Blending the Rules

A traditional Gueuze - which is a blend of young and old lambics.

The craft beer movement provides us with many joys. At the heart of this lies the sheer variety of styles, flavors, and nuances that these talented brewers bestow upon us. With ingenuity and creativity, they strive to provide our palates with pleasure and harmony and our minds with excitement and curiosity. But why do the brewers get to have all the fun? Not to say drinking these wonderful beers isn’t a joyful experience in itself, but there’s no creativity in opening a bottle. What if I want the sugary malt characteristics of one beer and the hoppy bitterness of another…in the same glass? Welcome to the polarizing world of beer blending.

The blending of beers (think beer mixology) has been around as long as beer itself. For centuries, blending has been used for wine, champagne and scotch, just to name a few. It is said that Britain’s porter style grew out of blends put together in pubs out of various beers; the most famous being a blend called ”three-threads.” Most times these blends contained some fresh beer and some old beer (that had been lying around for some time). Blending beer on a large scale is standard with macrobreweries. Beers such as BudMillerCoors are all blended with various batches of the same beer to ensure standards in quality and flavor. Some of the most popular beers in the world are blended, especially if barrel aged. Take, for example, Deschutes The Abyss; a blend of beers aged in a combination of Oak Bourbon barrels, Oak barrels, and Oak Wine barrels. Another prime example is Firestone Walker’s anniversary ale; wine experts collaborate in blending Firestone Walker barrel aged beers.  Yet another is gueuze, which by definition is a blend of young and old lambics into a new beer, which is bottled for a second fermentation. In fact, there are still some old “blending houses” in Belgium that specialize in blending various lambics into gueuze – not brewing any beer themselves but rather blending purchased beer.

The Firestone Walker guys have a big blending party and spill all kinds of beer together - whoops - and make a new super awesome beer.

With all the blending going on in the world, why is this a seemingly taboo practice? This answer lies in the trust and appreciation that we put in our craft beer brewers to gratify us with their creations and the common notion that any alteration in said recipe is a bastardization of the trade. When we buy a craft beer, it’s a conversation with that brewer; the beer (if stored, distributed, and served correctly) will be exactly what the brewer wants you to drink, taste and experience. This is why blending is widely considered an art, rather than a craft. This is a fitting analogy. Blending beers takes an amazing palate that understands flavor synergy – very few people are known professionals in how to blend certain beers together. This is why nearly all blending is done by the experts in the professional world. Blending at the “end user” level is expensive as well – if you make a bad batch, you can’t un-blend your beer!

So – to blend or not to blend? Without straying from the line, we choose not to argue either side. Rather, we would simply like to point out that no one knows your taste sensors better than you. Blending or mixing beer can be a fun and creative way to bring out the most desired qualities of your favorite beers into one glass. Some of our blending experiments have revealed some surprising and astonishing results. Reluctance quickly gave way to an enthusiastic journey to self-righteousness.

Below are three creations we concocted in our blending lab along with their new blended aliases:

Glorious Abomination
¾ Russian River Pliny the Elder & ¼ Surly Furious: Combines the smoothness and complexity of Pliny with the hop showcase of Furious.

Mystic Healing Tree :
¼ North Coast Old Rasputin XIV Anniversary & ¾ Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron: Highlights the coconut and vanilla notes of Old Rasputin with the woody charred chocolate of the Palo Santo.

Meh – 20 ounces Bud Light & 21 Ounces Coors Light: Pairs subtle hints of water in Bud Light with the subtle hints of water in Coors Light.

Commercial Example (don’t try this at home):

Firestone Walker 15:
18% Helldorado (11.7% ABV) Blonde Barley Wine.
17% Sticky Monkey (12.5% ABV) English Barley Wine.
17% Bravo (13.5% ABV) Imperial Brown Ale.
13% Double Double Barrel Ale (11.5% ABV) Double Strength English Pale Ale.
11% Good Foot (14.3 ABV) American Barley Wine.
10% Velvet Merkin (8.6% ABV) Traditional Oatmeal Stout.
9% Parabola (13% ABV) Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout.
5% Double Jack (9.5% ABV) Double India Pale Ale.

Don’t be afraid to be creative and mix up your beer intake. The cool kids are doing it.

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