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The Historic Beer Thought Experiment, Part Three

beer101logoI have fallen a bit behind in posting my regular columns recently – life has been noticeably hectic and things like the Advent Calendar took up a fair bit of oxygen. One thing I was working on in the fall was a three-part series offering a thought experiment of what beer we know today might have tasted like 100 or more years ago. You can read part one and part two to catch up if you want.

Part three ran in November (see? I have been busy!), and you can find it here. I take a different tack with the final part in the series. In that column I look at four historical styles that died out (or almost died out) and have recently been resurrected. The nice thing about efforts to re-create an old style is that generally the brewer is trying to make it taste like it did originally (except for the usual caveat of lack of sanitation and therefore wild yeasts and such shifting the flavour over time).

The first is a style that, possibly, I may be the resident expert at, having brewed it more than a dozen times over they years. Leann Fraoic, or Heather Ale, is as old as the Scottish Highlands (okay, that is a bit of a hyperbole, but it is pretty damned old). The ancient Celts brewed Heather Ale hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago. The beer is simple really – replace heather for the hops. Heather imparts an earthy, musty character that makes the beer seem more rustic and slightly un-beer like. I really wish more breweries would try their hand at it.

I then turn my attention to Tafelbier – a Belgian-style table beer – and Sahti, which is a Finnish version of a Farmhouse Ale. These are two very different styles, but what they have in common is a remarkable rareness of availability these days. I, personally, have only tried a couple versions of each and so can’t be entirely sure how authentic they are. The nice thing about Tafelbier is its ability to offer that classic Belgian yeast character without the alcohol hit (it usually runs between 1.5% and 3.5%). As for Sahti, it is wonderfully weird and complex. The addition of Juniper berries and the odd process of filtering through juniper branches gives a quirky flavour to the beer. I would like to try more.

The last beer I discuss is Dampfbier, which this fall I collaborated with Kevin from Two Sergeants Brewing to brew for the second edition of the Edmonton Beer History Tour. It is likely I don’t know enough to comment on this particular style, but I can say that I was intrigued by its blend of weizen and steam beer qualities. I am a big fan of steam beer, and so it was fascinating to try an old German ale that likely influenced what the newly emigrated brewers on the west coast tried to do.

That is the fun of historical beer. No one really knows what they tasted like. We can try to approximate but there is no certainty. Which gives so much room for imagination.

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