Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eli's - Allagash Tasting

We hit Eli's last night for a late snack and some beer. The purpose of the trip was to try the phenomenal Allagash Black. I was so focused on the Black that I don't remember much of the rest of the rotation. I do remember:

Allagash Black
Allagash Tripel
Allagash Dubbel
Allagash Grand Cru
Stoudt's Double IPA
Rogue Imperial Red (!)
Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock (!)
Great Divide Fresh Hop Ale
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Smuttynose Scotch

The Black was so tasty and silky smooth I had three (Mandy was driving) Eli's first for me as I usually mix it up. It's a unique beer because it's made with roasted malts similar to a stout, but it also has belgian dark candi and is fermented using a belgian yeast. Allagash calls it a "Belgian style stout." I was concentrating on drinking it, not analyzing it, so no detailed notes. I remember it being silky smooth and much more stout-ish than Belgian-ish...the Belgian-y qualities were very subtle and came out in the finish adding a layer of complexity not found in normal stouts. The alcohol (7.5% ABV) is so well-hidden that I would have guessed it was in the 5% range, which is dangerous. I would rather drink Black than the vast majority of stouts (imperial or otherwise) I've had recently, which seems to be my developing yardstick "how much do I want to drink more of this?". It was still on at Eli's at 10:30 last night, so get there quick before it's gone!

As a (hopefully) quick sidenote, this beer presents an interesting stylistic quandry. Beeradvocate calls it a "Belgian Strong Dark Ale" and Ratebeer calls it a "Foreign Stout." It struck me as much more a stout than a Belgian Dark Ale so I'd probably lean more towards the "Foreign Stout" side or maybe "Export Stout." I'd say a new style is emerging "Belgian Stout," but when half of the examples are American, it seems weird to call it Belgian. Anyway, this doesn't really concern me much, as long as it tastes good, and Allagash Black does. I just think it's rather interesting watching a new style bloom in front of us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Flatbread Restaurant - Canton, CT

Flatbread Restaurant (not to be confused with American Flatbread Burlington Hearth) is a chain of flatbread pizza restaurants that cook using fire pits similar to this:

A branch opened in the (relatively) new Shoppes right off Route 44 in my hometown of Canton, CT. It's located in the back, right past Barnes & Noble and near Old Navy and Dick's. Over the past 2 years or so it's become my favorite place to go eat pizza.

The atmosphere is very "crunchy" for lack of a better word. All the ingredients are organic, they cook in an open flame fire oven, the decorations are earthy including some tibetan prayer flags, the furniture is wooden and functional, and on Thursdays there's live music usually consisting of a guy playing acoustic guitar and singing folk songs. Personally I love the atmosphere and prefer something along these lines to modern or fancy. Also, just remember it is Canton, CT (a fairly wealthy suburb) so while the restaurant itself is fairly crunchy, much of the clientele just got home from their white collar job in Hartford.

The menu is extremely basic with two choices: salad and/or pizza. The salad is very good made with organic ingredients with an optional topping of local (actually, MA) blue cheese crumbles. The pizza is also made with all organic ingredients. You can start with a simple red pizza (I think it's called "Jay's Heart") or one with no red sauce and add your own toppings, or pick from one of the many specialty pizzas. You really can't go wrong, everything's fantastic. My favorite topping is the maple sausage, so sweet with a nice kick at the end...perfect with a lighter IPA.

Since this is a beer blog I guess I should get to the good stuff. While the selection won't blow beer geeks away, it is surprisingly good for Canton. None of the big 3 are available on tap or otherwise. They continue with their local and organic theme by keeping the selection from New England breweries and often having an organic choice. The draft list on Saturday included:

Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout
Farmington River IPA
Farmington River Brown
BBC Lost Sailor IPA
BBC Cabin Fever Ale (this was a surprise, usually it's Gold Spike)
Opa Opa Red Rock

I know they had a few more than this but I'm drawing a blank. They usually have a Long Trail seasonal, but it had just kicked. In short, it's not Eli's but it's a heck of a lot better than any other pizza restaurant in the area. There's never anything wrong with a Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout or a fresh Lost Sailor. My only complaint about their beer is that they keep it on a fixed menu including a "guest tap." They change their rotation enough that the list is never accurate and their "guest tap" becomes meaningless because there are 3-4 beers not on the list. I usually just ask the server to run through the beers on tap to avoid confusion.

I highly recommend this place if you're looking for some great pizza and some really good beer. The prices are a little steep (for the food, the beer is reasonable), but it really is worth it. And after, you can head over to Barnes & Noble for some coffee and finish your Christmas shopping.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Surly Darkness

Surly is a small brewery near Minneapolis, MN. It was on my list of things to seek out during my trip to St. Paul, but didn't have time. I have gotten the chance to try some of their Coffee Bender at Beeradvocate's American Beer Fest a couple of summers ago and it was fantastic. This marked their "coming out party" so to speak as they were very new at that point and only distributed to MN. Since then their popularity has exploded (not necessarily because they participated in the American Beerfest, mind you, because they make fantastic beer).

On Saturday they released their annual Russian Imperial Stout, Darkness. They followed Three Floyds example and created a special day for its release with the intent of selling all the bottles at this one event. Apparently there was music and food along with all their regular beers on tap. Every Spring, Three Floyds has their Dark Lord Day . I guess the difference between the two is that Dark Lord Day has becom so big they're looking into off site locations to hold it because the lines have gotten so large. People travel from all across the country for this and turn the day into one big party and beer tasting event. Three Floyds wins by guaranteeing their Dark Lord will sell out at $15 a pop, not to mention all the other beer they sell that day. I guess the guys at Surly realized what a good thing this was and decided they wanted in the game.

The result of this was to create demand for the product that may not have existed otherwise. Now all of a sudden it has become the beer to obtain. If you glance at the beeradvocate and ratebeer trading forums, it seems every thread is devoted to looking for Darkness or figuring out what people are willing to give up for Darkness. The beer is seen as rare because only a select few were able to get it. The rarity seems to create a sense of demand for the product that wouldn't exist if it was more readily available and it keeps people interested in the breweries that hold these events (another example is The Angel's Share from Tomme Arthur at The Lost Abbey, which is also a hot commodity in the beer trading circles).

I'm not trying to make a value judgment about these breweries because, frankly, I think it makes great business sense. I guess what I don't understand are the people who feel such a need to try these beers. I've never had Dark Lord, or Darkness, or The Angel's Share, but I can't help thinking as I'm enjoying a more readily available imperial stout: "how much better could Darkness really be?" Is it really worth getting upset about not being able to try it? My answer is a resounding no. I'll continue to enjoy Southern Tier's Oat or Storm King or Smuttynose Imperial Stout and let other people arrive in Minneapolis at 2AM when it's below zero to wait for a beer that they must absolutely have. I guess I just don't understand this need people have to try everything. People even get mad at the monks of Westvleteren because they don't make more beer and distribute to the USA. Like the monks care about that. Sorry, but I'll wait until I make it to Belgium to drink Westvleteren...and if I never make it? I'll drink biggie.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Plan B and City Steam

I had a busy Sunday, hitting both Plan B and City Steam.

We stopped into Plan B for a quick snack and a couple of beers during the afternoon. The tap list was better than the last time we went, but still not as good as the reports from the Simsbury location that we still haven't made it to. The tap list included:

Sierra Nevada Celebration
Great Divide Hibernation
Long Trail Double Bag
Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
BBC Porter
Farmington River Brown
Ipswich Original
Brooklyn Lager
Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale
Avery The Czar
And probably a couple of others

(Note: I wrote this before realizing that I've never done a review of Plan B in West Hartford! I'll try to remedy that in the next few days)

In the evening we tried to hit City Steam for dinner prior to a Christmas show at the Civic Center. Unfortunately, it reiterated why I'm not really a big fan of this place. The beer was great, it was everything else. For starters, I ordered the mead I mentioned here. It came in a white wine glass, which I guess is OK, but they only fill it halfway and charged $5. I got 5-6 oz of a mead that they advertised as 8%ABV. It was a decent enough drink, though I'm no expert on meads, but I was left feeling a bit taken. After waiting an hour, we were finally seated. We informed our server that we were in a bit of a hurry and proceeded to receive horrendously slow service. The food we got wasn't very good either.

I think I finally figured out what rubs me the wrong way about City Steam. It's very impersonal. Other bars and brewpubs we go to focus on either the neighborhood (locals) or the regulars (if it isn't a neighborhood setting). Everyone is welcome, but you always get a certain sense of conviviality and friendship between both the patrons and the staff. Obviously there are exceptions, but for the most part these places make you want to become one of the regulars. Despite this, they never make "tourists" (people who aren't regulars) feel unwelcome, it just gives you something to strive for by coming more often.

I never get this feeling at City Steam. Instead, I get the feeling that they cater to the "tourist," which tends to create a feeling of coldness and impersonality. I feel like, while there may be regulars (and there are because they have a mug club), they never really cater to them. Instead, they're happy to accept the hordes of one-timers who stop in for a meal prior to attending an event at the Civic Center. This is understandable as the place is always packed on event nights, but it makes me want to choose someplace different. It leaves me feeling that there's no sense of community, I'm just surrounded by strangers waiting to go somewhere else. The servers become unfriendly, the bartenders downright rude (standing there waiting for a tip?!), and the other patrons: nameless strangers.

The beer was very good (the Flowers of Edinburgh Scotch Ale was top notch), but suffice it to say we didn't have a very good time. I think I'm knocking them down to fourth on my list behind Willimantic, Cambridge, and John Harvard's. They're still ahead of Hops.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Session # 10: Sierra Nevada Celebration

Side note: "The Session" is a monthly beer blogging event. Each month a new blogger picks a theme and anybody is free to contribute by writing a blog entry related to the theme and sending to the host on the first Friday of each month. This month's theme is "Let it snow, let it snow, Winter Seasonal Beers" and is hosted by Ted at Barley Vine. It's my first contribution to the Session.

They say certain aromas can trigger deep emotional responses in people. While I've certainly found this to be true, I've also found that certain beers can trigger similar responses in me. Such is the case with my favorite holiday seasonal: Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. In the world of holiday seasonal beers the norm is to revel in the malty side of beerdom and to add liberal doses of spicing. Dark in color and deep in flavor, these beers are perfect for enjoying around the fire. Sierra Nevada bucks this trend by producing a bitter, hop fueled, amber elixir that epitomizes the American IPA style.

I look forward to seeing the first cases of Celebration showing up in my local bottle shop every season. It has come to represent everything that the holiday season should be, but is often not. It can be an extremely stressful time of year between work and personal life and Celebration Ale has become a lighthouse of sorts to guide me closer to what is really important. Too often we get caught up in working late to meet year-end deadlines, trudging through overcrowded shopping malls looking for the perfect present, fighting traffic, dealing with difficult family members, getting electrocuted (that might just be me), and any number of other irritations. When struggling with all of this and trying to remain cheerful, it helps to know that soon I'll be able to go home and enjoy the company of my wife and two dogs and enjoy a tasty Celebration Ale. I make sure to keep my fridge stocked so I can always look forward to this simple pleasure.

A second reason why this is one of my most loved beers is that it was the first IPA I truly enjoyed. This was fairly soon after discovering craft beer, but I was still more taken with the malty side of the spectrum, the porters, stouts, and scotch ales. IPAs were just too bitter, but every once in a while I would try another to see if my tastes were changing. My first Celebration Ale was the first time that I realized my tastes had changed and that I was actually enjoying an IPA. There was no looking back from there as I've become a full-on hop head and I have no regrets.

As the holiday season continues I urge everyone to take some time out of their busy schedules to think about what really matters in their life; slow things down and actually enjoy the season. Having a Celebration Ale will help, I promise!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Great Waters Brewing Company

Business travel can be a funny thing. Travel alone and you have so much free time you don't know what to do with it all. Travel with other people and you barely have a spare moment. Such was the case with my trip to St. Paul last week. I was there for three nights and I was only able to hit one of the spots I had lined up in advance, Great Waters Brewing Co., a brewpub right in downtown St. Paul. Luckily, that wasn't the only drinking I did as I got to sample a couple of different offerings from Summit Brewery, also from St. Paul...a new brewery for me. I had quite a few of the Winters, a wonderfully smooth Winter Warmer perfect for the cold weather and the Extra Pale Ale, which was a decent, if a bit uninspiring, American Pale Ale.

I learned a few things about St. Paul during my three day stay: it's awfully cold in November (think dead of winter in New Hampshire cold), they have a big mall with an amusement park, and they have a system of skywalks that allow you to traverse much of the city without ever feeling the cold bite of the wind. This is an important detail to remember after a night of drinking.

After spending a few hours at a faux-Irish pub during a sponsored happy hour, I ducked out around 10PM to grab a bite to eat and a few beers from the local brewpub. Great Waters is located in a very convenient location in downtown St. Paul on 426 Saint Peter St. It's a rather small space as far as brewpubs go with an open floor plan. There are two separate seating areas that from the lengths of an L. They aren't separated by anything except space and a large post that forms the pivot of the L. The physical bar is integrated into the dining area, forming the L the dining area revolves around. It's a comfortable-feeling place, the walls lining the streets are almost all glass and it's well-lit but not overly-bright. As I walked in, the host immediately asked if I was alone and then proceeded to walk me to the bar and show me to an empty seat at the bar. Usually when you tell a host you want to sit at the bar you're lucky if they point you in the right direction. The waiter was pleasant and never let my glass sit empty for long before asking if I wanted a refill. There were a few small TVs, but they were tucked into corners so they wouldn't distract people who were there to socialize.

The thing that intrigued me about Great Waters was the fact that they always have four cask conditioned ales available. Served at cellar temp, in perfect condition, crystal clear and bright. I'm not sure I've ever been to a bar that's had more than 1-2 and this place always has four. If I lived in the area it would become a regular stop. While I was there I had the House Ale (a bitter), Tesla's Coil IPA, and the Bent Niblick Scottish Ale (Scottish, not Scotch). All were very good, but to be honest they all had a similar taste profile. The IPA was more bitter than the other two, the Scottish Ale was a bit maltier than the House, but their essential essences were very similar. My guess is they use a standard base and make minor tweaks to the hop profile and specialty grains and ferment with the same yeast. I don't mean to complain though, because all the beers were tasty and served in perfect condition. I easily could have sat there and had a few more if an early morning wake-up call didn't beckon.

The fourth cask ale was an Old Ale called Old Bastard. I had looked this up on beeradvocate prior to going and it didn't score very well so I opted out. In addition to the four casks, they had five "pushed" beers served colder in the more prevalent style via CO2. These were: Novemberfest (a Belgian style "honey braun"), Blackwatch Oat Stout (Oatmeal Stout), Saint Peter Pale Ale, Brown Trout Brown Ale, and Golden Prairie Blond Ale. I had hoped to slip away again at some point before flying back to tropical Hartford to try the Blackwatch Oat Stout, but that never actually sounds like a beer that would be wonderful on their casks. And now that I did some research and actually read about the Novemberfest I wish I had given that a try also.

The food has some interesting takes on traditional brewpub fare. I had the steak sandwich with chips, both of which were very tasty. I had intended to only eat half the sandwich but my plate was clean when I left the restaurant. Funny how that works.

This was a great place and I was very pleased I had made the decision to stop in. Very different from the CT brewpubs, yet I think it would still fit very nicely into the CT scene. Four permanent casks would be a very welcome addition.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Cambridge House

Not to be confused with the Cambridge Brewing Company, The Cambridge House is located at 357 Salmon Brook St. (Rt. 10) in Granby. It's on the left, directly off the main street about a mile or two past Granby center when coming from the south. Slow down or you'll drive right past it.

The Cambridge House opened a few years ago after a rather protracted waiting period (at one time I remembered the reasons, but I've since cleared that space in my brain for other useless information). After waiting expectantly for something, it's common to be let down. To every CT beer lover's delight, CBH lived up to the hype. They began with a modest, but very solid selection including an outstanding IPA (Abijah Rowe), a GABF gold-winning Kölsch (Copper Hill), a solid ESB (Old Mill Pond), and a wonderfully authentic Hefeweizen. Since then, they've added a bunch of choices that they circulate into the rotation seasonally and at the whim of the brewer (Stephen Schmidt). Some of my favorites include Porter's Porter, Three Steve Stout, Alt-45, and Newgate Mild. The mild was a favorite of mine because it was appropriately low in ABV so I could drink more of them in a session without getting drunk. Plus, you just can't find good examples of the style on this side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it in a long, long time and I fear it won't be back. The one knock I used to give them about the beer is that they were so popular they often ran out of their beer. It was particularly frustrating to drive 35 minutes to see that they only have 5 of their beers on tap and two of them are out. To satisfy thirsty patrons they added a very nice selection of guest taps including a few devoted to Thomas Hooker and a few to Berkshire Brewing. Nice to see them supporting the locals. They've since upgraded capacity and I haven't experienced these problems during my last few visits.

The building itself has a number of different areas to sit in. The entrance to the restaurant is actually located in what appears to be the back of the building as you look at it from the street. Walking up to the entrance from the parking lot you pass across a large outdoor deck, a fine option for the warmer months. As you enter, the bar area is to your left, the host station is in the lobby area, and the restaurant proper is upstairs. I've actually never even been up the stairs, it's usually closed when we're there. This isn't a problem if you want to sit and eat because there's a nice separate seating area past the bar area. It's secluded enough from the bar that you feel like you're in a restaurant, yet it can still get rather loud when the bar fills up. The bar area itself has typically tall tables surrounding the horseshoe shaped bar. There are a smattering of TVs around the room so feel free to go there to catch the game.

The food menu is typical brewpub fare with a number of twists and unique flourishes. Generally speaking it's very good, but we have been disappointed on occasion. I certainly wouldn't come here if food is the priority, but if you're coming for the beer you can definitely score a meal that will satisfy. You can't go wrong with the fish and chips. The service is generally fine. I've never eaten in the formal dining area, so I can't comment from that aspect. It's easier in the bar seating area because the servers are never very far away.

This is one of my favorite brewpubs in CT, behind only Willimantic (that I haven't been to in 10 months). The beer is always fresh and tasty and I love the atmosphere in the bar area. Plus, it doesn't hurt to be located in Granby, one of the prettiest places in CT. I'm actually hoping to move there in the near future!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Eli's on 12/2

I killed a couple of hours at Eli's on Sunday afternoon. Their list was fairly unimpressive for Eli's, but some of the highlights:

St. Bernardus Abt 12
Old Rasputin
Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout
Smuttynose IPA
Stone Coast 420 IPA
Stone Coast 840 IPA
Sunday River Lager (Stone Coast)
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (still no Shakespeare Stout!)
Harpoon Winter
Sam Adams Winter

A good list for a hop head.

I also went to Cambridge House in Granby on Saturday, but I want to write a proper review since I haven't done it yet. Plus, I need to post about last week's trip to St. Paul, MN.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

St. Paul, MN

I'm off to St. Paul, MN for the rest of the week. It's a business trip, so I won't have much free time for beer, but I do plan to hit at least one or two places. Definitely Great Waters Brewing and hopefully The Happy Gnome. Depends on how much time I've got, but I'll keep you updated.

City Steam Brewery Cafe

Located at 943 Main St in downtown Hartford, City Steam Brewery Cafe is located in the wonderful historic Richardson Building. If you get bored drinking your beer, you can amuse yourself by looking at the architecture, which is some of the most interesting I've seen in a brewpub. Their website advertises seven different levels. While this is undoubtedly true, it is slightly misleading as many of the levels are really just a few steps up or down. Still, there are many different corners and seating areas you can find yourself in, making each trip a new experience.

As you enter the front doors, the bar area is to your left, the restaurant is to the right, and the host station is directly in front of you. Past the host station is a large area with pool tables. It gets busy in the evenings, so reservations are recommended. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, just pop in. The bar has three different connecting sections that form a large Z. There are also self-serve tables strewn about the room and an assortment of big screen TVs ensure you'll be able to catch the game. As I mentioned earlier, the restaurant area has many different seating areas, many of which are elevated, up stairs, in a secluded corner, etc... The atmosphere is dark and cozy with lots of deep reds and dark woods. A place made for rainy afternoons and cold winter nights. Downstairs is a comedy club, which I've never made it too unfortunately.

The beer seems to be hit or miss. At least that's how it's been for me in the past. Saturday was my first visit in a long time and I left very impressed with the quality. That leaves me thinking that they are either still hit or miss, or they've turned the corner and have become more consistent. I guess more research will be necessary!

Their standard beers:
City Steam Blonde
Export Lager
City Steam Dark Ale
Colt Light Lager
The Naughty Nurse Amber Ale
White Rabbit

Their current Seasonals:
Norwegian Wood
The Flowers of Edinburg

"New on Tap":
Black Raspberry Nectar
Ecstacy IPA

On my trip this weekend, I had the Norwegian Wood and Ecstacy IPA. Both were very nice. The Norwegian Wood is a very interesting, style-bending beer. Beeradvocate lists it as an Herbed/Spiced Beer, which I guess fits as well as anything else. It's a dark lager, almost black, with hints of cinnamon and cocoa. The Ecstacy IPA is darker than your typical IPA, nicely bitter and very drinkable.

As for the other beers, the Export Lager is for your "Bud Heavy" drinker and the Light is for your Bud Light drinker. The Naughty Nurse is, by far, their most popular beer. It goes over very well with people who drink Bass Ale. Chances are you'll be successful with this suggestion for anyone who isn't strictly a macro drinker. The Dark Ale is a nice Dunkel Lager and the White Rabbit is a witbier. The Flowers of Edinburg is a very well done Scotch Ale with a very pronounced smokiness. The Black Raspberry Nectar is an intriguing selection that I wish I had gotten this weekend. It's actually a honey mead and it wasn't made at City Steam...the list said it was made in CO, with no further details. I think I'll try to get back to try this soon.

The food is above-average pub-style fare. It has a good mix of sandwiches and comfort food. My favorite sandwich is the Cheddar Chicken, which probably isn't very good for you but tastes great.

Parking can be a problem when Hartford is busy. On the weekends it's relatively easy to find a spot or a lot especially when there's no event at the Civic Center. If it's busy in Hartford, I just recommend parking in the Morgan St Garage (City Steam is located on Main St between Talcott and Temple), which has a flat $4 nights and weekends rate. You have a few blocks to walk, but that's usually nice after eating and drinking.

The service is spotty and usually not very good. The server we had on Saturday was very friendly, but awfully slow getting our beers. She came back numerous times and said "your beers are almost up." Huh? How long does it take to pull a beer? Honestly, I can't remember ever having very good service, we've had downright poor service a few times, but most of the time the servers are friendly but inneficient.

In the pantheon of CT brewpubs, I'd rank City Steam fourth behind Willimantic, Cambridge House, and John Harvard's. If they could become more consistent with their beer they could probably move up a bit, but that remains to be seen.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone for another year. This year's holiday weekend was very low key. I spent Thanksgiving at my cousin's house in Windsor, CT and the rest of the weekend at home, although we did go to City Steam on Saturday and I'm planning to post a review shortly. My beer drinking on Thanksgiving was limited to the evening after we got home, which suited me as Thanksgiving evening always seems so lazy. I enjoyed the downtime with a Victory Old Horizontal from Dec. 2005. It hasn't been cellaring per se, just sitting in my beer fridge for two years at anywhere between 42-50 degrees (my beer fridge isn't very precise). It was absolutely amazing. No alcohol bite, everything had calmed down and turned into a smooth creamy elixir. I think I have one left from that batch. I told Mandy I should buy a case every year and not touch it for two years. The other highlight of the weekend was my first Old Fezziwig of the season. It's become a bit of a tradition to enjoy this for the first time on Thanksgiving day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga - The Firefly

I've come to love the beers of Jolly Pumpkin over the last year or so. Prior to that, they were not distributed to CT and they never made the cut when I travelled to bottle shops outside of CT. They make artisan ales bottled in beautiful 750 ml bottles. All of their beers defy conventional styles, though most of them can be placed broadly in the Belgian family of styles. Many of them have sour notes, but usually not overwhelmingly so. Complexity is the key with Jolly Pumpkin beers and I usually spend a long time drinking each bottle.

I purchased my bottle of Luciernaga at my favorite bottle shop in Hartford County, Manchester Wine & Liquors, which probably deserves its own post sometime. At the time I had just randomly selected two bottles that I hadn't tried before, unaware of what either was exactly. Last week I was browsing beeradvocate and came across Luciernaga and thought about how much I would like to try it and also that I didn't remember seeing it in CT stores. It was a pleasant surprise when I looked in my fridge that night and realized that not only do stores carry it, I had a bottle in my fridge!

Here are the technical details direct from the brewery:

Luciernaga "The Firefly" – An artisan pale ale brewed in the Grand Cru tradition. Enjoy its golden effervescence and gentle hop aroma. Coriander and Grains of Paradise round out the spicy palate, melting o so softly into a silken finish of hoppiness and bliss! Make any season a celebration!

Seasonal released in June 6.5% Alc./Vol.750ml bottles - 12 case

Tasting notes:

Pours an orange-y amber with a thick white head. The nose is filled with a tart brettiness and a spicy note, most likely from the coriander the bottle advertises. The taste is incredibly complex. The first impression is a wonderful brett tartness that never crosses the line to sour. The tartness melds into a spiciness full of coriander and the more traditional yeastiness. As these flavors sit in your mouth, they quickly begin to wrap around the tongue as you experience an almost bracing dryness leaving your taste buds feeling drained. This beer has so much going on, it's really something you need to take time to ponder. It's truly a style-defying beer and at 6.5% it won't leave you completely wasted. Very, very recommended.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Homebrew - Hoppy Christmas

I brewed my second partial mash on Saturday - my second annual Christmas beer. Last year's was a huge success with a very similar recipe, minus the mashing. I view it as a sort of American Amber/Altbier hybrid.

2 lbs 2-Row
1 lb Munich Malt
.5 lb Crystal 60L
.5 lb CaraMunich
4.2 lb Light DME
1.2 oz Northern Brewer Pellets (6% AA) - 60 Minutes
1.2 oz Hallertau Pellets (3.2% AA) - 15 Minutes
.8 oz Hallertau Pellets (3.2% AA) - 1 Minute
1 tsp Irish Moss
WYeast 1007 German Ale Yeast

The actual mash procedure went more smoothly this time, though I had a heck of a time maintaining a constant temperature. After mashing in, I put the covered pot in the oven set to "warm" and then watched the temp go from 155-151 in about 10 minutes. That certainly didn't happen last time. Through the course of heating it back up, I'm sure I went too high and at times it probably got too low. I ended with an efficiency in the high 50's to maybe 60% (I took three separate hydrometer readings and got three separate answers after making a temp adjustment). A little disappointing to have worse results the second time.

I'm brewing again this weekend (anther IPA) and this time I'm planning to mash sans grain bag. I'm still trying to work out the details to my process, but I think I can make it work and I think I'll get better efficiency this way (it'll be easier for me to eliminate cold and hot spots that form in and around the crowded grain bags and also easier to sparge uniformly).

A quick note about the yeast, my local homebrew guy sold me a WYeast smack pack with a Dec. '06 date (the packs recommend using them within 6 months, so this was very old). He said I should be OK because I was planning to make a starter, but to make sure it swelled before using. I smacked it and it didn't seem to do anything so I took it back to the store to show him. He took out a new pack (same date as the old one) and showed me that yes, it had started swelling and sometimes took days to fully swell when they were that old. Then he gave me a second pack free of charge! So, I ended up making a bigger starter than usual using 2 smack packs. My fermentation started in under 7 hours.

Sam Adams Longshot Update

Jim Koch, owner of Boston Beer Company - the makers of the Sam Adams brand, sent Todd Alstrom an email explaining the Longshot situation. You can read it here.

The explanation is almost exactly what I envisioned yesterday. Basically, the double IPA uses a variety of different hops, some of which aren't available at any cost without a preexisting contract. It isn't even just a monetary thing, the hops just can't be found. Koch gave the winning homebrewer a choice: they could brew the beer using hop substitutions with hops that are available or they could hold off until next year and brew it for next year's Longshot pack. Rather than compromise his beer, the homebrewer, Mike McDole, opted for the latter option. Koch claims they are already seeking out the appropriate hops for next year.

Kudos to Jim Koch for explaining the situation, which turns out to be a very reasonable explanation.

As a side note, in his usual way Todd has managed to insult many of the people that make it possible to have the job that he has. His attitude has really started to grate at me over the past year or two.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Bad PR From Sam Adams

According to this discussion on Beeradvocate, the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) will not be producing one of the winners of the Longshot competition. The Longshot competition is an (annual?) homebrewing competition in which Sam Adams picks 4 winners, commercially produces the 4 winners, and packages them in a 4 pack. One of the winners in this year's competition is (was) a double IPA, supposedly a Russian River Pliny the Elder clone. They've decided not to produce this winner in the upcoming Longshot pack citing the hop shortage as the reason. This year's hop crop has been abysmally small, driving up prices and driving down availability. The problem is expected to last for 2-3 more years.

I'm having trouble forming a strong opinion one way or the other about this announcement. Part of me wants to work myself up into a lather about it because they're reneging on a deal that they made with the public. They're citing a reason that they must have had some idea about prior to announcing this beer as a winner, though I'm admittedly not familiar with the timing involved. The other part of me is willing to cut them some slack because if Lew is correct, the hop shortage is very, very bad. I'm sure Sam Adams had hop contracts for the hops they would need in 2008 for their normal beers, but probably left the purchasing of the hops needed for the Longshot beers until closer to time. From what I've read, if you had contracts in place your hops are still in the reasonable range of prices, though still much higher than last year. In the absence of a contract, you're looking at unreasonable and prohibitive costs. This is probably where Sam Adams finds themselves. It doesn't help that a double IPA will require massive amounts of hops. People say that they wouldn't care if Sam Adams needed to increase the price of the 4 pack to offset the hop prices, but how many people would really be willing to pay $12 for the 4 beers? Not enough to make business sense.

It's an unfortunate situation that comes at a bad time for Sam Adams with all their recent publicity about the mayor in Oregon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Two (almost) Beer-Free Weeks

Two weeks of work, errands, chores, a cold that made the thought of drinking beer very unappealing, and a 12 mile hike over Mt Pico and Mt Killington in VT left me with very little time or inclination to drink beer. I had a few, but nothing to write about. I hope I've turned the corner though, things have slowed down a bit and I can breathe out my nose again. I have a fridge full of good beer that I can't wait to drink.

In the meantime, my Porter experiment seems to be a failure. Too hoppy, tannic, and astringent. I'll give it a few months to see how it ages, but I'm not hopeful. On the bright side, my Centennial IPA is probably the best beer I've ever made. Very tasty. Also, my first attempt at a partial mash, a Hefeweizen tasted very promising going into the bottles this weekend. A nice clovey taste with banana in the finish. Can't wait to try it carbonated

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eli's On Halloween

Things have been very busy for us this past week, both at home and at work. As such, I haven't had nearly the time for beer-related pursuits. Fortunately, I skipped soccer last night so we could go to Eli's for dinner, which is starting to become a bit of a tradition for us on Halloween. We went a little later than usual because Mandy had class, so I hung around waiting for Trick-or-Treaters, of which there were none.

Surprisingly, Eli's is a bit dead on Halloween, despite hosting a Rogue tasting the past two years. The Rogue tasting is always a bit disappointing as they never bring any of my favorites. Last night was Dead Guy, Hazelnut Brown, and Chocolate Stout. No Brutal Bitter or Shakespeare Stout. We asked the rep about Shakespeare and he told us it works on an allocation basis...the more Rogue you sell in general, the more Shakespeare you can get your hands on. I guess this is why Eli's rarely has it since they usually only keep one Rogue tap and more often than not it's Dead Guy.

Unfortunately, we lost our private board shortly after arriving so I wasn't able to commit the list to memory. I do remember Great Divide Fresh Hop (phenomenal), Sierra Nevada Celebration (my second beer, but by this time I was deep into a spicy wrap so I certainly wasn't picking up the subtleties to compare it to years past), Aventinus, 90 minute, Great Divide Samurai Ale, and that's about all I got.

I was blown away by the Fresh Hop. Far and away the best wet hop ale I've had probably in forever.

Sorry for the lackluster update, but I was just glad to be getting out of the house.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sam Adams, Again

I picked an inopportune time to extol the virtues of Sam Adams with the growing PR disaster caused by this letter sent by the "Intellectual Property Manager" of Sam Adams to a Portland, OR mayoral candidate named, coincidentally, Sam Adams. To make a long story short, he had two domain names registered for him and The lawyers at Sam Adams took exception to this and sent a cease and desist letter. I would be fine with it if that's where it stopped, even though a simple google search would have cleared up the purpose of the two websites. Unfortunately, it seems the folks at Sam Adams (or, more accurately, Boston Beer Company) continued to press for the dissolution of the website even after it was explained to them exactly what the situation was. The good people of Portland (and presumably elsewhere) are suitably angry and are pushing towards a boycott of Boston Beer Company's beers. I can't say I blame them.

Sam Adams Winter Variety Pack

I stopped into a local bottle shop the other night and saw stacks of this year's Sam Adams Winter 12 pack. It includes 2 each of Boston Lager, Winter Lager, Cream Stout, Old Fezziwig, Holiday Porter, and Cranberry Lambic. Sam Adams takes a lot of heat on the beer websites but I've never really been able to figure out why. I suspect much of it has to do with the mistaken notion that due to their success they must be "selling out" in some way and marginalizing their beer. In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth, have you tried this year's Imperial Pilsner? How can you argue that they haven't had a huge beneficial impact on the craft beer scene in general with their advertising (aside from quibbles over details) and various promotions like the Longshot homebrew competition? Not to mention they're constantly experimenting with new styles to add to their already large list. I smile everytime I see the billboard on my way to work that shows a pint of each of their styles laid out next to each other in order from lightest to darkest.

Last year, people complained because the 12 pack contained 2 Light lagers and the ubiquitous complaints about the Cranberry Lambic. The complaints about the Light lagers were valid and, apparently, taken to heart by the folks at Sam Adams. Not only was the Light taken out of this year's pack, it was replaced with a black beer, the Cream Stout (a personal favorite, I might add). As for the Cranberry Lambic, I imagine they need to keep this in because there are probably a lot of people that actually like it. I also suspect it wouldn't be so despised by beer geeks if they didn't misleadingly label it a lambic. If it was called Cranberry Wheat, people probably wouldn't hate it so much. Personally, I don't like the beer but the 12 pack is still a good value. How often to you like every beer in a mixed 12 pack?

I'll never understand the hate Sam Adams garners from beer geeks and think much of it is misguided. I look forward to enjoying these beers over the holiday season. Enjoying the first Old Fezziwig of the season is always a comforting event.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Eric Asimov has written a great article about the state of cask beer in the United States, with particular emphasis on the NY area. It really captures the essence of cask compared to regular keg beer.

I touched the faceted glass, cool, but not cold. A floral-citrus aroma rose up, and as I took my first sip I marveled at how soft and delicate the carbonation was, the bubbles giving the flavors lift and energy without aggression.

I think cask beer will always be a niche within a niche in the United States, but it would certainly be nice to see 1 or 2 casks regularly in better beer establishments. I always order the cask when it's offered.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Homebrew Stuff

I finished my first partial mash experiment on Saturday. It went...ok. I made a Hefeweizen using the following recipe:

2 lb 2-Row
2 lb White Wheat Malt
3.75 lbs M&F Wheat DME
.75 oz Hallertau 3.2% (60 minute)
.5 oz Hallertau 3.2% (30 minute)
WYeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen

I mashed the 4 lb mini-mash in a little more than 4 Qts at 152F for an hour. Then I sparged with 2G at 170. I ended with a 63% efficiency, which doesn't seem great but also seems in the ballpark...especially for my first effort. Plus, I have a feeling partial mashes will always have lower efficiencies than real all-grain methods because the sparging will never be as good. I used grain bags and poured the water (slowly) over and through the bags, but I think it would be better to be pouring over an actual grain bed. Maybe next time I'll work out a method involving a strainer or colander. Thanks to Daniel's book I was able to take a gravity reading after the mash and calculate exactly how much DME I would need to hit my target. It worked well, as I hit 1.050-1.051 when I was shooting for 1.052. My brewday lasted much longer than I'm used to, but much of it was figuring out logistics regarding the process (plus I broke a thermometer and had to go out and buy a new one) and it should run much more smoothly next time. Overall, I was please with the results and look forward to exploring this new method.

I tried one of my Centennial IPAs on Saturday after about 2 weeks in the bottle. Carbonation level was still a bit low, but not terribly so...a bit of a head formed. It tasted great. The bitterness was a little restrained compared to what I wanted, but I can attribute that to my soft water and hops that must have been from last year's harvest (they were in a nitrogen flushed package and stored properly, but still). Still, it has plenty of bitterness to let you know you're drinking an IPA, it's just a little softer. Contributing to this is a touch of sweetness provided by the Crystal malt, which gives it a nice complexity. Mandy seemed to love it since she drank most of it!

I bottled my Porter last night (or should I say India Dark Ale?). Mandy and I have started calling it "The Thing" and I labelled it with an X on the bottle caps. Two weeks in secondary have mellowed out the hops a lot and allowed some of the more traditional porter qualities to come out. Still, it has quite a bit of bitterness and hop flavor. I liked it, but I'm anxious to see how a few weeks of bottle conditioning will affect it. Will it be more of a porter, or more of an experimental hoppy beer? I think it will be drinkable (because it's drinkable now), but will I truly enjoy it?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pumpkin Beer, Really

I found this flickr album on Stan Hieronymous' blog Appellation Beer, who found it on Trouble Brewing.
It's a fantastic photo essay of a brewday that included mashing in a pumpkin and culminated with fermenting in a pumpkin. It's a great series of photos, not just due to the novelty of brewing in a pumpkin, but also because it's a great guide to the basic steps of homebrewing.

I like one of the comments that suggested he call it a pumpkin lambic after the lid caved in.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Eli Cannon's

We went to Eli's last night for the Southampton tasting. Again, I forgot my camera so I was unable to take a picture of one of the boards. From what I remember, in addition to the standards (Stella, Boddington's, Guinness, Hoegaarden etc...) they had:

Southampton Double White
Southampton Tripel
Southampton Burton Ale (Cask)
Southampton Pumpkin
Southampton Oktoberfest
Southampton Espresso Stout
Great Divide Samurai
Smuttynose IPA
Trinity IPA
Acme IPA
Rogue Mocha Porter
Erdinger Hefe
Schneider Original
Opa Raspberry Wheat
Sam Adams Oktoberfest
(plus more, I think)

A great lineup of Southampton products, but unfortunately the tasting was a bit lame. Tasting is actually a misnomer since there really wasn't a tasting. Or glassware. Instead, you could buy Phil Markowski's book Farmhouse Ales for $20 and have him sign it. I opted out because Saisons/Bier de Gardes are a style I'd rather just buy than try to homebrew. At least now. Plus, you can buy the book for $12 on Amazon.

We still had a great time and I enjoyed the Burton cask and the Tripel very much. My third was the Trinity IPA, which I've never seen before in CT. It was OK. I also got to try the fried cheesecake. Mmmmm, fried cheeecake....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Beer Dinner

We celebrated my sister Carrie's birthday on Saturday by throwing a beer dinner.

This was our second beer dinner and I think people really enjoy them. Mandy creates a food menu with 4-5 courses and I try to pair a beer with each course.

We have a set of 4 oz tasting glasses that look like brandy snifters. After serving each course along with its associated beer, I'll talk briefly about the style or the brewery and give some flavor characteristics to look for. When I'm confident about the pairing, I'll also say something about why I paired the two. The menu on Saturday was:

Adam's Reuben Bites with Weihenstephaner Hefeweissebier Dunkel

Mandy's Fried Butternut Squash Raviolis (also plain cheese) with Berkshire Brewing Company's Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale

Mandy's Pumpkin Soup with Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen

Mom's Caesar Salad with Allagash White

Mandy's Lasagna (Meat, Spinach & Broccoli, and Cheese) with Duvel

Kelly's Pumpkin Cheesecake with my homebrewed pumpkin beer I made for Carrie

The Reuben Bites were a big hit...pastrami and sauerkraut rolled in a croissant with thousand island dipping sauce. They were great reheated on the pizza stone during the Pats game on Sunday. To be honest, I thought the Weihenstephaner was just a Dunkel Lager and thought the malty sweetness would go great with the reubens. It's actually a Dunkel Weizen, but it still went fine.

I didn't know what to pair with the raviolis, so I went with Mandy's suggestion of Berkshire's Extra Pale Ale, which went well enough.

The Pumpkin Soup was a recipe we pulled out of a magazine that was submitted by someone at Willimantic Brewery. It's actually made with an Oktoberfest beer, so the pairing seemed natural. The soup was great, as was the beer.

Allagash White was the perfect pairing for a Caesar salad. Everybody loved it.

I'm not sure why, but I've always loved drinking Duvel with Italian food. Something about its spicy, yeasty profile cuts right through the tomato and garlic and meaty flavors. It leaves my mouth feeling refreshed and ready for more food. It seemed to go over well.

My homebrewed pumpkin beer is tasting very good (if I do say so myself!). Went well with the cheesecake. My sister said it tasted the same as last year, which I guess is a good thing.

Overall, these beer dinners are less about geekery and more about having a great time eating good food and drinking good beer. It gets some people who don't ordinarily drink good beer to taste something different and talk about what they're tasting.

The lineup:

My pumpkin beer:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Centennial IPA

Bottling the Centennial IPA went smoothly. Finished with a FG of 1.014, right where it was when I transferred to secondary. It had an OG of 1.060, so it's got about 6.1% ABV. I was successful in making a lighter colored IPA, which was one of my goals. This was very apparent in the sample sitting in the hydrometer reading tube (unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture), but hard to tell in the carboy where beer always looks darker than it does in the glass. I don't want to get too excited, but I think it's going to be really tasty after it carbonates and bottle conditions for a bit. It has a very nice bitterness to it and a nice hop flavor and aroma.


Bottles on the tree (I was too lazy to take the labels off):

The Haul (16 in front are 12 oz, 10 in middle are 22 oz, 3 in back left are 1L, 2 in back right are 16-20 (?) oz):

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cadillac Mtn. Stout

It's probably not fair that I review such a great beer that's not available in CT. Oh well, it gives you an excuse to get up to Portland and visit Downeast Beverage Co. at 79 Commercial St. A great bottle shop that usually has plenty of Cadillac Mtn. Stout.

Pours black with no light penetration. A sizable tan head forms before receding to a clingy film. The aroma is deep and full, with the predominate characters of chocolate and roasted notes. There is a subtle sweetness like toffee lying in the background along with a hint of alcohol. Taste is extremely complex with bittersweet chocolate notes vying with an intense roasted bitterness for dominance. In the background is an alcohol note along with overripe fruit and toffee. It finishes with an amazingly intense bitterness from the roasted barley. The taste stays in your mouth long after the swallow and I was tasting hops in my burps even though I didn't taste hops in the swallow. Just a wonderfully complex stout with everything you look for in the style, plus much much more. It even lacks the alcohol of imperial stouts, so you can keep drinking it. This beauty deserves all the accolades it receives.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Moan and Dove

On Sunday, we took a short trip up to western MA. Mandy wanted to go to Yankee Candle and I wanted to hit a beer store to stock up and hopefully a bar or two. Western MA is rife with good beer stops thanks in large part to Northampton.

Turns out I only had time for one bar, and since it was farther away than I thought, only one beer. If I had to pick just one place, I could have done a lot worse than The Moan and Dove in Amherst.

After a beautiful meandering drive from Yankee Candle through UMass and, shortly after, downtown Amherst, I arrived at a fairly nondescript strip of buildings. The Moan and Dove occupied the space on the right-most corner:

The Outside:

The Sign:

The Door:

Walking in I was faced with a pleasant looking bar room. 3-4 tall tables were set up in the middle of a room that is longer than it is wide. 3-5 wooden booths could be found lining the right wall and the bar itself was to the left. There was room for maybe 15-ish(?) people at the bar. The atmosphere was pleasantly comfortable on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Enough sun was coming in through the windows to keep it from being gloomy, yet it wasn't so bright as to be uncomfortable. It is a bar afterall. A small TV was set up in one corner playing a Red Sox playoff game. There was a stereo playing mellow indie-rock set to a perfect volume. The walls are painted in deep, maybe blood, red and are decorated with area artists' work. I believe the artwork changes periodically with new artists being featured.

The Moan and Dove has far less attitude, especially on a Sunday afternoon, than their website would lead you to believe. Sort of a thinking man's college bar, perfect for grad students. When I walked in, there were 3-4 people at one of the tall tables playing cards, a couple in a booth both reading, and a few people at the bar discussing somebody's grad school plans. The bartender was extremely mellow and more than willing to strike up a conversation if so desired.

Unfortunately, I can't remember much of the tap list and I forgot to take a picture. I do remember they had Spezial Rauchbier (this is what I chose), Stone Imperial Stout, Rogue Imperial Stout, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, DFH's Johnny Rawton, Guinness, Acme IPA, Mojo IPA, Smuttynose IPA, Weihenstaphaner Hefe, and some others. Their bottle list is extensive. They serve some hard alcohol...higher-end tequilas, scotch, etc... but doubt they make many (if any) mixed drinks. Beer is the thing here and that's fine by me.

I'd love to get back here and do it more justice than one beer.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Homebrew "Porter"

Yesterday I transferred my porter to secondary after one week bubbling away. This was a strange primary for me because I was still seeing activity in the airlock a week after pitching. Usually activity ceases for the most part after 4 days.

The transfer went fine with a FG of 1.010, which might actually go down more if there's still work to be done in secondary. Right now it stands at a respectable 5.5% ABV. The color is a bit on the light side for a porter, but I was reasonably sure it would be going in. The taste though...the taste is the reason for this post. It is unlike any porter I've ever tasted. I've had hoppy porters, but this, this was insane. When I said I increased the hops in the recipe, I guess I wasn't kidding around. Instead of making a hoppy porter, it appears as though I've made an IPA with porter-like qualities. Even Mandy said "it doesn't taste much like a porter..." this from someone who has never had a bad word to say about my homebrew...even that weird coffee stout experiment. The beer actually tasted very good and was very interesting, it just wasn't what I was shooting for. At all.

In conclusion, it appears that I messed up one of the simplest styles to make. I can't give this to people and tell them it's a porter. So, I've decided to be a visionary and become a pioneer in the evolution of a new beer style: India Brown (or Dark) Ale. To prove that I'm not off my rocker, here are three examples of established beers that I seem to be unintentionally mimicing: Willimantic Valentines Mail India Dark Ale, Terrapin India Brown Ale, and Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery's India Brown Ale. Of these, I've had the Willimantic and it's very good. I'll be very happy if it ends up tasting like that.

I guess I'm either a terrible homebrewer or a visionary...I'll let you decide. At least wait until it's ready to drink though!


Friday, October 5, 2007

Thomas Hooker Open House

Apparently the Thomas Hooker brewery is alive and well. They're having an open house tonight from 4-7. There's a $5 fee that gets you a pint glass to use for sampling and a "portion" goes to kids in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Bloomfield HS. This will be an ongoing event every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month. I probably won't make it tonight, but hope to in the future to see what's going on with them.



Thursday, October 4, 2007

Avery 14'er ESB

Style: Extra Special Bitter
Hops: Bullion, Fuggle
Malts: 2-Row, Caramel 120L
OG: 1.048
ABV: 5%
IBU: 37

It's always a mistake for me to drive to the beer store without a specific beer in mind; I either buy everything I see that looks good or I can't make up my mind. I entered the store last night knowing that I wanted to buy one six pack to bridge the gap to this weekend when we're (hopefully) going up to MA and I can stock up there. I stood in the beer aisle for 20 minutes until I started to feel my eyes glazing over. I decided on Anchor Porter, which I haven't had in a while, but changed my mind deciding that I wanted something I've never had before. Also, I wanted it to be local. What did I walk out of the store with? Colorado's Avery 14'er ESB. Nicely done...sometimes my brain is a mystery. Well, at least I've never had it before...

The "14'er" part of the name is an ode to the 54 Colorado peaks above 14,000 feet. I can appreciate this as a hiker whose father is obsessed with hiking all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000 footers.

This beer pours a light copper color and is very clear due to filtration. Very large bubbles congregate to form a soapy white head that dissipates after a few minutes. The aroma is dominated by a malty character with some estery notes providing a bit of fuitiness. I don't pick up much, if any, hop aroma. The taste continues with its malty presence. A bit of sweetness is provided by the caramel malt. The estery fruitiness is stronger in the taste, probably aided by the sweetness of the malt. There is a bit of a floral hop note in the background. It has a restrained bitterness, but enough to keep the sweetness from the caramel malt becoming too dominant in the flavor profile. It finishes with a slight metallic taste. Mouthfeel is full and round, but there's probably a bit too much carbonation...forced carbonation at that. This is a very enjoyable beer that would probably go well with many types of food. Still, it feels a bit lifeless, a result from being filtered and force-carbonated I guess. I bet this beer would kill if served via cask...or even just bottle conditioned. Part of the problem may be that it's a little more attenuated than you'd expect from an ESB. Doing some quick calculations, if the starting gravity is 1.048 the final gravity must by 1.010 to yield 5% ABV, which is 78% apparent attenuation. I'd expect this to be a bit lower to provide a more body and sweetness. It could be a contributing factor anyway.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles

Ray Daniels wrote a required guide to beer recipe formulation with his book Designing Great Beers. I have been putting off reading this since I received it as a gift for Christmas last year because it seems a little overwhelming. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Daniels' writing style has a nice flow to it and he can discuss very technical details without making it too dry.

This book is not a how-to book, it presupposes a knowledge of the various brewing tasks including those for all-grain. In fact, Daniels assumes you are an all-grain brewer but does discuss extract and how extract brewers can modify the information to their purposes. Speaking as an extract brewer, you can get a ton of useful information even though he's speaking to an all-grain audience.

The book is divided into two parts, the first of which is a discussion of the various ingredients found in beer. Chapters on malt (with gravity calculations), hops (with IBU calculations), yeast, water, and color. Daniels shows that he's a serious brewer in the first part as the discussion is extremely technical. His chapter on water is the longest chapter of part 1 and probably the most technical. I spent most of the chapter wondering what the heck he was talking about, but by the end I had been sold on its importance. I had never really even though about water, I always buy it bottled. I found a water analysis of Poland Springs (my brand of choice) and discovered it is much too soft to be using without treatment when making IPAs. It explains why I never get the crisp bitternes I find in commercial examples. Something to think about.

Part II has a chapter devoted to many of the classic beer styles. Included are German Ales (Altbiers/Kolsch), Barley Wine, Bitters/Pale Ales, Bock, California Common, Fruit Beer, Mild/Brown, Old Ale, Pilsener, Porter, Scottish/Scotch Ales, Stout, Vienna/Märzen, and Weizen. He begins each chapter with a very interesting look at the history of the style and its progression to modern examples. Then he anaylyzes the ingredient makeup and brewing techniques used by commercial examples of the style. Finally, he analyzes the same information used by the second round entries in the National Homebrew Competition over a two year period to see how homebrewers have found success brewing the style. The information Daniels provides in these chapters is invaluable when constructing a recipe for a style. Armed with this information, I'll never have to copy recipes from the internet anymore...I'll be able to start experimenting myself confident that I'm using appropriate ingredients and methods. Conspicuously absent from Part II are any chapters that discuss Belgian-styles. He makes mention of Lambic a few times, but doesn't devote any real space to it. I wonder if these styles are not a specialty for Daniels or if they just encompass too much material for individual chapters in a broader book.

As much as I enjoyed reading this book and found it immensely helpful, I think it suffers from a minor "dating effect." Some of the information he mentions is dated because the book was written in the nineties, right at the beginning of the craft beer boom. Many of the commercial examples he lists are no longer available and he fails to mention some iconic examples that were produced after the book was written. Also, there are some issues with regard to style parameters that have since evolved. For instance, in his discussion of IPAs, Daniels mentions that English hops should be used to stay traditional but many homebrewers use American hops and judges seem to be rewarding them. Obviously, since then the IPA style has split into English and American styles, with American hops being the vastly more favored approach in the United States. Not to mention the "double IPA" style didn't even exist when he wrote the book and now it's an extremely popular style. I realize this "dating effect" is not Daniels' fault and to stay on top of the trends in the beer world he'd need to rewrite Part II every few years.

I would reccomend this book to any homebrewer who has made a few batches and has a good understanding of the basics. I think after the basics are down, anyone can pick up a lot of good stuff in this book...from the intermediate brewer to the most advanced brewer. I know I'll be consulting it frequently as I continue to learn more and more about making good beer.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Homebrew Porter

On Saturday, I brewed the extract/specialty grain porter I mentioned earlier. This will be my last extract-only beer as I slowly creep towards all-grain. For now it'll just be mini-mashes, but I'm excited nonetheless. The recipe:

5.5+ lbs M&F Light DME (I added a little extra to bump up the gravity because I was a little light after the initial addition)
10 oz Crystal 60
8 oz Chocolate
5 oz Black Patent
.75 oz Nugget 11.6% 60 minute boil
.5 oz Willamette 4.3% AA 40 minute boil
.5 oz Willamette 4.3% AA 20 minute boil
.75 oz Willamette 4.3% AA 1 minute boil
1 tsp Irish Moss 15 minute boil
WL001 California Ale Yeast

OG predicted: 1.054
OG Actual: 1.050
IBU: about 50...

I was going to stick with 8 oz of Crystal, but the color calculations from beertools were coming in a little low, so I wanted to bump it up a bit. The aroma hop at the end wasn't in the recipe I found online, but after reading Ray Daniels' book Designing Great Beer (look for a review in a few days), I learned that aroma hops are fairly common in porters. I like hops, so I threw 'em in. The sample tasted great, considering it was just wort. Very hoppy...maybe too hoppy. If things don't balance out, it'll be a great tasting beer, but it would fail miserably in any AHA competitions! Not that I care since I'm not entering any AHA competitions, but it probably won't be a traditional tasting porter.

The original recipe I found called itself a Sierra Nevada Porter clone, but I don't know where they got it or how closely it actually resembled SN. I made a few changes to it so I wouldn't be copying it exactly, but I stuck with the California Ale yeast. This ferments a little cleaner than I would expect for a porter, but then again, it might actually be similar to SN. I made a starter on Wed., and woke it up on Saturday morning. Got some nice Krauesen in my clear growler before pitching.

After waking up, before any activity:

Activity begins:

Activity continues:

Ready to pitch:

Fermentation started around 7 hours and really took off over Saturday night. I had to take the airlock out Sunday morning and wasn't able to put it back in until after work on Monday. As of Tuesday around 6pm, it's still bubbling fairly regularly...about 2 bubbles every 5 seconds.

Bloopers: I had a tough 15 minutes after adding the DME. First, I missed the pot with a bit of the DME (probably why I came up short on my gravity reading) and poured it all over the stove. Then, I got out the vacuum to suck up some of the powder before it got wet and turned into sticky goo (this worked better than I expected, but I still had to clean the stove after I finished). As I was doing this, I turned around and the cord from the vacuum knocked a medium sized pyrex off the kitchen counter. We have tile floors in the kitchen. The pyrex proceeded to shatter all over the kitchen. Before I realized what happened, I stepped on a piece and got a small cut on the bottom of my foot. 15 minutes later, I was finally able to get back to brewing. Thankfully, things went much more smoothly after that.


John Harvard's Manchester, CT Tap List

Stopped into the John Harvard's in Manchester while Mandy did some shopping. On tap:

Pale Ale
Oktoberfest (no indication of whether this was actually a lager or not)
Black Widow Lager (Schwarzbier)
Brown Recluse IPA (Chinook and Cascade (?))
Scotch Ale
Irish Dry Stout

They had the IPA on cask, so that's what I was in great shape. I took home a growler of the regular IPA.


Friday, September 28, 2007

NY Times Maine Beer Trip

The NY Times published a nice light article in their travel section detailing a quick 2-3 day beer trip up Maine's coast to Bar Harbor. It reads like it's written by someone who enjoys good beer but doesn't spend enormous amounts of time thinking about it. In other words, not a beer-geek. He starts in Portland touring D.L. Geary, Allagash, and Shipyard and drinking at Great Lost Bear, Gritty's, and Three Dollar Dewey's. After Portland, he drives up to Sheepscott Valley Brewing Co. and Andrew's Brewing Co. on his way to Bar Harbor. These two are new to me, but sound fairly interesting. In Bar Harbor, he hits Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company.

Based on our trip to Portland and Freeport in May, I'm sure this trip was both beautiful and very fun. I haven't been to Bar Harbor since I was a kid and Mandy's never been, so maybe it's about time to go. If we do, I imagine our trip will be very similar.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cambridge Brewing Company

After a beautiful drive along the Charles through Cambridge, the taxi dropped us off at 1 Kendall Sq., at MIT's backdoor. The entrance to Cambridge Brewing Company was immediately spotted across the square, nestled snug into a corner with an Irish-themed pub on one side and an unattached building on the other. The design of this place is very deceiving because standing in the middle of the square it's almost impossible to realize that CBC is an actual full-size brewpub. It has the outward appearance of a tiny cafe.

As you walk through the entrance sign, you encounter a host station to put your name in for a table. Since it was 3PM on a lazy Saturday, we could have sat anywhere we wanted. You can enter the restaurant proper, or stay to the right in their beautiful outdoor seating area. The tables are roughly divided equally between fully exposed to the elements and under a large overhanging tarp to provide some protection from rain. We chose to sit outside and enjoyed just hanging out and taking our time. Our server was very attentive and more than willing to let us take our time. She was also very honest when we asked about some of the appetizer specials.

The beer was fantastic. They had 4 regular offerings (Golden, Amber, Pale Ale, and Porter) along with 3 seasonals (Pumpkin, Arquebus (a "summer barleywine"), and The Wind Cried Mari (a heather ale)).

The highlight was the Pumpkin, which everyone loved. We all agreed it would be very easy to drink a lot of it. The heather ale was a very interesting beer that we all enjoyed because it was so different from anything we've had before. The hints of lavendar really stuck out. The Arquebus was very interesting, but a little sweet and tart for my tastes. It was overloaded with ripe fruit tastes and I wouldn't have wanted more than the sampler I had. I can definitely see why it gets good reviews on beeradvocate though, barleywines just aren't really my thing. The Golden was a very well made beer in the Kölsch-style with a lighter taste profile (obviously). Very balanced with no off-tastes. The Amber had wonderful body and was not overly sweet. A touch of hop flavor in the finish. The Pale Ale was bursting with citrus fruitiness in both the taste and aroma. Very balanced with its bitterness...a great beer. The beers were so good I wanted to buy growlers, but unfortunately we were going directly to the beerfest. We'll just have to go back.

As for the food, we tried 3 of the appetizers. The two chicken dishes (terryaki skewers and buffalo chicken quesadillas) were both very dry. The third was some type of tostada salad, which was very good. I'm willing to give them a pass on the food this time because it was a rather strange time to visit. That's not really a good excuse, but I liked their beer so much I'll be generous. Plus, their real menu looks fairly interesting. I guess the worst case scenario is that you go for the beer, which isn't really a worst case in my book.

I liked sitting outside at CBC enjoying their beer so much that when it came time to leave, part of me wanted to skip the beerfest and stay. Ultimately I'm glad we didn't...I'll just have to get back here again soon.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beer Fest!

We’re back and fully recovered from our trip to Boston for the German Beer Fest.

The four of us (my BIL Adam, his gf Kelly plus me and Mandy) left around 12:30 pm on Saturday after dropping the dogs off at the vet (kennel) and running a few errands. We arrived at the Doubletree Suites just across the river from Cambridge on Soldiers Field Rd. around 2:30. For those of you who have never used Priceline, I highly recommend it. We got two spacious suites on the 14th floor of a beautiful hotel for $80. In Boston. The room had two TVs, including a hi-def plasma and the bedroom looked out over a beautiful view of the Charles and then downtown Boston.

The only downside was that it wasn’t near a T-stop and the shuttle ran too intermittently for us. We had to take a taxi to cross the river to Harvard Sq., though I guess $8 per ride split between 4 people isn’t really any more expensive than the T.

After checking in and enjoying the room for a few minutes, we loaded into a taxi who drove us on a beautifully scenic drive down the Charles and around through MIT to our destination…the Cambridge Brewing Company at 1 Kendall Sq.

I won’t say much about it here because I plan to make a separate post, but it was my first visit and I loved it. Its reputation is well deserved.

After killing some time sampling CBC’s beer and eating some light appetizers, we started walking towards the T-stop. We wanted to burn off some of the alcohol we just consumed and find a place to get some coffee to help combat some of the sleepiness that was starting to encroach. Unfortunately, what looks to be a local coffee shop right next to CBC was closed. It always amazes me how coffee shops can stay in business and be closed on the weekends. You’d think there would be plenty of MIT students looking for a place to maintain their caffeine high while studying on the weekends. Eventually we made our way to the Kendall Square T-stop and found an Au Bon Pain to get some (bad) coffee. After that we hopped on the subway and made our way to Back Bay Station via the orange line.

As a quick, and rather pointless, sidebar I’d like to point out how much I love public transportation systems…specifically subways. Every city should have them. Until recently, I was intimidated by them because I didn’t know how they worked or how to read the maps. Then we spent two weeks in Paris and Munich and realized they’re really all basically the same. There’s nothing like figuring out two massive systems in two different foreign languages to help your confidence riding them back home.

After getting off the T at Back Bay, walking a few blocks down Clarendon to Tremont, we were at the Cyclorama home of all the beeradvocate beer fests. The second session of the fest began at 6 pm and when we arrived about 15 minutes early the line to get in was already starting to get long. I’m glad we got there when we did because it soon stretched around the block. It isn’t a big deal though, because as with all the Boston fests, the line moves very quickly. We were making fun of security because they were yelling to have your ID and ticket immediately available, any fidgeting and you’d be sent to the back of the line. I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode about to order soup.

We handed our tickets to security, had our IDs checked, and walked up the stairs to the second floor. The cyclorama is a very cool building to have a beer fest. First, it’s huge. Second, it’s a wide open floor plan. Third, there are skylights in the ceiling that add just enough lighting to keep it looking fresh.

The German fest apparently didn’t have as many booths because the middle of the floor was set up with a bunch of long tables with seating.

This is a change from the other fests we’ve been to, where there were booths set up around the exterior of the room, plus two rows of booths running up the middle back to back. Mandy’s only complaint about the fests is that there isn’t enough seating, but there was plenty of it on Saturday. There were brewers set up shoulder to shoulder surrounding the exterior of the floor plan. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to their placement that I could tell, but the fest guide had the layout to help you find what you were looking for. There was a mixture of three different categories of brewers and distributors. There were American brewers who brought their German-inspired beers, the German breweries/distributors who are available for purchase in the USA, and a select group of German breweries who are not available for commercial purchase in the USA. For obvious reasons, this third group was the most special. It was where I started, where I finished, and where I went in the middle when I couldn’t decide what else to try.

Highlights of the fest included Weihenstephaner Hefe that was the freshest I have ever tasted. Adam called it almost too hefe-weizen-y, which I personally thought was a good thing…a very good thing. Most of the special Germany-only beers were also standouts including the Faust-Miltenberger Pils. Truthfully though, for me this fest was all about just drinking the wonderfully fresh beers on display. I was much less concerned with trying to find the gems of the fest because they were all gems…and by the end, the weizens all began to taste the same, as did the doppelbocks and pilsners!

The fest was extremely fun and well-run. The attendees were younger than usual, I thought, and there wasn’t any drunken nonsense that you normally see towards the end of session 2. There were just two complaints expressed by our party of four. First, we wish that brewers would allocate half of their stock to each session. We went to the Harpoon booth to try their Sticke Beer, the “official beer of the fest” and they were all out! How do you run out of the official beer of the fest? So we asked for the Kellerbier…out of that also. Sorry, but I can get your Octoberfest and Munich Dark at any beer store in CT…no thanks. I’m sure the folks at Session One got to taste these to their hearts’ content, but if you wanted to try it during Session 2 you had to hit their booth in the first hour or two. That’s not cool. The second complaint is a rather generic complaint about beer fests in general. I guess I noticed it on Saturday because it isn’t usually a problem at beeradvocate fests so it stuck out. When you get your sample, get the hell out of the way. People were grabbing their sample, taking maybe one step backward, then just turning around and talking to each other. It created impenetrable walls of people surrounding the booths. They wouldn’t move when you said excuse me and gave you dirty looks if you tried to move them a little with your arms/elbows. Sorry, but get the hell out of the way! There was plenty of room in the center of the vast room to stand around and talk, don’t clog up the booths. There were a few points where I felt my blood pressure start to raise and I’m a pretty laid-back guy! Again, this isn’t usually a problem at these fests, but for some reason it stuck out to all of us. There was also a third problem when one of the volunteers (beeradvocate “hires” its members on a volunteer basis to work at their fests to do things like empty buckets and pour beer at the various booths) refused to fill up two samplers for me. I was trying to save a little space by taking Mandy’s glass for her, I wasn’t trying to drink both myself…heaven forbid. After I went back and got Mandy so she could get it herself, he rolled his eyes at her. WTF?! None of the other pourers refused to double pour the entire night except for him.

When the beerfest ended at 9:30 we were all a little tipsy, but not quite ready for bed yet. We walked back to the T-station and took the subway to Harvard Sq. where we walked around aimlessly for a while searching for John Harvard’s. Finally we asked a nice couple who pointed us in the right direction. We enjoyed some beautifully served cask IPA and a light bite to eat. Eventually we stumbled into a taxi and made it back to our hotel room before passing out.

We slept in the next morning but luckily weren’t feeling much in the way of ill-effects other than maybe a slight headache. We drove over the bridge and ate brunch at Fire and Ice in Cambridge. If you’ve never eaten at Fire and Ice, I highly recommend it. After gorging on brunch we drove home and I spent the rest of the day on the couch watching football and a couple of soccer games I recorded while we were gone.