Posted by: jyorgey | April 14, 2009

Beer experiments, continued…

Brewing beer for export to US.  Photo by Walter Sanders, August 1947

Brewing beer for export to US. Photo by Walter Sanders, August 1947.

The rest of the beers in our mixed case are ales, that is, they are fermented with ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) at room temperature (70°F) for 2-7 days and then allowed to mature for a period of several more days before bottling.  As opposed to lager yeast, this type of yeast rises to the top of the fermenting beer and forms a foam that is skimmed off several times during the fermentation process.  This process is often known as “top” fermentation, as opposed to “bottom” fermentation for brewing a lager.  Historically, ale was the most important alcoholic beverage throughout Northern Europe from the fall of Rome until the mid-19th century.  With the rise in popularity of lager across much of the continent, only England and Belgium continue to mass-produce ale in the original way.

Pale ale is brewed from malted barley that has been kilned (baked dry) in such a way that the barley retains its light color, as opposed to brown ales, which contain malt that smoked or browned during its kilning.  There are many distinct regional pale ales, two of which are represented in our mixed case.  One of the main differences between these two styles of pale ale is the amount and kind of hops added during the brewing process.  Hops, the female flowers of the Humulus lupulus vine, are an essential flavoring ingredient added to all beers in greater or lesser amounts.  The resins and oils found in the hops contribute bitterness and aroma to beer that may otherwise be unpalatably sweet or have an unpleasing aroma.  According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, the hops also help prevent the growth of bacteria in the beer and slowed the rate of spoilage in the days before pasturization.

Common Hops, 19th century engraving (Source:LIFE Photo Collection Picture Archive)

Common Hop, 19th century engraving

The India Pale Ale, or IPA, was originally a well-hopped English ale known as October beer that was intended to cellar for two years before consumption.    It became popular among East India Company traders in the late 18th century because of its ability to hold up well on the long voyage from England to India, thus gaining its new name.  It even perhaps benefited from the weather conditions of the four-month voyage, maturing more quickly than in a cellar and arriving in India in prime condition, according to Zythophile.  This style of beer became popular in England around 1840 with American varieties appearing before 1900.

Most modern American IPAs are brewed with citric American hop varieties, such as Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, or Columbus.  Usually, hops are added two or three times to the boiling wort (mashed malted barley in water).  Dogfish Head brewery, however, has developed a machine that adds hops continually to the boiling wort, giving the resulting beer an unmatched intensity of hop aroma and bitterness.  The 60-Minute designation refers to the length of time that the wort is boiled with the hops.  The brewery also makes 75-Minute, 90-Minute, and 120-Minute IPA varieties (for the stout of heart!), but the 60-Minute IPA is their most popular brew.  This beer pairs well with strongly flavored foods such as pizza, pesto, sharp cheddar, or other spicy dishes.

Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA (Lewes, DE) — 6.0% ABV; style = American IPA

Belgian Pale Ales, on the other hand, are traditionally much less bitter than most other regional varieties because of their use of aged hops.  According to Beer Advocate, they were developed during the 1940s to compete with Pilsners, a pale lager with prominent hop character originally developed in Pilsen, Czech Republic, and popular in Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium.  Today such pale ales dominate the Belgian brewing scene.  These beers pair well with Thai food and tangy cheeses or salads.

Abbaye de Leffe Blonde
Abbaye de Leffe Blonde

Leffe Blonde (Dinant, Belgium) — 6.6% ABV; style = Belgian Pale Ale

Although the Abbaye de Leffe brewery claims association with the Belgian tradition of brewing by Trappist monks, it is an Abbey beer in name only.  To qualify as a true Trappist beer, the entire production process must be carried out by, or supervised by, Trappist monks on the site of the monastery.  Only a handful of breweries in Belgium currently meet these standards.  Of these, only two still produce the “Holy Trinity” of traditional brews—the Enkel, Dubbel and Tripel.  According to Wikipedia, the Dubbel is a rich brown ale that was originally developed in the mid-19th century at the Trappist monastery in Westmalle.  Today many commercial brewers in Belgium and the US make similar strong ales, such as this variety from the nearby Flying Fish brewery.  Flying Fish claims that their Dubbel is “more like a wine than a beer… [with] a lot of the qualities of a fine Burgundy.”  It’s full body, slight alcohol warmth, and complex flavors pair well with rich foods such as beef, sausage, buttery or pungent cheeses, and chocolate.

Flying Fish Belgian Style Dubbel (Cherry Hill, NJ) — 7.3% ABV; style = Dubbel

Two more beers in our mixed case are marketed as Belgian-style winter ales.  Winter ales are generally distinguished by a higher alcohol content and the presence of spice flavors or aromas, and can be either pale or dark brews.  The Flying Fish Winter Ale exhibits “an undercurrent of fruitiness and clove,” even though no fruit or spice was added to the beer.  The flavors result from natural compounds in the malt and hops that are released during fermentation at a relatively higher temperature than for other ales, according to the brewery.  The River Horse version boasts the highest alcohol content of any in our case in their dark amber brew.  Like the Dubbel, these beers are often paired with hearty or rich foods, such as winter stews or smoked meats or cheeses.  However, they are also often enjoyed alone as a before-dinner apéritif or after-dinner digestive.

Flying Fish Belgian Grand Cru Golden Winter Ale (Cherry Hill, NJ) — 7.2% ABV; style = Belgian Strong Pale Ale

River Horse “Belgian Freeze” Belgian Style Winter Ale (Lambertville, NJ) — 8.0% ABV; style = Belgian Dark Ale

The final beer in our mixed case is produced right here in Philadelphia, PA, but is styled after another traditional Belgian brew.  This variety, known as Saison, originated in Wallonia—the French-speaking region of Belgium—as a refreshing and easily drinkable beer brewed in the late fall and winter for consumption by field hands during the summer.  Originally they had an alcohol content of as little as 3%, so as not to impair the work of the farmers, but most modern varieties range from 5-8%.  Most are moderately tart and dry with lots of spice or fruit flavor.  This beer pair well with Thai cuisine and lighter dishes such as seafood, poultry, earthy or nutty cheeses, and salads.

Rowhouse Red Philadelphia Style Ale (Philadelphia, PA) — 5.0% ABV; style = Saison/Farmhouse Ale

So, that’s it!  I hope that you learned something interesting about beer in these two posts, because I certainly did by writing them.  I’ll report back soon with our reviews and recommendations.  Cheers!

An English woman harvests hops, late 19th-century photograph

An English woman harvests hops, late 19th-century photograph

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