Monday, January 6, 2014

The power is on: Metropolitan bottles its Generator doppelbock

Posted By on 01.06.14 at 02:00 PM

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If you've read my Beer and Metal posts on Metropolitan's Afterburner Oktoberfest or Zwickel Flywheel lager, you already know how I feel about this brewery. I recommend Metropolitan to all my friends who drink beer out of glasses, even the people who think they don't like lagers—generally what they don't like are shitty lagers, and Metropolitan makes the opposite of shitty lagers.

No, wait. I don't know what the opposite of a lager is. Metropolitan makes lagers that are the opposite of shitty.

The question, then, isn't whether I'm going to use the first-ever bottling of Metropolitan's doppelbock, Generator, as an excuse to give it the good review I've been saving up since I had a pint of the debut batch in early 2010. The question is, How much room do you have in your fridge? This one won't be back till next January.

When I committed to reviewing Generator, I resolved to find answers to two doppelbock-related questions that've been rattling around in my brain. First, what's with all the goats? And second, why do so many doppelbocks have "-ator" at the ends of their names?

Well, it turns out that "ein Bock" (a corruption of "Einbeck," the town where in the 14th century a style of ale ancestral to the lagers now known as "bocks" became popular) is one way to refer to a billy goat or a ram in German.

And the "-ator" is a nod to Salvator ("savior"), the name given to the original 17th-century doppelbock, brewed by Paulaner monks in Munich; they were members of the mendicant Order of Minims founded by Saint Francis of Paola, a strict vegan so powerfully pious that he's said to have resurrected his favorite trout, Antonella, after a priest cooked it and broke it into pieces. (This has nothing to do with doppelbocks, but it entertains me.) The monks called this malt bomb "savior" because they used it to sustain themselves during the long Lenten fast, when their vows denied them solid food. Metropolitan cofounder and head brewer Doug Hurst calls the present-day Paulaner Salvator "one of the first good beer experiences I had"—it not only inspired Generator but also helped get him into German lager styles in the first place.

I bought a new Hopleaf glass! I guess its somewhere between a stumpy tulip and a large snifter.
  • I bought a new Hopleaf glass! I guess it's somewhere between a stumpy tulip and a large snifter.
According to the German Beer Institute, as of 2006 there were some 200 "-ator" doppelbock names registered in Germany. Everybody knows the classic examples—Ayinger Celebrator, Spaten Optimator—but the tradition has influenced quite a few less dignified names as well, among them Boulevard's excellent cedar-aged Seeyoulator and Dark Horse's coffee doppelbock, Perkulator.

Generator isn't on store shelves just yet—to get my six-pack, I made my first visit to the Metropolitan brewery. (I pitched in on the bottling line for an hour or so, doing the one job where I wouldn't gum up the works by being slow and clueless: transferring bottles from the pallet to the labeling table.) I wish I'd thought to bring my camera, because this post definitely would've benefited from pictures of the Star Trek Pez dispenser sets in the bathroom (TOS and TNG, of course) and the life-size decal of Leonard "Bones" McCoy on one of the fermentation tanks. All eight of those tanks borrow their names from characters in the Star Trek universe—including progenitor of the Klingon empire Kahless the Unforgettable, Vulcan diplomat and reformer T'Pau, and warp-drive inventor Zefram Cochrane.


I kid, I kid. I actually knew who Zefram Cochrane was myself.

"I look forward to doing Generator every year," Hurst told me—and it only seems fair that he should, since I look forward to drinking it every year.

Generator is 8.2 percent alcohol, on account of it uses almost twice as much malt as a "normal" batch at Metropolitan (four-fifths of it Munich malt, natch). It smells pleasantly roasty and nutty up front—rye toast, dry grain and hazelnuts browned in a skillet—with a rich, mellow sweetness underneath, like bread pudding, milk chocolate, and caramelized sugar. At the tail end of the aroma, I get dark fruit—stewed black figs, baked raisins, black cherries—and something barely there that reminds me of roses or violets.

Lots of Metropolitan beers have this subtle floral note in the finish, and Hurst thinks it probably comes from the brewery's house yeast—he uses a strain from Augustiner, a brewery founded in 1328 that's the oldest in Munich to remain independent. He says that what little beer Augustiner exports is usually past its peak when it arrives in the States, but that it's the best in Munich when drunk fresh at the source.

Generator cuts its silky mouthfeel with an initial burst of prickly carbonation, but the lush, creamy malts linger on the tongue like you've just had a spoonful of creme brulee. The milk chocolate and dark fruit flavors come further forward here than they did in the aroma, with an extra dose of black cherry and something gently tart like dried apricot. This is also where the beer's minimal hop presence announces itself, its earthy, peppery bite tying into the nutty toastiness of the grains. If I weren't allowed to eat solid food during Lent but the head monk guy kept me well supplied with Generator, I don't think I'd be too mad.

This angle gives you a better look at Generators color.
  • This angle gives you a better look at Generator's color.
Now, as much as I love it, I know Generator isn't yet in the same league as Celebrator. It can't compete with Weihenstephaner Korbinian. But give Metropolitan a hundred years or more to tweak this recipe, and who knows how good it'll get. And in the meantime, Generator's freshness will make up some of the difference. At least for those of us doing our drinking in Chicago.

I'm fixing to get technical for a minute, so skip the next couple paragraphs if you're the kind of person who never reads the manual. Going into this review I knew that many doppelbocks, especially the old-school exemplars, employ a traditional brewing process called decoction mashing. I asked Hurst whether Generator is made that way, and he said no, it's not—it uses upward-step infusion mashing (also known as "temperature program mashing"), a simpler process that takes him about 75 minutes, compared to decoction mashing's three to four hours. Simply put, it involves "stepping up" the heat on the tun, so that the mash rests at a series of different temperatures, each higher than the last; in decoction brewing, similar effects are achieved by removing part of the mash, heating it, and then adding it back in. (You can read a thorough explanation of the difference here.)

Hurst finds the benefits of decoction dubious, considering the extra investment in time and equipment it requires—especially since the upward-step technique confers at least some of the same advantages, including more control over the beer's body and alcohol content. My opinion in this matter is eminently unprofessional, but I suspect that decoction mashing would never have caught on if steam-jacketed mash tuns had been invented several centuries ago.

Beer maven and graphic designer Randy Mosher did Generators artwork.
  • Beer maven and graphic designer Randy Mosher did Generator's artwork.
Assuming the delivery drivers can start their trucks when it's 14 below zero, the first of three shipments of Generator kegs and six-packs will go out today. Sixers of this heftiest of lagers will cost more than Metropolitan's other beers, but how much more depends on the retailer. Better news is that Hurst and his crew brewed about 90 barrels of Generator, half again the 60 barrels they made of the two previous seasonals in Metropolitan's Urban Evolution Series, Afterburner and the schwarzbier Magnetron.

Metropolitan matriarch Tracy Hurst (really—it says "matriarch" right on her work jacket) couldn't tell me anything concrete about the brewery's long-anticipated move to a bigger facility. However, Metropolitan does intend to expand by 50 percent in its current space ASAP. It's now making beer at a rate of about 3,000 barrels per year (comparable to Solemn Oath's capacity at the start of 2014, if not its output for 2013), and even though the brewery has been running full tilt since last spring, it can't keep the distribution pipeline full. A good problem to have, granted, but any business that doesn't meet the demand for its product is leaving money on the table.

Finally! It's time for the metal! You didn't think you were off the hook just because I managed to find so many different ways to talk about doppelbocks, did you?

I don't much care for Mondo Generator or Mos Generator, or even for Aborym's album Generator. So how about a goat song? Encyclopaedia Metallum lists 1,286 with that word in their titles: "Nuclear Satanic Goat Sodomy," "Goat Riders in the Sky," "When a Goat Loves a Woman," "Buoyant Goat Loaf," "The Goat Barfs Eternally," et cetera. Faced with this caprine profusion, I did what any reasonable person would do and fell back on "Night Goat" by the Melvins.

This is the version from the 1992 Amphetamine Reptile seven-inch, not the one from the 1993 major-label album Houdini. Bassist Joe Preston (aka Thrones), soon to leave the group, is listed as "Salty Green," and one of the two credited producers is Billy Anderson, who would shortly endear himself to me for all time with his work on Neurosis's 1993 masterpiece Enemy of the Sun. (He also had a hand in Houdini, alongside more than half a dozen other engineers.)

I used to drum in a female-fronted, synth-forward art-pop band called Brilliant Pebbles, and I persuaded the bassist, my friend James Kennedy, to play the main riff from "Night Goat" with me during the verses of one of our songs. Nobody ever called us on it—in fact, the rest of the arrangement sounded so vastly unlike the Melvins that I don't think anyone ever noticed. No matter how hard I wished they would.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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