Learning The BJCP: European Amber Lagers

As some of you may know, I'm planning to take the BJCP Tasting Exam in a few months. So, I thought I would share my "hardcore" lead up to that here. Granted, the information that I'm posting is not necessary for the tasting exam but this is the way I learn and it should be helpful to those in the future and to those who just want to learn more about beer. I plan to go into each of the categories, and I will probably make posts on different specific topics. But this is just the start. So, here we go!

European Amber Lagers

Category 3 of the BJCP covers European Amber Lagers. The two Subcategories take you into the world of the Vienna Lager and Oktoberfest/Marzen. I think I may have picked a bad time to start studying, because while it is easy to find a Vienna Lager, I missed out on Oktoberfest season. I know I had some good ones, though.

In short, The Vienna Lager (Category 3A); is a soft, elegant, dark golden to light brown beer with a maltiness that dries out in the finish to avoid becoming sweet, with a nice toasted character. This doesn't really tell you much, but when you think about some that you may have tasted before, it all makes sense. Negra Modelo, Dos Equis Amber, & Samuel Adams Boston Lager are the beers I picked to sample.

The Vienna Lager was first introduced by Anton Dreher after he and, Gabriel Sedlmayer first recognized that there was an actual difference between ale and lager yeast. Though, the Pilsner was the first traditional lager beer.

In the 1830's Dreher produced the first amber lager when he wanted to combine the crispness of a lager with the color of an English Pale Ale. He named the style after the suburb of Vienna where his brewery was located, Schwechater Lagerbier.

As time went on, the Vienna Lager style started to die off. They say that it went entirely extinct in Europe after World War I. Immigration kept the beer alive elsewhere. As brewers were moving to the United States, they brought with them the styles that they were accustomed to and made necessary changes to incorporate local ingredients. Due to the number of brewers established in the North and Midwest, the brewers carrying this style decided to go South; some into Mexico, Central, and South America. At this time refrigeration was a real thing and it made industrialization and brewing lager beer more accessible.

Prohibition killed the style in the United States, but it did not effect the Mexican culture surrounded by this beer. It even became a traditional part of their culture. Over time though, some examples of the style began to see the use of adjuncts.

Dos Equis Amber

The characteristics of this style that should be noted while judging a Vienna Lager are:
Aroma: Moderately rich German malt, light toasted character, low to no Noble hop aroma, clean lager character, i.e. no yeast character, and THE AROMA OF CARAMEL IS INAPPROPRIATE.

Appearance: Light reddish amber to copper color, brilliant clarity, & large, off-white, persistent head.

Flavor: Soft, elegant malt complexity. A toasted character but no roast or caramel flavors. A firm enough hop bitterness to provide a balanced finish. Low to no Noble hop flavor. No Fermentation Characteristics. Fairly Dry Finish with both malt and hop bitterness present in the aftertaste. There should be no other flavor characteristics.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body, moderate carbonation, slight alcohol warmth is ok, a gentle creaminess, no astringency, smooth with a moderately crisp finish.
*NOTE*: These are the baseline characteristics for the style. There is room for variation but you must also know what is inappropriate. Read into, and understand, the guidelines. Not only the guidelines.

Oktoberfest & Marzen

Everyone always asks why Oktoberfest (Category 3B), is held in September, so I thought I would go into that a little bit to start.

The first Oktoberfest was October 12th, 1810. It was held as a celebration to Crown Prince Ludwig and his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildurghausen. The celebration went on almost annually. In 1819 it was declared that it would be held annually. They extended the total time of the festival and bumped the dates up a couple of weeks to take advantage of the better weather in late September and early October. There were some years where it was cancelled due to war or disease, but it held on strong over time and is now probably the biggest beer festival in existence.

Marzen was a German term that classifies any strong, "keeping" beer, that is brewed in March and stored for the length of the summer. Marzen and Oktoberfest are now essentially one in the same. The Oktoberfest style is defined as, "Smooth, clean, and rather rich, with a depth of malt character. This is one of the classic malty styles, with a maltiness that is often described as soft, complex, and elegant but never cloying."

Marzen is what was thought be served at the original Oktoberfest celebration and throughout the time until Josef Sedlmayr, in 1871, first created the beer. It is unknown if he originally intended for this beer to be used at the festival, but it was sold there and became extremely popular. Other breweries began to brew the Oktoberfest style and further increased its popularity. By technicality, only beers brewed by Munich breweries can be called Oktoberfest and all others must indicate that it is just in such style.

This is an Oktoberfest, I promise.
The characteristics of this style that should be noted while judging a Oktoberfest are:
Aroma: Moderately rich German malt, light to moderate toasted character, NO HOP AROMA, clean lager character, i.e. no yeast character, and THE AROMA OF CARAMEL IS INAPPROPRIATE.

Appearance: Dark gold to deep orange-red color, brilliant clarity, & large, off-white, persistent head.

Flavor: Initial malty sweetness, distinctive and complex maltiness often includes a toasted aspect. Hop bitterness is moderate, and noble hop flavor is low to none. Clean lager character with no diacetyl or fruity esters. Balance is toward malt, though the finish is not sweet, moderately dry. NOTICEABLE CARAMEL OR ROASTED FLAVORS ARE INAPPROPRIATE.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation, creamy texture, and smooth. Fully fermented, without a cloying finish.
*NOTE*: These are the baseline characteristics for the style. There is room for variation but you must also know what is inappropriate. Read into, and understand, the guidelines. Not only the guidelines.

If you are studying for this exam and you have any questions, or need help, please let me know! I have quite a few resources I am using that I can share. It may even help me along in the process!

Two good sources for information are the Upstate New York Homebrewers Association, and of course, the Beer Judge Certification Program's Website.

Next Up: You Will See.



Craft Beer Growth?

Right now is a time where all in the beer world is golden. Some even say its recession proof. Your neighbor, who used to only drink American made lagers or fancy imported beers whose names you cannot pronounce, is jumping into the game; opening a brewery simply because it is a great investment. There is even a chance that your favorite brewery has reached capacity and now has to make the ultimate decision; Stop where we are and let our product and fans speak volumes for our business. Or take route number two and expand, increase production, or even move to a secondary location.

Several breweries are at that point now and both decisions have been made. Both Russian River and Hill Farmstead took the ‘stop where we are at’ route. Some are disappointed by this decision, but others respect it and understand what it will do for their local market or the quality of their beer in the future. On the other hand, there are the breweries, such as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and even potentially Deschutes that are expanding and bringing their beers into new markets as they do. Some people complain about what this is doing to the local beer scene, even though New Belgium stated they did not want to interfere, and others are excited to finally get their hands on beers that were nothing but a rumor... Then there’s me.

I have gone across many places in this country for work, enjoyment, and as you suspected, craft beer. I travel not only for the love, but for the fact that I cannot find what I want where I live. Sure, you think I’m exaggerating, but I'm not. What makes this even sadder is the fact that I live in North Carolina; home to a number of great breweries and the new location of some of the big shots.

As you know, Oskar Blues is already in town, Sierra Nevada is months away from completion and New Belgium has plans to be open and in production next year. With all the beer these guys are known for, and the big shots from North Carolina, you’d think I'd be set... WRONG!

Okay, sure. I get Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and similar beers from other major breweries. But nothing beyond that and a few seasonals. A funny thing, I went into a local store to see if I could find Celebration Ale. You know what I found? Summerfest... IN NOVEMBER! I really don’t remember seeing Summerfest during the summer. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough but there’s no excuse. I have contacted other breweries about similar incidents in the past. Is there some reason this is happening?

While there is great choice and variety in the United States, it only goes as far as consumers will allow it. In this case, I am not even sure it is the consumers fault. On one of my beer-scapades, I drove up to a favorite bottle shop of mine, Bottle Revolution, and asked them about their distributors and beer availability. I was informed that where I live is kind of a grey area for beer in the state. Distributors don’t even consider ordering or sending much craft beer to the area. This is shocking to me being there are two well established homebrew clubs and over 350,000 people living in this “small” area.

Granted, not all of them are known craft beer drinkers, or even of age but part of this population is a military base. With people from all over the country, some of whom, have a certain expectation for the beer that they drink. One of the two homebrew clubs was actually set up and ran by service members who cannot get the beer they want. The members come and go as they enter and leave the area. But the passion and love for craft beer stays. So there IS a market.

I really don't know how to explain it but I’ve lived in similar areas before. There are always one or two local craft breweries within a few miles and they make a name for themselves. But for the everyday consumer, i.e. not the obsessed craft beer nerd, unless you were going there for dinner, why do you care? You aren't buying their beer when you go to the grocery store and you aren't sharing it with your friends.

I hear about all this growth and I’m truly excited to see the companies grow... but what does it mean for my town? Nothing? Is it going to be just the same as it was before? Even when it comes to "local" options, I can only get a select few because even those breweries are looking for more lively and thriving markets. No one wants to try an untapped market; they stick to pre-established ones. That doesn’t make sense to me, but what can I do? I make decisions based on what beers or breweries I feel are worth it. Nearly 2500 breweries across the country and the selection, not to mention rotation, in my local stores would not make any enthusiast happy.

Only 18 months old and outdated

I know there is interest, but what is it going to take? Who do I have to talk to in order to bring awareness and better products into my area? I am not even talking about the major, regional brewers right now. What’s it going to take to get a brewer from Charlotte, approximately 120 miles away, to sell their beer where I live? They ship further East than me, as well as further North. Why not here?



It's Been A While...

Yeah, I've only had this blog for a few years but it seems that I go really strong for the majority of the year and then when November rolls around... It kind of dies. Not that I have been taking a break from beer! No, not at all.

By this time you should all know that I have been to Beer Camp, even though I have not yet shared my story. I did a homebrew advent calendar... with some intersting beers... I only mentioned those on two occasions. I have been to a few breweries... yet, I have not talked about that either haha. Even a trip to see The SC Beer Fairy... I am really slipping.

So, what am I doing now? Studying to take the BJCP Tasting Exam this May!!! Well, I don't techinically have a seat yet. But I am Number 2 on the waiting list. With my experience of people who drop out and talking to the exam proctor, I feel I have a good chance at getting in. I should know by the end of the month or in early February. He said he is going to start collecting the deposits then and that is typically when people back out.

I plan to start a post about the categories I am going over... I just need to get off my ass, once again. Until then... I guess BLARG! Lets get a move on it!... and the 1001 Beers I am behind on... Cheers!