Thursday, June 30, 2011

Poll: What's The Ultimate Summer-Time Beer?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we received on the most recent blog poll.  The reader's responses to the question "What's the ultimate summer-time beer?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 26

When we did a similar poll last year, IPAs, Pale Ales, and Wheat Beers won first, second, and third respectively.  However, this year the results were much more bioptic.  Wheat Beers (American Wheat and Hefes) ran away with the vote followed by IPAs with no other style arising out of the noise.  Granted, in hindsight, Pale Ales were accidently omitted as a category, so either voters considered it as 'Other' or the simply did not consider it when voting.

What I always love about these seasonal polls is that there are always a few individuals that like to rub their nose at the accepted standard and do their own thing.  These are the people that think a lawnmower beer should be a Stout and a Hefeweizen would go great with Christmas Dinner.  God I love those individuals...

We'd love to know what you think of the results and how they can be interpreted.  And if you are reading this, we've put up our next poll, which awaits your response.



"Drink to the point of hilarity."
-St. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homemade Cheese Tasting

I received a hard-cheese making kit for Christmas this past winter and have made several cheeses so far.  These include a farm-house cheddar, a gouda, a haloumi, and a derby cheddar.  The basic process is similar to making beer in many respects, with careful attention to sanitation, temperatures, and rest times being important.  The aging time-frames are totally different though, with most hard cheeses needing to rest for several months (the gouda was supposed to age for nine months, but I doubt it will make it that long).

With two different homemade cheeses now available, my wife and I sat down for an impromptu homemade cheese and homemade alcohol pairing recently.  The kids also got to sample the cheese.  The experience was a fun one, so I figured our readers might enjoy some of our observations.

The cheeses included:

  • Gouda:  Gouda originated in the Dutch town of Gouda, near Rotterdam.  It is a washed-curd, semi-hard cheese with a smooth texture and tangy taste.  It has a recommended aging time of 3 to 4 months, but really shines if it can age up to 9 months.  Our gouda is 3.5 months old now and is much harder than I expected, with a texture similar to parmesan.  It has a rich and almost nutty flavor and is my favorite cheese that I have made to date.
  • Haloumi:  Made in Cyprus, haloumi is a firm, pickled cheese.  It is a good hot-weather cheese, as the salt in the pickling liquid inhibits mold and bacteria growth.  It can be aged up to 60 days and is stored in a brine solution.  The haloumi is the most different cheese I have made, with an interesting texture and a significant salty flavor, which our kids love.
  • String Cheese:  String cheese is a form of mozzarella, which is not a hard cheese at all.  In fact, the mozzarella we used is not even homemade, though that is easy enough to do, but is the Crystal Farms brand.  It was included just to have a third cheese that would be different from the other two, and it was something we had on hand.
We paired the cheeses with the following homebrewed beverages:  Belgian Wit, Bohemian Pilsner, 2009 Melomel (made with clover honey, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries), and the Mason Dixon Line Mead.  The general process was to try each beverage with each cheese and pick a favorite and a least favorite.  Our observations, organized by beverage were:

Belgian Wit:  The Belgian Wit paired well with all of the cheeses.  It is such a food friendly beer that I try to make a batch in the late Spring and early Summer and it usually only lasts a few weeks.  Our favorite cheese to pair with it was the gouda and we did not have a least favorite.

Bohemian Pilsner:  The Bohemian Pilsner is fairly hoppy and the hop intensity clashed with some of the cheeses.  In particular, we did not like it with the gouda.  It paired best with the haloumi, as the salt could stand up to the hops, but even then there was a bit of a flavor clash.

2009 Melomel:  This Melomel is perhaps the most acidic mead I have made.  It pairs well with dishes that have heavier flavors, as the acidity helps clear the palate.  We were in dispute over which cheese paired best with the Melomel, as my wife preferred the haloumi and I enjoyed the string cheese with it.  The acidic natureof the Melomel seemed to fight with the texture of the gouda.

Mason Dixon Line Mead:  As this Lug Wrench Collaborative mead has aged, it has favored the Rhode Island honey character, which has a strong herbal note (oregano and mint).  The intensity of the herbal character almost makes it seem like a Metheglin, though no herbs were added to the mead.  The herbal nature of the mead clashed with the cheeses and we only preferred it with the plain flavor of the string cheese, though even then it clashed slightly.

The experience of creating the homemade cheese to beverage pairing was very enjoyable, as is making your own cheese.  I would highly recommend our readers give it a try.



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Humor: What a Beer Says About Its Drinker

As we are getting closer to the weekend, I was looking for something a bit lighthearted, and I came across this humorous, yet pretty accurate list.  While it did not originate there, the link came to me by way of the DC-Beer mailing list.

The '9 Types of Beers and What They Tell You about Their Drinkers' list comes from (a prototypical male webzine).  Take a read through the list and the next time you are in a bar, see if these 9 stereotypes hold true.  (Click on the link above to see the full article - I've only reprinted the first line or two here).
  1. Home Brews - It's not hard to spot a home brewer, their taste in beer is typically the most varied and eclectic (weird) of all drinkers; they'll be the guys not so much talking about their beer as dissecting it...
  2. Premium Imports (Ex: Orval, Gulden Draak, Hobgoblin) - These guys are closely related to the previous type of drinkers.  They care about the style, taste, mouth-feel, history, and other aspects of beer that no one holding a Keystone ever thought about...
  3. Actual Microbrew/Craft Beer (Ex: Stone, Dogfish Head, Deschutes) - These drinkers are all about the burgeoning American craft beer scene...Granted they may spend a little too much time concerned with beer, but it's not like they have a problem.  Seriously...
  4. Ubiquitous Imports (Ex: Stella Artois, Newcastel, Heineken) - These drinkers tend to care more about beer than your average Bud/Miller/Coors person, but are perhaps more concerned with panache over actual taste...
  5. Not-So-Microbrews (Ex: New Belgium, Sam Adams) - These drinkers are riding the new wave of widely available craft beers ...They likely moved to this type of brew because it's easier to tell one beer from another...
  6. Big American Beers (Ex: Bud, Miller, Coors) - There's definately something very friendly and agreeable about this group of good old-fashiuned American beer drinkers, even if American companies own none of ther favorite beers anymore...
  7. Cheapest Thing Ever (Ex. Natural Ice, Keystone) - Typically you don't encounter these people at bars because if the whole point is saving money, then you're much better off back at the frat house...
  8. Hipster Beers (Ex. PBR, Schlitz) - More than any other type of beer, the labels are of greater imprtance to the drinker than their contents or effects, which should tell you everything you need to know about them...
  9. Abominations (Ex. Budweiser Chelada) - What can you say about people who's urge to put tomato juice in beer is so strong that they buy it pre-mixed from the gas station? 
Something tells me that our readers fall into categories 1,2,3, and 5.  However, let us know if we're wrong or if you have any stories about the folks in the other five categories.



 "Put it back in the horse!"
-H. Allen Smith, after he drank his first American beer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

BYOB TV - Upcoming Finale

Back in May, I wrote a review of Brew Your Own Beer Television (BYOB TV), a reality TV production of The Brewing Network and San Francisco-based television station KOFY.  The show seeks to find the "best brewer in the Bay" through exposing its contestant teams to series of brewing and beer-related challenges.  The winner of the show will receive a paid trip to the Pilsner Urquell brewery in the Czech republic.

The show is an obvious draw for me because it is about homebrewing.  But, as the episodes have aired, it is apparent that BYOB TV could appeal to a much larger audience.  The challenges combine brewing knowledge and general geekiness with humor, visual appeal, and larger topics tangentially associated with beer.  One of the challenges involved cooking beer with food and then pairing the resulting dishes with another beer.  This contest was structured like many popular Food Network shows and involved an expert consultant and a panel of chef judges.  Add in the random challenge twists introduced by the "Director of Difficulty" and BYOB TV has the makings of a quality reality TV program in its own right.  Some of this is due to the production team working on the show, but most of the show's success is a direct result of the creativity of the show's creators and writers, Justin Crossley and Jason Petros.  Just think what they could have done with a more substantial budget.

The BYOB TV finale airs this coming weekend.  I will not reveal anything that has happened in the later half of the show, in case you have not seen the episodes yet, but there are a number of humorous twists, including some traditional German costumes.  If you have not given BYOB TV a look yet, take a moment and watch some of the episodes, as all of them are available online.  I think you will be glad you did.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sierra Nevada Could Come to Virginia

Jamey, from Barlow Brewing, sent me a newspaper article that states Sierra Nevada could be coming to Virginia.  The brewery is considering building a $75 to $100 million brewery somewhere on the East coast.  Sierra Nevada is interested in opening a plant to save on shipping costs and to open up new markets.  Qualifying criteria for the new brewery include appropriate zoning, good water, access to rail transportation, and other logistic factors.  Additionally, Sierra Nevada is interested in more intangible criteria, including a nice community, good music scene, and access to the great outdoors.

The new brewery would produce up to 500,000 barrels of beer per year and employ approximately 100 people.  It would include brewing and bottling facilities, as well as a restaurant and brew pub.

Sierra Nevada has narrowed the search down from hundreds of locations to a short list of primary sites.  The top two are Blount County, TN, which is about 90 miles from Knoxville, and Christiansburg, VA.  If Sierra Nevada does choose Virginia, it would help solidify Virginia's growing reputation as a craft beer state.  In addition to Sierra Nevada considering moving here, there are strong rumors that New Belgium Brewing Company is looking to open a facility in central Virginia.  Kim Jordan, one of the owners of New Belgium, has been seen multiple times in Charlotteville, VA and could well be looking for a house here.  A new facility in the area would support New Belgium's plans to expand into the Central Atlantic market.

I, of course, am very excited to hear about the potential for some of the larger craft breweries to open locations near my home.  Only time will tell if they decide to open up shop here.  I hope they do.



Monday, June 13, 2011

Gordon Strong - Drinking and Staying Alive

I just finished reading Brewing Better Beer, by Gordon Strong, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) President, and found the book enjoyable and informative.  Gordon takes a very conversational tone in explaining his beliefs and recommendations on how homebrewers can improve their craft, while maintaining their interest in this great hobby.  The books presents information on mastering techniques, equipment, ingredients, developing recipes, and other topics.  Gordon also concludes each chapter by outlining his actual brewing processes and procedures, which I found very enlightening.  I would definitely recommend Brewing Better Beer to all of our readers.

Gordon concludes the book with some very helpful tips, especially given that the American Homebrewing Association (AHA) conducts the National Homebrewers Conference this weekend in San Diego.  Gordon presents the following recommendations to help enjoy events that feature a lot of beer, so that you can enjoy yourself and not end up with a hangover.  I am quoting Gordon's notes directly below and hope that they prove helpful.



"Water.  Stay hydrated.  Have some water before you drink, alternate water with beer while you drink, and have two glasses of water when you're finished drinking.  Most ill effects of alcohol have to do with you being dehydrated, and your liver needs water to help break down the alcohol

Propel.  A sports drink or "vitamin-enhanced water beverage."  OK, this one may sound a little silly but it works.  It contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and water, all of which are good for you when drinking.  I get the powder so I can mix it to taste; sometimes it's a little sweet, but it seems to work well for avoiding hangovers.  Have one before you go to bed, and one when you wake up.

Vitamin B complex.  I take one multivitamin, normally labeled as a super or mega vitamin B tablet, that contains 1000 percent RDA of multiple B vitamins.  This is liver insurance, since B vitamins will get depleted when your liver is working hard.

Ibuprofen.  A pain reliever that works much better than acetaminophen (Tylenol) when drinking.  Tylenol can beat up your liver, which you don't need.  It also breaks down into chemicals that can aggravate a hangover.  Ibuprofen beats up the kidneys, so don't take high dosages for long.  This can help you avoid a headache; take at bedtime or when you get a headache.

Acid reducer.  I use Pepcid AC or the generic equivalent.  This turns off acid production in your stomach for 12 hours and can help prevent waking up with acid reflux or a sour stomach.  When I drink a lot of strong, highly hopped, or sour beers, this is an absolute must.  It doesn't help if you already have an upset stomach, so take it before drinking.  I used to use Pepto-Bismol as a preventative stomach-coater, but this works better.

Food.  The Belgians have it right; they always have food with their beer.  Food can slow the rate of absorption of alcohol, especially proteins and fats (a steak works great).  Food can also help you pace your consumption and provide some nutrients your body needs."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Oatmeal Stout Aging

Oatmeal stout has long been one of my favorite beer styles.  The roasty and chocolate notes of the darker malts pair well with the smooth mouthfeel derived from the oats.  I was first exposed to oatmeal stout years ago in a German restaurant, of all places, that had bottles of Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.  The flavor of that commercial example drove me to try to make my own.  I tried several extract recipes and then settled on a favorite, the "McQuaker's Oatmeal Stout" recipe from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer's book Brewing Classic Styles.  The recipe goes a bit heavier on some of the specialty grains than other recipes I have encountered, but it produces a wonderful product.

I brewed a double batch of this recipe with a friend who loves stouts back in March 2010.  My friend received half of the recipe, bottle conditioned, and I kegged the other half.  He surprised me with a gift of a bottle recently, almost a year and a half later, and stated he thought the beer aged wonderfully.  I currently have a batch of the same recipe on draft and though comparing the two would be an excellent way judge the stout's ability to age.

The most striking difference between the appearance of the two beers is the head.  The older bottled version (pictured on the left) had a thin head with very coarse bubbles.  These dissipated rapidly and left a thin film of a head within a few minutes.  The kegged version had a thick pillowy head that lasted through most of the tasting session.  The color of the beers was slightly different, with the newer version showing strong ruby highlights when back lit, while the older version being almost completely black.

The aromas also differed between the two beers.  The aged version featured less roast character than the younger beer, while they both exhibited a dark chocolate aroma.  The aged version also had a hint of oxidized alcohol in the aroma, much like sherry, but far more subtle.

The largest difference between the two was in flavor and mouthfeel.  The aged version, as suggested by the aroma, had a fair amount of oxidized alcohol character.  This flavor was complex and even featured a warming effect, which was unexpected.  The roast coffee and chocolate flavors were subdued and the mouthfeel was missing the "slickness" often found in oatmeal stout.  The newer version featured much more of the smooth roast and chocolate that characterize the style, which sometimes reminds me of what I loved about chocolate milk as a kid.

My overall impression is that the older beer presents a more complex flavor profile, with its oxidized sherry notes and warming alcohol.  The newer beer seems more in tune with what I expect in an oatmeal stout, particularly in the mouthfeel.  While I liked them both, I prefer the younger one.

If you have ever had the opportunity to taste the difference between an aged and young version of a beer, please leave a comment and let us know.



Monday, June 6, 2011

Pleasant Surprise: Mystery Hop

For those out there that may have noticed, I've been a bit quiet while Tom has been doing the heaving lifting here at Lug Wrench for the past four to six months.  The main driver behind the reduction in participation is that the family and I purchased a new home back in April and have been moving, organizing, updating, and just about everything else you do when you get into a new house - but unfortunately not brewing or blogging.  My apologies.

With the new house, however, comes new surprises.  The new house is that it is a lot bigger and it has a lot more land than our prior residence.  And with the land comes a lot more trees, shrubs, and, well...nature.  I'm still finding new plantings around the property, but the other day I happened upon a surprise that tickled the homebrew in me.  Down at the foot of driveway, bordering between our property and the neighboring farm, I thought I saw a hop leaf amongth the overgrowth.  Clearing out the underbrush, sure enough, a mature hop plant was uncovered - or at least I am 90% sure it is a hop plant.  It has the leaf and bine structure are almost obvious to anyone who has grown or been around hop plants.  So I'm (hopefully) correct - you be the judge....

View of the overgrowth from a far...

Close up of the leaves and bines...

So I am pretty stoked if it turns out to be a new hop plant - I've already placed a stake in the ground and run some twine from the stake to the top of the wooden post that can be seen in the first image.  The real mystery (other than what varietal this plant is) will be whether the plant can produce cones or not (i.e. is it a male or female plant).  Just playing the odds, it is most likely female as there are few male plants in circulation.  But only time will tell.  And how did it get there?  Who knows.  My only guess is that someone must have purchased this plant at some point and planted it and had no idea how to care for it.  

Ultimately, my plan is to waitit out and let the bines grow skyward through the summer and hope some cones materialize (fingers crossed).  If not, then I just leave the plant as is let it do its thing.  But if it does produce cones, that's when the real fun begins - attempting to determine the varietal.

I'll report back later in the summer after the growth has progressed.  In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions or watch-outs as I investigate this little horticultural surprise, please leave a comment.



"A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it's better to be thoroughly sure."
-Czech Proverb

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wild Wolf Brewing Company Tour

As reported in a previous post, my homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), organized a tour of a couple of local brewing companies.  The second stop on the tour was the Wild Wolf Brewing Company.  Lug Wrench interviewed Wild Wolf late last year, as part of our nanobrewery series.

Wild Wolf is currently brewing out of a store-front in Nellysford, VA.  They utilize a large customized homebrewing-scaled system, that features three stainless steel vessels (I believe they were 55-gallon vessels, but I could be wrong).  The vessels are located in a single tier, so they use impeller pumps to move brewing liquor and wort around.  Beer undergoes primary fermentation in food-grade plastic fermenters, which are stored in large chest freezers for temperature control.  After finishing primary fermentation, the beer is pumped into stainless bright tanks in a cold room for aging and conditioning.  Finished beer is available for tasting at the front of the building and is sold in growlers.  In addition to selling beer, Wild Wolf also operates a homebrewing supply business and has a large supply of items for sale in their store.

Wild Wolf is currently finalizing plans to open a commercial-scale brewery and restaurant in a location nearby.  They hope to have the new location open in the next year or two.

Thanks to Wild Wolf for the tour and tasting.  It was inspiring to see how innovative nanobreweries can be to get their operations up and running.  I wish them success in their future endeavours and look forward to hearing what is in store for them next.



Pictures from the event are below.  I apologize for their quality, as I only had my cell phone on hand to take them.

 Wild Wolf taps and tasting area

Wild Wolf brew house, which utilizes large Blichmann stainless vessels

Wild Wolf fermenters that use chest freezers for temperature control

Cold room for bright tanks and conditioning, which is powered by an air conditioner 
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