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All beer, no brewing.

In the weeks since my last post I haven’t been able to pull off a brew day. However, I’ve…

  • Purchased two bottles of Dogfish Head Hellhound On My Ale and consumed one of them.
  • Happened to watch a Bulls vs. Pacers Saturday afternoon playoff game over pizza and beer at Piece with a few friends. This is not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I recommend it.
  • Spent roughly 20 hours in Madison, Wisconsin, along with my brother, which broke down this way:

2 hours – Checking in and relaxing at the hotel after the drive.

1 hour – Monty’s Blue Plate Diner. Artichoke sandwich and New Glarus Spotted Cow on tap. FTW.

3.5  hours – The Malthouse. A tale of two bartenders. Bartender A was a frowning, bored and depressed fellow that seemed about as happy behind the bar serving beers as he would behind bars serving his cellmate. The only thing we could gather was that guy got dumped by the love of his life right before work. Bartender B was about the nicest guy in the world, talking beer with everyone, giving a regular a birthday round on the house and allowing a local brewer from Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse to pour some free beers from a few growlers he had brought with him. It happened to be Madison Craft Beer Week, by the way. I was happy to partake and tried a Barleywine, a heavily dryhopped Pale Ale (I think) and something else.  It was 3 hours in and a few Tyranena Scurvys, Ale Asylum Porters, Potosi Snake Hollow IPAs, Ale Asylum Hopalicious IPAs, etc. had been had by then.

1.5 hours – The High Noon Saloon. Stopped by mainly to see an old friend that works there. Had a couple of New Glarus Moon Man Pale Ale’s and saw a pretty good meathead tough guy metalcore band that happened to be playing there that night…pretty good as far as that stuff goes anyway. They had a song about their favorite football team, a song in which they repeated the name of their own band a bunch of times which was also about drinking a lot of whiskey, and a song about fighting. The riffs were there though…and sometimes that is all I ask. It wasn’t bad after multiple hours bellied up to the bar.

5 hours of sleep @ the Sheraton. Priceline negotiator.

5.5 hours hanging out in line in a residential neighborhood near the Wine and Hop shop beginning at 6:45am. This, of course, was to score tickets to the Great Taste of the Midwest  in August and was the whole reason for the trip. Mission accomplished. Luckily, there was a decent coffee and bagel hookup nearby.

1 hour eating lunch at a Rocky Rococo’s. I am not too proud.

1 hour picking through vinyl at Mad City Music. Left with some T. Rex.

10 minutes buying six bottles of New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red to bring back home.

  • Back in Illinois:  Tapped two kegs of my homebrew: A Surly Furious clone and a dunkelweizen. More on these beers soon.
  • I joined my local homebrewer’s club. Monthly meetups at a bar with 30+ taps of the good stuff and the brewers are allowed to bring their homebrew into the bar. Hopefully I’ll pick up a few tips and maybe get around to entering a few competitions. I’ve already tried a few good homebrews from some of the other members and got a little feedback on my Furious clone. Win/win.
  • Had dinner and drank a few beers at the Onion last weekend. A very nice Double IPA out there in Lake Barrington. It used to be called the King Paddy. Now it’s called the Hop Slayer. Definitely a more Metal name. Whatever its name, I call it damn good. The Paddy Pale is nice as well. Don’t sleep on the Onion Pub and Brewery.
  • Planned out my next three brews in Beersmith and ordered the ingredients. Coming soon: 5 Count IPA (my house IPA recipe, hopped with Chinook, Centennial and Cascade), a Rye IPA hopped with Magnum and Simcoe, and a batch of the same Founders Breakfast Stout clone that I mentioned in the previous post. The schedule is to brew that sometime in the next six weeks or so, give it a nice long secondary fermentation in a nice cool, dark corner of my basement and then keg it and forget it until sometime around thanksgiving.
  • Chicago Craft Beer Week (which is actually creeping up on two weeks worth of events) is almost here. I’ve got a little vacation planned right after Memorial Day that will take up most of the fun budget, so I’ll have to sit most of the events out, but I did nab tickets to the closing night late session at Revolution. A night of Chicago brewed beers. I’ll be getting a primer later tonight at the grand opening party for Finch Beer Co. at their brewery. I’m sure I’ll return from that with something to write about.

So outside of working too many hours, having to pull too many weeds, too much rain and watching too much basketball and hockey, that’s what has kept me off the blog and out of the garage making beer for the last few weeks. This weekend’s projected bad weather might postpone brew day yet again…we shall see. I’m holding out a sliver of hope for Sunday.


Once Upon a Two Year Old Stout

This past Sunday I hung out with the family for my nephew’s first birthday party. Much partying was had, the man of the hour seemed to dig the talking Cookie Monster and mini Oscar the Grouch we got him, and I left with a gift of my own. Ever since I began brewing, I would always bring a few bottles of my homebrew for my dad, brother and sister to sample. A few years back I brewed the Founders Breakfast Stout clone recipe published in BYO magazine and I passed out a few bottles to family and friends, keeping most of it, as usual, for myself.

For an extract brew, and the first Stout I made, I thought it turned out pretty nice considering it had been conditioned in the pantry of my apartment as I had no basement or extra refrigerator to store it. I just had to deal with the temps mother nature, radiators and wall unit air conditioning laid on me. Anyway, I drank just shy of 40 bottles of it during the winter of ’09-’10 so it must have been at least ok.  Well, a ghost of homebrew past jumped out at me when I went to grab a bottle of water for my drive back home from the coolest 1-year old’s birthday party I had ever been to. A couple of bottles marked FBS on the cap, in my handwriting, were sitting right in the door of the fridge. Sister and bro-in-law must not have been in a hurry to try it (or maybe they did and decided that those other two bottles were better left untouched). My lucky day. I stole a bottle back from them.

I’ve never had the patience to age anything I brewed for that long. Nor have I brewed many beers that would lend themselves to aging a few years in the first place. My sister’s garage fridge, filled with various beers, juice boxes, bottled water and soda, where this beer has probably been sitting undisturbed for the last 18-20 months has been a good home for it. So tonight, to celebrate the fact that the Blackhawks had their backs against the wall in a must win game and pulled through with a convincing 7-2 victory, I cracked the bottle. Besides, it is mid-April and its 30 degrees and loudly thunder storming a cold, hard, nearly frozen rain here in the western Chicago suburbs. Hockey and Stout feels right this Tuesday evening.

A pour two years in the making.

To my surprise, all of that coffee and chocolate is still very present. Big chocolate sweetness up front followed by a smooth, but quite noticeable, coffee backbone. Even the carbonation held up. One of the problems I remember with this beer was that the head dissipated quickly. I can recall reading up on this and learning that it is the oils present from the coffee beans used in secondary fermentation that work against head retention. I had made a note about doing a cold press for the coffee addition instead of straight beans the next time I made it. Time has done this beer well. I am down to the last few sips as I write this and a slight head remained on this beer throughout.

Two years...two sips remained...not for long.

As it warmed the chocolate took over. The coffee has definitely faded into the background but not in a bad way. Two years later, I’ve got a very nice, full-bodied Stout that falls just slightly on the sweet and smooth side of the style. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t make a great homebrew using extract. I wish I had more of this. I’d enter it in a competition or two and I bet this would score fairly well.  I will be brewing this beer again soon (all-grain this time) and plan on keg conditioning for several months through the summer. This will be a good one to tap sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Gifts keep on givin’.

A few old shots from the making of the Founders Breakfast Stout clone: April 2009. A lot in life sure has changed since then. Tasting great.

Coffee and chocolate just before being added to the boil.

The beer after being conditioned for a month with 2 ounces of Kona coffee added one week prior to bottling.

Buying Records and Drinking Beer

It  didn’t take me long to unleash a post in which Rock ‘N’ Roll and beer converged. Get used to it. This past Saturday, my wife and I made a much-needed day of leisure out of two of our favorite activities, buying records and drinking beer.  We took a short drive into Chicago to hit the CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project) record fair. Held at the Chicago Plumbers Union hall, this put us about a mile away from the Haymarket Pub and Brewery, which we had yet to visit. After three and a half hours of digging through seemingly endless crates and battling other record collectors for great finds (I missed out on a nice T.Rex – Electric Warrior purchased right in front of me for $8), we decided that we should leave while we still had some money in the budget for the brewpub and were happy with our purchases (me: a lot of old Metal and a little funk; she: a lot of old country).

Haymarket opened in late ’10, though the West Loop, where it is located, isn’t a part of the city I hang out in very often. With so many quality beer lists in the Logan Square (my former neighborhood) and Wicker Park/Bucktown areas, I tend to get a little too comfortable with my favorite spots and forget that the city is quite large. Creature of habit I suppose. So getting over to Haymarket to drink a few of head brewer/owner Pete Crowley’s brews had been long overdue. Pete had been brewing at Rock Bottom’s River North location (another place I never got over to much) for years and his brews have won plenty of awards from all of the right festivals us beer nerds pay mind to. When he left to do his own thing it was local beer scene news and expectations were high. And since Haymarket opened, I’ve heard nothing but high praise for the IPAs and Double IPAs Pete has been serving. So it was time to try a few myself.

Flight @ Haymarket Brewing

l to r: The Saison Also Rises, Devil In The Wit City, Dynamite and Roses Belgian IPA, Black Wobbly Robust Porter, Comeback and Guzzle Spiced Belgian Dark Ale

We knew that we’d be trying the IPAs on the menu in larger pours, so we started with the flight you see pictured above to get a taste of a few of the other brews on the long draft list.

The Saison Also Rises – I didn’t get much, if any, of the peppery funk I would normally expect in a Farmhouse Ale. Which is fine, because admittedly, Farmhouse Ales are far from my favorite style. What I got was a very crisp, dry finishing Belgian Blonde-like beer with a fairly strong lemon character and a hint of bubblegum. Jumps out as a nice summer brew.

Devil In The Wit City – Looks, smells and tastes like a Wit. A very cloudy one at that. However, not one of the better Wits I’ve had. The coriander comes through well enough, but not much else stood out to me.

Dynamite and Roses Belgian IPA – The Belgian IPAs I’ve tried thus far have been drastically different from beer to beer. I don’t really have a good handle on this style. I’m not sure that anyone does. All I know is that this was a really nice beer with a seemingly complex profile that was slightly overpowered by the dominant tangerine/grapefruit notes from the bittering Summit hops. The dynamite in the name I suppose. I wanted more than the 4 ounces we shared and that is always a good sign. I look forward to this one again sometime.

Black Wobbly Robust Porter – Black is right. This looks more like a Stout than a Porter. I know Amarillo hops when I smell them, and that’s what it smelled like. Which fools the senses when that first taste is heavy on the chocolate. I continued on a little confused by it, and then it was gone. I’ll have to try this one again. Interesting, though. Sweet, roasty, hoppy.

Comeback and Guzzle Spiced Belgian Dark Ale – Wow. A lot going on with this one. A noticeable alcohol presence bit on the first sip, followed by some fruity sweetness, which left a sticky mouthfeel and more of a cherry cough syrup aftertaste. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t know that I’d want to sip on 12 ounces of it either. Another comment at our table referenced the dentist’s office. Safe to say they didn’t like it.

On to the 12 and 16 ouncers…

We started with the Bronzeville IPA and worked our way up the ABV ladder. Bronzeville is basically a showcase for the earthy Willamette hop variety and that is exactly what you get. Comes off closer to a Pale Ale than an IPA to me, actually, even at almost 7% ABV.

Anarchy Double IPA was up next. A hazy, unfiltered, full bodied, bitter brew full of high alpha hops. I got pine, grapefruit and a slight black tea note along with some noticeable alcohol as it warmed. This is definitely a keeper, but we kind of sold Anarchy short on this trip. We had ordered the Anarchy and the Mathias at the same time, sharing our last beers of the day and ended up having a bit of a face off between Anarchy and the Mathias. Mathias won.

Mathias Imperial IPA – Upon one sip, my wife declared this beer “magical.” I’m not sure I disagree. A bright orange (my pic doesn’t do it justice) citrus hop bomb that could fool one into thinking this was a 50/50 tropical fruit punch/Double IPA blend. Hugely sweet up front (peaches, passionfruit) with just enough bitterness behind it to remind you that you are drinking a pretty serious beer. The 10% ABV is alarmingly 100% hidden which makes this quite a dangerous pour. Nice to meet you Citra hops.

l to r: Mathias Imperial IPA, Three Floyds Topless Wytch Baltic Porter

I tried a 4 0z. pour of Three Floyds Topless Wytch Baltic Porter, but it arrived with the Double and Imperial IPAs. Not the wisest choice as it got kind of lost in all those hops. But by then I was getting a little beer happy anyway. It was sort of a “Hey, I didn’t see they had 4 oz. pours of the guest drafts too. That looks good. Let’s order it.” That type of thing. So hopefully I’ll see the Topless Wytch again sometime and can offer a fair assessment.

My virgin voyage to Haymarket was a success, as was the vinyl haul from the record fair. Combining that with the wonderful spring weather we had and this past Saturday was all around pretty stellar. And as far as Double IPAs go, Haymarket may very well currently make the best of any brewpub in Chicago.  Piece is on notice. I’ve actually read a couple of reviews in which Haymarket was criticized for having too many IPAs and not enough other styles on draft. Who are you people and where do you come from? I know there is the ever-present hophead backlash among serious beer nerds…but you can’t seriously be complaining about a great brewer occupying two or three out of twenty taps with multiple Double/Imperial IPAs, can you? Well, I suppose you can. I did see a server at the pub deliver a can of Blatz to a nearby table while we were there, enforcing my belief that you are never really all that far away from someone that is completely insane. To each their own is what I tell myself…even though I know whoever ordered a Blatz there is a bad person. Which leads to the question: Hey Haymarket, whats up with the Blatz on the beer list?

Enter The Garage

Garage Rock is loosely defined as a raw and primitive form of Rock ‘N’ Roll. That’s pretty spot on. I also like to think of it as Rock ‘N’ Roll in its purest form. The same words could be used to describe homebrewing.

Raw? Sure.

Primitive? I guess it depends on the brewer and their methods.

Pure? Most definitely.

Guitar, bass, drums and a microphone. Water, malt, hops and yeast. Figure out the basics, fire it up and go. You’ll likely get better and pick up a few tricks the more you play.

Many great breweries, and even more great bands, began in the garage…and many great ideas, innovations and inspired moments are conceived when one passionate person starts tinkering around with things in the garage. I’m going to work at creating more of these moments in my life. Many will involve beer.

I started homebrewing in 2007. The kitchen of the old Logan Square (Chicago) apartment that I shared with my then girlfriend became my brewery. Since then, I married that girlfriend, relocated to a house in the Chicago suburbs, moved the brewery out to the garage, and traded in malt extract for milled grain and bottles for kegs.

In this short period of a few years I’ve gotten a bit better at this whole brewing thing. I’m definitely a better brewer today than the day I began, anyway. I’ve still got much to learn and a long way to go. And I will. You can read all about it here if you like. I’ll probably also write about craft beers in general and Rock ‘N’ Roll some, too. I consider both to be saviours and inspirations and I always end up talking or writing about them sooner or later regardless. Besides, in my world, Beer and Rock go together like Bobby and Whitney. If I’m brewing up, I’m rocking out…in the garage.

Garage. Rock. Brewing.  And now you know how I named my brewhouse.

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