Monday, September 30, 2013

Pumpkin's Vengeance!

Time for an update the infamous Pumpacolypse Brau!  And no, this one will not be done in over the top 80's horror writer style.  Oh, and apparently the crazy brew session from last post was actually done on the advent of the Harvest Moon.  No wonder things got weird!

After we left our poor Mike Lebben (continuing a 3 hour sparge I believe) he had thrown a lid on the wort and gone to a much needed rest.  This is not standard practice, but hey everyone needs sleep so who am I to judge--I snuck out early after all. 

Here is the sludge left over after the sparge.  Perhaps too much pumpkin?

By 8:45 the next morning, like a proper trooper, Mike was starting to boil this hot mess into a foamy creamy pumpkin wort slurry.  He boiled for 60 minutes with a vigorous rolling boil.  There was only one hop addition (just over an ounce of Chinook at 60 minutes) for the whole 12 gallon batch.  This is to be a very malt forward beer.  Apparently there were no disturbances with the pumpkin gods for this part of the brew!

Near the end of the boil Mike added Irish Moss (for clarity...maybe we should have used a ton of this), Wyeast yeast nutrient, and pumpkin pie spice.  We kept the spice down a bit...we can always add more later if needed, but you can't pull it out once it is in there!
After chilling with his handy Chill Wizard system from Sabco, he oxygenated the beer well and placed it in an enormous 15 gallon glass carboy.  I've seen Mike haul this around filled with beer before...that man must be an X-Men mutant or something.  Final gravity was 1.068 (before adding the honey and maple syrup I believe.)  By day 2 this thing was fermenting like mad.  With about 20% headspace in the demi, this evil beast of a beer managed to fill the blow off tube, the blow-off bucket and then spill onto the floor--as if making one last desperate attempt to escape its captors.  But Mike was not to be beat this late in the game.
Jack'd Up, 3rd Street Brewing (Cold Spring):  This is described as an Autumn Ale, and does not actually contain any pumpkin.  It does have pumpkin spices however. 
Aroma: Tannic and earthy.  Hints of Cinnamon and Ginger.  No hops.  Almost no malt.
Appearance: Gold in color, lighter than most examples.  Fine white head that fades fairly quickly.  Slight haze.
Flavor:  Not very sweet, in fact not much malt flavor at all.  Ends very dry with a hint of spices.  Ginger stronger in flavor than in aroma.  Has a fairly notable astringent bite in the finish.  Might have some hop bitterness.  As it warms the astringent finish makes me not want to drink more, reminding me of soap.
Overall:  Not balanced enough.  It lacks body and complexity, more like a cream ale with a touch of spices.  The astringency is overwhelming for such a light beer.  I have yet to really like a beer from these guys, and this is no exception.  I try not to be a hater, but after tasting 5 beers from a brewery and not finding any of them pleasant to drink, I tend to give up.  I'd rate this one a 2 of 5.  I save 1's for outright infected beers.
New Holland Ichabod: This is one of the venerable craft pumpkin beers, first debuted in 1997.  I've had it before, but figured I'd try it out with all the rest this year. 
Aroma: Starts out with a strong nutmeg aroma, followed by some earthy pumpkin flesh.  There is some malty sweet grain in the background, but the spice dominates.
Appearance: orange to copper in color with a large off-white head.  There is a bit of haze to this one as well.
Flavor: Like the aroma, has a strong up-front nutmeg flavor.  The malt/grain sweetness arrives late on the palate.  This ends fairly dry with a bit of tannic astringency.  A bit tart and earthy.  As it warms I can pick out more cinnamon.  The body is a little thin for my tastes. 
Overall: A fairly well balanced beer.  I would like a bit more malt or body to this, but loads better than the Jack'd Up.  Not a ton of depth to this beer, but does have a real pumpkin taste.  I give it a 3 of 5.
Next Up:  My marinated musings on Autumn Brew Review as well as even more pumpkin beer reviews.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Terra Waconia's Enki Beer Dinner 2013

The other night I was fortunate enough to take part in Enki Brewing's first official beer dinner.  Our local fine dining establishment, Terra Waconia, has done several beer dinners over the past 2 years, most notably a dress-up Halloween dinner and a 21st Amendment dinner that I presented at.  They do a fair number of wine dinners, but they are clearly getting the hang of the beer side. 

Upon arriving in quaint downtown Waconia, Sj and I discovered our friend and fellow Jack Of All Brews alumni, Jon Baldwin sitting out in front of Frost & Steam getting caffeinated.  He was kind enough to give me bunch of his home grown Honeycrisp apples for later devouring.  Apparently he had also supplied the restaurant with fresh hops from his enormous Jack & The Beanstalk sized hop bine.  Soon we were also greeted by Jeff Capiello, another JAB member and husband of one of the wonderful chefs (Kim). 

Karie Menser McDougall and Dan Norton from Enki were there,  put to work pouring beers and presenting on them between courses.  Poor John and Jason missed out on this one!  At this point the brewery has only been open for 12 weeks.  Currently Enki has four beers in their line-up, so we had a four course paired menu to go with those beers.  Now is the part where I'll make you readers drool.  Oh, and it was fairly dark in the restaurant so my pictures don't do the food justice!

The first course was a sweet corn chowder with red, white, and blue potatoes.  The dish was topped with fried corn silk and one of Jon's deep fried cascade hops.  A beautiful dish that tasted of the fall harvest.  I'll admit I was hesitant to eat a whole hop--those suckers can be horribly astringent--but I was willing to take the gamble.  The frying process must have tempered the bitterness, because it was actually quite good and very unique.  The bitterness from the hop and the corn silk actually worked well with the sweet chowder, making the entire dish have a nice balance.  The soup was served with Enki's Victoria Gold, (the new version using American ale yeast), that is a pleasant and very easy drinking beer.  I think this beer will appeal to the locals who may not be ready for a pale ale, but is still a clean beer than a craft guy like me can still handle.  The pairing was spot on.

The second course of awesome was a salmon fillet atop a fresh salad of fall greens.  This dish was served with my new favorite pale ale: the Enki Citric Journey.  I love the mix of English malt, and bitter, but restrained American hops in this beer.  The beer cut the richness of the fish quite nicely and complemented the light dressing on the salad. 

Third course arrived next: a crisp philo dough wrapped around a flavorful cabbage roll, filled with barley and locally sourced beef.  I could have eaten 10 of these.  The crispy outer shell of the roll took the traditionally soggy cabbage roll to new heights.  This was paired with the Auburn Kolsch, the maltiness of the red ale working in harmony with the earthy delights of the dish.

And of course desert!  This was my favorite dish of the night--a light apple soufflĂ© made with corn flour and topped with cream.  So airy and delicious.  And so small.  Again--wanted many more to throw down my voracious gullet!  This one was paired with the first iteration of Victoria Gold, made with a Belgian yeast.  This has been my least favorite beer by Enki so far, and I think it is starting to get some more unusual flavors over time.  The apple notes in the beer, while not thrilling on its own, did pair well with the desert dish. 

I really enjoyed this meal a lot.  Tracy and Craig run a tight ship at Terra, putting out amazing dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and a ever changing menu.  Paired with beers made by new local brewery, this made for a fun and relaxing evening with friends.  We love the rest of the staff at Terra, (shout out to Nikki and Kim), as well.  It was also great to hang out with Dan and Karie.  I feel that this was a great start to hopefully many more beer dinners for Enki in the future, especially as they expand their portfolio of beers.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pumpocalypse Brau: Cursed Brew Day

Lonely Road

On a late Autumn evening, after a long day's work, Eric Wentling gathered up his contribution to the upcoming brew--a quart of locally made maple syrup--and hopped into his Toyota Camry for the ride into the small town of Victoria.  Passing the newly opened Enki Brewing, he thought of the pleasant pale ale served there and began looking forward to the results of tonight's endeavor.  He and his friend Mike Lebben were to brew a beer that night, but not just any beer--an Imperial pumpkin ale to rival all others.  This was to be an epic monster of a beer, malty and packed with pumpkin and pie spices, with an extra kick of the maple syrup and honey to make this a true harvest ale.  The fading sun lit ruby highlights from the first few maples to change color this fall, and the long shadows raced by. 

Upon arrival Eric ran the gauntlet of hyperactive dogs and met Mike in the basement to prepare their soon-to-be infamous brew session.  The sun continued to sink as they began preparation: heating water, doing last minute calculations, and measuring out grains.  The two were blissfully unaware of an upcoming visitation of wickedness and evil, brought to bear on them by the silently screaming malevolent spirits of a thousand slaughtered gourds.  The first small hint at the horrors to come was when Eric noticed an inaccuracy in their ingredients.  Cans of sugared and pre-spiced pie mix glared accusingly at him from the counter top, taunting him with their lack of pure pumpkin flesh.  While he traveled back to town center to replace the ingredient, Mike continued to work on his tardy prep work.  They should have paid attention to these early signs, but continued about their business without a care in the world.

By the time of his return a bloated full moon began shine in the deepening darkness, bathing his car in it's baleful light.  Returning to the brewery, the water was up to temperature, and using Mike's  automated grain mill made short work of grinding the massive amount of barley called for in this recipe.  The two added the grain to the large mash tun and infused it with warm water, aiming for a protein rest around 120 degrees to help with some of the potential extra pumpkin proteins.  They then got to work opening seven cans of pumpkin puree, happily scooping out the thick gelee into a pot filled with warm water.  The Curse reared its head when one of Mike's can lids seemed to leap off track and slit his finger, promptly drawing first blood in this battle.  Gloving up in his creepy blue nitrile gloves, (like some homebrewing version of the villains from Firefly), to prevent a bloody brew, he kept on like a champ.  They both continued to ignore the warnings. 

They poured the glistening orange pumpkin slurry into the eagerly awaiting mash, turning it an unusual shade of auburn.  The first twenty minutes went according to plan, showing off the efficiency and sparkle of Mike's Sabco brew system.  Then the terrors began.  With a slow death-rattle, the recirculating mash gasped out its last breath.  Despite the thin mash and the excessive use of rice hulls to pad the filter bed of grain, the pumpkin settled into a thick block at the bottom the kettle, preventing all liquid flow through its barrier.  Just as this occurred, heavy footsteps rang from upstairs, signaling the presence of Others.  The ears of the dogs swiveled to take in this new presence and then they were off like furry rockets to fend off their home from that perceived evil.  Mike ignored the noise and continued to battle his system for supremacy--attempting to make that liquid flow and get the temperature up to its next mash step of 156 degrees. 

Luckily for them both, the new arrivals were Sarajo--Eric's lovely wife--as well as Matt and Anna Finnesgard.  The three of them happily helped to sample the Rogue Pumpkin Patch and Southern Tier Pumpking that Eric and Mike had been sampling prior to the vindictive stuck mash.  The mood lightened a bit as these friends added moral support to the continuing battle, but beneath the pumpkin orange surface of that mash lurked even more wickedness and pain.  Sarajo braved the dogs to head home, leaving the Finnesgards to hold back the darkness while Mike and Eric pushed the limits of the Sabco to its breaking point.  Settling in among the discarded and dangerous cans of pumpkin, the two distracted the dogs and took turns trying beers from Mike's large kegerator.  Mike continued to stir up the thick and sturdy mash, getting it to circulate for brief fits and starts before firming up into a copper colored brick.  More water was added.  Even more rice hulls.  All to no avail.  With a huge commercial keg filled to the brim with grain, pumpkin and water, there was no way to lift and dump it out either.  Mike continued to try syphoning out and blowing back through a tube to attempt to clear the obstruction.  At one point while attempting the latter maneuver, a great flatulent gurgle was followed by a huge molten bubble of goo that spattered three feet away to land directly into Mike's left eye, making a mockery of all his efforts.  While this was going on, the burner needed to be turned on and off repeatedly to keep a steady temp and burn the bottom of the not-recirculating mash, as well as constantly turning off and on the pump to avoid the terrible grinding sound of a cavitation

Around the time the two had finally arrived at their second mash temperature, came another suspicious entry into the home.  This time the heavy and sliding tread on the stairs wasn't the Finnesgards or Sj.  Looking frantically about for a weapon of defense (for the two protagonists were beginning to realize that something obscene and calamitous was upon them this dark evening), Mike found only his dripping wooden mash paddle--so like a cricket bat...

Alas the interloper was only Mark Glennon, another member of the local homebrew club, come to claim his prize medal from Byggvir's Big Beer Cup, and only narrowly avoided a paddle to brain pan.  Perhaps Eric should have warned Mike of his impending visit.  Now five strong, the party continued the endless battle against the pumpkin ale, fueled on ever more high alcohol beers and fear.  Always the fear. 

The sparge began.  The steps prior should have taken an hour and half, but had burgeoned into an evening-long slow crawl of nearly three and a half.  Now the two attempted to collect the sweet and pumpkin-rich fluid wort from the mash into the brew kettle, but were again plagued by compression and solidity.  Wielding in his paddle like a burly madman, Mike strained against this obstruction.  Sweat creased his furrowed brow, blood collected in his gloved hand, and his crimson left eye watered and weeped.  The Curse of the Pumpkins Past would NOT win!  Mike would drive his ailing body to the finish and force this ochre beast into submission.  Eric simply looked on in awe.  Soon, the rest of the party slowly disappeared, their absence barely noted during the legendary battle.  Had they tired of the show and simply left?  Or had something more ominous and sinister transpired?  We may never know the details, but eventually Eric and Mike were the only remaining combatants. 

The night loomed long and the following day's work was soon to be done.  Eric crept slowly away from the manically muttering and cursing Mike.  He faded to the periphery, while Mike stoked the fires and paddled his way through the endless brew.  With his partner occupying all the attention of the evil spirits, he was able to break the spell and escape the hellish pull.  Mike was left to his deranged work, unhinged completely by the events of the evening.  He madly punished his body and that mash for another three hours until all 15 gallons of wort was collected.  Exhausted, he threw a lid on the mess and collapsed to a troubled slumber, haunted by the melancholy cries of massacred pumpkins.

With morning light came clarity, at least for Mike if not for the murky orange stew that was to become the Imperial pumpkin beer.  For having struggled so mightily with the mash, too much proteinaceous material had made it into the final wort.  Re-invigorated, Mike fired up the burner...

Have Mike and Eric seen the end of the problems with this batch?  Despite the heroic efforts of both, with the final beer be worth the effort?  Or will the dreaded Pumpkin's Curse have the last say?  We will find out soon, my friends.  Soon.

Thanks for bearing with the purple prose, but I figured it was the only way to properly write up a brew session fraught with such troubles.  We chose to start with the Imperial Pumpkin Ale recipe from this month's Zymurgy magazine.  This recipe is a big one and also involves honey and maple syrup.  I managed to wrangle up a bunch of B grade maple syrup from a friend and colleague of mine who has quite the impressive syrup making facility on his property.  He has a great website with all sorts of info on syruping and sells his syrup locally under the brand Somerskogen Sugarbush.  I like the B grade syrup for cooking and brewing, as it has a more robust flavor and darker color that is normally seen as a flaw.  Syrup is a simple sugar and is nearly all fermented out when used in brewing, leaving little of the residual sweetness that one would expect with such a sweet and sticky product.  The carmelization of the darker syrup should have a bit more flavor impact though.  We will see!

Continuing my effort to taste a whole slew of pumpkin beers this fall I'll mention a few more I've had in the past few days, at least one of them during the aforementioned brew day.

Tyranena Painted Ladies:  The commercial description is pretty humorous so I'll include it here.  "The Painted Ladies Annual Fling celebrates the renaissance of downtown Lake Mills. Although named for the restoration of the many Victorian storefronts, some of the more adventurous women-folk added a playful twist and dressed as, well, painted ladies. Inspired by these bold and spicy women, we brewed Painted Ladies, a pumpkin and spice-infused amber ale. This fall, make sure you enjoy a fling with a few Painted Ladies."  The label includes some awesome tarted-up Victorian pumpkins to continue the theme.
Aroma: Sweet maltiness.  Definite nutmeg up front with hint of ginger and allspice.  An earthy note present as it warms, but not extreme.
Appearance:  Crystal clear copper color.  Large off-white head that is very persistent.
Flavor: Sweet and malty but not cloying.  As with aroma, the nutmeg is front and center, with an allspice/clove "burn" coming up last.  This has a slightly astringent earthy or musty finish, but doesn't detract from overall enjoyment too much.  I think that flavor is the actual pumpkin in the beer.  The spicing on this one is borderline too high.
Overall: Not a bad beer.  Probably the best beer I've had from Tyranena in a while.  I honestly had kind of written them off over the past few years after I'd tried a couple of duds.  This one is high on the spices, so if you hate them then you likely won't like this beer!  Scores a 3.5 of 5 for me.

Chatoe Rogue Pumpkin Patch AleThe description makes note of growing the pumpkins for this beer on Rogue's own farms in Independence, Oregon, then driving them to the brewery for the beer quickly after harvesting.  Interestingly my cousin works for the city of Independence.  Small world.  Not much info on the actual beer specs though.  I have it on fairly good authority that this batch may have been last year's release.  Also, this review was scrawled hastily upon a yellow sheet of paper with a fading pencil during our fight with the pumpkin beer.  So there.
Aroma:  Up front nutmeg, followed by ginger and cinnamon.  No hop aroma (strange in a Rogue beer, but OK for style).  Sweet sugary malt and a hint of honey.
Appearance:  Deep copper to nearly brown in color.  There is a slight haze to it.  A huge off-white head that is largely persistent.
Flavor:  Sweet maltiness throughout the taste.  Nutmeg and cinnamon are the dominant spices in this one, and come off present but somewhat muted or faded.  A subtle roastiness sets this one a bit different from many of these beers.  No hop flavors. 
Overall:  A bit bland and muddied, but not a bad beer.  Lacks complexity.  If this is indeed last year's batch the spices may have faded and left this one a little blah.  I do give it a 3.5 of 5 though, still drinkable and better than some others.

Next Up:  An update on the Punkacolypse Brau and reviews of more pumpkin beers than you can shake a stick at!  If you are bored in the mean time check out Sj's jewelry blog for a cool Autumn challenge she took part in HERE.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pumpkin Patch Part 1

The outside temperature is falling, with a hint of nip to the nighttime breeze.  Bees and yellow-jackets flit about and investigate a vigorously boiling kettle of wort.  The harvest is upon us: gardens full of ripening tomatoes; hop cones dangling on their tall bines; gourds enlarging in all their glory beneath the yellowing leaves of their parent plants.  Yes folks, Fall is here in Minnesota, and with it the resulting liquor store shelves and bar taps accumulate a plethora of seasonal pumpkin beers. 

Perhaps I'm a sucker, but with Autumn being my favorite season, this style of beer has always appealed to me.  This was one of the first types of beer that my wife would drink and still has a special place in her heart as well.  Over the years I have found that most beer drinkers are very polarized on their assessment of pumpkin beers--either loving or hating them with little lee way in between.  I entirely understand this wide divide.  The style is focused on spices, (usually nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and ginger) in various proportions.  A lot of people have dislikes for some of these flavors, and frankly it is difficult to craft a beer that is not overwhelmed by them.  Strangely, Sj will not touch a pumpkin pie with a 10 foot pole, but will happily swill down pumpkin beers.  Go figure. Maybe it harkens back to the time we were in Seattle and happened to visit Elysian Brewery on the day they were staging their Great Pumpkin event, where they had nearly 20 different pumpkin beers on tap, many of them amazing.

I have brewed pumpkin beer three times in my life.  The first was way back in my early extract days and the recipe I had called for adding a can of pumpkin to the boil.  One can only imagine how that travesty turned out: murky, chunky and disgusting would a be accurate.  The starches and sugars in the pumpkin do not get converted and your beer looks and likely tastes nasty.  The second try was using 2 cans of pumpkin (no spices added) in the igloo cooler mash tun once I had learned to do all-grain brewing .  This was my first experience with a stuck mash--as all the pumpkin formed a solid mush at the bottom of the mash tun and blocked up my false bottom.  I eventually had to dump the whole mess into another set of pots and then stirred it back into the mash tun very carefully.  Slow-- but it worked.  that beer was also less than stellar, but much of that was from my hour long struggle with the mash and loss of proper temperature during the process.  The third time was the proverbial charm.  I used about 2 small pie pumpkins, decapitated and disemboweled, cut into 1 inch gory pieces, and baked in the oven to reach a carmelized brown color.  Don't burn it.  Add this to the mash with 3/4 pound of rice hulls to avoid my previous sparge disaster.  Maybe do a protein rest at 122 for 20 minutes and then ramp up to your desired mash temp.  Give it at least 60 minutes to make sure all the starches are converted...I went 75 minutes.  Add your spices at flame-out, or better yet, make a tincture of spices in vodka and add it slowly at bottling so you don't overdo the spicing.

This fall I plan to try as many of these short lived beers as I can and give my two cents on them.  If you hate pumpkin beers you may want to tune me out--but I'd recommend that you try a few of these out and see if you agree with me.  Comment on the blog and tell us what you think of them!  If you are one of my local friends and have an unusual one you want to share--I'd love to share!  I thought I would try to do one huge entry on it, but reckon that would get way too wordy, so I'll try to stick to a few at a time. 

Let's start on the low end of the spectrum with Wasatch Pumpkin Ale.  This is a 4% ABV beer, brewed that way due to local Utah laws that limited the alcohol by volume of beers to under 4%.  I believe there has been some change to those laws allowing higher gravity beers in the last few years, but don't quote me on it.  I had this beer at The Happy Gnome last week, and it was one of nearly 15 pumpkin beers on tap at the time.  Wow,  I love that place!  The beer has a pleasant orange hue with a fairly light head that fades quickly.  Hints of ginger, nutmeg and clove in the aroma, along with a subtle earthiness.  The flavor mirrors the aroma nicely, with a bit of true pumpkin flavor and light spicing.  Balance is key for these beers and I think they have done a wonderful job of showcasing the pumpkin and the spices without overdoing it.  The mouthfeel is a bit low due to lower gravity, but not thin.  Also, this is one of the only pumpkin beers I've tried that I'd actually have a second pint of.  I give this one 4.5 stars, mainly because of it's drinkability.  Good job Wasatch!

My next beer doesn't get such high marks.  Tommyknocker Small Batch Pumpkin, also tasted at The Happy Gnome, was less than thrilling.  It has a deep amber to nearly brown color, darker than usual for the style.  It has molasses in the recipe which could account for the darker color.  The aroma was notable for nutmeg, sweetness and a hint of bandaid.  Upon tasting it had an upfront sweetness, followed by an acetic tartness leading to a harsh finish.  This one was either infected or fermentation went horribly wrong.  I know for a fact that The Gnome cleans their tap lines religiously, so I think the issue was with the keg of beer itself.  The sourness really clashed with the spices and made this one hard to stomach.  Looking at Beer Advocate, the beer gets fair marks, so mine may be an outlier.  I rate this one a 2 of 5 for being unintentionally sour.

Last in this installment is Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, one of their limited release beers. To give this one credit I did discover last year's batch lurking in my beer cellar, but it clocks in at 9% ABV so I figured it would still be drinkable.  Aroma has malty sweetness, nutmeg, and an earthy tartness.  The color is a slightly hazy deep orange, with a large white head.  Flavor has an initial burst of sweet malt, fading to a pleasant nutmeg character.  This has some Sweet-Tart flavors in the tail end mixed with a musty earthiness.  Very notable alcohol burn and a bitter astringent finish.  Starts great, ends not so good.  Perhaps the age has hurt this one, but I haven't had it fresh so I just have to judge based on what is in my glass!  I give it a 2.5 for the unpleasant finish--Sj and I didn't finish it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

JAB Yeast Experiment

For our September 2013 Jack Of All Brews meeting we rolled out our yearly experimental brew.  In the past we have done several different experiments ranging from doing the exact same recipe on different systems, to Iron Brewer (with crazy ingredients), to a base recipe with an assigned single hop.  This year we had one recipe based somewhere between an American Amber and an ESB, lightly hopped with East Kent Goldings.  Each competing JAB member pulled a different yeast from a hat and were to ferment their beer with that particular yeast.  The goal of the experiment was really to showcase the range of differences in flavor and aroma that the simple choice of yeast can make.  Obviously we couldn't control for different brewing systems and possibly fermentation temperatures, but at least this would give us a decent experiment. Check here for the first posting and the recipe we used.

We had over 15 people sign up for the experiment and a total of 10 final beers to try at our meeting.  Going in no particular order we tasted the beers based on who had signed in first.  I'll go down that list now and give our overall impressions.  Keep in mind that this was during a club meeting, where things get a little loud and chaotic, so we aren't talking quiet BJCP judging conditions!

1) WLP007-Dry English:  This one was mine.  Reviews were mixed, a clean ferment but too sweet instead of dry.  I brewed this on the week of Fringe Festival and wasn't around the house much to keep an eye on the fermentation temp.  I think that the yeast got too cold in my basement (64-65 degrees) and dropped out before it was done fermenting, resulting in under-attenuation.  I wasn't proud of it.  Just yesterday I added some Simcoe, Amarillo and Cascade dry hop to the keg to see if I can add enough hop character to even out that sweetness and salvage the brew for drinking. 

2) WLP001-California Ale:  Very dry finish that accentuates an almost roast character.  An earthy, nearly astringent hop finish.  Very clean ferment and not much yeast character.

3) WLP023-Burton Ale:  Banana and peach esters in aroma.  Flavor like a creamy bananas foster or marshmallow.  A bit of mineral and astringent to the finish.

4) WLP041-Pacific Ale:  Not much aroma.  I got a bit of a soapy flavor.  Neutral flavors with a hint of pear.  Astringent finish.  Buttery.

5) WLP862-Cry Havoc:  Charlie Papazian's yeast strain. Fermented at 50 degrees.  Had a cider/apple aroma to me.  Initially sweet, ends malty but not cloying.  Clean ferment.  Reminded people of Grain Belt Nordeast.  Smooth. 

6) WLP940-Mexican Lager:  Neutral.  Honey flavor.  Subtle roastiness.  Very clean.  Hint of spices.

7) Wyeast Octoberfest/Marzen:  Chemical, Band-Aid, rubbing alcohol.  Not a great one.  Apparently this was an older pack bought from a local store that was slightly inflated at the time of purchase.  We postulated that the yeast was half-dead/stressed even before pitched.  I believe a starter was used as well.  Interestingly this and the Mexican Lager were both the exact same batch of beer, just different yeasts.

8) Wyeast Forbidden Fruit:  Apple aroma, very Belgian clove.  Flavors similar.  Sweet, but well attenuated.  Thought to be fermented on the lower end of the spectrum.  This was the clear overall winner of the final taste-off, and the first time the Golden Mash Paddle has been awarded to a member who wasn't there in person.

9) Wyeast 3068-Weihenstephan Wiezen:  Classic Hefe banana and clove aroma, but less in flavor.  Caramel covers up some of the esters.

10) Wyeast 1028-British Cask:  Cinnamon, some fairly strong diacetyl flavors.  Overall, the buttery notes worked with the beer and didn't detract too much.  Slightly alcohol warming from some tasters. 

Overall, this was a fun experiment with a wide variety of yeasts sampled.  There were some beers that were hampered by technical difficulties which may have skewed the results a bit, but we got a taste of how different yeasts can widely effect a single beer.  Thanks to all the JABbers who contributed to this event and I hope everyone felt it was worth the effort!  One of the things I love about being a member in a homebrew club is being able to take part in group events like this.  We are currently starting to plan the upcoming year's events so if anyone has any ideas for next year's experiment please send them my way or comment here!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Split Batch 2: CAP 'n Crunch

Earlier this year I did a split batch experiment with wheat beers.  For that session I made a 10 gallon batch, aiming for a malt bill and starting gravity somewhere in between a German Hefe and a Belgian Wit.  I used different yeasts for each of the 5 gallons and then added some coriander and orange peel tinctures to the Wit at bottling time.  This was a great way of doing the same amount of work for two different beers, since I am bored easily and often get tired of even 5 gallons of a particular beer.  The German side turned out great and has won be a couple of medals, but the Wit was less attractive to judges and friends. 

This summer has been very busy and my brewing has suffered for it.  It was finally time to get rolling on some more batches to fill my taps, and I figured I'd do another split batch.  Looking at the grains in my basement, I discovered some Rahr 2-row and pilsner malt as well as some flaked corn that had been donated by my friend Rick (who sadly has moved on to other hobbies.)  What could I make with this assortment of ingredients?  When I won a pound of Czech Saaz hops at Tim Roets' post-Byggvir party, I had the final items needed!

This batch runs right down the line between Classic American Pilsner and Cream Ale.  Interestingly enough the grain bill is very similar for both, including corn or rice adjunct, pilsner and 2 or 6 row malt.  Saaz? Check!  (See what I just did there?)  The main difference between the two styles is fermentation, with the cream ale using an American Ale yeast and the pilsner using a lager yeast.  For this batch I'll be fermenting the lager in my handy lager fridge at about 54 degrees at first, then ramping up for a diacetyl rest as fermentation slows, finishing with a cold crash down to the 30's and some more lagering time.   I did end up with hopping rates somewhat in between the two styles.  The hopping will be on the higher side for cream ale and on the mid to low side for the pilsner. 

Recipe for a 10 gallon batch on my Morebeer 1550 system

11.5# Rahr 2-Row malt
4.5# Rahr Pilsner malt (Thanks Brewer's Supply Group!)
4# Flaked Corn
3.25 oz Saaz Hops (18.9 IBU) at 60 minutes
1.5 oz Saaz Hops (5.3 IBU) at 20 minutes
Whirlfloc tab at 15 minutes
1.75 oz Saaz Hops (4.6 IBU) at 10 minutes
Yeast 1: Wyeast 1056 with 1 liter starter
Yeast 2: Wyeast Urquell Lager with 2 liter starter
Mash in for a protein rest at 122 degrees for 30 minutes
Raise mash temp to 150 for 80 minutes (long mash to make sure all the pilsner and corn starches convert properly)
Mash Out temp to 168 (about 15 minutes.)
35-40 minute fly sparge
90 minute boil to cut down on DMS (I know the corn is going to give corny flavors, but why accentuate it?)
OG is 1.058
Total calculated IBU is 28.7

So much corn....

Everything went well with the brew day, but I ended up with a higher efficiency than expected (I had cut this down to 75% due to pilsner malt and corn in the mix) resulting in nearly 2 gallons of extra wort.  Not one to be wasteful, I threw a rehydrated pack of dry English Ale yeast in there and we'll see how things come out.

My only concern with this particular experiment is that I really don't love drinking either of these styles!  I've been working on brewing every style in the guidelines, as well as some obscure ones, and these are on the list of thing's I've never brewed.  So why not!  Also my friend Marty is having a blacksmithing event at his farm this fall and I figure this beer would be a hit with non-craft beer drinkers.  And don't worry--he doesn't allow drinking until all the forging and power tool use is done for the day!  Depending on results I might also play with doctoring some of the beer with chili peppers like my friend Mike B., or possibly fruit.  We'll see just how many beers I can get out of this one batch! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

An Interview With Michael Wagner of The Four Firkins

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to get together with Michael Wagner from the Four Firkins to talk about beer, breweries, and the beer industry.  This is the second installment in my Four Firkins interview series and I hope to continue them over the next year or two.  Talking with Michael was quite interesting, as he forms opinions based on his own love of craft beer as well as from a professional standpoint.  Because of this some of his answers were a bit surprising to me!

We met at the Pig and Fiddle: the first time I had been to this fairly recent Southwest Minneapolis drinking hole.  We sat at the corner of the bar and sipped Surly Diminished Seviin, drowning out the hubbub with talk of all things beer.  Michael is one of the quieter members of the FF crew, but get him talking about beer and he is passionate and eloquent without being overly verbose.  He hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania originally, with a move to West Virginia University for college.  After finishing his schooling he took a corporate job (or a series of them) that led to North Carolina, Cleveland, and even Detroit, before getting the opportunity to move to our wonderful state of Minnesota.  Once here, he transitioned out of his corporate gig and took a job as a buyer for Trader Joe's before ending up replacing the third employee at The Four Firkins.  

When asked about his current job title he brings out an incredible mouthful that hearkens back to The Office: Upper Midwest Regional Manager of Strategic Imbibing and Director of Synergy Tactics: Beer to Mouth.  A most impressive and very tongue-in-cheek title if ever I've heard one before!  In truth Michael wears many hats at the store (especially on Fancy Friday) such as sales manager, in and out of store event organization, and most of the social promotion such as website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Now knowing more about Michael and what he does at the store, I had to get more information about how he got into craft beer to such an extent that he would end up making a career out of it!  "Growing up in Pittsburgh we had access to decent regional beer like Rolling Rock, Yuengling, and Iron City, so I never really got into the national Macros," He comments.  In college he and a like-minded buddy started to explore other craft options such as Troegs Troegenator or Victory Hop Devil.  Michael says that even early on he was always interested in local craft products like cheeses, art and of course--once discovered--beer.  A trip to Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Amsterdam) on a Man-cation with a friend, he returned to the states with the desire to homebrew and perhaps get into the beer industry.  And so he has!

Asked about his favorite type of beer, he paused for a long step, clearly pondering this difficult question with much intent.  "I tend to drink seasonally," he started, "drinking specific beer styles suited to the season they are brewed."  Also he learned from Sir Lanny Hoff that there are exceptional beers for certain situations.  Being less general he enjoys Belgian beers pretty much across the board, but especially saisons, sours and dark, fruity quads.  Additionally he is a sucker for a well done English bitter served appropriately out of a cask.  Specifically one of his favorite local beers is Town Hall's Masala Mama served on cask, (also one of my favorites!)

In the same vein, I wanted to know if there were any up-and-coming breweries that he was excited about.  Keep in mind that as a professional he shouldn't play favorites, however as a consumer and beer lover he does have some thoughts on the subject.  In the Midwest he points out Toppling Goliath out of Decorah, Iowa as a newer brewery that is really taking off.  In his words, "Their use of Citra hops is glorious!"  Hopefully we'll be getting them in Minnesota soon.  Another favorite is Stillwater Artisanal, a Mikeller-like company based out of Maryland putting out a lot of unique and small batch beers.  Locally he gives props to many local breweries like Surly, Indeed, Summit and Schells.  He specifically points out how Steel Toe Brewing embodies the small local brewery ideal by bringing a lot of experience to the table and putting out consistently great beers.

I certainly have my favorite beer events, but was interested in hearing his take the subject.  He enjoys Autumn Brew Review as a tried and true local tradition, but seems to like Winterfest even more based on the intimate setting, limitation to Minnesota beers, and the presence of food.  I agree entirely!  As a previous resident of Pennsylvania, he points out Philly Beer Week as an event not to be missed.  They are top notch and the event really involves much of the city.  Of course Oktoberfest in Germany is at the top of the list--not as a craft beer event, but as a beer experience.  "Think Minnesota State Fair with airplane hanger sized beer tents..."  Oh I'm thinking about it right now!
Surly Darkness Day also gets some love as one of the best run limited release parties around.  "This event really brings out the best of the social aspect of beer and sharing," he comments.

Speaking of limited release beers, I asked Michael what he thought of this trend in the industry.  As with most people I've talked to about the subject, he has mixed feelings on it.  The releases are sometimes blown out of proportion based on rarity and not quality, and also sometimes encourages the hoarder mentality that can turn others off from the process.  As a seller of beer, he notes that there is often a flurry of activity around the brewery's other beers at the time of these releases, as well as an increase in discussion of them and beer in general in the community.  "Being in the business of supplying consumers with what they want, these small releases can make that hard to do.  At the Four Firkins we try to spread the love as much as is possible."  Another potential issue with the process from a seller's standpoint is how those beers are distributed among stores.  Ideally the best breweries (often though the decision is made by a distributor) will allocate an amount of the limited beer based on how much of the mainline products that store sells--in essence rewarding that store for being a good seller of the brand's beer.  When this doesn't happen, more places get the beer, but in such miniscule amounts that the hassle of dealing with it isn't really worth it.  He would not tell me which distributors were the trouble-makers, but they know who they are!

Finally, I wanted to pick Michael's beer-marinated brain for his take on beer trends in general over the last few years and into the future.  Apparently the Four Firkins recently taught a class on the history of American craft beer so he had a lot of information for me.  I'm sorry I missed that one.  He mentioned micro-trends that seem to change constantly, such as "new" or trendy ingredients like Citra hops and rye in beers.  "4-5 years ago we saw the rise of Black IPA/Cascadia Dark Ale, but that seems to have settled into a less hyped American Black Ale with a lot of variability in the style."  Session beers are certainly gaining in popularity recently as well.  Long term, Michael feels that barrel aging and small batch beers will continue to fill a niche market.  He notes that a lot of focus is coming on local beer and ingredients recently and is likely to continue as our local breweries push the boundaries of the craft.

I highly enjoyed this time hanging out with Michael at the Pig & Fiddle.  I observed him in action, using his special skills to finagle us the first few tulip glasses of Surly Seviin to wash down the dregs of it's younger brother.  Of the crew at The Four Firkins, he has always struck me as very deliberate and knowledgeable and this meeting solidified that impression.  However, he also has a great sense of humor and retains an incredible store of beer information, continuing to share those with all the guests of The Four Firkins.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kind Of A Big Deal Nominations

I thought it was about time to bring up The Growler.  This is our Minnesota based freebie beer magazine that can be picked up in many beer-centric places around the Twin Cities.  I've actually been pretty impressed with The Growler and it's coverage of the local beer scene over the past 2 years.  I especially like the pieces written by Doug Hoverson, Dave Hoops and Michael Agnew: eagerly reading those first in each issue. 

Recently the magazine has started up nominations for the Second Annual Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Awards for local beer stuff.  They allow readers to nominate various local beer stores, bars, beers, etc. for some brewcred and publicity.  Guess what?  There's a spot for best local beer blog in there!  You see where I'm going with this right?  Please help me to widen my audience by nominating JABlog HERE!  I'd love to gain more readers who haven't happened upon the blog yet.

While you are in there go ahead and add Jack Of All Brews as the best local Homebrew Club as well.  Last year we made it into the official voting, but didn't win the overall let's try again! 

They also have a spot for best beer tattoo, best beard, and more! 

Thanks for tuning in reading my ramblings.  Apparently I've actually kept this thing up for over 180 individual entries, breaking the news of two upcoming breweries, and having over 50,000 hits on the site over that time!  (Yes I know many of those hits are probably spam bots, but still!)