Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Got About $4000 Burning a Hole in Your Pocket?

If you've read their blog, you'll know that the brewers at Free State spent some time in Belgium earlier this year to enjoy and learn about Belgian beers and a little brewing history. They're going again next spring and have opened the invitation to the general public. You can review the itinerary and sign up for the trip by going to the trip's website.

If you haven't read about their adventures from last year, you're missing out on an enjoyable and descriptive recap of the trip. Their two posts are here and here. These are some of my favorite excerpts from their trip:
Vapeur, which means steam in French, is the only remaining steam- powered brewhouse in the world.  All the pumps, mash-tun rakes...everything mechanical in the brewhouse is run off of a single steam engine.  A system of pulleys, belts, freewheels, clutches, and brakes emanate from this engine.  Not necessarily a model of efficiency in this day and age, it takes Jean Louis a full day to prepare a brew and a full day to clean up.  For this reason they brew but once a month, but fortunate for the public at large, it is an open brew for all to come and witness on the final Saturday of each month. In this regard Brasserie Vapeur is a living museum.
We had a bit of an old west saloon moment when we walked through the doors of the dusty and dark De Kelk.  The twelve or so patrons, all locals I would presume, turned in unison upon our entrance as if to say, "who are you?"  That all changed quickly when we asked the bartender for a beer list and asked for recommendations.  A bit uninviting at first glance, De Kelk was one of those places that you just needed to trust in and in return it would trust in you.  I guess that's ultimately what you have to do whenever youare a stranger in a strange land.
The passion of Kris Harteleer,  De Dolle began in 1980 after he and his brother entered a brewing competition normally reserved for commercial beers.  They won the competition and soon thereafter their mother financed the purchase of the 19th century brewhouse they continue to brew on to this day.  Kris' mom was our tour guide on our visit and she will go down as one of the most passionate tour guides I have ever encountered.  She spoke, in English, at great length of the healthful benefits of beer.  There was an impassioned speech about the "power of the seed."  That all life comes from seeds and beer is brewed from seeds.  So much nutritional power is packed into seeds and beer harnesses that nutrition.  She would back up her assertions with anecdotes of doctors that had visited the brewery over the years and confirmed her beliefs in the "power of the seed".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Congratulations, Boulevard!

The results are in, and Zōn just won a gold medal for Belgian-Style Witbier at the Great American Beer Festival!  Well done, Kansas City.

A search tool is available on the GABF website, or you can download the entire winner's list in PDF format.


A Little Cheese with your... Beer?

Beer & food pairings have been all the rage this year, it seems, and the trend continues into the fall. Beer and cheese are old friends, but are gaining more attention lately. Boulevard released cheese sets this spring to go with its beers, and Chimay's been doing it for over a century. A large percentage of brewpubs or beer bars will list some sort of beer-and-cheese soup on their menus, and several often serve a "brewer's platter" that contains various cheeses and meats to accompany the customer's beer of choice.

But for as much as beer and cheese are highly complementary, wine and cheese have been the long-standing duo for decades. However, it appears that along with the rise of craft beer (especially fancier styles served in stemware), the wine-cheese relationship may be waning.

The Wall Street Journal released an article on Friday suggesting cheese may be better paired with beer than wine:
For brewers, teaming up with cheese is part of a campaign to show that beer is as sophisticated as Bordeaux, not just a tipple associated with student parties and sports bars. The idea is to "bring it up at the same level as wine," says Marc Stroobandt, a master beer sommelier and consultant at U.K.-based F&B Partnership, a company that trains restaurateurs on the best way to pair beer with food.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoy pairing beer, cured meats, and cheeses. I much prefer pairing spicy Belgian styles (saison, tripel, strong dark) and heftier American beers (barleywines & imperials) with flavorful cheeses such as a 2-year cave aged Gouda, a sharp vintage cheddar, or a fine smoked blue. These go well with spicy salami, sopressata, or capicola.

My waistline enjoys it as well. At around 100 calories per ounce of cheese and at least around 150 calories per 12 ounces of beer, this isn't really a diet-friendly treat. However, the good news is that since fat and protein are pretty flavorful and satiating, a little goes a long way.

You can try pairing beer with cheese this Monday at Flying Saucer. They're hosting a Founders tasting night, pairing six Founders beers (Red's Rye P.A., Centennial IPA, Cerise Cherry-Fermented Ale, Curmudgeon Old Ale, Dirty Bastard Scotch-Style Ale and Breakfast Stout.with both meat and cheese.

photo courtesy of Carlsberg Beer

Friday, September 25, 2009

Craft Beer in Midair

It was a long flight back home from Toronto, and at one point I read through the Midwest Airlines in-flight magazine. Imagine my surprise when I turned a page only to see the following ad:

How about that! Clearly, craft beer has been gaining in popularity over the past couple of decades, but to me it is a sure sign that it is permeating the mainstream when it's featured in an airline ad. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No Temperance in Toronto

Mr Wort Hog and I are in Toronto this week to celebrate a major professional accomplishment for him:  admission to the Fellowship of the Society of Actuaries. It takes years and several incredibly difficult exams to fulfill requirements for admission, so this is a very big deal and one worthy of much celebration. While here, I'm working part time from our hotel.

As with all trips and excursions, we did some research prior to leaving Kansas City. If there was one place I wanted to visit, it was Toronto's Beer Bistro. Their menu looked phenomenal, both food and drink. We got to the bistro on Sunday around 5pm and bellied up to the bar. I ordered a Stone-Mikkeller-AleSmith tripel, a collaborative beer that sounded promising. Sometimes, it's worth being adventurous. In this case, it certainly was not. The up-front flavor was great - fruity, spicy, and yeasty with a great fresh aroma. And then it was gone - the finish fell flat! Perhaps my beer was old or stale, but I was highly disappointed in this beer, given the price. Ah well. Win some, lose some.

There need to be more places like this in the US, combining a relaxed but classy atmosphere with excellent food and beer. Higgins in Portland and The Brewers Art in Baltimore are two places that get it right. Beer Bistro just earned a spot on my list. They even cellar some beers, allowing you to order aged beers and verticals in some cases. We tried getting the Rogue Old Crustacean vertical in 6.4oz bottles (1999, 2000, and 2004) but they were out. We dined on excellent frites, tartare, and duck confit corn dogs (yes, that's right) but really focused on the beer that was available.

Some highlights of the night:
  • Panil Barriquée, a Flanders Red made in Italy. If you like sour beers, you must try this beer that's aged in Cognac barrels. This is a solid sour beer.
  • Nørrebro La Granja Stout. I have wanted to try beers from these guys for a while, but it seems I always opt for something else. We got both the stout and the Skärgaards Porter. While the porter was good and solidly in style, the stout was remarkable. I've never had a sweet stout with coffee, but I fear the bar has been set unreasonably high now. If you enjoy sweet stouts or coffee beers, seek this one out. It's worth your hard-earned money.
  • Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. We fully intended to order Breakfast then Brunch, but decided we'd pretty much hit our limit after Breakfast. In hindsight, we should have ordered Brunch. Beer Geek Breakfast was a great coffee stout, highly recommended, and I would definitely order this again. However, we have had Kopi Luwak and loved it and I don't believe there's another beer out there that includes it. Guess I'll have to pick it up at the store; I have seen both Breakfast & Brunch at Lukas down in Martin City.
Toronto's Beer Bistro is a must-stop for any beer lover and, unlike many beer geek bars, won't disappoint you with the food. We celebrated John's accomplishment in full style up here in Canada-land, and even got some free beer on top of all that we ordered. Call it preparation for some Canadian Breakfast Stout at the Saucer next Thursday.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Tribute to Gateway Beers

If you read this, you have probably already tried at least one craft beer - probably several. We're part of a continuing growing trend, but our dollars spent on beer are still only about 5% of total beer expenditures in the US. Yet despite the higher prices of craft beer, and while the macros raise prices, craft breweries are experiencing continued growth even in an economic downturn.

More & more people are being exposed to craft beer, whether by friends, news stories, promotions at the store, or growing curiosity about this whole "craft beer" thing. While there seems to be a clear divide between American craft and large-scale breweries - even down to the organization of bottles & cans at the liquor store - some beers fit neatly in-between. They're balanced, not too heavy on malt or hops or "weird" (like Rauchbier), affordable, and generally easy to drink. I'm thinking Leinenkugel, Yuengling, Boulevard Wheat, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Fat Tire, Blue Moon, Pete's Wicked Ales, Pyramid, and so forth. These brands offer an approachable and non-intimidating introduction to craft beers and styles. I'd put some Belgian beers in here as well - Hoegaarden, Chimay, Leffe, and Duvel. Gateway beers, so to speak.

I caught this on Twitter the other day:
If your eye espies a Michelob sampler 6-pack at a grocery story in the next few months, take a close look. It may contain a rye IPA, or India Pale Ale.
Michelob's always tossed out the occasional different style, but I wasn't expecting a Rye IPA (a style I very much enjoy and highly recommend due to the depth of flavor that the rye grain lends). I have to give credit to Anheuser-Busch (or, perhaps, InBev) for keeping alive a brand that does push the palate of the general beer drinker, as far as macro beer is concerned. I'd bet the Michelob brand has sent many people on the path to craft beer. In fact, the beginning of my dad's discovery of American craft brews (and, thus, my own) included Michelob's Amber Bock. Their beers are rarely (if ever) the hallmark of a style, but I do think the people at Michelob deserve a nod for reaching out to a macro-beer market and encouraging those within it to drink something outside their comfort zone.

So this brings me to my question for the weekend - what was your gateway beer? Was there a beer (or brand) that really got you in to craft beers? I'll go first: Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. I haven't had it in a while since we don't get it out here, but I remember lots of caramel and citrus. Truly a well-balanced and enjoyable beer.

Your turn.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stuff to Keep on the Radar

I started building a list of things to do during the week, specifically happy hours or notable beer deals (think sidebar list gadget). In looking around for beer-related happy hours, it seemed most of what I could find was "domestic bottles" paired with shots. While I did get to learn what a "starburst shot" is, I'm not sure I found everything I was looking for. Here's what I got - what else can I add?
  • Mondays: OK so this one isn't beer, but it's such a good deal and I enjoy wine as well, so I can't help it. Every Monday from 11:30am - 6pm, Extra Virgin does one hell of a happy hour day. Half-price bottles of wine (under $100) and tapas. Where else are you going to get halibut cheeks and grilled beef tongue for under $10?
  • Mondays, pt II: What, not up for adventurous food? McCoys does a great happy hour on Monday: $7 each for a pitcher, a burger or a pizza. Some of their special brews have been noteworthy (and I was too late for their coffee stout, damn it, but their Cerveza is quite good), and if you're not following their blog, you should be.
  • Mondays, pt III: Not convinced that Monday happy hour is a great way to drown your sorrows over the end of the weekend? Head out to Free State in Lawrence for $1.75 beers. A dollar seventy five!
  • Tuesdays: 75th Street recently started up "Big Ass Beer Night" on Tuesdays, where they feature some special beers. Tonight is Founders Breakfast Stout. They don't currently publish this on the web, but if you sign up for their email list you'll get notified.
  • Wednesdays: Glass night at Flying Saucer. These are pretty widely known now, so you could always work on maximizing your caloric intake at Old Chicago and get $1 off their featured beer.
  • Thursdays: Flying Saucer wins again. They started their Rare Beer Nights this summer, tapping a special keg each week. Everyone's looking forward to October 1st when they tap that keg of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. Imperial Stout aged in maple barrels. Seriously.
  • Fridays: Exercise your brain at The Brick for Trivia Riot while ordering beer off a menu that is never up-to-date and eating good but cheap food. And for the diet-conscious, they offer raw veggies as a side instead of fries. Sometimes I want a gut bomb, but not always; it's nice they offer the choice. They also have lots of vegetarian options, too. And a bacon fluffernutter.
  • Fridays, pt II: Need more glassware? Old Chicago does glass night too, on Fridays. More caloric maximization. Now with a glass.
Other various things:
  • Royal Liquor now has Seeyoulator available. I also picked up an O'Fallon Chocolate By the Barrel Cream Stout and, when paying for it, got to talking to Cody there about the Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout (scroll down to the bottom of the page). This is a summer seasonal and may no longer be around, but if you haven't had it, you should try it. You'll probably want to share it, but man is it good.
  • The O'Fallon stout, by the way, was good but not worth it. It was $12 (including tax) and a little thin on mouthfeel. Bitter from the cocoa and not sweet enough, in my opinion, for the style. Disappointing. Oh well; it happens.
  • Speaking of Royal Liquor, they're doing a huge beer tasting and bottle discount on October 1st from 6-8pm. If you're not that keen on the Canadian Breakfast Stout at Flying Saucer, definitely check this out (or stop by Royal on your way to/from P&L). They're sampling a ton of craft brews that are worth trying.
  • Free State's pouring a small beer, not something you see very often. Anchor does one (from its Old Foghorn), but I don't believe we get it out here. The second runnings from Old Backus, Little Backus, is full of Cascade & Simcoe hops but appropriately at 33IBUs for the style. Sounds good, doesn't it?
  • Lagunitas is now in KS and MO. Hurrah! Do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle of Hop Stoopid. At around $4 for a 22oz bottle, you're almost losing money not buying it.
What else?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hope & Change for 75th Street Brewery

For the past several months, we've been rather disappointed with 75th Street Brewery. Well, maybe not "disappointed" but on the bored side of unimpressed. Half their beers all tasted the same (I could barely tell their Golden Ale and IPA apart), the entree salads were small enough to be considered starting courses, and they didn't have many new releases for a very long time.

Everything has changed.

We hopped over to the brewery today for lunch, just to see what was on tap and get a bite to eat. While the standard 75th Street offerings are available (raspberry wheat, Irish Red, IPA, etc), there are some new brews as well. Their oatmeal porter is delicious and definitely worth trying. They're out of their Coconut Red, but KC Hop Head had some at their anniversary bash and highly recommends it. If it reappears, buy a glass.

We both ordered a "Dirty Miguel" - a hatch chile beer - which impressed me quite a bit. I've had a few chile beers (Rogue Chipotle Ale, Flat Branch Green Chile, and at least one more I'm forgetting, and no it isn't Dave's Cave Creek) and I generally like the style. The one at Flat Branch tasted awesome (good) but stuck with me for a couple of hours (bad). 75th's was better. Clean, fresh, and vibrant with green chile flavor with just a tinge of heat. There was just enough citrusy hops present to bitter the beer, but not so much that it competed with the chile flavor. This beer was just begging to be consumed with their 7-hour roasted pork.

I wasn't that hungry, though, so I had a salad from their completely revised menu. Gone are the multi-paged vinyl-covered menus, having been replaced by double-sided tabloid-sized pieces of card paper that must have over a dozen new food items. Lump crab cakes, mussels, and new salads, sandwiches, and pizzas are now the latest offerings; I can't wait to try the fig & prosciutto pizza. If you've had anything from the other KC Hopps places, you'll recognize a few of the items new to 75th Street: Napa chopped salad, Grill-pressed hunt club, salmon BLT, etc.

While seated at the bar, John caught parts of another customer's conversation that 75th Street will be expanding. We talked to our bartender and confirmed it - 75th Street is expanding to the old Kennedy's space, removing the roof, and constructing a beer garden. Finally! I have been wishing for a beer garden there (or at Waldo Pizza) ever since we moved here in 2007. They better not serve my beer in plastic cups.

With The Well and its giant rooftop patio now open, the changes at 75th Street, Waldo Pizza's continued beer greatness, Lew's, Swagger, two annual Waldo Crawldos, and various other places and goings-on, things are looking up for the Waldo beer scene. Sweet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Brautag 4.0: Oktobrewfest

Mark your calendars: Brew Day 4 is now scheduled for Saturday, October 3rd. Again, we'll start around 12pm and look to have 2-4 batches of various beers going.

Plans will firm up as the date nears. We'll do an Oktoberfest theme, without the rides or dancing on tables (well, that's still up for discussion). You are, however, welcome to wear a dirndl or lederhosen if you wish.

I'll look to have some good German food at this one - I'm already thinking something along the lines of big Bavarian pretzels, German potato salad, spätzle (German noodles), and brats. And, of course, plenty of home brew and commercial beer (German styles encouraged, of course).

More details to come on location, but the date's set!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bringing Good Customer Service to a Grinding Halt

Story time! Grab a beer and settle in.

Mr Wort Hog's mom, sister, and nephew came up from SE Kansas for a visit over Labor Day weekend. They arrived just in time for lunch, so we headed out to Grinders for some beer, sandwiches, and delicious deep-fried tots.

The larger tables inside were all taken, so we sat outside at one of the picnic tables. The major downside to sitting outside at Grinders, despite lovely weather, is that you can't get your beer in a glass. So, at a bar with one of the best beer selections in town, if you choose to sit outside you drink your $8 Belgian beer out of a plastic cup. We debated going somewhere else, but decided to just suck it up and go for it. And upon sitting down outside, we did see someone a couple of tables down from us drinking her beer out of a glass. Score!

We asked our server if we could get our beer in glasses, and she politely explained that it was against policy. The other table was also under the service of Grinders West, and the person waiting on that table had chosen to break the rules. We accepted the response and ordered Schlafly Oatmeal Stouts (yes, in plastic cups) along with our food. While we waited an hour for our meal to arrive (not an atypical wait for Grinders), we noticed others drinking their beer out of glasses. Intriguing. We discussed whether or not to ask again and decided it couldn't hurt.

Mr Wort Hog decided to ask our server what it would take to get our beer in glasses, as others were clearly able to do so. She insisted it was against policy and that she did not serve the other people their beer in glasses. Fair enough - she was honest and truly following the rules. We asked to speak to her manager about the ordeal; when the manager came over, she leaned on the table and told us it was against policy to serve beer in glasses. We pointed out the people drinking beer from glasses and she became defensive and started raising her voice. We repeated our question: why are those people allowed to drink out of glasses and we were not? What did we have to do to be able to drink out of glasses? She asked if we saw her serve those people beer in glasses, then stated that we did not. (and, no, we didn't, but she was serving that table.) I told her that I found her attitude inappropriate and rude, and she responded that we were welcome to leave at any time.

I have never in my life received such aggressive customer service. I did not expect to receive an apology or concessions. What I was looking for was some sort of explanation. Perhaps those customers were regulars. Perhaps they paid extra. Maybe they brought their own glasses. Maybe they signed a waiver should their glass break and someone get hurt. Who knows! Instead, I was treated as if I were trying to steal something. Frankly, I was completely taken aback at the aggressive and hostile behavior of the manager. I can't say I've ever encountered that at any place of service.

I will say, though, that our server was fantastic. She did everything right, she was courteous, friendly, and attentive. She received a full tip and a note explaining to her that we recognized she was following the rules. I didn't want her to be (or feel) penalized for something she didn't do.

We wrote them an email Saturday and I have yet to hear back. I've spent a lot of money at Grinders over the past year. A lot. I've recommended them highly to others, and have brought friends there for food & drinks. But after this experience, I guarantee you it will be a LONG time before I go there again.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's the Great Pumpkin Ale, Kansas City!

Ah, September: pilsners and summer ales behind us, Oktoberfests and pumpkin ales on the horizon. I can already smell the wood smoke, pumpkin pie, mulled cider, wet leaves, and smoked turkey. This is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. (Yes, it's still officially summer but this cool weather is toying with me. Let me have my moment.)

We made a pumpkin ale a few years back; roasted the pumpkin & added it to the boil, fermented the beer and realized... in beer, pumpkin pretty much tastes like a whole lot of nothing. These beers really ought to be called pumpkin pie ales, since the characteristic flavor is the spices, not the squash. A related note to the home brewer: if making a pumpkin beer, skip the pumpkin and just go for the spices. You'll save yourself a lot of work.

Anyway, so I've been working on this idea for weeks: buy a few pumpkin ales and do a blind tasting. John and I decided to each do the blind tasting at the same time, so I stockpiled a few beers over the past few weeks and kept them in the fridge, waiting for the perfect evening. Alas, it finally arrived.

When I got home, we lined up 8 glasses in the kitchen and again in the dining room; seven pumpkin ales and one control (Show-Me Beer's Hamm's that he generously donated to me at the last Brew Day, with a bit of sugar-free Torani pumpkin syrup. Yes, the trashiest pumpkin ale possible. Awesome.). The seven we tried were:
Water crackers and note paper in hand, we set out on our assignment: make comments on our tastings and identify our favorites (and least favorites). The results were interesting. We realized that we had completely different preferences in our pumpkin ales; I liked the hoppier ones and John preferred the ones with more spice. Here are the results, listed in order of our preferences (best to worst):

Ms Wort Hog
  1. New Holland Ichabod: sweet, cinnamon, floral aroma, bitter flavor with lots of hops & nutmeg. Resiny mouthfeel. Like this one a lot.
  2. O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer: brown sugar aroma with flavors of pie crust & spice. Appropriate mouthfeel, a little weighted but not much. The longer I drank this, the more it became my favorite (after I knew what it was, though, so I still rank it #2)
  3. Michelob Jack’s: generic ale aroma, malty, tastes more like an Oktoberfest. Less spice than all of the other pumpkin ales. Spritzy mouthfeel, but not too much. More of a session ale than the others.
  4. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale: Cinnamon & allspice aroma with a really spicy flavor. The high carbonation is a little distracting.
  5. Arcadia Jaw-Jacker: malty with an almost apple liquour type smell. Pretty bitter and kind of strange, with a medicinal/mouthwash taste after a while. Not great.
  6. Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale: apple cider aroma, and flavors of clove, clove, clove. Thin mouthfeel with a hint of clove. Clove aftertaste.
  7. Shipyard Pumpkinhead: The worst out of all of them. It smelled like mulled cider, but tasted like sucking on a pine tree. Astringent, piney, weird. Thin mouthfeel and overall a drainpour.

Mr Wort Hog
  1. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale: Aroma & flavor by the book, pumpkin pie spice. Alcohol warmth with no heat (it completely surprised me that this beer is 8% ABV!). "Great beer!"
  2. Shipyard Pumpkinhead: very clear, aroma is spice, warm, not harsh, lighter body. Flavor like aroma, warm, spiciness, not much else.
  3. Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale: Good spice aroma & flavor, good body, well-balanced
  4. O’Fallon Pumpkin Beer: Good head retention, cloudy. Warm cinnamon aroma. Some roasted pumpkin almost reminiscent of roasted tea. Sweet, very spiced, cloying.
  5. Arcadia Jaw-Jacker: Good head retention & lacing, a little cloudy. Strong spice aroma, maybe clove. Spice a little harsh, very full body, a little medicinal/astringent.
  6. New Holland Ichabod: More hop than spice flavor. Little phenolic, spice there but not pleasant or familiar to pumpkin pie.
  7. Michelob Jack’s: faint spice & bread aroma. Weak spice flavor. Thin body, maybe noble hops. "eh."

If anything, this little experiment proved that taste really is widely subjective and what some people rave about as the best beer in the world may very well be middle-of-the-road to others. Clearly, I preferred the hoppier, less spicy beers while Mr Wort Hog got into the spirit of the spice. I'm embarrassed to see that I ranked Michelob higher than Schlafly. I'll make up for it when we get to my favorite seasonal category, winter beers!

* Note one afterthought - though I didn't include it, Southern Tier's Pumking is excellent and worth your money (comes in a bomber only). And Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale is fantastic... but alas, we cannot get it here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Not All Beer is Like a Fine Wine

Though it doesn't typically come with a "sell by" or expiration date, most beer should typically be consumed within a few months of packaging, if not sooner. Old, stale beer can possess off flavors such as skunkiness, wet cardboard, sherry/port, or even rotten veggies. Most beers are better fresh, which is why local beer often tastes so good - especially that at a brewpub. So why, then, is "aging" beer so popular? How can you know which beers age well and which ones will become undrinkably stale?

There are a couple of pretty reliable (though not guaranteed) guidelines - high alcohol content and high IBUs (lots of hops). Both help preserve beer (think IPAs) and can contribute to some pretty fantastic flavor changes over time. American Barleywines are great candidates for aging. It appears that smoked beers, which have seen a rise in popularity recently, are also great for aging since smoke has a preservative effect as well. I haven't tried an aged smoked beer, but is anyone else thinking "smoked barleywine"? Apparently I'm not the only one; the Dutch and Norwegians are one step ahead of me (every time I read something about Nøgne ø I tell myself I need to drink more of their beer. Really.)

I happened upon a fantastic resource about aging beer today that I plan on reading quite a bit in the future. The author covers topics ranging from how to store the bottles (right-side-up or upside-down?), proper cellaring temperatures and humidity, and the science behind aging. He's also published some great tips for cellaring beers (parts I and II.) The author also posts extensive reviews on beers he's aged, providing comments on 6-month and 12-month milestones. Really good stuff.

Even if you don't plan on aging your beer, here are some guidelines to keep in mind while buying beer. If there's a business in KC that does make efforts to properly store beer (UV-filtered lighting, quick shelf rotation, etc), please let me know. I'll be sure to mention them here - not to mention trade them my money for their beer.

Oh and speaking of beers suitable for aging, we were at Lukas in Martin City today and spotted Dieu Du Ciel's Imperial Coffee Stout, Peche Mortel. At $5.99 for a 12-oz bottle, it's a little expensive but well worth it. John and I went to their brewpub last summer and loved everything we tried (and, they had about 4 smoked beers there which was a welcome surprise). If you're ever in Montreal, they're worth a detour.

image credit to elliebrown.com

Friday, September 4, 2009

Something new to monitor: pH

One of the major considerations in wine & mead fermentation is pH. Let it get too low (acidic) and the yeast pretty much take a break. Fermentation's slowed way down on both my mead and braggot, so it's time to start keeping a close eye on the next two weeks of fermentation. So, with my fancy-pants pH monitor, I trekked on down to the basement and took samples of each.

Yes, I tasted them, and they're pretty darn yummy - especially the braggot. I'm honestly surprised at how subdued the hops are, given the quantity in it. The mead tastes like sweet & tart yeast water right now. Not a bad start, I guess. Better than tasting like funk.

Braggot pH: 3.94. A little high, but pretty close to right where I want it to be. Awesome.
Mead pH: 2.89. Uh oh.

How to fix? Calcium carbonate. Yes, chalk. According to my rusty-trusty Ken Schramm book, you add 1/2 tsp at a time, stirring and measuring each time, until the pH is back up to about 3.8 again. I added 2.5 teaspoons to get it up to where it should be (it ended up at 3.82).

So, here we are, back on our way to a healthy fermentation. Only 5.75 months to go before it's ready to drink. Ugh!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Wonder if They Gruit on Premises

We met a couple of friends tonight down at Flying Saucer to pick up their first year's harvest of Nugget hops. Despite the belief that you only start to get hop flowers in your third year, they acquired a reasonably-sized hop harvest. Perhaps it's because this summer has been more akin to the climate of the Northwest or Germany. Or, perhaps modern strains of hops are taking less time to produce hop cones. Regardless, we scored ourselves some nice little Nuggets tonight.

I ordered New Belgium's latest in their Lips of Faith series, their Dandelion Ale. I suspected it might be a hop-free Gruit, but wasn't sure and the internet on my phone wasn't working very well so I went for it. Sure enough, gruit. And I have to say - it's the best one I've had yet.

First of all, it tasted more like beer than the others. It didn't have the mouth-numbing experience the others imparted (from wormwood, anise, or whatever the breweries were using) and it had significantly more bitterness than the others. It tasted a little like tropical or summer stone fruit: apricot, peach, or maybe mango. I'm sure a large part of that came from the Belgian yeast New Belgium uses. The mouthfeel was awesome for a beer this light in color and taste, and I've never experienced something like that before. At first "creamy" and "velvety" came to mind, but then the perfect word hit me: silky. This beer is silky! Overall, I'd rate it a top-notch gruit and a perfect accompaniment to the meat & cheese plate we ordered. I could also see drinking this with a slice of cheesecake or maybe a bowl of fruit salad. Fresh, summery, fruity, and easy to drink - I wouldn't have guessed this beer was anywhere near 7.8% ABV.

This is a very well-executed version of Gruit and I recommend trying it, even if you're a dyed-in-the-wool hop head and skeptical of anything under 70 IBUs. After all, part of the fun of drinking beer is trying something different.