Thursday, February 26, 2009

Beer Review 'HORUS'

Another offering from the brewery Cervecera Mexicana in Penjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico. This is the third of three beers that I've reviewed which are brewed in the micro-brewery/tequillaria not far from San Miguel de Allende, where we've been staying. This is an unusual beer in that a large percentage of it is added 'house' tequilla along with a noticable quantity of artificial lime flavoring, not to mention some sodium benzoate for good measure. At 12% abv. this is a potent concoction. After first pouring, a small head forms but dissipates almost immediately, which seems to be a signature conditions for the beers of this brewery. Little carbonation is evident once the head is gone. The color is a dark brown with ruby highlights. The aroma is of sweet coffee and alcohol. This beer is dominated by the tequilla and the smokey flavor that is a byproduct of the process of roasting the heart of the agave plant prior to fermentation. It follows with distinct caramelized malt and artificial lime additions along with the flavor and warmth of alcohol. There is also just a hint of tobacco at the very end. I'm not completely sure I want to call this beer. It wicks on the glass like brandy and comes across as a coffee liquor rather than an ale. Out of curiosity, I looked over the Beer Advocate web site and came across a concensus of opinions which were negative overall. I would agree with the ratings I read when I consider that this is suppose to be beer but if I were subjected to a blind tasting and was told it was not beer, I would have to say that it is not completely objectionable. I think, served in a snifter and at room temperature, this product may be a pleasant after dinner drink, a winter warmer or appartif. My general impression is that this is not a great beer but has its merits when looked at from outside the box.
Beer and Tequilla don't mix

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beer Flavor Additives-'Michelada'

They don't do this where I come from here in Mexico it is very popular to add a kind of salsa to the beer. This salsa blend is made with chili and lime and pepper and when added to your favorite beer is called a 'Michelada'

Before the pour Apparently, adding salsa to beer has been going on for quit awhile here in Mexico (since the 40's according to wiki) and is starting to make some headway into the U.S. Naturally, I had to give it a try as I don't want to come across to my Mexican friends as a purist in my beer drinking habits (even though, secretly, I am, don't tell anyone). I ordered it with my dinner at a restaurant called El Truco in Guanajuato and was surprised to recieve a bottle of Modelo naturally, along with a glass containing a couple of tablespoons of bright orange liquid in the bottom and the rim ladened with salt. I poured the beer in on top of the spicy juice and filled the glass. If you can tell by the picture, it turned out to be a murky mess with large gelatinus bubbles forming on the top. The lime is the dominant flavor in this concoction followed quickly by the pepper and chili spices. What little malt flavor that existed in the beer to begin with, is now non-existant. With the addition of the foreign matter in the beer, the co2 has plenty of opportunity to nucleate and the end result is a burning mouthful of the stinging release of carbonation which, along with the pepper flavor, achieves a strong 'bite' in the throat as you swallow. The lime adds an unexpected puckering tartness and the salt on the rim of the glass feels 'just plain wrong'.

After the pour
If you can't already tell, I object to this beer perversion occuring, but I have a pretty good idea why this practice is taking place, most of the beer here is lacking in flavor. Why not dump something in it? I guess that after awhile, crushing a lime into the top of the bottle just isn't enough to quench the underlying desire for a proper beer.
Speaking of additions, my next posting will be a review of the beer 'Horus', another from the tequillaria in Penjamo, Mexico.
Until then, do you make additions to your fresh brewed beer? Let us know.

Friday, February 20, 2009

5 Time Saving Ideas

As much as I enjoy the brewing process and want to brew as often as I can, I only have a certain amount of time in which to spend in the brewery. I think this is a common dilema in the homebrewing community. My normal all-grain brewing day has typically been around six to eight hours from set-up to clean-up. But, over the years I have come up with a few tried and true ways to cut down on the amount of time I need for brew day, allowing me to do other important things on my weekend.
I have cut my brew day time down to about five hours. The following ideas are probably pretty obvious to anyone who has brewed more than a few beers but for those that are new or new to all-grain brewing, they may prove valuable.
1.) The first thing that I started doing to improve on my time was to formulate and prepare a written schedule of the recipe for the beer that I would be brewing. I'm 'old school' when it comes to formulating new recipes for the style of beer I will brew. I calculate by hand the amount of grain needed for the original gravity that I want and I figure the international bittering units that I want to achieve. I use a journal with the recipe and hop schedule to follow which is written in an easy to follow step by step format. This schedule can be written anytime prior to brew day. I usually have this prepared several days in advance. Having this in front of me while brewing takes any guess work out of my process and assures that I will have the ingredients ready to go when the time calls for them.
2.) The second thing I started to do that reduces my time and that has made for a much more comfortable brew day was to pre-mill my grains. This simple step, along with pre-measuring and bagging my hops is one less element to worry about, giving me ample time to focus on hitting the proper strike temperature for my mash or other tasks that can be problematic if overlooked. I will mill the grain the night before and store in sealed 5 gallon buckets. At the same time I will measure and bag the hops and toss them in the buckets along with the grain and secure a lid. When this is done in the evening before it doesn't seem to take to much time, but the time saving effect on brew day is remarkable.

3.) The third thing I do when brewing a ten gallon, all-grain batch is to start heating the wort as soon as I have accumulated about five gallons in the boil pot during the sparge. I set the burner on a low heat being cautious not to scorch the concentrated wort. Increasing the heat as the extractions accumulate I bring the liquid slowly up to boiling temperatures just as the sparge is complete. Thus, I have my pre-boil volume at boiling temperatures right when the sparge has ended, no lag time.

4.) The fourth thing is to clean as you go. Once I have my boil going and I have added my first addition of hops, I have time to empty the spent grains and clean out my mash tun. I also use this time to sanitize any fermenting and transfer equipment that will be used when the boiling is complete and to stow unnecessary equipment like the mash tun and HLT.

5.) The fifth thing and final time saving technique, is to build a pre-chiller to use in conjunction with your emersion or counterflow chiller. This simple addition to your equipment can save many minutes on the time it take to cool the wort to pitching temperatures.
Mine is an old emersion chiller that I used when I first started brewing five gallon extract batches on the stove top. It is a coil of 25' of 3/8" copper tubing. I submerge it in a bucket of ice water and then run my chilling water throught it first in line with my counterflow chiller. It lowers the temperature of my chilling water several degrees before it reaches my counterflow chiller. In the end I am saving time and water.

Hopefully these ideas were useful to you. Leave a comment below with you ideas.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

3 Money Saving Ideas

I want to share some of the many way I have found to save some money in my homebrewing hobby. Over time, I have calculated that I can produce a pint of average strength beer (a gravity of 1.050-1.060) for myself for about .30 cents per pint. This is based on brewing in ten gallon batches and achieving an 80% efficiency in the mash. When considering the high price of commercial beer out there, this is a huge savings and if you drink as much beer as I do, brewing at home really pays off in the long run. When first starting out, the cost of ingredients can push your final price per pint into the range of commercial beer costs. We are usually buying kits or small amounts of malt extract and hops. The small purchases are more expensive to produce mostly because of handling costs which leads to higher costs to the consumer (brewer). This leads to the first idea that will dramatically save you money.

1. purchase ingredients in bulk.

Once your hooked in the hobby of brewing, you will most likely be brewing on a regular basis and will be making frequent visits to your local home brew store for ingredients. For the miscellaneous items this is a good resource, however, for the bulk of your grains and hops it is best to buy in bulk, that is 50 lb. bags of 2-row and 1 lb. packages of hops. There are a couple of sources for bulk grain. One is to go by and visit you nearest brewpub or micro brewery and talk to the head brewer. He may be willing to order additional bags of grain for you when he makes purchases for the brewery. The other option is to do group purchases with you homebrew club at the nearest grain wholesaler although the company that I deal with is happy to sell to me directly, a bag at a time. Currently I pay about $30 per 50 lb. bag from Certified Foods Inc. located in the S.F. bay area. With 50 lbs. of grain I can brew about 30 gallons of beer! I also buy my hops a pound at a time from Hops Direct for about $26 lb. for Centennial and Cascade. I store my hops in the freezer and the grain I store in sealable 5 gallon food grade plastic buckets.

2. salvage your yeast

Liquid yeast can run you about $6 each now from White Labs and pound for pound is the largest expense in brewing. There are of course less expensive dry yeasts on the market which are quite good these days but if you want more variety you'll need the liquid type. With a little planning, the easiest and most convenient way to save money regarding yeast is to simply rack new wort onto an existing yeast cake from a prior fermentation. The other option is to pour the yeast from your fermenter into a sanitized jar, cover with foil and save in the fridge for up to several weeks. Then when your ready, pour off the excess liquid from the jar and pour the yeast cake into your new batch of wort. It is also easy to 'step up' a small amount of salvaged yeast or an older yeast sample for re-pitching.

3. re-use your hops

For those like me that love the hoppy beers, you probably dry hop. Placing hops in the fermenter or keg after fermentation is complete, is a great way to add hop aroma for pale ales and IPA's especially. When you dry hop, the bittering compounds in the plant are not lost in the process and can be utilized in the bittering of your next beer. At the time that you dry hop, place the hops in a mesh bag. Then you can either plan on brewing a new beer when the dry hopping schedule is complete or when done dry hopping, remove the bag of hops and place in a sanitized container and store in the fridge or freezer and re-use in your next brew session.

There are many more ways to save money and creative ways of saving money seems to be an integral part of this great hobby of home brewing. In the future I will go into some more ingredient ideas along with saving money in the area of equipment.

If you have any money saving ideas to help others regarding ingredients, leave a comment.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First Beer/Food Pairing Event

Beer and food pairing event sells out in San Miguel de Allende with overwhelming response.

Mark Taylor and Noren Caseres

Aside from a few logistical glitches, Noren Caseres (owner of El Burrito Bistro) and I managed to serve a 'reservations only' crowd of sixty people last night with home brewed beer and a three course meal. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I had a lot of people ask me if they could buy the beers that were served with dinner followed by 'when will you do something like this again?' In the mean time, I learned a few lessons as the evening progressed. The biggest lesson was that if I do this again it will be with kegged beer. Also, serving people three courses would be better managed if they were served in larged groups rather than as they arrived. The owner of Cerveze de San Miguel was present for the evening and expressed and interest in working together to come up with some special and or seasonal beers. I was honored. I hope to use what I learned this evening to do other home brew and food pairings back in the states and also when I return to Mexico next year.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beer and Food Pairing

I wanted to know if any of my readers have done a homebrew and food pairing, or even a commercial beer and food pairing? This is a new experience for me and I could use the tips. Please comment below if you have some good advise or talk about your experience.
In any case I delivered one hundred bottles of beer to the restaurant and it looks like it's on for a homebrew and food pairing here in San Miguel de Allende. I have teamed up with Noren Caceres, the owner of the 'El Burrito Bistro' and we have made our final plans for a reservations only dinner on the 7th of February from 5-8pm. Noren just informed me yesterday that we have the sixty people reserved that we can accomodate. Each person will be getting a sample (5oz.) of each of my three beers along with an appropriate course prepared by Noren. The beers will be the Belgian ale made with the addition of jamaica (hibiscus flower) and tamarindo. Followed by a pale ale with miel de agave and then a pale ale made with a serious amount of the local honey that I purchased at the tuesday outdoor market. Noren wrote in the article that came out in the local paper
"I'm hoping that the beer tasting menu will create a harmonious experience of flavors that accent and celebrate these exceptional ales. The first course, served with the tangy Jamaica Ale, will be a baked portabello mushroom stuffed with requeson cheese and herbs on a bed of greens with a balsamic and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette or a tomato and sweet pepper shrimp bisque. The main course, served with the rich Agaveza Ale, a vegetable cous cous and your choice of lamb, chicken or vegetarian tagine. And the sweet Tianguis Ale will be served with a fruit and cheese platter, a dessert that will allow you to experiment with the various flavors and sensations this beer invokes. So I invite you to take a night off from the six pack in the fridge and taste the dream of San Miguel´s locally produced, hand-crafted beer by Mark Taylor".
I will follow up on this post with pictures of the events and lessons learned from the night of homebrew and food.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cerveza de San Miguel

Finally, a place I can go for a pint of ale! Not only ale but ale on draft! Not to mention 'pint glasses' what a novelty here in Mexico.

Cameron Carroll with beer taps ^

Matthew Carroll at the bar

The new restaurant and brewery on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende called Cerveza De San Miguel has opened to the public and I visited on opening day for a couple of pints (did I say a couple, I mean a few) and to talk with the new owners Matthew Carroll and his son Cameron. Update: This brewery closed about a year after writing this post, very sad. They were still putting the finishing touches on the place when we arrived and there was plenty of wait staff to cater to the expected superbowl fans that would arrive later. I was immediately impressed with the gleaming draft tower at the bar. Eight or ten tap handles in a row mounted to a length of shining chrome, it was beautiful. We grabbed a stool and ordered the signature pale ale to start. The Carroll's both took some time to talk a little about their venture and about brewing ales. They originally planned to have their brewery on the premises until they realized the costs and difficult logistics associated with procuring large brewing equipment and materials here in Mexico. They instead opted to contract out their pale ale recipe and have the Minerva brewery in Guadalajara produce it. A beer similar to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, their pale ale is much like Sierra Nevada in color, maltiness and mouthfeel but with an English twist, in that they use Golding hops throughout the process rather than Cascade hops which produce the familiar citrus notes to the Sierra flavor. Matthew talked nostalgically about brewing five gallon batches of home brew on his three tier, gravity fed system back in the states. He has lived in Mexico now for several years after traveling back and forth to the U.S. for ten years. While talking, I ordered a stout that is brewed by Minerva and dispenced with a traditional nitrogen/co2 blend draft system that the Carroll's have installed along with a state of the art Glycol cooled serving system that runs from a walk-in refridgerator where the kegs are stored and tapped, out to the bar where the faucets disense perfectly chilled and carbonated beer. The stout is black with a thick tan head, creamy full mouthfeel and the flavors of coffee, chocolate and malt and a good bitterness from the hops and roasted barley. Besides their own beer and the Minerva brands, they also have several Modelo and Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma brewery brands on tap. Matthew Carroll said he hoped to expand the business in the future, possibly adding the brewery to the facility and liked the idea of having seasonal and specialty beers available throughout the year. Next I tried the Vienna lager and I was very impressed. The beer fits the classic definition of the style, with big malt flavor, slightly sweet but a nice hop balance. A very quaffable beer and far superior to the Modelo brand. I didn't get the chance to try Minerva's 'Colonial', which is a Kolsh style lager so I will be heading back soon, maybe I'll see you there.
To get to Cerveza de San Miguel, go past the Fabrica Aurora a couple of minutes by taxi. It is on the paved highway just out of town.
Cerveza de San Miguel
Kilometro 2.5 Carretera a Dolores San Miguel de Allende GTO, C.P. 37700

Not to be confused with cerveza san miguel (Grupo Mahou San Miguel, the Spanish beer brewery ) or the San Miguel Brewery in the Philippines

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