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...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beer review - Long live the emperors!

One of my favorite beer styles is imperial stout. Now, these days, craft brewers are making "imperial" versions of just about every style of beer - I've seen, imperial IPAs, porters, ambers, reds, even pilsners. I don't think there's an official rule as to what constitutes an "imperial" beer - it's usually just a stronger version of an existing style, typically 7% ABV or stronger. I wasn't aware of imperial versions of any lager style other than pilsner, although a quick google revealed imperial marzens and bock. So, I guess, name a beer, and someone will want to make it stronger - and pretty much somebody has been, since the beginning of brewing.

The name "imperial" originally came from the Thrale's brewery in 18th century London, which brewed "Russian imperial stout" or "imperial Russian stout" for export to, you guessed it, Russia, then ruled by Catherine the Great. The style had more or less died out, but was resurrected by North Coast Brewing in Ft. Bragg with their Old Rasputin.

As it turned out, two of the beers that The Jug Shop had in their Kiwi tasting were imperial stouts, and as it happened, at out most recent tabletop RPG session, my friend Andrew, who knows my fondness for the style, brought both of them, as well as 3 other varieties, so I can give you a truly imperial review.

Note: You may notice is that the IBU for these beers (when I could find them) are rather high. These beers tend to have a lot of residual sweetness, so they require a lot of bittering to balance them out. Generally, however, most of their flavor profile comes from the grain, not the hops.

Moa Imperial Stout


My least favorite of the bunch, although it again started at a disadvantage by being in the damned green bottle. It was the least complex of the bunch and a little on the dry side for my taste, although still pretty good.

8 Wired iStout


I really liked this one. The flavor was much more assertive than the Moa, sweet, although maybe a tad on the syrupy side, but it was really delicious. One odd thing about the 8 Wired beers, though, is that they come in pint bottles (16 oz). Just sayin'.

Firestone Walker Parabola 


With Parabola, we get into the realm of specialty beers - beers that craft brewers don't brew all the time, or only in limited amounts as "premium" beers. I'm not a big fan of Firestone Walker's "everyday" beers - their I find their Double Barrel pale kinda bland, and their Union Jack is a passable IPA. But they make some good seasonals, like their Velvet Merlin (originally called "Velvet Merkin"); and holy crap, do they make some good limited release beers!Their Double Jack double IPA is excellent, as is their Wookie Jack black rye IPA. The barrel-aged Parabola, first released this year, is an outstanding imperial stout, rich and complex. It comes in a 20-oz bottle, though, and at 13% ABV, be prepared either to share or to surrender the day to the couch.

Fifty/Fifty Eclipse


Fifty/Fifty is a newer brewery and brewpub in Truckee CA, a little mountain town up near Lake Tahoe. But, despite their small size, they're a serious contender for my heart, or at least my stomach, as they have a whole pallet of outstanding beers, among them Eclipse; which, like the Parabola, is aged in barrels, in this case used whiskey barrels, which is a delicious trend among craft beer makers. (I myself fake it for my Zwarte Piet holiday imperial stout, with oak chips and rotgut bourbon.) This adds lucious woody and vanilla notes to an already complex and delicious beer. In fact, I was so busy enjoying it, that I didn't realize that they actually have multiple releases of this beer each year, aged in barrels of different whiskeys. This year there have been 7 in all, including Elijah Craig 12- and 20-year, a rye, and a brandy barrel. I don't know which one we had (the bottle having gone to the great recycling center in the sky), but whichever you try, it's sure to be wonderful.

North Coast Old Rasputin Barrel Aged XIV


Old Rasputin, probably one of (if not the) first commercially-produced imperial stouts in the US beginning nearly 20 years ago, is still one of my favorite beers. They've been selling it aged in bourbon bottles for several years now, and it's one of the first bourbon-barrel aged beers I ever had. Like its bretheren, this is a wonderful treat, although in comparison (having had the Parabola, Eclipse, and Old Rasputin on the same day), I actually like the younger upstarts better. The OR was just a little too dry, and maybe too woody, compared to the richer flavors of the other two. Of course, I also like really intense flavors - coffee that can peel paint, food spicy enough to make me sweat, IPAs that I can feel eroding the enamel on my teeth - so you might find this one a little more balanced.

Moa Imperial Stout. 10.2% ABV, IBU ?
8 Wired iStout. 10% ABV. 70 IBU.
Firestone Walker Parabola 3. 13% ABV, IBU 60.
Fifty/Fifty Eclipse. 9.5% ABV. IBU ?
North Coast Old Rasputin Barrel Aged XIV. 11.2% ABV. IBU ?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Brewpub Review - Buffalo Bill's, Hayward CA

While I'm on the subject of Hayward, let me plug Buffalo Bill's brewpub, which is just up the block from The Bistro. They're probably best known for their seasonal Pumpkin Ale, which has been a Bay Area fixture for a long time. They make a variety of beers, lots of them with fruit (orange blossom cream ale, strawberry blonde with ginger, blueberry stout, and an imperial pumpkin; I think I had a Tasmanian Devil strong ale, but I'm not too sure - by that point, I was IPA-and-away...). They also have decent pub grub (I had a nice pastrami sandwhich), and some outdoor seating, which is nice if you're visiting from someplace lacking in both sun and outdoor seating like SF. Probably not worth a trip down on its own, but if you're in Hayward, definitely worth checking out.

Beer Event Review - The Bistro IPA Fest

The other day, as I was walking around downtown, I overheard someone say that he was "somewhat ambivalent" about something or other, and the thought popped into my head, "Wow, somewhat ambivalent? He's even wishy-washy about being wishy-washy! Just once I'd like to hear someone say that they're 'wholeheartedly ambivalent' about something!"

Sometimes it's hard to be me.

And so, this leads us to the fact that I am somewhat ambivalent about "beer festivals." At its best, a beer festival is a great place to go and try lots of new beers, in particular from breweries that you've never heard of, or ones that you have heard of but whose beers you can't get locally; or to try special beers from breweries you know but that they don't normally bottle or maybe even that they've made just for that festival. If you're lucky, you might even strike up an acquaintance with a fellow festival-goer or brewery employee, swapping brewing secrets, tall tales, favorite beers, or even get an invitation to an after-hours brewery tour or brewers camp (where the brewers serve the stuff they brought to impress their fellow brewers).

At their worst, however, you get big crowds of people who don't know very much about beer, coming to get drunk (which always baffles me, since it's easier, cheaper, and safer to do that at home), which usually includes loud, stupid, rude, and vomitous. Also, you get sponsorship by the big breweries, or craft brewers bringing the beers that you can get in any local store, bad food sold at a high mark-up, and so on.

So, I try to pick my festivals carefully. Generally, the more you have to pay, or if you have to pay by the beer, the less likely you are to get "amateurs." Avoid big brewery (or even big craft brewer) sponsorship, and look for smaller venues. Also, festivals that target particular styles of beer tend to draw a better crowd of people (although if there's ever a "pisswater pilsner" festival, I'd avoid it like flaming, plague-carrying zombie pit-bulls).

One place I consistently like to go for beer festivals is The Bistro in Hayward. It's a great little beer bar about a 5-10 minute walk from the Hayward BART station, with 12 taps plus around 30 bottles, mostly Belgians. They do several festivals every year, and have been doing some of them quite a long time, all of them style-targeted: Double-IPAs in February, IPAs in August, wet-hopped in October, west coast barrel-aged in November. They block off part of the street, so it's outside under awnings, and they typically have 50-75 beers to sample. $30 gets you a commemorative glass and 5 tastings, $40 gets you 10 tastings. Pair up with a friend or two, and you can sample quite a few beers.

This past weekend, they had 61 beers for their 15th annual IPA festival. Most were from Norther California, but there were beers from New Orleans LA, Juno AK, Missoula MT, Boulder CO, Cleveland OH, Reno NV,  Brooklyn NY, and San Diego CA. The craft brewers you'd expect were there - Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Deschutes, Stone, Bear Republic - but also a number of start-ups that were little more than ambitious homebrewers.

I try to take notes at these things, but it's hard, since there's not much room on the cheat sheet, and after the first few... well, you know how it goes. I'll just list what I had, and say that my favorites were from a couple of startups - Sant Adairius Rustic Ales in Santa Cruz, and The Dandy from Societe Brewers in San Diego. If you want more detail about a particular beer (ABV, IBU, hops used) just ask!
  • 21st Amendment, SF, Batch 800
  • Ale Industries, Concord CA, East Bay IPA
  • Beach Chalet, SF, Presidio IPA
  • Beachwood, Long Beach CA, Laurel IPA and Fahrenheit 342
  • Bear Republic, Healdsburg CA, Triskel Rebellion
  • Drakes, San Leandro CA, Aroma Prieta IPA
  • Golden Road, Los Angeles CA, Point the Way IPA
  • Knee Deep, Lincoln CA, Citra IPA
  • Marin, Larkspur CA, Three Flowers IPA
  • Oakland, TBD, Sticky Zipper
  • Russian River, Santa Rosa CA, Hop Father IPA
  • Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Santa Cruz CA
  • Sierra Nevada, Chico CA, Floral IPA and Flip Side Double IPA
  • Societe Brewers, San Diego CA, The Apprentice and The Dandy

Beer Review - Triple (including a tripel) review!

Welcome back! I had a very beer oriented weekend, to the point where I have a brewpub, a festival, and over a dozen beers to review. So without further ado...

Moa Brewing, St Josephus Tripel


This is the second New Zealand beer I'm reviewing. I have to admit that it had one strike against it before I even opened the bottle, because of... the bottle. It's green. Yes, there's actually a reason why most craft beer comes in brown bottles, namely, to block UV light from spoiling it. Specifically, it converts the iso-alpha-acids (which make beer bitter) into 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, the smelly chemical that animals like skunks use to defend themselves. Yes, "skunky" beer really is skunky. So, while that green bottle, or golden beer inside a clear bottle, may look pretty, it's an olfactory time bomb.

For those unfamiliar with the style, tripels are Belgian beers that tend to be quite strong in alcohol, but light in body and color, and slightly sweet. They can knock you on your ass, because they're pleasant and easy to drink (if a little cloying), but pack a wallop.

Moa's St Josephus is no exception, and is a good example of the style. at 9.5% ABV, it's twice as strong as commercial pilsners.It's sweet but clean, avoiding the fruity esters, clovey phenolics, and firey fusel alcohols  that can result from fermenting big beers. I personally don't think that tripels have a whole lot of character, but you may like them, and they're certainly an easy introduction to Belgian beers (if you don't stand up too quickly after drinking one). My only real complaint is that, after I drank it, Dr. P complained that my breath smelled like stale beer. So, if you have to kiss a beer connoisseur, you may want to keep that in mind...

Cooper's Extra Strong Vintage Ale


On a recent visit to the Church Key, they happened to have this on tap, and since I was on the lookout for beers from this Australian craft brewer, I figured I'd have a glass. It was a tasty, though not terribly remarkable, strong ale, with a copper-brown color, toffee nose, and malty taste. It left me wanting something with a little more character...

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA


On the same trip to the Key, I was looking for something for my friend Tom, who had earlier in the evening enjoyed a bottle of my Duper Cooper oaked-double pale ale, and liked it better than the Cooper's we'd both tried, so I bought us a round of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.

Now, anyone who spent much time around me in the fall of 2010 knows that I have an intense hatred of Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head. It's not that he's an evil man, and I admire that, beginning as a homebrewer, he's built a very successful little craft brewing empire, pushed the industry in new directions, and even helped make some significant contributions to our understanding of the history of beer in different cultures around the world.

But, there's just something about him that sets me off. I got a whiff of it when I read his book, but it became really apparent when he got his own TV show. Basically, he reminded me of all the smarmy, preppy frat boy types I knew in high school and college. People with egos like his automatically irritate me (of course, people tell me all the time to my face that I'm an arrogant bastard, so I don't exactly have a lot of ground to stand on here), and because of this I must begrudge him his success and all the good he may have done. (I used to have a similar opinion of Sam Adams' Jim Koch, but no longer do, as I will explain in a future post.)

Fortunately, I'm man enough not to let any of that affect my opinion of his beer. The 120 min is a pretty extreme beer, more of a cross between a barleywine and an IPA. It's pumpkin orange, almost syrupy in its mouthfeel. The huge amount of hops is counterbalanced by a huge amount of sweetness, to the point that your mouth almost doesn't know what to do with it. At its worst moments, it's both cloying and pungent. Frankly, I think there are better beers out there for a super-hop experience; 120 min is sort of hop-head dessert. But, if you're looking for an gateway into extremely hoppy beers, it's probably a good place to start.

Moa Brewing, St Josephys Tripel. ABV 9.5%. IBU low.
Cooper's Extra Strong Vintage Ale. ABV 7.5%. IBU low.
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. ABV 15-20%. IBU 120.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What do those numbers mean? ABV and IBUs

You may have noticed that my reviews include two numbers for each beer - ABV and IBUs. By law, you'll see ABV on every commercial bottle of beer. Brewpubs and dedicated beer bars will often post the ABV, and sometimes the IBUs, of the beers they serve. So, what do those numbers mean?

In case you're wondering, that's not my hand.

ABV is Alcohol By Volume, the most common way of describing how strong a non-distilled alcoholic beverage is. (The strength of distilled beverages is typically given as proof; to determine ABV, divide proof by 2; the other measure for non-distilled beverages ABW, Alcohol By Weight, was used in the US, but most brewers now use the ABV standard.)

A beer's alcohol content is determined by two things:
  • The amount of grain in the mash, which provides the sugar that the yeast have to consume to turn into alcohol.
  • The strain of yeast used. Since the yeast, in producing alcohol, are essentially releasing a toxic substance into their environment, they can eventually poison themselves, but different varieties of yeast have different levels of alcohol tolerance. Most beer yeast top out in the 5-7% ABV range, although some strains will go as high as 10-12%. Champagne yeasts reach 15-16%, and strains have been bred that will actually ferment up to 40%!
The combination of grain mashed and yeast strain used also determines the amount of residual sweetness in the beer. If the amount of sugar produces alcohol below the yeast's tolerance, the yeast will consume all of the sugar, leaving a "dry" beer. (There's typically some residual sweetness from sugars that the yeast can't metabolize; sometimes brewers will deliberately add such sugars, for example, lactose in milk stouts.)

Love, exciting and new...

If the yeast hits its tolerance, and there's still sugar left unconsumed, that sugar will also contribute to residual sweetness. Using a low-tolerance yeast could give you a weak, but sweet, beer.

IBUs are International Bittering Units, the standard for describing a beer's hop bitterness. The formula for this is rather arcane, but it boils down (pun intended) to three factors:
  • The variety of hops used. There are dozens of different varieties of hops, and each is rated for its alpha acid content, which is the amount of lupulin resin it contains as a percentage of the weight of the hop flower. When hops are boiled, the lupulin is isomerized, that is, converted into the acid that makes beer bitter. (There's a second acid, called beta acid, that contributes a negligible amount of bitterness.) Most hop varieties fall in the 3-6% alpha acid range, but growers continue to develop new breeds, some pushing 20%.
  • How much hops are used. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • How long the hops are boiled. The length of time that the hops are boiled determines how much of their alpha acid is isomerized. It takes about 75 minutes to completely isomerize all of the lupulin; and, as they're boiled, other flavor and aroma characteristics that the hops possess are boiled away. So, typically, brewers will add hops at different points in the boil - some in the very beginning that they'll boil for the whole time, just to bitter the beer; some in the middle of the boil, to add flavor characteristics and a little more bittering; and some near the end, to provide more volatile aromatics, but almost no bittering. Brewers can also add unboiled hops to the fermented beer, called dry hopping, for an extra dose of aromatics. In recent years, craft brewers have started producing wet-hopped beers. Hops are typically dried before they're added to beer; wet-hopping adds fresh, undried hops to the finished beer, for an even more intense hop aroma. Some really crazy hop-heads like to run their beer through fresh hops right on their way from the keg to the glass, with gadgets like Dogfish Head's Randall the Enamel Animal.
I hate you.
As mentioned in a previous post, I've heard it said that the human palate tops out at about 100 IBUs, although a few breweries make even more bitter beers. The bitterness itself, however, is often offset by residual sweetness in the beer, or by hop flavor or aroma, so IBUs, in and of themselves, won't tell you how you will experience the hoppiness of the beer.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beer Review - Brewdog Sink the Bismark

When my partner, Dr. P, saw that I was reviewing beers, she told me that I had to review Brewdog's Sink the Bismark. Now, my rule has sort of been that I review beers as I drink them, so that I can give you a current impression. I'll make an exception with Sink the Bismark, though, because a) it's an exceptional beverage, b) it made quite a lasting impression, and, most importantly, c) you never, EVER want to cross Dr. P...

(Also, it's International IPA Day, w00t!)

Anyway... Brewdog is a Scottish outfit, known for brewing rather "punk" beers to start with. They made the news a couple of months ago when they forced a public apology out of Diageo, the international brewing conglomerate that owns (among many other things) Guinness, when the latter forced the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) Scotland to give them their Bar Operator of the Year award (Brewdog had actually won it), or they'd pull their sponsorship of future BII events.

Diageo Screw BrewDog

Now, I've had the pleasure of knowing quite a few Scottish people over the years, and while I thoroughly enjoy their company, there's something deeply, deeply disturbed about all of them. I mean, after all, their nation began when they took Mel Gibson as their leader, painted themselves blue, and mooned the English king.

Mel Gibson in Braveheart

And so it was that one night, when Dr. P and I were at our local, the Church Key, flipping through the bottle menu, we stumbled across Sink the Bismark, listed as an IPA with 41% ABV! Not only that, but the 12oz bottle was $110! At first, I thought it must be a typo, but apparently not. They start with their Hardcore imperial IPA, itself a monster at 9.2% ABV and 150 IBUs (the measure of hops bitterness; I've heard it said that the human palate tops out at 100 IBUs). Then, they distill it by freezing the water out of it (the same process used to turn hard cider into apple jack, a potent brandy; unfortunately, this process doesn't separate out the methanol, like vapor distillation, but rather concentrates it, leading frequent apple jack drinkers to nervous system damage called apple palsey).

Naturally, I had to try it :-) Fortunately, the Key had a bottle open and was selling 1 oz. shots for $10. Dr. P (who doesn't normally like hoppy beers, but agreed to share the experience) and I decided to split one (which meant she'd take a sip and I'd finish the rest).

So here was this little cordial glass filled with beautiful, shining bronze liquid that you could almost see the vapors rising from. Raise it to my nose, and it filled me with the fire of a thousand suns, if those suns had been comprised entirely of hops that had condensed from a light-years wide disc of interstellar matter, compressed and ignited by the force of gravity into the mighty Promethean fires of fusion. I sure hope this wasn't a mistake... The sip was pure concentrated distillate of lupulin (the resin that gives hops their flavor and aroma, and the boiling of which makes beer bitter), combined with the sweet, grainy alcohol of raw whiskey. It was at once the most intense hop experience imaginable, and a moment of sheer terror, as though one might burst into flames just from drinking the stuff, or exhaling too close to a lighted flame, electrical device, or someone rubbing a balloon against their hair.

In the end, that one ounce shot was more than enough for me and Dr. P. It was a marvelous, awe-inspiring experience, but I'd never buy a bottle of the stuff, as it'd take me months if not years to go through it. It does, however, make me want to find a shot of their distilled imperial stout, the Tactical Nuclear Penguin...

Brewdog Sink the Bismark distilled imperial IPA. ABV 41%, IBUs holy mother of god find me some woad I must paint my face FREEEEDOOOOM!

Beer Store Review - Little Vine

About a year ago, a little boutique grocery store, Little Vine, opened up just around the corner from the Barbary Coast Brewery. Not much bigger than a walk-in closet, they specialize in wine, artisan cheeses, meats, and specialty groceries; they also sells sandwiches and pastries.
They also carry a few craft beers. Their first were from Almanac, a new local artisan brewery. Currently they stock maybe a dozen beers. The last time I was in there (this past Saturday), they had some of the local craft beers you would expect in the Bay Area (Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic, La Merle Belgian from North Coast), plus some more unusual ones (Anchor Small Beer), some rarities you'd only see at a really good beer store (Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast, Jolly Pumpkin La Roja Oak-Aged Amber), and one I've never seen before (Fantome Saison, from Belgium).

I picked up the later 3, as well as a good-looking bottle of Normandy cider, and then chatted a bit with one of the owners, Jay, who was working the register. Naturally I turned the conversation to the facts that a) I live right 'round the corner, and b) I'm a homebrewer, and when he showed interest, I popped back home to fetch him a couple of my current bottles--oak-aged double pale, and lavender saison. When he said he was going to open them and try them on the spot, I bid farewell, not wanting to bias his opinion. I came back a couple of days later, and he declared himself impressed, stating that, if I had that kind of beer around the house, why would I need to buy any?

(He also asked me if I sold my beer. Sigh. He also also told me that he'd been visited by another North Beach homebrewer who styled himself Telegraph Hill Brewing (making me glad I forewent that name), who apparently had a fancy website and everything. I haven't been able to find a trace of him, though, so if anyone knows who he is, please let me know!)

Anyway, for that little bit of flattery alone, if you're in the neighborhood, especially if you're packing a little picnic (or if you're looking for a gift to bring to the Barbary Coast Brewery), I recommend that you drop in for a look. Their stuff's not cheap, but it's highest quality, and you'll have trouble finding it anywhere else.