Beer Styles: Concluding Note

Tangerine Flake Cream Steam Dream Ale

In Part I, I stated that finally, people will form their own idea of beer styles, and buy and judge beer accordingly. Primarily I was thinking of the consumer, main object after all – professionally the only object – of the brewer.

Brewers, for their part, are also affected by many factors: training and experience, the market, legal regulations, their sense of adventure or imagination.

Michael Hancock, aka “The Brewer” is a legend in Canadian craft brewing. His path-breaking Denison’s Brewpub on Victoria Street in Toronto will long be remembered. His trademark Hefeweizen, originally styled Weissbier, is now sold as Side Launch Wheat Beer by Side Launch Brewing in Collingwood, Ontario.

The “Wheat” has a long-established following in Ontario and was early recognized as one of the top examples anywhere, in fact. Other German-style brews Michael contributed to the Ontario larder are also now made by Side Launch Brewing.

Michael commented in Part I that marketing efforts or mixing of beer styles can sometimes lead to outlier results. It’s a perspective deserving of respect, as professional brewers spend years perfecting their craft and ensuring the public gets a high-quality, consistent product.

Clearly marketing can lead to questionable results in brewing. The “ice” and “dry” beer craze of 30 years ago is a good illustration in my view, where variant production techniques were trumpeted to create new styles of beer that seemed hardly to vary from the commercial norm.

More than anything else that development induced an ennui in beer drinkers that contributed to the success of the craft movement.

Marketing is always looking for a new sales angle, of course. The marketer is yet another player on the brewing stage, with their own set of motivations, influences, and opinions. Marketers, past a certain scale at any rate, are an essential element in the brewing business.

And truth be told, dry and ice beers are still with us, and move a lot of product. But maybe a rose by another name …

Even in Germany with its defined brewing code and impressive brewing heritage, brewing variants have emerged such as Weizenbock. This is a top-fermented, strong wheat beer with darkish caramel tones (usually).

Most bock is bottom-fermented of course, and quite different in taste due to being all-barley malt. Craft beer has contributed, say, Black IPA, an IPA-dominant beer with some influence from the roasted barley or black malt typically used in porter or stout.

Some of these variants succeed and become established, others are flash in the pan.

As an older example of this process, this ad in the Truckee Republican will illustrate, dated June 18, 1910:

 

 

Bock and steam beer are ostensibly rather opposite. Bock in that period in America meant usually a dark brew rich with caramelized malt, not the light Maibock or Helles type that later emerged.

Steam beer typically was sharp-tasting, yeasty from being sold with little aging. Steam beer certainly did not receive the prolonged aging bock did from being brewed in winter, often December, and sold March or April following.

Both were lagers, but steam beer was fermented closer to the range for ale, while bock is a classic lager fermented and aged cold.

Charles Thomas was the owner of Eureka Brewery in Truckee, California. He started in 1899 and closed in 1911.

Another Thomas ad, an advertorial-type piece on May 11, 1910, shows the product was newly released that year. May is rather late to issue a bock, even in the U.S. Maybe Thomas had unsold steam beer on hand, now aged some months, coloured it in some fashion, and sold it in May as bock.

It is hard to know, perhaps on the other hand it was a genuine lager, but the ads noted seemed to class it as steam beer.

As I have written earlier, “steam ale” was known in parts of the West Coast.* In a corner of California there was the cool-sounding “cream steam”, perhaps meant to evoke Eastern cream ale.

Whether a weird and wonderful variant is accepted by the market, or ends as a gimmick, only time, and taste (or fashion), will tell.

Note: source of image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*A brewery I discuss, Mason, provides good evidence, at least, that “steam” meant still fermenting, highly carbonated beer, because juxtaposed with “flat”, or still ale, evidently kept for some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Beer Styles: Concluding Note”

  1. Thanks for your very kind mention in this entry, Gary. I don’t want to sound like a Brewing prude but I think it is sometimes sad when trends take beer far from its roots. Innovation is fine, Brewers have forever rolled her eyes at some marketing initiatives, particularly if trivial. Most importantly, Brewers are and have been free to do whatever they want. However, as you point out, what is important is that time will tell whether a hot trend becomes a new beer style. The craft beer movement has only been around for 50 years or so and some of the real craziness has only been in the last five years. The beer styles that I have brewed have been around for a minimum of almost 200 years (Pilsner) and others such as brown ales and wheat beers for many hundreds of years. What is upsetting is when the pillars that formed the craft beer industry and the early craft beers themselves are forgotten, lost in a sea of trendiness. This is one of the reasons that Stephen Beaumont started Flagship February a few years ago. All is not lost, however, as we see that consumers, and Brewers for that matter, are coming right back around to the classic beer styles. It has certainly happened with wheat beer and it’s certainly happening quite recently with Helles.
    You referred to my comment in Part 1 of this entry and in that comment I mentioned Hopfenweiss. I know I’ve said it before somewhere but this is a classic case of where the sum of the two does not equal the parts, in my opinion of course. Wheat beer is exceptional and remarkable because of the flavours that come through with an extremely low hopping rate, typically 15 BUs.
    I would rather have a wheat beer whether it’s a WeizenBock or a standard wheat beer and then follow it with a wonderful IPA than having have somebody choose to mix the characteristics of both styles before I get to drink and taste them. Amazingly enough even the other way around works too! Wheat beer after an IPA.

    Reply
    • All well-put, and thanks for taking the time. True in my experience as well that following a beer with a different style rarely does much harm, except perhaps where the second is considerably less assertive. Where they are both assertive, even in different ways, no trouble results, as I find all the time.

      Gary

      Reply

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