Off To The Beer Seminar!

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Today is a great day for beer appreciation, because it is the day that I finally get to host my long-overdue beer-tasting and history of beer seminar. Ten participants have signed on, the space has been reserved, and in a few hours time, I will be giving the attendees a quick (well not too quick) run-down on the history of the brewing craft, coupled with some generous sampling.

I’ve prepared the following list based on what I could find and what seemed indispensable to me as far as representing the history and full range of brewing was concerned. All told, they are divided by style more than historical period, but I will be presenting them in this order since it gives a pretty good idea of how the art evolved over time.

Ancient Beers:
Heather: Salt Spring Island Heather Ale (5% / 650 ml)
(I desperately wanted to find a bomber of Gruit as well, but that variety of beer is both hard to find and hopelessly out of season right now)

Abbey Beers:
Blonde: Affligem Blonde (6.8% / 330ml)
Tripel: Townsite Charleston Tripel (9% / 650 ml)
Sour: Driftwood Belle Royale (8% / 650 ml)

Anglo-American Beer:
Pale Ale: Hoyne’s Down Easy (5.2% / 650ml)
India Pale Ale: Driftwood Fat Tug IPA (7% / 650 ml)
Stout: Hopworks 7-Grain Stout (5.3% / 650 ml)
Barley Wine: Howe Sound Wooly Bugger (10.5% / 375 ml)

German Beer:
Lager: Ayinger Dortmunder Lager (5.5% / 500 ml)
Oktoberfest: Russel Marzen (5.5% / 650ml)
Hefeweizen: Schneider Weisse (5.4% / 500 ml)
Bock: Schneider Weisse Aventinus (8% / 500ml)
Smokebeer: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (6.6% / 500 ml)

The seminar will begin with where and how beer became a cornerstone of civilization – emerging alongside agriculture and sedentary communities some 8000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. I will then go on to how the rise of wine making introduced a sense of cultural distinction during Classical Antiquity, and the influence was largely confined to the parts of Europe where the Roman Empire had influence (France, Spain, Italy, the Mediterranean, but not Germany, the Low Countries, Eastern Europe, or the British Isles).

Then comes the Middle Ages, the establishment of Abbey/Monastery Brewing, the rise of hop use, the advent of Lager and the growing professionalization of the industry. Which then gives way to the industrial revolution and the emergence of brewing as a big business, followed of course by the modern era and the resurgence in craft brewing. It promises to be interesting, I just hope I can keep it down to 20 minutes. Leaves more time from sampling!

I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes and I hope to repeat it in the very near future with some other (and larger) groups of people.

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Chateau Jiahu

Not that long ago, I learned something interesting about the earliest alcoholic beverages ever made. According to archaeologists, the earliest alcohol was to be found in a small Neolitic village named Jiahu, in the Chinese province of Henan. Interestingly enough, it was made from fermented honey, fruit and assorted grains, classifying it as a sort of mead. Based on the latest carbon dating, this alcoholic beverage was being made around 9000 BC, at roughly the same time that beer and wine first began to appear in the Middle East.

Not uncoincidentally, the Dogfish Head brewery (producer of the infamous 90 Minute IPA) released their own version of this beer back in 2005. Apparently, they did it at the behest of Dr. Patrick McGovern, a professor of molecular archeology who worked for the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Named in honor of the archaeological site, this beer is part of their Ancient Ale lineup (the more recent of which include Midas Touch and Theobroma).

Chateau Jiahu:
And like the original, it is made using honey, brown rice syrup, muscat grape, barley malt and hawthorn berry, and then slow-fermented using sake yeast. The result is a most unusual drink that is part beer, part mead, and very unique. In fact, its so far off the beaten trail for beer that I think a categorical breakdown might be necessary. So here it is, in terms of the big four:

Appearance: A clear, deep golden amber hue with light foam and not a lot of carbonation
Nose:
Jiahu’s scent comes across as very fruity, reminiscent of citrus and grapes. There is also just the slightest touch of floral bouquet that is reminiscent of orange fruit and blossoms.
Taste: Diverse and sweet, highly reminiscent of meads or strong honey beers. The palate is also malty and combines several kinds of notes, including honey, syrup, and a variety of fruits (I noted sweet melon, passion fruit, and pineapple in the mix)
Aftertaste: Very clean, light notes of honey and fruit
Overall: 8.5/10
Serving Info: Best when served chilled, or, if you’re into historical accuracy, you could try it warm, as it would have been traditionally consumed. Also, best when enjoyed in a snifter or a specially designed Trappist ale or barley wine glass

The folks at the liquor store asked me to let them know what I thought. The bottle and label alone tend to draw the eye, and the description is certainly enough to pique some interest. However, the experimental look and price can tend to intimidate the average consumer. I will happy to report back to them that I enjoyed it’s unique, complex and experimental flavor just as soon as I’m back in their neck of the woods! Check out the company website for info on where to buy:
http://www.dogfish.com/brews-spirits/the-brews/occassional-rarities/chateau-jiahu.htm