Sunday, May 31, 2009

Savor - An American Craft Beer & Food Experience

Last night was the second year for the Savor beer and food pairing event. I didn't go the first year because of the high price, but everyone who went told me it was great so this year I decided that I should probably go. The event was located at the National Building Museum an easy 15 minute Metro ride from my apartment, so I really had no excuses for missing it.

I had a really good time, there were plenty of very tasty beers to try and lots of people to talk to (it is almost disturbing how many DC beer nerds and homebrewers I know). I thought it was really good idea to have brewers (or at least reps) on hand to answer questions about the beers they were pouring. That said it was busy enough that it was hard to have more than a brief exchange with anyone who was pouring. The hall was pretty crowded, but for the most part I never had to wait more than a minute or two for beer (Russian River was the main exception).

There were some excellent funky beers to be had, Boulevard Saison Brett, Russian River Consecration, The Bruery Saison Rue, New Belgium Biere de Mars, Lost Abbey Cuvee Tomme, and Avery Brabant. All of them were very tasty, but Consecration (a strong dark sour with currants) really out shined the rest in my opinion.

Other than the funky stuff I was really impressed by Smuttynose Star Island Single, Sprecher Black Bavarian, Firestone Walker 31 Pale (and Union Jack), Brown's ESB, Odell Woodcut #2, Blue Point Rastafar Rye, and the Black Foot Single Malt (Maris Otter) IPA. The Smuttynose was especially good, clean malt, good yeast character, should be a great summer beer.

I was a bit disappointed that some of the breweries that are distributed in the area brought easy to find beers. Sam Adams went with Boston Lager and Summer Ale, Ommegang with Hennepin and Ommegang, Oscar Blues with Gordon and Old Chub, Southampton with Double White and Saison etc... Many of the small local breweries did the same thing. With so many interesting beers and small/obscure breweries I hope there weren't many people drinking the likes of Boston Lager.

The food was just so-so for the most part. Last year they apparently did not have enough food, so this year they really stepped up the volume (it was rare to see an empty plate). That said, because of these huge piles of food I picked up numerous things that were colder than they should have been. In general the food was pretty bland, I understand that you don't want to wreck anyone's palette, but you need pretty flavorful food to stand up to the more aggressive beers.

It was also cool to meet the likes of Charlie Papazian (my friend Dan immediately asked him for advice on a Gose he is about to brew).


If they have it next year I'm not sure if I'll go, but I would certainly consider it since it seems like every year they are working out more of the kinks.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Adambier - HoTD Adam Clone

Adambier is a historical style from Dortmund that there is not that much known about. The Home Brew Wiki describes it as "A strong (about 10% ABV), dark, sour beer, which was top-fermented and then aged in wood for long periods; it was always aged for at least a year, and often many years longer." To me it doesn't sound like anything that is made in Germany today (I would only expect a beer like that from a Belgian or American brewer).


Hair of the Dog Brewing does a delicious beer called Adam that is loosely based on Adambier. Their version is closer to a hoppy-peat-smoked-wee-heavy, but it is delicious so I can't fault them. Sean Paxton has a HoTD Adam clone recipe posted over on Homebrew Chef that came directly from the brewer. I love the beer so I figured I would give the recipe a shot (with a few minor substitutions to utilize the ingredients I had in bulk).

This was my first batch using peat smoked malt. It is the same sort of malt that is used in the production of Scotch whisky. Peat is essentially chunks of marsh (given another million years and some pressure and it would be transformed into coal). This smoked malt is much more pungent (creosote is a common descriptor) than malts smoked like German rauchmalt (which uses beechwood) or alder/cherry/hickory wood smoked malt (which is probably why you don't see peat smoked sausages). I backed down on the peated malt called for in the recipe a little because I'm a wimp, and not a huge fan of that character in beer (still .5 lbs in 3.5 gallons is more than most people recommend).

The recipe also calls for an extended concentrated boil, I did 3.5 hours (the longest I have done besides my lambic). Concentrating the boil below the target batch volume encourages Maillard reactions (which add both malt complexity and color). I topped off the beer with boiled/chilled water before pitching the yeast to reduce the osmotic pressure exerted on them. I ended up a bit over gravity anyway, but the Wyeast Scottish ale yeast does a great job in high gravity beers.

I bottled 2.5 gallons of this batch a couple days ago, but I probably won't be drinking more than a bottle or two of it until after the hot summer weather passes. A big, bitter, smokey beer just isn't what I want to drink when it is hot out (the extra time will only improve a beer like this anyway). I ice distilled about 1/2 gallon of it to mimic Hair of the Dog's Dave (a 29% ABV double ice concentrated version of Adam). More on that experiment to come soon.

I will be brewing a beer that is closer to the historic Adambier in the next couple weeks, a rauchmalt spiked doppelsticke that we will barrel age once the wee heavy is bottled in a month or so. Looking forward to how the two beers compare, similar ideas with very different ingredients.

Adambier

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 3.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 14.94
Anticipated OG: 1.099
Anticipated SRM: 27.8
Anticipated IBU: 65.8
Brewhouse Efficiency: 63 %
Wort Boil Time: 210 Minutes

Grain/Extract/Sugar
-----------------------
13.00 lbs. Maris Otter
0.63 lbs. Crystal 55L
0.50 lbs. Peated Malt
0.44 lbs. Munich Malt
0.25 lbs. Chocolate Malt
0.13 lbs. Black Patent Malt

Hops
------
1.00 oz. Galena @ 90 min.
1.13 oz. Super Styrians @ 40 min.
0.75 oz. Tettnanger Tettnang @ 10 min.

Extras
-------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 11 Min.(boil)
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 11 Min.(boil)

Yeast
-----
WYeast 1728 Scottish Ale

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
-------------
60 min @ 153

Notes
-----
Brewed 4/11/09 with Audrey at the start

Added ~1 tsp of chalk to the mash to up the pH a bit.

Collected 6.25 gallons of 1.052 wort.

Chilled to 70, strained, shook to aerate (because there was already so much yeast from the ISA yeast cake I don't think growth will be an issue so I didn’t use pure O2).

I must have gotten a bad pre-boil gravity reading because even after topping off with a 1/2 gallon of water I ended up over gravity by .014. I decided to leave it as is instead of topping it off so it can still fit in my 3 gallon secondary after primary fermentation. Boiling down below the batch volume encourages more melanoidin production.

Put into the freezer set at 50 to help cool it down more, turned up to 55 8 hours later.

Rocking fermentation by 12 hours

4/15/09 After 4 days fermentation seems to be slowing so I upped the freezer temp to 62.

4/18/09 Fermentation seems to really be slowing, upped temp to 65.

4/21/09 Upped temp to 68 to finish out, gravity down to 1.031 (71% AA, 10.1% ABV). Still may drop another few points.

4/25/09 Weird thing floating on top of the primary, krausen 95% gone. Racked to secondary, topped off with ~1 qrt of boiled/cooled water. Left at 68 degrees just in case there is any more fermentation to come (CO2 release continued for a week or so).

5/12/09 Tastes good, not much peat. Took about 1/2 gallon and put in Tupperware in the freezer to recreate Dave.

5/23/09 Bottled with 1.5 oz of turbinado (white sugar was hiding) aiming for right around 2 volumes of CO2. Gravity down to 1.023 (77% AA, 10% ABV), right where I wanted it. Made sure to pick up a bit of yeast from the bottom and added a splash of WLP011 to aid in carbonation.

7/26/09 Still no carbonation, but even flat the flavor is very nice. With a few more months of age and some bubbles this will be a knockout.

10/19/09 First Tasting, still no carbonation, but otherwise very tasty.

4/13/11 Has aged very well, although it never carbonated. Prunes, light smoke, chocolate, bread, good balance.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review: Smoked Beers

Smoked Beers was written by Ray Daniels (of Designing Great Beers fame) and Geoffrey Larson (the founder/president of Alaskan Brewing). It covers the use of smoked malt in brewing, concentrating on the German tradition (it is the strongest), but also taking a look at the use of smoke in American beers as well as throughout history.

Content: The first (long) chapter covers the history of smoked beers. The authors argue that up until the invention of coak dried pale malt a couple hundred years ago most malts (and thus most beers) were brown and smokey (there were some places that used either straw or air to dry malt to make for cleaner beers). This chapter also talks about events in beer history like the switch away from brown malt to pale plus black patent in porters (mainly because pale malt gives better extraction). Finally it covers some historic smoked beers (Gratzer, Lichtenhainer).

The second chapter covers some of the notable producers of smoked beers. Schlenkerla (the maker of several sausagey brews) and Spezial both smoke their own malt, while most other German brewers buy rauchmalt from Weyermann (which is also available to homebrewers). Schlenkerla gets their consistency from blending 12 batches of malt in each silo, drawing from 2 silos per brew, and blending 6 brews into a single lagering tank. Alaskan Smoked Porter was created because a salmon smokery is located across the street (once a year the brewers use the facility to smoke malt over alder wood). Peat smoked malt (which I just used for the first time in an Adambier) is covered last, they mention multiple phenols levels being available, but I have never seen that at homebrew stores.

The third chapter covers commercial examples of beers with smoked malt. The first part discusses the different rauchbiers made in Bamburg, many of which are not available in the states. The rest of the chapter gives short profiles of American smoked beers, ranging from smoke forward like Alaskan Smoked Porter to those that just have a smoke complexity like Arcadia London Porter. Quite a few of the breweries have gone out of business in the last 10 years (Brewmoon, DeGroen's etc...). There is lots of good information on each beer if you are looking to do a clone or just learn what makes a commercial beer taste the way it does (type of smoked malt, other malts, hops, ABV/SRM/IBU/OG etc...). I used the information here to help me when I was making my Alderwood Smoked Porter.

The next chapter covers the chemistry of smoke. This there is some pretty interesting stuff even if you just like barbecuing . The temperature of the burning wood has more of an impact on the flavor than I realized (of course flames bad, but different compounds are produced at different temps). There are also some carcinogens created unless the smoking is well controlled, filtered, and burned with sulfur (this is one advantage of buying commercial smoked malt). Avoiding chlorine (and even chloride) is important as all the phenols in smoke make chlorophenols even more of a concern than usual.

The fifth chapter covers smoking your own malt at home. This is something I have not tried, but there is loads of information on three different methods ranging from simple to complex. Smoking over a kettle grill with charcoal and wood on the opposite side from the malt sounds like what most people would do (unless you own a smoker).

The sixth chapter covers the recipes.

The appendix has a nice section of cooking with smoked beer (which includes recipes from several of the breweries covered in the book). The recipes range from the plausible like sauerbraten meatballs to the more fanciful like smoked porter cheesecake. The appendix also has as an outdated list of brewers who make smoked beers, as well as wood suppliers, and a metric-standard conversion chart.

Recipes: Ten recipes that cover the wide range of smoked beer possibilities. Recipes include a classic Bamberg Rauchbier, smoked weizen, and smoked mild. Extract (although a mini-mash is generally required for smoked malts) and all-grain versions of each are included. I have not brewed any of the recipes, but I did not notice any obvious mistakes (like many of these books seem to have).

Accuracy: It seems like an accurate book to me, no issues that I have spotted.

Readability: Very easy to read, with lots of interesting information (assuming you like smoked beers). I think the organization is well done, and there are plenty of pictures/insets to keep the pages from being bland. I could have used more practical information and less history, but that is my taste in brewing books.
Overall: If you are interested in making smoked beers, and particularly if you want to smoke your own malts, this is a must read. The commercial info is a bit outdated, but other than that Smoked Beers does not seem nine years old. That said, there are some new smoked malts on the market, for example Briess has recently started selling some smoked malts, has anyone tried those?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How many batches of beer have you brewed in the last year?

None 14 (4%)
1-6 86 (30%)
7-12 72 (25%)
13-18 42 (14%)
19-24 24 (8%)
25-36 28 (9%)
37+ 16 (5%)

Looks like the majority of respondents brew less than once a month, but there are quite a few homebrewers out there who brew much more frequently. I am at close to 20 batches over the last year, which is about average for me. I have a hard time imaging brewing as much as some of you guys (I’m really impressed that 16 people brewed 37 or more batches).

I feel the more often I brew the better my beers come out. When I brew infrequently I tend to have more brew day issues, I guess I get out of my groove.

It is coming up to the hot DC summer so I am frantically brewing batches so I can take July/August off. Don’t worry though there will still be plenty of updates on the various batches I have going as well as some other fermentables (which I have been lax on recently).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wheat Triplebock

After buying a 50 lb sack of German wheat malt last year as part of a group grain buy I have been trying to use it in as many ways as possible. I did quite a few light beers like a hefeweizen, and added a couple pounds to several other recipes, but I had been looking for something big that would use up a more.

My friend Nathan came back from a trip last fall with stories of The Livery, a fantastic brewpub in Benton Harbor Michigan. They do a huge range of beers, from mild lagers, to strong sours, with lots of barrel aged fun. After doing some reading on them I saw that they make a beer they call Trippel Weizenbock (a big dark lager with wheat) that sounded like just what I was looking for. I wanted to get this brewed in time for Nathan's birthday blow-out in March, but I wanted to let it lager for longer before bottling (it will probably really be hitting its stride by March 2010).

I was able to dig up a little info on the beer from their website ("Definitely the most complex beer coming out of our brewery, Ratebeer.com has rated this as the #1 Weizenbock in the world! Flavors of leather, fig, raisin, and a sweet finish from 33% wheat malt co-mingle with warm alcohol and noble hops for a truly unique beer experience! Also available barrel aged."), but not enough specifics to really put together a recipe. So I emailed the brewer (Steve Berthel) to see if he would be willing to help me out, he graciously obliged:

I use German pilsener, vienna, and dark munich malts, and English crystal 155-165. 2 hr. boil. German Perle to bitter and Perle and Tettnang in late strikes to balance the malt sweetness. I use White Labs German Bock yeast for now. Starting gravity is around 1.106, finish gravity is around 1.025, giving an abv of 11.75%. Good luck!

From there it was easy to come up with something I felt would get me in the ballpark. The biggest decision I faced was how much of the Simpson's Extra Dark Crystal to use (an ingredient I hadn't even tasted until my box showed up from Northern Brewer). The flavor of the grains was part way between a regular dark crystal (like crystal 120 or special b) and pale chocolate malt. So I decided to add a full pound to my 3.5 gallon batch, assuming it would be similar to adding half a pound each of crystal 120 and pale chocolate.

I lagered the beer for 4 months in 1 gallon jugs. I left two plain, but to the third gallon I added some bourbon soaked oak cubes (I'll post a tasting of that later).

The flavor is already pretty good, the oaked batch particularly (the oak tannins help to cut through some of the sweetness that the plain batch has). If I were to brew this again I would probably lower the mash temp a couple degrees since in finished .005 higher than the original and has a bit more sweetness than I like.

Tasting 5/17/09

Appearance – Pours with a thin crema of a head on top of a dark brown, nearly black body. When held to the light it is a less dark brown with some red, pretty clear. The head is composed of coarse bubbles, retention is good with some lacing.

Smell – Big sweet nose. Loads of malty goodness with a big overripe fruit character. There is also a nice hint of coffee. As it warms there is a clean waft of alcohol, but it is not boozy or hot.

Taste – Tastes like a huge sticky doppel/eisbock to me. The big bready maltiness is just flowing from this one. The alcohol and just a hint of hop bitterness provides just enough to keep this from being cloying. Despite the fact that this is not one of the ones I oak aged I still get a bit of toasted oak, but it is just the malt playing a trick on me.

Mouthfeel – Big and thick, with moderate carbonation. Spot on for a big bock, but it means I probably won't be drinking much of this one until it cools down in the fall.

Drinkability & Notes – This beer just took a second place yesterday at the Spirit of Free Beer as an Eisbock, an impressive result for a huge beer that is just 6 months old (despite the fact that it was not freeze concentrated, I thought it was too dark/strong to do well as a doppelbock). This is yet another one that I have high hopes for with a bit more age as the complexity increases and the flavors mellow (hopefully as the hop bitterness drops the beer will not become cloying).

Wheat Triplebock

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
----------------
Batch Size (Gal): 3.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.75
Anticipated OG: 1.105
Anticipated SRM: 27.4
Anticipated IBU: 34.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 64 %
Wort Boil Time: 135 Minutes

Grain/Extract/Sugar
-----------------------
5.25 lbs. Wheat Malt
4.00 lbs. Munich Malt (dark)
3.50 lbs. Pilsener
2.00 lbs. Vienna Malt
1.00 lbs. Simpsons Extra Dark Crystal 155L

Hops
------
0.75 oz. Perle @ 60 min.
0.50 oz. Tettnanger Tettnang @ 15 min.
0.25 oz. Perle @ 15 min.

Extras
-------
0.50 Whirlfloc @ 11 Min.(boil)
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 11 Min.(boil)

Yeast
-----
White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager

Water Profile
-------------
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
---------------
65 min @ 154

Notes
------
Brewed 11/16/08 by myself.

Added 1 tsp of chalk because the pH was low, around 5.0 (at room temp).

Collected 6.25 gallons of 1.068 wort. Boiled down more than expected (~3 gallons and 1.118) so I added .5 gal of boiled/chilled water.

Chilled to ~60, but my ground water wasn't cold enough to get it any lower. So I put it into my chest freezer at 48 degrees. 7 hours later I pitched ~1 qrt of slurry from the Helles, very fresh yeast.

11/23/08 Upped temp to 52 to help it finish out.

11/30/08 Moved out of the freezer to let my ice cider freeze.

12/08/08 Racked to three 1 gallon secondaries, the clear one got 1/2 oz of bourbon soaked American oak cubes. Put into the freezer at 34 degrees. The gravity is down to 1.030 (71% AA, 10% ABV). Pretty good flavor, certainly tastes like a big bock to me. Looks like it will finish a few points higher than I expected, might drop the mash temp to 151 to get it lower next time.

4/11/09 Bottled 2 gallons straight with 1.25 oz of cane sugar, and 1 gallon oaked with .625 oz of cane sugar. Both got a splash of WY1728 from the International Session Ale primary to aid in carbonation.

4/28/09 Fully carbonated thanks to the added yeast.

6/13/09 Scored a 37/38/38 and got a second place in its category as an Eisbock at the SoFB. The main complaint from the judges was that it wasn't boozy enough.

2/3/11 Realized I never did a tasting of the oak aged portion, one of my favorites since the oak helps to cut the sweetness.

11/1/12 At four years the plain version is still great, smooth, rich, complex, balanced, terrific! Hopefully malt-whisky-barrel-aged re-brew ages just as well!

2/18/14 Final tasting of the oak-aged portion along with the re-brew. Held up well (caramel, dried fruit, vanilla, smooth etc.), but is slowly fading with subtle oxidation.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Book Review: New Brewing Lager Beer

New Brewing Lager Beer was written by Greg Noonan (the longtime head brew The Vermont Pub and Brewery) in 1986, and received an update in 1996. The preface indicates that this book is about lagers and ales (lagers are just "the culmination of the brewing theories of all European brewing traditions"), I think the English and the Belgians might not agree with that, but lager brewing does tend to be the most precise in its technique because light lagers have such a delicate flavor. That said there are some techniques that are used for ales, but really aren't for lagers that this book completely skips (like dry hopping).

Content: The book is divided into two section (like just about ever other brewing book), the first covers the ingredients used and the second covers the process/techniques.

In the ingredient section each chapter covers both scientific information as well as loads of information on practical things that many brewers may not know how to do.

The barley and malt chapters cover some really interesting topics like interpreting a malt analysis sheet. Malt analysis is very important if you want to do things like decide when to do a protein rest. Strangely the chapter that explains how barley is turned into malt comes much later.

I think that the water section is one of the most comprehensive (although I tend to think How to Brew does a more practical job). Similar to the malt chapter it covers both the scientific (bonding, anions etc..) as well as the practical side (how to read a water analysis report from your water department or a lab).

The hop section is fine, but there isn't as much to talk about as there really aren't hop analysis sheets that are available to the average homebrewer (I've never gotten anything besides an AA%). There is some good information on the structure of the hop cone, something people who use primarily pellet hops might not think about).

The yeast section focuses on a couple of areas that most homebrewers don't concern themselves with. Things like yeast washing, and pure culturing (using agar plates), but there is also some good information on using and saving starters.

The bacteria chapter really just talks about bacteria as spoilage organisms. This is interesting, but doesn't really help (really it comes down to use proper sanitation so you don't have to ever deal with unwanted bacteria).

The final ingredient chapter is a short one on enzymes that covers mostly enzymatic activity in the mash, but also a bit on yeast metabolism (both of these topics should probably have been covered in their respective chapters).

The second (process) section focuses on traditional lager techniques that don't get much coverage in the other big brewing books. Things like decoction mashing, krausening, and lagering.

This section starts out with by talking about the malting process, this is interesting, but not all that useful for the average homebrewer. I think this section would have fit better in the ingredients chapter (I am sure more homebrewers grow/process hops than grow/malt barley).

The following chapters talks about crushing the malt, something many homebrewers don't think about that much. I guess in 1996 there weren't the high quality malt mills available from the likes of Barley Crusher (which has served me well for three years), because corona mills are the only type of home option he mentions. Noonan talks about the quality of the malt having a big effect on the quality of the crush, something I had never thought of.

The mashing chapter is one of the best resources I have found on complex mashes like decoctions. That said, there aren't many malts available any more that really call for a time consuming triple decoction mash.

The boiling chapter covers quite a bit, including the use of hops, the breaks, and cooling. It mostly discusses the science behind the boil than anything practical. It devotes quite a bit of space to determining the boil-off rate percentage, something I don't think is that important as for homebrewers as the pro-brewer (I deal with boil-off as a rate rather than a percentage).

The fermentation chapter is good for lager brewing, but won't help much else. It covers a lot about yeast that I think would have been better in the yeast chapter.

The planning chapter covers doing many things by hand that most people now do with software (calculating SRM, IBUs, OG etc...). If you do this sort of thing by hand still it might be worth a read, but I think DGB does a better job.

The brewing procedures chapter coverts much of the general directions in the other chapters (which could be applied to either a pro or home-brewer) and gives specific how to instructions. It also includes a good troubleshooting section.

The last few chapters and the appendices cover sanitation, equipment, extract brewing, infusion and step mashing. These chapters are fine, but don't cover anything better or in more depth than a basic homebrew book.

Recipes: New Brewing Lager Beer includes seven recipes that cover only classic German styles. I think some of the recipes are outdated relying on malts that really aren't traditional (the Bock calls for brown malt, but no Munich malt). There is also too much cara- malt for my taste (only one calls for less than 1 lb), most of these styles should be pretty dry, and I would hope that all that effort on the decoction mashes would result in good head retention (despite that most contain carapils).

Accuracy: There are some problems here and there (like the suggestion to rack your beer to secondary before fermentation is complete, which often leads to a stuck fermentation), but overall I think this book does an pretty good job.

I also take issue with his hot side aeration discussion the the boiling chapter (which he claims happens if you expose the wort to oxygen when it is above 60 degrees). This seems like lager bias to me as there are not many ales made with the fermentation temperature starting in the 50s.

Readability: The writing is technical, but accessible. It certainly is not written with the lighter feel of something like The Complete Joy of Home Brewing or even the more recent Belgian Trilogy, but it is not as dense as Principles of Brewing Science. Noonan does a good job including charts, graphs (for the complex mashes), and pictures (which always liven a book up).

The book can be hard to reference as why certain things are included in the ingredient section versus the process is unclear. For example it seems to me that the instructions for yeast washing should be in the process section, but they are found in the yeast chapter of the ingredients section.

I would have preferred to see the two sections merged (sanitizers discussed next to bacteria, malt next to mashing etc...) particularly because the the ingredient choice for things like malt plays such a big role on how you conduct your mash.

Overall: I think this is a good book for someone who wants to know more of the applicable science behind brewing. It also is a great resource for decoction mashing, and lagering. I think it is a bit too technical for a first beer book, but I think many brewers could benefit from it early on, even if you don't have a huge interest in lagers. It is a bit dated though, so it would be worth using the information to supplement other books that take advantage of the higher quality malts available to homebrewers today.

Does anyone have other suggestions for books that give good play to lagers? Most of the other homebrew books I have just treat it as a minor variant on ale brewing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Funky Dark Orange Rosemary Saison - First Tasting

I have only been moderately happy with the “clean” version of the Dark Orange Rosemary Saison that Alex, Noah and I brewed last October. It is a fine beer but it still tastes a bit rough and has a slight soapiness, I am hoping that it will improve with more age. It finished so dry (1.003) that we decided there wasn't much sense in giving the funky version too much time to age. Surprisingly it only took a few months (and a few points) for the bottle dregs and port soaked oak cubes we added to transform the funky version into a beautifully earthy funk bomb.

Tasting 5/12/09

Appearance – Nearly opaque black with just a few chocolate brown edges when held to the light. Good looking creamy tan head with great retention and lacing.

Smell – Cherries and rosemary come first, but are quickly followed by earthy damp basement funk. There is a faint toastiness, but other than that there is no sign of the malt. The hops are similarly absent, as is (surprisingly) the considerable alcohol.

Taste – No sourness, just a Brett funk manifested somewhere between wet hay and mushrooms. The roasted malt pokes its head out, sort of a weak coffee flavor (milder than the clean version). In the taste I get more of a general herbal note rather than a rosemary specific aroma. The alcohol is well concealed, but there is a hint of belly warming that suggests the nearly 10% ABV. The citrus/orange that was apparent in the clean version a few months back is absent in this one.

Mouthfeel – The mouthfeel has a surprising amount of creaminess for a beer that finished within a couple points of 1.000. The carbonation is moderate-high, which helps to conceal any thinness. I wonder if the tannins from the oak helped to add some body.

Drinkability & Notes – I wish we had given the funk/oak treatment to the entire batch, this one has such great balance and complexity. Certainly in the same direction as something like Fantome Noel or Black Ghost, complex, but still very drinkable. At only 6 months old I am excited to see how this ages over the next year or two (if the six-pack I have left lasts that long).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: The Brewmaster's Table

The Brewmaster's Table in a Cast Iron SkilletThe Brewmaster's Table is pretty much the definitive book on pairing beer and food. It was written by Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery (and one of the all around classiest brewers out there, I don’t think many other brewers ever wear suits). The book is aimed more at the general beer nerd audience than it is a homebrew audience, but I think pairing homemade beer with homemade food is plenty of fun.


Content: The book starts out with a couple chapters on brewing ingredients and the history of beer. These chapters are fine and well written, but if you have read a couple homebrew books most of this will be a rehash.

The third chapter lays out the basic principles behind matching beer to food. This is a inspiring chapter, with the author's pairings for a week’s worth of dinners particularly stimulating (like cassoulet and Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale). The overall message is to decide to use the beer to either compliment or contrast the dish. For example complimenting a spicy dish with the spiciness of a Belgian Ale or contrasting a rich dish with a light/cleansing beer. One of the most radical sections of the chapter is on why beer is a better match for many foods (like chocolate, spicy food, or eggs) than wine. This chapter also covers matching beer with cheese, which is something I have really enjoyed.

Almost the entire remained of the book covers different beers and what foods pair best with them. Pretty much every major beer style as well as most of the minor ones are covered. Each of these chapter covers a group of styles (Belgian Ales for example) starting out with a general overview of the common elements. After that each chapter covers the styles individually in more depth. The book gives a brief rundown of each style including the history/ingredients/culture behind it, followed by a couple pages on the best foods to pair with it (including most importantly the ideas behind the pairings), then finally a paragraph each on some of the most notable commercial examples of the style (and which foods pair particularly well with them). The lists of commercial examples aren't particularly in depth, but I think the idea of the book is to teach you the basics so you can figure out other pairings for yourself.

The final chapter of the book covers proper beer service. This includes subjects like proper glassware, temperature, and tasting order. If they published this chapter as a pamphlet it would be perfect to give to a restaurant that puts plenty of thought into their wine selection/service only to offer a list of three beers served out of the bottle (or in chilled pint glasses).

The very last section of the book is a terrific 7 page list of foods with the best beer styles to pair with each. It covers everything from mundane every day foods like burritos (American pale and brown ale, altbier, smoked beers) and chocolate (Sweeter fruit beers, imperial stout, stronger American stout, Baltic strong porter) to more opulent fare like foie gras (Sweet doppelbocks, sweet barleywines, off-dry strong dark Trappist or abbey ale, off-dry framboise and kriek, stronger Flanders red and brown ales, strong Scotch ales) and pheasant (Biere de garde, dubbel, strong dark Trappist or abbey ale, old ale, strong British bitter (ESB)). I often take a look at this list before picking out beers for a dinner party or just when grabbing a beer to have with a dish that I have never tried with beer. Certainly not every pairing I have tried from the list is sublime, but it does provide good general guidance (different examples of a style and preparations of a dish will pair better/worse with each other).

The book also contains several very well done sections of photos interspersed throughout. Many of the photos feature foreign brewmasters, or beautiful shots of food and beer pairing from restaurants that take both seriously.

Recipes:
Sadly there are no recipes, but it is a pretty thick book already. It would be nice to see another book tackle cooking with beer at the same range of simple to sophisticated that this one brings to pairing (too many beer cook books revolve around beer can chicken, or beer boiled brats, not that there is anything wrong with either of those things but they have been done to death).

Accuracy:
No complaints on the accuracy, it is a very well edited book, and I have not noticed any inaccuracies. Flavor and pairing are such personal things though that different people might think the suggested pairings are better/worse than I do.

Readability:
The book can be a bit dense to just sit down and read, but the reference at the end and the general structure make it easy to reference. After brewing a beer I often read the section on the style to give me some ideas of things to pair it with. The book is well written in general and just has a passionate feel to it.

Overall:
The Brewmaster's Table will make you excited to pair beer with food, even if you are just having takeout Chinese. I think this is a great book for anyone who wants to know more about pairing beer with food, beer nerds, homebrewers, or foodies just getting interested in beer. Are there any other great beer and food books that anyone else would recommend? I have plenty of cookbooks that have a few beer recipes, but not one that focuses on it.

Bacon Frizee Salad with a Poached EggThe picture is of a frisée salad with some awesome bacon (the dressing was just leeks cooked in the bacon drippings with a splash of sherry vinegar), poached egg, and some roasted tomatoes and potatoes. I went with Victory's (100% Brett) Wild Devil, a beer with enough dryness to cut through the richness of the egg and bacon and some bitterness to compliment the slightly bitter frisée. I thought the pairing worked well, but the beer was a bit more bitter than I think is ideal with a salad (even one as flavorful as this).






Tuesday, May 5, 2009

International Session Ale - First Tasting

I brewed my International Session Ale just about a month ago. It is always nice to brew a beer with a quick turn around, unlike most of the bigger/funkier beers I tend to like to brew.

The basic idea was to use some Nelson Sauvin Hops and build up some yeast for an Adambier (more on that soon). The result was a beer somewhere between an American Brown and an English Mild. Too much citrus/pine hop character for a mild, and not enough malt/bitterness for a brown.

If you can't get your hands on any Nelson Sauvin, I would go with some Glacier or Crystal, even Cascades should make for a tasty beer.

International Session Ale

Appearance – Deep brown when viewed in the pint glass, but it turns clear amber/ruby when held to the light. Nice creamy tan head that leaves terrific lacing and retention for such a small beer.

Smell – Hoppy, close to something American like cascades, but not quite the same. The hops come across as pine with some fruit, but not really citrusy. I get hints of the Nelson Sauvin “white wine” character, but that may just be the power of suggestion. There is a decent dry toasty malt background (almost like a rice cake), with some light coffee notes as well.

Taste – Good interplay between the bright hop bitterness and the firm dark maltiness. The hop bitterness is very clean and crisp, and the hop flavor is similar to what was in the aroma. The malt again reminds me of rice cakes, toasty, but dry instead of rich like many beers. I would have liked the beer to have a touch more sweetness to back up the malt, but it is not unbalanced as is.

Mouthfeel – It feels a bit thin, but this is only a 4.6% ABV beer, still it could use a touch more body. I get a hint of rough tannins on my tongue, but that may be the result of the 10% old ale I drank before this (I haven't experienced tannins before with this beer). The carbonation is cask like, mellow and almost creamy.

Drinkability & Notes – A pretty solid session ale, very easy to drink. It could use a bit more sweetness (I should have taken the higher fermentability from a thin mash into account). It ended up at 78% apparent attenuation, I would have liked to see it in the low 70s.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Book Review: Brewing Up a Business

Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is a very different beer book than any of the others I have reviewed so far. It is not a book on how to brew better beer, instead it is the story of Sam Calagione the founder of Dogfish Head.

This book is relevant to homebrewers because I think most, if not all, of you have had the same though, "Why don't I start a brewery?" This book takes a look at everything that went into making Dogfish Head a success, and it was a lot more than just brewing tasty beer.

Content:
The author covers the basic story of how he got, what is now, one of the most popular craft breweries off the ground. The book starts out more as an autobiography, but quickly goes into how Sam discovered good beer, homebrewing, and came to start a brewery.

The most memorable anecdote from the book is from the early days of Dogfish Head. Sam didn't have enough money for a multi-barrel brewhouse, so he bough a big homebrew system and brewed many times a week. With so many batches to brew he got bored and often tried interesting ingredients from the brewpub kitchen, leading to some of their well known beers. So something that could have been a hindrance to his business ended up providing a real benefit.

Most of the book however covers things that have little to do with brewing great beer. Marketing, image, and promotion dominated large parts of the book. It is interesting to hear both the successes (like brewing Midas Touch based on archaeological data) and the failures (like some upside down labels, or rowing a case of beer across the Delaware River for their first "export" from Delaware).

Sam often tried to apply the lessons he has learned at the brewery to any small business. Things like encouraging innovation from your employees (stacking cases differently to improve efficiency), crafting a recognizable brand (he is particularly fond of their font), and dealing with sales (especially the value of good sales people).

The book also has some good tips for keeping yourself going when you are working long hours for what seems like no profit. On top of this is just gives a flavor for the life at a small brewery (selling T-shirts a rest stops for gas money coming back from festivals etc...).

Recipes: Brewing Up a Business doesn't have any recipes, but you can check out Extreme Brewing if you want some Dogfish Head recipes.

Accuracy: I've never started a craft brewery, but I think it is reasonable to assume that not everyone has the same situation so what worked for Sam may not work for you. At the very least there aren't any glaring inaccuracies that I could find.

Readability: Sam was an English major, and his writing shows. The book is well written, interesting, and easy to read.

Overall: This of the sort of book that anyone vaguely considering opening a brewery or brewpub should read. It is pretty light on the hard details, but it gives you a feel for what starting a small brewery is like. I think the market for craft beer has also changed immensely in the last 15 years, it may be that this book is most applicable if you live in a part of the country/world where there is not a big craft beer presence.

I have yet to read Beer School from the founders of Brooklyn Brewing, anyone read both and want to suggest one over the other? Any other good books out there for people considering (dreaming about) opening a brewery?

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