Like any craft beer drinker, you’re probably accustomed to seeing International Bitterness Units (IBU) posted on chalkboard menus and printed on cans and labels. American brewers love their hops, and American consumers love their amped-up IBUs, especially here on the West Coast. In fact, the craft beer market share of IPAs increased nearly tenfold since 2008, diversifying into subcategories like Session IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Imperial IPAs, and Black IPAs. Novice or cocksure drinkers often make the mistake of assuming that the higher the IBU, the better the beer or the more “intense” or bragworthy their choice will be considered. But there’s a lot more that goes into how bitterness and hoppy flavors are perceived, achieved, and explained.
For most states in the nation, 64 oz. reusable glass containers have become a normal option for packaged beer sales. Although conceived of in its current form in the late 1980’s, the growler concept is not new. Before the widespread availability of glass and well before canned beer, consumers were bringing lidded metal pails to saloons and brewpubs for lunchtime worker consumption or evening family drinking. To-go beer fresh from the taps has undoubtedly been a customer desire basically since breweries existed. In recent years, growler sales have flourished in the US, leading to growler sections in some supermarket coolers and entire businesses based solely upon filling growlers.
Kölsch is a light-bodied, pale malt beer hailing from Köln, Germany, the nation’s fourth-largest city with just over a million inhabitants. Many American breweries produce contemporary versions of the style, especially come summer when drinkers tend to seek out crisp, refreshing sessionable beers. But hardly anyone knows the real background of the style, a beer inseparable from Koln’s history and cultural identity.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you probably like beer. You may even have a healthy or perhaps unhealthy obsession with beer. It’s also probably likely that you know someone who doesn’t enjoy beer. I hear it frequently: “Beer is too ________ for me.” I’m not here to proselytize my personal tastes and I don’t recommend you try either, but I’ve boiled down a few healthy ways to encourage a reluctant beer taster or introduce a newbie to craft beer. Many of us spent our first few imbibing years consuming macro beer or low-quality liquors, so it’s no wonder advancing beyond is often a challenge. It doesn’t have to be that way, especially with all the craft options available today and more understanding about taste.
Cluster hops are one of the oldest varieties grown and used commercially in the US. Originally bred from a European hop brought by early settlers and a native North American hop, Cluster has mostly fallen out of favor in the brewing industry, partially due to the increased demand for high-alpha types typically used for bittering IPAs and other hop-forward bitter ales. Until the late 1970s however, most of the hop acreage in the US was dedicated to growing Cluster, initially in New York state, and eventually in dry central Washington state. Cluster is fairly resistant to disease, but is susceptible to mildew and does not produce in as high of volume as many hops currently selected for market.
Water, hops, yeast, and barley: essential elements of beer. We talk nearly nonstop about hops here in the Pacific Northwest, and for good reason. The Yakima Valley growing region supplies 77% of America’s hops and exports two-thirds of their total product globally. But we tend to forget that the Northwest is also a fruitful agricultural center for barley. Washington state ranks fourth in the nation for total production, and the WSU Barley Breeding Program is an ongoing testament to a strong focus on development. Notably, wheat has also been bred at WSU for over a hundred years. It’s evident we have a strong local commitment to growing quality cereal grains. While only 4% of the barley grown here is destined for the malt house, the Washington Grain Commission estimates that most craft brewers use 3.4% more barley per pint than macro breweries. At 25 pounds (or more) dry malted grain needed per keg (that’s half a barrel; about 120 pints), this adds up quickly, especially for production craft breweries who might brew 20-90 barrels at a time, multiple times per week and/or day. After the mashing process, when all possible malt sugars are extracted and drained away, the hydrated malt is removed from the mash tun and disposed of in various ways. For obvious reasons, it can become extremely tedious and expensive to merely shovel this spent grain in the dumpster. Municipal waste retrieval has limits, even for large food and beverage production companies. And more importantly, spent grain still has value in other uses.
Pilsner malt is one of most utilized malts in brewing around the world. Beyond the vast array of pilsner-style macro-produced lagers, it’s commonly used in a variety of craft styles by micro and specialty breweries in the US. Many Belgian, French, German and Eastern European styles rely heavily upon pilsner malt as well. Considered a base malt for its ability to act independently during the mash process, converting starch to fermentable sugar, it stands apart from other base pale malts in flavor, color and history.
Here in Seattle coffee is gloriously inescapable. Whatever kind of java experience you want, we’ll supply. Prefer your coffee in plastic cup loaded with caramel and whipped cream? Starbucks has you covered, at any of the 104 (yes, 104!) stores within its home turf city limits. Hoping for coffee served in a wine glass on a tasting board? Slate Coffee Roasters will be happy to provide. You might even be able to watch (and deeply inhale) an artisan roasting operation happening just beyond the espresso machine at places like tiny Hart Coffee Company in the sleepy Bryant neighborhood. Many coffee shops here also now serve (mostly local) beer and wine, presenting a fantastic variety of consumable options for whatever social or study needs you might have.
Salty, spiced, and sour: you may have heard the hubbub of conjecturing beer writers labeling Gose-style ales the next new trend in craft brewing, or maybe you’ve seen a few on tap nearby in the last year. Where did this seemingly unknown style come from, and why has it been picked up by craft breweries? To find the answers, we’ve got to go back, way back‒1000 years, in fact.
Beer writer, maker and server, bartender and spirits enthusiast. All things beer and booze photodocumented here.