Friday, April 16, 2010

Houston and St. Arnold Visit

So the past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of awesome beer news. CBC in Chicago, a class at Seibel, and discovering a most intriguing beer. Might take a while to pull everything together, but I will start with a brewery visit.

Over Easter I went down to visit my mom, brother, and step-dad in Houston; one of my favorite cities, if it wasn't for the horrible weather. Houston has hands down the best food in the country (I stand by that) and an incredible scene for just hanging out and drinking beer. Everyone is super casual, it is usually to hot to move, and every coffee shop basically turns into a craft beer emporium in the afternoon; in other words, potential beer drinking heaven. However, for a city of 4 million (so they say), Houston is desperately under served in the microbrewery market. That is, except for St. Arnold's.

On Good Friday, my brother and I headed over to St. Arnold's (named for the patron saint of Belgian brewers Arnold of Soissons) brand new brewery in the 5th Ward. When we arrived we were each given a souvenir glass and four beer tokens for $7, not a bad deal...until we saw the line. 250 people have shown up for the Friday tour and tasting, up from a normal 70 we were told. As we looked around, we saw that the regulars had come armed with board games, snack, and bigger glasses. Sneaky bastards; one token equals one fill, no matter how big the glass. After waiting for 15 or 20 minutes, we finally got out beers. I had the Alyssa IPA, which was fairly good, and my brother had some sort of wheat beer I don't recall. Really, the beer was a little thin for my great-white-north tastes, but for sitting around in the crippling heat of Houston, I could see how it would be just perfect.

Aside from the beer, the real treat was the tour. St. Arnold had a three vessel, 120 barrel brewhouse that they imported from a brewery in Germany. The brewhouse was situated on a mezzanine level, with a giant fermentation floor below. The centerpieces were the 240 barrel fermenters that had just been installed, surrounded by an army of 60 barrel fermenters from the old brewery, and a few 120s. Overall, pretty impressive. Once the line died down, the beer hall had a pretty cool vibe. People sitting around long wooden tables, playing board games, potluck appetizers, and drinking beer. In other words, standard Houston hanging out.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Angry Ale - Thoughts

I wasn't sure what to think about my Surly Furious clone, which I am calling my Angry Ale. First of all, it doesn't taste 100% like Furious, which is fine. On first tasting, after a one week primary fermentation and and two week secondary with dry hopping, I think I may have dry-hopped for too long. The beer had a vegetable sort of astringency that really overpowered the malt. However, after leaving it alone for a week (only accomplished by going out of town), it smoothed out considerably. that malt character was starting to shine through, while still showing a ton of hops. After another week, it has balanced out even more and is a really good brew. I still like my Nick Adams better, but this is a pretty good beer.

Comparing this to the Nick Adams, there is considerably less yeast characteristic, perhaps the result of force carbing vs. natural carbing. Also, the additional hops that this received throw it a bit off-balance by comparison. Still, it is pretty good. The one really noticeable difference is how much clearer this beer is than others. I mean, its by no means the transparent, but it is substantially less murky than my past attempts. Which is kind of cool, although who knows. I guess all I can do is continue to drink and see how this one evolves.

By the way, I still have about 6 bottles of the Nick Adams in the fridge, and they are truly phenomenal. After the saison, I am definitely brewing up another batch.

The Draft System - A Work In Progress

Bottling beer is a real pain in the nuts: the scavenging, peeling labels, cleaning, capping, priming...pretty much the whole damn thing. Lets just say there isn't much romance in it. Thus, I introduce to you my new draft system.

Ok, it is definitely a work in progress. The fridge I bought for $40 is about an inch shy of fitting two 5 gallon kegs, so until I get around to building a collar for it, I will only have one beer on tap. Right now that is my Angry Ale. More on that later, but it is turning into a pretty decent beer.

The guts of the draft system in the Master-Brew Dual Gauge Keg Kit from Midwest Supplies. It came with a CO2 tank, two 5 gallon Corny kegs, all the tubing, and 2 picnic taps.

My eventual plan is to mount two shank taps on the door, but I want top see how my collar works out first. So for now, you still have to open the door to get to the tap. Yes, pretty hood, but it works.

I am still on the fence about force carbing the beer. There is some extra depth that is missing compared to natural carbonation, although it does cut about two weeks out of the brewing process. However, I think my next beer will be naturally carbonated in the keg (a saison, perhaps?). Hopefully I will get around to brewing that next week.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Second (good) thoughts on my Nick Adams Ale

As per usual, time heals all. Not that there was anything wrong with my Two Hearted clone-ish Nick Adams Ale to begin with. It has just gotten better in in possibly every way. It is now almost a month post bottle, and the beer has really smoothed out. All the great Centennial flavor is still there, but there is a really satisfying complexity that I cannot quite describe.

However, one thing is for sure; using dry malt extract, in this case Kreamix, for the bottling instead of sugar is a big improvement. The beer has an incredible full and silky mouthfeel that seems to get to every little tastebud without being at all astringent or harsh. It still has a huge bite, thanks to the five ounces of Centennial hops, but there the creaminess eliminates any of the wincing notes. I think it is sort of akin to drinking milk after eating a really hot pepper.

And the head! Wow. It is seriously like a meringue. It stands up tall and stays put the whole way down the glass, leaving great lacing. I have yet to have a beer that doesn't have a layer of head left at the end of the glass.

All in all, very enjoyable. Although I think I might put the rest of the bottles in cold storage (back stairwell) so that they don't over carbonate. I really like it just where it is.

Angry Ale

Despite a long break from brewing (a month, ouch!) I am back at it with a new batch. This time I am trying a Surly Furious clone kit from the good people at Midwest Supplies. The recipe as follows:

6.6 lbs Gold LME
3.3 lbs Amber LME
1 oz. Warrior (16.4%) @ 60 min.
1/5 oz. Amarillo (8.6%) @ 20 min.
1/5 oz. Simcoe (12.2%) @ 20 min.
1/5 oz. Amarillo (8.6%) @ 15 min.
1/5 oz. Simcoe (12.2%) @ 15 min.
1/5 oz. Amarillo (8.6%) @ 10 min.
1/5 oz. Simcoe (12.2%) @ 10 min.
1/5 oz. Amarillo (8.6%) @ 5 min.
1/5 oz. Simcoe (12.2%) @ 5 min.
1/5 oz. Amarillo (8.6%) @ flameout
1/5 oz. Simcoe (12.2%) @ 5 flameout
1 oz. Amarillo (8.6%) Dryhop (1 week @ 1 week)
1 oz. Simcoe (12.2%) Dryhop (1 week @ 1 week)
1 oz. Ahtanum (4.5)% Dryhop (1 week @ 1 week)
White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast
1 tsp. Irish Moss at 15 min.

OG 1.061 @ 78%F

I really love this beer, and although it is becoming slightly easier to find on tap in Chicago (maybe up to a whole 4 bars now?), you still can't find it in cans. So, besides being a nice new test in homebrewing, it will be an awesome beer to have in the fridge. I cannot wait to see how this turns out.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

First thoughts on the new brew, if a bit premature

So I could not wait any longer. After only 10 days in the bottle, I got the itch to try out one of my Two Hearted Clones. My first thought was, "wow, this is a cloudy beer"; although, a lot like the real Two Hearted can be when you get that bottom yeast out of the bottle and into the beer. Bascially the same color, and the exact same aroma and taste. Overall, a great success, despite needing a few more days in the bottle to gain a little carbonation and finish out a bit. But the texture is spot on. Very full, with ever so tiny bubbles everywhere throughout the beer. It really coats your whole mouth, in a good way. The head retention has also been great. A nice big head off the start, which died down to a full film cover with some residual foam buildup remaining even halfway into the beer. Great lacing as the beer makes its way to the bottom, as well.

The flavor is great. Piney, not citrusy like so may IPAs are. I am not a big fan of citrus bomb IPAs, and that is why I have always loved Two Hearted. So full flavored and hoppy, without being fruity like some IPAs on the coats. Although I think my beer could use a tiny touch more bittering, but I may just be immune in this department. I am going to hold off on having another for a few days so I can see the progression in the bottle. Maybe this weekend, when my brother and friends from home are in town, I will have a side by side taste test. Then I can get some input.

I think that this beer, with a little refinement, will have to enter permanent rotation. And who knows, maybe I can improve upon my inspiration. Exactly how is yet to be determined.

What to call this fine brew? Perhaps the Nick Adams IPA, in honor of Hemingway's wanderlust hero whose fishing trip in the U.P. inspired my muse.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Big, Two Hearted Clone Attempt

My favorite beer in the world is Bell's Two Hearted Ale. It is utterly perfect. Hoppy but with a big malt backbone. Effervescent and fresh. A nice thick head that laces all over the glass. And don't get me started on how much I love Centennial hops. This is the one beer that I can see no wrong in. Plus, at $2 a bottle at the Whole Foods bar on North and Kingsburry, I can get it whenever I want served perfectly in the proper glassware.

This was also the beer that made me want to start brewing. So, despite the easy availability, low cost, and expert service of Two Hearted at local bars, I have decided to try my own. After some time searching around and a little tinkering on, I think I found a pretty good recipe. But honestly, who knows. That is the fun thing about brewing:

9.9 lbs. Breiss Light-Gold LME
1 lb. Crystal 40L
1 oz. 9.2% Centennial pellets @ 60min
1 oz. 9.2% Centennial pellets @ 30min
1 oz. 9.2% Centennial pellets @ 15min
1 oz. 9.2% Centennial pellets @ 1min
1 oz. 9.2% Centennial pellets dry-hopped for 14 days in the secondary
White Labs American Ale Yeast
(I meant to add some Irish Moss at 15min, but spaced)

Can I mention again that I love that this beer is all Centennial? Awesome.

This was a really fun beer to brew, and it let me try some of my new techniques and equipment. Also, it taught me some new lessons. First, wow were there a ton of hops in here! So much that it clogged my new auto siphoning thief when I tried to take an O.G. sample. The hops also made the boil was really cool to watch; turbulent but rhythmic, but in my new 7.5 gallon pot there was never a risk of boil over.

Second lesson: it takes damn near an eternity to boil 6 gallons of water on a little gas stove. All told, end to end, this brew was a 3 hour process from first flame to sealing the primary. Not too bad I guess, but there was a lot of waiting around for water to boil. I guess my next upgrade will be one of those outdoor burners, which I can just hook up to my grill's propane tank.

Third, I should have sprung for bigger piping on my wort chiller, but that is all Home Depot had that would fit as a kit. The 5 gallon final volume took about 35 mins to cool to 75 degrees. Not to bad, but it could have been faster.

Also, things I am adding to my wish list: a metal paddle and a drilled ball valve on my brew kettle.

After just two brew sessions, this is starting to take over my life. And I love it.