Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Tasting Notes

Bacon beer!

People have been noting this summer that my rauchbier tastes like… bacon! I can see that. Maybe I should name the next smoke beer I do after a brand of bacon dog treats, so as to keep with the dog theme. We’ll see.

My buddy Dave invited me over to hang out and learn about smoking meat. What better beer to bring than my smoked lager?! It paired great with the delicious pork and chicken he smoked that day. I had a lot of fun Saturday and told my wife I could see myself getting into this. She disagreed. For now. I could see myself getting into this in 10-15 years from now when I’m in my 40’s and older than dirt. ūüėČ (more…)

Beers from the cellar

I recently drank a few “vintage” Barking Dog beers from the cellar. The first was on my recent saison brew day, where I found it incredibly appropriate to chill up a saison I brewed back in February of 2011.

LOVE how clear these get in time. (more…)

New Glarus Cherry Stout

My wife and I did a little night cap comparison recently between my zinfandel oak-aged imperial chocolate cherry stout with New Glarus’s cherry stout. Dan Carey, New Glarus’s owner/brewer is a magician. He makes consistently amazing beers, especially his thumbprint series brews. This cherry stout of his incorporates the same fruit infusion method as does his Wisconsin Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart. I can tell. Now, exactly how he gets fruit into his beers is something he keeps secret, as his fruit beers have won him awards all over the world.

My wife loved New Glarus’s Cherry Stout and so did I. My own choco-cherry stout didn’t really compare (chocolate, roast, oak and zinfandel aren’t in New Glarus’s version). Though I wasn’t shooting to make a normal strength cherry stout, I can say I’m still getting too many tanic notes due to the high fermentation temp I¬†accidentally¬†employed when brewing my version. ¬†I’ve got about 1/3 of that batch set aside to age for a year or two under oxygen barrier caps so hopefully it calms down in time.

New Glarus’s Cherry Stout was an absolutely delicious dessert beer and would also be tasty with duck and cranberry sauce. Not too much roast in this stout, mostly caramel. Any food emphasizing fruit and¬†caramelized onions or meats¬†would do well with this. (more…)

Maibock throwdown!

Happy Mai… er… “May!” Very soon it will be May and you know what that means? Maibock.

I brewed a maibock (Maibark) this past January and ¬†lagered it in my garage over the remainder of Minnesota’s short winter this past season. When cracking the first bottle, I thought it bold yet appropriate to buy a few locally brewed commercial examples of the style and take them head to head against my own. I have high hopes for this brew.

  1. Shell’s Maifest – the most malty of the three, sort of a noble hop skunkiness about it that wasn’t so pleasant as it warmed up
  2. Summit Maibock – thinnest and sharpest of the three in regard to both carbonation and hop profile
  3. Barking Dog Maibark – middle of the road maltiness, some pepper notes and a tad sweet in the finish which will probably dissipate more over time as it was only bottled four weeks ago at the point I opened this one (4/13)29


Surly 5

I was able to procure two bottles of Surly 5 when it went on sale last September and have been hoarding them since. ¬†Since I brewed my wort contribution to my homebrew club’s barrel-aged sour beer this past Sunday, I figured it was as good a time as any to crack the first bottle in anticipation of what our club brew could turn out to be like when it’s finished sometime next year.

I believe Surly 5 is only the third sour beer I’ve ever had so I’m far from a¬†connoisseur, though I’ve really liked the sours I’ve tried. This is in part because I¬†generally¬†drink beer too fast and sour beers slow me down and force me to savor them a bit more. Surly 5 almost seemed like a carbonated red wine to me. Slight oak char from the wine barrels it was aged in, roasty red malt profile, tart acidity… zinfandel? I liked it. I think I’ll wait to open the second bottle until the club beer is done and I can taste them side by side. C’mon spring/summer 2013! It’s gonna be amazing.

Great beer pairings as of late

My wife recently made a really tasty recipe for pan-fried chicken and shallot cream sauce, garlic red potatoes and asparagus. It paired really well with the k√∂lsch I made back in April. Damn has that beer ever cleared with time. Love it! I’ll definitely brew another¬†k√∂lsch this year. I like how it treads the line between the fruitiness of an ale and the clean malt profile of a lager.

The night before my wife went into labor, we hit up Sawatdee downtown on Washington Ave. in attempt to ingest some spicy curry and kick things into gear. (more…)

Old Chub Clone Recipe

In a previous post, I paired the scotch ale I brewed back in November with two other scotch ales, Old Chub and Scottie Karate. Now that my batch has been bottled and had time to condition, it’s time to pair it off against Old Chub again to see what’s up.

Notes from the tasting (Old Chub on left, Alba Dog on right in these pictures):

  • Alba Dog definitely has more body than Old Chub, more carmel notes coming through
  • Old Chub is thinner, drier, actually more drinkable than Alba Dog though they’re both roughly 8% ABV. Alba Dog’s OG was 1.o84, meaning that Old Chub’s must be less than that yet almost certainly is fermented out further than the hefty 1.027 FG I was left with for Alba Dog (due I believe mainly to a high mash temp of 158*)
  • The hop profile of Old Chub comes across much clearer than Alba Dog’s, especially as the samples begin to warm up towards room temperature. I think this has to do with the fact that I took the extra step of boiling a few gallons of the first runnings down in my 5 gallon brew pot¬†before adding to the brew kettle. That really lent a carmel flavor to the batch that seems to overpower most everything else. (more…)

CC Brew

My first kid, Cecilia Charlotte (CC) arrived Sunday 2/19. Labor lasted was incredibly rough, or so I gathered through observation. My wife got an infection at the hospital after her water broke which was transferred to the baby in utero. She’s been fighting through the infection for the last two days as I write this and they’re thinking she has about 5 more days to go before she can be discharged. She’ll be just fine in time, so we’re very happy for that.

In the mean time, I made sure we took some time to celebrate at the hospital by enjoying the first bottle of the batch of Belgian red honey ale I made back in November specifically to celebrate Cecilia’s birth. Serving conditions were less than desirable. The bottle had probably warmed to about 60*, maybe higher. Also, I had just brushed my teeth before tasting, as this was unplanned, so it tasted all kinds of awful to me at the time (I did happen to sneak a bottle back on New Years Eve – shhhhhh – so I actually know it tastes very good when served properly). We couldn’t really see the clarity through the styrofoam cups, but when I got near the bottom I saw it was very transparent. Oh, the benefits of time in the bottle. (more…)

The Lowbrow, Minneapolis

Have you been to the Lowbrow in Minneapolis yet? Check it out. This place deserves to be more crowded than it is. Good beer list, good service, no wait at 7pm on a recent Saturday night and decent pub fare (stay away from the bland veggie burger though). The wife and I checked this place out with friends on a recent weekend after nearby Pat’s Tap – which didn’t seem super crowded – told us it would be a 60 to 90 min. wait. No thanks. Just seven blocks south on Nicollet, we had a table at the Lowbrow right away, no reservations. That’s more my style. (more…)

Avery Mephistopheles' Stout at Town Hall Tap

Counting down the days until the baby arrives, my wife and I hit up Town Hall Tap last weekend for one of our final nights out pre-baby. I finally branched out from ordering the Heidelburger (I’ve had it probably five or six times, quite good!) and tried a wild rice and mushroom burger which also blew me away. Great food at this place.

The first beer I ordered was a weizenbock, a Town Hall seasonal. Never had this style before but it was great for winter. The combo of over-the-top maltiness and creamy wheat gave the beer an excellent body, an appetizer onto itself. The next beer I tried was Avery’s Mephistopheles’ imperial stout. At 15% ABV, I didn’t require another beer after this one. Black as hell, super smooth and very easy to drink for a beer of that strength. Dangerous! Avery must have to go to great lengths to exercise proper fermentation control and properly oxidize the wort to come up with such a smooth, non-astringent beer of this caliber. It would have probably paired much better with chocolate cake than it did with my wild rice burger, but I enjoyed it thoroughly all the same.


Scottie Karate vs. Old Chub vs. Alba Dog

Recently I did a taste test between a few different types of scotch ale:

  1. A version I hadn’t tried yet – Scottie Karate from Dark Horse Brewery, MI
  2. My favorite version – Old Chub from Oscar Blues Brewery, CO
  3. My version – Alba Dog from Barking Dog Brewery, MN

This isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed scotch and scottish ales. Check out this post from last spring where I determine Old Chub as my favorite amongst a handful of contenders. (more…)

Wet Dog vs. Summit EPA

I recently did a comparison of my Wet Dog pale ale with Summit’s Extra Pale Ale. Though I wasn’t aiming to do a clone brew, I think I did a pretty good job with the malt bill as those aspects of the flavor were pretty close.

Summit’s brew was a weeee bit more attenuated (I’d use an English ale yeast if I were to try and get it spot on) and my brew notably lacked the strength of Summit’s bittering hop addition.¬† (more…)

Sweet Child of Vine at Wise Acre

Recently I made a repeat visit to Wise Acre, a great new organic restaurant in my hood. Very good, flavorful food (skip the pumpkin¬†custard… way too frozen, if that makes sense). Pretty decent small beer list, too. Both times there, I’ve had a Founder’s Red RyePA. Love that beer. The spiciness of the rye does some cool stuff in an IPA. Additionally, I decided to give Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine another try. This beer has never quite hit me right, though upon hearing from another member of my homebrew club that he’d had good and bad Fulton pints, I decided to test my luck again. (more…)

What I've been drinking this fall

Contrary to my wife’s logic, I can’t drink homebrew ALL the time. I have to see what else is out there so I can get inspired. Here’s a mix of stuff that has passed by my palate in the last few months:

Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout¬†(W.W.S.) – roasty chocolate, coffee, tart,¬†raisin, prune, port-like, no perceivable hop profile, only slightly carbonated. Goes GREAT with a chocolate chip cookie and some vanilla ice cream.


Darkness Day 2011 at Surly Brewing Co.

My second Darkness Day… I knew the event would have much larger attendance than 2010, but even I underestimated the amount of people that would show up so early! Just to be safe, I asked buddies Dan and Cristof if we could get going about a half-hour earlier than last year. We were very lucky we arrived when we did – 7:15am as opposed to 7:45am in 2010 – as we were about 10 people ahead of the last people to receive wristbands to purchase Darkness. 10 people. Dang. Arriving a half an hour later last year, we were 1/2 to 2/3 of the way to the end of the 1,200 of those receiving wristbands. If this type of growth continues, we’ll need to show up at about 6:00am next year in order to get wristbands.

Things were much more organized this year. They handed out wristbands much earlier (they got to us at about 9:30am), which made things much less awkward. Also, the event opened at 11:00am instead of noon, which gave us some time to grab a few beers, hang out and listen to some heavy metal bands while the line for Darkness bottles died down. We all got different beers on tap: Moe’s Bender (vanilla bender), Darkness, Damien (a fruity ale based on the second runnings of Darkness, and a tea-bagged cask version of Furious. (more…)

CUJO vs. CUJO, a dog fight!

During a recent wet hopped pale ale brew day, buddy Dave and I cracked open the very first bottle of CUJO SPICE pumpkin rye ale v2.1 as well as a bottle of v2.0 for comparison (checkout all my pumpkin ale-related posts here). Hey, if Michael Vick had been there, he might have insisted we place bets on the winner and then smash one of the bottles after it was empty. Asshole.

Each of the pumpkin rye beers I made for fall has their positives and negatives, but currently I think we decided v2.1 was slightly better than 2.0. This was also consistent with feedback received when¬†my band taste tested 2.0 and 2.1 at practice earlier this week. (more…)

O'so Dank

This imperial red ale, Dank by Plover, Wisconsin’s O’so brewing was… maybe a bad bottle? Honestly, it tasted like my crappy double IPA extract batch from June 2010. Hardly any carbonation, biiiiiiiiter hops. I can’t honestly believe this is how it’s supposed to taste. Must be a bad bottle. I opened this one back in July or August after buying it during my day-trip to Hudson last spring. It could have gone bad sitting in my basement all summer at 65* but honestly this is a 9% brew and many other lower alcohol brews have withstood these conditions without ill effect. Bad bottle. I’d give them another shot if I had the opportunity.

Saison Dupont, or should I say "Saison DuSkunk?"

Why oh why do any breweries ever… EVER use green bottles? I don’t get it. Green bottles don’t keep out enough of the UV light that skunks beer – unlike brown bottles that do an ok job under most circumstances.

I’d heard about how Saison Dupont is an exemplar of the saison style so I picked up a bottle to give it a whirl.

SKUNK! (more…)

New Glarus Unplugged Series – Smoked Rye Ale

Last spring, I got bored one Sunday and¬†made a trip over to the Casanova Bottle Shop in Hudson, Wisconsin to pick up some New Glarus and Dogfish head beers (DFH was still available in Wisconsin at the time, no longer). One of the New Glarus beers I grabbed was a Smoked Rye Ale, part of their “unplugged” series where brewmaster Dan experiments in the brewhouse with whatever ingredients his heart desires.

I was really excited to try this smoked rye ale, as I’m intrigued about the possibility of using smoked and rye malts in my own beers. The only other “rye” beers I’ve tried previously (Summit’s Unchained #3 RyePA and Surly’s Surlyfest rye Octoberfest beer) have pleased me greatly, so my expectations were high for New Glarus. This beer had lower carbonation than I would have liked, less rye flavor than Summit’s RyePA. Most of the smoked malt flavor came through in the aroma, some in the flavor. This beer had the hops dialed back to make way for the rye spiciness and smoke flavor. Smart move.


Battle de Kölsch!

I recently paired my Frosty Dog k√∂lsch in a head-to-head battle with one of the few commercial examples I’ve seen with some regularity in the Minneapolis area, Lake Superior’s Kayak¬†K√∂lsch. I do these types of pairings every once and a while to really test myself out against commercial breweries. It shows me what I’d need to do to bring my recipes closer to commercial examples of a given style. Though I’ve got plenty of homebrew sitting around, I never want to stop buying commercial craft beers, as I see tasting them as an opportunity to learn more about what fits into various styles and to also be inspired to try new things in recipe formulation.¬†So, here it goes: (more…)

4th of July Weekend in Chicago – Part 1: The Hopleaf Bar

My wife and I made the 7+ hr. drive from Minneapolis through Wisconsin and down to Chicago over 4th of July weekend this year. Her brother and his wife recently relocated there from Newport Beach, California in order for the two of them to attend graduate school at Northwestern. They hadn’t had much opportunity to explore the area yet, and I hadn’t been to Chi-town for a decade, so we were all pretty much in the same boat. Fortunately, I’d brought my trusty issue of Beer Traveler magazine (an offshoot of a regular column in All About Beer magazine that is only produced as a full issue on an annual basis, I believe). There were multiple Chicago-area locations recommended in the issue. I knew I wanted to go to Goose Island’s first brew pub, but besides that, I really had no preference.

We decided to hit up the hop leaf for our first night in the city. This gastro pub was #9 on the magazine’s list of 150 of the best places in the world to enjoy a pint. I’ve been to a handful of places on that list, but this is the closet to the top I’ve come. Their food was delicious, very much akin to Buster’s on 28th, a favorite local hangout of mine. Amazing bottle and tap selection with an apparent focus on Belgian beers. Tried a few, myself. (more…)

Whaa choo talkin' bout saiSon?

Ever since my SaiSon of a Bitch (SOB) batch failed to score well (got a 29/50) at NHC first rounds, I’ve been coming back to that beer trying to find/taste exactly what I got dinged for. Here’s basically the collective feedback from the two judges who tried my SOB:

  • Aroma: pepper notes properly placed followed by phenols that seem out of place
  • Appearance: haze, head retention and color all came across well
  • Flavor: a bit too tart, too much apparent hop bitterness and “earthiness” (likely from the hops)
  • Mouthfeel: slight astringency, “pithy” notes, alcohol apparent
  • Summary: not bad to drink, lacks full attenuation which may be fixed by raising fermentation temp.

I know now that saison yeast really do like higher temps than what my house could offer this batch in mid-February (more…)

An Apricot (beer) Altercation

It’s JUNE! ¬†It’s THE WEEKEND! I’m sufficiently inspired to review some fruit beers.

In preparation for this post, I was looking around online to find a storied history of brewers using apricots in their ales centuries ago, likely having lost the style along with many others during prohibition and the many decades of blandness that followed… but such a pedigree doesn’t actually exist. The first commercial example of an apricot beer wasn’t brewed until 1994, by Hart Brewing which changed it’s name to the more familiar Pyramid Brewing a few years later. The 1994 brewvention that was their Apricot Ale went on to win a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival that year in the fruit beer category.

Since then, many commercial breweries and homebrewers alike have taken to adding this fibrous fruit to their ales. Though most appear to pair apricots with wheat beers, I recently acquired two examples of apricot-infused brews that were not wheat-based, rather an IPA and a pale ale. I decided to do a vertical tasting in the spirit of examining their similarities and differences, pitting the two fruit beers against each other in a fight to the death. Let the apricot altercation ensue! (more…)

Moo Glarus, Spotted Cow

Eric, a co-worker of mine, is from a town in southwestern Wisconsin. Upon finding out recently that he was headed home over the weekend, I enthusiastically offered to trade him some of my homebrew for some New Glarus Brewing Co.’s delicious – yet undistributed to Minnesota – output.

After receiving this generous offering, I decided to pair New Glarus’s rough, yet¬†inoffensive¬†farmhouse ale / saison¬†Spotted Cow¬†(their flagship brew) with a turkey cheeseburger topped with some caraway swiss my parents picked up for me at Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet in DeForest, WI, during their drive back from a visit to Milwaukee.