Geek Speak: Know Your Beer Facts
Hops and Haze
The India Pale Ale started as a riff on the pale ale better suited to export during the colonial era. In the Pacific Northwest, where most of the country’s hops are grown, beers were stuffed with the bitter flowers in the mid-90s. All that particulate made the beers hazier, which brewers battled by clarifying them using various techniques. In 2004, a little Vermont brewery called the Alchemist started making a super hoppy IPA called Heady Topper without trying to make it clear. The hazy beer was a hit thanks to its pillowy mouthfeel, which softened the bite of the hops. Breweries across New England emulated it, sometimes adding flaked barley, oats, milk, sugar and wheat to up the haze. In 2016, the hazy style’s popularity exploded across the country.
Drink local: Most KC breweries now make hazy beers but City Barrel and Servaes are the vanguards.
The Brut IPA is a new style of bone-dry, pale yellow and extra bubby style created last year by Kim Sturdavant of Social Kitchen & Brewery in San Francisco. Following the rise of juicy hazy IPAs, Sturdavant wanted to take the clear, dry and hoppy West Coast IPA to its logical extreme. The brut is made with an enzyme called amylase, which aggressively breaks down sugars so they can be consumed by yeast and turned into booze. It’s the same way they make beers like Bud Light, which are lower in calories because they have less residual sugar than a traditional lager.
Drink local: City Barrel’s Cashmere Lightening is an excellent brut.
Most sour beers are made by introducing cultures of specialized bugs that gobble up the sugars in a slurry of grain and water and spit out alcohol with funky flavors. Before breweries could call up a yeast supplier to custom order a blend of microbugs, they would simply expose their unfinished beer to the wilds and let the ambient yeast and other bacteria find their way. Some local brewers are renewing that tradition using coolships, which are essentially giant brownie pans filled with hot wort that they cool by exposing to air to facilitate spontaneous fermentation. This puts them at the mercy of the elements — a lot of wild yeast tastes terrible — but does allow a brewery to capture a yeast that makes rare beer that’s totally unique and otherwise unknown to
Drink local:City Barrel has a coolship and is working on making wild ales. Several St. Louis breweries have coolships including Narrow Gauge, Side Project and Wellspent
The American sour boom has its roots in Belgium, the birthplace of lambic, gueuze, and red and brown Flanders. The problem with those beers? Because they’re barrel-aged for years, they’re expensive to make and buy. Enter the kettle sour, which has exploded in recent years. Kettle sours — usually called gose or Berliner weisse on local beer menus, though there’s no salt or woodruff — are made by adding lactic acid bacteria to the wort. The bacteria is added to the steel kettle in a tight window during the brewing process. Using this technique, kettle sour can be ready in just a few weeks rather than waiting months or years for the souring bugs to work inside a barrel.
Porter vs Stout
The difference between the two dark British beer styles is often confusing and contradictory, even to professionals. In the olden days, a stout was a slightly stronger version of a porter — a “stout porter” was the original name. That distinction broke down in the United States, where stouts are often lighter than porters. The only difference most can agree on — and it’s not universal — is that porters tend to use chocolate malted barley while stouts are made with roasted barley, giving them a coffee flavor.
Imperial stouts have always been prized for offering hints of coffee and cocoa in their dark, malty flavors. With the rise of the barrel-aged stout in the mid-noughties, lots of brewers started adding touches of vanilla, coffee or toasted coconut. That trend was supercharged in 2015, with brewers adding lots of exotic sweets to mimic desserts — sometimes just throwing a pan of brownies in the mash tun. The trendy sweet stouts were dubbed pastry stouts and tend to fall on a spectrum between Starbucks drinks and doughnuts.
Drink local: You’ll find pastry stouts almost everywhere now. One of our favorites is actually a pastry porter, Alma Mader’s Tamper Mexican Mocha.
Lager vs Kolsch
One of the most popular craft lagers is not a lager at all. A kolsch, which comes from Cologne, Germany, is actually an ale. The style was made as a response to the explosive growth of the clean, easy-drinking Czech pilsner in the 17th century. The Cologne government forced locals to be keepers of the old ways, banning the new yeast. Brewers used old top-fermenting yeast to make kolsch but lagered the beer, storing it in cold cellars to clarify it. For American craft brewers, who tend to have systems optimized for making ales, the kolsch is an ideal way to make a crisp, blonde summer sipper.
Drink local: You’ll find lots of traditional German beers at KC Bier Co. and Atlas Saloon.
Brewers in New England wanted to amp up the haze in their already cloudy dry-hopped IPAs by adding lactose, sugar derived from milk that isn’t fermented into booze by yeast. Lactose not only makes a beer look milky but also makes it thick, creamy and smooth on the tongue. Brewers like Philadelphia’s Tired Hands and Sweden’s Omnipollo began pushing the envelope by adding massive amounts of lactose, plus flaked oats, to make thick brews that were aggressively spiced or sweetened with vibrant fruit flavors.
Drink Local : Servaes is pushing the boundaries locally with milkshake IPAs and goses that use loads of fruit puree.