Friday, December 30, 2011

The year in review

Year in review

This year was a loaded one for sure. A few bits of beer related info:
  • I went on 4 different beer focused trips to breweries that are based outside of IL
    • They were to Founders (2x) & 3 Floyds (2) but a trip is a trip
      • Founders events
        • Once for the hell of it
        • CBS release
    • 3 Floyds events
      • 15th anniversary party
      • My 1st Dark Lord day
  • I brewed at least 7x this year
  • Held my first beer + food pairing event
  • Converted a devoted wine person to beer (not completely but we are working on that)
  • I posted to this blog 16x this calendar year
  • I joined a homebrew club: Square Kegs ( )
On a personal level, it was also a good year:
  • I got engaged to my beautiful girlfriend of 3.5+ yrs
  • My Dad's cancer continues to be in remission
  • My fiance and I traveled somewhere out of state (someplace other than our respective home states)
  • A lot of photos were taken of the great times this year
  • My fiance surprised me w/ a visit from my nuclear family for my birthday

After looking over the lists above, I realize I have a few things to improve upon in the new year. Namely, I need to brew more beer, write more, travel more, and take more photos. Those  things aside, I would like to partake in a few more homebrew related projects, travel to more breweries (I'm looking at you Surly & Two Brothers), and I would like to increase the # of people I know in the beer community. Also, it would be nice to get out of the midwest for a trip.

All in all, it was a great year. I hope you all can say the same about yours.

Here is to a great 2011 and a better 2012!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Square Kegs 1st homebrew competition

The homebrew club i am a part of, Square Kegs is organizing their first homebrew club competition. The flyer can be found below. If you are interested & able to submit beer for the competition, register at the following website: 

The event coincides w/ a craft beer event that will begin after the competition (at ~ 6p). I will share more info about that part of the event as it becomes available.

If you do submit beer, good luck! I hope to see you all there.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

English Barleywine, v1 review

It has been a few weeks since I bottled my 1st go at brewing an english barleywine recipe that i composed myself. The recipe was as follows:

  • 10 lb marris otter
  • 1 lb caramel 40
  • 1/2 lb flaked wheat
  • 1/2 lb vienna
  • 1.75 oz East Kent Goldings (EKG) 60 mins
  • 1/4 oz EKG 45 mins
  • 1/4 oz EKG 30 mins
  • 1/4 oz EKG 15 mins
  • 1/4 oz EKG 1 min
  • Yeast = Wyeast British ale 2 (1335)
  • Batch size 3 gal
  • Boil time = 90 minutes

After reviewing the recipe post-tasting, I am planning on making the following changes to the recipe:
  • Use a higher lovibond caramel malt (thinking 80) at the same quantity
    • Not only for a bit more sweetness, but I hope to get a darker color w/ the final product
  • Do away w/ the wheat
  • Be more attentive to the final volume (I believe I kept too much wort)
  • I am considering using a bit of rye to provide a bit more spice
    • 'A bit' = 1/4 - 1/2 lb
  • Considering using a bit of special B (1/4 lb)

The barleywine was not a complete wash. I did like a few things about it: 
  • It had great lacing
  • The carbonation was great
  • The head did subside but it never completely left
  • I liked the amount of hop bitterness the beer had

In summary, for a 1st rev I am happy w/ it. I did not kid myself into believing it would be a great barleywine the 1st time around. I have high hopes for the next iteration, and I think a few equipment upgrades & additions would help a great deal. For example, a false bottom, ball valve, a separate boil kettle, and a greater understanding of how to improve my efficiency (which is a continuing issue). 

If any of you have any suggestions for improving my barleywine, please let me know. I am open to all suggestions.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quick overview of 2 brewing philosophies

When I started brewing my own recipes I knew I would not get it right every time. I knew that I would need to revise each recipe to match what I wanted each one to taste like. When it comes to revising each recipe (and the time you revise each recipe), there appear to be two different approaches: brew the same style until you get it where you want it, or you can brew it every so often. Both approaches have their pros and cons. I think they are as follows:

  • Consecutive brewing sessions of the same recipe
    • Pros
      • Presumably less time needed to get a recipe where you want it
    • Cons
      • Brewing the same style over and over again can get boring
      • Brewing/refining a single recipe means you are not refining another recipe of yours
  • Brewing a single style every so often
    • Pros
      • Different styles available to drink at your home
      • Brewing different styles means you will create a base recipe for different styles of beer & have a 'square 1' for each style the 2nd time you come around to them
    • Cons
      • More time needed to get a beer to where you want it

I subscribe to the 2nd philosophy because I like having multiple beer styles available to try, and my fiance and I would probably need a nice chunk of time to go through multiple iterations of the same style of beer. What philosophy, if any, do you subscribe to? Let us know.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Grains & hops info project

I have realized after a few attempts at composing my own homebrewing recipes that I am not always certain how great of an influence each grain I want to use will impart to the final product. This is due to inexperience w/ the grain & the huge number of single-malt-and-single-hop (SMaSH) beers that could be made (I plan on making a few SMaSH beers next year) in an attempt to learn more about the malt & hop used.

With this in mind i thought it would be helpful to compose a list of websites that I use when determining what grains I want to use in my next batch of beer. I will compose a list of links broken up by malt and hop type. The resulting list will be posted here (my goal is to have a 1st draft up on Sunday). Hopefully it will prove helpful to you and your brewing ventures.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

English Barleywine, v1.0 lessons

This past Saturday I tried brewing my 1st barleywine. I opted to go the English/British route and used marris otter, a bit of C40, flaked wheat and vienna. For hops I used only Kent Goldings (4.9% AA).

Besides being my first barleywine, this brew session was my 1st time using my refractometer & my 5000 mL starter beaker. The refractometer is a tool that i have been meaning to use for some time, and I was happy to break it out this time around. As for the 5000 mL beaker, it was recommended that i purchase one by my homebrew club so as to be able to make larger starters for larger beers.

The brew session went pretty smoothly, but there were some hiccups. Below I have grouped a few of the positives and a few negatives/learning experiences from the brew session.

Positives = Due to the thick mash, keeping the mash temp around 153 F was not difficult. I found that the mash acted as an insulator, keeping a relatively steady temp of 153F throughout the mash period.

Negatives = As I mentioned above, today was the first time I used a refractometer. As a result, I was able to determine my starting gravity (SG), and (sadly) it was not as high as i had hoped. I was shooting for an SG value of approximately 1.110. Instead, I hit 1.06 - 1.065. While it was shocking at first, I have a few ideas for getting closer to my goal next time (for example: adding corn sugar).

Finally, the other thing that concerns me is my efficiency. I thought i had the correct equation for it, but after discussing it w/ a member of the homebrew club I think my method of calculating efficiency is incorrect.

Plans for improving the brew session next time
  • Have corn sugar ready in case the SG is not hit
  • Have a correct means & method of calculating efficiency
  • Put the yeast starter into the fridge a 1/2 day earlier

I will provide tasting notes once the barleywine has been carbonated.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 GABF winners announced

Image found at

A list of the winners can be found here.

A brief summary of the winners (who won the most medals, most gold medals, etc) can be found here.

Per the latter, Indiana's own Sun King Brewing Company won the most gold medals (4) and the most medals overall (8).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's just beer

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Every so often, I will come across an article or an advertisement that touts the craft beer selection of a bar, hotel, or another business. The business that is the focus of the eye catching notice often speaks proudly of their craft beer selection on draft/bottles, the festivals they host/sponsor, and how pro craft beer they are. Doing all of that is absolutely fine, but after seeing enough of those bits, I've become irked by how they can divide people. Craft beer fans v. non-craft beer fans.

Now, this is not a post that is pro-big brewers (ABInBev, SABMiller, etc). Far from it. Beer by the craft/microbrewers of the world is more enjoyable (in my opinion) than anything the big boys could make. With that being said, this post is an attempt to express my belief that beer is beer. People, myself included, enjoy the beers that they do, and they/we would probably prefer it if our beverage of choice did not lump us into a group that have pre-associated labels connected to them.

I know judgments and opinions are unavoidable, but if they could be dropped we could all enjoy a beer together.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Apologies and an update of sorts

Hey folks,

My apologies for not updating more but things have been busy on this end. Between planning a move, a few beer related trips, composing homebrew recipes, and doing my darndest to keep ze special woman happy and well fed (she is a mean one if she is not well fed), I have become lazy in my postings.

I assure you that I have not forgotten about this blog. Rather, I am working on a sizable entry on brewing schools, and a few other topics that I hope to begin posting in the next few weeks.

So, this blog is not dead. More beer related reading material is on the way.

On a different note, is anyone planning on attending Zwanze Day? If you are doing so in Chicago, let us know. We/I will be there!



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blog feature

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I was recently featured by the Great Lakes Brewing Company (OH). The feature can be found via the link below.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The importance of homebrew clubs

Image found at the Worthogs facebook page

I was introduced to craft beer through a homebrew/beer fan club in Minnesota called the Rum River Worthogs. They were a group of older gentlemen, along with their wives & friends, who would meet in the basement of a local restaurant to discuss, share, and talk about beer (homebrewed & purchased). The most popular beers, besides the ones that were shared in great enough quantity so that everyone got to try them, were the ones that were the most well made in the opinion of the gathered beer fans. The brewers of said beers were more than willing to discuss their well received beer: what their malt bill was, what hops were used, what yeast was used, why did the brewer decide to use a single infusion instead of a stepped mash, etc.. The Q & A sessions made the showcased brewer feel capable, and the answers he/she gave made their listening audience better brewers for having paid attention.

The homebrew club is where homebrewers should be able to come together to share their successes and failures, share advice, help tweak recipes, and criticize (hopefully constructively) each others creations. Not all homebrew clubs will be like this, but beer people (brewers, fans, etc) tend to be a collegial bunch. So, this ideal may not be too far off the norm of homebrew clubs around the world.

Also, for people who may not be homebrewers (yet), but are beer fans, it is in the common interest of beer fans around the world to support their local homebrew clubs. This is because it is from those clubs that the most admired brewers around the world first got into brewing in the first place. For example, Mitch Steele (of Stone Brewing Company) was a member of Brew Free or Die (New Hampshire), and Teri Fahrendorf (of the Steelhead Brewing Company) was a member of the San Andreas Malts (San Francisco). So, helping homebrewers become better brewers helps all beer fans.

These days I live in Chicago where I have been fortunate to find a homebrew club in my neighborhood called the Square Kegs. The Square Kegs is composed of homebrewers of varying levels of experience. The club is rather new, but we have a few projects in mind that I think will help strengthen our collective brewing knowledge and brewing habits. To keep tabs on what we are up to, I recommend you visit our facebook page. It can be found here.

Do any of you belong to homebrew clubs? If so, have you enjoyed the meetings? Have you learned anything from attending said meetings? Let us know!

If you do not have a homebrew club in your area, consider checking out the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) website. Specifically, their club resources wiki which can be found here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What makes a great beer city?

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Sometime this month Travel and Leisure Magazine posted their results of a survey put towards their readers about where they think is the best beer city in the country. The list of cities can be found here. It got me to thinking about what makes a great beer city.

Obviously you need good beer, but what is more important: the variety of beer available (locally made beer or beer imported from elsewhere)? Do you need a lot of beer bars in a great beer city? What role does homebrewing play, if any, in fostering a great beer city?

In my opinion, a lot goes into making & maintaining a great beer city. The beer is paramount, but I think the beer needs to be made locally or at least within the state the 'beer city' is in.

Having a great variety of beer available is important, but I think that the emphasis needs to be put on beer made in your part of the world. Besides, anyone can import great beer, but if you do not have great local offerings, the beer fans in your area may travel out of your local market. This exodus removes tax revenue from the local market and does nothing to foster the creation of a local brewery/breweries.

Another key to a great beer city is an active homebrewing community. Specifically, one that is passionate and approachable by people within and outside of it. I believe that such a homebrewing community is important because it is the homebrewing community that will provide some of the most honest, yet constructive, criticism of a beer (compared to a non-homebrewer) to anyone that asks (or does not) for feedback. They won't blow hot air up your skirt if your beer is bad, but they will offer advice on how to improve your beer (if they can).

A great beer city needs to have beer festivals and beer bars. That is not to say that every city needs a festival the size of the GABF, NHC or Great Taste of the Midwest. Nor am I saying that every beer city needs a bar with the renown of the Map Room, Hopleaf, the Toronado, the Great Lost Bear or Ebenezer's Pub. What I am saying is that every great beer city needs to provide opportunities for beer fans to gather, enjoy, and geek out over a beer/beers that they love.

Finally, I think a great beer city needs to have people that are interested in beer. Everyone starts somewhere on their path to beer enlightenment, and it does not matter where a person starts as long as they keep progressing. So, do you think your city/town/area qualifies as a beer city/town/area?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

When is a brewery big enough?

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On March 28th, the Fulton Street Brewery LLC (often referred to as Goose Island) agreed to be purchased by AB-InBEV for the reported sum of $22.5m. By agreeing to the purchase, AB-InBEV was able to purchase the 'majority equity stake' (58%) in the Fulton Street Brewery LLC. According to John Hall, 'the agreement to consolidate ownership of Goose Island under Anheuser-Busch will provide us with the best resources available to continue along our path of growth and innovation'.

The purchase itself surprised many people, and brought about comments that were (presumably) fueled by anger, confusion, etc.. I must admit that after I heard about the deal, I was angered by it because one of the largest brewing conglomerates had purchased one of the oldest, still active, brewerys in Chicago. Goose Island has long been associated with Chicago, and Chicago beer. With this one move, what was once a Chicago brewery was now a brewery in Chicago that is owned by a company based in Belgium (save the brewpubs which were not part of the deal).

I do not own a business that has the demands that Goose Island has. I also understand that it is extremely easy to be a critic (especially a critic that is as far outside of the specifics & reasons behind the deal as a person can be). But as a beer fan, it was hard to not be somewhat miffed by the whole thing. The quote from John Hall I mentioned above got me thinking. When is a brewery big enough?

I understand that a business that is accountable to share holders needs to find a way to increase their bottom line. For a brewery, that can be accomplished by increasing the number of establishments that offer your product. In order to keep up with the obligations associated with new accounts the brewery's capacity has to increase or they may need to consider contract brewing (that choice has an entire list of things to consider). To do that, more equipment & space is needed and in order to acquire such things requires cash. In the case of Goose Island, AB-InBEV provided that cash.

In the past 6 months a few major breweries have pulled out of a few beer markets. Specifically, Dogfish Head, Avery, and Great Divide. They, like Goose Island, had a decision to make: do they seek outside investment to help them keep up with the demands from their large & expanding distribution network, or do they shrink their distribution network so that they can grow organically (via a means & pace that they can afford on their own)?

Dogfish, Avery & Great Divide opted to retract their distribution network. It is not known how long the aforementioned breweries will remain in their contracted state. Beer fans in the states they left are hoping it won't be long, but only time will tell.

Personally, I am a big fan of local breweries serving their city of origin. Doing so has many benefits. A few are listed below.
  • Keeping business local results in more money being pumped into your local community via taxes, tourism dollars, etc.
  • It helps encourage & maintain a vibrant small business community
  • A small business has a greater personal interest in helping a community grow and remain safe compared to a large business in a small town. Example: McDonalds in any town America.
I hope that more breweries continue to open across the country (& around the world). More breweries means more choice and more breweries in a state means a greater, local brewing community. Which is something I think we can all appreciate.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A quick post about my local

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I have been living in Chicago for roughly 5 years. During that time I have seen Chicago grow from a city that had 5 breweries/brewpubs within its city limits (Rock Bottom, Piece, Moonshine, Hamburger Mary's & Goose Island), to a city that now has/will have 10 breweries/brewpubs by the end of the year (the 4 above plus Metropolitan, Finch's Beer Company, Haymarket, Pipeworks, and Half Acre). All of the breweries do/will contribute to the growing Chicago beer scene, but my favorite contributor to Chicago beer has been my local brewery: the Half Acre Beer Company.

Two years ago, I moved to the North Center neighborhood of Chicago. My move coincided with the Half Acre Beer Company beginning to shift their brewing operations from Sand Creek (Black River Falls, WI), where the Half Acre Over Ale and Lager were first brewed, to their current location in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago. Since they have moved to their current location, Half Acre has grown from a brewery that offers 2 year round beers (the aforementioned Over Ale & Lager), to a brewery that now offers 3 year rounds beers (Daisy Cutter, Over Ale, and Gossamer), and they seem to release a new beer every month.

To their credit as a brewery, Half Acre's special release beers do not walk a well traveled line. They run the gamut from fun stouts (Chocolate Camaro), to fun wheat ales (Ambrosia - beer brewed with hibiscus flowers and oranges) and a great India-red ale (Ginger Twin). If you do not like a particular style that is available at the time of your visit, you can trust that there will be something new in a few weeks for you to try (FYI: if you want to keep tabs on new beer releases at Half Acre, be sure to visit their blog).

As for, perhaps, the most important part of a brewery, the people that make it all happen, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the people of Half Acre are an incredibly friendly bunch. Their excitement about their beer is genuine, and they always seem willing to talk about their beer. So, stop by the brewery, say hi and try their beer. Better yet, stop by the Longroom tonight and say hi to them at their dark beer event.

In closing, for the last two years I have had the pleasure of being on the outside of Half Acre looking in on their continued growth and evolution as brewers, a brewery, and a company that has become an important piece of the North Center business community, and a vital piece of the Chicago beer scene.

So, here's to Half Acre. Keep up the great work!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The importance of good brewing equipment

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A few weeks back a buddy of mine and I got to talking about different breweries that we like and what it is we like about them. After a bit of discussion we realized that many of the breweries we enjoy, we enjoy because of how they do a particular style. For example, Dogfish Head is known for their IPAs (60, 90 & 120), Bells for their stouts (Expedition, Kalamazoo, Java, Double Cream, +8 more according to their website), Capital Brewing Company for their lagers, and the New Glarus Brewing Company for their fruit beers (Wisconsin Belgian Red & Raspberry Tart). This got me to thinking about the effect of brewing equipment on the final product. Could Dogfish Head have an equipment setup that is conducive to IPAS? Is Bells equipment ideal for stouts? Don't get me wrong, I am aware that attention to detail, and a good recipe that is carried out by a capable & experienced staff all bear influence on the final product, but this time around I am curious about the effect equipment has on the beer it helps produce.

In the beginning of my research, I came across an article that Charlie Papazian wrote in 2009. The article is about how brewing equipment affects the beer it helps make. Specifically, he provided the following four points about how kettle and tank design can influence beer character. Please note that the brown text is my commentary & not Mr. Papazian's.
  • Color of the beer – Even though it’s liquid boiling inside there is a degree of caramelization that occurs. That means color and flavor change. Depending on the method of heat exchange and the degree of motion available to the brew while it boils effects how much darker the color and caramel the flavor happens. For brewers desiring the lightest of lagers these kinds of reactions are avoided. For brewers formulating more flavorful beers a degree of caramelization is sometimes desired. The common types of heat exchange utilized when heating/boiling wort are direct fire + manual stirring of the wort, a recirculating infusion mash system (RIMS), or a heat exchanged recirculating Mash system (HERMS).
  • Beer stability - Without a vigorous boil many essential reactions and transformations have a more difficult time in happening. Vigorous boils helps the clarity of the beer and drives off undesirable compounds that can later result in sometimes not so pleasant sweet corn-like flavors. Foam stability also has a lot to do with kettle configuration and vigorous boils. Poorly designed brewing equipment can introduce oxygen into the brewing process which will later accelerate oxidative reactions that are detrimental to flavor, aroma, clarity and foam quality. A good article about beer foam can be found here. A possible example of poorly designed brewing equipment could be one that has cracks/holes at the top of the kettle or mash tun through which air can enter the brewing system.
  • Hop utilization – hops in the kettle require significant swirling with vigorous boiling. If this doesn’t happen then all those interesting hop characters have difficulty making the transition from hop to brew. When I brew I rely on the boil to work the hops I use throughout my wort. I have not tried dry hopping but should I want to work the hops into my beer more I believe I will periodically swirl the fermenting wort. I will let you know what I try and what works best for me.
  • Healthy tasting beer – Remember yeast is a living organism. Just like all forms of life the environment in which it is lived affects behavior. When behavior is affected then resulting byproducts of life vary. Brewers have to take into effect tank size and configuration and assess how it will affect the lives of yeast and their metabolism of carbohydrates to sugars, alcohol and other flavor by products. A very tall tank will result in an immense amount of hydrostatic pressure on the yeast cell walls on the bottom of the tank. Pressure effects life process. Life atop Everest is different than Miami beach. Skilled brewers make adjustments throughout the process to compensate and dial in the consistent beer characters they seek. To learn more about yeast, consider reading 'Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation' by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff.
This is a general look at the importance of knowing your equipment when brewing beer. For additional information, I suggest you peruse the internet, check your local library for pertinent books, or ask your fellow homebrewers.


Friday, January 28, 2011

The Ratebeer top brewers in the world, 2011

Earlier this week released their annual top brewers of the year list, and the midwest was well represented.
The midwest breweries that made it into the list follow below (I think I got them all).
Nearly 1/4 of the top 100 brewers in world, per the ratebeer list, are in the Midwest. If that is not a testament to how great we have it here, I am not sure what would convince you. Perhaps even better, the list contained entries (both from the midwest and beyond) that I have not been to or heard of (I do not think i've ever heard of the Kuhnhenn brewery). In other words, the list presents more excuses to travel.

On a related note, Chicago did pretty well on it's own: Goose Island (#10), Half Acre (#75), Piece Pizzeria & Brewpub (#82) & Revolution Brewing Company (#4 in ratebeer's top 5 new breweries list). With Haymarket Brewpub, Finch's beer company, and Pipeworks Brewing Company (all in various levels of operation) things are looking brighter than ever in the Chicago beer scene.

Now to you, fellow beer fans: what do you think of ratebeer's list? How many of the ranked midwest breweries have you been to?

Monday, January 10, 2011

The first lager

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This month will be a first for me as a homebrewer: my first lager.

I've been reading Greg Noonan's great book New Brewing Lager Beer, and I have been doing my best to apply to memory the numerous bits of info/advice that are scattered throughout the book. I know I will not remember all of it, but I know I will not sell my copy any time soon.

Back to the lager itself. I plan to make a chocolate rauchbier. The ingredients I plan on using can be found below.
  • Malt: Munich, chocolate and smoked malt
  • Hops: Cluster & hallertau
  • Yeast: Munich lager

I want to keep this a simple (i.e. few ingredients) lager because I have never made a lager and doing so will allow me to have a better idea as to the effect(s) of the ingredients on the beer as a whole.

Simplicity aside, I am really looking forward to giving lager brewing a try. I have been told that lagers take a while to ferment, but they are rather clean in taste. All in all, it ought to be a fun time.