Friday, November 28, 2008

My First Batch of Homebrew: Phase One (Brewing)

Like most beer geeks, I've always wanted to take the plunge and brew my own beer. After reading up on the process for years, my wife and I decided to pull the trigger and go for it. After re-reading the instructions for your first batch in Charlie Papazian's The Joy Complete of Homebrewing (the best book I've found on the subject), we were ready to track down the equipment and ingredients we were going to need.

Luckily for us, it turns out there is a terrific brewing supply store just a few miles from our apartment. Brew It Yourself, run by Ray Philbrook, sold us just about everything we needed. Since its generally my favorite style, we decided to make a Stout. And as my father-in-law had a heart transplant Sunday, we decided to name it Young At Heart Stout.

homebrewing equipment

Here's the equipment we used:
  • 22 quart kettle (sourced from Wal-Mart)
  • Large plastic brewer's spoon
  • Six-gallon bucket with airtight lid
  • Fermentation lock (aka bubbler) with a stopper to fit the hole on the bucket's lid
  • Hydrometer
  • Sampler for hydrometer
  • Probe thermometer
  • Measuring cup
  • Unscented bleach
After consulting with the Ray, here is our ingredient list:
  • 1 four pound can of Edme Extra Stout malt extract (with hops and yeast added)
  • 20 ounces of dark malt extract
  • 1 pound of light brown sugar
  • 1 packet of dry ale yeast (Safale S-04)
  • 5 gallons of spring water (3 of them chilled)
The first step is taking care of sanitation, one of the most important components of quality beer. After a quick rinse in hot water, we filled the fermentation bucket with water and added 2 ounces of unscented bleach. Everything else that would come in contact with the beer: the spoon, the bubbler, the hydrometer, the sampler and even the lid of the bucket were rinsed in hot water and added to the bucket. Meanwhile, we filled the sink with hot water and added the containers of malt extract to make them easier to pour.

homebrewingAfter everything had sat for around five minutes, the kettle was put on the heat and the two room-temperature gallons of spring water were added. While the water was heating, we rinsed off the brewer's spoon for use during boiling. Once the water reached a boil, we removed the kettle from the heat and poured in the containers of malt extract and the sugar. The kettle was put back on the heat and monitored until it was once again boiling. At that point, we started a fifteen minute timer and made sure it didn't boil over, stirring occasionally.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, we put the kettle in the sink and filled it with cool water from the tap. The initial temperature was around 145°F. While waiting for it to cool, we rinsed off everything else that had been sanitized and added the yeast packet to one cup of 95°F water. After around thirty minutes, and several water changes, the temperature of the mixture in the kettle had dropped to around 97°F. We poured the three gallons of chilled water into the fermentation bucket and carefully added the cooled mixture.

homebrewingAfter a quick stir, we took the temperature and, using the sampler to take a sample, took a quick gravity reading. The final temperature before initial fermentation was 66°F and the original gravity clocked in at 1.043 (adjusted for temperature). Next, we gently poured the yeast slurry into the bucket. After sealing the lid tight, we attached the bubbler (filled with water) and moved the fermenter to the hall closet.

Now we wait...

In about a week, when it's time to bottle, we're going to need to have about 55 twelve ounce bottles ready to accept the beer. A long time ago, I decided that I wanted to use New Belgium bottles, so I've been saving them off and on for a while now. I'm about twenty bottles short, so I guess I'm going to have to get drinking.

You can read Phase Two (Bottling) here

You can read the review of the finished product here

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Flying Dog Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery | Beer: Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale | ABV: 5.5%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Flying Dog Doggie Style Classic Pale AleHere we have Flying Dog's flagship beer, Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale. American Pale Ales are known to be hoppier and dryer than their English counterparts. Doggie Style is no different according to the brewer, as it's "dry hopped during fermentation with shit loads of Cascade hops." A shit load, of course, being a standard measurement in the Flying Dog organization. Cascade hops, an American creation, are known for their mild bitterness and floral-citrus profile.

The label features another apeshit painting by the great Ralph Steadman and a brilliant quote by his associate Hunter S. Thompson: "Good people drink good beer." I couldn't agree more, doc. It also advertises this beer as so good, "you'll lap it up like your hound laps up toilet water." Apparently, someone out there agrees, as Doggie Style has won two medals at the Great American Beer Festival: a gold in 1991 for Pale Ale and a silver in 1999 for Classic English-Style Pale Ale.

Appearance: Rich orange body with brilliant yellow highlights. Topped with an off-white, creamy head that measures two fingers and leaves decent lacing.

Aroma: Citrusy and floral Cascade hops in full effect, with biscuity malt right behind. As you'd expect, this is very similar to the brewery's IPA, Snake Dog, but with a less pronounced hop aroma.

Taste: Intense Cascade hops dominate at first. Not especially bitter, the taste is classic Cascade: clean, piney, citrusy and bright. Underneath all of the hops lies a biscuity caramel malt base. These two elements are brilliantly balanced; while the hops are intense, they are never too much for the malt. Unfortunately, like other beers in the Flying Dog stable, the taste is just a little thin. One notch more on the intensity scale, and this might be perfect.

Mouthfeel: Dry, with a medium-light body and light carbonation, this is spot on for the style. The aftertaste continues the pleasant balance, being both bitter and malty.

Drinkability: Despite having a "shit load" of hops, this beer is not so bitter that it impedes drinkability. In fact, this is a very easy to drink beer, providing you don't completely, totally hate hops.

Verdict: With true-to-style aroma, flavors, and mouthfeel, Doggie Style is a fine example of American Pale Ale. And if you happen to love Cascade hops (like I do), you're in for a real treat.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fuller's London Porter Review

Brewery: Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC | Beer: London Porter
Style: English Porter | ABV: 5.4%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Fuller's London PorterThe Porter style has quite a unique origin. In the London of the 1700's, stale (or soured) Ale was mixed with a mild Ale and either a Brown or Pale Ale. This witches' brew of old and new became quite popular with the city's porters, hence the name. Porters were dark, malty, bitter and, thanks to the stale ale, mildly acidic. These qualities helped to mask some of the cloudiness and other imperfections associated with the blending process. As time went on and the public's tastes shifted, Porter became something of an endangered species. However, with the craft-brewing renaissance of the last 30 years, Porter has made quite a comeback.

Well-regarded in beer geek circles, Fuller's London Porter is one of the best known examples of the style today. Fuller's pitch the beer as "captur[ing] the flavors of the original entire brews perfectly, although you won't find a cloudy pint these days!" Fuller's still brews at the storied Griffin Brewery, the oldest brewery in London. Beer has been brewed at the Chiswick brewery for over 350 years. I doubt that the six pack I picked up here in South Texas made the journey from London, but a man can dream can't he?

Appearance: Dark espresso colored with subdued brown highlights, this bear absorbs most light well. The caramel head pours rather thin and settles quickly, but leaves brilliant lacing all the way down.

Aroma: Rich and full-bodied toasted malt you could smell from three pints away. Sweet, with notes of burnt sugar, dark chocolate, coffee, and the smokiness you get from very dark malts. Just what you expect from this style. Despite the mild alcohol content, you get nice alcohol notes in the nose.

Taste: It's much the same in the taste, but with a brilliant mild and nutty bitterness added into the mix. Much richer than the aroma, this is a beer that commands your attention. Like the nose, there are occasional boozy notes that manifest themselves despite the the ABV weighing in at under six percent. The aftertaste lasts well into your next sip and really showcases the coffee and smokiness. This aftertaste alone is better than many of the beers I've reviewed here.

Mouthfeel: Smooth and medium-bodied with decent carbonation. It leaves a velvety coating on your tongue that drives the aforementioned aftertaste.

Drinkability: Porters are certainly more appropriate for sipping than chugging, but with the medium body and middling alcohol content, this is surprisingly quaffable.

Verdict: An above average Porter, this is something I'd surely recommend for someone looking for a good, easily available example of the style. Rich, but well-balanced, this beer is a complex treat and worthy of its reputation.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 14, 2008

Shiner Holiday Cheer Review

Brewery: Spoetzl Brewery | Beer: Shiner Holiday Cheer
Style: Dunkelweizen
| ABV: 5.4%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Weizen glass

Shiner Holiday CheerShiner have been very busy lately, releasing a slew of new brews over the past twelve months. Their latest is a new Winter seasonal, Shiner Holiday Cheer. The beer is a Dunkelweizen, with peach and roasted pecans added for a holiday touch. Maybe my family was different, but I don't really remember many peaches around the house during Christmas. Peaches aside, Dunkelweizens are essentially a darker, more malty version of the German wheat beer, Hefeweizen.

It looks like this is the replacement for Shiner Dunkelweizen as Shiner's winter seasonal. I certainly can't imagine the brewery brewing two different Dunkelweizens for Winter, and I haven't seen the old one this season, so this appears to be the case. I was a big fan of the original Shiner Dunkelweizen, so I have high hopes for this beer.

Appearance: Deep mahogany with a stunning amber highlights and a creamy, craggy head that leaves wonderful lacing. This is a very pretty beer.

Aroma: Sweet peach, like that of peach yogurt, masks just about all other aromas. There's some beer down there if you keep sniffing, but you have to pull a lot of peach aside.

Taste: Luckily, this isn't the sugary peach yogurt beer that the aroma warned of. Instead, you find a complex, if a little thin, malty body with decent bitterness in the finish. I'm not sure if it's roasted pecan I'm getting necessarily, but the beer does has a pleasing nuttiness. Peach is certainly here, and in full force, but it compliments the beer instead of smothering it. I would never have thought of a peach infused Dunkelweizen (at least while sober), but it works. While it may taste a little thin in the mouth, the aftertaste is quite nutty and hangs with you for a while.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a slick, oily feel that coats your mouth. A bit fizzier than I prefer, but it doesn't spoil the beer.

Drinkability: Provided you don't hate peaches, this is an easy beer to drink. It goes down smooth and tastes pretty damn good.

Verdict: Between this and Shiner Dunkelweizen, it's no contest: Holiday Cheer just doesn't measure up. But that's not a fair way to rate the beer. Viewed objectively, this is a nice middle-of-the-road Dunkelweizen with an interesting splash of Peach. It fits well into Shiner's portfolio of beers stuck in a bizarre purgatory between macro and micro. I'm still not sure what peach has to do with Christmas, but I'm willing to look past that here.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Boddingtons Pub Ale Review

Brewery: Boddingtons | Beer: Boddingtons Pub Ale
Style: English Pale Ale
| ABV: 4.7%
Serving Method: 16 oz. nitro-can poured into pint glass

Boddingtons Pub AleBoddingtons is one of the most ubiquitous time-honored of the British imports, reviewed here in the sixteen ounce nitro-widget can that Guinness Draught made famous (although in the US Guinness Draught comes in 14.9 oz. cans). This beer was brewed for over 200 years at the Strangeways Brewery in Manchester. The company, also named Boddingtons, managed to keep its independence until 1989, when it was sold to Whitbread. Whitbread, mainly a hospitality company, decided to sell their portfolio of brewers to Beligian megabrewer Interbrew in 2000. Who, of course, became InBev when they merged with Brazilian brewing giant AmBev. You might recognize the name InBev, as they recently bought American brewing titan, Anheuser-Busch. Bud Light and Boddingtons step-cousins, who would have thought?

So, Boddingtons is now just another great historic brand rolled up into the faceless InBev corporation. But, all corporate angst aside, what really matters is what's inside the can. Growing up, this beer was always a fixture around the house, becoming one of the main poster children of "good beer" to me. When I started really drinking and appreciating beer, this was one of the first beers I counted as one of my favorites. However, people still curse me for getting them to try a sip of Boddingtons in years past, and I'm not really sure as to why.

By the way, if you have ever wondered why the logo features two bees on a cask, allow me to explain. Manchester's coat of arms features a (modest) swarm of bees as a symbol of efficient industry. The bees became a symbol of the city and are featured on Manchester's Town Hall floor, many public fixtures around the city, and on every can of Boddingtons. Now that you know, and we can proceed with the rest of the review as scheduled.

Appearance: Brilliantly clear honey (how appropriate) colored body. Thanks to the widget, the head is amazingly dense, creamy, and measures a full two fingers. Great fun to pour and watch with interesting little bubbles that cling to the glass. I could watch this all day, not quite as cool as the Guinness cascade, but certainly worth the cost of admission. Even after the head settles, this is an exceptionally pretty beer. The head rides all the way down to the bottom of the glass, leaving sudsy lacing behind.

Aroma: Clean and crisp with roasted malt and hints of a floral, hoppy bitterness. A little thin, to be sure.

Taste: Bitter up front with some dry, roasty malt flavors in the back. At times, you can pick up a juicy, fruity sweetness that reminds me of British wine gums. A nice combination, but nothing that's going to change your world.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, creamy, and soft - when I think of an exceptionally creamy beer, this immediately springs to mind. Mouthfeel is really one of the highlights of canned Boddingtons and just another reason to bow down to the widget. The aftertaste is pleasantly bitter.

Drinkability: While bitter, the alcohol content is relativity low, so if it suits your taste you can drink this all night (much like Guinness).

Verdict: A very different beer, Boddingtons in a can is an experience all beer lovers should try at least once. Perhaps the taste is not the most remarkable in the English Pale Ale category, but the appearance and mouthfeel are so unique that the beer will always stand out to me. A worthy survivor of more than two centuries.

Grade: B+