Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

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Frozen Glassware – Let It Go

Originally published in the August 2016 issue of The Bollard


On a recent business trip, I ordered a locally brewed double IPA from the short but well-rounded list of bottles available at a fine-dining restaurant. Then I saw the waitress approach our table carrying an oversized tray with the IPA and — to my horror — an empty, frozen glass.

Across a busy table of work colleagues I tried, in vain, to gesture for the server to stop — to prevent the exquisite and complex taste and aroma of the beer from entering into an unholy communion with the frosted vessel. While I helplessly watched, she poured the beer directly into the glass, which was so cold that the edges of the beer’s head turned to spiky ice crystals. I grimaced.

I’m accused, occasionally, of taking beer too seriously. I generally strive to be inclusive, understanding and welcoming when evangelizing on behalf of my favorite beverage. But there are few things that bother me more than when a bar or restaurant takes something that left the brewery in its best form possible and irrevocably changes it for the worse. My top complaint is when an establishment neglects to keep its tap lines clean, resulting in a contaminated, “dirty” beer. Frozen glassware is a sin of a different nature, one born not of neglect but, rather, a fundamental misunderstanding of craft beer.

In a way, this misconception is rooted in beer’s history. Post-Prohibition there was (and still is) a strong market for light-bodied lagers or pilsners made even thinner by the use of corn or rice as adjunct ingredients. Budweiser, Coors, and the products made by their corporate competitors became our definition of what “beer” tastes like. This type of beer (the American Adjunct Lager) still makes up over 70 percent of all the beer sold in the U.S. — a reminder that for all the craft-beer industry’s growth, the diversity in styles still has a long way to go.

toocoldGiven the public’s acclimation to mild, low-flavored lagers, beer companies had to do something to differentiate their products in the marketplace, but most didn’t do that by promoting their beers’ unique taste or quality ingredients. Instead, they launched the Coldness Wars. The standard became: the colder the beer, the better. Enter gimmicks like labels that change color according to temperature and tap handles with digital thermometers displaying readings down to 31 degrees.

Our taste buds are influenced as much by flavors as by the temperature of the beer delivering them. And with each degree that temperature falls, the less flavor we are able to detect. Most beers are one of two types, ale or lager, determined by their yeast. The yeast strains all behave a bit differently, and their byproducts and processes contribute to the complex spectrum of beer flavors.

Lager yeasts ferment at slightly lower temperatures than ales’ do, and tend to produce beers that taste very “clean” — that is, they allow other ingredients to shine through, rather than dominating the flavor on their own. Serving lagers at cold temperatures can complement their crispness, because the cold strips some of the “lager” flavor away and, in some cases, can even hide the beer’s flaws — a win/win for marketers of inferior products. But lagers are intended to be served at about 40 degrees. Beyond that, all you’re doing is erasing taste. At 31 degrees — the serving temperature bragged about by some big beer companies — you’re basically drinking malt-flavored ice water.

Ale yeasts, which are fermented at warmer temperatures, can produce flavors beyond what the other ingredients can offer. The natural compounds produced as ale yeast gobbles up sugars to produce alcohol are responsible for the wide spectrum of aromas and flavors expressed in styles that are popular in the craft-beer market: IPAs, Belgian-style ales, etc. Ales cast off a wonderful bouquet of esters as byproducts of fermentation, and these esters only escape the glass and reach your nose when the beer is slightly warmer, around 47 degrees. Trap them in with cold and you have only the palest of expression of what the beer truly could be.

Brewers craft their creations and send them off into the world hoping they’ll be treated with the same love and care they put into making them. So let’s respect beer by letting its flavors out, which means serving it at a temperature above the freezing point.

Brewers-Guild

The Loud and Quiet Beers of Portland Summer

To be in Portland during the summer is to experience the full spectrum of sound. It’s fireworks and the echoes of waterfront concerts, and it’s the gentle lapping of water against a pier and the soft rustle of a kite lazily swooping through the air above the Prom.

Many of my favorite Maine beers can be similarly categorized. Some are bold and celebratory in flavor, announcing their character in shouts. Others require a quiet moment to appreciate, and are best enjoyed while contemplatively gazing at a sunset or a campfire.

The Loud

Baxter Bootleg Fireworks

A double IPA (DIPA) is the apex of hopped beers; many brewers sacrifice some balance to put the hops more fully into the spotlight. But this beer manages to keep its high alcohol content (9%), hops and body in harmony. It’s slightly thinner in mouthfeel than your typical DIPA, which makes it easier to drink more quickly. For that reason, I do not recommend pairing it with actual fireworks. Best to leave that to the sober professionals.

Bissell Brothers Lux

Rye is an alternative grain that is used in conjunction with barley to change the texture of a beer. It can also impart a slight spiciness. Lux, a rye IPA, combines a very tropical hop lineup with the rye grain to make this memorable, richly flavored hop bomb.

Sebago Whistle Punk

Another DIPA, Whistle Punk manages to bring more fruit flavors into a beer than I thought possible (without actually adding fruit to the glass). The aroma of pineapple, grapefruit and citrus is so strong that it emanates from the can before you’ve even poured the beer, though the beer itself is hearty enough to hold its own in the face of all that fruit flavor.

Banded Horn Greenwarden

Greenwarden is a “spruce beer” brewed with painstakingly harvested spruce tips that grow for a very short time at the beginning of summer. Used as a bittering agent, these tips bring a bright, piney bite to this beer that can be refreshing, but can sometimes overwhelm its pale ale base.

The Quiet

Allagash Little Brett

The Brettanomyces yeast used to make this beer gives it a dry texture and funky flavor. The dryness keeps it light, and the complexity is such that this beer plays out a little differently on the tongue with each sip. Not to be consumed quickly, Little Brett is well suited for lazy days in the lawn chair.

Austin Street Patina Pale Ale

I have something of an obsession with this beer. If I see it on a menu I nearly always order it, but I tend to enjoy it the most when I know I won’t be distracted while drinking it. There’s something in its malt bill that gives Patina a dry and remarkably delicate character despite the wave of citrusy hops that appears in the middle of each sip. Lovely.

Gneiss Weiss

Allagash Brewing Company arguably put wheat-forward beers on the map with their flagship White, but Gneiss Brewing Company (in Limerick, Maine) has something more to say on the matter. Their Weiss is a straw-colored beauty with all of the right aromas (banana, cloves) and a traditional taste that rivals that of its better-known Bavarian counterparts (like the popular Weihenstephaner brand from Munich).

Maine Beer Company Peeper Ale

I always feel a little bad for Peeper. Its big brothers, Lunch and Dinner, get all the attention and shady Craigslist re-sales, while this beautifully crafted ale stands steadily in the shadows. If you’re looking for a beer that’s not bold but still tickles your tastebuds with some hops, Peeper Ale is the one for you. It’s not a summer ale, specifically (yet another reason it gets overlooked), but it gets along with everyone in all seasons.

Everything Else

Your best opportunity this month to find the beers to match your summer moments is the Maine Brewers’ Guild Beer Festival, which takes place July 23 on Thompson’s Point, in Portland. Maine’s craft beer showcase, this fest is a must for anyone interested in what’s happening in the state’s thriving brewing scene these days. Tickets and more info at MaineBrewersGuild.org.

Brewers-Guild

 

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Photo Gallery: Bissell Brothers New Location @ Thompson’s Point

Bissell Brothers opened their new taproom at Thompson’s Point this weekend. I stopped by to check out the new space and some beer. Enjoy!

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