Monday, August 30, 2010

And the race is on!

But how do you enter said race? Brewer Nick just messaged me this morning and asked me what the general process of entering the competition is. I said "Nick, let me answer that... in a song... ahem... blog."

So you want to compete? Well unbeknownst to many people there are actually hundreds of beer competitions across the United States. The easiest way to find these competitions is to join your local homebrew club! Seriously. Not only is it great fun, you get to drink a lot of free beer. Your homebrew club should have a listing of local competitions around and what time they take place. If your homebrew club is as awesome as mine is (this one's for you CFHB.org) they will even ship your entries to the competition for free. There are competitions that you can easily enter, but you have to be a member of the American Homebrewers Association. So to find a competition get off your butt and join a club!
Ok, so the competition is in sight, and the entry deadline is fast approaching. If you've just started brewing it's probably too late. Sorry. But your beer better be in top condition to ship it off to these judges (as they are unforgiving, and will pick your beer apart.) To sign up for a competition is really easy though. The competitions are generally held by other local homebrew clubs and their websites will have information on how and when to sign up.

Signing up is as easy as filling out the form to order "silly bandz" for bribing angsty teenagers to do your bidding. Sign up, pay via paypal (if you want), and you will be provided a series of labels to print out. One entry consists of 3 bottles. You cut out the labels and using a rubberband (they are very specific to that) and attach the label to each bottle. If you didn't pay via paypal slip a check into you box with the rest of your bottles. I use old six-pack containers to ship entries, but you can do whatever you want.

Shipping is a touchy issue. Technically, shipping alcohol via mail is illegal as far as I can tell. You can check out the extensive discussion over at Homebrewtalk.com here. However, as I said before your homebrew club or local homebrew store will often ship your entries for you for free.

When you sign up for the competition, one thing they'll ask you is what style your submitted beer it. This is the most critical step of signing up. You can make the best cupcakes in the entire world, but they wouldn't score very well at a chili cook-off now would they? The same goes for beer. If you make a IPA, and submit it for judging under the ciders: fail. All beers are judged to a category. That being said, your beer could compete in multiple categories if it's resting on the fringe of the category you intended. For example if you make a English Bitter you could probably submit two entries; one for English bitter, and one for extra special bitter.

The judges will fill out their judging scorecards and award you a score. After the competition is over the top winners of each category will be announced (and you might even get a medal!) After a week or so you'll receive your scores in the mail. Be prepared though, as I said earlier: the judges will pick your beer apart. It's what they do. They even have EXAMS to be an official beer judge (bjcp.org). It's all constructive criticism of course. So take it in stride, hold your head high, make better beer, and take on the next competition! Welcome to the Wide World of Beer Sports!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beereview: Keegan Ales: Mother's Milk

Let me begin by saying, we now officially have 200 followers on the blog! Thanks so much! That means we probably have millions of people reading anonymously. But we don't need validation here; you blog lurkers can keep skulking around and consuming without worry of being exposed. I'll keep feeding you, like a cat that comes with a house.

Now, down to business.

Gene or I have probably mentioned that we were originally from Poughkeepsie New York which is in the Hudson Valley. The Hudson Valley is known by painters as one of the most scenic river areas in the country, which means probably nobody else has ever heard of it. Now that people are willing to commute ninety minutes to the city for work, the communities have relented on keeping out housing developments, and almost everybody who wanted good schools has flooded in from Yonkers: it's becoming developed. While I was growing up however we were some of the last people in New York to still only have Dial-Up, although you can find places in the mountains where they probably still use cans with string between them.

Now, down to beer business.

During my trip, I decided to try and find some local beer to review. Until my friend Cliff starts selling his "Last Stop Brewery" creations, my first pick at Stewert's is Keegan Ales, from Kingston. Like most of upstate New York, I have absolutely no reason to visit. However, their slogan "The Hudson Valley's Brewery" did catch my eye.

Since I appear to be suffering from nostalgia, I'll try and keep my droning to a minimum by reviewing this beer in a direct manner.

  • Marketing - The name "Mother's Milk" seems pretty disgusting for a beverage, if you're at all Freudian. Mature adults or animal breeders should have no problem with it; although if you serve this at a party of overly stodgy guests with mommy issues, I'd be careful.
  • Variety - It's a very smokey dark stout. I'd compare it to Stone Smoked Porter, or Young's Chocolate Stout (which has nothing to do with Chocolate.)
  • Appearance - This beer almost black in color, like plain coffee after it's been in the pot for a year.
  • Flavor and Aroma - The aroma is burnt sugar, like caramel or more precisely a failed caramel sauce. It's a good smell for a beer to have. It's initially sweet, with a very bitter aftertaste. I'd put the hoppyness around Victory Hop Devil or a Stone IPA, but it does have the initial stout creaminess.
    There is a lingering bitterness or coffee flavor, but it mellows out after adjusting.
  • Overall - Without a rating system, all I can say is this is a very good stout. It's well crafted and pleasing to drink. It'd go well well a steak, or something salty and savory. Well done Keegan Ales!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Welcome again DrinkWithTheWench Visitors!

Congrats to Nick for being the featured beer blogger today at DrinkWithTheWench.com! If you're not coming here from her page it's over here. We really appreciate the recognition, and we love to show you what we're all about.

I'll take this moment to give you guys a brief background on Brewer Nick.

I'm in my mid twenties as I write this post. And Nick and I go back to the years where we could count our age on two hands (as opposed to now, where we also need an extra appendage to do such). We basically grew up together, which helped due to him living right up the road from me. We did a lot of talking, gaming, shooting, etc together.

It was heartbreaking, naturally, when we went off to college. We went our seperate ways, did our own thing, saw each other from time to time, but not more than a day or two. Then of course, I had to go and move to Florida, which meant we saw each other even less. And I'll be honest, I'm not very good at keeping close contact with distant friends, I'm not much for making long phone calls.

As Nick stated in his brief summary of time, I started this blog with someone else, and did all the blogging myself. The other would just show up in pictures from time to time. When he fell off the face of the earth, I was a little awestruck. I got to thinking. It is A Tale of TWO Brewers. Who could I use?

My man, Nick. He likes to brew, he writes awesome, and, best of all, it gives me a reason to talk to him on a regular basis. We're loving co-authoring this blog together, and we're really glad you are to! Check out Nick's previous post for new visitors, it has a lot of really good links about key points in out blog. Also check out our tags, Milestone will give you momentous occasions in brewing, Beereviews are all our opinions on as many beers we can get our hands one. Likewise, posts written by myself are under "Brewer Gene,"  and posts written by Nick are under "Brewer Nick."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beereview: Stone Cali-Belgique IPA

I'm staring into my fridge deciding what beer I should do for a review today. The small stash of Stone always calls to me, intimidates me even. Because I know, whatever lays beneath the cap will challenge my taste buds with bitterness. So I had the above mentioned, and the "Self Righteous" in my hands, and remembering "Arrogant Bastard" I just wasn't brave enough to dive into the Self Righteous Ale. So here we are, Stone's Cali-Belgique IPA.

I'll start off by saying I poured this beer into my glass about 5 minutes ago, and still rests a head about 1/2" thick, no joke.

Stone's long winded narrative on the back alludes to what the name means. Stone's Cali-Belique IPA is obviously a California style IPA with Belgian influences. Wow, what a descriptor. So lets dive in. The beer pours a beautiful golden color, almost amber, reminiscent of some ancient fossilized (redundant?) insect. Without the insect (see: Mexican Tequila). The aroma is deceptively softly laced with hops. I say deceptively, because like many Stone beers, after the first sip they smack you upside the head with hops. After the hop flavor subsides, a pleasant sweetness is left in your mouth, which i imagine is where the Belgian influence comes from. IPAs are, by style, bitter.

The name of the IPA (India Pale Ale) derives from the trade between the English and India. While the English were taking all those fine Indian spices (real Indians, from India. Not the Native Americans Mr. Columbus so incorrectly named), they needed something to return. In comes the English Pale Ale. However the traditional Pale Ale wasn't lasting the trip. Hops are a natural preservative. So lets load up the traditional Pale Ale with hops and send it on it's way. The India Pale Ale is born.

With sequential sips however, the hop flavor isn't as brutal (I am not a self-proclaimed hop-head, nor am I a self-proclaimed user-of-hyphens), and is married with a sweet malty goodness, making it much easier to drink. At 6.9% ABV I'm already feeling a little toasty, and I've still got half the bottle left.

After a number of drinks, I like this beer. The hop flavoring isn't as strong as it is in many Stone beers, making it relatively easier to drink. However it is still a thick beer with a good hop flavor, so I won't be recommending it to any flip cup tournaments (but that'd be a hell of a surprise wouldn't it). It does have a good warm flavor however, and would be a really great wintertime beer.

I am now off to keg ATOTB #03!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What is this world coming to?

Today, I'd like to discuss one of the articles from an extremely important magazine: Men's Health. It's so trustworthy in fact, I'd use it to keep a coffee table with one short leg from wobbling any day. Now I know what you're thinking, it would probably be better suited as kindling for a campfire, but the plastics in the cover give off noxious fumes.

Speaking of noxious things, let's get down to the article titled "Party Cheer, with Beer." What travesty could be contained under so innocuous a title? Something so vile, so perverse, profane and corrupted that it can be summed up with the simple name: beer cocktails. We've touched on this before, with my nemesis beer Chelada ("we're not done with you yet, Chelada!")

I don't think I can give you the recipes from the article straight out, since it might be some kind of copyright infringement, but let's use two of their drinks as examples:

The "Muddy Puddle"
This abomination contains peanuts, espresso, bourbon, and Sierra Nevada. That sounds more like the contents of the bar towel at an Italian restaurant than a drink. The amount of money you'd have to pay me to even try this beer is somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.50, or what it probably costs in the Manhattan restaurant where it is served (yeah, I'll taste almost anything.) I think Drew Carrey made Buzz Bear (Beer + Coffee) as a joke on his show in the mid nineties. Now it's here. What's next, beer and red bull? Probably...

The "Lucky Dreidel"
This beer is supposed to combine many Jewish cultural stereotypes, just like Seinfeld's old show. It has Manischewitz wine, cider vinegar, He'Brew IPA, and Hanukkah gelt. I don't want to bash anybody's personal preferences, but that wine is almost as horrible as that beer, which itself is pretty horrible. I can't imagine the marriage of the two produces anything palatable, unless the reaction neutralizes all the cultural flavors into noodle kugel or bagels with lox (which I happen to love!)

Let's go out on a limb here and help that Manhattan restaurant (Joedoe) out with a new recipe of our own:

A Tale of Two Brewer's "Brooklyn Cocktail"
Combine 8 oz. Old English 40oz Malt Liquor with 1 oz. Popov Vodka. Pour it over a pizza slice into a glass, and add some Nuts for Nuts to garnish. Goes great with a street vendor Sabrets.

Let me know how it tastes!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Beaten Ego

So I got my results back from the Jacksonville beer competition (thecask.org). To say that my beer did badly is probably an understatement. It certainly humbled the ego of my brewing, but it's also inspiring to me as well. There's also more research that I realize I have to do when I am brewing beer styles. I'll be honest, seeing my score so low hurt a little. Ever get your wisdom teeth out? It didn't hurt anywhere near that bad. Lets break it down!

To start a brief synopsis of how the competition works. You submit your beer to a specific style. Your beer gets judged by a certified judge. The judge scores your beer on a standard score sheet, relative to the style you submitted it under. The best score your beer can get is a 50.

I received an average of 14.5. Ouch. One judge even apologized for such a low score (thank you by the way, Judge).

14.5 is at the bottom of the fair catagory. Doesn't sound so bad right? Here's the description of the fair catagory:

"Fair (14-20)- This beer has its share of problems that may include missing the style parameters, off flavors and aromas, balance problems, contamination, or other major flaws. Scores near the lower end of this range exhibit more major flaws."

Scores near the lower end of this range exhibit more major flaws.*whimper*

Although it's not quite as bad as it sounds.

First off I did get great scores on my clarity. The judges mentioned it was "brilliantly clear." Oorah secondary fermentation. I also was noted low head, and poor retention. I also received poor marks due to low carbonation, which could have also attributed to the poor head on the beer. I expected these comments because of my poor method for transferring the beer from the keg to the bottle.

The biggest problem that carried through all the catagories was the strong smell and flavor of licorice. The licorice is something I noticed when I first tasted the beer as well, and did not expect it. Both judges made the same basic comment, that the licorice was overwhelming for the style, and the beer could have been entered in the wrong catagory. This got me thinking. In Beersmith, I loaded a catagory, and designed to it. I got all my numbers pretty spot on. Color, bitterness, gravity. One thing I didn't think of though is taste, flavor. You cant really quantify that. It just dawned on me that you could very well make a beer with sugar, food coloring, and hops and meet those numbers. Your beer might taste like the output of a Miami sewer drain during spring break at like 4am (gross), but the numbers are there. Hence the necessary research I mentioned earlier. It also dawned on me that there could be more than one style of beer with the same numbers. Same color, bitterness, and gravity, but using completely different ingredients to create a completely different experience.

I take a lot from this experience, and I'm stoked to enter a beer again in the next competition! Today I proudly file away my abysmal score, and look to a future of competition. Watch out Florida homebrewers, here I come!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beereview: Boulevard Wheat

If you remember the last post, recently I was in Branson Missouri visiting some family. Since this seemed to be the summer of travel, I tried to find local brews to sample. Moonshine wasn't on the menu (at least not the menu anywhere I went,) but Boulevard Wheat was everywhere.

Certain regions certainly have their local beer of choice, and considering that Missouri's is But Light, it was great to see at least one local beer at most of the bars and restaurants. Boulevard Brewing Company is based in Kansas City, Missouri which wasn't terribly far away from where we were staying. I was lucky enough to try Boulevard Wheat on tap as well as bottled.

The beer is light yellow and cloudy, like most unfiltered wheat beer. It has a honey smell which is slightly fruity and citrus. At 4.4% ABV, this is not a strong beer, which means it can be very refreshing in the hot and humid Missouri summer.

The taste is initially sweet and mild, then hoppy, but has no discernible aftertaste. It's an improvement on Blue Moon, which is the rather generic and available example of this style. It's waaaay better than Coastal Wheat from Sam Adams.

Food and flavors seem to happen in trends. When I was at school not too long ago, wheat beer was hard to find. It was pretty much limited to German and Belgian ales like paulaner weissbier and hoegaarden respectively. I'm not sure what triggered this national shift in taste and I doubt it will be permanent. Try all the wheat beers you like (in the summer) before the local breweries shift on to the next thing. Bud Light Wheat will probably be around for a while, but I imagine it won't be as popular in a couple years.

As stupid as it sounds, I believe that beer mixers will be the next big trend. Oh also, somebody offered me a Chelada in all seriousness while I was down there. We'll have more on that next time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hot hot hot

Or brewing from an engineer's perspective.

It's been a little bit since I've written about brewing but fear not! faithful followers, brewing I have. My past two brews have been experiments with base malts. If you don't know where you're from, how do you know who you are? You are what you eat, and you learn what you live. So how do you design a great recipe if you don't know what base malt and standard hops taste like?

My first brew, about 3-4 weeks ago was ATOTB #02: Clean Blond Ale. I called it the clean blond because I didn't add any fancy stuff, no special malts, no exotic hops, no adjuncts (also no intellect, zing!). Just base malt, and standard cascade hops, and standard American ale yeast. This was also the first automated brew on my system, and my system works awesome. I'm going to review my two new beers together, but here's a hint, it tastes great.

The second, ATOTB #03: Pilsen Blond Ale is very similar, however I used Pilsner Malt instead of standard 2 row. That beer moved into the secondary fermenter last weekend. I fear that it might not come out good though, as I had some issues with my beer system...

One thing I learned is that it takes a lot of time for my hot liquor tank to warm up. So I decided to preheat it while getting all my ingredients and equipment together. I also kegged at the same time, so I had a lot of stuff going on. Well I started brewing at a toasty 205 in the HLT. I set my controller to 150, and let it run. It was hotter than camel genitalia at a Bedouin Saddle convention (those things look hot), so needless to say I wasn't hanging out outside with my miniature jet engine of a propane burner. Well I went outside to look at it, and my mash temperature was hovering upwards of 163, 2 degrees shy of my mash out temperature. I cooled it down and continued on schedule, however my original gravity wasn't anywhere close to what it should have been. This is going to be a very light beer on alcohol but we'll see how it tastes.

It goes without saying I'm still learning the ins and out of my new system, but I'm loving it. And so far it's produced really good, and I feel, marketable beer. I'm thinking about looking into trying to sell it at farmer's markets, but we'll see what laws dictate in Florida.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I’ve Been Everywhere, Man

This summer has been crazy; I’m honestly surprised I managed to brew even one batch of beer given that I’ve been out of town nearly every weekend. I’ve touched on it in several posts, but let’s summarize through the lens of the beer tourist:

Las Vegas, NV 

The beer was so bad, Gene would barely drink it. At nine bucks a bottle the casinos aren’t the only ones picking your pocket. Forget the local beer, the only thing brewing in Las Vegas is depravity. Scratch that; depravity lite.

Flagstaff, AZ

With three microbreweries within a stone’s throw, flagstaff has it going on. After visiting the Lumberyard Brewery though, it’s unlikely you’d be able to hit any of them with even moderately large stones. The breweries are after all, the size of a broad sided barn.

Grand Canyon, AZ 

The Grand Canyon Brewing Company makes some decent beers, which are available in the park restaurants.  If I were planning a hike in hundred degree weather with treacherous cliffs mere inches from my stumbling feet, it would definitely be my diuretic/intoxicant of choice.

Sedona, AZ

Tourist trap central would be an understatement; only five percent of visitors leave town for the beautiful terrain, which although magnificent has no beer in it (and hence no relevance to this blog.) As for the beer in town, let’s just say I’m glad I bought a twelve pack of New Belgium at Target in Phoenix. Target in Phoenix has a better beer selection than the town of Sedona; think about it.


Shawnee on Delaware, PA

Shawnee Craft Brewery is the best thing to hit that resort in a long time, especially considering the floods of 1955, 2004, 2005, and 2006. El Nino? Global Warming? Who knows, but building a brewery in a building that has been underwater three times in the last six years takes guts. Needless to say, every time I am there, I drive by the Gem and Keystone for a pint. I hope I don’t need to take a boat next year.

Denver, CO

Great Divide, which is one of my favorite breweries, was not available at Rock Bottom Tavern which is literally around the block from it. I ordered one of their “award winning” brews and gave it an award of my own. “Best Way to Make Me Never Want to Come Back.” It was a tough call, I really wanted to give the award to Thrifty, who charged me $900 for five days rental but at least the car didn’t smell like urine.

Breckenridge, CO

Surprisingly enough, Breckenridge (known for Skiing) was pretty busy in the summer. They even had a beer festival the Saturday I was there (with Great Divide!) Unfortunately I didn’t make it; it directly conflicted with the wedding I was attending.  I hope people had fun, although $30 for a “sample” glass seemed awfully steep considering the four hour time frame. They had New Belgium Fat Tire at the wedding though, so I was happy.

Branson, MO

The last stop on our tour is Branson, Missouri. It’s known as the entertainment Mecca of that part of the Midwest, with such acts as Yakov Smirnoff (famous around 1980), Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, and tons of others. While the general tone of the shows isn’t my cup of tea (or mug of ale), it certainly seemed like an entertainment oasis in the literal middle of nowhere. As expected however, the beer selection was typical American fare, generally with a choice of Miller Lite, Bud Lite, or Coors Lite. I think there’s a pattern there, but I can’t quite see it. Anywho, I had some local beer called Boulevard Wheat (from Kansas City.) I’ll review that next week, so stay tuned!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Not Your Friendly Neighborhood Mouse

Here's one thing awesome about writing a beer blog. I turn to my wife and say, "hey, I need a half hour to write a post, and fyi, it involves drinking a beer." What better excuse to drink a beer? I digress.

So I'm in Whole Foods the other day. I'm not much of a whole food, organic, granola bar, into girls-that-don't-shave-their-legs sort of guy. Stereotype? Maybe, but I can still sleep at night. But one thing I do love about that store is their selection of craft beers. I really don't know how they pick their beers, but they always have ones that I've never heard of.

I was looking over the beers, and feeling pretty stingy, so I wasn't feeling into buying a premium craft beverage. But then out of the corner of my eye, I found Mickey's Fine Malt Liquor. I'll admit that the hand-grenade shaped bottle caught my eye first. But the 99 cent price tag sold me. Technically not cheaper than the Colt 45 if you work the price tag into how much beer you get. But lets dive in.
So I first crack open the metal screw top (a-la Sobe Bottle), and I look on the inside and I see an M, the symbol of an eye, and L, a stoned dude, and a club from a deck of cards. After saying the letters out loud to myself it's referring to the "Mile High Club", if you don't know, you're too young to ask. Already I'm in a good mood. Upon opening the bottle also I smell the aroma of... well, cheap beer. Kinda Colt-45 / Icehouse like. Bottoms up.
Wow.

Gross. I might have to say that Mickey's might be worse off than Colt 45. At least I got 32 oz. of Colt 45. Mickey's only gave me 12. Well onward. I guess I can taste malt, no hop flavor, and the last thing left in my mouth is the taste of stale alcohol. What more can I say? It has no particular flavor to it. The bottle is by far to coolest part of this drink, but I can get a similar shaped bottle in a 6-pack of Red Stripe and still enjoy my beer. Ouch.