Friday, December 19, 2014

Does glassware really make a difference?

So often when we go out to enjoy a few adult beverages, many bars and restaurants just pour them into the same thing: a shaker pint.  Named after its purpose, a shaker pint is what bartenders cap the shaker with to mix up a cocktail.  Most bars also use them to serve beer for one simple reason: they're easy to stack so they are cheaper from a space perspective.  Maybe if you're lucky, your bar has nonic pints.  Those are the ones with the bulge about 1/4 of the way down from the top.  But the question is, does it matter?  Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an event to find out.  To celebrate their recently installed 200BBL brewhouse, Abita Brewery invited some people in the homebrewing and beer blogging community to a first peek at the new setup and also to a glassware pairing conducted by Spiegelau.  In exchange for a nominal fee, attendees received a five piece tasting set and an Abita shaker pint (and the beer to compare).  First we toured the brewhouse, but that's not our focus here.  Afterwards, we all found a seat in the tap room for the real show for non-brewers.  The tasting was conducted by Chris Hillin, Regional Sales Manager for Riedel/Spiegelau, and Jaime Jurado, Director of Brewing Operations for Abita.  Now, on to the beer...

First up was Abita Amber:

This beer is not an American Amber.  It's probably closest to a German Vienna lager.  Only the color is amber.  For this one, we were asked to pour half in the shaker pint and half in the lager glass.  I was surprised by the difference.  Normally Amber is on my list of last resort beers like Sam Adams Boston Lager.  In other words, if my draft options are BudMillerCoors or Amber, that's the only time I'm getting an Amber.  The shaker pint was the reason why.  It was dull, uninteresting, and lifeless.  However, in the lager glass it actually showcased some of the complex maltiness of a Vienna.  The reasons are twofold.  Primarily, the shape of the glassware is designed around highlighting the strengths of certain beers.  The lager glass has a relative large bell tapered to collect and focus the complex maltiness (think caramel and toasted bread) of many European lagers.  Second, the type of glass they use allows them to make the glasses thinner without compromising structural integrity.  They then showed microscopic cross sections of most glassware and the type they use.  Ever wonder why eventually your glasses get cloudy after many cycles through the dishwasher?  Apparently there are tons of microscopic pits and valleys in most glasses.  Another apparent benefit to the type of glass that Spiegelau uses is that it did not display these same tiny 'flaws'.

Our next selection was S.O.S. (Save Our Shore):

This is an unfiltered Weizen Pils (yeah, that style doesn't exist anywhere).  It was brewed to raise funds for the Louisiana coastal protection efforts during the BP oil spill a few years ago.  For this one, we actually poured part into the lager glass and part into the wheat glass (which is similar in shape to a traditional pilsner glass).  Yet again I was surprised by how much difference the glasses made.  The lager glass was OK, but the wheat glass really made the balance of hops to wheat and malt pop.  The process used to pair the beers and glasses is somewhat unscientific.  They basically get their tasters (or a combination of theirs and a brewery's if they're partnering) to try a beer in several different prototypes and then revamp until they find one that really makes a certain style shine.

And then came Spiegelau's claim to fame, the IPA glass and Wrought Iron IPA:

Abita has attempted to make it into the IPA market quite a few times.  So far, the results have been mixed for me.  Now, there's their new Wrought Iron IPA.  I had it on draft in a shaker pint a few days before the event, and although the nose on it was pretty good (Mosaic hops had lots of berry notes), the flavor was harsh grapefruit and disappointing.  In the IPA glass, though, it was actually pretty good.  The citrus, pine, and berry (with a touch of muskiness) were far more balanced.  The taste was also much less harsh.  In the shaker, it was exactly how I remembered it.  Designed with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, the IPA glass has a few things going on.  The large bell with a relatively small tapered top focuses the hop aromas and keeps them around.  The wavy bottom actually serves to enhance the experience by creating nucleation points to release more carbonation when you get towards the halfway point in the glass.  When you tilt it to sip, you create more foam and release more aromas when you put it back down.  I'm getting sold on the concept by this point.

Next up was the stemmed tulip and Abbey Ale:

This is Abita's take on a Belgian dubbel.  This is actually where they sold me on the glassware concept.  I've had this before and it was pretty decent, but in the stemmed tulip, it was downright sublime.  My wife even commented that we needed to pick some up next time we had a chance.  The sweet breadiness of the malt and the banana and light clove from the yeast were showcased by the shape of the glass.  This one is made for most big malt bombs.  Think Belgians, Scotch Ales, Imperial Stouts and Porters, etc.  More on this in a bit...

The final official pairing was the relatively new stout glass and Naughty Quaker:

Naughty Quaker is an oatmeal stout.  It's part of Abita's Select Series which means it's typically draft only and rarely makes it out of Louisiana.  This is unfortunate, because most of Abita's really great beers have fallen into this series while the rest of the world only gets Amber, Purple Haze, and the like.  The stout glass is similar in some ways to the IPA glass except squatter and without the wavy nucleation points.  This tends to focus the roasty character of dark malt the most.  At this point, we weren't comparing anything to the shaker pint, but I had a glass in one when we stopped for supper on the way home and the glass truly does make a difference.  I generally don't like shaker pints anyway, but now I'm downright spoiled against them.

This was the end of the official tasting, but I had a pop quiz of sorts prepared.  I went up to Chris and asked him what glass he thought might pair best with a wood-aged Scotch ale.  He said it was probably a tossup between the stemmed tulip and the stout glass.  I told him this was the opportune time to test it since I had brought along a mini-growler of mine.  This beer is a strong Scotch ale which Jaime termed a "way heavy" after tasting it.  I took my standard Scotch ale recipe and aged it on a combination of light and dark toasted oak chips soaked in Macallan 15.  The clear winner was the stemmed tulip.  It really allowed all aspects of the beer to shine.  The dark fruit (raisins, plums, figs, and black cherries) combined with the vanilla and a hint of leather and tobacco from the wood were pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  The stout glass really only showcased the wood: all barrel and no fruit.  In conclusion, glassware does make a difference in my opinion.  I sort of wish they made glassware suited for beer judging now.  Most competitions are based on the aromas and flavors you get from "airline cups", those ubiquitous cups that you seem to only see at homebrew competitions and on an airplane.  Scaled down tasters more suited to the styles would be a worthy investment for me.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#BBC14 Pre-Conference Pub Crawl: Independent Style…

We already had travel arrangements to fly into San Diego when the Pre-Conference Excursion was announced.  Since another couple from NOLA, friends of ours, were in the same boat we decided to split cab fare and create our own pre-conference excursion in beautiful, temperate San Diego.

First stop?  For lunch and beverages of course at Blind Lady Ale House (BLAH).  The décor is welcoming.  The color scheme is a palette of browns but the place is well lit so it’s welcoming.  There are skateboard decks lining the walls (they could have used a Gnarly Barley deck) and nostalgic beer lighting (a turning Miller Genuine Draft Light was near our table).  The music was loud enough to hear but low enough to talk over.  These guys have a lot of things going right in this establishment.  Most tables seat six, so this is really a place to come and hang with a group of friends and share some food, drink, and fun.  Favorite beer?  The Golden Ticket, a Belgian golden strong infused with vanilla beans and oak with Dark Horse Coffee.  Think Coffee Stout has a stepchild with something gold and it ends up being blonde but having a delightful coffee kick.  BLAH also had St. Louis Geueze and Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale on tap, so I traded off Coffee and sour for the time we were there.  The Cheese and Charcuterie Plates were awesome!  I would definitely hang out here again if in San Diego again.  Once we were done here, it was time for an afternoon nap to cut the time zone confusion.

Then we were back out and about at Toranado.  The selection included several local beverages.  I had a New Belgium Love-Felix and a taste of Toby’s Chip Shot Coffee Porter.  The establishment was on the small side and not well lit.  Toby had the Smoked Mac and Cheese.  It was very cheesy and seasoned with smoked paprika.  It was good, but the serving size was huge.  I had a BLTA (the A is for avocado) with a cucumber salad.  It was all right, but the bacon was on the soggy side (I am a stickler for crispy bacon) and the cucumber salad was heavy on a white dressing.  We did have window side seating that allowed us to look out at what was going on outside on the street.  This is not a stop I would be inclined to repeat.

Our final stop was Waypoint Public.  I loved the campy décor, the bear logo, and the bar rail around the perimeter which allowed for rail seating facing the street to see what was going on outside.  I enjoyed a Berry Nice and Bacon & Eggs by Pizza Port and a Three Sheets by Ballast Point.  The beer was good, the lighting was good, the setting was good.  I loved that they accommodated couples with young children by providing a toddler play ground and a big screen that was playing Harry and the Henderson’s while we were there.  I wish I had waited on eating, because I think the menu would have delivered.  I would definitely make a return visit if I chance to visit San Diego again.  And then, it was time to turn in for the night to gear up for the conference day that was to come…

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Beer Bloggers Conference - San Diego

This conference was perfect for the way I like to schedule recreational travel: a four-day weekend with a pre-conference day for independent wandering and a full conference schedule.  We selected a direct flight from New Orleans International Airport to San Diego International Airport on Southwest Airlines.  We took a taxi from the airport to the conference hotel, the San Diego Mission Valley Marriott.  For our independent ground travel, we used UBER for the first time.  The trip went well, what follows are my thoughts on our lodging and transportation services for the duration of the trip.

Things I appreciate about Southwest:
1.  Select your own seat.  I prefer the exit row on the wing because you get extra legroom.  On the A/B/C side of the plane, you get more elbow room as well.  The extra space helps with the cooped up feeling on the long flight.
2.  Direct flights.  It's worth the drive to New Orleans.
3.  The planes are roomy.  No worries about hitting your head on the ceiling while entering the plane or walking down the aisle.
4.  The seat belts don't make me feel like I need to lose 25lbs to fly.
5.  The flight attendants are friendly and have a sense of humor about the long flights.
While my butt was hurting for half the flight, that is more about my butt than it is about Southwest.

Marriott properties are my favorite for travel.  There is a consistent quality at a good value that I've come to appreciate, and the San Diego Mission Valley Marriott was no exception to that expectation.
1.  The room rate was a great value for the site. 
2.  The staff were courteous and responsive to my requests.  I was able to get a feather free room with a king size bed for a small wait on check in.
3.  Strawberry enhanced water was available in the lobby 24/7.  This is quite refreshing and beats bottled water.
4.  The room was spacious.  There was a sitting area with a love seat and coffee table and a work space with a charging station.
5.  The dining area provided a variety of breakfast options.  We ate there every morning.  The fruit was fresh and the bacon was crispy.  The coffee was Starbucks, so it was decent.
6.  The conference center was connected to the hotel by covered walkways.  The weather was beautiful, but this was a great feature for a conference in the event of rain.
7.  There were beautiful outdoor seating areas.  Landscaping ranged from palm trees to rose bushes.  The sofas and chairs were oversized and comfortable.  There was an outdoor breakfast area and a lounging area with a fire pit.  The pool was inviting, and they played family movies on a big screen at the pool at night.

1.  The vehicles were clean.
2.  The drivers were well dressed and pleasant.  It was like being picked up by a friend for a ride because you were in town.
3.  We never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride (most waits were around 5 minutes).
4.  You don't need cash and your credit card information is shared with only one point of contact.
5.  The UBER app lets you confirm if your driver is on course to the destination you selected.  This is a great feature when you are traveling somewhere that is unfamiliar.

On a return trip to San Diego, I would definitely use all of these transportation and lodging services again.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mini-review: Rough Draft Weekday IPA

Aroma is grapefruit with a little cattiness.
Appearance is deep gold with a white head.
Flavor is grapefruit hops with a very low malt backbone.
Mouthfeel is light-bodied and crisp.
Overall Impression is a nice session IPA with a nice fruitiness.

Lost Abbey - Deliverance

Aromas of brandy and chocolate.  Reminiscent of carmalizerd fig.  Good mouthfeel, it's not thick, but there is substance to it.  Coats the palate and finishes with a cholate taste as the palate dries.  It can deliveru from a rough day.  Curl up with a blanket and a good book and don't plan to go anywhere for the night.

Mini-review: Lost Abbey Deliverance

Aroma is boozy with dark fruit (raisins and plums) with a hint of vanilla.
Appearance is dark brown with nice legs.
Flavor is warm alcohol and raisins and plums.
Mouthfeel is thick and viscous.
Overall Impression is decadence.

Fireside Walker - PIVO Hoppy Pils

Light blonde, lemony and spicy smell.   It literally makes the tongue tingle.  Definitely has a lemony tang to it.  Love the carbonation level!  Would go great with grilled fish or boiled shrimp.  Great gateway beer if you're not sure about trying craft beer.

Mini-review: Firestone Walker Pivo Pils

Aroma has a spicy noble quality with a little lemongrass.
Appearance is light straw gold and clear.
Flavor is a light lemony and spicy hop first with a very light malt backbone.
Mouthfeel is light-bodied and crisp.
Overall impression is a very good American interpretation of a hybrid Czech/German Pils.

Warsteiner - Pils SG

Light and sparklling.  Straight up crawfish boil goodness.  Has a rice/doughy smell.  If you are a light beer drinker, you should definitely give this baby a try.  It will put your regular favorite to shame.

Mini-review: Warsteiner Premium Verum

Aroma is spicy hops with a light malt backbone
Appearance is straw gold and clear.
Flavor is very light spicy hops with a very light backbone.
Mouthfeel is light-bodied and crisp.
Overall impression is classic German Pils.

Samuel Adams - Kosmic Mother Funk

Smell of dates and rasins.  Big Beer, slight sour taste, warm acidy feel on the back end.  I like that it's not boozy.  Could see chilling in my chair with my dogs in my lap sipping on this at the end of a long day to unwind.  

Mini-review: Sam Adams KMF Grand Cru

Aroma is of light sourness and vanilla
Appearance is dark copper almost brown
Flavor is of raisins and tart fruit.  Flanders brown.
Mouthfeel is dryly tart.
Overall impression is that of a traditional Flanders Brown.  Very tasty.

Boardwalk - Beer Bread

Lime - Original - it moist and tasty!  Could see adding cranberries or blueberries to it as a side at holiday meals.
Orange - Corn Bread  - Sweet but not too sweat.  Could see making Corn Bread Soufflet with it.  
Aqua - Rosemary Sea Salt - Delicious!  Could see making this with pasta dishes or barbeque.  Starts Rosemary, Finishes Sea Salt.
Pink - Lemon Poppy Seed  - Lemon comes through - spice from the poppy seed on the end.  This would be great with afternoon tea or a fish dish.

Green Flash - Citra Session India Pale Ale

The Citra and Simcoe punch you in the face with aroma.  It goes down smooth and leaves a little bit of a goaty feel in the back palate.  I am not an IPA drinker, but I would drink this beer.  I could see drinking  this with pizza, chips, and nuts at a ball game gathering.

Mini-review Green Flash Citra Session

Aroma is lemony with a little grapefruit.
Appearance is straw gold
Flavor is fruity with lemon and grapefruit.  Very light maltiness.  Not bitter at all.
Mouthfeel is light with a crisp finish.
Overall impression is a very enjoyable session beer.  Hop heads rejoice.

Bourbon Couty - Coffee

The coffee smell with the bourbon sweetness is heavy in the nose.  The warm sample goes down warm.  The bourbon overpowers the coffee.  The cold sample gives more of a caramel flavor and dampens the coffee tase.  I definitely prefer to drink hot.  This is a good late night poker game beer!

Mini Review: BCBS Coffee

Aroma is sweet cafe au lait
Appearance is black and opaque
Flavor is mocha cafe au lait. Beer flavor comes through as it warms.
Mouthfeel is thick and creamy.
Overall impression is awesomeness.  :)

Rogue Farms - Marionberry Braggot SG

Smells malty with a berry tinge.  Not as fruity as you would suspect from the name.  A very balanced beer.  You get an berry aftertaste. There is also a bit of a caramel taste.  This would be a good back porch grilling beer and would make a great marinade.

Mini review: Rogue Marionberry Braggot

Aroma is a little roasty malt and honey.  Very light berry aroma
Appearance is dark amber/copper.
Flavor is nice and roasty with a nice berry sweetness.  Warming alcohol is present.
Mouthfeel is smooth and medium-bodied.
Overall Impression is a nice beer and although sweet, very well-balanced for a fruit beer.

Chris Baker/Stone/Insurgenter Collaboration - Xocobeza

Smells like dessert in a class, the cinnamon really comes through.  Nice Roasty taste, like drinking Fireside Cocoa at Christmas time.  I could see pairiing this with pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or sweet potato pie at holiday gatherings.  

Mini Review: Stone/Chris Baker/Insurgente Xocoveza

Aroma of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, roast malts.
Appearance is black as night and opaque.
Flavor is chocolate, cinnamon, coffee, and vanilla.
Mouthfeel is thick and rich.  Nice and creamy.
Overall impression as described is mexican hot chocolate.

Free Beer and Other Quandries for Beer Writing Ethics

What ethics should the average beer blogger be held to?  Listening to a panel discussion on the subject makes me consider what I would consider ethics in my blogging.  Since I am primarily an amateur blogger doing this for my enjoyment, it's not much of a quandary for me.  Nobody gives me free beer (although I am open to it ;) ) so I suppose it's less of an issue from my perspective.  My focus is also more from a judging and beer appreciation and learning perspective anyway.  I will generally only review beers from a stylistic standpoint, so what I get out of them is what I get out of them.  I also only tend to publish reviews of beer that I like.  Since brewers are not held to strict style guidelines in the first place, I'm not going to write up a review of a beer that doesn't fit into a style because it's counter-productive to the BJCP judging learning process.  I'll just leave those for hedonistic ratings on Untappd.
So, ultimately I'm left to define my own ethics.  Here are my rules for blogging:
1) Always be honest but polite.  When I review beers for 'Commercial Calibration' type reviews, I use the same standards I use when doing score sheets in a competition.  Always be constructive in criticism and try to emphasize the positives before launching into the flaws or suggestions for improvements.  Ultimately the brewer may never see my reviews, but somebody put a lot of work into making the product, so I should respect that, even if their work resulted in something I don't like.
2)  Write what you perceive.  The most simple but effective strategy for me is just that.  You cannot criticize what someone else perceives.  If they smell or taste something, it's not their or your fault if you perceive it differently.  Just like judging in a competition, I write it like I perceive first and foremost.  Overall impressions can get into more opinions, but what I get out of a beer is what I get out of a beer.
3)  Know your own limitations/tastes.  One of the biggest struggles for beer judges is to keep your own biases in check.  We all have preferences for what type of beers or ingredients are to our tastes.  The important thing is to know what those are and not to hold it against a style or beer if it's well made, but just not to our idea of what that style should be.
That's a pretty good summary of how I handle ethics in my case.  Will gladly still review free beer, though.  ;)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beer Bloggers Conference Opening

Well, the  Trade Show and opening beverages are over and the conference is getting ready to kick off.  Had some great beer (highlights include Firestone Walker Double DBA), and we're about to kick off the real show.  Looking forward to hit up Karl Strauss Brewing, the Yard House, and Stone Liberty Station.  More to follow...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mouthfeel... Let's Get Physical

Mouthfeel on a BJCP Scoresheet is only about 10% of the score you assign to a beer (5 points out of 50), but there are things you can sometimes feel with your mouth that might not be as obvious to your other senses.  There are several things that a judge should look for.  The scoresheet lists the basics of body, carbonation, warmth, creaminess, and astringency, and then the catch all "other palate sensations".  Let's deal with the basics first.

Body and carbonation are well-defined in each style.  Ranges of body can go from very light to very heavy as descriptors.  Think of the difference between Bud Lite and a viscous Russian Imperial Stout.  It's the difference between water-like and downright chewy.  To some degree, carbonation will play into this in that a light bodied beer with effervescent carbonation will be pleasantly refreshing on a summer day compared to a winter warmer where a thick mouthfeel and moderate low carbonation can be more desirable.

Warmth is then an important factor in mouthfeel as well.  It tends to come from alcohol, so in most cases it should either be there or not.  Lower alcohol beers should have no perceptible warmth from alcohol since there simply isn't that much present.  Most people will be able to perceive some degree of alcohol after about 7-8%.  Once you start to hit 10%, it will become more obvious.  In nearly all cases, though, the alcohol should come across as a pleasant warmth, and not a hot sensation.  Typically a hot, burning alcohol sensation is from the higher alcohols, also called fusel alcohols.  These will create an almost solventy sensation.  If you've ever tasted pure grain alcohol or even some cheap vodkas and whiskeys (where the alcohol has not had time to age and smooth out), you'll understand why this isn't a pleasant or desirable thing.

Creaminess, on the other hand, is a very desirable thing for some beer styles.  It can be described as a soft, coating sensation most often associated with oatmeal stouts.  There are several ways to achieve it, but generally most of them involve increasing the non-fermentable sugars in the beer.  A higher temperature in the mash will generally convert more starches to non-fermentable sugars, so mashing at the higher end of the scale (say 155-158F) will get you a higher mouthfeel.  Another common technique is an unmalted grain such as oatmeal or flaked barley which will give your beer a silky mouthfeel when added to a mash.  You want to keep it under 5 or 10% though since it will affect the consistency of your mash and potentially make your sparge (where the wort is drained from the grains) tougher.  Other techniques include carbonating with a Nitrogen gas mix or adding Lactose, which is another non-fermentable sugar derived from milk (hence the name of Milk Stouts).

Astringency is the opposite of creaminess.  It's a harsh drying sensation similar to sucking on a teabag.  There are a few common causes.  Oversparging is trying to extract every last bit of sugar from the grain by continuing to rinse and drain the grain after most/all of the sugar has already been extracted.  This could lead to tannins being extracted from the grain which will cause an astringent bitterness in the beer.  By that same token, water with a relatively high pH (generally above 6.0) could also do the same.  A general rule of thumb is to keep your mash at a pH of 5.2-5.6 and keep your sparge water below 6.0.  It's more an issue with darker and roasted grains since they have more tannins (like tea and coffee) available to be extracted.  Other possible causes are sparging with water that is too hot (temperature recommendations vary, but higher than the low 170s should be avoided) or bacterial infections (namely the vinegar tone producing aceto bacteria).

Finally, other palate sensations include anything else.  One of the most common flaws in beer is diacetyl.  Some describe its aroma as butter or butterscotch.  For me, it comes off like movie popcorn butter.  However, butterscotch can also be a description applied to kettle caramelization (when sugars in wort are boiled for a long time, they can caramelize).  The tell tale difference is mouthfeel.  Diacetyl has a slick, oily, and sometimes soapy feel that many will detect even if they don't get the aroma.  Also, since soaps generally have a fatty lipid component to them, beers which wind up having a high lipid content will feel soapy.  The cause is generally similar to autolysis where the beer is left on the yeast too long, and the yeast starts to eat fatty components in the trub.

In summary, although it's a relatively small component on a score sheet, mouthfeel can be very important in informing your other senses (similar to appearance) about what may be wrong or right with a beer.  Cheers!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

American Craft Beer Week - An awesome week for a variety of reasons...

So here was the schedule for my American Craft Beer Week escapades with my Beer Geek Hubby:

Monday - Cove for Prairie Bomb
Tuesday - The Avenue Pub - for Barrel Tasting
Wednesday - Cove - Mead on draft and a flight of Lambics
Thursday - Buffalo Wild Wings in Metarie for 40 Arpent Milk Stout - Special Cask
Friday - Stayed home, drank beer, licked wounds (well OK, not really licked wounds but felt old and tired)
Saturday - The Avenue Pup Grand Tasting
Sunday - Missed La Casa Event in Thibodaux, just too worn out to keep to the schedule

Pros and Cons of ACBW:
Sampled lots of beer that was new to me.
Saw lots of people that also love beer.
Ate food that was good with beer, but not good for my cholesterol.
Chilled, which was good for my blood sugar.

Serve as the designated driver, so I drink responsibly.
So many events to choose from (good problem to have.)
Not many events are family friendly and we have a child.

The Cove:  The Cove is getting an awesome selection.  Prairie Bomb was the bomb and I love the fact that I can get Mead on draft.
The Avenue Pub is my favorite beer place hands down.  Next year, I want a hotel room in NOLA so I can ride the streetcar over to The Avenue Pub and enjoy pours til my heart's content, or until my check liver light comes on (whichever comes first).
40 Arpent Rocks for having an event at a family friendly location where we can bring our daughter with us to eat while sampling an innovative product from a treasured local brewer.

Goal, next time we are out and about, I want to take tasting notes to be able to post recommendations on beers to try.  Until then, Cheers!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Flavor Isn't Everything Either, But It's 40 Percent

Two fifths of the score of a beer on a BJCP Scoresheet is Flavor.  If you consider that Aroma is a large component of Flavor, it's really 64 percent.  However for Scoresheet purposes, it's 20 points out of the total 50.  The hints on the scoresheet remind you to comment on malt, hops, fermentation characteristics, balance, finish/aftertaste, and other flavor characteristics.  Let's consider each in turn.

Malt in general, since barley was traditionally used in baking, is going to have many similar flavor components as bread.  Depending on the roasting level, it may be bready, toasty, roasty, caramel, toffee-like, or even have dark fruit characteristics (most commonly plums, prunes, or even cherry).  Some malts like pilsner, may have a slightly sweet corn aroma due to the precursors of DiMethyl Sulfide being present (which can smell like cooked corn).  If it's allowable for style, it will say so in the Style Guidelines.  Some less desirable characteristics may be burnt or grainy flavors (although in certain styles they may be allowable or even desirable).

Broad hop flavors are generally the same as their aromas.  Citrus, floral, spicy, herbal, earthy. grassy, piney, and woody are common descriptors.  You should try to differentiate though and describe it more specifically whenever possible.  For example, are you tasting orange, lemon, or grapefruit when you say citrusy?  Some new hop varieties will even have tropical fruit flavors like Mango or Pineapple.  Sometimes the hop flavor will detract from the Flavor.  Too much hop mass can sometimes be too grassy or contribute a vegetal flavor.  Or old hops may even give a musty or cheesy flavor.  Bitterness is also a hop contribution, so this will play into the balance and aftertaste.

Fermentation characteristics are the yeast's contribution.  Ale yeasts will sometimes contribute fruitiness to a beer.  This may range from apples or pears to bananas, berries, citrus (like lemons in saisons), raisins, grapes, or stone fruit (think pitted fruit like peaches).  Some lager yeasts will have components that are present but need time and conditioning to age out (like diacetyl or sulfur components).  The Style Guidelines will tell you what is or isn't appropriate for style, so you can score accordingly.

Balance, Finish, and Aftertaste are closely related and extremely important considerations for most styles.  Some styles like the Scottish styles only have enough hop flavor to keep the beer from being overly sweet.  Others such as IPAs should be balanced more to the bitter side with the malt only contributing enough to keep it from being a harsh bitterness.  How the Flavor finishes and lingers is also part of this.  It is dry and crisp with a slight lingering bitterness?  Does it finish with warming alcohol?  Or does it finish with a burning hot alcohol?  Again, these are mainly important for whether they're appropriate for the style.

Finally, Other Flavor Characteristics are the catch all for anything else you taste.  Most of these are going to be off flavors like Acetaldehyde (a sour green apple flavor), hot alcohols (fusels), astringency (harsh drying like sucking on a tea bag), or oxidation (like wet paper or cardboard).  Solvents (acetone or paint thinner) or Phenolics (ranges from smoky, spicy, peppery to plastic, band-aid, or medicinal) are other notable flavors that may or may not be off flavors.  Sometimes there may even be metallic flavors (tin, copper, iron, or even blood-like) or meaty flavors (beef broth).

In summary, there are a lot of potential flavors you may encounter in beer.  It all boils down to whether they're appropriate for style at the levels that are present.  Pay close attention to the Style Guidelines for what levels are required, appropriate, allowable, or inappropriate.  If the Guidelines say it's required at a certain level, score it accordingly if it's either right on or out of range.  If it's allowable, don't ding a beer if it isn't there.  If it is inappropriate, score accordingly if it is there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Appearance Isn't Everything, But It Can't Be Ignored.

Appearance is a relatively small part of a beer's score on a BJCP score sheet, but it is very important.  There are generally 3 things to look for: color, clarity, and head (retention, color, and texture).  While only 3 points are available, presentation is very important.  If a beer doesn't look right, it can influence your whole experience.  If Aroma sets the stage for your experience, Appearance seals its fate.  Personally, when I evaluate a beer, I tend to consider both Aroma and Appearance at least twice.  I will try to jot a quick blurb while the beer is pouring, get some quick sniffs for some more volatile aromatics, and then revisit both.

Color is a big part of style.  All styles have an acceptable SRM (Standard Reference Method) range.  A brown pilsner or a blond stout is simply not something you expect (despite the experimental styles that are becoming more common like Black IPAs).  Generally speaking, the combination of color and aroma is going to 'color' your expectations.  Generally speaking, lighter beers (in color) are going to be different than darker beers that use darker or roasted malts.

Clarity is also a big influence on what to expect.  Generally speaking (with obvious exceptions like hefeweizens), clearer beers are better brewed beers.  Also, certain types of clarity issues can point towards process flaws.  For example, chill haze is a condition where a beer looks cloudy when cold, but can be brilliantly clear when warm.  It's caused by certain proteins which remain in suspension in the beer that show up when cold.  There are numerous ways to reduce it, from a vigorous boil, to using finings (either pre or post fermentation), to rapid chilling, etc.  Clarity can also point to things like young beer which hasn't sufficiently aged to signs of infection.  A handy tool here is a small flashlight.  Shine it through the glass on darker beers and it will help you determine clarity and color (or how opaque it is).

Head has several properties which vary from style to style.  Retention is how well it maintains its level after a short period of time.  Generally, you don't want it to completely dissipate, but some styles will dissipate more quickly than others.  Retention can be aided by using some non-fermentable proteins or sugars, as well as hop additions.  Generally speaking, 1/2 pound of dextrin or carapils malt either steeped or mashed per 5 gallons help.  Most unmalted grains (wheat or flaked barley, for example) will have the same effect.  Don't overdo it, though, because too much will cause chill haze.  Color can range from white to deep brown.  Finally, Texture is important too.  Generally speaking, fine bubbles will appear creamier and will look more appealing than large coarse bubbles (or even worse, no bubbles at all).

In conclusion, although it's only 3 possible points on a BJCP score sheet, pay close attention to the Appearance of your beer.  With beer, it's acceptable to judge a book (at least partially) by its cover.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

MechaHopzilla Review

Considering I just reviewed Ghost in the Machine, and it's just after Mardi Gras season, it seemed appropriate to review the original Louisiana IIPA.  NOLA doesn't have anything on their website about this one and may be forced to change the name due to the Japanese corporation that owns the Godzilla franchise.  The can (which is why I bring up Mardi Gras) says, "This 'Hop Monster' is an American Imperial IPA boasting Bravo, Columbus, Centennial, and Citra hops.  Beware of MechaHopzilla's powerful flavor and its attack of half pound per barrel dry hop aroma.  Not for the faint of heart or palate.  Hop heads, this one's for you!  Brewed with love, brewed in New Orleans."

Aroma: Woody pine and a hint of mint up front.  Moderate citrusy hops (grapefruit and a hint of mango). Medium bready malt.  Just a hint of warm alcohol. 11/12
Appearance: Slightly hazy gold/orange with thick rocky white head.  Tiny bits of hop matter here and there.  Good retention.  Mix of a few medium and plenty fine bubbles with excellent lacing.  3/3
Flavor: Woody and citrusy bitterness.  Woody pine lingers with moderate bready malt balancing it out from being harsh.  A touch of warming alcohol is barely detectable.  No diacetyl or other off flavors.  18/20
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a balance only slightly towards the dry side from the hops but not astringent.  Maltiness keeps it from being a harsh bitterness.  A little tingling from the carbonation and warming from the alcohol.  No diacetyl slickness.  5/5
Overall Impression:  An extremely well-balanced IIPA for my tastes.  Solid malt backbone to balances out the hops.  West coast fans probably aren't going to like it, but one of my favorite IIPAs.  9/10

That puts it as a 46/50 in my book.  I'm not a huge hop head, so I prefer the maltier IIPAs, and this one fits the bill.  I score it in the same ballpark as Ghost in the Machine but they're different sides of the IIPA spectrum.  I guess the funny thing about perceptions is that if I didn't know which hops were in it, I'd swear Northern Brewer was in the mix.  That initial woody with a touch of mint is textbook Northern Brewer (Anchor Steam is a Northern Brewer showcase). 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Parish Brewing Ghost in the Machine Review

Parish doesn't have anything on their website about this one.  Facebook page merely says "The beer is super aromatic ranging from dank, orange, apricot, pine, and floral and is very bitter. IBUs are over 150.  It's probably too hoppy for you."

Aroma: Resiny pine up front with grapefruit in the background.  A hint of woody and bready notes at the back end.  A hint of warming alcohol.  No other aromas come through initially, but there is some dankness that comes through after warming.  A bit catty.  11/12
Appearance: Brilliant gold/orange with thick rocky white head.  Good retention.  Mix of a few medium and plenty fine bubbles with excellent lacing.  3/3
Flavor: Grapefruit with a little peachiness dominates.  Resiny pine lingers with a hint of sweet bready malt keeping it honest and from becoming too harsh.  A touch of warming alcohol is barely detectable.  No diacetyl or other off flavors.  18/20
Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied with a balance towards the dry side from the hops but not astringent.  Just enough sweetness to keep it from being harsh.  A little tingling from the carbonation and warming from the alcohol.  No diacetyl slickness.  5/5
Overall Impression:  This is really a fantastic beer.  I'm not a huge hop head in general, but this is worthy of many of the American DIPAs that beer geeks go gaga over.  9/10

That puts it as a 46/50 in my book.  Andrew really knocked it out of the park with this one in my opinion.  Personally, I still prefer Grand Reserve and ICS hedonistically, but this beer may put Louisiana on the map among hop heads.  It's not too hoppy for me.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops Review

From the Brooklyn website:  "Brooklyn Black Ops does not exist. However, if it did exist, it would be a strong stout concocted by the Brooklyn brewing team under cover of secrecy and hidden from everyone else at the brewery. The myth is that this supposed “Black Ops” was then aged for four months in bourbon barrels, bottled flat, and re-fermented with Champagne yeast. Presumably such a beer would raise a rich, fluffy dark brown head and it would combine chocolate and coffee flavors with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like bourbon notes. A beer like that would be mighty nice, but it would be hard to make more than few cases – it could never be sold or released to the public. They say that the brewmaster revealed the beer to a few other people at the brewery only after it had been barreled. The rumor going around is that the brewery plans to drink the beer themselves over the holidays and give some to their family and friends. That’s what they say. But frankly, there’s no evidence for any of this. This beer is obviously a figment of people’s fervent imaginations. People tend to get loopy around the holidays. Everyone go home now – there’s nothing to see here."

I'm going to consider this a Russian Imperial Stout (category 13f) for review purposes.

Aroma:  Bourbon barrel aroma dominates.  Warm, woody, alcohol sweetness.  Roasty malts start to come through next with chocolate, coffee, and cherry notes.  No hop aroma, diacetyl, or other off flavors come through.  Woody vanilla notes are still strong as it warms. 11/12

Appearance:  Black as a SEAL or Marine Recon team coming after you.  Opaque, but not hazy.  Thick initial tan head with good retention.  Texture  of a foamy espresso with fine creamy looking bubbles lining the surface.  Excellent lacing with alcohol legs. 3/3

Flavor:  Bourbon barrel aging is obvious.  Wood and bourbon are there.  Roasty malt stands up and makes itself known.  Slightly sweet, but certainly not cloying with enough hop bitterness to balance it out.  Extremely pleasant alcohol warmth.  No off flavors detected. 18/20

Mouthfeel:  Full bodied with medium-low carbonation.  Moderate alcohol warmth, but not hot or solventy.  Chewy and velvety creaminess.  Balance is slightly wet, but not overly cloying.  No diacetyl slickness. 5/5

Overall Impression:  Outstanding.  The perfect beer for a winter's night. 9/10

That puts it at a 46/50 in my book.  While I don't know if there are any perfect beers in the world, the only thing I can criticize about this one is that I don't have a case of it standing by to age.

Bayou Teche Loup Garou Review

From the Bayou Teche website: "Loup Garou is the Cajun French phase for a werewolf and is also Bayou Teche Brewing’s limited edition, Belgian inspired Imperial Stout.  Crafted with an insane amount of chocolate roasted Belgian malts, brown sugars and French hops, our stout is then aged on oak for several months.  Loup Garou is just around 8% ABV and will be released in 22 oz. Belgian-style bottles and a very limited number of kegs."

I'm going to consider this a Foreign Export Stout (category 13d) for review purposes.

Aroma:  Strong chocolate and coffee notes.  Touch of tobacco.  Warming alcohol aroma.  Slight woodiness.  No hop aroma to speak of.  Very slight dark cherry-like esters.  No diacetyl or other off aromas.  Dark malty breadiness starts to present itself as it warms. 10/12

Appearance:  Black as night.  Just like its prey, no light escapes the Loup Garou.  Opaque, but not hazy.  Thick initial brown head with good retention.  Texture  of a good espresso with fine creamy looking bubbles lining the surface. 3/3

Flavor:  Coffee and tabacco are prominent.  Chocolate follows close behind with a touch of wood.  Bitterness from roasted barley and hops are enough to balance the sweetness and lingers only slightly.  Slight pleasant alcohol warmth.  No off flavors detected. 17/20

Mouthfeel:  Full bodied with medium carbonation.  Slight alcohol warmth.  Slight creaminess.  Balance is slightly dry, but not astringent.  No diacetyl slickness. 5/5

Overall Impression:  An excellent beer.  My new favorite beer from Bayou Teche.  I don't get as much licorice flavor as I would have expected unless that's what contributed to the tobacco-like aroma and flavor.  Regardless, a very pleasing beer. 9/10

That puts it at a 44/50 in my book.  The only thing I can really fault them on is that I didn't get a whole lot of licorice character in the aroma.  That being said, it's only a slight ding and this is certainly a great beer in my world.

Aroma is the first section for a reason...

In preparing to judge beer based on style, it is important to know the styles.  The BJCP styles are available on their website (  There are downloadable formats as well as browseable online formats.  One that I find really handy for judging competitions is a printable PDF with a handy breakdown of expectations (  You can just pull up a single sheet for a style sub-category and have a quick reference to what levels are expected for a style for each of the judging criteria.

In some ways, Aroma is the most important aspect in judging a beer, despite flavor being worth more on a BJCP score sheet.  It is the first part of the score sheet for a reason.  When it is first poured, you should always check aroma.  There are some transient aromas which may only be there on the initial pour but dissipate quickly.  Some lagers will have an initial sulfury or skunky component which disappears.  That initial aroma is important to note especially if it is expected or horribly out of style.  Determining a score for aroma is based on whether it is supposed to be there or not and the level.  The clue words to consider are malt, hops, esters, and other aromatics.  As a general procedure, always evaluate aroma first.  Jot down all of your initial impressions.  In the case of a tasting exam, keep this under a minute.  Get all the initial aromatics described, and then move on to appearance.  After appearance, make a quick revisit to aroma and jot down any changes and assign a score based on how well it conforms to style.  Now, what are we generally looking for...

Malt aromas generally range from light sweet corn to bready to even burnt.  Generally the toasting level of the malt or type of malt will define the aroma and how much used will define the level.  Pilsner malt has almost no toast level and is high in the precursor chemicals to Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS).  Generally this is boiled off as long as the boil is long enough, vigorous enough, and uncovered.  However, there will still often be enough left behind to smell like sweet corn.  German lagers and some american lagers have a bit of this as part of their target profile.  Higher levels or those caused by a bacterial infection may smell like cooked cabbage.  This is almost universally a flaw.  Higher kilned malts will generally have aromas more in line with their darkness.  They may range from bready and biscuity to toffee to chocolate to coffee or even charcoal.  How appropriate they are depends on the style.  For example, an American Barleywine should have a high level of sweet, caramelly, bready malt aromas.  By way of comparison, a Light American Lager should have low grainy, sweet, corn-like aromas.  Some dark malts can even come off as somewhat fruity.  For example, some stouts can have dark cherry notes to them (although this can also be a yeast byproduct).

Hop aromas are typically most notable in certain styles.  IPAs are almost defined by their hop aromas.  In my opinion, hops in beer are the closest thing to the wine term 'terroir'.  In the wine world, the grapes pick up characteristics of the soil in which they're grown that comes through in the finished product.  In much the same way, hops grown in certain regions tend to have certain characteristics.  Pacific Northwest hops tend to have a lot of piney, resiny, and citrusy notes to them.  German hops tend to be more spicy and somewhat floral.  English hops tend to be earthy and sometimes floral.  Hop aromatics can also be quite delicate and fleeting which is why you should always evaluate aroma first.  On the negative side, some hop aromas can be negative (or perceived that way by some).  Sunlight can react negatively with hop oil compounds to produce a skunky aroma.  On the other side of the spectrum, some hops have aroma profiles which are expected but come off as negative to some people.  There is a variety of hop called Simcoe which some people describe as 'catty' or even worse, 'cat piss'.  Summit hops can also come off as 'oniony' when used for aroma.  Good, bad, or indifferent, the important thing is to note what you're sensing.

Esters are generally a byproduct of the yeast.  Certain yeast strains produce certain aromas.  Most ale strains produce fruity esters.  Kolsch strains produce apple or pear-like aromas.  Belgian strains may produce banana, clove, or even cherry-like aromas.  Saison strains may have lemony and spicy aromas.  Generally lager styles should not produce any fruity esters, but can produce other aromatics like burnt matches.  I even remember a California lager produced by a brewer in a club I used to belong to that smelled like spent gunpowder initially.  It dissipated quickly after opening, but it was like a day at the gun range upon first pouring.

Other aromatics is a catch-all for anything else.  There are check boxes on the left side of a score sheet for most of these with descriptions.  On a tasting exam, only the key word will be there with no description.  You should always check off the boxes when you sense the descriptor, regardless if it's to style or not.  Acetaldehyde is a green apple-like aroma which is rarely to style.  To get an idea of what it smells like, cut a fresh granny smith apple.  Or just open a bottle of Budweiser.  Their yeast produces an unusual amount of acetaldehyde which has become a part of its expected character.  Alcohol also has an aroma.  It can be warm, or even hot.  Barleywines and stronger beers would be expected to have a pleasing alcohol warm aroma to them.  However, sometimes alcohol aromas can be hot or solvent-like if produced by too warm of a fermentation.  Diacetyl is an aromatic that can smell like butter or butterscotch.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between diacetyl and the aroma of kettle caramelization.  In those instances, one can rely on mouthfeel to help make the determination since diacetyl also has a slick oily feel.  DMS we've already touched upon, but it should also be considered an 'other aromatic' in that it's often a flaw.  Grassiness is also a potential flaw.  While some hops have a grassy aroma, the aroma of a fresh mown lawn is not always appropriate.  Light-struck beer is that skunky character mentioned under hops.  Metallic is another potential aromatic.  Think of copper, iron, or even blood.  This is almost universally a flaw.  Musty would be akin to an old basement or storage shed.  Stale and moldy.  Oxidation is an aromatic which will come off like wet cardboard or sherry.  In general it's a bad thing, although in Old Ales it may be expected.  Phenolic can come off in good ways for some styles (clove or pepper), but can also be smoky, plastic-like, or even like band-aids.  Solvent is just what it sounds like.  Nail polish remover or paint thinner.  It can come from chemicals in plastic, infections, or even just fermenting too warm.  Sour or Acidic can come off pleasantly tart or harsh and vinegar-like.  Sulfury smells can be produced by yeast or infections and may range from rotten eggs to burnt matches (or spent gunpowder).  Vegetal aromatics like cabbage, onion, celery, asparagus, etc. may come from a variety of sources.  Finally, yeast itself has an aroma which should be noted if found (think of the smell of rising bread).

In summary, the important thing to remember about aroma when evaluating beer is to evaluate the beer in front of you.  Jot down everything you smell.  Note how prominent it is.  Only mention things you don't smell if they are missing or relevant (for example, if you don't get any malt aroma in a barleywine).  Aroma is not the place to start critiquing process.  Leave that for your Overall Impression feedback.  Score the beer out of 12 points based on how closely it hits the style target.  One thing to remember is that typically proctors are fairly lenient by design, so while you shouldn't give every beer a 12/12, don't give a beer 3/12 unless it's seriously flawed or infected.  Key points: remember to get initial aromatics right away, note them, go through the appearance section, and then come back to aromatics and assign your score.  In my next article, I'll go through appearance.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Odd Couple Reviews

Coming soon in the next month or two will be an amusing series of videos.  I'll be teaming up with a friend to record some video reviews from both a structured and, well, less-structured standpoint.  So, keep an eye out for collaborative reviews from and  Should be entertaining at the least. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Judging Criteria

There are five main criteria used when judging beer in competitions: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression.  The total possible score for a beer is 50 points.  Aroma is worth up to 12.  Appearance is worth up to 3.  Flavor is worth up to 20.  Mouthfeel is worth up to 5.  Finally Overall Impression is worth up to 10.  You should rank these relative to the style guidelines available on the BJCP Styles.  In other words, no matter how good the beer may be from a simple enjoyment perspective, the scores should reflect how close it adheres to the guidelines for that style.
For aroma, a beer in a hoppy style like IPA should have the aroma characteristics of an IPA, and moreso of the substyle of IPA in which it's entered.  If an English IPA smells like resiny pine or grapefruit, it is not to style, no matter how pleasant it may be.  There are four general components to aroma: malt, hops, esters, and other fermentation characteristics.  Each style will have expected levels of each, and levels which are considered out of style or off.  Malt may have aromatic characteristics described as bready, toasty, cookie-like (or biscuity in British terminology), molasses, coffee, chocolate, roasty, burnt, nutty, etc.  Hops can have aromas described as flowery, grassy, earthy, herbal, piney, resiny, minty, citrusy, pineapple, etc.  Yeast will generally have fruity characteristics in ales and may be described as apple, pear, plum, raisin, cherry, etc.  Bacteria or other characteristics may be described as sour, vinegar, horse blanket, etc.  All of these are evaluated on whether they belong.  For example, a lambic or Flanders Red should have a sour component to it, but a Strong Scotch Ale should not.  You would award the appropriate percentage of the 12 points based on how well it represents the style.
Appearance is a relatively smaller range of variables.  You're basically looking for whether the color, clarity, and head retention and texture correlate with expected guidelines.  A Light American Lager will look nothing like a Russian Imperial Stout.  Also, a Witbier and a Standard English Bitter will have a different expected amount of carbonation and head retention.  Since there are only 3 possible points, it's easier to assign a score.  3 is perfect for style, 2 is so-so, and 1 would be not appropriate for style.
Flavor as the largest percentage of total score is obviously the most important.  Only aroma (which is also a part of flavor) is close to the weight of flavor.  Again, malt, hops, yeast, and other characteristics make up this one.  Malt brings many of the same flavors as it brought in aroma with some sweetness characteristics.  Hops, in a similar vein, bring bitterness to the table.  Infections and poor handling can also bring new components such as cardboard or vinegar.  Additional comments should be made on the finish, balance, and any aftertastes.  You should also mention any flavors that are missing or present only when appropriate for style.
Mouthfeel is also a relatively small portion of total score.  You are basically looking for body, carbonation level, creaminess, astringency, or any other palate sensations such as slickness (which is a sign of diacetyl).
Overall Impression is the editorial piece.  In other sections, you are only supposed to report sensations and their level, presence, or absence.  Impressions is where you discuss intangibles and provide feedback on how the brewer might get closer to style.  When judging a competition, you should always address what they did well or at least offer some positive feedback before offering constructive criticism on improvement.  You should never be harsh or rude.  In most competitions, the entrants pay a fee to enter to get helpful feedback, so you should try to provide that.
In my next series of articles, I'll try to flesh out each of these sections and offer helpful tips on giving the best feedback you can.

I have been assimilated...

So 18 years ago when we first married, I thought the worst my husband would do would be to make me a beer snob. Today, I realize this relationship has far surpassed that initial thought...

So today I found myself involved in a discussion regarding my husband's recent BJCP exam. I won't tell you what my friends call this exam. He received a scan of his score sheets with his scoring accuracy results. So he forwards me the score sheets, his overview of his results, and the scoring guide to ask my "professional opinion." By "professional opinion" he meant as a former teacher. I can make a rubric and score with the best of 'em. I am toying with the idea of printing out his score sheets and grading them using the guidelines to give him a projected score, in my "professional opinion." If I'm accurate, maybe I can qualify as an exam scorer...

To prepare for the exam, he took an online course. It was interesting for me to see someone take an online course for fun, for a hobby. He was quite the serious student, with his headset, beers, plastic cups, water, and crackers. I would hear him in a serious tone discussing carbonation levels, light lacing on the glass, malty notes, caramel finishes, etc. I've only seen students take graduation required courses online, or educators complete professional development online, or college students complete course requirements online as part of a degree program. I had never seen someone take an online course for fun, although I probably have seen someone drink there way through completing an online class. But I digress...

The same is true for last October's foray to the 30th Annual Dixie Cup. I saw grown men that I know would not have made it through a single session of my high school chemistry course listening attentively to a 90 minute session from the guru of water chemistry followed by a 90 minute session from the guru of yeast production. Since I've been in administration for the last 12 years, its been a long time since I've seen chemical equations and molecular structure diagrams. I guarantee you my students worshiped the quicksand I walked on, but never paid quite that much attention. To think, if only I had given them free beer...I would have been fired, but they would have learned a good bit of organic chemistry.

I guess when you are married long enough, you either grow together or apart. We have grown together in unthinkable ways. His love of beer and my love of science have created an unexpected partnership on the food and beverage side of this relationship. I don't know of many other couples where the husband's friends joke with him, "Did you calibrate your pH meter yourself, or did you have Sheila do it?"