Why the hell do you want to drink a Belgian Sour?

Why the hell do you want to drink a Belgian Sour?

lambiek barrelsrodenbach brewery

A valid question many people are afraid to ask when they taste a classic or new-style Sour beer for the first time. First of all let’s be very clear. A Sour is not every beer which tastes sour, tart or acidic. In many cases this not intentionally and is caused by a problem in making the beer, storing or handling the beer or just because the beers hasn’t aged well or is way past it best before or use by date. The beers I’m talking about were brewed with the clear intent to add this acidity, through a variety of brewing techniques and purposes. Sours are probably the oldest way of making beer by interfering as least as possible in the fermentation of the beer. Instead of pitching yeast to the sugar rich wort in sterile vacuums of the fermentation tanks, avoiding any contact with air as this contains bacteria which can spoil the beer, brewers of the Sours have embraced this gift of nature for centuries, which used to be known “as god is good”. In the old days of brewing was considered something magical, with a divine intervention which could change hot water and grains into alcohol and at the same time something which was refreshing, nutritional and tasted good as well. Never wondered why you often see a star or should I say a pentagram in the brewery or brand logos of many beers around the world?  Da Vinci Code or what?

The best way for me to explain how this works is by referring to something you have done yourself. At one point in your life you have left the milk outside or too long in your fridge so it went bad and guess what it tasted sour. When you opened the milk you allowed it to be in contact with air containing wild yeasts and bacteria which started the natural process of fermentation. Don’t wait for your milk to turn into alcohol as it needs more than some floating bits in the air to do this, but what I want you to take away from this is the fact that this process delivers the sourness and acidity. Sour beers however don’t taste like milk that has gone bad, but undergo a similar process of wild or spontaneous fermentation.

As with everything in brewing there is functionality in the madness and in many cases it was created by necessity, which we all know is the mother of all inventions. Besides the fact that the brewers didn’t have the luxury of refrigeration, there was another important reason to let their beers go sour. Look at it this way. In order to preserve their beers before the use or lack of accessibility to hops, which we all know are used as a natural preservative besides enhancing the sensory characteristics of the beer, the brewers used the technique of the Sours to pickle and therefore extend the shelf life of the beer. After the boiling the hot wort would be cooled down not in a closed tank, but in open fermenters or copper baths to allow the pro-biotics (for those of you who freak out by the mentioning of bacteria) to kick start the wild or spontaneous fermentation, which could and still only can be done in colder climates. Another way is to allow the beer you just have made to be in contact with air during the maturation to allow exactly the same process to take place. This is where the Sours differ from each other.

A Lambiek beer, from the region of Brussels in the Zenne valley, is produced by 100% open or spontaneous fermented wort made from a mixture of malted barley and un-malted wheat, matured in oak casks over time to create different vintages which can either be drunk on their own or blended to create other Lambiek beers like Geuze.

A Flemish Red, from the region of West Flanders, is made by maturing a dark, red Ale beer in oak tanks, not casks, for up to 18 months or longer, after which it is blended with a similar younger, oak aged beer.

A Flemish Old Brown Ale, from the region of East Flanders, is made by allowing a dark, brown Ale beer to be in contact with air during the secondary fermentation and maturation in tanks, which either can be drunk on its own or blended with a similar younger beer.

All three of these Sours were traditionally softened and sweetened by adding real fruit to the beer during the maturation using common farmhouse summer harvest fruits like sour cherries, raspberries or grapes. Again a way of preserving your fruit. There is only so much jam or preserve you can make. The fruit also adds again wild yeasts and bacteria which contribute to another wild or spontaneous fermentation.

Or for the foodies amongst you think of the Belgian Sours as follows. Lambiek beer is your white wine vinegar (granted a tad harsher than your regular dressing), Flemish Red is your balsamic vinegar and your Flemish Old Brown is more a malt vinegar.

Hopefully this gives you a better insight and understanding of the Belgian Sours, hoping that if you didn’t like them the first time round you give them another chance. But very important you don’t have to like them as I fully understand that these beers are not everyone’s cup of tea, but … before you send it back to the bar reflect on the fact that you have a glass of history and brewing heritage in your hand, that the brewer for hundreds of years wanted the beer to taste like this and who knows it might be a piece of the Da Vinci Code puzzle.




Navigate the Beer Landscape


Colour rangeThese are interesting and exciting times in the global beer world, but it is easy to get lost amongst the thousands of different beer varieties currently on offer. Ever been in a bar, out shopping or looking at a huge beer list not knowing what is what or what to ask for? Understanding beers and beer styles can be very complex and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. It actually can be as simple as understanding 7 different beer groups which cover the 14 key beer variants, which stood model for all the traditional and innovative varieties thereof. Knowing these will help you to navigate the beer landscape and guide to your beer of choice, whatever your taste is, mood, occasion or food pairing. This list covers beers which are commonly available and have become the staple of any good beer listing, so no rare or limited editions, short in supply or from a brewery no one ever has heard of, although you will see that most of these actually fit within these groups or are derived from it. Each of the listed beers come in different shapes and sizes, colors and flavors but share sensory characteristics with the other beers within that group. Once you have mastered these groups you can explore and discover the many great varieties of them and really become the master of your favorite drink:

  1. Lager beers
  • Pilsner

The original Lager style first brewed in 1842 in Pilzen, Czech Republic which are hop accentuated, with a crisp and refreshing bitter-sweet-dry taste profile available in the Bohemian and German style which differ in intensity

  • Helles

Available as a Munich Helles or Dortmunder Export-style these beers are more malt accentuated, with a smooth and quenching sweet-bitter-dry taste profile with varying intensity depending on the regional origin of the style

  • American

Although inspired by European brewing a traditional style in its own right which are more distinctive for their crisp dryness, which makes them very refreshing with still a good back bone of hops and malty fruity sweetness

  1. White Wheat Ale beers
  • Witbier

Belgian-style unfiltered and naturally cloudy wheat beers (un-malted wheat & barley malt) seasoned with coriander and Curacao bitter orange zest, delivering a fresh and thirst-quenching fruity-citrusy taste with a soft dry spicy finish

  • Hefe-Weissbier

German-style, unfiltered and naturally cloudy (Naturtrüb) wheat beers brewed according the Purity Law/Rheinheitsgebot with (min 50%) malted wheat & malted barley, water, yeast and hops delivering a smooth and creamy texture with fruity sweetness and soft, zesty spicy flavors, with a lingering dry finish

  1. Pale Ale beers
  • Pale Ales

Amber colored, fragrant and well balanced Ale beers, with distinct caramel sweetness and hoppy bitter-dryness followed by a lingering soft dry finish

  • IPA

The exotic and often stronger sister of the Pale Ale, which are more hop accentuated, but still with a good malt back bone resulting in balanced caramel fruity sweetness, but more intense hop flavors and more bitter-dryness prevalent in the finish

  1. Blond Ale beers
  • Blond Ales

Blond and aromatic, well rounded Ale beers with a smooth and silky texture, soothing honey sweetness with varying bitterness and a lingering dry finish

  • Triple Blond Ales

Stronger and more complex variations of the Blond Ale beers with crisp and full, yet well balanced fruity sweetness and bitter-dryness with a warming alcoholic everlasting finish

  1. Dark beers
  • Brown Ale beers

The medium rare steak of the Dark Ale beers with juicy, toffee-chocolaty sweetness offset by a soft, but not roasted bitterness and a dry finish

  • Stout Ale beers

Richer and full bodied Dark Ale beer with a blend of Irish cream sweetness, unique dry roasted coffee-like bitterness and rich molasses followed by a dry finish

  1. Sours
  • Lambiek beers

Open and spontaneous fermented Wild beers, with challenging, oaky sour tartness, with underlying soft, spicy fruity sweetness and a bone dry finish

  • Flemish Sours

Darker Ale beers with a mixed open or spontaneous fermentation delivering a unique Balsamic vinegar-like sourness combined with darker sweetness and a hint of Umami

  1. Flavored beers
  • Flavored beers

Many beer styles have been flavored by what was available in and around the brewery, ranging from fruit, herbs & spices, vegetables, oak … you name it to create new flavor experiences based on an existing beer, which often will fit within one of the groups above

Apologies to any major Beer Style I might have overlooked, I promise to cover you next time.

Bon Voyage!


Festive Beer and Food Ideas

Like beer and want to impress the folks with some new food and beer pairings?

twizzleLook no further as I have gathered some new ideas from my travels around the beer globe to liven up any Holiday party this year. Now some of them might sound or look weird to you, but trust me they are tried and tested and are a sure thing for festive success. There are no rules and why not serve the beers in unusual glassware like champagne flutes, martini or margarita glasses, snifters and/or brandy glasses … And don’t forget our motto: beer – food – beer for a premium beer and food pairing experience.

With this I want to thank all the people who posted or passed on these great ideas and suggestions (google recipes and/or ingredients at various sites I used for this blog):

1.   Pilsner-style Lager beer – Smoked salmon-asparagus bundles  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/asparagus-and-smoked-salmon-bundles-recipe.html          White or green asparagus spears wrapped in smoked salmon sprinkled with lemon juice and cracked black pepper

2.   German-style Hefe-Weissbier – Baked banana bacon parcels  http://ifood.tv/bacon/277689-baked-bananas-with-bacon          Oven baked sliced baked banana slices wrapped in bacon strips like pigs in a blanket with either maple syrup if you like it sweeter or chili flakes if you like it hotter

3.   Flemish Cherry Sour beer – Mini cherry meatballs  http://www.yummly.com/recipes/cherry-meatball                              Mini meatballs served on a stick  with a warm cherry coated in cherry juice (from tin or jar) and sour cherry beer glaze (reduce both slowly together to a syrupy consistency with added sugar if needed)

4.   Belgian-style Witbier – Hummus crostini’s  http://sabra.com/recipes/Hummus-Crostini-Appetizer                 Fresh hummus served on an olive oil and coarse salt coated crostini with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil decorated with fresh cilantro/coriander, olives and feta/goat cheese

5.   Brown Ale beer – Blue cheese toast  http://www.yummly.com/recipes/blue-cheese-on-toast          Creamy blue cheese and beer spread on a sour dough or pumpernickel toasted bread topped with toasted almonds crunch and a splash of apple sauce or jelly

6.   Munich Helles-style Lager beer – Sriracha Mac & Cheese pots  http://www.tablespoon.com/recipes/sriracha-mac-cheese/94572eaa-31b6-4009-ba1c-cf3123d7c5ea                Individual little Sriracha hot sauce mac and cheese pots served with spicy cherries (work in hot sauce in the mac and cheese recipe to taste and as hot as you want)

7.    British/American-style Pale-Ale beer – Candied Bacon on a stick  http://www.oldtownspices.com/t-recipe-candied-bacon-on-a-stick.aspx                                                                                                                        Oven roasted bacon slices coated in maple syrup – beer marinade (you can add chili if you like it hotter) served in a cocktail stick

8.   Triple Blond Ale beer – Sticky toffee mini-cupcakes  http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/chocolate-recipes/sticky-toffee-cupcakes-with-chocolate-topping/                                                  Beer and caramel sauce glazed mini sticky toffee cupcakes (mix/ reduce beer with caramel or sticky toffee pudding sauce to syrupy consistency to glaze the cake)

9.   Belgian-style Blond Ale beer – Mini-crème brŭllée  http://www.atelierdeschefs.co.uk/en/recipe/10707-mini-vanilla-creme-brulee.php                                                                                               Roasted beer and sugar coated mini-crème brŭllée (mix/reduce beer and dark sugar to syrupy consistency before topping of the crème brŭllée to caramelize the sugar)

10.Irish/English-style Stout Ale beer – Salted melted chocolate bruschetta                   http://www.marthastewart.com/966580/melted-chocolate-fleur-de-sel-bruschetta                                                                                                  Melted sea salt chocolate covered toasted and garlic/olive oil- brushed bruschetta bread (you can add chili flakes if you like it hotter)

11.India Pale Ale-style beer – Mini roast beef Yorkshire puddings  http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/miniyorkshirepudding_11253    Pre-baked mini Yorkshire puddings stuffed with hot or cold roast beef topped with horseradish cream or English mustard

12.  Flemish Sour Red – Soy sauce glazed potted shrimp toast  http://www.yummly.co.uk/recipe/Potted-shrimps-with-Melba-toast-393614?columns=4&position=7%2F42                                    Potted shrimp served on Melba- toast with a drizzle of soy sauce glaze

Have fun with it and send me pictures of your parties when serving these little beer treats.

Happy Holidays!


Selling Ice Back To The Eskimos

At the recent International Brussels Beer Challenge the American brewers took 53 gold medals to only 43 for the Belgian brewers. What’s going on? We beat those guys in Brazil during the World Cup football/soccer, but now we are going down in our own game?

Something unique is happening in Belgium, land of chocolate, waffles, frites with mayonnaise (not French fries please) and of course beer. For centuries we were the top of the crop, masters of the beer universe and kings of the amber brew. However, something is brewing (sorry for the pun) on the other side of the Pond.  This doesn’t mean that we have lost our brewing touch…we are still making great beers! But it seems we will have to learn to share the limelight on the beer stage with other great brewing nations of the world.

The Belgian brewers inspired the American Craft Beer movement and American brewers embraced our brewing culture with open arms, learned from it and created for many years’ excellent copies and variations of our familiar beer styles. Some of the, what is now commonly known as ‘Belgian-style’ beers, are actually better than the originals back home. But this is America which means that in the true entrepreneur spirit they have taken it a step further, or should I say many steps further.

Once they had mastered the Belgian brewing expertise and were producing equal quality beers they changed them into something new, driven by a new passion and innovation not seen for many moons in the old country. Not only did they transform the traditional brewing methods and techniques, they have also applied new and exciting ways of making beer whilst introducing new brewing ingredients, with the same regard and respect for quality and flavor.  The sky is the limit and what we thought wasn’t possible in brewing has been challenged and made America’s own.

So now due to the American Craft Beer Movement the Belgians brewers are inspired, driving them to create new ideas and come up with new beers; we don’t have enough to go around already!  Not only do we see an influx of American beers on the continental market, the brewers are actually copying some of America’s ideas and techniques. In the past for example hops were more used to balance out flavors or aromas, but now we are using hops for flavor and added bitterness. We are even taking over American beer language introducing words like Craft, Sours, Funk and Barrel Ageing beers.

Still not sure what a Double Black IPA is in my books, but if the Belgian brewers can open up to America I guess I can as well. We haven’t got our heads round the high IBU’s yet and personally I hope we don’t, but trust me there is something rambling in the European hops and how they are used in our beers. The great news is that we still have the traditional great classics, but now we have America’s crafts beers to look out for and many more new ideas to follow from our own traditional and many new Belgian Craft  breweries.

And for this I salute them!


Down South

November has taken me down South to the Gulf Shore and Georgia where I attended 2 festivals. Land of the shrimp, fried green tomatoes and grits.  First to the ‘Real LA’ as the locals say – Lower Alabama with beautiful white powdery beaches and glorious sunshine for the Hangout Oyster Fest. After hosting a Goose Island beer dinner at Union restaurant in Mobile, the real home of the Mardi Grass, the festival started with a craft beer and music event at the Hangout beach restaurant and bar.  A great event mixing up live music from various bands with a wide range of American craft beers, allowing me to dish up the beer and food magic show combining Sriracha hot sauce, lemon-lime and blue dressing with 4 Goose Island beers. The Oyster Fest the next day completed the weekend with various competitions around the pearly goodness from the sea served up by local and celebrity chefs.

M & GuitarBesides doing a presentation around craft beers on stage I got to announce one of the local bands and to top my rock ‘n roll experience I gave away a signed electric guitar for a local charity, supported by all the performing bands and the Goose Island brewery.

Then over to Georgia to attend the Savannah Food and Wine Festival with a wide range of activities in and around the beautiful historical city on the banks of the mighty river. Starting with a tap takeover with Goose Island beers early in the week; the festival itself started with a Celebrity Chef Tour organized by the James Beard Foundation offering great food and wine pairings at the Mansion House Hotel at Forsyth Park.

Next day the festivities crossed to the other side of the river at the Westin Hotel with a Grand Tasting and a BBQ fest with the Grand Cochon bringing together the best grill and pit masters with Beer, Bourbon and BBQ; what’s not to love. Despite the cold breeze it was a warm evening set the tone for the rest of the festival.

M & ladiesNext morning even before the crack of dawn it was back to the Mansion House hotel to do some breakfast TV to promote the festival and the Best of Belgium beers where I had the pleasure and honor to meet culinary TV legend Nathalie Dupree who had more than 300 TV shows and wrote many books about Southern cooking.

After a quick breakfast and a couple more hours of sleep it was over to the Convention Center to prepare for my first demo with my dear friend and Food Network Star Linkie Marais, to showcase beer and grilled food pairings on the sunny banks of the river with the skyline of Savannah as our back drop before taking the ferry to the River Street event. The great turn out felt like the locals coming together to share the best of food and drinks as a precursor to the holidays in the coming months. The icy cold wind couldn’t dampen the warm and friendly spirit of the people from the South which carried on late into the night resulting I’m sure in one or more difficult wake ups for my culinary colleagues.

The festival culminated in the Taste of Savannah spread out over two of the beautiful squares surrounded by historical buildings reflecting the rich history of this great city. In between commuting between the VIP lounge and our popular beer garden I brought the beer and food magic to town with a packed fun session for beer, cheese and chocolate.

Through both festivals I discovered the Southern hospitality, great food and friendly welcoming people with a new state and a new city I can add to my travel résumé.  Great experiences which I definitely would like to repeat but I’ll be making sure that I have some more free time on future visits to explore and enjoy


Beer and cheese make one full circle

When I was drafting this blog my first thought for the opening line was “Beer and cheese go together like chalk and cheese” but that’s completely wrong. They go together so well that actually the only way to describe their relationship is as a circle of complementary experience. Both originate from the farm and go through a fermentation process to be transformed into something beautiful and desirable. It is the pure nature of both products which make them so compatible and great to pair with. Although many people believe you should have wine with cheese (and I’m not disputing that many cheeses do work well with wine), in many cases wine covers up the flavor of the cheese while all you want is for the cheese to shine and unlock all its glory. Beer, with its natural carbonation and ingredients, will help you to cleanse your palate and/or cut through richer textures and flavors followed by bringing out the underlying flavors of the cheese you sometimes didn’t know where there in the first place.

But before we explore which beers go well with which cheeses I want to explain the full circle statement above. To make beer brewers use mainly barley because besides many other brewing related reasons the grain has a husk. To make the beer the malted grain is ground up to release the flour and then mixed with hot water in a process called mashing. After this the hot wort, which is the sugary liquid from which beer is made is drained using the husk or spent grain as a natural filter. This ‘spent grain’ rich in protein is not thrown away (Heaven forbid!) and is sold or given to farmers who feed it to their cows. Cows produce milk and milk is used to make cheese and it makes a full circle as beer and cheese are just heavenly. It just may be the perfect example we have of recycling.

Pairing cheese doesn’t have to be complicated and is based on a common sense approach and lots of trial and error. Hence I spend half of my life drinking and eating on behalf of you. You are welcome! Above all you want to enhance the experience and find that balance of flavors so you can taste the beer and the cheese. There are a few things to look at which will help you to create exciting pairings:

–      the sensory characteristics of both the beer and the cheese ranging from appearance, aroma, texture and flavor

–      Find out what the regional fit is as the old adage “ if it grows together it will work together” still stands

–      Check out the ingredients of both the beer and the cheese which can work with similarities or contrasting elements to create a great flavor experience. Sometimes beer is even used to make the cheese so …

–      How the beer or cheese was made or prepared … could be smoked, matured, grilled, melted … is also a good indicator for pairings

And last but not least what effect do you want to achieve by pairing the beer with the cheese which can be cleansing, cutting, uplifting, smoothing out, tone down, refresh …

Here is a simple experiment to try for yourself. Pour a good, crisp Lager beer and get some semi-hard cheese. Have a sip of your beer first, as beer and food pairing is always beer – food – beer, to cleanse the palate and then have some of the cheese. This cheese will coat your palate so you need something to cleanse your palate and bring out the gorgeous cheese flavor. Now have another sip of your beer and you will feel the natural carbonation in tandem with the hops literally clear your palate and then you will taste the cheese at the back and at the sides of your mouth. By magic this cheese flavor will come through the front making you want more beer and more cheese.

The simplest and also the most popular beer pairing in my home country is just simply a bowl of cubes of semi-hard cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda or Manchego to name a few with some celery salt and a good mustard to keeps us going whilst enjoying a good beer when we go out. Besides this we also do cheese platters to a full blown beer and cheese dinner with a wide variety of beers and cheeses. Did you know that Belgium has more than 600 different cheeses? Not that you can get them outside Belgium and its neighboring countries.

A good way of getting the most of your beer and cheese pairing is to work your way up in terms of intensity of beers and cheese and finish either with a great full bodied beer and an intense extra mature cheese or with something light and refreshing to cleanse the palate.

beer and cheese flowchartEvery country in the world has beer and cheese so the sky is the limit; an open road of culinary adventure and sensory exploration. I found a great visualization of pairings on http://www.redenvelope.com/blog/beer-and-cheese-pairing-guide-infographic, which will help you on your way to beer and cheese heaven.

Have fun!


There is something great in the cheese state of Wisconsin

Every Fall I feel the call and like some lone goose migrate to a little place in Wisconsin called Kohler.

Kohler's big cheese?

It is with fond familiarity that I make the scenic trek from Milwaukee through the rolling landscape of the cheese country, past Belgium (the city; not the country I originate from) towards a picture perfect town, built around the factory of the world famous bathroom fittings.

I know a warm welcome and great hospitality await me here during the Food & Wine experience which is held at the American Club. As soon as I see the color display of the leaves, the pumpkin-autumn vegetables and flower arrangements and smell the smokiness of the roaring wood fire in the lobby I know that good times are ahead.

It’s here I have the privilege to spread the word and passion about beer and food, sharing the stage with culinary celebrity excellence including Stephanie Izzard, Graham Elliott and the ever dashing Geoffrey Zakarian, not forgetting all the other talent covering every aspect of great food and wine, beer, spirits …  I almost feel guilty calling this a job hosting a lunch at the Club, sharing beer and food with old and new friends in our festival beer café, and finishing day one in the Kohler design center where all of us display the best of the best of food and drinks amongst the best of the best of the bathrooms and fittings – all in front of the famous Wall of China, (a walled mural display of toilet bowls).

There is only one way to top this and that is the Wisconsin-way…by indulging late into the night in the local delicacy of deep fried cheese curds with cheese dip and beer.

Day two starts with another tasting in the beer café, building up to the big event for me on stage. How can you not like showing,  in front of more than 250 people, the Best of Belgium;  to celebrate culinary craftsmanship by women in our show called ‘The Butcher, The Baker and moi, The Belgian Beer Maker’ with both the executive chef and the chief pastry chef of the Kohler resort.

In the evening I get to relax at the Feast of the Talent dinner in the company of the Kohler family, celebrity chefs and the best wine makers; who share a great culinary delight of food and wines, with an exciting menu and pairings. It’s almost my own private dining party where I get to host a table with old and new found friends, to delight them with introductions to the cooking and wine talent in the room, guided tours of the working kitchen with a glutton of culinary ecstasy.

But all good things need to come to an end and it is after a brunch on Sunday,  where I served classic cocktails with a beer and cider twist, that this goose has to leave for warmer climes and say goodbye to my friendly, comfortable autumn stopover with probably the best hotel bathroom in the world.  Onwards, as duty calls, to do it all over again via St. Louis for a beer wholesaler conference, to the Gulf Shore for an oyster festival and then to the Savannah Food and Wine festival.
Love this time of the year when I get to indulge in sunshine, food and drinks on tap, sharing my passion whilst basking in the warm glow of friendship and hospitality.

See you next year Kohler, Wisconsin.


Choosing a Beer that’s right for you

There is such a wide range of beer available these days that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices on offer.

How do you find your way through this when you’re out drinking, dining or shopping? Here are some basic principles, which link to the sensory characteristics of beer, to help you on your way and guide you through the vast beer landscape:

1. Colour
– Like wine beer can be placed in 5 Colour or Beer Groups which bring beers of similar colour together in ranges of Blond, White, Amber, Dark or Flavoured beers. Granted the last group could be any colour including the main 4 others but it is determined by the added natural flavouring from fruit, vegetables, herbs & spices, chocolate .. In general the colour of a beer is determined by the roasting of the malt or the level of filtration and so is a directly linked with how the beer tastes (and not strength as many believe).

2. Beer Type
– Within each of the colour or beer groups there are 5 different types of beer determined by the way they have been fermented, which is reflected in the sensory characteristics of the beer especially the mouth feel of the beer. Cold/Bottom fermented Lager beers, Warm/Top fermented Ale beers, Spontaneous/Open fermented Wild beers or Mixed fermentation Hybrid beers and then Blended beers which are blended after the fermentation so actually more a cocktail of different beers

3. Beer Style
– The different beer types can be sub-divided into Beer Styles which group beers with similar fermentation together and then use the different sensory characteristics derived from the use and application of different brewing ingredients and/or different brewing methods to identify them, so we get classic styles such as

Pilsner Lager beers, Pale Ale beers, Stout Ale beers, White Wheat Ale beers… 

4. Beer Style Variety
– Based on their regional origin there will be varieties within a Beer Style because of the slight differences, often in terms of the intensity of the sensory characteristics, that reflect local climate, ingredients and tastes

Bohemian/Czech or German Pilsner Lager beers, English Pale Ale or American India Pale Ale beers, Irish Dry Stout or English Oatmeal Stout Ale beers, Belgian Witbier or German Hefe-Weiss Wheat Ale beers…

So when you are looking for a beer ask yourself the following questions: What colour of beer; What type of beer;  What style of beer; do I feel like?  and this should lead you to your beer of choice.


Tasting Beer Like a Pro

I’m often asked if there is a correct way to do a beer tasting. There are lots of views out there but this tried and tested method will allow you to assess beers like a pro.

Always pour the beer into a big wine glass; the shape allows you to swirl the beer and pick up all the different characteristics. Make sure that the beer is the right temperature and not too cold because that affects its sensory character. Finally before you pour just check whether it should be served with the sediment (unfiltered) or first without (bottle conditioned).

POUR your beer with a generous foamy head to release the natural carbonation and aroma-flavour compounds, but leave space to be able to swirl the beer in the glass.

LOOK at the colour and the clarity of the beer by holding it up to the light. Beer colours range in intensity from Blond, White, Amber or Dark or can be colourful for flavoured beers where the natural flavoring like fruit, vegetables or herbs and spices often determine the colour of the beer. The clarity of the beer is created by the degree of filtration from cloudy, opaque and translucent to crystal clear. Colour is a direct reflection of the ingredients and brewing process.

SNIFF; putting your nose in the glass, to get the first sense of the beer, swirl and repeat the sniff. Place your hand on top of the glass to close it off before swirling it again. Now bring it to your nose and lift your hand to release all the aromatics from the beer. Beer has a wide variety of aromas so try and decide whether it is fruity, floral, herbal, roasted, smoked, zesty … Not all beers are made to smell nice so don’t be afraid if the smell is a bit funky, unless the beer is not right of course.

SIP the beer rolling it around your mouth and letting it rest on your tongue before swallowing it. This is all about the body, texture and carbonation of the beer so see how it feels on your tongue.

SLURP this time by sucking in air as you sip your beer to intensify the taste and flavour of the beer. Try to determine the flavour profile or in other words what flavours can you taste and which order. Beer has a beginning, a middle and an end so there’s no spitting out the beer as you would with wine. Beer has 5 different basic tastes: Sweet, Bitter, Sour, Spicy and Savoury with varying degrees of intensity and flavours.

SWALLOW because the aftertaste is an integral part of the flavour profile; consider the intensity and duration or linger of the after taste, but key is again the mouth feel.

ASSESS … the moment of truth, do you like it or not? You can judge beer on its own merits or its desired style characteristics which can be challenging and not your preferred taste, but at the end of the day it is your decision whether you want to drink it or not! HAPPY BEER TASTING…


Bluepoint Brewing, Long Island


bluepoint logoMy first visit to Long Island, via the LIRR, was not only an enjoyable and pleasant surprise, but the discovery of a gem of a craft brewery in the little harbour town of Patchogue. Situated on a boat yard spread out in a variety of hangars and wooden constructions, Bluepoint is brewing up some great beers.

What seems to be an overgrown home brewing hobby class at first, is actually a group of dedicated and passionate people who understand what brewing great beer is all about. Take away the warm and friendly reception, sampling beers with the team and the master brewer in the tasting room, enjoying the late harvest sunshine and some great food truck dishes, together with locals who pop in for a beer when walking the dog, you are left with a great product that the beer drinking world should know about.

Bluepoint brews beers which are balanced, sessionable, full of flavor with a great taste of hops, but without the abrasive numbing effect now associated with so many American craft beers.

It was so refreshing to talk and share a beer with a brewer who knows and understands beer styles and is not trying to reinvent the wheel, just make it better from time to time. It is unheard-of that a craft brewer can create great Lager beers with equal expertise and consistency as the big boys. Their great Helles and Vienna-style amber lager beer,  took me back to Oktoberfest in Munich when we enjoyed some great German bar specials over lunch.

For the Hop Heads there are, to name a few I tasted, the Hoptical Illusion and Mosaic and they are working on a new project with Wet hop beers, which I can’t wait to taste. However this is again about balanced beers with hop flavors so if you’re after ‘the-destroy- my- pallet- with- silly IBU’s’ you might be disappointed, but if you understand the function of hops in beers a new world of enjoyment awaits you.Try the Pumpkin, Oatmeal Stout and the Belgian Strong Ale or Triple and whatever tickles your fancy in the candy store tasting room in the brewery.

I’m not going to list all the beers they make (but you can check it out on the brewery website). I want to come back and stay over as it will take me a few days to fully enjoy and appreciate what this brewery is offering. I am curious to taste more beers like the ones matured in the Bourbon cask or to take me back to European beers from their Firkin casks.

hello from bluepointWhen you’re nearby pop in or seek them out if you want to drink American Craft beers, without having to wonder whether you actually like what’s in your glass.

Bluepoint brewery people I salute you and thank you.