December 2017
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Currently On Tap

“Reader” Mail

A warning to all now:  This post will contain very little on the subject of anything beer related.  Feel free to move along now.

Everyone gets spam.  If you have an e-mail address (which I’m guessing you do as you’re reading something on the internet) you’ve received it.  If you’ve ever started a blog then you definitely know about getting spam.  Back in the early days, the spammers would just harvest your e-mail address and the e-mail addresses of anyone who had posted a comment on your blog and spam those.  Then the spammers realized that while cramming the interwebs with e-mails for all sorts of questionable pills, products and money making schemes was great, it would be even better if they could somehow devise a way to get their seemingly-legitimate websites higher in the search engine rankings.  How better to do that than to make it look like a bunch of people were linking to their crummy site?  And so, blog spam was born.  The bots crawl the internet, looking for blogs and post seemingly random comments with buried links to sites that, unless your using a Linux workstation or a Mac (or a Windows PC you really don’t care about), you really don’t want to visit.

Luckily, some folks smarter than I have created countermeasures for this sort of junk, and it all ends up in a bucket of fail that I occasionally wade through, just to be sure I haven’t missed that one other fan that’s out there.  Most of it is, well, just plain stupid but some of it is slightly humorous…at least to me, anyway.  So, while blowing off steam from a rather crappy day at the office, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of these gems with you.  I’m sure they’ll be as funny as a Jay Leno monologue.

Continue reading “Reader” Mail

Terrapin’s Georgia Theatre Sessions – Sound Czech

Terrapin Georgia Theatre Sessions - Sound Czech

Terrapin Georgia Theatre Sessions - Sound Czech

Sound Czech is the third in the series of Terrapin’s Georgia Theatre Session beers.  If you’ve been a faithful follower of the blog you’ve undoubtedly read the posts about the first and second in the series, The Iron Tankard and Double Feature.  Those posts explain the story behind this series of beers, which is a pretty neat story and a great thing that the guys at Terrapin are doing to give back to the community.

So, what is it that we have here?  Well, as the name implies, this is a Czech-style pilsner.  Made with Czech Saaz hops, Czech yeast and Bohemian malts, this is about as traditional of a representation of the style as you can get.

What stands out the most to me is the … well … plainness of this beer.  When it comes to Terrapin’s one-off brews, I’ve come to expect a 7.5 – 10% ABV beer and some sort of extreme attribute that one wouldn’t expect.  Not so here.  It pours golden in color with a nice fluffy white head.  There’s a hint of that spicy, floral Saaz in the nose and a nice, snap of bitterness on the tongue with a nice, crisp dry finish.  At only 5.3% ABV, you could, if you had pockets deep enough, put down two or three bombers worth and still have a fighting chance to walk around without assistance.  Perhaps this beer is remarkable for being unremarkable, but in a good way.  In the age of triple IPAs and 40% stouts, it’s nice to sit back with a craft-brewed beer that gets back to the roots of brewing.  A beer that doesn’t punish your tongue or your liver.  And while sometimes they need to be punished, some days they could use a rest.

I realize I’m a bit behind with this one, but with all the crazy weather we’ve had in Georgia over the past couple months, I just finally managed to get my grubby paws on this beer the other day.  While I’d love to recommend picking up several bottles to save for a later day, I believe this beer is not one that will age well, so get ’em while you can and drink ’em fresh.

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum

There was this one time … at beer camp ….

Yeah, beer camp.  Each year, Sierra Nevada takes submissions from beer lovers around the country who try to convince the powers that be at Sierra Nevada why they should be chosen to spend some time in Chico learning about the brewing process in the brewery itself.  Oh, and as a bonus, the class gets to develop a beer of their own and that beer gets brewed, packaged and enjoyed by many.

So what sort of beer do you get when you put together some craft beer fanatics, some home brewers and some publicans?  Well, it sure won’t win the gold in the American Light Lager category at GABF this year.  What you get is a big-ass, hoppy Imperial IPA, not something Sierra Nevada is normally known for.

How hoppy?  100 IBU hoppy.  For those familiar with Sierra Nevada’s normal offerings, Torpedo, their IPA, clocks in at 65 IBU while Bigfoot, a barleywine, only registers 95 IBU.  Five different hops were used, one of which, a proprietary hop grown on the Sierra Nevada grounds, hasn’t even been named yet.

OK, OK, enough blabbing on…how does it taste?  Well, bitter.  Not over the top, Hopsickle bitter, but it’s fairly tongue-numbingly bitter.  There’s a hint of malty sweetness buried in there, though, that does a good job of balancing out the grapefruity-pineyness of the hops.

For a beer checking in at a bit over 10% ABV, it does a good job of hiding it.  The dry finish really does a good job of staying out of the way of what this beer is really about:  Hops … lots of hops.

If you’re a hop head, I’d highly recommend this beer.  If you’re not, try it at your own risk.  Enjoy it fresh while the hop character is still all there … cellaring this beer won’t do it justice.

Three Posts for the Price of One

It’s been a crazy few weeks here and, as you can tell, time to sit at the computer and try to string together coherent thoughts has been in short supply.  So, here’s a condensed recap of what’s been going on…

Terrapin Side Project 13 - Big Daddy Vladdy's

Terrapin Side Project 13 - Big Daddy Vladdy's

Now I know I tend to write a lot about Terrapin’s beers, but I also tend to write about their more off-the-wall offerings.  I also tend to wait until about three days after it’s all gone before posting about it.  Then I go on and on about how wonderful it is and how you should get your hands on some if you’re lucky enough to still be able to find it on the shelves.  Not so today, my friends!  (Although I suppose fewer people will disagree with me that way…)

I present to you Terrapin’s Side Project 13 – Big Daddy Vladdy’s Russian Imperial Stout.  Go get some.  Seriously.  Now.  It just recently hit the shelves and I’ve seen it in various stores in great quantities.  Buy more than one and stash some for next winter…or this winter…or both as this is a beer that (stored properly) will probably just get better with age.

Do yourself a favor though and do not, by any means, drink this extremely cold.  Pull it out of the fridge and let it rest for a bit.  Cold it’s slightly bitter with a serious alcohol bite.  As it warms, though, the rough edges really smooth out into a silky, heavy stout with hints of chocolate and coffee.  At 10+% ABV, this is the perfect stout for this time of year; heavy, roasty, and smooth, yet oddly not overly filling.  Sit by the fire and spend the evening enjoying a bit of warmth.  For sake of brevity, I’ll spare you the rest of my ramblings about this beer, but if you enjoy a good RIS, definitely seek this out if it’s available where you live.

Face of the control panel

Face of the control panel

Now that I’ve got the obligatory beer review, such as it was, out of the way, lets move on to the control panel build.  As you see, I’ve actually made progress.  And as you can also judge by the view of my desk, progress comes at the cost of absolute disorganization.  My desk looks like a, well, I probably shouldn’t make the analogy I wanted to lest Homeland Security pay me a visit.

At any rate, I’ve painted the enclosure and patched up my previous “Oops”.  I’ve even managed to get about 90% of the wiring completed.  The outlets and inlets are installed and wired, the pump switches are connected and the ports, for lack of a better word, for the temperature probes and solenoid valves are good to go.  Really all that’s left is to finish wiring up the alarm lights and switches and neaten up the rat’s nest inside.  I suppose I need to also start to consider how I’m going to mount the control panel to the brewstand sooner or later, but let’s not get bogged down in the details just yet.

Inside the control panel

Inside the control panel

Neaten up inside?  How bad can it be with only a handful of things to connect?  Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then there should be about a million electricians out there feeling all sorts of squeamish right about now.  Well, OK, two electricians and they’re only looking at this post right now because the word “electrician” is used multiple times and Google liked it…or something.  Rest assured, I have several bags of zip ties standing by to clear things up and make things a bit less clustered (yes, clustered!), but I discovered early in the job that trying to neaten things up as I went only led to cursing and wasted zip ties.  I’m sure it won’t be picture perfect but I’m also sure that there won’t be many people sticking their noses inside the enclosure once it’s all done.  Maybe the fire inspector, but if that’s the case, I’m sure I won’t be around to be too embarrassed.

All I know is that I’m itching to get this thing finished and tested so that I can get back to brewing and get out of the wiring/fabricating/painting business.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss my recent trip to Green Bay, WI.  I recently took on a position with a new group at work, which is a good thing for reasons that really don’t matter much in this context.  The guys I work with, though, are all based in Green Bay, so I flew up last week to meet everyone I hadn’t already met and to do some training.

Now, I was born in Buffalo and spent quite a few winters where it got pretty damned cold, but I’ve been living in the South for more years than I care to admit to here and let me tell you, they don’t call Lambeau Field “The Frozen Tundra” for nothing.  Fourteen inches of snow fell before I arrived and the temps were on the negative side of 0°F on most mornings.

Titletown Brewing Company

Titletown Brewing Company

With my evenings pretty much to myself, what better to do than sample the local beers?  I was finally able to get my paws on a couple pints of New Glarus Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel and could have happily drank them every night.  Had I not been worried that I’d have beersicles by the time I got home, I would have tracked down a few bottles to bring home as New Glarus only distributes inside the state of Wisconsin.

The main attraction for me, however, was a brewpub in town called Titletown Brewing Company.  It’s a really neat brewpub built into a historic train station in Green Bay.  Excellent atmosphere, and some really wonderful beers, including a couple of cask-conditioned offerings which were absolutely sublime.  As we walked to the front door, I could smell the brewhouse in action.  Anyone who homebrews (or brews professionally, for that matter), will know of the scents that I am referring to.  Sweet wort and hops on the boil…but I digress.

I tried to get more pictures, but I figured that everyone knows what beer looks like and, well, a picture of a beer isn’t overly exciting.  Couple that with the fact that if the lighting isn’t exactly perfect, I pretty much suck at taking pictures.  I would have loved to get a couple shots of the brewhouse but none of them came out worth a damn.  Clearly I must drag Amy to Green Bay with me so that we can further document the establishment.  But if you happen to find yourself beer hunting in Green Bay, this is the place you want to check out.  I only sampled five of their beers, but every one of them was excellent.  The food was pretty damn good as well…try the Elk burger.

Outside Lambeau Field

Outside Lambeau Field

Finally, what would a trip to Green Bay be without a gratuitous shot of Lambeau Field?  I’m fairly certain that if you visit Green Bay and don’t at least drive by those hallowed grounds then they’ll stop you at the airport and make you get back on your plane.  So, to prove that I’m not a total heathen, I’ll leave you with this…

Time For More Mad Science

As you may have surmised, there hasn’t been a whole lot of brewing going on lately.  There are two reasons for this sad fact, truth be told.  First, I’m stocked up.  All but two kegs are full, which leaves four kegs that I can’t even put on tap yet.  Secondly, I’ve been working on building some automation into my brewing setup.  Like a dog with a bone, I just can’t let go of the idea of having more control over my brew day and can’t bring myself to brew until I’m to the point where that is possible.

The Brewstand

The Brewstand

A while back I ordered a copy of Lonnie Mac’s Brutus 10 plans.  Knowing I can’t weld (never tried) let alone have the proper equipment to weld, I decided to purchase a pre-made brewstand on which to base my build (excuse the poor picture, it was taken on my iPhone).  I figured buying instead of building would both save me time and prevent me from burning the house down while trying to learn to weld.

I’ve used a cooler as a mash tun ever since I started brewing in the “all grain” style.  One of my main beefs with using a cooler as a mash tun is the simple fact that you can’t directly heat it.  For those who don’t homebrew, a mash tun is a vessel in which you mix the crushed grains with hot water.  You let the grains soak at a specific temperature for a given period of time and the starches in the grains are converted into sugars for the yeast to eat.  Temperature control is very important as if your mash is cooler than expected you end up with too many fermentable sugars and your beer generally ends up thinner than you want.  Conversely, if your mash is warmer then you generate too many unfermentable sugars and your beer will be heavier and/or sweeter than you had planned.

Therein lies my problem with using a cooler as a mash tun.  If I undershoot my strike temp then I have to add hot water to bring the whole thing up to the proper temperature.  Even if I hit it dead on, heat losses during the mash rest require adjustments.  What I needed was a heatable vessel and a way to control my temps.  The vessel is in the works and the control is what the Brutus 10 helps accomplish.

Assorted Pieces Parts

Assorted Pieces Parts

Now that the brewstand is taken care of, the next logical step was to build a control system.  Yes, I could manually keep an eye on my mash temps and apply heat as needed, then turn the flame off when the temp was perfect, but what’s the fun in that?  Letting electronic devices handle the thinking is a far better solution and frees me up to do more important things like sit on my ass or fetch another beer.

While Lonnie Mac had some decent ideas for the control panel of the Brutus 10, I decided I wanted something with a few more lights and switches.  That’s when I stumbled across and his control panel.  Granted, I’m not using electric elements to heat my mash or my wort, but the layout and look was exactly what I was wanting, so I decided to build my control panel based on his ideas.

Control Panel Dryfit

Control Panel Dryfit

Here’s the plan…  The control panel will have three PID controllers that will monitor the temperature of the hot liquor tank (the pot that holds water for use in sparging), the mash tun and the boil kettle via a thermocouple inserted into each pot.  The PID controllers that are watching over the mash tun and the hot liquor tank will also control a solenoid valve that will turn on or off the gas for the burner under each of those vessels, essentially keeping the liquid inside at a pre-set temperature.  I will also be able to turn my liquid pumps on or off from the control panel by flipping a switch rather than having to plug or unplug the different pumps when they’re needed.  It will also have a flashing alarm buzzer that I can configure to go off if, say, the boil kettle is approaching boil temps or if my mash tun goes past a certain temperature setting.  This will basically keep the system honest and hopefully prevent any catastrophes.

The only real issue that I’ve run into so far is the fact that I was a complete bonehead when I was cutting out the holes for the PID controllers.  I made cardboard cutouts of each piece and placed them just so in an attempt to make the panel functional and aesthetically pleasing.  Cutting out the various holes went well, if not noisily, right up to the point that I realized that I marked the holes for the PIDs based on the size of the faces, not the size of the innards.  As it stands now, the PID controllers fall right through.  I’m thinking a piece of aluminum bolted on the face of the panel with the appropriate sized cutouts should fix that little oops.

Next steps…finish cutting out the chassis for the various inlets and outlets for power and get the whole thing wired up.  I can’t wait for a test run!

The Power of Suggestion

First off, a small disclaimer.  When it comes to a bar’s beer selection, I am one of “those guys”.  I am definitely one of those picky beer drinkers who will ask the bartender or bar owner why there isn’t at least one local beer on tap or, if nothing else, at least in bottles.  I’m not rude about it, but I do ask.

This really wasn’t much of an issue before Amy and I moved up to the edge of civilization.  When we lived closer to Atlanta local beer was easy to find.  Hell, we had a Taco Mac not more than a couple miles from our old house, so good beer was always easy to come by.  Up in the north Georgia mountains … well … not so much.

When we first started exploring our new surroundings, there was only one real bar in the area.  Amy and I would meet our neighbors there for wings or pizza a couple times a month and while the company and the food was good, the beer selection left something to be desired.  As we got to know the owners of the bar I started asking why they didn’t offer any local beers.  You can just imagine my horror when the owners replied, “That Miller Lite is brewed here in Georgia.”  I did, after having a couple of beers and, to the horror of my wife and my neighbors, do my best to set the record straight.  I was then met with the all too familiar, “Nobody will drink that stuff.”  I made it clear that I would drink that stuff and would seek it out if it was available.  Blank stare.  I thought it was a lost cause.

Fast forward a couple of months and suddenly, out of the blue, Sweetwater 420 in bottles showed up.  I was shocked.  Then Terrapin Rye Pale Ale.  I was overjoyed.  Sadly, though, soon the bottles were gone, despite my best efforts, the sales evidently weren’t enough to dictate stocking more.  Oddly, though, soon after, Magic Hat #9 made it’s debut on tap.  Honestly, I’m not a fan, but to prove a point I ordered it.  Evidently, that caught on and soon after, the Rye Pale Ale made its return, this time on tap and managed to remain on one of the dozen or so taps for months.  I felt like I had won a small victory for the beer geeks.

A few weeks ago when we visited I was shocked to see both Rye Pale Ale and 420 on tap, along with Sam Adams Octoberfest.  Wow, two taps devoted to local craft beer!  Progress is being made.

As we were driving home from work this evening, we decided to stop in for some wings and a beer or two.  I was rather geeked to see that there were now four taps devoted to craft beers.  Sweetwater was represented with three beers, Georgia Brown, 420, and their seasonal, Festive Ale (which, sadly, has temporarily taken the tap from my beloved Rye Pale Ale) along with New Belgium’s Fat Tire.  So not only do I now have decisions to make, but I also can choose a seasonal craft beer!

While I’d love to take the credit for this shift in the balance, I know it’s partially the distributors suggesting new beers and other patrons asking for the same thing I’m asking for.  But it does prove a point to all of those discouraged beer geeks out there…  Ask for what you want.  Do it politely, but ask.  It may take time, it may take patience and it may take some education, but if we can manage to get decent beer here in the booming metropolis of Ellijay, GA, you can get decent beer where you live too.  …Unless you’re in a dry county, then you’re just pretty much screwed.

I’m all famous and stuff…

Me pointing at my name on the wall

Me pointing at my name on the wall

No, really!  I’ve got my name on a plaque on a wall and everything.  See?

It only took me four years and seventeen days, but I finally managed to drink 125 different beers and get my nameplate put on the wall at Taco Mac (Amy gave me grief for having my pseudonym, “Skippy” on my name plate, but I know who that is and don’t really care that nobody else does.  Nobody else needs to know about my obsession, right?  Wait…hrm…).  What’s Taco Mac?  It’s one of the better places outside of Atlanta to find a good selection of craft beers.  Not saying that it’s the best place, but when you get out as far as Canton or Cumming, it’s probably the best place to go.

Their game is that you sign up for their “Taco Mac Brewniversity” and as you try more beers you get different rewards.  Thirteen beers gets you a t-shirt, 75 beers gets you a $10 credit and when you finally hit 125, you get your name on the wall in the Taco Mac of your choosing.  The higher your tally gets, the more loot you get, all the way up to 1000.  I think you get a half-off liver transplant when you get there.

There I am!

There I am!

If you’re ever in the Atlanta area, find a Taco Mac and try some new beers, even if you’re not shooting for the prizes, you’ll still get to enjoy some really good stuff you may have not had a chance to taste before.

…Only another 100 to go…hard work, but I think I can suffer through…

Terrapin So Fresh & So Green, Green

Man, it’s been a while, eh?  Seems like the month of October has flown past.  Between moving days, birthday parties, party parties, hockey and head colds, I haven’t had much time to devote to mumbling mindlessly about beer.

Terrapin So Fresh & So Green, Green

Terrapin So Fresh & So Green, Green

Ever since I really started to broaden my beer horizons I have had a place in my heart for fresh hop beers.  See, hops are only harvested once per year, usually in the late summer to early fall, depending on the growing season, and that one harvest of hops has to last through the entire next year.  Hops are also very perishable in that the good stuff inside the hop flower fades with time and exposure to light and/or air.  Their goodness can be preserved for the most part, but ask any brewer and he or she will tell you the best hops are the ones that just came off the bines.  So when you get a chance to get your hands on some fresh hops to make a batch of beer with, it’s something to be savored and sought out.

Several breweries have started brewing fresh hop or wet hop beers which are normally released shortly after the hop harvest comes in.  Sierra Nevada was the first one that I tried a few years back and was amazed at the smoothness of the hop flavor and bitterness (Sierra Nevada now has three different fresh hop beer releases per year and yes, that can indeed be called foreshadowing).  Sweetwater released Wet Hop Ale last year from their Dank Tank series and it too was very good.  When I heard that Terrapin was going to jump into the game this year, well, I don’t think anyone would be surprised by the idea of my excitement.

And here we have it.  Terrapin’s “So Fresh & So Green, Green”.  I’ve dug around for a while and have yet to uncover the hidden meaning of the “So Green, Green” part of the name, so I’ll just leave that be.  Basically, what we have here is an American IPA made with fresh Amarillo hops from Washington State.  Lots of Amarillo hops.  If you love Amarillo hops you’ll love this beer.  Hell, if you like hops at all you’ll love this beer.

Normally, this is the part where I’ll go into what the beer tastes like and, well, I don’t really see a point here.  This was probably a pretty small batch of beer given the amount of fresh hops that had to go into it so if you don’t already have a bomber in the fridge chances are that you’ll not find a bottle on the shelf to try, so what I think of the flavor doesn’t really matter much!  But it is an excellent beer, deep copper in color with an awesome hop aroma.  Slightly sweet, but not thick or cloying.  I’ve read complaints from people expecting the beer to be more “hoppy” in the traditional sense, but fresh hop beers don’t get that deep, intense bitterness that beers made with dried hops get.  And to me, that’s a good thing.  Not that I don’t like “punch-me-in-the-tongue” IPAs, but sometimes something more subtle is enjoyable.

Anyway, to hell with what I think.  If you see a bomber of this on the shelf then by all means, snag it.  Snag it and drink it…this isn’t a puttin’ up beer.  This beer was meant to be drank fresh, like the hops that went into the making of it.

Southern Tier Pumking

Southern Tier Pumking

Southern Tier Pumking

I love fall.  The weather finally starts to cool off, hockey season starts and the pumpkin beers start showing up on shelves.  I never thought I’d be a fan of beers with pumpkin in them, but after trying Dogfish Head’s Punkin’ Ale, I was hooked.

So, tonight I find myself with the Leafs playing the Flyers on the tube and a Southern Tier Pumking in my pint glass.  Can’t say much about the temps dropping much as Mother Nature still seems to think it’s early August, but I suppose two out of three ain’t bad.

Southern Tier Brewing Company is located about 90 minutes from my hometown of Buffalo, NY and just recently broke into the Atlanta market.  I had seen their beers in South Carolina during my travels but never picked one up.  I saw Pumking the other day while looking for one of my favorite pumpkin beers and decided to give it a shot.

So, what do we have here?  Well, as you might guess, the beer is indeed made with pureed pumpkin and it definitely shows up in the finished product.  The aroma is definitely unique;  pumpkin pie mixed with a vanilla-caramel like scent that I’ve been trying to pin down but have failed so far.  The color is a nice orangy-copper with a fluffy white head.  You definitely pick up a sweet, roasted, caramelized pumpkin flavor which really dominates the beer (duh!) with only a slight hint of hop bitterness at the very end.

This beer comes in at 8.8% ABV, but if I hadn’t read that on their website (the bottle says 9%) I would not have believed it.  The sweetness of the pumpkin really does do a good job of masking the alcohol and makes for a beer that will really sneak up on you.  While tasty, I’m not sure I could drink much more of this beer than what comes in the bomber, but at 9%-ish, I’m not sure that’s what the brewer intended.  However, I’d have to say that if you coupled this beer with a cozy campfire you’d have a pretty good idea of what this time of year is all about.

I’m such a dork…

What happens when you mix a computer geek with a dangerously small amount of coding experience, an old camera, an old PC, and a few pints of homebrew?  Why, you get the Fermentocam!  Or was it the “Fermentation Camera of Doom”?  Or the “NSFW Yeast Peep Show Cam”?


I bought an old (and I do mean old) Canon PowerShot G1 with other beer-geeky plans in mind, but figured when hooked to a PC with a bit of old software, a smidge of PHP code and a handy Linux server, I could upload pics of what is currently going on in the chest freezer.  I figure about three people will actually get any real use out of it, me being one of the three as I like being able to see what’s going on in there when I’m not around to stick my head in, but it was just too geeky to pass up.  If you’re interested, you can check it out here, or by clicking the “What’s Brewing?!?!” link at the top of the page.

Nothing really exciting going on in there now, just cold crashing my starters, so the view isn’t exactly exciting, but hopefully I’ll get something going this weekend.