Sharing my hard work in learning about, brewing and even drinking beer.

I am a beer nerd, homebrewer and hopefully future beer competion judge. I am working my way through sampling, learning about and hopefully brewing all eighty current BJCP beer styles. It's hard work, but somebody has to do it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Where there's smoke...

I am a fairly low-tech brewer. I have no means of controlling my fermentation temperatures, so I have to rely on the weather. So, like most traditional European brewers, I brew in the winter. Since my basement is about 50 degrees in the winter, I thought I'd attempt a lager. Inspired by 'Brewing Classic Styles' I decided to try a rauchbier, even though I'd only tried the style once, at the East End Brewery. If you think that homebrewing is a test of patience, try brewing a lager. 3-4 weeks of fermentation, then 4-6 weeks of lagering.

Rauchbier, for the uninitiated, is a smoke-flavored beer. This is obtained by using malts that are dried over a fire, usually beechwood.

As you might imagine, this is a full-flavored beer, and I thought that it would be perfect for grilling season. It is also very difficult to find a commercial example of the style. However, I was able to find THE classic in Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer Urbock at Beer Nutz on Freeport Rd. in Fox Chapel. According to the label, Schlenkerla uses all smoked malts in this beer and it is quite evident. On first opening this beer there is a strong smoked-meat aroma, almost like bacon. The smoke flavor is not as strong as the aroma, but it is certainly the focus. Imagine drinking a nice, malty bock beside a campfire while eating a slightly burnt hot dog.

My rauchbier was much less smoky as the recipe in 'Brewing Classic Styles' only called for a third of the malt to be smoked. The smoked malt is readily available at homebrew stores or online. The beer had a nice lager crispness to it and smokiness, but I would prefer more of both.


and the drinking's easy. At least it should be.

Summer, however, does not come easily here in the 'Burgh. It rained almost every day in April and, May was not much better until about the last week. To celebrate finally getting a few nice days, I decided to explore some traditionally 'summer' styles. First up was American wheat (or rye) beer, which the BJCP style guidelines describe as a "refreshing wheat (or rye) beer that can display more hop character and less yeast character than their German cousins."

This is a bottle-conditioned beer, which I hadn't realized. I poured most of the beer into my Sam Adam's glass, and (unintentionally) left a bit in the bottle. About 3/4 of the way through I poured the rest in to discover that it was mostly yeast. Surprise! The added yeast mellowed the sweetness of the beer, and did not detract from the taste.

This beer is remarkably easy drinking for a beer that clocks in at almost 6% alcohol. It has a smooth body with a slightly sweet flavor with a hint of a honey flavor. The aroma is floral and herbal. The biggest thing that I noticed is that this beer was not as tart or astringent as wheat beers can sometimes be.

Overall, if you have a generous budget and want to throw a kicking summer party, this would definitely be a beer that I would recommend.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A stout'll do the trick

March is coming in like a lion this year, which means a whole lot of crap weather. The past two days have been cold and rainy and the next few days are predicted to be cold and snowy. To console myself over Punxsutawny Phil lying to us all about an early spring, I picked up a six-pack at Beer Nutz in Fox Chapel. Beer Nutz doesn't have quite the selection as 3 Sons does, but it has better six-pack prices. I chose some nice heavy beers to get me through this last wintry push, and I got the following for $12.84 after some strange tax calculations:

- Young's Double Chocolate
- Stout Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout
- Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (North Coast)
- Unibroue Maudite
- Paulaner Salvator
- Brooklyn Monster Barleywine

Not a bad haul right? Starting off with the stouts, (no, I'm not going to drink all of these tonight, but thanks for thinking I could) the Young's Double Chocolate Stout came in a generous pint bottle. It poured beautifully thick and dark with a fat, creamy, tan head. For those that care, this beer is not brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, as chocolate is an ingredient, and essentially the showcase of the beer. The chocolate is evident in everything from the aroma to the flavor to the finish, but manages to blend instead of overpowering and making the beer taste like a milkshake. This is a plus for me, as I like my beer to taste like beer. This is an easy-drinking beer and would wash down a meat-and-potatoes kind of meal perfectly. The Samuel Smith's had a surprisingly fruity aroma when first poured. It also had a smoother mouthfeel and the fruitiness carried over into the flavor. After a bit the fruitiness mellowed to a nice maltiness. This is a beer that coats your mouth. Unfortunately, I consumed the other beers without keeping notes. I know, I know (puts on dunce cap and sits in corner).

Monday, February 21, 2011

2A: German Pilsner

Even though Pilsner originated in the Czech Republic (in the city of Plzen), for some reason the Germans are 2A and not the Bohemians. Must be some kind of conspiracy. Today's sampling was of two German Pilsners, Bitburger and Warsteiner and an American German Pilsner, Brooklyn Pilsner. The style guidelines for the pilsner style are very narrow, so there is not a lot of wiggle room within with to express yourself. Pilsner is also the original style that most light-flavored lagers are (however loosely) based upon.

Pilsners are supposed to have a grainy/bready malt character with floral or spicy noble hops. They should be clean, crisp and easy-drinking.

Starting with the Bitburger, the first thing that I noticed was the lack of a head. This style should have a "creamy, long-lasting white head". I got none of that with either the Bitburger or Warsteiner. I'm going to guess that this is more of a handling issue, since these are both imports. There was definitely a light, floral hop aroma to this beer. Interestingly, since I did my research and read the style guideline before tasting, it said that there may be a graham-cracker aroma. Whether that was just stuck in my mind, or it is indicative of the style, I noticed it in all three beers, with Bitburger being the strongest.

Overall, the Warsteiner was the best with a nice floral/herbal hop aroma meshing well with the sweet grainy malt. It also had the cleanest finish. Unfortunately Brooklyn Pilsner did not hold up to its German counterparts. While the floral hop aroma was stronger, the finish was a little too bitter and sulfury. All of these beers would go well at a summer picnic or sporting event, and none were bad, but I would definitely not recommend the Brooklyn Pilsner if the other two were available, especially since they were the same price at my local 6-pack shop.

Beer + Cheese = Happy

In addition to beer, I really like cheese. Luckily for me, my wife does too. Double luckily for me, beer and cheese are fantastic companions. Along with the sampling of the saisons last Friday, my wife and I helped ourselves to a cheese sampling from the wonderful people at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. They have a great selection and the Strip is a great place to walk around on a weekend morning.

We picked up a half-pound of Humboldt Fog, a half-pound of young Manchego, and a small package of organic chevre. I got the Manchego for sentimentality's sake, as it was the only decent cheese available while living in Morocco for a year. The Manchego and chevre were good, with the chevre pairing nicely with the saisons, but the Humboldt Fog was out of this world. How have I not heard of this before? It's like chevre, wrapped in Camembert, with vegetable ash in the middle to give it a kick. Amazing! And perfect with saison. The next time that you are invited to a fancy gathering (especially with wine people) bring along some Humboldt Fog and a bottle of Saison DuPont and you will surely dazzle them all. You might even get some converts to the world of beer.

16C: Saison

Friday was quite a learning experience. While saisons are not my favorite style, I recently brewed one since I had a lot of leftover ingredients with which to make it. The leftover ingredients were from a Belgian Tripel that I made to celebrate when I found out that my wife was pregnant, along with some bottled yeast from Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night Saison that I recultured.

Saisons are traditional Belgian beers that were brewed in the early spring and designed to last until harvest time to offer to the workers as part of their compensation. Saisons are a tough style to explore, since there are not many commercial examples, and the ones that do exist are a touch on the expensive side. However, it is also rare that there is one offering that is considered the paragon of the style, and in this case Saison DuPont is widely claimed to be the premier representative of the style. I swung by 3 Sons Dogs and Suds again and claimed a bottle of Ommegang Hennepin and Saison DuPont Vielle Provision. In my few experiences with Belgian beers I noticed that they had a similar 'slick' mouthfeel. I expected the same from the saisons that I bought. I was wrong. Both examples were very tart and acidic, and, while fruity, were not overwhelmingly sweet. In fact, they both finished quite dry and refreshing. I can see how this beer would have been a staple for Belgian farmhands come harvest-time.

The Saison DuPont has a fresh aroma with a hint of herby hops and citrus, along with a slight straw and yeasty scent. It poured a pale straw color with some haziness from the yeast and a huge frothy head. The flavor was tart and acidic with some lemon flavor. The finish was quite dry and refreshing. This would make a great summer beer. It is also presented beautifully in a 750 mL bottle with champagne cork.

The Hennepin had a similar aroma and flavor, however it poured crystal clear, although it was also bottle-conditioned. It also had a large white foamy head. It's color was slightly darker than the Saison DuPont. It had less of a yeasty flavor and aroma.

Both of these beers were very good, and surprising. If you need a fresh, crisp summer beer with unique flavor I would recommend one of these saisons. I can definitely see a couple of Belgian farmhands pouring themselves a glass or two in the afternoon to restore themselves and be able to keep working until sundown. I might just do the same to help me get through posting this. It's sweaty work, all that typing and clicking.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

14B: American IPA

So all my friends ditched me on wing night (with friends like these...) so I jumped on the the chance to redirect my hard-earned money from the alehouse to the six-pack shop in order to begin my journey through the eighty beer styles. Tonight I'm going with three selections from the BJCP 'classic' examples for American IPA. I know what you're thinking, "Wow, American IPA, how exciting (not)." Well, all day I was craving a nice bitter IPA and I thought about going with English IPA's but they were all crazy expensive, and since I just spent $17 on two bottles of Saison last week, I thought I'd take it easy on the budget. In case you're good at math and noticed something missing, the other half of the six-pack was 2A: German Pilsner; more on that later.

The lucky contestants for this night's festivities were Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Avery IPA and Founder's Centennial IPA. Surprisingly the citrus-hop character in all three was quite mild. I don't know if my tastebuds were not quite warmed up, but I was grateful to not be assaulted with three grapefruit bombs. Also characteristic of all three was a nice malty sweetness in both the flavor and aroma, with the beers manifesting this in differing shades of caramel and toffee. All three had a nice smooth bitterness to them, as would be expected, with smooth being the key. No harshness to be found. All three of these beers were flavorful without being overwhelming. The mouthfeel for all of them was almost identical in a medium body with nice, almost creamy carbonation.

Of the three beers, Founder's Centennial IPA was my favorite, as the malt character stood out on its own and was wrapped very well in the hops and bitterness.

On another note, I really need to work on my sense memory as these beers were not at all subtle, but I couldn't pull the aromas and flavors out of my brain. I need one of those kits with all the possible aromas and flavors so that I can compare them.