Sunday, July 26, 2009

BQ IPA Tasting

Before I get in to this beer tasting, I want to make an announcement: My girlfriend, Clarissa, got a job offer in Vancouver, Washington, just a short commute from Portland Oregon. It was an offer too good to turn down, so Portland is officially where we will be moving to! I'm very excited, but also scared, as the unemployment rate is very high right now, at over 11%. Wow. I might be unemployed for a bit while looking for a brewing job. On a good note though, expenses are relatively low and we have the security of one job at least, not that I'm expecting her to be my sugar momma (although I wouldn't turn it down! Honey, I promise the kegerator will never run dry.).

This is the beer we brewed during the Beer Quest shoot, and it is every bit as good as I hoped it would be. I was a little worried that it might not be hoppy enough, but this is a solid and intensely hoppy robust ale:

Aroma: Hugely aromatic hop bouquet, mainly pine and citrus (orange), caramelly and somewhat nutty malt backbone. Some residual sweetness, low esters and no hot alcohols. No diacetyl.

Appearance: Slightly hazy copper (I'm fine with a hop-haze in dry-hopped beers), a truly enticing color, with a lasting ivory head and carbonation on the lower end of the American ale range, maybe 2 volumes. Similar to a draft pour at a bar.

Flavor: A big resiny hop assault, but a malt backbone that is slightly more substantial than most west coast IPA's. Ample dextrins and residual sugars almost balance the hops, but not quite. The hop flavor includes orange, pine, wood, and spicy resins. Although there is some sweetness here, it is certainly balanced towards the hops, and the resiny aftertaste of the Chinook hops leaves a spicy and mouth-coating bitterness. No hot alcohols or off flavors are present.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation. Dextrins provide fullness. A lingering resiny hop quality. No husky astringency, but a slightly astringent hop character which I think is fine.

Overall: Awesome IPA, somewhat reminiscent of a Sierra Nevada Celebration ale, with more aroma and dry hops. I totally pounded this pint even though it is 7.2% ABV. I did prefer it on draft, as the carbonation seemed perfect then, and we lost a little during bottling, which de-emphasized the crispness & hop impression slightly. It is really interesting to see how much maltiness the Glen Eagle Marris Otter malt can provide on a stand-alone basis. If we would have added crystal malts, this would have been way too sweet!

If I would tinker with this recipe at all, and I'm not sure I would, it would be to lessen the percentage of Chinook hops as the bittering addition. Chinook is a love it or hate it hop, and it certainly has a rough lingering bitterness that I can see why some people do not appreciate. But if I took away some Chinook, I might increase the IBU's by 3 or so to compensate.

Overall I think Ray and I went out on a solid note with this beer and the last saison we brewed. Ray, I will miss you as a brewing partner, brotha! I'm sure we'll brew together sometime in the future though.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Last Day at Sixpoint

Man, I am going to miss these guys!

This past Saturday marked my last day as an intern at Sixpoint. I was incredibly sad to go, but I really have to move on, and to concentrate on moving out of NYC, I need to have the rest of my weekends free. We had a great day at the brewery though. We were scheduled to do a double brew, but they ended up fermenting the last beer one day faster than they thought it would take, so the double brew was done on Friday instead. We spent the day kegging up 28 barrels of Bengali Tiger and doing some cleaning.

My friend Forrest stopped by to take a brewery tour with a couple of his friends who are in the planning stages of opening a brewpub in Trenton, NJ. So we got to show them around, and hopefully we helped them with some planning ideas. We also had a nice hombrew tasting session on the upstairs patio at mid-day. After that, we were starving, so I picked us up some papusas and chicharron from the Red Hook soccer fields.

I should provide a bit of an overview of my time at Sixpoint:

First off, it only amounted to a total of 13 Saturdays, and I wish I could have been there for more. But in that time, I was able to do the equivalent of 3 weeks of full-time brewery work. That is definitely an accheivement, and it means that I won't be a total noob when I walk into my first real brewing job. Coupled with the theoretical knowledge I've picked up through 7 years of homebrewing, I personally think I will be a more knowledgable beginning brewer than at least some of the people coming out of brewing schools.

Secondly, I'm greatly appreciative of the opportunity I was given to learn to brew. Even after I let them know I would be leaving, Craig and Evan still made it a point to include me in the brewing process and teach me new things. Shane, the brewmaster and owner, gave me a really great letter of recommendation, and he has given me some advice on where and how to look for a brewing job.

Most importantly though, I consider it a great opportunity to have gotten to know Craig and Evan, and they are true friends to me. I think it's going to be very hard to find a brewing job where I can work with two great brewers who are so friendly and fun to hang out with. I really hope I can, and luckily this field is made up of generous and friendly brewers. I wish them both the best in their time at Sixpoint and eventually, opening their own breweries.

I still have so much stuff to do before I leave the city, and we still don't know where we are moving to! And what the hell do I do with all my brewing stuff, sell it here and re-buy, or pay an enormous amount of cash in moving expenses? I guess I will figure it all out in the upcoming weeks. Sorry, no brewing posts until I get situated in the new town, wherever that may be.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bottling with a Beergun

I've been a big fan of using a Blichman Beergun to bottle my beers since I picked one up about 6 months ago. This post isn't meant to be a product review or an endorsement, but I'm very happy with the way it works and I thought other people might be interested to see some pics of the process.

The full directions are viewable here, so I'm mainly going to try to go over the little details that I've found will result in a good fill with good carbonation.

One of the most important part of bottling with a Beergun is beer preparation. Since you aren't working against counter-pressure, you should actually try to carbonate your kegged beer to slightly higher carbonation than you are looking for in the bottle. I would guess there is a loss of around .2 volumes of CO2 when going from the keg to the bottle. It is also very important to bottle the beer at a colder temperature than you would serve it at, as close to freezing as possible.

In this case I was bottling a pale ale that I had been serving at 36 degrees on about 15 PSI of gas. About 24 hours before bottling, I turned the kegerator thermostat down to 33 and kicked the PSI up to about 19. That got a nice carbonation on the spritzy side, not to like a Belgian beer, but maybe around 2.8 if I had to guess.
The next step of preparation is to sanitize and chill the bottles to the same temperature as the beer. I used a little foil on top to keep any funk out. I chilled the bottles about 2 hours before hand, just to make sure they were good and cold. Having the bottles a little wet inside is a good thing, as it will prevent excessive foaming during the fill.

This is the disassembled Beergun in Starsan. I needed the instructions to set it up the first few times, as it just looks like a mess of bolts and rods when taken apart. One thing to note is that I used Saniclean one time to sanitize, and it left some funky looking black stains on certain parts of the Beergun that I'm sure were not harmful, but they were ugly.

This is what it looks like when you put it all together.

I use a mason jar filled with Starsan to hold the Beergun while I am capping. Here it is with the CO2 purge-line and liquid line attached. You want to keep as much of the liquid line cold as possible, so make sure to put any excess tubing inside the kegerator.

I've got my little work-station set up here with bottle caps, a spill tray, and a cat litter box to sit on. Take note: I am a lefty, so if you are a righty, you'll want all that stuff on your right side.

I take the bottles out a few at a time, purge them for a few seconds with gas, and fill away. I have the CO2 regulator set at 4 PSI, which seems to give a decent rate of flow without too much foam-up.
Here you can see there is some minimal foam, but actual beer loss is very low. As the bottle fills, I lift the Beergun up towards the neck. When it is full, I do not purge the neck with C02 as the instructions say. Instead, I just make sure to cap on foam. It's all CO2 anyway.

You can get a pretty consistent fill level, and you should cap the bottles one at a time. Get a helper if you want to go really fast.

Here is the case of bottles I filled, plus a 1 liter bottle, and the waste comes out to about 2-3 ounces (that is an 8 ounce cup at most). The actual filling took about 12 minutes. Prep and cleanup is very quick, as long as your bottles are clean already.

Additional thoughts:

Sanitation: I absolutely do not like the idea of having a beer hooked up to keg lines, which are clean at best, not sanitary, and then bottling that beer with a Beergun. It seems like way to much of a sanitation risk. OK for the short term, but if you are trying get long-term storage, I would only leave the keg lines hooked up when serving, and disconnect them afterward. Or, buy an extra picnic tap and sanitary line to use before you bottle, and switch to your keg lines later.

Storage: The best way to keep the beer after bottling is refrigerated, or failing that, in the cellar. I don't know what the shelf life of a normal gravity beer is at room temperature. It depends a lot on your overall oxygen pickup after fermentation, and your level of sanitation. That being said, I have had some bottles of barleywine sitting out at room temp (warmer really, my room feels like 85 right now) for a few months and it is showing no signs of oxidation or infection.

Bottling high-carbonation beers: I love Belgian beers and sour beers, and I think you can get a pretty good product into a bottle with fairly high carbonation using a Beergun. It will not be as high as you could get with bottle conditioning, but I have found that if you fill very cold and fill right to the top of the bottle with beer (you are basically capping on beer, not foam) that you can get around 3 volumes of CO2 in the glass. Not bad. EDIT: I would like to try using a longer liquid line to decrease foam-up, possibly increasing the length to 15 feet. It should work as long as the liquid line is kept cold inside the kegerator.

Bottling funky beers: There is always the debate of how much extra complexity a beer will gain with bottle conditioning, but if we are putting that aside, I will say I feel totally comfortable bottling a funky beer with the Beergun, using a separate liquid line of course. All the Beergun parts should be boiled afterwards to insure total sanitation.

Bottling a lot of beer: As I've mentioned before, we've bottled quite a bit of beer at Sixpoint using the Beergun. Last time, I brought mine and Evan brought his. We took turns with 2 people bottling and 1 person capping, and we got through 30 gallons of beer pretty quickly. This is no way to try to run a commercial bottling line, but for packaging samples for beer reps, it beats the hell out of bottle conditioning. The product is a lot closer to the kegged product too.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pictures from Lagunitas Brewery & Russian River Brewpub

These pictures are from Tuesday, June 16th, when Doug and I drove up to Santa Rosa to visit what I believe is one of the best breweries in the world, Russian River Brewing Company. We were not disappointed! On the way there we saw signs for Petaluma, CA, which we recognized as the town where Lagunitas makes their fine creations. It only took a few seconds to decide that we needed to stop off for a few beers. Coincidentally, Ray just happened to be there at the same time with his uncle, his roommate Matt, and another friend. The above pic is from their tasting room. The pours were extremely generous, and there was a big crowd due to the large number of homebrewers in town for NHC.

Lagunitas is a pretty big production facility. We didn't stay for the tour because we needed to get to Santa Rosa before too late. We did take a peek in to see a very large, high end bottling line, and multiple fermenters of 60 barrels or larger, yeast propogation tanks, and a row of 1600 lb. "super sacks" of base grain. Dudes might be stoners, but they are pumping out a large amount of excellent and consistent beers. A little trivia for you: Hop Stupid, their double IPA, is brewed with 100% carbon dioxide-extracted hop extracts (although it's dry hopped with traditional hops). It's the same type of product that Northern Brewer sells as the "Hopshot", which we used in our double IPA homebrew.

Here's a view of the Russian River Brewpub bar. All beers are on a chalkboard with ABV and BU's listed. The left board is for American Ales, the right board is for Belgian and barrel-aged beers.

There are a few barrels in the Brewpub, but most of the barrel aging is done at the production brewery 1 mile away. Pictured are Beatification (an mostly brett beer with a dose of lacto and pedio towards the end) and Consecration, one of the newer sour ales that is barrel aged with dried currents. The Consecration was excellent, but I was not enthralled with the Beatification. Honestly I still have yet to taste an all-brettanomyces beer that I truly enjoy.

This is just a close-up of some coaster art that customers have left. I was really attracted to the diagonal monkey-looking face that had a spooky, otherworldly, almost schizophrenic quality to it. The colors are amazing, which you can't really see here.

All in all, we were able to try the 2 above beers, Perdition, a "Biere de Sonoma", Salvation, a strong dark Belgian ale, Mortification, a Quad, Blind Pig IPA, Russian River IPA, Pliny the Elder, and "Hop 2 It"with Sterling hops. This beer is brewed with a single hop that changes each batch. Vinnie started that beer to get to know hop varietals, and he says that it is a great way to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of each hop varietal, none of which he usually likes to brew with exclusively.

There were so many other beers to try, but we had a 2 hour drive back to Oakland ahead of us. We also had 4 days of serious drinking ahead of us, and as was stated on many occasions during the week, "It's a marathon, not a sprint".

Planning the big move, and a career update

So, I'm still dragging ass about documenting our experiences at NHC, the BNA4 party, and our trip to Lagunitas & Russian River brewpub. I'll get there eventually, but in the mean time you can see some very embarrassing photos from the BN Bus Tour here. Basically though, it was an amazing and inspiring trip, and it was great to meet fellow BN'ers, rub shoulders with brewing celebrities like Vinnie Cilurzo and Tomme Arthur, and judge the second round of NHC.

A lot of things have led me to the decision that it's time to leave New York City for good. It was the combination of the lease on my overpriced apartment ending, a feeling of coming back from NHC and dreading returning to work, and the general underlying problem that there just aren't that many pro brewing opportunities in NYC. As much as I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working at Sixpoint and getting to know the guys down there, there is no way they will be hiring in the next year unless someone quits, and the last 2 people they have hired on as only part-time workers.

So I've decided to finally take the plunge and move on from New York. The plan right now is to leave at the end of July or August at the latest and be in a new city by September. The obvious choices are the brewing cities, and Clarissa and I are partial to the idea of Portland, Boulder/Denver, or the Bay area. My strategy for looking for work was to:
1) Check in with Sixpoint and Captain Lawrence on the off chance that they need someone (no).
2) Put my resume on and respond to any jobs that sound good.
3) Send my resume to the best breweries around. So far I've sent it to Russian River, Rogue, and Victory. Why not start with the best, right?
4) In the event that I don't get hired before I move, just go to a brewing city, (probably Portland) and be ready to pimp myself out to all the breweries. I'll be bringing the resume, my "beer resume" i.e. samples, and some letters of recommendation. I'm willing to work for free, if I have enough cash to last a while, for the right brewery.

If any of you have any comments on where you think would be a great place to live, or leads on brewing jobs, feel free to leave them in the comments or email me. I'd love to get a better idea of Portland life, as I've still never been there and we are contemplating a move to an unknown area.