6:31AM - Baby alarm... ugh, I'm up.

6:35AM - Oh good, it's *only* 80.3F outside right now. That means it'll only be like 115F in the garage/driveway this afternoon.
(NOTE: actual forecast high is 101F)

6:42AM - What is it about Cheerios that babies find so delicious? I wish I loved Cheerios like babies do.

7:23AM - After fighting with the stir bar and my stir plate for an entire day, it decides to start cooperating this morning. Maybe this is a sign of a good day. Anyway, the yeast should be in a happy place by this evening's pitching.

8:32AM - Still pulling out equipment and supplies... *fingers crossed* that I did a decent job of cleaning before putting the brew stand up last time.........

9:19AM - Cleaning situation wasn't bad... just going to need to rinse and run hot water through everything to be safe. I've got the B3 1550 out and ready to get things going. Temperature update: Garage = 99F, official OAT (from nearby elementary weather station) = 83F.

9:56AM - Found a problem with the pump during cleaning/testing of the brewstand... if there wasn't an "oh bleep" moment during brew day, then it wouldn't be a real brew day.

9:58AM - Halloweenhead by Ryan Adams... jam.

10:20AM - ...but Int'l Players Anthem by UGK... infinitely more jammerific.

10:33AM - I just killed a 2+ inch roach in the garage with Raid. I hate those things, but when they get sprayed, it is kinda sad. They slow down and start twitching. I don't think I could ever be a game hunter... or a gangbanger.

11:04AM - Got everything hooked up and ready to go. Heating the Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) water. 12+ gallons from ~80F to 165F is going to take a while. I think I've lost several gallons of water through the sweat pores already.

11:15AM - Adjusted water chemistry to the recommended 5.2pH using 5.2pH Stabilizer. It's a powder you just dump in the water, and pow! 5.2pH. Scary.

11:18AM - And there I was... typing about pH and jamming to Timberlake when it occurred to me: It's kinda quiet. The burners had turned off... gas ran out. Backup propane is now on duty.

11:58AM - Mashed in 29lbs of delicious malts. I bet you are wishing you had smell-o-net right now. Aroma is heavenly. Timer is set. Mash time is 1 hour.

Grain bill:
26 lbs 2-Row Brewers Malt (1.036)
1 lb Cara-Pils Malt (1.035)
1 lb White Wheat (1.040)
1 lb Crystal 40L (1.034)

12:18PM - Meanwhile, inside the house, apparently my baby girl found some super glue and got it all over her hands and feet. Sweet.

12:22PM - All of baby girl's appendages and digits are unstuck from themselves. Odds are pretty good that won't be the first time she glues herself together with super glue. Mash nearly half done.

12:33PM - Getting a late start with the drinking. Starting with an Abita Harvest Wit. It is a middle of the road Wit, but tasty and accessible enough to hit the proverbial spot in this 94F (100F heat index) weather.

1:01PM - Mash done. Raising the mash temperature to 168F before sparging (helps with efficiency). Once there, I'll start the slow rinsing of the sweet wort from the grain and collect it in the brew kettle.

1:08PM - Beer #2: Harpoon UFO.

1:34PM - Arg! Broke a rubber o-ring on mash tun valve. Sweet wort leaking on the ground! After a mad scramble around the garage, I found some replacements I had the foresight to purchase in advance (well, to be honest, I had an o-ring problem during a previous brew session with no backups... but after that I was smart enough to keep backups in the brew supply box).

1:49PM - Here is the scoop on the sparging: This is an 11 gallon batch (split into 2 5.5gal batches). Boiling and equipment losses should a little over 2 gallons. My plan is to collect just over 13 gallons in the kettle before starting the boil. This should take another 45 minutes.

Here is the scoop on the temperature: OAT = 97F, Heat index = 101F, Garage Temperature = Nearly boiling.

Cold War Kids - Hang Me Out to Dry... just reading the words "cold" and "dry" off the iPod makes me happy.

1:59PM - Beer #3: Victory Prima Pils. If you don't know, you better axe somebody.

3:04PM - Took a specific gravity reading with my refractometer "toy." I missed my targets a bit (73% efficiency vs the target 75% efficiency, not bad!). No worries. Dumped 4.5 oz of some light dried malt a bought for just such an occasion.

Chances of boil over: Is there something more than 100%?

3:23PM - Boil started... 60 minutes on the clock. 6 oz of Galena hops added to wort.

3:25PM - Smart money was on the boil over.

3:49PM - Beer #4: Victory Prima Pils again. Don't question me.

3:52PM - 2oz Cascade hops added. Wort revolts and threatens boil over. I threaten to turn off the heat and we agree to continue.

4:04PM - I just had a mini Butterfinger from one of the kids' Lunchables. It may have been more than a decade since I've had a Butterfinger. I forgot how much they stick to your teeth! I have what feels like a mouthgaurd of peanut butter flavored sugar on the tops of all my teeth now.

4:09PM - 2oz Liberty hops added. This time, my disapproving stare keeps the wort and it's boil overs in check.

4:17PM - Tossed a Whirlfloc tablet in there. It is supposed to clear the wort (coagulates wort proteins). Boil almost over.

4:20PM - OPP. I was very pop culture "aware" in the early 90s. I was in high school in the early 90s. I'm pretty sure that before that time, during, and since that time there is pretty much only 1 other meaning, other than the literal meaning for Treach's ad lib opening to the song. No, not the command to "harm me with harmony" (whatever that means). It's what he asks his homie to do to us listeners. "Dave drop a load on 'em."

Now *what* now!?

4:46PM - Pumping the wort into 2 carboys for primary fermentation.

5:10PM - Time for some cleanup outside... ugh.

7:08PM - 2 hrs later... everything is clean. My temperature controller for my my custom built fermentation box broke, leaving me with 2 non-functioning controllers. How-evah, I broke both of them apart and mix and matched parts until I got 1 to work. *whew*

The carboys have been put away in the fermentation box... located in what used to be my office, but is now the kids' playroom. I figured I could give up my office if they could deal with me having a 4'x4' corner for my brewing supplies.

The temperature is still too hot for me to pitch the yeast. Post boil cooling is a problem I really need to solve.

Update (the next day) - I wanted to pitch the yeast with the beer in the mid 60's... at 2:30AM, I convinced myself that 72F was just fine. 1500mL of a 1.040 strength yeast starter (prepared Thursday evening) went into each carboy.

Original gravity target: 1.071
Actual gravity reading: 1.072 (not bad!)

This beer should be about 8% ABV.

The two guys are being stored at 68F where I'll let the yeast do their work for about 10-14 days. Once fermentation has nearly finished, I'll transfer them on top of some additional hops and some American oak cubes (simulating "barrel aging"). One 5 gallon batch will get wine soaked oak chips and the other will get whiskey soaked oak chips.

I'll update this post again if anything exciting happens.

When 1560 The Game (KGOW, 1560 AM) flipped on the switch in 2007, they began with the mission of being a unique, locally-owned and managed sports and entertainment radio station. The station focuses efforts on being user friendly, accessible, and just plain fun. Much like the Saint Arnold Army, 1560 (by way of John and Lance) have somewhat of a cult following (stream them online here).

Unsanctioned bar golf tournament? Check. Unannounced middle-of-the-night shows? Obviously. Slapfest? Yep. 1560 shirts at Academy Sports and Outdoors sold at cost? Outstanding idea.

By their first year, folks were on board… big time.

In what is a story for another blog post, several months ago I spoke with the program director for 1560 about another out-of-the-box idea: 1560 The Beer.


Like the Saint Arnold Army, 1560 has a large a dedicated group of followers too, The Secret Society. Unlike Saint Arnold, 1560 promotes a wide variety of sponsors... and many of them are food/drinking establishments (Ragin Cajun, Nick's Place, Jake's Philly Steaks, Demeris BBQ, The B.U.S.). Apparently 1560 The Game discussed the idea with two other Texas microbreweries prior to my conversation with them. Presumably because of the uncertain nature of the venture and small batches that would be required, each shied away from the idea.

Being an investor of Independence Brewing in Austin, TX, I suggested the two meet regarding the potential new partnership. Both Independence and 1560 are a good match because they both do more with less… and do it well.

I know what you are thinking. When can I expect to pick up some Independence brewed 1560 The Beer out at the Ragin Cajun? Probably the day after never.

Why? Label laws.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) code governing private labeling is extremely restrictive and makes it difficult to impossible to produce a private label-style brand. Let's dig through the code for fun:

§45.82. Prohibited Practices.

(A) Statements on labels. Containers of malt beverages, or any labels on such containers, or any carton, case, or individual covering of such containers, used for sale at retail, or any written, printed, graphic or other matter accompanying such containers to the consumer shall not contain the following:

Alright… let's see the restrictions.

(1) any statement that is false or untrue in any particular, or that, irrespective of falsity, directly or by ambiguity, omission, or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific, or technical matter tends to create a misleading impression;

Beer isn't good for you. Got it.

(2) any statement that is disparaging of a competitor's products;

No "10 Times Better than the Pee Inbev Anheuser-Busch is Serving You" beer. Fair enough.

(3) any statement, design, device, or representation which is obscene or indecent;

"Naked Pale Boy" is out. No harm no foul.

(4) any statement, design, device, or representation of or relating to analyses, standards, or tests, irrespective of falsity, which the administrator finds to be likely to mislead the consumer;

They probably could have wrapped this into #1, but whatever.

(5) any statement, design, device or representation of or relating to any guaranty, irrespective of falsity, which the administrator finds to be likely to mislead the consumer;

Wow! This is getting *really* repetitive, but it's pretty straightforward. Maybe the TABC isn't as evil and destructive as I thought they were.

(6) a trade name or brand name that is the name of any living individual of public prominence, or existing private or public organization, or is a name that is in simulation or is an abbreviation thereof, or any graphic, pictorial, or emblematic representation of any such individual or organization, if the use of such name or representation is likely to falsely lead the consumer to believe that the product has been endorsed, made, or used by, or produced for, or under the supervision of, or in accordance with the specifications of, such individual or organization; provided, that this subsection shall not apply to the use of the name of any person engaged in business as a producer, importer, bottler, wholesaler, distributor, retailer, or warehouseman, of malt beverages, nor to the use by any person of a trade or brand name that is the name of any living individual of public prominence, or existing private or public organization, provided such trade or brand name was used by him or his predecessors in interest prior to August 29, 1935;

Now what now?! Look at the size of #6 compared to the other restrictions! This doesn't look so good for 1560 The Beer. Are we done yet?

(7) any statement, design, device, or representation that the malt beverage is a special or private brand brewed or bottled for, or that includes the name, tradename or trademark of any retail licensee or permittee or private club registration permittee.

Craaaap. But is the TABC doing the right thing? Are they protecting the consumers for the greater good of society? Will 1560 The Beer change life as we know it?

What would happen to the market if there was a (properly labeled) Walmart lager? A Steve Job's hard apple cider? A Houston Astros bitter?

Would everyone hop into the beer contracting business if the code was revised? Would the market for beer somehow grow based on labels alone or is the alcoholic beverage market relatively fixed (maybe more tied to the economy)? Would the consumers be so confused that they started buying beer instead of corn syrup sweetened iced tea? Would there be an explosion of underaged drinking?

Look, I get restrictions 1-5. I get portions of restrictions 6 and 7. I just don't get what the TABC is protecting by not allowing a 1560 The Beer.

Does InBev not produce beer in their mega-breweries and label it as if it came from a local brewery that doesn't exist? Seems like that bends restriction 6 just a bit.

Still not convinced that there is a problem with Texas' labeling code? In Texas, any beverage made from malted grains under 4% ABV can be called "beer." However, the same laws say that any malt beverage over 4% ABV is an "ale" or "malt liquor," no matter the style of beer. For the record, "Ale" and "Lager" actually refer to the type of yeast used and have nothing to do with the strength of the beverage.

Most likely your Oktoberfest (a lager) you pick up at Whip In in Austin or Specs in Houston has "Ale" somewhere on the label. Apparently the word "bock" is OK to describe 4+% ABV beers in Texas though. A quick google search about bocks revealed that Celis (formerly of Austin, TX) used to call their Pale Ale a Pale Bock for labeling reasons... nice one TABC. And I'm sure I'm not blowing the cover off anything here, Shiner Bock is not actually a bock beer.

Too many questions… not enough answers. It's enough to make me want to forgo the beer and hit the wine fridge tonight while I watch The University of Texas play LSU in the College World Series. I think I'll pop open that bottle of "Texas Fight" that I've been saving for a special occasion. Take that label-nazis!

Uh...... wait a minute!

TV To Drink To

Posted by SirRon | Monday, June 22, 2009

Drinking and songs have long been tied together. But why?

Drinking songs basically come in two flavors: 1) Songs that specifically mention knocking back a few, and 2) Songs that you enjoy at your local watering hole's coin-operated music box. But how many of these songs are actually catalysts for a good time? Sure Hank III has a ton of songs with "Drunk" or "Whiskey" in the title, but most songs are fading out in roughly three and a half minutes. That's about the same amount of time the waitress has left my drink sitting after the bartender poured it.

I've never had a Gin 'n Juice while listening to Snoop. I gag when the entire bar starts singing "Friends in Low Places." "Margaritaville"!? Two words, Buffet: Banned List. "8 Ball"... here we go.

The real reason to go to a bar is for the drinking buddies (which went #4 overall in our anything mock draught). Most other reasons are probably just the warning signs that 12 step brochure was talking about. Would you really be that interested in the game if you were by yourself? I've done it while on the road for work, and it's depressing enough that I'm surprised I didn't scratch out a sappy drinking song myself.

But now since babysitting is an issue, my opportunities to go out without special occasion are few and far between. Most of the time I'm with my best drinking buddy TwoPints, and queuing up "Don't Stop Believing" on the iPod speaker doesn't really conjure up the urge to pop open that Brass Monkey, er, I mean Golden Monkey in the beer fridge... but watching the Soprano's surprisingly does. How I Met Your Mother, Top Chef, and Dallas (TwoPints has all the DVDs… I don't know who shot J.R.) surely make this list. Certain TV shows elicit an almost Pavlovian response in me when I hit play on the TiVo.

Drinking and songs are like wine and cheese. These traditional pairs have stood for so long that no one ever questions whether they are any good together. If you want to enjoy all three minutes and fifty-eight seconds of "Have a Drink on Me" by AC/DC and pass it off as "It's what we do," then more power to you. However, might I suggest you compare the experience to Eastbound and Down with a Southern Star Bombshell Blonde or Z Rock with a Brooklyn Local 1. Pair the latter combo with some mascarpone and you will be glad you stayed in for the evening.

The SAVOR Experience

Posted by SirRon | Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Greg Koch described the origins of his love for food and beer pairings as gradual and hedonistic while introducing himself during the "Craft Beer and Cheese Taste Off!" educational salon. This approach represents both the incredible diversity in the American craft beers today and the impressive versatility of beer (and well, maybe Greg's laid back attitude about life). Time to take off those shackles wine drinkers, your local fine liquor store (or local craft brewery if you are lucky) offers a superior pair to your cheese first course, whatever you are having for dinner, and especially that chocolate dessert.

On Saturday May 30, 2009, around 1900 craft beer enthusiasts gathered to sample 136 beers from 68 American craft breweries paired with 32 food items during the 2nd annual craft beer and food experience, SAVOR (but who was counting?). The event was held in Washington D. C. at the majestic National Building Museum. SAVOR, which sold out two months in advance, was a fancy affair with an impressively gender mixed crowd (possibly because the $95 ticket price and fine food and drink screamed "bring a date"). The museum's grand hall was very spacious and perfect for events of this type. Most guests were dressed to impress. I spotted everything from dresses and heels to many a collared shirt to some polyester suits and Chuck Taylors (ugh, what passes for "fashion" these days…).

In addition to the main event, SAVOR offered the opportunity to attend private tasting/educational salons. Three salon options were offered in three different time slots. The first, with a pre-event time slot, seemed like a no-brainer to get the festivities started and maximize the SAVOR experience. Two Pints and I attended Sam Calagione's "Ancient Ales in the Modern World," which consisted of Sam being Sam and free-styling (eloquently) about his efforts to appreciate the history of brewing and his general disapproval for the Reinheitsgebot (Sam's words were "screw the Reinheitsgebot"). The audience was served three cheeses and a chocolate paired with four beers while we enjoyed his ramblings. If the Chinese had Maytag Blue Cheese 9000 years ago, let me tell you, they would have enjoyed the pairing with their beer.

After the salon, we hit the main hall armed with our awesome commemorative glasses and my prepared Excel spreadsheet of must-have pairings. I had 49 targets, so the task at hand was arduous. An Allagash White with a passion fruit-mango mousse cup… check. An Anchor Steam Summer with a mini pulled pork BBQ sandwich… check. An Avery Brabant Barrel-Aged Wild Ale… ugh, 45 minutes had passed (where did the time go?) and it was time to get to our next salon: The Craft Beer and Cheese (and Chocolate) Pair Off.

The educational pair off salon challenged four panelists to each pick a beer that paired with both a piece of Maytag Blue Cheese AND a Chuao chocolate (with macadamia, praline, and chipotle). The selections by chance illustrated the diversity of the panel and the versatility of craft beer food pairings. Christian DeBenedetti, the soft spoken freelance food and beverage journalist from Oregon went with Allagash Black. It was a straightforward pairing that was an adequate match for both items, although I liked it better with the chocolate. Eric Wallace (President of Left Hand Brewing Company), the Air Force guy who came armed with plenty of notes and lists, stayed within the family and chose his Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter. Maybe it was my connection to his list making and preparation, but I voted for his selection. It brought out the best in both the items and joined the flavor party without overpowering the complexity of the chocolate or the blue in the cheese. Greg Koch (CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Company), armed with his sarcasm, chose his own Ruination IPA and lobbied the audience for his vote with live tweets and humor. But it was Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast magazine who won over the crowd with the pairing of the blue cheese and chocolate with Deschutes The Dissident, a Flander's style sour brown ale aged in oak with wild cherries. While I don't totally disagree with the majority vote, I felt the beer overpowered both items just a little. On the positive side, each pairing took on a new flavor with the beer that was reminiscent of the Ratatouille fireworks sequence.

We exited the salon several minutes after the scheduled ending of 9:15PM. With last call at 10:50PM, it was time to refocus if we were to conquer my list. The Bruery Trade Winds Tripel and a scallop burger with cilantro lime mayo... check. Magic Hat Lucky Kat with a piece of Gruyere cheese... check. Russian River Pliny the Elder with… wait, what time is it? Seriously? And the Moroccan spiced lamb burgers are cold now!?

My list was a bit of a flop (we hit 26 of my 49 targets… that is a failing grade of 53%) but the event was far from a failure. We were impressed from the moment we walked in. As an entrance gift, we received a super cool commemorative tasting glass. At each of the tables, two ounce pours were usually generous. If I could add a little criticism, it would be that the brewery reps generally did not do much to promote the food pairing. But why would they? The food was not something they provided. The catering company also struggled a little to keep up with demand. Often the food was a little cold or overcooked. I also spotted servers filling water pitchers in the bathroom sinks.

Overall, much more was right about this event than wrong. Having spent a portion of my life in New Orleans and the majority of it on the Gulf Coast, I can honestly say the raw oysters served by The Choptank Oyster Company were the best I have ever had (for the record, I choose to pair it with a Deschutes Black Butte Porter). Items which were also unanimous favorites of Two Pints and myself (in no particular order):

- Southampton Publick House Double White Ale paired with Hibachi Style Grilled Pacific Salmon Skewers
- Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme (blended Barrel aged Sour Ale) paired with Black Forest (tart Montmorency cherries & kirsch)
- Arcadia Brewing Cocoa-Loco Triple Chocolate Milk Stout paired Southwester Black Bean Soup

Judging by the extraordinary lines and confirmed by our personal sampling, the crowd favorites were the oyster bar, Russian River, and Lost Abbey.

Judging by the discarded items on every other table, the crowd's least favorite, also confirmed by our personal sampling, was the Espresso Sambuca Parfaits. My personal note next to this pairing was simply: "OMG, Yuck!" The catering company should have to apologize to Flying Dog, Hoppy Brewing, Odell Brewing, Saint Louis Brewery, Ska Brewing, and Upland Brewing. Surely they did not get to sample this item before they chose the pairing for their beers.

While exiting, we were handed a small tin containing a USB drive loaded with recipes and guides to craft beer and food pairings. I couldn't help but wish the event had been longer or potentially more than one session. One of our salons ate up an hour of our time, but I have no regrets about attending the pair off session. In fact, while I regret not getting into one of the intimate (~10 people) private tasting salons (which must have sold and within the first hour they were on sale), I don't know which salon I would want to swap out. Sam Calagione casually sharing his philosophy of beer making (including a story of an early comment card for Immort Ale: "it tastes like trees, but it got me f*#%ed up") or the cheese/chocolate pairing panel (which included beers as diverse as the panelists' personalities). In only it's 2nd year of existence, the Brewers Association has added another great annual event to their calendar. As someone who has been twice to GABF, I believe the classy and more intimate setting of SAVOR may be my annual beer event of choice.