Mid Atlantic Brewing News Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010 : Page 1
How Far Can You Pump Up a Beer? BON HOP VIVANT. Sporting a garland of hops, brewer Brian Hutchinson of the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery in Boulder, CO. shows off a bottle of Hop Vivant Im- perial IPA, the winner of the 2009 Alpha King Challenge. Judges at the annual contest base their decisions on personal tastes. But is there an objective measure to gauge a beer’s hoppiness? PHOTO BYGREGG WIGGINS By Alexander D. Mitchell IV How hoppy can you make a beer? More importantly, how hoppy should you make a beer? Alpha Naught from Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Hammond, Ind. raises those questions. “I am a hophead, I admit it!” said owner Nick Floyd. He says of this occasional beer, brewed every few years, “It’s meant more as a hop tonic than a double IPA. I think we originally figured on ILLUSTRATION: HANS GRANHåEIM paper it was around 200 IBUs, and it wasn’t for the faint of heart-almost made to piss people off that didn’t know what they where order- ing.” Alpha Naught is basi- cally double Three Floyds’ 100-IBU Dreadnaught IPA, their usual 9.5%-abv impe- rial beer. BrewDog, an upstart microbrewery from Scotland described as the “Dogfish Head of Britain,” reacted to British neo-Prohibitionist criticism of their recently released 18% imperial stout See Hoppin’ p.4 Strong beers are part and parcel of the extreme brewing movement. But how high can you boost the alcohol in a beverage and still have it taste like a beer? Let’s go from the top downwards, begin- ning with a couple of distillates that start off as beer. UTOPIAN DREAM. A27% alcohol-by-volume beer does attract attention. Volunteer Chris Kennedy draws a crowd as she fi lls glasses with samples of Samuel Adams Utopias at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. PHOTO BYGREGG WIGGINS By The Brews Brothers (Steve Frank & Arnold Meltzer) UTOPIAS PHOTO COURTESY OF SAM ADAMS In Europe, especially Germany, beer schnapps is widely available: liquor dis- tilled by breweries from their own beers. Currently, no U.S. breweries make a beer schnapps. But Clear Creek Distillery owner Steve McCarthy describes his Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, made from a peat- See Extreme p.6 IN THIS ISSUE Mountain Sun Wins Alpha King Challenge ...... 5 Calendar of Craft Beer Events ......................... 5 Postcard from Brussels .................................. 7 F.X. Matt: From Talking Mugs to Powerhouse.. 8 Matters of Import .............................. ............. 9 Homebrew ..................................................... 36 E.Pennsylvania ..... 12 C. Pennsylvania ....22 Philadelphia .......... 24 Virginia ................ 26 Maryland ............. 28 Baltimore .............. 30 West Virginia ....... 32 Delaware .............. 33 New Jersey........... 34 Washington, DC ... 38
Alexander D. Mitchell IV
BON HOP VIVANT. Sporting a garland of hops, brewer Brian Hutchinson of the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery in Boulder, CO. Shows off a bottle of Hop Vivant Imperial IPA, the winner of the 2009 Alpha King Challenge. Judges at the annual contest base their decisions on personal tastes. But is there an objective measure to gauge a beer’s hoppiness? PHOTO BY GREGG WIGGINS<br /> <br /> How hoppy can you make a beer? More importantly, how hoppy should you make a beer?<br /> <br /> Alpha Naught from Three Floyds Brewing Co. In Hammond, Ind. Raises those questions. “I am a hophead, I admit it!” said owner Nick Floyd. He says of this occasional beer, brewed every few years, “It’s meant more as a hop tonic than a double IPA. I think we originally figured on Peatpaper it was around 200 IBUs, and it wasn’t for the faint of heart-almost made to piss people off that didn’t know what they where ordering.” Alpha Naught is basically double Three Floyds’ 100-IBU Dreadnaught IPA, their usual 9.5%-abv imperial beer.<br /> <br /> BrewDog, an upstart microbrewery from Scotland described as the “Dogfish Head of Britain,” reacted to British neo-Prohibitionist criticism of their recently released 18% imperial stout (Tokyo, planned for American release under the name Tokio in the near future) by releasing Nanny State ... a 1.1% “insanely hopped imperial mild.” The brewery claims that the low-alcohol brown ale packs 225 IBUs.<br /> <br /> IBUs, or international bitterness units, are the most common objective measurement for gauging hoppiness. North American megabeer Budweiser is often alleged to be between 10 and 13 IBUs. British bitters are usually between 20 and 35 IBUs, with India pale ales above 40. Basically, IBUS measure the concentration of alpha acids, the primary bittering compound in hops. But this measurement is not capable of quantifying the delicate aroma that comes from the hops’ essential oils and resins. Nor can it measure specific hop type characteristics.<br /> <br /> Pump Up the Hops<br /> <br /> But inquiring hopheads still want to know: how many IBUs can you cram into a beer? Mitch Steele, head brewer of Stone Brewing Co. In Escondido, Calif., notes that it’s not infinite by any means. “There are physical limits to the solubility of iso-alpha acids, the component in hops that contribute bitterness to beer.<br /> <br /> This means that there are limits as to how bitter one can make a beer, no matter how many hops are added. Beers with higher starting gravities and higher alcohol contents can absorb more iso-alpha acids, so they can be more bitter than beers at standard (5-6%) alcohol contents.” Seat-of-the-pants calculations made by the brewers don’t always hold up. Steele continues, “It should also be noted here that hopped wort will lose a significant amount of bitterness as it undergoes fermentation.” Fermentation, he explains, causes a drop in pH, which decreases the solubility of the alpha acids. Moreover, yeast will absorb hop compounds. “So even if the IBU level is at 120 in wort, the beer may finish with well under 100 IBUs.” Ralph Olson, the owner and general manager of HopUnion, a national hop supply company in Yakima, Wash., pointed out another reason why high IBU figures should be regarded with suspicion. “The machines are not set up to read in high ranges such as 150 or more IBUs. I would say if you sent something like a 185-IBU beer to five different labs, you would get quite different answers [as to IBU level] from each.” Our sensory apparatus imposes its own limitations. “Ilsa Shelton [vice president of laboratory services at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Brewing Studies] always talked about the simple truth that the human palate can only decipher bitterness levels up to around 70 IBUs,” comments Nick Floyd.<br /> <br /> “That being said, some might think it folly to make a beer over 100 IBUs, let alone 70 IBUs.” Floyd adds that you don’t have to be a rocket scientists to whip a super-hoppy beer.<br /> <br /> All you have to do is dump in Isohop syrup, a hop extract that adds only bitterness. “I know in the brewing community many roll their eyes at brewers who entered the hop wars and stated, ‘Anyone can throw a ton of hops in the kettle,’ and I think there is some truth to that. For a while it seemed like a giant World War II tank battle.” Steve Jones, brewer at the Pratt Street Ale House in Baltimore, considers the IBU question to be ultimately meaningless.<br /> <br /> “It is no secret that I find many American imperial IPAs undrinkable,” he asserts. “I also think that the IBU values of beers are bandied about as if some sort of bragging right without consideration to the quality and drinkability of the actual beer! I would be very interested to know how accurate many of these figures are. Because of the empirical nature of the IBU value, the brewer needs to know the efficiency of utilization of hops in his brewing system for a given wort gravity, and I’m not so sure that many of the smaller breweries have had such an analysis done.” Jones adds that he could calculate “a reasonably accurate result” for his own beers if he chose to do so, “but I can’t say that I care enough about IBU values to bother!”
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The Limits of Extreme
The Brews Brothers
How Far Can You Pump Up a Beer?<br /> <br /> UTOPIAN DREAM. A 27% alcohol-by-volume beer does attract attention. Volunteer Chris Kennedy draws a crowd as she fi lls glasses with samples of Samuel Adams Utopias at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival in Denver.<br /> <br /> PHOTO BY GREGG WIGGINS<br /> <br /> Strong beers are part and parcel of the extreme brewing movement. But how high can you boost the alcohol in a beverage and still have it taste like a beer?<br /> <br /> Let’s go from the top downwards, beginning with a couple of distillates that start off as beer.<br /> <br /> In Europe, especially Germany, beer schnapps is widely available: liquor distilled by breweries from their own beers.<br /> <br /> Currently, no U.S. breweries make a beer schnapps. But Clear Creek Distillery owner Steve McCarthy describes his Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, made from a peatMalted barley wash (unhopped beer) provided by Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., as being very much like Lagavulin single-malt whisky, with a proof of 105 (52.5% abv).<br /> <br /> Marko Karakasevic, an innovative 13thgeneration distiller at the family’s Charbay Distillery in northern California, has developed a whiskey called Marko K’s Double and Twisted Light that uses an IPA as a base. This 99 proof (49.5% abv) whiskey was set to become available in November/ December 2009. Charbay initially got involved in beer distillation by taking 20,000 gallons of pilsner and distilling it down 20:1 into their Charbay Whiskey, a 110 proof (55% abv) spirit. The Charbay website asserts, “There is no other whiskey out that you can really taste the beer that it’s made from. The spice from the hops and the barley flavors are very well balanced with just the right amount of oak.” A bottle will set you back $300.<br /> <br /> Some European breweries make a style called Eisbock through a method called freeze distillation or fractional freezing.<br /> <br /> Because water solidifies long before alcohol, bocks can be frozen and the ice or slush removed, concentrating the alcohol in the remaining liquid. The most potent Eisbock reported is the dangerous 31%-abv Schorsch Bock 16, made by the Schorschbräu brewery in Oberasbach, Franconia, Germany.<br /> <br /> Making Eisbocks in the Ice Box<br /> <br /> The federal Tax and Trade Bureau, the agency that regulates alcohol in the U.S., considers this process a form of distillation if more than one-half of one percent of the volume is removed. Distillation is not permitted on a brewery premises. But a few domestic breweries make Eisbocks under the feds’ radar for experimental purposes.<br /> <br /> One in the upper Midwest brewed such a beer almost four years ago, making 100 bbl of a 7.5%-abv double bock and dropping the temperature in its tanks to six degrees below zero using glycol cooling, then “removing a massive Sno-Cone.” The resulting 75 barrels of 10%-abv beer tasted delicious, according to the brewer.<br /> <br /> In the early 1990s a Pacific Northwest brewer delightedly took notes on how locals made apple jack, putting hard cider outside during the winter and letting the liquid freeze time and again. The brewer froze an ale (300 gallons of a 10%-abv brew) three times, reducing it to 90 gallons at 29% abv.<br /> <br /> He reports that the beer was “originally hard to drink, but has smoothed out and mellowed with time. It now has port and sherry character with notes of dark fruit.” The beer is not available for sale.<br /> <br /> The most outrageous claim? Ten years ago, the brewer at a long-defunct Cincinnati area brewpub claimed to have pumped up an Eisbock to 35% abv by freezing a halfbarrel of doppelbock at zero degrees for 60 hours until only 2-3 gallons of liquid remained. That figure came from the brewer’s calculations and was not independently verified.<br /> <br /> Utopian Endeavors<br /> <br /> The strongest traditionally brewed beer available in the U.S.-fermented only, no distillation-is Boston Beer Co.’s Samuel Adams Utopias. The 2009 edition clocks in at almost exactly 27% abv, according to brewmaster Grant Wood, maybe a fraction of a percentage point above the 2007 edition of the biannual release. This Utopias is blended from beers aged in Scotch whiskey barrels and single-use bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace Distillery. It’s then finished in Spanish sherry casks, Portuguese port and Muscatel casks. The 2009 release “tastes close to port” according to Jim Koch, chairman of Boston Beer, “while the 2007 release had more cognac character.” At least two other brewers have fermented beer past the 20% alcohol threshold, and they’re both local. Runner-up to Utopias is Colossus from the DuClaw Brewing Co. In Abingdon, Md. Brewer Jim Wagner sent samples to the Siebel Institute labs for analysis, and the result came back 21.92% abv. Wagner thinks he can reach 23-24% abv in a future batch; the White Labs yeast he used can withstand alcohol concentrations up to 25%.<br /> <br /> The beer, seasoned with coriander and cinnamon, has been aging since 2005.<br /> <br /> Wagner relates, “Colossus now tastes like a combination of ale, mead and port with dark fruit flavors. When young, it had hints of peach, apricot and coconut.” If you missed it at the Brewers Association of Maryland Oktoberfest (reportedly lines were forming a half hour before first pour), Wagner hopes to have a limited number of 22-oz bottles in Maryland liquor stores by early December.<br /> <br /> The brewery with the longest queue of high-alcohol beers is the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del. Dogfish Head World Wide Stout has reached 22% abv (briefly challenging Boston Beer Co. For the high-alcohol record) and 120 Minute IPA has reached 21%. Both these beers have been scaled back to 18% abv because “in brewery taste tests the 18% versions tasted better,” according to Dogfish owner Sam Calagione. The brewery makes several other high-alcohol beers including Fort (18% abv), the world’s strongest fruit beer. Still another beer, Raison d’Extra, a pumped-up version of Dogfish’s Raison d’Etre brewed with brown sugar and raisins, has also reached 20%, but that beer is on hiatus. (Calagione has tried his hand at a beer schnapps distilled from his ApriHop, but was unhappy with the results. He’s still expermenting.)<br /> <br /> Wake Up, Yeast!Sam is mum about his methods, but most high-alcohol brews, including Utopias, are made by employing multiple yeast strains and feeding them frequently with simple sugars like Belgian candi sugar, brewer’s sugar and beet sugar (Utopias lists maple syrup as an ingredient). Yeast cells, like humans, tend to sink into a torpor when gorged, so brewers oxygenate them, often by aeration, and agitate them to keep them frisky and in suspension. Each brewer has additional tricks. One homebrewer who claims to have brewed a 20+% abv beer even used Beano tablets to break down unfermentable sugars into fermentable ones.<br /> <br /> Incidentally, Boston Beer’s Jim Koch notes that some of the individual beers blended to make Utopias reached 29% abv.<br /> <br /> Barring some breakthrough in genetic engineering, Koch believes that 29% is probably the highest level achievable through fermentation alone. “No yeast can protect itself from the ethanol penetration of its cell walls at that point, so the cell structure breaks down.” That seems to be the current limit for traditionally brewed beers. Would a 29%- abv brew taste anything like a beer? That’s your call.<br /> <br />
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