By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the beer world, there are brews that cover nearly every shade of the yellow-to-brown spectrum. This huge array is possible thanks to the careful addition of grains. Grain doesn’t just add color; it also helps shape the flavor of any particular style. Not unlike hops, the grain helps the consumer identify the type of brew they’re enjoying (or choking down).
What’s Out There?
Although there’s a large selection of grains to choose from and an even greater number of combinations to be used, don’t be alarmed. This is the most exciting part about brewing — the experimentation. Not only is there barley in all of its malted, unmalted, caramel and roasted glory; you can also brew with wheat, rye, spelt and some gluten-free grains that have been given the same treatment to add more dynamism to your batches.
With all of this variety, you can also opt to use a roasted malt that’s had its hulls removed. This provides a great deal of color with only a small amount of roasty character and little-to-no bitter/astringent flavor. Some grains like Chocolate Wheat also offer that flavor and color profile, but it can also enhance mouthfeel.
Of course, the grains you select help you determine the style of beer you’ll brew, but they can also be used in crazy ways to create new, interesting concoctions. The only limiting factor is your imagination.
Experimentation is aided by brewing software. You can also guesstimate by researching the malt and knowing how it’s produced. First and foremost, every grain you use has a measured color that will contribute to the Standard Reference Method (SRM) of the finished product. The unit of measure in the U.S. is called Lovibond. The Lovibond of the grain will tell you where it sits on the range of colors: from light yellow to amber to pitch black. There is a different unit of measurement used by European malting companies called European Brewing Convention (EBC). Thankfully, the conversion to Lovibond is easy and most malting companies provide both measurements.
Just as important as color is the flavor the malt contributes. Using too many specialty malts can result in a product that’s overly sweet or tastes burnt. On the SRM scale, anything above 40 is only adding roastiness. Take care to avoid going overboard with roasted barley, otherwise your brew will have an ashtray-like quality. And if you add too many caramel malts, you’ll be stuck with a cloying finished batch. If either of these things happen, the flavors will not fade with time.
The process of creating specialty malts requires more heat and time to allow the sugars to caramelize, eventually begin to toast and then burn. In the caramel malt world, you have flavors that run from a light caramel note to those that taste like dried fruit or burnt sugar. In the roasted malt category, there are characteristics that range from light toast to charcoal. With the wonderful variety of flavor and color combinations available, grains are definitely the paint on the brewer’s palette. When creating your next award-winning homebrew, remember that there is a spectrum of options.
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [AG]
Squealing Pig Wheat Pale [Extract]
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Just imagine: an artist stuck in a dark office staring at a windowless wall. No light. It happened to Ron Pomeroy.
He’d been a lawyer for years, working in private practice and as a deputy prosecutor. Now, he was ready to retire. He gave his boss a generous notice. His boss told him, “A couple of months before you leave, we’re going to move you into a different office because we’re going to reconstruct the space.” Ron explains, “I’d had an office that was a large space with a lot of windows. I got moved to an interior office with no windows. And I thought this is really kind of confining. I think I’ll bring some of my art to work.”
That decision convinced Ron retirement was right for two reasons. The first, he says, was soul saving. He describes he “wanted to do something that used a different part of my brain.” He was tired of “being geared up and kind of intense about life.”
Also born in that dingy law office was a new career. When he hung his paintings, he heard from coworkers who were interested in the subject matter. “This was primarily birds. People said, ‘That’s really cool! Can you do my bird?’ So that’s kind of how I got started.”
When Ron boxed up his law career in 2011, he also changed his style of art from representational to abstract. Shapes and colors replaced those birds. But the paint he uses had changed long before that.
In the fall of 1986, Ron was painting a version of “American Gothic” using his parents’ faces. It was a Christmas present for them. That’s when Ron ran out of water for his watercolors. “I was drinking a beer at the time, so I started painting with beer.”
“I paint with combinations of regular watercolor and gouache (opaque watercolor paint) and either beer or wine. Ninety-five percent of what I use is beer.”
“The darker the beer, the more effect it has.” The beer can make the colors more subtle or less brilliant by having more pigmentation. Ron can simply use less beer and more watercolor when he wants to soften the stronger pigmentations. He also strives to stick with local breweries.
“I try to emphasize Northwest beer. Right now I just finished one with Pfriem. It’s a stout that’s just come to market. I like Breakside Brewery. I enjoy Widmer. And I like Full Sail. I like beers I can trust for their quality and consistency.”
Yes, beer. And not just dark porters or stouts, but also light-colored pilsners and IPAs. They don’t add any color, Ron says, but he can use them “to get some carbonation effect in the painting.” Ron will add the carbonation for the same reason he paints on watercolor paper or uses a particular printing process — to make the work pop. High-resolution giclee printing highlights the vibrancy of the colors in Ron’s paintings, how those colors relate to each other and creates that visual jazz. “I have evolved into doing primarily shapes and colors,” Ron says.
Ron has done some 1,200 pieces using about 150 beers. He says he can do one painting per 16-ounce beer. “Art is a highly personal experience and the beauty of abstract art is that you can kind of see what you want to in it. But what I like is that just doing it with beer is doing something outside the norm. It puts me in an ‘outside the norm’ frame of mind.”
There is a liveliness to Ron’s work; whether it is a palette of colors rolling across the paper like a stormy sea, tiers of color stacked one on the other like a multilayered hamburger or spears of color growing like hallucinogenic blades of grass.
But there is something missing. Ron has won awards at art shows and is developing a marketing plan that will include putting his images on things like t-shirts and coffee mugs. Oddly, though, you won’t find a Pomeroy original on your next bottle of beer. A while back, Ron did ask a few breweries if they were interested, but that was when he was still doing birds and he was turned down.
Of course, breweries have signature labels that quickly identify who they are: Pelican’s pelican, Breakside’s chair or Hopworks’ tricolored circle. But perhaps more brewers could employ a method popular with winemakers — using unique labels for special releases. Chateau Mouton Rothschild has been doing this for years and the labels, let alone the wine, are collectible. At a time when more beer lovers are collecting and storing beer, artistic labels could add to their experience. Besides, when you pay $15 or $20 for a 22-ounce bottle of beer, wouldn’t it be nice to also have something intriguing to look at on the label?
For a look at Ron Pomeroy’s “Beer Colors,” go to beercolors.net. There will be a reception for a display of Ron Pomeroy’s work from 7-9 p.m. Jan. 16 at Frame Central, 6639 SW Macadam, Portland. You can also participate in Oregon Beer Growler’s Perfect Pints tasting for the February issue at the same location that afternoon.
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