Monday, August 30, 2010

Los Gatos Brewpub Visit

I picked up a couple bags of base grain for myself at Morebeer in Los Altos and since I was 'over the hill' as they say here, I decided to treat myself to lunch so I stopped in Los Gatos to sample some of the beers on tap at the Los Gatos Brewing Company on my way back to Santa Cruz.

The last time I was here (over six years ago) the beers were for the most part pretty unremarkable so when I returned this time I was please to see that they brought in a new head brewer. I ordered a sampling of the beers that were currently on tap and began tasting my way through from light to dark beginning with a Pilsner style lager. I was immediately impressed, here was a beer I could relate to as it embodied the character of the style. Crisp, clean malt with a hop bitterness that bordered on the Bohemian and kept the malt in check. Next was the German hefeweizen which I was so impressed with that when it came time, I ordered a full pint to go with my lunch. This beer has a huge spicy, clovey, phenolic blast of goodness just the way I would like my homebrew to mimic. Cloudy with a full mouthfeel, I was in heaven.

This was followed with an Oktoberfest style lager, a pale ale with a great hop aroma/flavor contribution and then an oatmeal stout.

These beers exemplify the best qualities of the classic styles and when lunch was done I had to follow up with a pint of the pale ale, I couldn't get enough of these beers. I guess this was apparent to head brewer Kent Wheat as he bought me another round of pale ale and invited me back into the brewery for a quick tour and to discuss my favorite subject, how to brew better beer.

Kent Wheat

I view Kent as a 'traditionalist' in that he brews within the framework of classic styles. Using his skills and knowledge to create beers that fit into the 'classic style guidelines' to perfection. He's a graduate from the American Brewer's Guild's Craftbrewers apprenticeship program where he says he learned the technical aspects of brewing with a focus on the science and biology that is required to sharpen ones brewing skills. He's been with LGB for about four years now pairing this knowledge with his passion to brew. From the short conversation I had with him, Kent exhibited the love of brewing and drive to improve on his beers that you witness in the most successful brewers. He clued me in on the need to ferment cool to get the higher levels of phenols in the hefeweizen and minimize the esters. He was very open about the processes he uses in the brewery and seemed willing to share. I hope to get a video interview with him in the future, let me know if you are interested in that.

If you're in the area, I highly recommend stopping in at Los Gatos Brewing Co. and having what I think are some of the better beers in this area.

In the mean time, I plan to brew another black IPA in a couple of days and the Santa Cruz County fair is coming up where my brewing partner Michelle and I will attempt to create an oatmeal stout in front of a live audience, without a net.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

English Ale Split Batch

In the fourth class of the five class series of brew school, the students brewed up a ten gallon all-grain batch of English ale. Because the wort is split into two five gallon fermenters (for ease of transport from school to the area that the beer ferments) it is a perfect opportunity to try out a couple different types of yeast. In this class we fermented one half with Whitelabs WLP002 English ale yeast and the other WLP004 Irish ale yeast. I just sampled the finished beer and I've got to say that the class did an excellent job of preparing the wort for the yeast as the attenuation reach 80% for both yeast types and the quality of the beer is excellent.

Irish or English

Each yeast imparted distinctly different characteristics to the beer. WLP002 is malt forward accentuating the crystal 40 that was used in the grain bill. The WLP004 has some apple/pear flavors with a crisp and dry mouth feel. Both beers are very enjoyable. It's surprising to experience such remarkable differences in a beer based solely on the type of yeast used. I was so impressed with the results that the Imperial IPA that I brewed yesterday was split with half getting some salvaged English ale yeast from class beer and in the other half I pitched the yeast I normally use for the recipe, Safale US05. I think I'm going to make this a regular part of my brewing practices and experiment with some yeasts that I haven't tried yet. I can't believe that I've waited this long to break out of my yeast preference routine.
For those interested in the class project, here is the recipe:

English/Irish Ale
Attn: 80%
Eff. 80%
ABV. 5.6%, SRM 8, IBU 38, O.G. 1.052, F.G. 1.010/1.008

18lbs 2-row
28oz. crystal #40

mash for 60 min. in 5.5 gal. water with 1 tsp. gypsum at 152f.
fly sparge for 45 min. collecting 13gal. at start of boil

Boil for 60 min. with
2.5 oz. Willamette 5% aa 60min.
2.0 oz. Willamette 5% aa 20min.
1.0 oz. Willamette 5% aa 10min.
Chill to 66f. aerate and transfer to two fermenters.

Pitch English ale yeast in 5.5 gal.
Pitch Irish ale yeast in 5.5 gal.

Ferment for 7 days, rack to kegs and force carbonate. Condition for 2 weeks at 45f.
If you have any questions about this recipe, leave it in the comment section.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Parish Public House

Besides multiple brewpubs and breweries located in Santa Cruz, we've also got a couple of good beer bars that are worth a visit. I recently stopped in for a quick pint at a popular Santa Cruz West side beer pub called the Parish Public House.

You can find it nested in the row of retail shops in the Safeway shopping center at 841 Almar Ave. Santa Cruz, California. I can't decide if this place is humble or discrete, I guess it's exterior is discrete with a humble interior. You have to really be looking for this place to find it but it's worth the effort. When I entered on this quiet afternoon I was immediately assured of satisfying my thirsty desire by the sight of multiple taps of some of my favorite beers. The environment is simple but comfortable with a couple of elaborate tap handle displays that decorate the walls but more importantly were the numerous working taps behind the bar dispensing some good beer including Speakeasy's Prohibition amber ale and North Coast's amber ale.

I didn't make an appointment to interview the owners and in fact, I don't even know who they are so if you're reading this and you know the owners, leave a comment below with the info. I did talk with the friendly bartender, asking where the Parish house name came from. My inside voice was thinking Parish was the owner name (when I say inside voice, I mean that little voice inside my head that seems to always be talking to itself). The bartenders response was that Parish was chosen as the name because the owners wanted to invoke a sense of community and cameraderie, a gathering place for the locals to enjoy each others company and pay homage to the very best in beer. This place really is about the beer, having not only my favorites devoted to the beers on taps but an extensive line of top notch bottled beer including Flemish sour beer like the Duchesse de Bourgogne. During my brief visit, some minor remodeling was under way, modifications behind the newly extended bar top to install a sink and cabinets. Evidently, seats are also needed to fill the new length of bar space and replace the limited number of tattered bar stools, several held together with duct tape.

Parish Public House is one of two beer bars under the same management, the second is called The Maiden Public House and is down the coast highway in Big Sur. I'll check it out next time I head down that way. They both have pub grub and a full liquor bar too.

On a side note, I wanted to update information on a beer bar I visited last year in Sand City. Sand City is near Monterey and was home to the Ol'Factory (here's the review). Well for whatever unfortunate reason, they closed their doors, going out of business after only a couple of years. This comes as quite a loss to that community considering the great beers they had to offer. Here's hoisting a beer to Morgan Christopher for his efforts in trying to bring good beer to Monterey Bay and wishing him good luck in future beer enterprises.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Serve The Good Stuff

I've got a small homebrewing problem which ultimately leads to a moral question of sorts. Here's the problem part. I have two five gallon kegs of beer that I don't care for that much. One I care for much less than the other. The first beer is slightly under attenuated because the yeast went dormant when I let the fermentation room get too cold one night and I was never able to get it up and going again which resulted in it being somewhat sweet even though it's suppose to be an IPA. In addition to that, it has a strange hop character to it that is the results of a strange, albeit creative, hop schedule which although imbued with good intentions, failed to deliver on the idea. Now, I wish that I'd thought twice before using that particular hop schedule. Fortunately I take good notes when I brew so I won't repeat this calamity. The second keg of beer is a pale ale which is extremely dry and consequently on the bitter side for the style. This beer I consider marginally better than the first but not up to my standards.

O.K. so this is not really a big problem but it's annoying in any case. For awhile now I've been blending the first beer with the other inferior beer to get me through the kegs. What has helped is that because the second beer is especially dry it lends a balance to the two. After some sampling, and a bit of concentrated effort I figured that if I fill a third of a glass of the first beer followed by two thirds of the second that I get a pint of reasonably drinkable beer. I've been blending these ales like this for awhile but I'm not liking it. Every time I have to pour one, it's a reminder of the compromise needed to make up for my lack of brewing skills or technique. A sad reflection on my abilities. The bad news is that it doesn't end with a test of my confidence and self esteem, it will unfortunately also eventually lead to the first problem keg still being two thirds full when the second keg is empty. What do I do with over three gallons of almost undrinkable beer?

Now for the moral dilemma.
When serving up your homebrew to friends, not close friends, but acquaintances like co-workers, neighbors or fellow homebrew club members, should you give them your good stuff or pass off the swill that you don't care that much about or in fact can't stand? I suspect that some may find my under-attenuated and strangely hopped beer to be within there description of 'reasonable homebrew', at least that's what I tell myself. They may drink it without complaint, even enjoy it. They may have had plenty of really bad homebrew and think this one is good in comparison but is this acceptable to me, a brewer who holds pride in his craft, serving beer that I don't like myself?

Here's a hypothetical situation. You have two types of homebrew in your fridge, one is an almost full keg of a marginal but drinkable beer that you drink regularly but wish was better every time you take a sip. The second is a limited amount of beer your very proud of and consider it one of your best endeavors. Now, it's time to take a generous sample of your brew to share with acquaintances. Which do you choose?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Brew School Summer Session Beers

The final day of the Summer session of brew school is this Sunday and we will be tasting three of the beers that were brewed in earlier classes. These include a pale ale utilizing dry malt extract with steeping grains and three additions of hops, a German hefeweizen using only dry malt extract and one addition of bittering hops and a partial mash dry stout using liquid malt extract to supply most of the fermentables.

Pale, Hefe, Stout

The pale ale and the hefe were both bottled the second week of class and the dry stout we kegged on the third week and will be on tap for tasting for the final class Sunday. The ten gallon all-grain brewed last week (the fourth week) was split into two five gallon fermenters with Whitelabs wlp002 English ale yeast in one and wlp004 Irish ale yeast in the other. Those two beers I will keg and have for sampling several weeks from now. Interested students will have an opportunity to get together to sample those at a potluck at my house.

I sample all of the beers in advance of this final day of class and I spent some time considering the results of our efforts regarding the recipes and processes used in brewing these beers. This review is important as I consider any needed changes for the next series of classes.

I noticed a common characteristics of both the pale ale and the hefeweizen this time around, a distinct aroma and flavor of butterscotch (diacetyl) that I have to attribute to the shortened primary fermentation period before bottling. I believe this is occurring because of the time constraints and the busy schedule needed to cover all the the elementary lessons in these classes. We brew two batches of beer the first week and bottle that same beer one week later. Consequently the yeast is not given the time to absorb some of the flavor by-products created during the rapid fermentations that are required to have completed beer ready for bottling. Considering this for my Fall classes, I may adjust the curriculum and schedule the bottling for the third week allowing the beer to rest in the primary for an additional week or have the class go through the process of racking to a secondary. Other than the diacetyl effect I am please with results of these two beers.

The dry stout on the other hand has a mild 'grainy' characteristic that I'm not happy with and has a thin mouthfeel but overall turned out pretty good. Next time, I would cut back on the amount of sparge water used for the batch. In the mean time the all-grain beers are close to completion and I plan to rack from the fermenters to the kegs later next week. I'm looking forward to tasting how the different yeast contribute to the flavor.

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