Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Pumpkin Conundrum

I don't like pumpkin beer.

I love pumpkin pie and I love beer, so it would make sense that an infusion of the two would be on the top of my beery list.

I don't like pumpkin beer.

Dispite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.
A few days ago Jon, over at The Brew Site, gave props to Oregon brewed pumpkins, and that got me a' thinkin' (you know how that goes.) Why don't I like pumpkin beer? What is it about this omni-present, fall classic I don't groove on? Honestly, I've never thought about it. It's always just been that way. However in the interest of my reader(s), I've decided to explore this anti-affinity. I will put myself in harm's way, and drink not one, not two, but three pumpkin-ified beers, to get to the seedy, pulp of this issue. I will sacrifice for you faithful follower(s).

Two out of the three beers I drank, were on draught, at the Lionheart—Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale and Southern Tier's Pumking (not to be confused with the UK's, significantly more rare, Wychwood Brewery's Pumpking)—the third, on Mike Proctor's recommendation, was the bottled version of Smuttynose's Pumpkin Ale.

The copper hued Punkin Ale, was sweet and slightly drying, with a minimal hop presence and a noticeable brown sugar flavor. The aroma was nutmeg—all the way, but when tasting it, the spice, in general, was fairly subtle. I could pick up a little warm cinnamon note and again, nutmeg, but as I drank down the pint, the spiciness faded. I'm not sure if I just got used to it, but the first few sips seemed to have given a little more than the last few sips.

For being another pumpkin beer, The Southern Tier's Pumking, was the exact opposite of the Dogfish Head. Bright, golden-yellow and sweet, nearly cloying, with a tremendous vanilla and autumn spice perfume. It has an almost creamy, custard quality. This one, I'd have to put in the category of a dessert beer—not unlike this brewery's other big, sweet beers—Creme Brulee and Javah Stouts.

Smuttynose's cucurbitaceaen beer pours a hazy orange and is more in line with the Dogfish Head. Like the Punkin Ale, it gives off a definite, nutmegy fragrance, but with a little more clove, kicking around. It doesn't have the brown sugar element, like the Punkin, but this one does have a bit more hops to it, resulting in a pleasant bitterness.

Okay so there you go—three breweries and three pumpkin beers choked down drank. So, what did I learn? Well, it's not so much what I don't like, it's what I don't have. I think everybody realizes that we're not drinking pumpkin flavored beer (whether or not there's real pumpkin it them or not) we're drinking pumpkin pie spice flavored beers. I've noticed through this process, that even though I'm a big fan of it, I don't need my beer to emulate pumpkin pie. Instead, I want my pumpkin beer to emulate pumpkin bread. Those wonderful little loaves are just sweet enough, and stickey with a great deep brown color. Its got all those great autumn spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice, clove—but they're pretty understated. A little brown sugar, even sometimes molasses, helps it toasts-up wonderfully—top it with a little smear of butter and a drizzle of honey—that's good all-around.

So I ask, why not take those elements and build a beer around them? Start with a good two row malt, then take a little Belgian biscuit and maybe some chocolate malt, for a nice roasted, toasty flavor and a deep brown color. Add in some molasses and an earthy, mellow hop for a bittersweet bite; don't forget the pumpkin and dash of those autumn spices and a little honey to round everything out—hey maybe a hint of diacetyl for that buttery touch. That's what I'm looking for in a pumpkin beer. I know I'm in the minority when it comes to this group of beers, but maybe somebody will come around and take my suggestion. Until then...

I don't like pumpkin beer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Into the Woods

New York—the words, themselves, conjure certain images. Yellow taxi cabs and canyons of steel; graffiti sprayed walls and zooming subway trains. Hookers and humps, Wall Street power-brokers and Upper West Side "housewife" divas. That's true—all of that is a part of New York. However, there is another part, in fact, a much, much larger part. A part that includes vast, flower-speckled meadows, stretching out under the shadow of greenish-blue mountains. It's the part with deep, dark lakes dotted with miniature, brushy-bushed islands. A place that is crisscrossed by trails winding alongside murmuring creeks—over waterfalls and running through hemlock scented glades. An amazing home to chocolate brown houses with kelly green roofs and meandering back roads, lined with snow-covered pines in the winter, and daylilies in the summer.

No, that is not the corner of Houston and Broadway.
There is a misconception about New York—one that assumes all of it is glass and stee, from Manhattan to Buffalo. Fortunately, that's wrong, and the 6.1 million acre (or nearly 10% of the entire landmass of the United Kingdom—for you lot across the pond) Adirondack Sate Park, proves that. The park occupies a good portion of the northern section of the state, and is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and Great Smokey Mountains National Parks, combined. Within the park lives a variety of wildlife—from the the ubiquitous springtime black flies to the increasingly, less-shy American black bear. The thousands of lakes and waterways, in the park, make the Adirondacks the perfect city-folk getaway. The area has been the host to vacationers—be it to the ornate and grand Adirondack Camps of the 19th and early 20th centuries, or just with the family at a rented campsite—for more than 150 years. The park is home to 130,000 year-round residents and has seen upwards of 10 million visitors during some years.  However, as beautiful and pristine as the Adirondacks are, they also happen to be great beer territory.

That took long enough to get to, huh?

This could totally happen
in the Adirondacks.
The Addies are underpopulated, to say the least (about 14 people per square mile). So, it's a bit surprising that there are as many brewpubs and/or breweries operating within the park (or just on the border as is the case with Glens Falls) as there are. There are five, by my count—Cooper's Cave Ale Company and Davidson Brothers, in Glens Falls; Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and Great Adirondack Brewing Company in Lake Placid and Adirondack Pub & Brewery in Lake George. Because of distribution, the two best known of the five are, Lake Placid Pub & Brewery—brewers of the new classic, Ubu Ale (although I'm partial to their winter brew)—and Davidson Brothers, the slowly-but-surely-winning-over-the-Capital-Region brewers of, what I think is, some of the best beer made in New York. Not to mention, Davidson Brothers' Glens Falls location is a fantastic place to visit—great food and a really cool atmosphere. Along with Davidson and Lake Placid, Adirondack Pub & Brewery has recently begun to bottle their beer, and they've been popping up across this area, of late. To be honest, I've actually never beer to the pub. I'm fairly sure they've been around for a while but, and I know this sounds bad, they're in Lake George. No offense to Lake George, I love it up there, but the village can be a tad touristy, and tourist towns can be trendy—and there ain't nuthin' trendier than a brew pub. Yeah, I know, Lake Placid is a tourist town too, but they've been bottling for quite a while and Ubu, at least, has been in this market for years. I made an assumption—sorry. There's a first time for everything.

Since Adirondack is now bottling and being distributed, I've gotten the chance to try a few of their beers—Dirty Blonde Ale, Bear Naked Ale and Beaver Tail Brown Ale. The Dirty Blonde is what Adirondack refers to as a unfiltered American Wheat Ale, but to me, it seems to be more of a hazy APA. It pours an orangey gold with a big hop nose of Cascade-ish American hops. Taste-wise, it's definitely hop forward—tart and a citrusy, but there a little malt sweetness with some wheaty notes. It's a good all- around drinker. The brewery's Bear Naked Ale is a copper colored ale, smelling of bready caramel and citric hops. Whereas the Dirty Blonde was on the hoppier end of the scale, the Bear Naked leans maltier. It's sweet almost graham crackerish with a slight Fruity Pebbles tartness. I enjoyed the Dirty Blonde but, I might like this one a little more. Lastly, the Beaver Tail Brown Ale is a mahogany hued, American Brown ale. I should have guessed going in, "American" meant hoppy, but I have to be honest, I was hoping for something a little different. What I was wishing for was dark, smooth and malty—what I got was a snoot full of Amarillo hops. Not bad, just typical. All said and done, however, Adirondack did a pretty good job across the board.

As far as the rest of the beer in the Adirondacks goes, take a clue from the leaf-peepers* heading north this time of year—go with the colors of the season. Grab a Davidson Brothers' Red Ale or a Cooper's Cave Bumppo's Brown or how about a pint of Lake Placid's Barkeater Amber. In any case, if you get a chance to visit the Addies, be prepared for some spectacular views, a little peace and quiet and some really great brews.

*Leaf peeping is an informal term, commonly used in the United States, for people who travel to view and photograph the fall foliage in areas where foliage changes colors—Is there anything not on Wikipedia?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The War Series: Redux

Soooo... Remember when I wrote that long drawn out post on my latest project, the War Series?

Welllllll... I've changed my mind.

I'm not scrapping the project by any means. I'm just doing a little reorganization. The whole thing started after my initial post, when I went back and looked at some of my older recipes. I rearranged some of their dates and the recipes themselves needed some tweaking (I'd imagine this is going to happen again, too.) All this shuffling around and reordering, got me thinking (and that's always trouble) the Burton I was planning on doing is a perfect Christmas beer. So I'm holding off on that brew, in lieu of my Hurricane 39 Best Mild.

Hurricane 39 Best Mild? (Yup, it's about to go hyper-nerdy.)

As a matter of fact, yes. I've named all the beers in honor of the men of the Royal Air Force. In my mind, their isn't a group that exemplifies the entire war from 1939 to 1945, better than the pilots and crews of the RAF. From the Battle of Britain, and dogfights over Egypt and Libya; to strafing runs over Japanese airfields in the Pacific, and nighttime bombing raids over Berlin—those blue, flyboys of the RAF saw it all. Because of this, that I've decided to name my beers after the iconic aircraft of the RAF.

Since I've gone this nerdy, er, uh, I mean far, I've also done up some logos. See, that's the sign of a typical graphic designer—I haven't made the beer yet, but I've got logos. I figure if I'm brewing one of these beers, and I reference in the blog, I'll have a nice visual to go along with the post. I imagine that these logos will eventually end up a full fledged labels, but time will tell if I'm that dedicated. Another plus is someone might dig the look of these logos and pay me to design their logo.

Wow! That's nerdy to the 8th power!
I've created a big, War Series logo to encompass all of the beer, and then riffed on each individual logo. I thought using the squadron codes (BI-T, BU-R, ML-D, ST-T) would make for an interesting way to differentiate the styles, plus they give the logos a fighter plane feel. I also thought associating one color per style—red for Bitter, blue for Mild, olive drab for Burton and black for the Stout—would also help to set them apart. There's a couple of other things you can spot in the logos, as well. If you look closely, you'll see that the RAF roundel (the yellow, blue, white and red circles) changes after 1942. The RAF changed the originals in 1942, so I did too. Also, you'll notice the camouflage pattern changes from green and brown to a green and bluish-gray—again, the RAF changed things up, so I went along. The Beaufighter 44 Bitter has black and white stripes on it's lower section. I did that as an homage to the "invasion" stripes painted on all allied aircraft just prior to June of 1944. A large number of aircraft were mistakenly shot down by their own forces during the Allied invasion of Sicily a year earlier, so the stripes were added as another level of identification for Operation Overlord and the Invasion of Normandy.

Wow! It's getting thick with nerdiness in here. Okay last one—the Lancaster 42 Stout, is the only label that 1) is almost all black and 2) has red letters. This Stout is obviously going to be the darkest and the heaviest (flavor-wise) of all these beers. It also happens that the Avro Lancaster, was a heavy bomber—and the most succesful British heavy bomber of the war. You might ask where the black comes in? As I referenced earlier, the Brits did most of their bombing runs at night, opposed to the Americans who bombed during the day; so many British bombers had their bellies, under wings and fuselages painted black in order to be less visible from the ground at night. Their squadron codes were painted red as another way to de-emphasise visibility. So, the black, heavy bomber and the black, heavy beer were a perfect match.

That's it I'm done! No more talk of roundels and camouflage or dogfights and bombing runs—zzzzzzzzz. I'll just stick to specific gravity and yeast flocculation. My nerdy worlds are colliding and I'm afraid I'll end up with a crack in the "skin of the universe." That being said, if you like the logos please let me know! Oh—by the way, sometime down the road I'm going to do an American version... Light Lager, Amber Ale, Cream Ale and maybe a Bock, but we'll see how these go first.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hop 101 (in a Sam Adams box) - Part 3

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Four down, two left.

It's building here, layer after layer. I'm really curious to see how each hop plays out in the combined, original IPA. I'm hoping to be able to pull out bits and pieces of each hop. In any case, I sill have one, single-hop brew to get through—Simcoe. Let's see what it has to offer.

Latitude 48 IPA: Simcoe
Alpha Acid Units: 12% to 14%
Growing Area: The Yakima Valley, Washington State, U.S.A

A Washington grown Simcoe hop cone. 
As potentially bitter as Simcoe can be, I've always seen it as a great blend between the classic, earthy English hop and the resiny, biting American hop. The best of both hoppy worlds. The grain bill in Latitude 48, really is a great counter-balance to this hop. Simcoe's have a great orangey-tangerine aroma that mixes perfectly with the vanilla and caramel notes of the malt. The aroma becomes almost almost like fresh cut wood. Those citrus and caramel tones come out in the mouth as well—like a grown up creamsicle—rich and fruity with a subtle creaminess. This beer has just the right bitter edge and no astringency. The other high AA% hop, Zeus, had a tea-like drying quality about it, but there's nothing like that with this one. Yes, it's bitter—very bitter, but not so much that it kills the rest of the beer. Again, another great choice by Boston Beer Company.

Latitude 48 IPA
International Bittering Units: 60
Growing Area: The Yakima Valley, Washington State, U.S.A; The Hallertau Region, Bavaria, Germany; East Kent, United Kingdom (England)

So we've finally come to the end, but there's two things I haven't dealt with yet, that along with the hops, effects all the beers in the Latitude 48 family—the malt and yeast. Let's deal with the malt first, because that's a bit more cut and dry. This beer family uses three Canadian grown pale malts—Two-row Harrington, Metcalfe and Copeland pale malts—the workhorses of the Lat 48 grain bill. According to the Samuel Adams' website, they also use caramel 60º L. This is where the beer gets it's red hue and fantastic caramel and vanilla notes. Lastly, and might I add ingeniously, the brewers added Gambrinus honey malt. I noticed a few times, throughout the tasting, a decidedly honeyed flavor. I expected that came from the floral qualities of the different hops, but Sam snuck one past me—well played Adams, well played.

The yeast situation is a tad more cryptic. Like most brewers, Boston Beer Company is a tad tight-lipped about its proprietary yeast strains. From what I can gather, it's somewhat similar to White Labs' East Coast Ale Yeast (WLP008). According to them it's a fairly neutral yeast, with low esters and just a touch or tartness. It's a little less effective for hop accentuation than some other yeasts, but generally it's a good all around ale yeast.

So how did everything come together? Pretty good, by my estimate. I've basically spent the last two weeks drinking IPAs in one form or another, so you'd think by now I'd be ready for a switch—but I'm not. Honestly, it's a pretty great beer and all of the hops bring something to the party—and they all play well with the malt and yeast. The Americans bring that great citrus and pine explosion, the Brits mellow everything back a bit and der deutschen add a little snap to everything. I've got to admit, the whole project was really well thought out on Sam Adams' end. I've had my issue with Sam Adams in the past, but man, Sammy did this one right! Good job guys. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Good Smoke Deserves Another

This weekend I did something I haven't had the chance to do all summer—barbecue. I don't mean grilling burgers or dogs, I'm talking true, all-American, low and slow B-B-Q. Amy and the kids were out, so it was me, a racks of pork ribs, a rack of beef ribs, five hours, and a whole mess of smoke. That smoke got me thinking about something else I haven't had in a while—Rauchbier. I had all that time to kill, and if there was going to be smokey goodness on the outside, there might as well be smokey goodness on the inside. That was it, the die had been cast, a mid-week Oliver's trip had to happen. Now, I'll be honest I was actually looking to try Sam Adams' rauch-y offering—Bonfire. Unfortunately they don't offer it singularly, only in their fall sampler. So, I decided to go the more traditional route of a German brewery, and as is usually true, Oliver's had what I was looking for. After weaving my way through a canyon of six packs I saw it. High on a shelf sat the frakturly gothic, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, with it's pale yellow and crimson label so reminiscent of monastic illuminated manuscripts. Rauchbier and Bamberg, Germany have been linked for centuries, and Schlenkerla is at the smokey heart of it. The guys at Brauerei Heller-Trum, beechwood smoke everything—the Märzen, a Rauchweizen, a seasonal Urbock, a Fastentbier (for Lent), an oak-smoked Christmas Dopplebock, and even Rauchbierschnapps—all smoked!

What I was not expecting was to spy another vaporous offering in the Turkish section. That's right, I said the Turkish section. I'm going to admit to knowing almost nothing about Turkish beer. I do know that Efes Pilsen is wildly popular, but about as far from being a craft beer as you can get—Taps Brewery however, is. Turkey's first craft brewery opened, first as a brewpub in Istanbul in 2002, then moved to  full-scale brewery operations, in 2006. Taps produces seven beers including a Kölsch, a Red Ale, and tah-dah... a Smoke Lager. The now franchised brewpubs, also happen to be Italian-American—not just Italian, but Italian-American (whodathaunk?)—resaturants.

So what do we got? Old school, Bambergian traditionalism versus upstart, Turkish innovation. Both beers were obviously smokey, so I'm going to leave that part until the end. Both were good, but very different. The Schlenkerla poured a very deep ruddy-brown with glimmering ruby highlights and a thick rocky head. The Taps, after exploding in an eyeball assaulting, fobby mess, poured a hazy honey-gold with a three-inch deep, meringuey white head. The German produced a caramel and fruit aroma with a hint of smoke and a bready note, like rye or pumpernickel. The Turk was grainier and more cereal-like with almost no smokiness on the nose at all. The dark Schlenkerla was amazingly smooth and rich, nearly creamy, slightly drying, with a nice citric, fruity edge. The caramel is there as well, but in the background and rounds out the beer, nicely. The lighter Taps was breadier and much sweeter, also dry and citrusy, but in a different way than the German beer. The Taps was very reminiscent of a phenolic-less wheat beer. No bubblegum, but mildly tart, with a yeasty flavor.

Onto the smoke. The Taps aroma foreshadowed the beer as a whole. It's smokiness was subtle—not as downplayed as something like Stone's Smoked Porter—but fairly low key. The smoke in this beer builds as you drink it, starting more as an earthiness, then as you progress down the pint, growing into a more noticeable smokey flavor. I will say, I wanted more. It was nice, and I realize that smoke beers aren't everybody's cup of tea, but if you're going to do this style, do it all the way. Whereas the smoke in the Taps was understated, the Schlenkerla was aggressive. A massive woody, smokey flavor washes your mouth on the first sip. It's not sooty or ashy, and it doesn't overpower the sweet malty notes at all, but it is without a doubt smokey. In fact, it's what you want it to be—and that's the same quality as in barbecue. It has a sweet spiciness with an in-your-nose smokey tone. That smokey tone lingers, too. Unlike the Taps, Schlenkerla's smokiness continues well through the next sip, after you finished the bottle and well into the next morning! The best way for me to describe this: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen is like eating caramel covered bacon. I know that sounds crazy, but the Food Network says bacon is all the rage and now I want to eat as much caramel covered bacon as I can. I think the two differences between the smoke quality, comes down to craftsmanship. I know Heller-Trum kiln their own malt, to achieve its character and I'd suspect that Taps does not. That makes all the difference. Bought smoked malt just isn't the same as smoking the malt yourself.

After 5 hours of barbecuing, every stitch of clothing on me reeked of hardwood fire—from my ball cap to my socks. After 28.8 ounces of Rauchbier and as many ribs as I could eat, my insides were just as smokey.

Now I know what heaven is like.      

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hop 101 (in a Sam Adams box) - part 2

Okay, so we can check East Kent Goldings [√] and Ahtanum [√] off our beery list. Earthy and mellow versus pine/citrus and potent, that seems to be how thing are going to play out. Even this point in the game it's amazing to see how much difference there can be between each beer. The whole thing reminds me of great barbecue. Every pit master his or her own special spice blend, dry rub or marinade—made from every ingredient under the sun—but they all have that one thing, that one magical element that sets their barbecue apart. Some add stuff like Dr. Pepper, pickle juice, Greek seasoning or some other unique touch—mine's coffee, by the way (Crap! now I have to kill all of you.) Leave that one thing out, and it changes the whole shebang—and sometimes that one thing can be the difference between good and great. All right, enough about barbecue, lets get back to the beer!

Next up: Latitude 48 IPA: Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Latitude 48 IPA: Zeus.

Latitude 48 IPA: Hallertau Mittelfrüh
Alpha Acid Units: 3.5% to 5%
Growing Area: The Hallertau Region, Bavaria, Germany

Hops in the Hallertau.
Another grandaddy, Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops have been grown in southern Germany for centuries. These hops are among the original German lager "noble" hops—and that shows in this incarnation of Lat 48. This version has a slight lemony, hayish and a decidedly German lager-like aroma. On the taste, it's barely spicy with a hint of black pepper. Its smooth and very mellow. What's really amazing about this hop is, how it cuts-off the sweet malt edge. This beer is not particularly hoppy and it's not overly bitter, but the Hallertaus seem to mysteriously counteract any residual sweetness. This really is one of the most lager-like ales I've ever had—from Samuel Adams or anyone else for that matter. Again, not sure it's an IPA, but pretty good anyhow.

Mid-summer Yakima Valley hops.
Latitude 48 IPA: Zeus
Alpha Acid Units: 13% to 17%
Growing Area: The Yakima Valley, Washington State, U.S.A

Yeowzah—This is a hop lovers hop! This is the second of three hop varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest, that are used in Latitude 48. The Americans do not disapoint with this hop, when it comes to hoppy effectivness. This one has an intense pine and orange aroma that just lets the tiniest bit of malty caramel slip through. Its sharp and crisp on the tongue with a sweet plum and tart mango quality. While its pine flavor isn't as powerful as a hop variety like Chinook, it's still quite noticeable, although in balance with the grain bill. Its bitterness, however is forecful—bordering on agressive. It hits you as soon as it gets to your tongue and it stays with you through the swallow and well after. The hop is named after the king of all Greek gods, is it the king of hops? I'm saying no, but that doesn't mean it's not powerful.

Look at that, were in the final stretch. All that's left is Latitude 48 IPA: Simcoe and the original.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Little Britain: The Olde English Pub and Pantry, Albany, NY

The U.S. has 8 billion "Irish" pubs (I'm making that number up)—O'Flannigan's, McKerry's, The Blarney Stone, Griffy's McCools, Finn O'Bannion's, The Shamrock, and the like (I'm making those up, as well—as far as I know.) All of them have blaring TVs and loud music; carboard Bud Lite shamrocks, from 2004, hanging from the ceiling; and shitty corned beef and green beer on St Patrick's Day—Oh, and drunks, lots of drunks.
"Irish" named pubs are a universal constant, stateside. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for these bars—and I have in fact had, on a number of occasions, had a very god time in those kinds of bars—especially on St. Patrick's Day. What we don't have many of however, are English pubs. I don't mean the equivalant bar to the above, with the Union Jack replacing the Irish Tricolor—I mean proper English pubs.

Thanks to the restaurateur über team of Matt Baumgartner, Jimmy and Demetra Vann, and Mark Graydon and his wife Greta, that's changed here in Albany. Just over a week ago, they opened the Olde English—an homage to all thing British and pubby. Those of you from this area are familiar with their earlier endeavours—Bomber's Burrito Bar, the divey, late-night eatery-cum–nightlife, hot spot on Lark Street in Albany, and as of 2009, on State Street in Schenectady; as well as the the Albany mega-hit on North Pearl Street—Wolf's Biergarten.

I don't usually do hometown pub posts because, honestly Albany isn't Manhattan or London, it's Albany. Chances are, if you're not from here, you're not coming here. Really, how many of you are going to travel from say, Brazil (They do love me in Brazil, though) to upstate New York on my recommendation? Not many I'd guess. However, every once in a while a place comes around that's a little bit special—at least in my eyes. I've been looking forward to stopping by the new place, although I will admit, I've already seen a sneak preview of the beer list. It also happens that my good friend Aaron turned 31 this week—and what goes better with a birthday than beer? So, we hopped in the car—myself, Aaron and of course, my best-bud Carrie, for a taste of Britain, right here in good, old Albany. Now, this isn't our first time at the rodeo—us Yanks, do know a thing or two about the U.K. Aaron spent some time in England, while in college, so he's our proper pub ringer—so to speak. I watch both Top Gear and Dr. Who on BBC America, so I am, obviously, an expert in British culture; while Carrie was, well, Carrie was just aong for the ride—and the beer—so she's our newbie, when it comes to English pubiness.

The Olde English opened in a 1730s era building, once occupied by the venerable, Albany restaurant, Nicole's at Quackenbush Square, so it's location couldn't be more perfect. The pub itself, has a homey feel, with a simple, wooden bar and stools; a black boarded beer menu; low, beamed ceilings and wide plank, hardwood floors. Goose neck lamps cast a warm yellow glow throughout the room, while mismatched chairs, and framed pictures of fox hunts and high-collared gents, give it a very English vibe. A portrait of Churchill hanging on a nouveau patterned, wallpapered fireplace, keeps silent watch over the punters as they read the paper or finish-off the last of their pint.

We had our priorities on this outing, so we headed right the bar area, upon arrival. We went with a trio of Scottish brews. I grabbed up a pint of Harvieston's Bitter and Twisted while the other two went for Bellhaven's Twisted Thistle. Twelve other U.K. draught beers are available—eveything from Fuller's London Pride to Harvieston's Old Engine Oil—and even Carlsberg and Foster's to add a touch of authenticity. They also offer a number of U.K. made bottled beer and sixteen—count em' sixteen—different Scotch Whiskies (I might have to switch the direction of the blog, because of that!) Now the purists out there are going to get their knickers in a bunch—they don't have any hand pumps. All the draught beer is keg beer, but in their defense getting, and keeping, twelve U.K. casks going in a U.S. pub, would be nearly impossible. But, it would be cool if they got one (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more.) The beer was great, light and hoppy, served in dimpled pint mugs, and slightly undercarbonated—if I didn't have to back to work, I may have snuck another one. Although, they were a bit on the pricey side, $7–$8 each—but don't worry, I can get past that. Interestingly enough, aside from the two lagers, the only other non-U.K. or Irish-made beer is also the only American-made beer available—Ommegang Witte.

The food was great, leaning more traditional pub grub than gastropub. However, the selection might be a little more recognizable to the average Brit than to an American—no burgers and chicken wings, at this place! They only offer pub classics like shepard's pie and fish and chips, and few more traditional items like fried bangers and the ubiquitous meat pie. There's no table service, you order at the bar or register, pay, and they bring the food out. So, no true servers, just food runners. It's a little clunky, but I'm sure people will get used to it. Although the inside was fun, we chose to sit outside on the patio, under the shadow of a red, London phone booth. Aaron and I went for the bangers and chips (urp!) while Carrie got the jacket (baked) potato with chile con carne. Carrie was taken aback by a few of the potato toppings—like tuna salad or baked beans—but, to each Englishman, his own. Eitherway, she stuck with the chile. I wonder what she would've thought if they had spotted dick? Anyhow, all the menu items were very reasonably priced, between $6 and $8, so a good value for some pretty unique eats.

All-in-all, I'm glad to see this place open. I have a special place in my heart for British beer (and food), so it's good to have a little bit more of it around. Is it 100% totally authentic, probably not— but I'm not sure that matters. The group behind the pub has a knack for doing theme bars, and what makes these place fun, is that they become part of the fabric of the city. They initially bring foreign ideas—like currywurst or tuna salad on potatoes—and along the way, those ideas get shaken up and mixed with the culture of Albany, and morph into something new. These places become identified, by the folks who live in Albany, not only as an English pub or a German biergarten, but as our English pub and our German biergarten. The Olde English Pub and Pantry isn't just a British pub in Albany—it's an Albany pub that just happens to have a British accent.

Dum da dum dum... Albania, rule the waves...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hop 101 (in a Sam Adams box) - Part 1

Do you remember this post, The Goldings taste like Goldings—the Snozzberries taste like Snozzberries!

A Yakima Valley hop yard in spring.
Of course you do. It's the definitive blog post on Samuel Adams' Latitude 48 IPA: Deconstructed, sampler pack. A finer piece of writing, never on this blog, has been seen. Until now, especially since I've actually drank some of them at this point—and can stop all my earlier speculation. Since writing the first post, I've been meaning to pick up the sampler, but as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Either way, I have it now and I feel slightly obligated to write about it. Here's what I'm going to do: Over the next week or so, I'm going to do breakdown posts of the 12-pack, hop-by-hop. I'm not going in any particular order, and I'll probably do two evaluations per post. At the end we'll look at the original Latitude 48 and see how all those individual flavors melded into one rockin' American IPA.

This post will kick things off with a overview of Latitude 48 IPA: Ahtanum and then Latitude 48 IPA: East Kent Golding. So lets get to it!

Latitude 48 IPA: Ahtanum
Alpha Acid Units: 4% to 6.5%
Growing Area: The Yakima Valley, Washington State, U.S.A

Ahtanum, named after a town in Washington State—and arguably the most difficult to pronounce of all hop names (Aah-tăn-uh'm)—is an awesome IPA hop. Their aroma, is bright and sweet—almost like honeysuckle flowers. It balances very well with Lat 48's grain bill—neither falling away into nothingness or overpowering the malt with it's hoppy character. Ahtanum's signature piney and citrus qualities, present well with a resiny orange-like stickiness and very slight, plumy tartness. While its got the classic American flavor profile its a bit less bitter than its Pacific Northwest buddy, Cascade. Its bitterness is medium-high, with a noticeable presence left over after a good mouthful, but pucker-ingly so. With as many American hop varieties as there are out there, the guys at Boston Beer really made a great choice in using this hop.

Latitude 48 IPA: East Kent Golding
Alpha Acid Units: 4% to 5.5%
Growing Area: East Kent, United Kingdom (England)

Kentish hop yards.
East Kent Goldings are the grandaddy of all English hops. Grown in the eastern part of the county of Kent, in England, EKGs have been hopping beer well since the middle of the 18th-century. If you're going to produce a beer that uses hops from the most renowned hop growing regions across the globe, and you don't go to Kent—start over. With the Lat 48s grain bill, the EKG's aroma is both minerally and earthy, almost like dry leaves, with just a hint of honey. The sweet aromatic quality of the malt pushes into the hop nose a bit, but doing that helps to bring out the EKG's very subtle floral notes. Its flavor is very mellow with a slightly peachy, citrusiness—with no pine quality at all. Its bitterness is low to medium, but present. Initially on the sip it's understated, but builds after the swallow and then lingers for a while.

As great of a beer as this is, and as much as I love the qualities of both the malt and EKGs, I have to say this one leans more toward an American made ESB, rather than an IPA—English or American. Its great, but just not bitter enough for me to be what I think of when I think IPA. I would however drink a ton of it whatever it is!

There you go, two down four to go. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Latest Project: The War Series

I'm going to warn you, this is going to be nerdy—I mean, nerdier than usual. You lot are pretty nerdy, but I might take the cake on this one.

I've been on the fence about writing about my own home brewing adventures. Honestly, why would you care about what I'm brewing? This time however, it's different, and I'm really excited about it. Any of you who know me, know that I'm as obsessed with World War II, as I am with beer. I've got a number of U.S. Army uniforms, original equipment, scale models, posters and maps for the first half of the 1940s—everything from an M-7 rubberized gas mask bag, to maps of Tarawa Atoll. But what really interests me is the day-to-day life, of the men who sacrificed of both sides of the globe. As much as I love studying the situation maps and reading first person accounts of fighting in the French bocage or fending off banzai attacks on Saipan. It's what happened between those moments of carnage and excitement that intrigues me. What did those fellows talk about during long, dark, nights in the middle of a jungle; what did they drink, while on pass, down to pub, on foggy English nights. The invasion would come, and bullets would fly, but in the meantime, life went on.

Wartime burton, bitter and mild hand pumps
For a while now, I've been looking for a way to combine these two interest and it finally hit me. Brew WWII era beer—specifically London made, GI drunk ales. Along the course of my research, I've realized that as a home brewer, trying to exactly recreate a specific beer, from a specific moment in time, from a specific 1940s full-scale, brewery is a Dr. Who-esque task—and one that I'm not up for. What I can do is develop a number of beers "in the style of," with quite a bit less work. Plus, I get to give things my own little touches.

Before I go any further, I have to mention that none, and I mean none of this would have been possible without the amazing work that Ron Pattinson has done researching historic brewing on his site Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. Along with Ron, the venerable beer writer Martyn Cornell, webby proprietor of Zythophile, has done a phenomenal job of explaining to me, the ins and outs of, in some cases now defunct, British beer styles. Amazing work done by both of these gents—and I officially am in their debt. By the way guys, expect a couple bottles in the mail. I have one more "thank you" to dole out later, but I still have a tad more background to get through.

Okay, so what to brew?  I want to do a single style to represent each year of the war. I'd guess that most American would assume that of those six beers, both IPA and a Brown Ale would be among the logical choices. They'd be wrong. The amount of those two styles brewed and available was minuscule compared with the big four—Burton*, Bitter, Mild and Stout. All four of those beers would have been available both bottled and on draught, at any given time between 1939 and 1945. So, what I've come up with is: Two Milds (1939 and 1944), two Bitters (1940 and 1942), two Burtons (1943 and 1945) and one Stout (1941). Since I bore easily, I've decided to do 2-1/2 gallon batches rather than a more standard 5 gallon batch. It gives me less of the same style of beer to drink and more incentive to brew! I'm also going split the batch and bottle some and cask-condition the rest in mini-kegs. I'll have no problem consuming a full 1.3 gallon mini myself, and still have 12 bottles to give away or pop open as I see fit.

The ingredients for all six beers, are essentially the same as what is used today. British Two and American Six row malts; dark crystal malt and invert sugars of varying degrees of color; Kent Goldings and Fuggles with the occasional American hop thrown in for good measure—All pretty standard British ale components. There is one ingredient, arguably the most important, that is not the same—the water. Not only has the London Metropolitan Water Supply, been filtered and altered since the 1940s, but I live 3,000 miles away from London in Albany, NY. However, thanks to the good doctor Pattinson and his ubiquitous charts,** I can—with a little distilled water, chalk, baking soda and gypsum—make Albany tap water, for all intent and purpose, into mid-twentieth century, London brewing water. Here's the other thank you I mentioned—even with Ron's info I couldn't have figured any of this water mumbo jumbo, without the help of Jim Malkiewicz, Lab Director for the City of Albany's Water and Water Supply Department—thanks again Jim!

In case you're curious here's the the comparison of LMWS to altered Albany:

1940s London Metropolitan Water Supply Water - 5.2  gallons

Calcium - 108 pm
Magnesium - 5 ppm
Sulphates - 70 ppm
Sodium - 29 ppm
Chlorides - 22 ppm

Modern Altered Albany Water - 5.2 gallons - diluted with 35% distilled water

Calcium - 109 ppm
Magnesium - 3 ppm
Sulphates - 70 ppm
Sodium - 29 ppm
Chlorides - 21 ppm 

The estimated pH and residual alkalinity are is 5.9 and 70.4 

So, the next question is what to brew first? In my mind it has to be one of the Burtons—1943 to be exact. I'm totally excited about creating a beer that hasn't been brewed for quite a long time—let alone a style I've never had! So, first off, more water tweaking. Since Ron supplied me with water alterations from Barclay Perkins in the mid 1940s, I adapted and altered those to fit my styles. It seems that BP brewers boiled their Burton water overnight, I assume to concentrate it's mineral content. Since I'm doing a much, much smaller batch, I'm going to treat my adjusted, 7 gallons with a 1/4 tsp of canning salt and a 1/2 tsp of gypsum, cold, and then boil it for a full hour. I have a boil off rate of 1.8 gallons per hour, so I should end up with about 5.2 gallons as I go into the mash.

Onto the grain bill. Because the batch is so small, I'm going to go the brew-in-bag method. No fuss no muss.

1 lb 4 oz British two-row pale malt (probably Maris Otter)
1 lb 2 oz Mild malt
8 oz No. 2 invert sugar (Homemade—do it yourself, it's easy)
6 oz flaked rye
3 oz British dark crystal malt -70–80º L
2 oz flaked maize

The maize and rye are a nod to the mid-war, Ministry of Food barley rations. Everything mashes in at 150º for an hour and then a no-sparge at 172ºish. After all that fun, I'm estimating an OG of 1.047.

On to the boil.

I'm planning on a 90 minute boil with hop additions at 90 minute (just over  a 1/2 ounce, 4.5% AA East Kent Goldings) and another at 20 minutes (1/3 ounce, 4% AA Fuggles.) That should land me somewhere in the 33 or 34 IBU range, giving me a BU:GU of about 0.72. At the begining of the boil, according to BP's chart, I'm going to add a little more canning salt, just about 5/8 of a teaspoon. One other boil addition that tips the hat to 1940s British brewing, is caramel coloring. As I mentioned, barley was restricted so brewers used other methods of achieving color. An easy and cheap way to make beer darker was to add non-traditional brewing stuff to it—like coloring. Along with the Fuggles, at 20 minutes, I'm adding 7 ounces of coloring, which should bring my SRM from a pre-boil 11, to around 20—dark, but without the roasty note from any additional dark malt.

Things get a quick chill, via my wort chiller (down to 58—60º). Then everybody goes in to the proverbial pool for fermentation (open fermentation I might add), with a bit of Wyeast 1028, and were off to the races. The standard two weeks, plus or minus, for fermentation, then a short secondary with and additional 1/2 ounce of East Kent Golding for the nose, and it'll be time for the bottles and mini keg. Hopefully, if everything goes according to plan (which it probably won't) I'll end up at with an FG of 1.012ish and an ABV around 4.7ish%

That's it—my dark, bittersweet, 1943 Burton Ale.

If anybody who knows anything about either brewing or WWII has any comments or questions, I'd love to hear them. Other than than, expect some updates on the project throughout late September and into October.

See, what did I say? Nerdy.

UPDATE: I've made a few adjustments to the original posted recipe, I expect that to happen until I brew. I'll continue to update this post with any additional changes, as I tweak the recipe. 

*If you're unfamiliar with Burton, again, please go to Martyn's site—Zythophile answers all. 

**If you'd love to see endless charts, chock full of all sorts of brewing related numbers, and or learn more about the amazing history of beer, check out Ron's site, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins—just be prepared to stay a while.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stealing Mark Dredge's Thunder, a.k.a Beer Can Chicken with a Bacon Necktie

A week or two ago Mark Dredge, over at Pencil and Spoon, did a post about his Punk-Ass Beer Can Chicken. So I thought I'd completely step on his toes and do a post on my version of unsolicited, chicken violation. Yeah, I know the "food meets beer" thing is sort of Dredge's territory, but who doesn't love a great recipe swap.

Mark lives in the U.K., and I'm in the U.S. His chickie-chick has a decidedly British slant—fresh herbs, garlic, cloves, paprika and a Brit-made IPA. Mine's going to lean more American—multi-spice dry rub, a Pennsylvania-made American Pale Ale and bacon, yummy ol' bacon. He roasted his in the oven, and I'm going to gloriously grill mine to perfection over an open flame—and try not to under cook it.

So what beer did I choose, you might ask? To which I answer, Sly Fox Brewing Company's Phoenix Pale Ale. Get it? A phoenix is a mythical bird, reborn of fire, and I'm going to grill my bird over fire—pretty good, huh? Really I didn't make that connection until after I bought the beer, but it still works remarkably well as a marketing gimmick, right? Anyway, Mark was looking for a beer with a really bright aromatic hop note, to impart another layer of flavor into his chicken, so he went with BrewDog's Punk IPA. I want something with a little bit more malt quality, to offset the heat in my spice rub, and also a beer with a nice hoppiness to stand up to the smokey flavor that the grill and bacon will impart. APA was the perfect choice, and since I'd never had the Phoenix, I get to grill two birds with one stone.

C'mon, that last bit was pretty clever—even though I'm only grilling one bird.

Anyway, now that we have the beer, onto the rub.

I wish I had a bacon necktie.
This is my go-to spice mix. It's basically a Cajun seasoning, but add some brown sugar, dried coffee, and a pinch of cinnamon and it makes an awesome barbecue rub, as well. It makes way more than you'll need for the chicken.

2-1/2 Tbsps paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried, ground mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cayenne or chipotle pepper (I use a 1/2 tsp)

Mix it all up and rock n' roll. I keep mine in a shaker in the fridge. As far as for the rest of the recipe, you'll  only need a few more ingredients—a 4 (1.85 kg) to 4-1/2 lb (2 kg) chicken—obviously, a little cooking oil, a tad more salt and pepper—oh, and three strips of bacon.

Go get the grill going. We're looking to do indirect heat cooking method, so depending on your grill, either light only the front burner or only one of the side burners. I have a two-burner Weber, so I just use the front burner. We're looking for an initial temp of about 400ºF/204ºC.

Take that Colonel Sanders.
Now that the grill is getting all hot and bothered, dry off that naked bird and season it with the salt and pepper—inside and out. Get in there good, aside from the beer, this is the only seasoning the inside of the chicken will get, so treat it like a scene out of a German porn movie. Okay, so here's where Mark made a rookie mistake, he oiled and herbed up the bird before putting in the beer can. Don't do that, your hands get all slippery and the combination of raw chicken, cooking oil and aluminum, won't work out well for you. Once the can is *cough* inserted, then oil up birdie, and then apply as much or as little of the rub as you like. I always go more than less. Then I plop the bird, can and all, into an 8-1/2"(21.5 cm) x 11"(28 cm) baking dish for easy transport out to the grill, but use whatever you've got. Last but not least don't forget the bacon necktie. To keep the breast moist (snicker) I place the three strips of bacon in a star pattern over the top of the bird, so the strips drape over both the back and breast of the chicken. The bacon fat renders and drips down, self-basting, Chicken Little.

With the grill hot, set the chicken on the grate—off the flame, close the lid and let birdie sear in the high heat for about a half-an-hour, or so. Drop the temp to the 350ºF/176ºC-ish range and let her grill for another hour—for birds in the 4 lb range—and an hour-and-a-half for the bigger birds. When it's done (165ºF/74ºC breast 185ºF/85ºC thigh) let it rest for a bit, remove the can from "the can" and carve it up!

I'm a simple man, so I'm just cooking up some corn-on-the-cob to go with this, and I have a Hofbräu München Oktoberfest that I thought might be a nice malty companion to this chickie, as well. The great thing about beer can chicken is, the leftovers. Tomorrow*, I'll shred up what's left for grilled quesadillas made with homemade barbecue sauce, smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and cilantro.

So there you go, two different takes on the same beery chicken. I think I can speak for Mark when I say, if you haven't tried beer can chicken—in the oven or on the grill, IPA or APA, herbed garlic or bacon necktied—Get to it!

*Tomorrow was today and the quesadillas were great!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah September—the beeriest time of the year!

We all know beer is seasonal. Taste, strength and color—all ebbing and flowing in unison with the changing temperatures. From light and refreshing summer beers to malty, spiced winter brews and holiday ales; stouts for mid-March (in the U.S., anyhow) and bocks for late spring. But autumn, oh autumn, has it's own aura of beeriness, that shines just a bit brighter than the other seasons. Sure, we're seeing more brown ales and pumpkin brews this time of year, but what really sets September out are the Munich-born beauties called Oktoberfest... or märzen... or festbier. Essentially a beer brewed in the spring for consumption at a gigantic, 16 to 18-day outdoor festival, with music and food, in early fall. If that don't get your juices flowing, I'm going to ask you to leave the site, right now.

Look at those... mugs.
So what does this have to do with me (and you, reader(s), by proxy)? A week or two ago I engaged in a conversation, on George de Piro's blog, about style. I'm sure you remember this vividly, like the birth of you children or the day you met your spouse. Not to beat a dead horse, (too late) but Oktoberfests play beautifully into my argument. There's a wonderful blurring of the lines stylistically with these beers. They offer a veritable forest of autumnal hues—deep yellows and golds, coppery-ambers and oranges, or rusty reds and ruddy chestnuts. U.S. and Canadian varieties sport a more pronounced hop character and a slightly more bitter bite, than their central European brethren. Some fest beers pull their punches, while others pack a whallop—with ABVs ranging anywhere between 4.6% (Augustiner Bräu Märzen Bier) and a whopping 10% (Avery Brewing Company's The Kaiser.) O-fests pay little attention to the rulebook, and as long as the beers flows, who cares?

So, as is typical on this site, me thinks a little evaluation is in order. Six beers, six breweries, two continents and one belly. I've chosen three German and three American breweries—Weihenstephaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Ayinger will bring a little Bavarian authenticity to the party; while Victory Brewing Company, Brooklyn Brewery and Flying Dog are representing the red, white and blue. I'm not going to do an all out review on these beers, just a little analytical slaking to see what's "what" with arguably one of the worlds most popular beers. So, let's take a jaunt over to southern Germany start with the Bavarian boys.

All three beers, Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest, Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, and Weihenstephaner Festbier are all brewed within about 70 kilometers of each other—in and around the Munich area. So you'd guess they'd be pretty similar—not at all. They range in color from a deep copper, bright, amber-orange, and clear gold—respectively. All have voluminous heads ranging from bright white to nearly tan, and are all soft in the mouth, with the Weihenstephaner being the softest. The H-P and Weihenstephaner both lean toward the sweet. The H-P being quite bready, while the Weihenstephaner is light and has a bit of peachy, citrusness to it. The Ayinger on the other hand is the dryest and most grainy, giving up tones of vanilla and caramel—bordering on molassass—without the straight-up sweetness. None are overly hoppy or bitter. The Weihenstephaner has the most noticeable hopiness—a grassy and slightly peppery note. The Ayinger and H-P are skewed more earthy and have a duller hoppiness to them. I'm happy to drink any and all of these Germanic concoctions, and look I'm only half way there! Let's see what the yanks have to offer.

While the German beers were all brewed fairly close to each other, the Americans are spread out—although still on the eastern seaboard. Brooklyn Oktoberfest, and Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest, from Frederick, Maryland, are brewed 300 miles apart, with Victory Brewing Company's Festbier, brewed in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, splitting the difference. All three of the beer are almost identical to each other, visually—deep coppery amber with billowy white heads. All have a sweet, grainy aroma, Flying Dog's offering is far less aromatic than the other two. Universally the beers are thinner than I expected, full of flavor, but nonetheless thin. Speaking of flavor, both the Victory and Brooklyn present with a caramelly sweetness, with the latter bordering on toasty while the Victory has a stone fruit tang—both have a little spice that reminds me of nutmeg. The Flying Dog leans more grainy, significantly less sweet, and slightly sharp. All three have a mineral quality about them. The Victory has a distinct citrusy, tea-like hop note, reminiscent of Earl Grey, while the Dogtoberfest and Brooklyn stay earthier and more straw-like.

Just tasting any one of these—German or American—makes me want to up and head out on the first fast boat to Munich. I want to sit at an old grey picnic table with a big, loaf of pumpernickel and fresh butter and quaff these glorious malty offerings all the live-long-day. My intention, with this tasting, wasn't to decide which beer was better, or what country brewed a better Festbier, or even to decide what beer was the most Oktoberfest-y. I simply wanted to see how a single style was handled differently. I love the fact that the Deutschland boys are so different from each other, while the Amerk's were so close—even though the brewing locales were the opposite! What's great about this style is that it suits so many tastes. You want gold and crisp, we can do that—how about amber and malty—yup, god ol' O-fest has got it covered.

Fest biers or märzens or whatever you want to call them aren't about color or ABV or fitting into a column in a style book somewhere. They're about getting together with good friends (or strangers for that matter) grabbing some great food, listening to fun music and just having a good time. Oktoberfests really are the original party beer!