Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Saison du Muqunee

So I'm adding my own two cents about Muckney Brewing's Saison du Muqunee, Dave's first all-grain brew. In short, it turned out really well. Despite the jerry-rigging that went into adapting my equipment to Dave's back porch, it went off pretty well.

As for the beer itself: Has a nice spicy-funky aroma to it, with notes of coriander, astringent hops, teaberry, and a bit of sulfur (pleasant, not off-putting). I like to pour out a little of the dregs on these styles, so it was a nice hazy medium amber color, topped off with a thin white head. The taste was really nice - it's been in the bottle for a while now, and has matured nicely. It's not overly sweet, but has a nice balance of pilsner malt character, dry orange peel, and mild spicy hop character. Dry yeasty after with medium bitterness.

Nice beer to drink on a cloudy Sunday afternoon getting ready to watch the Steelers!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Looking Forward to Brewing Again!

Crikey! It's December already. Time is flying. So, I've not brewed since April, and the secondary carboy now has some nice mold growing on the top of the last beer I made. I'm still going to try to keg the stuff to see how it goes, but I've distanced myself enough from that batch that I won't be horribly upset if it gets trashed (though I'm hoping it's not).

On Friday, Erick and I went out to our local homebrew store to pick up some carboys I need for a chemistry experiment (non-brewing, unfortunately) and we each placed an order for some supplies. Erick's going to brew the IPA we made back in January, in addition to a Belgian white he's going to make for his wife. I'm going to try an Abbey Dubbel for a change, and may or may not add some spices to it. We'll see.

Some local beer news of late: The Coney now has a Marzoni's tap (Avalanche IPA), which many of us here are extremely about; Marzoni's also has now two really tasty special brews on tap: Hoppy Saison and Bill's 5th Anniversary Barley Wine; Otto's has a great apple-flavored tripel available; and Scott at East End has been busy creating some great stuff for the holidays.

Our December homebrew club meeting is just going to be an unofficial gathering of whomever can show up - it's busy this time of year with holiday and family obligations. I finally signed up for a subscription to Brew Your Own, since I keep buying it at the newsstand price.

Over the holiday break, I'm hoping to get down East to see some friends of mine, including Jon, and to visit some fine brewing establishments.

Other excitement lately is that I finally got out for a day of deer hunting this year - the first time since 2000 or 2001. My cousin from Ohio got the one 8-point that roams our hollow, but I had a great time. Tomorrow, I was supposed to go to jury duty, but because this is finals week I was granted a pass. Bummer, because I could have sat on a murder trial (though I have an idea that lawyers aren't too crazy about having academics on juries).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Our First Year Anniversary of Homebrew Club

Tonight, we celebrated our first year anniversary at as a homebrew club by hosting Bill Kroft of Marzoni's Brick Oven & Brewing and his good friend and homebrewer Mark Dellinger. We met at 7pm at the Coney for our monthly meeting, with 11 regular club members in attendance.

We started with introductions and a brief history of Marzoni's (and Bill's brewing history). Next, we sampled some homebrews from three of our members: Ray S. brought a Honey Porter, an extract recipe that had a pound of honey in five gallons; Pat S. brought a 'normal' IPA, then followed with an apricot extract infused IPA - both all-grain recipes; and Eli brought a year-old, very dry cider. All four contributions were delicious.

After those, we cracked open two of Mark's homebrews, which included a heavily hopped smoked porter (awesome Rauchbier) and the one that I have been waiting for ... a saison with tons of Brett! Both were very tasty, but the 2005 "bretted" saison was absolutely outstanding!

Last, but not least, we cracked open the four different beers that Bill brought along: the Belgian Witbier and Oktorberfest (seasonals) and the two year-round offerings, Stone Mason Stout and Avalanche IPA.

Finally, as a rare and special treat, Bill brought along a bomber full of his very special and not-available-to-the-public Eis-Barleywine. In short, he took 10 gallons of the five-year anniversary barleywine (around 11% abv), froze it, and extracted 4 gallons of liquid from that. The result was an intense and very HOT alcoholic barleywine concentrate that was phenomenal tonight ... and what will turn into what I can only imagine as Heavenly in a few years. Kudos, Bill!

In all, quite a successful meeting!

Homebrew Club 1st Anniversary

Hard to believe, but tonight our Indiana Homebrewers Club celebrates one year of official existence. Well, not official in terms of being recognized by any actual authority, but at least official to those of us who run and attend the meetings, and official enough to The Coney, who graciously hosts our meetings every month.

Looking back, it's been a successful year. Our membership is modest but fairly steady, and quite satisfactory for a town of this size. We usually have between 10-15 members at each meeting. We try each time to have a point of discussion, whether its different styles of beer or tips & tricks of homebrewing or the hop shortage. And of course, we have a couple of homebrew samples each time to enjoy.

For our first anniversary, we've invited Bill Kroft, the brewer at Marzoni's Brick Oven & Brewery to come over to talk to us and bring a few samples of his terrific beer. It'll give the members a chance to talk to a professional brewer (who started as a homebrewer) about brewing, and hopefully get the Coney interested in tapping into some local micros!

For the coming year, perhaps we can start to cook up some more activities as a group. Helping Scott at East End hand bottle beers, or have some of us help out at the 2009 Pints for Pets (tentative date: May 30), or perhaps even get something started in Indiana. Only time will tell.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I've Been A Lazy Blogger!

Apologies to those of you who check in on a regular basis. I've been a lazy blogger these last few months, but it's not been for lack of wanting to blog. As the pictures below will show, I've had a little project going on during weekends here at the house. In hindsight, I could have started much earlier in the summer, before classes started, and been further along. C'est la vie! I've been doing all of the work myself, though I did have to call in a plumber recently to do some reworking of old copper drain pipe and moving from a vanity sink to a pedestal sink (it was well worth the expense!).

In terms of brewing - that also has been on hold for a while. I still have the Leffe Blonde clone sitting in secondary in the basement waiting to keg, and I probably won't brew until the bathroom gets done.

In late August, I did get to travel to Bethesda, MD for a one-day conference, so I went down the day before and hit up a few brewpubs: Brewer's Alley in Frederick; Rock Bottom in Bethesda; and Barley & Hops in Frederick.

In September, our homebrew club 'exec board' got together at my house for a grand tasting and send-off for our good friend, Jon. Jon has accepted a position at the just-opened Earth Bread + Brewery. We're sure going to miss him around here, but we're also very happy for him and Autumn in their new endeavors.

I was able to get some East End beers recently, including a nice Cherry Dubbel. I'm looking forward to some more Fall offerings, including the Bourbon Barrel Aged Black Strap Stout ... my keyboard has drool on it just from typing that!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Brewing and Baseball

So as the summer winds down and I prepare for another school year, I try to squeeze in a bit more fun before getting back into a rigid schedule.

On Tuesday night, we had our August homebrew club meeting at the Coney. It was a nice meeting, and we had 12 people in attendance along with four homebrewed beers to sample. I even managed to come away with a quart bag full of some home-grown Cascade hops for some dry-hopping. If possible, I'm going to try to test the alpha-acid level. I had to call it an early night on Tuesday, however ...

The alarm went off at 4:30 on Wednesday morning, and I was out the door by 5:00 - all in the name of good beer. I was fortunate to be able to 'help' Bill Kroft brew a batch of Patchway Pale Ale at Marzoni's in Duncansville. Bill starts early, however, so when I knocked on the door at 6am, he already had the water heated.

I've toured many breweries and brewpubs over the years - from high tech monstrosities like an Anheuser-Busch plant to more traditional and tiny operations like Cantillon. But never until last week was I able to be there for the whole brewing process. The steps in brewing were the same as all-grain homebrewing, but what was terrific and humbling to see was both the scale of materials and the automation of the process. It was actually easier to brew 10 bbls of beer than for me to make 5 gallons - of course it helps to have such great equipment. And, of course, the clean-up was a bit more involved because of the scale.

Bill was kind enough to let me and another homebrewer, Mike Jackson, watch the entire process from milling grain to pitching yeast and ask tons of questions. Mainly, we stayed out of his way but did try to help by shoveling spent grain and hosing out tanks. We started at 6:10am and finished by 1:30pm. Afterwards, we chatted over a few pints out front. I enjoyed some Saison and some Chocolate Wheat. I even got a sneak preview of the 5th Anniversary Barley Wine coming out in November ... keep your eyes open for this one!

Fast forward to today. We got in our one Pirates game today, with a beer theme. Today was the second of three special beer tasting events at PNC Park in the club level (Club 3000). For two hours before the game, East End Brewing, Church Brew Works, and John Harvard's Monroeville were pouring two beers each. This "Beer Passport Club" offer will happen one more time this year, on Friday Sep 12. The game starts at 7:05.

How good a deal? The normally-priced $58 ticket was priced at $40, plus free beer for 90 minutes before the game. In addition, your ticket could be used to get up to $10 in food/beverage on the club level. Considering the cost of a large beer at PNC is now $7, this ticket almost could pay for itself. During the game, the club bar has about 15 taps, including Sam Adams, Penn, SNPA, Dogfish Head, and several other crafts.

If interested, contact Jason Marovick at (412) 325-4964 no later than week before that game.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Evening Irony

This was a good laugh as I read my local paper, The Indiana Gazette.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Police in Concert

A couple of lawn tickets at the Post-Gazette/Star Lake Amphitheater were made available to us last week - $30 each, which was very reasonable for the Police tour. Primo seats were selling for $200, and that was face value.

We drove to Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, just beating the heavier rush-hour crunch getting through the tunnels to head toward the airport. We decided to crash at the Robinson Microtel, so that we (read Dana) could do some shopping on Tuesday - which was, by the way, our 13th wedding anniversary.

Anyway, we had a nice dinner at the Share Edge Creekhouse before the show. It was our first time at Star Lake, so we left plenty of time to drive out towards Burgettstown ... it still took some time. We parked and walked over to get our 'seats' just as the opening gig - Elvis Costello - was getting into it.

I like Elvis Costello, though I don't own any albums, so it was nice to lay back on the blanket and let dinner digest while the sun went down.

So - the real reason for the trip: The Police. Both Dana and I have been big Police fans since the mid-80s, and we've just about worn out the "Message In A Box" 4-disc set over the years. We'd seen Sting twice in concert, once in Raleigh and once in Hershey. Good shows - Sting has a great voice and stage presence, and he really melds with the other artists when he's calling the shots.

With Stewart and Andy ... not so much. Don't get me wrong, the show was enjoyable and some of the versions of their songs were fantastic in new form (Sting can't quite hit those high notes, for example). The percussion in Wrapped Around Your Finger was terrific, and I was happy that, among their radio hit standards (Roxanne, Message in a Bottle, etc.), they also played some others that don't get played so much (Demolition Man, Voices Inside My Head). Two songs we would have loved to have heard but didn't: Oh My God, and Canary In A Coalmine (me) or Tea In The Sahara (Dana).

All in all, a nice concert. Crowd got into Roxanne, of course, which is one of my least favorites, but the acoustics out in the lawn made the crowd seem very tame. I would have been very disappointed to spend $200 per ticket, however.

Still nowhere near the fun and energy of an indoor U2 concert, however.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Catching Up

The more I have to do, the more I get done. I'm not sure what my efficiency is as a person, but hopefully it's as good as or better than my all-grain efficiency. Regardless, I've been very lazy about blogging this summer. I thought with all this time away from teaching I'd be writing every day, brewing like a mad man, and getting lots of tasks completed.

Yeah - that didn't happen. I've been reading a lot, hardly watch TV any more, and have been getting into the gym. Mostly, it's been time spent with my wife who, for the past two years, had been buried in a physician assistant program. I'm happy to say that we've enjoyed the last month or so with few major commitments before we get back to normal. Next week, she starts her new job/career and I start getting ready for another academic year.

Highlights in the last month or so included an annual family reunion at my parents' place (a small gathering this year with 58), a trip to the Finger Lakes, helping Dave do his first all grain brewing, and an afternoon at Fallingwater. We started this morning off early with a neighbor's truck on fire at 6:45.

Two weeks ago, we drove up to New York for a few days in the Finger Lakes. We'd been up there once before with my parents, back in 2003. It was a nice trip, but a bit harried, as Dana and I were just a week away from moving to France for my post-doc - we spent several hours on that trip trying to get our papers in order. Regardless, we liked the area enough to go back, and we stayed at the same B&B, Merritt Hill Manor, near Penn Yan. Great place and super hosts, Mark & Susan.

We didn't really tour any wineries this time - we haven't been drinking too much of it. But I did find some good beers, of course. I snagged two bottles of Boon Pertotale and a 1995 Hurlimann Samichlaus at the Village Tavern in Hammondsport.

If you're in Canandaigua, I suggest eating at the New York Wine & Culinary Center, which focuses on New York beers and wines, paired very well in their menu with many local ingredients. The Wegmans in Canandaigua also has a great beer selection, including tons of NY beers and four different Trappist breweries represented.

In Watkins Glen, there's the Wildflower Cafe, home of Roosterfish Brewing. Lunch after hiking in the gorge was nice, although the beers were so-so. On the trip home, we stopped for several hours in Corning at the glass museum. Nice place. Afterwards, we drove over to town and had some samples of beer at Market Street Brewing. Decent enough, but it was freakin' hot inside.

For dinner, we hit Bullfrog in Williamsport, and I brought back a bottle of the Beekeeper ale - unfortunately, they were out of the Cheer (blackberry/blueberry sour ale). All in all, a nice few days.

Last week, I helped Dave with his first batch of all grain. We toted up all my equipment to Dave's porch, where, with a bit of alteration, we started things going around 2:30. He made a saison. My last batch of beer still sits in secondary - and I think I want to keg it ... just need to buy the stuff.

Yesterday, we took a drive down to Fallingwater. It's about 1.5 hours from here, and this was our 3rd time there. Great tour, if you've never been. Afterwards, we drove down to Ohiopyle and had a pint at the Falls City Pub (not a brewpub), before heading up to Ligonier for dinner.

And finally, I woke up this morning at 6:40 or so - nature called. With the windows open, we've been hearing a whining-whirring fan at the neighbors house (unoccupied and for sale). It's the radon-removal unit, and has been bugging us for three weeks now, despite two calls to the Century-21 office. Anyway, just as I was climbing back into bed, the noise got worse, like a fan on its last legs. I assumed it was the radon fan of the house ... after about 5 minutes, it quit.

A few minutes later, I hear a fire siren. Not unusual in Indiana, as we have tons of fires and about 40-60% seem to be arson. However, the siren came right up our street and stopped. Jumped out of bed thinking the house next door caught on fire or something, but it turned out to be a Ford F-150 sitting on the street next to the neighbors house. Quite a fire. By the time the fire truck arrived, the whole front end was engulfed, and we'd heard three explosions (two front tires and maybe the battery?). By 7:15, it was all over and quiet again. Not something you see every day, but luckily no one was hurt and all the smoke went straight up and not in anyone's home.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Johnstown Brewing Closed

The story can be found here. Bummer!

Best of luck to everyone involved with that!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good Places To Eat & Drink

Yesterday, I was looking over different blogs and saw Lew Bryson's Top Ten Breakfast Places. This prompted me to think about all of the different places that I've had some good breakfasts over the years, then good lunches and dinners, and of course, beers! Admittedly, I've been fortunate during the past 15 years to have gotten into situations that took me to many different places - whether for school or work or vacation. I can not list all of them, but here are a few that stuck out for various reasons - either for the quality of the food & drink or the service or the view. Without further ado...

Nate's Top Five Breakfasts
5. Skillets Cafe in Hilton Head, SC. This is more of a sentimental entry, though the breakfast food is very good. We first ate here in 1994 during our first of many trips to Hilton Head. In 2003, we biked over for breakfast only to find that the building had burned out because of a fire in the adjacent restaurant. This year, they were back with an all-new and expanded restaurant - the skillets were just as tasty.

4. Lowell's Restaurant & Bar in Seattle, WA. This place is in Pike Market, and offers full service dining on the second level - the food is good (I like the smoked salmon omelets), but the views are what make my list. If you can score a window seat, you'll have a great view of the Olympics, Puget Sound, and the Seattle waterfront. Once you're done, you'll have the entire market to explore (and don't forget to have a pint at Pike Place Brewpub!).

3. The Waffle Shop in State College, PA. Nothing remarkable about the locations or views - and maybe the food isn't world-class - but darned if we didn't find ourselves eating here almost once a week during our five years in State College. Reliable, great value, and comforting.

2. Breakfast In America in Paris, France. The simple fact that coffee came in a mug with free refills (in France) was enough to cement my love of this place. The food was served/cooked by American students living in Paris and gave us a taste of home. Now, before someone goes off in that "why did you need to eat an American breakfast instead of enjoying a croissant, blah, blah, blah" voice: I lived in France for 18 months, and not in Paris. If I go somewhere for a week or three, I fully enjoy the local customs, food, etc. and eschew the touristy umbilical cord of American fast food, etc. However, a year and a half without a bottomless cup of coffee and some honest to God bacon & eggs over easy with homefries is too much for this man to bear!

1. The Oak Table Cafe in Sequim, WA. My wife and I lived in Sequim for 9 months while working as D.O.E. fellows at Battelle Marine Sciences Lab. They didn't have short order cooks here - they were chefs. Just about everything was local - from the bacon and eggs to the seafood. To this day, I've not found a better breakfast place. If you find yourself on the Olympic Peninsula and don't eat a breakfast here (whether for breakfast or lunch), you'll have missed out on a spectacular experience.

Honorable local mention: Cafe 701 (Gatti's pharmacy) and Perkins in Indiana, PA.

Nate's Top Five Lunches
5. Neomonde in Raleigh, NC. Awesome Mediterranean food, including the best pitas we've ever eaten. This place is a short drive from NCSU, and we used to take out-of-towners here all the time.

4. Wild Ginger in Seattle, WA. I'm sure this could go in the dinner list, too, but we had lunch. We found this a little bit by accident, but boy what a nice accident. Great Pan-Asian food in a trendy setting.

3. L'as du Falafel, 34 rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris. If you like falafel, this is the place to get one. Smallish joint in the 4th, with celeb pictures adorning the walls - including many of Lenny Kravitz, who frequents the place when in the City of Light. A nice stroll from Catedral de Notre Dame or Ile St. Louis (good ice cream there for dessert).

2. The Sea Shack in Hilton Head, SC. A hole in the wall. We'd been to the island for years and had never visited until this trip. Apparently it was made even more noted from a visit from Rachael Ray during her $40/day show. Regardless, this is an awesome place for seafood. You will wait in line for at least 30 minutes (outside), whether for take out or dine in. Once inside, there are only about a dozen tables, but the food is fresh and cooked to order. The fried scallops are out of this world.

1. Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, PA. The original 18th Street location in the Strip District is the best. Get a seat at the stainless steel counter and watch these masterpiece sandwiches being made. Get insulted for free and watch in amazement as a grumpy old woman picks up fresh-cut french fries with her bare hands seconds after they come out of the grease. I've had a lot of good sandwiches over the years, but I still haven't found one to top these (and yes, that includes cheese steaks from downtown Philly, which are delicious).

Honorable local mention: The Pizza House in Indiana, PA. Great lunch special, and a two minute walk from my office.

Nate's Top Five Dinner Places
5. The Coney in Indiana, PA. This was my college hangout, and now that we're back in town, we eat here almost every Friday night or at least once a week. Is it fancy? No. It's a pub - but it's also just now part of our life. It's like our version of Cheers, where (not everyone) many people know your name, or at least your face. And, in my humble opinion, they still have the best damned buffalo wings I've ever eaten. Anywhere. When not living here, I would drive out of my way to get wings here. And in the past couple of years, the beer selection (both in bottle & tap) has improved dramatically. There is only one lite beer tap now, and we do get some locals finally.

4. CurryHolics in Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. When I visited England on business, one thing I wanted to have was a really good Indian meal. This was not a disappointment - I had the best and hottest Indian meal ever. Chicken chili masala! I haven't found a place in the U.S. yet that makes it, but boy was it something. You know it's good when after eating, you're sweating.

3. Brasserie Beck in Washington, D.C. This was a surprise in that we stopped in thinking we'd just grab a light dinner and a few beers. We ended up having a spectacular dinner and excellent service. Definitely a great place to eat in D.C., but go early or make reservations well in advance. We happened to get lucky and walked right into a table.

2. Casbah in Pittsburgh, PA. One of the Big Burrito Group restaurants. Definitely a nice place to go for an anniversary or other special occasion. You can easily enjoy a three-hour meal here, with a terrific wine selection (and beer) to accompany a great meal.

1. The Angus Barn in Raleigh, NC. An old barn converted into a steak restaurant. Haven't been there in a long time, but boy was this a super place for steak (and a lot of other food). And with a wine cellar containing over 25,000 bottles, you'd be hard pressed not to find something with which to wash down dinner.

Honorable local mention: Nap's Cucina Mia in Indiana, PA. Superb Italian cuisine in a family owned restaurant. Never a bad meal here!

Nate's Top Ten Beer Places (it is a beer blog, so I'm listing ten)
10. Cölner Hofbräu Früh, Köln, Germany. If you like Kölsch, this is a nice place to enjoy some - particularly if you've just ascended and descended the 500+ steps to the top of the Kölner Dom. Although not quite the best of this style in the city - Pfaffen gets my vote for that - you can enjoy people watching here, especially out in front near the cathedral.

9. The Thirsty Monk, Asheville, NC. If we had a bar like this in Indiana, I'd never leave. Great selection of Belgian beers both on draught and in the bottle - ranging from the ubiquitous Hoegaarden up to Trappists and single special kegs that are almost impossible to find in the U.S.

8. The Brickskeller in Washington, D.C. One of my first trips to a real beer-focused restaurant was here. The menu is impressive, with offerings from around the world. Although every time I've been, they seem to have several things "not available" at that moment.

7. Zum Uerige in Düsseldorf, Germany. As with most German brewers, the selection is very limited, but what a terrific Altbier! Dana and I first went in March 2004. It was a Friday afternoon about 3pm and the place was packed. We found an empty seat across from two Rentners (retired folks) who lived only 30 minutes away but had never been. After a few rounds, we were happily conversing in German. By the time we left, I think I had 6 ticks on my coaster (if you've ever drank in a German bar, you know what that means).

6. Zeno's Pub in State College, PA. "Located directly above the center of the Earth" is there motto. Located in downtown, this is a great college hangout - with quite an impressive tap and bottle selection. On certain nights, they have live music, including 7pm on Fridays the terrific AAA Blues Band. Decent food from upstairs, too. Luckily, they've really cut back on the smoking there.

5. Sharp Edge (pick one of four) in Pittsburgh, PA. Super places in the Pittsburgh area to grab some great beers on tap and in the bottle. On Wednesday, they have half off on Belgian drafts. The food at the Emporium and the Creekhouse are really good, and I assume it to be at the other two places, too.

4. t' Brugs Beertje in Bruges, Belgium. Opens about 4pm and fills up in about 30 minutes - go early and get a table. Great selection of bottles and taps here. The only downside is that (at least when I went) people were smoking which kind of detracted from the beer enjoyment.

3. Staminee de Garre in Bruges, Belgium. One of the best places to drink good Belgian beers, if you can find it. This little gem is tucked into a hard-to-find alley in Bruges. Home of a nice Tripel de Garre and classical music.

2. Delirium Cafe in Brussels, Belgium. When you're handed a beer menu the size of a small phone book, you know you're in for a good evening. I was lucky enough to visit here with a fellow beer geek and his fiancee in September 2004, and we spent several hours on the patio sipping various offerings from some of Belgium's finest breweries. We even traded beers with the Alstrom Brothers (of Beer Advocate fame), who happened to be on one of their tours. This is a "must see" establishment if you are passionate about beer.

1. Akkurat in Stockholm, Sweden. An outstanding collection of beers from around the world, including some amazing cellared lambics. I hope to someday get back to this place - the beer (Öl) menu is here. I can't say much more than that. Though not nearly as extensive as some other places, the focus is really on quality and properly aged beers - I had a 20-year old gueuze that was phenomenal here.

Honorable mention: Zum Schlüssel, Düsseldorf; La Gueuze, Paris;

Well - there are just too many more places to put down here. Maybe someday I'll write an exhaustive list of places, but between Trip Advisor and several beer sites with excellent directories, you don't need me to tell you where to eat. It was fun, however, to think about these places again.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

North Country Brewing Company

So we've been to North Country Brewing Company twice in the past two+ weeks - both related to our vacation (see posts below). The first time was two Mondays ago, when we decided to head to the Prime Outlets near Grove City - both Dana and I needed some clothes, since we'd not been to the beach for five years. Before going to shop, we dropped off our cat (Abby) at my parents house in Chicora.

This evening, we went over to pick up the cat, and treated my parents to dinner at North Country for watching said cat.

Because it's a bit distant from Indiana (about 1.5 hrs), we don't get there as often as we'd like - but it's worth a trip if you're in the area. First, the building and the interior are pretty darned cool. Second, the food is outstanding - the last two meals we had were excellent. I recommend the calamari appetizer (Squidelicious) and if you like burgers, the Roasted Garlic Burger.

The beer at North Country has improved since my first visits. Tonight I enjoyed an Irish ale on cask and also their Creamation Ale (the building used to house a mortuary). The best beer I've had so far was during my visit two weeks ago - a casked smoked porter, Kian's Smoked Porter. Good stuff!

Definitely worth a visit! If I would win the lottery tomorrow, I'd try to build a place like that here in town.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Free Shirt

So back in March, there was a link to a beer haiku contest at the Prague Daily Monitor - Evan Rail's Beer Culture site.

For funsies, I submitted two haikus - one in English, one in German. I forgot all about it until a couple weeks ago, when I got an email from Evan, saying he wanted my address.

When I picked up the mail today, I found a padded envelope from the Czech Republic awaiting, in which I found a nice green Staropramen t-shirt (for the German haiku). Thanks, Evan!

Evan makes frequent contributions to the Prague beer scene, and has written the Good Beer Guide Prague & The Czech Republic. If I ever get the chance to go, I'll be taking a copy of this book with me.

Hilton Head and Asheville (part deux)

So we're back from vacation - probably the best vacation we've had, ever. Really relaxing. Stopping in Asheville on the way down and the way back was a great way to break up that drive, too.

We always stay in a fairly inexpensive condo about a 5 minute walk from the beach. Nothing has changed much at those places since we started going, and May is a great time to go because it's nice and warm for swimming and sunning, but not so hot that you can't enjoy biking and golfing. The only downside is that we showed up on Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend - never realized Hilton Head was so popular with college pukes. Saturday and Sunday nights were a bit noisy, but after they left, it was peaceful for the rest of the week.

The beer scene is deplorable - but I knew that from the past trips and bought beer in Asheville before arriving. The Hilton Head Brewing Company, which has been around since 1994, was still the disappointing place we remembered from our last visit - but at least this time they had four beers on tap rather than one! All were pretty crappy, however. The food was decent, and Dana swears they offered the best turkey burger she's ever had.

We ate lots of seafood. Lots. Including two trips to The Sea Shack (no website), where we had the best fried seafood ever.

We rent bikes for the week - single speeds with fat tires, foot braking, and wide seats - when the tide is low, you can ride your bike on the sand for miles (literally), which we enjoy. From the beach, you can usually spot pelicans and dolphins. On the numerous bike paths that cover the island, we spotted tons of different types of birds, lizards, and of course, alligators. Largest we saw was about 8-9 feet long, sunning itself in someone's back yard.

On Saturday, we drove back up to Asheville to stay over. This time, we enjoyed a few flights of fine Belgian beers on tap at The Thirsty Monk - great place! I also picked up a few more bottles of good stuff at Brusin' Ales to bring home.

In summary, great vacation. I enjoyed many fines beers, though the majority of the really good ones were of the Belgian variety. There were a few good North Carolina brews and I enjoyed trying some new breweries, but many that I got to try were not quite up to the quality of Pennsylvania beers to which I've become accustomed. The brewery that did stand out was The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, with a focus on darker brews.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Asheville, NC

On Wednesday, Dana and I hopped in the car and headed south. Our ultimate destination was Hilton Head, SC, but rather than driving the full 13 hours in one day, we decided to check out Asheville, NC for a few days as a stopping point. We left Indiana at 9am and drove for about 3 hours before stopping for a sandwich and picnicking at the New River Gorge Bridge. We stopped for gas once, and for a leg-stretcher on the TN/NC border heading over the mountains. We landed in Asheville at about 6pm and checked into our hotel on the south side of town (near NC-25 and I-40).

Asheville is a pretty cool hippie-college-tourist town off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Definitely has a good beer scene! After a long day's drive, we decided to grab dinner and a couple of beers at The Mellow Mushroom. This was our first time at one of these, and the pizza is really good. The beer selection was also very nice, particularly with their focus on local microbrews. I enjoyed both a Pisgash Brewing Endless Summer Ale and their Pale Ale.

On Thursday, we decided to just look around town and get familiar with the layout. We took shopping stops at several places, including the Asheville Wine Market, the Green Sage Coffeehouse, and the Woolworth Walk, where Dana found her graduation gift from me - a really cool painting by Sarah Faulkner. Sarah happened to show up and signed the work for Dana, so she was really jazzed about that. Now we gotta figure out where to hang it. Thursday in town continued with a beer buying trip at Bruisin' Ales - a phenomenal beer store with a great selection of Belgian beers. I grabbed a bunch of stuff to take to the beach (Hilton Head is not known for its beer selection) and ended up with a free tulip glass. After more shopping, we stopped for a pint at The Bier Garden, where I enjoyed a Foothills Seeing Double IPA.

Our hotel offered a deal on Biltmore, where you get two consecutive days of entry for the price of one. So on late Thursday afternoon, we went over and hiked around the gardens and down to the bass pond and back - glad we did that, because trying to do that and a house tour in one day is a lot!

On Friday morning, then, we headed back to Biltmore and spent the morning touring the house ... holy crap is that thing amazing! We've toured some pretty big places in Europe and this gives them a run for the money. After about two hours, we were pretty hungry, so we did lunch on the estate at the Arbor Grille, after which we sampled some of the wine they produce there. Meh.

On Friday evening, after a light picnic down by the French Broad river, we headed over to the French Broad Brewery, a little hole-in-the-wall brew 'pub'. They're only open from 4-8 or so, where you can get pints or growlers (and samples) in the brewery while listening to live music. On this evening, we enjoyed a few beers while listening to Brushfire Stankgrass. Good band - bought one of their CDs.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tastings, Pints for Pets, and Great Smoked Porter

I can't believe how quickly May is passing - already three weeks down! It's been a good beer month, so far, and I hope to keep pace for the remainder.

On May 8, actually the evening of my last post, the majority of the Homebrew Club "exec" board met at Dave's for some good beer tasting. Justin and Jon were also present. Some pretty good beer flowed that evening, including: Stone 05.05.05 Vertical Epic that Jon had stored properly for the last couple of years; Lost Abbey Avant Garde and Devotion from Justin; an Avery Fourteen from me; and then both Surly Furious and Bender courtesy of Dave (via trade) finished by Dave's growler of North Country Double Buck-Up Stout.

On the 13th, the Indiana Homebrewers Club had a large homebrew tasting at The Coney. The notes from that event are here.

On the 17th, several of us rented the Coney van and went to Altoona for the Pints for Pets brew festival. This was the first beer festival for everyone in the van except for me, and I think they'll now be spoiled after Pints for Pets. There were at least 1400 people in attendance for the single 4-8pm session. Over 50 brewers & distributors were present, each pouring several beers. In all, it was a well-run and well-attended event, and I look forward already to next year's festival!

And finally, because I enjoy good Rauchbier (smoked), I wanted to give praise to North Country Kian's Smoked Porter, now on cask at the brewery. Wow! Dana and I had lunch there yesterday on the way to the Prime Outlets ... always helps to have a pint before going shopping ;) Anyway, between the two of us, we tried the Nit Wit!, the Simcoe Pale Ale, and the Cherry Garcia .. but that smoked porter was delicious. Outside of the Aecht Schlenkerla line and similar Bamberg beers, this was the smokiest I've had. Went very well with their Roasted Garlic Burger.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lichtenhainer, A Graduation, and Time Off

Last Friday & Saturday, if to be summed in one word, were hectic. I'll not bore you with the nitty gritty details, but it stemmed from needing to pick up several last-minute items in preparation for a small gathering at our house on Sunday to celebrate Dana's graduation!!

So first, a big Congratulations! to Dana for completing her Masters in Physician Assistant degree from St. Francis University. I couldn't be prouder, and I was a freakin' mess during the ceremony on Sunday.

So, part of the preparation on Friday was a trip to Altoona - which, of course, means that I stopped by Marzoni's. I walked in with a small cooler because I had two empty growlers to fill (one for me, one for my father-in-law) and two bombers filled with coffee porter to give to Bill. As I walked to the bar, I hear off to the side .. "What'cha got in the cooler? An extra liver?"

There sat Rick & Dave (of Cassidy's Brew Zoo), enjoying a late lunch. They're also hugely responsible, along with several others, for the Pint for Pets Brewfest coming up next Saturday. Bill was just on his way off to an appointment, so I sat and BS'd with Rick and Dave while enjoying a large glass of Lichtenhainer, a smoky, lightly sour session ale that I enjoyed but will take others some time to get used to. This beer was part of a collaboration between Bill and Scott at East End Brewing. They're also working on a gose, which they're brewing today in Pittsburgh.

After a pint, I grabbed a growler of Bill's Red Ale for me and my father-in-law, and hit the road.

Saturday was spent completely cleaning the house and de-junking.

Sunday was graduation day. My parents came over and we drove them to Loretto for the event. Luckily, this year SFU decided to split graduate from undergraduate graduation - so we were done in less than 1.5 hrs. A nice reception followed, then we all headed back to Indiana for the after party.

Now it's Thursday. My grading is done, finals here are over, and our graduation is on Saturday. I'm not teaching this summer (a first) and look forward to these months with excitement and some nervousness. I have some research projects and household tasks to keep me busy here and at the office, but I've never in my life had a long chunk of time where I wasn't on a schedule while still employed (I've had chunks of unemployed time, of course, but that's a different feeling alltogether). I already feel irresponsible and lazy!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monkey Boy, Smokin' Joe's, and Another Batch Bottled

Yesterday, Dana and I went to Pittsburgh for the day. After having breakfast at Cafe 701 (isn't there a Cafe ### in just about every town?) with our friend Erick (also now a homebrewer), we got ready and hit the road. Well, I should say, first we did some stuff around the house and left around 11:30.

We decided the main visit of the day would be Phipps Conservatory. Dana wanted to see the spring flowers and also the newly opened butterfly forest exhibit. But first, I had an errand to run since we'd be on the right side of town - that is, get a growler of East End Monkey Boy, a really nice German Hefeweizen that Scott debuted last month. I was hoping to get some before it was gone (like the fate of the Cherry Grisette!), since I don't make it down as often as I would like. We strolled in at 12:45 or so .. absolutely empty, unlike every other Saturday visit I've had.

By this time, we were hungry, so we drove over to Shadyside for lunch at Girasole, a nice little Italian bistro on Copeland Street. Luckily, we got a table inside and not the patio, because half way through our meal the skies opened up for a nice shower.

After lunch, we hit Phipps and walked around for over an hour and a half. Nice place. While inside, a big booming thunderstorm passed - amazing how much water really comes down when the whole ceiling is made of glass! Dana picked up a neat little garden decoration - a tiny solar-powered 'lamp' with a hand-blown glass flower top. We put it out today, and as I write this I see it glowing in the dark out in the back yard. Kinda cool.

From Phipps, we took a slightly scenic drive through Schenley Park and over to Homestead, where we drove around the Waterworks 'mall' area. There's a Rock Bottom there, but we skipped that this time. I visited one in Seattle last summer, but wasn't hugely impressed - especially compared to our local scene. We killed some time, instead, in Barnes & Noble, where I read through a few beer magazines.

Next, it was on to the South Side. We tried to get a table at Fat Heads, but the wait was an hour! So we ambled down a block or so to Smokin' Joe's. We found no wait, and a nice tap selection. Between us, we had a Stoudt's Abbey Tripel, a Magic Hat Odd Notion Irish Red Ale, a Boulder Beer Obovoid Empirical Stout, and a Dogfish Head Burton Baton.

Slightly happy now, we decided not to eat there, but rather head across the street to Primanti Bros. Again, if you've not been to Pittsburgh or have been but not eaten here - do yourself a favor! The best place to have one is the original 18th Street location in the Strip District, but you can find them several places now, including PNC Park for a Pirates game.

After dinner, we were tuckered out form the day and drove back home.

Today, I bottled the Coffee Porter I made back in January. I'm a little slow this year! Anyway, it finished at 1.011 and tasted pretty fine. I hope it will be ready for the grand tasting during our Homebrew Club meeting on May 13!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lew Takes on the 800-lb Gorilla

Lew Bryson, author of many state-specific beer guides and a well-written blog (Seen Through A Glass), has started a new blog called Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished.

This is sure to be entertaining, enlightening, and (one would hope) influential at some point to get our fair Commonwealth out of the Dark Ages. An uphill battle to be sure, considering the puritanical, elderly-centric voting bloc and the corruption of many of our elected and appointed officials who aren't likely to give up control of such a cash cow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pints for Pets

What's that, you ask? Well, on Saturday, May 17 from 4-8pm at the Blair County Ballpark (home of the Altoona Curve), the first annual Pints for Pets beer festival will be held. All proceeds (that's 100%) will go to the Central PA Humane Society.

Tickets may be purchased in advance for $25, or at the event for $30. Unfortunately, in its infinite wisdom to promote safety, the PLCB squashed the idea of designated driver tickets at a deep discount. So, if you go and DON'T DRINK, you still have to pay $25/$30 - not just $5/$10.

If you plan to go, send me a comment/email - it'd be good to meet some of you!

Here's the current line-up of participants:

Abbey Wright - Duboistown, PA

Appalachian Brewing Co. - Harrisburg, PA

Arcadia Brewing Company - Battle Creek, MI

Bar Harbor (Atlantic Brewing Co.) - Bar Harbor, ME

Black Dog Brewery - Tulsa, OK

Brewerie @ Union Station - Erie, PA

Brooklyn Brewery - Brooklyn, NY

Bullfrog Brewery - Williamsport, PA

Church Brew Works - Pittsburgh, PA

Clipper City Brewing Co. - Baltimore, MD

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Milton, DE

East End Brewing Company - Pittsburgh, PA

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks - Millheim, PA

Erie Brewing Company - Erie, PA

Flying Dog Brewing Company - Denver, CO

Franziskaner Hefeweizen - Munich, Germany

Great Divide Brewing Co. - Denver, CO

Green Flash Brewing Co. - Vista, CA

Green Mountain Ciders (Woodchuck) - Middlebury, VT

Harpoon Brewery - Boston, MA

Johnstown Brewing Company - Johnstown, PA

JW Dundee’s Ales and Lagers - Rochester, NY

Lancaster Brewing - Lancaster, PA

Leinenkugel Brewing Company - Chippewa, WI

Lindemans - Lenniksebaan, Belgium

Magic Hat Brewing Co. - South Burlington, VT

Marzoni’s Brick Oven and Brewing Co. - Duncansville, PA

Oak Springs Winery - Altoona, PA

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Otto’s Pub and Brewery - State College, PA

Penn Brewery - Pittsburgh, PA

The Raven (Baltimore-Washington Beer Works) - Baltimore, MD

Red Star Brewery and Grille - Greensburg, PA

Rivertowne Pour House - Monroeville, PA

Rogue Ales - Eugene, OR

Sam Adams - Boston, MA

Sam Smith Brewing - Tadcaster, United Kingdom

Saranac - Utica, NY

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. - Chico, CA

Southampton Ales and Lagers - Southampton, NY

Spaten Brewery - Munich, Germany

Stone Brewing Company - Escondido, CA

Stoudts Brewing Co. - Adamstown, PA

Straub Brewing - Saint Mary’s, PA

Troegs Brewing Company - Harrisburg, PA

Unibroue - Chambly, Quebec

Victory Brewing Company - Dowingtown, PA

Voodoo Brewery - Meadville, PA

Weyerbacher Brewing Company - Easton, PA

Yuengling Beer Company - Pottsville, PA

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Day Trip to D.C.

Last Friday, my wife and I got in the car after dinner and drove down to Gaithersburg, MD. Unfortunately, we got nailed by a strong line of thunderstorms somewhere around Frederick and had to pull off the road for 20 minutes - otherwise we made fairly good time. We checked into the Comfort Inn off Shady Grove, a decent place for the money but which was extremely convenient to the Metro.

After a light breakfast at the hotel on Saturday morning, we drove the half-mile over to the Shady Grove metro stop - last on the RED LINE. Once nice thing about DC is the Metro system - an all-day pass is just under $8 - very convenient. We started our day with the ~30 minute ride into town to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop, putting us only a few block from our first visit: the International Spy Museum.

We spent about 2 hours touring the place. It was interesting, and almost too much information to take in, but at the same time it left you feeling like you didn't really learn too much. Cool gift shop (no purchases). There are a lot more places to see in DC before I'm ready to go back to this place.

From here, we took the Metro up to Dupont Circle, and had lunch at Pizzeria Paradiso. Great wood-fired oven pizzas, fresh ingredients. The beer list was small here compared to the Georgetown location, but I enjoyed a Flag Porter 1825 Original with my Bottarga pizza.

After lunch, Dana wanted dessert, so we strolled over a couple blocks - past several embassies - to Teaism, a tea house and restaurant. We'd been there several times before, and usually picked up some interesting teas to bring home. Today we settled for a cool drink and split a jasmine creme brulee for dessert.

After our refueling, we got back on the Metro (that all day pass comes in handy!) and went down to Judiciary Square so that we could get close to our next stop: the National Gallery of Art (west). Dana wanted to be sure to get in some art while we were here, so we checked out some Monet, Degas, Cassatt, and others.

Since the weather was so cooperative today (sunny, in the 70s with a few passing showers), we hoped to see some remnants of the cherry blossoms. Took the Metro over to the Smithsonian stop, then walked down past the Washington monument to the Tidal Basin. Most of the blossoms were gone, but there were still festival tents up and people everywhere. We enjoyed the sunshine and people watching for a while, and got some nice pics of the Jefferson Memorial.

By this time, it was getting close to 5 - we'd been walking and on our feet most of the day and were ready for an early dinner, a beer, and a rest. So, back on the - yep, Metro - up to Metro Center. A few blocks up the street, and we found ourselves at Brasserie Beck.

Wow. First, I guess we were lucky in that we walked in the door at a hair past 5pm and were shown right to a table - without a reservation. Apparently the waiting list for reservations is fairly long. I hadn't really researched the place beforehand, and thought we'd just get a beer and some small supper (frites and salad, or something). Well - Joe M., our waiter and beer sommelier - introduced us to the beer menu, which was exclusively Belgian beer. Nice tap selection and an impressive bottle selection ~ 140 beers total. The list gets changed 2x daily. Joe also described several dishes on the menu with such precision and eloquence, that I could actually taste the dish from his descriptions. That was a first, and a real treat.

I enjoyed a St. Louis Gueuze on tap and Dana had a Tripel Karmeliet from a bottle. The gueuze was not top notch, as gueuzes go, but I was in the mood for it and it went really well with my choucroute en croute (Napa cabbage and a selection of different different pork products wrapped in a crust). Dana's halibut was, without a doubt, the best fish dish either of us has ever tried. Ever. Had we more time, appetite (and budget!), we would have loved to try some dessert and another round of beer. As it was, we were stuffed and ready to walk again. But final word on Brasserie Beck: if you can visit this place, do it!! (check out the staff section of their website - their beer specialist was knighted in Belgium)

Our last stop was for me to grab a Capitol City Fuel. From here, we grabbed the Metro and rode back out to Gaithersburg - exhausted, sated, and happy with our one-day DC trip.

The real reason for the trip in the first place was the business portion on Sunday. We drove to Woodbridge, VA on Sunday morning to my aunt's condo to meet my cousin. My aunt passed away in March, and since my cousin lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, could not take possession of the china closet that my aunt inherited from my grandmother. Hence, we now are the proud owners of a 100-year old china closet that my great-grandparents bought in 1908 for $20 in East Brady, PA.

DC this weekend, New Orleans last weekend ... I'm ready for a sit-on-my-butt or work-in-the-yard weekend, but it looks like we may be seeing the Pittsburgh Zoo with my nephews (5 yr old and 9 mo old) at some point. That's relaxing, right? A zoo trip with small children ;)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Trip to the Big Easy

I had the chance to visit New Orleans for the first time this past week. I flew down on Saturday, arriving in the French Quarter about 4:30. Took the St. Charles street car for the full loop - riding out through the posh residential areas past Loyola and Tulane, then returning. By this point, I was getting a little thirsty, so I took an interesting stroll down Bourbon Street. Very interesting ... nice restaurants next to dive bars, strip clubs, and hotels.

I grabbed a plastic cup of Abita Andygator and took it all in. After walking the whole length of Bourbon, I headed south for a few streets to Decatur, where I took a left over to Frenchmen. Here, I had some nice crawfish etouffe at Snug Harbor, then popped into d.b.a to see what type of jazz was playing. From there, back down Decatur to see all the tourist places and bars.

4/11/08 clarification: though I was completely stuffed from dinner and did not have a beer at d.b.a - this bar, and possibly Cooter Brown's (across town) have the best beer selections in New Orleans. Several good Belgian offerings, and other European imports as well as a decent selection of U.S. micros.

On Sunday morning, I had breakfast at Cafe Beignet, enjoying some cajun homefries and fresh beignets. Afterwards, I hiked a good way across town to visit the World War II Museum - definitely worth a trip!

After lunch at Gordon Biersch and a quick hotel stop, I headed over to the Convention Center for the reason I was in town to begin with ... the 235th American Chemical Society Meeting. I spent all Sunday afternoon listening to seminars, then attended a reception for the CINF (Chemical Information) Division..

On Monday, I spent most of day again at the Convention Center for talks. I did get a nice lunch break in, and had a shrimp po'boy from Johnny Po'Boys. In the afternoon, I gave my presentation in a special symposium honoring my former grad school advisor.

After business, a couple of us went to a nice reception on the top floor of the Sheraton (Harry's party) before meeting others for dinner over in the Quarter. There were a lot of presentations to see on Tuesday-Thursday, but unfortunately I'm still in the middle of the semester and had to head home.

All in all, it was a nice trip to New Orleans - and it beat my last experience with Louisiana ... 7 weeks of Army basic training upstate at Fort Polk :(

I did try a few Abita beers, along with Gordon Biersch and Crescent City ... New Orleans is not really a beer town. Though I will recommend if you fly through Atlanta to get there, have a pint at the Sweetwater pub in Terminal B.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thursday Night - A Hoppy Time At My House

On this past Thursday, several of us gathered at Maison Nate for some beer tasting and joke telling - the latter improving (at least that's what I perceived) with more of the former.

Eli was the first to arrive, and he brought with him two Port Brewing/Lost Abbey beers: High Tide Fresh Hop IPA and Wipeout IPA, and also a nice chunk of bleu cheese. Next came Dave, who brought a few homebrews (Show Your Hoppy-ness (sp?) and Justin's Rising Sun Ginger-Sesame Red Ale), along with a Three Floyds Gumballhead, and an AleSmith IPA and YuleSmith (Winter) Imperial Red Ale. He contributed some olives, crackers, and a hunk of asiago. Justin showed a bit late after his drive from the Burgh, bringing DFH Palo Santo Marron, Pizza Port Hop 15, and Port Brewing Old Viscosity. Jon was the last to arrive, but not too late.

Oh, and I supplied a Full Sail Nugget Special Read Ale that I'd brought back from out West on a trip last July and some OK cheddar.

Very nice evening sipping quality beers, telling raunchy jokes, and eating good food.

Handbook of Brewing

So I purchased some books the other day for work (both research and teaching) and threw in a couple of on-the-border titles (meaning I don't use them yet at work but I might) that I found particularly interesting. Couple of food chemistry books, one on malting and mashing, and then Handbook of Brewing (2 ed) by Priest & Stewart.

Holy crap, what an awesome book for beer/science geeks. It's a CRC publication under the Food Science and Technology series (with almost 100 titles ranging from food analysis, drug residues in food, food toxicology, dairy science, and oenology, etc.).

Anyway, I think at some point I'm going to have to teach a food/brewing chemistry class as an elective. Fascinating stuff considering we're putting this in our bodies several times a day.

Belgian to Secondary

I had the chance yesterday morning to rack the Belgian golden over to secondary. Still very cloudy, despite the irish moss, but it tasted fine and has a gravity of 1.020, down from 1.072 - making it just under 7%abv.

Still gotta get that coffee porter into bottles, but it seems happy enough to sit in the basement for now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Fine Cup of Coffee - New Territory

So my local coffee shop, The Commonplace, has added to their arsenal of fine coffee-making machines: The Clover. And of course, trendsetter that he is, as soon as TJ bought one of these for the shop, Starbucks bought the company that makes these machines. C'est la vie.

Anyway, I had the chance on Tuesday morning to try my first cup from this machine. Got an 8oz Honduran? Cup of Excellence blend. I didn't know what to make of it right away because:
1. it's highly filtered so the body is lighter than the French-press stuff
2. it's much more fruity and other flavors I've never experienced in coffee now come through
3. it's the first cup of straight black coffee that I truly enjoyed, rather than endured (normally need cream)

So, I look forward to testing more coffee varietals and having them alter the dwell times of the machine - and I look forward to acquiring a new taste in really good coffee. Cheers to TJ & The Commonplace!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Homebrewing a Blonde Abbey Ale

It's pretty crappy out today, like it has been all week, and the rain just keeps coming. Well, what better activity to chase away the March blahs than beer brewing!

This evening, I'm making a partial mash-extract Blonde Abbey Ale, based on a Leffe Blonde clone recipe.

To start, I'm adding 3.5qt of 155 °F filtered water to: 2.5lb 2-row pilsner malt; 4.0oz each Belgian biscuit, Belgian aromatic, German Munich malts; and 2.0oz honey malt.

I let that sit at ~141 °F for 30 minutes. Now, I'm borrowing a simple picnic cooler and putting the grains into a grain sock, so adequately mixing the grains is difficult and I'm sure I'm going to have cold spots in there which will affect the efficiency. But it's my first partial mash (PM), so not everything is optimal. My next step will be to buy my own mini cooler (this is Dave's cooler) and add a screen at the bottom so that I don't have to keep using grain socks.

While this was going on, I brought 2 gallons of filtered water to a boil on the stove. By the time 30 minutes was up, the water was down to about 200 °F. I added roughly 1.5qts of this into the cooler to bring the temperature up to ~150 °F, and I let that sit for 60 minutes.

At this point Jon arrived, and we chatted for a bit over a Weihenstephaner Korbinian, a German Doppelbock. He stepped out for an errand, and I prepped the sparge water by bringing the temperature up to ~178 °F.

Sparged and drew off enough liquor, as best I could ... difficult without a true grain bed. Regardless, I got at least 1.5 gallons of wort. Brought this to a boil, then added 6lbs of Extra Light DME, then added enough water to make ~2.5 gallons for the boil.

After the hot break, I added about 5oz of clear candi sugar and 1oz of Brewers Gold (6.8%AA). Boiled for 45 minutes and added irish moss and about 0.7oz of Hallertau Hersbrucker (3.3%AA) for flavor. Meanwhile, Jon had returned with Autumn, and we watched some goofy crap on YouTube, like Star Wars kid and the Sarah Silverman/Jimmy Kimmel video war (with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck) ... all the while sipping a nice Nils Oscar Imperial Stout, which I'd had before during a hedonistic RateBeer Summer Gathering in Stockholm (Jul 04). Good to try it again.

Boiled another 15 minutes, killed the heat, and put the pot in the sink to chill. Brought the volume up to ~5.2 gallons and checked the O.G. (1.072!). I then added a slap pack of Wyeast 1214 Abbey Ale and a year+old pack of Wyeast 1762 Abbey Ale II. Temperature was about 65 °F, so I capped it off and set the bucket next to the radiator.

And that, for a rainy Wednesday, is that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Super Tuesday (for beer, not voting)

Yesterday was my Spring Break beer-related day, starting with a road trip and finishing with a homebrew club meeting. It wasn't quite the journey from last year, but it was a great day.

I picked up Justin (aka Naka) at 10am, and after grabbing some caffeinated sustenance at The Commonplace Coffeehouse, we headed west on Rt 422 towards Kittanning ,Butler, and New Castle. At New Castle, we hung a left toward Boardman, Ohio, our first destination.

Why Boardman? Well, because of an absolutely wonderful beer & wine store named Vintage Estate Wine & Beer. First, we had lunch up the road at a place called Rocknes Pub & Restaurant ... a run-of-the-mill pub like TGI's or Chili's or "Chotchkies". The food was fine but uninspiring. In fact, the whole strip of businesses and restaurants all along Rt 224 in Boardman was the most bland yet eclectic collection of businesses I'd seen in a long time: Home Depot next to a mall next to Olive Garden next to a mattress store next to an adult store called "Ambiance". The whole area kinda sucked the spirit out of you. But I digress....

Vintage Estate!! Man, worth the two-hour drive from Indiana. The beer selection was phenomenal and the prices, compared to Pittsburgh beer stores and the asinine Allegheny Co. Onorato tax, were very, very reasonable. I had a wish list and some cash from Eli, whose order I filled first. Justin was busy gathering his stuff.

After getting Eli's stuff, I picked up the following:
  • Ølfabrikken Porter

  • Haandbryggeriet Norwegian Wood

  • Nils Oscar Imperial Stout

  • Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout

  • Mikkeller Big Worse Barley Wine

  • Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel

  • Mad River Steelhead Scotch Porter

  • Tripel Karmeliet

  • Allagash Curieux

  • Bottleworks Van den Vern Grand Cru

  • De Dolle Arabier

  • De Dolle Dulle Teve

  • Left Hand Milk Stout

  • 't Smisje Grande Reserva

  • Weihenstephaner Korbinian

  • Weihenstephaner Vitus

After making the purchases and loading the car, Naka and I headed to the back of the store for a sampling of some of the beers that Ron Bush (the proprietor) had on tap. He rotates six different ones and yesterday there was:
  1. Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot

  2. Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale

  3. Founders Pale Ale

  4. New Holland Night Tripper

  5. Bell's Consecrator Doppelbock

  6. Lagunitas The Hairy Eyeball

I'd had the Lagunitas and Weyerbacher before, so I tried the other four.

After a great time at Vintage Estates, we hit the road and drove straight to East End Brewing in Pittsburgh - making it just in time for growler hours at 5pm. There weren't many people to show up between 5-6, so we hung out and chatted with Scott and Richard, tried a few samples (including the soon-to-be-released Monkey Boy, a German Hefeweizen). I left with a growler each of the Best Bitter and the Dubbel Trubbel.

We left Pittsburgh and headed home. After dropping Justin off and stopping home for a bit, it was time to head uptown to The Coney for the March meeting of the Indiana Homebrewers Club. The article about our club, published in the local paper last month, helped get us six new members last night! We talked about the hop shortage, tried some great homebrews and the two East End beers, and I ended up staying until midnight.

In all, a great beer day!

Monday, March 03, 2008

100th Post, Erick's IPA, and A Two-Week Rollercoaster

Wow - the 100th post here. Hard to believe that a) time has gone so fast and b) I had that much to say.

Well, I'm sitting here sipping on Erick's IPA that he and I brewed together in January and bottled on Feb 11. Pretty darned tasty. Not harsh, nice dry-hopped bitterness and floral aromas. Great head and retention, and cleared fairly well. I'll be savoring this six pack of it! I'll do a 'rating' later.

Quite a few weeks it's been. On Friday, 2/22, Justin, Jess, and Dave came over to the house for one wicked tasting. We enjoyed:
So the four of us polished those off over a few hours while watching comedians on YouTube, BS'ing, and starting an episode of the original Police Squad. Great evening!

Last week was busy at work and my wife was fighting a wicked head cold while doing 12-hour rotations at the local E.R. On 2/28, I got another year older, but celebrated with Erick and Betsy (and Dana) at The Coney with some bottled Nugget Nectar.

The real downer was yesterday, however, when my 57 year-old aunt Debbie passed away after battling with lung cancer, which had spread aggressively to her brain and her bones. My dad's only sister (she was ~14 years younger) and my only aunt (Mom's an only child). She lived her adult life in Woodbridge, VA but will be buried in PA next to my grandparents on Saturday.

Such is life, though. For those of you who smoke: you're idiots.

In other news, we're trying to decide what to do next week for our March Homebrewers club meeting. IUP is on Spring Break next week, too, so I'm hoping to brew a batch and perhaps do an encore Spring Break Beer Road Trip.

Oh - finally. Happy Birthday to my brother Jason!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jon Joins the Blogosphere

So, the fourth member of the homebrew 'exec board' joins the blogging world ... with a snappy blog address and name "Confessions of a Hop Hater".

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Jon's Homebrewed Milk Stout

My friend Jon, co-exec of the homebrew club came over to borrow "Clone Brews" and brought me a bomber of his latest beer ... a milk stout (which he named ??, I forget). He used a bunch of lactose on this one, and oh boy is it creamy!
Malted milk chocolate nose, just a bit of lactic or priming sugar twang. Light coffee notes and sweet undertones. Dark brown-black clear with a thin creamy light tan lacing head atop. Medium bodied but very creamy, with light carbonation. Starts and stays quite sweet throughout, but not cloying. Some roasty notes with a creamy, tangy note. Clean finish.

Thanks, Jon! This'll be a great contender for March!

Tomme Arthur's Letter to eBay

Tomme Arthur, the master behind Port Brewing and Lost Abbey, has had enough with the jerks who buy his special release beers one day and put them on eBay the next. Absolutely hilarious!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Just the Cure for Some February Blahs!

Last night, the Indiana Homebrewers Club "exec board", as we semi-jokingly call ourselves, met at Dave's house for a February meeting pre-meeting planning session and, of course, tasting.

I was a bit late, and by the time I showed up, everyone was gnoshing on some good eats with some bombers waiting to be cracked. I can't remember who brought what, but there was some nice spicy sausage, Gruyere and Havarti cheese, then some St. Andre triple cream and a Spanish bleu (forgot the name) wrapped in grape leaf. Some apples and pears provided a sweet touch - and the hot appetizer for the evening was pieces of pheasant (courtesy of Eli) and pepperocini (sp?) peppers wrapped in bacon. Good stuff ... except for the piece of steel shot that I almost cracked a tooth on. The downside of shot game!

Anyway, in between discussion and food, we did manage to have some beers. Justin, who'd been in CA for a meeting, brought back several bottles of Russian River. Dave provided a Lost Abbey, Eli some Oskar Blues, and I brought a bottle of Belgium's finest. Our tasting list last night:

1. Lost Abbey Lost & Found, 750mL (Dave)
2. 2004 Westvleteren 12, 330mL (Nate)
3. Russian River Damnation, 750mL (Justin)
4. Russian River Redemption, 750mL (Justin)
5. Russian River Salvation, 750mL (Justin)
6. Oskar Blues TEN FIDY, 2x12oz cans (Eli)

All very tasty stuff.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Happy Groundhog Day

So ... Phil predicts six more weeks of winter. No surprise there, I guess. One of these years, I'll make the trek to Punxsy (especially now that it's only 30 miles away) and join the melee. But standing in a cold field with 30,000 people doesn't seem to be that appealing.

However, one of my cousins is a co-handler (at right in the picture here, that I stole from the Post-Gazette website), and he and the family up there make the yearly invite to come join. Maybe next year...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Big Ol' Pittsburgh Beer Tasting

This past Sunday, I drove down to the Sharp Edge Creekhouse for a beer tasting, dubbed the RateBeer Pittsburgh Gathering. Participation was certainly not limited to site members, and luckily so: more people to meet, more people to bring good beer, and more people to help drink all of that beer!

We were fortunate to have some "insiders" at the Sharp Edge who could set up a private area, ice for keeping bottles/growlers cool, snifters, and rinse water .. along with some pitas and other munchies. My thanks to Hart and all the Sharp Edge staff who put up with us on that afternoon.

So, there were approximately 15-20 of us throughout the afternoon, with some late arrivals and some early departures. I, unfortunately, had to head back to Indiana before all the beer was sampled, but between the road conditions, the 90 minute drive, and my tolerance - it was good that I left when I did.

Here's what we had:
1. East End Smokestack Heritage Porter, on tap (courtesy of the brewer himself, Scott Smith)
2. Rivertowne Honey of a Nut Brown, growler (courtesy of Bob)
3. Castelain Blonde Bière, bottle (courtesy of Mark)
4. Heavyweight Lunacy, bottle (courtesy of Hart)
5. La Moneuse, bottle (courtesy of Mark)
6. Bière Darbyste, bottle (courtesy of Mark)
7. Church Brew 120 Shilling Smoked Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, growler (courtesy of Joyce)
8. Rivertowne Bringing It Bock, growler (courtesy of Paul)
9. Uitzet Tripel, bottle (courtesy of Mark)
10. East End Three, bottle (courtesy of Dennis)
11. Piraat (10.5%), magnum (courtesy of Nick, Emily)
12. Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru, bottle (courtesy of Hart)
13. North Country Psychedelic Nightmare, growler (courtesy of Dennis)
14. Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier, bottle (courtesy of Mark)
15. Gouyasse Tripel (aka Goliath), bottle (courtesy of Ryan)
16. Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold, bottle (courtesy of John)
17. New Belgium La Folie, bottle (courtesy of John)
18. 3 Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek, bottle (courtesy of Alan)
19. Alaskan Smoked Porter, bottle (courtesy of Alan)
20. Church Brew Mexican Mole Stout, bottle (courtesy of Joyce)
21. Southampton 10th Anniversary Ale, bottle (courtesy of Jason)
22. North Country Liquid Love Stout, growler (courtesy of Dennis)
23. General Lafayette 275th Anniversary Ale, bottle (courtesy of Jason)
24. Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon First Edition, bottle (courtesy of Hart)
25. Church Brew Cherry Quadzilla, bottle (courtesy of Dennis)
26. Trader Joe's Vintage Ale 200?, bottle (courtesy of Nick)
27. Southampton Abbot 12, bottle (courtesy of Nate)
28. Otto's Jolly Roger Imperial Stout, bottle (courtesy of Nate)
29. Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Imperial Stout, bottle (courtesy of Mark)
30. Hurlimann Samichlaus (1995), bottle (courtesy of Mark)

I also took a few bottles of homebrewed coffee porter to pass around. I didn't get a chance to try the last 5 on the list, but was only really bummed about the Hurlimann Samichlaus!

Anyway, it was a great afternoon of socializing, trying outstanding beers, and appreciating good beer in the company of others who do the same. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to do it again soon.

PLCB Article in Post-Gazette (part 4 of 4)

Und endlich, hier ist das letztes Stück.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

PLCB Article in Post-Gazette (part 3 of 4)

The third part is found here.

There's also the public comment/forum here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

PLCB Article in Post-Gazette (part 1 of 4)

For those who don't normally look at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, today starts a four-part series on the monopoly that is the PLCB. Check it out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Added the Coffee

A big thanks again to TJ at Commonplace Coffee ... he gave me a quart of cold-pressed Sumatran Mandheling coffee extract to add to the porter. I brought it up to boiling, then quick-cooled before adding to the secondary fermenter. Going to give it a couple of more weeks before bottling. Gotta get it ready for Febtoberfest!

Edit: In answer to Eli's question in comment 1: Yep, I boiled it last time, too. You're right in that boiled coffee can be harsh, but the difference here (at least I think it is) is that boiling/hot water was not used to extract anything from the beans, which will give that bitterness. Rather, the coffee was extracted using cold water, then the extract was brought to a boil. I suspect that if I let it boil for a while, the "cooking" reactions would impart harsh flavors, but it was just to do a quick sanitize and I cooled it down immediately. Only time will tell if this batch comes out as nice as the first one!

Edit: Adam, check out Toddy Coffee; this is the little device that my buddy TJ uses to make cold extracts. They use it for making really good iced coffee in the summer. It is indeed smooth!