Sunday, December 27, 2009

Can't believe I haven't mentioned that I have a porter in it's eighth day of fermentation. The yeast was pitched on December 19th and it's been real quiet for a few days now. I plan on keeping it in the plastic primary for a couple more days before I decide on the next step. I'm not sure if I want to rack to the secondary with dry hops or bottle it up. Since I'm going for a west coast-style porter I feel like I should add some dry hops, but I'm going to give it a taste in a couple days and see how I like it. I added a lot of hops (five ounces) in the last 15 minutes of the boil which should add a significant hop flavor, but I'm not sure how much aroma they will add. I haven't used Chinook hops in a few years, but I know they're quite powerful.

My next batch is probably going to be something like a British Mild crossed with a Saison, mostly because I have Safbrew T-58 and some black malt. At this point in the recipe formulation, I'm using Briess Pilsner malt extract, black malt and molasses along with Strisselspalt and Goldings hops. I plan to use the Goldings and some of the Strisselspalt for bitterness with the Strissepalt as the sole aroma hop steeped at the end of the boil.

Looking through my posts, I also see that I've failed to mention that I ordered three pounds of hop pellets from Hops Direct. The pricing seemed a lot better than paying two to three dollars an ounce at the local home brew shop. I now have about one pound each of Chinook, Amarillo and Strisselspalt hops in my freezer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I was extremely pleased to find two six-packs of 2007 Goose Island Christmas Ale earlier today. This is a small-batch beer that is released once a year and is a favorite. According to the brewery it ages well up to five years. I've poured the first bottle out of the 12 and it's so far so good. Here are my tasting notes:

I give it a good pour into an old school Schlitz dimpled goblet. The head that forms is modest, but lasting, and some lace left behind with each sip. This light mahogany-colored beer is much hazier than I expected, but otherwise looks delicious. The nose is pretty neutral with some complex fruit and malt aromas. It is wonderfully smooth with a luscious caramel flavor that fades into more roasted coffee flavors before a smoothly bitter finish. Some unidentifiable spices nips at the sides of the tongue; it's almost sort of peppery, yet sweet. A very tasty ale!

I have a bottle of this year's Christmas Ale in my fridge. It's a 22-ounce bottle and I'm told that the recipe has changed (the alcohol increased and more hops have been added.) It is only available in 22-ounce bottles and thus the price of this year's version has about doubled compared to the 2008 and 2007. Despite my initial gripe, I still look forward to procuring some of this year's batch and letting some of it rest in the cellar.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I tapped the Party Pig of my last three-gallon batch of extra hoppy pale ale and it was way over-carbonated, pouring all foam. My guess is that the batch wasn't done fermenting or was infected, although it tasted fine. I also noticed the Party Pig pouch didn't activate properly. It was sort of pinched in the middle and not fully inflated, leaving a lot of head space. I sort of figured I might have a problem when I couldn't get the pouch to inflate. According to instructions on the Party Pig website, the beer should rise to the top of bottle (vertically oriented) when bleeding the excess air. If the beer doesn't rise to the top, then the pouch hasn't activated. So I took a chance letting it carb with the priming sugar in the hops that the pressure might change and the pouch might activate as the yeast created more carbon dioxide during conditioning.

Since the Pig was pouring all foam, I decided to bleed off some gas (I did this by standing the Pig up vertically so there was but air to escape when I tapped it), thinking this might reduce some of the pressure so the beer didn't pour all foam. This wasn't very smart, because the result was that I went from dispensing all foam to nothing. The pouch failed to expand and I ended up opening up the Pig, deactivating the partially inflated pouch and siphoning the beer into bottles with Munton's Carb Tabs, so we'll see how that goes. I think the issues I had with the Party Pig pouch had to do with how it was oriented in the bottle, causing to not activate properly. I think that I then pumped too much air into the bottle trying to get the pouch to activate, which may have contributed to over-carbonating the beer.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sipping an English-style barleywine I brewed last year and I'm not sure how I feel I about it. It hasn't turned out quite like I expected; it almost seems more Belgian-style than English. First of all, the nose has a lot of banana-toffee esters that are mixed in with a pretty heavy caramel-toffee smell. The taste is a bit sweet with some hop spice and a lot of caramel and toffee, while the finish seems dry at first; but with a late tawny port sweetness that fades to corn sweetener. The banana in the aroma is unexpected as is the corn sweetener taste late in the finish. I wouldn't be surprised to notice banana esters in a barleywine if it had fermented and conditioned real warm, but according to my notes (from 11 months ago) the beer fermented at 72 degrees F. and was conditioned for the last nine months or so in a 60-70 degree F. basement. Reviewing my notes I also noticed that I re-pitched a yeast from an English bitter that I brewed. The yeast was Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire, substituted for the NB recommendation of either Safale US-05 or Wyeast 1056.

This was a Northern Brewer Barleywine kit with not a lot of hops which is why I used the English yeast. If I brewed this again I think I would add a touch more bittering hops and some aroma hops, too. Looking at my notes, I reduced the flavor hops addition at 15 minutes to 5 minutes and stuck with the NB recommendation of no aroma hops. If I brewed this kit again I think I would follow the direction on the flavoring hops addition and add additional hops to the kit as aroma hops (probably Goldings or Fuggle.) I think I'd still stick with an English yeast but don't if I'd be able to use the Wyeast 1469 again since it was a limited edition strain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Despite it being a busy time of year for me at work, I've managed to get three batches of beer going. One that seems to be turning out quite good is a sort of Belgian-style Spiced Cherry Stout. Seeing that I didn't account for the fermentability of the tart cherry juice I used, I've gone back and estimated the alcohol content of this brew to be at least 9 percent alcohol. I knew I had a lot more alcohol in this batch than I thought after getting buzzed pretty good after a couple small glasses. That said, the alcohol content is not getting in the way of what I think will be a terrific beer. Even at just a couple months of age, there is a wonderful infusion of chocolate, roasted coffee and tart cherry flavors in this beer. There is also a slight cola flavor and a hint something else; sort of an undefinable complexity. I'm guessing this depth of flavor has to do with not just the Belgian yeast, but the subtle addition of cardamom and black pepper (about a tablespoon each.) This beer continues to sleep and shall do so for awhile; as at it's strength it should improve over the years.

Meanwhile, I've brewed a couple hoppy ales. The first mentioned a few weeks ago, is a Brewer's Best India Pale Ale kit. I tweaked the hopping schedule though, using one ounce of the included Columbus hops at the start of the boil and two ounces of the included Cascades at 15 minutes and an ounce of the rest of Cascades at five minutes left in the boil. I then dry hopped with two ounces of Simcoes that I already had on hand. I've already cracked open a couple of bottles of this brew (brewed 36 days ago now) and it's quite tasty, but has an underwhelming hop nose. I'm guessing the less than expected hop character is due to my Simcoe hops being old -- I think they had been in the freezer for about a year.

Finally, tonight I packaged a three-gallon batch of well-hopped pale ale. This latest batch is just under the BJCP recognized gravity of an IPA (at about 13 plato) but hopped to about 70 IBUs. Wyeast 1098 (British Ale), along with a pound of 60L crystal malt (20 percent of the grain bill) seems to have given some balance to this batch. The finish is still quite bitter though. I know this bitterness will fade over time, so I've added an ounce of hop pellets to the "cask" (Party Pig) for additional hop aroma. Most of this batch fit into the Party Pig with the left over bit filling a 1 liter swingtop bottle...and my glass. I'm a little worried about this batch due to the Party Pig not activating. I seem to recall the pressure pouch activating after priming it with the pump the last couple times I've "pigged" my beer. I'm hopeful that the carbonation created by the addition of priming sugar (dry malt extract) will create enough pressure to activate the pouch and that I'll be enjoying some tasty pale ale in about a month. A Promash summery of this recipe for this batch of pale ale is available here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The cost of Goose Island Christmas Ale appears to have gone up 300 percent from last year and it doesn't appear to be a vastly different beer. I swear I remember picking up a 12-pack of Goose Christmas for $15 last year and this year it's around $7 a 22-ounce bottle. That's an increase of around 10 cents an ounce to 30 cents an ounce! I realize that some of the proceeds are going to charity. I hope most of the proceeds are, because otherwise that kind of money grab is a bit ridiculous. I like big, brown 22-ounce bottles (I use them for my homebrew) but tripling the price of a beer just because it's a smaller batch than last year and packaged in a nice purdy big bottle is not cool. This started with Three Floyds in the last few years with their "special" brews (think Dreadnaught, Moloko, Alpha Klaus, etc.) and now I just drink these beers on draft as it's usually about 10 cents an ounce cheaper than out of the bottle. I guess my grumpiness in regards to the price of some craft beers it just another reason why I brew my own beer. It's often far cheaper to buy ingredients and brew something you like then fork out $85 or more for a case of beer.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Because I'm not going to a Halloween party, this beer geek is going to spend his Saturday night with a couple India Pale Ales. One is Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' which I consider to be and "old school" west coast IPA and the other Lagunitas IPA, what I consider to be "new school."

First up is the Anderson Valley, which pours beautifully with plenty of carbonation that settles to a quarter-inch thick head with lots of Brussels lace. Hop aroma is a little restrained; but a good amount of complex hop flavor is present, with a good dose of peppery, citrusy hops and resiny bitterness in the finish. Very smooth. Caramel malts do well in balancing this IPA, until it warms up and the last sip is quite bitter!

The Lagunitas IPA is much more refined; less rustic I suppose. It appears to have been more tightly filtered. It pours with even more carbonation than the Hop Ottin' which creates some lace (though not as thick), but lacks head retention. The Lagunitas smells different; it's citrus, but particularly orange. Very smooth and dry enhancing quaffability which fits the brewery's motto of "life is short, don't sip!"

I enjoyed both of these beers, but I think I liked the Hop Ottin' a little more. The Lagunitas was easy to quaff, but I enjoyed the complexity of the Anderson Vally IPA a little more.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maybe not the best IPA, but darn good so far

I should probably mention (as I have on Twitter) that I brewed a Brewer's Best kit from LD Carlson about a week ago. I decided to brew an IPA at the last minute on a Sunday and the only homebrew shop that I know of that was open in my area didn't have all the ingredients for the recipe I had created. I really wanted to get a brew going (because I had the time, which seems harder to come by these days) so I went with a Brewer's Best India Pale Ale kit. I've brewed a few of these kits before and I've always been pleased with the quality. I liked that the recipe included Victory malt and Columbus and Cascade hops. I actually used some of the aroma hops (Cascades) earlier in the boil to extract more bitterness.

I racked to the secondary yesterday and it seems that my adjusting the hops may have been a good choice as the hop character was a little more assertive than I expected. I could totally pick up on the toasted character of the Victory malt, too. I modified the recipe further by dry hopping with a little more than two ounces of Simcoe hops, which should hopefully add a little more hop spice up front in this brew. I plan on leaving the beer in the secondary as long as it takes for the hops to settle out. The waiting will be hard.

Who says getting old is no fun?


I wasn't going to have any beer tonight, but I felt like having a night cap and succumbed to a bottle of Bell's Third Coast Old Ale that's been sitting in my basement and was bottled on September 5, 2008.

This Third Coast Ale is hard to describe. It is a very malt-forward beer, but still manages to have a surprisingly assertive hop character for its age (at least towards the finish.) The flavor of massive amounts of caramel malts mingle quite well with the woody, earthy hops and it makes me wonder if Bell's added massive amounts of Kent Goldings to this brew. There's toffee and burnt caramel flavors that get slightly astringent, before a peppery bitter finish that is supported by more malt. As this beer warms up its complexity gets a little easier to pin down; marzipan and apricot flavors emerge with just a hint of tobacco in the aftertaste.

I gave this beer average marks on Beer Advocate last November, but it seems to have aged very well in the last year. There are none of the musty or wet grainy flavors that I mentioned in my previous notes on this beer. These unpleasant qualities are definitely gone. Tasting this beer more than a year old definitely has me convinced that it will be even better in the coming years. Thankfully I have more bottles in the basement, as I will be tempted to have more of these this winter. I must resist the temptation; as I'd love to see what this stuff is like in five years or more. Of course, it also inspires to brew my own Old Ale...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bateman's is back!


Awhile back I learned that Bateman's Ales had returned to our shores. I was quite happy about this as I have some fond memories of drinking Bateman's back in the 1990s. My interest in Bateman's came about after watching the British episode of Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter series produced by the Discovery Channel. Jackson interviewed George Bateman who was a bit emotional while relating the story about saving the brewery. Whilst getting rather choked up, he told Jackson about "old age pensioners" sending him "10-pound notes to help save the brewery." Mr. George (as he was known) was quite a character in this video and piqued my interest in the brewery. I can't remember exactly when I first tried a Bateman's ale, but when I saw them at the store I had to try them. At the time, the XXXB and the Victory Ale were available. I grew to like these beers so much that I bought a mixed case of pints of both of them for something around $15 to $18 back in 1996 (a heck of a deal, even then) for a fall weekend trip to Michigan with a good friend. (We even brought Imperial pint glass with us -- such geeks!) We drank most of the case that weekend and since then I've associated Bateman's with the fall season.

It seems fitting then that today I found Bateman's at Binny's (was Sam's, but that's another story) in Downers Grove. I picked up a bottle of XXXB and Combined Harvest. The XXXB tasted just like I remember: a fairly pronounced toffee flavor combined with a complex fruitiness leading to a dry finish spiked with a bit of mineral-like character. The hop character is a modest (by a American standards) 38 IBUs and is balanced well with the malt. The alcohol content by volume is 4.8 percent. It's not quite as red as in the picture, if fact I didn't think it was really that red at all.

The Combined Harvest is a new multi-grain product. The label calls it a "bronze pale beer brewed with pale and crystal barley malts combined with malted wheat, oats and rye and hopped with Phoenix and Target varities (hops)." The bottle mentions the "superb aroma", but I found the smell of Combined Harvest to be a bit lackluster. Perhaps this has to do with the voyage from England? However, I did enjoy the taste of this beer and I like its graininess and tart fruitiness. I suppose it should be noted that the brewery states that this beer is "vegan friendly." A new marketing angle?

I think both of these Bateman beers are fine examples of English ale. They have plenty of flavor couple with a low alcohol content that allows the drinker to enjoy of few of these pints without any effects the next day. The seem a touch expensive though at $4.79 for a pint bottle. That said, I'm hoping I see a keg or cask show up in the Chicago area soon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cherry stout sleeps

Not much brewing has been going on in the past couple of months as made evident by my lack of updates here. Most of the updates of what and where I've been drinking have been posted to my Twitter account. I guess it's easier to post to Twitter than an "old-fashioned" blog. The speed of life I suppose.

I did manage to brew about a month ago. I bought some concentrated cherry juice and decided to brew a cherry stout. This is something I've done off and on for a few years. I get cherry juice from a farm stand in Northern Michigan every other year or so and I usually add it to stout. Last year I made a Cherry Saison (which I still have in bottles), but this year it's back to the stout.

This stout, fermented with Wyeast 3522, is sitting in the secondary now and ready to be bottled. I intend on working some bottling into my schedule this upcoming Friday. Details on the recipe are as follows:

------------------------------

Brewing Date: Sunday September 06, 2009
Recipe: Cherry Stout

Recipe Specifics
----------------

Batch Size (Gal): 5.00 Wort Size (Gal): 3.00
Anticipated OG: 1.074 Plato: 17.90
Anticipated SRM: 41.0
Anticipated IBU: 30.0
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Actual OG: 1.083 Plato: 20.00


Grain/Extract/Sugar
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.00 lbs. Muntons DME - Amber
1.00 lbs. Briess DME- Weizen
1.00 lbs. Chocolate Malt
0.75 lbs. Turbinado Sugar
0.38 lbs. Roasted Barley


Hops
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
1.00 oz. Spalter Select Pellets 6.20 AA for 60 min.
0.50 oz. Spalter Select Pellets 6.20 AA 5.7 for 30 min.
0.50 oz. Spalter Select Pellets 6.20 AA 1.9 for 5 min.


Extras
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1.00 Oz Irish Moss at 15 Min until the end of the boil
64 Oz Cherry Juice Concentrate (no sugar added)

Yeast
-----

WYeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sour saison and a little Yella Pils

Well, major health scare declared over.

I've been feeling better, but I haven't been as gung ho about writing about beer as in the past. The whole experience has had me thinking differently about beer. I'm more interested in just taking a few notes about a particular beer or just plain enjoying it than trying to imitate some kind of beer "journalist" or writer by updating my blog at least once a week. I've found that writing can sort of take the fun out of having a beer; it can sort of get in way of the experience and make it less natural. That said, here I am in front of the computer screen with an interesting beer and I feel compelled to say something about it or at least record my observations.

I traveled to Wisconsin this past weekend and the trip included and obligatory stop at a Woodman's in Madison. It was there that I found an incredible selection of beer, but since I've been drinking less I picked up a just a few things of interest: a four-pack of New Glarus Imperial Saison, a six-pack of Oskar Blues Little Yella Pils and a four-pack of Konig Pilsner half-liter cans (the Konig really was for Carol, since it's one of her favorite German lagers.)

I popped open a can of the Little Yella Pils last night upon returning home. It was quite tasty and seemed a bit more refined than some other American-made pilsners. It had just right amount of bitterness combined with a smooth malt character and firmness with just the right amount of dryness in the finish -- a very good uncomplicated beer.

Tonight is something altogether different, I'm sipping what spurred me to write. I'm having one of the New Glarus bottles and it is the opposite of the Yella Pils: it is complex and sour. The Imperial Saison is orange colored and has a sour aroma; sort of like rotting peaches with a bit of vanilla and then something not so good. Cat pee. Just a hint of it mind you, but enough to put the beer aside for a bit and sort of let it air out. This beer tastes pretty much like no other saison I've had before; there are bright sour flavors that don't typically make their way into a traditional saison -- but who says American brewers follow tradition? There are some good fruit flavors here, with apricot and apple but the sourness permeates and somehow doesn't add to the experience, but detracts from it. Perhaps it's the cidery character that sneaks up on me after a few sips that's a turn off -- I'm not sure -- maybe I'm just not in the mood for a sour beer. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't get any points for its appearance, as it is hazy and appears flat with no head. I think I'll give the remaining bottles some months or years in the cellar and see what happens. The results could be interesting, but as this point I'm less than excited about this one. Anyone beg to disagree?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Last Call?

I've enjoyed a lot of beer over the last 20 or so years. Too much, in fact, but so far I don't regret it a bit. I'm hoping I don't. That said, I think it is time for a change. In short, I think being a part of the beer culture as I've known it (likely too much of it) has taken a toll on my health. So, I think it's time to stop pretending to be keeping up with the younger, healthier people that are far better at abusing their hearts and livers with beer than I am. Yes, with each day lately it seems that I'm stepping ever closer to ceasing to be the "beer guy" in favor of someday being the old man who can slowly sip that beer with dinner and maybe one for dessert.

So it is indeed possible that the last batch of Marcobrau may have been brewed. I certainly don't see myself as drinking and brewing enough to keep a blog about it going. Maybe my anxiety is getting the best of me, but I think it's time to hang up my beer blogging mug. I'm not sure at this point what I'll do with my website that I've had up since 1998, but I'm certainly not going to worry about it. Going forward, I just don't see myself as being "beery" interesting. This isn't quite how I planned things, but life rarely goes according to plan.

At only 38 years old I'm looking forward to figuring out what's going on with my body, getting healthy and putting more time into some of my other hobbies such as music, cycling and hiking. There's a lot of summer left. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to continue to be active, in one way or another.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A stop at Short's (at last)


I had the good fortune this past week to visit Short's Brewing Co. in Bellaire, Michigan. I've been pining to visit them ever since sampling their beers (Nicie Spicie, Chocolate Wheat and Huma-Lupa-Licious IPA) at the Real Ale Festival in Chicago several years ago. I've had some Short's since then; sampling Nicie Spicie in Holland at Butch's a couple summers ago, but traveling to the source and getting direct access to the dozens of beers Short's produces was so exciting that I think I had anxiety attack.

The sheer breadth and diversity of Short's beers are amazing. Suffice to say we took home a six-pack of Bellaire Brown (possibly one of the best brown ales I've ever had) along with a limited edition bottle of Bloody Beer; a "specialty beer" fermented with Roma tomatoes and spiced with tellicherry peppercorns, celery seed, fresh horseradish and dill. I'm really looking forward to trying it; I imagine something like the marriage of a Bloody Mary and a good all-malt beer. A fellow patron at the bar described as awesome. Some of the other far-out limited edition creations we could choose from included Peaches and Creme (a strong blonde ale brewed with peaches and lactose, Ginger in the Rye (a strong rye ale aged on ginger and The Woodmaster (a strong brown ale fermented with maple syrup and toasted pecans.) Pretty interesting concoctions and based on reviews at Beer Advocate the extreme beers of Short's are gaining notoriety.

This, of course, is not to say that the regular offerings of Short's are not worthy; they are in fact quite good. I still love Nicie Spicie which the brewer describes as a "Northern Michigan spiced wheat ale" made with "a 50 percent mixture of premium two-row malted barley and malted white wheat ... loaded with fresh citrus zest, coriander, and a four pepper blend." The beer ends up in the glass with a citrus (orange) nose, a refreshing wheat middle and a peppery (but not hot) finish. I also appreciated the Pandemonium Pale Ale for having an excellent hoppiness without being as strong as an IPA (less then five percent alcohol), while the Bellaire Brown, which the brewer describes as a "gateway beer" is really an outstanding complex brown ale that any level of beer drinker should appreciate. The toasted, caramel and chocolate flavors of this brown ale blend exceptionally well with the hops and yeast.

The brewpub itself is pretty interesting, too. It's in an old brick building in Northern Michigan and is full of local art work (mostly paintings) and interesting places to sit -- such as the red seats out of a 1970s Cadillac automobile. The brewpub is separated into two sections: there is a bar area and a music room with perhaps the deepest, narrowest stage I've ever seen. The beer is served in pints and samplers (a paddle) of five beers. In our case we ordered two five-beer samplers so we had 10 different beers to sample. Six-packs and limited edition bottles are available for sale and growlers are filled, too. The food is great, as well, especially the spicy Thai Carrot Soup which my wife thought was the best soup ever. (I concur that it was pretty damn good.) Other food including sandwiches and pizza is available along with unique snacks such as Briess Malted Milk Balls -- which I really wish I would have tried and probably would have paired well with the Bellaire Brown Ale.

Short's Brewing Co. is not too far from Traverse City and in the middle of an awesome Chain-of-Lakes district. It's off the beaten path, but well worth the visit.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Yeast smoothie of a saison racked


Racked a saison-style ale that I brewed last Sunday. I received a Williams Brewing catalog and got curious about a new Belgian Pale liquid extract that is 90 percent pilsner malt and 10 percent wheat, which seems ideal for brewing a saison. I kept it really simple because I haven't used this extract before (it's new on the market), so I just added three additions of Spalter pellet hops and a little cracked black pepper at the end of the boil.

The liquid that filled the glass carboy that is my secondary fermenter was like a yeast smoothie, but based on my sample it's tasty one. I poured my hydrometer sample into a tulip glass. The beer smelled a bit peppery and quite earthy-yeasty with a bit of lemongrass even though I didn't add any. It tasted very crisp and cracker-like, especially towards the finish with lots of pepper followed by juicy citrus and phenols accented by a floral, spicy character. The hydrometer reading, by the way, showed about 74 percent attenuation. I'm fairly confident this yeast (Wyeast 3724) will keep working, albeit slowly, for a couple more weeks. And, if by chance I don't get the attenuation I'm looking for, I have another yeast (Safale T-58) that I can pitch. I've used the T-58 before with decent results, but I'd to stick with supposed "Dupont" strain if I can. I've posted a Promash recipe report for this recipe here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Drinkin' (in the) Metro


Finally, a new microbrewery in Chicago that is crafting a portfolio of lagers. I've waited several years for this moment. I'm old enough to remember drinking lagers from two Chicago craft brewers: Chicago Brewing Company and Pavichevich Brewing Company. These two breweries produced two of my favorite lagers back in the early to mid-1990s. Chicago Brewing produced Legacy Lager and Pavichevich made Baderbrau. Legacy Lager was good, but I remember really enjoying Baderbrau. I miss that beer.

Fast forward several years and Doug and Tracy Hurst open Metropolitan Brewing Company at Ravenswood and Winona on Chicago's north side. They're seeking to bring "a little balance to the party" that is the American craft beer movement by brewing German-style lagers. Their portfolio includes two beers so far, Flywheel Bright Lager and Dynamo Copper Lager. I sampled the Flywheel Lager at Lunar Brewing Company a few weeks ago and I had mixed feelings about it, mostly because I wanted it to be Baderbrau, my all-time favorite Chicago lager beer. But this wasn't fair -- I'm pretty sure the creators of Flywheel were thinking of Germany and not the Czech lagers that inspired Ken Pavichevich to brew Baderbrau. I think there is a difference between German and Czech lagers; it might not be as great a difference as English and American-style IPA, but I think there is a difference.

So I started thinking of German lagers when I opened my bottle of Flywheel tonight and I got it. I liked it more the second time around out of the bottle. The Metropolitan beers might be a bit pricey at $10 a six-pack for local lager beer, but they're fresh -- brewed just a few miles away -- which counts for something. The details of my tastings of both Metro beers are on Beer Advocate.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Belgian Pale Ale sleeps, saison is in the mail


Well, the Belgian-style Pale Ale I brewed a few weeks ago is bottled and resting comfortably in 22-ounce bottles and one giant (1-liter) swingtop. Half the batch is in the de facto beer cellar at my friend Ryan's house and the other half is in my kitchen. It's probably about 67 degrees in the basement and 75 in the kitchen. It'll be interesting to see how these bottles compare and which ones I like more. I'm guessing the bottles kept at the warmer temperature will have more esters. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen. I'm letting the beer sit at least another week (which will be about three weeks of conditioning) before I crack one open.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting on some ingredient from William's Brewing. I'm trying out a new Belgian extract that is 90 percent two-row Belgian Pale and 10 percent wheat. I'll be making a saison with this extract along with perhaps a little bit (5 percent or less) of sugar to enhance the dryness. So far I'm not thinking of adding any spices; just the Wyeast 3724 yeast. I've also purchased some Wyeast 3522 that I'd like to try brewing a Grisette (low alcohol saison) with that would be packaged in a Party Pig or two and maybe some bottles. I've been reading about Grisette, a version of saison, in the book Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Phil Markowski. It's a really great book if your'e intrested in brewing saisons or even if you're a fan. Pictured is my "Saison Morency" from last year.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Coffee Stout to warm the beer lover's heart


We took trip to Wisconsin recently, as we do from time to time, and on our way to our destination we stopped (of course) at the New Glarus Brewing Company. It's requisite stop if we're in that part of the state, as we enjoy quite a few of the brewery's
beers but can't buy them in our home state. (New Glarus beers aren't distributed outside of Wisconsin and many people complain about this, but I think it makes going to Wisconsin just a little more special.)

Anyhow, we picked up a mixed case or so of the New Glarus beer. Among our picks was the new version of Coffee Stout, which I'm trying for the first time this evening. I really liked the old version and have high hopes for this one -- that actually has coffee in it!

First off, as you can see in the pic, this stout is damn dark. It's a good lookin' stout with a compact off-white, persistent head. There's a whiff of burnt chocolate at first, but then it's pretty much roasted coffee -- quality roasted coffee. The first sip is much thicker than I remember compared to the old version. The taste is predominantly chocolate (more milk chocolate than dark, which is a bit surprising) followed by dry roasted grains and dry cocoa finish. It's pretty full bodied, thick and smooth throughout. The finish is pretty full, but by no means too sweet or cloying; there's the right amount of bitterness coming from hops and roasted grains. The roasted coffee flavors tend to flourish a little more as the beer warms up to room temperature and the chocolate flavors dominate much less. There was a lot more chocolate flavor here than I thought at first, with the coffee mostly in the nose. I was hoping for a little more coffee flavor, but as it warmed up I liked it more and will happily finish the rest of the six-pack served close to room temperature; just not tonight.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bubbly Bitter and Belgian Ale

The bitter I brewed a couple months ago is definitely over-carbonated. Both the bottles and the Party Pig are excessively foaming. I haven't noticed any off-flavors in the beer, so I'm thinking I must've just goofed and added too much priming sugar and/or the beer wasn't done fermenting. It's disappointed, but at least the beer is drinkable. It just requires some patience.

Yesterday I brewed up a sort of Belgian Pale Ale using mostly Northwestern Gold LME, some crystal malts (20L and 80L) along with some Spalter and Czech Saaz hops. I pitched Wyeast 3787 Trappist yeast at about 73 degrees. The kitchen is always warm, so I decided to surrender and brew a yeast that is more tolerant to warmer temperatures. I'm not sure why I even try to brew English style bitters in my kitchen; they always turn out really fruity with a ton of esters. Nothing off-putting, just lots of fruitiness. Certain Belgian yeasts, like the Wyeast 3787, seem to be able to tolerate the heat better. I've had pretty good look with dry yeasts, too, especially SafAle S-04 and S-05 which seems to ferment fairly clean up into the mid-70s. So maybe dry and Belgian yeasts are what I should use instead of trying to brew the perfect bitter in a warm kitchen?

The Wyeast 3787 seems to be starting kind of slow, but I'm not worried about it. I've got pressure in the fermenter (the cone of the airlock is pushed all the way up), I just don't have bubbling going on yet...except in my over-carbonated bitter!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Finally going for the gusto


Several years ago I started a fascination with American brewing history and some of the great American brewers of the past. I started collecting glassware and other memorabilia of many of these old brands of beer such as Ballantine, Falstaff, Pabst and Schlitz. Some of these beer brands survive, but most of these names have been consolidated under one corporate entity. Pabst Blue Ribbon is probably the most popular "retro" American beer brand and the modern day Pabst Brewing Company owns several other old brands such as Blatz, National Bohemian, Olympia, Old Style, Pearl and Schlitz among others. Schlitz is probably the next bigger sellers among the old brands in the Pabst portfolio. This brand has an interesting history, at one time during the 1970s Schlitz was the second most popular beer in the country. It's reputation was built over many decades starting in the late 1800s building upon a system of tied-houses to promote and sell it's product. Some of these tied houses still exist. One of these structures (that I've been to) is now Schuba's Tavern at Belmont in Southport in Chicago. Unfortunately, the market share for Schlitz started to collapse in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the company tinkered with the recipe. Some of these changes resulted the beer actually turning to glop -- an ingredient added to increase head retention and foaming apparently caused the beer to start to solidify. Other ingredient changes were known to cause headaches in some people. A strike in the early 1980s didn't help the company either. Remarkably, this beer brand has survived since then, brewed in smaller amounts by a couple different owners until recently being reformulated back to a 1960s "original" formula.

Despite my interest in old beer brands I don't really find them that appealing to drink -- especially Schlitz -- which is why when Pabst announced a recipe change back to an old formula I was curious, thinking that maybe I'd like the new "old" Schlitz. I'm drinking a bottle tonight, of course poured in 1960s era pilsner sham, and it's not bad. That said, it's looks may be its best asset. The beer poured with plenty of carbonation forming a pretty white head that left lace on the sides of the glass as it slowly fell. Schlitz smells of grain and maybe a wisp (or I guess a "kiss" as the advertising used to say) of hops. The color of the beer is crystal clear and pale yellow. It tastes a bit grainy but gone is the corn and vegetal flavors. It's not quite as slick or smooth (or quite as sweet) as Pabst Blue Ribbon. I don't necessarily miss the sweetness, but I do miss the smoothness compared to Pabst. In fact, it may be a bit too grainy tasting for me, but I could see maybe trying it again in hot weather or when I'm feeling nostalgic and want just a little six-row barley malt and a kiss of the hops.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The story of a gassy pig

Crap. I brewed another bitter last month and split the batch between several 22-ounce bottles and a party pig and it seems the pig is massively over-carbonated. Pure foam. I tapped it for the first time tonight and easily and quickly filled a liter-sized mug with 100 percent foam. I'm not sure what happened except that maybe because I batch primed that the priming sugar didn't evenly mix and the yeast in the pig beer had too much sugar to eat. The beer is also very cloudy which is unusual for a pig beer (the pressure usually seems to force the yeast out of suspension.) The beer smells fine; very neutral actually, and it tastes rather fruity with a sneaky bitterness that isn't too strong at first then sort of builds with each sip. I don't think it's infected, probably just overcarbonated (I mixed a half-cup of priming sugar to carbonate the whole batch.) I'm thinking that the next batch that I split between pigs in bottles I should probably cut back the sugar a little bit to maybe a third cup and see what happens or maybe I'll just get the parts I need so I can put a whole batch in party pigs.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Supporting the local brewery


The other day I decided to support my local brewery. I picked up a mixed six-pack of two different beers from Two Brothers Brewing Company in Warrenville, Ill. They're both ales that I've had before and wanted to revisit after being less than impressed the first couple times around. I'm pleased to report that I enjoyed both beers, Prairie Path Ale and Bitter End Pale Ale quite a bit.

Both ales are great examples of a session beer, at just more than 5 percent alcohol by volume, you can enjoy three or four of these beers and not feel any effects the next day. Prairie Path Ale is the lighter of the two, both in color and in body. The golden ale (as described on the label) pours with a good initial flourish of carbonation forming a brief head that quickly falls; not the prettiest beer, but that's okay. It smells good (spicy, grassy hops and fresh toasted malt) and tastes great. It's a very crisp ale, with a good slightly toasted malt flavor accentuated by just enough spicy Saaz and Kent Goldings hops. The bitterness is just right and the finish dry enough to enhance drinkability. This not a terribly complex beer, but a very easy drinking, tasty beer. I really like the fresh, crisp malt flavor and slightly bitter (28 IBUs), dry-ish finish.

The Bitter End Pale Ale is differentiated by its copper hue and more sustained foaminess that generates lace down the sides of the glass with each sip. This ale has a light aroma of more citrusy hops than spicy. The Bitter End has more body than the Prairie Path, too. Again, this beer is very fresh, which shows in its leafy, citrus hoppiness. Some will complain that it's actually not that bitter and that the hop flavor is muted, but I don't this beer is trying to be an IPA. I would almost consider to be more an English Pale Ale; the fairly full body is keeping me from downing this one as quickly as Prairie Path Ale, but the Bitter End has only a tenth of a percent more alcohol by volume. There is clearly some use of caramel malts in Bitter End and the help round out the flavor with the hop bitterness of 32 IBUs just assertive enough to coat the tongue a little more with each sip. Beer geeks and brewers: both these brews hover around a original gravity of 12-13 Plato.

I think I'm lucky to have found these beer very fresh and in excellent condition for $8.49 a six-pack at my local Trader Joe's. Both ales have a best before date of June 10, 2009 which confirms their freshness. That said, I would definitely recommend consuming these beers as fresh as possible. Since the alcohol content in both isn't that high, I'm not sure how well they will age and I'm frankly a bit curious as to how they will taste in a few months, as it's the fresh character of both of these ales that's really got me interested.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wipeout!


Enjoyed a Port Brewing Wipeout IPA this evening.

I've been meaning to get to this beer for awhile now. I remember being captivated by it the now defunct Real Ale Fest in Chicago several years ago. Lots of fruity hops in this orange-ish ale. Bits of grapefruit, mango, bitter orange in the aroma of this beer. You can taste of these hoppy qualities, too. The bitterness is potent, and balanced with just enough pale malts and no doubt some dextrin malt to keep the hops from making this beer unbearably bitter. No caramel malt or other malt flavors are noticeable. I've read about some carbonation problems with the beer, but I thought the carb was perfect. The beer poured with plenty of carbonation and a fairly persistent head. Overall, a very delicious IPA that I would definitely revisit and recommend.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One beer racked and another brewed

Phew...I'm tired. I got right to brewing after work today. My target is another simple English Bitter, hopefully improving slightly on the last, using the Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire. This was a simple recipe: one can of Munton's Light, two pounds of Munton's Dry Malt Extract, 1 ounce of Amarillo hops for 60 minutes, a half-ounce for 30 minutes and a three-quarters of an ounce mix of Fuggle and Styrians steeped at the end of the boil. All the hops were pellets. Added Irish Moss for clarity at 15 minutes to the end of the boil. I experienced a minor boil over, but the bigger problem was when my wort chiller came apart. Fortunately, I was able to make repairs to the chiller. Cleaning up all the water on the floor wasn't too much fun, but at least none of the chiller water got into the wort.

I've also forgotten to report that I brewed the Northern Brewer Barleywine back two weeks ago. I racked this batch into the secondary tonight so I could use the primary for the bitter. I didn't reuse the yeast because I figured I already used it once, it was tainted with a lot of hops. I pitched fresh Wyeast 1469 for the bitter. The barleywine tasted deliciously strong with a fair amount bit of a banana aroma -- some interesting esters for sure. I figure I'll let the barleywine sit in the secondary for at least a couple weeks before bottling.

Changes to the bitter (compared to the last batch) included substituting Munton's light DME for the sugar and changing up the hop schedule; using some American hops for bittering instead of all English.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Old Kitty Kat


It's amazing to me how homebrew gets tucked away and sort of forgotten. This is the case with a beer I brewed back in August 2006 that I initially referred to as the Kitty Kat beer. My inspiration for the batch was Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, but the recipe evolved into something a bit different, with a much more spiced (and different) flavor than the JP brew. This beer was brewed fairly strong at an estimated 7 to 8 percent alcohol. I used an odd combination of spices for the batch; cardamom, fenugreek and black pepper. The full recipe is available here as a Promash summary.

Anyhow, I remember this beer having a really strong maple-like flavor from the fenugreek. Granted, I expected a maple-like flavor from this spice, but I seemed to miss the mark and added too much. It was almost undrinkable. It mellowed about a year after bottling to the point where this flavor wasn't as strong. Now, about two and a half years later, this beer has finally become more balanced and complex.

The fenugreek is still present in the nose mixed with a bit of booziness/alcohol and a dusty cola-like aroma of cardamom. The fenugreek is still the dominant flavor up front, along with caramel, but then caramel malt flavors fade into a tamarind-like fruity-tartness, then back to sweet caramel flavor that evaporates into a dry finish with a latent hint of pancake syrup on the back of the tongue. Pretty weird, I know, but it's good in small doses and it works quite well with Indian food as fenugreek is a common spice used in that cuisine.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Anchor Our Special Ale


Anchor Our Special Ale is another one of my favorite Christmas/Holiday beers, but I never know what to make out of it. I suppose that's the idea.

Anchor Our Special Ale pours rather dark, almost opaque (just some ruby highlights here and there), but what kind of dark beer is it. Is it a porter? It can certainly be considered a spiced ale. The addition of spices, many different kinds which supposedly change every year) are what makes this beer so special. So is it a spiced porter perhaps? Let's examine the possibilities...

First off, this ale has a very pleasant aroma (it always does). Spruce comes to mind, along with cocoa and there's maybe a hint leather. A very interesting combination, for sure. Aside from the aroma, my first impression of this year's batch of Our Special Ale is that it's not the brewery's best vintage. The mouthfeel is decent, but body the seems a bit light. Also, the flavors aren't as bright as I'd like them to be: black tea-like flavors mixed with raisins, followed by a tamarind-like tartness. This tart character is probably the most interesting aspect of this ale, aside from the aroma. The tamarind flavor sort of builds in intensity with each sip, as this year's batch of Our Special Ale starts to grow on me.

So is this beer a spiced porter? Maybe, but it would be dryish one. I would still stay it defies categorization. It is definitely an interesting ale, but I would suggest that newcomers try a single bottle or draft before committing to a six-pack.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Yorkshire Bitter update

Last night I cracked open a "tester" bottle (half-liter swingtop) of my last batch of homebrew and I'm pretty pleased with how it carbonated in the last week or so. I'm a bit concerned with the level of bitterness; it's fantastic right now, but I'm wondering if it might fade with time. I guess this shouldn't really be a concern as this 20-pint batch will go rather quickly. The Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale yeast that I used seems to have worked out; it seems to have contributed some fruity esters while keeping the balance relatively full. I think the blend of toasted and crystal malts in this batch worked well, too, but I'm reserving final judgment until I tap the Party Pig of this beer. Here's the recipe, if anyone is interested. Naysayers will say that it can't be any good because I've used dry malt extract, but I think DME and specialty grains can make pretty tasty beer.