Beer Guy: Uncertainty
- October 5, 2011
- on 10/5/2011
- MoJo: Kevin Smith
I have touched on this before. Beer is an ever evolving drink. Thousands of years ago it was a drink made with whatever the local grains were, water, yeast (although they were completely unaware of that ingredient), and some random bittering ingredient. They didn't have hops back then.
You'll hear the so-called purists rail against beers with what some might perceive as funky ingredients – oysters, lavender, black currant, chili peppers...the list goes on. The problem with that whole "purist" thing – and Germany, I'm looking at you and your Beer Purity Law – is that many of these ingredients (chili peppers not withstanding) were utilized for hundreds of years, some predating the Beer Purity Law. Hell, the Beer Purity Law when written didn't even account for yeast (brewers hadn't yet discovered the magical little creature that makes for fun fermentables).
For point of reference, the German Beer Purity Law (das Reinheitsgebot) originated in Bavaria in April of 1516. The law, since repealed (although, that's not to say there isn't still a law in Germany restricting what ingredients can be used in beer as one still exists), states that the only ingredients that can be used in beer are water, barley, and hops. The whole purpose of the law was to create standards in regards to the sale and composition of beer. Yup, that's right – laws regulating industry existed half a millennia ago. And the new law is only marginally more...flexible – allowing for yeast, cane sugar, and malted grain.
But I digress.
Out of necessity and out of uncertainty has come invention in the brewing industry. When the Europeans colonized the New World, those who brewed beer utilized everything from the crops that wouldn't sell at market (gourds, squash, pumpkins), to the shellfish harvested off our shores – all because the brewers were uncertain as to what would work in place of the hops they had in the Old World. Breweries such as Harpoon continue today to make oyster stouts (some brewers use only the oyster, others the shell), and our own Brewer's Alley has made beers with lavender and other local ingredients. Yards up in Philadelphia has a line based around recipes they believe our Founding Fathers might have used in their brewing.
Now, living in a Food Network world, brewers around the United States are experimenting with more and more ingredients considered outside of the norm for beer.
Tapped and Uncapped
In keeping with this week's themes, I had a couple of beers under consideration. I pondered chatting up Brewer's Alley's Oktoberfest (an enjoyable Marzen), but felt that Reunion Ale '11 works better with the theme. The Reunion Ale is a collaboration between Shmaltz Brewing out of Saratoga Springs, NY, and Terrapin Beer Co out of Athens, GA.
This imperial brown ale is brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla and chili peppers. It's a nice, smooth beer that would pair well with dessert. An ale with good body, it is a sweet beer in which the chocolate and vanilla notes are pronounced without being overwhelming, and the beer finishes with a hint of heat from the chili peppers. Very nice, very drinkable.
One pairing note – it does not stand up well to hearty food (I started my sampling of this beer with a homemade stromboli. The ale did not stand up well to the cheese, tomato, and kalamata olives), but it would be ideal with something rich and chocolatey.
Additionally, proceeds from the beer go to benefit the Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research. I will get more into that, beer, and charity next week.
Until then, be well and drink good beer.
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