Monday, April 27, 2009

I Am a Craft Brewer Video

I Am A Craft Brewer from I Am A Craft Brewer on Vimeo.

I just watched this short video and I thought it deserved mentioning.  I think it was made for the Craft Brewers Conference.  Take a look, if you need a little reminder of how cool and inspiring this craft brew scene is, I think you'll find it here.  

Only one very small issue I have with this video:  What's the deal with bashing the use of rice and corn?  I understand that the big brewers use these grains to cheapen their cost and lighten the flavor, but that doesn't mean that corn or rice are intrinsically bad ingredients.  If we agreed that they were bad simply because they lighten the grain bill, then we'd have to throw sugar into that group, which is a widely accepted addition to Belgian style ales, and many craft brewers in this America use it all the time.   Also, there are plenty of examples of craft brewers using rice or corn.  Ommegang uses corn in some beers. I know because I've seen large sacks of it at the brewery.  So does New Glarus in their Spotted Cow.  Patrick Rue (featured in the video) uses rice in the Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel.  

Historically, corn was blended into the grist to make up for some of the shortcomings of 6-row barley, which contains too much husk materials, and can be astringent when used at 100%.  It wasn't until big brewers decided to dumb down and cheapen their product that there was a problem.  So I think we need to make this distinction (which I'm sure the film makers understand):  The problem is the dumbing down of beer and food that comes from over-industrialization, not using certain ingredients that have fallen out of style.

Check out the book Ambitious Brew for a more in-depth look at American pre-prohibition brewing practice.  It's a worthwhile and exciting read.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

First Brewday at Sixpoint: Double batch of Bengali Tiger IPA

Just a few pics from the first brewday I helped out with at Sixpoint.  It's a long day, but really fun!  I stirred in the second mash.

This is the grant setup, where the wort recirculates before being directed to the boil kettle.

Here's the hop cone after a 5 minute whirlpool, 10 minute rest, and about 45 minutes to transfer the wort through the heat exchanger into the fermenter.  I'm thinking about rigging some kind of diverter plate in my homebrew system, because it's really amazing what a well-defined cone they get.  Not much wort loss at all.

In other news, I just brewed my starter for an all-brett beer with WLP 650 Brett Bruxenellis.  It will be a 2-step starter, this first step was 1 quart.  The yeast tube smelled lemony and funky in a  spoiled fruit / dumpster sort of way, with some barnyard.  I tasted the yeast dregs and it was extremely sour in a good way!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

San Diego Day 2: Friday 4/11/09

Frisbee Golf: My new favorite sport

On Friday, we got a relatively early start with a game of Frisbee golf at a Balboa park. I suck, but it was a lot of fun just walking around and throwing the disk. Somehow, I was not hung over in the least.

Sean, Clarissa, and Sean at Green Flash Brewing

The first brewery for the day was Green Flash. We tried quite a few beers in the tasting room, and we were lucky enough to meet with brewmaster Chuck Silva. Chuck had just been interviewed for the Brewing Network's Jamil Show recently, so it was cool to talk to him a little about that and thank him for basically giving out the recipe for the Green Flash West Coast IPA. On the show he also revealed some interesting and unconventional yeast practice: Green Flash ferments with Cali ale yeast (same strain as Sierra Nevada and many other American craft breweries) as high as 72 degrees. The norm would be to ferment at 66-69 degrees with this strain, and most breweries would not go higher for fear of getting off flavors like diacetyl, fusel alcohols, or increased ester production. But Chuck is producing excellent beers at higher temps, which should also help with shortening the fermentation cycle. He also revealed that he has no problems re-pitching yeast from the IPA and sometimes even the Imperial IPA. Conventional wisdom and research says that you should not re-use yeast from beers with alcohol levels of higher than 7% ABV, or hopping rates of over 50 IBU's, but here we have an example of a brewery that is doing both and achieving excellent & consistent results.

Green Flash's tasting list: Many great beers, but the Hop Head Red was excellent!

My favorite Green Flash beers were the Hop Head Red (very sessionable), Le Freak (Belgian IPA), Tripel, and their seasonal low- alcohol saison ( I guess it's never too early for summer beer in San Diego!)

We had to move on. The next stop was Lost Abbey / Port brewing. Like most San Diego breweries it is set in an industrial warehouse area, but inside it was a different story:

The Lost Abbey has the most wood-aged beers I've seen in one place.

The interior of this brewery is dark, moist, and stacked to the ceiling with oak barrels side by side. A bar runs the wall with tastings available for a low price. Most of the beers we tasted were the non-barrel aged Lost Abbey ales, of which the clear favorite was the newly released Serpent Stout, an Imperial Stout at 10.5% ABV.

All the brewery equipment seemed to be a piecemeal assembly of used brewing equipment that had grown almost organically as the brewery expanded production. At least half of the entire space was devoted to barrels! The sign in the above picture is Latin, and if you could read the whole thing it would say "In Brettanomyces We Trust." Not, as I thought: "This is where the Brett be Illin'." I guess I listen to too much early Beastie Boys.

Photo op with Tomme Arthur: A beer geek's idea of a celebrity encounter

We also had a chance to meet Tomme Arthur. He must have known I was a beer geek because I just opened up with a "Hey, can I get a picture with you?" And, you can tell that Tomme is passionate about his product. He told us a lot about the barrel aging they do, and showed us around the new bottling line. Here are a few facts I learned about the Lost Abbey bourbon barrel aged beers:

All barrels are bought from a bourbon distiller (sorry, I don't remember the brand) after having been used only once. They come to the brewery fresh and sealed with a bung. Tomme orders them as he needs them to age the Angel's Share. When they arrive at the brewery, they are simply opened and the fermented Angel's Share is transferred in. No washing, cleaning, or even dumping out of left-over bourbon! Contamination is probably not an issue, because the beer is already over 10% ABV,
and remember, bourbon is usually diluted after barrel aging. So the dregs are probably the high-test stuff! The Angel's Share spends 6-9 months in the barrel before being bottled. Then, the barrels are used only one more time to age the Older Viscosity (a barleywine). After the second use, the barrels are sold to a local gardener / plant seller to be chopped in half and used as planters.

One more thing about Tomme that I can appreciate: He doesn't believe in going to brewing school. I can appreciate that since I'm trying to get into brewing professionally and I haven't had a formal education. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it's cool to see guys like Vinnie Cilurzo and Tomme Arthur, who are living proof that you don't need a formal education to produce outstanding beer.

The last stop for the day was Stone Brewery & Bistro. Unfortunately, we did not make it in time for a tour. There was only so much time in the day, and Stone beers are very easy to get here in NYC. It goes without saying that it's an excellent brewery.

The newly expanded brewery and bistro looks like a beer theme park. You enter from a huge parking lot (I think there are even row numbers), and enter through a huge castle-like door. Inside, high ceilings and a "giant rock" theme abound. There is a gift shop where you can buy Stone hoodies, road bike shirts, socks, pretty much anything you can get with a big Stone logo & gargoyle. When we finally made it into the bistro, the food was overpriced and underwhelming. But the beer list was excellent, including Stone beers and a variety of things we couldn't find back out east.

My overall opinion of Stone is great beer, great marketing, but simply too image conscious for my tastes (It's certainly not something that would stop me from enjoying a fresh pint of Ruination!) I would have liked to do the tour, and I think it would have helped me to appreciate what they have achieved. Also, it's worth noting that we probably wouldn't even see beers like Green Flash or The Bruery out east without the help of Stone's distribution clout. I'm not sure of the details of this arrangement, but Stone helps the little guys distribute farther, which helps a small business make it in a specialized market. That is incredibly cool.

That about wrapped it up for Saturday. Clarissa was nice enough to drive us back and I think I passed out in the car before we made it back (I'm starting to notice a trend here).

To Be Continued...

San Diego Day 1: Thursday April 9th

Pizza Port Carlsbad: Excellent brews by the pitcher tempered by stomach sating pies

This past weekend I finally made it out to the beer mecca that is San Diego. Clarissa and I went out to visit my internet friend and beer blogging buddy, Chillindamos. When you consider that we had never actually met in person, or even talked on the phone up till a month ago, it was extremely generous of him to let us come and stay with him. It would be kind of like ordering a mail order bride without actually seeing the goods, except that luckily for him we left after 4 days. It was great to meet Chillin' and his wife in person, and we really did hit it off with a great weekend of beer drinkin', chillin', and...more beer drinking. It was all highly intellectual of course.

We rolled in on Thursday and promptly searched out some food and beer at Gordon Biersch. In outward appearance, Gordon Biersch is a giant sports bar that you might find at any local mall. What sets it apart is some excellently crafted German style beers that are as fresh as can be. We tried their alt and their schwarzbier, both of which were fantastic. Clarissa and I also went back on a separate occasion and we had the maibock and the export, a Dortmunder style lager, which totally blew my mind! It was so malty but crisp, the product of a true decoction mash and judicous use of melanoidin-rich malts.

Next we stopped off for a trip to Ballast Point. The original, and smaller brewing location is attached to the local homebrew store, and samples of all the beers are available. The only beer I had tried previously was the Calico Amber, which placed really highly in a blind Amber tasting I helped out with for the Ale Street News. My favorite was their Yellowtail Pale Ale, which is actually a Kolsch. We also tried a smoked lager, a doppelbock aged in some kind of barrel, and a hoppy barleywine-ish beer (for some reason my memory gets a little foggy here).

Then we headed out for a little cruise of the local neighborhoods, and ended up in La Jolla for a walk along the beach. There were a bunch of seals who had apparently mastered the art of chillin'. They were just basking in what sun there was to be had, occasionally stretching out or flipping over on their rocks.

We continued our walk to Karl Strauss, another local brewpub. I am a lover of saisons, so I made sure to taste theirs. It was pretty good, but maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it, so I passed an opted for an excellent IPA. Chillin' had an amazing doppelbock. It was full of malty richness without being too sweet.
Gordon Biersch: A corporate vibe, but outstanding lagers!

After all this drinking, it was time for a real dinner, with beer of course. I was having a hard time keeping up after the extremely early 4 a.m. start we got on the east coast, but I faked it for a while longer and it ended up paying off. We picked up Chillin's wife, Michelle, and headed out to Pizza Port in Carlsbad to meet some of their friends.

Pizza Port was my single favorite brewery on this trip. It's a large, busy pizzaria with a surprisingly small brewery. All the beers are brewed on location, with their bottled beers being brewed at Lost Abbey (see following post). The combination of the atmosphere, the cheap pitchers of some of the best beer you can find, and solid pizza kept me happy (try the San Clemente pizza with black bean sauce & cilantro). We had 4 pitchers, the Pizza Port Wipeout IPA, the Abbey Ale, and "Twerp", a blonde abbey single at 4%ABV. They were all tasty, but I couldn't get enough of the Wipeout! We also had a Firestone Union Jack IPA, but my money was on the Wipeout.

Incredibly, we proceeded back to Chillin's place with another homebrewing friend, Dave or "Comrade" to drink some more beer! By this time we had switched to The Bruery's Saison Rue. I liked it, but I am a bigger fan of their Saison Lente. But if you like a lot of brett in your beers, you will probably like the Saison Rue. We finished the night bathing in a crowded hot tub, which I graciously begged out of after I caught myself passing out.

To Be Continued...

Monday, April 6, 2009

San Diego, Sixpoint, & Saison

Don't forget to pack your beer koozy to the beach!

I'm going out to San Diego on Thursday with my girlfriend for 5 days! This is my first real vacation in a year (besides going home for Christmas, which doesn't count) and my first time to San Diego. We'll be staying with my homebrewing friend "Chillindamos" and his wife. So, I'll take lots of pics and hit some breweries and get back to you with a blog update afterwards. This is sort of a "what would it be like to live here" trip. For some strange reason, I don't want to live in NYC for my entire life!

In other news, I've been continuing the Sixpoint internship, and really enjoying it, although I still haven't been there for an actual brewday. This Saturday, we bottled about 30 gallons of various Sixpoint beers for samples. In the past, they've actually done this from a bottling bucket with priming sugar! I'm sure you homebrewers can imagine how labor intensive this is. Also, I think that by bottle conditioning with priming sugar, the beer is subtley different from the force-carbonated & kegged product. So, Craig asked me if I could bring down my Blichman Beergun to make the job easier , and I was happy to oblige.

After using the Beergun to bottle 30 gallons of beer, I can officially give it a thumbs-up review. It took a while to figure out the pressure settings to eliminate foam. We attempted to bottle the beers at room temperature, but we experienced some pretty bad foam-up till we moved the whole operation into the walk-in cooler. After that we just hung out in the walk-in for hours, and once we got everything dialed in, our actual beer waste was less than 12 oz. per 15 gallons of beer bottled. It's not fast, but if you had 2 going at once, it would be a very efficient operation. Sixpoint is going to order 1 or 2 for bottling at the brewery now.

Then on Sunday, Ray and I brewed up a saison in his backyard. The weather was great, and Doug joined us to hang out and help brew. Both Ray and Doug had some excellent witbiers to drink during the brew session.

Saison with Demerara Sugar (all grain)
13.5 gallons pre-boil, Pre-boil gravity: 1.045 before sugar
12 gallons post boil gravity, O.G. 1.058
IBU's 30
Efficiency 71%

19.5 lb. Durst Pils malt
1 lb. Wheat malt
12 oz. Armoatic malt
8 oz. raw spelt
8 oz. flaked barley

2 lb. organic demerara sugar (like sugar in the raw, but slightly darker)

25 gr. German Magnum pellets 13.6% 60 min
28 gr. Styrian Goldings pellets 3.5% 15 min
28 gr. EKG pellets 4.8% 15 min
56 gr. Styrian Goldings pellets 3.5% 0 min
28 gr. EKG pellets 6% 0 min

Wyeast 3724 Saison yeast from previous batch

Mash in 6 gallons at 130, rest 15 minutes
Add 1.5 gallons boiling water to raise to 146, rest 90 min
Sparge with about 8.5 gallons, collected only 12.75 gallons.

Topped up to 13.5, added sugar at 90 minutes.
Boil 90 minutes, hops as noted.
Added 1 tab whirfloc at 15 min, 1 tsp. yeast nutrient at 10 min

Chilled, whirpooled, and collected 10.5 gallons
Oxygenated for 1 minute per carboy. Pitched yeast at 68 degrees.
The beer is taking off a little slowly, so I think the yeast was a little on the low-pitching side. But I'm pretty sure it will be just fine.

One of the coolest things about this beer was watching the amazing, stringy protein break due to the protein rest and the raw grains used!