December 28, 2011

Lambic Solera Update #5: Year One Complete/Year Two Begins

It's finally here and I don't mean the big box of grains for 2012 brewing that also came today from Brewmaster's Warehouse. I mean the day I can finally sample that lambic from December 2010 and replenish the solera. I am soooooo excited! As a result of my week in Colorado and trying to get things done around Christmas I ended up a little late on brewing the second batch of lambic. I decided I would pull four gallons of beer and replenish the full volume. In subsequent years I intend to pull just three gallons so the beer will average out in the solera just a little younger the first few years but I think after four or five years (I forget what the calculator I used said) it will be about the same down to hundredths of a year.

My plans for the four gallons include: keeping one gallon aside to make gueuze in two years; one gallon on raspberries for six months to create a framboise; and two gallons of straight lambic. Even though unblended lambic is normally flat I intend to carbonate at bottling because it's my beer and I'll drink it however I want. I bought enough raspberries to do just a little over one pound for one gallon of lambic. I have prepared the raspberries by freezing them and currently they are in a saucepan with a little water waiting for bottling time to approach. I am going to heat them to pasteurization and then add the berries and water to the jug/carboy with the lambic so I'll have a little more than a gallon but one can never have too much lambic.

Today is also my first use of a turkey fryer to boil. I am still using my stove to heat strike water, decoctions and sparge water but after my 7.5 gallon boil last December for the lambic put a stove burner on the road to a quick death I decided using a turkey fryer for the boil process is a lot cheaper than the money we spent replacing the coil, wiring assembly and infinity switch for that stove burner. By using the stove for the mash and sparge water I can limit the use of propane and reduce heating costs. Thankfully I was able to obtain my propane tank and turkey fryer for free my trading in some points I had on an account for amazon gift cards which I used to buy more homebrew equipment. I will probably also continue to do batches under three gallons on the stove since they don't put a lot of pressure or long term heat on the stovetop (bringing 7.5 gallons to a boil on the stove took multiple pots and about an hour and a half, plus the hour and a half boil, all of which was after heating the strike water, three decoctions and sparge water). Unfortunately going to the fryer means my first boil kettle, an eight gallon steamer pot, will probably not see a lot of use since it is too thin of metal to survive on a fryer and my steel five gallon kettle does all the rest of the stove top work. Possibly in the future I'll move to a house with a stove that can accept a canning element, a heavy duty electrical coil with support so extra weight from a canning kettle doesn't damage the stove top, so I will have some flexibility with electrical brewing. I might also come across a skillful homebrewer that can install some electrical heating elements and I can wire a future home for electrical brewing. My house now doesn't have a reasonable place to stick a 220v outlet for that kind of brewing. Well that's all future stuff so let's get back to the lambic.

I continued to follow my 60% pilsner/40% wheat malt grain bill this time. I am still not ready to do a full on turbid mash, hence the wheat malt instead of unmalted wheat. In the future I might try the turbid mash. I did a triple decoction with rests at 97F, 122F, 148F and 158F. I did this to ensure the wort going to the bugs with a lot of precursors for flavors as well as a well converted mash with both simple sugars and complex sugars. The complex sugars will be broken down by brett so the final beer won't have the thick mouthfeel and caramel flavors usually produced by a decoction mash. Although unconverted starch is beneficial for brett to produce more interesting off flavors I like to do the decoction mash and to an extent the decoctions get my beer part of the way there. This year, unlike last year, I am going to add a tablespoon of whole wheat flour towards the end of the boil so I will increase complexity and get some unconverted starch back in the beer to give brett more things to play with. It may not produce the same results as a turbid mash but I think it's close enough to produce a good beer. I don't want too much unconverted starch in the wort because brett takes a very long time to work through the starch and convert it to sugars and I want to stay on my annual schedule without risking that starch going into the bottle.

The boil was to be expected; the turkey fryer reached boil much faster than my stove so I cut off a good thirty minutes off my brew day. I added the wheat flour at about ten minutes remaining. I hopped the beer with half an ounce of kent goldings. Since these hops are fairly fresh and I did not "age" them in the oven they might impart a little more bitterness than I want but I think my lambic blend should survive. By the time the boil was finished the raspberries had started to dissolve into the water, now a deep red color. I won't pasteurize them until it's almost bottling time so they will stay as clean as possible. Just because my lambic is sour doesn't mean I want to get a nasty infection screwing up the flavor.

I took care of some other work while the fresh wort cools. Out of concern for acetobacter turning my lambic being reserved for gueuze I added some corn sugar (boiled in water to make a syrup) to create some fermentation and push out some CO2 until the pellicle can reform. The raspberry fruit mush/juice turned out to be quite a bit, probably around 20-25% of a gallon so although I know the fruit will continue to break down and turn into trub I suspect I'll get more than one gallon out of it. That's good because as I said before, you can never have too much lambic.While moving the full fermenter downstairs to the kitchen I got to enjoy the delicious smells of the lambic. It smells so good. It smells tart but with a big cherry aroma. My mouth was salivating the whole way down the stairs. It made it hard to concentrate but I was able to lug the six gallons of lambic down the stairs.

I gave the lambic a little taste during bottling. It's phenomenal. Tart with a prominent cherry flavor. I can't wait for it to carbonate. I ended up with a good number of bottles along with the framboise and gallon held off for gueuze. I ended up with way more wort than expected so I'll end up with more lambic than I expected. Once again, there's nothing wrong with more lambic.
December 27, 2011

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Seven

And then there was the last brewery: New Belgium. I like a lot of NB's beers; I don't drink as much of their beers as I used to -- both because we have access to more beers in Texas than we did ten years ago and because I have found others I enjoy more -- but the visit to the brewery reminded me how good some of their beers are. The brewery tour is an excellent tour. It's an hour and a half and they give you a lot of beer along the way. Plus, there's a slide at the end.

Whether you like or dislike NB's beers, you should appreciate that they have a solid vision of their business strategy and care about running business ethically, rather than just based on making more money than everybody else. After a year of employment, all employees obtain partial ownership in the business. That's really cool. I have spent several years working with employee benefits and I can say it's almost unheard of to vest benefits after only a year. They also spend a lot of time and money charitably operating bike runs for charity across the nation. Instead of dumping the waste water from brewing -- it takes eight gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, according to them -- they have an on-site water treatment plant that treats the water before it goes to Fort Collins's sewer system and they also take methane from the waste and use it to power generators that help power the plant. They are also incredibly generous with their time and beer for the tours.

We started our tour in the tap room. It smelled strongly of yeast hard at work, which is always a delicious smell. We drank some Old Cherry, which is a winter seasonal made with...cherries. It's very good. It's not a sour so it's a good cherry beer for people who love cherries but don't like sour. It's just a hint tart from the natural acids in the cherries. It's also not cloyingly sweet like the Lindeman's kriek (or similar backsweetened lambics). Sadly, it's only kegged and as far as we could see, didn't make it out of Fort Collins. I was told that Clutch was out, which also made me sad because I had really been looking forward to trying it. I also tried the Prickly Pear-Passion fruit saison, which was tasty although like many of NB's beer sort of stripped down for the sake of shelf life. I wish it had a little more rustic character. It wasn't as good as what we had at Funkwerks but it was good enough I walked to the very end of the B terminal of the Denver airport to drink more at the NB taphouse at the airport.

While at the taproom I overheard some other people asking the bartenders about some future NB plans, so I want to share those here. First, NB is considering a taproom in Old Town Fort Collins (sort of the old school main street) but it's not definitive. Second, NB intends on building a second brewery to improve distribution but they have not chosen a location so anybody who tells you they know where is wrong because not even NB employees know. (There are probably multiple sites being considered and various levels of work being done to see how feasible/profitable it would be. My guess is it would be somewhere on the eastern seaboard since there is a lot of beer culture out that way -- so a large market -- and that's the area furthest from Colorado so it would make distribution easier to distribute to the east.)

You can see one of the brewhouses (there are two) from the tap room. It's crazy, the whole thing is operated from two desktop computers. They were brewing when we were in the tap room. It's very automated. Two guys sat at the computers running everything. This is a picture of the brewhouse; I didn't get a picture of the computers. Sorry.

Ok, so on with the tour. The tour starts with a sampler of Abbey, which was the first beer produced by NB. They tell the story of how the owner biked around Europe drinking beer and learning about beer and was prodded to start a Belgian-style brewery in the US. The couple who own the brewery converted their basement and kitchen into the first NB location before building the current brewery, referred to as "the mothership". I suspect it's probably more difficult to start a brewery in your house in Fort Collins, let alone most other cities. After story time we were given a sampler of Snow Day. I'm not as much a fan of Snow Day as I was 2 Below. However, it's a good beer (I just don't like the hoppiness) and it's good in a sampler volume. Anymore and my taste buds get burned out.

The first place we stopped was outside of one of the labs. I believe this is the yeast lab, but it may be one of the quality assurance labs. It's not a great picture but you can see all sorts of scientific stuff going on here. It's on the way to brewhouse two, which is the brew house we were shown since they were currently operating out of the brewhouse one, visible in the picture above. Had people been working in the lab I probably would have bugged the tour guide -- who was very cool and very knowledgeable -- to talk to them about some of the more technical aspect of their brewing practices. Alas, nobody was home so we continued on to the brew house.

Along the way to the brew house there was a window into one of the rooms with fermenters. I'm not sure what the significance of the guitar was. I forgot to ask.

In the bottom of the brew house they told us all the typical stuff about how beer is made ("beer is made with four ingredients..." you're homebrewers, you know the rest) so I looked around at the equipment. The glycol plate chillers, etc. You can see here a fresh order of Chinook came in. NB uses pellet hops. The work floor of the brew house was really clean and very organized, unlike some of the smaller breweries (especially Avery) that were more dirty and had sacks of grains lying around everywhere. This cart full of hops was the most out of place thing I saw the entire trip.

After they showed us the bottom of the brew house we went upstairs where you can see things going on and receive more beer. Upstairs was another bar where instead of serving us beer we were taught how to pour from a tap and allowed to pour our own beer. I zeroed in on the Abbey Grand Cru because I had never had it before. It was really good. I was expecting it to be over the top and boozy like many beers labelled "grand cru" but it was smooth and easy to sip. It was like Abbey but with strong fruity notes of cherries and apricots. I might have to try to snag a bottle or two.

In addition to getting yet more beer you can see the top of all the brew house vessels and there are windows so you can see what's going on. There are four vessels but I only got pictures of three. The first is the mash tun, which I didn't get a picture of. The second is the lauter tun. This is the picture to the right. You can see the rakes turning the mash to stir up mash and get those sugars off the grains. These are some huge vessels. They extend from a few feet off the floor on the first floor to about five feet up on the second floor and these are some tall ceilings. They are probably thirty feet tall and maybe twenty feet in circumference.

Next the runnings are mixed together in this waiting tank where the wort is kept hot until the boil kettle is available for the next batch to boil. This runs contrary to a lot of homebrew wisdom about wort darkening as it stays warm. If you're doing an hour boil and getting ten barrels of beer to a boil that's a long wait (at least an hour!) so either they calculate the wait time into the color of beer or it has a minimal effect.

Finally the beer makes it to the boil kettle. They had just filled the kettle and it was just starting to simmer a bit, which is why the picture is so unclear. (Evaporated water) Obviously after the kettle it is cooled and then goes to one of thirteen fermenters. Some of the fermenters are small, like in the picture above. Some are massive fermenters outside that stand probably 100 feet in the air. After fermentation the beer goes to one of eight bright tanks to clarify before going to the bottling or canning lines.

After having a drink with the vessels we were taken the the separate building where the bottling occurs. They are currently replacing the canning line so we were shown the bottling line. Before we got to the bottling, the tour guide stopped to offer us some Fat Tire. This isn't just Fat Tire, it was Fat Tire that had been bottled about thirty minutes before they opened the bottles to serve us. It was a different beer than what we usually get. The hop flavor and aroma was much more distinct than the regular bottle of Fat Tire. For me it was a real eye opener about how much of the quality of beer is lost in transport, sitting in warehouses, more transport and sitting at a retailer before it makes its way to my glass. As a homebrewer, that relates to how we store our own beer. Jamail and some others really preach about homebrew not sitting at ambient temperatures but I had usually disregarded that as dated misconceptions about the stability of beer but I think that might be one area where I should rethink my beliefs. My beer usually sits in my guest bathroom/fermentation room at ambient temperatures. It's out of the light but generally sits anywhere from the high 60s to high 70s, depending upon the time of year. Those are really warmer temperatures than beer should be kept. If I had a basement I'd keep it down there but it's rare to find a basement in Texas. I wish I had space to keep all my beer at cellar temperatures once it conditions to an optimum flavor profile but I just don't.

After sipping on fresh Fat Tire they brought us to the windows overlooking the bottling line. I have two pictures: one from the bottom level and one from above. You can see a net on the left of the picture from the ground floor. Within that net is a ping pong table. At the time we were observing, the two guys that maintain the system were playing ping pong. Apparently there was a problem in the line and it was stalled and for whatever reason, it was not their responsibility to fix it. From the picture from the second floor there's a TV screen towards the left of the picture. This screen shows what's running, how many bottles have been filed and how many will run before a new beer is loaded. I don't remember exactly what it said but I seem to remember that they run almost 100,000 bottles of the same beer before changing to something else. This bottling system is enormous.

After watching the bottling system not do anything we went down to one of my favorite parts of the tour: the barrel room.

To the left is a picture of the massive barrels -- foeders -- where NB ages its sour beers. Although I was hoping to get a glimpse of Peter Bouckaert doing something Belgian, the room was empty except for our tour. The barrel room is the least...New Belgian-y of the whole place. NB is bright and colorful but here in the barrel room it is poorly lit, very warehouse-like and slightly dank. Below this picture is another picture of the foeders; you can see the heads of some of my tour-mates to give you an idea how tall and massive these things are. You can also see the huge wench used to move the foeders around.

Amongst the barrels you get your final sample of beer. We were able to sample La Folie, right among the foeders. Really cool. The tour guide told everybody to wait to taste so everybody could taste at once so people could see how each other reacted. There was a lot of looks of displeasure. I had tried La Folie back in 2009 or 2010 and had really not liked how acetic it was. When I tried it this time I picked up a strong green apple tartness with some slight lactic sourness and dark malts. I definitely liked it more than I remembered but probably not enough to buy it again. I don't know, the green apple flavor just doesn't win me over. I think it's worth trying but unless you are a tremendous sour fan (particularly of the Flanders red variety) you might want to split a bottle among many friends. I don't get a lot of brett flavor in La Folie so it's possible that they sour their beers strictly with bacteria and no brett. Some bacteria, like lacto, can run its course in 3-6 months so it's very possible.

So my tour guide and previous tap room bartender had told me Clutch was out, but here I was standing in front of a Clutch tap next to the La Folie tap. I asked if there was any Clutch left and my wife added that I had been desperate to try it and talked about it nonstop. The tour guide was generous enough to pour a sample which killed the keg. So it is possible I got the last distribution of Clutch, ever. (Although there are probably kegs kept aside for employees, the owners,  tasting against future versions, etc.) Clutch is really smooth and not at all sour. The beer is a blend of stout and dark sour. The stout is probably more like the Belgian stouts, which lack the Roasted Barley/black malt acridness and sharp coffee flavors of British and Irish stouts. It was smooth and chocolate-y with some coffee flavors. There was only a slight tartness at the end of the taste. It wasn't green apple-tasting so the "dark sour" is either something entirely different from La Folie or one component of La Folie, if La Folie is a blend of multiple beers.

At the end of the tour you get to go down a windy slide. It's a lot of fun. You must go down the slide to complete your experience (unless you are wearing a skirt -- that might be too revealing). Then you return to the tap room to enjoy more beer. When we returned to the tap room we tasted some more beers. We tried Frambozen fresh, which had a much brighter raspberry flavor than we've found in the bottles. Like the fresh Fat Tire, probably a function of storage conditions and age. We also tried a stout which was brewed as a small batch served only in the tap room of a prize-winning homebrew recipe from either an employee or a friend of the brewery (I forget which they said). It was an excellent stout. We also tried a beer that I believe was listed as a Lips of Faith beer (although it does not appear on the website) which was Jared's Smoked Porter -- a smoked peach porter. When I saw that I was like, "hey, I brewed a smoked peach porter two years ago," and it was somewhat similar to this NB beer, except admittedly the NB version did a much better job of bringing out the peach flavor. I'd like to think they nicked the idea from my blog but I'm probably not the only person who has ever thought of a smoked peach porter. It was at least cool that I came up with something unique that a brewery is now producing in a very similar form. After another round of Old Cherry we decided to leave.
December 21, 2011

Homemade candy syrup mead

So a while back I attempted to make Belgian dark candy syrup from table sugar but it ended up with a caramel taste rather than the raisin/toffee flavors of dark syrups. Rather than make another caramel-flavored dubbel, I decided to try using it in a mead. I used one pound of the caramel syrup with 2.25 lbs of honey and a teabag of black tea (and enough water to get to one gallon) to make a mead. I fermented it with bread yeast, which was able to handle the 12% ABV.This was my first time using black tea to provide tannins which actually worked out very well to add body and flavor depth.

There's nothing really special about the process involved but I thought the caramel syrup warranted some discussion. The mead is still very young so it has that harsh alcohol bite. It's somewhat drinkable though so I have had some tastes. At cold temperatures it is more alcohol-y and the caramel comes through in an nondescript sweetness. At room temperature, especially with some swirling to better expose to oxygen, the sweetness mellows as the caramel flavor comes out in some complexity along with the honey flavors.

It's definitely a sweet mead, even though it's not backsweetened, thanks to the unfermentable caramelized/meloidanized sugars. I'm not really a fan of sweet meads but I do actually enjoy this mead in small quantities. It would also be good in desserts, over ice cream, in place of brandy in recipes, etc.

I'd certainly make it again, it's worth tasting. It's a good way to use up a homemade D2 that didn't get the flavor depth you were hoping for.

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Six

The day after our visit to the mountains my wife had some business to attend to so we found ourselves back at Fort Collins. Naturally, we had to drink some more beer. We were planning a trip to New Belgium the next day so we were looking for other places to go. I suggested Fort Collins Brewery, which is right up the street from Odell's. I had seen something about saisons brewed in Colorado and did a little google action to locate Funkwerks which happened to be down the street from Fort Collins Brewery. So we hit up both of these breweries. We came back to Funkwerks the next night with some of our friends, so the Funkwerks pictures are actually from the next night.

Fort Collins Brewery

Fort Collins Brewery (FCB) has a nice brewhouse/taphouse with a restaurant attached. In the taphouse you can watch the brewing process while you enjoy the beers. The staff was really friendly and gave us some pointers on the New Belgium tour and what to look for in the tap house. That shows what a great environment those breweries have all developed amongst each other. I was led to believe that the beers from FCB were average but they were actually really good beers. We had a sampler of both the regular offerings and the seasonals/specials. There were many we really enjoyed. The Red Hot Chili Porter was excellently balanced. I'm used to chile beers being based on a lager or blonde ale so it was cool to see it in a richer, chocolatey beer (although that night I went on to try the Mexican chocolate stout at Wynnkoop that had chile as well). The 1900 Amber Lager was crisp and my wife really liked the pomegranate wheat. The double chocolate stout was delicious. The smoked amber was really interesting and not at all overpowering with smoke flavor. Our favorite beer was an espresso amber. The espresso really came through with all the unique flavors of espresso, not just a coffee flavor. The espresso, which is an easily overpowering flavor, was well balanced. I feel like there were some other beers we really liked. There wasn't a single beer we felt needed work; even the hoppy beers were well made although they were not our favorites.

I really appreciated that FCB took a style -- amber -- and had really worked it over into multiple iterations of the same beer, each subtly related but distinctly different at the same time. It's especially bold that they chose amber lager as their flagship even though the massive New Belgium brewery in town has its amber lager as its flagship beer (Fat Tire).


Funkwerks is a tiny brewery sitting in an industrial part of town just on the edge of where Fort Collins starts to turn a little more modern. It is brightly painted, which either represents its "funk" or acts as a way to let people know where the brewery is (or both?). Funkwerks is an all-saison brewery. What's especially interesting is that within Funkwerks is another brewery, Crooked Stave, which sells through the Funkwerks taphouse. I neglected to ask whether Crooked Stave borrows space for its barrels and taps at Funkwerks or if Crooked Stave also brews and bottles off Funkwerks's brewhouse. I suspect Crooked Stave's entire physical presence is located within Funkwerks although the Crooked Stave website indicates they are going to build a separate tap house. I wonder if they will also move into a brewhouse there as well. Since I sampled beers from both breweries I'll discuss both.

Crooked Stave focuses on beers on the wilder side, barrel aged beers and brett beers. They use a lot of barrels for having such tiny production. The beers were also considerably more expensive than any others we tried; I don't know if that's because of the cost of aging and the barrels or simply because the owner thinks the beers are worth more because they are fashionably barrel aged. I forget the names of the beers we drank from Crooked Stave, I know one was Surette and the other might have been the Surette Reserve or Wild Wild Brett Orange. The beer I believe was Surette was a crisp, saison-like beer with a slight tartness but big brett character. It reminded me a lot of my brett saison. No oak or acetic character from the barrels. The other beer, which I think was W.W.B.O. was definitely more complex with a distinct apricot-like flavor. While more complex, the beer seemed too complex for its own good. There was a lot going on and it seemed like each flavor was fighting for dominance. Maybe an adjustment would allow one or two flavors to emerge and the rest can add complexity to those flavors.

Here is a picture of Crooked Stave's barrel room in the Funkwerks brewhouse. You can't see it in this picture but a few of the barrels were wrapped in saran wrap (cling wrap, for you Europeans). I'm not sure if that's added precaution during transportation or if they use the wrap as an added protection against aeration.

Other than this barrel room, the taps and merchandise for sale in the taproom, I didn't see any other Crooked Stave activity in the building (although it's possible they have a separate brewhouse in the back that wasn't visible to us.

Crooked Stave is coming up on its one year anniversary and they are set to release some new beers next year. I believe they only distribute in Colorado (we did find both Crooked Stave and Funkwerks in the Denver area) so try to snag some of these beers at Total Beverage or your local bottle shop. If you live in Colorado (since they cannot/will not mail beer) Crooked Stave is offering a membership where you get a bottle or two of each new beer released next year plus opportunities to buy up the first releases of each new beer before it goes to the distributor. It's $300 for the year but I've seen more money spent on less interesting beer...

Ok, on to Funkwerks itself. Funkwerks, as I said before, is all saison. They do a lot with saison. A sessionable saisons (Casper), to a more mainstream saison (Saison), to a very spelty saison (Helter Spelter), to some interesting munich-y saisons (I forget the names) and some other saisons I don't remember (I drank a lot, sorry). One slight departure is that they make a wit (White), but they ferment with saison yeast so it has a really different flavor and body. It's hard to say which saison I liked the best. I know my wife really liked Casper. I think my favorites were Helter Spelter and White. One of the darker saisons was our least favorite but I have had less desirable saisons for sure. It's hard to pick out favorites because all the beers were really well made and it is obvious Funkwerks has taken the time to explore and develop the saison style. I'm a big, big fan of saison so I couldn't be happier to sit in an all-saison brewery and sip on beer. (My only complaint is that they need cooler shirts. I wanted to buy one but they were all pretty boring. I ended up buying a church key to replace the crappy wallet-style bottle opener I got for free from Marlboro a long time ago that does a terrible job at opening bottles.)

On our second trip, after New Belgium, we drank some beer and I asked if we could duck into the brewhouse for a quick picture if I promised not to touch anything. The bartender was kind enough to go back and ask the lone brewhouse worker if we could take pictures. Not only did he agree to let us come back but he took pictures and let us climb up on the actual brew system and took our picture. It was cool climbing up into the brew system with the mash tun on one side and the boil kettle on the other. (Sorry, I don't want to put up the pictures out of caution for my future legal career. People find everything on the internet these days and I don't want somebody to get the idea that my passion for beer equates to a passion for being wasted frat boy-style.)

I highly recommend a stop by Funkwerks if you are in Fort Collins (it's on Lincoln, on the way to all the other breweries) and if you can find their beers, give them a go. They run around $10-13 for a 750ml, which is kind of pricey (to me) but I think the beer is worth it. Plus, the champagne style bottles are incredibly easy to reuse for saison/sours/Belgians/mead/cider with some plastic champage corks and wire cages. Hopefully as production increases the beers will drop in price. It was definitely cheaper to drink off the tap and I do know that they produce plenty of kegs of their beer (we have pictures with them) so you might be able to score some delicious saison on tap in Colorado.
December 20, 2011

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Five

The next day we went up to Breckenridge where, surprisingly, Breckenridge Brewing is not. It's in Denver. It's ok, we had a great time tubing in Frisco (just a bit down from Breckenridge) and stopped off at Dam Brewery on the way back. I'm going to skip the next couple of afternoons to load in some other small breweries we hit along the way since those breweries will take some time to address.

Dam Brewery Restaurant

Dam Brewery is in Dillon, just a bit outside of Breckenridge and Frisco. The brewery, which is a brewpub, sits just off a dam in town. They take great liberties with the use of "dam" in phrases where "damn" might be used. Their beers suffer from the same mediocrity as many brewpubs, which is a real shame. There were a few of beers out of their regular rotation we really liked. The irish stout and brown ale were both nice renditions of the style. The real winner is the light lager. I'm serious. It was crisp but had a really good flavor with a bit of depth. It was like what Miller would taste like if it was loaded with flavor. Seriously, if Dam Lyte were mass produced, it would demolish Bud, Miller and Coors at their own game in no time at all. A star quality light lager.

Rock Bottom Brewery Restaurant

Rock Bottom was one of our destinations in the Denver Airport while waiting for our plane home. Rock Bottom is a brewpub chain owned by the same holding company as Old Chicago, which boasts a solid beer list and great deep dish-style pizza. Rock Bottom's beers were, well, very mediocre as well. I had a wit which was very average but my wife had a kolsch that was good, but not great. The food was delicious.

Boulder Beer Co.

We also caught this place in the airport. It's a shame we didn't make it to the actual brewery. I believe there was food available at the airport location; if so, Boulder Beer wins for the best brewpub we visited. Good stuff. All the beers we tried were good. The clear winners for us were: Obovoid, an oak-aged oatmeal stout; Singletrack copper ale, a sessionable amber with good flavor depth; and Dazed and Infused, a dry hopped pale ale with good fruity notes. Some of the others we tried were a little hoppy for our tastes but obviously well made beers.

Wynnkoop Brewing Co.

Wynnkoop is a small brewery/pool hall/brewpub in Denver. I neglected to try the chile beer although I realized upon returning home that it actually is on my beer list. Colorado is big on its chile beers, which is awesome and as much as I enjoy a chile beer, I find it to be a style I easily tire of drinking.

We did try to ESB (on cask) and schwartzbier which were both tasty. The ESB was not as good as Left Hand's but hey, Left Hand started out with their ESB as their flagship beer so they definitely have a perfected recipe. What's cool is that they have guest taps with other Colorado breweries. These were the real stars. One was an apricot blond from Dry Dock Brewing with a strong tart apricot taste. The #1 award has to go to the guest Mexican chocolate, pepper, cinnamon stout from Copper Kettle Brewing. It was powerful in taste with an incredible balance of sweet, roast, cinnamon and exactly the right amount of heat at the end. I don't know how much I could drink of it but I could definitely enjoy one or two of those every once in a while. It was the 2011 GABF Gold winner for spiced and herb beers with good reason. If there was a beer worth cloning, that would be it.

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Four

Next to me as I type is a small batch of a simple hefeweizen that started to ferment overnight. It really reminds me how great beer smells as it ferments and how much I miss the smell in the house. I guess I just need to brew more often. Anyway, the next day we took the drive from just outside of Denver to Fort Collins, a not too terrible drive. This is our first of three trips to Fort Collins, Colorado.

Odell's Brewing

Odell's was our first stop. Odell's has a nice brewery and tap room. My wife and I split two samplers, one of their regular beers and one of their pilot beers and special beers. We agreed that Odell's beers were either really good or really mediocre. The star beers (as I remember) were the bourbon barrel stout, the wild ale (which seemed to be just brett) and the double black IPA. Surprisingly, the double black IPA was hands down our favorite. It's surprising for us because we're not IPA fans. However, it was really smooth, chocolatey and although clearly hoppy, not smack you in the face hoppy like IPAs usually are. In spite of their beers being hit or miss (not just the pilot beers but also the regular offerings) it's worth sampling.

We also took the brewery tour. A couple of really interesting things about their brewery are worth noting. First, Odell's does not pasteurize their beers as a matter of taste. That's a fairly bold step to take because it limits the shelf life of the beer (at least in their opinion, I don't know, I have unpasteurized homebrew that's 1.5 years old) but since they say it gives their beer a four month shelf life, they can only distribute so far from the brewery without cutting off key selling time while the beer is riding a truck out to its destination.

Second, Odell's has a really cool policy with their 5 barrel pilot system. The pilot system is open to all employees who are allowed to brew anything they want (although I suspect the use of bacteria is probably restricted) and if those beers are worth drinking, they go to the tap room. That's pretty cool because you get some interesting beers in the tap room, like a beet porter (which was interesting), but once the beer runs out that's it, unless they decide to do another run. Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has a brewing science program and they are allowed to do runs on the pilot system. The tap room had a tripel that the students brewed; it needed some work. Still, it's really cool that they are so open with the system.

Coopersmith Pub & Brewery

Coopersmith is a brewpub chain in Colorado, specifically the Fort Collins area. They brew, have a pool hall and serve food. I was expecting something BJ's-like but actually the brewing was a lot more central to their business. We went to the store in Old Town Fort Collins (a kind of old school main street) which spans two storefronts; one a brewpub, one a pool hall with more fermenters. We only sampled a few beers, which were not necessarily great beers but definitely better than what I've had from BJ's. The chile beer was pretty good but the rest were fairly pedestrian. They definitely care about their beers but like many brewpub chains it seemed like they were trying to make a variety of beers while making it cheap enough and plain enough that non-beer geeks would drink them without finding it too shocking (sort of the Sam Adams approach to beers). I wish they had had a few special beers that they put some serious technique into for the beer geeks because they obviously had the set up to do something really great.

After Coopersmith we tried to get to New Belgium's tap house but we didn't realize they close at 6pm and we got there just after they locked the doors so we stood outside the doors, being mocked by the people inside enjoy beers. We'll come back.
December 19, 2011

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part Three

Left Hand Brewing

Our next location in Colorado (after sampling a little homebrew cider) was Left Hand. We get some of Left Hand's beers in Texas, so I was excited to try more. Although we did not take the tour we did spend some time in the tap house. I drank Sawtooth, Left Hand's ESB, on nitro. It was a really delicious session beer. I also sampled a barleywine, which I don't believe makes it out of the brewery. It was a great, smooth, complex barleywine. The tap house was very busy early Friday night but the people were very friendly (on both sides of the bar) and we had a great time. We didn't take the tour because my friends in Colorado and my wife took the tour when she visited in August. Next visit I would like to take the tour. Great beer. I also saw that Left Hand is going to bottle/can the milk stout on nitro so that will be pretty cool since it seems most bars are selling the milk stout on draft by nitro rather than CO2.

Oskar Blues Brewing

Next we visited Oskar Blues. More specifically, we visited the separate tap house for dinner. Although Old Chub was calling out to me, I decided to swill some Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter because it was on my list of must-try beers (for good reason -- excellent smoked porter). The tap house did not have some of the more unique OB offerings but my wife did try their smoked porter, which was also pretty good (but not as good as Alaskan's). The waitress cautioned that the OB smoked porter contained meat, but I'm pretty sure that's not true. I think she just believed that because of the taste. Anyway, I had a great time tasting the beers and the food was delicious. Definitely worth the visit, especially if you can score some of OB's "oddities" that don't get canned.

This ended day one. We were all pretty buzzed and full. What is immediately apparent is that the good people of Colorado appreciate all the good beer available to them and are happy to take advantage of it. Back in Texas, well, everybody is still downing Miller and Coors before it warms up and they can taste it.
December 18, 2011

Brewery Excusions in Colorado: Part Two

Avery Brewing

My first destination -- straight from the airport -- was Avery Brewing. I'm a fairly new drinker of Avery beers (although I'm not really sure why). Some of their over the top beers are, well, too over the top in my opinion but I've really gained a new appreciation for their beers. In the tap room I sampled Freckles Saison, Eighteen and Eremita II. All great beers. Unfortunately I don't remember much about Freckles; I seem to believe it had some sort of interesting fruit or spice addition. Eighteen is a dry hopped rye saison. Very good. The dry hopping was subtle and worked really well with the spiciness from the rye. Eremita II is a sour beer that is only available in the tap room, which is incredibly disappointing (unless you live near Avery). It's tart but pristine; there's no off flavors. It reminded me of a lambic but without the cherry undertones that usually develop in lambic. I don't know if they soured without the assistance of brett or if the brett was just subdued. A nice tart beer, for sure, especially for a brewery that only dabbles in sours.

Avery's tap room releases new beers almost every Friday so it's a great place to visit. The tour is a less impressive. Avery's current location (they are moving soon) is the original location in a business/industrial complex and as the brewery has grown they have leased out the next warehouse so the brewery is sort of slapped together rather than a sleek operation. To get from different parts of the brewhouse you have to go outside. The brewhouse is definitely messier than I expected but the operation has a nice atmosphere where you can tell everybody gets their hands dirty making a great beer. If you looked at the operation and had no idea otherwise, you would never expect that the brewery pumps out so much beer and so much high quality beer at that. The tour was not particularly different from any other tour you might go on but you get a sense that the people working there really care about the quality of the beer.

Brewery Excursions in Colorado: Part One

Most people go to Colorado to enjoy the snow and ski/snowboard. I spent six days traveling across the state to sample beer and learn about the multitude of breweries happy to call Colorado home. By several maps I found, there are over 140 breweries in the state, not including BJ's several locations. While I didn't get close to visiting all of them, I did knock out twelve, which is pretty good. I drank a full three gallons of beer and my wife downed just a bit over two. It's not that we were trying to get drunk, we just wanted to sample so many beers.

The breweries we experienced were: Avery, Odell's, Oskar Blues (only the separate tap-house), Rock Bottom, Funkwerks, New Belgium, Dam Brewery, Left Hand, Boulder Brewing, Coopersmith, Wynnkoop and Fort Collins Brewing. This long, thirst quenching adventure really gave me some new perspectives on brewing. I wanted to share some of the things I experienced, learned and tasted along the way. Some specific beer reviews will go on my beer review blog (I Reviewed Beer) for beers that really stood out as unique or incredibly well put together, but many will get quick hits along with their respective breweries. I am putting these brewery reviews on this blog because I think these adventures reflect more on my brewing than simply sampling beers.

I've broken out each brewery into a separate entry although some are certainly longer than others. Unfortunately I didn't make careful notes or take pictures at all the breweries or about all the beers I drank but I will try to recall as much as possible and include the pictures and notes I do have (courtesy of my smartphone).

One of the most important takeaways from the trip was really appreciating the importance of the brewing process. Over 140 breweries use the same water source, the same techniques, the same equipment and the same ingredients to produce wildly different beers from the technical precision of Coors in Golden, CO to the amazingly complex and craftily balanced Mexican Chocolate Chipotle Stout on a guest tap at Wynnkoop to the rustic saisons at Funkwerks to the quaffable Old Cherry at New Belgium. It reminds me that I need to take more care about sanitation, temperature control, yeast pitching rates, etc.

I also took away an expanded appreciation for different beers and ingredients, which in turn extends my ever-growing list of beers to try brewing. That makes me really excited for the prospects of brewing ever better beers. It was also encouraging to see a beer that I thought nobody else would be foolish enough to try making appear among the Lips of Faith series at New Belgium. It was encouraging to know that sometimes as homebrewers we can really be innovators of beer, rather than just following in the footsteps of the professionals. (Although I don't take credit for New Belgium's beer I would like to think I thought of it before their brewers.)

It will probably take me a week or two to draft out all the Colorado blogging so I expect to be very active here for the rest of my short winter break from school. I also have some brewing to do and write about, so I hope to make up for the lackluster posting I've done over the past few months.
December 2, 2011

Beer, Aging and Why It Doesn't Survive Like Wine

Aging beer is a subject of contention for some, especially when it comes to homebrew. Certainly those big commercial beers can improve after a year or two of aging, but most people agree there's a point where beer ages in a bad way and goes bland or over-oxidizes. It's one of the reasons why beer is distinguished from wine, which can be aged sometimes for centuries. Wines get more valuable with age and are considered superior beverages, at least in part, due to their ability to improve with age.

Differences between wine and beer

This ignores some of the realities between wine and beer. Wine, at least modern wine, is assisted with additions of chemicals that improve stability by killing off bacteria and yeast. We don't often make those additions to beer. Additionally, wine yeast are badasses, some produce a compound that kills other yeast so the chance of wild yeast infecting the beer goes down. One substantial difference is that wine is low is extremely low in proteins, which are a major part of the breakdown in the quality of beer over time. Additionally, the higher alcohol percentage tends to prevent any bacteria or wild yeast from surviving in the harsher conditions.

Commercial beers tend to have the yeast and much of the protein removed from the beer (you need some to produce head retention) to assist in quality control and stability over time. Some even do have head stabilizers and other chemicals added to clarify and stabilize the beer. Although this helps stabilize the beer, even beer under pressure in bottles will experience some destabilization as the proteins break down into less enjoyable flavors. Like wine, those beers corked will have micro-oxygenation and develop a changing flavor over time. For beer, that combination of protein destabilization and oxygenation often results in bland flavor over the long term rather than the development of interesting, sherry flavors in wine.

Beer is best stabilized in cooler temperatures, even cooler temperatures than wine. For people who think wine is best aged, no matter what only need to stick a corked bottle in their garage or room temperature house for several years and give it a taste. Even wine stored in the 70s or above will destabilize at those temperatures. Beer, again due to the proteins, but also hop compounds, needs even colder temperatures to prevent destabilization. If one wants to age beer, room temperature is fine to produce beneficial flavor compounds from aging but typically after 2-3 years the process reverses and starts to produce bland beer. (Sours, which are dryer and already have some of the proteins broken down and consumed are more stable and can survive longer.)

Homebrew and its survival

Homebrew is even less stable since we tend not to add stabilizers, filter, or cold store our beers. Instead we are at risk of the same destabilization along with autolysis, increased protein destabilization (often because we have more remaining in our beers) and warmer conditioning temperatures that accelerate destabilization. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves wanting to make those big beers and then age them. Bigger beers tend to survive the aging process better because the alcohol wards off the effects of random bacteria and wild yeast in our beer and they hold up against destabilization better. In fact, they often improve from aging. In writing this, I am currently enjoying a delicious BGSA that is about 18 months old. It has definitely mellowed and improved with time. But it's 10% ABV. There will come a time when that beer has aged too much. The best thing you can do for your beer is age it a sufficient amount of time (which depends on the style and ABV) and then let it remain cool at refrigeration temperatures to inhibit further aging. That can be difficult when you have limited refrigerator space and/or no cool basement.

It's my experience that beers in the 5% range reach the limit of beneficiary aging around 9 months. After that they begin a slow decline into bland. That doesn't mean the beers go bad you just might notice the flavor changes for the worse and over time it becomes less enjoyable. But you could enjoy that beer right into a couple of years of age. It seems to me each percent of alcohol above that adds another 3-4 months. Obviously cool aging will delay aging and slow the destabilization. Anyway, that's just my experience.