Saturday, January 30, 2010

Back in the Brewery

One of the prizes awarded to the Beerdrinker of the Year is a batch of beer brewed in their honor for the following year’s competition. It is hard to believe, but the 2010 BDOTY competition is right around the corner. (Saturday, February 27th at 2:00 pm at the Wynkoop.) So it was time for the Wynkoop to brew a beer for me.
Last month I was approached by the Wynkoop’s master brewer, Andy Brown, about what type of beer I wanted the Wynkoop to brew. The perfect beer immediately came to mind. The Wynkoop brewpub is world famous for its cask-conditioned English style Ales hand pulled from the cellar using their traditional beer engines. I happen to have an Angram beer engine/hand pump in my basement, and every year for my big Screaming Blue Monkey party I brew a cask Ale called “Old Rabbit” for the guests. It is always a crowd favorite, and I knew this beer would be a natural fit for the Wynkoop’s system. So the decision was made – the Old Rabbit. Andy and I worked together to scale my recipe up, and yesterday I spent the day in rubber boots at the Wynkoop with him brewing away. (The 5,299th batch in Wynkoop history.)

The Old Rabbit is an Old Ale made with an English Maris Otter base malt, lots of chocolate & crystal malt, along with Brer Rabbit molasses added with the first hops in the brew kettle. (hence the name) It is dark, rich, fruity and complex. People usually don’t know molasses was used in the brewing process unless I tell them. It lends a slight smokiness and caramelized sugar flavor to the Ale. Andy wanted to add his touch to this beer, so he renamed it “Auld Rabbit”… which made me wonder why I had never thought of that! The Rabbit is currently fermenting as I type and will be tapped around Valentines Day. I’m sure there will be plenty left for the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year National Finals on the 27th. If you are in the Denver area, come down to the finals and experience the theatrics and fun of the event. And you can let me know what you think of my beer.
If you want to brew your own Auld Rabbit, start with Maris Otter, add a generous helping of English chocolate and 60 deg L crystal, and add 5% (by weight) molasses to the brew kettle. Make sure and use mild molasses and don’t get carried away with the addition, because it can easily be over done. Too much and your friends won’t even drink it! The hops play a secondary role in this beer, so use three additions at 60, 40 and 20 minutes (before the end of the boil) with an alpha acid/weight combination that will yield about 30 IBUs at the end. Shoot for an original gravity of 1.065 and use a well attenuating English Ale yeast. Serve it “warm and flat”, preferably from an authentic British beer engine. I hope to see you in February!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Work has taken me back to Hawaii and I have a quick update for beer lovers on the islands. Hawaii is not always the easiest place to find a wide variety of beers, and due to its remote location, drinks usually don’t come cheap either. Even for locally made crafts. (Which have to import almost all of their ingredients except water.) But on this trip I found a real gem with a great selection and at reasonable prices – The Yard House on 226 Lewers Street in Waikiki.

Upon arriving here on my trip last month I took a Waikiki shuttle from the airport to the Hilton Village where I was staying. The bus driver immediately sprang into hospitality mode before we left the airport grounds. (I think the natives are programmed from birth to be eternally happy and gracious hosts.) He provided us with island history, customs, a geography overview, debunked myths, etc. And as we neared our hotel and crossed into Waikiki I distinctly remembering him saying, “you are now entering Waikiki… everything just got real expensive.” Hawaii is the most expensive state in the union to visit, and Waikiki is the most expensive part of Hawaii. So when I found the Yard House directly in the center of tourist central I tried to set my financial expectations.

I’m a variety freak so I love the Yard House near my home in Golden, CO. And I was pleasantly surprised to find the same great selection of beers in Waikiki - along with reasonable prices. I started off with a six-pack sampler, which consisted of three Lost Coast Brewery (Eureka, CA) beers - Great White, Downtown Brown, and Alleycat Amber, and three beers from Mehana Brewing (Hilo Hawaii) - Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Humpback Blue, and Hawaii Lager. Six wonderful five-ounce beers for $9! Thirty ounces for approximately what one would pay for a pint across the street. And after I finished the sampler I started drinking my way around the rest of the world for $6 to $7 per beer. Understandably all of their beers are market price, so the cost fluctuates depending on the request. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to come off as a total cheap skate, but I always drink more comfortably knowing I’m not getting ripped off, not to mention that the money saved probably means another round.)

The Yard House offers 100 beers on tap from the U.S., England, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Australia, Mexico, Japan, etc. This includes a solid representation of local micros from Maui Brewing Company, Kona Brewing, and Mehana. I’ve stopped by four times already, and ate there twice. As a beer lover I highly recommend the Yard House for good food and a great selection of reasonably priced beers from Hawaii and around the world. It is a short walk from the beach and right in the middle of where Waikiki is happening. That is all for now, I have to head to Lulu’s surf club and watch the sun set.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

French Beer

One of my favorite (non-beer) sayings is, "The French Impressionists were very talented at a technique known as French Impressionism." It is always fun to poke fun at the French. They are a people that are acutely proud of their culture and products - but for some reason they also make an easy target. I suppose one could also say, "French Brewers are the best in the world at brewing French beer." Obviously the French are much better known for their wine and cheese than beer, but they do make some good beer. And, as a beer lover, if you are interested in seeking out a French specialty, I recommend you take an atlas to the liquor store with you. France is located squarely in the wine belt, but its northern border with Belgium is an area of transition into the beer belt. In my experience, the further north the brewery (the closer to Belgium), the better the beer.

Surely some of that beer brewing brilliance from one of the world's greatest brewing countries spills over the border into northern France. This is somewhat ironic since over the centuries the Belgians have borrowed techniques from the French, which has led to some of worlds greatest beers brewed by them. The art of barrel aging and blending their beers were no doubt influenced by their southern wine-making neighbors. And many Belgian beers have characteristics closer to wine than beer - for example being dry and sour instead of malty and bitter. Belgium is at a crossroads between Germany, France and England, and their "anything goes" creativity is a product of local expertise and borrowed practices.

There is one broad beer category that straddles the border between Belgium and France called "Belgian and French Ales." This category includes the similar styles of Saison, Farmhouse Ale, and Bière de Garde. (Note however, it is always risky to try and categorize any beer from Belgium or its border regions.) Last weekend I had a excellent example of such a beer from this category - Brasserie St. Germain's Page 24 Noel from Aix-Noulette, France. Aix-Noulette is located in French Flanders just south of the western (a Flemish) portion of Belgium. French Flanders was originally part of the Courtship of Flanders in southern Netherlands. Over the years borders have changed, Belgium was created, and most of Flanders is now in Belgium while the southern section was ceded to France along the way. And unlike the Flanders region in Belgium, the inhabitants of French Flanders now speak, almost exclusively, French instead of Flemish.

Page 24 Noel is a 6.9% abv beer that falls into the Bière de Garde category. (The name means "keeping beer" - a beer usually intended to be cellared/matured) I was extremely impressed by this example of the style. It pours a copper color with a solid head and has an aromatic bouquet. Its flavor is well balanced with earthy, spicy, and fruity notes that transition into a mildly phenolic finish. All in all a balanced beer with great character. Brilliant!

The Page 24 Noel I drank was packaged in a ceramic swing-top bomber and came compliments of my beer of the month club. ( This beer may be hard to find in the U.S., but if you can get your hands on one, it is one great example of a wonderful French beer.