Friday, March 29, 2013

The Grass is Getting Green!

With the outside temperature pushing 20 or more degrees above that of my quickly emptying keggerator, my thought turns to summer beers.  I am needing to brew, and now is the time to put some hot weather beers in the can.

I actually got a request (rare) to brew my wheat beer.  It is a beer that while I never fell in love with was light and non-wheaty and served a nice twist on the lawnmower beer.  In recent years I have been experimenting with watermelon in it (which has been well recieved by all but me), but maybe it is time again to brew a naked version.  I don't know.

My summer brewing schedule is needing to start taking shape, however.  So far, if we hold to tradition, we have only the watermelon wheat, which is a late summer brew (watermelons ripen in June, so the beer is ready in July/August.  I need a plan.

So, what should we brew this summer?

We have loose plans to brew a Gratzer (in German) or Grodziskie in my family's native tounge, which is a smoked wheat beer indiginous to Poland.  For me, it is about getting back to my roots, and interesting, but not sure how I will like it.  But it is different, and I know a guy with a smoker, so I may be able to smoke my own wheat malt, just to make it a little more interesting.

I have been enjoying the Helles style, but there isn't much to it and my window of opportunity for lagers is kind of closing.

I am interested in a Steam Beer again, but I have been disappointed with my attempts at this style compared to a fresh beer on tap from that certain brewery in San Francisco that owns the trademark.  Perhaps I need to find my own version of this beer away from the clone.

Sour Mash something.  After tasting the Sour Mashed Red Saison from Black Shirt Brewing, I am aroused by the thought of trying a sour mash to impart a tartness in a beer.  But which beer should I choose?  I am not sure I am up for a full-on Berliner-weiss.

Saison.  I have fallen in love with some local examples of this style, but each of them is so different.  I thought I would wait until mid summer and ferment this beer relatively warm, but haven't given a thought as to the type or variety that I could employ.  Saison translates to season, so it is a beer made from the fresh ingredients on-hand.

Mild Ale.  Being a malt forward kind of guy, this style has not gone well for us, and there are not many commercial examples to point to.  Locally, Pike's Peak Brewing keeps theirs as a regular offering, and Dry Dock and Copper Kettle have them as one-offs or occasional seasonals.  Our last example was a 2nd runnings from our Barley Wine, and I had a love-hate relationship.  I though it was okay when I just poured one, but I thought it was awful when I poured one after having something else.  It doesn't inspire confidence in me, but I feel like it (along with Brown Ale) is a style that could be a nice choice in the session beer catagory.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

A friend of mine pointed out that I didn't give any information about this picture that I posted on Saturday night.  I truly phoned it in, so to speak.

Anyway, my brother delivered to me our kegs of our once still-born Oktoberfest and we took the opportunity to visit a couple of local breweries.  The picture above is from Black Shirt Brewing in the River North neighborhood of Denver.

Black Shirt is a one of those hard to find, easy to miss type places.  Hard to find at first (the building is a windowless early 20th Century brick shop next to a little liquor store with the letters BSB stamped on the side of the building.  It is easy to begin to miss, because the beers are so good.

Once inside, the place was packed with locals and regulars.  I was told by some folks from the neighborhood that it is always this way.

Black Shirt is also notable as they only serve red beers.  It seems sort of limiting, but at the same time inviting.  If you are a long time craft drinker (like me), your gateway beers started somewhere between Leinenkugel's, Killian's, Fat Tire, 90 Shilling, or Avalanche.  It was a time that dark meant Guinness Stout, and every national brewery was making Ice Beer.  The choices weren't many, but you'd always be safe with a nice malty, red (amber ale) beer.  Even still, whenever there is a very limited selection, you can usually find one of these "safe" type beers.

Black Shirt takes safe and turns it around.  All of their beers are delicious, and red, but few follow the "safe" route.  Sure their basic BSB Red and Pale Red are almost sessionable, my personal favorite was their sour mashed Red Saison...slightly tart and effervescent.  Nothing is so overpowering or unusual that anyone can find their home beer here.

For the red (read safe) beer lover, you can find yourself in some interesting territory pretty quick, but not so unfamiliar that makes you uncomfortable.  And if you feel like you have lost your way, the friendly servers are always quick to get you back on track.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Another test

Having cider at cedar creek pub!


I am playing with the ability to post stuff from my phone. This will
allow me to share deep thoughts from illicit places where I don't have
access to a computer. I am hoping that photos will work, too. It
should make my site a little more interesting/timely.

Also, did you know that my blog is optimized for mobile as well? Check
me out anytime!

Sent from my iPhone

So Who Reads this and Why?

I never really believed that this blog would be widely read (and it isn't).  It is merely a personal journal of sorts about my experiences brewing and in the world of craft beer.  I am sure it is interesting to no one that doesn't already know me (and even then...).

I do get a small amount of traffic from around the world, however, and some of it is repeat customers from interesting corners of the earth.  Being the curious type, I always want to know why.

So, if you would help me understand, post a comment and tell me how you stumbled into my little virtual microbrewery world, why, and if there is anything else you'd like to see, or what you are enjoying, or hating.  Tell me what you are brewing or drinking, or doing.  Keep it clean, as my mom sometimes wanders in.

I will post the responses, provided I can read them (I only can barely understand English....I am an American after all) and we can have a discussion from time to time?

In the meantime, Cheers!

Denver, CO

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

All's Well that Ends Well

I just realized that I never posted an update to the NHComp.  After the whole system crashed around me on registration day, the American Homebrewers Association stopped the registration.  You can read about it and the apology from the AHA at the AHA website.

After they sorted everything out, I got an e-mail that since I had logged in but didn't get beers registered that I would have a 2nd chance to do so.  Which I did.  I ended up putting two beers forward.  The two beers were our 2012 Barley Wine (extract recipe) as an English Style BW, and our 2013 Barley Wine (all grain recipe) as an American BW.  I don't necessarily think that these are really contenders to go all the way, I just want to get feedback on them to support or re-align my thoughts on them.  I figure that they will score between 28-33 points, not bad, but not likely high enough to get into the top three and a chance to move on to the finals.

The beers themselves are nice, but not assertive.  I don't necessarily believe that Barely Wines should be assertive (especially the English variety).  Some might disagree, but I believe that due to aging and strength that strong flavors should age out and be a more rounded "soft" beer.  Sharp hop bitterness and high roast character shouldn't be the mainstay of a Barley Wine.  I think of some casserole type dishes that taste better as leftovers (such as lasagna or chili) as the flavors meld and begin to compliment or work together.  This is (in my opionion) is the differentiation between the Barely Wine and the Imperial IPA or Imperial Stout that take one or two elements and elevates them.  I think of the scene in the 1980's movie Risky Business where Tom Cruise's character is admonished by his father that the stereo's equilizer is not a toy.  The settings his father had set is the barleywine.  The Imperials are what Cruise's character does in the beginning of the Old Time Rock n' Roll Scene.

Our BW's are not assertive, it is just if they are percieved to not have the alcholic strength, hoppiness, etc., or if I get a judge that thinks the assertiveness of certain attributes should be present to an offensive level, we will be on the lower end of the spectrum.  If I get a set of judges that think like I do, we might surprise....other flaws notwithstanding.

At any rate, I know that I won't be judging the Barleywines at the 1st round here in Denver as a result.

The beer that I had hoped to enter in the competition was the 3rd rendition of our award winning Oktoberfest/Marzen.  The windowell was probably both our downfall and our saving grace.  Our windowell lager series for last 5 or so years had us putting our beer outside in my brother's basement windowell to ferment.  This year, it proved to be too cold, and the yeast fell out of suspention before they even got started.  I think we pitched the yeast a little cooler than we had in years past, so that the beer was cold and getting colder while the yeast were trying to get going.  That and the yeast weren't raging yet as we pitched.  But, the cold probably had the effect of keeping our wort (and yeast) in the refridgerator for a few weeks.  While that isn't a practice you want to make a habit out of, it stayed well preserved and kept bacteria at bay as well.  We warmed the beer to 58F and re-pitched healthy Bavarian Lager yeast (couldn't find more Oktoberfest blend) and it fermented, albeit too late for nationals.  Time will tell how it ends up tasting.

Maybe we can find a local competition to put it in.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Denver Post Beer Night

I am going to let you in on a little secret on where I get a lot of my information.  It really is no secret, as I always cite my sources, especially when I talk to brewery people where I heard about them.  I enjoy the Denver Post's Blog, First Drafts by Eric Gorski.

Last night, my brother and I attended First Draft's 1st Craft Beer Roundtable at Wynkoop Brewery.  I got to thank Eric for hosting the symposium, but I really didn't get a chance to hang around and talk as I would have liked as my brother and I both needed to feed the Denver parking meters.  We did come back to have dinner and beers at Wynkoop (thanks Wynkoop for hosting the event).

The speakers were Chad Yakobson, from Crooked Stave Brewery (Denver, CO), Brad Lincoln from Funkwerks Brewery (Fort Collins, CO), and my friend Kevin DeLange from Dry Dock Brewing (Aurora, CO), speaking about their experiences in the past, their current challenges, and where the future of craft beer in Colorado are heading.

The answers weren't all that surprising.  There was talk about the saturation point of breweries in Colorado/Denver especially, and the importance of differentiation and locality as secrets to success for new brewers.  There was a discussion about the Brewers Association coming out against the big breweries for creating faux craft brands and how that doesn't make sense from these brewer's perspective, and a number of other topics.

The most surprising things came from my brother's mouth.  Firstly, he wondered aloud if we should have moved to open a brewery three or four years ago when we first started talking about it and if we "missed it".  The answer is probably yes.  If there was a good time to do it, 2008 was as good as any time you will ever see.  But, facing facts....we make too much money doing what we currently do.  We'd have to keep our day jobs, and all of our endeavors (including our relationships with kids and spouses) would suffer.  That, and we'd have to decide on a location that was either close to Denver or Colorado Springs.  I think the surprising take away is, that some day in the future, one or the other of us will come to the other and say...."Let's Do IT!, and we just might.

The other thing is my brother's new(ish) affinity for saisons.  His tastes continue to evolve as he learns and experiences.  I bet we will try brewing one soon.

We have also made loose plans to try a Polish-Germanic smoked wheat beer called a Gratzer that the Brewer's Association just recently included syle guidelines for.  Again, First Drafts reported on it here....again, where I seek information about local beer things.

It was nice to go out, but it being Tuesday, we wanted to check out Black Shirt Brewing, Our Mutual Friend, or one of the other breweries up in River North, as a nightcap (around 9pm), but all of these small artisinal places are not open late, nor until nearer the weekend.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beer Judging Certification Program, part 2

Over the weekend, I re-took the BJCP exam here in Denver.  I initially offered to give up my seat to anyone on the waiting list, but the organizer informed me that he had plenty of spaces avaliable, and I wouldn't be taking up wanted/needed space.

I was much more relaxed at this testing.  Knowing what to expect, and knowing that I at least know a little about beer, made the experience much more enjoyable.  Did I do any better?  No, probably not.

I did get my exam sheets and the proctor scores (along with beer info) last night.  Here's the info:

Beer 1:

Judged as a German Pilsner

Proctor Total Score: 40
My Score 39

The beer was a Heinekin Light.  I actually said in my overall impression that it was a nice beer with nice balance, but perhaps too light in body and hop character for the style (I almost said "this tastes like a light beer")....

Beer 2: 

Judged as a Belgian Wit

Proctor Score: 35
My Score: 36

This beer was a homebrewed version.  I don't think I did particularly well with the descriptions...but I felt it looked, smelled, and tasted as it should.

Beer 3:

Judged as an American IPA

Proctor Score: 34
My Score: 36

In reality, this beer was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (from a can), which is the archtype for an American Pale Ale.  This is the organizer trying to be sneaky.  I actually loved this beer, had nothing bad to say about it except not quite to style (that is why I scored it so high...nice beer).  I actually typo'd that " hops were a little low for an American APA style"....I meant to say "American IPA", but I was thinking that this was a nice APA.  I hope they give me credit for my brain getting ahead of me on this.... 

Beer 4:

Proctor Score: 32
My Score: 28

Judged as an American Barley Wine

In reality, it was an Am Barley Wine, Old Ruffian by Great Divide.

I dinged it for not enough malt body to support hops....that probably wasn't it, but this was my second worst score (off by 4, is still acceptable).

Beer 5

Proctor Score: 37
My score: 29

Judged as a Robust Porter.

This was my worst score (off by 8), and I don't know if I should be ashamed or not.  The porter catagory is one that I supposedly know a little more about, but this beer to me, was high on roast (as it should be), but didn't have a supporting maltiness in the body and was thin in the mouthfeel.  I felt it was more like a Stout in this respect, which may mean that I have the two switched in my head.  I should have stated that I thought it would have been more well recieved as an export/foriegn stout, or even a coffee stout....

Beer 6

Proctor Score: 42
My Score: 44

Judged as a Flander's Red.

This was a homebrew.  It was another sneaky attempt by the test organizer.  When I was reviewing for the exam, I literally passed over reviewing all of the sour beer catagories saying to myself "they'll never give us one of those".  The reason being is that they are still pretty rare here and take a long time (especially those made to style), expensive  buy (from Belgium), and may suffer from age related problems when imported.  When they announced the style, I muttered to myself "well played evil organizer, well played".  Most other test takers I spoke to thought it was too acetic (sour, vinegar is acetic acid), but this to me is the dominating factor of most Flanders Reds I have tried.  The exception is the Duchess of Bourgogne, which is the most tame Flanders Red I have ever had.  I usually stay away from this catagory.

The beer smelled just like the Duchess....but was more sour.  I couldn't find fault with that (since my experience).  This is such an advanced and relatively rare beer syle, I feel like it is almost unfair.

All in all, I did a little better in the scoring than I did the first time (off by 1 or two in 4 of 6 beers...and sometimes landing in between the master judge proctors), and probably no better (if not worse) describing the beers.  Did I pass?  Again, probably....but I have to wait 3 or more months to find out.

I am likely to find out about my first exam just before the AHA's 1st round of their National Competition.  I may be judging rather than stewarding this time, since I know they need the help.

finally fermenting.

Report from Skeptical Brewing's Southern location (aka my brother's basement) is that after weeks of the Oktoberfest yeast sitting around like Teamsters on strike, the beer is now happily fermenting after we brought in scab yeast in the form of Bavairan Lager.  I don't know if this MP4 file will work, but here's proof:

It sort of looks like the Alien Autopsy, but what do you expect from us?

Of course, I know everyone here was worried, but it isn't time to breathe a collective sigh of releif yet.  In the 3 or 4 weeks the beer has been "sitting" out in the cold, we can only hope that our sanitation practices, combined with the cold temperatures subdued any bacteria as much as or more than our yeast.  With the temperature warm up, the bacteria could have gotten a head start or a foothold before our Bavarians (barbarians?).

We will have beer, but it may not be the award winner we are used to, nor will it be the same.  Could it be better?  Yes, sure, anything's possible, but we need to take good care of it from here on out.

Lager yeast (as we have now been painfully reminded) are tempermental beasts, and need pretty precise temperature control, and then a lengthy cold storage for them to condition the beer the way they need to.

I know my brother was planning to get this into the keg and let it sit to wait for an opening in his fridge.  I am planning on getting this keg and keeping it extremely cold until fall.  I am especially worried about any bacteria that may have been present.  We may be able to tell on kegging if it is okay (or okay for now), but only time will tell.