Brew EDU: What is ‘Natural Flavoring’ in Beer and Why Use It?

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I spend thinking a lot about beer, which often leads me to questions about processes like brewing, selling or packaging the product. As I try to learn more, I figured it would be fun to share. So … “Brew EDU.” Are you curious about something? Contact me on Twitter. Let’s get nerdy…

Chances are, you’ve seen it on bottles in your favorite beer shop: “brewed with natural flavoring.”

But what does it mean?

A variety of things, really … But this is not one of those “can you believe what’s in your beer!?1?” kind of posts.

I became interested in the idea of natural flavoring thanks to the growing popularity of “crafty” beers that are thriving using these various products, whatever they may be. Blue Moon, American’s most popular beer, uses natural flavoring. So does Leinenkugel’s line of shandies, which was one of the fastest growing segment of beers in 2013.

But Big Beer isn’t the only group using natural flavoring, as you can find it in beers from Sam Adams, Shipyard, Rogue and many other craft breweries across the country.

So why natural flavoring? Because it’s easy.
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When Less is More: The Summer of Shandy

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As American consumers, it’s our Constitutional right to change our mind. Or something like that.

Rather, perhaps it’s just that we can be fickle when it comes to choosing what we want, when we want it. Our adherence to one brand is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Given the rise of craft beer, it should come as no surprise this behavior is especially prevalent with beer lover’s palates. Which is why I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw this headline recently: “New Developments in radlers, shandies and pre-mixed beer drinks.” American drinkers are turning toward low-ABV, citrusy drinks? Wasn’t it just six months ago we were exalting the American craving for high-ABV options?

Things are certainly changing … but it’s not just a new movement:

… the number of new shandy or radler product launches more than tripled between 2008 and 2012. Furthermore, through the first four and a half months of 2013, the global new product launch numbers for shandy or radler beverages were nearly equal to the full-year launch count for 2011.

Typically associated with the blokes across the pond in England and other UK countries, these lemonade-beer mixtures are apparently taking US consumers by storm … but why?
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Leinenkugel Big Eddy Imperial IPA

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We already know Leinenkugel can make a damn good Russian imperial stout, so what about an additional end of the beer spectrum?

Another entry into their “Big Eddy” series, Leinenkugel’s imperial IPA is good, but falls a bit short of what you might typically expect from an American imperial IPA.

But that might not necessarily be a bad thing, depending on the drinker. It’s got an 87 on Beer Advocate.

The hop aroma of this beer is sweet and pungent on first sniff – not far off from the intensity of Dogfish’s 120 Minute IPA. Big Eddy has a ton more noticeable fruity notes at the very front – orange peel, grapefruit, some lemon – and just a dash of pine. That’s thanks to the use of five strong-armed American hop varieties: Warrior, Cascade, Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra. There is plenty of malt on this beer’s nose, however, inspired by sweet, biscuity Munich and Caramel malts. Finally, the back-end of each sniff is infused with a hard citrus bite accompanied by smells of pineapple and mango. It’s impossible to miss the 8.2 percent ABV boozy aroma at the end.

10But it’s the flavor where this beer really stands out – for good or bad. The Big Eddy imperial IPA is most definitely fruity and bitter with a tropical, mango finish accompanied by cane sugar and bubble gum. However, the hop intensity found in the beer’s smell just doesn’t show up at all in the taste. I found pleasant hints of orange and a little pine, but the malt of this IPA goes toe-to-toe with the hops, something you rarely, if ever, see in an American IPA like this. Lots of bread-based sweetness from Munich and Caramel malts will do that to you.

The key here? Balance. Something you just don’t find with IPAs. What this means is if you’re a huge hop-head like me, skip this beer and stick to something from Sierra Nevada or Dogfish. If you’re a beer fan, but aren’t crazy about IPAs, this may be worth trying. The bitterness may be a bit rough at first, but ultimately the balance of malt and hops wins out and makes for a smooth, easy drinking experience.

Big Eddy IPA stats:

  • Malt: Munich, Caramel and Pale Ale
  • Hops: Warrior, Cascade, Simcoe, Amarillo and Citra
  • Adjuncts/Additives: N/A
  • ABV: 8.2 percent
  • Brewery: Leinenkugel Brewing Company of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Leinenkugel Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout

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It took me a long time to realize Leinenkugel made more than Sunset Wheat. I had just never seen anything other than the witbier-like brew in stores. I’m pretty glad that’s changed.

Yes, I know Leinenkugel is owned by SABMiller … and yes, I know Leinenkugel brews are more “crafty” than “craft.” But I’ll be damned if I didn’t just about fall in love with the Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout, which has an 86 on Beer Advocate.

I had a sample of this beer before during last summer’s trip to Milwaukee (including a barrel-aged version) and thought it was pretty good. Well, this year’s stout – bottled and all – was really good.
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Out of town – Milwaukee (Part 2: The New Glarusing)

While I have no visual documentation regarding New Glarus, I can assure you any photo would involve me in the fetal position, crying tears of joy while yelling “mmmMMMMmmm” and patting my stomach. New Glarus is not available outside of Wisconsin, with the exception of one beautiful, fleeting moment I found it at the World Beer Festvial-Durham a couple years ago.

They had a java creme brulee stout and Simcoe-based double IPA. It was like an angel pissing on my tongue.

This was a big reason for my excitement of traversing the Wisconsin beer scene, which also included a stop at the Milwaukee Brew Fest. First, some quick thoughts on a few of the six New Glarus beers I tried…

Spotted Cow: How cool is it that a brewery has a farmhouse ale as one of its staple beers? So cool. Not to mention it’s a staple beer that’s conditioned in 12-ounce bottles. I never would think the average drinker would buy enough of this to warrant a year-round run, but it works for me. It pours clear and has a nice, easy funk smell to it that is certainly light enough to please any. It doesn’t come across as sour as Jolly Pumpkin’s Weizen Bam, which had just a little sourness that I consider easy-going. The taste hardly had any sour flavor and came across as crisp and smooth. Like sunshine on my tongue.

Moon Man: This is perhaps my favorite pale ale ever. Being a fan of hoppy beers, this falls perfectly in line with what I’d want from a hopped-up pale ale. It’s got a great smell of hop resin and a flavor that starts pretty calm and finishes with a pine quality. It’s well balanced enough for most beer drinkers, although I fear it might scare off some who want their pale ales to lack any powerful flavors. Well, who needs them anyway? I’ll take Moon Man.

Chocolate Abbey: It’s a dessert beer as far as I’m concerned. Some time ago I wouldn’t have thought a Belgian beer would brew well with chocolate, but by now, why wouldn’t it? While Belgian yeast give the beer it’s usual Belgian ester flavor, there was barely any fruit notes at all. The sweetness of the fruit/esters stayed and mixed well with the chocolate, creating a beer that quickly becomes a chocolatey wonder. The body is light, the flavor is thick. An interesting combination.

Milwaukee Brew Fest “taster”

As for the beer festival – also a win. You know it’s going to be a good time when there are never any lines for the Porta Potties. Also, this was the “taster” glass they give you…

‘Sconsin does it right. Some quick thoughts on great beers after the jump.
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