Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WLP925 - finally an evaluation

I finally have a beer tapped up that I fermented with the WLP925 High Pressure Lager Yeast. At least one that's worth drinking anyway. The first lesson I learned with this yeast is that it's seriously non-flocculent, so with the Dunkel that I first brewed to be fermented with this yeast I had to dump the entire four liter starter into it. It doesn't taste all that swell, so I figured I'd wait until this second pitch to pass judgment on the yeast.

The recipe was about 99% Weyermann Pale Ale malt with a dash of Carafoam. Bittering hops only, no flavor or aroma additions. Fermented with the second pitch of the WLP925 yeast at around 64F under about 15psi. OG 1.053, FG 1.012 after just under two weeks. Racked it to secondary for ten days at 35F. Fined with gelatin and racked to serving keg.

The beer is a deep gold with a thick, tight white head. Slight haze. Tough coaxing the aroma out of it. Some grain, some bread crust. Also some light esters of the ethyl hexanoate variety - apple, aniseed. Some alcohol showing even though it's only 5.4%. Malt sweetness with some definite bready notes in the flavor. Esters and alcohol don't show as they did in the nose. Bitterness is moderate. Mouthfeel is creamy in the middle and finishes dry. Carbonation is soft, though definitely high enough to be appropriate to style.

I've got a couple of other batches coming with re-pitches of this yeast, so I'll wait to see how those come out before a final verdict, but here are some early pros and cons:

  1. This strain attenuates very nicely, which I think is important for a lager strain.
  2. Capturing carbonation during primary fermentation seems to have really created an interesting mouthfeel. This beer doesn't have that carbonic bite that may or may not happen in some beers that are force carbonated.
  3. Pretty clean lager beer in about three weeks.

  1. The yeast doesn't flocculate at all. Even after fining with gelatin it's still a little hazy. Also, I basically wasted the first batch that was pitched with the entire starter since the starter yeast wouldn't flocculate. I think that the next time I would use this yeast I'd just get a few vials and pitch them all instead of making a starter.
  2. The beer isn't completely clean. The slight esters that it created bothered me. I had a problem with my spunding valve during primary fermentation that I corrected with a new pressure relief valve in the most recent batch. We'll see if that corrects it.
  3. This is nitpicking, but I don't think that the yeast performs as quickly as advertised. I think you need at least 10 days in primary to get complete attenuation, another week or so in the secondary and to condition and clarify, then another day to settle in the serving keg. So I'd be hesitant to call it a beer any sooner than two and a half weeks after brew day.
For those in the NYCHG I'll try to bring some samples to the January meeting.

Friday, December 4, 2009

So on Tuesday I'll be entered in this homebrew contest being held by The Office restaurants. Jeff at Beer Stained Letter wrote about it a few days ago here. My Oatmeal Stout will be in full effect at the Montclair location. If I'm lucky enough to be chosen the winner on Tuesday, I'll be back there again on Saturday to face off against the winners from all of the other Office locations. The winner on Saturday has their beer brewed at High Point in Butler and their beer will be served as a winter seasonal at all of The Office locations.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fun and games with WLP925

A lot of people have asked me about the WLP925 yeast that used recently, so I thought I'd provide an update.

First of all, I'm really treating this first batch like a big yeast starter. I had some problems with this past brew, and I don't want to truly evaluate this yeast strain based on this batch. Some of the problems were my fault - screwed up chilling my wort and didn't get it nearly as cool as I wanted when I pitched the yeast. And some of the problems were related to this yeast strain and the new process associated with using it - had some trouble getting my spunding valve dialed in to 15psi, so the pressure on the fermenter fluctuated throughout fermentation.

Also, this yeast appears to be pretty non-flocculant. I had to pitch the entire four liter starter because the yeast just wouldn't settle out to the bottom of the flask. I hate dumping starter wort/beer into the five and a half gallons of wort I've just worked so hard to create. Yet another reason I'll reserve judgement on this batch.

I actually changed up my original plan to do a helles type lager and brewed something more along the lines of a dunkel. It came in at 1.054. When I racked to a secondary last night, it measured out at 1.014. 74% attenuation is about what I would have expected, so I was happy with that result. The beer is also pretty well carbonated since it's been under pressure all this time. That's one of the benefits of using this yeast, but it also makes racking, measuring gravity, and washing yeast a bit treacherous.

As for the sample, it was tough to get a good read on it. It was very cloudy, again confirming my observations that this yeast strain doesn't flocculate well. I'll probably have to do some kind of fining in the secondary, which I'd really rather not do. Especially since the beer is already carbonated. We'll see. Maybe a week at 35F will do it some good.

The toasty malt character that I was going for in the dunkel recipe that I brewed was definitely up front, so that was a very good thing. However, it was very yeasty tasting, which made it difficult to really evaluate well. More on this next week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Upcoming brew plans and SCH competition

A big thanks to the Stoney Creek Homebrewers whose second annual competition was a huge success this past weekend. I went down to the General Lafayette Inn with some entries and to judge. I wound up judging Belgian Strong Ales in the morning (as usual) and Amber Hybrids in the afternoon.

It was a real treat to have two short flights. The more competitions I judge, the more I find that doing shorter flights (in this case eight in the morning, seven in the afternoon) makes the whole process much better. I think that it makes the day go more smoothly for everyone involved and allows the judges to provide better feedback. I don't care what kind of expert you are and how great your palate is, once you start to get into ten, twelve, even more beers in a flight, you're going to have some fatigue. So great job by the SCH crew in keeping it tight.

I was also quite pleased to place with a few of my entries. I was particularly happy with how my Dortmunder Export did, as that's a recipe that I've been tweaking and trying to perfect for a while now. The feedback from the judges was definitely very flattering.

Speaking of lagers, I've got my WLP925 yeast starter working as of last night. I plan on brewing Friday night. I'll get my spunding valve all ready to go this week in preparation. The brew will be something along the lines of a helles. I have a bunch of Weyermann Pale Ale malt laying around and I want to use it up before it goes bad, plus for the first try with this yeast I want to do a very clean, basic kind of a beer. I think I'm going to do almost 100% base malt (with a dash of cara-pils) and no aroma or flavor hops. Boring, I know, but I think that this will be the best way to judge the flavor profile of this yeast.

Friday, November 13, 2009

New NJ Beer Book - Jersey Brew

There's a new book out about the history of brewing in New Jersey. Sounds like a pretty interesting read. Hopefully Santa leaves a copy under the tree for me this year. He knows I've been good...

New Jersey was once a huge center of brewing in America - particularly in Newark. I'll look forward to reading up on this history. It's also nice to read that the author spent some time on the current craft breweries in the state and is giving them some publicity. We need more people advocating for New Jersey breweries like this. The more people talk about and take an interest in NJ beer, the more local bars and stores will get interested in carrying them.
$19.95 at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I came across this op-ed piece in the Asbury Park Press about the NJ state liquor license policy and it left me scratching my head. The gist of the it is that NJ does not make a beer/wine only license available for restaurants, making it much harder for joints unable to secure a liquor license to stay in business. Basically you're either a BYOB establishment or you have a full liquor license.

And anyone who's done any research on opening a bar or restaurant will know that you don't just apply for a liquor license, wait for the state to process some paperwork, and you're in business. Liquor licenses are controlled by municipalities and the number available is fixed based on the population of that municipality. According to the state's ABC handbook, it's one liquor license per 3,000 residents (with exceptions, of course). And I think you'd be hard pressed to find a municipality that has available licenses. 99.9% of the time a license is transfered when someone sells an existing business.

The head scratching on this author's part comes from having dined in NJ establishments where there's a limited selection of beer or wine only available for sale. I know that I've been in places where you can buy beer or wine or bring your own. I don't want to name names because I don't want to get anyone in trouble if they're bending any rules. But with no liquor license, how is an NJ restaurant selling beer or wine?

One thing I can say for sure is that if there were a beer/wine only license available, it would definitely make the opening of a certain someone's fantasy idea brewpub much more feasible. Just throwing it out there, Trenton.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

River Horse - Meet the Brewer Night at LITM

Thought I'd take the opportunity to post some actual Jersey City beer news. From the Garden State Craft Brewer's Guild newsletter:
Come by to LITM to meet River Horse reps and sample
great beers. The event takes place Wednesday, November 18th from 6 to 9 PM.
Featuring all year round beers plus two special releases.

There's nothing on either brewery's site yet about this, so this is all the info available that I know of at this time. River Horse makes some pretty good beers - I especially enjoy the Special Ale. They're starting to get some more distribution up in Hudson County, so check them out.


On the homebrew front, I'm about to start revving up the WLP925 yeast in a starter for my next brew. I can't wait to see how this yeast performs. I don't really care about all of the German tradition and having to lager a beer for six weeks. If I can get good clean lager beer in two weeks, I'll be super pumped.

I've also got two versions of R's Favorite Oatmeal Stout now - same recipe, one fermented with lager yeast, the other with an ale yeast. Should be tapping up the ale version soon, so it will be interesting to see how they compare. I have a feeling that given the strong malty flavors in this beer, the impact of the yeasts on the flavor will be subtle.

I also have one of my all time worst beers on tap now, a Dunkelweizen fermented with a dry wheat beer yeast strain. It's pretty brutal. Some of it is recipe, some is the yeast. I'm about ready to give up on dry yeasts at this point.

A week and a half until the Stoney Creek Homebrewer's Amateur Brewing Championship at the General Lafayette Inn. What are the chances that they'll have the PPV of the Cotto-Pacquiao fight at the bar? Slim or none?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reno International Canned Beer Festival

Here's another article that I came across and thought was pretty cool. A festival celebrating canned craft beer is a pretty cool idea whose time has definitely come.

I've been of the belief that cans are the way of the future for the craft beer industry and the tide is (very) slowly shifting. More and more craft brewers are taking advantage of the can and I've been trying to make a point of picking them up when I see them in local stores. As a matter of fact, 21st Amendment is now being distributed in NYC and NJ, and I picked up a sixer of 21st Amendment IPA a couple of weeks ago at The Palisade in JC Heights.

By the way, The Palisade is the best beer store in Hudson County. Don't know if I've pointed that out in this space before...

From a beer quality perspective, cans have an advantage over bottles in that they are completely impervious to light. Cans also now have a thin lining (some kind of a ceramic, I believe) that prevents the beer from reacting with the aluminum in the can, so forget about any idea that you have about a tinny or metallic taste coming from canned beer. Get over it.

From the brewer's perspective, the relatively recent availability of the small scale canning line is the big development. Small canning lines are relatively inexpensive (relative to a bottling line), less complicated, and easier to operate. Some canning lines can successfully be operated by one person - think about how heavy a pallet of empty bottles is vs. a pallet of empty cans.

The problem for a brewer using cans is that they're pre-printed, meaning that you have to order a ton of them up front, which is a significant investment. You can't just slap a new label on when you come out with a new beer. But then again, ask any brewer running a bottling line and 9 out of 10 will tell you that the labeler is the biggest pain in the neck on the bottling line.

So buy some canned beer. If you have "a thing" against canned beer, get over it. It's all in your head. Besides, when you're done with it you can crush it in your fist or against your head. Or you can shotgun one. Try that with a bottle.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Support Rock Art Brewery vs. Bullshit

I've been following this story for a few days now. The long and the short of it is that the makers of Monster energy drinks are suing Rock Art in Vermont over their Vermonster Barleywine. Check out this video to hear Matt Nadeau from Rock Art tell the story himself.

You can really hear the frustration in Matt's voice in this interview. He's genuinely hurt by this action, and who can blame him? I can only imagine how I'd feel in his shoes right now. If I ever realize my dream and manage to open a brewery, I don't think I'd be able to react in the kind of composed fashion that Matt is, so I give him a ton of credit. I'd either go all ninja on the Hansen headquarters - penetrate the CEO's office through an air duct and pee all over his keyboard - or drop dead of a brain hemorrhage as soon as I got the cease and desist order.

You know what to do. Support Rock Art. Don't buy anything made by Hansen. Better yet, contact Hansen and let them know what you think here.

I would also note that I had the Vermonster at the Vermont Brewer's Festival last July. Matt was there to lead a very informative beer and cheese pairing. If you see the Vermonster out on the shelves, pick it up. It's a great barleywine.

And another note - Rock Art has a Save the Vermonster page set up on their site. It states:

"Rally cry for Rock Art by rockers:danzig "mother""
No idea what that means, but I love it. Get pumped!!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Greg Noonan passes

I browsed over to the BJCP site just a few minutes ago and was completely stunned to see the news of Greg Noonan's passing on the front page of the site.

For those who don't know, Greg was the founder and brewer at one of the best brewpubs around - if not the best brewpub around - the Vermont Pub and Brewery. When I went to the Vermont Brewer's Festival in July with R, we hit the VPB several times and I posted about how great it was shortly after our visit. He was also the author of several brewing books, notably Brewing Lager Beer and the Scotch Ale volume of the Classic Styles Series.

I also met Greg after completing the American Brewers Guild course a couple of years ago. At the conclusion of the course, Greg gave us a tour of the VPB and spent some time chatting with the graduates of the class over a beer. He couldn't have been more friendly and accomodating. He also left us with really great advice for the future.

Cheers, Greg. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stumbling across some beer press

I'm used to actively pursuing my beer coverage. I have my blogs that I read, my magazines that I subscribe to, and the regional beer rags that I pick up whenever I'm at a bar or restaurant that has them around. Also, the AHA's Tech Talk forum has just started sending out a daily compilation of headlines and links to interesting articles from around the world. Yet another reason to sign up for your AHA membership.

The Tech Talk forum recently hipped me to this article about a dude who's set up a small scale hop farm in upstate New York. New York State was at one time the premier hop growing region in the states until disease wiped out the farms (downy mildew, I believe - don't quote me on that). So I was pretty psyched when I read about someone who's not a brewer by trade bringing hop farming back to the region. Even if it is in a very limited and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants capacity.

I'm not used to just randomly stumbling across beer coverage, however. That's why I was surprised when I browsed to one of my favorite recipe sites and saw a big colorful spot for an article on beer and food pairing - complete with a big Ommegang bottle right smack in the middle. This article doesn't cover any new territory for those of us in the know, but it is pretty cool to see something like this getting front page coverage on a very reputable cooking site. And they do tell the truth:

"Beer may actually be more food-friendly than wine is."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Upcoming Jersey City Oktoberfest events

I've been unable to locate any info on the Oktoberfest "parade" on Grove Street in JC, but in the meantime, here are a couple of things going on:

Through 10/27, Zeppelin Hall will be celebrating Oktoberfest with oompah bands, dancing, food, beers, etc... Haven't made it down there to see how often they're actually doing it up, but it's a nice space and worth checking out. It's pretty reasonable and the beers have been in good shape each time we've been down there.

From this Thursday, the 24th through Saturday, the 26th, Iron Monkey will have some Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers on tap with a six pour sampler available. The Monkey's a pretty cool spot, though definitely much smaller and more upscale than Zeppelin if you're looking to chow down.

And for some non-JC Oktoberfest news that completely blew my mind up, check out what's going on at the Milford Oyster House. This is a pretty serious hike from JC, but sounds freaking awesome. Oysters and a pig? And Oktoberfest beers? Ate here with R a few months back and it was excellent, so I would completely advocate checking this out if you have the chance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Awesome new yeast strain

I haven't posted anything in a while because nothing terribly exciting has been going on. Although today I'm patiently awaiting a FedEx package with two unique White Labs vials inside.

Poking around on the White Labs site last week I noticed the High Pressure lager yeast (WLP925) that's listed by them as a professional strain. According to their instructions, you can use this yeast to produce clean lagers by fermenting the whole time under 15psi. Primary for one week between 62F and 68F, secondary for 3-5 days at 35F. Of course I got all hot and bothered when I read this and set about scouring the internet to find out how to get my hands on it.

Even though it's a professional only strain according to White Labs, I found it for sale at Midwest. So it's on its way today. When I'm ready to do another lager, I'll build up a starter and ferment in a corny keg with a shortened dip tube. This will allow me to maintain the 15psi necessary and leave the yeast and trub behind in the keg when I rack to the secondary (serving keg).

I've heard that some of the mega brewers are able to turn lagers around faster by fermenting warmer under pressure. When yeast are in a pressurized environment they produce fewer esters. We'll see how this experiment goes. If this turns out to be "the one", it could be a game-changer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Who owns lime?

I've seen a few articles in the past couple of days about a lawsuit filed by A-B/InBev/Labatt and friends against a Canada's Brick Brewing Company over their Red Baron Lime product. There's no question that Bud Light Lime has been the greatest success story for A-B to hang their hat on in recent years - probably bigger for them than Blue Moon has been for Coors. In their terms they'd probably say that they're protecting their brand and their share of the market place. But make no mistake. This is a shot across the bow, definitely intended to scare any of the little guys out there who try to fuck with their shit (sorry for the language, I've been watching a lot of Kenny Powers clips lately).

The plaintiff's claims are twofold - that Brick is ripping off their label and design, and that their product is inferior and will somehow damage the reputation of Bud Light Lime. The latter is just ridiculous and really warrants no real consideration. People aren't stupid. They don't look at the shelf and think that A-B is responsible for every product they see (even though A-B would certainly love for that to be the case). Just like I can buy two different jars of salsa and decide to keep buying the one that I think tastes best, I can pick out which of the two lime flavored beers is superior. Or I can just keep moving - but that's another story.

As far as the design goes, as much as I hate to say it, maybe A-B has a case here:

It's definitely not blatant, but I have a hard time believing that the similarities are coincidental. And when you compare Brick's Laker Lager label and marketing designs to Labatt Blue, I think there's precedent.

You see, they're McDonalds, I'm McDowell's. They got the golden arches, mine is the golden arcs...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Malt Madness Awesomeness

I wanted to take a quick moment to give some props to the folks in the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers club whose Malt Madness competition this past weekend was fantastic.

The compettion itself went off without a hitch. The morning session, lunch, afternoon session, BOS round, and awards all flowed in punctual fashion - no small task for a competition with some 450 entries. Absolutely great job by the competition coordinators, judge coordinators, stewards, and judges. And the folks at the Allentown Brewworks put out a really nice spread for us. I've come not to expect much for lunch at most homebrew competitions, but this was a pleasant surprise. I pigged out on salad, a cheeseburger, a pulled pork sandwich (the highlight), and some ziti.

Most importantly, I can't say enough about the homebrew I tasted this past weekend. In the first round I judged a flight of strong Belgian ales. We had a couple of very good trippels, but otherwise I found myself underwhelmed. However, in the afternoon session I was assigned to pilsners and amber lagers. I found myself completely blown away by some of the best homebrew I've ever tasted. We had a German pilsner, Oktoberfest, Vienna lager, and American pilsner that were all top notch. These were beers that I would definitely pay good money to drink a full glass of. As someone who loves to brew lagers and prides himself on their quality, I realize that I've got to step up my game. These eastern PA guys are really brewing some kick ass lagers.

I was lucky enough to place with a couple of brews and come away with a killer prize - a gift certificate to Porter's Pub in Easton! So I was able to treat R to a nice dinner at one of our favorite places. A great weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"New Dry's" strike in Maine

Wow. It never ceases to amaze me what people in this country actually care about.

So this Rep. Webster character votes to pass a law basically stating that children can't see adults consuming alcohol because he's afraid of kids walking into a grocery store and seeing adults standing around drinking liquor. He's accomplished his goal. But what else has he taken a giant dump on? Does this mean that you can't have a festival in a park - like the fantastic Vermont Brewer's Festival - without putting up a giant opaque wall around the whole thing? Theoretically this would eliminate the possibility of having any kind of festival or tasting outdoors. Did he and the other legislators up there actually think about this thing or did they just pass a law that a bunch of neo-prohbitionists pressured him to pass?

Webster represents Freeport Maine. I wonder if he's heard from his constituents at Freeport Brewing Company or Gritty McDuff's?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Me and my big mouth...

Boy do I wish I hadn't come across that last article that I blogged about. Part 2 of George Lenker's series on amateur beer writers started an avalanche of crappy reading to clog up my browser windows.

First off, I finished Part 2 and couldn't believe what I was reading from a professional journalist. I was actually looking forward to reading some constructive, well-thought-out criticism of amateur beer writing - the kind of thing you'd expect from someone who is a "real" journalist. Instead the article/blog post/whatever it was turns out to be some stream of consciousness bellyaching. I mean, if you're not going to give us at least one concrete example of what you mean, who cares? What's the point? The whole thing comes off as more amateurish than the writing he's complaining about.

Of course, it looks like it took no time at all for the bloggerati to start the attack. And for Lenker to respond, blaming everyone else for mis-understanding him. If he were smart, he'd use the hereforthebeer blog post as an example of what's wrong with amateur writing. On the internet, everyone is an expert, and you can put words in someone else's mouth (never said they sucked, never called them losers) without any real repercussions. And the tone of their response was even more childish than Lenker's original piss-into-the-wind complaint.

Thanks for nothing, guys. Now where will I get those precious minutes back....

What's that you say? It gets worse?

Of course, from the hereforthebeer post, I wind up linking over to an article recapping an incredibly important moment in craft beer history that went down at the most recent Savor event in DC. I'll let you read it for yourself. I know, this is big time stuff. I hope you're sitting down....

The great Sam Calagione, the greatest brewer of all time, the most important and handsome man in craft brewing today, gave us the formal definitions of Beer Geek and Beer Snob. I'm sure that as this happened the heavens parted and Sam touched the Lord's finger like in Michaelangelo's Sistene Chapel, and the $115 that all of the attendees paid for admission (plus the additional cost of attending the Salon) were simultaneously used to wipe the ass of some yuppie event planner.

I'll spend the rest of my day trying to figure out what important piece of information was shuttled from my brain to make room for the Beer Geek and Beer Snob definitions.

Seriously - do people really care about this shit? I have to be honest, all of this garbage really got me thinking. It just seems like a funny sign to me. It made me think back to the '90's when the microbrewing scene experienced an adjustment (went bust, whatever you want to call it) because there were a bunch of people involved for all of the wrong reasons. All of this attention paid to a bunch of trivial shit feels wrong to me. That plus the recent BA numbers and some other things I've seen in the news gave me a funny feeling that maybe we're peaking here. Maybe I'll post on that later.

Sorry, now I'm getting all stream of consciousness myself. Who cares, I'm an amateur!!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This means you (or me, rather)!

George Lenker (The Beer Nut from The Massachusetts Republican) presents an interesting take on the subject of beer writing. He's taking issue with the value of the ramblings of amateur hacks, such as myself.

Professional journalists are making their way through the 21st century media landscape as best they can and it's always interesting to hear them explain their value over that of the folks who make up the blogosphere out on the internerd. Generally speaking, I agree with the notion that there's a lot of garbage out there these days and it's not always easy to separate the facts from the opinions of a bunch of blowhards. But when our "professional" media landscape is dotted by (and often dominated by) the Glenn Beck's and Rush O'Reilly's of the world, it's not hard to turn around and point a finger back at the journalists who are supposed to be "fair and balanced" <pukes in mouth a little>...

Lenker's piece is the only one I can think of that is focusing this discussion on beer writing. And I'm interested to read what else he has to say. If he takes the Beer Advocate review nerds to the woodshed, I'm all for it. However, I'm hoping that he acknowledges some of the drivel coming from his colleagues as well.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Beer Petitions

Came across this interesting new site today. And it looks very new. There's hardly anything up there for NY, and nothing for NJ or PA.

I'm curious to see if this takes off. If it does, I'll be even more interested to see if it has any impact. If I were a retail store, craft beer bar, or distributor, I'd definitely keep my eye on it to see if I'm getting any requests.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Charlie P in the Garden State

After missing BA/AHA guru Charlie Papazian at the Vermont Brewers Festival, it turns out I missed him again recently right here in Jersey. Here he is giving a few shout-outs to Krogh's and Long Valley. It's nice to see a few NJ brewpubs getting some national exposure. His next stops appear to be along the Delaware River, so lets hope he hits the Ship Inn and River Horse.

I wonder if he was at Krogh's on Saturday, the 1st? If so, he should have stopped by the Best of Show round at the NJ State Fair competition up in Sussex, not too far from Sparta. Krogh's sponsored the competition. Yours truly was lucky enough to take first place in the Specialty and Wood Aged Beer category for an oak aged olde ale.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On pH Measurement

On my most recent brew day, I took pH measurements throughout and took some pics. Not sure how much use the pictures of the strips will be - they don't always jive with what they looked like to my naked eye as I read them. I'll describe each step where I took measurements, what they mean, and how you as a homebrewer should look to take measurements as you go.

Mash pH

Much has been made about mash pH, and I won't get into it all over again. I think that John Palmer's How To Brew gives as fine a rundown on mash pH as anything out there and it's already up on the web. If you want to understand how residual alkalinity works, how different minerals affect mash pH, and how to dial your mash pH into the correct range, read up. I'll wait...

I think that the most frustrating thing about the discussion of mash pH is that nobody tells you how to measure it. I'll attempt to address that in this very space.

You'll often hear that your mash pH should be 5.2. It's a common statement that you'll hear from brewers. And there's truth to it. Palmer says that mash pH should be in the 5.2-5.6 range and this is for a number of reasons; optimal enzymatic activity in the mash, wort and beer clarity, healthy fermentation, a more pleasant hop bitterness, finished beer flavor, and more.

However, when it comes to measuring mash pH, there's a critical point that should not be overlooked. Palmer makes it himself, but for the best and most succinct explanation, I'll refer to page 75 of Dr. Charles Bamforth's Standards of Brewing:

"Remember that pH changes with temperature, and so wort at 149F will have a pH about .35 lower than that measured at 68F."

With that in mind, let's think about a couple of things:

  1. Most pH meters that we homebrewers can afford are not rated to take measurements at standard mash temps (145 to 158F).

  2. When you take a measurement of your hot mash pH with a pH strip, it almost immediately comes to room temperature once you're looking at it out in the air, up against the guide on the package, or against a white background of your choosing. You don't read the strip while it's immersed in the hot mash.

So, even though your mash at mash temperature should be 5.2 to 5.6, you're actually going to look to read 5.55 to 5.95 at room temperature (68F). In the case of my most recent brew day, I took a 3 oz sample from my mash and cooled it to room temperature. I took pH measurements with five separate instruments and here are the results with some pictures:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 6.06 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 6.04 (+/- 0.1 pH)

The first thing that I learned from these readings was that my mash pH was higher than what I wanted. I made an addition of a 10% phosphoric acid solution to my mash to lower the pH and came up with the following readings:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.5 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.3 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 5.55 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 5.52 (+/- 0.1 pH)

This brought me to a mash pH of about 5.2 (correcting the Martini meter from 5.53 - 0.35 = 5.18). What I learned from these two sets of data was the following:

  1. The meters are simply much more accurate than the strips, both in their stated levels of accuracy and in the elimination of operator error. Which leads me to...

  2. The strips can be difficult to read. The difference between 5.5 and 5.8 on the economy (4.6-6.2) strips and 5.3 and 5.5 on the ColorpHast strips is extremely subtle. I honestly don't know that my eyes can tell the difference between 5.3 and 5.5 on the ColorpHast strip.

  3. The ColorpHast strips seem to measure consistently low. There's a fella who's been doing a study of the shift on the ColorpHast strips and he's determined that they're pretty consistently off by about -0.3 from actual pH.

  4. Having ATC (automatic temperature correction) on the meter is pretty useful. In the case of this exercise I took a lot of time out of my brew day to take measurements and pictures. But on a normal brew day I absolutely would not want to. With ATC I only really need to get my sample into a reasonable temperature range to get an accurate reading. I don't need to get the sample to a specific temperature, which makes it easier to get an accurate reading on the fly.
Pre-Boil Wort pH
Mash pH is the most critical measurement. In theory, if you get your mash pH dialed in, your wort pH both pre and post boil should follow correctly. However, measuring wort pH both pre and post boil can be a valuable tool in troubleshooting, as was the case in my most recent brew day.

I brewed a light lager this time around, which meant a really light beer that would push my pH towards the upper limits - no roasted malts to acidify the mash. It also meant a really low original gravity, and the possibility of a weaker, more alkaline sparge. I didn't fly sparge the mash this time around - I batch sparged. So I didn't get to test the pH of the runnings throughout the sparge. That might have been illuminating. Maybe next time. Anyway, here are the results of the pH measurements of the pre-boil wort:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.5 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 5.73 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 5.76 (+/- 0.1 pH)

As per this BYO article by Steve Parkes, wort pH should drop from the 5.6-5.8 range pre-boil, to the 5.2-5.4 range post-boil. My pre-boil pH seemed to be fine. The rise in pH from mash during the sparge would be explained by basically dilluting a high gravity, highly buffered wort, with water at a higher pH. In this case I seemed to be fine. However, after a 75 minute boil...

Post-Boil Wort pH

According to the same Parkes article, the drop in pH during the boil;

is primarily due to the precipitation of calcium phosphate. Calcium ions in brewing water reacts with phosphates from the malt to form calcium phospate and hydrogen ions, which lower wort pH.
However, my post-boil wort pH measurements were:

Economy wide range strip reading: 6.0 (+/- 1.0 pH)

Economy 4.6-6.2 range strip reading: 5.8 (+/- 0.2 pH)

ColorpHast pH strip reading: 5.5 (+/- 0.3 pH)

Hanna Checker meter: 5.76 (+/- 0.1 pH)

Martini meter with ATC: 5.80 (+/- 0.1 pH)

If anything, my wort pH went up (if only slightly)!!! I wonder why? Steve...

This demonstrates the importance of excess calcium ions in the wort after mashing. For this reason, it is sometimes a good idea to add gypsum to the kettle. If your mash pH is fine, but the pH does not drop to at least 5.4 by the end of the boil, add 1/4–1/2 teaspoon of gypsum per five gallons.

And in my case, I have extremely soft water that is very low in calcium. And my wort did not drop to 5.4 by the end of the boil. What would be the impact of that? For one, higher wort pH during the boil is associated with a harsher bitterness extracted from hops. Additionally, higher wort pH usually means higher beer pH, which in turn means a "flatter" tasting beer and a beer that is slightly more susceptible to spoilage by bacteria.

So, I would reckon that this exercise was valuable from a troubleshooting perspective. I was able to monitor my mash pH and dial it in to the right range. I was also able to determine that I may not have enough calcium in my mash and wort to drop the pH during the boil.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Brewtopia on Labor Day weekend this year

Last year Brewtopia was held on the weekend of Halloween. Not hard to forget what with the funny outfits at the festival and the reminders from R to call for a ride home instead of walking home by myself and risking coming home looking like a pre-cooked omelet.

This year, it's not only a new time, but a new place.

The cruise ship pier has been replaced with the Park Ave armory. This is definitely a space with quite a bit more character, so it would seem to be a good move on the surface. We'll see how things go logistically.

The change in time, though, is a bit of a bummer. Like, the kind of bummer that means that I won't be going. Unfortunately Labor Day weekend is a bit too busy to make time for the festival. So I won't be there to get drunk or to serve homebrew, both of which I did a reasonably good job of last year.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Portland and Burlington Trip

So many cool and fun things happened on our recent trip up to the lovely cities of Portland, ME and Burlington, VT that I could write and write about it for days. However, for the purposes of this space I'll keep it as short and sweet as possible, and all about the beerz. Here are some of the highlights:

Portsmouth Brewery: We stopped in New Hampshire on the way up and were quite impressed with the city of Portsmouth. Kind of like a Portland Lite. The Portsmouth Brewery is affiliated with Smuttynose Brewing and we stopped in for lunch. Skipped the Smuttynose beers since we can get those pretty easily at home and went with the house offerings.
I rather liked the Dirty Blonde Ale, their standard brew pub "entry level" beer. I've been really interested in trying these beers at brewpubs - is this the red headed stepchild of the brewer that just gets thrown on to serve something to the Bud Lite crowd, or do they actually put some care and pride into brewing a tasty light flavored beer? Dirty Blonde didn't disappoint. Light but not too light. Had some specialty malt character (Victory? Biscuit?) without being too full bodied. The Thaizenheimer was an American Wheat beer flavored with lemongrass and kafir lime leaves. An interesting twist and definitely thirst quenching, though I would have a hard time putting back a second one - lemongrass wears on me pretty quickly. The food was excellent. We got a very healthy portion of nachos and I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich.

Portland, ME: The Land of Ringwood

$3 Dewey's has $2.75 Shipyard Pints all day Sunday: I haven't heard the best things about the brewery tour at Shipyard, so that wasn't really on our agenda for the trip. So what better way to try a bunch of their beers! The atmosphere at $3 Dewey's was a little "young", to say the least. There were some very young and intoxicated people in there who made for some interesting entertainment.

As for the Shipyard beers go, what can be said that hasn't already? If you can't stand diacetyl and Ringwood beers, move on. I seem to have a higher tolerance than most, so I was not deterred. I thought that the Chamberlain had enough hop character to keep the diacetyl down and be nicely drinkable. The Fuggles IPA on the other hand was intensely bitter, and not in the most awesome of ways.

Oh, and I should mention that after our trip to $3 Dewey's we went straight to J's Oyster, one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world. Just thought I'd throw that out there...

Novare Res: You know, I want to like this place so much. It's a fantastic space - both the indoor and outdoor seating. And they have a tremendous beer list. But the service is horrible. Just so bad.

We ordered beers at the bar and took them outside. I had a Spezial Rauchbier that was one of the best beers I had on the entire trip. Bravo to Novare Res for serving an imported beer of low alcoholic strength that tasted so fresh. But big thumbs down to the waitress who took our second beer order and then disappeared to play Baggo and never return. We just left. And it would be one thing if this were the only time we experienced poor service at Novare Res - it wasn't.

Gritty McDuff's: Yay, more Ringwood!!! Didn't eat at Gritty's this time around, but I had a sampler at the bar. I don't know if it's their most popular seller and the beer they move the most of, but to me the Pub Style always seems to stand out and taste freshest. I'm sure that's just coincidence. I might disagree with the comment on their site that it has a lot of hop character, but it's an easy drinker and doesn't disappoint. The Bitter was also nice - hoppy, lightly carbonated off the cask, dry bitter finish.

Great Lost Bear: We've been saying that we wanted to get out to this place since our first trip up to Portland many moons ago. Unfortunately it's not walkable from the peninsula and it's either a drive or a cab ride away. We made the wise decision to cab it.

The food is decent pub grub off of a massive menu. It always makes me nervous when a place has such an extensive menu, but we stuck to standard burger and salad stuff to be safe.

One look at the draft list and you can see why this place gets so many accolades as a great beer bar. There's no place in the area that shows off Maine brews as well as the Great Lost Bear. Not even close. I was able to try some Maine beers that we didn't see anywhere else downtown - Sheepscot Boothbay Bitter on cask, Andrew's Old English Ale. They also serve 5 oz tasters, which is great. I did a round of six Allagash brews (everything they had minus the white beer). The dubbel and trippel were great examples of their respective styles - balanced, strong, spritzy. The Burnham Road on the other hand had some really strong band-aid phenols going on, presumably from the smoked malt in the beer.

Rabelais: OK, so not exactly beer related, but it would be completely wrong for me to not give a quick shout to one of the coolest book stores in the entire world. Rabelais is a book store - new and used stock - all about food and drink. Check out the site. Visit the store. Allow your mind to be blown. All that and the owners couldn't be more friendly and accommodating.

Sebago Brewing Company: Stopped in here for a couple of happy hour drinks (didn't try any food though). Sebago's beers don't typically jump out at me. Nothing terrible, nothing overwhelmingly great. The space itself leaves a lot to be desired. You kind of feel like you're drinking in the mall when you're there. And though the happy hour prices are fantastic (you'll never see $3.50 24 oz beers in Manhattan), they have to do something about that light that comes through the window when the sun goes down. Even with the shades drawn it's blinding! One thing I'll give them is that they're not using the same yeast as 60% of Portland's breweries...

I had their light ale, and this one missed the mark a bit for me. I found it to be a bit too thin, though that's probably what they're going for with the Bud Lite crowd - which actually may make it one of the better examples of a light brewpub ale around, when you think about it. They also definitely lost some points for the little beer stone floaters I saw in my glass. The Frye's Leap IPA was more like it - nice American hop character, though not brutal like the dank nuggz you get in the west coast IPA's.

Maine Brewing Supply: I've been trying to check out any of the local homebrew shops when we visit new towns, and amazingly, Maine Brewing supply is right next door to the Great Lost Bear (they weren't open when we went to GLB for dinner). The owner told me that it's just coincidence. And thankfully he let us in when we showed up twenty minutes before they opened - see we have a bad habit of constantly showing up at stores, restaurants, any kind of place, when they're closed and then freaking out when we realize we've been shut out yet again. The owner was kind enough not to take our gesturing at the door personally when he opened it for us. Nice shop, lots of stuff, totally knowledgeable.

Bray's Brewpub: On our way out of Portland towards Burlington, we stopped for lunch at Bray's Brewpub in Naples, ME. It's one of three brewpubs on the long... drive... west between the two towns, and Bray's was the one not represented at the Vermont Brewer's Festival, so it was our choice for lunch.

Holy food! We got massive portions of food and practically had to roll ourselves out the door when we were done. It was hit and miss though - a huge pile of really well done nachos, but the bruschetta was something you'd probably get run out of town for in New York. The BBQ platter I had was also hit and miss - sweet pulled pork, but the brisket was chopped up very strangely and kind of dry.

The Orien Oatmeal Pale Ale was one of the more inspired beers I had on the trip. It was a very balanced pale ale - just the right blend of malt sweetness and toastiness with a restrained hop profile, and a dash of oatmeal silkiness thrown in. Great stuff.

Burlington, VT: Brewpub Nirvana

Vermont Pub & Brewery: Quite possibly my favorite brewpub in the world. To the left you see R and a couple of VPB samplers (sorry for the dark pic). Every single one of the beers that we had there was somewhere between very good and fvcking incredible. I'll start off by saying that the Burly Irish Red is probably the best brewpub beer I've ever had. Smithwick's wishes it was Burly Irish Red. Imagine a rich, slightly roasty, malty beer like Smithwick's just with a clean dry finish, minus the caramel and lingering sweetness. Perfect. There were also quite a few fruity/funky/spicy things on tap that I usually shy away from, but were home runs at VPB. Like the raspberry tartness of their Forbidden Fruit and the funky and sour Spuyten Duyvil. And Handsome Mick's Smoked Sstout is always a winner too, even in July.

We also ate at VPB for the first time on this trip. I was blown away at how reasonably priced everything was. Like, downright cheap. It's not exactly haute cuisine, I know, but very good pub grub. A massive plate of beer-battered onion rings, deliciously juicy and equally massive beer-battered Atlantic scrod. And I don't think that a single thing we ordered off the menu was over $6. I miss VPB already...

American Flatbread: OK, so maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe Flatbread is my favorite brewpub of all time. First things first, the flatbreads (pizzas, basically) are unreal. Perfect dough - chewy and crusty at the same time. Delicious sauces, meats, cheeses, and vegetables as toppings. A nice simple menu with a couple of fresh seasonal specials - it's really all you need. I can't say enough about how great the food is there.

And the beers were exceptional. I didn't love the London Calling - had kind of a licorice thing going on that I didn't love. But everything else I had was great - Boognish Brown, Christina Pils, and Albee Bock. Yes, that's right - two lagers on tap at a brewpub!!!

Three Needs: Of any brewpub that I've ever been to, Three Needs is by far the most like a neighborhood dive. Pool table, rock music, a couple of small tables off of the bar. The beers were pretty decent. Liked the Chocolate Thunder Porter - it was nice and chocolatey, just as advertised, and smooth. No harsh roastiness that you can get sometimes from porters with too much black malt. Also had a lambic, which was quite overwhelmingly sour. Good, but definitely would not have gone back in for a second.

Vermont Brewer's Festival: Went to the afternoon session on Saturday. The rain messed with us for the first hour or so of the festival, but a couple of umbrellas and numerous tents located throughout helped. I'm not going to get into the beers we tasted at the festival - it was more or less the usual - most good (Otter Creek's Mud Bock and Vanilla Stovepipe Porter), a few lame ones (Hopfenstark's super-watery Berliner Weisse), and towards the end the palate starts to wane.

I wish that I had taken greater advantage of the events in the Meet The Brewer tent. We only went to the last of the four sessions; "The Power of Flavor & Aroma & Your Perception", tasting lead by Matt Nadeau of Rock Art Brewery. He served a pair of Vermont cheeses with a barleywine from the brewery. The dry, earthy tarentaise really brought out the hop character of the barleywine, while the smoked gouda really enhanced the maltiness. Very educational and fun. I really felt like I learned something. As a matter of fact the tarentaise was so good we bought a block of it at a market on the way out of town.

Lastly, I'll say that the VBF does it right. Entry is much cheaper than most festivals you find around this area - $25 for the VBF as opposed to $45 for the upcoming Brewtopia fest in NYC. But there's a catch. You get 15 tickets for the VBF that you exchange for samples. What that means is that there are far fewer people getting wasted at this festival. It's not quite the drunkfest that you get at most of the beer festivals I've been to around NYC. And that includes me - I've done a pretty good job of getting my money's worth at beer festivals around here lately and I left the VBF in much better shape. And I was happier for it. So was R.

If only I had known that Charlie Papazian was at the same session that I was! I definitely would have gone out of my way to get a picture with him. How did I miss the great guru of homebrewing????

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Am A Home Brewer Video

For those who saw the "I Am A Craft Brewer" video that Greg Koch of Stone presented to the Craft Brewer's Conference, here's the home brewers version:

I haven't really investigated the roots of this so much, but it would appear that some home brewers got together on one of the message boards and filmed their own versions and edited them together. Kind of cool, I guess. I sure wish they would have left out the lame corn and rice finger-wagging that Sean pointed out in the craft brewer's video. I won't rehash the lameness of that, read it on Sean's blog. He did a better job of explaining than I would have.

And of course.... Sam Calagione has to be in everything, doesn't he (3:35)?

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Dark Beers" from Upstate NY

It's been a while since I posted. Took a trip up to Portland and Burlington with R this past week, so I was a bit out of commission. More on that, including the Vermont Brewer's Fest, later. In the meantime just to get something up here I figured I'd post on the beers I've been making my way through tonight. After our last trip up to the Binghamton and Ithaca areas I brought back a bunch of beers. The last of the bunch have to go to make room for the beers that came back from Portland and Burlington. I saved the darkest for last...

Oh, and I haven't done one of these posts in a while. I'm not too into the whole business of people doing full blown BJCP style score sheets for all of the commercial beers they try online. So this is just how I do. Sorry if there's a lack of flowery langauge around these descriptions.

Lake Placid Ubu Ale: I'd describe this as an American-style Brown Ale. Has some citrusy American hop character in the nose. Some fuity esterage. Has some chocolate to it, which becomes much more dominant in its flavor. Doesn't go down as strong as the 7% ABV that it's listed as, but it's a bit too fizzy for my taste - carbonation seemed to make this beer rather filling.

Ithaca Nut Brown Ale: Borderline black. Big nose of chocolate and roast. Definitely stradles the line between what you'd think of as Brown and a Porter. Sweet malt up front in the flavor with chocolate and roast in the finish. Very little hoppage going on. Bitterness is spot on and well balanced with the malt flavors.

Middle Ages "The Duke"
: Chocolate and roast up front with some vinous notes. This is definitely a porter. Very roasty in flavor and super-dry. I'm imagining a grain bill with a lot of black malt and/or roasted barley. There's a little earthiness in this beer that could be from hops or possibly age - no fault of the brewery if it's age. Bitterness is restrained which is a good thing considering the high roast factor.

Cooperstown Benchwarmer Porter: Quick aside - this is one of my favorite beer labels in the world. Anyway... a ringwood beer, and surprisingly little diacetyl in the nose. A lot of roast going on, and a lot of esters too. Shocked at how much fruit is going on in the nose of this beer - and not necessarily in a bad way. Strawberries, grapes. Flavor is much more about roast, coffee, and some dark fruit, like red grapes. Diacetyl starts showing up in flavor, but is pretty mild. Finish is highly bitter. Was not expecting this much complexity out of this beer.

Cooperstown Strike Out Stout
: Was a bit concerned about this one when it poured relatively flat-looking. Perhaps the 5% flaked oats explain that. The beer has a very restrained coffee, roast, chocolate aroma which is quite refreshing in light of the last couple of roast-bombs. Some malt sweetness up front with a smooth malty and roasty finish. Not surprised that there's oats in this one. Looks totally unappetizing and flat in the glass, but may have been the tastiest of all. By the way, very little diacetyl in this one, considering that this is another of Cooperstown's ringwood offerings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Measuring mash, wort, and beer pH

This past weekend I brewed up a quick batch of something that will be along the lines of an ordinary bitter or light blonde ale and decided to mess around with pH measurement. I took my mash samples and measured them with five instruments:

1) Economy pH test strips (universal range)
2) Economy pH test strips (mash pH range)
3) ColorpHast test strips
4) Hanna Checker meter
5) Martini pH meter with automatic temperature correction (ATC)

My early findings are as follows, and I promise to update this soon with some more solid data:

1) The ColorpHast strips are way off, as other users have found out.
2) ATC is pretty useful on a pH meter if you don't want to bother with either bringing your sample to a specific temperature, or measuring the temperature of the sample and calculating the correction.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

NJ Craft Beer Festival wrapup and the weekend in Philly

It's about time I posted a recap of the NJ Craft Beer fest last weekend...

Needless to say, R and I were worried about a crummy day in Camden what with the constant rain all Saturday morning. The drive on 295S got kind of hairy at times with some serious downpours. After checking into our hotel in Center City we took a cab to the River Link ferry and arrived in Camden about 40 minutes before the festival. The rain made for some confusion for those early for the fest - take the self-guided tour or pass? We passed and stood around in a smelly shelter while we watched one confused, wet, thirsty ticketholder after another try to figure out where to go. If the Guild can straighten one thing out with this festival, it's just that. How about some signage to let people know where they should be?

Once we got on the Battleship though, everything was fantastic. The Guild got a great brewery turnout and the rain slowed down quickly enough that folks could enjoy the areas outside of the tent most of the time. One of the great things about this festival every year is that it's always easy to get samples. No waiting around on lines in front of each brewery's table. I should also note that the food at this festival is pretty decent, at least as beer festival grub goes. I got a chili dog and a pepperoni pretzel. R just had a pretzel. Not bad, and a good base for all of the beers to come.

If I had to pick a favorite, the Old Smokey from Basil T's was probably the best. I had this a few weeks back when I went with R to Red Bank for a day, and it has definitely held up well. A golden hued Rauchbier, not quite the mouthful of bacon that you might get from a Schlenkerla, but not wimpy either. Just right. All of Gretchen's beers were great, as usual, including the XXX Summer Ale. I'd also point to the Paymaster Porter from Cricket Hill and the Imperial Pilsner from High Point as standouts.

One highlight of the day was running into fellow NJ beer blogger Jeff Linkous, whose Beer Stained Letter is hands-down the best source of info and commentary on craft beer in NJ. Great meeting you, Jeff, and keep up the great work!

We also heard a rumor at the festival of a new brewpub being in the works in Newark. Some Google searches turned up a few forum threads and a pic of a storefront. So yes, it looks like Port City Brewing is coming to Newark at some point in September. Great news for New Jersey!

Post festival, we hit some of the Philly beer bars. I had never realized just how close Triumph in Old City is to the ferry terminal at Penn's Landing, so we walked straight there when we got back to the Philly side. The Old City location certainly does justice to the other Triumph restaurants. I look forward to trying their refreshing and slightly yeasty Kellerbier whenever I'm there, and they're getting it right in Philly. The Oatmeal Stout was velvety and delicious as well.

A quick nap later and we checked out Nodding Head. Had our usual, a pint each of the Berliner Weisse and a plate of the white beans and sage. Perhaps not a legendary beer and food pairing, but it's just one of those things that we do every time. I also had a Prudence Pale Ale, which I was supremely impressed with. I've had a thing for really low alcohol beers lately (like 4% and below) and I've been trying them wherever I can. Prudence is only 3.75%, yet has plenty of body, caramel sweetness, and a punchy Pacific northwest hop profile that comes across in aroma, flavor, and finish. Nicely done.

Last but not least was the legendary Monk's Cafe. Really crowded, as usual. I found a little space for myself at the corner of the bar and settled in with a Pliny the Elder from Russian River in California. I had to try one because I've never seen it anywhere in NYC before and it's a pretty well-hyped beer. As a matter of fact, it was just voted #1 beer in the Zymurgy reader poll (the AHA's mag). Let's just say that Pliny didn't do it for me. It had a strong resiny/catty hop character that just doesn't agree with me. Sure, I can see why most of the hopheads would love it, but I had a hard time choking back the last few sips.

I did, however, have one amazing beer at Monk's. The Cantillon Monk's Cuvee Gueuze. This is a blend made by the owner of Monk's and the brewer at Cantillon in Belgium. You can read the full description somewhere here. I would say that I'm not the biggest fan of lambic, gueuze, and other Brettanomyces fermented beers. I can appreciate them for what they are, but I hardly go out of my way to track them down. This beer was different. I think it really showed a lot of the earthy, woody character that can come from these beers without being a brett punch in the face that you get with a lot of lambics.

Maybe the best beer I had all weekend, and I consider it very fortunate that it was how I ended the night.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iron City's Pittsburgh plant closes shop

Lew Bryson has had several posts on this subject, and here's the latest. I'll let you jump over to his page for the details as he's an insider and can explain the situation much better than I.

A few years back I toured the IC facility with R and it's definitely up there on our list of most memorable brewery tours. A few bulletized thoughts that pop into my head as I lament the loss....
  • The massive cereal cooker. The shallow conical bottom of the giant kettle where the corn grits got boiled before making it into the mash came out of the ceiling behind the mash tun and brew kettle. Kind of crazy that the boiling grits were in a huge vessel right overhead.

  • The massive brew kettle. One of the things that was so cool about the IC brewery was that it was so huge and you actually got to get up close to the equipment. The only other brewery as big that we'd ever been to was Matt up in Utica, but up there you only get to see from a distance. Peering right down into the 120bbl kettle (may have been larger) and seeing the copper baffles and internal calandria was really neat. The ladder from the manway down to the bottom always stuck with me. I can't imagine feeling very comfortable climbing down into a kettle like that, no matter how long it's been off.

  • The water treatment plant. This was actually the first area of the brewery that we went into. What a dungeon! If I were making a horror movie I would totally want to film something in that room. Crazy looking rusty equipment and water dripping everywhere. Not exactly a great start for introducing customers to how you make your beer...

  • The beer hall. The very nice gentleman who gave us the tour (and it was just the three of us) started and finished the tour in this room while his father sat and waited for us to finish. It was a really cool room - reminded me for some reason of the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. The kind of place where you could see some kind of oompah band on the stage while all the old timers hoisted their steins and sang along. Great stuff.
I'm with Lew in that I think this will really hurt them. I know I won't feel compelled to drink IC next time I'm in Pittsburgh. I used to enjoy getting one before or after a Pirates game when we'd go. Kind of a "when in Rome" kind of thing. Not anymore though. The authenticity, sadly, is gone.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gearing up for the NJ Craft Beer Festival

The 13th Annual New Jersey Craft Beer Festival is this Saturday on the Battleship New Jersey on the Camden waterfront. We missed it last year, because R & I were on our honeymoon. So we're looking forward to being back there after a one year absence and hoping for a great brewery turnout.

Unfortunately not all of NJ's breweries are members of the Guild and not even all of the members actually show. You can't blame some of the North Jersey brewpubs for not wanting to trek down to Camden - how many new customers is a brewpub in Sparta really going to win this weekend? I would love it if the Guild could either get a North (or even Central) Jersey festival off the ground. It kind of rubs me the wrong way that I'm spending the weekend (and my money) in Philly to support NJ brewers. But for now, I guess the biggest craft brewer in NJ gets to call the shots and have the fest in their backyard.

Rumor has it that Iron Hill will be making its debut at this year's festival. That will be something to look forward to. Let's hope that the deteriorating weather forecast doesn't scare anyone off from attending this year. I think that tickets are still available, so run out and get yours now!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finally, some Jersey City beer news

Looks like Jersey City will finally get a new beer bar - Zeppelin Hall. Their open date has been shifting for a few months now, but rumor is that they will be open for business this Friday, June 19th. I drove past this place with R a few weeks back. It's tucked away behind Grand Street just south of the hospital in the ground floor of what looks to be some new condo development.

On first glance it appears to have some potential. It looks like a nice open space with some decent outdoor seating. Their initial draft list doesn't really have anything mind blowing, but hey, it's something right?

A few things I'll be curious to see...

  1. What will the atmosphere be in this place? If it's a nice place to relax, have a few beers and some grub and converse with some friends, then they'll have two new loyal customers for sure. If they're poisoned by their proximity to the Sand Bar or succumb to the downtown JC need for every other bar to have some crappy DJ blaring techno music then count us out.
  2. Are they really goint to have 144 draft lines? Sounds great up front, but if they're not turning the beer over as often as they think they will that could quickly become a negative. You can have all the taps in the world, but if the beer is old, who cares? 144 taps seems awfully aggressive to me, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.
  3. Will they be receptive to carrying more NJ beer or are they tied to some distributor who's dictating what goes on all of the lines? One River Horse beer out of the three dozen or so listed won't cut it. Especially not when they've made room for both Blue Moon AND the Blue Moon seasonal, whatever the hell it's called.