Tag Archives: Beer

New Year, New Brew

Last year my main resolution was brew more of the beer that I drink.  It was a simple resolution, and one that I achieved further than I would have believed.  With this added experience, I have gotten better at brewing and anticipating what a beer will taste like before it has finished.

As many of you who homebrew may know, there is such a joy in cracking open that first bottle of a batch to discover that all the hours of work and months of waiting have yielded something delicious, and in many ways, something better just because it was handmade.  While many of my beers this year have contained flaws, there are a few choice batches that come to mind that I will have a hard time forgetting.

So while I plan to continue to experiment, this year I am going to focus developing a set of recipes influenced by Belgian ales, utilizing the same yeast and implementing techniques and designs I’ve learned this year.  I’m brewing my first batch today of what is to be a brown session ale infused with hibiscus and orange peel.  From this I will use the yeast to brew another recipe, higher in alcohol.  And I will continue to step it up with these recipes.  Right now I am looking at a portfolio of 4-5 different brews, some being alterations of those I did this past year.

I will follow up on the recipe for today’s brew soon.  Now I must attend to the boil.

To a new year, full of new ideas, experiences, and joys!


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Filed under Beer Philosophy, Brewing

Anchor Our Special Ale Tasting

It’s two days before Christmas, and I have a quiet night and some time off, so I figured I would sit down and enjoy my favorite Holiday-time commercial beer, Anchor’s Our Special Ale.  Coming in at around 5.5% ABV., and jam-packed full of spices, it’s amazing both how balanced and delicious it is, as well as it’s reputation for handling age well.  Usually beers that people lay down for an extended time have nearly twice the alcohol content, or are infected with souring microbes.  I managed to save one bottle from last year to try this Christmastime to see what a difference a year makes.  Keeping in mind that the folks at Anchor change this recipe every year, here are some thoughts on the beer:

2010 Our Special Ale

Appearance:  Pours a deep mahogany with burgundy highlights and a tan head.  The head quickly recedes into still, beautiful lacing.

Aroma:  Smells sweetly of tangerines, dark chocolate, cola, clove.  It’s similar to Dr. Pepper, though more complex, warm, and deeper.

Flavor:  The cola comes through first, then following with a bright citrus twang.  It finishes long with a dark chocolate aftertaste.  Absolutely delicious.  Some cherry-pie like fruitiness comes through on repeated swigs, reminding me of something akin to a Gulden Draak Lite.  I could drink this for a long while.

2011 Our Special Ale

Appearance:  Very similar to the 2010, but the head stays atop the beer the entire time, thicker and creamier.

Aroma:  After tasting the 2010, I did not think these would be too different, however one whiff of this one tells me differently.  I get freshly ground cinnamon and dashes of mint, as well as some of the cola/clove from the 2010.

Flavor:  My first impression is that it’s roastier and earthier than the 2010.  These beers are of the same pedigree, though, as the cola and clove qualities come through.  Touches of wintergreen lighten it before the dark chocolate finish.  The body is fuller on this one also.

Overall impression:  I am surprised at how incredible the 2010 tastes.  I did not believe that a year would be this kind to this beer, but I guess I was wrong.  Of the two, it is my favorite, though the 2011 is great in its own right.  It’s creamy with a nice roasty presence.  I can’t wait to see how it does in a year, or two, or three.

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Bagheera Coffee Stout

A couple of months ago my girlfriend and I brewed up a coffee stout together.  The recipe was formulated with the idea of prominently featuring coffee from our local roaster–MadCap Coffee.  The malt bill was assembled with the idea of it blending with and complimenting the coffee flavors and aromatics so that the line between the coffee and the beer was blurred.  While many stouts are heavy on the roast, the goal for this one was to let the coffee provide many of those flavors, and allow the malt to mingle with deeper notes in the coffee.  As for hops and yeast, they play a very neutral role in this one.  Here’s the recipe:

Recipe Specifications ————————–

OG: 1.071

FG: 1.019

11 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 73.3 %

1 lbs Wheat, Roasted (550.0 SRM) Grain 4 6.7 %

8.0 oz Special B (Dingemans) (147.5 SRM) Grain 6 3.3 %

1 lbs Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM) Grain 2 6.7 %

1 lbs Special Roast (50.0 SRM) Grain 3 6.7 %

8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 5 3.3 %

1.00 oz Galena [12.50 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 7 36.8 IBUs

1.0 pkg Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) Yeast

Mash at 154F for 60 min.  Sparge with 180F water.

Before bottling, coarsely grind 6oz. of MadCap’s Oktoberfest blend and place into a sanitized muslin bag.  Place in a sanitized bowl with 3 cups of water and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove coffee grounds and let drip, then add the liquid coffee into your bottling bucket.

Review on 12/9/11:

Appearance:  Pours dark black with a tan, espresso-like head.  Very few highlights here.

Aroma:  Strongly of coffee, as well as notes of dates, molasses, some tobacco, raisins.  Slight alcohol sweetness.

Taste:  Expounds largely on the coffee, again with dark fruits and molasses, but not too sweet or cloying.  It ends with a nice roastiness that cleans the palate.

Mouthfeel:  Slick, and not as full as I would like.  Low carbonation leaves the ale smooth.

Overall:  This is one of the better beers I’ve had a hand in brewing, and one I’ve ear-marked to make again.  It’s very drinkable, but also delicious.  The complexities of it are subtle, but are certainly open for exploration.  I am very happy with how this turned out and feel it has come very close to hitting what was originally envisioned.  I can only think of a few tweaks to make, such as perhaps a higher mash temp to add a little more body.

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Two new beer books worth checking out

I love reading about beer.  Whether it’s a historical account of ales of olde, innovative and interesting recipes, or tales of other countries’ drinking cultures, I enjoy sitting down and taking as much of it in as I can.  Two beer-related book releases have got me pretty excited.  Let’s start with the first, released this past Tuesday:


That’s right–a whole book about Stone Brewing Co. and their history.  But maybe one of the most exciting and interesting parts is the amount of Stone recipes listed in it for the sake of homebrewing.  Here’s more from CraftBeer.com:

Inside THE book

  • behind the scenes look at the 15 years of Stone Brewing Co., straight from co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner
  • An in-depth history of beer through the ages, revealing how four simple ingredients combine to make liquid magic
  • Pointers on properly storing and pouring craft beer, as well as a primer on pairing beer with food
  • Recipes from the award-winning Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, including Garlic Cheddar and Stone Ruination IPA Soup, and the (in)famous Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings
  • Never before released homebrew recipes including Stone Pale Ale, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine, and Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
And then there’s a release that a lot of people have been waiting for.  Coming out October 7th (Tuesday) is The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by none other than Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery fame.
Yes, that’s right–960 pages of well-researched beer goodness.  It’s going to take more than a six-pack for me to get through it.  More info from CraftBeer.com:


  • Most comprehensive reference work on beer ever published
  • Over 1,100 entries by renowned beer experts across the globe
  • Entries on every aspect of beer, including chemical, technical, social, cultural, and linguistic
  • Editor-in-Chief Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, is the foremost authority on beer in the United States
  • Ideal resource for both practical information and engaging beer anecdotes
  • Foreword by Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio
So if anyone needs a gift idea, or a desire to learn and a need for beery inspiration, I would recommend either of these books.

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Filed under Beer, Beer Literature, Beer Philosophy

Strong Smoked Pale

On Sunday I tried my hand at my first smoked beer.  I wanted to go for something that had a large smoke component, but with enough support from other malt flavors to not be over-powering or one-dimensional.  Here’s the rec

6# 2-Row Pilsner Malt (1.0 SRM)

6# Smoked Malt (Weyermann) (2.0 SRM)

8oz. Melanoidin Malt (Weyermann) (30 SRM)

1.5# Honey Malt (25 SRM)

1oz. Northern Brewer pellet hops (8.9% AA) –Boil 75 Min.

1oz. Willamette pellet hops (4.6% AA) –Boil 75 Min.

1/2 gallon starter of Wyeast American Ale (1056) yeast

Mashed in with 17.4 qts. of water at 170 Degrees to bring the mash to 156.  Let sit for one hour, then sparged with 4.5 gallons at 170 degrees.  I ended up drawing a little too much wort into the kettle, and I also wanted to adjust the recipe to get a little more bitterness out of my hops, so I boiled for 75 mins.  My measured gravity was 1.070, which puts me at about 68% efficiency–slightly better then my typical 65%.  Cooled and pitched my starter.  It’s been fermenting strong for the past few days, but I’m a little concerned because Monday got into the 80s here, and since I don’t have A/C or fermentation temp control (hence “Primitive Brewing”), I know it will develop some off flavors.  I’ll post a review of it when it’s ready, but for now, here’s some pictures from the brew day:

Glorious glorious wort

Some deliciously smokey inspiration

All done and in the basement.



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Filed under Beer, Brewing, Strong ale

Hop Terroir and the Non-Northwestern-United-States

There’s an interesting post over at Beervana.com about the recent rise in hop-growing in states that aren’t Washington or Oregon.

Hop acreage in these states is miniscule by comparison to the Pacific Northwest. (Oregon has 4,600 acres under cultivation and Washington a booming 24,300; Colorado has 75 and Wisconsin and the Northeast similarly measure their acreages in the tens, not thousands.)

Still, these are real numbers. An acre of hop fields produces over 2,000 pounds of hops, so that wee Colorado planting is going to produce around 150,000 pounds of hops. That’s not going to go far at Budweiser, but these growers aren’t working with In-Bev, they’re working with craft brewers.

The article goes on to describe that these small farmers are supporting and being supported by small brewers, but what piqued my interest is that these hops being grown elsewhere in the US will develop their own terroir.  Just as a tomato grown in my back yard in Michigan is going to taste different (not to mention fresher) than a tomato grown in California, boxed and shipped to a local supermarket, hops grown in different areas of the country are going to have different qualities than if they were grown elsewhere.  It’s one of the many beauties of life.  It makes me thankful that our state has great resources like The Michigan Hop Alliance.

Last week, two friends of mine (Mitch and Chris) and I brewed an IPA with hops grown in Australia and New Zealand–Pacific Jade, Rakau, and Galaxy.  It’s currently sitting in secondary with some dry-hops, waiting until next week for us to bottle it.  I am very interested to see how these different hops contribute new flavors, and I’ll be sure to post a review/recipe when it’s done.  If it’s anything interesting like the Nelson Sauvin (another New Zealand hop–very grape-like) and Vienna Malt SMaSH pale ale I did last winter, it’s going to be a hit.

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Filed under Beer, Hops, Terroir

To Boldly Go

As one of the world’s oldest beverage, beer is a well-trodden path.  The use of plants–grains, herbs, fruits, sugars—by humans to produce alcohol has been well covered, reproduced and discussed.  And yet, here I am, creating another document on beer and the making of it. Just as music was howled out primordially and raw, just as it became movements, as new instruments still wet from the womb were plucked and slapped and pounded, as people met in groups to perform and celebrate, as this music was formed and reformed with new attitudes—so has beer brought us together, challenged our tastes, and given us reason to celebrate.

When contemplating the purpose of this blog, I came to the conclusion that I did not want it to be simply another blog on homebrewing, nor did I want to wear down the  paths of beer culture and history. There are a great deal of people who know more on all of these subjects than I. Instead, I will speak from a personal perspective—this is the beer I make, these are my thoughts on the brewing of it, and to a larger degree, my beliefs on our relationship with it. So I’ve decided to take this plunge into putting it all down in words.

To exemplify this endeavor I have poured a bottle of a sour ale I brewed last December, knowing very little about how to make a sour ale and how much time should go into it. It is certainly sour, like biting into a lemon, and while it would benefit from carbonation, as well as less acetic acid (think vinegar), the smell of it brings me back to the time I brewed it and watched it bubble away in the fermenter. It brings me back to the first time I took a sample, and subsequently shared that sample, smiling at the puckering faces of my friends. This batch was a couple of firsts for me: I did not use malt extract and extracted the malt sugars myself, and I used brettanomyces and souring bugs for the first time. Here’s the recipe:

Red Beauty

Malt bill:

4lbs. Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)

3lbs. Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)

2lbs. Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)

1lb. Wheat Malt, Bel (2.0 SRM)

8oz. Aromatic Malt (26.0 SRM)

8oz. Special B (180.0 SRM)


1oz. East Kent Goldings (4.5%) for 60min.

1oz. Whole leaf Cascade dry-hopped


White Labs WLP650 Brettanomyces Bruxellensis

Dregs from Jolly Pumpkin La Roja and Bam Biere

Mash at 154 for one hour. My efficiency was low on this, so my target gravity was 1.050. Fermented hot, around 85 degrees in a bucket primary for four weeks, then transferred to a glass carboy for two-and-a-half months aging, or until fermentation has completely ceased. This stopped at about 1.008 for me, and did not move.

To say that my approach to beer is experimental is completely true. My tastes are often exploratory, and while I enjoy a well-crafted brown ale, I am more likely to try to make something that allows me more creative freedom. While I try to stay away from the gimmickry and extremism that many US craft brewers are guilty of, I want to explore, piece by piece.  My intent is not to be excessive or kitschy, but unique, with my ears to tradition and my eyes toward the horizon.

So here’s to knowledge and experience, here’s to new challenges and adventures–beer is just another (delicious) vehicle.  Here’s to enjoying it together.

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Filed under Beer Philosophy, Sour Ale