Monday, September 29, 2008

Fantasy Draught '08

Last year Jonathan over at had a brilliant idea... Given the success of fantasy sports, why not do a fantasy beer fest draft? And he did just that, hosting the first Fantasy Draught prior to the 2007 Great American Beer Festival. The set-up is pretty simple: you draft breweries just as you would players in fantasy sports, and you get points for each medal your breweries win. Unfortunately, by the time I learned about it last year registration was closed. This year, however, I found out about it in time and--to make things even better--ended up with the first draft pick.

Anybody who's ever played softball with me or bowled with me knows I'm pretty competitive. As such, I had to take MillerCoors with the first pick even though I'm not exactly a fan of their products (hey, last year Miller and Coors combined for two gold medals, three silver and three bronze). There are twenty-seven participants in the draft, and because the order snakes (i.e. reverses each round) my next picks were #54 and 55. I took the two breweries that, by coincidence, make my two favorite American-brewed Scotch ales: Dark Horse Brewing Co. (brewers of Scotty Karate) and Oskar Blues (who make Old Chub). My next two picks are coming up later tonight and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to go with. We have eight picks total, so I have a couple longshots up my sleeve, but at the same time other picks that I thought would last to the late rounds (such as Odell, brewer of the vastly underrated 90 Shilling) ended up going much earlier than expected.

You can check out the latest Draught picks here (FYI my screen name is "Windigstadt," which just happens to mean "Windy City" in German). In the meantime I just thought I would post this to get you thinking about what breweries you think are the cream of the crop. Cheers!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard

Okay, so I was really just paging Dr. Fine (which is my strained attempt at saying that I added some finings to my Oktoberfest beer while also referencing the Three Stooges). Anyway, my Oktoberfest has cleaned up somewhat but still has a noticeable phenolic component. My understanding is that fining with gelatin not only clears the beer somewhat but also removes unwanted phenols so I decided to give it a whirl.

I used regular unflavored Knox gelatin, and in accordance with Greg Noonan's New Brewing Lager Beer, I used 1.25 tsp. for ten gallons. I drew four cups of beer from each keg and initially added a little beer to the gelatin to make a paste. I gradually added more and more beer until the gelatin was well mixed into all eight cups. At that point I slowly heated the gelatin-beer solution until it got warm enough that I couldn't comfortably dip my finger into the mix (you don't want to boil the gelatin!). I then added the beer back into the kegs and--after purging the kegs of CO2-mixed them up for about five minutes. I'll rack the beer to another keg just prior to my church's Oktoberfest, which is October 13 (Noonan recommends two weeks of clearing). I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fung is winning and winning is fung*

Good news from the Schooner Homebrew Championship... Leah and I took second place in the Light Lager category with our Hail Shaft Pilsner Premium Lager! Yeah, it was supposed to be a Pilsner, but as I explained before, I was misinformed as to the alpha acid content of my Hallertau hops, so it ended up way too malty to be a Pilsner. Plus it didn't really have that dry finish either. So I decided to enter it as a Premium American Lager and I guess it was a good call. I'm particularly excited because it's hard to hide flaws in light lagers, and so while I'll need to tinker with the recipe before brewing a Pils again, it appears my technique was solid. I'm also excited because we haven't won any ribbons since going all-grain, and while we don't enter a lot of competitions (and when we do the primary reason is to get constructive feedback), it's always nice to win.

We also entered our Smoke Stack Lightning Rauchweizen which didn't place. However, I'm excited to report that my buddy Ted took second place in the category, and, more impressively, he also took first place in the specialty beer category. Anybody who reads Ted's blog (or has had the pleasure of trying his beer) knows he's one serious brewer, so it's great to see his efforts rewarded. Congrats, Ted!

While I'm posting, I might as well add that the HOPS! Oktoberfest was a great success! I tapped my Altbier and was incredibly happy with the results. Nice malt profile with just a hint of roastiness; wonderful peppery hop bitterness that stands out without being overbearing; nice creamy head and copper/amber color. Look for a final analysis later, but this might be my favorite beer brewed thus far. I only wish I had a fresh bottle of Füchschen (or Uerige or Schumacher or Schlüssel) so I could to a side-by-side tasting.

For anybody in Chicago, hope to see you Thursday at the Rocktoberfest tapping at the Rock Bottom on State and Grand! Prosit!

*Headline explanation here (sort of).

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Altbier update

Tuesday night I finally racked the Altbier to kegs. I was originally planning on doing this over the long weekend but there was still some Kraeusen on one of the carboys--and I was too busy playing with my new drum set. Anyway, so I racked the two 3-gallon carboys containing the Alt fermented with WLP-029 (German ale/Kölsch) yeast and drew a sample from each carboy. The first sample had finished around 1015 (there was a decent amount of CO2 in the sample so it's probably lower). Tasting it, I was surprised at how bitter it is! I know I was generous with the hops, but this was almost IPA bitter with some citrusy edges I wasn't expecting. It actually reminded me of Uerige Alt on tap (which surprised me with its bitterness the first time I had it in Düsseldorf).

Oddly enough, the sample from the other 3-gallon carboy was a tad less bitter. I suspect one of two possible explanations: either my palate adjusted to the first sample or the bitterness of the beer varied in the keg because I left the hop bag in while draining the keg. Unfortunately I didn't keep the first sample to do a side-by-side comparison. Anyway, I'm hoping the cold conditioning will mellow out some of the harsh edges of the hops and even if it doesn't it will be a big hit with hopheads.

After racking the first keg, I moved on to the carboy that was fermented with WLP-320 (American Hefeweizen) yeast. Like the other keg, the gravity was around 1015. Visually, you could see that the yeast didn't really flocculate (as one would expect from the yeast). Taste-wise, however, it was awesome. It was much more rounded than the other keg. It wasn't as abrasively bitter and the malt profile came through wonderfully. It actually reminded me a lot of my favorite Altstadt Altbier, Im Füchschen. I added Super-Kleer KC finings to fine out the yeast and will re-rack in a few days. In the meantime, both kegs are back in the freezer and I've been dropping the temp 5°F each night (with the beer starting at 55
°F) until I hit 35°F.

I also threw my kegs of Oktoberfest into the freezer to begin lagering. Both kegs are rather phenolic (mainly clove flavor), likely due to the extended diacetyl rest at over 70 deg. I'm going to fine with gelatin to see if that helps, but I'm afraid the moral of the story here is bad planning in terms of brewing the Alt a scant two weeks after the Oktoberfest (which required me taking the kegs out of the temp-controlled freezer way earlier than I should have, as well as doing the diacetyl rest at room temp rather than 60°F). Hopefully fining and lagering will render the kegs drinkable even if they don't represent my finest brewing moment.

So that's where we're at now. Next up is our Dampfbier that we'll brew for our Novemberfest party, but we probably won't brew that until mid-October. Of course if I get antsy that might change...