Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bourbon Smoked Porter

Back in October, I brewed a double batch of Smoked Porter. The idea was to split the wort, ferment it with two different yeasts, and hit one keg with Bourbon.

Here's how I started out:

OG 1.062* FG 1.015*
ABV 7.2%** AA 75.5%
IBUs 44 SRM 37

39.6% German Rauchmalt
29.2% North American Vienna
16.7% Canadian two-row
6.3% British chocolate malt
4.2% Crystal 60
2.1% Roasted barley
2.1% Crystal 80

29 IBUs Magnum – 60 mins
11 IBUs Magnum – 50 mins
4 IBUs (1 oz.) Glacier – 10 mins

* Wort only
** After Bourbon addition; original ABV was 6.2 %

At this point I had about 11 gallons of chilled wort. Half the batch was fermented with US-05 dry yeast; the other half with Wyeast 2450 a.k.a "Denny's Favorite 50." This strain was first released last year as part of Wyeast's Private Collection series – apparently it's to be released again this summer, albeit with a new designation.

The half fermented with US-05 got a helping of Bourbon on its way into the keg. I wanted something decent but not too expensive; I settled on Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, a pleasantly good Bourbon in its own right and maybe even a little surprisingly so, since I don't otherwise drink Evan Williams. I worked with small samples, testing proportions until I settled on what worked out to 18 oz. Bourbon for the 5 gal. keg. If that seems like a lot, maybe it is – the hooch contributed 1.1% extra alcohol, and others had no trouble picking up the Bourbon.

The smoked malt got a little lost underneath what turned out to be a relatively more assertive Bourbon character. It's not over the top (at least, not in my opinion), but there is some discernible wood on the nose and Bourbon flavor on the palate. The not-insignificant 44 IBUs, in conjunction with some dark notes from the roasted barley and chocolate malt, tighten things up nicely on the finish. There's not much contribution from the yeast, as to be expected, and I'm not sure if you'd pick out any 10-minute hops if you didn't know better.

Nevertheless. The combination of roasty malt flavors, smoke and charcoal/oaky Bourbon notes seemed like a winning trio, and indeed they yielded a tasty brew. True, I could go for a little more smoke (which is usually the case when I drink any kind of Rauchbier, even supposedly 100-percent stuff like Schlenkerla; this means I'm basically hopeless) but overall I'd say the integration of flavors is rather nice, with a tasty chocolate note thrown in for added complexity, and despite others' comments, I don't think the Bourbon stands out too much. Just as important is the fact that, although 15% of this beer's alcohol came from straight liquor, the end result isn't too boozy or hot. Credit the high-quality Evan Williams as much as my mixology skills, probably.

The shame of it is, this keg just blew today and I've been so focused on giving this beer away and clearing space for the next brew, I'd never enjoyed it as much as I have just now. Pity.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Session #28 – Think/Drink Globally

For this month's Session, hosted by Brian over at Red, White and Brew we get geographical: Brian asked us to write about "the farthest brewery (including brewpubs) you have visited and specifically the best beer you had there."

A quick consultation with my memory banks and a map tells me it's Zum Uerige in Dusseldorf, Germany. That's about 4,350 miles from my current location in Columbia, S.C. For purposes of this exercise, farther still as I was living in Houston at the time of my visit – that's a 5,130-ish-mile trek.

The best beer I had there? Naturally, that would be ZU's famous Altbier, served straight from the cask outside on Berger Straße, in the picturesque, stone-paved setting of Düsseldorf's Altstadt. I've hinted at my affinity for Altbiers before, with ZU serving as some not-so-insignificant inspiration (not that my homemade crack at the style came anywhere close).

Liz enjoying ZU Weisse on Berger Straße

The Altstadt (literally, "Old Town") section of Düsseldorf is known for its picturesque buildings, its side streets crammed with bars and restaurants, its view of the Rhine, and of course, its tasty Altbier. Sadly, I did not visit the other Alt-producing brewpubs in the area – Im Füchschen and Zum Schlüssel round out the Altstad trio; Schumacher, the oldest such pub, is not far away – but did sample some of the other commercial examples – Frankenheim and Schlösser, if I recall. (Boy, sounds like I didn't exactly take full advantage of my visit to one of the world's great beer cities, eh?)

Nor did I spend much time inside Zum Uerige itself, such was the pleasantness of the scene outdoors. Had I taken more than a brief walk inside, I might have seen where that shiny new brewing equipment being moved into the building via crane was headed. (Left: Here I am standing next to some.) The interior of the building is quaint, pub-like and old-timey, with wood everywhere and an intimate feel, befitting its Altstadt surroundings.

So what would a return trip to the Düsselforf region call for? Doubtless, a closer look at the historic Alt breweries that give us such wonderful German ale. And how about a short trip south to visit neighboring – and big-time rival, so they say – Köln (Cologne to us Anglophones), another of Germany's historic brewing centers and home of the delicate, lager-like Kölsch. In a land prized for its stellar lagers, it's remarkable that such a relatively small slice of Germany has given us two of the world's great ale styles. I'd say that's worth the trip for any beer traveller

Spent grain is hauled out to the sidewalk in large bins. Some of it stays behind.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Can I Get Some Tea Parties Over This?

Woe is government. With the economy on the brink of ruin, government revenue streams have been going all dodo on us. Some legislators have come up with a brilliant solution: raise beer taxes!

In Oregon, one of America's craft-beer breadbaskets, cash-hungry politicians are pushing to raise the state's excise taxes on beer by ... wait for it ... 1,900 percent!

Well, Lew Bryson is having none of this foolishness. Over at his fine blog Seen Through a Glass, Lew lays the smackdown on the notion of beer taxes, and excise taxes in general, in a fiery post designed to get the rest of beer-loving America to stand up for our suds.

It worked on me. I shot off a letter to my national and state representatives voicing my opposition to hiking beer taxes, with Lew's missive providing valuable inspiration. We should all do the same – makes it mighty easy.

Update: Before I get to the letter, here are three fine beer-tax-related posts from Brookston Beer Bulletin. They're all particularly germane to this discussion.
Typically great stuff from Jay at BBB. OK, Here's my letter:

Dear [Insert Pol's Name Here],

As governments across the U.S. grapple with dwindling revenue sources and ballooning deficits, many leaders have proposed raising excise taxes on particular goods -- specifically, beer. This "solution" has me deeply troubled.

To begin with, raising taxes during a recession strikes me as seriously flawed policy. You are, in essence, taking more money from people who have less of it, and at the same time placing an extra penalty upon consumer activity -- something that, as we know, is a critical engine of our economic health.

In addition, the notion of taxing certain goods to pay for programs and government services that ostensibly benefit all of us is inherently unfair. If we are all to benefit, then let us all shoulder our reasonable share of the burden. I believe in progressive taxation, not in arbitrarily handing a chunk of the bill to people who happen to buy one kind of good over another.

And in beer, once again we have found an easy and supposedly uncontroversial target for extra taxation, on the grounds that higher taxes may discourage use of the product, which would be a good thing anyhow. This is the thinking behind so-called "sin" taxes.

This approach fails to hold up to critical examination. If the objective of raising excise "sin" taxes is simultaneously to bring in additional revenue while also discouraging access to an unhealthy or immoral good, then these are incompatible goals. If a tax is sufficiently high to curb demand, then revenues will fall -- unless, of course, the tax is so astronomical as to make up the difference. In this case we would be dealing with a monstrously high tax of outrageous proportions. Better to just muster the courage to ban the offending good altogether rather than hide behind taxes.

A final word on increasing beer taxes: As a consumer of high-end, specialty beers, I, along with like-minded consumers, already pay significantly more for the same quality of beer than do mainstream beer drinkers. The unique craft brews and imports we enjoy already cost around two times (or higher) more than typical American industrial beers. Raising excise taxes on all beers will price many of these special beers out of consumers' price range -- hurting not only consumers but a number of American small businesses in the process.

Meanwhile, it cannot be overstated that the high-end beers that can least afford price hikes are already of no interest to "problem drinkers" whose consumption is the target of such "sin" taxes in the first place. The beers enjoyed by connoisseurs, by virtue of their price and richness in flavor, are highly unlikely candidates for abuse. It is the mass-market, inexpensive mainstream beers that fall into this category; already they are inexpensive and accessible enough to be far less affected than high-quality artisanal beers.

I must emphasize that I oppose, on grounds of principle, any increase whatsoever in such excise taxes, even an incremental one. Again, if we are all to benefit, then let us all pay our fair share. Tax schemes that work otherwise are not only unfair but, to be honest, the mark of political cowardice.

I hope I can count on you to stand in firm opposition to any increase in beer excise taxes. I will give my support to any officials who fight against unfair tax increases that disproportionately target an arbitrary category of law-abiding citizens. I will not hesitate to withhold my support from those who do not.

Thank you very much for your attention on this important matter.
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