Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brewer Geek Alert

When I stopped off at my local homebrew store (7Bridges) the other day, they were in the middle of pelletizing some whole hops.

 I was fascinated with the process and asked about the mechanics of their operation. apparently, this is the only machine in California that can take whole leaf hops and convert them into pellets for use in brewing.

Pretty cool but, the question I have is how they determine what the alpha acid of the new pellet hops are after the conversion. In any case, this is a nice rig and for those that love machinery, especially machinery that has to do with brewing beer it's an amazing rig. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Suds On The Shore - Recap

How do the beers of the Midwest stack up against the west coast? I went to Michigan to attend the Suds on the Shore beer festival to find out for myself. (Oh yeah, and I visited my Mom too.)

The use of hops is a definite difference. Not only the types but the amounts used. I sampled beers from a dozen different Michigan breweries and found that the beers were good and the use of hops reserved. I found that, generally speaking, they don't go for the 'over the top' uber biers that I'm used to seeing here on the central coast. They keep the IBU's and the alcohol in check for the most part. But this doesn't stop them from producing some excellent beers with a balanced mix of malt and hops that make for easy drinking. I want to highlight the breweries that stood out for me in this annual beer festival that supports the United Way.

Top of my list: Old Boys Brewhouse out of Spring Lake with a nice selection of beers that nailed the style guidelines and frankly kept me standing at their booth wanting more. In particular was the  Kennel King IPA that featured a vibrant dose of Cascade and Citra hops. Brewer David Bayes was on hand to talk up the brewery. His take on the American wheat beer had the unique addition of blueberry which made it stand apart from the crowd of wheat styles and made an impression on me.

Next, I made my way over to one of the larger Michigan breweries  Founder Brewing Company out of Grand Rapids. I sampled their IPA and was impressed with the balance of malt and citrus hop and more impressed when sales rep. Beau Loncharte told me that the abv was 4.5%, I took another taste and was even more impressed. It tastes like an IPA but I'm not sure how they can claim that style when the abv is so low. In any case, it's a great beer with a full malty mouthfeel and a big hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. I then sampled their Breakfast stout which came in at 8.5% abv and had an incredible ground coffee flavor which was a truly stellar stout and the second most popular in Michigan after Bells Brewing.

I really appreciated this event because it was so easy to sample the beers. This is a smaller event with only vendors from Michigan. There were only 27 booths and a relatively small crowd of beer appreciators so there were no lines to file into to get a beer. I walked up to each booth without waiting and this really added to the enjoyment of the day.

Brewery Vivant  was the odd man out with their Belgian style pale ale. From what I could gather, the sour beers have not taken root like here in the West. I was glad to be able to sample some at this fest. Their Belgian pale is bold and broad with a number of levels of flavor that made me want more. A striking yeast profile with an abundants of hop flavor that balanced and supported a delicious malt backbone. Good beer with a truly classic take on the Belgian concern for ales.

As I made my way around the booths looking for the unique I ran into an odd pair of pirates who did not seem out of place at all, as they hoisted the local ales and posed for everyone's cameras.

I came across the Michigan Beer Cellars booth where I sampled what was a very West coast take on the Cascadian dark or black IPA. This is a brewery from Sparta, Michigan and no one else at this event was pouring this dark style of IPA and this was a delicious beer. Jamesport Brewing was also on hand but as I had a number of beers at the brewpub the night before I didn't stop to sample this day. You can read more about my Jamesport experience on this previous post.

The local homebrew club the Zymurgists, were on hand to demonstrate for the crowd the use of a three tiered brew sculpture as they brewed up a batch of beer and displayed samples of malted barley and jars of hops. I also ran across a couple fellow beer bloggers from Michigan Beer Blog who have a site that covers the beer scene in that part of the woods. If you visit, tell them I sent you.

One disappointment for me was the missing Jolly Pumpkin Brewery. Apparently the distributor didn't ship the beer to the fair. I was looking forward to trying something that I'm sure would have been strange and exciting. Although, a representative from North Peak Brewing Company was on hand and he had on a Jolly Pumpkin t-shirt. He indicated that Jolly Pumpkin was part owner of North Peak. So, that's something.

There was also mead and cider being poured. I didn't taste the cider but did get a chance to sample the mead from a meadery out of Detroit called B.Nectar. This was a nice fruity sample. a little on the sweet side but a very good mead.

All in all, this was an enjoyable way to spend a day in the muggy summer heat of Michigan. I didn't visit my mother just to attend a beer festival, really, I didn't. But, I would recommend that if you are visiting relatives in another part of the country it makes perfect sense to coordinate it with either a pub crawl, brewery tour(s) or beer festival. Why not kill two birds with one stone, especially when one bird is a beer.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jamesport Brewing Company

On a recent and long overdue visit to my mother in Michigan I took a little time to check out her local brew scene. She lives in a town very close to lake Michigan halfway up the lower peninsula called Ludington.
A quaint little town with just over 8,000 people, Ludington grew out of a brief history of logging during the late 1800's that stripped 162 million board feet of lumber from its lands and with easy access to the Great Lakes, the town became a major shipping port. Now, a destination for beach goers and retirees the town comes alive during the warmer months and the place to enjoy a good pint is at Ludington's own Jamesport Brewing Company. The building which was originally built in 1890 has that solid feel that comes with Victorian architecture. Hard wood floors, wainscoting and trimmed columns in the dinning area and a full length bar gave me the desire to hang out hoisting pints for awhile.

With a few family members in tow, I pushed my way into this popular brewpub and ordered a beer sampler to get an idea of the tastes of the local brews. I picked five that I though would be a good cross section of styles and set to tasting and comparing while I took in the atmosphere. My selection included a kolsch, American hefeweizen, ESB, IPA and dry stout.

On this day, a lot of people were enjoying the food although I didn't order since we were heading back to Mom's for her famous meatloaf but all looked happy with their meals. Besides, I was here for the beer and wanted to compare the styles with what I'm used to drinking on the West coast. I was impressed with the quality of the beer. Good clean flavors with a good balance of sweet malt and bitterness. Mom gave them her seal of approval with the exception of the IPA which is understandable considering she likes her beer on the sweeter side of the scale.

I especially liked the ESB and was struck by the higher IBU's which I prefer in this English style. I immediately ordered a pint. We also tasted a great example of a Kolsch with an easy drinkability and an outstanding dry stout of which I also ordered a full pint.

Tom Buchanan
The brewery, located in the basement and visible through a large plate glass panel recessed into the floor of the bar, looked inviting. Although they weren't conducting tours at the time, I ventured downstairs and peered through a crack in the door until I was noticed by the brewmaster Tom Buchanan who graciously invited me in to look around. Starting out as a homebrewer, Tom cut his brewing teeth at the Lighthouse Brewing Company in Manestee, Michigan where he volunteered to work for free in order to learn the trade and expand on his passion for brewing before advancing to the head brewer position at Jamesport. Considering the number of beer styles on tap and the popularity of Jamesport, Tom has to keep his three barrel systems pumping to keep up with demand. With a pint of stout in hand I managed to get a couple of pictures of his brewery including the copper kettle and mash tun.

I headed back upstairs and finished my pint as the sound of the car ferry that connects Michigan to Wisconsin the "SS Badger" sounded its exit from the harbor with a blast of steam. I wandered out of the brewpub thinking about the beer festival that would take place the next day and considered how fortunate it was that my Mom had a decent brewpub to go to in her hometown.

Although I have family roots in Michigan I don't have the connection with the place like I do California. In fact, Michigan comes across as harsh to me. I used to joke that Michigan has two seasons, Winter and mosquitoes. But Michigan can be a great place to visit when the season is right, especially now that they have an abundance of fantastic craft breweries.

If you're from Michigan, tell us about the best MidWestern craft beers in the comment section below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Congreso Cerveza Mexico 2011

I thought that I would pass this on. The craft beer and homebrewing scene is really expanding in Mexico and I'm looking forward to participating in as much as I can when I travel to Guanajuato this year. This is an exciting time for the Mexican homebrewing movement and if it progresses anything like it has here in the U.S., expect great things to emerge in cerveza de Mexico.

A number of craft breweries have emerged around Mexico, and they will have their wares on display September 1-3 at the World Trade Center in Mexico City during the Congreso Cerveza México 2011: Por La Cerveza Libre festival. You will be able to sample more than 100 beers for a mere $150 pesos/day (with advance registration)! This event is part of the Gourmet Show that happens at the same time/place– check out last year’s pics here to see if it merits a visit.
Included as part of this event is a homebrewing competition. Also, thanks to the blog Midwesterner in Mexico for the above information.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Belgian Beer Tasting

There was a time not long ago when I hated Belgian sour beers. Hated them with a passion. My favorite phrase when referring to something I felt disdain for was 'it stinks like a Belgian ale'.

But, as the years roll by for me as a homebrewer and now as a homebrew instructor, I recognized how important beer is in my life and I made a decision to subdued my narrow opinions with the idea of expanding my knowledge and appreciation for all of the styles of beer.

Now it's an adventure for me, an adventure into the discovery of my fear of the unusual and how closed minded I can be regarding unfamiliar flavors. Looking back over my history of beer drinking, I didn't spend too much time pondering the taste of the beer I drank. For the most part, if it was cold and refreshing with a mild and pleasant taste, I was satisfied. Having gone through my high school years in Golden, Colorado, my preference naturally was for Coors. Some years later it was Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon, and I stuck with what I knew, which was light lagers. It's strange to think that I didn't even consider looking beyond this style of beer for something different. I can only attribute this behaviour to my need for the comfort of the familiar and also that the cultural attitude towards beer was quite different than it is today. At that time, buying Michelob was thinking outside the box.

It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I considered a beer as flavorful as Sierra Nevada and frankly, I can't remember why I even tried it. I don't think I was so much trapped in the mundane as I was comforted by the familiar but this often showed up with a pretentious disregard for anything new that bordered on arrogance. Nobody was going to convince me that there were better beers to be had. These knee jerk  reactions prevented me from exploring the many great beers to be had at the time.

The reason I'm dredging up these old memories and the epiphanies that I garnered along the way is because I attended a Belgian Beer tasting this last Sunday in Boulder Creek. Fellow Zymurgeek Larry, freshly back from a beer tour and vacation in Belgium had the fortitude and forethought to collect and ship to the states a massive quantitiy of Belgian ales. We benefited from his effort and generosity by getting to taste a variety of some of the booty. We gathered at Larry's house and got comfortable to spend the day sampling beers from six breweries that included a total of eleven different beers. Talk about pace yourself. My eyes grew to the size of saucers as I looked over a selection of the beers that we planned to taste. This is an awesome collection of Belgian spontaneously fermented beers that most are difficult if not impossible to find in the U.S.

Here is a list of the beer that we drank.
Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze Oude Kriek and Doesjel Oude Lambik

Hanssens Oude Gueuze, Oude Kriek and Oudbeitje

Cantillon's Lou Pepe Kriek and Lou Pepe Framboise

Oud Beersel
Oud Kriek

Lindeman’s Cuvee Renee Kriek

Girardin's Kriek, Oud Beersel and Oude Kriek

We also tasted the club 'barrel' project which is a fine caliber of it's own. Very tasty and with a nice balance of funk and fruit.

 As we sampled the beers we also enjoyed I nice spread of snacks including assorted cold sausages, an assortment of homemade cheese, bread, raw veggies and a lambic cheese made from Cantillon gueuze.

For the most part I was partial to the straight gueuze, the beers with berries cast a heavy flavor profile and tend to overshadow the more subtle barnyard type flavors that interest me in this style.  I want to thank Larry here for making this event happen and having the forethought to consider his fellow homebrewers while on vacation. Your generosity is most appreciated.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fall Homebrewing Class Sign-Up

This is an update to announce the Fall homebrewing classes I conduct in Santa Cruz, California. The Fall extension brochure has not been mailed out yet but the Cabrillo website is up and taking registrations.

This five week intensive course fills up quickly this time of year and I would encourage early sign-up to participate in this class. The maximum number of students that can attend is 18. You can find out all of the details for the class by going to my website

Or, you can go directly
here to register on-line at the Cabrillo College extension program website.

I'm looking forward to another exciting class of eager homebrewers. I hope to see you there.
You can contact me directly with any questions about these classes. Cheers!

Suds On The Shore Beer Festival

I'll be heading back to Michigan the end of next week for a much needed visit with relatives and of course I have plans for some Midwest beer tasting while I'm at it. I can't wait to do some taste comparisons between what's brewing here on the West coast and beers from the midland. I suspect that they may not be as hoppy as a lot of us Californians prefer but I will keep an open mind. It's not a happy coincidence that the annual Suds On The Shore beer festival will be going on while this short vacation occurs. You may remember the write up from guest writer 'Mom' when she attended in 2009.

Here is the press release and a list of participating brewers this year. It'll be nice to sample so many offerings in one location.

United Way of Mason County
August 5, 2011
The Suds On The Shore Committee in partnership with United Way of Mason County, beneficiary of the proceeds from the event, will be hosting its third craft beer and Michigan wine tasting festival on Saturday, August 20, 2011, from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m at Ludington City Park. Tickets can be purchased at Jamesport Brewing Company, Surroundings and United Way of Mason County. They can also be purchased on-line at www.sudsontheshore.com.

Tickets are $25.00 in advance and $30.00 at the gate and include, souvenir sampling glass, eight 4 ounce samples of beer or 2 ounce samples of wine and “2012 Save the Date” magnet. Non-drinkers or those serving as designated drivers can purchase tickets on the day of the event for $5.00. Individuals attending the festival must be 21 years of age or older and present valid ID to enter.  
We are very excited about this year’s festival and are optimistic that it will only continue to grow. Last year, the number of people attending the festival almost doubled when compared to the prior year, and we are optimistic that this year’s festival will be even bigger,” stated Curt Vanderwall, Committee Chair. “What is nice about this type of fundraising event is that it attracts people from all over the state, which ends up being a win, win for our entire community,” Vanderwall added. 
According to Vanderwall, there are 27 vendors who will be at the festival providing samples of beverages such as, craft beer, hard cider, mead and wine, which is an increase of seven from last year. There will be live band performances beginning at 1:00 p.m. with C-Spin and at 3:00 p.m. Zeek and Wally will be performing. In addition, there will be a food concession, festival souvenir booth, and new to this year’s festival, a home brew beer demonstration.
For more information or to volunteer contact the United Way of Mason County office at 231-843-8593 or visit the Suds On The Shore website at www.sudsontheshore.com or on facebook.
Registered Vendors

  1. Allstar Import’s Germany and Belgian Beers
  2. Arbor Brewing Company
  3. Atwater Brewery
  4. B. Nektar Meadery
  5. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
  6. Brewery Vivant
  7. Cascade Winery and Jarden James Brewery
  8. Crispin Apple Cider
  9. Founders Brewing Company
  10. Frankenmuth Brewery
  11. Elite Brands USA
  12. Great Lakes Brewing Company
  13. Henry Fox Sales
  14. Jamesport Brewing Company
  15. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
  16. Michigan Beer Cellar
  17. Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company
  18. New Holland Brewing Company
  19. North Peak Brewing Company
  20. Old Boys Brewhouse, Inc.
  21. Red Hook
  22. Saugatuck Brewing Company, Inc.
  23. Schmohz Brewing
  24. Short’s Brewing Company
  25. The Walldorff Brewpub and Bistro
  26. Vander Mill
  27. Widmer Bros.
If you're in the area or planning to go to this event. Let me know so we can say hello to each other. See you there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

New Brewery Relief

Normally I don't pass on press releases but I thought this deserved some space here. This change is overdue and I can think of a couple of new breweries coming to Santa Cruz that will be very grateful.

Governor signs brewery tasting room bill

AB 1014 reduces unnecessary restrictions on brewery tasting rooms.

Sacramento, CA ~ August 1, 2011 -- A bill to make it easier for breweries to install tasting rooms was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown today.
AB 1014 exempts breweries from unnecessary and burdensome building requirements that were designed for food facilities but not relevant to improve the safety of brewery tasting rooms. Previously, craft brewers wishing to have a tasting room at the brewery would be required to install several industrial sinks, redo plumbing and electrical wiring among other requirements, simply to provide beer samples. These renovations can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars creating a huge burden for small breweries.
“This bill will relieve craft brewers from the unnecessary burden of installing restaurant grade equipment that simply isn’t needed to pour a taste of beer,” said Tom McCormick, Executive Director of the California Small Brewers Association. “This is a common sense law that garnered bipartisan support at the Capitol. Yet another example that good beer brings people together.”
The bill, authored by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego and Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, passed both the Senate and Assembly floor votes unanimously. There are over 250 craft brewers in California, many of which are expanding and adding jobs on a regular basis to meet demand. Nationwide, craft beer grew 11% last year while major brands were flat.
“We are an industry the state can be proud of,” said McCormick. “Craft brewers by nature tend to have environmentally sound practices, we employ a lot of people and we give back to our communities in many ways”
For more information please feel free to contact the CSBA at 530-265-0422

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