October 29, 2013

Scotch Ale: Another book review

Scotch Ale is a book about...scotch ale. It is among the 1990s Classic Beer Style Series published by Brewers Publications. It is written by Greg Noonan, who also wrote New Brewing Lager Beer, who is known for his detailed writing. Scotch Ale does not fail to deliver the same level of detail and precision. While most of the books in this series dedicate an unnecessary amount of space to discussing general homebrewing technique and equipment, Noonan goes into a style discussion and stays on point from beginning to end. The book presents a historical analysis of Scottish brewing that sets up the brewing-related chapters with a clear theme that Scottish brewing is about quality ingredients and process.

Scotch Ale opens with an extensive discussion of Scottish brewing, covering not only the historical styles but also Scottish brewing technique, which was more closely aligned with continental brewing than English technique. That held true even as the world began to desire English-style ales over the traditional malty Scottish offerings and Scottish brewers turned their attention towards brewing English pale ales and other popular English styles in the nineteenth century. The historical analysis is not filler material; it sets up the remainder of the book by showing how important the process and ingredients are to Scottish brewing. It also demonstrates how Scottish beers have changed over time.

The book then turns to a discussion of ingredients, with a lengthy discussion of Scottish water and the role it plays in brewing scotch ales/wee heavies and the lighter Scottish styles. Scottish water varies dramatically, even in very close areas, and that plays into the differences between Scottish brews and their attempts at English-style beers. Noonan also discusses Scottish grain, which most brewers agree is quality grain, and the significance of yeast and fermentation. Traditionally, scotch ales contained a very high final gravity similar to some of the sweetest imperial stouts on the market, such as Dark Lord. Modern wee heavies would be quite dry by historical standards. This was a desired effect, although one has to imagine that over time these beers would have been dried out by brett and bacteria. The book closes out the ingredients discussion with an explanation of Scottish hop use and alternative herbs once used for bitterness. Could be interesting to try out some Scottish brews with some herbal character.

The book then explores traditional Scottish brewing technique, which is very similar to modern brewing techniques. Scottish brewers championed batch sparging over the English double mash technique. The Scottish techniques discussed by Noonan may not be novel for most homebrewers but for their time they certainly departed from the norm. It should not surprise anybody who has tasted any Scottish-style beer, that the Scots are not huge fans of hops. Their processes reflected that view. This section then briefly discusses how to brew Scottish beers with modern ingredients and equipment.

Next, Scotch Ale turns to a recipe section that includes both nineteenth century recipes and modern recipes. The recipes include everything from big wee heavies to 2-3% Scottish beers. There are recipes broken out to perform partigyle brewing. It's a great selection of recipes although the recipes are all very similar combinations of Scottish pale ale plus a little roasted barley. These are not the Scotch ale recipes you typically see floating around homebrewers (and even many U.S. pro brewers) with all sorts of crystal malts, vienna malt and other grains. The recipes are simple because, as the book continues through with a clear theme, Scottish beers are a product of using great ingredients, processes and time to produce exceptional beers.

The book then offers a couple appendices listing Scottish brewers and bars. It's good background on the big players in Scottish brewing but otherwise not the most useful information in the book. It doesn't read like filler material, either. It's well written; it just wasn't the information I was after. However, the book is so full of good information that I didn't feel like the appendices detracted from the value of the book.

Honestly, I think Scotch Ale is the best written and most in-depth of the series, at least of the books I have read/own (which is about half, collectively). I suppose if I had to criticize something it would be the absence of a deviant recipe or two. However, that is not Noonan's style. He writes to teach technical precision and does so extremely well here as he does in New Brewing Lager Beer.

October 21, 2013

Altbier: Book Review

Altbier is the 1990s era Classic Beer Style Series book, predictably about alt. Alt is a fairly misunderstood style. Many homebrewing recipes I find include a lot of English/American crystal malts and end up looking like some noble hop-infused English brown ale. I'm not sure whether these crystal malt-driven recipes are simply historic remnants of homebrewers and early craft brewers lacking access to a wider range of German malts or simply a misunderstanding of the style. Altbier does a good job of dismantling the idea that alt should be loaded with crystal malts.

Altbier suffers from some of the same flaws as other books in the Classic Beer Style series. It's thin on technical info and written for a 1990s homebrewing audience that lacked access to the range of ingredients, equipment and knowledge we have today. It spends unnecessary time discussing general homebrewing process. However, the recipe section does a good job of offering basic examples of the wide variety of alt styles from sticke alt, which is darker, bolder and hoppier, to equally rarely seen wheat-employing variants.

The book begins with a brief survey of the history of alt and its relationship with Dusseldorf. It then moves into discussing the flavor profile (in a scant few pages) before rolling into a discussion of typical ingredients. The ingredient discussion is mostly limited to the use of pilsner malt, vienna malt and munich malt. These are the most common ingredients but the use of specialty ingredients in small amounts is downplayed, if not discouraged in this section of the book. I found that odd since the recipes later in the book are more liberal with ingredients.

The book then turns to brewing alts. It opens with a section about homebrewing equipment, which can be mostly disregarded since it's all antiquated homebrewing equipment. The next chapter gets into alt brewing techniques. The book then ventures into a lengthy set of recipes. I wish the book had spent more time discussing some of these variants instead of including a general discussion of homebrewing. At any rate, the recipes are a good starting point that can easily be tweaked with some German specialty malts to add a little complexity. The book concludes with several appendices of little importance.

Altbier overall was a good book. Worth the cash, if only to get a good set of core recipes to work from. Like most or all of the Classic Beer Style series, it helps to read the book with careful attention to how much of the 1990s homebrewing knowledge was suspect.

October 16, 2013

Beer blending...in the glass

One thing I don't think I've ever mentioned on this blog is my affinity for blending beers in the glass at bars. I like to find interesting but complimentary beers to request mixed together. It usually leads to a lot of WTF looks from bartenders but I've never been told no. There's a certain artform to finding a combination that is better than the two beers on their own. My personal favorite is Left Hand Milk Stout and Deschutes Mirror Pond. It's murky, sweet and hoppy. I also like to play a game of finding the most revolting half and half combination but not actually ordering them. I think the worst I came up with was Leinenkugel summer shandy and Old Rasputin.

Most people think of mixed beers through the Guinness-marketed blends of half and half (Guinness and Harp) and black and tan (Guinness and Bass). Although Guinness marketed these blends as a way to promote their products in the 20th century, those terms have a long history in English drinking that are not tied specifically to Guinness. A half and half, the most common, is merely a light ale and a stout or porter. It was very common to see stout and bitter but you can also find various other English beers in historical discussions. Although half and half generically describes the combination of light and dark beer, it is not the only one traditionally poured. Old Six is a blend of mild ale and barleywine/old ale (traditionally not different styles). My favorite must be mother-in-law. A blend of bitter and old.

The role of the publican in creating blends of beers declined with the rise of bottled beer. Porter, for example, was frequently served in the pub as a combination of aged, sour porter, mild (unaged) porter and some lighter and cheaper beer. After the desire for sour porter dropped off in the late 19th century there was still blends found of porter and a lighter beer (which became half and halfs). Brewers started bottling pre-blended combinations of porter and a lighter beer since the absence of sour beer meant no exploding bottles. Various brewers used blends of strong and weak beers to produce various strengths of ales, often blending old ale or stock ale with young bitter or pale ale. These bottled blends allowed brewers to stretch their supply of expensive aged or high gravity beers (the same reason publicans sold blends) and compete directly with the publicans. However, pub-blended beer did not die off completely. Well into the 1960s one could still find people drinking mixes that included mild, bitter, porter, stout and pale ale.

I find it unusual that with all of the craft beer available at bars the most one can normally find are blends containing Guinness or Blue Moon. The culture of bar-blended beer seems to have been left behind although mixed drinks containing craft beer and liquor seem quite popular. It's disappointing, really. I suppose our craft beers are flavorful enough that the blending is irrelevant. You don't need to mix a hoppy beer with a porter to make a hoppy porter. You can just buy one. However, I think there are some interesting combinations that are difficult to replicate in a single beer, if for no other reason than the fermentation in the single beer and the time for the components to blend together in a single beer makes for a different approach. Perhaps more importantly, you can't always find blends of sour or aged beers that also offer fresh, hoppy character. Incidentally, I think it would be interesting to see a taproom-focused brewery brew a set of strong and weak beers for the purpose of serving them both individually or blended. It could create interesting production advantages for a small brewery.

Ok, so why am I writing about this on a homebrewing blog? I think it's good, as brewers, for us to stretch our palettes and try different things. Plus I think it generally makes for tasty beer drinking. I also think it would be interesting to see a homebrew system set up that focused on blending, whether it is blending in the package or in the glass. I also believe that blending beer is something we will see grow as a practice in the craft beer community. Maybe not in the bar or in the taproom, but with all the barrel aging and sour brewing going on it presents a lot of opportunity for brewers to get creative and offer something unique beyond using the newest hop variety.


October 8, 2013

STD ESB Tasting

I realized a week or so ago that when I first designed this ESB recipe back in 2011 I had modeled it off a recipe from Jamil, which is often mentioned as being a non-traditional recipe. I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of this beer although it doesn't help that I used three year old grains and hops. There's definitely an old hop flavor that I don't love. At least this recipe can be a jumping off point for working (but not twerking) on a better ESB recipe.

Appearance: Light in color, a little too light for an ESB. It is more of a golden color than the usual copper color of an ESB. Maintains a frothy white head from the cask pour. Beer is clear with very slight haze. Actually very clear for a cask beer. A layer of bubbles forms along the bottom of the glass.
Aroma: The aroma is a mix of English yeast character, hop and some malt aroma. The dominate aroma is the grassy, slightly fruity aroma of EKG hops. Some yeast esters come out in the aroma with just a hint of bready malt. The hops are not as pronounced as I would have liked but it smells fresh and inviting.

Flavor: Not at all like the aroma. The yeast character is prominent with a mix of fruit and what people describe as the "twang" with S-04. It's not unpleasant but it overwhelms the taste. It has mellowed after a few days of oxygen exposure. The hop flavor has a hint of what was in the aroma but the primary hop flavor profile is one of faded, stale hops. Not undrinkable but not the fresh hop flavor you expect in an ESB. Malt character is very mild and the specialty malts are subdued, if present at all.

Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is a little thin for cask beer. It's more carbonated and spritzy than I expected. It's not necessarily a bad thing and it's not as carbonated as bottle conditioned or draft beer but just not what I expected. It's very easy to drink.

Overall: I consider this a miss for several reasons. I let the fermentation get warm a little too quickly, which gave the beer more yeast character than I wanted. The use of old ingredients definitely played against the quality of the beer although that has nothing to do with the recipe itself. I was also looking for more of the bread and caramel flavors from the malt that this recipe lacks. I'd certainly change the recipe to focus on more crystal malts and maybe use some munich to drive some of the color and flavor without making the beer cloying. I'd also contemplate the use of candy syrups to help drive flavor, which is a common English practice.

Colorado Drinking September 2013 -- Part 5

In this final installment of this series of posts I'll discuss my two trips to Fort Collins. We went to Fort Collins twice and visited the same breweries each time. I don't feel bad about missing the other breweries. These are among my favorite breweries and outside of New Belgium, I can't get any at home. I know there are some new brewers popping up in Fort Collins that I'd like to try but it's hard to fade on some of the best beer in the state (at least in my opinion). We were also fairly busy each time. On the first trip we had a beer novice with us so we figured we would introduce him to places we knew to be solid. On the second trip we scored tickets to the New Belgium tour and that's a long tour. We also drove back down that evening to Boulder and had dinner and visited Avery. So that didn't leave a huge amount of time to crawl around Fort Collins to try new places. I still need to get into Mayor of Old Town (their largest and best known bar) one of these trips.

If you ever make the drive from Denver to Fort Collins, you will notice that Budweiser shows up on the name of a few items along the highway (I-25) such as an athletic complex. Bud has a sizeable presence in Fort Collins. If you miss your exit for all the breweries you have to drive a few minutes before you can turn around. There at the next exit is the Budweiser plant. I missed the exit on the first drive and ended up in Budweiser territory. I snapped the below picture while driving so it's not a great picture. However, you can see that it's a large facility (squarely in the middle of the photo). It's larger than the Budweiser and Miller breweries in Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively, but I don't think it's as large as AB-InBev's site in St. Louis or Coors in Golden, Colorado. But after the picture we'll move on to discussing good beer.


The Fort Collins Brewery

I can't say enough good things about The Fort Collins Brewery (FCB). FCB is probably the most undervalued brewery in the state. If I had to guess a reason why they are undervalued then I'd say it's probably due to a heavy reliance on distributing their core package of beers, which mostly revolve around the typical craft beer styles that built craft brewing for decades before breweries could live off of a core lineup of an IPA, imperial stout and some Belgian-style beer. These beers might be boring to people who didn't start their craft beer journey on these more pedestrian styles but FCB makes them very well and they are solid representations of sessionable (or at least session-ish) styles. However, what gets overlooked about FCB is their seasonal and one off beers. I believe outside of their standard seasonal line up most of these other beers are either on-premises only or draft-only. FCB makes a whole line of hoppy beers that compete soundly with any other IPA/DIPAs. Their smoked beers are among some of the best I've ever had, including some of the German beers considered standards for the style.

I also can't say enough good things about the on-site restaurant (which is separate from the taproom). The fantastic food and service are worth stopping in but don't overlook the beer list. For whatever reason, you can often find a different selection of beers in the restaurant than you find in the taproom. The restaurant selection usually includes one off beers that the taproom may not have. The taproom also frequently has beers the restaurant doesn't have so it's worth checking out both to find the full selection available. To the right is a picture of the seasonal and specialty brews available on the first day I ate in the restaurant.

I really need to hit their Saturday tours, which are free and come with a food and beer pairing.

My only gripe about FCB is that they do not distribute to Texas. We have terrible distribution laws and it's a massive state to try to distribute to (which is why most breweries start off in one or two major markets before expanding to the rest of the state) so it's not entirely their fault. But I would love to see even their standards in this area.

Before I discuss the beers I loved most at FCB this trip, let me give you a couple pictures of their brewhouse.



Delicious beers:

  • Sour Doppelbock:When I first saw this beer I was skeptical whether it would be dry and tart like a non-backsweetened Flanders red or have too much residual sugar to give it that balsamic vinegar taste. I should have had more faith. This beer was probably the best or among the best beers of the whole trip. It was dry and tart while keeping the malt flavors alive, much like a big Flanders red. However, the malt character was very different from a Flanders red. While Flanders red relies on the German caramel malts, doppelbocks tend to rely more heavily on the lighter Munich malts, which are bready and less caramel-sweet than caramunich and caravienne. There was still some of the chocolate, caramel, cherry, stonefruit and toffee flavors present in a Flanders red but much more of a bready, toasty character that I preferred over the typical character of a Flanders red. I might have to try my hand at souring a doppelbock.
  • Mesquite Chile Lime: I was intrigued by this beer but not entirely sure what to expect. It was exactly what is was called. There was citrusy mesquite smoke flavor, some chile flavor and heat and some lime flavor and acidity. It was a very unique and interesting beer. It was very food-like and could easily be used as a marinade on almost any kind of meat. It's the kind of beer that could easily be justified in a 4-8 ounce pour because it has a big, bold flavor that can overwhelm your taste buds. It went extremely well with the nachos we had as an appetizer so I didn't feel overwhelmed. It did a good job of adding an interesting dynamic to the nachos.
I didn't get much further into the beers on either stop because the sour doppelbock was that good but I am sure the 2011 doppelbock they have brought out for sale is excellent and the double chocolate stout is a great sort-of imperial chocolate stout. It's not quite as big as most imperial stouts but packs a lot of quality flavor.

Odell Brewing

Odell is doing very well for itself. It is expanding both the taproom and production facilities, so we should see some of the basic lineup in Texas in late spring 2014. Odell Brewing is best known for 90 Shilling, their flagship beer, and their variety of hoppy beers. However, Odell has a wide range of beers and it is no wider than the one off and test batches that get released in the taproom. One of those beers won us over as a fantastic beer: Wooden Cow. Wooden Cow is a bourbon barrel aged chocolate stout. Fantastically rich with chocolate flavor and mouthfeel. The barrel character was well balanced and added vanilla undertones. These days it's not hard to find bourbon barrel aged stouts but it is harder to find bourbon barrel aged stouts that adds something interesting to the marketplace. I don't know if Wooden Cow is going to be produced more than once but they are doing themselves a disservice not to share this beer with more customers.

We were short a day for the official release date of Odell's new barrel beer, a Fernet barrel aged porter. Fernet is an Italian herbal spirit which is commonly compared to Jagermeister but less sweet. It's not a widely consumed spirit but I seem to recall from the tour guide's explanation that somebody local to Colorado produces it and that is where they sourced the barrels.

It's an interesting concept, adding strong herbal notes to a porter. It's not a terribly unusual concept from a historical perspective. Stout, which is closely related to porter (if there is even a legitimate difference between the two), was sold with dandelion as a flavor addition in parts of England as late as the early twentieth century. However, from a modern brewing perspective, the addition of herbs is not widespread beyond a handful of spices. The use of herbal spirit barrels is also fairly unusual, with the occasional gin barrel aged beer being the most common approach. I am interested to read reviews of this beer and see how beer snobs are loving or hating this beer.

New Belgium Brewing Co.

Kettle getting filled with wort
New Belgium has a constantly growing portfolio of beers, not all of them seeing production beyond their initial production. The Lips of Faith Series has a string of beers that usually only get produced once or twice and then never see reproduction. New Belgium also has an evolving line of seasonal beers. Every two years they put new seasonals in the mix. That's sort of disappointing because some of the past seasonals have been extremely popular. On the tour, our guide explained that the Folly mixed pack is now including prior seasonals, so that's something to look for (especially the beloved Two Below winter seasonal). And the tour is a must, if you can manage to score tickets. They sell out very, very quickly.

New Belgium is also moving forward on their east coast facility, which will allow them to distribute further into the east and they will run a second Lips of Faith program out of the Asheville site that will have it's own beers independent of the Fort Collins facility. I'm curious to see if the Ashville site will produce a La Folie of its own or an entirely different sour beer as the flagship of its own Lips of Faith series.

Below are a couple pictures of the second brewhouse. You can see the two fellers at the desk are running the whole system by computer controls. It's a long way from the manual systems most of us homebrewers use or even the digital controls of multi-barrel systems at most craft breweries.



Among sour beer fans, New Belgium's barrel project is legendary, if for no other reason than the size of its program. Below is a picture of the massive foeders that comprise New Belgium's barrel program.


In the barrel room we were given samples of both 1554 and La Folie. Our tour guide repeatedly claimed that 1554 becomes La Folie. Later on she corrected herself that La Folie is brewed off of the same recipe as 1554 but minus one ingredient, but according to NB's website 1554 has black patent and La Folie has crystal 80 and the other beer lacks that ingredient.

I didn't gather any other significant details on the tour so let's get into mentioning a few beers:

  • La Folie: How can you not name La Folie among New Belgium's best beers? I liked this release more than the last one I tried, which was either 2012 or 2011. This year seemed to have a little more of the chocolate-cherry soda character that I really like in La Folie. 
  • Smores Porter: This taproom-only release was the best smore-like porter I've had. I haven't been much of a fan of the few porters I've had in this variant but this one really did it right. New Belgium did a perfect job of capturing the toasted marshmellow character with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Lots of toasted marshmellow and chocolate in the flavor with a hint of graham cracker. 
  • Fresh Fat Tire: I know lots of people are not huge fans of Fat Tire because it's a simple amber and it isn't complex or interesting compared to all the IPAs and stouts on the market. Ambers are generally not well regarded for this reason. However, the extremely fresh Fat Tire given on the tour is notably different from the Fat Tire that reaches most consumers. The malt character is more complex and the hop character is more vibrant and complex. I'm not sure why Fat Tire loses so much of the flavor over time but I would buy Fat Tire more often if it showed up in Texas the way it tastes in Fort Collins.

 Funkwerks

For me, no trip to Fort Collins is complete without stopping into Funkwerks. Their saisons are among my favorite, especially of those brewed domestically. I was disappointed to see that Casper, their low gravity saison, seems to have gone out of their rotation of regular beers. I'm not sure if it is permanently retired but it is among my favorite of their beers. That said, I found plenty of other delicious beers to enjoy. Both White and Saison, two of their regular beers, are excellent beers but I found a couple intriguing saisons in addition to those two that were worth mentioning:

  • Farmhouse: A saison similar to their flagship Saison but instead of relying on Opal hops, Farmhouse is driven by fruity southern hemisphere hops. I'm still trying to find a beer style that isn't made better with New Zealand/Australian hops. The citrus and tropical fruit flavors from the hops play very well with saison yeast. I need to try my hand at a southern hemisphere saison.
  • Nelson Sauvin: This saison is driven by nelson sauvin hops and muscat grape juice, giving the beer a dry, white wine character. There's a few beers floating around with muscat juice and nelson sauvin hops but this one was my favorite. The saison yeast played well with the wine flavors, adding lemon, pepper and other intriguing flavors into the mix. 
A great trip all the way around. Had lots of fun and drank great beer, which is about all you can ask for. Here's a picture of the beers I brought home:


From left to right: two unlabeled bottles of Fat Tire fresh off the bottling line (they gave them to us on the tour), Crooked Stave Surette batch 4, Funkwerks Saison with Asian tea, Funkwerks Dark Prophet, Funkwerks Deceit, The Bruery Tart of Darkness and Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga.

October 5, 2013

Ratchet: A biere de mars that was a dunkelweizen

Biere de mars is a French style that doesn't get nearly the attention of its more popular cousin, biere de garde. The only biere de mars that I see in distribution in my area is the occasional appearance of New Belgium's Biere de Mars, which is a brett-spiked version. Biere de mars is similar in many ways to a marzen or oktoberfest beer but with a really important difference: hops. Beyond the hop character of a biere de mars, both beers tend to be malty with a big caramel note but a clean yeast finish.

March plays a special time of year for both biere de mars and marzen/oktoberfest beers but for different reasons. Marzen or oktoberfest beers were traditionally brewed at the end of the brewing season as a summer and fall beer. They are not hoppy and common sense would suggest that by that late in the brewing season the majority of hops would have been exhausted and marzen or oktoberfest beers would have enjoyed the end of the available hops. Biere de Mars, on the other hand, was traditionally an early winter beer to be enjoyed in spring. Biere de Mars contains a smooth hop flavor that common sense would suggest that the greater availability of hops at that time in the brewing season would allow French brewers to feature their hops in this beer. So although Biere de Mars and Marzen are both styles that refer to March, they refer to March in a very different manner.

Another key difference between these beer styles is that biere de mars can enjoy some alternative grains from barley, particularly enjoying a large percentage of wheat in the grist. It is this key difference that would allow me to transform my dunkelweizen recipe into a biere de mars. I have had the grains for my dunkelweizen recipe laying around for a while and I have been meaning to brew it but my current supply of weizen yeast is in my frozen bank at my parents' house. I don't have time to fish out the yeast and I also need to grow up my culture of Pschorr lager yeast so adding a little extra grain and hops to the dunkelweizen recipe gives me an excuse to put my lager yeast to work and use the dunkelweizen grains plus some other stuff I have laying around the house. I don't expect this beer to be a top notch biere de mars but at least a fairly tasty way to use several ingredients I have sitting around the house while building up the lager yeast. I plan on brewing a superior biere de mars recipe for 2014 that will incorporate a more complex hop blend and less wheat but for now let's see how this one plays out.

As an aside, I decided to name this beer Ratchet, after one of my favorite Transformers as a kid. I had the toy. It was awesome. Ratchet could kick your ass and then transport your broke ass to the nearest emergency room for medical attention. It was a sweet toy, too. I figured since I am transforming a recipe for one beer into the recipe for another beer it would make sense to borrow a name from Transformers, which was the most awesome cartoon in the 1980s. Technically I guess I should have picked one of the Transformers where multiple robots come together (or Voltron) since all the pieces of this beer came from other brews but fuck it, I really liked this Ratchet toy.

Most of the recipe is fairly basic. There's a huge slug of wheat malt from the dunkelweizen recipe and probably far more than there should be for a biere de mars but it should be ok. There's also crystal 60 in the recipe from the dunkelweizen; if I were building a biere de mars from scratch I'd use caramunich instead. One thing that may stand out as unusual is the hopping schedule. The first bittering charge comes in at 35 minutes. Part of that is because I have an ounce of Spalt I want to use up and this schedule allowed me to balance using the full ounce with the right amount of bitterness, flavor and aroma. I also wanted to front load the flavor and aroma so I thought it would be interesting to try something akin to the late hopping-only pale ale technique in a lager. I'm not trying to make a world class beer with this one so it's a good opportunity to play loose with the rules and see what I make.

The mash schedule is a bit unusual. I am mashing for ninety minutes at 147F to produce an easily fermentable wort. I am doing this for two reasons: (1) the Pschorr yeast is a low attenuator so I am trying to increase attenuation by making a more fermentable wort; and (2) with all the wheat I want a drier beer so it is not too full bodied. I don't want to mistake this beer for a hoppy American dunkelweizen (not that it would be the worst thing to have). I'm going to whip out a decoction at the end of the mash to raise the mash temperature to 168F for a mash out so I can make sure fermentation has completed and I like the way decoctions add to beer. 

Ratchet Biere de Mars

Batch size: 1 gallon
ABV: 7.1%
SRM: 12.8
IBU: 37.4
Est. OG: 1.067
Est. FG: 1.013
Est. Efficiency: 72%

Grain Bill

40% 1lb. German pale wheat malt [2 SRM]
30% 12oz. U.S. two row pale malt [2 SRM]
20% 8oz. Munich malt [9 SRM]
10% 4oz. Crystal 60 [60 SRM]

The Mash & Sparge

5 quarts of water infused at 153F for 146F mash at 90 minutes
Decoct 1.93 qt of mash at 70 minutes into the mash
Bring decoction to boil and return to mash at 90 minutes to raise mash temperature to 168F for 10 minute mash out
Sparge with 1 qt at 175F

Mash water

Water profile: Bru'n water Brabant boiled

0.2g gypsum
0.8g epsom salt
0.2g canning salt
0.2g baking soda
0.3g calcium chloride
0.5g chalk
1.5ml lactic acid

Sparge water

0.1g epsom salt
0.1g calcium chloride

The Boil

60 minute boil

0.35oz Spalt [4.5%] at 35 minutes 23.4 IBU
0.35oz Spalt [4.5%] at 15 minutes 14 IBU
1/4 tsp Irish moss at 10 minutes
0.30oz Spalt [4.5%] at 0 minutes 0 IBU

The Fermentation

Pitch 45ml Hacker Pschorr lager yeast
Ferment at 46F until 1.020 (estimated 10-14 days)
Raise to 68F until fermentation complete (estimated 3-5 days) for diacetyl rest
(Pseudo) Lager at 46F for 14 days
Bottle at 2.5 volumes

Brewday Notes

Lost some grain to a spill so will be under on gravity. Tried wet milling for the first time, which was a PITA on a corona mill. Probably over-soaked a little. Due to lost grain hard to know whether it had any effect on efficiency.

First runnings: 1.051
Pre-boil gravity: 1.049
Pre-boil volume: 1.3 gallons
Post-boil gravity: 1.051
Post-boil volume: 1
Efficiency:  54%

Fermentation Notes

Dosed the beer with all the lager yeast -- slightly overpitched, which is ok. Fermentation began after roughly eight hours at 46F.

10/11/13: Gravity reading 1.039. I must have misread the refractometer with the post-boil gravity because there is no way it has only dropped 12 points in a week. This wasn't that big of a beer and fermentation started very quickly.

10/18/13: Gravity reading 1.029. Tastes good, still slightly sweet.

10/29/13: Gravity reading 1.022. Beginning to dry out. Some hop flavor fade; caramel and bready notes coming through as the beer dries out. Moved to fermentation chamber at 69F for diacetyl rest and finished fermentation. 

October 4, 2013

Colorado Drinking September 2013 -- Part 4

Alright, that's all of Denver for this trip. Now I'll address the breweries outside of Denver but not Fort Collins. So this includes Arvada, Boulder, Longmont and Colorado Springs. Let's get to it.

Oskar Blues


I have been meaning to get into the Oskar Blues production facility for a while and finally made it on this trip. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to get in on a tour or talk to anybody about brewing but I did get into the Tuesday afternoon special tapping. The picture above is obviously the taproom, which blocks off the brewhouse. I'm a fan of Oskar Blues for sure. Although they are most known for Dale's Pale Ale, I'm a bigger fan of Old Chub, their very tasty scotch ale.

Oskar Blues started out in Lyons, Colorado and has a handful of locations that are a mix of brewpub (like the original location), restaurant, burger joint and even a farm. Sadly, I hear the original Lyons location was hit hard by the floods. The production facility in Longmont seemed fine. In addition to the quality of their beers, Oskar Blues is probably best known for being an early adopter (if not the earliest adopter) of cans in the craft market. They are proud of their can packaging; you can often see Oskar Blues at beer festivals handing out empty, untopped cans with a bead necklace attached.

The reason why you may want to track down the production facility in Longmont over the other locations is that the production facility is the place to find their one off beers. On this particular Tuesday I was lucky to score a couple great one offs. One was an unfiltered G'Knight, which was very similar to the packaged version of the imperial red but with slightly subdued hop bitterness and a thicker mouthfeel. Personally I like the unfiltered beers you can find occasionally and not just because it's similar to homebrew. Filtered beers are great for shelf stability and bringing through a really clear, clean set of flavors. Unfiltered beers are a little more rough around the edges, which adds some complexity in a younger beer. The downside, as you can see in homebrew, is that the same polyphenols and other compounds that would be filtered out that add that complexity can become bland or unpleasant with time through various reactions that occur in the beer.

The other tasty offering I scored was a fresh hopped version of Deviant Dale. Surprisingly, this was my first fresh hopped beer. It's hard to get fresh hopped beers in Texas because we're not close to hop fields (although a few breweries are starting to get fresh hops shipped in) and I haven't been able to get my hops growing enough to try it myself. The wet hops added exactly what people describe, a grassy and slightly herbal addition to the hop profile and a slightly mellow version of the lupulin-based flavors. I thought it was interesting but not necessary a beer style I would rush out to buy. Maybe I need to try to track down another fresh hopped beer or two before making up my mind.

This second picture below is from the left side of the taproom. You can see the canning line and some more fermentors.


Yak and Yeti

Yak and Yeti is a brewpub in Arvada, which is a suburb of Denver, which serves a variety of beers and Indian food. The beers are mostly in English and Belgian styles, which makes a lot of sense. Malt flavors compliment Indian food a lot better than hoppy beers, which risk adding clashing flavor elements to the food. Everybody at the table seemed to agree that the beers were very solid but not the most memorable beers in terms of big flavors or crazy styles. I feel like this is intentional. Indian food is very flavorful and full of spices. You don't need beers with big flavors clashing with the food. I felt like the beers were good enough to enjoy on their own but worked extremely well with the food. The two worked well together to create a single experience.

The winner for me, hands down, was a barrel aged ESB. I'm a big fan of ESBs and I was pleasantly surprised to see the barrel added complimentary vanilla notes to the malty ESB character without losing some of the hop flavor that make an ESB something more than a brown ale. The hop character was appropriately mellow but the barrel and malt character created a nice blend of the typical English crystal malt character and oak flavors. It paired extremely well with the Indian food. The malt character blended well with the earthy Indian spices while the sweetness helped cut the spicy heat.

Avery Brewing

Avery Brewing was sadly our last stop of the trip where, after six days of a lot of drinking, I actually got beer'd out. That's not Avery's fault. I had just had a lot of beer and anywhere would have caused the same reaction. Still, I pushed through to have some good beer. Avery is a fun stop, although it's not the classiest looking place from the outside. It's on the side of a business/industrial park where they have expanded out into multiple adjoining suites to make one brewery. However, the taproom is very nice and has a great laid back atmosphere and good service. Being from Texas it's a treat to get into Avery because we only get about half their regular line up and very rarely any of their limited releases and not only can a larger range of their lineup be located in the taproom but there are also taproom only releases that are worth the short (for us) drive to Avery in Boulder.

Since both my wife and I were beer'd out, we got several tasters of some excellent beers. Here's what we liked the most:

  • Lilikoi Kepolo: a Belgian witbier with passion fruit. The passion fruit comes on big with a tart edge that makes for a very refreshing beer when paired with the classic witbier character. I usually think witbiers have enough going on that fruit adds an unnecessary dimension but it works wonderfully in this beer. I don't know if this is going to go into regular rotation but I wish it would.
  • Old Jubilation on cask: Old Jubilation is a good beer on its own but it takes to the cask approach very well. I'm pretty sure it's the first winter warmer-style beer I've had on cask but other breweries would do well to consider the same approach. Old Jubilation on draft/bottles has a flavor profile driven by hazelnut, toffee and mocha (all malt-produced flavors). On cask it brought out some caramel tones and the thicker cask mouthfeel made the beer feel more...wintery? 
  • Out of Mind: Out of Mind is Avery's Out of Bounds stout but with a coffee addition. Out of Bounds is one of the Avery beers we don't get regularly so I was happy to find it but the coffee lover in me pushed me towards the coffee-enhanced version. Out of Bounds is a great stout on its own with a big roasty kick. Interestingly, the coffee subdued some of the roast by surrounding it with the typical coffee flavors (e.g. chocolate, roast, cinnamon, etc.) to produce a deeper roast character but without making the roast character overwhelming or acrid.
  • Boulder weisse: Ok, let me say at the outset that I am not a huge berliner weisse fan. I enjoy sour beers but for some reason I don't care for the BW. I was intrigued to try Avery's version because they present it in typical German presentation. Goblet, beer, straw and syrup. They make two kinds of syrup in house (I believe they were cherry and raspberry) and serve it on the side. It was strange at first drinking beer through a straw but aside from dulling some of the aroma of drinking beer sans straw it was otherwise a decent experience. Their berliner weisse is was fairly standard for the style but the syrups were tasty and not as cloying as I expected it to be. Serving the syrup on the side is very wise because (unlike virtually everywhere in Germany that serves berliner weisse) you could taste the beer first and add the syrup as desired. Beer was good but the combination of beer and syrup was a winner. I usually don't get into the sweet-sour combination in beer because it creates that balsamic vinegar character but in this case the slightly sweet syrup and tart beer turned into a really good mix. 
I also tried the twentieth anniversary beer. It's a DIPA and while it was a good DIPA, it's just not my style of beer. Worth tracking down if that is your style.

Trinity Brewing

Trinity Brewing down in Colorado Springs has been in my crosshairs for a while as a target but we haven't had a chance to drop down to Colorado Springs because we spend so much time in Fort Collins each trip. This time, I made a strong push to drive down to Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is built up on the foothills of the Rockies under the shadow of Pike's Peak. There's a drive-through park right outside of town called Garden of the Gods, which is quite interesting. I took some pictures but they were at night and not very good so I'll leave them out. Trinity Brewing sits on the main road that leads into the Garden of the Gods and its proximity to the mountains makes for some great scenery while drinking great beer. Before I talk about the beer some more, here's that awesome scenery:


In the above pictures you can kind of see that it was starting to rain up in the mountains. The storm rolled over us and the below pictures are afterwards. You can see the mountains caught a cooler form of precipitation than we did.



Ok, back to beer. Trinity has a reputation for brewing some crazy stuff. They do a lot of saisons along with some sour and funky beers and the saisons have a distinctly let's-throw-lots-of-spices-in-this-saison approach that Fantome helped usher in. They are also huge fans of Office Space, with beers named after popular themes and expressions in the movie, like TPS Report and Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta. Make no mistake, they are not making gimmicky beers. These beers are solid in spite of the often entertaining names. Trinity makes a great chicory stout if you're not in the mood for something saisony or funky, but the saison and funky beers were among my favorites so I'll highlight those:

  • Pumpkin saison: the pumpkin saison is a September-released seasonal and definitely my wife's favorite. I think saison and pumpkin is a weird combination but both this one and the barrel-aged version I had at Freetail in San Antonio were both great beers. Trinity's take is packed with spices outside of the usual pumpkin beer, with garam masala, brown sugar, sugar pumpkins, white sage, coriander and mace. It is somewhere in between the traditional pumpkin beer spicing and those indian-pumpkin beers that have started to show up in the fall. It's a fantastic blend of spices and pumpkin. Apparently it's a hard beer to track down unless you go to the source when it is first released. It had been released in the taproom a day or two before we got there.
  • Saison Man: This saison is packed up with a variety of grains and grains of paradise plus two saison strains and the Drie brett strain. The version we had was also chardonnay barrel aged. It's sufficiently funky with a rustic grain character. It's a gentle beer but there's a lot of subtle flavor. This was among my favorites, if not my favorite overall. 
  • TPS Report: TPS Report is probably Trinity's most well known beer. It's a brett primary beer with tangerine and lemon zest crammed into barrels. It showcases that classic brett character in a very rustic manner. It comes across like a very rustic tripel. 
  • Oh Face: How can you not like a beer named Oh Face? You can't. You must like it. Oh Face (just trying to find a reason to type it again) is another saison featuring the same five grains found in Saison Man and several other saisons--rye, spelt, oats, wheat, barley--with a saison yeast primary fermentation and three brett strains doing the dirty work on the back end (get it?). What makes this beer unique is that they age it on lavender in barrels. The lavender was interesting. When I think lavender I go right to soap so the first sip momentarily transported me back to the time my parents shoved a soap bar into my mouth A Christmas Story-style. I quickly got over it and enjoyed the beer. No more saison dry spiced with a soap bar.
One thing that strikes me as surprising about Trinity is how small the brewhouse is. It's maybe the smallest brewhouse I've seen outside of a homebrewing set up. I tried to get pictures of the brewhouse but it's enclosed and all the windows were dirty as heck (probably grain dust) so all the pictures were terrible. I'm not sure how small the system is (maybe 5-10 BBL?) but it runs a unitank plus three or four small fermentors. The "room" it's enclosed in is a really tight space. It's actually a small room within the bar area and I would be shocked if it is more than two hundred square feet. It's a rectangle-shaped space with maybe three or four feet in between the front of the vessel and the wall behind it. It can't be a great space to work in but it surely gets the job done. The brewhouse might be small but the barrel room isn't. Below is a picture of most of their barrels that I snapped from the side of the bar.


I realized I am a terrible photographer. I need to learn how to take decent pictures with the camera on this phone. Colorado is not the fuzzy mess I have made it appear to be. Maybe my Fort Collins pictures will be better on the next and final post in this string of posts.

October 2, 2013

Colorado Drinking September 2013 -- Part 3

Ok, let's polish off Denver and a few miscellaneous places before hitting Fort Collins.

Hops and Pie door to the kitchen

Hops and Pie

Hops and Pie is an awesome little pizza place in the vicinity of Hogshead. Delicious pizza and a great mix of
beers. It's a popular place for breweries to release beers and seems highly regarded. The food alone is a good reason to show up. You can order your pizza completely custom built with a wide range of topping options.But the pizza isn't the only reason to go. The beer selection is choice. There is a solid and diverse tap list that changes frequently but the real gems are hidden in the bottle list, which comes in a Trapper Keeper. Yes, a Trapper Keeper, like the kind of binder the cool kids had in second grade. Not only did the bottle list contain a lot of coveted beers but the markup is not entirely insane.

A couple draft beers stood out among a very strong class of competitors. We struck Hops and Pie when they had just released Jolly Pumpkin's Weizen Bam, which is a sour hefeweizen. It was my first taste of the beer and I was skeptical of the idea of a sour hefeweizen. Weizen Bam did not disappoint. The clove and banana come through gently and the sourness does not completely destroy the hefeweizen character. Left Hand also put up Ambidextrous Ale, a tasty alt that delves deep into chocolate and caramel with hints of roast, coffee, spicy hop character and dark stonefruit. I know Left Hand has a reputation among many beer snobs for putting out uninteresting beers among their regular line up and some of their series that come in bombers (but I generally do not have that opinion of Left Hand). However, the beers they put out in limited quantities only in kegs are fantastic and could easily stand up among the best in their class.

The Bruery Bois
The winner of the night was this incredible find on the bottle list: The Bruery Bois. This 15% ABV beer was among the best beers of the trip, if not the best. The Bruery produces this gem of a beer by whipping up an old ale, fermenting it with a Belgian yeast strain and then barrel ages it. The barrels are put through a solera process, so the barrels are never completely emptied and each bottling contains quantities of each prior year, much like my own lambic solera.

In spite of the hefty alcohol content, Bois is surprisingly smooth. High ABV beers tend to be boozy and harsh, which greatly detracts from enjoying the beer. Not a problem here. Bois is too easy to drink, if that can be cast as a bad thing. There's a lot of chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel, vanilla and a sea of background flavors that quite honestly outperforms any other imperial stout or barleywine I've come across. Maybe Goose Island BCBS edges Bois out in flavor (although I'm not sure of that) but BCBS has a boozy edge that detracts from its flavor.

Freshcraft

Freshcraft is a fantastic restaurant/bar in LoDo/downtown with great food and a fantastic beer selection. The tap list and bottle list is not expansive (no trapper keeper) but diverse and solid. We scored Russian River Temptation on draft, a spry blonde ale soured in chardonnay barrels. That's a rare treat for us (well, a rare treat for almost everybody) because the only Russian River beer that has marched into Texas was the Russian River/Sierra Nevada Brux collaboration. If Russian River isn't the gold standard for American sours then it is at least on the very short list of competitors for the title. We also scored another gem: Elysian Great Pumpkin Ale. Also among the best of its class, Great Pumpkin is an imperial pumpkin ale incorporating German specialty malts, pumpkin pie spices, pumpkin flesh and roasted pumpkin seeds. It's just fantastic and probably among my top three pumpkin beers.

Freshcraft also wisely featured a run of stouts from Ska Brewing. Ska is located in southeast Colorado in Durango. Fortunately, it is one of the Colorado breweries we find fairly regularly in Texas. I've yet to have a Ska beer I didn't love and they are pumping out fantastic stouts. Their autumn seasonal is a mole stout that is a favorite of mine just behind Copper Kettle's multiple award winning variant on the style. They do a great red wine barrel stout that does a great job of keeping the red wine flavor from getting muddled or lost in the roast. At Freshcraft I scored a couple newer stouts. One is Vernal Minthe, a mint stout that did a great job of featuring the mint without overwhelming the beer. It's the first mint stout I've had and I am definitely intrigued. The second Ska stout I forget the name of but it is an orange milk stout. Yes, seriously. It was like a mix of stout and creamsicle. The stout dominated the flavor profile but there was definitely creamsicle on the back end. It was a touch sweet but not cloying.

It's also worth pointing out that the food at Freshcraft stands up to the quality of the beers. The beer cheese soup is outstanding and will ruin all other beer cheese soups for you.