30 November 2008

Four More from Lakefront (WI)

The remaining four from my Lakefront 8-pack are darker beers, except for the India Pale Ale.

IPA: The strongest beer of the lot at 7% while the rest are between 5% and 6%. This also proves to be the best of the bunch. It's not a West Coast hop bomb, but more of a balanced English-style IPA. Big aroma comes through as soon as you pop the cap. Hazy pale orange, nice trail of foam left down the side of the glass. Taste-wise, it's not the punchiest of the style in terms of hops, but puts forth a nice balance of biscuity malts and citrus and floral hops. Doesn't feel like its  ABV. 

Eastside Dark Lager: "A rich, dark lager like the ones Milwaukee's founding fathers might have enjoyed on the old Eastside." Wikipedia describes Milwaukee's East side as "a mix of hipsters, hippies, college students and young professionals." Was the old East side different? Regardless, this is a dark lager, but not a rich enough one for me. Any roasty coffee or chocolate elements are muted. 
Instead, it's a bit metallic. Better than macro lagers (blah, blah, blah) but that's about it.

Riverwest Stein Beer: Riverwest is another Milwaukee neighborhood, and I appreciate the brewery's effort in tapping into it's local scene. I did not drink this lager out of a stein, but out of a regular lager glass. It's lighter than Eastside Dark, a chestnut colored beer. The taste is primarily caramel, and then maybe woody hops which keep it from being too sweet.  Alas, it's somewhat watery. Still better than Eastside Dark, but not a memorable lager.

Fuel Cafe Coffee Flavored Stout: When I cracked this open, I sensed that sour salami smell I had found in the lighter beers. Fortunately, any such taste was covered up. This pours pitch black with a red-beige head that fizzes away quickly. The coffee is there as promised. It's actually fairly hard to down, maybe due less to its richness than to a mild astringency in the finish. If you really like coffee stout, give this one a try.

Overall for me, a pretty unimpressive variety pack from Lakefront. I'd drink the IPA again and maybe the Cherry Lager, but that's about it. Was there an issue of freshness? All bottles were dated from later August, which is only three months. That doesn't preclude the possibility of poor handling, but that still doesn't change the fact that for me these weren't all that great. 

28 November 2008

So you think you know beer?

From the Norwegian end of the beer blogging universe, Larsblog has a great post from last week about a course for becoming a certified beer judge. The blind tasting experiments described are fascinating and, I'm guessing, more than a little humbling.

Lars and his fellow would-be judges are given a variety of tests. A triangle test: which two of these three are in fact the same beer? Guess the style, dunkel or brown ale? And then a devious trick involving food coloring:

We were then given a batch of three unidentified black beers, and told to write notes on them, then attempt to guess the beer styles. After tasting the three we were asked one by one to read our notes on the first one, all of which went along the lines of "roasty, caramel, maybe a bit neutral". The shock was considerable when we were told that it was, again, Ringnes Pils, this time with some black colouring added to it. Every single one of the 10 participants claimed to taste roastiness in the beer, and not one of the 10 so much as came near the idea that this might be a pilsener. An interesting example of the sense of taste being affected by visual signals.
The guys undergoing the trials weren't neophytes either. Definitely read the full post.

22 November 2008

Four from Lakefront Brewery (WI)

To me, Lakefront Brewery is known for two things: for New Grist, their gluten-free beer, and for being arbitrarily sued last year by a guy who was hit on the head by a can of Schlitz. As their beers are newly available to my area -- we seem to be getting a lot from Big 10 country all of a sudden -- I figured I'd try to learn more about them.

I bought their unusual 8-by-1 variety pack from my local retailer. It's a nice package for those who want to try as many beers as possible, although I'd prefer at least two of each. Thankfully, New Grist is not included. Instead, there are a surprising four lagers in the box, perhaps a sign that this Wisconsin brewery embraces it's German roots.

Cherry Lager: This is the seasonal in the pack, and an out of season one at that (my variety pack seems to be from late August). The last fruited lager I had was the crummy Wild Blue. Cherry Lager is much better, although still not great. It pours with a pinkish hue and really nice head. The cherries aren't really prominent, but at least if you didn't know you could guess they were there. There's only a light cherry tartness to it, and some proper fruitiness. The beer finishes dry with rough hops (Mt. Hood, the website says), which maybe clash a bit. Overall, I'd say this is pretty good for a fruit beer in that it doesn't have that no-calorie seltzer flavor that so many others do.

Klisch Pilsner:
Klisch is the family name of the brothers who run the show. Their pilsener is pretty ordinary: straw-colored, light-bodied, fizzy, without much of a hop kick. There's an unfortunate faint sourness to it. In the summer, I might applaud it for being thirst-quenching, but now there isn't much to recommend.

Cattail Ale: I should point out that I don't like the label designs on any of these. Cattail is categorized by Beer Advocate as an English pale mild. I don't know what Ratebeer says; they're down again. The ale is a hazy golden brew, light and fizzy, not too distant from the pilsener. Again, there's a slight sourness. Is this a problem of lack of freshness? There aren't many hops here, nor even much in the way of malt body. Cattail probably works best fresh in the summer as a sessions beer at just over 5%.

Oragnic ESB:
This may be the best of the bunch. It pours more amber has more heft to it than Cattail, with biscuity malts and earthy hops. The website says "cascade hop flavor" but I don't detect that. Also, it really isn't all that bitter, even by English standards. It's a style I like though, and a solid attempt.

Not a blockbuster start for the eight-pack, but the beers are to follow are darker and more to season right now. I enjoyed the ESB the most but would probably order the Cherry Lager if I had a choice, if only that it's just about the only one of its kind out there.

18 November 2008

Dogfish Head in the New Yorker

The New Yorker has a fairly detailed piece on Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head brewery. It's long and may be better to read in the magazine than online. It's also very good. One eyebrow-raising quote:

I asked the brewmaster, Jean-Marie Rock, which American beer he likes best. He thought for a moment, squinting down his bladelike nose, and narrowed his lips to a point. Then he raised a finger in the air. “Budweiser!” he said. “Tell them that the brewer at Orval likes Budweiser!”

16 November 2008

English-style Porter

For my second homebrewing effort, I did two things differently: I created my own recipe and made a smaller batch.

Actually, the recipe was hardly original. I mostly just started with John Palmer's porter and switched to English hops. It seems like a lot of homebrewers like trying to make something that's never been done before. I'm not interested in that yet, but the experience of looking through existing recipes definitely helps in learning about beer styles.

As far as the small batch is concerned, I know, it's just as much work making three gallons as five. However, I want to get a few batches under my belt quickly, and I don't want to forgo frequent visits to my local beer retailer. I used the beer recipator to check my recipe and ordered from Austin Homebrew, which lets you select small amounts.

3 gallons:
3.5 pounds of extra pale DME LME
6 oz. each of chocolate malt and Crystal 60L
1/2 oz. 6.5% Challenger hops (60)
1/4 oz. 4.5% East Kent Goldings (30)
1/4 oz. 4.5% East Kent Goldings (15)
Safale 04 dry yeast (about two-thirds of the package)
Irish Moss
2 1/4 oz. corn sugar for priming

Despite the small batch, I still used a partial boil and about a gallon of top-off water to replace boiled of liquid. I also boiled the wort for 75 minutes. Whether the extra 15 made a difference, I can't say.

In general the process went smoothly, although I did have a problem with measurements. My instant read thermometer zapped out mid-session. I used an old candy thermometer for part of the process, but it doesn't go below 140 degrees, so I ended up using a Polter probe thermometer to check the wort before pitching yeast.

I also struggled with my hydrometer. I measured an OG of about 1.065, which had to be wrong. I suspect the wort wasn't mixed enough at the time. Based on the recipe, the OG was 1.047 and the IBUs were around 25. I ended up with an FG of 1.018, which I hope was wrong but probably was right. Poor attenuation again. Inadequate aeration? Maybe, but not for lack of trying. I can't blame the yeast this time. I've read that extract brewing often results in high FGs, so maybe that's at least part of it.

Bottling day was a mess, and I already went out and bought an auto-siphon (no kegging equipment yet though). I lost a good bit of beer during bottling as well, which hurt more given the small batch.

It's now been nearly two months since brewing and five weeks since bottling. The beer is pretty good. No off flavors like my first batch. It has a nice light roastiness to it, but isn't a really rich porter. Compared with my first batch, this one has more carbonation than I'd like and doesn't keep as good a head. Palmer says the latter is a downside to using Irish moss for extract beers, and I'll confess that I forgot to adjust my quantity down to account for the smaller batch. (That stuff smells like Poseidon's armpit too.)

I actually just brewed my third batch yesterday (this is the advantage of smaller batches), but I'm a way's away from drinking it.

15 November 2008

German IPA

Charlie Papazian has a piece on a German brewer's attempt at an India Pale Ale. Not a traditional style for them of course, and in fact the dry-hopping violates the Reinheitsgebot, meaning they can't call it beer.

As much praise as the Reinheitsgebot often receives, it's hard not to roll your eyes on this sort of thing. The again, I personally am glad that Germany takes a hard line. We have the best of both worlds. You want tradition? Buy a German beer. You want experiments? Buy American. Argue all you want over who produces the best beer, but it would be a very boring beer world if all nations had the same approach.

13 November 2008

Koningshoeven Bock (NED)

I can't quite keep straight whether it's Koningshoeven or La Trappe. My bottle says Koningshoeven, which is the better name. This is the only Dutch Trappist brewery, the only Trasppist Bock (although the bottle also says "ale"), and I think this is the only Trappist seasonal.

It pours cloudy reddish-brown, looks syrupy, and smells like a doppelbock. The first thing that stands out is the carbonation, which is invasive, like something from a Saison (it's bottle conditioned, though, which gives it a natural, small bubble feel). It's medium-bodied. On the tongue, this Bock is very malty, of caramel and licorice, with some roasted tones. Maybe a little spicy as well. Not too sweet though; the finish is dry.

So this isn't exactly a bock or doppelbock. It has some interesting flavors you wouldn't find in a German beer. On the other hand, the carbonation doesn't work for me at all. This is a good beer, but pricey (I paid $4.85 for 330 ml) and probably not something I'll revisit.

09 November 2008

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence (NY)

Chocolate Indulgence is a stout originally brewed for Ommegang's 10th anniversary in 2007. They brewed a new batch this year. Belgium isn't really know for its stouts, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

The upshot is it's a chocolate stout with faint Belgian yeast esters coming through. This is a nearly opaque dark brown brew with a beige head that leaves superb lacing. It has a wonderfully creamy body, light carbonation, but is not really heavy. It's chocolaty, but I'm not sure I'd have guessed that it has added chocolate (actually, cocoa powder) beyond the usual chocolate malt. I'm not sure if it merits the 'indulgence" moniker. It's fairly dry but not roasty. There's a little bit of fruitiness in there that I attribute to the yeast, but this doesn't really scream Belgian either.

So Chocolate Indulgence is ultimately a really nice, drinkable stout (@7%) with killer lacing to look at and geat mouthfeel. I paid $8.50 for this on sale, but I've noticed that others have grumbled a bit about paying over $10. That's probably fair. It's a very good beer but not a blockbuster.

07 November 2008

Supermarket Finds

This summer Bill at Beerjanglin' posted about Wegmans Dewitt (Syracuse) getting a big beer makeover. Well, now that's hit their Pittsford store near my home. Now I can toss a bottle of Westmalle, Orval or Delirium Tremens in my blue basket alongside paper towels and raisin bran. They also have a decent selection of German 500 mls and US breweries such as Rogue, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, Green Flash and Dogfish Head to name a few. All this is in addition to the usual Southern Tier, Ommegang, Unibroue, etc. Here's a fuzzy cell phone pic of the DTs at $10.69 a bottle:

You can't sell wine in supermarkets in New York State, so maybe beer becomes the big thing. Wegmans actually owns a monster of wine store right down the street.

As excited as I was to see the new beer section, it really doesn't add much value for me. I already have access to way more beer than I have time to drink. This is New York, not Oklahoma. Hell, there's a lottery tickets-and-cigarettes convenience store near my place of work that sells Chimay and Maredsous.

06 November 2008

Utenos Porter (LT)

From Lithuania, this is, of course, a Baltic Porter. A very tasty one at that. It's fairly light in color -- certainly more brown than black -- and a thin in body (especially for a beer at 6.8%). This last bit takes it out of the style somewhat. It's loaded with caramel sweetness and sports a certain rum raisin quality. Near the finish, Utenos becomes chocolaty, but with only a slight roastiness to it. Not much of a hop presence, if any. Super easy to drink. A dessert beer, though I wonder whether it would match up well with barbecue.

Utenos Porter is one of those beer that thrilled me once, but may not do so again. In a different mood, I might be turned off by it's light body and lack of roastiness. It's a great value at $1.99 for 500 ml, though.

04 November 2008

Election Night

Outside the US, what's the longest anyone's election season lasts? A few months maybe? It seems like it's been forever since I said to myself "this primary has been going on forever." (Warning: if your election lasts more than 12 months, seek medical assistance.) And we still have two months to go before Obama even takes office.

I decided a homebrew would be the perfect drink while watching the results come in. I'm glad I recently started homebrewing. Based on what I've heard from certain corners, the US is likely to be ruled by Sharia law soon, so no alcohol, and any breweries left standing would be state owned anyway. So homebrewing looks like a good skill to have.

So here's a toast to Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, Bill Ayers, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the Romney brothers, Mike Gravel, Ron Paul, Chuck Norris, Rudy Giuliani's delegate, John Edwards' mistress, Levi "fucking redneck" Johnston, Joe the Plumber and all the others who played such a large part in these elections but will have no relevance to us whatsoever over the next four years. Bottoms up.

02 November 2008

Southern Tier Porter (NY)

I like this brewery's Raspberry Porter, which I believe is just a blend of their Raspberry Wheat and this beer, the Porter. "Dark" says the label -- is that a nod to BMC drinkers, who might not be sure what a porter is? It is very dark, nearly black. The aroma reminds me of chocolate liqueur or maybe just chocolate syrup, but the taste is less sweet than that. Roasted chocolate, maybe a touch of charcoal smokiness as well. The body is medium with plenty of small bubbles. There's a cola-like quality to it as well, maybe something acidic, caused by the fact that it isn't a big beer.

Southern Tier owes its reputation mostly to its big imperial brews, but Porter (@5.2%) ranks with their IPA and Hop Sun as really nice session-able beers for when you don't want to be dazzled.

01 November 2008

Hair of the Dog Adam (ORE)

I don't know if this was ever available in my area before, but all of a sudden I saw Adam, Fred and Ruth at my local beer shop. The former two are darlings of the BA/RB crowd. Adam is a free interpretation of an old Dortmunder ale style. In his Great Beer Guide, Michael Jackson relates a tale of William IV of Prussia being knocked out for a day after drinking a tankard of adambier. HoD Adam is 10%, but I'm still on my feet after one bottle.

The brewer's website says "it is great with chocolate or cigars," but I like to drink at least one bottle by itself. Besides, I don't smoke cigars ; wouldn't that undercut the beer? Anyway, Adam is a very dark brown beer, beige head, thick on the tongue, with an aroma of roasty malts and hops. The taste is "complex": chocolate, figs, light roastiness, a touch of earthy smokiness, and a shot of citrus rind hops. A lot going on, to be sure. It reminded me most of Jewbelation 11, but that's a crude comparison, and for most people, a backwards one at that.

My bottle was the recent Batch 72 (the latest batch?). I think I would have preferred an older sample to mellow the hops a bit. Still, this is a taste bomb, easily recommended for those who like that sort of thing.