All posts by William

Mixed Feelings

Before beer was beer, it was blended. The first fermented drinks were mixes of fruit, honey, and grains. Sugar was scarce; anything sweet went into the pot. Even when brewers figured out how to malt and mash barley effectively enough to make wort, fermentation remained a mystery, and sluggish batches were jump-started with fresh wine or mead. The Hymn to Ninkasi mentions “brewing a wort with honey and wine.” In the Kalevala, Osmotar’s beer—a dud—is saved by a bee.

Today the lines are blurring again, even as the TTB struggles to keep up with style names like wheatwine. We had an excellent braggot from Atlantic Brewing Company at their roadside barbecue shack on MDI—sweet, but in a rich, barrel-aged sort of way. Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot is a mix of beer and wine; soon they’ll release a blend of beer and cider. Avery makes some grape-grain hybrids too, though barrel herder Andy Parker doesn’t like the term. The Sumerians called it kaš-geštin, a combination of their pictograms for beer and wine. I don’t know how to pronounce it either.

Beer cocktails are trending and beer-beer blends are catching on. But Pils in your Pinot? Samuel Pepys, who’d try anything, was unconvinced.

…and to Mr. Hollyard, and took some pills of him and a note under his hand to drink wine with my beere…

[later]

They gone, I to my office, and there my head being a little troubled with the little wine I drank, though mixed with beer, but it may be a little more than I used to do, and yet I cannot say so…

Big Beers

I’d already written about celebratory homebrew (that wasn’t so celebratory), so for the holidays I decided to go with something more reliable, albeit less historic: giant beer bottles. My picks were arranged, in the paper at least, from smallest to most monumental. Fin du Monde, a house favorite and plenty punchy, seems featherweight compared to Stone’s Double Bastard, which comes in a three-liter totem, complete with a padlocked swing-top cap. You know, so you can’t sneak in a midnight tipple. I thought about sabering off the cap, like they did in the Times, but I didn’t want to waste a drop. This is beer, after all, not Champagne.

A Morning Draft

Wintertime in the Midwest demands a warm breakfast. Waiting for your oatmeal to boil is a life-and-death situation, almost. You feel like Shackleton watching the sun come and crack the ice. Sometimes more so, if you have errands to run and left the car out of the garage.

Seventeenth-century drinker and diarist Samuel Pepys preferred a pint and some gossip to morning oatmeal—he took his breakfast at the bar. But come winter, even he took it warm. With butter.

So meeting in my way W. Swan, I took him to a house thereabouts, and gave him a morning draft of buttered ale; he telling me still much of his Fanatique stories, as if he were a great zealot, when I know him to be a very rogue.

Buttered beer isn’t my cup of tea, so to speak, so I mulled it. The nutmeg is perfect—beer gets bitterer, boiled, and you need some spice to mellow it. Just go easy. You have a long, cold day ahead.

Oktober’s Best

Oktoberfest is over. First on the list of things most people don’t know about Oktoberfest (what the lids on steins are for, what a Märzen is) is the fact that it ends on the first weekend in October. Time to start training for next year.

Märzens, the official beer of the festival, brewed in March and aged cool until the fall, are still for sale, though. Here are the best of the Fest.

Black, Light

My high school drama teacher loved Goethe (whose didn’t?) and so I avoided both of them. I didn’t know Young Werter was a beer snob. He got sick in law school and recovered, the story goes, with Schwarzbier. Tipsy and atrophied, he became a writer instead. Some bottles of Köstritzer have a picture of him on the label, pensive, opulently hatted, sudsy glass Photoshopped into his hand.

Follow his example: Drink black lager. I picked the best in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal.