Friday, November 30, 2012

HOMEBREWING: Whiskey Barrel Imperial Stout

Last year, a friend and I put the whiskey barrel I bought to good use and brewed an imperial stout designed to be aged in said barrel. The recipe was, to say the least, intense. Easily the most expensive beer I have done to date, using a TON of specialty malts and in the end (thankfully) tasting comparable to Firestone Walker's Parabola, but here's the thing: It might also be the most delicious beer I've ever done. It's certainly the prettiest:

Looks wonderful, doesn't it? That's my co-brewer in the photo, and the beer is just a few weeks old (after a long primary and then secondary in the barrel). If you want the recipe, just ask. It's extract with specialty grains, so anyone can make it.

After the imperial stout, I did a honey porter in it, and the barrel currently contains a lambic, which will stay in the barrel for about a year or more. My plan is to blend small parts of that batch into future lambic and sour batches. (I currently have seven vessels with various sour beers, so the blending opportunities are endless!)

So here's the thing: Barrel-aging your beers is easy.

1) Buy a barrel! Just Google various phrases, there are TONS of sources. Spend between $70 and $120 (before shipping) for a 5-gallon barrel or you're getting ripped off.

2) Don't worry about cleaning it out. All that booze will keep it sterile. Just brew a big beer and put it in the barrel!

3) How long to age it? Keep the beer in it from two weeks to two years, depending on the beer. A weeks to two weeks is great for IPAs and Double IPAs, two to four weeks is ideal for traditional stouts and porters, four to eight weeks for barleywines and strong Belgian styles, and a month to two years for lambics.

4) Bottle, age, open, enjoy!

Yeah, seriously, it's that easy. I recommend bottling a few smaller sampler bottles so you can taste it over time -- barrel-aged beers tend to need some time to age into perfection, about six months to a year in my experience -- and going easy until it has aged into your taste. After that?


Friday, November 23, 2012

Quick Sips: Deschutes Black Butte XXIII

NOTE: This review is made nearly six months after the beer was enjoyed, so take any assessments with that in mind.

Deschutes. I'm a New Jersey guy, so their amazing beers are not available to me unless I trade beer. And that's exactly how I got Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, a big ass porter (almost 11%) brewed with cocoa nibs, orange peel, and with a portion aged in bourbon barrels, available exactly ONCE.

Wait, a portion aged in bourbon barrels? Nonsense! Because despite only 25% of this being bourbon barrel aged, it's BOOZY as fark! Anyway ...

Pour it and take a whiff. The nose is alcohol and chocolate with deep sweet breads. Even by the smell, this beer means business.

You need to drink the damn thing, though, so you pour a glass and despite the high alcohol some nice carbonation is there – this beer poured with a rich, frothy head that quickly disappeared – but it’s gone fast, giving the beer a silky, slightly slick feel on the palate.

The taste? Mild chocolate in front with some bourbon heat in the middle. Orange notes poke through in the end. This beer is 10.8% with some fairly complex flavors (bourbon, orange, chocolate, etc.), but most of them fight pretty hard for dominance. The beer could have used some time for all these elements to come together a little more smoothly. Deschutes recognizes this by putting a best AFTER date on the bottle of 6/15/12 despite this being a 2011 beer. (Who does that?) Despite the BEST AFTER, I drank this beer around July 2012, after their recommended date, and it STILL needed more time.

One thing that surprised me was the booze. The bourbon isn’t overpowering sure, but it’s far more present in the middle than you’d expect considering the barrel-aged portion makes up only 25% of this blend. And as this beer warms it just gets boozier and boozier.

All that said, it's easy to see why the special editions of Black Butte are sought after each year. This beer is complex and delicious, definitely worth sinking into if you're a beer geek, but take a pass if you just want a good beer beer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ride Ye to Wisonson!! The great breweries of Wisconsin

Wisconsin! I guess you should expect no different from a state that crowns its baseball team with the name the Brewers, but somehow I had never considered Wisconsin as being among the uber cool brewing states. There is California (1), obviously, Oregon (2), yeah, New York (3), sure, Michigan (4), no doubt, Pennsylvania (5), a surprising yeah, but Wisconsin?


I have had some Wisconsin beers before, especially the awesome brews by New Glarus, thanks to trading beer online. In fact, I liked them so much that when my buddy and coauthor Jim McDevitt went on a cross-country trip, I asked him to grab me some beer from this great state.

And yeah, even though he spent all of five minutes in this state, there was loads to bring home. In addition to a few beers I may post about later, Jim grabbed me a mixed pack of beers by New Glarus. This was the highlight of the BIG RIDICULOUS BOX OF BEER he brought home for me. (You write a book or two with someone, you're kind of tight, you know?) The pack had four beers, and they tasted a little something like this:

Spotted Cow – This is a pleasant, smooth beer that drinks like a lager but features a touch of ale zest. That’s because it has the softness of a lager, but more hopping and bitterness, albeit not MUCH hopping and bitterness. It’s very moderate, especially compared to today’s American ales. This beer is not worth going crazy to find – there is nothing particularly special about it – but it is a pleasant everyday beer that combines easy drinking with more taste than you’ll get from the big brewers. Recommended if you like Anchor Steam, Yuengling, or Fat Tire. 4.8% ABV

Totally Naked – This is your standard pilsner or light lager. Light, crisp, dry finish, light golden in color, a mild hop bite at the end of a mildly grainy but smooth draught. Fans of big craft beer flavor will be underwhelmed. Drinkers of Miller and Coors will like it because it will feel like home. I wouldn’t gravitate to this beer, but I sure would like to see it on tap instead of the latest product by the big guys. Recommended if you like easy-drinking macro lagers (Bud, Miller, and Coors). 4.25% ABV.

Two Women – A traditional German-style lager. They call this a pilsner, though it’s dark for the style. It has a malty smell with faint hints of dark breads, but nothing overwhelming. The beer has a nice, almost red ale-ish malt backbone with well-balanced, Earthy hops. It’s not HUGE on flavor, but it’s pleasant. Like the other beers in this mixer, Two Women drinks nicely but doesn’t make me say, “Holy cow, that’s good!” Recommended if you like Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Killian’s Irish Red, or Smithwick’s. 5% ABV.

Fat Squirrel – A traditional English brown ale that boasts all the hallmarks of one. A chestnut color and aroma. A taste of rich brown malts, nuts, and touches of caramel. A smoothness of character with just a bit of sharp roast at the end. This is a good beer and a good example of the style. Recommended if you like Newcastle. 5.8% ABV.

Overall – I have had a few of the fruit beers by New Glarus, and they were some of the best I have ever had. Seriously. BEST. So when I had this mix pack I had high hopes. Well, these beers are all GREAT for their given style, perfect examples of simple, drinkable brews. Which is to say, this is a BOOoooOOring mix pack for big beer geeks, but an AMAZING mix pack for people who either love awesome easy drinking beers or for beer geeks who appreciate the subtlety in making a good drinkable beer.

Verdict: If you are in Wisconsin or know someone who will be, get this mix pack. You'll be glad you did.

(1) - Stone, Russian River, Sierra Nevada, North Coast, The Bruery, Ballast Point, Green Flash, Lost Abbey, Firestone Walker, and a TON more. And when I say a ton, I mean a ton. Look at that long list, and realize I still left out 21st Amendment, Anchor, Lagunitas, and others.

(2) Deschutes, Full Sail, Ninkasi, Widmer, and the most overpriced beers in America, Rogue.

(3) Southern Tier, Brooklyn, Ithaca, Sixpoint, Ommegang, and more. (I did not forget you, South Hampton.)

(4) Founders, Bell's, Atwater, Jolly Pumpkin, New Holland, and more.

(5) Weyerbacher, Troegs, Victory, Yards, Lancaster, and the ever popular Yuengling, among others.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Quick Sips: 21st Amendment-Ninkasi Allies Win The War! winter ale

(Note: This beer was consumed and written about in the winter of 2011/2012, but is only being posted now. As of this posting, it's unclear if this beer will come out again in winter 2012/2013.)

Ahhh, yes, Allies Win The War. This winter beer is a collaboration between 21st Amendment brewery and Ninkasi Brewing Co. It's an English strong ale brewed with dates

The beer smells like winter spices, with sweet malts and minor but noticeable European hopping. The taste is ... interesting. There is some up front bitterness, but not nearly at IPA levels, with traces of dark fruit on the end. Not overly sweet; the hops balance that out. All that said, the dominant taste is spicing. LOTS of spicing. Winter spices hit you up front so that it takes a few sips to get used to them. A bit malty and thick, but tasty. And spicy. Not hot spicy, just ... yo, really? Did you need to go this nuts with the spicing?

And yet beyond all imagining it tastes fairly decent once you get used to it, almost like how Dr Pepper would taste if it was beer. The big ABV sneaks up on you. This beer masks the 8.5% well. Overall this is a good but not great winter beer. Try it, but know what you're getting into, 'cause this one ain't for everybody.