Tasting Against the Canonical Craft Beer Grain

Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard

IMG_1078What do we taste when we drink a glass of beer or wine?

Are we imbibing the liquid itself? Or is there more to it?

What about the conditions under which we consume the beer? Are we with friends at a pub? Is the beer part of a sumptuous meal? Or does the beer conceal its identity as part of a blind tasting? Are we consuming an aura? The reputation of a brewery? A BeerAdvocate or RateBeer score? Hype? Marketing?

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Tom Becham on Firestone Walker


Written by Tom Becham

Paso Robles brewery for Firestone's web site
Paso Robles brewery for Firestone’s web site
An interesting history here. Firestone Walker holds a special place In my heart for a couple of reasons. First, it is reasonably local to me (about a 2 hour drive). Second, it has been a fixture in craft beer since the second wave of craft in recent years. Finally, they’ve won the “Best Mid-Size Brewery” Award several years now at the GABF. Clearly, they have the chops.

Firestone’s Velvet Merlin, their mass-marketed Oatmeal Stout, has a storied history. It originated in an Imperial Stout called Velvet Merkin, which they’ve used for years as a blend in their anniversary ales, in their taproom, and just recently released in the_brewery_peopleMattbottles. There was a bit of an uproar about the name (You may want to pause and Google “merkin”. NO, SERIOUSLY, DO IT.). And according to a brief conversation I had with FW Brewmaster Matt Brynildson at a beer festival a few years back, the good folks at Firestone weren’t too aware of the meaning of merkin when they named that beer. Continue reading “Tom Becham on Firestone Walker”

Technical Notes on Fermentability

Wheat malt run through my mill.


Wort fermentability can be a confusing topic. In a simple sense, base malts, toasted specialty malts, and unmalted adjuncts contribute long chains of sugar molecules (i.e., starches). The enzymes contributed by the base malt clip chains of sugar molecules of various lengths from the starches. Shorter chains are fermentable sugars, slightly longer ones are unfermentable dextrins.

The saccharification rest temperature is the simplest variable to adjust to alter the percentage of carbohydrates in the wort that will be short enough for brewer’s yeast to ferment. This is because the enzyme (alpha amylase) that works most effectively at the upper end of the standard 140-160°F range produces both sugars and dextrins, while the enzyme (beta amylase) that works best at the lower end of the range produces maltose, which is easily fermentable by brewer’s yeast. At lower temperatures especially, allowing more time for the beta amylase to work also boosts fermentability (if you only mash for 10 minutes at 142°F, the result will not be a very dry beer). Not much controversy there I hope.
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