Thursday, December 31, 2009

Anchor Porter

I found a six pack of Anchor Porter at my neighborhood liquor store (the upscale one, not the ghetto one) so I bought one to compare with our Porter.

....and the winner is....


This is not a surprise, but one can always dream.

I did a sequential tasting (one after the other) starting with the Anchor. The Anchor was luscious black velvet with hops. The bitterness was definitely more present, but the mouthfeel was thicker, and the taste was sweeter. Even the head was creamier... I would have liked a little less hops, but it was much, much better than ours. Don't get me wrong, I like our Porter, but I taste a graininess or astringency, and it was our first try at this beer. I recall a similar issue (astringency) with our brown ale, which was one of our first all-grain batches. We entered that beer in the National Homebrew Competition, and received a silver certificate (first round, middle of the pack, labeled as "good", but I don't remember the points it received).

According to John Palmer's book, How to Brew a common cause of graininess or astringencies are from sparging or milling issues. Oversparging or using water that is too hot causes the pH to rise which leaches out tannins and other off flavors. I reject the milling, as it was done on professional equipment at the local homebrew shop. Was this the batch we ran dry too early and ran through some cold water? I felt uneasy about it at the time, and don't know if that constituted oversparging, or caused the flavors I am tasting, but it is my primary suspect.

My brother and I were considering putting this and our West Coast Ale into a local competition in February. It will be interesting to see if they pick up any of the same issues. It will be good to get good feedback.

High Gravity Hi Jinks, update

I racked the Festivus Ale into the secondary today. I waited until I thought the most active fermentation was over. After racking, the fermentation actually picked up its pace again. The Gravity reading was 1.021, which is only 0.003 above the predicted FG. I use a freeware computer program called Qbrew to help calculate such things (if you Google it, I think you can find where to download it). Qbrew is a pretty good program (especially for free), but it has a few quirks in that it does not allow you to customize the gravity or ABV (based on mash temperature, for example) calculations except for setting your efficiency %. Our FG is always a little lower than the predicted, probably as we mash at lower temps during the winter (due to heat loss). At any rate, the fermentation picked back up after racking, but I don't know why.

I have never bothered to rack into a secondary fermentation tank before, but I have never intended to age my beer a while (in oak). There was so much yeast still suspended on top and yeast/trub at the bottom that I was having a hard time keeping the siphon going. The whole experience made me decide that I need some new and longer hoses, and have me wanting to invest in an electric pump.

I can see that with a pump, I am moving towards a semi-professional fixed station brewery (RIMS or HERMS) system where the pump moves water and wort, and even recirculates the wort in the mash system for a more efficient mash and/or a more consistent temperature control. No more lifting hot pots of water, and depending on the set up and location, no more moving 6 gallons of beer in glass carboys (the two most dangerous parts of home brewing). If stainless steel fermenters didn't cost $800 (compared to $45 glass carboys), I would have eliminated the glass a long time ago. Plastic sucks, and I will never go back to that (not even the new plastic conicals). My brother and I share brewing facilities, so if I go to a fixed station, it would still need to be something that disassembles and moves 3 or 4 times a year. I was thinking of using something like the A/V media carts that we used in school to fix hot liquor tank mash tun and kettle into multiple carts. If they can be separated and lifted onto the truck bed, or into a van, then they take up more space, but are easily moved. If I can fix fermenters into a rolling rack as well...that would be much safer. I will put more thought into it and maybe fire up a plan in CAD.

I digress....
I also learned that my brewery maintains a nice 62-64 degree fermentation temperature (perfect for ales, little high for lagers), as the borrowed carboy that I racked into has a temperature strip affixed to it.

The beer will probably finish above 1.015, which means that it will stop fermenting by the end of the holiday weekend. I transferred it early, as I wanted some fermentation to re-establish the Carbon Dioxide oxygen barrier, but I fear that I may have done so too early. I was glad to get the beer away from all of the gunk (yeast, trub, etc.) from three successive brewing sessions, and I can see more of what is going on inside the fermenter. The oak chips are floating on the surface in the newly re-formed krausen (yeasty top). The big question is now, how long should I let it sit before bottling. I was originally thinking of waiting until about February 1st, but I think it probably has more to do with our schedules (when we can get together to finish this). Probably we won't touch it until late January. The beer tasted sweet, but as I had said, it hasn't finished fermenting, so it is unfair to judge it at this point. The cinnemon taste wasn't overwhelming, but again it may assert itself more as the beer dries out (ferments the sweet sugars). It will be good if the beer stays just a little sweet. The color is a nice mahogany red-brown. Who knows how this one will taste in 3-6 months?

I got my new copy of Zymurgy (of which my name and comments appear in the "Ask the Professor" section), and got Charlie Papazian's latest book for Christmas, so I do have some reading to do. I will sit down and enjoy our Porter and catch up with these items this New Year's Eve.

Despite 2009 being such a personally crappy year, I made some fantastic beers (and a few duds) and learned a lot. I just hope that 2010 exceeds both my low personal expectations, and high brewing aspirations.

I realize that I never had discussed my time living in Fort Collins, and have been contemplating another installment of my personal journey.

Monday, December 28, 2009

High Gravity HiJinks

It was our first time brewing a higher gravity beer. I would have bet that before this week, we probably never brewed a beer over 4.5% ABV. Already, I have some insight to report.

We racked the beer directly onto our yeast from our West Coast Red Ale. The day is longer when we bottle a batch and brew on the same day, but somehow more satisfying. You have beer that will be ready to drink by the time this beer will be going into bottles. The real benefit is that you have an extremely quick and vigorous fermentation. This is a blessing (for the beer), but a curse. With a high gravity beer, (our OG was a low 1.067, and were shooting for 1.070) we had a lot of sugar to ferment in our 12 gallon batch. Within an hour, the yeast was overflowing the airlock and spilling onto the floor. I spent a lot of time cleaning yeast and beer off the basement floor. I don't own a large diameter tube to fashion a proper blow off tube, but I rigged one using the airlock and a 1/4" hose and ran that into a glass filled with a bleach solution. In the future, I think we will have to restrict our batch size to 10 gallons (instead of our normal 12), so I don't have so much work.

Also, because this was a "holiday" beer (Festivus if you are asking), we added cinnamon. I was planning on adding 3/4 or one ounce, but my brother at the last minute talked me into the whole 1.5 ounces I had....after reading a tad about it, I fear that I might be sorry about this. Most recipes only add 1-3 teaspoons per 5 gallons (which would be 3-7 for 12 gallons). 1 teaspoon is 0.16 ounces, so we were in the 9 teaspoon range. Perhaps with the blow off and the extended aging we have planned, this will not be such an issue.

After a day and half, fermentation is still vigorous, but I am ready to transfer back to using an airlock again.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Porter Out, West Coast Ale In

I have been threatening to do successive batches of beer for a while now, and finally got around to doing it.

On Saturday, my brother, my brother's friend from work, and I bottled our 12 gallons of porter and brewed another 12 gallons of west coast red ale. For the first time we left the yeast in the bottom of the fermenter from the previous batch and racked the new beer onto it. I like to call this hot bunking the beer. I think hot bunking is a navy term where more than one crew uses the same bed, and may often lie down while the bunk is still warm from the previous user (yuck)....but it works nicely with beer. Within an hour we had a full fermentation going. The pictures shown are after 24 hours, and you can already see some of the fermentation subsiding. I think I may re-use the yeast again when brewing at Christmas. Reusing yeast saves about $7 per batch, or between 10 and 12 percent of the cost of materials on a normal brewing session.

The session went well. We had extra work and extra cleaning with the bottling and brewing on the same day, but we had extra help. My brother's friend had never brewed before, but is an avid BBQ-er (not sure what Barbecue cooks call themselves)...And what goes good with BBQ? Craft beer.
He did a good job, and asked a lot of good questions. I hope I gave good answers, and that he had fun. We did give him a cut of our Porter to take home, and I am sure that he will get some of the
West Coast we brewed from my brother.

I don't have any complaints about our brew day, except we probably should have boiled down the wort a little longer as we ended up with a little more liquid and a slightly low specific gravity than I would have liked. Last time I brewed this beer I was slightly over 1.040, this time slightly under. Our efficiency was 67%, lower than the last west coast red ale (72%), but higher than for our Porter (59%). The minute variables are too numerous to count, but I wonder if the addition of gypsum to the mash last time made (to make water harder) or makes the difference. This doesn't explain why we jumped 8% from the porter, but maybe why we were 5% higher with the last red. The last red's grains were also from a different supplier, and their grind might be more fine. I did re-run some (perhaps half) of the grain through the mill twice, so perhaps this is the major difference.

Anyway, the Porter tasted like what I thought it should, so I am excited to try it after it carbonates. It will be carbonated at Christmas, but might not be good until New Years (but if it was good now, perhaps it will be good in two weeks). Now, I have to come up with a Strong Ale recipe to brew at Christmas. I have been doing my homework, but am wondering if I should do just a strong ale, or add spices to it. Also should I go English or German Alt? Every time I think I have made a decision, I change my mind. I am nervous with the strong ale, as it is a lot of ingredients, and has its own complexities in its strength and aging. I am certain I am going to use some oak for aging.... definitely American Oak.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on Austin

I only spent 4 hours in Austin. It really isn't enough time to form a real opinion. For those of you who know me, I was in Texas for a job interview (non beer related). Sadly, the job itself isn't in semi-liberal Austin (which would make it bearable).

I was in the College Station (home of Texas A&M), which is also known as "Aggie Land". It, despite being a full blown college town, is very conservative, very stereotypically Texas. I was looking forward to checking out some breweries in College Station. Through my research, I was able to ascertain the location of two. One, I learned had closed, the other was so far out of town, that I gave up looking for it before I found it. So, zip, no craft beer made in the heart of Texas for me. Ironically, after searching for over an hour for a brewery or someplace cool by the Campus to eat and drink, I stumbled upon an empty beer bar in downtown Bryan two blocks from my hotel. The bar/restaurant had two storefronts, one was an Irish Pub called Murphy's Law, the other a German Irish and German Beer selections, very good.

I am surprised that there is a major college town (except perhaps in Utah) in America without a thriving craft beer industry (meaning at least two breweries or brew pubs), but my luck, I have found it. There are two possible reasons....1. people don't like change in this part of the world, so a craft brewery that can't make an extremely light lager is dead in the water, or 2. The "movement" hasn't reached this corner of the world yet. The fact that the city had two, and now has one or less craft brewery leads me to believe that reason #1 is the predominant factor, with reason #1 thwarting reason #2. This gives me a wild hare of an idea.

I am looking at a possible relocation to this craft beer desert. I brew damn good beer, and my beers tend toward the matly middle of the spectrum (not too bitter, nor too thick) so that light beer drinkers love to drink my beer. Perhaps I can start a nano-brewery in this place.

I need to understand both the community and the Texas State Laws governing breweries before I decide on anything. Can you self distribute as a small brewery in Texas (that would be a huge plus)? Is it a long and expensive process to get licensed in Texas (that would be the biggest road block)?

The next issue is equipment and location. Equipment means capital, which if you know me, you know that I have none of (would I be even thinking about Texas if I did?) Location should be a an easy one, but things are not so cut and dried in this locale. Ideally, you would want a location that was close to the college, but those locations are expensive. Also, college students like quantity over quality which is counter to a craft breweries charter. But you also want a trendy location (not a storage unit in an industrial complex) to at least entice your target clientele (anyone with money that is adventurous with their food and drink experiences) . I found a beer bar in downtown Bryan, which is a sleepy railroad/ag town north of College Station with brick buildings and a vibrant redevelopment effort....perhaps this is the place for a brewery. It depends on the rent (on the fringe of the downtown, which is 1 block away from the central downtown).

So, if I have a location, then I need equipment, which means I need capital. So the central question is, "Who wants to own a Brewery?" The answer for me is you, my constant reader....who of you want to own a brewery?

It is unclear whether I am reading the tea leaves (or hops floating in the wort) right or not, but it would seem that an extremely small test brewery could be set up on the cheap in a town like this. A 1/2 barrel system with computer control could be gotten for less than 15-20 grand (like a Sabco, some stainless steel fermenters, kegs and dispensing equipment and refrigeration). It would be more like a the dream brewery for a homebrewer, but if successful, could allow for a move to more professional set up later. If a failure, one or another of the homebrewers in the investment pool would love to own the equipment (I know I am one of those if I wasn't central to the whole debacle). So failure would be a liquidation of the equipment to those who already made a down payment on it....

So, who is with me? I figure 4-8 investors (you know who you are)at a couple of grand a piece would do the trick. Truthfully, I don't think that this job in Texas is going to be for me, anyway, but if it was, this is a really doable thing in such a location, baring any state regulations or local oppositions.

While in Austin, I went to Uncle Billy's Brew and Q. It was down by the river across from the Downtown, Capital, and University. I enjoyed the atmosphere, it was typical honkytonk, and reminded me of the college bars of Mount Pleasant with more windows. The beers were really good, but I was disappointed in the selection. They had one dark (Coffee Stout, good), one Amber Ale, one hoppy beer (a traditional pale ale, not as hoppy as IPA, but more of what I like), and three light offerings including their Wheat, Keller (that won gold at the GABF, which I would have had if it was warmer), and a blonde ale. I assume that this is the predisposition of breweries in the south toward light beers for maximum drinkability in warm weather and a reluctance of beer drinkers to try new things (they complain about this in the All About Beer magazine). I enjoyed their BBQ, however, choosing their hot links (regular, and jalapeno cheddar)....the stout with it was great (food-beer pairing experts be damned), the Pale Ale was even better.

While there, I learned that my flight was delayed. This gave me the opportunity to hit Lovejoy's Taproom and brewery downtown. The Lovejoy is located on Neches Street between 6th and 7th, and reminds me of the small music venues, such as The Foolery/Rubbles (Mt. Pleasant), Heidelberg, or the Blind Pig (Ann Arbor) of my youth. The difference is that this is at grade level. The interior is painted black. The chairs and stools are made of heavy durable steel and wood, painted black with easily cleaned black vinyl, the bartender (Marcello) has overgrown sideburns and a mustache and is also wearing all black. The difference from my youth is that they have 4 of their own beers on tap and over 100 other selections from throughout the United States rest of the planet (namely, Belgium). I am told by the locals that they shut down 6th street on the weekend nights and 100's of bands can be heard along this stretch of downtown. This is a place I need to visit again. They are very friendly, they know their beer, and they are as unTexas as I have ever encountered. I will make it a point to visit Lovejoy's at next year's GABF.

So, I can't decide if craft brewing is in its infancy in Texas (did I ever tell the story of meeting the owner of the Eola School Brewery during the GABF), and this is an excellent opportunity for the intrepid, or if the society in non-urban Texas is too closed off to allow craft brewing to succeed, and opening a brewery outside of Austin, or Dallas, or Houston is a fool's errand. More research is needed for me to make a decision. Are there any fools out there willing to take a chance? Are there local homebrewers that can further enlighten me?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

initial beer report - Austin

I am just about to get onto an airplane that is two hours late.

I got a chance to check out Austin for the first time, and was able to visit two breweries. The beer was just slightly better than ok, but the people were awesome, and the town....well, lets just say that we need to all meet for a long weekend in Austin. The music scene is fantastic, although I missed it (it being Tuesday and all), but man, this place is unTexas. What is the deal with Texas? Why does Texas save all of their cool for one little spot? I could both live in Austin, and dominate the brewing scene almost anywhere in Texas....Austin has the most competition, however.

I will try to write more later.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brewery Swag: Where's the Love?

It occurs to me that I love the marketing of beer and especially craft breweries. It is interesting to see the names and graphics that accompany a new brewery or a new beer from an established brewery. I love the magazine ads, the tap handles, the TV commercials (for the big boys), almost everything. I especially love the logos emblazoned on everything from temporary tattoos to t-shirts. For all of this, I have realized that own not one t-shirt or other clothing apparel from any brewery. You would think that for all the hanging around breweries and brewpubs that I have done over the years, someone, somewhere would have pulled a Mean Joe Green (remember the 1970's coke commercial, where he says "Hey Kid!" and throws the kid who gave him a coke his stinky soiled jersey?) and given me at least a t-shirt. Those who know me, know I am cheap and poor, and can't really afford such luxuries as a brewery t-shirt.

In retrospect, there is a very good reason that no one has been so generous. Breweries do a very good business selling their wares. A bad brewery with a good marketing department might even make their profit from the t-shirts and other products, while breaking even on beer. I have no statistics to back it up, but I do know a lot of people who buy t-shirts or glassware or something from every brewery they visit. I also know for a fact that poor design has cost the sale of at least one shirt/glass. My brother wanted to buy a Liberty Street Brewery t-shirt or polo, or glass (maybe more than one), but the shirt didn't include the words "Plymouth, MI" could have been Liberty Street anywhere USA....but my brother felt that the hometown should be displayed on a local brewery's shirt. Definitely, the profit on a $20 t-shirt is much larger than the profit on two or three $4 pints that the person drank while at the brewery.

Still, it would be nice to have one nice t-shirt, and would be nice to get one free for all of the promotion I do for breweries. I am not complaining. Brewers as a group are some of the most generous and giving people in any industry, and after all it is a business with tight margins. I have had many a free taster or pint of beer for just showing an interest in the beer, or conversing with the brewer.

Granted, I am no Michael Jackson (imagine the free swag that guy must have gotten every year). My words and opinion don't command a large audience, but I am no less prolific or insightful. You would think that Brekenridge, Wynkoop, Rock Bottom, or some other local brewery would throw some material love my way. Or offer me a job....any job (even to just shut me up).

Anyway, I like their art work on the outside and the inside of the bottle or glassware, and would wear any decent looking clothing item with pride should one present itself.

What are your favorite craft beer logos and why?