Friday, December 7, 2012

Beer store reviews - The Jug Shop and City Beer Store

Reading a review of a beer that whets your appetite leads only to torment if you can't get a glass or a bottle for yourself. So today, it's time for a different kind of review, namely, of my two favorite places to buy beer (at least, bottles) in San Francisco, whose names I've mentioned in a number of previous posts: City Beer Store and The Jug Shop.

The Jug Shop

The Jug Shop has sat a couple of blocks from the western end of the Broadway tunnel, at the foot of Russian Hill, since 1965--before your Humble Author was born, in fact. Short of a big box like BevMo, The Jug Shop carries one of the largest array of wines, spirits, and beers to be found in San Francisco. If you want it, chances are, The Jug Shop has it.

Not only that, the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. They also host frequent beer tastings, usually on Friday nights, led by Eric Cripe, a certified cicerone (beer somalier) and his brother Evan, who resemble nothing so much as a pair of jolly Vikings. Be forewarned, however, that their tastings showcase anywhere from a dozen to fifty beers (or in one case, ciders and meads), so don't come on an empty stomach, or plan to drive home afterwards. (Tip: If you're hungry, stop off at Cheese Plus across the street beforehand, which has an excellent selection of artisan cheeses, a deli, and is no slouch in its beer selection either.)

1590 Pacific Ave, at Polk St.

City Beer Store

City Beer Store opened in May of 2006 in the South of Market (SoMa) district, a couple of blocks from the criminal courthouse, an area that had been mostly auto bodyshops and wholesale appliances, but was revitalized by the in-flood of the tech industry beginning in the mid-90s. The original space was not much bigger than a living room, with some shelves, a couple of reach-in refrigerators, a couple of taps, and a handful of seats. Yet even so, they managed to showcase an astounding range of craft and foreign beers, things that you couldn't find anywhere else. They also offered tastings, classes, batch release/tapping parties, even art openings.

A couple of years ago, they expanded the store to probably 3 times its original size, so that their beer selection became even more astoundinger, around 300 beers, quite possibly the widest I've seen anywhere. They also added a real bar with about a dozen rotating taps, with actual seating for maybe 20 or 30. In particular, they feature beers from local homebrewers who've made the jump to professional like Triple Voodoo and Pacific Brewing Labs, as well as craft brews from across the county, and rarities from across the sea. The only problem is that, like so many great and trendy things in San Francisco, they're somewhat victims of their own success, as I don't ever think I've seen an empty seat any time I've gone.

Fortunately, there's always an excellent selection of bottles to take and enjoy at home, away from the madding crowd.

1168 Folsom St, between 8th & 9th Streets

Recipe #229 - Brit-a-porter Belgian caramel porter

This one is a bit of a fanciful hybrid that I made for Dr. P about a year ago, combining aspects of a British porter and a Belgian dubbel.

9 lbs British 2-row
1.5 lb 120L crystal malt
0.5 lb chocolate malt
0.5 lb carafa malt

Additional fermentables:
1 qt caramel syrup. In a saucepan, heat 2 cups sugar carefully over medium-low heat until liquid and dark brown. You can move the pan off the heat or swirl it around to keep it from burning, but do not stir, or you'll get rock candy instead. Carefully add 2 cups water (watch for splatters, this shit is like napalm if it hits you), and return to heat until all caramel re-dissolves.

1 oz Fuggles @ 5.6% AA 60 min
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings @ 5.6% AA 20 min
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings @ 5.6% AA 5 min

Yeast: White Labs Belgian ale yeast.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Recipes #226, #227, and #228 - Pink Nightmare, Grandma Dot's Bock, and Old Titan

It's time now for the last of my holiday beer recipes: Pink Nightmare cranberry wheat, Grandma Dot's Bock, and Old Titan spiced honey porter.

Grandma Dot's Bock

GDB was my very first holiday beer, and the 11th beer I'd ever brewed. I brewed it because I'd recently found out from my mom that her grandmother, Leora "Dot" Blaine, had homebrewed bock beer, presumably during Prohibition. Sadly, I don't have her recipe.

Bock beers are German lagers, and actually cover a range of beers, that generally tend to be stronger, heavier, and less hoppy than pilsners: helles, light-colored bock; dunkel, dark-colored bock; doppel,  double-bock (which is what GDB is); and weiss, bock with wheat.

Lagers can be a nuisance for the homebrewer, since they're supposed to, well, lager, meaning, age for several weeks around 55F, which is a difficult temperature to achieve. Refrigerators top out at around 45F. Enterprising brewers will install an electrical cut-off attached to a thermometer that turns off the power to the fridge if they go below 55, but that generally makes the refrigerator useless for anything else (and very few of us have the luxury of a dedicated lagering fridge, much less a proper German lagering cave). After several years of bottles that were overcarbonated, or outright exploded, because I tried to lager them in the fridge and they were under-fermented when they went into the bottle (and therefore overfermented in the bottle), I decided just to rely on San Francisco's naturally cool temperatures to do my lagering, and let the yeast deal with it. So far, the results have been pretty good.

5.5 lbs German Vienna
3 lbs German Munich
1 lb caramunich
0.5 lb carapils
0.5 lb wheat malt
0.5 lb English brown malt

2 oz. Perle @ 7.1% AA 60 min
1 oz. Hallertauer Hersbrucker @ 4.0% AA 20 min
1 oz. Hallertauer Hersbrucker @ 4.0% AA 5 min

Yeast: White Labs German Bock Yeast WLP 833

Allow 4 weeks in secondary.

Old Titan
Old Titan spiced honey porter was my second holiday beer and the twelfth batch overall. The malt bill changes very little over the years, but I'm still trying to find just that right mix of spices for the infusion. 

The name "Old Titan" comes from a story that I used to tell to amuse and confuse my Latin students, back when I taught high school Latin, as follows. (Most of it is true; see if you can determine where it veers off the rails...)

In Roman mythology, Saturn was the king of the Titans, powerful giants who werethe parents of the gods. The Saturnalia, which began on 17 December andlasted for a nine-day Roman week until the winter solstice on 25 December, wasthe forerunner of the modern Christmas. The Romans celebrated Saturnaliaby feasting, exchanging gifts, and decorating their homes with lights andevergreen boughs. And Saturn himself, depicted as an old man with a long whitebeard, dressed in robes and pilus (the peaked freedman’s cap), andcarrying a cornucopia filled with the gifts of the earth, is the sourceof our modern “Santa Claus” (whose name comes from Saturnuculus, meaning“Little Saturn” or “Uncle Saturn”).

9 lbs British 2-row
1 lb 80L British crystal
0.5 lb Special B
0.5 lb English brown
0.5 lb carafa

Other fermentables: 2 lbs honey during boil.
1 oz East Kent Goldings @ 5.6% AA 60 min
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings @ 5.6% AA 20 min
0.5 oz East Kent Goldings@ 5.6% AA 5 min

Yeast: White Labs Dry English Ale WLP 007

Infusion: To 4 oz house vodka, add 1 cinnamon stick, 6 cloves and 6 allspice berries (rushed), 1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg, 1/2 tsp fresh-grated ginger. Steep 1 week, then add to secondary.

Pink Nightmare

Fruit beers are always tricky, because the fruit will have some residual wild yeast in it, and you never know how that will behave. It's also hard to get rid of. If you try to freeze it, it will just go to sleep. Boil it, and the pectin in your fruit will set and you'll get jelly instead of beer. The second time that I made this (and the first year it was called "Pink Nightmare;" the original batch was "Solstice Celebration," the name that would ultimately go to my barleywine), it literally exploded out of the fermenter, spewing fist-sized globs of what looked like strawberry moose 4 feet up the walls of the "beer closet." Nowadays, I usually puree the cranberries, microwave them for about 5 minutes, pour partially chilled wort (~120F) over them, and then hope for the best (which usually means replacing the airlock with a blow-off tube and cleaning up a moderate-sized mess.

(The name comes from the movie A Christmas Story, when Ralphie's father, seeing him in the bunny jammies his aunt sent him, pronounced that he looked like "a pink nightmare.")

5 lbs Weyerman pils
4.5 lbs white wheat malt
0.75 lb oats
0.5 lb carapils
0.25 lb  honey (asidulated) malt
0.5 lb rice hulls

1 oz Styrian Goldings  @ 5.0% AA 60 min
0.5 oz Spaltz @ 3.2% AA 20 min
0.5 oz. Spaltz @ 3.2% AA 5 min

Yeast: Belgian Wit WLP 400

Fruit: 1.5 lbs fresh cranberries, blended 6 oz at a time with 1/3 cup of water each until pureed. Microwave 5 min. Add to 120F wort, let stand 10 min before topping fermenter with water and pitching yeast. Recommend using a blow-off tube.

Infusion: In 4 oz house vodka, soak 1/4 oz curcao orange peel, 1/2 tsp ground corriander, 8 cloves crushed, for 1 week, then add to secondary.

Beer review - Super deluxe and super fresh

October holds a special place in the brewing calendar, and not (just) because of Oktoberfest. October is also the time when brewers release their "fresh hop" or "wet hop" beers, something that's become increasingly popular the last few years.

Normally, hop flowers are dried to preserve them, and in the process lose some of their more volatile aromatic essences. Typically, brewers would capture as much of these as they could by dry-hopping their beer, which is basically adding hops to the fermented beer, to flavor it while it ages (as opposed to adding them to the boiling wort before the beer has been fermented, which is how hops are used for bittering).

Wet-hopping beer is the same as dry-hopping, but using freshly-picked hops that have even more of their volatile aromatics intact than dried hops do. The beer can pick up all sorts of interesting flavors this way, but of course you're limited in doing it to when hops can be picked fresh, typically September in the Northern Hemisphere.

Chasin' Freshies, Deschutes Brewing

All of this is by way of introducing our next review, Chasin' Freshies from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR. Deschutes has been the powerhouse of brewing in Oregon, starting up in 1988, and is currently the 5th-largest craft brewery, and 11th-largest brewery overall, in the US, probably most known for their Black Butte porter and Mirror Pond pale ale.

Fresh-hop ales are typically brewed as West Coast pale ales or IPAs, since these styles showcase the hops, and Chasin' Freshies is no exception. It's fairly light-bodied and colored, however, using pilsner malt and oats, which prevent it from overpowering the delicate floral notes of the wet hops, in this case Cascades, which have a citrusy-to-piney character. It's a nicely balanced beer, light and refreshing, with just a hint of alcohol strength, and not too much bitterness to turn off those who don't like bitter beer.

Chasin' Freshies: 7.4% ABV, 60 IBUs of yum!

Fruet, The Bruery

A few years ago, when I was down in the OC visiting family, I naturally thought to see if there was any good local craft beer available. I had my doubts, SoCal being the land of chains, strip-malls, and homogenized culture. But a Google search uncovered The Bruery, a craft brewery in Placentia, a small suburban town in inland OC known for, well, not much of anything really, but it happened to be on my way to visit my dad, so I decided I'd stop by. Turned out that it was in the back of an industrial park just off the 57 freeway, with a storefront virtually indistinguishable from the nearby storage unit, air conditioning repair, and autobody places.

Going inside, however, I was in for a shock. Their space was filled floor to ceiling with racks of barrels. Yes, almost everything they brew is barrel aged, mostly Belgian styles, and plenty of sours. They had a small bar with about 20 of their beers on tap, with a couple of empty barrels to serve as tables with a few stools. Their beers ranged from awesome to amazing.

The Fruet was their fourth anniversary beer, an English style Old Ale fermented with their house strain of Belgian yeast and aged in bourbon barrels. It's BIG, robust, dark, fruity, caramelly, toffeeey, oakey, bourboneyyyyy. Given that it's a limited release, good luck finding it, but Bruery beers are pretty widely distributed across the US, and I can't recommend them enough.

Fruet: 14.5% ABV, 45 IBUs.

Seduction, Brewery Ommegang 

Last summer, while we were visiting Dr. P's family, in central New York, we made a very special pilgrimage, to Cooperstown. Not, of course for that museum about that game with the sticks and the gloves and the leather ball. Instead, we visited one of the wonders of the craft brewing world, Brewery Ommegang.

Ommegang was purpose built in 1997 to make Belgian ales, beginning with their flagship abbey ale, and indeed they've probably done more than any other American craft brewery to popularize Belgian beers of all styles, including their Hennepin, the first American-brewed saison. 

Dr. P. spotted Ommegang's Seduction on a trip to City Beer Store (who'll be getting their own review soon, I promise!). It's a dark Belgian ale brewed with Callebaut chocolate, and with a touch of Liefmans kriek, sour beer aged on tart cherries and berries. Seduction is like drinking the world's most decadent candy, dark, silky, smooth, chewy. Much like coffee, chocolate is a difficult ingredient to work with in beer, due to its high oil and fat content (I haven't even attempted it). But this is just masterful. It's a Valentine in a beer bottle.

Seduction: 6.8% ABV, IBUs very low, want some candy little girl?

Meadowlark IPA, Pretty Things

Eric the cicerone at The Jug Shop (who'll be getting his own review soon, I promise!) first turned me on to the beers from the Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project in Cambridge, MA, at a tasting that featured not one, not two, but eight of their beers, as well as five from Jester King in Austin, TX. Needless to say, these are great events, but given the state I'm in when I stagger home afterwards... let's just say it's not conducive to writing a cogent review.

Pretty Things are a husband-and wife team gypsy brewers, he a dreamer and she a scientist (sound familiar?), who met at a beer festival, moved to Yorkshire (where she's from) then moved back to New England (where he's from). Their flagship Jack D'Or is a saison, and their beers tend to be a mix of Belgian, English, and, what might be best termed eclectic (such as the Lovely St. Winefride Brown Lager).

Meadowlark IPA, then, is an anomaly for them, an American style IPA. It's a good beer, gold-amber in color, well-balanced in hoppiness, with a little more to the bitter side than the floral. It's a very tasty beer, and I have to say that of the nine Pretty Things beers I've tried, I found four (Once Upon a Time X Ale, Lovely St. Winefride, Our Finest Regards barleywine, and Babayaga Sylvan Stout) were all exceptionally good, so I recommend them if you can find them. 

Meadowlark IPA: 7.0% ABV, 85 IBUs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Beer review - Norway to NorCal, via Switzerland

I don't normally think of either Norway or Switzerland as being among the world's great brewing cultures, but today we have excellent sour beers from each, as well as a very, very native beer from Northern California, which most definitely is. 

HaandBryggeriet Sur Megge

Romantic that I am, I still imagine Norwegians as mead-swilling Vikings. The only Scandinavian beer most folks know of is Danish Carlsberg, which is your basic generic pilsner.

So, I was surprised to learn that, besides their own crap pilsners, Norwegians in the past decade have started a couple of excellent craft brewers: Nøgne Ø and HaandBryggeriet ("Hand Brewery"), the latter of which is 4 guys in a 200 year-old farmhouse, many of them fermented with wild yeast and barrel aged.

I got my hands on their Sur Megge (Sour Bitch) at The Jug Shop, which is a marvelous barrel-aged  sour ale, coming in at 8% ABV. Great notes of summer fruit, orange-gold color, and delightfully tart. I'll definitely have to keep an eye out for their other beers!

Brasserie de Franches-Montagnes Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien 

The next beer comes from the region of Switzerland bordering France, again two countries I don't think of when I think beer. France of course being (thanks to the Romans) a wine country, and Switzerland absinthe. So I was very surprised when the proprietor at Little Vine told me he had a sour beer from Switzerland, and naturally I had to try it.

The Brasserie de Franches-Montagnes (BFM, "Brewery of the French Mountains") has actually been around for about 15 years, making very small batches of a wide variety of traditional beer styles, most of them with a twist. I was lucky enough to get a bottle of their Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien (named, apparently, in honor of the much-beloved brewery cat), which is a bière de garde, a Belgian-style ale with copper to brown color, maltiness, and moderate strength (6-8% ABV).

The Bon-Chien, however, is quite a bit strong, clocking in around 11% ABV. Not only that, it's barrel aged, the exact barrel depending on the vintage - Merlot, whisky, and grappa have been used. This gives is a delicious sourness, as well as character from whatever was aged in the barrel previously.

The Bon-Chien was a truly outstanding sour beer, very strong yet well balanced between strength, sweet, and sour, with outstanding sour cherry, red wine, and vinegar flavors. A real treat if you can find it, just be sure to drink it sitting down!

Almanac Extra Pale 

Last but certainly not least, Almanac brewing is a couple of San Francisco homebrewers who made the jump to commercial brewing two years ago. Their initial focus was on brewing seasonal beers that showcased local Northern California produce (as well as hops and even some malts), including blackberries, plums, oranges, fennel, and honey, usually paired with lighter-bodied Belgian style ales.

Beginning this summer, however, they've also begun producing two year-round brews (which they call "table" beers, although at around $3 a bottle, they're not exactly everyday beers), their Extra Pale (6% ABV) and Honey Saison (4.8% ABV). The former is brewed with local Mandarin oranges and generously dry-hopped, to produce a really excellent West Coast pale ale, slightly tart and with a pronounced citrus flavor from both the hops and the oranges. It's quite excellent, and I can't wait to review the saison!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beer review - Mikkeller madness!

Spontankoppi, Coffee IPA, and Spontankriek.

Frequent readers of the BCBB will know that I've got quite a thing going on for the beers of Danish gypsy brewers Mikkeller. On a recent trip to The Jug Shop I picked up some more of their beers. Two of them interested me because they went with a "wild" yeast fermentation, and two because they had coffee in them. I love coffee.

Now, most brewers are very cautious about the yeast they let into their beer, and with good reason. While the behavior and flavor profile of good ol' S. cerevisiae is predictable, there are around 1,500 known species of yeast. They're all over the map, and a lot of them will spoil beer (and food), and a few are down right dangerous.

Probably the tamest "wild" yeasts are the Brettanomyces (affectionately known as "Brett" among brewers), which are what make sour beers sour. But even Brett is a tricky beast. It produces flavors that can be described as "metallic," "leather," or "barnyard," which can easily overpower a beer. It also has a much slower metabolism than S. cerevisiae, so beers with Brett typically require longer aging. And, they can metabolize sugars that S. cerevisiae can't, meaning that Brett fermentations will go on long after the S. cerevisiae are done - which can mean they take much longer to be finished, or, if you bottle them too early, they can build up too much CO2 in the bottle. And, finally, they can be damned difficult to kill off, so if they get into your brewery, and you don't want them there, you may be out of luck. You'll either have to switch to brewing sours, or get a new set of equipment. Consequently, very few homebrewers ever make sour beers, and they have to be very cautious when they do.

It's possible to buy commercial strains of Brett and pitch them into your beer. The more traditional method is to go with a "spontaneous" fermentation, where you let your beer into contact with the natural yeast in the environment. (This is also how traditional sourdough starter is made.) One way to do this is to ferment your beer in used wine barrels. Wine is usually fermented naturally using the yeast that's already accumulated in the fruit themselves, and a certain amount of that will be Brett, which builds up over time in the barrels. Another traditional method, used to make Belgian lambics, is to open the rafters of the brewery to the winds, and allow airborn yeast to accumulate in the spiderwebs and cobwebs, which then fall into the fermentation tanks...

Coffee, meanwhile, is an interesting and challenging ingredient for brewers to work with. A number of styles of beer, particularly porters and stouts, would seem to lend themselves to the addition of coffee, since they share similar flavors. But coffee (and similarly, cocoa) contain oils, most notably caffeol (which is primarily responsible for coffee's aroma and flavor), the oxidation of which can cause them to go rancid. (I've haven't myself used coffee in beer, but it's something I'd like to try, if I can find a good method.)


Kriek is lambic with cherries added. The beer itself is usually a Belgian lambic, which is a fairly light-colored and flavored beer. In some cases, kriek is made by adding a cherry syrup to a lambic, which can be a bit cloying. The more traditional method is to add cherries, with their attendant load of wild yeast, to the fermenter.

Spontankriek is clearly the latter sort. It's puckery tart, the sour cherry flavor mixing seemlessly with the sour beer. If you like sour cherries or sour beer, you're going to love this. 7.7% ABV.


Having thoroughly enjoyed the Spontankriek I was really looking forward to the Spontankoppi. But I have to say, I think the first word out of my mouth was... "ouch." I don't know how they got the coffee into the beer, but it was extremely strong and bitter, like the strongest cup of black coffee you've ever had, and then some. (Admittedly, I like my coffee strong, like barely fit for human consumption, but with lots of milk and sugar.) The sour beer was reduced to almost a footnote. If you get off on really strong black coffee, you might enjoy this, but I didn't. 5.3% ABV.

Coffee IPA

After the Spontankoppi, I had some trepidation about the Coffee IPA. Particularly since it came in a wine sized 750 ml bottle, so good or bad, I was going to be drinking a lot of it (Dr. P doesn't care for hoppy beers).

Fortunately, it was everything that I'd hoped the Spontankoppi would be, and more. The IPA base wasn't agressively hoppy, focusing on the citrusy and fruity notes, with a good malt backbone. The hand of the coffee was much lighter, not bitter, with toffee notes that matched the malt, and fruity notes that matched the hops, with just a hint of coffee bitterness on the finish. This was definitely the hop-head's coffee beer. 6.9% ABV.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Recipes #224 and #225 - still mead and spiced gravenstein cyser

As I mentioned early on, you can ferment pretty much anything with sugar in it (or starch that you can convert into sugar). One of the earliest sources of sugar available to humans was honey, and yet, one of the oldest fermented beverages is also one of the least familiar in modern times: mead.

Mead is simply fermented honey. To ferment honey, you have to dilute it with water, since the high sugar content in honey actually turns water molecules it comes into contact with into hydrogen peroxide, and draws the water out of cells, both of which have the effect of killing microorganisms like yeast and bacteria.

In addition, since honey is almost completely composed of fructose and glucose, it's lacking most of the nutrients that yeast need to grow, prosper, and metabolize it into alcohol. Consequently, making mead requires either adding these nutrients (usually in the form of diammonium sulphate and/or the powdered yeast remnants).

You can also add other fermentables to the must (the water with dissolved honey), such as fruit juice or grain, which will both provide these nutrients and change the character of the finished beverage. Mead made with fruit juices is called melomel, and with grape juice specifically, pyment. Mead can also be flavored with herbs and spices; spiced pyment is called hippocras, allegedly after the father of Greek medicine, Hippocrates; in fact, the Celtic word for spiced mead is metheglin, from which derives the English word "medicine," because as we all know, a spoonful of sugar...

Mead is typically still, but can be made sparkling like beer or wine by adding sugar at bottling to feed the living yeast in the bottle. Like beer, mead can be strong or weak, sweet or dry, depending on how much honey you use and how alcohol tolerant your yeast strain is. The main thing required to make mead is patience, because it's much more like wine in the time it takes to mature.

Mead made with apple juice is called cyser, and that leads us to today's two recipes.

Still mead (3 gallons)

A lot of mead recipes call for you to boil or at least pasteurize the honey, but it doesn't seem like that's really necessary, since the honey itself is pretty close to sterile, and you'll boil off any volatile flavor or aroma compounds in the honey, which is usually pretty subtle to start with. In general, the better honey you use, the better your mead will be, but also, the more expensive!

  1. Add 6 quarts warm water, 1.5 tsp diammonium phosphate, and 1.5 tsp yeast nutrient (dried yeast remnants) to sanitized fermenter.
  2. Add 10 lbs honey to fermenter, mix as much as possible by swirling fermenter.
  3. Add warm water to fill each honey container about halfway, seal and shake vigorously. This will help get all the honey out, and aerate the mixture, since the must will be low in oxygen. Pour into the fermenter.
  4. Add warm water to bring the fermenter to 5 gallons, then pitch yeast and seal. You can use liquid mead yeast, or a dry mead or wine yeast like grand cuvee.
  5. Rack after 4 weeks. During primary fermentation, you may want to gently agitate the fermenter a couple of times, as the must will tend to accumulate dissolved CO2, which can cause issues when you rack.
  6. Rack after 3 additional months.
  7. Bottle after 3 additional months.

Spiced cyser (3 gallons)

I like to make cyser - apple mead - with Gravenstein apple juice. Gravensteins are a variety local to Sonoma, north of San Francisco. It's typically only available in the fall after the harvest. They've got a good balance between sweet dessert apples, and tart savory apples. Sadly, as demand for California wine has increased over the last couple of decades, many Gravenstein orchards have been torn out and replaced by vinyards. This stuff makes a delicious holiday treat (or gift), like Christmas in a bottle.

  1. In a large pot, combine: 6 quarts Gravenstein juice; 8 lbs honey; 2 sticks cinnamon, cracked; 8 cloves, crushed; 8 allspice berries, crushed; 1 tsp fresh-ground nutmeg; 1/2 dried curacao (bitter) orange peel.
  2. Bring to a low simmer, heat for 20 minutes, cover and let stand until the pot is cool to the touch, then pour into a sanitized fermenter.
  3. Warm 2 more quarts Gravenstein juice, fill each honey container about halfway, seal and shake vigorously. This will help get all the honey out, and aerate the mixture, since the must will be low in oxygen. Pour into the fermenter.
  4. Pitch yeast and seal. You can use liquid cider or mead yeast, or a dry mead or cider yeast, or wine yeast like grand cuvee.
  5. Rack after 4 weeks, then bottle after 3 additional months.

Homebrewing in the White House

Last year, there was a news story about how President Obama purchased a homebrewing kit so that his kitchen staff could brew beer at the White House, using honey from the beehives he'd had installed there. Needless to say, homebrewers across America were happy to get some national exposure for their hobby, and lots of people emailed me the story.

Naturally, being a curious lot, some of us wanted the White House's recipes, and a couple of months ago at least two people submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to get them. So, brewing at the White House was again in the news at the beginning of September when the recipes were published, and again people sent me the stories to ask what I thought of the recipes, and whether I planned to try them.

At the risk of losing my chance to ever share a beer with the president, let me say that I was not impressed. The recipes, for a honey ale and honey stout, call for using canned malt extract. I didn't know that anyone even sold canned malt extract anymore.

Malt extract is basically a syrup, what you'd get if you took the sweet wort from mashing grain and boiled it down to the consistency of liquid caramel. To be fair, it's how most homebrewers start, because it takes some specialized equipment and a little finesse to mash grain. Most beginning homebrewers do what the White House recipe does, which is called a partial mash. You soak 1-2 pounds of specialty grains, for example the toasted dark malts that give a porter its color and chocolate/coffee/toffee characteristics, in hot water an a cheesecloth bag to extract the flavor from them; and then you add malt extract to the water and boil it.

That's what I did for about the first 2 years and 25 batches of beer I made. After that, I got a mashing rig and did a full mash or all-grain recipes, where all your wort comes from grain. That gives you more control over the grains you use, and thus over the flavor.

In using malt extract and a partial mash, the White House made their recipe very accessible to novice homebrewers, so in that respect it's a good thing. But canned malt extract... that's like a casserole recipe that calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup. You can still buy it, but then you're limited to to the amount in the cans (typically 3.3 pounds; apparently the WH gets around this limitation for using dry malt extract to round out the amount needed; and let me tell you, that stuff is a PITA to work with, it sticks to everything), and I'd be concerned about freshness. I suppose it'd be OK if you didn't have a local homebrew store and had to get your stuff through mail-order, but better mail-order places sell plastic/foil packets of extract that will be much fresher than canned. Although I guess I should be glad they didn't go really old-school and call for hopped extract, which basically (gods only know how) included some sort of hop extract in the malt as well.

So, while I applaud the White House for spotlighting the hobby, and for making their recipes accessible to beginners, I wish they'd used a little more current ingredients.

Beer review - Belgo-Danish farmhouse IPA barrel super-mashup!

Time once again for some beer reviews! As the title suggests, it's sort of a mash-up of Belgian-style, farm-house style, IPAs, barrel-aged, and Danish gypsy-brewed beers, where each beer has at least one, and possibly several, boxes checked from that list.

Fantôme Printemps Saison


Fantome is a little outfit an old farmhouse in the dinky town of Soy, Belgium. They basically make one beer, a saison, on which they make variations using herbs, fruits, and spices. The Printemps is their flagship - at 8% ABV, is strong for the style, and has a lot of fruity flavor going on. Quite nice! I picked this up at Little Vine, and they seem to carry it regularly.

Evil Twin Disco Beer

This one (and the remainder in this review) all came from The Jug Shop, who will get their own review one of these days. Suffice to say, they're awesome. They frequently do beer tastings on Friday nights, and this one, along with the Aphotic Baltic Porter and Invasion Farmhouse IPA, were part of a tasting of barrel-aged beers.

Evil Twin is a Danish outfit of gypsy brewers, along the lines of Mikkeller. They're just as wacky in their experimentation, and perhaps even more so in their naming, with beers like Grünerløkka Hipster Ale, DEVFFC,MQAL9,.8, Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room, Without You I'm Nothing, and Been Smoking Too Long.

Disco Beer is an IPA aged in chardonnay barrels. It's quite strong (10.5% ABV), but fairly mellow on the hops. It has a smooth, thick, velvety character. It's almost a dessert beer along the lines of a stout, but hoppier and without the chocolate/coffee/toffee malt profile.

Victory V12 Belgian-inspired 


Victory is from Downington, PA, outside of Philadelphia. Their flagship beers are their Hop Devil IPA and Storm King stout, and a lot of their beers tend to follow a West Coast ethic of a strong hops profile.

The V-12, however, is a pretty straightforward Belgian trippel, clocking in at a massive 12% ABV. It's pretty true to the style - golden, sweet, and fruity. I'm not a big fan of this style of beer (I think I mistakenly bought it because I thought it was barrel aged; if it was, those characteristics didn't really come through), but if you do, it's a pretty solid representative.

High Water Aphotic Baltic Porter

Across the continent, in Chico, home of one of the first and largest craft brewers, there is also High Water. They're a little closer to a boutique brewery - they have a couple of beers like their Hop Riot IPA that they sell all the time, but often they'll brew a small batch of something, and once it's gone, they may not brew it again for a good long while.

Such was the case with their Aphotic Baltic porter, which they had one trip to The Jug Shop but not the next. It's a strong beer, as Baltic-style porters are, at 9.3% ABV. It's aged in bourbon and brandy barrels, which gives is a complex character, and there was a hint of sourness there that balanced the sweet, chocolate character well. I recommend it, if you can find it!

Mikkeller Invasion Farmhouse IPA


Finally, another by our favorite Danish gypsy brewers.  Start with a moderately strong (8.0% ABV), moderately hoppy IPA, and now inoculate it with Brettanomyces, the wild yeast strain that gives sour beers their puckery, sometimes barn-yardy flavor. This brings out some of the great summer fruit flavors from the hops, and a great interplay between the sweetness of a strong beer, bitterness of IPA, and sourness from the Bret. A great transition for you hop-heads looking to get into sour beers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Building a kegerator

There comes a time in every homebrewer's life when he gets sick of washing bottles, and he decides to start kegging his beer. I say "his," but let's face it, probably 95% of homebrewers are men. Which also leads to the fact that men want a "man cave," and man cave + beer keg = kegerator. And, we're not just talking about a refrigerator with a keg in it; we're talking about a tap in the door.

Of course, you could buy a kegerator, but what's the fun in that? Homebrewers are, by definition, DIY guys, and you can convert a refrigerator into a kegerator for less than $100 (soda kegs and CO2 tank not included, but those can be readily purchased on the cheap on eBay).

And so, a photo essay, as Your Author builds a kegerator!

Behold, a refrigerator, purchased for $100 off craigslist. Price did not include renting an appliance dolly to haul it 3 blocks, nor the cost in waking up Dr. P from her Saturday morning slumber to help me haul it...

The necessary hardware: food grade plastic tubing, tap, shank, nipple, hose clamps, keg connector, drill drip tray, measuring tape.
Measure twice, drill once. Because of the interior configuration of the door, the tap has to be a little off-center.
The sheet metal exterior of a most refrigerators is pretty thin; you can cut through it with a 12-volt cordless power drill and a 1" spade bit.
Beyond the sheet metal is foam, and then...
The plastic interior panel of the door.
A nice souvenir!
Now, we put the shank through the hole, and secure it with a big brass nut on the interior of the door. Not shown: me cursing when I realized that the 3" shank that I originally bought was too short, causing me to have to go back to the brew store to get a 5" shank...
Secure that shank!
Now we have to fit the hose on the nipple that will screw onto the end of the shank. The nipple is quite tight, so this actually required a goodly degree of force.
Securing the nipple with a hose clamp. Not shown on the other end is the connector that fits onto the keg, also secured with a clamp. Homebrewers typically use 5 gallon soda kegs, and there are two kinds: ball lock and pin lock. These are not interchangable, so you pretty much have to commit yourself to one kind or the other.
A nut fits over the nipple...
...and screws onto the end of the shank.
The interior hardware is now finished.
Now we attach the tap to the outside of the door. There's a little gasket that goes between them.

The tap has little teeth to help line it up...
And a special wrench to secure it. If you want to get fancy, the handle screws off and can be customized.
To keep the floor from getting sticky, we'll put a drip tray under the tap. Make sure a glass will fit under the tap!

Make sure it's level...
Screw in the screws...
And hang the tray. Finished! Now all we need is a keg of beer!

Recipe #223 - Saison's Greetings

Since I love saisons, a few years ago I added one to my holiday line-up. I spice this one a little bit differently than my standard saison (although who am I kidding, I've thrown all sorts of stuff in there...), and age it on wine-soaked oak chips.


7.25 lb domestic 2-row
2 lb domestic Vienna
.05 lb flaked wheat
0.5 lb asidulated malt
0.5 lb flaked oats


1 oz East Kent Goldings @ 5.4% AA @ 60 min
0.5 oz Saaz @ 4% AA @ 20 min
0.5 oz " @ 5 min


White Labs Saison Ale Yeast WLP 565


Soak in 4 oz 190 proof house vodka for one week: .5 tsp crushed coriander, .25 oz curaçao orange peel, 1 g crushed grains of paradise, 1 tsp fresh grated ginger. Strain and add at racking.


8 weeks on chardonnay barrel chips.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book review - America Walks into a Bar

Every once in a while (usually when I'm flying on a beercation or waiting for the wort to boil), I read a book. Usually, it takes me 3-6 months to finish one, but America Walks Into a Bar took me just a long weekend plus a couple of extra days, for around 280 pages.

Christine Sismond's rollicking little book is basically the history of America, as told from the perspective of the country's taverns, saloons, speakeasies, and bars. To a great extent, America's history is the history of its taverns, saloons, speakeasies, and bars, as well as its brewers, moonshiners, rum-runners, and barstool jockies. Many great events and social movements were planned in bars, and beer, cider, whiskey, and rum are often the lubricants, the context, or the villains of American history.

The final chapters on the alcohol's and bar's roles in the civil rights movements for women, African Americans, and gays go by a little too quickly, and I think that Sismond could've spent a little more time on the events that last couple of decades - the rise of craft brewing, wine, spirits, and cocktails - but overall it was a very fun read.

Event review - Brews on the Bay

Back in 2004, several of the craft breweries and brewpubs in San Francisco formed the San Francisco Brewers Guild, and one of their first events was Brews on the Bay, a beer tasting fundraiser for liberty ships, hosted aboard the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, a liberty ship moored at the Hyde Street Pier, just around the corner from the Barbary Coast Brewery.

This year was the 9th annual Brews on the Bay, but the first time that I've attended. With me were Dr. P, our friends Anna and Aish, their friend Lee visiting from New Zealand, and Dr. P's friend Claire.

Over the years the Guild has expanded; this year, BotB included 15 breweries (including several homebrewers who've made the jump to commercial brewers) serving almost 60 beers, as well as four local food trucks and two bands. The $50 ticket price gets you unlimited tastings; the food is extra.

Overall, I thought this was a good event - we had good weather (which can be dicey in SF in September), the crowds weren't too bad, and the setting of the Jeremiah O'Brien is pretty spectacular, right on the water with great views of the City and the Bay.

I ended up tasting about 20 of the beers. Obviously I can't give you a full review, but believe it or not I did take notes! (Actually, those who know me will probably have little trouble believing this...). I rated each beer 0 (meh), + (good), or ++ (outstanding). Here's what I had, and what I thought of them:

21st Amendment, 21A Saison: ++
21st Amendment, Hop Crisis Imperial IPA: +
Almanac, Honey Saison: +
Almanac, Extra Pale Ale: +
Almanac, Bier de Mars w/ Fennel: +
Beach Chalet, Catcher in the Roggen: 0
Beach Chalet, Harvest Pale Ale: 0
Beach Chalet, Bier de Garde: +
Mateveza, Black Lager: +
Magnolia, Proving Ground IPA: +
Pacific Brewing Laboratory, Squid Ink Black IPA: +
Pizza Orgasmica, IPA: +
Schmaltz, He'Brew Hop Manna IPA: +
Schmaltz, Albino Python: +
Southern Pacific, IPA: +
Southpaw BBQ, Mild at Heart:0
Southpaw BBQ, Matchhead Red: 0
Speakeasy, Scarlett: 0
Thirsty Bear, 2012 Wet Hop Hopmeister:+
Thirsty Bear, Brown Bear (cask conditioned): ++
Triple Voodoo, Grand Cru: 0

Recipe #222 - Rump Umpkin ale

People have always fermented pretty much anything with sugar in it. In colonial America, farmland for barley for beer was scarce, and importing it from England was dear, so colonists found other things to ferment - corn, molasses, apples (cider was actually a much more popular drink in colonial America than beer), and... pumpkins?

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin are all believed to have brewed beer with pumpkins. Beginning with Buffalo Bill's, pumpkin ales have been a fall staple.

But, for homebrewers, pumpkins aren't easy to work with. They're mostly starch, so they need to be roasted, and even then can gum up the works - and, they don't taste like much on their own. When most people think of the pumpkin, what they taste is pumpkin pie, so they the beers usually get a generous portion of spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg, which can be tricky to make balanced and not overpowering.

I make mine with canned pumpkin, so that it's already pureed, baked to break down the starches; and with an infusion of spices made with dark rum rather than vodka, to capture the volatile essences of the spices as well as the molasses character of the rum. 


8 lb domestic 2-row
1 lb domestic Munich
1 lb red wheat
0.25 lb Special B
0.25 lb Belgian biscuit
0.25 lb English brown malt

Other fermentables

3 x 15 oz cans pumpkin cooked 45 min @ 350F


1 oz Mt. Hood 5.4% AA @ 60 min
0.5 oz " @ 20 min
0.5 oz " @ 5 min


White Labs California Ale Yeast WLP 001


6 oz gold or dark rum,1 cinnamon stick, 6 allspice berries, 6 cloves, 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger, 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Beer Bar Review - Todd English P.U.B.

I recently had the misfortune to have to spend several days in Las Vegas, which in general keeping with its status as the capital of bad taste, is not exactly a powerhouse of craft beer. There are some breweries and brewpubs in the suburbs, if you can get out there, but if you're stuck on the Strip, your options in the casinos and bars are generally limited to macrobrews and the larger craft beer brands. There was a brewpub for a while in the Monte Carlo, but its beers we're pretty mediocre, due, I think, to the high mineral content in Vegas water. (It's now a beer bar with a pretty decent list.) There's also Sin City Brewing in the Venetian (also mediocre) and Triple 7 in the Main Street Casino near Fremont Street (not bad), and that's about all there is for brewpubs on the Strip (I think there might be a Gordon Biersch or BJ's somewhere, but, really, ick.)

Fortunately, I managed to discover the Todd English P.U.B. (Public Urban Bar), in the Crystals Center near the Aria hotel. Created by 3-time James Beard Award-winning chef Todd English, it's not really an English pub so much as a gastropub, featuring high-end food and drink.

It has a food menu of high-end pub grub, and a beer menu of around 60 that spans from pedestrian PBR to limited edition craft brews and foreign rarities. They had a number of beers on cask, which was nice to see, including several from Deschutes  (presumably they have some sort of special relationship).

The downside is that, like anything that's worth anything in Vegas, it's on the pricey side. A 12 oz pour will run you $8-12, depending. The beer menu is a bit confusing, in that they don't organize it by beer style, but in rather arbitrary categories by strength, ingredients, or place of origin.

Dr. P. and I visited the PUB twice, once on our own and once with a larger group. Notable beers included Stone Twilight IPA on cask, which was strong and hoppy but nicely mellowed; St Bernardus ABT, which had good complexity, a taste of coconuts and brandy, and a nice 10.5% ABV warmth; and Uinta Labyrinth (from Utah, of all places), 13.2% ABV, with a delicious flavor of chocolate, whiskey, black licorice, and cream coffee.

The first visit, on a Saturday night, was quite nice, but the second, on a Monday night, wasn't quite as good. It was much busier, and the staff had some issues getting our orders right. Twice I ordered an Innis and Gunn (looking forward to a beer I'd never even heard of), and twice they brought me a Stone Arrogant Bastard (a fine beer, but not what I ordered). On the other hand. They didn't charge me for the beer, so that's something.

So, while the prices are on the high side and the service can be a bit spotty on a game or high tourist traffic night , if you're looking for good food and really good beer in Vegas, Todd English is probably your best bet.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Brewpub Review - Cerveseria Mateveza

MateVeza is one of several examples in San Francisco of homebrewers who've made the jump to commercial brewing. They appeared on local shelves a couple of years ago with an organic IPA made with Yerba Mate, a South American caffeinated beverage. Since then, their line has expanded to include two more beers, and more recently, a small cerveceria across the street from Dolores Park, where they're also brewing their beer.

To call it a "brewpub" would be a bit of an exaggeration, since all they serve are empanadas from El Porteño. Which, don't get me wrong, are quite tasty! They have 7 taps, which on a recent visit serve one of their own beers, as wells a fridge with about 100 craft brews. I had the St Bernardus Prior 8 Belgian dubbel (delicious), while Dr. P had a Bockor Jacobin Rouge sour (very delicious).

So, while I can't really recommend it as a place with a full menu, they have some tasty beers on tap (and in the fridge), and tasty empanadas for them to wash down. As a place for a quick snack or to pick up some good beers near Dolores Park (or, as Dr. P. tells me, for an impromptu date), it's a great little spot.

Social Kitchen Waterside Porter

While I've got your attention, lemme throw in a review of another Social Kitchen beer, their Waterside Porter. I generally like porters, but a lot of west coast brewers, being hop heads, tend to overtop them, and unfortunately, the tannins in the dark grains that give porters their color and flavor don't play well with hops.

This one, however, is done right. Presumably, they're using carafa malt, which is a dark malt that does play well with hops. It's well-balanced, with good mouthfeel, and not too strong. A very well-done "west coast" porter.

Social Kitchen Waterside Porter, 5.9% ABV, 33 IBU.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gateway beers

Every once in a while, I run into someone who says they "don't like beer." This simply makes no sense. There's quite a bit of evidence that the Agricultural Revolution, and thus human civilization, were driven by growing cereal grains for beer. (Before he bakers protest, remember, beer and bread both evolved out of a sort of fermented malt mash porridge. Throw it in the fire, and you get bread. Strain it, and you get beer.) So, if you "dislike" beer, you might as well dislike houses, clothing, and a life expectancy greater than 30.

Model of Egyptians making beer
Now, there are legitimate reasons for not drinking alcohol - physical and psychological addiction, lacking the enzymes to break it down, disliking the bloated feeling or flatulence that comes from carbonation or introducing too much yeast to your gut (Dr. P will tell you this bothers me far too little...), the fear that your god will smite you (or at least send you back, and try not to frack it up again this time...). But generally, if I dig a little deeper, the answer is that this person doesn't like the taste of beer.

This, I can understand, since 95%+ of beer consumed around the world is industrial pisswater lager - or, more correctly, industrial pisswater pilsner. Sadly, in some ways we must view this as the ultimate product of "civilization," not to mention colonialism.

Indeed, pilsner itself isn't a bad beer, but what most of the world today knows simply as "beer" is a far cry from the original, cleanly fermented, malty lager with the sparking Saaz hops. But in the brighter corners of 21st century, there's such a dizzying array of different craft beers available, that there's at least one for just about every palate. If you can get your friend to give up their preconceptions and prejudices about what "beer" tastes like, and try them.

To simplify that task, I want to suggest 3 craft beer styles that I think are excellent "gateways" to blow the minds of people who think they don't like beer, expand their consciousness about, and thirst for, beer. One your probably familiar with, but two you probably know only if you're a beer afficianado, and even then one if those may surprise you.


Porter was my gateway beer. Although it was a mainstay of the British working class in the 18th and 19th centuries, it nearly died out in the 20th. It was brewed in New England and Pennsylvania, but was overtaken by pilsner in the US in the mid-19th century.

Porter is a good gateway beer because it's flavor profile matches things that most people enjoy eating, or indeed consider a treat: chocolate, coffee, toast, nuts, caramel, toffee. It's not usually aggressively hopped, for those who complain that "beer" is too bitter.

However, the dark color and rich flavor can lead people to believe that it's high in alcohol (remember that alcohol comes from the *amount* of grain, while color, texture, and flavor come from how the grain is prepared - we'll talk more about this and other beer myths in a future post). This is, sadly, particularly true of women, whom marketing has taught to like light colored/flavored beer (if they drink beer at all - the history of American beer and it's marketing to women will be the subject of another, even more bilious post... And woe is the woman who comes into a beer bar where I'm drinking and orders a glass of Chardonnay...).

Solving this problem brings us to our second gateway beer...


Saison (SAY-sohn, from the French meaning "season;" NOT say-SOHN, the French Post-Impressionist painter) began as Belgian (actually, Walloon) "farmhouse" ale that is, the homebrewed beer that Belgian farmers would serve their field hands along with their traditional meal of fried egg-battered toast and waffles dipped in mayonnaise (yes, that's several obscure cultural jokes rolled into one...).

Saison is friendly-looking, but it's almost instantly obvious that something interesting is going on here. It's light colored, but more straw than gold, and may even be a little cloudy if it was bottled conditioned (that is, carbonated with live yeast in the bottle, which settle to the bottom, rather than pasteurized and filtered). Then take a smell - rather than hops - bitter, grassy, or piney - you'll get subtle fruits, perhaps a hint of orange or stone fruit; a little spicy, perhaps cloves or corriander; and perhaps just a hint of soft funkiness, which the modern palate, pasteurized, sanitized, refrigerated, and vacuum-sealed - recalls from another, more home-spun era.

Flemish Sours

OK, this is the one that the beer snobs may question at first. The northern part of Belgium, Flanders, produces an different styles of beer, sour reds and browns. These beers are innoculated with wild Brettanomyces yeast, and/or bacteria like lactobacillus (which sours milk), and turn some of the sugars and alcohols in the beer to lactic acid or acetic acid, producing a tart, pucker sourness, which contrasts to the malty, fruity sweetness of the beer. (Russian River Brewing, in Santa Rosa, CA, makes a wide range of these types of beer.)

Sour beers tend to be the last beers that beer connoisseurs acquire a taste for, and many never do, as their taste is almost completely unlike any other. But, conversely, they make excellent gateway beers for wine drinkers, who will grock their fruitiness, tartness, and barrel-aged funkiness. Sours aren't bitter, aren't too sweet, and usually aren't too bubbly, but instead are the closest beers to wine, and are the most likely to convince wine drinkers that craft beers can, in fact, be complex and worthy of their notice.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Recipe #221 - Zwarte Piet Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout

(First, a quick review. Turns out that there was a second version of Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch, aged in congac barrels rather than calvados barrels. It was also delicious. That is all!)

Yes, it's already time to brew the holiday beer! Well, technically, it was time to start brewing the holiday beer back in June, when I brew my Solstice Celebration barleywine. But now that Fog Season has (hopefully) passed here on the Barbary Coast and Indian Summer has arrived, it's time to gear up for production of our holiday beers, particularly since some, like Zwarte Piet, need several months to mature.

I introduced ZP to my holiday lineup a few years back, and it was an immediate hit. It's my homebrewing attempt to reproduce a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. In this case, toasted oak chips soaked in rot-gut bourbon (my preferred poison is Ancient Age, or whatever they're selling as their "house" brand at Trader Joe's, at around $10 a fifth) for a week or so and thrown into the fermenter for the secondary fermentation. The results were so good that I started aging other holiday beers on chips soaked in TJ's Charles Shaw (AKA Two-Buck Chuck) Shiraz.

The name stems from an unusual bit of Dutch folklore. Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) travels with a servant, Zwarte Piet, "Black Peter," who was apparently a bound demon servitor (see also the German Krampus), but later morphed into a dark-skinned Moor.

Zwarte Piet's job is to put naughty children in his sack, and take them to Spain. (I should be so lucky, or so naughty...) Zwarte Piet has caused some controversy in recent years, as he's depicted with exaggerated Negro features, or portrayed by Dutchmen in blackface, not exactly politically correct in the generally liberal and tolerant Dutch society.

Zwarte Piet Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout

6 lbs domestic 2-row malt
6 lbs domestic Munich malt
1 lb 60L crystal malt
0.5 lb roasted barley
0.5 lb carafa malt

Other fermentables
1 cup white granulated sugar
0.25 cup blackstrap molasses

1 oz Falconer's Flight* hops @ 11.4% AA 60 min
1 oz Falconer's Flight 20 min
1 oz Falconer's Flight 5 min
*Originally I used Citra, but according to the boys at SFBC, they're no longer available, at least not to homebrewers. This was their suggested substitute.

White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast WLP 007

Soak 0.25 lb medium toast French oak chips in bourbon for 1 week, add to secondary for 8-10 weeks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beer Review - Two pretentious girls, three good beers

 ... and we're back! Sorry for the hiatus, but I've actually had work to do during blogging hours. Very inconvenient!

Social Kitchen Ramsgate Rye Pale Ale

This was the second growler that I picked up from Social Kitchen, but it took me a little while to get 'round to reviewing it. Rye is an interesting but sometimes difficult grain to work with. It adds a lightness of body like wheat, with a certain spiciness. Unfortunately for the homebrewer, however, like wheat it has much less hull than barley, so it can be tricky and sticky in the mash. And beyond that, it has to be handled carefully. It's typically used in pale ales and IPAs to lighten the color and body, and add an extra dimension of flavor.

I can only guess at the reference in the name. Ramsgate is a little seaside resort town in Kent that has a yearly beer festival, and a couple of beers with rye were served there, so perhaps SK's new brewer enjoyed one? I'll ask him if I meet him.

In any event, Ramsgate the beer is a nice summery session beer, with a straw color and slightly tart but not overpowering hops aroma and flavor. The rye does its job quite nicely.

Social Kitchen Rapscallion Strong Golden Belgian


One of the players in our Sunday RPG group brought this as his contribution to the beer selection. He said it was the 2nd strongest beer SK was serving (they wouldn't sell him a growler of the strongest, presumably the 8.8% ABV Anniversary Brune, but that's hardly unusual since brewpubs tend to charge a flat price for growler fills, but stronger beers are move expensive). He said the beer was called "Two Pretentious Girls With Cellos," apparently a reference to a music group called "Rasputin." This puzzled me; I assumed they couldn't call it "Rasputin" since there's a well-established beer of that name. However, SK's website showed no beer of either name. I emailed brewmaster Kim Sturdavant, and while he agreed that it was a great name for a beer, he had no idea what I was talking about, either.

A little googling revealed that the band's actual name was Rasputina, and a little reasoning brought me to the conclusion that the beer was actually SK's Rapscallion.

Rapscallion is billed as a "strong golden Belgian," and was one of the beers brewed by SK's original brewmaster, Rich Higgins. It's similar to a tripel - golden color, thick body, slightly sweet, lightly hopped - but not quite as strong (though still strong enough). Not quite a session beer, but very drinkable.

Firestone Walker Double DBA Imperial Special Bitter


As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of FW's regular beers, but I do love their reserve releases, and Double Double Barrel is no exception.

Bitter (and its cousins special bitter and extra special bitter, AKA ESB) is bascially old school English session beer, the ale equivalent of pisswater lager. (Admittedly, 15-20 years ago, before it was bought by the Great Imperialist Brewing Satan, Redhook ESB was a gateway to craft beers for a lot of folks, myself included). It's not really bitter, that is, hoppy, except perhaps in comparison to porters, stouts, and milds, although the term "bitter" was originally used interchangeably with "pale ale;" English style pale ales tend to be less hoppy than American ones. (Also, bitter should not be confused with bitters, the alcoholic extracts of herbs, spices, etc. that are used in flavoring cocktails.)

FW's normal Double Barrel Ale (DBA) is pretty much in the standard English "special bitter" style, light caramel color, only slightly bitter. Despite being aged in oak barrels, I find very little of the oak character in it. Double Double Barrel Imperial Special Bitter is a doubly-strong version, very much like a barleywine, aged in bourbon barrels. It's like drinking candy, with luscious toffee and caramel notes, overlaid with the wood and vanilla of the bourbon barrels. It's a delicious treat, so grab it while you can for dessert!

Social Kitchen, Ramsgate Rye Pale Ale. 4.9% ABV, 45 IBU.
Social Kitchen, Rapscallion Strong Golden Belgian. 7.2% ABV, 23 IBU.
Firestone Walker, Double Double Barrel Imperial Special Bitter. 12% ABV, IBU want some candy little girl...?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Recipe #220 - Vanilla smoked porter

The last batch of beer that I brewed in 2011 was a smoked porter, based on the book from Stone Brewing, one of my favorite breweries, in Escondido CA. (After all, their flagship beer is Arrogant Bastard, how could I not love them?) My beer wasn't quite as robust, or as smoky, as I wanted, however. Then, a couple of months back, Dr. P and I found a bottle of their special release Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean, which was really, really tasty, so Dr. P encouraged me to try my hand at it. She's good that way.

9 lbs domestic 2-row
2 lbs domestic Vienna
1 lb 80L crystal malt
1/2 lb chocolate malt
1/2 lb carafa malt
1/2 lb smoked malt

1 oz. Columbus @ 13.9% AA 60 min
1 oz. Mt. Hood @ 5.4% AA 20 min
1 oz. Mt. Hood @ 5.4% AA 5 min

White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WLP 007)

Vanilla infusion - split 1 vanilla bean, soak in 4 ounces of undiluted house vodka (~190 proof) for 1 week, add to secondary.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Beer reviews - International flair

Most of the styles of beer brewed today originated in Europe - Czech pilsner, German bock, Flemish sours, British pale ales, porters, and stouts. In many respects, however, American craft brewers have surpassed their European antecedents. There's virtually not a single style of beer that isn't brewed by some American craft brewer, and indeed Americans have resurrected many beers that had gone extinct (or nearly so) in their native lands. In addition, Americans love to tinker, and many have taken traditional beer styles as their starting point and been wildly inventive with them, experimenting with new techniques and ingredients.

Today's review, however is dedicated to the spirit of internationalism, wherein we have an American brewer who's taken a less well-known European style and made something all their own with it, and Swiss and Danish brewers inspired by American craft brewers to make, in one case, an exceptional beer from another European culture, and in the other, a rather new invention that's taken America by storm (at least, on the tiny scale that craft brewers can).

(Thanks again to my friend Andrew for bringing these to last week's RPG session, and to the good gents at The Jug Shop for recommending them to him!)

Jolly Pumpkin, Baudelaire beer iO saison

Our first beer comes from the exotic land of... Dexter MI, and the good folks at Jolly Pumpkin (you may remember that we picked up a bottle of their La Roja oak-aged amber at Little Vine last week - that was a quite good sour). Jolly Pumpkin has a large repettoire of excellent beers, many of them barrel aged. Their Baudelaire series (which currently comprises only two beers, the iO Saison and the Ale Absurd Rye Trippel) are intended to be even more "artistic" beers, and the iO Saison certainly lives up to the author's dark, romantic reputation on that account.

They started with a saison, or Belgian farmhouse ale, which is one of my favorite style of beers. (I'll discuss it at greater length when I do my posting on "gateway beers.") It's light, kinda fizzily, kinda fruity, kinda funky. Traditionally, it's sometimes enhanced with spices like coriander, dried orange peel, or peppery grains of paradise. For the iO, JP used hibscus flowers, rose petals, and rose hips, which give it a slightly citrusy, slightly floral perfume, an almost dreamy quality. It's really quite wonderful.

Biere Trois Dames, Sauvageonne

In contrast, we have the Sauvageonne, literally "wild girl," from Biere Trois Dames, a Swiss homebrewer who loved the hobby so much he bought a nano-brewery, spent a year visiting breweries in the US and Canada, and then went home and went commercial, making primarily styles popular in North America, like Northwest pale ale, IPA, and stout.

With the Sauvageonne, however, he seems to have gone a little crazy, and this mouth-shrivellingly sour amber truly lives up to its name. Imagine the most tart nectarine you've ever bitten into, and now multiply that by about 10, and that will give you an idea of what you're in for. It's full of delicious fruit tones, while avoiding some of the nastier "barnyard" aromas that can come out of a sour beer fermentation. If you like sour beers, this one's for you!

Mikkeller, Beer Geek Brunch

And now, the piece de resistance, which is an odd phrase to use since these fellows are Danish rather than French. But whatever. Mikkeller (AKA Mikkel Bjergsø and Kristian Keller) are a team of gypsy brewers who broke onto the craft brewing scene six years ago when they presented their beer at the Danish Beer Festival, including their coffee/oatmeal stout, the Beer Geek Breakfast. Their success got the attention of American distributors, and now they export to 40 countries and Mikkel is recognized as one of the world's most innovative craft brewers (Keller went on to other endeavours).

Beer Geek Brunch is similar to the Breakfast, but with a couple of notable exceptions. First, it's brewed with the famous (or perhaps infamous, or if you prefer, just plain disgusting) Vietnamese ca phe chon coffee or Kopa Luwak, some say the world's most expensive (at $160/lb, that's more expensive even than your damned Keurig), which is the coffee that's roast after it passes through the digestive tract of an Asian Palm civet. (Needless to say, I won't be feeding my cats coffee beans in an attempt to do this at home. I'm DIY, but not that DIY.) Then, the finished beer is aged in Calvados barrels, the Normandy apple brandy that's taken with coffee (among other ways) as the traditional morning wake-up jolt. I've tried this, and can't say I'm too fond of it, but the combination in the Beer Geek Brunch is absolutely wonderful, although a bit on the bitter side from the combination of the barrel wood tannins, coffee, and dark roast malts. The apple from the Calvados plays well off the fruit tones in the coffee, however (civet poop or no), and overall it's a truly remarkable beer.

Jolly Pumpkin, Baudelaire Beer iO Saison. 6.8% ABV, IBU rose by any other name...
Biere Trois Dames, Sauvageonne. 6% ABV, IBU who cares, pucker up!
Mikkeller, Beer Geek Brunch. 10.9% ABV, IBU only the civet knows for sure...