All posts by Ashish Jasuja

About Ashish Jasuja

Ashish Jasuja is a yet inconsequential freelance beer writer who straddles between his living-out-of –the-suitcase corporate job and his other side. When not on the job he can be found in his laid back clad-in-shorts avatar recessing on a hammock listening to new-age 80’s electronica while dreaming of a back packing trip around South America. Besides being a spooky character match to his personality, beer (especially when consumed in hopelessly generous quantities) also provides a perfect escape from life’s existential dilemmas and other impertinent questions.

Beervana – Oktoberfest Origins – Part II

Jan-Feb-March-April-Oktober-Nov-Dec

The author explores why the weather gods snipped the “brewing” calendar which fortuitously led to the phenomenon of the Oktoberfestbier

The Duke of Bavaria was apparently quite resolute in solving the problem of bad quality beer in his kingdom. Several problems had arisen due to use of harmful, toxic substances which were used instead or alongside hops. In 1516 to make his intentions clear he issued what is today the oldest still valid food law on the planet: The Reinheistsgebot or the Purity law which stipulated that only barley, hops and water would be used to make beer. Yeast somehow does not find mention since it was not clearly deciphered at that time.

Further not content with the quality of his Kingdoms beer, Duke Albrecth the V in 1553 announced a ban on summer brewing. From spring to fall, brewers had to seek alternate employment (and the luckier ones could go on vacation!). As pointed out in the previous article this was in order to make beers less susceptible to contamination in the warmer degrees of summer. This event has been described by some historians as the most under reported event in brewing history. It led to the great divide between north and south German brewing styles, the latter relying on the winter-suited bottom fermenting yeasts whereas the former on the warmer top fermenting yeasts.

Bottom fermenting yeasts finally found perpetuity in the cold climes of Bavaria. Winter beers were anyways being fermented by bottom fermenting yeasts and the clean palate of these beers was appreciated as being “pure”. These bottom fermented yeasts were present in the Bavarian and Czech regions but where did this strain originate? Hold your breath! The latest evidence points out that these yeasts travelled all the way from the Patagonia forests in southern Chile and made their way into a fermentation trough somewhere in the 14th century!

Already a few years before the summer brewing ban, a different strategy to overcome partly the problem of high summer temperatures has been devised. Deep cellars were dug where it was noticed that temperatures were a couple of notches lower. Not only cooler, these cellars were also insulated against changes in weather conditions above ground. Ice from the winter gone by would be used in these deep cellars to provide lower temperatures. To appreciate this effect drive into one of those deep trenches called “parking” under your favourite shopping mall! Secondly, beers started being brewed stronger to withstand the higher summer temperatures. As an outcome beer in summer was almost twice in price to winter prices to compensate the stronger brew (more grain) and longer storage time.

The ban on summer brewing sounds counter-productive since summer is the peak time for consumption. Although the seasonality in consumption would have been lower than it is like in a country like India it still would have meant an overdrive in brewing activities end summer in order to stock up on beer to last until the brewing season recommences in fall. Simply put a bountiful quantity of beer would have to be brewed and then stored in the labyrinth of cellars. And that’s exactly what they did. Scores of tunnels were dug in the outskirts of the cities and towns to store beer. Large chestnut trees planted above the cellars with their shady overtures acted as sun screen further shielding the beer from the soaring mercury. The spirit of beer prevailed when refrigeration led to the obvious disuse of these cellars but the chestnut trees & the area surrounding them evolved befittingly into beer gardens!

The mass produced beer typically produced towards the end of March to provide supplies all through summer came to be known as Maerzen, the German word for March. To remind you again, this beer was brewed stronger to overcome the long summer storage period in deep cellars. Eventually in September by the time fall was fast approaching and the brewers could get back to their grind, the barrels were needed to be consumed in a hurry which evidently led to the arduous task of decanting the beer barrels into beer bellies! Consequently the public in general took upon this onerous responsibility which resulted in a “fest” like atmosphere. Maerzen = fest bier.  The turning point came on October 12, 1810 which was the day, the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The generous newlyweds decided to organize a grand wedding revelry for its subjects on some grazing land in the outskirts of Munich. That meadow was then given its current name of Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow), in honour of the Crown Princess. King Ludwig organised a public celebration anniversary of his nuptials which evolved into the Okteberfest: perhaps an equivalent in the beer world of the monumental expression of love of Shah Jahan for his better half. To this day, the Theresienwiese (now known in local vernacular as just the “Wies’n”) is still the site of the annual Munich Oktoberfest

You might raise your eyebrows when I tell you that Oktoberfestbier is not the beer style served at the greens of the “Wies.’n”. Originally the beer that was a stronger or fest version of the then predominant beer in Munich: the Munich Dunkel. This beer style graced the grand occasion in 1810. However in 1841 there began to be a change in the recipe which started to use a paler type of malt called the Vienna malt. Therefore the beer lightened in colour to get an amberish hue. Then around 1870 came the moment when the Spaten brewery commenced to use a new type of malt:”Munich malt”. This malt was darker than the Vienna malt but lighter than the erstwhile dunkel fest beer. This resulted in an amberish-orange hue in fest beers and this is also when the beer was explicitly marketed as an Okotoberfestbier, a rare time marker to the exact origin of a beer style.

When I visited the fest a few years ago I was expecting to drown in this amberish nectar but was surprised to see a rather deep golden looking brew in my MaSS (one liter beer mug) Apparently to make the festival beer more drinkable and by that inducing copious consumption, the style was adapted to the Helles (=light in colour in German) style which Munich became famous for since the late 19th century. This event happened somewhere in the 1970s and since then the beer served at the Oktoberfest is not actually the Oktoberfestbier style but rather a stronger version of the Helles beer brewed to fest strength. I admit candidly that it doesn’t really matter which beer style they serve at the Oktoberfest.  The gates will open at 9 am and youll be sitting in a huge beer tent in company of thousands of strangers from all over the planet who instantaneously turn into friends on first glug. And that’s the real spirit of the Oktoberfest!

(The author has visited the fest in 2009 & recommends frugality to the readers for the next few months. Visit the Oktoberfest from 20th of Sept till 5th of October 2015)

Ashish Jasuja

Beervana – Oktoberfest Origins – Part I

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Jan-Feb-March-April-Oktober-Nov-Dec

The author explores how the weather gods snipped the “brewing” calendar which fortuitously led to the phenomenon of the Oktoberfestbier

If you were a brewer in 16th century Baviaria you could have had the enviable luxury of a 5 month vacation between April and Oktober. But mind you, not before you’ve had to endure long double-shift workdays in the months of March & April. Just how could a brewer enjoy the privilege of a near-perpetual vacation? Who would then brew when the brewer was away? Well worry not, the answers lie in degree Celcius or Farenheit, take your pick!

As a backdrop, it’s fundamental to understand that beer is a living product since it contains living yeast cells (and sometimes other microorganisms!). In testament to the relativity of things, what we simply call beer is a vast universe for the microscopic living creatures. It was only until a century ago that thermal & filtration related techniques along with some fancy chemistry were applied with the aim of creating stable products. Todays mass produced modern bottled/kegged beers are pasteurised & packed inert thereby killing all the “living” part of beer. These techniques altered the beer landscape unimaginably since they led to the creation of products that were consistent in quality & taste but nevertheless “dead”.

Yeast, the main protagonist in the process of fermenting sugars into alcohol, is quite fussy and works only in limited temperature ranges. The two broad categories of yeast are

  • top fermenting yeasts: usually finish fermentation in 3-4 days operating happily between 62 F- 69 F (17 C – 21C), produce estery/fruity flavours.
  • bottom fermenting yeasts: take about 10 days to complete fermentation working best between 39F and 48 F (4-9 C), produce fairly clean tasting & crisp beers.
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Oktoberfest

It’s therefore intuitive to conclude that before the advent of refrigeration the former worked best in summer and the latter in winter. Brewers of yore didn’t exactly know this. It wasn’t until the 19th century that brewers, aided by scientific advances in microscopy, would begin to understand the intricate working of yeast and therefore would be able to identify & isolate them to ensure consistency in product. By isolating them and storing them meticulously it was possible to “fix” certain yeast in the recipe which played a major role in ensuring a consistent flavour profile. Different subtypes of yeasts were eventually profiled and today’s brewer has the option of choosing from slew of little creatures wanting to munch on those malt sugars.

However in earlier times brewers had a cursory idea about what yeast did but they could not fathom what exactly it was and how it performed the magic that produced elation (=alcohol). Forget being selective about yeasts the brewers didn’t have control over the type of yeast that beatified their beer. Most times it could be safely assumed that both bottom and top fermented yeasts along with some possibly gate-crashing wild yeast were operating in beer.  Obviously yeast strains were a matter of happenstance and would depend to a great extent on the ambient temperatures. Nature played its role: bottom fermenting beers would take prevalence in winters and the top fermenting species ruled the roost during the warmers summer months. But there was a problem in summer a host of other micro-organisms could also find the cozy comfort of beer bubbles in such sultry temperatures. Such unintended infusions of wild strains of yeast and other bacteria would heighten during the hot summer months which made production unreliable. Typically this caused “infections” in beer which made them go sour or develop horrible off flavours. In such weather one could not also dare to store beer for longer time frames since spoilage was accelerated.  While it might not be a completely apt example, think about the odd flavour of the jug of milk you accidently left outside the refrigerator after a late night hot-chocolate-driven hunger pang.

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Oktoberfest

Consequently, many European towns had the highest output of beer in springs in the months of March &  this dropped through the summer months and then picked up again in November and December. One cannot discount the significance of the invention of refrigeration to beer: refrigeration provided the “invention of the wheel” moment in the life of beer.  If refrigeration existed it would have been possible to regulate beer temperature in the range that kept out unwanted micro predators, thereby improving quality and palatability. Further it would have made possible to ferment in either the bottom fermenting or the top fermenting yeast temperature ranges. However much before Mr Linde could work his trick with ammonia, beer and brewing in summer were relegated to being a dubious proposition. To quote an example, the British navy was a huge consumer of beer but they too were troubled as can be garnered from the innumerable instances of the Naval Victualling Dept. receiving letters of complaint about soured beer that had been brewed from May to September.

Although limited by exacting knowledge, brewers and market regulators devised several strategies to overcome the risks of contamination during summer:

-Start work earlier in summer to avoid exposure higher temperatures as the day wore on. In summer it was often necessary to mash-in (dissolve the ground malt in water) at night, when the air was cooler. At Haarlem in Holland for example a typical day of work started at 5:30 a. m. in winter but 4:00 a. m. in the summer. The earlier hour was to keep the beer from being exposed to sunlight and heat.

-Hops do act as a preservative with anti-bacterial properties. Hence it was not uncommon to use higher hop rates in summer in order to enhance keeping qualities. Brewing a stronger beer that could provide more protection by higher alcohol content was a similar strategy.

-Beer according to many town regulations was made to sit in the brewery to make sure that it had been completely fermented before it was left out in the market. But these regulations were relaxed in the summer times. In Amsterdam for instance it was mandatory for beer to sit in the brewery for four days before it could go on the market, but only three days in the warm months of June, July and August.

– Storing beer after production in deep cellars to lower the temperature influence on beer

But the Duke of Bavaria had a more radical solution: a blanket ban on summer brewing. The official brewing season was, therefore, restricted to between St. Michael’s Day (September 29) and St. IMG_0200George’s Day (April 23). It was a regulation that would have immense effect on how South Germany developed its beer styles and also how the Oktoberfestbier went eventually on tap. I also hope that explains the title of this article! We continue on in Part 2 of this series in our next issue..

Ashish Jasuja

Beervana – The World’s most popular Beer style

Pilsgate

It took a brave heist and a handful of serendipities to brew the world’s most popular beer style

India’s most familiar beer style is actually India’s least available beer style. Confused? Well let me explain, the beer world is dichotomised by the riotously fecund yeast strain used for fermentation. There is yeast that merrily rises to the top of the fermenting vessels to produce ales or top fermenting beers and then the other types mellow down & sink to the abyss thereby creating lagers or bottom fermented beers. Generally speaking ales are fruitier and less cleaner/crisper on the palate as compared to lagers.

The Indian beer market is predominantly a lager market and from the multitude of lager brands the one style that every Indian beer drinker worth his hops can name is the Pilsener or simply Pils. Blame it on the empty, stunted Kings beer bottles that adorned your Goa beachchairs or perhaps the tiny, cramped tables in those seedy South Bombay bars which could never make enough room for the London Pilsners after an evening of post work debauchery. But were these quenchers really what they claimed to be? Well I’m not a purist but then again I’m not a big fan of cover bands too! Will the real Pilsner please stand up?

The story traces back to the year 1839 in a namesake town called Pilsen (Plzen) in the Czech Republic. The bourgeois from this town were devising plans to open a nonchalant cooperative brewery with the worthy aim of improving the general beer quality in town (and also apparently competition from beer imports into Pilsen). Little did these fortuitous souls know that they were on the verge of creating beer history. What transpired in the creation of the phenomenon Pilsner:

  • Bavarian “Influence”: Generally speaking at that point of time all beers in the area that we know as the Czech Republic today were ales but the neighbouring Bavarians had by then mastered the art of lager fermentation for almost three centuries. A brewmaster named Josef Groll was hired by the Pilsen cooperative and it has been postulated that he arranged to smuggle the sought after Bavarian lager yeast to Pilsen besides bringing Bavarian brewing techniques to the brewery.
  • H2O: The water around Pilsen was very soft as compared to other famous brewing centers and this helped in a way to reduce the accentuation of bitterness of the beer which we will see is curiously interlinked with the hop profile of the beer.
  • Lightness: The Czechs had started to understand at the same time better kilning techniques in order to conjure up malts that were light in colour. In general beers were were much darker at that time since kilning methods were a lot harsher due to technological constraints. And thus was created arguably the world’s first golden lager.
  • Goblets & Pilsners: We from this generation would find it hard to imagine but in the early 19th century clear glasses to savour our beers were a prerogative of the rich. It was around the same time the wise men of Pilsen were brewing history that glasses were started to be produced in droves for the common junta. No prizes for guessing the effect bright golden colour of the Pils had when seen through these glasses.
  • The “scent” of Hops: The area of Pilsen is in proximity to get world class hops and malt, the yin and yan ingredients of beer to balance the sweet with the bitter. Hops were sourced from a nearby region called Zatec which is renowned for aromatic, almost perfumy hops which complimented the soft water in a manner that the bitterness was subdued (still quite bitter really!) compared to the bouquet of aromas from the hops. The malt from the Moravian region contained low protein thereby contributing to clarity in the soon to appear mass produced beer glasses.

PUWith all the pre-conditions in place the beer from Pilsen began to flow in 1842 and very soon the beer style aptly named the Pilsner arose. Eventually a brand appropriately called the Pilsner Urquell was born, the word Urquell roughly translates to “the original source”. Many tried and still do but once you’ve tasted the original the imitators leave much to be desired. It’s not surprising that even to this day the Pilsner Urquell brewery churns out magnanimous volumes (around 10 million hectolitres from one brewery or half of India’s total brewing capacity from more than 30 breweries!) that flow through worldwide distribution of the “real” thing. Many breweries rode the Pilsner bandwagon & produced imitations which were eventually tailored to suit production budgets and local ingredients. Somewhere the essence of the real Pilsner is lost in these vagaries.

The differences between the Indian Pils and the real Pils are easy to tell: the real Pils only uses 100% malt whereas the Indian version use other grains besides malt (so much less body in the Indian Pils), the bitterness/hopping rate of the Indian beers is much lower than the Pilsen beer, the aromatic properties of the Pilsen beer are much more pronounced and authentic giving the beer a much more delicate & aromatic profile. The difference my friends lie in the pedigree.

So the next time you head out to that fancy liquor boutique try your luck for the legendary Pilsner Urquell. Remember, if it’s a Pils it’d rather be from Pilsen.

Ashish Jasuja

Beervana – The Taste of India – by Snoooze Mode Barney!

Tulleeho’s intrepid researcher tastes 5 Indian Beers.

How many genres of film can you name? Go ahead…Thrillers, Comedy, Musical ummm… Action maybe..and there are many more categories with names as complex as post modernist, neoclassical and several others.

Now imagine for one little moment that the earth is rattled and all that’s left in our consciousness is one and only just one genre. How boring it would be. No cinemas. No variety in emotion. No colour. Listlessness would prevail. Well the situation of beer in India is really much like the “single-genre” film world. All we got is Pilsners! Now I know it isn’t exactly that bad. We’re talking of beer here – Less variety, more variety, who really cares? But what about the predicament of someone who has to sit down and painstakingly taste these similar varieties and come back with their tasting notes – each different and unique. The pleasure of this predicament is mine and I’m going to try and do a good job of it.

The beers I tasted are the usual suspects – the ubiquitous Kingfisher, the international Fosters, the dying London Pilsner, the whiskey-sounding Royal Challenge and the latest kid on the block Cobra.

Color: All the beers are in the straw to golden colour range. Nothing really much between them. If you do have Dr. Watson’s magnifying glass you might say Fosters and Cobra are slightly darker than the other suspects. LP, Kingfisher and RC are slightly paler, more yellow and straw-like in colour comparatively speaking. But this is only just slightly and only if you’ve got superior eyesight such as mine.

Carbonation & Head Formation: The Kingfisher and the RC do a good job as “fizzies.” The head stays for long enough for you to request a song on the juke box and slowly trudge back to find the pretty white blanket lingering about the top of the glass. The Cobra is good enough to be third noticeably the bubble size (like the Fosters) is slightly bigger than the others. The heads of the Fosters and London Pilsner especially the latter prove great at the disappearing act. The carbonation too appears to be in the following descending order Kingfisher, RC, Cobra, Fosters and London Pilsner.

Mouth feel: Very little really to differentiate. However Fosters and Cobra have slightly heavier bodies. Again this is to a very minute degree.

Aroma: The London Pilsner lets out a pungent, sharp yeasty aroma. It is best to not try and sniff at it. You might even get the aroma of a barnyard on close inspection. The Kingfisher has a hoppy and almost piney sort of an aroma. Also you might sense the warmth of the alcohol in the aroma. The Cobra aroma is a lot less intense and at the same time its balanced. You don’t need to cringe while drawing a deep breath over a glass of Cobra. Hints of fruitiness also emanate. Fosters has an almost estery/sour aroma with strong hints of yeast. You may just also register the aroma of red wine perhaps.

Flavor: All the beers seem to balance maltiness with the bitterness of the hops. London Pilsener is watery bland for the first second or two and then its slightly sour (like vinegar) and then lots of hoppy flavour. The aftertaste has a hint of a medicine like/ phenolic taste and thankfully dissipates quickly. The Kingfisher has a mild maltiness with sour/estery notes in between (sour notes are in the beginning only). There are hints of a piney/wooden flavour. Then follows a long, hoppy, bitter but pleasant finish. Cobra is more full flavoured than the other beers. It does exercise your taste buds. You may also sense smoky notes in the middle. The bitterness grows slowly and finishes with hints of bittersweet fruits (pear perhaps). The finish is typically long. Lastly the Fosters left me baffled. Its quite full flavoured not so much as the Cobra but more than the Kingfisher. A fine balance between the malts and the hops. But there are hints of burnt toast and a medicine like sourness. Its difficult to put into perspective but if you will taste any other beer in conjunction with a Fosters you will know what I’m talking about.

I don’t wish to hurt the sentiments of any serious beer brand drinkers with my thoughts above. Any violent reactions to my opinions are pointless. Taste is subjective – go exercise your taste buds and you shall know. Anyways, I always believe in what some great drunk slob had muttered after a beer too many – “The best beer is the bottle in your hand”. Right on, mate. Right on.

Ashish Jasuja