Friday, December 19, 2014

JAB Holiday Party Wrap-Up (Unwrap-Up?)

Just a quick review for those were not able to make it!  The Jack Of All Brews Holiday party has been going strong since our first Christmas pot-luck at Brett Schneider's place in Waconia (I think in 2006!)   And yes I will say Holidays, since we have members from different faiths in our mixed group of misfits!  From our very small first gathering we have continued several traditions.  We always encourage spouses to come to the party (and all meetings if they want!) so that we all get to know each other better.  This year Mike and Kristin Lebben were kind enough to invite our rowdy bunch of homebrewers into their basement bar.  Having just finished painting the basement, they improvised an awesome Christmas tree for us to use!

We continued our tradition of pot-luck and this year we had quite the glut of cocktail weenies and different specimens of meatballs!  There was plenty of food to go around as always.

And this wasn't all of it!  MEAT!!!
Of course we raided Mike's amazing kegerator, quickly emptying his stock of Cranberry Cider, Willie Nelson inspired "Always On My Mind Pale Ale," and bourbon barrel aged "Her Majesty's Purr."  We all spent time ogling Mike's Sabco brew system looming in the basement like some shiny religious idol to the gods of brewing.

Many amazing homebrews and commercial beers were cracked and passed around.  I vaguely remember some great Roets Mead and Cider concoctions figuring in there somewhere.  Others I remember are: Sierra Nevada Celebration ale, a disgusting sour travesty of a brown ale, overpriced swill from Guiness called The 1759, Keith Brady's wicked good IPA, Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza, and Alesmith Wee name a few!

We had door prizes of beers and beer memorabilia to hand out as well!

And of course the crowning glory of the party is the blind gift exchange!  Here everyone who wanted to take part brought a wrapped or bagged beer-related gift to put under the ghetto tree.  Then drawing names everyone got a turn picking out a gift.  We had some pretty impressive rare beers hiding in that pile!  Thanks to all who helped out and all who came for the festivities.  I look forward to doing it all again next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

30 Words: Punk

Outstretched hand presents a small round pumpkin.
A sprightly Fall dance before the coming chill.
Dancers caper and cavort this Allhallows Eve.
Then frozen under Winter's silent and snowy blanket.

This week's 30 Word Thursday picture is from a fall trip the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  This was one of the last times I was able to go out taking pictures before Minnesota Winter set in.  A bronze statue of young girls frozen in play caught my eye.  I had seen this statue several times without any great thought given to it, but this time someone had placed a small pumpkin to balance in a tiny hand.  Suddenly the tableau spoke to me and I snapped a few pics.  Lacking the colors I was looking for, the picture languished on my computer, but wanted to do something with it.  Taking a fresh look and trying out some colored pencil effects on my Photoshop Elements program I came up with this.  Please check out the other 30 Word entries at Erin's Treasures Found Blog Here.  Also she has had a book of some of last year's 30 Word Thursday entries (including some by Sj and I) so you should buy one!  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Photography Challenge #2: Crop This!

After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I have started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm doing a weekly photo challenge--each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  I'll try to post a link-up every Monday with the results of last week's challenge and the rules for the following week.

Last week we did a fairly simple transfer from color to B&W and I think the results were pretty interesting!  This week the challenge was a two-parter.

1) Take a picture that was "ruined" by something intruding in the shot, and cropping that out of the frame.  A very common and simple technique, but a powerful one in the day of digital editing.

Before:  A cute snapshot of my wife at the Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

New and improved!
Taking the picture with all the random distractions of passers-by, signs, and trees, I was able to easily crop all of them out.  Now I am left with a more portrait-like picture of my beautiful wife, rather than a casual snap-shot.  Keep in mind that this was actually the first day I used my new camera...and that it kept raining off an on every 30 minutes or so while we were there!

2) Take a decent picture and improve it by selective cropping.


This was a row of town-homes we wandered by in Pittsburgh on our search for the Church Brew Works.  I was drawn to the vibrant red against the white and raw wood, as well as the repeating pattern.  The picture is OK on its own, but lacked impact.  I was able to crop out most of the foliage and power lines in the background, as well as straightening the picture a bit.  I was also able to focus the eye a bit more on the central white window by doing this, using the Rule of 3's.  

I think this was a quick and easy challenge to show that sometimes simple edits can significantly change the impact of a shot.  

Feel free to add your own link to a blog or website on the link-up tool below!

Challenge #3:  Still Life!  This one is a photo taking challenge, but one that can be done indoors.  The idea: take common objects from your home and do a classic still life portrait.  Looking at old paintings of fruit and flowers, this has been an age-old technique for practicing your lighting techniques in controlled circumstances.  I plan on doing at least two pictures for this (more if I get fancy!) I've got some ideas for subjects…but we'll see what really works.  I also need some actual light instead of these gray days we have been having.  Or I need to figure out my flash!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

30 Word Thursday: Spring?

As I lounge inside,
Surrounded by an icy landscape
And steely gray skies,
I look back...
Or perhaps forward...
To vibrant colors,
Flowing waters,
Restful walks,
And green once again.

This week's 30 Word Thursday picture is from our trip to Belgium this past Spring.  I am currently wishing for some color in my life so I figured this one worked well!  I took this while on a walk with Sj through a park in Bruges.  Check out the other contributors to the 30 Word Thursday Challenge on Erin's Treasures Found Blog!  Also check back here next Monday for my other photography challenge reveal and link-up!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Grapes and Grain: Part 1

Over the past couple of years I have noticed a newish trend in brewing: adding grape juice to beer.  With meads there has long been the Pyment (a hybrid between honey-wine and regular grape wine), but this is a relatively recent idea in the craft brew scene.  Dogfish head probably pioneered this in the states with several of their experimental archaeological reconstructions, but Belgian sour producer Cantillon has been doing this for some time as well.  I managed to find a few of these beers this summer and wrote up this post at the time.  I had planned on posting this some time ago but it fell by the wayside.  I have now added a few more reviews and plan to do a second posting when I get through more of them!

Dogfish Head 61 Minute:  This is a 6.5% ABV pale ale brewed with the addition of Syrah grape must.  I picked this up as a single at Cassanova in Hudson, WI.  Poured into the appropriate Dogfish Head Riedel IPA glass.
Aroma: Citrus and grapefruit up front, but with a tannic grape skin aroma at the end.  Rounded hop and fruit aromas.  Slight sweetness.
Appearance: Copper to nearly pink color that is quite unusual for a beer.  Excellent clarity.  Large fine white head with hints of pink that is very persistent.  Nucleation sites on the bottom of the glass accentuate this effect.
Flavor: The hop bitterness and citrus flavor is dominant up front on the initial taste.  The citrus then fades to a somewhat dry red grape skin flavor.  The flavors all disappear off the tongue quite quickly leaving you with the impression of blandness at the end.
Mouthfeel: Smooth and almost creamy at first.  The finish is off-dry and a bit tart.
Overall: An interesting take on a pale ale and quite unique for my palate.  The grape adds complexity, but I feel that it draws some attention away from the hops in this style beer.  This was fun to try, but like a lot of Dogfish Head beers, it isn't one I'd drink much of.
Rating: 3.5/5

Cantillon Saint Lamvinus:  This is a lambic style beer made with true spontaneous fermentation at one of the oldest and best sour ale breweries in the world.  The brewery sources Merlot and Cabernet-franc grapes from the nearby Libourne region of France and are added to Bordeaux barrels filled with 2-3 year old lambic.  This is not a blended geueze.  The version I had was at the Night of Great Thirst sour ale festival in Belgium, and I did not note down what vintage it was.  In context of all those great sours, I didn't record a lot of details, but here was my impression of the beer.

Overall:  Very tart and dry like most of Cantillon's lambic beers, but with more body and a pleasant dark grape flavor on the finish.  Tannins are present but do not detract from the experience.  The melding of the grape and the sourness was flawless on this, actually elevating the final beer to be more than its separate parts.  For me this is the whole point of adding things to beer--trying to make something that improves the base beer or changes it in a significant and not gimicky way.  I really liked this a lot!
Rating 4.5/5

Cantillon Vigneronne:  This is the first grape infused beer that Cantillon made and was given its name in 1987.  They use late harvest Italian white grapes for this beer and add sugared liquor to kick-start refermentation.  This was tasted on the same night as above with the same difficulties in objective measurement, but here goes!

Overall:  In opposition to the Saint Lamvinus this one actually did not come out as well as I would have liked.  The grapes certainly mellowed the tart and sour lambic, but left it feeling lifeless and bland on my tongue.  The flavors were interesting, but I would take any other Cantillon over this one, even the unblended straight lambic.  This is a case (for me) where the addition of the grapes hindered rather than improved the overall effect of the beer.  Since this is one of the most sought after beers around, I'm sure that serious beer geeks will likely want to lynch me for this review.  But compared to all the other amazing sours I had that night, this one just didn't have the punch I was looking for.  Again, I'm not sure of the vintage, but assume it was from the previous year (2013).  Rating: 3/5.  Interestingly two years ago I actually rated this one higher than the Saint Lamvinus, so there is likely some vintage/year discrepency going on here.

Odell Jaunt:  I discovered this interesting beer at the Four Firkins in St. Louis Park.  Odell has long been a favorite brewery of mine and continues to come out with really unusual beers. This one is made with Riesling grape juice and aged on oak staves.  ABV is 7.6%.  Caged and corked, this one opens with a big "Pop!"

Aroma: Strong white grape aroma right off the bat.  I get some Belgian estery aroma after that combined with some sweet honey and sugary notes.  A bit of tart or lactic zip as it warms up.

Appearance: Golden color, excellent clarity.  Very effervescent with a huge long lasting white head. 

Flavor: Tart at first with flavors of white wine and golden raisins.  There is a sharp finish and a metallic twang that is unpleasant but fleeting on the tongue.  A sweet malt flavor lingers once the metallic has dissipated.  This is very dry and highly carbonated with a medium to almost light body.  I get very little oak flavor (vanilla, char, etc.) but it may add some tannin. 

Overall: An interesting beer, but not my favorite from Odell.  At first I gave this a 3 due to that metallic flavor, but as it warmed up and I got into my second glass of it this improved and I upgraded to a 3.5.

Boulevard Entwined Ale: This is special release from this summer that I am finally getting around to reviewing.  Sj and I actually got to try the test batch of this beer (called Nelson at that time) in the Boulevard tap room last year and loved it.  At the time they hinted that they might scale the beer up for commercial release and I was quite excited to find this on the shelf in Minnesota!  The beer is a sessionable 4.1% ABV and includes Muscat grape juice and the wine-like New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hop.  Using my glass from our trip, I served this one up in style!

Aroma: Unique aroma of white grape juice, sweetness of candy sugar, slight sulfur, and a hint of mustiness.  Almost smells like a Belgian golden strong ale (Duvel).  No distinct hop aroma.

Appearance: One of the lightest colored beers I have had this year!  Straw color with brilliant clarity.  Large white head that is persistent.

Flavor: Grape juice right up front giving this a light wine start, but fades quickly to a pilsner malt finish.  Fairly thin in body.  Slight sulfur notes in flavor, especially as it warms.  Very little hop flavor, but bitterness is present to balance the sweetness.  Not a very sweet beer despite its aroma.  Ends quite dry and crisp like a pilsner, but not astringent.  Very interesting.  Not quite as much Nelson hop flavor as I remember from the test batch.

Overall: A very good, refreshing and easy to drink beer.  The combination of the hop and grape juice really make this a unique beer that is worth trying.  Like a strange offspring of a German Pilsner and a fruity white wine! 4/5

Lucid Halucidation:  This is a collaboration with Waconia's own Parley Lake Winery (just down the road from me!) This is the second year of the collaboration, but I missed it last year.  This year they released the beer at their 3rd anniversary bash.  I was ill that day, stopping by quickly to get my bottle, but didn't get to enjoy the party.  I don't have a ton of information about the beer other than the fact that it is a Belgian style tripel with white grape juice added and clocks in at a hefty 12.5% ABV.  Coming in a large 750 ML foil-wrapped bottle, I served this in the proper glass.

Aroma: Somewhat tart and sulfury initially, but clears a bit when driven off by swirling.  I get more white grape aroma and the Belgian yeast esters of pear and clove.  Some sugary sweetness noted as well.  No hop aroma noted.
Appearance: Golden color with excellent clarity.  A fine, nearly white head that fades to edge of glass, but persists.
Flavor: Up front sharp white wine character that then fades to a light malt/pilsner type finish.  In the middle I get light banana and pear esters.  The end shows a return of that sulfur flavor on the back of the tongue.  Definite alcohol warming, but not boozy hot.  Lingering aftertaste of white grapes with a dry finish.
Overall: An interesting beer and a base style that seems to go well with the grape.  This is the best Lucid beer I've had to date, and is complex and unusual.  Sj didn't love this one, and at 12.5% ABV I didn't dare finish all hers as well. 4/5

The Bruery Atomic Kangarue:  Sj and I picked a couple of these up when we visited The Bruery taproom in Orange County a few months ago.  This is a collaboration with Smog City Brewing, who I have never heard of prior to this.  ABV is 9.5% ABV.  The beer is made with Semillon and Viognier grape juice, blended with a sour ale, dry hopped with Amarillo, and finished with Brettanomyces yeast!  Sound like a lot of stuff going on?

Aroma: The aroma on this is wonderfully complex and seems to morph into something different with every sniff.  Citrus, sharp lemon, mild pine--all coming from the dry hop.  Some tartness and hint of sour, but pleasant.  Some sweetish sugar and as it warms I pick up some white grape.  Definite Brett character.
Appearance: Deep gold color.  Slight haze from dry hop and some lees in the bottle.  A huge white head with fine and tight bubbles that persists for ages.
Flavor:  Up front hop flavor and bitterness with white grape, lemon peel, pear.  The beer is tart but not mouth-puckering like a geueze or lambic.  Slight alcohol noted, but drinks more like 6% than 9.5%!  Dry and lingering tart and bitter finish, but not truly astringent.  Leathery notes as warms.  Has some bone dry white wine flavors.  Body on the thin side, but not watery.
Overall: A bold and wacky beer that keeps changing things up.  By all rights, the hop, sour, and grape should fight each other, but these all just keep building on layers of aroma and flavor.  The grape really plays a supplemental role in this beer, not front and center like some of the examples I've tried. I could drink this every day and be happy.  4.5/5

Coming Up:  Now that I'm paying attention, I have discovered a veritable dragon's hoard of other grape-containing beers in my cellar.  I'll start working on a second group of these reviews ASAP!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Photo Challenge #1: Go Black & White!

After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I have started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm going to start a weekly photo challenge--with each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  I'll try to post a link-up every Monday with the results of last week's challenge and the rules for the following week.

So for my first challenge I set the rules of changing 2-3 pictures from color to black & white format.  I figured that this would be an easy one, since most photo software can quickly do this for you.  I discovered that it was more difficult than I thought to find pictures with enough contrast to really pop in black & white!  I also realized that subconsciously when taking pictures I actually earmark many of my more "industrial" pictures like old machinery, ironwork details, and brewery equipment as future B&W pictures.  All the pics I was drawn to initially for this challenge had little color in them and were already close to monochrome!  So I worked hard to dig out a few more unusual pics for this one and forced myself to stretch a bit.

This was taken in Ghent, Belgium at an unusual modern structure surrounded by ancient stone buildings and churches.  The patterns were odd and out of place, but intriguing!  I think the contrast is more noticeable in the B&W version.

This was taken in Chiny, Belgium during last summer's trip.  We saw big trout jumping in this river and wandered the forested banks.  I think the effect is very different in B&W: with the texture of the ripples more noticeable than the green trees and weeds in the color version.

This one is my favorite of the three!  Taking a brightly colored (yet having all shades of green) picture and then showing the off the gradations of that color in the B&W version makes this look more impressive to my eye.
So there you go!  First week down and many more to come.  I'll be focusing more on editing effects for a while, since Minnesota winters are not ideal for picture taking.  If you want to try this along with me, feel free to post your own blog links below on the Inlinkz widget.  I'll keep that open for the whole week to encourage more playing along!  Also share this challenge with any of your friends who are into photography…especially newbies!

Next week's Challenge #2 is another easy one, but a technique that is essential to modern photography: Cropping.  Since this is a pretty easy one I'm making it a two part challenge.  First I want you to fix a picture (by cropping) that is "ruined" by somebody's head, random passerby, car driving by, etc.  Second I want you to take a picture that is "good" on its own but needs to be cropped to either get closer up to the subject or to move it to a more pleasing spot in the frame.  I'll post my link next Monday for this, so you have a whole week!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

30 Words: Light

The last rays of wan light filter
through hazy glass.

Darkness creeps in,
held at bay by this feeble brilliance.

Around me loom shadows of derelict machinery, 
lost in time.

After a brief hiatus, I'm back to taking part in 30 Word Thursday!  The idea is this: take a picture (preferably your own) and write something about it in exactly 30 words.  I started this over a year ago now to take part in Erin's blog-hop version of this and have decided to keep it up this year as well.   Check out Erin's Treasures Found Blog for the other entries this week and feel free to try it yourself!  I took this photo at Phelps Mill, an old turn-of-the-century grain mill up by my family cottage on Ottertail Lake.  I grew up crawling around on the dangerous machinery and rotting floors of this place, so it was fun to go back and explore now that they have repaired it a bit.  This was also a place I used my mom's old camera to take pictures for a Junior High photography class!

In addition to the 30 Word Thursday, I have decided to try doing a weekly photography challenge over the coming year as well.  I will post my self-imposed challenge here (below my 30 Word Thursday for the week) and post the result within the following week.  Some of these will be photography, but many will be post-production photoshop effects (especially during the winter months when outdoor photography is more difficult here in Minnesota!)  I think these challenges will help me to learn more about photography and editing digital pictures.  Hopefully people will enjoy the process with me.  I know my blog is predominantly beer related, but I feel like mixing things up a bit!  If there are any other budding photographers out there who want to play along with these challenges--please do so!  Feel free to comment here with a link to your own blog or website, or send it to me and I can post it.  If I get a few interested parties I can make an official blog link-up like the 30 Word Thursday.

Photo Challenge 1) Black & White
Starting out simple: take three color photos and change them to black and white format.  Ideally these will have a different tone or impact when changed to black and white.  Other photoshop effects are allowed but the biggest change should be the removal of color.  Show the before and after pics for comparison.