Friday, April 4, 2008

The Session #14 Beer People - The Bier Kaiser

This months Session (hosted by Stonch) is about beer people. "I'd like you to write about people. Choose someone you know personally. That person might be a brewer, a publican, someone who sips at your local, or maybe just a friend who is passionate about beer."

So, for my first session post, I chose my good friend and former colleague The Bier Kaiser! The Kaiser and I met when I started my current job. He had been in the role for quiet some time when I started and like all people when they start new jobs....I knew nothing about him, or anyone else on my team for that matter. After a few weeks on the Job, my team went to lunch. That lunch transformed our professional relationship, to a beer camaraderie.

While at lunch, we somehow got on the topic of beer and brewing. The Kaiser started his basic explanation of how beer is made. His explanation of how yeast works was my favorite part of the story.."the yeast in the wort eats the sugars. then as it eats, it pee's out alcohol and farts out CO2" Couldn't have said it better.

After that conversation, I let him know that I too was a home brewer....and from that day on our productivity at work went down the drain. He has been an advisor to all things I do regarding brewing. I've already told him that he will be my "Brewery Advisor" once I get my business started whether he likes it or not. He has since left our company and resides in Central Ohio. So, in the spirit of the Session, I decided who better to talk about the Kaiser, then the Kaiser himself. Below in the interview I conducted with him. You can check him out on his Blog, Noch Eins. Enjoy!

JF: Where are you from?

TBK: I was brought up in central Ohio, having lived in a couple of different towns in and around Columbus.
JF: How were you introduced to craft beer?

TBK: I started home brewing based on inputs received from several of my clients. I was consulting at a large bank and a couple of the guys there had been brewing for about six months. They brought in some beer which I tasted and I became very intrigued with both the process and the potential end result!

JF: How long have you been home brewing?

TBK: I brewed my first batch of beer in 1991. It was a brown ale which I suspect is the first batch brewed by at least half of all home brewers.

JF: What got you started into home brewing?

TBK: After my initial foray into home brewing, I took a consulting assignment in Germany and worked there for about a year and a half. This offered me the opportunity to sample a great variety of lagers, pilsners, wheat's and alts. When I returned to the States, I wanted to begin replicating these beers at home. At the time, the range of German beers available in the local beer retail shops typically included Beck’s, St Pauli’s and Lowenbrau, which was actually brewed in the US by Miller at the time, and perhaps Henninger, if memory serves. That was about it! I concentrated initially on wheat beer and managed to produce a product that was consistently faithful to the style – good cloves and banana flavor and a light crisp taste. At this point, I was hooked!

JF: Do you still home brew?

TBK: I have taken a break for about a year as we move house. We have unfortunately been caught in the mortgage meltdown and are still trying to sell our old house. For the duration, we have put quite a bit in storage, including my brewing equipment. Additionally, I have been working out of town during the week on a consulting assignment which puts an additional crimp on my brewing style. I am definitely looking forward to firing up the brewery once we get things sorted out. In the meantime, I have been keeping sharp helping out several of my friends who are avid brewers. Hey, I work for beer!

JF: What is the best beer you have ever brewed? Worst?

TBK: Best - I have made several batches of Hefeweizen that simply rocked! Worst – My initial lagering attempts were fairly awful, there was one batch that was so bad, I couldn’t even justify using it to boil sausages – which is the usual alternative for my bad beer batches. It was definitely skunked and probably had one or two yet undiscovered microbes floating around inside.

JF: Who do you admire most in the craft brewing world? Why?

TBK: Not to be macabre, but I seem to be partial to the recently departed – Bert Grant, Karl Strauss and Michael Jackson. I am still fascinated by Grant’s concept of continuous fermentation. I suspect that it is really just another form of a perpetual motion machine and hence impossible. However, it just may be possible to flow wort over yeast in such a way that fermentation occurs, the yeast remains viable and does not mutate and all remains hermetically sealed so that beer and yeast are not infected. As for the other two, Jackson basically made popular the concept of the sophisticated beer connoisseur and is probably responsible for preventing the demise of more than one beer sub-style by raising the awareness level of these non-mainstream beer types. Strauss is to be admired for re-introducing traditional central European brewing sensibilities at both the micro- and macro-brewing levels within the American market.

JF: What is your favorite beer memory?

TBK: Oh God, this is a tough one. Beer memories for me, at least, are both the drinking of great beers and doing so with good people. The best beer in the world drunk by oneself is not necessarily an impressive beer moment. A beer memory of note would be an evening I spent near the small town of Vent in the Austrian Tirol in Autumn 1992. I was with a group of perhaps a dozen and a half Europeans and Americans on a two day hike of the Kreuzsptize which is a mountain in the Alps right on the border between Austria and Italy. On day one we climbed up to an alpine lodge which was at about 2800 meters elevation, the Kreusptize itself tops out at 3457 meters. For the novice hiker, like myself, the climb was exhausting. We got to the lodge, which was a solidly constructed stone building about the size of a small church, at around 3:00 in the afternoon.

After a short rest, I was persuaded to cross the glacier to the Italian side of the border to take a late lunch at a lodge there that was famous for its bean soup. It was an hour’s hike to cross the glacier, but the soup was worth the trek. On the way over, I was informed by my traveling group that we were crossing at almost exactly the spot where Ötzi, the iceman, was discovered the previous year. Ötzi, as you may recall was the mummified corpse of a Copper Age man found in the retreating portion of a glacier in September of 1991. He was dated at approximately 3300 BC and is the best preserved mummy found to date in Europe.

Well that night we were all surprised to find out that we were part of the one year celebration of the discovery of Ötzi and that Austrian, Italian and German television crews were at the lodge to document the celebration. Most of the other guests at the lodge were somehow connected to the events of the previous year involving the discovery of the iceman. Our group managed to secure a large table and we enjoyed an extended session of food, drink and round after round of a dice game called Lugen, which is basically a form of Liar’s Poker.

The food was simple, hearty fare and the beers were Austrian and Bavarian standards including Spaten, Ayinger and Stiegl. However, this particular session was truly magical. I have thought about this often and reason that multiple reasons come into play here. Clearly a six hour hike built not only hunger but thirst. The piping hot goulash stew and coarse bread begged for a crisp Bavarian Lager which elevated simple thirst to a near fatally parched state. And when it came to quenching this thirst, the elevation had its affect. The elevation at the lodge was around 9,000 feet which, though insufficient to cause altitude sickness, was capable of inducing a markedly light headed state which made the first beer feel like the third or fourth and the third or fourth feel like the seventh or eighth. This sense of heightened euphoria was shared by our entire group and engendered an intense camaraderie and positive spirit.

After dinner we spent several hours talking in a combination of German dialects and English, playing Liar’s Poker and giving interviews to the various TV crews who were keen for a story from us concerning our role in the discovery of the iceman the year before or how his discovery had impacted our lives in the year since. Let’s just say, as the evening wore on, that we all tended to claim somewhat more connection to the not so recently deceased. Our interviews with the news crews became a type of informal one-upmanship to see who could spin the most convincing tale of his or her relationship to the discovery of our good, dear, departed friend Ötzi.

The evening ended with multiple rounds of beer drinking songs and toasts, in several languages and the passing of the Stiefel, or beer boot, all around. To this day I still remember the admonishment given to me about drinking from the boot in broken English, “toe in – that’s no sin; toe out – watch out!”

JF: Where is your favorite city for beer in the US?

TBK: I don’t think I’d win any creativity points for picking Portland, Oregon; but the city is truly deserving of its beer credentials. For the beer drinker, it actually has a couple of things going for it. The most important, obviously, is great beer and beer tradition. As one of the cradles of the American micro-brewery renaissance, Portland enjoys well established local breweries which have had years, even decades, to enmesh themselves into their neighborhoods and become fixtures of their local societies. McTarnahan’s comes immediately to mind as not only the purveyor of great beers, but a destination spot for the locals of that area to meet, socialize, conduct business, or just simply get out of the house for awhile. Another ace up Portland’s sleeve is the mass transit system.

Drinking and driving is a fool’s game and this city solves that problem nicely with an urban rail system. The Trimet is actually a combination of urban light rail and a trolley line loop that provides access to most of the central core of the city. For less than $5 a day, a pub crawl can become significantly less taxing on one’s knees – just make sure to bring an umbrella!

JF: If you were stranded on an island with only a random 6 pack and a bottle opener, what beers would you want in the six pack?

TBK: Another tough question! I’m taking this question to mean I can pick six different beers and let’s assume we have refrigeration on the island, so that I can pick something other than IPAs. Can I assume the Swedish bikini team is also on the island? Well, back to beers, my “select” six would include the following:

·Schneider Edel-Weisse – my favorite unfiltered wheat beer and a great brew for hot, dry, deserted islands;

· B.B. Bürgerbräu – my favorite Bohemian Lager and a great accompaniment for the fish I am determined to spear and grill;

· Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold Lager – my call for the best lager brewed in the US and a nice pairing for the sea birds that I will trap and roast;

· Hofbrau Maibock – a stronger brew to help me get through those cool nights tending the signal fire;

· Anchor Steam Porter – my call for the best Porter brewed this side of the Atlantic and one that will undoubtedly go well with the wild boar that I plan to snare and roast; and

· Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock – this is the strong beer I will bury deep in the sand to keep it cool and the one I will save to drink when I am rescued!

JF: If you could change one thing about the Craft Brewing Industry, what would it be, and why?

TBK: The obsession with hops in many US craft brewers drives me a bit crazy. Hopping is one of those things that takes on a near-religious tone when brought up in beer discussions. No doubt over-hopping is a straight forward way to a distinctive beer taste. But, what is the point? Beer should be all about the balance and the way the components of the beer work together. Great beers don’t necessarily need to be complex beers, but they do tend to benefit greatly when their components meld harmoniously. Overwhelming all other components with hops – to my taste at least – defeats this purpose.

My other beef on this topic is the impact that excessive hop usage has on the overall hop market. As we have seen earlier in this year, hops are scarce and are a choke point that major brewers can utilize to destabilize the economic fundamentals of craft brewing. If a certain segment of the craft brewing industry is utilizing hops at an excessive rate, it has a negative impact on the whole industry.

JF: Any last thoughts?

TBK: I’ll leave you with the motto of the Flatlander’s Brewery: “Drink good beer, be kind, tell the truth.”

Many thanks to The Kaiser for doing this interview.

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