Friday, July 31, 2009

Going Au NaturALE!

Okay, so I didn't come up with that incredibly clever phrase, titling this post (I saw it in a magazine, highlighting the "best" homebrew beer labels), but it was too clever to pass up in this context.

Seven Bridges Cooperative is holding its 3rd annual National Organic Brewing Challenge. It's an official BJCP/AHA sanctioned national competition, and entries must conform to BJCP standards. All ingredients must be verified organic (with a few exceptions, such as yeast and a couple types of sugars), and proof is required. Entries are being accepted between September 1st and October 9th. More info can be found here: Competition Rules.

I'm planning on brewing a batch for this competition very soon (I've got the semester starting up on September 1st, so I want to get this one bottled before I start teaching). What I've got in mind is a basic Blonde Ale. However, instead of priming my bottles with dextrose (corn sugar), I'm going to use organic honey (not sure which kind yet). I'm going to be formulating the recipe in the next couple days so I can place my order for the ingredients (my local homebrew shop doesn't really have the selection of organic supplies that Seven Bridges' site does) shortly thereafter.

I'll keep everyone posted on how it's going before I actually kick off the boil, though, via some mind-blowing tweets!

Peace and Love!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Brew Power! And...Cans??

Four brewmasters went out to a bar, one from each of the big three American mega-breweries and a brewmaster from Munich. When they got to the bar, the brewmaster from Anheuser-Busch said, "I'll have a Bud Light," the brewmaster from Coors said, "I'll have a Coors," and the brewmaster from Miller said, "I'll have a Miller Genuine Draft." The German brewmaster ordered a Pepsi. "You're not drinking with us?" the others cried. "Well," said the German, "if you gentlemen aren't drinking beer, then neither will I."

Funny, right? Well, so anyway, what's all this talk about beer power and cans making their appearance in the world of craft beer? How can beer produce alternative energy and help run a facility? And, doesn't beer taste different (as in, not good in comparison to other containers) when it's poured out of a can?

Spent grains from brewing (which are having a more difficult time making their way over to farmers lately, because of stricter regulations now in play) are being used as bio-waste to create steam and bio-gas, which can provide energy for breweries to make more batches of beer. Cool, huh? The grain-to-fuel conversion method of beer power is reported to re-capture 50% of the energy used to make beer!

Personally, I think this is a marvelous step to be looking into taking for the brewing industry. There have already been some trends in alternative energy for various breweries around the world (for example, New Belgium Brewing out in Colorado running on wind energy), but this takes things to a whole new level. Not only is energy consumption reduced, but much of the waste along with it! This is definitely something to keep an eye on.

So, really? Cans? What gives? Well, I've got to say, I never thought I would be drinking great beer out of a can...ever. But, it looks like this is going to start becoming more and more popular in the world of craft beer - and here's why: First and foremost, aluminum cans use much less energy than bottles, and they are also less expensive to recycle; the Can Manufacturers Institute reports that more than half of all aluminum cans are recycled, and this saves 95% of the energy used to manufacture the cans from raw ore. They're also lighter (20 lbs. for a case of cans versus 35 lbs. for a case of glass bottles), smaller, and thus use less fuel to transport. It doesn't take cans nearly as long to get cold as it does bottles, so this cuts energy costs for refridgeration too. Another concern is oxidation and light contamination. A properly sealed can battles the risk of exposure to light and UV very effectively, which could otherwise result in a "skunked" beer from the breakdown of hop compounds. They also protect the beer from oxidation, which can contribute to "skunkiness" as well, much better than bottles and caps (which are more expensive).

But what about taste? Canned beers aren't what they used to be. Today, they are made with a food-grade lining, so the metal never actually touches the beer. There is a slight taste difference, least in one particular case: New Belgium Brewing kicked things off with canning its flagship beer, Fat Tire (which is a remarkable beer, by the way), and has reported that it tastes a little different than it does in the bottle. The reason is that a little extra yeast slurry is added to the cans before they're sealed. The thought behind this procedure is that the cells will consume any residual oxygen left in the head of the can, so it doesn't react unpleasantly with the beer; however, a panel of expert tasters couldn't detect a "discernible difference" between the two versions, but a minority stated that the canned version had a "slightly richer mouthfeel."

Breweries such as the aforementioned New Belgium Brewing and Brooklyn Brewing have already started experimenting with canning. The only main issue, however, is that setting up one's microbrewery to start canning is an expensive venture, so we may not see this taking off as quickly as it probably should - but you never know!

Peace and Love!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Fuzzie Berr" (Wocka, Wocka, Wocka!!)

Okay, so...yeah, this isn't a video clip, nor is it a podcast. That will have to wait for another time. I'm doing this the old fashioned way instead (I wonder, are we far enough into the 21st century yet for me to be able to refer to "typing" as "the old fashioned way"...). Frankly, I just never got a chance to set things up, and I want to get this posted before the next batch starts boiling (which, by the way, is no longer going to be a stab at a maple beer, but more on that later).

My better half and I gave this a go on Monday, and, I must say (well, so must she - but not forcefully, of course), this is indeed splendid. I didn't swirl in all of the yeasty goodness the first time around, and it lacked a lot of the mouth-feel I had hoped it would have. Luckily, with the next one, a swirl and tidy kerplunk of the sediment into the glass made all the difference.

On the nose, the beer gave off a pleasant blackberry sweetness, with a little bit of raspberry (which was surprising, given the fact that my initial research indicated that blackberries aren't as aromatic as raspberries, in this context). There were also some slight floral notes present, but definitely dwarfed by the fruit. Upon drinking, it is actually incredibly smooth and not overly sweet. It has a very full-bodied mouth-feel, and yet, it isn't "heavy" at all - it is very refreshing. The malty sweetness is balanced extremely well with the blackberry and raspberry esters (which are also both well-balanced). The carbonation is perfect; the experience leaves a subtle, bubbly sensation all over the tongue. I did notice a faint tartness on the palate...maybe even a tad sour (but by no means the type of "sour" you'd gather from a Flemish or Flanders ale). The finish leaves the entire mouth coated with residual raspberry sweetness.

My only real complaint is the head retention. Granted, this particular batch didn't really require much aroma to be captured in the head (I was shooting for mostly a berry "taste"), but's aesthetically displeasing (I'm a perfectionist, what can I say?). Maybe I'll add a bit more Crystal malt, or swap it out for some Cara-Pils, next time and see if that helps. I'm hesitant to mess with the hops, though - there don't appear to be any flavor clashes, so I think I'll stick with Willamette.

Now, in case you didn't catch the title of this post (this would be the time to scroll back up), I've decided to go with "Fuzzie Berr" (pronounce that like you would "bear"). I know, I know, incredibly clever. And what better way to pay homage to one of the wackiest, yet most down-to-earth of Mr. Henson's creations (I should probably also mention that "fuzzy" is a play on the fact that the beer is very hazy and opaque...the name might make more sense now...)? I started with "Minglin' Berries," trying to capture the fact that two particular berries were, in fact, minglin' in the beer (that's what berries do too, by the way...they mingle), as well as try another attempt at a poor joke (I'm not explaining it, figure it out), and I received quite a few great suggestions as well (I particularly enjoyed "Berr Goggles," hehe), but I think this will do.

I'm very excited to hear what my fellow beer geeks will think of this one at my next homebrew club meeting. I'm also going to make sure I hold on to a few of these to enter into the
Sunshine Challenge in November (along with anything else I brew between now and then). I guess that means I'm going to have to be a bit more frugal with this batch too then - but there's still plenty to go around!

I already disclosed the Final Gravity and Alcohol By Volume, but for those of you who are interested further, I've got a few more details to throw your way:

Calories per 12-ounce bottle: 173
Color/Standard Reference Method (SRM): 19.5
Homebrew Bittering Units (HBU): 10
International Bitterness Units (IBU): 32-33
Ability to bring a smile to your face: priceless

(The SRM and IBU was roughly homebrewers rarely find ourselves with spectrophotometers and other professional pieces of equipment)

Here's to the next batch!

Peace and Love!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Beer Is Better!

Many of you know, or have heard, that the moderate consumption of alcohol (in particular, wine) has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, what many of you probably do not know is that beer is actually reported to be better and more beneficial than wine and spirits in this respect, containing many more nutrients. Below is a list of these wonderful little goodies that can be found in the average beer (and I'm talking beer...not "beer," i.e., the carbonated fluid siphoned out of the bladder that is the macro-industrial "beer" scene).

- 11 ounces of pure water
- 14 percent of dietary calories
- 11 percent of dietary protein
- 12 percent of dietary carbohydrates
- 9 percent of dietary phosphorus
- 7 percent of dietary riboflavin
- 5 percent of dietary niacin
- 150 calories
- no fat
- no cholesterol
- no caffeine
- no nitrate
- 1 gram of protein
- significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, and biotin
- B vitamins including impressive amounts of B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxin), and B9 (folate), with smaller amounts of B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B12 (inotisol and choline)
- beer is also considered inherently kosher, conforming to Jewish standards of food purity

In addition, the health benefits of moderately drinking beer on a daily basis include:

- 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in death from all causes (wow!)
- 13 percent reduction in the incidence of all disease in general
- significantly reduced risk of ulcers
- significant (40 percent to 50 percent) reduction in the risk of developing gallstones and kidney stones
- 45 percent reduced incidence of stroke, including among Type II diabetics
- 56 percent lower risk of angina
- 47 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction
- substantially lower risk of carotid arteriosclerosis

Don't believe me? Skeptic. Look up a Dr. Denke and her clinical study from 2001. This quick list of nutritional information and health benefits can also be found, and discussed in greater depth, in a very illuminating book by Christopher Mark O'Brien titled Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World. Check out his site too, via the "Beer Activist" link on the right column of this page.

Drink up!

Peace and Love!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Batch = Bottled, And Other Ruminations...

"To cultures that have felt the life force of plants or of brewing, who have felt themselves make a deep connection with that life force, brewing is not a science - it is an art filled with the actions of the sacred."

- Stephen Harrod Buhner, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

So, the latest batch of beer has been successfully bottled (creatively code-named "Batch #6" for the time being). I managed to get 47 bottles out of the 5 gallons. Everything went as usual; although, even though I'm certain that I measured appropriately, I have a feeling that my Star San/water sanitizing solution was heavy on the Star San. It's no-rinse (and very environmentally friendly - yay!), so I'm incredibly worried, even though I know I shouldn't be, that there may be an off-flavor present in the final product. I hope not...I really hope not; an $80 batch of beer isn't something that I can easily retry right away again.

The Mrs. and I both feel that it came out pretty well, though. The berries are actually very well-balanced, and are certainly not too overpowering (a previous concern, feeding my neurosis). It smells much sweeter than it tastes (to put just how sweet this aroma is into perspective, according to my lovely wife, it smelled like cotton candy in our apartment all day). I feel like it is going to be just what I wanted - a light (but definitely "bodied"), refreshing way to watch these hot Florida summer months fade away in their own steamy haze (poetic, isn't it?).

Final Gravity: 1.009
ABV: 5.78%

On another note, I saved the last 3 bottles of my Serrapale Ale and brought them to my homebrew club meeting this past weekend. It was incredibly well-received by everyone there (which includes veteran homebrewers and individuals currently training to become certified beer judges). I was told that it was "the best pepper beer" that they have had, that I "shouldn't change a thing," and that I really should have entered it into a competition that is coming up (2009 First Coast Cup Homebrew Competition). I came up with the recipe from scratch, so it's very rewarding to have fellow beer enthusiasts and experienced beer tasters tell me how much they enjoy it. I'm going to re-brew it in time for another competition this fall and hope for the best!

I've also thought more about this here second carboy I have laying around. I now, of course, have the option to brew batches that require secondary fermentations, but I think that'll be its secondary function too (clever, right?). I'm going to use it to brew smaller, experimental batches (either concurrently or in between my regular brew sessions). These "experimental batches" will be based on variations of old recipes found in a great book I've started reading (quoted at the top, and alluded to a few posts ago) along with some attempts at gluten-free beer (my goal is to make a phenomenal gluten-free beer someday...I've heard that there just aren't any real contenders to put up against beers brewed with the traditional bunch of ingredients, and that just doesn't sit well with me). I've actually already got my eye on some recipes for brewing beers with dandelion and sage (as well as a few others...but let me get my feet a little damp first, if not entirely wet). Particularly, I think I'm going to try brewing a "maple beer" sometime soon and see how it goes; I envision it being a nice beverage to sip on by a fire on a cold winter night (it's literally fermented maple syrup...think "mead," but maple syrup instead of honey). So if I'm actually going to try to live out that fantasy, I guess I'll need to make sure I take it with me for a little vacation out of this (*cough*) wonderful state near the end of the year.

But anyway, this next batch should be ready in about another week and a half. I'm going to try something different this time too, when I officially sample it. I'm thinking either a podcast of sorts, or a brief video clip, documenting the initial taste. So keep an eye out for that - especially those of you who love hearing my beautiful voice, and seeing my pretty face.

Peace and Love!