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Session Beer

Well, I’m not actually returning to America for “good,” i.e. a substantial period of years, until this weekend, so responding to this month’s Session call for thoughts on what a localized mild might look like is a bit hard given my general displacement since January. I don’t have a locale to call my own just yet, being in a six month period of transitions. However, the occasion of this Session is a welcome exercise in thinking about ways to incorporate locale into beer, albeit with a traveler’s perspective.

The American Mild Month’s outline on what a Mild ought to look like are summarized as, “a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present, shine through,” and provide a nice outline to this thought exercise. In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to experience beer in a number of countries in East Asia, so it seems apt to perhaps reflect on what a localized Mild might look like in some of those places.

DISCLAIMER: This is based, of course, on my very limited and essentially touristic experiences. So, it’s all pithy at best and most certainly deserves to be critiqued by brewers and people hailing from each of those places. Nonetheless, it’s a fun road to think down.

Rioting in Singapore is very loosely defined, but it's punishment isn't. I realize it's harsh and excessively minimalist to highlight this about Singapore, but it was a bit odd to see these signs plastered around the downtown area.

Rioting in Singapore is very loosely defined, but it’s punishment isn’t. I realize it’s harsh and excessively minimalist to highlight this about Singapore, but it was a bit odd to see these signs plastered around the downtown area.

I’ll just take this chronologically and start in Singapore. My impressions of beer in Singapore were decidedly limited to Brewerkz, which operates a couple of brewpubs. Their beer was straightforward, very American in influence, and since Singapore imports basically all foodstuffs, everything was made with imported ingredients. Starting with those cues, I’ll combine it with Singapore’s eerie rigidity and cleanliness, a striving for perfection and having everything in its right place. Those two thrusts combined, I’d say a Singaporean Mild would be brewed exactly to the middle of, say, the BJCP guidelines (this is still in honor of American Mild month, after all)–well within the established framework and structure–with British malts, hops, and yeast. Probably served on cask as well, since Singapore is a former British East India Company trading post and later British territory. This is a strict and by-the-books interpretation.

Angkor beer with Khmer barbecue: the best meal we had in Cambodia. Angkor also produces an extra stout.

Angkor beer with Khmer barbecue: the best meal we had in Cambodia. Angkor also produces an extra stout.

Moving on to Cambodia, I’m not entirely sure what inferences I could draw about Cambodian beer because it’s so dominated by mass producers of light lager and I honestly only tried the Pilsener from a Phnom Phen’s smaller Kingdom Breweries; that doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance, much like in Singapore. So, I’ll draw on what stood out to me on Cambodian beer shelves: the prevalence of foreign extra stout, be they of the Black Panther, Angkor Extra, or Guinness sort. It’s obviously missing the point of the session to make this about stout, but I’ll already pointed out I’m grasping at straws here, and so I’ll just apply my passing impression onto the notion of a Cambodian Mild: it would be very dark, pushing past the SRM boundary (again, it’s American Mild month, so it’s okay to invoke the American spirit of stretching the rules of tradition, right?), but on the sweeter side.

Truthfully, this sounds like a terrible version of something that quite clearly isn’t mild.

A Bia Hoi corner in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Note the hand dispenser at the bottom off the keg. 5,000 dong per glass = US $0.25.

A Bia Hoi corner in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Note the hand dispenser at the bottom off the keg. 5,000 dong per glass = US $0.25.

The beer culture of Vietnam was by far and away the biggest highlight of my trip, but I’ll save the details of it for a much larger post or two. But for this Session, we’re talking about Mild, whose social role as an accessible, easy-drinking, everyday beer draws many comparisons to the social role of Bia Hoi in Vietnam. And if there’s one thing that really stands out about bia hoi, it’s the freshness. Vietnamese drinking is all about consuming large amounts of fresh, cold, draft beer, often even poured over ice to achieve the cooling effect. The bulk of Vietnamese beers seem to be lagers, but since I’ll keep this imagining as an ale. A Vietnamese Mild would above all, be brewed to be consumed as fresh as possible. You know, served from the keg by day five or six. Being hot and tropical, this would be brewed with just a hint of hops–let’s use Saaz with a light hand because there’s an overwhelmingly direct and stated Czech influence over Vietnamese brewing–and with rice adjuncts so that it can be consumed as cheaply and abundantly as is feasible. Mot…hai…ba…vo!

Snack sellers on the Great Wall at Jinshanling of course carry hot water and beer.

Snack sellers on the Great Wall at Jinshanling of course carry hot water and beer.

Finally, China. There are some generalizations that can fairly be made about Chinese beer, but it’s also fun to take some of the regions we’ve visited and look how you could construct a Mild based on some of their gastronomic tendencies and habits. First, a Chinese Mild writ-large would be take after its many macro lagers: it would have an very low ABV, very pale color and be made entirely with domestic ingredients. We’re talking a Mild brewed with 100% Chinese malts and hops. Specifically, you’d probably use Qingdao Flower (Cluster) hops for the bittering portion, just a tiny bit of Chinese Cascades at 15 minutes, and the SA-1 (a Saaz/Tettnang cross) at knockout. (Yeast-wise, I haven’t been able to track down any locally cultivated ale yeasts, so I’d just go with an appropriately fruity English ale yeast.) At 3.1% ABV, you can polish off a few 22 oz bottles of this by yourself without guilt.

Sichuan peppercorns.

Sichuan peppercorns.

Breaking down this process regionally, how about the widely adored Sichuan cuisine? The infamous peppercorn seems to be the most known contributor beer-wise to anything remotely Chinese, so you can build around that, but keep in mind that Szechuan cuisine is all about balance–the spice comes with a sweetness to hold it up. So a Mild inspired by Sichuan cooking would be aiming for a red color, with a healthy dose of 20L crystal malts involved to balance out the token peppercorns that are added at 5 minutes in the boil and in the keg. Given the pleasantly mouth-searing effect of the peppercorns, this mild would be hopped with Chinese Nugget hops that can further add another dimension to the sweet and spicy interplay, ideally creating a complex balance between the three where no single element overwhelms. Of course, this only represents a Mild inspired by Szechuan cuisine–I sincerely doubt anyone would want to drink this next to Szechuan hot pot, which I would argue generally weakens this example for the sake of this exercise.

And then there’s Fujian province, on the southeastern coast, which is historically the home of many of the Overseas Chinese populations. This means that if you’ve eaten in a Chinatown in North America, there’s a good chance you had food with roots in Fujian. We were able spend a week steeping (pun intended) in the historic tea growing region that is known as the birthplace of both oolong and black teas. And I must say, I leave there a convert to oolong teas. How about a quick detour into tea? China produces the world’s finest and most subtle teas, including Green, Black, White, Oolong, Yellow, and Pu’erh. Note, these are all kinds of Tea–capital T–that are derived from the camellia sinensis bush and differ in how and when they are picked, how much of the bud and leaves are picked, and processing methods. But, they all come from the same bush. (None of this rooibos or mate nonsense.)

A tea plantation producing mainly dark oolongs in the Wuyishan Scenic Reserve.

A tea plantation producing mainly dark oolongs in the Wuyishan Scenic Reserve.

Bringing it back to Fujian, we spent time near the town of Wuyishan, which as mentioned is known as the home of oolong and black teas. Chinese black teas are relatively light, able to hold up to tea and sugar in the English style of tea drinking, but not demanding it like the more astringent Indian or African blends most often do. On the other hand, oolongs lie on the spectrum between green teas, which are not allowed to oxidize, and fully oxidized black teas. However, oolongs do not combine the flavors associated with green and black teas, so much as cherry-pick the best of each. An oolong often takes the subtlety of the lighter flavors in green teas, without the savory notes, and combines it with the dark fruit and honeyed flavors of the black teas, but without the malt and smoke. It’s really quite a mesmerizing combination when you can sit down and tease out the differences when tasting them all side-by-side.

So let’s get back to Mild. Again taking the “inspired-by” route, I think that the Fujian-inspired Mild could try to include an oolong tea, but would need to be on the whole subdued–erm, mild?–in order for it to be expressed. I’d use Wuyishan’s Da Hong Pao tea, which is said to derive from six original bushes that are now insured to the tune of millions of RMB and a destination on one of the lovelier hikes we took in the area. Da Hong Pao is somewhat dark for an oolong, with around 70% oxidation (green tea is unoxidized and black tea is allowed to oxidize fully) and emphasizes flavors notes of dark sugars and peaches–easy to integrate well into a traditional Mild’s overall flavor profile. The Fujian-inspired Mild would not be a bold one, using multiple base malts to develop the subtle complexity demanded by a tea appreciator, a light hand of SA-1 hops for balance, and then with Da Hong Pao tea steeped in 90 C water and added at conditioning for another layer of flavor and aroma.

If you look closely, the tea leaves perched on the ledge midway up the cliff are fabled to be the original six Da Hong Pao tea bushes, and are a destination in their own right in the Wuyishan Scenic Area.

If you look closely, the tea leaves perched on the ledge midway up the cliff are fabled to be the original six Da Hong Pao tea bushes, and are a destination in their own right in the Wuyishan Scenic Area.

I’ll end in Guangdong province (formerly Canton), where we spent most of our time in China. Cantonese food is characterized by two principles: freshness and an emphasis on simplicity–that is, allowing the component ingredients of a dish to shine with as a little intervention by the chef as possible. Hence, Guangdong food is often steamed, incredibly fresh, and tends to use spices and sauces lightly and only to bring out the best of the natural flavors on the plate. The twist to Guangdong food is recounted in the Cantonese saying, “We eat everything on the ground with four legs except tables and chairs. We eat everything in the sky except airplanes.” This lends the freedom to add a “weird” element. Applying these principles, a Guangdong take on Mild would probably use the simplest treatment as possible: one base malt and Qingdao Flower hops, without adjuncts, allowing the primary component parts to shine. And then, because the Cantonese like to shock, perhaps I would throw in just a minimal amount of raw Pu’erh tea steeped in the last minute of the boil.

A typical pu'erh tea block from the highly recommended Yunnan Tea Branch. I'm lucky to have been gifted a (different) 10-year-old block from a family friend that I look forward to trying back in the US.

A typical pu’erh tea block from the highly recommended Yunnan Tea Branch. I’m lucky to have been gifted a (different) 10-year-old block from a family friend that I look forward to trying back in the US.

Pu’erh tea is from Yunnan province (but since Guangzhou is a major area of export and wholesale in China, it seems acceptable to add this in), and is made from green teas that have been pressed into cakes and are then allowed to age up to 20 years. Aspergillus niger mold (the kind that grows on an onion’s skin and turns it a dusty black) is allowed to slowly ferment the cakes into a very distinct and earthy tea. Given the Cantonese love of freshness, this Mild should be consumed sooner rather than later.

These are all basically novelty beers, as with most beers that are “inspired” by something that–you know–isn’t beer. Given that, I’d highlight the general Chinese Mild above as the one that makes sense in this exercise, because it is the closest to actually respecting the parameters above, and would be most likely to find an audience of the everyday drinker that Mild seems to represent historically. And, instead of being a beer “inspired by” Chinese cooking or beer, it’s more of a beer that follows the principles laid out by those trends and represents an adaptation of a beer style to a local context, rather than an attempt to shoehorn exotic ingredients into a beverage and dubiously pass it off as “beer.”

Anyway, returning as I am soon enough to the US, hopefully I’ll have a chance to lift a Mild this May. I’ll certainly try to.

A couple weeks ago I went on vacation in the altiplano and had the chance to try out a couple new, fairly distinctive Bolivian beers.

First up was Cerveceria Kushaav‘s “El Salar” at Sol y Luna in La Paz (check out their new, finally-launched website). Kushaav’s beers are quickly gaining stock in my book for best commercially available beer currently available in Bolivia. I’ve already had their Coqueta porter and Aleksandra Pale Ale and both were excellent. El Salar is a beer brewed with quinoa, 5% ABV and pale. And it did not disappoint. Pale straw colored, a tad opaque and with a frothy head, it was quite dry on the tongue, with an almost rough mouthfeel and a hint of pear/light fruitiness that might come with an English ale yeast, this evoked a very farmhouse feel to it. Some grassy hops present as well to reinforce the impression. Very much worth your while and expense. (Apparently I forgot to take a picture. Oops.)

A few days later I happened upon a Cerveceria Vico’s “Ch’ama” from Sucre, this being an ale brewed with coca leaves. Coca is the obvious go-to for making a beer “Bolivian,” but in my experiments boiling, blanching, or “dry-hopping” it, it yields neither a favorable flavor nor much character. A 5% ABV ale, Ch’ama does nothing to change my impressions. It came off as a blonde, bland homebrew with only a hint of malt with just a vague hint of coca in the after taste–and even then, I feel like I have to search it out. So I am truly tasting it? or just imagining I taste it? I struggled to finish it.

Drinking Cerveceria Vico's (from Sucre) Ch'ama ale brewed with coca leaves  while in La Paz. Not particularly exciting.

Drinking Cerveceria Vico’s (from Sucre) Ch’ama ale brewed with coca leaves while in La Paz. Not particularly exciting.

Finally, I saw ads for the Potosí-based “Lipeña” quinoa beer while on a Salar de Uyuni four-day tour, so I figured I’d track some down. It proved harder than expected, but I was able to find it in a tourist boutique in Uyuni that specialized in chocolate, quinoa, amaranth and other “specialty” products you’ll find marketed to tourists here. At 3.5% ABV, it’s very, very light in all ways, including character. Quinoa is the primary ingredient, and based on recent spikes in the quinoa price, I’m guessing it starts with a low OG and the “adjunto cervecero” listed on the label is probably rice. Easy to drink, but not much to the experience beyond that. In the end, Kushaav’s “El Salar” is a much, much better way to experience quinoa, even if it’s brewed with malt as the base (or, especially because of that). I brought back a small bottle of this, so perhaps I’ll get a picture up once I drink it.

This is from quite awhile back, but it’s my first attempt at souring with lactobacillus. Basically I just made one liter of starter wort (no hops) and some malt, and then left it out in the 40+ C weather and let it sour for a week. Then I added it into the boil.

I’ll get to a full tasting later, but for the first three months, this smelled and tasted a lot like cheese and was really lacking on the sourness. After the four month point, the taste rounded out to be a lot more refreshing and citrusy, and cleared out quite nicely. Definitely worth doing again.

Bolivianer Weisse

Berliner Weisse

Recipe by BrewingInBolivia


Recipe Specs

Original Gravity Final Gravity Colour (SRM / EBC) Bitterness Alcohol by Volume
1.035 1.009 4.7
/
9.3
20.1 IBU 3.4%

Brewhouse Specs

Recipe Type Batch Size Boil Time Efficiency
All Grain 3.7 Litres / 1.0 Gal 60.0 min 29.0%

Fermentables

Name Type SRM Percentage Amount
Pilsner Grain 1.7 53.32 % 0.78 Kg / 1.72 Lbs
Flaked Wheat Adjunct 1.6 40.04 % 0.59 Kg / 1.29 Lbs
Flaked Oats Adjunct 1.0 6.64 % 0.10 Kg / 0.21 Lbs

Hops

Name AA% Amount Use Time
Cluster 7.6% 3.29 g / 0.12 oz Boil 60 mins

Yeast

Name Attenuation
Ñusta Yeast 75 %

Mash Steps

Step Name Time Temperature Type
Saccharification Rest 60.0 min 64.0 °C / 147.2 °F Infusion

Notes

Brewed 20 Jan 2013, OG 1.034
Bottled 26 Jan 2013 FG 1.008, collected 3.7 L.

Recipe Generated with BrewMate

The same day I brewed the previous session ale, I wanted to also try another sour ale. At the time I didn’t have access to any cultures, so the options are spontaneous fermentation or culturing lactobacillus from one source or another. I decided to use Brain Sparging on Brewing’s guide to souring the wort. I’d previously soured a portion of wort and added it to the boil of a berliner weisse, but the effect wasn’t particularly sour. So, this time I decided to sour the entire wort for a few days to a week and then do the boil.

I ended up with a lot less wort than I’d hoped for, so I’m thinking of possibly blending it with one of the mass market lagers here (Ducal? Real?) in order to boost the maltiness and ABV just a tad. We’ll see.

Oud Bruin No. I

Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin

Recipe by BrewingInBolivia


Recipe Specs

Original Gravity Final Gravity Colour (SRM / EBC) Bitterness Alcohol by Volume
1.045 1.008 10.0
/
19.7
15.5 IBU 4.8%

Brewhouse Specs

Recipe Type Batch Size Boil Time Efficiency
All Grain 4.0 Litres / 1.1 Gal 90.0 min 70.0%

Fermentables

Name Type SRM Percentage Amount
Pale Ale Malt Grain 3.0 33.56 % 0.25 Kg / 0.55 Lbs
Raw Barley Grain 1.0 26.85 % 0.20 Kg / 0.44 Lbs
Brown Sugar, Light Sugar 8.0 20.13 % 0.15 Kg / 0.33 Lbs
Vienna Grain 3.0 5.37 % 0.04 Kg / 0.09 Lbs
Amber Malt Grain 22.0 3.36 % 0.03 Kg / 0.06 Lbs
Copper Malt Grain 100.0 2.68 % 0.02 Kg / 0.04 Lbs
Crystal 120 Grain 120.0 2.68 % 0.02 Kg / 0.04 Lbs
Crystal 20 Grain 20.0 2.68 % 0.02 Kg / 0.04 Lbs
Flaked Oats Adjunct 1.0 2.68 % 0.02 Kg / 0.04 Lbs

Hops

Name AA% Amount Use Time
Saaz 3.6% 3.00 g / 0.11 oz Boil 90 mins
Willamette 5.0% 2.00 g / 0.07 oz Boil 90 mins

Yeast

Name Attenuation
Ted’s Cerveceria Ñusta Yeast 75 %

Mash Steps

Step Name Time Temperature Type
Saccharification Rest 60.0 min 68.0 °C / 154.4 °F Infusion

Notes

Brewed 5 May 2013. Did a sour wort. Cooled wort to 50 C before pitching some ground malt into the wort and leaving to sour for 2-3 days.

I won’t add the brown sugar until boiling.

Pre-sour wort SG 1.025

Sampled it after three days souring: Plenty of cheesy aroma, but little influence on the taste. A hint of funk, but not really adding much to the actual taste. Decided to keep souring it.

Let it sour for 6 days total. Sampled the wort and it was very tart–not quite to mouth puckering, but left a refreshing impression.

Boiled on 11 May 2013 and added both hops and brown sugar at the boil. Lovely aroma of oranges and passion fruit throughout the boil.
Made a starter with cultured Ted’s Cerveceria Nusta (Belgian golden strong with honey) yeast.

OG 1.035. I guess the souring process ate up more of the sugars than I expected.

Recipe Generated with BrewMate