Seth Levy

Seth Levy

The black sheep of the Lager family: Black Lagers!

When we began our grand “Month of Lagers,” I mentioned that the Lager family was largely pale in color. In beer, as in all important things, exceptions are the delicious rule! The most notable exceptions are a small group of beers called Black Lagers, or Schwarzbiers.

Black Lagers occupy a unique space in the beer continuum. True to their Lager family roots, they tend to be light-bodied, lower in alcohol, and of more moderate flavor impact. Unlike nearly all of their relatives, they're quite dark in color — from deep garnet to jet-black. With the smoothness of a Lager, and the roasted complexity of a Stout, Black Lager is an amazingly versatile beer. Try pairing it with spicy, caramelized foods like fajitas, or jerk chicken. The roasted malt in the Black Lager loves the blackened beef in fajitas, the crispy bits of jerk chicken, or the blackened skin of Cajun fish dishes. It's a Lager, so it can take the heat, and with it's relatively low level of hop bitterness, it's supremely refreshing.

Lager heads: Back to the old school with Czech Pilsner

This month, we're sipping Lagers — smooth, easy drinking beers with flavor profiles that tend to be more moderate than the larger, more diverse family of beers called Ales. In this article, we'll take it back to the old, old school — right back to the origins of the most venerable and popular kid in the Lager family: Pilsner.

All in the Lager family: American-style Pilsners

Photo by celia mcconnellIt pains me to say this, but most of the worst beers in America are Pilsners. Well, that's not quite accurate – most of them started off as Pilsners, and were warped and distorted by a perverse combination of the economics of mega-mass production and the banalities of popular taste. The foulest of the macrobrews have fallen far from their Pilsner roots, and have become corn-laden parodies of this once-noble style. But — there is hope yet, thirsty reader! Some American brewers have taken on this noble Eastern European style and brewed it in smaller batches, with more attention to detail and without adding soy, corn and synthetic enzymes. These American Pilsners are much closer to their roots, with bolder flavors than a traditional European Pilsner, but often show a flash of Yankee insouciance.

All in the family: The beer family feud you've never heard of

A month-long introduction to the Lager Family ensues

Over the past several hundred years, the tremendous diversity of beer styles has grown, changed and mutated in ways that resemble a family tree, rather than a mere collection of beverages. Unbeknownst to many dedicated drinkers, an ongoing feud split the beer family in two, and influences our beer choices to this very day. Beer is more than just a thing you drink that makes you feel all funny inside: Your choice in beer is actually driven by a massive feud in the beer family hundreds of years ago, driven by climate, genetics and personality.

Black IPA body: Darker malts dominate these palate-pleasers

During our month-long celebration of all things IPA, we've tasted “regular” IPA, swilled … er … sampled Session IPA, and been rendered stupefied and stumbling by downing Double IPA. To round out a month of hoppy excesses, it's only appropriate to finish up with the new kid on the block, stylistically speaking, and sample some Black IPA.

Face-meltingly bitter Double IPA's with scorching hops

Last week, we tasted some Session IPA's. Many of these beers offered nice, juicy hop flavor, but less alcohol. Well, sometimes you don't want “some” hops. Sometimes you want a lot of hops, dammit, and enough alcohol to render you mute and drooling. If that's the case, Double IPA is the beer for you! Double IPA is the beverage equivalent of Spinal Tap's amplifier — it goes all the way to 11. Everything about it is intensified: hop aroma, bitterness, ABV, and malt flavor. But, brewing this style isn’t without risk. The challenge brewers face in creating a good Double IPA is achieving a balance between these warring elements. A lot of hops requires a lot of malt sweetness to balance them out, otherwise it could easily cross the fine line between “agreeably bitter” and “disgusting!” Alcohol is another factor that is difficult to get right. Too much, and the Double IPA could have a hot, boozy taste, too little and you might leave beer enthusiasts dangerously sober. This week, I've subjected my palate and liver to an unprecedented assault, and tasted a few excellent examples of Double IPA:

Weekday IPA

As the weather warms up, my tastes turn away from sweet malt and toward the quenching bitterness of hops. No other style of beer showcases the flavors and aromas of the hop flower (Humulus lupulus) more than IPA. American IPAs, along with other similarly assertive styles, have been heavily emphasized by craft brewers over the years — probably as an attempt to differentiate from tasteless macrobrews. But, sometimes the flavor pendulum swings too far, and enters the territory of face-melting bitterness, far away from the land of ordinary drinking. Even for hop-heads like me, the idea of slugging down an epiglottis-incinerating 9% ABV monster of an IPA at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday is daunting. Thankfully, a renewed emphasis on “sessionable” beers inspired brewers to churn out a flood of Session IPA's that claim to feature the beguiling flavor of hops without the cortex-frying alcohol content of other IPA. This week, we'll seek the perfect balance of taste and buzz. We'll taste a few IPA's with 5% or lower ABV so you can get plenty of real hop flavor and still be able to walk without assistance!

IPA: A beer to build empires!

This week, we'll launch a series of articles celebrating IPA and exploring the different permutations of this formidable style. IPA stands for “India Pale Ale,” and, in the world of complex beer names this one is as straightforward as they come. Legend has it, the British found colonizing India hot and thirsty work. They summoned a grand quantity of ale, which arrived spoiled and undrinkable after a scorching multi-month journey in the humid stores of a ship. True to the tastes of the time, the spoiled beer was likely a moderately hopped, low-alcohol “ordinary ale,” ill-suited to travel anywhere outside the confines of a cool pub cellar. Nothing ruins a good game of Cricket faster than a skunky pint — so beer was brewed with a higher-than-average ABV, and an extravagant quantity of flavorful (and, not coincidentally, antimicrobial) hops. Not only did the formula work, the result was so tasty that it created a new style.

Gluten-free beers: Science solves this issue for brewers

Fat, caffeine and carbohydrates — each compared unfavorably to poison in their heyday — have now been eclipsed by the newest dietary bogeyman: gluten. This protein occurs naturally in barley, wheat, rye and related grains. For the approximately 1 percent of individuals with celiac disease, gluten causes dangerous symptoms. For the slightly larger percentage of people suffering gluten sensitivity, gluten may cause milder, but still troublesome symptoms. A still higher percentage of dietary faddists avoid gluten due to the popular perception that it causes all manner of ills — a perception that has yet to be supported by rigorous scientific study. Nearly 37.624 percent of the population exhibits a marked and distinctive constellation of symptoms upon exposure to this last group — including uncontrollable giggles, profound beer thirst and the urge to laugh through a mouthful of pizza.drinks_glutenfreeSL_040215

Spring forward into beer

Spring in Maine is not a season of joy. Icicles drip, snow turns into gray glurp, and all we have to look forward to is mud season. Summer is on the way, but the anticipation is enough to drive one mad and the weather is a confusing jumble of mixed messages. Thankfully, “Spring Beers” are just as jumbled and mixed up as Maine March. Common threads link the different beers that define many styles: IPA's are hoppy. Stouts are dark. Lambics are sour. The only thing that unites “Spring Beers” is that they're brewed to be consumed in the Spring. I've spotted White IPA, Lager, Saison, and Single-Hopped Pale Ale described as “Spring Beers.” It was 50 degrees last week. It's 20 today. Spring's a fickle season, and Spring Beers are a fickle style. True to the unpredictable nature of the season, we'll taste a truly scattered selection of Spring Beers this week, and share some of our favorites:

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