Monday, August 31, 2009

Mead Recommendations

Dan asked on my prior post for some recommendations on mead, and I'm guessing most people have never tried it. I've only tried a few commercial meads to date, and they vary widely. In general, they seem to be sweeter than most white wine and definitely have a honey aftertaste. I've only had two meads and one melomel (mead with fruit), so my experience is limited. If anyone else has any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

I've tried the following:
Chaucer's Cellars - they're not kidding when they say "dessert style". This is a sweet, sticky mead that really reminds you that you're drinking fermented honey. While it's suitable for a dessert wine (and does taste good), this isn't something you'd want to drink a glass of while hanging out on the patio with friends. This is something that would go well with a lemon tart or other fruit-based dessert. It's available at most liquor stores; I've seen it at Hy Vee Liquor and Royal.

Pirtle Mead - I picked up a bottle of their sparkling mead at Gomer's on Holmes. They only had the sparkling and the sweet mead, but I'm really curious to try the blackberry melomel (which won gold at the 2008 International Mead Festival). I liked the sparkling mead a lot, and it's going to take a lot of convincing for me to enjoy a still mead as much. This mead was still a little on the sweet side, but much closer to a Riesling or Gewürtztraminer. If you enjoy the wines out of Hermann, you'll like this one. And - bonus - the winery/meadery is in Weston! I liked the mead so much, I plan to make a trip to the winery.

Redstone Mead - I've only had their sparkling melomel (while in Portland), but John's had several of their meads and speaks highly of them. I'd love to try their hopped mead, but since they don't yet distribute to Missouri I guess I'll have to wait.

The carbonation in the meads I've tried has definitely balanced out the sweetness. If you like dessert wines, by all means go for a sweeter mead - you'll probably like it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yet Another Successful Brew Day

I don't know that this past Saturday could have gone a whole lot better. Dozens of different beers to taste, both homebrew and commercial. Meeting new homebrewers & beer enthusiasts & new fellow beer bloggers. Making something I've never made and having it not blow up. Delicious BBQ, fun people, and perfect weather. Do Saturdays get much better than that?

KC Hop Head invited Boulevard's Director of Marketing (Jeremy), who stopped by for a while to chat. I was focusing on getting the wort for my braggot going, so I didn't get to chat with him as much as I'd liked, but we did have a chance to talk for a bit. I am pretty excited about the direction the Smokestack series is taking; Boulevard's developing a quality beer reputation for Kansas City through that line, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

In the short term, it's going the route of the malty Bavarian lager known as Doppelbock. Jeremy brought over a bottle of the Seeyoulator for everyone to taste. And oh my was it delicious. It had the malty flavor and warm alcohol feel of a doppelbock, but with a twist - it was aged on cedar, lending a subtle hint of that bright, citrusy moth-repelling wood in both taste and aroma. We joked about expectations of closet linings and dresser drawers, but there was nothing in the Seeyoulator smacking you with a cedar board. Instead, you get a little citrus from both the hops and cedar, along with just a hint of cedar-y spice. Fabulous. It's a little lighter in color than your typical doppelbock, but in no way is it detrimental to the beer itself. Once these hit the stores, pick up some to drink now and some to age.

Anyway, back to brew day. For the braggot, I made 4 gallons of wort (with 5 ounces of hops!) and added 9 pounds of honey (about 2/3 of a gallon). That's a lot of sugar. (my recipe was a combination of Ken Schramm's recipe in The Compleat Meadmaker and some directional guidance from his session on Brewing Network). It also has 3 ounces of Cascade and 2 ounces of Centennial hops. It smelled delicious during the boil. This stuff should be high in alcohol and pretty hefty, hoppy, and sweet - akin to a strong barleywine or a very hoppy dessert wine. I'm curious to try it, but I'll have to wait quite a while. Braggot takes about 3 weeks to complete fermentation and is ready to drink in about 6 months, but changes and smooths with age.

The mead was so easy, I'm inclined to make a bunch more. You really do just mix honey and spring water with some yeast nutrient & energizer, then add your yeast. That's it. There's a lot of stirring involved, but that takes about 5 minutes. How is homemade mead not more popular?

In less than 5 hours, I had 10 gallons of fermentable honey-based goodness. We shared some more beer, chatted a bit more, then headed home. In all the excitement and commotion of the day, I forgot to take the Original Gravity on BOTH items, so I have no idea where they started out. I'd even bought a fancy-pants pH meter to make sure they were at a suitable acidity for fermentation and forgot about that too. That's the thing with brew day - it's easy to forget steps, ingredients, or other aspects of brewing. I didn't drink much during brewing (just little samples) to keep my head on straight, but in trying to remember all the details in the process I forgot a big one. Ah well.

Mead can commonly get stuck in fermentation for a variety of reasons - poor yeast, low acidity, not enough nitrogen, or a variety of others. You can do a lot to avoid a stuck fermentation by doing a Stepped Nutrient Addition the first three days of fermentation - basically removing a bunch of CO2 through stirring and adding Diammonium Phosphate and a yeast energizer (basically yeast food). Today was my first addition after fermentation. I think "yeast energizer" is an understatement. As soon as I put it in (1/2 tsp DAP and 1/4 tsp Fermaid-K), I got this:

Looks like we're off to a good start...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quick Bits

Just a couple of notes tonight.
  1. Waldo Pizza has Lagunitas IPA in bottles. I've been waiting since last October to see Lagunitas beers out here, as they make one fine brew. We were out at the Lagunitas brewery back then and they said it'd be out here last December... then they said March... then summer... and finally, it's here! I'm sure this is just the beginning of other beers on their way.
  2. Boulevard's doing a beer dinner at Extra Virgin on Tuesday 8/25. I'm not sure there's still room, but if you're going to be there, I will be too and I'd love to meet you.
That's it, folks!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I feel the need... the need for mead!

On Wednesday I promised more information on mead, a fermented beverage made from honey. I'll try not to be too wordy, but doing one post on mead is akin to one blog entry on beer, or one on wine. Or gin. And I promise I won't talk about Renaissance Fairs or Honeymoons.

"Mead" can mean a lot of different things, depending on whom you're talking to or the context of the conversation. It can be the term used to describe all fermented beverages made with a honey base, or can refer specifically to honey wine made with only honey, water, and yeast. Meads with other ingredients have their own special names like cyser (honey & cider), melomel (honey & fruit), braggot (honey & wort), metheglin (spices & honey), and pyment (honey & grapes). Think "beer" vs. porter, stout, bitter, or IPA.

Not only can you add ingredients to the honey to vary flavors, but different honey varieties make for different meads: mesquite and buckwheat honeys (added in smaller quantities to a light base) will make a rich, bold mead, while clover or orange blossom honeys will lend to delicate meads (which are quite suitable for spice or fruit additions).

It appears KC is in a great area for wildflower and clover (and that's about it), so if you want other varieties you will likely need to order them online. Wildflower & clover honeys are widely available at local farmers' markets and, just like produce, will vary in taste and quality each season. It's important to consider the timing in which you're buying your honey, specifically because late-summer honey will be darker in color (resulting in a darker mead) and contain more wild yeast. This can cause unwanted flavors & spontaneous fermentation in your mead (making it even more vital that you add potassium sorbate once fermentation is complete, which will prevent any further fermentation while the mead ages).

If you're curious to try mead before making a large quantity of it, you have a couple of choices: make a small batch (scale a recipe to 1 gallon instead of 5) or buy some at the store. Unfortunately, all the mead I've seen at the store here in KC is still and sweet. However, some meaderies in the states are making a variety of honey-based beverages, both still and carbonated. Redstone Meadery out of Boulder, CO, is making some spectacular meads. John's tried several of them (including a hopped mead) and I was able to taste some of their apricot melomel which is carbonated. Fabulous stuff, and I'm hopeful we'll start seeing their bottles here in KC.

Until then, if you want a dry mead, braggot, cyser, or other mead variation, you're going to have to make it yourself or order it online. Thankfully, mead's pretty easy and cheap to make. You don't need a lot of equipment or ingredients, and you get 5 gallons of mead!

Making mead is easy. For about $50 you can make 5 gallons of mead, or about 25 750ml bottles. That's a LOT of mead! Once you get your equipment (around $50 for a fermenter, airlock, sanitizer, and tubing), honey (about $30 - $40 for 10 pounds, depending on the variety), spring water ($2-$3), yeast ($2), and supplements (about $10), you're ready to start. And it goes something like this:

  1. Add honey to your fermentation container (like a bucket or carboy)
  2. Top it off with enough spring water to make 5 gallons
  3. Add nutrient & energizer to help jumpstart fermentation (honey does not contain enough food for the yeast)
  4. Pitch the yeast, wait 6 hours or so through the lag phase, then aerate your unfermented mead (called a "must", just like unfermented wine)
  5. Add nutrient & energizer every 24 hours for 3 days

Fermentation takes about 3 weeks, at which time the mead gets racked into secondary to age. Of course, when you rack to secondary you can add fruit, spices, or oak chips to create some interesting flavor variations. Or, you can leave it as-is to emphasize the flavor of the honey or honey blend you chose for your mead. I'm doing this for my dry mead to showcase the light flavor of Orange Blossom honey. For my braggot, I bought a local clover honey at the City Market Farmers' Market. I don't care so much about the specific flavor of the honey, as I'll be adding wort and hops. It was more important to me to get something local.

Once your mead is in secondary, it sits for 6-8 months to age. At this point, it's ready to drink but its characteristics will continue to change over the next few years.

If you're interested in making your own mead, here are some resources to get you started:

So, there you go. That was still pretty wordy, but even so only touches on the main points. After Brew Day 3.0, I'll follow up with how my first attempt at making mead & braggot went, and any on-the-job tips I learned. Stay tuned!

Oh and on a side note, I was recommended by a beekeeper Draper's Super Bee Apiaries for my Orange Blossom honey. I checked around other honey sites and Draper's prices seem reasonable and competitive so I went with them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brew Day 3.0 - August 29th

It's nearly time for another homebrew day! Inspired by Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day and the desire to hang out with other beer nerds while enjoying good beer, KC Hop Head and I started getting people together back in June. Our two prior homebrew days have been successful, resulting in at least 5 batches of beer and a bunch of new friends.

If you're interested in joining us next Saturday, leave a comment or send me an email and I'll give you the details (click on my Profile there on the lower right, then click on "Email" in the Contact box). We usually start setting up around 12 noon and brewing begins around 1pm. There's been a good mix of extract and all-grain brews. This time around, I'm making a dry show mead and a braggot per Ken Schramm's recipes. More on those later.

The crowd's usually a good mix of homebrewers, beer enthusiasts, friends, people interested in learning more about beer and brewing, and pets. No one's too much a beer novice to come to brew day. After all, the whole point is to learn more about beer. Even those of us who know quite a bit about the brew always learn something by hanging out with other brewers & beer nerds. And there's always good homebrew & commercial beer to drink. Surely, that's reason enough to go.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

McCoy's is having a smoked beer & food dinner on Tuesday, Sept 1st and both food & beer look great. If you've never had a smoked beer before, you're in for a treat. I don't know if I've met anyone who was very ambivalent about smoked beer; either you like it or you don't.

Smoked beers originated in Germany, out of the town of Bamberg, where the malt was dried over an open flame instead of in a kiln (where smoke escapes via another route). The smoke is imparted to the grain and - voila - smoke beer.

Alaska Brewing Company basically popularized the style in the US. Stone, Rogue, Spoetzl (Shiner), Goose Island, and several others have followed in suit. I'd recommend trying out the Bamberg originals from both Schlenkerla and Spezial, as well as Rogue's smoke ale and Shiner's Smokehaus. Schlenkerla offers several smoke beers: maerzen, weizen, and urbock (which will be at the McCoy's dinner).

McCoy's will also feature O'Fallon's Smoked Porter which I believe is a fabulous representation of the style. It is everything I love about smoke beers - smokey, smooth, complex, and flavorful - but not so much that you can't finish your beer. If you can't make it to the dinner, the smoked porter is easily available at Gomer's, Lukas, Royal, and various other liquor establishments.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Gluten-less Maximus

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau today handed off regulation to the FDA for approval of gluten-free beer to be regulated under gluten-free guidelines. Today, any US brewery can label its beer "gluten-free" without it actually being true (UK and Australian brewers must already meet strict guidelines). Though we have no proof any brewery is doing this, those with Celiac Disease have no way to know whether the gluten-free beer they buy is truly gluten-free. Those days are numbered!

I really hate to do this, but I'm going to link to an article in USA Today. Sigh.

"On Monday, FDA issued its Guidance for Industry covering these non-barley beers. And to the benefit of the one in 133 Americans who can't eat anything containing gluten, these beverages can now officially be labeled gluten-free once they've been tested and confirmed by FDA.

"For the longest time I couldn't put gluten-free on the label, because there wasn't a definition" under TTB regulations, says Russ Klisch, whose Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee makes a sorghum beer, New Grist."

Typically, gluten-free beers are made from sorghum which is a grass native to Africa. As you might guess, sorghum-based beers are popular there and have been brewed in Africa for centuries (one note, however - African sorghum beers typically include some malt as well, so are not gluten-free). Other ingredients might include millet, rice, kamut, buckwheat, or other grains & seeds lacking the gluten protein. It seems using these, however, results in a pretty thin beer with little mouthfeel. I suppose that's a small price to pay for beer that doesn't leave you in severe pain (hangovers not included!).

There are several common options on the shelves these days, though not all of them can be found in Kansas City. To name a few: Redbridge, New Grist, Bard's Tale, Greens, St Peter's, and a handful of others - and the list is growing. It even looks like Schlafly had one a while ago (tap only).

Earlier this year, a fellow beer-lover (whose father also homebrews) started on a gluten-free lifestyle. Unwilling to give up beer without a fight, she set out to find some gluten-free brews that would satisfy her love of beer. She's tried Redbridge so far and said it lacked depth of flavor. Two others by Greens wait in her fridge for a tasting after summer exams. I've only had one Celiac-friendly beer (Greens Endeavor) and it was quite a surprise - it tasted like rum & Coke. Yes, rum and Coke. Not impressive, but it was certainly more than drinkable.

The crowd favorites appear to be St Peter's G-Free and Sprecher's Shakparo. Though they get relatively low ratings (C+ on BA and under 3.0 out of 5 on Rate Beer), they score the highest among their peers. And, of course, I have never seen either one here in KC. I've been looking for G-Free for a while now (I've had this post in the works for about 2 months with the intention of trying it) but can't find it anywhere; I'm left to assume it's just not distributed here. You can try much of the Greens line at Waldo Pizza (while enjoying a gluten-free pie).

There are a few sites that highlight options for gluten free beer, including
There's hope for our gluten-intolerant friends and family after all. It'd be a shame for someone to have to give up beer unnecessarily. :)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Herbin' Renewal

Ah, Portland. It was nice to be back. I don't think we had a day over 75 degrees and I spent most of my time in jeans & a hoodie with a pint in my hand. It was good to be home.

We hit up a handful of new places that have opened since we left 2 years ago: Deschutes Brewery's Portland Location, Green Dragon (which offered both Single Wide & Tank 7), and Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). HUB is pretty new to the Portland beer scene and focuses on organic, sustainable brewing practices as well as top-notch beer.

I tried to only drink stuff I'd never had or can't get in KC, so I had my eye out for new and unusual things. When we lived in PDX, we used to go to Concordia Ale House for all the latest stuff. However, when we showed up on Wednesday, half of their 35 or so taps were dedicated to Imperial IPAs from a recent competition. I had one, and it was good, but we all agreed - IIPAs are overdone and getting kind of tired. Where's the new stuff? What's the latest trend? We've done Imperials, we've done barrel-aged... sour beers were on the rise in '08 (and continue to be, thankfully!)... what's the new kid on the block this year?

Cue unhopped beer. This stuff was all over Portland and I was able to try examples from Deschutes, Roots, and Upright. There are two main styles of unhopped beers, both very old and invented before hops were recognized as "the" bittering agent and preservative: Sahti and Gruit. You may have read about Dogfish Head's recent take on Sahti, Sah'tea, or seen Craigmill's heathered Fraoch at the store. I only had Gruit, so I don't have much to say about Sahti other than I wish I'd have bought a bottle of DFH's Sah'tea to check it out.

Gruit beers are typically made with a variety of herbs, roots, twigs, and flowers that have preservative qualities (just like hops!): bog myrtle, yarrow, heather, juniper (berries and twigs), ginger, and a multitude of others. It reminded me of a wit, with the citrus and coriander flavors, but without any hoppiness and more flower. Lots more.

My first experience was with Deschutes' La Fleur which uses myrtle, yarrow, orange blossom, and spices (they don't specify, but I'm sure it had ginger in it). It was actually very good and my favorite of the three I tried. The floral taste wasn't overpowering and it was very light and summery. It was almost like drinking boozy iced jasmine tea. I also tried Upright's Reggae Junkie, which I thought was good but not something I'd want to drink all the time, and Roots' Gruit Kolsch which was way too heavy on the chamomile. They all kind of have the same floral-spice herbal tea flavor, which isn't offensive but appears easy to do poorly.

Overall, I'd say it's worth a shot. I've seen the Craigmill beers around town (Lukas and Gomers, I believe). Give the style a try - if you like wits, pumpkin beers, or other spiced and/or floral beers, you might find that gruit's a style you really like.

Random Stuff:

  • Check out for more information on the history and making of gruit
  • I really liked HUB. A lot. The beer (all organic, lots of different styles, fresh, and high quality), the food (some different things on the menu and well executed), the atmosphere (open, airy, pinball machines upstairs, bike parts used for light fixtures), the staff (prompt, courteous, knowledgeable)... If you're ever in Portland, they're worth a visit. Note - they're crowded. We got there at 4:30 on a Tuesday and got one of the last spaces in the parking lot.
  • Boulevard has recently made its entrance into the Portland market with Single Wide and the Smokestack series. I didn't see any of the seasonal Smokestacks available in bottles (Saison-Brett or Two Jokers), but I think they'd do fantastically well there. Portland's a good market for "different" beers, so I'm glad to see them making an entry. Tank 7 appears to be well-received, and I suspect the Saison-Brett, Imperial Stout, and BBQ will receive similar (if not more favorable) fanfare.
  • I have a lot of confidence in Upright. The brewer did his internship for culinary school at Ommegang and was one of the first brewers at BJ's (a brewery/pizza chain I really wish we had here) to experiment with Belgian styles. I tried a couple of his beers, #4 (a wheat made from a sour mash and with a Belgian yeast) and the Gruit, and liked the #4 a lot. I would love to see his beer bottled & distributed some day. I'll be keeping my eye on this one.
  • Roots' Gruit Kolsch was pretty bad. I don't usually leave half a beer behind, but no one at our table was willing to finish it. Every time we go to Roots, we seem to have the same conversation: "You know, I really want to like this place but...". I feel the same way about McCoys/Foundry. I want to love them. I really do. I used to think that the Foundry would take off as KC's place to go for new and good beer, but it seems that the Flying Saucer has really come through in this role.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Head West, Young (Wo)man

Well, John and I are off for 10 days to the great Pacific Northwest. I can't wait. We're going for several reasons - to see my family, to attend my best friend's wedding up in Vancouver, and to enjoy the lovely geography, food, and beer of the region.

When we first moved out here in '07, our friends & family back in Portland thought we were crazy. "There's nothing out there!" "What are you going to do? It's so flat!" "It's just corn fields!" Anyone who has gone running or biking in Kansas City will tell you: it's not flat. And, though there may be corn fields outside of the city, I dare any Portlander to tell me that Portland isn't also surrounded by crops and dairy farms.

I will admit, though, that I thought for sure moving out here meant the end of craft beer in my life and the beginning of learning to love Bud Light and backward baseball caps. Man was I wrong. Living here, I can get beer that isn't available in the NW. To name a few: Bells, O'Fallon, Schlafly, Southern Tier, Founders, Boulevard...

Sure, we don't get Dogfish Head or Stone or AleSmith or Deschutes or Lagunitas or Russian River... yet.... But it's been amazing to watch the craft beer scene here explode just since our arrival here. Several factors are, I'm sure, to thank for it - Boulevard's smokestack series (and the limited editions), Flying Saucer's entry to KC, Barley's tuning in to new and seasonal beers, Derek Bean moving from O'Fallon to MoBev to assist with new accounts and distribution channels... Kansas City seems to be where Portland was about 10 years ago, back when I just started getting into craft brew (and a nod to Deschutes, Bridgeport, and New Old Lompoc for getting me on my way). In terms of craft beer, it's an exciting time to be in Kansas City.

So anyway.. we're off. I doubt I'll post during our trip, but you never know. I can guarantee, however, that I'll post when I get back about something interesting or relating to Kansas City. I hear there was a tasting at my favorite Portland bottle shop of Boulevard's BBQ and Saison-Brett recently. Verrrrrry interesting.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

So... what IS wort, anyway?

I recently realized that, in all the posts I've made on this blog, I've never explained the name. For homebrewers or those familiar with the brewing process, it's probably clear. But for those new to the craft beer scene, or who aren't generally familiar with brewing terms, I've probably left you wondering why in the world this blog has the name it does.

Wonder no more!

Wort (pronounced "wert") is basically unfermented beer. The brewing process goes something like this:
  1. Mix cracked grain & hot water together and steep to release sugars.
  2. Remove the liquid from the grain and put into a boiling pot. (Or, if you use a brewing bag, remove the bag from your boiling kettle, leaving just the liquid in the pot.) This is your wort! This is also the starting point for extract brewers.
  3. Boil the wort to remove unwanted stuff (like sulfur, which can lead to excessive DMS) & add hops.
  4. Chill the wort & transfer to your fermenter
  5. Pitch the yeast into the wort.
  6. Ferment at the desired temp & duration, then transfer the beer into a keg or add a little corn sugar (to kickstart fermentation & create CO2) then transfer into bottles.

Chilling the wort can be done in a variety of ways. Some people put their brew kettle in an ice bath, which does the job pretty well. This works really well for extract recipes, where you might be boiling a smaller amount of concentrated wort and diluting it when you transfer it to the fermenter. It doesn't work so well, however, for larger volumes of wort, say, 5+ gallons.

Enter the wort chiller. That's the coiled copper thing you see there in the photo - hook it up to a couple of garden hoses (one for input, one for output) & stick that baby into the boiling wort to sanitize it. When the boil's done, turn on the faucet. The cold water running through the copper chills the wort. The crud you see there on the bottom of the boiling pot is coagulated protein, hop pellet goo, and other various particulates from the wort. Cold break is good - it helps clarify the beer - and will happen with rapid chilling.

Yeast is added to the wort and fermentation begins.

So there you go... welcome to the wonderful world of wort!