3/14/2013 - Sometimes, looking at a craft beer menu can be like clothes shopping for your grandma. If you don’t know what size she wears, what colors she prefers or the styles she likes, it’ll be a long, frustrating shopping experience. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with craft beer, or any beer that doesn’t start with “Sam” or “Bud,” choosing a brew can be an embarrassingly long process — especially if you don’t know what terms like “stout,” “porter” and “lager” mean.
Local brewers Steve Souza of Milly’s Tavern in Manchester and Brian Parda of White Birch Brewing in Hooksett share the lowdown on beer shades, names, tastes and hoppiness.
Darkness and light
It seems that the grain color is perhaps the biggest indicator of said “shade.” Parda compares it to light- and dark-roasted coffee. Except that instead of coffee beans, they’re roasting grains (barley, in particular).
“If it’s a light roast, the resulting colors and flavors will be light,” Parda said. “If it’s a dark roast, the colors will be dark and roasty. That’s why a stout looks, and many times can taste, like roasted barley.”
Similarly, it’s those resulting combinations (hops, yeast, grains) that make the difference in flavors, Parda said.
One urban myth about beer is that its color indicates heaviness or lightness. Light beer can be heavy. One of the beers they sell at White Birch Brewery, the Belgium Tripel, is quite heavy despite its light color.
“Dark beers are perceived as heavy, but they don’t have to be,” Parda said.
Guinness, one of the most Irish beers there is, is heavier because of its nitrogen bubbles instead of CO2 bubbles.
Souza says that this nitrogen component is responsible for the smooth, thick flavor you’ll find in a Guinness and in Milly’s stout beer. Nitrogen creates a smaller bubble than CO2, Souza said.
That’s right; the size of the bubbles affects the taste of the beer.
“When you pour a regular beer, the CO2 bubbles will make the taste buds in the front of your mouth open up,” Souza said.
With a stout, the bubbles are smaller. They react to the back of your tongue, giving a creamier flavor.
“You can use the same exact beer [recipe] and change the yeast of it, and it’s a totally different beer,” Souza said.
This is true with all ingredients. Even the geography of an ingredient — water from Dublin, yeast from Belgium — will change the taste of the beer.
Irish Guinness beer, for instance, is made from the water of the Wicklow Mountains. There’s a quality in this water that we can’t quite create in the United States, and as a result, Guinness has been said to taste different in the United States than it does in Dublin, Souza said.
Yeast geography, too, makes a difference.
“Belgian yeast has a spicy flavor on its own without us adding anything,” Parda said. “With German wheat beers, if you use the right kind of yeast at the right kind of temperatures, you can create something with banana and clove flavors.”
There are a number of factors that contribute to how location affects the taste of the ingredient.
“Usually there’s a flavor and aroma unique to where it’s from. Are there any oceans nearby? Apple orchards nearby?” These small details, Parda said, make the difference in an ingredient, and consequently, in a beer’s taste.
“Grain, water, hops and yeast. That’s where everything changes. That’s what makes the beer what it is,” Souza said.
There are are literally thousands of ingredient possibilities and even more possible combinations that make each beer unique.
And that’s part of why it can be difficult to choose a beer. Yeast, grain, hops and water are the biggest indicators of the dark, roasty color in a stout or porter, the hoppy taste in an IPA or the sweetness in a Belgian ale. It might sound complicated, but there are a few things you can look at in a name that may indicate the taste of the beer, as well as the type and amount of ingredients used.
A stout is a very dark beer. Guinness, the most Irish beer there is, is one example.
“It’s a heavier beer. There’s more body to it,” Souza said.
Milly’s Oatmeal stout is unfiltered, but that is not to say that all stouts are unfiltered; rules will vary from brewer to brewer. Typically, the biggest difference between a porter and a stout is that a stout is usually darker and has more roasted barley.
A Russian imperial stout has a story behind it. When England exported beer to Russia, the Russians wanted the beer stronger. Thus, a Russian Imperial Stout is stronger than your run-of-the-mill stout beer, Parda said.
A porter, on the other hand, is a heavy, dark brown beer brewed from browned or charred malt. It’s very similar to a stout except that it’s not as dark. (Back in the day, a stout was considered a darker type of porter. It can be roasty, but not as roasty as a stout.
Then you have your IPA, or your India Pale Ale. Anytime you see IPA, assume it will be bitter. These can be any color — you might find a black IPA, an American IPA, Belgium IPA, but generally, they’ll be blonde or gold in color. Both Souza and Parda explained that the name comes from when England was colonizing India. England would send ale rations to their troops, a pale ale, but it’d spoil on the trip over. Because hops have preservative qualities, they’d add more hops to the beer. When the troops came home, they were used to the bitter, hoppy beer, and continued to request it in English pubs.
A pale ale will be lighter in color. It should be “hoppy,” but much more balanced than an IPA.
“The whole point of hops is that the bitterness is supposed to counteract with the sweetness,” Souza said.
Look at the style of your pale ale: English, American, etc. Typically, an American brewer will go a little “hoppier” with this than an English one would.
Part of what makes a Belgian ale unique is the yeast that’s used, which is native to Belgium. These beers are spicier and fruitier in taste and aroma. In a Belgian ale, candied sugar is often along with malted barley.
Small breweries popping up all over New Hampshire
With a 50-pound bucket of grain hoisted over his shoulder, Thomas Neel navigated eight stainless steel fermenters and a plastic partition to dump the load into a big pot, the first step in the brewing process.
Neel runs grain through a mill, fills up the bucket and dumps it three times before adding water and mixing the concoction — basically oatmeal — with a canoe paddle.
“It’s all still by hand,” said Neel, who runs the brewing operation at Candia Road Brewing Company, the state’s first licensed nanobrewery.
But nanobrewing is in the past for Neel. As of last week, Candia Road Brewing in Manchester is a microbrewery. That means Neel can produce more beer, but the method hasn’t changed. He’s just got more brewing to do.
According to New Hampshire law, nanobreweries are limited to 2,000 barrels per year. Microbreweries can produce 60,000 barrels of beer each year. Neel won’t approach that amount any time soon, but making the switch allows him to focus on brewing, as opposed to distribution.
Patrons at Candia Road are greeted by an earthy, sweet aroma, along with piles and stacks of brewing supplies and bags upon bags of grain. For Neel, brewing is all about flavor. He loves to cook. He loves to experiment. Brewing provides the same type of creative outlet.
“It’s like cooking,” Neel said. “There’s some chemistry. There’s some patience.”
Nanobreweries are picking up steam in New Hampshire. Of the last nine breweries that have opened in New Hampshire, eight have been nanobreweries. It’s likely that trend is tied, at least in part, to legislation passed two years ago reducing the annual licensing fee for nanobreweries to $240. Microbreweries must pay an annual fee of $1,200.
But nanobrewery or microbrewery, New Hampshire is seeing its craft brewing industry grow dramatically.
“I think we’re on a wave, and it is quite possibly a bubble that I hope doesn’t burst,” said Steve Allman, owner of Canterbury AleWorks, a one-barrel nanobrewery that opened last summer.
Opening a brewery served two purposes for him.
“On the one hand, it was a way to create a new business to generate income so I could keep farming,” said Allman, who’s growing his own hops this year as well.
On the other hand, Canterbury AleWorks is sort of Allman’s “man cave gone commercial.”
Allman produces traditional styles that he favors, but he also produces certain “essentials,” such as an IPA and a double IPA, and wants to be sure he has something for everyone. He offers 10 beers at the moment, including a smoked porter and a German altbier.
Neel said flavor is the big reason why customers are more inclined to choose craft beers. He prefers a beer that is well-rounded and balanced, something with a rich flavor.
Candia Road’s Shire Stout has been the best seller so far, but the Lotus Eater, a double IPA, has also been particularly popular. He’s planning to try a spruce ale this spring, brewed with fresh spruce tips.
“There’s just such a wider body of flavors,” Neel said.
Kevin Bloom is an industry advocate who has worked with lawmakers to promote nanobrewing in New Hampshire.
“Beer made locally is made fresher,” Bloom said. “And you have more control over the end product.”
There is a certain camaraderie among brewers in New Hampshire. While some might view each other as competitors, Neel doesn’t. To him, they’re all in this together. People ask him if he’s planning to compete with the nearby White Birch Brewing Company, which has a much larger operation, but Neel says no. He just hopes one day he’ll be able to be as big as White Birch.
Bloom sees stores as expanding space for craft beer sales, but it’s still an uphill battle, since industry giants still demand prime space. Places like Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett and Barb’s Beer Emporium in Concord are providing patrons with local craft beer options.
With licensing costs reduced, Bloom is now pushing legislation that would remove restrictions for nanobrewery over-the-counter sales. Right now, nanobreweries can sell 4 ounces of beer per label to customers looking to have a drink at a nanobrewery.
“It’s really crazy,” Bloom said. “Who buys a 4-ounce beer?”
Bloom said there has been compromise from legislators, as they seem to be on board with a proposal that would increase the licensing fee for nanobreweries and require them to have food available (though not a full menu). Then, breweries could sell 16-ounce beers per label. Nanobreweries would not be required to follow the new law; they could continue to operate with the same licensing fee, while providing no more than 4 ounces per label for in-house drinkers, Bloom said.
Some brewers open operations with the intent of increasing and growing production dramatically so they can distribute throughout New Hampshire and beyond. Others, though, are looking to keep with the smaller model, more of a hobby or part-time job.
“I’m so small, a one-barrel brewery, my business plan doesn’t include selling out of state,” Allman said. “It may not even include selling to Coos County.”
Allman, who frequently fields phone calls from store owners and restaurants looking to sell his beer, said he prefers to grow more organically.
“A piece of advice some store owners told me: Don’t jump the gun,” Allman said, adding that other breweries have gone to bottles too soon. “I want to make sure that we really have everyone nailed down, so when we do start bringing them to stores, which I expect to be within the next month or so, we’re really going to knock their socks off.”
While the barriers to entering the brewing landscape in New Hampshire have been lowered, Allman said it was still a daunting process, “just because there is no real consolidated road map. There’s not one source for someone going through this.”
That said, Allman said the state’s Liquor Commission was helpful: “If you do everything by the books, then they’re on your side, and they help you along.”
Brew your own
Hop(s) onto the homebrewing wagon
Rob North made it to the front of the Gillette Stadium beer line and had to laugh when he was asked for his ID. He showed the vendor his driver’s license, but his name could have been found much faster. It was written on the tap handle of the beer he ordered.
North created Rob’s American Rauchbier in 2010, his entry into the Samuel Adams Patriot Homebrew Competition. The winning beer was sold at Patriots games throughout the season.
His rauchbier, a smoky German style, took home the grand prize and landed the Manchester resident a chance to go to the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston and cook up a batch with the staff brewers. As a homebrew hobbyist, North said the experience was like a dream, as was actually seeing the beer at the stadium.
“It was pretty surreal to be standing in line at the Sam Adams Taphouse and hear people ask about it,” he said. “They would explain that it’s a homebrew smoke beer, but I was standing there saying, ‘It’s my beer, I’m right here.’”
North is the president of Brew Free or Die, the longest-running club in New Hampshire with around 150 members. In addition to hosting competitions and events throughout the year, North said the club is a valuable resource to beginning brewers and professionals.
He got his own start in the club in 2008, attending a meeting on a whim. He signed up that same night, impressed with the group’s dedication to the craft and its community environment.
“The meetings are fairly socially focused, and people are encouraged to bring home-brewed beer or a nice commercial beer that they found,” North said. “We do have various activities and might have some homebrew judging.”
But before winning any competitions or brewing up a first batch of beer, a novice brewer’s first step should be taking a trip to a local homebrew supply store.
Just over a year and a half ago,
Joe Ruotolo decided he’d rather spend his days surrounded by hops, grains and yeast than being out on the road working in the HVAC world. Fermentation had always been a family hobby, but Ruotolo was determined to make it his business.
Since Border Brew Supply opened in Salem in 2011, Ruotolo said he’s been able to share his love of creating beers with the blossoming homebrew community in southern New Hampshire. He said he’s seen the store become a place where total strangers can easily strike up a conversation, sharing brewing ideas and recipes and laughing over the successes and tribulations homebrewing can bring.
“In the beer community, you meet happy people,” Ruotolo said. “Which wouldn’t be the case if I was in the casket business.”
With shelves, boxes and refrigerators packed with ingredients and equipment, Ruotolo said, homebrewing is not as intimidating as it may look. He said the best way to get started is to talk about strategies and recipes with an expert.
For about $100, Ruotolo said, a first-time brewer can get set up with the necessary ingredients and equipment for that first batch. But to reduce any confusion during the brewing process, he said to resist the urge to turn to the Internet for advice.
“The Internet is like a bathroom wall,” Ruotolo said. “People can come in and write anything they want. The best way to start is to take my advice or a book’s.”
No matter the desired style of beer, Ruotolo said he can sit down with a customer to develop a recipe to try out at home. Another popular option for the beginner brewer is to use a prepackaged recipe filled with the precise measurements of what a particular style may call for.
Jesse Mertz, owner of Kettle to Keg, a homebrew supply store in Pembroke, said those recipes are typically the best jumping-off point. Once a brewer has demonstrated an ability to follow a recipe, that’s when the creativity can flow. Kettle to Keg carries about 55 hop options and 60 types of grain and yeast. They line one of the store’s walls in labeled drawers ready to be mixed and matched to achieve the precise taste and aroma the brewer desires.
“It’s like an artist’s palette,” Mertz said.
The first step in the brewing process is to bring water to a partial boil. Then, add steeping grains for about a half hour before bringing the mix to a boil. Once a boil is achieved, add the extract and hops and let it all boil for one hour. At the end of the boil, it’s time to add the yeast to the current concoction, which at this stage is called the wort. But, before pitching the yeast, the wort needs to be cooled as quickly as possible and transferred to a fermenter.
Mertz said that with enough practice, the process is relatively simple and anyone can brew top-quality beer. Doing it consistently is the challenge.
D.I.Y — sort of
For the beer lover who wants that hands-on aspect to his drinking experience but doesn’t want to commit to turning his kitchen or garage into a brewing operation, New Hampshire is home to the longest-running do-it-yourself brewery in the country.
IncrediBREW opened in Nashua in 1995 when owner Dave Williams, then just a homebrew hobbyist, saw the success of the business model in Canada first hand. At the time, the craft beer and homebrew craze hadn’t taken off, but Williams said he thought New Englanders would jump at the opportunity to make their own quality brews with no mess to clean up.
IncrediBREW now carries about 80 beer recipes but can create more if a customer has another specific style in mind. Each batch brewed creates 13½ gallons or 72 22-ounce bottles of beer, so Williams said it’s best to split a batch with a group. Unlike the homebrew supply stores, Williams said, experienced brewers rarely come to IncrediBREW to create. Instead he gets customers who want the experience of homebrewing with hands-on guidance.
“A lot of people who come in have decided in their mind that they’re not going to go out and buy all the equipment,” Williams said. “It’s not a hobby they want to engage in.”
But those who do often find they gain more than a new hobby and some high quality beer. Mertz said the brewing community is a tight-knit one, and he’s met many of his close friends through his store and the brewing classes Kettle to Keg offers. His goal is to be a resource.
“We try to keep it like a barber shop,” he said. “We want to foster an environment where we can be a hub of information.”