Friday, November 7, 2014

Beer Tasting Notes: Lagunitas, Deschutes, Sam Adams and More

Born Yesterday Pale Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company

I'm really laughing at myself right now. I've been racking my brain, trying to think of a good place to record my beer tasting notes — someplace handy so I can quickly access them when at the store and also where I can easily share them with fellow beer lovers. The app Untappd is decent, but I get annoyed by the character limit (I'm a wordy gal) and I find it difficult to find specific beers when I can't remember much about them beyond "that one beer? I had at that bar in San Francisco? Two months ago?"

After trying this and that and feeling frustrated with everything, I finally remembered that I have this blog here, a.k.a. the perfect spot to record notes, post pictures, and share my favorite beers with the world at large. Fancy! Also, yes, I'm a bit dense sometimes and I forget that blogs aren't just for talking about Big Important Things, but also for sharing small day-to-day things.

So let's try this: an occasional post of tasting notes on what I've been drinking and loving lately. Nothing fancy. Nothing too glamorous. Just some notes, clean and simple, and maybe a pretty picture or two. Sound fun? Let's go!

Smoking Wood from The Bruery

The Beer: Born Yesterday Pale Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company
Date Tasted: 11/1/14
Brewery Notes: Lagunitas harvested fresh hops from Yakima Valley, dumped them un-kilned (so all the oils were preserved) in a batch of their regular pale ale. They also then bottled and delivered the beer within 24 hours for an optimally fresh experience. A feat to be sure!
Major Takeaway: Yes! So good! Find it now, love it asap!
Appearance: Clear light gold and very bubbly, nice cap of creamy soft foam
Aroma: SUPER aromatic — you can practically see it hanging over the glass like a cloud. Sweet hops, hop flower, citrus, marijuana (hee!), lemon candy, citrus zest, peach?, fresh fruit, tart
Taste: Light malts — biscuity/cracker-like. Rounded hop flavor present throughout. Good amount of straight-up hopitude — perfume, head-on bitterness, citrus pith — that also lingers on into the finish. Looooove how the aroma and the flavors come together as you sip.

The Beer: Hop Trip Pale Ale from Deschutes Brewery
Date Tasted: 10/30/14
Brewery Notes: Another fresh-hopped beer to celebrate the fall hop harvest!
Major Takeaway: Nicely bracing, very easy to drink
Appearance: Sunset orange and very clear with a long-lasting cap of off-white foam
Aroma: Fruity hops, sweet peach and lemon, a hit of fresh hop flower aroma (especially as it warms), heady and appealing
Taste: Super nice. Lots of hop flavor, but not aggressively bitter. Citrus pith bitterness hits mid-tongue and then lingers on into the finish. Lots of juicy orange and lemon flavors.

The Beer: Fat Jack Double Pumpkin Ale from Sam Adams
Date Tasted: 10/22/14
Brewery Notes: Special fall release with 28 pounds of pumpkin per barrel
Major Takeaway: A good one if you like pumpkin spice flavors and malty brews
Appearance: Clear russet with a fizzy cap of off-white foam
Aroma: Toasty malty, like wet leaves on a fall day (in the best possible way!)
Taste: Warm baking spices — very well-balanced and not too aggressive. Surprisingly full-bodied, almost syrupy, but just shy of cloying. Super smooth. Nutty, soft caramels, bread and winter baked goods. To be honest, I don't really taste "pumpkin" per se, but that's fine with me. Still a tasty brew on a chilly fall day.

The Beer: Smoking Wood from The Bruery
Date Tasted: 10/4/14
Brewery Notes: Imperial porter brewed with beachwood and cherrwood smoked malts, and aged in rye whiskey barrels.
Major Takeaway: Perfect after-dinner beer, especially for Thanksgiving
Appearance: Opaque brown/black, dark foam (almost purple!)
Aroma: Black strap molasses, tobacco/cigar, old leather, wet firewood, peat, burnt sugar
Taste: Less heavy than expected, which makes it very drinkable. Slick and so so so smooth. Like velvet. Tastes of burnt caramel, melted brown sugar, dried plums and figs, some nice oakiness and vanilla from the barrel-aging (maybe a tad too much for my taste? A bit tannic and drying). Alcohol warms the throat. The smokiness lingers in the aftertaste, otherwise the beer finishes very clean. Reminds me of dark fruit cake.

The Beer: Peach Porch Lounger (Lips of Faith Series) from New Belgium Brewing Company
Date Tasted: Beer was bottled September 2012; tasted 9/5/14
Major Takeaway: Perfectly tasty, but I was hoping for more funky Brett character
Appearance: Very clear, very warm gold color, super foamy head that settles down into a sticky film
Aroma: Funky, boozy, a bit sherry. Fruity, but not necessarily peach
Taste: I first tasted this right after it was bottled and wrote about it on The Kitchn — I liked it then, but was a little underwhelmed and hoped that some aging would develop its character. I meant to taste it after a year, but then forgot about it (as happens...) and just got around to tasting it now! This 2-year-old bottle has aged well. It's nicely crisp with a more rounded fruitiness than I remember in the younger beer. Lots of soft peach and stone fruit flavors. There's some barnyard funk from the Brett yeast, but I expected more after 2 years of aging. As it is, it's still a very pleasant, easy-drinking beer, perfect for splitting with a friend over a late lunch.

Peach Porch Lounger (Lips of Faith Series) from New Belgium Brewing Company

Problems With Homemade Ginger Ale or Orange Cream Soda? Let's Talk!

Image: Paige Green for Ten Speed Press/True Brews
Have you tried making the ginger ale or the orange cream soda from True Brews and are puzzled about why it won't fully carbonate? You're not alone! I've received a few emails over the past several months with questions about this, and after puzzling over it myself, I finally figured it out: it's not you, it's your water.

The chlorine in tap water can make life difficult for yeast and can interfere with fermentation. Most sodas are made with a large percentage of fruit juice, so the chlorine in the added tap water is rarely an issue. The ginger ale and the orange cream soda aren't so lucky — since they're made with mostly water, chlorine can become an annoyance. (If you've made either of these sodas and didn't have a problem, that's likely because your tap water is low in chlorine. This is the case with my own tap water and why I didn't catch the problem in testing — my sincere apologies on that!)

The solution is to use filtered water in these brews or dechlorinate your water before beginning (see page 14 in True Brews for info on dechlorinating water).

Thanks to everyone who emailed me about this and brought the issue to my attention! I'll be adding a note about using filtered or dechlorinated water for these two recipes in the next printing of True Brews. Happy brewing!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

San Diego Beer Bloggers Conference, Ahoy!

Stone Enjoy By IPA from Stone Brewing Co., enjoyed at Stone Brewing Co.'s Liberty Station Bistro

Last weekend was the 5th Annual Beer Bloggers Conference, held down in San Diego. Which sounds all official and shiny, but is really a not-so-secret excuse to get together with some awesome peeps and nerd out on beer for a weekend. And nerd out we did! Some highlights in the form of pictures and words:

Friday night, we took over the tap room at the Karl Strauss brewery. If you're into cornhole, you can play a game surrounded by aging barrels of Karl Strauss specialty brews and a view of the brewery. Up there, my pal Justin Williams from Dogfish Head and Ryan Arnold from Sierra Nevada duke it out, head to head. Awesome fun times. Thanks, Karl Strauss and co!

Saturday was the day for panel discussions and workshops and Very Serious Blogger Talk. Don't worry, we still managed to have a good time: 

Yes, this shot is the hotel conference room. Yes, we shared. That's the thing about a conference with a bunch of other beer-obsessed folks: beer is a given. Always. Bring your own sippy cup.

Lunch on Saturday was over at the San Diego Yard House, where they have over a hundred taps to choose from. Egads. Also, a little insider's secret: the Yard House's house beers at the San Diego location are actually contract brewed by Uinta Brewing and are not to be passed over. 

Dinner at Stone Brewing Co.'s Liberty Station Bistro was the highlight of the whole weekend. That place (and by "place," I more truly mean "campus") is amazing. Gardens, bocce ball courts, several dining rooms, and taps around every corner. It's enough to make your head 'splode. If you're ever in San Diego, please make sure a stop here is on your agenda. (And P.S. it's within walking distance of the San Diego airport, so next time you get stranded during a layover, make sure it's here.)

A version of Stone Brewing Co.'s Cali-Belgique, aged with sour cherries and marionberries. Wuddup.

Stone tapped a few special kegs for us and basically let us have the run of the place. Good times were had by all. Thanks, Stone!

And back at the hotel, we commenced with perhaps my most favorite part of the Beer Bloggers Conference: the off-the-record room parties. Shhh... 

Phenomenal beer. Ignore the cylon eyeball.
Believe it or not, I actually survived the weekend mostly vertical! What a fun time. It's a conference, there's tons of beer, but really, for me, this event is a chance to get together with a group of people who I truly love and admire, and share good beers. A few shout-outs to some of my favorite peeps:
Hopefully I haven't forgotten anyone. Please scold me if I have.

And last but not least, a few beer highlights from the weekend:

Krieky Bones from Firestone Walker Brewing Company: This is a sour beer at the top of its game. Tart cherries, sour pucker without tearing your tongue apart, easy drinking. 

Stone Enjoy By IPA from Stone Brewing Co.: This was my first time trying this beer, if you can believe it. It just shows how phenomenal fresh IPAs can really be. I will be seeking this one out more often, count on it.

Sour in the Rye (with Pineapple & Coconut) from The Bruery: Dear lord, I could use some time alone with this beer. It's another sour that hits all the right notes, plus a layer of pina colada goodness.

Black Tuesday from The Bruery: An imperial stout with a 19% ABV that goes down as smooth as chocolate. Yeah. This one will get you vertically-challenged in no time.

Devil's Kriek from Double Mountain Brewery: Another kriek that was hard to stop drinking. Sensing a theme? Yeah, the sours are the new IPA. Resistance is futile.

Hunahpu's Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing: Raisins and cherries and dark chocolate. So much goodness in one bottle.

There were more (so many more), but these were definitely the stand-outs of the weekend. I already can't wait for next year. Until then, nerd out with your pinkies out, y'all:

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Cider for Summer: Watermelon Hard Cider

It's been over a year since I last posted a recipe and nearly a year since I last posted anything, so it seemed only fitting to spend one of my first free days since turning in the manuscript for the beer book sharing a new recipe. I say "one of my first" free days because the very first free days were spent sleeping absurdly late on weekends, gorging on episodes of Supernatural, and spending many glorious hours doing nothing at all. It was divine.

Yes, the manuscript is done, the edits are even (mostly) done, the photo shoot is done (I plan on sharing some photos of that soon), and life seems to be stumbling its way back to normalcy. Let this be a lesson to you (i.e., me), working full time and writing a cookbook that involves long, tricky, fermenty projects is really exhausting. I have promised all those near and dear to me that I will not take on any new big projects like that for quite some time.

I posted a photo over on Instagram a few weeks ago of some Watermelon Hard Cider I'd made, and was both delighted and slightly surprised to get several requests for the recipe. Delighted because I actually wrote down the recipe and am happy to share it, and surprised because, frankly, I wasn't sure how many people apart from myself would think that watermelon cider sounded good!

This was actually a random cider that I made over a year ago with a huge-ass watermelon that a friend gave us from their garden. It was an experiment, and I was keeping my expectations low. Watermelon is a funny fruit to brew with; it's mostly water, after all, and that can mean a watery-tasting brew. But hey, there was a hulking watermelon on my counter and it was going to be impossible to eat it all, so why not?

I cracked open a bottle about three months after brewing, and thought it tasted...ok. Not bad. But not particularly watermelon-y. So-so. I left the rest of the batch in the cupboard and forgot about it for a while. Another few months past and I gave it another try - bingo! Apparently this one just needed a little extra time to age.

In the end, this has a lightly sweet watermelon-like flavor with a nice crispness. It's a bit like biting slightly too close to the watermelon rind. It's super refreshing on a hot day, so I suggest making a batch now and then letting the bottles sit in your cupboard until next summer.

Oh, P.S. Use only the freshest, juiciest, pinkest watermelon you can find for this brew. Subpar sad watermelons will not do. Use both the fruit and the rinds in the primary fermentation. A lot of the pink color and watermelon flavor is in the fruit sediment, so don't be too finicky about leaving behind the sediment when you transfer from vessel to vessel. I ended up with a teaspoon or so of pink watermelon sediment in my bottles - it's fun to pour this light, straw-colored cider into the glass only to watch it turn bright pink at the end.

Watermelon Hard Cider
Makes 1 gallon (9 to 10 bottles)

Note: All brewing-specific ingredients are available at homebrewing supply stores or online at

Target Original/Final Gravity: 1.050/1.005
Target Final ABV: 6%

1 (12-pound) watermelon, very ripe
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Campden tablet
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
2 teaspoons acid blend
1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
1/2 packet dry ale yeast, or any equivalent yeast
.8 ounce (22 grams) corn sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water and cooled, for bottling

Sanitize a 2-gallon bucket, its lid, the air lock, and a spoon for stirring.

Cut the watermelon into slices and cut the fruit away from the rinds. Chop the rinds into pieces and put them in the bucket. Remove and discard any watermelon seeds, then puree the fruit in a blender. Transfer the fruit puree to the bucket. You should have a little over a gallon of liquid; add additional water as needed to make slightly over a gallon.

Crush the Campden tablet and stir it into the juice. Snap the lid on he bucket, fill the airlock with water, and attach it to the bucket. Wait 24 hours for the Campden to sterilize the juice.

Once the juice is sterilized, stir in the yeast nutrient, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and 1/2 packet of the yeast with a sanitized spoon. Stir vigorously to distribute the yeast and aerate the cider. If you like, take a hydrometer reading to determine original gravity (though it's a bit tricky to get an accurate read on this one since there's so much sediment). Snap the lid back on and reattach the air lock. You should see active fermentation as evidenced by bubbles in the air lock within 48 hours.

Let the cider ferment undisturbed for at least 1 week or up to 4 weeks until fermentation has slowed and the sediment created during brewing has had a chance to settle. At this point, the cider is ready to be transferred off the sediment and into a smaller 1-gallon jug for the longer secondary fermentation.

Sanitize a 1-gallon jug, its stopper, a racking cane, its tip, a siphon hose, and a hose clamp. Siphon all of the cider into the jug. Tilt the bucket toward the end to siphon all of the liquid. Keep transferring even when you start to transfer sediment, but stop when you see the liquid in the hose become opaque (Bottom line: Don't worry about transferring/not transferring a lot of sediment at this point. Just use your best judgement). Seal the jug with its stopper and insert the air lock. Let it sit somewhere cool and dark for another 2 weeks or up to 3 months.

To bottle the cider, sanitize a stockpot, a hydrometer, ten 12-ounce beer bottles or five 22-ounce beer bottles, their caps, the siphon hose, the racking cane, its cap, a measuring cup, and the bottle filler. Siphon 1/2 cup of cider to the hydrometer and use to determine final gravity. Drink the cider or pour it back into the jug once used.

Pour the corn sugar solution into the stockpot. Siphon the cider into the stockpot to mix with the corn sugar solution, splashing as little as possible. Siphon the cider into bottles, cap, and label.

Let the bottles sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for at least 1 month or store for up to 2 years; I find that this one is best about 6 months after brewing. Refrigerate before serving. The cider itself is a light straw color; the pink comes from watermelon sediment remaining in the cider. Be sure to pour a little of the sediment into each glass to give it a rosy color - trust me, it's tasty! If the cider tasted a little tart, add a tablespoon of simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, simmered until the sugar is dissolved) to the pint glass before serving.