Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Very Good Beer

This beer had been calling to me recently. I decided to oblige it. What was it like? It was like drinking 4 beers, in almost every way. I did not count this extra in my mental tally despite it being in a larger, 500 ml bottle of 8% abv beer.

"Stingo". I love the name. It sounds cheery yet dangerous. Probably should have heeded that impression of it. According to google, Stingo is either an old beer or a strong one. Or both, apparently. Doesn't seem to be a distinct style, but apparently it was special enough to sing a song about. I don't know what the history of Stingo is and I don't reckon it really matters either. According to the label this beer is aged in barrels at the brewery. This one was brewed in 2008. I tasted nothing oak-like at least by American standards. There may have been some slight vanilla under some of the other flavors, but I suspect that this beer is barrel-aged only in part as that's the more economical way to do it. That being said, I don't mind missing any oak flavors. This was an excellent beer in its own right, and almost worth the price tag given that you could literally spend an entire night drinking this beer. It really was excellent. as you can see, there was quite a bit of carbonation and a very full head, initially, perhaps because of the age. After letting the foam settle into a nice, tight, pillowy head, I had a sip. Being cold and very carbonated it seemed almost champagne-like. The flavor, though, was not dry and acidic like the initial impression might have indicated. Under that carbonation was levels of soft, malty, orangey, peach-like flavors. I almost braced myself expecting a big, punch of hops and bitterness at the end, but it never came. The malt and alcohol just continued to unfurl in what seemed like a fractal beer tasting. It really was excellent. As the carbonation faded and the temperature warmed up, the layers of alcohol, esters, and faint whiskey-like notes revealed themselves along with toffee apricot and loads of other flavors. This was an absolutely think, full and bordering on sweet beer. A definite sipper, and a good one. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Notch Session Beer

I stumbled upon this brewery's website somehow. I haven't ever talked to them or tried their beer but I felt compelled to mention it. Everything about it looks fucking outstanding. I mean, session beer for the sake of session beer? It's unheard of. The image, the beer selection, everything is exactly as I would have done it if I had a million dollars that I wanted to sink into something as fraught with peril as opening a brewery. I mean, god bless them, but who on Earth would do such a thing? You're going to be competing with massive international conglomerates that make one of the most heavily regulated products in the US. It's like saying, "Hey I know, I'm gonna make some of this Tylenol stuff at home, get it through the FDA, and then sell in direct competition to Tylenol which everyone already knows and has shelf space in every grocer/pharmacy/gas station in the country". Again, god bless anyone who picks up the sword to fight that battle. I'd love to join in, but as mentioned, I have no money, let alone enough to even have half a chance in that industry. Cheers to you, Notch Session Beer. I'll probably never try one of your beers, but I'm sure I'd enjoy it if I did. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beervana DMS award 2010

Beervana recently began what I hope will be the annual DMS awards. It's sort of an answer to the beer blogging world's tendency to sound like fawning fans (which most of us are). Instead of the best beer of the year round up, it's the worst beer-related happenings of the year. So here are my nominations for the Dismal Malty Substances for 2010:

Worst Beer:  This was a local one. I hate to say it, but they're not really doing poorly with press and hype right now, anyways: Surly oak aged bender on cask. This tasted and looked like iced tea that was aged in a douche bag. It was way over-oaked, possibly infected, and not treated in the cask properly at all. It was served completely flat, but still not even up to the top of the pint. Terrible.

Worst Innovation: Sorry, Beervana, I'm nominating Cascadian Dark Ale on this one. I'm going to be pedantic here, but "Cascadian dark ale" is a little too self congratulatory for me. It's also completely non-descriptive, in that Cascadia is not a region that exists outside of Narnia, and "dark" is such a broad term that it does nothing for someone who's not already familiar with the style. So as a new style name it doesn't even work as well as "Black IPA".

Worst Macro-Related Product: Bud Select 55. I even feel dirty just writing the words. Belgian In-Bev figured out that as you remove the beer from the bottle, the calories get lesser, too. So does the alcohol. This clocks in at 2.4% abv which is actually below the 3.2% maximum that even the most prohibitionist states dictate. Amazing. You almost wonder how much flavor and alcohol they can strip from something before you can't call it "beer" any more. The real shocking thing about this is that they market it as a premium product and it actually costs more than some of the off-brand labels like Schlitz or Pabst. Unsurprising, but shameful nonetheless.

I'm sure there were more. Many will undoubtedly come to mind after I write this. If anyone reading this happens to have some in mind, blog it or leave them via comment at Beervana.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"B-Side Beer Festival: Porters and Stouts" at The Muddy Pig Going on Now

I recently headed off to my local (as the kids call it) for one of their mini beer festivals. Basically, they get a bunch of kegs of one particular style or type of beer and let patrons have at them. You can get several pints, or you can order flights of three small samples (for that beer festival feel) for a little bit more than the cost of a pint. Awesome idea. I love it. Sample lots of beers, try something new, and do it in a comfortable, mellow environment without all the super-fans and voting that usually bring down the mood in a regular beer festival. The menu looked something like this (only less blurry):

Being that it was a school night, I kept it to one flight and a pint afterwards. The real reason for meeting on a weeknight was to have a few drinks with a good friend of mine I hadn't seen in almost a year. Standard chat ensued. I got married, he's about to move, both at the same jobs, and so on.
So now for the beer.

I got a Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Bell's Expedition Stout, and Left Hand Milk Stout (pictured left to right, in that order). In retrospect, I should have been more adventurous with my picks, but it's hard to pass up Milk Stout and just about impossible not to order Expedition Stout when it's available. Those are two fabulous beers. I wouldn't do any justice to describe the samples of those two aside from saying that if you have access to either of those beers: you owe it to yourself to give them a try. The Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter was a delightful surprise. The words "pumpkin" and "imperial" are frequently words that steer me away from a beer, but this was a very balanced and restrained beer. Mostly, it just seemed like a great porter. Very full body and flavor; tons of roast and coffee notes. Tasted black without any of the astringency or tartness you can get in stouts. It also had quite a bit of bitterness for the alleged 40 IBU's. I think I'll go pick up a six pack of it and do a stand-alone beer review of it, but suffice it to say that it's a delicious porter with minimal pumpkin or spice qualities. Pumpkin, of course, does not actually lend any real flavor to beer since the starches in it are converted to sugar and then alcohol, and although Summit used a lot of different spices in the beer, they were only barely noticeable. I thought I even noticed an Earl-Gray-tea-like quality hidden in the finish, which I attributed to those spices.

If you're in the area, a stop by The Muddy Pig may be a good idea. I think normally by now the beers for these festivals are gone, but they were closed for some of this weekend due to the blizzard that hit on Friday* and probably still have most.

*Some video of the result of that blizzard

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Extract Brewing, Impromptu Open-Fermentation

It's time to get back on the brewing horse. This is actually the first time I've really brewed for myself since my wedding. As such, and out of laziness, I decided to do something I haven't done for a while: brew with malt extract, and brew an IPA. I don't really care for IPA's for the most part. There are just so many of them, and most seem to fail to strike that perfect balance of flavors. However, when the weather gets cold and the nights come early, I find myself craving something intensely bitter. So here I am, a couple months late. It will do, though.

6 pounds Gold LME
1.5 pound Gold DME
.75 pound Belgian Carapils
.5 pound Caravienne
1.25 Light Munich

1 oz Simcoe @ 60
1 oz amarillo @ 5
1 oz Cascade @ 3
1 oz Zeus @ 0
1 oz Centennial @ 0
1 oz amarillo dry hop
1 oz zeus dry hop

Safale US-05
IBU 50

As usual, in an effort to make things easier, the short brew day was full of ridiculous mistakes. Half way though, the batteries in my scale decided to die (or the scale is dead, I'm not sure on that just yet), dropped my thermometer in a kettle full of boiling wort, and discovered that I had no lid for my fermenting bucket. I've been brewing for close to 5 years. Good grief.
I also realized after planning my recipe that the bittering hops I was using were 3 years old, while all the others were at least a full year old. My impromptu solution to the lack of bucket lid was to do a traditional open fermentation. Fermenting this way is supposed to really enhance the yeast esters and get a bit more of that British character that the US-05 yeast originally had. I suspect this will now be much more of a British-y pale ale than the bitter American IPA I was hoping for. I think that's just fine with me.

Hm, how do I take pictures like this, again?

Ah that's it: with the flash. Some pretty amazing hot break is apparent here. I have yet to see anything like that in a wort made from all grain brewing.

I let the wort drain from the steeping malts with a colander while I begin the boil
Oldies but goodies

Remember hop plugs? Me neither. This is the one of 2 packs I've ever owned. I'd like to use them more, though.

1.060 on the nose. Darker color than expected. Hopefully it will lighten some.

Impromptu open-ish fermenter
I have attempted to document fermenation below as a comparison for future open-fermentations. There seems to be a balance to be struck in that you want to expose the yeast to some air during the peak of fermentation, but rack it into a sealed vessel before the beer starts to oxidize. I also attempted to transfer after about 75% of expected fermentation was complete. This is supposed to allow the yeast to complete fermentation in the secondary. During this final step they will ferment the beer to full attenuation and will take up any oxygen that is sort of left over in the beer/introduced during the transferring. Hopefully I timed things correctly.
The guts. That's some half-dissolved dry yeast on the top there.
Day 2. Foam starting to form

Day 3. Braun krausen and fermentation in full effect.

Day 4. Krausen continues

Day 5. You can see the krausen just starting to subside. This is when I chose to rack into secondary
Day 6. Beer in secondary. Gravity was 1.017 (a little further attenuated than planned) but you can see that a foam started to reappear after several hours. This is a sign that there were still enough yeast left to continue/complete fermentation.
I plan to naturally carbonate this beer in the keg, vent the CO2, and then fine and dry hop as you would a cask. I'm curious to see if the secondary fermentation adds any character to the beer.

Open fermenting was very interesting. You really have to have some confidence in your ability to keep equipment clean and sanitized, but there is also a feeling of recklessness: it's just so foreign to have a fermenting beer exposed, you have no airlock to rely on as a guide for fermentation progress. Meanwhile, monitoring the progress of the beer is even more important with this method of fermentation since racking needs to be done in a timely manner. No safety net in the event you get lazy about transferring. All in all it was an interesting experience. I plan to conduct many more open fermentations and I'd like to get a pipeline of beers so I can top-crop and reuse fresh yeast from one fermenter to another. If the samples of this beer that I tried are indicative of what the finished beer will taste like, there will be many more open-fermentations to come. Even right from the fermenter, the samples were clean, estery, fruity and very well rounded. I honestly could have had an entire pint right from the fermenter.  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Television Review: Brewmasters

"FINALLY! A TV review. Something I actually care about instead of reading about this guy drinking beer."

Kind of a rude start there. Anyways, I saw the Dogfish Head infomercial Brewmasters on the Discovery channel the other night. It's a show that follows the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, Sam Calagione, reality TV style. It's sort of in the vein of American Chopper in that it centers around the production aspect more than the personal-life aspect of the people. I'll preface the rest of this by saying that I do not think that Dogfish Head's beers are very good for the most part. I think they're mostly obnoxious exercises in beer-marketing that just happen to be sold as beer (as opposed to key chains or T-shirts). I also find Sam Calagione, in the same spirit, to be a bit obnoxious and much too self-congratulatory.

All that being said, Brewmasters was better than I expected. Mostly enjoyable. Except for the annoying parts. The main character continues to come off as pretty proud of himself, but it's at least worthwhile to see the process of making beer. I'm probably just about the only person in America who's most interested in the parts-in-passing about brewery operations and production scheduling, but for me, that was what made the show. They don't get as technical as I might like, but they do show more of the actual brewing process than I expected, including many of the specific malts and ingredients that they use, which is nice as well. Brewmasters does struggle with the issue that any show like this has which is that the technical aspects are boring to those who don't care about them, and too rudimentary for those who do. Unlike most of these types of shows, though, they actually can't into the actual making of beer. It would be virtually impossible to follow the beginning-to-end story of a beer. In a show like American Choppers the specific project serves as the basis of a story arc. In other similar shows in may be the basis for the story of a single episode. Without that crucial aspect, I think this show will be much less engaging to people who don't know something about making beer. 

The show tends to focus, like Dogfish Head, on the seemingly unique quality of their beers. As mentioned, there is some information about the process, but it focuses mostly on making test batches of beer and goofing off a la American Chopper. Personally, all the goof-off crap just makes me think what an annoying place it must be to work where the owner of a company that's struggling with growth is not only completely removed from the day to day, but wastes time while allegedly even an hour of lost time in the bottling plant can have ramifications for months afterwards. The uniqueness of their beers is questionable too, as most of them are "unique" because some sort of food ingredient is used. This is ultimately just a gimmicky way to make beer, and even worse, when it's done in the way Dogfish Head does it, people get the impression that craft beer is just freak-show beer instead of being good beer  (another way in which I think they are doing a disservice to craft beer).

This brings me to the last point, which is about the way the company is portrayed. They make efforts to appear like a google-esque, fun, encouraging place to work, but they casually mention that they're also constantly expanding and running shifts 24 hours a day (to the point that they can't lose even an hour of production time in the bottling plant). This is completely contrary to the spirit of craft beer, as far as I'm concerned. As a company, their focus seems to be on expanding as quickly as possible, without allowing things to happen naturally. You can only assume that the cost of this expansion necessitates that they run the system on full throttle all the time and sell as much beer as humanly possible. None of this makes me think that the craft of brewing or the quality of the product could possibly be a primary focus. As of now, they do make some good beers, but based on what I've seen, that fact seems more coincidental than intentional. Some people I had talked to about this show seem to be taking the position that the show is a good thing as long as it exposes a new audience to craft beer, but I don't really think that will happen any more than Family Ties* turned young men into young republicans. Brewmasters is mildly interesting to me, but because I'm already interested in beer. To anyone else, I think it's just another ego-driven PR project by Dogfish Head. They'll continue to do what they do to craft beer whether it's good or bad. Hopefully everyone else [without the DFH marketing machine behind them] will have that chance as well.

*This is not to imply that Sam Calagione holds a candle to Alex P. Keaten. He IS NO APK!!!1