Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So You Want to Open a Brewery, Huh?

Hold your horses there buddy! If you read Gene's post on Monday than you've probably either gotten a homebrew kit, plan on buying a homebrew kit, or live vicariously though us. Much like people who purchase bread machines, you'll soon find that you're probably not going to be making as many batches of home-brew as you thought, but don't despair! Here's a few simple lessons in realism which might help you find your way to beer guru-hood (which Gene and I still hope to attain):

Plan a couple months ahead.

Beer takes a while to brew, but don't sweat it if you've gone an extra week or two in the primary or secondary fermenter. It might change the flavor, but there's a chance it's for the better. With my busy and sometimes unpredictable schedule, I don't think I have ever done what I was supposed to in any given week according to the brew timeline. However, I didn't let it bother me and things have (luckily) always turned out fine.

The gist of what I am saying is that if you're planning to brew and you know you've got an open Saturday, make sure that in two weeks you won't be in a tent in Madagascar and that in seven weeks you won't be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Unless you're Billionaire Richard Branson you probably don't need to worry about this, but holidays and kid stuff can be planned around.

After your first batch you'll probably get five times faster.

Learning how to effectively use your time is really about practice and laziness. Practice is important to keep you from putting clean things down on dirty surfaces and to minimize additional clean time. Laziness is important because after your first batch you'll want to become an expert at minimizing dishes. My first time through I didn't have a good grasp of the tools I'd actually need or in what order I'd need them. Needless to say, stuff got prematurely dirty and sometimes I had the wrong solution in a bucket I needed "right now." Now, I'm a master of bucket order for cleanser, sanitizer, and dry stuff and things go much faster.

Don't clean your bottles until you need them.

It might seem like having moldy disgusting bottles is a problem that should be taken care of swiftly, but I feel that it's more important to clean just before use. In my first batch, I cleaned the bottles ahead of time only to have to clean them a second time to get out the new mold, cat hair, and questionable mouse poop that had accumulated in the weeks between.

Don't worry if your first batch gets messed up.

Gene covered this in his post on Monday but I wanted to reiterate that you're not going to be awesome at this on the first go-around. You'll learn more about "what to not do next time" than you'll probably get right. If you fantasize about opening a brewery, put in the time at home and learn. Don't let the end-game strategy prevent you from making the first play.

That said, if you've got loads of capital and want to open a brewery, let me introduce you to my friend Gene...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Yay! You got a beer kit!... Now what?

I hope everyone is having happy holidays this year and got all the beer brewing equipment they could dream of (and maybe some they didn't). Remember, if there's something you didn't get you can always return a few of those ugly sweaters/work shorts that you never really wanted in the first place. At probably 30 bucks a pop, that will net you about 100 bucks you can spend anywhere. That's much better than a gift card.
So you got a homebrewing kit, and you're wondering what do do. Here's a few tips for your first homebrewing experience...
Open the box.
This can actually be a pretty daunting task, what with all the packaging tape and styrofoam and such. I'd recommend setting your ingredients aside from your equipment, get your eyes on every piece of equipment, and figure out what the hell everything is. I remember having everything out on the table, and being so excited about all the stuff I had that I had no idea what any of it does. Figure out what stuff is. It's going to be pretty hard when your instructions ask for a hydrometer, and you're holding the spoon.
Buy some stuff.
This is where that 100 bucks extra cash comes in. Your brewing kit comes with most everything, but there are some handy tools that makes life a lot easier. A few of those things are... A 5 gallon brew pot (most kits don't come with this critical piece of equipment). An autosiphon (a clutch piece of equipment). A thermometer (with a 12" sensing element). Lots of ice (if you haven't thought how to cool your boil yet). Eventually you'll also need some bottles and some bottlecaps. One last thing, if you happen to be at the store already, buy some iodophore (amberdyne, any iodine based, rinse free sanitizer). Your kit probably comes with a sanitizer, but it probably sucks. A bottle of amberdyne is 3 bucks, and will probably last you around 5-10 batches, maybe more.
Get everything out.
You're going to make a mess. Period. There's no way around it. Tell the wife. Get the kids out. Have 911 on speedial. Clean out your kitchen of everything not brewing related, it'll make things easier.
Yeah... right. You're way too excited to read "How to Brew" by John Palmer in it's entirety. But what I do recommend, and what John alludes to in his short first chapter, read just enough so you know your yeast from your malt. Five minutes of reading the first chapter of John's book will probably save you a lot of headache.
Don't use your instructions...
I know I just came off saying do a little reading. But chances are, you have a few different set of instructions. Probably one that came with your kit, one from your "how to" book, and one with your beer recipe. All these instructions will contradict each other and specifically say not to follow the other instructions. My recommendation is to use the instructions that came with your ingredients. If there's any holes, follow your how-to book.

Be careful, but not too careful
Charlie Papazian repeatedly says in his book "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew."  (I know what you're thinking... "but I don't have a homebrew!" Relax, have a regular beer. We 'aint splitting hairs here). There are some very important aspects of brewing that needs to be followed. Chances are, however, that if you slip a little bit, you won't have any problems. Keep things sanitized, but don't be afraid if you took a breath in the direction of your spoon. Cool your wort quickly, but don't worry if it takes a half hour. Make sure nothing gets in your fermenter. But don't freak if your brother spits in... wait. Ok, freak out if your brother spits in your fermenter.

Clean up afterwords
This goes back to the fact you will make a mess. Your wife/roomate/dog will be very happy if you don't leave the workspace looking like ground zero.
That should be plenty to get you going! The first time is always tricky juggling all the tasks you think you have to do at once, but after the first time you will realize how easy everything is! Please feel free to post comments on how your inaugural brew sessions go, and also feel free to give either Nick or I a direct message on twitter (@Splobucket for me, and @Tantilloon for Nick) if you have any questions. We love to hear from you (it makes us feel like people really read this stuff) and we love helping people learn about this awesome hobby!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

12 Brews of Xmas

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to MEEEEEEE.....

12 pooooounds of graaaaaaain

11 flasks for starters

10 feet of tubing

9 grams of hops

8 disconnects

7 gallon chillers

6 caps for capping

5 Baaaaags of Yeeeeeast

4 corny kegs

3 plastic carboys

2 racking canes

And a pint of beer while I watch some Teeeee Veeeeeee!!!

From the Two Brewers, Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays. Drink lots of home made beer! Stay tuned Monday to figure out what the heck to do with your kit, and ideas on how to spend those gift cards.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beerreview: World Market’s Winter 9-Pack à trois

Continuing our theme of sequels always being worse than the original, I bring you part trois of our World Market Winter Pack review. For this week's thrilling conclusion, I intended to review the two beers I thought would be the best, but as is usually the way in any good Ménage à trois: I found a secret last minute surprise. Without slathering on the innuendo too thickly, let's just say a winter warmer was secretly waiting for me: Harpoon Winter Warmer.

My math skills have atrophied to laughable levels and for some reason I thought a review of two beers and a review of four beers left the two best beers for last. Having purchased a nine-pack I should have either felt ripped off, robbed, or stupid, the latter being the case. Let's get down to business with "The Last Two Beers" and "The Secret Surprise."

The Last Two Beers

Rogue - Santa's Private Reserve

I wrote this review after only sampling a single bottle of this, but I have to say it does grow on you. Santa's Private Reserve smells very hoppy but not like citrus. It has a bready or piney smell. The defining characteristic of this beer is that it's very bitter. It's likely the most bitter beer I have ever tasted, but it's been a while since I had a good Stone Double Bastard.

After swallowing this medicine the bitterness fades but leaves behind a slight coppery taste, sort of like that little bit of aluminum foil that sneaks into a hoagie (or grinder, or sub.) If I didn't know better, I'd say that this beer never contained any sugar because of the complete lack of sweetness. It tasted like liquid hops.

That being said, it does pair well with sweet foods. On its own it's hard to take but it's worth a try. I don't know what makes it a Christmas beer honestly. If you really love hops I can recommend this, but if you have a sweeter palette I'd stay away.

Troegs - Mad Elf

Billed as "Ale Brewed with Honey and Cherries," this ale does not disappoint. At 11% ABV, it's definitely one of the stronger Christmas ales produced by a smallish American craft brewery. Like most high ABV beers and dessert martinis, it has to be sweetened heavily to overcome the alcohol flavor but in this case (unlike Sam Adam's Cherry Wheat) it doesn't taste cheap.

Mad Elf has a malty sweet smell and pours golden with a good head. The honey flavor comes through strongly with the taste of sour cherry. What is noticeable about the cherry is that it doesn't smell artificial (like Luden's cough drops.) It smells more like a real cherry pie (which is often a little sour,) although I doubt many people make those anymore. Gas station fruit pies and frozen corn syrup concoctions have probably filled that niche now, but I digress.

The taste is like a sweet mead with almost no bitterness, but like other strong beers the alcohol is present (sort of like Molsen XXX honestly.) The bottom line is that this beer is sweet, spicy, and delicious but would definitely not go with food.

The Secret Surprise

Harpoon - Winter Warmer

I once bought a case of this beer years ago since it was the first novelty holiday beer I saw at the gas station (before my beer enlightenment.) It hung around until February, and I wasn't really in the mood for holiday spices anymore. That should tell you something about my expectations when I found this hidden bottle lurking around the refrigerator.

This beer has a very strong spice smell, mostly of nutmeg and allspice. It's sort of like the Rite Aid brand Yankee Candle knock-offs, where they have the gist of the smell but it's somehow cheap seeming. winter Warmer tastes like pumpkin pie spice with a shallow bitter aftertaste; it's sort of like somebody stirred your Molsen with a crusty pumpkin pie knife. The taste is mostly spices, and not beer.
The bottom line with this beer is that it's not as bad as I remembered. I don't recommend it, but it beats dirty dish water in the desert.

I'm not really sure what to post for next week, feel free to make suggestions in the comments below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beereview: Sam Adam's Winter Classics Finale

Just last week I was extolling the virtues on how awesome running a beer blog is, giving me a real good excuse to drink beer every Sunday night (you didn't really think I review these beers at 9am at work did you?). This one's rough for me however. Friday I had my work x-mas party and went out to dinner with some friends. Lots of beer was involved. I think it took a toll on my immune system though, because once the hangover subsided Saturday morning, I wasn't really feeling any better. I feel a little better now, but drinking some more beer isn't high on my list right now. But the blog must go on! I'm sure I'll be able to "suffer" through it.

First off is "Old Fezziwig Ale" which is unique to the Winter Classics pack. If you don't know old Mr. Fezziwig, he is known as one of Scrooge's workers who has a festive holiday party every year. I'm happy to see that the beer is indeed classified as an "ale,"  and (by way of the neck label) is brewed with many specialty malts, orange peel, ginger, and cinnamon. The beer pours a very dark red, and a good sized head that deteriorates slowly. Probably the best head retention of all the beers in the classic pack. The beer's aroma consists mostly of the aforementioned orange peel with a slight cinnamon spice. Oooh! The first sip nips at the side of your tongue and leaves an orange flavor in your mouth. I expected the beer to be sweeter with all the cinnamon and ginger mentioned, but it has a good bite to it. While not terribly complex, easily the best beer out of the 12 pack. This beer is warm, and very drinkable. A great beer to sit back and enjoy next to the fire. 

Last but not least is the "Holiday Porter." The label boasts itself as a traditional porter brewed with all these great malts and hops. It occurs to me that it seems the first beer to mention the ingredients that it's brewed with, and is proud of it there of. Which increases my wonder on how the other beers are brewed. The porter pours black, and takes the crown for the greatest and strongest head out of the pack. The head is almost an inch thick, and is staying for a while. The aroma of the beer is near nonexistent, however my cold could be the major factor in there. The beer is definitely tart, and almost a little sweet. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a little orange peel in this porter either. The flavors are warm, but not terribly complex. And the finishing flavor of hops mentioned on the bottle just isn't there. While the beer is appropriately bitter, the hops are not apparent in the aroma. A good porter, but not exciting.

That wraps up my review of the Sam Adam's Winter Classics pack. I think a pretty good value for what you get at the price you get it. While you shouldn't expect any of the beers to knock you off your feet, the quality of beers is still pretty good. Thank you for following, everyone have a safe holiday!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pretention Examined: Nick vs. Gene

Gene and I have had a few comments back and forth about the new Sam Adams Winter Lager, which has the unfortunate subtitle of "malt beverage brewed with spices." Being a pretentious jerk, I take a rather Bohemian view of beer (and for that matter: life.) I think I walked into this winter 12-pack with a sever bias against anything that either sounds manufactured or doesn't meet my criteria of micro-brew (or hand crafted.) Gene's favorable review of this alchemic concoction (which I tried and didn't like) further shows this fundamental difference in bias. Let's examine this curious juxtaposition of the Two Brewers, who are so similar yet so different.
  1. Gene keeps an open mind and tastes a beer honestly, regardless of ingrediants, while Nick will automatically disdain beer that isn't "pure."

    When it comes to beer, chocolate, or basically any processed food my opinion is that chemicals and additives take away from the natural character of the product. I'm not saying that your McDonalds hamburger isn't delicious, but if you really think about how much poop is in the meat (from poor slaughtering practices,) how much sugar is in the bun, and how many different petroleum products are in the 'cheese' you might think it tastes a little different. Chocolate is the same: Hershey's is actually trying to change the law about what can be called "Chocolate" rather than "Chocolate Flavored" because they don't want to have to use so much real cocoa in their products.

    In the world of beer, malt beverages like Bacardi O, Smirnoff Ice, etc. are basically chemical concoctions with alcohol added. They most likely are sweetened with corn syrup and other low cost (low quality) products. Sam Adam's need to use the term "malt beverage" means that their beer is also artifically flavored. If I wanted to drink soda with alcohol in it I'd have a rum at coke, at least you know what's in it.

    In this frame of mind, it's no surprise that I'm going to hate any artifically flavored beer or mass market (i.e. Budweiser, Miller, etc.) regardless of any other factors. I think it actually tastes different to me than it does to Gene. The mind is a powerful thing indeed. I think Gene is able to taste at face value, since these factors might be less important to him than the flavor, aroma, and the inebriation the beer imparts.

  2. Nick is overly cautions in brewing, resulting in far fewer batches but no outright failures. Gene plays it a little looser, experimenting with homemade equipment and questionable root-beer kegs but nearly drowning in batches.

    I'll try to keep this short, but I definately notice a huge difference in Gene and my learning speeds. Practice makes perfect and Gene has just had a lot more practice. The reasons for this probably revolve around my limited space (Gene has a yard, and it's warm year round, while I'm in a condo.) However, Gene is the type who will plow forward and make a batch in untested equipment allowing for real innovation. I plan too much and although I've never had a bad batch, I only had 3 completed last year.

    In this regard, I think Gene's approach is by far the better for learning how to brew. We learn best from our mistakes.

  3. Gene revues beer that most hobos would turn their noses up at; Nick revues beer that hobos wouldn't buy, since they could get five forty's for the same money.

    I guess hobos wouldn't like either of our approaches, but since I don't fancy sleeping in a boxcar anytime soon I think we can fairly discount their opinions (except on religion or politics, those guys are brilliant!)

    I won't argue that more expensive beer is better, since it's not. The best beer in the world is still only around $11 per bottle. The really expensive ones are expensive mainly because they are rare, not necessarily because they are good. Imagine how much a beer from a 1700s shipwreck would cost, even though it's turned to brine by now.

    I will say that cheap beer is uniformly terrible, even according to Gene. It's funny to write about however, and I appreciate that. I'd call this one a draw, as far as approaches to beer reviewing go.
Part of the reason I think this blog works is because of our different approaches. It gives us full coverage of the spectrum of beer.

With all that background information, I hope it's easier to understand where we come from in our reviews. Depending on what kind of beer afficianado (or swiller) you are, you may agree with one or the other of us most often. That's fine though; I think the debate between quantity and quality has raged forever, but at least in this rare instance they both end the same way: drunkeness, gas, and a good old time.

Thanks for not being a pretentious jerk like me, Gene. Feel free to argue with any of these points. I wouldn't want to put words in your mouth.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beereview: Sam Adam's Winter Classics Part 2 of 3

This is a Christmas tradition I can really get used to. Also, get excited, I broke out the pint-lite for this post.

Nick brought up a very good point last week, and something I hadn't noticed. Some of these beers in the pack are labeled "ale brewed with spices," while others are labeled "malt beverage brewed with spices." This does make me a little nervous. What could the difference be? We've got ales, and lagers, but for whatever reason those over at Sam Adam's decided not to use either title. Giving Sam Adam's the benefit of the doubt, it could be a beer brewed with a unique, in house, strain of yeast that would classify it as neither an "ale" or a "lager." Hybrid yeast strains are getting more and more popular these days. Of course not giving Sam Adam's benefit of the doubt is just that they've cut so many corners in brewing this beer that it can no longer be classified beer. You may decide for yourself. I'm an optimistic guy, so I'm continuing on believing that it is in fact beer. Let's rock!

The first beer we have today is one of these malt beverages brewed with spices, Sam Adam's Winter Lager. By the neck label, it's a classic lager with cinnamon, orange peel, and ginger added. The bottle adorns a nice blue label with the warming image of a fireplace reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes warming their butts in front of their own fireplace.The beer pours a darker brown than I expected, definitely darker than your typical lager. The aroma smells of hops, like the Boston lager, but not as potent. The head is thin, and retention short. The rumored cinnamon and ginger isn't apparent in the aroma. The first sip does reveal that the orange peel makes a statement. The cinnamon and ginger really is absent from the taste until I put the beer down. After a number of seconds, the beer leaves a warming feeling on your tongue. Strong of cinnamon and ginger? Not really, but a warm (not necessarily alcoholic) feeling non-the-less. I wouldn't call the beer terribly unique, but not bad. Not very exciting, but very drinkable.

Next we have Sam Adam's Chocolate Bock. This is labeled an "ale with cocoa and natural flavors." Self described on the neck as a beer slowly aged on a bed of cocoa. Mmmm bed of cocoa. I don't think a bed of cocoa would last in my house, with the dogs and all. Now that I think about it the dogs wouldn't last very long either, chocolate being deadly for dogs and all. Anywhoo lets pop this top. This bock pours black. Like licorice jellybean black (does anyone actually eat those jellybeans?). So black, it won't even take the picture right on my pint-lite. Head retention is almost non-existent. Aroma has a strong cocoa smell, almost like hot chocolate (but cold). First sip is... bitter. Definitely chocolaty. And very roasty. Body is pretty thin, almost like a lighter porter. The beer also has a slightly warm alcohol flavor. Good beer. I'm impressed because I've had a few chocolate beers were the chocolate was barely noticeable. A good beer to have to warm up near the fireplace.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday 9-Pack! Part Deux

I like to pay homage to Hot Shots! Part Deux whenever I get the chance. Much like the American classic, this sequel is coming out a little too late after the original for people to remember what was going on, but frankly it doesn’t matter. Unlike the film, I can’t fry bacon on my stomach; I’m not super hot nineties vixen Valeria Golino so you’d probably find it a lot less interesting if I could (but I’d sure fit a hell of a lot more bacon.)

I’d need eight more beers to call this batch a dirty dozen, so we’ll have to settle for a crazy quintuplet (which kind of rhymes, in a grammatically incorrect way.) Without any further ado, here are the reviews, part deux.

Hot Shots! Part Deux featured two Sheens (Charlie and Martin.) I have two Troegs. That’s uncanny!

Troegs Dead Reckoning Porter

This beer has a citrus smell indicative of Cascade Hops, but my nose may be wrong. It’s a little sweet and medium hoppy, which is exactly what I like in a porter. Refreshing and smooth, I would describe this as “Roasty” and delicious. You can’t go wrong with this porter.

Hot Shots! Part Deux is full of nineties references which aren’t funny anymore. This review of Rogue Mocha Porter is full of nineties references which aren’t funny anymore. That’s amazing!

Rogue Mocha Porter

Rogue Mocha Porter tastes kind of like burnt toast. It’s hoppy and smokey but not at all sweet. It smells a lot like an IPA but it compares most closely in flavor to Stone Smoked Porter (although much more bitter.) I can’t say I’d go out of my way to buy this again; more bodacious brews can be found in much more radical places. Cowabunga dude!

Hot Shots! Part Deux came out two years after the original. Drew Carey introduced Buzz beer, a fictional coffee-hybrid beer two years after that; Java Head is a coffee-hybrid beer. That’s an astounding coincidence!

Troegs Java Head

This beer has a totally bad-ass label with a giant skull on it. If you need a really threatening bottle to start a bar fight with, this is it. While having an unusually high ABV, this stout is very good but also very sweet. The only negative was that it came off a little soapy. The flavor comes in two distinct waves; it starts off light and sweet, and then slams you with very bitter coffee. It’s pretty unusual actually; I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something weird (and you like coffee.)

Charlie Sheen is now an Old Man, and this beer from Southern Tier is called “Old Man Winter Ale.” If this 9-Pack wasn’t inspired by Hot Shots! Part Deux, I don’t know what is!

Southern Tier – Old Man Winter Ale

The defining characteristic of this beer was its fresh hoppy smell. It seemed like a sweeter version of Victory Hop Devil, but not as strong. What struck me about this beer was how similar it tasted to wort before any fermentation has occurred. I usually taste the sample after taking the OG reading and this beer has the same freshly cooked hop flavor and malty sweetness. I’ve always liked that flavor, it’s more like tea (it basically is grain tea.) Give this a shot if you’re in the mood for something light and crisp.

I hope you enjoyed this second part of our long-winded meandering trilogy. There's still a couple beers left to review, and they should be the best of the bunch. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Beereview: Sam Adam's Winter Classics Part 1 of 3

Helloooooo December!

December is my favorite month out of the year. Everyone is generally in a good mood. Work takes a chill strip (stick in your mouth, dissolve on your tongue, chill) a little bit. The decorations are everywhere. Tran-Siberian Orchestra comes to town (rock!). Liquor companies give away free stuff with their bottles of liquor. Don't forget... CHRISTMAS!

I absolutely love Christmas. I'm not a religious man myself, however I still strongly partake in the holiday. I used to "fall asleep" around 9 or 10 o'clock so Santa could have time to put the gifts out. My wonderful (and patient) parents would then deal with me jumping out of bed, sometimes as early as 1am and rip open gifts and proceed to play until late that night (at least I put the coffee on for them). This holiday binging was compounded by the fact that we would always leave to visit family the next day, so I'd have to pick whatever entertainment I could and bring it North with me. Then in high school I discovered Nyquil which would knock me out till around 6. Sadly, I got older... but nothing a few elephant tranquilizers wouldn't fix.

There's really nothing wrong about Christmas (except the impact on your wallet). Well, if you're a kid who's born on Christmas, then there's plenty wrong. To celebrate the count down to Christmas I'll be doing Beereviews the following weeks up to Christmas (and maybe drop a little surprise). I picked up a Sam Adams Winter Classics 12 pack, which come with 6 different varieties of beer. I'll review 2 a week for the next 3 weeks (including this one), which will hopefully tide you over till the big day. It's what little I can do. Woohoo! Beer me! Lets get started!!!

Boston Lager
I guess good ol' Sam can't sell a box without putting his flagship in it. We start off this Beereview holiday extravaganza with Sam Adam's Boston Lager. Probably the one beer the general public thinks about when they hear about "craft beer." Now I don't have their fancy glass with the laser etching and such, but I do have a pint glass. Clean and room temperature. Rock.

Popping the top (not screw top, thank you Sam) leads to a waft of hoppy aroma. Really nice and crisp, just like when you first get them from the homebrew store. The beer pours a beautiful golden amber, and has a nice off-white head. Good head retention as well. As I blog the head still remains at about a half inch thick. Looks just like they present in the commercial actually. Wouldn't that be a concept, if they actually used their own beer to make the advertisement. Again a strong waft of hops tickles your nose, and those hops do smell freshly bine (not vine) picked.

A strong swig tastes, wow, surprisingly hoppy. The lager is crisp and clean. Really not a lot of malt flavor. This beer brings hops out on a silver platter dancing and singing like the California Raisins (remember them?). The hops presented are strong enough that you might almost describe it as chewy. Smooth and refreshing. I don't know if I'd consider it a lawn-mower lager, but a pretty quality brew.

(I just handed the pint off to my wife so I can continue to the next pint. She said "Mmmm, this beer makes me hoppy!" Buh dum pishhh... You don't think I make all these corny jokes up myself do you? I have input")

NEXT!! Sam Adam's Winter Ale. As described on the neck label, this is an American version of a Belgian wheat ale, brewed with different spices to create it's unique taste. Pop that top. First sniff has a interesting smell, not necessarily of hops, but maybe a more malty beer, with a good hop balance. The beer pours a cloudy golden color, with only a little head retention. What head is present however is thin and white. Still aroma shows a sweeter smell, hops not very noticeable. Cheers! You definitely can taste the wheaty-ness of the beer. The wheat flavor isn't overpowering, and, call me crazy, but I think there might be some mint in there. It does leave an interesting tingle on your tongue. This is a decent beer. Really nothing unique about it, but a good brew of the style. Not so sure if I'd consider it a "winter" beer, but ok, I'll drink it year round.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Craft Capitalism: Mr. Beer

As Chrismahanakwanzica approaches, you may be tempted to buy a Mr. Beer for your slovenly brew swilling couch dweller. Watch out! While the sentiment may be appreciated, it’s sort of like buying an easy bake oven; it’ll be kind of fun to make one time and inevitably end up in the attic or garage with mouse poop in it. Tiny crappy cakes are synonymous with toy- brewed play beer in this metaphor: it’s going to be more fun to make than to eat, and when you’re done you’ll probably be unsatisfied (and have more dishes to clean than if you’d made a proper Bundt.)

I see this Mr. Beer thing everywhere including Bed Bath and Beyond, Amazon, and most recently Hammacher Schlemmer (where most rich shoppers go to pay double – “The Best EZ-Brew Plastic Barrel, only $129.99! ”) It should tip you off that these kits look like toys and are generally stocked in stores that sell low quality useless gadgets to hapless consumer zombies but if not, let’s discuss why this is a poor value.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that it costs more money to brew your own beer than to buy it from somebody who has large-scale equipment. Mr. Beer claims that you can enjoy “premium, handcrafted beer” with this home-brewing kit at a “fraction of the cost.” What is that fraction? Sixteen fifths? Where I come from, we call those compound fractions; they make things bigger, not smaller. The kits cost fifteen US dollars (not monopoly money, as I incorrectly assumed) and make 20 bottles of beer at max. If it were really premium beer, that’s about the same as a real homebrew kit per bottle. Call me a skeptic, but you’re starting with ice-t mix and yeast (no grain, no hopping) which can’t possibly result in a “premium handcrafted beer.” It also involves using your own kitchen equipment like measuring cups, pots and pans, etc. which are most likely not sterile.

Hijacking the homebrew market with a piece of crap of this magnitude would really get my goat, if I had a goat. There are probably more of these sitting unused in attics than bread machines and ice cream makers combined. So why is this ploy so successful?

Computer Printer Marketing

Buying the printer is really cheap, but the ink is overpriced. I’ve actually thrown out printers and bought new ones because it was cheaper than replacing the cartridge. Mr. Beer Premium costs about sixty dollars, but basically only replaces the Primary Fermenter (which isn’t expensive,) the bottles (which are basically free,) and two kits (which are inferior and make half as much beer.) Where they really get you is the fifteen dollars every time you buy fifteen cents worth of ingredients from them.

I could go on a pretty long rant about the low quality materials used in Mr. Beer, especially the plastic bottles, but I’ll refrain. What’s the use of pointing out a problem unless you offer a solution?

A comparable starter kit to Mr. Beer is available on Amazon for $77, without ingredients. If you want all the extra doodads you can spend some money, but you don’t really need anything else besides a 5-gallon stock pot (or the pot from a turkey fryer.) That means that the difference in price between the toy and the professional equipment is marginal, but the utility you gain is enormous. If you’re not convinced, by all means make that impulse purchase. Otherwise, Gene and I scoured Amazon for real equipment. Check out our listing if you want to give somebody the gift of brewing this month.

Side Note: Markup

Consider this: When you buy beer from a major brewery it’s not really the beer that costs money, but the aluminum can, shipping, distributor markup, and retail markup. They could fill that can with WD-40, schnapps, or crickets and it would roughly cost the same. Homebrew isn’t about making cheap beer, it’s about making good beer. We care about what we put in our bottles, Mr. Beer only serves to undermine that idea.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fastest Brew Ever and Beereview: Woodchuck Hard Cider

So I was sitting there yesterday, sucking on a maple syrup lollipop (yeah, it was intense). I decided that I need to brew something for the holidays. The kegs are full of beer, and I've brewed my #4 High Octane which was intended for the winter. What else though? Something different.

Cider. HARD Cider.

As we speak the fermenter is sitting in the closet. I'm really excited for this outcome, because I love cider. Brewing was ridiculously simple as well. I searched amongst a few recipes on and I found one that sounded easy enough. 3 Gallons of cider, 2 cups of brown sugar, and yeast. That's it. I went crazy and added two cinnamon sticks to give it a Christmas-y kick to it. From what I've read online, it should be ready in around 3 weeks. I can't wait.

In honor of my cider brew, here's a beereview for you which stretches the definition of "beer."

Woodchuck Hard Cider!

In line with my comment about how much I love cider, I also love Woodchuck. It comes in an array of flavors, but today we're sticking with the original. It comes in a short green bottle, with a bright red label on it adorned by, what else, a woodchuck. Which of course, begs the question... how much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Frankly I think this is a serious question, because I believe woodchucks can chuck would rendering this question a hypothetical no-more. I digress...

Down to basics. Woodchuck is a 5% ABV beverage. It pours a very clear, pale yellow reminiscent more of apple juice, than cider. Within the aroma is apples, with a waft of alcohol goodness. I believe Nick described it once before as an alcoholic soda, and that comment definitely holds water. Woodchuck is quite fizzy, and verges on the edge of sparkling cider, but not as dry. Still sweet, and very tasty. There's really not a whole lot to say left. The cider isn't huge on body like a beer would be, but as Nick said, close to an alcoholic apple juice soda. That said, if my cider comes out anything close I'm going to be thrilled.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beer & Turkey

Just wanted to write a quick note to everyone who visits our blog on a weekly basis. Thank you for your dedication and appreciation for our writing. I never thought I'd get the traffic I do today, and it wouldn't be possible without you! Thank you, and have a happy Thanksgiving! Also, don't forget to drink a quality craft or home brewed beer with your turkey. Brown ales work great!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Hopper

Gene mentioned in his post last week that:
"I will be watching it (Brew Masters) tonight, and if Nick doesn't touch on it Wednesday (he doesn't have cable television... weird right?), I certainly will next Monday." 
Well sorry to disappoint you Gene, I'm touching it. I'm touching it a lot. Even without cable, I have my ways of accessing content. Let's just say that if you're willing to re-imagine the show when presented with grotesque substitutions and audio that sounds like it's coming from a can on a string you get my drift.

This post saddens me to write; Sam Caligione is a great name in beer and has done tremendous things to bring craft brewing back into the zeitgeist. As man of many talents, he has successfully started a brewing empire, written books, given speeches, and generally been recognized as one of the most prolific figures in the brewing industry. What he and his brewery are not however is compelling source material for a cable show.

Discovery Channel's executives must be great bakers because they are continuously using their cookie cutters to make nearly identical shows. I blame the runaway success of American Chopper for this since it was one of the first to use this format. The differences between a fast-as-hell stainless steel motorcycle and an immovable stainless steel tank of beer do warrant some consideration however. The best way to describe this show as a fan of both Dogfish Head beer and Sam Caligione is as a 43 minute cringe.

Gene sent me an email a few days ago saying the following, so I know he agrees.
"So I've got mixed feelings about brew masters (i dunno if you got the chance to watch it on hulu or something). The information and story is great. But [Mean Thing Removed]. Obviously that opinion of mine is never going to be put on the blogosphere."
I took notes throughout the show and I won't hold back in the hopes that my suggestions may either improve the show and make it tolerable (even without being drunk,) or cause a phoenix to rise from the ashes after it gets cancelled. I think a bulleted list is in order!

  • In shows like "How it's Made" the product is usually shown being assembled from its parts. While extremely boring to me, this show has a niche because the process is interesting enough for old people. With beer manufacturing everything happens over long periods of time inside stainless steel tanks. If the most exciting machine on the premises is a bottle filler, maybe it's not a good idea to film it?
  • Reading the poem that they derived their motto from, which is too long to print on a six pack is probably too long to read verbatim on a cable show.
  • Dogfish is far larger than most other craft breweries, making it look more like a medium sized factory that a craft brewery. It would have been more compelling to see several smaller operations who often use homemade equipment, rather than the stainless steel monoliths in a huge operation.
  • Sam tends to speak slowly, which is acceptable and part of his character. Whenever the camera is not on him, the editors clipped out all his "ums" and pauses, which sounds totally unnatural. 
  • Having a short deadline for an artisan product (the 5 weeks they had to test the beer before a festival) is a horrible premise. The entire point of craft beer is that it takes time and care to get it right. "Race to the finish" is fine for motorcycles but has no place here.
  • If the searching of bottles for a missing vent tube for over five minutes is compelling television, I feel sorry for this country. I know what my next show will be: find where you dropped your wedding ring under the bed at night without your glasses on.
  • In a show about making beer, it shouldn't take 24 minutes to get to the segment where they actually start making it.
  • Saying you want honey with "chunks of bees still in it" is not appetizing. He said this twice!
OK, this list is getting way too long. Let's do the short version for the last bit. This show was a mishmash of incompatible ideas. The jokes weren't funny enough for tv and they devoted waaaaay too much time to Sam's pet-project hip-hop group "Pain Relievas." 

If you saw the hip-hop sketch on "The Office" about paper this was roughly the same, but about beer and without any Dunder Mifflin paraphernalia. They didn't sound horrible without auto tune, but I couldn't tell if he was seriously fishing for a record contract at Sony. With corny lyrics about beer, this novelty could probably aspire to Tom Greene's "Lonely Swedish" at best. I'm not staying "stick to only what you're good at," but I would like to point out how good Michael Jordan was at baseball.

In summary, it hurts me to criticize one of the people I admire most. I'll continue to love Dogfish Head and I haven't lost any respect for Sam. Unfortunately, this show spoiled in the primary fermenter and should be thrown out. It's best to just move on and try again. Any number of great shows about beer are possible, but focusing on a single brewery and trying to fit it into the American Choppers mold is a mistake.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sierra Nevada Double-Header

Today I bring you two beers from a brewery located in Chico, California. The Sierra Nevada Brewing company. If you're into craft beers at all, you've definitely heard of them. They've been rolling out cases of beer since 1980. They are not shy in using their hops, as apparent from their website with a hop-aplenty background. Today, we'll be reviewing one of their flagship beers, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and a 2010 offering, Summerfest.

You can imagine how tough it is to write a beereview. Now that the blog has gained some traction, my wife understands that I have a commitment to make to the blog every Sunday night (when I author the posts). And when I decided to do my Sierra Nevada double-header, I'm thinking "darn! I have to drink two beers tonight. Oh well, gotta do it for my fans." She saw right through that one, and after I'm done review the Pale Ale, she's already called dibs on confiscating it. Yeah, it's a good beer.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale comes in one of those cute stubby bottles, like one you might be used to a Woodchuck Hard Cider to come in. Not quite as stubby as a Red Stripe, and definitely not as stubby as Tripod, your neighbor's three legged dog. The bottle adorns a lime-green label with a very floral scenery of hops, grains, and what I'm assuming is the Sierra Nevada mountains. Points to Sierra Nevada for pointing out that the Pale Ale is, in fact, bottle conditioned (a little yeast is left in the bottle to naturally produce carbonation), a sign of a finely crafted beer.  Cracking the cap (strongly labeled "USE BOTTLE OPENER," as opposed to... teeth? Or watching less informed domestic beer drinkers tear open their palms?) unleashes a wave of hoppy Cascade goodness. The beer pours a beautiful amber-gold, with a decent, lasting, white head. Again, the smell of hops is very apparent, and you can smell that the Cascade hops are not alone. According to the website, the Cascade is also accompanied by a load of Magnum and Perle hops. Upon drinking you can tell it's a beautifully balanced beer. Very smooth, light in body, and wonderfully hopped. Now... @%)*(^.

Just spilled it. But no worries. Not all of it. Probably just a mouthful. One moment... My keyboard is also savoring the flavor...

Ok. Now, I'm not a hop head by any means. But this beer has a real good touch of it. It's not overwhelming, and it's quite refreshing. This is a wonderfully balanced beer, good for any time of the year, but I'd probably swing it towards more of the warmer months. Also would go great with about anything, but right now I'm feeling burgers.

Onto Summerfest. Labeled a "Crisp Summer Lager" it adorns a blue label, again with a similar scene of the Sierra Nevada mountains that looks like it was painted in 10 minutes... by Bob Ross (how does he do that?). The label all but self proclaims it a "lawnmower beer." Cracking this cap lends a much sweeter smell, classic of a nice summer lager. Very light hop aroma, and a light malt sweetness comes through as well. The beer pours a light gold color, with a bright white head Casper the Ghost would be jealous of. The head slowly collapses and leaves a nice lacing on the side of the glass. Aroma is very light, not much but a slight hop peeks through. The taste, again is light, definitely a pilsner style beer. It is a nicely made lager, but it just really doesn't have much character. Not that it's bad, it tastes fine and is true to style. This beer just isn't very unique. I think it could easily get lost in a sea of pilsners. That said, this is a good beer, one you could easily drink 10 of on a hot summer day.

Postscript (ps): You might have been expecting a Brew Masters post from me (I sure hope you tuned in), but I DVR all my shows. And I was in bed by the time it aired. I will be watching it tonight, and if Nick doesn't touch on it Wednesday (he doesn't have cable television... weird right?), I certainly will next Monday.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brewing in Confinement

Fit on the stove just fine!
I mentioned a few posts back that I was going to try brewing my next batch indoors. Where I live, brewing outdoors has its problems: no hose access, primitive neighbors who fear small fires, Poodle Nazis, and the ever present threat of a leaf-blower-armed  lawn-care worker blasting my wort with detritus. Let's just say that for a while, the pros were outweighed by the cons and I wasn't able to brew.

I can happily report, the aforementioned scenario is no longer the case. While my grill and patio furniture are still under the jurisdiction of the Poodle Nazi, my brew pot is firmly in my domain. I had to modify my process due to the limited space, unusual water sources, and destructibility of my surroundings but I proved to myself that brewing in confinement (titular line!) can be done. I'm not sure how the warden will feel about your choice of hobby, but most inmates in security levels above medium will need to wait twenty to life to try this out. However, for the rest of us in either minimum security prison or imprisoned by high association fees and a condo mortgage, here's the scoop.

Step 1: Gathering Materials

Aware that I wasn't going to have hose access, probably the most important part of this process was not picking a recipe that would overtax my stove. Ordinary kitchen stoves aren't really designed to boil extremely large quantities of liquid and depending on the materials might not be able to handle the weight. I chose a recipe that was only two and a half gallons of boiling liquid for a five gallon recipe hoping it would be alright. Gene made me a little nervous saying his stove couldn't do it, but I think he has gas (and a gas stove.)

I also bought six one gallon Poland Springs bottles of water. Having measured containers really helps when adding two and a half gallons to an unlabeled pot. I didn't need to worry about sanitizing extra measuring containers and I could see exactly what I'd used.

Being indoors, I wasn't going to use my hose-powered wort chiller, lest I soak my Playstation or couch. The recipe suggested filling a sink with ice water to cool down the boil. I'll explain more on that later, but I needed to buy a Ms. Fixit sink stopper to keep the sink filled.

Step 2: Cleaning and Sanitizing

This step is where not having a hose really bites. I had to clean and sanitize everything in my bathtub, which contrary to what you might think is not a very sanitary environment. The soap scum or mildew present in the pipes is exactly the kind of contaminant you want to avoid when brewing. Using the shower (with detachable shower head) was sort of like a low pressure hose, but I had to be super careful not to get anything wet that I had already sterilized.

I eventually worked out a system, but the hardest thing was turning on the water in the tub, switching it to the shower, and controlling the water spray before it could touch anything unwanted. I had about two seconds to snatch the handle before water came out of the shower. With a hose, there is a trigger which prevents this problem, although in the shower I didn't blast myself in the face nearly as much.

My brew pot also left scratch marks in the tub from the graphite handles, but these easily cleaned off. If you have a porcelain tub, clawfooted brass basin, or something fancy you may not want to use it as a giant dish washer. The bathtub is worse in almost every way from washing outdoors except for one thing: there aren't any bugs indoors. Insects can land on your sanitized surfaces outdoors, potentially introducing all kinds of nasty critters into your brew.

I've gone into more boring cleaning in previous posts, so I'll spare you here. Suffice to say, all the processes are the same.

Step 3: The Boil

Jury-rigged solution for the thermometer
Even on an electric stove, this beer came up to temperature very fast. Without the wind messing with my bayou burner or stealing the heat from my pot the temperature rose quickly and evenly. I didn't even get scorching when I added the malt extract. It was super easy to regulate the temperature; the only hitch was that the wort level was so low that my candy thermometer didn't reach it. I had to rig up a hook to hold it in place.

Step 4: Cooling and The Transfer

I filled the sink with ice and water prior to ending the boil. I was lucky that when I put the pot in the sink it didn't overflow, but it was close. Surprisingly, all the ice from my ice maker wasn't enough to cool this monster down. I ended up having to run out to buy 2 bags of ice. No harm done though, it came down to temperature and I was able to transfer it easily. Having the pot up in the sink made the siphon work quickly, which isn't normally the case.

I added the extra water, pitched the yeast, and kicked back. Indoor brewing success!

Next time, we'll get back to the winter nine-pack!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beer Chills

There's a lot of things that gets me all sorts of excited. I would say I'm easily excitable. I'm totally stoked that the roadwork on my way to work is almost done. Thanksgiving is coming up. Fallout New Vegas rocks. I just bought a pack of Double-Stuf Oreos. 

There's a lot of things that get me excited, but there's a few things that send a chill down my spine that this could be the start of something big. Like when I got my first homebrew kit. My first day of a new job. Starting to coach. These things come fewer and farther between that the items mentioned above. But it just happened the other day when I saw commercial's for Discovery's new show "Brew Masters."

This means a lot. First of all, it seems like it's going to be a completely BA (badass) show. Secondly, it is a single handed demonstration on how powerful the craft beer movement is becoming (on a more personal note this could mean a jump in traffic for yours truly, bonus!).

Brew Masters is going to be a show all about Sam Calagione and his brewery "Dogfish Head." According to the teaser trailers, Brew Masters is going to focus more on Sam and his team as they search the world for strange and odd beer ingredients. Sam and Dogfish have been known worldwide for brewing crazy and "off-centered" beers. Ever had a beer with raisins? Call on Dogfish. Want a beer brewed with yeast thousands of years old? Call on Dogfish. Dogfish, of course, is "off-centered beer for off-centered people." You got to love the guy though. His ideals are strong and pure. He's not one to talk himself up. His belief is in his beer, and he lets the beer do the talking. And boy it talks. Nick's written some posts regarding Dogfish's products (see our Dogfish Head Tags). Nick loves the Dogfish Head. It's because of the off-centered beer-ness that drives him. Sam brews beer that breaks all definitions of beer. Styles mean nothing to him. If the German Purity Law, or Reinheitsgebot, was enforced by capital punishment, Sam Calagione would've been drawn, quartered, burned, tarred, and feathered. Twice.

Needless to say, I'm totally stoked to see the first episode. Tune your DVRs. Brew Masters premiers this Sunday, at 10pm.

Another thing I got chills about is a new place called the World of Beer. What is it? Well it's a bar. That's already got 9 locations only in Florida (suck it, CO), and 3 more opening up. This isn't just any bar though. It's a bar with a boatload (like Titanic) number of beers on tap and in bottles. Website says over 500 beers and 40 different taps. Holy $@(*ing crap. Pardon my French, but even a Frenchman would be excited about this. On top of that they have a card you can get, and when you hit certain sampling milestones, you get free stuff. And not just pencils and coasters. Hit the 500 mark, and you get a private party with a $250 free bar tab. Not only that you also get a plaque on the wall, t-shirts etc. I was planning to go this weekend, but got tied up with far too many things. But watch out and stay tuned. I'm on my way. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Beerreview: World Market’s Winter 9-Pack

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent a little time as obedient American consumers last weekend; The end result was a veritable smorgasbord of impulse purchases. My buyer’s remorse is aflame over the Tobasco chocolate, however one purchase I don’t regret is the Winter  9-Pack. I’ll be reviewing a couple at a time over the next few weeks, so pick one up and drink along with me. 

The pack contains (in no particular order) Troegs Reckoning Porter, Troegs Mad Elf, Southern Tier Old Man Winter, Harpoon Warmer, Fuller’s London Pride, Woodchuck Winter, Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve, Rogue Mocha Porter, and Troegs Java Head. It really spans the full range of quality; London Pride is super terrible and Mad Elf is great.

World Market is such an eclectic store that it deserves a proper introduction (which should probably help explain the odd picks in their Winter 9-Pack.) It can probably be best described as the combination of the dominant traits of Trader Joes and Pier One. If you’ll excuse some retail math, breaking each store down into its component parts we get:

P = Vaguely Asian Themed Import Furniture and Home Décor
p = Candles
T = High Quality but extremely unusual chocolates, beer, and wine
t = Vitamins, Groceries, and Produce

The resulting combinations give us:

Pp = Pier One
Tt = Trader Joes
PT = World Market
pt = Hispanic Grocery Store
Pt = Permanent Flea Market
Tp = Fancy wine shop

Q.E.D., World Market is inevitable. This also completely explains why they stock Spotted Dick, Zen Calendars, and Chimay.

I like the save the best for last which means we’ll be starting with the two weakest offerings.

Fuller’s London Pride Pale Ale

Many beers marked “Premium” and “Outstanding” on the label disappoint. My expectations of this beer were further lowered due to the fact that this beer occupied the central “invisible” spot in the square configuration of nine beers. It was completely shrouded (like a freezing penguin.) They cut a little hole in the lid so the cap could be read in the store, but it ultimately felt like filler. From the label, this seemed more like Molson XXX than anything I’d want to drink. Bottoms up!

This beer tasted like beer. There’s no better way to describe it other than to say it’s utterly completely and redundantly generic. My wife tasted it and said she wouldn’t finish the bottle; it did meet two out of my three criteria though (cold and here, but not good) so I finished it. I checked (my favorite review site) and saw it ranked 1753/23607, which is astonishingly high. Maybe I had a bad bottle, or maybe people really do link price and taste. We’ll never know for sure.

Woodchuck Winter Hard Cider

With a creative name like “winter” I had no idea what to expect from this hard cider. Woodchuck pretty much tastes like apple soda, with some notable variations (pear, granny smith, amber, etc.) I used to drink this stuff in college along with Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi O, but I generally don’t like things this sweet or emasculating anymore.

Since hard cider is not beer, I’ll make this brief. Woodchuck Winter tasted like a slightly dryer version of their standard Amber. It was pretty good, like apple champagne but probably had enough sugar to kill ten dentists. If you have a sweet tooth and read a beer blog but don’t like beer, maybe this is for you.
Next week, we’ll try some better ones!

Monday, November 8, 2010

'Tis the Season...

To buy your big ol' propane turkey fryer. In my wanderings around Lowes and Target this weekend, I noticed the renewed presence of propane turkey fryers and thought that it might be a good time to draw some attention to them. If you're not going to read this any further, leave with this, buy one now.

I've heard around the grapevine that if you live in a more northern, less south-influenced state, that these turkey fryers can be hard to come buy. Down here they're available year round. This time of year though there's pretty good deals on them. Probably part of the government's plot to eliminate idiots from America by encouraging explosive iced-turkey frying. However, the side effect of this plan is really effective homebrewing. I absolutely love my turkey fryer. Especially since my stove at home just didn't have the juice to effectively boil a 3 gallon pot of water. The fryer however, boils 7 gallons with ease. I've also modified mine (see below) with tabs to fit a 1/2 barrel keg, without worries of it falling over. Another advantage is that it brings your brewing outside, away from nicely placed furniture, and any nagging audiences worried about "messes" being made. Any messes made outside can be sprayed down with a hose like the inside of a penguin habitat (#24). Only downside to the untrained eye people might think you're cooking meth, trying to blow up the neighborhood, or worse, cooking a turkey.

On another note, I hit up the CFHB meeting yesterday and brought my entries for the Sunshine Challenge. By now, the deadline has past, and you're too late. Rumor at the meeting has it that this year's competition has over 500 entries. Including two of mine, ATOTB #02 : Clean Blonde Ale, and ATOTB #04 : High Octane Imperial Stout. I'm hoping that my style selection was better than last time. We'll see how we do. I brought some #04 to the meeting and got some nice complements on it. If anything, it's nice to drink, if not to style. Also managed to get my hands on a Oberon pint glass and a few brew stickers (saaaweeet!).

Till next time, and remember to go out and buy you're neighborhood meat howitzer, I mean, turkey fryer to do some nice and easy outdoor brewing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Beereview: Rogue Dead Guy

Rogue Dead Guy has a special place in my heart, right next to nachos. Back when I first became a beer drinker (not a beer snob) Rogue Dead Guy was probably the fanciest beer I'd had. It could also regularly be purchased at McGrady's, which was my college tavern of choice. Just after turning 21, I felt suave ordering pitchers of it for my table (when it was on sale) and got a kick out of the macabre connotations.

Beer with an intriguing name always deserves a second look. Who was this guy who apparently died alone? Jerry Garcia? Some unknown Mariachi slain at Día de los Muertos and risen from the grave? The bottle evokes images of Jack Skellington, Grim Fandango, and Indiana Jones, none of which I associate with beer but all of which I associate with awesomeness (Except for Hot Topic: the store for angsty teens who ruined Nightmare for everybody else.)

The funny thing about this beer is that I have tons of memories about it, but absolutely no memories of how it tasted. When I had it last, I hadn't awakened my inner beer snob and wasn't paying attention to the same things. It just goes to show: when you're interested in something a whole world of experiences open up.

After the Rally to Restore Sanity, we were in World Market in Virginia picking up such novelties as Beanboozled (terrible-flavored jelly beans,) Zen Calendars, and Bacon Chocolate when something caught our eye. They had bottles of Rogue Dead Guy out for sale and the box said that the bottles glow in the dark. I have quite the bottle collection, but I couldn't wait to have one on my shelf that glows of its own volition. We laughed a little more about the cans of Spotted Dick and the jars of full sized (6" long) German sausages and headed home.

Upon closer inspection, it was concluded that the Dead Guy Ale we bought did not in fact glow in the dark and must have been misfiled. Having lost it's reason for sticking around as a conversation starter, I decided to give this old college favorite the treatment.

Rogue Dead Guy is a very foamy beer and probably had the best head retention I have ever seen. It didn't leave any lacing, but the suds stuck around for several minutes and seemed to have the same frothy consistency as Mr. Bubble. It would definitely look fine in your replica World of Warcraft Dwarven Ale Stein, a Beer Chalice, or your engraved souvenir over-sized mug from Gene's wedding.

The color is darker amber and crystal clear. The smell reminded me slightly of hops and citrus. It smells a little like an IPA, but much much sweeter. The taste reminded me a lot of Ruby Red Grapefruit: it starts out very sweet then changes to slightly bitter. While I was drinking it I was thinking of how well it would go with a ham sandwich which starts out a little sweet (from the honey glaze) and finished with the swiss cheese (adding some bitterness.) Add in some spicy brown mustard for heat, and you'd have a perfect lunch.

Overall, this is a much better beer than I remembered and I would highly recommend it. I don't generally go after Rogue Beer, but after this I'll have check out more of their brews. I had a bunch back in college, but I bet my tastes have changed.

Side Note: I checked the Dead Guy page and was pleased to see their recommended food pairings are pork and hot foods. I guess my instincts were correct this time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beereview: Shock Top Belgian White

Summer's out. Well, for most of you. I'm still enjoying days of 80-90 degree heat here in sunny Florida. But regardless the season is changing and it's time to trade out those light, summery, lawn mower riding beers for something a little more heavy bodied and warm. So I better get this beereview out of my fridge and on the net before it gets buried behind a wall of beers with ABVs above 7%.

Shock Top Belgian White actually comes from the Michelob Brewing Company, which is interesting because it has so much flavor. Without further ado, lets pop the top and get this party started. First aromas are definitely cirtusy, might even smell some classic American cascade hops in there which are also known for their citrus smell. I oblige the bottle and after pour most the beer into a glass, with "a 1/2" of beer left in the bottle I place it on its side and roll it back and forth to get all the good stuff that's left into my pint.

The bottle pours an amber-gold, with no head retention whatsoever. Any head that was present disappeared before I finished rolling my bottle around (not recommended for a bar setting, easy to drop or roll into the burger of the guy sitting next to you who is inevitably bigger). Again, a strong orange citrus aroma is present.

The first sip is sweet. Like Blue Moon, but sweeter. The beer also seems fairly carbonated, maybe a little too much so. Would I call this beer "fruity?" Maybe, but the sweetness is balanced out a little bit by the lemon and lime tartness that is mentioned on the label. The body of the beer is on the light side, but for a Belgian white, probably right on.

Shock Top is easy to drink, and easy to drink a lot of. I wouldn't waste a clean pint glass to pour it into, not much is gained by doing so. Just fine to drink from the bottle, but be sure to roll it, cause that gets you... absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Now You're Cooking!

A potentially overlooked but very versatile ingredient in many recipes is beer. I'm not just talking about having four or five while you nuke your Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but good guess. Almost any recipe calling for some sort of wine can use beer instead. Beer makes an excellent soup base, can deglaze even the cruddiest pan, and makes chili amazing.

Cooking with beer first entered my consciousness when I was around eleven years old. My cousin's uncle had an electric crock pot full of hot dogs and Budweiser which had been slow cooking all day. At this age, I don't think I had tasted beer and probably would have found it disgusting, but those hot dogs were really good. Ever since then, it stuck with me: beer makes food better.

Let's expand the notion beyond beer-dogs and beer-battered-shrimp. We're higher class than that, right? Obviously we are not (since I'm sure your mouth is watering,) but indulge me.

What a lot of people don't often think about is the chemistry involved in cooking. A soup pot is just a big experiment which, much like in the chem lab, you hope does not end up filling your house with noxious brown smoke. In chemistry, solvents are used to dissolve solids, and alcohol is one of the best. By adding wine, beer, sherry, cognac, or anything else to the mixture you're dissolving compounds and allowing them to react (creating tons of new flavors which you couldn't get any other way.) You can throw all the Buckler Non-Alcoholic beer you want in that pan but it's not going to work out.

Deglazing a pan takes this one step further. You have crusty burned food stuck to the bottom of your favorite stainless steel pan that just won't come off (you can't use non-stick for sauce since the crusties stick to the food instead.) You could waste all this flavor potential and soak it in soap for a few hours, or you could do as the French do and make a wine (or beer) reduction sauce from it. The options are endless, but usually match the beer or wine with the food you're eating. One of the simplest reduction sauces is just red wine (like burgundy,) butter, sliced shallot, thyme (or tarragon for lamb,) and salt. Throw some wine on that nasty crust and mix in the rest to wind up with an excellent steak sauce (once it reduces to sauce viscosity.)

Also, if you have some skunked beer you don't want to drink, you can just throw it in the hot crusty pan to make cleanup a snap. Don't eat the sauce though; it'll probably taste like fried skunk stink-gland.

For the best flavor use beer that goes with the food, not the national brands. The beer you use in the sauce should go with the meal, so serve the other five along with it (assuming you didn't drink them all while cooking.) I use beer in a Rachel Ray pumpkin muffin stuffing recipe (which I'd post, but apparently it's not online,) as a soup base for pumpkin rarebit soup (link is similar, but I use the one from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest,) and as added flavor in chili. I've also had beer in the following and it's been amazing:

  • Steak Sauce
  • Sausages Simmered in Beer
  • Chipotle Gravy
  • Shrimp Cocktail (Beer in the Sauce)
  • Beer Bread
  • Beer-Battered Anything
  • Guinness Stew
  • Chili (try Chocolate Stout for added smoke)

Beer's low alcohol content means you won't be using it for Steaks Diane any time soon, but be glad your neighbors won't call the fire department. I hope you'll consider trying out a recipe. Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Krausen? I barely even know 'em!

So last week (Tuesday exactly), I decided to do a spontaneous brew session. I hopped on Beersmith and sat down with my handy guide "Designing Great Beers" and charts in the back of "Clone Brews" and start drafting up a beer. I want something with kick, balls. Something that will grow some hair on your chest. Not quite a barleywine, however. After about a half hour of fiddling with numbers and ingredients I came up with ATOTB #04: High Octane Imperial Stout.

Brewing went great, couldn't have gone better. My mash tun was full to the top with grain. That morning i was fiddling with brewing efficiencies in my program, so I didn't hit my intended OG which would have yielded me 12% ABV. However I'm on track to get a beer running around 9% ABV. This is my first "big beer." A big beer refers to a beer with a high alcohol by volume. I didn't know what I was in for. Yeast was pitched around 3pm.

The next morning I go about my normal routine. Wake up, let the dogs out, sit at the computer and check my daily comics. From the closet I hear a whistle, kinda like your leaky pool float. I had decided to use my fermentation bucket over the carboy, because I knew the fermentation would be vigorous. Well. Vigorous is an understatement. I open the door to the closet and the airlock is chuck full with dark chocolate brown krausen, blocking the air holes. The lid of the bucket has bulged out and looked like the dome at Tropicana Field. I popped off the lid of the airlock and foam begins flowing out like a middle school kid's science fair volcano. I was on my way to my parents that day, so I didn't have much time to attend to it. I placed it out on the back porch to go through the motions. I come back the end of the day and I've got a stream of fermented beer going across the deck. Finally I spray off the bucket, replace the airlock, and it continued bubbling away for the next few days.

But what the hell is Krausen? Krausen is a thick layer of foam that develops on the top of the beer in the primary stages of fermentation. The foam itself majorly contains many by-products of the fermentation, including dead yeast cells, hop resins, tannins from the grain, and proteins. It also majorly contains fusel oils, which are direct by-products of the fermentation in the beer. Fusel oils are higher-order alcohols (alcohols with more than two carbon atoms) and are off flavors to a beer. They are bitter, nasty and contribute to hangovers (down with fusel!!). Fusel actually means "bad liquor" in German. There are a few different schools of though on how to deal with krausen, mainly two opposing sides. One side says get rid of it, and the other says don't worry about it. I'm thinking that one side is the paranoid chemists, biologists, and school teachers (you know the ones; they're the main market for anti-viral tissues and hand sanitizers) who say remove the krausen, because they dont want it to fall back into their beer and produce off flavors. But the people who run the percentages and odds (engineers, accountants, and insurance risk assessors), leave the krausen be because it is in fact a very small portion of the fermenting beer, and you're more likely to contaminate your beer than improve it.

If you can't tell, I leave the krausen be.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pumpkin Ale Primer

Seasonal beers are nothing new, especially in the craft beer section. Sam Adams practically has it down to a science (or rather, literally has it down to a science since their team of chemists has to consistently deliver the same product year after year.) Autumn is a particularly bewildering season; almost every brewery out there is doing a pumpkin ale. You'd practically need to take out a third home equity loan in order to try them all. I thought I'd propose a few simple guidelines to help:

Guideline #1: Crap with pumpkin is still crap.

You might be surprised to know that Budweiser (or Anheuser-Busch) comes in a pumpkin variety called Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale. I guess they realized that Bud Pumpkin sounds pretty gross. I had the misfortune of tasting this beer, and I wasn't surprised at how watery, flavorless, and low quality it was. It tasted like somebody added artificial pumpkin flavoring, sugar, and cinnamon candy to a bud (but it was cheap and I think that's the idea.)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Dogfish Head releases Punk annually, which is a spiced primarily with cinnamon, moderately sweet, and full-bodied (high ABV) brown ale. It's priced similarly to other Dogfish head seasonal brews, but is well worth the money. I even cook with it sometimes by adding it to my stuffing.

You need to use your opinion of the brewery when selecting a Pumpkin Ale. There are a lot of inexpensive middle of the road options from large breweries. For instance  Blue Moon (Coors)  makes Harvest Moon, Sam Adam's has Harvest Pumpkin Ale, and Saranac has Pumpkin Ale (how creative.) Many of these are terrible, so be your own judge and buy single bottles first.

Guideline #2: Choose food wisely.

See how you feel about the following choices to gauge whether you should inflict your seasonal beer on party guests.

  1. Pumpkin Ale with a traditional turkey dinner.
  2. Pumpkin Ale with pumpkin pie.
  3. Pumpkin Ale with pizza.
  4. Pumpkin Ale with Chinese food.
If you were iffy on 3 and cringed at 4, you've got the right idea. Spicy beer competes with the food being served, so you need to match it up. If the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg would make the food taste like the inside of a garbage pail at a busy cafeteria then it might not be the best time for pumpkin ale.

Generally sweet foods also make beer taste horrible; the extra spicy pumpkin ales can overcome this however. Treat them like "before dinner" or "after dinner" choices; they are fine with cheese and crackers (but not stinky cheese) or vanilla ice cream. It can go with some meals like turkey with mashed potatoes and stuffing but be wary.

Guideline #3: Read the byline.

"Pumpkin Ale" indicates the seasonal nature and inclusion of pumpkin, but nothing else. The only common traits between these beers are the pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg (and often cardamom and clove.) Some of them are spicy, some of them are sweet, and lots of them are just marketing gimmicks to bring in some extra money. Read the short description on the bottle, but take it with a grain of salt. They know what people want to hear (spicy, full bodied, and pumpkin,) but lots of times they will say whether it's sweet or spicy.

Guideline #4: Purchase seasonal beer at high volume stores.

Some beer ages well and some does not. This generally has to due with live yeast and a high enough alcohol content to keep the beer from going bad. Also the beer needs to be stored properly and kept out of the sun. Pumpkin Ale is usually not intended to be aged.

Combine the previous idea with the limited time period that people want to buy Pumpkin Ale and you'll soon realize that it may not fly off the shelves before the winter beer starts taking up its niche. This means that unless you're buying from a place than consistently sells out of seasonal beer (i.e. popular large shop) you may be buying paleolithic pumpkin ale which is long past its expiration.

Guideline #5: A lot of people like the idea of Pumpkin Ale but not the flavor.

This may come as a shock, but lots of people don't like spices in beer. Pumpkin ale is unfortunately so varied in quality and style that it's impossible to endorse as a serious variety. The novelty of pumpkins and Halloween sells lots of crap around this time of year, and beer is no different. I would wager a guess that most of the pumpkin ale sold is sold to people who will not like it.

For those of us with more adventurous tastes, there are certainly gems to be found with this variety. My standout superstar is Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale because it is exceptionally spicy, but that same statement has been used to describe it negatively in several reviews. Personal tastes are so important with Pumpkin Ale that I can't seriously recommend any particular one.

The best advice I can give is buy one bottle each of a whole bunch that seem appealing and taste them. If you don't like it, give it to the trick or treaters.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rockin' the Beer Gun

I think few people will get the title of this post, because it's a spinoff of an unpopular country song. If you get it, kudos to you, and Nikki, you don't count.

As promised last week, my beer gun has arrived in the mail! And while you can't hold up a bank with it, it's rumored to fill beer bottles with unrivaled ease. The beer gun comes from the almighty Blichmann Engineering, makers of the FERMENATOR (which none of you can help saying in any voice other than the announcer for the WWE). The engineers over at Blichmann tend to make high quality, intricate, and high price amateur beer brewing equipment. I heard about the beer gun a little ways back, and relative to the other equipment, was much more in my range of affordability. Other beer dispensing system seem overly complex, where the Beer Gun has a one handed two finger approach. Lets start with the setup.

The Beer Gun by itself comes with the gun, 10' of beer line, and a pipe cleaner to clean the inside of the gun. The "optional" accessory kit comes with a gas line, a fitting to connect the line to your gun, a ball lock, and a barbed flare and nut to connect the beer line to said ball lock. I say "optional" because to me it seems that these items tend to be necessary to the whole process. The beer gun kit itself is around $70 depending where you look, and the accessory kit is another $30.

In addition to the kit I ordered I also had to make some modifications to my CO2 system (pictured). At the regulator I installed a T and a ball valve so I could connect the beer gun to it anytime without dismantling my whole system. Not a huge issue, but an extra cost that should be expected.

This morning I prepped everything to go. I sanitized my gun, the tubing, the connector, my caps, and my bottles for the competition (plus one for trial).

Setting up and filling was actually a total breeze. I connected up the CO2, opened the ball valve, and heard the slow hiss from my gun (this is expected). I opened up my kegerator, popped the original ball lock off the keg and replaced it with my beer gun lock, and filled away. With my ring finger I depressed the gas button for about 2 seconds to purge the bottle with CO2, then with my middle finger I pulled the trigger and filled the bottle with the oh so sweet nectar of the gods. Once the beer got to the top edge I withdrew the gun and gave it another shot of CO2 to clear the head space in the bottle, and moved to the next one. I had all four bottles filled in under 2 minutes, easy. Despite the directions I decided not to follow (chilling the bottles and decreasing the pressure in my system, both to reduce foaming), I had little or no foaming in the bottles. I am very impressed, because I've had some serious issues with foaming in the past.

 I'm extremely impressed with Blichmann's bottle filler. It's one handed operation made everything move without flaw one bottle to the next. Some people might be a little worried about the CO2 escaping, but lighten up people, the simplicity is worth the trade off. On top of everything else, it's fun running around the house pulling the trigger at everything and saying "beer! beer! beer!"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

 I’ve been going back and forth on the issue of whether I dare brewing outside on my condo’s shared lawn. The reason I have been going back and forth isn’t neighborly concern (of which I have little.) It’s because of our lurker: The Poodle Nazi.

You all have met people like The Poodle Nazi. They are the little brat tattletales that grow up into spineless weasels with such little self satisfaction in their pitiable lives that they only feel better about themselves when they borrow authority and use it to enforce asinine rules over people who contribute more to society than themselves and are otherwise minding their own business. Is that a long enough sentence for you? I’m not referring to people who write “Wash Me” on dirty cars, I’m talking about people who leave a note on your door that your doorknob is the wrong color and that they will be fining you $100 unless you change it.

I’m not afraid of him and his little rat-dog; in fact, I’m fairly convinced I could hurt him rather badly. My issues with brewing outside are that I don’t want to get fined, and I don’t want to be told to stop while boiling (wasting my ingredients and time.) It’s just a hunch, but I suspect our Poodle Nazi doesn’t fully comprehend the minimal danger of retail LP cooking equipment. His Neanderthal brain can’t comprehend that a responsible adult can easily manage five gallons of boiling liquid without setting the building on fire.

The concerns I have raised are not unreasonable. The Poodle Nazi invents rules on a whim. Last week he saw me outside putting my grill cover on and demanded that I remove my extra LP tank (for brewing.) I checked the guidebook beforehand and all it says is that you need to keep them 100 feet from the building. When I told him this, his response was that he was going to add “no spare LP tanks” to the guide. What is this, Feudal England? I wish there was something I could do here but unfortunately he’s probably got a lady-in-waiting for the position of “spineless idiot.”

This New Kit Sure Looks Like a Big Pile of Drugs
Now that you fully understand my predicament, I decided that my next batch of beer will be fully brewed indoors with a hose on my porch for rinsing. I’m still worried about it boiling over and leaving my stove a sticky mess, but I found a recipe that only requires 2.5 gallons of the liquid to be boiled. With so little liquid I don’t think the weight will be a problem on my electric range, and I should have plenty of time to control a boil-over before it reaches the top of the pot.

I still need to buy a large ice bucket, since I can’t use my wort chiller indoors, and I also need to buy 5 gallons of good water. I’ll keep you all posted. Wish me luck!