Friday, December 26, 2008


This post is simply a reminder that next Friday is the 23rd Session. On January 2, 2009, the beer bloggers of the world (those that care to, anyway) can mass blog on the same topic. It's like a beer version of the Borg: resistance is futile! This Session will be hosted by Beer and Firkins and the topic is the contrast between old and new that dominates the end of the year news and entertainment programs every late December. Only this time it relates to beer. Quite simply, what will you miss most in the beer world from the past year and what excites you most about the beer world in 2009? Again, the chosen items may be specific beers or simply beery events, people or breweries.

Those Blogs who will be contributing should post their links on Friday as a comment on this blog or as an email to Brewmiker[@]

Have fun and tune in on next Friday for all the links to beer blogs around the world!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Extreme Brewing

A friend wanted to brew a beer. We decided to do it at my house. A week or so later the temperature had dropped to single digits with a biting wind and over a foot of new snow was on the ground. Oh well. That's Winter brewing in Michigan!

Art and I brewed ten gallons of beer on Monday night. The temp really was 9 degrees Fahrenheit! We started at about 5 PM and finished around 1130 PM. It was an unusual brewday...

We ran out of propane and Art had to go pick up some more. While he was gone I transferred the strike water into his mash tun and started the mash. When he returned with propane (and a couple of beers!) we got right to work...on trying the new beers he brought. One was a Scottish IPA (Belhaven's Twisted Thistle) and the other St. Peter's Old-Style Porter. We tried the IPA first. It was surprisingly good and surprisingly hoppy! It poured a dark golden color with a fine white head. The aroma was hoppy and floral with earthy notes. The taste was sweet caramel and biscuity with a strong floral, spicy hop finish and aftertaste. It was very drinkable at the surprising 6.1% and well-balanced. I really liked it and so did Art.

The St. Peter's Porter was next. I didn't expect much because I'd had their IPA and, probably due more to its age and being lightstruck (green bottle), it was not enjoyable at all. The porter was another story altogether. It poured a dark brown and had a beautiful tan head on it. The aroma was chocolate with roasty notes. Tasted a delicious chocolaty coffee with roast and some very slight hop character. the mouthfeel was not too heavy for a porter but full enough to respect. I found it an altogether enjoyable porter and would drink it anytime I wanted a good English porter.

Now, by this time we were about ready to sparge so sparge we did. We got a little less than 11 gallons from the sparge, so we added a little sparge water and resparged. After all this was over we had enough beer and began to heat to boil. No problems so far. We had enjoyed some new beers were playing pinball in between the little jobs requiring our attention and listening to a nice shuffle on my computer.

After the boil we went to turn on the (outside) hose to chill. Now, I keep my white RV water hose inside until it's time to chill just because I know Michigan Winters. Still, I didn't expect the faucet to be frozen. It was. I took my Mapp torch out and started to gently heat the faucet so that I could turn it. After I got to that point, I had to heat the faucet further back to unclog the ice that was keeping it from releasing any water. After a few chilly minutes working gently on this job we were able to get the chiller going! Pheww!

Then it was time to drop the wort into the fermenters. The wort had chilled to just under 80 degrees and we were anxious to end this long brewday in such extreme conditions. We got everything situated and turned the handle on the ballcock...Nothing! Back to the torch. A few moments of gentle heat supplied the answer and we were racking!

Long story short, we got a good ten gallons of 1.067 wort in the two fermenters and pitched starters of Scottish Ale and Belgian Dubbel yeast into each. Should result in a nice Strong Scottish Ale and a Belgian Dubbel. I'll try to remember to supply tasting notes, here.

Merry Christmas, all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A-B Normal

Permit me a bit of a rant, here. I am really tired of the carping about the big commercial brewers by craft beer snobs. Oh sure, I'm one of them but I try not to act so "above the station" of the masses and their preferred drinks. Of course I recognize the fact that most of the B-M-C (Budweiser-Miller-Coors, the American Light Lager triumvirate) offerings (insert the appropriate Molson, Warsteiner, Fosters, etc. for countries outside the U.S.) are less adventurous and more concerned with selling volumes of their product than with producing small batches of handcrafted beer but that doesn't make their product "bad" or "undrinkable" as is commonly asserted by my beer snob buddies out there. In fact, if truth be told, it makes their products extremely "drinkable".

I've recently seen some activity on a couple of the craft beer forums and talk groups to which I subscribe, concerning the merits (or lack thereof) of Anheuser-Busch's American Ale. Now, I'm not saying A-B's American Ale is a great beer or that it should be praised for being more flavorful than A-B's normal offerings, merely that some of the criticisms hurled at it are unfair and mislabeled. I've read-on one of these forums-that it tastes like Bud Light. That's absurd. I've read that it was brewed with "drinkability" in mind. That is probably true but the writer was using the term derisively, as though "drinkability" was an invented, marketing term that meant little or nothing (think "fahrvergnugen"). The term does have some meaning and the truth is that (I'm sure many craft beer drinkers will agree with me, here) American Ale isn't exactly all that "drinkable".

What exactly is "drinkability"? Of course, at its very heart the word means consumability, right? If an item is drinkable, it possesses the qualities that allow the item to be drank. Of course, that would mean liquidity, potability, temperature appropriateness, etc. It is not that definition that is being used in the Bud ads and it is not that definition that we tend to use when describing beer. Drinkability refers to the different aspects of a beer that make it easier to drink. This is also what A-B is talking about when they describe their beers as "drinkable".

I like to view this quality as displayed in a continuum of different beers. A Bud Light is very drinkable. It's light, refreshing and not too filling or chewy. Of course a good English Mild is similarly drinkable, while supplying something the Bud Light doesn't: flavor. At the other end of the continuum, a good English Barleywine is certainly delicious, chewy, intensely flavorful and filling. It is certainly not a session beer, though it may invite another (but not many). I hate to say it but this type of beer does not have "drinkability". Do I prefer them to their more drinkable cousins? Usually, but not always. If my bar had the recent Mild I brewed, that would be my regular beer!

Is this simply a marketing term invented by A-B for their ad campaign? No, it isn't. I have seen the term used by beer writers as knowledgeable as Gordon Strong, in the newest issue of Brew Your Own, for example. To further illustrate this, I'll let you in on a little secret: the bar I frequent most often is a beer desert. I mean by this that they sell only the most common B-M-C offerings, for the most part. The exception to this is the summer offering of Bell's Oberon. I go to this bar because it is close to my home, it offers the NTN trivia game I love to play and there are many of my friends there to meet (OK, the owners and serving staff are real cool, too). I don't go there for the beer (There! I said it!). I say this to explain that their replacement for Oberon this Fall was "American Ale". They thought this would make the beer geek (that's me) happy. Well, I was underwhelmed, even though I hadn't tried it, yet. So I got a glass and it wasn't a bad beer. It had some residual sweetness and definitely a more chewy mouthfeel than most B-M-C offerings (I really don't notice any hops, though) could say it had an ale character. I had a few over the course of the evening and didn't mind it at all.

I have tried to make this beer my regular beer when at this bar but I really can't because it is too "strong" for that purpose. It is less drinkable than B-M-C and is too flavorful, heavy and has too much alcohol to drink it as if it were a session beer. Now, I would drink the Oberon that way, even though it is stronger, but that's because Oberon tastes better and is more "drinkable" (due to its enjoyability, not it's gravity or mouthfeel). I switch to Bud or Bud Light if I'm going to have more than a couple.

American Ale is not a bad beer but it is far down the list of even the big brewers' beers for me. I would greatly prefer an Amber Bock to it and perhaps even a Killian's, too. Both of these beers are more enjoyable for me to drink. Given my druthers I'd have a good craft-brewed beer but that is usually not available to me in the beer desert (I need an oasis!). Both of these beers is also more "drinkable", as well. I mean this both in the sense that they are less filling, less chewy and "lighter" but also in the sense that they invite another, which is an even more important aspect of drinkability.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adventures in Taylor (and Lincoln Park)

Lapeer Area Brewers made a road trip on Sunday to the Southwestern Detroit suburbs of Taylor and Lincoln Park. We visited Adventures in Homebrewing, where we bought several corny kegs and assorted other homebrewing products and Fort Street Brewery, where we sampled some great beers and fine food.

Adventures in Homebrewing has a great deal on Cornelius kegs. They sell used, pressurized, five gallon ball-lock kegs in decent shape for $17.99 apiece. That is about four or five dollars cheaper than the prices elsewhere. They also have a great selection of all the little items homebrewers need in their hobby and a whole bunch of the items we are all wishing for! Their prices for equipment were generally very good. Their prices for yeast and grain were beatable, however. Still, the overall experience was pretty darn good, as you can see from the shot of the club members leaving with their swag.

Fort Street Brewery was a great experience. Brewer Doug Beedy was present and as hospitable as any brewer I've ever met. He took the crew on a tour of the brewery and answered all questions with ease. We learned a lot about the brewery and it's short history, as well as the beer served there. We even got a chance to sample the newest of the Twelve Beers of Christmas, the 8th beer, "Hearth Ale". Doug described it as being brewed with eight different malts plus orange and lemon peels. It was a complex mouthful but not too heavy or harsh to have a few. We sampled it right out of the fermenter! It was a mahogany colored beer with excellent malty, bready flavors, with a hint of dark fruits and some hop spiciness. Yum!

I had two pints while there and sampled a few of the other available beers. There was not a bad beer ion the bunch. The first beer I tried was "Gentlemen, The Queen", an Imperial Engllish IPA. It was wonderful! If I didn't notice the glow I got after only about half the pint, I would never have known it weighed in at near eight percent ABV. The aroma was flowery and earthy hops. It poured with a slight, tight white head which dissipated quickly. The flavor was heavenly hop-charged, with a very flavorful, near perfumed hop presence. The sweetness was just enough to balance the 101 IBUs, and was bready and toasty in nature. Not exactly what one would think of when drinking an English IPA but it certainly was good! I can't remember the bittering hops used, but the flavor and aroma hops were E.K. Goldings and Fuggles. They were more pronounced and spicy than I would have guessed, though. All in all, a very fine beer!

The second beer was a lager brewed with Barley, Oat, Rye and Wheat malts, called "4X4". Interesting, to say the least! I love the spicy character, rye brings to beer and this one was no exception. The crisp, clean character of the lager beer only enhanced this effect. I liked this one a bunch, too.

Doug showed us his brewery and we saw many an interesting item that will soon be served to the lucky patrons at FSB. Two casks held highly hopped creations that were spiced with two different herbs. One was spiced with Astragula (i guess this is a root with some medicinal qualities)and the other with Angel-something or other. I do remember Doug say that he added hop additions every two minutes until he passed out, or something like that...Here's one of the firkins:

The food was interesting bar fare accentuated with such rare gems as Scotch Eggs, sauerkraut balls (check the menu)and pierogis. I didn't hear a bad comment from any of the ten diners there that night. In fact, while food was being eaten I didn't hear anything! Below is a pic of my pizza, Imperial IPA and Scotch Eggs on the right. YUM!

In short, good people, great service, great beer and a very nice location made this one of my favorite brewpubs to visit. If you are in the neighborhood, you MUST stop in! Check out Doug's Wall of Foam, if you do. It's a wall of posters created for the beers he makes. Very unique and creative.

The craft beer scene is certainly alive, here in Michigan! This is just one great example!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Road Trip!

The Lapeer Area Brewers are opting for a road trip in lieu of a meeting this month. We will be visiting a homebrew shop in Taylor called Adventures in Homebrewing and a Brewpub in Linclon Park called Fort Street Brewery. These businesses are a good hour and a half from Lapeer, so we don't get there often if at all.

AIH is building a great internet business and has attracted a lot of us by the great prices on items like reconditioned corny kegs and the like, while recently expanding into fabrication of brew keggles and sculptures. Check out their website for a good view of what they have to offer. They recently moved from a location in Dearborn to the current Taylor address. The site is big and promises to be a better venue for this thriving business. Currently, though they are trying to fit things into the new digs and straighten out the moving mess. I hope to post some pics and a review of the operation after our visit on Sunday (I was there a week ago to get a used corny, so I cheated).

Fort Street Brewery has about three years in the location, which once "was an empty lot that at one time or another had been a pharmacy, diner, farm, and the boyhood home of Preston Tucker", according to the FSB website. The brewer, Doug Beedy, has a great reputation in Michigan craft beer drinking circles. The establishment seems to be well-received for beer, food and atmosphere. To give you an idea of what type of brewpub this is, they are currently serving the Twelve Beers of Christmas, a specialty beer on the average of two per week leading up to the New Year's Day, 12th beer offering. Two of the most recent offerings thus far (as described by brewer Beedy)are
The 6th Beer of Christmas, "Garde jusqu a Noel" is a delicious French
biere de garde style. It's dark, mysterious, and deceptively strong.
The 7th Beer of Christmas, "Seven Elf Monks" is a little bit like the
legendary "When Monks Get Drunk" it's light, mysterious, and obviously
strong (clocking in at 8.8% ABV and 100 IBU's).

There is also a cask conditioned ale tapped (yeah, with a mallet!) every other Thursday!

It sounds like my kinda pub! Too bad it's 75 miles away! At least we'll get to sample it once a year or so. Stay tuned for the reviews of this establishment and their beers, coming soon!

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Session #23

It seems that change is a theme the entire world is dealing with at the moment. Hope for a better future seems also to be on the minds of many. The topic for the next edition of The Session, hosted by yours truly, will be a New Year theme. I would like to write about the yearly mix of the hope for the new rising out of the ashes of the old, as it relates Specifically, what will you miss about 2008 (feel free to list your tasting notes, if that item is a particular beer) and what do you expect will excite you most in 2009 , in the "Beer World"?(again, if that is a beer, what about it is special and worthy of being excited about?)

As always the theme is a suggestion and is open to your interpretive manipulations. Your treatment can be a list of things, one of each, or a philosophical approach to whether or not there can be something "new" in the "Beer World". Predictions for the coming year are certainly not out of the realm of possibility, nor are elaborate treatments of the past year in beer.

The Session takes place on Friday January 2, 2009. Have fun and send your responses (or links to them) to me in an email (Brewmiker [@] a comment to this post.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Beer Freedom

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "the repeal of Prohibition." See all the links soon here.

When I first thought about the topic for this month's Session, I thought about the eerie numerological aspects of the topic. The 18th Amendment being repealed by the 21st Amendment, the legal age of drinking being 18 and 21 in different States and countries, etc. Oooh! Scary! The beauty and symmetry of the concept was completely undermined by the fact that this is the 22nd Session, though. Oh well.

Then, I thought about celebrating the repeal of Prohibition and I got all giddy because...well, because I just happen to enjoy celebrations, in general. Of course my conscience wouldn't allow all that enjoyment without some thoughtful reflection (curse you, conscience!), so I began to wonder what exactly we were going to be celebrating, after all. Is it the end of Prohibition? The ability to drink beer? The revitalization of the brewing industry? I settled on something a bit more general: freedom, itself.

To this end, let's start with the absurdity of an Amendment to the Constitution that outlaws drinking alcohol. Talk about restricting freedom! It boggles the mind. Of course, the Constitution doesn't mention drinking but from what I've read, the development process involved more than a little of alcoholic fuel. I'm also willing to bet that if the Founders had ever imagined some dolt (or some great number of dolts, to be even more unbelievable) would even think of trying such an outlandish stunt, they would have enshrined the right to drink alongside some of our other enumerated rights in one of the first ten Amendments (My vote? Right after the right to bear arms...).

When the right to brew, sell and transport beer was revoked (drinking was actually not prohibited!), there was a very vibrant brewing scene in the United States. There were tens of thousands of breweries in this country before prohibition. Only a few dozen survived the 14 year prohibition. In fact there are probably less than twenty pre-prohibition breweries still in operation today. Almost all of those breweries made lagers, exclusively. Some produced ales. Some produced a range of lagers that would be considered interesting by today's standards but most of today's craft beer fans would consider the beer scene rather dull by comparison. Of course that was no reason to ban them!

After years of alcohol-fueled organized crime, which produced criminal elements that threatened our freedoms and livelihoods but also produced enhanced law enforcement entities and tactics which continue to threaten our freedoms and livelihoods, this farce of an Amendment was repealed. Yay! Interestingly, ten States never ratified the 21st Amendment! Michigan was the first State to do so on April 10, 1933. While I am proud of that fact, I would be much prouder if my State had been one of the two that did not vote for but repudiated the 18th Amendment (kudos, Rhode Island and Connecticut!). This act was something to celebrate more because of the wrongs it corrected than the rights it conferred. I like to think that we all had the right to brew, sell and drink beer as one of our unenumerated rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (hoppiness?).

As a homebrewer, there are actually reasons to celebrate Prohibition, rather than its repeal. Prohibition caused an explosion in the hobby of homebrewing. People brewed beer because they couldn't find any to buy. Like the homebrewing of old times, it became a necessity. The beer produced was often barely drinkable but did produce the desired effect. I imagine there were a few families who worked out pretty good brewing techniques and recipes, some of which may have become family-recipe-heirlooms, but I can't cite an example. Still, the homebrewing scene did not actually flourish under these conditions. Quantity did not equal quality, so to speak. If it had there would have been a variety of malted grains and hops available on a commercial basis, instead of the ubiquitous cans of Blue Ribbon and bags of sugar that everyone remembers hearing about. Given enough time, though, it probably would have grown much more sophisticated.

Fast forward to the future, after the 21st Amendment was passed and prohibition was repealed. Hooray! Breweries started up again and people began toasting their good cheer with the, now more consolidated and consistent, Light American Lagers being legally brewed in this country. Homebrewing went away for a long time. As a homebrewer and a craft beer lover, this was curiously a "dark age" of beer in America (why do we celebrate the Pre-Prohibition Pilsner, if it wasn't somehow better than the post-Prohibition Pilsner?). I'm all for celebrating the repeal of that onerous Amendment but we all need to realize that the repeal did not revitalize the industry as much as consolidate it. The few inventive breweries that existed before prohibition were largely wiped out by the 14 year hiatus. What survived was the thin watery light lagers that we know today. These beers competed for years and years with each other trying to carve out market share with clever ads, against nearly identical beers in different cans.

What I truly celebrate is the freedom produced by a vibrant society that enjoys the more refined and varied styles of beer that are being produced by the craft beer industry, today. Obviously, it is-at least partly-financial freedom that fuels this explosion in beer appreciation. Good beers are extremely expensive compared to mass market beer. Yet, even in these tough economic times, enough people are purchasing them to allow big expansion in the industry. Look at the dozens of 400 barrel fermenters laying outside the Bell's Brewery in Comstock, Michigan (one State recession, anyone?) being readied for installation if you don't think the industry is thriving. People have the time to enjoy good beer and the money to buy it, as well as the time to invest in learning about the subject to better appreciate it. A "nasty, brutish and short" existence this is not!

Homebrewers are no longer brewing out of necessity. They brew good beers because they enjoy the fruit of their labors. They enjoy the artistic elements in brewing and the pride in a job well done. They enjoy the fact that they can produce an excellent product that rivals any commercial example at home. They also would not be able to expend the time and efforts at such a trivial matter without financial and physical freedom. Oh, it's still true that beers brewed at home are cheaper than their counterparts purchased in a store but that's not the real reason homebrewers brew. The differential is not that great. Homebrewers brew because they enjoy the hobby and they want to become better brewers.

So, rather than simply celebrate the end of prohibition, which actually stifled artisinal brewing and homebrewing, I'd like to celebrate the freedom embodied in the act of ending so onerous a restriction on free individual expression. My celebration on December 5, 2008 will salute the flowering of free societies in the world which allows us all the freedom and leisure time to enjoy great craft beer and the homebrewing hobby as we now do. Now we have craft brewers that use the imagination and freedom that a vibrant and free society allows and encourages, to produce beers that continuously inspire and astound us. They are artists of fermentation and deserve all the wonderful rewards that such work receives. The craft beer industry and the homebrewing hobby have enjoyed such fantastic success that it seems impossible that it can continue to grow and expand as it does. Is there a craft beer/ homebrewing bubble that's about to burst? I hope not!

So, when you celebrate the ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 5th, as we all should do, celebrate the slow and inexorable march to individual freedom that it exemplifies and not just the right to brew beer again. And realize that this march is far from over. We have a long way to go but at least we can enjoy great beer during the march!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


All homebrewers have a list of screwups they can recount. The dropped carboys, ingredients discovered "leftover" when the brew day is done, the timing issues, and many others may come to mind. These aren't the things we like to admit to, much less recount to others in a blog, but I feel compelled to mention one that just simply irritates the heck out of me and this one is a week old!

Last week I bottled five gallons of beer with beet sugar. I also assisted a fellow homebrewer with his ten gallon bottling day. I checked the recipe on Beertools (I love that program!), and discovered that the recipe called for some 8 ounces of sugar to prime the batch. Now, since I was only bottling half the batch, you would think I would be smart enough to actually split the amount of suggested sugar in half and use that amount to bottle my five gallons. Well, then, you would be WRONG!

I decided that, instead of measuring the sugar by volume, I would actually weigh it. This would offer a much more precise method of measurement so that the carbonation would be more precise. Or, so I thought. I marvelled at the large volume of the sugar, remarking at how it was a full cup of sugar or more. "Wow", I said, "that looks like a lot of sugar. Maybe it's too much. I don't want bottle bombs!" So I intelligently poured out a little before I put it into the pot of hot water. So much for precision! Never did the fact that this was much more sugar than I have ever used to bottle a five gallon batch of beer before-in over eight years of brewing -ever cross my feeble mind!

Then after actually bottling the beer, I went to Art's house and assisted him in bottling his. You guessed it. I weighed the seven and a half ounces of sugar and used that amount for EACH of the five gallon batches we bottled. I really don't have an excuse for this. I knew all along that this was more sugar than should be used but the fact that I had taken the data from Beertools, left me assured that it was correct. Of course it was. Even Beertools could not keep me from doubling the amount of sugar they prescribed!

Later in the day, I realized my error. I knew that not only was I in trouble but that I had made potential bottle bombs in Art's house as well. I told him what I had realized and suggested we pop the tops and recap. This might release enough pressure to save the bottles from blowing and the beer from being wasted. I advised Art to keep his relatively cold while I kept mine room temp and 'sperimented a bit. Over the next couple of days I did just that. In one case I had a gusher the second day after bottling. I recapped and checked it again a day later. Another gusher. The same bottle third day? Gusher. I thought I might need to put on my hockey helmet to open these beers! I realized the plan would NOT work.

I called Art and we decided we would just pour all the beer into fermenters and let it finish out, then re-bottle. I went and bought a fourth Corny keg and put mine in there! If I want to bottle, I'll bottle out of the keg. Art put his into two carboys. When he says he's ready, I'll go and assist him in bottling his with the correct amount of sugar, this time. It's only right for me to do my penance!