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Porter vs Stout (what’s the difference?)

16 Dec

I am asked semi-frequently to give the difference between these two beer styles.  I believe that as people get more open to venturing into craft beer that they first stumble upon ales and then gradually work their way into darker brews.  Before this point when someone is just curious about darker beers they seem to have trouble distinguishing the different styles.

The large problem that leads to this confusion in style is that the style of both porters and stout are evolving and changing.

Porter originated from the mixture of a dark beer with a medium bodied one that was typically enjoyed by Englishmen with the professions of being Porters.  Mixing beers to get a desired taste was common practice around British pubs at the time and one combination grew in popularity.  This popularity grew at an alarming rate and at the right time in history.  England was just experiencing it’s Industrial Revolution and the world was quickly introduced the first mass-market beer: the porter.

The malts used in both porter and stout overlap considerably.  Each brewer, however, making porter has their own malt-bill that was different from other brewer’s.  Pale malt was typically used as the base, and from there only a few options remained: crystal malt, black-patent malt, chocolate malt.  Each brewer had a unique combination as well as a unique amount of each malt to be used.  This led to many different recipes that all made porter.  What made the distinction between porter and stout was the use of roasted barley.

Stout used the same malts as porter, for the most part.  The use of roasted barley, however, was generally restricted for stouts.  This was all well and fine until around the end of the 20th century.

A craft beer revolution began in the United States, as we all know.  Homebrewer’s were being inspired from European exports and started going “big-time” with their brews.  At this time recipes were being played with and new beers were coming to be: beers that didn’t fit traditional European style-guides.  This is part of what is beautiful about American craft brewing: it is an ever-changing and evolving world creating new and creative beers.  With this came a new change to the porter: the introduction of roasted barley.

End products of porter and stout created using roasted barley are still two very different things, however.  A new distinction was put in place, so that any porter made using roasted barley was to be called a “robust porter.”

Since the malt-bills are so similar in these two styles, their flavors often are similar.  I think that the only real distinction we are left with is that porters tend to be a little hoppier than stouts, and that is all I can really say as far as the difference.  The flavors will mostly be the same, porters will still tend to be a little lighter, more brown in color, and with hoppier profiles.

I don’t know if this really helps anyone out at all, just drink some porters and stouts and let me know the difference, you will be able to tell.

Pale Ale Brewing Adventure Part 3: The Finale

14 Dec

Forgive my use of flash but my apartment has some of the worst lighting for photographs at night.

Well, just as hoped:  I successfully created beer.

I was surprised with my results:

I predicted that the beers that would go wrong would be the pumpkin ale and the IPA.  The grapefruit beer I had no way of really knowing what to expect with and the pale ale I thought would be pretty solid.

The pumpkin ale is delicious.  The 1 gallon batch only yielded a small amount of beer do the large amount lost from sediment.  The final product still has a lot of sediment in it even after pouring from the bottle straight through a wire mesh into my pint glass.  The taste is full of strong pumpkin flavors with light spices.  I am fairly satisfied with this brew, though I would definitely do some tweaking before attempting it again.

The IPA did not turn out very strong.  It tastes different from the pale ale, but not in a good way.  I am pretty sure that adding the additional cascade hops during the secondary introduced some new yeast/microbes.  I feared this, but at the same time not enough to prevent it.  The beer is drinkable and fortunately I do not have a lot of it to get through.

The grapefruit beer is very interesting.  It is alarmingly bitter but the malt provide a subtle balance of sweetness.  I don’t want to give the impression that this is a complex beer: it is straight grapefruit flavor punching you in the tongue.  It’s weird, and could use some tweaking in future batches but it is interesting enough to try and doesn’t make for a bad beer at all.

The pale ale was surprisingly nice.  Nothing spectacular, it is very typical and doesn’t overpower or shock in any way.

Overall, this experiment should be labeled a success.  I got to try out breaking a recipe up and altering secondary fermentations to make some unique beers.  This was a good first batch that could lead to some nice beers with changes made in the future.

Pale Ale Brewing Adventure [part 2]

24 Nov

My pale ales have completed their primary fermentation stages and are ready to be re-racked for their secondary.

The pumpkin ale has maintained it’s pumpkin aroma and a beautiful orange hue, however, we added a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice for some added flavors.  A lot of this beer has been sacrificed to sediment, and after re-racking to a new fermentor we had what seemed like a half gallon left.

The 4 gallon batch of pale ale has gone it’s separate ways for the secondary: 1 gallon to become grapefruit ale, 1 gallon to be an IPA, and 2 gallons to remain pale ale.  The grapefruit flavor was added by means of a fruit extract.  We only added half of the container we purchased for fear of making our beer too bitter or overpowering.  The IPA got some wet cascade hops thrown in to impart some citrusy-hop flavors.  Lastly, the 2 gallons of pale ale was simply re-racked and left unaltered.  The secondary for this batch will add clarity to the beer, but probably not much of anything new as far as flavor.

After another week of fermenting these beers were ready to be bottled.  At this point sugar is added to the beer then it is capped and allotted time to carbonate.  The final result was 3 large bottles of our pumpkin ale, about ten beers each of the grapefruit and IPA variations and around 20 bottles of straight-up pale ale.

On the 30th our beer will be ready to drink.  At the time of bottling we tasted the IPA and the grapefruit ale.  The grapefruit ale was very interesting: the first sip tasted peppery and buttery, as you continued to sip, however, the citrus taste began to come through.  Over all this one was quite bitter and will hopefully take on enough sweetness during bottle conditioning.  The IPA was nice, the added hop flavors were subtle and the beer tasted balanced and not too overpowering.  I look forward to trying them all at the end of the month, look for a post on the results!

Patience

19 Nov

It seems that instances of automotive crisis in my life are often paired with great beer moments (see September’s post Near Disaster Turned Milestone.)  The other night my car was towed (If I was blocking your driveway  I am truly sorry and I was unaware that I was doing so) and hence the following morning I had an ordeal when trying to get to work.  Those of you fortunate enough to have never had this happen should know that it is a pretty costly offense and certainly put a damper on my day.

On my way home that evening I stopped to buy some porter to cook dinner with at Oliver’s on Colvin and ran into a day-changer:

Estate Ale hits Albany, NY, and more importantly: my refrigerator.

Finally, Sierra Nevada’s Estate Ale has made it’s way to Upstate NY.  If you are unfamiliar with the premise of this brew, let me fill you in: it is probably the most environmentally friendly beer on the market.  Every ingredient in this beer is grown at Sierra Nevada’s brewery, they have also invested in solar power, fuel cells, recycling of materials and spent grains, etc.  For more info check out their website: Sierra Nevada’s Environmental Stewardship.

The beer is a little more cash than your average larger bottle of beer, but well worth it.  It is a wet-hopped ale: hops are added before they have been dried, resulting in hop flavor without as much bitterness.  This beer was a must-have for me and it certainly turned my day around, I recommend it to anyone curious to find a very ‘green,’ tasty beverage.

Pale Ale Brewing Adventure [part 1]

4 Nov

Last weekend I broke my ‘dry spell’ and brewed some beer in my apartment.  I didn’t brew all summer and am currently running dangerously low on my homebrews, so it was out of necessity and was easily made part of my Halloween festivities alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Nosferatu.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to go over the brewing process, so this post will be part entertainment and part informational (if you are worried about learning things then feel free to skim.)  It seems necessary to give a quick break down of the essential steps to homebrewing just to avoid confusion later on:

Note: this is in super lamens-terms. It is very important to sanitize all equipment used during the brewing process: beer is crafted by microbes, but we only want a select few of these little fellas in our drinks.  Sanitizing all equipment is essential.

Roughly, in order to brew beer you boil malt, grains, hops and a great variety of other ingredients at a controlled temperature for a certain duration of time.  Each ingredient will enter the mix at a certain time, and playing with these times, in addition to the quantity of any ingredient plays with the flavor of the beer.  At this stage of brewing (the hot, bubbly pot of breakfast cereal smelling goodness stage) what you have in the pot is called a “wort.”  After all ingredients have been added and their allotted time in the wort expired the boil must be terminated (the beer has taken on enough flavors and needs to stop taking on erroneous tastes or aromas.)

There are different methods for this chilling process: we use a wort chiller (a length of copper tubing that runs in a coil that you set into your bucket of wort.  Run cold water through it and watch your temperature drop) in addition to chilled, clean water we add to also cool the wort down in a more timely manner.  A typical homebrew recipe is geared towards making 5 gallons of beer per session (let’s face it, most home operations can’t really handle much more than that.)  Your wort will be significantly less than 5 gallons, however.  Part of our chilling strategy is also adding water to the wort in order to reach 5 gallons of product.

After a stable temperature of around 70 degrees F has been reached, the yeast is pitched, the fermentation bucket is sealed and the beer goes into it’s primary fermentation.  Each fermentor is fitted with an air lock: yeast is a living thing that generates gas.  This gas must be allowed to escape, or your enterprise could end in tragedy (it’s also neat because it seems like the beer is talking to you as it bubbles out the air lock.)  Depending on your recipe or desired outcome, after the primary fermentation your beer may be ready for bottling, or you may wish to enter it into a secondary period of fermentation.

That’s a rough breakdown of brewing, it may make more sense with an example: take my latest session.

I recently purchased 4, one gallon sized jugs in which to ferment my brew from NorthernBrewer.com.  This may seem out of order, but it is important to tell you the nature of the beer I brewed.  I took a book out of my own library and used a Pale ale recipe as my base for this adventure.  So, overall I am yielding 5 gallons of Pale Ale, however, now that I own the smaller fermentation jugs I can make several different variations of this Pale Ale base during the secondary fermentation stage.  My plan was to brew a one gallon batch of beer using the pale ale recipe, but adding pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice to the wort.  I would then brew a seperate 4 gallon batch of the same pale ale recipe (sans pumpkin) and let that beer go through it’s primary fermentation.  At the end of the primary stage of fermentation, the one gallon pumpkin ale will get transferred to another container in order to continue aging and gain clarity, while the 4 gallon batch has a whole different experience coming.   2 gallons of the 4 will be unadulterated as a control for the pale ale recipe as I have never used this recipe previously.  Of the two remaining gallons, one will get an insane amount of cascade hops added for the secondary fermentation, and the other gets a shot or so of a grapefruit flavoring I bumped into at the supply store.  This may taste like absolute garbage when all said and done, and I’m okay with that.  I know that I will at least have 2 gallons of drinkable pale ale.

Unsettled Pumpkin Ale right after sealing the fermentor.

My strategy towards making beer is to add first, measure later.  My girlfriend’s father said it best, “if the Vikings can make beer then you can probably do it too.”  I don’t know the outcome of adding any amount of these ingredients so for my first time through I basically eye-balled it.  My pumpkin ale may have had too much pumpkin added to it for the amount of liquid in the wort.

I have never made a pumpkin ale before and I am a little past the season for it, but I wanted to try it and I don’t really see any problems with enjoying a pumpkin brew around Thanksgiving.

Here you can see the pumpkin, malt and hops sediment settling at the bottom of the glass jug. This seems like an unnatural amount. : /

During the fermentation process it is very important to keep the beer at a constant temperature of about 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Additionally, as we know bacteria grows best in dark places, so you have to cover your fermentation container in order to protect your beer from light sources.

I purchased my ingredients this time around from HammerSmithHomebrew.  The cashier/part-owner was incredibly friendly and very helpful.  He may have been more excited about me brewing than I was (and that is really saying something.)  I recommend this supply store (they also have wine-making kits and equipment as well as everything you would need to make your own soda.

On Monday the pumpkin ale gets transferred to it’s secondary fermentor, and on Tuesday the 4 gallon batch gets divided up and made into separate beers.  Then it’s just one more week and I can bottle my beers.  They should be ready just in time for Thanksgiving.  Look for posts at each of the above steps and I will keep information updated about these brews as they come to be.

it... is... alive!

I hope that this made any kind of sense.  Brewing beer is a very scientific art that I am far from mastering or even cracking the surface of.  However, it is incredibly fun and I don’t think anyone is incapable of doing it.

One last note: I also did this during my Halloween weekend:

lick it up, lick it up!

 

 

Ommegang Tasting

29 Sep

While many a foolish soul was at Larkfest in Albany, NY my friends and I were at a different, much smaller venue enjoying an overlooked event: an Ommegang tasting at Oliver’s on Colvin Ave.

Wes Nick laying down beer law

I was secretly hoping that not a lot of people would be at this tasting when I got there.  I am unsure as to how many in total turned out for it, as it was not widely advertised.  Ommegang has become one of my favorite brewery’s because of, well it’s beer and it’s proximity to the capital region.

One of their evening brewer’s, Wes Nick, was on hand and happily pouring samples of Rare Vos, Three Philosophers, Hennepin, Bier de Mars and their newest creation: Cup ‘o Kyndness.  Wes was proud to announce and boast of their bronze medal taken home from the Great American Beer Festival the week before for Three Philosophers, as well as thrilled when we were delighted by the floral qualities of Bier de Mars.

Oliver’s (Brew Crew) is a beverage center located in Albany that needs to be checked out by anyone in the area who is serious about craft beer.  They have a surprisingly good selection of American microbrews as well as European imports.  Additionally, they also have 5-6 beers on tap for you to top off your growler for a pretty reasonable price.  They are a good stop for someone wanting to try a selection of beers: they offer a make-your-own 6 pack and knock three dollars of the total price just for making your own.

Solutions from the Technological Age

24 Sep

Arguably the largest problem facing microbrewers is large corporate giants like Anheuser Busch InBev.  This problem shows itself not only in terms of marketing but also at a level at which the consumer has no input.  Laws vary from state to state, some states do not allow brewers to sell directly to consumers at any level, while other States allow to a certain point. In New York if you are a registered Microbrewer then you are elgible to apply for a distributor’s license.  This licesnse will allow you to self distribute 60,000 bbl per year.  To put that into perspective: a small brewery as recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau sells a minimum of 2,000,000 bbl annually, a feat the Boston Beer company (Samuel Adams) just surpassed.  In other words, to really get your beer out to the world you rely on a distributor.

Again, a problem: monster-sized breweries like Anheuser Busch have had dealings with large distributors for decades and are not afraid to show some muscle to keep microbreweries out of the distribution game.  So many people don’t want consumers to have good beer, haha.  This is a poor, uphill battle for the little guy that does not get easier at any point.  For the consumer it is frustrating to know that the beers you want won’t be coming to stores near you because large, corporate breweries don’t want you to have the option of drinking those good beers.

Several summers ago I took a trip to Alaska to visit family.  I tried out the Alaskan Brewing Company’s Amber and Summer Ales.  At the time I had little appreciation for craft beer, but it was growing on me.  Now that I have a more vested interest in beer and homebrewing I wanted to go back and try some other beers that the Alaskan Brewing Company puts out (particularly their award winning Smoked Porter) but I cannot get their beer.  My best bet would be to have my relatives in Fairbanks mail me a package and hope for the best in shipping.  On the breweries website, however, I found a link to a delightful solution that I wish to encourage others to use so that it may grow.

Brewforia (notice the new link on the right side of the site) is an online distributor dealing only with microbreweries and craft beer.  They do not have a lot as of yet, which is why I want to try and help get the word out there that they exist.  So, now I can order a bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter from NY and have it shipped to my house in Albany, NY.  So, check out the site and use it in hopes that word will spread and we can help level the playing field for the craft beer brewers.  Help the little guy and help good beer.

Another Burger Laid to Rest, Another Beer Enjoyed – Brown’s Brewing Company, Troy, NY

14 Sep

My Beacon in the Night

In my battle against hunger, thirst and the craving for the flavor and aroma of hops I found satisfaction in Brown’s Taproom, on River Street in Troy.  I had settled upon my destination but soon found myself caught in a feud of burger ownership from the City of Lakes, Minneapolis.  The Juicy Lucy, or Jucy Lucy, is a cheeseburger where cheese is cooked in the middle of the beef patty.  Two bars in Minneapolis both claim they were responsible for the creation of this burger, but I’m not picking sides: I am just enjoying Brown’s take on it.

Head chef, Paul Minbiole, has put together a very interesting menu for a Troy brewhouse: many of his creations involve beer made locally by Brown’s.  My burger, unfortunately did not contain any of their signature beers, but it was oozing with delicous boursin cheese.  What to pair with my rich, cheesy burger?  I used Brown’s Harvest I.P.A. (Beer of the Day on September 10th) because I gave in to temptation.  I can’t resist the idea of an I.P.A. made with hops that have been used in brewing a day after they are picked.

poor guy didn't have a chance...

I made short work of my burger and my beer was soon to follow.  If you live in the area and haven’t been to Brown’s then you should re-examine your priorities.  Even the building is cool: their taproom is an old brick building they saved and have re-worked to contain their brewery and pub.  I have to cut myself off because I will literally go on about how much I like this place for the rest of the day.  Just experience it for yourself.

Bloomington, Indiana’s Own Upland Brewery

9 Sep

I sometimes find myself in strange places during my travels.  My journey into the midwest ended in Bloomington, IN where I found a cove of good food and good beer.  I dined around town for two and half days but ate and drank every night at the same place: The Upland Brewery.

they're all good

My first stop included a chocolate cake made with their in-house Bad Elmer’s Porter.  It was late in the evening and we had spent the day figuring out academics at the local Indiana University’s campus so we capped it off after the cake.  The next day we stopped later in the afternoon for a sampler.  It included all of their year-round brews and I did not find one that I didn’t enjoy.  Obviously though, I did have my favorites: Bad Elmer’s Porter, Upland Wheat and the Rad Red Amber.  We visited in the middle of June so the Upland Wheat was everything we wanted: clean, crisp, refreshing and the draft of the day.  We left, explored downtown Bloomington, dealt with academic issues again and returned that night for dinner (we were addicted.)  I had a jalapeno burger with a spicy habenero sauce.  The burger was awesome, but even more awesome was how the Rad Red Amber cut through the beef and cut through the heat (Caramel malt with 100% American hops for a cleansing, flowery, citrus taste.)

On top of the food and brews what won me over on Upland was their practice.  Upland is potentially the most green and Earth-friendly brewery I have ever stumbled in or out of.  They donate proceeds of their Preservation Pilsner to saving local forests, they donate their spent grains to local farmers, and their brewery is fitted with solar panels and energy efficient lighting.

If you ever find yourself in Bloomington, Indiana with no idea where to eat, this is a must-stop.  The brewery was the highlight of my trip to the midwest.  Upland does everything in-house, EVERYTHING: even marketing and design.  To be honest, it shows.  I have seen worse websites (though not many) but that is one more thing to love about this brewery: it’s local people doing it all for themselves and the community they are a part of.  Check them out online, and if you get the chance, in person.  Upland Brewery

Spent Grains at the Upland Brewery

Beer Wars Movie Review

8 Sep

watch this, not the image, the movie.

Ultimately, this documentary brings up good points about beer in America, however, I have my criticisms.  Who am I to criticisize?  No one: just some guy who likes to brew, drink, buy beer, has made and been a part of documentaries and watches a good deal of them.  Do not get me wrong, as I am no authority on this and I do not claim to be.  Take what I say with a grain of salt.

Let’s start with the pros: the major problem in the pursuit of good beer in this country and the major focus of this film is Anheuser Busch.  This corporate giant is responsible for over 50% of all beer consumed in the United States and due to marketing and advertising strategies aims to dominate this market in every single way.  The other major problem this film hits upon is the issue of the odd relationship between brewer>distributor>customer.  Basically, a brewer is not allowed to sell beer straight to consumers, it has to be given to a distributor.  A real fact for this country is that Anheuser Busch, Miller and Coors own most distributors. In order for a craft brewer to get their product to consumers they must hitch a ride aboard one of the big three’s trucks.  These are two real problems and kudos to Anat Baron for bringing them to someone’s attention.

My main criticism is that the film seemed less focused than I wanted it to be.  Generally speaking I think the film took on too much.  This topic is incredibly large and, to be honest, based on the title of this movie the documentary could have been about any number of things.  Instead, it was a conglomerate of all of those potential ideas for a film which hit upon a few key ideas.  Because of this buckshot main idea the film is not terribly exciting:  my first attempt to get through it resulted in a nap.  (In the movie’s defense I started to watch it already being quite tired.)

I found some of the side stories touched upon in the film to be of more interest.  For example: the blind taste test in which loyal customers of the big three breweries could not identify their ‘favorite’ beer; the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, Sam Calgione, discussing his struggles and triumphs of opening and maintaining his business; or Rhonda Kallman’s struggles of getting her newest beer, Moonshot, off the ground.

This is a movie worth watching.  I think that I was expecting something different and I cannot really fault the film for my misinformed preconceptions.

Watch the movie.  (Beer Wars)  You decide, and tell me what you think.