Saturday, August 5, 2017

How did you spend International Beer Day?

Since 2008, International Beer Day has been observed on the first Friday of every August by over 200 cities worldwide. I like International Beer Day (IBD hereafter), because here in Ontario it also kicks off the Civic Holiday. This year in particular, I'm also starting a week of vacation, so I'm going to make a weekend of it. Here are my plans:

  1. Work on a Wild Brew Yonder beer appreciation class.
  2. Swing by a few breweries to see what's fresh on the market.
  3. Do some "beertography" to test out my new off-camera flash.
  4. Bottle some of my Irish Blond dubbed "The Quiet Man", after the John Wayne movie.
  5. Taste and review a local brew to post up here.
It seems like a lot for one weekend, but the best part of International Beer Day for me was the fact that I didn't get drunk. I tasted some good beers (Broadhead Bodacious Blueberry Blond, Gahan Iron Bridge Brown, Muskoka Shinnicked Stout, to name a few), and had some lively discussion about different styles and types with some budding craft beer enthusiasts, but didn't overdo it. Which means no hangover. Which means productivity!

How did you spend International Beer Day, and - if you're in Ontario - how are you spending this civic weekend?

Friday, July 7, 2017

On aging beer

I recently took a beer that I had left in a box for four years to a friend's house. We opened it, wondering what it would taste like. It was a very nice, pricey hopfenweiss, and I had really hoped it would hold up - although I expected some serious off-flavours. My hopes were dashed as we poured some into our glasses and I saw the floaties. Yes, bottle conditioned beer is great, but this was funky. We deemed it undrinkable, after two sips each (since, you know, you have to go back for seconds just in case it wasn't as bad as you thought after the first sip). Sad day.

Where did I go wrong? Well, first, I didn't necessarily intend to age this beer - especially not for four years. It was only 6% ABV, and it was a hopfenweiss. And, to be honest, the temperature at which I "aged" this beer was never really stable - and usually on the warm side - due to moving three times and not always having correct storage. From this tale of woe, however, comes a great lesson in aging beer. If you want to age your beer, and avoid making my mistakes, read on to see how I could have taken better care of this brew, and how you can age beer without turning it into an off-flavoured nightmare.

Why age beer in the first place?

I was once told "you can't age beer, it's not wine!" I beg to differ, and I know some beer lovers who also age their beer. But why age beer when brewers make it to drink fresh? Well, I like my beer fresh as well, but I generally buy more than one bottle in order to enjoy it fresh, as well as keep one or more for aging. There are two reasons behind this madness: First, some brews are simply too "hot" or alcoholic. Maybe you like it boozy, but sometimes I find it to be a bit much. Keeping a beer in a cool, dark place for a month, a year, or... four years, can help a hot, boozy mess mellow out.

The second reason I would age a beer is simply to see how it ages. Some beers, such as those that are bottle conditioned (meaning there is yeast left in - or added to - the bottle), will become more complex over time, while a super hoppy beer may become more balanced. Over time, the beer will generally taste different. Sometimes it will add new character to the beer, sometimes it will take away elements that you previously found unpleasant, renewing your faith in the brew. Yes, it can result in waste, but if you follow a few simple rules, you can use the aging - or cellaring - process to develop a great tasting experience. These guidelines revolve around three factors - alcohol by volume, hop bitterness, and temperature, and enable you to cellar your beer like a champ.

Alcohol by volume (ABV)

Alcohol, the product of yeast and sugar, is a natural preservative in beer. It stands to reason, then, that boozier beers such as imperial stouts or Belgian Trippels are generally great for aging. When you're considering aging a brew, you want to ensure that you're aging a boozy enough number that it will stay fresh for the desired duration in the cellar. Booze is not the only factor, however, as I have had a Boulder Brewing Co. Chocolate Shake porter (only 5.9% ABV) a year past the "drink by" date - so probably around 18 months - and it was still insanely delicious. So, while ABV is one of the main factors, there are two more that you need to take into consideration when you cellar a bottle of beer.

Hop content (IBU)

Like alcohol, hops act as a natural preservative in beer. The beloved IPA even came to being because beer needed to last the trip from the docks of London, England to India. The main characteristic of the IPA is its intense hoppiness, which was derived from the use of hops as a preservative. Here's the catch when it comes to aging hoppy beers, though: as the beer ages, the hop characteristics fade as the alpha acids are diluted in the beer. The beer will remain good, but the hoppy goodness will fade and you will end up with a rather malty - or in some cases insanely well balanced - beer. This is why IPAs - such as Beyond The Pale's Aromatherapy - or other hoppy brews are best imbibed fresh.

Temperature

First of all, you want to keep your aged brews at a consistent temperature. Even if you are aging a highly alcoholic beer with lots of hoppy goodness, fluctuations in temperature can make for a dicey tasting experience. As a rule of thumb, you probably don't want to store your beer above 60° Fahrenheit, regardless of the brew. In my experience, a warm-aged beer becomes a fine vinegar, given enough time. A bigger beer - Something like a Belgian Trippel, let's say - will generally be happy at a higher temperature, but again, keep it below 60°! Beers such as robust porters (such as my Chocolate Shake example above) or Bock should be kept a bit colder, say 55°F, as they do not have as much alcohol to act as a preservative. Your smaller beers - lagers or wheat beers, for instance - are best aged at fridge temperature, being somewhere around 45°F. In short, bigger beers can take some heat, smaller beers should be kept colder. Pro tip: if you are storing your beer at super cold temperature, let it warm up before you taste it. Tasting too cold can eliminate some of the finer characteristics of the brew, taking away from the tasting experience. Lastly, although it isn't directly related to temperature, light plays a factor as well. For the love of all things holy, keep your beer away from direct sunlight and other sources of UV light, lest your beer go the way of the skunk. Store your brews in a cool, dark place.

Time

"The Darkerness"
While nothing lasts forever, your beer can age at cellar temperature for a very long time. For instance, when the LCBO sold six-packs of Westvleteren 12, I managed to get my hands on one. I still have three left, five years later, and they only get more complex and delicious over time. The best way to age beer is to buy at least two. One for immediate consumption, one to age for a year, and one to age for longer than a year. The best part about aging a beer is to note the changes over time. One of my favourite tastings consisted of Beyond The Pale's "The Darkerness", Amsterdam's Tempest, and my own imperial stout - dubbed "The Czar". Having a new sample of each, and bottles from the previous two years made for a great tasting. Add some dark chocolate, a variety of cured meats, and some sharp cheese, and you've got yourself a party. The big thing to remember about aging beer is that you
aren't simply keeping a brew around to consume at a later date - this beer will not taste the same after a year.

In conclusion

Aging beer is fun, if somewhat addictive. To reiterate, the main factors in aging beer are alcohol by volume (ABV), hop content measured in IBUs, and the temperature at which you will be storing your beers. If you want to start keeping some beer over time, the first thing you will need is a logbook of sorts. Record dates and times in order to determine optimal aging cycles. I also recommend getting a beer fridge, but if you have a crawlspace that stays somewhat cool, that can also be an option for most bigger brews. If you are going to age a beer, you should get more than one bottle, as you should try it fresh as a basis for comparison later on. Lastly, don't forget to enjoy the tasting! Have some friends over, try the beer from multiple years, and don't forget to add some tasty treats to pair with your aged goodness! Hopefully these tips help you avoid common pitfalls and make the best of the beer cellaring process!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lagunitas Lil' Sumpin' Extra Ale: A Rare Treat



I was at my folks’ place this weekend, and what did I find? Why, a delicious Lagunitas ale. The historical records on the Instagram say that I bought a six pack of Lil’ Sumpin’ Extra ale 53 weeks ago during a trip to Minnesota. Needless to say I was pretty stoked when I found it! I brought it home with me so that I might be able to taste it in the comfort of my own home. This is the story of that tasting.

First taste - Sept. 8 2015
Shakopee, MN
The Lagunitas Brewing Company, located in Petaluma, CA (with a satellite brewery in Chicago) has been around since 1993, started by Tony Magee; a music-loving former Xerox salesman. Tony is also the author of the book “So You Want to Start A Brewery?” Now that is an amazing - albeit scary - read. I highly recommend it; it’s definitely a Cinderella story. But I digress...

This delicious double IPA rings in at 72.51 IBU and 8.5% ABV, and pours a clear, coppery colour with a white, frothy head. It smells amazing; after a year of aging it the booze is starting to come out as the hops have faded a bit, but the result is the sweet - but not cloying - aroma of maple syrup. It’s got some yeasty notes as well, and a light floral aroma as well. The brew smells well balanced, sweet vs. bitter, which I believe is also a result of the aging. It may not be, though, it’s been a bit over a year since I’ve had a fresh one!
Home tasting - Sept. 20 2016
Ottawa, ON
Once I get a sip of a Lil’ Sumpin’ Extra, I taste pretty much the same as I smelled: maple syrup, a bit of booze… it would actually be a nice little warmer in the coming months. Again, the sweetness wasn’t cloying, and it balanced out well with the softened hop flavours. There is still some hop bitterness in there, but the malts are definitely higher up on the food chain. The beer finishes out with an earthy, molasses flavour, and the booze stays with us the whole way.

Overall, I’m quite glad that I accidentally left this beer in my parents’ cellar. It was a pleasure to drink, and - since I’m not bound for the states any time soon - a rare treat. This might be a good treat to pair with a pecan pie, which would also be a delicious fall treat. If you can get your hands on a Lil’ Sumpin’ Extra, I highly recommend it. If you cannot - since it was a limited release, I suggest trying to at least get your hands on a Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ ale. Or any of the Lagunitas brews (now available here in Ottawa!) This brew was definitely a treat, both fresh and aged, and I certainly hope to find it again in the future!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Spring is here? Get me a beer!

First and foremost, I have held off on releasing this post due to the fact that Spring seems to be taking its sweet time getting here. Then I thought to myself... "maybe if I write this post, Spring will get here faster!" Hair-brained? Yeah, probably. Anyway, it's sunny and warm today, so I'm going to have a beer and provide my humble opinions on several options for tasty treats to help you better enjoy the spring!

What's so good about Spring?

One of my favourite aspects of spring is the constant temperature change. No sarcasm. The... let's call it versatility... of the springtime climate calls for a diverse collection of beer in the fridge; every time the temperature changes, my beer cravings change as well. I love darker beer during the colder days with less sun. I desire something lighter, a bit sweeter, with a nice hop balance on the warm days when I can sit in the sun on a balcony or patio. I gravitate more to the bock-style beers when it's a bit warmer, but the sun isn't bathing us in her light.

Drinking in the rain

You know what they say: "April showers bring May flowers!" Although we haven't had an epic amount of rain in Ottawa this month, and May is just around the corner (Beltaine tomorrow!), it's still chilly and rain is imminent, so they say. At this time of year, the fresh smells that accompany the rain are second to none. Green grass and fresh flowers springing to life are a delight to the olfactories. With that in mind, drinking a beer with great grassy and floral aromas is a must. For me, I love a good IPA that's got great floral aromas, and a good balance. An example of this style would be Lake Effect IPA by Great Lakes Brewery, or Bicycle Craft Brewery's Velocipede IPA.

The Sun may shine, but the air didn't get the memo...

Some days it might be sunny, but the earth simply doesn't pick up the warmth. Well, there's a beer for that! This is where I gravitate more to a Bock. Generally a Maibock or a Dopplebock. If there is a bit more of a hoppier note, all the better. I like the relative sweetness and higher ABV (5.5-7.5%) during the colder days, as it adds some warmth to the beer, even if it's served cold. Two of my favourite examples of a good Bock are Big Rig's Hoppin' Maibock and Springbock by Amsterdam. I'm also a big fan of a super cold lager on a cold, sunny day. To be honest, Sleeman's Silver Creek has been a favourite of mine in this space, but two local brews that have taken over my fridge in the lager section (yeah, my beer fridge has sections) are Whiprsnapr's Root of Evil Pre-prohibition lager and Big Rig Gold lagered ale.

I like my beer to match the weather, especially when it's cold and dark.

Although a day that is cold and dark might lack joy, a beer of the same character is exactly the opposite! If the Sun won't hold forth and the air is frigid, I reach for a black lager or a super cold black IPA. Sometimes serving a beer too cold can mute some of the key flavours and/or aromas, but on a Spring day that's also muted and somewhat oppressive, it fits. When considering black lagers,  Whiprsnapr's Black Sunshine can add some flair to a drab day. Big Rig's Schwartzbier can also turn dark day frowns upside-down. For a black IPA, Kichesippi's Wuchak Black is on point,  and from our American craft beer brethren, Minnesota's Bent Paddle makes a kick-ass black ale. From a homebrew perspective, my own Black Tusk Black IPA is my jam for this type of weather.

There are actually warm, sunny days, you know!

For the days when it's appropriate to don a pair of shorts and hang out on your favourite balcony or patio, I tend to swill a lighter, fruitier beer. This might be a wheat beer (German or Belgian-style), a Saison, or a fruit-forward IPA. These styles of beer help those who would imbibe the sweet nectar taste the sunshine, as well as feel it! Lower alcohol may be a good thing on a day like this, as it stands to reason that a few hours of session drinking will be in the cards. Great examples of sunny day brews are Beyond the Pale's Saison Tropicale or Pink Fuzz, the Ottawa-famous Earl Grey Saison by Dominion City, Big Rig's El Hefeweizen, or Cassel Brewery's White Fog. From my own collection of homebrew recipes, I prefer my Wonder Weizendunkel or Yonder IPA, which uses only Falconer's Flight hops for floral flavour and aromas, and accents of tropical fruit.

Spring is in full effect, and I hope that this brief guide will help you choose the right beer to help you tough out all of Mother Nature's mood swings! Here's hoping for some great patio weather and smooth sailing into Summer!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Good Robot Brewing - A Piece of Ottawa On the East Coast


Nova Scotia is possibly my favourite place in Canada (granted, I haven't been to the West coast in about 14 years). I spent a weekend in Halifax recently, and stumbled upon some of the newer breweries in the city. There is a lot of great new stuff coming out of Halifax on the Craft Beer front, but the brewery that stood out the most was definitely Good Robot Brewing Co (GRBC). The beer is amazing, the guys running the show are cool - and obviously huge geeks (which is great) - and the atmosphere is second to none. Allow me to paint a picture:

You walk past what used to be an old garage recessed back off of Robie Street, and you notice that it is most definitely no longer a garage. First of all, there is an astroturf lawn out front with a couch and bean bag throwing game set out so that as a prospective customer you don't feel rushed by walking into a store front that may be overcrowded, getting served, and then feeling awkward like you need to leave. You can just chill outside so that others can get in for a taste. When you roll up to the entrance there is a giant (30bbl) bright tank sporting the Good Robot logo. Conversation starter? Probably. The brewery is also pretty open concept, so you can rubberneck and check out the fermenters, brew kettle, malt mill, and mash tun. If you show interest, one of the guys will likely bring you back to the brewery and regale you with their origin story and tell you about the brewing process.
Kira, focused, pouring some samples

That brings me to the guys in charge. These guys met at Dalhousie University while getting degrees in Engineering. They parted ways after school to become, well, engineers. From what I heard from Josh and read on the Web site, engineering got dull, and the guys all reunited to start Good Robot. A pretty awe inspiring tale, if I've ever heard one! Josh was our host for most of Friday night, and he is from Ottawa. That's pretty neat. Josh is the director of marketing for Good Robot, and he does most of the social media stuff, from what I'm told. Doug is the head brewer, and Angus is the company's president. You can get the full bio for each of the founders on the Good Robot Web site. From what I saw, everybody brews, which is not only cool, but practical. Even Kira, who was working the counter the second time I came in, will be learning to brew. Seems like a pretty sweet gig to me.

The Brewery.
Last, but definitely not least, is the beer. When I went to the brewery the first time, they had a trio on tap: A steam beer dubbed Crown on the Ground, a Gose, aptly named Goseface Killah, and an American Pale Ale known as the Burban Legend. Luckily, on the second trip there was also a stout. And oh, what a stout it was. Tom Waits for No One is the name, and it's delicious. Great chocolate and coffee flavours, but with the added smoothness that I think was added by a little bit of nitro, although the mouthfeel could come from the 7.9% ABV! Come to think of it, each of these brews was pretty amazing. The Burban Legend is hopped with my favourite - Falconer's Flight, and is a vey well balanced APA. You don't see many people brewing a Gose these days, but GRB nailed it. It's refreshing, but still pleasantly salty. The steam beer was interesting, not just because it wasn't called "California Common", but because of the subtle spice of rye malt that is used in the recipe. Four great beers, five measly bucks, not a bad deal at all!

The next step for GRBC is to open their own tap house. They are currently renovating a piece of their building which was not part of the brewery in order to get their very own licensed tap house in which to serve their beers. It seems like there are some exciting times ahead for Good Robot Brewing Co., and for the Halifax craft beer scene as a whole. I'm excited about the prospect of coming back out to Canada's east coast and finding the GRBC tap room in full swing. There are great people running this brewery, and I definitely recommend stopping by if you're ever in Halifax!

Until next time.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Beerology: A Book Review

Enjoying a good beer and a good book while my baby hop plant looks on.
Mirella Amato is one of the foremost beer experts in Canada, if not THE foremost expert. I had the pleasure of meeting her at La Mondiale De La Biere in Montreal, Quebec in 2014, where she was selling - and signing - her book: Beerology. I picked up a copy, got it signed, and got to reading. I re-read it a few days ago, and decided to spread the word. What better way than by giving it a proper review?

Beerology is written with a certain passion that is tangible throughout the entire book. From the very first page, Ms. Amato makes her intentions known: "This is my crusade: I want to live in a world where everyone has the same basic understanding and appreciation for beer as they do for wine." That line by itself got me pretty stoked to read the rest of the book. The introduction provides an overview of Ms. Amato and her achievements, which can also be found at her Web site, www.beerology.ca. You can also find various beer tasting tools at the site, as well as in the Glossary and Tasting Tools section at the end of the book (spoiler alert!)

Once you get to know more about our author, she takes you directly into the brewing process. It's quite obvious that she has a solid grasp on the brewing process, and explains - in a briefly detailed manner - how barley, hops, water and yeast (and sometimes other stuff) become tasty treats enjoyed the world over. One of my favourite parts about this book is that Ms. Amato explains how to best store beer. I learned a lot of lessons in storage the hard way, so seeing a section just on storage and cellaring was fantastic. After brief lessons on brewing and storing beer, we move into serving and tasting beer. In the section "Perfect Presentation", we look at types of glassware for serving beer. If you have read my blog in the past, you will know that glassware is very important to me! One aspect of serving and tasting beer that is near and dear to me is temperature. Ms. Amato mentions that stemmed glasses are useful for beers that are served too cold, as you can comfortably fit them in your hands to warm the beer and release aroma and flavour that gets hidden by the chill. All of the aspects of tasting - appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, and finish - are covered as well.

After the basics of beer are covered, there is a very comprehensive list of beer styles to peruse. This section of the book is humbling to me; it is written in a manner that is truly non-presumptuous, inclusive, and judgment free - even when it comes to industrial lagers that some would shun. I guess it's not surprising, as those characteristics are true to Ms. Amato's character, from what I gathered in the half-hour in which I got to speak with her. The Beerology Quadrant is introduced in this section, and it's very helpful for determining what kind of beer you might like based on style (Ale or Lager), alcohol level, colour, and distinct taste (bitter, sour, sweet - at varying levels). Not only does this section contain a style overview, food pairing suggestions and examples of the style, it also has a "fun for" section that explains when you might want to enjoy a specific beer style. This is the largest section of Beerology, and is insanely helpful for those who are just starting their adventures with craft beer.

The last section of Beerology, "Diving In", is my favourite. In this section, Ms. Amato walks us through setting up and performing a beer tasting. This section provides advice on how to set up an environment for tasting, as well as multiple games that make beer tasting fun. One of the standout points in this book is that you should not treat beer tasting as a stuffy, job-like experience, and that you should embrace the fun that is beer tasting and pairing. There are also many beer and food pairing guidelines in this section. Pairing beer and food is one of my favourite things in the world, and there are plenty of helpful hints and best practices for getting the most out of your beer-food experience. To finish off this section, there are various recipes for beer cocktails. My favourite recipe is the Fancy Goat. Delicious.

Beerology provides an epic amount of information condensed into 164 pages presented it in a non-stuffy, yet practical manner. I really enjoyed the book, and I definitely plan to use it as a reference manual to having as much fun with beer as possible! After reading this book, even the most novice beer enthusiast will have the tools and know-how to cellar beer, pick the proper glassware for their beer, taste beer, pair beer with food, and create pretty tasty beer cocktails. Let's not forget the beer trivia located in the sidebars! There are myriad fun facts in Beerology that will provide you with much knowledge and background on where beer came from, which ingredients may be used to add a special flavour, and how certain off-the-wall beer styles came into existence. This knowledge can be used to educate and impress a group of friends (or potential friends) at your local watering hole! Just try not to get carried away!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2014: My Year in Brewing

My first brew in a 5gal turkey fryer
I was introduced to homebrewing in April of 2013 by a buddy of mine. Initially we had a pretty small setup: mash tun (Gatorade cooler), brew kettle (turkey fryer), fermenter (pail/carboy). We had a separate pot for a hot liquor tank, or maybe it was just a pail? The memory is foggy. Could be that it was so long ago, could be that we were partaking in the goodness that is beer whilst brewing. Either way, the result of our first seven hour session brewing together (my first session, not his) was a potentially delicious Imperial Dunkelweizen. We named it "The Imperious Dunkel Weizenheimer". I say potentially delicious because as the beer was being transferred from primary to secondary fermentation, there was a carboy slip and the brew was lost. We did end up re-brewing a few weeks later, and when all was said and done we had a pretty glorious beer. It was roughly 11% ABV and I remember drinking my last one in May, 2014. It definitely stood up to the test of time.

Apartment Brewing

Apartment Brewing Setup
Fast forward to December, 2013. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment, wondering how I could brew inside without killing myself with CO poisoning. I went out to Canadian Tire one day and picked up an induction cooktop (http://goo.gl/WGH6DV) to do my bidding. I had borrowed the brewing equipment that I had used for my first couple of batches, and wondered why it wouldn't work. I decided to google "Induction Cooking" and found out that you need cookware designed for (or compatible with) induction cooking. Wups. I was pretty bummed out, but on Christmas day I opened up an induction-ready brew kettle! Score. Without further ado, I started re-planning my first solo project: a caramel hefeweizen, the name of which I have forgotten. It was New Year's day, and my brewing setup was quite interesting. My transfer setup was the Gatorade cooler mash tun on a kitchen chair, with the brew kettle sitting atop the induction cooktop on the floor. My hot liquor tank was a series of smaller pots to provide the appropriate amount of water for sparging, all heating up on my stove top. It was definitely an adventure, and the beer turned out to be pretty tasty!

Garage Brewing

Initial Garage Setup
After brewing a few batches in early 2014, I took possession of my freshly built house, purchased way back in 2012. What's the first thing I did? Got my brewing setup back in action, that's what. Having bought a new table and chair set, I put my old chair to good use. I bought a Bayou classic banjo burner, and left my old turkey fryer at my sister's house, so I can brew with my brother in-law without carting all of my gear around. I purchased the borrowed equipment I had been using - at a steal, I might add - as the two co-owners of the equipment now work at Beyond the Pale and Kichesippi breweries here in Ottawa, and now get to play with much bigger kit (the fact that I benefit from their new careers makes me a little less jealous). At this point I had  a pretty small setup in the garage, and I used it to brew eight batches before summer broke through. On the first weekend of summer (the Solstice), and the week after, I managed to get six batches brewed whilst merging my kit and another buddy's kit. This provided us with a whole new level of capability! (Picture of latest brew kit not included, as it is located elsewhere, presently)

Moving Forward

Brewing has become my Zen, and I fully intend to pursue it as a hobby, potentially as a business. Now that I have a decent brewing setup, I am continuously learning more about the brewing process, as well as working on developing a new setup and including as much techno-geekery as I possibly can. I brewed 26 batches in 2014 (my goal was 24), and I'm hoping to increase that exponentially in 2015. I've got a small team of taste testers who give me constant feedback - good or bad, objective and subjective - who I try to keep laden with new beers. I'm always on the lookout for more tasters. I have thought about an Ottawa-based brewery startup, but I am also considering Bancroft, my home town, where I could partner up with my brother in-law, a chef-owner of a local establishment there. For now, I'm just playing with ideas, but the main point is that I love brewing, and plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future - hopefully bringing as many of my friends along for the ride as possible.