Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Beer Swap

Merry Christmas everybody!

It's been over a week since any of us last posted, but with the Holidays and end of year deadlines at work we've all been a little busy. This year for Christmas I got roped into a Holiday tradition that is becoming more and more popular each years. I speak of the Christmas Beer Swap. It's a great tradition, which I hope to participate in for years to come. For anyone who might not know how it works, a group of guys get together (girls can join in too...for sexual favors) and buy a different case of beer. Then they put all the beer together and make a bunch of variety packs. For Christmas time, typically everyone gets a Holiday or seasonal brew. What I love about this Holiday tradition is it gives you a chance to try a bunch of new and different beers that you might not try otherwise. This is a big deal in PA since most of the time you have to buy an entire case to try any of these beers, and at $35+ for a TV and no beer makes Homer something something.

I did this with a group of seven other guys at work, which means everyone got three of each beer. We did the swap on Tuesday before Christmas and I have already had the chance to sample several of the beers. I figured this would be a great opportunity to share my thoughts as I drink them. So expect several followups as I get through the collection.

We've got 10 different beers actually. One of the guys went to a "make your own 6-pack shop" ad bought 3 separate beers. The list includes Magic Hat (Howl) Black-as-Night Winter Lager, Bell's Christmas Ale, Lancaster Brewing Strawberry Wheat, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Erie Brewing Ol' Red Cease and Desist, Clipper City Brewing Winter Storm Category 5 Ale, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale, Troegs Mad Elf, Southern Tier Brewing Old Man Winter Ale, and to top off the collection, Samichlaus.

The first one I tried was the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Now I tend to shy away fom Sierra Nevada normally. They have a hard-on for hops. Though this is a fact true to just about all American craft brewers, but Sierra Nevada's got a real stiffy. The Celebration Ale was actually my pick. I was the one who bought it. Figuring most of the other beers would be heavy I wanted to mix things up with something a little lighter. The beer I wanted to buy, Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale, was $70 a case. So I went with a suggestion from the guy at the beer store. He said it wasn't as hoppy as most there other stuff. Well he was right, it wasn't "as" hoppy. Unfortunately there was much any other flavor either. It was slightly beer flavored hops-water. This surprised me because a lot of sources ranked it amongst the top Christmas brews. Alas, the truth is it tasted watered down with the only real flavor being the bitterness of the hops. It also had a cherry red hue that seemed completely atificial, as if they added red food coloring to make it more festive. I found this beer to be highly overrated and dissapointing.

The next beer I tried was the Cetegory 5 Ale. This beer from the High Seas line fo Clipper City Brewing was pretty much what I expected. Fairly typical for a winter seasonal brew. It was dark, rich and heavy on the hops. THough it is an imperial ESB and it did have a few unique characteristics. To quote BeerAdvocate "The neck label mentioned yeast sediment but it looks remarkably clear." So I guess that makes it special. It was good and I would recommend it if someone was looking for a winter beer, but it's got nothing on the last beer in this review.

The latests one to try, the Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, I've actually been drinking as I write this. I like it. I really really like it. The beer has a nice amber brown hue and rich aroma. It has a spiciness to it that I don't think I've ever tasted before, a respectable kiss of hops, and a unique caramel finish. I think it is incredibly smooth and very well balanced for a winter seasonal brew. I am sad, for as I wrap this up, the beer is now gone. Luckily I still have 2 more bottles in the fridge. Definitely at the top of my list so far. Though I do still have yet to sample the Samichlaus.

Expect more from me as I continue through the Christmas beer swap collection, and have a Happy Holidays.

update: I'd love to get the input of anyone else whose had the chance to try these beers as I go through the list. It would be great ot get somebody else's take on these.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Life is full of hard choices

So let's be perfectly honest with ourselves for a moment.  Stop sucking in your gut, don't stand up straight, go to a mirror, look yourself in the eye long and hard and ask yourself "What beer should I drink?"

Then we'd like you to honestly post you answer in the comments section.  Or lie and say it's the Utopia (It's not, liar!)

I'll go first:  If I answer the questions honestly, it has me drinking Molson or Labatt.  Not my favorites, but I have had them.  There's many beers on that list that I enjoy, both cheap and expensive; but I wish I could say the answer is Elsinore.  I hear if you take them a bottle with a mouse in it, they'll like, give you free beer.

Source for that nifty flowchart

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Penn Brewery

While some asslicking cockwhores are moving out of the city of Pittsburgh, some fine, upstanding citizens are going to great lengths to keep Pittsburgh brewing traditions alive.

Now that doesn't say much in that article I linked to, so I'll give you the scuttlebutt I've heard around town.  Cause, you know, it's just a blog.  What the fuck do you want from me, journalism?

The story I heard was that Tom Pastorius, founder and owner, who played with his band many Friday nights at the brewpub, wanted to retire.  He wasn't greedy, he just wanted to have fun with his life and he'd made as much money as he felt he needed.  I admire that.  But anyway, stories I heard had Tom retiring to do... whatever the hell he felt like.  So he sold Penn Brewery to some folks who thought they could continue on his good work.  But Tom didn't actually own the building, just the company; and the landlords wanted to write up a new lease for the new owners that included numerous anal violation clauses, and few to no lubrication addendums.  So the new owners started looking at moving or selling out.  (I don't really blame them for that, it sounded like a raw deal to me).  But Tom wasn't really cool with that, he wanted Penn Brewery to stay in Pittsburgh.  He'd started that place to be a Pittsburgh institution.

In Februray, his worst fears came to fruition.  The folks who bought it sold the bottling line and moved production to Wilkes-Barre.

This is not what Tom wanted.  In fact, he had gone on record saying that he didn't want the brewery to end when he retired.  So, he got together with some other investors, got a grant from the city's urban renewal initiative (to the tune of $300k), and bought the fucking place back.  Awesome!

Now, I understand that not everyone can afford to be so selfless and dedicated to community.  I sure can't.  But even if you can't do something like Tom to try to give back to a community, the least you could do is not shit all over it.  I'm talking about begging favors in the name of community, then pulling stakes, leaving disgusting amounts of debt, jobless locals, and a vacant building in a barely recovering part of town.  Yes, I'm still bitter about that.  And I will be until they either move back into a depressed area of Pittsburgh or rename their beer "Pissy Swill sold by Shady, Backstabbing Bastards".

Such can not be said about Tom Pastorius.  Brewermaster, entrepreneur, yinzer, awesome dude.  Here's to you!

So that's the story as I heard it, and I have now done my part to usher in the death of journalism by spewing unchecked facts and rumors into the blogosphere.  Feel free to read about what really happened but it will probably be less entertaining.

Sorry if you started reading this before I was done, I hit some key combination that posted it in the middle of writing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Victory is Ours!

Another battle has been won in the great Pennsylvania war on booze. The winning side? The alkies of course.

A little over a year ago, a restaurant by the name of Baba D's wanted to open up a new location on Carson Street in the South Side region of Pittsburgh. The owner purchased the property, spend $600K renovating the place, and applied for his liquor license in preparation for opening night. Pittsburgh City Council's response. "Go Fuck yourself."

Yes, I know he's County, not City, but Mayor Opie is his lapdog.

Obviously the owner, Mr. Najib Aboud, was a little put off by this. It appeared that the City wouldn't issue a license do to over saturation of the area. What that meant, besides what happens to my pants whenever a watch Honor Blackman in old episodes of The Avengers, was that there were too many bars within a 50,000 square foot area. How many is too many? 62 bars to be precise. Well that doesn't seem all that unreasonable, but let's to the math, shall we. 50,000 sq-ft divided by 5280 ft in a mile squared, carry the box of hamster food and an enema for uncle Steve (the two are completely unrelated, i swear), and multiply by the number of Tiger Wood's mistresses...ahh yes. That's an area of 1.148 acres or 0.0018 square mile. That is 62 bars in 0.0018 square miles, or more precisely, one bar for every 806 sq-ft. HOLY SHIT! The limit the City set is 53. Why 53? Because 54 bars is obviously pushing it. What are you, retarded?

I've been around the Country and around the World, and in all my travels, I have yet to find a place with such a large and highly concentrated number of bars as Carson Street in Pittsburgh. The South Side bar scene, is basically a 1.3 mile stretch of road running from the 10th Street Bridge to the Hot Metal Bridge, and it is lined on both sides with nothing but bars and the occational diner or mom n' pop shop mixed in.

The city actually purchased an 8ft x 8ft plot of land in the middle of it to put up a pay toilet, so people would stop urinating in the alleys, on the sides of the building, or even just outside to front door of the bar.

And this isn't just a bunch of random dive bars. No, Carson Street has something to satisfy everyone's taste. There's the classic Americana at places like Mario's or Dee's Cafe. If you're into death metal try visiting the Smiling Moose. The Tiki Lounge has stools and tables made from tree trunks, and a real witch doctor who hang around the back (I think his name is Pete). Hippies and yuppies can share a drink in harmony at the HKAN Hookah Bar and Lounge. The snobs are free to drug their women at Paparazzi's (No seriously, I've seen it happen on several occasions myself. Girls stay away from there). You can listen to some great live blues at the Blue Note Cafe. Shootz is the place to go for football and pool. And complete drunken debauchery can be had at the other 54 bars you have to choose from. Casey's Draft House even has a midget that comes out every 15 minutes to poor shots.

...I think he's actually the owner.

Well, it looks like Baba D's can finally wipe the dust off their back bar. Drinking establishment #63, welcome to the neighborhood. Let's get shitfaced.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Come on, who's gonna ever find out?

The biggest problem facing modern drinkers?  Cameras.

Everyone has at least three cameras on their person at any given time.  Every single device sold at Best Buy has a fucking camera in it.  Every phone, PDA, mp3 player, cigarette lighter, and toaster strudel has a fucking camera built into it for no damn reason.  I hear tell they're even working on a camera that has a little camera mounted on top. And for the most part, these devices go unused.  Because they're shit.  The reason your lipstick case has a camera in it is because the camera is so substandard that it cost almost no money to build one into it.  If someone really wants to take pictures of something, they bring a camera that isn't embedded into a coffee mug because even if it's 12 years old and went through the wash in your jacket pocket a few times, it takes far superior pictures.

As a result, the hand sanitizer with the shitty Chinese CCD chip in the lid stays in your brother's girlfriend's purse... until someone does something stupid.

That's how you get this

Saturday, December 5, 2009

This Day in Booze: The 21st Amendment

Do I really need to say anything about this day. It's the freak'n end of prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed upon the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933 at 3:32 pm. The United States of America had been dry for 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, 32.5 minutes....well, sort of.

The Noble Experiment Failed, but at this time of rejoicing we should look back on those 13 years and what long term effects they have on the shaping of today.

Yes, for the people that lived it, Prohibition was Hell. Regardless of the original game plan, there were unintended consequences. Some of the worst things to come out of prohibition, besides no booze, were bad booze (poison), organized crime, sobriety, lost jobs when the breweries shut down, the common man turned criminal just for trying to make a living, and a flat out disrespect for the law.

But if you really take some time to look at Prohibition, you notice that not all the unintended consequences were for the worse. I never though I'd say this, but prohibition in a lot of ways was good for society. Now before you decide to string me up by the balls for heresy (I like my balls) hear me out.

Prohibition was responsible for introducing American's to a vast wealth of foreign spirits. Since what was being produced locally at the time was little better than paint thinner with a touch of caramel and formaldehyde, the importation of liquor from abroad helped to diversify America's pallet. Whiskey from Canada was much smoother than American rye or bourbon, and is still extremely popular today. Tequila was all but unknown to anybody who didn't live in the South West or California, but as soon as booze was made illegal, the entire country was ¡Hurra por la bebida! Shiploads of rum, which had fallen out of favor after the revolution due to cost, were park just 3 miles off the coast of Florida. There were also scotches from the U.K., cordials from France, schnapps from Europe, and the list goes on.

Speakeasies. So long sausage fest! Hello all you can eat Tacos! OK, I admit that was a little much, but women in bars?! Astounding!

Finally it was acceptable for men and women to socialize in the same place. You can also find links to the suffrage movement and the beginning of women's social independence. Not only did the quality of the company improve, but so did people's view the bar scene. It was no longer a place to just hang out with the guys and talk about how much life sucked. Now it was an opportunity to mingle and entertain oneself on a Wednesday night. During this time the bartender was able to hone his craft, even if it was simply to mask the awful taste of the poison they were serving. But that didn't stop people form frequenting such establishments, and thanks to Prohibition the "cocktail hour" was born.

The dawn of the tourism industry owes it's roots to Prohibitions. Prior to the 1920s, traveling abroad just for the fun of it was a concept your average American never really thought about. But without good booze to be had locally, the industry took off with a fury. The Caribbean and Havana were especially popular places, and it was on these trips that American's were introduced to even more unique spirits and cocktails. As the industry grew, you have the birth of Pan Am and other major airlines and cities like Miami grew exponentially. All of this meant jobs and growth for the community as well.

Those are just the biggies. Some of the other benefits to arise from Prohibition include the government issue of industrial alcohol licenses, which meant more research into yeasts (nice for us homebrewers). In 1919, the Scientific American Publishing Company published "Home Made Beverages: The Manufacture of Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic Drinks in the Household" in which vendors sold small barrels, simple stills, guides for distilling techniques. Don't ask me how a book on making non-alcoholic beverages is able to sell stills during Prohibition. I just report the facts. The rum industry was making some of the best quality rum ever, until WWII and things went to shit.

Now even though all these good things came out of prohibition, is any of this going to stop me from celebrating it's demise this evening in grand fashion? Nope. But just remember that even good things can come from bad situations. Except for Fuzzy Blueberry Fail. Nothing good comes of that.

Update: Anybody else have more good unintended consequences that came out of Prohibition? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, December 4, 2009

CAMRA, BrewDog, BJCP Styles and (Grand) Pappy Protz

Well, there is yet more controversy around BrewDog. As a blogger, I'm legally required to write about this. They've tried to push the limits of brewing, and especially British brewing, to the breaking point-- using, horrors of horrors, Champagne Yeast and traditional German techniques. Bowing to the French and Germans, about beer no less, naturally set off CAMRA, and even the usually level headed Roger Protz, who is the singular reason I went gay for CAMRA. Protz, as detailed beautifully over at Brookston, was refusing to call this beer. This story was reported there better than I can do myself.

What I can add here are two things, one about my speculation of what Brew Dog might do to British brewing, the other about our interpretation of British beer as Americans, through the guise of the BJCP. As Brew Dog pushes the limits of British Brewing, they run the risk of running themselves out of business. There are great traditional breweries, sure, but there are a large number of startups that brew ultra-traditional brews because they sell, mainly to CAMRA. These breweries could expand to doing more creative beers, in established markets and with established tones. Perhaps they could even bring back the Old Ales, Barleywines and XXXX beers so well established and discussed by Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. Not to mention, there are 3.5% alcohol beers in the UK that pack much more, and more appropriate, ranges of flavors into the medium than many of the 7-9% Brewdog beers have done. These masterful breweries, if invited to do more 'American' style beers, could likely whomp the whippersnappers at Brewdog, if their base would let them. As a CAMRA member of dubious standing, I say go on.

As Americans, we believe in antiquarian British beers. We want the beers of our forefathers when they were stationed there, hence the continued inclusion of Southern English Brown, a beer I have never seen popularly mentioned in two years of living there and numerous trips back since (including being at the GBBF and Festivals south of the Thames). The BJCP, following a mission of preservation, are nice enough to keep these styles alive, but it belies what we want from British beer. It is also what the flat-caps and bearded wierdies (both of which I qualify for at times) of CAMRA want. British beer is marketable as twee, and while some lovely baby steps have been made, this wholesale attack by Brewdog might be shortsighted. As I mentioned above, they could easily be beat by expansions in the product line by the most traditional brewers. They also will open up the UK to the amazing, longer standing, American beers. While I wish them luck, enjoy their beers and think they do put a bit of a UK spin on things, I'd be more interested in a British version of a US IIPA or even an American (Texas) Brown with UK hops and malts, rather than Dogfish Head: Scotland.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Beer

If you haven't figured it out yet, you're supposed to click on that image to go to a different website that has a nifty little thing called "Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Beer".

If you have figured that out, then you're not drunk enough. Go get more booze.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

BJCP Results and Feedback

After a protracted battle with the mailman, My BJCP results finally got to me. I thought I'd share a concise version here, for those of you thinking of studying for the exam or curious about the organization.

The program puts a lot of clear care into the examinations. The packet I received had a members guide, a neat color chart, pin, list of my previous experience, certificate and, of course, the results.

I scored a 76 on the written. My exam was well balanced between the technical and style ability. The first comment I got was about my poor handwriting and losing some data in copying by writing in the margins. I knew the former to be a peoblem, but the latter was disappointing not to know about before the test. Still, I should have thought they'd be copied. As that is my only complaint, It should be evidence of how highly I think of this process.

On the style questions, I did well on recalling the styles, classic examples and comparisons. My answers were still short on depth and I am missing some specific details on aspects.the German lager question, which was the one I knew least about before studying turned out to be my strongest answer.

Technically, I lacked depth and missed a lot of details. In particular I did not provide enough detail about decoction, how to manipulate body and I overlooked techniques to balance and work with biterness, wort chilling, water chemistry and aeration. All of this reflects areas where I am inexperienced in brewing. I am impressed by how well the test reflects what I feel are my weakest areas in my knowledge.

I scored an 80 on tasting, so I can't imagine needing to retake it for years to come, which is exciting! I scored close to the proctors on 3 questions (within 2) and was 18 points high on the last. I generally gave decent feedback. I had a lot of trouble detecting wood flavors and also some issues with esters and sherry notes. This is consistent with my prior judging experience. I overused 'some' and 'good', and the program would rather see me use intensity indicators. This isn't surprising and I am glad to be given a means to correct this overuse of vague terminology.

The feedback I got was much more detailed than the overview I gave here. I am an OK brewer with a solid knowledge of brewing, and I feel that has been reflected here. My pallette is better than my ability to write about what I find. I will delve into the recommended reading (Michael Jackson, George Fix) and will think about taking the test again once I have 15 points or so. Right now I am happy to be a certified judge and know I have a lot to learn from many very nice people before I move into the more top tier of judges.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fermentation Friday for November-- Roundup

Sorry for my late roundup, I spent most of yesterday sleeping off the excesses of the holiday. Thankfully R. Dicks (r huge) held us down here at JABB, telling us about how he's the special friend who gets to help with the brewing. He downplays his contribution a bit, I think, as he's been hosting the brewing and I think has caught the bug. I expect him to be up and running a massive system by this time next year, and incorporated two after that! As mentioned before, Adam talked about his natural independence,and the guys he brews with. He left out his place as a central node of the homebrew blogging community; perhaps even a community organizer. Bob talks about trying to find a community and reaching out to the internet when the physical community won't materialize. My suggestion, if I may, start a local club, you can't have too many. The brew dudes rank order their community, centered on their family and friends who support and consume the product. Next are their blog followers, and finally the forums, twitter and facebook.

Well, how about me. I love the local clubs, I attend three (CBS, NHC and HOPS!) and belong officially to HOPS! I take something different from each, HOPS! brings me a community I sorely lacked when I moved to Chicago. The CBS is full of old-time brewers, many of whom have gone on to some major notoriety. Their first Thursday meetings bring in a variety of brews, both commercial and homebrew, from throughout Chicago land. The NHC is full of people pushing the boundaries of what a beer can be, which is fun.

A second community I love is the BJCP, where I'm a certified judge and learn a lot from the other judges and tasting a variety of homebrew. Finally, I'm active on the BN forums and even donate. I consume the podcasts and it keeps me occupied on slow days at work.

Finally, my biggest community are my co-bloggers here, who put up with my incessant beer discussions over IM and e-mail and keep me from being lonely, thanks guys.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Must Be!

Ok, so I'm sorry I didn't post for Fermentation Friday, I was busy moving all week.  However, I do have a shiny nugget of alcohol-induced insanity for Monday Hangover:

I'm not sure Dylan captures the whole "Christmas spirit" thing, what with the Hasidic musicians and drunken brawls, but it sure looks like a party I'd love to be at!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Brew Crew

When B. James and McPaddy started brewing beer about 3-4 years ago I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. When they let me join in on their brewing actvities, they took me under their wing and guided and nurtured me like the special child I am. I was like the small boy the officer lets sit in the front of the squad car and play with the siren, or the kid the airline pilot lets sit in his lap and steer the plane.

I was on top of the world. But in my world, they were the Beirmeisters and I was only the lowely apprentice.

When I think about the guys I've brewed with, I think we all have something different to offer to the beer making process. Each of us has a different idea of what perfection is. McPaddy definitely likes the hops more than the rest of us, I love a nice rich malty Scotch Ale, while B. James' preferences lie with dismantling the emersion cooler and making a still.

The point is, we all have different individual preferences, but that is exactly what a good beer needs. Balance. My contribution is they let me play with the Auto-siphon. One of the few things I can't screw up.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fermentation Friday for November, Roundup 1

Hey, we're still waiting on some more contributors for FF and will be posting a full roundup on Monday. So far Adam keep up his natural Pennsylvanian independence by figuring stuff out himself, with help from the Internet and his local clubs and shops, and some hindrance from his friends. Independent though he may be, he still is a central node for a lot of beer bloggers, which he has the humility not to mention, so I will.

Bob tells us about his search for a club, the weird brewing patterns of Texans and his ability to tap into an ephemeral cloud of knowledge to feed his habit. Is sounds like he's doing it the old-school way some of the pioneers have done it, which is nice to see. Check out the rest of his site, and send him some sympathy for missing the hunt this year, no one up here has so much as seen anything with antlers!

Monday, November 23, 2009

This Day in Booze: Willis-Campbell Act

OK, I postponed this till a little later in the day so as not to step on the feet of King Cool. ...Who am I kidding. I was too busy yesterday getting drunk and too busy this morning nursing my headache to write anything even semi-coherent.

Ahh, Prohibition. When you’re having a rough day, you can always count on it to brighten things up knowing that people had it a lot tougher 80-90 years ago. At least in this day and age, you can go down to any corner bar and drink your troubles away.

Alcohol during the early years of prohibition was treated very similarly to how California handles marijuana today. Alcohol was illegal, but there was a work around. It was called the doctor’s office. Booze was only legal if you had a doctor's prescription, and it didn't take long before doctors were writing scripts for everything from back pain to a paper cut. Just like pot today, alcohol was the cure for everything.

Of course we all know the truth. Everybody knows that for every 100 prescriptions that some California wack job writes for pot only maybe one is for something legitimate, like glaucoma. Personally I think the Government should just legalize it already and then tax the shit out of it. But that's a another subject for another realm of the blogosphere.

But it does relate back to prohibition and this day. With all the prescriptions for liquor, and the booze industry actually making more money than they did prior to prohibition, it didn't take long for President Harding to realize that his mother-in-law's weekly drunken nude stumble through the Rose Garden had little to do with easing the pain of her bunions.

So on November 23rd, 1921, President Harding signed the Willis-Campbell Act (also known as the anti-beer bill), which forbade doctors from prescribing beer and liquor for medicinal purposes. So no more booze for Grandma and here sore hip. No more booze for Aunt May and her chronic depression. No more booze for Uncle Jack and his addiction to ...booze. No more fun for anybody.

According to Wikipedia, the most reliable source for anything on the interwebs, "The Act kept in force all anti-liquor tax laws that had been in place prior to the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919, giving authorities to right to choose whether or not to prosecute offenders under prohibition laws or revenue laws, but at the same time guaranteeing bootleggers that they would not be prosecuted in both ways." I guess I could take some time to explain what that all means, but really that's too much work for my brain on a Monday. You should be lucky I'm writing this at all, given my current condition.

Donnie Iris Don't Work at Pants N'at!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Metro, NHC Winter Brew Off

Its been a good couple of days for beer up here in Chicago's "Little Sweden". On Wednesday the fine folks over at Metropolitan Brewing sold me an empty keg, helped me make it into a boil kettle, tried some of my homebrew and even let me sample the new Dopplebock. It is great, smooth and malty with little hint of the 8+% abv under the hood. The whole crew were also all that is gracious in showing me around and making me feel at home. As I live a scant 1.5 blocks from the brewery, I hope to see them around.

Last night Metro had a release party for the Dopplebock at In Fine Spirits, where I hadn't been before. It was a great time, and I'm a few pins and a lot of knowledge richer (also some tasty samples). The Dopplebock casoulet sounded good, but I had to run to another local bar for the Northside Homebrewer's Connection winter brew-off. Winner got a cash prize and to make their beer at the bar. Spoiler, it wasn't our porter, but the winning beer was very good, a nice muddy stout (their words, not mine) with loads of chocolate, some vanilla and a a medium-thin base of what I gather was an American LME. The effect was entrancing, in that sometimes it was clearly chocolate (especially in the aroma) whereas the flavor moved from chocolate to peanut butter to a good clean finish. The bittering levels were on point to show off the pyrotechnics of the brew.

I kept getting asked what my favorite was, but I can't say I know. I certainly enjoyed our own beer, an aggressive American Robust Porter and my first foray into Ahtanum hops, which are flowery to the point of pollen and are my new obsession. These are one of the secret ingredients to the 21st Amendment's Back in Black IPA, one of my five favorite beers. Our porter was just a porter, a few people kindly remarked it was the one beer they could see having more than one pint of, as opposed to the other more extreme (maybe radical) beers on tap that night, not as a slight to those beers, but to note the delineation between radical and not-radical, if I had to pick a nomenclature.

The second place beer was a great brown ale. I didn't notice the extremeness right away, but I'm told it was a heavy dose of palm sugar. It just tasted like a good, rather sweet, moderately bitter, low hopped brown ale. I'm hoping they put the recipe out there some time. The other brown ale (But Wait There's More... Billy Mays Brown Ale) was bourbon barreled, which was pretty obvious right away. The backing beer was nicely done and showed off the whiskey immensly. Ted (the fearless leader) and his team ran up a fun and funny Coal Porter, which was, oxymoronically, smoky. For those who don't follow malt production, the use of coke to make malt is when beers stopped being smoky. It is a quadruple pun as a result (can you get all 4?). The smoke was a surprise, but pleasant, well balanced into the beer and not overwhelming. The beer stood up well to the added pizzaz, though that is not a surprise given Ted's talents. I can't say much about the host beers at Hamburger Mary's as my pallete and thirst were overwhelmed by the homebrew on display and I didn't have many. I will fix that soon enough (turns out, they get a lot of steelers lovers up there).

As a loyal Southsider in comfortable exile way on the northside, I sometimes feel weird being in both clubs. No one else seems to care, at all, but I notice some crazy difference between them. I think one is the attitude to beer. The southside club is very style and technique oriented, but having a quorum of BJCP judges and both award winning and pro brewers as current or former members will do that to you. The North Side club is very experimental, with people always pushing the envelope to make beers they can't buy elsewhere and no one else ever came up with. Mind you, they also have a cadre of award winners and pros. Maybe it is the proximity of the meetings to the most radical brewer of them all that brings out the weird. The major difference for me is in what people want when you have their beer. I think this comes with age, the NHC is a much younger club and I don't know any of them well, I'm not sure they know each other that well either. Their is more formal politeness and the beer evaluation focuses on what is good. The food, also, was amazing at the meeting I made. The southside group are old friends, brewing together for ten plus years. Punches are not pulled and criticism is the mandate of the day. I like both, though I'm naturally suited to the latter. Learning the former is a good lesson for me, but being asked, "what do you think of this beer" remains a hard question to answer.

Remember, we are hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, where we ask about your homebrew community. We'll take submissions all next week and will post our wrap-up on Monday, November 30th. Also, remember that our top referee between November 1st and the end of the year gets a JABB care package.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fermentation Friday for November

Adam has been kind enough to let us host Fermentation Friday this month and we couldn't be more excited while still sober. While we are all about the hangover, the topic this month is your homebrew community. For us, this blog serves as that, though people sometimes think we're but one split personality writing in triplicate. Sadly, that is what happens when you come through cub scouts together. Aside from the blog, we each have our own communities as well. I love the Chicago Homebrew Scene, twitter, judging and my love hate relationship with CAMRA (where I went fake-gay for membership). bJames loves him some homebrewing at Paddy's, and Richard Dicks takes it on the road, across the ocean, with his family, and in his home.

The task we set out is as follows: Please tell us about your homebrew communities. Are you into the BN, BA, weblogs and other 1337 f0rm5 of 21st century brewing? Do you while away the evenings in crowded halls with you area's finest, sampling and talking homebrew into the wee hours? Does your brew crew keep you sane? Or do you get your fix sitting at the bar plotting the next move? How do you keep them all going and what does each bring to your life?

Since FF is the day after Thanksgiving this month, we'll take comments, linked to this posting, any time that week. Our roundup will help you ease back into the work week on Monday the 30th of November. As an added bonus to the homebrew blogging community- we will send a JABB care package to our highest referee between now and the New Year.

BJCP = Passed

I got my BJCP exam notification this evening. I passed and am excited!! Surprisingly, I did better on tasting than written-- tongue over brain, I tells ya. I'll fill you all in more when I get the actual paperwork in hand later this week or early next. At least one Both of my HOPS! brothers who took it with me also got their results, nailing pretty stellar scores at that! Cabeza y lengua!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chicago Notables

So, I haven't blogged in a minute, sorry about that. What has gone on... I went out to the CBS Spooky Brew and got to judge with the ever-fascinating Jeff Sparrow, which was an amazing learning experience as always, especially since we were doing Strong Belgians. I also got to judge the worst (smashed pumpkin) and scariest (spooky brew) with Randy Mosher, the legend himself, pictures to follow. A double surprise was that he judged my category-- I can't wait to get the score sheets back (I took my bronze home with me). I guess I should bold those names to make this seem even more like a gossip blog. I took home another shameful bronze, though I lost to a guy I know who took both the silver and gold. Next time I'm gunning for him!

Its wild to get to meet these guys and get to judge with them. I've even had the good sense to read a few of their books since first meeting them, though not enough sense to read all of them. Mosher's new book on tasting beers is amazing.

Enough name dropping and I don't have much more to add right now. I've had some awesome beers, but got tired to twittering them of late. Instead, I'm obsessed by this cat journal comic, written by a fellow Chicagoan.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why ask why - Fermentation Friday

... Even in the blogosphere some of you are old enough to complete that line, but the true answer here isn't drinking Bud Dry. But it is related to other forms of low-alcohol beer.

Starting from the beginning, I brew because B James brews and showed me how when I was around visiting one time. I was amazed, he didn't make it look too complicated and the end product was good. As an added bonus it puts men in the kitchen for the day, which I support. Prior to this spate of brewing we had wanted to make whiskey, but it is clearly illegal and not something we aspire to or participate in at all. Fast forward another year and I keep meeting home-brewers. Brewers who live in smaller apartments than I do and produce passable and sometimes even good beers. All this with nothing but a pot and a closet to keep some sort of bucket. Amazingly, the technological barriers to making beer just faded away over that year.

The motivation was slower to come. I spent two years living in the UK, drinking huge, flavorful, low carbonation and low-alcohol pints. Coming back to the states, everything flavorful seemed to be very high in alcohol, which is not conducive to having a pint with a long lunch, or when coming home before getting on with an evening's work. Mind you, the culture wasn't too conducive to that either. I also moved to Chicago, where the apartments seem luxurious in their spaciousness compared to everywhere else I'd lived for a while. So I had the motivation to start brewing. The means came via the wedding registry.

But there is a deeper story here, one of ornery self reliance. The first good beer I ever had was from a Vermont farmer who passed me a ported after I helped him bale a bunch of hay when I was 17. And I do come from true whiskey country. I brew, in short, because I like creating a product that I can't get conveniently. The freedom of expression is certainly liberating and the wrangling of yeast, temperature and malt is clearly an entertaining challenge. Applying the self-same obsession to research and experimentation that keeps me out of the rain and on my own schedule for work has been a nice surprise. In the end, I brew so I can have beer. At the moment I break about even, including equipment, for the amount of beer I drink or give away. Planned upgrades will make that less so, as would an inclusion of my time in the equation. Still, I don't brew when I would otherwise be working, I brew when I'd otherwise be sitting around playing video games. Of the two, brewing might be healthier.

Thanks, as always, to Adam for putting this together and the CNYBrew for hosting. We here at JABB are hosting November's Fermentation Friday. The topic will be, "Tell us about your homebrew communities." We are announcing early and often because of Thanksgiving and will post a wrap up the Monday following, to ease you back into the working world.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Explosive Fermentation

Yesterday I had not one, but two volcanic eruptions in my basement. It all started with Sunday's match up between the Steelers and Vikings. B. James and his girlfriend(wife) came over to watch the game, grill up some food and brew some beer. Late in 4th quarter, after like his 5th sack, Bret Favre kind of just laid on the field in the fetal position, not wanting to get up.

That was our cue. Time to make some beer.

Brewing went well. We did everything perfectly. We sterilized everything thoroughly, followed the recipe to a tee, chilled down the wort to 70 degrees in under a half hour, pitched the yeast, transferred to the fermenter, and sealed the airlock with cheap vodka. It was time to begin the drinking, waiting game.

8 hours passed, no bubbles. 12 hours passed, no bubbles. 24 hours passed, no bubbles. 36 hours passed, no bubbles. 48 hours passed, ...OH MY GOD! THE BUBBLES!!!

I come home from work to find the lid of the bucket covered in thick brown sludge and the airlock is bubbling forth with happy little yeast farts. Yea!

We were getting worried, and were glad we didn't have to resort to our backup plan to get the yeast going, which was letting my pet guinea pig take a swim in the bucket.

It may have been a slow start, but things quickly got out of hand. I wake up yesterday morning (this is the first morning after bubbles started the night before) to find my basement has fallen victim to a volcanic eruption. We're talking Mount Saint Fuck'n Helen!

I see thick foamy head oozing out of the bucket, the lid is lying on the ground 10 feet away, and it looks like an elephant's ass had exploded in my basement.

I cleaned everything up, resterilized the lid before putting it back on, and went off to work. But it wasn't done there. Hoping that the yeast had gotten it all out of it's system the night before, I come home to find another volcanic eruption. This one was tamer, but no less messy. This was one of those slow moving lava flows. You know the ones that a 2 year old could out run, and yet some grown man always seems to be caught off guard and killed by it. The sludge had oozed out and formed a nice pond and river of filth through my basement. Once again, I cleaned everything up. Now I have the bucket sitting in a large basin in hopes to contain any further mishaps.

I guess the only comforting thing is knowing that if the yeast is that active, it's got to be choking out any bacteria that might try to get a foot hold in the batch. I could probably take a crap in the bucket and still come out with good beer.

...ok, maybe not.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beer Menus Chicago

Beer Menus just launched in Chicago, or at least, this is the first I've seen or heard of it. I love beer menus, as we all know. Now, hunting for a particular pint won't be so hard, and I can comparison shop the vastly ranging prices here in town. They also seem to have a community that might be more congenial than the Chicago Beer Advocate forums here.

But I've got some issues with the local BAs. Maybe its hipster envy hatred; having two jobs, a wife and responsibilities will do that to a much better man than me. But I think it has more to do with the fetishizing of beer to the level of wine snobbery. I've seen some recent threads on there that remind me of the main reason I rarely go on-- not the long-winded reviews, but the venemous bile that greet them. Another would be the embarrassingly slow load times. The third is they are run out of Boston, and that place bugs me, but that is my problem not theirs. The fourth is the uneasy morass I feel when attending the Chicago Beer Society First Thursdays.

When I first started to go to CBS meetings, the combination of my beard and being under 30 got me mistaken for a BA member who wandered back to try some homebrew, having exhausted all of the commercial options available. Bringing my own brews helped, a bit. It was unfortunate that my first CBS meeting was after the BA started 'sharing' space with them, but I've heard stories of former glory at the homebrew meetings. Today it just seems like two ill-defined groups uneasily jockeying for position. Well, I'd say that if I felt the BA people ever realized they were placed on top of a long standing group; why they two meetings got scheduled together still baffles my mind. I should mention here I am in no way officially affiliated with either of these organizations, having never actually joined CBS (despite a valiant effort thwarted by the post-office). I've gotten great feedback from the CBSers, but I'd love to know if the meetings used to be as educational and intense as I've heard.

My own bile aside, I'm glad to see Beer Menus has made it off the least coast and into the heartland of beer drinking country. Welcome guys.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Linkage

Today was meant to be the start of our technical Friday postings. We've been criticized for not having enough information on the blog to balance our enormous opinions. It is a fair criticism, and one levied by opinions I trust. In fact, those same people just started a blog of their own. I happily send our over now to the Homebrewers Pride of the Southside (HOPS!) blog, tended by and on behalf of my brothers and sisters in HOPS!

Speaking of HOPS!, we had a very nice night yesterday at the Chicago Rock Bottom. I know, I know, we're pretty anti-corporate, anti-chain on the blog here, or at least I am (some people loving High Life almost as much as square-bottled brown liquor). But Rock Bottom in Chicago is really great. Pete Crowley, who has always treated us well, outdid himself in both his beer quality and generosity last night. I started the evening with his 'American Bitter,' which was like a British bitter if it was cleaner (by which I mean it tasted like beer more than candy apple)  and had cleaner US hops. I also had a bit of his Bourbon Barrel, which has won numerous awards. The standout for me was his Oatmeal Stout, which was extremely hoppy and smooth with an amazingly chewy mouth feel. To top it off we were seated just next to the proprietors of my nearest brewery, the mighty Metropolitan. I enjoyed it enough to finally join the mug club, which I think means I get bigger servings of beer, but I'm unclear about that. I'm happy to support those guys either way.

There might be a technical report this weekend on some brewing I've been doing. Then again I might actually work from home tomorrow instead of looking up cheap ways to build new brewing stands and getting some kegs to keggle-ize.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Excuses, excuses...

I don't want to go all yinzer on your ass... but I'm going to anyway.

There's bumper stickers that say Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a football problem. I don't believe in bumper stickers, and I don't believe in that saying. I also don't believe in the chupacabra.

It's not just football that Pittsburghers go crazy for, and as evidence to back up my claim, I present to you last years Stanley Cup champs: The Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yinzers love em.  When they won it all last year, there was a parade and some moderate rioting (ok, more like drunken stumbling, but the National Guard was there to keep an eye on them, so I say that counts).  So is Pittsburgh just a sports town, maybe?  A city that embraces the sporting lifestyle and all that goes with it?

And we don't even have an NBA team.  If Pittsburgh was a sports town, there would be professional basketball and the baseball stadium would have more fans than players on an average night.  So why all the drunken revelry for the Steelers and the Penguins?  Perhaps Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could help explain.

I put it to you that Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a drinking problem, and I think Ben would enthusiastically agree.  It can get cold and boring in Pittsburgh during the winter, and we have a cultural history of absolutely hating our slavish industrial jobs.  I mean, there's a reason a "boiler maker" is called a "boiler maker", and not a "starving artist" or an "interior decorator".  For about a century, Pittsburgh jobs were oppressive and soul-crushing, but would support your family well.  So you toughed it out, and after a particularly tough day at the foundry, coke furnaces, or rolling mill, you'd drink Imperial and Iron City until your cares eased up just a little.  Those jobs are gone, for good or for ill, but the attitude is permanently ingrained in Pittsburgh culture.

So what does that have to do with football and hockey?  Nothing, really.  And that's my point. You see, sporting events just are a good excuse to get together and booze it up.  And in Pittsburgh, this shows in our sports broadcasts.  Let me show you.  Below are pictures of Pittsburgh's most famous sportscasters:

Now here are pictures of Pittsburgh sportscasters who never spent a sober moment on the air:

The one on the left is Myron Cope, long-time Steelers announcer.  He's dead now, may he rest in drunken peace.  The one on the right is Penguins announcer Mike Lange.  He was fired for being too drunk on the air too often.  And by "too often" I mean every game from start to finish.  He calls the Penguins games on the radio now, drunk as ever, and they replaced him with these guys:

Bob Errey, a former Penguin, and Paul Steigerwald, Mike Lange's original sidekick.  The station was hoping to bring a little more sobriety to their broadcasts, and they were sorely disappointed.  Bob and Steigy did their damndest to drink as much as their predecessor, which we estimated by how audibly drunk they were, must have been shots at the periods and shots for each Penguins goal.

After that year, the station waited till the very last minute to renew their contracts, and Bob and Steigy definitely played it more sober after that; to the detriment of the broadcasts, I feel.  But don't get me wrong, they still booze it up like pros.  It's just not every night that they show up already tanked, though that does sometimes still happen.  When Bob shows up too drunk, they put him between the benches of the two teams to sober up.  It's his own personal penalty box.

Hell, there's even a blog dedicated to amusing things Bob says when he gets too drunk on the air!  But Steigy is no slouch.  Nosir.  Often by the wrap-up commentary, he has dry mouth and is a bit uneasy.   You can usually tell who drank most of the booze that night by who does all the talking.  If the wrap-up is all Bob, you'll often see Steigy leaning towards Bob, looking up at him as if Bob were made of solid chocolate and Steigy was thinking about taking a big bite.  Once he asked Bob to show the people his "pretty teeth", as he had survived a career in the NHL with all of them in-tact.  Bob wasn't quite sure how to react.  One night Steigy was visibly starting to throw up a little and was swallowing it back.  Now that's dedication!  I bet as soon as your lunch starts to rise in your throat, you call off work.  But not Paul Steigerwald!  And when Bob drinks the lion's share of booze, he slurs his speech, says confusing or inappropriate things about the other team, or sometimes just sits in silence and tries not to fall over.


The station tries so hard to remove intoxication from their broadcasts, but every attempt fails.  This is Pittsburgh!  It's expected.  It's integral.  It's necessary!  What they don't understand is that, for the viewers, it gets the party going.  Two excited guys on the air having a good time, interested in the same stuff you are, stewed to the fucking gills.  And when another station like NBC or VS shows a Penguins game, everyone in the city bitches until they get their next fix of Bob and Steigy.

So one night at Paddy's, we all decided to try to keep pace with Bob and Steigy.  It started out with shots of whiskey and vodka for the first goal.  Then another for the second, and a third round for the end of the first period.  By the fourth goal, we had to use dark and spiced rum for the shots, as the vodka and whiskey were gone.  The fifth goal and end of the second kicked the rum.  By the third period, we had to use random liqueurs and puckers for the last two goals, and the end of the game was toasted with whatever we could find.  Paddy was pretty much out of liquor, and we were all fall-down drunk.   If you want to realize how truly gifted these two announcers are, give it a try yourself sometime.  Make sure you give your keys to someone who isn't playing along.

And if folks were really interested in the game for the sake of the game, they wouldn't go to bars and parties to watch.  Richard's wife is that way.  She is fanatical about all Pittsburgh sports.  She often doesn't want to join us at a bar or a party to watch a Penguins or Steelers game.  Why?  Well, because we do stupid shit like I just described.  She feels she doesn't really get to watch the game in those settings.  And she's absolutely right!  You don't really get to see much of the game.  It's loud, people are talking and distracting, and if you're drinking heavily you're going to miss the nuances of the game.  So if she's genuinely interested in the game, what about everyone else?  Are they more interested in drinking and socializing than they are in the game?  Yes.

Sports aren't really the point, they're just the excuse.  Like going to a Halloween party.  Are you more concerned about the quality of the sexy police woman costume, or the fact that it covers nearly none of the girl wearing it?  The costumes are just an excuse, not the reason.  And to most Pittsburghers, sports are the same way.  Sure, I like to see the Steelers and the Penguins win, and I think it's awesome that they're both the national champs this year; but I wouldn't refuse to go out drinking if a game wasn't on.  Some would, though.  They need that excuse.  "I'm not getting plastered on a Tuesday for no reason, the Pens are on!"  Me?  I need no excuse.  So gimme a call, and we'll head dahn tahn and get all fucked up n'at! 

I'm not ashamed to say Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a drinking problem.  And I'm a proud part of that problem!  And to those teams that are seeing low attendance in Pittsburgh *cough* Pirates *cough*, maybe the reason isn't entirely that you are the losingest team in North American sports history, maybe you're also not incorporating drinking into your sport as much as you could or should.  Maybe you should try, I dunno, 10 cent beer night?  What's the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Daybreak in Chicago

Awoken from a fitful sleep for the final time, I was terribly startled this morning. The cat was sleeping nicely with me, so it wasn't his usual pre-dawn antics. The family was safe and my apartment has the added security feature of creaking even if the cat walks on it, so it probably wasn't an intruder. This being Chicago, there isn't much I could do if it was. The cat himself was in bed, as was the rest of the family. But maybe the hunky but unattainable lawyer from TV, who I saw get shanked by his own daughter just before going to bed had become a zombie and was coming for us.

Oh, right, he's too busy fighting off wild dogs, I guess some wishes come true*. If the spectral form of what Wikipedia tells me is one Eric McCormack isn't coming for me and my family, maybe he's coming to spoil my beer. On Friday I whipped up an American Amber Ale, using a recipe from the excellent Brewing Classic Styles, by the pope of homebrew. The brewday went ok, except for forgetting my HLT was at someone else's house, my starter sitting for three weeks in the fridge getting sour and running out of Irish Moss. It is my first brew using the foil instead of airlock method, maybe the terrifying scratching noise was the foil letting gas out of the carboy. Maybe it was finally fermenting, despite the 55F water bath it is in.

Yea, 55F water bath, not a good idea. I did what I normally do here, made a water bath and tossed some frozen water bottles in it to offset the heat of fermentation. But this time, the water going into the bath was pretty cool and the new chest freezer must put off *way* less heat than the old fridge. Coupled with fall and our refusal to turn on the radiators, the bath got really cold, and by Saturday morning it was 60F, at best, in the carboy, with no signs of krausen. Not cool. Well, very cool, about 7F off what I needed. Putting the yeast to sleep like, well, a drunk husband and Mr. McCormack's old show.

But what to do with this quickly rotting beer that just won't stay at temp. Turning the heaters on is lame and uncessary when the house is a comfortable 62F, and I've been thinking of fermenting out back anyway. Most hombrewers I know have either a wife, or a landlord, I've got both. This means no basement to shove endless fridges in, and the knowledge that the 15 cu ft chest freezer can't have a friend in the apartment. Aquarium heater to the rescue!

*Ed. Note: You're ok, Mr. TV man. Your show has helped America become a little less intolerant (though not nearly enough) and we here at JABB don't actually hope you get killed by this mini-cujo and come back as a zombie or other spectral force]**
**Ed. Note 2: M. Randolph does not speak for the entire team here at JABB.
***Ed. Note 3: We've decided, since we are all cat people, that while feelings of your eventual zombification are mixed, we do agree that cats rule and dogs drool.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are you a Buffalo?

"Once a Buffalo, always a Buffalo" Or so they say.

An interesting game a friend recently brought to my attention. The only goal of the game is to always drink your booze with your non-dominant hand, or risk having to drink more. This is probably why I generally don't engage in drinking games that often. I don't feel I need to the help of games to get me drunk. I am more than capable of doing that on my own.

What interests me is the supposed origins of this game. There is something intriguing about the thought that people would specifically train themselves to drink with their weak hand, so as to keep their strong hand free in case they needed to draw their gun. I mean, it makes perfect sense to me. I can't say how many times I've been in the middle of chugging a beer bong, when I'm all of a sudden jumped by The Three Amigos.

Having no way to defend myself, since going for my gun would spill the beer (That would be alcohol abuse), I am left at the hands of three geriatric comedians and their sick whims.

Beer bongs don't count as drinking games, in case you were wondering. I consider it more like mainlining. I guess back in the old west this whole notion of keep your strong side free actually was kind of important. But did they actually play beer games to train themselves? Can you picture Curly Bill Brocuis shouting "buffalo!" at Wyatt Earp for drinking with the wrong hand. My guess is Wyatt would respond to this challenge by buffaloing him. Of course there is the chance it could go down something like this.

After all, we all saw the way he smacked around poor old Billy Bob.

But now you know the game and what it's all about. So the next time you're in the bar having a cold one and someone yells "Bufallo!" to you, set your beer down, pull out your gun, and fuck'n pistol whip him...for me.