Smuttynose Ry(e)an Ale
Jim, a longtime friend of mine, and I came to the realization that we’re both fairly serious beer geeks while talking beer in an internet forum and started tormenting each other with our respective selections of local beers. As he lives in Massachusetts and I’m in Georgia, there are a lot of beers that he has available to him that I don’t and vice versa. After a few back-and-forths about the subject, we decided to start swapping beers so that we could sample some of the finer brews that weren’t accessible in our respective home states. Today my first box arrived and, if the first beer is an indication of the other five, I think I definitely came out on the better end of the first swap.
If you happen to live in or around Georgia, you’re probably asking yourself, “WTF? Smuttynose is all over the place here!” You would be very correct in questioning my knowledge of beer distribution with one catch; While Smuttynose is indeed available in Georgia, this particular beer was brewed exclusively for Julio’s Liquors, which happens to be in Westborough, MA. From what I understand,it was an extremely limited brew and so far only two batches have been released. So, if you’re not near Julio’s or have a good friend to hook you up, you’re probably missing out on a great beer. Oops, should have tossed in a “SPOILER ALERT!” there…my bad.
Enough babble, on to the beer…
First off, let me put a disclaimer out there…I love rye beers (in case my love affair with Terrapin’s Rye Pale Ale wasn’t an indication) and I love barrel-aged beers. Naturally, putting the two together in one beer is on par with putting chocolate in peanut butter. I had high expectations for this beer on that combo alone and was not disappointed. It pours a deep mahogany reddish-brown with a fluffy off-white head. The aroma is a tantalizing combination of bourbon and vanilla, but not overbearing. Ah, but the taste…vanilla, oaky, bourbon, sweet stone fruit, that subtle rye spiciness and a nice warming finish with just a touch of alcohol in the nose. Not the beer I’d reach for on a warm summer’s day, but given the chilly weather we’ve had of late, I think it was a most excellent choice.
The only thing I can find to not like about this beer is that this is, in all likelyhood, the only bottle of it I’ll ever get my hands on. And that’s a crying shame. Clearly I’m going to have to dig deep into the stash to top this beer on the next swap.
Russian River Pliny the Elder
If you’re even a little bit of a beer geek, you’ve probably heard conversations that go like this: “Yeah, sure, that’s a good IPA, but it’s no Pliny.” Pliny this, Pliny that. It seems as though any IPA that comes out has to stand up against Pliny the Elder. Never mind the fact that unless you’re on the West Coast, getting your hands on Pliny is pretty damned difficult. See, Vinnie Cilurzo is a beer geek’s beer geek. He knows hoppy beers don’t travel well and he wants his creations to be enjoyed as they’re meant to be enjoyed; namely, fresh. So if you’re not within a day’s drive of the Russian River brewery, the odds of you getting your hands on one of their beers is pretty limited. Does the scarcity inflate the reputation? Perhaps. But there’s only one way to find out for sure.
Last week I had the (mis)fortune to travel to California on business. This was my second trip to the left coast and while I got skunked last time on my Pliny hunt, I was not going to be defeated this time. After some driving around, I finally managed to score a few bottles of the prized brew and was even able to sneak it home in my luggage without Delta smashing the bottles into bits. While I do enjoy my beers, the thought of having to wring it out of a weeks worth of dirty underwear was not appealing.
So…back to the hype. I’ve had my share of IPAs in my day. East Coast IPAs, West Coast IPAs, British IPAs, Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs…no IPA scares me anymore. I tried to pop the top on this bottle with an open mind, pushing aside all I had read in the past. I was greeted with a pleasant, but not overwhelming hop aroma emanating from the bottle. I was intrigued. I poured into the glass and was rewarded with even more hop aroma. At this point I was expecting a mouth full of shameless IBUs, but was surprised by a smooth, well thought out bitterness that, while definitely present, was pleasing and not overwhelming. Just enough sweetness to balance out the hoppiness, but not so much to make the beer filling. While I made my way through the bottle, I became increasingly impressed at the balance of the hops. I’m not saying it wasn’t really hop forward, because you bet your bippy it is, but it’s not a beer where the brewery just kept dumping in bales of hops for the sake of making a super-bitter beer. You could tell that every hop addition was there for a reason. A big charge up front for some serious bittering, some in the middle for flavor and a bunch at the end for an awesome nose. What impressed me even more was the fact that even though this beer clocks in at 8% ABV and who knows how many IBUs, by the time i could see the bottom of my glass I found myself wanting more. It finished really clean, not overpowering the palate nor making my gut feel like I just swallowed a glassful of syrup. All the hype aside, I could see myself happily drinking pints of this with regularity.
A wise man once said something along the lines of “A good beer is a beer that you don’t realize how good it is until you stand up.” If I had an evening to myself in California and an establishment that served Pliny on tap, I could absolutely see myself putting that adage to the test. All bullshit and bluster aside, I think this beer would definitely pass the test. Does it really live up to the hype? Yes. Is it really the best IPA out there? If it isn’t, it’s pretty damned close…it has certainly earned a Top Ten rating in my book. Definitely not a beer for everyone, but a beer that every beer geek should go out of his or her way to try at least once.
Terrapin/Left Hand Midnight Project - Peaotch
Yeah, yeah, been a bit quiet on this end for a while. Let’s just sum it all up and attribute it to me being a slacker and move along, k?
So here’s the latest in the series of collaborations between Terrapin Beer Company and Left Hand Brewing, the same duo that brought us Depth Charge (and need to bring it back again!). This one’s a bit different … while collaboration beers tend to be either a big stout or super-hoppy DIPA, Terrapin and Left Hand have brought us … a fruit beer.
Now, before you go asking to see my guy card, let me explain that this isn’t a beer that is flavored with fruit in an effort to hid the fact that what is in the glass is indeed beer. It’s not sweet or cloying, nor does it smell like an air freshener. While the aroma does hint strongly towards the peaches in the beer, it’s melded nicely with a slight hint of hop aroma. The flavor starts out with just a touch of sweetness, followed by the nice, fruity flavor of the peaches, and finishing with a nice touch of hop bitterness to round out the experience. Quenching and dry, this beer would have done nicely in the heat of the summer – not too heavy, not too sweet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great beer, but as the weather cools a bit, I find myself reaching for something a bit more substantial. Even though this beer clocks in at 7.2% ABV, you’d never know it…there’s not a hint of alcohol bite or heat in this beer.
If you’re after this beer, I strongly suggest you be out on the hunt for it now. The Midnight Project beers never seem to last long on shelves and this one has already been out for about a week. I’m not sure I’d consider this a beer to hoard, but I’d still recommend it, if for no other reason than it’s a bit out of the ordinary. It’s not Depth Charge, but then I don’t think that beer will ever meet its equal.
Cleaning the mash tun at Titletown Brewing Company
Normally my posts are more beer-centric. I like to talk about tasting beer or making beer on the homebrew scale. Tonight is just a bit different.
See, it’s no major secret to those who know me that I would, given the right circumstances (that will never happen), trade in my 8-5 IT job for a job as a brewer. It’s a sickness, I know, but I just enjoy making beer and the thought of having the opportunity to make beer that would be enjoyed by more than just a small group of friends…well, that would be an incredible experience. Perhaps it’s the fact that in the IT world, so much of your work goes unnoticed (until something breaks) or the reality that the things that you create are ethereal and intangible, but creating things with my hands has always been something that I’ve really enjoyed.
I’ve spent this week in Green Bay, WI, meeting with all of my co-workers who are based here, working out the finer details of some fairly major projects and just generally re-acquainting myself with the team. And, as we all know, traveling always means a trip to a brewery or brewpub and this trip is no different. I’ve sung the praises of Titletown Brewing Company in the past and I can honestly say that I’m still in love with their beers. Tonight, however, was a bit more special.
One batch of spent grain
Our boss and a couple co-workers met up at Titletown for a couple beers after work and managed to get a tour of the brewhouse and cellars. Brent, the owner of Titletown, led the tour and pretty much gave us an all-access, behind the scenes tour of the facility. While we were walking through the brewhouse, I met Dave, the brewmaster, and we talked a bit about brewing and general beer geek banter ensued. We all went back to our beers and had dinner and as we were leaving I saw Dave hauling these ginormous buckets back into the building. I asked him if he was about to start cleaning out his mash tun. He nodded, so I asked if he wanted any help. Dave got that “Are you shitting me?” look on his face and said “Sure!”. I bid my co-workers good night and headed back inside.
Now, keep in mind that on a homebrew scale, at least for me, cleaning out a mash tun means scooping out what started out as 20-30 pounds of grain into a bucket and dumping it in the woods for the deer to eat. I never bothered to ask Dave what this particular brew’s grain bill was, but let me tell you, scooping out the mash tun after a 15 barrel brewday is work. I’m sure Dave, the guys I work with and my wife (who I texted in a rather giddy way) all thought I was totally bat-shit crazy, but in all honesty, I was giggling the entire time. I mean, really, how many homebrewers can say that they’ve actually scooped out, scrubbed down, and hosed out a real production mash tun? I’m sure not many would want to, but it really does make one appreciate just how much work goes into making beer on a commercial scale, even if it is just on a “brewpub” scale.
The best part of the night was being able to BS with someone who brews day in and day out and has a real love for what he does. And while I know Dave had to get home and rest up for another brewday, and I’m sure he appreciated not having to shovel out umpteen pounds of wet spent grain, I really enjoyed being able to talk beer with someone else who just enjoys the process and the end result as much as I do. While I would have loved to sat there and pick his brain all night, reality stated that 8am is going to come mighty early for me tomorrow and the IT world isn’t going to sit idle while I dream of brewing on a production scale.
Brent, thanks for the really neat tour and taking the time to explain the basics of how beer is made. I know the guys that were with me really enjoyed it and it really made them appreciate more what goes into making the beer and gave them a strong connection to your establishment. Dave, thanks for letting me lend a hand, even if I’m pretty sure you were convinced I was totally off my rocker. Knowing how much work goes into every batch gives me an even greater appreciation for what you do so well.
Normally I start out my beer reviews with a story leading into the beer, but I’m just not in the mood tonight. I’m sure many of you are relieved about this as it saves you from having to wade through a paragraph or two of my ramblings before getting to the beer at hand.
North Coast Brewing Old Stock Ale 2009 Cellar Reserve
Tonight I’m sipping on a bottle of North Coast Brewing’s Old Stock Ale 2009 Cellar Reserve. These are the same folks who brought us Old Rasputin and Brother Thelonius, as well as the original Old Stock Ale, all excellent beers in their own right. When I spotted this bottle on the shelf at my favorite bottle shop I was intrigued. First, the bottle looks really cool (again, I’m a sucker for a gimmick) and with a $20 price tag (yes, you read that right), I had to see what it was all about. I had every intention of sitting on this bottle for a while and opening it when it was a bit cooler outside, but tonight seemed as good of a night as any to pop the cork.
What we have here is Old Stock Ale, aged for 18 months in bourbon barrels. If you’re the type to enjoy an oak-aged beer, you should be all over this. As you raise the glass to your lips, your nose will fire off the first hint of what’s to come as the aromas of bourbon, vanilla and oak waft up from the beer, along with a nice tingle from the alcohol. The first sip pretty much overwhelms your senses…bourbon, vanilla, toffee, oak, sweetness, maltiness. It is really something that you have to stop and think about to try to sort out all the different flavors that are layered upon one another. The finish is about as one would expect…sweetness, bourbon, vanilla and a pleasant warming sensation.
Keep in mind that this is not your average summer evening lawnmower beer. It’s heavy and sweet almost to the point of being cloying and the 13% ABV wallop pretty much ensures that this in the “one and done” class. It would definitely be a beer, had I to do it over again, I would have waited for a cold winter day to enjoy…and if I can find another bottle of it, I plan on doing just that. But don’t get me wrong, it’s still an excellent beer, but don’t go into it thinking that it’s going to be a refreshing, thirst quenching brew.
The "Lil Sparky" Hop Strainer
With an announcement due any day on the impending move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, I decided, as a Thrashers fan, to brew a bitter beer to commemorate the occasion. I figured a really hoppy IPA would do the trick, so I threw together a recipe that used a cubic butt-load of hops and set to work. I named it Bitter Thrashers Fan IPA, and if you’re so inclined, you can find the recipe here.
Luckily, I managed to resolve my little leaking issue that I had with the sight glass I had installed. A little teflon tape and a bit of finesse and the leak was vanquished … which is good, because after a while, wort stinks when it burns.
I did some digging, trying to find a fix to my problem where I couldn’t pump the wort out of the kettle and into the fermenters. I strongly suspected that the whole leaf hops I like to use were clogging up my dip tube. Some guys on the homebrewtalk.com forums posted about a hop sack on steroids that seemed easy to build. In a nutshell, it’s a paint strainer attached to a 4 inch PVC fitting suspended by four pieces of all-thread. Total cost? About $20. If you’re interested in the details, follow the links and you can read up on it. It’s dead simple to build and will take longer to drive to Lowe’s to get the parts than it will to construct.
The best part is … it worked like a champ! I was able to recirculate my wort through my ghetto version of Jamil’s whirlpool chiller and was able to pump the wort into my fermenters without any problems. The nice thing is that pumping the wort also aerated it pretty well, so much so that the fermenters were filled to the neck with foam.
The one downside that I see at this point is that it would seem that I didn’t get as good of an evaporation rate as I normally do. I think the big sack of hops (it really was a bunch of hops – almost 11 ounces) prevented the steam from escaping. This has me slightly worried that I’m going to have DMS issues in the finished beer, which would give it a canned-corn off flavor, but I suppose I’ll have to wait a bit to find out for sure. I do know that I missed my final gravity by seven points, but I think the fact that I had an extra gallon of wort left in the kettle might be another symptom of the evaporation problem. I’m really starting to think that I’m either going to have to get a wider kettle or give up the whole hops and move to pellets, or at least mix the two to reduce the amount of “stuff” in the kettle. Meh…it’s a learning process.
Oh, and the camera is rolling in the chest freezer, if you’re curious.
The Redneck Brutus 10 Clone
After a seven month hiatus from brewing (man, time flies), I finally carved out a day to not only brew, but to break in the new brew system. After weeks of tweaking and testing and stressing, it was finally time to just get out there and do it. So, without further drama, I present to you the Redneck Brutus 10 clone.
For those following at home, you’ll notice the addition of the Blichmann BoilerMaker brewpot-turned-mash tun. After a couple of years of fiddling with coolers as mash tuns, I decided I wanted to have a mash tun that I could apply heat to instead of having to rely on hot water additions to bring the mash temperature up. I also wanted the ability to keep the mash temperature fairly constant during the brew day. And seeing that I couldn’t exactly put my cooler/mash tun over the burner to heat things up, I had two choices: build a heat exchanger system to use with a cooler or just use a large pot with a false bottom.
As I’m somewhat lazy, I decided to go the large pot route as it has the added advantage of allowing me to heat my strike water directly in the mash tun, which saves having to transfer the strike water from another vessel. Besides, the Blichmann does add a bit of bling factor, which clashes nicely with my keggle and old 10 gallon brewpot-turned-hot liquor tank.
The Control Panel
Here’s how it works in a nutshell… all three vessels have a temperature probe connected to the PID (proportional–integral–derivative) controllers in the control panel. The PID controllers for the mash tun and hot liquor tank (beer speak for the pot that you heat water in…don’t ask me, I don’t make this stuff up) control a solenoid valve that turns the gas on or off in an effort to keep whatever is in the vessel at the temperature set on the controller. The two pumps circulate the liquid in each vessel to prevent the stuff at the bottom (nearest to the flame) from getting to hot and to ensure that whatever is at the top of the vessel gets some heat too. Once the mash is complete, the pumps are then used to pump the wort (the stuff that will become beer after yeast is introduced) from the mash tun into the boil kettle while the second pump moves water from the hot liquor tank into the mash tun to rinse remaining sugars from the grain.
Speaking of my keggle… That one piece of equipment continues to be the weak link in the chain. I decided to put a sight glass in the keggle so that I could more accurately measure the volume of the liquid without resorting to my oak dowel with graduated markings on it. It also allowed me to more easily get the temperature probe into the kettle. I tested it Saturday before I brewed and had no issues but Murphy and his lawyers decided to step in Sunday during the brew day. For some reason, they decided to introduce a nice leak in the fitting which I had no idea about until 150°F wort had half-filled the kettle.
Fermentation in Progress
The other thing I need to overcome in the kettle is the ability to pump the wort into the fermenters. I simply cannot manage to get the pump to work properly and end up having to revert to the old auto-siphon. I’m sure it’s due to the sheer volume of hop matter in the kettle, but even with a screen over the pick-up in the kettle the pumping action is rather underwhelming. I have several possible solutions in mind, it’s just a matter of implementing them.
All in all, though, the system is coming along nicely and once I get past the kettle issues, it will make the brew day much more enjoyable. It’s definitely an adjustment in that I no longer have to babysit the HLT or the mash tun quite as closely nor do I have to worry about dumping scalding hot water from one pot into a cooler. The added bonus was the 10% gain in extraction efficiency I achieved with the new mash tun, which more or less turned the pale ale I had set out to brew into a IPA due to more sugars being available for the yeasts to convert to alcohol.
If you’re interested in watching the progress of the fermentation, have a look at the Fermentocam, which is situated in the chest freezer I use for fermentation temperature control. And no, fermentation isn’t pretty to those who aren’t into the brewing aspects of beer, but the end result is usually pretty tasty!
Four Friends Brewing, Charlotte, NC
It’s no major secret that when I travel on business, one of the things I like to do is to seek out local breweries and brewpubs and sample their offerings. Last weekend I found myself back in Charlotte and while checking out the NC beers in the newest Taco Mac, I stumbled upon Four Friends Brewing Queen City Red. These guys were just getting their brewery up and running last time I was in Charlotte and, as such, I had no luck tracking down their beers. I’m quite happy I managed to find Queen City Red at Taco Mac or I wouldn’t have taken the time to check out their facility.
As you can see, this isn’t a huge brewery. I think I can safely say I’ve seen larger convenience stores. Don’t let the size fool you though, these guys are proof that you don’t need a ginormous brewery to produce excellent beers. Queen City Red is easily one of the best Irish Reds I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. Rich mouthfeel, nice malty sweetness, with just enough hop bitterness to keep the beer from being cloying. I sampled their other offerings and their Uptown Brown stood out as well. A bit roastier and more chocolatey than your average brown, but very drinkable.
Sadly, I left my camera in my hotel room, so no glamor shots of the inside of the brewery. This shot was taken when I stopped by on Monday on my way out of town in a vain attempt to get a couple growlers. Sadly, according to one of their recent Facebook posts, their tasting room is now closed for the immediate future, which is a shame as it’s somewhat rare to have the opportunity to enjoy sampling a few beers while chatting with the folks who actually brewed them, but should you find yourself in the Charlotte area, look for their beers on tap at most decent beer bars. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Highland Brewing Little Hump Spring Ale
I can’t speak for all beer geeks, but as far as I’m concerned, Highland should stop bottling this as a beer and start packaging it as a perfume. Ladies, if there is a beer geek out there that you’re trying to get the attention of, put a bit of this on your neck and just wait.
Wait, wut? No, I haven’t totally lost my mind. The aroma of this beer really does strike a primal chord in this beer geek. Amarillo, Cascade and a hint of Simcoe from the bittering charge is like the scent of the beer gods to me.
And while I could inhale the aromas of this beer all night, it tastes equally as incredible as it smells. Crisp, clean, with just a hint of hop bitterness at the end. Not at all heavy nor sweet, this is a beer you could easily drink six of while huddled around a spring time firepit. And while I’m not sure of the ABV of this beer, I’d find myself not caring as I kept my nose buried in my glass, lost in the incredible hop aroma. The only thing better would be to find this beer fresh and on tap.
Terrapin's Georgia Theatre Sessions - Hoptaneous Combustion
Well, folks, it’s finally time for the fourth and final chapter of Terrapin’s Georgia Theatre Session beers … Hoptaneous Combustion. One might guess from the name that this beer contains a fair amount of hop flavor and bitterness. Seeing as it is labeled as a smoked double IPA, you would indeed be correct.
Brewed as “A nod to the tragic fire” (that burned down the Georgia Theatre) “and a nod to the future”, a smoked beer seems oddly fitting. However, most smoked beers I have had in the past have been a bit too smoky for me in that wet burnt firewood sort of way. Regardless, as this was the final beer in the set of four, I had to give it a shot.
I do have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. The smokiness really compliments the hop aroma while at the same time the hop aroma keeps the smoke from overpowering the nose. The beer itself pours a hazy, orangish-gold color with a fluffy white head. And while Terrapin touts this as a “west coast hop bomb”, I’d have to disagree. It is indeed hoppy and there is a significant punch of hop bitterness, but it is nowhere near the level of a Stone Ruination or Moylan’s Hopsickle. To me, though, that is a good thing. I don’t think they were out to see just how many IBUs they could cram into the beer but I do think they were out to brew a beer that, while extremely hoppy, was balanced with a bit of malt sweetness. For a 9.3% beer, it really is fairly easy to drink. I’ve gone through about a third of my bomber while typing and, well, I’m ready to be done typing so I can continue to enjoy this beer.
As I said at the start, this is the last of the four beers Terrapin offered in the series and while it was supposedly released in December, it was only in the past couple of weeks that I saw it start to show up on shelves. If you happen to be in Georgia and feel so inclined to give this one a shot, by all means snag a couple bombers while you still can. If you enjoyed Terrapin’s Side Project 12 – Hopzilla, I think you’ll enjoy this beer as well.
And with that, I hereby solemnly swear that I’ll lay off talking about Terrapin beers for a bit. I’m still peeved though…no “Golden Ticket” for me.