Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What time is your beer?

It was a Sunday night, and I was looking forward to a very busy week (maybe not 'looking forward,' but I knew it was coming). So I made a point of swinging by the grocery store on my way home to stock up on some provisions. There is nothing more heartbreaking than pulling out that clear plastic drawer at the bottom of the fridge on Tuesday morning and not having the rattle of plastic punctuated by the thunderous roll and thunk of a fresh Pink Lady or Taylor Gold landing against the front of the bin.

Fear of a fruit shortage, yes, and I was dying for a beer. A really good beer. It was Sunday. I needed to relax. I remembered that when I was in the wine aisle at Pavilions last month looking for a suitable vintage to sweeten my charoset that a number of respectable bombers were chilling in the beer case: Brother Thelonius, Anderson Valley, Lagunitas. They also usually have a good selection of fruit, so I aimed the car through Boy's Town toward Robertson.

Bunch of spinach, check. Red cabbage, check. Fuji, Pink Lady, Bosc, check, check, check. Those little rye crackers that I love love love, check.

Basket full and one hand free I went towards the warm light of the beer aisle. Last year's remodel of the store included handsome wood accents in the liquor aisles, like a custom home cellar or study. Homey, welcoming, warm despite the chill blast from the open refrigerator cases.

I stood square before the shelves of the dark glass bottles, savoring the bright labels and the artwork. The owl on the Hitachino sake cask coditioned ale smiled at me. A gargoyle winked from a Stone Brewery bottle. A hint of old England swam in my imagination in front of the elaborate fonts of Sam Smith labels.

I passed up the big bottles to see what was in the case of six packs: it was just me in my party tonight, so anything more than 12 ounces would be decadent (and icky the next morning). My eye skipped hurly burly over the dross and registered a few contenders amidst the sixers. Then settled on one.

Ah, Dogfish Head. This is a label I know - those sculpted fins, that off kilter font. And a name I trust.
Because my brother swears by it. My big brother is a beer afficionado. A trip to BevMo, or the local craft brew pub has become a family tradition. Well, at least a sibling tradition.

And, like brother, like sister. We are apparently genetically predisposed to love a good hoppy IPA. Last summer he taught me to appreciate the classics with a bottle of Pliny the Elder savored by the campfire in Yellowstone National Park. Over Memorial Day we spent a really long time (really) in front of the beer case in Whole Foods, and ended up with more than half a dozen bottles: Hop Wallop, a Japanese triple hopped brew from Ise Nagoya, a couple of of Denogginizers (the current favorite) and in celebration of our Scottish ancestry, a bottle of Punk IPA from Fraserburgh, Scotland among them. I've also been deputized to age a tantalizing espresso ale from Peak Organic for our next family gathering at Christmas time.

My brother. He taught me about prog rock growing up, and he waxes rhapsodic about Dogfish Head IPAs.

The shelf at Pavilions held the Palo Santo Marron, a potent beer aged in tanks made of wood from Paraguay, and the 60 minute IPA in six packs. And there was one, lone, slim fourpack of the 120 minute IPA perched on the top shelf. Waiting there. For me. Providence spoken, decision made.

My free hand laden now, I walked to the queues, which had swelled to absurd lengths with the late evening rush. Apparently the rest of West Hollywood is working against fruit shortages (and perhaps beer shortages, too) on a Sunday night.

I picked a lane, any lane, and sat my beer and basket on the linoleum to enjoy the people watching as my queue inched forward. I reviewed the contents of my basket against my mental list and considered buying a copy of O Magazine (still a guilty pleasure. What does it say about me that I consider such a postiive empowering magazine a guilt indulgence?!) I nudged my six pack forwrd with a toe as the line crept. And noticed in my fourpack two different colors of bottle cap. Odd. I slid the green capped bottle up and noticed that it said 60 minute, and the red cap was for 120 minute. Wha?! Someone had pulled a few singles from one pack to another. So I went to swap out and get another full four pack of 120 minute. The old switcheroo.

But there wasn't one. There was a dark shadow on the top shelf like a tooth was missing. I played Tetris with the packs on the top shelf to see if a full four was hiding behind. But no. This was the last one.

Well, now what?

So I stole. I stole. (Are you reading this Pavilion's store manager?!) 10pm on a Sunday night, needy for fruit and suds. I put the two 120 minute IPAs into the 60 minute IPA sick pack and scurried back to the basket holding my place in line. I don't have a problem paying $11 for a fourpack of great beer, but I do have a problem when two of those beers are from a six pack that costs $10. And the other four aren't as full of chock full of hops.

And what I stole wasn't beer, per se. I stole time. I stole 2 hours of India Pale Ale. And what exactly does that mean, I asked myself? (There is a great word problem waiting here, by the way...)

So I hopped (sorry!) on line and researched what exactly those timeframes refer to. Generally an IPA is created by adding batches of hops at intervals, say every five minutes, during the boiling process. The timestamped brews from Dog Fish Head, however, are created by a process of continuous hopping, meaning that hops are constantly added for a particular duration, resulting in a deep hop flavor at the end of the brew, and sans bitterness. The longer the timestamp, the hoppier the brew. Dogfish Head offers a 60 and 90 minute IPA. But they couldn't stop the hops and forged ahead to create the 120 minute IPA.

Frankly, all of them are fantastic: 60, 90, 120. Each has a smooth balanced hoppiness. Each pairs well with a particular dish, or stands strong on it's own.

I also came across this formula for calculating the IBU of a continuously hopped beer on a home-brewers' forum when I was researching exactly what was in my bottle:

It just turned out to be simple Riemann integrals. This is based on Tinseth's approximation.
k := 1.65*0.000125^(SG-1) * AA * 1000 / (4.15*V)
IBU_c = k*h*[ 1 - 1/(0.04*T) * (1-exp(-0.04*T)) ]

"Simple Riemann integrals." Right. Back to my beer.

That Sunday I enjoyed 120 minutes of beer, 60 of which were nicked. Tonight I am enjoying a proper 60 minute IPA, which was the perfect compliment to my absurdly hot thai curry. Though I wonder if, morally and ethically speaking, I am enjoying 30 minute of IPA, since I am indebted in the karmic universe for the other minutes I stole. Perhaps so. But it was worth every second.