Monday, April 27, 2015

Photo Challenge #20: Spring Into Action!

This is my weekly self-imposed challenge to improve my budding photography and photo editing skills over the coming year.  I just started shooting with a "real" Canon digital rebel camera a year ago, after upgrading from iPhone only shots.  I've been enjoying experimenting with the hobby and also using some of the skills I'm learning to improve my beer photography for the rest of this blog as well.  Hopefully folks are enjoying taking this journey with me!  As always feel free to add your own link at the bottom of the page if you want to play along…

Last week I tried out silk screen or cut-out effects.  This week I left it a little more open for pictures of Spring!  I spent some time in the past 2 weeks at the Arboretum and saw some tiny signs of life among the dead leaves and browns of Fall.  There wasn't much greenery to be caught on the larger lens, so I switched over to my macro lens for a closer look.  At the time I'm posting this, there is much more greenery abounding, but I thought these few spots of color were more striking...

Wild raspberry cane ready for action!

These were tiny!
The framing isn't perfect in this one, but I liked the contrast between the brown branch and the burst of blue from the flower.

I have no idea what type of flowers these are, but I found them thrusting up from the forest floor in a few spots.

And last but not least, I found this lone battered looking butterfly clinging to this sapling in a high wind!
So there you go, a taste of Spring in Minnesota!  For the next two weeks the assignment is Travel Photography!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

30 Words: Hanging On

30 Word Thursday is a collaborative project started by Erin at her Treasures Found Blog.  The idea is simple: take a photo (preferably your own) and put it to exactly 30 words.  I've been playing along more sporadically this year, mainly due to time doing my own self-imposed photo challenge, but now that the weather is getting nicer and I have more opportunity to take pictures, I'll be doing more.  Check out the rest of the entries at Erin's blog. Oh, and comment!  We want to hear what folks think!

Twisted and twined, 
One around the other.

Hanging on,
Supporting each other.

Through the long cold season,
And the return of warmth.

Tied closely together,
Never truly alone,
Entwined forever.

I took this picture on a recent walk through the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  I was just starting to see some flowers and greenery, but the majority of the forest I was walking through was barren and brown.  I saw this wild grape vine twisted around its partner and wanted to get a macro view of it.  While I was changing lenses, two deer sprang past me and into the underbrush.  Typical!  Only after I got this picture in the editing suite did I notice the small spider in there.  In case you missed it, the sentiment to this one relates to my wonderful and supportive wife!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Whale A Week: East End Gratitude 2007

A Whale A Week is my attempt to share a rare beer with friends every week for the whole year of 2015, often accompanied by funky photo tricks.  This helps me get through my dragon's hoard of cellared beers as well as practice with beer photography.  This week we move to a barleywine...

East End Brewing's Gratitude 2007 Vintage

This beer honestly came as somewhat of a surprise to me.  I got this in a large cellar buy and had no idea what I had received until my friend Andrew Gieseke saw it hiding behind some other barleywines in my cellar.  I could hear his audible gasp and consequent evil chuckle, and knew I had found something that sparked his fancy.  Andrew is one of the guys who got me into cellaring beer, so when he gets excited about a beer, I pay attention!  Being a sour-head, I had expected him to zero in on those guys from my stash, but we ended up with barleywine...

East End Brewing Co. is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I actually visited the city earlier this year and discovered several fine newer breweries, but this one totally slipped my radar.  Open since 2004, these guys were one of the earlier craft breweries in the area, and only in the 2014 have opened a tasting room.  I'm pretty sure the area had a recent law change (like the Surly Bill here in Minnesota) to allow for tap rooms. East End is primarily a draft brewery with very few bottles of their beer making it to market, which may account for their mainly local following.  Per their website, they put out over 35 different beers during most years.

Gratitude Barleywine was really East End's first "hit" among the serious beer geeks, being made in very small quantities.  The bottles are wrapped in paper and wax dipped, along with hand-created bottle art of birds.  Each year features a different colored bird, corresponding to the spectrum of light. The very first batch was only 500 bottles and featured a crow on the label.  2006 increased a bit to 1300 bottles and featured an orange chickadee on the label.  The bottle I dug out of the depths of my cellar was from the 2007 vintage!  Tightly wrapped in brown paper, this bottle is also dipped in yellow wax.  Mine is number 628/1500 and hand signed.  The bottle art features a monochromatic yellow and black goldfinch feeding her baby by mouth.  Honestly, this is some of the best packaging I've seen and one can tell they put a lot of labor into it.  Continuing the Gratitude story, it looks like the first 2008 batch had a burnt taste that was less than lovely, so they sold it at a cheaper price and re-brewed a smaller batch of it later that year. They continued to put out yearly versions, but the 2011 and 2012 versions did not carbonate in the bottle and were named "Flatitude" and not officially labeled or released.  Interestingly it looks like at each Gratitude release day they would allow people to buy older vintages that they still had on hand.  They have now completed the ROY G. BIV color spectrum and in 2014 released a barrel aged version of the beer, without the fancy paper wrapping.  I'm unsure if they plan to do a 2015 release or if they are going to leave off brewing Gratitude on that note.

No arty photo magic this week.  I was going to make Sarajo feed the beer to Andrew like in the label but they refused to cooperate...

Honestly, now knowing the complex history of this beer, I was a lot more interested in trying it!  However, I was concerned about its age.  This beer is 7.5-8 years old, and most beers don't age that well.  With an ABV of 11.5% and wax dipped cap, I had hopes.  Always ready for a challenge, I threw this in the fridge and we cracked it open a short time later.  We poured these into Steel Toe snifter glasses.

Eric: Strong oxidation, but more pleasant sherry than cardboard.  Sweet sugar and malt with a caramel or toffee character.  A hint of tartness.  No hop aromas.  Some light fruit esters.  I pick up some mint as it warms in the glass.
Andrew: Maple syrup, sherry, caramel/toffee.  The sweet dough from a cinnamon bun (bakery shop) but without the actual cinnamon.  Raisin, dried apricot.  Some papery notes--a touch of mint--candied pear and almond.  A bit of booze.  Some brown sugar.

Both: Brilliant clarity and a fine copper to ruby color.  Large cream colored head with fine and persistent bubbles.

Eric: Sweet up front, but not cloying.  Caramel, toffee, toasted coconut flavors.  Strong sherry cask flavors with a lingering papery or woody finish.  Warming alcohol present, but not overwhelming.  As it warms I get vanilla and brown sugar flavors popping out.  No hop flavors noted.  Balance is to the sweet side, but bitterness is present.  The higher carbonation and oxidation/tannin make this seem dryer that expected and evens out the sweet flavors to some degree.  I get some raspberry tannin and tartness the longer I hold this.
Andrew: Sherry.  Sticky sweet dried apricot and brown sugar.  Some maple syrup, a bit of booze, and even some hop bitterness.  Dates.  Just a hint of cardboard/paper on the edge.  Aged vintage port or sherry.  Dry, not overly sweet or cloying.  Pitted cherry and that mint from the aroma.  Some pear notes as well.

Eric: Very well aged but still a vibrant and lively beer for all that: the Silver Fox of the barleywine world.  Strong oxidation, but it really works to add interest to this beer with a crazy sherry character.  4.5
Andrew: Very drinkable due to the dryness.  Would be delicious with curried lamb. 4.5
Sarajo:  4.5

This was a great beer, and even better for having a cool story.  This was like finding a buried treasure!  Considering I had no preconceived notions or hype to influence my tasting, I think this turned out pretty wonderful.  I will also mention here that I am especially sensitive to oxidation as an off flavor, and expected this beer to take a huge hit from that.  However, this had the "good oxidation" rather than the bad and tasted entirely pleasing.  I'm guessing we would have given this a 5 if we had tried it a few years ago...

Anyone out there that has tried this beer, or any of the other vintages?  If so, what did you think?  Also does anyone know what they plan to do for 2015?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Photo Challenge #19: Silky!

This is my weekly self-imposed challenge to improve my budding photography and photo editing skills over the coming year.  I just started shooting with a "real" Canon digital rebel camera a year ago, after upgrading from iPhone only shots.  I've been enjoying experimenting with the hobby and also using some of the skills I'm learning to improve my beer photography for the rest of this blog as well.  Hopefully folks are enjoying taking this journey with me!  As always feel free to add your own link at the bottom of the page if you want to play along…

Last week I tested out my new telephoto lens for the challenge.  This week I'm experimenting with replicating the look of the old silk screen technique that my mom used to used when I was growing up.  The idea when using digital editing is to basically cut out some of the gradations of color, limiting it to 3-8 main colors, and then alter the lines/borders of those colors to be less defined.  I mostly used the Photoshop Elements Cutout filter for these.  I'd be glad to hear if anyone else has other ideas for doing this type of effect!

I didn't love this picture on it's own, but the effect makes this stand out a bit more.

This picture was from Kerkom Brewery in Belgium.  I loved the rustic look of old wagon wheels casually leaned up against the peeling wall.  

I like the visual of this background a lot, while the already well defined Monarch stays pretty clear.

This last one was taken in Maastrict, Netherlands.  I used the Cutout filter and then added back a bit of detail with the Posterization filter to add more lines.

So there you go, fun with a new filter effect!  Sometimes cutting out detail can be as striking as super defined and clear photos.  Feel free to link your page/blog below.

Next week I'm going to be posting pictures of Spring!  So get out there with your camera and take some pictures of the changing season.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Jack Of All Brews April Meeting Recap

This month the Jack Of All Brews homebrew club met the SawBones Brewery (my basement bar) for the April 2015 meeting.  Here is a brief recap for those who missed it, or want more details!

1) Upcoming competitions
a) First Round Nationals--Judged 4/10-4/11 in Roseville in the dank caves beneath the VFW.
b) Lucid BFD--April 11 deadline
c) Waconia Brewing Pro-Am--Deadline April 18.  Contact me to arrange drop off to me, not the brewery.

2) May Meeting at John Focht's place.  Details to follow...

3) June Meeting: we still need someone to host this one, as myself and Mike Lebben are going to be out of town that weekend.

4) Off Flavor tasting:  Since we couldn't force ourselves to get a macro-brew to mix these vials of nasty into, Steven picked up some Grain Belt for the tasting.  We tried "Grainy", "Hefewiezen", and "Lactic".  The grainy one was pretty tough, since the aroma was worse than the flavor.

5) Pizza!  We had Unhinged Pizza delivered for those who showed up. We are going to try to get food for more meetings per the results of our JAB Survey.  If having food, we will post this on the Facebook group with the other details of the meeting.

6) Mash Paddle: Open category this month, so we had all sorts of cool beers to try ranging from IPA to mead to spice beers.  The winner was Ben Ducklow with an impressively good Lavender Ale that didn't taste like Grandma's bathroom!

7) Melt-Down

9) Next Month:  Mash paddle style is dark or amber lagers.  If we have less than 2 entrants we may open up the category to make it more fun.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

30 Word Thursday: Spring

30 Words Thursday: Grab an image (preferably one you shot or one you have permission to use). Write exactly 30 Words (no more, no less). Post it.

Check Erin's Treasures Found Blog for the rest of this week's entries!

It has been a while since I have taken part in this challenge, I have been more focused on my weekly personal photo challenge.  But I had some extra pictures from a recent trip to the arboretum and figured I'd get back on the horse!

Winds whistle through still skeletal trees.
Sun yawns, opening a groggy eye, peering into the waking forest.
Birds call.
A sullen butterfly flits on the breeze.
A chipmunk scampers.

This week's shot was from an windy early spring day at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  I searched far and wide for wildlife and found just a few birds, a raggedy butterfly, and this cute little guy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Whale A Week: Cali Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu's

A Whale A Week is my attempt to chip away at my overstocked beer cellar, while sharing some rare beers with a variety of friends over the year.  Last week we tasted the bright and peachy Peche 'n Brett from Logsdon Farmhouse Brewery in Hood River, Oregon.  This week we travel to Florida for a spiced Imperial stout...

California Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu's Imperial Stout 2013

Cigar City Brewing is probably the first craft brewery to put Florida on the beer geek map.  Opening in the not-craft-beer-savvy Tampa, they started with the strong Jai Alai IPA, and have continued to put out interesting and flavorful beers over the past several years.  Their breakout "hit" was Hunahpu's Imperial Stout which is made with cinnamon, cocoa nibs, ancho and pasilla peppers, and Madagascar vanilla beans.  Sounds like a lot right?  It is, but the complexity is impressive and this has become a cult favorite among the craft beer elite.  The popularity of the beer grew so quickly that they started to do a craft beer festival called Hunahpu's Day for the release of the beer.  The only way to get a bottle of this precious liquid is to be at the festival release (or be willing to trade something impressive to someone who was there.)

For those who haven't heard of the mystical Hunahpu's Imperial stout, here is the official brewery copy:

"In Mayan mythology, Hun Hunahpu was the father of the Mayan hero twins Hunaphu and Xbalanque.  Hun Hunahpu, along with his brother Vucub Hanahpu, was tricked by the Dark Lords of the underworld and slain.  Hun Hunahpu's corpse morphed into a cacao tree, his head becoming a cacao pod, which in typically awesome mythology fashion, spit upon the hand of a young maiden named Xiquic who promptly became pregnant with the hero twins.  The twins would ultimately grow up to avenge their father and uncle and defeat the Dark Lords and ascend to the heavens to become the moon and sun."

I have tried this sought-after beer and found it to be one of my top 25 beers for sure.  So imagine for a second what would happen if about 10% of the small run of this already rare beer was aged in four to eight year old California Brandy barrels?  How rare would the beer become now?  In 2013 this very thing occurred.  In order to try to make the release more spread-out and fair, the brewery gave vouchers to many taprooms and pubs around Florida.  These vouchers were given away at the discretion of the venues--some making people complete quests, others raffling them off.  This level of difficulty in winning one of these bottles only made it more sought-after!  Not only did you have to win your bottle, you then had to take that voucher to the brewery taproom to claim it.  This version has a score of 100 on both Beer Advocate and RateBeer.

I received my bottle from my friend Jason Tuttle, when he decided to get out of the beer hoarding business a few years ago.  It has languished in my cellar ever since, perhaps waiting for this fateful day!  Jason chose this "one that got away" beer to taste, so here we go!

Tuttle, acting as Vanna...

Eric: The aroma is simply amazing!  Cinnamon, dark bitter chocolate up front for me.  Roasted malt and coffee with cream.  Slight zip on the nose from chili when one inhales too deeply--or maybe that is the alcohol.  Vanilla and oak after the first couple sniffs.  Dark fruit as it warms--dark sweet cherry and prunes.
Jason: Sweet.  Cinnamon, tobacco, prune.  Cinnamon toast crunch!  Cocoa.

Dark as the pit!  Pure motor oil, even completely opaque when pouring.  No light visible through this at all.  Not much head, but tan in color.  Fades quickly.

Eric: I get dark fruit up front of prune and dried cherry, perhaps some red grape skin/raisin.  Fades to an almost tart (without being sour) middle, followed by a lingering burn from chili and alcohol.  Cinnamon, dry cocoa, and earthy ancho chili flavor come later in the taste.  Medium body, this seems more thin than expected from the appearance and viscosity.  Dry, almost dusty finish.  Chili increased as this warms--I like it!
Jason: Not as sweet as I expected.  Flavor evolves over time.  Mexican chocolate, tobacco, concord grape, cinnamon, vanilla, brandy.  Chiles on the finish.  Dry finish takes away from the mouthfeel.  Not overly cloying.

Eric: This was much drier than expected, especially having tried the original version.  The aroma was outstanding, but I wanted a bit more intensity of those things in the flavor.  Still, the beer is complex and flavors just kept coming with each sip. I think the alcohol and tannins from the barrel dried this out too much.  I wanted it sweeter, but still a wonderful beer and well worth the wait!  4.5
Jason: I wanted so badly to give this a 5, but the beer just didn't warrant it.  The dryness on the end detracted from the beer.  I wanted more sweetness. 4.5

My friends Rob Wengler and Ron Johnson went to the 2013 Hunahpu's Day for a taping of Limited Release.  I was happy to try the beer they brought back for me and gave my reviews during the episode:  Check it out below!

So just going through the list of Beer Advocate's top 250 beers, I found that I have tried 82 of them.  Not too shabby!  I actually own another 15 or so of those, plus several different vintages, so I should be able to get up closer to 100 by the end of this year, as long as I continue with A Whale A Week.  Next week I'm going to review KBS 2012...