We all know that beers come in different strengths. The most common way is to control the amount of barley versus the amount of beer being brewed.
Soccer fans rejoice! Hi-Wire Brewing has been opening early on Saturdays throughout the season, and they will continue to do so. Here's the upcoming schedule from the press release:
Craft beer and Homebrewing pioneer Charlie Papazian recently announced that The Examiner’s Beer City poll will not continue. The poll was designed for readers to first nominate and from those nominations choose the one city in the US that would best be described as “Beer City”. Asheville won the poll four out of five times, making it the winningest city during the poll’s run. Over the past several years I’ve overheard bar patrons attempting to explain to their out of town guests what the title of Beer City meant. Everything from, “We have more breweries per capita than anywhere in the country,” to, “We make the best beer in the US,” were given as reasons for the title. While we do have over a dozen breweries in a city of 80,000 or so people, Hood River Oregon takes the per capita title with 7,214 people and five breweries. Our breweries do make some excellent beer, but none are nationally distributed and many aren’t well known outside the Asheville area. Neither of those were the reasons Asheville kept coming out on top. Instead, the title really came from an online popularity contest, but its importance can’t be ignored.
By all logic there are much more substantial “Beer Cities” than Asheville. Measuring the number of breweries, number of medals won at GABF, amount of beer being produced in barrels, or number of beer bars and bottle shops in each city would leave our town trailing the competition. Places like Portland and Denver easily top Asheville in any of those tallies. What the Beer City poll did was leverage something Asheville does have when it comes to beer: passionate community support.
Each year, a city with a population one tenth of those above would rally its people to help make our mountain town stand out. I would hear stories of locals who voted from every electronic device at their disposal to help bring up the count. Local media would keep people up to date as to how much time they had left to vote and how the contest was going. And it worked. Year after year, Asheville would win or tie for first. The pride of our community was our key to success.
What Asheville got from the poll was worth far more than anyone could have expected. Big breweries from out west began to seriously consider a fairly remote mountain town for their east coast expansion. From a logistical standpoint, there are far better choices than Asheville to situate a production facility. Access to major markets, interstate highways or cheap land did not make Asheville the clear choice over the competition. Other cities could boast much more as far as those assets were concerned. Community support of beer, brewing and an overall excellent quality of life helped set Asheville apart. The Beer City poll showed these companies that they would be welcomed to the area with open arms and enter into an established beer community rather than have to create one somewhere else.
As Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium start production, the area is going to get the immediate benefit of hundreds of good paying jobs, a rare commodity in Asheville. In addition, it has been estimated that by 2016 Asheville will see an additional one million visitors each year just for beer. While they’re here, these beer tourists will spend their money at our local breweries, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, shops, etc. All local businesses will see the benefit from our beer industry.
While the poll was never a scientific measure of how “Beer City” a city might be, Asheville’s passion for our beer scene led us to repeat victories over much larger and longer established competitors. I’ll probably miss the excitement of the last few days of the poll each year, with everyone discussing the real-time results and how long they have left to vote. But we have seen more benefit from it than anyone could have expected, and it’s always good to go out on top.
What better way to experience all that Asheville has to offer than by inviting your out of town guests on a Brewery & History Walking Tour? Your guests will be immersed in local history and beer as BREW-ed shows them around downtown Asheville. BREW-ed is the only brewery tour in Asheville led by a Certified Cicerone®. Cicerones® are considered experts when it comes to beer and are the perfect guides to Asheville’s amazing breweries. BREW-ed offers an eco-friendly walking tour that allows participants to enjoy the rich history of Asheville between stops. BREW-ed also offers private tours perfect for your event and designed to fit your schedule. A BREW-ed tour is a special addition to your wedding festivities that your guests will remember forever.
I get asked these questions fairly often, so I thought I'd write a post about it here. The truth is that I started BREW-ed for a few different reasons, but all of them revolve around beer and Asheville so BREW-ed is the glue that keeps them together.
The main reason I started BREW-ed was to help bring Asheville bars and restaurants into the new local economy that Asheville is going to see over the next few years. The city of Asheville is expecting an additional 800,000-1,000,000 visitors a year because of our beer scene, once Sierra Nevada and New Belgium open their Asheville area facilities. That is a HUGE number. In comparison, the BIltmore Estate brings in an estimated 1,000,000 visitors a year. Currently, that is the biggest attraction in Asheville and has been one of the main economic drivers of the area since the house opened to the public more than 80 years ago. With all of these dedicated beer travelers descending upon our city, there is going to be an expectation that service staff in bars and restaurants are knowledgeable about the beers they are selling and that the beers are served properly. Also, Asheville is not as far ahead as many cities when it comes to beer and food pairing. We have an AMAZING restaurant scene, but many of the nicer restaurants don't have a beer list that even comes close to matching with the food menu. Typically restauranteurs stock a few popular beers, including some locals, and that's about it. Again, this is an area that I can help with, and I truly believe it will be expected when people go out to dinner in the near future.
Second, I want BREW-ed to be a resource for people who are truly interested in learning about beer. I will continue to post some general articles about beer knowledge, but I want to make sure that anyone visiting the site knows they can ask me anything about beer via e-mail or form submission, and I will answer it to the best of my abilities. I have also decided to offer one on one and small group beer tutoring. If you want someone to guide you through the unbelievably complex subject of beer and point you in the right direction of your learning, I am here to help. I will begin offering in-person and web-based learning sessions within the next few weeks.
While the primary focus is on teaching people about beer, I also want to make sure people are enjoying it as much as I do. Because of this, I also offer entertaining private event packages. If you are hosting a private event in Asheville and would like to include beer, BREW-ed can help. I can keep it as simple as consulting with you on beer selections for the event, or I can go so far as to provide the beer, glassware and guide your event goers through a custom tasting. You tell me what you have in mind, and I will make it happen.
It's this enjoyment of beer and of Asheville that led me to create BREW-ed's Brewery & History Walking Tours. I love talking to people about beer and about the city I live in, and for a number of years I thought about how I could tie the two together. BREW-ed's Brewery & History Walking Tours were the answer. I wanted to create a unique tour experience that I would want to go on. When I travel, I am fascinated by the local culture and history of the cities I visit. And if I take a tour somewhere, I want to learn a lot while enjoying it. That inspiration created a brewery tour where you learn not only about beer, but about Asheville as well. I jokingly say it's a nerdier beer tour than the average, because when it's over you will have learned a lot, guaranteed.
Hopefully, this post answers some of the questions about why I started BREW-ed and why I offer walking tours of downtown Asheville's breweries. It's because I love Asheville, and I love Asheville beer. I want to share my knowledge with my community to help us all grow and succeed.
I spent a lot of time working behind bars and would have the following interaction at least once a week:
Customer: "What's good?"
Me: "What do you think you're in the mood for?"
Customer: "Well... I like ales and I like lagers..."
At this point I always thought about suggesting they just point at something, because ALL BEERS ARE EITHER ALES OR LAGERS*. (If you're thinking "What about hybrid styles?", we'll get to that later).
The differences between lagers and ales only have to do with the yeast used to ferment them. Other variables like color, alcohol strength and flavor have nothing at all to do with whether a beer is a lager or an ale. This is one of the most common points of confusion for consumers, so I want to make sure that everyone understands the difference. This article will address what happens during fermentation and how lagers and ales are different. Finally, we'll confuse matters a bit by talking about hybrid styles.
An old saying goes that, "A brewer makes wort, but yeast makes beer." What this means is that everything that the brewer does on the hot side of the brewery where the kettle and mash tun are is production of wort. Wort is the sugary, bitter liquid that the brewer has prepared as a hospitable environment for yeast to feed and reproduce. While the yeast are doing that, we get the bonus of them making us beer.
Simply stated, fermentation of beer is the process by which yeast consumes simple sugar molecules and produces nearly equal parts of ethanol (the tasty kind of alcohol) and carbon dioxide. That's all the yeast does. It doesn't care if the wort is light colored, dark colored, etc. It will eat the sugars and make alcohol and CO2. When it's done doing this it falls asleep and falls to the bottom of the fermenter, just like after Thanksgiving dinner.
So, what makes an ale an ale and a lager a lager?
Ales are fermented with different strains of the yeast family sacchromyces cervisiae or literally "beer sugar fungus". Within this family there are different strains that have different characteristics. Some strains are very tolerant to alcohol while others are not. Some of these yeast strains produce fruity smelling esters or spicy phenols while they eat those sugars and make ethanol and CO2. Some of them are capable of eating longer chain sugar molecules than others. Though they have their differences, they are all considered to be the same species and they all share certain characteristics.
Temperature is the biggest common shared trait and the biggest contrast to the family of lager yeasts. Ale yeasts like to eat sugar at temperatures between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, though some ale yeasts might even do the job at slightly cooler or slightly warmer temperatures. Ale yeasts cannot withstand very cold temperatures and most will go dormant below 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
Time it takes to get the job done is another shared trait that is different from lager yeasts. Ale yeasts will typically take about 7 days to finish the primary fermentation of a beer, though they can take up to an additional week or more to completely finish the job. Lager yeasts, as we will discuss, take considerably longer. This is the main reason why many of your favorite craft beers are ales. Small breweries typically don't have the fermenter space to produce lagers on a regular basis.
Ester production is another way ale yeasts differ from lager yeasts. If you've ever smelled banana, pear or juicy fruit gum coming off of your beer, those aromas and flavors were produced by the ale yeast strain that fermented it. Belgian beers are especially known for their fruity and spicy aromas and flavors. These are produced by strains of yeast that Belgian brewers employ that produce a lot of esters and phenols. Lager yeasts are not known for producing many esters.
Often the term "top fermenting" is also used to describe ale yeasts. This goes back to the days before people really had an understanding of how fermentation happened. Before the rise of the microscope in the 17th century, yeast was a bit of a mystery. However, brewers knew that if they took the bubbling krausen from the top of a fermenter of an actively fermenting batch of beer and put it onto another batch of wort, that wort would start fermenting also. Therefore the beers were considered to be "top fermenting". In fact, there are yeast all throughout the wort fermenting it from the top to the bottom. The krausen is simply a visible cue that fermentation is happening. Because ale yeast ferment wort rather quickly, the release of carbon dioxide is visible and gets trapped in wort proteins and hop resins to create a frothy layer of foam on the top of the fermenter.
Historically speaking, most ancient beers were produced as ales, as this yeast strain thrives in the same temperature range as humans do in most of Europe. It wasn't until much more recently that lagers were produced.
Lagers are fermented with yeast belonging to the family sacchromyces patorianus, sometimes referred to as sacchromyces carlsbergensis after the Carlsberg brewery where the yeast was first described. Lager yeast is believed to be an ancient hybrid of a wine yeast known as sacchromyces bayanus and the ale yeast sacchromyces cervisiae. Within the lager yeast family we see a lot less variety than in the ale family. Lager yeasts are also capable of consuming some sugars that ale yeasts cannot, such as melbiose. Lager yeasts are generally described as "cleaner" than ale yeasts in this respect, and that "clean" character is sought after among lager producers.
Temperature is again of utmost importance to the successful fermentation of a beer with lager yeast. Lager yeasts like to work at much cooler temperatures with the primary fermentation taking place below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm temperatures of an ale fermentation would be detrimental to the health of the lager yeast.
Time becomes a factor after the primary fermentation. The beer is typically cooled to just above freezing and held at that temperature for 6-8 weeks. It is this process that earned the beer family the name lager as lager literally means "to store" in German. It is for this reason that most small breweries do not produce lagers. Small business owners can't afford to take up valuable tank space for nearly three times as long to produce a batch of beer. Unfortunately, consumers are not willing to pay three times as much for a glass of lager as for a glass of ale.
Ester production is minimal to nonexistent in well produced lagers. The cooler temperatures of the lager fermentation keep the yeast from producing esters or adding any real character of its own to the beer.
In contrast, "bottom fermenting" is often used to describe lager beer fermentation. What this really is is a result of the cooler fermentation temperature. Yeast metabolism is like many other processes in nature in that the warmer the temperature is the faster it goes and vice versa. Lagers ferment more slowly and though the same materials that create krausen on top of a batch of ale are being produced, they are not as abundant because it is happening so much more slowly. To the brewers who worked before yeast was better understood, it seemed logical that the fermentation was happening at the bottom of the fermenter. This is also where they would find the yeast at the end of the fermentation to be used in the next batch.
The history of lager production is much more recent than that of ales. Though there were some lagers being produced before the 16th century, a 1553 amendment to the famous Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 outlawed brewing in the warm summer months. City leaders were concerned that the beers produced during the summer often tasted sour (due to increased bacteria levels in warm environments). The solution was to only allow beer to be brewed from September 29th to April 23rd each year. Though they didn't know it yet, they accidentally legislated that only lager yeast could ferment beer in Bavaria, as it was too cold for ale yeast to do well in those months.
I told you above that I was going to muddy the waters a bit at the end, but even hybrid styles each technically fall into one of the above categories. Hybrid styles are those that use one species of yeast (ale or lager) but are processed like the other species.
For example, Kolsch style ales are native to the region around Cologne, Germany. They are fermented with an ale yeast strain that likes the cooler end of the ale temperature spectrum and are then lagered for several weeks before they are packaged. The result is a crisp, clean, clear beer with very few esters.
On the other hand, the California Common style, popularized by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, California, is produced with a lager yeast fermented at the cooler end of the ale temperature range.
From the discussion above I want to make abundantly clear that there are a wide range of ale and lager styles. Some ales can be very light in color and low in alcohol like the American Cream Ale, and some lagers can be very dark and high in alcohol like the Baltic Porter. Americans typically think of lightly colored, low alcohol beers when we think of lagers, because the beers of the larger commercial breweries in the US are all lagers and all fit that description. However, all of the contributing factors that make a beer dark or high in alcohol are done before yeast is added to the wort. The species of yeast used and the way the beer is fermented determine whether or not the beer is an ale or a lager, nothing else.
* If you were thinking about beers fermented with Brettanomyces, that will be covered in another post.
As craft beer continues to gain popularity, more and more businesses are trying to cash in on the new demand. Anyone reading this has likely noticed beers from smaller breweries popping up in previous unlikely places like chain restaurants and big box discount stores. How can you, as the consumer, make sure you're spending your money on something you'll enjoy? Follow these five tips to buying better beer, and you'll never be disappointed by less than brewery fresh beer again.
1. Check The Date
Beer is a perishable food item, just like anything else you might buy at the grocery store. You wouldn't buy a gallon of milk without checking the date. Give your beer the same respect. Most breweries will put some kind of "packaged on" or "best by" date on their bottles and/or boxes to help consumers know they're getting fresh beer. Checking these dates isn't always easy though. Fresh Beer Only is a great site that helps take the mystery out of beer date codes. As a general rule of thumb, beer is freshest within 120 days of packaging. After that, it will likely not taste how the brewer intended.
2. Avoid Brightly Lit Coolers
Beer has two mortal enemies. One of them is light. Most breweries do their best to package their beers in a way that will keep them free from light as much as possible. However, a lot of times, stores don't show the beer the same respect. If the beer is kept under bright florescent lights, its flavor might be affected through a process called "skunking". Green and clear bottles are especially susceptible to this. Brown bottles block most of the harmful light, and cans provide total protection from harmful UV light. "Skunked" or lightstruck beer smells just like it sounds: like a skunk. Obviously, this is not a good thing. The worst part is that beer can become lightstruck in a matter of minutes! Whenever possible, buy beer that isn't kept under bright UV lights, or at least grab yours from the back of the cooler where it is normally darker.
3. Buy Cold Beer
Not only is cold beer ready to drink when you buy it from the store, its freshness is also being helped by the colder temperature. Beer's second mortal enemy is oxygen. Brewers put a lot of effort into keeping oxygen out of their packaged beers, but inevitably some miniscule amount will find its way inside. Once it comes in contact with the beer, it starts the slow but steady process of making that beer stale. First, your hop aromas and flavors fade away. Next, your malt flavors become muddled, and finally you have a bottle of something that tastes kind of like wet cardboard.
Warm temperatures speed up this oxidizing process. Beer that is shipped and stored cold will last longer than beer that is left to sit out on a warm shelf. Better beer stores will have plenty of cold storage for their beer or will work to keep the temperature of the entire store low to help slow oxidation. Also, keep in mind where the beer was before it was on that shelf. Many big box stores have storage areas or warehouses that aren't climate controlled. If they are receiving huge shipments of beer to a centralized location, it could spend months in a hot place before being moved to a cold refrigerator case.
4. Consider the Source
If you find your favorite specialty beer in a remote gas station in the middle of nowhere next to expired beef jerky and think it's your lucky day, take a moment of pause. How much of that beer do you think that gas station sells each month? Do you think they've kept it under the best conditions?
The same goes for stores that offer a ridiculous variety of beers. Some do a very good job of monitoring their inventory to give consumers the freshest beer possible. Others just pride themselves on having a whole lot of stuff. Some of it might have been sitting there since the day they opened.
5. Use Common Sense
Buying fresh delicious beer is a lot like buying anything else. Use common sense and you will get good results. Much like buying seafood, there are places you should and should not buy from no matter how appealing the offer might be. If you walk into the supermarket in July and see your favorite Christmas seasonal, it is not a wonderful treat from the beer gods. It is old beer. You shouldn't buy it any more than you should a container of egg nog that mysteriously winds up on the shelf at the same time of year. Follow these basic tips and you should be much happier with the beers you buy.
Would you like to learn more about beer? Join BREW-ed for a Brewery & History Walking Tour .