In this beer column, it’s generally assumed we’re referring to craft beer. That’s mostly true, but there are times when we will look at what the big breweries are doing if it’s instructive.
When I mentioned Blue Moon on Twitter one night, I got a whole heap of scorn.
OK, so Blue Moon can be found in mediocre bars across the country. It doesn’t help that the brewery Keith Villa founded in the early ’90s – upon returning with a doctorate in brewing from the University of Brussels – is now owned by MillerCoors (but continues to present itself as a craft brewery).
Blue Moon came up in my circle last weekend when during a tasting of local beers a friend mentioned that this Belgian white ale, or witbier, with that distinct orange flavor note, would make a good entree into the world of craft beer. Villa agrees and also suggests Samuel Adams lager.
It’s worth listening to what Villa has to say. A big name in the business, he’s a certified beer judge who travels the world. I turned to notes from an interview with him from a few months’ back.
Villa suggested that those who immerse themselves in craft beer become familiar with traits in each major style and learn to assess things like the aroma, mouthfeel and taste.
“How much body is in the beer? If it’s a light beer, you don’t want a lot of body. If it’s a barley wine, you want a big, chewy beer. A pilsner will have high carbonation and some tongue burn,” Villa said. “Then there’s the aftertaste – what’s left on the palate at the very end. You want to have a pleasant experience. A light beer should clean up on the palate and there should be nothing left. A Russian imperial stout, on the other hand, will have a lot of roast and burnt – almost like an ashtray – character on the palate that lingers and slowly fades.”
To break into the beer industry, Villa recommended starting with home brewing. Then if you’re serious, take a short brewing course, and for the really serious, “get the formal education,” he advised. “When a problem comes up, you need to be able to solve it.”
Villa knows that Blue Moon is not edgy or cool any more, but he was edgy and cool in the early days of craft beer.
“At first, Blue Moon was ignored because people didn’t know what to think of a Belgian style beer,” he said. “I had to create the orange slice garnish to highlight the orange peel we brew with.”
Those orange peels, by the way, are a blend of Valencia and navel oranges, all of which come from the Central Valley of California. So for us, Blue Moon has a bit of a local vibe.
Bravo, Beer & Ballet
The final performance of Beer & Ballet , the extraordinary series of intimate performances by the Sacramento Ballet , was Sunday. Sponsored by Ruhstaller, the event included two pours with the purchase of a ticket. One of the most appealing features was that all of the choreography was dancers in the company. I attended two shows and didn’t want it to end. Let’s hope it returns next spring. It’s fast becoming a must-see event in town.
For Ruhstaller, this was a great opportunity to be a part of a very-Sacramento artistic endeavor while getting its beers in front of more potential customers. Other local breweries would do well to partner and promote in similar fashion.
Suds for the summer
Now that hot weather is here to stay, your beer choices are likely to shift a little. I asked three local beer experts for their go-to beers when the going gets hot.• Ken Hotchkiss , owner of Capitol Beer & Taproom, is a fan of the German Gose style (pronounced GO-zuh), which dates to the 16th century and was known for being brewed with salted water and for using yeast to give it an appreciable tartness.
“That’s a great one. It’s light, it’s lower in alcohol and it has a nice tart flavor,” he said.
He recommends a Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing called the Kimmie, the Yink and the Holy Gose (4.2 percent alcohol by volume), which is sold in cans as part of its “Highway 128 Session Series,” and the Golden Eagle Mandarin Wheat (4.3 percent) by Loomis Basin Brewing .• Rob Archie , owner of Pangaea, was at Tahoe Mountain Brewing in Tahoe City and raving about a beer called Bright Moments (6.5 percent), which the brewery describes as a 100 percent brett, citrus, mango pale ale that has been dry hopped. A lot going on, but Archie assures that it’s a great hot-weather beer. He also touted Duet IPA from Alpine Beer. “It’s kinda dry, has a lot of hop profiles and it is really citrusy.”
If that’s not enough, Archie is a big fan of sours this time of year, especially fruit-forward sours that have a light, dry finish. Check out the lambic bar at Pangaea for details.• Louie Toro , beer aficionado and world traveler likes pilsners, “a really ice-cold pilsner. It’s got a nice, crisp malt character, quenches the thirst even better and is more interesting than a typical lager.”
Toro recommends two imperial pilsners: My Antonia by Dogfish Head (7.5 percent) that is hoppy-citrusy; and Morimoto (8.8 percent) by Rogue Ales that has a rich mouthfeel and big hops balanced by an ample malt backbone.
I’ll throw in one more: Saison Blanc (5.5 percent) by The Lost Abbey . I’ve had it at LowBrau recently and found it to have plenty of character (bright, spicy, effervescent, with a yeast and fruit aroma) and thirst quenching. The brewery’s idea was to create the beer equivalent of a sauvignon blanc, and this is an excellent beer, especially this time of year.