I was in Asheville, NC for the second annual Asheville Homebrewers Conference this weekend. It was a fantastic excuse to talk and drink beer with some brilliant brewers. Stan Hieronymus was there speaking about his new book: Brewing Local. While we were talking brewing at the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, he mentioned that he rarely brews IPAs other than to trial new hop varieties because there are so many great IPAs to drink in St. Louis. For me New England-style IPAs are a good argument to keep homebrewing them because they are so delicate, even compared to West Coast variants! Mike Karnowski of Zebulon Artisan Ales (and the highly informative Homebrewing Beyond the Basics) was speaking about NEIPAs and included pictures of a dramatic darkening with only a few weeks of bottling. I bottled one from this batch off tap for a friend and he didn’t have a chance to open it for two weeks… big mistake.
There are some interesting mineral analysis of finished NEIPAs. The question is how reliable are the amounts of chloride, sulfate in the finished beer as targets for brewing water? It turns out that the grain are altering the profile considerably. For example, an observant viewer of this video noted that The Alchemist's water starts around 10 PPM chloride and they adjust to 30 PPM, but target hardness is 750 (requiring a huge gypsum addition). However, finished Heady Topper tested at 339 PPM chloride and 468 PPM sulfate. Tree House Alter Ego finishes at 421 chloride and 336 sulfate in comparison (according to an analysis emailed to me). A good reason not to worry about a few PPM one direction or another in your brewing water.
There are three English-origin strains that ferment most examples of the style (Whitbread, Boddington’s, and Conan). There are almost certainly lots of other strains that could work well, like my friend Scott Janish’s California Lager version (delicious!). I wanted to put my standard water profile and hop-timing and apply them to a beer fermented with WLP644 Sacch Trois (which I used in a West Coast IPA back when it was still named Brett Trois).
As it is for summer drinking, I kept the alcohol low, but did everything I could to bolster body and mouthfeel by adding malted wheat, Golden Naked Oats, and Carapils, mashing towards the mid-high end of the saccharification range, and sulfate-to-chloride at 120:100 PPM. Then I loaded up with Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic for the hop-stand and two rounds of dry hopping!
For the other half of this batch I fermented with WY3068 Weihenstephan Weizen and hopped with Citra and Amarillo, sort of a Fortunate Islands variation I’ve been threatening for a few years… tasting notes for that later this week!
Smell – Distinct Nelson comes through: fruity-catty white wine. Tropical fruit (mango and pineapple) likely a synergy of yeast and hops. Juicy, bright, fresh. Not especially deep, but an enticing mixture of fruit without being one-note.
Appearance – Hazy yellow, just about perfect for this emerging style. Fantabulous head retention, floating above the rim. A bit of hop powder at the bottom of the glass (maybe the knee-high has a tear...).
Taste – The dank-fruitiness of the hops successfully tempers the tropical-fruitiness of the Sacch Trois. Moderate bitterness lingers for just long enough to clear the perceived sweetness (not nearly as sugary as the 7-8% ABV examples tend to be). Has held up pretty well, but has gotten more pineapple and less Nelson/Mosaic over the last few weeks since kegging.
Mouthfeel – The creamy head helps to bolster the body, but for a sub-5% beer it still has that pillowy-softness. Moderate carbonation.
Drinkability & Notes – Crushable. NEIPAs have a tendency to be sweet between the reduced IBUs and juicy fruit, so I tend to prefer them at or below 8% ABV. This one hits almost everything I want at 4.8%, time for another one.
Changes for Next Time – This isn’t the full-on orange-juice that slightly stronger and more of a Citra-Amarillo-Galaxy thing would bring, but I find it every bit as delicious! The Sacch Trois performed admirably in this role, I’m really interested to see what else might work!
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.75
Anticipated OG: 1.049
Anticipated SRM: 4.9
Anticipated IBU: 31.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73%
Wort Boil Time: 65 Minutes
44.4% - 4.50 lbs. Rahr Brewers Malt
41.9% - 4.50 lbs. Briess Red Wheat Malt
6.7% - 0.75 lbs. Simpsons Golden Naked Oats
2.2% - 0.25 lbs. Gold Medal All Purpose Flour
2.2% - 0.25 lbs. Weyermann Acidualted Malt
0.63 oz. Columbus (Pellet, 12.60% AA) @ 60 min.
2.00 oz. Mosaic (Whole 11.50% AA) @ 20 minute Whirlpool
2.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ 20 minute Whirlpool
2.25 oz. Mosaic (Whole 11.50% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Mosaic (Whole 11.50% AA) @ Keg Hop
2.00 oz. Nelson Sauvin (Pellet, 12.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
White Labs WLP644 Saccharomyces "bruxellensis" Trois
Profile: Washington DC, Hoppy
Sacch Rest - 30 min @ 154F
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 5 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.
Split batch: hoppy hefeweizen with WY3068 and Citra/Amarillo, plus a Nelson/Mosaic NE-ish APA with Sacch Trois 644! The grains and hops listed are for this batch alone.
6/30/16 2 L starter of 3068. .5 L starter of 644.
7/2/16 stepped up the 644 to 2.5 L.
7/3/16 Minimal sparge with 50% dilution with distilled water 6 g each CaCl and gypsum, plus 2 tsp of phosphoric acid.
Chilled to 75F with ice-water recirculation. Pitched Left at 68F to cool for five hours before shaking to aerate and pitched a decanted 3L stir-plate starter.
7/6/16 Added first dose of dry hops, bagged and weighted.
7/13/16 Kegged with another dose of hops hanging in the keg. FG at 1.012 (75% AA, 4.6% ABV)
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Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Monday, August 8, 2016
If you want to brew outstanding beer, no matter what the style, the single most important key is practice. Simple repetition is one of the biggest advantages craft brewers hold over homebrewers. My brain gets more involved researching, planning, and brewing a new recipe, but the best results usually come from tweaking, adjusting, and honing a recipe I already know!
Cherries and raspberries make for delicious sour beer, but they are distinct, overpowering, and ubiquitous. Rhubarb on the other hand is elusive, subtle, and rare in both beer and cuisine. I used it once previously, in a Rhubarb Berliner Weisse and it worked out so well I couldn't think of a better base beer to add it to!
The wort itself was diluted NEAPA wort (from one of my ugliest batches ever). The grain bill contained nearly 50% wheat and oat malts; I accidentally ran the recirculation too fast, compacting the grainbed, and pulling grain into the kettle. Once the wort hit 185F, I ran three gallons through my plate chiller, added two gallons of water to drop the gravity into the typical Berliner-range (1.030), added 13 g of 88% lactic acid to lower the pH, and pitched US-05 plus Brett/Lacto slurry from Atomic Apricot!
This is an entirely hop-free beer. Hops interfere with Lactobacillus (whether isolmerized or not), and you won't taste 3 IBUs, so why add them at all?
Six months of aging later, I racked onto about five pounds of sliced rhubarb, straight from the local farmer's market (not frozen and thawed as I did previously). I would have loved the color and slightly fruitier flavor from red rhubarb, but 95% green was all they had available. After six weeks I racked off and into a keg and for force carbonation. I tend to bottle condition Berliners, but I wanted to make sure it was ready for summertime drinking and while the rhubarb flavor was still potent.
Rhubarb Berliner Weisse #2
Smell – Remarkably clean for containing 12 strains of Brettanomyces! Rhubarb’s fruity-green-apple-berry flavor comes through distinctly, leaving room for a wheaty almost-pie-dough graininess thanks to the no-boil.
Appearance – Bar none the best head retention I’ve ever seen on a Berliner weisse… maybe any sour beer! Thick, dense, creamy, sticky, stark-white! Body is lightly hazed, much more attractive than its fraternal twin. With mostly green rhubarb, no stunning pink color, although there is a hint of peach.
Taste – Zippy lactic acidity (likely some oxalic as well), no acetic. About right. Rhubarb fruitiness comes through nicely meshed with light Brett fruitiness. The wheat flavor is sweeter than the nose, less raw. Doesn’t have the lemony-funk that my favorite batches have had, but it has everything else I wanted!
Mouthfeel – Light without being thin thanks to loads of protein, elevated chloride, and pre-acidifying. Carbonation is as high as I can take it in a keg with a reasonable pour, but is a bit less fizzy than if I’d bottled.
Drinkability & Notes – Timed this one perfectly for the summer! Tart, restrained/unique flavor from the stalks. Refreshing and interesting, my ideal.
Changes for Next Time – Red rhubarb would have been nice… otherwise nearly perfect as is! I'll probably go back to a less-complex Brett selection, much like adding 12 different hops or malts, 12 strains of Brett doesn't add complexity.
Monday, July 25, 2016
My in-depth recipe design post generated enough interest last November to already land it as my 7th most view post of all time! However, several people rightly pointed out that some of the steps were overkill for a new homebrewer working on their first few all-grain recipes. So here is my simplified version at around 30% the length!
Design a Beer Recipe in 10 Easy Steps
1. Select a style you want to brew. Read the BJCP Guidelines, as well as relevant blogs (the list of those I follow), magazine articles, and books (my book reviews). Drink fresh examples and visit the breweries’ websites to get ideas for ingredients to use and avoid.
2. Determine if there is anything required for the style that you do not have available (fermentation temperature, ingredients, time etc.). If there is, pick a new style for now!
3. Select a batch size, the amount of wort you want to finish the boil with.
4. Determine the malt bill:
Select a base malt suitable for the
• American 2-row brewers malt
for American styles.
• English pale ale (including
varieties like Maris Otter) for
• Pilsner for pale Belgian and
• Vienna or Munich for darker
Belgian and German styles.
Select up to two specialty malts to achieve the desired flavor profile. Use .1 lb/gallon (.012 kg/L)
for a light flavor or .2 lb/gallon (.024 kg/L) for a strong flavor:
• Crystal malts add honey sweetness on the pale end
(10-20L), caramel in the middle (40-60L), and
dark fruit into charred sugar at the dark end (80-
150L, including CaraAroma, special B, etc.).
• Toasted into roasted malts start bready (dark
Munich), to biscuit/cracker (Victory, amber, and
biscuit), burnt toast (brown), coffee (pale chocolate,
Kiln Coffee), chocolate (chocolate, roasted barley),
and finally char (black malt, black barley).
Dehusked roasted malts (Carafa Special, Blackprinz)
have a mellower flavor with less acridness than
other malts of a similar color.
• Flaked or malted grains other than barley can
provide body (e.g., wheat, rye, and oats) or make
the beer crisper (e.g., rice and corn) depending on
their protein content.
• Up to 20% of the fermentables can be derived from
sugar if the style calls for it. Select table sugar
for pale beers (e.g., tripel) where you want to dilute
the malt flavor, and dark candi syrup for darker beers
(e.g., dubble and Belgian strong dark) where you
want to add a unique flavor.
Pay attention to the maltster not just the generic type of malt, and taste the grain before adding it.
The amount of malt/sugar should be enough to produce an original gravity within the style’s
range. As a general rule at 70% efficiency use: 1.5 lbs of grain per gallon (.18 kg/L) of finished
wort for a session beer (1.038), 2 lbs/gal (.24 kg/L) for a moderate gravity beer (1.050), 3 lbs/gal
(.36 kg/L) for a strong beer (1.075), and 4 lbs/gal (.48kg/L) for a really strong beer (1.100). With
75% attenuation the alcohol by volume will be approximately the last three digits with a decimal
after the first two (e.g., 1.100 is 10.0% ABV). A hydrometer and recipe calculator will help you
track and predict your original gravity based on your efficiency.
5. Select a yeast strain – White Labs and Wyeast both provide charts suggesting which of their strains work best for each style. However, if you aren't interested in making a starter, dry yeast is an excellent option! Plan to start fermentation at the low end of the lab's suggested range to prevent excess fusel alcohol and ester production. Once fermentation begins to slow, allow it to warm so that it finishes near the high end of the range to ensure complete attenuation and clean up.
6. Mash with 1.5 quarts of water (bottled, carbon-filtered, or metabisulfite-treated) for each pound of grain. Target 152°F (67°C) for moderate attenuation (near the middle of the yeast lab’s stated range), 156°F (69°C) to lower the attenuation, or 148°F (64°C) to increase attenuation. Fermentable sugars will also increase attenuation above the stated range even with a moderate mash temperature. Sparge to collected the required pre-boil volume (pre-boil volume = post-boil volume + evaporation + losses to hops/trub).
7. Select a hop variety based on the flavor descriptions or your preferences. For one gallon at flame-out add 1 oz (28 g) for a strong aroma, .5 oz (14 g) for a present aroma, or .25 oz (7 g) at 5 minutes for a subtle aroma, or none if you want to showcase malt/yeast. Use a recipe calculator to determine the weight of hops to add at 60 minutes to hit the target IBUs based on the style guideline and hop alpha acid percentage (AA%). Try to keep the ratio of IBUs in line with the style, i.e., if your gravity is near the top of the guideline so to should your IBUs and vice versa. Add a .5-1 oz (14-28 g) dry hop per gallon as fermentation slows for additional aromatics if desired. Always smell your hops before adding them to learn what the aroma should be for each variety.
8. Add spices, fruits, or other flavorings at the end of the boil after chilling the wort to 180°F (82°C). This is hot enough to kill any unwanted microbes, but gentle enough not to degrade the flavor excessively.
9. After fermentation is complete, bottle with the amount of sugar suggested by a priming sugar calculator taking into account the volume of beer in the bottling bucket, and the highest temperature the beer reached after the end of fermentation.
10. Take notes, taste, and rebrew based on your results! Great recipes come from knowing your ingredients and process. Learning how to fit together flavors from a variety of places to create an overall experience that suit your palate! You may end up prefering a dubbel brewed with Maris Otter, but best to stick to tradition when you are starting out!
Mad Fermentationist t-shirts are back again until August 9th! This time with black outlines on the logo, and a variety of lighter colors to take advantage. $20 while the unlimited supply lasts!
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
We all suffer from brewer’s block once in awhile. After more than a decade intermittently standing next to a mash tun, I’ve come up with seven tricks for coming up with something to brew:
1. Tweak a favorite recipe
2. Highlight a new ingredient
3. Research a style you’ve never brewed
4. Brew a proven recipe that strays from your standard approach
5. Mash-up two styles to create something unique
6. Approach a style as brewers from another country would
7. Imagine a collaboration brew from two favorite breweries
This recipe was a combination of techniques #4 and #7, a what-if Trappist collaboration between Westvleteren and Orval! Both abbeys brew fantastic Belgian pale ales. Westy Blond/Green is clean, with a blend of banana, pear, fresh maltiness, and firm noble hops. Orval’s eponymous beer is similar when fresh (a bit more hop aroma, a bit less yeast character), but slowly becomes funky as the Brett works in the bottle (I’ve heard unconfirmed rumors that they are beginning to age with Brett and then pasteurize... anyone have confirmation of this sad development?).
I split the 10-gallon batch, with half served fresh on tap and the rest split at bottling between WLP648 Brett Trois Vrai and my house saison culture (just shipped a vial of it to Jeff at Bootleg Biology for analysis and possible propagation…). I knew I was onto something with the repeatedly repitched microbe blend when I got a series of texts and emails from my friends Jacob and Andrew at Modern Times wondering what delicious "tart" saison I had left in the cold box... it was a bottle of Alsatian Saison filled directly from the tap before I visited a year ago!
I actually preferred this beer just a couple months after bottling, when the Brett was apparent, but before it went feral. This batch is closing in on six-months in the bottle, but a little splash of the clean version from the tap brings back the 4-vinylguiacol and isoamyl acetate that the Brett so ruthlessly removed!
Westy (Orval'd) Blond
Appearance – Fraternal twins, pale golden with some chill haze. The heads pour up above the rim, but settle down to wispy sheets in a couple minutes. The House Saison's being slightly more durable, likely owing to more carbon dioxide nucleation.
Trois Vrai – Combo of leather, bruised red apple, and aspirin. Not much malt or hop character gets through the Brett. The primary yeast still adds a touch of light banana.
House Saison – Less fruity, more funky. Less distinct: hay, faint pineapple, pepper, and garden soil. Occasional notes of a rougher Brett character that is tough to pin down, the price for noticeable Brett character after a month!
Trois Vrai – Similar blend of fruit and funk to the nose, with the addition of a faint Belgian pale malt toast. The finish has just a hint of banana bread. Pleasant, but not captivating, until the second pour with a bit of yeast stirred up (which added more depth).
House Saison – Slightly acidic in comparison to its brother, not sour, but brighter and snappier. Finishes with some toastiness as well. A touch of melon, really lively and bright!
Trois Vrai – Thin, dry, and moderately carbonated. A Belgian single with Brett... not much body expcted, but it isn't obnoxiously thin.
House Saison – I enjoy the slightly higher carbonation, hopefully it is about done at six months at cellar temps (only a six-pack left anyway). Otherwise similar.
Drinkability & Notes – I enjoy both of them... but the House Saison blend is the winner for my palate! I liked it even more before the Brett completely took over (I was briefly thinking best batch ever), but it is still delicious as is. The Trois performed well, but I enjoyed it more as a primary strain!
Changes – As with the clean-version, I would swap out some pale for more Pils to soften the maltiness. A small dose of CaraPils or wheat to enhance the head retention might be nice as well. This would have been nice to have in a keg, so I could have chilled it down after 6-8 weeks when it still had a mélange of Belgian yeast, hoppiness, and Brett. Interested to take advantage of the bottles to see how it continue to evolve!
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Baltimore’s HomebrewCon 2016 has come and gone. I posted a preview, but don’t expect to see a summary (if you missed out, get the scoop from Brülosophy, Ales of the Riverwards, Five Blades Brewing, or Brouwerij-Chugach). Also expect about five podcasts from Basic Brewing Radio with me, including tastings at my house, and discussions with Christian Layke at Gordon Biersch Rockville, Josh Chapman at BlueJacket, and of course Nathan Zeender at Right Proper's new production space!
I was in the midst of brewing and kegging samples for my talk about Hoppy Sour Beers (slides and audio will eventually be posted here for AHA members) when my friend Scott Janish suggested I brew a New England-style IPA to serve next to his at the DC Homebrewer's club booth. Being a native-New Englander and hophead how could I refuse that challenge? I used the same hop combination that I did for the three beers for my presentation: Simcoe/Mosaic/Citra (a personal favorite from Simcoe & Sons and Indië Wit). If you stopped by the DC Homebrewer’s booth on either Thursday or Friday night let me know what you thought in the comments! I really enjoyed Scott's rendition as well, a fun side-by-side with a bit more hop aroma and bitterness than mine.
You'll likely recognize the rest of the recipe: characterful non-phenolic yeast, moderate IBUs, 100-150 PPM of both chloride and sulfate, easy on the crystal malt, dry hopped during fermentation, and served super-fresh! The only significant twist on previous batches was that I pitched a blend of Wyeast London III and GigaYeast Vermont IPA (sounds like their isolate of The Alchemist's Conan). Conan has a tendency to walk all over aroma hops. While that can result in a delicious beer (juicy peach when it is on), it conceals the varietal character in a way that London III (Boddingtons) does not. My goal was to tame the classic Conan character without discarding it entirely!
While the recipe at the bottom of this post indicates 35 IBUs, that is from the 60 minute bittering addition only. Brülosophy has performed tests suggesting that blind tasters can't reliably distinguish between beers brewed with a 20 minute boil addition and a 20 minute hop-stand or hop stands at flame-out and in wort chilled to 170F. Of course you can't use the transitive property to imply that people wouldn't be able to distinguish 20 minute boil additions from a 170F hop stand! If I moved the hop-stand addition move to 20 minutes, ProMash estimates it would total 108 IBUs. I don't think it tastes that bitter, but it is also well over 35 IBUs (what you would get if you steeped the hops below alpha acid's isomerization temperature). I suspect the perceived bitterness is somewhere between the two, perhaps 55-65 IBUs.
Simcoe & Daughters
Smell – The Conan stone fruit leads with lively grapefruit zest following. Minimal “true” nose-in-the-hop-bag aroma – it has actually gotten less green with extended contact to the keg hops. What it lacks in variety it makes up for in intensity; I can smell the hops when someone is drinking a glass next to me! Nothing unappealing at all.
Appearance – In the narrow glass this is more hazy-than-cloudy – on the clear end of the New England “style.” Yellow gold, with the opacity makes it appear a couple shades darker than the estimated 4 SRM would suggest. Much more appealing than my last, murky/gray, attempt at a NEAPA. Stellar retention from the airy, stark-white head.
Taste – Before it was fully carbonated I was worried that I had undershot the bitterness, but it has balanced out nicely in the three weeks since. Enough IBUs to bring citrus zest to mind, orange and grapefruit especially. It isn't harsh or lingering. As it has sat the hops have evolved towards fresh peach rather than the rawer flavor they contributed initially. The Conan seems to be expressing itself despite the cold storage temperature. Just a touch of grainy malt and bready yeast in the finish.
Mouthfeel – Carbonation is moderate, nice. Really soft mouthfeel, no harshness from excess sulfate, carbonation, IBUs, or raw hop punch.
Drinkability & Notes – It is difficult to top a really good homebrewed hoppy beer: no issues with age, heat exposure, aroma scalping, or filtration!
Changes for Next Time – Not much to adjust on this one. At this point I’m not sure how much the WY1318 in combination with the GigaYeast really accomplished. When it was first kegged the Conan was muted slightly compared to the isolates I've used from The Yeast Bay and East Coast Yeast, but it reminds me more and more of a pure Conan beer. There are always new hop varieties and combinations to try out, but the base is stellar as is! Eventually I’ll have to try adding some honey malt which is a popular option, Golden Naked Oats might be nice too!
Simcoe & Daughters
Batch Size (Gal): 12.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 27.50
Anticipated OG: 1.062
Anticipated SRM: 4.0
Anticipated IBU: 34.6
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
85.5% - 23.50 lbs. Rahr 2-row Brewer's Malt
14.5% - 4.00 lbs. Flaked Wheat
1.75 oz. Ella (Pellet, 10.20% AA) @ 60 min.
3.00 oz. Citra (Pellet, 11.50% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
3.00 oz. Mosaic (Pellet, 13.00% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
3.00 oz. Simcoe (Pellet, 13.00% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 11.50% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Mosaic (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 11.50% AA) @ Keg Hop
2.00 oz. Mosaic (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
2.00 oz. Simcoe (Whole, 13.00% AA) @ Keg Hop
1.00 Whirlfloc @ 5 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.
WYeast 1318 London Ale III
GigaYeast GY054 Vermont IPA
Profile: NE IPA
Sacch Rest - 45 min @ 155F
5/21/16 Made a 1 L starter with WY1318 on the stir-plate. Added the GigaYeast Vermont IPA to the same starter when I started brewing just to get it acclimated/oxygenated.
5/22/16 Brewed by myself
7 gallons of distilled with 9 gallons of filtered DC tap water. 12 g each CaCl and gypsum. 1 tbls 10% phosphoric. pH=5.48, a bit high so I added an additional teaspoon of phosphoric. Cold sparge with 2 gallons of distilled water. Collected 14 gallons of 1.053 runnings.
18 month old pellet hops added to the whirlpool immediately at flame-out. 15 minutes recirculation, 15 minutes settling. Chilled to 66F, then allowed to settle for 20 minutes. Ran off into two 8 gallon fermentors, oxygenated for 30 seconds with pure O2. Pitched half of the starter into each. Left at 62F to ferment.
5/25/16 Dry hopped each fermentor with 1 oz each of Mosaic/Citra/Simcoe (bagged and poorly weighted). Occasional agitation. Temperature up to 66F ambient.
6/1/16 Racked to two kegs with addition of bagged/weighted identical dry hop additions. Immediately into the kegerator and onto 20 PSI to carbonate quickly. FG 1.017, final pH 4.47.
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Monday, June 13, 2016
Sales of American Sour Beers will never make me wealthy (I’m hoping that by the time it goes out of print I'm up to minimum wage). However, the success of the book has opened up so many opportunities (e.g., collaborating with breweries, invitations to speak around the world)! While I’d love to say “yes” to everyone, I still have to show up to the job that pays the bills most day. I could go to more if I was willing to land, speak, and head back to the airport the next day; I try to make a trip worth the travel time by turning it into a vacation, seeing and drinking the area.
While Belgium had been on our list for next European trip, how could I say no to speaking at the Norbrygg Hjemmebryggerhelgen 2016 at Haandbryggeriet in Drammen! Norway has a long history of beer brewing and drinking, being too far north for wine grapes. Like many other places, craft beer has taken hold over the last decade. Americans may be familiar with exported bottles from Nøgne Ø Bryggeri and Haand; both brew riffs on American and European craft-brewing staples and also play with local ingredients and flavors. Luckily there were also beers from dozens of other interesting local craft breweries that aren’t exported!
For the first week Audrey and I stayed at an Airbnb in Grünerløkka, a hip area about a mile north of Oslo city center. Our first night we visited Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, located in the lagering cellar of the historic Schous Bryggeri (talk about a beautiful place for a beer)! In general, the beers were very good, although sadly the mango sour was a butter-bomb (they were nice enough to swap it out once Audrey alerted them to the diacetyl).
Another beer highlight was dinner at the Håndverker Stuene beer bar/restaurant, which had a delicious and reasonably priced nightly sampler board of food (smoked shark, pickled herring etc.). They also had a couple sours on tap, including the unique Lervig Café Sur - tart with light coffee (for dessert I also had their 3 Bean Stout, flavored with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, and tonka beans).
At Amundsen Bryggeri we split a bottle of Southern Passion, a nice IPA brewed with Southern Passion (South African) hops and a touch of actual passion fruit – it would have been nice to try it without the fruit, but it was delicious as is. Lokk had some delicious and interesting food like fried cod tongue (although each entree may have had a few too many components); I drank the bright and yeast-driven Lokkebrygg hoppy saison brewed for them by Little Brother Brewery, while Audrey had the Salty Surprise (passion fruit gose) from Cervisiam Bryggeri.
I was surprised to see as many American beers as I did (many that I can’t get regularly): Alesmith, Ale Apothecary, Ballast Point, Crooked Stave, Oakshire etc. Prices were high, but not outrageous compared to the local beers (excluding Ale Apothecary of course). Brooklyn Brewing has a deal with Carlsberg, and as a result is really all over. Crowbar & Bryggeri had an especially good selection of beers from Oregon, although I focused on drinking their clean dark lager (much better than their coconut sour).
In general bar prices were a bit steeper than we were used to in DC, but not by much. The dollar-krone exchange rate is better than it was a few years ago (above 8:1 rather than below 6:1). Part of the issue is psychological, when you see the equivalent of $9-10 for a full pour you have to remember that includes the tax and a living wage (although small tips are still customary for good service). The high taxes certainly play a role in the popularity of homebrewing though!
The other thing to be aware of is that any beers over 4.5% ABV can only be sold at a Vinmonopolet (“wine monopoly,” aka government liquor store) – there had recently been a crackdown where some had tested much higher however. The Oslo Meny supermarket had more than 100 session beers, but in general I wasn’t impressed by the freshness of the ones I purchased. Most had best by dates well in the future, but I’d always rather see bottled on dates. The Vinmonopolet had a nice selection of weirder beers, which seemed to fair better.
A few other memorable things were the hipsterific (and delicious) coffee roasted and served at Tim Wendelboe. The chicken sandwich ( at Stangeriet in the Mathallen Oslo beautiful indoor market (which also contains Hopyard, where I drank a balanced Lervig/Põhjala Walnut Porter). Café Sara was another great, albeit crowded beer bar.
One evening we stopped for an after-dinner drink at Himkok
(literally “home-cooked,” their term for moonshine), the largest and fanciest “speakeasy” I’ve ever been to. The bartender was terrific (we ordered three cocktails, but sampled about six liquors and four beers). Their aquavit (caraway liquor) was the most interesting. As I understood the tour, they are only allowed to buy already distilled spirits and re-distill them with aromatics. A bit of shtick, but they push the distillate out of Corny kegs allowing it to drip into clear vats set behind the bar. They also have a cider bar in the same space, barber shop, and room for hundreds of people on nights more popular than the one we visited.
Don’t have the impression that all we did was eat and drink. We had the good fortune to arrive on a weekend of Oslo Open Art Festival, when hundreds of artists’ studios are open to visit. We grabbed a map and wondered into them whenever we happened to be close-by.
Many museums are located on a peninsula that is easily accessible from the Oslo docks via a public ferry. We visited two of them, first the fantastic Viking Ship Museum (which houses three ships and their contents that were buried for more than a millennium). We also walked around the nearby Norsk Folkemuseum, which features dozens of traditional buildings moved from all over the country, including the Gol Stave Church, which was built around 1200 and reconstructed with mostly new materials in the mid-nineteenth century (it had an aroma of wood and pine sap I wish I could capture in a beer).
The Vigeland Park is also well worth a visit if the weather is nice (we didn’t go into the sculptor’s museum). The Norway's Resistance Museum was also worth the visit, but it is more intensive on reading than some. Not bad for a little less than a week?
I had one more day is Olso by myself, I spoke to the Oslo Sour Rangers! Luckily English is spoken by most (especially younger people), although it was sometimes tricky for me to understand Norwegian names/places. The Sour Rangers are a club/event that draws both homebrewers and sour beer enthusiasts. Smak Selv, which organizes/hosts the events, had recently installed a small brewery (an early sample from one of their barrels were promising).
As is expected from the country with huge oil wealth, and the foresight to spend the money not invested in their nearly-trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund in infrastructure, the trains are frequent and immaculate! The trip from Oslo to Drammen was smooth, with trains running every 20 minutes (in comparison for me to go the similar distance from DC to Baltimore on the MARC commuter train for HomeBrewCon, I had to be on the 8 AM train or wait until 3 PM).
Drammen is an older industrial city that has been going through a revival the last couple decades. It is home to both Aass Bryggeri (and their eponymous bock) and Haand. Haand is in their third brewery, but may need to move again sooner than expected as a large hospital is planned for the land they currently occupy. It is a shame as the building is beautiful. I talked to their head of souring, who started working for the brewery through a government program that pays the salaries of young workers for a few months for risk-free experience (a wonderful answer to the paradox of entry-level jobs that require three-years of experience).
As with homebrew conferences anywhere in the world it is difficult to go thirsty. I had the chance to try many delicious homebrews at the opening event at Aja Bryggeri, the second building Haand occupied (so many I didn’t try the brewery’s own beers), and throughout the conference as people pulled me aside. Whenever we would go to a bar, beers would miraculously appear in front of me, often while my glass was still half full!
While there was a lot of excitement for beers from other places, I was glad to see the passion for resurrecting and experimenting with local traditions and ingredients. Homebrewers gave me a couple cultures of kveik to bring back with me - for what it's worth microbes don't count on the prohibition on “cell cultures” when you are going through customs. These are true farmhouse strains, mixed Saccharomyces cerevisiae cultures that have been repitched for many human generations, shared between homebrewers. The really unique thing about them is that they are often fermented near 40C/104F. I’ll have much more on the cultures I brought back later, but if you are interested in experimenting there are isolates available from Omega Labs (HotHead Ale) and The Yeast Bay (Sigmund's Voss Kveik). Traditionally paired with juniper-branch-infused brewing liquor, and smoked malts (see Larsblog, and Lars Marius Garshol's section in All-Star Homebrewers, a book that features me as well)!
The final night was the banquet and award ceremony, have to say the food outclassed most similar American events I’ve attended! As always, it was an honor to be invited and a pleasure to get a perspective on a country from the people who live there! You start out talking about beer, but I get just as much from the eventual talk of food, family, politics, and life!