My 2018 Craft Beer Resolution – Styles Before Whales

My 2018 Craft Beer Resolution – Styles Before Whales

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

As you begin 2018, you might set weight loss goals, work goals, relationship goals – I have beer goals (which is a kind of work goal). Walter and I have always been more about drinking in the taprooms, and drinking in Indiana taprooms for that matter, so chasing nationally known whales (rare bers that are highly sought after) has never been at the top of our beer things-to-do list. But they aren’t too far down on that list either. I found myself checking Twitter and Facebook more during the last part of 2017, seeing who had what to trade or sell, what just got delivered to Kahn’s or other places, and what secret handshakes or passwords would be necessary to get access to beers in the back room or under the counter.

As a result, we did get to try some amazing beers in 2017 – the Bravo from Firestone Walker, the Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Ten Fidy, and Abner from Hill Farmstead stood out, along with the Coffee variant Evasion from Taxman, and the 2017 Utopias. Our nephew brought us some Stickee Monkee and Monster’s Park from California, and our son muled some Marshal Zukhov’s for us from Florida. All in all, 2017 was a name dropping triumph, but in 2018 we’re going to think less about this end of craft beer.

This year, Walter and I are going to focus on trying to expand the range of beer styles we drink, hopefully being able to try all our targets, and even more importantly, we hope most of these will be made in Indiana craft breweries. By trying varied styles, I think we can learn more about beer; where it came from and where it might be going. There’s nothing wrong with trying to sample the absolute best examples of various styles of beer, and I’m sure we will keep some rare beers on hand so we can contribute to bottle shares, but imagine what we can learn by expanding our horizons.

We’re as guilty of hunting whales as the next beer geek, but this year we will focus on styles that are new to us. image credit: Redbubble

The question now becomes, what styles have we tried and what should we look for next? As far as styles we’ve tried – there are many. Untappd has us at 148 different styles drunk to date (including ciders, meads etc.), so we’ve had more than we have left to try. In the last couple of years we have had a dampfbier, several gruits, a Faro and two Kvasses. We have even tried a patersbier from Traders Brewing at the Whitestown Brewfest.

But there are still some odd and historical beer styles that remain for us. The main problem is that Untappd doesn’t recognize some of them. If you try to find a beer designated to be of the kotbusser style, or adambier, or even Gotlansdricka (which more people have heard of), you’re going to be disappointed on Untappd. This makes it hard to seek out beers of specific styles. Rate Beer does a bit better job if the style you are looking for is the name. But also, matching a style to a brewery and to a time of tapping or release is going to be something to manage as well.

Therefore, we are enlisting the help of readers and our Untappd friends to find the following styles for us. House beers would be a rare gem, because then we could go anytime to try them, but mostly these will be one-offs or seasonal offerings made rarely. Any help will be appreciated. And because you can’t tell much about a style from a single beer, the location and timing of multiple examples would be heartily appreciated. Here starts our beer styles tour:

Adambier. This historical German beer style is dark, sour, and perhaps hoppy. Of course, a lot of old beer styles were sour; they didn’t have great control over the purity of the yeast and fermentation process back then. The problem is that the style is now very murky in description. It can light brown or dark, smoky or no smoke at all, and hops can be low to more than moderate. The original recipes (we guess) had some wheat, some smoke, and some sourness, with a Kolsch-like fermentation process and low roast characteristics.

There are several Burton Ales made, but most begin and end in England. We need one here in Indiana. photo credit: you tube

Uinta made an adambier in summer of 2017 while Three Notch’d Adambier is available right now. However, what style of beer they are might be questioned. The Uinta is called a Belgian Dark Strong, while the Three Notch’d version is called an altbier. Destihl made one under the auspices of a sour ale, while Saint Arnold’s was deemed an old ale. Let’s get together and decide on a common descriptor for the adambier, and then put pressure on Union Brewing in Carmel to make us their version. The early versions were most assuredly cask ales, so this should be right up Matt’s alley.

Burton Ale. Burton-on-Trent in England has a particularly strong history in the formation of the pale ale and IPA, but the truth is that even before these, Burton could lay claim as one of the historical beer capitals of the world. The original beer that made Burton famous carries its name – the Burton ale. Burton ales were brown ales and were high in alcohol, maybe as much as 11% by volume.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, when Burton ales were ale the rage, wort was produced in successive passings. The burton ales use only the first pass of wort, so they had the most fermentable sugars per volume and made for strong beer. But perhaps the biggest deal was the local water. Burton sits in a river valley, with sand and gravel over a solid rock bed.

Water passing through the bed has deposited minerals for millennia, so the water in Burton is unusually high in sulfates, calcium, and magnesium, but very low levels of sodium and bicarbonate. This gives any beer made there (if the water isn’t rebuilt – RO water is a very recent addition to brewing) a dry characteristic, along with enhancing hop bitterness (sulfate), while the keeping malt discernable (calcium) and having all the flavors pop (magnesium). Continuous mash out procedures and a change in styles (the IPA) led to the death of the Burton ale, but it is making a comeback.

Is that a chicha or a bowl of NE IPA? photo credit: senal memoria

AleSmith made a Burton ale in 2016 that was indeed categorized as a Burton ale, because Untappd does have a Burton ale style button. Unfortunately, most other Burton ales are produced in the UK and some of those are actually pale ales that have co-opted the Burton ale name. Ballantine (now brewed by Pabst) had a dark Burton ale in 2016 as well, so perhaps we just missed our opportunity to try this style. It would be great to see someone recreate this style in Indiana – how about Andy and company at TwoDEEP? They love malty beers, so the Burton ale would be perfect for them.

Chicha. Chicha might be one of the oldest beer styles anywhere. Since corn was first bred and cultivated in South America, it stands to reasons that the Peruvians and Latin Americans were the first to start making beer from corn. In fact, it is from the area of Cusco (remember the movie The Emperor’s New Groove?) that chicha (from Spanish use of native word, chichal, meaning to spit) was first made, so the Andean peoples have a claim to the first cream ales.

Corn (maize, or choclo in the native tongue) has a lot fermentable sugar in it, but it is bound up in long chains of unfermentable starch chains and other complex polysaccharides. The corn isn’t germinated as is done with malted grains, there is no natural enzymes present to break down the glycogen, but by chewing the corn up, natural amylases and glucanases are introduced to break down the large sugars to fermentable sugars.

OK, so Walter and I aren’t so vehement as to demand that our chicha selection be chewed and spit out, but it’s still done today, and is completely sanitary since it is introduced pre-boil. Dogfish Head made a chicha in October of 2017 and the town Rehoboth, DE experienced something it probably hadn’t before, brewers chewing up Peruvian purple maize, spitting it back out, and forming patties that were dried and then used during the mash in.

Here’s a two-fer. If we travel to Westbrook in South Carolina, we can get both a lichtenhainer and some true whales (like Mexican Cake in Pappy van Winkle barrels). photo credit: Brew/Drink/Run

Closer to Indiana, Off Color Brewing in Chicago made a chicha for The Field Museum, bottled in late 2016 and early 2017. There might be some bottles of that still floating around if Walter and I get to the Windy City soon. Nowadays, chichi is made with a variety of grains in addition to the corn, but corn is still a major component. To that end, we need an Indiana brewery well versed in making beer without a true barley husk bed – like Wabash Brewing did with their beer called The Unlauterable. However, traditional chicha was brewed solely by a special group of people called “The Virgins of the Sun,” and that ship sailed long ago for Nic and the other guys at Wabash.

Lichtenhainer. I’m really looking forward to trying this beer style. Walter? Not so much. Made originally in a few villages in a small part of Central Germany, Lichtenhainer is a cross between a smoked beer and a Berliner Weisse. See why Walter isn’t so gung-ho on trying this; she cares for neither most rauchbiers nor most Berliners.

Long ago, weisse beer beers were defined as those that used air dried malt instead of kiln dried malt, not necessarily those that use primarily wheat. Lichtenhainers did, and still do, contain some wheat in the grain bill, but they weren’t/aren’t really considered wheat beers. The barley malt was lightly smoked and the fermentation was carried with spontaneous cultures – so you get smoked and sour. The combination of wheat and lightly smoked barley lead to a yellowish beer of light body, but of big flavors.

This is wormwood, used in making traditional purl beer. However, each time I talk about purl Walter assumes it refers to knitting. photo credit: Dr. Axe

Westbrook Brewing in South Carolina has a beer they call Lichtenhainer out right now (Dec. 2017). They categorize it as a sour wheat ale since Untappd doesn’t have a Lichtenhainer style category. Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis also has one out now, but they called it a smoked beer. Since Walter and I aren’t planning any trips soon – there’s too much beer to drink right here in Indiana, we need an Indiana brewery to produce this delicately balanced style of beer. Who better than The Sour Note in Gary, the sour arm of 18th St. Brewery.

Purl. This beer style makes me think of Harry Potter. It’s made with wormwood, which just sounds like something you would come across in potions class, and it comes from England, with purl-men selling the concoction from boats on the Thames in London – very Hogwarts-esque.

Wormwood has a bit of a bad reputation. Its Latin name is Artemisia absinthium, and this is where the drink absinthe comes from. Absinthe was said to be toxic and psychotropic and was outlawed for many years as a hallucinogen, but really is just the alcohol in the drink doing the work, not the wormwood itself.

Often, purl was made by infusing wormwood tops into an ale after the fermentation, but true purls use the bitter wormwood in place of hops during the brewing process. This makes it an alternatively bittered beer, like gruit and Fraoch, and most modern purls are characterized under similar style names. But really, wouldn’t it be better to have a style called purl, as mentioned by name in both Shakespeare and Dickens. Then we could all count ourselves as fans of high culture.

This is just one small part of the Hard Truth Hills going in in Brown County. Brewery/distillery/restaurant/nature trails/tours/cellaring building/visitor center – it will be epic. photo credit: Brown County Unplugged

Craft versions of purl include a Green Purl (with green tea) from Sonoma Springs Brewing in California way back in 2012, a black purl (included kola nut) from Double Head in Australia, and an “original” purl ale from Persephone in Canada. Most are put in the spiced or herb beer style, but the Persephone’s is considered a pale ale, which I don’t understand.

For an Indiana version of purl, let’s get inventive. I’ll put two facts together: 1) wormwood grows wild the woods of the northern United States now, and 2) Quaff On! Brewing is building a huge destination brewery/distillery/beer cellaring facility in Nashville, IN on 350 acres of prime Indiana forest. Called Hard Truth Hills, this will be an amazing base for making foraged beers, so why not make a wormwood purl (if they can’t forage it around Nashville, several farms in northern Indiana now grow wormwood).

More styles. There are additional styles that we want to try this year – Mumme, Danziger Joppenbier, Gotlansdricka, Kottbusser, and Happoshu amongst others. Walter and I think it would be cool to end 2018 with a total style number of 162 or 163. Then we could go back to fishing for big prizes in craft beer knowing that we have expanded our vision of what craft beer can be. And who knows, we might even pick up a new favorite style.


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