04 January 2013

The zymurgist as epicure

Session logoUsually, when The Session rolls round, I try and twist the theme to whatever I'm currently interested in or am already thinking of blogging about. Hey, it's totally within the rules. But this month's suggested topics for conversation are so interesting by themselves that I'm inclined to take the questions literally and answer them methodically. You'll find them here, on John's announcement post at Home Brew Manual, where the topic is titled "Brewers and Drinkers".

  • Do you need to brew to appreciate beer? 
No, obviously. But I think you're missing out on a level of appreciation if you don't. I've certainly learned a lot from devising recipes and tasting the results, and there are things I've perceived in beers which I don't think I'd ever have noticed if I didn't brew.

  • Do you enjoy beer more not knowing how it’s made? 
Definitely not. Get a bunch of homebrewers around an odd commercial beer and the topic of conversation inevitably turns to "I wonder how they did that". How it's made is always interesting to find out, and enjoyable to hypothesise. People wouldn't go on brewery tours if things were otherwise. It's not necessary to pick every beer apart forensically, and it's certainly not something that makes a beer more enjoyable per se, but it can be a fun extra alongside the main feature.

  •  If you brew, can you still drink a beer just for fun? 
Of course! I'd have quit years ago if this weren't the case. Mind you, I'm not a proper brewer. I'm a dabbler, a messer, and I've no interest in hardcore brewing science in theory or practice. Perhaps the deeper you get into brewing the harder it is to relax into a beer without trying to dissect every element of its flavour, aroma and texture. But I don't really believe those people exist. I've never been drinking with them. I don't think I'd want to.

  • Can you brew without being an analytical drinker? 
You can, but you're not going to make very good beer. The whole point of brewing for me is to brew the beer I like to drink, and especially the types that are hard to get. Dry-hopped pale and amber ales in grown-up bottle sizes were pretty much unheard of where I live when I began brewing four years ago, and are still relatively thin on the ground. If I wasn't able to figure out what it was I liked about the genre, trying to recreate the effect would have been a non-starter. But making beers of the sort you like for yourself is just one side of the equation -- I'm often troubled by the way some people seem to be starting commercial breweries without being committed beer obsessives beforehand. It shouldn't be allowed.

  • Do brewers get to the point where they’re more impressed by technical achievements than sensory delight? 
I don't think we can pin this exclusively on the brewers, but I think it does happen. "Ohh, it's a lot harder to get good flavour into a 3.5% ABV cask mild than a oak-aged brett-infused stout at double the strength". Yes, that is true, I'll grant you that. But you know, it doesn't make your pint of mild necessarily a better beer than this export stout just because it requires more skill to produce. Sorry, it doesn't. Which leads me on to:

  • Does more knowledge increase your awe in front of a truly excellent beer?
Quite the reverse. Once you know which cuff had the ace of hearts tucked into it, it's much harder to be impressed by the act. Yes, you may always appreciate a magician at the height of his skills, but as soon as you can spot a faro shuffle and a false cut, you're experiencing something different from the rest of the audience, and awe is less likely to feature. Beer is mostly just water after all: no brewer will forget this.


I get a lot out of my half-assed brewing efforts. I think I appreciate beer better and I think I'm better at writing about it too. And, as an added bonus, I also get beer, cheaply, twenty litres at a time.

Before I began brewing, I generally had a designated house beer: something, usually a kind lager, that I would stock up on in quantity and could just open and drink whenever I felt like a beer but was unfussy about the sort. Home brewing changed that, and when I'm after a beer that doesn't necessarily need thinking about it'll come from my own stash. Previously, my house beer was usually a cheap and cheerful pale lager, but my taste for hoppy ales -- one of the main drivers behind my taking up home brewing -- changed that, and a light and fruity pale ale is my usual go-to style. If I hadn't become a home brewer I wonder what would have happened to the whole house beer thing. Would I have stuck it out with the lagers (still nothing wrong with a decent, cheap, lager), or would I have traded up to something hoppier by now?

Recently I came across a possible answer in the form of O'Shea's Traditional Irish Pale Ale, brewed by the Carlow Brewing Company exclusively for Aldi. 4.3% ABV and a mere €1.79 a bottle makes it a very likely contender for fire-and-forget refreshment. I do think the word "traditional" in the title is stretching an already-overused beer term well past its breaking point, however.

Anyway, it pours out a clear pale gold and the aroma gives more of a lager malt golden syrup effect only lightly infused with citric bitterness. I confess I was expecting something akin to the hop hit of its big brother O'Hara's IPA but there's none of that: just a breeze of grass 'n' grapefruit across the tongue, backed by a gentle graininess. The end result isn't at all punchy, but is fresh, easy-drinking and well worth the money.

Best of all, with just a short soak in warm water the labels peel off completely cleanly.

6 comments:

  1. "Best of all, with just a short soak in warm water the labels peel off completely cleanly."

    Ha! That comment could only come from a home brewer ;o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha ... this is something I know all too well.

      Delete
    2. You have to appreciate the breweries that think of the homebrewers like that.

      Delete
  2. I'd be very pleased if the Aldies around here started stocking O'Shea's...

    In that, I share many of your reasons for home brewing (and your opinions on how it relates to beer appreciation, or otherwise), particularly making the stuff you want hanging around, but just can't get at a decent price. Not that 2012 was a good year for my brewing!

    ReplyDelete
  3. The magic trick analogy is a good one but... once you know how its done, doesn't your awe at the illusion itself get replaced by awe at the skill and dedication required to pull it off seamlessly? I know *how* to make a playing card disappear, and can even do it, really slowly and craply, which only makes me more impressed at people who can do it smoothly, perfectly, time after time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, you'll be impressed. But not as impressed as someone who has no idea where the card (tiger, Statue of Liberty, etc) went. It's not a like-for-like awe substitution, I reckon.

      The Penn & Teller TV show Fool Us was a good example of it in action. You got to see them being impressed by people who did tricks they couldn't take apart, but it was a cold professional respect, not awe.

      Delete