Budweiser is losing sales to … guess

Budweiser and several other classic American beers are losing sales to other brands. But not, as fans of real beer might hope, to craft beers.

They’re losing ground to low-calorie beers.

Most of the beers whose sales declined that much have one thing in common — they are “full-calorie” beers, or about 145 calories a can. Instead, beer drinkers have turned to “light beers,” which have 100 calories a can, and “ultra-lights,” which are closer to 90 calories.

See The Eight Beers Americans No Longer Drink

Now I’m not one of these guys who rails against Budweiser. I think it’s a fine beer for what it is — a light, American-style pilsner. I don’t particularly like that style, but it’s certainly a quality product, and if you offer me a Budweiser or a coke, I’ll take the Bud, thank you very much.

With the success of serious breweries like Sam Adams, and with the amazing craft beer revolution, you’d think maybe Americans are starting to develop a taste for serious beer.

Some are, but apparently not the majority. Americans still have a taste for things with little taste. These already tasteless beers are losing ground to beers that have even less taste.

Okay. That doesn’t bother me, so long these 90-calorie beers don’t get between me and the beers I like.

Buckwheat best bitter

I’ve always wanted to try malting my own grain. Malting involves germinating the grains by soaking them in water, then, after the grains have sprouted, stopping the germination by malting the sprouted grains in a kiln (or your oven).

I never had sufficient motive to try it, since it’s such a pain in the rear. But I’ve been trying to perfect my “Entish Brown Ale” recipe, and it seemed that Buckwheat might work well with that.

If you recall from Tolkien’s The Two Towers, when the hobbits Merry and Pippin were visiting Fangorn in one of his ent houses, they drank two different kinds of ent draughts. One was a light, refreshing sort of drink while the other was an earthy, satisfying drink.

I’ve always wanted to try something like that, and my Entish Brown Ale is an attempt to re-create that Ent draught.

When I read that buckwheat adds a hearty, earthy flavor to a beer I had to try it for myself to see if it would contribute to my Entish Brown Ale.

So I bought some buckwheat.

But I didn’t want to add it directly to my Entish Brown Ale. I wanted to get a sense of what it does on its own.

I decided the best test would be to add some buckwheat to a fairly plain English Bitter recipe. That way I could get a sense of what the buckwheat contributes, and decide if it would help my Entish Brown Ale recipe attain its earthy, satisfying, “liquid bread” feel.

I went to the local health food store to get some buckwheat. All they had were “groats,” which didn’t look like what I wanted.

“Groats” are grains without the hulls. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing, but I bought them anyway, and then went home and did some more research.

I learned that buckwheat isn’t actually a cereal grain, like barley, or wheat, or rye. It’s a pseudocereal. If you’re curious, consult Wikipedia.

The standard procedure for making beer is (1) get some grain, (2) germinate it, (3) malt it, to stop the germination, (4) mash it, to extract the sugars, (5) brew it, to make your wort, and (6) ferment it to make beer.

But what do you do with buckwheat? I knew I had to germinate the stuff, but how?

I found this helpful page on sprouting buckwheat groats, which is the first step to making a beer with the stuff.

That page is about making “sprouts,” which you might put on a sandwich, or in a salad, but the same method words fine for making beer.

I soaked the groats in water for 20 minutes.

Then I washed them every fews hours for a couple days, and in a pretty short period of time — less than 3 days — I had sprouted me some buckwheat.

This was quite a bit easier than I thought.

The next task was to malt the stuff, so I did a little research on how that’s done.

Generally speaking, you want to cook the grains at a low temperature for a long time — like 24 hours. But I’m impatient, and I’m not thrilled with the idea of leaving the oven on while I’m sleeping. Call me paranoid if you like, but it rubs me wrong.

I tried to malt them at 220 for an hour one evening, which got them to the color I expected, but they weren’t quite dry. So I called it quits, and then the next day I had to cook them for several hours at 170, which is the lowest my oven will go.

Eventually I got a cookie sheet full of home-malted buckwheat.

I started with two pounds of buckwheat groats, but after malting I only had 1 pound 13 ounces of malt. I assume some of the weight was lost from the sprouts themselves, which may have burned off in the malting process.

Barley malt needs to be cracked to expose the grain inside the hull. I honestly don’t know if the same thing applies to malted “groats,” which have no hull, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to grind them up.

To mill my homemade malt I had to cheat a little. Typically I use the grain mill at Maryland Homebrew, where I buy all my supplies. But I didn’t feel like making a special trip just to run some malt through their mill, and … honestly … I wasn’t sure it was going to work anyway.

Most grain mills are set to crack barley malt, which is about twice the size of a buckwheat groat. So I used a method I had read in an old homebrew book. I cracked the malted groats in my blender.

It’s not the best solution, but it worked.

Fortunately I had thought ahead and bought some rice hulls for the mash. More on that later.

Most modern malts are “fully modified” and don’t require a protein rest, so you can get away with a pretty simple mashing schedule. A single-step infusion mash at 150 (or thereabouts) is usually all you need.

I didn’t know how well I had malted my buckwheat, so I wanted to put my malt through a thorough regimen. I decided to do a step mash with a protein rest.

Here’s the recipe for Buckwheat Best Bitter.

6 pounds Maris Otter
1/2 pound Crystal 40
1 pound 13 ounces buckwheat malt
1/2 pound rice hulls
1 oz. Cluster hops (7.4% alpha) 60 min.
1 oz. Fuggles (4% alpha) 10 min.
1 T Irish moss at 10 Min.
Safale 05

Here’s what it all looked like as I did the “stove top” (actually propane burner-top) mash.

You can see that it’s quite messy, and that’s why I bought the rice hulls. I’ve had stuck mashes with small grains before (like rye), so I didn’t want to make a problem for myself with the buckwheat. Adding rice hulls to the mash helps create a better filter bed, and I hoped it would make up for the lack of hulls in my buckwheat.

The mash schedule went as follows.

15 min. at 120F
25 min. at 140F
25 min. at 155F
Mash out at 170F.

After the mash out I added the rice hulls. (They didn’t need to be in the pot during the mash.) Then I poured the whole mess into my picnic-cooler style lauter tun.

I sparged once with 2 gallons of 170F water, then a second time with 2.5 gallons of 170F water. Even with the rice hulls, the sparging was slow, and I was afraid I was going to have a mess on my hands. If I were to do this again, I would double the quantity of rice hulls.

After a week of fermentation I kegged the ale and let it carbonate for a week.

Then … the big test. What unique flavor does buckwheat add? Does it make me dream of Fangorn Forest and drinking ent draughts that nourish the bones and curl the hair on my toes?

Alas … no.

I had a glass this evening. It was quite good, but (at first) I didn’t taste any particular contribution from the buckwheat. I expected an earthy, wholesome, nutty flavor.

It seemed rather like what I would expect by adding regular wheat malt to a bitter recipe.

But there is a slightly peculiar flavor (I assume it’s from the buckwheat) that you pick up mostly in the aftertaste. I wouldn’t describe it as “earthy.” It’s somewhat bitter, slightly astringent, and seems to dry out the beer. It’s not at all unpleasant. And … well, maybe slightly “earthy.”

I don’t think this is the secret ingredient I’ve been looking for to transport me to Fangorn Forest and make the hair on my toes curl. I may try a pound of it in my Entish Brown Ale, but it’s not exactly what I’m looking for.

How Would Google Brew?

I’m reading What Would Google Do? Generally speaking, and to over-simplify, it’s about the new relationship between producers and consumers, and how consumers are in charge. Companies that allow their customers, clients and partners to do what they want to do will succeed. And if at all possible, companies should strive to make their products free.

It’s a good perspective and I agree with a lot of it, although sometimes I think this approach is overblown.

Anyway, it’s all well and good thinking about these things in terms of internet content and services, but it’s another thing to apply these concepts to something tangible. Like beer.

So I tried, and this is what I came up with.

An old-school approach to brewing would be to pick a demographic, try to find out what kind of beer they like, brew something like that, and then get your marketing team to convince your chosen demographic that this is really the beer for them.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, except that people’s tastes vary considerably. Just go the local mega-beer store and look at all the styles and varieties of beer that are available.

The WWGD approach might ask how you can put the customer in charge of the brewing process?

So what would that mean? To oversimplify things, imagine that beer can be …

+ more or less malty,
+ more or less bitter, and
+ have more or less hop aroma

Now imagine that the customer is at a tap with three dials, one for each characteristic, and he can dial it up or down to suit his tastes.

Then, when he picks his perfect blend, he can order a case made to his own specifications.

That seems like step 1. But there’s more to “putting the customer in charge” than just allowing the customer to define the product. The customer also needs to be able to mix your product with other things.

A snakebite is a mixture of beer and cider, and there are various kinds of shandies and other drinks out there that mix beer with ginger ale or what have you.

The next step would be allowing people to share their particular recipes and discuss / review them, or bring their own mash-up with them to the bar.

(Re-posted from here.)

Does bottle color matter for your beer?

It’s “common knowledge” among homebrewers that light can harm beer and give it a skunky flavor. Of course there is little in life more unreliable than “common knowledge,” which is why we have shows like Myth Busters and blogs like The Straight Dope, which recently did humanity a favor by trying to answer the question, Are brown bottles better for beer?.

Any homebrewer could tell you the answer, but — again — any homebrewer could also tell you that different areas of the tongue register different sorts of tastes, which turns out to be mostly baloney.

In this case common knowledge prevailed. Yes, brown bottles are better for beers.

(Ignore this please — ST7ZSHMR2GJK)

Try some “dry hopped” heather

Some people say it takes a whole lot of heather to make any difference in a beer, but it seems that’s only true if you put it in the boil. If you add it to the fermenter — like dry hopping, but with heather — you can get a very interesting flavor.

I did an experiment recently where I made 10 gallons of brown ale and split the batch into two fermenters. One I “dry hopped” with two ounces of heather and the other I didn’t.

The heather was quite noticeable. It imparts an interesting flavor. Kinda “earthy.” I like it a lot.