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.