Dave Hoops column: Blending beer can be artistic and technical, or flavorful and fun
I've enjoyed blending beer my entire career. The art of brewing beer is all about the creations of flavors and sensory experiences that make the beer worth drinking. News Tribune reporter Christa Lawler recently said she was reminiscing about summer days when her crew's drink was Leinie's Honey Weiss and Berry Weiss served over ice. That combination sounds great and has been done with great success in Germany for generations.
Blending of beers and mixing beer styles is a common tool in the brewing industry. Taste is really the crux of beer blending. The options created and possible combinations are limitless.
There are many artistic and technical applications to blending beers. Belgian brewers are probably the most well-known blenders for their famous Lambic beers. These are combinations of young beer — under 1 year old and aged beer — generally 3-plus years old. The Lambics are produced with and without the addition of fruits such as cherries and raspberries. They're some of the most sought-after beers in the world and are hallmark examples of the artisanal craft of blending beer.
One of the most fun things brewers get to do is blending the beer we age in barrels. All the barrel-aged beer I make is tasted and sampled to track the flavor progress. As it reaches maturity, barrels are blended according to the flavor profile desired. Often, six or more barrels are combined in various parentages. Barrel tasting and blending is another truly artistic application to brewing. I love the process, and with more than 25 years of practice, I am still learning.
There are technical aspects to blending as well. Breweries large and small blend batches of the same beer to bring the beer into "spec," as we say in the industry, making sure the beer is consistent, batch to batch, for the consumer. Beers are also blended to add flavors or character that were lacking out of the fermenter. Blending young beer with mature beer can help to wake up a beer that is near the end of its run. Sometimes we make a high-alcohol beer style and blend it with a lower-alcohol version to make a totally new beer.
Here are some cool blends I've tried over the years.
• Cream ales. The traditional definition of a cream ale is a blend of a light ale and a light lager. The results are delicious.
• Fruit beers. Popular and refreshing. A recent favorite was peach and pear juice in a wheat beer.
• Pepper beers. A lifetime favorite of mine, and adding fruit into the chili beers is wonderful.
• Dark beers with chocolate or coffee. Try this — you'll be amazed how easy it is to make a chocolate milkshake stout.
• Ipa and wheat beer. Maybe a weird idea, but fun and surprisingly tasty.
I already mentioned the German brewers. They invented the shandy. Many of you have probably heard of this one; it's a mix of light lager and grapefruit juice, lemonade, or orange juice. This is a great breakfast drink, an alternative to a mimosa. Shandies are refreshing and usually low in alcohol.
For those of you who want to try this at home, the sky is the limit! But for a start, lighter beers work well with fruits and vegetables. Try carrot juice with a light lager and a hit of soda. For darker options, stout mixed with cold press coffee is a popular one right now. Strawberry soda added to malty brown ale can produce a great dessert beverage.
Have fun and feel free to email me your combinations and ideas. I would love to read about them.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.