Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Baja Blonde, Amargator, Rio Bravo

As I go through the Mexican craft beers available at The Beer Company I'm finding my preference is a pretty narrow list. Most of the craft beer breweries take on classic styles tend to be too malty and too sweet to be considered good examples. At least this is what I'm finding in terms of my comparisons to commercial versions outside of Mexico. I've only had one beer so far that has the hop bitterness and flavor/aroma presence that I've considered a good example of a pale ale. I'm not reviewing that beer this time but it deserves a quick mention. Calavera's American Pale Ale, has what I deem the appropriate malt bill and hop influence in it's taste. One other qualifier that I need to introduce is what I believe is the influence that Southern California breweries are having on the craft market in Baha California, Mexico. There are a couple of breweries there that are producing some good, true to style beers that I'm enjoying. One of those breweries is T.J.'s (Tijuana Brewery).

In the mean time, here's my review of another three beers I've recently tasted.

Micro cerveceria La Chingoneria's Amargator is labeled as a imperial India pale ale and claims to come in with 100 IBU's This beer is a beautifully balanced, malty beer that if I hadn't read the label would have considered it a barley wine. A big, full malty beverage with enough bitterness to cut the caramel sweetness. The hop aroma and flavor are subdued with the caramel qualities taking the spotlight. This is a big beer at 9% abv. and although La Chinganeria claims to add avocado leaves in the boil, I didn't get any of that flavor. This is not a bottle conditioned beer and is brewed in Mexico city. There website doesn't give much information and is basically there to direct you to their Facebook page. I wrote to the brewery asking about the nomenclature and they assured me that this is indeed a IIPA, I didn't argue.

The Baja Blonde, brewed by the Baja Brewing Company is another Mexican beer that comes across sweet before anything else. I'm beginning to believe that the craft beer brewers in Mexico are trying to stay close to the bitterness level of Modelo (the beer most are used to drinking) in order to entice the consumer slowly away from the big boys. Calling itself a cream ale, this beer is sweet, with sweet honey flavors and a lot of sweet fruitiness. The hops are barely detectable as a citrus quality. At 6% abv. this beer is clear, dark straw in color and filtered. This brewery brew/pub is owned and operated by gringos from Colorado, so they should have the reference point of the Colorado beer scene to produce beers I like. I'll be trying the other labels they have to offer in the near future like their Black, Red, and Stout, to see if this is true.

Finally, a 4.5% pilsener that again is on the sweet side is Rio Bravo which is brewed by Cerveceria Mexicana also known as Mexicali produced in Tecate, Baja California. They also brew a beer called Red Pig which I'll review in a future post. It's a little confusing for me which is which regarding the brewery. I haven't figured out if Mexicali produces Cerveceria Mexicana or the other way around. Regardless, Rio Bravo is a sweet bready beer with light caramel notes and no hop fragrance. It's full bodied and has a long lasting white head. An easy drinking beer that's enjoyable on a hot day. Bottle conditioned.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pulque, Pulque, Pulque

Going to the tianguis or outdoor market every week becomes a regular routine for me while living in San Miguel. I can get the best selection and least expensive produce there, not to mention be entertainment by the plethora of interesting, varied and sometimes bizarre articles for sale, like a boat load of springs for instance, (go here to read more about that). But that's not all, as I discovered last week. Towards the far end of the market just beyond the last of the colorful tarps that stretch across the endless booths,  I ran across a group of three pulqueros selling their home made pulque out of large plastic jugs along with miel de agave, the juice of the maguey.

Pulqueros line up to dispense
Naturally, since I have a proclivity for all fermented beverages I had to sample what was on tap so to speak. I was a bit reluctant considering the possibility of ingesting a swath of unfamiliar bacteria that would possibly give my own flora a run for their money, but I felt like taking the risk to satisfy my curiosity and besides, there are no pulquerias that I've found in the city of San Miguel, this could be my only chance. (Pssst, if you know of any pulquerias let me know in the comment section below).

I carefully looked over the three vendors or 'pulqueros' trying to judge which would have the best tasting brew, it was a crap shoot and I finally settled on a man who appeared the most professional, at least he was dressed nice. I tried to make conversation in my best broken Spanish while discretely recording the exchange on my video camera, which you can watch here. I asked about the process for making pulque and he gave me the basics saying that the mature maguey produces a lot of sweet sap or juice when it starts to go to seed. The center begins to swell and elongate, (yeah, I know what you're thinking). This is when the plant gathers stored sugar to send up a single flower stalk which towers above the base. However, the brewers cut this flower stalk off, leaving a depressed surface 12-18 inches in diameter. In this center, the maguey juice, known as aguamiel collects. The juice is harvested from a scooped out section at the center of the plant and collected to be spontaneously fermented. Unlike most beer that is fermented with yeast, the fermenting agent for pulque is mostly a wild bacteria called zymomonas mobilis. The juice is left in the open air to be inoculated. After a time, a portion is removed and replaced with fresh juice. This process is repeated several times over a period of days until a 'seed' or starter of wild yeast and bacteria has been developed. This 'seed' is then used as a basis for fermenting future batches of pulque.
Interestingly, some of the advantages of this bacteria over the typical beer yeast S. cerevisiae are that it has higher sugar uptake and ethanol yield, higher ethanol tolerance and it does not require additional oxygen for fermentation.

Pulque in large plasitc jugs
According to Wikepedia: Pulque is a milk-colored, somewhat viscous liquid that produces a light foam. It is made by fermenting the sap of certain types of maguey (agave) plants. In contrast, mezcal is made from the cooked heart of certain agave plants, and tequila, a variety of mescal, is made all or mostly from the blue agave. There are about six varieties of maguey that are best used for the production of pulque. The name “pulque” is derived from Nahuatl. The original name of the drink was “iztac octli” (white wine), the term pulque was probably mistakenly derived by the Spanish from the “octli poliuhqui” which meant "spoiled wine".

I was generously given a sample of the pulque which the pulquero referred to as 'acidic', and then a sample of the unfermented juice or aguamiel which was very sweet and thick. The pulque I didn't find to be that viscous but it is white in color, kind of like 2% milk except with a frothy texture caused by the still active fermentation. The taste is lightly tart and sour (like that produced by lactobacillus acidophilus with a slight sweetness and just a hint of vomit(acetobacter?). Although the fermentation does produce alcohol, the amount in this case must be very low as I didn't perceive any in the taste. It wasn't an unpleasant drink but I knew I wouldn't be able to drink a full 22oz. Styrofoam cups worth like the locals were passing around. I asked for media (half) and was given a smaller plastic cup of which I consumed a small portion before dumping the rest on the ground behind a parked car. I didn't want to offend the brewer by discarding something I'm sure he was very proud of and tried to be discrete. After drinking just a few sips of my 10 pesos worth, I could sense the mutiny forming within the ranks of my loyal gut flora. This new bacteria was not a welcomed visitor and later I would feel some minor decent so to speak. It wasn't that it was bad, just unfamiliar.
Frothy, bacteria laden, liquid goodness

It was fascinating and inspiring to witness the revived tradition of selling pulque at the market, a tradition that is slowly making a comeback from the beating it has taken by the beer industry. Before beer was introduced, pulque was the national drink here and at this point in time is slowly making a resurgence, encouraged by the Mexican tourist industry. By the way, you can read my previous post about my discovery of pulque in a can, here.

If you ever get the chance to try pulque, I would recommend giving it a try for the experience. If I were to stay here longer, I suspect that I would get into the habit of drinking small amounts of it until I grew accustomed in terms of the tolerance to this foreign bacteria. In that way, I would be able to quaff the large cup worth and determine the alcoholic strength. Or, I could just take a sample of both the pulque and the aguamiel to get a refractometer reading for a precise record of the alcohol. Ohhh, I see a project coming on. Do you have a pulqueria in your city? let me know.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Homebrewer In San Miguel

Homebrewers in Mexico are few and far between so I was excited to be invited to one of the local cervecero's house for a few samples of his beer and a discussion about brewing beer at home in Mexico.
Barry lives just outside the city limits here in San Miguel in a beautiful house he designed himself. He met us in the driveway at the stone path that led to his 'man cave'/brewery. The first thing I noticed as we entered was the three tap handles coming out of the wall near the bar sink. Above is shelving with custom labeled beer mugs and pitcher and the walls are decorated with signs advertising his favorites. An island bar made with rough hewn wood and a stainless sink separate the kitchen area from the lounge section. A big screen t.v. on the opposite wall had the game on and that end of the room was furnished with what looked like some pretty comfortable chairs and a couch. But we ended up standing around the bar during the whole visit drawing beers off the taps, talking shop and investigating the brewing operation and kegerator set up in the next room, where beer lines run from his corney kegs through the concrete wall to the taps. His brewing area is neat, organized and clean. A large cistern under the floor provides his cooling water which is pumped through a plate chiller and then circulated back to the cistern, conserving his supply and maintaining low temperatures. Barry says he brews extract kits that he orders from the states and is happy to continue with extract which prompted me to ask him about brewing some all-grain batches. Why change a good thing seems to be his attitude and judging by the quality of the beers he offered up I can't argue with him. I sampled three of the beers he had on tap and all were very good. A stout with rich flavors and full mouthfeel, a dunkelweizen that tasted of the classic malt and phenolic spice characteristics that make it one of my favorite styles and a brown ale that was equally good.

Barry for the most part has had to ship in all of his brewing equipment from the U.S. including a More Beer fermentor that is equipped with a chilling jacket that keeps his ales fermenting cool in spite of the high temperatures that are typical here in San Miguel. I suspect his cool fermentation practices have something to do with his extract brews having a fresh malt quality as I didn't detect any of those flavor components that I associate with extract use in beers.

Also, an impressive feature in the brewery was the wall rack that shelved dozens of bottles of Barry's home made wine. We didn't get into tasting the wine but based on the quality of the beer I suspect it's quite good.

Besides an avid homebrewer, Barry has been very involved in dog training, working specifically boarder collies, and has the awards and memorabilia displayed on walls of the lounge area to prove his skill.

It was great to be able to spend some time with another homebrewer down here and talk about what I'm so passionate about with another enthusiast. I'm looking forward to checking back in with Barry as more of his beers come out of the fermentor. In the mean time, I'll be keeping a look out for others down here that are taking on the task of brewing good beer in a climate that challenges the skills of the best brewers.

If you're a homebrewer in the vicinity of San Miguel I'd love to hear from you. Send me a note and let's see if we can meet and talk about beer and brewing in Mexico over a cold one. Cheers!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cucapa, Queretero And Calavera Brewing

This is the first set of Mexican craft beers that I've tasted after making a visit to The Beer Company. I plan to review as many as possible here and will use a gentle touch in the process. As this is a burgeoning industry I don't want to be too negatively critical in my opinion but simply state objectively what I'm tasting and experiencing.

I am pretty familiar with the classic beer styles and what characteristics define those styles in regards to the flavor, aroma, mouthfeel and visual aspects. I would like to evaluate the beers here based on this knowledge but I have to take into consideration the fact that for Mexico the craft beer movement is a new industry. Along with this fact it must be noted that there has been little exposure here to the foreign beer market and thus few classic beer styles available to compare to when brewing beers on a small scale that mimic the traditional qualities of the classics. So, for instance in the review below for Calavera brewing, when they seem to represent their beer as an abbey ale, I have to take that claim with some humility.

Cucapa Brewing's pale ale Called Chupacabras or goat sucker is a big malty ale with some dark fruit qualities like prune and raisin. It's sweet and has a perfume aroma that carries through into the flavor. There is a certain malt extract taste here but I questioned the brewery regarding this suspicion and they told me it is 100% malted grain. The color is amber with an off white head but be careful as the beer is bottle conditioned and there is a yeast sediment at the bottom that I prefer to avoid. This beer comes in at 5.8% abv. which is pretty substantial for pale ale in Mexico. It won a silver metal at the copa cerveza in Guadalajara in 2009.

Queretero Brewing's amber ale is up front caramel flavor and green apple. Thin in body this beer had a 'young' taste and a simple flavor profile or biscuit and light crystal malt. Low hop flavor with the exception of a very subtle, almost indiscernible pine. Again, this beer is bottle conditioned so use caution when decanting.

Is it a dubbel?

Calavera Brewing's Dubbel de Abadia or Dubbel of Abbey should not be confused with the classic Belgian dubbel. This is a bold beer with a robust malt presence and includes cold pressed coffee flavor and roasted grain with a very sweet finish. Smooth graininess with no hops in evidence. This beer is a nice clear amber color with little head and thin body. A pleasant drinkable beer but I can't consider it a dubbel and the yeast used does not provide any of the expected Belgian dubbel characteristics. Bottle conditioned this beer is 6.4% abv.

Cucapa and Calavera brewing companies have other styles of beer and I will review those in the future but first I want to work my way through some of the other breweries. If you're familiar with these beers and have an opinion, please make your thoughts know in the comment section below. Cheers!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Beer Company In San Miguel

The last time I was in San Miguel de Allende (a year and a half ago) there was not a lot of craft beer on the scene. The restaurants and tiendas were tied into either the Modelo brand which included Corona, Negro Modelo and Victoria to name a few, or the Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma brewery with their Indio, Sol and Bohemia. At the time, the largest market in town 'Mega' was the only place that offered a broader but still limited selection of other brands but these 'exotics' were the likes of Heineken and Bud along with a couple of German imports.

I was happy to discover this year the addition of a serious outlet for beer. It seems the gaining interest in homebrewing and Mexican craft beer is moving beyond the borders of Mexico City evidenced by the opening of The Beer Company here in SMA. Owners, Antonio and Elizabeth, who happen to be not only incredibly nice people but are real beer enthusiasts with a lot of knowledge to offer about the craft beer scene here. Located on the Ancha de San Antonio they have brought The Beer Company franchise to satisfy a need for those that desire a choice and they are offering a large and much needed selection of Mexican craft beers and imports. Granted, the inventory is small compared to most beer stores in the States but I'm impressed with the variety they've included.
Small on the outside,
malty goodness inside
Samples of just part of the inventory

Also, they are right around the corner from where I'm staying and so I'll be visiting often to begin sampling the Mexican beers in particular. Most of the German beers I'm familiar with including the standards from Paulaner, including the Salvator doppel bock and Erdinger . Belgian beers include Carolus, Chimay and a particular favorite La Chouffe and of course Duvel. There are just a couple English beers, Fullers, Youngs and one I've not had called 'Old Peculiar' from Theakston. But it's the Mexican beers I am most interested in tasting my way through as I try to determine my personal 'best of' list. I'll post updates of those tastings as I go along.
A listing of all the beers
Some of the bigger names in craft beer down here are Minerva who also produces Primus Brewing and their Tempus label. The Cucapa brewing co, Calavera and T.J.'s (Tijuana brewing) which is my favorite so far.
Can I taste them all in my short stay here? God help me I believe I can, and good or bad I will tell you about them here. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mexican Sunset Beer

After the long haul to Mexico (17 hours), sunset on the rooftop of the Antigua Capilla hotel was the perfect place and time for a large bottle or ballena (the slang term here along the coast that means whale) of my favorite Modelo brand beer. Inland, it's referred to as a caguama or turtle. A Vienna lager on the light side of course but with more flavor than other Modelo brands. Victoria was originally produced by the Compañía Cervecera de Toluca y México that was acquired by Grupo Modelo in 1935.

The city of San Miguel de Allende through a beer

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mexico Yet Again

The trip out of San Jose airport was too easy.
I purposely scheduled our arrival anticipating the clusterf*ck that is always going on at the airport and so we got to the baggage check ready to endure an extended session of kicking luggage down a never ending maze. But no line.
In fact, no people at all except a guy behind the United counter that took our luggage with obvious boredom and just a hint of disdain. This process took up only about two minutes out of my perfect plan and we're off to our appointment with TSA for a what I expect to be a severe probing before boarding the 'mother ship'. Again, no people. This whole episode may cause some inappropriate false hope when planning any future trips.

The up side; no crowds to contend with, the down side; we're through security in no time flat and now have two hours to kill. I spent the time thinking about how I would further my beer interests in Mexico. Should I try to brew beer this time like I have on previous visits, incorporating local ingredients, to come up with creative specialties? Or, simply search out the regional beer scene in the hopes of finding any new or unusual beer. The craft beer movement here is gaining interest now and I have to admit that I anticipate coming across some fresh start-up artisan breweries. Don't let me down Mexico. In either case, I brought some essential brewing gear just in case. Stuff that is hard to come by down here like my refractometer, racking cane, bottling wand, bottler, caps and a couple different types of dried yeast.
Seventeen hours later we arrived in San Miguel and checked into the Antigua Capilla bed and breakfast for a couple of days of well deserved spoilage. If you visit San Miguel I'd highly recommend this place. On the side of a hill with a panoramic view of the busy city, it's a haven for the weary and a great location for a quiet respite but within walking distance of the center of town.  The rooftop is a great place to have a beer and I spend some time relaxing and taking in the view.

I have some brewing equipment in the basement here, stored from the last time I was down. I still haven't made up my mind whether to brew but it's good to know I don't have to go through the effort of collecting equipment again. There is also some 2-row sealed in a plastic tub but it's close to two years old now. The plan is to chew on some of it and see if I can still use it.

Yesterday I looked over the apartment we will be living in for the next month and didn't see any easy access to propane and their isn't a lot of room for brewing so I won't be doing any there. It's funny, I keep telling myself I won't be brewing and yet my mind keeps going over all of the requirement to do just that. Weird.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Launch Of The 'Gringado' Blog

Just when I thought I had nothing left to say, I'm launching a new blog. As Susan and I head south for the winter, we thought it would be fun(?) to write about our Mexican experiences in a kind of 'he said'-'she said' format. We will be covering the activities we share together and writing individually about them from our own perspectives. Please click on the image to go directly to the Gringado website and then click on the follow button to join us as we explore the people, events and culture of Mexico and develop our own creative writing styles.

In the mean time I plan to continue posting here at Beer Diary...  as I search for decent beer and interesting beer stuff in Mexico. Muchas gracias!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Road Trip

I've been busy with family stuff recently, along with getting ready for another trip to Mexico. These events are taking up a lot of my beer and beer blogging related time. Once I get to San Miguel de Allende I will be checking out the local beer scene and reporting my findings here. We'll see you there.

Drawing by Susan Dorf

Friday, November 18, 2011

Brewing School Changes

There will be some changes to the brewing classes this coming spring. I've found that the five week course is too labor intensive and cumbersome for me to continue. The main problem is shuttling full fermentors of beer back and forth between the campus and the area that the fermentation takes place. This moving of heavy liquids can be a real pain and it doesn't contribute to a healthy and clean beer in the end. So, until I have a facility where the fermentors and for that matter the brewing equipment can stay put I will be modifying the classes.

Beginning this Spring I will be offering a one day entry level or beginner brewing class and also a one day advanced or all-grain brewing class for those with some brewing experience. These classes will incorporate the study materials that were used in the five week course but modified to address the concerns of these two areas of brewing.

Additionally, besides the already existing 'Beer tasting and appreciation' class I will be offering an advanced tasting class for those that have either taken the introductory class or are more familiar with beer styles. In this advanced tasting class we will spend more time focusing in on a particular style including pertinent qualifying attributes like region, history, brewing techniques, etc. Information that the novice would be bored with but the enthusiast would really enjoy.

On top of these changes, it looks as though I will be adding a new school to the mix, West Valley Community College (over the hill) would like to conduct this same curriculum. Of course I will continue to teach at Cabrillo College.  See you in the spring.

In the mean time, here is a video showing me brew up some beer to put in cold storage while I'm in Mexico this year. A window into brewing at Beer Diary...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lager Yeast Starters

It's time once again for me to get ready to leave the country for a few months and in preparation for my absence I want to have forty gallons of lagers in kegs by December 1st. to begin aging. They will stay in cold storage during the cool California winter months. My plan is to return to enjoy a Schwarzbier, Dunkel, Bock and Doppelbock when I return for the spring season in April.

This meant that I needed to create some yeast starters that would get the beer fermented in a reasonable amount of time so I can keg and get them aging by December 1st. (departure date). I'm using White Labs WLP830 and WLP833 lager yeast for this years beers. Each vial is stepped up two times to achieve what I believe will be about 200 billion cells per pitch. This I will use for the Schwarzbier and the Dunkel.  Lower cell counts than what Mr. Malty probably recommends but I've had good success with this pitch rate in the past. Once those two beers are fermented I will pitch the yeast cake from each into the two bigger beers, the bock and the Doppelbock.

Brewing lager's in the strict sense of the word is difficult and requires refrigeration and temperature controls for the fermentation that I don't have at this time. Additionally, slowly lowering the beer temperature after fermentation a couple degrees every day until the beer is at the freezing point and later ramping the temperature back up before lowering it again is not something I even want to mess with. So, I will be going about this as I've done before and have every confidence that the results will be good.

First, there are two schools of thought about the beginning fermentation temperatures. One is to begin warm (70f.) for a short period of time allowing the yeast to develop a large colony, then lower the temperature down for the fermentation period. The other idea is to ferment at lager temperatures from the beginning until fermentation is complete and this is the method I will use. Because I can't cool the beer in the fermentor I have to get the wort down to lager temperatures to begin with by chilling with a plate chiller and with the support of my post immersion chiller that I've written about in the past. You can see it here, or watch a fuzzy video of it here. Since I am writing this after the fact, I can tell you that I got the wort down to 54f.

Secondly, I'm relying on the cool temps. in my storage unit to maintain that temperature for the duration of the ferment which I expect will be about ten days. Again, having looked at the fermentors today I can say that this temp. has only gained two points to 56f. In my book this is still an acceptable lager temperature. Judging by the thick krausen it looks as though the pitch was enough for this beer gravity.
Finally, I'll be using recipes from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmers 'Brewing Classic Styles' book to brew these beers. Of course they will be modified to suit my needs and accommodate the ingredients I have on hand so I can use them up before departing. Don't tell Jamil.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Straffe Hendrik Tripel

Near the top of my list of favorite beer styles is the Belgian Tripel. I can't get enough of these beers and regularly have a homebrewed clone version of Chimay's Cinq Cents on tap at my house, (yeah, pretty pedestrian but they make a great tripel). So when I saw a unique brand on display at the Whole Foods beer cooler I snatched it up to do my typical comparison to the giant of Tripels, Chimay.

The Straffe Hendrik Brugean Tripel is less of a strict Belgian tripel but seems to be more of a cross between a Belgian Dubbel and tripel. De Halve Maan (the half moon) Brewery claims to be the only authentic(?) Belgian brewery in the city of Bruges for whatever that's worth. The brewery first mentioned in town records from 1546 has been owned by Maes-Vanneste family since 1856. For more information about this historical brewery go here.

What is authentic and for that matter more valuable is the flavor and quality of this beer. I like it a lot. For a tripel there is an inordinate amount of caramel malts that causes the flavors to lean Dubbel but the crisp spiciness and perfumy aroma and flavors are classic Tripel that include subtle alcohol vapors. This is a complex beer but the abundance of crystal malts confuses me as I approach it with my mind set to experience a Tripel. The color is darker, like light copper but not as dark as most Dubbels. Again, confusing but oh so delicious. A fuller mouthfeel with a long lasting head this beer is satisfying and rich but dries quickly and begs for another sip. This beer is 9% abv. with a price tag to match. At  about $10 per 25oz. bottle, it felt a little pricey. Finally, it's easy for me to praise this beer and I highly recommend it if you can find it in your area.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Brewing Disasters

Part I
As a homebrewer, you come to expect a certain number of brewing hassles, tragedies and disasters to occur as time goes on, but when you experience a long string of successes it seems to suddenly comes as a shock when things get screwed up. Case in point for me: this whole week.

Let me start with lessons learned in brewing school. I've taught a five week course here at the local community college for a few years now and although I've dreaded the day, have never had a spoiled batch of beer come out of it all. The day finally came this last Sunday and the experience took me down a few notches. I've always stressed the importance of sanitation but also suggested that it was not at the top of my homebrewing concerns, opting instead for emphasis on several other critical elements in brewing that you can read about here. I may have to re-visit this list after discovering that the German hefeweizen came out of the fermentor with an extreme case of sour. Not just a mild, 'what's that I'm tasting in here?' off flavor, but a full on excessive lactobacillus attack, an in your face kind of taste. A blend of unsweetened lemonade and balsamic vinegar like a cross between a Berliner weisse and Flanders red except with out the dark malt character. I'm owing the vinegar quality to the acetobactor bacteria. 'Oh how I loath you new friend.'

Even with my personal brewing I've never had a infection as bad as this and standing before a class of eager students, their open and curious faces looking up at me asking "why teacher, how could this happen to us?" I had no answer. I wasn't sure how to react and finally suggested that sometimes in homebrewing it's necessary to accept a spoiled beer as a learning experience. Which sounds like a fair statement but I couldn't take my own advice and have spend the better part of two weeks feeling shame and disappointment in myself as a teacher. This is how I imagine a boat building teacher would feel as the class canoe project sunk while his students paddled out towards a setting sun. Along with those feelings I've spent many hours in my head replaying the brewing and fermenting of that beer trying to discover at what crucial point in the process that I allowed this tragedy to play out. I want to blame a contaminated or miss-labeled vial of yeast to ease the burden but I won't buy that excuse either. We still kegged the beer and I may be able to use it for something in the future, I don't know.  I wrote LACTIC on the side of the keg as a warning and I ended up discarding the plastic fermenting bucket, spigot and transfer hoses that came into contact with the beer as a precaution although I suspect that wasn't needed except to exorcise my demons. I wonder if this sour beer is a sign that it's time to move away from teaching an extensive course like this. As a side note, I personally like the flavor and bought a bottle of Beliner Weisse to compare and found that it is very similar. Oh! is that a bright side?
Berliner weisse on left and school beer on right

Part II
In the mean time back at my house I decided to brew a pale ale and got up early to start the process. In the spirit of multi-tasking I started the sparging process and after getting the proper flow thought I had time for a quick shower. When I returned to the task of brewing I found, to my dismay, I had left the valve open on the boil pot and that a couple of gallons of sweet, sweet wort had drained onto the patio and halfway down the parking lot flowing towards the storm drain. This loss was after only collecting a few gallons which meant that I'd lost the really high gravity portion of wort from this simple mistake. As a result my efficiency was naturally low and the brew required a pound and a half of cane sugar to make up for the loss.

Somewhat discouraged, I shouldered on as any proper brewer would, accepting that these things happen and soon I was preparing to chill the wort. Only now, in a fit of distress, I discovered that the property management had turned off the exterior water for landscape maintenance, consequently I had no water. For a moment I panicked and spun in circles then ran from my patio in search of the problem. Around the corner from my apartment was a maintenance worker sawing through a main water line with serious intent.
"I told you yesterday that I would need water this morning!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, I don't remember that." was the response.
"I did!"
"Never heard it."
We went back and forth like that for awhile and I pleaded my case, he finally agreed to turn the water on but pointed out that a geyser would be spewing from his partially severed pipe for the duration. I'm not sure but I think his face had the expression of contempt.
 "I only need a few minutes." I stated before dashing back to start the chilling process.

Writing this post has been a cathartic excercise for me. Thank you for your patience.

P.S. On a completely separate subject, please help me reach 70 followers by the end of the year. If you haven't already done so, Click on the Follow button in the sidebar and if you follow on twitter and/or FB please also click on the follow button. Why? Ego really, mine needs help.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Steeping Grains Or Partial Mash

A subject came up between myself and another homebrewer regarding the difference between using steeping grains in an extract brew and the use of a partial grain or mini-mash regimen and why one is called a partial mash and one doesn't deserve that much credit. It was more like an argument not a subject, but the subject was about the definition.

I suggested that the primary difference begins with the brewers intention when using either process.
Is the intention to extract sugar from the grains? Or, is the intention to simply provide additional color and flavor to your extract brew?

If the answer is that the intention is to not only add color and flavor but sugar, then a certain percentage of base malt (2-row or 6-row) needs to be included in the grist in order to provide the diastatic power (enzymes) to convert the starches of your mix of grain to simple sugars. Thus, allowing for a measurable extraction.  On the other hand, base malt is not needed nor usually included in the mix of specialty grains when only steeping, since the purpose or intention is solely to gain flavor and color.

So, you could conclude that the addition of 2-row or 6-row malt is the distinguishing factor that defines the difference between a mini-mash and brewing an extract batch of beer including steeping grains. However, this isn't always true because (as is the case with me), adding some 2-row to the steeping grains may be included specifically to impact the color and flavor that your looking for. Consequently, an addition of sugar will be incurred because of this practice, regardless of any interest in that result. Naturally, this rules out the above idea of base malt being the critical factor.

Another element of this argument is the quantitative (measurable) factor. When using steeping grains, I don't consider the extract potential and do not factor it into my recipe formulation. Any sugar extraction is inconsequential in this brewing process. On the other hand, with a partial mash brew, I'm careful to consider the extract potential and the efficiency of my system to calculate the available sugars from the mash and how it will determine the amount of extract to be used in the recipe and ultimately the effect on the resulting original sugar gravity. Again, I believe that it comes down to the intention of the brewing that defines the difference between the two techniques.

But wait, there's more.

While I'm on the subject I thought I'd add some more opinion about partial mash brewing. Even though I teach to my students the techniques and show the equipment for doing a mini-mash, I strongly recommend that they jump right into all-grain brewing when they are ready to advance from using malt extract for brewing.

I've read in on-line forums and in brewing books that the mini-mash set up is smaller and thus more convenient for those that don't have the space for an all-grain set up. Those same voices also suggest that working under these limiting conditions may prevent you from achieving the efficiencies that are required by just using grain, but I disagree. If you live in an apartment or have to work in the kitchen or a confined space, you can just as easily use the same system you use for a mini-mash as you would for an all-grain batch of beer.

I have successfully brewed an all-grain batch with a single large boil pot and a mash tun made from a food grade plastic bucket. In fact, during the instructions for the last partial mash class I just recently taught, we were able to extract 80% of the available sugars with a plastic bucket mash tun. The same thing can be done on the stove top using all-grain to make a five gallon batch. Now, ten gallons, that may be more difficult but I'm willing to bet it can be done in the same space.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone that does all-grain brewing on the stove, especially those that brew ten gallons that way. Cheers!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cone Top Beer Cans - Sort Of

The interest in beer cans instead of bottles predates prohibition, but the challenge for manufacturers was finding affordable materials that could withstand the pressure of carbonated beer, not to mention concerns that the metal would negatively effect the flavor of the beer.

Ceramic 'cone top' beer can.

In 1933 the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. of New Jersey took the risk of packaging their beer in cans referred to as 'flat tops'. Beer in cans soon became quite popular and by 1935 Krueger was buying 180,000 cans a day from the American Can Co. At this time, Schlitz Brewing got on board with the canning craze and introduced its lager beer in cans but instead of the the 'flat top' they chose to use the unusual 'cone top' cans made by Continental Can Co.

Ceramics before painting and glaze.

By the mid 50's it became clear that the 'flat top' style of can would beat out the 'cone tops' for market share mainly because they could be filled easier and stack more economically in the store shelves and the consumers refrigerators.

Where does this all lead to here at Beer Diary...? Well, friend and ceramic artist Liz Crain has created a series of amazing replicas of the 'cone top' beer cans from that era.

Liz has been producing a variety of  stunning faux metal ceramic cans recently. The type of old rusty cans you find in your grandfathers shed out back or in his musty basement. Old oil and kerosene cans or dented linseed oil and turpentine containers. Those cool metal cans that lived during the 50's before plastic took over and left us feeling wistful for our history with steel.

Liz's take on the cone top cans is at once authentic and nostalgic and nuanced with her creative influence that moves beyond the literal. Incredible realism considering all the pieces are solely made from ceramics but artistic in the subtleties of the shapes and glaze finish. How she manages to get them to look like metal is one thing but to look like rusted metal is quite another.

Faux can on left next to the real thing.

All of her work in incredible but I particularly enjoy the beer cans for some inexplicable reason.

If you happen to be in the Santa Cruz area this weekend and next, Liz will be participating in the Open Studios tour exhibiting and selling her work and she is not to be missed. Go here for a link to her site and here for a link to the Santa Cruz Open Studios tour site.

Tell her you heard about her beautiful artwork here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stone's Cherry Chocolate Stout

While I was purchasing the beer at Bobby's Liquors for my recent beer tasting class at Cabrillo College I splurged by getting a bottle of something nice just for me. In this case, Stone's collaborative Cherry Chocolate Stout. The cost? $4 for a 12oz. bottle.
This is a beer that was developed with input from Jason Fields and Kevin Sheppard and brewed by Troegs Brewing with and at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, California. The use of  special ingredients including chocolate, cherries and vanilla beans makes this a unique and very tasty beer. From the bottle I saw that it also contains lactose sugar, reminiscent of the milk stouts of days gone by. It weights in at 7.3% abv. although I didn't detect any flavor or warmth from it but definitely got the cherries right off the bat and the chocolate has a serious impact on the flavor. The vanilla, not so much, but on the periphery I would say, along with a smokey quality. A little heavy and on the sweet side for me as I found that it became somewhat cloying nearing the end.

All in all, a very good beer and could do well to age but in my case I only had the one so no aging going on here. The truth is I can't hold on to a beer to save my life, I lack the discipline to keep beer around for more than a few days. If I suspect it's good, I want it now. Homebrewing friend L. shared a Kriek with me recently that he managed to store for 12 years! I have to assume that he just has a ton of beer laying around, how else could you keep a beer that long? Oh it was good, yes. Could it have been good at, oh say, 8 years? Who's to say.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beer Tasting

I don't know where to begin, except to say that there are no simple answers. So, I'm posing this question to you who happen to stumble upon or are following this blog. But what is the question you ask? Simple.

How does one decide on a selection of beers if you're conducting a beer tasting class?

The reality is that there are twenty three recognized classic styles of beer not including mead, cider, melomel, and perry (whatever that is). In addition, there are a total of seventy nine subcategories that make up these styles. Break that down even further by considering the companies that brew these beers and you've got thousands of beer out there to choose from.

Now, your mission if you choose to accept it is to pick just eight of those beers to present in a three hour tasting session.

Making the choice of beers can be a creative process and that is how I approach it. I begin this process with an intention. For instance, I may make the decision on my selection based on beers of historical interest, like 'Why monks make beer and when did they start doing that'? I could decide to based the choice on similar qualities, a selection within a style for instance, like Russian imperial, sweet, foreign, oatmeal, American or dry stout. Or maybe a comparison between English and American pale ales and introduce some West coast American pales ales for good measure? A variety of seasonal German lagers?

The recent beers from the tasting class include Belgian tripel, quad, grand cru, grand cru vintage 2007, gueuze, homebrewed dry stout, pumpkin porter, homebrewed Russian imperial stout, Drake's aroma coma IPA and Hop Wallop IIPA.

Any of these ideas would be enjoyable to create a tasting around but there are other consideration that must be addressed. What comes to mind are the students. Their understanding of brewing and exposure to beer. Their preferences and past experience in tasting. In most of the classes that I have conducted, for the most part the students are inexperienced in tasting and have little exposure to beers outside of the mainstream swill. They come with a sincere interest in tasting new beers, learning the process of critically tasting and also want to enjoy a nice afternoon of sipping beers, an entertaining brew event. The reasons for them attending a beer tasting and the level of there experiences must be considered when designing a class. In addition to the novice there will occasionally be homebrewers and beer appreciators that have a wider level of knowledge and experience and their reason for attendance maybe slightly different and must be regarded also in the presentation.

So, back to the beer choice. Here we have 1000's of beers to choose from, a mix of attendees with varied knowledge and experience and lastly, a limited amount of time to not only educate, broaden their interests in beer and entertain but also to reward them with the feeling of satisfaction that they made a good decision by registering for and paying good money to attend a beer tasting.


I also want to use this space to thank my TA's Brady and Teresa for helping me out with this recent tasting. Their support enabled me to focus on the presentation. Thanks also to Jan and Andy for providing home brewed Russian imperial stout and brownies that were baked with said same stout, delicious!

Now I'm getting geared up to begin the five week brewing course. I'm excited.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Competition Results For SC County Fair

Congratulations to all of the competitors in this years Santa Cruz County Fair homebrewing contest.
The following are the results from this years event. Please forward this to anyone you know that may have entered beer this year.

Competition Results SC County Fair 2011

Best of Show Winner
Chris Scianni

Flight Winners - Flight Description - Beer Style

Robert Conticello - English Brown Ale, Porter - Mild
Harendra Goontilleke - English/Imperial IPA - Imperial IPA
Katie Lipton - Belgian Strong, Sour Ale, Strong Ale - Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Michael Lipton - Wheat/Rye, Belgian/French - Belgian Specialty Ale
Larry Lynch-Freshner - Fruit, Spice/Herb/Vegetable, Smoke/Wood - Classic Rauchbier
Sean McMasters - Stout - American Stout
Dennis Nolan - Mead- Braggot
Dennis Nolan - Cider - Common Cider
Gary Schilling - Hybrids - California Common Beer
Chris Scianni - American IPA - American IPA
Mark Taylor - Lagers - Standard American Lager
Chris Thomsen - Specialty - Specialty Beer
Zac Whitehouse - American Ale - American Pale Ale
Joe Williams - Ales - Scottish Heavy 70/-

Individual Awards

Award Level: First

Chris Casey 28 Other Specialty Cider/Perry
Robert Conticello 11 Mild
Robert Conticello 22 Wood-Aged Beer
Hoffner & Padilla 20 Fruit Beer
Michael Lipton 16 Belgian Specialty Ale
Larry Lynch-Freshner 22 Classic Rauchbier
Dennis Nolan 27 Common Cider
Gary Schilling 07 California Common Beer
Mark Taylor 01 Standard American Lager
Mark Taylor 05 Doppelbock
Chris Thomsen 23 Specialty Beer
Brian Valdivia 05 Doppelbock
Joe Williams 01 Dortmunder Export
Joe Williams 09 Scottish Heavy 70/-
Joe Williams 16 Belgian Pale Ale

Award Level: Second

Shailendra Bist 18 Belgian Dubbel
Dave Bossie 23 Specialty Beer
Mia Bossie 22 Other Smoked Beer
Cathy Carlson 26 Open Category Mead
Chris Casey 27 Common Cider
Robert Conticello 02 Bohemian Pilsner
Robert Conticello 14 Imperial IPA
Robert Conticello 16 Saison
Harendra Goontilleke 14 Imperial IPA
Hoffner & Padilla 16 Witbier
Hoffner & Padilla 13 Oatmeal Stout
Hoffner & Padilla 10 American Brown Ale
Adam Holter 16 Belgian Specialty Ale
Adam Holter 22 Wood-Aged Beer
Adam Holter 17 Berliner Weisse
Colin Kelly 01 Dortmunder Export
Jeff Klatt 23 Specialty Beer
Jeff Klatt 10 American Amber Ale
Paul Konopelski 23 Specialty Beer
Tim Landon 20 Fruit Beer
Robert Lauer 14 Imperial IPA
Carol Lezin 03 Oktoberfest/Marzen
Carol Lezin 02 German Pilsner (Pils)
Michael Lipton 13 Russian Imperial Stout
Marq Lipton 13 Russian Imperial Stout
Michael Lipton 18 Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Michael Lipton 23 Specialty Beer
Katie Lipton 18 Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Larry Lynch-Freshner 16 Belgian Specialty Ale
Larry Lynch-Freshner 06 Kölsch
Kirk Mathew 21 Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer
Kirk Mathew 18 Belgian Dubbel
Kirk Mathew 10 American Pale Ale
Kirk Mathew 16 Belgian Specialty Ale
Sean McMasters 23 Specialty Beer
Sean McMasters 13 American Stout
Dennis Nolan 28 Other Specialty Cider/Perry
Dennis Nolan 26 Braggot
Dennis Nolan 28 Apple Wine
Steve Rannals 23 Specialty Beer
Chris Scianni 14 American IPA
Chris Scianni 12 Brown Porter
Mark Taylor 14 Imperial IPA
Chris Thomsen 21 Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer
Tizoc Velasco 23 Specialty Beer
Zac Whitehouse 10 American Pale Ale
Chris Williams 09 Irish Red Ale
Joe Williams 23 Specialty Beer
Joe Williams 14 American IPA
Joe Williams 06 Cream Ale
Joe Williams 14 Imperial IPA
Joe Williams 10 American Pale Ale
Joe Williams 22 Wood-Aged Beer
Donna and Ron Winingar 09 Strong Scotch Ale

Award Level: Third

Dave Bossie 09 Irish Red Ale
Dave Bossie 09 Strong Scotch Ale
Matthew Burgoon 06 Blonde Ale
Cathy Carlson 24 Sweet Mead
Cathy Carlson 26 Metheglin
Robert Conticello 13 Russian Imperial Stout
Tom Geoghan 13 Sweet Stout
Jack Gobbo 14 American IPA
Harendra Goontilleke 14 American IPA
Adam Holter 15 Dunkelweizen
Carol Lezin 19 American Barleywine
Michael Lipton 10 American Amber Ale
Larry Lynch-Freshner 12 Robust Porter
Sean McMasters 18 Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Dennis Nolan 25 Other Fruit Melomel
Steve Rannals 06 Blonde Ale
Steve Rannals 13 Oatmeal Stout
Matthew Rohan 12 Robust Porter
Mark Taylor 23 Specialty Beer
Chris Thomsen 12 Robust Porter
Steve Tripp 08 Extra Special/Strong Bitter
Steve Tripp 08 Special/Best/Premium Bitter
Brian Valdivia 03 Oktoberfest/Marzen
Zac Whitehouse 13 Russian Imperial Stout
David Wholey 14 American IPA
David Wholey 14 Imperial IPA
Joe Williams 15 Weizen/Weissbier
Joe Yuhas 16 Saison
Steve Zabel 23 Specialty Beer

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Drake's Brewing - Barrel House

I had an excellent afternoon sampling a hand full of beers at Drake's Brewery barrel room yesterday.
I headed up the 880 to San Leandro with friend Brady to find out what was on tap and we were not disappointed.

Tucked behind and through the shadowy alleys of a colossal shopping mall, Drake's is not easy to find. But as we meandered our way between buildings a brilliant and holy light was shinning down on Drake's Barrel House tap room. Stepping inside this warehouse/taproom we approached a length of bar that fronted about 18 tap mounted to a large walk-in cooler. With only a couple of tables and the bar, the facility appeared mostly devoted to the dozens of barrels for the purposes of aging. Out on the patio were several more tables for enjoying the beer in the sun.

Eager to quench our thirsts we ordered  pints of light lagers before launching into some of the barreled aged beers.  Brady got the pilsner and I the Kolsch, both were excellent beers right off the bat and a good way to settle in and take the heat off from our long drive from Santa Cruz. The chalkboard above the bar boasted some impressive barrel aged beers that I was anxious to taste.

First up was the 'Portly Imperial', a Russian Imperial Stout aged in a port barrel with black berries and comes in at over 8% abv. I was blown away by how good this beer was, with just  a minor influence of flavor from a lactic sourness and port from the barrel the coffee and bittersweet cocoa stand out and the berries blend nicely as a supporting flavor. The alcohol flavor and warmth are evident but minor players in a beer that (if bottled) I would have taken home by the case. This was just the beginning in a line up of beers that continued to impress. There were several other imperial stout aged in different barrels and an imperial IPA 'Denogginizer' has to go on the top of my 'best of' list. This over the top IIPA was incredibly delicious, well balanced and deceptive easy to quaff considering its 9.75% abv.

I spoke with Randy behind the bar who was enthusiastic about helping out at Drake's. He has a thorough knowledge of the beers and the processes that went into making them. He's also and homebrewer and homebrew beer judge. I asked him to help out with my upcoming tasting class at Cabrillo College and I believe he will be there and if I'm lucky he will bring along some of the RIS that I was loving.

      Thursday, September 8, 2011

      Two Steps To A Better Mash Efficiency

      Three simple words, crush, crush, crush. Wait, that's one simple word three times. Regardless, this is the number one thing you can do in your brewery to increase the amount of sugar you extract from you grain. I went from an efficiency of 75% to 85% with just that one step.

      I cranked down on the gap in my mill a little at a time over the course of several batches, watching my efficiency go up with each adjustment. My current gap setting is .029" (.737mm) on the narrow end of the mill and .055" (1.40mm) on the wide end of the mill. (My mill only adjusts on one end.) The rollers are somewhat smooth with fine ridges that run the length of each which adds to the severity of the crush.

      If you are relying on your homebrew store to crush the grain you order, ask if they will narrow the gap, or if not, to mill the grain twice. They should be accommodating but only after they warn you about a stuck sparge. Smile and nod politely.

      "Oh, but what about a stuck sparge?" I hear you say.
      Not to worry my little friend, I solved that problem awhile back when I switched from using a false bottom to a short length of braided hose. Go here if you're interested in that easy project. But, even if you choose to keep using the traditional false bottom, a minor adjustment to achieve a finer crush will probably increase your efficiency without causing any problems. There is a lot of emphasis on 'cracked but not crushed' milling in the homebrewing literature but I think there is a lot of leeway to that old saying. Have no fear.

      Flaked wheat on left and a severe crush of malt on right

      Secondly, I fly sparge for a good 45 minutes for a ten gallon batch. This is where I'm getting an additional 5% + efficiency in my process. From my personal experience, this continuous rinsing for an extended period will achieve greater results than the batch sparge method. I also make sure that I calculate the amount of sparge water so that when I reach 13 gallons of wort, my mash tun has run dry. In other words, except for the water absorbed by the grain, I leave no residual water behind at the end of the sparge. For me this means assuming I will loose half my mash liquor to the grain absorption and will off-set that loss with additional water in the hot liquor tank. On a side note, I don't mess with the mash once I finish the vorlauf and start the sparge. I've witness some brewers stirring the mash (trying to increase efficiency I suppose), especially batch sparge brewers and for the life of me I can't understand this abusive behavior.

      Finally, (regarding the fly sparge method) to set my mind at ease, I will occasionally check the gravity of the final running of my sparge to assure that I am not falling down below 1.008-1.010 range and judging from the taste of my beers, I can tell that there is no tannin extraction happening.

      So, be brave and give your grains that extra little nudge to provide you with a better efficiency which leads to savings when it comes to grain purchases.

      Friday, September 2, 2011

      Lambic Brewing For Club Project

      I'm contributing ten gallons of beer to the Zymurgeeks homebrew club barrel project this week. This is  a lambic style beer that will be in the barrel for a couple of years. Two years seems like a long time, I hope I'm not dead when the beer becomes mature. If I am, please see to it that some is poured into the urn where my ashes are kept.

      My batch is actually just some additional beer that needs to be added to top-off the barrel because of evaporation and I suspect some plain and simple thievery, but I'm happy to pitch in so to speak. I like a good gueuze every once in awhile but I would never brew ten gallons for my own personal consumption. This batch allows me to experience the enjoyment of brewing a new style and be able to draw off some every so often in small amounts.

      I'll be pitching Wyeast's lambic blend 3278 for this beer and I've made a starter using (don't tell anyone) cane sugar. The starter already has the smell of  a lambic, sour and funky. I expect the primary fermentation will be complete in 7-10 days at which point I will deliver and transfer it into the barrel which is located up in that God forsaken land of Boulder Creek.

      The following is the recipe and if I think of it I'll post some pics of the transfer process in a couple of weeks.

      Club Lambic

      10 gallon batch with an 82% efficiency
      (I ended up only achieving an 82% efficiency and had calculated for 90% so I will try to boil off some to reach my target original gravity.)

      10lbs. Pils malt
      .5 lbs. flaked wheat - white
      4 lbs. flaked wheat - red
      1.5lbs. wheat malt

      mash in 5 gals. h2o for 60min. at 154f.
      Boil 90 mins. with 4oz. of old German whole hops

      Chill to 65f. and pitch Wyeast 3278 lambic blend starter
      Ferment (in a plastic fermentor bag to protect my fermentor from contamination) until complete and transfer to barrel for aging.

      O.G. 1.043
      F.G. 1.010 from primary
      IBu's N/A
      ABV 4.7% from primary
      SRM 2-3

      The whole hops I'm using are about 5 years old and have a distinctive 'cheesy' smell. They will go into a large mesh bag and stay in for the entire boil.

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