Thursday, February 27, 2014

30 Words: Willow

Passive aggressive scratching at the shower door each morning.
Curling upon a waiting lap, radiating calm and comfort. 
Caught in rare sun ray, quiet majesty harkens back to leonine lineage.
This is our old-lady-cat Willow, who brings us great joy and greater consternation at times.  Doing this weekly challenge has actually finally prompted me to buy a REAL CAMERA!  No longer constrained by the questionable quality of my iPhone camera, I'm looking forward to learning how to use this new contraption.  This is one of the first pictures I took with it.  Make sure to check out the other 30 Word Thursday contributors at Erin's Treasures Found Blog as well!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Limited Release Episode 10: Firestone Walker 17th Anniversary

Hey all!  The 10th episode of Limited Release is now up for viewing!  This time Rob and Ron travel to Paso Robles, California to visit Firestone Walker's 17th anniversary bash.  Since their 10th anniversary, the brewery has been blending several of their beers together to create a special release beer.  The Limited Release team also continue to check out other places with a visit to the nearby BarrelHouse Brewing Company.

Watch through to the end and you can watch me (looking somewhat undead) giving my opinion of the beer!

If you like the episode, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, etc!  Also catch up on older episodes if you haven't watched them yet.

Watch the video HERE!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

30 Words: Flight

Humble clay births homely entities of seed and larvae.
From bunched cthonian caterpillar bursts stunning color and silently beating wings.
Beauteous life is fleeting, the lightning wilt of floral ephemera.
This week's installment of 30 Words Thursday (from the Treasures Found Blog) was taken with my iPhone less than 4 inches away from this Monarch butterfly at the sculpture gardens outside the Walker Art Museum.  With friends Michael and Amy Babinec in town to visit over the summer, we explored new ground in our own back yard.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Double IPA Smackdown!

In the midst of deepest darkest winter we huddle for warmth before our fireplaces and heat vents, gloomily looking forward to more ice and snow to come.  Hibernating in our ice-bound homes like bears awaiting the spring thaw and time to frolic, we wait.  And to kill the pain of isolation and bring a hint of citrus and summer to our palates we find ourselves in the season of Double IPA. 

I decided to write up this entry after realizing that I had come into a plethora of DIPAs.  A friend had brought me a Firestone Walker Double Jack from California; I had stocked up on Surly Abrasive; I won a collection of them at a silent auction for Kathy Stock; and then stumbled across Bell's Hopslam on tap.  "Wow!" thought I,  "This calls for a quick n' dirty smackdown between the big guns of the DIPA world!"  And here it comes.  Keep in mind that IPA has been around for over a hundred years, but double IPA is a very recent thing.  Some credit Vinnie Cilurzo (currently of Russian River) with brewing the first commercial DIPA.  Regular American IPA has an ABV of 5.5-7.5% and a hopping IBU from 40-70, while DIPA ranges between 7.5-10% ABV and IBU from 60-120.  This "because we can" style of beer has really caught on in the past few years and many breweries are coming out with unique and usually well-sought-after offerings. 

I'm a big fan of IPA, but once I discovered this jacked-up style I really fell in love with the hop.  I am drawn to the balance between the higher alcohol and the crazy hop flavors and aroma in the DIPA style.  Some are better balanced than others.  My personal taste is toward the fruitier examples and less toward the astringent puckering ones, so this smack-down will probably make some people angry with me.  I would love to try all of these together rather than over a few days, but nearly 10% alcohol beers aren't very conducive to that type of experiment.  Or, rather, my liver can't take more than one or two in a day!  The difference between bottle, can and tap could have effect on judging.  There also may be some variability based on age, but I tried to get examples that were as fresh as possible.  So now that I have explained all the ways in which my "very scientific" test could be inaccurate--I'm going to tell you why I'm correct!  And as I wrote this up I discovered that there are only so many ways of describing citrus hops, so bear with me.

1) Pliny The Elder:  Brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River, this is the quintessential version of the style and a direct descendant of the very first version of the style.  Named after the man who first wrote about hops in the first century AD, this was first brewed in the year 2000.  Clocking in at 8% ABV, this is on the lower side of the current style but was pretty extreme when it first released. The beer is eagerly snatched up by fans and rarely has the problem with sitting on a shelf getting old.  We can't get this in Minnesota, but I managed to snag a fresh bottle from a silent auction at the Upper Mississippi Mash Out.  The hops used are Amarillo, Centenial, CTZ, and Simcoe. 

My impressions of this beer were all good.  I found this to be very dry, but not overly astringent.  The hop aroma was strong and citrusy, with a light malt note to back that up.  The flavor really matched the aroma well with no huge surprises.  The dry finish and lack of alcohol warming makes this beer deceptively smooth and easy to drink, perhaps the most dangerous of the ones I tried.  Folks not prepared for this alcohol content could put down a few of these before realizing just how strong they are!  I have tried the bigger brawnier brother (Pliny the Younger) and that one takes it to the next level--more in line with a lot of the recent additions to the pantheon.  (And contrary to popular belief that does not at all resemble a Mickeys Malt Liquor.)  I give it a 5 of 5 for perfect drinkability and balance.

2) Bell's  Hopslam:  This is one of Bell's big guns, arriving in the winter and leaving shelves in minutes of arriving at the stores.  The brand's hoppiest beer, it clocks in at 10% ABV and includes 6 different hops with a large dry hop addition of Simcoe.  I first tried this beer a few years ago and loved it, then the following year was disappointed and stopped seeking it out.  As with any big beer, there is some variability from batch to batch and this one has seen some changes over the years.  I was busy at the Mash Out when this arrived in stores and missed my chance to pick some bottles up.  Happily, I discovered it on tap at School of the Wise in Victoria (just across the street from Enki Brewing).  I managed to get back there three days running for another sample--just to make sure I wasn't missing anything for this write-up of course! 

Served in a Sam Adams special pint glass.  The aroma on this is wonderful with a bright mandarin orange, sweetness and orange blossom honey.  Deep gold color with large white persistent head.  Flavor is slightly sweet up front that fades to a bitter hop-flavored middle and off-dry finish that borders of astringent.  Some orange sweetness and hint of honey with a light grainy character as well.  Some alcohol warming.  Overall this year's is very well balanced and easy to drink, way better than I remember it.  Not just the hype apparently!  5/5.

3) Drake's Denogginizer:  Debut was in 2004 and apparently a blown pressure relief valve nearly decapitated one of their brewers during the process!  ABV is 9.7% and uses Summit and Cascade hops.  This brewery was an early addition to craft beer scene in California, starting in 1989.  They won a Silver medal at GABF for this beer in 2009.  This is the first beer of theirs that I have ever tried.  Served from a bomber bottle into the Dogfish Head Riedel IPA glass.

Aroma: A slight metallic tang to the aroma.  A strong hop aroma that is a mix of cat-box, vegetal greenery and citrus.
Flavor: Sweet malt with some caramel and bread up front, but quickly overtaken by a firm bitterness.  As it warms I get a nice citrus marmalade flavor and alcohol becomes apparent.  Slightly astringent finish but enough booze and malt to balance it.  I got more harsh alcohol and burn as I have more of it, and decided I couldn't have more than one glassful of it.  I'm going to split this into a 3.75 out of 5.

4) Stone Enjoy By IPA:  This is the newest in the series by Stone that up front tells everyone that you have to drink it fresh and they will literally pull it from shelves when it gets past that date on the label.  A bold move that has made many more people pay attention to freshness in their IPA's.  This one is Enjoy By 02/14/14 and clocks in at 9.4% ABV.  Not much info about the hops on this one.  The website is fun as it has up to date shipment info for the batch and a count-down timer for when the beer will suddenly suck and no longer be drinkable!

Aroma: Citrus and slight vegetal hop matter.  Light tropical fruit, bright and zingy.  Some sweetness and almost a buckwheat honey character.
Appearance: Deep gold to almost copper color.  Huge white head with tight bubbles.  Brilliant.
Flavor: Slightly sweet at first but not much, fading quickly to a dry middle and finish.  Borderline astringent end, but manages to stay drinkable.  Some light caramel malt notes, but not actually sweet.  I do get a orange pith flavor and strong bitterness.  Some muscat grape as it warms.
Overall: Very drinkable due to dryness but lacks a certain balance that I have found in my top examples.  4/5 final score.

5) Deschutes Hop Henge:  This is a yearly experimental beer that started life at the Deschutes Bond Street Brewpub (which is an awesome place to visit by the way!)  Every year's version is different and this one includes Cascade, Centennial, Millennium, and an experimental hop variety. 

I get citrus and sweet clover honey in the aroma.  Bright golden color with a huge white head.  Flavor is sweet malt and graininess with a strong orange rind or zest tartness.  Finish is a bit astringent and very drying.  That orange zest really lingers.  4/5, still very nice.

6) Hanger 24 Double IPA:  This is a beer from a brewery I had never even heard of before, but I won a bottle the Mash Out and figured I'd try it in good company with all the other DIPAs.  The brewery is located in Redlands, California and seems to have a pretty good local following.  This beer uses Centennial, Citra, Columbus and Simcoe hops as well as local orange blossom honey.

Aroma is light and filled with citrus and honey sweetness.  Color is gold and quite clear with a white pillowy head and fine bubbles.  Flavors are reminiscent of grapefruit and fresh oranges.  This is off-sweet with a very dry to somewhat astringent finish.  Some alcohol warming here, but not extreme.  As opposed to the Drake's beer, I actually liked this one more as it warmed up...the astringency faded a bit and more orange and honey flavors made their way into the finish.   At first sip a 3.5 but rises to  3.75/5.

7) Surly Abrasive:  Formerly known as 16 Grit (strangely not an inviting title) after the abrasive factory that Surly took over.   This beer has a changed a few times since its initial release in 2008, and was the first Minnesota DIPA in cans.  Addition of oats help a bit with mouthfeel on this one, and for the last few years Citra has been the dominant hop in the beer.  I love me some Citra, and this was the first place I was exposed to that hop.

I actually had a few cans of this at home and the first one I tried was a bit older, resulting in a loss of hop flavor and some significant amount of yeast chunks when I poured it into the glass.  I tried another the following day and my results were better.  I suffer through this all for you, my readers. 

The aroma on this is all grapefruit, orange and hint of pineapple with some sweet malt to back it up.  It has a sharp citrus that I have not noted on the previous beers, that is sometimes pleasant and other times distracting.  Appearance is deep gold with a large white head and some haze with a couple of yeast floaties (yes I poured it carefully!)  Flavor is bursting with a hard grapefruit taste followed by a mix of orange and papaya.  Very fruity beer!  The end is slightly astringent and I can certainly pick up a bit of alcohol warming in it.  Medium body but a dry finish that lingers.  I just want to keep drinking this one, and after all 16 oz are gone this is one of the few that I wish was in a bomber bottle!  I give this a 5.

8) The Alchemist Heady Topper:  This beer is from a small brewery in Vermont, with a nearly cult-like status, and such minimal distribution that it is nearly mythical around Minnesota.  I had this once last summer from my friend Jason, and I've been itching to try it back to back with some of my other favorites.  The other day another friend handed me one of these treasured beers to enjoy--thanks mate!  Reading over the website, they mention that this American Double IPA is hopped with a proprietary blend of 6 different hops.  The writing on the can goes into great detail about you should drink this from the can to maintain all the hop flavors, which goes contrary to popular belief on how aroma, especially, works with beer.  I tried to follow directions and sip it out of the can, but was unimpressed with the lack of aroma and promptly poured it gently into the new Dogfish Head (East Coast Yo!) IPA glass.

Aroma is rife with toffee, orange, mango and passionfruit...almost reminds me of a dreamsicle, but less "fake".  Appearance is iffy, perhaps this is why they want you to drink out of the can?  This is murky as anything and looks like low-pulp orange juice, with the same bright orange color.  Large off-white head with larger sized bubbles.  Flavor is complex and very fruity: like a clementine orange, a mango, and a grapefruit all ended up at a 1970's key party and this was their unholy offspring.  But in a good way!  Plenty of hop bitterness to balance the malt, but on the sweeter side compared to some of the examples I've tried.  Off-dry finish with a lingering tropical fruit flavor.  Very well balanced.  I do get a hint of metallic or vegetal twang as it warms--likely due to the huge amounts of hop material in this beer.  Despite its less-than-savory appearance, I give it a solid 5.

And In The End...

What did I learn from trying all these hop-bomb beers in the middle of arctic winter?  I learned that this style across the board really appeals to my palate.  I have to keep in mind that many of the beers I tasted were the very cream of their category, but even the "non-contenders" all were fun to try and drink.  While winter begs for an Imperial Stout in front of the fire, I think that the bright and fruity flavors as well as alcohol strength in the DIPA's brings me a brief hint of summer and goes better with most dinners!  What was my overall favorite?  I actually agonized over this one a bit.  Abrasive just punched me in the nose and mouth with hops, living up to its name.  Hopslam really brought the honey aroma and an epic dry finish.  Pliny was easily the easiest to drink and the most well balanced of all of them.  And then the late-comer Heady Topper blasted me with the fruit character that I long for in this style. 

And the winner is:    Pliny!  It really came down to this or Abrasive in the end, but this year's Abrasive was a little more sharp than last year's batch to me.  The Pliny is just to well balanced that you can drink it all day--and maybe regret it!  I'd drink either of them any chance I could get.  Now get out there and try some yourself!  Post some comments to tell us what you think and what your favorites are.  I've already had several friends tell me that this year's Hopslam is not as good as last...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

30 Words: Ice

City's old bones rest under dirty white and painful ice.
The grit and blocks of industrial ages peer through,
Awaiting the coming of spring, traffic, and life.
Waiting for renewal.

This week's addition to 30 Word Thursdays was taken in the North Loop of Minneapolis on a recent chilly walk between breweries.  See how I tied in beer this week!?  Check out the other 30 Word entries this week at the Treasures Found Blog!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Town Hall Lanes Review

With my classic haunt of Town Hall Brewery shut down this winter for much needed renovations and increased fermenter space, I have been pining away for some of my favorite beer in the state.  I got a taste of several wonderful TH beers at Winterfest, but that only whetted my appetite and made me want a whole glass of something!    Fortunately, my old friend Marty just hit the big 40 that week and his girlfriend prodded his posse of high-school friends to meet up for some bowling.  Perfect!  Good drink, good friends, bowling: time to try the new Town Hall Lanes. 

Following the model pioneered by Fitger's Brewhouse in Duluth, Town Hall opened The Town Hall Tap a few years ago in prime hipster territory in Minneapolis.  They serve beers brewed at the main TH location as well as several rotating guest taps and have a different food menu.  This past summer they expanded again with a combination pub and bowling alley called the Town Hall Lanes.  I'm sad to say that it took me this long to get out there! 

My initial impressions of the place were a bit mixed, and most of that stemmed from unfamiliarity.  I'm hoping that this little treatise will help others to have a better and more educated experience on their first visit.  The building itself has two entrances.  We poked our heads into the first and were quickly told to go to the other entrance if we wanted to bowl.  We put back on our gloves and trudged back out into the 5 degree winter chill, entering through the other door as directed.  At that entrance the first thing you see is the men and women's bathrooms with a shared sink area, followed by a set of swinging double doors into the lanes proper.  Not the most glamorous entrance I've seen, but hey, this is a bowling alley.  After rolling through the doors like a gunfighter in the 1860's you can see the lanes straight ahead with a small separate bar and shoe rental area.  To the left is the main restaurant and bar, all connected inside and not requiring (in my opinion) a separate entrance.  We were pleasantly surprised to run into Dan and Hilary from the Primary Fermenters, celebrating a birthday as well. 

We waited in a line (that was amorphous and not well labeled) to put our name in for a lane, with at least one group magically getting in line ahead of us.  Matt, the previous manager from the original Town Hall was running that area, looking harried and very busy.  It was nice to see him again, but he was running the whole time we were there and I didn't really get to talk to him.  Once our name was in we were directed back to other side of the restaurant to wait for seats, but info on how long the wait might be and how we would be contacted was not well disseminated.  Despite being very busy, they were able to find us a large booth fairly quickly without a need to wait outside in the cold.  Our party of 6 quickly turned into 8 as two spouses were able to make it without their husbands warning us.  But the servers were able to move us to a different booth and adjacent 4 top table without much fuss.  Sorry for that THL! 

The main restaurant is a large, very high ceilinged room with many booths and tables spread out over two slightly different elevations.  The bar itself is an old (I think) 1950's era ornate aged oak masterpiece that really brings some character to the space.  Old metal and neon brewery signs for 1950's brews like Blatz and Fitgers line the walls.  A huge chandelier dangles precariously from the tin ceiling in the center of the room.  Overall, a nice feel, but pretty loud and crowded (this was the Saturday evening of Superbowl weekend!) 

Once settled we ordered beers and some food for the bunch, not really having any idea how long our wait might be, but taking the risk.  I first tried the Java Porter on nitro which was very mellow and dark, easy to drink and better than Guinness by far.  I was overjoyed to see one of my favorite Town Hall beers on tap: the Twisted Trace!  This is their Twisted Reality barleywine aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels and is a wonder to ingest.  When I asked my server for one, he gazed at me in confusion and dismay, not even realizing that it was a beer much less one of theirs.  I had to explain to him that I was trying to order one of the Town Hall beers and what it was.  He was also a bit scattered on bringing us waters and condiments, needing much reminding.  I also had to ask for my beer again after about 15 minutes.  I try to take into account general crowd and business when I judge service, but this was certainly not the best service I've ever had.  Once we had split into 2 tables, our other group apparently had excellent service by another server.  For food I had some pretty good chicken strips and Sj had some Brunswick stew that was not up to her Southern sensibilities, but still decent.  We shared some fried green tomatoes with our vegetarians and they were tasty but a bit greasy.  Our server did finally clarify for us that our name was really in for lanes, and eventually we were escorted over to the lanes for our bowling.  I didn't so much mind the time, but would have liked a ball-park estimate of how many hours we might wait...

The lanes themselves are in very good condition (from someone who goes to Bryant Lake Bowl a fair amount) with a fun retro vibe to the designs and murals on the walls.  The console for keeping score was pretty swanky with the ability to input up to 12 bowlers and even take silly pictures of everyone to be shown on the overhead screens.  The space we were crowded into was a bit small, but we did have an extra two bowlers that we hadn't been prepared for, so that was partially our fault.  The bench we had was big enough for 3 people, so we were all crowded a bit, but we were able to talk in small groups and tried to stay out of the way of other bowlers.  A server did stop by a few times to take drink orders, but perhaps could have come by slightly more often.  He at least knew what the beers were and seemed to know what he was doing. 

We had a fun time bowling as a group.  I mean, how can you not have a great time bowling while sipping Twisted Trace and hanging out with friends you've had for over 25 years?  Oh and I rocked the house with my bowling skills!  I'm sorry to say that my initial experience at Town Hall Lanes was a bit mixed, between confusing sign-up, clueless server, and crowded loudness, my enjoyment was a bit tempered.  I'm still glad we did this and my overall experience was still good.  Town Hall is my favorite brewpub and I really respect and like the owners and brewers there, so I almost hesitated to do this review at all.  However, I feel that I need to be honest as a reviewer and there are things that could be done to streamline the Lanes and make it more enjoyable.  If I wasn't such a fan of the original TH and their beers and had this experience I probably wouldn't go back based on this visit alone.  My wife was frustrated as well, and a bit more vocal on the subject than I.  I'd like to give this place another shot, perhaps on a Tuesday night when the chaos might be a bit less rampant, and see how things go.  If I have a wonderful time, I may add an addendum to this post or change it completely.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Old School: Sip From The Horn Of Plenty

Drinking beer is certainly about the actual liquid in the glass, but sometimes the event or experience itself can make the beer so much more.  Here is one such event:

This past week a group of my high school friends, (and a good showing of spouses,) got together to celebrate Martin turning 40.  We had an outing to the Town Hall Lanes for food, beer and bowling which I will probably blog about later.  Afterwards we went over to Hutch and Jess' nearby home to relax and talk in a quieter environment.  We were treated to various home made treats such as salsas, fermented pepper sauce, pickles and more.  Jess has a blog that I now watch closely called Gingergarten, where she experiments with gardening, canning, cooking and more.  She even makes vegetarian things look inviting!   Hutch isn't so shabby at that stuff either.  So while we guests gorged ourselves on this bright bit of preserved summer, the two of them pared apples, rolled dough and threw together a most impressive cooked apple desert. 

At one point Hutch magically pulled out an enormous Viking drinking horn from somewhere, surprising even his wife, who didn't know he owned it.  The inlaid lip of the horn glistened in the dim light with coppery fire, reflecting off scenes of Viking ships and the sacking of churches.  From another pocket universe our budding David Blaine apparated a caged and corked bottle of Olvalde Farm Brewery's The Auroch's Horn.  Olvalde is a tiny one-man farmhouse brewery from the small Minnesota town of Rollingstone that specializes in old and often extinct styles of beer. 

The Auroch's Horn is described this way on their website:  "The Auroch's Horn is a modern reinterpretation of ancient ale brewed throughout Europe more than two thousand years ago. Ale was a staple of the barbarian diet, with Roman historians documenting a beverage made with barley, wheat, and honey in Britannia, Gaul, and Germania. The ale was consumed from the horn of the auroch (or aurochs), a now extinct wild bull."  They recommend drinking this at cellar temperature )50-55 degrees F.  Luckily Hutch had kept this in his cool cellar and it was perfect!

Hutch gently poured this golden and well carbonated beer into the waiting horn, white foam nearly overflowing the copper chased rim.  Then in proper old Norse fashion, we handed the horn around to sample this historic libation. 

This is actually one of my favorite Minnesota beers, but it often misses my top lists for some reason.  The strong alcohol content is tempered by a sweet honey and caramel character.  Bittering is low, but enough to keep it from being cloying.  And it is dangerously drinkable!  Taking a hearty swig from this large horn awoke the dormant Norwegian blood in my veins, activating the Atavistic Viking lurking back in my lineage.  Controlling the desire to bellow a berserker scream, draw sword, and lay waste to the local shipping lanes and churches, I continued to enjoy this hearty beer.  If you haven't checked out this brewery, you owe it to yourself to try out some of their unique offerings.  And drinking them from a horn or perhaps a bejeweled chalice will probably make you enjoy them more!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

30 Words: Spikes

A gate of cold iron and deadly blade to keep strangers away.
Hard intricate beauty despite fatal function.
A steely cruel heart forged to impale and keep others at bay.
Erin at the Treasures Found Blog has thrown down the artistic gauntlet and encouraged folks to do a 30 Word Thursday blog post.  This week's installment comes from my trip to Belgium, taken on my iPhone.  Oh, and we get to go back this spring!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Stovetop Kit Homebrewing: Back To Basics!

My friend, Chris, from Brewer's Supply Group recently gave me one of their new BSG HandCraft homebrew kits to try out.  I honestly haven't brewed an extract beer since 2008 when I took the plunge into doing all-grain brewing outside in the garage.  For those who live in Minnesota you will know that the past month or two have been some of the coldest weather I've seen in years--many days with a high of -8 F and a -30 wind chill.  This arctic chill is not conducive to brewing in the garage, where glass carboys will crack and tubing will freeze in minutes.  Oh, and scrubbing out mash tuns and boil kettles begs hypothermia and frostbite.  With my kegs quickly emptying in the basement, I was desperate to get some beer brewed and rolling out the kit seemed like a good option.  So, today I'm going to take a ride in the Way Back Machine and try brewing an extract kit according to the instructions and see what happens.  This is a good way to test out a new product as well as to cover some basic brewing for those of my readers who haven't yet dipped their toes into the homebrewing pool.  Come on in, the water is fine!

The BSG kits come in a compact and frankly, somewhat unattractive black box.  Give me some color or design to stand out on the shelf boys!  Inside, however, the ingredients are all well labeled and attractive.  The following write-up is specifically for the BSG HandCraft IPA kit, but most of the brewing basics to follow would be the same for kits from any homebrew shops.  Nestled inside the small box are a surprising amount of items: two containers of liquid malt extract, a pack of dry malt extract, specialty grains, a mesh bag, 4 oz of hops, American ale dry yeast packet, priming sugar, and bottle caps.  For now put aside the bottle caps and priming sugar, since those don't come into use until you are ready to bottle this beer in about a month.  If you are not going to brew this up right away, put the yeast in the fridge and the hops in the freezer to maintain their quality.

1) Pot!
Get your pot out and fill with 2 gallons of water.  Any pot will work, but the bigger the better, if you can do 3 gallons--do it!  The more concentrated the boil, the darker your beer is going to become and your IPA may end up a India Brown Ale instead.  I used my enameled pot that I use for canning in the fall and it easily fits 3 gallons with some head-space to boot.  Make sure to leave a few inches at the top, because when the liquid starts to boil it can get very messy if it overflows.  Insert your clip-on metal thermometer.  Do not use the glass thermometers--I've seen batches ruined by broken glass and whatever else is inside those things!  Down the road the easiest thing you can do to improve your brew is go to a full volume boil with a 7-10 gallon pot.

2) Graaaaaaiiiiinnss!
The grains from the kit come pre-crushed--this could cut the life expectancy of the kit a bit.  I'll admit I've had mine for a few months and the grains may have lost some of their flavor by now.  Taking a taste of a few kernels they seemed OK to me, so I went ahead with the brew.  Uncrushed grains will last a long time if stored airtight and cool.  Put the crushed grain into the mesh bag and tie off the end to avoid messy grain spill.  Tie the end of the grain bag to a handle of the pot to keep it submerged, but ideally not sitting on the hotter bottom of the pot.  Start heating the pot to a goal of 155 degrees F.  When the pot reaches the correct temp, turn down the heat to maintain that temp for 15 minutes while the grain steeps.  The specialty grains in kits are mostly kilned crystal malts and do not have any residual enzymatic activity, meaning you just need to steep them like a tea to get the flavors and sugars out of the crushed grain rather than truly mashing them.  If all of that sounds like a foreign language to you, don't sweat it until you upgrade to all-grain brewing!

3) Watching water heat up...
While the water is heating up, soak the cans of liquid malt extract in the sink with warm water to soften it up and make pouring easier.

4) Steep your "tea".
After 15 minutes of steeping at 155 F, remove the grain bag and raise the temperature of the wort (grain water) to a boil.  Don't squeeze the bag and don't get the bag hotter than 170's since both can result in bitter tannic flavors from the hulls being extracted into the beer.

5) Boil away!
Once the wort is boiling, remove from heat and add your liquid extract.  Remove from heat so it doesn't scorch on the bottom of the pot.  Stir well at this stage.  Return the pot to the heat and wait until it gets back to a boil.  This is key mistake area for budding homebrewers so pay attention close at this stage!  When that sticky sugary wort reaches boiling it will gleefully overflow your pot and all over your stove, counter, and kitchen floor.  This happens within seconds, so do not step away at this stage.  By continually stirring you can often prevent it, but sometimes have to turn off the heat as well and restart it a minute later after it settles down.  A great idea is to keep a cheap plastic spray bottle of water and mist the top of the boiling wort to break surface tension and prevent boil-over.  Spouses do not encourage hobbies that make a terrible sticky mess of the kitchen, so be careful!  A newer technique for cutting down on the carmelization or darkening of the wort is to add half to a third of the malt extract at the last 15 minutes of the boil.  I added the dry malt extract in this kit at that time.

6) Hop to it! 
Once the wort has settled into a rolling boil and is no longer threatening to end up on your stovetop, you can add the bittering hops.  Each kit will be different, but mine called for an ounce of pellet Chinook--a high alpha bitter hop with plenty of pine aroma.  The first addition will balance the sweetness of the malt in the beer, but not give a ton of flavor or aroma to the finished product.  My kit called for another ounce of Summit at 30 minutes into the boil, an ounce of Cascade at 15 minutes and another ounce of Cascade at flame-out.  The later additions give more flavor and aroma, and less bitterness.  I usually set my oven timer for each time interval to keep track of these stages, and set up each addition in an easily poured glass or plastic container.  Some beers will have only one hop addition at boil time, others will have multiple additions.  Pay a lot of attention for boil-overs at each addition since the hops will give nucleation points for increased bubbles and foaming! 

7) Chill Out. 
When the 60 minute total boil is over, turn off the heat and bring the pot into the sink.  I put my larger pot in the laundry sink since it was more capacious.  Run cold water into the sink and add ice if you have any.  When the sink water is no longer cold, run it out and replace with fresh cold water.  I usually leave the thermometer in the wort so you can monitor how fast the beer is cooling down.  I will usually also sanitize the lid and put it over most of the pot to avoid extra stuff (cat hair, fruit flies, sneezes) from falling into the cooling wort.  To speed this you may periodically stir or swirl the wort with your spoon, but this risks infection as the wort cools and is longer hot enough to kill any bacteria the spoon.  I also like to give the solids in the wort time to settle, which will make racking into your fermenter an easier prospect.  This stage usually takes about 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your pot.  Later you can buy a wort chiller to speed this up--especially if you do a larger than 3 gallon boil.  The quicker you can chill, the more "cold break" protein clumps will form and settle to the bottom of the pot, resulting in a clearer beer.

8) Rack Off. 
When the wort is chilled to around 65-68 degrees you can rack into your carboy.  Plastic buckets or glass carboys are both fine.  I use an auto-siphon which easily starts the siphon into your carboy without getting your bacteria tainted mouth anywhere near it.  You will get some particulates and hop sludge into your carboy with this method, but I find it easier and safer than pouring your wort through a strainer into the carboy.  Every step after the boil is done and the wort is chilled down risks infection of your beer with wild yeasts and bacteria.  Be very good about cleaning equipment with PBW or other oxygen based cleanser, followed by sanitizing with Star-San.  If your racking cane touched the table it is now dirty and must be re-sanitized before entering the wort.  The single biggest failure in homebrewing is not being great about cleaning and sanitizing.

9) Top up.
In doing a partial boil, you will come out with a concentrated high gravity wort more like that seen in a barleywine.  To get this down to the right dilution, water must be added after the boil is done.  Prior to using a new carboy I'll add 5 gallons of water and mark the outside of the carboy with a line of duct or electrical tape to help with the process.  Kits are pretty accurate on this front--add water to the carboy to take it up to 5 gallons of liquid and you will be close to the final gravity you are looking for.  If you want to get fancy (and I do recommend it) take a hydrometer reading after adding the water and shaking up the wort.  You will hopefully be near the expected goal specific gravity that the kit calls for.  If you are much higher, you can add more water; if lower, you are out of luck at this stage.  In theory you should use boiled and cooled water for this to remove any bacteria, but almost no one plans that far ahead.  I use Reverse Osmosis water from the grocery store.  Tap water is fine, but be aware that your local water character can have some different effects on the final product.  I'll be posting some more on that subject later.

10) Aerate! 
The yeast are going to need oxygen to reproduce and get active, and you have just spent an hour boiling off all the oxygen that was in the brewing water.  So you now need to get some more oxygen into the wort before pitching the yeast.  Easiest and least effective is shaking the carboy--you need to do this for several minutes and it gets tiring.  You can hook up aquarium pumps or use pure oxygen with a stainless steel diffusion stone if you want to get fancy.  I shook mine because I was lazy, but recommend the other two methods more.  Do as I say not as I do!  For larger gravity beers and lagers you really need to get lots of oxygen in there to avoid your yeast crapping out on you early or putting off strange flavors.

11) Yeasty Beasties!
For this kit I have a packet of dry yeast.  These have improved greatly in the past few years and come in many varieties depending on beer style.  Back when I started in the early 1990's there were shady old yeast packets in lager and ale varieties only.  Rejoice in the large steps the hobby has taken!  Use warm water in a cleaned and sanitized glass or bowl, sprinkle your yeast on top and let it sit for 15 minutes to rehydrate before adding to your wort.  Skipping this step can cause extra stress to the yeast and decrease its health and function in making your wort into beer.  After this, just pour it into your wort, throw an air-lock on it filled with sanitizer or Vodka and you are good to go. 

12) You have now successfully brewed beer!
Keep your fermentation temps 65-68 degrees if possible (depending on yeast strain and directions in your kit.)  Primary fermentation takes about a week, but can take longer.  When the bubbles in the airlock take more than 3-5 minutes between, you can safely rack again into a secondary for another couple weeks of clarification or directly package into bottles or keg.  Some folks swear by not doing a secondary, but I feel I get more odd flavors and haze when I skip that step. 

I have at this point just tried the finished beer and transferred it to a keg without doing a secondary.  The color was a bit darker than I wanted--perhaps I should have added one of the liquid malt extracts later in the boil.  The flavor is good but a bit more bitter than I expected.  I'm tempted to add some dry hops in the keg (in a boiled nylon bag) for a few days to add a little more bright hop aroma as well.  Overall, a good kit with solid recipe and directions.  I'll probably do another post on kegging and bottling at some point so keep watching.  I also have an entry on fermentation control in the hopper.  Or check other sources for info if you need it!  Thanks for tuning in!  Feel free to comment if you have questions about the process, or other ideas for helpful hints that new brewers might like to know.  Also please share this with any friends interested in homebrewing, as they might learn something useful it!  I'm intentionally leaving off more advanced techniques, but I previously did a post on yeast starters HERE.