Thursday, April 07, 2005

Tastings: Founders Red's Rye and Jever Pilsener.

Extreme beers are the growth category in microbrewing, but some times milder styles are appropriate to the mood and occasion. There’s no reason why less alcoholic, smaller beers cannot have character – witness the English Mild – although a preference for nothingness seems to be Holy Writ amongst megabrewers and the clueless markets they serve.

Last night I had a couple of smaller beers with ample character.

Founders Red’s Rye
(read about the Curmudgeon’s previous Founders tasting session)

It sounds simple enough – red ale made with rye. To be interesting, the concept must overcome the inertia of custom.

Commercial red ale tends to be nondescript, tasting as though the recipe had been concocted by a sleepy committee in a boardroom somewhere, generally malty but without definable flavor, and with a color seemingly derived from dissolving the red M & M’s in the fermenter.

Not this one!

Small amounts of rye add spiciness, and combined judiciously with dry hopping, produce crisp and dry ale that still boasts a firm caramel malt character.

Killian’s drinkers almost certainly would spit out this red beer, which would be reason enough to endorse it, yet it stands on its own merits. We’ll have a keg on tap at Rich O’s very soon, perhaps by Friday, April 8.

Jever Pilsener
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and one that can easily tilt objectivity.

My first taste of Jever came during one of my early European backpacking treks some 20 years ago. The exact locale has been forgotten, but I seem to recall that it was in a youth hostel (that’s right – they have beer in at least some European youth hostels), perhaps in Switzerland or, more likely, Luxembourg.

It was an unforgettable experience. I took a healthy drink of the pale golden lager and felt my temples exploding with the onslaught of an almost herbal and highly floral hoppy bite.

Oddly, one of the few libations I’ve ever tasted that compare with the initial unexpected jolt of Jever wasn’t alcoholic. In 1987, while in Hungary, I bought a green bottle of soda that looked like a Sprite, and upon exiting the supermarket, pried the cap off with my Swiss Army Knife, lifted it to parched lips, and discovered that Hungarians had a taste for extremely bitter soft drinks tasting not unlike certain Italian apertifs.

Jever’s effect today isn’t as pronounced. My tastes have changed, beer drinking experiences have widened, and I suspect that Jever has been toned down a bit.

Happily, the herbal hop elements I remember from so long ago remain joyfully in place, even if slightly muted.

In general terms, German pilseners become softer and less aggressive the closer one gets to Bavaria. In the north, a far sharper hop bite is the norm, and Jever is no exception.

Noble hops are everywhere: In the nose, on the palate, and with a satisfyingly bitter presence. There’s less of puckering and no pressure in the skull, and that’s probably just as well.

This is a delicious Northern German pilsener, and perhaps the yardstick of the style. However, before buying, give the bottle an eyeful: If you see sediment, take a pass. When it comes to fragile pilsners, freshest is indeed best.

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