen itself was very good. A fine portion for $9. Mild broth, not too salty, and with firm noodles that don’t just fall apart. The pork  belly was tender and flavorful and the egg was exactly right (I love a soft/runny yolk). The toppings included some bamboo shoots, green onion, and leafy greens, but the egg and meat are add-ons and will run you about $3 per item. It adds up, but it’s a great meal.

Right! Sorry ! Beer! Good Japanese food just gets me all excited.

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The Samurai was a draft beer poured into a pint glass. It was a beautiful golden color with a smallish white head. Not much of a nose on it – maybe a hint of cereal and something a little floral. It was served quite cold, so the smells may not have opened up yet. It tasted a little sweet at first, but very light overall. There may have even been a hint of something fruity to it. It was lightly hoppy, and a tad citrusy, but not “fruity” I guess. Not compared to, say, something like Mad Fox’s Orange Whip IPA.

It ended up as a very easy to drink beer, perfect for some flavorful food, which is kind of why I ordered a lighter rice-based ale in the first place.

My friend Sara ordered the Pho-style ramen bowl and an Off Color Troublesome Gose (which turns out to be a blend of two beers: a wheat yeast ale with coriander and a second beer brewed only with Lactobacillus bacteria). The Gose had a very sour nose, a zippy lemon taste, and a fairly light finish. James had the special BBQ ramen bowl (he was saddened by the lack of protein in it, save for the little scraps of what seemed to be brisket ends at the bottom of the bowl) and the Samurai rice ale along with me.

Cheers to good beer, good friends, and good food!