Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Belgian Graphs

Descending further into the blurred line between work and home, work and fun, fun and obsession, and the ability to talk in math, I present more charts from the BJCP style guideline.  I took on Belgians, but didn't get a ton of good information. Still, here are some relatively interesting charts. Overall I've learned the Belgians aren't as dogmaticaly practical in their brewing as the Germans, which when extrapolated as reliability in life might help explain the latter half of the 19th C and the 1st 46 years of the 20C. Or its just being downwind of Holland, which is the only excuse I can think of for Lambics. But enough of my bellyaching (also, I might be in Belgium for a few days in July, so my tune may change). 

Back to the math graphs. First up are the IBUs by ABV. I find it easier to think in ABV, as mentioned previously, and here we don't see the strong trend. Still, it is interesting to see all the beers lined up- the Belgian/French Ale category (16) along with the strong Belgians (18) (most made, coincidently, after 1945). 

 With the three strongest beers we see the mid-point IBU decline as the mid-point ABV increases slightly. We also see the very low ABV and IBU of the Wit- to be expected of a wheat based beer. Perhaps more interesting is the comparison of IBU and SRM- which is where Belgian beers get seperated (all of them pretty white-lightning strength on their own).

Crowded though this graph is, there are some interesting points to be made. The sweetest of the beers are the dubble and dark strong, which makes sense as they are the darkest. The hoppiest are in the middle range, the pale ale and Saison. The Triple, golden strong, and blonde (sorry, mis-spelled on graph) hang in there, but all are pretty big beers. Not IPAs certainly, but hoppy and alcoholic. As for hop flavor and aroma-- they didn't really graph too well, and I'm going to let them be for now. I ran up graphs for the hybrids, but being a catch all category it is not too interesting. I'm going to do the American and English beers for next week- so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

PSA - those blue lips aren't hypothermia

It's interesting that B. James just posted his Thunderbird commercial. I had to modify my latest post a little here to make note of it.

After looking back on our last few months of posts, we've been on a little bit of a run with posts preaching responsibility with alcohol. We happen to be professional alcoholic, and the things we do should not be tried by...well, anyone. "Do as we say, not as we do." In these economic times, we find ourselves stretching our booze budgets. But at what point do you draw the line? At what point do you replace thrifty with just plain f*ck'n stupid? Well thanks to our friends over at we have an answer. Once again Cracked has come to our aid, and has generated a list of the world's 5 worst ways to get drunk.

The next time your thinking about grabbing that bottle of Thunderbird, why not instead take a ride on the Night Train Express.

EDIT: Sorry R-Dicks (R Huge), but I just have to add this, about Blue Nun: the wine so bad it made the news! ~mR 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

BJCP Graphs, German Pilsners, etc.

Yesterday I was felled, not by in-laws who disapprove, but by in-laws who's profession (running half-way houses and interventions) make me a bit more hesitant to point out my blog than I am to most people. Still, today I've had some time and rather than run stats on old-folk fucking (which I do professionally some of the time) I decided to make some graphs about beer.

As mentioned previously, I'm studying for the BJCP and I have a lot of trouble with the German beers and the statistics. I've not been a huge lager fan (until this course that is) and I can't keep them straight. So graph number 1 today is the IBU over ABV for the styles. The guidelines give a range and I've taken the mid-point, though it is often pointed out that the winning beers are likely to be at the top end of the styles (or beyond). Still, here is graph 1, which includes styles 1d - 4c.

So here we see that in general the high end of the light lager (1d,e), the Pilsner (2), European Amber Lager (3) and Dark Lager (4) varietals all go down in bitterness as the ABV increases, The exception is the American Pilsner, but we over-hop everything compared to Europe. The other is the Dortmunder, which I inlcude here as it is German (ditto the Munich Helles). Still, a tidy way to sort the beers. I also graphed the OG:BU that Ray Daniels talks about in his excellend Designing Great Beers. I've never found that to be too intuitive, but its just a factor change from what I'm doing (as the BJCP almost always figures the FG to be 75% lower than the OG, and ABV is calculated out from that). Still, here it is, again using the OG:BU of the mid-point values.

So, pretty clear that the Oktoberfest will be sweetest, with the Dark American Lager a pretty distant second.  The classic American Pilsner, despite my earlier claims- shouldn't seem a more bitter beer, but is just a bigger beer all around. It still strays from the German trend, but... guess what... its not German (thanks in part to the steel machine that was my hometown during the first half of the 20th century). 

Now, what of hop aroma and flavor? Here it gets tricky. I've gone back and coded the guidelines to try and quantify the descriptors. The next graph shows hop aroma by SRM

We see that the darker beers have less hop aroma, with Oktoberfest having none at all allowed. The Munich and Dortmunder have lower levels of hops, while those for the German and Bohemian Pilsners are 'distinctive,' so they could go higher. The American interloper are listed as medium to moderately high, so they could go down. I don't have a ton of experience with these beers so I think some research is necessary. The flavor hop character is similar as the aroma, though the Schwarzbier is allowed some extra hop flavor compared to the other dark lagers.

I have other statistics, but this should work for a start. Requests, corrections, complaints, suggestions and the like are all welcome in the comments!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Firefly's Mint Sweet Tea Vodka, and other Gold Medal Winning Spirits

Due to the close proximity of in-laws who might frown on such boozifying, M Randolph can not post this link in person. So the task has been put to myself, and I will do my best to post with all the energy and feeling my mortal shell can produce.

150 liquors in two days

Wow, posting with that much vigor took a lot out of me. I'm worn out now.

You want a drink? I'd love a drink!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's in a name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. But Shakespeare neglected to have Juliet explain that the contrapositive is not necessarily true. Just because you call something a rose, doesn’t mean it smells sweet. Try it the next time your dog takes a crap or you drive past some ripened roadkill. Ahh… the smell of roses. Doesn’t work does it?

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. I just came back from a new deli in town (no names, they were nice people). It was a very classy looking joint. Fancy sponge-painting effects on the walls, expensive ingredients proudly on display, clean, tidy, friendly, treats for your dog if you brought him, even a scented candle flickering on a wooden display unit. I purchased a "Five-cheese Panini With Bacon". The place was expensive and we had come on many recommendations. What culinary masterpiece did my immediate future hold for me? I brought it back to the office, and proceeded to chow down on what I’d have to call a kind-of shitty grilled cheese sandwich with some crumbled bacon in it. So if it wasn't really that good, why had people told us this place was amazing? Fancy sponge-painting effects on the walls, expensive ingredients proudly on display, clean, tidy, friendly, treats for your dog if you brought him, even a scented candle flickering on a wooden display unit.

What does this all have to do with booze? Patience, grasshopper.

Mr. Dicks just posted a preemptive rant about (rī)1, the whiskey so cool it can’t even spell its own name. He hasn’t tasted it yet, but he suspects shenanigans are afoot. And as much as I love Jim Beam, I have to concur. The outlook isn’t rosy. So often in the liquor business, they try to wow you with their image and not their product. Two huge examples of this are Grey Goose and Michael Collins. They are the brain-child of marketing wizard Sidney Frank. He imported the finest French blah blah and distilled it in a yawn, who gives a shit. The end result, as I’ve ranted about before, is flavorless Everclear cut with mineral water, forever reducing the public image of vodka from an exotic alcoholic beverage to a more efficient way of delivering drugs to the bloodstream. Kind of like crack. Where was the real innovation? The price. He set the price well above the existing top-shelf vodkas like Stolichnaya and Absolut. It was so expensive, it had to be good, right? Throw a few ads in some magazines, bribe some rappers to include it in their lyrics, and then you sell the whole puppy farm to Bacardi for $2.2 billion. And as I said before, Grey Goose isn’t shit and even has a place in my home bar, but is it really worth what you pay for it? Before his death, Sidney followed up this (and many other) success(es) with Michael Collins Irish Whiskey. This time, he was less successful because the existing niche market valued flavor. And not just flavor, but a very specific flavor. Sure, it was dressed up fancy and put on the top shelf just like Goose, but once the Irish Whiskey lovers of the world sipped it, the cat was out of the bag and the brand failed to perform as anticipated.

There are, as I stated in my comment on Richard’s post, top-shelf brands that don’t follow that plan at all. Jim Beam itself has Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden, Maker’s Mark, and Knob Creek; all bourbons, all value the flavor of the product over the image, and none of which shun their bourbon heritage one bit. One look at the bottles, and you know what’s inside. Hell, the company's motto is “The stuff inside matters most” and I’ll drink to that with any of their bourbons. But something about the sleek, minimalistic, hip packaging of (rī)1 gives me doubt. And just to make sure I’ve made my point, let’s have a little visual demonstration of what I’m talking about:

You pickin' up what I'm puttin' down? It's a slippery slope, people. When you concern yourself with appearance, it's easy forget that what's inside is what really counts. It's easy to be lulled into the false belief that you can just slap a label on a dog turd that says "Rose" and everyone will say it smells terriffic. Sure, some people wearing fuzzy orange visors might, but not everyone will. And if you've completely missed the mark - if your product has no merit other than its packaging, you might just go down in flames. Not having tasted (rī)1, I can't say for sure if this is the road they've chosen to go down, but I sure hope it isn't. I hope when I take my first sip of it, I sputter and cough a little bit, Richard and Paddy laughing at me before taking sips and doing the same. I hope it's strong. I hope its bold. I hope spicy and kicks you in the teeth just like spirits distilled from fermented rye should. I hope Jim Beam Brands Co. hasn't forgotten their own motto: The stuff inside matters most.

Ultra-Premium Rye, an Oxymoron?

A couple of weeks ago I was in the liquor store, when I by chance came a cross a bottle of (ri)1 (pronounced rye one) Ultra-Premium Rye Whiskey. The very first thing I said to myself was "oh God, no." I don't know why. I love rye whiskey. In fact, the other thing that popped in my head was "you bastards stole our idea." You see, my friends and I have always though that starting our own Pennsylvania Rye distillery would be a kick-ass idea. And nobody makes a Pennsylvania rye anymore (the secrets out, damnit!).

I Guess seeing this new whiskey on the shelf bothered me for two reasons. One, I don't care for the phrase "ultra-premium" attached to anything I drink. I usually find the product to be of slightly above average quality, and highly above average in price. It's a buzz word that has no meaning, unless you've got the balls to back it up. I've seen many ultra-premium liquors fall short of their namesake. Second, I just don't see the words "ultra-premium" and "rye" going together. They just don't fit with my image of what rye is supposed to be.

Let's first skip past Canadian whiskey, which is often called rye whiskey for some reason, but usually has no rye in it at all. When it does, it usually accounts for a small amount of the blend. Rye whiskey came out of the foothills of the Appalachians in rural Western Pennsylvania. It was the drink of the common man when rum fell from grace after the American Revolution. Rye was the only distilled spirit that was born 100% from American sweat and labor. Rum relied heavily on molasses imports from the West Indies, and gin usually was made with spices from around the globe. Both were also distilled primarily in the urban coastal cities. Rye on the other had was a hard drink, made by hard men, who just wanted to supplement their income with their excess grain. It was harsh and peppery. A bold drink. America's fire water.

Rye was the only real whiskey anybody drank prior to prohibition. Bourbon? Barely anybody touched the stuff. It existed, but wasn't really popular until after prohibition. When you watch an old western on TV and somebody orders whiskey, they were ordering rye. Rye has this grittiness to it, this classic mystique of the old days, the harder days. Rye is dirty. Rye burns the throat, and hard men drink it. There is nothing ultra-premium about rye.

I looked at the elegantly tapered bottle on the shelf before me. I take note of its clean simple label. This wasn't rye that I was looking it. In my eyes, it was a gimmick. What right did it have to come out of nowhere, and just declare itself champion over all other ryes, without being tested in the fires.

It wasn't until just recently that I discovered that (ri)1 is actually made by Jim Beam. I suppose that offers some merit to it. I definitely will have to try it. But is it really worth $50 a bottle. This shit is expensive. Being a lover of rye whiskey, I am definitely taking a biased stance on this one. I love Jim Beam, and I hope that this whiskey is spectacular, but their marketing campaign and image for this one just doesn't sit right with me. I don't think it ever will. Rye doesn't belong in a fancy bottle with all the top shelf booze. It belongs buried in the back, and when the bartender takes it out to serve a lone, grizzled, old man, sitting in a dark corner of the bar, fingerprints can be seen in the dust that has collected on the bottle.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Half a crate...

And if that's not enough for you, you can click here, but there's not nearly as much drinking involved, so we can't officially condone doing so.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Red Flag

Opps?!? I may have accidentally flagged my own blog for objectionable content. To those who oversee our little forum to the world, I have only one thing to say... "My Bad."

I mean it isn't easy when you've been drinking and all the text across the top of the screen is backwards and in Arabic. How was I supposed to know which button was which.

But I guess if they're scanning our site for objectionable content now, I might as well give them some.

I find this image highly objectionable, for many reasons that don't need explaining.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lets get drunk and go driving... in the airport.

Like R. Dicks (are huge) today, I was also trapped in an airport. Not drinking hooch, but having a malted for breakfast with my sober half. The gentleman behind me, and I use the term loosely, sporting a large craggy beard and some NASA gear was recounting glory days of living in Panama city driving around drinking miller out of coffee and pop cups. The stories devolved into his being at a diner during his friend's wedding weekend. His friend apparently passed out in his eggs, having in the end to be awakened by police. More drunk driving ensued. 

Now friends, I like drinking and I don't condone drinking and driving on accident. But reveling in its exploits-- those people give us drinkers a bad name.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Epic Booze Quest

Well I'm off on a another amazing Journey to the Middle East. This time I stop off in Jordan for a few days, before I go on to Abu Dhabi. It's a shame I won't have more time in Jordan. I would've loved to see the resting place of the Holy Grail.

Anyways, I'm at the airport now, waiting to board. I've had a shot of Jim Beam and a few beers. Hopefully it'll relax me enough for my 12 hour flight.

As you all know (all 3 of you who actually read this blog), I like to bring back with me unique and exotic alcoholic beverages from my many journeys. I'm not expecting much, since I'm pretty much limited to the duty free in these Islamic countries. But, I will try my best. If nothing else, I can always pick up another bottle of Havana Club.

One drunk man was talking with a young newly wed at the bar. The older gentleman said "I've been married twice already. I'll never get married again." The younger man inquired as to why. "Well, my first wife died from eating poisoned mushrooms, and my second wife died from head trauma", said the older drunk man.

"Wow, that's a shame", said the younger man. "Might I ask, how did it Happened?"

The old drunk replied "She wouldn't eat her mushrooms."

8:10PM - I've arrived at JFK in New York. I slept during the last 20 minutes of the flight. Combine that with the 5-6 drinks I had in Pgh, and I arrived in a that grogy and slightly drunk state. I'm not used to a international flight via Delta, and I'm a little worried. It's a 12 hr flight and from what I'm told, I only get one complimentary drink during the meal. Everything else costs money. And that is "drink" drink. Not just alcohol. Cheap Ass Bastards.

And God said "Let there be whiskey." And he saw that it was good. On the next day God said "Let there be light." To which God replied "Whoa, too much light!"

9:13:PM - Oh God! The Stench!
F*ck you, Delta Airlines.

I've got nothing. This f*ck'n sucks donkey balls. See you all in 12 hours if I survive.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Not advisable

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @

This Day in Booze: Brew Year's Eve

Today is a very special day in history. No, it's not 50 cent wings at your favorite BBQ place. Nor is it your anniversary, which you unceasingly seem to forget. Today is a special day because it marks the end of Prohibition.

"Wait a minute?!? Didn't Prohibition ended of December 5th?" you ask. Well, not exactly. December 5th marks the the appeal of the 18th Amendment, with the ratification of the 21st. A great Amendment. My personal favorite. But how is it that Prohibition ended nearly 8 months earlier. It's all thanks to the Cullen-Harrison Act. The Cullen-Harrison Act was drafted by congress and signed by President Roosevelt in early 1933. This federal act modified the definition of "intoxicating liquids", and allowed the manufacture and sale of beer with less than 3.2% alcohol content by weight and certain light wines. On April 7th 1933, two weeks after signing the Act, the very first “legal” beer in 13 years was delivered to the White House, to commemorate the special day. Beer was finally able to be sold legally in 19 of the 48 states and the District of Columbia. Over 1.5 million barrels of beer were consumed within the first 24 hours.

That, my friends, marks the true end of Prohibition. Of course, not all types of alcohol were permitted yet, but you could still walk into a bar and legally order a nice cold beer. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to share in the celebration. By the time National Prohibition was enacted in 1920, many States already had their own prohibition laws in effect. When the 21st Amendment was ratified, the right to govern alcohol use was turned back over to the States. Many of those States would take several more years to repeal their own individual prohibition laws. The State of Mississippi held out all the way to 1966 before repealing their prohibition. Kansas, one of the first states to enact its own prohibition in 1881, disallowed the sale of liquor "by the drink" until 1987. To this day, you'll still find many dry counties when traveling through some of our more southern States (the Bible Belt). Hell! I was in Franklin County Alabama last year and had to drive two counties north before I could find a drop of legal alcohol. Note, I said "legal".

That is why we celebrate April 7th as the end of Prohibition. Because on that day, across much of the United States, people flocked in mass to any place they could find a cold one. In fact, there is one local Pittsburgh man who can honestly say he's been there to provide the great libation every step of the way. Angelo Cammarata, of Cammarata's Cafe in West View, holds the Guinness world record for the longest serving bartender. Mr. Cammarata just turned 95, and has been serving beer ever since 12:01AM that special day, when he poured his first beer at his fathers grocery store soda fountain-turned-bar. Surprisingly, he doesn't drink beer. His dad once told him "Beer is not made to drink, it's made to sell." However, Angelo does have himself a bourbon and coke every day, so I think we can let him slide.

This is the Beer Drinkers Holiday, and it deserves to be celebrated. The Brewer's Association, a national trade organization, has officially designated April 7th as Brew Year's Eve, and first celebrated it last year on the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. So I don't care who you are, what you're doing, where you live. I don't care if it's at home alone, out with friends, or at your corner dive bar. You make sure you toss back a cold one today. 13 years of sobriety demand it. I for one plan on heading down to Cammarata's Cafe to get a drink from the "Great Pourer." Let's ring in year 76 with a bang!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Home Made Bitters, CBS

I just got this in my e-mail box: Make Your Own Bitters. Sounds awesome, and I'm throwing down the gauntlet to my coauthors. Let us all make bitters, then compare when next we meet. And readers (...if any of you aren't co-authors) if you want to get in on this please let us know in the comments. 

I went out to the CBS meeting again last night and it did not disappoint. There were some awesome homebrews- the Dortmunder Export was my favorite, with the Ginger Honey Wheat a close second. No bad beers, though one was pretty licorice-tastic. My mild went over OK and the Scottish 70/ was palatable. I met the new brewer from Flossmor and talked with the GI guys, pretty fun. Had a ton of commercial beer, most of which blends together. A great organization that serves Chicago well. Overall about a dozen homebrewers (maybe more) and about 50 commerical beers to try.

Then I drank the dregs of what was left, scored 2 free empty growlers, hit the bar, and drank one more ill-advised pint (3-Floyds Mild, which is hoppier than most IPAs). I should have had the 21st Amendment Session Ale on cask, but in my drunken state the 3.2% ABV put me off. Foolish, as I could have made it to work before 11am had I had that. Good times. If I ran into you at the bar and drunkenly slurred at you- sorry, by remembering it you clearly weren't drunk enough yourself.

Anyway-- consider the gauntlet thrown down. Start your bitters going, and we'll reconvene in a few months.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Late Post

Today I'm giving you the cookie and the cream- a late post and one hastily thrown together. Sorry. Its the first time in weeks I've actually hit my day, though my weekend 'tech posts' haven't been as erratic as usual ("YES THEY HAVE" screams BJames- who I can hear psychically across time zones; sadly I can also psychically feel Richard Dicks Rogering his desk chair during his coffee break, so these powers are both a curse and a curse).

Back to beer--- I went out and judged again last weekend. Great time and a Muffalatta sandwich that blew my mind. I did APAs, with not only a master judge but one of Chicago's many homebrew authors. I won't say which one, but it was quite the experience, despite my being unaware of who he was at the time and having never read his book. As usual I learned a lot from him and from the process, hopefully I also helped out the entrants.  The APAs were so-so, most missing the essential hop character that makes it an APA. Still, no gushers, no rings and overall a decent selection of beers. The other category was wood-aged beers. I like these 'freak beer' categories, which is a good thing since novices often have to pay dues in those categories. We had some good and very good beers that were aided by the wood (these won), some good beers harmed by it and some mediocre beers that used the wood as a distraction. I made a rye-IPA recently that could have used some distraction. It is all bottled, but I'm thinking of flushing a keg with CO2 and dumping all of the bottles into the keg, oaking the shit out of it and seeing if it gets more palatable. Phenols and over-oaking might work-- it can't get worse. The other suggestion has been to use it to cook brats. 

Back to the wood aged beers- it is a nice category for me as a novice because I get to see a range of base styles at one time- which requires some odd comparisons: is this porter a better porter than that triple and does the oak character help the beer? A nice process. 

As for other things happening here. It was a weekend of technical mishaps and corrections- starting with my keg fridge getting down to 28F, helping my buddy put his kegerator back together and ending with dropping my iPod in the gym toilet (shockingly it still works). This week I'm meant to be ordering bulk grain and a crusher for the first time (very exciting) and will be getting ready for a brewing series that goes Cream Ale, IPA, Barley Wine, the Cream Ale and IPA are testers / backups for my friend's not-wedding this summer, the Barley Wine is just to try doing.

That's all here- I might finally do a system post this weekend so I can draw people to the blog off the forums by having details of the mash-tun and build and other things. I also might add thermometers and valves to my boil kettle and a thermometer to my mash-tun.