December 31, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 2

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

Stone Brewing Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpine Beer Co.

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

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

The beers we tried were:

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

The Bruery

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

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

Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant in Costa Mesa

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

Let's talk some beers:

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

Absolution Brewing Co.

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

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

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

Some other random beers...


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

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

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


December 29, 2014

Drinking San Diego Dry Part 1

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

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

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

Green Flash Brewing Co.

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

The beers we tasted were:

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

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


Alesmith Brewing Co.

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

Beers enjoyed:

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

Mission Brewery

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

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

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

Societe Brewing Co.

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

Beers we enjoyed here:

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

Pizza Port Solana Beach

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

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

Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co.

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

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

The beers tasted:

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

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

December 23, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Twenty Part 2 - Bottling Year Four

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

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

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

December 21, 2014

Lambic Solera Update Twenty - Beginning Year Five

It's almost hard to wrap my head around the idea that this little Better Bottle has been quietly producing lambic for four years and buried somewhere within the beer I'll bottle today is beer that dates back to that first brewday. Each brewday has made another change towards a more traditional lambic process and each beer coming out of the solera has been significantly different from its predecessor. With a traditional grist and the laborious turbid mash already part of the solera's brewday, I am running out of steps to further the authenticity of this beer short of spontaneously fermenting it (which is not something I am interested in integrating into this particular project). One area that I can take the beer more authentic is the use of aged hops in the boil. I have some 2011 East Kent Goldings that I have left at room temperature for a couple years that are slightly cheesy in aroma and should be a good fit for this beer.

Along with the new addition to the brewday it is also time to completely empty the solera to clean out the massive layer of trub and add some new saccharomyces and oak. I do this every other year to keep the solera in good health. I don't necessarily fear autolysis from the trub buildup but it just takes up too much volume if I let it go more than a couple years. I also like to add fresh saccharomyces and oak to put back some new flavor contributors. I believe the saccharomyces-created esters and phenols are important components of the brett flavors. I hypothesized a couple years ago when I added new saccharomyces that the years without a healthy saccharomyces fermentation would be less complex and less preferred by tasters than those years with fresh saccharomyces. The Year Four pull will provide a data point to compare against Year Three (which had fresh sacc) and Year Two (which did not have fresh sacc). More on that later.

Like the preceding years, I will break up the brew day and bottling across two posts. Today's post will cover the brew day and the subsequent post will discuss bottling, initial flavor impressions and some general thoughts about solera brewing for those currently enjoying their own solera and those considering starting their own.

2014 Refill Recipe

The recipe for this refill is pretty much the same as last year's but I am just doing my normal three gallon refill instead of last year's four gallon batch to make up for the enormous pile of trub I cleaned out of the fermentor. Otherwise, the only major changes here is the use of aged hops in the boil and I am adding some fresh saccharomyces to get some more flavor compounds in the beer for brett to play with.  In Year Three I added a Belgian strain from an Austin brewery that I didn't love when brett manipulated it so I am going back to a more trustworthy strain. Year Five will include a pitch of Wyeast Belgian Abbey 1214.

So here's the recipe.

Batch size: 3 gallons
Est OG: 1.046
Est FG: 1.009
Est IBU: 0
Est SRM:  2.8

Grist

2 lb. Unmalted white wheat [2 SRM]
3 lb. Avangard Pils malt [2 SRM]

Water

6.25 qt. mash water
4.5 gallons sparge water
Water adjusted in bru'n water to yellow balanced profile

Water Profile

Calcium: 51ppm
Magnesium: 7ppm
Sodium: 5ppm
Sulfate: 75ppm
Chloride: 63ppm
Bicarbonate: 0ppm

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.5g
Epsom salt 0.4g
Canning salt 0.1g
Calcium chloride 0.7g

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 1.4g
Epsom salt 1.2g
Canning salt 0.2g
Calcium chloride 1.9g
Lactic acid 2.4ml

Mash and Sparge

Turbid mash based on schedule in Wild Brews

1. Dough in 1.25qt at 146F for rest at 113F for 15 minutes.
2. Infuse 1.25qt at 150F for rest at 126F for 15 minutes.
3. Remove 0.625qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
4. Infuse 1.875qt at 188F for rest at 148F for 45 minutes.
5. Remove 1.8qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
6. Infuse 1.875qt at 202F for rest at 162F for 30 minutes.
7. Remove 2.28qt and add to kettle. Raise to 190F and hold.
8. Add kettle liquid to mash to raise to 172F. Rest for 20 minutes.
9. Sparge with 4.5gal at 190F.

Boil

90 minute boil
2 oz. aged EKG hops from 2011 at 90

Fermentation

Cool wort and rack onto three gallons of existing lambic plus pitch half of a wyeast 1214 smack pack. Age until Year Six.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 12/20/14.

I always forget how much of a PITA the turbid mash is, especially because my calculations always seem to be off on the first couple steps and I need to add more water to account for grain absorption. I just need to redo my math on the infusions but I forgot to do that ahead of the brewday and ended up adding more heated water after the second infusion to get the mash temperature up to 126. And oh how I forgot how much not fun it is squeezing runnings out of a dry mash. I had to use a strainer and a couple measuring cups to drain out enough runnings to move them over to the kettle. The picture to the right is the first extraction on its way to its 190F hold.

You can see how milky this stuff is coming out of the mash. As it gets up around 190F it starts to turn more of a brown color and develops a more gravy-like consistency. That shouldn't be too surprising because one way to make gravy thick like it's supposed to be is to add wheat flour.

I also forgot how difficult it is to sparge this stuff. The enormous amount of starch is begging for a stuck mash.

The picture to the left is the grain bed after sparging. You can see on the top there is a thick layer of gunk covering the grain. This is pretty common in any mash but it is abnormally thick here. It's about 1/2-3/4 of an inch thick. At least I kept most of it out of the brew kettle.

Every year I think about how much I should undergo this turbid mash because it's a challenge and with how little I have been able to brew this year it's a good time to spend a whole day brewing beer. Then I get in the middle of the turbid mash and wonder why I put myself through such an arduous process. Year Three was the first turbid mash and with its bottling later in the day I'll decide whether it's worth my time to keep it up.


The boil isn't too exciting; it's a very normal boil To the right are the aged hop pellets. The most interesting part of the boil was adding the hops. While dropping hops in the boil usually lets off those nice grassy and fruity aromas, these hops let off a very strange aroma of cheese and dead grass. Strange takes a different meaning in sour brewing, what with all the mouse taints and horse blankets.

That's it for today's post. The next half of this post will discuss the bottling and some initial tasting notes.

December 4, 2014

2014 Brewing Year in Review/2015 Brewing Goals

As with the past several years, I conclude/begin my homebrewing year in mid-December with the brewing of the next year's lambic solera filling. With the end of the 2014 brewing year approaching, it's that time for another reflective post of this year's brewing and setting out next year's brewing goals.

Overall 2014 resulted in far, far less brewing than I had anticipated with roughly half of the brews I put on my schedule never coming to fruition. Much of that had to do with the time spent in beer travels this year to Portland, California (Orange County up to San Francisco), Austin and Denver (GABF). I drank a lot and took some time off to recover once I returned home. As a result I drank less beer at home than normal. I am trying to avoid brewing beer that should be consumed fresh if I do not believe I will drink it fresh and that was primarily the reason several beers went unbrewed.

On the other hand, 2014 produced several great beers. I bottled my first gueuze and locked in my lager brewing technique. Those are the year's greatest accomplishments. I also brewed my first coolshipped beer but the jury is still out on how that beer is going to turn out. I suspect it is never going to sour but I am willing to wait it out. I was particularly happy with my pilsner. I was worried about brewing a beer that requires that level of technical precision but not only did I avoid flaws but it turned out very well. I am also happy with the way Melting Point Imperial Saison turned out although I might tweak that recipe in the future.

The 2015 brewing year will be about picking up the pieces of the past and building upon them for long term future projects. I have several beers that will see packaging in 2015 including Year Four Lambic Solera, a blending of 2014's rye porter and old ale, Lucky Pierre Brett Farmhouse Ale (from 2013) and the brett portion of Tropic Bling (Funkwerks Tropic King clone) aged on bourbon-soaked cubes. I also have several beers from 2014 to brew, including a pale ale, gratzer, rye saison, doppelbock, sour mashed rye stout, tmare pivo and a rebrew of the Tropic King clone.

Additionally, I have several long term projects continuing or starting in 2015. The lambic solera will get Year Five filling. I also plan on starting what I plan on becoming a long term sour beer blending program. 2015 will start out two of the base beers, which I am still tinkering with. Ultimately I plan on this project relying on four or five base beers but that is also something I am still tinkering with. Right now the two beers for 2015 in the project will be an oatmeal pale ale and a Belgian brown ale with later additions of a rye saison, a wheat saison and my adambier. I'll get more into this program as I solidify plans.

Of course I also have several other recipes in mind for the year that will be new beers. Right now these include an Indian-themed saison, a Belgian quad, an old chub clone, pilsner, wheat saison, steam porter and a wheat wine. I am not sure how many of these beers will actually make the cut for 2015 with all the other beers left to brew in 2014 and all the aged beers getting bottled. There is also a small batch of an atypical lager that I will be brewing in a one-on-one competition. I'm committed to the competition but still working on the recipe so I'll keep quiet about that for now. I also have another beer that has to stay a secret for now but I'll talk about that when the time is right. Many of these beers will be small batch beers so that should help justify brewing a few of these beers.

Heading into December I have a very busy brewing schedule, which makes up for the long drought through the end of the summer and early fall. In addition to the biere de mars currently in the tank I have the rebrew of the lambic solera coming up plus another three beers I have to get fermenting between now and mid-January and I only have space to brew each of them in succession of each other, minus the solera brew. So 2015 will probably work out to a lot of brewing early in the year with a tapering off as the year progresses.

As an aside, I've added Brain Sparging on Brewing to Facebook so those of you who use Facebook to follow blogs can use that instead of RSS. Find the blog on Facebook here. 

November 28, 2014

Ratchet Biere de Mars Tasting Notes

This is a review I thought I would never write. This strange biere de mars recipe, converting a dunkelweizen into a biere de mars, came out in early pours as a just awful cloying mess. All the munich, crystal and wheat malt just came together to make a sweet beer and then when I used the Hacker-Pschorr lager yeast with it's terrible attenuation it pushed out a beer that was like drinking carbonated caramel syrup. I pushed aside the bottles for almost a year in hopes that something salvageable would emerge. Thankfully, it has.

Appearance: Very dunkelweizen-like with a dark caramel color and heavy haze. Thick cream-colored head hangs around before slowly retracting back into the beer. A wisp of foam follows the beer down to the bottom of the glass.

Aroma: Peach, pear, cherry, caramel, toffee, wheat bread, banana, white grape, slight hay and funk notes.

Flavor: Caramel and apricot notes dominate followed by white grape and wheat bread. Hints of melon, banana, cherry, berry jam and port. Curious leather note. Grain character is mild and the hops are nonexistent in the flavor (or aroma). Sweet alcohol notes are present in the background. Very sweet taste, almost cloying but tolerably sweet, especially on a cold night.

Mouthfeel: Predictably heavy. The wheat and residual sugar leaves behind a beer with a very chewy mouthfeel. The beer comes on almost undrinkably heavy at first but the beer lightens up on the tongue. There is a dryness after the beer is swallowed that seems out of place but helps balance the beer.

Overall: I wouldn't say this beer is among my favorite but it is a nice beer to have in rotation as a cold winter night sipper. It has aged well into something I can safely move off the dump list to the hold-and-age list. There has definitely been some oxidative effects in the bottle that have transformed the cloying sweetness into a port-like beer. It reminds me a little of Bruery's Sucre but like a poor clone attempt. Still, not a bad comparison to be able to make.

November 15, 2014

Czech It Uut Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager)

My first interaction with the Czech dark lager style was two years ago when I was judging a local homebrewing competition and my partner and I had a flight of specialty beers, one of which was described as a "modeled on U Fleku" to which both my partner and I asked, "What the heck is a U Fleku?" I did some quick googling and we tried to judge the beer the best we could. After that I spent some time trying to figure out what this dark Czech lager style was.

Czech dark lager is not one style; there are multiple dark Czech lager styles. The beers range from under 3% ABV to 7% ABV and may run from sweet to dry maltiness and gently hopped to bitter to aromatically hopped. The styles may have historic connections to German Munich dunkel and schwarzbier styles and may be stylistically similar to those styles but they can also fit somewhere in between those styles in a way that would be very out of place for either German style. However, the range of Czech dark lagers have been compressed into a single style in the 2014 BJCP guidelines but I suppose that is better than their total absence from the 2008 guidelines.

Stan Hieronymous's book For the Love of Hops includes a recipe from a Czech brewery for a tmavé pivo and this recipe served as the inspiration for my own recipe. The included recipe is on the higher end of the gravity range with a moderate sweetness and bitterness in the Tmavé Speciální Pivo style. The recipe provider points out that the recipe is not like most Tmavé Speciální Pivo beers that are sweet and this one should be considered bittersweet. I tracked the available recipe closely with an altered hop profile based on what I have available for European hops. I expect the styrian celeia will add some fruity and floral notes that diverge from the base recipe but with the hop schedule I do not expect to taste much of the hops.

Czech It Uut Tmavé Pivo (Czech Dark Lager) Recipe

Batch size: 2 gallons
Est. OG: 1.057
Est. FG: 1.018
Est. ABV: 5.1%
Est. SRM: 22
Est. IBU 35

Grain Bill

75.4% 3lb. 4oz. German pilsner malt (2 SRM)
11.6% 8oz. Caramunich III (56 SRM)
10% 7oz. Munich malt (9 SRM)
3% 2oz. Carafa III dehusked (525 SRM)

Mash Schedule

Add 6.46qt water at 156F for 144F rest for 40 minutes
Decoct 1.67qt of mash and boil
Return to raise mash to 158F for 30 minutes.
Sparge with 1.15 gallons of water.

Water Profile

RO water adjusted with Bru'n Water to Pilsen profile with mash ph at 5.2.

Calcium 7ppm
Magnesium 2ppm
Sodium 2ppm
Sulfate 10ppm
Chloride 6ppm
Bicarbonate -60ppm

Mash Water Additions

Epsom salt 0.1g
Chalk 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.4ml

Sparge Water Additions

Epsom salt 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.9ml

Boil Additions

90 minute boil

0.20oz. Belma [12.10%] at 90 minutes
0.15oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 60 minutes
0.15oz. Celeia [4.5%] at 30 minutes
0.25tsp. Irish Moss at 10 minutes

Fermentation Schedule

Pitch slurry of WY Budvar 2000 at 50F, let rise to 52F.
Ferment at 52F until 75% expected attenuation then raise incrementally to 64F for diacetyl rest.
Bottle to 2.3vol of carbonation with 21 day conditioning.
Lager bottles for 21 days.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 11/15/14

First runnings gravity: 1.063
Pre-boil gravity: 1.046
Pre-boil volume: 2.5g
Mash efficiency: 74%
Post-boil gravity: 1.058
Post-boil volume: 2.2g
Brewhouse efficiency: 81%

Pitched slurry from Biere de Mars Attacks! and set fermentation chamber to 52F.

Bottled 12/6/14. FG: 1.015.
Racked 1 gallon on 1 oz. Makers Mark soaking in oak.
Lager in bottles.

October 30, 2014

Biere de Mars Attacks!

My first attempt at a biere de mars was a compilation of leftover ingredients cobbled together out of leftover ounces of hops and a dunkelweizen that never got brewed (see Ratchet biere de mars). Although it eventually turned into an interesting beer, it is barely reminiscent of the French biere de mars style that is a cousin to the German marzen (and not too far off from vienna and oktoberfest beers). I wanted to give this style another go with a legitimate biere de mars recipe, hence this recipe was concocted. Originally I planned to brew this beer in March 2014 but I never got around to it so I am brewing it now because I have the room to brew this one gallon recipe and I need to grow up my lager yeast for several other lagers I want to brew in the coming months.

This recipe is modeled upon the biere de mars recipe in Farmhouse Ales but with an unusual mix of French Aramis and Celeia hops to create an unusual citrusy take on the biere de mars style. Saaz and Saaz-like hops might be more appropriate for the style but I don't think the citrus notes from these hops will be entirely unusual. New Belgium's excellent biere de mars had lemon peel and lemon verbana and those lemony flavors worked well. I expect to capture the same compatibility but with a slightly different flavor profile.

Biere de Mars Attacks! Recipe

Batch size: 1 gallon
Est. OG: 1.067
Est. FG: 1.014
Est. ABV: 7%
Est. IBU: 31.4
Est. SRM: 19.8

Grain Bill

48.6% 1 lb. 4 oz. Belgian Pilsner [2 SRM]
29.2% 12 oz. wheat malt [2 SRM]
19.5% 8 oz. Munich malt [9 SRM]
2.7% 1 oz. black patent malt [500 SRM]

Mash Schedule

60 minute mash at 152F
0.8 gallons infused at 164F
0.8 gallons sparge water at 180F

Water Profile

Bru'n Water Brown Balanced
RO Water adjusted

Calcium: 59.1
Magnesium: 10.4
Sodium: 15.2
Sulfate: 70.7
Chloride: 54.8
Bicarbonate 31.4

Mash Additions

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Baking soda 0.2g
Calcium chloride 0.3g
Chalk 0.1g
Lactic acid 0.2ml

Sparge Additions

Gypsum 0.2g
Epsom salt 0.3g
Calcium chloride 0.3g
Lactic acid 0.4ml

Boil Schedule

90 minute boil

0.15oz. Celeia [4.5% AAU] FWH
0.10oz. Belma [12.10% AAU] at 60 min
0.07oz. Aramis [8% AAU] at 20 min
0.10oz. Celeia [4.5% AAU] at whirlpool
0.03oz. Aramis [8% AAU] at whirlpool

Fermentation

Pitch 60ml Buvar WY2000 yeast at 52F with oxygen.
Hold temperature at 55F until attenuation reaches 75% of expected attenuation.
Raise to 62F at 1.020 gravity for diacetyl rest.
Hold until gravity is stable.
Lager 2-3 weeks.
Bottle.

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 10/30/14.

First runnings gravity: 1.074
Pre-boil gravity: 1.047
Pre-boil volume: 1.4g
Post-boil gravity: 1.038
Post-boil volume: 1.1g

Brewhouse efficiency: 70%

10/30/14: Pitched lager yeast at 50F and raised temperature to 52F on temperature controller.
11/3/14: Raised temperature through day to 55F.
11/4/14: Raised temperature to 64F for remainder of fermentation and diacetyl rest.
11/15/14: Bottled to 2.8vol. FG: 1.016

October 28, 2014

Book Review: Beer for All Seasons by Randy Mosher

I received an advanced copy of Randy Mosher's new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What to Drink and When to Drink It which apparently is already out in digital formats with hard copy publication anticipated for spring 2015. It's not a homebrewing book but Randy Mosher is well known in homebrewing circles so I thought a brief review here would not be inappropriate. Beer for All Seasons is exactly what it sounds like. It is a book about drinking beer around the seasons that discusses both beer styles commonly associated with the styles and popular beer events in each season around the world. Overall, it's a visually stunning and well-written guide that appears to target the casual craft beer drinker or neophyte to an obsession with beer.

Like many beer-related books, Beer for All Seasons begins with an exposition of beer's history and particularly its historical attachment to the seasons. It covers all the expected subjects about the history of beer from early historic sources through modern brewing. What I like most about this section is Mosher's ability to be factually accurate, sometimes in very precise ways, without making the book too droll for the book's target audience. The tall tales of brewing that often get tossed into these kinds of books because they are passed from one source to the next like beer folk tales are largely absent. Instead you can tell legitimate research went into the book. The history is brief and not all-encompassing but it is broad enough to give readers an idea of beer's history. Beer for All Seasons then turns to discussing the purpose of beer and how beer has been consumed through history as a basis for the book's thesis that beer should be a seasonal beverage. It ties historical seasonal drinking against the modern desires for different flavor profiles across the seasons (e.g. darker, richer beers in the winter).

The book next turns in a more technical aspect in a slightly jumbled manner. The book first turns to discussing the four well-known brewing ingredients and a survey of the brewing process that could easily fit in the introductory materials in any homebrewing book. Then the book shifts into discussing proper methods to taste beer before shifting back to brewing to discuss the major international brewing trends before shifting back to a survey of common beer styles and then shifting back into discussing how to serve beer in both proper glassware and briefly how to pair with food. All of the information presented is excellent information in a very easily digestible manner except the jumbled feel of the section. This seems like information that could have been placed at the back of the book to maintain the smooth flow of discussion about the seasons of beer. It also seems like the section should have discussed all of the brewing pieces and then moved into tasting the beer. The flip flop between subjects doesn't make sense.

Beer for All Seasons then turns to its stated purpose, which is a discussion of beers and beer events in each season. Each season gets a discussion of some styles commonly associated with the season along with a long list of beer events and how to pair beers with the season's holidays and popular foods. Some seasons are brief (like spring) while others are well-explored (like summer). There are some interesting tidbits along the way, such as the discussion of historical English winter ale drinks like Flip and Bishop. The book concludes with an extended list of beer events on a monthly basis. Spring gets slighted as a season with bock being its only thorough beer discussion although spring has a historical attachment to brewing beyond drinking doppelbock and maibock. That's my one real gripe with the content.

Overall, it's a great introduction to the concept and drinking of beer by the seasons. It's succinct with useful information, especially for somebody trying to get their feet tongues wet with beer travels. I would recommend this book for anybody trying to get to know more about beer although if you've subscribed to a beer mag or two for any length of time then most of the information in this book may not be new to you. The book recommends a good number of seasonal beers and like any beer guide it has a limited shelf life because many of those beers will not be with us in a decade or two. Many of the beer events have more staying power, as some have been around for decades or even hundreds of years. Collectively, even where particular events or beers have gone by the wayside the book will still have good value because the information about the books and why certain beers were selected for discussion in this book will continue to be useful for future readers. So its shelf life may not be eternal but it will persist longer than many other beer guides out there.


October 18, 2014

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 13 -- Week 38 (and on...)

Over the past few weeks what I have dubbed zombie jellyfish have continued to get bubbly but nothing particularly interesting is going on with the beer. I decided to play around with the beer a little and try to figure out what's going on. I'm really trying to drink down my supply of homebrew so I haven't brewed since mid-July and that is making me sad. So working on this beer is a nice project to keep the brewing itch subdued. I decided to try pulling a yeast culture out of the fermentor and try to put together sort of a side beer I can play with and taste without ruining the big batch.

My process was simple. A basic starter of DME cut with table sugar for a 1.044 gravity will form a breeding ground for whatever I got out of the fermentor. I added approximately 0.15 oz. of Belma hops to help fight off some of the bacteria and see if I could produce a mixed culture suited for brewing versus the base beer which was gently hopped. I used a straightened out paper clip as an inoculation loop. My hypothesis was that I would gently break off a small piece of one of the zombie jellyfish and transfer it to the starter wort. Surprisingly, the jellyfish attacked the paper clip.

No, actually I was surprised because the damn things are solid. I tried to pull off a piece but the whole thing lifted up and then slid off the paper clip. I was expecting more of a gelatinous texture. I wish I could have taken some pictures but my hands were full. I tried to fish out a smaller clump but I couldn't reach any. So I am working on the assumption that I scrapped some cells off the clumps I touched. I then inserted the end of the paperclip in the starter wort and swirled it around.

After two days there was visible signs of fermentation, including CO2 output and the aroma of fermenting beer. No krausen but definitely something fermenting in there.The foam was white and reminiscent of soap bubbles. The spontaneous beer went through a similar stage without ever producing the typical creamy krausen of a cultured fermentation so perhaps this is just normal for wild yeast where there is a lot of CO2 but not quite the volume of top fermenting yeast necessary to produce it. In addition to the foam on top there was also a layer of trub building up. No layer of yeast but it was unmistakably trub as the liquid began to clear up as fermentation went on.

The aroma was bready, spicy and woody. The best I can describe it is like a blend of saaz hops and yeast fermentation. Really unusual but not unpleasant. I actually liked it.


By day four most of the activity had died down and the liquid had dropped fairly clear. Then these white chains began to form in the beer. You can kind of see them in this second picture if you look past the small bits clinging to the interior of the flask.  I marked one with a red arrow but you can kind of see that there were quite a few.

At first I thought it was the start of another yeast fermentation because saccharomyces can sometimes develop that wispy appearance on the surface before krausen starts to form but they didn't seem to expand beyond roughly half an inch in length. They were just multiplying and then floated on top. Not really sure what that is.


I cold crashed the starter in my fridge for a couple days to drop everything out and try to get an idea of the quantity of yeast in there. Not a visibly large layer of yeast. I tested the gravity and tasted it.
According to my refractometer, the gravity went up. That didn't make a lot of sense. However, it was very sweet, with a little peppery spice. So at a minimum the gravity is still very high.

I left this to sit while I left town for GABF and checked on it a couple weeks after that. Gravity still shows up some 0.2 gravity points above the starting gravity. (I feel like I misread the OG reading...) It is sweet but less sweet than before. The flavor is all banana like a weizen strain gone nuts. Checked gravity a few days later and no change. The starter has dropped clear so I'm not sure there is even any more activity. My thought is that the primary yeast that I captured in coolshipping this beer are just terrible malt sugar fermenters and I'll have to wait for brett or whatever to show up in force and dry this beer out. I'm going to dump this starter. I will just watch the main batch for activity.

While I was at it, I checked in on the full batch on 10/14/14 and the gravity is 1.010. It is still somewhat sweet but it is starting to get some funky flavors going on. So I still have hope that this is going somewhere interesting. I'm surprised there is zero perceptible acidity to the beer after ten months. I guess I picked a bad time to try to try to pick up bacteria out of the air but I am going to let this beer keep going and see what happens.


October 7, 2014

GABF Recap

I just got back Monday evening from six days in Denver for GABF and as always in Denver I had a blast. I got to try an enormous amount of beers and out of all the beers I tried I only had one beer that was bad and a small handful that I didn't care for. I went to a couple events and several other breweries and bars and had a great time. We avoided a lot of the places we expected to be swamped and I'm glad we did. We were able to enjoy an onslaught of delicious beers that way. Before discussing the places and beers I want to thank Jared and Chandler, our gracious hosts from Tiny Ass Brewery, and everybody who worked and volunteered to make GABF a great event. I'll highlight the places we went and, to the extent that I remember them, some of the great beers we came across.

First I'll start off with the bars:

Hops and Pie

Hops and Pie again rewarded me with delicious pizza and beer. Tuesday night they featured a Crooked Stave tap takeover that featured all sorts of delicious beers from Crooked Stave and other breweries they distribute in Colorado. Many good beers were sampled but the favorite of the bunch was Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett, an oak aged baltic porter with brett. Good stuff.

Lucky Pie

More delicious pizza here but the best item on the food menu is the fried cheese curds. Holy crap they are delicious. Had an interesting cask version of Left Hand's Chainsaw Ale (ESB) with cedar and cinnamon. Good stuff.

Freshcraft

Small tap list but a great selection going on. I can always count on Freshcraft to tempt me with way too many beers. You know you're in for trouble with Avery Rumpkin on tap and following it with a 2009 keg of Alaskan Baltic Porter. The 2009 Baltic Porter aged really nicely with big notes of smooth roast and dark chocolate.

World of Beer

I am not a big fan of the local World of Beer location. There is a stage upstairs that directs all the sound down right in front of the bar which makes it hard to order beer, let alone have a conversation. However, they do bring in some good beers with some fun events so I try to pick times where the band isn't there. The lower downtown Denver location is nice and on Thursday they had an Upslope tap takeover. In Dallas we only get Upslope's most basic offerings--which are good--but at the tap takeover they had thirty different beers from Upslope along with a few other fun options like Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy with pumpkin spices. There was a nice Upslope blackberry Belgian pale ale and a wine barrel saison (that they claimed was sour but wasn't) that was pretty good, but the top pick was a plum cardamom rye saison that did an excellent job of balancing the plum and cardamom so you could tell each was present but neither overwhelmed the rye or yeast character.

Now on to some breweries/brewpubs:


4 Noses Brewing

This small Broomfield brewery focuses on making standard-style beers very well. Sure, there are the obligatory imperial stouts and IPAs (which are good) but their core lineup includes more simplified lager and ale styles. Their lagers are particularly solid and there are a few lagers out of the normal German and Czech styles. For as much as I am a fan of sours and saisons and all sorts of crazy beers I am also a fan of a really well constructed beer in the more traditional styles.

Wild Woods Brewery

Wildwoods is a laid back brewery in Boulder with a small core lineup and an interesting mix of seasonals and one offs. Their beers are inspired by the outdoors and each beer is constructed to acknowledge Colorado's flora and outdoorsy attitude. There are no safe bets on the menu. No IPAs with an avalanche of popular hops or flabby blond ales to appeal to the Coors drinkers. At the same time, Wild Woods is careful in its use of interesting ingredients to create well-integrated flavor profiles. Favorites here were the S'mores Stout with cocoa nibs and some sort of dark candy treatment and the Ponderosa Porter, a rye porter aged on oak and vanilla beans.

Baere Brewing Co.

Baere Brewing is a small brewery in Denver that focuses on Colorado ingredients introduced through a wide range of beers. We only stopped in for the berliner weisse, which is quite good. They offer several house-made syrups but we tried it plain. The board listed the berliner weisse as having brett and while there is a little funk to it there is no big brett character (nor should there be). The acidity was bright and citrusy. I'm not a big fan of berliner weisse as a style but this is a really good example of the style. I wish I had checked out some other beers from these guys.

The Post Brewing Co.

Post is a brewpub in Lafayette that serves up chicken with a southern feel with an interesting mix of simple but very well constructed beers that pair nicely with their fried chicken. Let's get one thing straight: this place knows how to cook fried chicken. We have some solid fried chicken in Dallas and Post blows them away. They aren't doing too bad with their beers, either. Howdy, their American pilsner, took silver in the American-style pilsner at GABF. It is flawlessly smooth but keeping things interesting with some great malt flavors.

Horse and Dragon Brewing Co.

Horse and Dragon is practically in Funkwerks' backyard in Fort Collins, tucked away on the back side of the industrial park from Funkwerks. It's a fun little place with an interesting mix of German styles and classic American craft styles. It's owned by a husband and wife team and they are genuinely concerned about making sure people have a good experience and a good beer. The stout is chocolaty and complex and the Sad Panda coffee version adds further complexity and gentle coffee flavors. I also really enjoyed the Keller Kolsch which had a really pleasant hop presence that made it an interesting take on the style.

Fort Collins Brewery

Fort Collins Brewery continues to earn its spot as one of my favorite Colorado breweries. The food, service and beer is all still excellent. If there is a better brewery in the country making smoked beers I have no idea who it is. This trip FCB offered an interesting smoked IPA with grain smoked over fruitwood (which I wrongly picked up as oak) with fruity hops to create a smoky but fruity beer rather than the earthy/piney/herbal flavor profile of other smoked IPAs I have tried. There was also a smoked marzen which had that classic rauchmalz flavor paired up with caramely malt. The pumpkin stout featured nicely balanced spices and Trend, the sour black IPA, was really interesting. The sour black IPA was moderately sour and gently bitter with dry hopping to bring back freshness in the hop flavor. Not a style I expected to see soured but it really worked well. If I had to guess I would say they toned down the bittering addition to encourage and then balance the sourness.

Funkwerks

How much more can I gush on Funkwerks than I have in the past? I'm going to try. Several new (for me) beers were available which meant I was prepared to get my drink on. Motueka is a delicious single hopped saison with Motueka hops with a delicious citrus and passionfruit flavor. Nelson Sauvin always wins me over with the big melon and white wine flavors. Dahlia is an excellent dark Belgian ale with rich chocolate and raisin flavor. Raspberry Provincial, which won a medal at GABF, is a delicious berliner weisse with raspberries. The oud bruin is deliciously sour with big cherry and chocolate notes. My favorite was Remi's Rye, Funkwerks' pro-am beer with a big hit of rye. It's definitely on the malty side of saison with an unavoidable rye punch and citrusy yeast esters.

Ok, I will say some negative things. I am sad that Casper, the lighter saison, no longer seems to be a part of the production line. I am unsure whether White has been moved out of the production line but it also was missing from the taproom in both draft and bottle. They had Tropic King on nitro, which I ordered because my wife likes the beer and often likes nitro (neither of which am I a huge fan) and I had to say the nitro pour really ruins the beer. All the flavor is muted and it turns into a pretty boring beer. So definitely not my thing but it was worth giving a try.

River North Brewery

River North was my first stop in Denver on Tuesday where they were offering a variety of barrel aged versions of their saison. My first experience with River North was a couple years ago with Unified Theory, their barrel aged imperial white. I was hooked right away so I was stoked to try these saisons. The base saison, J. Marie, is a straightforward saison with two grains (I am guessing pilsner malt and wheat malt), one hop and saison yeast. It's a little mild on the yeast flavor for my tastes but an excellent beer for barrel aging where it can let the barrel character manipulate it without competing with too much yeast character.

J. Marie was served along side four barrel variants: whiskey; barrel & brett; white wine; and tequila. The white wine barrel version seemed to be the least favorite. It was a little too heavy on the chardonnay and the beer was lost underneath the wine and oak. The whiskey barrel version was everybody's favorite except me. It was interesting with sweet vanilla undertones but I like my saisons on the drier side so I found other beers to love. The barrel & brett version was dry and oaky with a healthy amount of funk. The wood and funk was supported by a grainy backbone that let all the complexity shine through. My favorite (and my wife's least favorite) was the tequila barrel aged version. The tequila gave the saison a drier feel and the citrusy tequila added a nice fruity element that really woke the saison up and made a very good beer excellent. The oak was more subtle in this version and although I thought the tequila was well balanced my wife and others found it too heavy on the tequila. Tequila-aged saison is definitely on my to-do list.

Another delicious beer we sampled was Barrel Blonde, a barrel aged blonde. At first I thought the idea was a wasteful way to use a barrel but it is actually a very nice beer. The base beer is malty but simple enough to let the nuances of the oak come through in a way heavier or more complex beers tend to overwhelm. Woody vanilla notes with hints of fruit made it a pleasant and interesting beer.

And last the events:

Beers Made by Walking

Outside of GABF our beer-saturated group knocked out Beers Made by Walking at Wynkoop, which was a charity event that challenged its brewers to brew beers inspired by ingredients in the brewery's native habitat. The event must have undersold because the crowd seemed light but that was a bonus for those of us who were smart enough to attend because we were able to sample as much beer as we liked. The beers included a number of unusual ingredients, many of which I had never tasted before like paw paw fruit, horehound, stinging nettle and wild carrot seed. For the sake of space and memory I'll just mention the beers that were particularly interesting:

  • Bonfire Brewing Bushwaker blonde with juniper and sagebrush. Deliciously herbal beer which, like River North's Barrel Blonde, used a simple base to let the interesting ingredients shine through. The juniper was restrained to allow the sage to intermix. 
  • Boulder Beer Co. Spikeberry Saison with dried elderberry, yarrow, prickly pear syrup and hops grown on site. An interestingly complex beer with floral, fruit and herbal character well-mixed to create a distinct saison that could easily pass as a tea-infused saison with a very complex tea blend. 
  • Breckenridge Brewery High Mountain Harvest double IPA with raspberries. What's interesting about this beer is that all the bitterness disappeared. There was an unmistakable herbal hop character to it but the bitterness disappeared. I suspect the acidity from the raspberries was covering up the bitterness but it's unusual to lose so much IBU to fruit. Even the brewers were mystified by what they had created. 
  • Copper Kettle Brewing Horehound Chocolate Stout with Hershey's syrup and horehound. Ok, I said horehound a lot while I was drinking this beer. Horehound tastes like a very anise-forward root beer, which is a very medicinal kind of flavor. In the stout it came across like licorice and mint, which was very interesting. 
  • Fonta Flora Brewery Salted Sunflower Saison. I actually didn't like this beer but I thought it was interesting. The sunflower seed flavor came through very distinctly, which wasn't too bad. The problem with the beer is that the salt was noticeable in the flavor and gave the beer a heavy mouthfeel. I think the sunflower seeds would be interesting in a beer where a nutty flavor would be more in line like a brown ale or amber ale.
  • Former Future Brewing Golden Feather Batch II brewed with peaches and lavender and aged in a sherry cask. The fruit and flower notes survived the aging very nicely and the sherry cask flavors were also prevalent. The combination of flavors produced a beer with gentle light stonefruit flavors, which is unusual in brewing where dark stonefruit is a more common flavor profile.
  • Fremont Brewing Imperial IPA with spruce tips and elderflowers. Spruce and elderflower is an interesting mix of herbal, floral and woody character. It was surprising to find these flavors well integrated into a beer that could easily overwhelm the elderflower or be overwhelmed by spruce. Fremont did an excellent job of blending hop flavor with both the spruce and elderflower.
  • Horse & Dragon Perambulation amber ale with juniper and cedar. This beer had a unique profile. The malty amber ale brought out the expected herbal juniper flavors but the fruity flavors of cedar came out more than the woody notes I often find in cedar beers.
  • Pateros Creek Brewing Hike to the Falls milk stout with juniper and sage. Another beer with the juniper and sage combination but unusually placed in a milk stout. The herbal character worked well with the chocolate and roast notes of the milk stout. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
  • Scratch Brewing Wild Carrot Seed amber ale with wild carrot seed roots and seed. I didn't know what wild carrot was (it's also called Queen Anne's Lace). The seed is actually a small fruit and it tastes like a very peppery carrot. That flavor came through in the beer and surprisingly the carrot flavor did not seem as unusual as expected. 
  • Wild Woods Brewery Roasted Root amber ale with chicory and burdock. Neither ingredient are popular brewing or culinary ingredients although you can find some coffee/chicory blends and a few chicory beers out there. Chicory has a coffee-like flavor but it is more earthy and less chocolate. Burdock, on the other hand, has a earthy root beer flavor when roasted. The combination of the two in this amber ale produced a beer with roasty, earthy and herbal flavors that was really delicious. 

Great American Beer Festival

We only attended the member's only Saturday session where we saw the award stickers go up on the beer lists. We had a plan to tackle New England and midwest beers because we have very little exposure to those but somehow we ended up spending a lot of time in the west coast regions, which was fine because we were able to find many of our favorite beers from the west coast. Overall GABF was very smoothly run and we were able to try almost everything we wanted due to the short lines. Often we walked right up and tried beers, even at breweries with significant hype.  The worst part was the line getting in. It took us about an hour from the time we parked to get in and we got there about half an hour before the doors opened. Fortunately we were able to get beer so quickly that it made up for the line. One hidden gem seemed to be the pro-am booth, where there were several excellent beers but it wasn't very easy to see where the beers came from so I had a couple of my favorite beers over there and sadly no idea who to thank for them. At any rate, here is the list of beers we tried:

  • Pro-am (unknown): sour beer with cherries; double IPA aged in tequila barrels
  • 10 Barrel Brewing P2P Stout
  • Central Waters Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter; Sixteen
  • Jack's Abby Oktoberfest; Fire in the Ham
  • Troegs Troegenator
  • Two Goats blonde doppelbock; bourbon barrel aged oatmeal stout
  • Karl Strauss Red Trolley
  • DC Brau The Citizen; Penn Quarter Porter
  • New Helvetia Thurston
  • New Holland Blue Sunday
  • Cigar City Blue Sound
  • Atwater Brewing Blueberry Cobbler Stout; Vanilla Java Stout
  • Horny Goat Oktoberfest
  • Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  • Upland Campside
  • Nebraska Brewing Co. Apricot au poivre saison
  • Allagash Coolship Resurgam
  • Saranac Pale Ale
  • Kamala Bitterama; Smoked Austoner
  • Base Camp Rye Pilsner
  • The Commons Flemish Kiss; Myrtle
  • AleSmith 2014 Old Ale
  • 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat; Monk's Blood
  • Bottle Logic Lagerithm; rice lager
  • Logsdon Oak Aged Bretta; Tripel
  • Heretic Tafelbully; Gramarye
  • Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
  • Rare Barrel Egregious
  • Societe Brewing The Harlot; The Butcher
  • Firestone Walker 17; Agrestic
  • New Belgium Leopold's Love; La Terroir
  • Deschutes Planet Rouge; Fresk Hoptoberfest; Dinkel Doppel Bock
  • St. Arnold's Pumpkinator; Bishop's Barrel 4; Bishop's Barrel 2 with brett
  • Real Ale Imperium
  • Noble Ale Works Naughty Sauce
  • Karbach Hellfighter 007
  • Lakewood Rock Ryder
  • New Glarus IPA
  • Breakside Passionfruit Sour; IPA
  • Bend Brewing Co. Salmonberry Sour
We made good use of our time. My favorites were St. Arnold's Bishop's Barrel 2 with brett, Deschutes Planet Rouge, Rare Barrel Egregious, The Commons Flemish Kiss, Heretic Tafelbully, Logsdon Tripel, Central Waters 16, Central Waters Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter and the mystery tequila barrel double IPA. The Rye Barrel Chocolate Porter was the winner out of all of them but many good beers were had.

September 22, 2014

Aurora Hops and Celeia Hops

I am fairly inexperienced compared to many homebrewers when it comes to working with the ever growing array of hop varieties available for brewing. A combination of factors keeps my homebrewing limited to a small but slowly growing group of hops that I have gotten to know well at the expense of getting to play around with all of the wonderful hop varieties available to us. I don't brew hoppy beers very often and I mostly brew small batches these days that require little in the way of hopping. I also like to buy in bulk where I can to reduce the cost per ounce. The problem in trying to select hops to work with is that the descriptions provided by retailers tend to be ambiguous (and provided verbatim from the wholesalers) so it's risky for me to buy a pound of something I might use for a year or two without knowing if I am going to like it. There are reviews around the internet but the further you get from popular varieties the less detailed and clear the reviews become. So I thought I would add some detailed notes on a couple hop varieties I have explored that I found very difficult to find detailed notes on. These are Aurora (sometimes listed asStyrian Aurora, Super Styrian or Styrian Goldings Aurora) and Celeia (also listed as Styrian Celeia or Styrian Goldings Celeia).

Aurora and Celeia are both Slovenian hops born out of the breeding programs in Slovenia that tend to get very little interest. Slovenia has been slowly feeding styrian varieties into the world but they tend to be overwhelmed by interest in new German hops on the European side and all of our American and southern hemisphere hops from the new world. The Slovenian hops unsurprisingly provide good attributes for lagers with smooth bitterness and mellow flavors. However, there are some interesting flavors across the different varieties that make them more useful than just bittering.

Aurora Hops

Aurora was originally known by its name Super Styrian when it was developed in the 70s. It is one of the two most grown varieties in Slovenia (Styrian Goldings being the other). It is a cross of a native wild male and a female Northern Brewer so it is actually unrelated to Styrian Goldings. It shares some of the attributes of Styrian Goldings but unlike Styrian Goldings it is a high alpha hop, which makes it an effective bittering hop. It has low co-humulone, which makes for a smooth bitterness desired in lagers and other European beers. However, it has interesting flavor and aroma attributes that make it an interesting late or dry hop addition.

Aurora features flavors popular in New World hops with a unique twist. Aurora is big on citrus punch, floral notes, pineapple, mango and a heft of spice and herbal character expected out of the styrian family of hops. What makes it unique among many of the desired tropical-flavor hops is that the flavors are undeniably present without being aggressive. The herbal/spicy character helps keep Aurora in check compared to American or NZ/AUS tropical hops that are more assertive. That balancing effect makes Aurora a good beer for lager styles where the brewer wants some of that citrus character without the hops bowling over the malty smoothness. It might be the best hop out there for the new hoppy IPL style. It also works well for saison, pale ales and would do nicely in a mix with other hops in an IPA/DIPA.

Celeia Hops

Celeia, aka Styrian Celeia, is a daughter of Aurora, Styrian Golding and a Slovenian wild hop. Unlike Aurora, Celeia has low alpha and low co-humulone, so it is a suitable hop for European styles looking for a gentle bittering charge without the sometimes pricy cost of noble varieties. Like Aurora, it comes out of the Slovenian hop fields and shares the herbal/spicy/citrus character of the Styrian family.

It is definitely a different hop than Aurora. While Aurora has a well-balanced mix of flavors, Celeia is slightly more aggressive in aroma and flavor. It is also less complex, with assertive notes of lime, floral and an herbal background. The lime and floral dominate, making it an unusual mix of flavors. It's a hop without many great homes, unfortunately. The herbal notes are slightly too noticeable to mix well into a hoppy ale with a fruit forward character but way too fruity for a dank beer. It's too flavor aggressive for many lagers. I suppose it could work well at low volumes. It does ok in saisons when blended with other hops where a little herbal character is welcome among a lot of fruit. It plays acceptably with Aurora although the combination really pushes the floral notes in a way I don't exactly love. A mix with Opal seems to restrain the lime and floral. I am sure other herbal/spicy/grassy hops would help bring Celeia into line with more of a Styrian Golding or Mt. Hood profile.


September 4, 2014

Labor Day 2014 Drinking in Austin

I took the opportunity to roll into Austin for some beer and relaxation over Labor Day weekend with my wife and another couple. We struck all our usual spots (Bangers, Craft Pride, NXNW, Hops & Grain, 512 Brewing, Austin Draughthouse and Pinthouse Pizza) and made a very brief visit to Jester King to pick up some bottles for a very specific trade. (We tried Snorkel, which is their saison with oyster mushrooms. It was what you would expect from a beer with mushrooms. It was mushroomy.) Rather than write reviews of these places that read nearly identical to the prior reviews of the same brewpubs and breweries, I thought I would do something a little different this time. Rather than break out individual beers or experiences I am just going to lump together the brewing curiosities in one pile and the brief reviews of interesting beers in another.

Interesting Brewery Notes

While mostly ignoring the tour at 512 Brewing I spent some time looking at the clipboards attached to the fermentors in hopes of gleaming something more interesting than the four mystic ingredients that make beer. The surprising find was the expected FG for 512's pecan porter. The pecan porter is a fairly straightforward robust porter with, unsurprisingly, pecans. It's their best seller and a really good beer. The target FG is 1.019 on this beer. That's pretty high for a 6.5% beer. You would expect the beer to be much sweeter especially when paired with the description of "copious amounts of crystal malts." As homebrewers there is a current of thought that beers need to be drier than this FG to avoid the dreaded "extract twang" or overly sweet beer. I am confident, but unable to verify, that the high FG is in part from mashing high to create dextrins rather than unfermented but sweet sugars. That can help create a beer with a higher FG but not necessarily a sweeter taste. The important takeaway is that FG is not always a reliable metric for the sweetness of the finished beer nor should we fear a higher FG merely because of the number.

Perhaps more advanced (and interesting) is the tidbit about barrel fermentations I picked up from Hops & Grain. Hops & Grain does some interesting beers on their pilot system that are fermented in barrels rather than just aged in them. The barrels often are new barrels so the tannic character is more assertive. As you can see from the picture on the right, the barrels are aged in exposed conditions. These barrels sit in the taproom, which is air conditioned, but other barrels with primary fermentation sit in un-air conditioned areas that get up to 100F during the summer. Our tour was led by the brewer responsible for these beers so we were able to grab some information about these beers. He acknowledged the less than ideal temperatures but pointed out that at 50-60 gallons it takes a lot to move the temperature of that volume. I found it surprising that with fermentation creating heat plus the ambient temperature that the temperature would exceed the limits of the yeast. He said he will cool the beer below desired fermentation temperatures before filling the barrels so the key fermentation time (days 1-3) will stay cool. After that it is less important. It makes sense. The several beers I have tasted from the barrel program have clean fermentation character so I have to assume he is right about his process. This isn't entirely applicable to homebrew because we tend not to brew even at this 2BBL volume but for those people filling full-sized barrels or working in warmer clients then there may be something to take away.

Interesting/Awesome/Unique Beers from the Trip

I tried to pick out the most interesting and delicious beers that had some unique character to discuss for brewing's sake.

  • Flix Brewhouse Selvatica Barrel-Aged Sour: A sour beer with mild funk character. The acidity is punchy and makes it easy to drink, which was a welcomed first beer in Austin in the stupidly hot weekend. I found the beer slightly watery, which I have experienced in my own beer as well as other sours. I believe this watery character comes from low carbonation. That is the only time I have experienced that problem in my sour beers and it seemed to be a problem here, too. In spite of that problem, it was extremely refreshing.
  • Southern Star Buried Hatchet with Coffee served on cask: I'm a sucker for a coffee stout and anything in cask so this beer was right up my alley. The gentle carbonation allowed the roast and toffee notes to come through with a creamy texture that made for a very mellow and inviting stout that avoided feeling too heavy on a hot evening. It's an excellent reminder that we do our stouts and porters a disservice by overcarbonating them.
  • Real Ale Nokken: Real Ale took their blonde barleywine and slipped it into red wine and white port barrels for an eleven month slumber. The beer was served in a mere five ounce pour but it is potent as heck, which made the five ounce pour a reasonable size. The underlying beer was like a mellow barleywine. The caramel-malt intensity of a typical barleywine is subdued without going into a bland malt character. The beer that came out of the barrels is nothing short on flavor. The malt character is intensified with gentle fruit notes from the wine and port. The barrel is obvious, with smooth vanilla and a big tannic finish. Real Ale does not fear freeing the tannins in their barrel beers, like some Firestone Walker offerings, and it works well to give a beer full of sweet flavors a nice dry finish. I really enjoy port barrel-aged beers.
  • Hops & Grain Coffee Porter: Hops & Grain makes an excellent robust porter (due to be released in can format this fall) that gets a healthy dose of coffee for one of my taproom-only favorites. The roast-forward robust porter is neither swallowed by the coffee nor overwhelms it with its own roast character. I've discussed this beer in the past so I won't go back into too much detail. I wish I could find more robust porters in general and especially blended with a nice addition of coffee. 
  • Hops & Grain Hoppy Brown Del Roble: This hoppy brown ale was the barrel-fermented offering in the taproom and demonstrated the ability to ferment a beer very clean at those warmer ambient temperatures. Hop flavor was distinct and crisp while the dark malts provided caramel and subtle chocolate notes. Big oak flavor and a tannic finish helps distinguish the beer. Hops & Grain, like Real Ale, does not fear letting the oak have a big voice in the beer and lets the tannic finish fly without tasting or feeling woody.
  • Whip In/Kamala ESB with earl grey tea and wild rice: The wild rice is a new addition (at least for me) in this GABF medal winner. The ESB with earl grey has interesting earthy tea notes mixed with a classic ESB flavor. The wild rice adds an interesting nutty character that works extremely well with the grassy English hops, earthy tea flavor, caramel and malt flavors.
  • Whip In/Kamala Sour Quad: Sour quads are tough to find around Texas but pair two things I love into a single beer so I had to give this one a go. Another fantastic beer from the brewers in the tiny brew house at Whip In. The rich fruit and caramel flavor survives nicely through the brett fermentation although the funk is definitely there. The souring helps ferment out the typically sweet quad into a nice tart acidity. 
  • Circle Alibi on cask with cucumber and mint: With that weird mix of stuff I had to give it a try. Alibi is an American blonde ale of moderate means taken to a strange place in this rendition. My wife described the flavor as "foot fungus" but she's not a big fan of cucumber or mint so take that for what it's worth. There is a strong vegetal character in the beer but it is not really fungus-y. It's similar to what you get in a cucumber and mint infused water. An interesting vegetable-forward beer that was pleasant on a very hot day.
  • Karbach Pontificator Smoked Doppelbock: Austin was doing a great job of serving up beers that bring things I love together and this was no exception (although it should be said that Karbach is a Houston brewery). This malt bomb brings serious smoke with a mix of rauchmalz and cherrywood-smoked malt. The cherrywood a more aggressive smoke than beechwood but not quite the assault of peat smoke. The cherry flavor is subtle but present and plays very nicely with the caramelly munich malt flavor.
  • Odell Trellis Pale Ale: Speaking of beers with random green stuff in it, Odell took an entire herb garden and unloaded it on this unsuspecting pale ale. They added coriander, cilantro, pineapple mint, lavender and rose petal. It is herbal, citrusy, grassy with a hint of spice. For as much as this beer tastes like an herb bouquet, you can actually taste the malt underneath. The hops are hidden among the herbs but overall it is a very well integrated beer.
  • Real Ale Imperium Wild Ale: And last but not least a return to talking about Real Ale and their love for tannins. Imperium is Real Ale's Lost Gold IPA stuffed into barrels for six months with wild yeast (presumably of the brett variety). The output is a surprisingly tart beer with a healthy amount of funk. Some of the malty sweetness survives although the hops are almost non-existent. You can catch a little hop flavor but it is hard to pick out over the lemony acidity, funk and that dry, tannin finish. It is similar to Jolly Pumpkin beers but with more acidity and more oak tannins.