Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Search for the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year

Just a quick note for you beer lovers out there seeking to be the next Beerdrinker of the Year. Your beer resumes need to be emailed into the Wynkoop no later than Thursday, December 31st. Your resume must include your beer philosophy, details on your passion for beer, and your 2009 beer experiences. It should "detail the entrant's understanding of beer and its history and importance to civilization, and the entrant's efforts to educate others to the joys of great beer." And all of this can not exceed three 8.5 x 11" pages in 12-point font. There are a few other rules, so make sure and check out the official Beerdrinker of the Year web site for all of the details.

As an example, and to view the resume that got me into the finals, check out my 2009 resume. All of the beer resumes received by the Wynkoop are reviewed and thinned down to the top 10, at which point they are sent out to a panel of experts around the country to select the three finalists. Those lucky three will be flown to Denver for the finals on February 27th, 2010, at which time seven wigged & robed judges (of which I will be one) will ultimately select the winner.

The winner will receive free beer for life at the Wynkoop, $250 at their local brewpub or beer bar, apparel, and their name will be engraved on the Beerdrinker of the Year trophy at the Wynkoop Brewery.

A good resume will take some work, so hopefully you've already started, or are touching up a previous year's application. (I submitted a resume in 1997 and 2005 before my 2009 resume got me to the finals.) If you are reading this blog you are surely a beer lover, and I encourage all of you to take a shot at the ultimate beer accolade!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Primo Beer!

Growing up in Montana in the mid '80s, listening to the Surf Punks was the closest thing most of my buddies and I got to visiting a beach. I can't remember the specific song (help me out if you know), but in the middle of one of their pieces, a band member interjects, "Primo Beer". I always thought he just meant, "great beer". But then I was informed by one of my more worldly friends that Primo was a brand of Hawaiian beer. (Remember brah, our exposure to island culture was limited - so I didn't know any of this.) That was 25 years ago, but I still remember this clearly.

Well, I just returned from our 50th state, and I finally saw, and had the pleasure to drink, a Primo! This is somewhat weird, because I was in Hawaii three years ago, drank plenty of beer, and never saw that brand on any bar or restaurant's beer list. If anyone has more background on these guys, please add a comment. This brewery dates back to the late 1800s, but I believe they were silent for some time. Anyway, they're back. And that is a good thing. What I expected was a bland American-style mass produced lager-type of beer. It was light, clean and refreshing, to be expected given Hawaii's climate, but a touch richer in color than the garden variety mass produced lager. The flavor was also pleasing with more body than the big guys. This is all off of memory, because I did not take notes, but very pleasing and refreshing. If you can find a Primo give it a shot and let me know what you think. I'd call it a superior, local substitute for the big guys when you're on the islands.

Now I'd like to segue from clean & light beer to coconuts. There are now several breweries in Hawaii (nine according to http://beervana.blogspot.com). Probably the best known is Kona Brewing. During my short stay on this trip I sampled a Coco Loco Coconut Brown Ale from Kona Brewing, and I also found another coconut beer, Maui Brewing Co's Coconut Porter.

First I'll start with Maui's Coconut Porter. Their motto printed on the bottom of the can is "...Like hot chicks on the beach." I'm not sure how that relates to their beer, but it is fine with me. This 5.7% abv beer won a gold medal in the Herb & Spice Beer category at the 2006 World Beer Cup competition. For a moderate strength beer, it packed a lot of flavor. The coconut used in this beer is "hand toasted" according to the label. I could detect some coconut flavor, but in my opinion it lent more of a toasty or roasted barley type of flavor to the beer than anything else. The coconut played the same role as roasted barley and turned the Porter into more of a Stout tasting beer. It was a very pleasant, albeit heavy, beer. It probably even tasted better, because I drank it at LuLu's Surf Club in Waikiki as I watched the sun set into the ocean. It doesn't get much better than that.

The second coconut beer I had that evening was Coco Loco Coconut Brown Ale from Kona Brewing. Coco Loco was a much different beer than the porter. Basically a traditional Brown Ale, but spiced with coconut. I was not able to detect the coconut in the flavor nearly as much as I picked it up on the nose. Very effervescent. A very "tropical beer" aroma if there is such a thing. Much lighter and more refreshing than the Porter, and like the Porter, also an excellent beer. I'm not much of a gadget beer guy, but after seeing two coconut beers in the same day, I figured it must be some sort of a Hawaiian specialty and that I should try them. It was a pleasant change up.

Securely on board with the craft beer movement, Hawaii now has something to offer beer lovers. Most bars still serve the obligatory brands (Stella, Bud, etc.), but if you like to drink local, try out Primo for something light and refreshing, or hunt down an offering from one of the other craft breweries, which usually offer the full slate of traditional styles from Golden Ales, to Hefeweizens, to Pale Ales, to Stouts.

Enough about Hawaii. Tomorrow morning I'm off to Montana for Christmas where it is safe to say I probably won't be watching any sunsets into the ocean. I'm trading in my Aloha shirt for Sorels.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beer of the Month Clubs

One of the things that really helped me learn more about beer and beer styles was being member of a “beer of the month” club.  Two friends and I signed up for such a club back in 2000 (it was originally a Michael Jackson club, and was later purchased by C&H Clubs Inc.) and we’ve been members ever since.  I’ll never forget our first shipment.  It was a beer that, at the time, I had never heard of – Olde Suffolk by the Greene King Brewery in Bury St. Edmunds in England.  This beer blew me away.  It is Old Ale made by blending a two-year-old oak aged beer called Old 5X and their Best Pale Ale (BPA).  Though once common, the practice of blending is now very rare in England.  (But still widely practiced in Belgium.)  Olde Suffolk is a very complex dark ale, providing a slight oaky tartness along with earthy hops, a sold malt body, hints of dark sugars, and a mineraly English finish.  Needless to say I was sold on the club after this first shipment.  Not all of the selections have been as good as the first (that would be an impossible task), but their selections seldom disappoint.

Joining as a team like my friends and I did helps us keep the cost down while still getting to sample new, usually difficult or impossible to find, beers each month.  Initially we were subscribed in the International category, where we received two six-packs of two different beers each month.  So we each got four beers – two each of two different types.  Recently we switched to the International & Domestic category where we each get four different beers – two of which are domestic and two that are International.  It doesn’t sounds like much, but our club allows us to order more of any particular beer, so if we find a special gem in our monthly selection there is a way to get more.  Anyway, the point is, there are different categories and options to suit different beer drinker tastes.

I love variety, so this club has been perfect for me.  Not only do we get four different types of beers each month, but also they are often styles that may be something we would pass up at the liquor store.  So we’re “forced” at times to try something we normally would not think of.  Obviously some offerings are better than others, but I’ve never been disappointed, even on the styles I would have never though of buying on my own.  And each shipment comes with history about the style and the brewery, as well as tasting notes and suggestions for things like serving temperature, serving glass and food pairings.  So it is truly a learning experience that really helps develop beer knowledge as well as a better understanding of history and geography.

Our club costs $43/month, or about $14 per person.  I handle the payment, delivery and distribution.  My counterparts direct deposit their payment into my bank account each month so we don’t have to worry about much about exchanging money.   So we enjoy teaming up.  With that said, most probably join alone.  No problem with that either - more beer for them!

If you want to sample unique specialties every month and learn more about beer in general, I highly recommend such a club.  (I’m a long time member that has enjoyed it so much I joined a second club of theirs called the Rare Beer Club.  It is similar except I receive two rare specialties, usually strong beers packaged in cork finished champagne bottles.)  If you’re not sure how well you’ll like such a club, start off with a three-month subscription and try it out.  You may end up like me and still be a member nine years later.  Since Christmas is right around the corner, it also makes a great gift for any hard-to-shop-for beer lover.  For more information about C&H’s Beer of the Month club visit their web site at http://www.beermonthclub.com/join-gift.htm.  I’m not advocating any particular club; these guys are just the ones I’m familiar with.  If you have other recommendations, please drop a comment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Beerlover's Dream!

After winning the Beerdrinker of the Year competition back in February, the event host and organizer, Marty Jones, told me that he and some friends get together a couple of times each year for some beers. And after reading about my basement brewery & pub in my beer resume, he wanted the gang to visit my basement. He went on to tell me whom this group included.
It was a list of who’s who in Colorado’s beer society. Marty’s group included Buddy Schmalz (head brewer at Dostal Alley Brewpub in Central City), Lou Cady (among other accomplishments, the man that originated the BDOTY competition), Dave Thomas (former scientist at Coors), Matt McAleer (marketing and sales at the Wynkoop), Dick Kreck (author & beer writer), and none other than Charlie Papazian (no introduction needed). I couldn’t believe it. A chance to have such an elite group, including the legend Charlie Papazian, in my basement! Well, it took us several months to coordinate, but last Saturday it finally all came together.

When this group gets together, their plans are not random – and this day they had three stops scheduled. They started at our house at 10 am. It sounds early, but the atmosphere in our basement was electric. In addition to the gang, I also invited about a dozen of my friends over. So there were lots of introductions, many samples consumed of the four beers I had on tap, and cameras going off like crazy. We hung out and discussed all things beer while drinking a couple of our own. And it was great to get feedback from these experts on my homebrew. All the reviews of my beer were favorable, and people raved about the Pilsner. “The best Pilsner I’ve ever had,” was the comment of one in the group – whose name I’ll leave out. You can imagine how proud I felt hearing that, and it was just wonderful having all of these people enjoy the fruits of my labor.

And in addition to what I had to offer, we also got to sample a gem brewed by Charlie Papazian. He brought along a bomber of a Rauchbier that he had brewed using a new applewood smoked malt. I know Rauchbier can be “love it or hate it”, but this masterpiece was well balanced and delicious! I guess nobody should expect any less from the father of modern day home brewing – and a person that still brews regularly. “You can’t use an overly attenuative yeast – a smoked beer needs a solid malt backbone,” Charlie said.

It was a wonderful reunion for the beer gang, and a great meet & greet for my friends, Joycelyn and I. And a couple of us took the opportunity to have Charlie to sign our wort-stained homebrew books. Charlie did not hesitate to sign the “Complete Joy of Home Brewing” book that Chris Cross and I purchased in 1990 when we both started brewing up at Montana State. “Cody, relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew” he wrote! I’ve enclosed a good photo of Charlie doing the honors. I was somewhat surprised that the beer gang was taking more pictures than my friends and I. They were loving it too. (I’ve attached a great picture of Charlie, my wife Joycelyn, and I.)

At noon it was time for the gang to migrate to their second appointment. To my surprise they invited me to accompany them – an offer which I quickly accepted. The next stop was a private tour at the Golden City Brewery. Owner and brewers Charlie Sturdavant and Jeff Griffith gave us a private tour of their surprisingly large brewing facility in a garage-looking building behind their carriage house tasting room and beer garden. The 30 and 40 barrel Unitanks were imposing, and I was especially impressed by the old-school brick jacketed boiling kettle. Every corner of the machine shop was packed with brewing equipment, including their hot liquor tank and a horizontal lagering vessel elevated on steel I-beams high above the brewery entry. Just the way a snug craft brewery should be.

It is worth noting that when one travels with Charlie Papazian to any beer related outing, they are treated like royalty! We were very well catered to and received excellent treatment by the Golden City Brewery. Every question to Charlie Sturdavant and/or Jeff was answered in detail, and both of them dug into their private stockpile to provide us with samples of seasonal ales still in fermentation, experimental beers, and other gems in their stash. In addition to traditional beer, they also offered a couple of sour beers and two bottles of mead. Thanks guys!

It was tough to leave the GCB, but we had an appointment at Coors. Through a connection in the group, we were privileged to have a private tour of Coors’ pilot brewery by one of the brewers there. (The pilot is now also serving as the AC Golden Brewery.) Coors’ Golden facility is the world’s single largest brewery, and it was fascinating to tour their pilot brewery – a scaled down setup that sits above and overlooks the main, massive Coors brew house. With that said, we all promised we would not provide any other information about this visit. (Though no classified information was provided to us.) So I will leave it at that.

So in less than one day we toured the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd largest breweries in Golden, CO! And I had the opportunity to meet some true beer legends. It was really a wonderful and enjoyable group – each and every one of them. Marty, Lou, Charlie, Dave, Buddy, Dick and Matt. And it was a homebrewer and beer lover’s dream to meet Charlie Papazian. He is the person that started everything that we, as beer lovers, now take for granted. His 1984 book “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” has sold almost one million copies and started a home brewing revolution. A revolution that grew into the craft beer movement that flourishes today. When he authored the first edition of his book there were less than 70 breweries in the U.S., now there are over 1500. And as the founder of the Association of Brewers and the American Homebrewer’s Association, and the person that made home brewing simple, fun and good, we’ll all owe him a lot of gratitude. Thanks for everything Charlie, and it was a pleasure sharing a couple of beers with you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beer in Houston

I just returned from a business trip to Houston where I attended an IPv6 conference. I don’t know the town very well since I’ve only been there once before, but on that first trip I did manage to find some great beer culture in the Lone Star state. I had the pleasure of visiting the famous “Ginger Man” pub in Houston’s Rice Village near Rice University. It was one of Michael Jackson’s recommendations, and a couple of coworkers and I got the chance to check it out. It did not disappoint. It is a cozy pub with a beer selection much bigger than its humble structure. The Ginger Man was definitely worth another visit, but my schedule on this visit didn’t allow me to make it back.

Unfortunately I didn’t get back to the Ginger Man, but I did find another gem. I was staying in downtown Houston at the Magnolia Hotel, and right around the corner was a pub called the Flying Saucer. (On the corner of Capital and Main Street – more information can be found on their web site: http://www.beerknurd.com/stores/houston.) “Flying Saucer” doesn’t really scream beer, but a local claimed it was a must visit for beer lovers. So a few of us from the conference thought we’d check it out. The inside of the Flying Saucer has a very open, yet a quaint and comfortable pub feel adorned with lots of beer paraphernalia. There is also a small beer “garden” out front. Their hook appears to be a mix of a nice beer-centric atmosphere, cute waitresses wearing short skirts, about 100 great beers on tap, and even more classics in the bottle. So if you’re in to those sorts of things, you’ll probably like Houston’s Flying Saucer! In addition to great beers, they also have the best selection of meads, ciders and perry that I’ve ever seen. There is a little something for everyone and any taste.

We arrived at 6 pm during happy hour and the place was packed with an electric atmosphere. After unsuccessfully searching inside for a seat, we spotted a young man sitting alone outside who was nice enough to let the four of us invade his table. We all had several beers as well as dinner. (Basic pub food – I had a French dip served with Guinness au jus and pub fries) Four hours of drinking along with our meals only cost $130. So the prices are surprisingly reasonable too. At 7 pm they offered a special in which they were selling half liters of Schneider’s Edelweiss. In addition to the wonderful Hefeweizen it contained, you got to keep the custom Edelweiss Sahm Krug it was served in. Luckily TSA did not give me any grief in the airport getting this souvenir back home. It will make a nice addition to my Stein collection.

I have to say my favorite part of the Saucer’s offerings were their beer tasting flights. They offer German, Belgian, and Texas flights, as well as a “build your own.” They will pour any five of their tap beers for a custom sampling. Very nice! I worked up one of these custom flights for Tim (Pilsner Urquell, Fuller’s ESB, Franziskaner Hefeweizen, Paulaner Salvator, and an IPA - the name of which I forget), and I had, among other beers, the Texas flight. I knew this before, but it was nice to reaffirm that Texans know how to brew beer! I was pleased by all five offerings, but I was particularly impressed with Live Oak Brewing Company’s Hefeweizen. (Austin, TX) A very good U.S. representation of the Bavarian specialty.

So if you are ever in Houston I recommend a visit to the Saucer. They have 13 other locations, all of which are in the south. (Maybe why I had never heard of them.) I can’t vouch for all of them, but if they are anything like the one in Houston, they are worth a visit. And don’t forget the Ginger Man too. Michael Jackson’s recommendations never disappoint. (You can find more information about the Ginger Man at http://houston.gingermanpub.com.) Houston may not be known for its beer, but I’ve never had a problem finding great beer culture down there. Do you have any other suggestions for that area? If so please add a comment. Hopefully I’ll make it down there again some time soon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breakfast Beer

It is not often that I wake up and head straight for a beer, but MSU homecoming is one of those select times of the year.
I just returned from a frigid trip to Montana. MSU homecoming took place last weekend, an event I’ve only missed once since graduating in ’91. I flew into Billing on Thursday night to spend some time with my family, and on Friday my father and I hit the road to Bozeman.
Homecoming weekend is always a health shocker. Bad food, no sleep, and great beer lead to a rough couple of days. My Fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha (Pikes), always puts on a full schedule of events over the weekend to keep everyone busy. Numerous brothers return from across the country and the furthest reaches of Montana, which leads to a great reunion weekend. The problem is that after a long Friday night reminiscing about the “good old days” over several beers and the occasional single malt, and getting back to the hotel at 2 am, it can be challenging to wake up at 8 am on Saturday to socialize before the morning parade. But I always seem to find a way to persevere.
I am not a fan of red beers, nor do I drink coffee or the caffeine/energy drinks that are so popular nowadays, so finding the proper breakfast beer is key to starting off a long day. In my opinion, the best breakfast beer in the world is an authentic German Hefeweizen. It is what the Bavarians drink in the morning, and for good reason. The unfiltered beer contains vitamin B rich yeast, which are great for one’s health, complexion, and spirit. And the Flüssiges Brot makes a great wheat substitute for my normal breakfast toast. In the absence of an authentic Hefeweizen, my second choice to kick off the day is a nice Guinness draft. Guinness is a low alcohol, low calorie drink and another great option to ease one’s way into the morning.
Well, good Hefeweizens are hard to find in our normal Saturday morning haunts, so in the years past I have started the day off with my second favorite breakfast beer, draft Guinness, at the Rocking R Bar. But the R-Bar, and a number of other surrounding buildings, were destroyed in a gas main explosion last March. (Very tragically Tara Reistad Bowman lost her life that morning as she arrived for work at the Montana Trails Gallery.) This explosion was felt around Montana, and it especially rattled the tight community of Bozeman. There is still a big hole in the ground where buildings once stood in the historic district of downtown Bozeman.
So this year, in the absence of a German Hefeweizen or Guinness, I chose a local stout for breakfast – Big Sky Brewing Co.’s Slow Elk Oatmeal Stout. Oatmeal sounds suitable for breakfast, right? Like Guinness, Slow Elk is a stout, but packs much more of a punch than its Irish counterpart. But nonetheless a great way to start off the day. (“Slow Elk” is a Montana hunting term for a cow… Don’t ask.) So a couple of these helped me take the edge off. (Unfortunately, no sooner was I taking it off than I started adding it back on.) The parade lasted about an hour, and after its conclusion, we packed up and headed to the football stadium parking lot for the Pike tailgate, which including more food and beverages. I brought an ice filled cooler of Slow Elk along with some of Bayern Brewing’s (Missoula) Oktoberfest. (When in Montana I always pick up a couple six packs of local beer.) Bayern’s Oktoberfest is a great autumn seasonal, albeit fairly dark and a touch too rich for the style. It does boast a huge Munich-malty backbone. I would place it squarely in the German Dunkles category. Aber macht nichts, it is nevertheless a great beer. And it is nice to see wonderful dark lagers being made in Montana. Their head brewer, Jürgen Knöller, has his master brewer’s diploma from Weihenstephan, and it shows in the quality of Bayern’s beers.

Now I know some beer enthusiasts claim that great microbrews are not intended to be iced down in a cooler. But on this day, my needs were a little bit different than normal. The low in Bozeman was predicted to be -4 deg F. (A hard, early October frost – even by Montana standards!) I needed some ice in the cooler to insulate the beer and keep it from freezing! The temperature did creep up in to the teens for the game, but drinking gloves were still required through out the day. Scott Countryman (coming down from Whitefish) always thinks ahead and had a propane heated 2x4 and tarp shelter for everyone to congregate under at the tailgate. So the tailgate was comfortable, but the frozen seats in Bobcat Stadium were not quite as nice. Anyway, it was still a great excuse to break out my lined Carhartts and the rest of my winter clothes. All in all it was another wonderful Homecoming weekend, spent with great friends and great drink – all kicked off by a new, local breakfast beer!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Results

There are a couple of items I’d like to update you on before I head to Bozeman this weekend for MSU homecoming. First, as you know, the Great American Beer Festival has already come and gone. The week before the GABF was “Denver Beer Week,” which offered beer enthusiasts numerous events to get them fired up for the big finally. One of those events was a tapping of the GABF Pro-Am beer that I brewed with the Wynkoop – a Dunkles or dark German lager. (See my June 29th entry titled “GABF Pro-AM With The Wynkoop.”) My wife and I returned from Europe on Monday, September 21st, and the next day after finishing up at work I tiredly made my way down to the Wynkoop to “tap” the Dunlkes with brewmaster Andy Brown. It was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday night, but the beer week activities and lure of a free pint didn’t hurt I’m sure. The tapping went well, and the Dunkles has been a big hit ever since. It is clean, rich and smooth with a nice, albeit barely perceptible, noble hop backbone. Our beer did not place at the GABF Pro-Am, but I am not all disappointed. People seem to love it! And it was a complete thrill just to be involved in this homebrewer’s dream, and it is truly an honor to have one of your beers served at the GABF, and to be on tap at the Koop. Last Friday there were still some of the 600 gallons left, so if you’re in the area stop by, try it out, and let me know what you think!

Second, I’d like to give you an update on the Rochefortesque beer I brewed back in April. (See my April 23rd entry titled “Rochefort Question.”) This beer turned out very well. It is a rich red color with a sturdy head. The nose is effervescent with notes of rich malt, dark fruit, and some alcohol. (It finished at 9.03% abv.) The flavor builds on the aroma with more of the above along with flavors of Munich & caramel malts and hints of caramelized dark candy sugar. The Nachtrunk is long and warming with more dried fruit character. After enjoying this beer for a couple of weeks I decided to ruin it by comparing it to a Rochefort 10. (I hate doing this because I always end up disappointed.) My beer actually stood up pretty well to Rochefort in flavor, but I noted that the Belgian classic had a better nose and finish than my beer. The 10 is an almost perfect beer for its style, and I’m just not sure how to copy something like that. It was also a touch darker and more highly carbonated than my prototype – a couple of items that I’ll touch up in the future. It is definitely a beer I will brew again. Next time I plan to slightly increase the Special B to contribute a bit more color and strengthen the malty-fruity complexity. I may even try a bit of the coriander that I was asking you all about back in April. With all of that said, this beer did take 1st place in its category at the Eastern Idaho State Fair – a BJCP certified event that happened to be conveniently timed. (BJCP category 18E) To tie this blog entry together, I’d like to take this BJCP award winning beer and do another GABF Pro-Am again next year. Hopefully the Wynkoop will be open to another Pro-Am in 2010!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kloster Mülln Pilgrimage

Salzburg is one of Europe's most beautiful cities, and always one of our favorite travel destinations. And I never visit Salzburg with out a trip to Augustiner Bräu at Kloster Mülln. This monestary is the location of Austria's largest Biergarten and beer hall, and whether you are inside or outside in the shade under the chestnut trees, it is one of Europe's greatest beer drinking experiences. Located just west of the pedestrian area of the old town, one can get there via a narrow walkway around the steep cliffs (approx. 15 minutes), or, if you visit the Festung high above the town, you can stroll down through the Mönchberg park to the entrence (approx. 30 minutes).

Kloster Mülln is a very traditional beer hall. It is exclusively self service - so patrons select a half liter or full Maß (no glass, only Stein) from the rack, give it a thorough cleaning at the cold water rinse station, pay the attendant, and finally get their beer. There is only one type of beer served - a Märzenbier. And it is still brewed by the monks, and it is still served in front of you out of weathered wooden kegs. Truly a treat, and truly a great, world-class beer.

I've only visited Salzburg in the summer, so I usually sit outside in the Biergarten, but this year it was dreary and rainy, so everyone was inside in one of the two main halls, which are masterpieces. I sat in the the Stockhammersaal (hall), which was the inspiration for the design for my basement. The color scheme, dark wood paneling, bench, table, wall painting, Steinkrug on the wall, etc. were all ideas inspired by this room. But I must admit, my basement is not even worthy of a 1000:1 replica of this magnificent beer hall. But I have to work with what I've got.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Hirschgarten

Greetings from the world's largest Biergarten - the Hirschgarten! I'll have to update this latter, because I don't have the stats with me, but I believe the grounds seat around 8,000 beer lovers. Augustiner is the favorite beer of people from Munich - and here they serve it directly from the Holzfaß. (wood barrel) In the 1800's this park served as a place where deer (Hirsch) were raised to be released for the royalty to hunt. It is near the Nymphenburg castle, part time home of the Wittelsbach, and at the time in the countryside - outside of the city of Munich. Now this park is part of Munich proper, and the deer need not be too worried - they are fenced off to amuse the children while their parents drink Maß after Maß of Augustiner Bier.

We concluded our day here after hiking all morning and afternoon through the Bavarian Alps. Elfi and Stefan took us up to the Rotwand (near Spitzingsee) for a wonderful hike with spectacular scenery that was somewhat subdued, or possibly enhanced, by the thick fog. After two hours of hiking through land that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, we popped into an Alm with a large Gaststätte packed full hikers drinking beer and enjoying a lunch of bacon dumpling soup. That is one of the things I love about Germany, no matter where you go, and no matter how remote, you can always find a good meal and a great beer!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Biking Through Munich

We have spent the last weekend in Munich enjoying time with our German friends Elfi and Stefan, and their son Stefan. They were nice enough to arrange for a couple of bicycles for Joycelyn and I, and on Friday afternoon they led us on a 30km tour of Munich and the Isar river. We rode from their house near the Rotkreutzplatz across town and down the river to the Waldwirtschaft Biergarten in Großhesselohe. Elfi and Stefan were married in one of the banquet halls here, so it holds a special place in their heart. It is a beautiful setting nestled on the west bank of the Isar up above the river. We had a couple beers there and ate a small lunch. I think most Americans expect great beer from Bavarian Biergartens, but what many don't realize is that the food is also consistently excellent. The proprietors take great pride in serving the freshest beer, and serving high quality, traditional dishes. Our lunch was excellent. The Waldwirtschaft is usually packed with a jazz band playing in the center, but this day the crowds were kept down due to the cloudy weather and a brief rain shower. Our timing was perfect since we were under an awning enjoying our second beer during the shower.

On the way back to the Rotkreutzplatz, we saw several floats drifting down the Isar. I've included a picture so you can get a feel for what they look like. They are flat log rafts (that are broken down for their truck ride back up the river) with a couple of guides, Blasmusik (um pa pa bands) and of course plenty of beer on board. Everyone appeared to be having a great time - and it is something I'd like to come back and do some day.

The Isar flows chalky-white through Munich north toward the Danube river. It was interesting to get up and close to one of the beer world's most famous rivers! Its highly carbonate water is perfectly suited for brewing the dark, malty and clean lagers that Munich is famous for. I think this water is one of the secret ingredients that makes it impossible to brew copies of Munich's wonderful beers in other parts of the world. There are many great Dunkles and Bock beers brewed in America, but none quite match the originals.

Munich is a very bicycle friendly city, and it is easy to find stores that rent them. So if you get the chance, get off the beaten path of the old town and ride around a little. And I recommend the trip south down to the Waldwirtschaft Biergarten in Großhesselohe - down the peaceful Isar bicycle route. And we have to give a big thanks to Elfi and Stefan for being such great hosts and showing some new parts of Munich.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Au Brasseur - Strasbourg France

I have crossed into enemy territory. That's right, yesterday, for the first time ever, I crossed the German border and went into France. Albeit Alsace, "the least French of French regions," according to my guide book. This is a beautiful territory to the west of the Rhine river across the valley from the Schwarzwald - the Black Forest. Joycelyn and I will spend the next couple of days touring Alsace, but we started in Strasbourg. Strasbourg is one of the three capitals of the European Union. Don't bother going to the EU section of town, stick to the Old Town area. Old Town is an island formed by a fork in the Ill river, and is a quaint area dominated by the old Cathedral, and with numerous half timbered houses (Fachwerk), canals, locks and bridges.

Alsace is know for its wine, but I was able to find one micro (artisan) brewery in town - the Au Brasseur. It is located at 22 Rue des Veaux, about three blocks west of the Cathedral in a quiet, fairly non-touristy section of Old Town. They offered four beers of their own; La Blonde, Ambree, La Brune, and La Blanche. First I tried the Blanche. I was not sure what to expect with this wheat beer, but after the first taste I could tell it was of the Wit style. It was pale, cloudy and very tart with some definite sourness. A very good representation of the style. My second beer was the Brune. This beer was made with a touch of chocolate malt, and was a clear dark amber, fairly clean tasting, but also with a very slight tartness. I'm not sure if the two beers shared a common yeast strain or not.

School doesn't get much older than the brew house. It was in a very small sunken area surrounded by the bar. Crammed in that area was a well used two vessel system. The pumps looked ancient, but the tuns were well kept. I'm not sure how old it was, but it did not look modern by any means. The mash and lauter tuns were fairly small, probably a 10 barrel system. Malt rakes and shovels hung behind the bartender. They also employed what looks to be an open fermentation system. I did not research the history of this brewery, and our bartender did not speak much English, so I can't give much for details. I've inserted a couple of pictures for you.

The place reminded me of some Belgian brown pubs I've visited, though with less flair when it came to their beer presentation. (For example, naming their beers simply Blonde, Ambree, Brune and Blanche.) But a very nice, though tight, atmosphere. They served pitchers of beer, which I don't ever recall seeing in Europe. And lots of them. The Au Brasseur was definitely popular with the locals. The ancient cellar downstair was converted into a tight beer hall, with numerous picnic tables, and a stage for jazz and blues bands at the far end. We had just arrived from America, and were pretty tired, so we retired to our room instead of staying for the music, but it felt like the atmosphere would be buzzing in a couple of hours.

If you get a chance to visit Strasbourg, I recommend hitting the Au Brasseur. And if you do please let me know what you think of the music and their Blonde and Ambree that I did not get a chance to try.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Great American Beer Festival

This is just a quick post to remind you all that GABF tickets are on sale and going fast.    The Friday night and Saturday member's only sessions are already sold out.  You can still get tickets for the Thursday and Saturday night sessions - but hurry because those will soon be gone too!   You can get more information at http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/.  BTW, I will be attending on Thursday evening.

Also, I will be leaving for Europe next Thursday.  Joycelyn and I will be visiting France (Alsace region), Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  I'll try to get some posts in during my vacation.  The day after I return I go straight to the Wynkoop for a tapping ceremony for the Pro-Am German Dunkles lager that we brewed last June.  If you are in the area, please come by for the tapping - Tuesday, September 22nd at 5 pm MT.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Colorado Rockies Baseball

In years past when I ask people if they want to go to a Rockies ballgame it was not uncommon for me to hear, “their not doing well, and I don’t like the management, so I don’t want to go to the game.” I always reply to such statements with, “baseball is not a sport, it is a pastime. It isn’t about the team or the game as much as it is about getting out to the park, with the grass, the field, the evergreens beyond centerfield, and about having a beer in such a beautiful setting."

And of course nowadays it even easier to round people up for a game since the Rockies are in playoff contention. So last Thursday I gathered a group of co-workers and we headed downtown to watch the home team take on the Pittsburgh Pirates

One thing I love about Coors Field is that it has a brewery in the stadium. If you get a chance to go to a home Rockies game, head out to the right field area of the main concourse level and you’ll find the Blue Moon Brewing Company. This brewery used to be called the Sandlot, but Coors, who owns the brewery, decided to change the name a couple of years ago. (Though you can still see a “Sandlot” sign inside the brewery.) It is my understanding that Coors uses this brewery to pilot new beers for the Blue Moon brand.

Think what you want about Coors, but the team at the Sandlot can brew. I find all of their beers to be excellent, and their Hefeweizen is the best Weißbier I’ve had on this side of the Atlantic. I love big clove flavored, phenolic Hefeweizens like Munich’s Franziskaner, and most American wheat beers, though good, lean more to the banana ester side of the flavor spectrum. The Sandlot’s offering is a terrific example of a big, clovey Hefeweizen. It is my favorite in the States, but it can be hard to find. They don’t carry it regularly, and when I was in last Thursday, the bartender said they have been out of it for the past two weeks. So it can be hit or miss. A couple of years ago they even had a Weizenbock that was basically a scaled up version of the original. It was a strong, yet pale, example with a huge, complex Weißbier aroma and flavor. The Sandlot used to call their Hefeweizen “Wild Pitch Wheat,” though I think that moniker was dropped long ago. So now you have to ask for their “banana and clove flavor German style wheat beer” to avoid being served a Blue Moon Belgian White with an orange slice in it. If you’re lucky, they’ll have their Hefeweizen gem on tap when you visit.

I do have a few knocks about the brewery. At times it doesn’t seem like their heart is really into craft beer. They seldom advertise or promote their beer, and the only way to get one is if you have a ticket to the game. The brewery has always been closed in the winter, but in the mid 90’s when Coors Field opened, people could go to the Sandlot and eat & drink when the Rockies were out of town. Now the front door is bolted shut, and the only entrance is from inside the park. In addition, some of the bartenders don’t seem to know much about their own beers, nor do they seem to take in interest in their specialties when you have questions or want to talk. They are busy making mixed drinks and passing out Coors products to the people inside that are not taking advantage of fresh beer brewed on premise. But I try to put these issues aside, and take it for what it is – one of the best breweries in the city in one of the best ballparks in the country.

When I was there on Thursday they had four craft beers on tap – their flagship Belgian White, a Stout, a Red Ale, and a delicious German Dunkles. I stuck to the crisp and malty Dunkles during the hot afternoon game. It was truly a delight to walk around the beautiful park and take in the sights and sounds while drinking a beer that was brewed right there in the stadium. If you ever get a chance to visit Denver in the summer, make sure and take in a Rockies game and visit the Sandlot – now called the Blue Moon Brewing Company. And by the way, the Rockies beat the Pirates 10-1, but that isn’t what the afternoon was about.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

GABF Pro-AM With The Wynkoop

I recently had the distinct privilege to brew one of my homebrew recipes at the Wynkoop for this year's Great American Brewer's Festival (GABF) Pro-Am competition. The GABF is the world's largest beer festival and takes place every fall in Denver, CO - this year between September 24-26th. (http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/) A couple of years ago the GABF added a new "Pro-Am" competition. This competition allows homebrewers to partner with a craft brewery to scale up one of their BJCP certified competition award-winning beers. Last year one of my German lagers won an award at the American Homebrewer's Association's (AHA) national competition. I had talked to the Wynkoop about partnering for the Pro-Am for several months, and we finally received the entry information from the Association of Brewers, applied, and got to work. In most cases the Pro-Am brewery simply brews the recipe for the competition, but the Wynkoop was nice enough to let me come in for the day and help.

(Note, working with the Koop on the Pro-Am has nothing to do with being Beerdrinker of the Year. This is something any award-winning homebrewer has to opportunity to do with a willing brewery.)

The beer we brewed was a Dunkles - a dark German lager. We used my recipe from the AHA National competition entry. The Pro-Am rules allow for reasonable recipe modifications to accommodate the brewery's limitations, raw materials, processes, etc. A couple of months ago I provided Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown with my recipe sheet and brewing notes to review. A week before brew day we met to discuss the details of the process, and to make modifications. For example, my homebrew was decoction mashed and the Wynkoop is not able to perform this type of mash regiment, so we needed to modify the mash schedule to approximate the original. We also needed to scale the recipe up, recalculate hop quantities given the alpha acid content of the Wynkoop hops, scale the amount of water treating salts that needed to be added, etc. Andy had to order some additional malts for the brew, and we were pretty much set. It was quite an experience getting to sit down with Andy, and award winning brewer, to (re)design this beer for a commercial system.

The brew day itself was very educational. The Wynkoop has a 20 barrel system. So instead of brewing six gallons like I do at home, we brewed 620 gallons - basically 100 times bigger! Many aspects of the process were not too different than homebrewing. Making beer is still making beer. But the scale and the equipment was all new to me. It was great learning the process on a large scale - things like using pumps to move liquid around instead of siphons, stirring 600 gallons of mash, cleaning 20 barrel vessels, shoveling and hauling spent grains (to a trailer out back for a local farmer), and doing everything in a steamy hot 90 degree brew house. What a truly unique experience!

As I type the primary fermentation has been completed, and the beer is aging (lagering) in the cellar below the brew house. We have plenty of time to let this one mature to perfection before the GABF in late September. The beer will be on tap at the Wynkoop and you can also sample it if you attend the GABF in the Pro-Am section. I can't wait to see how it turns out and see how it compares to my original. Hopefully it is ever better!

I want to extend a big thanks to the Wynkoop and to Andy Brown for giving me the opportunity to do the GABF Pro-Am with them, and for allowing me to help brew it. It was a terrific experience working with Andy to brew the Dunkles in the brewery that has been my home pub since 1991. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Golden City Brewery

Golden Colorado boasts a number of gems, but one of my favorites is the Golden City Brewery.  (920 12th Street)  The brewery is located in a residential area of Golden, just a couple of blocks off Washington street - the main street in town.  Beer is brewed in the machine shop behind the owner’s home.  Their carriage house has become a small tasting room, and their back yard is the beer garden.   I’ve been going there for about nine years, and the popularity of the place has increased as the trees in the beer garden have matured.  It is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, or relax after a day’s work.  Since it is in a residential neighborhood, they stop selling beer promptly at 6:30 pm, and patrons are encouraged to leave by 7:00 pm.   If you’re lucky, one of the taproom tenders will sing a couple of songs in the garden as everyone finishes their last round.  My friend Matt Rubin captured one such occasion on his cell phone camera.  This night it was a song called “Mary Mac.”

Golden City Brewery touts itself as “the second largest brewery in Golden.”  I heard they once claimed to be the largest brewery in Golden since Coors is not inside the city limits, but I can’t verify that claim.  (please comment if you have any information on this)  Legend has it that Coors forced them to drop the claim, which led to their current marketing line.  Anyway, next time you're in Golden stop by for a copule pints and a relaxing atmosphere.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Colorado Brewer's Festival

This is just a quick note after returning from the 20th annual Colorado Brewer's Festival (CBF) in Fort Collins. Every year a group of friends and I make the one hour journey north from Denver to the CBF. I have not missed one since 1992. It is always a great time with good food, fun bands, interesting people watching, and of course great Colorado beer! The organizers marketed this year's event with "Brewfest XX" posters that resembled Dos Equis labels. Despite the symbolism, only Colorado beers are allowed. There were over 50 beers on tap split between three serving tent areas at the end of what is basically a large cross (Linden and Walnut Streets) in the blocked-off old town Fort Collins. The remaining end of the cross is the center of old town where local bands perform through out the day.

Each year the crowd seems to grow, and this year was no exception. The CBF takes place on the Saturday and Sunday of the last full weekend of June each year from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Already at noon long lines had formed to enter the event. (ID check and token purchase) Beer lines are pretty reasonable until the final two hours where they can grow to 15 minutes or so. It has helped that the event doubled tent space by using both sides of the beer cooling semis, and they no longer allow half pours, but with more and more people attending each year, it can still get crowded. A couple years ago the CBF started allowing breweries to offer two beers (previously just one was allowed), and most breweries now do offer two. Most serve a summer beer as their primary (Pils, Weissbier, Golden Ale, etc.), but the second offering allows them to offer a flagship, or something unique and/or darker.
The CBF is definitely a daytime event, but we always book a couple rooms and make a day out of it. The streets of downtown Fort Collins are always alive on this weekend, and there are plenty of bars to chill at after a long hot day, and plenty of dance clubs to visit if that is what one likes. After the bars close, and before the one mile walk back to our hotel, we usually hit the Gyros vendor on the corner of Mountain and College for a snack to enjoy on the much needed walk.

If you live in Colorado, I'd say visiting the CBF is a must! If you live out of the state I'd recommend a late June visit to take it in. It is a well organized event, and always a great time!
I've included just a couple of pictures. One is of Les and his custom Montana made "Stetson" Miller Lite cowboy hat. Next year he says he'll bring a stack of them to sell to the 50 or so people that wanted to buy one off of him!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You've Gotta Drink This

For those of you that are American Homebrewer's Association (AHA) members and read Zymurgy, you are aware of their "You've Gotta Drink This" section. (If you are not an AHA member, consider joining. Even if you are not a home brewer, membership has great benefits like the pub discount program. You can get more information at http://www.beertown.org/homebrewing/membership.html) There is a beer that I have fallen in love with called Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer, so I submitted the entry below to Jill Redding, editor in chief of Zymurgy. I'm not sure if/when Jill will post my entry, but I thought I would share this will you all. Below is my submission.

Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker (Mechelen Belgium)
Beer: Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer
Style: Belgian Strong Ale

This beer is a must try, especially for Rochefort 8/10 fans. Its color is dark amber, and it pours with a sticky, long-lasting, off-white head. The aroma is huge and dominated by rich dried fruit flavors from the malt and the yeast. It is definitely a "Belgian" nose, though not phenolic or banana-ish like some Belgian yeast strains. Probably the most effervescent aroma I've experience in a non-hop accentuated beer. The flavor coincides with the aroma and is malty sweet with dark fruit undertones. There is no perceptible hop flavor or aroma. Aggressive carbonation keeps the beer from becoming too sticky in the mouth. Its finish is long and warming with more fruit and malt. Overall this beer offers a wonderful balance of yeast, malt and alcohol, and it is a must try for fans of Belgian Dubbels and darker Belgian Strong Ales!

Side notes: On the beer shelf the bottle wasn't something that jumped out at me. But there was a small marketing sign below it stating "99 Ratebeer.com". I'm usually not swayed by this sort of thing, but I thought I'd give it a shot. I was blown away! Also, this beer is brewed once per year on February 24th. (Charles the Fifth's birthday) And different vintages are slightly different. The 2007 was 10%, and the 2008 was 11%. Despite the alcohol variation, the flavor is very similar. I doubt they are trying to make a different beer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Montana - The Fatherland

I just returned from my annual spring trip to Montana. There are a of couple things you may or may not know about Montana. First, it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth. Second, Montana ranks second in the country in breweries per capita.

Montana is God’s country. I always return to the Fatherland in April or May to visit family and to do some work on my property on the Yellowstone river. Upon my arrival, just like springs past, I was greeted by a western meadowlark (the state bird) perched on the top of a post marking the entrance to my property. He was singing the standard meadowlark song. It is a soothing melody that is slightly different from the meadowlarks down here in Colorado. They love the wide-open fields and must nest around the area this time of year. And as my father and I drove closer to the river, we spotted a large, mature bald eagle circling above the Yellowstone. It was certainly looking for a trout to snack on. We never saw it catch anything, and it eventually landed in a large cottonwood on the bank and watched my dad and I plant a couple new trees.

There is always lot of entertaining wildlife around Walhalla. (The name of my property) In addition to the eagle and meadowlark, we also saw several hawks, pelicans (relatively new to the area), blue herons that nest in the island across from me, cranes, wild turkeys, and a herd of mule deer. (the deer do their best to kill the trees I plant) After a hard day’s work and just before the sun went down, dad and I grilled up two nice New York strip steaks and enjoyed a couple of Paulaners and a mixer of Big Sky Brewing Co. (Missoula) beers. I can’t think of a better way to watch a Montana sunset. We later settled in around a fire and had a few more cool ones and some single malt Scotch whisky before camping out over night. It is tough to put in words, but it doesn’t get much better than that – sharing some time with your father with some of the world’s best beers in such a beautiful setting. Just catching up and watching the river flow by.

After three days of work at Walhalla, I finally made it into Billings for a Saturday afternoon/night out. I mentioned that Montana ranks second in the country for breweries per capita. The state has 27 breweries, or one for every 35,800 people, which is pretty impressive. The only problem I can think of is that it would be difficult for an enthusiast to visit them all without quit a bit of time. (though I recommend it if you have time) It is a state the size of the unified Germany, but with 1/80th the population. So it is a sparsely populated state, but quite large. For example, if you wanted to visit the Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, and then hit the Lang Creek Brewery in Marion, you’d have to drive 730 miles.

Anyway, back to my Saturday. My first stop was at Carter’s Brewing on Montana Avenue. Montana law has a provision that allows for brewery taprooms – and Carter’s has one. (you’ll find them at almost every brewery) These rooms at the brewery are allowed to operate without an expensive Montana liquor license, but there are limitations. The taprooms have limited hours (they must close by 8 pm), they cannot sell other spirits, and there is a three pint limit. But they still offer a great way to enjoy some craft beers in the building they were brewed.

Mike at Carter’s does an excellent job, both brewing, and serving his beers in his taproom after a hard day’s work. It is a small brewery, but the patrons have the privilege of speaking to the person that brewed the beer they are enjoying. And to ask questions if they have them. It is a great way to educate people about one’s product. Mike had 12 beers on tap, which is quite impressive for such a small operation. I won’t list them all, but I’ve included a picture of his offerings. As you can see he proudly displays the IBU and alcohol content of his beers. It is always a treat when brewers do this. Carter’s has all of the staples, but they are becoming known for their specialty Belgian beers. Mike does a lot of experimenting with wood and various wild yeast and bacteria. So if you like wood and funk with your beer, head to Carter’s. His Abbey Ale was delicious, and he also occasionally bottles a 750ml Saison that is a real treat. One final note about Carter’s, he is one few brewers to consistently offer a Mild. It is a great beer, albeit ramped up a bit to suit the American palate when compared to its counterparts across the pond. I only have one complaint - I wish he’d server the Magic City Mild out of his beer engine!

After reaching my three pint limit, I moved next door to the Railyard Alehouse. The Railyard is owned and run my by parents and my nephew. (see the picture of my nephew, Delton Clark) The Railyard is the spot in Billings for live music and events. It is where you can often find great bands like Zen. To compliment their functions, they have over 20 great beers on tap. They have a handful of imports like Guinness and Boddingtons, but they specialize in Montana beers. If you want a great sample of local favorites, without having to drive 730 miles, visit the Railyard. They obviously offer some of Carter’s beers from next door, and they usually carry some specialties from Bayern (Missoula), Harvest Moon (Belt), Bozone (Bozeman), Big Sky (Missoula), etc. You’ll have to visit the Railyard for yourself and see what they have on tap. (2526 Montana Ave)

I will write more about Montana later – probably after my next trip the Big Sky state in August. Until then, here is a list of the breweries in Montana. Just in time for your summer vacation. (Yellowstone Park, Bozeman, Billings, and some beer anyone?)

Monday, May 11, 2009

American Craft Beer Week

This entry is a quick reminder that this week (May 11-17th) is American Craft Beer Week - a national celebration of craft beer and the great beer culture we have here in America.  A number of breweries will be hosting special tastings, tours, meet-the-brewmaster events, and tapping specialty beers.

I plan on celebrating this week with the following schedule:

Wednesday: I've volunteered to bring beer this week for our softball team.  So after the game Team Fletch will be drinking Montana Mixer beers from Big Sky Brewing out of the bottle instead of PBR out of the can.

Thursday: Along with some friends, I will be visiting the Golden City Brewery for some late afternoon pints in the beer garden.  The Golden City Brewery is the "second largest brewery in Golden."  The largest brewery in Golden is, of course, Coors (in the world for that matter), and the third largest brewery in Golden is in my basement.

Friday: Where else, the Wynkoop!

More information about Craft Beer Week can be found at http://americancraftbeerweek.org. Don't forget to support your local breweries... and have fun!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Snowcave Camping

Last weekend some friends and I were finally able to make it up into the mountains for our annual snowcave camping trip. The area where we camp is at 10,200’ in elevation outside of Ward, CO. This area gets a good amount of snow and lots of wind that creates large drifts. We dig down, in, and up into these drifts to build our caves. A storm on the previous weekend, our original trip date, dumped over three feet of new snow in that area. Luckily we postponed the trip, because we would have never made it close to our usual camp location.

Constructing a good cave takes a lot of hard work. After several hours we are all soaked inside (from sweat) and out (from digging & moving snow and from the elements).

But a properly constructed cave is very cozy and warm. We’ve been doing this since the early 90’s, so at this point we are pretty good at the process. And the hard work is well worth the effort, because after we are done we get to crack open a few beers. They are well earned, and taste better because of the sense of accomplishment. Luckily our camp spot is only a quarter of a mile from our vehicles, so we don’t have to skimp on gear, supplies, or beer. After arriving and before digging, we take care of our bottles. The snow makes for a good cooler. Sticking the bottles in the snow keeps them from getting too warm on sunny spring days, and too cold in sub freezing temperatures. And a light cover will keep the bottles from getting light struck and skunked. That was not a problem last Saturday since we had cloud cover and flurries most of the day.

Big, strong beers are the norm at this outing for our group. (though Charlie did bring a cold pack of Session Lager one year) I like to organize what I call the “Doppelbock challenge.” We’ll bring up four different types of Doppelbock and all sample them and compare notes. It is a great way to warm up before dinner. This year’s victims were Paulaner Salvator, Spaten Optimator, Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock, and Sam Adams Imperial Double Bock. All are wonderful beers and highly recommended. You can pick your favorite after trying them all for yourself. And after dinner we compared and contrasted two different sounding, yet similar beers: Thomas Hardy’s Ale (and old ale) and Flying Dog’s Horn Dog (a barley wine). I have always loved Thomas Hardy’s, but it is very expensive. Horn Dog is not cheap either, but a touch more reasonable, and I feel it is an excellent American made alternative for Thomas Hardy’s lovers. The two ales taste very similar, but we all agreed that Thomas Hardy’s was a touch more complex, a little sweeter, and with more dried fruit character. They were both excellent, and as the Horn Dog ages, it too may develop similar flavors. It is hard to beat either of these beers if you can get your hands on them!

A couple of final notes. I love my plastic camping “Pilsner” beer glass that I bought from REI. (see photo) The base unscrews and snaps on the top for easy packing. It is very light and extremely durable. In addition, I can store my Whisky glass inside the beer glass to keep it safe while in my pack. I have to drink my Laphroaig 10 year out of a real glass, not plastic or titanium. For this purpose, I simply use a 5 oz “taster” glass that many brewpubs use. It is glass, but more sturdy than the Riedel crystal Whiskey glass that I use at home. And the camping glass protects it. Another accessory I recommend is the “Jammit Personal Outdoor Table.” (http://www.mtmcase-gard.com/products/camping/camp.html) These things crack me up.

The Jammit makes a great table, and if you are ever attacked by a bear, you can pull it out of the ground and use the business end to fend off the beast. They are so dangerous they should come packaged with a set of lawn darts. So if you buy one make sure to be careful after your own Doppelbock challenge!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rochefort Question

One of my favorite breweries is the Brasserie de Rochefort located in the Abbey of Notre Dame de Saint-Remy. It is one of seven Trappist breweries. (The other six being Chimay, Orval, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achel, and Koningshoeven, a Dutch brewery and the only of the seven that is not in Belgium.) Rochefort brews three beers, Rochefort 6, 8 and 10. These beers can be difficult to find, if you can find them at all. And I have only seen Rochefort 8 and 10 in the US. Rochefort 8 (9.2% ABV) is my favorite, though I also love Rochefort 10 (11.3% ABV). I simply find 8 a touch easier to drink. All three are said to be brewed from an identical mash, just with varying amounts of candy sugar added to the boil in order to increase the initial gravity. If you have never tried them, I highly recommend it. Both the 8 and 10 are sweetish, viscous, dark beers. (rich brown in color) They are very complex ales with a very effervescent, fruity nose. The dark fruit aroma comes from a combination of the yeast, as well as rich flavors from the malt and caramelized candy sugar. The flavor closely follows the aroma, and the nachtrunk is long, rich and smooth. The Rochefort yeast is very fruity, but unlike other Trappist beers such as Achel and Chimay, it is not quite as phenolic and bananay. All are wonderful beers, but I find Rochefort to have a very bold and pleasing yeast profile with out the bite of some other Belgian ales. In addition, their beers are not nearly as dry as many Belgian ales.

So please help me out with my question. (bare with me) Last weekend was set aside for snow cave camping, but we were snowed out. Three feet of fresh snow kept us from even attempting our trip. (postponed until this weekend) Since I suddenly had a free weekend, I decided to brew a batch of beer on Sunday. I chose to brew a Rochefort/Dubbel style of beer. I normally plan and research for a couple weeks before brewing a new style of beer, but given time constraints, I designed this beer in a couple hours. (see recipe below)

One thing really surprised me when researching Rochefort beers. Many of the clone recipes I found included coriander. I have consumed numerous Rocheforts over the years, and I have never detected coriander. Nor do I remember any dark Belgian beers being spiced. So I opened a 10, and sure enough, the power of suggestion took over. If I thought about it hard enough, I could detect some coriander. (Which smells like orange) But there are a lot of fruity aromas and flavors going on with Rochefort. So my question is, does anyone know definitively if Rochefort beers contain coriander or not? Some sources I found swear the spice is added, while others emphatically swear it is not. My guess would be that, even if one can imagine an orange aroma and flavor, that the beer does not contain coriander. My suspicion is that the aroma and flavors are byproducts of fruity yeast and a complex, high-gravity wort. Fueling the differing accounts, and I’m sure complicating matters, these monks don’t necessarily like to talk much, and especially when it comes to brewing secrets. So if anyone knows the answer, or even has an opinion, please add a comment.

For those interested in the beer I brewed on Sunday, below are the details.

O.G.: 1.082
Batch size: 6.25 gallons

(70%) 10.5# Weyermann Pils
(10%) 1.5# Munich (mix of left over Durst 40 and Gambrinus Munich)
(5%) 0.75# Weyermann CaraMunich III (70-75L)
(5%) 0.75# Belgian Special B (114L)
(10%) 1.5# Dark Belgian Candy Sugar

5.12 HBU (16 IBU) Kent Goldings for 60 min
4.45 HBU (10 IBU) Hallertauer for 30 min
3.56 HBU (4 IBU) Hallertauer for 10 min

Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abby Ale II

After designing this beer, I compared it with the Dubbel recipe in Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer’s book Brewing Classic Styles . My recipe was almost the same, all the way down to the grist ratios. So that made me feel better. If you do not know Jamil, he is a world-class homebrewer. He is on a different level in my opinion. I have great respect for him, and I found his book a great addition to my library.

A couple of final notes. Note, I did not use coriander in by beer. Also, before you try to brew this, you may want to contact me to find out how it turns out. It is currently open fermenting in an 8 gallon enamel pot in my basement. For those that are not aware, Wyeast 1762, according to numerous reputable sources, is Rochefort’s yeast. Since Rochefort is a beer dominated by yeast and malt/sugar flavors, having the proper yeast strain is a good start at a successful batch of beer. And when I open the lid to skim Kräusen, it definitely smells like fruity Rochefort yeast. Finally, the recipe above was mashed with a 20 minute protein rest at 122F, 40 minutes at 154F (until saccharification), at mashed out at 168F.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CA Trip - Tied House Brewery

I just returned from a business trip to the San Jose area. California is always a great destination, because they have more breweries (by a factor of two) than any other state – 218. When traveling I always pick my hotels based on two things – it needs to have a good exercise facility, and it has to be walking distance to a brewpub. This trip I stayed in “downtown” Mountain View, about a 10-minute walk from the Tied House Brewery. (954 Villa St.)

I took this opportunity to hook up with my old buddy Art Jenkins. (a.k.a. the Newt) We graduated from high school together in Billings Montana. After that we both earned Electrical Engineering degrees, mine was from Montana State, while his came from Seattle University. After college I moved to Denver while he moved to San Jose. We’ve always kept in touch, and in the early 90s I used to travel to San Jose quite a bit for work. We had some crazy times back then. It has been about 15 years since we had been at the Tied House together – which at the time turned into one of my favorite breweries away from home.

After the quick walk, I was in front of the brewery waiting for the Newt to arrive when I heard a car honk. I was sure it was Art notifying me that he saw me, but when I looked up, I saw two chickens crossing the road holding up traffic. I’m not sure what chickens were doing roaming the streets of Silicon Valley, but it did give me a flash back to Hawaii. Kinda funny. Anyway, the Newt finally showed up and we took a seat. The Tied House was not quite as big as I remember, but I could tell it was the same place. Art ordered a Cascade Amber, their flagship beer, and I ordered a sampler. They had eight beers on tap, and I got a taste of all of them. (Alpine Gold – golden ale, Cascade Amber – pale/amber ale, Ironwood Dark – brown ale, New World Wheat – American style Hefeweizen, Oatmeal Stout, Passion Fruit Pale, ESB, and a “green beer” for St. Pats day.) The two beers that stood out to me were the Passion Fruit Pale and the green beer. It had been a while since I’d had an American style fruit beer. I used to drink these all the time when I spent a summer interning for Tektronix in Portland in ’89. That was the first time I’d had fruit beer. Anymore there do not seem to be as many on most brewers’ taps, and I just don’t drink them much any more. Anyway, it was nice to sample one again - it was light and refreshing. A great warm weather beer.

The other beer that stood out was the green beer. (I don’t think it had a name) It looked pretty bright, but the waitress swore it would not turn my tongue and lips green. After I got past the color, I was surprised by the flavor. It was definitely fermented with a phenolic Belgian yeast strain. I am not an expert in green beer, but having consumed a few in my college days, I remember them being died Coors Light. I always thought the intention was for them to be easily consumed in mass quantities during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday season. Those expecting died light beer had a surprise with this beer. It was a little difficult to judge given that I could not get over the color, but if blindfolded, it would pass for an excellent Belgian style ale. It makes me wonder if it was designed this way, or if the Abbey Ale was not selling well, so it turned into the next seasonal with the help of a little food coloring.

Regardless, I found the Tied House’s beer of excellent quality, balanced in world of extreme beers, and very enjoyable. Their flagship beer, Cascade Amber, described as a pale/amber ale, was well hopped, but overall had a better malt and hop balance than most pale ales being brewed today. It had a rich maltiness with a touch of roasted malt or possibly dark Munich malt. Hopheads may not travel across the country for this one, but most others will find it delicious and will be able to drink two or three in a row without getting burned out on citrusy hops.

One final note. The Tied House also had an excellent kitchen. They offer pub fare, sausages, Cajun, south of the border, California cuisine and more. I had the Char Crusted Hanger Steak after the Newt and I split a plate of onion rings as our appetizer. The roasted garlic marinated steak really hit the spot after finishing the eight well-sized samplers. Just like the old days, the Tide House is a great place to go for great beer, food and atmosphere. And it was good to get back there with my old buddy the Newt!