Sunday, August 22, 2010

"I Can Really Taste The Fred...."

Greetings from North Carolina. I am in Charlotte helping with the training for our new store here that opens on Tuesday, August 31st. Brewniversity credit seekers should seriously consider making a trip up here some day. There are too many beers to mention that are not available in GA that we will have up here. Green Flash, Foothills, Olde Mecklenburg, Great Lakes, Bear Republic and Big Boss are just a few that I can see from where I am sitting. Speaking of where I am sitting, I am just beneath what appears to be the 9th wonder of the world, a 103 inch high-def plasma TV. No, that's not a typo. It's pretty ridiculous. I think that the only thing that overshadows it is the beer selection, but that is probably because I built the beer selection. If I built this TV I would be pretty proud of myself too. If it falls, it will definitely kill anybody in its way.

But, ladies and gentlemen, no giant TV or incredible beer selection in the world can steal my enthusiasm away from the upcoming release of a special new beer. On Friday the 13th, four of us from the office got to go to Red Brick and brew a batch of beer. It should be ready for release some time in September (maybe for my birthday...?). We did not choose Friday the 13th on purpose, I swear, and it is actually cooler that it just worked out that way. So naturally we would reference that in the name of the beer, right? No. The name that we are using, like the Friday the 13th brew date, chose us. Fred Brick. That's right, Fred brewed a batch at Red Brick, so it will be called Fred Brick. Sometimes things just fall into place and finally makes sense in an otherwise chaotic and f**cked up world. Thank you, Fred Brick, for restoring my faith in cosmic synchronicity. But I suppose you want to hear more about the beer than some hippy-dippy gibberish about forces of nature that don't exist in the first place.

Fred Brick is the brain-child of a meeting between Red Brick's brew master Dave McClure and I. We agreed that our coolaboration beer needed to address a few issues:

One was American brewing pride. Until some marketing team came up with "light" beer in the 70's, there was only one indigenous American beer style. In the middle of the 1800's, lager brewing was starting to get very popular. Technology made cool fermentation more accessible and consistent, and people liked the smoother flavors it produced. Then someone in California struck gold, literally. As tons of people headed west for the Gold Rush, they took their brewing with them. People historically don't forget about beer, regardless of the circumstances. How long do you think you could keep a bunch of hillbillys stuck up in the mountains prospecting for gold without any beer before they said, "To hell with this shit!"? Right, a couple of hours, tops. And if you tried to stop them from leaving, they would beat your ass. That is as true today as it was then. Hillbillys are a dangerous bunch if they don't have any beer. The problem is, they don't get much less dangerous once they start drinking. And they drink all the time. You gotta be careful with them. My advice if you ever find yourself around a bunch of rednecks is to leave a case of beer on the floor, put the race on the TV and slowly walk towards the door. If they see you, throw a copy of Hustler at 'em and run like hell. But back to the beer...

So these prospectors were making beer with the lager yeasts popular back east, but there was no available cold storage for fermentation. Undaunted by this (they were a notoriously hardy bunch), they just fermented their beers with lager yeast but in a warm environment. The kegs had a lively carbonation level and made a substantial hissing sound when they were tapped. That, folks, is the most common assumption for the origins of the term "Steam" beer. The hissing sound alluded to steam being let off, and a beer style was born. As the number of breweries dwindled in the subsequent century, every Steam producer but one had gone out of business. Once extremely common, Steam beer itself was on the verge of total extinction. Only the now-iconic Anchor Steam remained, and it is now the definition of the style. On a side note, that particular beer is very under-appreciated these days. I had a few the other day and could not for life of me remember why I stopped drinking it. But more on that later....

Another thing that we agreed on is that the newer trend of using only one type of hop in a beer was worth investigating. Most beers use a few different hop strains in combination in order to develop the flavor they are looking for in their beer. The only drawback to that is that you never really get a good idea of what any individual hop tastes like on its own. That doesn't meant that single-hopping is the wave of the future, just that it is an interesting educational exercise. Dave aptly chose an older hop strain over the newer varieties that are all the rage these days. The choise of Liberty hops was, in my opinion, perfect. This beer is about history and learning, not about following hot trends. I can't wait to taste the beer, as I am sure you can imagine.

We spent the day assiting the Red Brick guys as much as we could without getting in the way. To be honest, brewing is not a super-exciting process to watch. There is a lot of machinery and pumps and fluids, but the skill comes in how the brewer makes these items perform. Proper measurements are needed and temperatures maintained, but many of the steps take a considerable amount of time. It was a great experience and all of us learned a lot. The Red Brick guys were great, and I encourage you to visit them some time. If you do, you absolutely have to go to Hankook Taqueria around the corner. This place makes the greatest tacos, but they are filled with Korean food. Yes, I am talking about Asian tacos, and they rocked the house.

Once the beer was headed for the fermenter from the brew kettle and the yeast was being transferred, we were heading out. But not before we took a spin on the tricycles they use use for trike racing. Take a look at the new slide show to see what our day was like. Expect a big to-do surrounding this beer's release. All parties involved will be at Metropolis, and we will have the brewer's log and everything like when we did the Hop Secret 393 events. Stay tuned here for more details.

Another thing we were discussing is the recent craze towards "extreme beer". I am over it. So totally over it with every fiber of my being. When did we stop enjoying judiciously flavored beers and only be impressed when our taste buds are absolutely assaulted? When did people think that just because a beer is overpowering that it is good? For example, how many people actually can understand and enjoy reading James Joyce's Ulysses? Just because it is a difficult and cumbersome read does not make it a masterpiece. Ulysses may be a masterpiece, and massively over-hopped, oak-aged, 12% ABV gargantuan beer might be too. But how many people can actually say they understand Ulysses vs. people who just say they do to look smart? I am not saying that people who enjoy extreme beer don't know what they are talking about when it comes to beer, I am saying that it takes a little more than a high alcohol content and a crippling IBU level to impress me these days. I have actually been wondering if the people who make some of these extreme beers actually like them. Or do they just know what will sell for a high price, and secretly laugh at the people who rush after the every train-wreck of a beer and throw all of their money at it? Did Joyce know what he was doing all along by writing the virtually un-readable novel? Well, we're still talking about it today....

So Dave & I wanted to give folks a reason to pause in the manic world that is 21st century brewing, and to consider what craftmanship means for a change. Why did we stop drinking the beers we used to love? Not because they don't taste good, that's for sure. We stopped because we had a lot of shiny new toys to play with, so the perfectly good ones we had got ignored. That's right, we were spoiled rotten and acted like children. Waaaa! I want a Belgian yeast in EVERYTHING! Waaaa! I want hops that taste like paint remover! Waaaa! I don't want to drink any beer that I haven't had before. Waaaa!

These breweries have been making great tasting beer for years, but a lot of people could not care less about it unless it annihilated their taste buds. I don't get it. If we don't get it together and realize what quality beer tastes like again, the future looks bleak. What image are we setting for the brewers of tomorrow? This next generation of brewers are looking at the current landscape and seeing trends that are very alarming in my opinion. How many great beers will be lost as these people build their futures on the next wacky gimmick to come down the line? Sound far fetched? The once common Steam beers almost went extinct. Anybody like to learn from history's mistakes? I do. There, that's my two cents. Thanks for listening. I hope that I didn't offend anyone. But if I did, I meant everything I said. Sorry that you don't like it.

So that is all I have for you for now. Don't forget that Georgia's newest brewery, Jail House is about to arrive at Taco Mac. If you want to meet the people behind it and taste their beers, they will be at Metropolis on Wednesday the 25th. Unfortunatley I will still be in NC. I hope to be back in time for the twin casks of Bell's Porter & Two Hearted Ale on Friday the 27th at Metropolis. Those are going to be tasty. Maybe I will see you there. Have a great week.