Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two Empty Kegs

I am running a little behind in homebrewed beers, but I will be re-stocked soon. With a summer trip and brewing beers for a few occasions, my home supply has been limited. This was obvious to my friend Kevin when I saw him at the store and he saw store-bought beer in my grocery bag. Not a great sign for a homebrewer (or at least for me).

But fear not, I have two beers on the horizon (both in their secondary fermenters). I have another in my steady line of attempts at a proper English ale, and I have an American Amber (but fermented with the English ale yeast). The bitter was hopped with some UK Challenger and UK Kent Goldings (including a little for dry-hopping), but the main difference was the flaked maize I added this time. Many of the traditional English bitters use maize to round out the taste, so I thought I would try mimicking their technique. I have high hopes for this beer.

The amber ale was inspired by the trip I recently took and the enjoyable amber ales I consumed while traveling. This is my first attempt at this style, so I used a recipe formulated by perusing a number of different standard amber ale recipes for grain concentrations and such. The hops I used were what I had around and amounted to 2 ounces of Northern Brewer for bittering and 1 oz. of Pacific Gem for aroma. Pacific Gem is not a typical aroma hop, so this should be an interesting beer.

In case no one has put 2 and 2 together, I typically prefer the easy-drinking milder beers. I like the occasional bigger, highly hopped, or higher alcohol beer, too, but what I really enjoy is that beer I can drink every day and not grow tired of it.

Oh. And I updated my beers on hand on the sidebar.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Beer in Trip

I just got back from a 2-week summer vacation. The bulk of the vacation wasn't about beer, but it did play a major part. Here is some of what I saw, tasted, learned, and experienced:


  • New Belgium Sunshine Wheat - One of my favorites not yet available in middle Tennessee. Incidentally, I asked a New Belgium rep later in the trip about getting some out here, but received the same answer as always: "maybe someday". I think I enjoy it more when it has warmed up some. I never had the patience to wait.

  • Saint Arnold Brewery - I picked up a sixer multipack with six different beers from Houston's craft brewer Saint Arnold. I tried them over the course of 3-4 days while in Colorado. There was a pilsner, a light pilsner, an IPA, a brown Ale, a fruit wheat beer (i think), and maybe a porter. The pilsner was actually decent, and the IPA was pretty good, but none were really that great. None of the beers had an incredible amount of taste overall. It was actually a little disappointing.
  • Lizard Head Red from Steamworks Brewing out of Durango CO. It was a lightly-hopped but flavorful (non-irish) red ale. I really enjoyed that one.

  • Stone Ruination IPA - An imperial IPA. I have heard a lot of people rave about this one, but I thought it was over-hopped. I like hops and IPAs a lot, but in this one, the hops were very overpowering so that the malts could not even be tasted. It was an interesting beer to drink, but I wouldn't call it an enjoyable beer to drink.

  • Santa Fe Pale Ale - Sante Fa Brewing Company - Having stopped in Santa Fe for lunch while passing through, I enjoyed a local Pale Ale with my meal. A good pale ale with a pretty standard and predictable flavor.

  • Alaskan Amber - It is an easy drinking beer. Not too heavy. At an elevation of 8500 feet, an afternoon beer prior to a hike need not be.

  • Odell Brewing Company - Fort Collins, CO - I had Odell beers both at a restaurant in southern CO and at the Brewery, with a tour. The taproom is pretty nice. Affordable tasters, many selections. The tour was less than spectacular. The tour guide was an Odell, but neither seemed to know much nor was she very enthusiastic.
    - Cutthroat Porter - I think this is the one I had the first day the at our main destination in Cuchara, CO. This was a good but heavy beer.
    - IPA - I enjoyed this IPA. It had a fresh lively hop flavor and a good underlying malty taste.
    - Levity - This was a good easy-drinking amber ale. I brought some of this beer home with me.
    - 90 Shilling - This is the breweries flagship beer, and for good reason. At the brewery, I had a pint of this on cask and found it very enjoyable. Probably my favorite of their offerings. It is the closest to an English pub ale of their beers.
    - I also had a sampler of their seasonal and "experimental" beers, including a nitro-IPA, a nitro-porter, and a few others I can't now remember.

  • Avery Brewing Company - Boulder, CO - We took the tour and saw one of the smallest almost-fully-automated bottling line I have ever seen. Their line is one of the few in North America that will foil-wrap the top of the bottle, which they take advantage of for their specialty beers. Also notable is that they use 6 different yeast strains in the production of their line of beers. Their taproom was very cool, and the owner made frequent appearances. The tour was very good. The beers were better. I would say the best beers of the trip.
    - Redpoint Amber - This is one of their standard brews, but one I hadn't had before. The kicker was that they had a cask version available in the taproom. I enjoyed it.
    - Reverend Quadruple Ale - We were given tasters of this beer which were quite tasty. At 10% and at our high altitude, the taster was quite enough.
    - Ellie's Brown Ale - We have this one locally, but this was on cask at the taproom and I hd to make a quick decision for a beer to take with me on the tour. A good beer even better from a cask.
    - Maharaja - Imperial IPA - Again, this one is available locally in a bottle (in limited quantities) but they had it on tap at the taproom. An imperial and very hoppy IPA that knocks the socks off the Stone Ruination IPA. I brought a bottle of this one home.
  • Oskar Blues - This is a brewpub and brewery best known for the canned Dale's Pale Ale. We stopped in for fresh beer and food after the Avery stop. So one beer was enough. I had an Old Chub that tasted great. If only I had gone in more fresh and sober....

  • New Belgium Brewery - This was the main brewery I wanted to visit, and it was nothing short of a spectacular visit. The tour and tasters are free, the brewery impressive, the atmosphere intoxicating, and the experience worth the drive itself. New Belgium has some impressive new brewing technology including Merlin, which heats the wort to boiling at the time it enters the kettle instead of heating to boiling temperature from the bottom, a huge 750 bottle/min bottling line with 98% efficiency (meaning less lost to inaccurate filling, etc.), and their own water treatment plant on the premises to take the water treatment load off of the city. Add to those their total reliance on wind energy, their car-park which rewards fuel-efficient car ownership with closer spots, their comprehensive recycling program that by far trumps any metro efforts, and the bicycle as a central theme to almost all aspect of the company's culture, New Belgium presents an exemplary model of how to respect people and the environment while making great beer.
    - Abbey Ale - One of their original brews, this one isn't available in middle TN because of its alcohol content, but it is a good one which I miss drinking.
    - Dandelion Ale - Flavored with dandelion greens instead of hops, I really liked this beer. Very smooth. I tried to bring some home, but all they could offer me was a growler, so I picked something else.
    - IPA - I find nothing about this on the NB website, but it is an experimental beer that they had available at the taproom on draft only. I chose this one because of the rarity of seeing a NB IPA. It did not disappoint. Don't use the Mighty Arrow as a basis for imagining what this IPA was like. It was less outwardly hoppy than some IPA's, but had a good overall taste.
    - La Folie - This is a sour brown ale. Very sweet, very good. Again, this was one to try because it will likely be a long time before I get another chance.

  • Tralhead Brewery - St Charles, MO. Not my first time here, but we stopped in late for dinner and a couple beers after a long drive. I enjoyed a good pilsner after a sampler to get a good feel for the brewery's tastes. Overall, they make pretty fantastic beers. (I have enjoyed trying pilsners a lot more lately. The big breweries have given the style a bad reputation, but good pilsners from good breweries are out there.)

  • Schlafly Brewery - St Louis, MO - We went for a Sunday afternoon tour and were joined on the tour by one other couple, also from Nashville, TN. Random. The tour was ok, though the tour guide didn't know much and was actually wrong in some cases(about some concepts basic to brewing beer). The free beer samples at the end, though, were generous, and all of the beers tried were good. Schlafly may not know how to pick tour guides, but they know how to make beer.
    - Raspberry Hefeweizen - I have never been much for fruit beers, but this was decent. Tasted like they had poured Raspberry extract into the finished beer, as one would expect.
    - Kolsch - This was a good transition from the Raspberry. Not heavy and very drinkable.
    - Export IPA - This was an English IPA. Very good. A strong, malty IPA. I liked it, but I am a fan of the traditional English maltiness and hops.
    - Oatmeal Stout - This was good. The oatmeal seemed to make it a little smoother. This would have been good on Nitro.
    - No. 15 - This was a fantastic amber-colored ale that had a fruitiness to its flavor. I just got to try this, but if given another opportunity, I probably would have ordered this. I liked it a lot.
    - Hot Liquor Lager - This was a lager with extra hops added and was a taproom special brew by the brewers. Named after a musical group consisting of a couple of the brewery workers, this was a different and good tasting lager.
So that was the vacation in terms of beer. I tried a few others, but typically didn't mention beers I only had sips of. But overall, I tried over 40 different new beers over the course of my vacation. Now that I am back home, I am ready to get back to my own beers and brewing. I wasn't exactly lacking in inspiration, but I do now have ideas for new beers to brew and new techniques to try.