The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Annals of Homebrewing: Birch Oatmeal Stout Update

Oh, man, it’s good. This birch oatmeal stout is what Xmas tastes like. It’s one of those beers that doesn’t seem like much when it’s cold but as it warms up, it becomes fantastic – just what we wanted for the season.

It’s on tap at my friend Dave’s apartment. Stop by sometime, whydontcha?

Apologies for the brevity of this post. I’ve been hit with a lot of freelance work lately, and I’m a little fried. There will most likely be one more post to hit before I completely shut down for the holidays. I wish you and yours a very wonderful non-secular winter wonderland of joyous celebration.

Have a beer.

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Filed under: homebrewing, , , , , , , , , ,

Annals of Homebrewing: Birch Oatmeal Stout for the Holidays

Originally the idea was to make up an Xmas homebrew for all of our friends and family. As far as the ol’ pocketbook goes, it’s not a bad idea. Logistically, though, packaging up a few bottles of homebrew and mailing them off to faraway places is just asking for your Xmas gifts to explode in the back of a USPS truck.

(Ask anyone who has knocked over a sixer of homebrew in the closet and see what they’ll say about mailing the stuff. Volatile. Yeast can be volatile.)

But so it’s still getting to be the time of year when a stout really hits the spot. My friend Dave and I got together at his place this past Friday to get a beer going. Pictured above was the main impetus for a new brew – home-grown cascade hops from our friend Steve’s garden in Ohio. Dave received them a few months ago and had kept them in the freezer.

We decided to do an oatmeal stout with some birch shavings to add some extra flavor. A little bit of birch wrapped up in a packet with some hops smells amazing, by the way. The birch, as well as the ingredients, were all purchased from the excellent Brooklyn Homebrew in Gowanus.

We once watched a video of a mustachioed dude demonstrating some homebrewing techniques. Before he got started, the guy cracked open a beer and said something to the effect of, “If you want to brew a beer, you need to drink a beer.” Brewing is only part of it. Sitting around Dave’s kitchen, drinking too many beers and talking shit is the experience.

It’s what made me re-think my approach to this site. I started this thing because, first of all, I like beer. But it’s also a workshop experiment. I have acquired many bad habits in the last few years from my professional writing and editing. I lost my voice trying to emulate someone else in order to survive. Like a beer, this blog will take some time to get right. But that’s what I’m after. I want to be right.

Anyway, we’re going to move the brew over to some of Dave’s soda kegs before both of us depart for our Thanksgiving holidays. By Xmas we should be well and drunk on this stuff. I promise to keep you updated.

Filed under: homebrewing, , , , , , , , ,

Without Victory There Is No Survival

Pilsners, to me, are a distinctly summery beer, which is why I was happy to have a Victory Prima Pils on a recent September afternoon.

The Prima Pils from Downington, Pa.’s Victory Brewing Co. is brewed in the classic German style. Pilsners are a lager beer – historically stored in caves as a form of cold conditioning – that have a straw-like color and a nice but mild bite of hops with a refreshing finish.

Victory’s pilsner is all that and a little more. This pilsner has a 5.3 percent ABV and is double hopped to give it a sharper bite than most pilsners. The Prima Pils a strong-bodied pilsner that is full of flavor that fully embraces the pilsner style.

Pilsners often get a bad rap from craft-brew aficionados due, in part, to the proliferation of American-style pilsners such as Budweiser, Miller, and the like.

It was in the 1870s that pale lagers like Budweiser began to take hold in America, shifting tastes away from the heavy amber Bavarian beers. These new pilsners were made with corn or rice and were, at the time, more expensive to make than the all-malt beers – and these beers satisfied American beer drinkers more than any other beer. (The process for making them grew cheaper as time passed; at the time of their inception, though, it’s important to note that a Budweiser was actually an expensive beer to produce.)

These pilsners formed the backbone of the industrialization of the brewing industry. And as Maureen Ogle notes in her book Ambitious Brew, many local beers of the nineteenth century were made of poor quality and had an inconsistent, sour, or nonexistent flavor. It was Budweiser and its competitors who produced consistent-tasting beers at a high enough volume to break into markets throughout the U.S.

These sweeter-tasting beers came to dominate the market and thereby defined what a beer was to many beer drinkers.

But German pilsners always remained the same – Pilsner Urquell, Jever, and Spaten to name a few – retained that crisp bitter flavor without the sweetness. They’re mass produced in Germany and imported to U.S., sure, but the style is distinct from a Budweiser, which is a sweet, watery beer that doesn’t offend.

I always find it bold of craft brewers to take a shot at a pilsner. The style might not excite many hop enthusiasts. In my mind at least, the first thing I think of when I think about a craft beer is an amber-colored brew with a strong hoppy flavor and a rich, malty taste. While a golden pilsner seems like the antithesis of craft brewing. But it’s all about the ingredients and Victory doesn’t skimp on the Prima Pils.

And so with that said, when a craft pilsner works out – it’s a victory.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cascadian Dark Ales: East Coast Style Meets West Coast Hops

There are times when you have to get away from it all to discover something that’s been staring at you without your notice for far too long. For me, that was rediscovering the glories of an IPA, while tasting beers in Montana.

American IPAs can be some heady brews with bold and bitter flavors offset by strong citric acids. The high alcohol by volume (ABV) means these beers often pack more than just a flavor punch.

Maybe it’s my East Coast-centric worldview, but it’s easy to forget how the Pacific Northwest is such a fertile bed for hop production – hence the proliferation of so many West Coast IPAs. The Pacific Northwest’s Cascades range is one such region, which is thick in hop production. And, ahem, not that IPAs haven’t spread throughout the U.S. and not that I don’t have something to say about it, just that I’m trying to wind my way to a point without mentioning how New York State used to be one of the largest U.S. producers of hops or that Brooklyn’s Six Point Craft Ale‘s Sweet Action is an IPA to inspire.

My point, and I suppose I might have one, is that with so many hops grown in Washington and Oregon – and with craft brewers excited to experiment with new varieties – a trip out West should be one where myriad IPAs are consumed.

Enter the Bozeman Brewing Co.

Bozeman Brewing was founded by Todd Scott, former employee of Spanish Peaks Brewing Co., around 2001. The brewery, a former pea cannery, produces three basic beers and five seasonal varieties. Its logo (pictured above) features elements from historic Montana beers (see New West for a detailed profile of the brewery). Scott has added a tasting room to the front of the business where about five beers are on tap and growler refills are in quick supply. The Bozone Select Amber Ale is its flagship beer.

We tried all of the beers on tap that afternoon. There were four of us in my party, so we were able to spread the beers around to get a full sampling (worth noting because Montana breweries not only have to close by 8 p.m. but also must limit each patron’s sampling to a total of three beers).

Hop-heavy beers dominated the Bozeman Brewing menu, with one hefeweizen thrown in for good measure (in tasting, the IPAs knocked it sadly into submission). Among the beers on tap were:

  • Hopzone IPA (7 percent ABV)
  • Hefeweizen (6 percent ABV)
  • Imperial IPA (9.6 percent ABV)
  • Belgian-Style Wit Beer (5 percent ABV)
  • Cascadian Dark Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

I was impressed by all of them, although, the Hopzone was a little too astringent in its bitterness to me. I can be sensitive to overly bitter flavors at times, which means that after one IPA, I’m usually done and ready to move on to an ale. I’m not into this drive of late to push the alcohol envelope in beers. Give me flavor and I’ll keep coming back.

It was with this in mindset that I dipped my beak into the Imperial IPA (everyone’s gotta have a high-ABV IPA that costs a few sheckels more) and, though enjoyable, didn’t blow me away. I liked the Belgian-Style Wit Beer and have to side with Tim Webb who noted that “American imitations [knock] the socks off certain freshly imported ‘real’ Trappist ales,” in his introduction to Stan Hieronymus’s must-read Brew Like a Monk.

But I’d yet to find “the one” to rule them all. That’s when I had my first taste of a Cascadian Dark Ale.

Cascadian Dark Ales are a relatively new variety of IPA, originated by Shaun Hill at Vermont’s Shed Brewery. Speaking to Imbibe Magazine, Hill described this new style of beer as one that can “drink like an IPA but look like a stout.”

The style was picked up by San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. with the brewery’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which is a double IPA (see this Beer Advocate article on American double IPAs for more info; in America, we go big with everything, y’know). The style has spread like a hop vine from there.

I’d not had the pleasure of drinking a Cascadian Dark Ale until I hit Bozeman Brewing. It was fantastic. Not too bracingly bitter, easy to drink, distinctively stout with a rich roasty malty taste and an IPA’s carbonation. I didn’t take it for an IPA at all at first. I thought it was a just a stout. My initial ignorance made me overlook the complexity going on with this beer. Further sips brought out the hoppy crispness of an IPA.

There’s a lot going on in these Cascadian Dark Ales. Though the style originated on the East Coast, it took a trip out West for me to discover this amazing beer. Expect more on these beauties in the future.

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