Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mancation 2011 Recap: Part 1

This past weekend was the 5th Annual Mancation, a camping trip that my male family members started and has now spread to include some friends as well. It’s no surprise that beer is a crucial part of a weekend where a bunch of guys spend majority of the time sitting around a campfire and playing ladder golf. While my Uncles are usually content with their Yuengling and Moosehead bottles my friends and I have always taken advantage of the Lancaster area’s eclectic beer scene but of course are not above grabbing a case of Schaefer and Smithwick’s, the two beers we brought on the first Mancation when we were poor college students without a clue. It’s a tradition that lives on but we now make sure to bring along some more…errr…respectable beers.

My Maple Bacon Smoked Porter was brewed specially for this weekend and was a big hit, especially with the mountain man breakfast that my Dad cooked up Saturday morning. I am more than pleased with how this batch came out given the great chance for failure. The maple is a bit stronger than I had hoped and I would have liked a little less sweetness to come through but that’s a small nitpick. If I were to brew it again I would try and get it a bit smokier with more smoked malts and maybe even a little more bacon. The smoke is really subtle on the finish but comes out much more noticeably as it warms up which doesn’t take long in front of a roaring fire. It’s nothing too offensive which was the point since I knew some of the guys wouldn’t be used to smoked beers and it ended up being pretty well balanced with a great mouthfeel. It even has some decent enough head which proves that you can put a fatty meat into your homebrew and still keep some head so take that!

A few Mancations ago we were given a tip at Lancaster Brewing Company that there was a small start-up brewery nearby in Conestoga in a guy’s barn which had a small tasting room in the loft. We obviously had to check the place out so we put the address into the GPS and forty minutes or so later we found ourselves at Spring House Brewing Company. We spent the whole afternoon talking with the owner, Matt, who offered up endless samples of his beer and walked us through his whole story. That visit was one of my favorite brewery memories, there were no other visitors and Matt was more than willing to just hang  out for the day. The barn/brewery is literally a stone’s throw from his house and you definitely got the feeling that the brewery was Matt’s baby. Every following year we made sure to stop by to see what new brews the barn was churning out and every year the place got a little busier with locals coming in to fill their growlers. That all stopped this year though, the barn is no longer open to the public because they have a much more hospitable spot in downtown Lancaster, the relatively new Springhouse Tap Room.

We stopped by for lunch on Saturday, the bar was packed and majority of the tables were filled. Oh how they’ve grown. The beer list had some intriguing choices like the Mango IPA but I was quickly disappointed when I was told that it had actually kicked. My second choice was their Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout, something that wouldn’t normally be up my alley since it sounds awfully gimmicky but I’m glad I went with it anyways because it ended up being one of the most memorable beers I’ve probably ever had. With a nitro pour it is a deep and dark brown with a chocolate milk looking head that just oozed over the sides of the glass (which should be noted are nonic pint glasses, one of my favorites). On aroma alone, this beer delivered, it smelled like some sort of Reese’s milkshake with a bit of a roasted kick, just pure decadence. It was just as impressive to taste, milk chocolate and slightly roasted peanuts coat the palate with a sweetness that never became too overbearing. A more bitter dark chocolate flavor started to take over towards the end but it was still creamy and smooth to the last drop. It was really a very unique beer but it never became too much for me despite being so rich in all aspects. Following up this behemoth was virtually impossible so I went with the Imperial Ray Gun, their red ale, to go along the BBQ chicken wings and we hurried out of there before our parking meter expired.

Next up was the Lancaster Brew Pub just a short drive away. Now I rarely ever go for a Lancaster beer when I see them at home but I always find myself appreciating them more and more with each visit. The bar itself is a really low-key and charming spot with a very friendly staff ready to pour you a beer or two. I went straight for their Gold Star Pils which they don’t bottle, I’ve seen some pretty harsh reviews of but they must have changed the recipe because I really enjoyed it. Clean and crisp, a little more caramel and sweeter notes than most pilsners but still a solid beer. We all ordered a round of their Oktoberfest which is nothing spectacular but decent enough when you’re in the middle of a weekend like this. It’s got a bit of spice and roasted malts, real smooth finish with no hop presence to speak of, just the kind of beer I was in the mood for. Knowing we had a long night ahead of us, we removed ourselves from the copper plated bar and headed back to the campsite.

The rest of the evening faded into a bit of a blur as plenty of different beers were poured and shared. The most notable beer of the night was most definitely Stone’s 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA which I enjoyed the large spread of impeccably smoked BBQ that we devoured for dinner. This one is absolutely pitch black with a frothy head and an incredibly inviting hop aroma, some earthy spice and heavy dose of Citra. The taste followed suit with some sweeter and fruitier flavors coming out as well. There was much in the way of roasted malts, the hops are obviously the main attraction. It’s velvety smooth mouthfeel and warm alcohol finish hit the spot as we feasted like kings in front of the fire.

Later in the night, after what some people would call one too many beers, I popped open my bottle of Elysian Night Owl because I couldn’t go through a whole weekend of camping without at least one pumpkin beer. This beer may have been the one to encourage us to go out and “borrow” a couple of paddleboats around 1 am or so but I’m guessing that would have happened anyways. Somehow we got back to our tent without incident and rested for what would surely be a painful Sunday morning. More on Sunday in the next post.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adventures In Homebrewing: Front Porch Pale Ale

I've got to dry-hop more often.
I'm not one to boast but my Front Porch Pale Ale ended up having a really fantastic aroma thanks to those Amarillo and Cascade hops. I was a little nervous about trying out the technique and I'm not sure why. It's really quite simple and can improve your beer by leaps and bounds. I would be very interested to know what this beer would be like if I hadn't dry-hopped, I suspect I would be much less pleased.

If I were to give this one another shot I would try to get it a bit lighter in color. Maybe doing a late addition of the DME could have helped this because it turned out a bit more burnt orange while I was expecting/hoping for something a little more golden. This however is inconsequential to the taste. It's not anything mind-blowing but it achieved what I was hoping for, a fully flavored and hoppy pale ale with a more reserved ABV. It would have been much easier to brew a balls-to-the-wall IPA but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to find the balance here. That's not to say I'm opposed to a hop-monster but every beer has it's proper time and place.

I drew up this little label which represents exactly what I wanted to get out of this beer, something you can knock a few back while you rock back. Sometimes things are that simple.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brews For Boobies 4

Good people of the Philadelphia area!
Mark your calendars and get out your drinking shoes!
Saturday, October 8th, 2011 at noon...BREWS FOR BOOBIES 4!

For the fourth annual event they have expanded to five Philadelphia neighborhood pub crawls, Center City, Old City, Northern Liberties, South Philly, and Fairmount. The simultaneous crawls will make stops at 8 bars throughout the twelve-hour day in their respective areas, last year featured an after-party at Varga Bar where each crawl ended up meeting but they haven't announced any such plan for this year's event yet.

"Combining a strong desire to support breast cancer awareness while raising money, an appreciation of good beers and a love for the city of Philadelphia, Brews for Boobies was established to be a lighthearted event with a powerful message."

Registration is only $25 which gets you a t-shirt and access to food and drink specials at each of the bars along your route. If you're worried where your money would be going, rest assured that 100% of the proceeds go directly to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

A group of my friends and I had a great time last year on the Center City crawl which we will be repeating again this year. We've all been looking forward to it for quite some time. The crawls have limited space and will surely fill up quickly so if this sounds up your alley (how could it not?) make sure you register NOW! Not only will you have a great time with good people but you'll be supporting an even better cause.

Hope to see you on the crawl, cheers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adventures in Homebrewing: Belgian Golden Strong Ale Brewday

Some of the best beers in the world fall under the umbrella of "Belgian Golden Strong Ale" so for my latest venture in homebrewing I decided to, perhaps foolishly, give the style a shot with my own recipe. I wanted to create something in the same vein as DuvelPiraatDelirium Tremens, and an American interpretation, Russian River's Damnation. This is a tall order I know but I'll be entering this one in the Monk Melee Belgian Homebrew Competition so I figured I might as well try something new.

Usually I take my time researching and putting together my recipes but I was feeling impulsive one day at work so I just headed straight over to Wine, Barley, and Hops with a pretty rough recipe in mind. Here's what I ended up going with:

Specialty Grains:
7 oz - Munich Malt
5 oz - Biscuit Malt
3 oz - Aromatic Malt
3 lb - Briess Pilsen Light
1.5 lb - Clear Belgian Candi Sugar
4.5 lb - Briess Pilsen Light (Late Addition)
1.5 oz - Styrian Goldings (60 min)
0.5 oz - Czech Saaz (60 min)
0.25 oz - Styrian Goldings (15 min)
0.25 oz - Czech Saaz (15 min)
0.25 oz - Czech Saaz (5 min)
White Labs - WLP530: Abbey Ale
1 tsp - Irish Moss
0.25 tsp - Grains of Paradise (5 min)

I should also add one of my mother's magnets to the "Misc." list there because a small magnet fell into the boil after I knocked it off of the range...oh well.

I started by steeping the grains in 1.75 gl of water at 150F for 30 minutes then removing from the heat and sparging with about a 1/2 gl of 150F water. Once back to a boil, I added the first 3 lbs of DME, candi sugar, the first batch of hops, about 3 gl of water, and then boiled this for another 45 minutes.

By splitting up the DME into two additions I'm hoping to keep the beer lighter in color with bulk of the Pilsen Light going in with 15 minutes left. The rest of the boil went along without anything too abnormal except for maybe the Grains of Paradise which I'm hoping to get just a bit of peppery-spice from.

With an OG of 1.084, fermentation started within 12 hours and was really aggressive for a couple days. The temperature in the bathroom where I'm keeping my fermenter has been in the low-70's which should work well with this yeast strain. I do enjoy brewing lighter beers like this just so I can sit there and stare at the carboy as the yeast goes wild inside. I think that would make for a great screensaver, just saying.

This'll be racked soon as I'm trying to get this one nice and clear for the competition on October 8th which is being held at the Hulmeville Inn. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it to the event because I'll be down in Center City for Brews For Boobies 4 but wish me luck, I'll obviously be keeping you all updated on it's progress. Hopefully that magnet didn't do anything wild in there.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adventures in Homebrewing: Dry-Hogging

After 2 weeks of going buck-wild in the primary fermenter it was time to rack my smoked porter to the secondary where things would get more exciting. This is where I would dare to introduce meat to my precious beer. Appalled? Get over it.

In the hopes of imparting a pleasantly smokey-bacon flavor to this porter already brewed with smoked malts I decided to give "dry-hogging" a shot. It is essentially the same as dry-hopping but with bits of crispy bacon instead. I have a hard time deciding which smells better.

I also wanted to throw some maple syrup in there to balance out the possibly overpowering smokey characteristics with some sweetness and maybe even boost up the alcohol a bit. Oddly enough I was more nervous about this addition since I would be messing with the chemistry going on.

After some lengthy research on brewing with bacon I got my technique all laid out for this experiment. I preheated the over to 350 degrees and cooked 5 strips of bacon until it was very crispy but not burnt, which is a slippery slope.

Once the desired level of crispiness was achieved I took the the bacon out of the oven and started to ardently dry them with paper towels, trying to get as much grease off of them as humanly possible. The online homebrewing community seems to be split on just how dangerous this bacon grease would be to your beer so I figured it's always better to be safe than sorry. 

After drying I picked off the best looking bits, discarding the fattier parts, and gathered 5 oz. or so in a sanitized nylon hop bag. I was all ready to get my dry-hogging on.

Before racking the beer I poured about 6 oz. of the 100% pure maple syrup into the secondary and spread it around the bottom evenly. After I finished racking on top of the syrup I lowered the bag-o-bacon into the dark abyss which was already smelling fantastic. That wasn't so hard was it?

Four and a half days went by before I tasted a sample which I was pretty damn pleased with. The smoke wasn't as aggressive as I was thinking it would be which is a bit disappointing but it has a well roasted flavor to it. If I brewed this recipe again I would probably used more smoked malts to begin with and would even considering throwing in more bacon but seeing how this brew is meant to be shared with less adventurous drinkers than myself I suppose this is a good first road to take.

If all goes as planned I'll be bottling this one at some point this weekend and enjoying around a campfire in just a few more weeks. Stay tuned to see if it ends up being totally rancid or delicious.