Friday, August 3, 2012

The Session #66: The One Beer to Rule Them All

Is there a question that even God himself can't answer? I don't know about that, but I do know I've asked a question that I'm having a hard time coming up with an answer to.

What is the One Beer to Rule Them All?

I've been agonizing (as much as one can agonize when thinking about beer) over this diabolical conundrum since I proposed it as a Session topic to Jay and Stan, back in March. I really do need to start thinking about what I say, or in this case ask, before I actually say it. Seriously, who suggests a topic and then can't figure what they want to write about?

"Don't worry about it, Craig, you'll come up with something." I thought in April, to no avail.

"What about one of those citrusy IPAs, you like so much?" I proposed—and then dismissed—to myself in June

"C'mon, let's funk-ify a Saison with rosemary, or something..." I heard myself say while lying in bed last week. Rolling over, I pulled the pillows over my head to silence the absurdity in my head.

After racking my brain, finally, I think I've figured out what my One Beer would be.

It would pour, cool but not cold, from the glass a ruddy chestnut—reminiscent of the finish on an antique table. Swirling to the bottom of my pint as it leaps from the tap, rolling slightly and then billowing to a dense foamy head—a head the color of raw canvas. Leveling, with its bottom edge an inch from the lip of the pint, the froth settles—like reluctant skydiver—just before it's about to cascade over the side of the glass.

Its aroma is sweet as... wait, a second, this isn't how I want to do this either.

Enough of the prattling on about swirling and billowing. I know what I want it to look like, that's the easy part. I've got to get into the nuts and bolts of this one. I want something, darker with a bit of strength; something sweet, followed by a subtle bitterness—a bitterness that sneaks up on you. It needs to have a bit of weight to it, not a heaviness per say, but a nice presence. A good British pale malt seems like the most logical place to start, maybe Maris Otter, or better yet—Optic malt. Optic has that great full malty tone and a nice fruitiness that you just can't get with Maris Otter. The Optic will set me up with a great base, but I want another underlying element—something Märzen-like, without being too Märzen-like—just a hint of nuttiness. A simple Mild malt should do the trick— yes, a nicely rounded Mild malt.

I've got the base taken care of, so how do I darken-up this brew? I'm going to steer clear of Black or Chocolate malts. They would get me my color, but they'd bring to much roasted flavor to the party. I want to roll with the sweet theme for now—lets bring on the Crystal malt. I'm thinking dark Crystal, in the 70º to 80º Lovibond, range. That deep, toasted malt will really start to darken things up, but it'll also add an intense, almost buttery toffee flavor—that great caramel coated popcorn flavor is what I'm looking for. I've got a good bit of sweet going on here, and I'm thinking I need to off-set that a bit with something a little drying, maybe even a bit bitter, like molasses or dark invert sugar. The sugar will add that dark stone fruit, raisin-y, character and deepen the color.

Yeah, this one is coming together.

Okay, two big elements left hops and yeast. Let's do the hops first. This brew has a pretty formidable wall of sweetness, so I'm going to need a bittering hop that can stand up against it. I'd like to go American, but not the piney Cascade or citrusy Summit route. I want herbaceous-ness with a fairly strong punch of bitterness to go up against the malt. I'm thinking Nugget hops are just what I need for this one. Nuggets are strong and herbal and should keep that malt balanced. The aroma hops, however, are a different story. The brew seems to have a British slant, so I'm thinking East Kent Goldings. Fuggles might be an option, but I think they might be a little to grassy, so I'll stick with the floral, earthiness of the EKGs. As for the yeast, again I'm leaning toward the British strains—one that will bring a little fruitiness and a full body, but more importantly, one that's on the lower attenuating scale. The yeast really needs to be able accentuate all those malty characteristics, yet get the ABV into the 8% range.

Hmm. Dark, bitter-sweet, a tad on the stronger side, Anglo-centric. It appears as though my One Beer is a modern-day Burton Ale. Who' da thunk? But what to call this neo-Burton? I think I might have to call on my hometown for a little inspiration. A title from Albany's past that would befit such a brew—so I dub my brew Patroon.

Patroon is a Dutch word for a business owner, and the title bestowed on manor owning landlords—by the Dutch West India Company—in the Dutch New Netherlands colony of 17th-century New York. The best known patroon was Kiliaen van Rensselaer, whose patroonship, Rensselaerswyck, covered most of what is now present-day Albany and Rensselaer counties, along with parts of Columbia and Greene counties. Kiliaen van Rensselaer was a big shit—Patroons operated essentially as feudal lords, overseeing criminal and civil court cases and appointing local officials. The patroons assumed this power, in return for establishing settlements within the patroonship which benefited the DWIC—although the patroons were not always subject to the laws and regulations of the Director-General of the New Netherlands colony Peter Stuyvesant, who was also appointed by the DWIC. When the Brits took over in 1664 they continued the patroon concept and it stayed a common practice until the 1770s. In 1715, Scottish-born Robert Livingston (the Elder) would establish his 160,000 acre manor and lordship in what is now modern-day Sullivan county. Robert's grandsons, bucked the system a bit—Phillip signed the Declaration of Independence, and William the U.S. Constitution.

In any case, Patroon seems like a fitting name for a beer that showcases just about everything I'd want in a beer. So, there you go—my One Beer—bitter-sweet, dark, strong, with a little Albany history tacked on to it for good measure.

Yup, that sounds about right. Although the rosemary Saison still has promise...                      


  1. Nice work sir, sounds like a brew that actually could make it to the glass!

    My contribution for the topic is above Craig, a little bit of tongue in cheek fun. No British brewers were harmed in my execution of world beery domination ;)

  2. Here's my take on the subject. I enjoyed writing this one, I just went off on one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I would the beer.

  3. My contribution to this month's session. Thanks for hosting.

  4. Working away at my submission for this month: