Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pro-Am Saison

GABF or bust

I was lucky enough again this year to collaborate with the Wynkoop on a GABF Pro-Am entry.  For those of you that are not aware, The Great American Beer Festival is the world's largest beer event (based on number of beers available) and takes place every fall in Denver - this year October 10-12th. ( A few years ago the GABF added a new "Pro-Am" match up. This competition allows homebrewers to partner with a craft brewery to scale up one of their BJCP-certified award-winning beers. Out of the 3,000+ beers available at the GABF, there are only 100 Pro-Am entries.  Those 100 are judged against each other for gold, silver, and bronze medals.  In addition, the winner is eligible to compete against all of the other beers at the GABF for best in show.

Last year my homebrewed Saison took first place at an American Homebrewer's Association's (AHA) sanctioned competition. After winning, I hit up Wynkoop brewmaster Andy Brown to see if he wanted to enter another Pro-Am.  Andy and I have collaborated on two of these in the past - a Dunkles in 2009, and a Belgian Quad in 2011.  Our Dunkles turned out excellent.  The Quad, on the other hand, never quite made it to the GABF.  This massive beer could never quite attenuate in time to make the September deadline.  So now, years later, it is still aging in brett infused oak barrels in the Wynkoop cellar drying out and working up more character.  (When it hits the tap, I'll let you know.)

The great yeast experiment

Belgian Saison is a broad category of beers with roots in Wallonia - the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium.  Saisons range from golden to amber, light to strong, spiced to unspiced.  But most are dry and highly carbonated.  Another characteristic I would assign to the Saison style is, like many other Belgian ales, it has a strong yeast character.  Yeast selection and how those yeast are handled often defines the finished product.

Since yeast character was so critical to the beer we were looking to produce, Andy suggested we partake in a yeast experiment to identify the perfect strain for our Pro-Am entry.  We split up scouring different yeast suppliers for various Saison, Farmhouse, Biere de Garde, and Ardennes strains.  In the end we had rounded up seven different varieties.  One Friday after work I headed to the Wynkoop as usual.  That day Andy had brewed a light wort for one of their beers, and pulled off 14 one-gallon jugs of the sweet liquid for our experiment.  After I arrived, we got together and pitched half of each strain into two jugs - one to be fermented warm, while the other cool.

Two weeks later the test batches had fermented out and it was time to sample each and seek out the starter with the best character for the type of Saison we were shooting for.  It is worth noting that temperature has a profound impact on how yeasts behave.  It changes the concentration of phenols & esters, impacts turbidity, influences color, and alters attenuation - to name a few qualities.  It definitely was a learning experience for me.  These are things I already knew, but never had the resources to attempt a yeast experiment on this scale. 

After Andy and I both sampled and took notes on each of the 14, we selected the "French Saison (S-11)" strain from one of the Wynkoop's commercial suppliers.  The warmer fermented batch was preferred by both of us.  I do not know with 100% certainty, but I think it is safe to say this strain is similar to Wyeast's 3711.  With that said, even the same single cell source can morph over time once split among suppliers.  To sum up - our yeast had been selected.

My recipe

As most of you know, I tend to be a fan of simplicity.  Some of the best beers in the world are single malt (Helles, Dunkles, etc.), and/or single hop beers (Saaz for Pilsners - as an example).  Plenty of complexity can be achieved with simplicity.  Well... this recipe runs contrary to that line of thinking.  Sometimes there is nothing wrong with brewing one of those "everything but the kitchen sink" type of beers.

My Saison was inspired partially by Karmeliet Tripel, which employs three cereal grains in the mash - barley, wheat and oats.  I also used these three grains, as well as a number of specialty malts to round out the grist.  This recipe has a little bit of everything.  Here it is (scale to your system and needs):

Grain Bill:

  • 71% Weyermann Pils
  • 8% Weyermann Wheat Malt
  • 5% Quaker Oats
  • 5% Gambrinus Light Munich
  • 4% Gambrinus Honey Malt
  • 3% Weyermann Crystal Wheat
  • 2% Weyermann CaraMunich III
  • 2% Castle Special B

Mash for 30 minutes at 122 degrees F then raise to 150 degrees F for 40 minutes.  Mash out as needed to suite your system.

Boil for 75 minutes:

  • 1st hop addition: sufficient Mt. Hood or Hallertauer to result in 15 IBU  (60 minutes)
  • 2nd hop addition: sufficient Mt. Hood or Hallertauer to result in 15 IBU  (30 minutes)

Very lightly spice with fresh crushed coriander at knockout


Ferment in the low 70s with Wyeast 3711 - French Saison.

Target gravities:

O.G. 1056
F.G. 1007 (try to really dry it out)

Tres Bon Saison (name of our beer)

So how did our Pro-Am experiment turn out?  What does it look like, smell like, how does it taste?  Not telling!  You'll have to judge for yourself.  This beer will be on tap Saturday at the GABF Pro-Am section (usually right up front near the entry), and it will also be available at the Wynkoop until supplies last.  I hope you get a chance to sample a few, and I welcome your feedback.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Birra in Italy

Last week my wife and I returned from a trip to Europe.  On this vacation we spent a majority of our time in idyllic Italy.  A visit to Italia has been on our list for over a decade now, and we finally made it happen.

I must admit the trip was not planned around beer - rather sightseeing, history, and leisure, but like all of our travels beer ended up in many of our activities.  So with that said, this blog is not based on extensive research into the Italian beer culture, rather a more passive, tourist's perspective on the scene.

In preparation for our trip I naturally started reading up on Italy, as well as solicited advice from friends that have been there before, and in one case born and raised there.  I knew that wine was the undisputed drink of choice among Italians.  Italy is located squarely in the wine-belt.  (Tuscany is better suited to growing grapes than barley or hops.)  But I had also heard from many Italy-visiting-veterans that, like other parts of the world, the craft beer movement was taking hold there too.

When in Rome...

Our first stop on this trip was Rome.  Here is some background.  We worked all day Friday, caught an evening flight to Europe (Rome via Frankfurt), and arrived on Saturday afternoon.  After checking into our B&B we took the subway to the Spanish Steps and walked down to the Trevi Fountain.  After fighting our way through all the other tourists, we headed toward Piazza Navona.  Both of us were hungry, tiered, and thirsty, so we stopped at a quaint pizzeria in a narrow alley.  We sat at a small table out front, and after two long days we finally got a chance to relax.  This place really hit the spot.  The salami pizza we ordered was excellent, and never before has a Nastro Azzurro tasted so good!  We were hot and the beer was cold and refreshing.  Weather is a major influencing factor on local styles around the world - and Italy's Mediterranean climate steers people toward beers like Peroni.

This was my first impression of Italy.  Good food, friendly service, and a gold lager that was quite satisfying.  I must admit that I expected a city where everyone would be drinking wine.  I suspected there would be times when we may feel out of place.  (My wife does not drink much alcohol at all.)  But to my pleasant surprise, I saw as many people enjoying beer as Chianti.  Almost all restaurants had something on tap (typically Peroni or Moretti), and were more than happy to serve it with their fine cuisine.  No dirty looks or anything.  A pleasant surprise. 

No Open Container?

There was another interesting thing about Italian regulations that I quickly discovered.  When purchasing a bottle at the grocery store, or at a cart on the street, the merchant typically asked if I wanted it opened.  That is right, walking around with an open container is no problem over there.  This was actually very nice.  We could continue to do more sight seeing after dinner, with a beer in hand, and not worry about being questioned by the authorities.

One minor warning when purchasing beer - just be cautious of "Doppio Malto" beers that are ubiquitous at these markets and stores.  The name conjures notions of Doppelbock (think Moretti La Rossa), but many of them, some foreign, more closely resemble malt liquor (think Colt 45) than Salvator.  Otherwise, drink away and have fun getting lost in the maze of Rome's narrow streets.

Craft Beer Scene

Caffetteria Aristocampo
One has to seek them out a bit, but there are excellent beer pubs and breweries hidden throughout the city.  You may have to pass several Trattorias serving mass produced lager to get to them, but they do exist.  My experience was that these pubs tended to cater to a younger crowd.  Some were "sports bar" themed, and some worked to attract tourists seeking out unique and specialty beers.

I admit, I spent more time at the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome than seeking out beer havens, so take my less-than-extensive-list of recommendations with a grain of salt, but there are a few places I would suggest visiting.  And the nice thing about Rome, these establishments are all walkable and not too far from the center of town. 

  • Bir & Fud ( - Note, does not open until 6:30 pm.
  • Ma Che Siete Venuit A Fa' ( "What did you come here for?"
  • Caffetteria Aristocampo - in front of the Santa Maria della Scala church on Via della Scala.  In addition to Italian staples, they serve Peroni Grand Reserve and Franziskaner Weissbier.
  • Open Baladin Roma ( - In the lively Campo de Fiori area

North to Tuscany

After three days in Rome we rented a car and drove north into Tuscany.  We stayed at a picturesque winery on a remote hillside near Siena.  This location was our base for several day trips and excursions.  The countryside of Tuscany was beautiful, carpeted by vineyards and hilltops capped with medieval towns.  From Siena we made the winding trek through the scenic Chianti region that eventually led us to Florence.  Florence is another 'must see' town in Italy - renaissance architecture, famous museums, and a cultural center of the world.  Like most other famous Italian towns, it is also packed with tourists.   So after soaking up some art, history, and spectacular views from the top of the Duomo, we headed away from the masses toward the train station to the Mostodolce brewpub. 

Mostodolce was buzzing with a young vibe and casual atmosphere.  (a few dogs too)  The bar opened onto the street making the place feel bigger than it was.  Technically it is not a brewpub.  The owners brew the beer outside of town and have the finished product trucked in for their thirsty guests.  
Mostodolce's Owner and Berwer

Their menu provides detailed descriptions of several of their beers, though watch out because many of them are seasonals and may not be available.  Pay attention to the chalkboard left of the faucets for the beers currently on tap.  There were four when I visited.

My first beer was an A.P.A.  I asked the owner what that stood for and she said, "American Pale Ale."  I guess in some parts of the world, our hoppy Pale Ales have become so famous that "America" has replaced "India" in this style's name.   This beer poured a clear gold color topped with a cream head.  On the nose it had a fresh sent of light grain (Maris Otter?) with a sturdy hop backbone of citrus and passion fruit.  New Zealand hops dominated the flavor growing stronger and more pungent as the beer warmed.  The finish was crisp and long with more hop character and just a touch of diacetyl.  Overall well balanced.  What I would call a "light" IPA, but with hops from the southern hemisphere.  What about the name - APA?  Sounds fine to me.

My second beer at Mostodolce was their flagship English Bitter, Christian, named after the brewers' son.  I really enjoyed this beer too - a rich copper color, hints of caramel, earthy hops, minerally character, and a toasty finish.  This ale had a bit of everything.  In fact it was so well rounded, after reviewing my notes, the flavor wheel I scribbled was almost a symmetric circle - with only a dent/absence in the sour radius.

I spoke with the co-owner (pictured), and she said she and her husband are doing great business and intend to expand their distribution to other establishments.  So if you are in Florence, stop and check them out.  And keep an eye out for Mostodolce beers in other establishments too.

Südtirol or Alto Adige?

After leaving Tuscany and short visits in Cinque Terre (a must see) and Venice, we headed further north toward the Austrian border.  The number of breweries in Italy is rapidly expanding, and if you look at a map, you'll notice a disproportionate number are located in the north.  This is not a coincidence.  The terrain of the Alps and cooler temperatures lend themselves to beer.  History in the region also plays a significant role.

My wife and I spent a couple of nights in Kastelruth (Castelrotto) outside of Bozen (Bolzano) soaking in the awe-inspiring scenery of the Dolomites.  This semi-autonomous region, Südtirol, known as Alto Adige in Italian, is predominantly German speaking.  Südtirol was part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War when it was annexed by Italy.  The Third Reich left this province alone due to Mussolini's cooperation during World War II.  So there you have it... to this day Austro-Bavarian people living in Italy.  Today, this region is seeking total independence.  The feeling appears to be somewhat mutual since most Italians I spoke with did not recognize this province as part of "real" Italy.  Nevertheless, Alto Adige is part of Italy.

Culturally this region has much more in common with the German-speaking north than the rest of Italy to the south.  Not surprisingly, the beer scene here bears a similarity to that of Austria and Bavaria.  Many towns have their own breweries, and the beers tend to fall into more standard styles that would be expected north of the Alps.  Styles such as Pils, Helles, Dunkles, Bockbeir and Weizen.

The Forst brewery is quite popular in the region.  In their hometown of Meran (Merano) they have a large Biergarten.  Their beer can be found allover, including Restaurant Forstbräu in Bozen.  This gastropub is across the street from Hopfen & Co. - the home of Bozner Bräu.  Around the corner from these two beer havens is the Paulaner Stuben restaurant.  As you can see there is heavy concentration of good beer in central Bozen.

My wife and I pulled up a table out front at Hopfen & Co.  Our seats offered great people watching.  There was a bakery stand on the street directly in front of us selling all sorts of fresh goods including large pretzels.  A perfect accompaniment to the great beer we were drinking.

My first round was a Bozner Bier Helles.  A Helles it was, though more specifically I would put it in the Kellerbier category.  It was a hazy light-gold color (unfiltered) with a beautiful fresh decoction mash aroma.  It had a slightly fruity character from the malt and a light, sweetish finish.  Very enjoyable.  My second round was their Dunkles, which was equally enjoyable, though I failed to take any tasting notes.  Before moving on I had to try their Weizen, served in the traditional Weißbier glass, and also tasting very traditional - true to style.
Brewhouse at Hopfen & Co (Bozner Bier)

You can find great beers in Italy

This concludes my not-so-scientific observations of the Italian beer scene.  No, Italy is not Colorado or Franconia, but few places are.  Whether it was a mass-produced light lager on a hot day, or a Hefeweizen up north, I really enjoyed my beer drinking experiences on the boot.  If you get a chance to visit Italy, make sure and indulge in fine cuisine and excellent wines.  And don't forget that good beer can also found... even in this country squarely in the wine belt.  Enjoy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stift Engelszell - A New Trappist Brewery!

I have always prided myself in having solid knowledge of the Trappist breweries.  So I was a bit surprised on a recent visit to the liquor store when I noticed a new beer that I had never seen beforeIt was an Austrian beer "brewed with honey."  The origin was a brewery that I had never heard of - Stift Engelszell.  Should I spend the $7 for a 1/3-liter bottle?  Probably.  And then something really caught my eye.  I noticed the Authentic Trappist Product logo.  What? 
There are only seven Trappist breweries, and none of them are anywhere near Austria.  I was a bit embarrassed that I had no idea that the beerworld's most famous and exclusive club had added a new member.  Now my "probably I should buy a bottle" turned to definitely! 

About Trappist Breweries

The Trappists are a Roman Catholic religious order comprised of both nuns and monks.  The name originated in the 17th century from La Trappe Abbey in France's Normandy province.  As a general rule they will only speak when necessary, but they are not completely silent.  They also have a reputation of being great brewers.  Monastic breweries of various religious orders have existed throughout Europe for centuries, but the Trappists are arguably the most famous.

There are a lot of beers with monks on the label.  None of these are authentic Trappist beers.  Not that there is anything wrong with them, most are superb, and some even world class.  Many are brewed for an Abbey, or have historic religious ties, but that alone does not make them Trappist.

The best way to make sure you know what you are buying is really a Trappist beer - search for the hexagonal "Authentic Trappist Product" logo.  This not only goes for beer, but for other products from monastery as well such as wine and cheese.

There are a few requirements that an authentic Trappist beer must meet:

  • The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery.
  • The beer must be brewed by the monks themselves or under their direct supervision.
  • The brewery is of secondary importance within the monastery.
  • The brewery is not intended for profit making purposes - proceeds fund living expenses, and any remaining revenue is donated to charity to help persons in need.
Prior to last year there were seven Trappist breweries.  Six in Belgium - three from the French speaking south (Orval, Chimay, and Rochefort) and three from the Flemish north (Achel, Westmalle, and Westvleteren), and one brewery across the border in the Netherlands (Koningshoeven).  I've visited Belgium several times, and have had pleasure of visiting the ruins of Orval and drinking their namesake in the pub out front.  It was truly a treat.  Some day I hope to have a chance to visit the others.

Stift Engelszell

Last year the Trappist brewery at the Abbey of Engelszell, located in Engelhartszell Austria, resumed production (ceased in 1929), met the requirements to distribute authentic Trappist ale, and became the eighth Trappist brewery.  Austria is not near Belgium, the epicenter of Trappist brewing, but there are several other monastic breweries in this country as well as neighboring Bavaria.  So Stift Engelszell joining the club should not be a major surprise.

The beer I sampled was Gregorius. categorizes this beer as an "Abt/Quadrupel" and considers it a "Belgian Strong Dark Ale."  The monks themselves call this beer "ein dunkles Trippel."  (A dark Trippel)  Their description of Gregorius is very interesting because the Trippel style is almost always pale and strong.  Gregorius is strong, though not pale.  I've never seen or heard of a "dark Trippel."

Another interesting tidbit is the use of honey in Gregorius.  Austria borders Bavaria, the home of the famous Rheinheitsgebot, which outlaws adjuncts such as honey.  So this seemed odd at first, though on the other hand, many of the Trappist cousins northeast in Belgium use candi sugar to boost alcohol and lighten the body of their beers.  So I suppose its use by this monastery should not be too shocking.

Gregorius Tasting Notes

Gregorius pours a Porteresque dark with a beige head.  It is almost opaque.  The nose is earthy with a faint roasted character.  There is also a hint of dark fruit - more noticeable as the beer warms.  The
Cody's Flavor Wheel
flavor is fairly clean with some malt sweetness that gently fades into notes of dark grains.  Full carbonation gives Gregorius a 'fluffy' mouth-feel.   There is no discernible hop character.  This 9.7% abv Trappist finished quite dry and chalky.  It is brewed with honey, which may contribute to the considerable dryness.  (Honey is readily fermentable by brewer's yeast leaving little body behind.)

My impression was that Gregorius seemed like a roasty Baltic Porter.  Not that the 'legacy' Trappist ales fit nicely into any box (though beers like Rochefort and Westvleteren have similarities), but Gregorius struck me as a bit different.  It is definitely the darkest and roastiest of any of the Trappists.  It is also the only beer in the exclusive group that is fermented with honey.  Though many of the other Trappists use candi sugar.  It may take a while to get used to, but I think Gregorius will be a fine addition to a very exclusive club.

Here Comes Benno

Stift Engelszell has also released a second beer called Benno.  I have not found this beer in the Denver area, but reviews of it exist on the Internet, so it is already generally available.  According to the Stift Engelszell website, this beer has only been in distribution since May 30th of this year.

Ruins at Orval
Benno is a 6.9% abv "Helles Dubbel."  (Light Dubbel)  To me this seems like an oxymoron.  In general Dubbels are dark beers, and Trippels are light beers.  Though, for whatever reason, Stift Engelszell has decided to buck this trend.  And just for reference, Quads are typically dark again.  Single, Dubbel, Trippel and Quads follow ascending alcoholic strength while alternating colors.

For those of you that speak German and would like to learn more about this Trappist order and their products you can visit  It is interesting to note that in addition to beer the order also sells liquor, spiked chocolates, cheese, honey, honey vinegar, and Trappistenmet (honey wine/mead).  It appears that their brewery may be young, but they have a long history in fermentation and cheese making.

Enjoy the newest and eight Trappist brewery, and let me know if and where you have been able to find Benno.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fuller's ESB (Back to the Basics)

Back to the basics

From time to time I like to write about the beer staples.  World class beers that are not over the top.

In this era of craft brewing where we can get carried away with spices, extreme alcohol, 100 IBU citrus bombs, imperial oak-aged beers fermented with wild yeast and bacteria, it never hurts to step back and remember what got us here.  (By the way, I'm currently drinking a delicious Firestone Double Jack Imperial IPA - 9.5%/100IBUs, so yes, I do love these beers too.)

When you visit the countries that taught us how to brew and ask for "ein Bier bitte," or "I'll have a pint," you are sure to end up with a local session beer.  Depending upon where you are this could be a Helles, Bitter, Kölsch, Alt, or possibly a Pils.  (you get the picture)  These offerings are refreshing and drinkable, and yes, many of them are also widely recognized as world class beers!

In this blog, I'll cover one of my favorite English staples from Fuller's Brewery.

 Fuller's ESB

When traveling in Europe I tend to prefer smaller towns to large metropolises.  One exception to this tendency is London.  I love London.  And one of my favorite local breweries is Fuller's.

Fuller's Brewery is headquartered in the west London suburb of Chiswick and has been around for over 150 years.  Arguably their most famous beer is Fuller's ESB - Extra Special Bitter.  In the US it is now common to see ESB's on tap and sold in stores.  But this is a relatively new style.  In fact the style did not exist until 1971 when Fuller's first put this name on a beer.  Up until that time in England there were Bitters and Special Bitters.  Extra Special did not exist.  Fuller's is the ESB.

Fuller's Brewery has won numerous awards over the yeas, and their ESB has been especially successful.  This beer has taken CAMRA's Best Strong Ale award a record seven times!  Now a bit about the fine Ale.

Tasting Notes

Beer: Fuller's ESB
Style: ESB/Strong Bitter
Alcohol: 5.9% abv 96/100 (overall/style)
Suggested glass: traditional English pint

This beer pours a rich red copper color with a light cream head.  It is beautifully clear and appetizing.  ESB's aroma is a pleasant blend of earthy/grassy English hops and toasty Pale Ale malt.  The Northdown, Challenger, and Goldings hops used are quintessentially British and have the typical spicy, earthy character of the hops grown over there.  This is decidedly different from the citrus and pine characteristics found in most US hops that end up in the Bitters and Pale Ales on this side of the Atlantic.
Cody's Fuller's ESB Flavor Wheel

The body is light and refreshing as to be expected.  Its flavor is a well-balanced combination of malt and a sturdy, but never overwhelming bitterness.  There is a slight caramel malt sweetness and a touch of toffee to counter balance the bittering hops.  A wonderful fruity yeast character is present throughout.

Fuller's ESB has a well rounded, long and smooth finish with more fresh late-addition hops (Goldings?), clean malt, and the typical English mineral-character.  There is just a slight touch of diacetyl left over from fermentation. As the beer warms, the "butterscotch" will become more noticeable.  This adds yet another dimension of complexity to this fine ale.

These tasting notes come from an evening session last month.  The 12-ounce bottle was purchased here in Colorado.  Of course in London you'll experience a fresher version.  If you get the chance drink this beer on cask at a pub it will be served "warm and flat" and have a bit less alcohol.  (by design) 

Another great beer by Fuller's is their London Pride, which is a touch lighter yet.  It weighs in at 4.7% abv.  London Pride is very typical of the Special Bitter style.  I also love the other major brewery in London - Young's.  Their beers are getting more difficult to find in Colorado, but their Bitter and Special London Ale are classics.  Young's yeast happens to be one of my favorite - being very lively and fruity.

I hope you enjoyed the review.  And the next time you are at the liquor store, don't forget about those wonderful "session" beers out there.  Many of which, by the way, happen to be world class - just like Fuller's ESB!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Congratulations Warren Monteiro - 2013 Beerdrinker of the Year

Some of the greatest beer minds in the country gathered at the Wynkoop Mercantile Room on Saturday for the National Finals of the 2013 Beerdrinker of the Year competition.  I had the honor of being a judge (for the fourth straight year) along with outgoing champion J. Wilson, Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown, Ginger Johnson – Women Enjoying Beer, and Kyle Clark - beer lover and anchor of Denver's 9-News.   After more than two hours of questioning, presentations, and being asked to identify three different blind beer samples (Hoegaarden Wit, Fuller's ESB, and Odell Woodcut #5), Warren Monteiro a New York freelance writer, beer traveler, homebrewer, and beer columnist took home the top honors.   Warren edged out Jen Schwertman, also from New York, and Kevin Cox of Muncie, Indiana to become the 17th Beerdrinker of the Year.  All three finalists proved that they were more than worthy to be on the national stage with their deep knowledge of all things related to beer.   

What it takes

Winning the Beerdrinker of the Year has nothing to do with quantity or speed - it has everything to do with passion, wit, and knowledge.  And Warren proved that he is the type of person that any beer-lover would enjoy sitting down with for a few pints.

Being a homebrewer helped Warren stay sharp on sensory perception and on top of the technical aspects of the brewing process.  He also has a great deal of practice traveling the world gaining new beer-related experiences.  He has sampled beers throughout the United States, Europe, Central America, India, Sri Lanka, and numerous other nations.  In 2012 he visited breweries and beer festivals in England, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the US.  As a matter of fact, Warren lives part of the year in London.  He samples an average of 350 beers each year.

It was a long trip, but Warren actually drove out to Denver from New York for the competition.  I suspect he did this so he could tap a homebrewed cask-conditioned Firkin version of Pliney The Elder (a Double/Imperial IPA) during the event.  (Warren drove, the Firkin rode shotgun...)  If you love hops and missed it, I feel sorry for you.  It was an excellent, well-balanced explosion of pine, citrus and malt.  I loved it.  The Mercantile Room crowd drained Warren's keg in less than one hour!

This year's judging was extremely difficult due to the quality of the finalists, but in the end Warren squeaked ahead of the competition.  All those at the event, judges and observers, hope to see Jen and Kevin back next year.

It is good to be the winner!

As the winner Warren will receive, among other things, $250 to spend at his home pub (Blind Tiger Ale House in New York), a beer brewed in his honor by the Wynkoop for next year’s competition, free beer for life at the Wynkoop Brewery, and worldwide recognition.

It is always tough to not win, but Jen and Kevin should be very proud of their performances. I am sure both will be back in the finals in the future.  Finally, I want to thank those of you that came downtown to take part in the event.  I know I had a great time, as always, and I hope you all did also!

Previous Winners:

1997: Jack McDougall of Cranford, New Jersey
1998: Bobby Bush Jr. of Hickory, North Carolina
1999: James Robertson of Pomona, California
2000: Steve Pawlowski of Roselle Park, New Jersey
2001: Cornelia Corey of Clemmons, North Carolina
2002: Gary Steinel of White Plains, New York
2003: Ray McCoy of Clemmons, North Carolina
2004: John Marioni of Bothell, Washington
2005: Tom Ciccateri of Alexandria, Virginia
2006: Tom Schmidlin of Seattle, Washington
2007: Daine Catanzaro of Norfolk, Virginia
2008: Matt Venzke of Hampton, Virginia
2009: Cody Christman of Golden, Colorado
2010: Bill Howell of Sterling, Alaska
2011: Phil Farrell of Cumming, Georgia
2012: J. Wilson of Prescott, Iowa
2013: Warren Monteiro of New York, New York
2014: Are you next?  Start working on your resume!

Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 Beerdrinker of the Year Finalists Announced

The three finalists for the 2013 Beerdrinker of the Year National Finals have just been announced.  This year’s lucky but deserving trio is Warren Monteiro from New York City (a return finalist from last year), Kevin Cox from Muncie, Indiana, and Jen Schwertman, also from New York City.  If you are in the Denver area, or have the means to travel, don’t miss this event – it is the most prestigious title in the country for beer aficionados.  Being involved in the selection process, and having reviewed numerous resumes, I can guarantee you that these three are on a different level when it comes to beer knowledge and appreciation. Warren, Kevin, and Jen will be flown in for the long weekend and pampered at the Brown Palace Hotel at the Wynkoop's expense.

The competition is open to the public and will be held in the Wynkoop Mercantile Room on Saturday, February 23th starting at 2 pm MT. Get there early to nab a seat and have time to enjoy happy-hour priced beers, including a barrel-aged Belgian specialty brewed to honor last year’s champion J. Wilson.

More information about the event can be found at:

Here is a bit of background on the three finalists:

Kevin Cox, a Muncie, Indiana beer hunter, homebrewer and beer advocate. Cox has visited over 400 breweries, tasted over 6000 different beers and “stalked the perfect pint” on 4 continents and in 12 countries. In 2012 he drank beer at numerous beer festivals in the US, Belgium, England and Germany. He’s been a member of the American Homebrewers Association since 1983 and a member of Britain’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) since 1985.

His philosophy of beer drinking: “Beer is my passion, it’s a religion. I like to think of it as my beer ministry, teaching the virtues of good beer and safe drinking.”

Warren Monteiro, a New York City freelance writer, beer traveler, homebrewer and beer columnist. Monteiro has sampled beers throughout the United States, Europe, Central American, India, Sri Lanka and other nations. In 2012 he visited breweries and beer festivals in England, Belgium, the Netherlands and the US. He samples an average of 350 beers each year.

His philosophy of beer drinking: “It’s not a habit, it’s a lifestyle. This is why I constantly travel – to get a taste of a new brew or one I’ve been missing, and to find a way to share it whenever possible. I consider creative beer drinking to be an essential part of the tapestry of art and fellowship contributing to a full life.”

Jen Schwertman, a New York City bartender and beer evangelist who got her start in beer in 1992 at Wynkoop Brewing Company. An NYC resident since 1999, Schwertman has worked at the city’s famed Ginger Man and now works at the equally famed Blind Tiger Ale House. She has a consulting business for beer servers, co-hosts an Internet radio show about beer, and in 2012 drank and brewed beer at festivals and breweries across the US and Belgium.

Her philosophy of beer drinking: “The volume of incredible beer I’ve been lucky enough to consume is immeasurable. The number of people I’ve helped to educate is significant. But the greatest gift of my beer career has been the phenomenal people I’ve been able to meet, learn from and claim as friends. They hold an infinitely valuable place in my heart.”

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Homebrew Recipe - New Year's Porter

2013 Beerdrinker of the Year National Finals

Before I provide my latest Porter recipe to the homebrewers out there, I want to remind everyone that this year's BDOTY Finals are on Saturday, February 23rd at 2 pm.  The competition will be held in the Wynkoop's Mercantile Room.  Get there early to nab a seat and have time to enjoy happy-hour priced beers.  More information can be found on the Wynkoop's website.

New Year's Porter

Every year Joycelyn and I host a New Year's party for friends.  It is one of those parties that lends itself to brewing a cask ale since there are plenty of people over to make prepping the handpump worthwhile.  Beer engines are great, but they are not practical for onesie-twosie beer evenings.  There is a bit of waste priming the handpump, and more waste flushing out the device after using.  One tip if you decide to purchase a beer engine for your pub, get the quarter pint sized cylinder.  (like an engine, they house a piston and a cylinder...)  They also come in half and full pint sizes, but for a home system, the larger sizes will waste more beer on the front and back end of your evening.

Now back to beer...  Winter is a great time for dark beers, so to help usher in this New Year I decided to brew a Porter.  "Midnight Silk Porter" is its moniker.  Midnight since it was a New Year's party, and silk, because that is how I wanted it to taste - smooth.

In formulating this recipe, I practiced my own philosophy - keep it simple.  Sometimes simpler is better.  (For background reference my June, 2011 blog - Single Malt/Hop Beers.)  Now a Porter is not a single malt beer, but I still attempted to minimize the variety of grains used.  My goal was to brew a fine, smooth ale - something similar Fuller's London Porter.  The type of dark beer that invites you to have more than one. 

Many brewers view the Porter style as an "everything but the kitchen sink" beer.  The same could be said for stouts.  This often leads to over the top, and overly dark beers in my opinion.  Many American Porters and Stouts pour jet-black.  This is not the case with traditional dark beers.

Guinness is not opaque, rather a dark ruby red.  Though many simply consider it "black."  Does a beer really need to be darker than Guinness?  As a matter of example, a good friend returned from spending Christmas in Ireland with family.  He and his cousin were drinking pints in a pub that happened to have an under-lit tabletop.  Half way through their Guinness they looked down and thought someone had replaced their stouts with Smithwicks!  Next time you are drinking an Irish stout shine a flashlight through it.  My point is, beers don't need to be over the top, or so packed with dark malts that they pour like used motor oil to be world class.

Midnight Silk Porter Recipe

88% Weyermann Pils Malt
5% Special B (140-155 deg L)
5% Weyermann dehusked Carafa II (413-450 deg L)
1% Pale Chocolate (220 deg L)
1% Chocolate (630 deg L)

1st hop addition (60 minutes) enough Willamette to yield 13 IBU
2nd hop addition (20 minutes) enough Willamette to yield 8 IBU

Wyeast 1187 Ringwood Ale

O.G. 1.050
F.G.  1.014
ABV 4.8%

Mash for 30 minutes at 122 deg F, 40 minutes at 154 deg F, and 10 minutes at 168 deg F.  Ferment at 68 degrees.  I also secondary my beer for one week after the completion of primary fermentation.  Carbonate to 1.2 volumes of CO2. 

Note that this beer has a relatively low bitterness of 21 IBUs.  Though not always the case today in American breweries, traditionally dark beers are lightly hopped.  The darker grains provide the bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt, therefore high hop rates are not needed.

I use dehusked Carafa to derive most of the color instead of more Chocolate, Roasted Barley or Black Patent.  Carafa is an excellent coloring malt, and contributes little roast character.  The burnt/roasted husk of many malts lead to roasty "coffee" flavors.

Finally, I fermented this Porter with Wyeast 1187 Ringwood Ale.  This strain ferments a bit slower and is less attenuative than other British strains, but it has excellent character and has always made superb beers for me.

I can't think of anything I would change in this beer.  It pours dark oxblood with a very creamy off-white head.  It tastes very pleasant and smooth with a light, clean body - though with rich ale character.  It finishes earthy and fruity, with a mild roast character. 

This ale is pretty simple for a Porter.  Simplicity does not mean lack of complexity.  I love this beer, and everyone at the party seemed to agree.