Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

Bock Beers

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Tonight, I’m hosting a bunch of my Kansas City Plaza Rotary friends in a beer tasting.  We’ll be focusing on the Bock familyMaibock, Traditional Bock, Doppelbock and Eisbock.  (We did Weissbock a couple months ago when we tasted a range of wheat beers.)  I’m looking forward to tasting the most under-appreciated class of beers in the beer world.

I consider them under-appreciated because they really ought to be one of the most popular styles around, yet they are hard to find.  (Don’t mention that crap that Shiner makes – it’s not a bock at all, and it’s fit only for Texas Rangers fans.)  Even a well-stocked store is unlikely to have all 4 varieties.  Their absence is surprising because they are enjoyable, malty beers with a lot of rich flavors.

I’ll post more after the tasting, but if you’re looking for some good fall companions, bocks rank right up there with Oktoberfests as the beers to be drinking.

Easy Come, Easy Gose – Homebrewing on the Edge

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Salty, sour beer. Sound good?

I first read about Gose style beer in the book Brewing with Wheat (order it here), by Stan Hieronymus. It hales from Leipzig, and almost faded from existence during the grim days of the cold war. No brewery produced it regularly from 1966 until 1999. While a few craft breweries produce examples in America, it is a rare beer without clear style guidelines.

The only time I have tasted a beer that purported to be a Gose was with my son at one of the top beer bars I’ve ever been to – Spuyten Duyvil in Brooklyn, home of “rare and obscure” beers. It was fantastic. Huge mouthfeel, almost chewy, but refreshing and drinkable. There was certainly a lactic tartness, but it was not overwhelming at all. It had layers of flavor, with citrus in the nose and salt on the tongue to go with the tartness and a surprisingly full malt flavor. I don’t know whether it was a good example or not, since I’ve never tasted another, but it didn’t taste exactly like what Kansas City’s own Wort Hog describes in a jealousy-inspiring account of a visit to Leipzig.

Now I want to brew a Gose, and there is very little reliable information out there on how to do it. I’ve thought about it, and here’s what I’m going to try.

First off, I’m going to do only 5 gallons instead of my usual 10. This is an experiment; if it comes out great, I’ll make more. I’m also going to use extract in this batch, rather than starting solely with crushed malted grains, because this beer is made with mostly wheat malt, and wheat malt is kind of a bear to work with, for reasons you either know or don’t care about.

First, how much salt to add? I want the salt to be present, but not dominating. I tried salting a quart of water and scaling up from there. 3 grams in one quart seemed like a good amount, and there are 20 quarts in 5 gallons, so 60 grams it is.

Now, how to add the sourness? The traditional way would be to inoculate the beer with lactobacillus bacteria, and let them go nuts. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to play with bacteria in my brewery space. They can be persistent and infectious, so that I would be risking a future of all-sour beers.

I want to play it safe, so I am going to use a product called acidulated malt, a product made by adding lactic acid to regular malt. I’m going to use 3/4 of a pound, since I’ve never used this stuff before. I’ll soak it in 150 degree water for an hour or so, in the hopes that it will convert its starches into sugars (beer geek talk – I don’t know whether it has diastatic power, but I’ll give it a whirl). I strongly doubt that this will add enough lactic tartness to the beer, but I have lactic acid I plan on adding post-fermentation to boost the tartness to a level I like.

For the first time in years, I will be relying on dried malt extract for the vast majority of the fermentation. If you’re new to homebrewing, malt extracts are the easiest way to get started, and you don’t need nearly as much equipment as you would if you were using only crushed grain. Around 4.5 pounds will give me a pretty light beer in terms of alcohol, which will make this a nice spring beer when it’s ready to drink. This particular extract was chosen because it is composed of 60% wheat and 40% barley, which is in line with the original beer.

This beer should be very lightly hopped, so I’m going to use 1 ounce of some American hops I have around, and boil them for 30 minutes.

Now for the extras. Coriander is a common ingredient in wheat beers, and I’ll be adding a quarter ounce of the seeds, ground up in the blender. I’m also going to go out on a limb and add one fluid ounce of Orange Blossom Water, not at all a traditional ingredient, but I find that it adds a nice aromatic when I bake, and I hope that it will increase the citrus notes of the beer.

For yeast, I’m going with a traditional German wheat yeast, Wyeast Weihenstephan Weizen #3068, a specialty yeast used for the refreshing wheat beers of southern German, redolent with clove and banana esters. I’ve seen recipes that call for a neutral yeast as well, but I love the flavors this yeast can produce.

After a couple weeks of fermentation, this beer will be ready for kegging. I’ll add lactic acid to suit my taste, and hope for the best. It’s rare for me to make a beer with so little guidance regarding the style, or even a recipe. I’m kind of winging it here, but I’m hopeful that what comes out will be palatable. If not, easy come, easy gose.

Kansas Beer Law Under Review – Is More Beer a Good Thing?

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Earlier this week, a Kansas Senate committee endorsed a proposal to allow grocery and convenience stores to start selling liquor, wine and full-strength beer by 2017. Debate in the full Senate could start as early as tomorrow.

As a beer lover, I should be raising a mug of celebration to my friends on the other side of State Line, right?

Well, it turns out that the truth is a lot more complicated. The debate offers a classic case of principle meeting reality, and consumers sitting on the sidelines of a battle being fought by lobbyists.

The debate even has an east/west twist. Here to the eastern side of Kansas, in Missouri, you can meander into the mini-mart and walk out with whiskey. Full-strength beer, wine and whiskey can be sold at grocery stores and convenience stores, as well as traditional liquor stores.

On the other side of Kansas, though, is Colorado, arguably the best state in the country for beer lovers (“The Napa Valley of Beer”), but one with restrictions similar to those of Kansas. Grocery store aisles have only 3.2 beers, and if you want to purchase some wine for your marinara sauce, you need to find a real liquor store.

In principle, it’s easiest to see the side of those pushing for selling beer in mini-marts. It encourages competition, it allows those of us who like beer to find it in more places, and it would probably increase the tax revenue to the state. Economic freedom is generally a pretty good idea.

But that’s where reality steps in. In reality, liquor stores are some of the classic mom-and-pop small businesses that stand little chance of surviving when mega-corporations step in. In reality, that laid-back store you visit with the bell that tinkles when you open the door will get squeezed out by a corporate convenience store domiciled in Delaware pushing cardboard boxes of Natty Light along with a taquito, served up by minimum-wage servants while the profits go to international bank accounts. Reality is a lot uglier than theory.

But, let’s be frank here. This is my blog, and my concern about some family business in Salina pales in comparison to what happens to me. As in all issues, the primary question that everyone should be asking themselves is “how does this impact Dan Ryan?”, and that’s a tough one to figure out. I’ll happily trade 50 outlets for Natty Light in my neighborhood for one store that carries Dogfish Head and Pretty Things and all those beers I read about and yearn to taste.

I care about craft beer, not mega-brands, and that’s where things get tough to figure. In Colorado, they’ve been fighting this battle for years, and the craft brewers have lined up on the side of the status quo. Micro-breweries don’t get deals with Quik Trip or 7-11 – they get deals with the mom and pop store that is responsive to the local community. The big grocery store chains and convenience store chains aren’t going to carry their products – especially not the nano-brewery that can only crank out a few hundred barrels a year. Small stores are better for small brewers. Think small.

This analysis has little to do with the Kansas legislature, though. Money talks in republican-dominated Topeka, and the battle between 7-11 and the corner liquor store is not an even one. The bill passed out of committee by a margin of 8-1, and unless a group of neo-prohibitionists steps up to unwittingly help those of us who like great local beers, Kansas will be home to coolers full of Natty Light at the gas station.

Personally, I line up on the side of the craft brewers. In the long run, I think that more employment and more revenue comes from more locally-produced goods and more locally-based retail. I think Kansas ought to reject the “liberalization” of its beer laws, save its small businesses and foster a market for the entrepreneurs with a brew kettle that may be hoping to make a go of it.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Tasting American Beer

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

“Typical” American lager is not something I drink often anymore. Even at the ball park, you can usually get something a little more interesting than Bud, Miller or Coors, and I’ll usually search out something with more flavor. But, as a brewer, I appreciate the technical expertise that goes into making such a consistent beer without any big flavors to distract the consumer from any flaws that may be present. And, as my father’s son, a cold, cheap can of beer every once in a while is the epitome of refreshment.

A couple weeks ago, Ancillary Adams and his lovely fiance hosted a game night that also featured a blind tasting of what he calls “old man beers”. We received 8 samples of beer in clear plastic glasses and no way of knowing what we were tasting. I scored them on a rough 50 point scale, and here are the results, from worst to best.

8. O’Doul’s. Tasted like bad cardboard – 28.
7. Milwaukee’s Best Premium. Corn Tang – just not good – 28.
6. Miller High Life. Corn, and nothing else other than a sweet aftertaste – 34
5. Pabst Blue Ribbon. Chemical flavor, harsh – 34
4. Flying Dog Tire Biter Ale. An obvious “ringer”, this ale is a decent beer, but stood out as too big and citrusy for a tasting of American lagers – 38
3. Coors Original. Clean, basic, balanced flavor, with a touch of green apple (acetaldehyde) – 38
2. Boulevard Pilsner. Malty aroma, clean fermentation, touch of hop bitterness – 38
1. Schlitz. Some maltiness, but mostly just perfectly balanced – 42

Notice that we didn’t have any Anheuser-Busch products – as a native St. Louisan, it’s quite possible that I would have headed for the mountains of Busch beer, if offered the opportunity. The tasting showed a lot of variation in the brands, and I was genuinely impressed with the subtle grace of Schlitz and Boulevard Pilsner.

Goats & Rabbits West Side Lager

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I’ve been trying to pay a little less attention to style guidelines in my brewing, and come up with crowd-pleasing variations that either attempt some new techniques or offer a unique stamp. Lately, I’ve brewed a Classic American Pilsner with home-grown hops, which added a funky citrusy, pineapple flavor, and I doubled the oatmeal, and toasted it, when I made an oatmeal stout a couple weeks ago.

Yesterday, I tackled Vienna Lager. You’ve tasted Vienna Lager at its best if you’ve had a Boulevard Bob’s 47 (though most people think it’s an Oktoberfest, because that’s what the label says). Back in the day, Dos Equis Amber was a good example, as well, but recipe changes have dumbed it down into an off-color mass-market lager. The Beer Judge Certification Program still lists Negra Modelo as a leading example of the style, but it lacks the malt complexity that makes the style special.

Vienna Lager isn’t brewed in Vienna, though that is where it originated. A few decades after Anton Dreher used the newly-isolated lager yeast to create a toasty, malty, balanced amber lager, political instability in Austria convinced Santiago Graf and a few of his brewing cohorts to move to Mexico, where they perfected the style in the late 1800s.

Making a Vienna Lager is pretty simple. While some brewers like to employ a blend of lighter and darker malts, I like to keep it simple and use Vienna malt – a lightly kilned, slightly toasty malt that fits the style perfectly. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of Munich or Victory to the mash to bring out a bit more toastiness.

Yesterday, I wanted to make a beer that reflected the development of the style and pays homage to the Mexican immigrants that have been part of Kansas City for over a hundred years. i stuck with Vienna malt, but added two pounds of Piloncillo sugar, a pre-Columbian form of unrefined sugar you can buy in most Mexican grocers in a hard cone. I’ve used it in my brewing before, and it adds a richness in flavor, and the yeast ferments the sweetness away, producing an extra kick of alcohol.

Most brewing purists would refuse to add sugar to a Vienna lager, and they are correct in their strict interpretation of the rules. But, in making what I will call West Side lager, I thought that adding a little “illegal” Mexican influence would only enrich the beer and make it stronger.

In a few weeks, after the beer finishes fermenting, I’ll raise a toast to the West Side of Kansas City, and the fact that strict application of made-up rules in immigration or in brewing only hurts us all, and that if history had seen such arcane and expensive immigration laws when our country was brave and growing, Kansas City wouldn’t have railroads, Mexico wouldn’t have Vienna Lager, and I’d be stuck on a potato farm in Ireland.

Just Buy this Beer – Bell’s 25th Anniversary Ale

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I probably won’t get down to Gomer’s in time to grab a 6 pack of Bell’s 25th Anniversary Ale, and I probably shouldn’t spend the money (15.99/6-pack) anyhow, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do so. I’ve had a few of Bell’s special ales, and they always force me to abandon my stylistic snobbery and simply accept the beer for what it is, not what it ought to be. It sounds like this one might be a barley wine, might be a strong ale, and it might be something like an rich IPA. It’s none of those, of course – it’s a single batch of beer made by one of the greatest breweries in the world.

Extreme Beer Packaging

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

This will slow down the bottling line, I suppose, but I think the idea of combining taxidermy and brewing has rich potential. Trout could hold craft beer from Colorado. Brooklyn Beer could come in pigeons. Just think of the marketing opportunity that pony kegs would provide – though I suppose it could be traumatic for a little girl who was excited that Daddy’s party is going to have ponies.

Making a Dream

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Here’s an unusual way to finance a brewery. Mystery Brewing is seeking $40,000 to start up a contract brewery. As of this moment, 77 people have pledged $16,923 to help make it happen, and there are 20 days left.

There are other ways, of course.

Just something to think about, if one were inclined to think about such things . . .

Scottish Success for An Irishman

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Kansas City Highland Games just posted the results of their Homebrew Contest. I submitted 4 beers, and won something with each of them. Not bad for an Irishman!

Here are the results:

English Ales
1 Jon Morman Special Bitter
2 Jon Morman Mild – EBA
3 Levi Hart Northern English Brown Ale

Scottish & Irish Ale
1 Paul Pilcher Pilcher’s Wee Heavy
2 Michael Winer Scottish Goddess
3 Greg Groener & Matt Blume Monarch Irish Red

1 Dan Ryan Jim’s Robust Porter
2 Dan Ryan #6 Robust Porter
3 Mike Whisler & Clay Jarratt Polly Want a Porter

1 Mike Whisler & Clay Jarratt Swallow Tail Stout
2 Dan Ryan Sweet Stout #6
3 Dan Ryan Jim’s Milk Stout

Thank you to the organizers and judges!

Hot Rocks and Amazing Beer Techniques

Friday, June 11th, 2010

If you’re a beer geek, you’ve heard of but probably never tasted Steinbeer – beer made by tossing super-heated rocks into a kettle. The rocks heat the wort (pre-fermentation beer juice) beyond the boiling point, and caramelize, even burn, the sugars so that the resulting beer has flavors that simply cannot be created by normal brewing techniques. It’s dangerous, unknown territory for modern brewers – a lot of rocks when super-heated will explode into sharp shards, and others will simply crumble. It’s not an experiment I’ll be trying in my back yard.

Go here, though, and watch this video about the brewers at Six Point taking the challenge and making it work. It’s beer geek porn.