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.