Monthly Archives: September 2010

Books About Beer: Microbrewed Adventures

A few months ago, I read Charlie Papazian’s Microbrewed Adventures–a mostly fun little book half about microbreweries in the US and half about Papazian’s travels around the world to microbreweries. The premise/outline of the book is exactly what the title indicates: Papazian’s experiences with microbreweries American and international.

travel and recipes

The first section of the book is devoted to fairly brief personal accounts of most of the major American microbreweries. Papazian talks about brewers that he’s personally met, mostly, and usually focuses on the flagship beers of those breweries. So all the big names make appearances: Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Boston Beer Co., Dogfish Head, Stone Brewery, even Coors (that’s right, Coors). These small chapters are usually fun to read and are brief, which works in their favor. Also, Papazian’s provides a recipe (they appear in the second half of the book) for either a clone or approximation of a relevant beer from each of the breweries. And each recipe is given in all-grain and extract forms. What a guy.

The second section of the book follows Papazian around the world to various microbreweries in countries that you’d expect and many that you wouldn’t. There’s a pretty interesting chapter devoted to mead and a particular mead expert in England, who if I remember right was a monk, or at least a priest, (the expert, not England). I have to be honest and say that I found myself skipping parts of this section. Travel books, even those that focus on beer and are written by Papazian, are not what I necessarily think of as a good time. they seem analogous to pictures of someone else’s vacation, which I think we all’d agree how much fun that is not.

But there are some bright points in the section. Particularly, the account of an Italian microbrewery that has special headphones fitted to the fermentation tanks playing opera and Indian sitar music (for an Italian India Pale Ale) is fun to find out about. And it’s not all tedious. The homemade Fiji equivalent of beer is the other part that I remember. So two out of how many?

The book is, I think, worth it if for nothing else the recipes and the US microbrewery chapters. I don’t think that my attributed tediousness to the international sections can itself be attributed to any veiled xenophobia–I’m just not nuts about reading about someone else’s fun times in fun places. Call it something I drank.

Drinking It All: #32 Dogfish Head Punkin 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.

imagine taking that fall-smell of dried leaves and cool air and translating it into beer. but in a way that doesn't taste like dried leaves. i.e., in a way that tastes good.

Now, don’t think I’ve given up drinking beers and telling you (running my mouth) about them. I’ve been saving a handful of beers for when I’d be able to sit down regularly and post. (Because I’m usually like apocalypse-facing-presidentially-busy and can’t carve out a few minutes to drink a beer and type about it.) But today I’ve got time, so I made sure to save this one because it traveled a long way to get here.

Steve brought me some fancy beers a few weeks ago when he came to visit, so I figured, since it needs to be (but is clearly not yet) fall in a bad way, I’d post about the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale that he was kind enough to bring.

This beer is definitely one of the subtlest DH beers I’ve tried. It’s basically a brown ale made with pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Which to me almost sounds more like an Xmas beer than anything else, but that’s probably just me.

This beer leans heavily to the malt side. I can tell it’s a brown ale, and the brown sugar is pretty prominent, but it’s hard to pick up the other flavors at first. At first. The spices come through pretty well at the back sides of the tongue. And like I said, it reminds me of a spicy, warm Xmas beer more so than a fall beer. Maybe I’m just ready for Xmas beers, who knows.

I do have one slight criticism–I don’t really taste the pumpkin much. (Although this might be because I’m not that sure what to be looking for. I haven’t had pumpkin since probably last Thanksgiving, and I don’t usually think of pumpkin as having a strong flavor. Certainly not a flavor that can stand up to malt, hops, cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg). Now since I’m a pretty admittedly big fan of DH beers, I’m ready to give them the benfit of the doubt and chalk (some of) it up to my not being able to pick out the pumpkin.

So, yes, maybe pumpkin’s just a very subtle flavor that I can’t pick out. And, sure, lots of breweries have fall beers that are made with pumpkin (I can think of Blue Moon’s Harvest Moon, and maybe Sam Adams’ Oktoberfest?). But so what I wonder is whether anyone else has the same problem as I do tasting the pumpkin in these beers. I completely dig the fact that these adjuncts (fancy word for flavors/ingredients added to beer besides the hops, barley, yeast, and water) need to be used in balance with the beer’s natural taste and smell, but If I can’t taste/smell it, and you can’t either, is it worth putting into a mass-produced (well, at least in microbrew terms) beer? I don’t know. Discuss.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? I’ll go with up because it is a solid beer that tastes good. If I can’t taste all the minor points of the beer, maybe that’s not such a big deal.

But Then It Was Gone

just as sad as it looks

So the bad thing about kegging beer.

It’s hard to tell when you’re almost out of kegged beer. As in, I went to get a smoked porter just now, and lo, I got about half an inch of beer and then only depressing foam. That damn keg was floated.

Now, obviously I might’ve been able to tell how much beer was left based on how much the keg weighed, but I didn’t weigh it before I tapped it. Silly me. And, even with my postal-scale grade arms, just picking the thing up is less than accurate.

I guess the good thing about bottling beer is that I can tell exactly how much beer I’ve got left and kind of ration it out. Not so with the keg. It ain’t see through–it is decidedly against letting photons through its walls. Secrets don’t make friends, y’all.

Q: So now what happens?

A: Change, super-fast, in the phone booth and save the day. (By making another beer.)

What sounds like a good next-beer to you?

…And That Keg Had Beer

equipment is extra-awesome when it holds beer

Last you heard from me, I had newly acquired the tools to keg some beer. And so now I’ve kegged some beer. Some hickory-smoked porter.

The kegging process, as seems to be the norm for most brewing processes, pretty much hinged on cleansing/sanitizing more than anything else. I won’t go into it all here, but I promise I’ll post about the process in detail soon. I will say that after the intial investment is out of the way, I was completely nuts about how efficient the getting-the-beer-ready-to-drink process was. Long story short–kegging beats the holy Dionysus-loving shit out of bottling. Put that in stone.

Here’s why. When you keg beer:

1. Your beer is on tap. Again, your beer is on tap.

B. You can carbonate the beer extremely quickly. I force carbonated this beer (after I’d let it sit in the secondary fermentor for an extra week) and was drinking it less than 20 minutes later. (While this method is low on most experts recommended-methods-of-carbonation lists, it worked just fine. Patience is not a virtue I possess when it comes to my beer.)

*. You only have to clean one vessel–the keg–instead of 48/24 bottles. And you get to/have to take apart the keg to clean it. So then you get to figure out how the thing (the keg) works. Learning ain’t always a drag.

Also. Kegging beer gives you the opportunity to, with reasonably logical reasons, buy the equipment to install a bar-style tap on your ordinary refrigerator. And, really, isn’t that what we’re all pretty much looking for?

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve got all kinds of shit piled up in the proverbial queue, comme on dit. So look out for more beer recipes, beer reviews, and pictures (pictures!) soon.