23 December 2007

Dunkel Weizen, step 2

Today for the first time I have departed from a set brew recipe in a significant sort of way.

I transferred the weizen wort into a secondary fermenter (carboy), but before so doing I added 11 oz of liquefied Smoky Mountain sourwood honey into the pot. I've read and forum'ed (I know that's not a word, but hey....) about the honey thing quite a bit and decided to take the plunge to see what happens -- it's all a big experiment, right? My goal is that the honey will give the dormant yeast something more to work on, upping the ABV percentage (had I bottled today, it would have ended up somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.6%). Just how much higher, we'll have to wait and see. The honey should also add some interesting notes to the final bouquet and taste -- it won't make it sweeter, or taste like mead, but it should give the beer a drier palate and add some floral notes. We shall see....

16 December 2007

winter brews and Portland

Thanks to Mark for adding me on to the blog. I'm happy to contribute as able.

My office staff went out for a end-o'-the-semester dinner and our boss chose the Widmer Brother's Gasthaus as our venue. Winter is a wonderful time to be in Portland as it's the season when everybody let's down their hair and tries something new. So if you are passing through Portland, here are some winter brews on tap NOW for your tasting pleasure.

Snow Plow - a cream ale on nitro, tastes like a piece of pie. Maybe the U.S. answer to Boddingtons?

Decorator - A "Weizendoppelbock." Okay, this might freak you out, but here goes. Bananas. Like very strong bananas. I thought it was amazing. Apparently the reviews are mixed as the bar maid wouldn't give me a pint until I'd tried a sample. Don't worry. You start to regain consciousness after a few sips.

Dortmunder Lager - not as whimpy as some lagers and great to follow the pungent Decorator

Widmer Hefeweizen - I'm cheating a bit. This is always on tap. We tried to clone this for our last batch of home brew. The beer turned out great but we haven't yet mastered the perfect balance of hoppy and malty that makes this one of the best beers in Portland. Don't leave the Northwest without knocking back a few.

They also serve a mead but I haven't been bold enough to try it yet. I'll report back with any more updates for the Christmas season.

15 December 2007

Trebor Brot -- spent-grain bread

When homebrewing with crushed grains (and not just extract), an unavoidable byproduct is the spent grains: the crushed grains, confined to a mesh bag, are strained in hot water to create a "tea" that becomes the base for the beer, but the mesh bags are removed before the boil, and are referred to as "spent." What to do with the spent grains?
The traditional approach is to feed them to your livestock: chickens, pigs, goats, and so forth love spent grains. Barring that, they make excellent compost.
What to do when you don't have any livestock, and haven't yet begun a compost operation (living on a 2nd-storey apartment with no yard or garden makes that a wee bit difficult)?

Why, bake with them, of course! I came across an issue of Southern Brew News a few months ago (they're often free for the taking at Asheville Brewers Supply) dedicated to cooking and baking with beer, and clipped out a recipe for Trebor Brot, a traditional German spent-grain bread. I decided to give it a whirl with my Dunkel weizen leftovers. And it's quite tasty! Definitely a good, hearty winter bread, reminiscent of those 7-grain loaves that artisanal bakeries make. I'm quite proud of the result.

Here's my modified recipe:

1 C warm water
1/2 C dark beer
2 Tb oil (I used olive for this go-round)
1 1/2 ts salt
1 1/2 ts active dry yeast
4 C total flour (I used all organic unbleached all-purpose, simply because that's what I had on hand. The original calls for 2 C unbleached, 1 C rye, and 1 C whole wheat. I see experimentation here!)
a measure of dried spent grains (the original calls for 40 g; I used a bit more than that)
2-3 Tb crushed flax seed (optional)
1 Tb vital wheat gluten flour (optional -- helps give it some "lift")

The easiest (read: quickest!) way to dry the spent grains is to spread them in a thin layer on a large plate and microwave for 6 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.

In a large bowl, mix 2 C flour, yeast, and the salt. Add the water/beer and oil, and beat (it will be VERY sticky -- if you're a hand-kneader like me, plastic/silicone or wooden spatulas are a big help here!). Add a cup of flour a time, kneading for 5 minutes after each flour addition. Add the gluten, flax, and spent grains along with the final cup of flour. Depending on the enviroment, you may need to add a bit more flour so it's not too sticky. Knead until the dough is a shaggy mass -- one thing I've learned is that you really can't over-knead, especially when kneading by hand.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled or floured bowl, and tightly cover with a warm, damp (thin) towel. Let the bread rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

After rising, place dough on a pizza stone, form into the desired loaf shape (I like the round boule), cut the top with a sharp knife if you wish. No secondary rising is really needed with this one. Bake it at the bottom of the oven for 45-50 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of baking, lightly spray the loaf with water (this helps give the crust a golden color). Once desired color is achieved, remove and place on a wire rack to cool. Is it done yet? Knock the bottom of the loaf with your hand -- if it sounds hollow, it's baked.

Let cool for at least 15 mintues before slicing. Enjoy with a glass of beer!

--Thanks to Fred Scheer-Boscos of the Nashville Brewing Co. for this recipe.

New Round of Homebrew

I once again took advantage of my mostly-day-off (had to greet the organ tuners and make sure that Sunday's bulletin got run first thing in the morning) by starting another round of homebrew. The recipe in question this go-round is a Dunkel Weizen; that is, a dark hefeweizen. I will say that for about 2 or 3 years running, Weihenstephaner Hefeweiss Dunkel has been among my very top favorites at the WBF -- I can't presume that what I've got in the fermenter will even come close to that goodness, but it's a style I love and am anxious to see what happens.

I do find it amusing that this beer is oft hight, "Dunkel Weiss," which means, of course, "Dark White." I also find it interesting that the two names frequently interchanged for this beer style, weizen and weisse (wheat and white), are only different from each other by a couple of letters. Handy and confusing! And, given my current naming scheme (composers and all that) I simply couldn't resist the urge to pun and style this go-round (and all my subsequent hefewiezen, I'm sure) Silvius Leopold Weiss, in honor of that great baroque composer and friend of Bach's that no one's ever heard of. He has his own webpage, and even shows up on YouTube a few times, including here, here, and here. His music is truly wonderful. Anyway, I'm having way too much fun with this thing. I've also made up a sample label for this one, and put the whole thing in a Fraktur font. I'm pretty pleased with it.

Here's what I did:

6 lbs Northwestern wheat extract (liquid)
1 lb Northwestern dark malt extract (dry)
1 lb crushed crystal malt grain
0.5 lb crushed chocolate wheat grain
1 oz Liberty pellet hops (bittering)
1 oz Tettnang pellet hops (finishing)
White Labs liquid German Ale/Koelsch yeast

Original Gravity chimed in at 1049.9 (I *think* -- I'm still getting used to this whole hydrometer thing), which sounds about right to me.

I also used (for the first time) NC mountain bottled spring water instead of tap. I have a particular aversion to and disgust of buying bottled water, but did this for a couple of reasons:
1) My parents now live on a farm in Ashe County, NC, with its own wonderful mountain spring. I'm anxious to make use of their spring water for future brews, and needed some gallon jugs with which to transport the water. Hence, the purchase.
2) I haven't had any disastrous results with the Tryon town water thus far, but it's still not my favorite. I really don't want beer with flouride and chlorine in it, as yummy as that sounds. So, this is also something of an experiment to see if there is any discernible difference in taste.
And, at the end of the day, I'm not using Dasani.

Finally, for good measure, one more Weiss:

14 December 2007

Tasting a Wonderful Local Brewery

I had the great fortune yesterday evening to sample 5 brews from Pisgah Brewing Company of Black Mountain, NC (just east of Asheville on I-40). All five were very good; two were excellent.

This tasting was one of the bi-monthly offerings at Bruisin' Ales, my current favorite purveyor of liquids and all-around cool store in Asheville. Two of the Pisgah brewers were on hand to pour the samples and answer questions, and as the house was much -- MUCH -- less packed than last week's Brooklyn affair, I had no trouble in chatting a bit with them.

First off, Pisgah is a certified-organic brewery, so all of their offerings have at least a plurality of organic ingredients (malt and hops especially). Kudos!

My only overarching negative about the brews is that most of them tend to have a somewhat thin and watery finish, even if it is extremely slight. (I started calling this the "American beer curse" some years ago, when I was a relative newbie to the craft beer thing; I know it's not scientifically sound or anything approaching universal, but it's nevertheless a trait that I can't help but notice popping up from time to time in many American brews). Oh, and the fact that they don't bottle most of their brews for store distribution -- kegs and growlers are the mainstay. But as they're a small brewery interested in quality control, I can't say I blame them.

The lineup:

1) Porter. At 6% ABV, this was their light offering for the evening. Made with a combination of five organic malts, this is a pleasant and easy contribution to the world of porter. A nice chocolatey opening salvo, with pleasant mild hop notes. Some smokiness is present, too, enabling it to match not only raspberries (a great combo) but savory dishes as well, I would think. A thin but smooth finish -- it ended much more abruptly and quickly than I was imagining it to. Overall, I gave it a B+

2) Equinox, "Amber harvest ale." 7.5% ABV. A mild nose that for some reason made me think of bubblegum -- but on the tongue it was anything but! A nice raisiny quality, with a lot more besides. It was superb with a cube of sharp cheddar, and I wrote to myself to try this with winter soup. A-/B+

3) Red Devil. 8% ABV. This is a Belgian-style blonde ale mixed with cherries and raspberries added to the secondary fermentation. I am not often a fan of fruit beer; I'm fond of Atlantic's Blueberry Ale, and the occasional old-school sour cherry lambic if the mood strikes me. But this was absolutely stupendous. Very well-balanced, and silky smooth. Oh, I could have gone home right then and there a happy man. My note was, "best fruit beer I've ever had, basically," which is probably a stretch, but not *too* big of a stretch. A/A-

4) Solstice. 9% ABV. This is their year-round Belgian Trippel offering. A sour nose (yum!) gives rise to fruity esters, and the only thing that made it less than superb was that once-again slightly watery finish. Otherwise, very solid and true to the style. Gouda made it better with regards to the finish. A-

5) Baptista. 11% ABV. Their "Belgian Noel" seasonal offering, a strong dark (but not too dark!) brew. Beautiful bronze color with a complex nose that immediately caught my attention -- too many things going on to single any one out, yet not too busy to be confusing. All I could say was, "Wow." This was clearly the coup-de-grace of the day for me. Truly complex, truly amazing...I must say that I have as of yet not had any true Christmas Ales from Belgium or the Netherlands, so I can't compare the Baptista against the heralds of the style, but style aside, I fell in love with this thing. And, no watery finish here! More along the lines of a dry barleywine or sherry finish, really. And wonderful with cheese all the way. More, please! Solid A

On a side note, I couldn't help but notice this label on the shelf on my way out the door:

No kidding. "Great Pig Steam." I am told it is an amazing ale. And that the Saison de Pipaix (this brewery's flagship style) is to die for. Best I can figure is, 1) it's a true farmhouse brewery. Pigs live on farms, and are really fun animals. 2) The folks at Pipaix are truly doing all that they can to make it clear that they are not a monastic brewery.

07 December 2007

The troubles they are a-coming

So, a month or two or three ago, news of the hop shortage and barley price increases began to spread about. So far, very little in-your-face results have been felt, at least here in the States (I had to get leaf hops instead of pellet in November, but that was about it).
That's not likely to remain the case.
Here's a short but notable article courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery website. And it's not just NYC. We can expect changes probably after the New Year, I expect. The fellow at Asheville Brewers Supply yesterday told me that they'll be coming out with a new products catalogue in the next couple of weeks -- same products, higher prices. I won't be surprised if 6-packs and pub draughts rise in cost as well. Just how much more homebrewing will cost, only time will tell.

Another Great Tasting at Bruisin' Ales of Asheville

Welcome to our new contributors, Sara, B.J., and AAK! It's wonderful to have you posting.

Yesterday evening Sara and I visited my new favorite beer purveyor, Brusin' Ales (on Broadway in Asheville -- see the link to their site on the sidebar). They do a free tasting every other Thursday, and occasionally have a slightly bigger to-do tasting as a fundraiser for their charity of choice, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yesterday they outdid themselves. Jason Gavin of the Brooklyn Brewery (one of our favorites) was on hand with 9 (count them, 9) samples. Also present were folks from the Spinning Spider Creamery, a local goat cheese dairy from Madison County, with a good 5 or 6 varieties, along with cherries, raspberries, almonds, and little toasts to help complement the tastings.

Despite the huge crowd (fire code, anyone? I felt a little bit like I was at an indoor beer festival), it was probably the best tasting we've been to yet, at least at Bruisin'.
The lineup:

1. Local 1. The brewery's most recent regular offering, a Belgian-style strong golden ale (9% ABV).

2. Brown Ale. A classic and a legend in its own right. (5.6% ABV)

3. Winter Ale. Previously reviewed here over Thanksgiving. Still a winner in the Scottish style (6%)

4. Monster Ale Vintage '04. A classic Barleywine, if somewhat Americanized. Aged for 4 months. (10.8%)

5. Monster Ale Vintage '05.

6. Monster Ale '07. (What happened to the '06? "We drank it all," said Gavin.)

7. Black Chocolate Stout Vintage '04. An annual winter-season offering, Brooklyn's interpretation of a Russian Imperial Stout. (10.1%)

8. Black Chocolate Stout Vintage '05.

9. Black Chocolate Stout '07.

What was remarkable was that ever single one of these samplings was a hit with the goat cheeses. There were no strikeouts. I will say, however, that the Local 1, Brown Ale, and all 3 Monsters were an absolute hit with the cheese, perhaps even a home run in the case of the Local 1 and the '04 Monster. The '05 Stout paired with a cherry (they were excellent cherries) sparked fireworks in my mouth, a la Pixar's Ratatouille -- it was like best cherry cordial you've ever had, except with beer. The '07 Stout preferred the almonds.
What was interesting was to compare samples of the same brews from different years -- there were clear differences in both the Monster and the Stout. I preferred the '04 Monster Ale (the best balanced, I thought -- the '05 was much sweeter, and the '07 much younger and "zingier") and the '05 Stout (the chocolatiest of the three).


06 December 2007

Sam Winter, tested in Boston

The Beer: Sam Adams Winter Lager
The Food: clam chowder, turkey club
The Restaurant: 75 Chestnut, Boston, Mass.

Sam Adams is always a most respectable, if, to my mind, rarely an astonishing brewery. However, one is always correct to sample the local brews in any place, and so, when in Boston and faced with choosing among Guinness, the silver bullet, Harpoon IPA, and the Sam Adams Winter Lager (it was a pretty shallow draught list), I went with the Sam Winter, which seemed like a perfect choice for a snowy night in Beacon Hill.

One never has, of course, a pure tasting experience, in a sterile white room and no distractions. But who would want that? A sterile room with no company calls for 30 Busch Lights and a urinal, not something savoury, something worth considering, worth tasting. Of course we all know that the company and the food and the setting can enhance a beer, making the good better, and the great sublime, but virtually nothing can make a bad beer better (except another bad beer to follow). And anyway, where matters of taste are concerned, the scientific process should take a hike: bias is king, and not something to be controlled.

But back to the beer.

My first impression was that it looked like exactly what I needed. The color was an ideal coppery brown, dark but allowing light to pass and refract: sort of like a delicious brown swimming pool on a clear day in my glass. The head was present but not overwhelming, about a quarter inch deep, and of the color of peanut shells.

Not much aroma. It isn't done to draw too much attention to oneself in Boston. Puritanism runs deep (for more on Puritans and beer, even the English varieties, see video HERE, which comes from a website that will give one particular pause).

The taste delivered, gently, all of winter. Sort of like a carol sing in the mouth. Snappy and spicy: cloves, a bit of orange, cinnamon, maybe some ginger, which lingered on the finish, at least until replaced it with I a spoonful of chowder. Again we must remember that this is New England: Sam doesn't shout, he doesn't gesture – he used up all of those instincts in the Revolution. Rather, winter is suggested, or intoned.

This is not, in keeping with brewery custom, an astonishing beer, but a good, sound workhorse, something one could drink happily throughout the winter, a good companion to good food and good company. The aficionados might turn up their noses and scoff, but then they would forget that basic drinkability and pleasantness are the marks of a good beer. Luther seldom, I imagine, drank alone, whether his companions were men or books, and we know that our (the editorial we) northern European ancestors have always relied upon their beers to facilitate camaraderie. I recommend the Sam Winter for those times when one needs to be held by one's beer, comforted, and not challenged.

Sumttynose and the Hershey company

Beer in question: Smuttynose Brewing Co.'s "Old Brown Dog Ale"
Food accompanying: Mac cheese (cheddar), peas, chicken
Venue: my house, in front of the fire

Color: reddish-brown (emphasis on the brown), permitting a bit of light.

Aroma (isn't this another word for "odor"?): Not so hoppy. Some chocolate comes through in the nose here, a foretaste of the (likely) very near future.

The Old Brown Dog offers no taste at first, or rather offers a fairly ordinary "dark beer" taste, then the flavors of leather and (particularly) chocolate rush over the taste buds and into the nose. The finish is long and chocolately, like trying to escape Colombia by way of a cacao plantation. This is not how I like my beer. A little less chocolate, or even the same amount of chocolate, up front would be okay, but because it forms the entirety of the long finish, each sip is spoilt.

I will consider the following exception before I condemn the Smuttynose people: each beer is a reflection of the place in which it is made. I grant the exception because Portsmouth is a town on the brief New Hampshire coast, and we all know how salt air affects everything: the texture of bedsheets, the color of weathered shingles, the temper of one's skin. So perhaps drinking the Old Brown Dog in its home on the cold seashore is an entirely different experience. Without being there, who can say how the air might affect the taste? Maybe, at home, the beer smells like daisies.

04 December 2007

A philosophy of beer, if you will

Hello boys!

This being my very first post here at House o' Perm, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on brewing, sampling, and enjoying this fermented elixir we love so much. You will probably never see a post from me on here about the specifics of the brewing process, since I am completely uninvolved with this part of our household. My job consists of complaining about the yeasty smells and piles of equipment that are slowly taking over our downstairs bathroom, and, of course, happily consuming the beer once it's finished.

Nonetheless, I feel like Mark extended the blogger invitation to me not out of courtesy, but because I too have more just than just a blythe interest in the process of enjoying beer. As with many parts of my marriage, I stand in the doorway of this hobby, halfway between nerdy over-involvement and sarcastically poking fun at the passions of the crafter.

My very first beer (in college) was an Icehouse. Sitting on the mattress of a kid on my freshman hall, slice of Papa John's in hand, I sipped the nastiness of watery rice-malt brew. How many people start out this way? Is this the only entrance into the beer world? In my mind, there were two main things wrong with this memory:
1. It was an Icehouse. Ugh. Gag.
2. Drinking these beers was a goofy secret, under the radar of our watchful RA. Our sense of adulthood started with breaking the rules. Not only we were kinda lame, I'll admit - we were beginning a perception of alcohol, beer specifically, as a forbidden indulgence.

Working as a youth minister for the past few years, I know about the drinking culture my kids are confronted with. And I know some things will never change. Teenagers will always giggly sip beer, act inappropriately, and push the limits when they know they're not supposed to. Especially about rules that are placed upon them by adults. I think the only way we grow into being adults is learning how to deal with these rules and limits we put on ourselves - spiritually, emotionally, physically - by walking around within a safe framework and learning to think for yourself. But enough about that.

Returning to my earlier question: Why does this have to be the story most everyone has about their first beer? Why is loving beer a journey from the bottom up? (No pun intended.) Why do we start with the dregs before heading to the finer brews? Is there no redemption for the Coors and Miller drinkers out there?

And also: why is beer so often seen as a coarse beverage? At Thanksgiving, everyone appreciates the wine that's passed around the table, but we get strange looks when Mark brings a fine bottle of Saison. And also: why is beer seen as so masculine? I invite your thoughts.

(Sorry for the long winded-ness. I'm bored at work.)

03 December 2007

Meanwhile, back in remedial homebrewing

Thanks Mark for the invitation to post, and hello to Sara! The past few months have been a busy one in the homebrew wing of my house (the alcove under the stairs) as Jo and I have prepared for Christmas care packages. This year's gift will be a 4-pack incuding an ESB and a Belgian-Style Tripel.

I have one little rookie mistake to share here: failing to let the stopper dry sealing the glass carboy, and pressing a little too enthusiastically, I seem to have managed to cram the stopper all the way through the neck of the carboy and into the fermenting beer. Whoopsie...

This after a day of brewing, 4 days of initiall fermenting. I looked up at Jo, crestfallen...suddenly I was tempering my brew (the tripel) with a rubber stopper, with no idea of whether or not it would be physically possible to retrieve the stopper, even after we finish fermenting. Jo saved the day by finding a brewing blog which assured us that the stopper, sanitized as it was, was harmless. But if future samplers pick up on a slight bouquet of goodyear, then I might have a good reason for that one.

01 December 2007

An American Wheat Doppelbock

I broke into my nascent cellar tonight and tried my bottle of Clipper City (Baltimore, MD) Heavy Seas "Hang Ten" Weizen Doppelbock.

I was intrigued by the idea of a wheat doppelbock, and since it was put forth by a reputable brewer, thought I'd give this one a whirl. It's definitely a curious and complex brew, not at all unpleasant -- if not quite what I was expecting from a Doppelbock. I would never guess this one correctly in a blind taste test, that's for sure.

At the outset, it's reminiscent of a Belgian Strong Ale or a Flemish red -- even the color corresponds in that department, pouring a coppery rust color with the thinnest of heads.
It's slightly cloudy without being dull in the glass, and the head fades to the edges of the glass fairly quickly.

On the nose, I sense barley malt (true to a doppelbock), brown sugar, sawdust (like my grandfather's carpentry shop), and alcohol (at 10% ABV, that's no surprise).

The Belgian/Flemish charade continues on the tongue -- a sweet/sour quality that I associate with those great ales of the Low Countries introduces itself right away, and I immediately think of any number of food pairings. Also on the tongue comes a whole parade of tastes -- dark chocolate, caramel, sea salt, hops (Saaz?? Mt. Hood???), bananas, slight smoke (like smoked bacon), with a nice sour finish. (I'm still thinking, "how is this a lager?") The alcohol is definitely present, creating a nice warming after-taste.

The feel on the palate is great -- it's spritzy, and has a quality reminiscent of a dry wine.

This brew would be great with savory meat dishes (nothing too heavy -- venison, pork, duck, or maybe lamb would be perfect), or well-prepared sausages. I can also imagine asparagus pairing up well, and maybe even certain desserts (custard, creme brulee). I also envision this beer with a cheese course (gouda stands out).

I can't help but continue to think of Belgian Strong Ale (Kwak, Scaldis Prestige) or Flemish Red (Duchesse de Bourgogne) -- which, given that they are among my very favorite beers, is no bad thing. I'm not seeing how this beer could possibly be in the same family as Ayinger Celebrator, so I might not give it high style marks -- but on its own, as itself, it's great.

30 November 2007

Neil Gow's Scottish Ale

I do believe that this third round of homebrew is by far my favorite. I am quite, quite pleased at the way this one has turned out -- which is a nice surprise, since I was most worried about this one whilst in-production:

* At bottling time, I forgot to add the priming sugar to the bucket until after I had already filled about 12 bottles, so I did the unthinkable: I emptied the 12 bottles back into the bucket, and then added the priming sugar syrup.

* Upon resuming the bottling, I capped 3 bottles without topping them off, so I had to uncap them and do the top-offs, wasting 3 caps.

The moral of this story is, don't ever be in a rush whilst brewing OR bottling. I was worried that all the pouring back into the bucket would introduce too much oxygen to the mix, but it has turned out just fine.

It is a dark, dark brew, almost porter in color. It's a very dark coffee-ish brown, with a thin off-white head.

The aroma (granted, I've done the notes-tasting just after getting over a cold, so my sinuses are not quite as open and active as they probably should be...) presents toasted nuts, dark caramel, a wee bit of hay, and faint alcohol notes.

On the tongue, you're greeted with allspice, smoke, roasted grain, the slightest bit of cinnamon, caramel, a very slight ester note, and the faintest hint of those Kent Golding hops.

The palate is very pleasant: it's both spritzy and silky, and goes down warmly.

Sara and I poured half a bottle into a batch of venison-sweet potato-black bean chili we made, and it was stellar -- both in the bowl and the glass.

Venison is a most Scottish of dishes (even if chili is not) and the pairing is wonderful.
This ale is complex enough to pair well with any number of dishes, though. I'm excited to explore other avenues. The smokiness in particular should serve it well in conjunction with any number of hearty wintertime dishes. And, importantly, it's terrific all by itself.

24 November 2007

Thanksgiving 2008, Part II. Brooklyn Winter Ale

Brooklyn Brewery has long been one of my personal top-shelf favorite breweries. Everything Brooklyn puts forth is well worth having; I found their Winter Ale not their best offering, but still definitely worthy of a go. It's clearly in the Scottish Ale tradition -- dark, slightly sweet, not a whole lot in the way of hop flavors, with some added flavorful twists. It's wonderful on a blustery fall or winter night in front of a fireplace. Scottish floor-malted maris otter malts, English crystal malts, Belgian aromatic malts, American roasted malts, AND American oats, with Willamette hops. There's a punch to be packed, but it's not quite a heavyweight.

Appearance: reddish bronze, hazy, with a thin head.

Nose: Raisins, brown sugar, faint alcohol notes, a warm comforting aroma.

Taste: brown sugar, honey, roasted nuts, salt, malt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves.

Palate: Warming, fizzy, and smooth

Overall: *Very* good, but I thought it could be better on the finish -- it just seems to drop off without saying goodbye, although it does pleasantly warm the throat. At 6%, it is slightly reminiscent of a weak barleywine with a Scots twist. It really was great with food -- what Sara and I had was caramel popcorn with nuts, and also pecan pie. I imagine it would be stellar with hearty winter foods -- savory stews, rich roast with gravy, a baked ham, or anything that has caramelized onions featured.

Next post....the unveiling of my own Neil Gow's Scottish Ale...here's to keeping my fingers crossed...

22 November 2007

Thanksgiving 2008, Part I: Jenlain Ambree

I was originally planning to bring the Castelian St. Amand Ale for this year's Thanksgiving feast, but ended up grabbing a bottle of the Jenlain Ambree (yet another notable French Biere de Garde) instead. It was definitely worth doing.

Jenlain, according to their own website (Brasserie Duyck), was the first brewery to package beers in 75 cL champagne-style bottles with wire-fastened corks. The Ambree is an unpasteurized biere de garde made from 3 different French barley malts and 3 different Alsatian hops. The 7.5% ABV is very very smooth.

Appearance: Lovely burnt caramel color with plenty of carbonation bubbles and a nice off-white head that thins out after a few seconds.
Aroma: Mild, caramelly, ever-so-slightly hoppy, faint hint of fruit -- peaches? and a whiff of hay to finish.
Flavor: Much more complex on the tongue than on the nose. A certain lagery quality reminiscent of Warsteiner (I seem to remember Castelian also exhibiting this lagery-ness), caramel/burnt sugar tones, a sharpness that says, "drink with farmhouse cheese!", and some rustic farm qualities: fresh grass, hay, nuts, herbs.
Palate: fantastically spritzy without being too champagne-like. Wonderful feel.
Overall: it’s no St Amand (still my favorite Biere de Garde, thus far) but more complex than Castelain.

The Ambree was truly excellent with Thanksgiving Dinner -- and what I especially appreciate, it was equally good with the main course and the dessert: it paired faultlessly with the turkey & dressing, gravy, veggie casseroles, and sweet potatoes, and then turned around and sang in harmony with the pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple crisp! Vive la biere francaise!

11 November 2007

More Web Fun with Beer

Well, I've ventured into www.ratebeer.com and set up an account for myself there. We'll see how far it goes and how much I get on board with it. My profile name, of course, is Perm.

07 November 2007

Great article from the NYT

I do have something of a love-hate relationship with the New York Times.
But as long as they keep publishing articles like this one, I'm all for them.

05 November 2007

not strictly a beer post, but I think there's some crossover...

One of my other newfound husband-passions is the baking of bread.

(NB. I'm using the word "husband" in its accurate Anglo-Saxon etymological sense -- the hus-band as one bound to the household; a homemaker if you will, every bit as much as the huswyf.)

One of my new years' resolutions for 2007 was to try my hand at sourdough; now that it's November I've finally gotten around to starting a starter-culture. In the attempt to find an out-of-the-way and warm place for the starter to live for the few days before it goes into the fridge, I opted for the downstairs 1/2-bath where the brewing magic currently takes place.

The sourdough starter is going wild.

I can only surmise that it is quite happy to be in the company of the currently-fermenting Scots Ale and that there must be whole legions of wild yeasts floating around that little room. The sponge is way ahead of schedule. This is exciting. Stay tuned; I'll return to this topic in future posts as I continue to explore and experiment with sourdough baking.

02 November 2007

November's here, and so is the Belgian homebrew

Even though it was probably a tad on the early side, I decided to break out the Belgian homebrew and see how it did.
Again, Sara was all ga-ga over the results. I think it's still a little young, and as it sits in the bottle will continue to mature nicely. That being said, I'm quite proud.
It's got a beautiful rust-copper reddish-brown color, reminiscent of cherry furniture (how's that for a creative comparison?). The nose (such as it is; I'm currently battling a cold, so my olfactories aren't all they should be..) brings to mind caramel, wildflower honey, roasted nuts, and the slightest hint of cinnamon. On the palate I get a spritzy warmth, delicate hopping, toffee, and brown sugar. It's a bit like a very mild Chimay (if I do say so myself) -- I expect it would go nicely with duck dishes or other game, and certain desserts (creme brulee, anyone?) as well as roasted nuts -- ooh, or pumpkin or pecan pie!
And at the end of the day, I'm ecstatic that all of my homebrews are not going to end up tasting the same. This couldn't be more different than the Green Zinger.
I attempted to use my new hydrometer to test the alcohol content of this one; I'm not sure I've mastered the device for total accuracy yet, but it appears (at the time of bottling) to be in the neighborhood of 5% ABV. I'll keep working on this device.

Being the nerd that I am, I've devised a naming scheme for my home brewing operation and all my various creations (the third round is already on the starting line). Given my love for music, especially classical music (hey, it's what I do), I've opted to call my moonlight operation the "St. Cecilia Brewery" in honor of the Patron Saint of music and composers, and name all the various brews after the great (and sometimes quite obscure) composers whom I love. I'll try to pair up styles with names based on nationality, alliteration, or just good old fashioned puns. Thus, my first batch has been christened "Maurice Greene Zinger" (I couldn't resist), and this recently opened creation is now "Cesar Franck's Belgian Ale."
I know I'm a dork; but hey, it's fun.

In other news, the world hop shortage is making its rounds and is being felt in all corners. When I picked up my Scots Ale kit from Asheville Brewers Supply last week, I had to get my Kent Goldings in leaf instead of pellet as I originally was going to; they were simply all out of the pellets. Whenever we get to the point where we're living in a house with land to do things with, I think it would be fun to try growing some hops. If I can get any rootstock at that point, that is.

21 October 2007

October Housecleaning...

While my second homebrew (a Belgian-style ale) is in mid-ferment, I thought I'd go through some old notes and post an assortment of bits that haven't made it onto a blog-post of their own.

I. A June Tasting
One of my first purchases from Bruisin' Ales in Asheville was a bottle of George Gale's Masterbrew Conquest Ale (2001 bottling). I let it sit for a whole month before breaking down and cracking it open...which is nothing compared to letting my tasting notes sit for 4 months before putting them up on here.
I have had the George Gale Prize Old Ale in the past and gave it high marks (in that Old Ale sort of way), but the Conquest Ale seemed to me to be another whole level of Old Ale-ness.

I found it to be raisiny, almost Madeira-like, also pleasantly nutty and malty. True to aged Old
Ale fashion, it had almost no head to it at all -- but, this is aged brew, so you mustn't think of it as "flat" beer. No more than you'd consider whisky to be flat. It does profit from being consumed not cold from the fridge, but letting the temperature rise some. It got better as it got warmer. I also found it best by itself (in sips, not gulps!), or with salted nuts. I remember thinking it might pair well with mild Asian (Chinese) cuisine. Overall, a much more delicate Old Ale than the Prize Old version, but an interesting tasting experience.

II. An Oktoberfest Tasting
Bruisin' Ales in Asheville periodically will do mini-tastings on a Thursday afternoon. About a month ago, I happened to be in town (the same day I was picking up my first batch of homebrewing supplies) and stopped by for a flight of Oktoberfest-themed brews.

Oktoberfest has never been my favorite variety; I often find it thin and unremarkable and consider many other German varieties much more worthwhile. However, I was curious to explore some American craft brewery takes on the style.

Not surprisingly, the "conservative style standard" of the lot, Otter Creek Oktoberfest, was my least favorite. I had more favorable opinions of the Left Hand Oktoberfest, another fine offering from a solid Colorado brewery.

My two favorites of the day were the funky ones: Avery's Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest, one in their "Dictator Series" (along with the Czar and the Maharajah) of high-intensity strong takes on classic styles. The Kaiser is funky for sure: a lot of folks didn't care for it; and for a while I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not. It has a sweet and sour thing going on with it -- and what finally made me decide that I *did* like it was tossing back some dark chocolate bits that were on hand -- it was an amazing pair-up.

Finally, I took a liking to the Mt. Shasta Olde Ale from Butte Creek (CA). Complex and barley-wine-ish (quite different from the George Gale). Very nice! It made for a pleasant drive back home.

III. The 2007 Dillwyn (VA) Beer Festivus
This was the third such Fest we put on with our friends in Dillwyn, VA. The mistake we made this time around was too many beers (19), many of which were strong (6% ABV +) beginning too late at night (we didn't start the tasting till sometime between 9:30 and 10:00).
All that being said, I was able to take some decent notes (although notice how they get shorter and less detailed as the tasting progresses...)

Round One
1. Erdinger Pikantus Dunkler Weizenbock
A nice nose of raisins/grape juice. Very pleasant, considering how rich and dark.
The taste was also of raisins, and dates. Very pleasant, easy, if somewhat rich and grapey.
I thought it would be good to try with gamey dishes (such as duck!).

2. Moosbacher Lager
A nose of apples and pears. Not bubbly, but it seemed to need the bubbles.
Crisp -- think an autumn picnic with chicken salad.
Was not my favorite, but ok. Needs food to make it worthwhile.

3. Samuel Smith's Organic Lager
A very attractive gold color. Very light.
A subtle, slightly grainy nose. More bubbly than Moosbacher, and a nice malty sweetness.
Very light taste (to compliment the color), almost laughable, almost a weak Pilsner -- BUT still so much better than an American mass-produced (more hops, for sure). I believe the consensus was, good for a pitcher, along with oily fish, pizza, or perhaps mild Indian food.

Round Two
4. Brewery Ommegang Three Philosophers
98% Domestic ale, 2% imported Kriek (cherry) from Duvel in Belgium.
An acidic, dark nose, like a cherry cordial.
Tastes like a cherry cordial, too. Caramelly, and warm, definitely a dessert beer -- was excellent with dark-chocolate brownies; would also pair up well with shortbread, and perhaps pork chops with a cherry sauce.

5. Weienstephaner Kristall-Weisse
Very nice, clovey. Would be good with barbecue

6. Bavarian Hefeweise
Nice and simple, with a hint of bananas. Try with guacamole

7. Uerige (hefeweizen)
Sweet, hoppy, wheaty. Definitely a complex wheat offering: toasted almonds, dates, and figs all present. I enjoyed it.

8. Ommegang Rare Vos
A nice summery Belgian, slightly citrusy.
Very easy drinking, with a slight hint of frankincense. A keeper.

9. Orval Trappiste
An excellent abbey ale. Probably my favorite of the night. I had only good things to say about this one; unfortunately nothing detailed as far as nose or tasting notes, simply, "Amazing!"

10. Ommegang Belgian Abbey-style
Much sweeter than Orval. Good with peanuts, but its downfall is its sweetness.

11. Petrus
Aged Belgian Pale Ale.
I really dug this one, too. Brut-ish, bone dry, reminiscent of an unfruited lambic. Pleasantly sour and oaky. I'd be curious to try this (along with the St. Amand Ale) with a Thanksgiving turkey. A good find!

12. Unibroue Trois Pistoles
This one was a hit with the Belgian craft fans. One of my three favorites of the night; was also excellent with the dark-chocolate brownies. Quite complex, with a slight hint of blueberries, overall amazing.

Round 3
13. Black Sheep Ale (North Yorkshire)
Observation No.1: Do not drink this ale after a flight of Belgian-styles.
Try with grilled chicken

14. Legend (Richmond, VA) King James Ale
I have been fond of the Legend Brewery for years. This one, a dark brown ale, was quite nice. Almost "meaty" in its depth, would be great with hearty meals.

15. Issaquah Bullfrog Ale (connected with Rogue Ales)
Not as hoppy as I expected (hoppy, frogs, ha ha ha).
A pleasant, lager-ish pale ale.

Round 4
Here is where the night really got long and wore thin -- three Eastern European Porters and a German Doppelbock. Ugh.

16. Baltika Porter (Russia)
7.0% ABV, but smooth like silk.
Easy drinking, a good dessert beer. Definitely the best of the 3 porter offerings.

17. Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland)
Black. Darker than a black steer's tuckuss on a moonless prairie night. As in, very dark.
Some adjectives: licorice, coffee, sorghum molasses, soy sauce. Next!

18. Ettaler Klosterbrauerei Curator (Dunkler Doppelbock)
This was delicious, even if it was at the tail end of a long tasting. Sort of like the surprise gem of an aria in the final act of an interminable opera. Everything a doppelbock needs to be. Better, I thought, even than Ayinger's Celebrator. A nice hop balance with the sweet malt. Keep this one.

19. Zywiec Porter (Poland)
"Stee-rong!" This is called, going out with a bang. It was better than the Finnish porter, but my basic comment was, "It would make a good marinade."

At the end of the night, my top 4 were:
1) Orval Trappiste
2) Unibroue Trois Pistoles
3) Ettaler Curator Dunkler Doppelbock
4) Petrus Aged Belgian

20 October 2007

The 12th Annual World Beer Festival....

...was Mark's 5th and Sara's 4th Almost-Annual (we missed in 2005), and, as always, is worth blogging about.

155 Breweries and over 300 individual beers from around the world, all in one great place (the Old Durham Bulls ballpark, made famous by Bull Durham). There is hardly a better way to spend a sunny October afternoon.

As always, quality live music, including local favorite Big Fat Gap.

Sara and I attended along with our good seminary buddies Tasi and Ryan, who also are WBF veterans.

As always, it was quite crowded -- it might have just been me, but it seemed even more crowded this time around than in previous years.

Sara and I were quite pleased to discover that the Atlantic Brewing Co. from Bar Harbor, Maine was present -- this is one of the breweries we visited on our honeymoon and both agreed was our favorite. They have, for my taste, the single best blueberry ale around.

I definitely took my time this year, though, and made an effort to seek out new and unfamiliar brews. The result was, I think, significantly fewer samples for me overall, but prehaps a bit more discrimination involved. There were some overlaps with last year's list; I was interested to discover some differences in my rating from last year's....I'm sure that's a result not only of tasting-overload at an event like this (the tongue simply gets worn out after a while) but also simple subjectivity of the moment. I remember last year trying the Vorhaege Duchesse de Bourgogne and spitting it out because I thought it was horrible -- now it's one of my favorite all-time beers.

Here's the ratings run-down. As last year, I utilised a star-rating; although I introduced a couple of 4-stars into the mix to designate simply amazing brews (last year I only went as high as 3 stars).

First Place (4 stars)
Atlantic Brewing Co. (Maine, USA). This entire brewery gets an honorary 4-stars in my book.
Of note are:
Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale
Bar Harbor Real Ale -- Very English!
Coal Porter -- Amazing, chocolately, excellent balance.

Thomas Creek IPA (SC, USA) -- best IPA of the day.

Unibroue Brewery (Quebec, Canada). This is another brewery that wins a prize for me.
La Fin du Monde
Chambly Noire
Trois Pistoles
Don de Dieu

Weyerbacher Merry Monk's Ale (Belgian-style Trippel) (PA, USA) -- the best American Belgian-style I've had.

Second Place (3 stars)
Bell's Brewery Best Brown Ale (PA, USA)

Big Boss Pumpkin Ale (NC, USA) -- Sara and I both thought this was the best pumpkin ale at the festival.

Brooklyn Brewery Local 1 (Belgian-style Ale) (NY, USA)

Duck-Rabbit Craft Brown Ale (NC, USA)

Front Street Dram Tree Scottish Ale (NC, USA) -- warm and chocolately

Thomas Creek Amber Ale (SC, USA)

Unibroue Ephemere Apple Ale (Quebec, Canada) -- NOT cider, but apple-infused ale. It's amazing.

Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weiss (Germany)

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (PA, USA) -- Sara didn't like it, I did.

Wychwood Scarecrow Organic Ale (England) -- very pleasant and quaffable

Third Place (2 stars)
Bell's Two Hearted Ale (PA, USA) -- nice bitterness

Black Sheep Riggwelter Ale (England)

Brooklyn Brewmaster's Reserve (NY, USA) -- a hoppy wheat ale

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (DE, USA)

DuPont Moinette Brune (Belgium)

Front Street Organic Lager (NC, USA) -- unexpected

Red Oak Battlefield Black Lager (NC, USA) -- this beer changed my opinion of this brewery (for the good)

Redenbach Redbach Cherry Lambic (Belgium) -- the best cherry/lambic of the day for me

St. Bernardus Grotten Brown (Belgium) -- excellent

Fourth Place (1 star)
Big Boss Helle's Belle Belgian Blonde (NC, USA) -- 1/2 star. A strange hominy presence in it.

Bosteels Pauwel Kwak (Belgium) -- too sweet and not enough depth for a higher rating.

Whitbread Pale Ale (England) -- tastes like a baguette

The great mass of beers in the middle that were pleasant enough but did not receive a rating.

Bottom of the Barrel -- beers I did not care for and received a frowny face
Big Boss Surrender Monkey (NC, USA). I'm not sure what they were going for here, but it just
didn't work.

Kaiser Xingu Black Beer (Brazil). Not my style, I guess.

Natty Greene's Old Town Brown Ale (NC, USA). Fell victim to the American watery-beer

I'm excited about the number of NC breweries that received high ratings from me. Absent is the Highland Brewery of Asheville, who was present, but since I've already blogged about them in the past I didn't feel the need to take notes on their fine brews.
Looking back at last year's list again, I'm also happy to see that there's less overlap than I thought. Interesting that Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weiss has received three stars two years in a row.
I believe that my single overall-favorite beer this year was the Atlantic Coal Porter. I could have easily stood at their booth and had multiple samples of that one all afternoon long. If only they had a wider distribution...

And finally, some more photos of the festival...

And my absolute favorite, the man in the hop suit.

02 October 2007

The Inaugural Homebrew Session, Part III

The two weeks are up, and we broke out the brew last night to see what it's up to.
Two words:

It's hoppy.

Now, it's not quite like drinking a vat of liquid hop flowers. Close, but not quite. It also has a very pleasant caramel creaminess, and a little malt finish, and something that reminds me of.....frankincense?
Most importantly, Sara loves it. The overt hoppiness is not bitter -- it's aromatic, for sure, but the bitterness is at a pleasant mildness. I think these hops will allow it to last for a long time. I could send it on a ship to India and it would survive the voyage.
The color is a beautiful copper-amber.

This would be great with food -- I think it wold pair up nicely with lemony seafood, a thick cheeseburger, a spinach salad with nuts, blue cheese and acidic/vinegary dressing-- or, conversely, (odd though it may sound) sour cream & chive potato chips -- something that is both savory and creamy.

It is, really a complex brew: hopped like a West-Coast imperial IPA, with pilsner malt and ale yeast, it's like a golden Czech pilsner-ale with a wild American flair. In short, it defies category.

It's a great way to start this brewing thing. I'm proud.
And I've got almost 2 cases left to enjoy.

29 September 2007

St. Amand French Country Ale

It's been long enough since there was an actual "pick" on "Perm's Brew Picks" that I decided it was high time to include another one.
And just in time, I've discovered a wonderful one, preventing me from putting some mildly interesting beer up here just for the sake of picking something.

I have encountered biere de garde before, a little over a year ago -- for a family Thanksgiving gathering I followed G. Oliver's advice and took a bottle of Castelain/Ch'ti along for the feast. It paired quite well with the banquet (indeed better than the red or even the white wine that was present) but I was a little underwhelmed with the brew as it stood alone -- I vaguely remember it being a little too much on the lagery side of the equation for me, although looking back now I expect that I was counting on a Belgian Saison or even a Strong Golden Ale, and although they are related, they are not the same things.

And now here I'm presented with St. Amand, offered by the same brewery as Castelain/Ch'ti (Brasserie Castelain), but it's a whole different ballgame.

St. Amand pours a handsome -- no, gorgeous -- copper color with plenty of generous head, even when poured slowly. The nose is extremely complex -- clay soil, caramel, butter, farmland, and fresh aromatic hops are all in there, along with some more elusive intangibles that are conjuring up all sorts of images of rural Europe for me. On the tongue, the caramel sings out with a spritzy edge, the hops keep it interesting, and the butter moves to the forefront, but what really does it for me is a slight sour twist towards the end -- reminiscent of those Flemish Ales that I've recently fallen in love with (such as Duchesse de Bourgogne). This says to me, "drink with food!"
I plan on trying it out with the mild dhal and curried shrimp we're about to have in a few minutes. I have moderately high hopes.

And I must say, after a very disappointing concert of bad French chamber music last night, it's quite nice to find something to so readily restore my appreciation for things Gallic. (I do, after all, claim descent from Huguenots...) Vive la biere francaise!

And I think it will also make an appearance next to the turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and everything else in about 7 weeks....

28 September 2007

The greater Asheville area

First of all, let me just say that Blogger.com is much much more blogger-friendly on Mozilla Firefox than on Internet Explorer. Why? Who can say. It just is.

Sara and I relocated to Tryon, NC from Raleigh at the beginning of this past summer. Raleigh, although by no stretch our favorite urban area, does nevertheless have any number of fantastic watering holes (the Flying Saucer, the Raleigh Times) and at least one solid brewery. I do miss those parts of the city.

Tryon is right on the state line with South Carolina, and one of my first impressions living here is that the townspeople are in a constant state of staving off invasions and incursions from folk across the line. It's an interesting little sub-culture as a result. Spartanburg is 35 minutes to the south; Asheville is 45 minutes to the north. Tryonites seem much more closely aligned with the former than with the latter -- which makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

One thing I am learning is that Asheville has an excellent beer culture. Whether this statistic is true or not (and I have no reason to believe it is not), a friend told us that Asheville has more pubs per capita than any other town/city in NC. Here's a website to affirm that fact.

There are also any number of supremely solid breweries in the area: Highland, Asheville, French Broad, Green Man, Pisgah, Catawba, Asheville Pizza and Brewing, Heinzelmaennchen.... I'm partial to the French Broad brewery, if for no other reason than that Sara and I went there on our first wedding anniversary trip, caught some live bluegrass music, and made off with a souvenir tasting glass.

There are also quite an array of places to purchase solid brews in bottles, notable Bruisin' Ales (whom I have mentioned before), the Asheville Wine Market, Greenlife Grocery, and Earthfare.

What's frustrating is that Tryon is just far enough away that we can't hop in the car and zoom up to Asheville. My ecological conscience -- let alone the car budget -- won't allow such a thing. The upside is that, much closer to home, we've got the Purple Onion in Saluda, which has a dynamite beer selection, and frequent outstanding live music; most local markets stock Highland brews; and 25 minutes away is the Hendersonville Co-op, which has a small but stellar beer selection.

Even though the Durham World Beer Festival (held each October) will always and forever hold a very special place in our hearts, Western North Carolina plays host to any number of beer festivals itself -- and although as of yet we have not been able to attend any, I have no doubt as to our regular presence in the months and years to come.

And, how could I forget, Asheville Brewers Supply!

And lastly, I've just found a great local beer blog.


25 September 2007

Homebrew Interlude....

So, while waiting for the homebrew to ready itself for testing and sampling, I thought up a fun blog entry: so here's Perm's Beer Chronology Timeline. Just how did I get to the point where I am now?

1989: my 6-year-old sister innocently asks my parents one day, after church, "What does the Devil do to you in hell? Does he make you drink beer?"

1990: a work team from the US comes down and stays with us in Santiago, the Dominican Republic. My parents, being gracious hosts, provide them with a few 6-packs. This is the first time I remember beer being in the household. My parents, of course, being Southern Baptist missionaries living in a fishbowl, do not consume.

1994: whilst bowling with my church youth group in Danville, VA, I accidentally pick up a cup of warm Miller-Lite-ish beer next to my own Dr. Pepper and take an almost-sip before I realize my mistake. I think it the most foul thing ever to touch my lips.

September, 1997: my college buddy Eric decides it's high time I learn to like beer. He has the 20-year-old me over to his room for a bottle of Corona, with lime. I genuinely like it. Much as I disdain the Corona now, I must admit it was a good entry point for someone who theretofore had only partaken of cheap wine and the occasional sissy fruity cocktail. I keep the bottle for almost 2 years as a souvenir of my conversion night.

October-December, 1997: My buddies Mark, theGhost, and Matt decide that Rolling Rock is good; we consume moderate amounts of the stuff and consider ourselves set apart for not getting trashed on Bud Light, Southpaw, and the Beast, as do most of our schoolmates.

January-March, 1998: sometime in the dawn of the New Year, theGhost discovers the goodness that is Guinness Draught. He spreads the Gospel, and I am a ready convert. We decide that all other brews must be set against the standard that Arthur has set. The phrase, "It's no Guinness" is born. Neither of us consume another Rolling Rock again.

March 17, 1998: theGhost and I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a 6-pack of Corona and chips & salsa. We simply didn't know any better.

April, 1998: Killian's Irish Red enters the picture as another college favorite.

June-August, 1998: I spend the summer before my senior year in Richmond, working in the UR Music Library and at River Road Church, consuming quantities of Corona, Killian's, and Guinness whenever an of-age emissary comes around.

August 17, 1998: I celebrate my legality with a Legend Brown, my first official taste of Micro-brewed goodness. A light comes on in my head. It's followed by a party at my house where I'm gifted with Killian's and Guinness. David S. consumes 6 Guinness by himself, leading to the episode with the utterance of the immortal phrase, "I'm sorry, Perm."

August 18, 1998: I clean up David's 6 Guinni.

August-December, 1998: I discover the beauty of the design-your-own 6-pack at the Village Wine & Beer. I encounter many brews the world over, including JW Dundee's Honey Brown Lager, Pete's Wicked Ale, Sam Adams' Boston Lager, Tusker Kenyan Lager, Newcastle Brown, Harp, Bass Ale, Weienstephaner, Warsteiner, Lowenbrau, Grolsch, Heineken, Beck's, Mackeson's....I really don't know anything about what I'm buying, but I have a lot of fun trying a lot of different brews.
Hefeweizen is discovered. I go nuts.

October-December, 1998: One of my apartment-mate's buddies drinks all of my premium European brews and tries to replace them with MGD. I officially become a beer snob after this episode.

November, 1998: A visit to Duke University introduces me to my first taste of home-brew: Divinity Ale, brewed by a friend-of-a-friend at the Divinity School. It's tasty.

January-April, 1999: Bottom's Up Pizza and Penny Lane Pub provide me with good amounts of Legend Brewery offerings, and Guinness.

May-June, 1999: A trip to Scotland shows me just how much better Guinness is overseas. It also introduces me to Tennent's Lager, Caffrey's Irish Ale, and MacEwan's. I'm also intrigued by a brochure I see for "Heather Ale," but never get to try any.

August-December, 1999: Duke Music Departmental Happy Hours at Biddy Early's and the James Joyce. Guinness, Bass, and Boddington's.

November, 1999: I discover Hoegaarden. A whole new world of Belgian goodness opens up to me. Bob Parkins chides, "That's a summer beer!" I ignore him and enjoy it anyway.

December 2000: theGhost gets into homebrewing, I get into hefeweizen and witbier. Over New Years, I help theGhost bottle a batch. I'm intrigued.

October, 2002: My first beer festival (the Durham WBF). It's amazing, to say the least. If I hadn't been hooked before, I'm hooked for sure now.

April, 2004: As a cover-up for going to get Sara's engagement ring from the Fed Ex depot (long, long story), theGhost and I attempt a co-homebrew at my apartment. Something (we never quite decide what) goes horribly wrong and the brews all turn out tasting like Lysol. We conveniently forget the episode for the most part...although the marriage proposal turned out quite well.

October, 2004: Trip to a specialty beer store in Ithaca, NY introduces me to Val Dieu Belgian Abbey Ale.

May, 2005: Sara and I get married. Our friends throw us a pre-wedding party. Harpoon kegs are featured. Our honeymoon takes us to Maine, where we take time to visit a couple of breweries.

January, 2006: We visit England and France. Fun English beers: Youngs and Jennings.

August, 2006: I receive "The Brewmaster's Table" by Garrett Oliver and enjoy every page. Suddenly there's a new dimension to my hobby: food pairing.

May-June, 2007: Our household moves to Western NC and we begin the exploration of the beer offerings in the greater Asheville-radius area.

September, 2007: I celebrate the 10th anniversary of my enjoyment of beer by brewing my first batch of ale.

24 September 2007

The First Homebrew, Part II

So, the brew made itself ready for bottling earlier than I was expecting. The recipe calls for the ale to sit in the fermenter for 5-10 days, until the yeast stops bubbling and goes into rest mode. You can tell when this happens by looking at the airlock -- when it stops bubbling, the yeast has become dormant. Well, mine took just 5 days to get to this point, which allowed me to go ahead and bottle almost a week earlier than I was expecting!
Thus, last Tuesday evening I settled down for a bottling extravaganza. Ocean's 11 is a great background movie for bottling. As is Keeping the Faith. But I digress.
First, I sanitized all the bottles with my good old B-Brite solution. It's a nifty contraption I've got to get the sanitizing solution up in the bottles. I don't care how Freudian it looks; it works well.
Next, I added priming sugar syrup to the bucket -- 2/3 cup of white sugar dissolved in a pint of boiling water, cooled to room temperature. Lots of homebrew recipes recommend corn sugar, but 1) I didn't have any of that, and 2) 90-something percent of all readily-available corn products in the US come from genetically-modified crops. Eeww! So I went with the plain old white sugar. Darker brews work well with brown sugar, and I've heard that you can have good results with honey as well, but it's trickier to get the proportions right.
Next, with Sara's help, I transfered the brew from the carboy fermenter to my plastic bottling bucket (it has a handy spigot tap at the bottom) by means of the siphon and hose. I let the brew sit in the bucket for a few minutes to allow the bubbles to calm down while I prepared the bottles.

Bottling into 12 oz. bottles is slightly trickier than into 750 mL wine bottles, but I soon got the hang of it. The bottling-wand-thingy is really neat, although when, at the bottom of the bucket, hop goop gets caught in the nozzle tip valve, it has a habit of trickling liquid out even when it's not supposed to. That's a good sign for when to stop bottling.
Then comes the capping. I managed to crush about 5 bottle caps, mostly towards the end when I was getting impatient.

I managed to bottle about 51 bottles before I got down to the dregs. 2 cases plus a 3-pack.

Now comes the 2-week waiting period, to allow that carbonation to build up in the bottles.

15 September 2007

The Inaugural Homebrewing Session

Yesterday morning I launched into my first attempt at homebrewing (soundtrack: Homestar Runner's wimpy "yayy.." from the 2003 Halloween toon). Here's a quick recap:


Collected bottles, both new (from Dad's new gig) and recycled (always a very enjoyable part of the process!), dug out all of my old wine-making supplies and took stock of what I had (and how dirty it was), and so forth.

Thursday afternoon:

Drove up to Asheville Brewers Supply (their website needs to be updated!) and purchased one of their house kits, the "Green Zinger" (not the greatest name, in my opinion...).
3.3 lbs Briess Pilsen Light malt extract
3 lbs Briess Northwestern Gold dry malt extract
4 oz Czech Saaz hops
1 oz Mt. Hood hops (aroma hops)
White Labs liquid California ale yeast

All malt, no grain! I guess that's why they promote this one as a "starter" kit.

After reading a bit about Briess (after the fact), I'm a little impressed with the company: they're the only vertically integrated malt company in the country (all of the malt they mill and produce is from their own barley), they're non-GMO, kosher, and they've had an organic licensing certification since 1990. Not too shabby. We'll see how it turns out.

De-labeled my recycled bottles (submerge them in hot water for a few minutes, and the labels come right off!), and then loaded them up in the dishwasher.

Thought about cleaning and sanitizing all the other equipment, and started a little bit of that. Got tired and went to bed.


My best-laid plans to get up at 7:30 am and get cracking didn't quite materialize, and I had a luxurious morning of sleeping in ("sleeping in luxuriously" for Mark-the-now-30-year-old means getting up at 8:30 or 8:45).

9:15am. Boxed up the washed bottles. Loaded the other brewing equipment (bucket lid, siphon, hoses, thief, measuring cup, long spoon, bottler, etc) into the dishwasher.

Got hungry and ate a nice breakfast, with a nod to the Irish: scrambled eggs with bacon (free-range organic, of course!), fried potato slices, and 2 slices of fresh tomato.
Was inspired by my yummy meal on the porch and loaded up my brew-making tunes on the LP for the day:
The Chieftains 4
The Chieftains 1
Sean Kane: Gusty's Frolicks
followed by 2 more on the CD player:
The Chieftains Collection: The Very Best of the Claddagh Years, Vol.1
My own mix CD, "Fiddle, Vol.2"

I've decided that Traditional Celtic Folk music is excellent brewing music.

Cleaned carboy in the shower (it's just too damn big for anywhere else, plus it was raining buckets outside). Sanitized everything.

Started the boil!

Added the malt. I've got large pot issues (no, get your mind out of the gutter). Our stock pot is 2 gallons right under the brim, so I was hoping it would work for the wort. It didn't. So I called in the very large water-bath boil canner, and had to messily transfer it over into the canner. I think, until I can buy a nice big boil pot, I'll just borrow one from the church (another one of my job perks!).

Added the first ounce of bittering hops. Added another ounce again at 10-minute intervals:

Added Mt. Hood (aroma) hops and took off heat. Let the wort sit for a few minutes to steep and cool.

Added to the fermenter. Physics mysteriously failed me and I couldn't get the siphon to work properly, so this set me back a few minutes and I had a slightly messy time getting the wort into the carboy fermenter by funnel and measuring cup. The wort was well-aerated, to be sure!
Placed the carboy in a roasting pan with ice cubes to cool.

Pitched the yeast. Stirred with the spoon handle, topped with the airlock, and covered the carboy with a towel to keep dark.

I was slightly worried later that night that I hadn't stirred the mix up sufficiently after pitching the yeast (remembering from my wine-making days that I'd sometimes stir after adding the (dry) yeast for a good half-hour. However, a trip into the brewing room (our 1/2 bathroom downstairs!) this morning laid those fears to rest -- the brew is wonderfully bubbling with happy yeast.

Bottling to follow in 5-10 days!

12 September 2007

The passing of a Beer Legend

I learned today of the passing of Beer Journalism giant Michael Jackson, the world-renowned Beer Hunter, on 30 August. Jackson, through his writings, was, essentially, the primary prophet and mover-and-shaker behind the Beer Renaissance of the past 30 years. His World Guide to Beer (1977) coincided with the brewing and re-imagining of beer revolution that had much to do with the way we understand and respect beer today.

Here is a tribute from All About Beer.

And this looks like a fitting tribute. It's doubling as a fundraiser for the National Parkinson Foundation.

And, here is a final video interview with the man.

Farewell, dear sir.

01 September 2007

Ireland and Beer

Our trip to Ireland, August 13-21.
I'm finally getting this post up, with commentary. Work has been a bear pretty much ever since we got back. But anyhoo....
First, two of my favorite non-brew shots from the trip, just to get you in the mood.
Both photos are from Doolin, County Clare, on the west coast -- a wonderful town and a beautiful area.

Now, to set the record straight: Ireland is most assuredly not a craft-beer lover's wasteland. My understanding is that the situation has changed quite a bit in recent years, but at this point delicious craft brews are alive and well in the Emerald Isle. Quite honestly, we merely scratched the surface, and what is perhaps most disappointing is that many of these breweries do not distribute across the Atlantic.

First off, a tip o' the hat to the Black Stuff:

Every time I saw the Guinness Plant in Dublin, I couldn't help but be reminded of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory ("You see: nobody ever goes out...and nobody ever comes in!").
We could have spent a small fortune to take the "Guinness Experience" Tourist Trap, which isn't even at the actual brewery, but decided instead to spend our money on actual potables.
Guinness is, of course, an institution, and the family is responsible for funding the renovation and restoration of various landmarks throughout Dublin and the Republic. Including my beloved St. Patrick's Cathedral, where we stumbled across this against the wall of the north transept, near the organ staircase:
It is, indeed, a Guinness keg, enjoying its second life as a repository for loose change. Underneath the memorial of no less a personage than Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Classic.

Now, Guinness is an interesting brew: much loved, much hated, certainly ubiquitous throughout Ireland, and often misunderstood, at least by Americans. (I have an idea of doing a blind taste test sometime, giving someone Guinness blindfolded -- I'm pretty sure they'll think it's a light-colored beer, going on taste alone). But anyway, it's part of the Irish Beer Experience, no way around it.
They are pretty to look at, no question. I was more than happy to have a Guinness be my first pint in Ireland. It seemed only fitting, especially since Guinness was my gateway to good beer, back in college.

And there is something about going into a local pub, graced (more often than not) with a portrait of Ireland's favorite Americans,

and ordering a pint of the black. Sara is not a Guinness fan, but conceded this much as well.

Even in Ireland, she still didn't like it. But that's ok, since she discovered Smithwick's (which is, in my experience, much different -- and better -- in Ireland).

(Sara's Smithwick's, at our post in McGann's)

One thing that Guinness has started doing in recent months is coming out with limited-batch specialty draughts (once again, not available in the US), and I was able to sample one of these at McGann's, our pub of choice in Doolin.
The Guinness North Star brew is a black, black stout, with a darker head than the standard Draught. From the moment the barkeep ("Are you ok, then?" is the official Irish way of saying, "What'll it be?") drew the draught, I knew I was in for a treat. It's strong -- way, way stronger than regular Guinness; slightly sweet, and all-around more like an American brewer's Irish stout offering -- and, in all likelihood, I imagine it to be more like the original 18th century Guinness recipe.

During our exploration of Doolin, we discovered a small music cafe (a record store with food & drink) that was selling, among other things, bottles of craft brew from the Biddy Early Brewery, from down the road in Ennis. We snatched up a bottle of their Red Ale to try, and liked it so much that we went back the next day and bought 2 bottles to bring back to the States with us.

The Red Biddy is a wonderful brew. Easy-drinking and congenial, it was the absolute perfect thing to enjoy along with a bowl (or three) of homemade potato soup on a rainy Irish afternoon, after a morning of soggy hiking. If ever you are in the west of Ireland, find it and drink it. It can be found here and there in Dublin as well.

Before heading to Dublin, here are a few more shots of McGann's Pub, our evening haunt in Doolin. We never even made it down the road to O'Connell's, since we liked McGann's so much (and the drinks were 20 Euro-cents cheaper, too!).
It was always crowded, but we made do.

McGann's is home to some fantastic live, traditional music. The fiddle and flute duo in the top photo were simply top-shelf performers. And the banjo-accordion-bodhran combo wasn't too shabby, either.

The posted drink price list. Note that Spirits cost the same as the draughts, and bottles cost more!

On to Dublin for the second half of our trip.
After Sunday morning services at St. Patrick's, we headed up the street towards Christ Church and the old city in order to find a good lunch spot. Right across the street from a corner of Christ Church we found the Bull & Castle Gastro Pub, and, without knowing a single thing about the place, thought we'd check it out.
We ended up going back there for supper that night, and again the following night. It was just that good.

Our lunch of boxty, potato wedges with roasted garlic cream cheese, and corn & chicken chowder paired up admirably with the Galway Hooker, most certainly one of the cerevesial highlights of our trip. In addition to having a fantastic website, and winning the award for the best beer name ever, this pale ale with nice malty tones really does have something to contribute to the pale ale constellation. It's a brand new brewery, only around since the summer of 2006. I expect great things from them. Here's an interview. If we had had a few more days in Dublin, I'm sure I would have partaken of this one again. Sara, however, did have it again. So she wins.
One of the many things that most impressed us about this place (in addition to having 7 rotating draughts and 57 bottles from all over the world, and, being an FXB restaurant, serving only local, free-range organic meats) was its offering of "gastro meals" -- any number of mouth-watering entree dishes paired with an appropriate beer, included in the price -- and a pretty reasonable price (for Dublin) at that! We were both so impressed to find a restaurant doing this sort of thing as a matter of course. And we definitely took advantage. We returned for dinner that night.

Sara had a Galway Hooker, which went right along with her spicy grilled chicken sandwich. I went for a haddock & chips (some of the best fish and chips I have ever had, bar none), which came with a Blarney Blonde, from the Franciscan Well Brewery, Cork City, Co. Cork. The Blarney Blonde is a Koelsch-style ale, which is a style I'm not especially familiar with, but am intrigued to explore further, based on this particular sample! It is an extremely light ale, but I found the light color to be quite deceptive. It has quite a bit going on, but it took having it along with the food to bring out all the magic. By itself, it has very nice subtle malt tones with a slight hint of fruit. All subtleties were swept aside when combined with the excellent haddock & chips -- it came to life as a complex ale: bubbly to cleanse the palate, just bitter enough to quench, and slightly sweet for fun.

We didn't spend all of our time at The Bull & Castle, of course. Saturday night found us at McDaid's Pub, south of the Temple Bar on Queen Anne Street. I had a nice Powers whiskey, and Sara had an unfortunate encounter with a Smithwick's from an off-tap. All of the pubs on Saturday night were bursting at the seams, but we managed to actually get seats at McDaid's, which seems to have nice character and a fun atmosphere. Right above our heads we found this fun plaque:
On Sunday night we hit up The Brazen Head, notable for being the oldest pub in Dublin and probably the second-oldest in all of Ireland (it has been a public house, inn, etc. since the 12th century!), and the favorite haunt of many notable Irish patriots such as Daniel O'Connell, Robert Emmett, Wolf Tone, and Michael Collins. A really great pub atmosphere, and a place I'm sure we would have returned to had we more time. I enjoyed a half-pint of MacArdles (why don't American pubs serve up half pints? They're perfect for tastings and for those nights you just don't feel like a whole pint), which I'll review below.

The infamous Red Breast, along with my pleasant half-pint of MacArdles (and my note-taking!)

Back at the Bull & Castle, the second night was just as good, if not better. Sara ordered an amazing pork chop along with Krusovice (plus or minus a few random consonant markings) pilsner, straight from the Czech Republic, that went right along with her chops. She compared it quite favorably with Urquell, no small feat. Perfect bitter balance, where Urquell errs on the side of almost being too bitter. It was a winning combination by all counts.

I departed from my normal routine and sprang for the roast beef (along with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, Bishop's Finger gravy, and yorkshire pudding) which came with MacArdles, a nice amber-brown Mild Ale. It was an amazing pairing -- simple, straightforward, and solid.
MacArdles (now owned by conglomerate giant Diageo, who also owns Guinness and Smithwick's) is a pleasant reddish-brown ale with no gimmicks or games (much like the roast beef, although the Bishop's Finger Ale gravy was one concession to decadence). I thought the best part of the ale was the finish -- toasty, creamy, and floral.

That second night, we stayed for dessert. Sara got a Red Breast (our favorite Irish Whiskey) and I sprang for something new, a blind pick to go with my chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and Bushmills butterscotch caramel (yeah, it was that good). I went for an Arainn Rua, brewed by the Arainn Mhor Brewing Company of County Donegal.

Arainn Rua is a bottle-conditioned Red Ale (a red ale that has nothing to do with Killian's) that weighs in at 5.2% but has the complexity of a much stronger brew. It is sweet and complex, peaty, hazel-nutty, and bubbly. As a blind pick, it was amazing with the dessert. The bottle-conditioning gives it a certain resemblance to the Old Speckled Hen, or certain Belgian ales. A definite classy edge here. The bottle enticingly says, a "secret essence of Arainn Mhor ingredient" is added. I wonder if it's not some sort of herb, or perhaps heather -- contributing to the sweet, peaty earthiness that's present. This is an excellent, excellent ale, perhaps my new favorite Irish beer, overall.
don't let the pose fool you, I was loving this brew!

Ireland has many, many more brews to discover, and, judging from the current trend, I imagine there will be even more fine breweries cropping up all over the island. We'll be eager to return in a few years and discover what's new -- in a country that seems to know all about how to balance the ancient with the modern.

Here's a couple of fun links:

A list of Irish Breweries, compiled by the folks at Irish Craft Brewer.
(I'm a little confused by their report that Arainn Mhor brews their ales off-site in Belgium. I don't believe it for a second.)

A fun article about the Bull & Castle, also from Irish Craft Brewer.