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Saturday
Jan092010

Cold Weather Brewing

Recently, some friends of mine invited me to a brewing event.  It was scheduled for January 2nd and that time of year in the midwest, the weather can be a bit of a crap shoot.  Last year, it was 70 degrees on New Years weekend.  However, this year I awoke to single digit temperatures. 

I confirmed that they were still planning on brewing the beer (they brew outdoors in the garage) and made the trek to the event.  It was kind of like going to a football tailgate party without a football game (or deer camp for city boys, as a friend of mine put it).  There were lots of guys hanging out, BBQing, smoking cigars, and enjoying the fruits of previous brew days.  But it was COLD!  It never got above 15 degrees all day and we kept the garage at a toasty 25-30 degrees with the help of a propane heater and the burners under the brew kettle.

I don't know much about brewing beer (my partner is the beer guy, I'm the BBQ guy), but this was an impressive setup.  Most homebrewers brew beer in batches of about 5 gallons or so.  These guys have been doing this for awhile and they've built their own brewing aparatus that will brew 25 gallons per batch.

When I arrived, the wort was just about done.  It didn't take long to cool it down given the temperatures outside. 

They poured the beer into carbouys to age and it was all over but the clean up. 

Hopefully, I'll get an invitation to one of the brew days when it's a little warmer.  I'm not much for being outside for this long in the cold, unless I'm tending my BBQ pit.  ;-)

Cheers,
Braddog

 

Friday
Jun122009

Review: Saison Dupont

Those of you who have been following our site for a bit know that I have become a big fan of the Saison style of beeer. Most of those I have tried are produced domestically by regional craft brewers (so far my favorite is Kansas City's Boulevard's Smoke Stack Series Saison). I was excited to find a bottle imported from Belgium where it all began. All in all, this is a great beer. Not quite as clean of a finish as some others I have had recently, but very nice. What struck me most is the aroma that rises from the bottle when you first open it. It's a bazaar cross between a pilsner and seven-up. No kidding! There is a nice upfront fruitiness with a mild hint of hops towards the backend. Somewhat dry on the finish, but not as clean as many. There is a twinge of farmhouse funk to it, more so than the domestic examples I have tried lately. Its worth a try and no more expensive than the regional Saisons that you are likely to find. Definitely worth a try if you are exploring this style. This beer was designed for this time of year.

Cheers, -D
Sunday
May312009

Up, Up, and Away!

Just a few short weeks after their spring debut my hops have already climbed their way up to the top rail of my deck.  Hop flowers have also begun to peek out, with cones soon to follow.  Early signs that this year's crop will be strong.

Here's are some links for more information about growing hops at home:

http://www.freshops.com/gardening.html

http://www.growinghopsyourself.com/

http://www.brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.3/montell.html

Cheers,
-D
Tuesday
May262009

Why? Because I Can!

Admittedly, this may be a sign that I'm taking the homebrew thing a bit too far.  On a recent trip to Sam's oversize jugs of juice caught my eye at a ridiculous price and I though "Hell, I could ferment that"!  Once I got the two-pack of gallon sized jugs of 100% cranberry/pomegranate juice home I decided there wasn't even any point in sanitizing a primary fermenter.  I just drilled a hole in the lid for an airlock, removed two cups for headroom (using it to make a stuffed pork loin), sanitized the lid and airlock, shook to aerate, then dropped in a packet of dry wine yeast.   Its going nuts fermenting as I type.

The original gravity is only about 1.050 (good for beer), so I may add some sugar in a day or two to boost the alcohol to typical wine levels.  If it turns out too dry, I'll add additional juice for sweetness at the end.  Not sure what too expect, but its a fun experiment.

Who else has tried fermenting something just because they can?

Cheers,

-D

Saturday
May232009

Fullsteam Ahead!

Keep a lookout for Fullsteam Brewery. They are a self described "brewery-in-planning". These folks are based in North Carolina and have been actively involved in re-writing the legal definition of beer there in order to pursue their craft brewing dreams. They have plans to open up a brewery later this year which will be dedicated to creating a distinctly southern beer..."beyond sweet tea". Their website is www.fullsteam.ag which they say the dot ag is for agriculture and represents their "plow-to-pint brewing".

Their latest experiment is a beer called Hogwash which is designed to pair with BBQ. It is made with hickory smoked malt which they currently prepare on their Big Green Egg! Check out their website, its inspiring!  Can't wait to try their Brew!  After all, few things go together as well as beer and BBQ...



Cheers,

-D

Tuesday
May192009

Free Black & Tan Widget from Bass

I'm a fan of Guinness year round, but many find it a bit heavy for the spring and summer months. Stout lovers have been blending beers ("Black and Tan") as a lighter alternative for over a century. They can also be layered by pouring a half a glass of pale ale or lager and then slowly topping off the glass with a Guinness or similar dark stout. This creates a very cool effect in the glass when done properly since stouts are typically less dense than lighter beers which allows it to float on top. The trick is to not splash the surface of the lighter beer enough to cause them to blend.

Pouring spoons are commonly used to help. On my last trip to the grocery store I found that Bass was offering free plastic pouring devices, so I decided to give it a shot.

The plastic device worked about as well as a pouring spoon. The holes trickled the Guinness lightly in the center. This would have turned out perfect if I had started with more Bass in the glass. Keep your eyes peeled next time you stroll by the beer isle.

Cheers,

-D

Thursday
May072009

Review: Guinness 250th Anniversary Stout

My wife had a nice surprise for me this week:   Two six packs of the new Guinness 250th Anniversary Stout (she's a keeper).  I've been itching to try this since they announced it early this year.

 

This is the first new stout Guinness has introduced to the US market since they started importing Guinness Draught in 1967.  This beer is quite a departure from the Draught and Foreign Extra Stout we have become so familiar with.  They seem to be targeting a new market with this beer.  Most notably, this beer is heavily carbonated rather than nitrogenated.  As a result, the head is big and foamy, more like a root beer float rather than a smooth and creamy stout.  It also has a much thinner mouthfeel than what you expect.  Overall, I would categorize this more as a heavily carbonated porter.  Ironically it is quite similar to my own disappointing attempts at brewing an Irish stout.

 

The aroma is very nice and roasty, and the roasty flavor also carries through to the finish with just a touch of bitterness in the end.  The head is just not what you would expect from Arthur Guinness' brewery, but it is still impressive in a carbonated way.  Overall it is a nice beer in classy packaging, but for me it just makes me appreciate true Guinness Stout more than ever!




 

•     Aroma:  A     •     Appearance:    B+    •     Taste:    B+     •

 

•     Overall:    B+






Cheers,
-D

Thursday
May072009

Happy Homebrew Day!

Today is the National HomeBrew Day, designated by congress on May 7th 1988.

And just around the corner...American Craft Beer Week starts on May 11th and runs through May 17th.

Cheers,

-D
Sunday
May032009

Hair of the Dog

Yesterday turned out to be quite a day...Kentucky Derby, which called for a couple Mint Juleps (recipe to follow shortly); followed by a neighborhood wine tasting; which turned into a late night jam session where I broke out a growler full of homebrew.  Needless to say, I spent most of the day trying to rehydrate and shake a hangover.

Seemed like as good a day as any to brew.  Today's recipe is my take on a Belgian Ale...very similar to a Saison but since I am new to the Belgium style I'll refrain from calling it that just yet.  Should be a refreshing beer for the warm days ahead.

Grain bill:
6lbs Pilsner malt
6lbs Tw0-row pale malt
1lb Crystal 20L
1/2lb flaked barley
I also added a little over 1/2lb Light Dry Wheat Extract to juice up the yeast
Hops:
.5oz Tradition (60min)  .5oz Tradition (30min)  .5oz Tradition (15min)
Yeast:
White labs WLP-550 Belgian Ale Yeast which I created a starter from early in the week using some of the Dry Wheat Malt Extract
Mash Schedule:
20min @ 122°F,  15min @130°F, 60min @153°F, Mash out (15min) @170°F
O.G. is 1.058, expect about 6% a.b.v. assuming it dries out nicely.  Will try to keep fermentation temp under 70°F.

Really looking forward to the finished product!

Cheers,

-D

Tuesday
Apr282009

Homemade Whiskey (Raising My Spirits Part 2)

On New Years day I filled a 1 liter oak barrel with cheap vodka .  Now that is has had a chance to age for about four months I figured it was time to check in on the results.  Because the surface to volume ratio is so much higher in this small of a barrel, I figure the four months of aging approximates two years for a full barrel.  The results are amazing, but I wish I had started with a better quality of vodka.  It still needs to mellow a bit (it still has a hot alcohol taste and nose).  I could also charcoal filter it to smooth it out.  The color is spectacular and it smells like a typical bottle of whiskey that would have cost much more than the vodka I started with.  This would be great for mixers as-is, but I am going to try and mellow it out a bit further for sippin.

This batch filled up a 750ml bottle nicely.  The remainder of the initial liter evaporated off.  This is what distillers refer to as "the angel's share".  The bottle is a Glenlivet water bottle that I brought back from my UK trip.  I just sanitized it and poured the whiskey straight from the barrel.  The best part is that I now have a bourbon barrel I can use to experiment with aging beer in!

Cheers,

-D

Sunday
Apr262009

Hoppy Spring!

Spring has sprung, my hops have re-surfaced this week!  This will be their second year so the harvest should be much better.  So far, two of my three rhizomes have surfaced and are looking to climb.   I planted the hops at the base of my deck and string twine up to the deck railing giving them about 14 feet of room for climbing.  This makes it easy to harvest by cutting the vines at the base and pulling them up from the deck.

I have three different varieties planted (Hallertau, Willamette, and Chinook).  What I did not realize until recently is that the plants are male or female so they must have cross pollinated like crazy.   I planted a second Willamette rhizome today but will give up on tracking the varieties due to the cross pollination.  I guess that means I will have my own unique hops variety from now on!

Below are some pictures from last summer's harvest.  I netted about 1/2 pound in cones last season.  My friend Mike enjoyed draping himself in the vines.  The smell of fresh hop cones are amazing!


Cheers,

-D

Thursday
Apr232009

Review: McGuire's Irish Pub (Pensacola, FL)

While on our Florida vacation last week I became aware of McGuire's Irish Pub via the Beer Hero app on my iPhone (see review in a previous post).  The weather was a little rough for hanging out on the beach on our last day, so the boys and I headed to Pensacola to the Naval Air museum and stopped in the brewpub for lunch.

Wow!  This place was hoppin, had great food and really nice beer.  I look forward to a return visit for dinner for a juicy steak and several pints of  brew.  They had what appeared to be about a 30-50 barrel setup with a gorgeous 250-ish gallon brew kettle, matching lauter tun and a half dozen wood trimmed fermenters.  I tried their irish stout and it was fantastic.  Nice roasty character with just the right amount of bitterness to balance the malt.  The head could have been a bit creamier but it still laced the glass all the way to the bottom.

The service was excellent especially considering the volume of folks they were serving.  The food was excellent and a great value.  I highly recommend the Irish Boxties (breaded and deep fried balls of twice baked potatoes) and 18¢ cup of Senate Bean Soup ($18 if ordered alone).  The atmosphere may have been the best part.  It had a very comfortable old pub feel with lots of unique signage from Irish business.  The most prominent decor were thousands of dollar bills stapled from every beam and bare spot on the ceiling and walls for luck.  They claimed to have over half a million dollars hung by their patrons.  Of course we obliged...

If you're visiting the Florida panhandle and love beer and food you must add McGuire's to your itinerary.   They have a second location in Destin as well.

Atmosphere - A

 

Food - A

 

Value - A

 

Beer - A

 

Overall - A



Cheers,

-D

Tuesday
Apr142009

Review: Beer Hero for iPhone

I'm a little slow in posting to the blog this week because I am in the middle of a fabulous beach vacation with my family in Navarre, FL.   Since I am unfamiliar with the area, I decided to try out an iPhone app called Beer Hero ($1.99 in the app store) which claims to locate good beer wherever you are.  Its a great concept, using the iPhone's  GPS to locate beers brewed near your current location ("near beer") as well as local brew pubs and recommended food pairings with local brews.

It prompts you for distance to include in your search and references a local database (no data connectivity required) of 1600+ beers, with ratings for 1000+ microbrews.  Unfortunately I seem to be vacationing in a beer desert.  I had to expand my search to over 100 miles to get any microbrew results, 300 miles to get anything outside of Abita, LA and to 50miles to find any brewpubs.  This might also explain the blank stare I received in a local liquor store when I asked for local beer recommendations.

The concept is brilliant, and I will probably try to get to the brewpub in Destin or Pensacola before vacation is over!

Overall the concept is brilliant but I'll give this app a B so far since the reviews seem a little thin and the brewery info relies totally on the brewery's website by launching Safari.

Cheers,
-D
Thursday
Apr022009

Don't try this at home ; ) 

I'm currently fascinated by the distilling process.  To the point of pursuing a license to distill in my state so that I can experiment with sub-micro distilling and aging spirits myself (see Raising my Spirits to follow my vodka aging experiment).

Last year revision 3 produced this video in their DIY series "SYSTM" that I found while researching countertop water distillers as an intro to the distilling process.  This is a very rough introduction to distilling at home (which is strictly illegal in the US without a federal and state license).   Since then, I have purchased a stainless water distiller and have learned of or discovered several modifications that would make these devices much more usable for distilling spirits.

If this intrigues you too, check out the video but please follow along with this series for more details and important safety information before attempting this on your own.  And by all means become familiar with your local laws regulating distillation.
Here's a link if the embedded video does not work for you.

Cheers,

-D

Sunday
Mar292009

"Top Shelf Whiskey"

On the last night of my recent trip to England, some friends took my out for a pub crawl in London.   We took the train to Waterloo station and just planned to stop in whichever pubs caught our eye.  We walked across a bridge over the Thames River and ultimately found ourselves at Trafalgar Square.  At 66 Trafalgar Square we found the Scottish bar named Albannach.   Albannach was an upscale bar/restaurant with a trendy club feel (complete with vinyl spinning D.J.) and the wait staff were decked out in kilts.   While the name of the bar literally means "Scottish" or "Scottish person" I think the only person there of Scottish descent walked in the door with me.  However, the joint was jammed full of fine Scottish Whiskey.  This is was by far the best selection of Scotch I have ever seen.  The bar offered a menu with detailed descriptions of each of their 140+ whiskeys.  Each was served in 50ml measures and ranged from £7.00 (<$10) for a glass of Bunnahabhain 12 y.o., Aberlour 10, or Auchenentoshan 10 to a lofty £760.00 (>$1,000) for a glass of The Balvenie 50 year old, Cask 191 from front and center of the top shelf!

Here's a description of Cask 191 from the menu:

The Balvenie 50 year old, Cask 191 45.1% abv

Great presence with creamy fruit and nut chocolate, raisins, prunes, fruit poached with cloves, and a hint of foaming cappuccino.  Rich but retains dryness, balance and intensity.


Sounded like a lot more flavors than my pallet could ascertain at the end of a pub crawl, so I settled for a pint of Deuchars IPA from Edinburgh which was fabulous!  Maybe next time...

Cheers,

-D

PS:  The DJ was drinking Budweiser....guess that proves everyone likes an import now and then!


Friday
Mar272009

Brewing Gadgets: DIY Immersion Chiller

A wort chiller is a must have for any serious homebrewer. I waited far too long to add one of these to my brewery and I since then I wouldn't brew without it. The basic concept is to cool down your wort after the boil to temperatures suitable for pitching yeast (about 75°) as quickly as possible. This substantially decreases risk of contamination and speeds up your brew day as well.

Before I had a wort chiller I used to sit my brew kettle in a tub of ice water, but this still took over an hour to fully lower the temp. Now I have a copper immersion chiller. It is easy to use and easy to clean/sanitize and lowers the wort to pitching temp in about 20min!

The coil has tubing attached for cold water to enter and exit. The inbound tubing has a garden hose style female connector that allows you to connect a standard garden hose to it if you are brewing outdoors or use an adapter to connect to your kitchen faucet. To sanitize, simply submerge the coil in sanitizer (I do this while cleaning my fermenter) then submerge in the brew kettle along with the final hop addition. When the boil is complete I move over to the sink, attach the hose to my faucet and turn on the cold water. You will notice the temperature drop 20° a minute for the first several minutes, then as the differential reduces it slows down. I will move the coils around a bit after the first ten minutes to help speed the heat transfer to the water in the coil. These two photos were taken 20min apart during my last brew day.

Immersion chillers typically fit nicely in your brew pot and are made of copper (<$50) or stainless (< $100).


Fashion your own immersion chiller by using about 25' of 3/8" copper tubing from the hardware store, some tubing and hose clamps. Just wrap the copper tubing around a paint can several times attach vinyl or silicon tubing and a hose barb to 3/4" female adapter on the inlet and you'll be chillin in no time! -D

 

Friday
Mar272009

A Tragedy

I actually shed a tear when I saw this!  :)

image021

Cheers,
Braddog
Thursday
Mar262009

Beer Cooler

Sure glad I've got a fridge in the garage for my beer.  This would be awful.

beercooler

Cheers,
Braddog
Sunday
Mar222009

Oldest Bar in England?

While in the UK for business this past week some friends were kind enough to show me around a bit and help me make the most of my stay.  Those diversions will be the subject of a few posts since they typically involved a visit to local pubs!

The weather was fantastic, clear and sunny all week with temps approaching 20°C (upper 60's F).  This led to an impromptu visit to Stonehenge near sunset.  On the way back my friend took me to Winchester in Hampshire.  Winchester was the medieval capital of England and is home to their largest cathedral.  After admiring the Winchester cathedral we decided to take a stroll through the city center and grab a pint.

We stopped at the Royal Oaks Pub which claims to be "the oldest bar in England".  This is quite a claim considering that most pubs that boast a est. date predate our country's existence by a century or more.  The pub's entrance was hidden down a narrow alley next to a 15th century building with signs hung out by the street to attract patrons.   It was a very nice pub with selection of "real ales" (cask conditioned) as well as several other beers including imports and lagers.  The pub was warm, inviting, and even updated with a mix of traditional and contemporary atmosphere including video games.  No doubt it was older than most pubs I've been in but it didn't seem to live up to its claim.  I hit the Interwebs and found this reference on Frommers:

A Lager at England's Oldest Bar -- Royal Oak Pub (tel. 01962/842701), is located in a passageway next to the God Begot House on High Street. A busy pub with plenty of atmosphere, it reputedly has the oldest bar in England. The cellar of this establishment was originally built in 944 to dispense drink to Winchester's pilgrims; the present building was constructed in 1630 atop the much older foundation.

I'd wager that the pint of "Irish Whiskey Ale" I enjoyed (a guest ale pumped from that ancient cellar) was better than what they served in the 10th century.

Cheers,
-D

Monday
Mar162009

Sunday Afternoon Pub Crawl

Started off my UK trip on the right foot! Had one of the finest beers I have ever had today. It was a cask conditioned ale pumped from the cellar!  I think it was called Hopping Hare from Badger brewing.  I'll post details soon. Sorry for the poor picture quality, I just snapped these with my iPhone.
Cheers,
-D