Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Great American Beer Festival - From the Other Side

So over the weekend I did something that I had never done before. Don't get me wrong, living in Denver I have been to the Great American Beerfest plenty of times, but this time I volunteered. If you are unfamiliar with the GABF then I am guessing that you're probably not much of a beer geek.

The GABF is the largest beer festival in America; where American breweries can showcase their beers and compete against other breweries around the country. It is not only for the little guys, the big three compete as well. The only stipulation is that the brewery must be located in our great nation.

Imagine a large convention center filled with rows and rows of tables. Upon those tables are pitcher after pitcher of beers brewed from coast to coast. Upon entry you are given a tasting glass where you can taste as little or as many beers that you want. You get the idea...

I was chosen to pour in the Rocky Mountain region and wound up standing in front of New Planet Brewing out of Boulder, Colorado. I am not gluten intolerant nor do I follow a gluten free lifestyle, however I found it quite the perfect match seeing as I want to bring in more gluten free variety to my store and I had never run across their beer before.

About 15 minutes before doors opened our team captains came by and said we could start filling the pitchers and taste some of the beers from our region. Quite a necessary step when hundreds of people are going to come up to you and ask about a beer you may have never even tasted before. I was expecting something not quite up to my liking with what I was pouring but was greatly impressed with my tasting of the New Planet offerings. Tread Lighty was a nice light summery ale that was much better than some of the other gluten free offerings I have tasted before, and their 3R Raspberry Ale was a fruit beer that was perfectly done. The raspberry flavor was fresh and slightly tart and didn't leave a syrupy sweet feeling as a lot of fruit beers tend to do. This is a beer that would easily sell to the masses that can consume gluten. I tasted some others around my area and got ready for the crowds to rush in.

The hoards of beer lovers began to show up in front of the table and the pouring began. 1 ounce and 1 ounce only was really the only rule to follow and it was one of the easiest jobs I have done. The best part about volunteering is that you are allowed breaks where you can go and try beers from different regions.

I was able to meet some great people. Not only the costumed masses, (above was a couple completely covered in denim) but was able to network with some of the brewers competing at the event. Pedro and Seneca Gonzalez, the owner/brewers of New Planet were probably some of the nicest people I have ever met. Pedro being extremely sensitive to gluten, left his former life as a non-profit accountant to live his dream of brewing great beer for the people who share his love of beer but cannot drink it. Not even a year in they have grown greatly. Not too long ago they were selling the beer out of the back of his truck but now have established themselves with a local distributor and are growing greatly in this region. As I can attest to, good things happen to great people. Pedro and Seneca walked away with a Bronze medal for their 3R Raspberry Ale in the Gluten Free category. The most amazing part is this beer was only released to the public in the last few months. I am excited to try to gluten free pale ale they were telling me about; it is being developed and will be released shortly.

It was a great experience and will probably only volunteer at the GABF from now on. My favorite beer from the day was probably The Lost Abbey's Red Poppy Ale but I pretty much enjoyed everything I was able to try. The only disappointment about the festival is I think the medals should be a little bigger (Seneca is wearing theirs in the above picture).

Click here for a list of winners at the GABF

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beer Review: Left Hand Brewing Co - Oktoberfest

This beer is available each autumn in celebration of the great Bavarian festival season. Brewed in late spring and cellared throughout the summer, our Oktoberfest is produced through traditional methods as it has been for centuries in Germany, This copper-hued lager owes its rich malt flavor to a generous combination of select Vienna and Munich malts. Cool, open-fermentation develops a subtle elegance and drinkability suited to any festive occasion.
2000 to 2009 vintages - 6% abv
2010 vintage - 6.6% abv

Appearance: Pours a crystal clear and perfect copper color. Head starts at about one finger but reduces to just over the head leaving a nice thick white layer over the top. Carbonation bubbles dance their way up sustaining the head.

Aroma: Very rich malt aroma highlighting toasty, bready, and subdued caramel malts. Some earthiness is evident but no hop nose can be found. A tiny bit of sweet fruit can also be picked up in the nose. A very nice smelling malt driven beer.

Flavor: Flavor is a bit more subdued than I expected after smelling this beer. Malt and bread are the most dominate profile in this beer. Toastiness makes itself present near the middle of the sip, while caramel malts and noble hops are the undertone throughout. Slight hop bitterness drys this beer out as the sip ends.

Mouthfeel: Low body with medium carbonation. Somewhat watery but broken up with a carbonic bite.

Overall: Seems like a pretty typical American style Oktoberfest. The beer is malt driven and showcases the profiles of Munich and Vienna malts. The body is a bit low for the style and would benefit somewhat from a little more residual sugars. I like that this beer is pretty dry, which may be a small reason why the body lacks. Something I would probably pick up over Sam Adams Oktoberfest but have tasted better festbiers from other American breweries. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co - Tumbler

As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down. 

alcohol content: 5.5% by volumeyeast: Ale Yeast
beginning gravity: 13.6 Platobittering hops: Challenger
ending gravity: 3.5 Plato
bitterness units: 37
finishing hops: Challenger & Yakima Goldings
malts: Two-row Pale, Crystal, Chocolate & Smoked

Appearance: Pours a nice brown, a little bit lighter than a Hershey bar. Crystal clear with a slightly off white head that sticks at about one finger. The lacing is stupendous and sticks around the full rim of the glass.

Aroma: The aroma is a little light but malt driven. Roasted, nutty, and some sweet caramel show themselves. A tinge bit of smoke reminds me of sitting by a wood burning stove.

Flavor: Flavor very much resembles the nose. There is more flavor than the aroma would suggest, starting off with rich roasted malt and some sweet caramel. Toasted nuts covered in slightly burnt sugar start to come forward near the middle of the sip. Earthy somewhat herbal hops are also present which balance very very well with the profile of this beer. The sip ends with a touch of sweetness and a touch of smoke.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with low carbonation. Feels fluffy in the mouth and goes down smooth.

Overall: I was once angry with Sierra Nevada for discontinuing their Spring ESB for the (not as good) Glissade bock. They have redeemed themselves to me with this new Fall offering. Out of every Fall seasonal I have reviewed these past few days, this is the one that really exemplifies the Fall season. With each sip I can imagine the trees starting to turn and the neighbors starting to burn their leaf piles. The touch of smoke is what I really think puts this beer over the edge. Smoked malt is a touchy thing to play with but they really got it right in this beer. I highly recommend going out and getting yourself a 6 pack of this, so you can try it for yourself.  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beer Review: Boulevard Brewing Company - Bob's '47 Oktoberfest

Our fall seasonal beer, Bob’s ’47 Oktoberfest is a medium-bodied, dark amber brew with a malty flavor and well-balanced hop character. With this Munich-style lager we salute our friend Bob Werkowitch, Master Brewer and graduate of the U.S. Brewer’s Academy, 1947.

Color (EBC) 29.5
Bitterness (IBUs) 27
Original Gravity (Plato) 13.6
Terminal Gravity (Plato) 2.6
Alcohol (ABV) 5.8%
CO2 - Bottles 2.6 vol. (5.1 g/L)
CO2 - Kegs 2.5 vol. (5.0 g/L)

Appearance: Pours Amber to a very light brown with a head at almost a finger. Head quickly dissipates to almost nothing. Carbonation bubbles break the stillness at the top. 

Aroma: Aroma is filled with caramel, toffee, and some nuttiness comes through. Bready notes are subdued with malt and butterscotch showing themselves.

Flavor: A very caramel malt focused beer. Toffee, butterscotch, peanuts, honey, maple syrup, and bread can all be detected. Bitterness becomes evident at the end and rounds out the high amount of sweet malt. The beer finishes lager crisp but sweet. A slight bit of noble and earthy hop flavor can be distinguished near the end. 

Mouthfeel: Medium body. with medium to high carbonation. Creamy until carbonic bite breaks it up.

Overall: Not perfectly to style if judging by BJCP standards. Rather than bready/toasty/malty grain, this beer really showcases caramel malts. Carbonation is also a bit high for the style. When looking away from style this beer is quite interesting for those who like sweeter beers. Seems to me somewhat like an english brown without the dark malts and with crisp lager characteristics. I like it and think it is one of the better offerings from Boulevard.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beer Review: New Belgium Brewery - Hoptober

Five hops and four malts make Hoptober Golden Ale a veritable cornucopia of the earth.  Pale and wheat malt are mashed with rye and oats to create a medium-bodied ale with a creamy mouthfeel.
Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette, and Glacier hops form a bonfire of citrus notes, fruity cheers and a bold finale.

Seasonal: August, September, October.
40 IBU
6% ABV

Appearance: Crystal clear and golden in color. Large rocky white head diminishes to a half of finger with around the rim lacing.  

Aroma: Sweet fruit hop aroma touching on apricots and tangerines. Light touch of bread malt and wheat. 

Flavor: Strong citrus hop punch up front. The bitterness is subtle and very nice. I taste exotic fruits like pineapple and something like mango on top of a strong citrus component of tangerine and orange. Smooth malt goodness is apparent in the middle of the sip. The beer finishes crisp almost like a lager. Very refreshing. 

Mouthfeel: Low to medium body with medium carbonation. Somewhat creamy with a slight carbonic prickle.

Overall: Something out of the ordinary for a fall seasonal beer. Very refreshing and will get you through that transition period from Summer to Fall. The best thing about this beer is that it showcases hop flavor and not much of the bitterness. The malts accentuate the hop goodness and it leaves you wanting another bottle. Probably my favorite of all of New Belgium's beer lineup. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beer Review: Avery Brewing Co - The Kaiser

Beer Style: Imperial Oktoberfest Lager
Hop Variety: Magnum, Sterling, Tettnang, Hersbrucker
Malt Variety: Two-row barley, Vienna, Munich 10L, m-100, aromatic
OG: 1.080   ABV: 9.3 abv   IBUs: 24
Color: Copper
Availability: One vintage brewed and bottled August 1st of each year. 22oz. bombers, 1/6BBL and 1/2BBL kegs.

The Kaiser sonce said, "Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world." If the Kaiser and his significant other had tipped this bottle, we'd all be "sprechenden Deutsch!" We took all that is good in a traditional Oktoberfest - gorgeous, deep copper sheen, massive malty backbone and spicy, floral, pungent noble hops - then intensified each into this, an Imperial Oktoberfest.

Appearance: Pours a beautiful copper that is crystal clear. Off white head rises strongly but then falls to almost nothing with minimal lacing. 

Aroma: Toasty, biscuity malt up front leading into faint floral and noble hops. Strong bread like component throughout.

Flavor: Toasted bread and thick malt dominate the profile. Hints of dark fruit and burnt sugar also present in the profile. Noble hop presence is there, slightly floral and pleasant. Focused towards the malt but the hop bitterness does a nice job of not making it too much. 

Mouthfeel: High body with medium carbonation. Thick and chewy with a small carbonic bite at the end. 

Overall: Such a great fall beer. Avery, known for taking beers to the next level, has succeeded in making a traditional Oktoberfest take steroids. I really would like to know what a German native would think of this. American's have already ramped up the traditional Oktoberfest that you can get on draft in Germany. I have set a bottle of this aside to age, and look forward to it next year. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beer Review: Hofbräu München Oktoberfest

So by American standards the end of summer is after Labor Day has passed. The winds start to bring in colder air and the corner stores start to put up there Halloween swag. And of course around this time of year breweries start to release their Fall seasonals. I began seeing these start popping up at my store a few weeks ago and had to explain that breweries can't sit on their stock and have to get this stuff out the door so they can start brewing up their winter seasonals. I figure this would be a good time to do some reviews of some of these great fall seasonals. The most widespread style would be Oktoberfest/Marzen beer but darker richer beers also come into play when the light and/or fruity lawnmower beers are making their way out. This will probably go into next week and I will finish up with a post of my favorites in order. 

The Oktoberfest originated in 1810 in Munich, Germany, as a wedding celebration for the Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. This product was created especially for the event and is brewed usually for the Oktoberfest, now the largest beer festival in the world. Hofbräu München is one of the selected group of breweries granted privilege of supplying the Oktoberfest with their products. Using the highest quality ingredients, HB's Oktoberfest Specialty has it's own distinctive and unmistakable taste. 

Appearance: Pours crystal clear with a large white head that dissipates to a half of finger. Golden straw to light amber in color.  

Aroma: Malty/grainy aroma that seems a tinge sweet with a hint of corn. Rounding it out is a spicy and grassy hop aroma. 

Flavor: Bready and what seems to be a graham cracker like sweetness. The middle of the sip is malty sweet with a little hop presence. Towards the end of the sip there is a slight noble hop flavor and bitterness. Finishes semi sweet with some mineral undertones.

Mouthfeel: Low body with medium carbonation. A little watery with a small amount of prickly carbonation.

Overall: This would be more towards a Vienna Lager here in America but a very nice version of a traditional German Oktoberfest. We tend to think of Oktoberfests' should be "in your face" malt but this is refreshing and gives a good lager character. This seemed to be shipped well even with the green glass. Great for a hot September day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Recipe of the week: Pumpkin Ale - Brew Day

So it is getting to the time of year to start thinking about fall beers. For the past 4 years I have been doing a Pumpkin ale cause that's the thing to do. Last year I pulled a 3rd place medal for this beer at the Peterson Air force Base Homebrew Competition. This is one of those recipes that is pretty much the same from the first time I designed it. There have been tweaks here and there but what I was going for in the first place is still the base.

Like most pumpkin ales I thought about pumpkin pie and what I liked about it. The best pumpkin pie is spiced, but not too much, and the crust brings and toasty, bready, graham like greatness to it. The most important part of all is that the pumpkin is evident and you are not just tasting spice.

I think I may be the first to use pumpkin in this way in the brewing process. I have not heard of anyone else using the process that I do and try to tell people that it seems to do the trick of giving you some actual pumpkin flavor.

Some people will tell you that using pumpkin is useless and it's the spice that gives a pumpkin ale it's characteristics...well, I am in the boat that says using actual pumpkin does give some sort of depth and if I am going to call it a pumpkin ale then I am going to use pumpkin.

This year there were a few tweaks from last year. One that I meant to make was that I changed the American 2-row malt to British Maris Otter malt in the same amount. One that was not planned is that instead of using plain pumpkin from the can, I had a few cans of Pumpkin pie mix in the cabinet that were bought by mistake for my dog's digestion problems, so I decided to use those instead. Basically it's canned pumpkin with the spices already mixed in. I think the Maris Otter malt will give me a better malty backbone to the beer, and I don't think the pumpkin pie mix will change the end product that much. I may just have to adjust the spice addition in the secondary a little.

So on with the show:

This first step is to cook the pumpkin. Whether using the pumpkin pie mix or the plain pumpkin, bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for about one hour. This will caramelize some of the sugars and give the flavor more complexity. Plus it makes your kitchen smell like thanksgiving day in August.

Next step is to heat up your mash water. I use the calculator on promash to decide for me where my water temperature needs to be to make me hit my mash temperature. One trick I learned rather than figuring out your mash tun's thermal mass is to heat the water up higher, then let the mash tun heat up and let the water cool until you have the temp you are looking for. I was looking for 162 so I heated the water to 170, dumped it in the tun, and let it sit for about 10 minutes, monitoring it until I got the temp I wanted to add my grain to.

I added my grain to the water and stirred away. Remember to do this slowly as to miss making grain balls. Grain balls will hurt your efficiency as they will not be converted since the insides will not be touched by the hot water.

After stirring all my grain in, I put the top on and let the temperature stabilize throughout the mash. After about 5-10 minutes I take the top off and check to see if I have hit the mash temp I wanted. For this beer I was looking at 152 degrees, and again the promash calculator has gotten me almost spot on.

While the mash is converting I heat my sparge water. When the sparge water reaches about 160 degrees Fahrenheit I add my pumpkin mix. This is the part of the process that I have not seen used before. I believe adding pumpkin straight to the mash does not give the final product any pumpkin flavor, and if you add pumpkin straight to the boil it makes the beer way too cloudy and seems to turn out too vegetable like. When using pumpkin in this way the sparge water soaks up the flavor and the pumpkin is easily strained by the grain bed when sparging. I guess this process would only be useful for batch spargers only, as this would probably clog up a fly sparging system.

The first runnings came out beautiful. Great orange copper color, exactly what I was looking for.

While my first runnings come out of the mash tun, my sprage water is stewing with the pumpkin mix picking up that great pumpkin flavor.

I add the sparge water and let it pick up the remaining sugars off the grain.When all the extra wort is collected I put it on the fire.

From the picture shown above you can somewhat see how the pumpkin mix is strained out through the grain bed. You are not left with a ton of pumpkin mush in the boiling wort.

When the worth reaches a boil the first hop addition goes in. Being a pumpkin ale this is not supposed to be hopped up, but these additions are crucial in balancing the flavors out.

With a small amount of time left in the boil I add the spice mixture (which I will show below), add it late so the aromatics are not boiled off.

This is pretty much the last step in this brew except for the cooling and transferring to the fermenter. I assume anyone reading this already knows these steps and can do it without pictures.

Here is the recipe:

Grain Bill:
6 lbs Crisp Maris Otter
2 lbs Weyermann Munich II
1 lb Castle Biscuit malt
1 lb Simpson Light crystal malt
4 oz Castle Special B

Mash w/ 14 qts water @ 152 degrees for 1 hour 30 minutes

2 - 15oz cans of pumpkin pie mix baked at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let sit for 60 - 90 minutes.
Heated sparge water to 160 degrees and added pumpkin pie mix.

.75 oz US Perle (whole) 7.5AA 60 min
.5 oz US Golding (pel) 4.5 AA 30 min

1 1/2 tablespoon spice mix:
     - 4 tablespoon Cinnamon
     - 3 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
     - 3 teaspoon Allspice
     - 4 teaspoon ground ginger
     - 1 1/2 teaspoon ground clove

Safale 04 - English Ale - 1 packet (dry yeast, but it's worked the best in this recipe)
set fermenter at 60 degrees

After about 12 hours the fermentation has started nicely. I will post back with the next steps of this recipe.