Oh yes, the annual RateBeer.com awards are upon us. Every year in January, beer nerds come out from the woodwork, run a regression analysis, compute multiple methodology, average the cosign – plus tangent – and come up with these pretty rad rankings. Bon appetite.
I believe its a bit more simple than I made it out to be, but the rankings are up and that means the chatter begins. I have always been a staunch supporter of the RateBeer rankings. In fact, they have led the way on a number of significant beer tours around this great globe. Lets see how they did this year.
Here are the top performers in each category and some notes about NW people performing well:
Best Beer: (Click here to see list)
Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter – If you have had this beer, kudos to you. I have looked, believe me. From Belgium to the Netherlands, you aren’t going to find it. Someday, someday. It is interesting to see Westvleteren 12 unseated. Perhaps the lore of Michael Jackson has finally left the building. For the NW – Deschutes Abyss came in at a very impressive #17. Hair of the Dog’s Matt and Adam both made the Top 100. Surprising that Adam still topples Fred.
Top Beers By Category (Click here for the list)
I am not going to spend a lot of time on these, you can review them here. Suffice it to say that the only showings from the NW were from a sake producer out of Oregon and a surpirsing top spot in dark lager for Rogue’s Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager. Yikes. While expected, its so sad to see this repeated each year. Russian River whooped some ass, once again.
Best Beer in USA (Click here for the list)
Russian River Pliny the Younger – By now, we are all familiar with this hop monster. Though we would prefer to see something with a bit more complexity, its a deliciously unmatched hop beast. As for the NW, Deschutes Abyss at #13 and Hair of the Dog Adam #43 are all that made it. Strikeout, Washington.
Best Brewer in World (Click here to see list)
Three Floyds Brewing – I like em; hell i love em. But are they really the best? Their lengthy list of offerings and impressive showings in multiple categories (stout, IPA, pale, etc.) probably gets them the spot. My choice would have been the #2 on the list – Founders Brewing Company. Great to Hoppin Frog, Akron, OH, at #17. Great work Fred! Oregon did incredibly well: Rogue #21, Hair of the Dog #24, Deschutes #49, Cascade Brewing #57, and Upright Brewing #92 (wow). Washington = Elysian #92. I was actually surprised not to see Black Raven Brewing on this list. I think this is a testament to the fact that Black Raven is not yet bottling. Upright is probably smaller in production, but they send bottles into various states. I think thats the ticket here (plus great brewing).
Best Beer Bars in World (Click to see list)
The Kulminator – Its probably the most deserving, considering their iconic collection of cellar aged beers. Kudos to them for keeping this epic collection rolling. Our visit to Kulminator in March could not have been more eye-popping. The most amazing thing on this list – Avenue Pub at #8!!! Congratulations to Polly, the bar’s owner, who has worked her ass off to deserve this recognition. This is the only must see in New Orleans. This is typically a strong category for Washington – perhaps the only one where they typically overtake Oregon. This year they did the same, but only 2-0. Uber Tavern was #14 and Brouwers Cafe was #22. This is a bit of a drop for both of these two. The list also booted Naked City Taphouse, who made a daring showing last year. Nothing in Oregon made the list.
Best Brewpubs in World (Click to see list)
Brouwerij de Molen – The Windmill strikes again! This place has climbed up and up the list and I will agree that it deserves this spot. In a remote area of Holland, Bodegraven’s only beer spot is hidden inside a windmill. Inside you can enjoy excellent food, phenomenal beer and a pretty incredible bottle shop with a collection of US brews that makes me jealous in Seattle. This is a must see for anyone in Northern Europe. Great to see Walking Man make the list at #10. We finally got out there this past summer and thoroughly enjoyed this sunny spot. Deschutes Brewing was #18, Cascade’s Racoon Lodge was #48 (and will be bumped next year for the new Barrel Room) and then there is Pelican Brewing at #26. 26? Cmon man. If you have ever been to this magical surfers cove, you would spit at anyone that left this out of their Top 5. Go visit.
Best Beer Store in World (Click here to see list)
Het Oude Schooltje – Struise Brouwers @ The Old School – Ummm, I’m confused. I was in Oostvleteren and never saw this place! Kill me now. This is my own fault and I’m stuck with the consequences. Next time. Great to see some Washington guys on here as well: Malt & Vine #27 and Bottleworks #29. Oregon got showings from The Bier Stein in Eugene and Belmont Station in Portland, who fell all the way to #44.
Best Restaurant in World (Click here to see list)
Ebenezer Kezars Restaurant and Pub – This is on my list and will be visited in June when we do a brief NE trip. Tucked away in the Maine mountains in the little town of Lowell – this gem awaits. Is it shocking to anyone else that despite the NW’s extremely well-received culinary presence and beer presence, we cannot produce one beer restaurant in the Top 50? What about Brouwers Cafe? Ebenezars is just a pub, too.
Best Breweries to Visit in World (Click here to see list)
Picobrouwerij Alvinne Den Bier- en Proefzolder – Yes, yes and yes x 1000. This is the single greatest beer visit of my entire life. If its a little strange that we have yet to speak about this visit here on BB.com, its because I am intimidated. Timperial and I have feared drafting this inconic article for just about a year. Alvinne is located in a large barn-like space off a highway in Belgium. We arrived after closing on St. Patricks day and were awarded with private drinking stock from the owner. An unprecedented adventure. I was so glad to see Hair of the Dog Brewing on here as well at #2. Alan Sprints has done an incredible job putting together their new taproom, which is a must for any visitor to the NW. Great to also see Upright Brewing (Portland), who has a very cool tasting room where you can grab some schooners and some tunes for a few hours. Rogue, Bridgeport and Hopworks also made the list. A complete zero for Washington.
Ugh. Washington has to take a failing grade this year. I am really disappointed to see so many of the stalwarts take drops. It was very encouraging to see the locations do alright, but what about our beer?!
In short, most of our beer stays here. I think you can somewhat blame that on our alcohol regulation rules, because they facilitate a healthy market at home. But, you can see that the Oregon brewers making a name for themselves are selling bottles.
Forget Rogue and Deschutes – they are pretty big. But, think about Hair of the Dog, Hopworks and especially Upright. These guys all have bottle sales that go across state borders. That stuff helps.
In the near future, we hope to see bottles from great upstarts like Black Raven Brewing, Schooner Exact, Fremont Brewing and more. Hopefully, we can start to show the world why Washington beer is so damn good.
On Thursday night I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with the two men behind one of the latest and greatest breweries to open in Western Washington, American Brewing Co. One of these men you will probably not be familiar with, the other…if you don’t know by name you should be ashamed.
Neil Fallon is a housing developer from Tacoma. Quite obviously, there’s better industries to be in these days, and he’s no dumby, so the time was nigh to invest in an industry with a little bit more stability. The craft beer industry is not only seeing steady growth in a down economy, but it’s full of kind, supportive people that hold strong values in community. People that work together as a team, even though, technically, they are competing against each other. This is a cornerstone of the craft beer world that Beer Blotter loves and embraces, and Neil feels the same way.
Neil knows all about building a classy space to house a taproom and brewery, but when it come to actually making beer, his knowledge is limited. That’s where the next player comes in.
Skip Madsen is a household name in the brewing community of Western Washington, and he is Neil’s number 1. When asked about the (seemingly) over density of breweries in the Seattle market, Neil responded, and I’m paraphrasing, “Yeah, that was a concern. I thought about opening my brewery in another part of the country, but once I joined up with Skip, I knew we could be successful anywhere”. We completely agree.
Skip has brewed for Pike Brewing, Big Time Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewing, and was an original founder of our beloved Water Street Brewing. He’s the man behind many stellar beers that you may still be drinking from those breweries. He has won many awards for his beers. He has mild celebrity status in this area, and it’s completely warranted.
Most recently, Skip produced Breakaway IPA under Baron Brewing’s license. Due to some personal circumstances and the fact that American Brewing seemed to be on the verge of becoming a reality, Skip stopped producing the hoppy concoction that pleased the palates of many Satellites, myself included. I remember the first time that I tasted the grog at The Pub at Piper’s Creek. I knew if Skip was behind it that it would be good, and it was. Still to this day I think that that beer might have the coolest tap handle of all time. It’s a severed hockey stick and blade. It stands out like none other.
I’m very excited to announce that Breakaway IPA, as we know it, will be transitioned to American Brewing and act as it’s flagship brew, and that the tap handles will come along with it!
ABC plans to break out the gate with 4 brews, but they may only have 3 done by the time the taproom opens. Neil is shooting for a January launch. The first beer that Skip will brew on the brand new 15 bbl brewhouse will be a blonde. The IPA makes two, then there will be a red ale and a stout. The fact that December is already half over is just one of several reasons why I’d be surprised if they opened by even late January, but I’m hoping they can pull it off. The brewery and taproom are still very much under construction. There seems to be a lot left to build and fasten. I, personally, would be a little fearful about that very first batch on a brand new system, but if anyone can do it, it’s Skip. Another worry is that ABC only has three fermentors, one 15 bbl and two 30 bbl. Though that’s enough to produce a pretty good amount of product, beer takes a while to ferment, and three fermentors means only three beers at a time. But I’m not complaining, just give me some of that Breakaway and I’ll be happy.
Though there are plans to eventually bottle, all of ABC’s offerings will initially be draft only. This is pretty common for a brewery upstart, just saying.
ABC is housed in an industrial complex right across from Arnie’s Restaurant on the Edmonds waterfront. It’s a pretty big space. Oddly, or maybe not, the room that the brewing equipment is in seems smaller than the area that the tasting room is in. One thing that I really like about Neil’s vision is that the tasting room will be a big component of what they do and who they are right from the onset. Because the tasting room is still under construction, it was very hard for me to envision what it might be like when it’s done. I asked Neil if he could think of any local tasting rooms that he may have had in mind when he designed it, or that he thinks might be slightly reminiscent of what it will look like. He struggled a little at first to come up with one, but eventually revealed that he thinks it would be a happy medium between the very industrial (think Trade Route) and the very glossy (think Black Raven). Sounds pretty good to me.
One aspect of the tasting room that was fully realized when I visited was the huge bay windows that separate the brewhouse from the tasting room. Though you can really only see the top of the tanks from the bar area, it’s a pleasant reminder that you are drinking beer that was created just a matter of feet from your seat. Another extremely bad-ass element of the tasting room will be the popcorn and hot dog machines. Way to kick it up a notch fellas!
I think it goes without saying that everyone that knows these two guys knows that they will be successful. This taproom is, without a doubt, going to be a serious beer geek destination on the Northside. Keep your eyes and ears open for details about the grand opening, hopefully in January of 2011.
Written By Timperial Stout
As of yesterday, DSR and I have completed 5 collaborative batches of beer on the 10 gallon gravity-fed homebrew system that we built together. Some, great success. Others, massive failure.
It goes without saying that, in these early days of experimentation, we have learned a great deal about brewing beer at home. I’d like to share some of those things with you, just in case you are thinking that it’s about time to stop only drinking other people’s beer, and start making your own.
Also, I recently started working at Homebrew Heaven up in Everett, and am learning massive amounts with each passing day, so listen to me people!
The number one rule, when getting into homebrewing, at least from my experience, is to be prepared to spend a lot more money than you initially calculate. Honestly, I’m not complaining when I say that. For people like DSR and I, who absolutely live and breath beer and will pretty much do anything to make good beer, money is about as close to no object as possible. But if you are feeling a little bit on the fence about it because of the initial investment required, your worries are legit. Take a couple of extra months to save up.
Here’s a few things to think about when determining your budget.
Your kettle/brew pot is your baby. Though the “magic” mostly happens in the fermentor, most of your labor will revolve around the kettle. Make sure you get one that is much bigger than you think you need. Boiling over is a lot easier than you may imagine, and it sucks something fierce. I’d go with a 9 gallon pot for a 5 gallon batch. We have a 15 gallon converted keg for our 10 gallon batches and it’s not big enough. Also, get a spigot and thermometer installed. Mash temps are crutial, and the Blichmann Brewmometers really makes life easy.
While on the topic of suping up your brewpot, I’d highly recommend getting a kettle screen. Whole leaf hops just feel more official, but they can seriously be a pain in the ass to infuse into the wort. Reusable steeping bags are really hard to clean, and chances are good that you’ll end up having to re-buy. With the screen, you can just toss the whole leaf hops into the boil and you won’t have to worry about jamming up your spigot. You’ll also get a better infusion of the lupilin. The best part is, it’s a “buy once and done” item. That, I think you’ll find, is a bit rare in homebrewing.
This leads me to my next point – you must factor in the reality that a lot of the items used in brewing are extremely fragile. At the very least, expect to break your hydrometer, test jar, and airlocks at some point along the way. Also, if you get at all lazy about cleaning and drying your hosing, racking cane, cleaning brushes, etc., expect to have to replace them at some point. Our carboy brush got rusty somehow, and our raking cane hose got all moldy on the inside. Quite obviously, these items were swiftly replaced. After all, like I’m sure you have heard a million times before, cleanliness is everything with brewing.
The last subject I’d like to breach at this time is the dilemma of bottles vs. kegs. Like with almost everything in homebrewing, the better option is more expensive at first, but much easier and cheaper in the long run. Bottling sucks ass. What do you think sounds easier, cleaning and sanitizing and filling and capping 54 12 oz bottles/30 22 oz bottles or cleaning 1 corney keg (5 gallon batch)? You’ll have to refill your co2 tank every couple of months, but believe me, it’s totally worth it. Yes, this may require a large refrigerator or kegerator, I know, but make it happen. It’s almost ChristmaHanuKwanzaakah right? Wish wisely.
Brasserie des Rocs is a Belgian brewery from Montignies-sur-Roc (about 1.5 hours southwest of Brussels, near the French border). They make beer that absolutely explodes with flavor. I’ll never forget the first time I ever tried a BdR beer. I was at Brouwer’s with For Whom The Beer Toales (our Chicago correspondent) and her family. A Grand Cru was ordered. The moment the succulent serum hit my lips I was 100% stupefied. I don’t know if, at that point in my life, I had ever tasted a beer so outrageous in flavor. I was actually very unsure of how I felt about it at first, and all of FWTBT’s family thought it was gross (not really beer drinkers). But, I was intrigued beyond belief by that first sip, and I kept sipping and sipping, until I was certain that it was one of the greatest beers on Earth. That was quite a few years ago, and I’ve had it many times since. I still think it’s one of the greatest beers on Earth. That could surely be argued, but there is no arguing the fact that it’s a Mike Tyson punch in the eye of flavor.
Allow me to highly recommend checking out the brewery website. There is a pretty hilarious video on the front page that is narrated by a BdR beer, you know…from the beer’s perspective. Whaa?!? If you want some relevant info about their beers you should check out the D&V International site. I’m also going to recommend a soundtrack to your enjoyment of a BdR beer, because I know that immediately after you read this you will rush out to your local bottle shop and procure away. Cocteau Twins collaborative album with Harold Budd from 1986, “The Moon & The Melodies”, is an absolute classic in my mind. It has a distinctly European feel to it, combining both ambient and shoegaze, to mark a nuance laden foray into a depressant imbibing, lazy Sunday. Every time Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning voice emerges from the densely distorted fog, you will be reminded to search for the hidden refinements in your fermented beverage. Consider it legal mind expansion.
I was laying in bed on Sunday morning, contemplating the day before me, and like most days, beer inevitably infiltrated my thoughts. I decided that I had a pretty serious craving for deep, sweet, complex Belgians. I decided that a trip to Big Star Beer Market was is order, since they have a pretty bad-ass selection of Belgians, and they are mostly unrefrigerated (the cellar dweller in me appreciates that). $40 later I had three 750ml bottles and a glass, all fashioning the BdR crest. Needless to say, it was a good Sunday.
In this, Part 1, I will explore the 9% Brune, a Belgian brown ale. It’s a 100 on ratebeer.com. Part 2 will see Triple Imperiale and Part 3 will see the beer that started it all for me, Grand Cru.
DES ROCS BRUNEfrom Brasserie Des Rocs is a pure malt beer with no sugar added, 7 types of malt are used and 3 different kind of hops. It has a rich, complex fruit aroma full of subtleness. The taste has an impressive depth with oily development throughout the mouth. It is a deep, mystic and extremely mature beer.
Brune pours a very clear brownish-amber color and displays very lively, rapidly rising bubbles from the bottom of the chalice. A tan head consisting of very fine bubbles rests on top and remains. If you look at the beer from a top view you can actually see the head sizzling where the rising carbonation bubbles hit the surface. That effervescence is definitely present in the mouthfeel, but the solution is so viscous with sugary sweetness that most of the prickling effects are greatly softened.
The scent is something to behold. It’s so deep and complex. How they use the word “subtleness” in the commercial description, I have no idea. Most prominent is the dark fruit – cherry skins, over-ripe plums, prunes, all of which seem to lend a juicy, vinous, almost acidic tartness. It is so intensely rich at the same time. There’s caramelized sugars and toffee, like creme brulee. Maybe I’m just baking a cake in my mind at this point, but I think there is some sweet bready maltiness as well, like pie crust.
The fact that the BdR brewers made this beer without any of the traditionally used sugar, and seemingly without any fruit what-so-ever, blows my mind. A 7 grain malt bill is pretty complex, but there is no doubt that the yeast that was used to ferment this beer is more diligent than most humans. I’m most curious as to the temperature that this fermented at. There are so many esters, it was surely on the very high-end of the scale.
I would not call this beer a sour, but it seems to be teetering on the very border. I struggle to fully explain that. It’s clear to me that this sample is not tainted in any way. It’s not infected. It just tastes so much like fermented cherries, which to me are pretty tart. The fruity esters are crazy potent, but there is a malt core beneath it all. There’s brown sugar and a spiciness, like nutmeg or something similar. It almost seems mulled as it warms. I thought of spicy mango. There is also bubblegum in the finish and a healthy (or not) dose of alcohol. I just laughed out loud. This beer is just silly. You absolutely must taste it before you die. Please help me explain it. I’m clearly failing.
Pagans, Witches, Art and Beer are all topics that are creating the controversy surrounding Lost Abbey’s label for their Witches Wit bottle. This label, established in 2008, depicts a witch being burned at the stake. Now, its creating quite a stir.
In many countries, many years ago, women who were accused of practicing witchcraft were exiled from society, tortured and in many cases, ultimately killed. So keep in mind when reading this that the label is historically accurate.
Now, for the record, I am staying out of it. This is an intriguing topic with some heated discussions surrounding it. People think this image is offensive to the pagan community and to history past. Lost Abbey views it as original artwork, something they take great pride in, like their beer. Lost Abbey/Port Brewing is one of my personal favorites. I respect the brand and the beer.
But I’ll let you decide by giving you snapshots from the NY Times article, comments by angry people and Lost Abbey’s explanation.
First of all, the meaning behind the label. Head brewer and owner, Tomme Arthur has always done an amazing job with his Lost Abbey brand, creating a story behind each beer. The artwork on the labels are the means by which he tells these stories. The back of the bottle reads:
Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.
Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.
The NY Times article simply states the facts and presents quotes from an outspoken member of the pagan and wiccan communities, a Ms. Noble:
Ms. Noble went home and wrote to her e-mail list. “Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery?” read the subject line, in all capitals.
“Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven?” she wrote. “Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either.”
Immediately, friends and followers of Ms. Noble began sending complaints to the brewery.
In response, Lost Abbey posted a lengthy statement on their website. Unfortunately for the past 24 hours, I have not been able to access their website, so I will do my best to summarize. Essentially, Lost Abbey stated that they did not mean to offend anyone and that the label is original artwork depicting a story. This imagery has been used in artworks around the world for centuries.
The brewery stated that they will be reviewing the label and request to make a change during their November meeting. However, its reported that a decision has already been made to change the image. At the end of this long response, the writer opened the forum for discussion on the subject. I thought this was a nice touch.
The subsequent comments consisted of statements ranging from: “Lost Abbey is great. Tomme Arthur, keep doing what your doing” to “I didn’t find the imagery particularly offensive, but the description on the bottle- specifically, Say Hello to the Prince of Darkness for us very demeaning”. Some were outraged while others backed the brewery’s right to be creative with their labels.
Whats your stance?
Leave a comment or email me at email@example.com
Timeless. Classic. Diverse. Words used to describe Bob Seger‘s musical gift – and wouldn’t you know, Founders Brewing’s beers. Mull that while I wax poetic. Founders Brewing has been my favorite brewer since I first dabbed a droplet of their Double Trouble IPA on my tongue, over a year ago.
Captivated, entranced and bewildered I sought out more of this unknown brewer’s stock. It took no further than my third beer, and not even a departure from one style, before I decided that this could be the one – the brewer for which my palate yearns.
Founders Brewing can be found along the Grand River, in the Western portion of the State of Michigan, in a nice little town called Grand Rapids. The mighty Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan and was once referred to as “Furniture City” because, well, take a guess. While it might not be the maxim of metropolis, it once was a heavy industrial area that thrived throughout the auto and lumber boom of the early 1900s.
As the auto industry boomed, so did Detroit’s music scene. Berry Gordy’s Motown thrived throughout the 60s and 70s, launching the careers of iconic stars like Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. We also saw Rock & Roll take a new form in Detroit. Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and – perhaps most importantly for this article – the great Bob Seger, all saw incredible success with their raw, uncensored and blue-collar version of music’s greatest gift (um, Rock & Roll).
But like all great things, Michigan took a hard turn in the late 20th century. The adversity facing the Great Lakes State drove a major artisan sub-culture that helped bring Detroit out of the ashes. From that, we saw the birth of funk from George Clinton, which some say spawned the creation of techno – the Detroit spectacle that arose from Parliment Funkadelic melodic melodies. A new progressive culture remained.
Also, from the ashes came a focus on reviving dead markets. Once a major player in the beer brewing industry of the U.S., the beer production industry had shrunk to producing nothing more than Strohs by the 1970s. By 1985, Strohs’ brewery was destroyed and not one brewery remained in Detroit’s once vast beer industry. The company finally sold off to Pabst in 1999.
Beer came back to Michigan in the 1980s, but this time it went West. Bells Brewery began operations in 1983 in Kalamazoo, MI. After 8 years as the only (still remaining) craft beer producer, Founders Brewing joined the fold in 1991. Its funny to think that a short stretch of 50 miles of highway is all that separates two of America’s pioneering, and still dominate, craft breweries.
Founders Brewing epitomizes everything about survival in the craft beer industry. Two college grads who enjoyed homebrewing decided to make a go for it, quit their jobs and make beer. After years of making balanced beers to pander to blue-collar Michigonians (made that term up), they hit the brink of bankruptcy. Realizing that they had to quit or develop their own unique niche, they decided to dump the “crap” beer and move on to a bigger challenge: “complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor.” (from their website)
Well hell yes! Nothing like a little American ingenuity and a dab of elbow grease to get the fire cooking on a damn good idea. By taking the plunge into uber-complexity, Founders risked utter decimation. Alas, they knew that separating themselves from the herd of 1990s lightly malted, pathetically hopped beers, was the way to go. They flourished.
Founders Brewing now takes on a bevy of intriguing, mouth watering, mind melding styles. Check out their Breakfast Stout, which by the way, is made from an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee. No big deal, its only one of the most revered beers in American beerdom (again, made up). Not enough stuff? How about the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which adds CAVE-AGED (no lie) oak bourbon barrels at 11.2%. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’d hate that 100 on Rate Beer.
But alas, it was the IPAs which made me fall on bended knee. It was the sweet taste of unearthly nectar that said – “Hi, I’m beer. Know nothing else.” Founders packs a lineup of 4 incredible hop bombs. Centennial IPA is a standard used for Beer Judge training, Red Rye PA is no doubt the best rye IPA on the market (and I will physically fight you if you say otherwise. Seriously, grab a 2×4 and meet me behind your parent’s house), and Double Trouble turned my head Beetlejuice style, for about 5-6 minutes. But there was one more that I had yet to try – the gem of our 4 beer panel this week: Devil Dancer Triple IPA. Just wait, I’m getting there.
For our tasting panel, we selected 4 amazingly diverse styles. We tried to have no beers overlap because we wanted to savor the magnificent diversity of….NAY! we just had dumb luck and it worked out that way. Hooray random success; boo excess beer terms. The board: Cerise Cherry Fermented Ale, Porter, Devil Dancer Triple IPA and 2010 Nemesis. We proceed.
This one had caught my attention during a press release earlier this Summer. The beer was marketed as a “cherry fermented ale” which to me screamed “something like a kriek.” I could have not been further from actuality. I have read many that say that the beer has a slight tartness and soft fruity aroma and flavor. I’m just not there.
I had the Cerise once back in Ohio when it was fresh from the case and again during this panel, about 2 months from purchase. The first tasting opportunity brought a very rich fruit flavor that mimicked cherry soda; the panel tasting was straight blush wine. I believe that the first tasting was more of what they were going for, a fruity summery ale that packed a lot of cherry blast. Our panel version might simply have been the victim of skunk. It was interesting to see that much change in only 55 days or so, but worse things have happened.
Its not easy to diss an offering from your favorite brewer – but skip this one. I think that increasing the tartness with a wild yeast might add something to this guy, but right now its a straight fruit beer that gets easily agitated.
Again, I have danced with this guy before. Once upon a time, I was dying of heat exhaustion after trouncing the streets of Washington DC in 99 degree weather. Lugging my baggage for 5 hours had left me screaming for a beer, and as always, I plead for something new and mind-bending.
We came across Pizzeria Paradisio in Dupont Circle and had heard of its lore. A dedicated pizza and alehouse, they offered some damn good choices across the board. One of those, was this guy – Founders Porter. I placed myself in a bubble, blocked out the heat and grabbed a pint from the tap. Delicious. One of the greatest, most complex porters that I have ever seen, smelled or tasted.
Our panel got to sample a bit of the goods. As I lifted the hood on this dark, sexy vessel of black grog, it exploded all over the place (not sure if this is sexual innuendo…still mulling it over). The beer had either been primed too much or aggressively disturbed during storage and retrieval – we shall never know. But, the beer had a much more aerated body this time around, and I like the subtle difference in how it affects the flavors.
The mass of chocolate and rich caramelized sugar prevails in this guy. This is a meal in a glass and a no-brainer for any dark beer fanatic. Get this one.
Devil Dancer Triple IPA.
The lore of this beer runs rampant. Rumors of its existence had plagued me for days, months,.. ok thats it. But still, I wanted it. When I got the call that the final bottle available at our favorite Cleveland shop had been acquired – I literally shot out of my pants. Devil Dancer: how I have waited for this dance.
The beer opens perfectly and with a moderate carbonation and maximum aroma that almost blows my eyes into their sockets. The beer pours with flawless orange-auburn hue and a slight head. We can dig in quickly.
The scent is explosive and I wonder what the hop bill must have looked like. This puppy is packing 112 IBUs and 12% alcohol, but the floral aroma hides the fermented wonder inside the bottle. Devil Dancer is an exploration through hop science. 10 different types of cones dry-hop this mother over the course of 26 days, to reach hop maxim. Though the malt bill is designed to allow the hops to prevail, they aren’t absent from the beer. I taste a simple butterscotch or caramel flavor that gives this monster some balance.
The resins alone will baffle you. Buy every bottle you see, inject them with formaldehyde (don’t do this) and preserve them for yourself. Seriously, don’t share.
What an amazing name eh? I think about this now and I say: “what’s my nemesis?” and “Is the beer trying to be the drinker’s nemesis, or its own nemesis?” Yep, we go that deep.
If I had to create a beer that had to be its own nemesis, I think that I would try to pack as many aromatic malts and the brightest hops in a bottle and add a psychotically active yeast. That’s the ticket. Lets see who wins! Hahaha (morbid laugh). Well, that’s not my own creative brilliance, because I think that is exactly what they did.
Nemesis is classified as a dark barleywine and we had some disagreement about this nomenclature. One of us called it an imperial stout (its black and 12%); one said it was a crazy ole ale (it has a ridiculous aged malt flavor) and I called it a hoppy barleywine (its 100 IBUs). Whatever you call it – you should make sure to use the adjective “spectacular” because this beer is a gauntlet of flavor.
The beer pours a deep black with almost no head. Its thick like maple syrup and has a mild burnt sugar scent. The beer develops from the first sip to the swallow, starting bitter and ending with a furious “I just ate a meal of pancakes” syrupy swarm. As the beer warmed up, I noticed that the hops became more noticeable and I thought it was a great touch. The beer somewhat resembled a dark roasty version of Avery Brewing’s Hog Heaven, though more complex and inevitably better.
If you read anything above, you can guess my recommendation. Get it.
When we do these panels, we like to think about the brewer. Each brewer has a story behind its operation; its location, history, culture and its message are oh so important to the beer’s delivery. So, when I thought about which Michigan musician’s music would best espouse the Founders Brewing delivery – the Silver Bullet smacked me in the face.
For decades, Bob Seger has developed a musical sound that it fights for relevance, meets the needs of the everyday man, and yet strives to remain timeless with its unique character. Seger and Founders each fought from the trenches for relevance and after many years in the game, find themselves just as beloved as the day their first single (bottle) hit the market.
For me, they are both beloved because they each speak to the common man’s desire for something to love. With Seger, it was “working on those night moves” and for Founders, its working on those complex romances that fit in a glass. Kudos to you both for making Michigan proud and the rest of us happy rock & roll infused beer fanatics.
So, we promised a lot of new articles this week. I especially promised to have a Walking Man Brewing review up by today. But alas, there were some magical developments last night that prevented me from visiting the computer to do a write up.
As you might know, two of our Beer Blotter writers are brewing beers on a home system that they created a few months back.
The product is beginning to flow and we decided to drag you along for the ride. We also believe that our readers can be an excellent source for information on brewing and bettering your finished product. So please give it a read and chime in if you have any info to help us.
The Event & The Opportunity.
Last night, our famed kickball team was forced to forfeit a game after our editor was injured by a bit of excessive play on the other side. Luckily, both teams are forfeiting – and deservedly so for that team. Best of luck to our editor as she overcomes her mild head injury. Get better Jess!
Anyways, the early departure allowed us to return home to find our good friend Timperial Stout, home from a day of brewing Lazy Boy Brewing‘s Imperial IPA (cannot wait to try this!). Tim and I decided to unearth the fermentors that we deposited in the basement a few weeks back – and sample our first batch of beer.
We had truly feared contamination after a troubling conclusion to our first brewing experience with the new half-barrel system that we built. Our chilling process was exacerbated, our yeast measurements were shoddy at best and our transfer process was forced to happen after-dark, causing all types of concerns.
We also had tons of problems keeping solids from entering the boil, which made the wort a bit earthy. We have since developed better techniques to prevent solid insurgence.
The Beer Recipe.
For our inaugural beer, we chose a nice solid, summery IPA. We wanted to keep the hop profile simple, yet tasty. We also selected a malt mix that focused on one type of pale malt, but a lot of it to reach an optimal range of 7% alcohol by volume. This beer includes crystal malt, cara-pils, and pale malt. The hop list includes Magnum, Cascade and an abundance of Amarillo.
The Result. Beer.
We racked the fermentor and slid a small portion of the beer down into a pitcher. The beer had stopped bubbling and fermenting several days prior, so we were concerned we were a bit late on racking. But I recently read an article that shows that leaving the beer on the yeast a bit longer has a marginal impact on the beer’s taste.
I take a whiff first – it smells like beer. Nothing incredible about the nose, but it smells a bit skunky, though not overwhelmingly so.
Then I take a sip, convinced that the smell was encouraging. First take: not bad, not at all. Second take: I actually enjoy this beer. I take another deep smell and a big sip, swishing the beer around my mouth. I am met with strong tones of sweetness, hefty bitterness and a deep fruity finish. I am a happy man.
We took some measurements. Our original gravity was 1.066 and we finished at 1.012, exactly as we had set out to do. The ABV rang in at about 7.1%, again what we were looking to do. The color was a nice golden copper (probably a 7 on most charts) and the clarity was above average. The amount of unfiltered residue was minimal as well.
We were seriously surprised on the finished color and clarity, especially after we had termed the beer as “Pond Scum IPA” during the brewing process. The beer seemed to really clear up throughout fermentation.
The Remaining Dilemmas.
So, we are ready to drink the 8-9 gallons that we yielded (a poor yield, but we’ll get better). But the goal is to correct some of the common problems that many Seattle home brewers probably face:
(1) How do we chill the wort with a hose temperature of 78 degrees!?
Using an immersion chiller is difficult in Seattle. Our ground water is only about 78 degrees, which is higher than what we want to chill the beer to. This time, it took about 1.5 hours to get it chilled. Thats dangerous.
(2) How do we manage the yeast?
We are using recycled brewery liquid yeast (thanks to great friends). Because of this, we need to find a good way to (a) determine the amount of active yeast particles in the liquid and (b) figure out how much is needed for our batch.
We will continue to work and figure this stuff out – but Beer Blotter’s 1st Anniversary party is this November and we plan on brewing our own beer for the big extravaganza. So, any help from you brewer readers out there is greatly appreciated.
***Today’s post comes to us from our good friend Mark Leavens, former brewer from the Gilligans Brewing outfit. Though Gilligans has shut down, Mark still home brews on a large scale and is planning some big things for the future. Mark has been invited to share beer stories on occasion at BeerBlotter.com.***
If you were listening closely enough on June 17th you would have heard Alice Cooper’s voice wailing, ‘Schoooooollls out for EVER’ at Schooner Exact Brewing Company. Minus black eye liner, fake blood, and necks being constricted by boas, this marked the day Schooner Exact owners Heather and Matt McClung officially ended their teaching careers to focus solely on brewing beer to share with us thirsty folk. But just because they are through with teaching, don’t expect Schooner Exact to stop schooling us with their beer!
After three and a half years of bouncing from an ActivSpace (f@#! them, see history of Gilligan’s Brew Co. and Two Beers Brew Co.) garage, to a shared warehouse space with Trade Route Brewing Co. in South Park, Schooner Exact has finally landed their own space in the SODO district of Seattle and upgraded to a 15 barrel brewing system!
A couple of friends and I had the opportunity to stop by their tap house/brewery the other day to congratulate Heather and Matt for quitting their day jobs. I assure you though, the kids will be fine. I’m a substitute teacher.
Located just south of the West Seattle Bridge/Spokane St. on 1st Ave. S., and just north of the bridge over the train tracks, Schooner Exact is admittedly not an easy place to reach for those of us living north of downtown. However, with sandwich boards labeled ‘BEER!’ set up out front, we knew exactly where to steer our bikes.
A huge loading dock covered with picnic tables provided ample outdoor seating and an appropriate entryway to beer school. With the 12’ tall loading door open, the brand new taproom seemed massive and yet very welcoming, especially with Heather at the helm behind the bar.
The tap list consisted of the Schooner Exact classics 3-Grid IPA, Regrade Pale Ale and Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen, which were accompanied by their Gateway Golden, King St. Brown, Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat, and the infamous and award-winning Hoppy the Woodsman rounding out the lot. Teacher approved, these tap handles formed a superb single file line down the hallway of awesomeness.
Not wanting to jump right into the 9.6% ABV bourbon barrel aged Woodsman, I decided to start light and crisp with the easy drinking Golden Ale. If proposed with the proposition, I would have gladly consumed this pint of gold heaven all night long while partying at the moon tower, but there were more options to douse my taste buds that day, so it was time to move on to the malty rich Brown. Comprised of a blend of chocolate and special Belgian malts, this silky smooth ale slithered down the pipe while leaving a satisfyingly sweet finish with the palate.
Speaking of pipes, apparently if one is adventurous enough or at least willing to try something once, Heather and Matt will gladly serve up the ‘Shocker.’ This concoction is two parts pink (Raspberry Wheat), one part Brown and will leave you all tingly inside.
I didn’t get shocked or do any shocking this particular day, but I probably wouldn’t tell you that much about my personal life anyhow, so I’m just going to change the subject and let you decide whether or not to pull out, or should I say, put in the ‘shocker.’ By the way, the raspberry wheat was as thick and delicious as a wheat beer should be and had a strong fruity aroma.
So anyway, to contrast the sweetness it was time to part the cheeks, er, I mean open the mouth and hop away. 3-Grid IPA. Exceptional! This well-balanced brew is one of my favorite IPA’s being brewed in Seattle right now. It’s a must try for someone who prefers an IPA where the bitterness doesn’t destroy your sense of what anything else tastes like.
But for those hop heads out there, let it be known that Matt and his new brewing partner Dave ‘Hutch’inson (formerly of the Rogue Issaquah brewery and Georgetown Brewing) are putting out a series of experimental Imperial IPA’s, with the most recent one being called the ‘Virgil Gamachinator.’ Brewed with a ton of citrusy Amarillo hops, this behemoth rounds out at 87 IBU’s and 9% ABV! Find it and drink it.
To remind us again that beer school was still in session, Matt brought out the bourbon barrel aged Hoppy the Woodsman. Enter ‘giddy like a little school girl’ line. First introduced to me at the 2008 Winter Beer Fest, this brew has won 1st and 3rd place in back-to-back years of pouring at Hale’s. It has officially put the former high school chemistry teacher and Schooner Exact on the brewing podium while putting their beer on tap all over Seattle.
Go see and taste for yourself. You WILL be schooled!
I don’t anything about home brewing. Its a fact.
Ok, well its a partial fact. Subjectively, many would say I know nothing about home brewing – and I would never argue. The extent of my knowledge comes from a half-cocked reading of Charlie Papazian’s Complete Guide to Home Brewing. Good book, little absorption without action.
So its time to take a numbskull, absolutely overdue step and put together a system. How do I do it? Where do I go?
Well people like to talk about the internet these days. Apparently its a resource. We start and end the bulk of our daily research at the world wide web, without knowing the reliability of our sources. But this is a reader powered world. Content produced by bloggers is tangible and it makes sense. So I decided to trust my instincts and start with a Google search bar.
Here are some quick flash in the pan ideas, my research and my proposed result. In the end, I’d love it if you would share your feelings about these proposals in our comments below.
What is Home Brewing?
There is a must read: the aforementioned Papazian brewer’s bible – The Complete Guide to Home Brewing. Get the book, read it and then begin your search for additional questions online.
Charlie is a teacher. In that respect, he knows exactly how far to push you before you begin to ask questions. His writing is simple, basically scientific, and practical.
But what really would help is a starter system as you peruse the book. If you have a friend that has a stove top system, I would implore you to read a chapter and then go and dabble. Translating the words into tangible actions will make the experience better – I can almost guarantee.
Once you have a better understanding of brewing basics – peruse the web for answers. The Home Brewers Association has a nice website; so does Basic Brewing Radio, who offers a podcast. All it takes is Google and a search term.
How Do I Build My Own Brewery?
Lets not get too excited. Building a “brewery” is not simple. I thought it might be – I was a bit rambunctious.
Take it slow and do not over invest if you do not have to do it. Do not simply think about how much beer you can make – but the cost of ingredients, how it will be fermented, where it will be fermented and how it will be stored. Answering these follow up questions will dictate the type of system that you build.
For me – the converted sankey keg system was the perfect size. This system will allow us to brew 12 gallons a beer each brewing session.
Converted kegs are relatively easy to construct. Homebrew Heaven, in Everett, Washington took our old kegs, cut the tops, added gauge portals and spigots and returned them to us in just a week. Oh yeah – and we got a nice lid for the kettle.
There are three main types of converted keg systems:
(1) 3 Tier System (Gravity Based With No Pumps)
(2) RIMS (Recirculating Infusion Mash System)
(3) HERMS (Heat Exchange Mash System)
Each system has its pluses and minuses, based mainly on the battle between cost and ease of use. You can read more about it at this nice online debate.
The optimal type of keg system is wholly dependent on you, your budget and your stress level. For us, we have decided to go inexpensive, and easily alterable. Thus, we will be building a wooden three tier structure that can easily be obtained, built, modified and tossed out if we decided to upgrade.
A gravity system allows us to focus more on the brewing process (ingredients, temperature, variables) and not the equipment (pumps, hoses, etc.). Though it would be nice to be afforded all of the convenience, love and sex appeal of a single level RIMS or HERMS system – we are going basic.
How Do I Build My Brewing Structure?
Well, lets assume that I want to make a 3 tier structure. I do, so this is easy.
We need to first determine whether or not we will be able to weld this sucker. If so, great. If not, no big deal – wood exists. There is a growing misconception that only metal racks will suffice. Unfortunately, metal racks mostly require welding (or good tools to bore holes/cut pieces), are extremely heavy and get really hot. A wooden structure can solve most of these problems, as it is lighter, more easily fastened and dammit – more appealing to most.
But what about the fire hazard? Do not worry about the heat. Find yourself a nice diagram and you will see that heat is projected upward. Get yourself a nice burner (see below) and you will see that it is mostly shielded, keeping heat inside.
To add extra protection, you can fasten sheets of 3/4 inch plywood below the burners to prevent heat from escaping towards your structure. You can also add a sheet of metal to the bottom of your burner that can be spaced off the plywood using washers. This allows a nice air vent between the wood on your structure and your burner’s bottom.
What Type of Heating System?
There are systems (like HERMS) that do not require gas/propane heat sources. If you go that route, you likely do not need to read this article. You probably are more ambitious than me.
Again, we aim to keep it simple. If you are using a normal gas/propane heating system, you want to make sure you have adequate burners. Lets discuss some of these options.
Bayou Classic is the leader in outdoor propane burners. They make systems from anywhere between 25000 BTU (British Thermal Unit – measurement of heat) to north of 200000 BTU!
Other burner outfits like King Kooker make similar products, but they do not seem to be as well received by the brewing community (though there are always those who swear by them).
But there is clearly a consensus that the Bayou Classic Kick A Banjo Cooker is the best burner on the market. Kicking out a mind-bending 210000 BTU from a 10 inch cooking surface, the Banjo Cooker can get your pot boiling in half the time of more conventional cookers and even has a 30 PSI regulator that makes high pressure brewing a reality.
For those of you ambitious folks, the Kick A Banjo Burner can be purchased as the burner only for roughly $25.00-40.00 out on the web. You can buy these burners if you intend to weld the burner into your upscale brewing rig. For us, the stand-alone version with the add on regulator does the trick at $70.00-80.00 a piece.
Get 1, 2 or 3. If you get three – awesome. If you can only afford 2, ditch the mash tun burner and turn out a quickly boiled liquor tank and kettle wort. If you can only get one, best to use it on the liquor tank so that you can get your sparging water to boiling temp in no time.
How Do I Make a Beer?
Once you have your system screwed together, your new converted kegs cleaned and ready to roll, and your burners fired up – we need to make beer. Well, I already told you that I am not an expert so I’m on that same road with you. Luckily I have been traveling down that road for some time and found a few nice guides to help you make a tasty beer.
The Brewing Network – This is a collection of beer brewing recipes, tips, techniques and how to’s. Its definitely the location of my primary resource – once we begin brewing. Its repertoire includes the Jamil Show (read below), Brew Strong and Sunday Meet. Check out the podcast on developing your own yeasts!
Beer Recipes.Org – Amazing mass of beer recipes from around the world. Not much else to say here – there are a ton.
Beer Recipator – This website is very useful if you have to convert a lot of things for batch size, metric units, etc.
Homebrew Chef – Sean Paxson makes awesome food with amazing beer. His food recipes are unmatched and if you get the opportunity to eat at one of his beer dinners – do it. Sean also publishes interesting beer recipes that both look good and can be easily understood. Check out the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA clone recipe he published. Yes, please.
The Jamil Show – The Jamil Show is probably my favorite read on brewing recipes. Its also the source of the 120 Minute IPA recipe above. Each week award winning homebrewer and author Jamil Zainasheff, along with co-host Jon Plise, covers a specific beer from a well-known brewer – and tries to clone it. Wow – cloning Nogne Porter?!
Remember, your local homebrew shop has a ton of recipes as well. Check them out when you go to pick up your ingredients.
I hope that you all foray into homebrewing soon. Please let us know if you have any additional information that might help us as we begin our own journey. Leave any comments below!