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London 2014: Beer

26 Oct

In London earlier this summer I sampled about a dozen beers over two days (having people to share tastes with helps), at locations ranging from a unpretentious 19th century English Pub with many 3.5-4% session beers on Cask (at The Wenlock Arms— I highly recommend it)…

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…to a new craft beer oriented bar (Brewdog) carrying the likes of Mikkeller and other unusual beers, in the controversial-in-London Shoreditch

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…to a range of tiny top-notch modern microbreweries located under support arches in an industrial part of South London, formerly business-oriented but now open to visitors on weekends and dubbed “The Beer Mile“…

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Digging up a worn notebook from the trip, these were my favorites:

  • Beer By Numbers (‘bbno’, Beer Mile) had my favorite beer by far of London.
    • [A] Witbier — slightly spicy, good yeast
    • [A+] Barrel-aged Saison — exceptional. again, good funk form whatever yeast they used, moderately dry, balanced.
  • [A] Partizan (Beer Mile) Quad — intensely strong (and their brewery space was fun to have a drink in)
  • [A] Mikkeller / To Øl collaboration Betelgeuze — I love it — I’d had it once in the US in expensive bottles, but it was on tap at Brewdog. A strongly sour beer without much funk, but not just single-note acidity.

I also enjoyed:

  • [B+] Oscar Wilde from Mighty Oak (on cask at Wenlock Arms) — dark, grain tea flavor, thin but slightly creamy— sort of like a thin session stout
  • [A-] Stroud’s Ten Long (on cask at Wenlock Arms) — session bitter (3.7% ABV),  slightly dark/spicy, slight citrus nose
  • I thought the FourPure beers on the beer mile were all decent, but none were especially memorable
  • [B+] “A Wee Bit” Peated Scotch Ale. A light hand with the peat– present but not too smoky, and a good scotch ale base.

Homebrew #12: Milk Stout w/ Figs

25 Oct

A lead on a free crop of backyard figs with a few weeks until they fell triggered the preserving instinct… and instead of jam, how about my first homebrew aged on fruit?

The only fig beer I’ve had was a sour beer at Cascade in Portland, which I didn’t really like, so I tried to think of other combination… fig saison? figs and oatmeal? figs and cream? Hmm, how about a milk stout (a stout with lactose sugar, which yeast can’t ferment, leaving a sweeter beer) with figs?

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The grain bill combined basic 2-row barley with a little white wheat, Crystal 60L, chocolate malt, roasted barley, and the lactose, with Magnum as bittering hops and no aroma hops to keep this a very malt-focused beer (I’m skeptical that figs + hops would be a pleasant combination in any case). As I’ve been doing for most brewing recently, I kept this to a smaller batch size (about 2 gallons) to make it easy to brew in a single stovetop pot on a weeknight:

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I got a decent amount of wort out of the mashing process, and decided to boil it down farther than usual, bringing it to an original gravity of 1.080 — this should end up closer to an imperial stout in strength (though the lactose makes that gravity reading a little misleading, as some of that sugar won’t actually get fermented to alcohol).

About a week later, after primary fermentation was over, I picked and peeled a few pounds of fresh figs, caramelized them in a hot pan (a dual-purpose flavor enhancement + sterilization tip from an online forum), and deglazed with a bit of the beer in progress before adding them back into the fermenter.

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And after a few weeks on the figs, I carefully siphoned it out with a filter (trying to avoid fig seeds or residue in the beer), bottled it, and made a goofy label. And just yesterday I finally cracked one open and tried it:

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I was pleasantly surprised– it’s quite a good beer. An excellent smooth, roasted-but-not-too-bitter, rich, flavorful stout, with just a hint of some fruit under the surface (tasting opinions ranged from blueberry to fig). This might be good with food as well.

That was a lot of work for just 10 beers, but I’ll stow them away for special occasions, and the process is part of the fun…

Single Malt, Single Hop, Single Gallon (Homebrewing)

4 Oct

I’ve kept homebrewing a low-tech, visceral, hands-on hobby as a contrast to large engineering systems that occupy another part of my life.  Part of this has been focusing on the process, ingredients, and history more than the equipment.

Partial-mash brewing (mashing modest quantities of grain but depending on liquid barley malt extract for more of the sugars) is one way to more easily brew indoors on a small electric stovetop rather than having to manhandle 15lbs of grain through multiple kettles, and I’ve been happy with several of the beers I’ve made using this method.

But I’ve wanted to get down to the simplest kernel of brewing– whole grain, water, hops, and yeast, and try more experiments especially on the grain variety and the mashing process. And 5 gallons of beer goes a long way. So I tried scaling down to single-gallon batches, and it’s been invigorating– it’s unlocked casual weeknight after-work brewing as a possibility (even after-dinner before-bed brewing depending on timing– it’s about three and a half hours from beginning to end including prep and clean-up) and made stovetop all-grain brewing much more practical. Yes, it’s much more work per beer. But it’s still less work per batch, and only getting 8 or 9 beers out is still enough to sip over the following month / share with a few friends.

One week in August, I even brewed two batches in one week (with bottling/cleanup on the same day about a month later to save some time), both very simple / elemental beers to get to know some ingredient and part of the process.

Batch #10 involved only a single grain (Maris Otter, a particular English variety of 2-row barley) and a single hop (East Kent Goldings).

Here’s the “Brew In A Bag” setup: whole grains in cheesecloth soaked in very specific-temperature water (148F-155F depending what you’re trying to get out of the grain), easy to remove and drain after mashing (not shown: the lid and blanket used to insulate and maintain temperature, and the second pot of higher-temperature “sparge water” used to rinse wort off the grains afterwards to increase yield):

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For this beer, I mashed at the low end of the temperature range to try to get a drier, less sweet, less complex beer, hitting a post-boil specific gravity of 1.044 (on the low side, meaning I should expect a roughly 4% ABV session ale out of this, though I ended up around 5% ABV because it fermented all the way down to 1.006 — mashing at low temperature means very few of the less fermentable long-chain complex sugars are produced, so the yeast can ferment almost everything present). In this carboy it looks darker in color because of the thickness, but it’s the yellow second beer from the right in the line of glasses another photo down.

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Above, from left to right: two hard ciders I was fermenting at the same time, this all-Maris-Otter batch, and on the right, Batch #11: a reddish Munich-Malt-and-Fuggles (also a one-gallon, single-grain, single-hop) beer.

After bottling both batches a month later (Simple Beer experiments deserve a simple label):

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Another few weeks later I tried them. While they weren’t fully carbonated so should condition a few more weeks, they were both already interesting enough to declare this a success:

The Maris Otter ale was a pleasant, very mild beer, with a slight smell of straw, and a light barley/hay/nutty taste. It had almost no bitterness (just enough to give a hint) and no sweetness.

The 100% Munich Malt ale on the other hand had a caramelized malt nose almost reminiscent of a lighter doppelbock (one of my favorite styles), and a robust flavor of caramelized grain– not sweet in a sugary sort of way, but with the mix of flavors you get from Maillard reactions or a brown shiny crust on a nice loaf of bread. Again, it had almost no bitterness or hop flavor (by design), and wasn’t especially complex, but I would happily drink this any day. I’d mashed the malt for this beer at the high end of the typical temperature range (155F), which was supposed to result in “more complex sugars / resulting in lower alcohol content and a full bodied beer with a lot of mouth-feel”. What do you know, chemistry works…

Strong, Dark, Old Beer

13 Aug

A one-of-a-kind evening of strong, dark, and old beers with friends.

Some of us had been hanging on to some beers for years without quite the right excuse to crack them open… problem solved. Not a wedding, new year, baby shower, or birthday, just a casual evening hanging out with lentil soup and bread.

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Goose Island Bourbon County Stout *2007*,  Westvleteren 12 and 8 eBayed from Belgium years ago, Half Acre’s special Sanguis beer brewed with oranges and beets for one specific dinner at Next, an excellent imperial porter from High Water, a 10.5% imperial stout in a can, homebrew, and more.

Food and Beer across rural Iowa, Wisconsin

31 Jul

Traveling across Iowa and Wisconsin, I tried a fair amount of local craft beer… and a lot of meat and potatoes and ice cream (along with one fancier excellent meal at Forequarter in Madison). A few memories:

The West O (West Okoboji) lager was nicely crisp and well done. I finally had the all-the-rage New Glarus Spotted Cow and a few others from New Glarus and they were solid, good beers but didn’t blow me away.

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At a traveling Iowa Craft Beer tent with a rotating cast of 10-15 beers, the Lions Bridge “Workmans Comp” rye was a real standout I’d order anywhere, a little peppery and quite malty. The Backpocket Gold Coin was also a solid, fresh lager.

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Some good cheese-curds-and-gravy poutine at The Cooper’s Tavern in Madison and a heavily malty, slightly peaty Founders Dirty Bastard, another good beer.

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Ale Asylum and Karben4 in Madison both had some decent beers and friendly people, and to my surprise the Fantasy Factory IPA was my favorite from either (I haven’t even been in an IPA mood for a while).

Eating a whole pork chop as a roadside snack during a bike ride (smoked over corn cobs, so it was flavorful and firm but not falling-apart fatty):

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A little bit of Cornwall in the old lead mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin: pasty is a pastry filled with ground beef, onions, and rutabaga (an idea I’ll have to remember for my next shepherd’s pie), though this one was a bit dry:

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I tried several slices of pie across Iowa, and while I liked the novelty of ground cherry, the best was a slice of apple pie a la mode (with the ice cream being churned right in front of me) by an Amish family, sold out of a roadside horse trailer. Though the creamy, silky ice cream I had all across Wisconsin blew this away.

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Finally, what trip to an Iowa fairground would be complete without a “walking taco” a.k.a. “taco in a bag”. Two excited kids were chanting a sales pitch for their stand so I gave in to the pile of ground beef, cheese, and salsa poured into a foil bag of Fritos.

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Bavaria Beer and Food

26 Jun

I found myself in Bavaria recently. Unfortunately, I’m not really a fan of German food and the continuous stream of meat-and-white-starch (and to my disappointment, so many of the sausages and pork chops just weren’t very good), but a handful of meals or beers were memorable.

Bamberg was a cute city and great place for beer. Schlenkerla is one of the few old breweries still making a rauchbier (smoked beer). Their Marzen tapped straight from a wooden keg was intoxicatingly campfire-smoky in smell, but not bitter or harsh in taste, with a modestly roasted malt and creamy body (and all this for about $3). Delicious and definitely worth a visit.

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Cafe Abseits (tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the opposite side of Bamberg from all the sights) was my favorite bar of the trip. They had a deep beer list and a very laid-back, uncrowded atmosphere and outdoor patio. The Duvel Triple Hop Mosaic was complex– it smelled a bit like basil and tangerines, and had a noticeably warming alcohol flavor (9% ABV) with some funk and a slightly bitter orange aftertaste. It was an A+ for me, and it kept getting more funky as it warmed up.

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Wurzburg had good ies (ice cream), wine (it’s in Franconia, surrounded by vineyards), and a great little breakfast place a friend took me to, with a dumbwaiter, books, and a disco ball. Among other dishes I ordered the famous bavaria breakfast weisswurst (white sausages made with veal, bacon and herbs,  served in broth with a “lye stick” and sweet mustard).

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Augsburg’s Riegele brewery was a good place for a tour, with a chance to taste beer straight out of the fermenter in a nearly pitch-black, cold, sub-basement lit by candlelight. For obvious reasons I didn’t take any photos of that, but their Simcoe specialty ale was more interesting than your average helles:

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And of course Munich. Sure, there were a lot of crisp solid German lagers here… but lagers rarely excite me. The Edelstoff fresh from a wooden keg at Augistinerkeller was good, though.

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Finally, Der Pschorr biergarten (which I’d found on Chowhound) was the one really good German dinner in a sea of fatty-pork-with-white-potatoes-or-kraut meals, with a crisp helles, a great steak with herbed butter, grilled tomatoes, and horseradish, and actual green vegetables… as well as fantastic housemade hazelnut schnapps.

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Homebrew #6: Fatherland Imperial Stout

23 Jun

My most successful homebrewing by far deserved some extra effort on the label (laser-cut paper laminated to silver foil):

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It’s “homebrew #6” because I brewed it back in December and let it age for five months (it could probably go another half year, even).

And it really turned out well. Rich, dark, smooth but not sweet, almost like bittersweet baking chocolate and with none of the overt “roasted coffee” flavor I don’t like in some imperial stouts. And it’s powerful. Did I mention it’s 10% ABV?

It involved ten grains (the usual suspects plus Carafa III, roast barley, aromatic malt, 40L, 120L, black malt, and chocolate malt), substantial amounts of Eastern European hops (Styrian Goldings and Perle), a whopping 1.100 original gravity, and a compressed gas cylinder of pure oxygen that I dosed it with to help the yeast take it on.

For one special gallon out of the batch, I dropped in toasted chunks of oak I’d soaked in port for a month, as my approximation of aging in a port barrel. I’ll have to try one of those soon and see how it turned out.

 

Homebrew #9: Wet Hot American Saison

22 Jun

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I’ve wanted to brew a saison for a while, and when the San Francisco May Heat Wave struck (88 degrees during the day– the horror!) I knew I had to jump on it (saisons are traditionally fermented at higher temperatures, and I hadn’t built a hot water bath or heating jacket).

Inspired by the Modern Times Lomaland saison (which they publish the recipe for on that site), I brewed with barley malt, wheat and flaked corn, Saaz hops, and some acidulated malt, plus the White Labs saison yeast another friend had used to great success in the past (the yeast is the defining characteristic of the saison flavor, after all).

Fermenting around 80-85F was brisk in pace, taking it from an OG of 1.048 down to a FG of 1.010 (5% ABV)  in about 4 days. I let it condition for another two weeks, and a month after bottling gave it a try.

It’s pretty good, I give it a solid B: distinctively a saison, but a bit heavy on the banana-like esters in the smell nose that are produced by yeast fermenting at high temperature (especially once it warms up). If I brew it again I think I’d up the acid malt and aroma hops slightly and keep the temperature lower the first few days of fermentation.

As usual, I also had to give it a goofy name and label.

San Diego and a Long List Of Beer

18 Apr

A long weekend in San Diego for the First Annual SD Bike & Beer tour expanded naturally into a broad beer tour of that fair city with 51 new-to-me beers (thank goodness for tasting flights and friends to share). This isn’t quite the “tasting 100 beers in belgium” adventure that was the original impetus behind this blog a few years ago…  but it’s good to see I haven’t changed much.

San Diego beer, first in photos:

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A cafe with about 30 interesting beers, mostly local… and all in cans. We’d already been to three bars that night so we didn’t even squeeze in a beer here, but I had to take a photo:

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Brewery in an old brick Wonder Bread factory:

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Hess Brewing, in what I hear used to be an Evangelical bookstore:

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Not quite beer, but kvass (fermented dark rye bread, less than 0.5% alcohol, in a Russian restaurant):

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Taps and fish tacos at the nautically-themed Ballast Point brewing in an office part North of the city (“Warning: contains shellfish”, said the beer brewed with oysters).

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Small $1 tastes at Societe to work our way through them quickly:

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Alesmith had by far my favorite beers of the trip:

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Pizza Port– Port Brewing’s outpost down by the beach, with a variety of Port and other beer and a fun mix of the surf crowd, biking crowd, and beer-exploring crowd:

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Stone Brewing at Liberty Station– beer (of course) and decent lunch during the bike ride:

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Modern Times, probably my second favorite brewery (venue and beer) after Alesmith. With a post-it mural:

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Drinking beer is serious business and requires notes:

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And for the excessively long list of beer notes / opinions, recorded for my future memory…

at The Pig Pen (a small beer garden behind the Carnitas’ Snack Shack)

  • Oceanside Strong Golden, 9% ABV: malty, strong, quite good. [B]
  • Thorn St IPA: generic Cascade-hopped IPA. [C]

Toronado (yes, there’s a second one in San Diego)

  • Allagash White: a classic, but always nice to see on draft.
  • Societe Harlot:  a pale ale with a really interesting hop flavor (mild but slightly earthy, spicy, mysterious, but almost no bitterness)– I wonder what it is. [B]

Belching Beaver (seriously?)

  • Me So Honey: generic honey ale, also with a terrible name [C]
  • Tommy Callahan: English bitter, a solid example [B]
  • Saison de Beaver: nice taste and bitterness, a little too much residual sweetness [B]
  • Beaver Milk: milk stout, coffee flavor, one-note [C]
  • Beaver Milk randalled on tamarind, oranges, and chiles: interesting… a little weird but surprisingly restrained. Wouldn’t have wanted more than a tasting glass of it [B]

Modern Times

  • Lomaland Saison– everything I want in a saison– funky, slightly spicy, earthy, farm-fragrant, and not at all sweet. [A]
  • Monster’s Park special Imperial Stout– Strong, bold, good balance between volatile alcohol and a little sweetness and hops, but  with a wide range of grain flavors. A well-made imperial stout. [A]
  • Blazing World Amber and Fortunate Islands Wheat– both solid, though I just tried a sip. [B]

Stone Liberty Station (also had a nice sit-down bar / dining room)

  • Polaris Single Hop: Very good, an interesting non-Pacific-NW hop flavor, fragrant but not pine or citrus, couldn’t place it. A palate awakener almost like an apertif. [A]
  • Oaked Bastard: sweet / strong. Fine, in-your-face. [B]
  • Stone Russian Imperial Stout: solid, good balance between alcohol, roasted malt, and sweetness though didn’t blow me away [B]
  • Matt’s Cherrywood Smoked Saison: Great! A solid dry saison with a light hand on the wood and cherry… it would have been easy to go overboard. My note says “delicious horsesweat, rolling in wood chips”. Ok… [A]

Mission Brewing

  • The blonde, saison, and pale ale were all fine but unmemorable. [C]

Hess Brewing (good space and people, though loud… and none of the beers quite took off for me)

  • Ficus: fig saison. A schtick… that was decent, not too heavy-handed on the fig (though not as funky/dry as I like). [B]
  • Cream Ale: reasonable but bland (San Diego gives me high standards). [C]
  • Kolsch: a good crisp kolsch, refreshing after a long day of beer tasting [B]

Wayfarer Public (a bar nearby, for the post-bike-ride celebration)

  • Port Brewing Dawn Patrol: a sessionable (3%) English Bitter. Excellent– plenty of flavor, distinct grain, slight bitterness, bready/biscuity, an ideal English-style ale for me. [A]
  • Modern Times White IPA: generic hop-heavy IPA. Meh. [C]

Pizza Port Brewing

  • Bob Loblaw Lager– dry grains, crisp, good start… but a weird old-hops aftertaste, not bright [B]
  • Vinsanity– a golden ale with lime peel and persimmons. Light and drinkable, malty, lime comes through on the sides of the tongue. Refreshing. [B]
  • Beer Hunter #1: a Belgian golden ale aged in wine barrels on Ranier cherries. A nice modestly-sour acetic taste…  while not the most complex sour, quite good. [B+]
  • Beer Hunter #2: a saison, but with a slightly medicinal aftertaste I didn’t like. [C]

Ballast Point

  • Calico – mild amber, lightly bitter, fragrant. [B]
  • Pescadero – a pilsner, a little bitter [B]
  • Piper Down Pequin- their Piper Down scottish ale infused with pequin peppers. The kind of experiment that could end up over the top, and the peppers produced a strong, slow burn… but it really came together nicely. The strong malty scottish ale plus the peppery (not actually that spicy) slow burn and aftertaste were fascinating. [A]
  • San Salvador (dark lager brewed with raw oysters)– smells like a lightly sour stout, taste reminds me of a grilled fish filet and toast. Interesting. [B+]
  • Navigator Doppelbock – a nice, solid, bready/sweet doppelbock. [B]
  • Indra Kunindra – “curry export stout”. About what that sounds like. Curry, coconut, cumin, hot pepper, maybe turmeric in a stout? Not subtle… I applaud them for brewing creatively, but I don’t need to try it again. [C]

Societe. It was late in a long day of beer tasting with a flight to catch so we rushed through this a bit, unfortunately.

  • Publican — hoppy, blonde, “dank” as they say… but I appreciated the dank hopness was mostly in the aroma and the taste was dry and not too bitter. Well done. [B+]
  • Dandy — IPA. Bitter pine bomb. Just the style that’s not my style… [C]
  • Pupil — IPA, dank, bitter [C]
  • Apprentice — IPA, bitter, very bland aroma [D]
  • Debutante — Amber belgian, a little sweet [B]
  • Madam — smells like warm corn mash (in a good, unuusal way). A Belgian pale, apparently. I should try it again. [B]
  • Widow — strong dark, generic [C]
  • Butcher — very dry imperial stout? Didn’t even taste that high in alcohol. Interesting, would try again [B]
  • Bellowsman– a smoked stout. Chimney sweepings, ash, old London, dry… and decent, interesting [B+]

Alesmith — the best hour of beer tasting all trip:

  • Little Devil – Belgian Pale Ale (modest 5% alcohol compared to their other beers) with aromas of coriander, orange, esters (likely all from the belgian yeast rather than any additions), creamy and effervescent, tiny bubbles. [A]
  • Horny Devil – Belgian Strong Pale Ale (10% ABV), golden malts, moderate ester / banana and pepper nose (again, from the yeast). Not some one-note banana wit, instead an amazing smell that opened up over time to become more spicy, almost bergamot. [A+]
  • Grand Cru – dark belgian, 10%, but didn’t stand out as much to me, I didn’t write any notes [B]
  • Old Numbskull – Barleywine, citrusy hops, strong, complex… but also more bitter than I like, and I’m generally not a barleywine fan [A- though probably outstanding to someone who likes the style]
  • Decadence 2013 — A different style every year, 2013’s was a German-style Doppelbock. This was one of my favorite beers of the whole trip. A rich barley smell and many different overlapping malt flavors from sweet to lightly roasted. A particular kind of malt taste I associate with doppelbocks though I’m not sure what it is. It was suggested this would be great with fruit. [A+]
  • Old Ale 2014 (Barrel Aged) — All I wrote was “excellent, strong, dry, solvent” [A-]
  • Old Ale 2014 (Cask) — Fantastic served on cask– smooth, creamy, light carbonation, a little dried cherry and chocolate sort of sweetness, strong dark malts but balanced, not overly bitter. Bravo! [A+]
  • Wee Heavy — a scotch ale, strong, a slight coffee flavor, a great beer though a bit sweeter than I like. Fans of scotch ales would love this, though. [A-]

 

Condensed, ten of my favorite beers of the trip were Alesmith (Old Ale Cask, Decadence 2013 Doppelbock, Horny Devil, Little Devil), Ballast Point Piper Down Pequin, Port Brewing Dawn Patrol, Modern Times (Lomaland Saison, Monster’s Park Imperial Stout), and Stone (Polaris Single Hop Pale, Matt’s Cherrywood Smoked Saison).

Whew. I’m exhausted just remembering it all… yet it renews my appreciation for the vast variety of interesting beer being made these days.

Homebrew, Cider, Snacks

14 Apr

What was going to be “an informal bread, cheese, and homebrew hard cider tasting” expanded a bit, as it always does.

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Highlights were the small carrots roasted in cider, the hummus made with plenty of garlic and a little cider vinegar in lieu of lemon juice, #3 of the hard cider experiments (made with unpasteurized cider and champagne yeast), the fennel salami mail-ordered from Seattle (which I’ve wanted to do ever since having it on a trip) and the Russian Imperial Stout (rich, coffee-like, well-hopped (not actively bitter but it kept the alcohol in check), 10% ABV, aged 4 months so far since brewing and really supposed to go 6+).

And the small, excellent group of friends-in-partaking.