Monday, November 30, 2009

O'so's Lupulin Maximus

"I'm going to sit here and sniff the cone for awhile," says Meg. That's right. Every bottle of Lupulin Maximus, a 9% Imperial IPA for O'so Brewing, has a whole hop cone in it. We did a careful pour so that the cone/sediment stayed in the bottle.

Aroma: Light, fruity, creamy.

Appearance: Solid amber colored, bit cloudy. Good, tight, off-white head.

Taste: Sweet and alcohol - bit heavy on the sweetness. Creamy - balances out the high-alcohol content. Slighly bitter finish. I expect this beer was a little past it's prime, as there's no big aroma or really that much of a hop taste. I get mostly sweet and alcohol, and don't really want to finish the beer to be honest (we wound up cooking with it).

Mouthfeel: On the heavy side, resiny and sweet.

If I were at the brewery, I'd try a sample of this because I bet it's totally different when it's super fresh. But the hop cone here comes off a bit gimmicky as the beer didn't live up to it's name.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Capital Dark Lager

While in Wisconsin, we hit up the Capital Brewery, and picked up some beers to take home and try. Among them was this dark lager (5.4%) - from the bottle: "A German-style beer from a traditional Wisconsin lager brewery. Some things shouldn't change." 

Appearance: Pours a deep, dark brown with a good head. Wonderful lacing.

Aroma: The aroma really blossoms as it sits a couple minutes. Deep and malty, hints of raisin.

Flavor: Very malt forward beer with subtle hop balance. Raisin and plum fruitiness balance a pleasant bitterness. Lingering finish.

Mouthfeel: Clean, medium bodied beer. Goes down easy and before you know it, you're ready for the next sip.

We had the pleasure of meeting head brewer Kirby Nelson at Steve's Liqours, where he was promoting some winter beers and offering tastings. He's a fantastically nice fellow, and a Zappa fan (he names all their fermenters after Zappa songs - pics coming). Having studied with a German lager master, this beer definitely plays to Kirby's strong points. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wisconsin Beer Trip

I had the day off somewhat unexpectedly last Friday, so we took a quick trip to Wisconsin - specifically the Madison area. The Gods were looking over us when we decided to put a large cooler in the trunk of the car, as we loaded up on lots of good brews unavailable to us here. (We also loaded up on fresh sausage and cheese at this foodie Mecca.) Just look at our bounty!

Beers are represented by the following breweries:
Stone Brewing Co. (Yes, it's not WI beer, but we can't get it in IL.)
Lakefront Brewery
Capital Brewery
New Glarus Brewing Co.
O'So Brewing Company
Lake Louie Brewing
Furthermore Beer
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Also not WI, but we haven't found the Estate here yet, so had to grab a bottle.)

Thus, visit back often over the next couple weeks for lots of beer and brewpub reviews.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

We're lucky to live in an area with access to delicious local beer. One of the new breweries in town, Half Acre, is my favorite new brewery, and Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is my favorite beer of the moment. (Apologies to those outside of the City of Chicago, as Half Acre doesn't distribute outside of the city. Guess you'll just have to come visit!) We picked up a bomber last weekend while visiting their new store* attached to the brewery.

Aroma: To quote Matt, "This is the best smelling beer ever!" I have to agree. Tons of floral and grassy hops. I could sniff this all day.

Appearance: Cloudy, golden-orange. One of the Half Acre employees simply refers to this beer as "orange juice."

Flavor: A flowery little hop bomb with a crisp, citrus finish.

Mouthfeel: Soft and smooth. Lightly coats your mouth.

We had a party with a keg of this back in September. There were approximately 40 people in attendance, and we had no problem killing it in one evening. It's an extremely easy drinking beer, and not too strong. Even the non-beer drinkers, and non-hop heads, were loving the Daisy Cutter. It just tied for 3rd place at the Chicago Beer Society's Fall Tasting. And most exciting is there's going to be a Daisy Cutter Hot Dog coming soon to Hot Doug's!! Needless to say, we'll be there.

Never pass up Daisy Cutter if you find it - this is a fantastic beer!

*They also have a nice selection of other local brews. We scored bombers of both Two Brothers Red Eye and Three Floyds Alpha Klaus. It was a good haul!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dill Cheese Beer Bread

As you know, I have no patience for baking bread from scratch. That's why I love quick breads. No yeast = no waiting, rising, etc. This recipe, which I found on my favorite food porn site - Tastespotting, combines three of my favorite things: dill, cheese and beer. The couple times I've made it, I've used our Fuggles Ale, which is a slightly hoppy amber ale. Any light or amber colored beer should be fine, though I would shy away from dark beers.

Farmgirl Susan’s Beyond Easy Dill &Cheddar Beer Bread Recipe
Makes One Loaf
Basic Beer Bread Mix:
3 cups all-purpose flour (I use 1 c. wheat flour, 2 c. all-purpose flour.)
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice - I like the sharpness/funk of gorgonzola)
12 ounces beer
Glaze: 1 egg & 2 teaspoons water, beaten

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, dill, and cheddar in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in beer and mix just until combined. Batter will be thick. Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan , brush with egg glaze if desired (I think it's must), and bake until golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (My oven runs warm, so it's usually done in 30-35 min.)

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool 10 more minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Alternate Version:
Replace dill with herbs de provence
Replace cheddar with parmesan
Add chopped kalamata olives
After egg wash, sprinkle a handful of parmesan on top
(We like this version even better than the original.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheap FermWrap

I got a tip from a fellow homebrewer on how to easily put together your own FermWrap by ordering the parts individually from a reptile supply store. All you need is the wire/clip/insulator set ($5), and 2 feet of 11 inch Flexwatt heat tape ($6.50). Attach the wire clips and insulators to the 2 silver strips on the tape (I just used a pair of pliers), and you've got yourself a FermWrap that homebrew shops sell for $30 - $40. Plug it into your temperature control device, and you're good to go. Just tested mine out, and it works great - cheers!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goose Island - Clybourn

Before I moved to Chicago I was "meh" on any Goose Island product. Their mass-produced beers are nothing to write home (or blog) about. However, their offerings at the Clybourn brewpub are way better than the standard Honkers. Typically they have at least a dozen or more beers on tap and 3 on cask. Also, they do a weekly beer release at 6:00 on Thursday evenings with free samples.

Free beer is usually enough to get me into a place, but GI-Clybourn offers an added bonus - a weekly "Recycled" Pig Roast. The pig is from a local farmer who uses Goose Island's spent grain as feed, and each week is roasted in a different fashion and served with seasonal sides. (Examples: BBQ pig w/ black beans & creamy corn, Tomatillo roasted pig w/ smoked mozzarella & eggplant ratatouille, Bourbon brined & smoked pig w/ baked beans & ginger slaw.) It's freakin' delicious! Pair that w/ a cask ale (preferably the Midway IPA) and it's heaven. Food*, otherwise, is solid. The cuban sandwich ranks as one of the best in the city.

If you have room after beers and food, be brave and try the Nightstalker for dessert. It's a well-balanced, ass-kicking imperial stout. (Much better and not as strong as the Bourbon County Stout.)

This is a very lively room, with a warm atmosphere. Also, parking is easy and free, a rarity in Chicago. We've made a monthly ritual of beer release/recycled pig, which has quickly become my favorite day of the month.

*If you haven't eaten there in the past 6 months, they have a new chef, who has taken this place to the next level.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is It Safe to Leave Star San in My Keg and Beer Lines?

I couldn't take it anymore. After trolling various forums and listening to podcasts, I couldn't get a clear answer to this question. So I called up Five Star Chemicals (makers of Star San), and was immediately connected to a tech to answer my question (wish I got the guy's name so I can thank him here).

What I got out of it was the "ideal" way to clean and store kegs (and lines), based on what Five Star has heard from the various keg dealers that they've worked with. Here goes:

The Procedure for Cleaning Your Cornies and Beer Line
  1. Clean the keg as soon as you can. Rinse it and the lines out with water (for all line-rinsing steps, I pressurize and use the keg, run through the lines and into a bucket or something). Then, fill the keg with warm to hot water, add in the proper dose of PBW, and clean away (I reserve a clean, never used on anything else toiler scrubber for this, and a thin, long-handled dip tube brush). After some initial scrubbing, I let it soak for at least 20 minutes or so. I also take the keg posts, the black bev-out connector, and the lid, and soak them in a separate solution of PBW. I then dismantle the faucet, and let it soak in there too.
  2. After the keg has soaked, I give it another quick scub in case there was some grime that the PBW loosened up. Rinse and put the faucet back together, and rinse and put the black bev connector back on the line (quick disconnect models are a life saver here). Then I dump all the PBW from the keg except for a gallon or two, hook up the keg to the lines, and start to run the solution through the beverage line. I stop at some point, so the PBW can sit in there and dissolve any gook that's stuck in the line. Since PWB is a CIP (clean in place) cleaner, it's designed for this sort of thing.
  3. Rinse the keg with warm/hot water. Believe it or not, you should rinse with the same temperature water your PBW was in. For some chemical reason, it rinses better this way as it won't "scale" (a typical issue with hard water).
  4. When the keg is rinsed out, fill it with a gallon or two of water and run some through your lines to rinse the PBW out.
  5. Time to sanitize! Rinse and reassemble all keg parts. The ratio is 1oz of Star San in 5 gallons warm water (not too hot, like over 120F - typical hot water heaters are around 130F). However, I cut this in half. Put 2.5 gallons in the keg, then add the .5oz of Star San (always important to add chemicals to water, not the other way around). If you want it to foam, put some of the water in, then add the StarSan, and then pour the rest of the water in. 
  6. Seal up the keg, and shake it up. (Don't be surprised if some leaks out the lid, as the lid requires some internal pressure to get an air-tight seal - watch any carpeting here, I always use a towel on a non-carpeted floor). Let it sit a few minutes, maybe turn it over and/or let it sit on it's side for awhile (Star San actually only needs 30 seconds). From here, you have a couple options:

    1. Hook up the keg to the lines, and run all of the Star San through the bev line. Run it all through because you don't want any left in the keg or the line other than what's clinging to the sides. Do not rinse. Stainless steel should be stored with some sort of acid coating, as it helps it maintain its "stainless" state. As an acid sanitizer, Star San works great for this. Besides, if you rinse after sanitizing, then you're just ruined all that work - that's why we choose no-rinse sanitizers. As long as you mixed/measured properly, you won't have any problems (and the measuring device on the Star San bottle makes this brainless). When you're ready to fill the keg, just open up and rack the beer in and proceed as normal. When ready to serve, hook up the bev line, run a half glass or so through, discard, and you're good. Or (and this is where I was most surprised)...
    2. Dump the Star San, and pressurize the keg to seal it up. When you're ready to fill, mix up some more Star San, dump it in the keg, let it sanitize again, run it though the lines, and then fill with beer. If you're the paranoid sort (and you know who you are), and it's been awhile since you've originally sanitized, then this will neutralize anything that may have gotten into the keg/line. Since Star San doesn't sanitize indefinitely, it will loose this ability over time. So bottom line, if it's only been a week, you're fine. Any longer, and you want to be extra extra sure, follow step 'b' here.
  7. Relax and have a brew.
Now, this is the recommended way of doing things with Five Star Chemicals. (Actually, Five Star has products specifically for cleaning/sanitizing line cleaning - but I didn't go into that here.) Some guys use Oxiclean instead of PBW - I do this for some stuff. But it's important to realize the Oxiclean is not a CIP cleaner. Oxiclean is also missing a "surfactant" - which basically breaks down surface tension in water, which allows it to penetrate and dissolve all those nasty organic compounds in either hot or cold water. In short, PBW is designed for brewing equipment, not laundry. So for line cleaning, PBW is certainly better, and actually allows you to be lazier by letting the soak do most of the work.

Now, if you have your own way of doing things and it works, that's great. As with anything related to homebrewing, there are many ways to do the same thing. Cheers folks.

Update August 10, 2010:
I've since modified my line cleaning - I got one of those hand/line pumps and use BLC instead of PBW on the lines. I rinse with warm water, then BLC - letting it sit and recirculate. Then rinse again, and then run some StarSan through it, also with the hand pump. I just felt like I was wasting a lot of CO2, and the hand pump is quick and easy. I don't bother pressurizing the kegs for storage anymore, since I sanitize everything again just before I use it. Also, I take the liquid-out fittings apart now and soak them in PBW.