Sunday, December 26, 2010

Major Score!!!

I have mentioned that I have decided to get into kegging my homebrew.  I have dutifully started doing research and comparing prices.  On a whim, I checked Craigslist for keggerators (the ones that serve commercial kegs).  There were three types or price points represented.  The first and most expensive were the commercial units.  While they were super cool, the cost was anywhere from $600 to thousands of dollars.  The second group were the specialty appliance category.  A specially made kegerator sold commercially for home use.  These are the units that are the size of a 1/2 barrel keg and fancy enough to park in your kitchen or recreation room.  The used prices on these ran $300 to about $600.  The last category were the home made and converted refrigerators.  These were solidly in the $200-$300 range, some slightly less without a co2 tank or some other critical component.  The problem with the converted fridges is that they also usually look like shit and come with a full freezer (who needs that?).

So imagine my surprise when late one night up pops a full kegerator system with an old school 1930's fridge for $100...not only that, the co2 tank is a 20 pounder (most  of the $200 systems come with 5 pounders).  The problem is that it is in Gilcrest, Colorado.  Gilcrest, in case you don't know, is about 50 miles north of Denver, about 3/4 the way to Greeley up US Highway 85.  I tossed and turned all night, and in the morning on a whim, decided to call on it.....and it was available, but I couldn't get out there until later in the evening.  I expected it to be long gone, and from the sound from the guy who was selling it, it had a lot of interest (no wonder, it is cheap).  I was surprised that it was available that evening, so I went to see it.

It was a beast.  It was owned by an old guy, who hadn't used it in 2 or 3 years, but it was set up by his son (who was a refrigeration mechanic) so it had good parts.  The fridge itself was a Westinghouse and yes it was from the 1930's or 40's, maybe 50's, it was beat to hell and dented on the top but it still ran.  I got the fridge, the 20# tank with some CO2 left, a CO2 regulator, a Sanke tap, a chrome plated brass faucet, a Miller Lite tap handle, a stainless steel drip tray, an empty keg, and all the hoses and fittings....for $100.  A similar system purchased new from Northern Brewer with a 5# tank and no fridge costs $263.  The 20# tank new would be $125, the regulator $75, the Sankey Tap$30, and even the drip tray new would be $30 and the empty keg will save me $50 when I go to get a new keg of beer....probably a $250-$300 value for $100.  I was feeling pretty good.

But, it gets better.  After hauling the fridge down to my home and muscling it into the garage for the night, I discovered that the fridge weighs well over 200 pounds!  I used to work for an appliance retailer and I used to move appliances by hand all the time, but I could barely move this 4 1/2' tall fridge.  I decided that there was no way this was going to fit in my basement.  I have my chest freezer that I converted for use as a lagering/fermentation chamber.  I can use that with very little modification.

So, I put the fridge on Craigslist....and sold it in an hour for $40.  I guess I should have asked for more, because it was gone fast and I had multiple people calling for it.  So, I got a fridgeless kegerator system for $60.  After cleaning all the hardware, I purchased new hoses, and new connectors, as well as the stuff to put homebrew in (the 5 gallon Corny Keg and connectors), but also bought a gas manifold to use both kegs (and future unbought kegs) simultaneously.  All told, I spent another $100.  All I need are a couple of two by sixes, a keg of beer, and another faucet or two, some time and I am in business.

I hope to rig it for use with one commercial keg by my birthday.

Monday, December 20, 2010

End of Summer/Happy Dark Day

I cracked open my last Summer Beer.  I had been saving it to send to friends back East.....sorry Brent, but we are now closer to next summer than last....I will brew more.  Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice.  It is the holiday that I believe in and the day that I celebrate....well, that and Festivus.  It is my Christmas and New Year's rolled into one.

It is the day that I like to crack open a high gravity beer and think about stuff.  I have one of our Holiday beers from 2009....but I am saving it for my brother in law....he helped craft it last year in the bitter cold, I figured he should at least get the spoils of a well aged beer.  I will go buy myself something appropriate from the liquor store....perhaps Delirium Nocturnum or Noel, perhaps a St. Bernardus, or an appropriate Christmas Ale.

I didn't get the chance to brew as much as I would have liked, but as with each new year comes a renewed hope for brewing the perfect pint.  I am looking forward to a few things.  I have a couple of projects sitting waiting for me including remounting my pump in an enclosure, and installing a false bottom in my boil kettle.  I have already purchased everything.  In February, I should take delivery of a new Hot Liquor Tank from Stout Tanks giving us a three vessel system.  I may be interested in attending the AHA National Conference in San Diego.  I am highly considering jumping into kegging....and will have to make modifications to my fermenting chamber to accept both that and kegerator duties.  If I can brew slightly more than in 2010, it will be a victory.  I may even start some thought into a brewery name and branding....I have some leads and connections....

Oh, and I really need to make repairs to the man cave-garage-brewhouse (aka the decrepit building where we brew when at my house).

If you were wanting to make donations to my fictitious and non-profit brewery as yet to be named.....for this Solstice, I am wishing for a 100' potable water hose, a stir plate,  an eremyer flask or three, jacketed 1bbl or larger conical fermentors, any large capacity tanks or kettles, a 3bbl brewing system (from Stout or other) or an automated system (or anything from Sabco), an in line whole house water filter, a lifetime membership to the AHA, or better yet, a 1 year membership to the BA, any length of silicon hose, any equipment or funds towards my kegging system, tri-clamp fittings, brewers gloves or brewers boots, a floor drain or about 100 square foot of warehouse space (with a floor drain and a roll up door).

Happy Darkest of Days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mission Accomplished?

I got a text message from a friend back in Detroit.  It read: "Drinking a toasted, hemp seed, and potato double "Twice Baked" IPA at Lib St.  This means he was drinking a Double IPA made with Potato and Toasted Hemp Seed at the Liberty Street Brewery in Old Town Plymouth.

Two thoughts immediately came to my mind:

1. Who are you and what did you do with my Friend?
2. You are Welcome.

On Number One:  My friend has been known to drink Michelob Ultra by choice and a Double IPA is too much beer for even me (actually just too much hops for me).  Knowing both of these items leads me to believe that my friend has been abducted by some hop head craft beer drinking criminal, or Double IPA doesn't mean the same thing in all parts of the country.

A Double IPA is a high starting gravity beer with hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma to match.  Some would call it balance, I call that bullshit.  It is a conveyance of hops and alcohol.  But, local variances do exist in the beer world.  For example, the American Amber Ale is a starter craft beer (medium gravity, medium hops) in many parts of the country, but on the West Coast, it is a red or amber IPA.  I call them West Coast Reds, but even my homebrewed version of a Westie (West Coast Red) is no where near as bitter or high gravity as the ones found commercially in California, Oregon, and Washington State.  Racer 5 is an excellent example of a West Coast Red from Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, California, while Pliny the Elder from the Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California is an excellent example of the Double IPA style.

Even if Liberty Street's Double IPA is a highly drinkable beer (not exactly to west coast standards), I am lead to thought number two:  You are very welcome.  I have been plying my friend with decent homebrews and dragging him to breweries at every turn for at least 15 years.  I have finally rubbed off on him.  And you are certainly welcome Liberty Street, as while he had been there without me, he has started going there on a regular basis.  I am glad he has abandoned the Rusty Nail (the trailer park version of a bar) as his regular hang out.  If my friend can convert to naturally choosing better beer, anyone can.  This says good things for the local craft beer movement.

My mission continues, but this is a nice milestone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Equipment Addict

Hello.  My name is g, and I am an equipment addict.

Hello g.......

Ok.  I admit it.  I am addicted to equipment.  I can't help it, it is in my nature.  I love beer.  I always have, and I liked brewing ever since I started, but it used to be about making BEER.  Now, with all of my "toys", it is now about MAKING beer.

My mom tells a story about me when I was too young to remember.  I was at my Aunt and Uncle's new house either while it was being built or just as they were moving in.  I must have been around three years old.  I was found "operating" a radial arm saw.  I have a hard time believing this story, as I have all of my hands and fingers, and am still alive.  The story is my mother's way of explaining who I am.  She calls me a "button pusher and knob puller".  In this description, she probably couldn't be more accurate.  As a child, my favorite toys were tools, equipment, and appliances around the house....any complex machine with knobs and buttons would keep me busy for hours as I systematically figured out how to work them or incorporated them into my fantasy play.

My dad, an electrical engineer and all around handy man had lots of ancient electrical testing equipment (with scopes, and meters and vacuum tubes), an old adding machine, one of the first generation scientific calculators, old hand drafting equipment, power tools, stereo name it.  I played with everything, and knew how to operate everything that worked, and took apart just about anything with moving parts.  Some things I got back together....and others, well, I am pretty certain that it "just broke"...the official story is one of denial.  I am sure that this comes as no surprise to either of my parents.

This brings me back to brewing.  I liked brewing beer when it was extract brewing in a couple of buckets and a 5 gallon pot, but now that my brewery involves the use of pumps, valves, and fittings of all sorts, I am kind of in a state of nirvana.  This holiday season I have on order a 20 gallon stainless steel hot liquor tank (HLT) with professional tri clamp fittings, sight tube, valves, thermowell, and an internal stainless steel heat exchanger.  The HLT will allow me better control of temperatures and volumes while speeding my brew day. I am expecting to take delivery of this beast by February....and man I couldn't be more excited!  I know this means nothing to most readers.

Taking delivery of the HLT will require a lot of work tuning our systems to work with the new stuff.  It will take many brewing sessions to dial in, and yet it will only serve to point out other deficiencies in our system to correct, and require modifications of others.  This should keep me busy, this should keep me happy....But, I am not satisfied, either.  My brain has moved on.

I woke up in the middle of the night convinced on moving away from bottling and into a keg system....which will require that I either buy another freezer or fridge or juggle my fermentation and keg storage in my converted chest freezer.....more equipment.  My 40 year obsession with making things work.  Call it applied technology.

I am a child of industry.  I like smokestacks, and assembly lines.  I like valves, pumps, and control systems.  I like shiny stainless steel and fire and steam.  I like beer.    Ich bin ein Detroiter! Ich bin ein handwerk brauer!  

I probably require professional help or an intervention of some sort.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What a Rush!!!

I am a pleaser.  That is, I like to please people.  Nothing feels better than making people happy.  I have a limited experience with this in my professional life; my professional life consists of research and problem solving....the problem solving usually does not involve making people "happy", but rather, coming to a conclusion that most parties don't like, but "can live with".

So, it is nice to be able to please people once in a while.  

I have found in my hobby that revolves around beer, I have done a bunch of cool stuff.  I recently made a list of breweries and brewpubs that I have visited, and I keep recalling more everytime I remember somewhere else I have been....the list keeps growing.  I have served beer at festivals, and have had the pleasure of serving beer to some rather famous brewers, and having casual conversations with others.  But, for the first time ever, I have served my beer to strangers.....

I had the idea a while ago, and had the chance today.  I packed up my homebrew and headed off to Strange Brewing, where I have had an enjoyable experience with the barstaff and the homebrewers turned pro.  I mentioned as I was ordering that I had homebrew in my car trunk and wondered if they would like some.  Of course they said yes (who wouldn't really).  I pulled my beer out and served them, but also served the few other patrons in the bar.  Complete strangers.  I got really favorable reviews of my brown ale and oktobserfest/marzen, but really, really, rocked with last year's Christmas ale.  The West Coast Irish Ale's reception was somewhat tepid to favorable.  I get it, and understand.  The beers I love were well received.  It wasn't scientific, it wasn't judged by beer judges against everyone's best efforts and it wasn't an honest or blind focus was just me, serving beer, and getting a thumbs up from people across the bar.

Who cares about anything else?  Really?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

West Coast Red

I have been reading Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White's (from White Labs) new book called Yeast: A Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.  The book is supposed to be more of a brewer's handbook on yeast than a text book.  It is informative but not really captivating, that is, not for the non-brewing geek.

The book advocates shifting focus of brewing away from the processes of mashing and boiling and hop or other additions and to the science of yeast culturing (or whispering or wrangling if you prefer) as the Zen path to good beer.  The book makes the case that focusing your efforts on techniques that cultivate a healthy yeast environment produces better beer.  The techniques involved are precisely all of the things I have been ignoring in my brew day, or haphazardly/halfheartedly doing as a byproduct of my current techniques.

I have never experimented with improving yeast health, nor really experienced the wrath of ignoring the yeast.  Of course I keep my brewery clean (which is the number one thing), but I kind of ignored issues of proper pitch rates (unless I was hot bunking yeast), aerating the wort before pitching, properly cooling the wort (we usually pitch a little high), and have not until recently had any control over my fermentation temperatures (and still don't when the brewery is at my brother's house, although our basements work at a decent 68F by luck). I have never had a stuck fermentation, and in 15 years only one noticeably contaminated beer....Well, until now.

Over the weekend before Thanksgiving we bottled our fresh hopped West Coast Red and repitched our wort for our Porter.  I inadvertently got a healthy dose of the yeast and trub in the bottling tank while siphoning (carelessness by my part) and ended up with a super cloudy sample of wort to take our final gravity readings. Despite giving the sample ample time to cool and settle, it never did.  The yeast is a low flocculator (the amount the yeast settles out of the beer), but the gravity reading on a beer was 8 points higher than the computer program I use predicted (my ferments often come in within a point or two either way).  The yeast we used is a lower attenuator (the amount of sugar it ferments), but by my calculations my ferment was 8-12% lower than the low range the yeast producer states.  The calculation of apparent attenuation is easy.  The formula is (OG-FG)/OG.  In my case, (48-18)/48 equals 62% where I expected around at least 70-72%.

So, I have a low attenuation problem and guess what would help that?  So, luckily I am reading the Yeast Book.  I skipped to the Troubleshooting Chapter at the end (I haven't read that far yet), and on page 272 it states "wort composition trumps all when it comes to getting yeast to attenuate a desired amount" and goes on to say if your fermentation test shows that the beer will only attenuate down to 1.020 with the yeast you are using, it is unrealistic to expect the beer to drop to 1.012.  Ironically, these are the numbers I was dealing with.  I don't yet know what a forced fermentation test is (I haven't read that far) and thus haven't done said test to see if this is normal.  Considering that higher gravity worts tend to miss the full expected attenuation (my 1.048 wort isn't really considered high gravity) of a fermentation test, this could be in my margin of error right there.  But if everything else was normal, the other usual suspects are:
Too low fermentation temps:  Our basement breweries are pretty constant in the high 60's and the weather outside was warmer than normal for the year.
Lack of Oxygen: Considering we never aerate, but do pass our wort through our pump on its way to the basement these days (acting as a sort of will o wisp).  While this may be our problem because we can be considered chronic under aerators, we are probably aerating more than we ever have.
Underpitching: We are chronic underpitchers.  We never make starters and we use the 100 billion cell Wyeast smack packs (which are wonderfully fresh at my two local homebrew shops, and horribly old at the one near my brother's...we use fresh) which is enough for 1-5 gallon batch of moderately low gravity wort (according to the book and prevailing experts and current research).  We make 12 gallons, so we are usually underpitching by at least 50% but according to the author's online yeast calculator  we should have used 4 smack packs.
Underpitching is the most likely culprit.  We often repitch our yeast slurry on successive batches, so not every batch is chronically underpitched, but it is interesting to note.  My record keeping just got good enough to start comparing the beers that we chronically underpitched to ones where we repitched.

Going backwards:
1.050 WCR, underpitched, 6-8 points high.Brother's basement.
1.052 Brown, underpitched, finished 6 points higher than predicted. Brother's basement
1.054 Watermelon, repitched, came within 1 point (high) of predicted. My fermentation chamber
1.0xx Blonde (broke hydrometer but predicted og was 52), underpitched, finished 2 points lower. My Ferm
1.054 Wit, underpitched, finished 5 points lower than predicted. My Ferm
1.060 Scottish, underpitched, finished 2 points high. My basement? not sure where or what fermenter.
1.060 Oktoberfest (way underpitched lager), finished 1 points low. Brother's window well
1.044 APA (4th gen repitch), finished 4 points low My basement
1.038 WCR (3rd gen repitch), finished 1 point low. My basement
1.050 Porter (2nd gen repitch), nailed predicted My basement
1.067 Winter Ale (1st gen), 4 points low. My basement

So, in comparing the last 12 months of brewing, I was mostly lower than my computer program predicted, even when underpitching.  The most recent outliers are the brown where we underpitched british ale yeast and our recent west coast where I mistakenly used and underpitched American Ale (I usually use American Ale II).  If the Porter comes in on target or lower, I can infer that underpitching is a major contributer.  If it comes in higher, while underpitching can also be a factor, it is more due to other environmental conditions or practices at my brother's brewery.  It is important to note that we also switched to a single open keg fermentation from two carboys at my brother's house.  We adopted the single open fermenter when I switched to the controlled temp fermentation cabinet.  We also have been having more control of our mash temperatures (higher).  We used to mash in at a temp and let it cool from there.  It just could be the American Ale and British Ale yeast (with all the conditions we provide).

I have been told by a grand master level beer judge that underpitching and under aerating makes a difference in the taste of beer.  I have no idea if I could personally taste the differences or if it is only perceptible to higher tasters (like the big time judges).  There is also a lot of science to back it up.  I have the problem of not wanting to spend more on my brewing sessions, and the issue of not really having a clean room lab to propogate yeast in, and buying more equipment (Oxygen bottle, aeration stone, stir plate, lab flasks, etc.) that doesn't meet my current goals of shortening my brew day or make it safer/easier to brew.  

Perhaps a future phase of the brewery will include these steps and focus on the effort of making the yeast perform better.  I do hope to someday find a space that we can brew in that is clean (our garages are filthy).  I have crazy dreams of renting space to brew in, or building a shed for the sole purpose of brewing (so I can control the cleanliness, temperature, and process/procedure) while easing the clean up and keeping everything close.  I don't think I would mind adding more procedure and equipment at that point.  It is just such a pain to unpack, set up, and clean spread out all over a house and garage.  It is almost as if I am moving towards pro-level brewing without the license.  I already make more than I can drink.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mergers & Aquisitions

Frank Day, founder of Rock Bottom Restaurants, will chair the new company's board. (Post file photo )Louisville-based Rock Bottom Restaurants, which operates Rock Bottom Breweries and Old Chicago and The ChopHouse restaurants, and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group, with one Colorado operation at FlatIron Crossing, have been acquired by Centerbridge Capital Partners LP, a private equity firm.

The new company will be called CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries as a result of Monday's acquisition. The combined business becomes the nation's leading operator and franchiser of brewery and craft-beer-focused casual dining restaurants, with nearly 200 owned and franchised locations across the U.S.

Rock Bottom founder Frank Day will take over as chairman of the board, and Allen Corey, an original investor and 13-year chief executive of Tennessee-based Gordon Biersch, will be president and chief executive of CraftWorks.

With the new infusion of equity into both brands, plans call for expansion of company- owned and franchise stores throughout the U.S.

Read more: Parker: Rock Bottom gets scooped up - The Denver Post
When mergers hit the craft beer market, I am skeptical as to the outcome.  My basis is the M&A of the National, International, and Regional brands often leaving brands but closing breweries.  Still, the cache of a brewpub is that beer is made on-site, and the new Gordon-Bottom indicates expansion capabilities and infustion of captial as reasons for the merger.  This could translate into more brewing jobs, more breweries, in more locations.  I wonder, though, when they will start squashing the small independent brewers in select markets.  So far, the craft beer movement has been about soon does competition start?  How soon is now?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Almost Perfect!!!

Hey, things are looking up!!!

We broke out the family brewery last Sunday, and everything worked flawlessly.  Well, almost.  First, we added some very expensive stainless steel quick disconnects to our piping system as the old plastic ones we inherited with our pump purchase were leaking and letting air into the pump and making it lose its prime.  The new disconnects are beautiful, and changed our brewday from one of coaxing things to work to actually worrying about our brewing.  The disconnects cost $45 for each set.  Expensive, I know, but I am actually considering buying two more sets so that my entire system utilizes them.

The only problem is that one purchase at the local homebrew shop always begets another.  So, I want another couple of sets of disconnects.  But the disconnects get hot (the plastic ones don't), so we need a good set of heat and liquid resistant gloves.  We also really need to convert one of the kegs I use for fermentation into a combo fermenter and Hot Liquor Tank.  So, I need to buy a weldless bulkhead and another valve.  I also need to find another container for my pump.  I had mounted it into an old plastic toolbox, but it proves to need at the very least, modifications.  I am also looking for another cheap box to try again.  I was thinking of an army surplus ammo can.  I also could use....well, you get the picture.

So, to top all off of the rumination about equipment upgrades, now that I may have a more permanent gig, we are also talking about buying new equipment and scrapping the old.  Specifically, we are looking at the expensive Sabco Kegs with the sanitary welds and the professional tri-clamp fittings.  But if we go with the tri-clamp fittings (non threaded fittings that are easier to connect, disassemble, and clean), we need to replace all of our valves as well.  So, we started talking about the package deal from Sabco that includes everything.  Which got me thinking, maybe we ought just to pull out the nuclear option and get the computerized, hard piped, and turn-key system from Sabco (it is the Brew Magic system if you are interested).  It is truly a professional level set up.  So in the blink of an eye, I went from a couple hundred dollars of new equipment to $1,500 for new vessels and tri-clamps, to $2,500 for a full system, to $5,500 for never having to buy another piece of brew day equipment.  

I think that it may be cheaper in the long run to invest in the turn-key system.  But, then I feel sad that I have more money than time to build my own Frankenstien, post-apocalyptic brewery.  It is kind of like buying an expensive sports car, or restoring one a piece at a time.  Either way, you have something very cool, but there isn't much cost savings in the actual equipment, and then there is the time to shop and assemble a brewery a piece at a time.  Time which I probably will never have.

My ultimate goal, is to have a safer, efficient brewery that is easy to set up, tear down, clean and brew.  In theory, that would make it easier and more likely to brew.  Many of the upgrades have helped me reach that goal in part.  I have eliminated the glass carboys, eliminated the need to carry or lift heavy or hot containers of beer or wort.  We also made the brewery more efficient and able to monitor and control more variables, while shortening the brewday by a couple of hours.

The big question now is weather to continue the incremental upgrades, or make a few large purchases, or go with the nuclear option.  If money was no object (or if I didn't consider $1,500 to $5,500 a ridiculously expensive outlay), the decision would be easy.  I also have the issue of wanting (but probably never having the time) to build it myself from scratch.  How badly, do I want to computerize (and thus completely control) brew day?

And then, there is always a kegging system.  Decisions, Decisions.

Oh, and I got completely off of the brew day.  Everything worked almost like clockwork.  Part of it is a good (better) layout, part of it is fixing small things (new disconnects) and the other part is that my nephew has fully integrated into our brewing day so we can be doing more at once, and paying better attention to more details.  We set up, milled, brewed, and cleaned up in six hours.  Our one problem occurred when we were pumping our wort into the fermentor in the basement (instead of carrying heavy containers), our piping and pump clogged with hops.  We need some sort of screen to prevent this.  I have a few ideas, or we could just pull the trigger on the expensive equipment.  Even then, there would always be more to buy.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Something I Have Never Done Before!

I finally broke down and bought my first growler of beer.  It sounds funny, but I had never bought beer in that quantity before.  For the uninitiated, a growler is a 1/2 gallon, or 4 pints, or 64 oz.  The term is said to come from back in the days where it was common to purchase beer from your local bar in a bucket.  The beer's carbonation in the metal bucket would make a growling sound....I don't know if I buy that or not, but whatever.

I like the idea of buying in reusable containers from your local beer maker, the same way you might buy sausage from a local butcher, or bread from the local bakery, or take your reusable grocery bag to your local grocer, but I do have some complaint and it is some of the reason that I never bought one before.  A growler of beer costs between $10 and $15 (depending on the type of beer), and the original purchase of the glass container is $4-5 more.  That is 64 oz. for $10, or 6.4oz per dollar.  I can buy a six pack of most 12 oz. craft beers for about $10, or 7.2oz. per dollar, and the containers are always free.  Furthermore, a growler lasts only a few days, where packaged beer is good at least for weeks if not months when kept in the fridge.  Sure, at bar prices the same 4 pints of beer could be upwards of $12-$20, so buying in growlers only makes sense for the breweries that don't package their beer....otherwise, it just doesn't pencil.

This leads me to why it was that I bought a growler in the first place.  I bought a growler of Dry Dock's Pumpkin Ale, because I couldn't get it for home any other way, and we decided not to make our own this year.

Interestingly, I have tasted three or four pumpkin ales this year, and none of them tasted to me quite right....I think that the light amber ale that most breweries infuse pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices into is the problem.  The beer is clear, crisp, and dry.  I think the brewers are thinking that they want a light, neutral, or balanced beer so that it doesn't get in the way of the essence of the pumpkin.  They tend to use yeasts that don't impart flavor and attenuate really well.  I think this philosophy is off the mark.  I think of the essence of pumpkin, and pumpkin is actually the doesn't impart that much flavor, so to capture the essence you need to focus on the color, the spices, and the texture of the pumpkin pie.

Color.  It would seem obvious that orange is the color of pumpkin, the official color of Autumn....but as I look at the pumpkin pie, the good home made ones are darker, almost brown on top.  But no one is going after the Pumpkin Brown Ale.  I might just be waxing poetic like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

Spices.  It seems obvious, but the difficult thing about spices for commercial breweries is that the character changes over time.  I think that breweries are trying to get there pumpkin ales out before halloween, but really they will be better (and unfortunately long sold out) by Thanksgiving.

Texture.  This is where I believe that most Pumpkin Ales miss the mark.  A pumpkin pie is thick and creamy, never thin and runny.  I think that the pumpkin ale needs to be mashed at a high temperature to leave as many unfermentable sugars as possible, leaving behind a thick beer worthy of the pumpkin and spice.  Coupled with a yeast that accentuates malt, yet ferments out cleanly, a pumpkin ale starts seeming like a lower alcohol version of a Christmas beer.

Perhaps the issue is that fresh pumpkins start showing up in late September.  If you need to get your pumpkin ale out by October 31st, you need to have things ready to go when the pumpkins come in.  If I could just save the pumpkin ales I had tried this year another 4 weeks, perhaps they would have turned for the better.  I think that age would be the biggest factor, but the beers are so popular that they are usually sold out before Halloween.  Too bad.

Happy Halloween Folks!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A New Project, and You Can Help

I have often recently been asked my opinion as to what makes a decent brewery or brewpub. I have yet to give a good answer. The reason that I am indecipherably incoherent (other than that the question more oft than not comes after we have had a few beers) is that it is in my opinion, the definition of quality in brewing establishments is both subjective and has so much more to do than a brewery’s beer quality. In fact, my opinion of good beer is also so subjective to the point that what is deemed world class quality I may think of as only average. Beer is in the eye of the beholder, and a good beer joint is too.

My opinions on beer quality have been bothering me as of late. All you have to do is read back on this blog to understand how I roll. I have been thinking that I am at the very least a pariah of current craft brewing trends, but more likely the village idiot or the guy with dementia holding the sign that reads “The End is Near!” I have convinced myself that I know very little, and should I open a brewery based on my view of good beer, I would fail miserably. And then I ran into a streak of people that without any prodding or influence from me, expressed similar opinions and tastes. Admittedly, all of the “people” were middle-aged, middle-class, educated white-guys (just like I think I am). I find that all of a sudden, I am not feeling like some skeptical, tea-party sympathizing, lunatic fringe outcast (of the beer world), but rather a delusional self-appointed mouthpiece populist of the Everyman Beer Snob middle ground; a different shade of crazy, to be sure.

So, I once again have started thinking that I will try to boil down (brewing pun intended) what I think makes a brewing establishment special. I think that what I will do is try to establish a number of different dimensions of the establishments I have visited and what makes them special to me. I will try to make this a multi-posting project (as otherwise this would be an extremely long post).

One thing that I am finding is that my memory is failing me. I used to travel throughout the Western United States fairly often. When I would, I would visit two or three brewing establishments in the course of each 1-2 day trip. I have visited so many breweries and brewpubs, that I can’t even remember them all, let alone what I liked or didn’t. So, I invite you to help me in this endeavor and try to make this more of an interactive exercise. Please feel free to respond with your favorite brewpubs and breweries, and why it is you like them. I can only use this information to semi-publically mock you. But really, I am trying to put my finger on what people with money to spend on beer like, and maybe, just maybe, someday I will go for it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Corona Burns

As if you needed a good reason not to drink skunky Corona Beer, a story came out on Reuters about a condition called 'Mexican Beer Dermatitis'.  Apparently, the lime juice reacts with the sun to give a nasty rash similar to the sting of a jellyfish.  The beer isn't really to blame, but does contribute as the spray from the carbonated lime laden beer readily gets on you.  I wonder if Bud Lime (a beer with the supposed Lime juice already infused) has the same issue?  Hell, it probably doesn't use real lime juice...

As they say....its all fun and games until someone puts an eye out.

Me, I am an ale man, myself.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Starbucks = Craft Beer?

There are interesting times, indeed.  What is old, new, what is new, old.  The world has gone on a rollercoaster ride, just to end up back on the platform two minutes or many years later, lately I can't tell which.

With the Dow Jones industrial cresting 11,000 last week, I noted that it was almost back to where it was when I lost my job two years ago.  But, really so much has changed.  I have recently read articles about Walmart and Target experimenting with small format stores (25,000 square feet instead of their typical 140,000-200,000).  McDonald's started buying decent beef (it still tastes like its bad and it is bad for you, however), and trying to compete with Starbucks, and now Starbucks is deciding to experiment with local beers and wines in their Seattle stores to increase evening traffic.

This sounds like a new idea, but really, Starbucks and the craft beer movement were started about the same time and by the same person.   Starbucks was co-founded by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker.  Gordon Bowker later founded Redhook Brewery in the late 70's, one of the nation's first new breweries dubbed "microbreweries" since the end of prohibition.  It seems fitting and interesting that Starbucks would delve into serving local beers and wines....I just hope that they don't decide to buy their own brand and instead focus on local products you may not have a chance to buy everywhere.  If they do this, there might be yet another surge in the local pico or nanobrewery evolution.  If they go with a brand, all hail the next King of Beers....not necessarily a good thing.

If Starbucks gets it right, it will localize their shops as a whole different hang out...otherwise they will just turn into another version of Applebee's.

Dear Starbucks.  Hire me to run or implement this program....or offer to sell my beer. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I think that we all can agree that there is so much more to life than beer.  I enjoy drinking beer, but it is always so much better with good friends.  I had my friend Kent hit town for an evening as he was passing through on his way to Vegas.  Actually, my brother and he were headed there so Kent stopped by to pick him up.  Dave came up from the Springs and my nephew came down from Fort Collins.

Due to life constraints and flight schedules we got a late start.  We wanted to hit a new brewery, Strange Brewing, but they close at 8:30pm.  We needed food first.  I respect a place that holds limited hours, and I will make it over to Strange (I have loose plans to get there in the next week with another friend), but we all hadn't eaten in all day.

We hit Wynkoop's instead.  For a quick review, food was average, pumpkin ale was on tap, but not great, my brother liked the smoked porter, and the ESB was well received by all.  Wynkoop's, for some reason, has always suffered from average food and beer, but the atmosphere is great.  We went down to the Denver Chop House and Brewery for a nightcap.  Again, two block walk, great atmosphere, good beer, great (awesome) service.  Actually, I think that the Chop House has great beer, I just wish I liked it more.  The Chop House focuses on some styles that aren't standards in the brewpub world.  They have a great Dormunder Lager, they make a decent Trippel, and a wonderful Dry Stout, and an Irish Red.  These are just not my favorite styles....other than that, these beers are great and a great atmosphere, and I loved our bartenders....we walked out of there having paid more in tips than beer (it was warranted).  I also love the brewery set up at The Chop House.  If I could choose to brew one of my beers at any location I have seen in Colorado (I have seen most of them), it would be here.

Why?  It feels right.  It is super clean.  You can show up on a Tuesday afternoon, and you will see the assistant brewer scrubbing the outside of some tank...everything gets cleaned regularly.  It is inside a historic train station.  It is haunted....and our beers would fit into the lineup as a diverse mix of beers you don't regularly get everywhere.  The brewery and beers seem to fit with my philosophy of cleanliness and intention in brewing.  Nothing that is over the top, everything is very drinkable.  It might be downtown Denver's best kept brewing secret.  Nobody talks about it when they talk about where to go when in Denver....which is too bad.

Given the chance, I would brew our Porter at that brewery.  It would fit in great, as it is so different from the Chop House's dry stout.  Our Porter is slightly sweet and malty, it would beef up the dark side of the Chop House's offerings.....and after all, what is a brewery located in a historic train station without an awesome Porter on tap. (Porter is named after train porters as it was their drink of choice).

I need to do a segment about what makes a great brewery or brewpub, and get isn't just the beer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brown Ale

I cracked open brown ale of ours.  After a week of drinking nothing but brown ales from around the region ( bought a few sixers and split them with my brother) I was starting to wonder if I would tire of the style before I got to ours.  I didn't, and this is good, because I have two and a half cases of it, and it used to be my favorite style of beer.

I say used to, because I know my tastes have changed, but not exactly how.  Am I more used to hops, or do I need a stronger beer than the traditional brown offers?  I don't know.  Most people are familiar with only one or two specific brown ales.  The standard for most is the Newcastle Brown Ale, and was the first brown that I ever came to know.  The other is either Fullers, or something like Theakson's Old Peculiar.  Both are different from the Newcastle, (employing black or darker roasted malts), but are actually considered the same style as Newcastle (considered Northern English Style Brown Ale).  There are Southern English or London Style, American Style, and Texas Style.  There are also mild ales.

Some would say (the English in particular) that Brown Ale is nothing more than a bottled Mild Ale.  I have no particular experience with traditional Mild Ales (served mostly on draft in England), but Mild Ales served by American craft brewers seems to me to be a brown lacking any body or taste or a Brown in color only.

American Browns are browns that are a little more substantial, employing more roasted malts (like chocolate, or to a lesser degree black patent) having more flavor a little more alcohol, and a little more hops than traditional English Browns.  I think I have grown to like these beers more and the traditional Newcastle a little less.  Although, when I do have the occasion to have a Newcastle.....yum.  Another thing I have noticed is that I used to be able to get Newcastle on tap at a number of my favorite bars around town, and it was on par in cost with popular craft beers, but now, it is rare to find it on tap, and being an import, is now priced more in line with the premium craft products.  What a shame.

In my opinion, brown ale (and its darker cousin, Porter) is the least likely thing to be on tap in a regular bar.  Even in bars that specialize in craft beers, you will see a couple of local choices, a couple of import choices, three or four national craft choices, and three or four national light lagers.  If there is a dark, it is a stout (more often Guiness at $5 or more a off (and I don't like Guiness)), maybe something like Shiner Bock, an amber or red, always a wheat or Blue Moon, and if they are really really upscale, a local IPA or something from Dogfish Head.....boring.  I don't go out as much anymore.

Brown ales don't get much attention from American tastebuds, and I think it is unfortunate.  A brown ale is a great medium bodied beer that you can have more than one.  It tends towards the sweet malty (and some say nutty, but I don't really get that) with just a touch of earthy hops (English East Kent Golding is my favorite) for bitterness and flavor (no aroma).  If you make it, go light on the chocolate malt, and really light on any black malts (if any).  Or come on by, and share one of mine.  I have a lot, and now that I am fully employed, don't drink nearly as much.

Monday, September 27, 2010


This is from my friend, Kent....he wouldn't, however, like this beer.

PERUWELZ, Belgium (Reuters) – Full moons are often associated with tides, insanity and creatures like werewolves, but it turns out they're also good for brewing beer.
In Peruwelz, a small, sleepy town in southern Belgium, a family-owned brewery has produced its first batch of specialist beer brewed by the light of a full autumnal moon.
It isn't so much a nod to mythology as a recognition of nature's impact on the science of brewing.
"We made several tests and noticed that the fermentation was more vigorous, more active," explained Roger Caulier, the owner of Brewery Caulier, which began in the 1930s when his grandfather started selling homemade beer from a handcart.
"The end product was completely different, stronger, with a taste lasting longer in the mouth," he said.
The full moon speeds up the fermentation process, shortening it to five days from seven, which adds extra punch to the beer without making it harsh, according to connoisseurs.
The finely balanced, gold-colored beer is 10 percent alcohol by volume, extremely strong by most European or U.S. standards but not uncommon in Belgium, where traditional monk-brewed beers frequently hit 10 or 12 percent.
"It goes down very well, no problem at all," said Joseph Francois, a journalist and beer expert who has tasted the brew.
Brewery Caulier, which uses methods dating from the 1840s and is well-known for its artisanal beers, plans to produce about 12,000 bottles of its full moon beer, called Paix-Dieu (Peace-God), which go on sale on October 31.
The idea came to Caulier after he visited a friend in Alsace, a winemaking region of eastern France, who told him about how he planned his entire production schedule according to the lunar calendar.
Caulier began experimenting and eventually came up with a nine-step process that includes using two types of hops and involves a two-week secondary fermentation process inside the bottle, not unlike the technique used to produce Champagne.
"It gives the product greater fame, a bit like for great vintage wines," he said.
"It could lead to collectors checking the differences between one vintage and another because there could very well be differences between every batch."
Being from a three-generation brewing family, Caulier is fascinated by the science behind the process. But he doesn't discount the mythical aspects of full moon beer either.
"Many farmers are convinced that the moon influences the quality of some of their products," he said.
"You can feel agitated on full moons, you have births, you get many myths around the full moon and I think there is some truth behind them."
Either way, he's hoping that Paix-Dieu proves a hit and is even in talks to distribute it in the U.S. and Japan. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Great American Beer Festival

We attended the Saturday Afternoon Session of the Great American Beer Festival, and I got to say, I left somewhat disappointed.

Let me say this: It is a great event, and if you have never experienced it, it is worth the price of admission.  I was standing in line waiting to get in (for two hours) and I figured that this was my 8th time attending.  I have been to every session over the years, and have had brewers passes and attended all manners of other events around the festival.  The festival is my least favorite part.  And I am finding that my body does not process alcohol as well as I did when I was younger...and I think that the beers have in general gotten bigger and badder so that you have more alcohol to process.  Lastly, I really tasted very few beers that I thought were very good, and fewer still that were something that I would buy more than once as a curiosity.  This year, there were no beers that I wanted to write down and remember to look for them on my travels.

I only tried one IPA and except for the Imperial Reds, Stouts, and Porters, avoided many big beers.  The offerings this year were heavy on the Belgian and Belgian hybrid styles (including american styles made with Belgian yeasts, sour beers, wood aged, and all manners of combinations thereof).  I wished I liked Saisons more, there were a ton of them.  None of them are beers that I could ever consider having more than one of or more than an occasional taster.  I don't particularly think this is good for the industry, and does nothing good to my liver and digestive system.

Perhaps it is that the times have changed, the pendulum swung too far, or I am too old.  I would celebrate a return to the core of the beer spectrum, and am advocating simple beers made astonishingly well.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Its Beer Week!!!!

It is beer week here in Denver, and the Great American Beer Festival started today.  I have been so lax at posting lately, that even my brother took matters into his own hands.  I better get writing, huh?

Much has been going on around here, but not as much of was brewing beer.  On a good note, I am no longer planning to launch a professional brewery in 2011.  I know my wife is relieved.  I gave myself until the end of the year to find some means of employment, or I was just going to go for it.  And guess what?  The beer gods have decided to allow me to stay a home brewer for a while more.

Something else that didn't happen this year, is that I didn't receive a call to volunteer for the Rare Beer Tasting.  It bums me out as that was a fun event, but truthfully, I forgot about it, and ended up working anyway.  I guess it is sold out and supposed to be tomorrow.  Next year, I think that in addition to attending the member's only session at the GABF, I would also like to volunteer for one or two of the night shifts.  I need to look into this.

We did get around to brewing and bottling a brown ale (see our Regular Joe Beer Shootout), and that will be ready sometime between now and a couple weeks from now.  Our processes continue to be refined, and always new problems (I burnt myself really bad on the leg), but we will get it.  I also have a backlog of equipment tinkering that I need to do (and whoas me, absolutely no time to do this) before the brewery comes back to my house.

On the plus note, if I keep a job, I can start dreaming of really really good equipment.

Oh, and I harvested and dried my hops.  I don't have the scale to weigh them, but I estimate that I yielded about 2 ounces from my 2 bines of Cascade.  It was its first year, so I shouldn't be alarmed by this low yield. A mature plant can yield a pound or more.  I am looking forward to dry hopping my red or making a traditional bitter from them homegrown hops.

Anyway, more on the GABF next week.

The Ultimate Regular Joe Beer Shootout

And the winner is…  Miller Genuine Draft (MGD)… What?  MGD won a blind taste test on a beer blog aimed at the  craft beer with topics about “good” beer and home brewing?  Who is this chump? 
Well, first introduce the chump.  I am Dave, Gary’s brother and brewing side kick.  I’m the Larry to his Moe, as Moe is typically running the show, and Larry typically is around to get things done, but without getting bossed around like Curley does.  Plus I have better hair… AKA Larry (and in this case, Moe has Curley’s hairdo, but I digress).  (Editor’s Note: The duo is more like Bob and Doug Mackenzie, with the regular author Bob.)    He mentions me once in a while on here.  What I am not?  A writer (Ed. Note: For Sure).  I’m sure you already gathered that this story is not up to his typical standard of prose. I tend to be less pointed, less direct, less polished, I try to be witty, and I am more rambling. I don’t do fancy big words or proper English. Deal with it. 
But this is a craft brew story isn’t it?  I started out with MGD as the “Winner”.  How does MGD win in a story about craft beer?  Well, it all started with our typical brew day banter, we were making our latest, an American Style Brown.  That’s it for craft beer talk so if you were holding your breath waiting you can turn the channel now, Happy Days reruns on Channel 50.  Well, our banter turned to beer, as it tends to do with Gary around, imagine that.  Somehow, I came to the realization that I have never in my life knowingly ordered, bought, or consumed a King of Beers, I have never had a Budweiser.  Ever!!  I loved the frog commercials, but it never prodded me to buying the product – take that, genius advertisers.  Gary has talked about and got me onto a PBR kick lately, so I’ve had that recently, and I went fishing with my friend and he brought MGD.   But other than that I really can’t recall differences or preferences between the popular “big brand” beers that are out there.  So, something to do during an hour of mashing and additional hour of boiling.   Off to the local liquor store I went. 
It started small, I grabbed a 6 pack of Bud.  Realizing, and kind of shocked, that bottles were actually cheaper than cans for the “Bigs”.   I proceeded down the aisle.  Of course, I needed a PBR to compare, grabbed some Michelob Original (is that like Classic Coke?), MGD, and rounded it out with our much adorned local “Big” Coors.  No light beers, and maybe I missed some other “Bigs”, but my arms were full and my wallet empty.   Then for grins I grabbed a Miller High Life, just because I like the commercial where the guy takes the beer back from Hoity Toity places (that commercial makes me think of my mom for some reason), the genius advertisers strike back.  That and it is Miller, but a lot cheaper, I wanted to taste the difference.
Back home, it did start small again (as most things around the brew kettle do).  I labeled the beer glasses with tape and wrote numbers on each.  I poured out a sample of each jotted down the numbers so I can keep track.    I spun around 6 times so I got dizzy and forgot which was which and let the blind taste test begin. 
First off: Observation, 6 glasses side by side.  One had no head, the rest had a light head, one had a great deal of foam but it disappeared quickly. I poured them all the same to see the head difference, not careful to produce no foam, but not sloppy to make a foam-over.    The 2 in the smaller ½ pint glasses looked slightly lighter but we attributed it to the different glass, next time, same sized pint glasses.   Other than that, they all had the EXACT same look and color, you could not tell one from the other by appearance alone.  Exactly the same visually, for the most part all 6 looked like they came out of the same bottle.   Then on to the taste tests.  One by one we tasted, and talked and took notes.  Since it was blind we did not know which was which until we were completely done. 
 We were having so much fun I walked around and grabbed a few neighbors to see what they thought as well.  Tom, the self proclaimed “Bud and Busch” drinker, Stuart who drinks beer and likes the stuff we brew, but really is not much of a beer drinker, and Brian, the ex-home brewer who only drinks micro’s now, along with Gary and myself (a beer snob, and a beer snob wannabe).  

Interesting.  We all tasted them on our own, and kind of sorted through them the same way.  Right off the bat it seemed we all split them into groups.  We all seemed to like the 2 on the right better, and not like the 2 on the left.  Every one of us had different ways of explaining what we liked.  This one is bitter, this one is similar to that one, this is better than that, these 2 I don’t like, etc.  Also noting in our non-professional judging style, some of the comments/justifications were vague and not all that descriptive.  I will list some specific comments on each below. 
And the judging; Tom’s first comment right off the bat was about the Bud “I can drink this” so he did pick his brand right off the bat.  But he had MGD and Michelob tied for the best.  Gary pretty much thought that the Michelob and the MGD were very similar and liked them equal.  When pressed, the MGD got his vote.  Interesting, as my thoughts and comments, I came out the exactly same way, “I like these 2 (but with PBR and MGD) but favored the MGD slightly.  Brian (the micro drinker) thought Bud was really bitter, and the Coors was bitter, but not as much.  He liked also picked MGD and Michelob as tied for the best.  Stuart the not much of a beer drinker did not have a lot of comments, but also liked the MGD the best.  We all agreed 100% on one thing, the High Life tasted really, really watered down.  Like you put ice in it and left it out in the sun.  No one remotely picked that as even as ok (total last place).   Also funny:  All us from Colorado, and poor Coors, did not fare so well, falling soundly on the disliked side.   As for Budweiser which started this all, came in a solid 5th place, something about it just did not sit well with most of us, except for Tom the Bud Drinker. (Ed. Note: Most likely because we really prefer all malt beers firstly, wheat and corn adjuncts secondly, and rice adjucncts less).
So, overall, we had fun, and the overall winner was MDG with Michelob a very close (2 first place ties) second.  So, if Miller wants to send us some (MGD) SWAG email the blog owner (Gary) and get our address, but leave out the High Life hats.    So, Michelob gets honorable mention, and PBR a solid 3rd. The Bud guy still likes Bud, and probably won’t be buying MDG even though he picked it tops.     As for me, I probably will drink MDG next time I am slumming with the “Bigs”, and probably will never buy another Bud, but now I know why.  Bud-Wyse-Er (still Love the frogs). 
Oh, and the beer snob comment was just to get a rise out of Gary, because he takes offense to being called a beer snob because he likes PBR (and now MGD).  ;-)  
Bud – “I can drink this” “Looks red”, “Fruity” “Different and I don’t like”
High Life – “Flat”, “watered down” “Really Watered down” ”Bitter” “Flat”
PBR -  “Did not like”  “Aftertaste”  “Cant tell difference” “A little fuller”
Coors – “No Head at all” “Less full than 3 (PBR)”, “Tastes more watered down than 4 (MGD)”  2 No comments.
MGD – “Good Head” “liked the best” “I liked (Thought it was the PBR)”  “Top 2” “Nice no after taste” “Identical to 6 (Michelob)”
Michelob – “Good Head” “Fuller Bodied” “More Lager yeast taste” “Like” “No after taste that Hangs with you”  “Not Bad”
Editor’s Note: I have been thinking of our taste test, and while haven’t done any research, the MGD and Michelob are premium products.  I don’t know if they are all malt, (as opposed to malt and corn or rice), but it would actually make sense.  They are priced more than the “regulars” Bud, Coors, and PBR, and way more than the discount “Miller High Life”.  From reading the can, Budweiser is made with rice (and Beechwood Aging) and besides High Life, had the most distinctive taste, although we didn’t like it so much.  Coors and PBR were also almost indistinguishable, and I attribute that to them being corn adjucnt beers.  Many thanks to my brother for his blog entry….

Monday, September 13, 2010

I am a Craft Brewer....but Here is to You Craft Beer Drinker

Found this on someone else's blog....but it is for you CBD (and reader).


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Change of Scenery

She said "Meatball", like she was a Vegan.  I like hamburger on pizza, but meatball didn't sound appetizing at all, and the bartender sealed the deal.  I had a rare Tuesday to myself today, and decided to go have lunch at an old favorite.  I broke away from the brewery scene (weird, I know) to have a slice of New York style pizza and a PBR ($4 for both) at the Atomic Cowboy on East Colfax.

Actually, the Atomic is three establishments in one.  Fat Sully's Pizza operates out of what used to be a game room of the Atomic.  The game room was seldom used, and I have probably personally spent more on Pizza than the game room ever made.  Also, the Denver Biscuit Company operates out of what used to be the Atomic's anemic kitchen.  Ironically, the pizza is inexpensive, and the biscuits are overpriced.  The pizza by the slice, however, is usually burnt on the bottom (but very much edible and yummy).  The guys over there must have a hard time with attention span issues.

It has been a while since I hung out here at the Atomic.  I like to sit at the back side of the bar.  It is elevated about 3 feet above the front bar and I have an excellent view of the goings on in the bar and out to East Colfax beyond.  I like the pizza/beer special, and I liked their happy hour (4pm-7pm, $1 PBR, used to be $2 for everything else....but no more).  They have a collection of board games, if you are so inclined, like Connect 4, Candyland, Monopoly, Sorry, etc.), and my kids like to come here to see "the alien on the wall" and help me play games.  My childish friends like to come for the same reasons.

It is a traditionally hipster crowd, but since they started serving breakfast and lunch, it has become a high school hang out when East High School is in session.  When they started serving Pizza, families with children became the norm here daily during the dinner hour.  I have always liked this bar.  In the old days, I could watch the working girls go by, now at lunchtime I can drink and leer at the high school girls.  Try that anywhere else and it is a misdemeanor.  The owners of this establishment have effectively changed from a "Colfax Bar", to a neighborhood hang out.  It used to be it was me alone in this bar before 4pm.  Today, despite school being on summer break, there are about 25 or 30 paying customers.  They are making money.

What I don't like about this bar (besides the pizza problems and biscuit costs mentioned before) is that I used to have a bartender that knew I could be counted on for a great tip for an unauthorized extension of happy hour on the good beers.  Also, their happy hour used to be awesome. I could drink Newcastle for $2 a pint.  Now, while they have Stone IPA on Newcastle, and no happy hour prices on Stone IPA or others.  But, like I said, they are making money.

The other weird thing....I just got a pint with advertising on it.  Business Solutions, criminal lawyers, and for god's sake, my dentist advertises on the Atomic's pint glasses.  I will post a picture later.  I do feel that it is somewhat a violation....but I have never been bothered by beer logos on pint glasses.

The Atomic has softened with time, but so have I.  Most of the things I liked about it, haven't changed, however, and it is a great lunch special.

Monday, August 2, 2010

They "Stole" My Idea!!!! (Well, Not Really)

I read in All About Beer Magazine that Denver Brewpub, Wynkoop Brewery, began delivering Rail Yard Ale to local accounts via draft horse and wagon.

This is an idea I had about a year ago, I don't remember who I told (or could have been while sitting at Wynkoop's or some other brewpub), but I thought it would be kind of cool and iconic for a small brewery to make local deliveries using a horse and wagon.  I figured everything else is done the old-fashioned, hand crafted way, why not slow the delivery process down as well.  Of course, I got my idea from Budweiser, but they just do it for show.

Ok, next idea.....I think I would like to get a Model T to do iconic deliveries.  Next year, some brewery will steal this idea.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Being in the Neighborhood

On Friday, my kids and I went to the library and the coffee shop, stopped to play in a small park on the way home, and afterwards picked up some dinner supplies from the market.  I was never more than 5 blocks from my house, and we walked.  In fact, on Friday, I never started my car, or used any mode of transportation other than my feet.  I love days like that, and wish I could live my life this way.

Aside from brewer, writer, and father, I am also a city planner.  I love the city, and while I don't live in a dense urban environment, I have a lot of options to do things sans car.  The closest thing to good neighborhood bars are all along Colfax Avenue (between 1 and 1.5 miles) and the closest brewery is a short 2 mile walk through Denver's finest City Beautiful era City Park.

The brewery is the Vine Street Pub.  They are part of the Mountain Sun family of brewpubs, and their only location outside of Boulder, Colorado.  The Vine Street isn't actually a brewery yet.  They have received their approvals to brew, and have ordered equipment, and hired and are training a brewing staff at their other locations.  The servers report that it will be another year before they start brewing, and that they wanted to make sure the Vine Street location was viable.  The pub has been open for two or three years now, and it does great business.  However, The Vine Street Pub is the third bar/restaurant in this location since I moved to the area 7 years ago.

I call the Mountain Sun brewery the hippie brewery, and not just because it is from Boulder.  The brewery's philosophy and operations earn this name/reputation, and does so even against other local breweries who focus on employee ownership, alternative energy and transportation use, collaboration (instead of litigation) amongst breweries, all organic breweries, and a myriad of other sustainable practices.  Many of the breweries in Colorado were even started  by hippies.  The Mountain Sun started in Boulder in 1993 with a focus on service and took its cue from the Oregon neighborhood brewing scene.  They are neighborhood bars, and I love them for it.

The Mountain Sun (Downtown Boulder), The Southern Sun (South Boulder), and the Vine Street (Vine and 17th Avenue in Denver's City Park West neighborhood) are different from the normal pubs in that there are no TVs, they don't offer Wifi, and they accept cash or check, no credit cards.  Their staff are cross trained for all aspects of their service business, as the servers will host, pour beer at the bar, or even cook your food, depending on the need or situation of the moment.  They will never tell you "I'll get your server".  Instead, they will find out what you need and get it for you.  You get a team of knowledgeable servers that are motivated by you, the customer.

Their food is excellent, focusing on fresh ingredients, and offers vegan and healthy menu choices along with standard pub fare.  Kids eat free during the week after 6pm (or did when I was there with my kids...I took them there for a Father's Day celebration), but I don't know if it was a special, or if there are other restrictions to this special.

The beers are mostly hop forward offerings (kind of a philosophy, I think) as they have a number of hop forward regulars along with a number of IPAs, but they have other standard styles (more on stouts later), a golden ale, a nice amber, and a blackberry wheat for people with other tastes.  The Vine Street also offers a number of guest taps having anything ranging from Stone, Belgian, or other local breweries offerings.  Some day, I would like to put one of my beers on tap there (maybe my West Coast Red).  February is Stout month at the Mountain Sun, where they have many (perhaps 10) of their own stouts and many from around the country featured.  It is a great chance to try a lot of different stouts and understand their differences.  I would like to see them do that with other styles (every once in a while).

I especially appreciate the brewery in the neighborhood concept.  There are only a handful of breweries like this (Bull and Bush in Cherry Creek/Glendale and Dry Dock down in a strip mall in South Aurora (Mission Viejo neighborhood).  I would like to see one in my immediate neighborhood (or would like to open one myself).  Visitors can find this place, but it is located for easy access of the residents nearby.

Best of all about the Vine Street is the service.  As I said, the servers are top notch.  They know their beer, they know their menu, and allow you to sample beers to find the one that is right for you.  I have been given a free beer or two just based on conversations I had with the server (both had to do with having a really bad day, days, or year).

The bad thing is, I don't go there as much as I would like to mostly because they don't accept credit cards.  I totally understand their philosophy.  Credit cards shave a few percent off of each purchase, and breweries and restaurants are a margin/volume business.  I can't go there unless I have cash, and unfortunately can usually only have one beer when I am there because of limited funds.  This is good, because it forces me to be more responsible with money and beer, but it hurts their sales (at least from me).  They have an ATM, but who wants to pay a fee (from both the ATM and my banking institution) for a beer?  They also accept checks, but I carry checks less often than cash.  My other complaints are that they don't open for lunch or until 4pm on the weekdays.....I am an afternoon beer drinker.  By 4pm I have other things to do.  And lastly,  I like to sit, have a beer, work or surf the internet, and watch tv, while having lunch or an afternoon snack...none of which I can do at the Vine.

Despite the issues I have, every cool neighborhood should have a brewery like this.  Until I open one, or one opens in my (or your) neighborhood, you have to head down to The Vine at 17th to the City Park West Neighborhood for the great beer, better service, and awesome atmosphere. This is what the city should be.