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.