March 7, 2015

Czech It Uut Tasting Notes

It took a while to circle back to this beer which isn't too big of a problem for a malty lager like this. Czech It Uut was designed off the recipe for a Czech dark lager in For the Love of Hops.

Appearance: Pours a dark brown with a nice ruby color around the edges. It has nice clarity with more of a dark ruby when held up to a light. A tan head quickly appears upon pouring but descends into the beer with a lingering patchwork of bubbles on the top that looks like a strange map of Antarctica on a brown ocean.

Aroma: The aroma is mild with a very clear munich profile. It is malty, slightly bready, slightly caramel-y with a hint of grassiness. The aroma is similar to a Munich dunkel or similar malty German lager but not quite as sweet.

Flavor: Initially the beer was very bland with an unpleasant metallic funky note. As the beer started to warm the malt flavor started to show again a very munich-forward character. The malt profile isn't particularly exciting. There is a touch of hop flavor but mostly the hops are offsetting the malt to create a beer that tastes like something between a Munich dunkel and a schwarzbier but not as sweet as the dunkel and not as roasty as some schwarzbiers. The balance is actually quite good and makes the beer dangerously easy to drink. I find some of the German lager styles easy to drink until they get cloying at quantity but this beer is so balanced that one could easily consume this by the liter without thinking twice. As the beer continues to warm the flavor opens and some of the pilsner grainy flavor comes out along with a more complex malty flavor. The lime flavor from the hops also starts to peek out which doesn't entirely fit with the beer. Approaching room temperature the beer starts to develop a chocolate flavor that is actually really delicious.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied but not thin. Without the balanced bitterness the beer would probably feel maltier but ruin the balance that makes the beer such an easy drinker. I always feel like malty lagers leave behind a heaviness on the tongue and while this beer leaves some of that heaviness it is not as tiresome as its German counterparts.

Overall: I don't love the beer but I like it well enough that I won't feel bad about drinking the rest of the batch. I think my dissatisfaction with the beer comes from the use of those stupid celeia hops that I really don't like and thought would leave no flavor impression with only 60 and 30 minute additions. Clearly I was wrong. I dislike the early flavor of the beer served cold. I think the rest of the bottles will get a thirty minute rest in the fridge to drop out any sediment and get it into the high 50s before drinking. I probably won't rebrew this beer because it's just not that interesting and I don't feel like I know enough about the style to do a significantly better job. I'll stick to making hoppier lagers and wait until I visit the Czech Republic to gain a better understanding of the style.

February 28, 2015

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 15 -- Thirteen Months

Did a more robust inspection of the beer this time in an effort to try to figure out what the heck is going on than my previous attempts. I guess I don't really know much more than I did before but I feel increasingly more confident that I should let the beer ride out and keep seeing what it turns into.

It's sitting at around 4.3-4.4 ph (I'm only using strips so I can't be more specific) and the gravity is hovering around 1.019. By those specs it could easily pass off as a generic extract kit wheat ale. However, the flavor is definitely not the generic kit beer. It doesn't even taste like beer anymore. The weird hefeweizen-like flavor is completely gone and now it just tastes like pear juice. Not like Duvel or a beer with pear. Just pear juice. It's about as sweet as pear juice with roughly the same mouthfeel. It's very unusual. The batch is definitely heading somewhere. I'm hopeful it's not heading towards five gallons of nail polish remover.

Visually the weird islands of yeast are still floating on the surface. The surface seems slightly oily but definitely not a pellicle. There are some clumps of tiny bubbles on the surface. They do not appear trapped under a pellicle-like cover, just too lazy to pop. The airlock has some bubbles built up as well. The combination of all these bubbles suggests there is some internal activity. It could be continued release of CO2 from the initial fermentation but the airlock on this beer is far more bubbly than any other sour beer I've seen. By holding an LED light up to the beer I could see that there is quite a bit of suspended material in the beer. Small random shapes about 1-2mm in diameter. They did not appear to be falling off the yeast islands or in any kind of movement, just suspended in the beer. Small bubbles passed by the lit area every few seconds. That might be normal behavior for the beer or the result of my jostling. Impossible to say without jostling the beer for a view.

February 25, 2015

Another Colorado Beercation 2015

I don't know how many people actually read these posts reviewing my beer travels. I assume not many do, which is alright with me. I mostly write these posts for my own purposes so I can go back and review beers and locations from prior trips. I was particularly lazy this trip about taking notes and pictures so this post will probably be of little interest to anybody else. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Crooked Stave (The Source)

Although I have visited Crooked Stave's production facility/tap room in the River North neighborhood of Denver, this was my first trip to the tap room at The Source outside of downtown where Crooked Stave has its coolship installed. The Source is an open concept food market where you can eat, drink and shop (for food items) around an open seating area. It's cool. Crooked Stave has a tap room with a solid set of taps and bottles available and Crooked Stave's bottle shop (The Perfect Pour) where I snagged a bottle of Fantome Boo at a fairly reasonable price.

The tap room has a similar set of beers as the original tap room where I was able to sample fantastic beers like Origins, Motif, Nightmare on Brett Street and a variant of Saison Vieille double dry hopped with moteuka hops. As much as I enjoyed the sour beers I was really in the mood for that saison and it was the winner for the day. I was short on time in Denver for the day so I didn't get to sample as much as I would have but cramming in as much as I do in my Colorado beer trips means great beer always gets left by the wayside.

River North Brewing

River North is a short skip away from The Source so my wife and I decided to stop by for their anniversary beer released that afternoon. My wife is a huge fan of River North so any visit to Denver requires a stop. I've talked about RiNo Brewing in past posts and I'll give out the short description that I am not always a fan of their base beers but I think they are making some very interesting barrel aged beers that are really well done.

This year's anniversary ale is a boozy 17.2% biere de garde. The alcohol was unmistakable but not burning or misplaced in the beer. Stonefruit, caramel, citrus and anise dominate the flavor profile. Although I enjoyed the flavor and found the alcohol integrated it is still a stout beverage and splitting a four ounce taster was the right amount for this beer.

River North also offered its 2013 and 2014 barrel aged Avarice, a slightly hoppy Belgian imperial stout. The hops, predictably, had mostly rolled off the 2013 variant and a spicy-licorice note appeared in both variants. It's definitely not the predictable BBA stout that every brewery seems to be unloading into the market these days.

Manitou Springs Brewing Co.

Manitou Springs is a small tourist town on the west side of Colorado Springs in the foothills of the Rockies. It was originally built as a tourist attraction around the still-running mineral springs and it has the feel of other mountain tourist towns. Located in the town's interior is Manitou Springs Brewing Company, which is more of a brewpub offering house beers with guest taps, wine and spirits.

The house beers span an interesting mix of styles and I believe what was on tap on our trip was their winter set of beers that included a steam beer, a wheat ale, spiced winter warmer, dubbel, ipa and oatmeal milk stout. The steam beer was the best of the bunch with very mixed opinions about the other beers around the table. None of the beers were terrible but several seemed to be recipes in the midst of getting dialed in rather than recipes prepared to be served next to their GABF medal winning BDSA. Maybe we just have difference preferences for some of these styles. The dubbel, for example, was made with a spicier yeast (tasted like the Achouffe strain) than the normal fruity abbey/trappist strains that proved not too popular at the table. I liked it but I think I was the only one of the group who appreciated the unusual direction.

Bristol Brewing Co.

If Trinity Brewing is Colorado Spring's best known brewery, with its unusual farmhouse beers and Office Space references, then Bristol is surely Colorado Spring's second best known brewery. Bristol opened its doors in 1994 during the 1990s wave of craft brewing and recently moved into the Ivywild School, an elementary school built in 1916 and closed in 2009. It was renovated into something similar to The Source with a brewery, restaurant, whiskey bar, bakery, butchery, music studios and a handful of other ongoings. It is an incredible building and the mix of old and new was very well done.

Bristol's range of beers focuses on a core set of what can fairly be considered craft beer's core styles that the industry built itself upon during the 1980s and 90s. Many of these styles, like scottish ale and amber ale, have fallen out of favor among new breweries and beer snobs but can still be readily found at many older craft breweries like Bristol. Bristol also mixed in several Belgian styles and various hoppy offerings. We ordered a flight of the standards plus the winter seasonal and the single hop Warrior IPA. Admittedly, we were not overly impressed by the beers although everybody thought the Warrior IPA was a great beer. None of the beers were bad but other than the Warrior IPA the other beers just didn't stand out well enough that I would make the drive from north Denver to Colorado Springs (past untold numbers of breweries) to get them.

Left Hand Brewing Co.

Left Hand is well known for their milk stout (and among the craft beer industry some grumblings about their trademark of the word "nitro") but isn't thought of as a brewery doing exciting things these days. Left Hand might not be making the most exotic beers but they quietly release a stream of excellent and interesting beers that are tough to find, such as the Ambidextrous series of beers and their cask offerings. I didn't have time for too much beer at Left Hand but my wife and I hit a sampler that included a session IPA out of a series Left Hand is running (Safety Round), a cask of milk stout with coffee and chai, their porter (Blackjack) casked with EKG hops, their coffee ale and a sour beer. The coffee ale is Denile Ale which is brewed for the Old Chicago chain. It's a solid blonde coffee ale and thankfully available in Dallas.

The most unusual and unexpected offering was the sour beer. I had no idea Left Hand was souring beer but like many of their limited offerings it is hard to find much information about them outside of the taproom or stumbling upon them at a bar. They call this WTF Sour Blend and like many of their limited releases there are a number of releases under this name that are numbered off sequentially. I'm not sure which release this is. It was a sour brown with a really interesting flavor profile. There was a strong strawberry and cranberry flavor to it. It reminded me of some of those Ocean Spray cranberry juice blends. However, the blend had a strong acetic acid character that I didn't like and it was a little thin for my preferences. I tried blending a little with the cask porter and found it adjusted the mouthfeel and acidity but lost that great fruit flavor. I don't know for sure what was in the blend but I feel confident in guessing their barleywine (Widdershins) was a significant part of the blend. I suspect with less confidence that their ESB (Sawtooth) was also present.

Oskar Blues

Oskar Blues is well known for its long running line of canned beers but they also have a series of beers that are brewed exclusively or semi-exclusively for their own restaurants and tasting room. It's easiest to find these beers at the tasting room in the production facility in Longmont and more rarely at other Oskar Blues locations. My wife and I made a quick run through the restaurant and tasting room in Longmont on our way out of the state and were able to capture a few of these beers. We found Pump Can, an unimpressive pumpkin ale and Velvet Elvis oatmeal stout, which was a little thin but had a nice flavor. We captured Shipwrecked Circus barleywine which I enjoyed quite a bit. It's a good mix of malt character and American hops. We also snagged some of the Pinner throwback IPA with pineapple on cask which was unusual. The pineapple worked with the more restrained IPA. We picked up a couple cans of other beers that we brought home.

Fort Collins Brewery

I know I've said it several times before but Fort Collins Brewery is a thoroughly underrated brewery. In my opinion they are putting out some of the best smoked beers in the country with a solid range of other beers. The food in the restaurant is excellent and it's an obligatory stop in Fort Collins (along with Funkwerks). This trip we captured the smoked marzen which is fantastic. FCB has also started doing variants on their Double Chocolate Stout and the cherry variant was my favorite (compared to coffee and barrel aged). They also released an Australian sparkling ale (Champagne of Craft) which was bright and dry.

Funkwerks

Funkwerks is among my favorite breweries in Colorado and thankfully they have finally rolled into the north Texas market although we receive a small piece of the Funkwerks offerings and obviously none of the beers that never leave the taproom. I was sad to learn White (a wit fermented with saison yeast) had been relegated to a seasonal offering but thankfully it was on tap this trip so I enjoyed a big pour. Funkwerks also had Blanka, a double wit, which was interesting and full of spices but lacked the brightness I appreciate in White. I also enjoyed Crimson, a cherry-filled sour brown. I didn't find it quite as spectacular as Funkwerks' Oud Bruin but they were clear that this beer was aged for a short period of time while Oud Bruin was aged for considerably longer. We picked up a bottle of Crimson to age and see how it develops. Pale Ryder was a nice rye Belgian pale ale with a nice mix of fruity hops, yeast esters and rye's unmistakable peppery character. I also enjoyed the boozy Quad for all its expected quad flavors. Barrel-aged Deceit was also among my favorites. Funkwerks is aging this beer up to two years before blending it into packaging and the smooth aged flavor really pulls through.

So that was most of my great time in Colorado this month. We also hit Horse and Dragon in Fort Collins but we didn't stay long and I didn't drink too much because I was saving up for the other breweries. We also hit New Belgium but I forgot to take notes on what we drank and that was towards the end of a very long day of drinking. We also stopped by Mayor of Old Town in Fort Collins and tasted some beers from Zwei in Fort Collins who is making some very solid lagers. I also left out a stop in Denver but I want to hold off on talking about that place until the right time.

February 22, 2015

Worm Protein Imperial Gose with Tequila

I'm not a particularly big fan of the gose style. They either seem to be a sort of generic wheat beer or a salty berliner weisse. Neither particularly catches my fancy. I am brewing this beer for a friend as an opportunity to play around with some different techniques. She's a big fan of salt, sour beer and tequila so I am trying my hand at marrying these flavors together. Gose is the natural vessel because salt is a requisite ingredient. It's easy to sour a wheat beer and tequila barrels can work with sour beer so everything works together in this style.


You might be groaning at the idea of another one of these margarita-styled beers floating around. This isn't quite a margarita beer. There's no lime or other citrus fruit going into the beer so that's going to be a significant difference between this beer and a margarita. I'm definitely not trying to make something that emulates The Bruery's Roble Blanco, which is heavy on the lime. The concept for this beer is to balance salt, tequila and oak flavors against a tart but not full-on sour beer. I am using Himalayan pink salt for its floral flavors and sour worting half of the wort to develop some tartness. The purpose of souring the beer is to give the beer a drier, crisper finish that will enhance the floral and citrus notes from the pink salt and coriander with the tequila intermingled. Definitely not a margarita.

Initially I had in mind a beer with a significantly lower gravity than what this turned into but I accidentally threw in too much grain and turned a 5% beer into a 9% beer (not accounting for the souring reducing the ABV). Oops. Not a lot I can do about that after the fact.

FWIW...the name comes from a mezcal-fueled event at a Denver bar in which there may have been a lot of discussion about the health benefits of consuming the worm in a bottle of mezcal. It is, after all, a source of protein.

Worm Protein Sour Worted Imperial Gose with Tequila

Batch size: 1.1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.087
Est. FG: 1.018
Est. IBU: 18
Est. SRM: 7.3
Est. ABV: 9.2%

Grain Bill

2 lb. White wheat malt (2 SRM)
12 oz. German pilsner malt (2 SRM)
12 oz. Munich (9 SRM)

Water Supply

3.25 qt. mash water
1.1 gal. sparge water

Water profile designed in Bru'n Water for yellow balanced

Water Profile

Calcium 50ppm
Magnesium 7ppm
Sodium 5ppm
Sulfate 79ppm
Chloride 59ppm
Bicarbonate 0ppm

Mash Water

Gypsum 0.3g
Epsom salt 0.2g

Calcium Chloride 0.3g

Sparge Water

Gypsum 0.4g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Canning salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.4g
Lactic acid 0.6ml

Mash & Sparge

Mash 3.25qt at 169F for 152F mash for 90 minutes
Sparge 1.1gal at 180F

Mash half grain and water. Sparge with half sparge volume. Bring runnings to boil and pitch grain. Raise to 105F for 1.5 days to sour. Mash remaining ingredients as usual.

Boil

90 minute boil. Combine mash and sour wort in boil.

0.1 oz Belma [12.10%] at 90 for 14.8 IBU
.7 g crushed Indian coriander at 0 minutes
4 g Himalayan pink salt at 0 minutes

Fermentation

Ferment with US-05 at 64F. Add 1/2 oz. oak-aged tequila after fermentation. Adjust with more if necessary. Bottle to 2.7 volumes.

Brew Notes

Sour mash on 12/26/14. Rest of brew day on 12/28/14.

Sour mash ph approximately 4 at time of boil.

Bottled on 1/17/15 with .80 oz. of priming sugar and 1.15 oz (by weight) of oak-soaked tequila. FG: 1.007. Approximately 10% ABV. Some funky character, slight acidity. Salty and citrusy. Interesting.

February 2, 2015

Deflated Balls Sour Brown

As a Jets fan I haven't had much to look forward to this NFL season but the whole Patriots deflategate issue has at least been satisfying to watch our hated rivals squirm. My opinion is that it's nearly impossible that Brady or Belichick or both did not know this was going on and did not have a hand in it. This really isn't the place to get into that debate (or about spygate or the illegal use of the substitution rule in the past couple games) but all the talk about deflated balls is amusing to say the least. I decided the term "deflated balls" would go nicely with all of my other inappropriate beer names, especially for a brown ale brewed on Super Bowl weekend.

This beer is a kitchen sink-type recipe with a lot of different ingredients thrown together out of piles of extra specialty grain I have left over. It's usually a little cheaper to buy by the pound instead of by the ounce so I try to buy by the pound and put together several recipes using the same specialty malts so I don't have too much left over. This recipe doesn't fit into any style. I suppose it's closest to a really busy dubbel grain bill but at roughly a fifth caramel malts it would be too sweet for a clean beer. By souring it I'm hoping to develop that sweet-sour combination typical of Flemish reds but without having to blend in a clean portion. I also find that brett works well with crystal malts. I'm fermenting this beer with a combination of dregs from my lambic solera and a bottle of Cascade something that I'll drink during the game. It should have some solid sourness and a bit of funk.

To be honest, I don't have a good sense of what will happen with this beer. It may turn into a glorious sour brown or it may end up too heavy on the crystal flavors to be a great beer on its own. I'm ok with whatever happens here. If it's good on its own then I'll be happy to bottle it by itself. However, if it's too sweet or lacking in acidity then I'll keep it around for blending to add sweetness and complexity to other sour or brett beers. I've wanted to build up some stock sour/brett beers for blending anyway. We'll see what happens.

Deflated Balls Sour Brown Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.071
Est. FG: 1.020
Est. ABV: 6.7%
IBU: 12.8
SRM: 9.5

Grain Bill

73.0% 2 lbs. Pale malt (2.0 SRM)
13.8% 6 oz. Carahell (20 SRM)
6.60% 3 oz. Caramunich III (56 SRM)
6.60% 3 oz. Biscuit malt (23 SRM)

Mash & Sparge

Single infusion 90 minutes at 148F of 3.56 quarts at 159F
Batch sparge 2 gallons at 180F
Water adjuster to amber malty in Bru'n Water

Water Profile

ph: 5.3
Calcium: 53
Magnesium: 5
Sodium: 10
Sulfate: 55
Chloride: 64
Bicarbonate: 35

Mash Additions

Gypsum: 0.2g
Epsom salt: 0.2g
Canning salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.3g
Chalk: 0.1g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum: 0.5g
Epsom salt: 0.4g
Canning salt: 0.2g
Calcium Chloride: 0.8g

Boil Schedule

60 minute boil

0.10 oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 minutes

Fermentation

Pitch dregs from 750ml Cascade and 750ml Lambic Solera Year One and let ferment at room temperature.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 1/31/15.

First runnings: 1.086
Preboil volume: 2.5 gallons
Preboil gravity: 1.036
Mash efficiency: 91.6%
Postboil volume: 1.2
OG: 1.068
Efficiency: 83%

Ended up with way, way too much runnings. Accidentally left beersmith on large system profile so used way too much sparge water. Adjusted boil time to 2.5 hours to boil down runnings.

Also decided to coolship the beer by leaving the open kettle outside after knockout. Temperatures in the upper 40s with a slight breeze so it should cool slowly and pick up some playmates from the ambient environment. Cooled to 85F within 1.5 hours. Transferred to fermentor.

Pitched dregs from a bottle of Lambic Solera Year One and Cascade Figaro approximately 24 hours later.

2/8/15: Visible signs of fermentation showed up approximately four days later with incrementally more aggressive fermentation culminating in a vigorous fermentation on day seven that looked as healthy and active as any clean pitched beer, albeit several days late. Airlock activity dropped off on day eight. Healthy layer on yeast in the bottom. Possibly fermentation driven by Cascade's primary yeast or a particularly aggressive wild strain. Unlikely the five year old saccharomyces from the Lambic Solera was a meaningful participant in fermentation. Flavor is weird. Caramel and diacetyl are prominent. Sweet and oily. Musty.

January 25, 2015

Oh Yeah! A blended beer of rye porter and old ale

Early in 2014 I posted recipes for two beers I specifically brewed with the intent of blending. These beers were Blacula, a rye porter, and Old King Clancy, an old ale. Blacula was brewed in very early March this year and aged on some Canadian whisky that had itself aged on some oak. Old King Clancy was brewed mid-January and aged on Maker's Mark that also had aged on oak. Both liquors went into the beer with an overwhelming oaky flavor and so much tannin it almost hurt your tongue to taste it. I wanted these liquors to simulate barrel aging (and I have planned to talk about my collection of liquors and wines on oak for some time but I want to bottle and taste a few beers using the collection before announcing it a failure or success). Originally I had planned on aging these beers for a year or so before blending but I needed the fermentor space with all the small batches of beers going right now and the portion of the lambic solera I peeled off for later blending. The bottles will age for a couple months before tasting so overall the beer will be about a year old before I crack them open.

My concept for this blended beer would be to create a malty beer with all of the smooth malt notes of an old ale, with subtle sherry-like oxidation, with the more assertive flavors of a rye porter to create a beer that cannot exist on its own as a single beer. The darker malts in a porter have an anti-oxidant effect that prevents those nice fruity oxidation notes in an aged barleywine or old ale. So by combining the beers I can get the best of both worlds. Both of these beers are malt bombs and adding whisky would only bring in more malt flavors. The spicy rye character really helps cut some of that sweetness. So although the beer is undeniably sweet, it isn't meant to be cloying.

To blend the beer I first tasted each component and then worked out a blend. Only having a gallon of each beer meant I had little room to pull samples so I did most of the blending work in my head rather than pouring and mixing samples. Old King Clancy had a candy sweet flavor with a subtle bourbon note. The oats helped keep the beer from being too thin. Blacula had all the great flavors of an aged porter with chocolate, coffee, cocoa, and some nice fruity flavors. The rye was apparent in flavor and mouthfeel. The whisky was subtle but present. I mixed equal portions of each and liked the blend at an even ratio that as I thought through the balance of flavors I couldn't think of a blend I preferred. The 50/50 split tasted exactly like what I envisioned back at the beginning of the year. So I went ahead and bottled all the precious beer I could lift from the fermentors. Ultimately I ended up with a blend that was approximately 55% Blacula 45% Old King Clancy.

When I tasted a sample off the bottling bucket my first thought was, "OH YEAH!" like the Kool-Aid Man so that became the name of the beer. Plus the Kool-Aid Man is awesome.



I try to be honestly critical of my beers but I'm really happy with where this is right now. It is a really thick beer so I'm interested to see how carbonation will treat the mouthfeel. It's the first beer I've brewed that I would call chewy. I'm stoked to see how it turns out after it melds for a couple months in the bottle. I find some aging is necessary when blending beers to really get the flavors to come together and marry into a single flavor profile.

January 19, 2015

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 14 -- 1 Year

This beer is a year old and admittedly I am quite surprised by how disaffected the beer has been by its coolshipped band of yeast and bacteria. Given how quickly an infection can take over a clean beer, I expected to see a lot of activity over the past year and I was encouraged in this belief by the early activity that was almost as vigorous as any beer I had pitched a sour blend into. However, after a couple months of activity I have been left with a relatively clear beer with no pellicle and these weird, hard floating discs of yeast. No brett funk and definitely no sourness. It's frustrating but it seems in line with many of the results of other people who have attempted to coolship beers, although I seem to be the only one fortunate enough to experience these floating piles of yeast. Sometimes I want to just throw in some dregs of some sour beers and bottle it in another year but I am trying to stay committed to seeing where this goes.

I believe part of what has left this beer in its current state is my coolship method. I believe leaving the beer out in multiple vessels in an extremely cold night made the beer cool too fast to pick up a healthy volume of fermenting organisms and I ended up creating conditions that favored development of sugar-consuming yeast over lactic acid bacteria. Jean Van Roy, the owner of Cantillon, in the past discussed the importance of slowly cooling the beer through the right temperature range. My experience seems in line with his contention (although who am I to even suggest he is wrong?).

I also believe the lack of preexisting bacteria and yeast in the fermentor play a role. I subscribe to the premise that coolshipped beer relies heavily on the bacteria and yeast that has taken up residence in the oak barrels after years of brews, and coolshipping new wort serves mostly to replenish the yeast and bacteria that do the heavy lifting early in fermentation and then are eliminated as the alcohol content rises and the ph lowers. With this beer I do not have any preexisting organisms to draw from so everything I need has to grow out of whatever came into the fermentor with this wort. To the extent that I have brett, pediococcus and other late-stage fermentors, they are likely few in number and in need to time to build their numbers.

So although the beer is nowhere near ready for consumption, there is definitely continued activity going on. The sweetness of the beer is declining and the weird hefeweizen type tastes are developing more towards the funky end and there is some green apple in the finish. That could be acetyldehyde produced as an intermediary product of more ethanol production in the beer. At least that is what I hope it is. There is definitely something going on with the beer so that is at least something to appreciate about the beer, even if it is going down a path that will ultimately lead to a drain pour. The ph is reading around the mid 4 range so definitely no sourness going on.

January 17, 2015

Small Batch Mash Tun Redesign

My original small batch mash tun used a two gallon cooler with a grain bag to gain the convenience of BIAB with all the temperature regulation of a cooler mash tun. While I have been reasonably happy with the design from a temperature regulation vantage point, I have been dissatisfied with the  volume of trub ending up in the fermentation vessel after the boil. I know this is a problem across the board with BIAB and for a larger fermentation vessel it isn't a problem. Using five liter jugs as I do, space is at a premium to ensure sufficient headspace so I do not lose beer due to blowoff. So reducing the trub is an important goal.

To remedy this problem I have adopted a modification of the typical cooler design employing a toilet line braid that is located around the internet and the same design I have on my ten gallon cooler mash tun. It's an easy system with parts readily available at any big box hardware store and this particular design can be put together for about $7. I am sure more enterprising brewers could fashion a nicer set up but for my purposes this is sufficient to reduce the trub. If you are familiar with the typical design then  you know it is the stainless steel braided line for a toilet intake line attached to a ball valve where the original plastic spigot was. For this version I left the original spigot intact. On a larger cooler the hot runnings will heat up that plastic spigot to the point it is uncomfortable to hold open and you really don't want to have to sit and hold the spigot open for all that time. On the two gallon cooler the spigot opens by pulling away from the liquid so there is no concern about holding uncomfortably hot plastic and draining a mash tun of this size isn't much of a time concern.

Parts:

  • 1/2" stainless steel pipe clamp screw fastener
  • 3/8" stainless steel pipe clamp screw fastener
  • 3/8" brass pipe plug (Watts LFA-737)
  • 3/8" toilet supply line (get the shortest one you can find)

Equipment:

  • Hacksaw
  • Standard screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
The first thing you want to do is take apart the spigot assembly on the cooler. It will be easier to attach the braid to the assembly that way. The assembly is easy to disassemble.

First unscrew the outside piece by turning it counterclockwise until it slides out.


Next do the same for the interior piece.


Third, reach inside the cooler and push out the middle piece of the assembly. It should slide right out.


Fourth, remove the gasket on the inside.


If you have used this cooler yourself you may find the pieces have some mold growth. Now is a good time to clean those parts. It is also good evidence that with these plastic and rubber pieces you need to disassemble the cooler like this and clean all the parts every brew or two.


Fifth, use a hack saw to cut off both ends of the toilet supple line. Discard the end pieces. If you did a rough job with the cuts you can clean it up with wire cutters, if you have some, or just leave it messy. Your beers won't care. Once you can the ends cut off, use needle nose pliers to remove the vinyl tubing inside. Discard this as well.



Sixth, insert the plug threaded side in to the braided line so the non-threaded end is exposed. Then use the 3/8" fastener to hold the plug in place. The plug keeps the end of the braid sealed so grain bits can't get through. It also helps weigh down the end so the braid doesn't float on top of the mash. (see the next two pics)


Here comes the fun part. Go ahead and slide the other fastener onto the braid and it slide all the way to the end with the plug. You need to make this 3/8" braid fit on the outside of this 1/2" spigot assembly. The braid needs to be stretched out. The easiest way to this is to insert the needle nose pliers in the braid and pull the handles away from each other. You need to do this quite a bit and rotate the braid so you get a larger hole. It need to fit on the outside of the second piece you removed from the spigot assembly. It is easiest to put the pliers all the way in and expand the braid and then move them out an inch, do the same and keep repeating until you are expanding the last inch of the braid. Eventually the braid will give up and the hole will expand. Force the braid onto the inner end of the spigot assembly and fasten it as tight as you can (without breaking the plastic) with the fastener. You may find the braid is sloppy after this work with some awkward holes. Roll the braid between your hands (or your fingers) to lengthen it and diminish the diameter, sort of like how as a kid you would roll out snakes out of playdoh.



Last, reassemble the spigot assembly. The middle piece with the male adapter slides in first from the outside. There are three notches on the outside of the cooler that need to line up with this piece. Then slide the washer back into place on the inside of the cooler. There is a small lip on the washer that faces towards the outside of the cooler. At this point don't worry about getting it lined up perfectly, just get it over the threads. Then screw in the outside piece. Now make sure the washer lines up correctly and seals the inside. Finally, screw in the last piece with your braid.


This took me about fifteen minutes, which included writing the blog while I was putting it together. It isn't magnificently attractive but it does the job and doesn't destroy the normal use of the cooler.


January 1, 2015

Be Cool Pale Craft Lager

One of the most interesting trends in brewing right now is the whole craft lager thing that is taking lagers beyond the constraints of the mass-produced lager or the delicious but stuffy continental European styles. The most prominent substyle of whatever we are calling the craft lager style is certainly the India Pale Lager, or IPL. It's unsurprising that American brewers went after transforming lager styles in the same way brewers in the 80s and 90s took English styles and transformed them into hoppy beers flush with American hop varieties. With the popularity of IPA it should be no surprise that commercial brewers went right for the gold mine in craft lagers with IPLs. However, there are lots of interesting and delicious craft lagers that are not so closely tied to IPA and fall more in line with APAs that feature the big hop flavor and aroma of APA but with the malt character and smooth hop bitterness of a German or Czech lager. This particular beer is designed to be in that amorphous APA-like craft lager (APL?) with a mix of American and European hops with a fruity profile.

The genesis of this beer goes back to GABF and an idea born at the end of some solid drinking during the members only session with my wife and the husband and wife team who own the majority interest in Denver's new Tiny Ass Brewery. BSG gave away samples of the Irish Stout pale malt and we decided since we had exactly the same grain from these samples that we would do a head to head brewing competition using the grain. The rules we set out were simple: only this grain can be used for the beer (which ensures a small one gallon batch of ~5% beer); the only manipulation to the grain would be smoking it (so no use of the oven to make specialty malts out of it); the only ingredients permitted are malt, water, yeast and hops; and it has to be a lager. He went straight for the idea of smoking the grain. That's something I would have done but I decided if he was going to take my route in the competition then I would take a page out of his book and brew something hoppy.

The recipe mostly speaks for itself with its lengthy hop schedule but I thought I would make a couple notes about the beer. The hop combination is an adaptation of the hop schedule from my kellerpils and Melting Point Saison which gave me some experience with Aurora and Celeia hops, which have a nice fruity character that seem perfect for a craft lager recipe. I thought those hops would pair nicely with cascade. There is also a small amount of dry hops out of my garden which is an unspecified blend of cascade and mount hood. (The bines were too intertwined to pick out which hops were which so I just dried them all together.)

The other issue to point out (if only for my future reference) is the balance of bitterness. I wanted to capture a firm bitterness in this beer but balance it against the malt to get a crisp character rather than the aggressive bitterness of an IPA. I agree with the general consensus that craft lagers, even IPLs, shouldn't have the same aggressive bitterness as an IPA as it defeats the delicateness of a lager. To accomplish that mix I am using a modified version of a Pilsen water profile with slightly more sulfate. Normally pale ales use a very hard water supply with a huge amount of sulfate but I felt like I got excellent hop character out of my kellerpils and felt like that was a better starting point than a harder water profile. There does not seem to be much discussion about the right water profile for the craft lager styles although everybody seems to agree it does not need the aggressiveness of an IPA or APA.

So with all that in mind, here comes the recipe.

Be Cool Pale Craft Lager

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.052
Est. FG: 1.016
Est. ABV: 4.7%
Est. Color: 3.6 SRM

Grist

1 lb. Irish Stout Malt [2 SRM]

Water

1 gallon mash water
0.63 gallons sparge water
Water adjusted to custom water profile in Bru'n Water

Water Profile

Calcium: 7
Magnesium: 3
Sodium: 2
Sulfate: 19
Chloride: 6
Bicarbonate: -128
PH: 5.2

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.1g
Epsom salt: 0.1g
Calcium chloride: 0.1g
Lactic Acid: 0.7ml

Sparge Additions

Epsom salt: 0.1g
Lactic acid: 0.3ml

Mash Schedule

1. Add 1 gallon at 130F for 122F rest for 12 minutes
2. Decoct 1.31qt and boil
3. Return decoction to raise temperature to 146F for 40 minutes
4. Decoct 0.89qt and boil
5. Return decoction to raise temperature to 158F for 30 minutes
6. Sparge with 0.63 gallons at 180F

Boil & Hop Schedule

60 minute boil

0.15 oz. Celeia [4.5%] first wort hop for 13.8 IBU
0.07 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60 minutes for 15.8 IBU
0.20 oz. Aurora [8.25%] at 10 minutes for 11.1 IBU
0.20 oz. Cascade [5.5%] at 10 minutes for 7.4 IBU
0.10 oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 10 minutes for 3 IBU
0.30 oz. Aurora [8.25] at 0 minutes for 0 IBU
0.10 oz. Cascade [5.5%] at 0 minutes for 0 IBU

0.10 oz. Cascade dry hop for 3 days
0.20 oz. Aurora dry hop for 3 days
0.20 oz. Cascade/Mt. Hood home-grown hop mix dry hop for 3 days

Fermentation

Ferment with slurry of Budvar 2000 with oxygen at pitching
Pitch at 50F and begin raise 1 degree every 12 hours 3 days after fermentation begins until reach 60F.
Raise to room temperature at 90% attenuation and leave for 2 weeks with dry hopping the last three days.
Bottle and carbonate for three days. Then lager in bottles for three weeks.

Brew Day & Fermentation Notes

Brewed on 12/15/14.

First runnings: 1.063
Pre-boil gravity: 1.045
Pre-boil volume: 1.5 gal.
Mash efficiency: 93%
Post-boil volume: 1.2 gal.
Post-boil gravity: 1.055
Efficiency: 91%

12/30/14: FG: 1.015
1/1/15: Dry hopped

December 31, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 2

So Part 1 covered the first 2/3 or so of my trip through San Diego and at this point in the trip we moved north towards Orange County and eventually into the Los Angeles area. So I'll start moving north with a journey to Stone's brewing facility.

Stone Brewing Co.

Admittedly, I have not been a fan of many Stone beers in the past. I am only beginning to really enjoy aggressively bitter beers in the West Coast IPA and DIPA styles and that makes up a lot of what Stone brings to my local market. In my head I also associate all of their hoppy beers with the taste of centennial hops which I particularly dislike for their floral nature. I know that's really only prominent in Ruination IPA but it's taking some time to shake off the mental association of Stone beers and centennial hops. So I expected going to the source would change my mind about Stone. It did.

Stone's new brewing facility is a wondrously huge brewing mecca with a large brewhouse and a restaurant serving up all sorts of interesting Stone beers (and variations) and non-Stone beers. The food is delicious and pairs well with a wide range of beers. I would have liked to get into a tour of the facilities but we had limited time and I imagine the tours book up almost as quickly as the New Belgium tour. I really fell down on the job of taking pictures this trip. The Stone facility is a visually stunning place with views of the fermentors and decor in the Gothic style you would imagine goes along with the Arrogant Bastard label. Since I don't have pictures for you I'll just jump into the beer:

  • Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Belgian holiday ale
  • Stone Go To IPA with Lemon and Vanilla
  • Stone Smoked Porter with chocolate and orange peel
  • Surly Pentagram 2014
  • Stone Lupulin Loop Jarrylo
  • Stone Lucky Bastard (I know they intentionally misspell it in a different way)
  • Stone Master of Disguise
  • Stone Crime.
My favorites among the group were the Go To, Master of Disguise and Surly Pentagram. (I won't talk about the Surly beer because this is a review for Stone.) The Master of Disguise is a blond stout with coffee. The whole blond stout with coffee thing is interesting because you get the coffee flavor but, like Port Board Meeting, you don't have all the roast that normally comes along with coffee beers. So you get the flavor profile of a sweeter coffee drink (but without all the fat and sugar) rather than the delicious but different flavors of a black cup of coffee.

I was blown away by how much I liked the Go To IPA with lemon and vanilla. If you told me vanilla would work in an IPA I'd say you're full of crap. I'd be completely wrong. This variant on Go To was assertive with the lemon and vanilla with the lighter fruit flavors from the hops sitting in the background. It was a very lemon cake-like flavor. Both my wife and I loved the beer and drank quite a bit of it.

Then we decided to torture ourselves by trying Crime. Crime (and its companion Punishment) are heavily peppered beers using Arrogant Bastard variants as a base. When I ordered the bottle the bartender asked me if I knew what I was ordered. I laughed and said yes. I was not prepared. This 500ml bottle is based on Lucky Bastard (a blend of all the Arrogant Bastard variants) and aged in bourbon barrels with jalapenos, black nagas, Carribean red hots, Morgua scorpions and fatalis. For what it's worth, the flavor of the beer is incredible. It is fruity and the bourbon and malt flavors are present. But then the burn hits and stays with you. I drank 2/3 of the bottle while my wife put down the other third. We split a cheese tray along the way. Our stomachs were angry for a few hours. If I think about it, I can still feel the burning in my stomach.

The bartender said they made Crime and Punishment this unbearable because each prior rendition was mocked by consumers for not being spicy enough. So they went the other direction with it. I asked if anybody had ever just poured the whole bottle into a pint glass and put it down. He said a woman came in with two guys a couple weeks beforehand and she drank an entire bottle while the two guys refused to touch it. I would imagine most of the bottles get left behind half empty. We finished ours and snuck the empty bottle out as a trophy.

Alpine Beer Co.

Alpine Brewing is located in Alpine, California quite a bit east of San Diego. It's not quite as mountainous as the name suggests but it certainly has the feel of a small mountain community. I wasn't very impressed with the town and I was questioning my decision to drive out there when I found the brewery. There is a one-story building of moderate size with two Alpine Brewing signs on either end of the building with a book store and a barber in the middle. On the left is the restaurant where Alpine beers are served. On the right is the brew house where growlers are filled and (I believe) bottles are sold to go. The picture above is the brew house side of the building. The beers are well regarded so I figured I needed to go inside.The restaurant side is a small, sort of a dingy restaurant decorated in the way you would expect a brewer to style a bar, kind of like the restaurant from Office Space but only beer stuff on the walls. The food smelled good although I didn't try any.I will say this though: the service is really uneven. If you read some of the reviews online you almost start to wonder whether they are even true. They probably are.

Alpine is known for their hoppy beers and that's nearly everything they brew. There are a few non-hoppy beers and while some aren't too bad they generally are not worth your time. These guys are experts are hoppy beers and really shouldn't waste their time brewing some of these other beers. They do some interesting variants on these beers but in my opinion the line up would be stronger without these other beers. I understand you need a mix of beers for people who aren't big into hoppy beers but I don't know that the irish red (in particular) is really doing the brand any favors.

The beers we tried were:

  • Nelson rye ipa with New Zealand hops
  • Good barleywine
  • Alpine Ale pale ale
  • Willy wheat ale
  • Willy with vanilla
  • Hoppy Birthday pale ale
  • Mandarin nectar orange blossom honey blonde
  • Duet IPA
  • HFS IPA
  • Pure Hoppiness double IPA
  • McIlhenney's Irish red
  • Captain Stout chocolate oatmeal stout
Nelson was the easy winner among the pack with a healthy dose of Nelson Sauvin hops. Tasty stuff. The rye pepperiness is noticeable even under all of the hops and provides a nice counterpoint to the sweet Nelson Sauvin hops. Duet is definitely on the short list of simcoe + amarillo beers that stand out of the long, long list of beers copying this combination. Now that Alpine was entered into business with Green Flash we might see these beers on a wider scale, possibly even out here in Texas.

The Bruery

Since we were in Orange County and our 2014 Reserve Society membership is running out it was an obvious decision to hit The Bruery tasting room. I did not realize that there are society member-only beers in the tasting room but that was quickly uncovered after we got our first round. So we did some tastings and here's what was consumed:

  • Melange 1
  • Blueberry Smoking Wood
  • Mole Smoking Wood
  • Mash and coconut
  • So Happens It's Tuesday with vanilla and cherries
  • Coffee Smoking Wood
  • Bierbara
  • Mash and Grind
  • Sourrento
  • Roble Blanco
Fan favorites this go round were blueberry Smoking Wood, coffee Smoking Wood, So Happens and Bierbara. I am probably on the short list of people who really enjoyed blueberry Smoking Wood but I thought it was an interesting beer with sort of a grilled blueberry cobbler flavor. I don't know that I could drink it all night but it was an interesting beer to try out. Coffee Smoking Wood was similarly an interesting mix of coffee and smoke. I like Smoking Wood a lot so I guess it isn't surprising I liked those beers. So Happens... with vanilla and cherries had the great flavors of Black Tuesday but without the heavy ABV, which is a nice change of pace from the ABV attack of Black Tuesday. Vanilla helps coax out some of the chocolate notes in a stout and when paired with cherries brings out a nice cherry chocolate flavor. Bierbara is an interesting beer with wine grapes, apricots and spices. I wouldn't say I loved the beer but it was an interesting flavor profile. Not quite a mulled wine but not quite obviously a beer, either.

Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant in Costa Mesa

I didn't know much about Karl Strauss prior to this trip except that my wife has fallen in love with Red Trolley, their flagship amber ale. I was assured I would enjoy the beers and as a selling point I was informed that they tap a cask on Thursday nights so I was sold. I don't believe any brewing occurs at the restaurants, it appears all the beer is made at the brewing facility in San Diego and shipped around the their restaurants. I'm usually suspect of that arrangement because it invokes the image of a BJ's or other "brewpub" with mediocre beer sent out from some contract brewing arrangement. However, Karl Strauss has done a great job of using the restaurants as brand ambassadors for the beer. The food is great and served in generous portions. The servers might not be cicerones but they have been taught about the beers and serve samples of what is normally paired with the dishes you order in case you want to order a beer paired with your food. They do a really good job of pairing.

Let's talk some beers:

  • Red Trolley cask with orange peel
  • Red Trolley
  • Fullsuit Belgian brown ale
  • Pintail pale ale
  • Five wee heavy
  • Wreck alley imperial stout
  • Tower 10 IPA
I drank a lot of the cask. The orange peel added citrus notes that paired well with the caramel sweetness of the beer and helped cut some of the sweetness with the citrus oils. Pintail pale ale offers an interesting mix of newport, cascade and amarillo hops that I enjoyed. I also really enjoyed the Fullsuit Belgian brown ale that takes a different direction than the usual Belgian brown ales. Rather than selecting a fruity Belgian strain Karl Strauss opts for a peppery strain (likely Ardennes) and ages the beer on French oak. The peppery yeast is prominent and the oak is gentle but present. Honestly I liked all the beers I tried and would happily return. It seems like Karl Strauss offers a wide range of beers at their brewery in San Diego so I'd like to check out what other kinds of weird things they are doing with their beers.

Absolution Brewing Co.

I found this little place in Torrence while my wife was in a business meeting and decided to check it out. I swear I took a picture or two here but it's not on my phone. The layout is the usual taproom/brewhouse set up with a thick rope delineating between customer and employee. Absolution's beers are an interesting mix. There are the usual range of styles (hefe, porter, stout, pale ale, etc.) along with some IPAs and a handful of Belgian beers. What's probably most interesting about their line up is that their IPAs are east meets west. English malt--usually Maris Otter--mixed with American hops. They are definitely out of place in the west coast where the IPAs tend to be drier but it's nice to have a different option on the market. They also barrel age a handful of beers and put a couple on cask so there are plenty of options to check out. I only had time to taste a couple beers but I would definitely go back and explore more taps.

The first beer I drank was a chardonnay barrel aged Trespasser saison. The base beer is a hop-forward saison with Palisades and Ahtanum offering citrus and melon notes. The barrel aging smooths some of the hop bitterness while adding a smooth chardonnay and oak edge to the beer. The chardonnay is balanced. The remaining hop bitterness does a nice job of balancing out the chardonnay that can come across as sweet in a beer.

Second was Winter Trespasser dubbel on cask. It's rare to find a Belgian beer on cask (at least where I find myself) and one reason why I believe that is the case is because Belgian beers generally benefit from a high level of carbonation that makes the fruity esters from the yeast stand out. Cask, on the other hand, smooths out some of those flavors and brings out the malt character. In an IPA the cask pour smooths the bitterness and brings balance to the malt and hops but the esters in a Belgian beer are more delicate and can get lost in that effect. I'm not sure what the original beer in this case is like but I did find the cask subdued the esters. They were there in the background but what replaced the big fruit notes was a dominant chocolate flavor like a very creamy milk chocolate. Some of the bready and caramel notes were present and gave a chocolate scone-like flavor profile. I wouldn't say this would be the way I would always want to drink dubbels but for this particular beer it was perfect.

Some other random beers...


We also checked out Neighborhood bar in the gaslamp district in San Diego and I enjoyed these other beers:

  • Lambicx
  • Lost Abbey Lost Gourd 
  • Almanac Tequila barrel Noir
  • Hess Umbrix rye imperial stout
  • Craftsman Holiday Ale
The big surprise of the lot was Hess Umbrix. A really nice rye imperial stout. Complex with a big rye flavor. I was also very happy to find Lambicx as we do not get it here in Texas.

Alright, so that's the fun I had in San Diego. I have return trips to Colorado and Oregon coming up in the first half of 2015 so that will be more drinking adventures for me.


December 29, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 1

Did you know border patrol sets up temporary stops on the highways between the San Diego and Los Angeles area? Neither did I until I went beer hunting in San Diego. San Diego is perpetually warm, which means mid-December is still a good time for IPA to quench your thirst. I'm not the biggest IPA fan although I have come around (somewhat) on the style. I can definitely understand why it is such a popular beer style in southern California. The dry and citrusy beers pair perfectly with the climate and their apparent affinity for Asian cuisines.

If you doubt my new found appreciation for hoppy beers then let me add--as a point of bragging--that I started writing this post at the tap room at Alpine Beer Company.

I tagged along to San Diego with my wife on one of her work trips. Her work sends her out to California, Denver and other places in the southwest so there are some great opportunities for us to share some time in these wonderful beer areas (partially on her employer's dime). So we hit several places in the San Diego area with a trip up through Orange County to The Bruery. I decided to slurp up some wifi at Alpine to start writing this post so I didn't get stuck trying to remember all the beers I drank a week later.

Green Flash Brewing Co.

I'll admit that I haven't been a huge fan of the Green Flash beers we get here in Texas. Sure, I like Le Freak but I hate the way each bottle pours out onto the counter rather than into my glass. Gushing bottles are a huge pet peeve for me. We don't get too many of their other beers so I thought it would be a good idea to see what else Green Flash has to offer before I declare them dead to me. I'm glad I did. The taproom, located in their San Diego brewery, has a wide array of beers to offer although as one would expect there are plenty of hoppy offerings to go around. Many of which I hope are someday exported to Texas.

The beers we tasted were:

  • Special cuvee trippel
  • Grand cru
  • Serrano double stout (on cask)
  • Crazy eight honey wheat wine
  • Road warrior rye imperial IPA
  • Cedar plank pale ale
  • Mosaic session ale
  • Symposium IPA
The beers I enjoyed most were the special cuvee trippel, the serrano double stout and the mosaic session ale. The serrano double stout was a nice level of heat without overwhelming the beer and a good mosaic beer can't be beat. The special cuvee trippel (their spelling not mine) was nicely balanced between spices and the yeast character.

The taproom list is pretty cool. It clearly identifies the beer along with the major flavor descriptors, which can be helpful for people who don't know what to expect from a beer just because it's described as "hoppy" or "juicy" (whatever the hell that means).


Alesmith Brewing Co.

Alesmith might be best known for their barrel aged line of high ABV beers but they have a nice line up of solid beers all the way around. Alesmith, like Green Flash, is located in the outer perimeter of San Diego but while Green Flash has a spacious building to themselves, Alesmith is tucked away in a business/industrial park like so many other breweries. The taproom gets reasonably busy with an after-work crowd during the week but keeps beer geeks happy on the weekends. The taproom features a number of taproom only beers, including random barrel aged versions of their beers. There are the malt bombs that everybody seeks but also some tasty hoppy beers to balance out the sweetness. (Sorry about the absence of pictures, I got very lazy about taking pictures after Green Flash.)

Beers enjoyed:

  • San Diego pale ale 3.94
  • Yulesmith
  • Evil dead read
  • Bourbon barrel aged nut brown ale
  • 2014 Decadence
  • X extra pale ale on cask
  • Anvil ESB
  • Double hammer head speedway stout
I'll talk a little about my three favorites. I really enjoyed X on cask. I have come to really enjoy the extra pale ale style (which I feel is just 1990s IPA with contemporary hop flavors) and I'm a sucker for a beer on cask so naturally I had a lot of love for this beer. Nice balance of pine and citrus without the overwhelming bitterness of a modern IPA. Going the other direction, 2014 Decadence was another favorite. Decadence is an annual release that changes each year and this year's release is a wheatwine, another favorite style of mine. The wheat pours out with interesting fruit and honey notes with a subtle layer of hops on top. Delicate flavors for a big 10% beer. Third was the bourbon barrel aged nut brown ale. Nut brown ales have fallen out of favor and have been relegated to "a good beer style for a new brewer" but it's a perfectly fine style when you want a little malt without more assertive flavors of a porter or stout. It's certainly not a style normally thrown in barrels but in this case it came out swinging with some caramel and vanilla notes intermingling with the base beer's cocoa and biscuit flavors. Interesting stuff and a nice change of pace from the usual BBA stouts.

Mission Brewery

Mission recently entered the Texas market with their comically large 32oz. cans but I haven't had an opportunity to explore their beers. Mission was only a few blocks off of our hotel in San Diego so we decided to stop in and check out some beer. Mission is located not far from the touristy gaslamp district in an old Wonder Bread bakery redeployed as a brewery with a serious 16th century sailing theme. Pirates and galleons as far as the eye can see. I swear I took some pictures here but they aren't on my phone so maybe the pirates absconded with them. The brewery set up takes advantage of the open space with a long bar on one side and the brewery on the other with a sturdy rope separating the beer making from the beer drinking. It's a fun little place but I can imagine it gets ridiculously busy on the weekends.

Mission is probably best known for their IPAs but the taproom features the full line of beers that range from the easy drinking lighter hefeweizen and blonde ale up to some excellent malty offerings. The taproom also has an interesting set of craft cocktails that seem to have a beer base and are fermented alongside the other beers on tap. I didn't get a chance to ask about them but they looked interesting. Anyway, here are the beers I checked out:

  • Steam Beer
  • Mission Holiday Ale BDSA
  • Bourbon barrel Dark Seas imperial stout
  • Brandy barrel Dark Seas 
  • Mission porter
  • Tominator doppelbock
  • Shipwrecked IIPA
My favorites were the steam beer, doppelbock, IIPA and both barrel versions of Dark Seas. I really enjoy a good brandy barrel aged beer (although I don't like brandy) so the brandy barrel aged Dark Seas was my favorite. I didn't know what to expect out of Mission but overall I was impressed by the beers. 

Societe Brewing Co.

Societe (pronounced like society) is an interesting brewing with soft application of a Victorian theme with beer names like Haberdasher and Roustabout. Their beers are all over the map but loosely categorized into hoppy, Belgian, malty and sour (although I do not believe any of the sour beers have been released yet). Societe carries a deservedly solid reputation in southern California brewing with sixteen beers in normal rotation. There is an unsurprising number of IPAs and other hoppy beers in the lineup but thankfully Societe stayed away from making an endless stream of double IPAs to cash in on easy sales. Instead the lineup ranges from light session beers to malt bombs and gently hopped to aggressively hopped. It's a testimony to the brewers' skills that they can regularly make such a wide range of beers with such skill.

Beers we enjoyed here:

  • The Jackeroo IPA with southern hemisphere hops
  • The Butcher imperial stout
  • The Haberdasher English IPA
  • The Harlot Belgian extra pale ale
  • The Debutante Belgian amber ale
  • The Spelunker brown ale
My favorites were The Jackeroo and The Harlot. Both beers were similar in big fruity flavors, one displaying those flavors from hops and one from yeast. I can't say I would call The Butcher my favorite stout out there but it certainly isn't among the worst I have had. Otherwise, I was generally impressed with the beers I tried. What I find interesting is that people tend to talk favorably about Societe but the ratings on the beers are lower than what you would expect from a well-regarded brewery. I think this is easily explained by looking at the specs on the beers. Most of the beers are in the 5-6% ABV range and hopped to a more approachable bitterness than most other IPAs around San Diego. They just aren't extreme enough to create the hype necessary to reach those higher rankings. Which just goes to show how silly beer rankings are.

Pizza Port Solana Beach

For most of us outside of southern California, Pizza Port and Port Brewing is something associated with the more famous Lost Abbey beers. However, all of these identities originate from the Pizza Port located in Solana Beach. Located in a shopping center on the Pacific Coast Highway, this place is tucked away in a beach-side, affluent community just north of San Diego. Although the business is successful, the Solana Beach location looks like a place that has been open for decades (and brewing beer for 22 years) with no renovations. It is disorganized and cluttered but I suppose that is part of the charm of this place. If you didn't know any better, you would probably assume this place is serving up good pizza (it was crowded inside) but lousy beer by the pitcher. Instead, they serve up good pizza with good beer.

We were hungry and needed to wind down on drinking by the time we got to Pizza Port so I just tried two of the beers available. One was the Gingerbread Chateu, a very busy saison with ginger, candied ginger, molasses and raisins. There was, as you can guess, a lot of ginger going on. It wasn't my favorite. I have a limited tolerance for ginger in my beer and this one exceeded that limit. The other beer was Gobble Gobble wheat ale with cranberries. It was a light American wheat with cranberries adding some tartness and fruit flavors over the wheat. It was interesting but easy drinking, which made it a good beer to pair up with pizza.

Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co.

So naturally we had to hit the Lost Abbey/Port Brewing location in San Marcos. Port Brewing and Lost Abbey are the same company brewing out of the same brewing facility. They are a spinoff from Pizza Port and although they brew some of the same beers as Pizza Port, their versions of the beers are slightly different from the original Pizza Port beers. Port Brewing/Lost Abbey is a distinct business run separately from the Pizza Port business. The Belgian/French beers brewed by this company are packaged under the Lost Abbey label while the other beers all go under the Port Brewing name. (For the sake of brevity, I'll just refer to this entity as Lost Abbey.)

Lost Abbey brews out of Stone's former brewhouse in the middle of a business park across several suites. The tasting room is largely a bar and some seating roped off from the brewhouse and fermentors. You can peek into the barrel room but it is made clear that customers do not belong there. The tap list offers a generous selection from both the Lost Abbey and Port range of beers and one can buy from a healthy selection of bottles from both. It is worth noting that the taproom closes early each evening so if you plan a visit be mindful of the hours and that traffic getting there can be brutal during the late afternoon.

The beers tasted:

  • Lost Abbey Gift of the Maji biere de garde with brett, frankincence and myrrh
  • Lost Abbey Devotion
  • Lost Abbey Avant Garde
  • Lost Abbey Lost and Found
  • Lost Abbey Witches Wit
  • Lost Abbey Road to Helles
  • Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper imperial stout
  • Port Brewing Board Meeting brown ale with coffee and cocoa nibs
My favorites out these beers were Avant Garde, Board Meeting and Witches Wit. Avant Garde is an interesting biere de garde on the lighter end of the style that gives you a big helping of biscuity malt flavor with some light fruit notes on the edges. It's brewed with a lager yeast and there is an unmistakable lager yeast signature about the beer. Witches Wit is a solid wit (obviously) and spiced with coriander, orange peel and grapefruit peel. It's nicely fruity but you get some acidic bitterness from the citrus fruit and spruces up the beer. Board Meeting was a nice change of pace for coffee beers. While many coffee beers are made out of stouts that create beers with roast on top of roast, the brown ale offers a malty base that mellows the roast in the coffee. The cocoa then comes in and wraps the whole thing up into a complex truffle-like experience. I wish I had spent more time at Lost Abbey but with their tasting room hours it just didn't work with the schedule (and traffic).

Alright, this is a good stopping point for the first part of this beercation. Part two will feature Stone, The Bruery and a couple other places.

December 23, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Twenty Part 2 - Bottling Year Four

This year's bottling will be less interesting than the prior bottling so I'll keep this post as brief as I can. I am pulling three gallons from the solera (and replacing the same volume). Two gallons will be bottled straight and one gallon will be set aside for future blending into another gueuze. The first couple years I split a gallon off on fruit but I like the flavor of the lambic by itself so much I feel like the fruit takes away from the beer. I like the fruit versions I did but retrospectively I wish I had just kept all the solera bottlings sans fruit.

Year Four has a hardcore amount of funk and not particularly in a good way. It has a strange off-putting flavor that I'd consider a flaw. I think the airlock ran dry for a while during this year and the beer developed some acetic acid-based compounds. I also suspect the yeast I added in Year Three just wasn't a good fight and didn't play well with brett. It might improve with some time in the bottle and I'm not in a hurry to drink them so I'll just have to see what develops.

I pitched some WY 1214 into the solera with the fresh wort but after how Year Four turned out I am not very optimistic that Year Five will be free from the awfulness of Year Four. That might make Year Five the last year of this rendition of the solera and I will start a new one. It's often said that sometimes dumping a sour beer is part of the process. I'd hate for the solera to meet that fate but I am also not about to drink six gallons of unpleasant beer.

 
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