Friday Beer Blogging: Brews For Kwanzukahmas

The winter solstice has almost arrived, and with it comes the deep need to celebrate family ties, bring evergreen trees into our home as a symbol of nature’s determination to survive the harsh winter months and to drink dark, rich beer. The other Michael Jackson, a guy who is to beer scholarship what that first guy is to crazy has-been pop stars, describes winter beers thusly:

Brewing special seasonal beers predates modern history and has its origin in the pagan celebrations of winter solstice. Later, as monasteries often functioned as the local brewery, some monks made the the first holiday commemorative beers to celebrate the birth of Christ. Winter beers are as much a state of mind as a style, but beers best for fending off the cold of a long winter night — such as old ales, strong ales, barleywines and strong lagers — are often associated with winter.

Most respectable breweries release some sort of seasonal beers to keep their patrons warm through the cold months. A good example is Delirium Noel from Brouwerij Huyghe in Belgium, almost redundant when you think how rich are Huyghe’s two better known beers, Delirium Tremens and Delirium Nocturnum.

Delirium Noel
Happy holidays!

I can still taste my last Noel in the back of my throat, which is all the recommendation Delirium Noel should need. But as long as the season lasts there’s no reason not to make a go at trying everybody’s seasonal beer. My ma adores the Black Chocolate Stout from Brooklyn Brewing (don’t tell her that it doesn’t actually contain chocolate) and any well-made barleywine deserves a try. Some brews you should try for the name alone. And of course, whenever possible you can hold true to the principle of act globally, drink locally. If your local brewhouse makes a knockout winter beer, give it a try and let us know. If you brew your own, here’s the chance to share the recipe.


In honor of the dark, rich and spicy, this friday’s non-beer alternative is Talisker, made from sea-whipped peat on the isle of Skye.

This dram’ll grow hair on the back of your knees.

The sea leaves more iodine on Talisker’s peat than any other in Scotland, which gives Talisker a uniquely explosive personality that you won’t get anywhere outside of grampa jeb’s firewater. Without a doubt my favorite single malt, as long as I’m not looking for a soothing after-dinner cordial. Then it’s Highland Park or Oban.

Friday Beer Blogging: Canadian Suds And La Noble Pourriture

This Friday I feel like toasting the single greatest thing to come out of Canada since the Avrow Avro Arrow: Unibroue and their stellar stable of damnation-themed beers. I have no doubt these beers are a prime reason why the rest of Canada will never allow Quebec to secede.

Try La Fin du Monde if you’re too snobbish for Hooegaarden, but beware the 9% alcohol. Order one 20-oz. bottle unless you plan on wobbling home.

Seven reasons to drive north for the weekend

Maudite fits the bill if you prefer red ales, and La Terrible may be one of the best trappist-style ales made by somebody who doesn’t speak Flemish. I can’t speak for their other ales, but I’m sure that folks will be happy to share that and report any other Canada-related finds in the comments.


For your Friday non-beer alternative, let’s take a moment to meditate Gary Snyder-style on the joy to be found in mold and rot.

Not working? Can’t figure out why someone would want to put in their mouth grapes infested with the bane of damp-climate fruit growers, Botrytis cinerea?

The answer looks something like this:

If you’re lucky enough to have old, robust vines in a relatively dry climate, the grey bane of fruitgrowers also represents an opportunity to make some of the most difficult and rewarding wine in the world. Botrytis preserves the flavors of a grape, concentrating it to a rich, explosively-flavored essence of its original self. Many growers consider the ways that Botrytis concentrates and deepens grape character practically magical, if you luck upon a moist summer and a dry fall and you have the nerve to play chicken with an early frost. The longer you wait the more legendary your bottling will become, but also the more likely that a wet spell or an early frost will leave you with nothing but mold and dead berries.

If you find a good late harvest, save it for an exceptional occasion and serve it with dessert. Many are rich and complex enough to constitute a dessert on their own.

Among the great late harvests that I’ve found in my travels: Vendanges Tardives gewurztraminer, from Hugel et Fils on the famous Alsace Wine Route in France, stands out as an excellent reason to visit this corner of Europe. When you smuggle this back from Europe make sure to find room in your contraband suitcase for a tin of foie gras, with which it goes perfectly. The Gewurtztraminer, a rich dessert wine for which eastern Alsace is famous, makes a perfect fit for the royal Botrytis treatment. The general term for Botrytis wines from this region is Sélection de Grains Nobles/SGN.

As Gewurtz is to Alsace, Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand, and one of the best-regarded bottlers of that variety is Isabel Estate, near Renwick in Marlborough. It should go without saying (but having tried it, I’ll say it emphatically) that their late-harvest Sauvgnon Blanc, Noble Sauvage, would be a prize for anybody who can find a bottle.

Any region that makes decent whites will have a few wineries that try their hand at a Botrytis bottling, and you won’t be disappointed across the Rhine in Germany. The rare Beerenauslese, for example, is made by selecting individual Botrytis-affected Riesling grapes by hand. Trockenbeerenauslese is rarer and even richer, a true challenge for the masochists who insist on locating a bottle.

In my experience, anywhere you find it a bottle of Botrytis wine is a prize. Get friendly with the wineries in your area and you might find that they have something ‘under the table’ that they won’t even let the tasting crowd know they have.

Friday Beer Blogging: Inebriation Is Your Link To The Past

The Wari Empire in Peru introduced secular, expansionist militarism to the Andes, and its culture and customs have long intrigued precolumbian experts. Recently a team of archaeologists showed the importance of beer in Wari-era diplomacy, and in so doing showed the importance of beer in archaeology.

The day started reasonably enough.

The 25-hectare summit of Cerro Baúl is known to have once been a bustling city, packed with houses and ceremonial buildings. Although archaeologists have known about these ruins since the 1970s, the exact purpose of the ceremonial areas has remained unclear.

The puzzle attracted the interest of Michael Moseley, an anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Moseley has closely studied the Wari Empire, which ruled much of what is now modern-day Peru before being overtaken by the Incas around AD 1000.

Then, they discovered beer.

Through careful excavation and analysis of the site, Moseley and his fellow researchers have pieced together a story of what they think happened there: the inhabitants were beer-makers, they say. And the workers involved were probably high-class women. The researchers say the booze was probably produced for drinking ceremonies with the neighbouring Tiwanaku people, with whom the Wari competed for scarce resources in the desert environment.

This is where we all get to try our hands at archaeology. Would you take midden pollen cores? Measure isotope ratios in the ash piles? Amateur. The correct answer, of course, is to guesstimate the hooch recipe and get down Wari style.

The archaeologists tried their hand at recreating the ancient chicha recipe while visiting the region, though given the results Moseley says: “I’m not sure our ethnobotanist got the recipe right.” The result was so spicy they had to mix it with modern beer to make it drinkable.

At that point somebody discovered a clothespin:

Moseley and his colleagues also found nearly a dozen shawl pins embedded in the brewery floor. These pins, which look like long needles with flattened heads, are thought to have belonged to the most privileged Wari women.

And then things just got silly:

The archaeologists admit that the women could have thrown their pins on the floor as part of a ritual once the brewing was completed by someone else. But they point out that the pins are found throughout the ash deposits. Alternatively, the heat from the boiling vats could have made the women remove their shawls, they suggest, and the pins were lost in the process.

We don’t know for sure whether the Naked Peruvian Princess Brewers would have been discovered without chicha, but professionals always err on the side of caution.

Unless you got to the chicha before archaeologists bogarted the urn, your best chance at enjoying a fizzy, head-spinning mug of humanity’s distant past comes from Dogfish Head in Delaware. Responding to a request by archaeologists investigating ancient Phryngia, Dogfish Head reconstructed a recipe from residue in pottery recovered from the tomb of King Midas himself, in modern-day Turkey. The results were surprisingly drinkable.

Midas Beer
See the world through golden goggles

Reaching further into the history of inebriation, archaeologists in China announced last December that they may have uncovered the very birth of beer itself, stretching back some 9000 years into the distant past. This raises the important question: which came first, civilization as we know it, or beer? Think about it.

Needless to say, Dogfish Head is on the case.


Your Friday non-beer alternative: Beaujolais season is back!

Those of you who think the annual Nouveau release is a marketing gimmick for astringent syrup can kindly pipe down. The wife and I will be attending a beaujolais party with the Pittsburgh Alliance Francaise and we plan to have a jolly time. Find out more here.

Friday Beer Blogging: Make It Yourownself (Plus BONUS Cat Blogging with FLAIR)

By popular demand, this week we raise a chipped stein to the folks who get their beer the old-fashioned way: by making it theirownselves.

Homebrew 3

A short story; bear with me. Picture a freshman dorm in Colorado. Two friends have to run out to the homebrew supplier so it’s up to me to watch ten gallons of boiling, stinking pumpkin beer mash. For those of you who aren’t brewers, that’s roughly what it would smell like if Halloween died in a hot, sealed room and stayed there for a week. Rachel, a feared RA who loved nothing more than to bust students doing outlawed things like brewing beer, wanders in holding her nose.

“Whad are you doing?”
“Uh, ”
“Cooking dinner.”
“Seembs like a lod…”
“Whad is dat?”
“…Gazpacho. Ukranian pumpkin stew. It’s a family specialty. Want to try some?”
“Your loss. Sorry about the smell.”

I like to think that some day in the future she grabbed a waiter at a fine restaurant and declared, “I’ve seen gazpacho, and THAT’S NOT GAZPACHO.” Or something to that effect. The beer was worth the wait.

Have a secret recipe? A yeast/malt/hops combination that shames Rochefort #10? Have at it in the comments.


In the spirit of making it yourownself, this week’s non-beer alternative is glogg, a Swedish holiday drink that’s served like tea. Goes to your head faster than warm sake if you’re not careful.

glogg 2

You can find a classic recipe here, but you can do just as well with a neutral alcohol like vodka, some sugar and whole ripe fruit of your choice. Mix the alcohol, sugar and fruit in a large mason jar, leave in a closet and forget about it for a year or so. Then add spices and serve warm. Alternatively, a friend with a pear tree simply pulls pears off his tree, steeps them in vodka for a year and serves it cold in a shotglass. Delicious. His favorite trick is to tie a narrow-mouthed jar to the pear bud and let the pear grow inside it.


Bonus links:

* Beer and microscopes with polarizing condensers. Cool.
* Find about more about homebrewing from the American Homebrewers Association.
* Image sources: here, and here.

*** Update ***

[from John] A Friday twofer: Beerblog, plus Cat Blogging (with flair!)

Tunch on the printer posing.

Posing is hard work.

Friday beer blogging: Act Globally, Drink Locally

Picture this scenario. On friday nights you could stop at the local brewpub, but instead you shave a few bucks and stop at the chain sports bar down the street. Now imagine that the brewpub owner, a decent guy who lives with his family a few blocks down the street, sold one too few beers this month and has to take a second mortgage to keep up the pub’s credit rating. This means that instead of spending the summer at a NASA summer camp, the brewmaster’s snotty 10-year-old kid will instead spend the summer huffing glue and looking for trouble. Now imagine that you sometimes forget to lock your car. And you live near a poorly-marked cliff. See where I’m going with this? Even when it seems like you’re spending a bit more, when you add it all up you’re actually saving money.

Let’s kick off friday beer blogging with our favorite local brew joints.

laughing lab

You find Bristol Brewing Company by biking ten minutes south from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. The ride back takes longer because it’s uphill, and because if you’re not stone drunk you’re riding one-handed with a growler full of Winter Warlock in the other. In a city that hardly lacks for brewpubs you can do much, much worse.

In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that my friend Jason is their head brewer, my old Cell Biology professor does something scientifical on their payroll and Mike Bristol is one of my favorite people anywhere. But that should hardly cloud my judgment, when their beer does that just fine.

church brew works

For a while my fiancee and I spent weekends touring the old stone churches that you see practically everywhere in Pittsburgh. Even the major cathedrals took us weeks, a few standouts being a Serbian Orthodox cathedral perched on a cliff on the North Side and the grand cathedral on Polish hill, whose enthusiastic caretaker practically adopted us into her family. God help anybody who tries to see everything in a city this old and faith-dense. However, one pilgrimage we made on a regular basis was the Church Brew Works, on Liberty Ave. in Lawrenceville. The food is freakishly good, and you pay for it, but the sermon that gets served up every day is what they make in the gleaming fermenting tanks behind glass where the altar used to be.

Who are the brewers in your neighborhood? Discuss.


By popular demand, here is your non-beer friday night alternative:

Highland Park

One of the best single malts that I’ve tried. And yes, I’ve tried Laphroaig.