Friday, August 31, 2012

Growlers with Identity!

A friend of mine pointed this out to me (thanks Rob!) and after browsing through their gallery, I had to share it.  Carlburg Pottery in Montana is a pottery studio that makes Handmade Growlers that are nothing short of bad ass.  From the simple to the outrageous, the company will create customized growlers to carry the precious cargo of brewers, homebrewers, or craft beer fans.

While they are not cheap, the prices start around $65 and go up for the more ornate vessels.  They would be great if your homebrew club or home brewery has a logo (Lug Wrench growler...?) or have a special occasion coming up. 

Some of my favorite examples from their online gallery have got to be:
Let us know your favorite, or if you happen to pick one up, let us know how it turned out.



"In the beginning, God created ... beer."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Amarillo Mild with Wine Yeast Tasting

Last month, I posted about an experiment of using beer and wine yeast together to produce a unique and interesting beer.  The idea was to pick a beer recipe that would go well with the characteristics of Lalvin 71B-1122, the only commonly-available wine yeast that will co-exist in the same fermenter with beer yeast.  I picked an interesting mild recipe that uses first-wort hopping with Amarillo hops, as their fruity character might pair well with the wine yeast.  I also hoped that the wine yeast might provide some increased mouthfeel for the low gravity ale.

The mild has had a chance to age and condition for over a month now and I wanted to write down and share some tasting notes.

The beer pours an extremely dark brown color that is more reminiscent of a stout than a mild.  It features a pillowly off-white head that lasts for several minutes into the tasting.  The carbonation appears very light on the beer, with no visible bubbles, though with the dark color, it would be hard to tell.  The beer aroma is reminiscent of bread crust and toast, with notes of chocolate milk and whipped cream.  The nose is very pleasant and I find myself smelling it extensively, if I take the time to enjoy the pint properly.

The beer has a very smooth overall flavor, with subtle notes of milk chocolate, caramel, and bread crust.  Its finish is almost silky and the milk chocolate aftertaste lasts for several seconds.  The beer has little to no bitterness and no discernible hop character.  The mild has a full and creamy mouthfeel, which is very prevalent in the overall flavor of the beer.  This has improved dramatically since I lowered the carbonation level on the beer.  I initially had it carbonated up to standard pale ale levels (2.5 volumes), as I only have one gas regulator for all three kegs.  But then I remembered a trick a fellow CAMRA member taught me, where you leave the beer off the gas and only add enough to keep it flowing.  This results in a much lower carbonation level that really fits the style, which is worth the work of occasionally hooking up the gas disconnect.

Overall, I must say that I like the beer very much.  I find its aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel inciting and, at 3 percent ABV, I can enjoy several pints in a row.  Regarding the two parts of the experiment, the hopping and the wine yeast, I am not sure what conclusions to draw.  I picked the recipe to because of its use of a citrus-based American hop and hoped that it would subtly blend with a wine yeast known to produce fruity flavors.  The end product does not have much fruity character at all, but is still pleasing.  I do think the wine yeast provided much of the mouthfeel that I love in the beer.  I mashed quite low (148 F) on this lower alcohol beer, but the mild still has a substantial mouthfeel - one that I think could only have come from the wine yeast.  In hindsight, I should have split the batch and fermented a control beer with only beer yeast and then done a side-by-side comparison.  Perhaps sometime in the future.

I encourage you to try experimenting with Lalvin 71B-1122, given that it is the only wine yeast that plays nicely with beer yeast.  I have found it works well with mouthfeel, but it might augment a hoppy ale's fruit flavors.  Let us know if you do what what you find out.



Friday, August 24, 2012

Beer Reference via Text Message - BeerText.US

Mind you this may not be as useful to the millions of smartphone users out there, but check out BeerText.US, an innovative beer reference service that delivers descriptions of specific beers right to your phone.  The service is simple - just text the name of a beer to BeerText.US's number and it will shoot you back a description, its ABV, and other facts about the brew you are considering.  There is no signing up for the service or convoluted pricing scheme.  It's all free, with the exception of whatever your cell company charges you for texts.

The service comes from a pair of students from my old alma matter, Syracuse University, where it was put together as part of a hackathon.  All the beer information is pulled from BreweryDB, an open beer database API loaded with beer information.  But with all the variety of beer out there, if you find a beer not in their system, simply add it.

When I test drove BeerText.US, it found most of the beers I was looking for, but it did get stumbled once and a while.  The information usually came back in 10-15 seconds in multiple text messages.  Sometimes the text messages would arrive out of order (i.e. 2 of 3, 1 of 3, and then 3 of 3), but the information was still fun.  I could see how this could be real useful for someone without a smartphone, but for the for those of us in the iPhone/Blackberry world, it would take just as long to google a new beer as it would be to send out a text. 

Give the service a try, if nothing more for the novelty of it.  And then let us know what you think.



"Work is the curse of the drinking class"
-Oscar Wilde

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Dominion Cup

The Dominion Cup is one of the largest homebrewing competitions in Virginia, and also happens to be the closest one to where I live.  I volunteered with the competition as a cellarman three years and had a great time.  Additionally, I have entered the competition every year since starting our local homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), and even medaled with one of our Lug Wrench Collaborative beers - Flemish Fisherman.  So, I was excited to finally be able to clear my calendar for August 11 this year and volunteer for the Dominion Cup again.

2012 was a big year for the Dominion Cup and the James River Homebrewers club that runs the competition.  There were a total of 518 entries into the competition this year, which shattered all previous year records.  The event was also hosted at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, one of Richmond's newest and more interesting craft breweries.  More locally, CAMRA organized and was able to submit more than 80 entries to the Cup, a feat that astounded all of us, given the size of our club.

The actual day of the competition was a great deal of fun.  Given the number of entries, the organizers pressed some of us who volunteered to be stewards into service as judges.  I judged saisons in the morning, and our mini-team of 3 judges worked our way through 14 entries.  In the afternoon, I judged lower gravity stouts (dry stout, sweet stout, and oatmeal stout).  In both cases, I judged with some familiar faces and some new ones.  I enjoyed the process a great deal, and learned a lot as we discussed the merits of the beers, what we each perceived, and how it related to style.  The saison session was the harder of the two, as we had to move through more entries and they were higher in alcohol and more wearing on the palate.  By the end of the day, my hand was regularly cramping from writing out all of the judging forms (five sections with lines for perception descriptions on each one) and it reminded me of high school and college essay exams.  It was a very enjoyable day.

CAMRA as a whole ended up with 13 medals, including 5 golds, 4 silver, and 4 bronze.  We spanned a good number of categories too, including: cider, mead, German lager, Scottish ale, porter, stout, and Belgian ales.  I was shut out of medaling this year, but enjoyed the process none-the-less.  

I encourage any of you to have the opportunity to volunteer at a homebrewing competition to do so, it is a very rewarding way to spend a day.



 Judges and stewards getting organized in the morning over breakfast

Judging between rows of fermenters and a rack of barrels

 Announcing the winners at the end of the day

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tripel Overhead Belgian-Style Tripel Ale

In a recent post, I mentioned that we stopped by Mother Earth Brewing on a trip to the Outer Banks.  The brewery features a number of regular rotation brews and we tried most during the visit to the tap room.  Mother Earth also has several special releases that they package in cork-and-caged large format bottles.  One of these is Tripel Overhead, a bourbon-barrel aged Belgian tripel.  We picked up a bottle of the 9.5% ABV tripel on recommendation from a friend with an excellent palate and decided to save it for tasting later.

The Tripel Overhead label read: 

The flavor of our Belgian-style tripel keep rollin' in: filling your mouth with perfect peeling waves of unexpected pleasure.  Respectfully aged in seasoned bourbon barrels, this beer offers you an amazing zest, balanced with flavors of warming oak.  The result?  A complex sipping beer that finishes smooth and sweet, giving you a glide you won't soon forget.

Tripel Overhead was a highly carbonated ale that made mountains of pillowy white head, with course bubbles against the glass.  The beer itself was a cloudy amber color, approximately like that of light maple syrup.  The head slowly faded through the tasting session and left a nice lacing on the glass.

The aroma coming from the tripel had distinct bourbon and oak characters.  The alcohol was very present in significant amounts, which was not surprising given the beer's strength.  The aroma was also musty, with light hints of spice - perhaps pepper or all-spice.  Tripel Overhead tasted complex and smooth at the same time.  Our initial impression was sweet and smooth, moving to a distinct caramel flavor.  The flavor finished with a little alcohol burn, but it was very subdued, especially given its presence in the aroma.  Flavor features vanilla in the aftertaste.  The beer presented a mouthfeel larger than expected for its dry finish, owing perhaps to the carbonation level and possibly from the oak tannin.

Overall, we found the beer complex and balanced.  My wife described the complexity as "5 beers in one glass" and I agreed with her.  The bourbon flavor was balanced and did not dominate, as seems to happen too often in bourbon-barrel beers.  My only complaint, however, was that I would not guess the base beer was a tripel except that I read it on the label.  The beer did not contain the subtle spicy flavor, layered sugar character, or other elements found in great tripels.  While I found the beer very interesting and balanced in its own way, I would hope for more tripel character if that label is used in its name.

If you are driving through North Carolina, I would recommend visiting Mother Earth Brewing, as the beer is worth the stop.



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Yeast Strains Used in Brewing Classic Styles

Below is the fourth and final Ingredients Chart in the series that visually compares the amount of ingredients (base malt, specialty grains & sugars, hops, and yeast strains) used in the recipes of Jamil's veritable book "Brewing Classic Styles" (BCS).  As mentioned in the first Ingredients Chart posting, this project came about as I tried to identify the most frequently used brewing ingredients in order to stock my brewing inventory accordingly.

If a brewer were to brew all 80+ recipes in BCS, it would take 1,197 lbs of grains and sugars, 207 ounces (~13 lbs) of hops, and 88 vials of yeast.  Looking specifically at the yeast usage, the chart below illustrates the top 15 yeast strains out of 29 strains mentioned in the book.  Its not a surprise that California Ale yeast (WLP001) was the most used yeast by far.  Called for in a quarter of all the recipes, this workhorse yeast is full of utility.  Cal Ale is the yeast strain I try to harvest the most after a batch of beer is finished, as there are so many uses for it in subsequent brews.

In addition to the above chart, several other charts were generated for other BCS ingredients.  The links for each chart are updated as they are published.
This project is a bit open-ended, so please let us know what you think or if there are other ways in which this data can be useful to a fellow homebrewer.



"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption ... Beer!"
-Friar Tuck

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mother Earth Brewing

We were travelling to the southern Outer Banks in North Carolina on a recent vacation and wanted to stop at a brewery during the trip.  A quick check of the North Carolina Brewers Guild reveals that, while the center and western part of the state are loaded with breweries, the coast is rather empty.  The I-95 cooridor features two breweries, Mother Earth Brewing Company and Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery.  We were driving right through Kinston, center of an old tobacco-growing region, and decided to stop at Mother Earth.

Mother Earth Brewing is the dream-child of Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring, two guys from Kinston.  Both developed a love of hand-crafted beer and when Trent married Stephen's daughter, their shared passion led to the idea of forming a brewery.  The goal was to create world-class beers, but keep the process as local as possible.  Both men grew up and went to school in Kinston, a little city of under 25,000, and owned small businesses there.  By keeping the brewery local, Mother Earth could help the local economy and satisfy the local thirst for beer at the same time.

One of the facets of Mother Earth Brewing, which is named after an old Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song, that interested me is their commitment to environmental sustainability.  The owners renovated an old downtown Kinston building to provide a home for the brewery, making substantial investments in energy efficiency technologies and green building materials.  Mother Earth also has a 6 kilowatt solar array installed on the roof that helps offset electrical demand (the energy generated from the array even appears as a counter on the tap room's television set).

While there, we were able to try the following Mother Earth beers:

The kolsch was probably our favorite, as it was smooth, clean, and easy drinking.  It matched the hot weather outside and would be easy to finish off several pints.  The Munich dunkel was also very good, with rich bready malt character and a nice dry finish.  The wit was a bit of a disappointment, as it came across the palate with a spicy, black pepper character, that did not balance with the rest of the beer.

If you are driving through North Carolina on I-95, consider a diversion to Mother Earth Brewing.  Their brewery and tap room are worth the trip.


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