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Peter LaFrance

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Taste of… Leinenkugel Berry Weiss
J. Leinenkugel Brewing Co.
Chippewa Falls, WI / Milwaukee, WI

Preface: As I mentioned in the blog about the Honey Weiss, three or four months ago I was at the initial presentation of the Leinenkugel summer beers. At that event, I had an interesting conversation with the Brewers and representatives about the different ways that they mix their beers together. Their promotional material encourages this mixing. One of the beers that particularly caught my attention was this one, called Berry Weiss. It is included, three bottles of it, in the 12 pack that they are presenting on the market. The following are the tasting notes of this product from this morning's tasting.

Appearance: There's a bit of a red tinge to this beverage, more of a strawberry rather than a raspberry color. The head that sits atop this brew is a very rocky, slightly tan colored foam made up of medium to large bubbles.

Aroma: As soon as I opened up above this beer there was a distinct strawberry aroma. It continues quite dramatically, as one raises the glass to your lips. However, in the space between lip and sip it causes the aromas to smooth out slightly.

Mouth feel: As with their other Leninkugel wheat beer, this has a very lively feel to the mouth. After the initial sip, the mouth feel is not as large as expected. The carbonation as well as the sweet flavor adds to the body.

Flavor: There is a distinct, yet undefinable "berry" flavor to this beer. The sensation of strawberry seems to be the most important flavor, although the picture on the bottle shows red and purple raspberries. The label notes "Beer brewed with honey and flavored with blackberry juice and other natural berry flavors." What is surprising to me is the amount of hop flavor that is in the finish. The hop flavor does continue all the way through, not overpowered altogether by the very flavor.

Finish. Although this is a berry flavored beer, in the end, if you rub your tongue across the top of your palate there remains a sensation of hops that is fairly pleasant.

Comments: I can definitely understand the marketing concepts behind flavored beers. There are many breweries in the United States the flavor their beers, particularly for sale in the summer time. This is one of those beers. There are two reasons I would drink this beer. The first is as a dessert beer, perhaps poured over fresh fruit and a tall glass. The second way I would drink this beer, is as part of a mix. Combining this particular beer with a stout or Porter would certainly be an interesting flavor combination. I can also imagine combining this with the citric based flavored beverage. Making a shandy out of this would be quite refreshing. I give the people at Leninkugel a great deal of credit for trying this particular beer, and suggesting the many different ways that it can be used to mix with other beers.

Alcohol content: 4.7% by volume

The brewery site: http://www.leinie.com/berry_weiss.html

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Taste of… Leinenkugel Honey Weiss

A Taste of… Leinenkugel Honey Weiss
J. Leinenkugel Brewing Co.
Chippewa Falls, WI / Milwaukee, WI

Preface: Three or four months ago I was at the initial presentation of this beer in the New York City area and had a chance to talk to the brewers, and their representatives. What I found very interesting was there interest in combining their beers to create new flavor sensations. I understand that their public relations department has made a great effort to suggest blending combinations to their customers and find this form of advertising to be very refreshing.

I have included a picture of the packaging that this beer came in. It is a 12 pack and totally enclosed. I was impressed for two reasons: the first reason is that keeps these beers from becoming light struck. (It is my understanding that most wheat beers have a tendency to be light struck both in shipping and in presentation in the stores.) I was also impressed with the efforts the brewer made to give this beer a good presentation. Where I purchased it the price was just slightly over $1.10 a bottle. Should they continue this packaging through the summer time I believe they can anticipate it being a successful seller.

Appearance: This beer is a crystal clear golden straw colored brew that appears to be very effervescent. It has a slightly rocky, not too densely packed rather fragile head that is not too long-lasting.

Aroma: This brew has a very malty, cracker aroma with slight hints of floral new-mown grass.

Mouth feel: The lively effervescence gives this beer is slightly larger mouth feel than would be expected and it has a slight viscosity to it that is not common to North American wheat beer.

Flavor: The flavor sensations echo of the initial aromas of this beer. The combination of flavors is less emphatic than the mouth feel. However, there is seamlessness between sip in lip flavor sensation. Neither the flavor of hop or wheat/malt is overpowering.

Finish. The finish to this beer is more hop than wheat. The hop finish itself is not overly enthusiastic, yet is a rather pleasant palate cleanser.

Comments: I am a fan of the Bavarian style of wheat beer and also appreciate the wheat based beers brews of French Canada. For my taste, however, the American style of wheat beer leaves something to be desired. This beer is no exception. In the future I will find it interesting to do a blind taste test against a regular lager beer, including this beer into the tasting. Nevertheless, it is a refreshing beer, and I can anticipate it being enjoyed on a hot day in the summer. There is a slight saline tang at the very end of the aftertaste and this would go very well with any type of seafood.

Alcohol content: 4.9% by volume

The brewery site: http://www.leinie.com/honey_weiss.html

Friday, February 15, 2008

Part Four of a Beer Writer's Vocabulary


This time we are going to discover the different flavors that malted barley brings to beer and ale. To begin with, it is helpful to understand the reason for "malting" barley.

First of all, the barley grain is not particularly suited to the baking of bread as it has far less gluten in it than its friend wheat. However, if it is allowed to germinate, and then dried, the starches that are created in the germination process, helped along by enzymes that are already in the grain, are ideal for creating the sweet liquid that is the first step in modern brewing. At the beginning of the brewing process. the mixtures of malts are crushed together to create “Grist” which becomes a “Mash” when the selection of different types of malted barley are ground up and added to hot water. This allows the starches that I mentioned before, to come in contact with the enzymes, I also mention before, to create a sugary porridge. The liquid that is drained from this sugary portage is called "Wort".

As I noted before, the germinated barley is dried at the end of the process called malting. The flavor of this grain resembles an unroasted nut like character on top of the fairly full mouth feel that the starch brings to the table. This is the basic flavor of malted barley. This malted barley is then roasted at different temperatures to create different flavors that the brewer can use in creating beer and ale. The industry uses what is called a "standard reference method" scale (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Reference_Method ) I prefer the unscientific terms of "lightly roasted.", "richly roasted.", "fully roasted", "black malt". (There is of course a great deal of difference in flavors between the first and last mentioned malt.) The amount of roasting creates the flavors that range from slightly sweet, to an almost tannic dryness. Some of the favorite words used to describe these flavors are: nutty, grainy, toasted, roasted, woody, caramel, sugar candy, molasses, treacle, brown sugar, and one of my favorites "burn sugar cane". The brewers have names for the malts in the degree to which they are roasted. A full listing of these, as far as I've gotten, can be found at my website.

To begin to fully experience the full flavor influence that malted barley has on beer, it is important to actually taste some malted barley. I suggest contacting either a homebrew supply shop, or natural/health foods store. The homebrew supply shop should be able to supply you with a range of flavors, and the natural/health foods store should be able to supply you with the essential flavor. As I mentioned in a previous blog many commercial breakfast cereals also include a high percentage of malt grains in their products as well. Consult the fine print on your breakfast cereal to determine just how much malted grain is in your product.

After that first refreshing sensation of cold liquid satisfies your thirst and expectations, the first sweet notes of the malted barley should come through. In this brief moment you have the chance to cross-indexed and categorize any remembrance of sweet that you have ever had. A quick review of these sensations can give you the vocabulary starting points for the description of this beer or ale. As I've mentioned before, it's helpful not to think of this as a beer or and ale, rather to think of it as a refreshing carbonated beverage. This way you do not approach the tasting with a great deal of preconceived notions. Two things will give you a greater appreciation of the malts used in the beer or ale that you are tasting.

The first thing to remember is the temperature has a great effect on how you taste any type of flavor. The colder something as the less flavors, you will taste. The warmer something is the greater the chance of flavors to develop. I offer the following example: I will admit that almost any mass-produced yellow beer is very refreshing when it is ice cold, a sip of that same beverage after it is reached room temperature is almost intolerable. I suggest you try the experiment yourself. The second thing to remember, or should I say be reminded of, is that most taste is actually the reaction to aroma. By exercising your old factory capabilities to their maximum between the lip and sip allows you to fully appreciate the influence that the malts use have on that particular beverage.

It is also important to keep in mind that the impression that the hops bring to the table soon follow on the impressions that you get from the malts. Their rush to the altar to wed, and they're hopefully happy marriage, will give you plenty of time at the ends to appreciate the influence of the hops.

But that is for another blog...

Peter LaFrance.
Peter.LaFrance@beerbasics.com )

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beer Taster's Vocabulary (Part Two)


Today I'm going to stay on the subject of aromas. I find it amusing that the subject is called beer “tasting” or for that matter wine "tasting" when so much is involved in the olfactory sense. It has been agreed for a long time, in the culinary sense as well as a scientific sense that the actual things we taste consist mainly of variations on four themes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. There are some of us who can taste more variations on these themes and there are some of us who can taste fewer variations on the same basic themes, but nevertheless, these are the basic “flavors”. It is our sense of smell that adds the incredible range of nuance to what we call "taste".

And so, it is almost impossible to begin to taste the beer without first smelling it. Most beers, as soon as you open the bottle, give you an idea of the type of beer that they are by the aromas that give off. (Should the beer be in a green glass bottle, there is a good chance you might experience the particularly memorable aroma of "skunk".) This initial aroma explosion is particularly true of ales. The reason for this is that the volatile oils in the hops used in making ales are particularly pungent. There are also a great deal more hops used in the production of ales than there are in the production of lagers. It is also noteworthy, that the actual fermentation of lager takes approximately 31 days, while the production of ale takes approximately 7 days. Logically, there should be more volatile oils in the ale than they would be in the lager. Once again I digress...

Appreciating the aroma of beer begins with the understanding of the theory of “three”. You have three times to appreciate all of the different aromas that there are in a particular beer. After that, you will have already thought about what you are experiencing and the chance to find a new flavor or a new aroma becomes remote. You also have become familiar with some of the flavors and aromas from that particular beer and familiarity breeds less appreciation.

I would like to speak for a moment on the appreciation of aromas. If you are lucky, or if you decide to pay attention, you should be able to ascertain the difference between the aromas of a slate sidewalk, and asphalt roadway, and the concrete sidewalk after a summer rain For those of you who are not urban creatures, you should be able to tell by smell alone when you've crossed over from pasture or grassy area onto the plowed or bare earth. The particular mix of petroleum and petroleum products that hover in the atmosphere when you are working on the engine of the automobile is a unique mixture of aromas. You can say that these aromas are metallic, or oily, perhaps there is a hint of rubber, or asphalt. All of these of the words are words that you would use to describe the atmosphere in an automobile garage. By naming particular things you call to mind, not only what they look like but what they smell like. It is this ability that is helpful to bring into mind when you are tasting and appreciating the aromatics of a beer. In fact, I find it and interesting exercise to put words to any of aroma or flavor, of what I might experience at any particular time of the day or place I might be. That sort of exercise doesn't help with long-term thought processes and they can send them into quite interesting directions. But once again I digress...

And so you have three chances to appreciate all of the aromas of the beer that you are about to "taste". How you go about executing these three chances will be the topic of the next blog. Stay tuned...

Peter LaFrance.
( Peter.LaFrance@beerbasics.com )

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Beer Tasters Vocabulary (Part One)

The Beer Tasters Vocabulary…


When a group of people get together and discuss a particular topic that is common knowledge to all of them a sort of jargon develops. If you add a level of professionalism, the jargon becomes part of the conversation. For instance, if a professional chef says that his “line got slammed”, it does not mean that an audience thought his joke was not funny. It means the rest of the cooks in his kitchen had so many orders that they couldn't get them out on time. Of course, for a comedian, anything that has to do with the kitchen is probably a foreign language. But I digress...

When I taste beer, I try and think of it as simply a carbonated beverage of a particular color, smells a particular way and has some flavors. If I do not think of it is beer, it makes it a lot easier to detect many of the flavors that are already there. If I think of it is beer I start looking for particular flavors such as roasted malt, or that bitter tang of a particular hop a particular brewer is known to use. If I clear my mind and palate sufficiently, it is often possible to discover flavors and taste sensations that would be missed if the label had been affixed to that particular beer. Starting with that mindset, I get ready to experience the first set of flavor sensations that beg to be named.

The aromas are the first thing you're going to experience when you taste beer. A good deal of this comes from the aromas given off by the decomposition of the head, or crown of foam that floats on top of the beer. Each of these bubbles release aromas that can be sensed as the beer is poured. These aromas come particularly from the hops, and to a lesser degree from the type of malt used in the beer or ale. Exploring these aromas, the taster uses of the map of their particular past experiences. For instance, I have experienced icy cold winter evenings in the state of Vermont. I can tell you from that experience that the air has a slightly metallic taste to it. Perhaps it is the temperature, perhaps it is the lack of moisture in the air, but there is a particular metallic taste to frigid air when the temperature gets below a certain degree. I often find this metallic taste echoed in Cascade hops in particular. Other hops can impart a blackberry aroma, or the distinct aroma of grapefruit. So far, the association with fruit is helpful in understanding the aroma. However, many rustic beers, such as French farmhouse, and many of the Belgian beers, present less delicate aromas. The term "barnyard" aroma is often used. For those of an urban persuasion this word might not mean much. For those who have ever visited a working farm, the word takes on a homely dimension. Along this line, I've often heard critics of white wine, described that product as tastings slightly of "cat urine." I have experienced some wheat beers, exhibiting slightly "fecal" aromas. As for the cat image, I've always believed that the cat chases the mouse in the brewery.

And this is just the beginning of our exploration of the vocabulary of the beer taster. I invite you to stay tuned over the next few weeks for further additions.

Peter LaFrance.
( Peter.LaFrance@beerbasics.com )