Friday, April 10, 2009

Ramblings That Aren't So Random

As you can tell, it's been a pretty random week at Casa de MBR. Pretty darn random.

Joe Walts and his Republic Brewpub Blog points out something that's been bugging me for a while. It's fairly well-documented that my science knowledge is slim to none. Unfortunately that extends to the brewing universe as well. Like most science, I know the rule (soak grain at 150 -170 degrees to get the wort), but don't really understand the underlying science behind it. The bigger problem is what I call "The Professional Problem" - professionals in any industry do their job so often and so well and they cavort with other professionals in their industry so much that they either don't realize or completely forget that the rest of us have no idea what the heck they're talking about. Lawyers and Doctors are really bad at this. So are Brewers. But, what's really cute is that most Brewers I've met are super-self-conscious about it. Unfortunately, to the extent that they simply leave out a lot of key information assuming either that we don't know, don't care, would be really bored, or some combination of the three. It complicates things that beer is cool, science is not. Frankly, I think they underestimate science.

Anyway. I'll let Joe explain the really interesting thing:
It's become conventional wisdom in the U.S. that brewers should decrease the wateriness of session beers by mashing (mixing the grain and water) at higher temperatures. Doing so increases the ratio of unfermentable sugars to fermentable sugars, which results in higher final gravities ...
This explains my problem with so many craft low-alcohol session beers like Pale Ales and Pilsners and other session beers. In general terms, "final gravity" refers to the amount of unfermented sugars in the beer (as opposed to "original gravity" which refers to the amount of unfermented sugars in the wort before fermentation; note two: yes, I said "unfermented" not "unfermentable" - the sugar remaining in the "final" gravity is unfermented, it's possible, even probable, that it is unfermentable). Sugar is sweet. Have you have had super-sugary water? It's sweet and viscous. Like a lot of low-alcohol beer.

Speaking of super-sweet low-alcohol beers, want to bet Leinenkugel's "craft" never includes a Belgian Wit? I'll bet you a gazillion dollars. Sometimes it takes an explicit reminder that MillerCoors, parent of Leinenkugel's, also owns Blue Moon. As Andy Crouch points out, Blue Moon's been getting some of Miller's increased marketing dollars, too. Funny, I thought it was strange that the Leinie's rep I met the other day was talking about Blue Moon, but I didn't really put two-and-two together.

The same Leinie's rep said "If you think about it, all beer is craft beer." Which is patently absurd. Unless you mean "craft" as in "crafted" or strictly in the sense that something was "produced" - but this is an extreme bastardization of what we usually mean when we say something is "craft". Is Velveeta "craft cheese"? Of course not. (It's Kraft cheese! HA!) No, we generally think of "craft" as implying some quantum of artistic expression. In some general sense, the romantic notion of a brewer being inspired to create a beer that meets his tastes (or her tastes). Not, some lab sensor that analyzes beer style specifications and scientifically calculates a formula to derive a recipe that will result in a flavor profile that exactly matches what someone else thinks is an average for a given style. A practice that Leinie's freely admits is the crux of their very existence. They make a Russian Imperial Stout because they think consumers will see them as a craft brewery if they do. They make a "Classic Amber" that is only "classic" in the sense that it squarely replicates exactly what the BJCP suggests is the "middle" of the amber lager pack. And, it's why Leinie's will never be anything more than middle of the pack.

Finally, speaking of "crafting" food. Cool Hunting pointed me to a "craft food" website called Foodzie that is super-cool. Described an Etsy for food, there are two Wisconsin craft food-eries (Madison's Potter's Crackers and Tootski's Toffee). You can search the site by category or location which makes it easy to find "craft" food near you. Although, I guess under Leinie's definition, even Kraft would be "craft".


  1. I always thought Leine's Sunset Wheat was meant to be their version of Blue Moon.

    Potter's crackers are awesome.

  2. I think Sunset Wheat is sort of like a wit, but it's brewed (or constructed?) in a totally different way. It's a lager for one thing, brewed with the same base recipe as honey weiss, then pasteurized, and then a flavor syrup is added. Blue Moon, as far as i know, actually uses coriander and orange peel as opposed to a syrup. Leinie's uses a similar method for Berry Weiss and Summer Shandy.
    I personally hate the Leinie's syrup beers, but I actually thought the classic amber was alright. Defining craft beer as artistry is a tough criteria, and highly subjective. Some very good brewers (especially brew pub brewers and home brewers) make beers that seem to be brewed by going right down the BJCP guidelines either because of a lack of creativity ("well, we want an amber lager of tap, so we'll brew whatever an amber lager is supposed to be") or in an attempt to win contests (because adherence to guidelines is how such contests are judged). If such beers are well made, with high quality ingredients and attention to detail, are they not craft beers?