Thursday, October 29, 2009

....snow day....

I have been ignoring my writing lately, and while it is not because I have little to say, I just have not been in the mood to either drink or talk about beer....weird, I know.

The weather getting cooler has been part of this. I have been not wanting my traditional selections of beer in my fridge, but have been wanting a winter warmer or holiday beer, and my Red Ale, while good, has not been on my radar.

Breckenridge Brewery has a nice Autumn Ale that is out now, and a even more robust Christmas Ale that will be coming soon. The Autumn Ale is an Old Ale (German Style Ale, also referred to as an Alt) it is the precursor of and tastes a lot like an Oktoberfest style beer (a German Lager)). It is a style of beer that I have not brewed myself, but after more research, I will give it a try. I don't brew lagers as I don't have temperature control of my fermentation. Once in a while I will do a Steam beer (Lager brewed at ale temperatures).

With two feet of snow on the ground today in Denver, it makes me wonder if the ghetto liquor store that is closest to my house would have the Autumn Ale or something like it. My neighborhood has two liquor stores in it. The ghetto one that is six blocks from my house sells a lot of malt liquor in single cans, and small bottles of booze and has a lot of losers hanging around it all of the time. The other one is a much smaller establishment, a little less than a mile from my house, and has a nice selection, even some hard to get Belgian beers. The beer is more expensive and doesn't carry any malt liquor or cheap booze (but does have some limited selection of cheaper beer) so it is not so crowded at all hours.

I am not likely to leave my property today, as I didn't yesterday, and might not go anywhere tomorrow, either. What's the point if you don't have to go out in the snow? I do have a nice pair of snowshoes, though, if I get desperate.

What are your favorite beers of fall and winter?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

.....If you are in Michigan Today....

If the chance to sample almost 200 hand-crafted, Michigan-made microbrews sounds like your idea of a good time, head to Detroit's Eastern Market from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday -- rain or shine -- for the inaugural Michigan Harvest Beer Festival. More than 40 microbreweries and brewpubs will participate in what is intended to become a major annual event, says Michigan Brewers Guild executive director Scott Graham. (from

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Bullshit Brewery

Crabtree Brewing Company
Greeley, Colorado

I was up in Greeley, Colorado yesterday to meet a friend for lunch. Greeley is a college town (home of the University of Northern Colorado) of about 75,000 people in Northern Colorado, about 70 miles north of Denver and 30 miles east of Fort Collins. Greeley is known for its livestock processing plants, and associated smells, but mostly, the winds (and smells) are blowing eastward away from town. It is a bad rap Greeley has. Despite living in Fort Collins, I never spent much time in Greeley before, as there has never been much of a reason to. Until now.

Since my lunch meeting with my friend was pushed back to noon, I spent a little time visiting the Crabtree Brewery. The Crabtree Brewery is nestled up against the Railroad tracks (what isn't in Greeley) in an industrial part of town. It is located in a nondescript building that looks like an old mill. The grain silos on site may be because of the brewery, but they looked much older.

The brewery itself has been around for three years, but appears to be in a constant state of construction. It was being run by Juan and Jeff both brewing and serving in the tap room. Jeff is the owner and master brewer, and is another example of a homebrewer gone pro. There was one local regular there, Raul, who informed me that this was the better of the two breweries in town (the other one is a brewpub named Pitchers, that I have never been to, so I with hold my opinion). Raul is from Florida via Seattle, and was a self described beer guy. Raul informed me that the brewery recently expanded their tasting room and the work was being done by the band that often plays in the tap room. In the back they also had a climbing wall in the tasting room and darts in the storage room in back. It looks like they probably have trouble keeping people from literally climbing the walls on a busy night. I didn't ask about it though. It could have been a previous incarnation of the space for all I know.

The brewery itself is a 10 barrel system with rectangular stainless steel fermenters and conditioning tanks, all visible from the tap room. They were busy cleaning kegs and filtering beer while I was there, but were friendly enough to answer questions and chit chat while working. It was kind of nice to be so close to the action. This is a small brewery with a local following, which even had a sign up sheet to help with bottling. The tap room did and does not offer food, which is for me, a plus. I like the brewery atmosphere better than the brewpub experience. It is about the beer. The locations tend to be in industrial areas, the interiors tend to be (like the brewery) focused on functional rather than aesthetic, and the servers know about their product. This is my preference and this describes the Crabtree to the tee.

They had 6 or 7 beers on tap and a few more varieties in bottles in the fridge. They were willing to have me taste all of their current taps to find one I liked, but I chose to taste their Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, Deerfield Ale (watermelon and some fruit), and Ginger Bee (Ginger beer). They did not have their brown on tap, but allowed me to have a bottle of it as well. I missed the tapping of their Pumpkin Beer by one day (my bad luck to miss it). I enjoyed the Brown Ale and the Oatmeal Stout the most, but my complaint (a small one) about their beers is that it seemed that none of their beers had a nice head upon pouring and the head it did have completely dissipated within seconds. I like all of my beers to have a nice head that remains through the pint, even if the style doesn't call for it. It is just my thing.

The beer is good, the brewery is a fun place, and the staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Nothing about this establishment is frilly, or pretentious, or expensive. The beer is basic to style stuff, and there is not a whole lot of emphasis on extreme beers, with crazy hop schedules, oak aging, or wine-like alcohol content. It is not to say that they don't do it (they did have a pumpkin beer coming out today and other special beers throughout the year), but it is more egalitarian, more blue-collar, like the town itself. I am not sure that they do lagers or just ales, I think all they had were ales at the time, though. They will take the time to help you find a beer of theirs that you like or suits your mood at the time. Needless to say, this is my kind of local brewery. I highly recommend a visit if you are passing through (on your way, perhaps, to Rocky Mountain National Park), or become a regular if you live there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beer Not in My Fridge

Did you ever crave a beer? Sure, when you were thirsty and hot any cheap cold beer would be perfect, and there is nothing better when you get your hands on one. What I am talking about is craving the taste or character of a specific beer.

This morning, I woke up craving a Detroit Dwarf from the Detroit Beer Company, an Alt beer that I had on my trip to Detroit (see my write up on it here). Is it a bad thing to crave a beer when you wake up? I am not sure, but I am pretty sure that it is a bad thing to give in to your craving for beer at breakfast....the Door's song notwithstanding. I am not there, really, I am not. The craving is made doubly interesting since I can't get one anyway.

It got me thinking again about regional and local beers. I like that you can't get everything everywhere, and sometimes lament that although you can get a lot of beers imported from around the world and across the country, you can never be sure of their freshness or be sure that you are tasting the beer the way it was intended to taste. I know from experience that the beer I brew ages, and improves with time. Most of my beer does not get older than 6 months, and is stored at a constant temperature in my basement or at a low temperature in my fridge, preserving it.

Hoppy beers are especially susceptible to change during aging. Any beer with a fresh hop aroma or taste loses that striking feature with age as the distinct hop flavors blend into the beer. It doesn't make the beer taste bad (as long as the beer hasn't been skunked by exposure to heat, sun, or fluorescent light), it just loses its hoppy punch over extended periods. IPA's, Steam Beers, and my Detroit Dwarf would not necessarily satisfy my craving for the fresh beer I know, love, and respect. Stocking up on a beloved beer may not be the answer here.

Of course, there are many beers that are intended to age and improve with time. Like red wines, those beers tend to have a lot of complex flavors from aging on wood (in barrels sometimes), or have specialized yeast strains, or other interesting spices or ingredients. The Biere de Mars from the Jolly Pumpkin that I served at the Rare Beer Tasting is an example. It is a Flemish Sour Brown Ale and was aged in oak for 27 months and aged in the bottle for a year and a half. It had a different taste than the same beer that was aged for 18 months in oak and in the bottle for less time.

So, know your beer. Age the ones intended to age with care, and enjoy the fresh beers directly from the brewery whenever you can. Craving beer you can't get is a good thing. It makes it all that more satisfying when you can get your hands on one. Don't save a beer that isn't intended to be aged. If you have an old beer on your counter or in the back of your fridge, do that beer a favor, and drink it. There is no better reason or special occasion or excuse necessary.

So, I can't get my Dwarf craving satisfied, but I do have some special beer in my fridge that is going to be drunk soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Red Ale

Our fresh hopped Red Ale has been getting some great feedback from some of my friends who have had the chance to try it. It is my normal Red Ale recipe with some fresh Cascade hops from a friend of a friend's garden.

The hops give it a Pacific Northwest style ale bend instead of fitting squarely into an Irish Red or American Amber category. I like it a lot, but not sure I like it better than the original recipe. I would call it a tie. I like the creamy head that stays with the entire glass of beer, but I wanted it to be a little deeper red (it is more orangy red). It all tastes the same, but when you create a recipe you have a particular idea of what it should be when it grows up.

I like a little maltier and/or hoppier beer for the fall, and this definitely fits the bill. It isn't a winter warmer, however. I would like to brew a winter warmer (English Old Ale, or perhaps the German Alt) this winter, but next up is our yearly debacle called Pumpkin Ale. For some reason, my brother and I seem to make a major mistake every year (something different each time) on this beer. It is an advanced beer with probability of stuck mashes and low yields, but we also have made a fair amount of bone head mistakes. At least every year the beer is drinkable (more or less), but we have learned a lot from doing it year after year after year. Maybe this year will be the year we nail it.

Right now, the Red Ale is in its prime, and I highly recommend trying it if you can get over to my brewery in the next month.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Update: Do I Have What It Takes?

I know many of you would want to know what ever happened to my application to serve beer at the Tap Room at my local brewery. To answer my question in the title: No, I am sorry, I do not apparently have what it takes.

It came as no surprise to me, really. Although, I believe I would have been good at the job. The long and short of it; I have had no prior serving experience. Actually, a week after I applied, I saw the advertisement for the same job appear on craigslist. This is never a good thing for a prior applicant. In this economy, (and any down economy, in fact) experience most often trumps knowledge, and almost always tops enthusiasm. All I really had going for me was a deep desire to do the job, which is virtually impossible to express.

I later asked the Tap Room manager what happened to my beer. He said he put it into the employee stash. It probably hasn't even been drunk by anyone yet. I hope that who ever there gets to taste it really enjoys it. It won't seem like such a waste to me then.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

All About BEER

While at the Rare Beer Tasting, I got handed a free copy of the latest issue of All About Beer, a magazine "Celebrating the World of Beer Culture". I have never read this publication before, and after getting through about 80% of it, have decided it is a pretty good mag.

I get my by-monthly issue of Zymurgy from the American Homebrewer's Association, which is dedicated to homebrewing, beer styles, and testing and tasting beer. I like getting it, and usually read it cover to cover in about an hour. I think actually, All About Beer is better, except it doesn't convey much brewing information

I have been coming back to All About Beer for about two weeks now, and every article in it has been able to capture my attention, even though I didn't think some of them would. The magazine is published 6 times a year and costs $20. I think I will get a subscription when the economy improves for me. If I am lucky, they will publish in alternating months with my Zymurgy subscription (so I have something new to read every month).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Oh Please, not Another Beer!!!!

Great American Beer Festival, Denver, CO

It has taken over a week to process the experience of the Great American Beer Festival.

I know I should not complain. I know I should not lament. I live here in Denver, so this event is open to me every year. I should feel lucky. Right now, I just feel lost and small.

The Great American Beer Festival event an event that is true to its is Great like the Grand Canyon is Grand. The problem is, like the Grand Canyon, the Great American Beer Festival can not be absorbed or comprehended like Clark Griswold tried to do on the South Rim. It is simply too big, too vast. It also has the same problems as many of the crown jewels of the National Park System. There are too many visitors, and it is being loved to death.

The Brewer's Association has made great strides to make sure that every year runs a little better than the last. In recent years they have added member's only entrances for all of the night sessions, and have a Saturday day session for member's only.

I attended the member's only session for the first time this year, and while just as crowded as any of the night sessions, it wasn't quite as crazy. I appreciated that. I also attended with my brother, which was also a first for me.

We stood in line, got in, got our tasting glasses, and headed to the back of the hall without too much trouble and only an expected delay. This way we avoided a lot of the crowd. We proceeded to taste whatever sounded interesting. I usually try to taste as many of my favorite styles of beer (Brown and Oktoberfest and beers brewed with Pumpkin). Unfortunately, again this year, brown ales are not in favor. Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers are more popular because the festival is held in the fall, but many of the Pumpkin's were out as of Saturday Afternoon. Almost every brewery had a light beer and at least one offering in the Imperial or Double range. IPAs, of course, were everywhere.

Even so, I had a few beers of just about every style. My favorite beers from my beer stained notes were: Stewart's Old Percolator Coffee Porter (Bear, DE), Shipyard's Sea Dog Pumpkin Ale (Bangor, MA), Barley Island's Dirty Helen Brown, which won the gold medal for American Brown Ales (Noblesville, IN), Left Hand's Oktoberfest (Longmont, CO) which was a ringer that I had at Lagerfest, Drake's Red Glare Red (San Leandro, CA), Buffalo Bill's (Hayward, CA) Pumpkin Ale, Vino's (Little Rock, AR) Oatmeal Brown, and Magnolia's (San Francisco, CA) Porter.

My brother and I tasted until we couldn't taste any thing any more, and we estimated that if we had a 1 oz. taste on average every five minutes (taking trips to the bathroom and a little break for food into account), we sampled over 60-70 oz. of beer each, perhaps only 4-5 pints of beer. That works out to be about $9 per pint for the $45 ticket. Expensive beer. We also did not linger in any of the non-beer booths or events, and I always kick myself afterwards. The problem is, the session is only 4 hours (we stayed only just over 3) and you get hyper focused (and drunk) about trying beer. We just plain forgot to stop and smell the roses. Oh, and I forgot my camera, again!

This event is just too big, too vast. It would be nice to spend perhaps 2 hours each session trying beer, and an hour or two loitering around the other booths, digging the vibe, people watching (not to mention the silent have to see it to understand), but that would be an even more expensive way to experience more of the beer and information offered. I had more fun at my other tasting events this year (Lager Festival, and the Rare Beer Tasting), even though I enjoyed more of the beer I tasted at GABF. The brewers were more accessible, and the servers somewhat more knowledgeable about what they were serving at the smaller events. Too bad you can't camp at the GABF like you can at the Grand Canyon, so you can take more of it in.