Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the gift of beer....

I have very limited experience tasting home made beer that I didn't make, so it was nice to receive a twelve pack of home brew from my brother-in-law.  He sent me three different kinds, one of which (edit: [I thought])was my Festivus Holiday Beer recipe....

Like a kid at Christmas, I poured [what I thought was] the holiday beer [but actually was a brown ale] into my only tulip glass and enjoyed every drop.  His seemed drier (and likely more ABV) than my first attempt, but lacking any data and relying on my faulty memory, it is hard to tell or remember.  I did enjoy it, it will be extremely difficult to let the remaining bottles age.

Everything is explained now that I know that the brown ale wasn't my beer...I do love brown ale, so it was easy to pretend it was some other brown malty beer I love.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Brew Day revisited.

I just got back from a vacation.  We were supposed to brew the weekend before I left, but had too much to do, so we opted to brew last weekend instead.  We incorporated all of our new tri clamp fittings, and that part of the brewery is working as designed....that is to say, awesome.

We did have problems, however.  It started when assembling the brewery.  I removed an old valve from a kettle, and dropped one of our dial thermometers.  Crash! Crap!  No temperature on the out side of the kettle.  Then we mashed in too high....and only could tell our mash tun in temp....so we really don't know how high it was.

Then our boil kettle's dip tube fell apart.  This made our effort to drain our kettle to our fermenter impossible.  I need to figure out how to make these repairs to the system before our next brew day.

We brewed our Porter and a pumpkin ale recipe.  My brother talked me into trying the pumpkin, and I think I will be glad he did.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

three days...no pictures

I am still trying to re-acclimate myself to my normal old boring life after the Great American Beer Festival.  I have so many ideas and observations from my two days of volunteering and the one session my brother and I attended that it is hard to straighten them all out.  I can say, however, that I had a great time, and look forward to next year.  I think that rather than give a blow by blow of three days of mostly standing, talking, and drinking (and peeing), I instead will focus on the major topics.

First, everyone is always interested in the beers.  I didn't keep track of how many samples I had, and until this year, I have no idea how you would go about keeping count.  I served beer to one guy who stopped and wrote down every beer he tried in a notebook (along with what I presume were notes), and another guy who had a counter on his belt that he clicked each time.  Although both of these would be interesting bits of information after the fact (how much you drank, what you drank, and what you liked) it certainly (for me at least) would take away from the fun and social aspect of the event.

As for beers and breweries it is hard to remember everything I liked in specifics.  I did have a method to my madness on what I sampled and what breweries to visit.  First, I don't like standing in line and waiting, so to avoid the feeling of standing in line to get in, we got there really early (almost first) and sat on the steps for the first few hours.  We met some really great beer people (not the yahoos that show up later).  At the event, we tended to avoid the popular breweries that had lines (with some exceptions) and those that we really wanted, we chose to hit early.

What I can remember, is that I really enjoyed a premium light lager from a new Michigan Brewery called Wolverine State.  I served alongside their Director of Sales (I so enjoyed her company and her shameless promotion) at the Michigan Brewers Guild, and she sold out of her case of Premium Light Lager in probably two hours or less.  People kept coming and asking for it.  I am really surprised it didn't win a medal (American Premium or Light Lager gold went to Red Dog....), but as I know, I am not a stylistic encyclopedia.  Maybe it would have done better in a different category.  They have a tap room on the west side of Ann Arbor and their lager is a most excellent boat beer.  I can't get it here in Denver.....and I have never been sad about not being able to get something here....maybe someday.  Maybe someone can pick me up some swag (mens medium...hat...hint, hint) when they visit this brewery?

I served on Thursday night in row O in the Rocky Mountain Region.  I served Pike's Peak Brewing (Chris and Dan were lots of fun to hang out with and talk to).  I had taken my brother and Kent to visit this establishment in Monument (off of I-25 north of Colorado Springs) and especially enjoyed their Mild Ale which was being served.  I also served for Pagosa Brewing, and was very impressed with all of their offerings.

I focused on trying a lot of Oktoberfest beers (since I am an award winner and all), and even got to try the eventual Bronze Medal winner from Sam Adam's for German Style Marzen.  Of most I tasted, mine was better.  We also enjoyed Great Lake's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

Of the people.  I nearly (literally) ran into Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery while in the bookstore prior to the Friday session.  I wanted to tell him that I am currently enjoying his book, "Brewing Up a Business" that I purchased for my ipad, but in three seconds, someone was running up to him screaming (almost) "Sam!!!!" and similarly swooning.  He does seem to be as nice as his persona, however....so I left him alone.  I shook Ray Daniels' hand and thanked him for his book "Designing Great Beers" which give statistics and background on a number of styles of beer and provides some insight on how to craft your own recipes.  It is one of my favorite reference guides.

On Serving.  After finishing serving for the first two nights, I was convinced that I would rather do that than attend, but I had such a great time on Saturday afternoon attending, that I am no longer convinced of that.  In retrospect, I did enjoy serving more than attending, but am not sure if I am ready to give up my Saturday Afternoon Session.  The best part was meeting people and talking about the beer i was serving.  I might dedicate myself to the Guild next year, but not sure.  I will have to search my soul on all of this.

On the Festival.  If you go, take your time, drink what you like, and don't try to sample everything.  There are over 700 breweries serving thousands of beer.  I can't wait to pour you a beer in 2012.

Of the three days....I forgot my camera every day....so, I had a great time, and posed for more than a few photos, but don't have anything for you here....sorry.  Next year, come with me.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Always a Bridesmaid!!!

Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen
I just got a call from the Brew Hut and Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora, Colorado.  I entered our Oktoberfest in their Oktoberfest Only homebrew competition.  And.....you guessed it....Second!

Second is pretty damn good, considering every beer was exactly the same type and style.  This discounts a preference for a different style of beer.  A second place finish of this type is significant at almost any level.  This means that many agree that this is one damn fine beer.  This is beginning to make me wish that I entered this beer in the National Homebrew Competition last April or May (when I thought the beer was at its best).

Its standing at two back to back competitions also lends itself a nice name....Bridesmaid Oktoberfest.  This is fitting since the festival of Oktoberfest was originally a party to honor the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810.  I can imagine Therese throwing back a few steins of our beer to ready herself for her marriage.  She had nine kids and then her husband cheated on her.  The bridesmaids are also always the ones you have a chance with when attending a wedding stag.  If you tried our beer....she was very approachable.

Second place, Runner Up, Alternate...Silver.  As Iceman Says: "The plaque for the Alternate is in the Ladies Room."  Second place isn't such a bad place to be after all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Runner Up

I am pleased to announce that our Oktoberfest will evermore be known as "Our Award Winning Oktoberfest."  I entered a competition at a small local brewery, The Copper Kettle.  We came in as one of two runners up.  We didn't win, but we were in the top three and our beer was considered for the Best of Show.  The brewery owner's called it a "Killer".

Actually, I didn't expect to win.  Although the beer was very good, it was 8 months old, and I felt it was showing its age.  The testament to the quality and craftmanship of this beer is that perhaps it would have won outright if I could have found an easy competition to enter last May.

Since there were two runners up (and they didn't give me any feedback), at best we were narrowly edged out of the Best in Show in a field of 20 or more entries (it is a small competition).  At worst, we were third of 5 or 10.  Still, we have rarely entered and never placed before, so, I will take it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

$600 worth of Stainless.

I just received two shipments from St. Pats of Texas and Stout Tanks of various stainless steel parts.  Stainless sanitary tri-clamp parts are not cheap.  $600 got us 90% of what we need to standardize our fittings (using 2" tri-clamp parts).  After I ordered (thinking I was buying a few extras) I devised a way to set up the brewery so that we don't have to change hoses out....of course, I need two (at least) extra tees ($27 plus shipping at St. Pats).

My brewery is starting to look like a professional brewery...with any hope, we will brew like one.

Beer update: I have the IPA in the can (who doesn't like it in the can), but have resisted the urge to try it (it probably isn't done carbonating yet), the Wit continues to work its way down to final gravity, and I have finally emptied my commercial keg of Oak Aged Yeti from Great Divide.  I get to return the keg today for $50, which helps pay for my half of the stainless.

My time in the mountains last week was good for me despite the cold I have and the sinus infection my wife got.  I know it is hard to stomach, but my life can't be all beer.

Lastly, I have packaged our last bottles of Oktoberfest for a local brewery's homebrew competition.  I am six months late in doing this, and the beer probably tastes like crap now.  I expect the feedback to be that it is oxidized or some other age related problem....but I will keep you posted.  I am entering this beer without knowing what it tastes like myself.  This is kind of strange.  I am hoping that I can get some constructive criticism outside of the age of the beer....because like all of us, it was awesome when it was in its prime.  I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Homegrown IPA

I spent a rare Wednesday night bottling our first ever IPA.  Rare as in bottling, rare as in Wednesday. and rare as in IPA (India Pale Ale).  Usually, we relegate brewing activities to weekends, but the weekend was booked  and we really wanted to get the beer into bottles (and kegs).

For those of you following along, I am a malt fan, and not big on really hoppy beers.  For those of you following along and paying attention, however, my tolerance and taste for hops has increased as of late.

September is hop harvesting month, and I picked a bucket's worth (about 4 pounds) and dried them down to about a pound and a half.  I only picked perhaps half of my crop, electing to let the smaller cones grow.  I am only growing Cascade, and only 2 plants.  I am sure I need no more.

My brother's friend came to try out the hobby, and his beer style of choice happens to be IPA....all of this makes it a natural fit.  We brewed an American Style IPA with over a pound of hops for our 12 gallon batch. We also brewed a Belgian Wit.

Again, it was a non-eventful brewday, except that my drill (which I use as the motor for my grain mill) died on batch number 2.  We have gotten to the point where our new equipment and associated processes have become predictable.  This makes for very boring reporting....but our beer is better.

We bottled the IPA today (the Wit will take more time), electing to bottle 5 gallons for my brother's friend, and split the rest into two kegs. I didn't even do the bottling, and I can unequivocally say that I don't miss doing that one bit.  I will stay with kegs, thankyouverymuch!

My observations on my first AIPA is that the hop flavor right out of the fermenter is amazing.  I elected to not dry hop it, so the emphasis on this beer is mostly hop flavor.  A half a pound of my Cascade hops went in half way through the boil and another half pound at flameout.  The beer tastes like grapefruit juice!  I am really looking forward to getting to sample how the hop character changes over time.  So, Skeptical Brewing has IPA on tap....stop on by for a pint.

Oh, and because brewing is predictable, I elected (on a whim) to make another major change to the brewery....oh, joy, I do love trouble.  More later.

Monday, September 5, 2011

summer is over

For the last couple months, I have been doing anything to avoid writing on this blog, and I mean anything.  I just got back from a family camping trip (tents, sleeping bags, campfire, shitting in the woods, etc.) for this Labor Day weekend, I have totally cleaned up everything, did my regular weekend chores, and I am facing a whole new year.  In case you were wondering, I am not on some obscure calendar or anything, but since I live in Denver, I consider the beer calendar to start with Denver Beer Week and the Great American Beer Festival.

This summer has been great.  I have sampled a gazillion beers, visited a few new breweries and some old favorites, and have had some surprising events, and brewed some new beers.  I am hoping that my creativity returns long enough to tell all the stories from the summer, but in actuality, I am looking forward.  

I have a lot of stories to tell, but I really need some feedback.  I know I have a limited readership, and I write mostly for my own pleasure, but I would like to know more about the beer adventures of this readership.  Where should I take this blog?  If you'd like to guest on this blog, (my brother has done this), I welcome content on what you are doing, what you are drinking, and what you are thinking.  So, if you want me to keep writing, make it interesting for both of us so I can take inspiration from you, you can take some inspiration from me, and we can continue this journey together.  Let's get away from my monologue and get down to collaboration.

Since I have a summer of fun to report on, I do have some content to add, but I want to know more about what is happening between your ears and less of what is happening between mine.  I have new adventures scheduled around the GABF, and want to attend the national conference of the American Homebrew Association (how do I sell this to my wife?).

So, drop me a line, and tell me what you want to hear.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

a sour taste in my mouth

I just recently got a big bottle of Gavroche French Red Ale at my local bottle shop at a discount price, I did a whole write up on it here and then for some reason my computer decided to screw it up.  I lost the whole thing.  The important things were that I got it from the bargain bin for $5 a bottle (750 ml), there is no such particular style called French Red Ale (so it was more like a Flanders Red, but less sour and less robust flavor in general), and it was like a light sour beer.

I don't really think of sour beers as beers per se, I treat them more like wine, as they are often fruit flavored, and treated more like wine in their production and aging process.  I have been reluctant to make one because it takes 12 or more months of aging, and that would be a bitter (rather than sour) disappointment if I screwed it up and had to wait so long....but at $5 for 12 oz. of Lindemann's, or $12-$20 for 750 ml bottles ($22 for 4 pack of 11 oz bottles) for various widely available Belgians (more for the American Breweries Barrel or sour products), I may be forced to give it a go.

American Craft Brewing is jumping into their barrel programs with gusto these days.  It is not uncommon to see barrels packed into every available corner of the local brewery.  I understand that it is an extension of the crafting of beer, and that the labor and material costs are so much more, but I am getting tired of the premium prices, higher ABV's, and the ever lengthening of descriptive names.  Do we seriously need to be impressed by the big and bold?  I have started wondering about that for myself....but then I get a simple brown ale or bitter that is single hopped and well made, and I come back to my senses.

I still love a good sour beer....it is quickly becoming one of my favorite summer treats, but I can't quite name it my dessert island beer, because it isn't quite beer.  I also have loved every braggot (beer/mead type drink) I have ever tasted, and my love of hard cider, tastes like the Michigan Fall Days that I miss from my youth.....but give me a nice brown ale if we are talking beer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

two new breweries - or not?

Every once in a while I will go to one source or another to see what's new in the Denver brewing scene.  Today I checked out the Beer Mapping Project at beermapping.com.  I did this a couple months ago and stumbled onto the opening day for the Copper Kettle nestled between Denver and Aurora.

The two new ones I found today are puzzling business models.

The first is Caution Brewing.  They are located near I-70 and Peoria in Denver.  The twitter feed links to local publications that indicates that they purchased the old Odell's 5 barrel pilot system (if you have ever had Odell's 5 Barrel Pale Ale, an homage to this system).  But, this brewery has no tasting room, and only one account, a family member's restaurant.  The most puzzling thing, while you can follow them on Twitter, they have no website.  The only information I can gather is that they make only the one beer for the one location (Lao Wang's Lager) and are to specialize in beers that will pair well with Asian food.

The second mysterious brewery is Leieritz Brewing Company, brewing under the Three Daughters Label.  A Google Search indicates that they are at 31st and Blake, but the person (assuming Leieritz) also lists a residence in my neighborhood as the company's address (I might not be making the best beer in a six block radius after all).  I have not had (or heard of) Three Daughters, but they have 4 products reviewed on Rate Beer and BeerAdvocate....but the reviews are unkind to say the least.  From the reviews, I gather that they sell bottles locally and they have had at least 1 tap at the Atomic Cowboy on Colfax.  Again, a mystery that they don't have a web site.

At least two other breweries open soon here in Denver.  Renegade (open now, I think) 9th and Santa Fe(www.renegadebrewing.com), and  Denver Beer Company (denverbeerco.com) in Lower Highland (Platte Street north of 15th).  At least they have websites.

An explosion of new breweries are about to come on line, and as I have been saying, not all of them will survive.  They never do.  I remember Heavenly Daze on Santa Fe and Alameda, Champion Brewing on Larimer Square, Oasis Brewing in Boulder, HC Berger in Fort Collins, and i have an old keg (my first brew kettle) from a Springs Brewing Company, Denver, CO, that I have never been able to find information about.

Brewing is such a labor and energy intensive industrial process that requires expensive equipment, volume production, and saavy marketing.  It is no longer good enough to open a brewery (build it and they will come business model)...you have to sell it, market it, get it in front of people, perhaps win awards.

I won't begin to predict who will survive, but it will be the ones who will be able to find a sellable niche, have a decent location, and beer worth returning for....oh, and deep enough pockets.

Sadly, the best beers will not always win the day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

what's on tap

Keeping busy around the family brewery....I thought I would give a run down on what's on tap these days.

The all grain summer blonde keg kicked a few days ago, which along with loaning my Oak Aged Yeti keg to my brother for a while freed up space in the kegerator for our latest creations.  Along with our American Wheat and about 1 gallon of our awesome window well Oktoberfest we have two new beers on tap.

This year we went back to traditions forgoing our usual American Red for an Irish variant using the Guinness yeast and roasted barley.  Being summer, we elected to make it more of a session beer at 4.3% ABV and 23 IBU of the finest English hops.  It is roasty, deep ruby red, with a white tan head.  This sucker was done fermenting in three days and in the keg in 5, and clear in 7.  Needless to say, it is still changing with age.

The other beer on tap is a historical recipe.  It is a Mild Ale from the late 19th/early 20th century.  Back then, Mild referred to a young beer (not aged like an old ale) and not necessarily to a light brown or black session ale you would find today.  This one clocks in at 4.5% ABV and 68 IBUs, using the Wyeast London Ale III (Boddington's) yeast.  This one is murky orangy brown, smoky/tobacco flavored (from the hops), it hasn't cleared yet, but my higher hopped beers usually take a month or more to finally clear.  I love this beer, but I don't think it would be popular with most beer fans.  Even the hop rate isn't very bitter for 68 IBUs.  Again, it is very malt forward, but so very different from the Irish.  If it clears nicely, I would be proud to serve it.

Although the kegerator is full up, my Oktoberfest (and wheat) will kick soon, and I have two existing empty kegs.  What is next?  It being still summer, trying a re-brew of the blonde would be quick, or perhaps our well received Belgian Wit or another departure with a Steam Beer(TM) (ahem, I mean, California Common) might be in order.  I wish I liked Saison/Farmhouse Ales...but alas, I have not yet acquired the taste for them.  I would love to hear what you all think we should brew....

Also, although I think we have dialed in our brew day/process/set up, I think it is time to pack it up after this one and transfer the brewery back to Colorado Springs.  It will be nice to have the space back in the beer cellar...for beer instead of equipment.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sour Beer

I have been toying with the idea of creating a sour beer.  Now that I have carboys I am not using, I could dedicate them to the 1 year process of making sour beer.....using all that bacteria like  Brettanomyces Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus....kinda gives me the creeps...

just keep repeating the mantra:

" Nothing in beer can kill you,
 nothing in beer can kill you, 
nothing in beer can kill you....except beer".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trappist Ale

I have a 750 ml Chimay Red Label in my fridge....this may not mean much to you, but it is killing me not to open it....The beer itself isn't rare (now, at least), the problem is that I can't drink 750 ml (well, I could, but shouldn't if I know what is good for me) of Belgian dubbel.  I guess I am waiting for someone to pop by that would enjoy it as an excuse for myself.

Chimay is one of the seven brewing Trappist Monasteries in Europe (six in Belgium, one in the Netherlands), and standing there in the bottle shop, I realized I had never had Chimay (although I have become a dubbel fan).  Chimay only brews three beers (I respect that, too) characterized by their label color.  Red is their dubbel, yellow is their Trippel, and Blue is their Grand Reserve (Grand Cru or stronger dubbel).  I think they used to put the Trippel in a white label....not sure.

The monks brew to raise money for their monastery....how's that for a fundraiser?  What if Girl Scouts did the same?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Coming Together

After another double brew day (2 consecutive batches), I sat with my brother in my biergarten/brewery sipping a West coastish red ale from Rock Bottom and asked him this question:

What went right? His answer: Everything.

He was right, most everything went according to plan, and a double brewday was completed in just about 7 hours (including lunch and more than a few tastings).  Notably, we had no extra "help", we had pretty easy recipes, and we were unrushed.  It certainly was a pleasure to brew.

That isn't to say we didn't have problems.  We undershot on our gravities by a few points one by exceeding our volume, the other for no apparent reason.  I formulate our recipes on an 80% efficiency, as our efficiency runs about  80%-85%...we agree, that we need better control of our kettle volumes and our evaporation rate....it shouldn't be difficult to accomplish....just another data point to focus on controlling.

When we started all grain brewing, we were just feeling lucky to get beer, as we got better, we started hitting gravities (in general), and then we made equipment upgrades to better track and control mash temperatures, added a mill to control our own milling (and save money by buying in bulk), and focused on getting our pitching temps lower quicker, and added a bunch of tools (pumps, mash paddle, etc.) that speed our brew day or make it safer (avoid lifting, retiring our carboys)....I think we are dialing our new equipment in, and can focus on our brewday processes again and making better beer.

A couple of items for us to ponder are how we can increase the efficiency of our pump (we had some trouble getting it going....maybe adding a bleeder valve on the pump out side), measuring our kettle volumes better (just by devising a system and paying attention), and standardizing our equipment so that we don't have to figure out how we have to change our hoses for each successive step.

We had talked about expanding our systems tri-clamp fittings (thus standardizing all of our fittings).  Expensive, but might speed/make less confusing the processes between mash/sparging.  We also talked about adding a second pump....which still feels excessive/expensive....but again, might improve processes.

Anyway, we brewed some different stuff.  Our first batch was a Mild Ale, but it was a historical recipe (from 1909) when Mild Ale was the opposite of Old Ale, instead of low gravity.  I call it a Throwback Mild (got the recipe from the Brewer's Publication Style Series on Mild Ale by David Sutula (1999)).  We were looking for something different and this beer at about 5.7% ABV and 67 IBU....is something a little different for us....

Our second beer was supposed to be our Red Ale....but I decided to re-Irish it (it had been an American Red and recently a west coast style red)....and change what we used to redden it, and lightened it a tad....so....by the time I got done with it.....a totally different beer we have never brewed.....

Last night before bed, I went downstairs smelling beer.....not a great sign.  I can usually smell the fermentation when entering the store room, not on the stairs.....our throwback mild ale (with London III yeast) was billowing clouds of yeast all over the floor....after damage control, I placed the billowing keg in a large plastic bin and finished cleaning it up this morning when the billowing subsided....it was a combination 1.060 beer with too much volume and using an English (top cropper type) strain.

Looking forward, I still need to fix a keg, and I am a keg shy for these two batches....and I am itching to brew again.  Where are my friends when I need them?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Being One, but not the Same (to quote Bono)

It occurred to me on Father's Day that if I have a Doppleganger, he lives in Belgium.  A Doppleganger is a body double (someone who looks just like me), but more like an evil twin.  I imagine my Doppleganger as not so much evil as unwitting.  Perhaps he is not my evil twin, but rather, I am his.

I imagine my twin living a quite provincial life amongst the farms in West Flanders or maybe a diamond merchant in Antwerp.  He is probably, like me, a quite boring fellow, but I am certain he has a beautiful shock of hair....not that he is concerned with it in the least.  He favors wine, you know, and considers himself quite a connoisseur. Living so close to France makes it easy.  He speaks Dutch, but understands French, English, and German.

Yes, this little fellow is so similar, yet different.  On this peculiar Sunday (Father's Day in the United States) we could find our hero in a quiet spot rediscovering a beverage from his past.  Usually, on summer days like this, he would favor a Bordeaux but his mind was on Burgundy, but feeling somewhat misplaced, he instead settled on a nice beer from his home country.  It was something that he was quite familiar with as he was raised on it, a specialty of his native Flanders, a somewhat sour beer with the flavor of dark fruits.  It was this beer that introduced him to the mellower and rounder flavor of wine as this beer, made the old way, was so much like wine, almost like a Burgundy's Doppleganger....similar, similarly made, aged in oak for over a year and often blended for the right consistency, similarly complex, similarly flavorful, but different, almost evil in its attraction, and made with a blend of bacteria and yeast natural to this environment....so unlike beer, so like wine...so perfect on this end of Spring day.

As he sat thinking of this evil twin of a beer, a somewhat dim witted fellow in the States was considering his options for a special treat this Father's Day.  He almost for no reason at all parted with almost $50 bucks for a four pack of Oud Bruin and another 4 pack of a beer demurely named The Duchess of Bourgonne, both beers of the Flemish Style (brown and red).  An unusual choice for this self described beer guy.  A guy who doesn't tend to like extreme beers, and tends to frown upon beers that don't taste like beer.

Truth be told.....Flemish Red and Oud Bruin have been a favorite of mine for a while.  I don't tend to get them (even when/where offered) as they are expensive, and don't satisfy my taste for beer.  They are my un beer beverages of choice.  They have a tartness from the bacteria but a fruitiness that make them refreshing.  At 6-8% ABV coupled with the expense, it is difficult to keep them around.  If you are not into sour beers, you may or may not enjoy them....I didn't immediately like them, but over time (approximately 5 years now) of hanging out at my local Belgian beer bar....I have begun to have an affair with the Duchess, and she introduced me to her Flemish cousin.

Now I dream of them at night....

Damn my Doppleganger....damn him to hell.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Brewin' w/Bigfoot!

Tomorrow is the first day of the National Homebrewer's Conference in San Diego, California.  I sit here, in my basement hideout sipping on an Oak Aged Yeti, feeling sorry for myself as I really, really, really, really wanted to go.....I should have.  My brother was in.  I have a job and money to do it....my wife might have not been crazy for the idea as our 18th wedding anniversary falls on Sunday, but it could have been a father's day present....by the way, I didn't think the whole wedding anniversary thing falling on Father's Day weekend through way back in 1993....I never thought I would be a father, I guess.....but this sucks (sort of).  Don't get me wrong....it isn't the marriage or the kids....but it is like agreeing to have your birthday on December 25th.

Anyway, San Diego.  I don't have much interest in the city, but I should have gone to the conference.  I have never been to one....actually, this might sound funny.  I have never been to any conference for any reason.

So, as I sit feeling sorry for myself, I checked the web to see where the 2012 conference will be held.  The 2012 34th Annual NHC will be June 21-23rd in Bellevue, Washington near Seattle.  If your name is David, are a Red Wing fan, have a security clearance, and hair....your mission is to join the AHA.  If you don't....I ain't buying you tickets....your other mission is to sell this to my wife.  If you are some random homebrewer or beer lover (or my brother in law)....feel free to join me in Seattle.

After 16 years of this hobby, I think I deserve it.  Skeptical Brewing Company is Brewin' with Bigfoot in 2012!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

neither here nor there

I have been tinkering with my keggerator since I replaced my gas.  I have learned some valuable and one expensive lesson.

I spilled all but 1 gallon of my prized oktoberfest into the bottom of my freezer.....but drank every last drop of my not so good brown ale.  If that isn't the definition of ironic.....I don't know what is.  The real lesson is, to tighten all of your fittings, and check the inside of your keggerator often.  It might be worth putting a moisture sensor in the bottom for a fail safe....but for now, I will tighten and double check.

I have tapped into my summer beers...(wheat and blonde), and have decided that they are too similar to serve at the same time.  I actually prefer the blonde, which is simpler and cheaper to brew.  I could abandon the wheat for awhile....maybe altogether.

I have a wicked chill haze problem with the blonde.  A chill haze is a haze that is more pronounced (or only evident) when the beer is cold.  It clears as it warms.  It degrades the enjoyment of the beer somewhat, as you drink with your eyes....I was having the same problem (with haze) on our West Coast Red ale...I surmised at the time that it was from the hops, but I am not sure if it is something in our process (perhaps coupled with our yeast).  The Oktoberfest cleared after about 3 weeks.....I still have hope for the blonde, but need to do more research.

Next beer looks like something a little different....I have my eye on a couple of historical brews.....one from the 1800's one from the revolutionary war (except that I will use hops).  More about these later.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gassed out

When I pour a beer from my keggerator, I always check the pressure on the gauges.....and the other day, found my 20 pound tank (that should last for dispensing 20 5 gallon kegs of beer) was nearly empty.  Damn!  A leak.  The likely suspect is my new keg of Naked Blonde.  I just bought the keg, and was having pressure issues, but pressed them into service anyway when my brother bought his keggerator.

But....as I think about it, it might really be something else...a truly insideously slow leak on my Sanke (Commercial) keg system.

I didn't think too much about it at the time, but a few weeks ago, I noticed that beer in the commercial keg's beer line would retract or drain back into the keg when unused for a few days.  I thought it strange, but didn't think anything about it.  Now, I am thinking that the only way for it to drain is if the pressure drops in the keg.  Interestingly, the beer never was flat, but with a truly slow leak you would never have flat beer, but merely flattening beer.

But, it still could be the new keg.  Unless I leave the kegs unattended (as in stop drinking from them), and something does go flat, I will not know.  The other solution, of course is to buy more gas and experiment at high pressures to see if I can find the leak.....more to follow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

fully converted

For the last few weeks, I have been feeding my brother craigslist advertisements of decent keggerators that might be acceptable in his den.  He got a slightly beat up professional one for $400 (which retails new for $1,300).  I also picked up 4 more kegs on craiglist for $120, but unlike the previous two, they were not beer ready.  I spent the week rehabbing them to get them in shape.  I had two ready to go (for me) when my brother informed me of his purchase....so I gave him the good ones (I hope) and rigged the other two to hold pressure (I hope).  Summer beers are in the cans (don't you love it in the can?) and now the weather can't get above 50 degrees.

I do hope my brother will send me pictures of his new "toy" once he has it up and running.  We should all take a pool to see when he will have it ready.  He still needs to buy hoses and fittings in addition to giving it a thorough cleaning, but he has two kegs full of beer and the summer is looming (not much, but it is)....so he does have incentive.  Perhaps July 1?

So, we have fully converted to kegs....I figure we will bottle our christmas beers or other ones that would benefit from age.....but I don't relish the thought of it.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Since last Saturday I have been thinking about our last brew session.  I have been somewhat obsessed with it, and this is what I have been hoping for.

Last week, I fell in love with brewing again, and I can not wait to brew again.  For the longest time, we had made so many changes to our brewhouse that we never got the process down, and continually had various problems such as stuck mashes, plugged piping during transfers, and problems priming the pump.

The brewery finally transferred to my house from my brothers, and I spent a lot of time preparing the gear and thinking about the setup and operation.  I had convinced myself (and subsequently my brother) that we were not only able to do two brews in a day, but that it would be fun (and easy).  And, barring any problems, it is.

The real secret is preparation and timing and secondarily a good brewhouse layout (which we are still working on).

Expecting that the day is going to be a long one and making preparations to shorten it not only does, but it changes your expectations.  The first thing in the morning that needed to get done was the hot liquor tank needed to get filled and a fire lit under it to heat.  I had the HLT 100% assembled.  I started the night before (or maybe a few nights before).  I had all of the days brewing hardware soaking in sanitizer the night before, and assembled the HLT before I went to bed.  I could have set the HLT outside on the burner and filled it with water to save even more time, but it was supposed to be rainy (or snowy), so I waited on that

I lit the HLT and set up the mash tun.  I measured my grains and milled them directly into the mashtun.  I set up my recirculation pump before I mashed in at 170 F to settle at about 155F at the top and 148F as it exited  my kettle.  I was running smoothly before my first assistant showed up (my nephew) at 9:30am.  I had the mash steady at 154 (eventually settling at 155 top and 153 bottom).  I also devised a temp gauge at the top of the kettle to measure the wort as it comes out of the heat exchanger and enters the tun.

As we sparged to the boil kettle, we refilled the HLT, cleaned the mash tun and started preparing the grains for the second batch.  We had some trouble with milling the wheat.....it just wouldn't catch in the mill.....and issues with a boilover, but otherwise a quiet day.

All told, we brewed 24 gallons of our Girls of Summer series.  An American Wheat and our Naked (all malt) Blonde.  They have been tempting me from inside the open fermenters all week as the weather has warmed.  With kegging, I could be drinking one (or both) by the middle of next week.  I need to either empty my brown ale (by drinking it) or buy more kegs in the intervening week.  I think I will need more kegs, as I have my head already into my next beer or two.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Opening Day

It is not often that you can say that you were there from the beginning, but I truly was.  I stopped by Denver's newest brewery, The Copper Kettle today.  It was their grand opening.  

They have a small 3 barrel system, and 4 or 5 beers on tap.  I only had time for a copper colored American Pale Ale, that had a medium dose of citrusy Cascade hops and a light body....very nice, very drinkable, but nothing that knocks your socks off....

This is no criticism.....anyone (I think) can make a beer too big for style to "knock your socks off" in one way or another....it was more balanced, and more nuanced.  Perhaps clean, perhaps non-descript..... definitely easy drinking.  The Copper Kettle looks like it will specialize in Continental beers (German beers....Helles, Dunkel, Alt (ale) with a smattering of others, (Saison, blonde, Copper APA))....we shall see.  It is located in a commercial building nestled between the Cities of Aurora and Denver in unincorporated Arapahoe County....it may be Unincorporated Arapahoe County's first brewery.

I used to live a mile or less from there.....15 years ago.  Now it will have to be a stop from time to time on the way home from work.  Check it out for yourself.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Have Been Lazy

I have been kind of lazy about writing lately, and I apologize.  A lot has been going on, but I haven't been able to bring myself to talk about it mostly because I have gainful employment and have been busy with other things.

For example.  I was silent about InBev purchasing Goose Island out of Chicago.  After time to reflect, if a big craft brewer wants to go ballistic with their output, this is the only way.  There are not a lot of venture capitalists out there for slow profit growth in the form of old school manufacturing....not a lot of banks handing out cash.  The capital and expertise of a large brewer may be the only way to go.  I have never had Goose Island's beer...but if InBev wants to buy my brewery, it is for sale.

Ultimately, either Goose Island is a sell out, craft beer is legitimate, or yes.  If you are worried, give it some time, if you like their beer, buy it, if not, there are plenty of local breweries vying for your business.

The State of Colorado legislature killed the full strength beer in grocery stores bill....again....this is the position supported by the Brewers Association and I believe the Colorado Brewer's Guild.  I think that it is a short sighted or mis-guided position.  There are two different kinds of liquor stores here in Colorado.  One's that sell primarily craft beer (call them boutique) and those that sell primarily mass market beer (I call them ghetto).  The liquor store closest to my house is ghetto.  They sell cheap malt liquor in quarts, single (airplane sized) serve booze bottles, and their wide selection includes Natural Light and Corona as a Premium product.  Ghetto stores have a problem with loitering and patrons often discard their empties on the way home.  The other liquor store in my neighborhood sells a wide selection of craft and imported Belgian beers and fine wines, closes early, and has no problems with customers or trash.  Which of the two would be hurt by full strength beer being sold at King Soopers?  Precisely the one I will not shop at, and wish would rather not be there.  Argonaut Liquors and Grape Expectations are not going to go out of business from the competition of grocery stores and Seven-Elevens.  Sure if you need a cheap six pack of bud....grocery store....if you want knowledge and selection.....you know where to go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fun Stuff

For those of you who saw or enjoyed the Brew Master's television show on Discovery Channel....this comes from the guys at Ska Brewing in Durango, Colorado.

Brew Minions, A Parody from David Thibodeau on Vimeo.

For those of you who recognize the name David Thibodeau....he has commented on my beer and my blog.  I also love these guys' take on life and beer....you know how I love Brown Ales.....I talk about SKA's and their wonderful beer rep.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The National Homebrew Competition

Have you ever had it in the Can?
It is 10:30am on a Sunday, and I am sipping beer, and to think, when I woke up this morning, I was thinking I would dry out.  I spent the last two days sipping (tasting) beer in very small quantities, and doing a lot of standing.  This weekend was the first round of the National Homebrew Competition held in the Intermountain (name may be wrong) Region.  At the very last minute, I volunteered to be a steward.  Actually, I volunteered a month ago, the person didn't respond via e-mail until last week, but on Friday evening I found myself amongst some 50 odd serious beer nerds (to put it kindly).

Morning before we started....bottling/kegging (right)
I have been curious (more about curiousness later) about getting into beer tasting and judging, so this was a chance to rub elbows and talk beer with some serious folks to see if I wanted to join.  First of all, I wanted to say, I fit right in.  My job as a steward was to ferry beers to and from the judging table, keep track of the scoring, order of judging, and attend to any needs of the judges (beer, water, bread, stapler, whatever).  I am well suited to this sort of work to anticipate the needs of someone doing a job.  I think I did a great job, and am trying to decide if stewarding or judging would be more fun in the future.  Judging takes a lot of work....try it some time with your favorite beer.  You can download a copy of the beer scoring sheet and the style guideline for any style from the Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP.org) website....and then try to describe what you are tasting and score appropriately....in the meantime make suggestions how to make the beer better.  After you do this, you will realize how difficult it can be.  Now, try it with 30 different samples of the same style of beer....that is judging in a nutshell.  You try to stay sober, and coherent, but this is challenging.
these are leftovers from the comp....a lot of beer, some quite good

As a steward, you get to remove the tested beers from the table.  If they are not in contention for the best of show round, (not highly scored) you can sample.  It is nice, because you can review comments from the judges and taste the exact beer with the exact conditions that they were.  I have identified Chloropheonols (plasticy band aid taste/aroma) for the first time....not to say that they haven't been present in my beer....I just can't tell what the problems are.  Every once in a while the judges ask your opinion...usually it is no benefit to them, just you.

I stewarded the Stout catagory on Friday, and the Porters on Saturday morning.  These were two of the categories with some of the largest numbers of entries.....and it took a long time.  On Saturday afternoon, most of the tables were taken by the time I got to it (one, my morning session went long, so I there wasn't a lot of lunch left, and then while I ate, I launched into clearing tables, cleaning up, and restocking the tables for the afternoon session).  Most stewards stood around with their heads up their butts waiting for direction....or perhaps they were casing out the categories that they wanted to steward.....either way, I ended up stewarding the dark lager table.  This is not a strong suit of mine, and in fact, except for the occasional dunkel at some random brewery, I haven't tasted much since my Michelob Dark days (brightness in the dark days of beer, for sure) in the late 80's or early 90's...when dark was the only alternative to regular.  This was the most fortunate part of my experience.

National Homebrew Competition in action
I was stewarding for a judge that I was working with on Stouts on Friday....A really, really knowledgable guy from Erie, Colorado, his partner (I didn't get much of his backstory, but super nice), and two younger guys (late twenties or early thirties).  The experienced one was a teacher (of sorts, I think) and also works at a local brew shop (he actually gave me some hose I was looking for a few months back), and his partner was a steward turned judge (learning like me).  He had stewarded on Friday, and was conscripted into judging Saturday, and has been heavily brewing for only about 1.5 years.  As I said, this is hard work, and I don't know if I felt he was lucky or not.....but I thought (from reading his comments) that he did an exceptional job.
me wondering around the brewery alone

I also met a person on Friday who only brewed a batch or two (unsuccessfully, I might add) who was there to steward and showed up Saturday afternoon and was conscripted to judge....I didn't steward for him, but from talking to him, felt that they made a poor conscription choice....I didn't see his comments or hear what his experienced judge said, but felt a little sad that I didn't get the chance, as I know I would have done better than him.

I didn't touch anything
My experience with the dark lager category was helpful, as I got to listen to the inexperienced judge ask a lot of questions as I reviewed everything and tasted my way through the competition...I wished I could have sat and judged alongside him with the experienced guy).  I joked that I was "judging curious" and got a great laugh from the table of judges, that this became our theme....we were "dark lager curious", or you had to be "beer curious" and a number of other inter conversational themes on being "something-curious".  As I said, good guys all around, there to be serious judges, but also have fun.

no really
The judging was held in Brekenridge Breweries production facility on Kalamath.  Our host provided us with dinner both nights (of BBQ) and a limited choice of free beer (Avalanche Amber, Sumerbright (Summer seasonal), Lucky U IPA, and a limited number of bottles of something else....I didn't drink many as you have enough beers of all kinds.  It was nice to be able to "drink" a beer rather than taste it, however.  I give a lot of credit to the guys at Brek to host us so well for this event.....I have nothing but good to say about the Brekenridge Brewery.  As for the comptetion, I thought the organizer did a great job, but it looked like he needed some help.  A co-organizer taking care of organizing the stewards (teaching and overseeing them) might have been better.  More than a few stewards just milled around (assume for free beer).  Perhaps, I took it too seriously (who me, no, never....).
this is where all the magic happens....my brewery at home?

In the future, I think I will try to take the test and judge.  But in the meantime, I will see what the next opportunity to steward is.  It is fun, but NHC is perhaps too big an event.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pump House

Here are some pictures of our pump mounted in a tool box.  I can easily add another pump to the other side....I just need the money for a pump.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Stuff

It really doesn't seem like much, but I started to prepare my keggerator for more faucets and my eventual build out for 4 kegs. I realized that I had all of the parts from my air compressor to do a quick disconnect from the CO2. All I needed to do was get my 1" hole saw (purchased previously) to enlarge the hole in the collar. Then, I moved my check valve from my regulator to the third slot in my gas manifold. I really, really need to buy the faucets and shanks, but I have been saving to remodel our bathroom....bummer

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I am getting kind of excited for the end of the week, when I can finally celebrate some diversity....Not that kind, however....and February is both Black History Month and Stout Month...but this week I will have 3 of my beers on tap, as well as the one I am currently serving from Great Divide.  The Marzen (Oktoberfest) and our traditional brown ale will be available starting next week or the week after.  The "other beer" is our Wheat, which is a lighter affair than we had hoped, but I think wheat drinkers (Wheaties, we can call them) might like it as a light beer (even for them).

I do, however, have a problem or two.  I only have one faucet and one picnic tap.  I can't serve these beers without some more investment in my keggerator.  I missed the sale from Austin Homebrew shop for the stainless Perlick faucets, and I was hoping to get a wall mounted backsplash to inform me of the keggerator faucet spacings.
I am also saving as much cash as I can to finally redo the bathroom....this will allow my wife to live in relative comfort and not question my brewery activities.....call it an investment in the long run.  I am impatient, for sure....but after I seal the kegs and put them in the fridge, the two darker beers will be good for quite a while at 39 degrees....so, they will be patient about me getting them on line....but will I?

If anyone has old beer faucets hanging around,. I am not too proud to accept donations.  I will keep an eye out on craigslist for super cheapies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Cloning

I want to come out straight up.....the only thing that the Catholic Church and I agree on is the issue of cloning.  I don't much wager into the genetic kind (that ethics and religion is concerned about), but the idea of trying to make an exact copy of a commercial beer leaves me colder than a bud in the back of my fridge.

I would no more want to clone a commercial beer than make an exact copy of me.  Sure, there are beers that I heart....and wish that I came up with....but while I would want to understand their mechanics, I would never seek to copy them....I would instead try to surpass them for my own tastes.

I listen to the occasional "Can You Brew It" on the Brewing Network....when the beer interests me.  I like to know from them what makes a beer tick.  I might use a technique or two someday to introduce a particular aspect of the beer into one of my own, but I can never see brewing to copy.  I have used a recipe or two as inspiration....(only one recipe have I even come close to copying) or a basis....but I don't think I have compared it side by side (as cloning's goal is).....I figure, if it is that good, it is worth buying.  I am trying to make something unique and perfect for me....selfish, I know.   If a brewer has done this already, he deserves my money.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More on Brewing Jesus

I wonder how Charlie Papazian really feels about the state of homebrewing.  On one hand, he probably feels pretty good, AHA membership is up, demographics are changing, and things are good for his GABF.  The collaboration of craft brewers is legendary....but I can't help feeling that there is a certain something about competitions that rubs him the wrong way.....I know it does me.  I think that it is basically reprehensible to "brew for competition"....that is, to brew using techniques that will improve your score in order to increase your chance of winning.  That, to me, is akin to rebottling Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and entering it in a comp as an APA....I guess it  is not cheating per se, but wanting to win is different from brewing to win.

I don't like the idea of competitions, as each beer and brewery should be different and we should be celebrating diversity of styles.  Either you like it, or you don't.  I like many professional beers that score in the 30's, and don't like many that score in the 40's....even if I like the style.  Also, the idea that passing a test about beer judging making you a qualified and unbiased judge.  In my opinion, if I think you are an idiot, I don't think you are a good judge of beer that I would like.....no matter what your standing in the beer world.

Competition brings out the worst in people.  Beer is a social thing....and shouldn't be reduced to a 50 point score.

Still, I am starting to feel compelled to take the BJCP test to test my own knowledge about beer.  I just don't like the idea of judging a winner....or a loser.

More Pics

Our Basic Two Kettle Set Up

B-A-L-D spells bald

Beware of dog...
These are all older pictures (at least one or two iterations of brewery ago....)  At least before the HERMS HLT.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Brewing Jesus

I started homebrewing in 1994 or so.  Back then, there were few sources of materials, fewer choices of brewing ingredients, and even fewer choices for equipment.  But, at least there was a wealth of knowledge, if not from as many sources.

I, like many, bought Charlie Papazian's book The New Complete Joy of Hombrewing and read it cover to cover  multiple times before I could scrape up the money to buy equipment.  For the first few years, I owed everything I knew about brewing to Charlie and half of what I knew about beer.  Eventually, I sought other sources of information, and Al Gore invented the internet, and I was off to the races.  Still, I always used Charlie's book for small reference items.  Since I read it so thoroughly, I remember most of the information in it, just not what page it is located.

I returned recently to my dog eared copy of the book, to actually read it....and it was difficult.  It was too basic, and outdated for me to enjoy it.  I have been meaning to thumb through the latest edition to see how it has grown with our hobby.

Still, I have a warm place in my heart for this book, and doubt I will ever remove it from my library.  I have never met Charlie Papazian, but I'd like to.  He lives about 30 miles away from me in the city of Boulder, and I have heard many stories on how friendly and approachable he is.  He is a hero of mine.  He has taken his love of beer and his love of people and made an entire career or two out of it.  He made brewing good beer achievable, and reminded us that even our mistakes weren't cause for concern, but opportunities for growth.  He wrote the bible, he reminded us to "Not Worry, Have a Homebrew", and created a place for us to learn and share information in the American Homebrewers Association.  He created the Great American Beer Festival, and has traveled the world in search for the best beers, and the brewers who make them.  

For this reason, I call Charlie Papazian, the Brewing Jesus.  I imagine him, the consummate bearded hippie wiser than his years wandering the globe to spread his message.  I imagine people with WWCD? (What Would Charlie Do?) on the front of their tee shirts, and of course, the answer to that question on the back.

For all of this, I am eternally grateful of his efforts.  Even though his book no longer speaks to me, directly, his spirit lives in my heart.