Monday, November 14, 2011

A Tale of Two Elders.

So, I had the chance recently to revisit a beer I hadn't had in a while. A beer that I personally did not think lived up to any of the hype that surrounded it. The beer I am referring to is Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing. Pliny is a Double IPA that clocks in right at 8% ABV, and has a HUGE hop character to support that level of alcohol. The first time I came across this beer, I had it at a friend's house. It was bitter and not your average bitter.  I mean it was super bitter and astringent.  I could taste nothing else.  Needless to say I was for from impressed. Now to be fair, I never looked at the date on the bottle or even bothered to ask how long he had it in his fridge. This will be a huge factor for this beer, as I found out.

My fortune to try Pliny a second time came about because a good friend and co-worker brought back a bottle from Portland to give me for my birthday. It's what we call a White Whale beer here in Boise as we cannot get Pliny in this market.  So it is a treat when we get to have something like this.  As my luck would have Rick Boyd, the owner of Brewforia, just so happened to also have a bottle of Pliny that a generous guest of ours had brought in recently.

So, here I am with 2 Plinys and I start reading the label.  "Respect your elder.  Keep Cold.  Drink Fresh.  Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don’t make the beer inside this bottle one!  Not a barley wine, do not age!  Age your cheese, not your Pliny!  Respect hops, consume fresh.  If you must, sit on eggs, not on Pliny!  Do not save for a rainy day!  Pliny is for savoring, not for saving!  Consume Pliny fresh or not at all!  Does not improve with age!  Hoppy beers are not meant to be aged!  Keep away from heat!"  Wow!  They are adamant about drinking the Elder while young.  It just so happened that the bottles I had were bottled about 2 months apart, with the newest only having been in the bottle for 12 days.  So we did a side by side, and these are my notes as follows.

Bottled 8/18/11 - Thin head, dissipates quickly.  Golden straw colour.  Nose is sweet malt with floral hops, bread-y undertones.  Taste is malty sweet upfront with a harsh hop astringency that takes over midway through.  Hops dominating now leaning towards too bitter and astringent.  Slight buttery slickness coats the mouth.

Bottled 10/14/11 - Thin head, dissipates quickly.  Golden straw colour.  Nose is slightly sweet with a strong pine-like hop aroma, very bright.  Taste is malty upfront, not sweet though with some bread-y notes.  Hops ease in midway through, with a very nice lingering pine note.  Malt is also lingering leaving the beer much more balanced than previous tastings.  No buttery slickness this time.

So, as you can see there are a lot of similarities.  But, it also shows just how much even just 2 months can change this beer and not for the better either.  Unfortunately the lasting impact from a bad first impression is hard to overcome.  I personally would have not given this beer a second chance if it had not been a gift.  But, I am glad I did as it changed my mind about Pliny.  This is also a lesson to anyone holding on to beer, make sure it's supposed to be aged and then make sure it is properly stored.  Basically, respect your beer and it will respect you.

Would I drink this again, most definitely.  Now does it live up to the near mystical hype that surrounds it?  Well, that's a whole 'nother discussion for a future post.  Until then, keep evolving.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Quad has arrived!

Well, here we are. I brewed my first Belgian style beer. So far everything is going swimmingly, I had a fast start on the starter and then a fast start on fermentation. So as long as we don't stall out, everything should be good.

Going into this beer I had a plan. I did a lighter malt base color-wise and I am relying a lot on caramelized wort, piloncillo (Mexican sugar, usually sold in a cone shape) and a mix of dried currants and golden raisins for the color. These things will also add some of the subtle nuances that you expect from a Quad. I caramelized it into the candy making stage and hit what you would call "hard ball" stage. This would allow for more liquid to be reduced out while also darkening the sugar. I decided on this method for another reason, and that was cost. To buy Belgian candy sugar, which is regular sugar cooked to varying degrees of darkness, is expensive. This way I had total control over color and flavour while saving a few pennies.

At the end of the brew day I exceeded my numbers and am now waiting on the yeast to do it's job. I will let it stay at about 70 degrees for the next couple days and the raise it to about 82. Without doing that I could miss on all of those wonderful flavours that Belgian yeasts are known for. I am looking towards trying this beer in a couple months when it is ready.

~As always, keep evolving.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My first Belgian.

So I am finally delving into Belgians! I have talked about doing this for a while, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Luckily we have a local comp coming up and they picked a Quad as a style. Now, technically Belgian Quadrupels don't really have a classification. They don't have their own BJCP style subset so there is always some discussion as to what makes a good Quad. To me this is why this will be fun, as there is room for interpretation.

Quads have a wide range of flavours but they are all complimentary, raisin, fig, date, plum, wine-like characteristics...too me I hear the catch all "rum like" qualities when I think about it. Now Belgian beers are known to use an adjunct sugar of some sort to help achieve some of these flavours, usually a Belgian candy sugar, of varying degrees of darkness. The darker it is the more rich flavours you get. The sugar is good for a few things, flavour, alcohol and it can dry the beer out keeping it from being to cloyingly sweet. (Regular sugar is 100% fermentable, as long as the yeast holds up) Seeings how it is really expensive to buy this sugar I am making my own from Piloncillo, some of the runoff from the brewday, and caramelized raisins. Anyways, I am doing my starter today and as the brewday progresses tomorrow I'll put updates up about my exact process.

You should start seeing more from me like this as I want everyone to be a part of the brewery as we move forward. Thanks for reading and keep evolving!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pep talk...

So, I just put in an order for roughly 1/3 of a ton of grain. Now on a big scale that doesn't sound like much. But, right now, 5 gallons at a time, that's huge. I have decided that I need to practice even more. It's the only way I can get better.

Now, in the last year and a half I have progressed a lot as a brewer, but not as far as I think I can go, not even close. I am probably nearing 100 batches in just over a year, which with working 40-60 hours a week feels like a big feat. Especially with a 3 year old as my brewing assistant. But, I am looking as this like the Olympics. No matter what I do, it will not be good enough, no matter what anyone tells me; including myself, to which I am my own biggest fan at times. This means there will be some 5-6am brewing sessions, even though I usually work until 12am or later. This means no more excuses, I cannot afford to be tired at this point. I have a lot to do and a long ways to travel before this thing will be more than a pipe dream.

This is it though, this is my calling. I will progress even further, and someday I will be known as one of the best. I do not see it any other way, nor will I have it any other way. Evolution is coming, and I will not be left behind.

~Until next time, keep evolving.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The more I brew...

So, the one thing about brewing that is fascinating to me is that the more I do it the less I truly know. Now I know that sounds weird but it's true. There are so many methods to brewing and so many styles, I have just barely scratched the surface. There are styles that are defunct and no one knows about anymore, or at least you have to really research to find them.

Now, every time I write a new recipe or even revisit an old one to see what I can do to improve it, I try to apply new techniques that I haven't used before. Some are met with success and others I could do without. That's half the fun though, I feel creative and adventurous yet secure in knowing I am doing something that I enjoy and seem to have aptitude towards. And, even though my knowledge of beer grows daily I am starting to understand I know next to nothing about it. THAT right there is why I truly love doing this, with such a rich history I look forward to learning something new everyday.

~Until next time, keep evolving.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Overworking and utilization...

So, I sit here after a very long weekend. I had a family member pass away suddenly Friday night. I had worked a double that night. I called the family all Saturday morning then went to work for the BSU game. Which even on a normal day is a butt kicker and about 12 hours. I closed and less than 8 hours later I was back to work. I sit here getting ready to work another double. I am worn out, mostly emotionally but somehow that always translates into physical fatigue also. Once again my thoughts turn to beer, yet again, yeast to be specific. It's weird I keep tying our lives to the lives of the micro fungus.

Yeast are funny creatures, you give them the right environment, give them some food, don't overwork them and they will work as long as you let them. You can reuse the same yeast for anywhere from 6-12 batches if they are treated right. (I have heard of brewers using them longer but about 8 times is the average.) Use them in a high alcohol beer and they become stressed, not only because they are over worked but also because the environment becomes toxic. They start dying at a faster rate and start having issues reproducing making weaker cells and having a high rate of mutations. This is why when you reuse yeast you start with a lower alcohol beer and do your higher alcohol at the end. This helps them stay strong and healthy as you keep the stress to a minimum.

Stressed yeast can create off flavors, making the beer taste funky. Basically they stop doing their job. Not cleaning up some of the chemicals left over from the fermentation process like they normally would. Once there, unfortunately, the yeast is done. You cannot reuse it from this point on. Luckily we as a species can "recharge out batteries" and fix this. I get to recharge mine here in a couple weeks as I am going to Oregon for my brothers wedding. It works out as the coast just so happens to be one of my favorite places to be and most of my family will be there.

So take a look around from time to time and see if your environment too has become toxic, take the time to fix it or even go recharge yourself. You'll be happier for it in the long run.

~Until next time, keep evolving.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cliff Clavin...

I had to share this. The gentlemen (I use this term very loosely) over at were talking about their favourite beer quotes and I came across this. I had read it before but had forgotten about it. It amuses me, so I am sharing it with you.

"Well ya see, Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first.

This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers." ~Cliff Clavin