IPA: Which Is The Best Coast?

The IPA – it started as a tale of two continents, but survives today as a rivalry between two coasts. Craft beer store shelves have become lined with IPAs proclaiming a style of either “West Coast” or “East Coast.” Are these breweries merely marketing their regional pride, or are they offering a helpful description of what their IPA may offer to the educated consumer?

While these labels often do come down to marketing, there are a few general rules of thumb for designating an IPA “East Coast” or “West Coast.” West Coast IPAs tend to be dominated by the hops profile and finish dry. The malt profile is simple, straight-forward, and subtle.   An East Coast IPA, on the other hand, typically features a much more complex malt bill that balances the hop profile, and makes the beer a bit darker in color and sweeter in taste. East Coast IPAs may taste more of tropical fruit, while West Coast IPAs may taste more of pine.

Beer enthusiasts attribute these differences to the proximity of West Coast breweries to the Pacific Northwest hop fields, which grow Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus hops, while East Coast brewers incorporate more “spicy” European hops and specialty malts into their recipes. Dogfish Head 60 Minute and the Smuttynose IPA are examples of classic East Coast IPAs, while Green Flash West Coast IPA and Stone IPA serve as their counterparts on the West Coast.

Vermont has become a haven for the East Coast style, and since many of its breweries do not distribute outside VT, a destination for beer tourism. While I do have plans for a rather ambitious trip, my urgency was kindly abated by a partner at my law firm who wisely chose to deposit 3 cans of VT beer on my desk the day I had two huge filings to complete. I take assignments from all partners very seriously, so I immediately started my research regarding these 3 cans.

The first two were from Fiddlehead Brewery in Shelburne, VT. The brewery releases its rotating selection of beer in the form of cans or growlers from the brewery itself, and provides draft beer for VT taprooms and restaurants. Fiddlehead’s owner and chief brewer Matt Cohen focuses on well-balanced beers, and enjoys incorporating exotic ingredients into his brews.  Both brews have been cited as exemplars of East Coast style, in the double form.

IMG_4428

Mastermind pours a medium yellow gold, with a nose of citrus. The taste is dominated by grapefruit and lemon zest, balanced with malty caramel and only hints of pine. A decent amount of carbonation contributes to a medium body and smooth finish. Mastermind clocks in at 8.1 ABV. Compared to Mastermind, I thought Second Fiddle tasted more hop forward, with tropical, citrus zest and mild pine notes, particularly in aroma.  While Second Fiddle was less malty and sweet in flavor, it was still very well balanced. Both IPAs are big, juicy and clean.

IMG_4430

The third, and my favorite, was Sip of Sunshine IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a small batch artisanal microbrewery in Warren, VT. The brewery’s 7 bbl system is closed to the public, and its website explains the very complicated etiquette required to procure its beer.   Sip of Sunshine, actually brewed at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Connecticut, pours golden-amber in color and smells of fruit, both citrus and tropical. The taste follows, with notes of passion fruit, grapefruit, and pineapple, balanced by bready malt and mild hop bitterness. The brew features moderate carbonation, creating a crisp mouthfeel.

IMG_4360

Compare those descriptions to that of Pliny the Elder, a double IPA from Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California. People tend to describe the hops character of the beer as apparent up front, and sharp, with pine, resin, grassy and floral notes. There is some background grapefruit flavor, but the taste is less tropical than its East Coast counterparts, and gives way to a lasting bitter finish.

These rules of thumb for identifying “East Coast” versus “West Coast” styles will vary by brewer preferences and regional availability of ingredients. More importantly, breweries will market their beers in a way that will sell more beer. With increased experimentation and creativity in recipes, it is likely that these two styles will blur, if they even exist at all.

Water water everywhere and not a hopped drop to drink

A country that boasts the purest water in the world should apply that resource to the highest ends. Instead, Iceland has long maintained that its water produces the best coca-cola in the world – indeed Icelanders consume the most per capita – while outlawing beer for 73 years.

Frederik V restaurant tasting dinner

The world’s oldest extant parliament is not to blame for this blunder: in its very first referendum ever, the Icelandic population voted in favor of prohibiting all alcohol in 1908. The law became effective in 1915, but remained in full operation only until 1921, when the Spaniards refused to buy Icelandic fish – the main export – until Icelanders agreed to import Spanish wines. In 1933 another referendum legalized spirits, but teetotalers were able to maintain the prohibition on beer (with alcohol content greater than 2.25%), with the argument that beer would lead to depravity because it was so much cheaper than spirits. The success of the teetotaler argument is particularly surprising given that Iceland’s national spirit, Brennevin, is 40% alcohol and goes by the name “black death.”

There were attempts to counter the temperance movement, resulting in a brewing exception for American and British soldiers stationed in Iceland during WWII. Additionally, a businessman brought a lawsuit to demand the rights enjoyed by airline crews who could bring in a certain allowances of duty-free beer. While his suit was unsuccessful, the publicity resulted in a new rule that allowed Icelanders traveling abroad to bring in 12.2 pints of foreign beer.

The Alþingi itself voted to legalize beer in 1989 with a 13-8 vote in a full turnout of the upper house. In the end, the (currently un-)mighty Kroner carried the day, as Prime Minister Steingrimur Hermansson argued that beer sales taxes could help reduce Iceland’s budget deficit.

It took time, but the craft beer movement has taken hold of Iceland, and its pure water. On a recent trip to Reykjavik and the south coast of Iceland, I allowed that movement to take hold of me.  Not at all a teetotaler, and not at all depraved, I managed to sample several styles from Icelandic brewers:

Frederik V restaurant tasting dinner (paired with beer)

Stinnings Kaldi is produced by Bruggsmiðjan, a couple-run brewery in Árskogssandur.  Agnes Anna and Olafur Trostur brew the beer with a Czech recipe, but they incorporate Icelandic ingredients including Angelica mountain herbs.  The herbs create a woody and herbal flavor, which is rounded out by biscuit malt notes and a dry sour finish.  Kaldi, which means cold or cool in Icelandic, would be a nice warm weather option with its light body and medium carbonation.

Frederik V restaurant tasting dinner

Freyja – named after the Norse goddess of fertility – is a Belgian-style wheat beer from Ölvisholt Brugghús in Selfoss.   It pours a hazy golden color with notes of citrus and coriander spice.  I can imagine it as a quenching summer beer.

IMG_4222 IMG_4221 IMG_4162

Ölvisholt Brugghús also produces Mori Red Ale and Lava, a smoked imperial stout.   Mori smells primarily of sweet malts, and its taste follows accordingly, with notes of caramel, citrus and pine.  The tongue feels a decent dose of carbonation, and a bitter finish.  Some bitterness is appropriate for a beer that the brewery describes as a tribute to a boy who sought refuge from the cold after escaping a volcanic eruption, only to be refused shelter by a local farmer and left with no choice but to freeze to death and forever haunt the farmer and his descendants.

Lava, the darker beer without the dark story, pours an opaque black and is all smoothness, sweet chocolate, roasted malts, and smokey coffee flavors, rounded out with alcohol esters (at 9.4% ABV).

more fish stew at Jokulsarlon Lagoon P1050251

Vatnajökull Frozen In Time beer, yet another Ölvisholt Brugghús brew, offers a tourist attraction in itself, incorporating water from the floating icebergs of the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and local thyme spice.  The beer is sweet with flavors of dried fruit, caramel, honey, and a heavy dose of thyme that makes the flavor unique.

IMG_4283 IMG_4161

Einstock Brewery, located in Akureyri, functions as the experimental arm of Iceland’s Viking Brewery.  It brews its Icelandic White Ale as a classic Belgian witbier, with orange peel and coriander, producing a light, carbonated, very drinkable beer.

P1050158

Þvörusleikir Nr. 28 is a holiday amber ale brewed in Reykjavik by Borg Brugghús, the experimental arm of Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery.  Its holiday spice seemed to focus on pepper and cinnamon, accompanied by malty toast, earthy hops, and peach flavors.

photo-2

Viking Brewery markets its Black Death as an English Stout.  The brew appears very dark in color, but feels lighter in the mouth than you’d expect.  However, the flavor is rich and sweet, with tastes of smoked malt and roasted coffee.

Frederik V restaurant tasting dinner

Þorrabjór 2015 from the Gæðingur Öl Brugghús, a delicious English Brown Ale, was probably my favorite beer of the trip.  It pours closer to the thickness and color of a porter, and the mouthfeel is quite smooth.  The brew tastes of caramel, roasted malts, and coffee, starting out sweet and finishing with a very slight bitter note.

For better or for worse, the ready availability of craft beer at many establishments allowed me to sample a satisfying variety of brews.  I was impressed by the diversity of styles and the efforts by Icelandic brewers to incorporate local ingredients into their recipes.  For all their talk about pure water, it’s about time Icelanders realized that the real “depravity” of beer was in its 73 year absence.

 

Trademark dispute reaches bovine proportions

More sharks have been spotted swimming in the beer trademark waters these past few weeks, and the most recent sighting comes in the form of a (red) bull shark.

Startup brewery Old Ox in Ashburn, Virginia filed a trademark application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), for its name OLD OX BREWERY, and its logo, – a large white “O” with an overlapping, smaller light blue “X” – for “beer, ale, lager, stout, porter, [and] shandy.”

In response, energy drink producer and extreme sports sponsor Red Bull filed an opposition proceeding against Old Ox’s application. Old Ox faces different challenges in an opposition proceeding at the USPTO compared to the more familiar courtroom litigation.  A courtroom litigation addresses whether use of a mark infringes an existing mark, and a finding of infringement may result in money damages and an order to stop using the mark.  In contrast, an opposition seeks to block federal registration of a trademark. Accordingly, if Old Ox loses the opposition, it simply can’t own a federally registered trademark, but that does not necessarily block the mark’s use by Old Ox. Using the mark, however, would come at the risk of being sued in court by Red Bull. Arguably, the USPTO proceeding is a smaller undertaking than a full-scale litigation, but the David/Goliath imagery still holds.

Red Bull’s opposition states that the OLD OX mark is so similar to RED BULL marks that they are likely “to cause confusion, mistake or deception among purchasers, users and the public, thereby damaging Red Bull.” In support of that statement, Red Bull offers: “An ‘ox’ and a ‘bull’ both fall within the same class of ‘bovine’ animals and are virtually indistinguishable to most consumers. In addition, an ox is a castrated bull.” A publicly-posted letter by Old Ox’s president Chris Burns reveals that Red Bull has demanded (likely in “settlement” discussions) that Old Ox never use the colors red, silver or blue and never use bovine terms or images.

I don’t know about you, fellow consumers of bovine-associated products, but I had no idea that an ox is a castrated bull. Of course, when I did my homework, I discovered that Red Bull is not telling the entire truth. It turns out that an ox can also be an uncastrated bull, or a female bovine – what seems to be most relevant to ox-ness is its status as a beast of burden.

For purposes of the opposition, the USPTO will evaluate the likelihood that consumers will confuse the OLD OX mark with the RED BULL marks. The most relevant factors of the analysis here will likely be the similarity of the marks in their entireties as to appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression, and the relatedness of the goods attached to the marks. A quick and dirty analysis reveals that OLD OX looks and sounds nothing like RED BULL. Though both are associated with beverages, Old Ox produces alcoholic beverages, beer in particular, while Red Bull produces non-alcoholic energy and soft drinks. These Old Ox registrations do not contain any bovine images or claims to a particular color, but I’d hazard a guess that beverage consumers faced with the idea of an ox, particularly an old one, won’t associate it with the red fighting bulls featured in Red Bull logos, even if those consumers do happen to be bovine classification experts.

(See if you are confused by comparing images from Old Ox and Red Bull Facebook pages!  Would you think that an Old Ox beer is associated with Red Bull, or that a Red Bull energy drink is associated with Old Ox Brewery?)

Most often oppositions are voluntarily terminated because the parties reach a settlement agreement before the opposition runs its course. Here, it appears that the parties are in discussion, but “Red Bully” hasn’t budged on its terms. I imagined that Red Bull’s USPTO filing would suffer the same fate as Lagunitas’ recent ill-fated court complaint, namely voluntary withdrawal following public outrage across social media on the internet, but that has not yet come to pass. Let’s hope the USPTO is more reasonable, and less confused, than Red Bull.

Brewing beer from (not so) thin air

Miguel Ángel Carcuro  dreamed of opening a brewery, but his Chilean community had no water to spare. Driven by his memory of a teenage trip with his father to view the fog catchers above the bay of Chungungo, Carcuro set out to brew with water from the air.

Fog catching has been used in Chile’s Atacama Desert to supply water to surrounding communities for more than 50 years. The catchers have three main parts: a structure with a fine mesh net, a gutter, and a tank for storing the water. The nets capture droplets of water from the air, which eventually combine and drip down into the gutters, which guide the water to the tanks.  Recent innovations involve novel fabric that may increase water capture from the traditional polypropylene or polyethylene materials, along with probes to identify the best locations for the fog catchers.

Carcuro’s fog catcher stands with others in the Cerro Grande ecological reserve, where he drives from his breweries in La Serena and Peña Blanca to harvest the water for his beer. Other community members use water from the catchers for livestock or crops. Carcuro states that water from the fog catchers is especially good for brewing because it has less sediment and less nitrate and nitrite than other Chilean sources.

Carcuro’s artisanal beer brewed from the air is called, appropriately, Atrapaniebla — Spanish for fog catcher. Atrapaniebla is a Scottish ale that pours a golden amber in color. I have not had the opportunity to try it (nor do I speak Spanish), but Carcuro’s website states (in Spanish) that its aroma and taste are characterized by a malty sweetness, with touches of caramel and salt.

While Chileans and others who dwell in arid climates use fog catchers out of necessity, others apply them to create novel gadgets for entertainment purposes. The stars of Esquire’s “Brew Dogs” recently used San Francisco’s fog to create a breathable beer, dubbing it the “beer that started as fog and will finish as fog.” They harvested the fog from nets in the Marin Headlands for use as brewing water, but then engaged Harvard Professor David Edwards’ Le Whaf to turn the brew (back) into flavor-filled clouds. Le Whaf’s devices use piezoelectric crystals that vibrate rapidly to create ultrasound waves, creating alternating high and low pressures through the liquid, and transforming the liquid into tiny droplets that appear as a cloud. Thereby, the devices provide a way to inhale your favorite beverage in a way that enhances flavor, eliminates calories, and nulls the effects of alcohol.

Curiosities aside, Atrapaniebla is a testament to the application of innovative technology to harvest resources in the context of the immediate environment.  As fog catching technology improves, so too will Carcuro’s beer, and the communities that depend on both.

No longer limited to the Night Shift

After months of plotting, I finally managed to attach myself to a group of friends visiting the new Night Shift Brewery and taproom in Everett, MA. Pulling into the parking lot, I noted significant improvement from the old location, a somewhat run-down, industrial space that did not quite suggest designated parking spaces, much less encourage one to leave one’s car. Indeed, here the lot was already at capacity, a sign indicated that I was in the right place, and a food truck beckoned near the entrance.

IMG_3752

Night Shift was founded by a trio of nocturnal home-brewing enthusiasts, Michael Oxton, Robert Burns, and Michael O’Mara, in 2011. The three friends got their start on a 5 gallon fermenter system, and instituted weekly tastings of every beer style imaginable to develop their palates. They found that their favorite beers were the most memorable ones, because those beers both included unusual ingredients – whether fruits, spices, or yeasts – and had quality taste. Their focus continues to be on “wholly unique brews with complex, interesting flavors.”

IMG_3737

A $700,000 loan from MassDevelopment supported the new site opening on May 22, 2014, with 2500 sq. ft. of taproom space, featuring “80+ seats, plenty of parking (on-street and our own lot), actual bathrooms, and a new production facility.” The production facility promises to increase production from the 750 barrels Night Shift produced in the old space, to about 3000 barrels by 2016. Equipment ranges from 40 and 20 barrel tanks to 7 barrel tanks to accommodate experimentation in different sized batches.

IMG_3747 IMG_3735

Having arrived a few minutes late after getting caught in Assembly Row traffic, I accidentally joined a Boston Brew Tour instead of the official Night Shift Tour. The guide provided lots of good information about the brewing process, but politely kicked me out of the free tasting at the end of his lecture. Fortunately, I secured a flight of beers from the bar in the taproom, and joined my friends around a barrel table to compare our choices.

IMG_3739

My two favorites were Whirlpool and Smolder. Whirlpool is a very juicy American Pale Ale, which pours a hazy light golden hue into the glass. Its prominent tastes are of citrus and peach, with a slight dank bitterness at the end. Whirlpool is light and crisp and very drinkable. Smolder, however, is more of a sipping beer, sitting black in the glass. This Imperial Stout boldly features the style’s signature roasted coffee, chocolate, and dark fruit notes. As you get to the bottom of the glass, the coffee taste becomes more prominent, and the mouthfeel smoother.

IMG_3743

As we finished off the last glass of our flights, and the sandwiches from the food truck, I surveyed the taproom. On a Saturday afternoon, I was happy to see families, couples, and large groups, all gathered around barrels or picnic tables throughout the room. The brewery has succeeded in creating an industrial but inviting and laid-back atmosphere. The location is certainly not central for Bostonians, but Night Shift promotes events that make the brewery an attractive destination, including weekly 5k runs around Everett, a Halloween party, brewer showdowns, and new beer releases. Further, fans of the beer have the opportunity to join the Night Shift Barrel Society, which functions much like a farm CSA: members pay for exclusive offerings up front, helping to fund the brewery’s production, and then receive oak barrel-aged brews throughout the year.

IMG_3755

Finally, it was time for our group to leave the taproom, but we were not yet finished drinking Night Shift beer. Membership privileges provided us with three exclusive beers to enjoy later, perhaps with those s’mores supplies that awaited us by the fire at home.

IMG_3768

Beer: the preferred respite from in-flight purgatory

Ah, the holidays: that season where you suddenly realize that half the people you love are a flight away and before you get to see them, you are obligated to spend quality time with strangers in the comfort of the dreaded middle seat.

There is one thing that could make such purgatory – including those smug people in the window and aisle seats – tolerable: craft beer. Luckily, the airlines have apprehended the cultural trend and now take full commercial advantage of it by offering lost souls something more comforting than a mere Budweiser.

On Delta you can ease your temporary suffering with brews from Boston Beer Company on all flights. But that’s not all! If you’re on the LA to SF shuttle, try some Lagunitas or Stone. Doing the NY-BOS-DC-ORD thing? Blue Point and Newburyport are your new best friends. A southerner at heart? Delta’s catering to you with a little SweetWater. Purgatory may not be so horrible after all.

IMG_3781  IMG_3782

If your ride is on Southwest, their bid to become Denver’s favorite carrier will provide much-needed respite from Mr. Window. When a New Belgium Fat Tire Amber stands between you and loved ones, maybe another hour isn’t so bad.

But watch out Southwest! Frontier, also vying for Colorado’s affection, left its catering choices to Facebook fans. Thankfully, Frontier patrons have good taste and voted in Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale.

IMG_3780

Headed to your sweetheart on United Airlines? Some (Anheuser-Busch-owned) Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale will make the time fly (yes, fly), even as Ms. Aisle continues her boring lecture on herself.

If you find yourself on JetBlue, it puts you above all with Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams Lager and Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Lager.  Even as you battle for that right armrest, your soul will feel the humanity returning to air travel.

Virgin America Airlines once had the good fortune to have as a passenger 21st Amendment’s co-founder Shaun O’Sullivan. Apparently his soul was so desperately craving craft that he tweeted an in-flight offer to carry his beer. You can join his soul on Virgin flights by indulging in some Brew Free! Or Die IPA.

IMG_3784

For those masochists who contemplate much longer flights, score a Hawaiian Airlines flight if headed west for a Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde, or if headed east, hook up with the Scandinavians for Mikkeller’s SAS Wheat. Purgatory who?

While some airlines have been offering captive souls craft beer for a few years, this is the first holiday season that so many of the airline giants are capitalizing on passengers’ respite of choice. Taking advantage of these new offerings just might make your loved ones seem closer, or perhaps even make Aisle closer to a loved one.

Bantam: Tasting Cider From The Small and Mighty

What fun, local activity does a Boston craft beer lover suggest to a visiting New Yorker with a gluten allergy?  In my case, I insisted that my friend Nadia accompany me on a pilgrimage to the new(ish) Bantam Cider tasting room in Somerville.  A fan since early 2012 when they launched Wunderkind, I was excited to sample the co-owners’ (Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva) latest experimental creations.

IMG_3628     IMG_3620 

The historic Somerville building located just outside Union Square contains both The Tap Room and Bantam’s production facility, and features an open layout so that each is visible to the other.  Operating on the site of the former White Rose Baking Company, Bantam remains true to the building’s industrial roots: just about everything is made of concrete, steel, or wood.  Underneath a suspended ceiling of spaced wooden beams stands a large, unpretentious kegerator  with 8 taps and rows of glasses lining its shiny surface.  People gather at long, communal tables placed around the room, holding glasses of cider and reaching for mason jars full of pretzel sticks.

IMG_3610     IMG_3619

Joined by Nadia’s friend Gretchen, we each ordered $10 tasting flights of five cider varieties, and watched the work in the fermentation room from our spot at a communal table.  Proudly on display are two 100 barrel fermenters that doubled Bantam’s production capacity earlier this year, alongside two smaller ones.  In an adjoining room, we could see racks of barrels used for aging cider, and stacks of kegs and other production equipment.  Lights hanging from exposed piping in the ceiling created a welcoming glow that softened the otherwise industrial space.

IMG_3618    IMG_3617

In addition to Bantam’s flagship Wunderkind, and its tart cherry sister Rojo, the flights offered more experimental ciders, each made with unique ingredients and yeasts.  For example, the “Dry-Hopped” variety tasted the most like a beer, incorporating ale yeast and Cascade hops.  “The American,” a “big”-tasting cider, reminded me of the holidays, with flavoring from green cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and coriander spices.  Our crowd favorite was the “Wild One,” brewed with vinegar, mustard, and wild yeast.  We agreed that Wild One is the cider version of the current beer trend toward those funky, sour, Belgian tastes.  Once we completed our flights, we each ordered a $6 full pour from the menu board.

IMG_3622

Bantam seems to be keeping its options open for its ~5000 sq. foot space.  There’s been talk of additional tables and seating, a full bar, and even a restaurant, but for now the space continues to evolve based on the current experience and feedback.  It seems to me that this is the best way to develop the space – alongside the cider it produces.

New Glarus, Wisconsin: export your cheese, but we’ll keep our beer

I’m fairly sure I swooned when I was welcomed to the home of dear friends, in the dark of night, smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, by a fridge of personally curated, excellent local beers.  The unfamiliar label of New Glarus Brewing Company, in various styles, lined the long shelves of the fridge door.  Dave had outdone himself.

IMG_3577

Dave explained that New Glarus has big plans to avoid world domination, by focusing intently on its own backyard.  The commitment to the Wisconsin community stems from native Deborah Carey, President of New Glarus, and the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States.  Carey raised the start-up capital as a gift to her husband Dan, establishing the Brewery in 1993.  By then, Dan had already become valedictorian of the 1987 Siebel Institute Course in Brewing Technology and worked his way up the ladder to become a Master Brewer.

The local focus of the brewery allows it to keep close tabs on quality control of its creations, and to continue to invest in its specialty brews, including those “fresh” from its Wild Fruit Cave.  The 5000 square foot Cave features a 100-bbl koelschip, a piece of equipment that cools beer wort while exposing it to wild yeasts that float in the air, thus creating lambic-style beers.  Other residents of the cave include some of the first foeders (large oak casks for aging sour ales) in the United States, which produce New Glarus’ delicious sour red and brown ales, and the grasses on its roof that naturally keep the area cool.

IMG_3579

Dave introduced me to my inaugural New Glarus beer within minutes of arrival.  It was the Raspberry Tart, gold medal winner of the 2011 Great American Beer Fest.  Marketed as a “Wisconsin Framboise Ale,” it pours a dark ruby red color, with a tart raspberry aroma.  The taste is very sweet, with some earthy, funky undertones.  A touch of Wisconsin-farmed wheat and Hallertau hops round out the flavor.  This is not a beer to drink in large volumes, but I found it to be the perfect dessert sipper.

IMG_3525

The next day Dave opened the seasonal Pumpkin Pie Lust, a brown weiss beer made with German Munich malt, Wisconsin wheat, and Idaho Celeia hops.  This brownish-coppery beer smells just like pumpkin pie, with the requisite nutmeg, cinnamon, and vegetable notes.  The dunkelweizen taste comes through underneath the spices, but there is only a faint pumpkin background.  The brew provides a solid German twist on the American fall obsession with pumpkin beers.

IMG_3526

My final taste of New Glarus was a 2012 Great American Beer Fest gold medal winner, the Hometown Blonde.  The combination of Tettnanger, Saaz, Styrian Golding and Strisselpalt hops bestow that decidedly German character on this Old World style pilsner.  The brew shines a clear light yellow in the glass and smells of grains and grass.  The taste features a crisp malt backbone, surrounded by herbal, grassy flavors and a very slight lemon zest.  While on the light side of craft beers, this Blonde stands as a paradigm of its style, and certainly introduces more complexity than most domestic lagers.

IMG_3581

Even though my Wisconsin beer education remained in its infancy, it came time to leave my friends and their fridge.  I left with promises from Dave of a new collection of unattainable-in-Boston beers to be curated for my next visit.  Of course, I’ll need all that time between visits to identify a somewhat even trade.

IMG_3578

 

 

New Belgium Gets PAC’d: The Politics Of Good Beer

To produce quality beer, you need clean water.  To maintain clean water, you need laws that protect groundwater and waterways.  To draft, implement, and enforce laws that protect groundwater and waterways, you need politicians willing to support those efforts.  This need for political heft behind clean water legislation, thus providing the nation with quality beer, brings us to the new Political Action Committee (“PAC”) formed by New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, perhaps best known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale.

New Belgium has always been clear about its political leanings; its commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainable practices is part and parcel of its brand identity and company culture.  Its website proclaims:

At New Belgium, we believe in using every tool at our disposal to create the vibrant future we envision for the earth and her inhabitants. In addition to minimizing our resource consumption, collaborating in our value chain, promoting business practices which empower people and create right livelihoods, and a generous philanthropy program, we advocate for environmentally and socially responsible policy.

The Brewery filed on July 30, 2014 to start the New Belgium Federal PAC, with the mission to donate to like-minded political candidates and to support causes important to craft brewers.  While specific candidates have not yet been named, the PAC aims to become involved in policy and legislation around water conservation, sustainable agriculture, and smart transportation.

For example, a recent blog on the New Belgium website advocates for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) proposed changes to the Waters of the U.S. (“WOTUS”) rule, which defines the surface water that is eligible for federal protection.  Andrew Lemley, the Brewery’s government affairs representative, explains that the changes would expand the water that is eligible for regulation by the EPA to include headwaters and tributaries, in addition to specified rivers and lakes.  He states: “This clarification makes common sense: water bodies that are connected to rivers should be safeguarded like those rivers themselves.”

Additionally, the New Belgium Federal PAC will support the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (“Small Brew Act”).  The Small Brew Act would expand the population of brewers eligible for reduced excise taxes under the Internal Revenue Code from those that produce only 2 million barrels per year to those that produce up to 6 million barrels per year.  In this effort, New Belgium’s PAC will stand opposed to the PACs of beer giants like Anheuser-Busch and Coors.

New Belgium may be the little guy amongst brewery federal PACs, but it is a giant in the world of craft brewing, as the third-largest craft brewer by volume in America.  While its PAC activity could alienate some beer lovers and other breweries, the New Belgium Federal PAC has potential to provide new opportunities for partnerships as well as for interaction with local communities.

Flies, humans, and yeast: bizarre love triangle

Scientists have officially demonstrated that humans are not the only species attracted to that bready, malty, sometimes-fruity-sometimes-flowery smell of beer, and more crucially, not the only species to incorporate beer as a finished product into its reproduction strategy.

The project was seeded about 15 years ago, when a messy graduate student returned to lab after neglecting his experiments for a weekend to find that escaped fruit flies from a neighboring lab had invaded a flask accidentally left on a counter that contained a wild yeast culture, but ignored a different flask that contained an altered yeast strain.  Years later, these same Belgian researchers have discovered the molecular mechanisms underlying the fruit flies’ flask preference.  These mechanisms create an aroma-based communication and mutualistic symbiosis between the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the brewer’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiaeThe work involved four main experiments, using a combination of molecular, behavioral, and neurobiological techniques.

The scientists’ first step was to manipulate the yeast genes to create different types of yeast for comparison in the planned experiments.  It is commonly known that yeast is responsible for many of the aromas and flavors of beer through its production of acetate esters such as ethyl acetate (pear), isoamyl acetate (banana), and phenylethyl acetate (flowery).  These acetate esters are formed in a reaction that is catalyzed chiefly by an enzyme called ATF1Using genetic engineering techniques, the Belgians were able to create yeast “mutants” that lacked the ATF1 gene, rendering them unable to produce those acetate esters with such “fragrant” fly-enticing aromas.

The next step applied behavioral techniques to detect a preference in the fruit flies for either the un-modified yeast (“wild-type”) or the yeast lacking ATF1 (“mutant”).  The scientists set up a computer-controlled chamber wherein aromas from different yeast fermentations could be released from opposing corners.  The flies remained randomly dispersed in the chamber while odorless air was released, but once airflow contained aromas from fermentations, they significantly preferred the chamber quadrant with the “fragrant” wild-type aroma (with acetate esters) over the quadrant with “bland” mutant aroma (without acetate esters).

To probe the neuronal mechanisms underlying this behavioral preference, the researchers used calcium imaging in the antennal (olfactory) lobe of live flies.  When they compared neural activity in response to mutant yeast compared to wild-type, they found that the response of projection neurons – which receive input directly from olfactory (smell) sensory neurons – was clearly altered.  The fly brains thus represented the “bland” mutant aroma differently from the “fragrant” wild-type aroma.

While it was clear to the scientists that the yeast provided the flies’ meals, they pondered the advantage for the yeast in employing such scent-related strategies to attract the flies.  Using fluorescent labeling techniques, they demonstrated that “fragrant” wild-type yeast strains were 4 times more likely to be dispersed by a fruit fly than their “bland” mutant peers.  Dispersion provides clear evolutionary advantages because it can make yeast more viable and more likely to reproduce.  In this way, wild-type yeast benefits from being more attractive to flies.

Thus, these Belgian scientists showed that acetate esters produced by yeasts change neural activity in fruit flies, which increases the flies’ attraction to the yeast, and thus increases the potential for advantageous dispersion of the yeast.

Humans demonstrate similar attraction to the aroma of beer in addition to altered neural activity when consuming it, and indeed may use it (perhaps less directly) in the reproduction process.  What’s in it for the yeast?  The answer may be the same: increased reproduction, in the form of purposeful cultivation.  The yeast that is the most successful at creating aromas and flavors that are attractive to humans is the yeast that is isolated and cultivated for future use.

Source: Verstrepen KJ, Yaksi E, Hassan BA, Wenseleers T, Michiels J, Meester LD, Cools TL, Franco LM, and Chstiaens JF. The Fungal Aroma Gene ATF1 Promotes Dispersal of Yeast Cells through Insect Vectors. Cell Reports. 2014.