Archive for April, 2014

Make mine a venti!

IMG_1926Whenever I have the chance to have two (or more) of my favorite things at the same time, I jump on it. That’s why when I saw this beautiful bottle from Lagunitas Brewing Company in the grocery store, I couldn’t help myself. As the name indicates, this beer is brewed with coffee in it, which according to the folks at Lagunitas, makes it a really nice breakfast beer.

Well, I didn’t want to wait until breakfast to have this beer. Plus, I have to work in the morning during the week. It pours a deep dark brown, as you would expect from a stout. On top is a cap of off white head that is fairly effervescent for a stout. The first thing to hit my nose was the coffee flavors. The official description of this beer touts it as beer first, coffee second. My experience, however, was coffee first, though this may have been due to my expectation of a strong coffee flavor. With that still lingering in my nose, the first sip was also a pretty strong coffee flavor.

The bitterness from the java gave way to the more malty toffee flavor of the beer. It was also more heavily carbonated than I had expected. This surprised me a bit, but didn’t really take away from the beer. It reminded me of the mouthfeel of New Castle Brown Ale. The finish was fairly dry and earthy, with hints of vanilla and of course coffee.

I liked this beer. I expected motor oil, as many coffee stouts tend to be thicker than mud; this one was pleasantly light (for a stout). Some reviews I have read rail against the coffee in it, calling it “overpowering.” As I was expecting a bunch of coffee, I didn’t mind that at all.

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Stand back: I’m re-pitching!

Due to my beer woefully lacking any carbonation, I decided to throw in some more yeast, this time directly into each bottle. I’ll give them another week to see how it goes and post any progress (or lack thereof).

Happy Brewing!

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Firestone Walker Brewery


While on my recent trip to San Francisco, I realized before we left (luckily) that we would be passing through Paso Robles, home of what most people would think of as Wine Country. Not me- nope. The Firestone Walker Brewing Company calls this fairly quiet town home and that’s enough for me. This is a very cool craft brewery that puts out one of my favorite beers: Double Barrel Ale.

According to their website, they started as an attempt between a winemaker and his British-born brother-in-law to make a better beer. Together they developed a system in which they brew in linked 60-gallon oak barrels, which yields smooth, complex ales.

Driving past the brewery, you wouldn’t know it unless you knew to look. It is in a fairly nondescript industrial complex just off the 101 freeway. They have a tasty eatery (appropriately enough called the Taproom Restaurant) right across the cul-de-sac from the brewery’s actual tasting room. The actual tasting room is fairly simply laid out, with corrugated metal walls and a few tables scattered on the far side of the bar among the gift shop merchandise. Behind all of that is the actual brewery, through the front part of which you have to walk to use the restroom.

It is a pretty impressive operation for a mid size brewery. Of course, I am easily amazed, given my love of beer, and now the process. The warehouse seemed to go on forever, with all kinds of tanks, barrels, bottles and stainless steel everywhere I looked. They also have a tour you can take, though we did not on this particular trip.IMG_1811

When we went in, there was a large crowd gathered around the bar, so we had to wait a bit. This led me to order three tasters while I was up there to save me the wait again. I got the Agrestic, Double DBA, and Velvet Merlin.

IMG_1798I wanted to go from lightest to heaviest, so I began with the Agrestic. I had never had this red ale and boy did it surprise me. It was the lighter red in the middle in the picture to the left. It looked tame enough: pale red, with light lace. The smell was quite sour, which was a surprise as I failed to seek any advice before ordering it. The bitter sourness was very strong, with an ever so slightly nutty aroma. It was like smelling a musty wine cellar, with a hint of maltiness and hops. The first sip was like a punch in the mouth. I expected some sourness from the smell, but this about bowled me over. The taste had all the flavors of the smell, with some added bitterness for good measure. The most interesting part was the woody taste toward the end. It finished fairly dry with much of the sourness lingering.IMG_1799

I had to cool down after this first one, so I decided to change my light-to-dark plan and go straight for the Velvet Merlin. I had this oatmeal stout from a bottle before, which is why I was excited for it from the tap. It poured a *velvety* (see what I did there?) smooth with a creamy white head, like dark chocolate hot cocoa and whipped cream. As is typical of my experience with this type of beer, not much aroma escaped the thick cap of foam on top, but I did get a little chocolate, coffee and cream. The taste was just wonderful, with all the flavors from the aroma coming through in varying degrees right away. Toward the middle, it was mostly the bittersweet chocolate, finishing with the lightness of coffee with creamer in it. I cannot say how much I appreciated this beer after the first one. The experience was a bit muted, however, from the Agrestic being a bit too aggressive and frying my taste buds a little.

Partway through my Velvet Merlin experience, I started in on the Double DBA. Based on the regular Double Barrel Ale, this is basically a much bigger, stronger version of that. Not that it is a problem. This is a big beer that pours a rich brownish-red color. The aroma is a very rich blend of caramel malts, sugary vanilla and toffee. The head was gone by the time I got to it, but there was a little lacing that still clung to the glass. The taste was again fairly similar to the smell, with the chocolatey vanilla coming through first, moving to the toffee richness, finishing with a warm vanilla. I am not normally a fan of barley wines, which this one is considered, but it reminded me more of an anniversary ale and I very much enjoyed it.

A great trip to a great brewery on my way to a great time in S.F. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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Week 4 Brew 2: The Brown

IMG_1916Finally the time has come to taste the fruits of my efforts on this brown ale. All in all, I would say it was a good effort and fun, to be sure. As I got ready to crack the first one (I chose the last bottle from the batch that was not quite full), anticipation built within me and those around me. I put the bottle opener to the cap and strained my ears to try to hear that magical hiss while the gas from the yeast doing its thing escaped the bottle.

Alas, there was none. It failed to carbonate. While a little disappointing, I was not going to let it get me down and I brought out a glass to see how the thing poured. With no carbonation, of course, there was no head. Instead, it poured a little like juice. It was a lovely deep red color, which I was heartened to see.


It still smelled wonderful, though- a kind of sweet and sour maltiness. That gave me further hope for the taste. The first sip brought a heavy malt flavor, likely due to the lack of time the hops spent in the boil. Otherwise, it tasted very much like the smell. The sweetness did linger a bit throughout, until the sourness came in. That, in turn, gave way to a not unpleasant bitterness on the finish.

So, as I said, not bad for a brew I made on my own and a fun learning experience to boot. Now I want to try to re-pitch some yeast into the rest of the batch to see if I can get some suds into this beer. I will let you know how that turns out.


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Happy National Beer Day!

As I continue on my journey of new beer knowledge and experiences, I found this little tidbit, courtesy of


Beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages, possibly dating back to 9500 BC when cereal was first farmed.  It was found recorded in the written history of ancient Iraq and ancient Egypt.

As the world’s most widely consumed  alcoholic beverage, beer has it’s special day in it’s honor on National Beer Day which is celebrated annually on April 7th.  Celebrate National Beer Day as you choose with a pint of pale ale, mild ale, lager, stout, or maybe a wheat beer.

Following water and tea, beer is the third most popular drink overall.


On April 7, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt took the first step toward ending Prohibition and signed a law that allowed people to brew and sell beer, in the United States, as long as it remained below 4.0% alcohol by volume (ABV).  Beer drinkers celebrated and were happy to be able to purchase beer again for the first time in thirteen years.

Our research found that this day was created as National Beer Day, an “unofficial” holiday by Eli Shayotovich, a Colorado Springs Craft Beer Examiner and his friend Mike Connolly.  They chose April 7 because of the Cullen-Harrison Act being signed into law and becoming effective on this day.  In 2009, A National Beer Day Facebook page was created by Shayotovich and Connolly from which they invited friends to join.  From that page, word has spread and April 7 is known by many sources as National Beer Day.

So, how did you celebrate?


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Week 3 Brew 2: The Brown

The time has come to place this beautiful liquid into bottles. The smell is awesome– a kind of sweet and malty sourness that gives me every hope that this concoction will turn into delicious beer. I started by washing all my bottles in the dishwasher to clean off any dust or other particles that may have been on there. Then I filled a bucket with sanitizer solution, which consisted of a pack of powdered Star San that came with the kit. While the bottles were washing and the other parts were sanitizing, I went to the store to get some sugar.

IMG_1896At this point the beer is just about ready, but still needs some final settling in the bottles and carbonation. To do this, the remaining yeast particles still suspended in the beer need something to feed on. To do this, sugar is added to the mixture. Some kits come with stuff pre-made, but mine did not. So I got some corn sugar and mixed it in about 2 cups of water on the stove. While this came to a boil, I transferred the beer to another bucket to further reduce the yeast crud leftover. I took care to make sure it didn’t slosh around, as adding too much oxygen can make the beer taste stale. I also took this opportunity to take what is called the final gravity. This is the same thing as the original gravity, but much more of the suspended yeast is now fully fermented, so the number is lower. Using the hydrometer again, I came up with an alcohol content of about 5%.

Now, of course, I forgot to take the temperature of the mixture, as I was supposed to. This is because temperature affects how the yeast reacts in the beer during fermentation. Keep it too hot and you risk killing the yeast; keep it too cool and the yeast may not be active enough to initiate fermentation. No matter; the difference in temperature according to the scale on the hydrometer is a matter of .5%. Plus, we tasted it straight from the hydrometer container from which we took a sample and it tasted great– pretty much like the smell.

IMG_1894After the corn sugar was dissolved and cooled to make a syrupy mixture, I stirred this into the beer bucket. I allowed it to cool a bit more as I put the washed bottles into my sanitizing bucket, taking care to not let them knock into one another too much.

Then I set the bottling bucket up on the counter above the dishwasher. The idea was to use the dishwasher door to catch any overfilled bottles or other spills. You see, beer in this form tends to be quite sticky when spilled.

Once again using the auto IMG_1899siphon, I attached it to filling wand, which is basically a tube with a ball valve at the bottom and I filled each bottle rather quickly. A friend helped me by capping the bottles. I hope the result is something more drinkable than my last attempt, but nonetheless, this has been a fun experience and anything but my last…









So now they sit for another week to “bottle condition,” during which time they will also (hopefully) carbonate.

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