Thursday, August 28, 2008

Preseason football = lousy tailgating

Headed over to the stadium tonight for the Giants preseason finale vs. the Pats. Nothing like a 7PM game on a Thursday night to get you psyched for football! I can't wait to rush out from work, fight the traffic, get home nice and late on a school night, etc...

What really bums me out the most though is the lame tailgating. When you have to run out of the office just to pray that you make it into the parking lot an hour and a half before kickoff, it doesn't really give you the opportunity to get anything going. Just grab some sandwiches and beer, and fly as fast as you can. And that's not really what my crew is about. We tailgate properly, so nights like these are kind of an embarrassment. We'll have to make up for it on opening day.

Check out this article on beer floats. Yes, beer and ice cream. My world renowned oatmeal stout is due to be brewed shortly and I will be certain to try it with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Session beers

I've always had a problem with the term "session beer". This is a phrase used to describe beers that are easy drinking and lower in alcohol. A beer that you can drink three or four (or more) of and not fall off the ol' bar stool.

But just what is a session, anyway? "Hey pal, care to join us in a beer drinking session?" This event where you sit around and drink a few rounds of these beers would seem to be the session that's referenced. And I don't know about you, but I've never heard anyone refer to this as a session. "OK, Ethel, I'm headed down to the Blarney Stone for a session." No. Nobody says that. And don't get me started on "sessionable".

Alas, this curious phrase appears to be the lexicon. So we'll go along with it against our will.

Why bring this up? The New York Times ran a very interesting piece on the trend towards producing more of these types of beers in the American craft brewing scene. There are quotes from microbrewers all over the country talking about how there's a real need for some lighter beers to balance all of the big giant strong beers being produced out there. I couldn't agree more. However, as usual, this isn't just about market need and craft and all that wonderful feel-good stuff. Malted barley, hops, and most importantly, the gasoline used to ship them to the brewery cost more than they even have. A coincidence that everyone has suddenly recognized the market need for beers that use less raw material at the same time? Right.

Thanks to the NYCHG for influencing the author today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

New York State Beer Night

Tonight unexpectedly turned out to be a New York State beer night! I brought back a mixed twelve pack from Cooperstown Brewing after our recent trip to Woodstock. I haven't had any of their beers in a while, so I figured I'd dive back in. Also, we went to the Giants preseason game against the Browns last week and picked up the Saranac summer mixed twelve pack on the way. I had a few left over, so here we go...

Cooperstown Brewing Nine Man - Pours deep golden with a white head. A light aroma featuring some sweet malt, no hops, definite diacetyl. Flavor is malt balanced still, with diacetyl present. Hop flavor and bitterness are low. Pretty full bodied. I know that they use Ringwood yeast, which explains the diacetyl and the seemingly low attenuation. An easy drinking beer, though this is not their best offering.

Saranac Hefeweizen - Clear golden beer with a white head. Has the standard banana and clove aromas that you expect in this kind of beer, clove increases as it warms up. There's more of a bubblegum ester in the flavor. Toasty malt flavors come through in the finish. Very lightly hopped and highly carbonated, as to be expected. This is fairly mild as hefeweizens go, since the yeast qualities are somewhat muted and the wheat doesn't show as much as the malt. I'm not the biggest hefeweizen guy in the world, so it suits me just fine.

Saranac Belgian White - Cloudy gold with a quickly disappearing white head. Aroma is of orange zest, pepper, and with a slightly sugary note, almost like marshmallows. Orange is strong in the flavor, along with sweet malt and bready grain - can't tell if I pick up on the wheat and oats or not. Hops barely noticeable. Medium body, fairly high carbonation. Not as mild an example of the style as the hefeweizen, but not overwhelming either.

And the mystery trip was to... Woodstock!

Took R to Woodstock for the weekend to celebrate her birthday. We stayed at the Skytop Motel which, conveniently enough, is right next door to the Skytop Restaurant and Brewing Company. The accomodations are about what you'd expect from a roadside motel off of a New York state highway. Good enough to spend a night.

The food at the Skytop was very good. Pub grub, but done very well. The altbier was the highlight of the beer menu. A nice malty beer that went well with the meal. The lagers had a bit of a sulfury quality to them that was either a product of fermentation or the water - I did notice that the water in our motel room smelled like matches. The scotch ale showed that it was brewed with smoked malt.

After lunch we went in to town. This was my first time ever in Woodstock and I have to say that it reminded me quite a bit of New Hope, PA. Saw some lifer hippies wandering around town - one who we affectionately referred to as "Merlin" every time we saw him. I'm sure you can guess why. But the highlight of the trip was in the evening...

Went to the Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm Studios. This was a real treat. Levon plays these shows at his studio/home for a crowd no bigger than 250-300 people. He's got a great band that includes Jimmy Vivino (brother of Uncle Floyd) and Mike Merritt from the Max Weinberg 7 on guitar and stand up bass, respectively, and the incredible Brian Mitchell on piano, keys and accordion. They run through some blues standards, some country/folk tunes, and some classics from The Band catalog and play for close to three hours. We wound up standing on a balcony about ten feet away from Levon's drum kit with a clear view of the show. Really amazing. Billy Bob Thornton's band (The Boxmasters) opened and Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes sat in on Shake Your Money Maker. They were standing right by Levon's kit watching the show, and at one point I looked down at Levon Helm, Billy Bob Thornton, and Chris Robinson all within a couple of feet of me rocking out and thought, "wow, this is kind of weird". No photography allowed in the studio... sorry.

The next morning we ate at the Garden Cafe in Woodstock, which we would recommend highly. They do the organic, sustainable, vegetarian thing, and they do it very well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gearing up for the mystery trip with a homebrewed barleywine

So I'm taking R away for the weekend - and she has no idea where. Wednesday was her 30th birthday. It's overnight (one night only) and in driving distance of Jersey City. I apologized in advance for lodging that may not be the most glamorous, but did explain that at the very least it's connected to a brewpub. Other than that, I've offered no clues. Any guesses?

In the meantime, we continue to whittle away the Maine stash...

Shipyard Brewer's Choice Royal IPA - Brilliant amber beer with a thick off white head. Nose is balanced with citrusy, floral hops and toasty, sweet malt aromas. Diacetyl is in the house. The flavor is much more hop balanced with a strongly bitter finish. Full bodied, fairly high carbonation. It's a good beer, but there's a hop pungency there that would probably keep me from ordering another. According to this article, the hops are East Kent Goldings, Challenger, and Target. I don't usually associate EKG with this kind of pungency.

And in other happy news... my six month old homebrewed barleywine is finally carbonated. I brewed this beer about six months ago. It was a three gallon batch that came in over 10% ABV. I aged it on oak cubes for a few weeks before bottling, and when I finally popped one open - probably around May - it was almost completely flat. When we came back from the wedding and it was still flat, I decided that it was time to pop them all open and add some healthy yeast. So I rehydrated a packet of dry yeast and dropped some in each bottle and (R) recapped. Well, it seems to have paid off.

And if I subject the pros to it, I must do the same to myself...

Tom E's Oak Cube Aged Barleywine (or maybe since I'm so fond of naming my beers after streets in Jersey City, how about "Bowers Booze") - Clear mahogany with garnet highlights. Thin tan head. Nice looking beer, though probably a lot darker than "the brewer" intended. Rich, caramel malt aromas with some citrusy hop notes. There's also a pleasant smoky aroma in there reminiscent of bacon, though "the brewer" swears that he did not use any smoked malt. Alcohol hits right up front on the tongue and lasts through the finish. Sweet, caramel malt flavors dominate mid-palate. Moderate bitterness. Very full, oily mouthfeel. Carbonation medium to low. An enjoyable, strong beer, though a bit underattenuated.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NYCHG August meeting wrapup

Karl, the Operations Manager for the Brooklyn Brewery, was the special guest speaker at Tuesday night's NYCHG meeting. He regaled us with some very interesting tales about the fire up at the F.X. Matt Brewery, where Brooklyn Lager and Pilsner are produced. If you don't feel like reading up about it on the Saranac site (link above), rest assured that all is now well.

A couple of years ago I went with R to a wedding up in Utica, so we took the opportunity to tour the brewery. It's a huge facility, so the tour of the production areas doesn't really hold much charm, but it finishes up in their tasting room, which is truly one of the most unique and charming places we've seen in our beer-related travels. There's a beautiful old bar and an attached room with a player piano and tables made from barrels. A really neat spot that, apparently, is only used at the end of the tour and for the occasional private party. Karl assured us that the tasting room was not damaged in the fire.

Karl was also nice enough to bring along some rare treats from the secret Brooklyn stash. The highlight was the 2000 Brooklyn Monster that was poured. A great big barleywine with alcohol, vanilla, and caramel flavors - I've got two bottles of this in the fridge myself, so I now know what I have to look forward to.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Asian sandwiches and cheap beer

Checked out a place I've been meaning to get to for a while called Province. R sent me a Times article that had some reviews of NYC sandwich shops and this was on the list. I didn't have the mackerel sandwich recommended in the article, but I had braised pork shoulder and the short rib and kimchi. Really tasty stuff. The kimchi (luckily for me) wasn't too spicy. Meat was very flavorful and the mantou buns that were talked up in the review did not disappoint.

Wasn't exactly a cheap lunch, but I did notice something interesting. They serve beer and wine, including two Goose Island selections. And they have a happy hour special starting at 4PM where beers are $3 each. Not a bad thing to check out if you have the opportunity.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trap Rock and another try at the mozz

Took a trip out to Trap Rock with R on Saturday. Inspired by the Beer Stained Letter blog? Perhaps.

The beers were excellent - I had a sampler, myself. I particularly enjoyed the seasonal William Tell ale. A very well balanced British style ale. And you really have to love a brewpub that has three lagers on tap. How great is that.

The food, however... was awesome. I had "fall off the bone" ribs and a pulled pork sandwich that was truly top notch. As good as anything I've ever had in real BBQ country. Tried some of R's lobster spring rolls and they were quite tasty with three different dipping sauces.

There were some dudes at the bar when they got there who quickly excused themselves to retire to the upstairs dining room. Turns out that was the only place to watch the Yankees game. Turns out all of the restaurants owned by the same group have no TV at the bar - this according to our very friendly barkeep. We had a very nice discussion with our new friend about the merits of that tactic. It seems a bit stodgy at first to sit at such a quiet bar, but then you realize that you're not surrounded by a bunch of jabroni's just getting loaded watching the game and it's kind of nice.

Got home and took another stab at making mozz. The first few times we tried the pot-on-the-stove method of cooking the curd, as we were really trying to go the more traditional route. This time around there were some problems with cooking the curd, so we tried the microwave method on a desperate whim to save the batch. Well, let's just say that there's a reason that the microwave method is recommended. Mozz came out very good this time. It could definitely be better - a bit rubbery and dry. But we'll get there.

Next stop - cheddar.

Also... dipped into the Portland stash, again!

Carrabassett Pale Ale
: Definite diacetyl up front with some toasty malt and earthy English hops. Definitely presents itself as an English style ale. Light on the palate with flavors that are just like the aroma. Dry, significant bitterness, and moderate carbonation. An easy drinking beer. The diacetyl is not the end of the world, but sometimes you want a little warning before you buy that kind of a beer. Just sayin'.

Chamberlain Ale
: Bright copper with a thin white head. English hops - mild, earthy, fruity - with a bit of diacetyl. A bit of sweet malt in the aroma. Caramel malt and some earthy hops in the flavor. Hops come on stronger. Finish is malt balanced - not as bitter as I expected. All in all, the kind of beer you'd expect from The Shipyard.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thrilling Franziskaner promo night at Andy's...

So long story short, nobody from Franziskaner showed at Andy's last night. Awesome. I wanted a keychain, damnit!!!

Either way, R and I had a good time meeting up with some friends there. Had a chance to ask the owner/bartender, George, about the plastic kegs. He hasn't come across any as of yet, but he's heard about them through the grapevine. He relayed a story about one years ago where a guy in England took some shrapnel to the neck after a plastic keg decided it couldn't take the pressure any more. As we both agreed, could easily be a tall tale.

Some great beers on tap at Andy's, as usual. Had an Erie Rail Bender, Spaten Lager, and Sierra Nevada Anniversary. And the pretzels, of course.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Plastic Kegs

Someone on the ever insightful AHA Tech Talk forum hipped me to Plastic Kegs America. Very, very interesting. With the price of scrap stainless and related keg theft problems I wonder if this will pick up traction in the industry. I've seen the plastic firkins around for sure, but never any plastic 1/2 bbl or sixtels.

Some random thoughts...

1) Flavor Stability - Someone has to set up a blind tasting of the same beer aged for three or four months from a stainless keg and from a plastic keg. And I would gladly offer my services on the tasting panel... just throwing it out there.

2) Physical Stability - Sure, I can imagine the right kind of plastic standing up to caustic cleaning regimens, steam sanitizing, getting banged around, etc... but what will these things look like after two or three years? Inside as well as out.

3) Just how much cheaper are they?

4) What will people steal these for? I know that the scrap isn't worth anything and they can't be used by homebrewers as kettles, but somebody will find something to do with them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Anybody know what kind of speakers these are?

Update, 8/14/08, 12:06PM - According to the great Ted Weber, these are Eminence speakers made for Fender, circa 1968. They have been reconed by a company in Chicago called Waldom.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oktoberfest day

Sunday is brew day. I get to pitch that wonderful yeast that I've been culturing up into a full 5.5 gallons of wort. Here's the lowdown on the Oktoberfest:

10lbs Wyermann Vienna malt
.5 lbs Weyermann Melanoidin malt

Mash in at 122˚F for 20 minutes, 1qt:1lb liquor to grist ratio. Add in enough boiling water to rest at 152˚ for one hour. Sparge and collect 7.25 gallons. Boil down to 5.75 gallons, OG 1.054. Hops:

.75oz Polish Marynka pellets for duration of boil
.5oz Hallertau with 20 minutes remaining in boil

Add whilrfloc tab at 15 minutes remaining, 1/2tsp rehydrated yeast nutrient with 10 minutes remaining. Cool down to 50˚, O2 for two minutes, pitch lager yeast slurry.

As we brew, I dipped into the Maine stash again. Tried:

Andrew's English Pale Ale: Copper with a huge, rocky off white head. Soapy, perfumey, almost "Belgian" aroma. Pretty significant hop aroma, citrusy, earthy. Not much malt aroma. Flavor was hop balanced again, carbonation high. Medium-high bitterness. Interesting beer. I'd like to try it directly from the source and have the opportunity to ask the brewer what's going on here. The estery, yeasty aromas up front are confusing, but overall it's a pretty drinkable beer. Also love that the label slipped right off, making it easy for me to put the bottle into my homebrew stash.

Saturday in Lambertville and New Hope

Spent Saturday with R down in Lambertville and New Hope. Had lunch at:

Triumph Brewing Company: A really sharp restaurant. Nice, big space with indoor dining room(s), outdoor seating overlooking the train tracks, and a big bar area. Beers were great. The Kolsch was outstanding, as was the Jewish Rye. Too bad they didn't have the Kellerbier on tap. The food was great too. Smoked mozz sticks and a burger for me and a salad and sandwich for R. Only problem was that we ate to the point of almost having to be rolled out of the place.

After lunch we had a look around some of the many antiques shops in the immediate area. Then later took a walk to:

The Swan Hotel: This is one of our favorite places. Just a great relaxing setting. Big leather couches and a big window looking out on the patio. We always have a nice time here. So what if the drink menu leaves a lot to be desired. I had a Fuller's ESB. Leave me alone.

One of these days we'll get around to dining at the Swan. Or I guess it's actually Anton's at the Swan? Is this place an actual hotel? Or is it a restaurant in a former hotel? If anyone knows what's actually going on here, clue me in.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Havlicek stole the beer!

Oh, you were looking for the other Havlicek?

Riding on NJ Transit to Montclair this afternoon and took myself the opportunity to enjoy an adult beverage. I mean, it's a sin to pass up a beer on the train, right?

Havlicek Pilsner: On the train, so I was unable to pour it into a glass to fully appreciate the bouquet, inspect the color and clarity, and scrutinize the head retention. Sue me. Great soft, floral hop aroma. Definitely Saaz, as advertised on the bottle. Some sweet malt aroma. Flavor reflects aroma. When American micros brew their interpretations of Czech pilsners, they would do well to reference this beer when they calculate their IBU's. The bitterness in this beer is just right. Balances the sweetness perfectly without being over the top. Medium bodied with moderate carbonation. I enjoyed this beer thoroughly.

Also, R and I stopped by the Cricket Hill tour this evening. I apologize to the blogosphere for not updating my calendar (seen left) to accurately reflect my whereabouts. We stuffed ourselves silly at the diner before going over, so we weren't really feeling so beersy. Either way, we sampled the Jersey Breakfast Summer Ale, East Coast Lager, American Ale, and Colonel Blides. Always a pleasure to stop by and see Mr. Reed and sample his latest brews.

Joe Sixpack's take on the new Bud Ale

Don Russell (Philly's own Joe Sixpack) offers his take on Bud's new offering, "American Ale".

I love skepticism. So I really loved Don's scathing deconstruction of the promotional material that he received with his sample. Long story short, there's a letter from the company describing American Ale and Don basically rips him a new asshole.

As for the beer? Sounds like there isn't much there. However, I'll be the judge of that when I find it on tap somewhere. I'm not so cynical that I won't give it a shot with an open mind. Look for it on your shelves and in your gin mills on or after September 15th.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stone Coast Knuckleball Bock

Polished off the last of the Maine cheese this evening while watching the Giants preseason contest versus the Lions of Detroit. Also sampled this beer:

Stone Coast Knuckleball Bock: Third beer from the right on the page above. Clear, deep amber, with a thin tan head. Bready munich malt aromas with some fruity esters and alcohol. Full bodied with pretty high carbonation. Malty, but not sweet. Just the right touch of hop bitterness. Great beer, wouldn't be stunned if I found out that it's brewed with an ale yeast.

My lager yeast starter is still going. I'll crash it tomorrow or Saturday in time to decant the starter beer and have plenty of lager yeast raring to go for the Oktoberfest brew on Sunday. Two weeks in the primary plus three to four in the secondary - should be ready for the middle of September.

In other yeasty news, I think I'm going to get a bottle of Castelain, steal the yeast from the bottle and culture it up to brew a biere de garde. Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Maine brews

Dipping into the Portland stash again tonight...

Bar Harbor Thunder Hole Ale: Brilliant mahogany color. Fizzy off white head that disappears quickly. Chocolate and roast aromas. A touch of dark fruit aroma - raisins, plums. In the flavor, more roast than chocolate. Some of the fruitiness up front, but hop bitterness and carbonation dominate the mouthfeel. Somewhat surprising for a beer that starts out like a chocolatey English style brown ale.

Stone Coast Brewing Jamaican Style Stout: Pours black with a thin tan head. Strong alcohol aroma. Sweet smelling, like milk chocolate and toffee. Some fruity esters become more apparent in the flavor. Starts sweet and finishes with roast, hop bitterness, and alcohol warming. Very full bodied with fairly high carbonation. Definitely hits the mark with sweetness, alcohol, and body, but personally I prefer these kinds of Caribbean stouts to have a bit more roast up front.

I have to say, it confounds me that these breweries don't keep any information on their seasonals (or what I assume to be seasonals) on their sites. I'd rather link to their sites than Beer Advocate reviews, but whatev. Their loss, missing out on valuable linkage from the ever popular Destination Beer blog.

Hopefully we won't get "The Schlitz" this time

Pretty good article about the return of Schlitz beer. I'll certainly look forward to trying it once we see it here on the East Coast. I'm no hop snob and I certainly welcome the refreshing taste of an American light lager! I just hope I don't have the Schlitz the next morning...

Meet my friends

I've watched them grow up from single colonies of lager yeast on a petri dish, to 10ml test tubes, to 100ml flasks (seen left), and last night they graduated up to 1000ml yeast starters. Brings a tear to me eye. This weekend I'll watch them unite to ferment 5 gallons of Oktoberfest. I hope I don't wind up with empty nest syndrome.

Next time I go through the process of culturing up yeast from scratch like this I'll post on all of the steps.

Monday, August 4, 2008

This shrew will drink you under the table

This little bastard LOVES to party. Check him out.

I wonder what we have to do to get our hands on some of that "previously unknown species of yeast". Doesn't that seem like something that the folks at Dogfish Head would just be dying to get their hands on?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Busy weekend in the brewery

So much cool shiz happened this weekend, I don't even know where to begin. Racked the Pale Ale to a keg. Harvested the yeast from said beer. Brewed the dubbel and spent a few hours dealing with the aftermath of the most violent fermentation I've ever seen. Finally visited the famous Andy's Corner Bar in Bogota. I'm finally able to wind down from all of the excitement and provide some details on brew day...

Here's the lowdown on the dubbel:

13lbs Dingeman's Pilsner Malt
1lb Dingeman's Special B
1lb Brown Soft Belgian Candi Sugar (added to boil)

1oz Polish Marynka hops 6.5%AA bittering hops
1/4oz Hallertau whole leaf hops 4.5% AA boiled 15min

Whirlfloc tab and candi sugar at 15 minutes remaining in the boil, 1/2tsp rehydrated yeast nutrient at 10 min.

Mash at 148˚F for one hour. 1qt:1lb liquor to grist ratio. Add enough boiling water to mash out at 168˚. Collected 7.25 gallons wort at 1.055 SG. Boiled down to 6 gallons at OG 1.077. Cooled to 78˚, gave it 2min O2, and pitched Wyeast Abbey Ale Yeast II slurry.

I meant to get it down to 70˚ out of the wort chiller, but didn't quite get there. I pitched the yeast anyway and figured that it would get down to 70˚ overnight in the fermentation fridge before the yeast kicked in. Well, I was wrong. The next morning the glass that I had the blowoff tube in had completely spilled over and I spent some time cleaning up the considerable mess which, lucky for me, was isolated to the interior of the fridge. The carboy was still reading 78˚. I was able to figure a way to contain the blowoff and get the temp down to 70˚ within a few hours. A day later we're still rocking at 67˚ and holding. Let's hope it doesn't taste disgusting.

Andy's did not disappoint. Large selection of bottled beer, including some not too common here in Jersey (I had a Founders Pale Ale and Centennial IPA). Tap selection had a very local theme - mostly NJ, NY, and PA beers. Great crowd and great bartenders. And one very pleasant surprise is that the customers at Andy's probably have the highest beer IQ of any NJ bar I've ever been to. Plenty of people at the bar enjoying and talking about good beer.