Beer Styles – An Introduction

Beer Styles
Beer Styles

If you are new to beer, or haven’t experienced many beers, a great place to start is by exploring beer styles.

Peter Bouckaert, the head brewer at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado gets very upset when someone mentions beer styles because he sees beer as an art, and not to squeeze into small style categories.  This is true, but for a beginning beer lover, styles are the best guide to exploring the world of beer because it gives you a framework for interpreting the beer.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), a division of the American Homebrew Association, there are 28 major divisions, with each major division containing 3-4 subdivisions, for a total of almost 100 different beer styles, and the number seems to grow every year.

So where do you start?

Many times, if you are used to lagers or light lagers, it may be to your advantage to try a few wheat beers or pale ales to expand your horizons.  Eventually, if you enjoy the hop flavor enough, you should try the IPA style.

On the other end of the scale, if you haven’t had many beers, it may be better for you to try several darker beers that have a lot of malt sweetness with little bitterness.  Some good examples include brown ales, stouts, or the seasonal Oktoberfest.

The key is to try several examples of each style.  There are prototypical examples of each style, for example Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the prototypical pale ale, but there are other examples that differ in body and flavor such as Magic Hat’s #9 or Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale Ale.

So the moral is just because you don’t like a beer style, maybe it’s just the beer, and not the style.  Or even it’s the situation.  The first time I tried New Belgium’s 1554 Black Ale, I didn’t like it, but this winter, I tried it again and couldn’t get enough of it.

Keep diversifying, and enjoy!

Today I Hate Squirrels

Today during lunch, I dug through my recently planted Cascade hops, and I had a disconcerting find.  One of my rhizomes was missing.  At first, I thought I may have missed it, so I dug through the soil again, and couldn’t find it.

At this point, I thought about when I had last checked the rhizomes.  It was Saturday evening, and everything was good.  With both of the rhizomes, I took a couple of the sprouts and placed them above ground to reach the sun, to hopefully kick-start the growth cycle.  Perhaps the birds thought it was a worm and grabbed it out of the ground.  Then I remembered the dreaded squirrels liked to dig through my soil, mentioned in my last hops growing article.

I searched the yard, about 10-15 feet from the bed, and found the rhizome.  It had been split in half and chewed, most likely by squirrels.  I was devastated.  I decided to first soak what was left of the rhizome in some water, then buried the halves in the soil.  To try and repel the squirrels, I spread black pepper and cayenne pepper over the beds.

So, let’s hope for the best so the rhizome will grow, and today I hate squirrels.

Boulevard Boss Tom’s Golden Bock

Boss Tom's Golden Bock
Boss Tom's Golden Bock

Tonight I had the chance to try Boulevard Brewing’s late spring seasonal offering, Boss Tom’s Golden Bock.

It was straw-colored, and had just a hint of caramel aroma.  Tasting it, there was a slight malt and bread flavor with a caramel finish.  It has little hop flavor and aroma.

I applaud Boulevard for trying a “late spring” seasonal.  I hope to see it again next year.

Have you tried Boss Tom’s Golden Bock?  What did you think?

Newton’s New “Madhouse Brewery” and Free Beer

About a month ago, a new Iowa brewery started in Newton: Madhouse Brewing.  The brewery is currently located in the old Maytag factory in Newton, where the Maytag company was housed for over 100 years until 2007.  The initial offerings are Madhouse American Wheat and Pastime American Pale Ale.  The brewery is having an open house this Saturday, April 17, from 12-6, and will be offering free tastings of the beer.  If you get a chance, head on over to Newton, and support the newest Iowa brewery!

Growing Hops in Iowa Part 2 – The Beginning

Early Hop Plant
Early Hop Plant

As you bring out your green thumb and decide to plant your own hops, here are the things you need to get started:

  1. Hop Rhizomes (obviously)
  2. A trellis system for the hops to climb
  3. Dirt (another obvious item)
  4. Protection from critters (this is optional, but I found out quickly that squirrels like to dig in the loose soil)

Let’s start by discussing each item one by one.  First, hop rhizomes are a section of the root of another hop plant.  What’s nice about rhizomes is they shoot off additional rhizomes each year, and those offshoots can be dug up and replanted, or given to friends.  As a matter of fact, that’s how the original rhizomes are harvested, and each one is genetically identical to the parent.  Each year around February or March, many homebrewing stores sell rhizomes to plant.  Unfortunately, if you miss this window, you may need to wait until next year to obtain a rhizome.  If you remember from my previous article on growing hops, last year I purchased Goldings, Tettenang, and Willamette hop varieties.  This year, I expanded my hop selection to five by also purchasing Hallertau and Cascade.  As of right now, the Tettenang hops are growing very well, and a couple of bines are over 2 foot tall.  I just planted the two new varieties this evening, but have heard good stories about how well Cascade hops grow in the Midwest.

Tying Up Hop Strings
Tying Up Hop Strings on the Trellis

Now that you’ve obtained the hops, the next step is to build some kind of a trellis system for the hops to grow.  There are numerous designs available, but, from the photo, you can see that I went with PVC pipes.  I found this design on the internet, but have had a hard time finding it again.  If you want details, let me know.

Each one is spaced 8 feet apart, and the PVC is 10+ feet high.  I have three eyelets for each vertical pipe, spaced 2-3 feet apart, screwed into the top pipe, and have strings tied to each eyelet.  Then, on the ground, I have a spike I tie the strings to.

The reason I went with this design is that if you notice at the bottom of the pipes there is a dark gray pipe sunk into the ground.  It is a bit larger in diameter than the white pipes, and each white pipe slides into the gray pipe.  This allows me to remove the white PVC pipes and store them for the winter with only the dark gray pipes staying outside all year.

Now that we have the rhizomes and the trellis, we need to plant.  You can simply place the rhizomes into the dirt and allow them to grow, or you can make the soil more hospitable.  For the most part, there are few nutrients needed, but I dig a hole and use garden soil or potting soil.  Some folks use regular soil mixed with manure.  I also use a liquid fertilizer.  Because the soil is loose to allow for water drainage, it’s advisable to put a fence around it to keep the local squirrels and chipmunks from digging in the dirt, thinking they left nuts from the winter buried in your hop bed.

So, that’s about all you need to plant hops.  They are hardy plants that just need a little attention and patience, and with time, you will have your own hops.  Look for my progress updates as growing season progresses.

What’s your experience with growing hops?  Have you had success where you live?