Amateur Hour: Hops Schmops
**Amateur Hour is our new (first) column, written by wordsmith Erik Baldwin. When Erik is not writing, he’s playing in Seattle band, The Beats, Man. After a way too long and irritating departure – Erik is back to talk about his journey to beer.***
Most people start to realize at some point that beer with flavor is preferable to the alcoholic bilge water your grandfather drank. What they don’t realize, however, is that there is more to flavor than just hop intensity and bitterness.
I can’t tell you how often I hear from people who jump on the microbrew train and constantly tell people “I’m really into hoppy beers”. Well, friend, I’ve got some news for you. There’s more to life than Pales and IPAs.
Here are a couple styles that usually don’t have an over-developed hop profile that I’ve been experimenting with lately.
This antique Belgian style originates in Wallonia (The French-speaking half of Belgium) and is typically known as a “farmhouse ale”. That is to say, the farmers pretty much kept it to themselves for a long while. It’s a lighter, low ABV style that goes down nice and easy after a hard day plowing the barley fields. You could call it the Gatorade of beer, but even I would cringe.
Look for a bubbly, smooth golden brew with strong yeast flavor and hints of peppercorn and citrus. Outstanding examples include Dupont’s mysteriously smooth-yet-bitter Avec les Bons Vœux and the always impressive and delightfully spicy Double Mountain Bon Idée.
Now, before I get ahead of myself, I have to admit, I’ve become completely obsessed with sour ales. The depth and variety of sour beers increases everyday, and brewers keep finding ways to make them better and more creative. So what’s the story?
The sour style is at its heart a “happy mistake” that Belgian cellar-dwellers stumbled upon ages ago. At some point, an unhappy brewer realized his batch had been inoculated by wild yeast floating around his caveau. He was in luck, though, because it turns out wild yeast turns the Belgian red or brown ale into a delicious, effervescent delight of a beer.
Expect sours to run a range from bright, golden strong ales to deep, rich browns and ambers. Most have a shockingly flavorful front, full of berry and wine notes. Some are much more tart than others, so experiment a bit and find out where your taste lies.
Some outstanding examples include Cascade Summer Gose, which, incidentally has salt added at some point during the boil, and Russain River Consecration. Now, I could write an entire post about Consecration alone, so I’ll save the majority of the details, but let me just say this: it is brewed with red currants and aged in oak Cabernet-Sauvignon barrels, weighs in at 10% ABV and drinks like champagne.
So, who needs IPA anyway?
Next week: IPA: the world’s greatest beer.