Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beereview: Keegan Ales: Joe Mama's Milk Stout

There's some stories that you want to tell literally (if they are wicked awesome) some you want to tell figuratively (if you're lying) and some you want to tell chronologically (if you suck at telling stories and/or are 6 years old.) This is one of those stories, particularly of the chronological variety.

I had an occasion recently to visit my parents in Rosendale, New York. Apparently they were involved in some sort of church auction and rather than ending up with the usual tongue-depressor bird house, out of season knitted Christmas ornament, or crushing guilt, they absconded with two empty Keegan Ales growlers and a promissory note to fill them. Needless to say: filling them was going to be a priority.

Like all normal Americans, we have no idea how to get anywhere without Google Maps, a GPS, or a very smart crow. Possessing  only two of those tools (I'll let you guess which,) we endeavored to procure the address of the Keegan Ales establishment. Whilst perusing their website I happened upon a curious sight, our blog was linked as the first review for Mother's Milk!

We always like getting plugged without our knowledge (...) In this case, I felt like I better go introduce myself since obviously it was our fame carrying their beer. Before heading out though, I did check to make sure my review wasn't mean. It wasn't totally kind, but we're not paid for kindness (or anything, actually) so I felt I could show up without any riot shields, rotten fruit protection, or shoes (what, you thought it was a classy place?)

Bonus: Bar Review

We'll get to our beer review in just a second, but I'd like to offer an observation. Keegan Ale's pub is a real bar. We were there on a Saturday afternoon but most of their half dozen or so tables were full. What was a little surprising to me is that, this being a brewery they sold everything a normal bar would sell. This may not seem odd, but consider that in many states a brewery cannot sell it's beer to customers directly, they must go through a distributor. Here we have a full bar. Weird. Every other brewery I've visited has had to exploit some kind of loophole involving tours and tokens in order to serve me beer without actually having me buy it. Lucky you, Keegan Ales.

I had a nice talk with Tom, the owner. I had a question about canning that I hope to discuss here soon. Keeping things brief, he's nice and approachable and seems to care a lot about beer. He's more of the production brewer than the theorist but I doubt he'd mind that label. He seems like a local celebrity in his own bar, which is what I think a lot of home brewers strive for. Needless to say, it's an attainable and worthwhile goal: we can't all be Sam Calagione (although he may be overreaching, but I digress.)

Beereview: Keegan Ales: Joe Mama's Milk Stout

This beer is half coffee: I am not exaggerating. They told me they use Monkey Joe coffee in the brew and I believe them. Let's go through this in the proper order:

The smell is a little like burnt popcorn and caramel with a strong hint of coffee. This beer pours black with a thick and dark head. It has a sweet taste like brown sugar and a very strong coffee presence. I'd say this tastes a lot like Kahlua, if it was a beer. It's initially very sweet with a strong coffee flavor and aftertaste. It's almost like a Starbuck's Double Shot without the can.

The sugar hides it, but this beer is 8% ABV. This and the coffee puts it straight in the after dinner category.

Overall, this is the most coffee-like beer I've ever tasted. Drew Carey made Buzz Beer a joke in the 90's, but Keegan Ales made it a reality today. This is a great coffee cream stout.

Have you tried this beer or something similar? Let us know in the comments! Also, it's not too late to snag yourself a Newcastle Brown Ale T-Shirt! Just send a short (~200 words maybe?) beer review to ataleoftwobrewers@gmail.com for a very good chance to win!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Beereview: Snake Dog IPA

In case some of you need a reminder on awesome beereviews for our contest, here you go. Today's beer comes from the Flying Dog Brewery. We're going to have a few brews from the flying dog brewery in the next few months or so, because I came across a Flying Dog sampler case in my local Target. Who thought you could get quality beer at Target? Or should I say, Tar-Zhaaay. Gotta keep your eye out, who knows when quality beer will turn up.

Flying Dog opened in Aspen in 1990. Apparently being the first brewpub to open there in over 100 years (sucks for them). Flying Dog came up through the ranks winning the "Best Pale Ale in America," at the GABF in 1991. Today Flying Dog continues to brew a variety of beers (with weird-A$$ names). Today we're rocking Flying Dog's "Snake Dog IPA" India Pale Ale!

Snake dog IPA comes in at a high 7.1% ABV, and a middle of the road (compared to IPAs) IBU (bitterness) of 60. The comment on the bottle is too funny not to quote:

"Tired of those annoying 3AM hang-ups from your crazy, stalking EX? 
Turns out the same qualities that make your EX so damn annoying make
our Snake Dog IPA so attractive. Chock full of bitterness, bite 
and attitude, it slaps you in the face with flavor. 
Just like your psycho EX did at the bar last weekend." 

Ha, awesome. I can't wait. Lets rock and roll.  This beer pours with a nice, thick, off-white (slightly, slightly tan)
 head, that's sticks around, and is here to stay. The beer itself is a pale amber color. Aroma has strong hints of hops. Strong-hints is kind of contradictory, but the aroma itself is potent, but light. Kinda like a midget Ryu from Street Fighter. Packs a punch, but is small in presence.

The beer drinks with a dry finish. A strong, but relatively monotone presence of hops. The hops (cascade? apparently not, warrior and columbus hops. Anyone heard of warrior before?) are bitter, but relatively bland. Which is sort of how I feel about this IPA. Sure it's a fine and decent IPA, probably a classic example. But brewing a textbook beer doesn't get you anywhere. A good beer, however nothing really special. Probably a beer to round out Flying Dog's array of beers.

Disagree? Bring it, and post about it below. Or use the post as motivation to win your t-shirt winning Beereview! Send it to ataleoftwobrewers@gmail.com. Your chances of winning a free shirt is awesome! Better than wasting money on that lottery ticket.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beereview: Great Divide - Belgica

Great Divide has been one of my favorite breweries for years. Their Imperial Stout, "Yeti" is only topped by their Oak Aged variety. I had an occasion to visit Denver, CO last year but unfortunately didn't find (1) The Great Divide Brewery, (2) Any Great Divide beer on tap, or (3) a reason to visit Denver ever again. I believe this is the exact quote:
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 (Rock Bottom's) “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.
I'm probably just reacting to one bad experience here; from what I've heard Colorado is one of the best states for craft beer. I'll have to try Boulder next time. Given my lack of proximity (New Jersey isn't as close as it might be,) I was excited to see some new Great Divide in my local beer shop.

Besides the all-star Yeti, Oak Aged Yeti, Hercules Double IPA, and Old Ruffian (all of which are excellent,) they had an interesting new recruit: Belgica - Belgian Style India Pale Ale. I'm a huge fan of their IPAs but the Belgian part intrigued me. Let's review what we know about both styles:

IPABelgian Blonde or Golden Ale
Very HoppySweet and Malty
Usually not Bottle ConditionedOften Bottle Conditioned
DrySweet
Crisp and LightRich and Full Bodied
High ABVHigh ABV
Served ColdServed Room Temperature

Ok, so I totally made all that up off the top of my head. In my mind these two styles don't seem like a good match. It seems a little bit like mixing white wine with Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper: just too much craziness going on. I'm nothing if not willing to try a weird beer though.

Great Divide - Belgica

This beer smells and tastes a little like beef jerky. It has a little bit of a citrus smell (probably from the hops,) but also smells similar to Sam Adams Coastal Wheat. I guess that means it smells hoppy, smokey, and meaty? I had a beer once that tasted exactly like ham, so I know this is possible.

The first thing you notice when you pour this beer is that it has absolutely no head retention or lacing. It looks more like a soda than a big foamy beer. The taste is initially bitter and not too sweet. It's hoppy and smokey and has a little bit of a grapefruit taste. The aftertaste doesn't linger whatsoever.

Despite what you may be thinking from this description, it's actually pretty good. I don't think I'd ever buy it again though, since it's priced in the super premium category but lacks most of the expected qualities.

Afterward

I sometimes try to check my reviews against ones on beeradvocate and beerpal to see if I'm way off the mark. Beer4Baltimore shared this little snip that had me laughing out loud:

"look - off yellow
smell - citrus and old grass
feel - a little pasty with light carbonation
taste - dirty lemons well past thier prime"

Dirty lemons? Harsh. But yeah, 3.2 out of 5 from beerpal and about a B- on beeradvocate sound about right.

Have you tried this beer? Had something similar? Share your comments below!

Also, remember to send your own beer reviews in for a chance to win a free t-shirt (your chances are pretty good, too)!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Running On Fumes

I got home from work the other day with a plan. I knew my wife would be studying for the next hour and I had a list of beer chores to bang out. The tasks were simple enough. I was just doing a little bottling. My thought was to bottle 3 sets of Sa-Wheat! competition entries, a 6 pack of Sa-wheat for a friend, and finally bottle the hard cider that was sitting in my closet. Piece of cake.

So I got right to sanitizing. Bottles, check. Tubing, check. Beergun, check. I set everything up and I'm ready to go. Beergun is pressurized, and I have it hooked up to my keg of Sa-Wheat. This is where I run into my first problem. I give the CO2 button a squeeze and it wont budge. Finally (with a pair of vice grips) I manage to break the stuck button and start to fill.

So I think. The beer instantly starts foaming like mad. I realize I now have the exact opposite of the problem I just had. Now the CO2 wont shut off. I'll be honest. At this moment a little panic set in. I've got all these bottles ready to fill, and no way to fill them. I'm bleeding CO2 off my tank without being able to stop it with the beer gun. I'm destroying this beer by foaming it out the top of the bottles. I unhooked the gun and ran it to the kitchen where I still had a sink full of sanitizing solution. I finally freed the button fully by submersing the gun and working the CO2 button 20-ish times.

I'd say this is now 40 minutes later of my 60 I allotted. I've only filled one bottle of beer. Which technically is not true. I've filled a quarter of a bottle with beer, and 3/4 of a bottle with foam.

Setting that beer aside, I proceed to continue filling bottles smoothly. I get one submission (3 bottles) filled. 4... 5... 6.. wait. Siiiiiix... Nope. The keg's been kicked. God damn. I am thoroughly frustrated at this point. I am completely out of beer. All homebrew. I don't have a single keg of beer. I have no more bottles to fill. After cursing for a good 2 or 3 minutes, I decide to grasp at that silver lining. At least I have one submission, and enough to give to my buddy to sample.

I am now at my hour. But I march forth.

I remove my fermentor from the closet. Pop the top and take a good whiff. The hard cider does not smell great. Downright bad actually. But after a lapse of good judgment, I decide to prepare to bottle anyway. Thankfully this procedure was quickly cut short. I tipped the fermentor on its side a slight just to take a look at the sediment and I notice mold growing on the trub (fancy word for crap-on-the-bottom). I didn't even know mold could grow underwater. Hell, maybe it wasn't mold, maybe it was the cure for cancer. On the flip side, maybe it was Ebola's evil cousin. Regardless, the concoction has been thoroughly mixed with extra strength Palmolive and flushed down the Ocoee town sewer system.

Time elapsed, one and a half hours. Amount accomplished? Five and a half bottles of beer.

What a night.

Got a story of woe? Share it. And for the love of hops, send in your contest entry to ataleoftwobrewers@gmail.com!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Ish teh best holiday everr. I hope [points awkwardly at you]. I hope [breathes directly into your face].. I hope yer having a wondershful time on this beer holiday [passes out].

Another round!

Seriously though, if you haven't written your beer review for our T-Shirt contest you really have no excuse after today! As far as I know we haven't reviewed Guinness, Smithwicks, Harp or Leprechaun pee yet!

Have a safe and happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Improve Your Life by Making Beer: Top 5 Newbie Mistakes, part 2

Last week I posted my bottom two newbie mistakes in beer making. I'll save your mouse batteries here and ruin the amnesia-induced-suspense by reminding you what they were:

5. Not Having the Right Equipment

4. Selecting Too Difficult a Kit

I threw the question out there for what you all think my top three reasons are and I was pleasantly surprised.


JayZeis guessed:
Mistake #1- Bad sanitization.
#2- Boilover
#3- Bad Sanitization
Turling shared this painful experience:
How about "don't push the plug all the way through the carboy top?" I'm just sayin'..
My response to that is, "how do you get the plug back out?" It must be like a ship in a bottle!

The Wise Take could beat Watson with this one:
 "Not carefully reading the directions?"

These were all great guesses but I hope you'll agree that the sheer number of ways you can screw up a batch of beer can't be counted on the fingers of everybody in Pennsylvania. Either they are terrible counters or that's a boat load of fingers! Without any further ado, let's put this list to bed!

3. Contamination

Whatever name you choose to call this, keeping things clean is very important. Beer requires a cleanliness well beyond that of your local McDonald's, Hotel Sheets, or Subway Restroom. If your little super-spreader runny-nosed toddler has their fingers all over your stuff, you can pretty well bet your batch is going to have some major diaper rash.

If you drop your spoon, wash it. The five second rule doesn't apply here unless you are standing in a kiddie pool filled with bleach.

2. Improper Storage

I don't think this would occur to most new brewers but where you store your beer has a huge impact on how well it will ferment. Even if you do all the other steps perfectly, leaving your beer in the garage (where it could freeze) could end up ruining the whole thing. Conversely, leaving it on your radiator could be a bad idea for many reasons. Follow the storage directions or you'll have a batch of light-struck skunked beer that is only marginally better than Rolling Rock.

Sometimes you'll have a lucky accident (like European Bock style ale that was found in a broken barrel frozen in snow) but most of the time you'll just have glass to clean up and a stinky undrinkable mess (that you'll probably still drink anyway.)

So what's the number one newbie mistake?

1. Being a Dumbass

I'm sure we all have stories about really dumb mistakes we've made while brewing beer. Almost all the problems I have had can be chalked up to being a dumbass about it. Not reading directions is a stupid thing to do. Trying to bottle by yourself without a bottle filler is a stupid thing to do. Trying to lift your glass carboy onto the counter without having a carboy holder (especially with wet hands) is a stupid thing to do.

All the horror stories about boil-overs, broken carboys, and strange mold can usually be traced back to one bad decision.

So how is this preventable? It's not. Experience will keep this to a minimum, but next time you're thinking "I bet if I just do this..." and it sounds kind of dumb, it is and don't do it.

Have a story of your own that you'd like to share? Post it in the comments below!


Also, we're running our first ever contest for free t-shirts! If you'd like to win yourself a sweet New Castle Brown Ale shirt, simply check this post for more information!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Newcastle T-Shirt Giveaway!

This March is the 2 year birthday of A Tale Of Two Brewers! Today is also one week shy of Nick's anniversary of writing for this blog. A lot has happened this past year, and I must say I'm very proud. Having Nick start writing for the blog was a huge step. Becoming the blog of note was a huge milestone. Getting an in with the PR people at Newcastle was pretty damn sweet. I even finally completed my HERMs systems which kicked me up to all-grain brewing.

Writing this blog has been an absolutely pleasure, and knowing that people are out there to enjoy it makes it even better. Today I'm proud to announce that we're hosting our first Ataleoftwobrewers.com giveaway! I managed to get myself on the receiving end of a handful of Newcastle t-shirts (3 guys', and 1 girls'), and Nick and I have been brewing about a good way to give them out.

Here's the contest. We want you to write your own Beereview! We do many beereviews time and time again. Sometimes it's because we want to share a really great beer with the world. Sometimes it's because we want to share a really bad beer with the world. If Nick's anything like me, I also keep a stash of unique beers in the fridge to review when I don't really have anything to write about. There really is no grading criteria. If Nick and I decide we like it, you get a t-shirt. We'll keep entries going for a month, and by the end of that time we'll select 4 beereviews and we'll post it on our blog and have you as a guest writer! Lets recap:

Who: You
What: Write a beereview!
Where: Email to ataleoftwobrewers@gmail.com
When: Entries close April 22nd
Why: Because I have a stack of t-shirts to give away!

I hope to see a lot of you participating, and it will be great to get to know some of you! Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Improve Your Life by Making Beer: Top 5 Newbie Mistakes, part 1

The old saying "you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes" is surely true in all things. What cook hasn't had to endure a blackened (i.e. on fire) pork chop, cuts, or burns? After things like that you sure learn not to cook bacon naked, try to cut broccoli with a switchblade, or watch "just one more" episode of 30 Rock with pork chops in the oven. What's true for cooking is also true for beer-making. Here's my idea for what constitutes some of the major "gotchas" in your first brewing experience.

5. Not Having the Right Equipment

Just a picture of a cactus,
nothing to see here.
This euphemism for being stupid is dead on. If you buy a kit you're probably alright but you need to check, re-check, then check again before starting the brewing process. Read through all the directions and make sure you're never thinking "wtf is that thing?" at any point in time. Just like any new relationship you're going to go through 5 weeks of jumping through hoops before anything settles down. If you don't have the right equipment once it's time to "get your brew on" (ahem. we're still talking about beer) then you're out of luck.

Just a picture of a crystal,
nothing to see here.
Some newbies will attempt to use kitchen equipment to substitute for brewing equipment. While this isn't always a bad idea, you don't want to use 6" spoon to stir your wort. Also, kitchen equipment might be scratched up and harboring bacteria, so sanitizing it can be an issue. Trust me and read through all the steps in your chosen directions. If you don't have something, go buy it now.

4. Selecting Too Difficult a Kit

Read the difficulty rating on a kit before you buy it. Some beer types (like Lager) require special temperatures for fermentation that might not be available where you live. Don't just think "I like lager, I'll make it" when you live in Florida (without a dedicated fridge.) The same is true if you aren't ready to tackle something with more steps than usual. On your first batch you're probably not ready to be adding fruit extracts or blending two batches together. Start with something simple like an American Ale.

Since this is getting so long, we'll cover the rest next week!

Got any guesses for my top 3 reasons? Post in the comments below!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beereview: Sam Adam's Noble Pils

That feeling is one of the greatest feelings ever. You know the one I'm talking about. That feeling the morning after. You've been waking up every morning sick, sore throat, stuffed up, headache, and you can't even walk straight. All of the sudden one morning you wake up and it's gone. You're finally better. It's seems like the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. You feel good.

I'm not there yet. But it seems like I will be soon. At the very least I've got my tastebuds back in tune and I thought I'd celebrate by doing a beereview that I've been itching to do for some time now. A coworker dropped this beer on my lap after a long day of work and said "enjoy this man, i know you will." He gave me two, thankfully, so I could cherish one after work and also save one for this beereview.

Sam Adam's Noble Pils. Yeah, I'm back to the Sam Adam's thing again, but I gotta say, this one is far better than any I've tried from that winter pack. The Noble Pils is a pilsner obviously, that describes itself as one of the only beers that uses all five of the noble hops from the world's oldest growing regions.

Noble hops are a series of hops that are high in aroma flavors, but low in bittering acids. This will lend a significant amount of hop fragrance to a beer, but not overwhelm the beer with hoppy goodness. Bad for a hop-head, good for the rest of us. The noble hops come from central Europe, and include Hallertau, Saaz, Spalt, and Tettnang.

For those keeping track at home, that's 4 noble hops. But wait? Sam Adam's claims 5? The hop they add to the list is the Hersbrucker hop. After doing a little digging I found that the Hersbrucker hop was created to replace the Hallertau hop when the Hallertau variety was ravaged by a disease in the 70s and 80s. That says to me that the Hersbrucker hop and Hallertau hop are probably very similar. But if Sam Adam's wants to claim them separate that's fine with me. On to the review!

The first pour shows a beautiful gold color, a la Pilsner Urquell style. A surprisingly nice head of bright white bubbles. One that lasts for a little bit too. The aroma of hops is definitely present, however very delicate. But not so delicate that the hops don't play with your nose a little. The aroma is potent enough to give a little tickle in your nose, leaving you not quite sure what to expect? Hoppy? Light? Lets see.

There's really no better way to describe it than delicate. The beer is very refreshing, with a really great flavor. The hop presence is there, but not overwhelming, or chewy like many thick IPAs are. The pilsner background really does provide a very good platform to showcase these hops, while still keeping this beer extremely refreshing. It's a shame that this beer is only seasonal, it would make a great beer to sit out by the pool and enjoy, since it is so light and refreshing. And the hops make it so it doesn't seem like your drinking water with beer flavoring (I'm looking at YOU American Mega-Breweries).

I'm proud to say that this is the first Sam Adam's beverage I really like. I've never been a huge fan of their beers, and some are downright nasty. This beer is refreshing, balanced, flavorful, and leaves you reaching in the fridge for another. If you can find it on tap, it's even better. Cheers!

Disagree with my Sam Adam's resentment? Tell me why! Post below or email us at ataleoftwobrewers@gmail.com!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beereview: Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club

My thoughtful in-laws got me a membership in  the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club as a Christmas present. There are actually tons of "of the Month" clubs out there, such as:

  1. Cheese of the Month
  2. Wine of the Month
  3. Underwear of the Month (for him OR for her, or both I guess.)
  4. Soy Candle of the Month
  5. Bacon of the Month
And my personal favorite for its sheer lameness:

The Monthly Astronaut Autograph Club

While some of these definitely seem more appealing than others, combining them might not be such a good idea. Did you ever try cooking bacon in your underwear? It's bad news. With a weird club for pretty much any consumer interest, sexual deviance, or astronaut fetish it's no wonder there's quite a few featuring beer.

I've had occasion to try two of these clubs personally and vicariously try a third. I'm not totally sure which one the third club is, so we'll keep this with primary sources (me.)

The Rare Beer Club

Since I'm not specifically reviewing this one, let's just say it wasn't as good as the micro-brewed club. Many of the beers were "limited release" but rare doesn't equal good. It was really a mixed bag, although getting beer in the mail still rocks.

The Microbrewed Beer Club


They don't actually ship every month, so February was my first beer delivery. Without getting hideously off-topic, getting booze in the mail reminds me of one of my favorite Mitch Hedberg quotes:
"I love my fed-ex guy cause he's a drug dealer and he doesn't even know it...and he's always on time."
In this case we're not talking about heroin, but you get the idea. This pack included some beer from the EKU Brauerei in Germany, RJ Rocker's Brewing Company, and the Lakefront Brewery (the last two both being domestic.) Everything in the selection was pretty good, but the RJ Rocker's Bell Ringer Ale really stood out. I'd recommend this club to anybody who likes craft beer as a way to experience micro-beer that is likely not to be found in your area.

There's no real point to doing a full review. It's a simple concept: you sit in your house, beer comes to your door, and you drink it. Not all clubs are created equal, and from the 3 I've tried this is the best so far!

Bonus Short Beereview:  RJ Rocker's Bell Ringer Ale

The plastic label is much appreciated since it's really easy to take off (for bottle reuse.) This ale pours a somewhat cloudy amber with good lacing; not a thick head but just right.

The smell is sweet, hoppy and clean. Even though this beer is 8.5% it's got good character and sweetness. Being somewhat thicker than some beer makes it satisfying. The initial taste is sweet but then very hoppy with a bitter aftertaste, like an IPA.

I think the closest thing to compare it to would be Yeti from Great Divide.

Overall it's Very Good, especially with hot food.

Are you in any "of the Month" clubs? Let us know in the comments below!