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:

Founders
Bells
Avery
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.

Cheers,
The Hopostles

Cellaring

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:
Stout
Porter
Barleywine
Sours (including Flanders, Lambic, etc.)
Belgian
Trappist
Strong ale
Almost any beer with an ABV of 10% or higher
Barrel-Aged beers

Beers NOT to cellar:
IPA
Pale Ale
Lager
Pilsner
Hefeweizen
DIPA
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.

BEEResponsible,
the Hopostles

Fruit beers: innovation or abomination?

fruit beer

The 4 main ingredients required to make beer are grain, yeast, hops and water. On that, we can all agree. But what is acceptable to add to this simple recipe depends entirely on who you ask.

To the purists, less is more. To everyone else, well…variety is the spice of life.

Brewers have responded to their consumers emphatically, and continue to push the boundaries of their craft. Take a stroll down the beer aisle and you’ll find everything from peanut butter porters to ghost chile ales and just about anything in between.

Fruit beers make up a significant portion of these flavor variations, and in a recent article from the Denver Post, brewers were asked about fruit’s place in the craft beer market.

So what about you? How do you feel about fruit beers? Innovation or abomination?

You’re among friends here, and we’d love to hear your thoughts…

Beer glassware defined

When dining at your standard chain restaurant, you’ll notice beer typically comes in one of 2 glasses: a 16 oz. pint glass or a 22 oz. Weissbier vase, neither of which have any real shape or form. But then again, the types of beer being served at these establishments rarely warrant special glassware to enhance the experience. Sure, you might run into the occasional Leinenkugel’s or Goose Island mass-produced variation, but you won’t get as full of a flavor out of those as you might wish. Don’t mistake us, though, we’re not beer snobs. We both enjoy the occasional macro, especially when it comes with a monster burger and a ton a fries. We just know that there’s so much more to a beer than what your eyes see. It’s not a drink; it’s an experience.

That being said, let’s talk about proper glassware. Glassware is almost as important as the beer that’s being poured into it. For the craft beer lovers out there, including us, there’s nothing more important than getting the most out of the flavors the brew-master carefully chose to include in the beer.  It’s kind of like golfing without proper golf shoes on…yes, you’re getting the experience of the sport, but once you put those spikes on, the experience is taken up a notch. This month, we want to look at some of the beer glassware options out there that will help take your next beer experience up a notch.  Give a few a try and tell us what you think…

Shaker Pint
Shaker pint
 –
The most basic style of glassware. No real additions to enhance flavor or aroma. This is the typical 16 oz. glass you get at restaurants.


bavarian seidel
Bavarian seidel
– Also known as the Beer stein. These are very popular in Germany, especially in the fall during Oktoberfest. Great glassware for beers such as Pilsners, Oktoberfests, or Marzens.

english tulip pint
English tulip pint
– Also known as the Guinness glass. Great glass to use for Irish Stouts.


nonic pint
Nonic(k) pint
– These are used typically for English beers. The bump in the glass is used to prevent chipping on the rim. There is also a popular opinion that the bump was  created as a good “standing” beer since the English enjoy meandering around the local pubs.

Snifter
Snifter
– Although this glass style is typically used for a whiskey or cognac, it is also the perfect choice for complex beers, such as Barleywines and Imperial Stouts. The wider base keeps the complex flavors in, while the narrow rim holds the head nicely. Be sure to fill these up about ¾ of the way to allow those complex flavors to escape nicely.

tulip
Tulip – This is one of the fancier styles of glassware on the market. The side profile of this glass has a distinct tulip or hourglass shape, which help hold the aromas in. Strong Ales and Imperial beers, such as porters, reds, and IPA’s, are typically poured in these.

 

tapered pilsner
Tapered pilsner – The tapered profile is used to show off the colors and carbonation of the beer. These are great for lighter beers such as wheats, lagers, and pilsners. We also think saisons/farmhouse beers are great in these as well, since many of them are very light and bubbly.

weissbier vase
Weissbier vase – The name of this glass implies what beer should go in these; wheat beers. Although this is the other common glass type served at restaurants, the narrow bottom and larger top help release some of the beautiful, simplistic aromas that a good wheat can produce. The larger opening at the top also helps with head retention.


bolleke goblet
Bolleke goblet
– This style is very popular in the Trappist communities. Typically, Belgian strong ales, Belgian dubbels, and Belgian tripels are served in this glass. The wide opening, as well as occasional scoring at the top of the glass, helps with head retention and allows the drinker to take deep sips at a time.

teku
Teku – This is one of our favorite glassware styles. This is considered the mother of all glassware since it incorporates many of the various styles all at once. The wider bottom helps hold in those flavors while the narrow opening brings those aromas right to the nostrils and also helps hold the head in. Although many styles can go in here, IPA’s, sours, or beers that carry a punch in the nose, are typically served in this unique glass. Be warned, though: these beers can get a bit top-heavy when filled completely. Its function is to have the beer filled just about halfway or less to allow those aromas to breathe and escape right up through the opening.


coconut shell
Coconut shell
– Nature’s goblet, and an ideal option should you find yourself stranded on a deserted island, talking to a volleyball. We found it to be particularly satisfying when we used one to sample a delicious coconut rum barrel stout. (In case you missed the video review, click here to check it out.)

Hops defined

Hops(image/hopsdirect)

If you’re like us, no matter what convenience store or local grocery chain you find yourself in, you’re always in search of the beer fridge. And thanks to a booming industry, there’s no shortage of options. IPA’s and Pale Ales continue to inundate the craft beer scene, due in part to the bounty of hop varieties available to make these beers with. Change the hop in the beer, and you alter the taste completely. But what exactly is a hop?

The hop is a flower of the Humulus lupulus hop plant. It is a key ingredient in the beer making process, especially in IPA’s and Pale Ales. There are literally hundreds of variations of hops, each giving off different character notes in the beer, such as citrus, zest, peat, earth, herbal, pine, etc., and most have a distinct bittering agent to them that many people love. Sure, some folks take a little longer to warm up to the taste of hoppy beers, but if you’re on the road long enough, you’ll eventually find that hops, more than any other beer ingredient, are truly what drive the locomotive.

Hops-whiteThis “hoppy” factor we speak of is actually measured by the brewer in the form of IBU’s. The IBU scale measures the amount of a particular acid found in hops that gives beer its bitterness. The higher the IBU, the hoppier the beer.

Believe it or not, hops have also been used for medicinal purposes. Maybe that’s why we love them so much. I mean come on…to drink IPA’s knowing you’re doing something good for your body? Maybe the old adage needs to be changed to, “A hop a day keeps the doctor away.”


Here are our top 5 favorite hop varieties (in no particular order):


M
osaic – The king of hops in our opinion. Heavy notes of citrus, such as grapefruit and tangerine, with great bitterness. Our go-to hop, especially on those hot days.

G
alaxy – A hop similar to Mosaic, with strong citrus notes, although it doesn’t pack  as much of a punch.Citra – The name implies the character of this hop: citrus. Notes of lemon, orange, and grapefruit are most prominent. An interesting fact – the Citra hop is a variety funded by Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, and Widmer Brothers, which are all very successful domestic craft breweries.

Centennial – This popular hop has a nice, strong citrus aroma, but is much softer on the palate compared to some other citrus hop varieties. Beers with these hops are very drinkable.

Simcoe – Unlike the rest of our favorite hops, this one has a very earthy, herbal character to it. Many wet-hopped beers are brewed with Simcoe. When done fresh, this hop can completely change the way you think about IPA’s. Heavy notes of earthy pine flood your palate and also pack a strong bitter punch.

Beer style defined: Shandy

Shandy(image/asianfoodnetwork)

Shandy – What can we say about a shandy? Everything. Yes, they might be low in ABV and super fruity, but man are they delicious in the summer! With their ABV’s ranging from 3-7%, there are numerous reasons to love these. These summer wonders are crisp, nicely carbonated, and packed with grapefruit or lemon. You can call it anything you want, but we call it delicious. So if you love the taste of grapefruit, these will rapidly become your new summer addiction.

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Beer style defined: Cider

cider(image/bostinno)

Cider – Another craze on the market, ciders are typically a lower ABV drink using fermented apple juice as the main ingredient. Although ciders can be really sweet at times, most ciders are more on the semi-sweet side. The sugar addition to the fermentation process is where the alcohol comes from. Most ciders range from 2%-7% ABV, making these very drinkable. Think of them as a glorified, carbonated, semi-sweet apple juice.

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Beer style defined: Mead

mead(image/sweetjames)

Mead – Although not a beer, this has been the latest craze on the market, despite being one of the oldest traditions in brewing. Meads, also known as honey wine, are alcoholic beverages that are brewed using honey and water as the main ingredients. Meads can also include various fruits, spices, or grains to incorporate distinct flavor combinations. They are very sweet and sometimes slightly carbonated.

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