Monthly Archives: May 2010

Drinking It All: #28 Red Brick Laughing Skull Amber Ale

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

did the hops bring this skull back to life? of course they did--everyone knows about the restorative powers of hops. they're like spinach for popeye, or something.

I’m trying to clear out the build-up of beers I’ve saved inteding to post about them here, so today I’ve got another beer from the Peachtree Brewery (Red Brick Beers) in Atlanta, GA: Laughing Skull Amber Ale. I’ve been saving this beer for a while–the rest of the six-pack has long been gone. We were hanging out with some neighboorhood friends yesterday, and they were drinking the Red Brick Pale Ale and Blonde Ale, so I figured, let’s go ahead and pull out that last Laughing Skull today.

To be an amber ale, this beer doesn’t really resemble other ambers I’ve had (i.e., Abita Amber, Dos Equis Amber, Amber Bock, which, I know, are all lagers–I can’t think of any other amber ales that I’ve had). The beer is obviously amber in color, but it doesn’t taste as malty as ambers usually do. There is a distinctive hop flavor to this beer. So much so that if I had to taste it blind, I might call it a really funky pale ale. Actually, what I said about it not tasting malty isn’t true. Laughing Skull tastes malty but also hoppy in a way I didn’t expect.

And it’s good. The beer slightly reminds me of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. (Although I haven’t had Dead Guy Ale in at least 6 months or so.) The hypnotized skull on the label may just be suggesting to me that this should resemble Dead Guy, but I also think this beer has the same slightly dark color and prominent bitterness that I remember from Dead Guy Ale. But so Laughing Skull should be considered in its own right; it’s a solid beer.

Which this seems to be the trend for my characterizations of the Red Brick beers. They’re solid beers that are good entryways into other Pale Ales, Blonde Ales, and Amber Ales. I was telling my aforementioned friend (who was drinking the Red Brick beers) about my conclusion that they’re good starter beers, and I was a little afraid of coming off as a beer snob (even though I’m pretty sure I am). But I didn’t then and don’t now mean it in a negative or condescending way, and he didn’t seem to mind one way or the other.

As he probably shouldn’t. He, and you, dear reader, know(s) what beer he/you like(s) to drink. I know what beer I like to drink. The people who make these beers know why they made them as they did.

So the Red Brick beers aren’t necesarily my favorites, but they are well-made and good to drink.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? The Laughing Skull is the best of the Red Brick’s I’ve had. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

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Drinking It All: #27 Heiner Brau Maerzen

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

is liquid bread comparable to solid beer? mysteries.

Today my wife and I sold some homemade bread at the community market (sold it out, bitch), so I thought I’d go ahead and post about a beer I’ve been saving–Heiner Brau’s Maerzen. This style of beer, according to the label, has been called by southern German monks ‘Das fluessige Brot,’ which means ‘Liquid Bread.’ So it seemed appropriate today.

This Maerzen is a German style amber lager. But if you told me it was an ale, I’d believe you. It’s not very clear (as in like looking through the glass), and it tastes stronger than most lagers I’ve had, amber or not. And it’s a little funky with regards to taste and smell. This funkiness, it seems to me, is why the beer has been called liquid bread. It has a very yeasty taste.

So it is a fairly strong beer. And if you advertise on your label that your beer has been called ‘liquid bread,’ I guess you’re not exactly going for subtlety.

I don’t mean any of these statements to indicate that the beer is bad, off-putting, or not worth drinking. It’s just the opposite. The beer is strong, yes. It tastes yeasty. Whatever amount of hops were used in the brewing process are pretty much buried like 10 feet down. But. It’s the kind of meaty beer I imagine instead of Guinness when people say that Guinness is like drinking a meal. (I, personally, don’t think that Guinness is like drinking a meal–it seems fairly light in taste even if it’s very dark in color.) So pair it with food accordingly. I think it’d go nicely with heavy meat and bread–a Philly cheese sandwich or, if opposites do attract, fuck it, drink it with a Greek salad. Who knows?

I can’t see myself ordering this beer without a good reason, but I can imagine myriad dinners that I’d definitely attempt to pair it with. Me with all my food/beer pairing knowledge (of which I have basically none).

Thumbs up or thumbs down? I’ll just say it’s interesting and has a special place and time to order/buy/drink it.

Drinking It All: #26 Rogue John John Ale

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

can you age a beer in a barrel that aged gin? yes, please.

Before we left Atlanta last weekend (for you faithful readers of my humble serial), Steve sent us back with a big bottle of Rogue’s John John Ale. Which said ale is a pale ale brewed with juniper berries (sound familiar?) and aged in spruce (wood) gin (liqour) barrels.

I’ll preface the rest of this post by saying that this beer may be the most complicated, in terms of taste, that I’ve written about so far. Lucky me. And for a pale ale, it makes the synapses go firing on all sixteen cylinders like a trucker’s Mac on Jolt (the trucker’s on Jolt, not the engine). I’ll do my best to articulate this in a halfway coherent way.

First (please do excuse my freshman comp. transition), the beer’s a pale ale. So, surely, it has to taste like a pale ale. Which is to say hoppy, but not IPA hoppy, and mildly malty. Balanced. And this beer does a pretty goddamn good job. You can taste the hops and the malt pretty evenly. I do not know what variaties of hops or malts, I apologize.

First-last-place. This beer is made with juniper berries. The same berries used to flavor gin. Which, kick-ass, awesome. And also it tastes good in the beer. These Rogue guys have gotten onto something with the juniper berries in the pale ales. Will have to investigate. (Note to self supra.)

And but so also, this beer was aged in spruce gin barrels, and you can smell it on the beer. I could be wrong, but I think the spruce comes through in the taste as well. This beer tastes as much like juniper and spruce as it does like hops and barley. Like I said, it’s a beer puling a hefty amount of weight taste-wise.

But it’s so light in color!? Yes, it is.

Do not judge a beer by its color.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? This is a beer that I’ve only seen in big bottles, but I’d ask for a pint in any bar or a sixpack in any curbstore that has it.

Drinking It All: East Atlanta Beer Festival

My wife and I went to the East Atlanta Beer Festival this weekend with our friend, Steve, who lives in Atlanta. I took a little notebook with me to make notes about the beers at the festival and at restaurants and bars we went to, so then I could post about them.

Such cataloging did not happen.

free souvenir pint glasses are kick ass

But I did go back over the beer list at the festival and write down the beers I remembered trying, which, I’m pretty sure, is fairly accurate (the list). The beer festival was not the free-for-all crazy drunkfest that some people may think a beer festival must be. The time it takes to wait in line for a beer and the relatively small amount of beer you’ll get at the end of each line doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll tie one on. (Although it is very possible to do so–you just have to be extremely determined and not take any breaks from being in line.) So I’m confident that I put together a list of beers that represents pretty well what I tried at the festival.

I’m not just going to give you a list of the beers because that would be pretty boring. But I will point out some highlights and describe them as best I can remember them (having a couple of IPAs in a row can easily keep you from really tasting the next few beers).

Rogue’s Yellow Snow IPA: This beer was one of the few IPAs I had (and I had a few) that actually stood out for me. It was as hoppy as you’d expect but not so much as an IPA like Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo (which I had at the fest as well).

Moon River Trippel: This beer is not listed on the EABF website, but I distinctly remember having it (and I got a Moon River t-shirt). It’s a Belgian style that resembles the style of a beer like Hoegaarden. It was light in color, fruity, and yeasty. I’m not generally a big fan of that kind of beer, but this one was good.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre: Another Belgian style beer. This one is brewed with raisins (which clearly figures into the name). Also, another standout beer.

Innis & Gunn: This beer is a strong ale style beer that is apparently brewed with whiskey. I couldn’t really taste the whiskey, but I could smell it. To me, this beer was more interesting than actually something I’d want to drink. Although, do not fear, I did drink it.

We also had some beers at restaurants and at Steve’s place. The best of those were:

Rogue’s Chatoe Rogue Single Malt: This beer is made with Hopyard hops and Dare malt, which I believe are Rogue’s personal crops (I could be wrong). This beer was hoppy like a pale ale but also malty in a way that was a good balance. I like Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale, and most everything else I’ve had of theirs, but this beer might be the best so far. Steve had a 22 oz. that we split before dinner Friday night. If you see this beer (I imagine it’s in a limited run) make sure you pick it up.

Reissdorf Kolsch: I had one of these at lunch (The Brick Store in Decatur) before the festival. This beer was an easy, light beer, and it reminded me of my own Kolsch (which I’m pretty proud of).

So all-in-all, we had some good beer this weekend. We’re headed to the Birmingham, AL beer festival in a couple of weeks, so I’ll make sure to post about it afterwards. I might take some notes there, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

Brewed Slowly: #7 American Pale Ale

So when I bought the stuff for the last beer I made (80 Shilling), I went ahead and got what I’d need to make a Pale Ale. I haven’t made one in about six months, so I figured I was due for it. This time I wanted to try to make the beer more on the balanced side with regard to the malt/hops ratio than I would for, say, my attempts at an IPA. That said, I did buy the same hops that Sierra Nevada dry-hops their Torpedo IPA with with the intention of dry-hopping this pale ale similarly.

The Software:

8.8 oz. Briess Caramel malt (90L)

6 lbs Northern Brewer Organic Light liquid extract

1 oz. Columbus hop pellets

1 oz. Citra hop pellets

1 oz. Galena hop pellets

Wyeast 1764 (Pac-man ale yeast (what Rogue uses for many of their beers))

First, just like almost every other beer I’ve written about making, I steeped the caramel 90L grains in 2.5 gallons of water at about 150 F. For 30 minutes. This was made a bit more tedious because my electronic thermometer kicked the bucket a while back, so I had to use a regular old meat thermometer, which is just not quite as accurate. But so it worked Ok, and the grains were steeped. I used the 90L grains only because I already had them, and it made for a darker color than I’d generally associate with a Pale Ale–being that the name indicates a certain lightness of color. But the color wasn’t so dark as to raise any flags, so who cares. It’s a slightly less-pale Pale Ale.

the analog beer thermometer. its blurryness is matched only by its inaccurateness--almost.

After the grains were finished, I took them out (saved them for bread possibly or compost definitely) and brought the liquid to a boil.

When the liquid came to a boil, I added the 6 lbs of extract, 0.5 oz. Citra hops, and 0.5 oz. Columbus hops. This boiled for 88 minutes before the next step.

Yes (I’ve heard you were a close reader), this was a 90 minute boil. A departure from the norm (at least my norm) and the basic directions you get with kits (this beer was not a kit).

With two minutes left in the 90, I added the other 0.5 oz. of Citra and Columbus hops. And 0.2 oz. of the Galena pellets.

i know it looks like hamster food. i assure you it is not.

After the next two minutes, I took out all three muslin bags of hops and started cooling down the wort. I had big plans to build myself a wort chiller before this beer, but I ended up just using an ice bath instead. It worked just fine. When the wort got down to about 75-80 F, I pitched the yeast and closed that bitch up.

It started fermenting pretty good by the next day, and it was completely finished by about the 4th or 5th day.

The OG was 1.045 (5/10/10)

And on 5/15/10, I dry-hopped the beer with the last 0.8 oz. of Galena hops.

This afternoon (5/20), I bottled the beer. It smells holy-shit-good.

Drinking It All: #25 Lazy Magnolia Gulf Porter (cont.)

Drinking It All is a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

Before you read this entry, you should (if you haven’t already) read the first part.

Monday, my wife and I did a little experiment in which we tasted the Gulf Porter, Sierra Nevada’s Porter, and Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan (which, on Sunday, I was afraid the Gulf Porter mimicked too much). I got her to taste all three beers blind and tell me what they tasted like, then what she thought they were. Then I did the same thing.

We cracked little eggs of science all over the place.

beer+science=hell to the yes

So here are the abridged results:

We both picked the Gulf Porter as the Sierra Nevada Porter–and vice versa. And, obviously, we both picked the Southern Pecan accurately. These results basically settle the initial perceived problem (that the Gulf Porter was just like the Southern Pecan).

And we basically agreed, blindly, that the Gulf Porter was favorable to the Sierra Nevada Porter. Which to both of us felt a little like picking Bud Light (which is far from either of our favorite beers) as our favorite beer in a blind taste test.

So, conclusions: Lazy Magnolia’s Gulf Porter is completely different from their Southern Pecan. The Gulf Porter also wins over the control Sierra Nevada Porter.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Empirical (to us) evidence says the Gulf Porter gets a thumbs up. Also, it comes in a half gallon jug, so I’ll always be glad to pick it up.

Updated/corrected Beer By-product: Bread

Note: I’m updating this recipe and posting it again because I’ve since been omitting the milk and extra cup of water. The result is a lighter bread, with more air holes inside.

After I made the Scottish 80 Shilling beer, I had a pound of Simpsons Crystal grains to do something with. Normally, I toss all the grains and hops into the compost bowl, but I’ve read that these grains can be used for other interesting means. So I figured: We buy whole grain bread, and I make beer, which can’t be all that different from making bread.

Light bulbs, virtually and figuratively, exploded.

Here’s how I made bread using some spent brewing grains. (I promise a picture at the end.)

Software:

3-5 cups bread flour (sifted)

1 cup spent brewing grains

1 cup beer (I used Sierra Nevada’s Porter (one of which I’m saving for the blog))1 tbsp butter (unsalted and organic if you can swing it, and I hope you can)

1 tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper

1 pack of active dry yeast ( 7.5 g)

First you’ll (I’ll do this post in the form of directions–it seems to make more sense that way) want to proof the yeast by dumping the whole package in about half a cup of warm water (105-115 F, or what feels mildly warmer than body temp when you hold your finger under the running water). Let the yeast sit for about 10 minutes and it should kind of foam up.

While you’re letting the yeast proof (foam up), pour the beer in a small bowl and stir it around to try and get rid of the carbonation. (I’m no baker, but I imagine the carbonation would add some CO2 and affect the rising of the bread in some way, so I try to get rid of it to even the proverbial playing field.) Also, now’s when you should add the butter (so it melts) the olive oil, and the salt and pepper.

When your yeast is ready (fully foamed) add it and the beer/butter/etc. to the flour and grain in a large mixing bowl and start stirring it together.

I usually start with about 3-3.5 cups of flour in a bowl and mix it with the wet ingredients before I move it to a cutting board waiting with a generous amount of bench flour to mix in. The dough should be very wet, but hanging together well, when you transfer it to a cutting board.

This is the point that is potentially the most intimidating–the dough might seem like it’s not coming together, but it will. It’s universally better for the dough to be too wet rather than too dry. You can always add more flour to a wet dough, but you’ll have to pull off some intensive quantum physical acrobatics to get water out of a too-dry dough. So, basically, don’t worry, keep kneading and adding flour and it’ll work out.

Here’s the fun part. Now you knead.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. You’ll have to add flour periodically–you’ll know when the dough sticks to your hands, just dust your hands with the flour and toss a little on the dough ball. After about 10 minutes, the dough should be relatively smooth. Roll it into a ball and set it in an oiled (w/ olive oil) bowl, and cover it for about an hour so it can rise. If there’s a particularly warm part of the kitchen, place the bowl there.

After an hour, punch the risen dough down. Then you’re ready to bake some damn bread. I usually divide the dough into two (arguably) rectangular loaves so they cook through easily.

Start the bread out at 450 F for the first 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 F for the next 45-60 minutes. It’ll be done when you can stick a knife, or toothpick in the bread and it comes out clean.

is that an obese, smiling, strangely-tan, disembodied alligator head? no, it’s just bread.

I should’ve told you to preheat the oven earlier, but you’re probably not using this to cook by in real time. And if you are, don’t worry, that dough’ll be fine to sit while the oven preheats.

So, homemade bread demystified. It ain’t hard, and you’ll be glad when you’ve made it–it’s definitely a shitload cheaper than the fancy bread at the grocery store