30 March 2009

Session Reminder

Just a reminder that this Friday, Lew Bryson is hosting, and the topic is smoked beers (coincidentally, The Atlantic has a short piece on Bavarian Schlenkerla). I've been pretty busy with work and life so I don't know if I'll be able to participate. If I do, it will surely rate a fail due to Lew's one demand:

Because I'm not going to tell you that you have to like them, how you have to drink them, or whether you can have an expensive one or where it has to be from. But I do insist that if you blog on this Session, that you drink a smoked beer that day.

Which I'm sure means that some of you will fail to do that and proudly blog about it and have what you think is a real good reason. I swear, it's like trying to push string...
That's kind of tough, because I won't be home from work until after 6, and then there's dinner, and I will likely have plans Friday with people who couldn't care less about smoked beer of beer blogging. Drink on Thursday, post on Friday, I say. Still a nice topic.

28 March 2009

Hair of the Dog Ruth (ORE)

Now you're messing with a sonovabitch. Oregon's Hair of the Dog must be viewed as one of the quintessential  American boutique microbreweries. Well, boutique might not be the right word, but they make only a handful of beers, mostly big alcohol, not huge batches. Ratebeerians drool over things like the 29% ABV Dave with its super-selective release. 

Ruth is only 4.5% ABV and predictably not as highly rated. An American Pale Ale, it claims, but it's also unfiltered and not at all in the Sierra Nevada style. It looks like a hefeweizen and tastes like fresh grapefruit juice. Seriously, drinking this blind I'd probably guess carbonated grapefruit juice as easily as beer. It's good: not bitter canned grapefruit juice, or pith or rind. It's more fruity and a bit floral. Not a lot of hop sharpness for a West Coast pale, nor a bready malt backbone, just some combination of Crytsal hops, light grains and yeast. 

It's unusual and refreshing, I think, but a little too pricey on this side of the country to be properly drunk as a warm-weather session ale. Still, I'm sure I'll drink this again.

25 March 2009

NYT on Wine in Supermarkets

Eric Asimov has written about the governor's plan to permit wine sales in New York State grocery stores. Opponents to the measure includes liquor stores of course, but also both the Teamsters (who have a stake in distribution) and Baptist ministers. With supporters like that....

But Asimov makes a good point:

Nobody supporting the bill would begrudge some concessions to wine and liquor stores, which right now are not permitted to sell cheeses, bread and other foods that would naturally pair with wine. They can’t even sell beer, which is sold in groceries, delis and convenience stores. If groceries are permitted to sell wine, perhaps wine shops ought to be able to sell cheese and beer.
A few weeks ago, my local Wegmans was asking people to sign an in-store petition on this measure. I wanted to ask the guy whether they supported allowing liquor stores in New York to sell beer. Perhaps at this point, they would, as they're big enough not to worry about Joe's Liquors poaching their six-pack sales . Nonetheless, it's important to recall that no one's motives are pure. Liquor stores have doubt been harmed by their inability to sell beer. I don't begrudge them their complaints now.

21 March 2009

Cricket Hill American Ale (NJ)

I think this is my first New Jersey beer, and I believe Cricket Hill -- founded in 2002 -- is only just starting to sell outside their state. The label design is very attractive, although it looks more suitable for a telecommunications company than a brewery.

American Ale is clear gold/copper in color, nice head. The body is on the light side of medium, and carbonation is held in check. Grassy and slightly citrusy hops, but not too many of them (East Coast restraint). Some might want more bite, others a different a "brighter" approach. I think it's a nice easy drinker.  I see Lew Bryson quotes the brewer singing the praises of sessions beers, and this offering follows suit. 

17 March 2009

St. Patrick's Day

I have nothing interesting to say, and to be honest, St. Patrick's Day is starting to grate on me as I age. FWIW, it currently loses to its evil twin (good twin?) Valentine's Day in a Googlefight, but it's close.

16 March 2009

Brew House Honey Blond Ale (modified)

For my fourth batch of homebrew, I decided to give a Brew House kit a try. If you're unfamiliar with these, they describe themselves as "premium all grain beer kits" from Canada. But this isn't all-grain brewing; it's no boil brewing. You get a four gallon bag of wort brewed to high gravity (~1.080) and add two gallons of water, and pitch yeast. To prevent spoilage, the bagged wort is acidic, which you rectify by adding potassium bicarbonate (included) to raise the pH. This is the big idea that allows you to avoid the use of extract and its corresponding problems (e.g. dark color, extract twang).

Supposedly these kits make the best beer short of all-grain brewing, plus are as simple to use as no-boil canned beer kits from the likes of Cooper's and Mr. Beer. This raises an interesting conundrum. You'd think ease of use would be a great selling point, but I don't want the process to be too easy. I mean, if I want easy, I'd just buy beer. On the other hand, it does seem silly to want to go through extra steps of steeping grains and boiling wort if it still produces inferior beer. (Though at this point, I can't vouch for the quality of the Brew House kits.)

Fortunately, The Brew House kits are hack-able, allowing brewers to put their own stamp on the beer. You can swap yeasts. You can add less top-off water to produce stronger beer. You can boil hops of steep grains in the water before topping off. The manufacturer's website gives a few interesting recipes, and I found a few more here.

Although I was tempted by the Duvel clone built upon the neutral American Lager kit, I instead opted for the Honey Blonde kit with two modifications: I used liquid yeast, and I added only enough water to make a stronger, five gallon batch (note: the kits say they produce gallons, but those are imperial gallons). The yeast I used was White Labs East Coast Ale, WLP008. In truth, I might have been content using the enclosed Cooper's dry ale yeast, but I wanted to give liquid a shot for the first time. WLP001 (West Coast) would probably have been a more natural choice for this style of beer, and I can't say why I chose WLP008 instead. 

The night before "brewing," I made a 1/2 gallon starter (my first!) using DME, a pinch of yeast nutrient, and a sanitized growler. The process seemed to go well. I pitched the whole starter into chilly wort (below 60). I had stored the kit box in the garage and grew impatient waiting for its 40+ pounds of mass to warm up. I still saw bubbles that evening, and within 24 hours had a raucous ferment on my hands.

The kit instructions suggest using a 12 US gallon fermenter (!) which I don't have. So instead, I used a blow off, snipping the cross off the bottom of my 3-piece airlock and attaching 1/2 inch wide tubing to its stem.  It worked perfectly. Plenty of gunk inside the tubing suggested things would have been messy without the blowoff. 

Anyway, fermentation died down abruptly and stuck at around 1.030 (after a starting OG of ~1.060).  I tried gently swirling the pail, but ultimately opened her up and stirring with my sanitized thief. I also increased the heat a few degrees. Both of these things -- opening up the pail and warming -- have their drawbacks, but they worked, and my fermentation ended at 1.017 when I transferred to secondary 11 days after brewing. Still, not great attenuation, but I think that's what WLP008 does. 

This is my first use of a secondary. I don't know if one was really needed, but I need my ale pail for my next brew. So my 5 gallon Better Bottle is sitting in a closet and will be there for another couple weeks. It'll be some time before I see how this tastes.

Even if the taste is great, two caveats:
  1. I paid nearly $45 for the kit. Your mileage may vary, but these are very heavy and thus very expensive to transport. Again, this is a kit designed to make six US gallons, or 4-5 gallons of bigger beer, but it's still pricey.
  2. If you don't have a really big pail, you'll need to use a blowoff. Even then, I don't know if you can make six gallons of this in a 6.5 gallon bucket. I found that others have reported violent fermentations, so be careful. 
Postscript: here's the finished product.

14 March 2009

Schneider Aventinus (GER)

This beer's a classic I've never tried before, and I assume it is going to be my last doppelbock until fall. "Germany's Original Wheat Doppelbock" it claims, and it's brewed with an ale yeast and not a lager yeast. A big, dark wheat beer rather than a big, dark lager.

My overall reaction is that I'm surprised at how light Aventinus is. Well, not exactly light, but it isn't weighty despite the 8.2% ABV. It's medium brown in color with a massive head, and not so far removed from a hefeweizen that you can't smell banana. On the tongue that doesn't really come through, but there's some tartness, spice, raisins, and cocoa powder. It's pretty deep, yet still almost refreshing. I prefer my doppelbocks to be more like this -- not syrupy or alcoholic or soy saucy -- and thus this moves to the top of my list of favorites. The rating sites show nearly universal love, but also a high number or ratings, so I'm probably not telling you anything you don't know already.

10 March 2009

Beer Quiz

Trying to kill time at the office? Try the Pike Brewing beer quiz. Maybe this has been around, I don't know. It's 100 questions and I lost interest before I finished, but at least the questions aren't of the "what beer did Spuds McKenzie endorse?" variety.

09 March 2009

Ommegang Rare Vos (NY)

Rare Vos is described as a Belgian-style amber ale, 6.5% ABV. The label says to serve at 40 degrees, but I must have gone at least 10 degrees higher. I bought this corked 750 ml bottle on sale for $4.59 I think, which isn't a bad price at all. 

I poured leaving the yeast in the bottom. The beer is on the orange end of amber more than the darker side, and the billowy head is fantastic. Light-to-medium bodied, assertively carbonated. Really, this should be drunk in warmer weather. The nose is fiercely fruity, and the taste is fruity as well -- something like peaches and apples -- and a bit spicy. All that Belgian goodness. Rare Vos finishes dry and very abruptly,  too much so perhaps, as I'd have liked to taste it a bit longer. I suppose that's better than finishing too sweet. Ultimately, a really fine Belgian-style ale. I wonder what it would have tasted like at the recommended 40 degrees?

Of Ommegang's five basic beers, I've never had one of them (Three Philosopher's) and am torn in my preference between their eponymous ale and Hennepin. Rare Vos is, to me, a shade below these two, but a bit better to Witte.  But they're all good. 

07 March 2009

Orlio Closing

I saw this from a post at 2beerguys blog: Orlio Organic Brewing is closing. They were owned by Magic Hat. I tried and liked their Black Lager back when this blog was young. Orlio only had two other beers I think. Sad to see them go, but of course in any business, many will fail.

06 March 2009

Genesee Bock Beer (NY)

Session #25: Lager. The Beer Nut suggests we "return to our roots" and calls for us to leave those fancy-pants imported lagers aside. In his kick off post, he also writes up Dundee Honey Brown Lager and calls it the very sort of fancy-pants imported lager we should not be blogging about, and this is a problem for me, for whom Dundee Honey Brown is local, not imported, and stands as the quintessential middlebrow brau. There is roughly the same amount of space between it and Budweiser as there is between Applebee's and Wendy's. So what lager can I find that fills the space between craft and crap?

Actually, The Beer Nut backtracks a bit and says Honey Brown is exactly the sort of beer we should discuss. Nonetheless, I felt self-conscious about over-shooting this one. Fortunately for me, this is the time of year where Genesee (ultimately, the same brewery that makes the Dundee line) releases its "special edition" Bock Beer. The brew is a bit darker than The Beer Nut's recommended pilseners, light lagers, or helleses, but it runs about $6.50 for a 12-pack, so I don't think I aimed too high on this one. And how can anyone resist the early-60s-wallpaper style can design?

Genny Bock is attractive enough to justify pouring into a glass: clear amber with a big (but superficial) head. On the tongue, it's over-carbonated and light-bodied. The finish will prove to be metallic (or maybe that's just me fixating on the can). But before that, it's a pretty good beer. A little caramel flavor, some very light floral hops. It's not too sweet or corny or rice-y. It doesn't warm all that well, but is more than just thirst-quenching for 90 degree days. It's damn well better than any other Genesee beer. I never regret buying a full 12-pack, although one pack a year usually suffices.

I can't say Genny Bock is really a 'roots' beer for me. I didn't drink this in high school or college, and it wasn't a regular choice for me before I became connoisseur and hobbyist. Still, I'm glad to see it when it comes out each year. It's what an unpretentious value lager should be, and it's a shame there aren't many American regional breweries that produce stuff like this anymore.

05 March 2009

Paper City Radler Bräu (MA)

If ever there's a time to drink this, it isn't in March. Radler is beer mixed with Sprite or sparkling lemonade or something. For all the respect Germany receives for its brewing tradition, they sure do know how to adulterate the stuff. I suppose if someone offered you Diet Sprite and then said "would you like beer in that?" it wouldn't seem so bad. But why not just take the beer?

Paper City's take on the style talks of "natural lemon flavor" rather than specifically mentioning soda (or "tawnic"... it's in Massachusetts). It's golden in color with a fairly decent head, and a mouthfeel that is light and spritzy. The lemon taste is subtle, and not tart at all, nor sweet. Instead, it's like a mixture of Corona and lemon Crystal Light. Watery and dull. In the heat, it could be refreshing, but even then there are better options.

Paper City Brewery seems to have an affinity for fruit beers: they have three fruit lagers listed on their site. I'd hope they're all better than Radler Brau.

04 March 2009

Colbert on Beer Pong and Herpes

Stephen Colbert weighs in on the issue of beer pong and herpes (it starts about 30 seconds in).

02 March 2009

Session #25: Lager

A reminder that this Friday is the next Session. Hosted by The Beer Nut from Dublin, the intent is to get "back to basics":

Don't even think about cheating the system: leave your doppelbocks and schwarzbiers out of this one: I want pilsners, light lagers, helleses and those ones that just say "beer" because, well, what else would it be?

This has already lead to a bunch of comments asking what "counts" as a lager here. Hopefully, some of these discussions will pop up in the Session posts themselves. 

01 March 2009

Samuel Adams Double Bock (MA)

This is part of Sam Adams' Imperial Series that also features a pilsener and a witbier. Of the three, doppelbock is the only style that's naturally big. Even so, Double Bock is on the heavy side for its style at 9.5% ABV and 24.5 Plato (over 1.100 OG). It turns out to be a little much for my tastes.

A good-looking beer, it pours clear mahogany with a decent head. It is very rich on the tongue, syrupy like a barleywine. Nice soft fizz. Unsurprisingly, it's a big malt bomb -- caramel, molasses, maybe a little maple syrup -- though there are just enough hops to keep it from being too sweet. My problem is the alcohol comes through, both peppery on the tongue, slightly burning in the throat, and warming in the ribs. A lot of doppelbocks bring heat, but my favorite -- Weihenstephaner Korbinian -- doesn't, and is also lighter on the tongue. Just a matter of personal taste I suppose. SA's take is a well-made beer and a pretty good bargain given its size. Just know what you're getting yourself into.