Wednesday, June 30, 2010


This week has been a week of retrospective thinking on my part.  I revisited a brewpub that I haven't been to in a long time, I tasted a beer in my cellar that I had stashed away, and I have been contemplating what I actually like in beer.

I never had a lot good to say about Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora, Colorado, except that they do seem to win a lot of awards for a new brewery.  I personally couldn't find anything I liked there.  Unfortunately, I still feel the same way, save for one beer.  They have a Braggot (mead/beer) at 12.1% ABV that is really good.  But it is 12.1%, and I can not order or drink one in good conscience (or with conscience) when in a mood for a beer.  It is more like a liquor.  I can not get into their regular offerings, and suggest that unless you are an IPA guy, you would feel the same.  I have the feeling that doing basic beers is not their thing, and they focus on perfecting styles you can not necessarily get everywhere or anywhere else (and subsequently, perhaps, do not have a lot of competition in the professional beer contests).  That said, the people are nice, the atmosphere is good, it is attached to the brewing store (which is convenient) and their AHA discount is one of the best around if you are there on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

I cracked open one of perhaps 7 remaining Oktoberfests we made in February.  This beer is getting better.  I hope that I can keep them until the crispness of fall sets in, but I have my doubts.  I have also been craving darker beers....go figure, I just got done bottling a light ale and am fermenting a messy watermelon wheat, and all I want is a Porter.  I am truly a contrarian.  I have decided that while my Witbier is excellent (wish there was a local contest to enter...but I wouldn't want to waste the beer), I am convinced that I can take or leave the style.  I much would rather an American style wheat (like my W1 last year),  and am not convinced that it makes our regular beer schedule at this time.

My brother wants to brew a brown, and I am up for it.  I want to redo the porter, and maybe a traditional English bitter before that and before it gets cold.  That is a lot of always.  Like Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company says, "There is a rhythm to the seasons".

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wit Shootout

During our last brewing session we did a taste comparison of our basic Belgian Wit against two commercial standards.  The beers were Hoegaarden (from Belgium), and the classic American Interpretation, Blue Moon made by Coors here in Colorado.

Overall, I liked our beer better, as did my brother and his son.  My wife (not a beer drinker) liked the Blue Moon.  Hoegaarden did not do well with us, which is interesting.  I think that the classic funkiness from the yeast is not fully appreciated in our clan.

From my memory (I didn't take notes):

Blue Moon: Orange/amber color, cloudy, but no lingering head.
Ours: Light Orange/medium dark yellow/gold, cloudy, nice thick white head that left lacing on the glass.
Hoe: Light Yellow/Straw colored, cloudy, medium thick head, slight lacing

Blue Moon: Orange Fruity
Ours: Less Orange Fruity
Hoe: Spicy/pepper with Orange and Lemon

Blue Moon: Orangy sweet with a drier finish slightly 
Ours: Subdued Orange, sweet, malty
Hoe: Less Orange, peppery

Blue: Thin, watery, well carbonated
Ours: Medium bodied fuller than both Hoe and Blue.  Softer carbonation than both Hoe and Blue
Hoe: Medium body, crisp, highly carbonated

Blue: Tasty, with a full orange flavor, my wife's favorite.
Ours: Fuller but less robust fruit flavors, best head that lasted through the glass, Favorite of everyone except my wife.  More beer like than Blue or Hoe.
Hoe: Traditional yeasty funk, more peppery spice (corriander) than the other beers, not fully appreciated by the group.

All three beers were good summer beers, but I personally liked ours.  The nicest part was the comparison really highlighted the difference in mouthfeel.  A full body and nice head is the essence of beer for me, and while we probably didn't have the technically perfect beer of the group, we (my brother and I) preferred the differences of ours....and that is who we made it for.

We bottle our all grain blonde ale tomorrow, and are working in a watermelon wheat at the same time.  We have never used watermellon, so it should be interesting.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


My Fermentation Chamber with New Keg Fermenter.
I installed the controller in the lid (it just needs some touch up paint and its done)

Summer Beer Happily Fermenting Away at 65 F.  
Note the nice round hole in the keg (I cut it myself)
This is the new home of my brewing equipment almost
all packed up.

Brewing in the Rain

I finished all of my planned projects and fired up the brewery with my brother and nephew yesterday to brew our summer ale.  This year's summer ale is a simple all grain recipe with american hops.  It was supposed to be in the neighborhood of 5% abv and 23 IBU....but we broke our hydrometer....and have no idea.

Our expansion of equipment slowed our brew day down considerably.  Most of the slowdown was to figure out how to use the pump to avoid moving large vessels of hot liquid.  Mostly, we succeeded.  The major success was the pump, except for electrocuting my nephew a bit (don't worry, I have two nephews).  Showing the need for some re-wiring, the mash recirculation and wort transfer went off pretty well.  I need to wire a ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet in the garage (need to do anyway), and mount the pump with its shield to protect it from water and wort and make it easier to manipulate the valve with one hand.

Items of limited success include the new quick connections I inherited from my pump/kettle purchase.  Really, I need more of them and need to figure out where it is most critical for them to go....we kept having to change the configuration of the hoses and connections to move wort where we wanted it to go.

Failures and reconfigurations include my Hot Liquor Tank/Boil kettle siphon wasn't fully secured so didn't work, and got plugged up during the last wort transfer into the fermenter....I need to work with it to see if it will work at all, or if I need another false bottom.  I also didn't get an accurate temperature reading on our thermometers that I mounted in-line to the kettles valve system.  They gave me accurate temperatures of the wort as it was moving, but my strike water got too hot and we weren't aware of it until we started moving water.  I like the in-line idea, but it doesn't substitute for a gauge mounted in the kettle itself.

I also failed in my boil kettle location.  I placed it up high in the HLT location, but in my planning, I never decided to do was a game time decision, and nothing bad happened, but as my brother noted, it was blatantly unsafe as we tend to the boil kettle more than the HLT.  Lastly, I failed to impress my brother with any of my whiz-bang equipment in my diapidated and poorly lit garage.

The new fermentation vessel seems like it will work well as well as the fermentation chamber, but I need to monitor them.  I might yet still install a valve on this vessel.

So, I have a little tinkering yet to go, and need to buy a few items, but have run out of money.  First things first.  I need a new hydrometer....I need to find one that is easier to read.  I also need better lighting in the brewery.  I will have to figure out which projects I can do without new purchases.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It is Alive!

I have been furiously working on projects, buying miscellaneous parts and tools and tinkering in preparation of our brewing this weekend....what I haven't been doing is buying ingredients or worrying too much about the recipe.  It will be a simple all grain summer beer.

I am happy to report, though, that while my brewery is still in disarray, my fermentation chamber is complete.  I installed the digital controller into the front of the lid of my chest freezer (despite my dad's warning).  It seems like all is working.  It is 12:30am, so please forgive me that I don't have pictures.

Unfortunately, I need an extra keg to ferment in the chamber with.....finding a legal/decommissioned 1/2 barrel keg for brewing purposes is remarkably difficult.  I don't want to obtain a keg via deposit, as that hurts the brewery.  A keg costs over $100 new, but a deposit on one is only $35 (when you buy the beer in one).

It is hard to not purchase the empty keg via deposit....but I don't want the bad karma....but I need a keg.  The need for a brewing vessel might force the issue.

Another cool thing is using air powered tools to cut metal......super awesome fun.  Oh, and my youngest daughter (3 years) wrote her name for the first time today....and I stained my mother in law's deck and weeded her yard today.

I rock.

Friday, June 4, 2010

"I don't like your brothers beer!", my sister blurted.  "Really?", I replied, somewhat bemused.  She evidently didn't know my brother's beer was also my own.  "What don't you like about it?"  "It is bitter".  "Do you like the beer you are drinking right now"?  I pressed. "Not Really", she replied, "But, it is better than your brother's beer?"   "Yes." She continued.  She was drinking a Laughing Lab (as in Labrador Retriever), a Scottish Ale from Bristol Brewery in Colorado Springs.  "Did you try the yellow colored beer"?, I asked to see if she tried the Belgian Wit.  "I tried them all, they were all....bitter.  I didn't like any of them".     "Is the beer your drinking now more bitter than our brother's?", I continued. "No", she said.  "Hmmm.", I replied.

This conversation was interesting to me, because not many of our beers are known to be "bitter" in the traditional sense, and all of our beers currently available are malt forward, lowly hopped, fruity, and not even a hint of roasted flavor.  There was nothing bitter, and probably nothing as bitter as the beer she was drinking at the time. I don't feel bad that she didn't like it, she is an occasional light beer drinker, and probably tends toward inexpensive wine when making the purchasing choices.  I think she decided she wouldn't like it because they were dark and/or home made.  And to her, dark equals bitter.  At first, I was convinced that there was just a bias against our beer, but as I think about it now it isn't the whole story.  I think that she doesn't really taste beer, but rather perceives the taste or what the taste should be.  She wouldn't like anything that didn't fit that profile of beer in her head (but her bias, if there is one, would show if we passed off a traditional light lager to her as one of our own).

Not two minutes later, my mom complained that she didn't like the Laughing Lab.  After two days of going on and on and on about how much she liked our beer....she didn't like a commercially made beer that was except for the amount of peat smoked malt in ours, was very similar.  Our Scottish Ale is a little creamier, a little sweeter, a lot smokier, and less bitter that Bristol's.  I think she didn't like it because it wasn't ours.  I will believe that she is into craft beer when she buys some (that isn't made by us) for herself.  It ain't going to happen.

I read in the latest issue of All About Beer Magazine that half of all the beer produced in the world last year was made by the five largest brewers.  My estimate is that perhaps 90% (or more) of that was traditional American Light Lager in the Pilsner tradition.  Let's face it.  That is what most people drink and like.  Sure, craft beer has exhibited tremendous growth year after year, but doesn't really make a dent in the total consumption.  This is true not only in backwards America, but also is a continuing trend around the world.  The main (and most interesting question) is why?

I think that we as craft beer (aficionados, enthusiasts, mavens, nerds, geeks, snobs, whatever) people have rationalized that since we have discovered we like flavorful and varied beers, that the rest of the beer drinking world have yet to make that discovery.  I think that we have deluded ourselves into believing that everyone will eventually have the epiphany that we did.  Many of us didn't have it when we had our first craft beer, it took time.

I think that the truth is, while the big breweries have made some recipe changes purely to save money on the mass production of beer, their products are a result of thousands of studies and focus groups to provide a beer that appeals to the widest possible audience.  They are simply brewing what most people like, placing me, you, and everyone who cherishes a full flavored beer squarely in a very small minority.  It is small d democracy at work and it gives a measure of perspective to the craft beer industry and its growth potential.  At some point in time, the growth curve will level out, and that number will still be very small comparatively.

So, perhaps a small brewery in every neighborhood is a pipe dream, unless something radical changes how we ship and receive goods in this world.  It doesn't mean that many upstart breweries won't find a niche, survive, and thrive, but most will not.  Some regular beer drinkers will always continue to be persuaded to explore, but most will gravitate back towards the mean.  In this intermediate stage between the birth and maturity of the craft beer market, there may not be many if any Sam Adams', Sierra Nevadas, New Belgiums, or even Dogfish Heads being born this year, and in ten or fifteen years, one or more of those breweries could be a memory.  Or worse, a specialty part of InBev.  

I just don't believe that the world is changing any time soon.  Most people like their fizzy, yellow, pilsneresque beer.  And as a homebrewer, I think that's okay.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I have to apologize to my regular readers (all 5 of you) for not posting much for a little while.  I have been keeping myself busy with visitors, home improvement projects, and a few brewery equipment projects and acquisitions.  In the meantime, I have not found time to brew like I thought I would, and my stock pile has run rather low.

Also, interestingly, I have basically stopped drinking commercially produced beer, meaning that the only beer I have been drinking has been my own.  Instead of telling you how great or terrible my own beer is, I thought it would be best to give it a rest, and shut up and drink, so to speak.  I haven't changed my habits for any other reason except that I tired of going out for a beer, and would just prefer something I brewed anyway.  Lastly, with all of my acquisitions, I need to conserve money and get myself brewing again.

The last part is that I have begin feeling a real indifference to the world of craft beer.  I am feeling that all the buzz of brewing is focusing on the next bigger (literally) and better (figuratively) thing.  Beers with ABV's approaching that of distilled spirits, double everything, over-hopped monsters, Belgianizing of every type of beer, and oak aging anything.  I am not sure that it is a healthy focus for the industry, and am wondering if others are feeling as burned out as I.  My focus is returning to simple ales.  I don't care what is new, if new means ever increasing complexity.

I have been interested lately to speak to people who are not interested in or don't like craft beers, and I have found some interesting examples in my own family and neighborhood which I might explore a little more at some later time.

For the time being, it is fully summertime.  Time to mow the lawn and afterwards relax in my little garden with a beer.  I also need to get some pictures of my new projects posted.  I am just so lazy at this time of the year.