Brewing & Tasting Notes Over the Years

September 27, 2008

Malt Liquor - alcohol by volume 8.0%
Every year or so I brew up a batch of stuff that'll peel the paint off the walls. Each time I do it a little differently. This time around I made it exclusively with pale malted barley, cane sugar, hops and of course water. The sugar is pure fuel for the yeast and produces a fairly neutral ethanol alcohol to keep the body and flavor light but spiking up the overall alcohol content. Usually I use equal amounts of corn and cane sugar. The corn converts to alcohol much like the sugar does, keeping the body and color light in a fairly flavor neutral fashion. But corn does lend a mildly distinctive character. Compare Miller Genuine Draft (made with corn) with Budweiser (made with rice) and you'll notice the corn flavor. I also reined in the alcohol content. Normally I shoot for 10% ABV but I thought I would try an 8% batch, which is still on the high side of the range of mass produced commercial examples. The last thing I did differently is greatly increase the hop bitterness. By definition, malt liquor is a style that is out of balance. The alcohol flavor really stands out (some people find it hot and raspy tasting), and it tends to have a sweetish character. Even though the beer is "cut" with lots of sugar and/or corn/rice, to get a beer this big there is still a lot of barley that goes into the recipe. Malted barley, the backbone of just about all beers (wheat beers being the exception) is sweet, even after fermentation. The bitterness from hops balances and offsets the sweetness from the malt. Unfortunately, most commercial examples of malt liquor are mass produced monstrosities that please the accountants at mega swill breweries more so than the brewers. They are made as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Only a trace amount of hops are used, merely to keep the beer from being cloyingly sweet. Usually there are no late additions of hops added to the boiling kettle for that lovely hop fragrance. I boosted the bitterness of my malt liquor by 2-3 times what the commercial norm is. It is not sweet or malty at all, which I feel improves it's drinkability (i.e. it goes down easy and quick!). It has the crisp bitterness of a pale ale or a steam beer. I also included a significant late addition of Mt. Hood hops, one of the few American "noble" hop varieties. If you are a careful taster and can separate the alcohol aroma from the hop fragrance you will be most pleased. At the very least you will have fun trying! Don't be mistaken, it's still a malt liquor: golden with a pillow-y white head, light bodied but high octane with a noticeably out-of-balance alcohol flavor/aroma. It's not a wolf in sheep's clothing. One sip and you know exactly what you are getting into!

Culver City Plum Cider - alcohol by volume 5.1%

This is a batch made from home grown plums from the backyard of a cozy Culver City home. The plums came from a single tree. If you've ever lived in a place with a plum tree you know how prolific they can be. Elijah and I spent a beautiful Saturday morning picking the plums. We didn't even pick half the plums and yet I had enough to make 20 gallons of full strength cider. This batch turned out perfect. Much better than the batch I made a couple of years ago with store bought plums. These plums were perfect in all respects. Usually, unless you are dealing with grapes of raspberries, the fruit is acid deficient as far as cider and wine making goes. I usually test the acidity of the fruit with my titration kit and boost it by adding acid in a powder form that is naturally derived. For cider, the target is between 0.55%-0.65% total acidity. When I tested the plums it was right down the middle at 0.60%. No acid correction necessary. That was a first. The other thing that is usually deficient in most fruit is tannin content. This is a slight bite or astringency that is pleasant. Without enough tannin, the cider tastes flat and boring. Correct tannin content lends a zippy, lively character. The testing equipment for checking tannin content is complicated and expensive. Luckily you can adjust by taste. When I tasted this cider post fermentation the tannic quality I thought was perfect, plenty of bite! In addition, this cider has a gorgeous violet color, sparklingly clear. The plum character fairly leaps at you in both aroma and flavor. I couldn't be more pleased with the result.

August 15, 2008

4711 - alcohol by volume 4.4%
This is my latest batch of kolsch, the style of golden ale brewed in Cologne, Germany. I last brewed this in December. Although I had pretty much dialed in the recipe at that point, I'm an inveterate tinkerer so I just had to make some minor adjustments. I think the result of this batch is even better than the previous. I made it less dry (thus the lower alcohol content) and so the malt intensity is even greater. I also reintroduced finishing hops so now there's a noticeable hop bouquet that was absent from the previous batch. I think I've now just about got this recipe to perfection.

West Hollywood Dry Apple Cider - alcohol by volume 5.9%
This is a batch made from home grown apples, from the backyard of my friend Lisa. She told me that the tree was planted by her late father from root stock of an unidentified Japanese variety. The apple cider I made last year were also from apples from Lisa's tree as well. Last year, she had fewer apples and I ended up overcompensating by spiking it with a lot of sugar which boosted the ABV to 7.8%. This year she had a lot more apples so I didn't spike it. It ended up a more "sober" 5.9%. I recently was reading a post on an e-group I subscribe to that deals with apple and pear tree cultivation and cider making. It dealt with the thinning of fruit on apple trees to make the flavor of the remaining apples more intense. There must be something to that because Lisa's tree had about one and half times more fruit this year as last but the resulting cider is much milder in flavor. It's good no doubt, just less intense. Nature's variability is fascinating and comforting to me. You never know what you're going to get. Fortunately, Nature doesn't subscribe to market forces or worry about the uniformity of commercial products. Life's too predictable as it is. At least when it comes to cider, wouldn't you rather be surprised?

This marks the beginning of my "dry-only" bottle conditioned ciders. In the past I sweetened all my ciders. This required that I do many additional things. First, in order to keep the yeast from waking up and fermenting the added sweetener, I had to add chemicals (i.e. preservatives) one of which is the dreaded sulfite. The other additional thing I had to do was artificially carbonate the cider since due to the preservatives, natural carbonation was not possible. This entailed more labor for me, first to artificially carbonate the cider in bulk, then the additional labor of bottling an already carbonated liquid which is a LOT more trouble than natural carbonation. Natural carbonation in addition to, well, being more natural has an additional benefit in that oxidation is less of a concern. [WARNING: REALLY BASIC OVER-SIMPLIFIED BIO-CHEMISTRY & MICROBIOLOGY AHEAD! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!] Even after evacuating each bottle with carbon dioxide (CO2) there's always some free available oxygen left in the air space at the top of the bottle that will, given enough time and heat, eventually hasten the deterioration of the cider, that is, oxidize it. Bottle conditioning helps minimize this as a small amount of fermentation occurs in the bottle (which gives you the carbonation). Whenever yeast ferments sugars they metabolize some of the available oxygen (sometimes called "oxygen scavenging"). Bottle conditioning kills two birds with one stone: The beverage gets carbonated and a lot of remaining oxygen in the bottle gets taken up by the yeast so that it can't oxidize the beverage. This vastly lengthens the shelf life of the cider. You still may not be able to age it for decades like wine or mead, but it should be wonderful and unoxidized for a couple of years. Start digging your cider cellars now!

July 11, 2008

Feather Ale - alcohol by volume 4.5%
This is a very light (thus the name) ale for summertime thirst quenching. It's somewhat similar to a standard lager (Bud, Miller, Coors, Corona, etc.) but being brewed as an ale, it has a roundness in flavor (as opposed to a lager's "crispness") that makes an ale an ale. It's also similar to the cream ales I've brewed in the past, but this is even lighter in body and also a little bit drier. It's a beer I only brew for summer. I'll also let you in on a little secret: on really hot days I'll sometimes drop a few ice cubes into it! This is sacrilege to a beer purist but I'm no beer purist, only a pleasure purist. The trick is to drink the beer fast enough so that the ice cubes don't melt too much and dilute the beer. If you're anything like me, you'll have no problems making that work for you!

Hydromel Mead - alcohol by volume 6.0%
I tasted the previous batch of this in December 2007. I liked how that one turned out but the results weren't exactly what I had envisioned. On this second batch I got it right! The last version was 4.4% ABV which was a little too light. So I amped this batch up a bit and I am pleased by the results. This version has much more body, whereas its predecessor was somewhat thin. This one also has more honey aroma and overall character.

American-Style Pale Ale - alcohol by volume 5.2%
Last year in the early summer after spending two spring months in hoppy-beer-free-Europe I was desperate for a hoppy, west coast-style pale ale. The first beer I brewed was a hoppy American-style pale ale. While it certainly fit the bill and satisfied my hop craving, it wasn't quite hoppy enough. This year I intended to fix that and got intentionally heavy-handed with the hops even though there's a worldwide hop shortage going on right now. Oh boy, this one is really, really good. My only question is if I went overboard or not. When I first tapped the keg, it seemed more like an IPA rather than just a garden variety pale ale. Now it's either mellowed or I've simply become accustomed to the high hoppage.

May 3, 2008

Märzen - alcohol by volume 6.1%
This is basically a fancy term for Oktoberfest beer. But it is the correct term, thus I use it. In case your web client is Anglo-centric and the umlaut "a" is reading like some weird string of characters, it should be an "a" with those two little dots over it, like the ones over the "o" and "u" in Motley Crue. It is pronounced "mare" (as in a female horse or like nightmare) and "tzen". The short end of it is that it is a strong amber lager noted for its intense maltiness and lack of prominent hop bitterness or aroma. Meant for drinking in prodigious volume. I drink it out of my 2 liter dimple stein (no lid) that I brought back from Hofbrauhaus in Munich last spring. Do it up right!

Apple Cider (sweet and dry) - alcohol by volume 7.1%

This batch ended up stronger than usual. Also, my particular apple source was rather acidic and tannic which is good. However, it does require a little more aging (it's two months old now) to reach its full potential. Right now this cider is drinkable but it does show signs of being somewhat young. The acidity is a bit sharp and the tannins while well formed tend to be sitting on top of the flavor. In time this will all smooth and mellow.

December 7, 2007

4711 - alcohol by volume 5.3%
This is my latest batch of kölsch, the style of golden ale brewed in Cologne, Germany. The batch I made at the end of summer was good, but I thought it was too dry and maybe a little too brassy. I made some minor corrections to the recipe and my brewing technique and I believe that it's damn near perfect. It's not quite as bitter as last time (I reduced the amount of hops I put in a little bit) and it's not as dry either. This allows the malt flavor to shine through and take center stage with the hops taking more of a supporting role. I plan on brewing this beer regularly from now on.

Jamaica Cider - alcohol by volume 6.2%

The same cider as the last, but a fresh (and larger) batch. I did lower the alcohol content slightly compared to the last batch (6.2% vs. 6.8%). Since the last batch was my first attempt at making a jamaica cider, I didn't know how much it would ferment. Turns out quite a bit and thus it ended up being somewhat stronger than I normally make my ciders. I adjusted this batch so that it would end up in the low 6 percentile. Surf's up in the cider ocean.

Hydromel Mead - alcohol by volume 4.4% 
What on earth is a hydromel mead? It's a mild, low alcohol mead (compared to standard mead, which is wine-strength at 10-12%). My version is dry and lightly carbonated. It's the polar opposite of all the meads I've made previously. Rather than being something you save for dessert situations and special occasions, this is intended to be an everyday drinker. Its low alcohol and dry palate translate into drinkability, which is a fancy way of saying you can drink it by the gallon! That doesn't mean you should drive or operate heavy machinery however. As a consequence of its lower alcohol content, it is not intended for long term aging like standard meads. So drink up. I intend to make this semi-regularly in small batches with flavor variations (I'm planning on a ginger infused version soon) so it will only be a month or two before the next batch is ready, rather than an annual occurrence.

This is an extremely rare style of mead. Almost nobody makes it, neither home mead makers nor commercial meaderies. In my research I did find two French meaderies that offered versions but that was it. And on the main home mead maker community's website (http// there's not even a mention of the style. 

So, what does it taste like? First, it's very, very mild. I dare say it's even watery. After all, it does have "hydro" in its name. It's dry, but not as dry as champagne or most white wines. It's dryness is crisp, rather than puckery. It has a slight acidity to it (from fermentation). But it has a surprising aromatic punch to it, considering how much less honey it has (about a third the amount) compared to standard mead. The aroma is the first thing you will notice, and it is exceedingly pleasant. The fragrance lasts well beyond the first sip or two. When I'm drinking this I imagine myself laying in a field of dandelion flowers on a sunny day.

One benefit of this style is its economy of honey use. As I mentioned above, it uses about 1/3 the amount of honey as a standard mead. Honey has gotten quite expensive. If you read the news you've probably heard about the rapidly declining honey bee population due to some ailment that causes bee colonies to collapse. It's a world wide phenomenon and currently scientists are at a loss to explain why it is happening much less solve the problem. When or if it can be solved is open for debate. For the foreseeable future it seems as though scarcity and high prices will be the norm. At current prices, I can make hydromel for about the same cost as beer. Until the declining bee population trend can be reversed hydromel's star may be rising.

October 12, 2007

Amber Ale - alcohol by volume 5.4%
An amber ale in the West Coast tradition: bitter and hoppy. But not as bitter or hoppy as a pale ale. Much more of a pronounced malty caramel character.

Porter - alcohol by volume 4.9%
Ah, my favorite style of beer. Paradoxically, I don't brew it that often. The past few batches haven't turned out as well I as I would have liked even though I made modifications to the recipe each time. For this batch, I gave up on my own recipe and turned to an expert on porter, Terry Foster. Dr. Foster is an English chemist living in Connecticut, and wrote a book logically called "Porter". This is his recipe entitled "Foster's Entire Butt". The name refers to the old London practice of combining the "Three Threads", called "Entire Butt". In olden times, the grain for making porter was used to make three different beers. The first portion of water added to the grain of course yielded the best quality beer and was aged for a year and then sold to rich people at a high cost. The second portion of water yielded a concentration that resulted in a regular strength beer. The third and final portion of water yielded a weak and astringent beer sometimes called "two penny beer" that was sold to common laborers due to it's low cost. The three different beers were known as the "Three Threads". Some publicans began selling all three beers simultaneously and would even blend varying proportions of each into one pint. Some became well known for the quality of their blends and would be much sought after. But maintaining three separate casks of beer much less the labor of pouring each order from three separate cask became too much. So an enterprising gentleman by the name of Ralph Harwood came up with the idea of brewing a single beer that had all the characteristics of the three different beers. It could be served from a single cask thus eliminating all the unnecessary labor. Well, that's enough of history.

The beer is very dark brown and perfectly balanced between malt and hop bitterness. The overall flavor is one of a mild roasted and chocolaty character, as well as having a subtle biscuit note. There is some hop aroma in the finish but it is very faint and could be easily overlooked in casual tasting. A persistent tan head remains afloat for the duration of the pint. I am very pleased with the way this beer turned out. It will improve slightly with time and should be at it's zenith in about a month, but should stay wonderfully fresh for another six months. This beer is this brewer's pride!

Jamaica Cider - alcohol by volume 6.8%
The idea for this suddenly came to me one day in a fit of inspiration. But how to go about making it? There is no history of such a libation as this. I decided to simply use a standard jamaica recipe, regulate the sugar content to yield a typical alcohol content for cider and ferment it and process in the standard way for ciders. This is the result of that action.

What is jamaica? It is a lightly sweet beverage made by infusing dried hibiscus flowers in boiling water and then  sweetening with cane sugar. Home made is the best way to make and drink it. Most commercially made jamaica is insipidly sweet, which I think kills a lot of the bite of the hibiscus flower. It ends up being a bland, sweet beverage with little character. At home you can make it without so much sweetness and retain the wonderful hibiscus character.

I had no idea how this would turn out. Would it even be drinkable? I was worried that it would be so tannic and acidic that it would be undrinkable. But I found it to be immensely drinkable. Although when it came fresh out of the fermenter it did irritate my stomach a little bit. Now it has mellowed and the few people (including myself) who have tasted it have not found it too strong or acidic. The color is absolutely gorgeous. It is a pinkish, red purple and crystal clear. It's nearly as pleasant to look at as to drink.

August 24, 2007

Apple Cider - alcohol by volume 7.8%
This is a special, one-of-a-kind apple cider. A friend who has a few apple trees in her backyard was having a bumper crop right about the time I got back from Europe. She kindly picked and sorted all of the apples for me and even brought them over to my house. Wow! You can't beat that. All I had to do was make 'em into cider. Now whenever I've made apple cider before, I've always used juice since I don't have an apple press to accommodate whole apples. I still don't have a press (Satan Claus, will you bwing me one this year, pweaze?) so I had to get creative. I knew of a technique that rustic country wine makers employ to deal with firm fleshed fruit. I adapted it to apples. I washed the apples, cut them in half, removed the core with a melon baller then cut the apples again into quarters. There was a lot of apples so it took the better part of an afternoon but that was alright, with just the right beer and music blaring it was quite an enjoyable process. Then I brought some water to a boil in my beer kettle and dumped the apples in and let that set overnight. By the morning, the apples were nice and mushy. Now the real work came. The liquid was run off into the fermenter and the apples had to be placed into large nylon mesh straining bags. Sounds easy but it's slow and messy. Then two weeks later after the fermenting was done, the bags had to be removed from the cider and then squeezed to get the rest of the juice out. Very difficult and awkward. In retrospect a lot of fun and quite the adventure. Now since the fruit at the beginning was still solid and not liquefied it was difficult to judge how much fermentable sugar the apples were contributing so I decided to spike it with some white sugar. Seeing how it ended up at 7.8% ABV I'd say I over did it a bit. Ooops, too much alcohol, sorry! I know you just HATE that, haw haw! The only thing about having to briefly boil the apples was that it set the pectin into a permanent haze. Usually, I add pectinase which is a natural enzyme that breaks down the pectin. But it didn't work in this case. As a result the cider is very cloudy, it sort of looks like Belgian wit beer, a yellowish white haze. It's actually quite beautiful, but clear it ain't. Another thing that is different about this apple cider versus the ones I make with juice is that the peel is evident in the flavor. It's very very subtle, but if you drink and contemplate enough you begin to notice it. I'm always amazed at things like this. It's what keeps it fresh and interesting, there's always some mystery.

4711 - alcohol by volume 5.3%
This is a blonde ale roughly in the style of a kölsch, which is a special blonde ale brewed exclusively in Cologne, Germany. I brewed this in honor and inspiration of my visit to Cologne while in Europe this spring. The name "4711" is a reference to eau de Cologne, the perfume that is synonymous with the city. When Napoleon's troops swept through the Rhineland at the end of the 18th century, they insisted on imposing their own address numbering system onto the city. Legend has it that a French soldier came by the building where the famous perfume was made and in chalk wrote the number 4711 as its new address number. Later, the number became associated with the perfume and the city.

Cologne has a fully realized unique beer culture that revolves around their own unique beer: kölsch. As I outlined in my travelogues while "over there", the beer, similar to Champagne, is a protected appellation. There are special bars and restaurants throughout the city that only sell kölsch, and only one brand of kölsch at that. There are special waiters called köbes that serve the kölsch, and they wear a special uniform and carry the full and empty glasses on a specially designed tray with a carrying handle in the center. There's even a special glass for the beer called a "stange" that is tall, narrow, cylindrical and exactly 20 cl in volume (about 7 oz.). And the köbes even have a special personality that they project, basically they are good-natured but sharp-tongued smart asses always with a wisecrack at the ready. It's all in good fun. They were always surprised that WE also always had a wisecrack at the ready to match them. I guess most tourists are meek and easy game. They seemed amused that we could not only take it, but dish it out too! We had a lot of fun in Cologne, the Rhinelanders are fun-loving people.

Ah, the beer you ask. It's a very delicate and subtle beer. My version is a little bit more brassy and rustic. It should be clean and crisp and have a subtle bitterness and sometimes even a noticeable hop aroma (or not). There's also usually a little tang in the finish (mine has it). Of the 18 or so kölsch breweries each one has a slightly different take on the style. Luckily, in the time that I was there I was able to try 8 or 9 of them and each one was distinct. Anyhow, back to my version. Mine turned out a little drier than I had hoped for which throws off the delicate balance a bit, allowing the hop bitterness to overshadow the malt flavor slightly. The dryness also made the alcohol content creep up a bit (I was shooting for 5.0%). That extra 0.3% is noticeable in a beer so delicate, you notice the alcohol flavor and aroma more. I think the added alcohol is what makes this batch somewhat less-refined than I had hoped for and gives it a brassy, American character. This will be a beer I regularly brew (next batch will be in October) so with some minor modifications it'll be right where I want it. But for now, it's still quite good.

American Pale Ale - alcohol by volume 5.7%
When I was overseas one thing I began to crave was hoppy beers. Now, European beers are great and between British, Belgian and German beers it's tough to complain much. One thing they simply do not have though is hoppy beer. True, England has some hoppy bitters and when I made a week-long pit stop there I was taking advantage of that fact. But the rest of the time it was a desert for hop-forward beer. One of the beers I brewed over there was an American-style IPA that was super hoppy. But it wasn't ready to drink until the final week I was there so that was only a little help. As soon as I stepped off the plane at LAX I rushed to the market to get Stone IPA, Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale, Red Seal Ale, Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale, Firestone Walker Pale Ale because I knew my cupboards would be bare. Oh man was that great and refreshing! After I got the beer, I headed straight for my local taco stand. Hoppy beer and tacos! Home! Anyhow, I knew one of the first beers I brewed would have to be a hoppy pale ale.

Strangely, this one ended up drier (like 4711) than I wanted too. This one was targeted at 5.3% ABV. However, the discrepancy is much less noticeable than in the 4711 since there's a lot more going on in this beer: carmel malt, hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. Otherwise, I am quite pleased with it. Just keep that dryness in check and beef up the malt backbone a bit and it'll be exactly where I want it. Oh yeah!

March 30, 2007

Plum Cider - alcohol by volume 6.7%
The latest installment of cider. It's another technically perfect executed batch. My only criticism is that it is somewhat lacking in unique character. It's a fine tasting cider to be sure but the fruit character is mild. I think this mainly has to do with the character of the fruit. It could also have to do with the amount of fruit used in the recipe. I think that I may need to adjust the amount of fruit used depending on how strong the flavor of the fruit is. Since most of these ciders are made with fruits that I have never used before I am using a boilerplate recipe: I am using the exact same amount of fruit for each batch. As we found with the raspberry, blueberry and cherry ciders, the amount of fruit used was plenty, they were bursting with their unique flavor. Others (apricot, blackberry, cranberry, peach) were much more tame by comparison. As an American, my natural tendency is to go for immoderation and boldness. But I also realize that there's nothing inherently wrong with mildness, it's all a matter of taste. Though that may be the case, I would like each cider to be well defined and differentiated from each other, that you know you're drinking a different cider from the previous one. The trick is to not end up with easy, one dimensional flavors, hitting you over the head with a particular fruit. Amongst brewers these are known as "fruit bombs", a colorful use of language that I find compelling. Please do weigh in with your opinions and preferences as we are on this road together, the road to alchol-soaked fruity enlightenment, and I will chart us a course to reach that destination posthaste.

Hefeweizen - alcohol by volume 4.8%
See entries on May 19, 2006 and April 23, 2004 for general style information, history and background. No major changes since the May 19, 2006 batch other than a slight decrease in the fermenting temperature (resulting in slightly less fruitiness and lends a bit more crispness to the overall character) and a small increase in alcohol content. This beer is pretty much where I want it. Last year's batch took first place in the hefeweizen category and second place best in show at the homebrew competion "Mayfaire" sponsored by the Woodland Hills club The Maltose Falcons. I will enter this new batch again and see if they like it again.

Dry Stout (on nitro dispense draught) - alcohol by volume 5.3%
See entries on May 19, 2006 and March 18, 2005 for general style information. For this batch I backed off on the roasted barley, feeling that the previous batch had a too prominent roasted flavor. The result is a much more balanced stout. Interestingly, I noticed that this batch has the slightest suggestion of nutmeg in the nose which quickly gives way to (or is overwhelmed by) the malt and roasted barley. Though this beer is extremely dry, this fact is belied by it's maltiness and the creamy texture from the (unmalted) flaked barley. Something else different about this batch is the water. As I've mentioned previously, I am now using 100% reverse osmosis filtered water which is then treated with various minerals and salts. Dublin water, which is synonymous with stout, is very high in calcium carbonate (chalk). This salt has a moderating effect on the sharpness of the roasted barley. I'm afraid this has greatly impacted my recipe. I will have to increase the amount of roasted barley as my previous recipe relied on local untreated water which is not nearly so high in carbonate content. This is what keeps a brewer who is developing a recipe going. The ultimate combination of ingredients and techniques is always just over the horizon.

February 16, 2007

Blackberry Cider - alcohol by volume 7.1%
Prior to my own effort with this fruit, the only other blackberry cider I tasted was brought in to me by a fellow home brewer when I managed a home brew supply shop in Long Beach. It was quite bland and boring of taste, which is why it was brought to me: for troubleshooting. This brewer had tried everything: carbonating some, leaving some still (flat), sweetening, adding natural blackberry extract. Together we tasted all his variations, but in the end they were all dull. I was at a loss since his beers and skills were first rate. In the end I concluded that blackberries must not lend themselves very well to cider making. I'd tasted complex and wonderful blackberry wines. Blackberries must need the extra alcohol content of a wine (typically 10-14%) to bring out their profound character. In fact, raspberries and their relatives all seem to make wonderfully complex wines, seemingly the only fruit wines (sometimes disparagingly referred to as "country wines" by wine snobs and grape supremacists) that the wine connoisseur will even consider as "wine". But then I tasted my blackberry cider. Hmmmm, that guy must have forgotten something in his cider! Mine tastes plenty interesting and complex. My guess is that he erred in the acidity department. All fruit varies. The cider and wine maker are mainly concerned with sugar and acid levels. Just about any home brewer will have a hydrometer for measuring sugar levels. But it's not everyone that will have the equipment to measure total acidity, the measure of the absolute acid content, as opposed to the much more familiar pH, which is acidity in relation to buffering agents. Are you lost? Didn't you take chemistry in high school and/or college? Ah, you elected to take Advanced Badminton instead, didn't you? Well, as a result you may know what a "shuttlecock" is (no, it's not an arrogant astronaut) but are lost in such alcohol related matters as total acid content. C'mon what's more important, birdies or an assertively acidic cider? And you thought to yourself "I'll never use this boring information!" as your 11th grade science teacher (you remember, the mid-50ish guy with the bad comb-over and ever-present spittle in each corner of his mouth) blathered on and on about covalent bonds, Dalton's Law, Noble gases, and valence electrons. Shame on you! With that information you could savor and appreciate this fine cider all the more. Remember: the biggest erogenous zone is the brain, dummy! Anyhow, I test for total acidity and make adjustments as necessary. Evidently, this beginning cider maker did not, because his cider was "flabby" (one of those cringe-inducing terms that wine writers love to foist on the unsuspecting "regular Joe" public, in this case meaning acid-deficient). In fact, this cider has a lot in common with my cranberry cider. Up front it doesn't display a lot of unique fruit character, just a generic cider profile. But like the cranberry, it's all in the finish. The blackberries jump out at you as you are swallowing and savoring. It's sort of like "wha, wha, what am I drinking here, ummm, yeah tastes pretty good, yeah that's right, oooo yeah that's nice, YEE-HAW BLACKBERRIES!" Or something like that . . . .

Classic American Cream Ale - alcohol by volume 6.7%
See entries on May 19, 2006, October 7, 2005 and July 11, 2003 for general style information, history and background. No major changes since the May 19, 2006 batch other than a slight decrease in the hop bitterness and an increase in alcohol and dryness. Next time I will try for not quite so dry (more malty) and a tiny bit less alcohol (6.3%). Otherwise, this beer is just about dialed in.

Fest Bier - alcohol by volume 5.2%
I originally intended to brew another batch of my popular California Lager, which is a cross between an amber Vienna lager and a steam beer. But realizing that I didn't have all the necessary ingredients on hand and that the supply shop I formally ran has rapidly gone down hill since the person I groomed to take over for me has also now left the company, and it is no longer a reliable source for supplies I figured I'd make an Oktoberfest style beer since I already had everything I needed for that. This is a style that (in Germany at any rate) has been evolving in recent years. Previously, it was deep orange to coppery bronze in color with an intense malt flavor and elevated alcohol levels. Modern German interpretations tend to be much paler, anywhere from deep gold to light orange, with a lighter body and somewhat lower alcohol levels. Most American craft brewed versions tend to lean toward the original version of the style. My version falls somewhere in between the two. A lovely, soft maltiness, followed by a crisp, dry finish. Suitable for drinking in enormous quantities.

December 8, 2006

Orange Blossom Honey Mead - alcohol by volume 11.5%
This honey is the most common honey used by mead makers. If you tasted some of my 2003 mead then you have tasted this type of mead before. Orange blossom honey is mild while expressing a very pleasant fruity aroma. As the name suggests, it is honey produced by bees who have primarily visited orange trees that were in bloom. The nectar from the blossoms gives the honey its character.

Raspberry Blossom Honey Mead - alcohol by volume 11.5%
This honey is also mild but has a more assertive character. I was somewhat skeptical of how much discernible difference there could be between various mild honeys. Since I started this mead and the orange blossom mead at the same time I was able to taste and compare the raw honeys side by side. I was surprised at how much difference there was between the two. My remaining skepticism was dispelled when I compared the two after they had finished fermenting: there still was quite a lot of difference in aroma and flavor between the two. Sometimes the process of fermentation can scrub out subtle differences, especially aromas. But the distinctive qualities of the orange and raspberry blossoms came through even post-fermentation. The only (small) glitch with this mead is that for some reason I decided to sweeten with honey (more raspberry blossom of course) at bottling time rather than a few weeks prior to bottling as I normally do. Since I use raw, unfiltered honey it instantly made this brilliantly clear mead cloudy and dropped some fluffy sediment in the bottom of each bottle. I was very disappointed. However, I just checked a few bottles (I haven't looked at one in over a month) and it is brilliantly clear again. The only difference with this mead compared to the other two being that there is a layer of sediment at the bottom of each bottle. The sediment does seem to be fairly compacted so it should be easy to decant without disturbing it much. As you've read in past tasting notes about bottle conditioned beer, the sediment doesn't affect the flavor and you have your choice of either decanting and reserving the final finger of mead in the bottle to keep it clear in the glass or decanting the whole bottle and not worrying about the cloudiness.

Wildflower Honey Sack Mead - alcohol by volume 14.7%
Sack mead is simply strong mead (i.e. 14-18% vs. 8-12% for standard mead). This mead is very different than the other two. First the wildflower honey imparts a complex, spicy character. The honey is much darker so the mead ends up with a light amber color as opposed to the pale gold color of the previous two meads. It is also somewhat sweeter than the others. The honey character is more intense but so is the alcohol, giving a little sizzle on the tongue and an overall warming effect. Due to the strength and age of this mead, very light oxidation has occurred, which gives it added complexity, namely a pleasant sherry-like note in the aroma and flavor. The intensity finally wraps up in an extended, lingering finish. The body (thickness) is also more substantial due to the larger quantity of honey used. In fact, I used so much honey initially, that once the fermentation stopped, it was sweet enough that I didn't need to add any more honey as I did with the two other standard meads. I did allow it enough time after fermentation to keep on going and try to ferment some more. After about six months, the yeast woke up and again started fermenting but after producing another 1% alcohol they pooped out again, this time for the final big sleep.

November 17, 2006

Black Lager - alcohol by volume 5.1%
OK, take two on this beer. I think I vastly improved it. Although last time I made this last year it was very popular. I revamped the recipe quite a bit. It's way more malty and a tad less roasted than it was before. I think it can still be even less roasty, it still tastes too much like a stout I believe. I would appreciate your opinion. A friend of mine who is a black lager fanatic said that he thinks it should be a lot thicker (more body in beer judging parlance), needs more chocolate flavor and could stand to be smoother. OK, I can do that. I already knew about the chocolate and the need for more smoothness but I was a bit surprised by the request for more body. Next time I'll be extra careful when brewing this one and that should take care of the smoothness. I'd also planned on switching to a lighter colored black malt which should remove the stout-like character and reveal some chocolate notes that currently are being masked (that's my theory at any rate). Lastly, I can add a special kind of malt called Carapils which will boost the thickness. But in the meantime, this beer is still mighty tasty. I myself have been getting a steady diet of it recently.

Eastside Malt Liquor - alcohol by volume 9%
This is a standard malt liquor, plain and simple. It is somewhat stronger than an over-the-counter malt liquor you might purchase at a convenience store however. For some reason, the yeast had a bit of trouble finishing the job but they eventually did. As a consequence, the yeast didn't settle out as nicely as they usually do. It seems with yeast, if they don't finish fermenting in one fell swoop, then they don't want to settle out as quickly as they normally do once fermentation is complete. Result: this malt liquor is somewhat cloudy. If you stick a bottle at the back of your fridge for a couple of months, it probably would get crystal clear (what English brewers would call "dropping bright"). But like anyone is going to do that. Fuck, you know you're just gonna shotgun the sucker straight from the bottle. You'll never even notice that it's "a bit cloudy"! Another thing to keep in mind is that this beer is NOT bottle conditioned so no yeast deposit at the bottom of the growler. That way when you chug straight from the bottle you won't get a mouthful of yeast. Oh, and do you remember the slogan for Eastside Malt Liquor in the convenient 64 oz. bottle? "40 Ouncers are for Pussies!"

Apricot Cider - alcohol by volume 6.2%
Cranberry Cider - alcohol by volume 6.3%
Two more cider varieties as per your request. The apricot is very mild and pale. It is definitely different from the last few ciders that have been at the opposite end of the flavor spectrum, bold and dark. That cranberry ended up high on the list of cider requests quite surprised me. You asked for it and now you get it! The flavor is strong, but in a way you may not expect. It tastes nothing like alcoholic Ocean Spray cranberry juice. The flavor is much more subtle and complex, like a delicate wine. Up front it has that classic cider character that is hard to put your finger on. You may even have a hard time tasting the cranberry flavor, but as soon as you swallow it blossoms into a long cranberry whallop! Unlike most drinks, I found that the more you drink the more you notice the cranberries. This is unusual, as you tend to notice flavors less as you drink because you are becoming accustomed to them, individual characteristics begin to blend together. I am very curious to see what you think of this cider. FYI, as usual, the cider is not bottle conditioned, so no yeast sediment to contend with.

October 6, 2006

Old Style India Pale Ale - alcohol by volume 7.1%
See the web entry for December 2, 2005 for general information. This is a recipe I'm toying around with. Last time I got quite close to what I wanted, especially for a first try. This time around I got a little bit closer. I'm inching towards it. But it's mighty good now. This summer it's had some time to sit and mature. Unfortunately though, I've blown through my kegs and just have some bottles left. Hey, what can I say? I got thirsty!

Cherry Cider - alcohol by volume 6.5%
Raspberry Cider - alcohol by volume 5.6%
Wow, the cherry cider turned out really well. I made this in way back in the beginning of July. One thing I found unusual about the cherry cider is that it has a tremendous amount of body. In other words, it's thick. None of the other ciders I've made have had much body (which is normal). But I immediately noticed the thickness with the cherry cider. It was a lot more difficult to bottle as well since it foamed a lot, more like beer does. Also, it has a long lasting head in the glass, unlike regular cider in which the head dissipates quickly. The raspberry cider also turned out very nice. It's a little bit lighter in alcohol but it packs plenty of raspberry flavor and aroma.

June 16, 2006

California Lager - alcohol by volume 5.4%
The inaugural batch of this new recipe. This will replace my steam beer. I'm really going out on a limb with this one. What is it? It is a Vienna lager, brewed as a steam beer (aka California Common), and yet hopped with the West Coast American hop varieties Cascade and Centennial. I suppose you could say it's a mutt, but I'd rather say it comes from several noble traditions. So by now I'm sure you have many questions. If you don't know what a steam beer is then look elsewhere in this section to educate yourself. So what in the world is a Vienna lager? Well, it's a style of beer that was once very popular but until very recently had fallen into obscurity. Basically, it is a malty amber lager. It could be considered a lower alcohol, milder version of an Oktoberfest beer: orange-amber and very malty and yet dry (not sweet) with mild hop character (bitterness, flavor, aroma). It is a style of lager that was invented by brewing innovator Anton Dreher in the mid-1800s. It utilizes a darker, richer malt called Vienna malt of all things. It is a barley malt similar to the pale malt that is the base of most beers. However it is notably darker, toastier and richer than regular pale malt. It also give the classic orange-amber color. The style is nearly extinct in Austria but since many Austrians emigrated to Mexico in the late 1800s they brought the style with them and many examples there still exist (Noche Buena and Negra Modelo the most well-known) although these modern examples use adjunct (non-malt) ingredients which lessen the rich malt complexity characteristic of the best examples of the style. OK, knowing this how does the steam style fit into this? Well, traditional lagers (like Vienna lager) are fermented cold (about 50 F.) and then lagered (cold conditioned) at near freezing temperatures for several weeks to several months. This cold conditioning process smoothes out the overall flavor so that nothing really sticks out, the overall impact is one of harmony. The higher fermentation temperature of the steam beer process (54-60 F.) results in a very subtle fruitiness similar to ales but nowhere near the same extent as a true ale would have. Also, the lack of lagering (though steam beers are conditioned at 45-50 F. for a week) gives the beer some impact rather than it merely being smooth like a traditional lager is. It is less refined than a true lager and yet it is still a lager. The ultimate American beer style, wouldn't you think? It is of foreign origin and yet it is different than its origins, unique but with a history and lineage. Lastly, I used a hopping schedule that is unorthodox for either Vienna lagers or steam beers. I skipped the nobel German hops that a Vienna lager brewer would use and also the traditional Northern Brewer hops that a steam beer brewer would use. In their place I used a combination of Cascade and Centennial hops. Cascade is the signature hop for Sierra Nevada's pale ale while Centennial is the classic hop that Stone Brewing (Arrogant Bastard, IPA, pale ale, etc) uses in their beers (as well as many other West Coast microbreweries). I fear that this beer will not be winning too many awards since it doesn't fit within any of the predefined beer style categories. I will try entering it as a Vienna Lager and also a Steam Beer. I think it will do better in the Steam Beer style since in the Vienna category they will be looking for smoothness as a major flavor component. Okay, I'll level with you, I'm drinking my first carbonated and cold pint of this beer as I write this. They're playing Circle Jerks and Germs right now on the radio. This beer fucking rules! It wipes its ass with Negra Modelo! It makes Anchor Steam its cabana boy! As the old Crazy Horse Malt Liquor advertisement with the woman drinking through a straw used to say, I could suck this all night! If you like Sam Adams Boston Lager but you also like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale then this is the beer for you for it combines the best of those beers and benefits from the synergy of the two. Okay, maybe I'm talking smack now. But fuck no, it's the beer doing the talking, schmuck! Here's the deal, you'd better come down right now otherwise I'm going to drink 30 gallons of this stuff myself in one long marathon likely resulting in my hospitalization. ARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Peach Cider - alcohol by volume 7.5%
The peaches were very kind to me. Fermentation began on May 5 and here we are, nary a month later and the magic elixir is ready to be put into your body. Isn't life great! None of that nonsense like I had with the blueberries. But to be fair, I believe it was my fault. I made all the right moves this time around and the weather cooperated too. Lots of peach flavor and aroma. In fact it's bursting! And an alcoholic punch with it to boot! I may reign in the alcohol a bit on future batches (but only a percent or so) as this is a bit high. But somehow I doubt you are going to complain about too much alcohol! I did have some technical difficulties though. My keg fridge decided it didn't like the hot weather we experienced last week and went on strike (goddamned union refrigerators!). As a consequence, half of the cider is VERY carbonated and the other half is normally carbonated. So you will have your choice. The deal is Chemistry 101. Liquids (cider in our case) absorb gases (carbon dioxide or carbonation in our case) more readily at lower temperatures. Well, for a few days this week my keg fridge decided it wasn't going to cool very efficiently resulting in the first keg not carbonating as much. Then I cranked up the carbonation pressure on the second one. But then the fridge started doing its job and the temperature dropped and thus the carbonation went way up. Oh well! Variety is the spice of life, eh?

May 19, 2006

Classic American Cream Ale - alcohol by volume 5.9%
See entries for October 7, 2005 and July 11, 2003 for general style information. There are some major differences with this current version however. This ironically is the future of this style as far as my brewing activities go. While the last batch of this I brewed was a modern interpretation (i.e. post-prohibition and post-WWII) I am now brewing this style with an eye towards its pre-prohibition (i.e. before 1919) characteristics. What this means is that the beer is much bolder and basically is MOE (More Of Everything). While modern cream ales are intentionally mild they always haven't been. Without going off on a big tangent (as I believe I already have on numerous occasions), events in the American brewing industry underwent a nearly irreversible transformation (certainly during the years between 1919-1980) from a vibrant, varied and regional industry to a uniform, static, lowest common denominator, centralized, nationally controlled industry. Pre-1919 America boasted hundreds of brewing companies of varying sizes (1,568 breweries in 1920). After prohibition was repealed in 1933 only 756 reopened and The Great Depression wiped out a great many of these in the next few years. By 1980 fewer than 50 breweries existed. As you are probably aware, the twentieth century in America saw the further decline of free market capitalism and the great rise of monopoly capitalism. This is clearly illustrated by the brewing industry. 

Since cream ales are closely linked to light lagers, as light lagers became more and more bland in an effort to market them to a national audience (i.e. make them flavor neutral and inoffensive) so followed cream ales. Classic American cream ales (sometimes called pre-prohibition cream ales) are higher in alcohol, malt flavor and aroma as well as hop bitterness and aroma. They basically have more of everything when compared to the few commercial examples of modern cream ale that exist today. In fact, I don't know of a single commercial example of a classic American cream ale, they are all modern cream ales.

OK, now onto the particulars. This recipe varies from my two previous attempts in that I used 20% flaked corn which is traditional (in fact some breweries of the time used up to 30%). I also used American grown hops the were bred from traditional German hop varieties. Lastly, I used 6-row barley malt rather than the standard 2-row (see my rant about this topic on the website entry for December 2, 2005 under the description for Old Style American Indian Pale Ale). This beer is as authentic as I could make it. I think it turned out great. So good in fact that though I've tried to abstain I've nearly drained the keg on my own. A couple other notes about this beer. Last time I put it on nitro dispense. I didn't quite care for it. This time it's back to standard carbonation. I also tried a different method of carbonation which worked but it is a lot more effort and time than the standard method, it didn't quite give me the level of carbonation I wanted (a little low) and it made the beer slightly hazy. Next time I will go back to my normal method and the beer will be very bubbly and very clear. On the whole though I am very satisfied.

Dry Stout - alcohol by volume 5.1%
See entry for March 18, 2005 for general style information. After the last batch I decided that the flavor was a little too mild and so I boosted it a bit to give it more heft (from 4% to 5.1%) and richness. The heft is a nice improvement but I may have gone a little too far with the bump in flavor. Next time around I think I will back off on the roasted flavor just a bit, somewhere in between this version and the last.

Hefeweizen - alcohol by volume 4.3%
See entry for April 23, 2004 for general style information. The only thing different this time around is that I've changed the grain bill a bit, from a 50/50 blend of wheat and barley malts to a more traditional Bavarian ratio of 70% wheat malt and 30% barely malt. I think it improves the beer and gives more of an overall wheat character.

Blueberry Cider - alcohol by volume 4.2%
The much storied cider is at last ready. You've been asking and I keep telling you it wasn't ready yet. The wait is over. This cider was very misbehaved. It acted like no other cider I have made before. It was like a little precocious child: you aren't sure if you want to hug it or spank it! From the get-go this one was going to be different. First it didn't want to ferment. It just sat there and laughed at me. Eventually after much coaxing it began fermenting. Then it stopped prematurely, which is why it is lower in alcohol content than previous ciders I have made. The upside of this is that I didn't need to sweeten it as where the fermentation stalled was the level of sweetness that I normally aim for. Lastly, the sulfur that is a natural byproduct of fermentation and which normally dissipates quickly (a few weeks) did not want to clear. The sulfur funk remained months after fermentation had ceased, much to my dismay (BAD cider! VERY bad cider!). But with some care, time and understanding (hey, we all progress at different rates) eventually this cider came around. Last week as a lark I hooked up a keg as I had some space in the kegerator. Much to my surprise it was excellent. The color is quite unusual: a pinkish purple magenta. The flavor is mild and delicate with a strong aroma of fresh blueberries. The aftertaste has a slightly spicy note, almost like white pepper corns. You've likely never tasted anything like it.

March 31, 2006

Steam Beer - alcohol by volume 5.5%
See entry on January 14, 2005 for general style information. As with last year's batch, this is still a little hoppier than I had wanted, not as much as last year but I guess I still need to ratchet down the finishing hops a bit to get this beer where I want it. It's all for nought though since I am abandoning this recipe (which is simply an Anchor Steam knockoff) and going full steam ahead on my own original recipe which I will affectionately call California Lager. It will indeed be a steam beer (or California Common Beer as it technically is known) but gone will be the Northern Brewer hops which are the signature of Anchor Steam. First, why copy a beer that is so synonymous with the style when it is widely distributed and available commercially? Second, I've decided after much tasting that I really am not particularly fond of Northern Brewer hops, which are classically described as having a minty, woodsy and rustic flavor. Thus my new steam beer will use other types of hops and will stand on its own distinct from Anchor Steam. But more on that later for another tasting.

Abbey Single Ale - alcohol by volume 4.2%
This was an experimental beer that I only brewed 5 gallons of. As a consequence, there will only be the one keg and then it will be gone. A friend of mine has begun importing a dark sugar syrup from Belgium. Many of the Trappist monasteries that brew use this syrup for making their dubbels. It is quite difficult as many a homebrewer can attest to make these Trappist or abbey ales without this ingredient. It is beet sugar that has been caramelized in a very specific manner that yields a beautiful amber to brown color (depending on how much is used in a given recipe) and imparts a flavor complexity that belies its humble origins. Generally, sugar does not impart much flavor or color when used as a brewing ingredient. This is one exception. As a favor, my friend asked me to brew up a batch using this special syrup as the main flavor ingredient. I added it to a base of American grown pale barley malt and a mild dose of hops as is the custom for this class of ale. Since we didn't have much information about typical usage rates for the syrup I had to wing it. I was setting out to make a dubbel but fell short and only ended up with a single. It sure does taste good but it's no dubbel. Singles are a commercially unknown style of beer as none have been marketed. They are brewed strictly for the monks' daily ration of beer and are not marketed to the public. In other words, it is a table beer. Look forward to a future brewing of a dubbel that hits the mark stylistically. In the meantime, enjoy this beer style that cannot be purchased.

December 2, 2005

Old Style American India Pale Ale - alcohol by volume 6.7%
You may or may not know the story of India pale ale. It was originally brewed by English brewers in the early 19th century for export to English soldiers stationed in India. The beer had to be hardy enough to withstand a six month ocean voyage to India. The brewers increased the two things that preserve beer: alcohol and hops. Alcohol is a natural preservative, so the English brewers brewed a beer that was higher in alcohol, usually 6-8% versus the normal beers of 4-6%. Hops have anti-oxidant properties as well as anti-microbial properties, which would keep the beer from going stale before reaching it's destination. So the brewers boosted the hops added to the beer by about 50%. Normally this would make for a very bitter and green hoppy tasting beer, but with 6 months of aging, the hops would mellow and smooth out considerably before arriving in India resulting in a beer that although stronger than a normal pale ale wouldn't seem appreciably more bitter or hoppy. All this went along nicely for some years, with several brewers making a nice business out of the export trade and with many brewers jumping on the bandwagon and making export pale ales as well. But then one day something went wrong with a shipment leaving the coast of England and the the ship sank. It wasn't too far off the coast, so most of the cargo was able to be salvaged before the ship completely went down. The salvaged cargo was sold off in the nearby port town to the locals, including the beer. This was green beer however, as it hadn't gone on its six month voyage and had its hop flavor diminish. Once the public got a taste of this strong, hoppy beer they loved it. Word spread and soon brewers began supplying India pale ale to their domestic markets as well as continuing to export.

Starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the American craft brewed beer revolution beginning to pick up speed, one of the more popular beers from these breweries that began to emerge was pale ale, not the original English pale ale, but a definitively American take on the style. The main difference was the hops used. Rather than traditional English hops which tend to be earthy and mild, these new brewers used American hops which tend to be very floral and spicy in their aroma and very bold in their bitterness and flavor. Soon this approach was applied to India pales as well. As the years went by this style became increasingly popular with most breweries having an example in their portfolio. The problem is one of "me too". Most of the American India pale ales tend to be very similar in all respects: ingredients, color, flavor, bitterness, hop character, etc. Homebrewers have also fallen into this trap. Whenever a homebrewer hands you his or her IPA, you can just about assume it's going to taste like every other IPA you've tasted. It's good, but it gets a bit tiresome.

One day I heard a story about the legendary (and now defunct) brewery Ballantine, of Newark, New Jersey, who for years brewed a very unusual India pale ale, one that was neither traditionally English nor was it like the current crop of craft brewed IPAs. This beer has its origins sometime in the late 1800s. Its recipe is quite unusual by today's standards. Old style traditional ingredients were used since this was a large, East Coast industrial brewery. Ingredients like six row malted barley (rather than the now ubiquitous two row), adjunct ingredients like corn, and ancient varieties of hops like Cluster (the only variety of hop native to North America) definitely put an American stamp on this beer. Many of these ingredients today are eschewed by craft and homebrewers simply because they are traditionally and primarily used by large, mega breweries. But as are many things in life, it's not so much the things themselves that are bad, but how they are used (or abused). By the 1960s, the American beer business was going through a major consolidation process due in part to the devastating 13 years of prohibition and then rationing during WWII. Ballantine's glory days were long gone and it was just a matter of time before they succumbed. The fateful year was 1972, when the company (but strangely not the actual brewery and the property in Newark) was sold to Falstaff, a brewery based in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. To its credit, Falstaff made a noble effort in reproducing the Ballantine brews at its brewery in Indiana. The record shows that the beer definitely changed, even though Falstaff tried its best. Later in the decade, Falstaff was bought out by another large brewing conglomerate. Today, Pabst owns the Ballantine portfolio, of which only the legendary Ballantine Ale is brewed today, but in name only. The IPA was dropped sometime in the late 1990s, but in its final days it was at best merely a hollow representation of the pre-1972 product anyhow.

I began doing additional research trying to find out more about this elusive brew. Online I found a number of chat transcripts of old timers lamenting the loss of this once distinctive brew. I also came across some homebrewer discussion forums where the nuts and bolts of this brew were being pondered. Through these connections I was able to obtain two versions of the original pre-1972 formula supposedly based on the recollections of former employees at the original Newark brewery. The two recipes were similar but varied slightly. Hmmmm . . . . I was on to something. Further research turned up more clues and educated guesses as to the original recipe. Eventually, I based my own recipe on what all the other ones had in common and were generally agreed upon. My recipe utilizes six row malted barley, corn adjunct, corn sugar, crystal malt (barley) and black malt (barley). The hopping schedule is really weird compared to a modern American style IPA. The bittering hop is an English variety called Bullion, which is noted for its black currant-like flavor. The flavor hop is Cluster, which by today's standard is somewhat harsh tasting but is very distinctive. Almost no commercial brewery uses it any longer and many beer experts have publicly declared their distaste for this hop variety. If you see hops growing wild somewhere you can just about assume that it is Cluster. It grows wild in just about every state in the continental United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. The finishing hop (which imparts hop aroma) is Saaz, the traditional hop used in Pilsners and grown in the Czech Republic. This hop is almost never used in ales, so it is very strange being in an IPA. It is also used for dry hopping, which is a technique especially used in IPAs where additional hops are added raw to the beer during fermentation, rather than just during the boil as is the case with most beers.

I love this beer! It's a "Fuck You!!!" beer, a rebel, breaking all conventions. (whiney voice) "Cluster hops taste harsh" "FUCK YOU I'M GONNA BASE MY BEER ON THIS HOP!" "Bullion hops have a funny black currant taste" "FUCK YOU I'M GONNA USE THEM AS MY PRIMARY BITTERING HOP!" "You shouldn't use Saaz hops in an ale" "FUCK YOU I'M GONNA USE THEM AS MY PRIMARY AROMA HOP AND I'M GOING TO DRY HOP WITH IT TOO YOU FUCKING SISSY" "Good beers don't use six row barley malt because BudMillerCoors use it in their beers" "FUCK YOU SIX ROW MALTED BARLEY IS GOING TO BE MY BASE MALT, I WON'T USE A SINGLE GRAIN OF TWO ROW IN THIS BEER!" "Good beers don't use corn or sugar in them because they are cheap fillers used by the mega swill breweries" "FUCK YOU I WILL USE THEM IN MY BEER BUT I WILL USE THEM RESPONSIBLY AND IN APPROPRIATE QUANTITIES UNLIKE THE MEGA SWILL BREWERS WHOSE COMPANIES HAVE BEEN INFECTED BY SNIVELING LAWYERS AND ACCOUNTANTS!"

Ah, okay, I feel much better now after that little outburst. You will too after you drink several pints of this.

Mild Ale - alcohol by volume 3%
This is an extremely rare beer in America. For a long period of time in England (1850-1950) it was by far the most common beer available. It has now become fairly uncommon even in its native land. It is now mainly brewed and consumed in the English Midlands in and around Birmingham. What constitutes a mild ale has changed and evolved over the years. Even what the term "mild" means has changed.

Before the discovery and isolation of brewing yeast microorganisms (by Louis Pasteur around the 1890s) most beers were fermented by a committee of microorganisms, of which brewing yeast of course played the starring role. It had the largest impact on the overall flavor and did the lion's share of the fermentation. But a few bacteria strains that were able to survive the relatively harsh environment that beer provides (alcohol, hops and acidity) also played a significant role in brewing. Unlike yeast however, which get into beer and quickly do their job (fermentation, converting malt sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide), bacteria are like a slow boat to China. They do their job, but it is a very slow process. They also release acids as a byproduct of their metabolization. As a result, beers with bacteria have a tart, sour flavor profile. But it takes time for these flavors to develop. Brewers of this period would divide their beers into two categories: mild ale and stock ale. Stock ales were the beer collected from the first runnings of liquid that was captured as hot water is added to the grain bed (called "mashing"). This resulted in a more concentrated beer that would eventually end up with a higher alcohol content. Stock ales were then stored for long periods of time (a year or more) before being sold. This long period of aging allowed the bacteria to go to work and turn the ale sour. This was prized by drinkers of the time and as a consequence commanded a much higher price. Usually, only the upper class could afford this beer. The rest of the beer collected from the mashing process was much more dilute compared to the runnings collected for stock ale. This netted a lower alcohol content. These runnings would end up as mild ale (mild meaning not sour). As soon as it was fermented it was packaged and sold. Since the beer was drunk young, the bacteria didn't have a chance to sour the beer. This beer obviously sold for far less money and was associated with the lower classes. But of course none of this applies to America, since in America we have no class consciousness (cough cough, hack, gasp, choke). However, at this time period, lower alcohol meant about 6%. Gradually over the years, the strength of mild ales began to drop. This was due first to changing beer taxation laws (lower alcohol meant lower taxes) that forced brewers to weaken their beers in order to keep prices competitive. The social, economic and political upheavals of WWI and WWII and the associated rationing also led to the rapid decline in mild ale strength. By the 1950s, modern mild ales were about 3% alcohol by volume. That was also the beginning of the style's rapid decline in popularity. By mid-century many things had changed, not the least of which were people's tastes. Mild ale was seen as an "old man's beer". It was also associated with the lower classes. Lastly, it wasn't new and fresh so it became difficult to market to younger drinkers. As in America, the brewing industry was in upheaval, and the results were not good for beer drinkers. Consolidation and a growing trend towards national brands and national marketing put many high quality yet small regional breweries out of business. Accountants began to pressure brewers into using cheaper and inferior products in order to cut costs and boost profits. It got so bad in English mild ale breweries that large amounts of sugar began replacing malt and carmel coloring was being added to give the brew its distinctive copper color since so little malt was being used. The result was a consumer revolt of sorts: the English stopped drinking mild ale. By the 1970s things began to turn around with the advent of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) which is a British beer consumer activist group created to pressure brewers to get their acts together and make better beer. Through their efforts, many traditional British beers were brought back from the edge of oblivion and better brewing practices and small regional breweries also came back. Although mild ale still has not made and probably will not make a full recovery to pre-WWII levels of popularity, it is no danger of disappearing completely as it once had.

Today a mild ale is a low alcohol English style ale meant for drinking in copious quantity. It is mild in that it is neither bitter nor hoppy. Today's mild ales could be considered the little brother of brown ales, although mild ales have been around much longer than brown ales have. It is a copper to light brown malty ale, with the light fruitiness that typifies English ales. It also has a pleasant toasty and nutty flavor. It is fairly light bodied due to its low strength and without much of a head so it can be filled right to the top of the glass. No imported examples can be found in America as it is not exported from England due to its low levels of alcohol and hops. Pretty much the opposite of India pale ales. It is a delicate beer and does not hold up well for very long. But that is usually not a problem since it gets drunk up so fast. Very few breweries in America brew this style so unless you go to the English Midlands you are not very likely to encounter this beer. But you can now in Los Angeles of all places. But hey, Los Angeles, the English Midlands, what's the difference?

October 7, 2005

Cream Ale - alcohol by volume 4.9%
This is a style of beer that came about in the 1800s on the American eastern seaboard. With the advent of commercially viable refrigeration in the 1840s, lagers were beginning to takeover ales as the dominant beer style. In response, the ale breweries came up with cream ale as a way to compete with lagers. Cream ales are similar to American pale lagers: pale color, low hop bitterness and aroma, light to medium body. The twist is that since they are ales, they have a somewhat fuller flavor with a restrained fruitiness. To put a further twist on the style, I am serving this on my nitrogen stout faucet, the one I normally serve my Guinness-style Irish stouts on. You'll get a minimally carbonated beer with a huge, lasting frothy head. It will be sort of like a Boddington's Nitro Draught.

Schwarzbier (black lager) - alcohol by volume 4.4%
This is a German style of beer especially favored by the former East Germans. It is a somewhat obscure style outside of eastern Germany, however it is becoming more popular. Sapporo used to make one they marketed as Sapporo Black, but alas they stopped producing it a few years ago. In the last month or two Sam Adams has added a schwarzbier to their line but I haven't had an opportunity to taste it yet. Normally schwarzbier is only very dark brown and almost black. But I threw caution to the wind, I wanted mine to be jet, midfuckingnight, leap-into-the-abyss black. And I got it. As a consequence, it has a more pronounced roasted flavor giving it a somewhat stout-like flavor than you might find in a conventional schwarzbier. So be it. It's fucking black! What else do you need? THIS is the new black, hipster!

Apple Cider - alcohol by volume 7.5%
I just entered this into a beer and cider competition: it took first place. So now I have something to back up my boisterous claims of superiority besides my own chin music. Ha! With this batch of cider, I have gone in a new direction: sweetness. Now I'm not talking about sickening, candy-like sweetness. I'm just talking about a little bit of sweetness to take the edge off the dryness. All my previous ciders were extremely dry and I liked them that way. But then one day this fellow walks up to me and gives me a sample of his apple cider that was just off-dry (a fancy term for semi-sweet) and man, the heavens opened up! I mean the Jesus beams shot down out of the cloudless sky and into my goblet and onto my face. I was raptured up into cider heaven! And now I'm back with my own semi-sweet cider for you kind taster. The great thing about a touch of sweetness is that it really showcases the fruit. In dry ciders, they taste great but sometimes you can be hard pressed to really notice the fruit unless there's a heavy aroma. But a little sweetness can really bring out the fruit flavor but without killing everything else that makes cider such a wonderful beverage. Evidently I nailed this one.

Lawnmower Lager - alcohol by volume 4.4%
What in Crawford, Texas is a lawnmower lager? you might ask. Well, amongst brewers, a lawnmower beer is a light, easy drinking, quenching beer that you might like to quaff after getting all hot and sweaty mowing your now perfectly manicured suburban, what-will-the-neighbors-think?, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, lawn on your $700,000 median-priced tract home. You may want to try this one first as the keg is about half empty. I've been dipping into it throughout the summer after getting all hot and sweaty tending my urban container vegetable garden in empty 5 gallon paint buckets in my not-so perfectly manicured jungle-of-a-yard in my rent-controlled-1912-built-(and it shows)-single-family-house-divided-in-half-only-not-done-so-skillfully-as-evidenced-by-the-super-narrow-hallway-that-you-probably-notice-every-time-you-come-to-my-house-since-you-have-to-squeeze-your-beer-and-cider-swilling-body-through-it-sometimes-barely-making-it-through-without-a-major-claustrophobia-attack.

May 20, 2005

OK, some news. I entered some beers from past brewings into a homebrew competition, Winterfest 2005 held in Las Vegas. I entered 4 beers and took home 4 ribbons: 2 first places and 2 second places. My English Pale Ale and Gold Ale (both from March) took first place in their respective categories and my Steam Beer and English Brown Ale (both from January) took second place in their respective categories. So in case you had any doubts, now you've got trained beer judges to confirm that you are drinking good shit!

West Coast Pale Ale - alcohol by volume 5.3%
This is a style that developed in California in the late 70s and early 80s pioneered by the venerable Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.  It is a variation on English style pale ale but has become very distinct from its predecessor. Usually paler, it is more bitter and much much more hoppy due to the use of American grown varieties of hops which tend to be very bold and citrusy in comparison to the milder English hop varieties. It also has much less of the caramel flavor associated with English pale ales. A very refreshing beer. My version has a firm bitterness from the Columbus hop type, followed by the classic flavor and aroma of the Cascade hop type and finishing up with a final push of Columbus again at the end. This is an all American beer made with all American ingredients, American 2-row barley malt, American crystal malt, American cara-pils malt and of course American (Washington) grown hops. The only thing un-American about this beer was the yeast, produced in Canada! Don't you just love America! Hooray!

Porter - alcohol by volume 5.3%
A dark brown bordering on black ale originally brewed in 18th century London for common working class stiffs. Rich, chocolate-like flavors dominate, with subdued roasted flavors. Not very bitter, with medium hop flavor and aromatics. Porter is my personal favorite beer style. This beer makes excellent beer ice cream floats. Make just like a root beer float, substitute the porter in place of the root beer and use only the finest vanilla ice cream. It may sound strange to you but trust me, it is heavenly.

Cranberry Cider - alcohol by volume 8.3%
This one was a long time in coming. I wanted to have it ready for last Thanksgiving but I delayed and there was no way it would be ready in time. So then I was hoping to have it ready by the end of the year so I rushed it and moved it out of the fermentation tank and into the keg. Big mistake. It tasted terrible. I had used a wine yeast to ferment my cranberries and wine yeasts naturally produce DMS (dimethyl sulfide) which smells like rotten eggs. Eventually it gasses off and you are left with a tasty beverage. Well, I guess I hadn't waited quite long enough as it was dreadful. The wait is over. After several months more waiting and aging it is now ready! It actually turned out much more mild than I had expected. I thought it was going to be like fermented Ocean Spray cranberry juice. Thankfully it is not like that because that would only allow you to take small sips and you'd be lucky to finish a full pint. Instead, this turned out a pleasant pink, very effervescent, dry and with a nice kick of cranberry in the finish and aftertaste. My first sip I was thinking that it didn't have much of a cranberry flavor and then once I swallowed a second or two goes by and then WHAM it hit me: cranberry. Yeah! Careful though, at 8.3% abv this will knock you on your ass if you're not careful.

March 18, 2005

Irish Red Ale - alcohol by volume 6.0%
This is an ancient style of beer brewed by the peoples of Ireland since at least the middle ages, but probably longer. It is of moderate strength, dry, mildly bitter and has no hop aroma (not hoppy). It's main flavor is of mild roasted malt as well as a mild but firm hop bitterness. It derives its amber red color from a small addition of roasted barley, the signature grain used in the world famous Irish Stout (see below) style. Note that an acronym of this beer is IRA. If you know anything about Irish history you know what this stands for. It has nothing to do with financial planning, nor is it the common male Jewish first name.

Irish Draught Stout - alcohol by volume 4.0%
The beer that made Ireland famous. The origins of this beer are steeped in controversy. Without stepping on any toes, it is a style that originated probably around the late 18th century or early 19th century. Its beginnings are intertwined with that of porter, another beer whose origins are hotly contested by beer historians. Skipping all of that, it is a beer whose flavor is defined by the use of roasted barley. Roasted barley is raw, unmalted barley that is roasted in a rotating drum at very high temperatures. The process is very similar to that of roasting coffee beans. So it is not strange that roasted barley exhibits some of the same flavors as that of coffee. In fact, roasted barley is often described as having an espresso-like flavor. And of course, roasted barley is very black and gives stout its dark color. My stout is an interpretation of draught stout, a distinct stout intended to be served via a tap. This is different from many American microbreweries' take on this style. While they make theirs much stronger, blacker and richer, mine takes the form of the original stouts: light in alcohol and body and mild yet distinctive in its flavor. Made for drinking in great quantity. Another ingredient unique to this beer is flaked barley. Basically this is oatmeal but made with raw, unmalted barley rather than oats. This lightens the body of the beer as well as imparting a smooth silky texture. This beer is made to be dispensed through a special stout faucet using nitrogen to push the beer out. I've obtained a stout faucet and set up a nitrogen dispense system. A stout faucet has a metallic disc inside that has tiny holes in it. As the beer is forced through these tiny holes under the pressure of the nitrogen, the carbon dioxide and nitrogen that are dissolved in the beer suddenly are forced out and you get a nice frothy consistency. This only works because of the nitrogen. Regular beer derives its carbonation solely from carbon dioxide. But carbon dioxide is not stable when forced out of solution and foams uncontrollably. Nitrogen however is very stable and thus it works much better under these conditions. If you've never seen or used a stout faucet before you might want to have me pour your first glass for you. You can go to the Guinness or Murphy's sites for instruction on pouring stout. Basically, you pull the stout faucet all the way forward until the glass is 3/4 full. Then set the glass aside for a few minutes (longer is better to allow the nitrogen to form the stout's body). Then top the glass up with a frothy, creamy head by pushing the stout faucet handle backwards.

English Pale Ale - alcohol by volume 5.8%
I've written extensively about this style before. For those of you who are new I will briefly recap. A style that originated in the 19th century in the north of England in a town called Burton. New technology had allowed barley maltsters (yep, that's the correct spelling, I'm not Rob Schneider) to keep the malt lighter in color. Previously, all malt was brown or darker. By today's standards pale ale isn't pale, it's amber. But in those days it was the lightest colored beer there was, thus the name. The flavor is a balance between caramel malt and hop bitterness finishing with a very English hop character. Don't expect this to taste anything like American pale ale, as English hops are a completely different beast. The hop flavor and aroma are very unlike American hops. The are much more subtle and have a somewhat earthy flavor.

Gold Ale - alcohol by volume 5.7%
This is the evolution of my Blonde Ale (the last brewing of which was Jan 04). Darker and richer than the blonde ale was. It also turned out somewhat stronger than I had anticipated. The Blonde Ale was about 4.5% abv. Also, I may have gone a tiny bit overboard on the bittering hops, but I like it a lot. The bitterness gives it a nice refreshing character that holds up quite well to spicy food. I've sucked up a lot of this myself, so the keg is less than half full now.

January 14, 2005

Steam Beer - alcohol by volume 4.9%
This is the style of beer made famous by the relatively small Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco. Their flagship beer, Anchor Steam, is the definitive commercial example. Technically, the Anchor Brewing Company has trade marked the term "steam beer" so I could get sued by them for using the word "steam". But I don't believe that anyone can own a word, so fuck 'em. The generic term for the style now that nobody except them can call it steam is California common beer. The term steam beer is shrouded in mystery and just about everyone has a theory as to how it came about. It's origins date back to the Northern California gold rush of 1849. Much was changing in the brewing world around this time. It had been less than ten years since the pilsner style (the first pale beer, previously all beers had been dark) had been introduced in Plzen, now in what is known as the Czech Republic. The west coast of the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century was a wild and rough place and the brewing techniques and available equipment were quite crude. Seat-of-the-pants improvisation was the order of the day. Lagers were just beginning to catch ales as the most produced type of beer. Lagers are brewed cold and further aged at freezing temperatures. Due to the warm California climate and lack of available ice or refrigeration, the brewers had to make due with lager yeast fermentations at ambient temperatures. The ensuing rapid rate of fermentation made an excessive amount of carbonation build up. When they were tapped, the excess pressure escaped with a hissing sound. This is the most probable theory for the name steam beer.

The color of the beer is a deep amber. The body is moderately full. There is a noticeable malty flavor with a slight caramel sweetness. Bitterness and hoppiness are pronounced. The last time I made this beer, it wasn't bitter or hoppy enough. I've corrected the lack of bitterness, but I may have overdone it slightly on the hoppiness. Next time I will back off on the hoppiness and then I think it will be just right. I brewed this back in October so it has mellowed somewhat. Back then it was REALLY hoppy.

Brown Ale - alcohol by volume 5.7%
This style originated in England and is a very old type of beer. Today, there are three main classifications of brown ale: Northern English, Southern English and American. The archetypical Northern English brown ale is Newcastle. It is somewhat dry, not bitter or hoppy and of moderate strength. Sometimes it has a slight nutty taste as well. The Southern style tends to be much sweeter. American style (Pete's Wicked for example) is stronger and much more bitter and hoppier. This is the third refinement of this recipe. I still haven't got it exactly how I want yet. My version is somewhat between all three: it's most like a Northern English, but it's sweeter but not quite as sweet as a Southern English and it's also stronger like an American brown ale, but it's not bitter or hoppy like an American version. This batch is much richer than previous batches have been but as a consequence it leans more to the sweet side. More hop bitterness should correct that. The other thing is that I still haven't quite gotten the color I'm looking for. I would like a deeper brown, this batch is a little lighter than I had hoped for. It's brown, but it just doesn't quite have the hue. A tiny addition of black malt would correct that and would also add some umph to the flavor. In a few months I'll brew this again with these small modifications to the recipe.

October 29, 2004

Oktoberfest - 5.3% alcohol by volume
Maybe you know the story of this beer already. For those that don't, here's an extremely abbreviated version. Basically some Bavarian nobles were getting married in Munich during the early 19th century. They decided to throw a city wide celebration. The local brewers came up with a special beer. The city partied like it was 1899 for a few days (until the beer was gone). They had such a good time they said Pfück, let's do this every year! And so it was. And so it is. And it was nothing like the Oktoberfest at Alpine Village in Torrance. I doubt anyone did the chicken dance. In Munich, Oktoberfest actually occurs in late September. At any rate, this is an amber lager, heavy on malt flavor and light on hop bitterness and hop fragrance. It's malty but has a dry finish. You're gonna love it.

Eastside Malt Liquor - 9.4% alcohol by volume
This is a fun beer. And the more you drink, the more fun you become! I brewed this one as a traditional malt liquor, but stronger than most commercial examples. The average commercial malt liquor seems to be around 7-8%. There are exceptions of course but by and large most malt liquors really aren't that strong. Most of my normal beers tend to be 5-7%. Colt 45 is like 6 or 7%. People usually get fucked up on this beer not because it's much stronger than normal beer but because they drink so much of it and they tend to pound it hard and fast. My malt liquor though is the real deal. It is stronger. But it's got plenty of flavor, it's not just insipidly bland alcohol water. No siree! It does have that classic malt liquor flavor (delicate malt, corn sweetness, slight rubbing alcohol aroma and taste) just more of it. I was really disappointed with this beer when it was coming out of the fermentation tank. It was extremely dry, light bodied and had a harsh alcohol flavor. But after a few weeks of aging, it was transformed. The corn sweetness came through to balance out the dryness. The body was fuller and the harsh alcohol flavor had subsided. Now, this beer isn't for everyone. But it does have it's place as a legitimate beer style. The more I drink it the better I like it. I've really developed a taste for it. It's a beer that can really stand up to greasy heavy food. It's great with bbq. Fatty pork ribs swimming in juice and sauce. Your full lips bathed in glistening grease, bbq sauce drizzling down your chin. The rich, heavy flavors and spices have fucked your palate up. You're losing your taste sensation. Eastside Malt Liquor to the rescue. This beer will cut through all of that like a muthafucka. Malt liquor is finally getting its due! In addition to being on tap, I bottled a small portion of the batch in 64 oz. screw cap "growler" bottles. That's a half gallon of high octane malt liquor. Official motto of the 64 oz. bottles: "40 ouncers are for Pussies!" Also, these big bottles are not bottle conditioned so there's no yeast deposit at the bottom. So you can drink it straight from the bottle crystal clear as you pass it around to your compatriots or simply decant desired portion into a glass and save the rest for later. Wrap them in brown paper bags for maximum effect lest you forget what you are drinking. Yes, it's a gourmet malt liquor but never forget that it is a malt liquor.

August 20, 2004

Porter - 4.5% alcohol by volume
This beer is worthy of much thought, but I'll give you my thoughts on it next time I brew this up (winter). A dark brown bordering on black ale originally brewed in 18th century London for common working class stiffs (like the one pictured in the label). Rich, chocolate-like flavors dominate, with subdued roasted flavors. Not very bitter, with only mild hop flavor and aromatics. Porter is my personal favorite beer style. This beer makes excellent beer ice cream floats. Make just like a root beer float, substitute the porter in place of the root beer and use only the finest vanilla ice cream. It may sound strange to you but trust me, it is heavenly. I've only got about 1 gallon of this left in the keg (hey, I brewed it back in April).

Feather Ale - 5.1% alcohol by volume
This is a brand new recipe. It needs some evolution but it's a good start. I wanted a nice, light, easy drinking ale. One that would hint at the beer I used to drink in my youth (mass produced yellow fizz water) but of course much much better. These types of beers always have a large dose of corn or rice in their make up. I chose rice for this beer, 20% of the grain bill which I thought would be conservative. It turned out very light but the rice, rather than being transparent as I had planned, damn near takes center stage. It gives the beer a nutty, almost coconut-like flavor. It was quite unusual when it was new, but as it has aged this flavor has faded somewhat and the grainy flavor of the malted barley is becoming more apparent, reminding me somewhat like Heineken but without the skunk flavor.

Peach Cider - 7.6% alcohol by volume
Ahhhhhhhh! This is real nice on a hot summer day. Truly crisp and refreshing. Delicate, mildly perfumey but not overbearingly so as many commercial hard ciders tend to be. Dry, not sweet. It is very bubbly. Chill the bottles very cold. If you open a bottle at room temperature you'll be taking a peach shower. Or you'll look like you just won the Indy 500. Try this at Sunday brunch instead of Champagne. You'll be pleasantly surprised and maybe not quite as drunk or you can drink twice as much and be pleasantly surprised and pleasantly drunk. It's all up to you baby . . . .

April 23, 2004

Heat Wave Pale Ale - 5.0% alcohol by volume
This beer is in the style of American Pale Ales. Pale ales from America (as opposed to England) are much more bitter and certainly more hoppy. This is due to the use of American grown hop varieties and the heavy use of them. The quintessential American Pale Ale is Sierra Nevada. My pale ale is markedly different however, from the use of a completely different hop variety than is usual. Most American pale ales use either the Cascade hop variety or Centennial. Both of these hops have a grapefruit-like flavor and aroma. The variety I chose was Northern Brewer. This variety is noted for its rustic and woody flavor. It's the signature hop in Anchor Steam beer, which very loosely speaking, is like a pale ale (although it technically is a lager). Throughout the 90 minute boil, I added the Northern Brewer hops four different times and in liberal quantities. Usually, hops are added only two times on most beers. This gives the beer a markedly prominent hop character. But hops are just one part of the story. American 2 row barley malt is another component. This type of barley makes up the base of this beer. This malt is noted for its dry, crisp character. In a much smaller proportion, I used a type of malt called crystal malt. This is a malted barley that has been malted and dried and then stewed in hot water which crystalizes the sugars. Then it is kiln dried to varying degrees of darkness. I selected a medium colored crystal malt. This malt give this beer an amber color and adds a toffee like sweetness to counter balance the bitterness from the ample quantity of hops used. This beer got its name due to a sudden jump in temperature on brew day in early March. Cooler weather is better for fermenting beer. Higher temperatures usually create off-flavors. The day of the brewing, the temperature shot up to the 80s where previously we'd been in the upper 60s, which is an ideal temperature for most ales. I became very worried that the beer would be excessively fruity tasting. But my large and high quality yeast supply helped to avoid this common flaw. By summertime I will have my temperature controlled fermentation device built and functional so that I can continue to bring you the quality beers you've come to expect. This beer is going to be popular so make sure you get a few pints before the keg goes dry.

Bavarian Style Hefeweizen - 3.7% alcohol by volume
This is a true hefeweizen in the tradition of Bavarian wheat ales. What makes a hefeweizen a hefeweizen? In a word: yeast. Hefeweizen yeast produces the clove and fruity flavors (namely, banana) that are so prized with this style of beer. It also, in conjunction with the malted wheat, gives a very subtle tartness as well. Sometimes, depending on the strain of hefeweizen yeast, bubble gum and vanilla are background flavors. The other characteristic of these yeasts are that they tend to not settle out. As such, the beer stays extremely hazy. This style of beer is usually made with a 50/50 blend of malted wheat and malted barley. Hop bitterness is extremely light to allow the yeast flavors to take center stage. Hop flavor and aroma are non-existent. In my version, I used a the typical 50/50 blend of wheat and barley and the light hopping schedule. I used a less common hefeweizen strain that produces a less than average banana flavor profile, instead focusing on the clove and vanilla flavor components. Alcohol content is somewhat lower than average. This is because this beer is intended to be drunk in prodigious amounts! In fact, the Bavarians drink this beer even at breakfast. Wow, beer for breakfast as a cultural standard and not just at frat houses! "Coffee" breaks usually consist of the beer as well. Now, maybe you've had one of the popular microbrewed "hefeweizens" from the northwest like Pyramid. These are generic, light wheat ales because they do not use the authentic yeast to get the wild flavors. My hefeweizen is nothing like these. Don't even try to compare! Bottled hefeweizen is superior to the draft version. The level of carbonation can be approaching that of champagne. This level of carbonation is impractical for draft service. Also, in draft versions most of the yeast settles out and the beer begins to clear. In the bottled version, it is authentic to pour the beer and yeast sediement and all into the glass. Bavarians sometimes pour into a glass all but an inch or two of beer in the bottom of the bottle. Then they roll the bottle aggressively back and forth on its side to dislodge the yeast on the bottom of the bottle and then pour the remaining yeast into the glass. Yeast is great for you, lots of vitamin B and minerals. To your health! Prost!!!

March 19, 2004

DISCLAIMER: This announcement was written under the influence of stout!

I have two new beers: a red ale and a stout. We'll title this tasting "St. Patrick Comes Two Days Later Than Expected or Growing Pains: The Final Chapter". Pull yourself a cool one (NOT cold, unless you're drinking Bud Lite, but say it aint so!) and settle in for another installation of beer soaked ramblings.

Red Ale - 3.9% alcohol by volume
Ahhh, one last Growing Pains (someone recently told me that Kirk Cameron is a hyper-evangelical preacher based in Orange County) beer. If I were dishonest, I could bill this beer as a Flemish red ale and some of you might be fooled. But I'm just not that way. Plus, Kirk might damn me to an eternity of hellfire for bearing false witness (that and desiring recreational non-procreative sex acts). The good news (okay, FUCKING GREAT NEWS!!! It's not as if I'm prone to American hyperbole) is that I have finally located the final source of my beer souring agents. It turns out that my liquid iodine-based sanitizer wasn't able to penetrate (sorry Kirk) in behind the valve assemblies on my new stainless steel fermentation tanks. It took me a long time to trace the trouble back this far but a few weeks ago after dumping many gallons of stout down the drain I realized I had to sit down and diagram out the whole process and find every possible hiding place that these pesky lactobacillus could be. Eventually I got to the valves and when I removed one from the tank, BINGO. A fine layer of slime about the area of a quarter was revealed. It's really amazing how little of this stuff can affect the beer. This beer was brewed before this revelation. So it has the telltale sourness of the previous two brews (blonde ale and brown ale). However, the problem with the valves must have accelerated because the bottled version of this brew is a total loss. The kegged version is acceptable because refrigeration halts or at least slows down the bacteria's development. So the little sourness that developed in the fermentation tank is all the kegged version has. But since the bottles sit out at room temperature and there's all that malt just sitting there, the bacteria goes to town. The keg is still enjoyable, though I personally have grown tired of "tarted up" beers. I want some clean, malty beers dammit! The stout delivers on that (see below).

At any rate, how about a little background on Irish style red ales. Much of the history of this beer is lost to the sands of time but it is without a doubt an ancient style. There is evidence that this style of beer has been brewed in Ireland since at least the Middle Ages, but probably it goes back further to the pre-Christian era. It's probably safe to assume that modern red ales likely taste nothing like those of millennia past simply due to the ingredients. It likely looked similar though, based on written evidence that has been discovered although no ancient recipes or brewing instructions have been found. But red ale's real historical importance is that it was a precursor to the style now synonymous with Ireland: stout. This is due to the ingredient that they both have in common which is roasted barley (more on this in the stout section). Stouts are dark since they use a lot of roasted barley while red ales only use a tiny bit to impart the redness. It's not a brilliant red but rather a ruby-like red. But in prior centuries when nearly all beers were varying shades of brown (the technology to make pale malts has only been around for about 200 years) red ales must have seemed very red indeed. The style is typified by a rather malty palette, sometimes offset by a very slight tartness (but of course nowhere near as tart as mine is) similar to the slight tartness that Guinness Stout has. It is only lightly bitter, with just enough hop bitterness to moderate the malt sweetness although the malt dominates. Very little if any roasted flavor comes through. As with my version, it is not very high in alcoholic strength as it is intended to be drunk in great quantity without excessively inebriating.

Stout - 4.0% alcohol by volume
This beer thankfully, has a different story. This is my first post-slimy valve assembly brew. I didn't get my hopes up too high when brewing this in case I hadn't eliminated all the problems. But when it came time to take a sample I was ecstatic. There was no tartness, only that lovely liquid bread, malt and hop flavor. As Duff Man says, "Oh Yeah"! Now this was a sample straight from the fermentation tank so it was room temperature and flat. When I took my first sample from the keg several days later it tasted even better. I was hopping around pumping my fists into the air going "Y-E-S"! I was alone, otherwise I would have rolled up my shirt, painted the letters "STOUT" on my belly and then chest-butted the nearest person. Maybe it's silly to get this excited but when it's been months since you've had a brew turn out how you expected and you've spent 100+ hours try, try, trying again, installing new equipment, laying awake nights going over it again and again in your head you get pretty excited when you book success number one into the brew log. Now, since I've been brewing over the years I've had many more successes than I've had failures so this jump up to larger batch volumes has been by far my biggest brewing challenge. It's behind me now so I'm rolling up my sleeves and getting down to some serious brewing business. The beer barrels are gonna be a'rollin' from now on with the finest barley nectar this side of the globe. Let's fucking drink!!!

The history of stout begins in the late 18th century (that's the late 1700s to you history-phobes). Many people have gotten into bloody, drunken brawls over historical details of this beer. The minority belief is that stout came first and out of that came the style porter. Unusually, I'm in the majority belief on this one. At any rate, stout rose to commercial prominence in Dublin at the beginning of the 1800s. What typifies the style is the unique, signature ingredient: roasted barley. Roasted barley is raw, unmalted barley that has been roasted in a rotating drum at very high temperatures. From what I understand, it is roasted using nearly the same process as coffee bean roasting which would explain the similar, espresso-like flavor that it contributes to stout. In addition to flavor, it imparts a deep brown, bordering on black, color. It also give the beer a very burnt, mildly acrid flavor and sensation. This is useful in beer to balance the malt sweetness. As a result, much fewer bittering hops are used since the roasted barley provides so much natural bitterness. Generally, no late boil hop additions are used to impart hop flavor or aroma. Stout is not a hoppy beer. It's a very simple beer. Lastly, stout is an ale. Some people mistakenly believe that stout is its own category, like ale and lager. All beers are either lagers or ales, there are no exceptions.

For my version, I kept it simpler than usual. The other typical (but optional) ingredient that stout brewers commonly use is flaked barely. This is just like oatmeal, but instead using barley. The oils in flaked, unmalted and unroasted grain give the beer a silky smooth texture as well as adding head (thus oatmeal stouts). The downside is that since the husk is removed in the flaking process, that when wetted, flaked material becomes extremely gelatinous and gooey which makes brewing with it more difficult. In light of all the problems I had been having, I wanted a beer that was trouble-free and thus I opted out on the flaked barley. Normally I would use it. Over the years I've made any number of stouts. But I would have to say that this one could be the best. I think the simplicity of its flavor works in its favor (oooo, I feel like Oscar Wilde or somebody). This is a beer you can really get into. It's extreme in it's roastedness, but since there isn't a million things going on in its flavor you can really concentrate on the subtleties. Initially you are hit over the head with black roasted sumptuousity (black is beautiful) but once you get over that (if you can get over that) you begin to notice a lovely malt foundation underpinning the whole enterprise while the hop bitterness seamlessly works in tandem with roasted acridity to keep the whole thing from spinning out of control.

February 13, 2004

Blonde Ale - 5.3% alcohol by volume
OK. "Growing Pains" part one. Starting with the beers in this tasting, I have doubled my batch size. Now, anyone who's done any amount of cooking knows that doing this really messes with your recipes. You think to yourself, well, if I simply double the ingredients I'll get twice as much. That's partially true. You do get twice as much quantity. But somehow, there was magic in that initial quantity and ratio of ingredients and process, but now some of that magic is replaced by something else. So I went out and purchased 2 large, stainless steel tanks (actually they are giant kettles) that I modified to be used as my fermentation tanks. That took some ingenuity. After a couple of months of tinkering, they were up and running. But I don't have a large boiling kettle so at first I was making two batches back to back. But that was a real drag. Then I started making a concentrated batch and then diluting it after boiling. But then that was a drag because I had to boil the dilution water separately anyway in order to sterilize it. In both cases the beer was turning out fine, it was just a buttload of work. Anyhow, this beer turned out especially good. In fact so good that I've had to stop drinking it about a month ago because I was starting to drain the keg and then there wouldn't be any of this beer for the tasting. So far so good. But then the rest of the batch I bottled. This is where the problems start for this beer. Remember that raspberry beer that you tasted at the last tasting in October? Well as you may remember, it was a lambic beer which in addition to normal brewers yeast has wild yeasts and bacteria as well. There's a joke amongst home brewers that once you brew a lambic that all your subsequent beers turn out to be lambics as well. The implication being that you cannot easily get rid of the lambic yeast and bacteria cultures from your brewing equipment. Now to that I said "BAH!" at the time. These microorganisms are not like mad cow disease or the like, they can be destroyed with normal sanitizing chemicals and procedures. Well, I'm discovering there's something to that brewer's lore. Since July (when I made the lambic) I've had at least 3 batches go sour over time. It's a gradual process, but the beers get progressively more sour just like lambics do and are supposed to do. But these other beers aren't supposed to be sour at all. I'd also noticed that the kegged portions of these beers were not going sour. Hmmmm, I said to myself, the contamination must be being introduced somehow into the beer when I bottle it but not when I keg it. Now the kegged beer goes straight from the fermentation tanks right into the kegs. But the bottled beer is going into plastic buckets first before being poured into the bottles. I got to looking at those buckets. The same buckets that I fermented the lambic beer in last summer. DAMN! Also, the same plastic spigots, tubing and transfer valve that I also used to bottle the lambic in. DOUBLE DAMN! So the bottled version of this blonde ale is gradually morphing into a blonde lambic. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't. I personally don't care for it but everyone has there own taste. You may remember a beer last summer that I called sauerweizen. This was a hefeweizen that had soured on me. Looking back, it too was exposed to the lambic brewing equipment and evidently picked up some stray lambic microbes. Some people really loved that beer (women especially I noticed) while I couldn't stand it. So before I dump out all these bottles, give it try. Maybe you'll love it too like the sauerweizen. I'll be providing cut lemons and some Torani raspberry syrup in an attempt to possibly cut the tartness of the bottled version of this beer. That's what the Berliners do sometimes to their extremely tart Berliner Weis beer, lemon wedges or a dollop of fruit syrup. But that beer tastes like vinegar to me, much worse than this. At the very least it will be fun to taste the kegged version, then the bottled version, then doctoring up the bottled version with the syrup and lemons. One beer could suddenly turn into several different beers. Needless to stay, no more beers are going into those plastic buckets unless it's lambic beer. I've got a stainless steel kettle with a valve on that I can use as a bottling tank. Stainless is much easier to sanitize than plastic. Food grade plastic is porous and develops tiny abrasions and scratches that can harbor bacteria and yeast offering them hiding places and thus making it much more difficult to eliminate them. I'm taking a big black marker and writing 'LAMBIC" in block letters across all those buckets. The beers for the March tasting (Irish Red Ale and Irish Draught-style Stout) have come nowhere near these damn lambic buckets, tubing, valves and spigots. But keep your fingers crossed (luck of the Irish?). Maybe even kneel at the alter of beer and say a prayer or two for those beers. It couldn't hurt!

Brown Ale - 4.9% alcohol by volume
"Growing Pains" part two. This beer suffers from a lot less pain that the blonde. For some reason, the bottled version seems to have escaped the lambic curse. I have 4 of the plastic buckets and I think I only used 2 of them for the lambic, although I can't quite be for sure. Maybe I got lucky with the brown ale and simply used a bucket for bottling that wasn't a "lambic" bucket. But luckily it has remained true, and there isn't much difference between the bottle and draft keg. This brown ale is of the Northern English variety. There are 3 main classifications of brown ale, Northern English, Southern English and American. The archetypical Northern English brown ale is Newcastle. It is somewhat dry, not bitter or hoppy and of moderate strength. Sometimes it has a slight nutty taste as well. Some brewers use the term Nut Brown Ale if theirs is particularly nutty. I would say mine is somewhat nutty. Southern style tends to be much sweeter. American style (Pete's Wicked) is stronger and much more bitter and hoppier. This is my second attempt at this style of beer. I'm dissatisfied with it (you'll soon discover if you haven't already that I'm always dissatisfied with my beers, but it keeps me striving at least) and I think it needs some retooling. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I haven't gotten it to where it's liquid magic yet. A little less sweetness, a little less bitterness, more of a toffee flavor that many great English beers have (some brewers call this "chewiness" but I can't bring myself to use such a silly term) and a deeper brown color. Part of the problem I think with this was the jump up to the larger batch size. The original recipe was closer to what I had in mind than this version. But now that my batch size and new equipment situation has stabilized, I can make small changes and get it back to where I want it, and hopefully even better yet. One problem I had with this beer was with the hop bitterness. It got a little away from me. When you boil the beer concentrated (see above) you have to use more hops to compensate for this and I may have overcompensated for this. Soon I will have a larger boil kettle and all of this two batches back to back and concentrated-dilution techniques I'm currently forced to use will be history. Then I can focus on getting the formulations for the various beers just right. Hey, it's all about the drinking pleasure, baby!

October 24, 2003

Framboise (French) or Frambozen (Flemish) - alcohol by volume 7.2%
"What is this beer?" you ask yourself. It's a Belgian-style lambic beer made with raspberries and fermented by wild yeast. Leave it to the Belgians to come up with a beer like this. I didn't go quite as over-the-top as the very traditional lambic breweries in Belgium do, but I got quite close. Lambic is a style of beer fermented with a very very specific type of wild yeast. This specific strain of wild yeast floats around naturally in the environment about 12 miles southwest of Brussels and nowhere else in the world. But that's only part of it. In addition to this wild yeast, there are also indigenous bacteria that get into the fermentation and do their thing. Now don't protest! As you hopefully know, not all bacteria are bad; don't let all those delusional and paranoid Lysol advertisements fool you. Again, the type of bacteria involved in this beer is very specific and is naturally occurring in the area mentioned above. This bacteria produces lactic acid which gives the beer a pleasant and refreshing tartness. The lambic yeast produces some, shall I say, interesting flavors, sometimes described as "horse blanket" and "earthy". Framboise is a good lambic to start with as these unusual flavors are mitigated somewhat by the raspberries. Some of the more uncouth brewers consider framboise to be a "chick beer" since it's so fruity but I prefer to call it a gateway beer to introduce the uninitiated into this virtual cult of a beer style.
My framboise is reddish pink and very bubbly, almost like champagne. It's also quite cloudy due to the large proportion of unmalted wheat used and also because it is unfiltered. The body is light and the finish is dry. There is no hop character or aroma and only a hint of hop bitterness. This beer is the perfect aperitif. You get the real deal here as always. Traditional lambic breweries are very unusual. First, they typically do not make any other type of beer, and if they do they certainly brew them elsewhere as these wild yeasts and bacteria would be considered contaminants in any other style of beer. They don't add yeast per se, rather they simply leave their fermentation vessels open and uncovered and let the breezes carry the wild things in the air into the beer. Lambic breweries never ever get cleaned either. In fact they are filthy. This is because they want to do nothing to harm the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. Large hairy spiders and cobwebs everywhere are a common sight at lambic breweries. Rats and mice are also allowed to coexist with the beer. I've even heard that some lambic breweries have employed the use of cats to control the rodent populations and that the cats urinate on and around the traditional wooden barrels that the beer is aged in and that the urine sets off a minor chemical reaction that adds to the flavor of the beer. I'm a little skeptical of the feline urination bit, seems a bit far-fetched to me. But hey, we are dealing with the Belgians so I suppose anything is possible. Suffice it to say, my brewing area is much much cleaner. I regularly clean the floors with a mild bleach solution, I do not allow our arachnid friends to gain much of a foothold and I haven't caught any cats peeing on my fermenters. My beer is safe to drink, no need to be squeamish. I run an all-American brewery, squeaky clean!

The traditional lambic brewing process is also masochistically long and drawn out, more so than even wine. The fruit lambics aren't quite as painstaking as the plain ones are but still quite involved. A plain wheat-based beer is made and spontaneously fermented with the aforementioned yeast and bacteria and then aged for a few months or longer. In the summertime raspberries (in the case of framboise) or cherries (in the case of kriek) are harvested and then added to the young lambic and the sugar in the fruit causes the beer to resume fermentation. The beer is aged a further six months before it is bottled. A small dose of newly fermenting lambic is added at bottling time and an additional fermentation takes place in the bottle giving ample carbonation similar to the method used for champagne.

I didn't use the traditional method at all. Instead, I made the base lambic beer and added a lambic yeast / bacteria culture blend (no, I didn't travel to Brussels to ferment my framboise!). After about 3 weeks of fermentation I then added about 6 pounds of raspberries to the 3 gallons of lambic (don't worry, I made two batches so there would be enough) and then let that ferment for another 4-6 weeks. Then I bottled it. I must have done a good job because I entered it into a national homebrew competition and took first place in the lambic category! Go to and scroll down to near the end and look for the "Lambic & Belgian Sour Ale" heading. There I am! Come and taste what the judges deemed as "wonderful". I haven't received my medal yet in the mail, but if I have it in time for the tasting I'll be sure to have it around my neck. I'll also be randomly walking up to people and gyrating my torso so as to slap you in the face with my first place medal! Ha ha ha!!! This beer is expensive to make (all those raspberries) so I put it into 12 oz. bottles rather than my standard 22 oz. bottles. The most commercially available framboise in the U.S. (Lindemanns) at Trader Joe's goes for $4 for a 12 oz. bottle just to give you an idea of how expensive this beer is.

Steam Beer - alcohol by volume 4.5%
This is the style of beer made famous by the relatively small Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco. Their flagship beer, Anchor Steam, is the definitive commercial example. Technically, the Anchor Brewing Company has trade marked the term "steam beer" so I could get sued by them for using the word "steam". But I don't believe that anyone can own a word, so fuck 'em. The generic term for the style now that nobody except them can call it steam is California common beer. The term steam beer is shrouded in mystery and just about everyone has a theory as to how it came about. It's origins date back to the Northern California gold rush of 1849. Much was changing in the brewing world around this time. It had been less than ten years since the pilsner style (the first pale beer, previously all beers had been dark) had been introduced in Plzen, now in what is known as the Czech Republic. The west coast of the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century was a wild and rough place and the brewing techniques and available equipment were quite crude. Seat-of-the-pants improvisation was the order of the day. Lagers were just beginning to catch ales as the most produced type of beer. Lagers are brewed cold and further aged at freezing temperatures. Due to the warm California climate and lack of available ice or refrigeration, the brewers had to make due with lager yeast fermentations at ambient temperatures. The ensuing rapid rate of fermentation made an excessive amount of carbonation build up. When they were tapped, the excess pressure escaped with a hissing sound. This is the most probable theory for the name steam beer.

The color of the beer is a deep amber. The body is moderately full. There is a noticeable malty flavor with a slight caramel sweetness. Normally this style is noticeably bitter and quite strong in hoppy flavor and aroma. I feel that my current recipe is somewhat lacking in both of these qualities. It's there, but it just needs more of it. It's a fairly new recipe of mine and I'm still ironing out some of the details. Please give me your feedback. For the kegged version I used a technique called "dry hopping" in which you add raw hops to either the fermenter or the keg or cask. I added the hops to the keg. Normally, hops are added during the boiling process prior to fermentation. Dry hopping is normally employed for pale ales and India pale ales (IPAs). It adds no hop bitterness (that requires boiling) but it adds a very fresh, green tasting hoppy aroma. At this writing the hops have only been in the keg for a few days and I haven't had a taste yet. But I've dry hopped beers many times before so I am sure of the result I will get from it. I'll chill a few bottles and we can do a taste comparison and you can taste for yourself what dry hopping can do for a beer.

July 11, 2003

Liberty Cream Ale - alcohol by volume 5.2%
This style of beer came about in the late 1800s to compete with the then new pilsner type lagers. With the introduction of refrigeration in the 1860s pilsners began gaining the upper hand as far as being the fastest growing beer style. Today, nearly all commercial beers sold are based on the pilsner mold (some are extremely loose interpretations such as Miller Lite which advertises as being "a true pilsner beer", of course nothing could be further from the truth!). The ale brewers of the day came up with cream ale as their response to pilsners taking a huge chunk out of their market. My interpretation is likely different than the cream ales of a hundred plus years past. True, 20% of the fermentables came from non-barley sources, pejoratively called "adjuncts" (in my case dextrose - corn derived sugar) which is true to style. The use of fermentables other than malted barley or wheat lightens the color and the body of the beer while maintaining the alcohol content. This is a good thing when done in moderation. North American industrial beers (Miller, Bud, Coors, Corona, etc.) of course take it further than they should in the interests of profit and use up to 50% adjuncts in the form of corn or rice to make their watery beers. Anyway . . . . The cream ale style is light bodied, pale in color and low in hop bitterness making it an easily quaffable beer. My version is a little sweet (i.e. malty) which is somewhat not true to style. Interestingly, it has a subtle vanilla flavor. I can't say I set out to achieve a beer with subtle vanilla notes (ooooh, that beer journalism speak is starting to get to me!) but that's what ended up happening. That's what keeps this so damn interesting, you are dealing with living organisms (yeast) which are unpredictable so one is always surprised. It's a pleasant slap in the face to know that you are NOT in control. Really, you are at the whim of the universe. Okay, enough new age crappola! You're gonna like this beer!

Palate Fucker Malt Liquor - alcohol by volume 10%
That's right, it's not a typo: 10% alcohol! Colt 45: 7%. St. Ides & Olde English 800: 8%. Hah! I laugh in their faces with their wimpy malt liquors. On top of it all I added hops like there was no tomorrow. Plenty of bitterness and lots of hop character. Really, this is a sort of "IPA" (India Pale Ale) malt liquor. Technically, it's a lager because I used lager yeast and lagered (cold conditioned) it for several weeks. But it's bitter and hoppy like an IPA. I dry hopped (added raw unboiled hops while fermenting) it and also boiled up a hop soup to add at bottling time for even more bitterness and hop flavor. For this beer I used 40% adjuncts (see above) and fermented warm (approximately 70º F.) to mimic commercial malt liquor brewing techniques. But you know, I just can't do it like a normal brewer and had to add all those hops! Literally, this beer is in a class of its own, since no category for hoppy bitter malt liquor exists. I tried a bottle after only a week in the bottle. It was a little flat since a week isn't enough time to allow proper carbonation. But it was really good! Fucking super hoppy (to the point of almost tasting green) but with time that will mellow. When you taste this it still will be very bittler and hoppy but given enough time to age (yeah right, you're gonna wait and put these bottles in your wine cellar to age like a fine vintage!) the hoppiness will mellow. Can you wait?

I didn't plan it this way, but there's a patriotic subtext to both these beers (you know, it's the Fourth of July and all that jazz). I used the hop variety Liberty for the cream ale (thus the name). Also, cream ale is one of only two truly American styles of beer (the other being steam beer, such as Anchor Steam up in San Francisco). For the malt liquor, I used the hop variety Columbus (you know that dude that thought he "discovered" America). Both hop varieties are American developed and grown. Also, all the malt used was grown and malted in America, no imports here, no siree. Even the yeast is like apple pie, mom and Chevrolet (wait, that sounds French): for the cream ale I used California Ale yeast and for the malt liquor I used San Francisco Lager yeast. Okay, for the rest of July I'm going to raise the flag out in front of my house every day, fuck missionary position exclusively, pay all my taxes on time, support Bush in whatever he decides to do, vote whenever and wherever possible, join the Army National Guard and turn myself into ATF (the government agency not the pink stuff you pour into your automobile). Of course, you know that I'm not going to do ANY of that!

June 13, 2003

Witbier (Belgian-style white beer) - alcohol by volume 4.8%
This is an ancient style of beer dating back to the middle ages. There are three things special about this beer: raw wheat, spices and yeast. As opposed to most beers, which are comprised mainly of malted barley or malted wheat, white beers are made up from 50% raw, unmalted wheat. This was due to taxation on malted grains. To get around the taxes, Belgian brewers began incorporating raw wheat, which was not taxed, into their beers. This gave the beer its distinctive "white" color. Actually, it is not pure white, but a yellowish white, but certainly a different color than any other beer style. Since this beer pre-dates the widespread use of hops as the principle spice, other spices were used. The Belgians chose coriander and bitter orange peel (from the tropical orange Curacao). This gives the beer a soft, citrus flavor as well as aroma, and the coriander contrasts with a somewhat sharper more pungent flavor. Lastly, the yeast used to ferment this beer is also distinctive. It's a strain that has developed over the last thousand years. It contributes a subtle clove and tart flavor as well as a pleasant aroma. This is a light bodied beer, easy to drink and is perfect for hot weather consumption. This beer is bottle conditioned and has been aging for about six weeks and so the spices have blended and mellowed quite nicely. I opened my first bottle the other day and it was absolutely wonderful! Serve well chilled with a wedge of lemon if desired.

British Blend (smoked Scotch ale) - alcohol by volume 6.5%
To brew this ale, I made three different batches then blended them right at bottling time. The three batches were Northern English-style Brown ale, English-style strong ale, peat smoked Scotch ale. The ratio was one part brown ale to one part strong ale to two parts smoked ale. The distinctive flavor is from the peat smoked malt I used in the Scotch ale. Rather than kiln drying the malt in a drum, this malt is dried over burning peat moss which imparts an extremely wonderful smokey character. I used quite a bit of it and a little goes a long way, but I knew I would be blending the beers so it would be okay. At first, the smokey flavor was a bit harsh and too prominent. Over the nearly two months since this beer was blended and bottled the smokey flavor has really mellowed and is quite enjoyable now. However, this beer will continue to age and improve over the coming months. I estimate that it will peak in about 3 months and will be quite excellent up to a year. It is quite nice to drink now however! Serve slightly cool (50-55 degrees F.) for an even balance of maltiness and smokiness.

Apple Champagne - alcohol by volume 15%
Here's some real pain for my real friends! I started this one over nine months ago. It is a blend of three different apple juices from different sources. I fermented and bottled it with traditional Champagne yeast. After the initial fermentation, I transfered it into a glass carboy and let it age. About a month ago I finally bottled it. A few days ago I popped the cork on the first bottle and it was heavenly! Lots and lots of apple fragrance. Plenty of apple flavor. It's somewhat dry and alcoholic. And of course there are lots and lots of tiny bubbles! Unlike traditional grape based Champagne, this will not hold up to years of aging. It could possibly improve a little in the coming months, but the apple flavor and aroma is in its prime now so I recommend you say "cheers" now and drink up. Maybe set aside a bottle or two for a special occasion or for the holiday season. Serve very well chilled.

March 29, 2002

Extra Special Pale Ale
In the beer world "extra special" just means extra alcohol. This one should clock in at about 6.5-7% abv (it's still fermenting). Also, leave it to the English to come up with a term like "pale ale." Actually, it's not pale at all. This beer is a pleasantly warm amber. The term came about in reference to porters and stouts. Pale ales are indeed pale when compared to these dark brown and black beers! My pale ale uses Northwestern pale malt (grown in Washington state), English crystal malt and German Munich malt. In addition, I have added rice syrup which gives a dry flavor and accentuates the graininess of the malted barley as well as pumping up the alcohol level. It is lightly bitter with Northern Brewer and Perle hops for bitterness and hop flavor (very subtle flavor) and is lightly dry hopped with Willamette hops for a hint of hop aroma and flavor. This is a recipe of my own creation so I can't compare it to a commercial brand. But if I had to say, it leans more towards an English pale ale (Bass) and/or an ESB like Fullers rather than an American pale ale (Sierra Nevada). But with the higher alcohol content, low levels of American hop and the rice, this beer should be in a class of its own!

Kitchen Sink Brown Ale
This is a variant of a beer I make every so often. It's always a brown ale, but its characteristics vary according to my mood and to what ingredients are handy. This time around I had about a 2:1 ratio of pale malt to amber malt, some wheat malt, victory malt, English crystal malt and a barley malt I know nothing about called Franco Belge Kiln-Amber. I work at a beer making supply shop so I come across some oddities from time to time. This one is still fermenting as well but based on the ingredients and from a taste of the "green wort" (that's what they call unfermented beer) it will have a nutty, mellow toasted flavor with a full body and PLENTY of character and depth. I think it's going to taste like a souped up British brown ale (Newcastle, Samuel Smith's Nutty Brown, etc.). In addition, I threw in some flaked corn I had (this adds no character or much flavor to the beer, but it does add one thing: ALCOHOL!) and some malto-dextrin (this adds body and sweetness but no alcohol as it is a non-fermentable sugar). I used an American hop variety (Columbus) for bitterness and two classic English hop varieties for hop flavor and aroma: East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. Again, this is lightly hopped beer. This one should clock in at about 4.5-5% abv.