European Brewing Inspiration

greetings altitude friends and fans,

I recently returned from a month of travel in Europe where brewing inspiration was in no short supply. There are far too many specific beers/destinations to mention, but I think I’ve had enough distance from the trip at this point to make sense of things and identify the most formative brewing lessons/revelations that I’ll be bringing back:

1. the best brewers in the world laugh at the concept of beer styles, yet are acutely aware of style. The best brewers out there have specific intentions for flavor profiles (i.e., malty, intensely hoppy, tart, ester-y, dry) they want to create in their beer and proceed accordingly; in other words, they don’t start with the words “Belgian tripel” and then begin formulating their recipes accordingly. At the same time, styles exist for a reason. Consumers require some sort of framework or label (style) in order to guide their decision making process. so, if you’re a brewer and call your beer a pilsner, the brewer must understand that “pilsner” does in fact refer to (require?) a certain set of attributes – dryness, high hop bitterness, light in color. At the same time, there is an incredible amount of space for  interpretation. And some of the best beers I had while travelling wouldn’t have stood a chance in a professionally judged competition because of the limitations of style.


2. beer does (and should) have a local flavor profile. I have no desire to try to recreate Westmalle Tripel, Westvleteren 12 or Orval. I couldn’t ever do so. The beauty of, for example, Belgian beer is that Westmalle Tripel is very different from Tripel Karmeliet, “saisons” taste nothing alike, “blond ale” can be hoppy, malty or sour and some beers have no style in existence for them. This is because variables such as equipment, water source, yeast strains, brewer interpretation (and the list goes on), impact the flavor of beer tremendously. You should judge a beer not behind the name attached to it but by how you perceive it to taste.


3. the “simplest” beers are toughest to make. What I mean by “simplest” is that consumers frequently perceive lighter, more subtly flavored, lower alcohol beers to be somehow easier to make. Nothing could be further from the truth. In bigger styles such as imperial stout, robust porters and barleywine there are massive layers of flavor, texture, yeast characteristics, alcohol, etc. which meld to form really interesting flavors, meaning there’s also a lot to hide behind. If your beer has any off-flavor or recipe flaw, it has a lot better chance of hiding itself in a beer loaded with ingredients than, say, a 4% pilsner. If you can make a beer 5% or under that tastes clean and is full of flavor, you’ve done outstanding work as a brewer.

Some beers coming down the pipeline:
1. 2.9% (true) session ale.
2. lots of belgian-style ales.

hope to see you soon,
jared