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Hops & Freshness

Part I of a series on the age of beer, freshness and cellaring.


While it is obvious that any time is a good time for beer, time and beer have a complicated but fundamental relationship in the realm of beer enjoyment. Time affects beer just as it affects any food, but its nature can be quite fickle. Most people understand that freshness is often essential when it comes to beer, and advertising from commodity beer brewers has reinforced this notion. Time can be beer’s worst enemy. On the other hand, as the well-versed beer drinker knows, age can also be a wise friend to beer. Both consumers and retailers need to understand the interaction between time and different beer styles and the organization of fridge and shelf or cellar space should be based upon this knowledge.

The complexity of beer is attributed to the variety of sources that different flavors can be derived from: different amounts and varieties of hops and grains, different yeast strains, multitudes of flavorings at the brewer’s discretion, and the level of alcohol in the end product. Time reacts with each of these elements differently. This explains why different types of beer require different methods of storage.

Victory for Freshness Dating

Hops are the top priority when it comes to beer age and freshness is tantamount. The flavor and aroma compounds that we squeeze out of the hop flower are by far the most degradable part of beer. Any beer with substantial hop flavors or aromas should be refrigerated at all times. This includes, but is not limited to, Pale Ales, single and double India Pale Ales, and real Pilseners. Any beer where hops are central to the beer is in danger of fading to flavor oblivion in a matter of weeks to months.

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The Great Purge – Part II

The kvass that shook the BeerAdvocate Top 100

Read Part I of this article “The elusive kvass” here

People line up to drink kvass from a tanker cart.

Reviews trickled onto the BeerAdvocate website and a peculiar trend slowly emerged. The reviews highlighted the good and bad of the beers, compliments were mixed with criticism and the humored good nature of the local craft beer community was apparent. The one thing that was consistent was the score being posted: perfect.

When this happened in June of 2010 the BeerAdvocate “Top 100 Beers on Planet Earth” required a minimum of ten reviews to be listed. The exact formula was weighted in favor of consistent reviews. This means that a very controlled pool of reviews—for instance from a rare kvass that had never been reviewed before—could in effect be catapulted into the Top 100 with as little as a dozen reviews.

This is precisely what happened. As soon as eleven reviews came there it was. Just sitting there. Nobody seemed to notice at first, which gave it the chance to climb even higher. A couple days later it was sitting pretty at the #62 Top Beer on Planet Earth. Magnificently, this noble kvass shone brilliantly as a beacon of hope to the other kvasses of the world.

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The Great Purge – Part I

Ticking the elusive kvass

Kvass, an obscure style of Russian ale, is among the rarest varieties of beer to be had. This is important to note, as a popular activity among a certain wild breed of beer geeks is the illustrious activity known as ticking. Simply put, ticking is trying as many different kinds of beer as possible, and recording it for posterity. Popular variations of ticking includes sampling as many unique beers as possible, sampling beers from as many states or countries as possible, and in this case sampling as many unique styles of beer as possible.

Cue Woodshop 5.1, a beer tasting event held at Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood, CA. Beer geeks from across the Southern California region swarmed to the event with dreams of sampling the tasty rare beers that the Woodshop name had become synonymous with. One enterprising you man known named Bobby, and known to the wider beer community as t0rin0, was about to make that dream come true. The highlight of his cooler full of brews that day included none other than an elusive kvass called Khlebny Kray (read the accompanying review here).

Bobby had over a liter of the mystifying ambrosia in a plastic bottle he had procured from the far away land of the internet. In the land of ticking each person only needs approximately two ounces of beer, so this one large bottle was split well over a dozen ways.

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Pilsener and American Lager: Origin and Evolution

How one little beer from Czechoslovakia took American beer to hell and back.  A brief history of American mainstream beer and a comparison of its categorization by the BJCP, BeerAdvocate, and RateBeer.

Pilsner, or Pilsener, is a style of lager that originated in Pilsen (Plzeň) in the Czech Republic. It is exceptionally light in color and body and has delicate flavor. This style is properly known as Bohemian or Czech Pilsener and the quintessential example is Pilsner Urquell, which is widely available.

When this style of beer was originally developed in 1842 the public trend toward lighter looking and tasting beers had already taken off. The Germans quickly followed by creating the German Pilsener, which showcased herbal Hallertau hops from Germany rather than the spicy Saaz from the Czech Republican. These first pilseners are regarded as “true pilseners” and they each show off a certain variety of hops in the “Noble” family of hops native to that area of Europe.

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Guidelines has a third category of Pilsner in addition to Czech/Bohemian and German: The American Pilsner. This beer is of similar composition and quality as the European counterparts, but it is made up with all American malt and hops. RateBeer also has a “Pilsener” category where Pilseners that are not Czech or German can fit in.

In the United States brewers quickly followed suit as well, but American brewers had some difficulty replicating this delicate beer. American barley was typically lower in quality and less suited for producing such a light beer. The use of adjunct grains (e.g. not barley) such as corn and rice exploded in order to provide lighter bodies that were otherwise unattainable at the time without costly importation of premium two-row barley from Northern Europe.

This specialty usage of adjuncts explains why beers like Budweiser use rice. It really was for flavor and appearance rather than to cheapen the product. Of course, over time adjuncts like corn and rice began to serve a dual purpose and provided both the lighter body consumers desired as well as offering cheap filler for thrifty brewers. While there are limits today on the percentage of adjuncts that may be in a beer, cheap lagers can be made with as little as 60% barley malt.

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