Saturday, May 30, 2009

Levels Check

One down side (there aren't many) of kegging homebrew is not knowing exactly how much of a given beer is left. Yes, you can lift a keg to see how heavy it is, but this serves as only an imprecise gauge, and carries the risk of disturbing that nicely settled sediment.

So it was with a mixture of surprise and disappointment that I took note of my own woefully dwindling supply today after I'd emptied out the kegerator so it could be moved. With the kegs lined up and warm air all around them, very soon a band of condensation formed around each keg up to the level where cold beer sat on the inside:

Ouch. Nearly all of those are looking mighty low. One is basically empty, which would make two vacant slots in the kegerator. Thankfully, I have a batch just about ready to be kegged.

I had unwittingly set myself for one blown keg after another. I can thank the heat and humidity for tipping me off about this looming crisis. Time to ramp up the brewing if I'm to stave off the potential drought before me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

News and Some Beer Videos

Sad News For At Least One Ignorant Alabama Politician

Background: You are about to hear Alabama state Rep. Alvin Holmes' carefully-considered objection to legislation that would raise the state's alcohol cap on beer from 6 percent by volume to a much more reasonable (though still arbitrary) 13.9. Mr. Holmes, you have the floor:

Unfortunately for Mr. Holmes and ignoramuses everywhere (or at least, in Alabama), HB373 passed the full body earlier this month and was signed into law by Gov. Bob Riley on May 22. If it's true that West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin recently signed a measure bumping his state's 6 percent ABV limit up to around 12, that would leave only Mississippi as having such an obscenely low ABV limit on beer. Congratulations, Mississippi.

On Budweiser's Famous Daily Quality-Control Tastings

By way of Brookstone Beer Bulletin. Check out the related post for some enlightening inside info on these all-important critiques.

I Am A Craft Brewer

That's the name of this feisty video that Stone's Greg Koch used during his keynote address at last month's Craft Brewers Conference. The video, rather well-done, I'll note, features cameos from many of the industry's brightest stars. Sure, it may smack just a bit of self-congratulation, but most craft beer lovers will eat it up. And why shouldn't they – there's some powerful truth being spoken here. Beer-geek bonus challenge: How many brewers can you ID?

Looks like Koch, or someone, has put together a little Web site for posterity. Again, credit goes to Brookstone Beer Bulletin for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yes, They Can*

Craft beer in cans, once unheard of, is something we're seeing more of these days. Colorado's Oskar Blues Cajun Grill and Brewery began canning their stuff in 2002; today they are generally credited as the first major entrant in the craft-beer-in-a-can movement.

And it's a bandwagon that's had more than a few breweries hop on board. Some new operations dove into canning from the get-go – Heiner Brau of Louisiana and Texas' Southern Star among them. But the trend hasn't been limited to startups and little guys. New Belgium Brewing Company, by at least one account the nation's 3rd-largest crafter brewer and one of the 10 biggest overall, rolled out a canned version of its flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale about a year ago. More recently, the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewer has started offering Sunshine Wheat in cans as well.

Today, dozens of craft breweries in the U.S. and Canada have gone the aluminum route. The advantages, for consumers, brewers, distributors, recyclers and everyone else, are many. I won't rehash them here; Lew Bryson already did a fine job of that.

Pictured above is a very tasty canned craft brew, this one from Caldera Brewing Company in Ashland, Ore. The Beaver State, of course, is home to more than its share of great breweries, and so it bears noting that Caldera became, in 2005, the first Oregon craft brewer to can its beer. Curious how it's done? Check out this neat little video:

Beer afficionados, generally, have come around to the notion that great beer doesn't have to come from bottles. The Oskar Blues offerings, from Pale Ale to Pils to Imperial Stout, are all well-regarded. Southern Star's Pine Belt Pale is a delightfully hoppy affair, and comes in 16-ounce tallboys to boot! And New Belgium, certainly, is no stranger to critical or commercial validation.

While the popularity of canned craft beer is growing here in the U.S., the concept is still regarded as something of a novelty, and a fairly rare one at that. Contrast that with what you find in Europe, where some very major – and downright world-class – brews have been available in cans for years. The Belgians are particularly fond of this, canning everything from Pilsners to Tripels to Lambics. How about Rodenbach in a can? Hoegaarden? You get the idea.

Meanwhile, in Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell cans some of their fine lager and even exports some of it to the U.S., I'm told – a major improvement over the skunk-inviting green bottles PU otherwise sends our way.

So is canned American craft brew a mere fad or a revolution in the making? This much we know: the benefits of cans are very real, but for craft brewers, stupendous cost savings are not currently among those benefits. As with all processes, efficiency should improve in time. Will beer consumers' preferences keep pace?

* With apologies to Oskar Blues and everyone else who's already used this pun.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Warsteiner Maß

Have I mentioned my fondness for German beer? I believe so. It's not just that the Germans make a diverse range of extraordinary beers. It's not just that Germany has given us some of the world's great beer styles. Heck, it's not even just because the Germans, rightly or otherwise, refuse to brew with adjuncts or other flavorings and reliably churn out quality and variety in spite – or, more probably, because – of this.

These are all good things, and any single one would compel our admiration. But on top of all that, you've just got to love German beer because Germans love it so much, too. Need proof? Check out this big honker of a beer mug brought to us by Warsteiner, at one liter in capacity a veritable bucket of joy and an apt physical representation of the Germans' legendary thirst.

In its native land, this voluminous mug and others like it go by the name Maß (pronounced "mass"), which is short for Maßkrug. Stoneware or glass, decorated or otherwise, the Maß can come in any number of configurations (here I am drinking from the commonly seen dimpled version), though the constants tend to be its ample volume – one liter – and its handle.

In and around Munich, where grand beer halls and gardens typify the German taste for high-volume beer service and consumption, the roomy Maß further obliges this penchant in appropriate fashion.

And this is to say nothing of Oktoberfest, the world's largest beer-drinking party, wherein natives and foreigners converge on Munich to hoist Maßkrüge (approximately 7 million liters' worth!) in unapologetic indulgence of world-class beer. Take away the Maß, brimming with beer and joyfully swung side to side by hearty revelers, and our image of Oktoberfest, the zenith of Germany's propensity for beer appreciation on a large scale, would hardly be the same.

The Maß is most often used for your everday-drinking beer. In Munich, this is usually the delightful Helles, a staple of Bavarian beer halls and gardens, flavorful enough to demand all-day consumption yet light enough in alcohol to allow it. The Warsteiner Maß pictured above, meanwhile, is intended for use with that brewery's signature Pilsener. During Oktoberfest, as you might imagine, Oktoberfestbier is the brew of choice, which these days displays less of the amber color and maltiness of its cousin Märzen, instead tending to be light and Helles-like.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Session #27 – Beer Cocktails

Who says liquor must be involved when you're thirsting for a mixed drink? Not Joe of Beer at Joe's, who asked beer bloggers to consider their favorite beer cocktails – you know, black and tans, half and halfs, or maybe something more esoteric – for this month's Session topic. Since I'm late to the party, others have already weighed in and Joe has posted the roundup. Well, no matter. Here's my (belated) take nonetheless.

Proud kegerator owners (there's the tease) may know where I'm about to go with this Session entry. If not, they are wise to pay attention. There are advantages to having beer on tap at home. (Well, that should go without saying, shouldn't it?) From a versatility standpoint – not to mention a personal-pride one – even better when that beer is homebrew.

Of course, keg-owning homebrewers are perfectly familiar with these advantages – less hassle than bottling, ready availability, more control over carbonation, and all that. But what you don't hear cited very often is how easy – and gratifying – it is to blend beers straight from the tap, in virtually any proportion you like. And I probably don't have to mention, this works out best the more beers you have on tap.

For starters, it's a way to inject some life into a beer you're not too thrilled about. Got a beer that's just a bit on the fruity side, for example? A dash of high-octane IPA can balance things out nicely. (Or not so nicely, if you prefer to go over the top.) Heck, keeping some hop juice on hand, always good policy anyway, is handy for discovering what a given beer would taste like with a little more hoppy kick to it.

You can go the other direction, too – blend in some Stout or Porter to see if you can turn that Pale Ale into an Amber or Brown. And so on. Blending together two (or more) beers that are perfectly good in their own right can yield some delicious results.

Some mighty fine beer (Gueuze, anyone?) is produced via blending. No reason to think there aren't some exciting and tasty possibilities just a few pulls of the tap handles away.
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