Tales of Homebrewing

Since I’ve taken such a long break from blogging, I feel like I need to update a few readers on the status of my homebrewing adventures.  While perhaps not my most popular posts of all time, they also get some of the most thought provoking responses.  Anyway, right now I have three different brews I’ve created since my last homebrew posting, and I’m working on a brand new one right now.

Hoppy Groundhog Dark Shadow – Black IPA

This past birthday I hit a minor lifetime achievement by reaching the age of 30.  I say minor because everybody does it.  While ithoppy groundhog labels feels like a kinda big deal to the person involved, it’s probably not nearly as big as we all make it out to be.  Anyway, I had decided to brew this beer right around Christmas, and it was ready right around my birthday (Groundhogs Day), so I figured name it after the holiday that shares my birthday.  Overall it’s probably my favorite beer I’ve brewed thus far.  I like one of the ones a little further down on the list here, but I think this one is still an all around better beer.  I actually entered it in a homebrew competition, but I’m an idiot and just put it in the IPA category and not specialty beers.  I was basically disqualified. It’s a bit heavier and more roasted than your typical black IPA, but I think that’s what I like about it.  The hops don’t blow you away, but I think they are present enough to still have it hold strong as a black IPA.

Heisenberg Honey Wheat

This beer was an attempt to take a different direction.  I had been hanging out in the realm of dark beers for a while, and I wanted to make something lighter and easier drinking for the summer.  I saw this recipe online, so I tweaked it a little to make my own.  The beer has about a pound of orange blossom honey added rather late (last five minutes) to the boil.  It helps to make the beer a bit sweeter, but I did run into a slight issue on this one while brewing.  My parents had gotten me a wort chiller for Christmas, so I wanted to make use of it.  Unfortunately, since I was still brewing on my stove, I lost the boil when I put the chiller in to sanitize.  Therefore, the honey wasn’t really added during a boil.  I tried to compensate for the mistake, but it may have effected the outcome.  Lately the hops have really kicked up on this one, so it’s kind of like a hoppy honey wheat.  Ultimately I had to pay tribute to one of my favorite Vigilantes. However, I’m not sure you can still think of him as a vigilante.  Is Walter more of a villain now?

Pretentious Hopster – Red IPA

About a year ago I tried to make an imperial IPA that was probably my biggest disappointment as a homebrewer.  The bottles never managed to carbonate, and I ended up with 48 bottles of syrup.  Ultimately, other than the black IPA, it’s been my only Pretentious Heisenbergattempts at making a hoppy beer.  I love IPAs and hops, so I felt like I needed to have another go at it.  I decided to make it a red ale for the fun of it as well.  While this beer wasn’t problem free, I solved my issue with the chiller by purchasing a propane burner for use in the backyard.  This of course helped keep temperature up, but I instead had to handle a boil over or two.  I guess I need to learn how to control temperature a little better with my new toy.  The only other issue I had was with clarity.  There is a fine line of soot at the bottom of each bottle, but with a careful pour, it isn’t too much of a big deal.  This is probably my most aromatic beer to date, and it has some great hop flavor.  It’s only been drinkable for a week, but the malts are beginning to kick up to help balance it out.  Pretentious Hopster was the name of my failed double IPA, and I couldn’t let a great name like that go to waste.

Peppercorn Blonde (yet unnamed)

The next brew I’m aiming to create is for my late summer month consumption.  Within the span of a week or so I enjoyed a number of beers that feature peppercorns as the special ingredient.  Ultimately, that was all the inspiration I needed to look at giving my next beer a little spice.  One of the beers I had was a saison (which I have already brewed) and the other was a rye beer (which I hear doesn’t work well when you are doing extract brewing); therefore, I decided to choose a bit of a different summery type of style for my peppercorn usage.  A nice Belgian Blonde seemed like the right way to go. The recipe is still being finalized, but I would love to hear any suggestions for how to make this beer great.  I’m also a little unsure of when to add the peppercorns.  I thought I would add 2 ounces in the last five minutes of brewing and then add an ounce or two to secondary fermentation.  Has anyone worked with peppercorn before?  Is that overdoing it?  Just have to ask.

I’m slowly working my way away from extract brewing and into all-grain, but I have quite a few expenses coming my way, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it moving just yet.  I’ll get there eventually.  For now I’m just having a good time.

peppercorns

Stone Brewing Co – More Brown than Black IPA

It’s actually been a little while since I’ve done a review of something coming out of Stone.  I’m fairly certain they may be the brewery I have reviewed most on this blog over the past year.  The most recent one I reviewed from them was actually a beer they did on their own: Vertical Epic.  However, I have also done a few reviews of beers that are collaborations: Cherry Chocolate Stout & Green Tea IPA.  I actually realized as I took this beer out of my fridge that I still have another collaboration from them that I have yet to review.  Perhaps that will find its way up here sometime soon.  I’ve said it before, Stone has to be one of the most active brewers out there.  They don’t just brew their normal line-up.  They brew special edition stuff, and they do a lot of collaborations as well.  I personally love to see brewers do collaborations, so I of course jumped at the opportunity to get this one.

Stone produced this particular brew with two other breweries I’m not really all that familiar with.  According to the side of this bottle, Ninkasi Brewing Co approached Stone about producing a collaboration brew.  I have had one other brew from Ninkasi; it was another collaboration they did with 21st Amendment called Allies Win the War.  If you haven’t tasted that one, you are definitely missing out.  Ninkasi is a good looking craft brewery out of Oregon.  Since my brother lives in Oregon right now, I have a feeling I’ll be asking him to bring me something from them on his next visit.  The bottle also tells me this bottle was brewed to support the area surrounding The Alchemist Brewing Co.  While this beer is helping Vermont out with the devastation they  experienced from the hurricane, The Alchemist also managed to get a hand in this collaboration as well.

Brown IPA technically isn’t a style of beer.  IPAs and Black IPAs are really big popular styles of beers; however, I have never heard of an IPA that is more brown than black, so I was excited to check this one out.  Black IPAs are quickly becoming one of my favorite styles of beer.  I love hops and deep rich coffee flavors, so I definitely can’t help but love Black IPAs.  I was very interested in seeing how a Brown IPA played off the qualities of the black version.

This beer pours out a very rich brown color.  I’m actually wondering how they went about brewing this beer.  Did they intend to make a black IPA but it turned out brown?  It’s a really dark brown so perhaps.  There seems to be a little slight red or orange tinge of color in it as well.   There is plenty of white fluffy head that develops on top of the beer.  It has some really nice light lacing and a lot of ample sticky residue as well.  You can see some very light carbonation in the glass, but it is definitely too dark to see any of the clarity in the glass.

The piney floral hops dominate the majority of the nose.  I think this is my favorite smell in beer.  I love chocolate and coffee and everything else that comes with dark beer too, but I really love to pull out those hops.  It has a really earthy feel to it as well.  The ample grapefruit and citrus notes are there; although, I think they hide a little bit behind the hops.  Interestingly, you really don’t pull out any of the malty sweetness you typically get with darker beers.  I’ve had black IPAs where you can smell the sweet coffee scents some, and others where you can’t.  It would appear this one lets all the hops do the work.

The hops kick the tasting off right at the start.  They aren’t really strong and overpowering immediately, instead they kick things off rather light and citrusy.  The second stage of hops comes in strong with some ample floral and pine notes.  These are far more bitter than the hop flavoring that started the taste.  The beer’s hops go slightly tangy right before some light coffee and roasted notes come in.  These sweeter roasted flavors are really light and toned down in comparison to the last Stone black IPA I had.  I can see how the brown aspect makes this a little different than if it had been a black IPA.  The beer finishes with a little sweet malty ending and a little light piney hops.

I like the overall composition of the mouthfeel.  The hops are ample at the start, and I really like the nice tang that comes in right before the beer goes to a roasted malty finish.  There is a lot of ample carbonation here, and it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of syrup anywhere in the beer.  As with darker IPAs, I like how the beer manages to marry the sweetness and hoppiness in the ending.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a beer from Stone I just didn’t like.  They produce top quality beverages, and they are always trying new things.  This is a great example of how collaborations can help to create something great, and introduce you to breweries you’ve never been able to try before.  I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find a few things from these other two brewers in the future. But for now, if you can find a bottle of this anywhere, I would recommend buying it!

Teacher Grade: A

The Best Cans Around

Craft beer in cans has come up a few times on this blog.  I was definitely skeptical when I started looking at the craft can market, but over the past year, I have absolutely become a convert.  21st Amendment and, locals, DC Brau are some of my favorite brews that come in a can.  Craftcans.com recently held their canned beer of the year awards on their site, and I was really happy to see some of my favorites make it into their top beers of different categories.  Take a look at their site for a little more in-depth, and much nicer, look at the finalists in each category.  I’ll just cover some of the highlights for me.

Top Stout: Oskar Blues – Ten Fidy – I haven’t had this one too many times, but I have had it just enough times to know it’s great. I love just about everything that Oskar Blues is doing.  Any beer in a can that is 10.5% Abv should at least be tried, and this one is one you’ll be happy you did.

Top Pale Ale: DC Brau – Public Ale – I did a review of these guys and an interview with them earlier this year.  I won’t lie; I am 100% biased.  These are two of the nicest guys I have randomly come across in DC, and they can really make a beer too.  This is definitely a go to beer for me when I’m out, and if you come visit DC sometime, you need to give it a try.

Shout out Top Belgian: 21st Amendment – Monk’s Blood – These guys didn’t win, but they do get a spot on the podium for being one of the best beers in the Belgian category.  Much like stouts, people have to be a little afraid of a Belgian beer that comes in a can.  You will definitely be happy you had this one though.  It’s real good.

Top Porter/Black/Dark Ale: 21st Amendment – Back in Black – This has to be my favorite consistently brewed black ipa available.  If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out.  They do a great job of combining the hops, malts, and coffee into something great.

Top Design: 21st Amendment – Allies Win the War – This won for its appearance, but it’s a great beer too.  I have a can in the fridge right now waiting to be reviewed, but I have already enjoyed a few of them.  It’s a collaboration, so I don’t know how long it will be around.  If you can find it you should check it out.

They end their winners bracket with a category that got me most excited about the future of the can industry: Most Anticipated.  Here is where they feature breweries that will be joining the canning of craft beers.  Sierra Nevada won the poll, but they gave special mention to Cigar City, Golden Road, Bell’s, and Abita as well.

All in all, the can market is looking strong.  Not only does this show just how many good beers are already available in cans, but it helps to show the big names that will be joining the market.  We may never see a Dogfish in a can, but you’ll be able to enjoy a few more good brewers in a can pretty soon.

Thanks to Craftcans.com for doing the survey.  Check them out to see the other winners I didn’t mention.  They have plenty of cans that won honors that I have never tried, and some I have never even seen.  Maybe I need to do a little more hunting!

Blue Point Brewing Co. – Toxic Sludge Black IPA

I bought this bottle on a whim a couple of month ago.  I haven’t really had a whole bunch of different Blue Point beers; however, they do seem to be showing up more and more now that I had this one.  I actually initially bought this one because of the Stone 15 year Black IPA.  It was just so good that I really wanted to find another great example of a black ipa. Then my supplies built up, and there were other beers that jumped in front of this one for tasting.  Last Friday night it came down to two beers.  I was either going to open this one or the Dogfish Peal Jam beer.  Ultimately it was the decision of taste that I decided to go with.  I wanted to have some with a lot of character to it, and I didn’t trust the Dogfish beer would have it.

This particular beer has a much different purpose behind it.  Blue Point is one of the few brewers I know of that is located specifically on Long Island.  Doing some very slight research, it seems like there really is only one other bigger craft brewer that is actually located on Long Island.  That however really isn’t the interesting part.  Apparently this particular brew is was being sold as a benefit for birds.  Yes that very odd picture on the label is of a bird they want to save.  Apparently it was brewed as a means of saving the birds affected by the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill.  Call me ignorant, but I didn’t realize birds in the area of NY were affected by an oil spill in the Gulf.

This isn’t the actual first taste of the beer I’ve had.  When traveling to Pittsburg the other month, we were eating at a mexican restaurant that had a really good beer supply.  Aside from getting the Avery – Czar Imperial Oktoberfest, I also got a pint of this.  While enjoying it there, I actually was more looking forward to this bottle.  I made the mistake of getting a black ipa with a spicy burrito the first time I had it.  Probably not my wisest choice.

This one pours out an extremely dark black “sludgy” color.  Yeah I had to throw that word in there to complement the actual name of the beer.  There is some very nice white fluffy head that develops on the pour.  This doesn’t exactly last a long time, but it doesn’t dissipate all that quickly either.  There is some huge lacing that exists on the glass, which manages to last well throughout most of the tasting.  There beer is far to dark to really see if it has a hazy aspect to it, but holding the beer up to the light does allow you to see the visible carbonation in it.

The hops seem to conquer the coffee aspect here on the smell, but both aspects come out huge as you take in the aroma.  The piney earthy tone to the hops really stick out and almost burn the nose.  Conversely, there is some slight caramel sweetness that you can pick up once you conquer the hops.  The coffee aspect is there throughout; however, unlike a porter or stout, it isn’t really all that rich on the nose.  There is some fairly prominent roasted notes that prevail here as well.

The taste does come in with a little bit of the sweet malty flavor, but that is quickly brought to an abrupt halt by the huge hop flavors that dominate the smell.  The hops hit you right in the back of the throat and lingers there for a little while.  These hops are then met by the mellow coffee flavor just as they reach their most bitter point.  The coffee flavor is very prominent in the taste, but it doesn’t manage to be too overpowering.  As you enter the aftertaste, the roasted flavors come in very strong to give you a very smooth roasted coffee finish with a slight touch of hops.

There is a ton of carbonation on the mouth here, but I find it rather welcoming.  There are some really bold flavors including the piney hops.  This helps to keep the very brisk nature of the beer up.  What better to wake you up than some hops and coffee.  There is a little bit of the syrupy quality on the finish, but by that time it is actually a little nice to mellow out some of the harsher qualities of the hops and coffee.  The roasted aftertaste is a really pleasant finish to a really good beer.

I don’t think this is my favorite black ipa, but it is a really good beer.  I would definitely pick up a bottle of this again if I saw it around.  So, do yourself a favor, and pick up a bottle of this fine beer.  I’m not sure if it is still available anywhere, but if you like hops and coffee, you’ll like it for sure.  Just don’t drink it with a spicy burrito!

Teacher Grade: B+

New Belgium – Snow Day Winter Ale

I feel like I’ve kinda been on a little mission ever since the winter beer season started.  Thus far I haven’t really hit a whole lot of them here on the blog , but I am starting to get around to a lot more of the brews now.  I kinda know what I like to drink during some of the other seasons; however, the winter is a little confusing.  I think before beginning my foray into craft beer, I basically relied on Sam Adams to tell me what beer season it was.  I liked to follow their seasonal schedule, and I never really questioned if there was a better seasonal brew out there.  Now that I have seen the light, I really want to try and experience most of what is available out there.  I kinda feel like a kid who just discovered candy.  I could taste every brand and every kind available; however, I know it’s not good for me.  I don’t know that it will stop me though.

I have already ventured out into one review of a specific Christmas brew; however, this is more of a general winter brew.  New Belgium is actually a pretty new brewery to the DC area.  Although I have heard the lore of Fat Tire for many a year now, I have had very few opportunities to actually taste the legend.  Therefore, it was actually quite a big deal when it finally arrived on the shelves of my local store.  I somehow managed to stay away from throwing a few reviews up here of some of their different products, but I have had a few of their different brews over the past few months.  Searching desperately for a few weeks now for an amazing winter brew, I was really happy to find a little single 12oz available at my local store.

The pour on this one came out a very dark black color with a light white head that develops on top.  Unfortunately, because I broke my tulip glass, I had to use a snifter on this one.  However, there seemed to be some ample head despite glassware.  The lacing was significant and managed to really cling to the glass for a while.  Swirling the glass really brought a lot of head back on top of the beer once again.  The actual liquid had a definite hazy quality to it.  Although you can see through it near the top of the beer, there is a cloud of mystery as you get lower in the glass; however, you can see the carbonation in the glass as well.

The hops steal the show in the smell department.  I have been so focused on different seasonal beers, stouts, and porters, that I actually almost forgot about how much I really love hops.  You can pull a slight orangey citrus scent out of here as well.  Hidden behind the hops is the very light chocolate smell, and hidden a little further back, you can pull out a little bit of the coffee scent here as well.  Overall, this seems like a much more hops forward beer based on the smell.  There is a crisp quality that you don’t get out of a lot of dark beers.

The taste confirms what was revealed in the smell.  The hops are the most prominent aspect of this beer.  Before the really strong hops come in, you get a very quite malty bready quality that helps intro into the hops.  The hops, however, will not be delayed for very long.  They come in strong and give you a very piney slap in the face.  Aside from being quite strong at the onset, they also last through the duration of the beer e as well.  Really they carry you pretty close to the finish of this beer.  The chocolate and coffee flavors are delayed for the end of the beer as the hop flavors begin to mellow.  The coffee is really pleasant and carries you into a slightly bitter aftertaste.

The mouthfeel here is really interesting.  I think this could be the first time I’ve had a beer noticeably dry my mouth out at the end.  I’m not sure that it is unpleasant, but I did notice that the beer leaves your mouth a little dry at the end.  The carbonation is fairly high on this one as well, but I think it works in the entire composition of the beer.  The aftertaste, while coming across a little dry, is not really unpleasant at all.  Yes it is slightly bitter, but what do you expect from something that combines coffee and hops.

Ever since having the Stone 15 year, I have hoped to find a good Black IPA that is a little more findable.  I’m not sure that this one is quite on that level, but it is quite good as well.  New Belgium actually doesn’t even bill this one as a Black IPA, but it does have a very similar feel. If you’re looking for a pretty good winter beer with a lot of hops flavor, you should definitely check this one out.

Teacher Grade: A

Apartment Cellaring

Having started this beer and music blog about half a year ago, the music I listen to and the way I drink have been

perhaps only a dream

affected in small ways.  I started to keep track of new beer releases, and I end up at the store just about every week picking up reviewable stuff.  I have also really started to stockpile things to drink and review.  Finally, I have started to put a lot more thought into the things I listen to.  I consistently question if this is review worthy.  I’m not really saying these are bad things, but I suppose it actually complicates things slightly.

One of the next aspects I’m looking to do is take a step into cellaring beers.  Now I don’t actually have a cellar; however, a fellow beer blogger suggested I find a box, put a few beers in it, and stash it under a bed or in a closet.  At first I wasn’t really all that sold on the idea.  I have a problem with instant gratification; however, I finally decided to go through with it when I realized I have a bunch of different beers I want to hold onto for future consumption.  Therefore, I cleared out a box I’ve had since I was a teenager and got to work.

I decided on 5 beers to start the cellaring process.

1. Stone – 15 year Imperial Black IPA

2. Schlafly Reserve – Barleywine-style Ale 2008

3. Dogfish Head – Bitches Brew

4. Founders – Backwoods Bastard

5. Founders – Breakfast Stout

Now I wanted to ultimately get this box under my bed; however, I was unable to do that because the box is too thick and my bed is too low.  Therefore I placed the box in my closet.  The only problem there is that it does get occasional light.  So I decided to put a towel over the beers to protect them.  I don’t really want to affect the temperature of the beers while they are in there; however, we keep the bedroom pretty cold, so I don’t think it will be affected.

I’m not really sure when I’ll end up breaking into a lot of these beers, but I’m excited to see how some of these taste after a little bit of time.  I’m especially looking forward to the Stone 15 year.  I’m hoping that this expands my horizon on some of these beers, and perhaps, gives me even more to talk about on here.

So that’s where I’m at.  Do any of my readers have suggestions for a little better method on the cellaring technique?  I’m sort of new to this, but definitely fully invested in it.

Stone Brewing Company – 15th Anniversary Black IPA

I kicked off the other week by posting a special release from Stone Brewing Company.  There I let my readers know I had two more bottles of special releases to get through from Stone.  While I like to let my beers sit around for a while before I try them out, I was encouraged by a good friend to get to this one sooner rather than later.  Therefore, I figured it had better be consumed sometime over the weekend.  I try to not open a 750 ml bottle during the week.  It seems more like a weekend treat for me.

As I said last time, Stone is one of those companies that is making huge waves in the world of craft brewing.  Despite still being able to be called a craft brew, they definitely are one of the much bigger names that dominates the scene.  15 years of experience can only help you up your game.  These guys have been releasing an anniversary ale every year for the past 15 years.  The first few years they simply released an imperial ipa for the celebration; however, as the years went on, they began to branch out into different types of brews.

This year they have brewed a Black IPA for the occasion.  Black IPA’s have really started to come into their own lately.  The place where I work has replaced the 21st Amendment IPA with their black IPA.  Maybe that doesn’t seem all that abnormal, but it isn’t really a beer place.  Their other offerings are Schlitz, High Life, Miller Lite, and Brooklyn Pilsner and Brown.  Personally, I really like the concept of the black IPA.  It essentially combines the deep, rich, malty qualities of darker beers with the hoppiness of IPA’s.  As a lover of both hops and dark beers, it seems like a perfect combination for me.

The pour on this one is an extremely dark rich black color.  It definitely has a stout or porter consistency to it for sure, or perhaps it just reminds me of that.  There is a nice build up of frothy brown head that develops on the top of the beer.  It has some really nice layering to it.  It’s very creamy in appearance.  The lacing is very nice and plentiful on the sides of the glass.  Swirling the glass results in a very nice reoccurrence of the head.  There is some really visible carbonation in the beer despite it being so dark.

The smell is a really interesting blend of both the hops and coffee. I don’t think I was expecting to pull a whole lot of coffee notes out of this one; however, the coffee is certainly present on the nose.  The hoppy floral notes are pretty obvious as well.  Aside from both coffee and hops, there is almost a slightly pepper smell that comes out on this as well.  I’m interested to see how that comes out in the taste.  Additionally, there are some slight citrus notes that most likely also result from the hops.

The taste was not only really good, but also nicely surprising.  Now, I haven’t had a whole lot of black ipas, and it’s been a little while anyway.  So, I kinda forgot what I was in store for.  The onset is really crisp and clean.  There are some nice deep rich malts.  Both the hops and coffee stay out of the start of the flavor.  The hops come in quickly and have a very straight ipa feel.  After the hops comes the surprising part.  The coffee comes in heavy and hard.  The hops, however, don’t disappear.  It becomes a really interesting and delicious blend of both hops and coffee.  The coffee flavor has a very earthy and woody feel to it.  Also, there is a lingering heavy roasted flavor that lasts into the aftertaste.

The mouthfeel here has a really nice blend of the carbonation throughout the beer.  Even though coffee and hops don’t sound like the most normal of combinations, it works together extremely well.  None of the flavors manage to throw off the balance at all.  It has an interesting ability to be both crisp and hearty at the same time.  Additionally, the aftertaste, doesn’t leave any foul taste.

In the end, I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect from this bottle.  I have really been enjoying a lot of different things coming out of Stone as of late.  This one is probably on top of that pile.  I may be ready to crown this beer my favorite of this year; however, I’ll hold off for a few more months.  Thankfully, I know where to buy another bottle.

Teacher Grade: A+