The Other Bubbly
Around this time of year most people expect wine articles to focus on Champagne or Sparkling wines for the holidays. I thought that it might be fun to focus on the “Other Bubbly”—world class beers. Well-made beers have the complexity and flavor to be paired with a variety of foods. I recently learned that understanding and appreciating fine ales and lagers takes many of the same skills used to appreciate fine wines.
In August, I was one of eight judges for the Maryland Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. Usually this would be the last place I would expect to meet a world class beer maker, but I was dead wrong. Hugh Sisson, founder of Clipper City Brewery and former owner of Sisson’s brewpub, was on my judging team. I was amazed by his wine knowledge and tasting abilities. I figured someone with these skills must make great beer, so I jumped at the opportunity to tour his brewery.
Opened in 1995, Clipper City Brewery has an amazing line-up of beers in a variety of styles—from light golden ales to dark imperial stout and even a raspberry-flavored beer! I was given a tour of the facility and a quick Beer Making 101 course. Beer is made from four simple ingredients: malted grain (usually barley), hops, water, and yeast. Barley is malted to make it water soluble. The malting process is simple. First, the barley is soaked in water, then allowed to sprout, and finally dried in a kiln. Higher in starch content, malted barley is crushed and added to hot water in a mash mixer where the starches are converted to sugar. Solids are separated out and this sweet water is now considered the wort. The wort is then boiled and hops are added, depending on the flavor and style desired by the brew master. Hops are flowers that can be used at various times in the process to add either bitterness or floral aspects to the beers. I was able to hold a handful of hops during my tour and the smell is wonderful and fragrant. The final stages are fermentation, bottling, and labeling.
After my beer making refresher course, we sampled a variety of beers. It was in this moment that I truly came to appreciate the differences in Hugh’s beers. All beers fall into one of two categories, lagers or ales. Lagers tend to be lighter and crisper tasting but lack some of the more complex fruit flavors found in fine ales. I tasted the Clipper City Gold Ale, which was clean, floral, and refreshing next to the Über Pils Lager with a toasty nose and a bolder, bitter finish. We then moved on to taste the Loose Cannon IPA with its floral notes and subtle bitter finish next to the fuller bodied, bold bitterness of the Winter Storm. Tasting these beers side by side, along with Hugh’s passionate description of each, gave me a fuller appreciation for the “Other Bubbly.” These beers have all the flavor, complexity, and style of fine wines with a casual elegance. Next time you want something bubbly, consider a fine ale or lager—raise your glass and make a toast to the “Other Bubbly!”
If you want to tour Clipper City Brewery, visit their website at www.clippercitybeer.com or call 410-247-7822 for a schedule of tour dates which include a sampling of beers.