The Stone in the Grad

posted on January 26, 2009 in beer review, beerventure

You mean The Grad is having a Stone tasting?  What are we doing here?

"You mean The Grad is having a Stone tasting? What are we doing here?"

Last Thursday (1/15), Stone Brewery (or, at least, two regional sales reps and their round, steely, beer-filled friends) saw it fit to pay Davis a little visit.  It may come as no surpise the host happens to be the only place in Davis that also pours the eighth-best rated beer in the world.  I would say the two hit it off quite well.

I headed over in a small group including John and his mentor*-friend, Shane but we ended up meeting a group of “Sacramento Hopheads” via the site www.meetup.com.  Technology is really good at uniting beer lovers (as Twitter very well shows).  And, really, if you’re going to meet a bunch of random people from the internet, it helps if your common interest happens to also be a social lubricant.

On to the beer.  Here was the line-up:

Old Guardian Barleywine
Smoked Porter
Pale Ale
Levitation Ale
Ruination IPA
Arrogant Bastard
Double Bastard Ale
Russian Imperial Stout
12th Anniversary Ale

AND RARE ARCHIVED ANNIVERSARY KEGS:
Stone 10th Anniversary Ale
Stone 11th Anniversary Ale

To me, the Best in Show that night was Levitation and Ruination - indicating to me that I really am developing a palate for hoppy beers (hooray!  Californians won’t shun me.).  Levitation is Stone’s version of an Amber Ale, so, not surprisingly, it’s more hoppy than most ambers.  The BJCP guidelines for an Amber suggest the IBUs should be in the range of  25-40, but Stone takes pride in sticking it to the man, giving this beer 45 IBUs.  Modest for Stone to be sure, but definitely not what you’d expect from an Amber.  While I’m a fan of traditional ambers, and they have a special place in my heart for being the first style I brewed, I loved this one.  To me, Levitation is the gateway brew to hoppy beers.  Malty and citrusy, but not too bitter and very drinkable.  This beer is full of flavor and refreshing; it may well become a go-to for me for my new habit of rehydrating after a long-run with a beer, in the style of Beer Runner.

I guess once the floodgates open to hoppy beers, there’s no going back.  So the second beer I dug that night was their Ruination IPA.  I think this hop-kick was also driven by a slight overdose on very malty beers like Oskar Blues’ Old Chub (a Scotch Ale), Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout (”a punch in the face”**), and Old Rasputin from North Coast - an RIS.  Hops were a welcome, refreshing change; plus, hops are what gave Stone its name.  So, naturally their hoppy beers are very enjoyable.  When in Rome…or the Grad…which is serving Stone…well, you know.  (BTW, I neglected their superstars (Arrogant Bastard and Double Bastard) because we serve those on tap at our restuarant, but if you’re new to Stone, you’ll want to try those…especially the Double - hoppy as a mother but smoother than the original.)

Don't judge me for my big gargoyle muscles and enormous IBUs.  I'm actually very sensitive inside.

I'm actually very sensitive inside.

Lastly, I want to try to give some constructive feedback regarding the event itself.  Thankfully, we got to the Grad a little before they started serving, so we staked out our territory near the bar early on.  Still, once they started pouring, it was a bit of mayhem by the bar - people could easily cut in front, there was a lack of papers and pencils on which to write your tasting choices, there was a miscommunication as to what beers they actually had…etc., etc.  The main problem was the system of going up to the far end of the bar to order drinks.  This resulted in a huge, slow-moving line, making me ever-more thankful that I was actually early to something for once.

It’s easy to complain about these kind of operations, not so easy to come up with solutions.  But what I would suggest for events like these is just bringing in some extra waitstaff who will hand out the tasting papers and bring the beer to the people at tables.  Yes, it may take a while for these people to get their beer but it’s better than everyone rushing the bar and that way people can actually sit down and enjoy themselves - maybe buy a pint of something else (at the uncrowded part of the bar) while they wait for their tasters.  Sure, it will cost extra for the labor but it will reduce the daunting line of people that had to wait forever - many of whom I’m sure just went home.  I don’t think the Grad ever really has people wait tables but for a special event like this, it would not be too difficult to train them (they do have people running counter-service for food).  Also, it would reduce the problem of the customer having to trasport his or her drinks from the bar to their table (sans a serving tray).  When you have 8 glasses this can take several trips, causing all the more mayhem at the bar.

When events are run more smoothly, people are more likely to come back to future ones.  This one was still a very positive experience, but there’s always room for improvement (plus, I came early).  Other suggestions are highly welcome.

Sorry bout the tardiness of this post.  Just started school back up; little rusty getting my head wrapped around titration calculations and the like but once routine kicks in, normal posting regimen will resume.

*If beer mentors were Jedis, then I’d be the bitchy little Aniken, John the fun-lovin’ Obi-Wan, and Shane the wise Qui-Gon Jinn.

**(Ashley, 1/11/09)

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Lookin’ for some hot break baby this evening

posted on January 8, 2009 in beer review, homebrewing

Last night was my first attempt at brewing all by myself.  In fact, it was only my second attempt brewing at home.  It was also the first time I tried to use my new wort chiller and refractometer.  And I chose to brew a lager (which I previously wrote were more difficult than ales).  Probably the easiest type of lager to brew, but a lager, nonetheless.

And, I tried to make guacamole in the meantime.

Guess how it turned out?*  No, not the guac, the guac was actually pretty good.

Center-left: My foil - the guac that undid the best laid plans

Center-left: My foil - the guac that undid the best laid plans

The beer on the other hand, well…that’s a bit of another story.  Of course, I don’t actually know how it turned out; I’ll have to wait an entire month to see if my mistakes actually hurt my beer, but let’s just say I’m less looking forward to trying this batch than MinR Ale.  OK, well I’m quite curious, but in a curious-about-what’s-in-your-tissue-after-you-blew-your-nose sort of way, not a what’s-inside-Willy-Wonka’s-Factory sort of way (I’m watching that movie right now; it’s all I could think to write).

Things started out well enough.  I bought 3 gallons of reverse osmosis water from the Davis Co-op and steeped my crystal malt grains.  I steeped them for half an hour though I am not sure if my water ever reached the suggested 170 degrees F.  Last time I brewed, John commented that my thermometer didn’t seem to be working properly so I didn’t trust it at first.  So, there was problem one, though a minor one.

After removing the steeped grains, I heated the wort to a boil and added the Ultralight malt extract from my MoreBeer kit (Palmer recommends pale malt for steam beers, and I think I would have preferred this, but am sure Ultralight will do just fine), turning the heat down so it didn’t scald the pot.  When I turned the heat back up I added the 2oz of Glacier (bittering) hops and waited for the lovely hot break.  It’s not true a watched pot never boils, but it is true that it can be a bit long boring (especially 3 gallons) - so I entertained myself thus.  I apologize for not sparing you my singing voice but you can at least be thankful I edited out the portion where I spontaneously donned a horrible Sarah Palin impression voice.  I am no Tina Fey.  Though I do have sweet black glasses.

After the hot done broke (ha), I turned the heat down, made sure it was still steadily boiling but wouldn’t boil over, set my timer for 50 minutes, and…ran out to get some tomatoes for my guacamole.  In How to Brew, Palmer lists the “Murphy’s Laws of Brewing” (in the online version, he only lists one, but includes the cool story of how “Murphy’s Law” became famous).  Well, in his next edition, he should include the law “if one is still new to brewing, don’t try to make guacamole while you should be preparing for the next steps”.  I know, I know, guacamole is so easy to make, and the store was just minutes away and all I had to get was the tomatoes (that’s what I thought!) - but trust me: bad idea.  Though I had 50 minutes, I still had to wash my wort chiller and figure it out, and finish sanitizinig everything.  Meanwhile, I was so distracted by the guac I didn’t remember that at 20 minutes left of the boil (not 10 like I had set my timer for), I was supposed to insert my wort chiller and the whirfloc tablet.  Instead, I added the Willamette (flavoring) hops on time (10 minutes left) and hastily added the forgotten whirfloc tablet with only about 4 minutes left.  If my beer’s too hazy, I can probably blame it on that.

I also totally flailed on the wort chiller situations.  In several ways.  First, I inserted it with only a few minutes left in the boil and mistakenly (stupidly) thought that “insert wort chiller” meant to also turn it on.  Only in hindsight did I realize that I was only supposed to insert it to sanitize it, and turn it on after the boil was done.  I know - this is where you’re supposed to sarcastically ask where I went to school.  Sorry, like I said, I had a lot on my mind.  I think this combination of adding the whirlfloc tablet too late and turning on the wort chiller too soon could have pretty catastrophic effects on my beer - making it both hazy and contaminated.  Maybe that’s what I’ll call it.  More than that though, while I was away fussing with my fermentation bucket, the hose from my wort chiller let loose from the sink and sprayed all over my floor.**

There were other problems too, but I am certain I am boring you at this point.  There is, however, one thing I did right: Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scottish Ale is a great brewing beer - the fact that it comes from a can just makes you feel like you’re that much more blue collar.

Lookin' Good Old Chub.

Lookin' Good Old Chub.

I’ve heard a lot about these beers and had been dying to try them; thankfully, the good beer buyer at the Co-op, Tom, recently started carrying Oskar Blues’ beers.  I plan to do a post about the canned craft beer movement soon enough.  For now though, let’s just say they please me :)

*I know I’m not supposed to technically use a question mark there but I did want the “going up at the end” inflection a question mark confers.  I apologize for those of you reading this that aren’t as easily perturbed by grammatical errors as I (or is it me?).  Ugh, that’ll kill me.

**I read a piece in Brew Your Own about green homebrewing (Oct. ‘08) and they had some good tips about trying to save water used by your wort chillers.  As suggested, I tried to save as much water as I could to do things like water plants and run a load of laundry, but it is really astonishing how much water those things can use.  Email me (beermaster@beermeabeer.com)  if you’d like more of the tips.

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Beer, actually, is all around us.

posted on December 28, 2008 in beer review, beerventure

The movie Love Actually was inspired by witnessing loved ones reunite at the airport.  And where there is love, there is also beer.

However, the beer selections at most airports aren’t all too inspiring, apparently unless you happen to be at one of these airports.  Unfortunately, the Southwest terminal at the Houston airport is not on that list.  Still, because I was at an airport, it seemed appropriate I should drink.  What do I mean?  Well, airports are like movie theaters in that all normal social rules don’t apply.  Ellen Degeneres talks about our behavior in movie theaters - our free pass to shovel popcorn into our mouths - and I am reminded of how it seems once you enter an airport, whether it be 6 AM or 3:30 in the afternoon, it is perfectly appropriate to start drinking.  Who knows what your actual timezone is?  Cheers!

So, naturally, I dropped into “Pappas Burgers” for a pint and some tortilla soup.  The soup was OK, though it was dominated by a block of cheese and a mound of tortilla strips while the “with avocado” apparently meant one measly slice.

Kyle Perfect10Model's lunch

Kyle Perfect10Model's lunch

Aside from Bud, BudLight, etc. on tap, Pappas also pours Fat Tire (which I almost went for) and ZiegenBock (which I ended up selecting because I had never heard of it).  Probably should have stuck with the Fat Tire.

I actually have nothing against lagers and generally can appreciate most styles of beer.  In fact, doppelbocks, marzens and pilsners are among my favorites; since I hadn’t had a bock in a while I was quite excited to spend some time with this one and get to know him.  Unfortunately, “Ziegenbock” is a bit of a misnomer; if I were to call myself KylePerfect10Model, you have certain expectations, no?  Well, Ziegenbock isn’t even described as a bock on its pseudo-website (part of the ICS website, owned by Anheuser-Busch, owned by AB-InBev) but rather as an American Style Amber Lager.  Well, OK, so how was it?

So glad you asked!

Name: ZiegenBock Amber

Style: Amber Lager

Brewery: Anheuser-Busch

Region: Houston, Texas

Pairings: Wasn’t bad with my tortilla soup.  In fact, amber lagers like this are rather tasty with Mexican.

Color:  Brown (on the darker side) with definite reddish tint; very transparent.

Carbonation: Almost no foam or lacing but tastes quite carbonated - but perhaps this was just the acidity.

Aroma: Very light, sour fruit and caramel.

Mouthfeel: Thin, does not linger, pleasant.

Flavor:  Not a lot to it other than soury-sweetness though this is somewhat balanced by a crispness lent by the hops and clean lager yeast finish.

Finish: Clean, sour and caramel are all that mildly linger.

Comments: Anheuser-Busch, now AB-InBev, only brews and offers this beer in Houston, Texas which is an interesting attempt to reach out to a local beer crowd.  I’d like to try some truly local craft brews to compare.  Maybe I’ll get to venture beyond the George Bush Airport next time.

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MinR Ale Tasting Notes

posted on December 24, 2008 in beer review

I’m going to revert to a little trick I used as a writer for Let’s Go - whenever I was feeling particularly uncreative but wanted to somehow not be entirely bland in my description of a place, I would use a cheesy, over-reaching metaphor. I am pretty sure none of those made it into the book. Since I’m my only editor, I can feel free to use them here. Perhaps when I’m feeling more creative I’ll change this post to something wittier. Right now though, BMAB is calling for a cheesy stretched metaphor, so I must oblige.

If this blog were a mixed six-pack, it’d contain:

- a bottle of beer reviews/tasting notes (sophisticated, yet enjoyable, like a Belgian trippel)
- a bottle of “beerventures” - i.e. general reviews of bars, breweries, beer stores, etc. (fun, new and exciting, perhaps like a double oak barreled IPA)
- a bottle of homebrewing notes, reports and recipes (maybe not always the most exciting, but useful, well-intentioned, and still generally amusing, like an organic brown ale)
- a bottle of general beer news (something any good beer blog/mixed six pack needs, like a clean, crisp, refreshing lager)
- a bottle of beer research - the more academic side of beer (something not everybody has a taste for, but those who do seem to really appreciate it, like a smoked porter)
- a bottle of random musings, hopefully somehow beer related (risky, potentially disastrous, but potentially a winner, basically like anything from Dogfish Head)

Today when we reach into our six-pack, we pulled out the trippel. That’s the beer reviews one. Stay with me. I figured what better way to kick-off my beer-reviewing career than to review my own beer - something only about 12 other people have tasted, therefore limiting the people who can disagree with me to the fewest number possible. Just kidding, I love confrontation. Still, I am egotistical enough to review my own beer first, so here are my tasting notes for Mercury in Retrograde Amber Ale. BTW, I “borrowed” this review format from The Beer Wench, but I doubt she’d mind because she got it from the iPhone app: Beer Pad.

Name: Mercury in Retrograde

Style: Amber Ale

Brewery: LessThanThree Beers (aka my homebrews)

Region: Northern California

Pairings: Goes with large variety of foods; takes on grilled foods quite nicely and refreshes a palate fired up by spicy foods.

Color: Coppery brown, closer to brown ale but definite reddish tint.

Carbonation: Quite low in most bottles; thin, fleeting cream-colored head.

Aroma: Not very strong nose; mild hop and alcohol aroma.

Mouthfeel: Rather strong alcohol presence for an amber wakes up taste buds and lingers on tongue; hops lend medium crisp bitterness

Flavor: Sort of a caramely-alcohol dominated beverage; somewhat complex and lingering. Fairly estery flavor for an amber, probably due to slightly longer time in fermentation bucket.

Finish: Lingering taste dominated by alcohol, yet inoffensive.

Comments: Despite an overly strong alcoholic presence, rather disappointing carbonation, and only mild hop and malty character, not a bad first brew ‘t all. At least it doesn’t taste like soap.

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