Red Hook

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 08.15.11 under IPA, Tasting

Rather than run out of beer or more correctly, rather than drink all my lambic in a few short weeks, I decided to *gasp* buy some beer today.

Red Hook IPA was a good deal at $12.99 for a 12-pack and I felt it stood a good chance at tasting pretty good.

Apparently I’ve been living under a home-brewed rock for half the past decade or so. Because I’ve missed many iterations of Red Hook’s packaging. I should have known that the alliance with AB would have meant more than better distribution and regional brewing. There’s also the marketing power (e.g. selling packaging)

So I definitely recognize the first one. I have a vague sense that maybe one or two of the middle three existed. And I hold the final one in my hand. It’s cute. The bottle seems so small and light, but yet it is 12 ounces. The caps are fun and have different things under them, like a Magic Hat (but no words).

Oh and the beer. It’s actually pretty good. At first it smells (and therefore tastes) like perfume. That’s a flowery dry hop I guess. I wonder which one. Google is not an immediate help. Willamette? Cascade? I’m not sure either sounds right.

The bitterness is underwhelming, and the overall hop presence is soft and fragrant. I normally like a harsh/abrasive piney/fruity hop presence. Simcoe/Amarillo/Columbus. But this is still pretty good. At 6.5% ABV, it’s in the sweet spot for an IPA, IMO. I can see how this is a good compromise for a brewery that knows how to make great beer, and also needs to appeal to a rather wide audience. I would definitely get this again, should I nearly run out of beer some time in the future, or find myself out where this might be an offering on draft.

A good solid B+/A- in my unscientific book. Way better than $15.99 for 12 Sam Adams any day.

Sour Beer

[ 1 Comment ] Posted on 08.05.11 under Boden, Brewing, Kegging, Stories, The Session

Tonight is the session. This session is very timely for me. The subject is Sour Beer, and I just happen to have some sour beer activity to report tonight.

On January 1st, 2010 I made my first lambic. It was half barley and half wheat, made with old stinky hops and a variety of bacterial cultures and yeast (Brett B, Sour Mix, Lambic Blend, plus some US-05)

Since then, the beer has sat in my basement, covered in a brown paper bag, tucked in a corner, opened only a few times for flavor sampling.

Ever since the baby came a few months ago, brewing has been slow to say the least. So I’m facing a shortage. I might actually have to buy beer (gasp!). I feel like I’m the US Government about to default on my beer debt. I need a compromise to cover this gap.

So I sampled the lambic this week. It was pretty good. Rather barn-ish and overall funky. Sorta sour, bacterial I suppose. Not yet vinegar. I think that’s a good enough reason to take it out of the carboy and put it on tap. Especially given the circumstances.

For a while (right up to today) I was worried about where should I put it. If I kegged it, the keg and faucet could be bugged for life. If I bottled, the bacteria could keep working and make bottle bombs.

Ultimately, I kegged it. I’ve marked all the plastic I used in case I need to never use it for non-bacterial beer again. I’m using a picnic tap, which I’ll mark for Lambic and probably not reuse for normal beer. But then again I might try it to see if it really matters.

For now I’m just waiting for the beer to chill and carbonate before I can really dig into it. Then I’m sure it will save me from buying beer. Or at least it should minimize the amount of beer I need to buy.

Excerpt from brew day:

Boden (5 YO son): Daddy, you make beer because brewing beer is free, but buying beer costs money, right?

Daddy: Well brewing isn’t free, because the ingredients cost money and my time should be worth something, but it’s still a lot cheaper than buying it

Boden: But isn’t it a lot easier to just buy it?

Daddy: But brewing it is still a lot cheaper than buying it.

Boden: But all this stuff [the equipment needed to make beer] costs a lot of money probably

Daddy: Well I bought that a while ago. Look, I can make this IPA for $25 but if I bought this much IPA it would cost like $80.

Boden: … Daddy can I play on your phone?


[ 1 Comment ] Posted on 06.24.11 under Uncategorized

My RSS includes XKCD, a computer geek comic. This week there was one about wine snobbery. The main character was asked how he could drink “this crappy wine”, to which he responded “all wine tastes the same to me”.

That, I can relate to.

I consider myself lucky in that I cannot tell the difference between BMC of wine and DFH of wine. It saves me money and inner turmoil in case I am at an event where only cheap wine is available.

The funny thing was that in the comic he went on to say that you could make snobbery anywhere.

So I got to wondering if beer snobbery is warranted. Is there such a difference between meh craft beer and awesome craft beer that it would be discernable to a rookie?

Unfortunately I think not. I might taste a beer and hate on the diacetyl but Joe 6 pack would probably not notice the same thing and if he did it would not necessarily strike him as an issue.

But clearly with some things there is a big gap between normal and very good. I think of American cheese. Kraft singles – not so good. Deli – very good. Anyone who’s had both can tell.

So I don’t lose hope for the distinction between good and very good beer. But maybe we can avoid the snobbery while we’re at it.

Forget the Rapture…

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 05.21.11 under Uncategorized

For those of you anticipating the rapture today, you were left disappointed, if my personal experience is any guide. But fear not, signs of the end of the world continue to show themselves. Not the least of which is the latest hit to my physical USPS mailbox today.

My subscription to Beer Advocate magazine arrived today with the latest edition of beer respecting news. I’m not sure if this is the first episode to have this feature or if I’ve just been too unaware to notice it, but Ron Pattinson has a column in the magazine this edition.

For those of you who don’t know, Ron Pattinson is the author of the fabled beer blog “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins”. His main thing is formulating tables of information based on old books written in different languages. Like German books from the 17th century about how to brew a proper Weissbier. There’s also a lot of British stuff in there. Ron is one of the guys that could easily tirade for an hour about the IPA myth (strong beer with lots of hops for India to survive the long journey made for officers diluted for soldiers etc.) Beer Advocate has long been a target for Ron, as they represent the quintessential American-centric Papazian-esque view of beer styles (another favorite is “mild” – let’s just say it wasn’t always low ABV and dark).

I see this as an acknowledgement by BA that they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about most of the time. They are enlisting a real researching historian to write a column for them. And it is a damn fine first column. “Beers in a 1914 London Pub”. It scratches the surface on some of the basic differences between what we call beer now and what they called beer then. As well as what those beers were like.

I hope this column stays alive because I think that Ron is one of the best in the biz of beer writing. He may be a bit prickly sometimes, but if you want to know about beer history, I could hardly recommend a better option. He’ll open your mind about the assumptions we all have about beer today.

Party Time

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 04.01.11 under Brewing, Events, IPA, Oktoberfest, Stories, Tasting

I love getting ready for the Oktoberfest party!

This year, the party’s bigger than ever! I’m making and serving nine kegs!! This makes it so important to me to get the right recipe in those kegs. This year, it’s three Fisher Cats, three Yachtoberfests, and three IPAs.

Fisher Cat is easy. It barely changes from year to year, and it’s always just right. Half wheat, half base malt. Centennials to around 15 IBU. US-05. Done. That test batch is in the fermenter right now, looking cloudy as can be, and should be great!

IPA isn’t too tough, either, given that I make IPA so often. The difference is that I’m going for a kinder, gentler IPA for the masses. So I try to tone it down a bit. But overall, it’s still my IPA. Columbus for bittering and a mix of Columbus, Centennial, and Amarillo for flavor and aroma, favoring the Amarillo. A nice bitter, somewhat pungent, slightly piney and citrusy, very juicy hop treat. That tester is cold and nearly carbonated in the keg – a sample taken tonight is VERY promising.

Yachtoberfest is still the one that I’m not 100% on. For some reason I insist on doing it as a warm fermentation. First year I tried US-05, and it was fine, but not outstanding. Last year I tried WY1338 “German Ale” yeast and it was different but not totally to my liking. This year, I’ve tried WY1272 “American Ale II” yeast. It seems pretty much neutral, like I might as well save $5 and use US-05. I think for this year I’ll use the 1272, but I’m thinking that by next year I should man up and use a real Oktoberfest lager yeast. It’s not like I don’t have a fridge where I could ferment cold.

In the end, I know whatever I come up with will be well-received by the audience at Yachtoberfest. They seem to love whatever I throw their way. I’m especially pleased because the IPA was upgraded from one keg to three from last year. The Cat and Fest have always been popular, but I still keep thinking that normal people don’t like good IPA. Too many Harpoon IPA, I guess… But fortunately I keep being proven wrong. Which is good because I love making IPA. Almost as much as I love drinking IPA!

Tuning a Recipe

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 03.13.11 under Brewing, Hops, IPA

In the course of being a homebrewer, I think you go through some stages. At least I did. At first I wanted to make a bunch of different basic stuff. A stout. A brown. An IPA. An APA. And so on.

Then I wanted to try for consistency. That didn’t last long, because I kept wanting to try new things. So began the experiments. Trying new things, like manwich in a beer. Some came out better than others.

Last year I was still somewhat experimental, but I thought that I was getting more towards trying consistency. But my planning was not that great and more often than not it seemed I had more experiments available to drink than actual good beer, and variety was usually less-than-ideal.

This year I’ve planned out things rather well. I admit that I need to make an IPA every month, so that I am never without one. And I’m planning ahead, like I’m going to make the RIS and Barleywine in the summer for winter drinking.

This is the ideal time to hone my IPA recipe, as I make an IPA every month. Which hops to use, and when? How long to dry hop for, and how much? What mash temperature? Beer color? IBU? ABV? Yeast? Ferment temperature? I know about where I want all these things but it’s time to get right down to perfect.

So far, I figure 1.065 OG, shooting for 6.5% ABV. That leaves FG as 1.015 – kinda dry but not too extreme. This translates to a mash temperature around 152. I’m using US-05. I have been fermenting on the low end, like 62-64F, but I’m thinking of upping that to like 68. I want it pale, around 8 SRM. And I’ve found that 1:1 IBU:OG is too low for me for an IPA. So my plan for my next batch is 80-90 IBU. I’m still committed to Columbus for bittering and throughout the boil as well as dry hopping with it, but I’m still looking for its perfect partner. Neither Amarillo nor Centennial has done it for me so far. They’re OK, but I’m thinking of trying Simcoe or Chinook. Or maybe even something a bit mellower.

It’s interesting to see how it changes from batch to batch. It’s easy to compare because I have the old one and new one side-by-side often, or at least separated by just a few days. The problem is that there’s a lag. I make a change, but I don’t know how that’s affected the result until after I’ve brewed the next version. So there’s a bit of flying behind the plane, but it seems to be working well enough. After all, I’m not making a space shuttle here, just making beer.

Setting the Record Straight

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 01.06.11 under IPA, Style Profile

I’ve been guilty in the past of parroting the whole 18th-century-British-soldiers-in-India creation myth for IPA. I even did a style profile article on it in the early days of this blog.

I thought it as good a time as any to direct anyone who wants to know a more truthful (if less concise) account of the origin of “IPA” to Ron Pattinson’s blog. He actually bothers to review actual brewing records of actual breweries making actual beer in actual past centuries. His discoveries are usually interesting and always detailed. Plus he’s a total wise-ass, which is always good fun for reading.

I can never keep track any more, but I have a vague sense that what was originally called IPA was lower gravity than what they called Mild at the time, and not even particularly hoppy.

This, of course, has little relevance to what is now called IPA, which we all know to be a bitter, hoppy, pale, dry, high alcohol beer. It’s OK that they used to call something else IPA, and it’s OK that the defining attributes of IPA have evolved over time. But let’s not assume it’s always been what it is. And let’s try to avoid repeating things for which we have no primary references.

MaCallan 18 Year Old

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 12.19.10 under Free Booze, Tasting

Earlier I wrote of some free whisky I got from Master of Malt. As part of their new drinks by the dram program, they sent out free samples for review and publicity to people who write about this sort of thing. As a beer blogger, I made it onto their radar.

I’ve taken some time trying to get a handle on the correct vocabulary and taking plenty of time between tastings to make each as fresh as the first.

So this weekend I sampled the MaCallan 18  Year Old sample that they sent. You can read their description behind my link. Here’s what I wrote:

Smells dry, woody, and boozy. Leaves nice legs on the glass. The taste is dry and woody, with perhaps a touch of honey? It almost has a waxy bitterness or hints of licorice. The smell gives a touch of vanilla. It is so dry in my mouth (no surprise at 53.9% ABV). It’s almost papery as I sip. Am I imagining a peaty flavor? I get a waft of a dusty butterscotch smell.

Overall I’d say it’s pretty smooth, and I’d gladly take down a fifth over the course of a series of special occasions (like Mondays, Fridays, etc.)

Up next is the side-by-side between this 18 year old and the 12 year single barrel I tasted a few weeks ago. This should give me a good chance to really see the differences, and provide additional insight into the individual character of each one.

Free Scotch!

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 11.30.10 under Alcohol, Free Booze, Tasting

Running a beer blog, every now and then I get an offer for free beer for review. Sometimes it pans out and sometimes not.

So a few weeks ago, I got an email offer for some free booze to review. It’s Drinks by the Dram from the United Kingdom. They’ve got tons of awesome single malts and other incredible whiskies and whatnot for sale online. They have a new program where they will sell a 3cl dosage of a variety of their finest spirits as a sample.

Before you gotta spend $90 for a whole bottle, you can spend $5 for a single sample. (disclaimer: quality and accuracy of currency conversions could vary)

Samples for sale! Great idea! Read the rest of this entry…

Thanksgiving Beer

[ Comments Off ] Posted on 11.24.10 under Apple Wine, Dubbel, Stout

Here I present another note in the chorus of Thanksgiving Beer advice.

Ultimately, as many have suggested, you must choose what you like, as long as it matches reasonably well with the meal.

At the same time, you have to work with what’s on hand. Part of the problem with the well-meaning advice-givers is that beer is so regional that 80% of what’s recommended to me is outside my reach. Whether it’s Bell’s from the Midwest or Lost Abbey from the West Coast, or any one of many places in between, there are many well-known and highly respected holiday-appropriate beers that simply are not available in Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry…

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