What's New- New Belgium now in Nashville

2008 has brought some new and exciting beers to the Nashville beer scene. I take off my Fighting Illini hat to the distributors pulling in new brands, in spite of Tennessee's stupid beer laws. The newest brewery to be added to Nashville's portfolio is New Belgium Brewing based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. The current offerings are 1554 Enlightened Black Ale, Mothership Wit, and the famous Fat Tire- available in 22 ounce bottles. These beers are all under 6% and can be found at most beer stores and maybe a few supermarkets. So what is the skinny on these New Belgium beers? I will tell you.

Fat Tire (New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)
Description: Amber Ale. ABV 5.3%

Smitty's Review: Casual or non-beer drinkers always return from Colorado with high praise for this beer. I predict it will be a big hit in Nashville. Pours pale amber orange with an off white head. Faint aroma of toasted malts and bread. Light to medium bodied with a thin texture. There are tame, perhaps muted flavors of caramel and biscuit, with a non-aggressive, balancing bitterness. Finish is short and clean. The is an ideal "gateway" beer for someone venturing into craft beer. What do I think? This beer is well done, but I personally do not find it very exciting. However, the neutrality of this beer should make it easy for food pairing.
Recommended Food Pairing: grilled meats, soft white cheese, bar food

Where To Buy:
Specialty beer stores (Midtown Wine and Spirits, Frugal MacDoogal) supermarkests (Publix), and Flying Saucer

1554 Enlightened Black Ale (New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)
Description: Black Lager (labeled as a Black Ale) ABV 5.6%

Smitty's Review: Upon my first sip, I knew that this was not an Ale. More on that later. Pours a beautiful deep mahogany with a retentive light beige head. Chocolate and yeast nose with accents of citrus. Medium bodied but with a thin texture. Flavor of dark bread with hints of lime. Dry finish with flavor of cocoa powder and some slight acidity. Simple, enjoyable, and ideal for a hot weather dark beer. This has many similarities to a schwarzbier, which prompted me to do some investigating. This beer is fermented with lager yeast, but is not fermented at lager temperatures. Apparently New Belgium ran into a blue law problem in Texas, which would not allow them to use the word "lager" on the label. Since the beer was fermented at ale temperatures, they labeled this beer a black ale. I have a small problem with that. We are not in Texas, so I see no reason why the label can not be changed for Tennessee. There is a huge difference between ale and lager yeast. It's no different that a winery labeling a Cabernet as a Merlot. This beer is not an ale and it should not be labeled as one. Rant aside, this is solid beer and my favorite of the three.
Recommended Food Pairing: grilled meats, dark chocolate, white cheese

Where To Buy: Specialty beer stores (Midtown Wine and Spirits, Frugal MacDoogal) supermarkests (Publix), and Flying Saucer

Mothership Wit (New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)
Description: Organic Witbier ABV 5.6%

Smitty's Review: Pours a cloudy yellow with an airy white head. Aroma of lemon and belgian yeast esters. Light bodied with a thin but refreshing texture. Flavor of pale light wheat malt with a strong orange peel presence and a nice balancing residual sweetness. Clean finish with some faint tartness and acidity. Not as aggressive in spice and body as other witbiers, but this works in it’s favor. A great thirst quenching, hot weather beer. Blue Moon drinkers, there is a new kid in town.
Recommended Food Pairing: fruit desserts (pie, cheesecake, apple crisp, etc.), soft sweet white cheeses, grapes, peaches, strawberries, vanilla ice cream.

Where To Buy:
Specialty beer stores (Midtown Wine and Spirits, Frugal MacDoogal) supermarkests (Publix), and Flying Saucer

Beer Education 101- Common Beer Myths

Fellow beer geeks stop here. This blog post is going to be remedial. I am targeting people with a newly discovered or casual interest in craft beer. I was recently at a neighborhood party, chatting with the usual crowd as I sipped on a Porter. "I just can't into drinking heavy beers because they are too thick- sort of like a meal in a glass," uttered one guest when he saw what I was drinking. If I had a dime for every time I heard similar comments, I would be retired and and living in Belgium. There are so many beer myths floating around that I have decided to address some of them.

Common Myth #1 "All beer is to be served ice cold"

You can thank the macro beer producers (Anheuser Busch, SAB Miller, Coor's) and their mega marketing campaigns for this one. The reason they want you drink them ice cold is because they don't want you to taste the poor quality. The fact is that the coldness numbs the taste receptors, thus masking the offensive flavors of the beer. Now you know why Coor's Light is so unappealing at room temp. The same principle can apply to other beverages. Have you ever had a chocolate shake and notice that it is sweeter and more chocolaty as it melts? That is because the coldness was numbing your taste buds. Is this starting to make some sense? I hope so.

I saw some respected wine and food expert (her name escapes me) on the Food Network do a segment on craft beer, and she stated that beer is to be served ice cold. The camera panned to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Lindeman's Kreik in an ice bucket. I about jumped out of my chair. Did this "expert" even bother to do ANY research? Would she serve a Merlot ice cold? Enough is enough. Forget what the beer commercials and ignorant wine experts tell you. If you want the full sensory experience, then I would suggest you follow these temperature guidelines.

  • Very cold (32-39F): Pale Lager, Malt Liquor, Canadian-style Golden Ale and Cream Ale, Low Alcohol, Canadian, American or Scandinavian-style Cider. Basically any beer you don't want taste.
  • Cold (39-45F): Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, Kölsch, Premium Lager, Pilsner, Classic German Pilsner, Fruit Beer, brewpub-style Golden Ale, European Strong Lager, Berliner Weisse, Belgian White, American Dark Lager, sweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Duvel-types
  • Cool (50-54F): American Pale Ale, Amber Ale, California Common, Dunkelweizen, Sweet Stout, Stout, Dry Stout, Porter, English-style Golden Ale, unsweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Faro, Belgian Ale, Bohemian Pilsner, Dunkel, Dortmunder/Helles, Vienna, Schwarzbier, Smoked, Altbier, Tripel, Irish Ale, French or Spanish-style Cider
  • Cellar (54-57F): Bitter, Premium Bitter, Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, English Pale Ale, English Strong Ale, Old Ale, Saison, Unblended Lambic, Flemish Sour Ale, Bière de Garde, Baltic Porter, Abbey Dubbel, Belgian Strong Ale, Weizen Bock, Bock, Foreign Stout, Zwickel/Keller/Landbier, Scottish Ale, Scotch Ale, American Strong Ale, Mild, English-style Cider, Barley Wine, Abt/Quadrupel, Imperial Stout, Imperial/Double IPA, Doppelbock, Eisbock, Mead
  • There are a few examples of beers that can be served hot (like Unibroue Quelque Chose) if you want to get adventurous. I will address those at another time
Notice that I am squelching another myth that cellar or cask temperatures are the same as "warm." If you are new to craft beer, I would suggest that train your senses with a thermometer (or this neat device) when drinking at home. Why? Because most beer bars store craft beer kegs with the industrial pale lagers, resulting in most beer being served too cold. The ability distinguish the temperature ranges is valuable because you will need to let your "ice cold" beer warm up before consuming. Cupping your hands around the glass will speed up the process if you are impatient like me. Serving temperature is critical to the proper enjoyment of beer. Take my word, tasting the complex flavors and picking up the nuances will make all those funny looks worth while.

Common Myth #2 "Dark beers are heavier and/or higher in alcohol"

I am not going to bore you with the science of brewing. There are many factors that determines a beer's body, but all you need to know is that there is no parallel with beer color and body. The color of beer comes from the variety of grain and how it was roasted. Grains roasted at a higher temperature will give a beer a darker color. The alcohol content of beer is determined by the difference of original gravity and finished gravity in the brewing process. Take the examples of a light bodied, dark colored Guinness (4.1% alcohol) versus a medium-full bodied, light-colored Kasteel Triple (11% alcohol). I could go on, but this comparison should be is enough to put this myth to rest.

Common Myth #3 "Dark beers have more calories"

The scientific formula to calculate the calories in a beer is too complicated to explain in this blog. The important thing to know is that most of the calories are directly related to the alcohol content. Let's use the Kasteel Triple and Guinness comparison again. A 12 ounce serving of dark-colored Guinness has 147 calories, while a 12 ounce serving of light-colored Kasteel Triple will have approximately 375 calories. If you want get a rough idea on caloric content of a 12 ounce craft beer, multiply the alcohol content by 34. This is a non-scientific formula, but it should get you fairly close. If you are watching your weight, you might want to stay away from barley wines, imperial stouts, and Belgian triples.

Common Myth #4- Ben Franklin once wrote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

I see this quote referenced by several beer writers, web sites, and beer enthusiasts. I have even seen it on T- Shirts! Researchers have looked into this and can not find it in any record of it, including Historian Bob Skilnik (author of Beer and Food ). He and others have basically concluded that the quote is phony, and likely a distortion on Franklin's writing about wine.

Common Myth #5- "Miller Lite is a Pilsner"

Yes folks the label is wrong. Macro breweries are all about marketing, and SAB Miller labeling this beer as a Pilsner is probably an attempt to create the perception of sophistication. The correct BJCP classification of this beer is Light Lager (sometime referred to as Pale Lager). The same classification applies to Coor's Light, Bud Light, Amstel Light, Budweiser, Molsen, etc. A true Pilsner has a more IBUs (hop bitterness), more body, and is not full of adjuncts. Pilsner Uquell or Staropramen are common examples of a true Pilsner.

This should wrap up the first installment of Beer Education 101. Understanding the building blocks of craft beer is an important part of appreciating the hobby. Your assignment is to remember these facts and politely correct anyone who has bought into these stupid myths. As far as that guest at the party, I did just that and gave him a sample of the Porter. Guess what? He liked it!