Friday, April 20, 2012

Beer is Art

Beer is Art. I adamantly believe that beer combines every element that any proclaimed artist might encounter on a daily basis. Creativity, unforeseen obstacles, various styles, and individuality turn every beer into its own portrait. What is a painting's value? It is merely an individual's or group's opinion of the artist's reputation and style. Sometimes a personal connection with a work of art will also influence the value. In similar ways it can be said that a beer's value is legitimized from individuals in the craft beer community.

More than ever, we unknowingly read keywords, such as oaked-aged, imperial, limited release, and collaboration, that incline a particular beer's value is greater and influence our buying behaviors. I am not saying that this is a skewed or unjust approach used by breweries, but rather that it encapsulates all of the hard-work, preparation, and creativity breweries seek to attain. Will I pay for these types of brews? Hell yes. It is art in bottle form. The general population does not understand the intricacies of the brewing process, as well as the incredible efforts it takes for a brewery to get its product into to your local liquor store/bar. Maybe this would help to explain why many people do not see the value in buying from anyone other than the big brewers.

Now back to explaining why Beer is Art. The colors used on the beer canvas are made up of different malt/barley/wheat varieties that a brewer chooses. This is the first step of the brewing process and will determine the final color of a beer. The texture and subtleties that make the overall picture unique are determined by the types of hops used throughout the brewing process, as well as the yeast strain pitched for fermentation. Although this is a completely oversimplified outlook of brewing beer, I am trying to prelude that intangible skills are needed by any artist or brewer in order to be recognized by an audience.

Just as any artist can gather the exact materials needed to paint Van Gogh's "Starry Night", I can also gather the exact malts, hops, and yeast strain needed to replicate Russian River's Pliny the Edler. No matter how many times I brew the exact ingredients, it will never be able to taste exactly the same as the original due to many external factors.  A brewer's artistic vision elaborates the resources around them including water quality, freshness of hops, and ability to create unique strains of yeast not available to the ordinary homebrewer. This is why we see a hop-centric beer culture on the West Coast and a heavy use of wheat in the Midwest.

While the world's craft beer community continues to grow, all of us involved know that what we are able to experience in an outstanding beer is affordable art. Part of the joy in craft beer is being able to sample an enormous variety of beers. When I venture to California I can enjoy new art (beer) that I cannot find in Kansas City. With that said, I hope everyone has an eventful and safe weekend.

Cheers! Prost! Salud!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cicerone Certification Program

Although the craft beer community is becoming more familiar with the Cicerone Certification Program, I wanted to write a blog post about the organization and what it represents. There are many certification programs for individuals to become "Wine Sommeliers", but this program focuses strictly on craft beer. Cicerone has already become the biggest craft beer certification program and is gaining a lot of respect in the craft beer community because of its well thought out certification levels.

The three certification levels are: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. I recently passed the Certified Beer Server exam. For those that are pretty confident in their craft beer knowledge, this test should not be too difficult. When I started studying I realized that I needed to learn more about draft systems, liquors laws, and some unfamiliar beer styles. If you follow the syllabus that the program posts and go over each section thoroughly, then you should be able to pass the first time around. And if not you get one free retake.

I am beginning to study for the Certified Cicerone exam, and from what I have gathered this separates the elite from the novice. A lot of in-depth knowledge is needed for the next two levels, which means you need to become familiar with beer from various angles. Personally, I am excited to expand my knowledge of this wonderful libation and solidify it through the Cicerone Program.

Cheers! Prost! Salud!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Boulevard's Chocolate Ale: Mixed Feelings

If you live in the Kansas City metro, then you experienced the overwhelming craze for Boulevard's Chocolate Ale that was released this past week. I actually saw somewhat normal people lining up outside liquor stores in order to get a bottle of this liquid gold. This brew was a limited edition release for Boulevard's Smokestack Series. Christopher Elbow, a world-class Kansas City chocolatier, teamed up with Boulevard to create this unique ale. For those lucky enough to pick up a bottle, I am not sure if people's expectations were met or fell short. Personally, my expectations fell short. My first glass was from the tap at Barley's Brewhaus. There was no head retention to the beer at all, which is very uncharacteristic of Boulevard's Smokestack Series. Other beers like Tank 7 and Dark Truth have fantastic lacing until the last drop. But one thing I think Boulevard did do well was create a unique flavor. At 9.1% ABV the ale had a kick to it, and it also had an interesting dark chocolate aftertaste. Boulevard also used the media well to create a substantial craft beer craze. Most people did not even know what they were really buying, but wanted the ale just because everyone else was getting it. It seemed to me that many people thought the beer was going to taste like candy, and I'm sure they were disappointed when they found out that it was actually beer, and a very strong one at that.

Furthermore, I had mixed feelings about the beer because of the hype around it. When you have people following distributors' trucks to liquor stores out of fear that they wouldn't be able to get a bottle, then I'm not so sure that is healthy for the world of craft beer. What doesn't make since to me is that Boulevard started distributing this Chocolate Ale in other markets a week or two before it hit their home market (Kansas City). From craft beer friends, I found out this brew that everyone was fighting for in Kansas City was sitting on shelves in other states. It just doesn't seem fair that the citizens of Kansas City, who have fully embraced and supported Boulevard to become what they are today, should be worried about not getting to try it. The main problem is that there is little competition between local breweries in Kansas City, so Boulevard pretty much dominates the craft beer scene here. I hate to bash on Boulevard because I do love the beers they put out and I think they represent the city of Kansas City exceptionally. Ultimately, I think they just handled this release poorly and maybe next time they can keep a larger volume of limited edition brews in their hometown market where it is fully appreciated.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The "Oakiest" Beer Out There

For the past month I have been savoring a stash of six brews from Old Dominion Brewing Company. First, I tried the Dominion Ale, which is an English style ale. I thought it was a very clean beer (pours a clear amber), with a hint of toastiness towards the back end. In terms of pairing, it is a versatile beer that could easily accompany a wide range of saltier foods. Although I would probably have enjoyed this beer more in the spring or summer, it is winter now and I want something dark, bold, and adventurous. 

I found exactly what I was looking for from the Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout. This pitch black brew oozed an oaky aroma and the first sip was euphoric. In the beginning, I thought it may be a little too oaky of a taste for my preference, but as the beer became warmer the real flavors started to emerge. There was a wonderful vanilla undertone to the beer that balanced out this fantastic stout. I do not know why this brew has not received more attention from the craft beer community. If they would have thrown the "Bourbon Barrel" label on it, the beer geeks would be all over it. But to be fair it is probably because of the limited distribution of Old Dominion. I was fortunate enough to receive this beer because of an endearing Christmas gift. 

I encourage beer geeks to get ahold of this brew if they can. After looking at what else this smaller brewery offers, it seems that Old Dominion puts out some pretty impressive beers. It may take a while to distribute to the Midwest, but I will sure as hell be waiting. 

Cheers! Prost! Salud!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Splurging On Beer, Why Not?

So today I found out some awesome news. I start my new job next week and it will be 800 feet under the Earth. I will be a red hat, or inexperienced miner. I figured an awesome way to celebrate was to buy a couple of beers that I haven't had yet. It was also by luck that they are both collaboration beers!

I purchased Dogfish Head's My Antonia and Sierra Nevada's Ovila Saison. My Antonia is a lager collaboration with Birra del Borgo, an Italian brewery. The Ovila Series is a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux. I have had the Ovila Quad and it was one of the best Belgian's I've had the opportunity to taste. I highly suggest it if you can find a bottle of it.

I am currently drinking My Antonia and it is a refreshing imperial pilsner. When smelling I find a lot of fruitiness and grapefruit, but I get a slight boozy smell. The front of the beer is quite sweet, but the hops are very noticeable. The back of the beer is very bitter and a large presence of hops are noticeable to the point of tingling.

Overall, I find it is very refreshing and very similar to most characterized double IPAs.



P.S. I will be back to review the saison!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mash Tun DIY Build

I know a lot of people are building on a budget and with a little know-how you can build things for a margin of the cost it would cost you normally. This setup I have done will be good for most big beers in a 5 gallon batch, but over that I would recommend stepping up the size of the cooler. This cost me right about $50 with everything in the end.

I ordered this cooler from Amazon because I have a Prime membership and well why wouldn't you want to abuse that free shipping?

I used a general parts list from He gives a good guide on how to build a cheap mash tun and it is simple to follow with his picture guide. The only thing I changed was the washers. I prefer to have Stainless Steel washers on the inside and outside for security reasons. This doesn't mean it will apply to everyone. Now onto the build and pictures.

(1) 1/2" x 1'1/2" Brass Nipple (May change depending on how thick the walls of the cooler are)
(3) 3/4" Stainless Steel Washers (May change depending on how much space you need to fill on the nipple)
(1) Stainless Steel Hose Clamp
(1) Stainless Steel Braided Hose (Water Supply Line)
(1) Roll of Teflon Tape

First You will take the plug that is already off in the cooler:

These are the pieces you will have once it is disassembled. You need to keep the small washer because we will use it later on. The rest can be thrown away or kept as a memory of how you were bad ass enough to make your own brewing equipment:

Next, You will need to put the washer and the white rubber piece from the cooler on the brass nipple. You can add Teflon on both sides if you like. This just secures the threads so they don't have a chance of leaking or coming loose. After that you can screw in the female barb adapter to get this:

You can insert the female adapter into the hole of the cooler with the other side Teflon taped for the ball valve to be connected to like so:

From the outside:

Next you can put the washers on the brass nipple where the ball valve will go. At this point I had to put two because it was still a bit lose when completely tightened down.

After that you can screw on the ball valve and tighten the plumbing to your liking:

Next we will cut the ends off the braided wire and assemble the inside of the mash tun. The braid will act like a filter so no grain can get into the vorlauf (run off) and the wort. It is a cheap version of a false bottom.

The braid will have a plastic hose inside of it and you will have to gently pull at it with a needle nose pliers to get it out. Do not clamp down on the hose with your hand because it will just contract and not let you pull the hose out. You can throw away the plastic hose after it is removed.

I groomed up my braid because it looked like it had been through hell after pulling the ends off. I didn't have a saw or large pliers so I just used two pliers and yanked it apart. Next you will crimp one side down (or you could use some kind of Stainless Steel clamp) so it will have a closed end like so:

Next, attach the other end to the female adapter and put the hose clamp over it to secure it:

After this, test it out to make sure it is holding water and you have yourself a mash tun ready to go!


Introduction, The East Coast Addition

Hello all, my name is Alex and I was invited by Nick to write here and give my perspective on everything beer. I'm a craft beer enthusiast, wanna-be photographer, home brewer, and now I'll be sharing my journey into the rabbit hole that is home brewing with all of you.

I suppose I should give some background information on how all of this came about. Nick and I attended business school last year and found that we had a similar liking for beer, music, food, and all kinds of other stuff. One day we had a grand idea of brewing our own beer. We did our beer which ended up being very similar to a Fat Tire, but with a little more fruitiness. We learned quite a few things about the process of beer, what we could have done to improve the beer, and just a "holy shit, we made a good beer" feeling.

Skip forward to a couple of months ago. I moved from Kansas City to Washington, Pennsylvania for a new opportunity in the job market. Now that I am here I work a shit load and I don't know anyone so I figured why not build continue brewing? This blog gives me a way to both learn new things about home brewing and beer in general while sharing my opinion and findings with everyone that reads this.