Winter Warmer: The Danish Art of Hygge in the Baltic Porter

By Jenny Pfäfflin of Cicerone Certification Program There’s a Danish way of living called hygge, a hard-to-translate-into-English concept the Danes adhere to in the colder, darker months (though, it can be a year-round philosophy). In its essence, it means “coziness” – winter hygge can be expressed through candlelit dinners, climbing under wool blankets, twilight coffee dates, pine-scented potpourri, and Netflix binges. But hygge is also emotional – it’s a time to gather with family and friends, to put aside work talk and politics and just be with each other. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the indigenous beer styles to the Nordic region is liquid hygge. In the 18th century, the British started to export their porters, who had made them with a higher alcohol content for the trip across the Baltic Sea. Known as the Baltic porter in the relatively modern establishment of beer style nomenclature, Baltic porters were also made under the names Russian stout or imperial stout, as they became the beer of favor by St. Petersburg royals. It all really depended on how the brewery decided to market its beer. Soon, instead of importing the beers from England, entrepreneurs set up breweries along the Baltic Sea. These new breweries adapted to regional ingredients and processes, and in turn, made a version of these strong, rich beers that evolved from its English roots. Baltic porters made in Scandinavia differ from those made in the Baltic regions. And even then, some Baltic porters are top-fermented, while others are bottom-fermented, probably as a result of adapting to the trends of the time, when lager breweries in Northern Europe were gaining in numbers and using one house yeast resulted in a more simplified and economical production of beer. No matter what brewers in Nordic and Baltic countries called it, the Baltic porter is unlike what we’ve become accustomed to as imperial stouts in the United States. Domestic versions of Imperial Stouts are characteristically American—barrel-chested and full of bravado, usually ringing in over 10% ABV, roasty, and heavily hopped. But there’s still a warmth to Baltic porters, as they’re usually stronger and fruitier than most porters and stouts. Minimally hopped, dark fruits like plums and cherries fill the aroma of these porters, along with licorice, chocolate, and toffee. Malty sweetness is showcased in the taste, held in check by low bitterness, and restrained coffee roast or slight smokiness. Full-bodied but not heavy, the slight glow of alcohol warms you up as it all comes together as hygge in its liquid form, the perfect accompaniment for snuggling into a snowy night. Notable Baltic Porters: Sinebrychoff Porter, Finland Carnegie Stark Porter, Sweden Żywiec Porter, Poland Smuttynose Baltic Porter, U.S. Jack’s Abby Framinghammer, U.S. Les Trois Mousquetaires G.C. Porter Baltique, Canada

Sustainable Beer on Chicago’s South Side: Whiner Beer Company

By Calvin Fredrickson   Located in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, Whiner Beer Co. is housed within a “vertical farm” called The Plant, an almost too-good-to-be-true bastion of environmentally minded business. Folks, it’s the real deal, and its ideology represents a watershed moment in Whiner founder and brewmaster Brian Taylor’s career. More on that later. With 15 years of brewing experience to his name, Taylor had technical know-how in spades. What he needed was a creative partner, someone who could evoke the playful, tongue-in-cheek personality of Whiner’s European-inspired beers. Enter Ria Neri, local hospitality veteran and artist, who embraced Taylor’s vision for Whiner by expressing mutual influences – ranging from 70s French comics to armadillos – through the brewery’s branding and beer labels.   By packaging their beer in cans, much of it barrel-aged, Whiner is looking to convey a highbrow-meets-lowbrow aesthetic. Wary of taking themselves too seriously, Taylor and Neri explain that the brewery’s name is a lighthearted allusion to the wine industry. One gets the sense that Whiner is tipping its hat to the world of wine with a twinkle in its eye. As of October, Whiner was still awaiting word from the TTB, and Taylor was chomping at the bit. “We’re basically ready to go,” he said. Indeed they are.   Daylight spills from broad windows onto the brewery’s concrete floor and walls, playing off brushed steel fermenters. The buzz and cracks of final customizations echo throughout the brewery, dust hanging in the air. Glowing white Xs punctuate the brewery and cellar ceilings. Taylor joked that people take more pictures of those lights than they do anything else. In their defense, the lights are rad. But Whiner’s story and vision outshine the brewery’s cosmetic appeal. What follows is an overview of Whiner’s stainless and wood cellars, their souring and blending processes, and their role at The Plant.   The Stainless Whiner’s 30-barrel, three-vessel brewhouse will accommodate step mashing, a brewing process typical of some of the French- and Belgian-style beers Whiner will produce. Two 60-barrel fermentation tanks dwarf two 15-barrel counterparts, vessels that will serve fermentation, blending, and yeast propagation processes. “Everything serves a really good purpose where it sits,” Taylor said, a credit, in part, to Corcoran Fabrication & Design, whom Taylor often contracted for work during his days as head cellarman at Goose Island.   For Whiner, stainless plays an important role in producing consistent beers. Taking a cue from beers of years past – Sofie, anyone? – Taylor will be blending four parts clean, stainless-fermented beer with one part wine barrel-aged sour, resulting in a tart, balanced beer. While stainless is a necessary side of Whiner’s fermentation, wine barrels hold mystique for Taylor and Neri in a way that stainless does not. In fact, the first two barrels Whiner received were promptly named after their proud stewards ­­– scrawled in sharpie on one, “Brian.” On the other, “Ria.” The Wood “I think I bought the barrels before anything,” Taylor said. “I had wine barrels in here and nothing else.” The best barrels are Cabernet Sauvignon, he said, which lend to initial fills bold wine flavors and aromas, though Pinot noir barrels are good, too. These barrels also present a relatively inexpensive vessel for long-term aging, something that is impractical in expensive stainless steel tanks. Wine barrels, being porous, allow for slow oxygen ingress, which is an excellent environment for microbial activity. Taylor will be encouraging that activity by pitching strains of Brettanomyces yeast into Lactobacillus-inoculated wort. Doing so will develop intense fruity and sometimes farm-like aromas, along with lemony, yogurt-like tanginess from the soured wort.   Whiner’s love for oak is no joke – with 40 barrels in the cellar and counting, Taylor muses of having a foudre or two soon, which can hold close to 400 gallons of liquid. “On a microbiology side, I like the wine barrels, because it’s more about growth; whereas with bourbon barrels, it’s about bourbon character and oak.” Federal and state approval holdups have kept Taylor from filling his barrels just yet, but when he does fill them, lush vinous notes will mingle with the deep oak aromas that have already permeated the cellar.   Souring Process Several techniques exist for souring beer, including hot- and cold-side introductions of Lactobacillus. One type of hot-side Lactobacillus addition is kettle souring, which usually involves an eventual boil, arresting additional bacterial fermentation in the wort upon reaching a desired pH. Another hot-side Lactobacillus addition involves soaking mesh bags filled with malt – in Whiner’s case, pilsner malt – in 110º wort for 24 hours, a technique Taylor honed while working alongside Jared Jankowski at Goose Island. “Everyone says it doesn’t work, but it worked twice as well for us,” Taylor said. Instead of killing the Lactobacillus bacteria with a boil, Taylor sends the inoculated wort to barrels, where it ferments and develops additional lactic character for the period of about a month.   Measuring total acidity – a technique Taylor learned at Boulevard – and blending, Taylor said, will promote greater control of flavor and acid profiles in the finished product. “We want to make sure the sourness of the beer isn’t overly sour or not sour enough,” he said. Once Whiner’s stainless- and wood-fermented Le Tub Wild Saison – one of Whiner’s flagships – is blended in the brite tank, Taylor will pitch Brettanomyces claussenii, a fruit-forward yeast strain that will create additional complexity and tamp down potential Pediococcus activity in the bottle. Pediococcus, like Lactobacillus, is a bacteria strain that creates lactic acid in beer, albeit one that can work more slowly and create off flavors. Recalling his experience processing Juliet wine barrels at Goose Island, Taylor estimated one in ten barrels had to be dumped. Those barrels had become “sick” or “ropy,” resulting in slimy, gelatinous beer, the result of Pediococcus. “It’s dangerous as hell,” Taylor said.   Sulphur sticks, potassium metabisulfite, and citric acid are among the more common treatments for barrel maintenance – and they’re all methods Taylor eschews…

Mash Tun’s Top 5s for 2015

We drank some good beers in 2015. Here are a few selections from four Mash Tun cholos. Some of the beers were released in 2015. Some weren’t. Forget a gym membership. Track down these beers. Calvin Fredrickson’s Picks: The Commons Brewery – Urban Farmhouse Ale: When I visited Commons this past summer, their menu was loaded with tons of low-ABV, flavorful, and expressive beers. Urban Farmhouse Ale was a standout. My girlfriend and I enjoyed a couple bottles while camping along the Oregon coast. de Garde Brewing – The Boysen: Boysenberry funktown. Yogurt and berry goodness. Moderate acidity, tannic, and boasts a beautiful color. It’s beer’s purple drank. Anderson Valley Brewing Co. – The Kimmie, The Yink, & The Holy Gose: Gose hit its stride in 2015. This one carried the banner. Kimmie was my go-to. I brought it to BBQs, bought it at divey concert halls, and drank it at home. I don’t understand Anderson Valley’s nomenclature. I do understand this beer. Very well. Half Acre Beer Co. – Pony: It’s local, it’s hoppy, and it’s always fresh. I drank buckets of this stuff in 2015. I expect 2016 will be no different. Pivo, I love you, but… Spiteful Brewing – Vote of No Confidence: Dankness and tropical fruit with a creamy mouthfeel. Dangerously drinkable. This beer fueled some good times. –––––––––– Doug Veliky’s Picks BrickStone Brewery – American Pale Ale:  Some call it the Zombie killer [3 Floyds Zombie Dust]. There are definitely similarities, but this one has more malt backbone, and, most importantly, it lasts on the shelf for more than 30 minutes (for now). Oskar Blues Brewery – Death by Coconut: This is the type of beer that could convert casual beer drinkers into enthusiasts, if only they could get their hands on it. Very approachable at 6% ABV, with big coconut and rich chocolate flavor. Spiteful Brewing – Barrel Aged Malevolence Chocolate Caliente: Spiteful has always been on the map of Chicago’s enthusiasts who seek out the freshest beer possible. Their FoBAB winner in the category of Speciality Strong Porter/Stout puts them on the radar nationwide with this well-integrated, big-bodied, spiced chocolate stout.   Desthil Brewing – Dosvidanya: Like a Russian nesting doll, each layer stacks perfectly into this Russian imperial stout, aged in bourbon barrels. Be prepared for a big fudge brownie, covered in rich chocolate sauce. Moody Tongue – Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison: Pair this complex, flavorful Moody Tongue saison with your next meal featuring chicken or fish to really enhance the dining experience. Bright grassy and lemon flavors, mild cracked pepper, and bready malts. ––––––––– Chris Quinn’s Picks   Marz Community Brewing – Jungle Boogie: One of the most original beers I had all year, Jungle Boogie seamlessly intertwines the juicy, dripping flavors of exotic U.S. hops with rooibos tea. de Garde Brewing – Hose: A trip to de Garde Brewing earlier this year was an eye-opening look at the cutting edge of American wild ales. A 100% spontaneous fermentation brewery, de Garde somehow manages to brew a clean, lactic gose. It takes them a year to produce and they sell it for $6 per 750ml….I still don’t know how this beer is possible. Penrose Brewing – Wild X with Cherries: Perhaps the best American wild beer I tasted all year, Penrose took the already stellar Wild X and turned it into something magical. Scratch Brewing – Spring Tonic: My introduction to Scratch came by way of this beer. Technically a gruit, spring tonic is a vibrant, light, and refreshingly quenching beer. It’s a perfect introduction to one of the more innovative and ambitious breweries in the country. August Schell Brewing Co. – Starkeller Peach: Yes, you read that correctly. August Schell, the brewer of Grain Belt lager, decided to start a sour program. And they killed it. I’m as confused as you are.   –––––––– EdMar’s Picks: I decided to review my favorite beers of the 2015 by thinking about how they pair with video gaming, the frequency of their ingestion, and expressing yearnings for those whales that come only once a year. I also picked one of my favorite beers by the brewery I work at. And I used lyrics written by Morrissey of The Smiths to describe these selections. Spiteful Brewing – Alley Time: Punctured bicycle On a hillside desolate Will Nature make a man of me yet? When in this charming car This charming man Why pamper life’s complexities When the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?  (The Smiths, “This Charming Man”) Almanac Beer Co. – Barbary Coast When it comes down to virtue and truth No one can hold a candle to you And I dim next to you No one can hold a candle to you When it comes down to old-fashioned virtue (Morrissey, “No One Can Hold a Candle to You”) Perennial Artisan Ales – Barrel-Aged Abraxas Haven’t had a dream In a long time See, the life I’ve had Can make a good man Turn bad So for once in my life Let me get what I want Lord knows It would be the first time (The Smiths, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”) Marz Community Brewing – Jungle Boogie You shut your mouth How can you say I go about things the wrong way ? I am human and I need to be loved Just like everybody else does (The Smiths – “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side”) Maine Beer Co – Lunch And if a double-decker bus Crashes into us To die by your side Is such a heavenly way to die And if a ten ton truck Kills the both of us To die by your side Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine (The Smiths – “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”) Bonus Track!  3 Floyds – Broo Doo Dear hero imprisoned With all the new crimes that you are perfecting Oh, I can’t help quoting you Because everything that you said rings true And now in…


January 2016
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