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Brew Note

Brew Note
Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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...let Uncle Genius give you a brief guide to knowing just enough about beer to get the most enjoyment out of it but not so much pedantry that you become an insufferable asshat
In the fourteen years I've been with All About Jazz, a lot has changed in the world. One can no longer get on an airplane without undergoing an MRI and a colonoscopy; the Internet now lives mostly on smartphones and tablets (and phablets, whatever the hell those are) instead of desktops and laptops; Madonna is no longer a completely soulless media whore, she's now more like one of those 'active grandma' types you see in ads for bladder control products.

For all the changes in our world since '01, some things have remained comfortably constant. AAJ has remained a stalwart, bringing you the most and best of Our Music. Starbucks still sells overpriced coffee and acts like they're doing us a favor. Elvis is still dead. And Your Own Personal Genius still has a deep and abiding love of redheaded women and beer.

While I cannot expound upon my love of auburn-haired members of the fairer sex, on the advice of my attorney, beer gives me a virtually inexhaustible resource from which to draw the inspiration to drink more beer. And then write about it.

Moving forward.

While my love of beer has not changed one iota (8 iotas = 1 bit. 2 bits = 1 damned bit) since the day I came of legal drinking age in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as far as you need to know, beer has in fact evolved a great deal since the turn on the millennium. The craft brewing revolution has taken the nation by storm (which, while anthropogenic, was not caused by global climate change), replacing the insipid pale yellow 'premium' lagers with any one of 8,000 IPAs distinguishable only by their semi-artistic labels and quasi-clever names.

Really though.

It does seem like hip little breweries have sprung up virtually everywhere in the last 5-10 years and, like anything, some are better than others. What is astonishing about the new breed of microbreweries is how many good ones there are opposed to how many solidly mediocre ones. Within 2 hours of my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, there are no less than a dozen very good craft breweries. In fact, there are hundred or so pint factories in my beloved Old Dominion, and each has at least one brew that makes it worth the while (1 while = about 4 bucks) to give them a go.

Undoubtedly, wherever you are, dear readers, there is something interesting happening in the beer scene. Be it a new microbrewery, or just a vastly better beer selection in your local market of choice. Some of you may be, like Your Own Personal Genius, old soaks who've enjoyed beer since the time they were of legal age (as far as you need to know) in their state or country of record. In which case, you don't need my help; but you may want to keep reading anyway because there's a really clever joke coming up. You don't want to miss that.

Some of you may be new to the whole craft beer thing. You may even be a recent pilgrim to the Land O' Suds, one who up until recently "didn't like the taste of beer." That's like saying, "I don't like movies." What kind of movies? Can you actually say you've tried a large enough sample to rule out all movies? Have you seen Gone With the Wind, or The Godfather? Or have you just seen movies where a black comedian plays a hip, fast-talking dude who's surrounded by stuffy and/or racist white folks but eventually wins them over with his wit/wisdom/extraordinary deeds?

Meanwhile, back on the original topic.

One day, maybe a worldly friend showed you the myriad of tastes that can be conjured by a deceptively simple combination of water, malted grains, yeast and hops. You decided you do like the taste of certain kinds of beer. You've now embraced the world of beer with the passion of a newly enlightened convert. And don't forget, you also have to pick up the kids at 3:30 and then swing by a get your coat from the dry cleaner.

For those of you just discovering this magical Brewtopia, let Uncle Genius give you a brief guide to knowing just enough about beer to get the most enjoyment out of it but not so much pedantry that you become an insufferable asshat.

The Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1487 proclaimed that beer could only contain three ingredients: water, malt, and hops. Yeast was added later, but not officially until 1993. If the Germans have learned anything from the 20th century, it's not to rush into anything. Especially France. But within those simple ingredients lies a virtually limitless number of possibilities. Toast the malt a little longer, get water from a another source or add a different kind of hop, and you've got a different beer.

At this point, the first question most people have is what is the difference between beer and ale? The short answer is, shut your gob and just drink it. Moving past that, though, you will learn that all ales are beer, but not all beer is ale. Ales are the oldest style, made with a top fermenting yeast. This is because early brewers didn't know the important function of yeast, so they didn't think to add any. They simply added remnants of the last batch's sediment as a 'starter' for the next batch. And ale, being resourceful, could simply pull wild yeast from the air around it and become a liquid party all on its own.

Generally speaking, ales are more robust and hearty than lagers. They also ferment faster, due to the type of yeast used, and can be fermented at room temperature. This is why they were the predominant beer for centuries, since the earliest humans discovered the potent brew just in time for their annual Hunter-Gatherer Mixer. They later proceeded to build Stonehenge for no good reason, and construct giant pyramids out in the middle of the damned desert. Those are not the acts of sober people.

Later, once brewers figured out the role of yeast, they discovered a bottom fermenting yeast that could produce a clearer, lighter beer that ferments slower and at cooler temperatures. The lagering process, as it is known because I said so, created a beer that became a huge hit in the United States in the mid-19th century. German and Czech immigrants brought the style over with them and gave people an alternative to the heavier English-style ales they had traditionally consumed. Thus America's passion for lager beers was created, which spawned a concurrent rise in the popularity of massive public sporting events, manufactured housing, and country music.

So, to surmise, ales are robust and low maintenance, while lager beers are crisp and finicky. Think of it as the difference between Kate Upton and Taylor Swift. These are generalizations, of course; there are Swiftian blonde ales and Uptonish black lagers. Then, there are wafer thin Kate Moss-ish ultra-light American beers, like the vaguely beer-scented Michelob Ultra. And don't get me started on the voluptuous Christina Hendricks-ian Imperial stouts and bottle-conditioned quadrupel ales.

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