Wednesday, September 30, 2009

GABF Pre-Prohibition lager

While wondering around the convention center watching the crowd move about in beer induced euphoria, I was intrigued by the fact that a relatively large line was forming around the Coors booth.

"What the..?", I asked out loud to no one.
With all the exciting, amazing, unique, and mostly delicious varieties of beers available from every state in the Union, why would anyone choose to queue up for a mainstream light American lager that you can get at safeway or 7-11 anytime of the day or night? Well, I had to ask.

Super cold draft?

The answer I got back from a genuinely sincere (if not a little defensive) woman in line was, "'s just what I want right now."

"O.K. I get it." Was my response. "For you it's the right beer at the right time. I can't argue with that." Although I desperately wanted to. But I wasn't here to point out the great opportunity to experience a hard to find American lager produced by a micro brewery. I was simply observing and willing to accept the the choices people make.

But there had to be more going on here and I dug a little deeper. I asked an attendant who was pouring beer from the slopes of the two story cardboard cut-out backdrop of the snow covered Rocky Mountains, with the Coors name shaved into the simulated snowy peaks.

"Do you have anything special on tap, here at the festival?"

He did. He poured a sample from his pitcher and said it was their Pre-Prohibition lager. This caught my interest and I started to ask a question about it when he pointed to a nearby group of men and suggested I take it up with the brewer. Perfect.
I approached and asked if one of them was the Coors brewer and a couple of them said they were.

Coors Brewers Dave Thomas and Kent Richou

I had a brief conversation with retired Coors brewer Dave Thomas and the current Coors pilot program brewer Kent Richou(sp?) about the Pre-Prohibition lager that was being dispensed.

"That's an original Coors recipe. That's what Coors tasted like in 1913." Kent told me with some pride about this pilot program batch. Apparently Kent went back into the Coors archives and found the records to reproduce this beer exactly as it was brewed back then, with a couple of differences. They weren't able to use the same hops.

Kent said, "because nobody grows the same kind of hops then like they do now, so I had to substitute the hops that are in it." He continued, "I think I used New Zealand Saaz, hallertaur... I don't have my list on me." I asked Kent about adjuncts and he said that Coors uses corn but back then it was rice. So They needed to do a cereal mash with rice for this recipe and it comprises about 20% of the grist.

This beer, although still a very light lager has a fuller mouthfeel and higher bitterness than the Coors Banquet. With 25 ibu's it's has about twice the ibu's of the regular Coors.
Comment if you know if I spelled Kent's last name correctly.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Homebrew With Balls

I came across this as I was leaving the Great American Beer Festival on its final day. It was early Saturday and the throngs had not fully arrived yet so I was able to easily navigate my way past the different vendor booths.

My attention was drawn to the BrewBalls display, which at first I thought it was a gimmick until closer inspection when my thoughts were confirmed. Tom Merline, the representative for BrewBalls was on hand to deflect my suspicions and tried earnestly to stifle my laughter and finger pointing. He's a nice guy and very sincere about the value of his product but still, it was difficult not to tease him.

The idea behind BrewBalls is that as the beer ferments in your carboy, the different density balls sink as the malt sugars are converted to alcohol. This gives you clear evidence that the beer is fermenting properly as you peer through the carboy and observe the sinking balls. Each ball is labeled to indicate the sugar gravity without you having to take a hydrometer sample. The benefit? According to Tom, primarily the prevention of any airborne vectors slipping into the top of your carboy while the stopper is removed, (possibly contaminating the batch) while taking samples for instance. Additionally, it's just plain fun to watch. Based on a survey I did here recently, this makes sense. The survey questioned why as a brewer you use a glass carboy. The largest percentage of responses was "the ability to watch the fermentation process". So, I guess BrewBalls would satisfy many brewers that enjoy that aspect of brewing beer at home.
Would you utilize BrewBalls? Leave a comment.

Friday, September 25, 2009

GABF Day Two

I started to write out my activities from 'Day Two' of the GABF when I realized that I was summarizing a lot of my experience in order to cram it all into a single post, and at the same time, boring myself to death. The amount of self editing that I was doing was necessary because of the scope of my activities and at the same time was limiting my ability to adequately express my experience. This bothered me and so I thought that I would briefly summarize it here and go into more detail in future posts in an attempt to focus on individual events that seemed relevant to this blog and personally interesting. So, in this vain here is the summary part.

  1. After waking early with an intestinal reaction that I believe was caused by some of the homebrewed sour beers I sampled the night before at the KROK gathering, I headed downtown to check out the Great Divide Brewery and meet up with a couple of fellow Zymurgeeks and Jason, the head brewer for Seabright Brewing Company of Santa Cruz for beer samples and to tour the brewery.
  2. We went to Breckenridge for a quick lunch and I had the 2220 red ale which is nicely balanced and quenching. Some friends/homebrewers from Santa Cruz stopped by to visit before we left.

  3. Later in the day I trekked back up to the Cheeky Monk to sample some Belgians. I joined a table of marketers to chat with the old brewer of Achouffe and also the president of Duvel/Ommegang in N.Y. Simon Thorpe, before rolling back down to the festival.

  4. At the festival I was invited to attend the 'Farm To Table' event that paired local food prepared by the Culinary School of the Rockies with a few breweries including Deschutes. I tried the Pork Cheek with a sour red ale from Deschutes that was a perfect match.

  5. Next, back into the mosh pit of beer tasting before again hooking up with friends at the Hyatt for a relaxed pint or two.

  6. Then we swaggered up to the Marriott basement and attended a VIP event to partake of some of the left over beers that were entered into the competition but didn't get opened. We rubbed elbows with some of the GABF brewers while sampling the remaining competition beers and eating pizza.
  7. Finally I caught a taxi back to my hotel for some much needed rest before my final day in Denver.

As I read back over what I just wrote I amaze myself that I was able to carry out this feat considering the entire day and night were fueled with a steady stream of beer, and somewhere in that flurry of inebriated activity are some tales worthy of telling. I'll fill you in. How was your time at the fest? Leave a comment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

GABF Day One

I only have one word to describe my first day at the Great American Beer Festival 'overwhelming' no; 'audacious', wait, no, it's more like 'scary big'. I walked into what can only be described as pandemonium or just shy of chaos after picking up my press pass and "swag bag". Entering was effortless after getting my press pass, I got into the auditorium through special press pass access doors which avoided the ginormous general admission line that snaked from the front door and around the block. At first, I took in the vastness of the festival. Half a dozen endless lines of back to back beer booths that ran the length of a football field filled the convention center.

Soon, a mob of thirsty beer enthusiast came rushing in and fill the arena to capacity. Pretzel necklaces hung neatly from their parched throats. As the crowd pressed past I managed to sample some beers as I spun in circles, dizzy from the vast prospects that surrounded me. A chance to partake in specialty beers from breweries located all over the U.S. Most I would not get to try on the west coast. But I wanted to pace myself. This first day was for me, about taking in the feel of the event and gaining some equilibrium, get a 'lay of the land' so to speak, and that is what I did. I got a feel for where I want to focus my tastings and what not to spend a lot of energy with tomorrow. I want to target the East coast beers and compare their take on hop flavor compared to what I'm used to in the West.

In the mean time, I tasted my way around the 'Pro-am' table which was serving beers developed by homebrewers and brewed by professionals and landed on a Creme Ale that I judged as the best of the bunch. We'll see who takes first place later on when the actual judges give their opinion.

Later in the evening I ran up the street to the Marriott City Center to see what was happening with KROK (Keg Ran Out Club), the local homebrew club that puts on (this is their 15th year) an educational event in concert with the GABF and who's contributions benefit the Childrens Hospital of Denver. I sampled some homebrew and listened to the guest speaker Michelob brewmaster Adam Goodson.

I ended the evening just on time to miss my shuttle ride back to the Ramada but felt no pain and caught a cab instead. Although I will say that the shuttle driver for Ramada does have an attitude problem, or is just sad/angry and expresses it on her hapless fares. Anyway, I'm writing this post from the Irish pub across the street from my hotel and have to say that they are taking good care of me by filling my thirst and lubricating my rusty writing abilities with Guinness.

Traveling to GABF

I'm sitting in the San Jose airport waiting on my flight to Denver. I'm heading off to experience for the first time, the Great American Beer Festival. I'll be there for three days of beer tasting and attending some special beer related functions like the 'Farm to Table event and a Samuel Adams Brewery presentation. My plan is to post often and try to capture the excitement of the largest beer festival in the States. Look for daily posts with pictures of the event.If you are in attendance, I'll see you there. I'll be the one with the kielbasa necklace.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Better Than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

I like to make sure that a part of my personal beer inventory is five or ten gallons of my American pale ale. I've tweaked this recipe into submission over the years and am satisfied with brewing it the same with each batch now. I am not apposed to using alternate hops, depending on what I have in stock at the time brew day arrives but I will try to stick with the type that have the characteristic citrus flavor and aroma like Cascade, Centennial and Sorachi Ace. This recipe has a round malt character and full mouth feel with a mid to high balance of bitterness to malt ratio that suits my palate and has a moderate enough alcohol level so that I can comfortably enjoy several pints and still be able to beat Susan at cribbage. Enjoy.

Trout Gulch Pale Ale

  • 10 gal. all-grain (after boil volume is 10.5 gal.)
  • efficiency - 80%
  • attenuation - 80%
  • abv - 6%
  • srm - 12
  • IBU's - 36
  • O.G. - 1.056
  • F.G. - 1.010

Mash in 150f. for 60 min. with

  1. 19 lb. 2-row
  2. 1 lb. aromatic
  3. 1 lb. carapils
  4. 8 oz. Crystal #60

Boil for 60 min. with

  1. 1.25 oz. Sorachi Ace @ 11aa - 60min. (27 ibu's)
  2. 1.5 oz. Cascade @ 7 aa - 15min. (9 ibu's) include fining's here\
  3. 1 oz. cascade @ 7aa - 1 min (- ibu's)

Pitch 2 pkgs of US-05 dry ale yeast and ferment to completion at 65f.

Do you have a standard pale ale recipe? Leave a comment.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What It Feels Like When...

My yeast isn't working! I look into the open fermenter and see a flat plane of dark liquid reflecting my disappointed image back up to me. What have I done wrong? My thoughts oscillate between this brewing mystery, and my concern of the increasing possibility of infection.

It's been 24 hours since I pitched the yeast and I've got nothing to show for it. Nada. I review my steps leading up to pitching the yeast and I find nothing wrong. The wort was cool and aerated, I used Whitelabs liquid yeast that had an expiration date that told me it was fresh. My mind scans for possible reasons that this batch lacks even the remotest signs of activity. Not even a single cluster of loosely assembled bubbles, gathering to tell me all is not lost. I notice that I'm breathing heavily into my fermenter and so step back quickly pulling the cover back over it to prevent any possible microbial laden vectors from dropping in out of the kitchen air like bomb laden drones bent on destruction. Without active fermentation I fear the next phase is contamination of the worst dimension.

What am I missing here? My process was impeccable and sanitation undeniably cautious but was it enough to keep my beer safe from infection during this lag period? Part of my concern lies in the fact that I pitched two tubes of yeast to guarantee a quick start-up to the fermentation process and yet here it is 24 hours later and not a bit of anything occurring.

"I have no choice." I think out loud. I must act quickly." At which point I jump in my car and speed off to my local homebrew store to purchase two more vials of yeast, concluding that I must have gotten some dead yeast. The frantic look in my eyes alerts the store clerk to my desperation, but I don't explain, I know as much as he does about this obsession I call a hobby and so I, don't solicit any solutions. Besides, I don't have time to stand around yakking, not at this threat level. I dash back home and immediately pitch the additional yeast after warming the tubes by tucking them under my arm pits for awhile.
"Should I have been more patient?"
"Yes." I answer my own question. But I don't listen to the voice of experience, I react to that worried part of my mind that says, "all is lost if you don't do something quick!"

Two hours later...
The beginnings of a nice krausen is forming over the top of the beer and I smile with relief. Of course the freshly pitched yeast has nothing to do with this miraculous growth spurt. I just needed to give my first attempt that little more time that it needed, but I couldn't wait. I knew better but I had to be sure. I had make the extra effort, if not for the actual effect, then to ease my mind of the due diligence that being a homebrewer demands of me. I have to believe that disaster was diverted because of my devoted behavior, whether true or not. Now, I can rest easy tonight knowing all things are right with my latest batch of hefeweizen.

Rest? I wish, seven hours later and it's 3am. I can't sleep. I've gone to the garage to check the fermentation temperature.
Am I alone here? Leave a comment.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Day Of Brew School

We're off and running in the fall series of homebrewing classes at Cabrillo College and ten gallons of beer is now quietly fermenting, the fruit of our labors today. The class brewed a German hefeweizen and an American pale ale without any problems.

I was struggled a little to keep the brewing process progressing and teaching the students at the same time. I go off script sometimes, loosing track of the points I want to make. It didn't help that I had sampled a lot of homebrew at the Santa Cruz County Fair homebrew contest the day before (took home a 'best of flight' for my Imperial Stout). The worst mistake was that I also forgot to add clarifying agents to the pale ale which could be problematic since next week the class will be bottling this beer without the secondary step, but I forgave myself quickly. My experience tells me that the beer will be completely clear after conditioning in the bottles for a couple of weeks but there is typically a larger yeast layer at the bottom of the bottle than I would prefer. In any case, this is a learning process for the students so any information that comes from the successes and failures in the class are beneficial.

In the end, I was happy that we ended up with the proper volume of wort after the boil and that we hit our target original gravities.
Next week, we brew up a partial-mash stout and bottle beer.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Peter B's Brewpub In Monterey, Ca.

During a recent trip to visit with my daughter Jennifer who lives in Pacific Grove, California we decided to stopped in for a light dinner and to check out the beers on tap at Peter B's brewpub in the Portola Hotel and Spa in Monterey. This is kind of a classy place located on the waterfront at the end of the main street in old Monterey, but I felt comfortable wearing my old jeans and t-shirt.

(Interesting side note- Monterey was the original capitol of California. I'm guessing that moving the government center to Sacramento was a way of preserving the pristine beauty of the Monterey Bay. Protecting it from all those non-discript square concrete buildings that seem to be the prerequisite architecture for civic structures.)

We ordered a sampler of the beers on tap and soon received an offering of seven different beers. I launched into the lightest after wrestling a lemon slice that adorned (was wedge on) the rim of the glass and tasted a pretty decent American wheat with a nice spiciness and yeast with a light body. I also sampled the Pilsner, Amber, IPA and a Dark Wheat which I expected would have the traditional Dunkel Weizen flavor profile but was like an American wheat with roasted grains. I then tried the Seven Malt Stout (my personal favorite) that was very enjoyable, a classic example of a dry stout and finally the Brown Ale.

Before leaving I got the chance to talk briefly with the brewer Andrew Wyer about the beers we sampled. Andrew has been brewing for Peter B's using the original proprietary lager yeast since the beginning. He says he has been fermenting his beers in the mid 60's temperature range using this yeast very successfully. He seemed confident of the operation he has going there and judging by how clean and shiny the brewing equipment is, I would say he is quite proud of his position as head brewer.

Monterey is a great place to visit and what makes it even better is stopping in at the local brewpub. If you get the chance I would recommend stopping in for a chance to enjoy a tall glass of Seven Malt Stout or any of the finely crafted brews that Andrew has on tap.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Passion Of The Beer

Midway through conducting a beer appreciation class with a room full of eager and half drunk students, I was confident of their enthrallment with my even paced delivery as I led them through a profound and inspiring flight of ales with anecdotal stories and the historical origins that brought the beers to life. Right in the middle of giving a moving oration of the advances that yeast brought to the development of modern civilization, a student in the audience said,

"O.K., enough with the sermon, let's move on with the tasting."

At that very moment I realized that there is only so much proselytizing about beer (or anything for that matter) that people will stand for before turning and heading for the nearest exit, like I do when I hear tambourines and see a group of robed chanters heading in my direction at the mall.

I was taken aback momentarily with the comment, and reflected later on the dogma I have regarding my passion for brewing and how my personal history influences the way I relate to beer.

I grew up in a household with five brothers and two sisters. We were raised in what I would consider a traditional Catholic family, which means a mandatory and often painful trip to church every Sunday strictly enforced by my mother, and as far as the rest of the week, 'to hell with it'. We did recite a superficial and rote prayer at the dinner table each evening before the chaos of the food grab ensued, but other than that benign ritual, we didn't go much deeper into the meaning of Catholicism. It was a chore, like your week to do the dishes or pick up the dog stuff from the back lawn. You didn't deserve it but it still it had to be done. More often it felt like a punishment. The first communions, confessions and catechisms are vague memories, now that the years have erased those repetitious but sincere efforts to indoctrinate.

For the most part, what influenced my young life were the survival instincts that naturally occur in a large Catholic family of ten. Such as, who gets the last piece of chicken if passed over by dad at dinner. Avoiding the belt that hung over the back of the dining room chair that was used to dispatch inconsistent discipline. Having a moment alone in the bathroom, or getting "dibs" on the the best spot on the couch for that re-run episode of 'The Rifleman'. If you were lucky or more often quick, you grabbed the spot on one end of the couch, at the arm. That way you only had half of your body touching another person, out of the five or six of us lined up across our brown Naugahyde sofa like the oiled leather fingers of a baseball mitt. Our religious roots had little to do with deepening faith in a higher power. On the contrary, what grew over the years was a deep suspicion of and resentment towards the mandates of piety.

"As long as you live under this roof you will go to church and play by my rules,"
my mother used to yell at the dinner table when we groaned our complaints about the idea of church the next morning. She'd reach back to snatch the belt and shake it at us, the buckle rattling to emphasise her point. Even so, she could do nothing to stop the inevitable mutiny. She would look toward our father for support but he would simultaneously turn and look out the patio glass door as if he heard an unfamiliar noise outside that deserved more attention. He often missed the morning call for mass, and my mom blamed him for being a bad example for the rest of us. We all eventually abandoned our assumed faith, and once we left home it was all over but for mom's occasional guilt induced nagging over the phone.

That alerting moment back at the beer tasting class got me thinking about how I am drawn to the hobby of homebrewing like it's a spiritual calling. It came on naturally and grew into a fanatical approach to life, one that ultimately explains the reason for the workings of the universe. A kind of intelligent design of beer. Like a religion, it works in mysterious ways but can be the cause of alienation, pushing away long established friendships and family as the rhetoric increases with the passion.

To this day, some thirty odd years after moving out of my parents' house, when speaking on the phone from Michigan, my mom will still listen for evidence that I have returned to a faith I never possessed. She'll ask poignant questions when I complain about some mundane incident.

"Do you pray?" she'll ask. "You know it really works."

There's a pause on the line when I don't respond. The silence that comes as she listens for a clue that the Lord still lives in my heart. He doesn't really, but in an existential way I do have faith. I have faith in many things, actually. I have faith that the yeast I pitched yesterday will do their job to ferment my beer. I have faith that if I have a need for additional brewing ingredients and not a lot of money, they will be provided, not by the hand of God but because that's the way it has always worked for me. I have faith that despite all my mother's failed efforts to instill her Catholic beliefs in me that I still turned out o.k.

"Mom." I'll say quietly into the phone. "Beer is my new religion."

And from the other end of the line comes her sad reproach.

"Don't be an ass."
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