Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back to Beer

Today we are talking with Randy Thiel. When I met Randy he was the brew master at Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY, several valleys over from the Butternut where I live. He has moved on to New Glarus Brewing in New Glarus, Wisconsin.

Welcome, Randy. I guess e-mail is the only way I can talk with you now that you moved half way across the country!

Could you tell us about your background in brewing?

I have a B.Sc. in Microbiology from UW-Madison. Attended the Siebel Institute & UC-Davis for specific training in Brewing Science & Technology. My interest in brewing started by being an avid fan of beer (!) and also homebrewing. I was searching for a tangible craft that had a strong heritage.

What is your position at New Glarus?

I am the team leader for Quality Control/Quality Assurance. That may sound dry to some folks, but I love it! Besides running the lab, I get to be involved with all aspects & departments at the brewery. Kind of like playing the safety position in football.

New Glarus is a very diverse operation with respect to its brews. Tell us about them.

New Glarus puts out a wide range of beer styles. Last year, we produced 19 different beer styles. We have the same dedication, enthusiasm, and attention-to-detail making a Belgian-style Quadrupel as we do making an American-style lager. We honestly love all beer styles.

Clear up for us the distinction between microbrews and craft beers.

Our beers can be referred to as either microbrews or craft beers. Craft beer is more appropriate, though. 'Microbrewed' beer implies a smaller operation; we will produce 90,000 barrels this year, which is on the larger end of the microbrew spectrum.

I know our readers would like to know more about the difference between lagers and ales.

Ales usually have more complex (and just 'more') flavor than lagers. Lagers tend to be neutral in the flavors contributed by the yeast; so, just the hops and malt play the major roles. Ales have many flavors contributed by the yeast (think variations of fruity & spicy).

Beer can be quite complex which many Americans who drink only lagers are astonished to discover.

I believe the Brewers Association categorizes over 70 different beer styles, some traditional and some modern. Porters, stouts, and pale ales are all traditional British styles. These were/are popular amongst craft brewers in America, although American brewers tend to add more bitterness and hop aroma to the styles (thus you have categories like "American-style Pale Ale", etc.).
Porters: Dark ruby-red to black color. Soft roasted character. Medium bitterness.
Stouts: Very similar to porters, although darker and more roasted flavors.
Pale Ale: Deep golden to amber color. Assertive bitterness & hop aroma.
Pilsners: Traditional German and Czech beer style (originated in Pilsn, Czechoslovakia). Lager w/ pronounced malty character and assertive bitterness. Note: Miller Lite is NOT a pilsner, even though it is marketed as such.

Is there a proper temperature for drinking beer?

'Proper temperature' is too severe a topic. Typically, lagers should be colder (refrigerator temp) and ales slightly warmer (let the bottle sit out for 10 minutes before pouring). I encourage people to try different beers at different temperatures and notice what happens to the flavors. Rules are no fun. Experimentation and thinking about flavor is fun.

I like your philosophy, Randy. I’ve been researching food and beer pairing to see how I can incorporate this into my next book about Hera. There are some guidelines I’ve found for such pairings, but, you’re right, rules are no fun. The fun comes with trying different foods paired with different beers.

Thanks for visiting with us, Randy. Now all of us are ready to go out there and try different microbrews or craft beers, knowing that our own palates are the best rule book we can carry with us.

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