Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 SNAFU Las Vegas Memorial Competition Part Trois

I thought I'd have to wait until next Friday before I received the score sheets with the details of my entries.  The SNAFU club president, Matt, was nice enough to scan and email all the sheets to the entrants. I've given the scores first, then the comments.


  • Aroma:                         6/12             6/12
  • Appearance:                2/3                2/3
  • Flavor:                        11/20            9/20
  • Mouthfeel:                  3/5                3/5
  • Overall Impression:    6/10              5/10
  • Total:                         26/50            26/50
Baltic Porter -
  • Aroma                            4/12             7/12
  • Appearance:                   2/3                2/3
  • Flavor:                           5/20              4/20
  • Mouthfeel:                    2/5                 3/5
  • Overall Impression:      3/10              3/10
  • Total:                            14/50           19/50

    American Pale Ale -
  • Aroma:                           4/12                4/12          3/12
  • Appearance:                   3/3                  3/3            3/3
  • Flavor:                           10/20               5/20         5/20
  • Mouthfeel:                     2/5                   3/5            3/5
  • Overall Impression:       3/10                4/10          3/10
  • Total:                             22/50           19/50        17/50

    Munich Dunkel -
  • Aroma:                           7/12               9/12
  • Appearance:                   3/3                 2/3
  • Flavor:                           10/20           10/20
  • Mouthfeel:                     2/5                 3/5
  • Overall Impression:       5/10               8/10
  • Total:                           27/50             32/50

    Belgian Wit -
  • Aroma:                            6/12               6/12
  • Appearance:                   2/3                   2/3
  • Flavor:                            11/20            10/20
  • Mouthfeel:                     2/5                   2/5
  • Overall Impression:       6/10                5/10
  • Total:                           27/50              25/50

  • Overall I ended up with 46%; pretty average, not so bad for my first year at this.  Especially since I wasn't really targeting the styles with most of these and was brewing for my own taste.  I didn't even know about the competition till I before I started the Saison and Wit.  The judges' scoresheets were written in pencil and scanned, so there's a few cases where I'm not sure what they wrote, so I just put in ??? below.


    Saison - My comment: Added anise and I don't think people care much for anise or licorice flavors. Judges: #2 tight yeast pack on bottom of bottle, mild gushing
    • Aroma: #1 Spicy, tart, fruity esters, low sour. #2 Floral sweet nose up front with a hint of banana dn citrus. No DMS, no Diacetyl, no hop aroma detected. may sound odd, but kind of like new car.
    • Appearance: #1 Ivory lace, nice amber #2 purs light copper with moderat haze, big fluffy light tan head lingers leaving a thin layer of foam that holds indefinitely, no lacing.
    • Flavor: #1 Dry spicy very soft malt.#2 Rich malt character up front followed by a bit of sourness, citrus rind and peppery note.  Finishes a bit sweet and grainy for the style. No diacetyl, no DMS detected, Hop bitterness is light.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Medium body, medium warmth, a little acidity  #2 light bodied, high in carbonation, finishes very dry as per style. Not much heat or creaminess, also to style.
    • Overall: #1 Tart little too much, warming, but a nice drinking beer overall.  #2 Nice light, dry easy drinker, could be a bit heavy on the phenolics, maybe start cool and ramp up w/fermentation. Showed early signs of oxidation, but not offputting. maybe try to minimize splashing and cap on foam.
    Baltic Porter - My comment: Added more licorice than prior batches and I'm sure that turned them off, but I'm one of the few black licorice afficiandoes. If I'd had one of the prior batches, I would have entered that instead as they had a better balance with the malts.
    #1 Bottle conditioned, foamed on opening. #2 Gusher with clumpy pour.
    • Aroma: #1 Yeasty smell up front with smooth roasty aromas underneath. #2 Yeasty, vinous, very slight roast, no hops.
    • Appearance: #1 Cloudy reddish-brown, low tan head that persists. #2 dark brown, good head retention.
    • Flavor: #1 Metallic, tinny, blood-like flavor overwhelms roast malt. (so much for putting my blood, sweat and tears into my brewing) #2 Dark fruit, no hop flavor, some alcohol, metallic, bloodlike.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Light-medium bodied, medium carbonation  #2 Smooth, medium body, low carbonation, warming.
    • Overall: #1 From the chunky yeast slurry in the bottle to the metallic, blood-like flavor, this beer misses the mark. Only the color and head were appealling. Check your water mineral salts content or bronze fittings on your equipment. (I had put down the licorice as a special ingredient, but I'm sure that didn't make it to the judges.)  #2 Smooth drinking with a metallic aftertaste, alcohol warming, but not harsh.
    American Pale Ale - My comment: Not sure what would have turned them off with this; I added some coriander, but it wasn't that prominent. Dry hopped it with Cascade, but I thought it was pretty well done. Awful lot of competition in this category. However, if they allowed it to warm up too much, I'm sure it wouldn't be that good. With all the entries in this style, there is a fair chance it was sitting on the judging table for a while waiting its turn.
    • Aroma: #1 Not much hop aroma, very light grassy smell. Nice malt scent, dose have slight off aroma.  #2 First whiff - phenolic/medicine and then mellows. Expected some citrus but found none. #3 lots of yeasty phenols, no detectable hops. Light grainy character masked by off-flavors.
    • Appearance: #1 Nice amber color, off-white head, decent head retention. #2 Pale golden, clear, very good foam and bubble retention, good overall presentation. #3 Gold color, chill haze medium, foamy, white head.
    • Flavor: #1 Off tasting not very hop, but give a tart ???. #2 Tastes a bit cardboard - oxidized, not tasting citrus nor floral, very mild hops. #3 Missing the hop and malt character of a pale ale.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Was smooth but left a wax feel in mouth. #2 good carbonation and smooth finish.  #3 CO2 level is ok, slight warmth.
    • Overall: #1 Not very good smell or taste. May need more hop at end of ???. The beer had off flavor may ?? grain or yeast.  #3 Needs improvements to process and temperature control.
    Munich Dunkel - My comment: Probably could have been a bit maltier, as I was on the low end of the ABV at 4%. Was just hoping there wouldn't be much competition, but turns out if you don't make at least a 40/50, you can't even place.
    • Aroma: #1 Malty sweetness and light roastiness. Light nuttiness and chocalately notes. No hop aroma.  #2 Nice malt aroma, slight chocolate, and rich winter dessert nose, in style. Slight roasty aroma.
    • Appearance: #1 Dark brown with ruby highlights, very clear, large tan head - good retention. #2 Rich ruby garnet, thick head, very creamy but overcarbonated.  (which it must have gotten just in the 3 weeks sitting at 80 degrees at the LHBS after I submitted it, because it sure wasn't before, but that only cost me a point).
    • Flavor: #1 Light Munich malt, no hop flavor noted, low bitterness, clean dry finish. But seems thin and lacking big malt flavor.  #2 Flavor leaves me wanting rore. lacks malt depth, but what is there is balanced. Choclate and caramel are appropriate but thin. No diacetyl. Flavor fades with head.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Light body, hightly carbonated at first but later seems flat. #2 Medium to light mouthfeel, should be more. Astringency is appropriate and clean.
    • Overall: #1 Pretty beer, but lacks the big bready, malty aroma/flavor for this style. #2 Good beer, No great flaws, Easy drinking with balanced toasty caramel chocolate. Should be richer with stronger malt presence.
    Belgian Wit - My comment: Orange peels didn't add much flavor, maybe some off-bitterness. Probably shouldn't have used a navel orange. But I thought it came out pretty well in spite of it. Guess I need to raise my standards or use better ingredients. But will be interested in the comments on this one as well as the APA.
    •  Aroma: #1 Light sweetness with slight honey and grainy. moderate coriander with slight pepper in background. Nice low hop aroma. #2 Strong wheat aroma with hints of coriander. Belgian yeast characters. Lacks sufficient fruit, floral or sweet aromas to balance the wheat.
    • Appearance: #1 Great color, very dense mousey head, and very good head retention, ??? the ??for style. #2 Gold colar with great clarity. Huge head from pour that dissapated quickly.
    • Flavor: #1 The tartness is very forward and finish is very dry. Coriander is a little too forward. Spice flavor is more pronounced than fruitiness. #2 Spicy and tart with some typical Belgian yeast charactes. The flavor is missing a balance between the wheat and the other desired flavors. Slight hint of honey, but could use more honey flavor.
    • Mouthfeel: #1 Very light with very little creaminess, slightly ?? & thin. #2 High acidity, More body would be nice. CO2 is high (which is acceptable).
    • Overall: #1 A very refreshing beer that is slightly too tart/sour for style.  #2 Easy to drink beer that is a decent Belgian Ale but misses the style guides.
    So it looks like I have my work cut out for me, but mostly I knew going in what their flaws were.  Some just got more pronounced with sitting at the LHBS for three weeks.

    Monday, October 22, 2012

    SNAFU Las Vegas Memorial Competition Part Deux

    Well the results are in!

    And I'm not on them.  I had entered a Saison, a Baltic Porter, an American Pale Ale, a Belgian Wit and a Munich Dunkel.  I won't see my score sheets for two weeks, but I have a fair idea where I went wrong:

    Saison - Added anise and I don't think people care much for anise or licorice flavors.

    Baltic Porter - added more licorice than prior batches and I'm sure that turned them off, but I'm one of the few black licorice afficiandoes.  If I'd had one of the prior batches, I would have entered that instead as they had a better balance with the malts.

    American Pale Ale - not sure what would have turned them off with this; I added some coriander, but it wasn't that prominent.  Dry hopped it with Cascade, but I thought it was pretty well done.  Awful lot of competition in this category. However, if they allowed it to warm up too much, I'm sure it wouldn't be that good. With all the entries in this style, there is a fair chance it was sitting on the judging table for a while waiting its turn.

    Munich Dunkel - probably could have been a bit maltier, as I was on the low end of the ABV at 4%.  Was just hoping there wouldn't be much competition, but turns out if you don't make at least a 40/50, you can't even place.

    Belgian Wit - orange peels didn't add much flavor, maybe some off-bitterness.  Probably shouldn't have used a navel orange.  But I thought it came out pretty well in spite of it.  Guess I need to raise my standards or use better ingredients.  But will be interested in the comments on this one as well as the APA.

    So I went in with low expectations and wasn't disappointed.  Mostly I wanted some good feedback, and it will be interesting to see if my assessment above aligns with the judges.  My assessments aligned pretty well with the certified judges in the styles I judged, so I am not expecting any surprises.  I'll post those comments when I get them.

    Saturday, October 20, 2012

    SNAFU Memorial Competition Part 1

    Going to have to post a part II to this once I find out the results of the competition.  Very interesting experience.  Decided to ride my bike to the competition since they started an hour later than originally planned.  Since we had plenty of experienced judges, I was assigned to be a third judge on the categories of smoked ales and meads.  I've never tasted either, but had the BJCP guidelines app on my phone.  We were well set up in the brewhouse of Tenaya Creek Brewery with six tables set up for the judges and a small table with coffee, palate clearing snacks, etc.  Tenaya Creek turned over one of their offices for us to have laptops set up to enter results.

    Fortunately I was teamed up with a couple of guys who had judging experience and when we got to meads, we switched out our more experienced judge for one who is certified in mead.  We started off with a bourbon barrelled aged ale. Very dark, almost black, but with a good firm, long lasting dark tan head.  But the smell of bourbon was very prominent.  They didn't tell us what the gravity or ABV of the brews were, but we could tell there was a lot of bourbon in this.  The next one was loaded with bakers chocolate and bourbon and had no head at all.  Very tasty, but you really couldn't tell that it was ale.

    Then we had one that was brewed with Jamesons.  I could tell that a mile away.  Tasted like Jamesons and Kahlua - lots of coffee and Irish whiskey coming through.  We were started to get hammered by now, as much whiskey as these brews seemed to have in them.  But still flat with no carbonation.  Fortunately nothing yet with odd or off flavors, just overwhelming whiskey.  No hops or malt coming through.  We couldn't tell what brews they were starting off using as the whiskey just overwhelmed in all the entries we had.  There were two more that were on our list, but were never delivered, so if they show up, they will just be entered into the SNAFU raffle at the next meeting.

    This coming raffle will be a real crap shoot with all the left over brews being thrown in without labels.  The end of one table had all the bottles from the judging that had some left in them.  The theory was that if they had more than half left, that the judges didn't like them.  I'm not hopeful for my own entries, especially for my porter which had a strong licorice taste.  I don't know many people besides myself who like strong licorice.  Still looking forward to the criticism to see where I went wrong.

    We had to wait awhile for the certified mead judge to be able to join us.  The fellow he changed places with doesn't like wine or mead, so it's good that he switched out.  The other judge said he had brewed a number of bad meads, so at least he knew what they shouldn't taste like.  Turned out that three of the four meads we tried were all from the same brewer and he was just tweaking his recipes to see what was best.

    The first one we tried was made from green grapes and was very grapey.  Couldn't really sense the honey much, because the grapes were very strong.  The next three entries were made with 5 berries and honey.  We were guessing at least cranberry, raspberry, and strawberry.  As we went through the three entries, the berries got stronger in the second entry, but with the additon of oak chips in the last entry, were well balanced with the honey. There was no question that the addition of the oak chips helped to moderate the other flavors - sweet, dry, grapey, berry, honey.  The second entry was a bit thick like a muscatel or sherry.  The alcohol was pretty high in these entries too.  The stewards and  judges at the other end of our table were laughing at the aroma of alchohol in the oak aged brews and meads that we were judging.
    We stuck around and sampled some of the leftovers of the brews that had been judged.  There was a pretty broad spectrum in the other classifications in terms of blah versus yum.  I didn't taste any that were really off with astringent or skunky flavors.  I didn't stick around for the second round, as some of the tables/categories had a lot of entries and were still slogging through their initial reviews.  We will see how the results come out in a few weeks at the SNAFU meeting. 

    Thursday, October 18, 2012

    Brewing recipe platforms

    A friend of mine was just asking me about gluten-free beers that might be available for sale since he thinks he might have a problem with consuming wheat.  That got me looking for recipes that might fit his needs, as gluten-free beers off the shelf aren't easy to find and don't have a great variety.  However; the recipes I found were very varied, although all were partial extract.  Nothing wrong with that, just thought it odd.

    Anyway, that got me thinking about our local homebrew club's competition this weekend and recipes in general....pretty much a long stream of consciousness and none of this really has much to do with where I'm going with this.

    So I started thinking about the recipes I've build recently and the experimentation I've done with various spices, herbs, fruit and other ingredients.  I was wondering if I might be better served by going back to basics.  Build some base recipes with no additives, just sticking to the basic grains, yeast and hops, then just tweak those volumes and processes until I'm satisfied that they are the best representation of the style that I can create.  Like building a sturdy beer recipe platform that I can use to launch different variations.

    Next, recreate them with one new ingredient, perhaps several times with varying amounts to determine the impact and optimum amount.  Then leave that one ingredient out and try a different one, then maybe both together.  Then maybe start over with the base and some different spices altogether.

    Obviously, this is a lot of batches, a lot of time, and experimentation effort.  I'm just wondering to what degree other craft or home brewers go through a similar process, and whether it is worth doing. Alternatively, should I just try to work it from the design side, figuring out what flavor profile I am seeking and select the necessary ingredients and work out the calculations to get me there?

    I'm hoping some of my readers will comment.

    Friday, October 12, 2012

    S.N.A.F.U. meeting

    I had to go to the SNAFU (Southern Nevada Ale Fermenters Union) meeting tonight.  Our SNAFU Memorial Competition is next weekend and I wanted to hear if there was any late breaking news.  Turns out that since I registered my Belgian Wit the week before last, the number of entries has doubled.  My entry was #72 and now there are 145 entries.  There are so many that they are going to start judging on Friday night, instead of waiting until the main event at Tenaya Creek Brewery.

    This is my first competition, so I'm mostly in it for the feedback, without much illusion of coming in first in any of my categories - Baltic Porter, Saison, Belgian Wit, Munich Dunkel and American Pale Ale. 

    Tonight pretty much confirmed my suspicions.  Our meetings are a mini-festival of sharing brews with a few garbled announcements and a raffle thrown in for formality's sake.  The first one I tried was Dogfish Head's Noble Rot.  Rot it was.  After reading the description on DH's website,, it is a pretty complex combination of brewing and vinting.  It really tasted like the grapes went to vinegar. It is possible that this brew was too far past its prime.  I can't imagine they would have sent it out that way. 

    3 shiny bottlesDuring the raffle, my LBHS proprietor, Steve, won a bunch of bottles.  He popped open a Duck Rabbit schwartzbier which did not disappoint - very roast, smokey flavor.  Then our home brewers started popping open their brews.  One of our members is a former brewer at Joseph James Brewery and he poured a reddish-amber ale that was both hoppy and malty with a perfect color.  It must be a seasonal that they brew, because it's not on their website.

    Another fellow who used to work at the LBHS and has several refrigerators full of home brew, poured his dry stout that was fairly thick and with an absolutely amazing toffee flavor.

    Then came a raspberry mead that had been aged for 14 months.  Could not taste the honey at all, as I imagine it had all fermented from the champagne yeast that brewer used.

    Finally, one other fellow produced his cherry saison, and all I can say is thank goodness it didn't carbonate well.  I sure wouldn't want my saison going up against it in the competiton.  He flash boiled and froze 4 lbs of cherries, then put them in his 5 gallon carboy with the wort.  It could have passed for a lambic, it was that good. 

    Absolutely overall the best brews passed around at a meeting, notwithstanding the Noble Rot.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    There's no beer brewed in France, is there?

    Last we saw my ancestor, James Poniard, he'd already left Brittany, France and set up his homestead in Galway, Ireland.  But did he leave behind a place that we associate with wine and certainly not beer and ale?  Let's take a look at the brewing scene in Brittany.  It's not that far across the channel to England, and obviously there was contact with the British and Irish.  My ancestor was able to secure employment in Ireland, although whether he found employment before he went or after is a mystery.  But it does appear that the Lamberts requested him to come over.  Anyway, back to Brittany:

    When you search on Brewing in Brittany (Bretagne), the first thing that comes up is:

    Which has links to the Brasserie de Bretange and their individual brews.

    Among the primary brewers of Brittany are:

    Saint Erwann - The patron saint of Brittany and lawyers (maybe we shouldn't hold that against him) produce an abbey ale at 7.7% made with seven grains: barley, wheat, buckwheat, oats, rye, spelt, millet and floral hops.

    Celtika - One of their main brews is a Belgian Style Ale at 8.8% made with strong barley malt and a triple fermentation process which brings a touch of honey, green apple and violet to the taste and a lightly toasted after-taste. On BrewAdvocate a number of reviewers report very high carbonation. They also brew a 4.8% cranberry ale, a Belgian Wit and a blonde ale reported to be spicy and fruity with very good reviews.

    Dremmwel - They produce a very unique 6% ABV English type of red ale with tastes of caramel, peach and apple. Their golden abbey is a robust 7.7%, brewed with noble hops and a slight acidic taste and not quite the mouthfeel expected of an abbey.  Their blonde ale at 5%ABV is brewed with malted barley and wheat and has a spicy. fruity and malty flavor, but reported to have high carbonation.  They also have a Belgian dark stout which is at 4%ABV that is fairly mild tasting.

    Brasserie Britt de Bretagne has three different lines:

    Gwiniz Du - Their specialty of Brittany is an ale made with buckwheat, very mild, slightly roasted, but with no perceptible acidity or bitterness tastes.  This is in an American dark wheat ale style and on BeerAdvocate gets very good marks.

    Britt - Britt has three brews - a 6% blonde pilsner with a fairly hoppy aroma and dry finish, a 4.8% white belgian wit ale which for the one reviewer on BeerAdvocate was very pleasurable, and a 5.4% Belgian dark red ale brewed with peat smoked malt and the taste of whiskey barrels.  Britt doesn't pasteurize their beers, but does ferment them twice.

    AR-MEN - Ar-Men has a golden ale that is like a Belgian Wit - spiced with coriander, orange peel and other spices at a moderate 4.8%.  They also have a 6% red ale, an amber wheat, a Belgian abbey.

    It is very unexpected and exciting to see the variety and quality of the brews in Brittany.  I only hope my ancestor had access to such variety.

    Monday, October 8, 2012

    Breweries in Galway - another of my ancestor's hometown

    Around 1820, my great great great grandfather, James Poniard, a Frenchman, left Brittany and went to Galway to work for the Lambert family collecting tithes from their tenants.  He married Sarah Monaghan and had a good sized family and left behind a stone sundial with the family name.  Many of his descendants still live there and hopefully enjoying the fine beer brewed locally in that city.

    One of those is the Galway Bay Brewery, who you can find here :
    They also have a tab on the website that provides minimal information, although the brewery appears to be relatively new and shipping only kegs to local restaurants.  They do note that there are 14 (now 20 according to microbreweries in all of Ireland; I would have expected one in every town and village.

    They have a Full Sail Pale Ale coming out on the heels of their Amber Ale Strangebrew that was just sold out.   They also brew Stormy Port Irish Porter and their red Bay Ale.  The Strangebrew is just a class of experiments that the brewmaster wants to try, so last month it was the Amber Ale, next month???  The brewery is in Lower Salthill in the southern part of Galway near the coast.  Fortunately we have some folks who tried and reviewed their brews on: and the scores are very good and mention a Bay Lager that they also brew.  The Bay Ale is described as having cream, toffee, caramel and barley flavors - all my favorites.  The lager is has a hint of fruitiness, light hopping and good malty taste.  The porter sounds delicious with chocolate, vanilla and roasted malts.  Seems that all the brews suffer from short lasting heads.

    The other older brewery (founded just in 2006) that's not in town but close (it's in Roscommon to the northwest) is the Galway Hooker Brewery:

    It appears they primarily brew Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale and only distribute in Galway, Dublin, Roscommon, Limmerick and Cork.  BTW, the hooker is the local type of fishing boat depicted on the label...not what you were thinking.  Ireland had it's first Irish Craft Brew Week this summer and Galway Hooker did well.  According to, Hooker also has a pilsner and per BeerAdvocate a Dark Wheat that're not on Hooker's website. The dart wheat received a very  good review as did the pale ale on BeerAdvocate.  The Dark Wheat has a complex flavor profile with some plum, wheat, spicy and chocolate flavors.  The Pale Ale is fairly hoppy, though not quite as much as America Pale Ales.

    Galway Bay Brewery will be offering tours in the near future, but Hooker offers personal tours by appointment.  The brewmaster's contact info is on their site.

    Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Hosbach...some my ancestors' hometown

    Hoesbach, Germany - my great-great grandfather came over to the U.S. from there in the mid 1800s.  I've connected with a number of other people with the same surname (Heeg) as there are really very few of us in the grand scheme of things...maybe 200 tops in the U.S. (and some of those are from Friesland).  I have a drawing of a coat of arms with the date 1570 and our family name on it that another Heeg brought back from there.  It is a small village, about 35 miles east of Frankfurt.  There is dairy farming in the area and my ancestors brought that with them and raised cattle and ran dairies in Elmhurst, Queens.  My grandfather used to deliver the milk via horse and wagon.

    So thinking about where to focus my brewing attention next, obviously all of Germany or even Bavaria has way too much going on to cover in one little blog post.  So the thought of Hosbach came to mind and I decided to see what was going on there.  On
    they mention Brauerei-Gasthof Weyberbräu, a brewery restaurant just east of downtown Hoesbach. 

    They have only been open since 2006. They describe a number of blonde, weizen and red ales that they create regularly, plus a number of seasonals, such as wheat beer in summer. They will fill your 5L bottle or provide a bottle for 11.90 Euros, or a single liter for 2.50 liters. 

    Their copper colored red ale is called Weyberbräu Qupfer.  They describe it as moderately hopped, slightly resinous and acetic, some coffee aroma, with a creamy mouthfeel.  Their Weyberbräu Weizen isn't described on their website.  The next beer they highlight is their Rauchbier.  It is described with a beige head, with some smoky, earthy roasted malt, bready, orange flavors, dry and bitter from the hopping, good lacing, anda similar to those brewed in Bamberger's beer school.

    The food menu has typical German fare, plus a few American bar favorites thrown in - fries, spaghetti...  They have a sauerbraten made in a dunkel sauce.

    In the bigger city nearby, Aschaufenberg is the Schwind brewery ( which has been in existance since 1761, and brewing in the founding Staudt family goes back further. In their lineup they include a blonde ale, pilsner, red ale, dunkel, a strong reddish-brown ale at 7.2%ABV, a bock of similar fortitude, something like a shandy that's 2.5%ABV, light and dark weissbiers, and a beer brandy that's 42%ABV.

    In looking for other breweries in the surrounding area, I ran across the strange bit of trivia that Snow White was purported to have been born in Lohr, not very far from Hoesbach.  The Brauerei Stumpf  is also located there and has a sizeable capacity and great reviews for its wiezen and dunkel.  They also have several pilsners, an export and a bock.  The Keiler Dunkel Weisbier got very good reviews in BeerAdvocate, as did the Helles.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Tastes of the Caribbean Leeward Islands

    A lot of seasoned beer drinkers are familiar with Red Stripe from Jamaica as it is available even on ordinary grocery shelves here in the states.  Many of the other Caribbean islands; however, have much better brews that never make it to our shores, unless via someone's suitcase.  There's nothing wrong with Red Stripes, it's an okay session lager, but fairly bland with no hint of hops aroma or taste.

    I had the pleasure of spending a week on Dominica, the nature island, down by Martinique and Barbados...(no relationship to the Dominican Republic attached to Haiti).  Dominica has its own brewery; not bad for an island of only 60,000 people.  The brewery Dominica Brewery & Beverages Ltd., founded in 1995, brews Kubuli and it is a nice malty lager.  The island gets 365 inches of rain a year, so the ground water is nearly distilled, it's so fresh.  Kubuli is widely available on the other Leeward Islands.

    Right next door, since 1961 on Barbados, Banks Brewery has been making some fine pilsner lager also.  It's made from 2 row barley from Canada or Australia, and the UK with Styrian Goldings and Galena hops from the US Yakima Valley.  It is imported to the US. Some of the reviewers on RateBeer claim that it has a corn flavor to it.  Perhaps it is possible that they use corn sugar for carbonation?  It doesn't score much above average, but is a very drinkable lager and in the heat of the Caribbean you really don't want a brew that is too heavy, high in alcohol or with a thick mouthfeel.

    Another brew on the island is 10 Saints, a premium hand crafted beer uniquely aged for 90 days in Mount Gay ‘Special Reserve’ rum casks, from the world’s oldest distillery. This complex brewing process produces a smooth full flavoured yet refreshing lager beer with oak and rum notes.  Seems to be the favorite on Barbados.

    On Antiqua, you can find Wadadli brewed locally at the Antiqua Brewery, which also brews Guinness, Red Stripe and Carib under license.  Wadadli doesn't get any high marks on RateBeer.  The reviews on BeerAdvocate were much more complete and complimentary towards this lager.  Quite a number of reviewers do also report some corn taste in it, as was the case with Banks.

    Balashi beerBalashi Beer, a 5%ABV all-malt pilsner, is the national beer of Aruba. The brewery, Brouwerij Nacional Balashi was built in 1999. It is brewed with Scottish malts and German hops.  It doesn't get any high marks from reviewers and is generally described as a bland session beer.

    A lot of these brews claim to have won appelations from the  Monde Selection in Brussels.  The awards from Monde Selection seem to be more about quality rather than an evaluation against BJCP standards. Kinda of like an FDA stamp of approval, but I don't profess to know what's involved in their evaluation process.  Also, many of those citing a Monde Selection award don't say what level award they received - bronze or Grand Gold.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    Wow..South Africa brewing...almost thought it was underwhelming, happy ending though.

    After digging into Bulgaria's brewing industry, some strange stream of consciousness took me to South Africa.  Maybe the thought of its settlement by  Dutch and English led me to believe it would be a very diverse brewing scene.  It seems that isn't the case.  Back in 1955, the government in its infinite wisdom imposed a crushing tax on beer that put most of the brewers out of business, except for the dominant Castle Brewing (later SAB).  Now SAB (now SABMiller after SAB bought Miller and owns the Miller part of the MillerCoors joint venture in the US) controls 98% of the South African market.  They even control their whole supply chain - brewing hop farms, barley farms, barley malting, distribution, metal crown cap manufacturing,  many retail establishments - pubs and casinos and for a while, grocery stores.  They also allegedly manipulated independent distribution, but that is in the courts.  Heineken is gradually breaking into the market also.
    There is a growing craft brew market with a lot of players coming in that are showing the same diversity of styles we are used to enjoying.  More on that in a few paragraphs.

    SABMiller also bought Koninklijke Grolsch N.V, so they brew Grolsch in South Africa.  Among the other brews they produce are Dreher Premium Lager, Castle Lager, Castle Lite, Castle Milk Stout, Hensa, Carling Black Label, Miller Genuine Draft, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Redd's, Brutal Fruit, and Sarita. 

    I've heard of milk stouts, but never really got around to looking into them.  They include lactose (milk sugar) which can't be converted by yeast, so it imparts the degree of sweetness to the brew in proportion to the amount used.  Castle Milk Stout gets really good reviews, except for several citings of a weak head.

    Castle Lager gets very consistent reviews and seems a good average lager with some evidence of there being corn used in the mash.

    Peroni Nastro Azzurro was originally founded in Italy and later acquired by SAB.  It is a pale lager, although from the SAB site, it would be hard to know that.

    Redd's is a line of fruit beers.  Not great ratings by the people who put ratings in RateBeer, not going to say beer snobs, but people who pay enough attention to what they are drinking and contribute to the experiential body of knowledge on the drinking experience. It may be an attempt by SAB to appeal to newbie drinkers, rather than make a robust fruit ale.  Sarita, on the other hand, gets much better reviews with its apple ale.

    Hansa is more than a single brew, it is starting to become a line of its own.  Right now it includes a Pilsner and a Marzan.  The Marzan Gold gets some very mixed, but overall moderate reviews.  The Pilsner scored some very high marks on RateBeer, but averaged also moderately with some great comments.

    Wow - the description of Dreher Premium Lager really makes it sound amazing - triple hopped, full malt and all.  The reviews on the other hand just don't back it up and most see it as pretty bland.

    Homebrewing seems to be fairly popular, although just recently, given there are a couple of South African online homebrew supply shops and quite a few local shops.  Mostly they distribute products from overseas, although SAB sells their grains through the stores too.  There are at least three homebrew clubs: South Yeasters Homebrewers Club (Capetown), Worthog Brewers (Pretoria), and East Coast Brewers (KwaZulu-Natal).

    Craft brewing is taking off and local competitions are providing good exposure to the startups.  Some of the top finishers include Bierwerk, Devil's Peak Brewing, Darling Brewery and Triggerfish Brewing.  Bierwerk's Aardwolf has been rated as the best craft brew in South Africa.  It's made from 5 grains, molasses, coffee beans and aged in French Oak barrels.  It is nonfiltered and has some sediment.  The ratings on RateBeer are the highest I've run across of any brew I've looked up.  It is a sweet stout, and I'm definitely adding it to my list of brews to hunt down.  IPAs are making an appearance, literally. says there are only a handful available, but that Devil's Peak's Blockhouse IPA, and Triggerfish's Hammerhead are off the hook.   This blog on the South African scene also describes Bierwerk's Renosterbos, a barleywine that they say is spectacular.  Bierwerk has a number of other brews - a weizen, another stout, a saison, and a mild ale.  Their African Stout also scores extremely high.

    Devil's Peak also has an imperial coffee stout, a blonde ale, a saison and an amber ale.  We need to get more folks in South Africa to drinks some and put their reviews in RateBeer as they only have one review each.   Triggerfish has an even bigger lineup with a dozen brews ranging from an oatmeal stout, Black Marlin (dark winter beer with 7 grains and 3 hops), many ales, blonde, pale, red, and brown, a barleywine and an imperial IPA that only has one very strong review.  The site mentions quite a number of other craft breweries and I'll be going back to that blog to check them out as well.

    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    Bulgarian Brews

    Looking at my pageview stats the other day, I noticed one access from Bulgaria.  I decided to see what the brewing situation was in Bulgaria, as you don't generally hear anything about it in our press or online media.  I did some basic Google searching and of course ran across which provides a listing of the eleven of the thirteen breweries in the country.  Most are owned by large brewing conglomerates like InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg.  I checked each name, (Almus, Ariana, Abtika, Boliarka, Burgasko, Kamenitza, Ledenika, Pirinsko, Shumensko, MM Varna, and Zagorka), in to see others' comments.  Beer only came to Bulgaria in the mid 1800s, brought by immigrants from France, Switzerland and Austria.

    The highest rating was a 58 out of 100 (within the style) and 3.06 weighted score (where the mean is 2.75) for Stolichno T’mno (Bock) from Zagorka.

    Some nice comments about it, but one thing that I noticed about many of the reviews of the brews from Bulgaria, was that there was often a comment about a metallic taste.  I looked for some pattern, as for Stolichno, the comment came from an Israeli drinker, so perhaps it was due to the canning and time in transit or on the shelf.  Although, other reviewers in Norway and Denmark didn't report it.  I then went down the list and looked up Kamenitza T’mno, a dunkel, from the oldest commercial brewery in Bulgaria.  Again an Israeli finding a metallic taste, but at least this brew had a lot of reviews, many very positive.  Finally scrolling through the reviews, someone from New Zealand, then some from Sweden, Ontario, CA, Finland and Wisconsin, US reporting a metallic taste.  Overall the comments were very complementary, the weighted rating fairly average and one reviewer brought up the point that dark beer had only been introduced in the mid 1990s to the Bulgarian brewing scene.  Having just lagered a dunkel over the summer, I can sympathize with the brewers' difficulties with it.

    Next I checked Pirinsko Svetlo Pivo, a pilsner from the Pirinsko brewery owned by Carlsberg.  Again, Israeli and Finnish reviewers reported metallic tastes.  I checked back to see if they were the same reviewers as before.  Neither the Israeli or Finnish reviewers were the same as reported the metal in the Kamenitza.

    If Kamentiza was delivered in a bottle as shown on Ratebeer, then the metallic taste isn't from the canning.  However on the Bulgarian Beer site, it shows both bottles and cans, so who knows how the reviewers received the product.  Back to the reviews.  Aha - the reviewer from Wisconsin got the brew in the bottle, as did the reviewer in Finland.

    Next I Googled "water quality in bulgaria" and reached the site which has a very detailed analysis of the water in Bulgaria from 2007.  Phew, the analysis certainly seemed like the water itself could be at fault - some parts of the country have natural lead, chromium, manganese, nitrates (which have a twangy taste), and iron.  The water treatment systems in the country don't remove these metals, so I imagine in many cases they end up in the beer, unless the brewery specifically treats the water.

    It would be interesting to see if the water is treated at the breweries, given the sizable backing most of the breweries have.  I don't think this would be enough for me to not sample Bulgarian brews, given the chance and the many positive reviews I've seen.  Perhaps the viewer from Bulgaria will fill us in on the breweries' filtration systems.

    Friday, September 28, 2012

    Brew 12 - Belgian Wit..sort of

    My son is a big fan of Blue Moon's Belgian White Ale, although sometimes he'll grab a Shock Top.  some folks are quick to point out..."YOU KNOW ITS MADE BY MILLER/COORS?" 

    Yeah, we do, and you know those guys have been making beer a long time and their brewers maybe hamstrung by the guys in the marketing department, but they do know their stuff.  Blue Moon is actually a separate craft beer division a couple layers removed from the mass produced Coors and Miller Genuine Draft divisions.  They have their own brewery, brewmasters, etc. and have come up with some really good brews - red ale, pumpkin ale. farmhouse ale, various wheat ales and an abbey. 

    So since my Saison is almost gone already, the next brew on my list was a Belgian Wit, to see if I could make something my son would like.  I wasn't trying to exactly duplicate Blue Moon, but wouldn't complain if I did.  Should have looked deeper before starting, since I didn't realize they use oats in the brewing too.  I found a Belgian Wit on from some brewer named Brad.  I found several others and combined the recipes and altered the ingredients a bit to use up some of the stuff I had on hand.  Well, a little more than a bit.

    I had a bunch of small batches of hops laying around - .2 ounces of this, .4 ounces of that.  Remember I only brew 2 gallon batches, so I end up with lots of odds and ends, half packets of dry yeast, half bags of specialty grains, etc.  I did some comparisons on the hops and substituted my .3 oz of Hallertau US hops for Saaz to use as the aroma hops. 

    I picked up a regular naval orange and zested it; probably some other orange you're supposed to use. I used SafeBrew WB-06 yeast instead of WLP400.  I did have enough Kent Goldings on hand, pale ale malted barley, some light crystal malt and some flaked wheat.  I still needed a little higher SG so I found half pound of honey.  Okay, so we are way off from Blue Moon I suspect, but there should be enough wheat - 1.6 lbs - to make it taste like a wheat beer.

    Went through the normal process, sanitizing, heating up the mash. 

    Found out an interesting tidbit from a plumber that came by to flush my water heater.  He said that the resin based water treatment system I have only removes chlorine and particulate, so my water still should have enough carbonate and magnesium for brewing.  That's not what the water treatment guy said, but I'm sure he's just giving me the company line so I don't freak out that there's still calcium in my water.

    While the mash was cooking, I took the coriander in a zip lock bag out to the garage and crushed it with a hammer.  Tough little buggers.  Have to do the same with Chocolate malt when I use it - can never seem to get it to go through the mill at the homebrew store.  Almost seems oily.

    Kept the mash at 155 instead of the multiple steps I usually do.  Didn't seem to matter, did an iodine test after 60 minutes and it was fully converted.  So started sparging with a grain bag in the fermenting bucket to avoid having to rack the wort:

    Then on to the boil for 60 minutes with the Kent Goldings going in as soon as the boiling started.
    Turned off the heat after the 60 minutes and threw in the Hallertau hops, coriander and orange peel and let those sit for 5 minutes while I filled up a cooler outside and the sink with cold water.  This is the part I really dislike, trying to cool this stuff down.  Fortunately the weather has gotten cooler at night and the water in the cooler really helped bring it down relatively quickly, with the help of a few ice packs.  I used the grain bag again to sift out the hops, seeds and peels.  I also poured the wort back into the fermenter and kettle a few times to oxygenate it, plus let it splatter pretty well into the glass jugs.  I had started the hydrating the yeast with some of the wort during the boil, so it was good and ready by now. 
    Here's all the jugs, hoses and towels ready in the cooler to start fermenting.  Twice a day I soak the towels in cool water to keep the jugs at 70 degrees.  The starting gravity came out to 1.055, which is about what I was targeting.
    We'll see in a month what I end up with.  Should be fairly drinkable.

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Delta King and River City Brewery

    Sometime in the early 90s I worked a contract for this insurance company in the LA area.  Notwithstanding some very bizarre management staff and some real characters on my staff, I had several very memorable experiences there.  The first one was on the initial interview - I flew with the IT management team up to Sacramento on the company jet, formerly owned by an Arabian prince, complete with mahogany trim, sleeping space for 4, and a stocked wet bar.  Eventually I was hired and we made several trips to Sacramento.  Later when I worked for a Big 5 consulting firm I also spent the better part of a year in the Sacto area.

    One time we were having strategy meetings...<yawn>..very forgetable.  But the best part was that we held the meetings and stayed in staterooms on the Delta King.

    The food was out of this world and the interior of the ship was very elegant.  The staterooms were so-so - looked like the original furniture and the mattress felt like it from the 1850s. Kind of a musty smell too.  The IT director had the captain's quarters, so he was living large.  The Delta King is docked at the end of K Street and the whole wharf area has dozens of craft shops, restaurants, bars and is just a great place to spend the evening.  K Street itself is closed off and turned into a pedestrian mall.  Not far from the wharf is the River City Brewing Company.

    River City Brewing Company

    River City Brewing is a brewpub and one of the first I'd ever seen.  I wandered in not realizing that they actually brewed right there. The fermenting tanks were a very visible part of the decor.  I took a quick scan of the board and was fascinated by the implications of an Oatmeal Stout.  I'd had settled for plenty of Guinness in the past and knew that there had to be more to stout from what I'd had in England. In the States, it was usually the only dark beer on the menu.  I was really looking forward to the difference that the addition of oatmeal would make.  I wasn't disappointed.

    The head was dense, tan and lasting; the taste was out of this world.  Thick layers of coffee and roasted grain flavors and that distinct hint of oatmeal comprised the complexity of its taste. Nice medium body and silky mouthfeel...just the perfect example of the style.  From then on I was hooked on stout. Whenever I had to go back to the downtown area, I made a point of stopping in for one.  It's not on their menu now, but they now have a Black River (dry) Stout, that I'm sure is made with as much quality.

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Iron City Brewery...changing with the times

    I used to travel quite a bit with work, oftentimes returning to the same city for a week or two every few months.  I visited places like Lynchburg, VA, Windsor Locks, CA, Andover/Tewksbury, MA, Sacramento, CA, Phoenix, AZ, Dayton, OH, Houston, TX, and Pittsburgh, PA several times.  This was mostly from the mid 70s to mid 90s.  I'd often tried to sample the local brew when I hit those towns, although during the early part of those travels there weren't a lot of breweries to sample.  By 1977, there were only 40 breweries left in the country.  Among those left, was the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, brewing Iron City lager.  Whenever I travelled to Pittsburgh, that was my brew of choice...mostly because I liked the name and wanted to support a local brewery, as the brew itself wasn't really distinctive.  Actually it seemed to pick up some of the metallic taste of the can, or maybe iron really was one of the ingredients.

    Draft beer packaged in cans
    Iron City Brewing Company goes back a long way to 1861 to its founding by Edward Frauenheim on 17th Street.  You can read the whole story there, but it quickly grew and took over many other local breweries and eventually by the end of the century became the third largest brewery in the U.S as the Pittsburgh Brewing Company.  In the 1980s the company started going through a period of hard times, in spite of having come out with a lite beer in the late '70s that boosted sales for awhile.  In 2007, the bankrupt remnants of the company were bought once more and the name returned to the Iron City Brewing Co.  Their product line is much more diverse now and their namesake brew is a Pilsner, but is joined by a couple of Munich Dunkels, a Vienna lager, fruit beers, a pale ale, a brown ale, several other lagers and malt liquors.  I look forward to getting back there to give them another try.

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Saison uncapped.

    Well, probably like most homebrewers, I get impatient.  It's only been a week since I bottled my Saison, but heck, it's just one bottle.  I threw it in the fridge for a few hours and took off on a bike ride with no particular destination, just east.  Headed for Sunrise Mountain and snaked my way through railyards, industrial parks, petrol dumps. around Nellis AFB and came to realize that the road that the map showed going toward the mountain was inside the base.  Headed up to LV Speedway, checked the map and couldn't see any reason why I'd want to go further north, except to see more flat, trash filled desert.  So turned around and took a different way home on larger streets.  Pretty uneventful, although Nellis has some pretty nice buildings on it, including the Federal hospital that's across the street.  About 16 miles round trip, mostly flattish.

    Went home and cracked open that Farmers' Ale. Nice pffft when I lifted the cap.  It's only been a week sitting on the floor at 80-85 degrees, which should be perfect for that Belgian Saison Ale yeast.  When I poured it the resulting head was beyond expectation for just a week.

    Love that color...about an SRM 14.  The head was as thick as any I've seen and really stuck to the glass in thick strips.  Very dense.  Mouthfeel was good and moderate.  Definitely some peppery aftertaste from the peppercorns and the yeast itself.  Not much malty flavor coming through, rather a bit bitter from the dry hopping of the Goldings.  Last time I dry hopped I used Cascade which has much less alpha acids than Goldings.  Be interesting to see how the taste develops overall during the next few weeks.  Next time I might eliminate the dry hopping and spices just to see how the base brew comes out.  Still a pretty looking brew.

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Brewing White House Porter for new brewers

    The news that the White House had started its own homebrewing operation and the subsequent FOIA release of the recipes has gotten the attention of a lot of folks new to brewing.  Even experienced homebrewers are taking a go at the recipes from what I've heard in the home brew shop and local homebrew meetings.  Most of the experienced folks have converted it to an all-grain recipe.

    So a new brewer was asking for advice last night on Twitter regarding brewing the White House Porter.  He had all the ingredients gathered, and fortunately hadn't started before asking for assistance.  Upon reviewing the instructions again, as I'd gotten the recipe a few days back, I noticed some gaps that would trip up someone new to brewing.

    The recipe assumes you know how to brew.  First off - there's no mention of equipment needed.  It is easy for a new person to miss pulling together things like a spoon, funnel, measuring cup, can opener.  Planning ahead can be crucial to the brewing process so you don't end up in a pickle when you need something and don't have it at hand or clean and sanitized when you need it.  The recipe also doesn't mention sanitizing, which means you better know what implements you are going to need, so you can sanitize them before you start.

    One of the things I told him was to pay lots of attention to sanitization and if he uses bleach, to rinse everything three times with tap water; including all the pots, hose, racking cane, thermometer, spoon, measuring cup, funnel, strainer, everything.  If he was going to use StarSan for sanitizing, he wouldn't have to rinse as much.  They claim you can leave it on, but I don't.   

    I also told him to practice with the siphon hose.  It is one thing to get the flow going, it's another to get it to stop and start again without spraying the floor, yourself, counter and everything in between.  I told him that I've used a hemostat with much better success than the kit-provided clamp.

    The recipe calls for just dumping the honey and the LME into the wort.  It is a lot easier if you warm them up first so everything comes out of the can or bottle quickly without having to use a spoon or stand there for 15 minutes waiting for the last thick drips to stop.

    Although the recipe calls for adding cold water to help bring down the temperature of the wort, it will still need a lot of chilling to get down to 70 degrees. I told him to think about how he was going to move 50+ lbs of hot wort splashing in a kettle from the kitchen to the bathroom to chill it.  Also, did he remember to get enough ice to fill the bathtub.  The wort needs to be chilled in about 30 minutes in order to avoid any off flavors.

    The instructions also don't mention prepping the water by either boiling it or letting it stand overnight to remove any chlorine.  That could be especially bad for the water used to hydrate the yeast.

    Finally, again with the sanitization, it doesn't remind the brewer to sanitize the racking cane, hose, pot, bottles and caps before the final step.

    The final advice I gave the brewer was to pay attention to sanitization and rinsing, temperature and timing; and he would have a great chance of success.