Category Archives: Features

What is an IPA?

hop devil

India Pale Ales are a form of the ale brewing style and they are some of the strongest brews around, both in taste and alcohol content. Like many ale forms, IPAs were originated out of necessity. When the British were colonizing India, the beer and water they sent with their troops on the long sea voyages kept spoiling. In order to solve this problem, they added extra hops and brewed it to have a higher alcohol content, both having sufficient preservative capabilities.  Today, American craft brewers do more than emulate the style. They continue to push the envelope with strength and bitterness. Curiously, it’s much harder to find a true IPA from England these days than it is to find one in the states.

Many American breweries even make double IPAs, also called imperial IPAs. These take the defining two characteristics IPAs and make them even stronger, meaning they have a really intense hop flavor and are usually above 7.5% ABV. Many craft breweries offer their versions of IPAs including in the Philadelphia area. Yards makes Yards IPA, Philadelphia Brewing Co. makes Newbold IPA, and Victory (located in Downingtown) makes Hop Devil IPA. If you enjoy beer with lots of flavor and don’t mind the bitterness from high hop content, then IPAs won’t let you down.


It’s the Most Wonderful Time for a Beer

santa w beer

The coldest time of the year is approaching, and what better way to warm up than with a strong, spicy beer? Seriously, nothing beats brewing for the winter months. Homebrews are comforting, they make tasteful gifts, they go over great at family gatherings, and they can even help you drown out that song about the reindeer that you can’t seem to get away from. If you’re planning on brewing for the holidays in particular, now is the time to start.

Winter brews are fun because they allow you to experiment with all kinds of flavors and spices you normally wouldn’t use throughout the year. Now the question is what kind of winter beer to brew? Winter beers are typically ales, specifically stouts, because of their stronger taste and full body, but they don’t have to be. Dark lagers can work for his application, and in fact, Samuel Adam’s Winter Lager is one of the most popular U.S. beers of the season.

Once you decide on a brew style, the next decision to make is how spiced you want your beer, if at all. English winter beers are normally called winter warmers, and tend to be dark, full in body, sweet and stronger than average (5.5% ABV and up). They are rarely spiced. American winter beers, often called Christmas or holiday beers, are almost always spiced. Belgian winter beers are often slightly stronger (by 1–2% ABV) versions of flagship beers. If they are spiced, the spicing is usually more subtle than American versions.

Some people don’t prefer those “holiday” spices when it comes to beer, which is perfectly fine, but that doesn’t mean their winter brews have to be traditional. If you choose to go the spice-less route, take a page out of England’s book and try using things like figs, molasses, toffee, caramel, vanilla, orange, honey, raisins, and any other dried fruits. Generally, these beers strive to create a malty, full-bodied flavor with somewhat of a sweet finish.

If you like American-style spiced winter brews, think gingerbread cookies and mulled cider – cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, clove, etc. These flavors should be no more than complimentary in the final product, and can be combined with most of the other flavors mentioned above (especially the molasses, vanilla, caramel, and orange). Typically these additional flavors, spices or not, are steeped in a teabag or cheese cloth towards the end of the boiling process. How long you want to steep them depends on the strength of the flavors and the specific recipe.


What is a Lager?

lager-yeast-beer

Beer happens to be the oldest recorded recipe known to man, and over thousands of years, it has been transformed into so many categories and given so many different labels that they are almost impossible to keep track of. I mean seriously – beer, lager, ale, stout – beer is beer, who cares what it’s called? Hoptometrists do, which is the reason for this first-of-many feature, “What is a Lager?”

Truth is, all beers are essentially either lagers or ales. Everything else is just a specific brewing style of one of these two types of beer. Three main factors distinguish these two forms of beer: yeast, time and temperature with yeast being the most significant difference.

Lager yeasts like lower fermentation temperatures (typically 46 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit). Lager yeasts produce less fruity esters than ale yeasts, but can produce more sulfur compounds during primary fermentation. Many first time lager brewers are astonished by the rotten egg smell coming from their fermentors, sometimes letting it convince them that the batch is infected and causing them to dump it. Don’t do it! Fortunately, these compounds continue to vent during the conditioning (lagering) phase and the chemical precursors of other odious compounds are gradually eaten up by the yeast. A previously rank smelling beer that is properly lagered will be sulfur-free and delicious at bottling time.

The lower fermentation temperature decreases the rate at which the yeast works, and lengthens fermentation times. The primary fermentation phase for ales is often 2 – 5 days, but 1 – 3 weeks is normal for a lager, depending on the malts used, the yeast strain, and the temperature at which conditioning occurs.

Lagers produced worldwide are usually either light or dark, and vary greatly in flavor, color, and composition. However, because lager yeasts ferment more aggressively, they leave behind less residual sweetness. This results in a clean beer with lighter aroma and flavor. They are also typically higher in alcohol content and served at cooler temperatures than their ale counterparts.