Flavor, Part Two

In Flavor, Part 1, we talked about the tongue's role in perceiving flavor. Now we discuss the nose's role.

When we talk about flavor, we typically think only of our tongues, but flavor is comprised of two sensory systems: the tongue, where perceive taste, and the nose, where we perceive aroma. Thanks to our bio-diversity, we all sense things a little bit differently, which often leads to a wide range of opinions on your favorite beer.

Your nose has a huge influence on how flavor impacts you, as you'll notice the nose's influence right way when it's clogged thanks to a cold and everything tastes bland: taste and aroma are best friends that give us flavor.

The tongue only perceives basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami (or savory). This is where the nose comes in, because everything else we attribute to flavor (aside from texture) is actually aroma perceived by the nose.

Most humans have around 9 million olfactory neurons that exist between the upper part of the nasal cavity and the back of the throat; we're lightweights compared to other animals like dogs who have around 225 million. We use aroma to try to identify not only something good, or beneficial, but also something rancid or unappealing. Aroma data is perceived by some of the oldest parts of our brain: from the hypothalamus where we process appetite, anger, and fear, to the brain stem, which controls basic regulatory body functions.

The nose has two sensor systems: the ortho-nasal and the retro-nasal. The ortho-nasal sensors are high up in the nose and they're used to analyze, categorize, and identify aromas when you breathe in. These sensors come into play when you stick your nose up to that IPA and get a good whiff of that piny goodness. 

The retro-nasal system sits in the soft tissue at the back of your mouth and in the channel that connects your mouth to your nose; it perceives aromas more as flavor when you breath out while food is in your mouth. The retro-nasal sensors are also connected to preference, familiarity, and satiety. When you taste something and it reminds you of Band-Aids, you're seeing your retro-nasal sensors at work.

As you chew your food, many things happen to release new and more aromas into the retro-nasal channel; this is why just smelling something doesn't reveal the entire flavor profile and the two are sometimes almost at odds, such as being repulsed by the ortho-nasal aroma of smelly cheese versus putting it in your mouth.

When you chew, the food warms up, you increase the surface area of the food, and things like bubbles are bursting, which all contribute to the nasal bouquet that is sent to the brain for computation. All of that sensory data is then combined with taste to produce what we all call flavor.

Sources:   by Randy Mosher, Beer Sensory Science, Cooking for Geeks


Flavor, Part One

When we talk about flavor, we typically think only of our tongues. But, flavor is comprised of two sensory systems: the tongue, where we perceive taste, and the nose, where we perceive aroma. And, thanks to our bio-diversity, we all sense things a little bit differently, which often leads to a wide range of opinions on your favorite beer.

The tongue is one of the systems we humans use to push ourselves towards desirable foods and away from dangerous ones like rancid food or poison. The sense of taste is so important that it has three paths to the brain in case there is a failure on one of those paths.

The tongue has about 10,000 taste buds, with a few also sprinkled throughout other parts of your mouth, such as in your cheeks and esophagus. Each taste bud has between 50 and 100 taste receptors that recognize certain molecules in food. And, as we age, the number of receptors decline; this is why many elderly have a lack of appetite and lack of interest in food; this in turn leads to fragility and poor health.

Back in the 19th century we used to think that 5 different areas of the tongue perceived the different basic tastes, but science has since proven that most of the tongue is perceptive to all of the basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Sweet - Sweet receptors were used in evolution to point us towards things that had a lot of nutritional value. In the modern era this has proven troublesome for our bellies as a sweet taste is always available and our brains still think we should have this.

Sour - The ability to detect a sour taste allows us to detect acidity as well as ripe or spoiled food.

Salty - Salt plays a crucial role to many cellular processes which require sodium and potassium. And let's face it, salt tastes really good.

Bitter - Despite the fact that we like hops, bitter senses are used to avoid potentially dangerous toxins like cyanide. But, bitterness is a rainbow and there may be more at work in the brain.

Umami - Translates to "pleasant savory taste" in Japanese and its job is to point out savory flavors, which are recognized through receptors looking for glutatmate, which is an amino acid used to synthesize protein.

The tongue can also perceive other sensations that are not lumped in with the basic tastes: spiciness, pungency, coolness, numbness, astringency, metallics, calcium, fat, temperature, and starch.

But, taste is only one half of the flavor equation, as our noses also play a crucial role, as we'll find out next time.

Sources: Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer, Brain Blogger

What is a Brown Ale?

Nothing makes Fall feel better than the caramel, malty flavors of Brown Ales; they're one of the great transition beers to enjoy before diving head first into the porters and stouts of the winter months.

One of the earliest English ales, Brown Ales were first brewed 800 years ago when malts were kilned over hardwood fires, giving the grain a brown color and smokey flavor. The term “Brown Ale” wasn’t introduced until the introduction of Porter in the early 1700s; before that they were simply called “Ales” because there basically was little delineation between beer styles.

For the next 100 years, Brown Ales would be used to describe Porters, Stouts and Milds. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that a distinction began to grow between the styles, when Brown Ales were made by making a Stout or Porter first, and then reusing the mash to produce a brown ale. What we think of as Brown Ales today didn’t come around until the late 1800s when Mann's Brown Ale in England helped relaunch the modern brown. But, it was Newcastle Brown Ale in 1925 that popularized the style. The style finally made It Stateside in 1986 with Pete’s Wicked Ale, a beer which also helped establish the American-Style brown ale.

Like Bock beers there are several recognized types of Brown Ales. English-Style Brown Ales are copper to brown in color. Brown porters are medium to dark brown in color with a low to medium malt sweetness and chocolate notes. Belgian-style Flanders are a deep copper to brown in color; they have a strong lactic sourness and usually an oak or woody character to them. German-Style Brown ales (also known as Dusseldorf-style AltBier) are copper to brown in color, with malt and a hop character. Lastly, there is the American-style Brown ale. Not surprising, it’s also deep copper to brown in color with medium roasted malt caramel and a chocolate-like character, and also no surprise, American-style brown ales are often more hopped than their counterparts.

Brown Ales typically come in around 3.3-5.2% ABV  , which makes them one of the easier session styles around.

What is the Mash, or Mashing?

Image courtesy of BeerandBrewing.com

Image courtesy of BeerandBrewing.com

One of the first steps in brewing beer is mashing and no, it has nothing to do with the Monster Mash. Mashing is the process by which we create wort, aka the sweet liquid that will become beer in the future.

Simply put, mashing is the process of combining water and malt and bringing it to a boil to convert complex starches in the grain into simple sugars that the yeast will later go family style on during the fermentation process to produce alcohol.

Mashing begins with water and water chemistry can make a world of difference in taste, but also in the type of beer you want to make; calcium and pH are essential to beer and brewers often alter water chemistry to make it just right.

Water is brought to a boil inside a Mash Tun, which is simply a large vessel used for making the mash. When the water reaches the boiling point, malt is stirred into the mash tun via milled grains and the liquid is brought back up to a boil for at least 60 minutes.

During the next hour, grain enzymes will activate and break down the grain starches into fermentable sugars and non-fermentable carbohydrates that will add body, head retention, color, flavor and other characteristics to the resulting beer. Brewers also add hops and other adjuncts during this time to add aroma, bitterness and other flavors.

After mashing is done, the next step is lautering to produce wort, but that’s for another time.

What are Pumpkin Beers?

You know Fall is here when Halloween decorations appear and pumpkin ales adorn the aisles of your local bottle shop or grocery store. For those living outside the US, pumpkin ales are beers that include mashed up or pureed pumpkin in the mash and are spiced with pumpkin pie spices, such as ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and/or allspice. These beers are typically mild and malty with a slightly thick mouthfeel.

Pumpkin ales usually range from 4.0-7.0% ABV, though some are known to go much higher. Don’t think that pumpkin beers are just heavily seasoned brown ales; you can find pumpkin pale ales, wheat beers, porters and stouts.

Dating back to at least 1771, during the early colonial era, settlers had little access to traditional brewing ingredients like barley. Forced to use what was available, colonists resorted to using corn, apples, pears, and of course pumpkins. Slowly, over time, pumpkin as a regular beer ingredient disappeared and completely vanished by the early 1900s.

During the early days of craft brewing in the 1980s, small breweries started making pumpkin beers as a stunt to get noticed on a store shelf. Today’s pumpkin beers are a far cry from the pumpkin ales of yore, which usually contain artificial pumpkin and spice flavors. While originally brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin ales these days are often trying to reproduce a pumpkin pie flavor, rather than real pumpkin.

However, we might be seeing a decline in pumpkin usage again,  as many breweries cut production in 2016 due to a sharp decrease in demand. Several breweries are shortening their sales window or decreasing the production in order to save this controversial seasonal ale.

Love them or hate them, one thing is for sure, pumpkin ales boldly announce the fall season at least for now.

The History of Beer, Part 1

King Wencenslas of Bohemia

King Wencenslas of Bohemia

The word beer comes from the German and Dutch word "bier" but the drink dates back much further than its name; in fact, the earliest recipes for beer date back to 3000 BC where Babylonians had up to 20 different types. 

Around 4000 BC in the Middle East, people were fermenting bread to make a fermented pulp which they called a “divine drink.” This beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was drank through a straw to filter out grain hulls. Beer was so important in this era because of its nutritional value that people were often paid in the thick bitter liquid. 

In the ensuing eras, the importance of beer flourished in cultures around the world. In 1550 BC, Egyptians would bury beer and malt with the Pharaohs to provide sustenance in the afterlife. In the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, beer was common among the people until the Roman Empire conquered them and all but replaced it with wine around 100 AD.  Fermented drinks could also be found in other cultures from this time including Assyrian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Chinese and Incan, though the ingredients differed depending on what part of the world you lived in. While barley was popular with Babylonians and Egyptians, other parts of the world would use different grains such as millet or corn in Africa, rice in Japan, sorghum in parts of Asia, and rye in Russia.

A Monk Cellarer tasting wine from a barrel, Li Livres dou Santé, (13th Century manuscript), France

A Monk Cellarer tasting wine from a barrel, Li Livres dou Santé, (13th Century manuscript), France

In the Middle Ages, monasteries took up the mantle by creating beer to help their monastic life, as they could drink it during times of fasting; it wasn’t uncommon for monks to drink up to five liters a day. These early monastic beers were very bitter and used wild herbs such as bog myrtle, lemon balm, borage, St. John’s wort and elderberries.

Hops weren't introduced to beer until sometime around 822 AD by a Carolingian Abbot. It took a while to work out the proper proportions, but eventually, hops became the preferred herb because of their preservative properties.  By 1200 AD beer making had firmly established itself in Germany, Austria, and England. Because of the caves in the Alps, German s preferred the cold temperature for bottom-fermented lagers while over in England, they went for top-fermented ales for storage in cellars.

King Wenceslas II of Bohemia (what is now the modern day Czech Republic) founded the city of Pilsen in 1295 and granted brewing rights to 260 citizens, which helped perfect hopped beer and lead to scaling up of beer operations for export. Up until this point, beer was only brewed at home for quick consumption since it would spoil quickly. Slowly the production of beer spread across Europe through The Netherlands and eventually England. German brewers perfected lager brewing around 1420 and the first brewing guild, Brauerei Beck, would be established in 1489. Soon afterwards the Reinheitsgebot was created. The rest is for another time.

What is a Berliner Weisse?

One of the oldest beer styles, Berliner Weisse (pronounced "Bear-leeh-nuh Vice-uh") is a top-fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer made with traditional warm-fermenting yeast and lactobacillus bacteria. Its tart, sour and, acidic flavor is the perfect beer for a hot summer day though it’s not uncommon for people to add raspberry or woodruff syrup to the glass to cut the intense sourness, which also changes the appearance of the beer; it's common for Berliners to order a Berliner Weisse simply as a "red" or "green," depending on which syrup they prefer.

With an ABV of 2.0-5.0%, you can knock back a few without getting drunk. Like most beers, Berliner Weisse has a specific glass type you should drink it from: a chalice, which is wide and bulbous because it foams like champagne.  It can be stored for up to five  years and should be served at 46-50 degrees Fahrenheit (8-10 degrees Celsius).

It’s unclear how Berliner Weisse got started. Documents from 1642 allegedly show the first evidence of Weisse beer in Berlin, but there is evidence that it could date back to the high Middle Ages. By the 19th century, the beer style had become one of the most popular beers in Berlin with around 700 breweries making the it. Slowly, the popularity started to decline and now only one brewery still makes it: Schultheiss.

You might find Berliner Weisse style beers in your local bottle shop, but like cognac, champagne and Kölsch beer, it enjoys the legal protection of a controlled place name, which means that this style of beer can only truly be called a Berliner Weisse if it's brewed in Berlin.

Similar to a Belgian gueuze, Berliner Weisse gets its intense sourness from Lactobacillus delbruckii, named after Nobel laureate biochemist Max Delbruck who isolated the lactobacillus bacterium while working in Berlin in the 1930s as the head of the Institute for Fermentation Tissue.

The beer is usually made from roughly 25-30% pale malted wheat, with barley malt added for color. All Berliner Weisse beers come in a 0.33 liter bottle; you won’t be able to find it on draft. In the early days, it was sold in earthenware crocks closed with string-fastened cork stoppers; these crocks were often buried in the sand for three months to condition.

This summer when you’re done with your yard work,   cool off with an effervescent, refreshingly sour Berliner Weisse. Prost!

How Beer is Made, Simplified

Image courtesy of MPR News

Image courtesy of MPR News

Beer drinking is a sport and a fun one at that, but many people are interested in either how it's made they want to make beer themselves. 

When you take a brewery tour, it may seem intimidating because of the giant vats, space required, and all of the manufacturing accouterments. But, when you break it down, all beer is made largely the same way with some variations depending on style and recipe. 

First a brewer needs the right equipment. For the simplest setup you need sanitizer to clean the equipment, a kettle for boiling, a container for fermentation, a secondary vessel for bottling, a large spoon or mash paddle to stir the boil with, and most importantly, the ingredients: water, malt, yeast, and hops.

Next you need to sanitize all of your equipment, and I mean everything. Sanitization helps to prevent nasty microbes from destroying a beer, and it happens to many brewers, from the home brewer to the big guys like Goose Island

Fermenting in a carboy Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Fermenting in a carboy

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After that it's time to start the boil by filling your brew kettle with water and applying heat. Once the boil starts, a brewer will remove the heat momentarily and stir in the malt slowly. When the malt has been stirred in, a brewer returns the kettle to the heat and lets it starting boiling again. 

When the boil has started again, this is when the brewer adds the first batch of hops, known as bittering hops. Generally after this the boil is maintained for about 60 minutes, though this can vary depending on the hops used. When the hour is up, that's when the heat is turned off and a brewer adds flavor and aroma hops and lets them steep for about 10 minutes. The resulting product is what's known as wort. 

Next, the wort needs to be cooled as quickly as possible to below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are many ways to do this, but some home brewers use something as simple as a cold water bath or a cooler full of ice.

Once the wort has cooled, the brewer transfers it to a fermentation vessel, which is most commonly a carboy for the home brewer. After that more water is added to the vessel to bring it up to a full batch (five gallons for the home brewer commonly). 

The final step before fermentation is adding the yeast to the fermenter, also known as "pitching" the yeast. The fermenter is then sealed and the fermenter is moved to a clean, dark, and cool spot.

Over the next 7 to 10 days the yeast go to work converting the sugar in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide; foam will begin to rise inside the fermenter as it happens. A brewer keeps an eye on the fermentation and when bubbling slows or stops and the foam starts to recede, fermentation is done and it's ready to be bottled, though some recipes call for a second fermentation.

The beer is then transferred from the fermenter to a bottling vessel and ultimately, into your mouth!


Bière de Champagne, aka Bière Brut

Miller High Life may claim to be the “Champagne of Beers”, but actual champagne beer is quite a different thing. Primarily brewed in Belgium and northern France, this hybrid beer style called Biere de Champagne, or Biere Brut, is one of the newest beer styles available. Created by Belgian brewers as a way to compete with high-end wines, these beers are light to a medium/dark gold in color, high in alcohol, and sparkling with bubbles like a champagne. It’s sold in 750ml champagne-style corked and caged bottles with an ABV of 9-14% or higher.

The process of brewing beer and brewing champagne is very similar. When you combine the two processes, a whole new beer drinking experience is created. Both bottle-conditioned beer and champagne go through primary fermentation and then secondary fermentation in bottles, where additional sugars or yeast are added to naturally carbonate the alcohol. However, unlike beer, champagne goes through an additional process of riddling and disgorging.

Riddling is performed by laying the bottle upside down at a 45° angle rack known as a pupitres. The sediment collects in the neck of the bottle as the bottle is turned every few days. After about 6 to 8 weeks, the disgorging begins. The bottleneck is frozen with dry ice, the cork is removed, and all the sediment is taken from the bottle. This used to be performed by a trained specialist, but is now done by machines.

After that, additional yeast or sugar is added to the bottle for a third fermentation. Then the bottle is allowed to sit for years to allow the complex spicy flavors and rich carbonation to develop.

This process creates a refreshing experience that has the malt and hoppiness of beer, and the light sparkling feel of champagne  in the mouth. The most well known example  is probably Deus by Brouwerij Bosteels  and Malheur Brut from Brouwerij De Landtsheer. These beers aren’t cheap and usually go for $30 a bottle or more. This isn’t an everyday drinking beer but a special occasion beverage that you want to save for special moments in your life, like when you stomp Fruit of the Loom characters.

Coors Banquet Beer and the 1970s

You're probably confused right now and demanding to know why we’re talking about Coors on a craft beer show, a company that is a giant macro brewer and a who many accuse of trying to kill craft beer. But Coors Banquet beer has a distinct place in beer history: at one point Banquet beer was allegedly the best beer you could get in the United States.

The 1970s was a pivotal decade for beer. After Prohibition ended, the United States was left without most of the craft brewers that it had enjoyed before, and many traditions and styles brought by immigrants had disappeared. Larger breweries were swallowing up and shutting down the little guys, so much so that at one point, the United States only had 44 breweries left. Though a few like Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewing were trying to hold on, industry experts believed that eventually we would be left with only five; Bill Coors himself predicted we would be left with only three breweries by 1990.

Now firmly in control of the market, those larger breweries began massive advertising campaigns for lighter beers, as they saw more profit in using cheaper adjuncts like rice and corn. The campaigns worked and consumer culture found itself preferring light lagers; imported beers could hardly be found. And thus, the brief obsession with Coors Banquet beer began and it became the inspiration for beer smuggling cinema classic Smokey and the Bandit.

Coors Banquet beer was brewed with water from the springs around Golden, Colorado and contained no preservatives, stabilizers, and was unpasteurized, which was an oddity for Coors since they were a pioneer in beer sterilization. Leaving out all of those chemicals greatly enhanced the flavor, but if left unrefrigerated it would spoil within a week, thus Jerry Reed’s line “we’ve got a long way to go and a short time get there” in the Smokey and the Bandit theme song.

Paul Newman after a race

Paul Newman after a race

Banquet became the favored beer in the United States and was called the Chatueau Brion of American beers by Time Magazine in 1974, but it was illegal to sell it East of the Mississippi and was only available in 11 states.

However that didn't stop anyone from drinking it if they had the right connections; President Eisenhower used the power of the Oval Office and had regular shipments delivered by the Air Force and both he and Vice President Gerald Ford would routinely pack Air Force One full of the stuff. And Actor Paul Newman refused to be seen drinking any other brand on screen.

Until he was shut down by smokeys, trucker Fredrick Amon (who was probably an inspiration for Smokey and the Bandit) used to drive a refrigerated truck every week from Denver to Charlotte, North Carolina where he would sell it for as much as $1 a can when a six pack in Denver would go for $1.50. And while Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham was working on the movie Gator in Georgia with Burt Reynolds, his driver brought him cases he’d smuggled from California. The beers kept disappearing from his hotel room and he discovered that the hotel maid who was stealing them was obsessed with it, thus leading to the idea that became Smokey and the Bandit.

The Dark Ages for craft beer finally saw light at the end of the 1970s, when in 1978 President Jimmy Carter made home brewing legal again, leading to the renaissance we now find ourselves enjoying; the industry has exploded from 44 breweries in the ‘70s  to over 4,000 as of September 2015. But as Texas and other states like Alabama have proven with their absurd laws, we still have a long ways to go and it may be a long time before we get there. 

Sources: Thrillist, Boing Boing