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Ask Michael

From Todd Rosenthal: In Cleveland, Ohio, there is a new microbrewery called Western Reserve. Its regular beers are okay, but its specialities are quite impressive. The best is Bockzilla. Although it is less like a Bock than a dark Old Ale or Porter, it blew me away. People who have tasted this beer cannot believe it comes from a local micro.

MJ: I have not sampled Bockzilla but, as a judge in the Beer World Cup in Atlanta, Georgia, last spring I blindfold-tasted an American Wheat Beer that turned out to be from Western Reserve. I found it quite hoppy (Centennial?), fruity (pineapple?), firm and crisp, with a spritzy finish. The jury awarded it the Gold Medal in its category. I cannot understand why you and your friends have previously been so dismissive of local micros. Almost any micro will offer more individualistic beers than the national giants, and some make outstanding beers. In Cleveland, Great Lakes is an outstanding micro; Crooked River makes fine beers; and I love Diamondback's attempt at a Belgian-style Lambic.

From Three Friends: One of us is Russian, and he does not believe you will take the time to answer us. Another is from Virginia, the third from Wisconsin. Our question: Which brews the most beer, Wisconsin or Germany?

MJ: Germany's production is equal to about half that of the entire U.S., and is certainly far more than any single state. Figures for 1998 are not in yet, but in 1997 Germany made 114 million hectolitres (slightly less than 100 million U.S. barrels) and Wisconsin produced 12.5 million hectos (10.75 million barrels). The Midwest has long ceased to be the brewing heartland of the U.S. Colorado, Texas and California each made between 20 and 25 million barrels. Although the three are too close to call, my calculations favor Colorado as the biggest. The U.S. as a nation makes more beer than any other, but has about three times the population of Germany, the biggest country in Western Europe. Countries with large populations such as Brazil, China and Japan are major brewers in volume, even though their consumption per head is low. As volume beer-drinkers, the Czechs are just ahead of the Germans and their joint neighbors the Austrians. The Belgians, British and Irish are up there, along with the Australians and New Zealanders. The U.S. doesn't quite make the top dozen.

From William Fleming: Knowing me as something of a "finder," a good friend turned to me to trace a magazine called "The Beer Hunter." Is there such a publication? If so, are you affiliated with it?

MJ: The name "Beer Hunter" is registered as my trademark. A one-off booklet in the physical format of a magazine was published by the British television network Channel 4 to mark the first showing of my documentary film series of the same name. This booklet is no longer available.

From James Spaulding, Arvada, Colorado: Has The Beer Hunter ever tasted Renegade I.P.A., from the Estes Park Brewery, in Colorado? Try as I might, I have not been able to find a note by him on this beer. In my opinion, it is an American classic. It has a fresh American hop flavor; a wonderful buttery maltiness; and an assertive, lingering, bitterness.

MJ: I loved this beer when it was first produced, by brewer Thom Tomlinson, at the High Country brewery, in Boulder. The Estes Park version gets three stars, and the description "like chewing hops" in the current edition of my "Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer."

From Toby Faber: Pyramid Hefeweizen tastes smooth and fruity but the Hefeweizen from Wasatch/Schirf seems more bitter, and is also darker. If they are the same style, which are they so different?

MJ: Pyramid is made with a lager yeast, which imparts a "cleaner" flavor. Wasatch uses a classic Weizenbier yeast, which creates a spicier character. Both have a fruitiness: Pyramid's is citric and grapefruity, as typically created by American hops; Wasatch has a more banana-like fruitiness, from the yeast. The color derives from the malts used. Overall, Pyramid's is a more American adaptation of a wheat beer, while Wasatch is German in style.

From David Cohen. University of Texas: I recently tasted the best beer of my life, Paulaner Oktoberfest. As a student, I cannot always afford it. Please tell me about similar beers that are less expensive.

MJ: Some great beers are made by brewpubs and micros, in Texas, as in other states. In Texas Celis and St Arnold's have tasty beers that are widely available, but these breweries focus more on wheats and ales. Old Dominion, in Virginia, has a good Oktoberfest. So do Pennsylvania breweries like Independence and Victory.

From Butch Howard: During a glorious week of gastronomy and golf at Ballymaloe, County Cork, I had my first taste of the Irish ale Smithwicks. What a beer! With some years of all-grain homebrewing under my belt, I am desperate for the recipe. From some of your writings, I have pieced together elements. Could you tell me more?

MJ: This beer is discussed in detail in "Michael Jackson's Beer Companion" (Running Press, Philadelphia). It tastes bigger than its "recipe" would suggest. The original gravity is only 1036 (9 Plato). The grains are highly modified pale ale malt, roasted barley (3 per cent) and corn syrup (20 per cent). The hop varieties are Challenger, Northern Brewer, Northdown and Target (all for bittering), Fuggles and Goldings (for aroma). There is also a flavour addition, possibly Fuggles. Color is 29 EBC and bitterness 20 IBU. I believe the yeast had its origins with McEwan's or Younger's, in Scotland, and produces some diacetyl. Try the "Irish Ale" strain from Wyeast, of Mount Hood, Oregon (tel 503-354-1335). If you beer is too thin, try a higher gravity. In Canada, Smithwick's Export has 1048 (12 Plato). In Italy, there are versions under the Kilkenny name at 1052 (13) and 1059 (15). Maybe 1056 would be a happy medium.

From Guido Mühlwitz, in Germany: You once referred to Berliner Weisse having been served with caraway liqueur. I have heard of such a liqueur being served with the Gose beer of the Leipzig area. Do you known anything about that?

MJ: Yes, it is discussed, with photographs, in my new book "Ultimate Beer," and in the second edition of my "Beer Companion."

From John Brandel: Have you ever been to the Röhrl brewery, in Straubing? It is worth a visit. They have a tasty Weisse, an excellent Schwarz Bier and a low-alcohol Eisbier

MJ: Straubing is on the river Danube, south of the larger city of Regensburg, in the state of Bavaria. The Röhrl brewery was established in 1431. It makes about 100,000 barrels a year (the size of one of the larger micros in the U.S., or a small regional). I have not tasted its beers, and the brewery seems disinclined to send me samples. The "low alcohol" product you mention is actually 4.9 by volume, but mOdelled on a North American "ice beer" rather than the super-strong Eisbock style of Bavaria. It has not sold well, and is being relaunched. The town also has a smaller brewery, dating from 1367, called Karmeliten. The name would suggest that it was founded by Carmelite monks, but no one at he brewery seems able to tell me anything.

From Elizabeth LeCompte: In Kenya, East Africa, we found a wonderful beer called Tusker. It would make my husband so happy if we could find it in the U.S.

MJ: Shipments of this beer were made before Christmas to St Killian Importers, of Kingston, Massachusetts. Tel 781-585-5165. Fax 781-585-8670. They should be able to help you. Tusker is a standard lager, but a little more flavourful than some from hot countries. It has to my palate a slight oiliness, from the use of a proportion of unmalted barley as an adjunct.

From Mike Willen, in Arkansas: I am a homebrewer with sights in the future. Can you suggest a brewing school where I can study without giving up my day job?

MJ:: Does your day job give you a vacation? The Siebel Institute of (Brewing) Technology, in Chicago, runs 11-day courses. Call 773-279-0966.

From Dr. Brent Michael Schiavone, in Pennsylvania: My love of wines has carried over to beers. Among wines, my taste is for port; among beers, for porter. In both, I am looking for complexity of flavor. You probably already know Stegmaier Porter, from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. If not, you must give it a whirl. Have you ever visited Yuengling, in Pottsville? Their beer is as interesting as their brewery.

MJ: I know both porters well. Stegmaier has in recent years seemed slightly the more chocolatey; Yuengling the more licorice-tinged. The last time I was in Wilkes-Barre, parts of the old Stegmaier brewery still stood, with the word "stables" clearly visible. The beer has long been made nearby at the Lion brewery. Rival Yuengling, founded in 1829, in Pottsville, Pa, is the oldest brewing company in the U.S. Its brewery has a handsome interior, which I hope will not be lost in a current expansion.

From Christian Machuca: A beer festival you may have missed is the one on the Richelieu river, not far from Montreal, Canada. As you may know, this town is the home of Unibroue, producers of Fin du Monde, Maudite, Raftman, etc. The festival emphasis Quebecois beers, such as Seigneuriale, and Belgian brews; offers interesting food; has a medieval ambience; and is in wooded countryside near rapids and an historic fort.

MJ: I have never been to this festival, though I was aware of it - and have, in fact, mentioned it in articles. It usually takes place on Canadian Labor Day, in early September (information: 514-658-7658). Earlier in the year, in June, is Mondiale de la Bière (for information, tel 514-722-9640). I have been to this event, on Montreal's promenade-like waterfront, in front of the handsome Old Town. That was where I first tasted Seigneuriale, the name of which implies an aristocrat's farmstead or estate. This is produced at Boucherville, on the south shore of the St Lawrence. Seigneuriale (7.5abv) has a flame colour, an orange-skin dryness, well-rounded, and a hoppy, bitter finish. It was dry-hopped. A yet hoppier, and smoother, version, said to have been matured longer, is called Seigneuriale Reserve. Both are loosely along the lines of the great Belgian beer Duvel. A slightly stronger (8.0abv), fruitier, peachy-tasting, spiced (pepper?) brew is called Triple.

From James Royce: Will you be at the Mondiale this year? I enjoyed seeing you there in 1997.

MJ: Sorry, not this year. Perhaps next.

From Rabeca: My husband and I are planning a trip to Bavaria, and want to taste Weissbiers. We know it is a summer style, but which months?

MJ: Although Weissbier is, indeed, seen as a summer refresher, it is brewed all year round. I like late spring, when the Maibock is still around, too. The weather should be pleasant, but your fellow tourists will not yet be jostling you. There are lots of village festivals in June, July and August. Late September sees the beginning of Oktoberfest, but that is something of a zoo, with a very limited selection of beers.

From Karen Seifert: I heard about a beer called Mccuen. I am not sure about the spelling. Any information?

MJ: That spelling is a new one on me. I assume the beer mentioned was from McEwan, the biggest brewery in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the belief that Scots spellings can be difficult, the brewery has on occasion in some market used the spelling MacEwan. In the Americas, the brewery is known for strong, malty, dark Scottish ales. In Britain, it makes a variety of products, as part of the national giant Scottish Courage.

From Jamey Johns: Whatever happened to your book "Great American Beers"? I am not convinced that it has been published, but Amazon.com told me it was out of print.

MJ: I visited every state in the course of my research (even brewery-less Mississippi). Unfortunately, by the time I had written half the book, about 50 per cent of the material was already out of date. Breweries were opening and closing at such a rate, brewers moving jobs, and product-lines changing, that the task became impossible. Despite being a very fast worker, I realised that, the time I finished the book, 75 per cent of it would be outdated. I have never in my career abandoned a project, but this one is sidelined for the moment. Thanks for asking.

From Jeroen Ervynck, in Ghent, Belgium: If you come to my city, don't miss the 13 drafts, including Delirium Tremens, at "The Waterhouse at the Beerside" (in Flemish, Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant).

MJ: I have enjoyed the beer and the bar. It is actually a beer-house at the canalside, on the old vegetable-market street (9 Groente Markt). I would also recommend De Hopduvel, 10 Rokerel Straat.

From Frank Goodrick, in Toronto: In your "Pocket Guide to Beer," the restaurant Drie Fonteinen, in Beersel, near Brussels, is an excellent recommendation. In the same town, I would mention the Oud Lambiek Brouwerij, easily the most authentic I have found. A reference in your German chapter had me scouring the wrong town for a farm and guest-house brewery that makes a Rauchbier.

MJ: Thanks for all three comments. The Lambiek/Lambic brewery is listed in my Pocket Guide as Vandervelden, and shown in a photograph my "Beer Companion" as Oud Beersel. Thanks for your clarification regarding the Fischer brewery ("very much off the beaten path," as you observe), in the village of Greuth, southwest of Herscheid, near Bamberg.

From Don Orem, in Tampa, Florida: Myself and a few army friends (9th Infantry Division, Dong Tam) would appreciate any light you can shed on a memory from Vietnam. It concerns "33" beer, known there as Ba Moui Ba. My local Vietnamese restaurants know the beer, but do not carry it. They seem to think its flavour too strong for peacetime tastes in the United States. Is there anywhere I could get even one bottle, for old times' sake? Was the beer originally French? What is the significance of the name?

MJ: A Paris company developed this beer for the French Colonial markets after World War II. It was brewed in several countries, including French Indochina (later Vietnam), and is still made in Ho Chi Min City. Despite its Parisian origin, it was not marketed in France until 1960. It has since been widely available there. It is a mainstream lager, not at all a strong-tasting beer, though it has more flavour than some U.S. mass-market products. Today, "33" is one of several beers made in French breweries owned by Heineken, of The Netherlands. It is unlikely to be imported into markets where it would compete with Heineken, and - perhaps for that reason - is not available in the U.S. According to the 1993 French book Les Bieres du Monde, by Gilbert Delos, the name originates from the beer having been in 33-centilitre bottles at a time when 65cl packaging was more common. The parent company's registered offices in Paris were at number 33 Avenue de Wagram, but that seems to have been a coincidence.

From Steve Fair: While I was stationed with the U.S.Navy in London, I visited a German-style pub and tasted an unusually sweetish beer. Any thoughts as to what it might have been?

MJ: In the land of great cask ales, you drank a German beer? Shame on you! There was in Britain about 30 years ago a fashion for German-style beer cellars, which usually served Löwenbräu (genuinely imported, not brewed under licence as it is in the U.S.). As compared to a relatively bitter English ale, or the light American lagers of the time, it might have seemed sweetish.

From Arthur ter Horst, in The Netherlands: I live not far from Groenlo, the original home of Grolsch beer. Where can I obtain the Beerhunter CD?

MJ: MJ: From the publications page of this site.

From Jean-Gerald Pahaut, a Belgian in Alaska: You obviously love my country and its beers. Do you have e-mail addresses for Belgian breweries?

MJ: MJ: Start with http://www.beerparadise.be.

From Valery Ljubchenko, in Russia: Our Beer King is Vladimir Istomin, who has a rock 'n' roll band called Chin-Chin. Would you like to book them for a beer celebration?

MJ: I will think about it.

From VanCanSte: Opening your website, I became fixated on the beer you are drinking in your photo. What is it?

MJ: Brooklyn Chocolate Stout.

From Pompon: For a class research product on business history, I need to know what type of beer is Lindemans. I have looked in several books and explored the internet, but have no leads. My work is due in two days, and I would greatly appreciate any help. Thank you in advance.

MJ: Sorry I missed your deadline - I had too many of my own. Give me more notice next time. Any good book on beer should tell you that Lindemans, of Belgium, is a Lambic brewer. This style is produced by a handful of breweries around the town of Lembeek ("Lime Creek"), near Brussels, Belgium. A Lambic is a type of wheat beer made with wild yeasts. Lambic is served almost flat, straight from the cask, and has a sour, winey, taste. Lambic brewers also blend young and old beers to make a sparkling bottled version called Gueuze. There are also fruit versions like the famous cherry Kriek.

From Sarita Wiggin: For class assignment, I have ten or a dozen questions on the raw materials and procedures in the making of beer. If you could help me answer them, or direct me to a resource, within the next one to two weeks, I would greatly appreciate it.

MJ: I missed your deadline, too (see above). As a resource, I would suggest my book "Ultimate Beer." To answer your questions in summary: Grain is the principal raw material of beer; barley is the most widely used grain; it is steeped in water, sprouted and dried to make it soluble; this process is known as malting; wheat, which is also sometimes used, makes for sharper, more refreshing beers; when the malted grain is infused in water (the first stage of production in the brewhouse), wheat can clog the vessel used, and that is obviously a disincentive to use it; the countries in Europe best known for wheat beers are Germany and Belgium; other grains sometimes used include rye and oatmeal; beers in early times were flavored with fruits, herbs or spices, and some still are; malted grains tend to be sweetish, while the hop adds a balancing dryness; the hop is the most common agent of aroma and flavor, though it is also a natural preservative; the hop is climbing plant closely related to cannabis; the part used is a cone-like "blossom;" ales are fermented and matured at natural cellar temperatures, which produce fruity, complex, flavors; lagers are fermented and matured cooler, which produces "cleaner" flavors; lager-brewing was not widely practised until the invention of artificial refrigeration; small breweries often to not pasteurize their beers, while larger ones often do, in the interests of stability; it could be argued that the yeast in unpasteurized beer is a health benefit.

From Peter Lindemann (no relation to the above), in Denmark: Your appearance on Danish TV led me to wonder whether your had tasted the strong lager Gambrinus, made in both pale and dark versions, by the Hancock Brewery in this country.

MJ: Yes, I have. They are very interesting beers, and I will be writing about them soon.

From Sissal Kristiansen: I saw you on Danish television news, and wondered whether you had ever tried Føroya Bjor or Restorff beer, from the Faroe islands.

MJ: I occasionally receive letters about the interesting brewing traditions of the Faroe islands, but have never been there. I would love to go.

From Jimmy Hamiter: Thanks for a wonderful beer lunch at Boscos, in Memphis, Tenn. can you come back next year?

MJ: I'll work on it. Thanks for your kind comment.

From "Fans": In your writing, you sometimes use the word "more-ish". What does it mean?

MJ: If you have a drink (or eat a dish) and want more, it has earned that description.

More from MJ:

- A correspondent in Virginia asks about Lapin Kulta beer. This beer is made in the Finnish part of Lapland. Its name means "Lapp Gold." I have visited the brewery, which is just south of the Arctic Circle. Apart from its unusual location, it is also notable for taking its water from a river. The Lapin Kulta beer is a standard lager, but made in several strengths. Even the biggest is very pale in color and light in body and flavor. Despite its lack of distinctiveness (or because of that?), it is the biggest seller in Finland, and has a growing sale elsewhere in the Baltic region. Being so busy in its local market, the company is not exporting to the U.S. at the moment.

- A correspondent asks what I think of Marston's Oyster Stout, from England, and Maclay's Oat Malt Stout, from Scotland. Both are well featured in my latest book, "Ultimate Beer." The Marston' s is complex, fruity and woody. Maclay's is malty, buttery and toasty.

- A correspondent asks whether I have tasted Pirminator, from the Park Brewery, of Pirmasens, Zweibrucken, in the Rhineland, Palatinate of Germany. Yes, I found it a pleasant enough pale Bock but not memorable.

- My thanks to Ray Rabil, of Port Charlotte, Florida, for his greetings. Ray, formerly of the D.C. area, misses the homebrew club there, which is called BURP (Brewers United for Real Potables). I like his comment: "One of the most pleasant aspects was the fellowship of people from all walks of life. Homebrewers are not just a bunch of beer-guzzlers." Agreed - and I have had many good times over the years with the men (and women) of BURP.

- My thanks to Eric Nelson for his kind comments about my writing. He claims I have been responsible for his enjoying a diversity of beer styles and Scotches. When he reads my books, he says, he feels that he is traveling with me and tasting what I taste. That is what I try to achieve, so it is gratifying to learn that I have succeeded at least in the case of this reader.

- My thanks to Ilja Patrikainen, in Finland, for kind comments about my "lovingly-written reports on the beer cultures of different countries." Such comments are much appreciated.

- My thanks to the Dutch blues/rock band "Beerhunters" for their kind greetings. I did copyright the name Beer Hunter®, but probably not for bands. Perhaps the Beerhunters will pass on my good wishes to the another group of musicians who started the renowned brewery and tasting room 't IJ (pronunciation somewhere between "tie" and "tay"), making robust, abbey-style, beers in Amsterdam.

- To the correspondents who flatteringly ask for a full-length poster of me: are you sure you have the right Michael Jackson? There is an MJ beer poster, but it does not have a picture of me, just bottles, labels and style definitions. It is published by Portal Publications, Corte Madera, California. Tel 415-924-5652. Fax 415-924-7439.

- Two correspondents ask about my book "The Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch." To both: although Amazon.com is posting this as out of stock, it is still available from Barnes and Noble, among others. It is published by Running Press, of Philadelphia. To Matt Tassinari: The last edition, the third, was published in 1994, though it has been re-printed since. The fourth edition is due out toward the end of this year.

Note: Will correspondents please quote a forename and family name, and a city and state. Nicknames and pen-names are not debarred, but not encouraged.

More questions for and answers from the Beer Hunter.

If you have a question to ask Michael, send it to beerhunter@beerhunter.com. We can't promise an answer to every question or comment, but we welcome your input and inquiries.

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