Is 'still beer' still beer?
Is 'Still Beer' still beer?
When a brew pub is located in an industrial park, that's a good sign. It suggests that the brewer is paying a lower rent than his colleague in the fancy neighborhood. Lower rent means lower costs overall, but it especially means that it costs less to store the beer during the period of conditioning between brewing and serving. A brewer who doesn't have to worry so much about the costs of conditioning can serve properly matured beers. More importantly, she's likely to make more ambitious beers-ones that benefit from a few extra weeks in the tank. So I was excited to see Fletcher street Brewery off the main drag of Alpena, Michigan and surrounded by parking lots. The atmosphere is strictly industrial-chic, very low overhead: another good sign. Our bartender, Aaron announced that he was an aviation mechanic by trade and that he was tending bar for the love of the beer. I'm imagining the price going down and the quality going up as he speaks.
Now this sounds like a set up for a story where the beer is miraculously good or splendidly awful, but in fact it's more fun than that. It's a story about a technical glitch that leads to an interesting tasting and a discovery. I ordered a sampler: eight beers served in four ounce glasses. The first one was barely carbonated, the second was dead flat. Number three had some fizz, even a little bit of lacing on the glass and the fourth was as dead as a pickled herring. The last four were completely uncarbonated and if I were a more frivolous sort, I'd be ranting, Python like through a list of synonyms for 'dead'. (In keeping with proper care of the dead, they were all chilled to an appropriate temperature.) Of course, I asked Aaron what was up. It seems there was a little technical problem. He didn't know what it was, but until the brewer came by in a few days, all he had was the unfizzy stuff. The bubbles are more than just traditional. Carbonation helps to carry aromas to the nose. This is important since beer is usually served at a cool temperature. It also creates a prickly tactile sensation that suppresses sweetness perception. Brewers design the taste of their beers with a particular level of carbonation in mind-that's why flat beer always tastes sweet and a bit out of balance.
Then I noticed something interesting: the lack of carbonation also made the individual flavors stand out. I was intrigued. I decided to imagine that somebody was inventing a new category. We could call it malt cider, but I think I'll go with Still Beer. Still Beer aims for
the bubbly beery balance of rich, smooth cereal tastes with the sharp sensations of hops, spice and acidity-fruit is optional, but the same rules apply and balance is king.
Here are the results of my first-ever tasting of Still Beer.
E.B. Allen Ale
4.0% wheaty ale with a malty profile and a bit of bubblegum and a mildly phenolic finish.
4.5% light body, refreshing and earthy with a light, piney finish
Cool City Kolsch
5.5% -the only beer that retained some carbonation-a
classic kolsch, lacy head, slightly sweet.
Windiate Weizenbock "White Bock"
6% Creamy texture, mild flavor, gentle
malt profile. I suspect it would only take a bit of gas to make it interesting.
Rail Car Red
4.5% a light-bodied ale with the nutty taste of a specialty
Thunder Bay Bock
6% in its flat form, this one is way out of balance- the
caramel/honey/toffee flavors are too much for its hops. There was a hint of citrus aroma, but not much else. Definitely a beer that shouldn't appear in public without its bubbles.
7.6% At last, enough of a hop presence that the loss of bubbles isn't so serious. Toasty malts provide enough of a counterpoint to make this a plausible still beer.
5% This toasty typical America Stout isn't quite hoppy enough. The roasted malt aroma without its carbonation cover ends up with a mouth feel a bit like soda pop.
What's notable about this tasting is that the flavors were so achingly isolated. The taster experiences each characteristic singly, like listening to individual notes instead of a chord. I think all of these beers were well-made and I would definitely want to to return
to Fletcher street when the bubbles come back. And I look forward to someone working up the Still Beer Style.
Hoffman the author of the Short Course in Beer from Skyhorse Press
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