Monday, March 19, 2007

Things Beer

I have been virtually awash these days in all things beery. I started a brewing club in the Lapeer area of my home state of Michigan. We are called, ingeniously, The Lapeer Area Brewers, or LAB for short. In addition to this beer-related activity, I have also enrolled in and begun attending a beer appreciation and sensory evaluation class. What, you may ask, is a sensory evaluation class? Well, my oh-so curious friends, a sensory evaluation class is a way for a supreme beer geek (the Instructor, not me) to actually con thirty or so people into listening to him drone on and on about beer for three hours each week for five weeks. Either that or its a class that helps one to appreciate the various levels of complexity in the beer we taste and to evaluate and identify those tastes and their origins, as well as the history of the beer and its related geographical minutiae. One or the other. I'm not sure which yet, because I've only taken two classes. Tell you what: I'll let you know in a few weeks, OK?

In addition to this, I am preparing to take the Beer Judge Certification Program's certification test. This test is tough! Just to give you an idea of the toughness of this test, I'll describe it in all of its glorious, geeky, boringness. It's 10 essay questions on beer. This includes beer-making, beer history, regional styles and their history, classic style examples, the judging program itself and much more. The ten questions should take about three hours to finish. Yes, three hours! These questions are worth 70% of your grade. Then there are four beers to evaluate according to style. The tough part is there are no descriptor definitions on the score sheets. This means you have to have memorized the style guidelines for all of the beers. If you've clicked on the hyperlink and seen the score sheet, you will have seen one of these score sheets and the items on the left are the items that are missing from the testing score sheets. The style guidelines are different for each beer and the descriptor definitions all apply to the unique style guidelines for each beer. Whew!

To give you a better idea of how tough the test is, I know a professional brewer, who has brewed several medal-winning commercial beers at the Great American Beer Festival, who has failed to pass this test three times. Basically, one needs to study the material to pass. Period.

Just prior to posting this article, I did a little homework for my beer class. I taste-tested several commercial beers for the next class. I tasted Bell's Porter as an example of the Robust Porter category, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse as an example of the German Weizen/Weissbier category and Victory Hop Devil as an example of the American IPA category. These are listed as prime commercial examples of each of their respective styles. I am unhappy to have been unable to find good commercial examples of three of the styles I wanted to try: Baltic Porter, Imperial IPA and English IPA. Still the best beer store in my county was able to provide me with good examples of all of the other styles between 11 and 15. Note to those who have very good beer stores in their area (Camojack, for instance), I couldn't find any of the listed commercial examples of English IPAs, Baltic Porters or Imperial IPAs! Feel sorry for me. Feel very sorry!

My new Homebrew Club also brewed a club batch of strong American IPA on Saturday. It was a ten gallon batch of near 7% beer with a very hoppy character (106 IBUs). The pictures at the top of the page are of the brew club (I took the pictures, so am not pictured) on the job. I'll let you all know how that beer turned out in a few weeks...