Friday, November 27, 2009

Tangelo Porter Bottled

Smallish batch of Tangelo Porter filled 36 bottles (mostly 12oz, but including 2 bombers and 3 grolsch) while watching Dallas stomp all over Raider Nation.
Chocolate Stout is still bubbling away in the carboy, but will probably move to a keg for secondary so we can get another porter going before Christmas.
I'm ready to begin tasting the winter seasonal ales produced in this fair city, starting last week with Laurelwood Brewing's Vinter Varmer: A smooth balance between their fresh hop Hooligan ale and the darker, velvety Space Stout, the Varmer features earthy flavors and a warming 6.4% ABV.
Picked up a six of Deschutes Brewery's Jubelale, a beer I had previously written off for no reason I can remember, and found that it's perfect for this season. As the beer warms, the malt and hop characters open up and there's a great complexity here, good evening beer, seeing as evening starts about 4:30 now.
In addition, New Belgium has begun to redeem 1554, a bottle caught between genres, colors, flavors and a general anachronism, by producing a beer they simply call Abbey. It's certainly drinkable, and although it features none of the New Belgium signature papery flavors, I wouldn't confuse it for an actual Abbey ale.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

OBC Fall Classic--Judgement Day!

The detailed results of the Oregon Brew Crew's Fall Classic came out by email yesterday, and I am proud to say that the Saison marked 32 on a 50 point scale, or "Very Good: Beers in this range may have a minor flaw (technical or sylistic) or may be lacking in balace or complexity"
The beer was judged by two people (one a novice, the other certified), who gave almost entirely positive feedback regarding the appearance, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel.
In the Overall Impression section, the certified judge remarked, "A drinkable beer, more like an IPA with Belgian yeast. Aroma and flavor should reflect more of the Saison yeast phenols and fruitiness," and the other guy said "Nice flavor, peppery, spicy, not too tart."
The results were exciting, no major off flavors or unpalatable responses, but the real learning experience was in the judging rather than the judgement for me. From the master and certified judges I worked with, I learned how to pick out off flavors and know their sources, as well as how to judge with the perameters of style.

OBC Fall Classic

The earliest I have roused myself from bed this month was 7am, in order to make it to judging registration at the Oregon Brew Crews recent Fall Classic Homebrew Competition. We tucked into the first flights of the day at about 9, in the chilly barroom of Roots Brewing Company.
I judged Light Hybrids, including California Common Beer (think Anchor Steam) and dusseldorf altbier. Unfortunately, there are about a dozen different weird off flavors that can affect a finished beer, and a few of these were prominently featured in most of the beers I tasted. There are so many variables to brewing, that examples that nailed down malt character left hops out in the cold, or a beer that looked awesome and got full marks for appearance--a thick creamy foam, correct color and clarity--would taste weird or weak.
We broke for lunch and I considered the fate of Kazoo's best of the year, Hot-Head Saison, as it awaited judgment. The high-ranking judges at the Belgians table would certainly pick out the subtle off flavors, and, to make matters worse, they had received the very last bottle existing...
(As we neared the end of the Saison bottling process, it became clear that I had miscalculated the number of bottles we would fill, so everyone in the room naturally pitched it by opening a beer, decanting it into a glass and sanitizing the bottle)... and the last bottle I would have picked for judgement.
The rest of the day rolled along smoothly (if a bit chilly), officially tasting American Ambers and participating in a taste-off for that category, then meeting some other brewers and unofficially tasting some ciders and meads.
I picked up some advice on dialling in keg carbing, bulk grain deals and the merits of secondaries and the members of the Oregon Brew Crew were very encouraging, welcoming and supportive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My New Friends: Adam, Ruth & Fred

Unique is a much abused and overused adjective, co-opted in the 90s by savvy marketers and born-again hippies, but it was the the first word that came to mind as I tasted Doggie Claws, a barley wine created by Hair of the Dog Brewing.

My first thought as I entered the dog house, however, was this must be the wrong door, because there was a forklift blocking the way, a giant white vessel standing in the middle of the room and cases upon cases of brown boxes. We stepped tentatively around the boxes, uncertain whether we were welcome in this esoteric beer temple. Hair of the Dog is serious stumptown underground--the hybrid of two essential Portland loves: a DIY anti-corporate attitude and craft brewing--and complete with an impossible to find clubhouse and odd beer names like Ruth, Fred & Adam we had to wonder, Are we worthy?

Perhaps. Busy like the Wizard of Oz, Founder Alan Sprints walked out from someplace among the boxes and without ado poured three tastes of Ruth, then walked off to check on some kegs, leaving us to contemplate our clear, golden glasses. After tasting Fred and Fred from the Wood (both somewhere around 11%), we began to feel much more comfortable in the noisy warehouse, and Alan offered to show us around the operation.

Hair of the Dog makes old, odd, forgotten recipes from authentic ingredients. Adam, the original Hair of the Dog, is made only with the ingredients and procedures available to the 19th century brewer, and produced according to a long lost prescription (for more on Adam, a fascinating beer, I recommend this article by Fred Eckhardt). Doggie Claws makes an incredibly smooth transition from winter beer to blush to port and back again with every sip. I could almost feel the warehouse tilt and disappear, to be replaced with a hearth wholly of my imagination, roaring fire, Christmas lights ablaze, big old dog warming my feet, then back to the cement floor with the malty beer finish. We also tasted Fred Flanders, a very interesting version of Fred aged in wood with Brettanomyces wild beasties whose flavor I could not begin to describe here.

Hair of the Dog's operation is compact, milling grains to mash tun to water-jacketed fermentation vats all within about 10 square yards, but the beer, produced in miniscule batches and bottle conditioned, is truly unique.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Making up for Time Lost

Kazoo Brew now has room to spread out! A rack in the kitchen devoted to beer equipment, a closet nook for busy fermenters oh my! To celebrate the advent of some cooler weather as well as the kickoff of the Steelers' season, a Tangerine Porter is gurgling away in the carboy. This was Kazoo's first foray into a big mash, weighing in at about 12# of grain. Still working out the best way to construct a mash tun from a water cooler, we just used a grain bag in a cooler to keep the temperature at about 156 F for 35 minutes. The result was a very concentrated, small batch of squid ink, smelling of hops and tangerine as well as other, darker notes. This will be perfect in November, so we quickly brewed a lighter, easier batch of Abbey-style Singel. Bypassed the mashing process by using a mini-mash + extract recipe and pumped this beer out in about 4 hours from grain infusion to yeast lob. Kettle Defoamer played a role in this brew to keep the yield high while fermenting in a smaller vessel. Should be ready in 4 weeks, +2 to bottle condition.

BikeToBeerFest @ HUB, Portland

I don't know the brewer's significance of the 19th of September, but several Portland breweries (of which there are many, many) hosted variations on the theme BeerFest yesterday. I live across the street from Laurelwood Public House, whose sign urged me to "save the date" for their beer party. But having looked in on the restaurant earlier in the week, I decided it was too nice a day to hang around the dimly lit corners of a pub, and instead opted to bike to SE and check out Hopworks Urban Brewing's Biketobeerfest, a convoluted play on the popular Oktoberfest.
I am thoroughly impressed by the PDX bike culture, and bicis of all kinds roosted in the racks outside of HUB's party...the hipster standard, single speed road bikes, locked alongside enormous hybrid commuter behemoths, the faux beach cruisers popular everywhere but Orange County, and the occasional recumbent, lurking among the kid-toting trailers. Everywhere were the workhorses of this uber bike friendly town.
Which is why I found it odd that inside the gates were more of the same, ostensibly, on display. The phrase "handcrafted bicycle" has several interpretations. In my mind, it means some welder with a vision and a pile of bike frames and parts: double talls, odd tandems, pivoting frames, bikes with steamroller wheels made from old kegs, backwards bikes with a tiller to steer, in short, a celebration of everything a bicycle can be, with emphasis on fun. In this case, it was taken to mean really fly, pricey bikes in custom colors for you to drool over and wish you could own. Aside from some synchronized bike dancing and a few smallies on bmx, the only interactive bike themed event was a K-mart brand bicycle hammer-throw. More accurately, watching some guy throw a cheap bike around. Hooray!
I guess a brewery can appreciate bikes without really understanding "bike culture" if the beer they put out is as good as HUB's. Two fresh hop beers were created just for this festival, and 14 others were on taps arranged around the grounds. I tried the "Fest of Fury," a very full-malt tasting deep amber beer with a delightful hop aroma and finish. I've reached the point in the year when extra supa hoppy ales taste skunky to me and I make the slow transition to porters and stout and the like. This is a brilliant transition ale, full of nuanced malt flavor, hoppy but not astringent, dark enough to warm me up when the sun was out to lunch.
"Bike Beer" was lighter, hoppier and delicious. Like I said, the days of Pliny the Elder with a slice of white peach are over. This beer was thirst quenching and quaffable.
The 7 Grain "Survival" Porter hearkened back to the origin of beer as safe drinking water, a loaf of bread and a warm blanket all in one inky black glass. HUB threw in some freshly roasted local coffee to round out the cacao notes in this new moon colored brew. This one was my favorite of the day, it felt like the right beer for the season.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saison: First Taste

A sneak preview of saison was uncapped at the Farewell to Burners cookout in Oakland yesterday evening. Just as the sun tucked itself behind the vacant building and the air cooled off from boiled prawn-pink to a more comfortable pollution-purple, ten tasters reflected on the fresh summer ale.
(I have been listening to more NPR lately, and if this were a radio doc, here is where there would be audio tidbits of people clinking glasses and saying things like, "mmm I love hoppy beers!" and "the citrusy aroma disappears in the middle of the sip" and "this tastes like summer!") Alors.
The extra-carbonated deep gold colored brew produced a glorious head after decanting. The aroma was lightly spiced and citrusy, flavors that blossomed on the front of the tongue and gave way to a full but light as meringue malt middle, which then gave way to a very hoppy and just toeing the bitter line finish. Suffice to say it took superhuman powers of restraint not to plow through another round of bottles.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Capping up Kazoo Oakland

The British Summer Ale, "Mister Squinty" went down smooth at a solstice party in June, kegged in the backyard and quaffed magnanimously with fruits and cheeses.

Bottled the as-yet-unnamed Saison last weekend, came out the color of the Harvest Moon and the little uncarbonated sample sip tasted like the chalice of ambrosia standing in Venus' silk pillow-strewn Canary Island vacation rental.

Kazoo Brews are moving to Portland, OR...
just as soon as the Saison is sufficiently bottle conditioned to serve on the midmove picnic

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's Not A Stil, But It Sure Is A Double-Wide...

Got a kit brew of Blonde Ale going in the closet of the double-wide trailer. Max and I were worried that the Livermore summer would overwhelm our fermentation bodies and the beer would go rancid in the sweltering heat, so we stuck the carboy in a closet next to an air conditioner vent just prior to a cold snap. Result: fermentation came on hot and heavy for about 2 days, then all activity stopped. Now we shake/stir it up vigorously every other day or so and it's been blup blup blupping along nicely in the spare room.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's that science experiment in the corner?

Now Fermenting @ Kazoo Brewery, Oakland:

Mister Squinty Summer Ale   &   Fool Moon Saisoon! 

Whole Hops Concluded! Sweet Portable Beer Dispense!!

In order to really relax on a Memorial Day camping trip, a full, portable corny keg is a necessity. A large, metal framed backpack accommodates one quite well, with room for a fly reel and a few chew bars.

The super-hopped, Belgian-American IPA came out spectacularly: the siphon hose with a ramshackle cheesecloth filter ran full with slightly cloudy golden nectar, and those pesky hop leaves stayed in the bottom of the carboy. 

Quick-charged the keg overnight, bathed in ice (hopefully about 50*F throughout), alongside of the Amber Ale keg we brewed and left behind to appease those brewhands unable to trek out to the river. Sealed off the IPA and tapped the Amber.

Materials needed for portable pump:
1 hand bicycle pump
1 Gas In quick disconnect fitting
4" gas tubing
1 old bike tire innertube
some kind of clamping device, pref. circular
sharp scissors

Cut the stem from the bike innertube (make the leftover rubber into a bungee to tie down important camping gear!) and force it into one end of the gas tubing, so that the air nipple sticks out. Clamp that down/use some extra secure thing you improvise. Attach the other end to the quick disconnect and voila! you can pump air into the keg to displace all that delicious beer. As long as you drink the beer in the span of 2 or 3 days, you don't have to worry about it going off due to the odd bits of primordial life you're introducing from the outside air!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Miracle of Defoamer

Bought an American Amber Ale kit to maintain the supply of foamy beer on tap in the house and mixed it up without a hitch. Seven batches of beer and the process comes easily now, doing the tiny kitchen dance with one partner or several.
The learning experience, and there's always one, came the following morning in this particular batch. We are using a corny keg as primary fermentation, and filled it to within about 4" from the top, propped the legs of the seal and closed her up. Using the liquid quick-disconnect fitting and a length of hose leading into a 1/4 full bottle of cheap vodka, constructed a larger than normal pressure lock.
The yeast started in on the wort almost immediately and the next morning the vodka bottle was half full of light brown liquid and yeasty foam. Called my local beer supply and our buddy, Kel, told me we shouldn't fill a 5 gal fermentation vessel. "You need to leave about 8" for the yeast break," he said. "So to do 5 gallons, you really need a 6.5 gallon container." He said we would lose a lot of beer and possibly all our hardworking yeast bodies to the current setup, and recommended a chemical product called Kettle Defoamer. We picked up a bottle of the stuff, which resembled Elmer's Glue in color and texture, for $6 and set about to Save the Beer.
The yeast had produced so much gas that the fermentation lock was bubbling nonstop, the only outlet to our well-sealed keg. This made it impossible to open the top of the keg, and if I had paid more attention to high school chemistry I could probably calculate the pressure holding the lid in place, but suffice to say our 180# roommate could not make the sucker budge. We added pressure to the quick-disconnect fitting to allow more gas to escape, along with a pile of foam which condensed to about a pint of liquid. Soon we had released enough pressure to open the top and deposit 10 drops of the defoamer, but the foam was unstoppable and rose up out of the keg, taking the goopy substance with it. Threw a few more drops in for good measure and closed up the top before more foam could escape. The foam subsided almost immediately and the pressure lock water has remained clear since.  

Whole Hops: The Saga Continues

The Belgian American IPA at 5 weeks has settled quite a bit. The pressure lock still pushes up a bubble every minute or so, but fermentation has slowed to the marathon pace. The fresh hops have fallen to the floor of the carboy in autumn foliage snow-globe fashion, and we're hoping to extract the beer without much trouble from that group.

A few brainstormed ideas on keeping the hop leaves and buds out of the keg, after siphoning out most of the beer:
Create a screen or cheesecloth filter around the end of the racking tube to keep hops out of siphon hose.
Decant carboy contents into 5 gal steel pot and create a French press like device to press the hops to the bottom and pour the liquid into the keg.
Pour the last sludgy bit out of the carboy and through a fine pasta strainer and into the keg.

We may end up using all three of these ideas, in series, before getting all the beer into the keg for tapping. Looks like we're pushing fermentation to about 7 weeks, maybe 8, but housemates have been eyeing the batch hungrily and making comments like, "wow, that looks like it's about ready..."every couple of days, so we'll see.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Adventures in Whole Hops

Recipe: Belgian-American IPA
Source: Radical Brewing, Mosher 2001

Cooked up an IPA in anticipation of the summer season and some sticky Oakland afternoons, opting to use whole hop buds instead of rabbit food. 3oz of Saaz smelled citrusy and sweet, certain to bring a new element of freshness to the brew, along with the zest of a sweet pink grapefruit. 

The wort smelled great, as usual, throughout the 60 minute boil, but when it came time to siphon that amber ambrosia into the carboy, those hops caused problems. They had expanded to more than thrice their dry size and kept blocking the hose, despite our little filter on the racking tube. We managed to pull out most of the wort, then set about stuffing the hops into a funnel to the carboy. Got most of them in, pitched the yeast and 2 days later the whole thing's foaming away, turning itself upside down every few seconds, and we're hoping the hops eventually settle to the bottom. Also hoping that extra time/exposure/aeration of the wort doesn't affect the final foamy. 

Kazoo Brew has had a fairly high success rate, 4/5 beers rating as 'delicious,' but we don't have a very professional process yet. Many times, we improvise different uses for common kitchen tools (cheese grater, wooden spoon handle, and cheesecloth are some favorites) in order to rack  or cool the beer, and we worry that this extra handling may have an adverse effect on the beer. We'll see in 6 weeks when we tap this IPA whether we scraped by without introducing off flavors to the mix.