Posts Tagged ‘Beer School’

Even though we can’t see each other, let me see a show of hands….How many of you were introduced to “craft beer” via a pint of Blue Moon with a slice of orange perched on the rim?  I would guess that half of you have your hand in the air right now because Blue Moon Belgian White seems to be the leading “gateway beer” in the country.  Remember when you first saw that tall, shapely glass moving about the bar with an orange cleverly calling out to you “order me next round. Wink.”  The wink might be from the waitress not the orange, but you had so many that night, you can’t remember all the details.  Anyway, the orange works in grabbing attention and it also gives you the ability to offer Blue Moon to people that claim not to like beer.  The fruit allows you to present them with a wit bier disguised as a tropical cocktail.

Is There a Beer Doctor in the House?

If Keith Villa would have continued with his original plan to become a pediatrician we may have never seen those oranges taking over pubs around the country.  Villa is the founder and brewmaster at Blue Moon Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado and he was kind enough to fly in for Cicero’s Beer School to share stories and beer with the crowd.   He really was very close to becoming a pediatrician, but luckily he saw a sign.  No, literally a sign.  Coors was looking for someone to work in their beer research department and Keith was intrigued enough to try it out.  After a year, Coors gave him a ticket to Belgium so he could pursue his PhD in brewing.  The Beer Doctor returned to Denver with the direction to create a new craft beer division and out sprang a Belgian white beer which now serves as the flagship beer for Blue Moon Brewing. (click the photos and logos for interviews with Keith and Blue Moon videos)

So when did the oranges become part of the beer?  Orange peels have always been a part of the recipe for the beer, but in 1997, two years after the launch,  Keith and his team decided that placing a slice of orange on the glass would highlight the flavor and add a little interest to the beer.  Problem: bars in 1997 didn’t have oranges on hand.  Solution: Blue Moon delivered a bag of oranges each week with the beer.  Now the bars provide their own oranges, but you can thank Keith and Blue Moon for putting oranges on equal footing with lemons and limes.

When a Blue Moon isn’t a Blue Moon…

As we walked into class we were immersed in Blue Moon shirts, signage and schwag.  The marketing group had arrived early and branded everything that would stand still and then some.  I thought it was a good effort, but honestly was not that excited to drink the same beer four times while adding a few more squeezes of orange each round.  Let me be the first to say it, I was wrong.  While the main line of beers does not fall too far from the orange tree, the good doctor showed that he has not forgotten his inner beer geek as he talked about Peanut Butter Ale and Chocolate Bacon Porter which uses 28 pounds of bacon.  Both beers have represented Blue Moon at the Great American Beer Fest.  And you thought Blue Moon was boring…shame on you.

Vintage Blonde Ale

This was the most talked about beer of the night and for good reason.  Keith uses 100% wheat in the grain bill and adds chardonnay grape juice just before fermenting with lager yeast.  The result is a hybrid of 51% beer and 49% wine bottled at 8.5% ABV that can be aged for 3-4 years.  Cutting edge?  Actually he made it first in 1995 and put the recipe on a shelf until 2006. 

He says I get the grape juice right away and also an apple cider flavor.  I would put if more in the wine world for me, but would be a great way to convert a white wine drinker to beer.  I’m not sure if hops are even waived across the beer, but for good reason as they would get in the way. 

She saysTart, like apple cider or a sparkling wine.  Since I’m not a big fan of white wine, this one didn’t resonate with me.  I understand why some people would love it, and I will definitely tell my white-wine-loving friends to seek it out.

Blue Moon Belgian White

He saysWe sampled sans orange which is my preference anyway.  A little creamy on the tongue, but overall a thin mouthfeel.  Spicy nose with hints of citrus.  Tart and sweet at the same time with a dry finish.  While I first think of summer, it works in all seasons because of the dash of coriander in the beer.

She saysI think my first experience with this beer was at Churchill Downs during the 2006 Breeder’s Cup races.  Eric was excited to see something different at the track and I actually tried something other than Bud that day.  Funny how times have changed.  What was once overpowering and strong now seems smooth and almost too easy for my palate.

Spring Blonde Wheat Ale

He says This time lemon drives and the orange takes a backseat.  The look is clearer than the flagship, but the same orange hue.  It has a slight syrupy feel for some reason and a sticky finish for me.  Not my favorite seasonal from Blue Moon, but well intended.

She says Since I’m not a huge fan of anything tart, these beers were difficult for me to embrace.  I do think many white wine drinking women will like them, especially on a hot summer night eating pool side.  I did note the Belgian influence and some of the beers reminded me of a hefeweizen or a farmhouse ale, which is not my first choice in style preference.

Valencia Amber Ale

He saysThis was the heaviest beer of the night, but was still in the session beer category for most beer geeks.  This is a secondary spring seasonal for Blue Moon, who knew that even existed.  You won’t find it around here, but I will tell you that it uses Valencia orange peels and tastes very similar to the Belgian White.  I enjoyed it more than the Spring Blonde and would vote for it to move to an autumn release as a sidekick to the pumpkin laced Harvest Moon.

She saysLooks more amber in color than the other beers and is much clearer.  This would be my favorite of the night as it has more body and more flavor.  The sweetness finally gave me a break from the tart citrus notes all night.

The Last Sip

Thank you to Keith Villa for taking the time to speak with us and help put a face and a story with the beer.  His passion was on display all night and we left the class with a deeper appreciation for Blue Moon.  On the horizon you should see a Farmhouse Red Ale under the Blue Moon banner along with a few other interesting styles.  Let us know about your introduction to craft beer in the comment section.  What was your gateway beer?  Do you remember your first Blue Moon?    Cheers!

 

 

 

 

About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about 3 years now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports, homebrewing and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for nearly a decade and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, has more recently discovered flavorful beer and is now proud to be called a hop-head. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!

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Can you think of a better way to celebrate St. Louis’  birthday than drinking a beer brewed in St. Louis?  How about 4 different beers brewed in St. Louis by a new brewery with an eye on the past?  Sounds good to me too.

Often you are told to study the past so you don’t repeat the same mistakes, but sometimes you need to study the past because frankly some things were better back then.  For example, in 1860 the St. Louis brewery scene was thriving with 40+ breweries.  That number tumbled to 1 about 30 years ago, but history is repeating itself in a good way and we are now once again approaching 25 breweries in the St. Louis area.  One of the newcomers did such at good job at repeating history they actually opened in a former brewery.

 The Brewery

Six Row Brewing Company was founded in 2009 by 6 partners with a passion for craft beer.  It took them 6 months to overhaul the Falstaff Building No. 1 (circa 1911) and the first beer was served on December 5, 2009.  The brewery name also refers to six row barley which is used in the majority of their beers.  Mimi and I had the pleasure of visiting Six Row last February during the beer school field trip.  Mimi’s uncle was a brewer for Falstaff so it was extra special to take a trip down memory lane.  We even found that the Falstaff stained-glass sign was still above the front door.  Nice touch, and thanks for the preservation effort.

Evan Hiatt, Partner and Head Brewer, was kind enough to step away from his fermentation tanks and share his suds with the beer school crowd.  He even brought along his wife for support and to help with trivia at the end of class.

The Beers
Pre-Prohibition Pilsner – 7% ABV; 37 IBU

Last year Ken Burns released his latest documentary called “Prohibition,” and coincidentally it was about the Prohibition Era in the United States.  If you haven’t seen the series I highly suggest looking for it on PBS or finding it on DVD.  Anyway Evan knew of the project early on and found out that Burns would be premiering the show here in St. Louis.  Wheels started turning and the result was Pre-Prohibition Pilsner.  After reading “Last Call” by Daniel Okrent, Evan came up with a turn of the century beer recipe.  Imagine sitting down with your great grandfather and enjoying his favorite beer.

Falstaff had the first brewing permit after prohibition ended in St. Louis, so I find it highly appropriate to find this beer at Six Row.  Formulated as it would have been prior to prohibition this pils uses high protein 6 row barley, corn for a base, and noble hops.

He says- Nice golden color with strong carbonation.  I get bread notes throughout with a taste of corn.  Heavier than the pilsners of today and also a little chewy grain feel.  The ABV is well hidden, but it does linger with a very wet feeling on the finish.

She says- It appears golden yellow with clarity throughout the sample.  The mouthfeel is crisp and has a slightly bitter finish.  I love the addition of Noble Hops to give it a traditional flavor.  

Whale Ale – 6% ABV; 32 IBU

This “American Wheat Pale Ale” is the top earner for Six Row, and it was the first beer they brewed on their new equipment.  When the brewery was first installed they needed to run a test batch so the home brewers in the partnership put together a recipe using leftover ingredients and the result was Whale.  The most difficult step was reproducing it once they found out how tasty it was.  After 2 years, they have it down and you can find Whale in bottles and on draft in the St. Louis area.

 He says- Cloudy in appearance with a faint nose of fruit and wheat. This beer is basic and complex at the same time which makes it very drinkable, but interesting enough to keep you from getting bored.  It is a little gritty on the tongue and has a nice dry finish.  The fruit notes start to sing as it warms up.

She says- I can understand why this is their biggest seller.  Golden in color with a hint of wheat in the nose.  Using 10 malts and 3 hops creates a nice balance.  Slightly acidic on the back end.  Dry finish.

Vanilla Porter — 6.5% ABV;  38 IBU

Over a half pound of whole fresh vanilla beans are added during fermentation. UK malt and English hops work together in creating an authentic porter for the base beer.  

He says- Vanilla leaps from the glass to meet your nose.  Let this one warm up to get the maximum experience. Looks extremely appealing with a short, cream colored head topping a dark beer with brown tinges.  The original sweet flavor is wiped away with a bitter dry finish.  Take a deep breath as you sip to get the full intention of this brew.

She says- For a porter I thought this was light on the tongue yet robust in flavor.  It had a very roasty, malty, and chocolate/coffee finish.  You can taste the vanilla on the finish.  This is a wonderful after dinner beer to sip by the fire or with dessert.  I want to try it with a good crème brule.

Double IPA — 8.5 ABV; 70 IBU

How do you embarrass a brewer during beer class?  Yell out “dry-humped” while he is reaching for the term “dry-hopped.”  Evan turned three shades of Irish red ale and nearly hopped off the stage before shaking it off and introducing his DIPA.  Nothing to be embarrassed about with this brew, it will punch you in the face with hops until you cry “uncle.”

He says- The alcohol is well hidden and the hop burp is excellent.  My nose had an accident today so it is not receiving the hop aromas as I expected, but with the list of hops in this baby it has to smell good.  Very sweet and full of resin notes.  Thin body and tart finish.  I lean more toward balanced IPA’s so this one gets a little too hop-sided for me.

 She says- Brewed with 2 pounds of hops per barrel and left unfiltered to save as much flavor as possible.  Columbus, Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops…all my favorites.  Being the hophead that I am, the next time I’m at Six Row the DIPA is my first choice.

The Last Sip

No more excuses!  We don’t want to hear any more lousy reasons why you haven’t tried a beer from Six Row.  They are popping up on taps around the city and county.  They have bottles in all your favorite bottle shops.  And we just told you about their historic digs on Forest Park Avenue so we expect many comments and reviews of their beers below.  Cheers!

 

 

About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about 2 years now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports, homebrewing and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for nearly a decade and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, has more recently discovered flavorful beer and is now proud to be called a hop-head. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!

Have you ever seen the “Moo-mobile” parked in front of Cicero’s?  Not sure what the Moo-mobile is?  Well, it is a purple PT Cruiser with the Left Hand Milk Stout label applied thoroughly around the entire vehicle.  Not sure you would call it a “chick magnet,” but it definitely attracts beer fans.  And for good reason…the driver is Mike Walters and he is the Midwest Regional Sales Rep for Left Hand Brewing Company.  Mike is a mellow guy that has made several appearances at beer school and he always manages to entertain the crowd with humor, knowledge and great beer.  Tonight he brought the class to their feet by pouring a beer.  Sounds fascinating right?  You would think that beer drinkers have seen thousands of beers poured and would actually yawn if someone tried to demonstrate the art of the pour, but this was more of a magic trick and he had every beer geek in the place craning their necks to get a better view.  When it was over I wanted to yell out “Do it again!”  Check out The Last Sip section below to learn more.

The Brewery

Left Hand was started in 1994 by Dick Doore and Eric Wallace after home brewing took over their lives.  Since that time the brewery has grown to over 30,000 barrels per year and distribution to over 25 states.  They have taken home numerous medals at the Great American Beer Festival including a gold for Sawtooth Ale during their first year of operation.  You may recognize their logo as the simple red hand that appears on the bottle caps.  It turns out that this iconic image was an attempt at humor by the artist who was hired to create a logo for the company.  After many failed submissions he finally became frustrated and simply put his hand down and traced it.  He tossed it at the owners and turned to leave when they both said “Hey, that’s perfect.”

The Beers

Sawtooth Ale

Named for the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, Sawtooth Ale was the first commercially produced beer for Left Hand and the style is Extra Special Bitter or ESB for people in the know.  They still use the original homebrew recipe and in 2008 it was named the best ESB in the world by the New York Times.  (ABV 5.30%, IBU 27) 

He says- Copper color with the smell of honey and sweet caramel.  Tastes more like homebrew than the other beers.  Very easy to drink, but not as hoppy as other ESBs.  Super smooth finish.  Easy drinker, but not boring. 

She says- This is a very mild and sessionable beer that would pair well with any food type.  It had somewhat of a creamy mouth feel.  It was well balanced and not overwhelming on any particular profile.

Stranger American Pale Ale

This is a newer offering from Left Hand and I was happy to see it on the menu tonight.  Of course the name got a good chuckle out of the crowd and the brewery
shows their sense of humor by showcasing a guy with his left hand in his pocket on the label.  Brewed with Rye Malt and hopped with Centennial,Willamette and Cascade. (ABV 5.0%, IBU 36) 

He says- An orange tint to the color. I find a nice citrus hop aroma with hints of honey and flowers. I feel that the creaminess makes it lean toward the English style even though the label says American.  Strong malt backbone to balance it out.  

She says- Light amber in color, clean and crisp on the finish.  It had a very slight hop profile.  This stranger is not one to be afraid of – it has little bite.  Another one to add to the list of possibilities for the timid new craft beer drinker.  Mike told us that rye was added to incorporate spice.  I have yet to be able to identify rye notes specifically, but I did enjoy it.

Milk Stout (Draft on Nitro)

Not many breweries list a stout as their flagship beer, but Left Hand flies the Milk Stout flag proudly as their numero uno.  The idea for this beer came from watching people put sugar in their stouts to sweeten them up.  Left Hand wanted to replicate that idea and finally decided that adding lactose to the beer would allow them to control the ABV while upping the sweetness of the beer.  The result is amazing.  There is no milk involved although they did march cows through the brewery once just to make people think about the big cow on the label.  (ABV 6.0%, 25 IBU)

 He says- Approaching black on the color wheel with a dark tan head.  I smell chocolate and coffee.  So creamy and smooth with notes of dark chocolate and espresso.  Almost feels like melted ice cream on your tongue.  If you like cream in your coffee you will love the sweet addition of lactose to the beer.  Fantastic!

 She says- It has a lovely cola color with a creamy cappuccino colored head.  My dysfunctional nose was able to pick up distinct coffee and chocolate notes.   It had a good amount of stout flavor without being too syrupy on the tongue.  Most other stouts are a one drink sipper, but you could easily enjoy more than one of these in a sitting.  Milk Stout would make a good introduction to the stout category, especially for a coffee lover.

The Last Sip

“If only you could bottle it” is an expression I have heard throughout my life.  Most often it is in reference to something that can’t be bottled like a feeling of happiness or a great idea or maybe even fresh mountain air, but our friends at Left Hand have actually managed to bottle a magical moment, and a fantastic idea all at once. (and I’m almost positive that fresh mountain air is somehow involved too)  You know that moment at the bar when your Milk Stout on nitro is poured into your glass and you put your face right up to the pint and watch the tiny bubble cascade down?  That’s the moment that Left Hand just bottled!  Fortunately Mike brought a couple of bottles and demonstrated the widget-free pour for each class.  The room was filled with oohs and aahs as he emptied the bottle without hesitation. St. Louis should see these bottles soon and you will be able to recreate this magic trick at home.  I’m not the only one geeking out on this revolution…there are tons of Nitro Milk Stout pouring videos online.  It hasn’t reached “planking” or “Tebowing” status yet, but I see “nitro pouring” sweeping the nation very soon.  Cheers to Left Hand for creating magic in a bottle!

About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about 2 years now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports, homebrewing and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for nearly a decade and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, has more recently discovered flavorful beer and is now proud to be called a hop-head. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!

They say “you never forget your first time.”  I am not exactly sure who “they” are, but I do agree with them…especially in regards to your first firkin experience.  My first time was on March 3rd,2010 with Jim O’Connor, what a magical night.  From the moment he tapped that cask I knew I was in for something special.

Before your mind wanders too far down the gutter let me explain a few things.  Jim O’Connor is the Midwest Sales Representative for Bell’s Brewery and over the past few years he has managed to thrill the beer school crowd with special samples of tasty brews.  And just to be clear, a firkin (or cask) is defined as a small wooden vessel usually for liquids.  In our case the liquid in question is actually beer and while they are no longer made of wood, they do retain the shape of a small barrel.

Over the past several years firkins have become all the rage with craft beer fans.  The beer is conditioned in the firkin instead of force carbonation and once it is tapped, the beer must be consumed in a day or two.  Usually that is no problem because breweries and bars tweet out the location of the firkins and people are lined up to get that “old world” experience of conditioned cask ale.

The Brewery

Bell’s Brewery was founded by Larry Bell in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Bell’s was actually a homebrew store in 1983 before adding a brewery in 1985.

The growth has been incredible for Bell’s and in 2002 they opened an additional 50 barrel brewhouse in Comstock, Michigan just down the road from Kalamazoo.  Michigan has become an incredible destination for beer enthusiasts and I would highly recommend a beer-cation to the state.  Mimi and I found our way to Bell’s Eccentric Café and General Store back in October and had a wonderful experience meeting the local beer fanatics and the friendly staff at Bell’s.

The beer menu for Bell’s Brewery has become quite lengthy and diverse, but one particular label has every hophead panting with anticipation…Hopslam Ale.  February marks the release of a limited number of Hopslam bottles and kegs, but talk of the famous ale begins in December with rumors about delivery dates and locations you can find the most desired nectar in the land. Students at beer school had the unique opportunity to try the 2012 edition before anyone else inSt. Louis.  Not only did Jim(left) and PJ Fisher (right) bring Hopslam, they brought the holy grail…a firkin of Hopslam!  Dreams do come true, but only at Cicero’s Beer School.  First let’s talk about the year round offerings that we sampled, then the Hopslam talk can continue.

Oarsman Ale  (ABV 4%)

She says- Jim described it as an “Old school German Wheat Ale”.
The label graphic is the image of a man rowing a boat in a yellow rain slicker which gave me the impression this was going to be something of a moody beer.  It really surprised me.  It was light golden in color, with a slightly tart and crisp finish.  It was very dry with a clean mouth feel.  My first thought was how it would be great for a hot summer day.  Jim described it as a pallet cleanser.  There were subtle notes of green apple, lemon and citrus.  Very refreshing and highly sessionable.  Oarsman Ale is available year round, but it went on my personal summer beer list.

He says- This beer is better than I remembered.  Lots of citrus and lemon with a quick dry finish.  The lactobacillus yeast adds a nice acidity to the beer and provides a nice zingy charge on the tongue.  Glad we had a chance to sample this one and it reminds me to always go back and revisit beers because your palette is always changing.  I would pair Oarsman with fish and keep it handy for sessions by the pool as well.

Bells Amber  (ABV 5.8%)

She says- Medium amber in color, it was a well balanced easy drinking beer.  I found it to have a crisp and slightly sweet finish.  This year round beer is very sessionable and would compliment many different kinds of foods.  It struck me as a solid, “steady Eddie” beer – nothing bold or fancy, just a good old reliable brew.

He says- Larry Bell opened his brewery with $200 and this beer represents one of the original recipes that helped propel the brewery forward.  Amber to brown in color with 3 malts and 3 hops.  It has a nice balance with a slight bitterness, but nothing crazy.  Just enough layers to make it interesting.  I can see why this beer has lasted for 25 years in theBell’s lineup.

Hopslam – Draft  (ABV 10%)

She says- If you love bold hoppy beers, you probably look forward to Hopslam’s release each winter.  Jim categorized it as an Imperial IPA.  One look at the label tells you what you’re in for – big powerful knock you on your tail hops!  It doesn’t disappoint.  The bold grapefruit and pine scent was heaven!  Six different hops go into this beer along with honey.  I find Hopslam to have a slightly thicker and syrupy mouth feel and a lingering piney finish.

He says- First up is the draft variety of Hopslam which sports a mango and grapefruit nose with a dash of cattiness.  It starts out zingy and sweet, but smoothes out with a syrupy consistency.  The heat on the swallow lets you know there is alcohol in this beer, but the linger on the tongue is all hops and honey.  Sweeter than you would expect from an imperial IPA, but that is why everyone loves this beer.

Hopslam – Cask 

She says- We compared the draft and cask versions of Hopslam, which was quite a treat.  I found the draft to have a more intense flavor, whereas the cask had a smooth and creamy mouth feel.  I also thought the cask version was a slightly mellow version of the draft.  Both were fabulous.

He says-  Now the cask version…much creamier and lighter on the tongue.  The hop linger doesn’t last as long and the nose is not as intense as the draft, but I prefer this version of Hopslam.  It’s as if someone sanded away any hard edges from the beer and you are left with the a less harsh version that allows the true flavors to shine.  The honey addition to Hopslam is the real key and even my friends that are scared of hops enjoy this beer.

The Last Sip

Do yourself a favor and come down to beer school on Wednesday nights.  Along with these 4 samples, Jim and PJ also brought a limited release beer called Black Note Stout.  I won’t spend time reviewing it because the only keg in the state was consumed that night, but I want to remind you that attending beer school allows you to experience something new every week and often these beers are only available at beer school.  Plus you can take home cool gear just by listening and answering questions at the end of class like the example below.  Check out the podcast and see what else you missed.  Cheers!

About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about 2 years now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports, homebrewing and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for nearly a decade and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, has more recently discovered flavorful beer and is now proud to be called a hop-head. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!