Fruit Beer

2015-01-27

Fruit beer is a style that takes on a lot of different meanings. It also gets a pretty rough reputation from beer-to-beer and person-to-person. I’ve run into people who claim they do not like fruit beer as they are finishing pint after pint of an IPA with an apricot addition or something similar. It is another style that many people just do not fully understand.

Do we need to start by defining what goes into a fruit beer? The BJCP makes one thing pretty clear on just a quick glance at the 2008 guidelines:

THE ENTRANT MUST SPECIFY THE UNDERLYING BEER STYLE AS WELL AS THE TYPE OF FRUIT(S) USED. IF THIS BEER IS BASED ON A CLASSIC STYLE (E.G., BLONDE ALE) THEN THE SPECIFIC STYLE MUST BE SPECIFIED. CLASSIC STYLES DO NOT HAVE TO BE CITED (E.G., “PORTER” OR “WHEAT ALE” IS ACCEPTABLE). THE TYPE OF FRUIT(S) MUST ALWAYS BE SPECIFIED. (BJCP Guidelines, 2008)

To truly get a grasp on this “style,” you must really have a base understanding of all the other styles. You must understand the nuances of the listed style and see how the fruit addition either complements or contrasts the base beer. What is important to judging and brewing a fruit beer is first taking the base beer into consideration. You cannot have a good fruit beer with a bad base. One thing that should be considered with any fruit additions to a style of beer is that some combinations may work really well, while others do not make very good beer at all.

While in the 2008 BJCP guidelines, Fruit Beer was a catchall for any beer brewed with fruit that wasn’t already classically defined, the 2014 Draft Guidelines break Fruit Beer into three subcategories. Fruit Beer, Fruit and Spice Beer, and Specialty Fruit Beer essentially account for any variation of fruit additions that can be made.

Let’s take a look at each of the new subcategories and see what fits into them:

The Fruit Beer category is for beer made with any fruit or combination of fruit under the definitions of this category. The culinary, not botanical, definition of fruit is used here – fleshy, seed-associated structures of plants that are sweet or sour, and edible in the raw state. Examples include pomme fruit (apple, pear, quince), stone fruit (cherry, plum, peach, apricot, mango, etc.), berries (any fruit with the word ‘berry’ in it, currants), citrus fruit, dried fruit (dates, prunes, raisins, etc.), tropical fruit (banana, pineapple, guava, papaya, etc.), figs, pomegranate, prickly pear, etc. It does not mean spices, herbs, vegetables, nuts (anything with ‘nut’ in the name, including coconut), coffee, chocolate, ginger, roses, rhubarb, or botanical fruit (squash, chiles, beets, etc.) that are treated as culinary vegetables (see the definition of spices, herbs, and vegetables in Category 30 for detail). Basically, if you have to justify a fruit using the word ‘technically’ as part of the description, then that’s not what we mean. (BJCP Guidelines, 2014)

In subcategory 29A (Fruit Beer), what is really important to a fruit beer is overall balance. That is not to say you cannot have a big fruit flavor in your favorite style of beer. What it means is that the fruit should not overwhelm the character of the original beer you are trying to brew (though you need to take into consideration that certain elements of a beer will take a different form with the addition of fruit.) Your bitterness may seem different, your malt character might be a touch muted or accentuated, your hops and yeast can also become a different animal. Judging this style can be tricky based on these facts. You have to understand how the fruit addition will play in the finished product. The biggest thing that you want to avoid is the addition of fruit to where its character becomes artificial.

In 29B (Fruit and Spice Beer), we have the same characteristics of a fruit beer; the colors in lighter beers can mimic the fruit to a degree. The fruit is evident in the aroma—though the intensity of said aroma can vary or be nondescript—as well as the fruit flavor in the beer. But we also get an addition of spice to accentuate the fruit and base beer style. This can lead to a number of harmonious marriages that awaken a new sense of lust on the palate. This subcategory also shares a bit of space with 30A, SHV Beer, so take into consideration how you would differentiate a beer placed here, vs 29A or 30A.

Subcategory 29C gets a little complex. What is a Specialty Fruit Beer? Isn’t a fruit beer a specialty all in its own? Well, if your fruit beer has an additional process or ingredient added, such as the addition of honey or brown sugar, this is where your beer belongs. Though, if you cannot pull out what makes your beer fit into this category, despite what your recipe says, throw it into 29A for best results. Your addition of invert sugar may sound good on paper, but if it fails to come through in the final product, an otherwise good beer may be discounted for not living up to expectations.

Fruit can really bring out some interesting characteristics in beer. It can brighten up dull flavors and bring a new layer of complexity to already great beers. Adding fruit can prove difficult at times, and some fruits work better than others. Some fruits work well in one style but not so well in another. There is a wide range of enjoyment that can come from doing something so basic as combining a few of your favorite things, but going over all of that is better suited for another time.

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Spice, Herb, Vegetable Beer

Whether you’ve brewed 3, 30, or 300 batches of homebrew before, you’ve probably been inclined to brew a beer that’s different than what commercial breweries often produce. Classic styles are great, but, you want to do something different, something special! Enter the Spice, Herb or Vegetable beer category! In this category, you take a classic style— say an IPA—and add a complimentary ingredient, maybe lemongrass. You choose some great flavor hops like Citra and Amarillo to pair well with the added citrus of the lemongrass. The beer still tastes like an IPA, but it also showcases the unique flavor that lemongrass imparts. There are two things to keep in mind when brewing a beer for this category in competition: 1) the base beer style needs to be obvious, and 2) any special ingredients you list need to be obvious. If you brew a beer with five herbs, but only two are really noticeable, it’s better to just list those two rather than lose points because the other three aren’t discernable.

The 2008 BJCP guidelines for this category had two subcategories: Standard Spice, Herb, Vegetable and Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced. Standard S/H/V received an update in 2014, broadening and clarifying the guidelines for aroma, flavor, and overall style. In addition, the new guidelines have added a third subcategory: Autumn Seasonal. This covers the popular pumpkin and fall spiced beers that have been showing up more often, both commercially and at homebrew competitions. Winter Specialty remained the same as far as guidelines for judging are concerned.

With standard S/H/V beer, the guidelines make it clear to keep in mind the base style when judging the beer. Note how it is affected by the S/H/V ingredients. Some key characteristics of the base style can be subdued, sometimes intentionally, to allow the S/H/V aroma and flavor to shine. Balance is key here, however. The S/H/V shouldn’t completely overwhelm the base style of the beer. Likewise, any S/H/V mentioned on the entry form needs to be noticeable. When judges have to really hunt for these ingredients, they will give the beer a lower score. There was a slight change in this subcategory. This sentence was removed from the 2014 guidelines: “If the base beer is an ale then a non-specific fruitiness and/or other fermentation by-products such as diacetyl may be present as appropriate for warmer fermentations. If the base beer is a lager, then overall less fermentation byproducts would be appropriate.” (BJCP 2008 Guidelines.) This was most likely removed to get rid of generalized assumptions that may not have been accurate. Also added to the 2014 guidelines under Overall Impressions: “The individual character of each SHV may not always be individually identifiable when used in combination.” (BJCP 2014 Guidelines.) The key here for judges is to keep in mind that adding these S/H/V components is going to change the base style of the beer. When the base style is still evident, the S/H/V component(s) is/are appropriately showcased, in balance, and brewing process flaws are not present. That’s an award winning beer in this subcategory.

With the 2014 guidelines, there is a new subcategory called Autumn Seasonal. Beers in this subcategory include any S/H/V that one might associate with fall. An obvious style here, which has taken the American Craft Beer scene by storm in recent years, is the pumpkin beer. Other beers that might fall into this subcategory (pun intended) include beers spiced like pumpkin pie (which don’t contain pumpkin), beers that use other fall squash, and beers that have overall spices reminiscent of fall and harvest. Traditionally these beers are malt forward, with the S/H/V components playing a supporting role. There are certain base beer styles that lend themselves more towards this subcategory, like ambers, stouts, browns, and porters. These beers do not typically display a complex hop profile, as the spices tend to take the place of their role. Again, like in the standard S/H/V subcategory, balance is critical in this style.

If you’re looking to make a beer that’s both unique, yet classic, a Spice/Herb/Vegetable beer may be just what you’re looking to brew. Starting with a base style that you already brew well, like a stout, and then adding a couple of ingredients that compliment it, like chocolate and mint, could be a great way to showcase to your friends what a creative brewer you are! As long as your base style is done well, and your added ingredients are in balance with it, you can brew an award winning beer!

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The Old Ale

by Allen Huerta

Old Ale…what is it? A beer? Old beer? Old IPA? English Barleywine? Small Stouts? A beer at all? Dark & malty? Sweet & sour? The basis of the IPA we know today?

Some home brewers that are out there brewing this style don’t even know. The BJCP, in 2008, defined the style as:

“An ale of significant alcohol strength, bigger than strong bitters and brown porters, though usually not as strong or rich as a barleywine. Usually tilted toward a sweeter, maltier balance.”

In the 2014 BJCP Draft Guidelines, the text is cleaned up a bit, but reads essentially the same. There has been a better definition as to what characteristics are acceptable, even if they may normally be considered faults. Some of the commercial examples that are on the market today taste amazing, but they miss out on key characteristics of the style.

The Old Ale is a somewhat historic style. Ales of this magnitude were typically brewed for special occasions and used the best ingredients that brewers could get their hands on. At this time strong ales were a direct representation of the best beer a brewery could make. They were often preserved for special occasions: weddings, anniversaries, and even coronations. Some of these beers were put into casks and cellared for quite a long time. These beers came to be known as “Old”, “Stale”, “Stock”, or “Keeping” ales. Some versions were just aged Mild Ales from a time when a Mild was of considerably higher alcoholic strength. These versions of Stock Ales were often blended with young mild ale at the bar to suit individual consumer taste.

Some of these beers would pick up the character of spontaneously fermented ales; notes that are associated with other well-known styles that were wood-aged and “Lambic-like.” A way some brewers would distinguish their Old Ale from other strong ales was by the introduction of adjuncts. Higher proportions of sugars, molasses, treacle, or invert sugar would be added along with ingredients such as flaked barley, wheat, or maize to enhance the body of the beer.

There are a few out there that say you can’t make an Old Ale without treacle. Others think that it only lends a distinct flavor profile in the finished beer and it is not required for a great example of the style. The 2014 Draft Guidelines make no specific mention of treacle as a required element. However, what they do point out is that an impression of age is a key factor, regardless of how the brewer decides to interpret that.

Common characteristics of age, as listed, are: complexity, lactic, Brett, oxidation, leather, vinous quality, etc. It is also noted that, “Even if these qualities are otherwise faults, if the resulting character of the beer is still pleasantly drinkable and complex, then those characteristics are acceptable. In no way should those allowable characteristics be interpreted as making an undrinkable beer as somehow in style.”

Between the two versions of the guidelines, the Old Ale has just been better defined, not changed. The only notable difference is the OG has been adjusted a few points, and the ABV as well to stay in line. Hopefully the clarification of the style will lead everyone to further enjoy Old Ales and lead both brewers and drinkers to branch out and try something new. In the words of the late Michael Jackson, “It should be a warming beer of the type that is best drunk in half pints by a warm fire on a cold winter’s night.” Consider that the next time you are looking at bottles on the shelf or deciding what style you want to brew.

Cheers!

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2014 BJCP Scottish Ale Style Changes

As the temperatures outside get cooler, a nice malty beverage in front of a fire seems like a great way to spend an evening.  There are lots of great styles to choose from, but some of my favorites for this time of year are Scottish ales.  From Scottish Light to Wee Heavy, you can choose to spend the evening having a few of the former, or sipping one of the latter, while hanging out with friends.  In recent years there has been some confusion on these styles-mostly the “shilling” styles, the style names, specific flavors, aromas and brewing processes have been in question.  The soon-to-be finalized 2014 guidelines will correct previously inaccurate information and debunk common myths about these styles.

In the 2008 guidelines, the styles of Scottish ale were as follows: Scottish Light 60/-Scottish Heavy 70/- Scottish Export 80/- and Strong Scotch Ale. The shilling categories were derived from price charged per hogshead (54 Imperial gallons) during the 1800’s; the stronger or better quality beers were more expensive. In 2014, BJCP will be moving to a Scottish ale category containing Scottish Light, Scottish Heavy and Scottish Export. Wee Heavy will move to Strong British Ales. You can read more about these guidelines here.

Speaking specifically of the Scottish ale categories, the 2014 BJCP guidelines have a note about the style name changes:  “The original meaning of ‘schilling’ (/-) ales have been described incorrectly for years. A single style of beer was never designated as a 60/-, 70/- or 80/-. The schillings only referring to the cost of the barrel of beer. Meaning there were 54/- Stouts and 86/- IPAs and so on. The Scottish ales in question were termed Light, Heavy and Export, which cover the spectrum of costs from around 60/- to 90/- and simply dark, malt-focused ales. The larger 120/- ales fall outside of this purview as well as the strongest Scotch ales (aka Wee Heavy).”  In other words, the BJCP will no longer categorize the styles of beer by what they might have cost; instead, they will focus on their increasing intensity, much like they did with English Bitters. In fact BJCP 2014 guidelines for Scottish ales will read exactly the same for each style of beer, and, as the gravity increases, so will the character of the beers in question.

Interestingly, peaty and smoky flavors were often referenced as being optional, but acceptable in the 2008 BJCP guidelines.  This no longer is the case in 2014 Scottish Ale category. It seems that this is removed because BJCP has acknowledged that these features would not be present in the more recent representation of the styles. A quote from thciprian on the American Homebrewers Association forum (here) may better explain why “by the early 19th century…brewers were doing everything they could to avoid smoky character in their beer, since it was considered to be a fault. For example, in the early 18th century (~300 years ago), one of the reasons why porter was aged was to give time for the smoke character (from ‘blown’ brown malt) to drop a bit.”  One might think the smoky peat-like character was coming from the malt. However, the 2008 BJCP indicates that the smoke wasn’t from the actual malt kilning process, but “…from the traditional yeast and from the local malt and water rather than using smoked malts.” Possibly by the late 1900s, the Scottish people had figured out a way to decrease the smoke-like character produced by their water and yeast. There is even a mention from the BJCP that “Scottish ales with smoke character should be entered as a Classic Style Smoked Beer.”  They aren’t saying it isn’t an accurate style characteristic, just not an accurate one for these new guidelines.

Finally, In the 2008 guidelines, kettle caramelization was considered a hallmark of the style, but in 2014 it has been deemed inaccurate. In both Scottish ales and Wee Heavy, the guidelines do not indicate that kettle caramelization is appropriate. In fact, for Scottish ales, The new guidelines include “malt-focused ales that gain the vast majority of their character from specialty malts, never the process. Burning malt or wort sugars via ‘kettle caramelization’ is not traditional nor is any blatantly ‘butterscotch’ character.”   Despite a bit of digging around the internet, there are no other references to this lack of kettle caramelization.  Even the Oxford Companion of Beer (2011) references it as part of the style: “Scotch ale traditionally goes through a long boil in the kettle. This was particularly the case in days when the kettles were direct fired by flame…”  By the 19th and 20th centuries, boiling wort over an open flame may not have been the preferred method, and the patent malt machine was invented. Caramelization would have come from the grains themselves, and not the pot.  It will be interesting to see if more information about this is published as we progress into 2015.

The majority of the information above focused on the new Scottish ale styles, but, some of it applies to Wee Heavy too.  While the name wasn’t changed, it was moved to a different category.  Also, per the 2014 BJCP guidelines, there’s no longer a mention of kettle caramelization. Smokiness is considered appropriate but optional in this category: “Slight smoke character may be present in some versions, but derives from roasted grains or a long, vigorous boil. Peated malt is absolutely not traditional.”  This is “more related to historical brews than the lower-strength Scottish ales, these beers have their roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s, although formulations and methods have changed. A premium product, often produced for export[…]modern versions have lower starting and finishing gravities than their historical ancestors.”

What hasn’t changed from 2008 to 2014 is the target numbers for these styles. The same gravities, IBUs, and ABVs are still appropriate.  The BJCP has simply moved to a more accurate representation of newer Scottish ales, from their names, and ingredients, to brewing process.  So next time you’re enjoying a Scottish ale or a Wee Heavy, think about how you might brew your next batch to reflect these style changes!  And good luck at your next competition!

Sources:

BJCP 2008 Guidelines

BJCP 2014 Guidelines Draft

AHA Forum

 

 

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