For everything there is a season — and beer is no exception. Best-selling author Randy Mosher leads you on a delicious tour of beer-tasting opportunities throughout the year, guiding you through all the best seasonal beer releases and festivals. Discover which beers are best to drink on warm spring afternoons or icy winter nights, and learn to make the most out of Craft Beer Week and Oktoberfest. Fun, fresh, and full of insider information, Beer for All Seasons will have you enjoying the varied delights of your favorite beverage year-round.
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About the Author
Randy Mosher is a writer, lecturer, and creative consultant on beer and brewing worldwide. He is the author of Tasting Beer, Beer For All Seasons, Radical Brewing, and Mastering Homebrew. He is active in the leadership of the Chicago Beer Society, the American Homebrewers Association, and the Brewers Association. He is also a partner in and the creative director for 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, a brewery in Bedford Park, Illinois. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.
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BEER HISTORY & AGRICULTURE
All human life once revolved around the seasons. There was no other way. Nature dominated; our forebears had to adapt or be left behind. Each year was a grand cycle of migrations, fertility, hardship, and renewal. There was prey to be stalked, fruit to be gathered, and gods to appease. Being in tune with the seasons was a matter of life and death for these early people.
As our ancestors came down from the hills and settled into an agricultural existence on the fertile riverbanks, they gained some measure of control, but the new way of life did not diminish the importance of the seasons. Crops had to be timed to the rain and the sun, and the animals they sheltered had their own seasonal patterns. People looked to the heavens for guidance, reciprocating with rituals and offerings to ensure the smooth workings of the cosmos. To this day, religion remains highly connected to the cyclical flow of time and the events it hopes to conjure to fruition. It's embedded in our spiritual DNA.
During the birth of agricultural life about 10,000 years ago, beer appeared. It is not precisely known what role it played in our own domestication, but having a ready supply of alcohol must have been an irresistible incentive to settle down and abandon the nomadic life. Beyond its obvious charms, beer appears to have been used as an incentive to draw people together for periodic feasts and festivals, building prestige for their hosts and helping to connect widespread communities into tribes and nations through trade, the exchange of ideas, matchmaking, and general merrymaking. It would appear that the beer bash is nearly as old as beer itself. In some ways, beer retains its social power, as is evident during any beer festival today.
As an agricultural product, beer ebbed and flowed with the seasons in well-defined ways. At harvest time, new malt and other ingredients such as hops became available for brewing. Each component of beer has a specific rhythm: cultivation, ripening, harvesting, processing into storage, and its ultimate use in the brew pot. Some ingredients — especially hops — are perishable and start to fade as soon as they are picked, making the first beers of the brewing season something special.
While the new plants were growing, it was hot, and as a result, summer was never a desirable time for brewing. There was no one available to brew anyway, because most of the available workers were needed in the fields. Summer's warmth makes it difficult to conduct clean fermentations, and this problem is exacerbated by large amounts of wild microbes wafting through the air. Except for the British Isles, where temperatures were a bit cooler, summer brewing in Europe was often restricted — sometimes by force of law — to weak, fast-maturing small beers intended solely to be enjoyed as summer refreshment and a source of safe, potable water.
For most of Europe, full-strength beers were brewed only in the period between October and March or April, when cooler temperatures encouraged a slow, clean fermentation with a long maturation period for the stronger beers. Such beers were sometimes named for the month of their brewing. In England, "October beer" was the hoppy, amber strong ale most famously brewed on country estates and aged for a year or more before being served. Brewed with little regard for expense from the freshest hops and malt on private estates, it was universally considered the best beer in Britain. After months of small beer, brewers would have been thrilled to get back to the business of brewing real beer, so October beer was quite special. Similar "March beers" were brewed, but these were thought somewhat inferior, as the hops had lost a little of their freshness in the interim.
Germany still brews Märzen beers, most typically associated with Oktoberfest; bières de Mars may be found in France and Belgium. Both are named for the month of March and have their origins in spring-brewed beers that were aged, or lagered, in cool cellars through the summer. Märzen was tapped for harvest festivals and became the beery core of Munich's Oktoberfest nearly from its beginning in 1810.
These harvest-related specialties were just part of the cycle of beer. Through the depths of winter and well into spring, strong beers came to the table after a long conditioning period. The English term winter warmer sums up these beers perfectly, and in the chilly days before central heating, the term was no mere metaphor.
Much of life in preindustrial Europe revolved around the religious calendar, and some traditional styles reflect this. In Germany, the promise of spring and perhaps the bending of some religious rules surrounding Lenten fasting produced the flesh-sustaining strong lager doppelbock. As spring arrives, we see celebratory Easter beers in northern Europe, followed by the balanced beauty of German maibock. And with or without religion, on that first warm day the picnic tables come out and with them the luminously hazy hefeweizen, Berliner Weisse, or Belgian witbier, as well as other summer beers that will sustain and refresh us until the cycle begins again.
With all these traditions, it's clear that seasonality in beer was not a whim but a functional necessity, deeply embedded into the social fabric of the day. Technology has empowered us to ignore the reality outside our windows, but it is not that much fun to live our lives totally cocooned. No matter how much "progress" we have made, we still enjoy the cycle of the seasons, as they bring variety and create special moments and seasonal products to look forward to, especially an ever-changing selection of beers to drink.
The Purposes of Beer
Refreshing, sustaining, convivial, and delicious, beer has served many roles almost from the very beginning, sustaining us in many ways — "meat and drink and cloth" as the English put it. Even the ancient Sumerians had small (low-alcohol) everyday beer and medium-strength table beer as well as luxury beers and even a special lower-calorie beer called eb-la, literally meaning "lessens the waist."
And so it has been for most of beer's history, right up until modern times, when scale and efficiency dictated that a single type of beer — yellow, fizzy, and easy to drink — would suit everybody's needs, not just for mowing the lawn but for every other occasion as well. Fortunately, things have changed. There are abundant choices available almost everywhere, and more are coming as the revolution spreads. Craft beer is booming even in places that were quite recently utter beer deserts, so in today's world you have no excuse for not drinking with the seasons. But at any given moment, what do you really want?
Outdoor activities in the heat of summer call for light, tangy, and refreshing beers. Despite the surge of strong, bitter beers from many craft brewers, there is a counter trend that focuses on more session-friendly beers to enjoy by the gulp rather than the sip. It takes a little more cleverness to create a delicate, refreshing beer that still delivers a lot of flavor, but it can be done, as anyone who has ever had a beer in England, Germany, Belgium, or the Czech Republic knows. Brewers have tricks for making a modest beer seem more flavorful. Great-quality malts and some fine hop aromas are one way, and that gets you into pilsner, bitter, or Kölsch territory. The rich and creamy, yet dry, character of wheat has long been the basis of many summertime beers, from Bavarian hefeweizen to Belgian witbier and a host of less famous beers that were once beloved throughout the northern regions of continental Europe. A touch of acidity doesn't hurt, either, as Berliner Weisse demonstrates.
No matter the weather, there is always a need for beers that suit the dining table. These are of middling strength, around 5 or 6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), and every brewing culture since the dawn of beer has something in this range. Weaker or stronger beers can find food partners, for sure, but in this middle range, beer very graciously interacts with most meals. Given the huge range of flavors and aromas available, there are plenty of opportunities to find connections between beer and whatever is on the plate.
Weighty and carb-rich beers were once commonplace. Often regarded as "liquid bread," they really did serve that purpose when meat was a luxury and the hard physical work of the day demanded a high caloric intake. Today, strong, rich beers are specialty items; perhaps the term liquid dessert is more appropriate. With our rich daily diet, such beers are counterproductive, so over the past 150 years the general trend has been toward beers that are lighter on the palate and much less weighty.
Drinking with the Rhythm of the Seasons
The you who browses the refrigerated shelves in the heat of summer may be a very different you than the person who stops to pick up something toothsome for the holidays. Every season has its beers, and drinking seasonally helps us stay in touch with the ebb and flow of life and connects us to those who came before us who had similar desires for something refreshing, warming, profound, bracing, or whatever is our heart's desire. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great choices waiting to satisfy every beery urge.
Whether you're actually mowing the lawn or not, the heat of the summer demands beers that are refreshing and not too alcoholic. Most are pale in color, but there are quenching dark beers such as Irish stout and Düsseldorfer altbier, to name two. In the midst of the season's agricultural bounty, a fruit beer might hit the spot. As the heat of day fades into a glorious summer night, the bracing herbal hoppiness of an IPA could be a great choice, or possibly a hoppy American stout.
As the days shorten and the first chilly breeze of fall blasts through, more substantial beers come to the fore. A rich and malty Märzen the color of turning leaves is iconic for the season. A smoked version of the same might conjure up memories of campfires or burning leaves. Pumpkin ale, with its warm spiciness, is a harbinger of the pies and gingerbread to come as the season deepens.
As the weather becomes cooler and darker by degrees, tastes shift to bigger, darker, more sustaining beers. The holidays demand a certain celebratory spin, and then it's on to the business of surviving the winter, made possible by a small glass of something strong and dark by the fireplace as the winds howl outside.
Valentine's Day signifies the promise of new life and gives us a reason for another celebratory moment in a season that really needs as many as it can get. It's a special opportunity for an elegant and luxurious beer. As the winter ebbs in fits and starts, never warming quickly enough for us, the beers become brighter, paler, more full of hope, until finally there's that first truly warm day and it's time to break out something nearly summery, drinking in the fleeting preview of what's to come.
This cycle of beers ties us to something bigger than our short-lived whims and provides some structure for our explorations. As each new round of seasonal beers pops up in the stores, the beer landscape changes, mirroring the world outside.
GETTING THE MOST from YOUR YEAR of BEER
Beer can be enjoyed without any understanding of its inner workings or methods of production. Sometimes it's great to mindlessly kick back and just enjoy a beer without analyzing it to death. On the other hand, a well-brewed beer is a deliciously layered and complex product, displaying a vast range of styles, strengths, colors, intensities, textures, and other qualities. It helps to have a little insight into its history, components, manufacture, and sensory qualities to fully appreciate its depths.
Every beer tells a story about its agricultural roots, chemistry, brewing process, measured parameters, sensory qualities, historical context, and more. It's helpful to have a grasp of how all these qualities relate to the liquid in the glass. Untangling beer's complexity can be daunting, but if you break it down into manageable pieces, the whole picture will start to come together. Just remember to keep a glass of something foamy and delicious handy as you learn, to remind you of the rewards for all this hard work.
A Working Vocabulary of Beer Flavor
Flavor should be the starting point of any enthusiast's beer knowledge. No matter what the context, it always comes down to just you and that beer coming to terms with each other. You can read a lot of history, study the style guidelines, absorb other people's reviews and opinions, and more, but without a firm grasp of the flavors that beer presents to the senses, it won't mean much. Your journey starts here.
Take a whiff of that ale. Fruity, you say? That's a good start, but can you break it down a little more? In the tasting world, we strive to be as specific as possible. What kind of fruit? Berries? White fruit, like pears? Dried or fresh fruit? Maybe something tropical? That's good, but can you go deeper? Pineapple, passion fruit, bananas? If it's the last, you might go one more step and name the molecule, in this case an ester called isoamyl acetate, which is common in fermentation and is a defining characteristic of Bavarian wheat beers or hefeweizens.
Every one of the aromas and flavors we can detect in beer has its origins in the biochemical processes within the raw ingredients plus the processes that create and modify them during brewing and fermentation. With 1,300 flavor chemicals known to exist in beer, it is impossible to be on first-name terms with more than a small percentage. But with some practice, anyone can develop a familiarity with beer's many tastes, textures, and aromas. Becoming a serious taster can take a lifetime of study, and while there is no final destination, you can make measurable progress on your journey. I can tell you that it takes a lot of work to get to where you really want to be but that the long and winding road is a joy to ride.
Malt: The Heart of Beer
Malt is a product that is created by the controlled sprouting of barley or other grains. As the seed sprouts, it unleashes a host of changes in structure, composition, and flavor. As the nascent plant readies its energy reserves for the formidable task of building itself anew, it activates enzymes, breaks down storage structures, and prepares to transform from a dormant seed into a vital, growing plant. These changes allow us to bend the barley to our will, hijacking its enzymes and gaining access to its starches. During the brewing process, these starches break down into simple sugars to make wort with which to feed the yeast. The yeast will turn the mix into beer, creating alcohol and much more in the process.
The malting process lasts for about a week. While the changes it creates are central to the brewing process, the early stages of malting don't create a lot of flavor. It is only during the final step, the kilning, that the malt flavor really comes into bloom. Just as a loaf of unbaked bread is pretty lifeless and unappetizing until it is baked to a beautifully aromatic brown, malt needs the heat of a kiln to create the rich, warm, complex flavors we love in beer.
Kilning creates a dual bounty of complex aroma chemicals and those that lend a wide range of color to malt. When heat is applied to sugar or starch mixed with nitrogenous material such as the proteins found in malt, a type of browning called the Maillard reaction occurs. It is the most important chemical process in the browning of any food, from sautéed onions or grilled meat to baked cookies or milk caramel. Most flavors and browned colors in cooked food come from the complex chemical reactions of the Maillard process.
There is another type of browning that does not involve nitrogen, known simply as caramelization. Flavors involved here tend toward burnt sugar or toasted marshmallow. They are most common in caramel malts that are kilned after they develop a lot of simple sugars, and they provide unique raisiny and burnt sugar flavors. Browning also occurs in the brewing process, especially in the boiling kettle; special brewing processes such as decoction enhance this activity.
The chemistry of kilning is terrifyingly complex. Even with the same starting materials, every set of conditions, including time, temperature, pH, and moisture level, creates a different mix of flavors. By manipulating the kilning process as well as the material that goes into it, a maltster can transform a single type of barley into dozens of distinctly different malts that a brewer can use as a start for formulating a recipe.
The malt flavor vocabulary terms we use to describe beer reflect the universality of Maillard browning in cooking: bread, cracker, biscuit, caramel, toffee, raisins, nuts, toast, roast, coffee, chocolate, espresso. With these terms we have a pretty good match between the words we use and what we can actually experience from malt in the finished beer. If you're new to this flavor vocabulary and want to know more, I highly recommend going to a homebrew shop and purchasing several different types of malt, such as pilsner, pale ale, Munich, biscuit, caramel (in two different colors, maybe 40 and 80), and perhaps a roasted malt. You can simply pop them into your mouth and taste them, or crush them lightly and make a tea with a little hot water.
Excerpted from "Beer for All Seasons"
Copyright © 2015 Randy Mosher.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsForeword by Greg Koch
Beer, History & Agriculture
Getting the Most from Your Year of Beer
Around the World in 80 Beers
What People are Saying About This
“Mosher has mastered the art of beer storytelling. A great gift for the beer lover in your life, all year long.”
"A new Randy Mosher book is a reason to celebrate. No other current writer is able to make the immensity of the beer world so easy to grasp."
"A cornucopia of beer imagery and information for today's beer drinker."