May 28 2009

Flanders Red Batch 2009 – Brew Day

This one is my first attempt at a Flanders Red.  And with how much I’ve been digging on and obsessing about sour ales, it was only a matter of time. Although this one will test my patience in aging it full term.

I brewed it on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend (5/23/09), and the base formula was riffed off of Jamil’s Recipe despite the fact that his grain bill seems a little complicated for the style.  I played it loose with the base grains, and used some of my British Golden Promise instead of Pilsener malt.  I rounded that out with Vienna, Munich, Wheat, Aromatic CaraMunich and Special ‘B’. 

I also used hop plugs for what might be the first time in my ~14 years of brewing.  Now that my keggle is up and in action, I might be leaning more towards whole hops over pellets since they should filter out better with the new set-up.

The game plan here was to control some of the sourness by initially fermenting it with a clean, American yeast.  So the original gravity was a 1.058 when I pitched the Safale-05.  I let that go for 48 hours and then I racked it into a secondary, which is my wild and funky PET container, and pitched the Roeselare blend.  (The Wyeast 3763 Roeselare is a Rodenbach blend of lambic cultures and lactic bacteria.)  By that time, the batch had fermented down to a 1.026, and I figured that would give the wild bugs a lot of sugars to slowly eat through over the next 18 months.

It is standard to age these beers in oak barrels as well, but that is a little harder to do on the homebrew level.  To compensate for this, I added 1 ounce of medium toast French oak cubes to the secondary.  My twist is that I first sanitized the cubes by steaming them, and then I soaked them in pinot noir for about a month before pitching them in the secondary.  This is not a standard practice, but the Flanders Red style is red-winish and often called the “Burgundy of Belgium”.  Inspired the Avery Brabant, which is aged in zinfandel barrels, it seemed like an interesting thing to do.  I’m hoping it’ll add a tiny bit more complexity.

One week down and 71 one more to go.  Damn.

And, yes, this already has been named “Stupid Sexy Flanders”. (Thank you, Matt.)


May 28 2009

Lupulin Reunulin and SAVOR 2009

This coming weekend I’ll being hitting the SAVOR Craft Beer and Food Experience.  This is the second year for this Washington DC event, and I’ll be driving up to check it out.  The gig is based around pairing gourmet foods with the appropriate beer.  Well, actually, the other way around.  There will be a lot of breweries represented that I have had before, but I will be concentrating on the brews that do not typically make it from the west coast to Virginia.  I love the east coast brewing scene, but I’m excited to try some of the hop-heavy and sour beers from the west sayeed.

This is will also be a chance to hang out with some of the rock stars of craft brewing.  To insure that I get the proper amount of that, I am also attending the Lupulin Reunulin the night before at the RFD.  In attendance that night will be Tomme Arthur (Lost Abbey), Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River), Adam Avery (Avery Brewery), Rob Tod (Allagash) and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head).  This bunch is sometimes referred to as the “Brett Pack” after their group trip to Belgium a few years ago and for their love of brettanomyces.  These guys are supposed to have a lot of great stories which bubble out during these sessions.

I only got into one salon, but it is the beer and cheese pairing with Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, so I know that will be a lot of fun, too.

I will be hitting these events with some close friends and hopefully meeting up with some beer lovers I’ve met through the internet and Twitter.  It will be a very interesting, and liver killing weekend, and I will be tweeting (BarlowBrewing) as much as I can and hopefully posting pictures later.


May 23 2009

Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale Review

This time around I’m trying the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.  Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery is located in Farmville, NC and they call themselves “The Dark Beer Specialist”.  

I tried a couple their beers while in the Outer Banks last summer, but I honestly wouldn’t have tried them if the owner of the shop hadn’t recommended them to me.  Word of mouth, or in this day and age good reviews on the internet, is still a huge factor in how we all figure what we want to try next.  The Duck-Rabbit symbol is the old image that was used by psychologists to reinforce that what we perceive is not only a product of our senses, but also our current mental processes and state of mind.

Honestly, it’s a cool concept that isn’t played up in the marketing I’ve seen.  And without that, just having that image and the packaging they use, the beers of Duck-Rabbit just don’t jump off from the shelf at me.  Luckily, I got some shop advice.

I remembered liking them, so it is good to see that they are expanding and now available in Virginia.  I picked up a few of their brews the other day and the first to get the formal review is the Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.

It pours a half inch dirty, brown head which dissipates quickly, but clings nicely to the rim of the glass.  The beer is a deep red with cherry highlights. It is very clear for a brown ale and striking.


The aroma is slightly sweet, with hints of caramel and nuttiness that brings pecans to mind.  What really jumps out at you is the smell of the roasted grains.  Usually roasted grains come across in beers as a coffee flavor which can be complex, but mostly end up being overwhelming and boring.  This smells exactly like the actual roasted grains I use when homebrewing.  I taste everything I put in the mash and the pot, and to me roasted barley is warm bread with a slight astringency.  They nailed that, and I loved that smell.

The good news is that that pure roasted flavor comes across in the taste, too.  The mouthfeel is full and there is a hint of toffee.  The bitterness becomes sharper as the beer warms and seems to come from the grains as much as the hops.  Duck-Rabbit says they use Amarillo and Czech Saaz hops in this, but the presence of both was muted at best.  The citrus of the Amarillo was a no-show, but I did get some of the spicy of the Saaz.  Unfortunately, it seemed like the Saaz only helped to make the swelling bitterness even more pronounced.  I wish I had checked the bottling date on this one to see if it was an older bottle.

In the end, I liked this beer and thought the authentic roastiness was amazing, but it puts some wear and tear on your palate.  Solo, it would be really hard for me to drink this all night.  But, with the right foods, it would probably become amazing.  This brown ale with a thick burger, or ribs, or just about any red meat off the grill, would enhance those caramelized flavors and the meat, in turn, would mute the bitterness.  

Try this out, but do so with food.  The Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale is good, but it needs a copilot to really get off the ground.


May 20 2009

Killian’s Irish Red Tasting Kit

Full disclosure?  I used to think that Killian’s Irish Red was a pretty awesome beer.

It was the early 90’s and I was bartending just outside of Washington, DC.  The bar I worked in had three beers on tap.  Yes, a whole three beers.  They were Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Killian’s.  I can pretend that it was terribly tragic at the time, or that I’m powerfully ashamed of liking the Irish Red. But it wasn’t. And I’m not. 

It was 1992.

Most of the craft breweries that I really love today didn’t even have a business plan, let alone were making beer back then.  These craft breweries were still just crazy schemes in a few homebrewers’ heads.  Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam were coming, but you couldn’t get them in grocery stores around here just yet.

I’d like to tell you a story about my father loving craft beer and passing his passion on to me, or that I was way ahead of my peers when it comes to the larger world of beer.  But neither of those would be true.  I still had a year or two before I figured it out.  Well, maybe I still haven’t “figured it out”, but I was starting to understand there was something better.

Killian’s was darker than the other beers, and that freaked my customers out.  They assumed it was going to be more bitter or heavier that the other pale lagers.  I would make the case again and again to the regulars that Killian’s just tasted better.  It was a little maltier, and it did not taste like, well, nothing at all, which the Bud and Lite did quite well.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I got word from another homebrew club member that he had a code for a Killian’s Tasting Kit that came with pint glasses for free.  Since you can’t beat that price, I ordered one.  (To be clear, it appears that Killian’s figured out that loophole not long after, and they still offer the kit but require a proof of purchase and other information from a purchase of their beer.)

Right about the time I had forgotten about it, I got my tasting kit in a little cardboard poster tube a few months later.  The first surprises were the glasses.  Another member had mentioned that he needed new pint glasses since his were slowly breaking.  When he said that, I pictured nice, glass session glasses with some logo etching.  What I got were four tiny, plastic tasting glasses.  Remember in Spinal Tap when Nigel sketches out a Stonehenge prop for a performance, but mislabels the dimensions so it is made only 18 inches high instead of 18 feet?  Yeah, THAT guy made these glasses. 

(I threw in an adult-sized mug for perspective.)

I’m poking fun here, but I’m OK with the glasses.  Sure the labels are just stickers and they are painfully crooked, but I needed more tasting glasses.  I have a feeling these will be remarkably imperfect, too, which should give them lots of points of nucleation for bubbles and the like.  I’m still a little afraid that a dwarf is going to crush my glasses, but I digress.

Along with the glasses were a bottle opener (are Killian’s twist top?), a tasting mat and a booklet about tasting.  The mat echoes the booklet, so I’ll focus on the booklet. 

The beginning of the book tries to convince drinkers that darker beers aren’t bad, which is the line I was peddling back in college behind the bar.  They even have “Ye Ol’ Dark-o-meter” which I’m guessing is their One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish way of introducing SRMs

They also break the tasting session into five steps: Look, Swirl, Aroma, Taste and Cleanse.  Sensible steps, indeed.

The only thing that really confused me was the Beer Styles:

According to the book, the styles of beer are Pilsners, Belgian Wits (no other Belgian beers, just wits, of course), India Pale Ales (but not pale ales?), Killian’s Irish Red (which, since Killian’s is a lager, is the old European Lager category?), Brown Ales, Stouts and Porters.  I don’t expect them to lay down all the BJCP Style Guidelines, but this is more confusing than nothing at all.  Perhaps it would have been better to just stick with the ale and lager comparisons and contrasts.

So, what the hell is Coors trying to do here?  (You knew that Killian’s was made by Coors, right? I knew you knew, but I was just making sure….)   I think they are taking baby steps here to broaden drinkers’ horizons.  Sure, they are doing it in somewhat manipulative way to get people to drink their beer, but any step towards a non-golden lager is a step in the right direction.

It would be really, really easy to make fun of this kit, and I can’t say I’ve completely avoided the temptation.  But they are taking the tasting of beer seriously in this, and that is refreshing stance from a macro.  No frat boy chugging, and no glossy ad campaign. 

You can say they are a macro in craft beer clothing.  Maybe.  But isn’t a more educated drinker, in the end, the most important part?  A craft beer advocate can come from the humblest of beginnings.  It could be the guy behind the bar getting you to try something red and a little different.  It might be the drinker who is just starting to figure out that there might be something better out there.