Beer

Beer Education: Dubbel and Tripel

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

To quote the Oxford Companion to Beer, “Belgium is to beer what Cuba is to cigars and France is to wine.”¹ On that note, I wanted to share with you some information about two traditional Belgian-inspired brews – the Dubbel and the Tripel.

The Belgian monastic brewing tradition started long ago, stemming as far back as the Middle Ages. Many monasteries followed the Rule of St. Benedict of 530 A.D., which told monks how to live a spiritual life and run a monastery. One of the Benedictine values required that monasteries be self-sufficient. This led monks to create wares they could sell – some made bread, some made cheese, some sold eggs, and some made beer!²

The beer of these early monasteries tasted quite different than the modern Belgian beers we know and love³ – and this is largely because of the destruction many of them faced throughout history. Nearly all the monasteries in Belgium were closed or destroyed during the French Revolution in the 1790s. Many were rebuilt, but were once again demolished during World War I. After rebuilding following the war, beer styles such as the Dubbel and Tripel began to emerge. These styles helped return monastery breweries to prominence, but most had to rebuild again after World War II.² One thing that’s certain, the Belgian brewing tradition is resilient!

The Dubbel and Tripel are styles that emerged from what is known as the Trappist tradition. Currently, there are only seven breweries in the world that can legally call their beer Trappist – meaning they are brewed on monastery grounds under the supervision of monks.¹ You may also hear the term Abbey beer, which means while not Trappist, it is brewed in association with an actually monastery.² Because of these specifications, you won’t hear secular breweries calling themselves Trappist or Abbey, even when they make Dubbels or Tripels. Out of respect for this tradition, you’ll often hear these style of beers brewed in America called “Belgian-inspired” or “Belgian-style.”

Discussing the Dubbel and Tripel may lead you to wondering, is there such thing as a Singel? What about a Quadrupel? And what do the names mean?

Yes, there is such thing as a Belgian Singel, but “they remain an elusive beast that rarely leaves the walls of the few monasteries where it’s made.”⁴ As far as Quadrupels go, you may know them under a more familiar name – the Belgian Dark Strong Ale (like Stormcloud’s The Farthest Shore.) Quadrupels and Dark Strongs are pretty universally accepted as synonymous names for the same style.²

As far as these numerical names go, it’s not as simple as one may think – historians can’t seem to agree on where the names come from. Not only that, but there isn’t an exact mathematical relationship between the styles.⁴ Generally, but not always, the alcohol content goes up with each style. They do not double or triple in alcohol content as the names might imply, but instead the average alcohol content goes up by about 1.5-2.0% ABV.

Dubbels are described by the Beer Judge Certification Program 2015 Style Guidelines as “A deep reddish-copper, moderately strong, malty complex Trappist ale with rich malty flavors, dark or dried fruit esters, and light alcohol blended together in a malty presentation that still finishes fairly dry.”⁵ It lists the ABV being somewhere between 6-7.6% and the IBUs being between 15-25 with a low perceived bitterness. Dubbel’s color can range between light amber to dark amber.²

In Dubbels you’ll often find the flavors of caramel, brown sugar, dark rum, raison, plum, or dark cherry.² The Brewers Association recommends pairing this beer style with apple-smoked saysages, washed-rind cheeses, and milk chocolate.⁶ Trust me, I know our Dubbel (B., Sirius) is an excellent food beer – it goes with just about everything on our menu!

Tripels are described by the Beer Judge Certification Program 2015 Style Guidelines as “A pale, somewhat spicy, dry, strong Trappist ale with a pleasant rounded malt flavor and firm bitterness. Quite aromatic, with spicy, fruity, and light alcohol notes combining with the supportive clean malt character to produce a surprisingly drinkable beverage considering the high alcohol level.”⁵ It lists the ABV being between 7.5-9.5% and the IBUs between 20-40 with moderate perceived bitterness. Tripel’s tend to be light gold to gold in color.² I always remember that Dubbels are darker than Tripels through alliteration.

In Tripels, you’ll often find esters that produce flavors such as orange, lemon, apricot, peach, pear, or banana.² A few food pairing suggestion include roasted turkey, triple creme cheese, and caramelized banana creme brûlée.⁶

I hope this blog post taught you a little something you didn’t know about two traditional Belgian-inspired brews. Now all you need is to order a B., Sirius Dubbel or 228 Tripel to go! Cheers!


References for this blog post:

¹Oliver, Garrett, editor. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 1-3.

²De Baets, Yvan, editor. Belgian Beer Styles Course. Cicerone Certification Program, 2020, pp. 67-73. Road to Cicerone®.

³Mulder, Roel. “The Original Belgium Abbey Beers.” Zymurgy, Mar. 2020, pp. 42-43.

⁴Reis, Mike. “A Beginner’s Guide to Belgian Beer Styles.” Serious Eats, edited by Niki Achitoff-Gray, Serious Eats Inc., 4 Mar. 2014, drinks.seriouseats.com/2014/03/guide-to-belgian-beer-styles-what-is-dubbel-quad-saison-wit-lambic-gueuze.html.

BJCP Beer Style Guidelines. 2015 ed., Beer Judge Certification Program, 2015, pp. 52-53.

⁶Baker, Jess, et al. The Guide to Craft Beer. Brewers Publications, 2019, pp. 65-70.

Beer

Beer Education: Sahti

Right before our temporary closure due to COVID-19, we at Stormcloud Brewing Company had just put on tap an incredibly unique beer called a Sahti. I would love to share with you what I learned about this style!

According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, the Sahti is “a farmhouse beer style indigenous to Finland” and “is one of the oldest beer types still brewed today.”¹ It is traditionally made with rye and juniper,² and often with baker’s yeast¹ instead of brewer’s yeast. According to the BJCP Style Guidelines, “the juniper acts a bit like hops in the balance and flavor.”² Sahti’s also often have a banana-clove character, but it is completely dependent on what yeast is used. Since the Sahti is a Farmhouse Ale, it can vary greatly by ingredients, taste, and location brewed – and is adjustable according to the brewer.¹

Sahti is considered an Historical Beer style, and for good reason – casks of Sahti were discovered on a sunken Viking ship dated back to the 9th century, and “some historians even claim ancient beer styles like Sahti were the motivation behind developed agriculture in Scandinavia.”³  According to beer historian Mika Laitinen, the fact that it has survived the arrival of distilled alcohol, the onset of the era of cheap industrial beer, and prohibition is thoroughly impressive. He believes that “without its rich and unique taste, the traditional would surely have been dead by now.”⁴

The word sahti come from the Swedish word saft, meaning “juice” or “sap.” One thing I found particularly entertaining was that the Finnish-speaking brewers would intentionally refer to farmhouse ale as “juice” to mislead and evade the Swedish-speaking taxmen.⁴

The photo below is a woman brewing Sahti in Karvia, Finland around 1930. Aside from a few details, it is a similar setup to what brewers would have used in the Iron Age.⁴ Prior to the existence of metal cauldrons, brewers used wooden vessels which could not be heated to a boil over a fire. Instead, many Sahtis were not boiled, and those that were used hot stones put directly into the liquid.⁴ Additionally, past and present Sahti masters do not use thermometers, but instead measure the temperature using their fingers and the tip of their elbow.¹

Sahti was traditionally served in a large wooden vessel called haarikka, which was intended to be shared.⁴ These were most often passed around and consumed in the sauna.¹ You can see photos of haarikkas below.

If you haven’t yet tried a Sahti, I hope this has inspired you to do so and take a sip of history! On that note, I’d like to leave you with an old Finnish saying:

“In drinking sati, the feet get drunk first, and then the head.”

Cheers!


References for this blog post:

¹Oliver, Garrett, editor. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 709-711.

²BJCP Beer Style Guidelines. 2015 ed., Beer Judge Certification Program, 2015, pp. 58.

³ Bryant, Duncan. “Sahti: One of the World’s Oldest Beer Styles.” American Homebrewers Association, edited by Dave Carpenter, http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/sahti-one-of-the-worlds-oldest-beer-styles/.

⁴Laitinen, Mika. Viking Age Brew. Chicago Review Press Incorporated, 2019, pp. 6-63.

All photos came from Mika Laitinen’s Viking Age Brew. A great read if you’re interested in learning more about the Sahti beer style.

Beer

Beer Education: Foeders and Sour Beer

Amy standing in front of a foeder with a glass of beer.

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

What is a foeder?

A foeder, (pronounced FOOD-er) is a really, really large barrel, typically oak, used to age wine and beer.¹ Not only are they for imparting strong oak flavors into the beer, they also allow a slow addition of oxygen into the barrel over time; which changes the profile and flavor of the beer. The shape of a foeder may trend towards ovular or more cylindrical than the standard barrel shape. ²

Foeders have been used in Belgium and other European countries for hundreds of years, and are now growing in popularity in the US in the craft beer community, for sour beer or other traditional Belgian-style beer.

Vintage photo of men standing by an enormous barrel.

Our first foeder was purchased as the next step in developing Stormcloud’s sour program. Sour beer is an age-old Belgian tradition of intentionally introducing microbes (yes, sometimes even ‘wild’ microbes) into the beer to create a variety of flavors – sour, tart, funky, earthy, leathery – and so many more!

We purchased our foeder from Foeder Crafters of America – the only maker of foeders in the United States.³ It was built by hand from American white oak. The wood is air dried and exposed to the elements for 2 years, and once the foeder is built it is steamed for at least a week. Below you can see a photo of our foeder right after it was built, before it was shipped to us.

Stormcloud's first foeder, still at Foeder Crafters of America.

Our second foeder, which has been christened The Collaborator is currently being used for “clean” (not sour) wood-aged beer. As its name implies, these beers will be made in collaboration with other breweries. Our first beer in The Collaborator was brewed with our good friends from The Filling Station Microbrewery (see photo below.)
 

Brewers from Stormcloud Brewing Company and The Filling Station Microbrewery posing in front of 'The Collaborator' foeder.
From left to right: Stormcloud Cellarman Ernesto Colon, Stormcloud Brewery Manager Mike Sharp, Stormcloud Co-Owner and Head Brewer Brian Confer, Filling Station Head Brewer Andy Largent, Filling Station Assistant Brewer Tommy Hodges, Stormcloud Brewer Chris Schnepf, and Stormcloud Brewer John Moye.

The collaboration beer was a Helles Lager, and the release date has yet to be determined – it all depends on how it ages in the oak and when the brewers taste it and think it’s ready.

Sour Beer

Bon Appétit magazine describes sour beer as “a style loved by brew nerds but easily appreciated by anyone. An acquired taste, but one we think is well worth cultivating.”⁴ I couldn’t agree more, it is certainly a taste worth cultivating! Though I’ll do my best to explain the nuances of sour beer below, talking terroir of beer requires a little more show than tell.⁵ When well made, sour beer can be among the most complex and refreshing of beers, terrific with food and easily pushing the boundaries of what the modern drinker thinks of as “beer.”⁶

Sour beer, put simply, is a sour tasting beer whose flavor is attained by the introduction of bacteria and/or wild yeast.

What's in a name?

Before diving too far in, I want to address the name – SOUR beer. You heard it here folks – NOT ALL SOUR BEER IS ACTUALLY SOUR. Sour beer is an umbrella term that can encompass a spectrum of flavor styles – tart, fruity, red wine-like, funky, sweet, tangy, leathery, citrus…and the list goes on and on. In the modern American brewing industry, there is much discussion about replacing the term or dividing up the general category of sour beer. Jeffers Richardson, director of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks wild beer facility discusses this by saying “That term, much to my chagrin, is not really instructive. It assumes a beer should be very tart and very sour, and yet we encompass everything. It doesn’t do the category justice.”⁵ So if the term “sour” has a negative connotation in your mind, the first thing to know is that the name sour beer can mean so much more than that.

A Short History

Before refrigeration and our modern knowledge of sanitation, nearly, if not all beer was to some degree sour. This is primarily due to poorly understood, often naturally occurring bacteria.⁷ People usually avoided brewing during warm weather, when the bacteria and wild yeast was even more likely to produce unbearable acidic and vinegar-like flavors. When brewed in the colder seasons intentionally, traditional sour beer styles are usually produced by aging beer in wooden barrels and involve the attempt to control acidity levels and create agreeable flavor.⁶ You can read more about these traditional styles and their history in the next section.

As craft brewing took off in the United States, there emerged a new generation of brewers who aspired to create increasingly unique and flavorful beers. Many of these breweries have taken inspiration from classically sour Belgian styles. Here at Stormcloud we’ve described ourselves “a small brewery crafting ales within the time-honored Belgian brewing tradition of ignoring time-honored brewing traditions” – and this is an excellent way to describe the evolution of sour beer in the US. Not content with mimicking Belgian sour beers, American brewers have started to develop what might be termed “new world” sour beers.⁶ Due to this evolution of the sour beer style, there is no agreed-upon style guidelines and are yet to be classified in any particular category. The Oxford Companion to Beer says that “this, of course, is part of the fun for the brewers who are making them.”⁶

Sour Beer Styles

Berliner Weisse: A very pale, refreshing, low-alcohol German wheat beer with a clean lactic sourness and a very high carbonation level. Referred by Napoleon’s troops in 1809 as “the Champagne of the north.”⁸

Flanders Red Ale: An indigenous beer of the West Flanders region of Belgium. Sour, fruity, red wine-like Belgian-style ale with interesting supportive malt flavors and fruit complexity. The dry finish and tannin completes the mental image of a fine red wine. The beer is aged for up to two years, often in huge oaken barrels which contain the resident bacteria necessary to sour the beer. It is common in Belgium to blend old beer with young to balance the sourness and acidity found in aged beer.⁸

Oud Bruin: A malty, fruity, aged, somewhat sour Belgian-style brown ale. An “old ale” tradition, indigenous to the East Flanders region of Belgium, which has roots back to the 1600s. Historically brewed as a “provision beer” that would develop some sourness as it aged. While Flanders red beers are aged in oak, the brown beers are warm aged in stainless steel.⁸

Lambic: A fairly sour, often moderately funky wild Belgian wheat beer with sourness taking the place of hop bitterness in the balance. Traditionally spontaneously fermented in the Brussels area and served uncarbonated.⁸

Fruit Lambic: A complex, fruity, pleasantly sour, wild wheat ale fermented by a variety of Belgian microbiota, and showcasing the fruit contributions blended with the wild character. The type of fruit can sometimes be hard to identify as fermented and aged fruit characteristics can seem different from the more recognizable fresh fruit aromas and flavors.⁸

Gueuze: A complex, pleasantly sour but balanced wild Belgian wheat beer that is highly carbonated and very refreshing. The spontaneous fermentation character can provide a very interesting complexity, with a wide range of wild barnyard, horse blanket, or leather characteristics intermingling with citrusy-fruity flavors and acidity.⁸

Gose: A highly-carbonated, tart and fruity wheat ale with a restrained coriander and salt character and low bitterness. Very refreshing, with bright flavors and high attenuation. Moderate to restrained but noticeable sourness, although historical versions could be very sour.⁸

American-Style Sour Ales: Style guidelines for American-style sours are intentionally nebulous because American brewers are still rewriting the rules. Many are inspired by traditional sour styles, which are used as a jumping off point to experiment with techniques such as hops additions for bittering and aroma, racking sour beers into freshly used wine or spirit barrels, blending together batches, adding adjuncts, or just about anything else they can think of.⁹

Vocal to Know

In addition to foeder, here are a few other sour beer-related vocabulary that you might like to know.

Lactobacillus & Pediococcus: These are the two main bacteria that contribute to the actual acidity or sourness, in the beer. Skilled brewers of sour beer will blend these bacterial strains carefully, massaging fermentations to create the acid profile they desire in the beer.⁶

Brettanomyces: A wild yeast strain (considered a scourge in most vineyards, though welcomed among many natural winemakers) that is often used in the making of new world sour beers.⁶

Wild Beer: This is an ever-constant debate among brewers, but the term is generally used to describe any beer that displays the earthy characteristics of Brettanomyces yeast strains (or other wild yeast strains), regardless of whether the beer is a light golden ale or a dark stout.⁶

Mixed Culture: Instead of using a single clean yeast strain, brewers intentionally select a combination of different yeasts and often bacteria to work their magic in a fermentation with the goal of creating something new and interesting.¹⁰

Blending: The act of combining two or more beers. Through blending, you can create unique complexity that otherwise you can’t achieve with unblended beer. You can blend a five-year-old version and a one-year-old version of the same recipe for a unique final product, for example; or blend beers made with the same recipe but fermented with two different yeast strains; or blend two or more completely different styles.¹¹

Kettle Souring: (also called quick souring) Souring beer in a steel “kettle” and adding lactobacillus (a bacteria that converts sugar into lactic acid.) While this method is faster and easier than the traditional sour beer method, it loses much of the complexity. ¹²

Spontaneous Fermentation: What happens when a brewer leaves the inoculation (the moment when yeast and bacteria come in contact with the liquid) up to whatever organisms happen to be in the air or on the fruit that they are fermenting.¹³

Coolship: A shallow bed that can be attached to a truck and driven through the surrounding area to inoculate wort with wild yeast.⁵ This past October, we collaborated with Speciation Artisan Ales, brewing wort for their cool ship. (see photos below)

Stormcloud brewing Company Brewers posing with the Speciation Artisan Ales crew and coolship.
Filling a coolship with wort.

I hope this sour beer primer made you excited to join us on our journey through Stormcloud’s new sour beer project, and give the beer we release a try. Each beer we craft is made to be unique, flavorful, and original. You never know what could become your next favorite beer! 


References:

¹ “Foeder (FOOD-er) For Thought!” Dechutes Brewery, 19 Mar. 2015, deschutesbrewery.com/foeder-food-er-thought/.

² Dykstra, Jim. “What is a Foeder?” The Beer Connoisseur, 8 Sept. 2016, beerconnoisseur.com/articles/what-foeder.

³ Shaw, Iain. “America’s Only Foeder Crafter Is Changing How We Make and Drink Wild Beers.” VinePair, edited by Erica Duecy, VinePair Inc., 11 Mar. 2019, vinepair.com/articles/american-foeder-sour-beer-wild-ale/.

⁴ Bernstein, Joshua M. “Sour Beer Primer: How (and Why) to Drink These Funky Wild Ales.” Bon Appétit, Condé Nast, 26 Feb. 2014, bonappetit.com/drinks/beer/slideshow/sour-beer-primer.

⁵ Roth, Bryan. “A Culture of Confusion — The Process, Vernacular, and Challenge of Selling “Sour” Beer.” Good Beer Hunting, edited by Austin L. Ray, 5 Apr. 2018, goodbeerhunting.com/blog/2018/4/4/a-culture-of-confusion-the-process-vernacular-and-challenge-of-selling-sour-beer.

⁶ Oliver, Garrett, editor. The Oxford Companion to Beer. 1 ed., Oxford University Press, 2012.

⁷ DeBenedetti, Christian. “A Brief History of Sour Beer.” The New Yorker, 26 July 2013, newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-brief-history-of-sour-beer.

BJCP Beer Style Guidelines. 2015 ed., Beer Judge Certification Program, 2015, p. 44-48.

⁹ Wilmes, Tom. “The Sour Beer Spectrum.” Craft Beer & Brewing, 2016, beerandbrewing.com/the-sour-beer-spectrum/.

¹⁰Janzen, Emma. “Mixed Culture Fermentation Stretches the Boundaries of Beer.” Imbibe, 9 Aug. 2017, imbibemagazine.com/mixed-culture-fermentation-beers/.

¹¹ Wilmes, Tom. “When to Blend Your Beer.” Craft Beer & Brewing, 2015, beerandbrewing.com/when-to-blend-your-beer/.

¹² Wolinski, Cat. “The Differences Between Sours and Kettle Sours, Explained.” VinePair, edited by Erica Duecy, VinePair Inc., 18 May 2018, vinepair.com/articles/what-is-kettle-sour-beer/.

¹³ Delany, Alex. “What Is Spontaneous Fermentation, and How Does It Affect the Taste of Wine, Beer, and Booze?” Bon Appétit, Condé Nast, 16 Aug. 2018, http://www.bonappetit.com/story/spontaneous-fermentation.

Beer

Beer Education: Maltster

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

“Malz ist die Seele des Bieres” – translated from German as “Malt is the soul of beer.” Without malted barley, which provides fermentable sugars that lead to the production of alcohol, we would have no beer. To take it a step farther – without maltsters, we’d have no malt! In this post, I’d like to focus on a group of people essential to the brewing process: maltsters.

Before we dive into the world of maltsters, I wanted to give you a quick refresher on malt. Malt is one of the four key ingredients in nearly all beer, the others being water, hops, and yeast. Most brewing malt is made from barley and wheat, though other grains like oats and rye can also be malted. According to Thomas Kraus-Weyermann of Weyermann Specialty Malts, “malt varieties range from very pale and sweet to amber and biscuit-like to almost black and coffee-like.”² This range of malt varieties accounts for not only the different amounts of sugar turned to alcohol, but also the different colors, flavors, and mouthfeel of beer. 

The reason brewers use malt is because the raw barley kernels are rock hard, which makes the carbohydrates needed for brewing inaccessible. These carbohydrates are “protected by a matrix of protein surrounded by rigid cell walls.”¹ The malting process liberates these starches from the barley, so it can be used in making beer. 

The very first step in the brewing process is milling (grinding) the malt for the brew. Once it is ground, the malt is now called grist. The next step in the brewing process is forming mash by mixing water with crushed malt. In the mash is where brewers want to convert malt starch into sugars, which later in the brewing process yeast will turn into alcohol. 

As you may have guessed, a maltster is the person who turns barley into malt. All About Beer Magazine explains, “From barley selection to malting control, it is the maltster who determines the foundational quality of a beer.”³ The malting process has three primary phases: steeping, germination, and kilning. During steeping, the maltster submerges barley in water on and off for two to three days. The hydration of the grain (with intermittent periods of aeration) initiates a reaction that will start the growth of a new barley plant inside the kernel. During germination, the maltster removes the barley from the steeping water, and keeps it moist for three to five days, allowing the barley seed to begin growing.¹ The kernel produces little rootlets, called chit. Sprowt Labs explains the importance of chit, saying, “maltsters use lab analysis after malting to ensure quality, but, as a big or small malthouse, they rely on chit counts and other sensory analysis during malting.”⁴ The final phase in malting is kilning, where the sprouted kernel is loaded on to the perforated floor of a kiln, and fans drive heated air through the floor. First the fans blow warm air to remove grain moisture, and then fan air temperatures vary, depending on what type of flavors are desired in the finished malt.

 The art of making malt has been around for thousands of years.⁵ Though some form of malt existed before recorded history, there is a legend that early Egyptians were creating malt by lowering baskets of grain into wells to steep, then raising it above the water to germinate, and drying it out in the sun.⁶ Throughout history, the making and selling of malt was often tightly controlled, “in Nurnberg in 1290 only barley was allowed to be malted, while in Augsberg between 1433 and 1550 beer was only to be made from malted oats. In England malt carried a tax for many years until 1880.”⁷ By the 17th century, beer was predominantly brewed with malted barley, and it was done on the tiled floor of a large kiln – and maltsters had to constantly be turning it with wooden shovels. The modern malting tools we know today (such as aerated boxes) were first introduced in the late 19th century.

Just like there are craft breweries, there are also craft maltsters!

The Craft Maltsters Guild states that, “craft products deserve craft ingredients. While there’s a lot of good malt out there, the majority of it comes from big businesses with production volumes that dwarf all but the largest craft beer and spirits brands. With craft malt, malt buyers can now see eye-to-eye with malt producers. And it turns out that when these folks are seeing eye-to-eye, great things happen.”⁸

Meet Alison Babb, owner of Empire Malting Co. She is located in Empire, MI, cultivating her product less than two miles from Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a location which she greatly credits for the terroir of her malt. This area is known by locals as ‘Beer Valley’ due to the abundance of hops and barley grown there. Empire Malting is the only malthouse in Michigan that grows their own barley onsite, and is one of the few in the nation.

In addition to being a fierce farmer and maltster, Alison is also an accomplished artist. She paints and designs all of the labels on her malt that goes into the market.

Here at Stormcloud Brewing, we are incredibly proud of investing in local ingredients, both malt and hops. Nearly every single Stormcloud beer contains Alison’s malt, and it definitely plays a role in the high-quality flavor we come to expect in our brews. 

During 2019’s Frankfort Beer Week, we had the opportunity to host Alison at our tasting room where she gave an informative presentation about the malting process and her experience in the industry. Our brewers crafted four different small batch beers, each designed to highlight a different variety of her malt. Her knowledge is unparalleled, and having the opportunity to talk to her was a real treat.

Myself, Alison Babb, and our Head Brewer Brian Confer

References:

¹ Daniels, Ray, et al. Brewing Ingredients & Process Course. 2nd ed., Chicago, Cicerone® Certification Program, 2018, pp. 10-15. Road to Cicerone®.

² Oliver, Garrett, editor. “Malt.” The Oxford Companion to Beer. 1 ed., Oxford University Press, 2012.

³ Bolden, Erika. “Crafting Quality: It Starts With Malt.” All About Beer Magazine, 18 Dec. 2015, allaboutbeer.com/quality-starts-with-malt/

⁴ Abbott, Christopher. “The Chit #01: Barley Chit.” Sprowt Labs, Sprowt Labs, 27 July 2017, sprowtlabs.com/2017/07/27/the-chit-01-barley-chit.

⁵ “The Maltster: How an art that’s thousands of years old is once again gaining recognition.” Country Living, edited by Toby Keel, TI Media Limited, Apr. 2018, countrylife.co.uk/food-drink/maltster-dying-art-thats-thousands-years-old-gaining-recognised-175878.

⁶ “History of malting.” ProBrewer, RealBeer Media, probrewer.com/library/malt/history-of-malting/.

⁷ “History of the Malting Process.” Great Western Malting, GrainCorp Malt Group, greatwesternmalting.com/process/history-of-the-malting-process/

⁸ “Who are we?” Craft Maltsters Guild, craftmalting.com/guild/about-us/.

Beer

Beer Education: Ice Cream and Beer Pairing

A photo of a beer flight and 5 different bowls of ice cream in a beer barrel cellar.

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

Back in December, I talked with you all about pairing beer and holiday cookies. It only seems appropriate that now, at the tale end of summer, I talk about pairing beer – and ICE CREAM!

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time (or tummy space) to go around to every ice cream shop in the area (we have so many good ones!) and try their tasty creations with our beer, but I can share with you what I’ve discovered through research as well as a few things I’ve picked up on from personal exploration.

Header that reads: Beer Floats

The story goes that the original ice cream float was invented by Robert McCay Green in 1874 when he made the serendipitous decision to use ice cream in his sodas when he ran out of ice. Some of the most common varieties of ice cream floats are root beer floats, coke floats, and Boston Coolers; and in Australia and New Zealand ice cream floats are called “spiders”. Thanks to creative mixologists and at-home beer & ice cream lovers, beer floats have earned a spot in today’s culture. 

As some of you may know, at the Stormcloud Pub we offer beer floats as a dessert option. Traditionally, beer floats are made with vanilla ice cream and a Porter, Stout, or bourbon barrel-aged beer. This is for a number of reasons, including the fact that visually it looks the most like a root beer float. Additionally, creamy vanilla flavors contrast well with roasty malts and works to tame the boozy burn present in some barrel-aged beer. I also found an article from Draft Magazine that points out the classic combination of vanilla and chocolate, commenting, “we never tire of the melty-milkshake-like duo of vanilla plopped into a rich chocolate stout.” If you are new to the whole beer float thing, I think this is a perfect place to start.

Are there other beer/ice cream flavor combinations to explore? You betcha! Certified Cicerone Marcus TenHarmsel says, “If you consider the basic principles for beer pairings- match strength with strength, find harmonies, and consider contrasting elements- ice cream can offer loads of fun pairings. Especially to the adventurous soul who is willing to make mistakes and try unusual things.”(Meewes). 

Back in 2014, our Head Brewer Brian and Beer Educator Charla did some investigative work regarding beer and ice cream pairings. In an interview with MyNorth.com Brian shared that he thought combining beer and ice cream “would be disgusting.” According to the article, he was surprised with how well some of the combinations worked. He also shared that “in almost every pairing, the beer that went with the ice cream was a surprise. The thing is, when the pairing did not work, it really didn’t work, like you wanted to spit it out. But then you’d hit the one that worked, and it was like, Oh my gosh, that is really, really good!”

This week I went to visit our friends across the street at The Cool Spot and did a little taste testing of my own. These combos won’t be available in the pub, but if you’re craving a frosty treat and feeling adventurous, here are a few combinations I suggest trying at home:

A beer and ice cream pairing chart, matching Stormcloud Brewing Co. beer with various ice cream flavors.

Orange Sherbet with our 228 Tripel: This was definitely a combination that I didn’t see coming. It was pleasantly reminiscent of Triple Sec, which has made me wonder – if I also add some cranberry sorbet, would it taste like a Cosmopolitan? Looks like I have some more taste testing to do…

Lemon Cheesecake Bar Ice Cream with our Whiled Away® IPA: I absolutely LOVED this combination. Bitter, hoppy beers do well when paired with foods of equally strong flavors, and this ice cream does the trick. The lemon helps to highlight the gorgeous citrus notes in Whiled Away® while the graham cracker compliments the clean malt bill – and the sweet, tangy cream cheese cuts through the hop bitterness in the most delightful way.

Pistachio Almond Ice Cream with our B., Sirius Dubbel: Our B., Sirius Dubbel has the slightly sweet taste of brown caramel malt up front, which transitions to flavors reminiscent of dried stone fruit mid-palate, and ends with a distinctly dry finish. This combination seemed like a no-brainer – nuts are the perfect pairing with caramel sweetness and dried fruit. Trust me, even if you don’t like fruit cake, this fusion of flavors is one worth trying.

Michigan Pot Hole Ice Cream with our Rowed Hard Stout: Initially I was concerned that this combination was going to have too much going on, but soon discovered that it’s a match made in heaven. Rowed Hard has some sharp, bitter, roasty notes from the dark malt we use, and the rich, creamy sweetness of this fudge-filled dairy treat balances it out perfectly.

As a reminder, taste is subjective. You may find a combination that you absolutely love, but that others are less than thrilled about. To me, the best part of food and beer pairing is the journey – both trial and error and successes. My advice is to be willing to try all sorts of bold, unusual combinations, because you never know what wonderful tastes you could find. If you decide to do some ice cream exploring with craft beer, I’d love to hear about your delicious discoveries! In the words of craft beer, food, and travel writer Bryan M. Richards, “Remember it’s beer – so have fun!”

A header that reads: Beer Ice Cream

If the thought of putting ice cream in your beer is just too much for you, perhaps you would be more interested in putting beer in your ice cream. Ice cream companies across the country are working with local breweries to concoct beer-flavored ice cream. A few of my favorite that I’ve come across are Sweet Action Ice Cream in Denver, Salt & Straw in Portland, and Frozen Pints in Atlanta. There are plenty of folks doing it right in Michigan as well, including Ice Box Brand in Muskegon and Furniture City Creamery in Grand Rapids. Are you more into DIY? The American Homebrewers Association published this articleon making your own beer ice cream.

Photo of Amy (Polka Dots & Pints) taste-testing the different beer and ice cream for this piece.

John Steinbeck’s character Doc from Cannery Row thought, “a man with a beard, ordering a beer milkshake in a town where he wasn’t known – they might call the police.”

Don’t worry, folks – I won’t call the police if I hear you order a beer float!


References:

“5 fantastic beer floats.” Draft Magazine, draftmag.com/5-fantastic-beer-floats/.

Richards, Bryan M. “How to Pair Beer with Desserts That Aren’t Chocolate.” CraftBeer.com, edited by Jess Baker, Brewers Association, 9 Feb. 2018, http://www.craftbeer.com/beer-and-food/no-chocolate-no-problem-how-to-pair-beer-with-desserts-that-arent-chocolate.

Meewes, Veronica. “The Beer Float Guide That Will Transform Your Summer Drinking.” Food & Wine, Meredith Corporation, 20 June 2019, http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/drink/beer-float-guide-will-transform-your-summer-drinking.

Smith, Jeff. “Pairing Ice Cream and Microbrews, a Northern Michigan Brewer Advises.” MyNorth.com, 31 Oct. 2014, mynorth.com/2014/10/pairing-ice-cream-microbrews-northern-michigan-brewer-advises/.

Beer

Beer Eduction: Hops!

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

As someone who has found themselves on a beer blog, I’m sure you have heard of hops. You probably know what they look like, and might even know that we have a few varieties of hops growing in the Stormcloud Brewing Company StormGarden. I’m hoping this article touches on a few things you might not know about this imperative brewing plant, and helps continue the growth of your beer knowledge.

There are four ingredients that unify nearly all beer – malt, water, yeast, and hops. Some people new to the world of beer are surprised that hops are in all beer styles, including dark, sweet, and non-bitter beer. In Germany in the 15th century there was a beer purity law adopted called Reinheitsgebot, which declared that the only ingredients that could be used in the making of beer were water, barely, and hops – with yeast being added after its discovery in the late 17th century. Reinheitsgebot “is now considered the world’s oldest, still valid food food safety and consumer protection legislation” (Oliver, 692). Though there are a few historical beers made without the use of hops (such a Gruit), the vast majority of modern beer styles require hops. Why? Hops are the ingredient in beer that provides its “backbone of bitterness, increases its microbiological stability, helps stabilize its foam, and greatly influences its taste and aroma” (Oliver, 459).

Okay, but what exactly are hops? 

Hops are the flower of humulus lupulus, which is a climbing plant classified as a bine (yes, with a “b”.) They are members of the Cannabaceae family, which makes them the cousins of hemp, marijuana, and hackberry. One thing that makes the hop plant unique is that, “unlike most plants, individual hop plants are male or female” and “the best quality hops come from unpollinated female plants” (Cicerone, 22). They are native to Northern Hemisphere, and are believed to have originated in Mongolia “at least six million years ago” (Hieronymus, 46).

Originated in Mongolia? How’d they get all the way here?

According to beer journalist Stan Hieronymus, a European type of hop diverged from the Asian group more than one million years ago and a North American group migrated from the Asian continent approximately 500,000 years later. In his book The Story of the Pint, Martin Cornell calls the fact that we may never know how brewers discovered the importance of boiling hops “the greatest unanswered question in the history of brewing.” Before hops were used in beer brewers used gruit, an herb mixture created to provide flavor and bitterness. The use of gruit was gradually phased out in favor of the use of hops in a “slow sweep across Europe between the 11th and late 16th century” (Brown). In the American colonies, in addition to being used for brewing hops were used in salads, dyes, textiles, basket and wicker-work, and livestock feed. According to Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources the first commercial hop harvest in the United States was in in 1791 in Massachusetts. By 1859 seven‐eighths of the nation’s hops were harvested in New York State. As people moved westward, so did the production of hops. Hops began to be grown in California in 1857, Washington in 1866, and Oregon in 1880. At present, the major hop producers are Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. 

A photo of a family in the 1940s harvesting hops for beer making. They all have the Stormcloud Brewing cloudburst over their faces.
Photo: Ernst Family at Horst Hop Ranch, 1946

An incredibly brief primer on the science of hops:

In the image below, you’ll see the plant anatomy of a hop.

A diagram showing the inside anatomy of a hop cone, labeling the different parts - string, bracteole, bract, and lupulin glands.

Inside the hop flower (or “cone”) is a yellow powder called lupulin powder, which contains the key compounds that bring flavor to beer – resin and essential oils. According to the Cicerone Brewing Ingredients and Process Coursebook, “Bitterness comes from the resins; aroma and flavor come from the oils” (23). In hop resin you’ll find alpha acids, which in natural form won’t dissolve in wort and aren’t very bitter. It takes the heat and agitation of the brewer’s boil to transform them into bitter iso-alpha acids. When brewers use hops for bitterness, they are typically added at the beginning of the boil and are referred to as “bittering hops.” Outside of bitterness, every other hop trait in beer (like aroma and flavor) come from the oils found in the lupulin gland. The Cicerone Brewing Ingredients and Process Coursebook also states, “hop oils typically constitute less than 2% of the weight of dry hops, and yet they contribute substantial flavor to the beer” (23). When you leave hops in for an extended time during a boil, most of the hop oils evaporate – this is why brewers add “flavor hops” roughly 30 minutes before the end of the boil and “aroma hops” roughly 10 minutes before the end, instead of adding them all right at the beginning.

Hop Flavors

Since you know that nearly all beer styles contain hops, you’ve probably figured out that there are a large variety of hops flavors. To get an idea, check out the hop flavor wheel below from Randy Mosher:

In the 2012 book For the Love of Hops, Stan Hieronymus lists 105 different hop varieties with unique flavor characteristics for brewing, but new hop varieties are being bred all the time. Additionally, the same hop variety grown in different regions impart different flavor characteristics. On the chart below, you’ll find the flavor and aroma profiles for some of the most popular hop varieties.

The next time you see a hop variety listed for a beer you’re drinking, I challenge you to try and identify some of the correlating aromas and flavors. Don’t get discouraged if there are characteristics you don’t pick up – scent and taste are subjective, and everyone experiences them differently.

Hop flavor can be so magical in beer that it can convince you there are othercompounds added, even when there aren’t. For example, those juicy, hazy beers out there? Most of them do not contain any fruit juice. This “juicy” effect is achieved by hop selection (typically ones with high oil content, bright flavor, and tropical or citrus characteristics), late boil or whirlpool additions, and dry-hopping. Take our Commander X-2 “Saizy” (hazy Saison) – we PROMISE there’s no grapefruit juice in it.

Additional hop-related vocabulary:

hop pellets – hops compressed into pellets that contain all the alpha acids and oils of whole hops and can be used at any time in the modern brewing process where whole hops would be used. The advantage of hop pellets is that they take up less room and are packaged to reduce degradation in storage. Most Stormcloud beer is made with hop pellets. 

dry-hopping – the addition of hops to beer in the fermenting, conditioning, or serving vessel. This is done to intensify hop aromatics and add different aroma than hops added in the late boil. 

IBU – stands for ‘International Bitterness Units’ and is the agreed-upon standard for measuring bitterness in beer. While it’s a good place to start when looking at a beer menu, “the usefulness of the IBU to the beer consumer is debatable. Once the beer leaves the laboratory context, many factors including other hop components, roast character, carbonation, water chemistry, and residual sugar, may exert such influences as to make the IBU an entirely unreliable indicator of actual perceived bitterness” (Oliver, 490-491). That said, I still try to drink my flights in the order of lowest to highest IBU to prevent palate fatigue. 

cryo hops – (also known as lupulin powder) is a powder much more concentrated than whole hops or hop pellets, and it is recommended brewers use about half the amount of regular hops.  One brewer calls them “all that you like about hops without the bitterness” (Hahn) where another thinks “it’s a less stable product. A beer hopped with 100% powder, the aromas and flavors drop off quicker than with pellets. So we like to use a mix of pellets and powder” (Krommydas). To date, the only beer Stormcloud has made using part cryo hops is the small batch Diabadass IPA. 

hop extracts – a concentrated paste made of extracted hop resin and oils. Unlike whole hops or hop pellets, they do no need to be refrigerated and they are fully soluble.

harvest ale – a beer brewed specifically for the fall hop harvest, using fresh wet hops (instead of the year-round kilned hops.) Our 24:30 Harvest Ale is a good example, which is made using local hops from within a 30 mile radius of our brewery and brewed no more than 24 hours from when the hops are harvested. 

hop yard – a plot of land for growing hops that consists of “a robust trellis system built of wire and telephone poles and reaching 18-20 feet in height” (Cicerone, 24). 

Now that you’ve consumed an abundance of hop knowledge, I think it’s time for you to celebrate with a nice, hoppy beverage – namely Stormcloud beer!


References for this article:

Brown, Diane. “A brief history of hop and its uses.” Michigan State University, 2014, East Lansing, MI, http://www.canr.msu.edu/uploads/236/71516/ipm_academy_2014_intro_to_hops.pdf.

Cicerone. Brewing Ingredients and Process Coursebook. 2nd ed., Chicago, Cicerone Certification Program, 2018, pp. 22-26. Road to Cicerone.

Hahn, Fritz. “This concentrated hop powder is making brewers go crazy.” The Washington Post, 11 Aug. 2017, http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/this-concentrated-hop-powder-is-making-brewers-go-crazy/2017/08/11/510782f4-7e14-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html?utm_term=.4288eb39ea11.

Hieronymus, Stan. For the Love of Hops. Brewers Publications, 2012.

Krommydas, Niko. “What Is Lupulin Powder and Why Are Brewers Obsessing Over It?” Edible Brooklyn, 28 June 2017, http://www.ediblebrooklyn.com/2017/what-is-lupulin-powder-and-why-are-brewers-obsessing-over-it/.

Oliver, Garrett, editor. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 711-712.

Image Sources:

Ernst Family at Horst Hop Ranch, 1946 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/osucommons/5765583236/ 

Inside the Hop Cone – Amy Martin

Hop Flavor Wheel – https://randymosher.com/Tasting-Beer

Flavor & Aroma Profiles of Popular Hops – https://vinepair.com/articles/flavors-aromas-craft-beer-hops/ 

Stormcloud Beer with Hops – Keirsun Scott

Beer

Beer Education: Saisons

(Note: This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Stormcloud Brewing Co. mug club members.)

Here at Stormcloud Brewing Company we have brewed over 30 unique Saisons to date, so many of our customers are familiar with this style. As a brewery, we are self defined as “a small brewery crafting ales within the time-honored Belgian brewing tradition of ignoring time-honored brewing traditions.” I think of all the different beer styles we make, the Saison is the ultimate expression of this Belgian-inspired creativity/rule-breaking. Today I want to dive a little deeper into this versatile beer style.

Saison Characteristics

What exactly IS a Saison? That question is a lot more complex than you may think. According to brewing consultant and writer Phil Markowski, “modern Saisons defy easy categorization. They can be as contradictory as they are uniform” (Oliver). The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, which are the industry’s leading authority regarding beer styles can’t even easily categorize it – unlike most other BJCP categories, they not only list a range but also multiple options for SRM and ABV. Even among Stormcloud’s portfolio of Saisons you can find a large variety. Here are just a few of our previous Saisons to demonstrate:

Saison du Stormcloud – deceptively dark, with only a hint of dark malt flavor. Refreshing.

Photo of a pint class that contains the craft beer Saison du Stormcloud, an example of a dark saison.

‘Tis the Saison – Our annual Orange-Cranberry holiday Saison. Oranges, cranberries and a hint of ginger.

P’eaching to the Choir – Saison with pickled peaches, pickled jalapeño and pickled cilantro.

Despite all the diversity, there are a few characteristics that ring true for most Saisons: they tend to be highly attenuated, dry, and very carbonated.

History of the Saison

Saison translates to “season” in French. See the graphic below to see where this name (and this beer) originated:

A graphic describing the origin of the saison beer style. This is an excerpt from The Oxford Companion to Beer written by Phil Markowski.

Saisons were most frequently consumed by farmworkers to both refresh and nourish them after long days working the fields – which is why I sometimes refer to them as “the Gatorade of beer.” Sounds like a great reason to consume more Saisons, right?

Farmhouse Ales

I often hear people asking if Saisons and Farmhouse Ales are synonymous. The answer is yes – and no. At some breweries, when they say “Farmhouse Ale” they mean “Saison.” This is not completely accurate, because Farmhouse Ales is referring to a family of beer. So, “all Saisons are Farmhouse Ales, but not all Farmhouse Ales are Saisons” (Levy). Farmhouse Ales is an umbrella term that includes a variety of styles. What links these styles together is their agrarian origin. Here are a few of the Saison’s farmhouse cousins:

Bière de Garde – A fairly strong, malt-accentuated, lagered artisanal beer from Northern France brewed in early spring and kept in cold cellars for consumption in warmer weather. All are malty yet dry, with clean flavors and a smooth character. 

Gueuze – Spontaneously fermented wild ales from the area in and around Brussels and stem from a farmhouse brewing and blending tradition several centuries old. A complex, pleasantly sour but balanced wheat beer that is highly carbonated and very refreshing.

Grisette – While this one isn’t technically agrarian, it’s considered close enough. As Belgium’s Hainaut region began to shift from farming to mining, the Grisette was born. It is essentially a Saison for miners instead of farmhands, and has a lot of stylistic similarities.

Sahti – A sweet, heavy, strong traditional Finnish beer with a rye and juniper berry flavor along with a strong banana-clove yeast character. Casks of Sahti were discovered on a sunken Viking ship dated back to the 9th century, and “some historians even claim ancient beer styles like sahti were the motivation behind developed agriculture in Scandinavia” (Bryant).

Of course these are just a few of many Farmhouse Ales. All over the world where there were farms, there were alcoholic beverages created from the farm’s crops. 

Alright readers, if you had the means of making your own Saison, what kind would you make? Have any of you homebrewers out there tried your hand at it? I’d love to hear from you!





References:

BJCP Beer Style Guidelines. 2015 ed., Beer Judge Certification Program, 2015, p. 50, 51-52,  58. 


Bryant, Duncan. “Sahti: One of the World’s Oldest Beer Styles.” American Homebrewers Association, edited by Dave Carpenter, http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/sahti-one-of-the-worlds-oldest-beer-styles/.
 

Colburn, Randall. “Raise a glass to saison, the farmhouse ale brewed to last through the dog days.” The Takeout, edited by Kevin Pang, Nov. 2016, thetakeout.com/raise-a-glass-to-saison-the-farmhouse-ale-brewed-to-la-1798254691.


Hutto, Emily. “What Makes a Saison a Saison?” Craft Beer & Brewing, edited by Jamie Bogner, 2016, beerandbrewing.com/what-makes-a-saison-a-saison/.


Levy, Seth. “The Difference Between Saison and Farmhouse Ale.” The Beer Connoisseur , edited by Lynn Davis, May 2019, beerconnoisseur.com/articles/saison-vs-farmhouse-ale.

Oliver, Garrett, editor. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 711-712.