Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The heavens opened

A buddy, Matt, and I went out to West Michigan on a brewery pilgrimage last week. It was good, a little hazy. I fell asleep during the trip home, singing to old-school Jars Of Clay. Sure, I've had better moments. But it was a good time!

But this post is actually not about me. It's about Matt.

He just checked in a Founders Dirty Bastard on Untappd... and guess who toasted it?


Yeah, that Founders.

The brewery, rightly seated on the Mt. Olympus of American craft brewing, responded to Matt directly, saying how cool it was that he like Dirty Bastard.

He says it's "like winning the Super Bowl" and "the high water mark of my mortal existence". I do not think this is (much of) an exaggeration.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Quick update. Of his own free will and under no duress, my good friend Brian built this wicked cool logo for Magoo's Choice Brewery!

Niiiiice. That is all for now.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Michigan Beer Cup

So, I like my beer. My family and friends like my beer. That's plenty for me.


Thanks, Batyeast.

But what about other people? How about people I've never met? I'm sure they'd like it. But how well does it stack up?

This is America [citation needed]. As explained in George C. Scott's classic interpretation of General Patton, "America is a nation of winners." And by the nature of winning, we are also a nation of competitions. Competitions for everything.

Which dog is the prettiest?

Which toddler is the prettiest?

Which homemade siege engine can throw a pumpkin the farthest?

So, it may not surprise you to know that there are numerous competitions for homebrewing. It might seem a little odd-- a bit like judging art. Homebrewing, by the very essence of brewing in small 1 to 10 gallon batches, is a hobby of experimentation and creativity. You can make anything you like, with enough patience (and beer-soaked ideas for what might taste good). Look at the beer fridge at the grocery store. See any imperial red ales? Maple porters? You could count the number of hazelnut-chocolate stouts on one hand, and the lack of gluten-free, sorghum grapefruit IPAs is a noticeable paucity. Well, if you're looking for them, anyway. But organized, strict styles? Why bother?

After only brewing for a year and a half, I've noticed that the upper limit of my creativity is the strength of my technique. Any artist could have painted that cafe in France-- it was Van Gogh who gave it a heartbeat. I think I get plenty of good ideas from just walking my dog and thinking. But standing out requires doubling down on technique. And that's why you have styles in competitions.

My personal favorite is substyle 05-C... the Doppelbock. This beer has a really interesting story behind its creation, and has a long history of getting tipsy monks through Lenten fasts and making regular people act like idiots in public. So, when you call a beer a "doppelbock", you're providing a well-established expectation. In a competition, this helps judges decide whose technique was best, as well as who was the most creative. If there were no styles, you could have judges saying things like, "I liked this one best because the lavender made me think of my mom," or "This beer was great, I passed out after just two sips!"

Pic credit to Red Sox Bat Girl on Flickr.

This brings me to the Michigan Beer Cup, a statewide competition for homebrewers. Go ahead and page through the styles that you can make submissions under. Some of those styles I've never even tasted. Sure, some of those styles are available for experimental beers that don't conform to any styles on the list. But you have to know that would be a crowded group. I'd really have to pull a rabbit out of my hat to have a beer that stood out-- and my technique would still have to be good. A lot better than it is now (obviously).

Maybe someday. For now, it's more than enough for me to have friends and family drinking my beer and shooting the breeze.

Friday, June 19, 2015

But I ain't stressin

Okay. The obvious solution to this is a simple batch to get my groove back.

I'm thinking either a quickie one-gallon batch (like the good ol' days!) or a five-gallon of something I've already made. I've got a couple on deck that I'd like to try, and I did catch myself working through an all-grain version of Ring By Spring a couple days ago. Or I could try a SMaSH-- single malt, single hops. Simple might be the way to go.

I dunno. It's gonna be a little while, so I have time. If you have any suggestions, drop me a line.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

We interrupt this message for a list of IPAs

Still recovering from last night's trauma. Of course, it started to rain just as I was dumping the precious cargo. I opened the lid, had a brief second thought about trying to rack from under the top of the beer, and kicked it over.

Well, life doesn't give you much time to stew in a bad mood, whether I want to or not. So, I'm shaking it off.

There you go, Batyeast. Knew I could count on you.

The yearly poll from the magazine of the American Homebrewer's Association, Zymurgy, has rounded out the 50 most popular beers in the country, according to homebrewers. Needless to say, 9 of the top 10 were enamel-melting hop-bombs. However, my homies at New Holland made the list for best portfolio! Huzzah!

Go ahead and follow the link if you think your favorite beer is on the list. Then again, homebrewers tend to breed the biggest snobs in the universe, so maybe not! I know mine isn't on the list-- although I did just get a six-pack of Zombie Dust from a friend. Mmmmm.

And if you're feeling adventurous, some clone recipes are available in the few beers that have links. Go ahead, try to clone DFH's 90-Minute IPA. See if it doesn't melt your primary fermentor. =)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Disaster Strikes 2: Basement Boogaloo

Be warned: I'm too depressed for jokes right now.

I went down to take a gravity reading on the hefewitten tonight, to see if I might be able to bottle soon. I was greeted by an ominous cluster of mold colonies around the lid.

I opened the lid. I started kicking the bucket. I cursed a lot.

I blame the no chill method. Those Aussies may have it down, but I sure don't. Something probably got in before I pitched the yeast. Those lucky bastards were the only ones who got to drink it.

My next batch will have to be something to get my mojo back. I just want to scream at the top of my lungs right now.

Monday, June 15, 2015


Will Captain Shorty's Sharp Wit truly be a witbier? Or will it be a hefeweizen?
And does it truly matter?
First, the situation.
I was able to find all the prescribed ingredients for Captain Shorty at the local homebrew shop... except for the yeast. I've gone on about yeast before, but one thing I haven't mentioned yet is the idea of flavor strains.

The Beer Tastes Like Belgium

Over the years, as brewers were complacently stirring wort in giant vats with their disgusting, unsanitary, yeast-ridden paddles, those yeast were savoring the local flavor. Belgian yeasts took to Belgian styles, German yeasts to German styles, and I think you get the idea. Hell, I bet there's even a pruno-loving strain in the state prison down the road. The point is: yeast cells adapt to appreciate and make the best use of what's available, or get out-competed by the yeast cells that do. In return, brewers were unknowingly selecting yeast from beer they liked best, which led to cultivars of microbes that produced distinctive flavors. This is why saisons taste like pepper, Irish stouts are drier than English stouts, and sours taste like rat barf.

It's also why hefeweizens and witbiers, despite having almost exactly the same recipes (only real difference being whether or not the wheat is malted), taste different. Witbiers are typically kind of sweet and fruity and a little spicy. Hefeweizens have a very, very distinctive banana flavor, with some cloves in the background. This is generally resultant of the esters produced by the yeast during fermentation.


So, when I ask if it will be a witbier or a hefeweizen, that's not just snobby semantics. And it's all in the yeast's little gooey, stinky hands. I'll find out soon enough.

If you're interested: a discussion of the difference on YouTube by Here For The Beer.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Before everything and after

Whoa, it's been a while. Sorry for the wait, ladies and germs. A lack of blogging has not meant a lack of brewing, that's for certain. In fact, some of my best stuff has been happening, and I have been showing a certain streak of evil in keeping it from you all.

Also: if you want to follow beers that I'm brewing or drinking, there's a little linky-link over here on the right to follow me and my homebrews on Untappd. If you don't have Untappd, you should sign up! Not only can you track what you drink (and remember how well you liked it), but you can see what your so-called friends are drinking, so you can shame them later for draining a whole sixer of PBR by themselves (if they mustered the courage to check in, of course).

So, without further ado, da beers.

Blitzen Christmas Ale

The last I left you, this beer was strugglating through primary fermentation. It wasn't even named yet! Well, I should tell you that I overshot my ABV calculations (thanks again, BrewTarget) and brewed a smashing Christmas ale, which was consumed with startling immediacy by my family members and friends. My parents, in particular, appreciated a tipsy liter between the two of them. Here's the whole story:

About two weeks after brew day, I moved the beer to a secondary, a shiny new glass carboy. Waiting in the secondary... was a half bag of frozen cranberries and a few oranges. It smelled exactly how you would expect a fantastic blend of alcohol and Christmas fruit to smell.

After a while, the beer clarified quite well, and began wafting magnificent scents. I bottled mostly into regular 12oz bottles. But for immediate family, I bottled into some big 1L swingtops that we got from IKEA. I justified this by saying that beer is meant to be shared, so opening a liter of beer means that you intend to share it! The only drawback is that the bottles are clear, and susceptible to UV radiation. For my parents and brother, this turned out to not be an issue, since they drank the beer almost immediately. Merry Christmas to all, indeed.

Cave Troll Black Walnut Oatmeal Stout

Next on the list, and tentatively mentioned on my list on the right, was a beer that I brewed for my parents. They have black walnut trees in their yard, and they undertake the pre-industrial effort of obtaining the nuts from these trees every year. Of the fruit of this labor, they asked if I could make a beer. I was both eager and hesitant-- knowing that a great beer would be truly great, but a failure would spoil so much work that I get depressed trying to calculate its monetary figure in even minimum wage.

I provided some darker beers (Founders Porter, Arcadia Nut Brown Ale, and New Holland's The Poet) for my parents to try, and see which they liked best. They decided on The Poet, and I can't say that I blame them. An awesome beer for sure, and of course, pushed the expectations a little higher.

Then, the spanner in the works. I brewed it without issue, of course. But about a week after I moved it to secondary to clarify, my wife underwent an emergency surgery and was out of the game for over a month-- she's better now, but it scared the hell out of us. This was about the same time we rescued a very energetic puppy, as well. Needless to say, Cave Troll had plenty of time to mature in the secondary.

I bottled the whole lot, almost getting to 50 bottles, with my wife... before I dropped two bottles down the basement stairs while moving them. You know, there comes a point when you start losing track of all the bad omens, because adding them all up in the column seems to be pointless.

My brother's review, halfway through his second, was as follows, "This is probably the best beer I've ever had."

Though I was disappointed in it feeling a little thin and too light for a stout, I have to say that it's the best one I've made. If you're ever traveling to my parents' house, leave a comment to tell me how you liked it. Zum Wohl!

Captain Shorty's Sharp Wit

Finally, we come to the brew that's currently sitting in a fermenter in my basement. You may, if you bother to read any previous entries from last summer, recognize the name from some brainstorming I did toward the end of the summer. This is based on an extract recipe that I found on HomeBrewTalk which was basically a witbier with blood oranges, like a Blue Moon hopped up on Jolly Ranchers.

Some of you may recognize that blood oranges tend to have a terribly short season toward the beginning of the year-- about the time I was trying to keep up with a toddler and two dogs while Cave Troll was in the secondary-- likewise, they were unavailable when it came time to brew. I substituted Cara Cara oranges (which are still pretty red and sweet) and grapefruit (for some tang!).

This was also (drum roll) my very first all-grain brew! I think my efficiency turned out to be total crap (~62% according to BrewTarget) due to my underestimation of my boil-off rate and lack of mash temp control, but it'll be beer none the less. Even moreso that I couldn't find a proper Belgian yeast strain at the local homebrew supply shop... so I substituted Danstar Munich. It's a wheat yeast, sure. For hefeweizens. So, it might be a witbier that tastes like a hefeweizen. Who cares, it'll be beer. And of course, I will keep you posted from now on!

I hope to post the recipes for Cave Troll and Captain Shorty in due time. And I will push myself to keep blogging. With pictures, even! Prost!