Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beer Review - Epic Brewing, Armageddon IPA

When I think of the world's great brewing cultures, New Zealand isn't normally in the first, or even the second tier. I don't know, in fact, that I'd ever given them much thought. I just assumed that they made pisswater lager like the few Australian beers that make it here (although I've since been told that Australia does have a good craft brewer, Cooper's, so I'll have to check them out).

That's why I was rather shocked to hear that The Jug Shop was hosting a tasting of beers from no less than three Kiwi brewers: 8 Wired, Moa, and Epic. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the tasting, but Eric the cicerone was kind enough to open the cases of beer early and sell me bottles of about half the beers - Moa Imperial Stout and St Joseph's triple; 8 Wired iStout, Fresh Hopwired, and The Big Smoke; and Epic Armageddon IPA.

Armageddon, as you might guess from the name, is much more aggressively hopped than The Smell. The focus, surprisingly, is US hops, which tend towards citrus/grapefruit characteristics. It's moderately puckery and not too bitter for such a hoppy IPA. The color is golden-coppery, and I think it could do with a little thicker mouthfeel and residual sweetness to balance the hops; instead, it feels a bit on the week and watery side for the strength of the hops. But still, if you like a really hoppy IPA, it's not bad.

Armageddon IPA, from Epic Brewing. Unknown IBU, ABV 6.66%.

Recipe #219 - RJ-11 Rye/Jasmine Summer Ale

I actually brewed this 2 weeks ago, but figured I'd go ahead and post it now. This is based on a recipe from San Francisco Brewcraft, my FLHBS. I've actually had a commercial beer flavored with jasmine, Avatar Jasmine IPA from Elysian Brewing in Seattle, which is quite good and has inspired me to try making jasmine pales in the past.

For those keeping track, this is my 219th batch of beer.

7 lbs domestic 2-row
3 lbs domestic Vienna
0.75 lb rye malt
0.5 lb cara-pils
0.5 lb flaked oats
0.25 lb rice hulls*

1 oz. Liberty @ 4.9%AA 60 min
1 oz. " 20 min
1 oz. " 5 min

White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP 001)

I gathered about an ounce of jasmine flowers from around the neighborhood, and macerated them in about 4 ounces of undiluted house vodka (~190 proof). This will be strained and poured into the secondary after about 2 weeks, just before bottling.

*Because the rye and oats don't have much hull, they can gum up the running of the mash. The rice hulls provide extra filtering "roughage" to compensate for this. I usually poor them into the mash tun first, and then they get mixed into the bottom portion of the mash.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beer Review - Social Kitchen, The Smell IPA

I have a soft spot for the Social Kitchen brewpub, even though I don't go there all that often. The location seems perfect, right in the heart of the Inner Sunset and perhaps dangerously close to the N-Judah MUNI line, and yet over the years it seemed to have been cursed. 6 brewpubs have tried to make a go of the space, beginning with Golden Gate Brewing back in the mid-90s, then Eldos, and Wunder (and one that never even opened its doors). I heard horror stories about the people who owned the building. But with Social, they seem to be making a decent go of the place - every time I go, it's moderately busy, the food is a decent pub-grub menu, the beer is good, and they seem to be building a dedicated following. Rich Higgins, the original brewer, was a very nice guy, and one of the founders of the San Francisco Brewers Guild, which I think has done a lot to build the community of craft brewers, home brewers, and beer afficianados. Hopefully the new brewer Kim Sturdavan, who started in May after working at Marin Brewing, will continue the tradition.

Since I happened to be in the neighborhood this past Sunday, and am now there a couple of times a month thanks to my RPG group, I decided to break down for a couple of growlers. Which is how they come to be my first review, for their The Smell IPA. (I also picked up their Ramsgate Rye pale ale, but I haven't cracked that yet.)

Now, I'll warn you all up front that I'm a real hop-head - I like IPAs that make lips pucker and teeth squeak as you run your tongue over the resin that sticks to the enamel. My currently favorite is probably Green Flash Palate Wrecker. I realize, though, that that's a little much for most folks, so I will try to give a considered review.

The Smell is a fine, well-balanced IPA. It's got a nice coppery color, and strikes a middle ground between bitterness and aroma. The nose is more citrus than grass or pine, and it's not overpowering. It's got a good body, solid without being syrupy. At 7.2% ABV, it's mildly warming without knocking you over the head (remember, though, that I'm a 6'2", 200 lbs, seasoned beer drinker). It's not outstanding in any particular category, but it's a good beer.

(Note: I decided that I'm not going to do any kind of numerical rating system, since beers are just too subjective, and an imperial IPA or Flemish red that makes me swoon might make you gag. So, I'm just going to describe my experience, and you can decide if that sounds good to you.)

The Smell IPA, from Social Kitchen. 60 IBU, ABV 7.2%.

What is beer?

Since the topic of this blog is beer, it might behoove us to discuss what, exactly, beer is.

Pretty much all alcoholic beverages begin as yeast consuming sugar (called "fermentation"), and creating, primarily, ethanol (CH3CH2OH) and carbon dioxide (CO2) as biproducts.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, AKA ale yeast
The CO2 escapes, although in the case of beer and wines like champagne, some of the fermentation occurs in the bottle and some of the gas dissolves into the beverage, making it carbonated. Yeast metabolism also creates other biproducts, such as esters, phenols, methanol, and higher-order alcohols, which contribute flavor and other characteristics to the finished beverage.

An alcoholic beverage that's distilled undergoes a process, usually evaporation and condensation, that separates the ethanol from the water and other chemicals that the yeast produce through fermentation. Depending on the process, the goal can be to create as pure (and consequently flavorless) ethanol as possible (like vodka), or retain some of the other chemicals that add flavor (as in whiskey or brandy). Some amount of water (usually 60-80%) and other flavorings (including those that come from barrel aging) can be added to the distillate.

Working backwards from fermentation, the next thing that distinguishes alcoholic beverages is the source of the sugar, whether from sugar cane (rum), honey (mead), or fruit (wine and fruit brandies). Sugar can also come from breaking down starches, which are long chains of sugars. Plants store sugars as starches in order to prevent other organisms like bacteria, mold, and yeast, from eating them; and then use enzymes to break the chains back apart into sugars when they need to consume them for energy. (Some plants keep sugars available for other organisms to consume, such as in their flowers or fruit, to lure/reward them for pollinating the plant or spreading its seeds.) Starches are broken down into sugars to make vodka (potatoes and other things), sake (rice), and, of course, beer.

Traditionally, barley has been used for making beer, because of its high protein content, and because its kernels contain a large amount of the enzymes necessary to convert its starch back into sugar.

2-row and 6-row barley
To do this, the barley is first warmed and wet make it germinate, which activates the enzymes to feed the new plant. This process is called malting. The malt is then kilned to stop the plant from growing, dry it for storage, and possibly to carmelize some of its sugar to add flavor to the beer. Beers can use other grains - wheat (as in hefeweizen), rye, oats, corn, rice, sorghum - or other forms of sugar like honey or molasses; but barley typically predominates. Each type of grain, and how it's treated (for example, the roasted barley used to add dark color to stouts), contributes to the flavor of the beer.

To begin the brewing process, the brewer soaks barley in hot water to reactivate the enzymes and release its sugar. This process is called mashing. The brewer then runs water through the mash and collects the run-off sugar water (called wort). The mineral content of the brewery's water affects the mash process and the flavor of the beer.

Next, the wort is then boiled, and during the boil the last major component of beer, hops, are added.

Hops are a small flower that contain a resin that breaks down into a bitter acid when boiled, which counters the sweetness of the sugar, and helps prevent spoilage from bacteria. The resin itself can add various aromas - citrusy, piney, grassy, etc - depending on hop variety. The amount, variety, and boiling time of the hops contribute flavor characteristics to the finished beer. (Historically, other plants have been used to bitter beer, but hops have been used since at least the 11th century, and became a standard ingredient in beer around the 16th century.) The brewer can add other things, such as spices, to the boil.

The boiled wort is then cooled down to a suitable temperature, the yeast is added, and fermentation begins. The strain of yeast used will add certain flavor characteristics (such as the esters and phenols previously mentioned). The brewer can add other things at this point - fermentables like fruit, or spices.

After a few days, the yeast will have consumed most of the sugar in the wort and turned it into alcohol, completing the primary fermentation. The brewer then moves the beer off the remnants of the yeast, and may let it age for a while, to let the remaining yeast finish fermenting any remaining sugar and metabolize other byproducts of the fermentation to improve the flavor of the beer, in a secondary fermentation. The brewer can also add hops (called dry hopping) to add more aromatic hop character to the beer. The beer can be aged to allow even more chemical changes to take place, or to gain additional flavor, for example by barrel-aging.

Finally, the beer is bottled or kegged. Most breweries pasteurize their beer to kill any remaining yeast, or bacteria that have snuck in, to prevent spoilage. In this case, the brewery will pump CO2 into the bottle to carbonate the beer. Some breweries allow yeast to live and continue to make changes to the flavor of the beer over time, called bottle conditioning. In this case, as the yeast consumes residual sugar in the beer, it will produce the CO2 that carbonates the beer,

So, that's what beer is. Talking about how different combinations of water, grains, hops, yeast, and other things create porters, stouts, pale ales, IPAs, hefeweizens, pilsners, marzens, lambics, and all the other myriad styles of beer - will have to wait for another day!

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Welcome to the Barbary Coast Beer Blog! My name is Chris; I'm a homebrewer, beer tourist, and beer connoisseur (AKA a beer snob). That is:
  1. I make beer
  2. I seek out good beer
  3. If I don't think your taste in beer is any good, I'll let you know, in no uncertain terms...
Despite #3, people seem to like to talk to me about beer. I like to think it's because a) home brewing is an inherently interesting hobby, and b) even your average supermarket or corner store (much less specialty stores) now carries a wide array of microbrews (and macrobrews masquerading as microbrews - we'll get to that later), and they want help picking a good one. But it also may just be because they think that if they listen to me bloviate long enough I'll buy them a good one, or give them one of mine. Which I usually do... 

Anyway, since people seem to like to talk to me about beer, and because I like to talk about beer, my partner, Dr. P, suggested that I should start a beer blog.

So here we are. Don't be scared! This isn't going to be just a blog for homebrewing geeks, where we argue about hop utilization and yeast attenuation. Nor will it be just me pooh-poohing the unwashed masses who can't tell their geuze from a hole in the ground (although I'm sharpening my poisoned pen for the PBR-swilling hipsters...). 

Instead, I will share:
  • Homebrewing recipes, tips, and tricks, and encourage folks to try it for themselves. And, if I'm lucky, maybe I'll learn a thing or 3 from my readers.
  • My travels and travails to seek out good beer.
  • My reviews of new beers, brewpubs, beer bars, and beer stores I try.
  • My opinions about the brewing industry and beer drinkers.
FWIW, I also occasionally make mead, cider, cheese, pickles, sausage, and distilled liquors (which I promptly destroy in accordance with federal law, of course!), so I'll talk about those things too, if you're are interested. I might even talk about wine, because, although I don't make it myself, I do occasionally enjoy a bottle.

I'm very fortunate in that I live in San Francisco, one of the epicenters of foodyism generally, and craft beer specifically. I live in the North Beach neighborhood, an area once known as the Barbary Coast, which catered (and to some extent still does) to the vices of sailors, libertines, and bohemians.

I call my little brewing workshop the Barbary Coast Brewing Company, although it's not an official name or company since apparently someone filed a trademark for it back in '95 for a brewpub that never opened across the Bay in Berkeley, and I haven't felt like hiring a lawyer to check the legal status. (There's also a beer from Minhas Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin, and a beer bar in Wilmington NC, that use the name "Barbary Coast," and the last thing I need is to get into a legal fight over my hobby.) But if you're ever in the neighborhood and see the Black Bart flag flying, it means I'm brewing something, so stop by for a chat and a taste!