Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Green Bottle Blues

As you may recall, one of my previous posts was about bottle cleaning. In that post Gene was appalled to see clear bottles (Newcastle) in my bucket - with good reason. I never ended up using those bottles (they were for emergencies only, since I wasn’t sure I had enough) but I did use a few green ones. Let’s see how that turned out:

First: A Little History

Being too lazy to look it up, this will be my slanted, biased, and otherwise corrupted version of the facts. Needless to say, it’s still better than what you’d hear on the News.

During the early part of the 20th century following prohibition, import laws were enacted to protect domestic breweries from foreign competition. The reason given was that American’s couldn’t easily tell the difference between domestic and imported beer. Being good patriots but poor readers, they needed to have different colored bottles to indicate the beer’s origin. Brown was reserved for domestic beer and green was used for imports. This might sound logical, but in fact it’s quite nefarious.

We all know light causes beer to get “skunked.” This is due to the formation of mercaptins, which are literally the same chemicals found in skunk musk. Needless to say, unless you’re playing a game of Beanboozled, you really don’t want to taste those. Why the digression into my tenuous grasp on chemistry? When the bottle colors for “import” and “domestic” were chosen, it was because green glass lets in light and brown glass doesn’t. They wanted imported beers to get skunked, in a sort of solar sabotage effort. Special interest groups were almost as sneaky back then as they are now.

Back to the Present

On my first batch of beer, I used all brown bottles with the exception of 4 Grolsch style bottles. All the brown bottle beer was fine, but most of the Grolsch bottle tasted kind of flat and bad. I thought something was wrong with the gaskets or my sanitizing, but now I don’t think that’s the case.

On my second batch of beer, I used 2 green Stella bottles as an experiment. The caps seemed like they might not have fit on right, since the shape is slightly different, but I believe that they did seal. Both of those bottles tasted off, not quite skunked but not quite fresh, like saltines left on the counter overnight. I’ll probably try this one more time to make sure it wasn’t the caps, but my hunch is that these were the victims of sunlight. Conclusion: Green glass turns your homebrew into vampires.

The only remaining question is how these beers deteriorated so quickly. I didn’t leave them out in the open; they were in a dark closet. I suspect it happened the morning after bottling. When I finished bottling, I didn’t have the space cleared in the closet for all the beer so I left it on the kitchen table. Ordinarily, it takes beer quite a while to skunk indoors, but under direct sunlight it can happen in only a few minutes.

In the morning, our living room windows face east, getting direct sunlight. Even with the blinds closed, this causes what I call laser beams (since they always always hit my eyes directly when I am trying to sleep in) to sweep across the room like some sort of beer killing scanner. These bottles were in full range of Ra that one morning. I suspect that’s what did them in, creating two bottles of “Lightstruck Beer.”

Lesson Learned? Always use brown bottles for yourself, and donate green bottles to your rivals.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tighten my Belt

I could go on for eons regarding the remoteness of northern Montana, but I'll keep this as focused as possible. So there I was, in Great Falls, Montana visiting my wife in the middle of a four week business trip. Depending on the resolution of your computer monitor, you couldn't zoom in far enough to get Great Falls to fill up your screen. It's an understatement to say there's not a lot going on in Great Falls. I've never seen roads go so straight for so long. I grew up in upstate New York, an hour north of the big city, and I got into enough trouble since there was 'nothing to do' in Poughkeepsie. I shudder to think what kind of trouble the kids get into up here.

So came Monday of my trip, and my wife had to work. I had to find something to do aside from staring at the ceiling of the hotel room, or going to the nearest Barnes & Noble to read books again. Naturally I opened up google maps and typed in "brewery" and to my surprise one popped up. About 25 minutes outside of town.

25 minutes... outside of town? The town I've already described as the mecca of nothingness? That's right. So I hopped into my rental and drove out to Belt, Montana.

 And there's Belt. Wait, can't see it?
Ooooh there it is.

Arriving at the corner of no and where, I throw it into park, snap a picture and start walking towards the Harvest Moon Brewing Company. The website had no hours of operation, so I was a little worried about getting there a little too early (11:45 am). I heard some cussing coming from the back of the brew house, so I figured there'd be someone around to pull a tap handle.

I sat down and began talking to a real nice guy, Stan (who I later found out was the owner) about all his beers, and I got a full tour of what was on tap. Now, I don't want to sound like some arrogant, self absorbed city slicker from Orlando. But I had my reservations entering the town with a population pushing 600 people. Where I grew up, I had 550 in my graduating high school class. But I was delightfully surprised on how good these beers were. I might even verge on to say that the Harvest Moon Brewing Company is the best micro brewery I've been to.

I started with the pigs ass porter, which appeared to be the most advertised beer. It was no doubt a decent porter. The beer was very well balanced, not too hoppy and not too malty. However the beers to follow were out of this world. I had the Beltian White Ale, which smelled and tasted with coriander, a unique, and might I say delicious flavor that I havent experienced before. I also had the Great Falls Select which was one of the most amazing and simple beers I have ever had. Most (over 90%) of the beer is made from your standard 2 row grain, the secret lying in the fact that the grain is grown and malted just up the street in Montana. This was some of the best tasting and flavorful 2 row malted grain I've ever tasted, and it definitely came through in the beer. If I can get this stuff down in Florida, I'd make a fortune. Stan the man finished me off with his Hazlenut Brown Ale which would be perfect for right around the holidays. Almost more a desert than a beer, it tasted like your favorite hazlenut coffee creamer. Just not coffee creamer, beer.

For 20 bucks I was able to get a pint, sample 3 other beers, and grab myself a t-shirt. So the visit was cheap as all-get-out. But I have a feeling that I'm going to be remembering this brewery for a long time, as from here on out I will be noticing the freshness of ingredients and I will always be comparing to this middle-of-nowhere brewery in Belt, MT. Thanks to you Stan, for the beer and the 3 hours of conversation that came with it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Welcome Drink With The Wench Visitors!

Congratulations Gene on being the featured blogger over at!

If you're just joining us after reading the interview, welcome. If you're ATOTB regulars, feel free to go on and check the interview out.

Although the blogosphere is fairly immune to the summer rerun syndrome, occasionally we will mention older posts in our equivalent of a clip-show. Considering the autobiographical content available in the interview, I thought it a good time to try some blog biography.

In the beginning, there was Gene. Gene posted all by himself for about a year. The blog was a lot more free-form back then, mainly documenting his home brew journey and mad scientist projects. While we still do both those things, the blog has become much more.

In March this year, Gene invited me (Nick) to write with him on this blog. We go way back, having been neighbors and friends for many years. Hi all. We quickly used Blogger In Draft to update the layout and were rolling along.

As we became more regular (and no, I'm not talking about raisin bran,) we started attracting what at the time seemed like decent traffic. Gene's Knick Knack Paddy Whack post actually got him a free sample of the Newcastle Draught Keg, and I got a decent amount of comments on my review of Coastal Wheat.

Things were going well, until... KABLAM!!! All our posts were deleted on Friday April 23rd. Whether this was a glitch that affected only our blog, or somebody maliciously deleted our posts, ATOTB was wiped out. The tragedy was averted however, since I subscribed to my own feed in Google reader (which saves a copy.) I was able to quickly whip up a program to restore the blog, sans-comments.

If I didn't have enough reasons to believe in karma before, on Monday May 3rd, little over a week after being obliterated, we were named Google's Blog of Note. We were floored by the amount of traffic being generated and all the nice people who left comments on our posts.

We've been posting every Monday and Wednesday since. Feel free to peruse the archives for custom brewing equipment and HERMS construction, brewing from a kit, beereviews, and brewery tours.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bring on the horses

Beereview time, and I have a treat for you. Went to a shady grocery store on the way home doing some construction when something caught my eye that I just could not walk past. I can't help but chuckle as I look at the big glass bottle sitting on my coaster waiting anxiously to be opened up. I'm feeling a little anxious myself, excited to try it, but also fearing just how awful it could be. So lets not wait any longer! It's beereview time. And lets twist off the cap to this 32 oz. bottle of...

Ha ha ha.... COLT 45!

Now obviously everyone's heard of this notoriously cheap and bad beer. Well just how cheap is it?? My 32 oz. bottle cost less that 2 dollars. Just around $1.50 actually. So yes, this is one cheap as dollar store wrapping paper the day after Christmas. Now it's time to grab the screw top and hit this pig.

Head? Not... exactly. Wait for it. Wait for it. Yep it's gone. Pretty sure I could count the bubbles on a pre-k abacus. It smells like Coors light, or Bud for that matter. Here we go.

Hm. Honestly, I expected it to be worse. It tastes a little like keystone, but not quite as good. Which is a little scary in its own regard. Slightly sweet, and full of the generic commercial beer goodness (or badness).

And I can't help but notice, after a second sip, I'm starting to develop a little bit of a headache. Probably just a coincidence...


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shawnee Craft Brewery

Located in the Pocono mountains, a stone's throw from the middle of nowhere is Shawnee Craft Brewery. Shawnee on Delaware Pennsylvania is known mostly for river sports and hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter, and the formerly-PGA golf course, but up until now the beer selections have sucked.

Last year when we were up to do the tasting for our wedding (at the inn) we were delightfully surprised to find out that the old ice rink has been converted into a brewery. Leo kindly took part of his day to show us around and answer questions, but I may have over-imposed on his hospitality. This brewery is quite spartan at the moment, and probably won't be doing tours for some time.

I learned that being connected to the inn was ideal, since being a historical relic it still relied on steam. Leo is able to use this steam for some of the hot water processes involved in beer making. He's also extremely energy conscious, recapturing and preventing the waste of heat at key points in his line. Aside from what is going on inside the building, he also has a garden somewhere on the golf island where he grows some of his own ingredients (including pumpkins for pumpkin ale.)

Since an old skating rink isn't the ideal place to sell gourmet brew pub fare (unless you're really into hot dogs and thawed pizza slices) the primary place to get these beers is across the street. The restaurant is called "The Gem and Keystone," and would be considered casual fine dining. It mainly serves the patrons of the golf course, so little beanie's and collared shirts are quite common during the day.

Quality and conservation are admirable qualities, but how's the beer?

The short answer is: very good. I've tried a lot of his brews over the past two years and have been impressed with the quality and variety he's been able to produce in such a short time. I especially enjoyed their Bourbon Cask Porter, but I do generally prefer dark beer. He's usually got some kind of Blanche which isn't my thing, although I can see that it's high quality.

The only thing I think that is keeping these beers from being "excellent" rather than "very good" is some kind of signature style. You always know a Dogfish Head or Stone right away. There's some kind of unifying flavor across nearly all their beers (with the exception of Peche maybe, which tastes like hell.) I'm sure this will come with time to Shawnee Craft; it's probably inevitable with any master craftsman. I know I'll make a point of trying something new each year I'm at Shawnee.

If you're interested in trying any of these brews and find yourself in east nowhere, (aka. Shawnee on Delaware) stop on by the Gem and Keystone or the Shawnee Inn and try a pint. You won't be disappointed.

They also have a blog with updates.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Recently I picked up some work to occupy my time. And it has left me burnt out. But that didn't stop me from hitting up the July Central Florida Homebrewers ( meeting yesterday. On top of wanting to go, I had to go because I needed to drop off my very first contest entry to The First Coast Cup (! That's right, I've officially submitting my ESB to the competition, and we'll see just how well it goes. My expectations are low, but I have absolutely no idea what my chances of winning are. We'll see, and I'll do a beereview of my ESB when the results come in. It'd be a lot more exciting to write about a award winning beer, instead of just another homebrew.

I also have to say that yesterday's meeting was particularly lucrative for me. I like to support my local meeting by participating in their monthly raffle, and this time I won twice. Which was pretty sick. Managed to land myself a real neat bottle rack to age some bottle conditioned beers on, and a pack of home grown Fuggles hops. On top of that they gave away a case of empty homebrew-usable bottles, which I was quick to snag up. This case should round out my bottle stash to 4 full cases, so now I can do two batches of bottles. But I might just keep them for contest bottles.

Anyway, like I said I'm burnt, so I'm keeping this post short. Just a shout-out to the new CFHB father, congrats Nick (not brewer Nick)!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beereview: My Own Brew – Brewer’s Best Irish Red

My Brewer’s Best Irish Red was ready for consumption about a week ago (much like the leftovers in the refrigerator.) This beer’s epic journey from raw materials to hooch has been chronicled in great detail in this blog over the past several months so I won’t repeat the process here. This post is all about results.

I would have written about this last week, but when the brew was totally fresh, it was a bit too sweet so I decided to wait another week to unveil it. 

I should note that it’s not fair to review your own product since you are automatically biased. However, I think that when that product is not being sold the bias actually works against you.

The Cook’s Dilemma

The Cook’s dilemma is that the cook is always their harshest critic. No matter what other people say, you know what mistakes were made and latch onto them. The worst thing a cook can do is work hard to prepare a delicious meal than apologize to all the people who are eating it. Insecure questions such as, “are you sure it’s not too spicy?” “Would you have rather have had carrots?” and “what do you mean you found a finger in there?” have no place in the confident cook’s kitchen.

To overcome this bias, I will make no apologies about this beer. I didn’t taste any mustiness, grass, sweat, stink, mold, staleness, myopins, or any other such unsavory contaminants. The only complaint I have from the beer-cook’s perspective is that this beer is particularly cloudy, although it still may settle. So what, it’s cloudy; want to fight about it?

The Three Year old Paradox

Three year olds suffer the opposite of the Cook’s Dilemma; they rely solely on their reputation to carry their god awful lack of skill into artistic accolade (“Seriously, it’s a friggin’ cat that’s the same size as a house, and… is that a backwards ‘e’?”)

Sadly, much like reality TV stars who release solo albums: this works.  The paradox is that you want to share beer with people you like who like you.  I’m worried that if I only give my homebrew to people I like, they will give me undeserved complements instead of constructive criticism, but I can’t ask them to criticize it or they might do too good a job (trying to please me in meeting my request for negative feedback.) Hence the paradox.

I can’t really give beer to people I hate, since I am totally out of hemlock. People who like me say the beer is good, but what is really telling is that they look forward to it and want seconds. If your dish is full at the end of the pot-luck, don’t make it again.

Conclusion – Drumroll cliché if you please; sardonic comment if you don’t

My beer tastes like an Irish Red should. It has the high quality flavors of homemade and bottle conditioned ale and the hops really came through. It’s a little on the sweet side, but the flavors are changing every day as the beer matures. I doubt it will be around long enough to spoil, or even fully age.

Aside from being cloudy, it tastes great and doesn’t have much sediment. I was extremely pleased with the PBW and Star San cleaning agents and think that they really compensated for my still-novice skills. I’ll definitely be doing another batch soon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Beereview Under the Sun

I might make some enemies of the purists here however...

Today I review Corona. I'm going to come right out and say it, I love Corona. Brewed by the Cerveceria Modelo, and imported to the states. To note, I much prefer Corona with lime. But without is acceptable is well.

The thing with Corona is that I love a cool cold crisp beer. Especially on any given hot day (which we have many of here in Florida). When it's cold, I love a stout. When I'm lounging late at night, contemplating the world, something with a nice high percentage is great. IPAs and other complex ales go great with food. However, here in Florida, Corona is a great beer for all occasions. So smooth, clean and crisp. Beer snobs will turn up their nose at this, I know. But I am no beer snob, I love all beer. Well, all beer that does it right. No senses are challenged by a Corona, which is what makes it so great. I don't have to worry about any crazy strong flavors, or alcohol, or anything else in a beer that might knock me off my seat. Nope, but it's perfect for relaxing after a long day, so lets get into it shall we?

Crack the top, jam in a lime. A quick smell, and get a soft fizzy lime sent, with a faint faint grain smell. No appreciable head to speak of, at all. Take a drink and you get what you pay for. A cold, crisp, lightly citrus, bleach blonde lager. Crisp and clean are really the two things that come to mind. Not a lot of flavor, and not sweet whatsoever. Ever so slightly bitter, but if they use hops, I can't taste it. At 4.6%, drink em' till' the cows come home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Little Known Secret: Your First Brewery Tour

Our story unfolds about two years ago in Houston, Texas. My cousin and I were deciding what to do on a Saturday morning and he remembered hearing that a local brewery has tours every weekend. Houston isn’t well known for breweries probably because of the local penchant for cold thirst quenching beers, oil-fueled generic consumerism, and national brand consciousness; however, some do exist. At the time, I was just getting into brewing so it sounded interesting. Man was I ever in for a surprise.

When we arrived at St. Arnolds, the line was already out into the parking lot and around the building. Eventually we got to the front and paid the admission fee, which I think was ten bucks. We were handed three wooden sample tokens and a small (8oz.) plastic “Sample Cup.” We then entered a giant empty warehouse with three bars and picnic tables in the front, and a small bottling line and brew tanks in the back. We suspected something was up when people with Pizzas and heaping bags of Taco Town started arriving in droves.

The tour consisted of a guy getting up in a cherry picker, giving a five minute explanation of the brewery, equipment, and current taps; then the party started. We bought “Souvenir” pint glasses, which could still be filled for one token and had a merry old time. Best Saturday morning ever.

Breweries are nothing if not crafty in skirting local liquor laws. Legislation is generally set up to keep Milwaukee in your refrigerator and to keep the smaller upstarts (with their higher quality and higher prices) out of the market entirely. Since we paid for the “Tour” and were given “Free” samples (by returning a souvenir token) they must have found a way to get around those asinine restrictions. I’ve since been to another Brewery like this one in Raleigh (Lone Rider). Now you know; check your town for something like this if you like good craft beer and local businesses.