Christmas Gifts for Beer Lovers, 2013

Beer at Christmas.

It’s around this time of year that we start getting lots of visits to the blog from anxious relatives looking for gift ideas for awkward beer-loving spouses, siblings and cousins.

So, with apolo­gies for men­tion­ing the oth­er, oth­er C‑word in Novem­ber, here’s our best attempt at a Christ­mas wish list for beer geeks.

UPDATED

The con­tent from this post has been moved to a per­ma­nent page here. We try to update it once or twice a year with the most recent update antic­i­pat­ing Christ­mas 2015.

Brewdog: Unleash the Yeast

Module 1: Yeast
Look around you. Look AROUND you. Just look around you.

This pack of beer is aimed squarely at beer geeks: the same base beer (amber coloured, 6.3% ABV) fermented with four different yeasts.

Yeast, the Scot­tish Wun­derkinder argue, is an unsung hero in the brew­ing process, often over­looked because hops hog the lime­light – a thought with which we hearti­ly agree.

We also found some­thing extreme­ly appeal­ing about the idea of an off-the-shelf edu­ca­tion­al tast­ing ses­sion. Like a chem­istry set for grown-ups, it encour­ages the set­ting aside of a cou­ple of hours, the clear­ing of a table­top, and the tak­ing of notes. This is not drink­ing, but think­ing. With drink.

Beer #1: fermented with Pilsen lager yeast

This is a yeast we know rea­son­ably well from our own home brew­ing exper­i­ments but we strug­gled, at first, to dis­cern its influ­ence in this case. That might be because we have been con­di­tioned to expect that yeast char­ac­ter in weak­er, paler beers, and need­ed to over­come our pro­gram­ming.

Even­tu­al­ly, we did begin to pick out the famil­iar sul­phurous note; some­thing lemo­ny; and then a faint reminder of Par­ma Vio­lets.

Though they did­n’t deliv­er a huge aro­ma, we did find that the use of decent amounts of Amer­i­can hops clashed with the yeast, knock­ing it out of focus.

What we learned: Pil­sner Yeast does not seem, as they say, to allow cit­rusy hops ‘to sing’.

Beer #2: Bavarian weizen yeast

On the odd occa­sion we have run tast­ing ses­sions, Ger­man wheat beer has been our go-to to demon­strate the impact of yeast. Its famous banana-clove-bub­blegum char­ac­ter is easy to spot and strik­ing. And that is what we expect­ed here.

In fact, we found a grainy, slight­ly smoky char­ac­ter, with a whack of harsh hoochy alco­hol. It was­n’t very pleas­ant, frankly, and prob­a­bly would­n’t help a would-be beer geek to spot this yeast in action in anoth­er beer.

What we learned: wheat beer yeast is not much at home in a strong pale ale; and it needs han­dling prop­er­ly to make with the bananas.

Beer #3: American ale yeast

This is where we expect­ed Brew­dog to shine, and for a brief break from the edu­ca­tion­al mis­ery. It smelled fan­tas­tic, a big leafy fug of Stoned Love ris­ing above the glass.

It tast­ed, unfor­tu­nate­ly, less excit­ing – pla­s­ticky and grit­ty, like their big Hard­core IPA let down with water.

Three beers in, we were start­ing to notice a com­mon off-flavour, and won­dered if there was a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem with the base beer.

What we learned: were there actu­al­ly more hops in this beer than in the oth­ers? If not, then it’s easy to see why yeasts like this one are pop­u­lar with hop­head brew­ers seek­ing to max­imise their impact.

Beer #4: Belgian Trappist yeast

Cor! Though the com­mon dodgy flavour is still just about evi­dent, this was by far the best beer as beer. The yeast is so stri­dent that it stamps all over the hops, pump­ing out spicy esters and turn­ing the base beer into baked-apples-with-raisins delight.

Well, delight might be a bit strong: it’s not the best Bel­gian-style beer we’ve had by a long chalk, but real­ly was both a demon­stra­tion of what Bel­gian yeasts do as well as being tasty.

What we learned: ‘Bel­gian’ is def­i­nite­ly a flavour.

Final thoughts

We hope Brew­dog do this again but, next time, the base beer needs to be bet­ter and, more impor­tant­ly, plain­er. Leg­endary British brew­er Sean ‘Roost­er’s’ Franklin has often spo­ken of pale’n’hop­py beers brewed with­out dark malts as pro­vid­ing a ‘blank can­vas’ for oth­er ingre­di­ents, and that’s what was prob­a­bly need­ed here.

We also think there’s some­thing jar­ring about the appli­ca­tion of the Brew­dog brand­ing to this prod­uct. The beers are not excit­ing or awe­some, even though one is very nice, and the Rock Horns rhetoric is mis­placed. We’d sug­gest that, next year, they call the pack Under­stand­ing Yeast: prac­ti­cal exer­cis­es for the class­room (J. Watt & M. Dick­ie) and pack­age it in text­book white.

We bought our four-pack as part of an online order from Brew­dog’s own store. It cost £9.50 + deliv­ery (around £2.35 per bot­tle).