Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buffalo Bill's Brewing In Hayward, California

I picked up my grain and now it was time to stop and quench my thirst from the long drive.

Photojournalist and brewing entrepreneur, Bill Owens opened
Buffalo Bill's Brewery in the early 80's as one of the pioneers of the brewpub movement in California. I had a chance to swing by on my way back from Woodland where I was picking up grains from Certified Foods, Inc. for myself and some of the other Zymurgeek members. Buffalo Bills is located in the downtown part of Hayward, California. It's an old building with a lot of charm and the bar section has a hardwood floor that runs the length of the bar. A very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy a good ale.

I ordered a sampler platter of the beers on tap and spent some time working my way through them from light to dark beginning with an American lager followed by an American wheat, pale ale, red ale and ending with an oatmeal stout.

I need a moment here to say that I have a problem with brewpubs that serve their wheat beer with a slice of lemon. In a sense, the practice is really about homogenizing a product, catering to mass appeal because of market driven imagery which I believe marginalizes the seriousness of a quality and well crafted beer. I want to taste and appreciate the characters that should be evident with an American wheat beer! Having said that, I don't particularly like American wheat to begin with but introducing overpowering flavors to my glass of beer just tells me that the beer can't stand on its own without it. Sorry, I had to get that off my mind. In my personal opinion; adding fruit wedges reflects badly on a serious brewing establishment.

Moving on, my favorite from the grouping was the pale ale, which they call the Tasmanian and I ended up ordering a pint to enjoy with my lunch. Very refreshing with a good malt/hop balance if not slightly on the sweet side.

The Stout has an up front coffee/coco powder flavor with a dry finish and subtle hop flavor, a nice beer.

Three different bottled beers are displayed in cases, decorating the corners of the expansive room. These include Orange Blossom cream ale, Blueberry oatmeal stout and their famous Pumpkin ale. Buffalo Bills is a pretty small place and I asked the barkeep about the bottled beers. He said that they are beers that are contract brewed by Pyramid Brewing. I order the cream ale out of curiosity (not of big fan of the fruit flavored beers, kind of a traditionalist if you haven't noticed) because it is hard to come by a cream ale around here. Unfortunately, the orange blossom flavor overpowers this beer in a relentless way.

I finished up my Tasmanian Devil and headed out into the hot California sun and made my way back down the 880 for Santa Cruz. With 150 pounds of fresh malted grain, it's time to get brewing.

Have you been to this brew pub? Leave a comment.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Save Enough For Contests

If you're currently kegging your beer you probably experience a spasm of tourettes when the keg blows foam into your half full (empty?) pint glass. An empty keg causes me sadness, followed by a guarded surprise at how quickly I was able to consume essentially forty pints of beer. Then, a real regret overcomes me for not having bottled up some of what was possibly an award winning beer before it expired.

Well, after enough disappointments, like a Pavlovian dog, I have finally learned to draw off some bottles of beer from what I would consider those exceptional kegs of homebrew to be submitted later at local contests. Halfway through the keg, the beer has come of age and will have good clarity and I will fill and cap four bottles and set them aside. I place a label on the cap with the beer style and the date I originally kegged the beer. These will then go into the refer or the shelf in my kegerator.

Later, prior to submitting the three beers that most completions require, I will have one to evaluate and judge whether it is worthy of consideration. I open the sample beer to make sure it still has the proper carbonation first. I fill from the tap so the level of carbonation is always suspect. Did it hiss as I pop the cap? I pour into a glass and examine the head. Then of course I evaluate the beer to determine if it still has the qualities that I think it needs to score well in the competition. If yes, I have the three remaining samples for the event. If not, well, hopefully it has at least fared well enough to quaff.

One of the good things about this process is that many of the beers have had a good amount of time to lager in the bottle, giving the beer a greater chance of clarifying and the flavors to integrate.

Do you have a procedure for entering contests?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Know When To Stop Talking About Beer

It was a casual gathering at a friend of a friends house and I didn't know many of the people in the room. I padded over to a couple that seemed open to new conversation. They introduced themselves and I, me and then I immediately forgot their names.
After some small chit chat I launched into what I believed was a interesting story about instant non-alcoholic beer which dove-tailed nicely into a another anecdotal tale of light American lager, when halfway through my soliloquy about early American brewing history I noticed a suppressed yawn contorting the face of the person I'm talking to, an astute observation considering how captivated I was with my own story. I paused in mid sentence, at a loss for words and at once directionless. I sputtered some nonsense about the extensive cheese platter on a nearby table in an effort to change the subject. The person leaped at the opportunity to make the break towards a new line of interest and simultaneously, physically backed away from me trying to catch the eye of someone across the room.

Slightly embarrassed, I turned and made my way slowly over, and sidled up to, a new group of people and listened silently to their conversation. As I caught the drift of what was being said, I noticed how each comment led me silently down my solitary path onto some beer related subject. Someone mentions an overgrown shrub at their house and I think,
"yeah, but did you know that very bush you speak of was used to flavor beer before hops were discovered, and that...?"

But I stop myself from speaking because, at least for the moment, I am aware of my tendency to over share my obsession with complete strangers in the belief that if they just examine their hearts, beer and brewing beer is a deep seated passion that lies dormant in them until the right beer related monologue provokes it from its slumber.

As the evening goes on, the conversations continue and without a hint of beer related drama I am bored. Not just bored, but impatient. I restlessly listen. Is it really necessary to talk about Jackie's recent lay-off because of the economic crisis or the unusually high temperatures in the valley caused by global warming, when the subject of beer is so much more interesting? My mind wanders. I look at the brown bottle in my hand, beads of condensation playing down the side.
"This beer I'm drinking would be a good one to brew at home. I wonder if there is a clone recipe out there for it, maybe online?"
I look up, did I say that out loud?No one is looking at me.
I smile at the person speaking without hearing a word they say, it's monotone, more of a dull braying, like the brass section of New Orleans band leading a funeral procession.

"What are we talking about?" I think.

"Why is her hair that color? It's the color of a dunkelweizen isn't it?

Would it be inappropriate to tell her that?"

The conversation goes on but seems to lack passion. Where's the spark, the magic? I don't have time for this.

But wait, over by the kitchen, who's that picking through the cooler looking for a cold one? As I head over for a closer inspection I judge by his look of cautious disdain at the selection of light American lagers that he may know something about beer. I'll wait though. Let him come to me.He wanders over, a 'Coors lite' in hand and we make eye contact and exchange "hello's."
"What are you drinking there?" I ask.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Homebrewing Ball Valve With Pick-up Tube

If you're about to convert that old keg or pot into a mash tun, hot liquor tank or boil kettle, then you may be needing a valve installed to drain the liquid. In my case, I have a three tiered, gravity fed system utilizing discarded Sanke beer kegs.
Each vessel has a ball valve installed to allow the liquid to flow down from one vessel to the next, cascading down from the hot liquor tank (HLT) in to the top to the mash tun (MT) and finally down into the boil pot (keggle). I use valves that do not need to be welded in place but are held secure with compression fittings. The valves are installed several inches above the bottom of the keg and I have attached pick-up tubes which enable me to extract virtually all of the liquid from the keg. The parts that make up this assembly are:

  1. 1/2" npt to 3/8" barbed adapter

  2. 1/2" x 1/2" (female to female)
    s.s. or brass ball valve

  3. 1/2" npt to 3/8" compression fitting
    (male to male)

  4. heat resistant washer

  5. 3/8" compression sleeve

  6. 3/8" compression nut

  7. 3/8" x 6" copper tubing

I use some teflon tape on the pipe threads and the washer is thick enough to form a seal against the keg when the compression nut is tightened. The pick up tube is bent gradually down to within 1/4" of the bottom of the keg. I worked with a tube bender to prevent the tube from crimping but, being careful, you can probably do this without using one. On my mash tun I attached a length of stainless steel braided hose (not shown here) to filter out grain husk during the sparge process.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Beer Tasting Selection For July 09

The beer tasting class this weekend was a great success. Students got a chance to sample nine different beers from around the world. I tried to provide a selection that would represent a wide variety but still fall into three categories of West coast, German and Sour beers. Then ascending from mild to hoppy and sweet to sour. The following is a list of the beers in the order of the tasting.

Duschutes "Summer Ale"

Paulaner "Helles"

Brouwerij Verhaeghe "Duchesse"

Green Flash "West Coast IPA"

Franziskaner "Dunkelweizen"

Lindemans "Kriek"

Paulaner "Dopple bock"

S'Louis "Gueuze"

Anchor Steam "Barley Wine"

It was hard to incorporate the sour beers into the mix because I didn't want to taste all the sours together, I liked the idea of the contrasting flavors between the non-sour with the sour.

Fellow Zymurgeeks Dave and Mark were very helpful and supportive in presenting a couple of the beers and providing some of the technical and historical knowledge. A lot of great brewing information was shared and a couple of the students voiced interest in taking the homebrewing classes in the fall.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

English Ales in Marina, Ca.

English Ales Brewery is a modest place to sit back and quaff an English ale. Quietly located outside the tourist hub of Monterey it is located a block off the main street in Marina, California.

You'll be impressed with the army of ceramic beer steins hanging in neat columns from the ceiling as you enter. The name of the patron penned on the bottom for easy identification. After that, what caught my eye was the hand pump at the bar next to a busy row of tap handles that dispensed seven different beers that are brewed on premise.

I settled back with a sampler of all but the stout which was unfortunately unavailable while I was there. I waited for an order of banger sandwich and fries as I sampled the beers.

All were very quaffable. Light in alcohol, low carbonation and mild in flavor. I worked my way from the lightest, a "Big Sur Golden" that had a minimum of hop flavor and aroma, and continued on to the "E.P.Pale Ale" which has a slight hop perfume and a slightly higher alcohol by volume.

I sampled the "Dragon Slayer" IPA with a more pronounced caramel flavor and floral aroma with higher bitterness than any of the other beers. Then the "Fat Lip Amber", the "Monks Brown Ale", the "Black Prince Porter" and finally the "Triple B Bitter" with its low ABV of 4.2%.

Before leaving, I spoke briefly with Tom the head brewer and found out that he uses a 10 bbl system and is brewing 4 times a week to keep up with demand. He was just returning from a keg delivery to the Arroyo Seco race track.

If you are in the area and want to spend some time conversing with the locals while tossing back some traditional session brews, English Ales is a great place to find yourself.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cider Flavors From Sugar Experiment-the results

Alright, here are the conclusions I have come up with about this long standing wives tale about sugar adjuncts being the cause of apple/cider flavors in your beer. When I say apple/cider flavors I'm talking about the flavors associated with acetaldehyde.

In this case I'm not tasting it at all.
This beer was made with 50% cane sugar (see original post)and the volatile compound that supposedly derives from refined sugar during the fermentation process is not present.

On the other hand, the beer doesn't taste very good.

The body is thin and there is a pronounced astringency that seems to be from the high alpha hops. The flavor of the Amarillo and Cascade hops comes through in a big way, overshadowing any malt attributes. Add to that the fact that I used just the basics of 2-row and a small amount of crystal #60 to be able to judge the results of the flavors in this experiment, the beer is two dimensional and lacks the maltiness I prefer in a pale ale.

In conclusion, in spite of its other failings it still doesn't live up to the old wives tale about refined sugar adding the element of green apple/cider.
I think what is in order at this point is to brew a batch of beer similar to the above except that I would substitute the sugar with what I believe is the real reason behind the green apple flavor; old liquid malt extract. When I say old I mean oxidized and darkened with age.

I'll keep you posted about that trial.
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