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.