Friday, December 26, 2008

A Welcomed Winter Ale

There are so many Christmas and special winter beers to choose from this year, but I seem to be sticking with the classics, such as Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome.

I was delighted to see this ale packaged in a brown bottle this year. (No more skunked Winter Welcome!) The next aspect of this beer that I notice is that it seems much more carbonated than I recall. It pours a remarkably clear amber-orange with lots of "streamers" and a huge amount of foam that settles slowly leaving some sticky bits of lace down the sides of the glass. The first sniff is very fruity; I'm thinking marmalade and maybe the tiniest bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. The flavors are sweet caramel malt along with marmalade, followed by a fresh cookie or biscuit character. The mouthfeel is silky smooth with the body slightly full up front with a dryish, slightly tart, delicate finish with a hint of minerals. Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome is a fine, fresh English Ale that is quite sessionable. I'm going to need to get myself more before it's gone until next year. The label of this beer changes a little bit each year, which is one of things that I anticipate about it, too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Goose Island Christmas Ale

It's Christmas and therefore time for Christmas Ale, in this case, Goose Christmas Ale. The label of this beer purports that you can cellar it for five years, so last year I stashed a six-pack for tasting the next Christmas and here we are...the wait is over!

This 2007 Goose Christmas Ale pours a dark red to brown hue with plenty of carbonation that forms thick off-white foam.The first sip is exceptionally smooth, silky smooth, with flavors of candied fruits. Lacework is left behind down the sides of my goblet as the head falls.The sweet caramel malt flavors are mixed with notes of toasted marshmallow balanced well with hops that offer up just a hint of spiciness. The body is medium and the finish is fairly short, dry and a bit tannic. The tannin seems to subside after a few sips, increasing the enjoyment of this ale. I may have one or two more of these this winter, but I'd like to see how the rest age. This bottle has certainly aged gracefully as a delicious winter warmer.

Next I crack open this year's Goose Christmas Ale. It's just as soft as the 2007 edition, but with a little harsher bitterness and less complexity. Perhaps some age will improve the character. It's not bad mind you, just not as good as the '07. There's a slight hint of papery oxidation which has me concerned about cellaring this year's batch. I guess I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I also picked up a 2008 Anchor Our Special Ale today, but as I've already had a half two Christmas Ales and half a bottle of wine, my notes on this beer will have to wait. It's a favorite though, so I'm eager to pop the cap on it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A bit bitter about not bottling Yorkshire Bitter

December is a busy month for me because I work in retail. As a result, I haven't had time to post much in the last few weeks. I did get the chance to brew recently and I'm waiting for time to package up what's been fermenting in my closet. This was another small batch (3.5 gallons) that comprised two pounds of Munton's DME, three-quarters pound of organic Turbinado sugar, a half pound of Victory malt, six ounces of crystal malt and a quarter pound each of Crystal 10L and 150L. I added an ounce of East Kent Goldings pellets at 15 minutes into the 60-minute boil and a combination of Fuggle and Styrians at the end of the boil (haf ounce each.) I pitched one Activator pack of Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire after cooling with my immersion wort chiller. I also added Burton Water Salts at the start of the boil. I'm hoping for a bitter with a decent amount of complexity with good mouthfeel up front and a dry, bitter finish. It's been in the plastic fermenter 10 days (some would say way too long) and I need to get racked our packaged. I might not have time for this until Christmas, so my fingers are crossed on this one.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mad River in Michigan

Last month I went on a Michigan beer tour, stopping at a few different breweries and pubs, as well as Siciliano's Market in Grand Rapids. I picked up a few special Michigan beers, chief among them some Founders Backwoods Bastard and the Petoskey Pale Ale I've written about below.

What I also picked up at Siciliano's were some Mad River brews that I haven't seen in a long time that seem to be unavailable in the Chicago area where I live. I remembered Mad River from craft beer boom of the early-1990s. The Mad River Brewing Company opened in Blue Lake, California back in 1989. As you can see on their website, is still going strong and prides itself on achieving a 98 percent reduction in waste, which is pretty cool. I recalled the Mad River Jamaica Brand Red Ale as one of the first real hoppy West Coast beers I ever tried. This got me wondering if it would still seem hoppy to me about 17 years after first trying it. I ended up picking up two Mad River brews, the Jamaica Red and Sunset India Pale.

I opened up the Jamaica Red a couple weeks ago and dashed off a review on Beer Advocate and tonight I'm enjoying the Sunset India Pale Ale this evening. As you can see in the BA review, I was a little disappointed with the condition of the Jamaica Red, but the brewery is redeeming itself with its IPA. It's a hazy amber IPA that has an aroma full of citrus and it tastes very citrusy, too. Grapefruit is a big flavor is this beer, so those of you who like that flavor in their IPAs should like this one. The bitterness is very smooth and could be considered somewhat restrained for an IPA, but since the rest of the beer is hoppy (plenty of hoppy aroma and flavor) the lack of powerful bitter finish can be forgiven. Hints of tropical fruit flavors such as guava and mango show up a bit as the beer warms up which add to the complexity. The carbonation level of this beer has me concerned at first (it didn't pour with much foam) but overall this is a tasty IPA that I would definitely drink again.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Rockin' Red Ale

Enjoying a red ale tonight that I brewed back in February. It's unbelievable how fresh it still tastes. Granted, it's spend most of those nine months or so at about 65 degrees. Thanks Ryan, for use of your cellar, er, basement!

This red ale that I'm enjoying has an almost cedar-like hop character that mixes well with the dark caramel malts that I used which add a hint of roasted coffee in the nose. The flavor is perfectly hoppy and bitter with a bit of hard candy sweetness: just delicious! I think I'm making the recipe my house beer for the cooler months. The recipe is pretty simple: light dry malt extract, 150L British crystal malt, 80L British crystal malt and Amarillo hops added at the start of the 60-minute boil, at a half hour and 15 minutes to the end of boil with an ounce steeped in the kettle with the heat off at the end. I recently brewed this recipe again and after a couple weeks in bottles it's good, but not quite as good as this old batch I'm sampling from February 2008. Perhaps the new batch just needs to mellow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wood, rocks and beer

There's something magical about beer fermented and aged in wood. Rocks, are cool, too. I've had German stein bier before in which hot stones are used to push the unfermented beer to boiling, causing the sugars to caramelize on the rocks. These rocks are then cooled and added to teh fermenting beer. The stein bier or "stone beer" that I remember drinking was the Rauchenfelser Steinbrau.

I recently found another stone beer. The beer is Petoskey Pale Ale from Leelanau Brewing Co. The stones in this beer weren't heated up, but added to the beer during fermentation and aging in a large oak barrel. Another unique aspect of this beer is that it was fermented with Petoskey stones. These interesting rocks, composed of fossilized coral used to be found on beaches in the northeast lower peninsula of Michigan. I used to comb Lake Michigan beaches as a kid trying to find Petoskey stone. They would be hard to find if they dry, because they just look like a smooth gray stone. However, if the stone was wet or polished it would show the markings of the fossilized coral.

I never dreamed I would find a beer made with Petoskey stones. I expected an earthy tasting beer or at least of a hint of minerals. I don't know that the Petoskey stones added that much flavor, but the beer did taste rather complex. It had a beautiful rocky head, too. The Petoskey Pale Ale in my glass was a cloudy amber ale and smelled of tropical fruit with a bit of fresh yeastiness mixed with earthy and spicy hops. Some faint traces of spices such as cinnamon and allspice emerged as the beer warmed up. The finish was pleasant; slightly tart and just a touch bitter.

I found the Petoskey Pale Ale at Siciliano's in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a great place for beer and must visit for beer lovers as myself and other members of Beer Advocate suggest. All the beers were priced individually and the Petoskey wasn't cheap: about $10 for 16-ounce bottle, but I just couldn't pass up a Petoskey stone beer.

Red Ale bottled

The red ale I wrote about in my last post has been bottled. It was another three-gallon batch. I filled 14 22-ounce bottles, 1 Grolsch swingtop and a large 1-liter swingtop. The red ale tasted great. It has a decent hop aroma, sweet caramel flavors with just a hint of roasted grains a lightly hoppy middle and long hoppy, smooth bitter finish. Citric hoppy flavors and bitterness builds with each sip. The body is fairly light; the batch attenuated well. Assuming the bottle conditioning goes well, I may need to brew another batch of the stuff. Meanwhile, the blond American bitter in my Party Pig has smoothed out a bit. I suppose some lagering has occurred, even in the last week or so. It tastes much better, but it is still lacking the toasted malt flavor of the previous batch.

Monday, November 10, 2008

American Bitter disappoints, Red Ale to the rescue

I've got another batch of beer going. This time it's a three-gallon batch of red ale that should almost fit into the IPA category. (It's an estimated 53 IBUs.) I copied a recipe from last year: three and a half pounds of light dry malt extract, a quarter pound each of 135-150L and 70-80L British crystal malt along with a half ounce of 7 percent alpha acid Amarillo pellet hops, another half-ounce of these same hops at 30 minutes and a full ounce at 15 minutes left in the boil. I cooled this with my immersion wort chiller and pitched one packet of Safale S-04 yeast. I brewed this up last Sunday and I'm planning on packaging the whole batch in 22-ounce bottles later this week, although I'm contemplating dry hopping.

Meanwhile, my recent batch of Americanized bitter is pouring from the pig, but it isn't as toasty tasting as the last batch. I'm not sure what happened. The beer is plenty bitter, but just doesn't have the toasted malt character that I like. Perhaps my grist was poor or maybe I just over hopped it. It's hoppy and bitter, but otherwise a bit two-dimensional: just fruity Simcoe hops and sweet malt. I'm not sure I like the Simcoe hops and will probably go back to Amarillo the next time I brew.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Special Bitters and Strong Wheat

I've brewed the second batch of what I call an Americanized version of English Special Bitter. I'm a little worried about this batch because the aroma is a little unusual. There's a little bit of fennel or maybe a wisp of smoke. Phenols for sure, but very light. I used the Safale S-04 Whitbread yeast. The temperature of the room was an average of 75 degrees F. I'm hoping dry-hopping will overcome this potential defect in this ale. The Bitterness is not as pronounced as I had hoped, but this batch does seem to have more body than the last. I used American hops (Amarillo and Simcoe) and American malts (Briess), but I fermented with a Whitbread (English) yeast and add Burton Water Salts.

My first batch of this beer turned out really good. It may have been the secret ingredient, which was homegrown hops. I picked some unidentified hops growing along a friend's fence (with her permission of course) and used them as a finishing or aroma hop. (I chose them for an aroma hop because I didn't know what kind of bitterness they would add to the brew.) I believe these homegrown hops were something like Willamette. This is my guess based upon the shape of cone and the aroma that ended up in the beer. I packaged this beer in one of my Party Pigs and a two or three 22-ounce glass bottles. I've been enjoying the "Pig" version until yesterday, when the Piggy was emptied. (Thanks again Annie for the hops, hope you enjoy the beer!)

Tonight I refilled the expired Pig and one quart-sized plastic bottle with the second batch of Special Bitter. This batch was the same as the last except for the homegrown hops and some of the specialty grains. For this batch I used 74 percent Briess DME, 11 percent Victory Malt and 16 percent 20L Crystal. Each of these batches were three gallons, since that is my motif these days. In the original batch I used 10L Crystal, so this new batch has a little more color. Also, I added an eighth-cup dry Simcoe hop pellets to the Pig with this batch which I'm hoping might cover up any potential flaws (see above) as well as add a flowery hop aroma.

Meanwhile, I sampled a very small batch I brewed back in the third week of August. I had a three-pound jug of Briess LME left over from a Biere de Garde and instead adding this to the malt bill of a future recipe I decided to brew a two gallon batch wtih it. I added three ounces of Chocolate Malt I had on hand, some Spalter hops and some Fermentis S-33 yeast and brewed a dunkelweizenbock. This has actually turned out pretty good. I netted just six 22-ounce bottles from this batch and I wish I had more. Liquid caramel apple is kind of how I would describe this beer, which sounds weird, but it's actually pretty interesting. I will probably use the same recipe for next fall.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Revisiting Samuel Smith's - Part 2

Last night I savored a Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout; tonight I'm having another stout from Smith's: the Oatmeal Stout. This stout looks just as good if not more appealing then the Imperial. This very dark brown stout poured with a bit of a rocky head that rose up out of the glass and slowly settled to a persistent quarter-inch of khaki foam. Some ruby highlights come through towards the bottom of the glass; it's quite the pretty pint.

The first whiff of this beer is laced with a very enticing smell of cocoa. The smooth sip that follows echoes the cocoa in the nose with some plum fruitiness then a vanilla-coffee flavor that fades to quickly to a dry chocolate finish. However, more than anything, this beer tastes cold. The beer geek in me reaches for the digital thermometer I use for brewing. The beer is barely 51 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't really that cold. Perhaps a touch too cold for a stout, but I like my stouts closer 60 degrees than 50. I think I'm going to let this warm up a bit.

Okay, I've waited about 10 minutes and the beer has warmed up to 55-56 degrees. That's the recommended serving temperature of this beer according to the importer of this ale, Merchant Du Vin. First of all, I feel I should note that a quarter-inch of khaki foam is still sitting there on top of beer. Impressive. I'm even more impressed that the drop of just a few degrees of temperature has taken the cold "sting" out of this beer and its flavors are more easily perceived. The drinkablility is enhanced, too. At 60 degrees, this beer is getting much sweeter than when I first poured it at close to 50. This is something I've noticed in some other dark beers, especially bocks and double bocks. It's bordering on too sweet for me; I think the brewer has struck a delicate between the malt and hops with this one.

Overall, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout is an enjoyable and sessionable stout that could be considered a bit sweet for some stout drinkers. Furthermore, it mustn't be served too cold to fully appreciate it's flavor.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Revisiting Samuel Smith's Ales

I can remember having my first Imperial Stout. I'm pretty sure it was my last year in college or perhaps right after college. (Okay, so my memory is a lot foggy.) What do remember about my first Imperial Stout is that it was Samuel Smith's. I was fairly deep into the process of getting to know all the Samuel Smith's line of ales. They seemed like the ultimate Yorkshire (Tadcaster) ales at the time and to this day when I think Yorkshire and beer, I think Samuel Smith's and Tadcaster. One of the aspects of the Sam Smith's beers that really got me interested was how the brewery ferments in large, shallow slate squares. Anyhow, that first Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout was a 12-ounce clear bottle which showed just how black the stout was and I remember it having some very interesting burnt caramel and fig aromas and flavors. I remember it was a touch sweet and seemed pretty strong.

Fast forward a dozen or so years. I see a Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout 18-ounce bottle on the shelf. I'm in the mood for stout and haven't Sam Smith's in awhile, so I go for it. This beer is now in a snifter on my desk and it smells great. The aroma is a bit rum-like with a raisiny component. The carbonation is ample, forming a light khaki head that falls to a thick quarter-inch of collar of foam. The liquid underneath the foam is opaque except for some deep dark brown at the stem of the glass.

The first sip is as smooth as I remember, with dark fruit flavors of figs and currants, followed by a sweet and then burnt caramel flavor which coats the tongue with bitterness. This bittter finish, no doubt contributed by roasted grains and hops, is long with faint licorice fade that develops sip after sip. It's as good as I remember, if not better. Definitely a beer to sip and savor at near room temperature.

Next up: Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Budweiser American Ale

I've noticed a lot of buzz about Budweiser American Ale. As far as I know, this is the first ale with the Budweiser name. (Anheuser-Busch has brewed ales under Michelob and other brand names.) Ever since hearing about this beer I've been very curious what a Budweiser ale would taste and smell like, so when I spotted a six-pack in Michigan over the weekend I decided to give it a chance.

I think Bud American Ale can easily be classified as an amber or red ale. My bottle poured crystal clear read amber-red with a rocky white head. It's a good looking beer. The label mentions dry-hopping, but I'm disappointed: I detect no trace of hop aroma. A fruity, cereal smell is all I can discern, nothing like the familiar citrus-like scent of the advertised Cascade aroma hops.

Once I'm able to work my way past the disappointing hop aroma, I'm struck by the smooth mouthfeel. If nothing else, this ale is smooth. A slightly tawny caramel malt flavor is evident with this beer, followed by a touch of hop spice and a quick talc-like dry finish. A very light hop bitterness lingers on the tongue after several sips. Overall, Budweiser American Ale is a bit lacking in body and hop character for me to buy this beer again, but it's inoffensive enough that I wouldn't turn it down if it was offered to me. That said, a much more pronounced hop aroma could make this beer much more interesting (at least to me.) Unfortunately for Bud, I think there are other established brands with better amber ales on the shelf around the same price range. Goose Island Kilgubbin is one example (albeit seasonal) and I think another would be Mendocino Red Tail Ale. These are beers I've had before, that I remember being a touch more interesting than Budweiser, but perhaps my favorite "American Ale" is produced by Rogue. No wonder I'm disappointed with Bud.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My good friends Ryan and Erika went to New England for their honeymoon. Erika's not much of a beer drinker, but she let her new hubby visit the famed Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia and got go to a beer festival, too! You can learn about their beer-y fun honeymoon here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Freaking Out

For whatever reason, you may have had to cut down on your beer drinking. Perhaps your boss/liver/sponsor/spouse told you to. Perhaps you have to take medication and you actually want it to work. If you have had to escort your drinking days politely to the door, but miss them terribly, you know how hard it is to watch people waste precious time on bad beer.

I only drink once in a while now, and when I do, I want it to be special. A few posts ago, I wrote about Coney Island Lager, from Shmaltz Brewing. Not only was this an awesome beer, but proceeds from the sale of the beer go to Coney Island USA, which is devoted to keeping lost forms of popular arts and culture alive and preserving New York’s historic Coney Island neighborhood. I knew that Shmaltz made other beers, and I wondered if I would ever see them here in the Midwest.

This weekend, I found more Coneys at my local liquor establishment. Albino Python is a white lager spiced with ginger, fennel, orange peel, and coriander. I am not normally a wit fan (as I have a low tolerance for orange peel), but this beer balanced the spices with a nice hop background. I especially tasted the ginger and fennel. Sword Swallower is a hoppy lager with eight hops and four malts and weighs in a 6.8 percent ABV. This one is just as strong as one would need it to be, with the alcohol not even making much of an impact until you've appreciated how finely this beer is crafted.

My beer drinking now happens only slightly more frequently than my sword swallowing (insert suggestive joke here), so I am freaking delighted to find more Coney Island beers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fuller's London Pride

I'm a fan of what is called "session beer" which is typically defined as a beer which the average beer drinker can consume over a long period of time without getting drunk. When I think of session beer, I think of English Bitter.

According to British writer Roger Protz, Bitter is "an English term for a well-hopped draught ale that is typically copper-coloured with ruddy glints and a slight but distinctive bitter taste that is unspoilt by the fizziness of CO2. It is unrealistic to expect the so-called bitter that is sold in a can to have any semblance of true draught bitter character. Most bitter is 3.75-4% ABV, although Best or Special will be 4-4.75% and some go as high as 5.5%."

I like to brew an Americanized version of Bitter, but tonight I'm sipping a commercial version of true English Bitter called Fuller's London Pride. Fuller's is a distinguished English brewer of ales. Fuller's has been around since 1845. The brewery's website says that London Pride has grown to be Britain's highest selling "Premium" Ale. Fuller's London Pride is a tasty ale that pours a light amber hue with plenty of carbonation (at least out of a can), but is a bit subdued. Although Roger wouldn't approve of this canned beer, this is a decent ale with enough complexity to balance it's excellent drinkability. London Pride starts out with a honey-ish nose accented by woody hops, followed by a delicate biscuit-like maltiness, a hint fruitiness, a slight bit of tartness and finally a crisp, bittersweet finish. Although I'd like to taste more bitter hops in the finish, this is still a decent session ale, and it must be noted that the particular sample I'm enjoying is about three months past it's best before date, which could explain it's lack of luster.

I picked it up for cheap, knowing it was a bit past due. I normally wouldn't consume beer past it's due date, but in this case I succumbed to a case that was more than half off it's normal price. So given this product's condition I'm certainly not too disappointed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Palo Santo Marron - "Holy Tree" Brown Ale

I think I'm enjoying one of the geekiest beers out there tonight. This quirky, unusual brew is Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron. It's a beer aged with Palo Santo wood. According to the brewery's website, "The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this beer comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. Palo Santo means 'holy tree' and it's wood has been used in South American wine-making communities." I heard about this beer a few months ago (I can't remember how or where), but when I went to the Dogfish Head website to look up some more information about it, I found a cool video about the production of this beer. I became more interested in the beer after watching the video and decided I HAD to find a bottle.

So I did, and like I said, I'm enjoying it tonight.

I've been worried that the hype for this beer was too great and that I'd be disappointed, but I'm not. Palo Santo Marron is a magnificent ale. Again, it's a deep dark brown ale that looks pretty good; no voluminous head or huge amounts of lace to speak of, but a solid ring of foam is left behind once the foam dissipates. The aroma is great and what I would expect from a world class strong brown ale. There's lots of candied fruit aromas (figs, plums, along with a little tingle of rummy alcohol in the nostrils.) What's incredible about this beer is the lush mouthfeel (like liquid satin) along with the brown sugar fig-like fruitiness and burnt caramel flavors. As the beer warms up, more leathery notes come forward along with rum-laced coffee with cream character. The finish is just as interesting with a transition from candied fruitiness to a vanilla and coffee liqueur flavor. This is one extremely complex ale.

Overall, an absolutely astounding strong (12 percent alcohol) sweet, brown ale that has got to have a ton of calories. I wouldn't recommend having more than one in a sitting. Not that it's so strong, or too caloric, but that it's rather special.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Polish Trinity

One of my "go to" beers last summer was Radegast (a fine, yet inexpensive Czech lager.) Alas, I have found no Radegast this year. So while at Binny's recently, I thought I'd try some Polish beers that I haven't seen before. I picked up three 500-mL bottes and recorded the following tasting notes last night:

Very clear, straw pale. Bright, white head rises quickly and falls almost as quickly and cleanly, leaving no lace behind; just a minimal collar of foam. Cereal grains in the nose, along with a subtle, vegetal spiciness. Served a touch too warm. Very light and smooth. Crisp. Late kick of bitter hops in the dry finish. Extremely drinkable stuff and at 5.5 percent it is indeed sessionable. The light body and smooth mouthfeel of Lezajsk easily qualifies it as a summertime quaffer.

Clear and straw-colored with a quickly rising head that settles more slowly than the Lezajsk, leaving a little bit of lace behind. Neutral to grainy aroma. A little more malt character and body than Lezajsk. Probably about the same IBUs, but in a stronger beer it tastes like less bitterness. Lacing is in rings now, adding to its good looks. Since the Tatra is stronger, I would describe it as more a winter beer, or given the geography of its namesake, an alpine beer. This is definitely sweeter than Lezajsk.

Okay, here we have an even stronger straw-colored beer that produces a pretty rocky, white head, that shrinks rather dramatically from all directions. The aroma is slightly talc-like. Very smooth and more than a touch sweet. We're well into dangerous pale bock territory here. The foam on top of this beer is persistent; after a few minutes there's still a quarter-inch of head. Unfortunately, this beer is pretty plain tasting, it has complexity, but it is what it is; a Strong Euro Lager. There's not much here to write home about except lots of malt, hops to balance the sweetness and alcohol. However, the sweetness is twinged with a honeyish character that makes this beer a little more satisfying.

I think the most interesting information I ran across while searching the Internet about some of these beer was this place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bachelor

Bachelor ESB is a beer that I can remember reading about in one of legendary beer writer Michael Jackson's book Ultimate Beer. It has been a long sought after beer for me. In this book, Jackson describes the beer as, "big-tasting" and "notably firm and assertive, with a fresh dryness of American hop flavors and clean, orangy fruitiness."

I would generally agree. In addition, I notice a spicy, woody aroma and while the bitterness is fairly assertive, it is by no means over the top and tastes more restrained than the 50 IBUs (as described by the brewery's website) would suggest. The Bachelor is a heavily lauded beer with about 20 awards under it's belt (see the Bachelor ESB page on the brewery's website for a listing of all the awards.)

After a few sips, and as the beer warms up, I notice that what I really like about this beer is that it starts out fruity (orangy as MJ would describe it), but ends with solid bitterness that creates balance and a slight lingering bitterness. This is a great ale that is worth seeking out. A big thanks goes to Fred for picking this six-pack up while touring the Pacific Northwest and Ryan for sharing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Enjoyed a Brugse Zot this evening; inspired by none other than...Rick Steeves? Details can be found at the Marcobrau Beer Pages. The beer is the current Belgian Beer of the Moment.

Also enjoying a recent batch of homebrew that was meant to be a Biere de Garde, but has ended up more of a cross between a Witbier and a Belgian Pale Ale. I've been enjoying this beer from one of my Party Pigs. It's tasting a little oxidized, but is otherwise toasty and more assertively bitter than an authentic wit or Belgian would ever be. S'okay, as it's a decent everyday sort of "house" beer. Meanwhile, I'm thinking of brewing a dunkelweizen for an autumnal ale.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bell's is Back!

Bell's beer is back in Illinois. Sure, we've getting beer from Bell's under the Kalamazoo label, but it hasn't been the same. The "faux"-beron that I've been seeing lately is a decent summer wheat, but not quite the same as Oberon, but then again Oberon isn't even my favorite summertime Bell's beer.

Well, today I found my favorite and it's Bell's Third Coast Beer. This is not to be confused with the Third Coast Old Ale. T.C.B. is a much different product. It's a straw colored lager-like beer with American hops and an interesting grassy, yeasty nose (no doubt the result of the beer being unfiltered.) This light (roughly 12 Plato) beer has a rather tasty toasty malt flavor, pleasant bready yeastiness and crisp, moderately bitter, lingering finish. For me, it's the perfect accompaniment to a late summer afternoon. Reviews on Beer Advocate are a bit mixed; I suppose in support of this beer I would advise the consumer check the bottling date to make sure it's fresh. There is a code on the back of the bottle that can be entered on the brewery's website that tells you the bottling date. Of cousre, either you like this beer or you don't.
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Avril not your average saison, or is it?

I've read that many, many years ago Belgian brewers produced a much lower strength Saison than what we typically see today and I've always wondered what a truly "sessionable" farmhouse ale would taste like. I've made some attempts to homebrew Saison-style beers in the 4 to 4.5 percent range, but until now I've never seen a commercial example. I've always enjoyed Saison DuPont, so when I found Avril from Brasserie DuPont, with "Biere de Table" on the label I knew it had to be a more sessionable version of the classic. Upon a closer inspection I noticed the alcohol content of 3.5 percent written on the label. This discovery made me even more curious. Could such a small beer be packed with all that great DuPont flavor?

The short answer is yes. Yes, with a disclaimer I suppose. Avril is much lighter then the classic Vielle Provision Saison DuPont and there is much less alcohol, which admittedly is a component of the beer's flavor. However, most of the other parts of what makes a great Saison are present. The enormous rocky mousse-like head, the light color, the delicate grainy and earthy flavors and of course, the lingering dry finish. Delicate peppery hops seemed in perfect balance with the small of grain used to make this beer adding just enough complexity and pleasant bitterness.

Overall, I would love to be able to brew something like this, but I imagine it would require complete control of the process. I other words, an all-grain recipe with mash temps kept fairly low to ensure a complete fermentation. I don't know that I'll tackle such a project yet this summer (especially since I recently brewed a light Belgian Pale Ale), but such a lovely light beer would be great for next year.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Saison Morency 2008

Tonight I'm celebrating opening the first bottle of Saison Morency 2008. I live on the third (top) floor of a condominium building, so it gets quite warm in the kitchen, which is where I ferment my beer. A few years ago I started using a lot of yeast strains from Belgium. I've found the saison-style strains like Wyeast 3524 and 3526 as well as the White Labs WLP565 work very well fermenting in the upper 70s and 80s. I've used these strains to make all sorts of beers as well as what would be considered more traditional Saisons.

Each year I brew a "signature" Saison-style beer. This year's batch has turned out quite well. The first glass poured hazy gold with a rocky, white head of foam. It smelled earthy, peppery and spicy. The palate was very soft. Sweet malt flavors very briefly washed over my tastebuds, then the spicy, peppery esters and hops flourished, paving the way for an assertively bitter, dry and long finish. Lacework was left behind down the sides of the glass as I savored each sip. I couldn't ask for much more from this beer and I'm very happy with it.

I just wish I brewed more than just one case of 22-ounce bottles!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fabulously Freaky Lager

To older people who bemoan the crass-ization of our culture, the rise of prurience and the grotesque in mainstream media, I present you with a bottle of Coney Island Lager. Tell me that face does not launch a million nightmares. Yet, it is merely a reproduction of the rictus grin-head that greeted many amusement park goers in the first half of this century. These decadent zones housed freak shows, thrill rides, and bad food galore, and were probably places where nice girls met bad boys. They were also great social levelers, bringing immigrants and the rich and poor together.

Well I say, in my best Butthead voice, “Old freaky stuff is cool.” So is Coney Island Lager. The label caught my eye but when I read about the beer, I clutched it to my chest in anticipation. Eight malts, six hops, and Czech Pilsner yeast. The label promises “the thrill of the old world with a new world flavor,” and it delivers. The multiple malts and hops work together in to create a beefy mouth that you now expect from an American microbrew. But the yeast is like an old man sitting between a gay couple in a park – a reminder that no matter how much things change, the past is never that far away.

This is clear if you take one more look at the label. Proceeds from the sale of the beer go to Coney Island USA, which is devoted to keeping lost forms of popular arts and culture alive and preserving New York’s historic Coney Island neighborhood. Shmaltz has created a whole line of beers to support this cause, including Albino Python spicy white lager. Old people, don’t tell me how degraded we youth are. Everyone has always needed their freaky stuff – we have the proof!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Down in the cellar with an Elizabethan Ale

Well, it's the beginning of July, which is American Beer Month. Every year I try and drink only American beer for the whole month. It never works. I always end up drinking an import and my fellow beer connoisseur Ryan was tempted by an Elizabethan treat this evening. Perhaps as the brothers of Beer Advocate have suggested, we can all enjoy a beer from a small brewery, in the proper glassware and the right environment. It seems Ryan has done just this tonight in his cellar.

A beautifully aged Harvey's Elizabethan Ale was the treat of the evening; a beer so darn good that my friend was moved to "think of chucking the Declaration of Independence in the Delaware, and put a copy of the Magna Carta in my pocket instead." It was that good. Granted, Old Ale is his favorite style, but I've had one of these beers myself. In fact, I picked up said beer at the Blue Max in Burnsville, Minnesota about at least a year ago and the particular bottle consumed was filled in 1996. Yep, that's right 1996. I don't know if you'll find another bottle from 1996, but Ryan recommends that you, "Find this beer, and treat it with dignity and respect."

Ryan's full review of the beer is at Beer Advocate.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Weisse and the Weinkeller

Back in January I attempted to a partial mash Berliner Weisse. I attempted a sour mash with only a couple pounds of grain left for two days in my oven set to warm (about 120 degrees). The grain was plenty stinky after those two days (like spoiled milk), so I knew I had some lacto-bacillus going on, but did I have enough? It turned out pretty decent, but I did cheat a bit and add some 88 percent lactic acid solution before bottling. I'm pretty happy with how the beer has turned out so far (it's certainly sour enough), so I decided to do what the Germans do and add some "Schuss" or raspberry syrup.

I tried the beer with syrup (pictured) for the first time tonight and it really takes me back...not to Berlin though; but to a brewpub in Westmont, Illinois, called the Weinkeller. The place used to have three wheat beers on tap at all times; a hefe-weizen, a kristal (filtered) and a Berliner. I used to drink the Berliner both ways, with and without syrup. On at least one occasion I was made fun of for ordering this beer; the server told me that mostly girls order the beer with syrup because it was fruity. Well, I didn't care, I liked my Berliner and kept on drinking it. Sure I would order the other Weinkeller beers; the Aberdeen Amber (really an altbier), the Dublin (dry) Stout and their IPA were consumed fairly often. However, I have yet to visit another brewpub with a Berliner Weisse on tap, which is partly why I've taken matters in my own hands and attempted the style myself...and I am content.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Bitter Brewer

For years I've been a bitter brewer. I liked to make my beer bitter, but then I suppose I matured a bit and started to practice restraint with using hops (the bittering agent in beer) and started to craft beers that were still fairly bitter, but had more complex malt character and were also lower in alcohol. Somewhat ironically, the British call this type of ale "Bitter."

I recently traveled to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. My expectation was that I would find, purchase and consume some tasty Surly beer. Surly is known for using a lot of hops in some of their beers, but also balancing them with the right amount and type of malts. I was successful in my search, finding three types of Surly at the Blue Max, a liquor store in Burnsville (a Twin Cities suburb) famous for its selection of 1,100 beers. I'll leave the details on the Blue Max for another post and instead get back the beer that I have in front of me.

I'm back home and enjoying a pint (from the can) of Surly Bitter Brewer. This fantastic session beer pours a beautiful amber color with the perfect amount of carbonation, thus creating a white head of foam that drops to a nice firm collar of bubbles. Bitter Brewer is indeed very bitter, but that bitterness is tempered somewhat by the taste of highly kilned malts. A toasted character is present up front and the aroma is slightly toasty, too. The body is kept fairly light and the alcohol by volume is just four percent. This is one of the aspects of this beer that makes it great, you can drink a fair amount of it and not suffer from the more precarious aspects of alcohol consumption. Another aspect I like about Bitter Brewer is that it delivers a potent hop bitterness, yet the beer maintains it's drinkability.

As you can probably tell, I really like this beer. Unfortunately, I cannot get this beer in cans in my neck of the woods (Chicago area), but it may be showing up in a few weeks at one of my local pubs and I will be very grateful.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Scotsmen on the Moon

Decided to stop by the Lunar Brewing Co. in Villa Park after work today, just to see what was new. I ended finding a mighty Wee Heavy, served in a giant thistle-shaped glass for $6. This chestnut-hued ale was rather straightforward, but tasty with caramel malts balanced by a judicious amount of hops and unusual spicy character. (The beer is pictured to the right.) There were many other treats at Lunar Brewing Co., including a 10 percent alcohol anniversary beer from Surly Brewing Co. in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Very intriguing. What monster could Surly have created? I was tempted, but after 21 ounces of the Wee Heavy (and remembering that I had another Scotch Ale at home) I decided I should probably just head home. However, I will back soon to the Lunar, to sample the house beer along with the fantastic line up of guest beers that included craft brews such as Two Brothers Hop Juice, Founders Dry-Hopped Pale Ale, Victory Golden Monkey and Three Floyds Robert the Bruce. Many other craft brews and imported lagers and ales were to be found in the cooler; some more reasonably priced than others. The other house beers included the popular Moondance IPA, Marzen, raspberry cream ale, oatmeal stout, a Maibock and a nut brown ale. Lunar Brewing has a page on Myspace, which is updated fairly often.

Once I home, I poured a bottle conditioned Arcadia Scotch Ale and decided to make the evening a mini-Scotch Ale tasting. I've had some Arcadia beers before and the brewery is a very interesting traditional English operation. The Arcadia Scotch immediately differed from the Lunar Wee Heavy. The color was a darker chestnut and it had a more powerful aroma of raisins. The carbonation, was good. I've found Arcadia beers to be fairly highly carbonated, so I gave the beer a more vigorous pour to help ensure a smooth mouthfeel. The bone white head didn't last too long and dropped leaving a tight collar of foam. The first sip was smooth and cleanly malty with some toffee character emerging towards the finish, which ends up being a mouth full of raisin character and alcohol laced with a roasted grain and hop bitterness. The heavy caramel malt flavors lingered on my tongue creating a long finish that was just short of cloying.

Arcadia Scotch Ale is definitely one of the good ones. The brewery is inconsistent: I've had good beers, outstanding beers and poor ones from them, but I have to congratulate them on the Scotch Ale.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Dogfish kind of day

I opened this beer thinking it was a Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale kind of evening.

Starting at 9pm I'm going to be waiting for my work pager to go off, so I thought I'd have one beer to sort of calm the nerves. I've had the Indian Brown Ale before and had mixed feelings about it, so I thought I'd try it again. Something about a dark brown ale fits a cool, wind-whipped rainy day. This particluar dark brown ale smells quite good; the aroma of dark dried fruits such as figs and raisins is assertive and has me anticipating a sweet tasting beer. There's a hint of coffee with cream in there, too. The mouthfeel is slippery smooth with just a bit of the tingle of carbon dioxide.

The hops are certainly kept in check until towards the finish and they're more earthy than spicy. A fairly bright tartness comes through initially in the rather balanced finish. After some time, this character turns a touch medicinal, but is not offensive. The bitterness is not as pronounced as the 50 IBUs (according the brewery's website) would suggest; perhaps all the sweet malts and caramelized sugar has tamed the bite of the hops. The finish is actually rather rich with latte and burnt caramel notes. Despite its surprisingly low viscosity, this is certainly not a low-calorie beer, this is verified in the sweetness. Lest I forget, it's a good looking beer, too. A collar of foam persists well after the head falls and some sparse bits of Brussels lace are left behind.

The Dogfish Head Indian Brown is certainly an enjoyable beer with the kind of burnt caramel sweetness that is satisfying this time of year, much like a springtime bock. I'm drinking this solo, but the brewery's website mentions pairing with balsamic vinaigrette salads, smoked meats, duck confit, braised ribs, venison, prosciutto and stews. It also mentions that a 12-ounce serving is 238 calories, which makes the beer a bit of a snack in itself.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bottling time for Saison Morency Summer

Filled 12 22-ounce bottles and one 11 to 140-ounce swingtop. The beer cleared up quite a bit, leaving behind a half-inch of mostly hop sediment. Tasted from the bottling bucket, this batch was a pretty clear gold, almost straw color. Brewing a partial mash and full wort boil must've kept the color light. The finish doesn't seem as bitter and there is more a tart character to the beer (in the middle, not really in the finish). Very smooth and slightly viscous up front, but finishing very dry.

I've very happy with this fermentation. Since racking to the secondary the beer has dropped an additional 10 points after fermenting from 1.053 to 1.016! If all goes well, this should be a very tasty dry ale after three months or so, say July or August. A recent issue of Zymurgy magazine featured a cover story "A Saison for Every Season" and I can definitely see doing that. I'm thinking that the batch I just bottled would be my summer batch and that I'd brew an autumn batch in June. Hopefully I'll still be able to get my hands on some on the Wyeast 3724 or White Labs 565 Saison yeast. That said, I'd like to be squeeze in a three gallon batch of witbier in the next couple weeks.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hoppy Spring Wheat "pigged" and bottled

Tried to package this last Tuesday, but the gravity seemed high, so I let go a few more days. I didn't even bother taking a gravity reading (risky I know) and went ahead and packaged the beer into two 32 ounce brown PET bottles and one Party Pig

So far this beer has a big Amarillo hop and wheat malt flavor. A surprising toasted note, too. Quite tasty. This beer could go fast. If this initial tasting at packaging time is any indication of how this beer actually turns out I may have to brew this again. (I know I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Meanwhile, my three-gallon batch of Saison continues to sit in the secondary. I may take a reading sometime this week, if the hops ever decide to settle.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Two fermenters going....maybe a third?

I have two beers fermenting right now. One is the three-gallon saison, which is in a carboy (secondary) with dry hops and the dregs of one 750-ml bottle of Saison DuPont. The other beer that is fermenting is a simple extract hoppy "American-style" wheat beer. It's just one four-pound can of Alexander's Wheat Malt Extract and some Amarillo hops, fermented with SafAle US-05. I tasted it the other day (after five days fermentation) and it was rather bitter with not as much late hop flavor than I wanted, but dry hopping should fix that. The beer wasn't ready to packaged yet (the gravity was a few points too high) so I'm occasionally rousing the fermenter (once every couple days) to see if gets any drier. Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying red ale from the Party Pig. The wheat beer will be packaged in my other Party Pig and maybe a couple bottes, while the Saison will be bottled in 22s. Part of me wants to get a third fermenter going with another beer while the weather is still cool (I have another carboy and the wheat beer should be ready to package later this week).

Monday, March 31, 2008

Saison Morency 2008

Brewed a three-gallon batch of saison a couple weeks ago and I racked it to the secondary today with some additional Spalter dry hops. It's a simple beer: I infusion mashed three pounds of Pilsner malt along with seven ounces of flaked wheat, added two pounds of Briess Pilsen dry malt extract and a half ounce of Spalter hops at the start the boil, another half-ounce at 15 minutes left in the boil and an ounce for the last two minutes. I neglected to add some Irish Moss for his batch, which could explain why it's cloudy. I'm guessing I'm going to end up filling 10 to 12 22-ounce bottles with this batch. That's not a lot of beer, but I like the trade off of better hop utilization and more control over color that is achieved with full wort boil.

However, if I keep my batches to three to four gallons, I'm going to have brew more often. I intend on saving some time by brewing an extract batch here and there, which is what I plan on doing later this week. I picked up a four-pound can of Alexander's Wheat Malt (liquid) today and plan on making 3 to 3.5 gallon batch with that extract and some Amarillo hops, keeping a lot of the hops late in the boil for a big hop aroma and spicy character, keeping the IBUs around 30 and original gravity around 1.042. I'm hoping that I can the beer in a Party Pig and probably a few bottles in 10-14 days.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tasting all things red that I've homebrewed, which is a red ale that is aging quite nicely in Party Pig and has probably at its peak. This red ale is rather hoppy up front, no doubt due to the addition of about a half ounce dry hops in the Party Pig. The beer is quite delicious and I had to keep myself from consuming more than a few pints. I'm rather pleased with this beer, especially with the performance of the Fermentis S-04 dry yeast. The beer is fairly clean, with just enough residual sweetness to play well with the hops. The S-04 clears very well, too. I definitely think the Fermentis yeasts are big improvement over the dry yeasts from 10 or 15 years ago.

Pictured to the right is Montmorency Ale. It's not quite red; maybe more pink. It was a five gallon batch brewed with one gallon of Montmorency tart cherry juice. No sweet cherries here; just tart ones and it shows - this beer has a tart character that I think is just about right. The nose is tart cherry, but there's also some lactic notes and phenolics from the yeast (although I think the lactic character could be from the cherries); almost a smokiness. The mouthfeel is fairly creamy once the carbonation settles, but the carbonation takes awhile to settle. The head is very impressive, too, with spun sugar bits sticking to the sides of the glass. I'm not sure how I achieved this, perhaps it just the yeast - Wyeast 3822 Ingelmunster Ale.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sampling Southern Tier

I've been fond of picking up single bottles recently and one place I've been finding them (chilled) is at the Liquor Stop in Lisle, Ill, just west of I-355 on Ogden Avenue. I also find single bottles of craft brews at Famous Liquors in Lombard, Ill. That's where I picked up bottles of Neil & Phin's
Extraordinary Ale from Souther Tier along with the brewery's India Pale Ale (IPA).

First up for sampling was the crystal clear, golden Extraordinary Ale, sporting a loose meringue-like head and tingly carbonation, along with a spicy, cedar hop nose. This is followed by a crisp toasted malt flavor, which leads to a lightly bitter dry and peppery finish. The Extraordinary is a very delicious golden ale or American pale ale that is easy to drink, yet quite tasty with a very pleasant hop character.

The Southern Tier IPA, on the other hand, is a touch deeper in color (light amber) than the Extraordinary Ale and kind of it's big brother. It is still quite drinkable, but slightly less sessionable due to its increase in alcohol content. There's less of a head, but what there is creates some good lacing. The nose is complex and spicy; more complex than the Extraordinary, but I can't pin down any particular flavor. It's a touch sweet and honey-like up front with moderate hoppiness towards the middle along with sweet caramel malt. The finsh is fairly assertive making a for a fairly hearty ale. This beer is good, but it strikes me as not being brewery fresh. Fortunately, it reminds me of Goose Island IPA which I can find fresher in my area. This is a beer that I could definitely enjoy out at a pub, but my fridge will probably stay stocked with GI IPA. Over at Beer Advocate, the Southern Tier is rated higher than the Goose Island, so perhaps a side by side tasting is in order, or perhaps my Southern Tier had a bit of age. I would like to compare them head to head.

Red Ale Revisited

After killing off the rest of the red ale, I decided to try it again, mixing up some of the ingredients.

I brewed another batch a couple weeks ago, but this time I left out the eight ounces of biscuit malt, I used only Amarillo hops (instead of Amarillo and Simcoe) and I replaced the Wyeast Northwest Ale with Safale S-04. It seemed like the Wyeast didn't attenuate very well, so I thought I'd try the dry yeast, because I already had it in the fridge and thought it would make a drier beer. It turned out that I was right. I packaged the new red ale Sunday night and upon tasting it was definitely drier and even a touch more complex. This new batch is coming across a bit hoppier up front, too, which makes sense because I used more late addition hops. For this batch I steeped a half-pound each of Crystal 150L and 80L malts. I used three pounds of Munton's Light DME and 2.5 pounds of Briess Pilsner DME for the base and four ounces of Amarillo hop pellets, adding one ounce at the start of the 60 minute boil, another ounce at 30 minutes into the boil, another after 45 minutes and another ounce at then end of the boil. I chilled the wort in my sink with my immersion chiller and pitched rehydrated DCL S-04 yeast. At packaging time I split the batch between 22-ounce bottles and a Party Pig, with the pig getting an addition of an ounce of Amarillo pellets instead of the Warrior hop plug (which ended up getting pinned between the Party Pig pouch and the wall of the pig in the last batch and seemed to add virtually no hop aroma).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Angling for an authentic ale

I look forward to the day that it'll be warm enough to do some fishing without poking a hole through a thick layer of ice. Not that I've done any ice fishing since I was a little kid. What I'm looking forward to is warmer weather. So, with the thought of warmer days, I've popped open an Arcadia Angler's Ale from Arcadia Brewing Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.

According to the brewery's website, the Arcadia Brewing Company was established in 1996 as a microbrewery specializing in hand-crafted British-style ales. All of the beers are produced in small 25-barrel batches. The brewery makes notes of their "Peter Austin" brewing system, which appears to have just as much to do with the process as the equipment. This excellent article by Matt Dunn gives a pretty good description of the brewery and the process, including pictures. Arcadia is definitely interested in applying British methods of producing beer tailored to American tastes.

So out of this brewery comes Angler's ale, which greets me with rather loud and long "phffft" when the cap is popped. What comes out of the bottle is a hazy golden to light amber ale with two-thirds of my glass filling up with foam. As the foam settles down I top off the pour in stops and starts, then let the beer sit. After at least 10 minutes, the foam has left a rocky head and I go in for a sniff, which is very fruity and perhaps a touch floral. Could it be that Ringwood yeast that Matt Dunn makes mention of in the previously cited article? This same fruity character is found on the palate, too. I'm thinking of a bit of apricot, but more of orange and a maybe just a touch of green apple. The hops may be contributing some of these flavors, too. Judging from the haziness, the Angler's Ale is definitely a bottle-conditioned brew. In fact, bits of yeast seem to have rested at the bottom of my glass. Nearly all the way through my glass of this beer I notice that much of the foam has stuck to sides of the glass in almost crystalline fashion. As I finish this beer I start to contemplate what it would be like to enjoy it off a cask, as I'm almost certain is likely to happen at the Arcadia pub in Battle Creek. I may finally have to visit this brewery to find out for myself how good Arcadia ales can taste.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Back in June 2007 I brewed what I had intended to be a brown ale with some Montmorency tart cherry juice from Miller's Northwood Market on M-22 in Bear Lake, Michigan. I've used their cherry juice before for making cherry stout, but this past year I thought I'd try something different, a brown ale. Well, the beer turned out lighter than I had intended and not quite as cherry-flavored as I hoped, but that was at least a couple months ago.

Fast forward to early March 2008 and I'm tasting a beer that is quite lively (plenty of carbonation) when poured, creating a thick and rocky head. As the head falls, little bits of sticky lace are left behind down the sides of the glass. Underneath the head, is amber liquid spiked with pink. The tart cherry nose is subtle, but it's there. This beer tastes like a saison - crisp and light - but with the hoppiness replaced by a delicate tart cherry flavor. This beer is not a brown ale (not even close) and not really that big of a fruit beer, but it is enjoyable. Sometimes in homebrewing there's these happy accidents and this beer is one. Although, I think it turned out good, I think a couple different things could make it more interesting; such as adding another gallon of tart cherry juice (I used one gallon in the original recipe) and perhaps adding some honey to counter the tartness of the cherries. I'm not sure what happened to the color; I really thought I added enough chocolate malt, but I obviously didn't and unfortunately I don't know how much chocolate malt I used because I lost the Promash recipe file in a hard drive crash. Fortunately, I do have some notes on the hop schedule. I used low alpha (something like 3.5 percent AA) Hallertau hops, which hopefully will be available despite the hop shortage. Heck, hopefully the cherry crop will good this year, too!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

It was a damp, cool evening...

...and I had the taste for a robust Biere de Garde.

I picked up a 750-ml corked bottle of Ch'ti Brune a couple weeks ago and trying it out tonight. According to the brewery's website, this beer is made with roasted malts, but I don't taste any of the bitterness that can come from roasted grains. It is also aged for six weeks after primary fermentation at a near freezing temperature in stainless steel tanks. It's a fairly sweet beer, almost bock-like up front, but dry and a bit tart in the finish. Although I didn't get much of a pop from the cork, the beer poured a deep chestnut brown with plenty of carbonation. Once the foam settled (leaving behind some bits of lacing) I poked my nose in my tulip glass and discovered a pleasant musty "French basement" aroma combined with a touch of sourness. This beer tasted of dark dried fruits (prunes, raisins) with some oaky notes and then some caramel sweetness followed by the tart and rather dry finish. I've always enjoyed the Biere de Garde style of beer this time of year and this somewhat tawny example suits the cool, damp weather rather well.

The Ch'ti range of beers are made at a brewery in the village of Artois in Northern France, producing a moderately large amount of beer - 40,000 hectoliters - or about 34,000 U.S. barrels. The Ch'ti range includes a blonde, white, amber and triple. The blond appears to be the flagship beer which, according to the brewery's website, has been brewed since 1979 and is even available in mini-kegs! Pictured are Annick and Yves Castelain of the Brasserie Castelain which makes the Ch'ti range of beers. If the Ch'ti Brune is any example of the rest of the Ch'ti beers, I would definitely include a stop at the Castelain brewery or at least one of the Ch'ti Taverns if I ever make the trek to France.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Copper Hook: a drinkable catch

Seen a new beer (at least new to me) from Redhook the other day called Copper Hook. I used to enjoy Redhook on tap many years ago at the Thirsty Fox Pub in St. Charles, Ill. However, I haven't been as big of fan of the beer in recent years. Still, I thought I'd see what the brewery is up to these days and try this offering. According to the brewery, Cooper Hook is brewed with caramel and Cara-Pils malts, along with Willamette and Saaz hops. The alcohol content by volume is 5.7 percent.

Poured from 12-ounce bottle into a straight-sided pint glass, the Copper Hook is a brilliant copper-colored ale. The fizzy carbonation created a brief white head that dropped to a dainty ring of bubbles. The beer smelled of a cheeseburger bun. Honestly, it had sort of a bready maltiness in the nose. The flavor was decent, crisp and lager-like with some toasted malt towards the finish and a light hop bitterness. Nothing really off-putting here (except maybe the odd hamburger bun aroma), but nothing that really makes me want to go out and buy drink a lot more of this beer. It's the kind of beer that I would grab at the airport, when I wanted a refreshing beer that was very drinkable, but not too boring. I think Copper Hook is a really drinkable beer that fits well into Redhook's portfolio of beers that may turn the macro beer drinker on to something with a little more flavor. I do believe it to be a touch strong though considering it's high drinkability. A few those could go down easy and before you know it you're head's buzzing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Poet

There is a lunar eclipse tonight and the darkness has me inspired to drink a stout. A stout called The Poet, from New Holland Brewing Co., which has a label depicting a raven in front of the moon. Of course, this label in turn inspires my choice of glass for this beer,`a pint glass with words of Edgar Allen Poe:

"Filled with mingled cream and amber, I will drain the glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber through the chamber of brain; quaintest thoughts, queerest fantasies come to life and fade away: what care I how time advances? I am drinking ale today."

The beer I am tasting this evening is quite tasty stout; dark as night with perhaps a slight hint of ruby towards the bottom of the glass, a beige head that falls slowly, leaving clouds of foam behind and a wonderful aroma of burnt charcoal and espresso. The flavors in this beer range from coffee with cream, to a slight port-like character, then a vanilla accent leading to a roasted coffee finish laced with a little tannin and a drying bittersweet finish.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I hadn't tapped my Party Pig of red ale in a few days, so I went to pour myself a pint...but the button on the front wouldn't I took the Pig out and placed it on the counter to get better leverage and out sprayed the beer. I managed to capture a mug's worth before the tap sputtered out, spraying yeasty sediment into the sink. The Pig was done, so I started loosening the screws on the collar as if removing the head from a drum, until I eventually had all the screws loosened. I noticed the pouch was protruding a bit from the container when all of sudden....POP! Like a ballon, the pig pouch popped, without any assistance, and sent itself flying off the counter and then landing in the cat's food bowl, but not of course, before taking some bottles on the corner with it, which went crashing to the floor. Wow.

With the accident cleaned up I'm know wondering if it's too late to brew a small two and a half gallon batch of Irish-style stout for St. Patrick's Day. I think I can do it if I keep it low-alcohol (between 3 and 4 percent) and I brew it sometime in the next week.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Berliner Weisse Bottled

I filled 43 12-ounce bottles with the Berliner-style weisse today, after more than two weeks of secondary fermentation with the dregs of a bottle of 1809 Berliner Weisse (see earlier post).

The dregs of the 1809 didn't seem to add any sourness, so added a couple tablespoons of 88 percent lactic acid solution (cheating, I know). I'm planning on letting this beer sit for awhile (at least three or four months) before I seriously entertain the thought of enjoying it.

So far so good with this batch; the lactic character is certainly fairly strong, although actually sourness is muted. The beer is light and drinkable and the hops are not noticeable, so I got that part right. I think the next time I try something like this I'll try and get my hands on an actual Lactobacillus culture and actually add some grain to the fermentation to get some more "wild" character in the beer. (I've been reading that a sour mash works well for a Berliner, but that an actual lactic fermentation is better.) I added three-quarters of a cup of priming sugar to this batch, so here's hoping I don't have any bottle bombs!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Marcobrau Beer Pages back online

The Marcobrau Beer Pages are back online and updated, with more changes to follow. This blog will still be updated more frequently, but it's good to have the website I've had up since 1999 back online! The marcobrau domain should start forwarding back to the MBP in a matter of hours, if not sooner.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Attention Marcobrau Beer Pages web surfers!

Just a note to those seeking the Marcobrau Beer Pages.

You may have noticed that the domain now forwards to this blog. This is happening because I haven't been able to make changes to the Marcobrau Beer Pages website. Once I can get access to the site, I will likely bring it down and possibly move it to another host.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

1809 Berliner Weisse

I've only been able to find one commercial Berliner Weiss-style beer in my area and that is 1809, brewed by Dr. Fritz Briem of the Doemens Institute (a brewing school in Germany). I bought the beer figuring I'd taste it and then maybe pitch the "dregs" into the secondary fermenter of my Berliner-style Weisse.

Upon pouring this beer into a goblet (old Falstaff glass), I immediately caught a whiff of the same smell I remember from the sour mash of my homebrew. An almost sour milk-like aroma, yet sweeter and mixed with some light floral hops, and therefore not as offensive. The lactic sourness and fruity complexity of this beer actually reminds me of a beer from New Holland Brewing Co. a couple years ago called Pilgrim's Dole. If I could pinpoint the flavors, it would be a sort of pineapple fruitiness combined with the lactic sourness. This would indeed be a very quenching brew a warm day. The body is very light, the finish dry and tart, with very little hop character. A very refreshing brew that is definitely worth a try.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Berlin crossed with Louisville?

I started something the other day that I haven't done before -- I started a sour mash. I put two pounds of milled Pilsner malt and a half ounce of Spalter hops with about three quarts of water in a stainless steel pot, heated it up to around 120 deg. F. and let it sit in oven for about 36 hours. It was good and stinky (like sour milk) when I uncovered the pot this morning, so I knew I had some lactic bacteria working. I took this mash and dumped it into a very large strainer that fits over my brewpot and sparged with about gallon or so of 175 deg. F. water, simply ladling the sparge water over the grain. I added four pounds of Alexander's Wheat LME and boiled the mixture for about 15 minutes (mostly to integrate the LME into solution), but also felt like I wanted to kill the bacteria before introducing cooling the wort and pitching a Wyeast Activator pouch of 1007 German Ale Ale.
If you haven't already figured it out, I'm trying for something like a Berliner Weisse. I realize that a German brewery wouldn't have boiled the wort to let the lactic bacteria keep working, but I'm an American brewer and a homebrewer at that, so I'll do what I want.

Anyhow, I miss being able to get Berliner Kindl, but I'm predicting that the lactic (sour) mash of the two pounds of pilsner malt won't add that much sourness to the beer, so I've purchased a bottle of some 88 percent lactic acid solution that I figure I can dose the beer with at bottling time if necessary. Who knows maybe I'll omit the lactic acid and have myself more of a Berliner Weisse crossed with a Kentucky Common beer?

Technical difficulties

I started a website about my love of beer almost 10 years ago. The site is called the Marcobrau Beer Pages. I don't update the site nearly as frequently as I used to; lately I seem to prefer posting stuff to this blog. I don't know if it's just easier (no coding of HTML) or just more fun, but that's what's been happening. Now it seems the index page is corrupted and I can't connect to the site via FTP to fix it. The connection just times out. It's frustrating, but I guess it's what I get for having the site on AT&T Worldnet. I've sent an email to AT&T and I'm awaiting a response.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rogue-ish Amber Ale

I love Rogue beer, but I usually drink it on tap.

I drink Rogue on tap mostly because those $5 bombers and $10 six-packs drain my funds pretty quickly. The good news is that I'm a homebrewer and most of the ingredients available to Rogue, are also available to me. So far, I've just attempted knock-offs of some of the simpler Rogue beers, such as the Dry Hopped Red, but yesterday I bottled (and pigged) a batch of amber ale inspired by Rogue American Amber. The packaging went well; there were no problems except for over-pressurizing the pig (it started to leak a bit before I bled the excess air out of it). The beer tasted pretty darn good with quite a bit of caramel sweetness up front and a bold smack of hops in the finish. There was just a touch of roasted malt complexity, too.

Unfortunately, this particular Rogue-ish brew is a pretty loose interpretation. I've had success before in finding all the ingredients for a clone of the St. Rogue Red, but this time I had to improvise a bit. I constructed this amber ale using six pounds of pale liquid malt extract from Northern Brewer, along with a pound or so of Munton's DME. The grain included some steeped crystal malts; British 150L and 70-80L Crystal. The hops included Amarillo and Simcoe pellets which were substituted for the Kent Goldings and Cascades used in Rogue American Amber; mostly because I have almost a pound of Amarillo pellets in my freezer. The Amarillo hops were used mostly for bitterness with the Simcoe added later in the boil. Everything was fermented with Wyeast Northwest Ale (which believe is from Hale's, NOT Rogue. I also got a little nuts and added a half-ounce Warrior hop plug in the Party Pig. I expect a lot of hop aroma out of that pig!

I had planned to re-pitch the yeast from this batch into an American-style barleywine along the lines of Rogue's Old Crustacean, but now I'm leaning more towards my first partial mash attempt at a Berliner Weisse.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Search for Quality American Lager - Part 3

In my continuing quest for quality American lager beer, I have been given a bottle of Summit Grand. I've had this beer before, but it's been awhile and I couldn't find any notes, so here goes.

The brothers at Beer Advocate have classified Summit Grand as an American All-Malt Lager and I would agree that this is probably the best description of this beer. The beer pours gold with good amount of carbonation that builds a pretty decent (one-finger) head of foam. The head falls fairly quickly to miniscule collar. The nose on this beer is pretty decent somewhat floral with hops, but also malty. The malt flavor is crisp with some toasted malt highlights. Overall, the flavor almost borders on being sweet, but the finish is crisp and just dry enough to enhance drinkability. I seems to also seem to be picking a very slight sweet-sour tang in the finish; almost a kind of mineral-like "zip" to the beer. This is definitely a good golden lager for colder weather; I think this beer could come across a touch cloying or at least too sweet in the heat of summer.