Beer History: Trappist

trappistIn today’s craft beer market, trappist beer is still considered to be one of the greatest and most sought-after styles. Yes, IPA’s are flooding the market and hop growers are at an all-time high in production, but you can get an IPA pretty much anywhere nowadays. Trappist beers? Not so much, hence why they are still so sought after. But what makes them so good and how did they start?

True trappist beers are produced in monasteries by Trappist monks. Before they became Trappist monks, they were called Cistercian monks. Cistercian monks had to abide by a very strict law that basically said that the monastery had to be completely self-sufficient and that everything they did had to done by their own hands. Nothing was to be bought. Everything was to be grown and used up. Any additional materials left over were to be donated. These monks started off making various styles of cheeses, jams, and breads. They were looking for a way to increase funds to help with the growth of the monastery and decided to brew beer. Why? Because it was easy to make and they had what they needed to brew it. The rest is history.

monkMost trappist breweries are found in the monasteries of Belgium. There are a few other places that brew trappist beer, but the true ones come from over the pond. What make them so sought after is that many of these monasteries don’t export their beer. They actually keep it within the region they brew them in.

Some of the major names in the trappist industry are Chimay, La Trappe, St. Bernardus, Rochefort, Orval, and Westvleteren. You can find all but Westvleteren at pretty much any grocery store or bottle shop today. Westvleteren is much harder to get a hold of. Although there are a few websites that actually sell Westy, you need much deeper pockets to get yourself a few. Not only are the beers more expensive, but the shipping is usually high as well. A few years back, voted Westvleteren 12 the best beer in the world. When this came out, the roads were jammed to the monastery in the hopes to get a hold of a bottle of it.

If you’re looking for a change of pace in the beer market, look nowhere else. Trappist beer has an abundance of notes, ranging from fig to raisin to banana. Some are lightly carbonated, while others come off as more of a champagne (Orval especially). They are definitely unique and worth trying. One taste and you will understand as to why they are so popular in the craft world.

Until next time….

The Hopostles

Beer History: Pale Ale

snow-restaurant-mountains-sky.jpgPale Ales are considered to be the old timers in the craft beer industry. They were one of the very first styles created outside of standard lagers and ales. The history of pale ales reaches back some 300 years ago in England, but since there is so much history of the pale ale style, we will only touch on a few key points about it.

Back in the 1800’s, stouts and porters ruled the area since pale malts were expensive. Brewers in Burton-on-Trent, England were looking for a way to produce a more consistent, pale beer.  They created it using coke, which was a process where coal burned at a hot and steady temp, giving them a clearer, paler beer. Once malts started decreasing in price, pale ales started permeating the market, which eventually started pushing stouts and porters out of popularity.

SN Pale AleThe type of water seemed to be the area in brewing where brewers devoted most of their time. Since Burton’s water was considered the “flagship,” many brewers tried to duplicate the water type since it created such a clean flavor.  Pale ales were also called “bitter” to help differentiate between the sweeter or milder ales of those times.  It wasn’t until 1980 that Sierra Nevada out of Chico, CA crafted the first pale ale in America. With the use of American malts, this beer had a much crisper, hoppier flavor than that of the English pale ales.

If you’ve ever done a side by side comparison between an American Pale Ale and an English Pale Ale, you will notice a stark contrast in flavor and smoothness. English pale malts are more robust, which give their beer a smoother flavor, whereas American malts give off more of a crisp character. The hops also play a vital role in pale ales. English hops are earthier, while American hops usually give off more of a piney or citrus character. One really doesn’t have to be a beer connoisseur to notice the difference between the 2 styles.

We are definitely grateful for those men who took the time to craft what has become one of the best styles out there. Without the pale ale, where would IPA’s be today? Next time you are at the grocery store, pay your homage to the style by grabbing some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s still up there with the best of them, 38 years later….

the Hopostles

Beer History: Barleywine

barleywineThe term “barley wine” came about some 300 years ago when brewers would age ales in casks for an extended time. They used this term since they used similar processes in wine making, but instead of using fruit, they would use barley. Then, they would get together with wine drinkers and compare the strength and quality between the two. The brewers would normally bring them out once a year, or for special occasions to show off their skills in beer making. Since there weren’t many different styles of beer back then, most barley wines would be just stronger versions of a pale ale with bitters, often leading to them being referred to as old ales or strong ales. Most barley wines originally had ranges of between 8-12% ABV, depending on a few criteria.

Bass Barley WineBass was the first brewery to commercially launch a barley wine in 1903, entitled Bass No. 1 Barley Wine. Many breweries followed suit, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the first American brewery, Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, launched one of their own.  It was called Old Foghorn, and it was released for mass production.  But because they didn’t want to turn people off by thinking they were making beer into a wine, Anchor Brewing removed the space between “Barley” and “wine,” thereby combining the 2 words together for label approval purposes. Sierra Nevada’s “Bigfoot” soon followed afterwards, but was (and still is) a much more hop-forward version of a barley wine.

The history of this style reminds us of what many breweries do today when they barrel-age beers. Could this have been the start of BA beer making? We’re not sure, but learning about this style sure makes one wonder. Barley wines are not as popular as many other styles in the industry today, but are still considered to be the leaders in complexity and high gravity. So if you’re looking for a smooth, complex, high ABV beer as a nightcap, there’s a barleywine out there waiting for you…

The Hopostles

Beer History: Stout

StoutStout, known as the porter’s big brother, was brought on to the beer scene in the late 1700’s by none other than Arthur Guinness himself. Porters appeared around the 1720’s, and after several decades, stronger beer was in pursuit. The word “stout” simply meant “strong,” so when Arthur came out with a stronger beer, it was simply known as a “stout porter.”  Eventually, around 1820 or so, it was shortened to just “stout.” Before the invention of the black patent malt in 1817, stouts were never dark in color. Most porters and stouts were more of a brown or amber color since they only had brown malt additions.

GuinnessThere were 3 types of stouts that were popular back in the 1800’s: Dry, Foreign, and Imperial.  In the beginning of the 20th century, Oatmeal and Sweet, or milk, stouts began hitting the market with the addition of lactose sugars and malted oats. Stouts began to die off shortly after World War 1 with only a few places left around the UK that continued to brew them. Somewhere between the 1950’s and 1970’s, porters were considered an old man’s drink and pretty much died out completely, whereas stouts still remained in the market, albeit mainly in the UK. Most “true” stouts today measure somewhere in between 5-7% ABV, but many breweries go above and beyond that mark. That’s why we see so many Russian Imperials, BA Stouts, etc. spiking in the 13-17% ABV ranges.

If you’re looking for a good, true stout to enjoy, look to none other than the creators. Of all the stouts we’ve had, there is always one that we continue to come back to and that is Guinness, especially on draft or out of the can. So the next time you grab yourself a pint, have it in honor of Arthur.

Beer History: Porter

porterPorters date back to early 18th century England, when a London brewer named Ralph Hardwood blended 3 different beers together: an ale, a beer, and a strong beer, which were known as the “Three threads.”  And so, the porter was born.  Due to the length of time it took to age porters, they were among the first styles of beer to be made by breweries, instead of being created in the bars. The name “porter” was derived from the porters who carried goods around the cities, since they favored this style of beer.

The invention of the malt roaster in 1817 created what was to become the porters of today. This roaster allowed the malts to essentially blacken, giving way to porter’s darker, more roasty finish. Guinness started brewing porters back in 1776, and after almost a century, became the largest brewery in the world. Their last production of porters was in 1974, when they transitioned to nothing but stout production.

British-FlagThe porter made its debut in America in the late 1700’s by way of the British. Porters remained one of the prominent styles of beer here until WW1, when they virtually disappeared. It wasn’t until 1972 that a brewery from San Francisco revived the porter style again. Anchor Brewing became the first American craft brewery to produce a porter after Prohibition. Many craft breweries followed suit, and today, there are literally thousands of different styles of porters around the world, giving off a vast array of notes. Although they might not be as popular as some other styles, they are an easy style to drink, no matter what time of year.

So next time you pour yourself a porter, thank Ralph for going out on a limb. Without his creativity and ambition, we likely wouldn’t be enjoying this delicious brew today.

Beer history: Saison

wheat1Saison is a French term which means “season” and originated in the southern part of Belgium. Saison beers were first being made back in the 1700’s and were strictly made for farmers. After the farming season ended, the remaining grain from the fields was oftentimes used to produce beer in the farmhouse. The farmers would also use quite a bit of hops to keep the beer from spoiling, as well as many types of herbs and spices. Since farmers would essentially use whatever ingredients they had on their farm, the style was very different from one farmer to the next.  They would also brew these in the colder months to allow the beer to mature.

Saisons were very low on the ABV scale (usually around 3.5-4%). This would give the farmers a crisp, refreshing beer during the hot summer months without getting them drunk. After time, saisons became so popular that farmers actually started using their farmhouses as small brew houses. Soon, farmers would work together and combine various herbs and spices to create some unique concoctions, and with the addition of beet sugars or cane sugar, these saisons started to spike near the 8% ABV mark.

saison beer

Saisons started to drop off the grid in the mid 19th century. Pale lagers flooded the marked and pushed this style off to the side, culminating in the death of the saison-style shortly after the 2nd World War. Some small brew houses continued brewing saisons, but the comeback was very slow. With today’s technology and America’s push for more unique craft beer, saison beers are once again prominent in the beer market.  It continues to be one of the more complex and popular styles of beer available.

Cask Ales

caskIn this month’s 101, we will be explaining a term that might not be heard very often, and that’s for a good reason. Unless you live in the UK or one of just a few places in the United States, cask ales will not be on your radar. Let’s break down this month’s 101 and educate you a little on what Cask Ales are all about…

Cask Ales, also referred to as Real Ales, are beers that are, most of the time, unpasteurized and unfiltered beers that use casks instead of kegs. They are served at warmer temperatures and have very little carbonation. Main tasting notes, depending on style, are bread, malt, and yeast. The main difference between Cask Ales and Real Ales is that Real ales are considered to be the most natural form of beer: unfiltered, unpasteurized, in a cask with the active yeast still sitting at the bottom continually acting on the beer until the cask is empty. Cask ales aren’t always like that. Sometimes brewers add an ingredient to the beer, called finings, to activate yeast at the bottom as soon as possible, then transfer the beer into a secondary cask to ensure it won’t be sitting on the active yeast.

cask2History tells us that when beer was brewed hundreds of years ago, it was done in a cask (which by definition means “container”). These casks were made of wood, which gave the beer a very short shelf life. Casks were replaced in the mid-20th century by stainless kegs because steel was easier to clean and gave the beer a longer shelf life. Wooden casks also had a greater chance to contaminate the beer. Today, wooden casks are being replaced by more traditional materials, like steel and plastic. Although they use different materials today, cask ales still have a very short shelf life. When a beer is tapped, it is not sealed like traditional kegs are. Oxygen does enter the cask and the life of the beer is drastically shortened to about 3-5 days, which is why casks are smaller than a typical stainless keg. A full sized stainless keg holds about 15.5 gallons of beer where casks only hold 9 gallons, which is referred to as a “Firkin.”

Another major difference between draft kegs and cask ales is how they are dispensed. Traditional kegs typically use CO2 to dispense the beer into the glass by use of a tap handle. Casks use nature’s greatest scientific wonder:  gravity. They also use what they call a hand pump. Breweries essentially use gravity to “pump” the beer into a glass.

pubCask ales aren’t typically what we are on the hunt for. Fortunately, we are privileged to have an actual cask ale brewery only a few miles away from us. Although we aren’t huge fans of cask ales (being hop heads), the atmosphere of these breweries are what we love since we are large fans of the traditional English-style pubs. If you are fans of Brown or Red Ales, ESB’s, Porters, or draught Stouts, then we highly recommend looking out for Cask Ale breweries. If you’re a foodie like us as well, Cask Ale breweries are usually known for their pub-style comfort foods: heavy and delicious with loads of flavor.

Who knows what may happen in the future? Americans might get burned out on the constant “next big thing” and start going back to drinking traditional style beers. If that would be the case, Cask Ales might make a comeback. Until then, it will just continue to sit dormant, at least in the U.S., waiting for its moment to strike. Not sure it will be a problem continuing to be the prominent style in the UK; tradition seems to reign supreme over there.

Until next time, let’s raise a pint, cheers, and, of course, Beeresponsible.

The Hopostles

Barrel Aging

barrelWhen it comes to craft beer, brewers are always out to uncover the next great idea. It doesn’t take much online research to find out how they are bringing some of their wild ideas to life. One style, we believe, that will always be a staple in the craft industry is barrel-aged (BA) beer. In this 101, we’ll break down what barrel aging is and some of the styles of beer that are ideal for barrel aging.

Barrel aging beer is exactly what it sounds like. Whether you’re a home brewer or a craft brewer, you can take various styles of a base beer and place them in previously used liquor barrels. Some of the more popular barrels used are bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and as of recent, wine barrels.

When a distiller has emptied a barrel of liquor, a brewer may be able to purchase the barrel from them and use that barrel to age their beer in. The longer the base sits in the barrel, the more liquor character the beer will receive. Barrel aging beers really brings out the beauty in a beer by combining all of the flavors of the beer with the smoothness of the liquor. If you’ve ever consumed a base beer side by side with its barrel-aged version, you will likely agree that the BA version, most of the time, creates a smoother, more complex version of the original. BA beers are also higher in ABV (10%+), which makes them even more of a sipper. BA beers are the craft beer drinker’s version of a whiskey connoisseur’s nightcap in front of a blazing fire.

BA Beer

Although many brewers are barrel aging pretty much every style out there, there are a few styles that really stand out: stouts, porters, barleywines, strong ales, Belgian quads, and sometimes sours. We are adding sours to this, but that comes with a bit of explanation. Sours are great when barrel aged, but the BA sours that stand out are the ones that are fermented in oak barrels or wine barrels. The objective behind good sours are the tart and funk characters, and aging them in liquor usually weakens those characters. Aging them in oak barrels or wine barrels really keeps the funk in the style while adding a few additional character notes to it. Although it’s not usually a style we hunt down, we won’t say no to picking one up off the shelves from time to time.

barrelsBeers with fresh ingredients, such as Pale Ales, IPAs, and Wheat beers, are not good for barrel aging.  Especially in the case of IPA’s, fresh hops should truly be enjoyed fresh.  Letting those age, except in the case of a very high ABV IPA, will diminish the hoppiness and cheat you out of the full effect of their flavor.

Here is a list of some of the breweries that, we believe, have some of the best barrel aging programs in the biz:

Jackie O’s
Hoppin’ Frog
The Bruery

So the next time you are out on a beer run, be sure to give some BA beers a try. It won’t take long before you’re hooked. BA beers are a bit more expensive, but trust us, you won’t regret it. If you’re a stout, barleywine, or porter fan, then we highly suggest dropping a few extra bucks on a BA version. You’ll understand what the hype is all about.

The Hopostles


beer cellar

Cellaring, or storing, beer is one of the latest trends in the craft industry today. If you’re keeping up to date on the latest in the craft world, it won’t take long to notice 2 things that people dive on: cellared beer (especially if it’s 2+ years old) or ridiculously fresh beer.  But is cellared beer as good as it sounds? It depends. Let’s break it down in this month’s 101 to give you a clearer picture of what it means to cellar beer, as well as some proper techniques to abide by if you want to try it yourself…

Cellaring beer doesn’t require a whole lot of scientific knowledge, but there definitely is some chemistry involved in cellaring a beer properly.  Conditions mean everything, so here are a few key things to look out for:

lightLighting – In last month’s Beer 101 where we talked about bottles vs. cans, we mentioned that UV light can destroy a beer’s chemistry, giving the beer a skunky or stale taste. The same holds true for cellaring a beer. Bottled beers need to be stored in a dark place, away from all lighting as much as possible. Having darker glassed beer (i.e. brown) helps tremendously.

temperatureTemperature – Temperature is one of the key factors in cellaring. Depending on the style of beer you cellar, the ideal temperature is between 50 and 60° F. Stronger, heavier beers like BA stouts, porters, barleywines, or anything with double digit ABV’s should be stored at 50°-55°, and lighter beers like sours and Belgians should be between 55°-60° to let the organisms in that beer do its magic.

humidityHumidity – Although humidity isn’t as big of a key factor as temperature or light, it does have some significance, mostly for sealing properties. Many of the big beers that cellar well are corked. To keep a proper seal on them means the humidity levels need to be on the higher side. Higher humidity levels mean a stronger seal, due to the swelling of the cork. Low humidity levels can dry out the cork which might cause oxygen to leak in the bottle. Good humidity levels for cellaring are between 55-70%.

Beers to cellar:
Sours (including Flanders, Lambic, etc.)
Strong ale
Almost any beer with an ABV of 10% or higher
Barrel-Aged beers

Beers NOT to cellar:
Pale Ale
TIPA (If less than 12%, and even then, these are much better fresh)

Cellaring can be a great way to enhance a beer’s flavor if done
properly. We always enjoy doing a side by side between a fresh batch and
an aged batch to see what has changed in the beer. Do we cellar beer?
The answer might surprise you, given our love for beer.  We RARELY age a
beer for 2 reasons:

1.) We don’t have the patience
2.) We really don’t have the proper place to store it

I know Mike does hoard 1 style of beer for an entire year, which goes against everything we’ve talked about in this 101. Every year when Fat Heads Hop Juju (Imperial DIPA) comes out, he makes sure he has at least 24 of them in his fridge, rationing 2 bottles per month to make sure he never has to wait an entire year to have it again. So, a DIPA (big no-no in cellaring), in a fridge (which one should never age a beer in), for an entire year. Is he crazy? Not really, actually. Fat Heads created some magic in that beer. Although the flavor falls off just a bit, a year old Juju still tastes better than most fresh IPA’s around us.

So if you have the time and the patience to cellar a beer, it’s definitely worth it.  Some of the overpowering components can mellow a bit, while some of the other desirable qualities can be enhanced even more.  It can also be a great way to put some extra cash in your pocket if you can bear to part with them after cellaring them for a year or two. If you want to know which beers are good sellers, check out sites like My Beer Collectables or My Beer Cellar. This will give you a great head start.

Happy cellaring,
the Hopostles

Bottles vs. Cans

bottles vs cans
If you’re the typical macro beer drinker, we’re going to guess that most of the time, you don’t really care what your beer is served in. A wider mouth-opening, a sleeker design, or a new label might be all the excitement you’re hoping for.  But what about craft beer? Does it really make a difference?

The can vs. bottle debate has been going on for decades. So what’s better? When is it better to can, and when is it better to bottle? There are many contributing factors that come into play, so we’d like to shed some light on some of them:

1. UV light – Ultraviolet light, also known as UV lighting, is really bad for a beer’s compound structure. If beer is exposed to UV light for an extended amount of time, it can spoil. Cans prevent UV light from entering, helping the beer stay fresher, longer.

2. Storage – Cans are obviously easier to store and they take up less space. Stacking is made easier with cans, and beer-filled cans are actually lighter than bottles, making it more affordable for breweries to ship canned beers.

3. Outdoor use – For those that enjoy taking their brews to the beach, park, campground, etc. (that permits alcohol use), glass is, for the most part, prohibited while cans are not. Cans are also much better for the environment than bottles…not that we condone littering.

4. Temperature – If memory serves well from Chemistry class back in high school, remember that metals heat and cool faster than glass. With this in mind, there is a downside to aluminum cans. Although they chill faster, they also get warmer faster. Glass can hold in the coolness of a beer longer than a can. So if you’re the type who likes their beer colder for a longer time, we suggest pouring the canned beer into a glass, unless you’re outdoors–then you’re outta luck. Better drink quick!

beer bottle

5. Sealing capabilities – When beers are canned, they’re sealed with nitrogen, (bringing back more Chemistry) making it impossible for air to escape. Bottled beers, although sealed with a cap, may tend to leak depending on how strong the seal is between the cap and the bottle.  This is where the wax-sealed bottle comes from–it’s just about the only way to truly seal a bottle in order to prevent leakage.

6. Taste – We’ve all had those beers that give off a metallic taste or a bottled taste before. Normally, that has nothing to do with the beer itself. It’s been said that the taste you get is where your nose is at the time of drinking. Think about it. When you drink beer from a can, where is your nose? Cans tend to give beers a bit more punch than a bottled beer, most likely due to the nitrogen in the canning process. Again, to get the best taste from a beer, pour it into the proper glassware (see our previous Beer 101 post). That will give you the best experience.

So what’s our personal preference? Well, by nature, we’ll always sway toward the best experience possible in beer. To us, it depends on what style of beer we drink. As far as IPA’s, our best experiences have been in both bottle and cans, but cans tend to give IPA’s that extra oomph or crispness that we love. Not everything we drink should come in cans, though. Personally, we think it would be really strange to be drinking a rare, bourbon barrel aged stout in a can. KBS in a can? It sounds cheap. There’s something awesome about purchasing a bomber or a 750mL bottle of a BA stout. Would you rather buy a $300 bottle of wine in a box or a bottle? Appearance does count sometimes.

The debate will continue to go on as long as beer is being made. If you’re like us and want the best experience possible when drinking a beer, remember to think about style and glassware. Considering those two factors will make a world of difference.

the Hopostles