Their fridge is fully-stocked with the perfect combination of craft brews and classic beers. Their wine rack is loaded with reds, whites, and maybe even a bit of the bubbly. And don’t even get them started on what it takes to mix the perfect cocktail–the glass, the garnish, whether it’s shaken or stirred–they have all of the details down. That’s right, we’re talking about the Home Bartender. Chances are, you know one of these masterful mixologists, so we’ve gathered a collection of gifts that will surely make any adult beverage connoisseur raise their glass.
David and Christopher Steinrueck, Photos by Emily Hodges
Brother duo, David and Christopher Steinrueck, work out of their woodshop in the heart of San Francisco. After spending just a few moments inside a space that invites noise from wood slicing tools and is spotted with patches of fallen saw dust, it’s not hard to see that sustainability, craftsmanship, and community are the values that build the very foundation of their business, Wood Thumb. David, Chris, and their team salvage reclaimed wood’s natural beauty when crafting it into everyday function and modern design. From their Wooden Beer Caddy to their Magnetic Bottle Opener – their beautiful craftsmanship is obvious and “there is no part that is unnecessary and everything is created with intention.” Read on to find out what community means to David and Chris and why you might want to pop in for one of the woodworking classes that they offer the next time you find yourself in San Francisco.
With evidence of brewing dating from 9500 BCE, beer is an ancient elixir with an ancestry almost as old as civilization itself. After water and tea, it’s the third most consumed liquid in the world. So, with a history encompassing over 11,000 years and billions of barrels, it should come as no surprise that the story of beer includes many fascinating facts, astounding ingredients, and colorful characters.
In honor of Oktoberfest, when Munich welcomes thousands of revelers to quaff its best brews, here’s an uncommon look at the history of beer in the form of ten trivial draughts:
1) Beer was your best beverage bet in medieval Europe, when a drink of contaminated water could be fatal. Beer slogans at the time almost wrote themselves—“Beer: the Cholera-Free Alternative!” But the rise of beer as an everyday staple meant that unscrupulous brewers were prone to cut corners. Enter the Reinheitsgebot—a family of laws governing brewing first introduced in Bavaria in 1516. The best-known part of the law dictates that beer must contain only three ingredients: water, hops, and barley (yeast is essential, but hadn’t been discovered yet). While brewers through the centuries have continued to experiment with other ingredients seeking either distinctive results or cheaper production, the Reinheitsgebot set the gold standard for beer purists, with the diversity of styles stemming mainly from the types of malt and hops used.
2) But is it healthy? Citizens of the Czech Republic, who consume the most beer year after year (an impressive 150 liters per capita in 2014), would answer with a resounding “YES!” Along with their caloric content, many beers are good sources of B vitamins, which aid metabolism, and silicon, which helps improve bone matrix quality. Also, hops contain an antioxidant that’s been shown to ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. So, a beer a day can help keep the doctor away…but everything in moderation, of course.
3) Now, about those calories. Because about 75% of the calories in beer come from its alcohol content (ABV, or alcohol by volume), lower alcohol beers are generally lower in calories. Dry stouts like Guinness (with an ABV of 4.2%), are less likely to make you stout than Belgian ales with higher ABVs. It’s a common misconception that darker beers are “stronger,” and therefore more calorie-laden, when in fact the opposite is often true. On the extreme end of the caloric / ABV spectrum is a barleywine with the intimidating name Snake Venom which boasts an ABV of 67.5% and a yellow warning flag on each bottle neck that resembles police caution tape (for good reason).
4) Drink-on-a-dare beers aside, how do you get your daily dose of restorative, relatively healthy pilsner, lager, or stout? Beer delivery systems themselves provide some fascinating facts. Danish brewer Carlsberg established an “honorary residence” next to its brewery to laud “a man or a woman deserving of esteem from the community by reason of services to science, literature, or art…” Along with his Nobel Prize, physicist Niels Bohr received an invitation to occupy the residence, and lived there for thirty years (1932-62). Better still, the house came with an awesome amenity: a perpetual supply of beer, piped into the home directly from the brewery. Who says science has to be dry?
5) There are other, longer examples of beer pipelines. The Veltins-Arena, a German football stadium in Gelsenkirchen, boasts a 5 kilometer-long pipeline to supply beer to over 60,000 thirsty spectators at its 100 eateries. And in ale-loving Belgium, the city of Bruges plans a 3 kilometer-long underground pipeline to connect the De Halve Maan brewery to a bottling plant, diverting disruptive trucks from its historic cobblestone streets.
6) Still not convinced that beer should be your beverage of choice? Looking for a divine sign? How about a blessing from a beloved American “Founding Father?” These impulses have encouraged the conviction that Benjamin Franklin once said “beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.” Healthy, historic, and encouraged by such an august figure—how perfect is that? Unfortunately, this beer drinker t-shirt favorite has little basis in fact. Franklin did write a similar sentiment about wine, musing on the miracle of the Biblical wedding at Cana: “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” (letter to André Morellet, 1779). Apparently, this statement has been paraphrased through the years, and “wine” replaced with “beer”—perhaps by someone in the beer lobby with a love of colonial wit.
7) Short of “proof that god wants us to be happy (beer drinkers),” there’s a surprisingly long list of saints who bless beer culture. The roster includes Augustine of Hippo, Luke the Apostle, and Nicholas of Myra. If that last one sounds familiar, it’s the St. Nicholas—aka Santa Claus. Other saints have more specific, local associations, such as Arnold of Soissons, the Belgian patron saint of hop pickers. But if there’s one saint-like figure beloved by brewers, it’s Gambrinus. Likely an amalgamation of a Flemish king and other historic figures, Gambrinus is depicted as a jovial, bearded monarch of malt, often bearing a stein or a keg as attributes. The renowned Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell (originator of pilsner beer) honors Gambrinus with their beers of the same name.
8) Back to that Bavarian assertion that beer should only have a four-ingredient recipe. For reasons good and bad, brewers through the centuries have thrown other things into their worts. Early American brewers had to improvise with what they had available, adding pumpkin, spruce tips, and verboten adjuncts like corn and rice to their beer. More recently, the craft beer revival has encouraged experimentation that’s scrapped the Reinheitsgebot—with mixed results. This pursuit of novelty includes ingredients from the questionable to the downright revolting: chili peppers, wasabi, mustard seeds, oysters, pizza crust, and coffee brewed from beans recovered from the droppings of a civet. But the grand prize for off-putting beer ingredients must go to the Oregon brewery that used a yeast strain cultivated from the brewmaster’s own beard. Waiter, there’s beard yeast in my beer…
9) Whatever its unusual ingredients, no beer can promise everlasting life, but at least one fictional tale casts a beer as a powerful potion and plot device. In Tim Powers’ fantasy The Drawing of the Dark, an inn in Vienna brews a mystical beer called Herzwesten (“the heart of the west”). Tapped only once every 700 years, the beer is a sort of earthy eau de vie, which ultimately helps revive the Fisher King, spiritual protector of the West against an impending Ottoman invasion. This portrayal of beer as a sort of alchemical avatar is a reflection of how highly prized it is European lore, history, and culture.
10) Bonus: the brewmaster in The Drawing of the Dark is the aptly-named Gambrinus.
Around the world, Oktoberfest is synonymous with beer, brass bands, free-flowing beer, jolly men in lederhosen, hearty German fare, and…strong, stick-to-your-ribs, autumnal beer. Over 200 years old, the Munich Oktoberfest has grown into a huge harvest celebration of Bavarian culture, starting the third week in September and…What the fest?! Have the Bavarians lost their murmeln? Isn’t Oktoberfest in October?
While it does wrap up on the first Sunday in October, the majority of Oktoberfesting occurs in September. Is there a method to this madness? Of course! Simply put, September weather is more conducive to the many open-air activities of Oktoberfest (with nightly lows in Munich around 50 °F, versus the chilly 40 °F of October). The first ‘Fest began on October 12, 1810, with the festive marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. But the annual autumn festival that grew out of those royal nuptials shifted to take advantage of September’s temperatures—more comfortable for strolling (or stumbling) about in Lederhosen and Dirndl dresses. And, despite the calendar, the name Oktoberfest stuck because “Late Septemberfest” just doesn’t have the same ring to it…
Last summer I created the Home Brew Journal; a journal that brings back the simplicity of logging craft beer recipes with ink and paper. The more I researched about hops, yeast, beer styles and other formulas for the journal, the more I learned about the art of making beer. There is still a lot to learn, but once I started to understand more about beer styles, choosing the right beer for the right meal became a lot easier.
With the number of craft breweries booming around the country, it is safe to say that pairing beer with food is a newer concept than pairing wine with food. Wine and beer are not the same thing so there in no point in comparing them. This is what I know from personal experience; well-crafted beers offer a wide range of truly unique flavors and aromas. Hoppy, malty, fruity, chocolaty, earthy, citrus, sour, the list goes on. America (and the world) has been through a food revolution in the last few decades and the craft beer industry followed by creating unique beer flavors to go alongside the delicious food truck fish taco or a Vietnamese chicken salad.
Image via Brewers Association
Flavors, Aromas & Ingredients
Some brewers understand the ingredients so well that if you close your eyes and just smell the beer, it smells almost like food. I was lucky enough to try a PB&J Brown Ale by Catawba Brewing Co. in North Carolina that literally smelled like the real sandwich. A brew like that definitely has split opinions about it but I loved it. Not to mention the Rogue Sriracha Hot Stout, or their Voodoo Doughnut series (Pretzel Raspberry & Chocolate Ale, Lemon Chiffon Crueller Ale, Bacon Maple Ale.)
Because of the complexity of each ingredient necessary to make beer, it’s possible to find a beer that will fit your personal preference. Often times than not, flavors and aromas come from the basic ingredients themselves. If you pick up a citrus aroma, it’s likely from the hops. Biscuity flavor probably comes from malts. Clove notes are likely from the yeast. The combinations are endless, that’s why many brewers usually keep a logbook of their brewing experiments. But…
How many types of beer are there?
Two. Ales and lagers. The difference between them is the yeast strain used during the fermentation process. Lager yeasts require colder fermentation temperatures which results in a “cleaner” and “crisper” flavor than ale yeasts. Warmer fermentation temperatures produce beers that are usually high in esters and other fermentation by-products. These by-products can be both desired or undesired depending on the beer style.
Now it’s time to keep an open mind and try different beer styles until you find a few styles that you really like. The Beer Pop Chart is a beautiful graphic representation of beer styles and their break down. For example, the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA is a double IPA; that is part of the India Pale Ale category; that’s part of Pale Ale style and that is a type of Ale. (pff after this I need a beer myself!)
If you would like to know more about beer styles, I strongly recommend downloading the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines. There’s a pdf version and an app. That is a great resource with detailed notes on aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, overall impression and history of each style.
For this article, I will focus on beer styles that are more popular during the summer time. While lighter beers are more popular during the warmer months, slightly darker beers pair really well with smoky and grilled flavors. Think Maibock, Munich Dunkel, American Brown Ale. These malty-forward, medium body, moderate carbonation and relatively low hop bitterness beers will enhance the flavors of grilled steak and roasted pork like a champ.
I like how Mark Dredge, author of Beer and Food, approaches beer and food pairing. It’s a concept easy to remember. Here it is: Bridge, Balance, or Boost. That’s it. You wouldn’t want to overpower a fillet of fish on lemon butter sauce with an imperial stout for example.
To bridge is to find similarities between the food and the beer. The brown ale and grilled steak is a good example. The roastiness of the beer harmonizes well with the burnt flavors of the steak.
To balance is to avoid flavors to overpower themselves. That’s why India Pale Ales go so well with French fries. It’s because the smooth alcohol warmth balances well with fatty and salty dishes.
To boost is to enhance flavors of both the food and the beer. It’s probably easier to understand the beer style before trying to pick the food to go with your pint. For some reason, strawberry enhances the sweetness of chocolate so a creamy sweet stout would pair really well with homemade strawberry pie.
I know this is all probably a lot of information to digest at once, so to make a long story short: here are 5 summertime beer and food pairings to try before fall season rolls in.
[Boost] Tacos & Session IPA
Session beers vary between 3 – 5% alcohol by volume. That means you can drink more without getting too… buzzed. A “standard” IPA varies between 5 – 7.5% ABV, while double IPAs fall between 7.5 – 10%. Sometimes the high bitterness and dry finish of a standard or double IPA overpowers the creaminess and freshness of some Mexican dishes like tacos or a chicken quesadilla.
Beef, tortilla, salsa, cheese, guacamole and sour cream – that’s a typical taco. While the avocado and sour cream will balance the bitterness of the IPA; the smooth alcohol warmth, citrusy aroma and medium carbonation will boost the salsa spiciness. This is probably the most common beer and food pairing in America and it’s easy to understand why: it’s delicious!
[Bridge] Marinated Lemon Chicken & Belgian Wheat
Blue Moon is such a versatile beer. Brewed with orange peel and coriander, it’s an easy-drinking vastly available brew.
There are numerous aromatic and flavor cross overs between the chicken and the Belgian Wheat beer. The orange peel and coriander aromas, with slight spicy notes from the Belgian yeast bridges really well with the texture of the chicken and the flavor of the lemon sauce.
[Balance] Pretzels and Cheese Dip & American Pilsner
Salt balances bitterness and carbonation balances richness. The high carbonation the American Pilsner balances well with the chewy texture and bready flavor of the pretzels while the salty flavor of the cheese dip harmonizes well with the rounded bitterness of the beer.
[Balance] Caesar Salad & Blonde Ale
Blonde Ales are refreshing and Caesar Salad is a light dish. That makes this pairing a well-balanced option.
The initial soft malty sweetness from the beer balances well with the Parmesan cheese from the salad, while the low hop aroma complements the freshness of the lettuce.
[Boost] French Fries w/ Cheese & Pale Lager
The crisp and dry bitterness of this beer brings forward the saltiness and richness of the French fries. The refreshing low citrus hop aroma call for warm and fresh potato fries topped with cheese and salt.
Host Your Own Beer & Food Pairing Party
If you are the kind of person who likes to host (and go) to themed events, the beer & food pairing party might be a good call for your next get together with friends. It’s different and that’s why people like it so much. At the end of the day everyone will have fun but here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Splitting some of the cost is never a bad idea.
- Set up a table or room specially for the tasting. Put some small glasses at one end of the table and a bucket with ice and all beer styles you are planning on having.
- Provide some type of explanation on why that beer style goes well with that food.
- Plan in advance so all dishes are warm during the tasting.
- Think outside the box and…
- Have a good time!
In case you feel like having the same pairings of this post, feel free to download all the signs here >>