Monday, June 29, 2009

Final analyses: 59° Fahrenheit Maibock and It's A Boy/Cloud-to-Cloud Dunkelweizen

So I've been a little lax in posting final analyses for my beer, but before the kegs are kicked I figured I should do a wrap-up of our 59° Fahrenheit Maibock and our It's A Boy (for this particular batch)/Cloud-to-Cloud (for all other batches) Dunkelweizen. We'll start with the Maibock first...

Style: Maibock/Helles Bock. Original gravity: 1070. Final gravity: 1020 (I think).
ABV: 6.5%. IBU's: 32.

As you can see from the picture above, this light lager never cleared for some reason. I've made a handful of light lagers and hybrids (i.e. Kölsch-style ales) and never had a problem with haze before. Not sure what happened but I'm not really too worried about it. Otherwise it looks great... a light honey color with a nice white head. The aroma is spot-on too. Nice and grainy, but not too grainy, with just a touch of hay-like noble hop aroma.

Moving on to the taste, the first sip is nice and balanced. Whereas a normal Helles would be all sweet up front, you get a touch of hop flavor--and sufficient bitterness--to keep it balanced as a Maibock should be. In the middle you get nice sweet, bready notes before a decent hop bitterness keeps it from being syrupy. I think I achieved nice balance in this beer, which is key to a Maibock, so I don't plan on tweaking the recipe next time. However, there is one problem. There's a slight pineapple note in the finish. I left the carboy in the basement for the first night (which I estimated was around 60°F), moved it to the 55°F chest freezer the next day when fermentation started and dropped it again to 50°F the next day for most of fermentation, so it would seem like I had the temperature under control, but it went from 1070 to 1031 in a whopping six days, so it must've fermented hot. In the future when I brew a high-gravity lager I'm going to try to pitch closer to 55°F and keep it at 50°F through the first week of fermentation. Additionally, I have a probe thermometer that I want to turn into a submersible thermometer so I can monitor the actual temperature IN the carboy. That'll give me a better idea of if I'm fermenting hot with high-gravity lagers.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the Maibock, and it was well-received at my nephews' birthday party. I just have to watch my fermentation temps.

Moving on to the It's A Boy/Cloud-to-Cloud Dunkelweizen...

Style: Dunkelweizen. Original gravity: 1054. Final gravity: 1012.
ABV: 5.5%. IBU's: 14.

I was shooting for a relatively light Dunkelweizen on this one (so as to not scare off people who think they don't like "dark beers") but ended up with a beer that pours a cloudy, deep chestnut color. As one would expect from a wheat beer, the head is ample.

The beer has a spicy, inviting aroma with notes of chocolate, clove and brown sugar. The flavor, however, isn't exactly what I was shooting for. The wheaty sweetness that greets the tongue up front is great, with notes of dark breads and molasses. However, the finish is off. I wanted the beer to be clove-heavy, but the phenols on this one are too much. Combined with the noble hops, the clove-like spiciness comes off as almost muddy. There's also a slight sour note that was unintended; not sure if that was due to an infection or underpitching or if it's the yeast bite combining with the phenols. I also think the chocolate wheat kind of mucks up the flavor profile. I could be wrong, but that's my guess.

Overall, it was a good beer, but I'll definitely change some things next time. First of all, I fermented this one really low (like in the mid to upper 50's). Next time I'll try to keep it in the low to mid 60's. Also, looking at the recipe, I think I needlessly complicated things with Pils, Munich, chocolate wheat, and two types of CaraMunich malts. Next time I'm thinking straight Munich with maybe a touch of Carafa or chocolate malt to give it a slight roasty edge. After that I can start adding malts to develop the flavor profile, but better to start simple and add stuff one at a time. It'll be interesting to see what I end up with down the road.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Quick thought on brewing temps...

So today it was 91°F for most of the afternoon while I was brewing. On February 22 of this year, the mercury dipped to 23°F while we brewed our Road House Red. That's a swing of 68°F (or 38°C for my non-American friends). What kind of temperature swings do you guys deal with? Any horror stories?

Brew Day: Black Moon Black Witbier

A while back a thread was started on BeerAdvocate where certain people took exception to the term "Black IPA," noting that the P in IPA stands for "pale," and a beer can't be both black and pale at the same time. This got me thinking about what other contradictory beers one could come up with, and one stuck in my mind: a black Witbier. "Wit" is Flemish for "white," and so a black Witbier would be just as offensive to the beer grammar police as is a black IPA. And since I already brewed a black IPA earlier this year, I had no choice to brew a black Witbier. Thus Black Moon was born.

I didn't want Black Moon to be too roasty, so I went with one pound of chocolate wheat and one pound of dehusked Carafa III to go along with nine pounds each of pale malt and flaked wheat. Well, technically I subbed two pounds of Pils for pale and a pound of Weyermann malted wheat for flaked wheat to get rid of some malt I had lying around, but otherwise it was a traditional Witbier malt bill with 10% dark malts mixed in.

The brew day was pretty uneventful, save for the fact that my buddy Paul came over and brewed with me. I hate brewing five gallons when I could just as easily brew ten but I really don't need ten gallons of this particular brew. Paul has a barbecue coming up for which he needs more beer, so it was a good deal all around.

Anyway, here are the vitals from the brew day... Started at 2:30; mashed in at 3:10 at 151°F (was shooting for 154, but had to stir a lot due to the flaked wheat and I think this brought my temp down). Since this was the first time I've used this much flaked wheat (or flaked anything, for that matter) I realized after mash-in that, even with a pound of rice hulls, it was a pretty thick mash at my standard 1.25 quarts water/lb. grain. As such, I added 1.5 gallons to my sparge water volume and added that to the mash when my water hit 160°F. This gave me an equivalent ratio of 1.5 qt./gal.

We sparged from 4:10 until 5:30, at which point we had collected 12.5 gallons. I had to keep the valve open more than I normally would, and at times the flow was more irregular than usual, but overall I didn't notice any problems from the flaked wheat. As you can see to the right, Dorrie was more than willing to help me clean the spent grain out the mash tun. We boiled from 5:30 to 6:30, with sweet and bitter orange peel being added at 6:10 and coriander and aroma hops added at 6:25. At 6:30 we chilled down to 67°F with the plate chiller. Our measured original gravity was 1045, three points below the target gravity, but we yielded well over the 11 gallons we planned; I guess when it's 90°F outside you don't get so much boil-off.

Tasting the beer after chilling, I'm a little concerned I was heavy-handed with the chocolate wheat, and that the roasted flavors will mask the orange peel and coriander. I guess time will tell. Anyway, we pitched a 1000mL starter of WLP 400 Belgian Wit ale yeast, and now my carboy's sitting in the basement getting ready to rock.

So there you have it. Another brew day in the books. Now I just have to get my butt in gear and keg the Hefeweizein...

Friday, June 26, 2009

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

On this sad occasion, I feel like I have to say something, so here it goes...

To say Michael Jackson was a giant in the beer world is an understatement. "The Beer Hunter," as many knew him, elevated beer to its rightful place beside--wait... what? Oh, that Michael Jackson? Dammit, now where's the delete key on this computer?



Okay, clearly the Onion doesn't have to worry about competition from this site.

FotoFriday #3

A half pint of Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted enjoyed at the Castle Campbell Hotel Pub outside of Aviemore, Scotland.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Long overdue Beard-a-thon wrap-up

You may have noticed that, after bugging you non-stop about the Chicago Blackhawks Beard-a-thon for a month or so, I suddenly stopped. Yes, as you probably guessed, that corresponded with the Blackhawks being ousted from the Stanley Cup finals by the maleficent Detroit Red Wings (and it also corresponded with our vacation to Scotland, so I couldn't blog about it right away). However, before all was said and done, I managed to raise $1,043 for charity thanks to all of you! I had several requests for how I should shave off my beard when the fateful day came, so as a thank you to everybody who donated to the cause, I now present yours truly with all sorts of silly facial hair.

We start out with one last look at the beard:

If Billy Mays ever retires, I'm ready to take over. Next I went for the goatee with mutton chops:

That one was too boring, so I decided to go with a biker-friendly look:

Despite the odd expression on my face, I kinda liked that one. I definitely liked it better than the next one, which I call the "dumb side character on Deadwood" look:

Immediately after this, Dorrie asked, "Mama, why is Dada smiling with his eyes?" When Leah asked what she meant by that, Dorrie demonstrated:

That picture cracks me up every time I see it. Moving on, I progressed to the "cool character from Deadwood" look:

That was the other look I kinda liked, but Leah vetoed it. This led to my Luigi-meets-Borat look:

Um... no. Maybe trimming it to a Jeff Kent-style mustache would make things better?

Not really. At this point there was only one option left. No, not this. I mean a John Waters pencil-thin mustache. I don't know how he does it, but this is as thin as I could get it:

So there you have it, folks. Thanks again to all of you who donated. If you ever find yourself in Beverly, the beer's on me!

Friday, June 19, 2009

FotoFriday #2

The sign hanging outside of the Historischer Brauereiausschank Schlenkerla in Bamberg, Germany.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brew day: Step Leader Hefeweizen

Okay, quick show of hands... How many of you have ever burned a hockey sock while brewing? Yeah, me too. It's all in a day's work when you're a homebrewer, I suppose. And with that said, I will now report on today's brew day, my first all-grain version of our Step Leader Hefeweizen.

Lately our brew days have gone pretty smoothly, so I should've guessed that something would go wrong sooner or later. However, much like Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt in Twister, I never saw it coming. (Actually, I guess they did see it coming. I mean, why else would they have tethered themselves to a pipe in a barn? But I digress...) I started around 10:30am, heating up my strike water and then draining it into my mash tun when it hit 168°F with a target temp of 152°F. However, with about a gallon left the water stopped draining.

As you can somewhat see below, my set-up is pretty simple: a keggle with a false bottom, fitted with a weldless fitting, with a high-temp hose running from the fitting to my mash tun (hose not pictured). There's not a lot to mess up. But for some reason it wouldn't drain. I even hooked up my pump and siphoned water through with my mouth (slightly burning my tongue in the process) to make sure the pump was primed, but no dice. I ended up having to dump out the water, rinse the keggle with cold water, and disassemble everything. I couldn't find any blockages but once I put everything back together it worked. Weird, huh? The only thing I can think of is that maybe I accidentally flipped the rubber washer and the stainless steel washer, thereby preventing an airtight seal which would cause problems once the water level dropped below the weldless fitting.

Oh, I suppose I should mention that I burned my hockey sock while dumping out the remaining hot water from the keggle. The keggle was obviously quite hot, and I had to act fast, so I grabbed the first thing I could find to insulate my hands, and that was a hockey sock. Unfortunately, it got singed pretty bad (I was grabbing the bottom of the keggle with that sock, and seeing that the bottom of the keggle had been exposed to an open flame for the past half hour, you can imagine how hot it was) but the good news is my hand didn't get burned!

Once I re-connected everything and reheated the strike water things went pretty smoothly. I added 1/2 tsp. acid blend to the mash since I didn't have any dark malts. I mashed in at 152°F at 12:10 and after an hour-long sacc rest I decocted two gallons, boiling the decoction for 15 minutes. I returned this to the mash (which had dropped to ~150°F) and this brought the temp up to around 162°F--six degrees below my desired mash-out but no big deal.

At 1:35pm I started recirculating; at 1:45 I started collecting the first runnings. I started out wiht a rather slow sparge, collecting two gallons after 15 minutes and five gallons after 40 minutes. However, I got a little impatient after that and collected the remaining six-plus gallons over the next twenty minutes. I probably took a little hit in efficiency due to my impatience, but hopefully I won't notice any significant flaws.

By 2:45 I had collected the last of my wort just as my kettle came to a boil. I added my German Tradition hops (increasing my hop bill by 10% since my hops are now over six months old, though I keep them in a relatively airtight bag in the freezer and they still smell fine) and let it boil for just over an hour.

Right before chilling the wort I noticed one last problem... You may recall that when I brewed my Maibock my Thrumometer accidentally fell into the carboy as I was filling it. I got the Thrumometer out when I racked the Maibock to the keg, but didn't notice until today that there was a bunch of gunk INSIDE the Thrumometer. Not a good idea to run freshly-cooled wort through that, right? I tried an emergency soak in Oxy-Clean but didn't have much luck, so I did without the Thrumometer for one more brew. I think I chilled to around 70-75°F, but I can't say for sure.

The Hefe came out looking quite light pale, particularly in comparison to the extract Hefes we've brewed in the past (not that it surprises me... those extracts can be quite dark). It also came out a hair light with an original gravity of 1046, a mere point below my target of 1047 which assumed a 75% efficiency. I think if I were a little more patient with my sparge I would've come well above 75% (especially with somewhat of a mash-out) but 1046 will make for a refreshing summer brew.

I pitched a 1000 mL starter of WLP 300 (my local homebrew shop was out of WLP 380 AGAIN) into one 6.5-gallon carboy and two 3-gallon carboys and I'm going to throw all three into my chest freezer set at 65°F before I go to bed. In the morning, assuming fermentation is started, I'll drop it down to 62°F.

So there you have it... One wheat beer down, possibly two to go (if I go down my to-do list in order). Oh, and if you have an extra pair of hockey socks you're not using, feel free to send 'em my way. ;-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

FotoFriday #1

In case you haven't noticed, Leah is an excellent photographer. And while the ultimate purpose of this blog is to keep a record of my brewing exploits, I realize there are a few people out here who enjoy visiting the site. As such, I decided it would be fun to post cool beer or brewing-related photos every once in a while. I've decided to call this "FotoFriday," and while I can't promise it will be every Friday, that's going to be the goal. So without further ado, here's FotoFriday #1:

Leah took this at a Rock Bottom brewer's dinner back in 2005. Sadly it's been a while since we've attended a brewer's dinner (I blame having kids) but they're a blast.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To-do List

As I noted yesterday, we'll be brewing our Step Leader Hefeweizen on Saturday. Our kegerator has four taps, and my intention is to keep one for a light beer, one for a dark beer, one for a specialty beer and one for root beer or seltzer. The Hefe will replace our Maibock, and we still have our Dunkelweizen and Sticke Alt on tap as our dark and specialty beers. Both the Dunkelweizen and Sticke are getting pretty old, so it's time to think about what will replace each. With that in mind, I thought I would get my thoughts organized on beers I want to brew soon.

1. Black Moon. This will be a Black Belgian Wit, or a Belgian Zwart, or whatever you want to call it. Basically, it'll be a Belgian Wit with some chocolate wheat malt replacing a portion of the flaked wheat and some dehusked Carafa III and possibly a roast barley cap replacing some of the pale malt. This will be our next dark beer.

2. Gust Front Leipzig-Style Wheat. Our Leipziger Gose won a best-of-show when brewed as an extract with food-grade lactic acid added to the secondary. This time I want to up the lactic quality (a la Döllnitzer Rittergutsgose), brew it with acidified malt instead of adding the acid later (or possibly even sour it myself like a Berliner Weisse) and brew it all-grain. This would be our next specialty beer.

3. Alternatively for our next specialty beer, I could brew a Roggenbier. The nice thing about the Roggenbier is I could pitch it on to the yeast cake from the Hefeweizen.

4. I need to brew up another F5 Altbier sooner or later. I have a couple tweaks I'd like to make from the last time I brewed this up, and I really want to get this recipe down by the spring for reasons that I may or may not divulge down the road.

5. Finally, I want to brew another Scottish ale after visiting Scotland. Not sure if I'll want to go with an 80/- or a Wee Heavy, but I definitely want to take another stab at one (it's been at least two years since I brewed one, and the last one was an extract brew).

So there's my to-do list for now. So much to brew, so little time...

EDIT: Señor Brew™ notes in a comment that I forgot to mention one other plan in the works: a porter that would be split into small batches to each be flavored with something different. Man, I'm starting to feel like Ringo Starr ("I'm warning you with peace and love, I've got too much to do...").

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Chibebräu Wine post, and Hefe on deck

Two quick notes... First, after a three-month hiatus I've posted a new wine review over at Chibebräu Wine. Feel free to check it out and tell me what I don't know about wine.

Second, tonight I'll be making a starter for our good ol' Step Leader Hefeweizen, which we plan to brew on Saturday. Surprisingly, even though Step Leader was the first ever beer that we brewed, and we've been brewing all-grain for over two years now, this will be the first time that we brew up an all-grain batch of traditional Hefeweizen. Look for a wrap-up either Saturday night or Sunday.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Scotland trip recap part 4: Black Isle and Cairngorm Breweries

After leaving the Isle of Skye (and almost running out of gas between Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness... don't you think there'd be a petrol station somewhere along the 80 miles of highway between the two cities?) we headed east to Aviemore, a town in the southern Highlands that is almost like Vail or Breckenridge here in the States; it's a skiing and outdoors hotspot, lying at the foot of the Cairngorms National Park.

However, before we got to Aviemore, we stopped at the Black Isle Brewery. Black Isle gets a lot of attention because it's an organic brewery. While I may ruffle some feathers by saying so, I could care less about organics (in fact, to the contrary, I am concerned that organic farming may actually use more resources than conventional farming; that being said, as long as people have done their homework I respect whatever decision they reach on the issue and I'm really not interested in debating it on this blog). My concern is singular: is the beer any good? I'm happy to answer strongly in the affirmative when it comes to Black Isle.

Before I get to their beer, I should recap their tour. Unfortunately, since we were there on a weekend, we weren't able to talk with any of the brewers there but our tour guide was wonderful. The brewery isn't terribly big (as you can see in the picture to the right) so the tour was pretty quick. We were informed that the brewery will be expanding to a new building, but it was inspiring to see what they've done with a pretty small brewhouse (as you can see with the picture below, their bottler only does two at a time).

On to the beer... Like many newer Scottish breweries, they aren't terribly beholden to tradition. They did have a Wee Heavy in their lineup, but even that had a roast malt quality that didn't seem quite to style (though it was very good, mind you). While I enjoyed many of their beers, two stood out. The first was their Heather Honey Ale. I don't have any tasting notes (and it's too late for me to bust open one of the two bottles of it that I brought home) but their website describes it as "a triple style golden ale made with honey gathered from the heather covered highland mountains." At 7.5% ABV, it had a nice alcohol kick (uncommon for a UK beer) but more importantly nice Hefeweizen-like esters that kept this drinkable. A great beer.

The other Black Isle beer that blew me away was their Export Oatmeal Stout. Another high-gravity beer, the rich, roasty flavors--with, again, just a touch of smoke--helped mask the alcohol warmth. Readers of this blog know that I am in no way biased towards high-gravity beers, but both the Heather Honey Ale and the Export Oatmeal Stout had tons of flavor that really impressed me. I was definitely glad we decided to stop by Black Isle on our way to Aviemore.

Once arriving in Aviemore, we quickly made our way to Cairngorm Brewery. Cairngorm was a little bigger than Black Isle, but not much. One interesting thing I learned from their tour... They skim the active yeast from the top of their fermenters at high Kräusen to harvest yeast for future batches. When I pointed out that most of the brewers I know take their yeast from the bottom of the conical fermenters, our guide's response was, "But this is top-fermenting ale." She had a point, I suppose. Funny how many brewers do different things different ways and good beer results either way.

After the tour, we got to try their entire line-up which consisted of eight different ales. Like Black Isle, Cairngorm was willing to push the envelope on its beers though its lineup still felt decidedly Scottish. The night before our tour I enjoyed a pint of their Wildcat on cask, and I'd have to say it may have been my favorite beer that truly seemed in the Scottish tradition (nice and malty with a hint of roastiness and just enough bitterness... awesome). At the brewery, my favorite beers were their Blessed Thistle and their Black Gold. The Blessed Thistle is (as you might guess) bittered with thistles rather than hops. They then use both hops and ginger towards the end of the boil. It was unique without being too spicy or medicinal. The Black Gold is described as a "Scottish stout." Based on my tasting, that term means the roastiness of a stout along with the caramel sweetness of a Scottish ale. It won the CAMRA Champion Beer of Scotland in 2005 so I'm not the only one who likes it.

For our last night in Scotland, we enjoyed dinner at the Old Bridge Inn. Since we were in the Highlands, we decided to go with the Highlands venison steak marinaded in juniper berries (awesome) and an Aberdeen Angus sirloin (somewhat disappointing; I probably should've gone with the ribeye instead). I enjoyed final pints of Cairngorm Stag and Caledonian 80/- on cask. For dessert, Leah got one last helping of sticky toffee pudding while I decided to go with a wee dram of Balvenie whisky. I'm somewhat obsessed with Balvenie because it's one of the only distilleries that still floor malts, and when I return to Scotland I really want to tour it. Anyway, I found the Balvenie much smoother than the Talisker, somewhat fruity with honey notes. If it had just a bit of peatiness, I probably would've brought home a bottle. As it is, I think it could still be a good gateway whisky for me.

Towards the end of the dinner, we met a German couple and ended up having one last pint with them. I commented that I studied in Germany and the wife commented that she studied at the University of Illinois. Go figure. I suppose it was appropriate that I would end up using my limited knowledge of the German language on our last night in Scotland since we intend on returning to Germany for our next vacation.

The only other thing to note before we returned home was that we were able to sample an authentic (or so we were told) Cornish pasty. This was particularly exciting for us because pasties are common up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as nearby northern Michigan where Leah is from. I found the Cornish variety to be a little more stew-like than its Michigan cousin, which is thicker. On the whole, though, it was pretty similar and damn tasty. A fitting end to an awesome vacation.

Jonas and I on the plane returning to the U.S. of A.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Scotland trip recap part 3: a beer geek tours a distillery

You know how they say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? Well, armed with my knowledge of fermentation from brewing plus a little distilling know-how picked up from a History Channel show on moonshining, I toured the Talisker Distillery and then spent the next hour calling bullshit on most of what they told me. I'm sure people who actually know about distilling (i.e. not me) will read this and laugh because I'm probably the one who's full of it, but the great thing about the internet is you can criticize others even when you don't know what you're talking about. So here it goes...

B.S. #1: No photography. Why no photography? Because, according to them, vapors are produced during the distilling process that could possibly ignite from a photography flash. For the same reason they also require people to turn off their cell phones and even have special cell phones they use at work that aren't fire hazards. I realize the distilling process produces volatile compounds (as indicated on this page) but if flashes are really a hazard can't they just ask us to turn off our flashes? And second, wouldn't something like, say, ADEQUATE VENTILATION be preferred to preventing random sparks? Anyway, regardless, I couldn't take pictures while on the tour so instead I used MS Paint to recreate pictures from the tour (as you'll see below).

B.S. #2: No kids under 8. The reasoning? Again, the volatile chemicals. Look, if you don't want little kids running around, just say so. But you're really telling me kids are going to get sick from breathing in fumes during the tour? I think not.

Moving on to the tour itself, I was disappointed to learn that Talisker--like most distilleries these days--doesn't malt barley at its distillery. I knew most distilleries don't floor malt any more, but I was hoping to see the malting process since it's the one element of brewing that I haven't observed first-hand. However, in an effort to downplay the significance of buying their malt instead of making it, they stressed the fact that they still mill the grain at the distillery, which brings me to...

B.S. #3: They check the crush of the grain constantly. They made a big deal of the fact that the grain has to be crushed just right, and how because of this they mill it themselves and constantly check it with a three-screened box. Now, I understand milling is important, but I fail to see why it's any more important for distilling than it is with brewing, and I've never heard of a brewery constantly checking the crush (or if they do, they never make a big deal about it during tours). Seems to me that once you get the spacing right on your mill, you're pretty much good to go. Sure you'll check it from time to time, but they made it seem like they're the greatest distillery because they mill their own grain. I guess I'm not that easily impressed.

B.S. #4: After showing us how they mill the grain, we moved on to the fermentation tanks. I asked at what temperature they ferment the mash, and the guide told me they pitch around 15°C and then let it naturally rise to around 35°C, at which point the yeast dies from the temperature. While it makes sense that the temperature would increase (and this source confirms that temperatures are not closely maintained in distilleries as they are in breweries) but I doubt that they would let it get so hot that the yeast dies before converting as much sugar to alcohol as possible. Given that the whole point of distillation is to up the alcohol content, wouldn't you want to get as much attenuation from the yeast as possible?

We next moved on to the stills, where we were told B.S. #5: the shape of the still is critical to the character of the whisky. I can't really explain why this is B.S., but this book seems to confirm my suspicion ("The exact shape of a still is usually not of very great importance and it depends largely on the mechanical facilities that may be available."). You can see the shape of the Talisker stills in the meticulously-detailed drawing to the right.

The rest of the tour was actually pretty interesting. They talked about how they only take the spirits from the middle part of the distillation process; the early and late spirits are too weak so they're returned to be re-distilled. Then they took us down to their cellar where we checked out all the barrels. Afterwards, I got to taste their 10-year whisky. It was quite hot and peppery, with a decent peaty kick. The guy working the bar told me that it's really not that peaty, but other notes I've seen describe Talisker as being somewhat heavy with the peat. It was good, but not as smooth as the Balvenie I enjoyed the night before our flight home.

I realize that these tours aren't meant to be technical distilling courses, but I think you can dumb things down without being flat-out wrong. That being said, I may very well be wrong on many of these points. I think I was just in a skeptical, critical mood from the moment they said no pictures. I mean, what's the fun of taking a tour if you can't take pictures? Ultimately, it was cool to see how a distillery works, but I think I'll stick with my beer.

Jump to Scotland trip recap part 4 here.

Best brewery picture ever?

Okay, so that's a bit of an overstatement, but if you love both beer and the Simpsons, as I do, it's pretty sweet. (For the record, Homer is attached to the grill of a refrigeration service van that was working on something at the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore, Scotland... I'll be posting more about Cairngorm soon).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Two random things that annoy me about Scotland

So here we are in the Edinburgh airport waiting to fly home and instead of reflecting on the positives I'm going to complain about two negatives. First, pubs need a special license in order to allow children in. Now I'm not talking about a crowded pub at 10pm on a Saturday night. I mean that two different pubs turned us away--one at two in the afternoon where we were going to sit outside--because they didn't have a children's license. I could see if they flat-out said no kids in pubs because it will corrupt them (I would disagree, of course, but I could see). But to require a special license seems like a shake-down, pure and simple. The UK Nanny State strikes again, I suppose.

The other thing that annoys me is people in Scotland don't stay to one side of the sidewalk. In the U.S. people generally stay to the right; same thing in Germany. You'd think people in Scotland would stay to the left, right? Wrong. It was a royal pain in the ass to walk down crowded Edinburgh streets because some oncoming pedestrians were moving to their right while others moved left. For a country that is obsessive about queueing, you'd think they could walk down the street in an orderly fashion.

Anyway, those are my nitpicky complaints. If that's the worst I have to say about the Scots, they're not doing too bad. Of course, I guess my biggest problem would be them outlawing my ancestors (the Clan McGregor) for two hundred years, but I'm over that by now.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Scotland trip recap part 2: West to Skye

After a brief two days in Edinburgh, it was on to the Isle of Skye! There's a lot to recap and we have to get up at 6am tomorrow to head back to the Edinburgh airport and catch our flight back to the States, so I'll try and keep it brief, but I'm not very good at that.

Our first stop after leaving Edinburgh was the Harviestoun Brewery, maker of Old Engine Oil. They don't do formal tours so we had to settle for being shown around by head brewer Stuart Cail (I know, poor us, right?). Stuart was awesome, chatting with us at length about the state of craft beer in the U.K. (it's good), the tied-house system (it's not so good), and other random topics that came up. It was interested to hear about Harviestoun's American-like approach to brewing... they're not tied to tradition, to which anyone who's tried their Ola Dubh (a higher gravity, barrel-aged version of Old Engine Oild) can attest. I was bummed to learn that Old Engine Oil isn't available on cask, but that was pretty much the only disappointment from the tour. I suppose I was also slightly disappointed that they didn't have a tasting room as all that talking beer made me thirsty, but a local pub helped me remedy that right away. We enjoyed a delicious lunch (including our first sampling of tomato and orange soup... quite tasty!) and a pint of Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, and then we were off again.

Our next stop was the Doune Castle, better known as the Castle Anthrax in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After that we went through some gorgeous scenery around Glen Coe and some crazy single-track roads to end up just north of the Highland town of Strontian. There we enjoyed an unexpectedly incredible dinner (the place was tiny and empty and had hand-written menus) featuring smoked mackerel and salmon cakes, chicken wellington and two local beers I forgot to write down.

After spending the night near Stontian, we found ourselves on the Isle of Skye the next afternoon after a 25-minute ferry ride. Skye would turn out to be incredible. The island is full of mountains and lochs and sheep (lots of sheep!) and cliffs and cool little islands that lie further off the coast. And the best part of all was it was sunny the whole time! From what we hear, it's never sunny in Skye, but it was for us. Check it out:

Anyway, for purposes of this blog, there are three things to discuss: the Cuillin Brewery, the Isle of Skye Brewery, and the Talisker Distillery. I'll actually devote a separate post to Talisker, so for now I'll talk about Cuillin and Isle of Skye.

We actually didn't know about Cuillin. We were on our way to Talisker when we saw a sign that read "brewery" so I slammed on the brakes and turned in. The brewery was tiny (looked to be about the size of Flossmoor Station's brewery) and there didn't appear to be any visitor's center devoted to it (it was part of a complex with a hotel and restaurant/pub) so I stopped a guy who was carrying a bucket of paint out of the brewery and asked if they give tours. His response? "Nah, it's just a microbrewery." Leah and I both found that hilarious. Anyway, we stopped by the pub next door where I enjoyed a pint of their (unfortunately named by American standards) Blackface ale. Much like Orkney Dark Island, this one really impressed me with its touch of smoke up front. A very tasty ale if I do say so myself.

The next day we headed over to Isle of Skye Brewery, where they unfortunately didn't offer tours on weekends. They had a nice gift shop where I picked up a cool snifter and I did a little poking around behind the back of the brewery where kegs were everywhere. I tried a few of their ales during the course of their trip and while each was solid, none particularly blew me away. The did have a nice gift shop though...

As for the Talisker tour, well, that will get its own post. For now, it's time for bed.

Jump to Scotland trip recap part 3 here.