Canadian Bomb Shelter Beers for the Imminent Apocalypse

With the official Doomsday Clock currently the closest it’s been to “midnight” since the onset of the Cold War in 1953, people are starting to ask the big question:

What beer should I stock up on for when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come riding into town?

In response, BeerSyndicate sampled a selection of seven-year-old canned beer to determine which ones held up the best in preparation for prolonged life in a vault. 

By the way, the concept of the “Doomsday Clock” was originally created by former Manhattan Project physicists in 1947 and has been maintained ever since by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with past contributors including the likes of Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer to name a few.  The clock itself is the symbolic analogy for a human-caused global catastrophe with “midnight” representing the end of civilization.

As of January 2017, the clock is 2 ½ minutes to midnight. 

Doomsday Clock

Look, you got lucky with Y2K.  You dodged a bullet in 2012 with the Aztec calendar thingy.  Any day now, the Large Hadron Collider might do us in with an accidentally spawned Earth-swallowing black hole, assuming a Homo-(sapien)-phobic A.I. doesn’t pull the plug on us first.  And of course it’s only a matter of time before we hit DEFCON 1 with North Korea, Iran or New Jersey.

The bottom line is that sooner or later, your luck is gonna run out.

But BeerSyndicate’s got your back.  At least when it comes to picking a beer that will survive the first seven years of the nuclear winter.

Doomsday Six Pack

Nuclear Winter is Coming…

For this review, we reached back into the depths of the beer fridge and pulled out three beers that time forgot.  Three beers that somehow rather remarkably held up seven years past their bottling date.

What’s even more surprising is that none of the beers in question are particularly well-suited for aging unlike a cellar-friendly Gueuze or a big boozy such-and-such.  Perhaps it was the refrigeration that slowed the aging process while canning fended off much of the dreaded effects of beer-degrading oxygen and light.

Or maybe the traditional low hopping rates of the beer styles sampled actually helped with the perceived preservation of the beers as hop character and bitterness are typically the first things to fade.  As hop character diminishes, the perceived sweetness of a beer increases conversely.  Being as how these beers are only mildly hopped to begin with, not only would any pronounced hop character be inappropriate, any increased perception of sweetness due to hop degradation may actually benefit the beer somewhat.

Regardless of how, these beers largely avoided the telltale characteristics of inappropriately aged beer that leave a once crisp balanced brew tasting often like squash, cardboard and sweet apple juice.

Rickard’s White.

Full disclosure: Rickard’s White is not a craft beer.  It’s brewed by Molson Coors of Canada, and according to Molson, the recipe is based on the American-made Blue Moon recipe, but uses different ingredients. Unlike Blue Moon however, Molson makes no attempt to hide the fact that Rickard’s White is not craft (the Molson brand is displayed right on the can plain for the world to see).  Also displayed on the can is the bottling date code of “F260” (translation “Feb. 26, 2010”), which according to Molson marks the start of the beer’s 110-day lifespan.  Needless to say, this beer has exceeded that 110-day window by a bit.  In any case, “ageability” likely has nothing to do with whether a given beer is marco or micro brewed, not that you’d be terribly picky in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The Gist:  While we can’t tell you how well a Blue Moon might fare after seven years in the can, we can tell you that Rickard’s White was surprisingly still identifiable as a Witbier— lightly fruity with pleasant notes of coriander in the aroma and flavor.  As is, the beer scored a 75/100.

Description: Rickard’s White pours a thick finger of dense fluffy off-white head that dissipates in about 30 seconds, revealing a hazy golden honey colored body with a fair amount of the expected age-derived “floaties”. Yes, even after all these years, trace amounts of lovely coriander are still detectable in the aroma especially as the beer warms.  Other aromatics include guava, blueberry yogurt, Juicy Fruit gum, papaya, Apple Jacks and ‘Asian honeydew snow smoothie’ with the only aged character being that of spent tea bag. Flavor-wise, subtle coriander is cut with a citrus tang, Sprite, a hint of guava, light malt, baking powder and alcohol. Medium carbonation, medium-low body.  The beer finishes with an aftertaste of mild seltzer water and a touch of popsicle stick.

What are “floaties”?  Floaties (also known as floaters or “snowflakes”) are little chunks of coagulated protein that have fallen out of the solution of the liquid beer as a result of aging, and are typically darker in color in darker colored beers.  Floaties can develop and become noticeable in as little as two years depending on the particular beer style and storage conditions (floaties will appear sooner in unrefrigerated beer).

Beer "floaties", floaters or snowflakes.

Beer “floaties”, floaters or snowflakes.

To be clear (no pun intended), floaties are not the same thing as yeast sediment which is normal in bottle-conditioned beers of any age.  Yeast tends to be smooth and dense and gives beer a cloudy appearance when aggressively disturbed as when rolling a bottle of bottle-conditioned Hefeweizen or swirling the bottle during the pour. Floaties, on the other hand, are bread crumb-sized clumps of protein and if present are easily disturbed like the white particles (“snowflakes”) in a snow globe.  Even beers that are appropriate for aging like Gueuze and Flanders Red will very likely develop floaties over time.  Floaties don’t taste like much of anything and are fine to drink, but can sometimes be left behind in the bottle if poured carefully.

KLB Raspberry Wheat.

The Gist: After more than half a decade in the can, raspberry is still detectable in the aroma and flavor of KLB Raspberry Wheat. Despite an aroma of Raspberry Schweppes Ginger Ale suggesting a possible sugar bomb in the taste, the beer is actually on the dry side, more similar to a light-bodied raspberry seltzer than a raspberry soda pop. [4.5% ABV.]

KLB Raspberry WheatDescription: Pours about a pinky of quickly fading eggshell white head with plenty of frog eyes (bubbles) and some lacing over a hazy medium amber body.  The aroma is reminiscent of Raspberry Schweppes, pomegranate, Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider, and La Vie De La Vosgienne raspberry bon bon candy.  Flavor: raspberry seltzer, mild alcohol, light acidity, raspberry seeds, honeysuckle, strawberry apple juice, effervescent medium carbonation with a hint of vanilla leave behind an aftertaste of wheat husk, light bitterness and raspberry lip gloss in this light-bodied brew.  Score: 77.5/100

Rickard’s Dark.

The Gist: A mild flavored 4.8% ABV dark ale with subtle notes of coco powder and walnuts balanced by a light tanginess.

Rickard's DarkDescription: A self-described English Porter brewed with maple syrup, Rickard’s Dark pours a nearly clear brown with garnet highlights and develops a finger of dense tan head that slowly fades over 30 seconds leaving some lace behind in the glass. The aroma is an interesting mix of raisin, coco powder, dried malt and slightly under-baked wheat bread with hints of balsamic vinegar, tamarind, faint alcohol, dried cranberry, brown sugar, chocolate wafer cookie, walnut, watery coffee, dry autumn leaves and spent Lipton tea bag.  The flavor is mild-mannered and relatively clean with notes of light coco powder, walnut shell, and dusty stick with a medium-low sweetness balanced by a light tanginess, finishing with elements of dry stick and grape skin.  Medium carbonation, medium-low body.  Score: 75/100.

Thus concludes Beer Syndicate’s Bunker Beer Review.

So the next time you’re out stocking up on Nuka-Cola, RadAway, and Blamco Mac & Cheese, remember to pick up a 100 pack of any of these canned beers to help get you through the nuclear winter season.

[All beers were evaluated solely by BJCP beer judges.  In addition, two other seven-year-old canned Canadian beers were sample, namely Amsterdam Nut Brown Ale and Muskoka Hefe-Weissbier, but these did not hold up as well as the others listed above.]

Hi, I’m Dan: Co-Founder and Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Blogger, BJCP Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter.

[ did not receive any compensation from any party to review these beers.]

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Top 15 Tips for Craft Brewery and Craft Beer Bar Success

Ever dreamed of quitting your day job to launch the newest, coolest craft beer bar or brewery in town?

Not so fast.

With craft beer bars and breweries hotter than the housing market of 2005, competition is getting stiff, which means not even the most polished business plan is enough to guarantee your success.

In these uncertain times, what you need is a silver bullet— No, not a Coors, smart guy, but a magic formula that will ensure financial victory.

Sure, some might tell you that there are no guarantees in business, but those people don’t know Russian hackers.  We do.  And what we’re about to wikileak to you are the secrets of success that other craft breweries and craft beer bars don’t want you to know.

Craft Beer Cash Cow

Using sophisticated spy tools similar to those employed by the CIA, NSA and FBI, our digital comrades scraped private data from the most successful craft breweries and taprooms in the U.S.  From there, we sifted through pages of emails, text messages, social media communications, phone transcripts, WhatsApp chat logs and business records.

After the data was scrubbed, a pattern of success emerged.

What you have before you now are the best business secrets compiled from the private records of the most successful craft breweries and beer bars in the U.S.  Follow this advice, and we just might be seeing you on the next cover of Rich Person Magazine

The Basics

1.  Food Trucks. Food trucks are vital to the survival of any taproom, probably more so than the quality of the beer on tap. If there are no food trucks available, seek out a food trunk (food sold from the trunk of a car).

2. All IPA Everything. While it’s true that people like variety and trends come and go, there is one thing that will never change: everyone only likes IPA forever. Therefore it’s best to assume that you will alienate everyone and go bankrupt instantly if you don’t either brew IPAs exclusively (or at least have an IPA as your flagship beer) or only have IPAs on your tap list. For taprooms that want to expand, consider setting up an IPA-only bottle shop.

To stay relevant, try mixing things up a bit by throwing an IPA tap takeover in your IPA-only taproom.

3. Pay-to-Play. With new craft breweries opening at a rate of 100 per day, it can be tough for a brewery to get its beer into a bar and even tougher for bars to decide which beer they should put on tap. But it doesn’t have to be that hard— not with pay-to-play!

Let’s explain this concept Mr. Subliminal-style: “Pay-to-Play” is a kind of win-win enhanced business technique [bribery] where a brewery or distributor provides money [$20 per keg to $2,000 per dedicated tap line per year], goods [new tap lines, expensive sports tickets, new TVs, coolers, etc.] or services [maintaining draft lines] to bars in order to build good relationships [get preferential draft placement ideally at the exclusion of other breweries and distributors]. (Legality may vary.)

4. Paid Swag-Vertising. People want to advertise for you for free, so it is critical that you charge them for that privilege. Make a buck and get your brand out there by selling logo-laden hoodies, t-shirts, trucker hats, fanny packs, giant permanent car decals, and DIY face, eyelid and tongue tattoos (talk about word of mouth— ZING)!

Speaking of passive-aggressive advertising techniques, consider offering a one-time 3% discount to people who legally change their name to the name of your brewery of beer bar, and then sue them later for trademark infringement.

Location & Design

1. Difficult-to-Find Industrial Location. This is more of a must for brewery taprooms than craft beer bars, but there is no denying the collateral benefit of your customers finally being able to get a growler filled and pick up a bulk order of printed circuit boards right in the same obscure industrial park!

2. Unfinished Building. Let’s face it: people love the look of raw building materials. So give your customers what they want and save a bunch of money in the process by moving into a half-finished or abandoned dilapidated building! There’s no better time to show off the natural beauty of your building’s exposed brick, cinder block, dry wall, rafters, insulation, plumbing, HVAC ducts, electrical wiring, concrete foundation or whatever other architectural treasures there are hiding behind the scenes!

Remember, it’s not “unfinished”, it’s rustic… or sustainable… or something.

3. DIY Wood & Metalwork-Motif. This one’s more of a brewhouse taproom requirement, but in every case the key is that you or a buddy (whoever has the better beard) build the furniture and bar out of urban-foraged wood or metal.

If you can’t find any scrap metal, discount wood or free-cycled cinder blocks for your re-purposing purposes, then beer-inspired furniture and fixtures are a must including grain-bag chairs, hop-stuffed pillows, over-pressurized tap handle bathroom sink faucets, beer bottle chandlers, beer can telephones and keg toilets.

Business Edge

1. Expensive Artisanal Snacks. Small $5 bags of gourmet popcorn, hand-crafted potato chips, trail mix, or food lumps made from spent grains are just a few examples of expensive artisanal snacks that will put you on the fast-track to success.

2. Crowler Machine. Beer from the can used to be bad because of its association with macro beer and cancer, but now it’s the best. A “Crowler Machine” will allow you to seal beer in a to-go can so that you can tap into the can craze before beer from the can is a bad thing again.

3. Irregular Business Hours. If it’s one thing people hate, it’s predictable business hours. Not only that, it’s a proven fact that people don’t drink beer on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays, so definitely don’t be open on those days or any other days. But if you do choose to be unnecessarily open for business, remember that most people get their drinking done before 5 pm, which means last call should be no later than 4:45 pm. Also, keep in mind that the most effective business-owners only work a four-hour work week, which means if you’re open more than four hours a week, you’re doing something wrong.


1. Dogs. It’s a fact that everyone loves dogs, and if they don’t, then they’re worse than Hitler because even Hitler liked dogs. Therefore, the more dogs in your taproom, the better. If no dogs are available, seriously consider investing in a dog simulator machine (it makes loud barking noises and is upgradeable to emit wet dog smell and blow animal hair around the taproom).

2. Hipster “Indie Folk” Behind the Bar. Nothing gives the appearance of anti-capitalist coolness to a for-profit business better than indie folk tending bar, so stock up while supplies last! (Don’t worry, indie employees will appreciate the irony… it’s what they live for.)

3. Games. Few if anyone have ever been seen actually playing these games in taprooms, but it is essential that at least one of the following be on premises at all times: Cards Against Humanity, Ticket to Ride, or Settlers of Catan. Also, if you have an outdoor area, don’t forget that zoning requires that you maintain an operational cornhole set.


1. Local Everything. Local is the new black. So whenever possible and regardless of quality, taprooms need to serve local beers, arrange for live local music, local puppet shows, and free local tax-prep help.

2. Beer Puns. The highest form of comedy has and always will be puns. So hop to it and tap into the wonderful world of beer-inspired puns when naming your beer or craft beer bar! We promise you won’t hear any booze from us!

С первым Апреля! [Happy Businessing!]

[DISCLAIMER: By no means do any of the tips in this article represent legal or business advice.  In fact, many of the tips in this post are completely stupid, satirical and written by an asshole who is trying to get fired to collect unemployment benefits.  We don’t know Russian hackers. We don’t recommend that anybody does anything illegal ever.  And we whole-heartedly apologize to any and everyone who is even slightly offended by anything written herein.  We will be sending ourselves to sensitivity training to try to understand what went wrong in our childhood that makes us totally not responsible for any of our behavior in life. Thank you.]

Entertained? Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  

Tweet-worthy?  That would be rather chill of you:

Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Hi, I’m D.J. Pander.  I like beer.  I also blog. Follow me on MySpace.

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A Craft Beer from Mexico

With well over 200 microbreweries in the country, craft (or “Artesenal”) beer in Mexico is officially a thing.

Of course, when most people think of Mexican beer, they don’t exactly think of the bold flavors craft beer is known for.  And there’s a reason for that.

According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, historically, the Mexican beer industry has been greatly influenced by German and Austrian immigrates who started breweries in Mexico during the short-lived reign of Austrian-born Mexican Emperor Maximiliano I (1864-1867).1

As a matter of fact, you might have even heard of at least one popular Austrian-style beer produced in Mexico today… That’s right, Dos Equis Amber Lager is actually an example of a Vienna Lager.

And while most of the mass-produced commercial Mexican brands of beer reflect the near-flavorless macro beers of their neighbors to the north, a country that was also greatly influenced by Lager-centric German brewers, thankfully Mexican craft breweries have taken a foothold and are beginning to offer the Mexican palate what it demands of its food: flavor.

One such Mexican craft brewery is Agua Mala.  The name “agua mala” is perhaps a bit of a playful pun as it literally translates from Spanish as “bad water” (potentially referring to Mexico’s reputation for its less than safe drinking water), but is also slang for “jellyfish”.

And it’s the jellyfish, along with other marine life, that is the theme of this sea-side brewery in Ensenada, Mexico, the first “legal” brewery in Ensenada as the brewery points out.  (As a bonus for X-Files fans, “Agua Mala” is also the title of episode 13, season 6 of the series which features a jellyfish-like monster that attempts to breed with the residents in a small Florida town.)

What began as a homebrewing adventure for one marine biologist grew into a craft brewery that boasts a variety of different beer styles in its range including an English Bitter, Belgian Wit, American Pale Ale, IPA, Amber, Oatmeal Stout, and even a Christmas beer. (Not to mention a craft cider as well.)

Our pick was the Mako Pale Ale, named after the fastest species of shark in the world.

Mako Pale Ale – Agua Mala

Agua Mala Pale Ale Label

The Gist: A pretty spot-on take on an American Pale ale with excellent clarity and exciting juicy papaya hop components in an impressively clean beer. Craziest of all? The brewer was able to cram so much flavor into such a sessionable 3.4% ABV beer- Odelay Méjico!  Additional props go to this detailed-oriented brewery for adding such label info as the beer’s OG (original gravity), IBUs (bitterness) and SRM (color)!  And at least on the bottles we sampled, there were pricing gun labels noting the bottling date and ‘Best By’ date.

Description: Mako Pale ale pours a ½ inch of slowly fading frothy antique white head over a nearly crystal clear orange-copper body.  The aroma tempts the palate with notes of juicy papaya, light honey graham cracker, agave nectar, hop resin, star fruit, green apple candy ring, and a dash of salt. The flavor tracks the aroma closely leading with juicy papaya and sugared grapefruit which are tempered by a white pepper hop tanginess, and concludes with a mild grapefruit bitterness in this slightly viscous brew.

How to say “cheers” in Spanish: “¡Salud!” (Literally “Health”).

[1. Oliver, Garrett. The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. 583. Print.]

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A Craft Beer from Israel

Israel boasts about 60 breweries, one of which is The Malka Brewery located in the northern “kibbutz” of Yehiam/Yehi’am (population approx. 600), about 14 miles south of the Lebanese border.

By the way, a traditional communal “kibbutz” (literally “gathering” in Hebrew) is a kind of Zionist democratic community that functions as an equalized cooperative where no matter what kind of job a person has, goods and services are distributed to the community based on individual need.  Property, including housing, is communal to an extent as it is owned by the kibbutz, not the individual.

The first small kibbutz, Degania Alef, was established by Jewish settlers in 1909 in Palestine (modern-day Israel).  These early kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) were agricultural collectives, but eventually other industries were added to the mix including beer.

Today, less than 3% of Israel’s population live in kibbutzim which are typically located in rural areas, but kibbutzim produce about 40% of the country’s agriculture.

So does this mean that a brewery located on a kibbutz like the Malka Brewery operates in some kind of socialist utopia?

Not exactly.

It turns out that as of 2010, the majority of the 270 kibbutzim have given way to more capitalistic ideas and chosen to privatize (often out of necessity) , including kibbutz Yehiam where the Malka Brewery sits.

Even the very first kibbutz that started it all back in 1909 eventually privatized in 2007 which means no more assigned jobs and no more equal pay for different kinds of jobs.  Instead, members (called kibbutzniks) have to find their own jobs, live on their own income and are allowed to buy their own houses.  It also often means employers on a kibbutz can offer jobs to non-kibbutzniks, providing more flexibility and talent to the business.

Founded in 2006, the Malka (Hebrew for “queen”) Brewery is located at the base of the Yehiam Fortress, a hilltop castle built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, and features an impressive patio view of the Sea of Galilee off in the distance to the west.  The brewery first started distribution to the U.S. in 2013 and is available in at least a dozen states.

Malka Pale Ale

The Gist:  This is a must-try beer simply for its unique flavor-profile. Really only a Pale ale in appearance, this brew stands out for its dazzling fresh-ground coriander character, and would make for a deadly krav maga assassin in the spiced-beer category of any brewing competition. It’s one of those rare unexpected beers for those who think they’ve seen it all. Absolutely intriguing.

Description: Malka Pale Ale pours a finger of frothy light tan head of moderate persistence revealing a hazy reddish-copper body beneath.  The aroma is instantly and unmistakably fresh-ground coriander, followed up by hints of dried hibiscus flowers, honey and Spree candy.  Flavor-wise, coriander is first to the party, providing a Pop Rocks tingle with a slight tanginess in this lightly malty sweet beer.  Not far behind is an entourage of taste impressions including Apple Jacks cereal, passion fruit soda, orange-blossom water, and very slight star anise.  This pleasantly memorable brew finishes dry with notes of (you guessed it) coriander, dry stems and all.

How to say “cheers” in Hebrew: L’chaim. Pronounced “La Hime” means “to your health”.

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A Craft Beer from Iceland

Ah, IcelandVikings, the Aurora Borealis, Björk, fermented shark snacks and a 74-year prohibition on beer that lasted from Jan. 1, 1915 to March, 1, 1989 (also known as “Beer Day”). To be fair though, from 1935-1989 the prohibition was only against “strong beer”, or any beer at or above 2.25% ABV.

Needless to say, the craft beer movement in Iceland was off to a bit of a late start, but is catching up quickly.  As of this writing, there are about 14 total breweries in a country of about 330,000 people.

One such brewery is Einstök Ölgerð, or the Einstök Beer Company, located just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in the fishing port of Akureyri, Iceland.  It’s there, according to the brewery, where the water flows from rain and prehistoric glaciers down the Hlíðarfjall Mountain and through ancient lava fields, delivering the purest water on Earth, and the perfect foundation for brewing deliciously refreshing craft ales.

With production starting in 2011, Einstök (translated as “unique”) now sees distribution in 14 states in the U.S., and is available in 14 countries around the world.  So far, the brewery is living up to its slogan of Drink. Conquer. Repeat.


[Drink. Conquer. Repeat!]

The Viking-branded brewery produces beer in a range of styles including a Belgian White, Pale ale, Doppelbock, Wee Heavy, a fruit beer, and a Porter.

Our pick from the lot is Einstök’s multi-award winning Icelandic Toasted Porter, brewed with a slight addition of authentic Icelandic roasted coffee.

Icelandic Toasted Porter

The Gist: An absolutely lovely porter with moderate chocolaty-sweet character and medium-high body.

Description: This dark porter develops a thick finger of creamy ochre head that slowly recedes over a cold brew coffee-colored beer, leaving behind swaths of elegant lacing inside the glass. The aroma is suggestive of chocolate wafer cookies, chocolate waffles, light vanilla, Turbinado sugar, molasses, dark wheat bread, red grape skin, purple crayon, and as the name implies, the malt character is more toasted than roasted. The flavor offers impressions of Swiss Miss Coco, praline cookie, and a bit of hazelnut balanced by a medium-low coffee tannic bitterness, with an aftertaste of roasted malt and baker’s chocolate.

How to Say “Cheers” in Icelandic

Skál.  Pronounced “Sk-owl”, the word is directly related to the other Scandinavian word for cheers “Skål” (Swedish, Danish and Norwegian).  Myth has it that the word “Skål/Skál” as a toast is related to the word “skull” and originates with the Vikings who would supposedly drink mead from the skulls of their enemies.  As bad-ass as that might be, it’s not likely the case (spoiler alert: there’s also no evidence that the Vikings wore horned helmets… Sorry Minnesota).

As it turns out, in all Scandinavian languages, the word “Skål/Skál” also means “bowl” (or container) and is etymologically related to the word “shell” more so than “skull”.  The “shell” in this case refers to a cup made from a shell, and is derived from the Proto-Germanic word “skelo”.  The word first appears in Scottish English, and may have been connected to the visit of King James VI of Scotland to Denmark in 1589.  It’s suggested that the word was meant to encourage people to empty (drink) a bowl in somebody’s honor.


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Sam Adams: The Waking Giant

“He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

Let’s be honest: On the whole, Sam Adams isn’t exactly known for the kinds of full-flavored, risk-taking beers that many other craft breweries are.

Sure, there are the occasional exceptions like Utopias and the always-anticipated LongShot series, but in general, the majority of Sam Adams regular offerings are often thought of as gateway beers— those middle-ground beers that act as a corridor leading away from insipid mass-produced American lagers, and eventually onto more exotic and flavorful craft beers.

No doubt, playing that middle-of-the-road, purgatory position between a weak, watery, one-dimensional American lager hell and a gloriously bold craft beer paradise paid off big for Sam Adams as evidenced by the brewery’s meteoric rise in stock price from around $7 a share in 2000, to an eye-popping $325 price per share in January of 2015.  (If you’re counting, that’s better than Google’s return-on-investment since its IPO.)

[Credit: Yahoo! Finance]

But times have changed.

When Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co.) was founded in 1984, there were fewer than 100 craft breweries in the U.S. That number has since skyrocketed and is likely to exceed 5,000 in 2017. Stakes and expectations rise with every new brewery as they continue to innovate with an eye towards pushing the boundaries of flavor, variety, quality and true-to-form interpretations of classic beer styles.

And with craft beer now firmly established in the mainstream where the focus on flavor and stylistic excellence is the standard, the question arises: Should Sam Adams remain a gateway brewery?

Granted, Sam Adams’ long-time play-it-safe strategy of cranking out relatively dialed-down, mild-mannered beers has brought it much success in the past.  But since January of 2015, company share value has cratered by more than 50% in part due to increased competition and more choices especially from fuller-flavored breweries and expanding regional brands, in an overall slowdown of the craft market.

[Credit: Yahoo! Finance]

Revenue has also taken a hit from decreasing sales on the brewery’s flagship Sam Adams Boston Lager, not to mention investor fear of the aftermath of the recent AB InBev SAB Miller mega-merger, the beer world equivalent of having a red hotel on each property on about half of the monopoly gameboard.

In the 1980s, it was easy to beat the likes of Bud/Miller/Coors (BMC) at the flavor game, and it still is.

Even today, if faced with a hypothetical binary choice between a BMC or Sam Adams Boston Lager, I suspect the choice for the majority of craft beer drinkers would be Sam Adams.  But nowadays, the reality is Sam Adams isn’t just competing with BMC, but often has a slew of other craft breweries to contend with on the tap list too.

And that’s a battle that can only be won by fighting flavor with flavor.

Becoming the Gold Standard

Certainly we can attribute many issues to the decline in revenue at the Boston Beer Co., one of which is the increased variety from other craft breweries.  Sure, people are curious to try the newest thing from the latest brewery on the block, and this can siphon off business from Sam Adams to some extent.  But this does not have to be a perennial problem because the truth is that great beer conquers all: if you produce a better, more flavorful beer, people will come back.

In other words, control the controlables.

Sam Adams has confronted the problem of ‘too much craft competitor choice’ in part with its variety 12-packs.

But let’s not forget, this is 2017, not 1984 when most people had never heard of a Lambic, let alone a Gose.  The more variety of beer in the marketplace, the more educated the beer drinker becomes.  Dare I say that nowadays, you don’t have to be a beer aficionado to know what a really good example of any number of different beer styles should taste like.

In other words, beer folks know that there are gold standards for beer styles like Double IPA (Pliny the Elder), Flanders Red (Rodenbach Grand Cru), and Gose (perhaps Ritterguts).   But in many cases, the Sam Adams go-to strategy is to play the approachability card and produce a very light, vague interpretation of the style.

When people have been exposed to full and vivid color, it’s difficult to go back to anything else.

This is a good part of capitalism, at least for the consumer.  It’s the result of competition in a free market forcing others to improve or stand aside. Of course, competition cuts both ways, and Sam Adams has the means and skill to become the gold standard of beer styles… if it wants to.

Authenticity and Sam Adams

Call it brewing “to-style”, or faithfully creating world class representations of classic beer styles, this key element may very well be the elusive “it” factor that gives rise to authenticity, the buzzword marketers have divined as the cypher to cracking the coveted millennial demographic.

On one hand, authenticity can be the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality and spirit regardless of the outside world, and certainly Jim Koch, co-founder and Chairman of the Boston Beer Co., has been quoted as saying that the brewery doesn’t release a beer unless he likes it.

On the other hand, we still have to face the fact that authenticity also has to do with staying true to the origin and attributes of whatever it is that is being produced, which in this case are particular beer styles that are labeled as such.

Notice that “authenticity” in this sense is not merely a “millennial” or “hipster” sticking point, but rather a human one.

Of course squaring personal authenticity with beer style authenticity becomes all the more complicated when you have shareholders to answer to, although it certainly helps to own all the shares that have voting rights, as Jim Koch does.  Even though Koch is behind the wheel to a large extent and the shareholders are essentially just along for the ride, the traffic lights and sign posts of the market are still there whether you pay attention to them or not.

But don’t let the smile fool you, recently minted billionaire Jim Koch is no novice when it comes to business. Having earned three degrees from Harvard including a BA, JD and MBA, and first cutting his teeth in the world of high finance before co-founding the Boston Beer Co. with other Harvard cohorts, Koch knows the simple rule of the jungle: adapt or get left behind.

There are signs that Koch is adapting.

Sam Adams Turning the Corner?

To be clear, the Boston Beer Co. is a giant in the craft beer industry, second only to Yuengling in beer sales volume.  Unlike Yuengling however, the Boston Beer Co. is one of the few craft breweries to have distribution in all 50 states, including a fairly broad international presence.  That’s a big advantage.  Not only this, but because of Sam Adams’ size, it can also out-compete most competitors on price.

The brewery has also diversified with their Angry Orchard, Coney Island, Traveler, and Truly Spiked & Sparkling brands with mixed results. 

Also in Sam Adams’ corner is the brewery’s “story”, a critical feature we might recall from marketing 101.  The Sam Adams story is simple, short and powerful: Jim Koch was one of the founders of the craft beer revolution, and uses the historical American revolutionary with brewing ties Sam Adams as the figurative image of that story.  Like the American revolutionaries, the Boston Beer Co. was one of the first to stick its neck out to oppose an oppressive controlling force (BMC), in order to give folks freedom to choose something different.  Something more interesting and enriching.  A better life.

Many craft beer drinkers owe their introduction to craft beer directly to Sam Adams as a gateway brewery, or at least understand Sam Adams’ part as a forefather of the craft beer revolution and therefore share a connection to the brewery, if not a debt of gratitude.

That’s a tough story to beat.  And the “Revolutionary” theme is one Sam Adams continues to get mileage out of with its recent 2014 Rebel IPA offering.

Despite his reluctance to go along with the mainstream and produce an IPA, Koch did it.  Yes, many reviews point out that the beer was toned down for those familiar with big, bitter West Coast American IPAs, but it was regarded as flavorful nonetheless.

But is it “authentic” for Koch to end up jumping on the IPA bandwagon despite his reluctance to do so?  To the extent that he made an IPA that he was happy with, yes.  Will it satisfy all IPA fans?  No.  But this was Koch’s compromise.  And a sign of personal growth that bought the brewery some time to right the ship.

More signs of change include a recently completed bold re-imagining of Sam Adams packaging.

But a packaging facelift only gets you so far.  The proof of real change is what lies underneath the bottle cap.

And from what we can tell from Sam Adams’ recent Brewnited Variety Pack, real positive change is happening.

Delivering in many cases with creative, intriguing, balanced, bold and clean flavors, Sam Adams Brewnited Variety Pack has listened to the market and responded with vigor.  Noteworthy were the Ella Blanc IPL, Fresh as Helles, and Hopscape.  The Irish Red is to-style, but could do with a bit more oomph.

Of course a few new interesting and flavorful brews does not a trend make.

But all of these points combined pale in comparison to something Koch did in January, 2017.

Game Changer

Perhaps the greatest sign of change at Sam Adams occurred on January 19, 2017 when a press release from the brewery hit the wire indicating that it has reformulated its Rebel IPA with new and experimental hop varieties.  Significantly changing the recipe for a flagship beer is unprecedented in the brewer’s 32-year history.

Some might be quick to brush this off as a sign of desperation on the part of Sam Adams, but those who know better should see this as an absolute departure from predictable old Sam Adams— a departure that could spell trouble for other craft breweries, and big profit for the Boston Beer Co.

Predictable old Sam Adams would have kept the same core brands (seasonals included) as is, never tweaked any recipes, never changed, and continued to set a baseline for every other craft brewery to beat.

But now that Sam Adams has signaled that it could change one flagship beer to adapt to market tastes, who’s to say that at any moment, it might not change another?

What if Sam Adams re-works even more of their brands, adding extra oomph to them so that they are as flavorful or more so that some of the best examples of that beer style on the market?

Uh oh.

Is there any doubt that the collective talent at Sam Adams would not be able to produce world class examples of any given beer style if they so choose?

And if Sam Adams went toe-to-toe on flavor, creativity and stylistic integrity with the Russian Rivers, Trilliums, or 3 Floyds of the craft beer world, at what point would craft beer fans opt to pay $15 for a variety 12-pack of Sam Adams versus $10 for a 4 or 6-pack of xyz brewery?  If Sam Adams did produce equal or superior examples of classic beer styles, at what point does “drink local” give way to “better bang for the buck”?

With shrinking beer SKUs on retailers’ shelves, the perfect storm for Sam Adams may just be brewing.

Make no mistake: The Boston Beer Co. is a bear and has the passion, talent and pockets to lead in craft beer again. The bear’s eyes are starting to open.  Perhaps it just needs a little poke.


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[BeerSyndicate received no compensation to produce this article, nor does it hold stock or any other financial positions in the Boston Beer Co. (NYSE:SAM).]

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The Difference between a Belgian Quad and a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (BDSA)

Belgian Quad and Belgian Dark Strong Ale

[“∄” and “¬∃” are the logical symbols for “does not exist”.]

In this article, we’ll attempt to shed some light on the following questions:

1. What’s the difference between the Belgian Quadrupel (Quad) and the Belgian Dark Strong Ale (BDSA) beer styles?  Is there even a difference at all?
2. Is the Belgian Quad style simply a sub-style of Belgian Dark Strong Ale?
3. What’s the difference between a Trappist beer and an Abbey beer?
4. Is a Belgian Quad four times stronger than a Belgian Enkel (Single)?
5. Where did the terms Belgian Quad, Tripel, Dubbel and Enkel come from and why are they named the way that they are?
6. What are the descriptions of a Belgian Quad and a Belgian Dark Strong Ale?

The difference between a Belgian Quad and a Belgian Dark Strong Ale can be a bit of a tricky subject.

The quick and dirty answer is that a Belgian Quad could be considered the most alcoholic version of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (BDSA), where the BJCP describes the overall impression of BDSA style as “a dark, complex, very strong Belgian ale with a delicious blend of malt richness, dark fruit flavors, and spicy elements. Complex, rich, smooth and dangerous.”

Of course the more accurate answer as to the difference between a Belgian Quad and a BDSA is that it depends on who you ask.

To explain, some sources like the Brewer’s Association (BA) Guidelines classify “Belgian-Style Quadrupel” and “Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale” as two individual styles of beer, albeit with quite a bit of overlap, while the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines does not consider Belgian Quad as an official beer style, but rather it essentially equates Belgian Quads with the Belgian Dark Strong Ale beer style. [ Respective beer style descriptions below.]

In fact, the only mention of “Belgian Quad” in the entire 2015 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines is this: “Sometimes known as a Trappist Quadruple, most [Belgian Dark Strong Ales] are simply known by their strength or color designation.”

But it’s really not as simple as saying that a “Belgian Quad” is just a stronger (more alcoholic) version of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale because looking at the BA’s Beer Style Guidelines (the organization that draws a distinction between the two beer styles), you can have a BDSA at 11.2% ABV, and a Belgian Quad at 9.1%. 

Using only the BA Guidelines, at best we could say that a Belgian Quad may be stronger than the strongest BDSA because, according to the BA’s Guidelines, a BDSA is max 11.2% ABV whereas a Quad’s max ABV is 14.2%.

We could also say that what the BA Guidelines consider a Belgian Quad could more or less be at the upper ABV range of what the 2015 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines consider a BDSA, although the max ABV for a BDSA per the BJCP is 12%, which is a bit below the BA’s maximum 14.2% ABV Quad limit.  And it’s in this sense that a Belgian Quad could be considered the most alcoholic version of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (BDSA).

Perhaps this is what some people mean when they say that the Belgian Quad style is simply a sub-style within the Belgian Dark Strong Ale style.  Though to be clear , it is certainly not the case that the BJCP description of Belgian Dark Strong Ale completely encompasses the BA description of Belgian Quad, let alone the BA description of Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  Not even the BA’s description of Quad is contained within the range of  its own description of a BDSA.  In other words, if we take the BA’s guidelines at face value, a Belgian Quad as described by the BA could not be a sub-style contained completely within either the BA’s or BJCP’s description of the BDSA style.  So in that technical sense, a Belgian Quad is not a sub-style within the BDSA style.

Strict definitions aside, it’s hard to have a discussion about Belgian Quad or Belgian Dark Strong Ale without talking about their history and their relation to their Trappist cousins.

So to give a bit of context, some classifications systems list Belgian Quads as the strongest in the continuum of Trappist (or abbey) ales arranged by ascending alcohol content.  In order, these include Enkel (Single), Dubbel (Double), Tripel (Triple), and the Quadrupel (Quadruple).

Trappist vs Abbey Beers

To briefly explain what “Trappist” ales are, Derek Walsh writes in The Oxford Companion to Beer, “Trappist breweries are breweries located within the walls of a Trappist abbey, where brewing is performed by, or under the supervision of, Trappist monks.  The name “Trappist” originates from the La Trappe abbey located close to the village of Soligny in Normandy, France, where this reform movement of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance was founded in 1664. Despite beliefs to the contrary, Trappist beers as they are now produced have only existed since the early 1930s, when Orval and Westmalle developed their first commercially available beers.”

Abbey beers, on the other hand, “are beers produced in the styles made famous by Belgian Trappist monks, but not actually brewed within the walls of a monastery.”  The need to make a distinction between Trappist and Abbey beers was due to the fact that non-Trappist brewers who may or may not have had any connection to actual Trappist brewers were attempting to profit by using the name “Trappist” and the good reputation that authentic Trappist brewers had earned for producing quality beer.

Eventually a legal line was drawn on February 28, 1962 by the Belgian Trade and Commerce court in Ghent in the form of a ruling which stated: “the word ‘Trappist’ is commonly used to indicate a beer brewed and sold by monks pertaining to a  Trappist order, or by people who would have obtained an authorization of this kind… is thus called ‘Trappist,’ a beer manufactured by Cistercian monks and not a beer in the Trappist style which will be rather called ‘abbey beer’.”

Today, there are eleven monasteries producing Trappist beer including six in Belgium (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel), two in the Netherlands (Koningshoeven and Maria Toevlucht),  one in Austria (Stift Engelszell), one in Italy (Tre Fontane Abbey), and one it the United States (St. Joseph’s Abbey).

What’s in a Name: Belgian Enkel, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quad

To be clear, the terms Dubbel, Tripel, and Quad refer to the relative strength of the beers in question, and are not double, triple or quadruple the alcoholic strength of an Enkel (Single), respectively.

That said, there is some debate over how the individual Trappist ales (Enkel, Dubbel, Tripel, Quad) got their names. Garrett Oliver notes that “Both Trappist and secular breweries in Belgium have brewed brown beers for centuries, and beers were probably designated “dubbel” or “tripel” based on a fanciful allusion to their relative alcoholic strength.”

With respect to the Belgian Tripel, Derek Walsh seems to support this idea when writing “The term “Tripel” refers to the amount of malt with fermentable sugars and the original gravity wort prior to fermentation.  One theory of the origin is that it follows a medieval tradition where crosses were used to mark casks: a single X for the weakest beer, XX for a medium-strength beer, and XXX for the strongest beer.  Three X’s would then be synonymous with the name “tripel.”  In the days when most people were illiterate, this assured drinkers that they were getting the beer they asked for.”

For a somewhat different prospective about Trappist nomenclature, in a piece entitled Beer Made by God’s Hand from All About Beer magazine, Roger Protz writes about the brewery Westmalle, credited with producing the first Tripel.  “Nobody at Westmalle knows where the designations Dubbel and Tripel come from. The beers were first called, simply, brown and blonde. From its inception, the brewery always made a brown beer.  The revered former head brewer, Father Thomas, added blonde in the 1950s.  The change of names to Dubbel and Tripel possibly reflects the fact that other Trappist breweries produced a lower strength beer called a Single and Westmalle was keen to stress the distinctiveness of its own beer.”

Follow the Money

Economics may have played a part in the origin of the terms Enkel (Single) and Dubbel (Double).  For example, Stan Hieronymus writes that “as far back as the sixteenth century, brewers learned that they could charge more for strong beer, considerably more than the additional ingredients and labor would cost. Dubbele clauwaert was introduced in 1573, and quickly supplanted enekle clauwaert as the best-selling beer”.

Hieronymus seems to suggest that dubbele clauwaert was brewed from “first runnings” and enekle clauwaert was produced from “second runnings”.

First and second runnings are brewing terms related to an old brewing technique called parti-gyle brewing where multiple beers of different alcoholic strength could be made from the same batch of malt. You might compare parti-gyle brewing to using the same tea bag to make subsequently weaker cups of tea.

For example, the first step of parti-gyle brewing is to mash a batch of malt (mashing is the process by which malt is soaked in hot water for about an hour in order to convert the starches in the malt into fermentable sugars). The resulting sugary liquid is called wort. The first runnings is the most sugar-concentrated wort which is drained off and transferred into a separate vessel, leaving the malt behind.  Second runnings is the result of the same batch of malt being sparged (rinsed with hot water), which yields a less sugary wort and therefore produces a weaker beer.  Third runnings would be a third even less sugary wort produced by sparging the same malt, once again resulting in an even weaker beer, and so on.

In his blog, Christopher Barnes notes that the MBAA (Master Brewers Association of the Americas) theorizes that the parti-gyle system of brewing could be the origin of the names of Enkel, Duppel, and possibly Tripel as the sugar content of  the first runnings would be about 22.5%, second runnings about 15%, and third runnings 7.5%.  This results in the Dubbel having two times the sugar content as the Enkel (Single), and the Tripel having three times the amount of sugar as the Enkel (Single).

Of course this theory only works out as neatly as it does if we have three runnings, because with only two runnings, the first runnings do not contain double the amount of wort that second runnings contain (15 x’s 2 = 30, not 22.5). In other words, it’s not exactly clear how this theory accounts for the dubbele clauwaert and enekle clauwaert from 1573 that Hieronymus mentions above.  We seem to be missing the Tripel clauwaert…

In any case, Hieronymus concludes that “commercial brewers often saw little value in producing a beer from second runnings, because the cost of goods and labor exceeded what they could charge for weaker beers. Well in to the twentieth century, the Trappists had a built-in consumer base for their smaller beers, the monks themselves, making the production of stronger beers more cost-effective.  That changed as the need to supplement their diet with beer diminished and the number of members of each monastery dwindled, but by then the practice of using second runnings had pretty much disappeared as well.”

Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole

Of course, when it comes to discussing Belgian beer styles, it’s important to remember that the concept of grouping beer into categories called “beer styles” is relatively new, originating with Michael Jackson’s 1977 book The World Guide to Beer.  In 1977, Jackson did not refer to the “Belgian Quad” or “Belgian Dark Strong Ale” beer styles by name at all, but he did identify “Trappiste” beer as a style that contains within its range a few sub-groups which of course included the golden-colored “Triple” style.

In Jackson’s defense, it wasn’t until 1991 that the very first so-called “Quadrupel” was produced by La Trapp (Koningshoeven brewery), although Jackson does mention St Sixtus, noting that the brewery “has a selection of excellent dark ales, ranging in alcoholic content from four to twelve percent by volume.”  The twelve percent beer would, by some modern classifications, be considered a “Quad”.  Jackson also includes a photo of a bottle of Trappistes Rochefort 10 (11.3% ABV), which was developed in the late 1940s and early 50s, and is also today classified by some as a Quad.

To illustrate the nature of attempting to group pre-existing kinds of beer into different categories, Gordon Strong, president of the BJCP, underscores that “The Belgian beer came first, and people are trying to categorize it.”  To expound on this point, Strong has also noted that “the Belgian Dark Strong Ale style is an artificial American judging construct, not an authentic Belgian brewing constraint. [The beer style is] a “catch-all” category for large, dark Belgian beers that fall with “Category S” (a legal classification for Belgian beers with an original gravity of 1.062+).” 

Randy Mosher echoes this idea in Tasting Beer, noting that “This [Belgian Strong Dark Ale style] really is a catchall category rather than a style with a specific history.  As the work of Lacambre points out, there were a number of historic strong, darker beers, but there is no clear lineage from these older brewers…”

And Stan Hieronymus reminds us that “some categories emerge in full focus- dubbel and tripel mean something specific to Belgian beer drinkers- but others don’t.”

Hieronymus had next to nothing to say about “Belgian Quads” aside from a small line in his 2005 book Brew Like a Monk referring to the “quadrupel” style that’s “not quite a style.”  And like Strong, Hieronymus also lumps beers some consider to be Quads under the category of Belgian dark strong ale.

When discussing Belgian Quads in relation to Belgian Dark Strong Ale in the entry on “abbey beers” in The Oxford Companion to Beer, Garrett Oliver writes “A style sometimes referred to as “Belgian strong dark ale” or “abbey ale” intensifies the character of the classic dubbel, bringing more alcohol and fruit character at ABVs of 8% to 9.5%.  Above this range, all bets are off, and waggish craft brewers, rarely Belgian, produce “quadrupels” at ABVs up to 14%.  … Some quadrupels can show a wonderful plummy, figgy fruit quality, but many are merely hot.  The Belgian brewer will often mutter under his breath that these beers are distinctly un-Belgian, but the American, Brazilian, or Danish beer enthusiast who loves “quads” is entirely unconcerned.”

In a 2005 presentation called “Designing Great Belgian Dark Strong Ales”, Strong categorized modern variations of Belgian Strong Dark ale into the following four interpretations:

1. Trappist: drier, lower final gravity, with examples being Westvleteren 12, Rochefort 10, and Chimay Grand Reserve [blue].
2. Abbey: fuller body, sweeter with examples being St. Bernardus Aby 12, Gouden Carolus Grand Cru, Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru, and Gulden Draak.
3. Barelywine: mostly malt with examples being Scaldis (Bush), Weyerbacher QUAD, and La Trappe Quadrupel.
4. Spiced: N’ice Chouffe and Affligem Noël.

For reference, directly below is the BA’s description of what it considers to be the two overlapping beer styles that are Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale and Belgian-Style Quadrupel:

Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale:  Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ales are medium-amber to very dark. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Medium to high malt aroma and complex fruity aromas are distinctive. Very little or no diacetyl aroma should be perceived. Hop aroma is low to medium. Medium to high malt intensity can be rich, creamy, and sweet. Fruity complexity along with soft roasted malt flavor adds distinct character. Hop flavor is low to medium. Hop bitterness is low to medium. These beers are often, though not always, brewed with dark Belgian “candy” sugar. Very little or no diacetyl flavor should be perceived. Herbs and spices are sometimes used to delicately flavor these strong ales. Low levels of phenolic spiciness from yeast byproducts may also be perceived. Body is medium to full. These beers can be well attenuated, with an alcohol strength which is often deceiving to the senses.

Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.064-1.096 (15.7-22.9 °Plato) • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.012-1.024 (3.1-6.1 °Plato) • Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5.6%-8.8% (7.1%-11.2%) • Bitterness (IBU) 20-50 • Color SRM (EBC) 9-35 (18-70 EBC)

Belgian-Style Quadrupel:  Belgian-Style Quadrupels are amber to dark brown. Chill haze is acceptable at low serving temperatures. A mousse-like dense, sometimes amber head will top off a properly poured and served quad. Complex fruity aromas reminiscent of raisins, dates, figs, grapes and/or plums emerge, often accompanied with a hint of winy character. Hop aroma not perceived to very low. Caramel, dark sugar and malty sweet flavors and aromas can be intense, not cloying, while complementing fruitiness. Hop flavor not perceived to very low. Hop bitterness is low to low-medium. Perception of alcohol can be extreme. Complex fruity flavors reminiscent of raisins, dates, figs, grapes and/or plums emerge, often accompanied with a hint of winy character. Perception of alcohol can be extreme. Clove-like phenolic flavor and aroma should not be evident. Diacetyl and DMS should not be perceived. Body is full with creamy mouthfeel. Quadrupels are well attenuated and are characterized by the immense presence of alcohol and balanced flavor, bitterness and aromas. They are well balanced with savoring/sipping drinkability. Oxidative character if evident in aged examples should be mild and pleasant.

Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.084-1.120 (20.2-28.0 °Plato) • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.014-1.020 (3.6-5.1 °Plato) • Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 7.2%-11.2% (9.1%-14.2%) • Bitterness (IBU) 25-50 • Color SRM (EBC) 8-20 (16-40 EBC)

And here is the BJCP’s description:

Belgian Dark Strong Ale: Overall impression: A dark, complex, very strong Belgian ale with a delicious blend of malt richness, dark fruit flavors, and spicy elements. Complex, rich, smooth and dangerous. Aroma: Complex, with a rich-sweet malty presence, significant esters and alcohol, and an optional light to moderate spiciness. The malt is rich and strong, and can have a deep bready-toasty quality often with a deep caramel complexity. The fruity esters are strong to moderately low, and can contain raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes. Spicy phenols may be present, but usually have a peppery quality not clove-like; light vanilla is possible. Alcohols are soft, spicy, perfumy and/or rose-like, and are low to moderate in intensity. Hops are not usually present (but a very low spicy, floral, or herbal hop aroma is acceptable). No dark/roast malt aroma. No hot alcohols or solventy aromas. Appearance: Deep amber to deep coppery-brown in color (dark in this context implies more deeply colored than golden). Huge, dense, moussy, persistent cream- to light tancolored head. Can be clear to somewhat hazy.  Flavor: Similar to aroma (same malt, ester, phenol, alcohol, and hop comments apply to flavor as well). Moderately malty-rich on the palate, which can have a sweet impression if bitterness is low. Usually moderately dry to dry finish, although may be up to moderately sweet. Medium-low to moderate bitterness; alcohol provides some of the balance to the malt. Generally malty-rich balance, but can be fairly even with bitterness. The complex and varied flavors should blend smoothly and harmoniously. The finish should not be heavy or syrupy. Mouthfeel: High carbonation but not sharp. Smooth but noticeable alcohol warmth. Body can range from medium-light to medium-full and creamy. Most are medium-bodied.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.075 – 1.110 IBUs: 20 – 35 FG: 1.010 – 1.024 SRM: 12 – 22 ABV: 8.0 – 12.0%

So should “Belgian Quad” be considered as a unique beer style on its own, or is it really just another name for a Belgian Dark Strong Ale?

Depends who you ask.


1. Oliver, Garrett. The Oxford Companion to Beer. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 1, 3, 796. Print.
2. Hieronymus, Stan. Brew like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2005. 37, 138, 202-03. Print.
3. Protz, Roger. “Beer Made by God’s Hand.” All About Beer Nov. 2010: 48-49. Print.
4. Mosher, Randy. Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2009. Print.

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Deschutes The Stoic vs Not The Stoic: A Side-By-Side Review | BeerSyndicate

Like the ancients, we employ reason to live well. Reason demands truth. Truth invites experience. Unraveling the intricacies of The Stoic reveals a determined pursuit of that spirited endeavor. Ergo…it is very reasonable to live well when experiencing The Stoic.” – Deschutes Brewery

If they’re not already, both The Stoic and Not The Stoic should be two of your bucket list beers.

Of course the question naturally arises, which of these two exceptional brews is better: The Stoic or Not The Stoic?

Well, as it turns out, the answer is both.

Let me explain.

Both beers are classified by the brewery as Belgian Quads (more about the “Belgian Quad” beer style below).  But as their names suggest, The Stoic and Not The Stoic are ABSOLUTELY NOT the same thing.  One clearly zeros in on what many refer to as the Belgian Quad style (think St. Bernardus Abt or Westvleteren 12).  The other is amazingly complex, but is probably better described as a Belgian Golden Strong ale with a Saison nose.

In other words, one brew was objectively better at reppin’ the so-called Belgian Quad beer style and projecting those common dark raisin, date, prune notes, while the other scored higher in subjective personal enjoyment.

The upshot?  Each beer is better than the other, and it seems “taste” is both objective and subjective.

Philosophical fun aside, here are the results:

The Stoic (2015 Vintage):

Prior to its 2011 release, The Stoic spent five years as an experimental beer, until finally becoming an official member of Deschutes’ coveted “Reserve Series”.  The Reserve Series are self-described small batches of audacious, experimental, outrageously coddled beers which as of this writing include Pinot Suave, Black Butte XXVIII, The Dissident and The Abyss.

The malt bill on The Stoic is kept simple: Pilsner malt.  With respect to the role that the ingredients play in The Stoic, the brewery’s original description from 2011 noted that “Hallartau, Czech Saaz, and Northern Brewer hops sustain a deftly understated flavor. Belgian candy sugars add impact and the smooth body required of any Belgian-style brew worth quaffing. A healthy portion of pomegranate molasses casts an opulent, tangy twist, while a vintage Belgian yeast strain provides a solid reference point. Pinot Noir and Rye Whiskey barrel-aging suggest notes of spice, citrus, pepper, vanilla, and toasted caramel like offerings to the ancients.”

ABV is 10.9%, 20 IBUs and aged 11 months in Pinot Noir barrels (16.5%) and Rye Whiskey barrels (16.5%).

Brewmaster’s Tasting Notes on 12/12/16: “Pears, spiced apple, fruity, wine and good wood notes, very light tartness, alcoholic, aged flavors of leather and pineapple.”

Our Tasting Notes on 1/25/16: Overall, The Stoic seemed less like a typical Belgian Quad, and more like a Belgian Golden Strong Ale with a Saison nose.  Appearance: Pours a slightly hazy copper brown (13-14 SRM), generating about a finger of light tan head which retreats almost completely within 20 seconds.  Aroma: Belgian Wit yeast, spicy Saison notes, pears, unripe plum, a hint of apricot, light coriander, a bit of angel food cake, a hint of pith and nicely perfumy. Flavor: Unbelievably complex and on the sweet side, bready, rich, the 12.1% alcohol is well-masked, light grapefruit, straw, stewed pears, light apple sauce, Belgian candi sugar, yeast, flower nectar, and slight Juicy Fruit, a hint of hay balanced by a citrusy funk, somewhat sour acidity, mild Chardonnay, slight salinity, and finishes nearly dry. Full-bodied and warming, but not boozy.  Misses any of the raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes one might expect in a typical Belgian Quad or Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

To-Style Score: 85.25
Personal Enjoyment Score: 96.75

As one taster noted: “Maybe not to style, but who gives a flip.”

Not The Stoic:

Aged and sequestered in select oak casks. The result – a contemplatively brewed quad created in homage to all those who doubted the original. This unrepentant rendition is definitively Not The Stoic. (Released April 2014)” – Deschutes Brewery

 Not the Stoic weighs in at a formidable 12.1% ABV and is brewed with one hop (Czech Saaz), and three malts including Pilsner, Special B, and Crystal Rye.  At only 15 IBUs, Not the Stoic is barrel-aged for 11 months in Pinot Noir barrels (15%) and oak Rye Whiskey barrels (15%).

Our Tasting Notes: Balanced, complex and rich, Not the Stoic decants a nearly clear garnet brown body (16 SRM), with a quickly fading quarter inch of dark tan head.  Aroma: Raisin toast, Disaronno, candied cherries, faint pomegranate, prunes, dark wheat bread, toasted marshmallow, burnt molasses, dried red fruit, borderline Maggi seasoning sauce (umami), hint of oak, Lincoln logs, mulch and a nip of alcohol as it warms. Flavor: Malty, caramel, molasses, some wood barrel, saké, Disaronno, leather, balanced by a tannic woody bitterness, leaving behind a bit of booze in the aftertaste.  Full-bodied and warming with medium carbonation.

To-Style Score: 93.25
Personal Enjoyment Score: 91

Stoic Numerology:

 As mentioned, The Stoic is a self-described Quad alluding to the style’s alcoholic oomph, but of course “quad” also means “four”, and certainly we see the number four crop up a few times with this beer.

For example, ever wonder what those four mysterious letters “WCJT” stand for on the labels of both The Stoic and Not The Stoic?

No, they’re not the brewer’s initials, but rather “WCJT” stands for the four cardinal virtues of the Stoic philosophy which were derived from Plato: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.  These four virtues are also sometimes translated as prudence, fortitude, fairness and moderation/restraint, respectively.

According to the brewery, the four virtues used to brew The Stoic however were compelling ingredients, nuanced flavor, sound body, and a composed harmony.

Or what about the quaternate makeup of The Stoic: one malt, three hops.  Even Not The Stoic follows a similar numeric pattern (three malts, one hop).

Likely an odd coincidence, but what about “2011” (2+0+1+1), the year The Stoic was originally released?

Less coincidental, how about that this beer undergoes four nuanced fermentations?

 What is Stoicism?  It’s the philosophy which began around 300 BC in Athens that held, among other things, that destructive emotions are a result of errors in judgment and that such emotions including anger, envy, lust, and jealousy could be overcome by the development of self-control and fortitude.  Although Stoic ethics espoused freedom from suffering by following reason and logic, the Stoics did not purport to eliminate emotions, but to change them by following a stern abstention from worldly pleasures in order to obtain clear, objective judgment and inner calm.

Related Article: What’s the Difference between a Belgian Quad and a Belgian Dark Strong Ale (BDSA)?

Like this post?  Well, thanks- we appreciate you!  

Want to leave a comment below or Tweet this?  Much obliged!

Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Blogger, BJCP Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter with degrees in Philosophy and Business.

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20 American-Made German Pilseners Reviewed and Ranked | BeerSyndicate

Most of the beer drinking world is familiar with German Pilsener, or “Pils” as it’s commonly referred to in Germany.  And whether we’re talking about Warsteiner, Bitburger, St. Pauli Girl, Radeberger, König Pilsener, Paulaner Premium Pils, or any other popular Pils from any of the well-known German breweries, all good examples of German Pilseners have something in common.

They’re light-bodied, gold-colored— usually with excellent clarity— crisp, clean, well-carbonated and finish dry.  The best examples exhibit a lightly grainy-sweet malt character which is never dominated by big bold hops.  Sure, hops are there, but they’re primarily used for their bittering properties and not to showcase any of the intense citrusy, piney, tropical fruit, grapefruit notes you often find in some hopped-up American brews.

And while German Pils may not be the most exciting of beer styles, it’s hard not to appreciate the refreshing and delicate balance of a very well-crafted example.

Of course you don’t have to be located in Germany in order to brew a world-class German-style Pils.  In fact, some of the world’s best Pils (such as Trumer Pils of Austria) are brewed outside of Germany, so it was only a matter of time until a growing number of American craft brewers jumped into the game.

Judging CriteriaIf It Looks Like a Pils, Smells Like a Pils, and Tastes Like a Pils…

For this beer review, a panel of predominately BJCP beer judges take a quick look at some of the German-style Pilseners brewed in the good ol’ U.S. of A. to see how ‘Merican craft brewers fare at brewing this bitter, but refreshingly modest German classic.

And while we love a good Czech Pilsner or even an avant-garde interpretation of a classic beer style, what we’re searching for here is a beer that’s clearly identifiable as a traditional German-style Pils.

We’re looking for a beer that if you closed your eyes and simply smelled and tasted it, there’d be little doubt that you’re drinking a German-style Pilsener.

Fair warning:  We fully acknowledge that American-made German Pils is a rather specific and limited category considering most craft breweries produce ales and not the more time/cost-intensive lagers. (Although, we see a trend in the growth of American-made craft Pilsener/Lager style beers in the near term.)

We also humbly acknowledge that this list is further limited due to the highly regional nature of beer distribution.  In short, this is simply a list of 20 American-made German Pils we could get our hands on, not EVERY American-made German Pils on the market.  Lastly, just because a beer didn’t rank very high, doesn’t mean it was bad.  In fact # 20 was quite enjoyable, but just wasn’t terribly representative of a traditional German Pils.  And the competition was fierce, with many beers differing by less than half a point out of 100 after scores were averaged.

And now, on with the show…

20 American-Made German Pilseners Reviewed and Ranked


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Michael Jackson and the Origin of Beer Styles

Question: Which British journalist created the notion of ‘beer styles’, and then introduced the concept to the world at large through his book The World Guide to Beer, first published in 1977?

 Answer: Michael (James) Jackson.


Michael James Jackson

Even if you’ve never heard of Michael Jackson (the beer guy) before now, it’s safe to say that many craft beer drinkers today are familiar with at least a few different beer styles helped popularized by Jackson such as Berliner Weisse, Saison, Milk Stout, German Pilsner, Flanders Red, Doppelbock, English Porter, Märzen, Kölsch, Gueuze, Vienna Lager, etc.

To his credit, it was Jackson’s groundbreaking work in identifying and categorizing beer styles in 1977 that provided the framework for the creation of the very influential BJCP Beer Style Guidelines which, as of the 2015 edition, has listed, described and organized over 100 world beer styles.

Of course the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), whose purpose it is to promote beer literacy and formally recognize beer evaluation skills, is well aware of the influence Michael Jackson has had on the world of beer.

In fact Gordon Strong, president of the BJCP since 2006, dedicated the 2008 edition of the Beer Guidelines to Michael Jackson, writing this after Jackson’s death in 2007:

“A man is remembered for the lives he touches and the works he leaves. Michael Jackson was the most influential authority on beer the world has ever known. He has inspired generations of beer judges with his passion, knowledge and gifted prose. His books remain definitive references on beer styles and will forever be found on the bookshelves of anyone serious about beer.”

Jackson’s influence was certainly widespread, particularly in shaping the homebrewing movement and therefore the craft beer revolution in U.S. and, to an extent, the rest of the world.

No doubt, fate had a part to play in Jackson’s success when we consider that the release of his book The World Guide to Beer (1977) preceded the legalization of homebrewing in the U.S. by just one year.  Not too long after this, the BJCP was founded (1985) after adapting and expanding upon Jackson’s work.  The BJCP fostered and promoted homebrewing by running homebrewing competitions and educating beer judges on the subject of beer styles.

In turn, homebrewers developed and honed their skills by brewing a variety of world beer styles.  Many of these homebrewers then began to open craft breweries. Consumers developed a taste for craft beer, which increased demand and inspired new generations of homebrewers to learn to brew even more world beer styles that Jackson and others continued to identify and define.

Directly or indirectly, the international brewing community has been influenced by Jackson’s beer styles whether through his original book (translated into more than ten different languages), the BJCP’s growing international presence, or the explosion of the craft beer market in the U.S.   

All of this contributed greatly to this golden age of beer we find ourselves in today.

And underneath it all was this shared vocabulary and understanding of beer styles that Jackson invented that made the world of beer more accessible to everyone, bringing both brewers and consumers together.  It opened the doors of discovery to the beers of the past, those liquid cultural time-capsules steeped in tradition that continue to enrich our lives today and inspire the beers of tomorrow.

Indeed, as new kinds of beer become popular, they may also be cataloged and canonized as new separate and distinct ‘beer styles’, thus helping to ensure the preservation of modern-day beers, and thereby a piece of world culture.

Naturally, as a brewer and BJCP beer judge who is (by requirement) acutely familiar with beer styles, I was curious to get a peek behind the curtain to see where it all started.

What did Jackson’s seminal work on beer styles look like? How similar was it to how we categorize beer today? How did he define ‘beer-style’? What were the original beer styles he identified?

So I tracked down a first edition copy of Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer to ensure there were no changes to the book in subsequent editions, and turned to the section on “the classical beer-styles”.

Here’s what I found:

Jackson’s Original Notion of ‘Beer-Style’ and his Categorization of Beer

Perhaps not fully anticipating the significant influence his conception of beer styles would have in the near future, Jackson initially devoted a scant two pages of his two hundred and fifty-five page book to the description and utility of beer styles.


Of course the number of individual beer styles and their respective descriptions and categorization have been developed since Jackson premiered them in 1977, nevertheless the following is the world’s first introduction to the concept and taxonomy of beer styles:

“Beers fall into three broad categories: those which are top-fermented; those which are brewed with some wheat content (they are also top-fermented); and those which are bottom-fermented. There are certain classical examples within each group, and some of them have given rise to the generally-accepted styles, whether regional or international. If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style.  If his beer merely bears a general similarity to others, then it may be regarded as being of their type. Such distinctions can never be definitive internationally, since the understanding of terminology various between different parts of the world.”

[Jackson eventually further distinguishes lagers from ales in the book by stating that “single-cell strains of Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis are used by most bottom-fermenting brewers. Top-fermenting brewers employ the closely-related Saccharomyces Cerevisiae.”]

Jackson then identifies and briefly describes twenty-four beer styles under their three corresponding categories, which are (in order):

A) Bottom-fermented: (1) Münchener, (2) Vienna, (3) Pilsner/Pilsener, (4) Ur-, Urtyp, etc., (5) Dortmunder, (6) Bock, and (7) Doppelbock.

B) Wheat beers: (1) (Süddeutsche) Weizenbier, (2) (Berliner) Weisse, and (3) Gueuze-Lambic (Brussels).

C) Top-fermented: (1) Saisons, (2) Trappiste, (3) Kölsch (Cologne), (4) (Düsseldorfer) Alt, (5) Brown Beers, (6) Mild Ale, (7) Bitter Ale, (8) (Burton) Pale Ale, (9) Porter, (10) Bitter Stout (Dublin), (11) Milk stout, (12) Russian Stout, (13) Scotch Ales, and (14) Steam Beer.

To give an example of a description of one of the beer styles mentioned, let’s look at “Saisons”:

Saisons. Naturally-conditioned ale-type top-fermented summer beers indigenous to Wallon Belgium and French border area.  Alcohol content by volume around 5.0 per cent.  Serve at cellar temperature.”

Later in the book, Jackson gives more information about the various beer styles, often noting a style’s history, how the beer style is presented in the glass, and listing a few commercial examples.

A Very Brief Reflection on Jackson’s Original Taxonomy of Beer

So there you have it— a look back in time to the origin of beer styles.

As mentioned, the number of different beer styles identified and described in detail has significantly increased since Jackson first introduced his work in 1977.

For example, the length of a description of any given beer style in the 2015 BJCP Beer Guidelines ranges from about a half page to a page and a half (about the same length as this article) and follows a standard format that covers detailed information about the beer style’s appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, overall impression, history, characteristic ingredients, style comparison, comments, vital statistics, and commercial examples.

Of course when looking back at Jackson’s original work, a few questions still remain for some people.

For example, why didn’t Jackson include other beers styles on his original list when he explicitly identified at least a dozen more beer styles throughout The World Guide to Beer?

Why was the term ‘beer style’ adopted in modern use but not ‘beer type’?  Does Jackson’s definition of ‘beer style’ run into trouble if we take a very literal interpretation of his statement that “If a brewer specifically has the intention of reproducing a classical beer, then he is working within a style.”?  For instance, what if a brewer’s intention is to create a beer that falls squarely between two or more examples of classic beers of the same style?  Is the brewer then not working within a particular beer style?  Is the resulting beer somehow a new style?

How do we measure a brewer’s intention?

Also, should the original commercial example of a beer style not be  considered to be part of the beer style it originated since the original brewer would have had to have had the intention to model his beer after some other classic example?

Why was ‘wheat beer’ considered to be one of the three broad categories of beer on par with ale and lager instead of a sub-category of ale?  Furthermore, why did Jackson only identify wheat ale as a broad category when he was well-aware of wheat lager, pointing out in his book that “Many brewers produce bottom-fermented wheat beers which they call Lager-Weisse.”?

Questions aside, Jackson has delivered to us two very powerful insights to help us simplify and talk about the world of beer: (1) seemingly all different kinds of beer in the world can be categorized into an approachable and useful hierarchy, and (2) most, if not all, kinds of beer can effectively be grouped together by the kind of micro-organism(s) used to make that beer, which at the time was ale yeast or lager yeast, although other kinds of yeast and bacteria have since been included into the micro-organism group used to make beer.

Like this post?  Well, thanks- we appreciate you!  

Want to leave a comment below or Tweet this?  Much obliged!

Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for, Beer and Drinking Blogger, BJCP Beer Judge, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter with degrees in Philosophy and Business.

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