Tag Archives: beer

Big Bend Brewing — Alpine, TX

30 May

Back in February I visited Big Bend Brewing in Far West Texas (6 hours West of Austin or 3 hours East of El Paso).


Only a few years old, they’re already expanding, growing from 30bbl to 90bbl tanks, adding an automated canning line (they only do kegs and cans, not bottles, except for some special releases), with several excellent beers across a range of styles. And they gave one of the best brewery tours I’ve been on (and I’ve been on quite a few)– friendly and scientific, followed by a tasting of every one of their beers.

Quick beer memories from some notebook scribbles:

  • [A] Tejas Lager: Very nice, light malt, slight acidity, real grain flavor, no real bitterness. And I don’t typically drink lagers.
  • [B] Terlingua Golden Ale: Slightly sweet malt. Had a can a previous night that I didn’t like as much, but today on tap I liked it (could be freshness, could be my mindset).
  • [A-] Winter Ale: Brewery seasonal only on tap. Dark, a bit of roast, almost no spice (good).
  • [B] Hefe: Very strong bubblegum ester, yeasty, Hefes are not my style.
  • [A] Porter: Really excellent. Malty but not too dark– that browned-bread maillard reaction taste rather than something too dusty or toasted or chocolately. Very light hint of coffee. I wish I could buy this beer locally.
  • [B/C] IPA: A can I had was so bitter I couldn’t really taste anything else and I poured it out. But on tap at the brewery I’d give it a B+, slightly fruity hops and much less bitterness.
  • Chocolate mint porter (special for Valentine’s day in Valentine): I applaud the creative experimental beer. I don’t need to drink it more than the once, though.
  • Prickly pear beer (brought back from Valentine a previous year): A hint of something tart… but I don’t remember it now and will never have a chance to drink it again.

Homebrew #6: Thee No Cees IPA

31 Jan

A remake of homebrew #5 (my anti-Cascade/Columbus/Chinook/Crystal IPA) which had turned out quite well. I tweaked a few things in the recipe and brewing process but mostly tried to replicate it.

I brewed on Christmas day, bottled mid-January, just cracked open the first bottle– and I’m happy with the results.

A powerful, fresh citrus and herbal smell with no dank/pine in it, a moderately strong (7% ABV), slightly malty, slightly orange flavor, and a long hoppy aftertaste (but not in a bitter way). Just the style of IPA I like to drink (in some ways, like a higher-alcohol extra pale ale).

And of course I had to make labels:


On a reused Abita bottle:


Just standard beer ingredients– pale malt and a little red wheat and rye, plus Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Sorachi Ace hops (with a light hand on the bittering hops and a huge dose of dry hopping with especially Sorachi Ace five days before bottling), and our excellent San Francisco Hetch Hetchy water (plus a campden tablet to remove any chloramine).

Homebrew #3: Pumpernickel Sandwich Session

17 Aug

I’ve always been a fan of rye as a grain, and wanted to brew a beer where it was taken to extremes. Thus:

grain scale



The details:

Browsing around, I read about Roggenbier, an older rarely-made German beer style made with as much as 50% rye, dating from a time and region where barley was not as plentiful (and according to Wyeast Labs, similar to a dunkelweizen but with rye instead of wheat). Other reading suggested that much of the flavor of rye doesn’t come through in steeping– you really need to mash it (and get enzymes to convert the starches to sugars), though other homebrewers I’ve talked to disagree. In any case, this seemed like a good excuse to make a grain-heavy beer, though still with some malt extract as backup (I’ve promised myself I’ll keep my brewing low-tech, at least until I’ve brewed five times successfully and am sure I’ll keep doing it).

At SF Brewcraft, I browsed the dozens of grain options:


I took as my inspiration this thread on homebrewtalk discussing converting a roggenbier recipe from all-grain to partial mash, and tweaked the recipe to balance the volume I was able to find Munich Liquid Malt Extract in and to make a few other changes.


  • 2 lbs pilsner malt
  • 6.25lbs rye malt (!!)
  • 0.75 lbs flaked rye added as last-minute choice (the guy at SF brewcraft said it would help give the beer more head vs. just malted rye)
  • 0.5lb caramunich (a medium-dark crystal malt)
  • 2oz carafa ii special (a dehusked/debittered chocolate malt: SF Brewcraft has it though the bin is just labeled “carafa”)
  • 3.3 lbs Munich Liquid Malt Extract

Hops: (European-style hops that should have a slightly earthy/spicy flavor)

  • 1 oz Tettnanger @60
  • 1 oz Saaz @15

Yeast: (a larger than usual amount as I expected a bit higher gravity and a challenging fermentation)

  • 11g Munich Wheat Beer yeast
  • 5g S-04 English Ale Yeast

I followed the usual partial mash procedure, but the 9.5 lbs of dry grains posed some logistical challenges. I’d heated 3 gallons (about 1.25 qts/lb) of water, but I hadn’t reckoned with how porridge-like rye would become when dunked in water — now I understand why people talk about using rice hulls to fluff up a grain bed when using such sticky grains. After the usual 60 minutes of steeping at around 150F, I lifted out the grain bag… and much of the water came out with it, unwilling to release from the grains. If I’d planned ahead I could have poured hotter water over it or used any number of tricks, but this was late in a long day of hanging out with friends, and I didn’t want to spend too much time slaving over the stove, so I let it go and decided to live with the low efficiency and brew it as a lower-alcohol session beer.


After adding the liquid malt extract, doing the hop boil, and so on, I was down from 3 gallons of wort to only 2… I added more make-up water (just bringing it up to 4 gallons to avoid too much dilution), got everything into the fermenter, and I was at an OG of 1.043 : suggesting a 3-4% beer.


The yeast took off on a nice fermenting kick. I took a few samples over the next few weeks but mostly left it alone for five and a half weeks (it was likely done at around three and a half, but I wanted to synchronize the bottling of this and a later batch on the same later date). It finally stabilized at a well-attenuated SG of 1.011, suggesting an ABV of 3.8%.

Three weeks in, it tasted like slightly bitter straw, or a piece of rye toast with more bitterness than expected. By the time I bottled it, though, it was better– really like a slice of pumpernickel toast (“chewy”), with only a little sweetness. I’m cautiously optimistic…

Bottling and labeling day arrived, and I decided to add 3.6oz of dextrose dissolved in hot water for a light level of carbonation (2.5 “volumes of CO2”, as carbonation is traditionally rated, on the high end  for an English Ale, but low for most other styles):


DSC02373 (1)

The labeling shown earlier took a little extra effort– I photocopied a design onto brown craft paper, but the usual milk paste didn’t stick this porous paper to the glass well– eventually I fell back on rubber cement for some bottles.

Now I just need to be patient for 3-4 weeks…

[edit: 3 weeks later]

I’ve shared a few of these with friends and I’m happy with the result. A small but dense foamy head on the pour. A chewy, distinctly rye, flavorful beer with mild bitterness, light on the alcohol. Good with bread, cheese, and salad, and feels like a solid “at the end of a day of work in the fields” drink. The hop/yeast residue varied– some bottles we opened were a clear dark amber all the way through, others had residual hop and yeast silt at the bottom (probably an artifact of the non-ideal three-hands-full solo bottling, where the siphon kept dipping down into the trub at the bottom of the fermenter).

I declare success.


5 Jul

My first homebrew, a summer IPA:

Summer IPA

I enjoyed the process, so hey, maybe I’ll keep doing it. This weekend I shared this first batch with friends, bottled a second batch (an ESB), and started fermenting a third (a mostly-rye ale).

I’d decided to keep the equipment and process simple (just one pot and one fermenter, working with local water, etc), at least until I’ve brewed five or ten times and have a better feeling for it. In photos, an amalgamation of the first two batches:



Delicious Hetch Hetchy Reservoir water, straight from the kitchen tap (ignoring mineral/pH tuning for now):


Steeping grains at 150-155F in a pot covered and wrapped with a towel (not only for flavor– this temperature and the use of some diastatic malted barley along with specialty grains should also produce some enzymatic conversion of starches to sugars):

IMG_20130519_185118_849 IMG_20130519_194251_321

Adding liquid malt (barley) extract to provide the bulk of the fermentable sugars (which also gave me more leeway in the previous step, as I wasn’t depending on the whole grains for a specific amount of sugar), and boiling:

liquid malt extractIMG_20130519_200042_817

Adding hops at specific intervals during the one hour wort boil (to provide bitterness and flavor and a bit of hop aroma), then chilling the pot of wort in a sink of ice water:


Mixing with fresh water to bring it up to 5 gallons in a simple plastic bucket fermenter, along with dry yeast:


Moved down to the cool garage (about 65F) for a few weeks, to ferment at the low end of the yeast temperature range and ideally produce fewer esters. The bucket’s fitted with an airlock bubbler to let fermentation gases out but prevent contaminants from making their way in:


After about a week, fermentation slowed (determined by taking liquid samples and floating a hydrometer in them to read the specific gravity, which indicates the sugar concentration). I let the yeast keep go for another two weeks to eat other fermentation byproducts and clean up the beer. The staff at the brewing supply store recommend siphoning the beer off the yeast into a secondary fermenter at this point, but most other people I talked to including several experienced homebrewers said this was unnecessary and just another possible source for contamination or oxidation, so I left it in this bucket all three weeks to keep it simple. A week before the end, I tossed in some Simcoe hops to “dry hop” (this adds extra hop aroma, without the bitterness in the taste added by boiling the hops earlier, and Simcoe is a popular dry hop in West Coast beers).

After chilling the entire fermenter in the fridge for three days to “cold crash” the beer (not at all necessary– it just helps the yeast and other solids settle to the bottom, leading to a more clear beer during bottling without using any additives), I bottled and labeled the beer (with a little extra sugar, to give the yeast something to eat once it’s sealed in the bottle to produce carbonation), waited two weeks and then, voila! My first beer.

My goal was just to learn the process (during the first batch I read John Palmer’s excellent How To Brew) , and ideally make a beer that wasn’t terrible– but to my pleasant surprise, I think it’s actually a decent beer I wouldn’t be disappointed to get in a bar. About 6.2% alcohol by volume, a modest amount of grapefruity hop bitterness as intended (I’d been shooting for about 40 IBUs, the low end for an IPA), a touch of sweetness/maltiness in the aftertaste, and the distinctive Simcoe hop aroma. And while it’s varied somewhat bottle to bottle, several of them have poured reasonably clear, with a nice dense head of foam. Success!

Some day I’ll post more specific recipes for this and the science experiment that is beer #2…

nunu beer chocolates

20 Jun

I give these a B+: excellent ganache and a concept that of course I’d fall for (a six-pack of chocolates flavored with different beers, including several I already know I like such as Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Oskar Blues G’Knight)… but I found the beer flavorings very subtle next to the strong chocolate, and I wanted something forceful and more different chocolate-to-chocolate.

I’d still like to visit nunu in Brooklyn some day and have a beer next to the chocolate, though.

Good Beer in Chicago

15 May

While visiting Chicago, I was usually getting dinner with other people who are into craft beer, making it easy to try a wide variety. It was a busy few evenings so I don’t remember all the details, but I jotted down a few notes of my favorites that I’m going to keep an eye out for in the future:

  • Vichtenaar, a slightly sour Flemish Red
  • Avery Maharajah, a very distinctively-flavored IPA (and one of a small number of IPAs I’m excited about these days– I’d had it before)
  • Half Acre Over Ale (a brown ale, a bit nutty, a bit like toast, quite good — sadly I don’t think they distribute outside of Chicago)
  • Half Acre Sanguis brewed with oranges and beets, and really excellent with strong food (smoked eel)
  • Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (Sorachi Ace is a particular unusual hop that I think smells a bit like dill– I only knew it from the Mikkeller Single Hop series tasting I did with some friends last year)
  • Revolution Coup d’Etat (from a local brewery, in the slightly funky belgian farmhouse/blonde/yeasty style)
As a side note– I liked the design of the Half Acre Sanguis label quite a bit– my photo of it is a bit blurry but I found a blog post from the designer with the image:
Other good beers:
  • Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
  • Ivanhoe from Ridgeway Brewing in the UK (light caramel and malt flavors, round, smooth)
  • Vitus (unfortunately I don’t remember details about it, but I jotted down that I liked it)
  • Weihenstephaner (their Lagerbier? Or perhaps it was their wheat beer– I just tasted a friend’s)
  • Belhaven (pretty good in general)
I was less interested in:
  • Biere de Garde from Brasserie Castellion (though friends I was with liked it)
  • Goose Island Green Line (a pale ale, and I believe only sold on tap and only sold within Chicago– mild and reasonable but nothing special)
  • Three Floyds Zombie Dust (a pale ale, a distinctive hop flavor, good and something I’d drink again but not something I’d go out of my way for)
  • Two Brothers Cane and Ebel (rye and palm sugar– sort of fruity/sweet– complex, but I didn’t like it– fortunately I was just tasting a friend’s)

Half Acre has a nice little tasting room at their brewery (which was near where I was staying with a friend). I sneaked a peek in back at their small canning operation as well– ever since friends started The Can Van, I’ve been especially curious which craft beers come in cans and at what scale that happens. From chatting with people at the brewery, one of the barriers to canning more beers is the printed cans themselves– they have to get huge pallets/stacks of cans printed at any given time, making it unreasonable to can their smaller-run beers even after making the investment in a canning line.

Firestone Walker Parabola

12 Mar

I didn’t know Parabola was available outside of a few Firestone Walker tastings (they mainly use it as an intermediate beer they blend into their anniversary ale each year) , but City Beer managed to get a few bottles of it (for in-store consumption only, to prevent them from being scooped up and resold on ebay). A good surprise on a beerophile friend’s birthday.

I don’t want to be that person who describes a taste as “dutch cocoa, with raisins and the tart fruitiness of a lightly-roasted espresso”, but apparently I am.

Cured Meat and Smoked Beer

9 Mar

A friend and coworker made his own cured pork belly and wild boar salami (and I mean real running-in-the-woods, invasive, shot-by-a-friend wild boar, not the Texas-ranch-raised “wild boar”) . And a group of us had a little shindig pairing those with various smoked or barrel-aged beers:

The beer highlights for me were the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, a smoked beer with a light touch (and I don’t like most smoked beers I’ve had), and The Lost Abbey Angel’s Share (bourbon aged, chewy, >12% ABV, strong– a sour cherry barrel aged version of that at City Beer a few years ago was one of my favorite beers).

The Arrogant Bastard Oak Aged did nothing special for me, and I actively disliked the Lips of Faith (New Belgium) sour beer.

Beer Cupboard

4 Mar

I’ve taken a dangerous plunge– dedicating a cupboard to stocking some of my favorite not-available-at-corner-stores (though mostly available at City Beer Store or Healthy Spirits) beers, for special (or at least moderately-special) occasions:

Sours: Cascade Kriek, Strubbe Flemish Red, Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour, Russian River Supplication & Consecration, Upright Billy The Mountain

Belgians: Rochefort 8 & 10, Westvleteren 10 & 12, Orval, Liefmans Goudenband

Belgian-Style US: Allagash Black & Tripel & Tripel Reserve, Russian River Damnation

Barrel-aged: J.W. Lees Whiskey-barrel-aged, Fifty-Fifty Eclipse Barrel-Aged Stout, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

Pliny the Younger

19 Feb

Last weekend I went up to Russian River Brewing Co with a group of friends (by bike, in fact, a 130-mile round trip from San Francisco, but that’s a story for another day or blog…) for their two-week window of Pliny the Younger on tap.

After three hours waiting in line to get in (which passed surprisingly quickly due to good company and a boom box with some James Brown), I had a glass of this triple IPA in hand:

I went in expecting to be a bit disappointed and feel “well, at least I’ve checked that off my list”, because so few hyped things live up to expectations, because Pliny the Elder is a fine beer but not one that I go out of my way to order, and because “look at how many hops we put in this, rah rah rah” IPAs aren’t my favorite style.

But I loved it.

If anything, it tasted less hoppy (or at least less bitter) than Pliny the Elder and many of the heavily-hopped Pacific Northwest beers I didn’t like at the Oregon Brewers’ Fest.  It had the scent and initial taste of strong (“resinous”?) pine and grapefruit, but they weren’t overwhelming, and I could actually taste  the malt and some rich other flavors brought out by the heavy alcohol content (10.7%).