P49 Suspect Device Gruit

gruitBrewer: Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver, BC / Crannog Ales, Sorrento, BC
Style: Gruit
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Another installment in the Brews Brothers Volume 2 pack. This beer, which was produced in collaboration with Crannog Ales, is named after the song Suspect Device by Stiff Little Fingers. It is done in the traditional style known as Gruit, a malt-forward, hop-free variety that predates the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516.

Tasting Notes: Gruits are a bit of a challenge for me, as they tend to come with some rather heavy spices. However, this one had very little spice to speak of, which really let the malt flavor through. I was reminded of a good bock or winter ale, with a smooth, rich malt base with some mild hints of cider, nutmeg and clove spice.

Appearance: Deep amber/red, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt, hints of orchard fruit, minerals, alcohol, mild notes of nutmeg and clove
Taste: Smooth malt start, hint of dry cider and brown sugar, mild spices, mineral tang 
Aftertaste: Lingering malt and dry cider flavor, spices and minerals 
Overall: 8/10

Salt Spring Island Heather Ale

saltspring_heatherAs the beer class I am hoping to teach nears, I have found myself feeling a little hard pressed to secure all the styles of beer I would need to make an effective presentation. After all, how can one accurately represent the history of beer when it’s so long, diverse and varied? Sure, there’s no shortage of British-style ales, German lagers, and Belgian ales here on the west coast. But what of beers that predate the Belgian Purity Law?

Lucky for me that Salt Spring Island specializing in creating beers of this kind. For awhile, I was hoarding bottles of Salt Spring Island’s Spring Fever Gruit, but as expected, they ran out. And while their Saturnalia Gruit is an equally fitting example of an ancient brew, it too suffers from seasonal availability. Lucky for me, their Heather Ale is year-round and I was able to grab a few, knowing that I could drink them and not fear that the supply would run dry.

And I thought that while I was doing that, I might finally give it a review. It goes without saying that Heather Ale is a renowned style of beer, one that is very popular in Scotland and abroad. It dates back to 4000 BC when it was introduced to Scotland by the Picts, and is therefore one of the most dated styles in existence. And Salt Spring Brewery, in tune with their commitment to organic brewing that’s faithful to its roots, produce a very nice and easy-drinking beer that has a subtle array of herbal notes and flavors that is very appealing, especially to people who are looking for a break from the hoppy beers the Pacific Northwest is famous for.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malt, hints of flowers and honey
Taste: Smooth malt, mild tang, hint of vanilla, notes of honey
Aftertaste: Clean finish, lingering tang and minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

Though I am a big fan of the hops, I have to give high credit to this beer for its clean taste, mineral-like tang, vanilla and honey like flavor and gentle aroma. I naturally couldn’t help but compare it to Fraoch, the famous heather ale by the Williams Brothers Brewery. And honestly, I feel this one gives it a good run for its money. I hope those who attend my beer class can appreciate it too!

Historic Ales From Scotland

historic_ales_scotland

It’s a remarkable process. You put in a request for an obscure beer at your local store, and they get it for you! And just in time for Christmas, my local watering hole was able to procure for me a pack of the Historic Ales From Scotland. This variety pack consists of Scottish beers that are made in accordance with traditions that predate the adoption of the Bavarian Purity Law in Scotland, all of which are brewed by the the Williams Brothers Brewing Company.

These include beers made with berries, heather flowers, spruce and even kelp (if you’re lucky enough to find a pack that includes it). And having had them before, I can honestly attest to their quality. Though they are surely not for the faint of heart or uninitiated, they are all fine examples of traditional ales which are sure to appeal to the discerning beer drinker.

And over the next few days, I’ll be reviewing each of the beers in turn. First up, their Alba Scots Pine Ale.

Alba:
albaIntroduced by the Vikings, spruce and pine ales were very popular in the Scottish Highlands until the end of the 19th century. Many early explorers, including Captain Cook, used spruce ale during long sea voyages since its natural vitamin C content prevented scurvy and ill health. Shetland spruce ale was said to “stimulate animal instincts” and give you twins. Alba is a triple style ale brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots pickled during early spring. Malted barley is boiled with the young sprigs of pine for several hours before the fresh shoots of spruce are added for a short infusion before fermentation. In this respect, spruce and pine are used much as wet and dry hopping are, and imbue the beer with a crisp, refreshing, piney taste. In terms of color and appearance, the beer is similar to a pale ale, but with little head to speak of, and clocks in at a robust 7.5% alc/vol.

Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malt, sweetness, strong piney notes
Taste: Immediate sweet burst of malt, gentle spruce and pine flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering malt sweetness and spruce/pine flavor
Overall: 8.5/10

So far, its been a good season for beer. Tomorrow, its on to my favorite of the bunch: the Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale, followed shortly thereafter by the Fraoch Heather and the Grozet Gooseberry Ales. Stay tuned…

The Bavarian Purity Law and UNESCO

german-beerGermany has always been a nation that is proud of its brewing heritage. So much so that the country’s brewing association recently began pressuring the United Nations to recognize that fact. In essence, the brewers association wants the Bavarian Purity Law (or Reinheitsgebot) – established some five centuries ago in 1516 – to become part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. In this respect, it would join the Argentinian tango, Iranian carpet weaving and French gastronomy, among other famous traditions, that are considered unique and worth protecting.

Written by Bavarian noblemen in the year 1516, the law states that only water, barley and hops may be used to brew beer (contrary to popular belief, yeast was added to the list centuries later when scientists discovered the fermenting agent). The law was aimed at preventing crops used to make bread from being squandered on brewing. In addition, it wrote the centuries-long practice of using hops to flavor and preserve beer into law – a practice which also ended the use of other psychoactive and potentially poisonous additives during the Middle Ages. But over time, it became synonymous with high-quality German beer and began to be adopted by brewers all over the world.

Muenchner_ReinheitsgebotCurrently, some 5,000 different beers carry its seal. Many brewers today still make beer that would pass muster under the law, though penalties for breaking it are long gone. Modern German brewers are also trying to be more creative with their beers while adhering to the purity law — for example, by adding hops that taste like grapefruit or pineapple. And for many Germans, especially those who endured the many decades of partition during the Cold War, the tradition is something they are especially proud of and want to see recognized internationally.

Marc-Oliver Huhnholz, the spokesman for the German Brewer’s Association, expressed these sentiments and the associations stances thusly:

It stands for the things you are thinking of when you think of Germany and beer and culture and friendship and all these positive things. I think it’s a traditional thing because it brings us together and holds us together as a nation within this more and more international lifestyles… The idea and message is that German beer is pure and will be pure in the future.

However, some German brewers dismiss the attempt to gain UNESCO recognition as mere arrogance. They say the purity law is from a bygone era and that Germany can compete in the world beer market without it.

reinheitsgebot2Opponents of the law claim that limiting his brewing to the centuries-old document restricts creativity. What’s more, they point to the fact that many nations produce high-quality beer that does not adhere to it. For example, Belgium produces such styles as Wits, Saisons, Framboises, Krieks, and Farmhouse Ales that make use of coriander spice, fruit, and other additives that are not permitted by the law. But these styles are internationally renowned and are considered historic examples of fine brewing. In this respect, opinion is roughly divided along lines of culture and historical preservation, and modernization and globalization.

Personally, and as someone who’s wife works in Heritage, I can certainly sympathize with those who wish to see this law protected. All too often, the process of modernization and change has the effect of eroding our cultural foundations. At the same time, I can sympathize with modern German brewers who would like to expand and adopt new ways of making beers. And since penalties associated with it have not been enforced for some time, there really is no reason to fear it remaining in effect.

And if the modern brewing industry has taught us anything, there’s much to be gained by marrying tradition to innovation. For those who want to get truly experimental, there’s plenty of opportunity to be had. And for those who want to keep making beer according to centuries-old traditions, I’m sure their will always be a market. And let’s not forget that we can do both. If the craft brewing revolution has taught us anything, it’s that we can experiment and innovate and keep traditions alive all at the same time.

And In the meantime, drink up, and have a happy holiday season!

Source: npr.org

Salt Spring Island Spring Fever Gruit

saltspring_gruitThough it may seem like I’m late to the party with this beer, let me assure my readers that I’ve had a bottle of this in my possession for some time. After last year’s Saturnalia Gruit, I was both curious and hesitant to try it. On the one hand, I wanted to sample another example of brewing that predates the Bavarian Purity Law. On the other, I was gearing up for a History of Beer class that I’ve been planning on teaching. As a seasonal limited release, this beer comes and goes, and I wanted to make sure I had at least one bottle in reserve before it went out of stock. Well, lucky for me, my local store has kept several bottles in reserve, so I grabbed some more and treated myself!

Much like the Saturnalia, this beer is definitely for the experimentally minded who appreciate authenticity and examples of historic brewing. It pours a deep amber, is clear, and has relatively little foam or carbonation to speak of. The nose is sweet, fruity, and effervescent, calling to mind orchard fruit and apple cider. The flavor is consistent with this, being tangy, sweet, slightly sour, and quite fruity. If one were not informed in advance what this brew is, they might very assume that it was a dry cider flavored with apricots, plums and sour cherries.

Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and good carbonation
Nose: Sweet malts, apricots, reminiscent of dry cider
Taste: Immediate tang, hint of apples, apricot, plum, cherries, slight sourness
Aftertaste: Very clean, hints of fruit and dry-cider
Overall: 8.5/10

Now that I’ve got a bottle of gruit beer safe and secure, and had a chance to sample it thoroughly, I’m really looking forward to that beer class. Call me a dunce for not buying two bottles in advance, but after thirteen other samples, providing others with a comprehensive education of the history of beer can get expensive!