Monday, October 31, 2011

Beereview: Pumking

I had a little qualm in my head today. One part of my brain said, "screw the Halloween post, you've actually got some material to write about!" The other half said "tradition is tradition, lets celebrate this holiday." As sure as a Jehova's Witness at 8:30 AM on a Saturday (for the love of god!!! the new generation sleeps in past 7am!!), tradition is tradition, so I'll pick up some little tidbits I've learned for next week.

Currently I postponed my blogging for about an hour because one thing I do like about Halloween is carving the pumpkins. I hate scooping out the guts. There's a reason why I'm no forensic pathologist. I do like that I get to use my power tools (particularly my reciprocating saw), and I try to come up with incredibly nerdy pumpkins. In case you haven't noticed already there is a pretty big inner geek inside me. Some that know me might not even think that it's too "inner" per-say. Last year I got noticed on the block with my Pumpkin-Pi pumpkin (noticed by nerdy adults, and no one under 12). I've got a few ideas for this year, but we'll see what pans out.

Today we have a beer from the Southern Tier Brewing Company which is located, as you probably guessed, out of Lakewood, New York? Someone's a little confused. Regardless, I picked up a bottle of their "Pumking" just for this occasion. I love the bottle. It's got all the information a beer geek such as myself drink up (pun intended). 8.6% ABV. Made with 2 row pale malt, caramel malt, and pureed pumpkin (ok pureed pumpkin sounds gross). Hopped with Magnum and Sterling hops, and should be served in a goblet at 40 degrees. My pint glass and 36 will have to do. It's also got a nice little anecdote regarding the Puca, some mythical beast. But I'll let you read that for yourself. Lets rock.

The beer pours a nice copper color, and retains a pretty decent off-white head of foam. The smell is... Well... Pumpkin-y. No hops, no malt, all pumpkin aroma. Which... smells kinda gross. The first taste... made me gag. This beer is pretty revolting. I could see if you're a big fan of eating pumpkin innards, but this tastes nothing like mom's pumpkin pie and everything like the inside of a pumpkin. Sorry Southern Tier, the taste is very unique. Too unique for my taste. I just can't stomach this one. I'd rather go scoop out some pumpkin innards. Which I'm now going to go do.

Disagree? Let me know! Post below!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wait... Guinness makes more than one kind of beer?

Maybe it's the Irish in me, but there's really nothing better than a nice cold Guinness. As a nation where the national sport is drinking and the national animal is a leprechaun, they know a thing or three about good quantity beer. We talk about quite a few mass produced beers on this site (usually with derision) but in this case Guinness is in a class all it's own. Or so I thought.

With the luck of the Irish on my side, I went to my local beer store to see what I could get to review this week. As you may not be aware, the luck of the Irish is particularly BAD luck so it's no surprise that this store's rather limited collection of Coors, Bud, and Colt 45 didn't have much to offer on the micro side that I haven't already reviewed. I was about to pick up something terrible just for the heck of it when I noticed something a little odd: a bright silver pack of Guinness. My suspicions were that Guinness might have released a commerative bottle or something, since they'd never in a million years release Guinness lite, Pumpkin Guinness, or Guinness with clamato juice.

Upon closer inspection I saw that what I had picked up was indeed Guinness, but it was not stout. All I've ever seen on this side of the pond is Guinness Original Extra Stout and Guinness Stout. This happens to be a Black Lager. What what whaaaat? It's almost like you picked up a Coke Milk. Does. Not. Compute.

Anything that seems this unusual is definitely worth my nine dollars. After a quick check of wikipedia, I discovered that this particular beer was test marketed in Northern Ireland and Malaysia. Why Malaysia? I have no idea. Probably for the same reason that they sell Malta Guinness (a non-alcoholic soda produced in Nigeria) in Malaysia. If it's anything like Malta Goya, I'd sooner degrease my engine with it than drink it but I digress.

How'd it end up in my local store? I have no idea but you read it here first (even before wikipedia): Guinness Black Lager is in the USA! And it's cheap!

Beereview: Guinness Black Lager

This lager pours a midnight black with a think creamy light caramel head. It foams up like a glass of champaign (or guinness) and the foam sticks around until well after you're done with the glass. The aroma is straight Guinness with hints of caramel and smoke.

The initial taste is sweet, smokey and creamy with notes of coffee and caramel. The only real difference between this and Guinness is it's a much heavier beer and a lot less dry.

Overall, this a great ordinary beer. If you like Guinness it's just different enough to be interesting but keeps the same great character and flavor. I highly recommend it at your next party!

Are you part of this test marketing? Have you tried other varieties of Guinness? Let me know in the comments below!





Monday, October 24, 2011

Beereview: Magic Hat Double Header

So Halloween is coming up. Whoopie. I've never really liked Halloween. I can't tell you why. My wife asks every year. I just don't. So now we have a tradition of pumpkin carving and candy-dispersing. I'll carve a pumpkin with her, just as long as I get to use any power tool I've got. She hands out candy all night, while I sit in the back yard occupying the dogs so they don't go ballistic on a kid. People will liken my distaste for Halloween from some incident that happened in my childhood. Nope. I was going to dress up for work this year, but it turns out my big licensing exam is the day of our party. Idea fail.

Looking back at that paragraph it sounds like I'm in an awful mood. I'm really not. Especially since I'm about to crack open two new and exciting beers! Lets leave the whole Halloween thing at this. I don't like it. I will do the obligatory seasonal ale review next week, but not because I like it! Because this is bigger than me, it's about you. The readers.

Where's my Academy Award?

No real news from the world of beer this week. As you're reading this at your desk while you're not doing work (it's cool with me, just don't let your boss catch you), my beers are being submitted to Heart's for the Sunshine Challenge. Results will be at the end of November, hopefully I can return with some great news! Also, thanks to "Firsttraxx," I've realized there's a carbonation stone out there that's supposed to make carbonating a lot easier. I'm putting an order together in the next few weeks... That just might be on it.

Lets crank out these beereviews! (My wife, again, is breathing down my neck for a new beer to try)

I'm delightfully impressed by these Magic Hat beers. I had a Magic Hat back in the day, pre-beer englightenment, and I didn't like it. For years, I never came around to picking up another bottle. But those 12 pack samplers get me weak in the knees every time (but that's probably just the degenerative bone disease). But these Magic Hat's are great. Now lets see if I eat my words after opening up these next two bottles.

First! Magic Hat: Humble Patience, an Irish Red! This beer pours a great red-amber, true to style. The head rests at about 1/4" and dissipates in under a minute without leaving any lacing on the glass. The aroma is sweet, with a very very slight hop bite. DRINK! A malty beer. The beer isn't too sweet, but not bitter. It's light bodied and easy to drink. It has a very slight strange aftertaste to it.

NEXT! Magic Hat: Hex Ourtoberfest. Magic Hat's version of an Oktoberfest (get it? ourtoberfest?). The funky label is adorned by some seedy looking gents at a wooden picnic table kicking back steins of beer. It would sure be nice to be doing that right now.... Oh well. Lets pop this top. Aroma isn't strong, and not very present. Slighty sweet. No hop presence. Head is similar to the Humble Patience, initially 1/4" and fleeting. The first sip is great! It's got a slight taste that seems akin to the manufactured craft beers, but barely noticible. The beer is sweet with German malt. Body is appropriate to that of a lager. The beer is easy to drink and satisfies a number of taste buds.

So did Magic Hat make me eat my words? I'd say definitely not.

Humble Patience isn't a groundbreaking beer, but it is easy to drink. The sweet aroma doesn't really come through in the flavor. While a half-decent addition to the Magic Hat arsenal, not the best Irish Red I've had. Would I drink it again? You bet. Recommend it? Probably not.

HeX Ourtoberfest is great. Easy to drink, great appearance, light but still satisfies a bunch of tastes. A good seasonal beer that doesn't take the aspect of "seasonal" and beat you across the face with it. I'd definitely recommend as a light bodied, easy example of an Oktoberfest.

Feeling the Magic Hat? Maybe not? Post below! Let us know!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Labeley.com/beer

A few days ago I received a request from Ana Brady over at labeley.com to take their new beer label designer for a spin. It seemed like a cool concept, and I'm no stranger to web based design tools. If you've ever used vistaprint or a similar online business card maker you kinda know what I mean. Most people are intimidated by programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop (or like me, intimidated by their over $1000 price.) Tools like these can really make life easy for non-techie or "normal" people.

The Good:

They have some pretty cool sample designs on their front page, which I'm sure lazier people would definitely like to copy. The color theme presented is pretty indicative of beer, and the clip art style banners, backgrounds, glyphs, label shapes, etc. are spot on. The interface is clean and pretty easy to use.

Areas for Improvement:


There was only one thing that I'd consider a severe oversight and that is the fact that there is no confirm prompt when you click on "reset current shape." This is a one button click that totally destroys all your work and can't be undone.

Since you can only upload one image for the label, there's no easy way to upload multiple glyphs or pictures without creating the label yourself in an image editor. Every other application like this has allowed virtually unlimited picture uploading.

Since there's really not that much clip art to choose from, this is a pretty significant limitation for people who want to make a really custom label. There's only 40 or so colors to choose from as well and uploaded images can't be re-sized or moved. Also, once a label is downloaded it can't be edited again; this means the sample labels can't be loaded and edited, which I thought was odd considering that's what most "normal" people might want to start with.

The number one area for improvement though is label ordering. I assumed that once I had designed my label I'd be able to have them print it and send it to me as some type of sticker. All I was able to do was download a copy (which wasn't print quality) or share it on social networks. I just assumed that they made their money on the printing end of it, but I guess it's only on advertising.


Overall:

This is what I ended up with.
Being a designer, I had in mind what I wanted to make from the get-go and it just couldn't do it. As far as I'm concerned, labeley was a little too restrictive for my tastes. It seems like a polished weekend project which still needs fine tuning. I really liked the idea and I hope the team takes all my comments as constructive criticism.

If I were the type of person who makes huge banners out of nothing but WordArt and Microsoft Clip Art, I'd probably love being able to select from a small list and mix and match. Considering that Facebook and Twitter sharing seem to be their main focus, this might catch on with that crowd (if only to make hilarious labels for butt beer.)

I'd encourage you to take it for a test drive. They are a small team and would probably love to hear your feedback (unless you're a mean jerk, can't type, or have so many viruses on your computer that all you send out are viagra advertisements.)

Where do you get your beer labels? Do you usually design them online? What tool do you use? Let me know in the comments below!


Note for developers:
Uploaded files don't have transparency, unless you apply a round frame. once that is applied, the transparency is a bit strange and the image is permanently cropped. Also, if you apply a frame to an uploaded photo it messes with the original image (requiring a re-upload to fix it.)






Monday, October 17, 2011

Sunshine Challenge 2011

Today was one damn productive day. Not really for brewing, but I'll get to that. The real reason is, for the first time in about 5 weeks, I've done something else than spend most of the weekend studying for my upcoming Professional Engineer's License test. What's that you ask? As an engineer, if you want to release plans for anything that is a public work, you need to seal it. To seal it you need a license. To get that license you need to be in the field for 4 years, and pass this test. In my opinion, there's nothing humane about an 8 hour exam. I don't do anything for 8 hours straight. I haven't gamed for 8 hours straight since I was in high school. 8 hours. That's just Sadistic.

But no, I went nuts in the garage. I cut stuff, ripped stuff, broke stuff down, put stuff together. It was awesome.

More importantly, and much more relevant, I bottled some beer today. You see, November is coming. And you know what that means? No! Not Christmas decorations before Halloween. And not hosting awkwardly large dinners with people you talk to only once a year (well, yes that, but it means something else too).

The Central Florida Homebrewers' Sunshine Challenge is upon us! Admittedly, I've seriously slacked on the homebrew circuit as of late. As a matter of fact, I haven't been to a homebrew meeting since January. It's sad really, but it's been a crazy busy summer and fall. Things are slowly calming down a little bit, maybe I'll be able to attend a meeting this January.

I've missed a lot of competitions so far this year. But I can't allow myself to miss the Sunshine Challenge. I have to hold down the fort, and support our Central Florida Homebrewers. Also, it's the one competition that Paul (my arch-nemesis) sends entries to. Any opportunity to level his beer I have to take. And every opportunity to talk trash is a good one. This year I'm submitting two entries, my Pokey Porter (under the porters obviously), and my Newcastle clone.

Now usually I wouldn't feel right about submitting a clone recipe. However this "clone" actually doesn't really taste like the beer it was named after. Over the next day or two I have to drink a few and decide which category I'm going to submit it to.

If you're submitting you better make it quick. Deadline is October 26th, and they have to be at the destination by then. More details are on the site.

I did run into a bit of an issue. I had a 3rd beer I was planning on entering, which is my blonde ale. But it's pretty under carbonated. This is where I turn to you guys. I'm having real frustrations getting beer carbonated. I know carbonating can be really finicky, but what I'm doing doesn't work. The levels of carbonation are erratic and unstable. According to Beersmith I should be able to attain proper carbonation  at 10 psi. Yeah, that's not happening. I have my kegerator set to 15 psi right now, and after 2 weeks in the kegerator, I'm not where I need to be. I've considered grabbing another gauge and attach it to one of my kegs to get a second opinion, but I haven't gotten around to it. I've seen setups where you can adjust individual pressure per tank, but that's going to get expensive quick.

Any ideas? I could really use your help on this one. Post below, let me know what you do. I'll try almost anything to get a more solid method.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beereview: Flying Dog - Dogtoberfest

Last week brought you Sam Adams' lackluster Octoberfest, so I thought I'd use my carefully honed beer radar to pick out a good Marzen style ale to review. I won't spoil the surprise, but the store I went to may or may not have been employing beer radar jamming equipment.

As with any Flying Dog selection, the label is impossible to ignore. It features a garish pair of Germans in lederhosen drinking beer and screaming at each other over a dog that looks like it got nailed by a Mac Truck. Oddly, the beer in their mugs looks nothing like this one. I posted back in June about why these labels are so weird.

I've liked most of what I've had from Flying Dog in the past, so I figured this one would be pretty good. Let's see!


Beereview: Flying Dog - Dogtoberfest

This ale pours a dark amber color with a thick foamy head that sticks around indefinitely. It's not cloudy at all and seems very active. The aroma is very hoppy with a strong citrus smell and only a slight sweetness, similar to IPA. The floral hops are very pronounced.

The flavor starts off extremely dry and somewhat sour, which was not at all what I was expecting. It's like pure burnt malt. It has a sort of funky bitter sawdusty taste that stuck around in the back of my mouth forever. There's no alcohol taste and barely any sweetness. It reminds me a bit of burnt sourdough toast.

Overall, I can't recommend this beer to anybody. I really thought it was going to be good, but in the end I gambled and lost. At least I only bought one!

Have you tried a good Oktoberfest? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beereview: Alpha Dog Imperial IPA

Have I mentioned how awesome my wife is? So we were on the other side of town, and truth be told, I had no clue where I was. Well the wife described it as "right down the street from Total Wine." That just got me all sorts of excited. In case you don't know, Total Wine is my biggest source for all the crazy beers you've never heard of. I think when she told me, she already knew we were going to have to go. I just looked at her and she's like "of course we can." Awesome! Well usually when I'm in Total Wine I come out with 3 or 4 22 oz. bottles for around 20 bucks. Typically one of them will be 8 to 10 bucks, and then the rest to fill out the order.

Well we walk down then isle, and i pick 3 out. I'm ready to go when she says "how bout this one?" Ok... sure. "How about this one?" Hm. Yep. "This one?" Hell yes. Before I knew it I'm walking out the store with 6 bottles of beer at a cost of just over 40 bucks. She didn't even think twice. Rock!

Needless to say we both have a soft spot for dogs, so when we see a beer with a dog on the label, we can't pass it up. It's almost as bad as when we accidentally go to PetSmart on dog adoption day... No. No. It's not nearly that bad...

Put together a dog on the label and an IPA and Nikki's hooked like a teen on an unlimited texting plan. The truth is I'm actually writing this because she says she's trying one of the new beers whether I write about it our not. Which brings us to our beereview of Alpha Dog Imperial IPA. Alpha Dog is bottled by Laughing Dog Brewing out of Ponderay, Idaho (where the F#*(%@ is that? no matter...). This Imperial IPA weighs in just on the light side of the imperial IPA spectrum at 8.5%. The bottle is pretty simple. No funny quotes, quips, or excerpts. Just a wolf. With creepy green eyes. Representative of hops? Probably not, but that's the 9th grade english class coming out of me (a class full of opinion questions, each with only one right answer). Wife's breathing down my neck, lets crack this pig.

This IPA pours a dark amber color. The head on the glass is thick as the fog in King's The Mist. The aroma is a strangly sweet hop, not the typical pound of American Cascade. The beer drinks sweet and smooth. Not as dry as your standard IPA, but leaves the same amount of chew in your mouth. The bitterness is not as intense as Stone's Arrogant Bastard, but certainly on it's way. The wife describes the beer as "good, sweet, oaky, with a peculiar sweet and toasty aftertaste."

I like this beer. It's not terribly unique, but has an interesting aftertaste. Let me know if you've had it! Post below!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beereview: Sam Adams Octoberfest

In my last post, I laid out the 5 Simple Rules to Choose the Right Fall Beer so it's time to put them to the test. If you've been anywhere that sells beer lately, it's fairly likely that you've seen plenty of Oktoberfest and Pumpkin Ale. Since this is America (dammit) I thought I'd drop the "K" and spell it right. As Sam Adams has to be the most American beer out there (patriotically speaking,) their Octoberfest seemed like a good bet. Plus, it's cheap and we basically ruined our economy, so that has to be a good thing.

First, let's check it against the rules for purchase:

Rule #5: Know your style preferences.

In the store: Orange label? check. Maple leaves on the bottle? check. Pumpkin on the bottle? Surprisingly, no. Says "Oktoberfest" or "Marzen" on the label? close enough. I do like Vienna Lager and this being an Oktoberfest it should embody Sam's take on it. So far so good.

Rule #4: To pumpkin or not to pumpkin?

Not.

Rule #3: Spot seasonal invaders.

This does look suspiciously like a seasonal invader. Their overly generic description doesn't make it sound like they spent a lot of time on this formulation. It basically says "5 varieties of malted barley for a richer taste." That doesn't really sound like an Oktoberfest or a fall beer to me, just a "beer" beer.

Rule #2: Read the label.

As I mentioned in #3, this label hardly says anything (not even the ABV.) It doesn't list the type of hops or make any claims at all. Their website says a little more about it, but not everybody is going to whip out their iPhone in the liquor store. Even the website is just a Wikipedia dump about what Marzen and Oktoberfest mean.

Rule #1: Check the date.

Born in march this year, so it's fine. If your label doesn't look like the picture I posted you're probably drinking something partially fossilized.

So how does it stack up?

Sam Adams in my opinion is a beer best enjoyed right from the bottle. Unless I order it on tap (which I only do when there are no local or microbrews on tap) I don't think it should be served in a glass. As such, I won't report on the color. The aroma is sweet and bland, not much to it.

The initial taste is very sweet and malty. It's not hoppy at all, which I didn't expect from Sam Adams. They usually have a pretty pronounced hoppy flavor even in their flagship Boston Lager and Boston Ales. The aftertaste is pretty bready. It's really not at all what I expected, especially since the variety is supposed to be similar to Vienna lager (which regular Sam Adams Lager is similar to.) The finish is sweet but doesn't cover up the alcohol, even though this is a low ABV beer.

Overall it's not that bad, but has more "Beer" flavor than most other Sam Adams offerings. It's almost too strong without any real character (sort of like Sylvester Stallone?) It's not what I was expecting, so Rule #5 doesn't work; it passes Rule #2 by omission, and rules #1 and #4 legitimately. Unfortunately, I have to call this one a "Seasonal Invader" at about a C+, with regular Sam Adams being a solid B. Sorry Sam, better luck next time.

Have you tried this beer? What'd you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever


Or what happens when you can't think of a witty title!

Holy poo it's a beautiful day out here in central Florida. I don't know if you were one of the many states to get the cool breeze blowing through this weekend, but it's a welcome change of pace from the melt-your-face-off heat here in Florida. It's been so hot all the emo kid's stickers are falling off their little emo skateboards. I've been up today since 9 am doing housework and yard work all day, and hardly broke a sweat. This is night and day in comparison to the usual blinking-makes-you-sweat days of the Florida humid summer. Well around 3:30 I finally finished pressure-washing the back porch and was able to work on some upgrades to my beer equipment.

I doubt I'm the only one having this problem. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my Bayou Classic Turkey Fryer (that post is a blast from the past!). But the first time you fire it up it smells like you set a pair of boots on fire. That smell is the cheap and cheesy paint instantly burning off right from when you said "flame on." With the paint missing, rust is right around the corner. Also puzzling is the amount of rust I have on my "stainless" braided gas tube. The rust that turns that tube into a collection of tiny meat cleavers that Pinhead would be jealous of. I've been thinking about getting some high temp paint, and I finally did. I've heard 500 degree won't cut it, so I went right to the 2000 degree stuff. Lets rock. The first coat is currently drying right now. Go Rustoleum!

Secondly I got myself of set of gas disconnects from Heart's. By having this I can quickly pop off my CO2 tank from my kegerator and attach it directly to a keg for force carbonation, or directly to my beer gun for bottling. This also makes it so instead of using my portable CO2 canister, I can quickly take my tank and have a perfect and constant flow right to my keg for competitions when I'm kicking Paul and Jeremy's ass.

The gas disconnects work fantastic. I'll keep y'all posted on how the high temp paint works!!

Anyone have the same trouble with their Bayou burner? I can't be the only one. Post below!!