September 29, 2011

Atlanta, GA: Red Brick's Laughing Skull

I'm down in Georgia for a spell, and that means the opportunity to try out some new brews.  This six-pack got my attention (wonder why...).  When I noticed it was made locally that sealed the deal.  Like the bottle caps say, "Beer from around Here" is what I'm all about.

This amber ale from Red Brick Brewing Company (formerly Atlanta Brewing Company) is downright pleasant.  It's relatively light-bodied so it won't weigh you down.  The dominant flavor is toasty, roasty malt -- tastes like fall.  Ya know, it's nice having a simple beer once in a while that doesn't take a whole lot of thinking.  This is a refreshing beer that goes down clean and easy.

Just the thing to take to a UGA tailgate or fall cookout.

Red Brick distributes to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Stayed tuned for more Georgia beer!

September 27, 2011

Walker's Chocolate Stout

My Oregano Hoptoberfest is still chugging away, but with a new carboy in the mix I thought I'd go ahead and get started on another batch. To stay on the experimental streak, I'm making a chocolate stout and will divide the batch into two parts. Half of it will stay as is and to the other I will add a type of mint I have in my garden called Walker's Low. Adding mint was partially inspired by the "dry-minted" Black & Red from Dogfish Head, but I've found Eric Steen's work out in Colorado encouraging as well.

Here's the recipe I came up with:

1 lb. Briess 2-Row Caramel 60L Barley Malt
0.5 lb Roasted Barley
0.5 lb Crisp Black Malt
0.5 lb Crisp Chocolate Malt
6 lbs. Briess Golden LME
1 lb. Lactose Powder (non-fermentable sugar for sweetness)
4 oz. Cocoa Powder
1 oz. Northern Brewer hops (at start of boil)
1 oz. Fuggles hops (at 15 mins to go)
White Labs Irish Ale Yeast
1 oz. Walker's Low (leaves added to secondary fermentation for half the batch)
Estimated ABV: 5.9%

Just blowing off some krausen.
I mashed the grains for 1 hour and tried something new: I did a vorlauf, brew-speak for running the wort back through your spent grains to improve clarity. I mixed up the cocoa powder in about a cup of water before adding it to the boil so as to avoid clumping. I had some technical issues with my new carboy, so I had a hard time getting precise reading of volume and temperature. As a result, I think the wort was a little warm for when I added the yeast -- the next day I had krausen (foam) coming up through the airlock. To prevent some kind of disaster, I rigged up a blow-off tube to give all that foam a place to go.

Check out my Brewing 101 post for a more detailed description of the homebrewing process.

There's a New Brewery in NYC

I just found out from Twitter that's there's a new brewery in the Big Apple.  The Bronx Brewery started production this summer with their flagship Bronx Pale Ale (6.3% alcohol).  Has anyone tried it yet?

Click here for a list of where your can find it.

I wonder how the Brooklyn Brewery feels about the competition...


September 23, 2011

Holland, MI: New Holland's Farmhouse Hatter

What? The bottle says it's a Farmhouse IPA -- so is it a Saison or an India Pale Ale?

Well, it's both. On a recent trip up to Ann Arbor, Michigan, I stopped by Whole Foods to see what "the Wolverine State" had to offer. This 22 oz bottle from New Holland Brewing grabbed my attention -- the label is great, and the description was pretty intriguing:

"Fermentation character from Belgian-born yeast envelops bright hop character with a spicy, tart farmhouse funk. Pairings: seafood, fennel, mushrooms, pickled veggies."

Lacking any seafood, fennel, mushrooms, or pickled veggies, I had to try the Farmhouse Hatter straight up.

As you can see, the beer poured a huge head which continued bubbling up for several minutes. There was a big citrus and floral hop aroma -- Cascade, if I had to guess, but don't hold me to it. Also a caramel sweetness in the smell. My first reaction when I tasted the beer was that it was way out of sync with the smell -- a bit of a shock. The main taste was the tartness, the "farmhouse funk" that comes from the Belgian yeast they used.

As I went deeper into the bottle other characteristics started to come through. I found there to be more hop bitterness than hop flavor, but there was still some citrus action in there. Overall, I thought the beer was highly sessionable, despite all of the unusual flavors mixed together. Very similar to the Springhouse Ale I had a couple weeks ago, and for a beer with an identity crisis, it turned out to be very interesting and easy-drinking -- not an easy feat!

Cheers to New Holland for pushing the boundaries!

Here's a close-up of the character on the bottle:

Sorry Johnny Depp, this guy's way cooler.

September 13, 2011

Oregano Hoptoberfest

As promised in my Oktoberfest post, it's time to fill you in on my latest homebrewing experiment: an Oregano Hoptoberfest.  It won't be an Oktoberfest so much as a Pale Ale -- an Oktoberfest is a malt-driven lager whereas this will be (hopefully) a hoppier ale.  With oregano.  The name I came up with is as much a salute to the season as it is descriptive of the final brew.  In any case, it's got a nice ring to it.

My recipe was inspired by the Oregano Pale Ale recipe in The Homebrewer's Garden, which you can find here on the Brewlog.  I made some changes to try to get the beer closer to an IPA, but with still a bit of German influence:

6 lbs Golden LME
1 lb Organic Munich Malt 10L (catch the German reference?)
1 lb Organic Caramel Malt 20L (gotta love organic)
.75 lb Smoked Malt
1 oz. Northern Brewer hops for 60 mins
1 oz Centennial hops for 30 mins
.5 oz Tettnanger hops (German) for 15 mins
1 oz fresh, locally grown oregano for 15 mins
.5 oz Tettnanger hops for 5 mins
Wyeast American Ale yeast

Estimated IBUs: 65
Estimated ABV: 5.8%

Alright, so there's a lot going on here -- some malts to give the beer a copper color and a hint of smokiness, some stronger American hop varieties paired with a more mellow German one, and of course the oregano, which I found to be pretty pungent.  I'm very curious to see how it all turns out.  Here's how things went down on brew day (exactly two years after my first brew day!):

Here are the different hops and the oregano, all ready to go, in the order that they'll be added to the boil.  The camera flash really brings out the difference between the hops.

Then we mash the grains (in other words, steep at around 150-155F for 45 mins):


Next, the grains are strained from the wort and rinsed with hot water: 


We add some filtered water to get the boil volume right, then add the liquid malt extract:


Now we're cooking!  The hops start going in, following the recipe schedule:


Now the oregano.  I had this straining bag that's gonna save me the trouble of trying to remove the oregano leaves.  I tasted some of the run-off from the bag and boy was it bitter!:


At the end of the 60 minute boil, the wort cools, the yeast gets thrown in, and then we wait.  I should be
 able to bottle this batch in about two weeks, then it should age for about a month to let the oregano mellow out.

I'll keep you posted!

UPDATE:

10/24/11 - Oregano Hoptoberfest placed 2nd out of 12 entries in the Spice, Herb, and Vegetable Beer category at the 5th annual Virginia Beer Blitz!

September 11, 2011

Reflection

I just want to take a quick moment to say how much I appreciate being American, all the freedoms that come with it, and the people that make freedom possible.  In a country like this one we enjoy a great many liberties, and even things as simple as "cold beer on a Friday night" should not be taken for granted.  Or no beer, if you so choose, because in the United States that's ok, too.

Take it away, Zac Brown Band:


September 10, 2011

Remembering Oktoberfest 2006 in Munich

Exactly two years ago yesterday, I brewed my very first batch of beer, an Oktoberfest Märzen. It was the right time of year for the style, but it was also a great way to remember a 2006 visit to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. So, last night, to commemorate two years of brewing, I made an Oregano Pale Ale, dubbed Oregano Hoptoberfest and inspired by a recipe in The Homebrewer's Garden. I'll get into that shortly, but first, a trip down memory lane...

Oktoberfest was one hell of a celebration. The event typically lasts for a couple weeks and draws millions of visitors. I had a week off from classes, so I bought a Eurail train pass and visited Holland and Germany. I met up with a college buddy, whom we'll call Double G (aka Gregg), and we descended on Munich without much of a plan, but with a massive appetite for beer.


I was surprised to find there was more to Oktoberfest than just beer -- there were rides and games and really incredible food, too, but of course we started with beer: Spaten Oktoberfest in giant, 1-liter steins.

After several liters of beer, a few turkey legs, a roller coaster ride, and a bratwurst or two, we took a quick break to recharge for the evening festivities.


Our mission for the night was to get into one of the giant beer tents, which we were able to do without too much delay (I seem to recall sneaking in).


That's when things got a little out of hand...

PROST!!!
Soon after this picture was taken, Double G and I followed some Australians to figure out our accommodations, but we managed to get split up.  I ended up sleeping in public areas all over the city: inside the train station, outside the train station, in an ATM kiosk, in a church.  But we met up again the next day and an Erdinger Weissbier made everything better:


We even got to see some sights:

A famous clock, the Rathaus Glockenspiel, at Marienplatz.
View of Marienplatz, the inner city square, from a tower in the Frauenkirche.
The sun going down in the English Gardens.

Oktoberfest was a blast and I wouldn't change a thing about that trip.  I would, however, like to return and plan the accommodations ahead of time.  I plan on going back sometime in the next three years.  Anyone up for an adventure?

Thanks, GG, for the photos and the good times.

Alright, next up, the Oregano Hoptoberfest experiment...

September 9, 2011

Check Out This Great Blog

Logo borrowed from traderjoes.com
Trader Joe's fans - this is for you.

I just wanted to take a quick break from making some beer to share a great blog I found recently, What's New at Trader Joe's.  Husband and wife team Nathan and Sonia are on a mission to sample everything Trader Joe's has to offer and review it. They've only gotten as far as reviewing a few of TJ's somewhat marginal lagers, but I think the site and the concept is fantastic.

Maybe they'd let me do a guest post on some of TJ's other brews?

On a side note, I hope Trader Joe's will expand their selection of local beers.  While the one in town has Williamsburg AleWerks, I'd love to see some Legend Brown Ale, St. George's IPA, or maybe O'Connor's El Guapo IPA.

Curious what I'm homebrewing?  Stay tuned...

September 8, 2011

AleWerks Scores Big at the US Beer Tasting Championship!

I'm pleased to announce that my hometown brewery, Williamsburg AleWerks, has recently been deemed a Grand Champion at the US Beer Tasting Championship!  They beat out breweries from around the country to win the Belgian/French Specialty category with their Springhouse Ale.  Here's the category description from the USBTC Website:

Ales brewed in traditional Belgian/French styles including saison, biere de garde, 
farmhouse ale, Belgian pale ale, and Abbey single ale.  Excluded from this category are
Belgian Wits (included in its own category-below), Abbey/Belgian Strong Ales (tasted in 
Winter Session), and Belgian Bruin/Red Ales.

If you've ever sampled Belgian beers, you know that this category can cover quite a lot of ground.

Obviously I had to get a hold of this Springhouse Ale (what AleWerks calls a Belgian-style Farmhouse Ale) and try it for myself.

First impressions: Really like the label.  Pours slightly cloudy and orange with a bodacious, frothy head; very fragrant, almost smells like a white wine
The taste: Wow - very complex.  Good thing I have a 22 oz. bottle to dissect this thing!  Flavor has a lot of that same dry, white wine-like aroma, likely derived from the yeast strain, with just a touch of sourness.  There are some various spices in there but the beer is so well-balanced it's difficult to pick out any in particular.  Hardly any discernible hops flavor.
About mid-way through: Jeez, what's the ABV on this guy? (9.4% alcohol) Wouldn't have guessed it by the taste - and that's a good thing.
Final impression: This is one of the most challenging beers I've ever reviewed.  There's just so much going on, that as they say on the AleWerks website, "this is an interesting ale that deserves your attention."  Very well done.

With that, I'm going to savor the rest of this bottle and suggest you try it for yourself!

Check out the other winners of the 2011 Summer USBTC here.  Have you tried any of them?




September 5, 2011

More Consumers are Drinking Local

In a recent report from the Brewers Association, it is noted that buying local has become much more important to consumers:

"NBC's Trendtracker and Supermarket Guru declared at the National Grocers Association annual meeting that the consumer value of local has moved from fad to trend to mainstream. Beer drinkers want to support a local company that employs their neighbors; they want a tie-in to their area agriculturally through the food they eat, and, where possible, to the agricultural products in their beer."

Support the trend - support your local economy.

To read more about this and other trends in the beer industry, check out the full article here at CraftBeer.com.

September 4, 2011

Afton, VA - Blue Mountain Brewery

I visited Blue Mountain Brewery last month with on a day-trip to Charlottesville, VA. I was particularly interested in checking out this brewery for its hop farm, where they grow Cascade and Centennial hops to use in a couple of their beers. Blue Mountain sure had a great location, with fantastic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains all around. Only about 20 miles west of Charlottesville, the place was doing pretty good business.

It was about 105F that afternoon, so cold beer was definitely in order. We opted for a couple of flights, which included (from right to left) Blue Mountain Lager, a Belgian White Ale called Blidö de Blanche, Rockfish Wheat Ale, Full Nelson Pale Ale, Mandolin Artisanal Ale (a Belgian Tripel), and a Kölsch.


To pair with our sampler, we got a cheese plate of local meats and cheeses as well as a selection of fruit. The salamis and cheeses really helped to bring put some of the beers into context.

The Classic Lager was just that - classic - and very refreshing. The Belgian ales, the Blanche and the Mandolin, were respectable. The Blanche was very light, making use of a champagne yeast, which seemed to give it a bit of lemony tartness. The Mandolin, on the other hand, was pretty sweet, with strong caramel and toffee notes. The Kölsch seemed very accurate to style, with a malty lager/pilsener taste accented by noble Hallertauer hops. The Rockfish Wheat was very nice for 100 degree weather - it was a filtered wheat so lighter bodied, crisp, somewhat sweet, with a hint of citrus. My favorite of the bunch though was the brewery's flagship beer, the Full Nelson Pale Ale. Using the brewery's own Cascade hops, this beer was just what the doctor ordered on that sweltering afternoon. Copper in color, it had a nice malt background with a burst of fresh Cascades - very well balanced.

Sufficiently cooled, we stepped outside to check on the hop vines real quick. We had just an hour to make it to Starr Hill Brewery before it closed for the day...