Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hop-Scotch Is This Weekend

Starting this weekend at Fremont Studios in Seattle (kitty-corner from Brouwer's Cafe) is the annual Hop-Scotch Beer & Scotch Festival. This event is a benefit for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). You can attend this event on either Friday, April 1st form 5:00PM to 12:00AM or Saturday, April 2nd from 1:00PM to 12:00AM. Click HERE to purchase tickets.

The standard ticket is $25 for a taster glass and 5 tokens, or you can spend an extra $5 for 10 taste tokens ($30 'Grand Admission' ticket price). There's also a $15 ticket price for non-drinkiers/designated drivers.

Designated Driver

I won't be able to attend this year, but I hope to give it a go next year. For those attending, have fun!

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Monday, March 28, 2011

IPA Brewing Video - Part 2 - Racking & Dry Hopping

It has now been 8 days since I brewed my batch of IPA on March 20th.

Today, I have a video for you, showing the process of racking (siphoning/moving) my beer from the primary to the secondary fermententation tanks. After racking the beer to the secondary fermenters, I will also show you the process of dry hopping the beer. You can view the video HERE.

I'll be back 6 days from now with a new video, showing the process of moving the beer from the secondary fermentation tanks to the kegs and starting the carbonation process. I hope you enjoy the video, and please 'Like' us HERE on Facebook.com.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Video of My IPA Brewing Session on March 20, 2011

My Brewing System

The video is now up for the batch of IPA I brewed this past Sunday. You can view it HERE.

The video covers the whole brewing process - all the way from grains to the beer in the fermentation tanks. For a detailed explanation of each brewing term used in the video (Mash, Wort, Sparge, etc.) please read my previous post, which detailed the process for this brew.

I hope you enjoy the video.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My First Batch of the Season

Water Being Heated in the Hot Liquor Tank

Yesterday, for the first time in a few years, I finally brewed again! This will be my first batch of many to come this year.

Overall, things went pretty smoothly. My only mistake was underestimating how much water I needed to use for sparging. I used 8 gallons to sparge, but I should have used 9-10. Don’t know what sparging is? I’ll get into that below. I also think I lost a bit more due to evaporation during the boil than I’d anticipated. As a result, the batch came out to be just about or slightly less than 9 gallons. I’m OK with that though. The whole brewing process went pretty smoothly, and in 4 weeks time I’ll have a nice, tasty batch of IPA ready to go!

I took a few photos as I was brewing, as well as a video. I’ll share the photos here as I go over the brewing process. The video will be posted as soon as I can find the time to edit it all together.

The Brewing Process:
Step 1: Relax. Don’t worry. Have a beer.

This is a saying I basically stole from Charlie Papazian, homebrewing pioneer and author of, “The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing.” The actual saying is: Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew. However, since I haven’t homebrewed in a while, I didn’t have any available to drink.

My Selection For Today's Step 1

The Brewing Process:
Step 2: The mash.

Beer is made from grains, water, hops and yeast. The first step involves cracking open your grains and then adding hot water to starting the mash. After the grains are cracked open using a grain mill (you want to crack the grain husks open, not crush the grain), hot water is added to the mash from the ‘Hot Liquor Tank’ (basically, a big kettle for heating up the water for mashing and sparging). The idea is to hold the grains at a temperature range of about 150-155 degrees. It is at this temperature that the ‘mash’ happens. That is, the starches in the grains are converted into sugars.

Grains to Add to the Mash

Yeast uses sugar and oxygen in order to create alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide) so this is, obviously, a very crucial step in the brewing process. You have to account for the temperature drop that will happen when the hot water is added to the room-temperature grains in the mash tun. To hit my target mash temperature of 150-155 degrees, I usually start with 170 degree water in the hot liquor tank. I also use a 10-gallon drink cooler as my mash tun, to help the grains remain in the target temperature range.

The Spiggot On My Mash Tun - To Allow the Wort to Flow into the Boil Kettle

The Brewing Process:
Step 3: The Sparge.
After the mash is complete, it’s time to sparge. Sparging is the process of spraying water over the grain in the mash tun in order to wash all the sugar from the mashed grain into the boil kettle. In my brewing setup I currently use a spinning sparging arm (called Phil’s Sparger – no longer made). This sits atop the mash tun and rotates while slowly and gently spraying the grains with hot water.

The Sparge Arm; Spinning to Gently Shower the Grains With Water From the Hot Liquor Tank

As the grains are sprayed with 170 degree hot water from the hot liquor tank, the spigot at the bottom of the mash tun is opened a bit to allow wort to start flowing into the boil kettle. Wort is what we call the sweet liquid flowing out of the mash tun. This should be a slow process. You want to make sure you wash out as much sugar as you can from the grain in the mash tun into the boil kettle. My sparge for this batch took 70-75 minutes. I wanted to collect 12 gallons of wort in the boil kettle, but I underestimated the amount of water I needed in the hot liquor tank for the sparge so I only wound up with about or just under 11 gallons of wort in the boil kettle.

Wort Flowing Very Slowly From the Mash Tun into the Boil Kettle

The Brewing Process:
Step 3: The Boil.
Once the sparge was complete and the wort was in the boil kettle, it was time to boil. I lit the burner under my boil kettle when the sparge was nearly complete and brought my wort slowly up to a boil. It’s important to bring your wort to a boil slowly to help avoid the possibility of a boil over (which can be a nasty, sticky mess!)

As soon as the wort reached a boil, it was time to add the first bittering hops and start the clock. The length of the boil can differ depending on the style of beer being made, but the average is right around one hour (which was the boil time for this particular batch). For the next half hour, I monitored the boil kettle; making sure the boil kept rolling but was not in danger of boiling over and gave the kettle an occasional stir.

A half hour in, or halfway through the boil, I added the second batch of bittering hops and kept monitoring the boil. I also got my wort chiller ready and started preparing my fermentation tanks.

The Brewing Process:
Step 4: Finishing Hops and the Cool Down.
When there was 5 minutes left on the clock for the boil, it was time to add the finishing hops. The hops added earlier in the boil were for bittering (imparting that familiar bitter bite to IPA beers). Finishing hops don’t add much bitterness, but affect the ‘nose’ of the finished beer; giving it that nice, floral hop aroma.

Just a couple of minutes after adding the finishing hops, I cranked up the heat on the boil kettle and plunged my immersion wort chiller into the kettle (I cranked up the heat for just a minute, since the cold wort chiller can knock the boil off for a few seconds). At this point, there was no water flowing through the wort chiller. The boil still had 2-3 minutes to go.

As soon as the boil clock reached 60 minutes, I turned off the burner and turned on the hose faucet, to allow cold water to start flowing through the wort chiller. You want to get your wort down to the proper temperature (in this case 68-70 degrees) as soon as possible.

The Brewing Process:
Step 5: Transferring to Fermenters and Pitching the Yeast.
The wort took about 10 minutes or so to go from boiling to about 68-70 degrees. Once the target temperature was achieved, I turned off the hose feeding the wort chiller and grabbed the first of my two carboys.

Unfortunately, I don’t currently own a fermentation tank large enough to ferment whole 10-gallon batches. So, I just use 2 6 ½ gallon carboys and put half the batch in each. (See my previous post regarding my ‘dream fermeter’).

I put just over 5 gallons into the first carboy, then stopped the flow and put the second carboy in place. I was only able to fill the second carboy to just under the 4 gallon mark. That means, my batch actually wound up being right around 9 gallons instead of 10 (just over 5 gallons in the first carboy – and just under 4 gallons in the second one).

As I said at the start of this article, I think my only error was not adding enough water to the hot liquor tank for the sparge. I ran out just a bit early, so I wasn’t able to collect a full 12-12.5 gallons of wort. I got a little less than 11 gallons. The rest was lost to evaporation during the boil.

Once the wort had been transferred from the boil kettle to both fermenters, it was time to pitch the yeast. You want to pitch (add) the yeast at the proper target temperature of 68-70 degrees. After adding the yeast, the fermenters get agitated (Shaken) for about 5 minutes. This shaking is to oxygenate the wort, since the yeast uses sugar and oxygen as its ‘food’ to produce alcohol and CO2.

Now we wait. After one week in the primary fermentation tanks, it will be time to transfer the beer to the secondary fermenter. This is done to get the beer off the trub (pronounced – troob), the layer of spent yeast that collects at the bottom of the fermentation tank. Once the beer is in the secondary fermenters, I will be ‘dry hopping’ it. Dry hopping is the practice of adding hops directly to the fermenter, in order to add more hop aroma and flavor to the finished beer.

After one more week in the secondary fermenters it’s time to either keg or bottle our beer. I usually do half and half (keg half and bottle half). Having my batch split into two separate fermenters makes this quite easy to accomplish.

I did manage to take a good amount of video as I was brewing this batch. I’ll get the video edited and posted up for you all to see as soon as I can.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Tap For This Weekend

Hoppy Friday! I hope everyone had a fun and safe St. Patrick's Day! Now it's time to turn my attention to the approaching weekend. I don't know about you, but I've got big plans!

Time to Brew:
I've been rather annoyed at myself for slacking off on my homebrewing for the past couple of years, so I decided it's finally time to brew again!

This weekend, I plan to clean all my brewing equipment, head to the homebrew supply shop to pick up some new hoses and fittings, buy the necessary ingredients to brew a batch of IPA - maybe a double IPA, and then brew! I'm also going to go ahead and make a batch of cider. I haven't decided on what flavor yet, but I'm thinking strawberry or perhaps blueberry.

The gravity-fed, propane-fired brewing system I have allows me to make 10-gallon all-grain batches of beer. I can bottle or keg my homebrew (in 3 or 5 gallon Cornelius Kegs), and I usually do a half and half. That is, I keg half of each batch and I bottle the other half (for easier transport - the kegs are for home consumption).

Since it’s still a bit chilly in the Northwest (our avg. daily temperature is still in the low 50’s), I have two choices for keeping my fermenters at the proper temperature of 66-72 degrees for ale fermentation. The first option is to simply carry the fermenters upstairs into the house after they’re filled. It sounds simple, but the fermenters are pretty darn heavy when full!

An Aquarium Heater

The other option, and the one I’ll probably go with, involves using a tub of water and an aquarium heater. It may sound odd, but hear me out. I brew 10-gallon batches with my brewing system, but my largest fermenter (I use glass carboys as my fermenters) has a capacity of only 6.5-gallons. To get around this problem, I always split my batches into two 6.5-gallon fermenters – putting 5 gallons in each. Then, I simply place both carboys into a large tub of water, and put the aquarium heater in the water, set to about 68 degrees. I’ve found this a very effective way to maintain a steady fermentation temperature, even with the carboys sitting in a garage where the temperature can fluctuate quite a bit through the course of the day.

Splitting my 10-gallon batches into two separate fermenters, as I mentioned above, actually has a few advantages as well. Since I often keg half of each batch and bottle the other half, having the batch already split in two makes this much easier. Also, it’s very handy if I want to experiment with what effect different yeasts will have on the taste of the finished beer, by using different yeast strains for each half of the batch. I’ve found this method pretty useful over the years, in helping me determine the appropriate yeast for some of my beers. It also makes the fermenters easier to move around if necessary (you try lifting a container that holds 10-gallons of liquid).

My Dream Fermenter

I do have a 'dream fermenter' I’d like to pick up at some point, but it carries a price tag of $1,895 for the base 14-gallon model and $2,449 for the ‘ultimate’ model (with a rapid heating/cooling system to maintain proper fermentation temperature for ales or lagers).

I’ll try to make sure I take plenty of photos as I clean up my equipment and brew my batch of IPA. No promises, but I’ll also try to make a video of the brewing process as well for you all to see. That may take a few days longer, as I’ll have to edit it after shooting it.

Hitting the Books:
Next up is study, study, study! As my regular readers know, I’ve decided that I’d like to go for my BJCP Beer Judging Certification. It wasn’t until I’d made that decision that I realized what a large undertaking it really is. I was planning to take my first BJCP exam next month but, after looking over a sample test and study guide, I realized that I’m nowhere near ready.

The exam involves much more than just testing your taste buds. You must be able to identify and describe (in painstaking detail), the aroma, appearance, flavor, mouth feel, etc. of every style of beer outlined in the BJCP Style Guidelines, as well as name commercial ‘classic examples’ of each style, name the desired as well as undesirable flavor descriptors (such as acetaldehyde, diacetyl, oxidized, phenolic, etc. etc. etc.

It’s a mountain of material to memorize. Even the starting ‘interim study guide’ I picked up is a whopping 67 pages and covers such topics as the beer judging process, full details of the entire brewing process and it’s ingredients (including delving into the alkalinity, pH and hardness of your water and how to adjust these factors, different types of brewing malt and other adjuncts, etc.), information on the life-cycle of yeast and fermentation by-products and, of course, detailed information on each flavor descriptor beer judges utilize when judging beers.

There are some places you can find BJCP Exam study classes or study groups, but I think I’m going to study/prepare for the exam on my own. I was always a lone-studier in College and it worked out pretty well for me back then.

So, between hands-on brewing and written theory about beer, brewing, tasting, etc., my weekend is going to be all about beer. I’d just better not drink too much of it this weekend, though. I’ve laid out a pretty ambitious to do list for myself. I just hope, after all the studying, I don't wind up like THIS guy!

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cheap Beer? My Journey From American Lagers to Homebrew & Microbrews

How we percieve things can have a big impact on our definitions of certain things. Prime example: how do you define "cheap"? It can mean different things to different people. To Bill Gates, for example, a $50K Lexus is a pretty 'cheap' car - compared to what he could spend on one if he wanted ($300K Bentley anyone? $500K Mercedes?)

Then, of course, there are those for which the Lexus is far too expensive and their idea of cheap is a $15K Volkswagen or even a $10K Kia ($2K 1972 bug anyone? lol). For those who are financially-minded (that is - preoccupied with their finances), the beer world can sometimes be viewed in somewhat the same way.

I started drinking beer at around age 19 (not including the occasional, random high school party weekend). Like most young Americans, my early tastes of beer were the likes of Budweiser, Miller, Coors and Michelob. The fanciest beers that I ever came across back in those days were things like Henieken, Corona and mabe the occasional Dos Equis. Ooh! Exotic, huh? But let's not forget other beers from back then like Schlitz, Hamms, Rainier, Blatz, Pabst, etc.)

Mmm. Blatz! It must be a high-class beer. Note the tuxedos!

Homebrewing had been made legal again in the U.S. in 1978 and the first microbreweries were starting to appear, but they weren't even on my radar yet. Being a freshman in college, I was looking for any way to save money. So, even the 'name brands' I knew, like Bud and Miller, were more than I was willing to spend at first. I was attending Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, CA and the closest supermarket to me carried a beer called Weideman's (No longer in business). Talk about cheap! It was a mere $2.99 for a 12-pack! To a college freshman in 1987, anything cheap was good.

$2.99 A 12 Pack!

It wasn't before long, however, that I began realizing the problems with drinking a beer so cheap. It didn't taste very good, it took far to many to even catch a buzz if that was your intention (remember, we're talking college freshman here...), and would leave you with bad headaches and hangovers if you overdid it a bit. So I went back to the standard American beers again, like Miller and Coors (but even back then I just wasn't a fan a Budweiser).

After a few more years in college (working full time and taking a few classes at night each semester), drinking things like Coors Light, Corona, MGD, etc. I decided it was time to branch out a little. My budget had improved a bit and I was starting to see some of these slightly more expensive brews in the store I'd been wanting to try.

It was around this time that I first discovered one of if not the first microbrew I'd ever had (at the time, I had no idea what the term microbrew even meant). It was a Red Tail Ale from Mendocino Brewing Company - easy to find in Santa Rosa - just one county South. After years spent drinking beer that tasted so bland, the Red Tail Ale blew me away! It had so much flavor and a beautiful deep amber color. Also, for the first time in my life, I knew what hops tasted like...and I liked it!
From there, I began experimenting with the other microbrews I was finding in the area, such as Boonville (Anderson Valley Brewing Company - launched in 1987), North Coast Brewing Company (launched in 1988), Marin Brewing Company (Launched in 1989), and other startups around the Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino county areas in California, where I was living at the time.

The more I tried of these new microbrews, the more I liked them. I started drinking less and less mass produced American lagers, and started drinking more and more micros.

Of course, still being a cost-conscious drinker, I became interested in homebrewing. My brother in law was a homebrewer and I was intrigued to learn that it could be possible to create microbrew quality beer at home, for around the same or even less than it was costing me to drink Miller or Coors.

I became hooked. I brewed regularly and after a few years I had switched from brewing on my kitchen sink with malt extract to using whole grains and making 10-gallon batches on an all-grain brewing system in my garage. I even picked up a 2nd refrigerator for my homebrew and started kegging my beer in 5 gallon 'Cornelius' kegs. These are the old 5 gallon steel containers that used to be used for holding soda fountain syrup. When the soda industry abandoned these containers, the homebrew community snapped them up.

A Cornelius Keg Beer Dispensing Setup

I continued to homebrew but also continued to explore and experiment with beers from other microbreweries I was learning about. I even tinkered with the idea of trying to start my own brewery (a dream I still have), but I just didn't have the financial backing to get it off the ground. Ask any microbrewery (or the new breed of 'nanobrewery') and they'll tell you; starting a brewery is no simple task - and a definite financial risk.

By this time, the beers I started out drinking (Miller, Coors, Corona, Heineken, Hamms, etc.) had become my 'cheap' beers. As Weideman's was to MGD and Coors, so were MGD and Coors to the microbrews, but to an even greater degree. It's like someone who's been eating bologna all their life and then finally discovered steak. Since then, my appreciation for good beer has only grown. I don't homebrew as often as I used to (I'm actually annoyed at myself about that, gotta get back to it!), but I'm always on the lookout for new micros to try.

Years ago, I never could have stomached the idea of spending $7-8 for a 6-pack. Why would I when I could have Weideman's for $2.99 a 12-pack - or Coors for $3.49 a 12-pack?

Over the years, however, my spending threshold has only gone up. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I spent $19 for a single bottle of Lost Abbey Brewing's Angel's Share (2008), and these days I'll regularly spend $6-10 on a single 22oz bottle of beer from my local bottle shop (or $1.50 to $6 on a single 12oz). In fact, most trips I make to one of my local bottle shops, usually wind up with me spending around $40-$50 - and on only around 12-15 beers (12oz and 22oz mixed). Clearly my tastest have evolved since my early beer drinking days, and my enjoyment of these beers has made me willing to pay the prices.

These days, my 'cheap' beers are things like Sierra Nevada Bewing Company's Pale Ale, Deschutes Brewing Company's 'Mirror Pond Pale Ale' (or their wonderful, seasonal 'Jubelale'), Pyramid Brewing's 'Haywire Hefeweizen' or 'Thunderhead IPA', Alaskan Brewing's Alaskan Amber, etc. Many of these breweries started out as microbreweries, but just kept on growing. It's allowed them to make a pretty decent product (FAR better than any mass-produced American lager, in my opinion), while still keeping costs relatively low. The average cost of a 12-pack of one of these beers is around $12-14 on sale at my local supermarket.

Now it's time for you to consider, is your beer budget holding you back? Are there beers out there that you're interested in trying but you feel they're beyond your budget? Believe me, I can still relate. There are still beers out there that give me pause when I see the price tag (there are some special and import beers out there than can run upwwads of $40, $50, $60 or even $70 or more per single bottle).

Now, I'm not telling you to go nuts and spend all your money on beer, but consider the occasional 'upgrade' and see what you think. Instead of spending $7-9 on that 12-pack of Bud. Splurge a bit and spend $12-14 on that 12-pack of Haywire Hefewizen or Mirror Pond Pale.

The next time you're having a get-together, however, consider upping your budget a bit. Rather than picking up a couple of 12 packs of Bud for $7-9/each. Head for the other end of the beer case and consider spending just a bit more for some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or some Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale at $12-14 a 12-pack.

Already a 'regular' with these types of beers and want to take it a step further? Explore around and see if you have a bottle shop in your area (or even a 'high end' supermarket - many of which have a pretty good beer selection). We're lucky to have 4 in the Seattle area, but more and more bottle shops are opening up all the time.

When you find a place with a better selection, talk to the owners, ask around and start experimenting. Go ahead and pick up that $5 22oz bottle of Elysian Brewing's The Immortal IPA because you like the label, or that $6 22oz 'Arrogant Bastard Ale' from Stone Brewing Company just 'cause you like the name. You may find that you LOVE the beer inside! (There are MANY other great microbreweries I haven't mentioned here - watch for a future article detailing this beer reviwers best of the best!)

Just remember to keep experimenting and keep expanding your beer horizons.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Experience At Brouwer's 9th Annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival

Yesterday I attended Brouwer's Cafe's 9th Annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival. It was packed to the gills, as usual, but I made sure I got there early. I know from past experience how fast Brouwer's can fill up during Hard Liver. It's a good thing I did too because, even in the pouring rain, the event, which started at 11:00AM, already had nearly 20 people in line by 9:30AM! I guess next year, I need to get there even earlier.

When the doors opened, they only let a few people trickle in at a time. Brouwer's is usually already 3/4 or more full when the doors open for Hard Liver. This is because of the judges, who arrive and begin their judging around 9:00AM. So, seating can be slim pickings for the general public once the doors open.

Once I made it in the door, just a few minutes after 11:00AM, I spotted a single open seat at the bar. I was attending this year's Hard Liver alone, since the two people who were going to attend with me had to cancel. So I made a beeline for the bar seat, praying that it's occupant wasn't just in the bathroom. But no; I was in luck! I got the LAST bar seat, and within minutes they stopped letting people in from the line outside. They would have to keep waiting out in the pouring rain until some of the judges or other patrons started leaving. For me that definitely wouldn't be anytime soon.

After getting settled at the bar, I began looking over the tap list, and writing down the tap numbers for those I wanted to try on the tasting note sheet I'd brought with me. I usually bring my own paper for tasting notes, since the tap list provides very little space for note taking.

Here are my impressions for each barleywine I was able to try (in alphabetical order):

Anderson Vallley Horn of the Beer '09 - Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, CA:
-Excellent head retention and lacing throughout.
-Light/Clear amber color.
-Light hop nose.
-Excellent balance - just a bit on the hoppy/bitter side.
-Very smooth and full bodied.

Big Time Bill's Bearded Wonderfulness '09 - Big Time Brewing Company, Seattle, WA:
-Medium head retention. Light lacing.
-Medium amber color.
-Flowery hop nose.
-Nicely hoppy. Good bitterness but still well balanced.
(Note: Big Time's barleywine is usually called 'Old Wooly'. This year was a bit special, since Bill Jenkins is leaving as head brewer at Big Time this month.)

Black Raven Old Birdbrain '09 - Black Raven Brewing Company, Redmond, WA:
-Poor head retention. No lacing.
-Light amber color.
-Hoppy but also sour nose.
-Slightly sour/winey/cidery.
-Not very hoppy.
-Light body.

Dick's '05 - Dick's Brewing Company, Centralia, WA:
-Decent head retention. Some lacing.
-Amber color.
-Very light nose.
-Slightly sour/puckering (a bit cidery).
-Slight warming.

Dogfish Old School '10 - Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE:
-Poor head retention. Slight lacing.
-Very light amber color.
-Winey/cidery & slightly astringent.
-Not hoppy.

Firestone Abacus '11 - Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA:
-Decent head retention and lacing.
-Deep amber color.
-Woody/malty nose.
-Caramel and very pleasant light cognac notes.
-Not very hoppy.

Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws '10 - Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, Portland, OR:
-Poor head retention. Almost no lacing.
-Medium dark amber color.
-Slightly fruity nose.
-Slightly fruity/sweet.
-Very light hops/bittering.
-Slight cognac notes.

Lagunitas Gnarleywine '10 - Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, CA:
-Good head retention and lacing.
-Light amber color.
-Hoppy nose.
-Good balance.
-Slightly husky/grainy.

Marin Old Dipsea '10 - Marin Brewing Company, Larkspur, CA:
-Medium head retention. Decent lacing.
-Dark amber color.
-Slightly cidery nose.
-Pleasant Belgian and bananna notes. Estery/fruity.
-Not very hoppy / slightly sweet.

Moylan's Old Blarney '10 - Moylan's Brewing Company, Novato, CA:
-Medium head retention. Some lacing.
-Amber color.
-Hoppy nose.
-Nice hop flavor/bitterness.
-Slighgtly astringent.
-Slight warming.

Ninkasi Critical Hit '10 - Ninkasi Brewing Company, Eugene, OR:
-Good head retention. Nice lacing.
-Medium amber color.
-Very light nose.
-Medium hop flavor/bitterness.
-Slightly 'grapey' (not quite winey).
-Slight warming.
North Coast Old Stock Ale '10 - North Coast Brewing Company, Fort Bragg, CA:
-Good head retention. Nice lacing.
-Medium amber color.
-Light body.
-Slight 'band aid' flavor (Phenolic).
-Not very hoppy.

Speakeasy Old Godfather '09 - Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, San Francisco, CA:
-Medium head retention. Some lacing.
-Medium amber color.
-Hoppy nose.
-Good hop flavor/bitterness.
-Slight cognac notes. Very pleasant.
(Note: I had this one at Beveridge Place Pub's Barleywine Bacchanal. It was one of my favorites from that fest. so I decided to have a little more!)

Victory Old Horizontal '10 - Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA:
-Excellent head retention and lacing.
-Very good balance.
-Good hop flavor.
-Slight musty 'old sock' flavor (undesirable).

Out of the nearly 60 barleywines Brouwer's had on tap yesterday, I was able to try 14 of them. Not too shabby. My favorite from the ones I tried was Anderson Valley Horn of the Beer '09. It was exceptionally smooth and well balanced, and very easy to drnik. I'd have to give my personal 2nd and 3rd places to Speakeasy Old Godfather for #2 and Firestone Abacus '11 for #3.

The official winners of the festival, as announced at Brouwer's at around 2:00PM, were:
1. Anacortes Old Sebastes '10 - Anacortes Brewery, Anacortes, WA.
2. Anderson Valley Horn of the Beer '09 - Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, CA.
3. Glacier Brew House Old Woody '10 - Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage, AK.

Unfortunately, by the time the winners were announced, I'd already just about had my fill. So, I was only able to try one out of the three 'official' winners, but I'm OK with that. The festival was an amazing experience, as always, and I got to try some truly World Class barleywines.

So, if you're local to Seattle or can get here in mid to late march next year, I urge you to check out the annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival at Brouwer's Cafe. You won't regret it! Just be prepared to get in line early or to have to wait a bit before you can get in.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pliny Found Me

I recently detailed in my post: Pliny The MADNESS! about how I don't 'chase' Pliny. Let me remind you of what I'd said:

"Now, I can appreciate a well made Imperial IPA as much as the next person; perhaps even more. However, I think that the lengths some people are going to in order to get their hands on a pint or bottle of Pliny is a bit over the top. Is it an excellent beer? Without a doubt. But in your mad dash towards a Pliny, don't overlook all the other amazing beers that are also likely staring you right in the face. "

So, like I said, it's an excellent beer, I just don't go out of my way to find it. This time, however, it found ME!

While having a Scarlett Fire IPA after work yesterday at Big Time Brewing Company, I was checking Twitter on my phone and saw that Bottleworks had just made a post saying they'd gotten some Pliny in (they didn't specify if it was Elder or Younger). I was already getting ready to leave Big Time and Bottleworks is only about 5-6 minutes away, so I figured I'd go grab some on my way home.

I walked in the door to Bottleworks, and about 20-30 bottles of Pliny The Elder were sitting on the counter, right by checkout. I took my time, grabbed a few other bottles and looked around a bit (I don't get to Bottleworks nearly as often as I get to 99 Bottles). When I got to checkout I asked what the bottle limit was on Pliny. I was expecting an answer of 1-2 bottles per person, which is not uncommon for a beer that's so often in demand. I was surprised when the clerk told me the limit was 6 bottles per person! I'm sure it all went fast.

Not wanting to be greedy, and knowing I'd directed others to Bottleworks that day after seeing their Twitter post, I only grabbed 4 bottles along with my other choices.
Now, since we've already established that Pliny The Elder is a top, World Class beer, I'm not going to painstakingly break down my tasting notes for it as I would for most of my beer reviews. I've had Pliny before and I'll have it again. Suffice it to say that if you find it and haven't tried it before, grab a pint/bottle. If you'd like some in -depth reviews, there are plenty to be seen over at Beer Advocate.

I only had one bottle of the Pliny last night, so I have another to savor when the mood strikes (the other two are for my wife, who also appreciates good beer). Until then, I'll just have to see what else I can find - and look forward to Brouwer's Hard Liver Fest this weekend.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Brouwer's Cafe's 9th Annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival - Getting Ready

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Are you a fan of barleywines? Then have I got a deal for you!

Just a couple of weeks back, I attended the 9th annual Barleywine Bacchanal at Beveridge Place Pub in West Seattle. It was a great event and I had a wonderful time. Now, however, it's time for Brouwer's annual barleywine fest, which they lovingly refer to as the Hard Liver Berleywine Fest.

They put up the full list of what to expect at this year's event a couple of weeks ago. Take a look here and make your plan of attack! Since I attended BPP's Barleywine Bacchanal, I plan to skip any choices I tried there, so I can focus on the ones I haven't had the opportunity to sample yet.

Hardliver 2011 Tap List:

  • Flying Dog Horn Dog 09
  • Fishtail 10 squared
  • Red Hook Trouble Hook 10
  • Alaskan Golden Nugget 10
  • Victory Old Horizontal 10
  • Sierra Nevada Big Foot 08
  • Sierra Nevada Black Barleywine 10
  • Avery Hog Heaven 10
  • Boulder Killer Penguin 10
  • Great Divide Old ruffian 10
  • Southern Tier Black Burner 09
  • Anchor Old Foghorn 10
  • Dogfish Olde School 10
  • Lost Coast Fog Cutter 10
  • Pike Old Bawdy 07
  • Anderson Valley Horn of the Bear 09
  • Ninkasi Critical Hit 10
  • Speakeasy Old Godfather 09
  • Stone Old Guardian 09
  • Stone Belgo Barleywine 10
  • Lagunitas Gnarleywine 10
  • North Coast Old Stock ale 10
  • Anacortes Old Sea Bass 10
  • Dick’s 05
  • Hales Rudyard’s Rare 07
  • Hood Canal Breidablik 10
  • Deschutes Mirror Mirror 08
  • Mad River John Barley Corn 09
  • Mad River Wheatwine 08
  • Hair of Dog Doggie Claws 10
  • Boundary Bay Old Bounder 10
  • Glacier Brew House Old Woody 10
  • Lost Abbey Angel Share 10 Brandy
  • Lost Abbey Angel Share 10 bourbon
  • Black Raven Old Birdbrain 09
  • Big Time Bill’s Bearded Wonderfulness 09
  • Big Time Bill’s Bearded Wonderfulness 10
  • Elysian Cyclops
  • 10 Ram Mall Walker 10
  • Fullsail Old Board Head ??
  • Hub Noggin Floggin 10
  • Bigsky Old Blue Hair 10
  • Bigsky Old Blue Hair 10 Cask
  • Firestone Abacus 11
  • Smaltz Jubilation Blend 14
  • 7 Seas Wheel Chair 10
  • Moylan’s Old Blarney 10
  • Marin Old Dipsey 10
  • Scuttlebutt Old No. 1 09
  • Naked City Cluster Cuss 10
  • Eel River Triple Exultation 10
  • Snipes Roza 10
  • Old Lampoc Tavern Rat 09
  • Old Lampoc Unsettler Belgo Barleywine 10
  • Laurelwood Old Reliable
  • Port Towsend 10

Quite a selection! And unlike BPP who generally spreads out their barleywine selection over the course of the Bacchanal (meaning you have to make a few trips back to BPP if you want to try them all), Brouwer's generally has every barleywine on their list on tap when the festival beins.

This years Hard Liver Barleywine Fest gets under way this Saturday, March 12th, at 11:00AM. This event always seems to fill up quickly, so I reccommend getting their early if you'd like to have a place to sit - or just don't want to be stuck outside in line, waiting for other's to leave.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Ready For More!

If Dr. Seuss was a heavy drinker... lol

Seriously though (and it's really sad that I have to actually say this in this day & age), please understand this is parody. NEVER drink beer in a car or drive drunk - and I don't advocate getting 'slammed' either. Yes, I enjoy a good beer buzz, but a responsible drinker knows when they've had enough, and especially when to NEVER get behind the wheel. If you want to drink beer in a box in your socks, however, that's up to you.

Please excuse my absence the past few days, but I've been a bit sidetracked with a pesky little thing called 'real life'. It can get so annoying at times! But I'm back and ready for more new beer experiences.

First a few general updates:

I've been 'browsing' my BJCP Study Guide, but beginning this weekend, I plan to dive in head first. Read through the entire study guide and further investigate the first steps I need to get my BJCP Certification.

Seattle Beer Scene:
There have been a lot of changes recently in the Seattle beer scene. We got a few new breweries in town last year (including Epic Ales, Emererald City Beer Company (Which opened up shop in a portion of the Old Ranier Brewery, whose current primary occupant is Tully's Coffee), Northwest Peaks Brewery and more. All in all, there were 12 new brewery license applications in the Seattle/Puget Sound area in 2010.

There were also some big personnel changes. Jeanelle Pritchard resigned from Trade Route Brewing and Chris Miller resigned from Snipes Mountain for a new opportunity in California.

Also, in a change that affects me personally, since this is one of my regular haunts, Bill Jenkins is leaving as head brewer of Big Time Brewing Company in Seattle's University District. Bill has been at Big Time for years, making truly world-class beers (as well as a few 'experiements', some amazing, some disappointing). If Bill has to go, however, what better replacement than his brewing brother (in law), Drew Cluley! Drew has been the head brewer at Pike Brewing Company for several years, but he is leaving The Pike to replace Bill as the new brewer at Big Time.

Seattle Beer Week:
Yeah, yeah. I know it's still two months away. I just want to make sure you're all keeping it on your radar! Let me just give you their website for now: SeattleBeerWeek.com Maritime Pacific Brewing Company will be brewing this year's Official Seattle Week Beer.

Tonight on my way home, I'll be making a trip to my local bottle shop, 99 Bottles. I will, of course, pick up a few favorites, but I'm also planning to grab a few new beers, so I can continue to improve my tasting abilities, and provide all of you with more in-depth beer reviews.

Please make sure you also LIKE our facebook page! Thanks!

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pliny The MADNESS!

Many have heard of it; some have not. But whenever it arrives, it sure doesn't last long. Kegs drain in record time. Bottle shops have a run on it and must impose a bottle limit per shopper - and they still run out in under a day in most cases.

What am I talking about? That'd be Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny The Elder Imperial IPA. And those who don't know, Pliny The Elder is one of two 'Pliny' beers made by Russian River (The other, of course, being Pliny The Younger). Both are excellent Imperial IPA's, but that's not the only reason demand for both Plinys has gotten so high.

Beer Advocate, a beer culture website based out of Boston, MA, last year declared Pliny The Younger, quite smiply, the best beer in the World (based on reviews from their readers - all beer styles were allowed/considered).

Head to their site to see a list of their 100 Top Beers. You'll note that Pliny The Younger is right on top.  Does it deserve to be there?  I honestly don't know.  I've never tasted it. 
Pliny showed up in Washington state late last month. My local bottle shop was sold out of Pliny The Elder in just a few hours. Also, at Brouwer's Cafe in Seattle, they tapped a 1/6 barrel (5 Gallon) keg of Pliny The Younger at 10:00PM on Tuesday, March 1st. According to their Facebook page, the keg was drained in approximately 7 minutes!

Now, I can appreciate a well made Imperial IPA as much as the next person; perhaps even more. However, I think that the lengths some people are going to in order to get their hands on a pint or bottle of Pliny is a bit over the top. Is it an excellent beer? Without a doubt. But in your mad dash towards a Pliny, don't overlook all the other amazing beers that are also likely staring you right in the face.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mendocino Imperial Barley Wine Ale '10

Tonight I have a bottle of Mendocino Brewing Company's Imperial Barley Wine Ale. I've never had this barleywine before, and I'll be sharing my impressions with you - sip-by-sip.

This is an amazing smelling beer. I spent a while just inhaling the friuty, nutty, and almost bran/cereal type aromas, in anticipation of the first sip...

Head Rentention:
This barleywine lost it's head within about 20 seconds, but the level of carbonation feels just right on the tongue.

Sip #1:
Cereal. Fruit. Light and pleasant hop bitterness. Clean finish.

Sip #2:
Slight estery/fruity notes. Pleasant mouth feel. Firm and lingering but with no lingering aftertaste.

Sip #3:
The fruity and subttly nutty qualites are what seem to keep coming through. Seems slightly astringent, but not unpleasantly. Slight warming. Very subttle cogniac type notes.

Sip #4 & beyond:
Can't a guy just enjoy his beer? Let me be! lol

I was surprised by the complexity of this barleywine. Having never tried it before, I had no idea what to expect. I've had Mendocino's 'Red Tail Ale', their ' Bule Herron Pale Ale' and their 'White Hawk Select IPA' (All good beers in their own right), but I never had the opportunity to try their barleywine until now.

It almost has a port wine type quality. Lingering on the tongue - in a very pleasant way. It has a fruity/wine grape type quality with a firm mouthfeel and a clean finish.

If your local bottle-shop can get their hands on a bottle, I highly reccommend it. Now excuse me while I get back to my beer!

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there!