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Merry Christmas to ME

15 Dec

YEAH!

A quick stroll into Oliver’s Brew Crew here in Albany led to my jaw dropping to the floor, followed by wide eyes and most likely a skip or two.  There in front of me was the holiday beer display.  What my eyes focused on amongst the plethora of red, green, malt and hops was Anchor’s Christmas Ale” Magnum.

$17 for a bottle of beer that has few rivals in size.  This guy could be the mutant cousin of a normal-sized wine bottle.  I’m serious, a person could rob a bank with a bottle like this.

I haven’t opened it yet as I am waiting for a time that I am doing something festive for the holidays.  As soon as I try it I will make it the beer of the day and let you know what I thought.

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!

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!

 

 

My Overdue Oktoberfest Post

24 Oct

We are pushing three weeks since I volunteered my Saturday to work at Wolff’s Biergaarten for their 2nd annual Oktoberfest celebration.  My bad on not posting sooner, [insert lame excuse here.]

I volunteered to help out at this event and I recommend anyone who likes: beer, sausage, German folk music, cool free stuff, or any combination of these things to strongly consider it next year.  I went in for 5 hours of working security.  However, it wouldn’t be fair for them to put me in a situation where I would be responsible for checking IDs because they would seriously loose their liquor license if I were an idiot (which, let’s face it: I am.)  So, I really didn’t do anything all day.  For a while I stood behind the food tent watching to make sure people didn’t try to sneak in through a parking lot (no one did.)  BONUS: I got some free eats from the chefs working because I helped them break down boxes and carry a cooking range.  Later on in the day I was just walking around the bar area.  Literally, they told me that it makes the bartenders feel better if there is someone walking around amongst the crowd (surely a false sense of security because if you have seen me I am not intimidating and my first thought in a violent situation is to run.)

What was my reward for all of this ‘work?’  A $50 dollar gift certificate for the Biergaarten, two Wolff’s T-shirts, a meal voucher for Oktoberfest, 2 beer tokens for the event, and a glass Spaten stein.  Talk about a bargain.

My only complaint about the event was that a lot of people were there.  It took a while to get a beer, and people were kind of douche-y about waiting in lines.  A few righteous bros thought that they were entitled to not having to wait for their beers so they barged through the patient, relaxed, fun-having crowd.  Number one: are those aviator sunglasses really necessary indoors, and number two: I hope you choke on your beer.

For the most part everyone was relaxed and quite pleasant.  The employees I worked with at Wolff’s were fun and I am happy to give Wolff’s my business.  If you haven’t checked the Biergaarten out yet, then you may be wasting time in the capital region.

wasting precious "beer-getting" time by posing for photos, also: sweet gloves.

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.

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.