Friday, November 30, 2007

Thanksgiving Beerfest

On Thanksgiving, we invited a family over that we knew when we lived in Florida, who now live in the Chicago area. I guess we sort of live in the Chicago area, too, only we're in Indiana. They live in the suburbs, we live in "the Region."

My friend has access to Binny's Beverage Mart, and luckily, they have a pretty nice website so I made a "wish list" for him, since he tends more towards wine. I also had a few bombers left over from my birthday, so we figured we would have a tasting, of sorts.

What you see pictured from left to right are an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen, a Koestritzer Schwarzbier, Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Ale, Three Floyd's Dreadnaught Imperial IPA, Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale, and a bottle of the Chimay Grande Reserve. Not pictured is the Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, and a bottle of the La Fin Du Monde.

Most of these were very nice. Of course, some were better than others. Some notes:

The Hopsickle and Dreadnaught were both Imperial IPAs. On, the users rated the dreadnaught (100) just slightly better than the Hopsickle (99). How fortunate to live so close to a brewery that has the #1 imperial IPA in the world. However, my friend, Gumbo, and myself both felt that the Hopsickle was better. You could taste and smell the hops much better on the Hopsickle.

I'm glad I tried the Rauchbiers. Translated, this means "Smoke" beer. While they were interesting, the overpowering smell of smoked ham coming off each one was a bit of a drawback. Not that it was hard to drink them or anything...

Shoreline makes a better schwarzbier (or black lager) than Koestritzer. Sorry, Germany, you're now the second best country at making beer on my list.

I really liked the Chimay. You can see in this photo our glasses of this stuff. Sweet, malty, lots of flavors. I thought this is what a true "Dubbel" was, but I see that this is not a Dubbel but a Belgian Strong Ale. The other Belgian Strong Ale was the La Fin Du Monde ("End of the World" - It's made in Quebec province), which was more golden in color. It was also very nice.

Overall, it was a decent tasting event. Next time, I'd like to have more people to share it with. That's the great thing about beer, there are so many to try, but it's way more fun to share the trials with others.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Guest Blager #1: P-Mart

P-Mart is one of two best friends from college. We attended school at Iowa State University, and discovered the world of microbrewing there. Paul even made at least one batch of homebrew, if I remember correctly, and shared some just before U2's stadium concert there on the Achtung Baby tour. I don't remember it all that well. And the U2 show was just okay. The TV part of it wasn't working.

P-Mart sent me a link to the Boulevard website last week and said he had picked up two of these sumbitches. Check out the first review:

Boulevard Double-Wide IPA
750 ml $7.99

Boulevard brewery out of Kansas City has been making great beers since their initial pale ale was released in 1989. they have just recently release what they are calling their "smokestack series" of beers. these are specialty craft brews made in limited releases. they are distributed in 750 ml wine bottles, with a champagne style cork. it's immediately apparent from the packaging that these are intended to be special brews. there are three other releases besides the IPA; a tripel, a quadrupel, and a saison. find out more info here.

The color of the IPA is an extraordinarily deep amber-copper. it's got a solid, stable head. the aromatics give a hint of the hoppiness inside, but are not overwhelming. In fact, I would not have identified this as an IPA at first taste. The hops are definitely in there, but this beer has a full, more complex taste than the IPA's that I'm used to (some of my favorites are red hook and sierra nevada). As dense, complex, and rich as it is, it's eminently drinkable. it has a completely full mouth feel without being overly heavy. Balance is the key, this beer is loaded with hops (5 different types) but they are countered by the right amount of malt to bring everything together. The alcohol by volume is at an appropriate 8.5%, you'll be feeling fine after settling in with that big bottle. At 8 dollars, I consider this a good value as well, given everything that goes into this beer.

I can't say enough good things about this beer, in all honesty I think it's one of the finest I have ever tasted. The quality, care, respect and passion this beer conveys represents the ideal of craft brewing. I agree completely with Jez on the merits of supporting your local brewery, but I have to tell you to search this beer out. Boulevard has just recently undergone a big expansion and is growing it's distribution network, so look for it in your area.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Hops Crisis

Just recently, a friend sent me this article on the hops shortage coming from 2008. I knew this was coming because when looking online for homebrew products, there were many statements referring to the shortage.
The article doesn't really say why there is a hops shortage, just bad weather. I asked a couple of local brewers, Sam, at Shoreline, and Nick, at Three Floyds, how the shortage was going to affect them. I even sent a message to the regional rep at Bell's, but didn't get a reply.

Yesterday, I was at Shoreline picking up ingredients to brew a Porter and a White Ale this weekend. I'm pretty new to all this brewing, so as I was looking at the grains and hops, I asked Sam if the hops were plugs or pellets. He smiled and said, "Those are pellets. And you're lucky to be getting them. I may not even have enough hops to brew beer next year." He continued by saying that 1 ounce of hops wasn't going to set him back. He uses around 30 pounds of hops in a batch of beer. That's totally amazing to me, because the kettle behind the glass is obviously bigger than our 5-gallon kettle, but 30 pounds? Amazing.

Nick over at Three Floyds answered my email with this:

"The hop shortage will greatly effect every small brewer in the world. It will not change our production or style of beer we producebut will cost us alot more to move forward and keep expanding production."

I saw on Three Floyds website that three of the brewers there were out west scouting their hops options for 2008, or something like that.

It almost makes a person want to go buy some farmland and start growing hops. Initially, I thought about doing this, but one of my brew-partners, John, said you need to have more of an arid environment, like the Pacific northwest. Sam at Shoreline countered that thought by stating, "Before prohibition, Indiana was only second to the state of New York in hop production."

Now who knows how the climate has changed between the early 1930's and now. I would guess not much, but with that whole global warming thing, there might be some issues with growing hops in Indiana. What's more, it doesn't appear to be a lucrative business, but it would be good to have a plot of land for personal use and maybe to sell to local breweries so they could save on transportation costs. Also, it takes 3 years for the hop plants to really start blooming, so by that time this whole shortage issue could be history.

But for now, it means basically that for good beer, you're going to pay a higher price. I'll bet that Budweiser increases the price of their brews and blames it on the hop shortage, even though they appear to be in pretty good hands. This is even more of a reason to stop buying macrobrews and focus on the microbrews that are out there.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Declare "Build Your Beer Palate" Season

If you're lucky enough to live in a place where there are plenty of brewpubs or a liquor store with a good selection of craft brews, then are you in luck. I've declared it to be "Build Your Beer Palate" season. It is now open as of today, November 15, and will run through January 2, 2008.

What this means is that if you normally stock the fridge with Bud, Miller, Coors, or other Macro beers, it is time to stop. Take this time of year to celebrate the "little guy", the microbrewer, by buying craft beers or stopping in and having a freshly brewed beer at a local brewery.

I know it might be a bit of a challenge. I know you might be worried about getting the Bitter Beer face.

The stuff in the beer that makes it bitter is called hops, and macrobrewers use less "hops-per-beer" than your craft brewer does. So, yeah, it's going to have some flavor, and character. You're going to get used to it. Because right now, America has some of the best beer in the world, and for the most part, you're not going to find it in your local grocery store (unless, of course, you live in northwest Indiana, then you're in luck), or should I say, Wal-Mart.

Here's what I want you to do:

1) Find something you've maybe seen but never tried. Sam Adams is okay, if you can find it. And you can. I would probably avoid the Winter Sampler, as these are darker, higher gravity beers, and they can take some getting used to. Avoid Heineken. If you can find a place that will allow you to make your own six pack, that is the best way to go. Write down the good ones and go back for more of these later.

2) Here's a basic breakdown:

A) Lagers and pilsners are lighter. These are typically what American macrobeers are modeled after. Bud is a lager, and Lite is a pilsner.

B) Try a pale ale. These generally have more of a hoppy taste and can get you interested in other styles. Bass is pretty common, and is pretty much the standard of pale ales. Been around for years. Harp is good, too.

C) Now that you've got a baseline pale ale, try a Sierra-Nevada pale ale. This thing borders on the edge of India Pale Ales, which I'll get to next. A bit more hoppy than a Bass or Harp.

D) India Pale Ale. If you get to this point, you're starting to improve your palate. You're getting used to the hops.

I'll cover more styles as the days go by. Remember, to really enjoy beer, pour it from the bottle into the middle of the glass. Don't try to avoid building a nice, foamy head. Look at the beer. How's the color? Darker than a macrobrew? Probably. Because it's got body, baby! Smell the beer. What do you smell? Hops? Flowers? Pine cones? That's good stuff! As you drink the beer, notice if there is any lacing (that's where the foam sort of sticks to the side of the glass and leaves a residue as you drink the beer). Have a good one!

Recommendations: Sierra-Nevada Pale Ale, Harp, Dogfish Head 60-minute and 90-minute IPA, Highland IPA, Harpoon IPA, Three Floyd's Dreadnaught IPA

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bell's Cherry Stout

Hello! It's the time of year for the high gravity beers and darker seasonals to start rearing their heads (nothing wrong with a big head on a beer - gets the gas out of the bottle, so it doesn't settle in your belly). I went to pick up some beer on Saturday, and I found a six pack of Bell's Winter White Ale. Only it had a Bell's Brown Ale and a single Cherry Stout in it. The Cherry Stout, I could keep, but I opted for a Two-Hearted Ale instead of keeping the Brown Ale.

But boy is this Cherry Stout nice. Pours like motor oil left in your car for 3 years. Pretty, red-brown head, and as you drink it, the lacing on the glass slowly disappears. Tastes of chocolate, coffee and cherries. It's very nice. Photo courtesy of this guy. That's not my Pac Man glass. Although, it is sort of cool.

It's not like you're gonna drink more than two of these in one session, and even then, two may be too many. But still, it's a nice little treat, especially during the winter season. You can actually buy a keg of this stuff. Definitely something to consider if I owned my own brewpub...

Friday, November 2, 2007

And There's Beer...In the Fridge

Got a new small standard fridge for the basement. Primary purpose is for storing beer, and also allows a nice little annex to the freezer upstairs.

Got about 7 Spaten Oktoberfest in there, a New Holland Dragon's Milk bomber, a bomber of Three Floyd's Munsterfest, Dreadnaught, and Behemoth, and a bomber of the Stone Arrogant Bastard. What you can't see are two Magic Hat Fall Mystery Beers, and a big bottle of Dogfish Head Black and Blue in the door.

Over on the other side of the "cellar" I got 4 bottles of 2007 vintage Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, a bottle of Stone Imperial Stout, and two bottles of Goose Island Pere Jacques. I doubt the Stone lasts much longer. I want to do a side-by-side comparison of it to a bottle of the Dark Lord. Maybe in December?

So whaddaya got in your fridge?