Thursday, September 29, 2011

5 Simple Rules to Choose the Right Fall Beer

It’s that time of the year again. Rite Aid has had their Halloween decorations on sale since June (and will be putting out the Christmas decorations by next week,) Target is completely sold out of warm hats and winter jackets, and people have a serious taste for squash in their muffins, bread, donuts, and beer. While I can’t do much about the first two problems, I can certainly help with the last.
There’s a lot of interesting seasonal beer for autumn, but how do you know what to pick? Using these 5 simple rules of course!

Rule #5: Know your style preferences.

When you enter your favorite beer emporium, odds are they will have a huge mountain of seasonal six packs pretty close to the entrance. Since this fermenting heap is based around the season instead of the style, it’s more or less a grab bag of different beer types. Making this even more difficult is that they nearly all have a picture of a pumpkin, maple leaves, and an orange label.

What do you do with this veritable messy sock drawer of beverages? Read the descriptions of course, and pay attention to the byline. If it says Oktoberfest it’s probably a Vienna lager brewed for Oktoberfest. Pumpkin Ales are usually spicy and contain pumpkin (duh) but more on that later. If it has some other silly fall sounding name, discriminate by the brewery. If you like their other stuff, give it a shot otherwise: back to the heap!

Rule #4: To pumpkin or not to pumpkin?

People can be pretty picky about their pumpkin. There’re a few things to consider when purchasing pumpkin ale. Do you generally like sweet beer or beer with a cinnamon spice? If not, pumpkin is not for you. The pumpkin flavor ranks 3rd in this list in pretty much all of them I’ve ever tried.

Also, there’s nothing more disgusting than warm pumpkin ale.

Rule #3: Spot seasonal invaders.

Seasonal beer is a big moneymaker. As such, everybody wants to get in on it. Anything that says “Oktoberfest” or “Marzen” on it is almost guaranteed to sell, regardless of the fact that it might be the keystone light of the Czech Republic. You won’t be able to compare based on price necessarily, so pay attention to where it’s from. If it looks cheap, comes in a can, and has a soviet flag on it try something domestic.

Rule #2: Read the label.

Lots of breweries are jumping on the pumpkin carriage including the big boys from Milwaukee. Unfortunately this has the effect of contaminating the supply with lots of artificial pumpkin additives (probably from the same truck as your pumpkin flavor shot in a Dunkachino.) The jury is still out on the term “Malt Beverage Brewed with Spices” but that sounds a lot worse than “Ale Brewed with Pumpkin.” Since they don’t need to print ingredients on hard beverages , if you really want to be sure it’s legit read the label or ask the store manager.

Department of Alcohol, Tobacco AND Firearms? That’s the federal department of epic right there.

Rule #1: Check the date.

Some beer is meant to be aged and some isn’t. If something was a slow seller last year, it likely spent the last 9 months in a rat filled cellar. If it’s on the low end of ABV (assuming it didn’t spoil outright,) you can be pretty sure it’s not going to taste like it’s supposed to. Most beer has a date printed on it somewhere and it’s especially important to check on seasonal varieties.

That said, the best seasonal beer sells out really quickly. If you have any interest in getting your hands on the best pumpkin ale this year, now’s the time.

It may sound like common sense, because it is. Have you started celebrating the fall beer selection? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beereview: Z

Relative to past weeks, this week in brewing has not been as active. I was supposed to keg my Sa-wheat! on Friday and make some modifications/upkeep changes on my draught system. Yeah that didn't happen. You see there was this crazy video game hiding from me when I got home from work. When I was getting ready to do something productive it pounced me in a way that would make Hobbes jealous! I fought it as best I could but in the end I had to submit... and the game proceeded to torture me the rest of the afternoon.

Really. I swear. Because I was also planning to take a nap which also didn't happen. It was a rough day.

I did end up doing some cleaning up today. Mostly rearranging my toolbox and my equipment. But I'm much more organized now. Whoopie.

I just started really paying attention to my twitter account again, and it looks like that I started just a little too late. I caught up with two twitter posts that I would've killed to participate in. One is Mutineer Magazine's Canfest Blogger Contest. The winner gets a trip to Reno to attend Canfest, which celebrates craft beer served in cans! I coulda totally won... but I found out too late, so you might as well vote away! If you're too impatient to read the other blogs, I'd recommend voting for my fellow Floridian, RoadTripsforBeer.

The other is's (Brewers Association) Craft Beer Tattoo contest. This one I'm really ticked about not finding out about. I think my tattoo would have totally won. Oh well, I'll try again next year. By the way, did I tell you guys I got a brew tattoo? Soon enough.

Beereview time! I picked up "Z" at my local homebrew store, Heart's Homebrew. They don't really advertise that they sell beer there, but if you wander into the back you'll find some refrigerators with a few random beers. This beer hails from the Fort Collins Brewery, Fort Collins, Colorado. According to the label it's a rauchbier which is easily described as a smoked lager. Actually, this will be my first rauchbier so I'm excited to try it. Lets pop this top.

Z pours a beautiful amber color, much like the color of really dark honey, or a light maple syrup. The head is thin, and slightly beige. The aroma is sweet, but not very strong. If someone hadn't told me it was a smokey beer, I wouldn't have noticed any smoke in the aroma. And I still don't. Slighty malty smelling, not hoppy. First sip was a surprise. At first sweet, and then delightfully smokey. Not smokey like Stone's Smoked Porter, but a subtle smoke. I wouldn't have thought that smokey and lager would have gone hand in hand, but I really enjoy the flavors in this beer. Slightly malty, slightly caramel, slightly smokey. Just a touch of each. And very smooth. It makes me want to go eat a burger...

Know of any contests out there? Let me know! I'm always up for a challenge. Also, be sure to check out my page on Feel free to friend me!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Bud in the hand is worth Two in the Busch

In Gene's last post "State of the World Address," he briefly talked about a fascinating article called "The Eight Beers Americans No Longer Drink." Since you've had a few days to intensely study the article, update your portfolio accordingly, and modify your beer shopping behavior I thought I could risk spoiling the surprise and discuss the article in a little more depth.

I disagree with the statement that "...sales of the top 20 brands dropped 10 million barrels to 149 million, a sign that Americans have turned to craft beers and imports," because a 6.3% drop over 5 years across an industry doesn't seem to indicate a sea change in preferences to me (but I'm no economist.) While it's true that micro brews have been gaining ground in grocery stores like whole foods, in the media, and at local bars and taprooms we need to keep in mind that most of the beer consumed in this country is still probably bought in a 12-pack of cans quickly pounded down in a frat house, bar with "$1 specials," stadium, or Walmart parking lot.

As I was reading through the list, ranked from most sales lost to least sales lost this past year I kept thinking to myself  "yeah, it makes sense that that crap lost sales," but I quickly realized that the entire list of "that crap" could have been in any order and I would have thought the same thing. What builds brand loyalty among the Miller, Bud, Coors, or Craft crowd? I'd like to think that it's the quality of the product and flavor, but I suspect marketing has more to do with it (especially if you're not part of the Craft crowd.) 

Are you looking for a cold beer? Coors. Are you looking for a crisp beer? Miller. Do you want the old standby "King of Beers"? Bud. None of that has anything to do with taste (but you might argue it has everything to do with poor taste.) At least the Craft crowd tries to tempt you with their sheer variety but I suspect that building a bias into beer bloggers, the media, and the general public is the real long game here.

Will it be successful? Can a group of disconnected independent brewers undermine a long established American industry? I want to believe so, and I suspect not. It's no surprise to me that Michelob (WTF is Michelob?) lost 72% of its sales over the last 4 years; it just got voted off the island. The article is a little misleading however, I suspect that the market share lost by Michelob was picked up by other national brands more-so than craft.

The crowd we don't often discuss but who probably make up a good portion (if not the majority) of beer drinkers are those who just want to drink a bunch of beer until they get drunk and fall asleep. Is that part of the market ever going over to craft beer? I don't think so; it seems to me that the national brands will always have that niche covered (as the nation's de facto drug dealers.)

Do you think that craft beer can ever takeover the market and still maintain its identity? Is there enough room on the shelves to have enough variety to represent all the small regional brewers? I honestly don't know. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, September 19, 2011

State of the World Address

From time to time I like to tune in and post to our readers about the state of the craft beer world as I know it. Truthfully I don't do it as often as I should, but I'm making a better attempt at it. My wife was a little confused when I told her the other night that I was going to stay up and "talk to the internets." But that's exactly what I did. It's entertaining, enlightening, and it gets me a few more hits on my site. What? I'm just sayin...

Which wants me to also let you guys know, there's two great communities out there to meet other brewers on. Maybe you already know them, but maybe not. HomeBrewTalk.Com is the first really obvious one. There's a very vast amount of knowledge on Homebrewtalk, and everyone's always willing to lend a hand. Usually people respond quick enough so you can even get answers to brewing emergencies.

The other is Reddit. If you've been on the internet, you're probably already familiar with the funny looking little alien. I'm willing to bet that if you've never heard of Reddit, you'd recognize the funny little alien. I got hooked on Reddit a few weeks ago and then stumbled across something amazing. Reddit has it's own homebrewing section!! Reddit Homebrewing is a much more casual layout than HomeBrewTalk is. There's no groups, no memberships. Just your login and a symbol. Reddit is a good place to brag and talk about your achievements and others. Aside from brewing Reddit images are funny as hell. Also, keeping tabs on Reddit will keep you ahead of the latest internet meme. Holy crap! Ben Franklin? Nope. Chuck Testa.

In addition, I've also been paying attention to another site called "Pintley." It's almost the Facebook of beer. Login, rate beers, check in to places, friend people, commment, etc. They've also got a great App for both the iPhone and the Android.

You can look me up under HomeBrewTalk, Reddit, and Pintley under "Splobucket." Drop me a line!

The biggest news I got in the past week is a great article reporting some Wall Street based news. Coincidentally I mentioned about the exciting new trend a week or two ago about the growing popularity of craft beer (Viva La Revloution!). What with new new popularity of places like World of Beer and The Flying Saucer. People are talking about craft beer these days as if the Beatles were resurrected. Popularity is good. Anyone who wants to ask any questions about craft beer, ask away. One thing about beer brewers, whether they're snobs, geeks, or gurus, is that we always want to help a brotha out. Only difference really is that the snob will smack you when you say, "well I like Sam Adams, that's craft right?" But don't worry, the snobs hit like little girls, and then they'll point you in the right direction.

Well two weeks later I got forwarded this article from a coworker, and fellow beer enthusiast. "The Eight Beers Americans No Longer Drink." The title got me intrigued, but also set in numbers what I had been preaching from my soap box about weeks before. Craft beer is taking over and the big name breweries are losing. Now I'm not one to overthrow the government, and I surely dont want people losing their jobs. The big breweries are now just going to have to work a little harder to wipe away the stigma of "big brewery = cheap beer." Here are the three smallest losers on the list of eight. Percent sales loss is between 2006 and 2010.

8- Budweiser from Anheuser Busch has dropped 30%.
7- Milwaukee's Best Lite from Millercoors Brewing dropped 34%.
6- MGD from MillerCoors Brewing dropped 51%.

And the list goes on from there. Check it out. And if anyone asks. sent you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beereview: Stone 10.10.10 Vertical Epic Ale

There is no shortage of marketing gimmicks surrounding 11/11/11. Items including a stupid horror movie, the next Elder Scrolls game: Skyrim, and most notably "the date that most resembles corduroy" are receiving a lot of press. It's understandable that the launch of an 11/11/11 themed beer might escape your notice with all these amazing things going on. I'm sure the Facebook storm will be epic.

At the risk of receiving repetitive stress injuries from all this eye rolling, the only really good thing to watch out for this November is the next edition of Stone Vertical Epic. What is Vertical Epic, you may ask? Since 02/02/02 stone has been releasing a special beer every year-and-a-day which is intended to age well until after 12/12/12. Unfortunately I didn't learn about this until recently, but I did manage to get my hands on the 10/10/10 edition.

Not having a place dark and dank enough to do it properly, my previous attempts at aging Rochefort 10 and St. Bernardus Abt 12 didn't go so well (the beer didn't taste as good as it might have.) Rather than wait 15 months to review this brew, I decided I'd rather be first to the party than have the best dress. With that oddly disturbing thought in mind, I tasted this beer before it has necessarily reached its peak.

Beereview: Stone 10/10/10 Vertical Epic Ale

Much like other Stone beer, the label is worth mentioning. This one is sideways proving a canopic jar's worth of space for the half-book they like to write on these things. You can read more about it at Stone Epic (and get a homebrew recipe too!) but suffice to say, the most interesting thing I read was that this beer contains three kinds of locally produced grapes, (Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc) dried chamomile flowers, triticale, and Belgian amber candi sugar. I haven't been this excited about a beer since Dogfish Head's Red & White, Sah'Tea, or Theobroma. You just don't see creative ingredients like chamomile and wine grapes every day.

This tripel style ale pours a bright honey gold color which is only slightly cloudy. The head disappears right away leaving only a slight foam. The aroma is sweet citrus and spice candy. It reminds me a little bit of the Belgian Christmas Ales and Sah'Tea.

The white wine flavor comes out very strongly making this taste more like wine than beer. It's sort of like a half-and-half mix of Tripel and Pino Grigio. Once you get past the surprise, it's a very enjoyable flavor. The dry wine flavor opens up into a very sweet and crisp aftertaste with the grape flavor being prominant. The chamomile seems to be overpowered by the other flavors and I didn't really notice it. At 9.5% ABV you could call this beer sturdy but the alcohol flavor isn't there (which is good.)

Overall, this is a very interesting and unique beer more along the lines of Chateau Jiahu, Midas Touch, Saison du BUFF, or other experimental ales. I definitely recommend it!

Have you tried 02/02/02 through 10/10/10? Have you ever found much difference aging a beer? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Corona, not beer.

This past brew day didn't go exactly the way I wanted...

Friday afternoon I brewed a batch of Saaa-Wheat for a party I'm going to in December. Always feels good to give a homemade gift, because usually homemade gifts are frowned upon. I tried something new this time. Coworker Paul recently got his hands on his own Corona Mill(for free I might add) and offered to lend it to me so I could give it a try. I had passed on last weeks brew because I was trying a few new things and I wanted to see if my new methods improved my OG separate of milling my own grain. Last week was a success, and this week was yet to be seen. In parting, Paul mentioned to wrap a bag around the outlet, because the thing sprays grain everywhere.

"Everywhere" doesn't do it justice. I'm pretty sure more grain comes out of the top of this thing than the bottom. It really does spray grain everywhere. After doing extensive research (about 20 seconds) I came across a video showing it in standard operation with the hand crank. Ok, at slow speed with about 50-60 RPMs, sure the grain doesn't go anywhere. But that's lame. Now slap a hex screw in there, and go at it with your favorite high speed hammer drill (2,000 RPM baby!), and you've got some flying grain. With a big enough hopper at that speed though you can go through all your grain likely in under a minute. Paul did say he wouldn't mind trading it back and forth, so I wouldn't mind building a little rig so we can mount it on a bucket. In time.

Brew day was a little hectic. Really the only reason was because my pickup bag didn't contain the orange peel I paid for. I had to run back to the store during my sparge, and when I got back my HLT was up to 200 degrees, and my mash tun had run all but dry. I cooled my HLT, got liquid level up and flowing again. I decided to compensate for the screw up I would sparge a little extra and boil a little longer. In the end it all paid off.

The mill worked fantastic and raised my brewhouse efficiency from 75% to a killer 82% which I'm totally stoked about. From what I understand that's about as high as you want it, otherwise you start extracting tannins that will contribute to off flavors (are there tannins that contribute on flavors?). So thanks Paul! Great partnership, and I'll start designing that mount.

On a side note, props to my wife. She's a true hop-head. She loves IPAs but I wasn't sure if she could handle Stone's Arrogant bastard. That beer is far too much for me. If I may quote from the bottle... "this is an aggressive beer. You probably won't like it." Well yes, it was too much for me, but she loved it and downed it like water. I love her.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beereview: Shiner Bock

First off, sorry I missed my post last week. We were vacationing at Lake Tahoe and although I got to try some great west coast beers, I just couldn't find the time to write up a proper review. Among my favorites were Lagunitas IPA, Black Butte Porter and anything by New Belgium. Hopefully someday I'll get back there to try all the great craft brew we just can't get here in Jersey!

Speaking of traveling, the beer I have for you today comes from the best little alehouse in Texas. To truly appreciate the regional powerhouse that is Shiner Bock, a little historical comparison is in order between some of Texas' oldest institutions.

The Best Little Alehouse in Texas The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Actual Name Spoetzl Brewery Chicken Ranch
Dates of Operation 1909 - Present 1905 - 1973
Main Product Bock Style Ales and Lagers Prostitutes, Chickens, Eggs

So what can we learn from all this? Beer can even outlast the world's oldest profession (while enduring prohibition, the great depression, the civil war, two world wars and Marvin Zindler.) Without having to resort to chicken salad sandwiches and sex (probably,) Spoetzl Brewery has remained economically viable even through prohibition, while the chicken ranch was legislated out of existence. As an added bonus, unlike most restaurants in Texas I doubt the brewery ever showed up in Marvin's "Rat and Roach Report" for "Sliiiime in the Ice Machine!"

Bock is typically a dark, malty, lightly hopped ale originally brewed in Germany.Shiner Bock is a Texas institution and has a lot of regional pride surrounding it. Does Shiner do traditional bock justice? Is this just more "it's bigger in Texas" hype? Let's see!

Spoetzl Brewery - Shiner Bock

This ale pours a clear dark amber color which is almost brown. Once poured, the head sticks around for about as much time as it takes me to blink but the beer remains very fizzy and active for some time. The aroma is vaguely bitter grapefruit and slightly sweet (but not at all thick.) It doesn't have a very full aroma and I detected a slight peachy sourness and a yeasty smell (but not like bread.)

The initial flavor of this beer is sweet and slightly watery. The light hoppy flavor is not unpleasant but is hardly there. If somebody hates hops they could probably still drink this beer. There's not a lot more to say about this other than it finishes sweet and light. It's sort of like the "soda of beers."

Overall if you're a fan of American style lager and drink your beer ice cold this is a pretty refreshing and light beer. It's great when you're washing down an over sized hamburger or some Texas toast but it's definitely mainstream. If you're looking for something complex in this style, they probably make some interesting seasonal brews. If you're just looking for something light, cool, and refreshing to have with dinner, this beer is for you.

Have you tried anything else by Spoetzl? Do you prefer a European Bock? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Viva La Revolution!

Another Friday brew day has come and past. A big ol' carboy sits bubbling away in the corner of my closet. With every belch of CO2 it comes closer and closer to it's doomed destiny... Of being drank.

Well someone has to take one for the team, so thanks beer! Friday went off without a hitch, and I implemented some of my new methods that should have improved my equipment efficiency. I added a valve onto my March pump to throttle back the flow when it came time to sparge. I left my hot liquor tank on the burner to A) keep the sparge water at a nice consistent temperature and B) save the skin on my legs from becoming necrotic bits of hang tags by bumping into the burner. In the long run, I probably just saved my own life. I also sparged a little extra time, this time for an hour and fifteen minutes. The new methods worked amazing. Everything went off without a hitch. I hit my temperatures right on, and most importantly, this brew day signifies the end of a long battle against my own brewing equipment. I hit my OG right on at 1.052. I'm back up to %75 efficiency right where I should be.

It was a long fight. But I come out victorious. A little scathed, a little bruised, but victorious. I now have another brew day planned for next Friday in which I will be brewing a hefeweizen for a friend's 50th (?) birthday. My fellow brewer at work (aka the competition) got himself a grain mill. So this week I'll try having him grind my grain for me and see how it works out. It'd be great if I could get my efficiency above %80. Hopefully I can trust him and he wont switch my grain with bird suet.

On a side note I'd like to point out an exciting trend. It seems to me like the homebrew movement is really taking off. Craft brew bars seem to be popping up everywhere. Craft brew pubs are becoming more prominent. Unexpectedly, when I last went to Target (Target people!), they had an influx of new and unique beers across there shelves. Just today I might this guy Guy from Naples who also was a homebrewer. He was saying how he has to order his stuff online because the closest brew store is here in Orlando (almost 4 hours away, and I imagine that's without the inevitable traffic jam). However, a World of Beer just opened up, and he might be getting his own homebrew store down there. I also see a lot of news articles about the circulation of craft beer. Even the rise of the Beer Bloggers Conference! (And I just realized I completely missed it without realizing. Wow.) It seems that a beer revolution is coming. Tear down your idols! Viva la Beer Revolution!