The Beer That Started It All

Susan and I had relatively little experience with alcohol when we met eachother.  She turned me on to making cocktails, since it was a way to show affection and that I was interested in her.  We both enjoyed wine of all kinds and Guinness, but didn’t enjoy many beers or spirits.  We certainly had no experience with cider or mead.

On our first trip to Oz, we did our Waterfalls and Wineries tour,Alcohol Tourism Cascade Building the start of Alcohol Tourism.  On that same trip, we tried all the local beer offerings and found one quite to our liking- Cascade.  Cascade was made locally in Hobart, from water coming from Mount Wellington.  It was a clear, light-ish lager, but with much more flavour and depth than one experiences in American light lager (Bud, Coors, etc.).  We drank a lot of Cascade on that trip.  When we visited the Cascade visitors center, they offered beer brewing kits.  They didn’t even sell Cascade off the island, much less overseas.  I thought, “Aha!  A way to enjoy awesome Cascade back home?!  Sold!”  I bought the beer making kit and brought it home.

The local brewing store, Blockader Homebrew, had all the equipment I needed ready to go.  The proprietor suggested I try another kit before the Cascade kit, just to get the process down a bit.  I took his suggestion and brewed my first batch, splattering bleach all over the kitchen in my process of sanitation.  The beer turned out pretty well, all told, so I fired up the Cascade.

This turned out less well.  I suspect that the can was quite old, and I’m sure shipping it hadn’t helped its temperament.  I dumped most of the batch as undrinkable, but by now I was hooked.  The process was fun.  I got to clean stuff.  I like cleaning.  For the next few years I did a lot of homebrewing and Susan and I did a lot of beer tasting.  Our evolving knowledge encouraged us to do our first real Alcohol Tour- a trip to Colorado where we hit dozens of brewpubs and tried more than 130 different beers!  Since then we’ve continued to expand our palate and explore more types of alcohol and visit more locales than ever before.

Alcohol Definitions

Let’s talk in detail about drinks that can get us ethanol.  Ultimately, they rely on conversion of sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide by yeast.  The differences are in the source of sugar, type of yeast, the process, and what’s added.

 

NE Trip Wine

Images of our collections from our NE trip.

Wine

Grapes serve as the source of sugar in wines, although you may see strawberry wine, peach wine, and similar fruits which can also provide the sugars.  The yeast is usually killed and then the wine filtered so that the product is stable over time.  The different types of wines (merlot, chardonnay, etc.), called varietals, are determined by the variety of grape used in their production.  Table wine is used to refer to wine that is blended and not necessarily from a single varietal.  Vermouth is a wine fortified with a spirit (like brandy) with various spices and botanicals added.  A wine maker is a vintner and a place that makes wine is a winery.

NE Trip BeerBeer

Grains such as barley (typically), wheat, and rye serve as the source of sugars.  The carbohydrates in these grains are too complex for the yeast to break down directly, so the grain must first be malted and mashed to produce fermentable sugars.  Not all of the sugar is metabolized, leaving the beer sweet.  Hops are added as a bittering agent to balance the beer.  Beer is either an ale or a lager, depending on the species of yeast used to metabolize the sugar and the temperature at which fermentation occurs.  The different types of beer (india pale ale, stout, Oktoberfest, etc.) are produced primarily by altering the type and amount of grain and type and amount of hops.  A beer maker is a brewer and a place that makes beer is a brewery.  A brewpub is a restaurant which makes their own beer.  A beer bar is a bar which focuses on having a large selection of craft beer on draft.

Cider

Apples provide the sugar for ciders.  It is handled similarly to wine.  Most ciders are blended from different types of apples.  Cider apples are often ones that cannot be sold directly to the public due to bruising, size, or other defect.  A cider maker is a cider maker and a place that makes cider is a cidery.

NE Trip MeadMead

Honey provides the sugar for mead.  Honey wine is sometimes used to describe mead.  Many meads have fruit or spices added to them, as the taste of simply fermented honey (called a show mead) is not to the liking of most Americans.  Meads that have fruit added are called melomels, meads with spice are called methegline, mead with a grain (like beer) are braggots, mead with cider are cysers, and mead with wine are pyments.  A mead maker is a maizer and a place that makes mead is a meadery.

NE Trip SpiritsSpirits

Alcohol drinks containing over ~18% ABV are difficult to attain by simple fermentation.  There’s only so many sugars the yeast can metabolize and only so much alcohol they can live in before they shut down.  For commercial spirits, the path to a higher ABV is distillation.  In distillation, the base alcohol source is heated, vaporizing the alcohol, which is then condensed and collected.  This minimizes the contribution of flavour from the base alcohol source.  Corn, grains, potatoes, rice, and many other sources of sugars have been used.  Ultimately, how the spirit is handled after distillation contributes the majority of flavor.  Covering all spirits is beyond the scope of this article, but generally vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, and rum are the most commonly encountered craft spirits.  A spirit maker is a distiller and a place that makes spirits is a distillery.

All of these locations provide opportunities to explore your palate and create new experiences.  Different laws throughout the US and the world affect which of these you will encounter on an alcohol tour.  Knowing your options will expand your opportunities and improve your enjoyment!

Vertical Beer Tasting

Most people don’t realize you can cellar beer similar to how you cellar wine.  It undergoes similar chemical processes- notablyUinta Vintages oxidation.  The spice and hops in beer fades with time, and the flavours usually become more blended and complex.  Beers come out in vintages, just like wine, although they’re rarely labelled as such.  Although most mega beer companies (Bud, Miller, etc.) strive for consistency year after year, smaller operations may adjust their recipe based on their own evolution, availability of ingredients, etc.  These small changes can contribute to changes in batches and certainly changes in vintages.

We have been hoarding beer in the basement for five years.  High gravity beers age better than regular gravity beers, so they’re all over 8% ABV.  We tried to collect beers which come out consistently- Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch and Weyerbacher’s Fifteen were the most successful on this score.  A few we had only two years’ worth.  After collecting for five years, we decided to open them up with some beer-loving friends.

Vertical Beer ListWe had a total of fifteen different beers of at least two vintages, and a few with four vintages.  It turned out to be more alcohol than anticipated.  We didn’t meet our goal of finishing it all- only about a third was done in by us and our nine friends.  The conclusion for most was that the older beers were nice if you appreciate smooth flavour, and the newer beers were better if you wanted distinct flavour.
Hoarding beer is a great hobby, but ultimately too much for us to keep track of.  If you haven’t tried it, we’d strongly encourage you to collect for a vertical tasting of your own.  It was a singularly remarkable experience.