Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ommegang Hennepin Clone

Tonight was brew night at my house, and I made an extract Ommegang Hennepin clone recipe from Beer Captured. The 'Brew Crew' came over (Jon, Lacey, Eli), as well as two newcomers - Tom L. and Tom W. In addition to brewing, we also tasted some beers (of course). Eli brought a Schlafly Pumpkin Ale (Schlafly) and a Great Lakes Nosferatu (Great Lakes); Tom W. brought two 750-mL Corsendonk Pater Abbey Browns (Brouwerij Van Steenberge); and Tom L. brought a growler of his Christmas ale (Tom L. started homebrewing last fall and jumped in full throttle with all grain). Tom W. brewed once many moons ago and is interested in starting back up - he found us through the Gazette article that ran back on 2/11.

We also opened up a bottle of the Franziskaner clone brewed in January, and much to my dismay it has quite a diacetyl presence. Bummer! Hopefully with a bit more time, it will improve? Either I didn't aerate well enough (though I stirred and agitated the heck out of it) or, when the air lock blew off (twice!), I got some infection. Also, despite hitting target gravities (both original and final), the body seemed overly thin. Maybe it's not carbonating as quickly as I'd hoped. I don't think the priming with corn sugar would affect it that much.

Anyway, the brewing tonight went well. Started with a light grain soak (aromatic malt, flaked maize, rice hulls, and biscuit malt) for 30 minutes. Sparged and added 8 lbs. of Muntons Extra Light DME along with 3/4 lb. of clear candi sugar. Added 1.7 oz. of Styrian Goldings and boiled 45 minutes.

Added 0.25 oz. of Styrian Goldings, 0.25 oz. Czech Saaz, and Irish moss and boiled another 13 minutes, then added final 0.25 oz. Czech Saaz for two minutes.

Chilled and brought up volume to 5 gallons. Pitched Forbidden Fruit from Wyeast and aerated.

O.G. = 1.078

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Dinner to Remember!

On Saturday, February 24, I was invited to Mark's house (aka 'maltydog' on RateBeer.com and Beer Advocate) along with Bill (of Marzoni's) and Jeff. Also in attendance were Bill's wife and son, and Mark's wife and kids. It was, without a doubt, the best meal I've ever had at someone's house (sorry Mom).

Mark, Bill, and I had been tossing around the idea of having a Belgian-themed dinner for quite some time, and finally it came to be. All of us brought some beer, and Mark planned the menu around them - all seven courses! I walked in; I waddled out.

We started with some truffle oil and garlic bread sticks and a Sicilian olive medley, with which was paired Saison Dupont Vieille Provision (Brasserie Dupont). Saison is, without a doubt, my favorite beer style, and this is a fine example of the style. Spicy and floral, with some nice farmhouse funk to it and a smooth finish.

After some conversation and munching, we sat down to the appetizer. Mark presented mussels on the half shell which had been poached in Grottenbier Flemish Ale (St. Bernard Brouwerij), served cold with Scaldis aioli. These were complemented with a 2001 Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze (Cantillon), which I purchased at the brewery in 2004 (see pics) and brought back with me. It was aging in my cellar, waiting for a special occasion to uncork - and this was definitely a good time! Gueuze is an acquired taste - a lot of acidity, with some yeasty funk. This was particularly smooth with a clean, crisp finish.

Next was a salade frisee with Serrano ham, poached egg, and croutons dressed with pomengranate vinaigrette. The vinaigrette paired wonderfully with a New Glarus Raspberry Tart (New Glarus Brewing Co.), a fruit beer supplied by Mark. Tart and sweet, with an intense raspberry flavor.

Hutsepot was served next, a creamy-clear broth with fresh basil, croutons, and escargot. I enjoyed this, particularly since I hadn't had snails since living in France, though it wasn't to quite everyone's taste (snails, not the soup). This was paired with a bottle of Abbaye des Rocs Tripel Imperiale (Brasserie de l'Abbaye des Rocs) that I picked up over New Years at State Line Liquors in Maryland. The sweetness of the tripel went well with the earthy, chewy escargot.

Next came the entree. A frikadelle - like a meatloaf made with beef, pork, lamb, and veal - was served with a black cherry sauce and accompanied by Belgian endive covered in ham and Chimay cheese sauce. Paired with this was the New Glarus Belgian Red (New Glarus Brewing Co.), a cherry fruit beer supplied by Mark. The beer went very well with the cherry sauce on the frikadelle, and the tart/sweet tastes lent a good contrast to the bitterness of the endive and saltiness of the ham and cheese.

By this time, all of us were wondering how we were going to handle any more food, but we got up and walked around a bit in the kitchen while dishes were cleared and the remaining food was prepared. There were several beers to try with the cheese, a tasty English Royal Blue Stilton. These included a 1989 and 1997 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, a 2004 J.W. Lees Sherry Aged Harvest Ale (both of J.W. Lees), and a 1994 vintage (pre-1999) Thomas Hardy's Ale (Eldridge Pope - out of business). The 1989 J.W. Lees was sublime, complex and malty with plum, raisins, and smooth alcohol warming and paired particularly well with the sharp, tangy Stilton. Mark also shared a preview of his homebrewed saison, which has been sitting in secondary for a year now. He added Brett to it and it was superb - can't wait to taste the final product!

Dessert was a Schokiang 71% Cacao and Casa Don Puglisi Chile chocolate fondue, into which we dipped chunks of Belgian waffle, bananas, apples, and pears. The cheese and dessert were out at the same time, and by now we were all just snacking and trying the remaining beers. First was the Lost Abbey Avant Garde (Lost Abbey/Port Brewing), a biere de garde brought by Bill. This was my first experience with Lost Abbey, and I was not disappointed. Biere de gardes rank right up there with saisons, and though not a strong tasting beer, it still went well with the fondue. A slightly disappointing beer for the evening was the Harvey's A le Coq Imperial Stout (Harvey's). Both bottles were a 1999 vintage, and both seemed to have a heavy amount of oxidation going on. The predominant flavor was a tangy, soy-like maltiness. Tart, with the roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate flavors coming only at the end. Perhaps they were a bit off.

My final tasting of the evening - and what a way to cap it all off before bidding au revoir - was two bottles of Westvleteren Abt 12 (Westvleteren Abjij St. Sixtus). These were two bottles of eight I bought while still in France that I brought back, and I must say they traveled well. Quite a treat, as they are always in limited supply and even greater demand these recent years. There was still a few bottles of Thomas Hardys and another Lost Abbey offering, but it was time for me to hit the road home. Everything written above suggests that I should have been passed out, but all of my drinking was limited to very small tastings over four hours (on top of all that food!).

My thanks to Mark and Erica for their hospitality and culinary skills and beer, and to Bill for great beer offerings. This was truly a remarkable evening and an extraordinary dinner - one that I had to share here. Mixing great food and great beer, along with company who can appreciate both, makes for an unforgettable experience.

From left to right: New Glarus Belgian Red, Saison Dupont, New Glarus Raspberry Tart, Thomas Hardy 1994, Harveys a Le Coq Imperial Stout, J.W. Lees 1989 Harvest Ale, Westvleteren Abt 12 (back), J.W. Lees 2004 Sherry Aged Harvest Ale, Grottenbier Flemish Ale, 2001 Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze, Lost Abbey Avant Garde, Abbaye des Rocs Tripel Imperiale, Lost Abbey Lost & Found.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Consumers Shafted Yet Again By The State

In today's Indiana Gazette, there is an AP article "Ruling Ends Takeout Beer Sales at Sheetz". On Feb. 1, I linked to the article (see this post) that announced the sale of beer at Sheetz.

My, how quickly February goes. The Commonwealth Court, in a 4-3 ruling, stated that the "retail dispenser license that the PLCB issued for an Altoona Sheetz requires at least some of the beer sold there to be consumed on the premises. ... An entity that is licensed for on-premises consumption is given the additional benefit of selling beverages for off-premises consumption. ... the law makes the right to conduct sales for off-premises consumption secondary to the primary purpose of selling malt or brewed beverages for on-premise consumption at the eating place."


"A lawyer for the 410-member Malt Beverage Distributors Association of PA - which sued to challenge the license - said the association was concerned that Sheetz was essentially operating as a beer distributor".

What crap! If they were essentially operating as a distributor, they'd only be allowed to sell $&#! cases, not six-packs and singles - which is the whole damn point. If distributors are worried about this, then why don't they lobby to be allowed to sell six-packs in the distributor? If they kept their prices low (i.e., cost of case = cost of six-pack * 4), then they wouldn't need to fret over Giant Eagle and Sheetz and Wa-Wa and Whole Foods selling beer. Will that ever happen?

Yet again, the consumer gets reamed because of the PA sanctioned monopolistic control of alcohol sales in the state.

I'm gonna go have a homebrew.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Franziskaner Clone Bottled

Tonight, with the help of the "Brew Crew", I bottled my Franziskaner Hefeweizen clone that I'm making (in part) as a birthday gift for my father-in-law.

Final gravity was 1.012, right on target (down from 1.052). Aroma was heavily laced with banana and a bit of spicy cloves. Tasted pretty darn good, too. Should be carbonated in about two weeks.

While bottling, we had a few beers. Jon brought over a 750-mL Fantôme de Noël, which was very nice. He got that at D's Six-Pack in Edgewood.

Then we tried a sample of the Chimay Bleu clone I made in November - tasted pretty good, but it's still going to need to chill out for a while before it's really tasty. Still a bit harsh.

Finally, we split a bomber of Stone Imperial Russian Stout (2006 version) that I picked up a few weeks ago at the Ironwood Grill. Just as good as I remember. During bottling and drinking, we also decided the game plan for the next beer club meeting on Mar. 6. Details will be on the club blog soon.

Next up: Ommegang Hennepin clone!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Travels in Belgium - Part I

I had the good fortune to live in Europe for 18 months a few years ago. After grad school, I took a post-doc position in Reims, France (about 90 mi NE of Paris) starting in September 2003 and ending in February 2005. From Reims, it was an hour drive to the Ardennes forest, with easy access to Chimay, Rochefort, and Orval abbeys. In a little over 2 hours, I could be in Bruges or Brussels. Because weekend work was unheard of at the company, my weekends were spent hanging around Reims or driving to other places (though only when the weather cooperated, which was infrequent!).

I made it to Brussels twice during my stay there. The first trip was just after Christmas (2003) with my wife and my brother (visiting from the States). The second was by myself in September, 2004, where I met up with a fellow RateBeerian and his girlfriend. Both times, I visited probably the coolest brewery I've ever seen - the traditional lambic brewery Cantillon.

Cantillon was interesting from both my perspective as a beer lover and from a science perspective. It's the only remaining lambic brewer within the city limits and they still use the natural wild yeast inoculation method - that is, they let the hot wort chill in a large copper vat in the attic of the building and let the yeast from the atmosphere settle in the liquid as it cools overnight. In fact, they only brew between October and April to ensure proper cooling.
In the mid-80s (or was it 90s?), they replaced their roof. But in order not to disturb the flora and fauna that makes their beer unique, they took old pieces of roof tile from the original roof and placed the pieces under the new roof! These are some pictures I took from both visits.

Once the grains are brought in via the hopper, the boil happens in this large brew kettle.

Here is the large copper cooling vat located in the 'attic' of the building. The hot wort is pumped here and allowed to cool overnight. Notice the roof tiles directly above the vat. It's quite cold up here and during the self-guided tour you can see some daylight coming in through holes in the roof! The entire building is just like a barn, really, and you'll see cobwebs and dust everywhere - bad luck to destroy the natural yeasties!

Once the beer is inoculated, it's placed in large oak barrels and set down to age for several years, depending on the type of beer being made (lambic, fruit lambic, gueuze). The room smelled wonderfully sour and musty. Very dirty in there, but nary a rodent - the resident Cantillon cat keeps those away.

When a fruit lambic is made, the barreled beer is mixed with fresh fruit juices, such as peach (peche), cherry (kriek), raspberry (framboise), currant (cassis), and even grape and apricot. Pictured is the mixing vat.

Once the beer is ready, it is bottled and goes through this labeler. The bottles are then set down for a certain time before sale. If you get the chance to visit Brussels, Cantillon should be high on your list of destinations - in light of recent crime in that neighborhood, it's even been rumored that the brewery may relocate! Check website (above) for information. Tours are self-guided, and at the end you get three tastings. Bring a tote bag, because bottles are sold at the brewery. When I was there in 2004, you could get 750mL bottles of the 'normal' Cantillon for about 3-4 euros. The Lou Pepe line were a bit pricier - 7 euros! That's one heck of a bargain compared to what we pay when lucky enough to find them in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ironwood Grill's New Bar - First Impressions

Well, tonight after dinner at Nap's Cucina Mia, my wife and I decided to hit the Ironwood for a drink. Upon arrival, we were told that the new bar was open for business.

The bar is located up the stairs and to the left of the host(ess) station. They have a whole new area which contains several booths and some tables, a pool table, and a new bar.

First, I was impressed that the tap selection included Magic Hat #9 and Victory Hop Devil (although the Hop Devil was kicked tonight). Second, I liked the fact that all of the beers available downstairs in 6 packs seemed to be in the cooler for drinking (didn't see the Stone bombers or the Baltika beers, though).

Unfortunately, the new bar allows smoking, so be prepared for that. However, you can get all the beers in the non-smoking restaurant section (no beer list yet, however). My wife asked for a virgin strawberry daiquiri and I asked for a Victory Hop Wallop (bottle). "That'll be $8.", says the girl behind the bar.

$8!!! I think someone goofed. I asked another waitress later - the Hop Wallop bottle (12 oz) was indeed $4, but the other girl made a mistake on the virgin daiquiri, as $4 is the price of the alcoholic version. I raised that point with the owner as I left, and he assured me that was a goof and that he'd comp me the next time I came in (now, whether he'll remember me ....).

The other point - $4 for a bottle of Hop Wallop, when downstairs the price of a Victory sixer is between $9 and $12. Hmmm, let's see ... that's about a 100% markup. Sorry, but that's a rip off for Indiana, PA. I've paid prices like that in Pittsburgh, but it's a little more expensive in general. Yeah, I understand overhead, etc. - but $4.00 to drink on premises where it'd be $2 a bottle (MAX!) to take out. C'mon. If the Coney expands their list, they'll give Ironwood a run for the money (Hop Devil is less per bottle, for example).

So - first impressions were disappointing. Smoky, overpriced, and bar help that is either swindling me or just inept. I appreciate the selection - I really do. But jacking up the price is not going to get my business too often unless I want to sample something before plucking down cash for a six pack.

According to the owner, the beer tastings will start (most likely) in April - first Tuesdays of the month (nicely coinciding with the beer club for a meeting in April/May) with some distributor reps. Alcohol (hard liquor) reps will follow later in month, too. The upstairs (outer) bar is now under refurbishment, and apparently is expanding and will be a double-sided bar.

I look forward to hearing other's impressions of the Ironwood's new bar and their selection. Time will tell whether or not it's going to be a worthy craft beer hangout. I'll be giving it a few more chances to impress me, but if each visit turns out like tonight then they're losing a customer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

February Beer Club Meeting

You can see the full lineup here. I think it was a great success and we had 11 people at Jon & Lacey's house.

If the homebrewing article runs on Sunday in the Gazette and our new guests spread the word, we'll have to figure out where uptown we can meet. Ahh, the price of progress ;)

Franziskaner Clone to Secondary

I racked the Franziskaner clone to secondary last night. Gravity was 1.013, right around the target gravity. It tasted fine, though it needs to settle out a bit more and mature.

Cleanup was a chore, because of the vigorous fermentation leaving dried malt/hops foam everywhere above liquid level, but the beer smelled like a nice German Hefeweizen.

I'll bottle this in about two weeks and it should be ready to drink two weeks after that.

Hopefully, we're going to help Eli out with his first batch this month.

Now I need to figure out what my February batch is going to be!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Vigorous Primary Fermentation

After pitching the yeast on Wednesday night into my Franziskaner Hefeweizen clone, I set 6.5-gal bucket in the basement in a warm corner with an air lock on top. Thursday morning saw no activity. However, when I came home Thursday night, I found dried brown foam all over the airlock and the cap had blown off. It was on the floor about 2 feet away.

Cleaned this up and replaced the airlock cap. Woke up this morning to find even more foam and some liquid all over the top of the fermenter lid and the airlock cap was on the floor again. All I can guess is that the fermentation was so strong that the foam built up enough to come out of the airlock - once it did come out, it formed a seal with the airlock cap. Enough pressure built up to blow the cap off. That's the first time I've had that happen, but apparently I'm not the only one to experience this with a hefeweizen. At least I know it's fermenting!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sheetz to Sell Beer

Starting today, the Altoona Sheetz on 17th Street will be able to sell beer. The article can be found here.