Saturday, December 01, 2012

Brewsgiving: Part 2

   There are news links at the bottom of this post!

   A week passed without any beersplosions in the house, which is good news for everyone.  The airlock had slowed to about 1 bubble every 20 seconds which was my queue to rerack to a secondary fermenter and add the chocolate and vanilla.  A number of sources suggested using vodka as a disinfectant in case there are any nasty yeast or bacteria strains lingering on your vanilla.
   I'm not much one for vodka though, so i thought i'd mix it up a bit and use white rum instead.  Here's where i didn't really think my process through enough.  Two ounces of chocolate turns out to be about 4 tablespoons, and mixing that much cocoa powder into rum requires almost half a cup of rum.  Even so, it was a chocolatey goop by the time i put the split vanilla bean in.  It did smell delicious, though.
   I discovered when i got ready to set up this whole process that i'd accidentally forgotten to clean my tubing after the last time i bottled.  There was no way i was going to be able to clean the inside of 7/16" tubing ten feet long, so i went out to buy another length.  You've got to be careful when you're using new tubing though.  That new-plastic smell is chlorine off-gassing from the PVC tubing, which is not something you want in your food.  Washing in hot water doesn't help either, as the heat can release even more chemicals.  I spent probably ten minutes washing this tube in lukewarm water and running cool water through the inside of the tube.  I'm sure i won't forget to clean these tubes out sufficiently next time.

   Siphons are crazy.
   Successful fermenter transfer in a single try!  The forums suggest tasting the brew every other day to make sure the vanilla flavor doesn't overpower the brew, but since i only added a single bean and because i'm worried about contamination, i plan to taste it a bit less frequently than that.
   After a bit of sticker-shock when i purchased my last container of yeast, i've decided to save this strain for reuse in my next beer.  I haven't tried this in the past, but i intend to follow the advice of my brew books and only use yeast strains for one additional, higher gravity beer to prevent off-flavors and strain mutation.

   In news from elsewhere in the alcoholic beverages industry, here's what's going on with whiskey!  There's also some quite interesting commentary on the difference between whiskey, vodka, and neutral spirits.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Brews

   Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Drinking Buddies Matt, Ryan and Trevor (yours truly) pooled their collective brewing talent to create a beer the likes of which...are probably fairly common for homebrewers.  The recipe is of my own concoction, a smorgasbord of recipes and brew notes from my personal favorite brew book How to Brew and the book Radical Brewing.  Both are pretty great reads; beer writers don't take themselves too seriously.

   The target style was somewhere between an Irish Stout and an Oatmeal Stout.  My typical brews are seriously big beers with OG of 1.080 and higher.  This time i decided to tone down the alcohol, hops and crystal malts in favor of a dry, roasty complexion.  I also wanted to experiment with some of the more common added flavorings.  This is no Voodoo Doughnut, don't worry.

  I haven't decided what to call this one yet.  I keep forgetting which brews are which though, so i may take the time to print out some labels for this beer.  Suggestions for names are welcome, though i'll probably wait until i try the first bottle.  This was a 5 gallon boil (starting) with an added 1 gallon in the carboy.  After the hour boil and straining out the hop pellets, it's still 5 gallons in fermentation.

Thanksgiving Stout (partial extract)

Steeped for 30 minutes at 155F

1/2 pound oats  (5%)
1/2 pound roasted barley  (4%)
1/4 pound chocolate malt  (1.5%)

In the boil

3 pounds pilsen light DME  (44%)

First hop addition

1 oz UK Golding (60 minutes total boil), 5.2% AA

Second hop addition

1 oz Fuggles (30 minutes total boil), 4.0% AA

At knockout

3 pounds golden amber DME  (44%)


Edinburgh Ale Yeast (recommended for malty and medium-high abv beers).  I prefer a liquid yeast as i've had much more consistent yeast activity this way.  Blow-off hoses and gummy airlocks should be rare!

In the primary fermenter

16 oz cold-brewed coffee (Costa Rican light roast)

In the secondary fermenter (next week)

2 oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1 vanilla bean, split

   A few things about this brew deserve notice.  For example, UK Golding hops are mellow enough to be used as finishing hops, but i've decided to use them as bittering hops.  In total, this beer has a calculated IBU around 32 (take that with a grain of salt, as Matt pointed out in a previous post) which is far below my usual range of 50-70.  I have a bad tendency to overhop, which is fine for IPAs and big, malty stouts, but not so much for the nut brown i made last year.
   I've spiced and/or oaked beer in the past, but this was my first foray into using coffee, chocolate and vanilla.  My brew-books suggested that 4-6 ounces of coffee was enough to season a 5 gallon batch, but the Sam Adams Black & Brew claims 1.5 pounds per barrel, which with some really fuzzy math figures out to about 5% coffee.  My 16 ounces of coffee runs at about 2.5%, so that seems fairly reasonable for a mild coffee character.

No explosions forthcoming!
   There seem to be quite a few schools of though on using chocolate and vanilla, so i used the one i thought sounded most reasonable, and i'll let you know how it works.  Using chocolate in bar form was discouraged because of the all the fats that get released into the wort (you have to put bar chocolate into the hot wort to melt it).  Also it sounds like most of the flavor is lost with this process.  I'm not trying to make hot chocolate anyway, so just a touch of powdered cocoa seemed best.  I wasn't originally going to rack this batch to a secondary fermenter, but the conventional wisdom is that the cocoa needs the extra time to mellow.  Finally, i'm adding a vanilla bean to accentuate the roasty flavors of the cocoa, malts and coffee.  I'm adding the bean directly to the secondary -- there should be enough alcohol at this point to pull the flavor from the bean without drenching it in vodka first.  Somehow making extract first doesn't seem authentic enough for me.
   That's it for this brew for now!  If anyone happens to know where i can get a retired bourbon cask, though, let me know.  I'd love to use that for a future brew.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beer isn't foamy enough?

Here's some interesting food science for you. NPR posted an article on my facebook news feed titled Raise A Toast To Building Better Beer Bubbles Through Chemistry. (It's actually a post on NPR's food blog The Salt.) Scientists in Spain have identified a gene in yeast that is involved in foam retention, and are interested in harnessing this discovery to generate a longer-lasting head. I'm on board with yeast research, but I'm deeply skeptical that what we need or even want is foamier beer. The reporting was actually done by Science Friday (a great program). And the actual journal article reporting the research and findings is in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Abstract Image
Left: the CFG1 nucleotide sequence (in case you want to clone it yourself?)
Middle: there it is, 3500bp long.
Right: what happens if the yeast lack this
 gene (left) compared to normal (right)
Lucia Blasco, et al. "Cloning and Characterization of the Beer Foaming Gene CFG1 from Saccharomyces pastorianus" J. Agric. Food Chem.201260 (43), pp 10796–10807
I mention all this because like any visit to Wikipedia, one click led to another and before I knew it, I had been once again swept up in the beeriverse, a vast expanse of beer knowledge that is apparently expanding by the day, much like an exploding supernova fermentation tank. The science seems sound enough. Unlike the NPR blog, the authors mentioned that this newly discovered gene is only one of several properties that account for foam. However, the introduction starts by announcing that "Foam quality is an important organoleptic property of beer that directly correlates to consumer appeal." I don't know what organoleptic means, but it seems like a haughty claim. But their claim is not unsupported: it cites a book titled Beer: A Quality Perspective, whose first chapter is called "Achieving a suitable head." This reference seems sketchy, but I didn't actually read any of it (it has earned only one of five stars on Google, although only two show up and one is an advertisement. So although the science may be good, my argument is with the premise: that we should aspire to foamier beer. I have always thought a good beer head was one that was thin and did not get in the way. It is visually pleasing, but I'm not sure about the claims I've heard that it helps the beer's aroma. To be fair, there are several ways this research could be applied, and not all of them are sinister. The more innocuous option would be to selectively use this strain of yeast, pastorianus, instead of the other main brewing yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. An extension of that would be to selectively propagate the pastorianus that gives the most foam, much the way dogs are selected for their temperament. Then there's the GMO (genetically modified organism) option, which would mean taking this gene from lager yeast and inserting it into ale yeast. I am not against this sort of genetic modification in general, but it is often for purposes I disagree with (pesticide-resistant crops). I'm not against this genetic modification being done, but I don't want it done to my beer simply because I'm happy with my current level of foaminess. At least I think I am. I'll be looking at the top of my pint glass with a more critical eye from now on. And for all my resistance to this idea, if somebody decides to use this knowledge to make an ale with a better head, I will try it.

So let's hear it: What's your take on this? How big is your head? Would you like it bigger?
Side question: Would you have liked to see more sexual references in this particular post?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homebrew Update: The Saison Part II and Pumpkin Ale

Whew! Already deep into the fall and the season has blown by like a leaf. And like a leaf, it will soon be dried up and awaiting it's slow decay. Man, this blog entry got spooky real quick.

The second batch of Saison turned out to be lighter in color and awfully fruity, with an apple crisp note that was very overwhelming at first. Since the fall weather doesn't really require the kind of thirst quenching this beer is good for, I was able to resist too much tasting and let it age for a few more weeks. The resulting beer had a less pronounced apple character and, while sweeter, had a dry finish that still hit pretty close to the marks I had been aiming for. I'm going to shelve this beer for now, but I want to double down and see if I can get it even closer on the next batch. I think a slightly lower temperature in the mash might get me about where I need to be, but there's only one way to be sure. I'm saving bottles from each batch for a grand analysis later on in the year.

In the meantime, I have been trying to plan ahead and add a seasonal brew attempt to my homebrew cycle. Pumpkin beers are all the rage, so it seemed fitting to take a stab at making one to my and Wife's tastes. It is important to note that flavors most identified with pumpkin beers is often not the pumpkin. The pumpkin itself adds a "squashy, earthy" texture. It can also take a backseat to, say, the mouth feel of a heavy porter or stout as well. Personally, I enjoy the pumpkin with a bit of what makes a pumpkin pie so good: Clove, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and other common pie spices. You can add just pumpkin or just spices, but they compliment each other so well it would be a real shame to miss out on either. As a result, I was determined to use fresh pumpkin with a compliment of spices in an ale that would feature this combo.

The ale itself was simple and unobtrusive. The base was a standard U.S. malt with Munich Malt and Crystal 40L malt for a little color and some background flavor. If you're not into grain, that will make a nice lighter ale without any heavy toffee, caramel, sweet, or deep coffee notes that darker roasted malts might add. Into this mix I added 6.5 lbs of pie pumpkins and a reserved selection of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace. There were a multitude of other spices I could have added, but the last thing I wanted was a few billion spices trying to vie for the attention of my taste buds. Simple is hard to do.

Really, the brew was the easiest part. The hard part was cutting, gutting, and roasting the pumpkin. Oh, that's right, I roasted the pumpkin. I highly recommend having a capable assistant to take care of the pumpkin. It takes around an hour and the gutting takes as long as it wants to. The fermentation was fantastic, as it made the whole closet smell like a pumpkin pie.

Full disclosure: it's been long enough between blog posts that I've managed to ferment, bottle and pour this one. It's spicy and thick at first, then is deliciously light by the time it heads down your throat. It's a big hit with the crowd. While I'd like to see if what this would be like as a porter, I think having as an ale keeps kit from being weighed down (that's a fancy way of saying you'll want to drink more of it). Happy Fall!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stay tuned...

Hi all. I don't want any of our loyal readers to think we're going on another 6-year hiatus. I can't speak for Trevor and Matt, but I have not had time to put together a good post lately. I have some ideas in the pipeline and will get to them soon. But don't worry! If you've been checking the blog every day fretting whether a new post will appear, I have a solution for you! Friend us on facebook and we'll let you know when new posts are available. Until then, Cheers!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

White House releases beer recipe

This just in! ... from earlier this week. The president has released the recipes for the White House Honey Ale and the White House Honey Porter. Check it out on the White House blog. If you decide to brew it yourself, we'd love to hear how it goes. I watched the video of the brewing process and I think most of our readers will find it familiar, including the "Ale Pail"!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Beer of the Month (September)

   It is September, that magical time of year when football season takes over our weekends!  As everyone knows, football and tailgating go together like a horse and carriage, and tailgating and beer go together like a carriage and axle.  Because you can't have a successful carriage if your axle is broken.  I'm sure you got that analogy without the explanation, but just in case you're a few beers in while reading this, i thought i'd explain it.
   Now, some beer drinkers will insist on knocking back lighter beers like PBR or MGD, but real tailgaters know that you don't get that defensive tackle physique by guzzling low-calorie beers!  NO!  You have to drink the dark stuff!  Also, i didn't want to write about macrobrews today.  So the beer of this month is...

The Festive Dopplebock

   The festive bit is a reference to the history of the dopplebock, also known as the lenten-bier.  The first drinking buddies to brew dopplebocks were the Minim monks at Paulaner, who needed the high sugar content of the beer to substitute for solid food during their periods of holy fasting (hence the expression liquid bread).  Later, this lead to dopplebocks being typically served as holiday drinks along with spiced and heated wassails.  Though wassail literally means "be thou hale" it soon became synonymous with the beverage used to make the toast.  While we're at etymology, the expression "to toast" came from the same time period, where various flies and other insects would attempt to drink from the glasses of the revelers.  This lead to the use of a piece of crisped bread being placed on top of the mug whenever the drink was not being consumed.
   Since we're talking about the Paulaner brewery, let's introduce their beer first.

Paulaner Salvator Dopple Bock
ABV: 7.9%

The Salvator, being the first dopple bock, set the precedent of all dopple bocks' names ending in -ator.  The name translates to "savior", which seems appropriate for a beer originally brewed by men of god.  The flavor profile is complex and carries the mild estery banana flavor typical of German ales.  Unlike a hefeweizen however, the malts are dark and reminiscent of caramel or spiced rum.  At almost 8% alcohol by volume, this is definitely a sipping beer.

Spaten Optimator
ABV: 7.6%

This is a beer that tends to divide beer enthusiasts.  Some people just can't sing the praises of the Optimator loudly enough, while others tend to find it a bit of a disappointment.  Though there's nothing wrong with the dominant malt characteristic and subtle fig notes, i tend to find the Optimator a bit empty for a dopple bock.  It drinks more like a bock, which for some might come as a bonus.  Like the Salvator, the Optimator enjoys quite widespread distribution in the US, so these should be easy to compare in a home "test".  Do it for science!

Ayinger Celebrator
ABV: 6.7%

If i had to make an all time, desert island, top 5 list of my favorite beers, the Celebrator would be right up there near the top.  This lager really dials up the intensity while maintaining a perfect balance of flavors.  Dark caramel malts and cinnamon blend with roast coffee and a wonderful creamy texture.  Unfortunately, the Celebrator is quite difficult to find sometimes.  If you see it on a beer list, make sure you try this one.

That's it for this month, remember to leave your suggestions for next month's Beer of the Month style in the comments.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Presidential beer update

President Obama went on reddit yesterday to answer users' questions. Among many more substantive issues addressed was this:

What's the recipe for the White House's beer?
It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.

It's the issue du jour. Maybe he's waiting for Romney to release his tax records, or maybe it will be the centerpiece of the upcoming convention. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's time to get involved in politics!

This is my kind of politicking.
Let the VP kiss the babies.
We've known for a while that the president is a beer drinker, but what apparently escaped me was news in March that the White House would be serving home-brewed beer on St. Patty's day. The White House Honey Ale was brewed by Obama himself according to some unreliable sources cited by NPR (the Drinking Buddies have explained before that beer journalism is of a different caliber than other sorts, although where and when we explained this escapes my memory).

That's not the end of the story. NPR later discovered a petition on the White House website for the president to release his home brew recipe. I think this is a fine cause, but its outlook is grim: 25,000 signatures are needed by September 17 for the petition to be considered, but as of today, there are only 1,036. That includes me, having just now added my John Hancock, my signature is not yet dry (or whatever the cyber equivalent of that is). In case you were waiting to get involved in politics until the right moment, the time is now! The relationship between beer and democracy is a glorious one (if you have any info to back that up, please send it my way), so rise up and let your voice be heard! Here's the link to the petition so that you might share it with 23,964 of your friends:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Post Summer Festival and Homebrew Update

After reading all of Ryan's Germany adventures, I felt very quaint. I mean, here I am, all tucked away in my little Michigan enclave! What a small world I live in! It also made me notice how long it has really been since I had tasted an imported brew. I can't even think of the last Belgian Ale I've had that was actually from Belgium. Time to visit my local store and grab a few samples.

Side Note: If you are in the Southeast Michigan area, Ashley's of Westland does a Belgian Beer Festival in the fall that is really grand. The diversity and selection is unrivaled. They even import the brewery glassware to complete your Belgian experience.

Side Note #2: Anyone remember this Belgian guy from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?
He looks like he could use a Trippel about now.
Back in America, The Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Festival was intoxicating. This year's trend reared its head in a variety of imperial stouts typically infused with some other addition. Fruits were typical, but the recent popularity of breakfast stouts gave rise to the various barrel-aged/coffee/chocolate/bacon/Canadian bacon additions. While I can appreciate the thought - I love Founder's take on the Breakfast Stout - it can get to be a little much over the course of a festival. I equate it to eating too many pancakes.

I also got to try my newer homebrews. The wheat was similar to the recipe for my previous wheat attempt, but I added an extra pound of wheat and used a Belgian yeast strain (Wyeast 3942). I honestly prefer my previous recipe for the simple fact that I find the new version lingers around in your mouth too long. Summertime demands a quick exit.

I had some of a stout I made with orange zest. I must have overestimated the power of the zest (about 1 1/2 oranges worth) because I did not get any of that in the flavor profile. Still, it was thick, black as midnight, and smooth, which is exactly what I wanted to make. Now if only it had a bit more body...

Not to find another reason to say Belgian in this article, but I'm about three days away from tasting my repeated bath of Saison, as mentioned here. I extracted less sugars this time, which was probably due to my rather impatient sparging. This was offset, at least in technical measurement, by the better fermentation (lower final gravity). In the end, the efficiency of the whole process ended up being exactly the same. And, yes, it did clear a bit from when I last posted. I shall compare the two batches when ready and share the results soon.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Beer gardens and museums: Report from Munich

Grüß Gott! I've recently returned from Munich, the "capital" of Bavaria, and am eager to share my experiences. Any readers who have visited the region will find no surprises in my report, but for those of you who have not been, let me regale you with tales of my voyage. Germany holds an esteemed position in the world of beer-making, both historically and now. The last time I visited, I was too young to appreciate much about this. I was 15 and the fine folks of Germany won me over just by letting me have any beer at all. Moreover, I was overwhelmed when I was handed a bottle whose label read something along the lines of "proudly brewed since 1272". This was my first visit to Bavaria, a region known for it's friendly, easy-going people and as the B in BMW. I was even told that Munich is jokingly referred to as the northernmost Italian city because of the character of it's people. This is a stretch, having been to Italy. Or maybe it's a dig at the northern Germans. Probably both.
Folks wearing lederhosen just 'cause
We visited two beer gardens during our visit: one in the Viktualienmarkt, and the one in the Englischer Garten. The Viktualienmarkt is a giant food market made up of open-air stalls in the center of Munich. Its beer garden is a big expanse of picnic tables in the center of the market with a single stall serving beer. It's a place to relax and nosh on some of the food you've found with a cold one. At first I was turned off by the long line, but they move people through with crazy efficiency, all with a smile.

The Viktualenmarkt beer garden
The line for beverage.
Is it beer you're looking for?
A few things surprised me about the offerings. First was that they only served Paulaner. I found it to be the norm that establishments serving beer offered only one brand (more on this later). Second was the dunkelweiss, a beer style I had never seen or heard about. Of course I had to try it. Lastly, there were ample nonalcoholic options, including two juices and alkoholfrei (alcohol free) beer. Looking around at the gathered people, I noticed that quite a few opted for juice.

A new discovery.

Enjoying a dunkelweiss at the Viktualenmarkt.

"Dunkel" means dark, which is the opposite of "Hell" which means pale. Dunkelweiss is pretty much what you'd expect: a wheat beer with a bit more malt character than a traditional wheat beer. I wonder whether this style will show up stateside in the future. Certainly there has been an increased interest in wheat ales, as highlighted by Trevor in last month's Beer of the Month feature.

The Englischer Garten is an even bigger affair and more of a main attraction. Any visit to Munich in the summer should include this giant park and its vast beer garden. It's like central park but bigger. There's a river that can be surfed and a nude sunbathing area with lots of naked dudes. The beer garden is a huge array of picnic tables flanked by beer and food stalls and a five story Chinese-style pagoda. I spent the entire afternoon there with my wife and father-in-law. Even on a Wednesday afternoon, it was pretty busy. We brought sandwiches and watermelon and bought a whole roasted fish at one of the stalls. Beer comes in 1L and .5L mugs. Once again, only one brand was available: Hofbrau. About an hour after our arrival, a brass band started playing from the pagoda. All sorts of people were there: tourists, locals, old folks, families, etc. Because the picnic tables are separate from the beer vendors, there is no obligation to buy anything. This, along with the plentiful alcohol-free options, gives the whole place a supremely relaxed atmosphere. Unlike a bar, drinking beer is not the focus. You can read a book or chat with friends for as long as you like. You might enjoy a liter of beer while your grandma has an apple juice. And don't worry about bringing a designated driver, the subway system is fantastic and will get you anywhere you need to go.

The Wednesday afternoon crowd.
My wife and father-in-law.

Why not finish with fried cake and plums?
Hours later.

By my observation, Bavarians predominantly drink pale lagers. The standard offering each place we visited was light lager, dark lager, light weissbier and dark weissbier. At restaurants, a pilsner might be on offer (how pilsners differ from other light lagers continues to evade me).

Finally, let me tell you about my visit to Munich's Bier and Oktoberfestmuseum. According to their website, it is "Well worth visiting and culinary pleasures". Unfortunately, I can't recommend this museum, especially if you can't read German. The rooms are disjointed and spare, with not much to look at. There is a lot of text on the walls in German, with maybe 10% of it translated into English. Even so, there is no particular narrative or flow to it. There are three floors: The fist is focused on the history of beer brewing in Munich, the second on Oktoberfest and the third has a constantly looping movie about how beer is made. Although I couldn't understand what was being said in the movie, it seemed to be aimed at people who had never before considered what it takes to brew beer. I'll skip talking further about the Oktoberfest section since I understood very little and the exhibits were minimal. As for beer history, here's the most elaborate exhibit:

Accompanying this full scale diorama was a paragraph in German, presumably remarking on how beer was historically used to combat the pallor associated with living in a room without windows.

This seems interesting and culturally significant - if only I could learn something about it! There's text in neither German nor English. Oy vey!

I'll stop hating to report the bit of information I was able to learn: Before 1800 there were many breweries in Munich, but because of mergers and other reasons known only to German MBA students, only six remain.  Most of these large-scale operations went global in the second half of the 20th century. You have undoubtedly heard of a few of them: Spaten, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu. It's pretty easy to find the first three here in Baltimore. They commonly have agreements with restaurants to serve only their brand, which makes it very hard for craft brewers to grab any market share. I would be interested to learn whether there currently are any craft breweries in Germany.

After Munich, my wife and I spent three days in Rome. At the end of my last post I asked whether I would find anything in Italy other than Peroni. Answer: not really. Peroni is dominant. There are a few other unremarkable pale lagers that taste just like it. Still, they get the job done. Italy gets hot and these beers are smooth and refreshing. Nuff' said.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Beer of the Month (August)

Dear Drinking Buddies,
   Today i was reminded once again of the importance of the "save" feature. This marks the third beer-related loss of data in one week. Please, remember to save your documents, and always spay or neuter your pets.

   So let's see. I originally started off this Beer of the Month entry by pointing out just how difficult it was for me to avoid the expression "that time of the month". Meta-humor is very "in", you see. I quickly progressed into an explanation that the adjectives preceding the beer style for each month is purely for literary flavor and is otherwise meaningless. "Noble" last month wasn't referring to the hops, but rather the innate honor and royalty of the wheat ale style.  This month's contestant is

The Acerbic India Pale Ale

   Like many beer connoisseurs i fell victim to one of the classic beer blunders, the greatest of which is never to get involved in a land...what?  That's not right?  Never mind. I had heard and believed the story that the IPA got its name because the extra hops provided necessary preservatives for the long journey from England to colonial India. That's only peripherally true. The connection to India is well established, but hops' preservative qualities are disputed -- and in any case there's a better explanation. As all homebrewers know, a strong, green hops flavor mellows out over time. This is the reason why we condition our beers. I suspect that this relatively new beer style (the IPA dates to around 1850) not only benefited from a lengthy conditioning period as it traveled in casks over sea, but it allowed the brewers to avoid having to cellar that brew for as long -- which would improve profits. There are some other theories regarding gravity and export taxes, but these arguments feel extraneous to the moniker of IPA.
   In this second attempt to write this article i'll change pace slightly and give very brief impressions of each featured beer before i digress.

North Peak American Wheat IPA
IBU: 66.7
ABV: 6.7%
Hops: Cascade, Perle, Willamette.  Dry-hop: Cascade, Amarillo.

I appreciate what these brewers from Traverse City, MI, were trying to do with the inclusion of a whopping FOUR hop strains. I also enjoy the squat bottle and two-tone retro label.  However, many of the hops are quite similar and the pine flavor of the Cascade hops dominates. The inclusion of wheat malts balances the flavor profile somewhat and gives the beer an overall quite pleasurable body.

Founders Red's Rye P.A.
IBU: 70
ABV: 6.6%
Hops: Amarillo

Founders is a Grand Rapids institution. It has also developed a bizarre hipster following -- this beer competes for a corner on the niche IPA market here in Michigan bars with Bell's Two Hearted. The Two Hearted is hopped with 100% Centennial hops, but swaps the picture of the grizzled old man (Red, i presume) with a trout, which i guess isn't as popular among that crowd? In any case, the spiciness in the Rye P.A. matches nicely with the natural kick in rye malts. I don't know how i got around to this analogy, but in the first iteration of this article i compared Barq's and A&M root beer to these two beers. Because Barq's and Red's Rye have bite and...A&M has waitresses on roller skates? I'm not sure, it was a sketchy analogy the first time around, too.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA
IBU: 90
ABV: 9.0%
Hops: Amarillo Gold, Simcoe, Magnum (needs verification)

Dogfish Head has made a valiant attempt and probably successful attempt to benchmark the IPA style -- which is particularly impressive since the Pacific Northwest grows the overwhelming majority of US hops (Dogfish Head is located in Delaware). With 60, 90, and 120 Minute IPAs regularly brewed and a 75 Minute blend on special reserve, these brewmasters aim to impress new craftbrewers by the numbers. With flavor notes on their own website that list brandied fruitcake and raisins and a whopping 9% ABV the 90 IBU are in good, balanced company that make this beer taste considerably less bitter than either of the previously showcased beers this month. Since i prefer to savor rather than guzzle my beer, that's just fine with me.

   A note regarding IBU -- i take exception to Dogfish Head's (and many others') claims of IBU above 120. It smacks of the absurd recent advertising campaign Miller has pursued with their "triple hops brewed" slogan. Anyone who knows enough about beer to care about hops addition techniques isn't going to be suckered by that ad. Adding a tiny amount of hops at three points during brewing doesn't change the fact that Miller Lite has an IBU of somewhere around 8. Perhaps their advertising company knows something i don't.
   There are two problems with Dogfish Head and their claims of exceptionally high IBU. First, there is contention as to whether or not a human can distinguish between bitterness levels above a certain threshold around 100 IBU. Second, when searching for the measurement system that Dogfish Head itself used to measure their IBU, an assistant brewmaster posted on their forums the following formula:

IBU = (((oz. of hops)*(% BH utilization)*(% alpha acid)*.7489)/(Vol. of final wort))

   There's nothing wrong with this formula for a homebrewer. However, it somewhat oversimplifies the complexity of hop attenuation in a boil, especially in the higher IBU ranges. My point is that even if you have some perverse desire to chew on hop flowers, IBU measurements become meaningless without a huge amount of additional information. Unless you're drinking the Flying Monkeys Alpha Fornication which has a self-reported IBU of 2500 and 13.3% ABV. No, i didn't mistype that.
   If that's really what you're looking for, i think you can buy hop liquor extract for foods on its own. Wasn't "hops" an episode of Iron Chef?
This looks like orange juice, but it's the Alpha Fornication.  Gross.
   Finally, a few additional notes about hops -- did you know that hops are a dioecious plant? The hop cluster used in brewing are harvested exclusively from the female hop plant. The male hop plant is used exclusively for breeding purposes.
   Crossbreeding species of hops has resulted in a number of quite new hops varietals. For example, Cascade hops are a cross of the little known Serebrianka hop and a male Fuggle plant. Centennial hops are 3/32 Fuggle, and Willamette hops are a Fuggle seedling.

   An honorable mention goes out to Magic Hat's Blind Faith IPA which helped me power through this rewrite. I think it's called the Blind Faith because it's made with sweet, sweet blindness-inducing methanol.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Festival Tap List Preview Part 2

Only a couple earth rotations until the first day of the MBG Summer Festival is upon us. As of this entry, there are still a precious few tickets still available at select locations around Michigan. It reminds me a lot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but with Gene Wilder's Wonka and a river of Sanders Chocolate Stout. Also I've got my golden tickets already.

In my last entry, I gave a completely subjective A-F list of taps I find interesting at the festival. We'll continue where I left off:

Eaglebear Most Patriotic Beer Ever (Greenbush Brewing) - Such a bold statement, considering Sam Adams Boston Lager features a brewer AND patriot. This beer better be served by Rosie The Riveter. Also, the ingredient list better be Made in the USA as well. One whiff of Canadian Barley and they're going to have problems, Toby Keith style (which is to say I'd write a stupid song about it and then turn it into a terrible, terrible movie).

Strang Wullie Wee Heavy (Grizzly Peak) - Located a few miles from me, Grizzly Peak is an upscale bar with pretty decent brews. If I tried this and Dragonmead's Under the Kilt back to back, I'm interested to taste the comparison. Still not 60 shillings around though. Also, bonus points for perpetuating Scottish stereotypes. You can almost hear Willie the Groundskeeper saying this.

Smuggler's Hazelnut Stout (The Hideout) - Big fan of Hazelnut. Nutella is awesome, as is the smell of fresh ground hazelnut coffee. The bouquet alone should draw me to this beer.

Kiwi's Playhouse BerlinerWiesse (Hopcat) - The sharply sour Berliner qualities are something I have only tried once in my life. It wasn't the best of experiences, but if this is actually cut with a little Kiwi, I might consider grabbing a sample of this brew.

Shao Lin Strawberry Lychee Pyment (Kuhnhenn)- I have been wondering if the licensing of the festival prevents brewers from bringing meads and wines. I guess not, since Kuhnhenn has not only this Pyment (grape mead) but also a ginger citrus mead listed as their taps. I tend to throw up when I ingest too much ginger, so this pyment is probably the one I'll try.

Barrel Aged insert beer title here (The Livery) - Every single beer on their list is barrel aged. I'm not even going to pick just one. I imagine The Livery as a huge facility with barrels stacked so high you can dive into them Scrooge McDuck style. I'm sure you're thinking right now, "You'd be dad from the splinters going through your kidneys," and you'd be completely missing the fact that Scrooge was diving into SOLID GOLD COIN! He's lucky to have bones. Barrels don't seem so foolish now, do they?

Pine River "Smoked" Porter (Midland) Smoked stouts and porters had their run a couple years back, with varying success. It seems most have gotten off the band wagon, but kudos to Midland for keeping the style alive (or just being behind the times). Why is "smoked" in parenthesis?

Mystery Brew #1 and #2 (Mt Pleasant) - Are these actually mystery brews, or did you guys just not know what the hell you were putting on your last two taps? The only way this will be fun is if you get to guess the style.

Simcoe Sensation IPA (Odd Side) - I appreciate single hop IPAs. That being said, I feel like Simcoe is the hop that was just partolling the streets when local thugs shot him up. Saved from the brink of death, they re-assembled him(her?) into a half hop/half machine RoboHop. It just feels manufactured. 

Firkin Old Ale (Rochester Mills Beer) - I listed this one because it is a VIP only tap. Suck it, normies!

Mistress Jades Hemp Ale (Sherwood) - Okay, my curiosity is peaked; even more so than with the Disco Lemonade Strawberry Cream (WTF could that possibly be besides a clusterfuck of flavors?).

Dragon Slayer Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (Tri City) - Imperial stouts at festivals always leave me with a sickly sweet linger as I reach for the nearest way to rinse my palette. I can only imagine what the barrel aging will do with that. Sounds like fun.

Glutenless Maximus Gluten-Free IPA (The WAB) - No gluten means this is probably sorghum or something. Interesting profile with the hops. 

In addition to the normal taps, MBG has suggested a special recipe called 15th Anniversary Ale to all the brewers. Most have taken a shot at it and it will be interesting to compare the results. 

That's the quick-hit list. By no means is it definitive, even for me. As always, let me know what you plan on drinking in the comments below.

Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Festival Tap List Preview Part 1

With only days until the Summer Festival kicks off, I thought I'd take a quick look at the currently posted tap list on the MBG blog The Mash (the link is sometimes broken, so keep trying or try back later if that is the case). It's a list of over 400 beers, so I'd like to just highlight the ones that catch my eye. Keep in mind that, in most of these cases, I am going off brewer reputation and name of beer only and am making bold ass predictions.

Cereal Killer Barley Wine (Arcadia) - This isn't a new brew, but I'm always interested in barley wines, especially year-to-year.

Coconut Porter (Bad Bear) - I'm not usually one for coconut, so I'm going to challenge my taste buds to see if I can stomach it in porter form. I think that coconut and mild toffee porter flavors could potentially be disastrous. I have been wrong before...

Tripel Shandy (Big Rock Chop and Brewhouse) - Shandy is one of those words that has been thrown around a lot, so let's clarify. Shandy has carbonated lemonade (or cider, lemon soda, etc...). A Tripel is a strong pale Belgian ale. So what we might get here is a strong Belgian style carbonated lemonade flavored beer. This sounds like a lot of sweet/sour flavors battling it out. On a side note: is their Sour Cherry Tripel a "Sour Cherry" Tripel or a Cherry Tripel sour beer?

All of the Brews at Copper Canyon - They have such an intricate and specific tap time for all their brews. Is that really necessary?

Framboozled (Corner Brewery) - I am giving a local shout out to a framboise that might be interesting.

Millichigan Potable Oat Wine (Picked at random from Dark Horse) - Dark Horse hates lines. If this is your first festival, Dark Horse has a booth at every freaking tent so you'll probably never have to wait. As a consequence, they have exactly a billion taps. This one sticks out because... well... I picked it at random. Malted oat wine does sound interesting though, considering you'd make it with little to no barley.

Under the Kilt Wee Heavy (Dragonmead) - I've never had the opportunity to put different levels of Scotch ale next to each other and taste them. Wee heavy is the heaviest by ABV, so I'll settle for one good one. It has to live up to Skullsplitter at least.

Head On Collision Black IPA (Fenton Winery & Brewery) - This aggravates me. How can it be a Black India Pale Ale?!?!?! Terrible! Stop calling things black IPAs!

Made it through the Fs. Now I need a drink. Be back soon with the rest of the list. In the meantime, are there any that strike your fancy?

Friday, July 20, 2012

An Attempt at Homebrewing Consistency: The Patty Melt Syndrome

I have a favorite place I go to for patty melts. It is located in my home town and, aside from the fries (steak cut instead of the superior waffle), the basic components of the meal have not changed in over a decade. Every time I get the melt, it comes out the same way. Until I ventured out and tried other patty melts, i didn't realize how special that was. It's a simple dish that is surprisingly easy to screw up. The wrong bread, or cheese, or even amount of meat can make a patty melt completely inedible. Every so often, I torture myself with someone else's melt just to prove that point.

This isn't a patty melt blog, but this is what we call in the biz an "analogy" for brewing. If you are a commercial brewer or even a popular homebrewer, the best recipe in the world is only good if you can replicate it to the same degree of success. Not just the same ingredients, but brewing them for the same amount of time with the same temperature. With so many variables, it's easy to make one change that noticably affects the final product. Imagine if you bought your favorite beer every month, yet every month it tasted different. Would it still be your favorite beer? Would it still be the same beer?

Due to the recent success of the Saison I brewed in May, Wife has requested that more be made immediately. My first concern was the Patty Melt Syndrome; I want to provide the same great thing using a new raw batch of ingredients. I've been working on replicating my batch as exact as I can make it. This will be the first repeat batch on my all-grain system. Looking back at my original process for this brew, there are a couple of things I would like to thank past me for:

Pictured: Past me. I was going through a phase.
Thank You for Mashing Notes - Past me was adamant about taking notes, especially since this was the inaugural brew on the new mashing system. It's full of happy faces and scribbles. More importantly, it has things like starting mash temp, strike water temp, and water/grain ratio that really helped me dial in my mashing schedule.

Thank You for a Complete Ingredient List - Not only do I have the complete ingredient list, but I also have any substitutions made and the expected gravity of the brew jotted down as well.

Thank You for Detailing your Shortcomings - None of my brew days are perfect, but some are less not-perfect than others. Past me gave a harrowing account of how his strike water kept on missing its temperature. It reminded me how important pre-heating my mash tun is.

The one thing I wish Past Me had detail more of was a description of color, opacity, or fermentation activity. Right now, I'm looking at my new repeat batch and obsessively thinking, "God, it's quite cloudy. What it this cloudy before? Did it fall out after fermentation? It was nice and clear when I bottled it. Did I miss something? Why is it still cloudy? WHAT IS GOING ON?!"

I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Right now, the air lock is bubbling and the temperature is steady. I guess that's the best I can hope for.

Related Note: My Orange Stout and "Belgian-ey" Wheat are almost ready. Full report to come!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Festival Time!

As the great poet of our time, Will Smith, once said of summer:

"...School is out and there's a sort of a buzz, but back then I didn't really know what it was..."

Well, as it turns out, he was buzzing about the summer festival season. Either that, he was experimenting with underage drinking during his summer break. Maybe I'm reading too much into this.

Summer is chock full of it's Brewfests, Beerfests, Puckerfests, and Friday the Firkinteenths. While I'd love to do nothing but tour the festivals of this great nation, there is only so much summer to be had. I really only make it out to one: The Michigan Brewers Guild Beer Festival. 

The Brewers Guild runs a well organized event. Spread out over two days (Friday, July 27th, and Saturday, July 28th) across a sprawling riverside park in Ypsilanti, MI, the festival brings breweries from all corners of the peninsulas. Add in food that fills a beer belly and you get an event that is extremely well attended. I remember when you could get tickets a few days before from your local brewery. Nowadays, you would be pushing your luck to get your tickets three weeks in advance!

There seems to be a special effort by many of the brewers to bring a little something extra to the festival. There are frequent tappings of special barrel aged ales and lovingly crafted sours appearing only at the festival. Some were only available for one day, or even only for a few hours. experimental brews also reared their foamy heads. Round Barn had an extremely well balanced Grape Expectations Fruit ale last year. Short's Brewing brought along an India Spruce Pilsner. Yeah, that's Spruce, as in the tree. It was... pine-y. 

Thankfully, as with all good crafters, there is a lovely balance between the "traditional" style and the "out there" experiments.

I'm looking forward to this year and it's tap list. My wife and I signed up for an Enthusiast Membership, allowing us to sneak in an hour early each day and avoid the long line to get in. I'll be sharing my anticipations and observations right here. In the meantime, anyone else attending?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Dispatch from the Beeriverse (Brewniverse?)

Surfing the web for beer stuff is a lot like being on YouTube or Wikipedia; you can keep clicking links until you're tired, hungry and need a shave and your loved ones become worried about you. The section of the internet given over to beer purposes is unimaginably vast. Just scrolling through this list of beer blogs takes minutes, and we're not even listed! Among our competition: 2 Beer Guys Blog (which is actually four people), A Beer in the Hand is Worth Two in the Fridge, Beer Blogging Buddies and a bajillion more. That's not to mention brewery sites, industry news, home brewing videos and on and on (I wonder if trappist monks have websites?). Anyhow, here's a few highlights I've picked up in the last week or so.

Randall the Enamel Animal
The folks at Dogfish Head really are innovators. I just discovered this contraption one of their guys invented, an "organoleptic hop transducer module." It's a tap filter that gives whatever beer its attached to more hop flavor. Imagine drinking a pint and wondering whether it might benefit from more hopiness. Now that dream can be a reality! Apparently I'm late to the party because they're already on version 3.0. Clearly the Dogfish folks are hop fans (and probably Back to the Future fans), as evidenced by their hop-centric brews: 60 Minute IPA, 75 Minute IPA90 Minute IPA and 120 Minute IPA, among other beers witch are still hoppy but have broader flavor profile. Hooking the 120 Minute IPA up to the Randall filter might buy them some time if anybody tries to put them out of business by inventing the 180 Minute IPA. You can buy one of these bad boys from Dogfish Head, or you can make your own (pdf). I appreciate their open-source attitude to beer tastiness.

IPA Risotto
This recipe sounds incredible, but according to the author (from the cleverly named site No Meat Athlete), the IPA flavor doesn't really come through. Huge bummer. Maybe the recipe could be adjusted to substitute more beer for stock, or perhaps a different beer would lend more flavor? I'd like to try this out as I am a big fan of home-cooked risotto. There are a lot of other tasty-looking recipes using beer on the site linked at the top, so head on over there. If cooking with beer sounds familiar to you, it might be because you read about it in 2004 in our newspaper column: Buddies cook with beer at Thanksbeergiving. Can you believe that was eight years ago?

Victory for Raging Bitch
Last up is the Michigan-to-Maryland connection. Just to get everybody up to speed, I moved to Baltimore in 2008 and have since been enjoying beers from Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD. This brewery apparently moved to Maryland from Colorado a few years ago. Their most popular beer is the Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA which, because of it's name, was temporarily banned in Michigan. According to the Flying Dog blog post linked above, the beer was banned by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) but the ban was lifted when the brewery took the argument to federal court. Although the ban was lifted, Flying Dog is pursuing the lawsuit in order to get MLCC's actions declared unconstitutional and for the money they would have made from beer sales during the ban. More details are here. This pissfest about getting to use the word "bitch" is ridiculous. The MLCC should not have the authority to ban an alcohol product based on whether they find the name offensive. That's government censorship, not alcohol safety. The name is clearly offensive to some folks, including me, but retailers are free not to offer it for that reason. If I ran a family restaurant that served beer, I might well choose not to put it on the menu, but if I ran a college bar like Crunchy's, I wouldn't have much concern. My criticism of Flying Dog is apparent by now. They've used their dog theme to get away with using the word "bitch". Apparently the appeal of that loophole didn't wear off after the third grade. To kick it up a notch, they added the word "raging", reminding us all to keep that sexist phrase in our lexicon. Anybody who has known me since my pre-Drinking Buddies State News days might remember that I support each citizen's freedom to be a tasteless jerk. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. That said, Raging Bitch is a delicious beer and Flying Dog has a good lineup overall. Their artwork is done by Ralph Steadman, illustrator of several Hunter S. Thompson books, which is unassailably cool.

On a more personal note, I am about to leave on a vacation to Munich and Rome. Among my other sightseeing goals are to visit a beer garden and or hall in Munich and to assess whether Italy has anything to offer beyond Peroni. If anybody reading this has any suggestions about where to visit (or avoid!) in either city, please comment on this post to let me know.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

National Beer News

This heat wave sweeping the nation has me in quite the mood for cold, crisp pale ales and air conditioning.  But these things are at risk!  The Washington Post reported earlier this week on the derecho which knocked out power to much of the Mideast and the consequences it has had on the Port City Brewery. It's an interesting look into the modernization of the brewing process, especially considering the long history of brewing and the relatively new invention of electricity.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Beer of the Month (July)

   Hello fellow drinking buddies, quaffing pals, and imbibing comrades! I'm Trevor -- you may remember me from such blogs as F/stop Architectural or...actually, let's not talk about the livejournal days.
   I'd like to kick off my Drinking Buddies contributions by introducing the Beer of the Month!  Our trusty webmaster Ryan informs me that the Beer of the Month will soon have its own sidebar somewhere to the right of this post ALREADY HAS A SIDEBAR.  Here's the idea:
   Each month i'll pick a style of beer --suggestions are welcome. Subsequently i will drink of this libation, then finally, hopefully after sleeping off the alcohol, i will share with you my insights.  This month's beer will be...

The Noble Wheat Ale

   I admit i spent the better part of thirty minutes researching and double-checking my memory in regards to which beers fall into which category.  I should disclose that when i began homebrewing, my brother Ryan gifted me a copy of John Palmer's book How to Brew, which i still consult prior to every new beer idea.  He describes with the following chart and description.
Figure 111 - Relative Flavors of Beer Styles This chart is not to any scale but is a subjective attempt to describe how different beer styles taste relative to one another. As an over-simplification, a beer may be Malty - Sweet, Malty - Bitter, Fruity - Sweet, or Fruity - Bitter. Each beer style was placed on the chart via a great deal of "arm waving". The flavors often overlap between styles, and the variation within a single style can often bridge the positions of the styles next to it. This chart also fails to describe a beer's intensity. Some beer styles like Imperial Stout and Barleywine can literally cover half the chart in their complexity. A beer like Coors Light™ would be smack-dab in the middle (and probably on another plane behind the chart). As I said above, this is an oversimplified attempt to give you a first glance at how a lot of the beer styles relate to one another.
   The entirety of How to Brew is available totally free online at  I strongly suggest actually purchasing the book though, as laptops in the kitchen and splashing pots of boiling wort do NOT mix.
   Of course, the fruity-malty and bitter-sweet spectra don't fully describe the many qualities of a beer that make it distinctive.  There's also appearance, aroma, and the perennial favorite, mouthfeel.  Historically there are specific rules which govern how certain styles are made, but with the rising popularity of microbreweries and homebrewing these distinctions are fading.  As i understand it, much of the popularity of pilseners in Pilsen or ESBs in England had to do with the quality and chemistry of the water available in those locations.  These days you can just buy spring water, or if you're feeling really adventurous you could brew with whatever comes out of your tap.  Depending on the company you bought the spring water from, it might be the same thing.  Larger breweries are a bit more at the mercy of the local water supply, but they also have the option of experimenting with adding trace minerals themselves.
   The point is that there's no one definition for any particular style, so if you're offended that i lump light lagers (e.g. High Life Light) in with adjunct lagers (Natural Ice), well, you can just go soak your head, mister. Seriously though, i'm not going to make any beer Beer of the Month that you can buy in the infamous "dirty thirty."  If you're drinking along with the Beer of the Month, you're welcome.
   What was i writing about?  Right.  Hefeweizens.  Let's talk about three of them.  Maybe that will be a recurring Beer of the Month theme, discussing three beers.  I don't know, i'm not clairvoyant.

Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier
   This beer holds two distinctions in my mind.  First, it is the archetype, the type specimen, the epitome, even! of a hefeweizen.  Secondly, it is entirely impossible to pronounce intelligibly in a crowded bar. gives this beer a resounding endorsement with an absolute score of 99 and a style score of 100 (the internets seem to have a strong preference for stouts and IPAs).  Like all hefeweizens, the Weihenstephaner entry has a nice cloudy haze to it, a product of the suspended yeast particles that remain unfiltered.  I'd be interested in brewing a hefeweizen, but i seem to have mediocre luck picking yeasts, so i hesitate to brew a style that relies so heavily on a good yeast flavor.  Perhaps one of our readers has a suggestion.
   The Hefe Weissbier has a pleasant but not overpowering bananas and cloves flavor to it.  I've had a few estery brews from friends (and from commercial brewers!) that, as John Palmer puts it, could "flag down a barrel full of monkeys".  This beer instead nicely complements the fruitiness with soft hops and heavy carbonation, a combination which results in a very full mouthfeel.
   One of my favorite parts of drinking a hefeweizen is pouring it into a pilsener (or weizen) glass.  Invert the glass over the bottle, then flip both back over and slowly pull the bottle out of the glass, allowing the beer to flow straight down.

Bell's Oberon Ale
   This seasonal ale is a staple of the Michigan beer scene.  I particularly enjoy that it's something everyone, even devoted drinkers of the "Champagne of Beers" Miller High Life, seems to be able to agree is "good beer".  Oberon is a fairly light varietal as craft beer goes and not too heavy on the hops.  Spices are noticeable along with a refreshing orange flavor.  Some people enjoy a slice of orange in their Oberon, which doesn't offend me, though i think it pushes the flavor closer to a shandy.  Wikipedia informs me that "shandygaff" is an acceptable alternate word choice, which is just wonderful.

Blue Moon Belgian White
   This witbier is often referred to simply as a "Blue Moon", which is terribly confusing since the Blue Moon label (owned by Coors) produces a dozen different styles of beer, ranging from dubbels (the Winter Abbey Ale) to pale ales (the Pale Moon).  The comparison to Oberon is inevitable, at least in Michigan bars, as everyone seems to have a strong preference one way or the other.  The very first Blue Moon i ever tasted was badly skunked, and i've been unable to shake that distaste, so i personally fall on the Oberon side of that debate.  While the base of the Belgian White is very similar to Oberon, the spices and orange are replaced with a coriander and lemon/grapefruit flavor.

If you have thoughts on these three beers, or on the Wheat Ale style in general, i want to hear what you have to say!  Also leave suggestions here for next month's Beer of the Month.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Europe is Enjoying American Beer, Latest Brews

I ran across the end of a news piece on my radio dial today talking about American craft beer having more of an influence overseas. I had to go back and hear more of it, especially when they made the comparison between the U.S. craft beer rise in Europe with the "Judgement of Paris" wine revolution and subsequent California invasion into the world wine market. There is also a subtle dig on the Reinheitsgebot culture at the very end. 

While I don't expect Bear Republic to appear across bars in Munich, I would not be surprised to see a few more U.S. brands outside the big 3 to get more traction. When you think of the foothold regional European beers have made across the U.S., who is to say the reverse couldn't be true?

Here's the link to the episode (The story starts around the 10 minute mark).

Meanwhile, back in my closet, I've had three different beers mature in their bottles. I've been very enthusiastic about the results I've been getting from my brand new rectangle cooler mash tun. For a man who doesn't usually build things, this is pretty solid. I only lose 2 degrees while I mash and I haven't had a stuck sparge yet. I'll put some pictures of my system in another post.

Here's a breakdown of what's been bottled:

Saison- I made this Saison largely as a test of the system. It couldn't have turned out better. Light, crisp, subtle Belgian yeast notes on the end. I would like a little more bite from the hops, but it was a great first effort. So good, in fact, that I'm brewing it again this week. Another 1/2oz of bittering hops this time around should round things out.

American Orange Wheat- I thought I'd get fancy with the next brew and do an American wheat. I know oranges don't ferment well, but I thought if I added the crushed oranges vs. orange juice in the ferment I would get a better flavor. This one turned out to have a very "white wheat" profile similar to a Hoegaarden with a cool citrus note, but not really much of an orange tinge. I don't think I'd throw the oranges in next time, but the beer is solid and perfect for summer. I did another batch with Belgian Wheat yeast ( the original had American wheat yeast) to see if I could detect any difference. It's sitting in the fermenter right now and should be bottled early next week. Given how long I conditioned this first one, the Belgian Wheat should be ready for tasting around mid July.

Amber Ale- I feel like I should call this "Random Amber" because I literally threw the recipe together seconds before I started driving to the store to get the grains. It was the best work I have ever done. Medium body with great head retention and a delicious bite at the end. This is something I feel like I can hang my hat on.

Cases of beer just waiting to be drunk. What a perfect situation for summer!