Dave Hoops column: How to taste, enjoy beer, Part II
The landscape of the brewing industry has changed and evolved very quickly in the last 10 years: new beers, new trends and a much more educated beer drinking patron.
Greetings, everyone. Several years ago, I wrote a column about care of beer and tasting and how craft beer is a bit different then mainstream beer. This is a Part II all these years later and post-COVID (sort of) as well. Also, changes in the beer scene have transpired.
The landscape of the brewing industry has changed and evolved very quickly in the last 10 years: new beers, new trends and a much more educated beer drinking patron. The future was very bright, then it was not.
Many brewers had to close due to mandates from their home states. For example, our beer hall was closed to the public for nearly nine months over a few state COVID closures during the last 2 1/2 years.
This unfortunate situation caused 25%-30% of the breweries in the U.S. to close permanently. In the Twin Ports, most of the breweries weathered the storm, typical northern behavior as up here we are all hardy folks.
So let’s talk about tasting beer and some of the exciting new styles we are enjoying.
The definition of craft beer is: a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanized way by a small brewery. In Duluth, we are blessed with the greatest brewing water in the world and a vibrant craft beer scene, which gives us a built in home-field advantage on turning out high-end craft beer.
Beer has four enemies of taste: light, air, heat, age. Each of these beer wreckers has different off-flavors the drinker will experience.
Beers exposed to excessive light will exhibit skunky notes. The best way to avoid this is buying beer in cans and not allowing your outside beer garden pint to get a lot of sun.
Beers exposed to air will exhibit oxidized flavors. Cardboard or papery notes. That means if you are buying growlers from local brewers, always seal the cap as tight as possible and make sure to drain the growler within two days.
Beers exposed to heat will exhibit staling notes. For every 10 degrees above 35 degrees beer is stored, the aging process is doubled. The beer will lose its crisp flavor and grainy notes will show up.
That takes us to age. Unless you are purchasing a high gravity (10% alcohol) or more beer designed for aging, the shelf life of the beer being truly great is about three months in a can or crowler; growlers need to be consumed quickly.
Next, tasting beer, as I mentioned. Today’s beer consumer is often much more aware of the expected taste of an IPA or Pilsner. On that note, the epic explosion of IPAs in the last decade can hinder the drinker. As I like to say, you can hide a full dump truck in an IPA because the aggressive fruit aromas and strong bitterness can hide taste, or as IPA lovers would say, that is taste. That is great, but we still need to seek out beers that have finesse; there is room for everyone here.
We Americans rule the IPA world, but many European brewers are starting to follow suit while still brewing world-class lighter beers, which may be enjoyed with lighter tastes and lower alcohol.
It sounds so simple, but without developing these habits and learning about off-flavors and beer care, you may not always get the best beer you deserve.
Brewpub or microbrewery?
The state of Minnesota separates breweries this way. Here in Minnesota, this is starting to change. Our local microbrewers in the Twin Ports have a lot to do with this and I am confident the customer will win as we level off these separate rules and laws to allow everyone to provide beer to our thirsty market.
A brewpub is a brewery connected to a restaurant. Brewpubs typically make many styles of beer that they serve at restaurants they own. The only way to take beer to go from these places is to buy a growler or crowler at the brewery.
Microbreweries are production facilities producing beer to be distributed to bars and liquor stores, usually they have a tap room on site that people visit to enjoy a pint and or take a tour. Microbreweries typically send their beer out of market as well to the Twin Cities or even out-state. Brewpubs only sell the beer they make in their own locations.
As I promised, I will mention the two styles of beers that are sweeping the nation and showing massive sales:
Hazy IPA is a style of beer that originated on the East Coast. Before this, newer-style IPAs were considered to be West Coast beers that had been at the forefront of the hop-forward movement. These beers are truly hazy looking — a bit like a Hefeweizen — but they sport soft flavors, gigantic fruit notes and can be a bit like a milkshake in mouthfeel.
The second newer style is called kettle sours. These are very popular lighter beers with tart sour notes and often are infused with fruit. Easy to drink and fast to brew, these beers can get to the market quickly and are very popular.
So go try one from our local brewers and let me know what you think. I still believe the future is bright for craft brewers and beer lovers. We just lost a bit of momentum over the challenge of the last couple years.
Thanks for reading.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .