August 27, 2011

My other blog -- beer reviews

I'd like to introduce my new blog, "I Reviewed Beer" where unsurprisingly, I review beer. I've been trying some great beers and I find myself wanting to document my thoughts and I know some people don't like to read reviews so I wanted to separate them out from the strictly homebrewing discussion.

I am far from an expert on reviewing or judging beers so my scoring and reviews are hardly professional or accurate. I think writing out reviews is actually very helpful in breaking down flavors and flavor combinations and exploring the beer. It makes me think differently about flavors and I think getting in the habit of reviewing beers will help me improve the complexity of my own recipes.

Feedback is always welcome and comments are turned on so you can share your thoughts on the beers or tell me, in the words of Gordon Ramsay, that I have the palate of a cow's backside.
August 20, 2011

General ramblings

I'm stuck at home this weekend, left to my own devices. My wife is visiting friends in Boulder, CO and as I type is at Avery Brewery enjoying beer. I was unable to go since I have entirely too much schoolwork to do, even though it is only the first week of class. However, I am still enjoying a world of beer tonight. I recently scored a bottle of Liefman Goudenband and Cuvee Brut, an oud bruin-liek provisional ale and an oud bruin-based kriek, respectively. I also brought home a smattering of early oktoberfests (all American, fairly widespread breweries) and a few household favorites we haven't had in a while. Unfortunately, I left behind a lot of beers I really wanted to try (such as the Jester King and Mekkeller hoppy wheat) because I was already buying $50 of beer. Fortunately I was able to buy the beers in single-bottle incremenets, thanks to the generous policy at Central Market that allows you to break six packs (and four packs) for a slight premium. It's worth the premium (~$2 for a bottle) to get to sample many beers rather than paying $8-10 for a six pack of something less than enjoyable or pay $5-8 for a pint at a pub.

Additionally, I am enjoying drinking on and off homebrew and some of the beer I bought. I am currently drinking one of the last two homebrews of the brown ale made from grains I roasted myself. It has held up ok. It has sort of a rustic, hand-made quality that smacks of amateur roasting. After this it's time to sample the Redhook ESB.

I am also brewing up a one gallon batch of a 60 shilling Scottish ale, made out of the leftover ounces of various grains and hops from prior recipes where the shop required me to buy in larger amounts than I needed or gave me too much. It's going to be a whopping 2.8% ABV, so a session beer for sure. At any rate, it's an easy way to curb my growing desire to brew without adding a huge volume or exhausting a recipe waiting to be made. At this time, I'm sitting on about 23 gallons of homebrew, comprised of beer, cider and mead. I also have a gallon of mead fermenting, six gallons of lambic in the solara, one gallon of dark saison for my Christmas beer and now this additional gallon. I like brewing even more than drinking, so every time I start to drink down my stash I find ways to build it back up quicker than I can take it out. I have several wheat beers in the waiting but they are 3-5 gallon batches so I don't want to brew them until I can bring my stash down into the mid-teens. Plus, they are good summer beers more than anything so I may try to hold out until late winter or spring next year to brew them.

I have plenty of dark beer and high ABV Belgian ales that will be great in the winter but are all a little too heavy to be good summer beers. Right now the wife is enjoying the kolsch I made for her this spring, although it seems to have a bit of an infection growing in the bottle. My hope is that she will finish the batch by the end of the summer with 17 bottles left. I've been trying to drink the last few bottles of several 2010 batches to clear room and clear out the older beers. Those Belgian beers will stand up to aging, even over several years, but the brown ale and wild ale and and random other things need to go before age starts to degrade the quality.

We started the summer with 22 types of bottled homebrew and right now we still have 19. It's great to have so much variety but it's also somewhat limiting. When you have so much beer and so many types on hand but you want to try out some new commercial beers or just mix in an old favorite it's easy to reject buying beer when you have so much on hand it would seem like a waste to buy more with so much free at home.

Changing gears a bit, fall and winter are definitely the best beer times. Fall brings oktoberfests and pumpkin beers. While I am not a tremendous pumpkin beer fan, the wife is. However, we are both huge, huge oktoberfest fans. Maybe more importantly, winter is the time for those steller winter warmers. Belgian Noels and American/English winter warmers makes winter the best season of all. I'm not always a fan of the American winter warmers but I have yet to meet a Belgian Noel I didn't love. I find some American winter warmers are too heavy handed with the spices, which makes the beer completely lost and gives the impression I am drinking a water gingerbread smoothie. Too much!!!!! I'll be interested to see how my Noel -- the dark saison with brett, dark candi sugar and cinnamon -- will turn out. Maybe good, maybe gross.

Winter will also bring the end of the school semester (yay!) and Christmas and the first refill of the lambic solara. I am beyond excited to taste this beer and get to bottle some. Once I am making some of that lawyer skrilla and move into a bigger house I will have room for multiple solaras and really get into blending lambics of different ages and make phenomenal beer. I'd also seriously consider starting an oud bruin solara, which I think would be fairly easy if fermented with only saccharomyces and lactobacillus. I have two corney kegs that would probably be perfect for that process.

Lastly, I also have several cuttings of various hop varieties recently endowed upon me that seem like a promising start to next year's hops garden. My planted sterling was doing ok until the locusts chewed up almost all the leaves while I was gone on my honeymoon in June and the drought and incredible heat have dried up the rest of the plant. My Mt. Hood is struggling under the same conditions. I hope the root crown is sufficient to survive the rest of the summer to return next year. The cuttings I received went into water with some rooting hormone. The cuttings are Brewer's Gold, Swiss Tettnanger, Styrian Goldings, Strisselspalt, Precoce de Bourgogne and Tardif de Bourgogne. So far the Brewer's Gold seems to be dying off and the Tardif is really struggling. If I get four new plants going, I'll consider it a success. Tomorrow I plan on transferring them into some potting soil and letting them build some roots over the fall for a hopeful return in the spring. I'd like to reconstruct the hop garden to support all of them. Over the winter I want to transfer all the plants into grow bags with a better mix of topsoil, a little native soil and lots of quality fertilizer so they can grow better than the haphazard garden I whipped up this spring. The sterling will hopefully hop a delicious new batch of gratzer and the rest will be great additions to various Belgian styles and whatever else I can find to use them in, provided next summer is more forgiving than this one.

Ok, I think that's all the general ramblings for tonight. I have some other ideas working for future beers I'll share as I better compose those ideas.
August 17, 2011

Lambic Solera Update #4

Nothing particularly new to add on this update. The lambic is still covered in the same powdery pellicle. I try to avoid opening it too much for fear of disturbing the pellicle and introducing oxidizing yeast and bacteria, like acetobacter. I did open it briefly, while checking on the dark saison winter beer, and took a big whiff. It is developing a great tart/cherry pie aroma. The aroma has developed over the past eight months from yeasty (very early) to Belgian abbey/trappist smells (first month or so) to lactic sourness to more of a fruity tartness generally associated with the flavor and aroma of lambic.

Four more months to go before I bottle a portion and refill. I'm looking forward to seeing if it will be stable enough to bottle at that time and how the flavor develops. I am still not completely decided on how I want to break up the first batch. Maybe some straight lambic, some bottled as faro (backsweetened and bottle-pasteurized), some put on cherries and some held off for further aging to make gueuze. If I decide to go the faro route I probably won't bottle any straight lambic. I might do one gallon faro or straight lambic, two gallons cherries and one gallon for gueuze. Then after a couple more years I can do a full five gallons of gueuze. Plenty of time to decide.   
August 4, 2011

Drinking in Vegas

I spent the last weekend in Vegas, enjoying the drinking, eating, gambling, shows, pools and people. Surprisingly, Vegas was cooler than Dallas while we were gone. While in Vegas we got rain that brought the temperature down to 79F, but Dallas was still burning in the triple digits. Not only was the temperature a few degrees lower but Vegas is much dryer, which helps make the heat more manageable than more humid climates. The wife and I drank good beer at a few places during our stay. This is not an exhaustive list of everywhere on the strip but it is a good starting point.

1. The casinos -- the casinos like to get people to loosen up, so they offer free drinks. Some casinos are more generous than others but sadly, I am not aware of any that have a great beer selection. However, I have found that most of the major casinos will give you call and top shelf liquor in mixed drinks if you ask for it. I only put down a couple casino drinks, but I did get scotch so that was easily a good $10-15 of drinks for free. Think about ordering usually pricey drinks like old fashions or mojitos. My wife and I rarely play together so when she plays, I drink and vice versa, so that way neither of us play tipsy and lose money.

2. The pools -- the pools are a great way to make use of the sun and heat in Vegas. The pools are not particularly great places to drink for their selection -- often being sponsored by one of the big three beers -- but who can hate on being half-naked? Some pools are more kid-friendly than others. The big pool at the Flamingo is 21+ so it is all adult fun (but not nasty-adult fun) but it is solely Miller beer. Might be a good place to sneak in a flask and order soda. Stay hydrated.

3. The buffets -- people are either hot or cold on the idea of buffets in Vegas. The food is actually pretty good at the higher end buffets, although not as good as the food at many of the restaurants on the strip. Buffets are worth the money if you are willing to fill up on a couple meals worth of food. Many buffets offer some sort of unlimited drink option (champagne/mimosas/bloody marys in the brunches, wine with dinner). If you can find buffets where the wait staff frequently visits the table, you can drink a lot for a very small price. Unfortunately at many buffets the wait staff is not the best about refilling drinks. We found the champagne brunch on the weekends at MGM Grand to be reasonably priced and the servers were more than happy to fill our drinks. Between the two of us we drank 11 mimosas over 2.5 hours. We were buzzed and very fat afterwards, to say the least.

Ok, now let's talk good beer.

4. Sin City Brewing -- Sin City is a Vegas-based microbrewery that only sells in keg and only exists in Vegas. They have five taps going at any one time. A hefeweizen ("weisse"), oktoberfest ("amber"), stout ("stout"), light ("American pilsner") and the seasonal -- currently a pilsner. You can find various taps at bars around town but I have only found all five at the handful of Sin City outlets on the strip. I have also only found the hefe at their outlets. I am aware there is one in the Flamingo, one in the Venetian and one in the Miracle Mile shops. I believe there are others sprouting up. The stout is billed as a dry Irish stout, but it is the opposite of dry. It is slightly sweet with very prominent fruity esters and butter (diacetyl). It is a decent stout but halfway through a glass and the diacetyl becomes overwhelming. I also tried the pilsner, which is mediocre and hopped with typical German hops but no Saaz. The gem of Sin City is the hefeweizen, which reminds me of Live Oak's hefeweizen. Solid mix of banana and clove with a full mouthfeel. The Sin City outlets were running specials for two pitchers for $15 so we drank a lot of it. Definitely a recommended stop for weizen lovers.

5. The Burger Bar -- this upscale burger joint is housed in the underground shopping in between Mandalay Bay and Luxor. The burgers are delicious and the beer menu is worth the trip to the end of the strip. We visited the Burger Bar on our trip before this one and were impressed with the beer selection then. We were slightly less impressed this time, although it might have been because we were more aware of the selections on their list. We didn't want to pay Vegas prices for beers we could get at home. As a result, we only had a couple of beers with our food. The only thing I really dislike about the Burger Bar is it doesn't feel like a place I want to sit and sip beer for a long period of time. It has a bit of a rushed feel to it.

6. The Pub -- if you're heading to the Burger Bar, you should save room to come back to The Pub at the shops in the Monte Carlo. The Pub has a lengthy set of taps matched by a very interesting bottle selection. Their seven page beer list sports a robust selection of west coast hopbombs along with an interesting mix of various other kinds of beers. They had an interesting range of extremely expensive bottled beers but a nice blend of draft beers. It is reasonably priced for Vegas but not somewhere I would go for BMC beers, since it is so easy to obtain on the strip. Food is delicious. I enjoyed some Firestone Walker beers there. We don't get FW in Dallas so given all the great things I have heard I wanted to give it a try. I don't like hopbombs but I did enjoy the APA. Sit at the bar -- the bartenders are friendly and offered us several samples from taps -- the waitstaff were rude (even to the bartenders) and clearly had no beer knowledge.

7. The various bars on the strip -- obviously, all the casinos have plenty of bars to keep the alcohol flowing. Unless you are out for truly interesting beers, you can find a good beer or two on tap at the bars around most casinos. You may want to survey the taps at a bar or two but you shouldn't have a problem wetting your whistle to something enjoyable.

I have heard good things about Axes and Aces as well as Freakin Frog, although both are off-strip. Neither have such a good selection that I would be willing to go off strip, but if you find yourself at either place you should be in good company. As I said before, that is not an exhaustive list. I know there are some other places well received on the strip (e.g. La Cave in Wynn) that I have not visited. What's your favorite spot? Leave a comment and share.