August 30, 2012

See you after Austin/Happy (Early) Labor Day

Yep, tomorrow I leave for equally-as-hot Austin for a beer-tastic weekend. Very excited and looking forward to share my brewery experiences. I'm sorry I've used this blog for so much beer reviewing/brewery reviewing but I would like to think some people find the information interesting. Plus, it's sometimes helpful for me to go back and see what I did or what I thought about things. So if you don't like it, tough. Actually, this will be my last out of town trip for a while so post-Austin I'll resume focusing the conversation on homebrewing. I still have some recipes and other posts to get up so I'll try to get those typed up sometime soon.

In other, actual homebrewing news:

  • The spelt saison is looking good after spending a couple days in the heat. I stuck it in the garage Tuesday and Wednesday. Yesterday it got up to 97 F so in the garage it was probably in the lower 90s. I probably should have got it out there earlier in the week to get some of those warm temperature yeast flavors but I think at least this way the Dupont strain can get the beer fully attenuated. I am still looking at bottling on Labor Day.
  • My hop plants are resuming growth, especially the mt. hood. It is sending out all sorts of new bines, the existing bines are growing a little more and side arms are shooting out everywhere. Unfortunately it's probably too late in the season to see enough growth to get any hops (there are no burrs out there) but we probably won't drop into the 80s until mid-October so there is a slight chance. If not, well, I'll look forward to homegrown hops next year.
  • The bottle of Adelbert's Scratching Hippo witbier was a success for bottle harvesting, so that means I can finally brew the wit I meant to brew all summer on Labor Day. Well, hopefully. I know I have a lot of school work and I'll need to grocery shop and other boring housework, too.
 Have a great Labor Day!

August 27, 2012

Brief additional updates

I wanted to pin some other comments to my last update before I truck out to Austin.

I had some tasty beers at The Common Table in Dallas over the weekend. The Common Table has quickly risen in stature as one of my favorite Dallas spots for beer (along with Meddlesome Moth, Old Monk, Blackfriar and Gingerman). I managed to score a couple of the Lakewood beers. Really tasty beers. I had the Rock Rider, a rye/wheat beer, which I enjoyed because they let the rye shine through without washing out the rye flavor with hops like many rye beers. I also had Hop Trapp, their Belgian IPA. True to the Belgian IPA style, it was bigger on hop flavor and aroma than bitterness, so that was nice. It was probably a touch too light and could easily be classified as a Belgian pale ale but that doesn't have the hype of "IPA" these days. I'm excited to try Temptress, their imperial milk stout. So far, they are adding to the quality craft beer available in DFW (along with Peticolas).

I also tried the Adelbert's wit that we brought back from our last trip to Austin. We plan on visiting the brewery this Friday but figured it would be good to make sure we like the beer enough to dedicate a couple hours to their beers. It was a tasty wit but lacking slightly in body. Nonetheless I am trying to bottle harvest their yeast and plan to do the same to their biere de garde we also have. One thing I dislike: a 330cl bottle filed with only 11oz? Not even 11.2oz? A very strange amount of beer. The bottles are obviously designed to hold more. Not sure what that is about. Anyway, hopefully the wit yeast are still viable and I can spend labor day doing school work (unfortunately), preparing for the week and brewing a wit.

The spelt saison is looking and smelling great. Fermentation seems to have finished quickly and the beer has dropped bright. It smells delicious with nice rustic, Dupont-like character. Since I fermented it in the house in the upper 70s I want to send it outside these next few days in the mid-90s to make sure it fully attenuates out. If the wit yeast is viable and ready to be pitched on Labor Day I'll bottle the saison to make room for the wit and then the wit will move into the fermentor.

I'd like to finish a nice long post of something substantive but I am already behind schedule for the week and with the weekend dedicated to relaxation I need to get other things on track. So we'll see how efficient I am this week at getting all my work done first.


August 24, 2012

...and other less exciting updates

Just a few updates about my beer life beyond Colorado...

So I just wrapped up my reviews of my week in Denver but I already have some exciting beer action coming up. With the semester starting up this past week, time is short before I become swamped with work and after finals I go immediately into nine terrible weeks of bar prep and taking the bar. So I have to get it in while I can! Not this weekend (obviously) but next weekend, Labor Day weekend, I am packing up my wife and potentially my younger brother and we are driving down to Austin to score more beers. Yep, more brewery visits! We are dropping down Friday afternoon and coming back Sunday afternoon.

So far the itinerary is begins at North by Northwest brewpub for happy hour. Then we are going to hit Adelbert's Brewery in northwest Austin Friday night for the tour and samples. Adelbert's only brews Belgian beers so that's always a winner for me. Then we are going to grab dinner, probably some more beers and depending on the time, possibly move the party to the Gingerman in downtown Austin. The Saturday we are going to hit Thirsty Planet's tour; then on to another visit to Jester King. Thirsty Planet does some really interesting stuff and some more pedestrian beers. They make a smoked coffee dubbel that is quite delicious but I also enjoy their amber. Jester King is showing some interesting beers on the tour (for now) including a sour saison, a provisional ale, a berliner weisse and a guest tap of a smoked stout. They have been updating the line up almost daily so we'll see how things change. They were showing a hoppy saison on cask but it has gone away. After that, we will hit Whip In for yet more beer and great Indian food. Then we may or may not hit 6th Street for some carnage. Depends on how awake we are. We're just getting too old to get up before noon, drink so much all day and party until the break of dawn.

There's still several more breweries down there we still want to visit. We wanted to also hit Hops and Grain on this trip but the logistics just didn't make it feasible. It's too far from all the other stops to do anything else and we would have to sacrifice a lot of time driving just to get there and back. However, if Jester King puts out a line up of beers we don't want we will sub Hops and Grain in over Jester King. South Austin is only doing private tours for now but our eyes are peeled for regular tours to begin. 512 seems to have stopped tours but that is another brewery I'd like to visit. Live Oak is almost impossible to score tour tickets for since they announce last minute and the weekends they offer tours are random. Maybe next time...

Dallas is also starting to heat up in the world of brewing. On September 8 we are going to the Untappd festival with my sister in law and her boyfriend. They are going to feature some really interesting beers so I'm excited for that, too. Additionally, I am really excited to see Peticolas Brewing building steam. Peticolas brews mostly/all UK styles beers and they are all really tasty. They are easily my favorite local brewery although they are hard to find on the Fort Worth side of things.

Some new breweries are popping in the area, too. Firewheel is a new brewery southeast of Dallas that is just starting to get into the market. I'm not so excited about their beers. They taste like novice homebrew kits in my opinion and lack any sort of refinement or quality. Lakewood Brewing is coming out east of Dallas and has some interesting beers I want to try. Four Corners Brewing (isn't there a Four Corners Brewing at the four corners where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet?) is opening Labor Day in Dallas, right by the festival. Revolver Brewing is popping up soon southwest of Fort Worth. I hear only good things about their beers. South of Dallas is Cedar Creek Brewing, which I also want to try out. I know another brewery is in the works in Denton (north of Dallas/Fort Worth) and a brewpub has been on hold forever in Fort Worth's revitalized medical district, south of downtown.

Getting even more locally -- to my house -- my hops are really struggling. The sterling are barely holding on and the nugget never really did much but it's still looking alive. The mt. hood are doing ok and putting out some side arms but never got more than three feet off the ground. I think they all just suffered from the lack of good sunlight during the spring after planting. So hopefully they will survive the rest of the summer and come back next year ready to rock.

The spelt saison is happily fermenting away and things look like they are rocking. Last night there was a big foamy head, some cloudiness to the beer with a nice copper color and lots of airlock bubbles, but today the bubbles are slowed, the krausen has mostly dropped back in but the beer is almost white and opaque with lots of yeast activity. I don't think I've ever seen a beer so dense with yeast activity.

My next beer will either be a wit or a rebrew of my hatch chile blonde. I have all the chiles ready to go but I had planned on brewing a 2.5 gallon batch and ordered the grain for that size but so many people are asking for bottles from the next batch I'm going to have to brew a five gallon batch so I need to pick up the grain for it and some US-05 to ferment it. Whichever of those beers gets brewed first will be the first to christen my fermentation chamber.

I am also planning on brewing an ESB soon and a Petrus aged pale clone. I need to find and bottle harvest a Belgian strain I really like so I'm holding off on the Petrus clone until I find that strain and then I can set it loose on the Petrus clone before it goes in the secondary with some sour dregs. I was holding off on the ESB in hopes I would drink all the beer in my fridge and use my party pig but there's still way too much beer in the fridge so it will probably get bottled.

After those four batches I have a couple gallons of dunkelweizen to brew and another gallon of belgian stout that is going to get blended with a sour brown I have souring since January. Half of the sour brown is going into the blend and half will be bottled straight. A small batch but I didn't want to commit a lot of space for a year to a questionable recipe. That will clear out my current grain supply but I already have another set of brews planned after that.

Following these batches I expect to brew three gallons of my brett saison (but that may dial back to two), two gallons of apricot blonde, 2.5 gallons mesquite porter, 2.5 gallons mesquite black IPA, 3 gallons gratzer,  and 1 gallon biere de garde. I will probably also throw in a gallon or two of another non-brett saison, maybe another ESB or something with a little hop to it.

August 23, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 4

It's about time to roll up my Colorado adventures this year with its final post. In this last post, I'll touch on the last two breweries in Fort Collins: Equinox Brewing and Funkwerks. I'll try to get this finished up while my spelt saison is boiling.

Equinox Brewing

Equinox Brewing is a fairly new Fort Collins operation, having opened its doors in 2010. It's located in a more downtown area from the Lincoln Avenue breweries (Funkwerks, Fort Collins Brewery, Odell) and New Belgium. It is a small shop seated next door to a homebrew supply shop. Equinox specializes, at least as best as I could tell, in UK beer styles (Irish, Scottish and English) and popular UK formats, like cask conditioning. We were tipped off to this place by one of the bartenders at FCB who said they had good beers.

Since we were already feeling good from our prior visits, we decided to just get a taster tray and if we had time try some of the different offerings. What's cool about Equinox is that each table has a flip chart for the tasting trays so you have a quick rundown of each beer and its ingredients. Unfortunately, we weren't really impressed with most of the beers. They weren't bad, they just didn't stand out. However, the last beer in the tasting tray was an oatmeal stout that we both agreed was excellent. We ended up running low on time to stay at Equinox but since we were only happy with one of the beers we didn't see it as an efficient use of time to stay there.

It's too bad Equinox doesn't play at the same level of the other breweries in Fort Collins. Their UK-focus makes a nice addition to the other breweries in town. There's obvious Belgian presence (New Belgium and Funkwerks), FCB makes an interesting mix of German styles, stouts and IPAs, Odell makes a diverse line up but outside of stouts there really isn't a lot of UK-focused brewing in the city. However, let me curb my criticism by pointing out the oatmeal stout alone was worth stopping back by for and I'm sure some of their other beers are probably pretty good. Let me also say that Fort Collins residents obviously have a higher opinion of Equinox because there was a steady stream of customers even in the short time we were there.

Funkwerks

I really love Funkwerks. In my opinion, they are the star of Fort Collins. Not only do they produce delicious beers but I always have a memorable time there. This trip exceeded expectations as usual. I hate that I've always had enough to drink before getting to Funkwerks to drink more beer there but on the other hand I have the most fun being there towards closing time because the staff gets really lax about letting the customers have fun.

This trip we knocked out a sample tray and a full serving of Dark Prophet. I'll give the beers a run down:

  • Saison - The obviously named saison is the flagship Funkwerks beer in the modern, bigger style, clocking in at 6.8% ABV. It's the most Dupont-like beer, with a good malt backbone letting the yeast flavors come through. The yeast adds plenty of citrus fruit and pepper aroma. 
  • Tropic King - My wife's favorite; also a bigger saison at 7.5% ABV. It's a darker saison with those yeast flavors playing back up for the Rakau hops that bring out tropical fruit flavors. I'm not as big of a fan of this beer because I don't really like mango and there's plenty of mango coming out of those Rakau hops.
  • Bastogne - Proving Funkwerks can make a funky beer, this darker saison is in the amber range with lots of hops and finished with brett. Bastogne uses Opal hops, which add some earthy, spicy, grassy notes like a combination of Fuggles and Saaz. I though this beer was interesting and complex without being too noisy to enjoy. My wife did not like.
  • Monarch - This beer is a 50/50 blend of Tropic King aged seven months in chardonnay barrels and fresh Tropic King. It's a very different beer from the regular Tropic King. The tropical fruit flavors and aromas have tempered into a nice peach flavor and aroma that's very nice. 
  • Belgian IPA - Exactly what it sounds like. It was a really good Belgian IPA with good hop flavor and aroma but the yeast esters still come through, rather than get lost in the hops. It reminded me of A'Chouffe Houblon but with a thicker mouthfeel. 
  • Dark Prophet - This dark saison is aged in bourbon barrels. The barrel and bourbon notes come through very noticeably, giving the beer a lot of vanilla and spice with some dark fruit in the background. Again the yeast is featured well in the flavor and aroma.
We also brought back a bottle of Fruition, which is a saison with apricot and pink peppercorns. Another delicious beer, the yeast character plays well with the apricot and pink peppercorns. I read some other reviews that denigrated the beer for not having a dominating apricot flavor and too much pink peppercorn but I actually liked that the apricot and pink peppercorn were not the stars of the beer but merely equal players. Fruit beers are usually dominated by fruit and spiced beers tend to be equally as heavy handed. The apricot hits the right note just between getting lost in the beer and detracting from the flavor and being too bold and overwhelming the other flavors. Instead, the apricot adds some tartness and and complexity to the flavor. The pink peppercorns jazzes up the apricot and plays well with the pepper notes from the yeast.


I know some people aren't huge fans of Funkwerks because they don't make exotic saisons and don't get into the hyped (but also delicious) modes of saison like brett saisons, rye saisons, or really hoppy saisons. Funkwerks does a good job of making saison digestible -- as it should be -- with an interesting malt profile and enough hops to let the yeast be the star -- as it should be. I like pretty much any kind of saison, as long as it is made well, but I don't think every saison needs to be either crazy or a Saison Dupont clone. Funkwerks does a good job of making saison a delicate beer and making their beers their own. Oh well, if you don't like it, that's just more for me.

Barrels quietly add extra deliciousness
After having some beer in the taproom, we found ourselves sharing the bar with one of the Funkwerks brewers and an Avery brewer. The Funkwerks brewer invited us back to the brewery to play. I was feeling pretty good at this point so I split my time between listening to the two brewers talk about their respective brewing processes and sticking my head in everything. My head went into the kettle, the mash tun and at one point, I even opened the hot liquor tank (I asked first) and stuck my head in. Guess what was inside? Yeah, hot water. I didn't shove my head in the water, so I left injury-free.



I didn't stick my head in the barrels or kegs
There are pictures of my hilarity, but I don't think I'll post them up here. I will post this one, and that should tell you a lot about how awesome of a time I was having. I mean, how often do homebrewers get to run wild in a brewery at the same time as hanging out with the brewers? Not very often. Unfortunately, like last time I was here and we were allowed to go back in the brewhouse for pictures and met Chad Yakobsin of Crooked Stave, I was having too good of a time to really geek out and ask all the questions I probably should have. I also didn't want to interrupt the conversation between the two brewers because I was getting a lot of good information just listening to them. (Unfortunately, I forgot a lot of it.)

One thing I do remember distinctly is that the brewer said all their beers are brewed with 3711. That makes sense, because all the saisons share the same yeast qualities and from a practical standpoint, it's easier to deal with fewer strains, especially saison strains that can be temperamental and tricky. However, I did see on their blog that the Belgian IPA, Scepter (a cognac barrel-aged Belgian golden strong ale) and another beer use a different strain. So I'm not sure if the blog is misleading or what the brewer meant was that all the saisons are fermented with 3711. At a minimum, that says you can make some really delicious saison by working with that beast of a strain.

What might make you really jealous about this brewer is that he had homebrewed exactly one batch before he took a brewing job at Funkwerks. Yeah, I'm serious. That's what he said. Now, he has an applicable degree (I seem to think some sort of biology or engineering degree) and was working in that field for a little while before Funkwerks approached him about the job. Well, I'm sure he deserved the job. He designed the Belgian IPA and it was a great beer so he definitely knows what he's doing. The takeaway from that story is that if you are a homebrewer looking to become a pro brewer, breweries really don't need more homebrewers, they need people who can add other value to the business.


So I hope you enjoyed my adventures in Colorado this time. Next time I hope to experience more new breweries and try to get myself in more trouble at Funkwerks. I know there are constantly new breweries popping up in the Denver area so I'd like to see more new action. I also took the opportunity to bring home some bottles that aren't available in Texas. From left to right is Great Divide Hoss, Great Divide Hades, Funkwerks Fruition, Dry Dock Vanilla Porter, Lost Abbey Carnevale Ale, Goose Island Pere Jacques, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire and Fort Collins Brewery Z Amber Smoked Lager. We've already polished off the Fruition (reviewed above) but we will try to savor these other beers more slowly. I'm excited to put the JP dregs to work in my own sours.

Is there a Colorado brewery you love I haven't hit? Thought I unfairly abused a brewery in my review? Please leave comments.


August 21, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 3

So I saved the final leg of the journey for the last: Fort Collins. I actually have enough to write about Fort Collins I'll have to break this up into a couple of posts.

Fort Collins is definitely a town steeped in great beer culture and although it's a bit of a drive from our usual base camp just outside Denver, it's completely worth the drive. The only downside is that there is so much good beer and new beer to try it's impossible to make it through everything and equally impossible to not come back completely wasted by the end. Sorry, liver.

The Fort Collins Brewery

I started by beer adventures at Fort Collins Brewery. FCB is a nice facility on the same block of Lincoln Avenue as Odell. It features the brewery (obviously) along with a taproom and a separate restaurant, Gravity 1020. Yes, gravity 1020 like a hydrometer reading. My wife had a business lunch in a nearby town so she dropped me off to have a nice lunch by myself. The restaurant is very nice. Very modern and clean with floor to ceiling windows that face the brewery's bottling line, some of the bright tanks and what I believe was some of the kegging or keg washing equipment. The food was excellent. I had chicken and waffles with maple ghost pepper butter. The waffles are made with spent grain from their amber lager. Delicious. I also had a couple beers, an oak-aged black IPA and their double chocolate stout on nitro. Both were great. The black IPA managed to keep some of the freshness to the hop profile while also having that good oak-aging flavor. I suspect the beer is aged for a very short amount of time in newer barrels to accomplish the balance. The double chocolate stout was smooth and creamy with a good balance of chocolate and stout flavor. The service was also incredible, too. I highly recommend stopping in the restaurant, even for a quick bite as you stop to sample beers. You can also check out their automated growler filler, which is the only one in all of Colorado. Check out my crappy picture of it below. You can't really tell from the picture but you put a growler in the middle part and on the left you just push a button that corresponds to the beer you want and it fills. Apparently it does a better job of keeping the CO2 in suspension than filling a growler off a regular beer tap. The middle part has a beer gun-like spear that fills the growler like a Blichmann Beer Gun or a bottling wand, so it fills quietly from the bottom up.

Automated Growler Filler in Gravity 1020 at The Fort Collins Brewery
I made a pit stop with at Odell before returning to FCB with my wife, but we came back to the taproom because FCB actually serves a few different beers in the taproom and restaurant. We had a flight of the seasonal beers, which for summer include a line up focusing on, but not exclusively, IPAs. After the flight we went back to the restaurant and sat at the bar and had some more of the oak-aged black IPA and split an appetizer. They also had a beer called "Bambostic" that was a smoked lager. My waitress at lunch, who was very knowledgeable about the beers, explained that it, "smells and tastes like a honey ham." She was 100% correct. It did taste and smell just like a honey ham. It was delicious, just like it sounds.

If you find yourself in Fort Collins, you would be wise to stop in at FCB. Check out both the taproom and restaurant if you can but at a minimum try both the seasonal flight and the standard flight. The seasonal beers are well constructed but so are the standard, year-round beers. The Z Lager is a nice smoked lager and 1900 is a nice amber lager that competes soundly with Fat Tire. I would still like to take a tour of FCB but they have a limited schedule.

Odell Brewing Company

Since I finished lunch with a nice buzz before my wife finished her work, I decided to make the five minute walk to Odell. Odell does a lot of tours, so I figured I could take a tour, have a free beer and wait for my wife. What's really cool is the American Homebrewer Association membership has all kinds of great discounts and Odell gives members a free tasting tray. It's only $4 but free awesome beer is hard to pass up.

While I waited for the tour I drank some water (and wherever they get that water, it is some tasty water) and checked out the patio where they grow hops that go in the beer. So that's cool. I forget which beer(s) they go into. I seem to think it's a late summer or early fall seasonal. This tour was different from the last tour for a couple reasons. First, since the tour was during the week, the brewery was functional. It's very different to see a brewery in full operation instead of sitting silently on a Saturday afternoon like the tour last time. Second, the tour guide was a homebrewer and really liked to talk about details so I got a bit more in depth information this time around.

I'll try to leave out the standard info since I covered it last time. A new piece of information shared is that Odell is expanding the brew house to greatly increase production volume (I believe he said up to 400 BBL, but I might be making that up). They are also going to reach a scale where it starts being economical to purchase equipment to automate more of the process. As he was explaining this, a couple brewers were manually adding a drum of peach puree to a fall seasonal beer. He said in the new system they will be able to load the puree or dry hops or anything they want to add at the ground level and the machine will shoot it up to the top and dump it in.

The guide also said they are looking at potentially expanding into other markets, including north Texas, but right now they can't fill all the demand in the ten states that receive their beer and they won't expand distribution until they can fill the demand in their current market. Even though that's bad for me, since I don't live in one of those ten states, I have a lot of respect for their concern for their customers and unwillingness to sell out the people who have been loyal customers to open up new markets. (Maybe Dogfish Head, who has undercut many existing markets to expand into new ones, could give Odell a call and learn something about customer loyalty.)

The other real new piece of information the guide shared was about the oud bruin they were about to start blending and bottling. The blending process is fairly standard, they pull down the barrels, sample individually, then start tasting blends to reach a final product. I wish I had been there to see (and maybe taste) the blending process personally. Odell definitely puts a lot of work into their Woodcut series, the barrel-aged beers. I hope they are taking back a large profit; I saw 750ml bottles of one of the Woodcut beers for sale at a bottle shop for a hefty $25 price tag (but easily outdone by the $40 750ml of 3 Fonteinen Kriek and $50 bottle of Scaldis Premium).

Odell offers a nice, free beer during the tour. This time it was the summer seasonal, St. Lupulin, and "extra pale ale". I'm not entirely sure what an extra pale ale is but as I can gather from trying a few, it's a pale ale in the pale ale range for bitterness but with more hops added in the flavor and aroma additions. Lots of good floral and citrus notes in the hops without being beat down by bitterness.

After the tour my wife was in the taproom, so we opted to pick up our free tasting tray. We actually went with the pilot tray, which was $8 but they gave it to us half off in lieu of the free regular tasting tray. There were a few really interesting beers in the tray. There was a double Flanders red, which had a good sourness with a little sweetness in the back that balanced without turning into that balsamic vinegar-like sweet-sour flavor of Duchess or Monk's Cafe. There was "Belgian Style Old Ale" which is exactly what it sounds like. Sort of a Piraat or Scaldis-style Belgian strong ale, too malty to be like Duvel or a tripel, but with some musty brett character working with the Belgian esters. I liked it a lot. The winner by far was Xocolatl (pronounced SHO-Ko-Lot-ul) a chocolate milk stout (may have been imperial, I forget). Excellent beer. Thick, rich dark chocolate, plus lactose creaminess, plus stout roast created a thick stout that had a really thick, in a good way, mouthfeel and the flavor you would expect in a really decadent chocolate milkshake you would pay way too much for in a high end restaurant. Like a milkshake made out of dark chocolate truffles. We probably would have stayed longer to drink more Xocolatl but we had places to go...

New Belgium Brewing Company

I still maintain that New Belgium is a must-stop in Fort Collins, even if you don't like their regular beer line up. It's a cool environment and there's always something interesting to try on tap. The taproom always has an amazingly strong smell of fermenting yeast. It's a delicious smell. We didn't get to do the tour this trip but we had a good time in the tap room nonetheless. You can fill out messages on their postcard-sized coasters and they will pay postage to mail them for free. So I sent myself one, our friends in Colorado, and in my buzzed state I wrote my younger brother several post cards of questionable content.

My goal at NB is always to try out the beers I can't find locally. Some of the Lips of Faith and other non-standard line up beers are either only served locally (or even just in the tap room) or the bottles are impossible to find locally. So I opted to pass on some of my favorites like Abbey and Grand Cru for some other offerings. I did have a small pour of the Biere de Mars, a Marzen-like beer with brett, that I haven't had in a couple years. We also tried Ken's Hefe, which as the name suggests, is a hefeweizen. It had good flavor but was lacking a little of the body a hefeweizen needs. It suffered from the same problem as Left Hand's hefeweizen.

We also shared a pint of the New Belgium-Lost Abbey collaboration Brett Beer. It's a nice pale malt-based beer fermented only with a Lost Abbey brett strain. The beer is nice and light with some hop flavor but the flavor and aroma is driven by fruity notes from brett. The fruit flavors are interesting; they range from citrus to melon to almost a light fruit punch combination that New Belgium refers to as, "like a Flintstone's vitamin." The typical brett earthy notes are absent. The brett flavors are also well-seated and even a little less prominent than the esters and phenols off a Belgian ale strain. So if you're looking for a real in-your-face brett beer, that's not this one.

We also sampled Billy's Beer, which is only available on tap in the Fort Collins area. It is an interesting beer. Again, a beer just built on pale malt. There's Amarillo and Centennial hops adding some orange and grapefruit notes to the beer. It's also brewed with kiwi and thai ginger, which adds up to a very complex and peculiar beer. It's the first ginger beer I have liked and the first anything with kiwi in it I can remember liking. The ginger and kiwi play nicely with the citrus notes from the hops. It's 9.5% ABV so it's designed to be sipped and contemplated. There's a lot going on and a lot of different flavors taking over your palate. Those flavors would be lost on an easier-drinking beer. The flavors don't meld into a jumbled fruit salad but they also don't clash, so each sip allows you to enjoy different flavors without feeling like you're trying to put something together (like the graham cracker porter at Denver Beer Co.) or tasting flavors that don't belong together. It's intentionally complex. It reminded me of some of the Crooked Stave brett beers but the flavors melded a little better here.


In the final post I'll tackle Equinox Brewing and my misadventures at Funkwerks in Fort Collins.



August 20, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 2

Well, I meant to get this posted over the weekend but what was supposed to be a nice weekend of studying and a little beer drinking turned into a disaster as one of my cats developed a urinary tract infection and starting pissing blood all over the house, then the lamp in the TV blew out and the battery in one of our cars died. So I got really far behind on the weekend. On a positive note, I am having good luck culturing the Dupont strain out of a bottle of Saison Dupont that's going in my spelt saison later this week.

So moving back to better times in sunny Colorado, our first beer stop was in Denver where a lot of breweries and beer bars are popping up in the trendy LoDo and HiDo districts. Denver is definitely giving Fort Collins a run for its money as the Colorado beer capital. Although Breckenridge seems to have smartly diversified itself across the city, there seems to be plenty of thirst to go around.

Denver Beer Company

Our first Denver stop was the obviously-named Denver Beer Company for their first anniversary party. DBC is located just on the fringe of a trendy shopping area in what looks to be an old auto garage. They have nicely developed a fairly small building into a brewery and tap house with some seating outside with hops growing overhead, creating a nice beer garden feel, especially when the bay doors are opened. The anniversary party was fun, there was a good crowd, some food trucks and a band to accompany the festivities. The actual brewing area seems very small. I'm not sure what volume they can brew but I would be surprised if they were brewing on more than a 3BBL system.

Their beers were interesting although not always particularly competitive with established Colorado breweries. The IPA was barely reaching the top of the pale ale category in terms of hop aroma, bitterness, or flavor. The stout was very average. They make a rauchbier which was a nice lager with a solid smoke flavor without being overwhelmingly smoky. It was smoky enough to appease a rauchbier fan but not so overloaded with smoke to turn away a more casual drinker. DBC also makes a kaffir lime wheat beer that we didn't try but I heard from many people is a great beer.

The most interesting beers we tried were their graham cracker porter and an imperial version of the same beer. The graham cracker porter had some very clear maple and biscuit-cracker flavors hidden in the beer. If somebody handed it to me and didn't tell me what it is I would figure out it was a porter but I'd have to do some work putting the maple and biscuit-cracker elements together. Knowing it was a graham cracker porter, my mind put the flavors together almost right away. It was a pretty good beer. I think some people would like the beer better if the graham cracker elements were more potent and up front but I still enjoyed the beer. The imperial version was somewhat strange. The graham cracker elements were largely lost behind more bitterness, more chocolate malt and more alcohol. The maple and biscuit-cracker flavors would sometimes dart out in the background of the beer. I wish they had imperialized the graham cracker element more rather than trying to fit those elements into what was almost a robust porter.

The biggest takeaway for me is that they share a real homebrewer's approach to brewing. Rather than brew the same beer 1000 times in as large of quantities as they can, they intentionally brew small batches and rotate through various recipes and just sell whatever they want through their tap house and whatever accounts they have. That cuts both ways. On one hand, brewing doesn't get boring and you can brew whatever the hell you want. On the other hand, if your recipes aren't perfected, then you're selling a lot of imperfect beers and making a questionable name for yourself in a very competitive market. I felt like most of the recipes were really early in the perfection process and might have been too young to be brewed and sold. I know many breweries constantly tweak recipes for months or even years to dial it in perfectly, but I wonder if they started the brewery with solid recipes or started the brewery and then starting working on recipes.

I wonder about their viability without having a stable line up that people can learn to love. It sounds like the kaffir lime wheat is gaining traction as a fan favorite but if it's rarely around, it's hard for people to want to go from something more pedestrian like a lime wheat to trying out a fresh hop IPA or rauchbier (both beers they brew). It's an interesting model and should be remain in business as the market gets continuously more competitive, it might prove to homebrewers looking to go pro that it is possible to go pro and just brew whatever you want, whenever you want.

But hey, my rambling thoughts can't be taken too seriously as criticism of their beers or business model because they are a year old and had a packed house all day. So good for them. I'm glad I got to go, try their beers and get a slight sense of how they operate. (If you know more details about the brewery, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.)

After Denver Beer Company we hopped to Alehouse at Amato for some beer and food but since I already talked about that great cask conditioned Agave Wheat with citrus tea and elderberries in the last post I'll move on.

Great Divide Brewing Company

We do get some of the Great Divide beers in Texas, especially the Yeti series, which Great Divide is most and best known for. Rightfully so, the Yeti is a good imperial stout that hinges more on the malt side than the hops. Great Divide also makes some other good beers. In particular, my wife and I really like Hoss, their rye lager. Sadly, for whatever reason we don't get it in Texas (probably a legal issue). We also tried Hades, their Belgian Golden Strong Ale, which was good. We brought back a bottle of each, because we also do not get Hades in Texas. We also liked Wolfgang, their doppelbock, another beer not distributed in our hood. Some of the other offerings were less of a hit. We weren't a fan of the scotch ale. It was lackluster.

I had hoped to take a tour of Great Divide but timing just wasn't on our side this trip. Ultimately, I had a ridiculously bad experience at Great Divide. The bartenders in the tap room had some issue serving us because we were getting hardcore ignored and when I tried to place an order, halfway through the bartender just walked off. Yeah, they were busy, but not so busy they wouldn't even make eye contact with us for a good fifteen minutes while they served people who had just walked up to the bar. It's too bad because I'd probably go back to the taproom on future visits to Denver but I don't really feel like vacation is a good time to be treated poorly (is there ever a good time for that?) and I can find the beers all over town.

Copper Kettle Brewing Company

Copper Kettle is a small brewery operating out of a working class neighborhood beyond the trendier areas of downtown and near downtown Denver. Their tiny three barrel system should not be overlooked. They make a combination of exotic beers only a homebrewer could love along with some staples. What's interesting is that unlike the beer bars in trendier areas, packed with beer geeks, the tap room here was filled with locals. To them, this gem is just the local watering hole. Although I wanted to stop in and sample some of their other beers, it was getting late and we had other plans so we stopped in to grab a growler of the 2011 GABF vegetable beer category gold winning Mexican Chocolate Stout. Still an excellent beer. Seriously, if you find yourself trying to hunt down a beer gem in Denver, visit the unassuming Copper Kettle for some great and well-priced beer.

Left Hand Brewing

After giving ourselves a day to recoup with a 7.6 mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, we ventured out to Longmont where we visited Left Hand and Oskar Blues' Homemade Liquids & Solids. (As an aside, I'd really like to hit the brewery and tap room and Oskar Blues next time. They serve all kinds of weird one offs in the tap room.) At Left Hand's tap room I enjoyed the Sawtooth ESB on cask (the best way to drink it) and a dark mild that I really wish they would bottle. My wife had a taster flight and tried their Oktoberfest, which was slightly above average and their hefeweizen, which I felt was lacking in some yeast flavor and body, which seems to be typical of many domestic hefeweizens. While at Oskar Blues, I tried Left Hand's Hopfenweiss, another that seems not to receive bottling treatment. Hopfenweiss, a take on the hoppy weiss-style beers, was superb. It wasn't really hoppy but there was some nice hop flavor. Most notably, unlike the hefeweizen, it had great yeast flavor and solid, thick hefeweizen mouthfeel. Hopfenweiss was one of my favorite beers on the trip, probably my second or third favorite. I would be extremely happy if Left Hand would bottle this beer (or at least send me a growler).

Left Hand gets a lot of credit, deservedly, for Milk Stout but really Left Hand makes a lot of excellent beers and they probably don't get enough credit for their other beers. They make a lot of English-focused beers (with some good German beers here and there) and I think really dominate in that market but English-styles are often subordinate to American versions of the same or similar beers and struggle to compete in hype with Belgian and American styles (which are both all the rage, as you know...). So keep on keeping on, Left Hand. Fight the good fight.


Ok, it's late so I'll try to come back around with the final part of my Colorado beer bonanza when I take on Fort Collins.

August 17, 2012

Colorado Beer Adventures 2 -- Part 1

I meant to get this post out yesterday but we came home to no internet access thanks to a fierce storm knocking out our Verizon FIOS while out of town. I am also starting to prepare for my first classes for the next semester, so I'll try to get all the info I have to share out as quickly as possible and in as few of posts as possible. I already have a couple hundred pages of reading to knock out this weekend and I had really hoped to get a small brew day in.

Colorado is always such a wonderful place, even outside of all the delicious beer...but the beer definitely helps. The weather was pleasant and among all the drinking I also got to enjoy the outdoors with a nice four hour, 7.6 mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition to the drinking and hiking, I also had the benefit of brewing with two friends up there, which was the first time I had ever brewed with somebody other than my wife. It was interesting to see other brewers' processes and equipment. They have a gravity-based system using keggles and a cooler mash tun. I helped them work out a hazelnut porter recipe that smelled delicious going into the fermenter. They are ambitious about entering the pro brewing world. You can check out their website at http://tinyassbrewery.com/.

In addition to some great brewery visits, I also enjoyed some beers beyond their own brewery doors and some of them deserve a shout out. Even if you don't care much for beer reviews, please check out the last one. It's a really crazy but amazing beer.

  • Wynkoop's Patty's Chile Beer - although I actually drank this at Breckenridge's Alehouse in Denver (which has great food and beer), I meant to try this beer last time I was in Colorado since I actually went to Wynkoop. Unfortunately, I didn't like this beer as much as some of the other chile beers around the state. It had some heat but the chile flavor was a combination of fresh anaheim and ancho chile. I thought the heat was in a strange place of either needing more or less. The chile flavor had a nice complexity from the combination of fresh and smoked chiles but I didn't find the combination personally appealing. I think the anaheim could be better replaced with something more flavorful like poblano or hatch chiles (although hatch chiles are an anaheim variant, they seem to be packed with way more flavor). Anaheim chiles, to me, seem to be barely more chile-flavored than bell peppers, which are extremely mild.
  • River North  Unified Theory - This beer hails from a Denver brewery but I drank it at the very excellent LoDo Denver restaurant Freshcraft. It is an oak-aged imperial wit. I don't normally venture into the imperial wit category (if that even is a category) because it is usually a code for an extremely hoppy wit-like beer that aggressively hops and aggressively spices the beer which makes it loose all the delicate flavors and sessionability of a good wit. However, this beer was quite interesting. It clocks in at just 23 IBUs but the bitterness balanced the malt sweetness with only a hint of hop flavor or aroma coming through. At 8.5% ABV, it needs that extra kick of bitterness for balance. The oak provided some nice vanilla notes that played well with the spices. The spices were definitely more aggressive than a normal wit but thankfully it wasn't all corriander. The spices were a combination of citrus-y corriander and orange peel with earthy spices and yeast notes. Although the wheat-y flavor was a little lost in everything else going on, it was a tasty beer. My only criticism is that the blend of oak notes, yeast flavors and spices seemed slightly disjointed, but maybe that is intentional because I kept having to go back to the beer to take sips and try to pick out and enjoy each flavor. Maybe some additional time or slight adjustments to the spice profiles would make this beer reach perfection in my opinion but as it is I would definitely drink it again.
  • Russian River  Consecration - This delicious sour dark ale was my second RR beer ever and my first RR sour. Delicious and not at all over-hyped IMO. I found this beer on tap at The Cheeky Monk in Westminster just outside of Denver. At $11 for a half pint it was pricey but worth it. I had hoped to bring home some RR bottles but the only ones I found around the liquor shops was Damnation but I have a bottle in my cellar from my last Colorado trip. Anyway, this delicious beer screams complexity and sour in a way I can only hope to come close to with my own sours (yes, I know MoreBeer has the Consecration kit, but I mean more for my own process). The sourness is upfront with a blend of the soft sourness of lactic acid but a more tart, cutting edge of acetic acid that really made those currant flavors stand out. Slight brett funk plays well with the chocolate, Cabernet, spice and earthy, tobacco-like notes. As excited as I was to taste this beer and as incredible as it is, I'm going to tell you now I had a couple of beers that stood above Consecration as my favorites on this trip.
  • Lost Abbey  10 Commandments - This was my first Lost Abbey beer, but I wasn't really enjoying it. Ten Commandments is Lost Abbey's upgraded Abbey Ale taking it from a dubbel to sort of a quad. Unlike most quads that feature a lot of sweetness and those dark candy sugar flavors, this beer had some sharp acrid notes and an overpowering amount of raisin that made it taste like caramelized raisins taken to burnt. I could see how this beer would appeal to fans of imperial stouts and robust porters with the sharper dark malt flavors but it wasn't for me. Before any Lost Abbey fans get their feathers ruffled, let me say that they really redeem themselves with another Lost Abbey beer I had that I'll discuss later. My wife also tried Inferno Ale and really enjoyed it. We also brought home a bottle of Carnevale Ale, so I haven't given up on Lost Abbey after one beer.
  • The Bruery  Mischief - We don't get Bruery beers in Texas, so I was happy to see this beer also on The Cheeky Monk's draft list. This Belgian Golden Strong Ale was enjoyable on many fronts. It definitely follows in Duvel's path but has it's own flavor profile. The pear and pepper notes stand out but there's a good malt backbone and some other interesting citrus flavors going on. Mischief is dry hopped with American hops, which is responsible for those citrus flavors. This beer definitely benefits from a warmer serving temperature. At first the beer was good but as it warmed up the flavors really developed and I went from liking it to loving it. The Bruery labels this beer as "hoppy" but it's a little misleading. The beer doesn't come across any more hoppy than Duvel. Those citrus flavors could just as easily be yeast or fruit-derived. None of the usual hop flavors come through in a  way that suggests the beer is more hoppy than the style's standards.
  • Firestone Walker  Double Double Barrel Ale - I got to sample this incredible beer at Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids in Longmont. Double DBA is a barleywine-strength version of FW's standard Double Barrel Ale, which is a nice English bitter-style ale. DDBA is a very reputable beer for good reason. Hoppy in every sense, it favorably lacks the enamel-stripping bitterness of many west coast hoppy beers. DDBA has a notable bitterness but the hops also make a pleasant addition of flavor and aroma to an interesting but easy to drink blend of English malts. The oak notes add some smoothness and flavor to the beer, making it easily one of the best barleywines I've ever tasted. I would happily enjoy this beer again but sadly this is another west coast brewery we just don't receive in Texas.
  • Breckenridge Brewing  Agave Wheat on cask with orange tea and elderberries - yeah, read all of that together again. They really served that. Actually, I enjoyed this beer at Breckenridge's Alehouse at Amato's. Breckenridge very wisely has an expanded presence in Denver that includes a couple restaurants (the Alehouses) that serve tasty food and a solid lineup of beers that feature many Breckenridge beers but also a good mix of other beers. They also keep a cask offering, which was calling out my name before I even knew what was on tap. When I want a wheat beer, I usually reach for a weizen-style beer but I was intrigued by the idea of a wheat beer on cask. Even more intriguing was the cask additions of orange tea and elderberries. This beer was one of my top two beers of the trip. It arrived in the usual copper color with a nice foamy head. The smell was complex and almost chai tea-like. The flavor was an avalanche -- excuse the pun, if you can -- of complexity. The wheat presented the perfect background for the rest of the flavors. The agave took a backseat to the citrus and elderberry. The tea provided tannins and some extra bitterness to help offset what could have otherwise been a beer too sweet to really enjoy. The wheat beer was definitely very different on cask. Lacking the sharper carbonation, the sweetness of wheat can become cloying and the mouthfeel can get a little too dense but the tea helped add balance to the sweetness and the dense mouthfeel actually encouraged slow sipping to enjoy teasing out the different flavors. If there was ever a beer to convert those who refuse beer in favor of wine or mixed drinks, this would be it; but the beer had such a great flavor and depth it should not be dismissed as a "chick beer" or competitor in the nasty, overly sweet malt beverage market for women a la Zima or Smirnoff Ice.
That's a good start to my Colorado adventures. I will get back to studying and hopefully get through enough work that I can post again later today to start talking about breweries and more specifics about their beers.

August 10, 2012

Heading Out to Colorado

So long ass hot Texas, hello less ass hot Colorado with lots of great beer.

Yep, I am rolling out of Texas today for another visit to Colorado. This time we will be visiting Fort Collins again and spending more time around the Denver area. I expect to revisit Funkwerks, Fort Collins Brewing, Odell and Left Hand with new visits to Great Divide, Denver Beer Co. and some other places. I think the itinerary includes Alehouse (owned by Breckenridge) and possibly a peek around Liquids and Solids (owned by Oskar Blues).

So see you people next Thursday for some exciting updates.

August 7, 2012

Easy Perry (no, not Katy Perry)

Perry, if you don't know, is fermented pear juice. It is almost identical to cider, but made with pears. The process is mostly the same, although for those of us using pre-made juices rather than beginning with whole, fresh fruit, the process is entirely similar. Like cider, perry is primarily an English beverage but it also has roots in Wales and France. For more background, the wikipedia entry is a good primer.

The most popular commercial version, at least here in the US, is Ace Pear Cider although as I understand it, it's actually apple cider with pear essence added. It's also reviewed as very sweet and not particularly great (although review sites are highly subjective and you should never take them as truth). Another common pear beverage is Woodchuck Pear. I've never had either but from what I gather on the internet, neither is a great example of the style.

I am a cursory consumer of ciders. I don't go out of my way to find them but I enjoy them from time to time. I have made a few straight ciders and some graff, although each came from generic grocery store apple juice. I had thought about making perry a few times but all the pear juices I could find seem rather pricey. One day I saw a good deal and snatched up a couple bottles. Specifically, I picked up R. W. Knudsen Family Organic Pear Juice. I've had good luck with this brand. They also make a tart cherry juice I had good luck using in my sour mashed fake kriek a couple years ago. The good thing about these juices is that they are what they say they are. No sugars, no preservatives added. Many pear juices I found from other companies were cut with apple or white grape juice.

Wanting to play around but not seriously commit, I bought two 32oz bottles at $2 each.

Rather than try to juice it up (pun not intended) with a high alcohol beverage, I decided to whip up something light in the session-region with light body to let the pear flavor come through with some cider-like quality. So, very simply, I added 64oz of pear juice with 64oz of bottled water. My expectation was something thin and apfelwine-like. Since I had just bottled my raspberry lambic with some EC-1118, I had plenty left over, so I used the remaining sachet of EC-1118 to ferment.

Fermentation was mellow and my the end a nice fruit cap had developed in the top couple inches of the fermentation jug. The cap stayed suspended by CO2 bubbles for about four weeks, then dropped out. So I decided to bottle. I bottled with 1oz of corn sugar for the gallon, which should give me a nice effervescence.

The perry was definitely not as I expected. The mouthfeel is fuller than cider, which tends to be very thin. I think there is still a lot of fruit particles in suspension, since I did not cold crash before bottling. I'm sure most of this will drop out in the bottle over time and once it is chilled before serving. The flavor definitely has a cider element but the pear aroma and flavor comes through very distinctly. Unlike a cider fermented completely dry, it is not tart. It is actually quite sweet. This is because pears have unfermentable sugars, such as sorbitol, and less of a tannic bite than apples. I'm sure the carbonation will help add some balance.

An addition of acid could help balance it out and bring out more tart, cider character if desired. However, as is, it is a nice, easy drinking beverage. It probably would not win any awards but could easily cross over to win the hearts of non-beer drinkers, especially those who primarily enjoy sweeter drinks. If you decide to duplicate this process, give the perry a taste before you bottle. You may be happy with it as is, but if you are used to more dry cider you may want to blend in some dry apple cider or acid blend to give it more of a dry flavor.

August 2, 2012

Redesign Finished. OR IS IT?

I took a little time this week out of preparing for the MPRE (that's the ethics exam for lawyers) and doing a terrible, terrible cleanse diet to redesign this blog. I mostly wanted to clean up the interface so all the important groupings of posts were easier to find (see to the left) and hopefully I can draw reader attention to the better posts and let some of my less intelligent ramblings descend into the internet abyss. What do you think? If it sucks, please say so. I won't be offended.

Well, hopefully a slightly improved look will encourage me to do a better job of writing in a way that comes across in less of a rambling, useless manner.

Some updates, just to get some brewing info in this post:

  • Next week following my Friday morning MPRE test I am flying out to Colorado for another beer tour of the state. Crazy excited to see friends up there, take a vacation, drink excellent beer, see new breweries, return to some great breweries and avoid the Texas heat.
  • Labor Day weekend will be another trip to Austin. The goal is to tour some of the breweries in the downtown area but let's see how not-hungover I can be. 
  • This weekend I plan on bottling my perry-like whatever-it-is, so if that turns out tasty I'll blog about it.
  • I will bottle Dogtails 3, my brett saison soon. 
  • I intend on finishing up cleaning up the fridge I bought to convert into a fermentation chamber so I'll chat a little about that awesome craigslist score.
  • I need to brew up my first wit, spelt saison, hatch chile blonde and Petrus aged pale clone but as mentioned repeatedly before, I am still trying to consume the tail ends of several other homebrew batches.
  • I need to put together a porter and black IPA recipe for the mesquite pods I recently acquired.
  • I've also been thinking for a while on a nice long post about building recipes but I haven't had the time to sit down and write it.