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Entries in Review (13)


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

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+



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




"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...



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


House of Beer

A co-worker and I tried to "go for one" after work Wednesday night Trouble is, we picked a bar that serves over 500 different beers and about 60 on tap. Needless to say, we had more than one... The name of this fine establishment is the International Tap House in Chesterfield MO, but we prefer to call it the House of Beer

I'm pretty sure it's the only joint in town that serves Saison on tap. I tried the Le Merle Saison and Young's Double Chocolate Stout. I would have preferred a more traditional pub atmosphere rather than its contemporary feel but being surrounded by excelent brews is atmosphere enough.

Next time I'll know better than try to go for the one and plan to stay for the duration. Fortunately that will be very soon cause they hired my new band from 8-midnight on April 3rd!

Will drum for beer...


PS: Next post will be from a true British pub! Gotta catch my plane now!


Brewing Gadgets: Bazooka Screen v. False Bottom

I've made mention of my poor mash efficiency/conversion rates.  This refers to the amount of fermentable sugar that is extracted during the mash process.  The percentage is in comparison to the theoretical amount stored in grain.  My conversion rate has been as low as 50% over my last several brewing sessions.

To date, I've simply dealt with this by increasing my grain bill by about 10-15%, which costs me about $1.50 per 5 gallon batch overall.  If I were a big brewery, this would be a problem.  However, as a casual brewer its just a matter of pride.  I constantly hear of fellow homebrewers achieving efficiencies over 90%.  I'm skeptical since 100% is theoretical in strict laboratory conditions with small amounts of grain, but that could just be sour grapes.  Anyways, 80% seems achievable so I still have a long way to go.

Two things I've speculated would make a significant difference in my brewery's eficiency are changing from a batch to a fly sparge, and upgrading my mash tun with a new false bottom.  I'm addicted to the simplicity and time savings of a batch sparge so I am saving that for another day. However, this weekend I was greeted at my local homebrew shop that a new false bottom had arrived that would fit the 10gal Rubbermaid cooler I use as a mash tun!

When I first started all-grain brewing I installed a stainless steel ball valve and bulkhead to replace the standard valve in my cooler to control the outflow of wort.  I then needed to find something to allow the wort to flow out while leaving the grains behind. 

Popular options include a braided metal hose (like those used for washer hookups with the liner removed)  or a false bottom.  I couldn't find a false bottom at the time and was concerned about how to keep hose braid material clean, so I turned to the "bazooka screen" which amounts to a copper T connected to tubes of stainless screen material crimped at the ends.  This worked great except I could not get the last inch plus of sticky goodness out of my mash tun since it sits up off of the bottom of the cooler.  I figure this amounted to the loss of at least a couple quarts of high octane wort.

This week I tried a stainless false bottom which is concave and sit flat on the bottom of my cooler at the edges with an outlet for the wort in the center.  The grain bed sits on top of this and liquid is forced via gravity and pressure from the grain into the valve assembly.  Works like a champ!

I'm happy to report that after removing the spent grains, there was no measurable liquid left in the bottom of my mash tun and my overall efficiency has improved 8% while recycling the wort through the grain bed only once (compared to twice or more in the recent past).  This will also reduce my opportunity of extracting bitter tannins from the grain hulls.  Looking forward to more batches to see if this trend improves.  I will plan to use the bazooka screen in a future brew kettle conversion to help filter out hop leaves.

Any other ideas on how to improve mash efficiency?



Beer Review: Boulevard Saison

KC based Boulevard Brewing has a lot more to offer than the wheat beers they are best known for.  They have introduced a line of specialty brews they call the Smokestack Series.  My first exposure to the series was on the grocery store shelf.  They're bottled in 750ml bottles with champagne style corks.  Appreciating the nod towards fine Belgium brews, I picked up a Saison.  It set me back about $9, but I might pay more if I could find it again!

This beer has an intriguing aroma.  Spice notes from the Belgium yeast are prominent but not one of four of us tasting it described it the same.  The most curious description was "reminds me of antique furniture, like opening an antique a good way"  The appearance is golden in color with a nice full yet light head.  The flavor was the highlight.  Very refreshing yet complex.  Subtle fruit and spice notes from the yeast, a very smooth mouth feel, and lip smacking good finish.

Saison literally  means "season" and is essentially an inverse of the German Märzen.  Saisons are traditionally brewed in the winter for consumption in warmer months.  This beer would be excellent on a hot summer day.   I'm on a mission now for a homebrew Saison recipe so I can be prepared this summer.

Try this beer if you can find it, I think you'll be glad you did.   Yes, its pricey but more memorable than a lot of $9 wine bottles.  This is my first straight A review...


•     Appearance:  A     •     Aroma:  A     •     Taste:  A     •


•     Overall:  A     •





Brewing Gadgets: Meet the Ferminator

Say Hello to my little friend, The Ferminator!  Its an all stainless steel 14.5 Gallon conical fermenter made by Blichmann Engineering.  This baby is basically a miniature version of what the commercial breweries use.

Advantages I've found using a conical:

  • The ability to remove beer bottom of the vessel rather than siphoning
  • Ability to remove trub (sediment) without moving beer to a secondary
  • Less opportunity for oxidation/contamination
  • Much easier to clean and sanitize than carboys


  • Very Expensive (this model rang in at $500)
  • Everything is easy to clean, but there are many connections to keep sealed tight
  • Important to keep Teflon tape and o-rings on hand for leaks
  • Its heavy (handles are built in for carrying)

This was a significant investment for me, however it has helped streamline my brewing process in many ways.  Particularly, the elimination of siphoning.

This model has a domed lid, airlock, and corny keg style latch with a pressure valve in the top that allows for mild pressurization.  This allow me to defy gravity and push the beer out of the valves and into a keg sitting next to it.   This also comes in handy for pushing the thick yeast cake and trub from the bottom.  All of the valves are stainless steel and easily disassembled to allow for thorough sanitation.

Adding a conical to your home brewery is an awesome way to take your brewing to a higher level.  I am also certain it will last for decades with proper care, plus it just plain looks like you mean business!

Buy one if your serious about brewing and plan to stick with it.




Comfort Brew

Guinness hardly needs a review since it has been a staple since the 18th century.    Its a rare example of a mass produced, heavily marketed beer that still has street cred.  For me, its as welcome as a home cooked meal after a long workday.

Guinness has done a great job of capturing the pub experience in their latest Guinness Draught Can.  Its a 14.9 oz package with a nitrogen filled sphere or "beer widget" inside that releases the classic beer gas as you open it.  Quickly turn the can up and pour directly down the center of a pint glass and you will have a remarkable facsimile of Guinness on tap.  Complete with cascading bubbles!  Don't hesitate, the 14.9 oz leaves just the right amount of headroom in a pint glass and the velvety head will cover the beer all the way to the bottom.  Drink and repeat!  The cans are pretty expensive at the supermarket fetching as much as $7-8 for a 4-pack.  Luckily both Sam's and Costco offer 18-packs for about $20.


Appearance:  A+ Aroma:  B+  Taste:  A 


•     Overall:  A      •




...DIY Kegerator!

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to tackle converting my mini fridge to a kegerator this past weekend. I am pleased to report that this project was much easier than I expected. It still requires some tweaking to dial in the perfect draft beer but I think that would hold true with most commercial kegerators as well.

After reading a couple of other accounts and DIY instructions online, I purchased a single draft tower on eBay. There are a lot of options out there ranging from a plain chrome single faucet from about $60 to gorgeous multi-tap towers for several hundred dollars. I opted for the economical single faucet model as an entry level solution. Once I had the tower in hand is was a simple matter of getting up the guts to drill into the top of my mini-fridge (that took a while since I am quite fond of my fridge as-is).

One of the great things about that model fridge is that it has a built in plastic top which gives it a nice finish as a stand alone unit. It also stands alone a counter height with the added trim.

First task was to remove the plastic top which was held on by a couple of screws in the front near the hinge mounts and four across the back. The plastic top is reinforced with a series of ribs, I removed the ribs in the center square by cutting them out with a utility knife to make room for a block of wood to secure the base of the tower to. There is a circle in the direct center of the underside of the top that I used to drill a pilot hole to mark my starting point for drilling through the top for the beer line.

After cutting a piece of wood to fit the center, I set the cover back in place an it was time for the big drill. I used a hole saw for drilling doorknob holes that had had laying around. It wasn't deep enough to make it through all the materials, so I took it a layer at a time, the wood being the most difficult overall. Once the pilot bit made it to the metal top I was able to move the plastic top out of the way. Once through the metal top, the insulation was a bit messy but cut like butter and then their was only the interior liner which cut pretty smoothly as well.

Time to breath a sigh of relief! Downhill from here. Center the draft tower over the hole and secure it to the wood with 6-8 screws and drop the beer line(s) down into the fride and reattach the top to the fridge.

My draft tower was set up with a hex nut end for a sanke keg (standard commercial kegs). The simplest solution seemed to be to cut the hex end off of the beer line and replace it with a ball lock for a corny keg so I did just that.

Poof, my ordinary minifridge is now a kegerator! Next up, experimentation with the length of the beer line and its impact on the amount of foam...




Brewing Gadgets:  Refractometer

A hydrometer is a must have for brewers and wine makers to measure the amount of sugar available for conversion to alcohol, and to estimate the amount of alcohol converted during and post-fermentation, and to know when fermentation is complete.

As handy as they are, there are some real downsides to the hydrometer. Most notably, it can take half of a pint of wort or juice in order to float the hydrometer for a reading. This risks contamination of your beer or wine unless you dispose of the test liquid (which means less to drink later).

Another downside is that hydrometers are calibrated for testing liquid at 70°F.  If the liquid is hotter or colder calculations are required to correct the reading due to fluid dynamics or something like it that I should have paid more attention to in physics class.

Enter the Refractometer, a device that looks like the handle of a light saber and uses the variance in light refraction through the liquid to measure its density which can be calibrated to measure the amount of sugar and/or alcohol present using only a small drop (which cools to room temperature while measuring).

I was intrigued by the simplicity of a refractometer, so I broke down and bought on on eBay for about $30, or 5x the cost of a hydrometer.  Overall, I am quite happy with my purchase and the convenience, however don't plan on throwing away your hydrometer just yet.  The refractometer works amazingly well for testing the gravity during the brewing process while liquids are hot and the readings are very accurate when compared to a hydrometer.  However, after fermentation has begun, the alcohol content begins to skew the readings so I still take most final gravity readings with a hydrometer.

I think you could calibrate a refractometer specifically to measure alcohol content to compensate (mine even has a separate scale just for that) but I'm just to lazy for that.  Here are examples of both methods of measurement using the same wort.  It should be noted that while I let the wort cool for the hydrometer reading it was still about 80°F when taking the reading so its reading is a tick low due to the higher viscosity at that temperature.  Refractometer readings are in Brix % (which seem very close to °plato I see in pro recipes) so you need to convert them to specific gravity for comparison with a hydrometer.  I found this table on the Internet that makes the conversion easy.

The refractometer also allows quick readings during the mash process to check to see how the conversion process is going.

I highly recommend adding one to your brew kit if you are trying to better understand the efficiency of your brewing process, but just don't expect to get rid of your faithful hydrometer.

Would be a great Christmas gift too!



Review: Michelob Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale


•   Appearance:  B    •    Aroma:  B-    •   Taste:  B      •


Overall:  B

Wow, this is a solid beer from A-B/InBev.  The Michelob brand seems to have a craft brew mentality these days and it keeps drawing me in thanks to my proximity to St. Louis.  I saw this seasonal brew at "the candy store" (Corral Liquors) while picking up supplies for the Thanksgiving holiday and couldn't resist giving it a try.

The label describes itself as a "Winter Ale Aged on Bourbon Oak Casks and Whole Madagascan Vanilla Beans" .  That description holds up quite well.    This is a unique beer with definite vanilla highlights that are complimented by distinct caramel malt flavors.

This beer has a nice amber color with a light head that fades very quickly with zero lacing.   Vanilla notes are the highlight of the aroma.  You can also pick up some of the caramel malt in the nose but no detectable hops up front.

The taste is all about vanilla, oak, caramel, and sweet malt.  Only a slight background of hop bitterness.  This is a good holiday brew with likely a higher alcohol content than most A-B products, but the creamy sweetness of this beer hides it well.  This beer reminds me quite a bit of an old fashioned cream soda.

Notable improvements would be some head retention, some spice to balance the sweetness and aroma hops.  Give this beer a try, its quite surprising.  I'll probably pick up another six to share over Christmas break.

Cheers, and Happy Thanksgiving!



Beer Review - Budweiser American Ale


    •   Appearance:  A     •    Aroma:  B-     •    Taste:  C-     •

    Overall:   C

Anheuser-Busch really seems to be going after the craft beer market head on these days.  The current Michelob family seems to match popular micro-brew lineups almost one for one.   Extending the Budweiser family was more surprising.  As an ale lover, there are a lot of things to like about the new Bud Ale, unfortunately the total package falls far short of its potential.   Tonight's tasting was my third sampling of American Ale overall, so that alone should indicate some level of "Drinkability" ; )

The first indication that this is a serious endeavor is the bottle cap since it is not a twist off.  The description on the label also reads much like today's popular micros:

Carefully brewed with barley from America's Heartland and Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest, this rich, amber-colored ale has robust flavor and a distinctive hoppy finish

I could have sworn that the last bottle I had even stated the beer was "dry-hopped" but the bottle I poured tonight had no such reference.

This beer has a gorgeous copper appearance and an the head is light tan with a nice homebrew/bottle conditioned look when poured down the middle of the glass.  The aromas are much milder that what I expected from the descriptions.  There is a nice malty sweet nose to the beer but it lacks the spicy hop notes the name and descriptions lead you to expect.

Mouth feel and taste are where this beer really begins to let you down.  It feels quite smooth in your mouth, but it just doesn't seem to have the full bodied character you expect from the sweet malt.  This is probably by design to complement their "drinkability" campaign.  The flavor is reasonably well balanced with a strong hop bitterness hitting the back of your tongue, but there is a really odd finish that lingers that I just can't put my finger on.  You can almost feel whatever it is on your tongue well after the glass is empty.

Another positive note is that the head laces its way nicely all the way to the bottom of the glass!

Overall, I am appreciative of A-B's effort and this could be a great sign of things to come from the mega-brewers and and broader appreciation of beer styles overall.  Having said that, I am disappointed in this beer, especially at about $7 a six pack.  There are too many better beers out there at that price point, but I expect it to be a great option for a draft at the local tavern.