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The disciplined lifestyle of a Cistercian monk is structured by a steadfast routine. The first prayer starts well before sunrise. A simple breakfast follows, maybe toast and jam, before the next prayer begins. Afterwards, solitary scripture reading occupies the time leading up to the main prayer of the day. By 10 AM or so, it’s time to do some chores. Maybe you’d have a shift doing laundry for the other brothers or performing some repairs around the monastery. Or perhaps, if you resided at one of a select few abbeys of the Trappist sub-group, you’d fill the time between Mass and dinner dumping malted barley into a mash tun full of what will soon become some of the world’s most highly regarded beer. For hundreds of years monks have sustained their way of life financially through the sale of handmade goods, beer included. Unchanged for many years, the Trappist brewing community was content with brewing a select few beers and brewing them well. Through a recent flurry of activity, however, they have made their high-quality ales more relevant than ever before.
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“Gimme a lager.” Where I’m from, speaking this phrase at your average neighborhood drinking establishment results in a very specific response: a glass of Yuengling Traditional Lager placed in front of you. No options listed, no questions asked, just lager. To us native Philadelphians, the word lager is just shorthand to refer to the most popular beer from America’s oldest brewery. The real definition and expansive reach of the style are unknown by many.

This isn’t just a Philadelphia problem. Across the country, the word “lager,” and most especially the sub-style pilsner, conjures up images of cheap beer in cans from big name corporate brands. But lager brewing at its full potential is much more. In fact, the lager brewing process has been responsible for some of the most richly flavored, deeply layered, and perfectly balanced beers ever made. But what is a lager, anyway?
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Yeast is everywhere. Taking refuge in wall and rafters, on the skins of hanging fruit, and even floating along the breeze, it’s an omnipresent and essential element of any location’s native ecosystem. For centuries, beer relied on this. Left out in the open or stored in a vessel that held the previous batch, fermentation was a process uniquely tied to the environment of the brewer. As science moved forward, however, the invisible yeast cell was discovered and reliable, controllable lab-cultured organisms took over the brewing world.

But, in one small corner of Belgium, this spontaneous fermentation technique persisted. With its intense sourness and layered complexity, the style known as lambic is one of the most prized and desired exports of its native land. And until recently, that native land was the only place where it was made. The risky, time-consuming nature of the brewing process has kept it at home in Belgium’s Pajottenland for much of history. Now, with a perfect storm of adventurous brewers, a changing public palate, and an intense focus on locality hovering over the beer world, the processes used in lambic brewing have found their way across the Atlantic and into the repertoire of today’s most cutting-edge beer producers.

The iconic vessel of the lambic process is the coolship. A large shallow pan usually made of copper, the coolship does exactly what you would expect: it cools things. After the unfermented beer, called wort, is mashed and boiled, it must be chilled down to a more hospitable temperature (generally 60°-75˚F, depending on the strain) so the yeast can begin its alcohol-producing duties. These days, this task is usually performed by a heat exchanger, but before the advent of refrigeration, every brewery had a coolship to get the job done. The hot wort would be pumped up to the coolship on the roof or in the rafters and left overnight, exposed to the wild microorganisms in the night air.
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Sometime between 7,000 and 5,600 BC, along the banks of the Yellow River, an early inhabitant of modern-day China left behind a jug that was once filled with the earliest known example of a fermented grain beverage. With no written recipe or recorded history of the Neolithic concoction, the contents of the vessel were left to evaporate and decay during its long burial, fading into the past. Today, however, roughly 9,000 years later, you can go to your local beer store and walk out with an alcoholic concoction brewed to that seemingly lost ancient recipe. How is that possible? Through the unlikely union of traditional archaeology, modern chemical analysis technology, and the adventurous craft-brewing industry, tasting a 9,000-year-old beer has become as easy as picking it up off the shelf.
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Ah, the holidays. They’re a special time for giving thanks, giving gifts, and enjoying the company of loved ones. Oh, and they’re also a time for spiked egg nog, champagne, mulled cider, punch bowls, Manischewitz, and birthday shots for Jesus. There’s nothing quite like alcohol to keep your bones warm, your disposition cheery, and your get-togethers enjoyable. And when it comes to holiday drinking options, nobody has you covered like the beer industry. At this time of year, beer stores are packed with rows and rows of bottles with seasonably corny labels representing a broad spectrum of different styles. You’ll see anything from pitch black imperial stouts to mahogany-hued abbey-style quadrupels to bright golden IPAs. At first glance, it’s hard to find any common ground among these beers, but in fact, they are all variations on a tradition that’s deeply rooted in the holiday spirit.
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“I don’t order IPAs anymore because I never know what I’m going to get.” This sentiment from one newcomer to the craft beer scene is becoming an issue for others in a similar position. Fueled by the American public’s thirst for hoppiness, the classic English style known as India Pale Ale has spawned dozens of variations but very little consistency. Just within the American IPA subcategory, a vast multitude of flavor profiles can be found. To make things even more complicated, dozens of new subdivisions have sprouted up. English, American, Belgian, red, white, black; modern takes on this historical beer have thrown plenty of adjectives before its name. By pushing the boundaries, craft brewers have sent the true historical IPA into extinction. Here’s how it happened.
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While largely unspoken, it’s a widespread truth that just because a beer is “craft,” doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will taste good.

As the American brewing industry continues to grow, the topic du jour for many media outlets is saturation. When will the craft beer bubble burst? How many IPAs can consumers stomach? Is there room for new players in the community when microbreweries are competing against their peers and not the multinational beer conglomerates? Who gets the tap handles?

I personally believe one can’t have too many local beer options at one’s fingertips, but the discourse has aroused a nagging question in my head. For me, it’s not “how many breweries can one city handle,” but at what point do the quality operations rise to the forefront of the movement and the ones producing lackluster beer start to falter because their products are inferior? When do people start acknowledging that just because it’s “craft,” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good?
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I’m tired of all these pumpkin beers and their silly names. When did it become a requirement to brew liquid pumpkin pie two months before fall even starts? Sure, the first few you drink when they hit the stores way too early in September are great and heighten your anticipation of the upcoming autumn, but there’s only so much pumpkin and allspice a person can take. Although I could easily rant about pumpkin beer for hours, I won’t waste your time. Instead, I’d like to be constructive and suggest an alternative.
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Beer and food have always been natural bedfellows.

While everyone can benefit from knowing which style of beer best complements a good blue cheese, or the best crafty recipes for integrating stouts into your holiday dinner, there’s an emerging school of beermakers who are looking beyond the obvious ways beer and food intersect to craft their house ales and lagers.

Brewers across the country are taking notes from the kitchen, approaching recipe development and production techniques as a chef might, by cultivating relationships with local farmers, sourcing seasonal produce, and finding ways to make sure ingredients are manifested in the beer in simple, honest ways.
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It’s happening again. A gradual chill is settling into the air, the abandoned storefronts are transforming into Halloween emporiums, pumpkin is finding its way into everything edible. As summer winds down and autumn approaches, a perennial occurrence in the beer world has also returned. In the beer media, on the store shelves, and on tap at all the local bars, Oktoberfest is taking over. It’s the one time of the year that the beers of Germany, a country with an unparalleled brewing tradition, make their way into the spotlight. The traditional clean and malty Oktoberfest style known as Märzen, along with German staples like pilsner and bock, fly off of the shelves. But why only once a year? Why does a country with thousands of years of brewing experience only get this level of attention because of a big drunken festival? Let’s ask a German.
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For many American craft breweries, the bigger, bolder and more bizarre the beer, the better. In the fall, this philosophy often gets amplified even further. Few breweries take ingredients like pumpkin, pecan pie, chocolate, and gingerbread, and manifest them in an understated fashion.

While those interpretations are certainly fun to explore, it’s often difficult to comfortably enjoy multiple pints in one sitting. With high percentages of alcohol and sugar, sometimes it’s hard to get past a single glass without needing a contrasting dose of hops to clean the palate. That’s why this fall, we look to a country with one of the oldest and most respected brewing traditions in the world for inspiration on how to get through the season with a level of subtle, sessionable sophistication in your mug.
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Tell anyone who hasn’t heard of the style that you’re drinking an oyster stout and you’re sure to get strange looks. These looks are usually followed with questions like “Is it slimy?” and “Why are you drinking that?” What these folks don’t know, however, is that the use of oysters, and more specifically their shells, in beer is quite normal and is actually a very clever feat of brewing science. It’ll always sound weird to some people, but with a bit of background knowledge on the technique and its history you should be able to answer those nagging questions and maybe even convert a naysayer or two. MORE

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“What are you in the mood for?”

The wily-looking, unshaven bartender posed a seemingly simple question as I claimed an available barstool at the newest craft beer bar in town. I glance up at the beer list, a chalkboard hovering unassumingly above the tap wall, and rapidly devolve into a sort of confused panic.
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I have a vivid image in my head of a typical Fourth of July celebration. There’s a sun-drenched backyard with perfectly green grass, littered with family and friends decked out in red, white, and blue outfits. The cousins are playing yard games and the uncles are preparing fireworks for the evening’s festivities. I’m in the line to grab some food and the options are pure Americana: hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and corn on the cob. Just past the Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard, there’s a big urn of freshly brewed iced tea and a cooler filled with Coca-Cola and Miller Lite. The whole scenario is an overt display of American pride and patriotism. But what if I told you that one of these seemingly American items was quite ironically un-American? Let me explain.
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For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It has many admirable qualities, including good neighbors, giant closets, and a dreamy location. The one thing it does not have is any outdoor space. This means that when summer rolls around, I have two options when it comes to making classic grilled dishes. I can borrow access to a Weber or I can find a way to fake it in my kitchen. MORE