Friday, July 10, 2009

Real Men Don't Drink Budweiser, Miller, or Coors

Mainstream American beers have no taste. Why on earth anyone drinks that stuff is beyond me. Yes, I am a beer snob. But then I drink beer for the flavor, not to get drunk. It's just a nice side benefit that good beers tend to have a high alcohol content.

Dark Roasted Blend takes a look at the world of specialty beers, a topic many men should know more about, right up therewith single malt scotch and good wines.

Cheers to Beers!

Cheers to Beers – The weird, the fascinating, the potent and the expensive, from around the world
A selection of beers from around the world that simply boggle the mind

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Beer is the most popular beverage in the world after water and tea and had been produced for thousands of years. The Alulu Tablet, from the ancient Kingdom of Ur, in what is now Southern Iraq, refers to a “best” beer and dates from 2050 BC.

Babylonian clay tablets from 4300 BC show detailed beer recipes and beer was also brewed by the ancient Chinese, Assyrians, Incas and in ancient Egypt. In 1996, Scottish and Newcastle breweries in the UK used a 3,200-year old recipe found in the sun temple of Queen Nefertiti to brew a thousand bottles of Tutankhamun Ale:

Tutankhamun Ale, The Alulu Tablet (images via 1, 2)

The dawn of commercial beer production was in Germany around 1200 and in 1516, the famous Purity Law came into effect, which determined the only ingredients permissible in beer were water, barley, wheat and hops. The bottling of beer began in the early seventeenth century and today, some 20,000 different brands of beer are brewed in an almost bewildering 180 styles all around the world, including ales, lagers, pilsners, stouts, bitters, cream ales and more.

Owing to the sheer number of different beers produced around the world, for this article, I have focused on just a few of the planet’s more noteworthy beers, whether in terms of the brewing process, alcoholic strength, unusual flavours, distinctive names or other reasons that made them really stand out.

Strong beers

Despite its name, barley wine is a type of ale, with strength of between 8 and 12%, which was first brewed in England in the nineteenth century, but is now produced in many other countries as well. Barley wines can be amber to deep reddish-browns in colour. It may seem a little confusing, but these ales are called ‘barley wine’ because they are often comparable in strength to a wine. However, because their main ingredient is grain rather than fruit, they are really beers. Unlike more traditional beers, barley wine is designed for slow sipping, like a white, red or blush wine, rather than as an instant thirst quencher.

Thomas Hooker Barley Wine, Gold Label Tennant Brothers (images via 1, 2)

Back in the eighties and nineties, the alcohol content of beers climbed steadily. Vetter 33, for example, has a 10.5% abv, while Samichlaus, produced in Switzerland, was at one time considered the world’s strongest beer at 14% abv. The strongest beer brand in current production is Eisbock from Germany, which has 14% ethanol by volume.

Samichlaus, Aventinus Eisbock (images via 1, Patrick Hirlehey)

Baz’s Super Brew, made by Parish Brewery in the UK, is a 23% abv beer and Delaware’s Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout, with a 21% abv, was sold at UK Safeway locations in 2003. Hair of the Dog’s Dave, at a mind numbing 29% abv, is a barley wine first produced in 1994 and considered to be the strongest beer ever made at the time:

Hair-of-the-Dog, Millennium and Utopia, (images via 1, 1)

In recent years, some brewers have made use of champagne yeast to significantly increase the alcohol content of their beers. Millennium, produced by Samuel Adams, had a 20% abv, but they increased this still further with the 25.6% abv Utopia. However, this beer has a malt, maple-syrup type of flavor that more closely resembles port, so it’s really more like a liqueur than a beer.

Beers that burn a hole in your pocket

If you consider yourself a beer connoisseur and feel like splashing out a little, take a trip to a bar called the Bierdrome in London, the only place in the world where you can buy a custom super-magnum bottle of Vielle Bon Secours for around £500 or $1000. The world’s most expensive beer, this bottle costs an astounding $78 a pint - more info:

(images credit: Edu Passarelli, 2)

Not too far behind in terms of price is Jacobsen Vintage No. 1, produced by Carlsberg of Denmark, a limited edition 10.5% abv barley wine. Only 600 bottles were brewed, priced at around $350 each and primarily marketed to up-scale restaurants in Copenhagen and of course the very wealthy beer drinker.

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Beers that might burn a hole in your stomach

Produced in Arizona, Cave Creek Chili Beer, with a real chili pepper in each bottle, could possibly burn a hole in your stomach if you decided to consume more than a couple of bottles:

(images credit: Doctor Rose, 2)

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
 is a rich and spicy beer, whose ingredients include Mexican coffee, roasted chicory and licorice root. It apparently has a distinct coffee aftertaste, with a hint of cloves.

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
, Rogue Chipotle Ale (images via 1, 2)

Rogue Chipotle Ale 
is an Oregon ale with a smoky, slightly bitter flavour. It’s actually brewed with chipotle chilies, which you don’t really taste at first, but then feel a real kick just after you swallow.

Unusual flavours

Lindemans Kriek Cherry Lambic is a dark red, Belgian beer, which as the name implies, has a distinct cherry taste. It’s almost like a cherry soda, but has just enough of a beer taste to leave you in no doubt as to it’s true identity:

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In recent years some brewers have added fruit flavours to beer to appeal to traditional non-beer drinkers, particularly women, who represent a largely untapped market for beer. Manufacturers have worked on developing products with sweeter, fruitier and lighter flavours, such as apple, lemon, grapefruit, raspberry, pomegranate or peach, making these beer brands more akin to flavoured alcoholic beverages.

Sea Dog Brewing Company of Maine produces Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale, which has been compared to the taste of a piece of blueberry pie by one reviewer. For the Polish market, Carlsberg has a fruity beer sold under the Karmi brand called Malinowa Pasja Raspberry Flavoured Beer. Basically, it’s a dark beer with raspberry syrup, with hints of caramel as well as raspberries.

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Gösser Brauerei in Austria produces a beer containing 100% natural lemon juice called Gösser Natur Radler, aimed at consumers interested in a light beer with a sweet taste. In the United States, New Belgium Brewing produces a seasonal beer known as New Belgium Springboard Ale, which is brewed with wormwood, goji berries and schisandra.

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Krait Prestige Champagne Lager, claims to be the world’s first champagne lager. It re-ferments in the bottle, which is manufactured to resemble a regular champagne bottle. Targeted to bridge the gap between beer drinkers and those who prefer wine, it combines the taste of both in a very different kind of beer.

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Simply weird beers

Here’s a selection of beers from around the world that simply boggle the mind.

Tom Seefurth’s Mamma Mia Pizza Beer is produced with tomato, garlic, basil and oregano, but unlike the chilli beers, for example, it doesn’t actually come with a slice of pizza stuffed into the bottle. Quite drinkable, according to its reviews, although it has been said to have a slightly artificial taste vaguely reminiscent of chips that are supposedly pizza flavoured.

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Kwispelbier from the Netherlands is a steak-flavoured beer designed especially for dogs. Yes, dogs. Hard to imagine why someone would come up, with this idea, but it’s non-alcoholic, and really does taste like beef, apparently, although you’d really have to ask the dog. Banana Beer is, not surprisingly, made from bananas, but also includes the fermented juices of sorghum and is brewed in Kenya.

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What do you get if you combine beer with milk? Bilk of course. In Hokkaido, Japan, when a man in the dairy industry wondered what to do with discarded milk, he suggested that the local brewery could use it to produce a low-malt beer. One third of the product is milk, so it does seem like a good way to use the surplus milk which would otherwise only go to waste. According to reports the beer isn’t that bad, with a somewhat fruity flavour and the brewers hope it might prove popular with women.

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Chocolate Donut Beer comes from the Shenandoah Brewery in Alexandria, Virginia. Almost as bizarre a combination as pizza beer, this odd brew has nonetheless received good reviews. One stated that it smelled “like you just opened a pack of those cheap waxy corner store chocolate gem donuts”.

Creme Brulee Stout has been compared to dessert in a bottle. Although it isn’t as syrupy as it sounds, it is very sweet, with a subtle stout flavour, but also contains elements of cream, vanilla and maple.

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Tomato flavored beer is produced by Japan’s Echigo brewery. This beer is supposed to have healthy ingredients such as organic tomatoes, and although it’s combined with alcohol, it has 1000 times more vitamin E than normal beer and can act as an antioxidant. This beer may actually be good for you, although no reports on what it tastes like.

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How about this for a corporate advertising slogan? “Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink.” Yes, in Japan there really is beer for children, or rather at least an alcohol free soft drink called Kidsbeer. This beverage began its existence as a regular soda drink called Guarana, based on a Latin American plant. The sweetness was reduced and it became a more frothy drink, in fact, more like beer. The company then decided to produce the drink in brown bottles with old-fashioned style labels modeled on classic Japanese beers for a hint of nostalgia - in the minds of the parents old enough to remember them at least, rather than to the young drinkers the product is aimed at. According to the people responsible for the phenomenally popular Kidsbeer, children will always copy and mimic adults, and now they can all raise a glass together at parties, weddings and other celebrations. Strange stuff, for sure.

Weird beer names

Despite the unusual and at times downright odd flavours mentioned earlier in this article, the simple recipe for beer, based on the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. However, if all beers are generally similar, how does a brewer make its product stand out in the marketplace? With a strange name on the label, of course. There are so many attention grabbing names for beer brands around the world, but here are just a few that caught my eye.

- La Fin du Monde ("End of the World") is from Quebec, a beer for drinking at the end of the world perhaps?

- Fiddler’s Elbow is a wheat beer from the UK and although this is a very catchy name for a beer, Fiddler’s Elbow is also the real name of a tiny village in Wales.

- Old Speckled Hen is the highest-selling premium bottled beer in the UK. An odd name, legend has it that the men who once built MG cars used one particular vehicle to drive around the factory and called this particular model the ‘owld speckled ‘un’. On the famous car’s fiftieth anniversary, the brewery decided to commemorate the occasion with a beer called Old Speckled Hen.

- Seriously Bad Elf is a British version of a Belgian style Tripel beer and with an alcohol content of 9%, this one might even tempt one of Santa’s elves to misbehave.

- The Stone Brewing Company in California is responsible for the curiously named Arrogant Bastard. Is it that good?

- Moose Drool from Montana’s Big Sky Brewing Company tastes nothing like the drool of a moose. However, the name was inspired by a picture of a moose drinking from a lake, which was on the wall of the room when the brewery owners were brainstorming, trying to come up with a name for their latest brew.

- Santa’s Butt Porter is not as offensive as it actually sounds. The name is a reference to a large barrel, known as a butt, and according to reviews, this porter with the odd name is actually very good indeed.

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So there you are. A short, but by no means exhaustive, tour of just some of the weird, the fascinating, the potent and the expensive products available in the wonderful world of beer. If you’re a beer connoisseur and have the good fortune to encounter any of these brews, even the weirder ones, on your travels, enjoy.

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