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 K├Âlsch
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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