Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oktober's around the corner...

...and you know what that means: it's time to brew my Oktoberfest beer! I made a 1-gallon starter this evening in preparation for brewing on Sunday. I guess it says something about how cool this summer has been that I'm worried about the heat . . . and it's only supposed to be 83°F. Anyway, my local homebrew store was out of the yeast I wanted yet again so instead of my beloved WLP 838 South German Lager yeast I'll have to settle for WLP 830 German Lager yeast. Fortunately the reviews for the yeast strain are positive so hopefully it won't be a big deal. The only other thing worth noting at this point is that the grain bill is going to be just Pils and Munich. Initially I wanted to make this a true German-style Märzen, which is more like a slightly stronger Helles than the Vienna-like Oktoberfests exported to the States. However, since I just brewed a Helles a few months ago I wanted to give it at least a little nutty character. Since I've been very pro-keeping-things-simple, I figured Pils and Munich counted as simple. I know technically I should use Vienna malt, but I want to get a better handle on Munich at this point so it should be a good experiment. Stay tuned for a brew day wrap-up.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Brewing crunch time

Okay, a little thinking out loud here... As I may have mentioned before, I have three big events to brew for: my church's Oktoberfest (Sept. 27), my homebrew club's Oktoberfest (Oct. 3) and our own Novemberfest (a date in November to be named later). Since I'll need three kegs for our Novemberfest party and one keg for each of the Oktoberfest party, this means I'll have to brew three ten-gallon batches. The problem is, when I'm not brewing I make a living as a lawyer and we're scheduled to go to trial in federal court on August 24th. This means brewing will be next to impossible for the week before and probably three to four weeks after that date. In the meantime, my weekends for the next three or so weeks look pretty terrible too. I've got five million things this weekend. The next weekend I have at least one if not two obligations. The week after that? Great Taste of the Midwest up in Madison. The weekend after that I might already be busy with trial prep. So how am I going to get two batches brewed by the end of September?

Well, I'm not sure. First thing is I'll probably have to scrap my plans to brew a Gose, since I'm thinking it's a little too out there for any of these parties (especially if I pitch lacto, since it's very unpredicable). That means I won't be able to enter it in the Schooner Homebrew Championship as planned. Bummer.

Second, I'm thinking of brewing my Oktoberfest lager on Sunday, August 2. I'm going to bring five gallons to my church party and save the other five for my own.

After that, I'll try and figure out some way to brew my Altbier for the brew club Oktoberfest. Maybe I can squeeze in a brew day during the weekend of the 15th? If not, I might just have to show up to the brew club Oktoberfest empty-handed.

Finally, I'll want to brew some kind of light beer for my own party. I'm not sure if I want to brew a lager or an ale, but options include Kölsch, Pilsner, Helles or Dampfbier. If I go ale, I could brew in mid-October and probably still have it ready for Novemberfest. If I go with a light lager, I could probably still brew as late as mid-October if we go with a late Novemberfest date.

You know, it's funny... For the three-plus years I've been a lawyer, I've bitched about the fact that most civil litigators rarely if ever go to trial. Now I'm finally going to trial and it's just messing everything up. I guess there's some truth to the old saying, "be careful what you wish for." Regardless, here's hoping I'm able to fulfill my brewing needs in the next few months despite a crazy busy schedule.

P.S. If, for some crazy reason, you want to buy the t-shirt pictured above, you can do so here.

FotoFriday #7

Can't brew without a heat source...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Final analysis: Step Leader Hefeweizen

Style: Weizen/Weissbier. Original gravity: 1046. Final gravity: 1012(?).
ABV: 4.4%. IBU's: 13.

The first beer I brewed was a Hefeweizen, and it was awesome. It became our go-to beer for when we were having a party. As an extract beer, it was quick and easy (with the exception of blow-off tube issues). Well, five years after brewing that first Hefe, we finally got around to brewing one all-grain, with a decoction to boot. Here are the tasting notes:

Appearance: I was quite surprised how light the beer came out. As you can see in the picture above, it's a pale straw color with an ample white head. It also has the requisite cloudiness. Part of me almost thinks it's too light, but the other part of me can't figure out why that matters.

Smell: The aroma is almost all clove and yeast. It reminds me a lot of Schneider-Weisse. I'm not a big fan of Hefes that are banana bombs, which is why I prefer WLP 380 to WLP 300 yeast. However, my local homebrew store only had 300, so in an effort to avoid too much banana character, I fermented at 62°F and I think that might have been overkill. Next time I brew a Hefe with 300, I'm thinking of fermenting at 64°F instead of 62°F.

Taste: A slightly tart yeast bite (again, like Schneider-Weisse) balances the wheaty, sweet malt flavor up front. As the beer sits in your mouth, the yeastiness dissipates but a slight citrusy note comes forward. The clove-like phenols are evident in the finish, along with just a hint of hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Hefes are tough when it comes to mouthfeel. On one hand, you like to have a full malt profile, but you don't want it to be thick or too filling. This one seems a bit thin, but at the same time that leaves it quite drinkable (a good think during the summer, even if it hasn't felt like summer in Chicago so far this year). Due to a siphoning issue that you can read about here, I was a little low with my mash temp. I'm thinking if I hit the mash temp next time I should be good, but it's pretty nice as is.

Overall: This beer scared me after a week in the primary (it had a distinct sulfur bite) but it's mellowed out nicely. I don't think I'll tweak much with this next time, as it really hits the spot as a refreshing summer beer. I might up the fermentation temp a hair and watch my mash temp, but I like the 50-50 wheat/barley malt bill and the subdued hops.

Friday, July 17, 2009

FotoFriday #6

The sign outside of the Goose Island-Clybourn brewpub in Chicago, as seen through a skylight in the pub.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Der Stammtisch lebt!

For those of you who want to improve your German skills while talking (or, technically, writing) about beer, join us at der Stammtisch ("the regulars' table") which is hosted over at realbeer.com. This week's Stammtisch can be found by following this link. Oh, and if your German is as bad as mine, I recommend Babelfish and dict.cc. Tschüß!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Trib wine critics review . . . Gatorade?

So this is somewhat off-topic, but too funny not to share. A while back this Onion article in which a "potato chip connoisseur" describes the flavor of Sour Cream & Onion Lays as "robust without overpowering the fragile potato" made the rounds and everybody had a good laugh. Even the most hardcore beer reviewer has to step back and laugh at him/herself every once in a while, right? Well, this might be even funnier because it's real. Behold, from today's ChicagoTribune.com:

Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame flavors lack distinction
Critics pan new sports drinks released in his honor

Gatorade, one of Jordan's longest partnerships, is releasing a Limited Edition Jordan Series to honor his September induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

There are three new flavors, each representing a phase of his career, and each comes in two different labels. Sports drinks are certainly not meant for sipping but, nonetheless, we asked our wine critic Bill Daley and his wine tasters to temper their palates and rate the taste, the color, the aroma -- and the aura -- using the same criteria they use with finer vintages.

Then: Championship blue (berry cherry blend)

Two labels mark his early rise to stardom, including high school basketball in Wilmington, N.C., where he was cut from the varsity team as a sophomore, and his heroics at North Carolina.

Review: Bright Scope peppermint blue color. Smells like Hawaiian Punch's Fruit Juicy Red drink with lots of ripe berry scent and a slight citrus spritz. But taste is thin, like over-watered Kool-Aid. Potassium is noticeable but not overwhelming. Short, tart finish. Serve with protein bars, vanilla ice cream, Skittles.

Now: Championship gold (citrus orange blend)

Gatorade says these labels "shine a spotlight on Jordan's business acumen." One represents him as part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. The other plugs his company Michael Jordan Motorsports.

Review: A golden color only an urologist could love; more opaque than the other. Smells like Tang on a bender or melted orange Life Savers. Tastes harsh, chemical-like. It's citrus without the sweetness, like chewable vitamin C. Serve with pretzels, popcorn, Waldorf salad.

Forever: Championship Red (berry blend)

This flavor highlights his "enduring legacy." One shows his career highlights. The other focuses on Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, where he overcame the flu to score 38 points "all while drinking Gatorade on the sidelines," the company says.

Review: Strawberry colored and strawberry scented and, more or less, strawberry flavored. Think Jell-O before the chill sets in. Serve with sliced bananas, strawberry pie, grilled pineapple, potato chips.


So how funny is that? I think my favorite is the pairing with Skittles, as it reminds me of an exchange I had with Kevin at the Michigan Beer Buzz blog in the comments section of this post.

Anyway, to keep this somewhat beer-related, I'll add the following notes for the record... Finally finished off our Maibock on Thursday night so I put the Hefe on tap yesterday. Meanwhile I'm hoping to rack the Black Moon to the keg today. Looks like I'll have to give the (really old) Dunkelweizen the boot soon!

Friday, July 10, 2009

FotoFriday #5

Ogie, my brew dog, watches intently in the hope that I might spill some wort. A couple points of interest... First, in the lower left-hand corner you can see the hose running from my mash tun to a small thermos cooler (which I use as a makeshift grant). Second, in the upper right-hand corner you can see my laptop—on which I run Beersmith—balanced perilously on a hockey skate. I don't recommend that technique.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Fed up with BeerAdvocate... Where to go?

So I've posted about BeerAdvocate from time to time. It has a (mostly) wonderful group of users that include professional brewers, homebrewers and plain ol' beer geeks. I've learned a lot about brewing from fellow BA's, and I've met some pretty cool people there. However, I have one problem with the site: the guys who run it. The Alström Brothers (sycophantically referred to as "the Bros") run the site like the Stasi ran East Germany. They constantly chide people for not staying focused on beer like we're a bunch of eight-year-olds. My favorite was a recent "Late Night BeerAdvocate" thread (a sort of open thread where people shoot the breeze about what they're drinking that night) where somebody started the post by asking what people were drinking to pay tribute to Billy Mays. This was promptly deleted because Billy Mays has nothing to do with beer (though he did pimp OxiClean, which I use to clean the majority of my brewing equipment).

For me the last straw came this weekend. I studied in Germany in college and have been looking for a way to brush up on my vocab. Somebody on BA suggested starting a weekly thread in which we would discuss what's new in our (beer-related) lives--auf Deutsch. We called it "Der Stammtisch," which translates roughly into "the regulars' table." It was great. After three weeks I saw my syntax improving; I learned new words; I was thinking German much more often. Then on Saturday I went to reply to den Stammtisch and it was gone. The Bros deleted it because they couldn't moderate what they couldn't understand. I appealed to them to reconsider, but they weren't interested in what we had to say. When I emailed other users who regularly post on den Stammtisch, I found many users felt as I did: that they had been getting increasingly upset with the overmoderation of the forum and that this was the last straw.

Anyway, that's my unnecessarily-long preface to the question I'm getting at... What forums do others post on? I love beermapping.com (and nobody would compare Jonathan to a Stasi officer) but their forum isn't nearly as active as BA's. We've discussed moving den Stammtisch to realbeer.com, which seems promising. Any other suggestions for forums to frequent?

EDIT: I have been informed that der Stammish will indeed live on at realbeer.com! Jawohl!

FURTHER EDIT: I realize that moderating forums is often necessary, and I'm not suggesting they shouldn't try to keep things in order. It's just the combination of (what I see as) excessive moderating AND a reluctance to consider the opinions of members that led me to be fed up with the website.

Friday, July 03, 2009

FotoFriday #4

Spent grain in the mash tun from brewing Black Moon.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Chicago readers: free beer tomorrow at Rock Bottom!

I generally don't get into politics on this blog (it is just a brewer's log, after all) but I've always found a strong connection between beer and freedom. From our forefathers (forebrewers?) fighting to repeal the 18th Amendment to more recent campaigns to legalize homebrewing and high-alcohol beers, there's just something about brewing and drinking beer that is liberating. Hell, even in The Shawshank Redemption, the one time Andy Dufresne felt free while at Shawshank was when he got the one guard to bring them all beer while tarring the roof of the prison (as Red narrated: "We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men").

I suppose it's no coincidence then that beer is a staple of the 4th of July barbecue. Of course, if you're like me and don't want to wait until Saturday, I invite you to stop by the Rock Bottom just north of downtown Chicago (on State and Grand, to be specific) tomorrow from 6-7pm for the tapping of Pete Crowley's American Dream IPA! I had a sneak preview of the beer straight from the conditioning tank last Thursday and it's good stuff. Oh, and I suppose I should also mention it's FREE. How's that for freedom?! I know Brian from The Daily Ikura will be there, and Señor Brew is no stranger to Rock Bottom either (maybe he'll show up to bask in the glory of his recent victory). Hope to see you there too...