Monday, October 22, 2012

Churchkey Beer Bar

I was in Washington DC last week for a conference and happened to have a night free.  I quick check of local beer locations showed me that Churchkey was a little over a mile's walk away.  I had previously heard about Churchkey, one of Washington's most famous beer bars, from a number of friends.  It was a nice night for a walk, so I headed over.

Churchkey is a two level establishment, with a restaurant on the ground floor and a large bar on the top floor.    The first thing I noticed, upon arrival, is that the place was packed.  For relatively early in the evening, the bar and booths were all full with a little standing room around the edges.  Churchkey's menu lays out their draft selection, which is very extensive, by grouping beers together in similar groups with simple labels, such as "Crisp", "Roast", and "Hops."  The menu provides basic information about each beer, such as the name of the beer, the brewery, alcohol content, and style.  It also provides information about the serving temperature and the glass it will be served in.  To see a current version of the menu, see the Beers menu item on their site.

Churchkey has a unique draft system.  The bar area is packed with booths and bar seats, so the owners elected to place a cat-walk perpendicular and above the bar.  A huge commercial walk in cooler sits atop the cat-walk, and three large metal refrigerated pipes come out of the cooler.  These pipes serve the three tap boxes at the bar and provide three different serving temperature zones (42 F, 48 F, and 50 F).  This allows the bar to serve different beer styles at temperatures ideal to their flavors, something I have yet to see done elsewhere.  It was very cool.

Churchkey provided a welcome change to the conference events I had been attending and allowed me to geek out on beer.  My only regret was that I was not traveling with anyone else to share the fun with, something I plan on remedying next time I visit.

I have included several pictures that I took while at Churchkey.  Please excuse the poor image quality, as my cell phone does not take decent pictures in low lighting.



 View down the Churchkey bar, note the three pipes that lead to the refrigeration unit behind the Bluejacket banner

 Churchkey bottle library

View of the Churchkey taps, which include five beer engines

Even the bathrooms have beer references, with old beer ads framed on the walls

Monday, October 15, 2012

Local 2012 Great American Beer Festival Winners

The Brewers Association announced the results of the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition this past weekend.  From the press release, the competition awarded 254 medals to breweries across the United States.  The competition presented gold, silver, and bronze medals in 84 beer categories that covered 134 different beer styles.  It had 4,338 entries from 666 breweries, coming from 48 states, Washington D.C. and Guam.  This entry level makes the 2012 competition the largest to date, which comes as no surprise given the number of new breweries coming into the marketplace in the past few years.  Note that the GABF competition uses different style guidelines than authored by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), which have been previously discussed here as part of homebrewing competitions.  In particular, the GABF guidelines have more substyles than those of the BJCP, which also means it must draw a larger pool of judges to evaluate them.

Locally speaking, in Virginia, Devils Backbone Brewing Company is again cleaning up at commercial beer competitions. They won two golds, two silvers, and four bronzes. In fact, of the medals given to Virginia Breweries, they held 66% of the medals awarded. They include:

Gold - Vienna Lager - Vienna-Style Lager
Gold - Berliner Metro Weiss - German-Style Sour Ale
Silver - Old Virginia Dark - American-Style Dark Lager
Silver - Danzig - Baltic-Style Porter
Bronze - Gold Leaf Lager - American-Style Pilsner
Bronze - Turbo Cougar - Bock
Bronze - Ramsey's Draft Stout - Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout
Bronze - Ramsey's Export Stout - Foreign-Style Stout

This impressive win record resulted in them being named the "Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year."  Devils Backbone had been named "Champion Brewery and Brewmaster Small Brewpub" at the 2010 World Beer Cup.  It is safe to say they are doing very well.

Locally speaking, up near Jeff, there were no medals given to a Rhode Island brewery. However, in Massachusetts, the following awards were given:

Gold - Cisco Brewers - Lady of the Woods - Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Silver - Cambridge Brewing Company - CBC Heather Ale - Herb and Spice Beer
Bronze - Jack's Abby Brewing - Smoke & Dagger - Smoke Beer

For a full listing of the competition winners, look at the GABF site, which now has a searchable database of current and prior winners (a very nice improvement).

It is a great time to be a craft beer drinker in this country.



Monday, October 8, 2012

First Cider of the Fall

My homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), has been taking part in group cider purchases for several years now.  Central Virginia has a long history of apple growing and there are a number of established orchards here.  In recent years, there has been a growing interest in heirloom apple varieties that were historically used to make cider.  This interest has fueled the use of such apples, including one of my favorites, the Albemarle Pippin, by small-scale cideries.  CAMRA is fortunate to have established a relationship with one of these, Showalter's Orchard, located in Harrisonburg, VA, and we purchase bulk cider from them several times through out the fall.

For those who have not tried it before, the cidermaking process is simpler than making beer.  On a typical day when the cider is purchased, a few club members leave in the morning with vehicles full of empty carboys and buckets.  The cider is back and ready for pickup locally in the early afternoon.  Because the cider is fresh and unpasteurized, it must be picked up and handled immediately.  If not, the wild yeasts in the cider itself will be fermenting it by the next morning, which leads to unknown results (either good or bad).  The easiest method to process the fresh cider is to pull some of the fresh cider off the top, as there is no head space when it arrives, and pitch yeast directly into it.  If for some reason, the cider needs to be stored before pitching, you must refrigerate it and/or metabisulfite it to kill the wild yeasts.

Just like in beer, yeast selection plays a large role in the resulting flavor of the cider.  However, given that cider is comprised of simple sugars, the cider maker can use either beer or wine yeasts to ferment it.  These lead to drastically different flavors, depending on if you use a white wine yeast that produces subtle and nuanced mouthfeel to the phenolic characters produced by a Belgian yeast.  My personal favorite is the use of an English ale strain, like Safale S-04, as it produces a balanced and quafable product.

Once the yeast strain is pitched, the cider maker's main other job is determining when to halt the fermentation.  Given that cider is comprised of simple sugars, it will ferment out completely, below 1.000 specific gravity.  Cider that dry is abrasive to drink, in my opinion, and does not have much taste or mouthfeel, and certainly does not taste like apples.  To leave residual sweetness in the cider, the cider maker must either let the cider ferment out and backsweeten it or stop the fermentation early.  I prefer the latter, as it is simplest for my homebrewing set-up.  Basically, I test the specific gravity of the cider and when it gets between 1.017 and 1.020, I crash cool the cider in the fridge.  This makes the yeast go dormant and I can rack the cider off of the yeast several days later.  However, using this method, the cider must be kept cold in a keg afterwards, because with fermentable sugars and live yeast still in the cider, it will start fermenting again if it warms.

There has been a resurgence of interest in cider recently and many smaller cideries are springing up all across the country.  I suggest you consider making your own cider, as it is an easy and fun process to do.  I also suggest you try any local hard cider you can purchase and see what works in your area.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

Brew Day with Beer Hound Brewery

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a brew day with Kenny Thacker, owner of Beer Hound Brewery.  We featured Beer Hound Brewery in a previous post.  Beer Hound Brewery is a nanobrewery with a 1/2 barrel electric-fired brew system.  The brewery intends to sell pints and growlers directly over the bar at the brewery, which also features a homebrew store, The Fermentation Trap.

When I visited Kenny, he was in the process of brewing a Belgian Blonde called Teufelhunde (all of the Beer Hound Brewery beers are named after dogs).  The brew system includes three vessels, a mash/lauter ton, a hot liquor tank, and a boil kettle.  The system uses pumps to recirculate the mash liquid through the grain bed and into a stainless steel coil in the hot liquor tank.  This allows the mash temperature to be maintained exactly by heating the water in the hot liquor tank.  When the mash is complete, the water in the hot liquor tank is used to sparge the grain bed.  This process is called a recirculating infusion mash system (RIMS) in the homebrewing community, and the version closest to the Beer Hound Brewery system is documented on The Electric Brewery site.

Watching the Beer Hound Brewer system in action makes me a little envious.  While Kenny is still working out the kinks, it performed very well and has a compact footprint.  The electric heating elements appeared to work very efficiently and regulated the mash within a degree of the desired temperature.  Perhaps someday I will attempt to build a similar brew system that for my homebrewery.  I have included some pictures of the brew day at the end of this post.

Kenny has all of his permits in place and plans to open on October 13, which should allow plenty of time for conditioning and aging his first beers.  I look forward to trying them and reporting back on the brewery's early success.  If you are in the Central Virginia area, please pay Beer Hound Brewery a visit.



 Brewing system heating water before start of brew day

Control panel with PIDs set to heat to mash temperatures

 Adding grains to strike water 

Mash recirculating

 Beer in conical fermenter in the fermentation room

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