Monday, September 29, 2014

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 12 Pack Part 2

Ok, I've been a bit off my game recently and haven't felt especially "write-y"  but I wanted to try to post something beer related here.  I finally finished the last of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp beers and finished this write-up.

On to the second half of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 12 pack!  This is a cool collaboration series with several other noteworthy breweries from around the USA, all packaged into one box.  I'm not sure if any of these are still available but if you see one--get it!  I blogged about the first six bottles last week: see that HERE.  I'm going to keep my descriptions a bit shorter.

1) There and Back by SN and New Glarus.  I've loved New Glarus for a very long time, so I was looking forward to this particular beer.  The name conjures up images of Bilbo Baggins sitting in his hobbit hole after fighting off Smaug the dragon, fondling his One Ring and having a pint.  This English bitter seems to be one of the lowest alcohol beers in the pack, clocking in at only 5.6% ABV.  Poured into an English style pint glass.

Aroma: Malt up front with a pleasant toasted bread character.  There is a bit of herbal and minimally citrus hop in the aroma as swirled.  Very subtle fruity esters.

Appearance: Slight haze (may have been my pour) with a deep golden to almost copper color.  Large tight white head.

Flavor: A healthy bite of hops right off the bat--earthy and citrusy but not musty.  Fades to a mellow toasty malt flavor ripe with melanoidins.  Finish is dry with a slightly bitter tinge--but not astringent.  Fruity notes as it warms.

Overall: Hoppier than most bitters, and more American hop character.  Balance is great on this and it is very drinkable.  I could drink a few of these (if I had more!)  4/5.

2) Tater Ridge by SN and the Ashville Brewers Alliance.  The ABA seems to be a group dedicated to furthering beer education and knowledge, as well as organizing beer festivals and events.  This beer is a Scottish ale brewed with local sweet potatoes.  ABV 7% and 35 IBU.

Aroma: Very malty!  There is a citrus zing to it as swirled as well as a hint of alcohol.  Overall sweet aroma.

Appearance: Deep copper in color.  Good clarity but not perfect.  Fine off white head that fades fairly quickly.

Flavor: Malty caramel and toasty flavors are dominant in the brew.  I do pick up on citrus hop flavors, but restrained.  Barest smoky note at end.  The finish is notable for a somewhat astringent end.  My wife (who loves Scottish ales) didn't like the finish and had me drink her half.  Oh well! 

Overall:  A very good beer.  I really like mix of American hops and Scottish style, but certainly not a great BJCP example of a Scottish ale.  I would drink more.  3.5/5.

3) Yvan The Great by SN and Russian River.  I love Russian River.  The only way we can get it in Minnesota is collaboration beers and having friends and family mule it across borders.  Known for both sour beers and some of the best hoppy ales in the USA, I had high expectations for this beer! 

Aroma: Very hoppy citrus (lemon and orange) up front.  After the first burst of hop, I gather a complex Belgian yeast aroma with banana and other fruit esters.  Hint of sulfur.  Some sweet candy sugar and bit of corny pilsner malt.

Appearance: Very light golden color with excellent clarity.  A fine white head with tight bubbles that fades fairly fast.

Flavor: In a word: Bright!  This beer has strong orange and lemon flavors that were hinted at in the aroma.  After the flash of hop, this fades to a wonderful bananas and cream flavor.  Some light pilsner malt character but more sugary.  The body is light and the finish is very dry.  Not astringent. 

Overall: Let me say up front that I dislike most excessively hoppy Belgian ales (especially with American hops).  This one blew me away by having a very harmonious blend of hop and Belgian yeast character.  By all rights this beer shouldn't work, but it does!  4.5/5.

4) Alt Route by SN and Victory.  An Alt beer (a style fairly difficult to find in the US--a German style ale brewed at lagering temps.)  ABV is 6.6% with 50 IBU.

Aroma: Some malt present with a subtle roastiness.  Candy sweetness with an almost Sweet-Tart twang to it.  Citrusy.

Appearance: Deep copper to nearly brown.  Large tan head with large bubbles. Slight haze.

Flavor: Sweetish malt flavors at first.  Sweetness quickly fades to a harsh bitterness that tastes of burning metal (ever throw tin-foil on a camp fire?) that just stays with you for several minutes.  Body is medium.  Balance wayyyyyyy to the bitter side.

Overall: My least favorite of the Beer Camp box.  Rough and bitter with terrible astringency.  Not a win for Victory...  2/5 and I dumped it.

5) Maillard's Odyssey by SN and Bells.  This is a darker beer of no stated style that plays up the malty and toasty quality of carmelized grain.  I tested this while brewing a barleywine so my notes are a bit spotty...

Aroma: Roasted malt with milk chocolate sweetness is dominant.  Slight metallic twang.  No hop aroma picked out. 

Appearance: Deep black and pretty much opaque.  Large dark tan head.  Very persistent fine bubbles.

Flavor: Just like the aroma promised!  Sweet malt and a milk chocolate and toasted bread flavor.  Fades to a smooth roastiness and a more bitter dark chocolate finish that is slightly astringent but not bad.  There is hop bitterness to even out the sweet but not much hop flavor (a shock for this box set!) Thick milkshake mouthfeel, but an off-dry finish.

Overall: My favorite in the box set!  Amazingly complex interplay between the malt and chocolate flavors.  Like an Imperial Milk Stout!  5/5.

6) Double Latte by SN and Ninkasi.  I love Ninkasi and was really looking forward to this beer--in fact that is why I saved it for last!  This is a 60 IBU and 7.6% ABV coffee milk stout.  The hopping is all nugget, not an incredibly popular hop these days.

I liked the aroma and appearance of this beer: a huge malt and roast nose and an enormous tan head.  The flavor fell a little flat for me.  The gratuitous hop bitterness and astringency accentuated the bitter coffee and roast and made this very harsh instead of creamy and pleasant.  Don't get me wrong I still drank it all, but not quite what I was expecting.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

30 Words: Hope

A beautiful little girl
So strong and bold
Fought so hard to maintain her hold.
Such struggle
Such vibrancy of life.
Living more
In her time
Than many ever do.
This is the toughest time I've ever had in writing something.  Little Emma was diagnosed with a cancer called neuroblastoma in 2010-2011.  Her parents are good friends of mine and she was also my patient.  She went through way too much hell for such a small child, but was eventually deemed clear of cancer.  However she had a recurrence and went through more treatments over the past year.  This morning I found out that she lost her battle and frankly don't quite know how to deal with the feelings I'm having.  I just can't imagine how her parents and brother feel.  Watching all of the trips (some for fun and some for treatments) she took; the events she took part in; the people she met; the love that she received from family and friends...has been amazing to me.  I'm deadened and saddened by this news.  But also I am reminded of how brief all of our time is here on this crazy world and how we need to enjoy the little things and make time for the big ones too.  There is still hope for all of us.  Please send out your prayers, good vibes, or whatever to Emma's family.  Give your spouse or children a huge hug.  Do something special for your loved ones or even just for yourself. 
My wife, Sj just posted a blog entry for a book club today prior to us finding out about this.  Interestingly and perhaps uncannily her jewelry designs embraced this sentiment with both of her pieces incorporating the words Carpe Diem into them.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Byggvir's Big Beer Cup 2014: ITS A TRAP!

Every year I take part in one of the most unique of homebrew competitions: Byggvir's Big Beer Cup.  This competition takes place on site at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, a place I have been visiting since I was a child.  As a result of being on site, Byggvir's has some challenges involved: getting the beers and equipment into the festival grounds, the pervasive odors of food and smoke, loud crowds, strange weather conditions, etc.  But all that makes this such a unique experience that I just have to keep going back!  For the past few years I have helped run the competition, but this year didn't have the time to invest--I still signed up to judge.  Here is how my experience went this year...

Volunteering at the competition gets you into the grounds for free, one of the best perks of the event for many.  On Saturday, very early in the morning, Steven M. picked me up and we took the sun-dappled country roads from Waconia to Shakopee.  This is one of the few homebrew events that is actually out our direction, so we were happy with such a short commute.  We entered through the "back door" off highway 41, to the new Queens Gate parking area.  Over the past several years the rock quarry that surrounds the festival grounds has expanded like some massive progressive sinkhole bent on eventually swallowing the entire festival in one massive final gulp.  The regular parking lot has been almost entirely subsumed by the expanding pit of doom, requiring many people to park some distance from the grounds and get shuttled on old yellow school buses.  Each year we have done this event the cast/will call entrance location and process has been different--last year we were sent to no less than three entrances before eventually giving up and sneaking in a secret way!  This year's was a bit less stressful, but the will-call ticket booth had no list of us.  Luckily they were understanding and let us in with a minimum of fuss.

Entering into the festival grounds a few minutes before the cannons fire is a strange experience.  There is an odd ghost-town effect.  Most of the players are clustered at the main King's Gate to greet the incoming crowds, and the only people around are a few shop keepers frantically attempting to get their places in order before the influx.  Rather than a roaring crowd of costumed folk and patrons there is very little noise at all.  No lewd shouts from the pickle sellers.  No fiddle music drifting across the breeze.  No people being placed in the stocks to be ridiculed.  The experience is akin to seeing a supermodel in scrubby sweatpants without her makeup on.  A strange experience for sure to one who has been going to Fest for so long! 

This Saturday I was actually supposed to be spending the morning wandering the Fest with Sj, but she was sick and stayed home to wallow in her illness.  Steven's family ended up coming in the front entrance shortly after cannon fire announced the official start of Fest, so I hung out with them for a bit before striking out on my own.  I got my obligatory Scotch egg and glass of mead.  I had my camera, so took some pictures of the strange environs (and denizens.)  I had a great time trying to catch good shots of the camera-shy reptiles at the Royal Herpetological (not an STD) Society Cabin.  An essential part of any trip to Fest for me is to see The Dregs--a hilarious "Irish" band that sings songs of love, sea shanties, death, and zombies.  Check out their website here and see them in person!  Eventually, a smile on my face and an Enki beer in hand I headed back for judging.

Steven and I reconvened at the Blue Lion Tent for our afternoon of beer judging.  I've said this before and I'll say it again to anyone who will listen:  Byggvir is the most fun you will ever have judging beer.  When we arrived, the early shift was over and Todd was working on a demo brew for the spectators.  This year they have added a portable beer serving station at the tent, so we had to fight for space a bit with the beer swilling, turkey leg gnawing rabble!  I was judging Belgian strong ales, a great category that I have a fair amount of experience with.  I got to sample a good mix of Belgian pale ales, dubbels, tripels, and dark Belgian strongs.  Aroma was quite difficult to deal with between the strong smells of boiling wort, turkey smoking, cigarette and cigar smoking, privies, and spilled beer--but hey that is part of the fun!  Just like learning to blind-fight in martial arts, one must learn to accurately judge beers under the most extreme of circumstances!  I think the overall quality of entries was much better this year, perhaps a sign of improving homebrew information out there.

At the tail end of judging Ye Olde Cell Phone and darkening skies warned us of an impending cataclysmic rainstorm.  Steven and I high-tailed it back to his car and piled in just as the bottom dropped out.  The rain almost instantly turned to a deluge, dumping tons of cold water on the rapidly exiting crowds of festival goers.  We made it about 10 car lengths from our parking spot by the entrance before we hit a stop in traffic.  With the encroachment of The Pit, there is really only one main exit from the festival grounds.  The literal Perfect Storm of rapid patron exodus, limited traffic control options, torrential downpour, and apparently three accidents caused converged to trap hundreds if not thousands of people in a traffic line OF DOOM!  Festival goers streamed out past us on foot, soaked to the bone.  The fine red dirt and clay of the lot rapidly turned to a thick muddy morass that sucked shoes right off of running pedestrians and made the whole place turn into a wickedly messy Slip-N-Slide. 

Shuttle buses were trapped right with us so all of those who were parked a mile away were either stuck in a children's school bus or walking through the rain and mud back to their cars.  We were actually stopped on the firmer dirt roadway, but many cars became stuck in the mud pit that surrounded our high ground, blocking more traffic and necessitating tow trucks to navigate the chaos.  After about 45 minutes the rain slowed and eventually blew over, but the damage had been done. 

After the storm

A hint of blue sky peaked out from the retreating Doom Clouds but night was approaching quickly.  We were now camping, but at least we were in the relative comfort of Steven's car, listening to music on the radio and watching the **&^%-Show Nightmare that surrounded us.  Not knowing about the accidents near the exit, none of us had any idea what was going on or how long this might last.  Quickly the thin veneer of humanity dropped from us and we began to discuss cannibalism options...luckily we had a nut roll and hunk of beef jerky in the car to hold us over for the first hour or so.  As time went on we started to People began to exit their cars, smoking, raiding coolers, talking with "neighbors".  Regretting the beer and mead I had partaken of earlier, I began to think seriously about making the small Barley Johns growler I had won during judging into an upscale trucker-bomb. 

The truck in front of us died a slow death of battery drain.  The car next to us in the muddy ditch had jumper cables, but they had to get another car that was closer to the front to actually jump the truck's heart back to life.  Minutes later the car next to us went dead, requiring another car to jump them!  Darkness came upon us at this time, dropping like a thick veil over the muddy and bedraggled crowd that was trapped.  Now the red tail lights put a devilish crimson glow over everything.  Screaming infants, exhausted and hungry, wailed through open windows, adding to the bedlam that surrounded us.  Like a scene from a futuristic Hieronymus Bosch painting, the costumed fiends cavorted about in the dim bloody lights, awaiting their escape from this endless purgatory. 

We had entered our car at 5 PM.  When the traffic began to move again it was after 8 PM.  Tired, dehydrated, sweaty, and needing desperately to void my bladder, I staggered into my home at 9 PM.  Migraine ensued. 

And flip to 7 AM the next morning!  Dragging my still flimsy carcass out of bed, I donned my vest, pantaloons, and boots, ready to face the music again.  Strapping on my sword and leather mug, I headed out for another fine day of judging beer at the Renaissance Festival! 

Luckily the Sunday session was much less dramatic!  Driving in, I did have a little PTSD flashback to the night before as I passed stalled out or stuck cars still entrenched in the surrounding fields.  This cool morning I helped set up things for judging and then started out with Specialty Ciders for a nice liquid breakfast!  I was pretty impressed with them overall and we had a difficult time coming up with our overall winners.  After a eating a massive and drippy turkey leg, I judged Strong Ales for the afternoon session.  Again, a good set of beers! 

Despite the insane events of the previous night, the Sunday visit was much more reasonable.  As always, the competition and locale has left me with stories to tell!  What could possibly happen next year?  Check back here again and I'll surely have more tales!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Steve Piatz Mead Talk

Ok, I know the blog has been a little light on beer stuff recently, so here is a little write-up on the meadmaking class that Steve Piatz gave at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum last weekend.  I actually hadn't realized that the Arboretum had so many adult education classes, but since Sj joined up this summer I've learned a lot more about them.  I have also been taking little field trips out to take pictures (as anyone who has been watching my 30 Word Thursday posts will know!) 

Found this busy guy in the gardens at the Arboretum...

For those who don't know who Steve is, he is a highly educated and intelligent retired engineer who just happens to be one of the foremost authorities on making mead.  He is one of the highest ranked BJCP judges in the world and in 2008 was awarded Meadmaker of the Year at NHC.  So this guy knows his stuff!  Oh, and he's also a really nice guy who is willing to share his expertise with others.

This fine morning we met at the Arboretum Learning Center early in the morning to set up everything for the talk.  There were two levels of the class: those who learned and tasted meads, and those who also got to make their own 1 gallon mead recipe to take home. 

Once folks arrived, Steve jumped into a great lecture on the history of mead.  Many people in the class were homebrewers and others were beekeepers looking into another use for their honey.  Every 15 minutes or so Mike B., Paul D., and myself would pour commercial and homemade meads to the group.  I have to say that Steve's meads were better than all of the commercial examples!  We tried traditional meads, fruit meads, metheglins (spiced meads), Pyments (grape meads), and even a fantastic fortified port-like mead from White Winter called Black Harbor.  While people were sipping on their newest mead, Steve would continue with the talk and also give a quick explanation of each mead we were tasting. 

Commercial meads

Eventually we moved into the hands-on part of the class.  This got a little chaotic between continued mead tasting, talk, and actually making of the mead.  Luckily the fine spouses of Mike, Paul, and Steve all jumped in to help out and we were able to handle everything well.  Special thanks should also go to Midwest Homebrewing Supplies for helping out with ingredients and equipment. 

Steve Piatz waxes poetic about his passion: mead!

By the end of the lecture more than half the group had a gallon bucket of mead to take home, and everyone was quite happy having tried a great grouping of meads.  I'm glad that I was invited to help out because I learned quite a bit during the talk!  I've made some meads myself, but am looking to up my game, and I think this will help.  I have already invested in a couple big gallon jugs of honey and have started a one gallon batch of cranberry blossom honey from the local Minnesota Honey Company in Minneapolis.

A quick plug for Steve's new book:  I bought a copy and am about half way through it.  Lots of good info in here and very useful recipes and techniques...not the usual vague stuff that is in many of the older mead books.  Buy one from Amazon here. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

30 Words: Hum

Aerial acrobatics.
I feel more than see
The movement of this
Tiny creature.
Waiting patiently,
Camera ready,
A fleeting moment
Of clarity.
This week's 30 Word Thursday photo was taken at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum during an outing there last week to help with a lecture on mead making.  Since I had my camera, I decided to wander a bit.  A very nice lady waved me down and pointed out this little fellow to me...I spent quite a bit of time waiting for the perfect shot and wishing I had a telephoto lens instead of my fixed focal length Macro lens!  I had to wait until he was just in the right spot to get a good pic.  These guys are incredibly fast!  Check out the other contributors to 30 Word Thursdays at Erin's Treasures Found Blog.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Limited Release Episode 12: Barrel Aged Abraxas!

Yay!  The newest episode of Limited Release is up.  For those who haven't seen the show before: Old school mates of mine from Hopkins, Ron Johnson and Rob Wengler, travel the country in search of special beer releases.  They wait in the long lines so you don't have to!  This particular episode is special to me because I was there!  We took a long weekend trip to St. Louis for the release of Barrel Aged Abraxas at Perennial Artisan Ales, also stopping in at 4 Hands and Civil Life. 

Since I was reading Hunter S. Thompson on the trip I wrote up two blog posts about the trip in gonzo style.  You can read Beer & Loathing in St. Louis  here and here...

Watch the episode for a good run-down of the St. Louis beer scene, brewer interviews, and lots of Hodor.  Share it with others so all that hard work (drinking, traveling, editing, animating, etc) will be worth it!  Also watch the old episodes if you haven't seen them yet.  I'm in most of them as designated beer taster and judge. 

30 Words: Stuck

Gossamer strings
in the humid
afternoon breeze
No sign of habitation,
an empty and waiting home
Or a wicked
for the
This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken in my backyard one fine sunny afternoon.  I took lots of shots but none looked quite I tried out some different filter techniques until this one jumped out at me in stark contrast.  Check out the other contributors at Erin's Treasures Found Blog Here!

Oh, and some of my pics are up on the Southwest Metro Magazine photo contest for this year:  Check them out (and vote for me!) here.  Mine are on page 2 second row up from the bottom: Schram Vineyard, Thistle, and the yellow flower with the imitation bee on it.  I took these before I got my Macro lens--next year's will be even better!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Northbound Smokehouse Tour 2014

This past weekend, my wife and I were lucky enough to be invited along with several members of the Primary Fermenters Homebrew Club for a tour of Northbound Smokehouse.  I have been there twice before, but the last time was over a year ago, so it was time to go back and see how things were going. 

The brewpub is going on its second year now, and seems to be going strong, often struggling to keep up with demand for their beers.  That problem is both good (they are selling lots) but also bad (people can't always get the beer they want!)  Located in a quiet neighborhood of Minneapolis, the brewery takes up the corner of an old brick building.  There is a pleasant and sunny outdoor patio surrounded by colorful plants, flowers and several appropriate hop bines.

We met at the brewpub at 11:00 and killed some time waiting for our entire party by trying out some beers.  I tried my previous favorite--the Smokehouse Porter.  This beer was better than I remember it, with just a hint of smokiness and an off-sweet finish.  Inside the brewpub is dark, but open and comfortable.  A small bar hosts house and guest taps with a limited selection of liquors and wines as well.  The beer serving tanks are visible through glass behind the bar--a nice touch.

Once we had all gathered (Beau, Mark, Pat, Shannon, Sj, and I) we got to business!  Joel, (one of the brewers), took us on an informative tour of the small brewery.  We started out by heading down a wide stairway into the cool basement.  Surrounded by bags of BSG malt that has to be hand-hauled down those stairs, we spent quite a bit of time talking to Joel.  Since all of us were seasoned homebrewers, he was able to forgo the usual "This is how beer is made..." lecture and focus on nerdy brewer details for us!  It was very interesting to get his take on things like hops and grain shortages, brewery politics, and of course recipe development and brewing techniques. 

We next checked out the tiny grain mill room followed by a short jaunt into the cold room filled with storage tanks and wonderfully aromatic hops.

Lastly we spent some time in the actual brewery area, under the shadow of full stainless steel conical fermenters.  I really appreciate the time that Joel spent with our small group, and I had a very informative time of it!  I feel slightly bad that I badgered him about not having enough smoked beers on tap (it is a Smokehouse!)

Joel talks brewing tips with avid homebrewers!

After our tour we had worked up an appetite.  Smelling the aroma of smoked meat permeating the restaurant had not helped with this!  We ended up sitting outside on the sunny patio on the picnic tables there.  I tried the Wild Rice Amber which was well fermented and subtle.  We also shared a few Pale Ales and IPA's amongst us.  I enjoyed the Exile quite a bit--bursting with catty Simcoe hops!  The food I had was excellent!  The Buffalo wings were divine: smoked before given the Buffalo treatment, these were the most tender and flavorful I've had in years!  The Porketta sandwich was a huge mound of smoked meat topped with smoked Swiss cheese and BBQ sauce.  Yum! 

Overall I have a lot of respect for what the guys at Northbound are doing.  The beers have improved greatly since my last visit and the food is great.  Thanks to Joel for the tour, and to the Beau for inviting us along!

Outside the brewpub!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

30 Words: Orange

A Monarch's wings beat near silent,
only displaced air giving warning.
Turning oh so slowly,
I focus my camera...
And off he goes, to another fine flower.
Beauty and elegance.
This week's 30 Word Thursday was taken last week on a little expedition I took to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  I took my camera along, and practiced using my brand new Macro lens for flowers and insect portraits.  Looking at these finished photos I am struck by how outrageous and wonderful these tiny denizens of our world become when we can see all their detail.  I took a ton of pics there and will likely be posting more in the future!  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday folks at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!