I like beer.
I like beer, a lot.
I’m a beer lover.
I like to explore the World’s Beers. Mostly ales, for their wide range of flavors, but lagers as well. When with my pals for an afternoon of “shooting pool”, lager is practically a mandatory choice. Ales are too filling with a stronger kick, so the choice must be a lager that’s both tasty and drinkable – two qualities that are not always found together.
Recently, I tasted a new brew from South Korea. ‘Kloud’ was developed in collaboration with a German braumeister, and in accordance with traditional German beer purity laws (Rheinheitsgebot). The only ingredients are water, barley, hops and yeast. Barley is imported from Australia and Canada, and the Hallertau hops are of German origin. Significantly, there are no preservatives. The process does not involve the infusion of additional water after brewing; they refer to this as ‘Original Gravity’. This is a pilsener-type lager with characteristic dense and rich head, hence ‘Kloud’.
In the office setting of the North American distributor, a glass of Kloud was poured from a bottle. The satisfying sigh of the bottle opening and hiss of gas release increased the anticipation.
Kloud – First Impression
Typical German-style lager, clean taste with little noticeable characteristic flavors: minimal hints of citrus, spice, tobacco, chocolate, stone fruit, and the like. Drinkable, in the sense that it went down ‘wet’, practically inviting sip after sip. Aftertaste was mild and pleasant, which is usually an indication of an absence of preservatives and additives. Those who’ve had freshly brewed lager will understand implicitly this key point.
The first experience in an isolated setting was a subtle one. It was drinkable but the question was: Would it be better served as a complement to food than on its own? My suspicion was that to fully appreciate Kloud, it should be in conjunction with spicy food. In due course, a case of Kloud made its way to my refrigerator.
And therein lies the true start of this story.
Beer Lover’s Apprenticeship
Beer was a passion at an early age. It would be fair to say at a very early age; I vividly remember the old Brew 102 brewery in downtown Los Angeles with multi-colored steam vents on its roof. Whenever we drove by, I would shout, “Look, Dad – there are the candies!” (The purple, green, gold, blue, and yellow vents resembled candy wrappers.) Years later, my first experience of beer was a bottle of Brew 102. It may not have been the worst beer ever, but it sure came close. When I moved away from home for the first time, my parents allowed me to take away a rusty steel Brew 102 bottle opener.
I went through stages and phases of affection for different beers. No need to name them, but the trend started with pale lagers and moved towards dopplebocks and then ales, going down the chromatic scale starting with steam-beer and IPA to stouts and porters, and finally back up to amber ales and dunkels. That middle range is where I’ve been for well over a decade now; a first-class red ale is my vision of beer heaven.
Criteria of Excellence for Beer
Over the years, I’ve learned a few fundamental lessons.
1. Like what wine lovers call ‘terroir’, the source of the brewery’s water is just as important for beer.
2. To get the most out of your beer, freshness is important.
3. The absence of preservatives is critical for taste, or lack of nasty aftertaste.
Kloud – Taste Review
A case of Kloud was loaded into my fridge, and I went about crafting a meal that would complement the pure character of the brew, discerned from my initial tasting. After ruling out an exotic pizza or grilled salmon as overly bland, I settled on a salad niçoise (that’s tuna salad for us Americans). Without going into extensive detail, some of the ingredients in my preparation are diced jalapeños, green onions, yellow mustard, and granulated garlic.
Spicy enough and reflecting the native spicy Korean cuisine, dinner was set for myself and close family. Two bottles of Kloud had been taken from the fridge and further chilled in the freezer for a quarter of an hour prior to mealtime.
As the family was being seated, I filled both glasses with chilled Kloud. There was a frothy head with tiny bubbles. . .
. . . which, was the first clue this batch of Kloud was very fresh.
My brother-in-law glanced in my direction; I silently acknowledged him. We sip the beer.
And then we both spoke, almost simultaneously. That first sip was beyond exceptional; it was memorable. Clear and wet, drinkable in the same way as cool, clear, mountain spring water. It was the perfect complement to our meal, offsetting the spiciness of the tuna salad with a remarkably refreshing aftertaste. This was great beer in its own right, comparable to the handful of the finest lagers in my experience. So good, in fact, that for the first time in memory, I felt like having a second bottle at home.
Now, having a pint or three at a bar or pool hall is one thing. I’m a social drinker, and enjoy having a few when out and about. At home, it’s a different matter; I rarely drink at all, and when I do, it’s always one, sometimes less. The pairing of spicy tuna salad and Kloud invited multiple helpings of both . . . it was THAT satisfying.
I was not surprised to learn a few days later that Kloud is brewed without preservatives, and that the batch sitting in my fridge was from the distributor’s most recent shipment. For all their reputation as brewers par excellence, some German beer brewed for export markets contain preservatives. I’ve had the opportunity to taste a well known German brew in domestic and export forms, and they are observably different to even a casual drinker. When you buy a case of Kloud, you’re getting pure beer, crafted in the traditional way.
In the week after that first meal, I’ve twice had Kloud with dinner at home, first with grilled squash from the family farm with tabbouleh, and then with seasoned baked salmon accompanied by sautéed green beans with purple onion and jalapeño.
In all my years of pursuing worthy brews, I’ve come across a few that deserve accolades.
Kloud is in THAT select and excellent company.
It’s good enough for me to learn to shout, “ 건배 Gunbeh-heyo! ” (Drain the glass) in Korean.
Beer Lover’s Reference Notes
There was a lager from the Pacific Northwest that was my personal favorite long ago, which I attributed to its purportedly pure source of water. Whether it was the actual reason or not; in comparison to almost every other domestic brew available on the U.S. West Coast, it was exceptionally drinkable. The experience was akin to drinking fresh mountain spring water . . . it was that quenching. As is so often the case in this industry, the operation was sold to one conglomerate, then another, and the brewery moved along with the change in ownership – as did the source of water. The recipe may have been the same, but a key ingredient changed.
In a similar vein, is another longstanding favorite domestic lager that I was first exposed to, in all places, at a movie theater! Again, without naming the beer, anyone who watched ‘The Deer Hunter’ will know which one I’m referring to. It was such an overwhelming cinematic experience that I saw it four times in three months during its theatrical release. This was back in the day when you either went to a theater, or waited a few years to watch an edited version on broadcast television. That’s how much of an impression the Academy Award winning film made on me. When, several years later, the featured beer was finally distributed on the West Coast, I tried it because of De Niro’s cinematic endorsement (yes, I was shallow then, and probably now, too.) And it was good. Actually, excellent – comparable to the better lagers from Central Europe. Whenever I had an opportunity to choose it, chances were that it would be my staple for the evening. They sold out to Anheuser Busch, who promptly moved the operation from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to a brewery in New Jersey. I read of the acquisition in the Los Angeles Times. Armed with the knowledge that brewing would soon be switched over to a new location, I picked up a case and savored the twenty-four bottles one by one, until they were all gone. I recall sampling a bottle a few months later, and it just wasn’t the same. Never had a sip since.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Maybe a year after finishing that last case, I was hanging out at my favorite L.A. bar in the middle of the afternoon, and a stranger from the East Coast was seated a few bar stools away. He ordered a bottle of the ‘once great’ Pennsylvania lager, took a sip, and then said words to the effect it wasn’t any good, and that it must have been stale, in all likelihood expecting the bartender to offer a replacement. I casually informed him of the change in ownership and operation. He paused for a moment, uttered a curse, and then said words to the effect that while he didn’t know of the changes, they were readily apparent in the product.
It’s one thing to perceive a difference when you know there’s an objective reason to expect a change, and quite another to notice it while unaware. The truest indication of the degradation of that particular beer was evident in his reaction.
While freshness may seem obvious, the scale of its influence may not be obvious to a casual drinker. The importance was driven home by an experience in the distant past.
There was a pile of cases from a Central European brewer situated at the entrance of a supermarket – both lagers and dunkels. The cases were at discount sale, so I bought one because of the reasonable price. When I opened a bottle, the quality was astounding. I couldn’t believe my luck – an absolutely top-flight brew, and a bargain, to boot. Of course, I went back to the same market a few weeks later, and sure enough, there were the same cases stacked at the entrance, even more discounted for clearance. This time, though, the beer wasn’t as fresh, and the flavor, while still good, had dissipated.
You know how this ends. I returned for a third case. That one was a pale imitation of the first. In all likelihood, they were from the same shipment; it was the passage of a month between the first and last purchase that made the difference. To this day, I’ll check with a bartender for the most recently connected barrel tap.
One distinction that matters is the presence – more to the point, the absence – of preservatives. They’re so common that most consumers aren’t aware of the impact they have on flavor. On two occasions I’ve sampled a brew with and without preservatives and can say from those experiences that whatever benefit that additives lend to a brewer or distributor, they don’t extend to the guy drinking the stuff.