25 Jan 2011 @ 3:14 PM 

And before you ask me to never use the word “sluice” again, here’s a lovely picture of a sluice from Wikimedia Commons:

I would also like to relay that “sluice” is a surprising safe Google Image search.

We will now carry on with our regularly scheduled blog post.

So, what’s coming down the sluices!?

I’ve been conspicuously silent across both this blog and Mystery’s blog (where this, incidentally, is being cross-posted, if you’re reading this at Mystery’s blog, you may want to check out Top Fermented), for the past couple of weeks and that’s primarily because my days have been turned into a twisting mass of odd jobs, manual labor, staring at the wall waiting for inspiration, and alternately burying myself so deep into work that I forget to eat. A good chunk of this has been keeping me away from writing.

But it hasn’t been keeping me away from the computer. More on that in a sec.

I’m on a more regular schedule now, where I’m actually spending 3 days a week “at the office” so you should be seeing a few more blog posts popping up here and there.

Also popping up should be the fruits of (some of) my labor, so here’s a little preview of what to expect in the next couple of weeks:

Educational Opportunities

In case you haven’t heard, myself and a couple of excellent friends organized and hold a monthly beer Meetup here in the Triangle in NC called Taste Your Beer for lack of a better, more inspiring, name. It’s been received pretty well and people seem genuinely excited to learn more about beer – not how to make it, but how to enjoy it, and just more about beer in general. So when I heard that there were upcoming Cicerone exams coming to Raleigh, I had the idea to make a study group for it.

However, after thinking about it, I thought – why limit this to just people who want to become Cicerones? Lots of people want to learn about beer but don’t necessarily have the desire (or the work experience and wallet) to become Cicerones. That’s why, starting in February, I’ll be offering beer education classes at my location at Mystery Brewing. It’ll be an 8 week class meeting once a week (with a few exceptions) covering beer from ingredient cultivation to serving and food pairing including off-flavors and style samples. It will cover the Cicerone exam content thoroughly so if you, like me, want to take the Cicerone exam in April or June, then this should act as an excellent study guide. However, if you just want to learn about beer then that’s cool, too.

Look for more information about these classes popping up in the next few days. We need to get going soon to be ready for the Cicerone exam AND the World Beer Festival.

New Website

With a new brewing company comes a new website. The blog over at mysterybrewingco.com will soon be going away for a more robust website with some features that I think will be fairly interesting to people. Among them are the normal kind of website things: discussion boards, a news feed, info about the brewery, social media and that sort of crap. But here’s a little preview of some of the other things I’m working on (not all of which will be up and running immediately):

  • A check-in point/badge system specifically for Mystery Brewing. Think FourSquare, or Untappd except you actually have the chance to get REAL REWARDS if you earn the right badges: Discounts on brewery merch, beer, private brewery tours, beer, t-shirts, beer, stickers, and probably, at some point, beer. This should launch with the new website, even if beer won’t.
  • A Mystery beer genealogy tree. I am quite proud of the fact that all of my beers started as homebrew recipes, and I am telling you now that they are all going to evolve over time. Recipes I have now may spawn other recipes in the future. This beer genealogy tree will be a way to find out how all Mystery beers are linked together, batch to batch over time. It will serve as a means as helping people find out both what they enjoyed about a beer and what new beers they might enjoy. Once all the equipment drops into place and Mystery beer starts hitting bars and restaurants, this will also serve as a way to track which batches of which beer are out in the public and where you can find them.
  • An ongoing art contest. I am a big fan of the arts in general. I went to an art school for my undergraduate experience and was, shall we say, intimate with the art school, even though I was only a performing artist, myself. I would like to take the opportunity to showcase art through Mystery. In specific, I will be announcing an ongoing art contest of sorts through which artists of any sort – professional, amateur, painters, web comics, whatever – can submit artwork for use to represent beer in our repertoire. The artist who’s work is chosen will receive money in return for the use of the art, as well as a royalty for every piece of (non-packaging) merchandise sold using the artwork. (Since we won’t be in bottles for a good long time, we’re talking posters, t-shirts, etc.) More details on this later in the spring, but artists, start thinking Evangeline.
  • Weekly updates on progress in the brewery. Things are starting to pick up speed and while anybody who is part of the classes up above will be able to see things starting to pop up around them, a lot of people don’t know what exactly is going on in there, so we’re going to get into some detailed updates on how we’re progressing toward getting beer on the market, even if that update is why progress isn’t being made. Back when I started Top Fermented, this is one of the things I really wanted to do is get into the nitty-gritty of what goes on behind the scenes when a brewery is opening. For the most, especially when it’s come to financing, I’ve felt like it was either a little boring or getting into detail would get into confidentiality issues with my partners. Now that we’re moving past getting money and into (*whimper*) spending it, I feel a little more like I can let people behind the curtain. Prepare yourselves to see week after week after week of.. ermm.. well… pictures of an empty cement box. Yaaay!
  • More from me about the industry in general. I’ll be folding Top Fermented into the new website. It’ll still exist on the original domain and function independently, but it will also be integrated into the new website as the brewer’s blog. It means no more separation of sites and it should mean a more rigorous update schedule. It might also mean that I piss more people off that I probably want to retain the respect of as I voice my opinions, but.. ermm.. well.. that sucks.

    Okay – this part isn’t nearly as exciting to you as it is to me. Still. I’m excited.

Kickstart-y Goodness

And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m starting another Kickstarter project (yet), but Kickstarter backers will remember that there are still homebrew recipes to go out, Irregulars memberships to revel in, beer dinners to eat, and video chats to watch. I haven’t forgotten, and there will be movement on a couple of these things soon.

And more.. much, much more.

If I’m running into any sort of problem, lately, it’s the fact that I have more ideas for things to do than I have resources and, frankly, spare neurons for processing. The important part that my next blog post should be a snark filled rant about some sort of craft beer segment piece and not one of these lame update sessions.

But! The future is bright and there’s beer there. Join me!

À votre santé,
Erik

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 11 Oct 2010 @ 7:58 AM 

Hooray! I was one of the lucky brewers that was able to respond quickly enough to gain entry into Round 5 of Iron Brewer. The point of Iron Brewer, in case you’re too lazy to click on the link, is that – just like Iron Chef – you are given an ingredient or ingredients that you are required to use in the recipe.

For this round, the ingredients are:

Fruit (in whatever form)
Medium Toasted Oak
Saaz Hops

This is a complex challenge.

Fruit is easy. I’ve made a lot of fruit beer, and I’ve got some good ideas of what works and how much works, so fruit – to me – is just a matter of finding flavors that I want to blend together. My only concern is that any good fruit flavor will pretty much obliterate the Saaz hops in the recipe, and if you use enough Saaz to taste the hop flavor you’re going to intrude on the fruit. That’s a tough balance.

The most difficult part of it, I think, is the oak. Oak can be both delicate and overpowering. It seems like an oxymoron, but there’s a lot of nice subtle flavor in oak, but too much or too young and all you really taste is wood. Oak requires a lot of time in aging to really mellow out the flavor and time isn’t really available in this case, since this beer is being tasted in the beginning of December. I decided to make up for this by making a really high gravity beer. Why? Because there’s so much other flavor and strength that the rest of the flavor will be able to stand up against the oak when it hasn’t completely mellowed out.

My first thought was to make an Imperial Pilsener – just 100% pilsener malt and let the rest of the ingredients define the beer. A friend suggested making a brown ale to go with fruit and then inspiration truly struck. An Imperial Pils? What was I thinking? The beer would totally get carried away in the ingredients! You need something that will be able to stand up against the combination, not just something that the ingredients will stand out in. This contest is supposed to be about making the best beer. By god, let’s make some beer.

After some deliberation, I settled on an Imperial Black Ale, with tart cherries.

A big black beer, I think, will stand up to the power of oak and promote the subtle vanilla flavors. The cherries will (hopefully) tone down the toastiness and blend together with the chocolate/espresso flavors as well as the oak. The Saaz hops? Well, there’s a ton – not enough to make a bitter beer – not with such a low alpha acid hop – but hopefully the earthy/grassy flavors show up in complement.

Without further ado:

“Black Forest” Imperial Black Ale w/ Cherries & Oak
(scaled up from a 3 gallon batch)
Target OG: 1.138 (Actual when I brewed it: 1.143 after temperature correction)
Estimated IBU: 40 – Estimated ABV: 13%

15 lbs. Marris Otter (62%)
3.3 lbs. Munich Malt (14%)
1.67 lbs Chocolate Malt (7%)
.75 lbs Black Patent Malt (3%)
.75 lbs Franco Belges Caramel Munich 60L (3%)
.75 lbs Torrified Wheat (3%)
1.67 lbs of Dark Brown Sugar (added during boil w/5 mins to go)

Mash at 150F for 75mins.
Mash Out/Sparge at 170F.

Hops:

1.75 oz Saaz at 120 mins
1.75 oz Saaz at 60 mins
1.75 oz Saaz at 20 mins
1.75 oz Saaz at 5 mins

A BIG ol’ starter of Edinburgh Ale Yeast (WLP #028).

Aging in secondary on 3.3 lbs of unadulterated dried tart cherries & 5 oz. of French Oak Cubes, Medium Toast.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 11 Oct 2010 @ 04 37 PM

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That’s right. Today’s the day. It’s supposed to be 90F and sunny, I have the day off from work for “Spring Holiday” so it’s time to clean out all of the ingredients I’ve accrued over the last year and make a … thing. My goal is to use most of the hops for which I have under 1 oz, and most of the grain for which I have under 1 lb in a 5 gallon batch. So here’s my current inventory:

Hops:
Cascade: .6 oz
Fuggles: .65 oz
EK Goldings: .9 oz
Hallertauer: .1 oz
Marynka: 1 oz
Nugget: .1 oz
Saaz: 1 oz
Styrian Goldings: .25 oz

I may hold onto the Saaz, Hallertau, and Styrian Goldings for another saison later in the summer. Then again, I may not.

Grains

Acidulated Malt: 1.5 lbs
Black Malt: .06 lbs
Brown Malt: .88 lbs
Carafa I: .5 lbs
Crystal 60L: .54 lbs
Crystal 80L: .33 lbs
Crystal 120L: .5 lbs
Chocolate Malt: 1.9 lbs
Chocolate Wheat Malt: .06 lbs
Coffee Malt: 1 lb
Roasted Barley: .25 lbs
Rye Malt: 1.5 lbs
Victory Malt: .88 lbs
Flaked Wheat: .9 lbs
Torrified Wheat: 1.25 lbs
Unmalted Wheat: 1.5 lbs

Ditto, wheats, saisons.

Given all of that with the ability to add as much base malt as you wanted, and use any commonly available yeast and put in whatever for adjuncts – sugar, fruit, coffee, what-have-you – and with the goal of using as much of these ingredients as possible, what would YOU make?

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Apr 2010 @ 06 47 AM

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 23 Feb 2010 @ 9:00 AM 

Not long ago, in a private conversation about what makes a Classic American Pilsner different than a Standard American Lager, I was accused of getting caught up inside the box of style guidelines. While everything was civil I thought it would be a very interesting topic of discussion, so I present it to you here.

The thing is, he’s right. I DO get caught up in the details of style guidelines. It’s probably the years I’ve spent doing database management that makes me like to see things neatly filed into their own little boxes. Of course, if that were entirely true perhaps my desk, office, and closet wouldn’t be such an enormous disaster area. I would probably have things neatly filed away and labeled in really clear ways: “Non-pink-and-scoogy paperclips.” “T-shirts that still fit me.” and “Pants without holes in the crotch.” That kind of thing. And I don’t. Getting dressed in the morning or reaching into any one of my desk drawers is still a game of Russian Roulette that my co-workers have to pay for on a regular basis.

So, if I can’t figure out where my pants are, why should I get so caught up in Style Guidelines? They’re moving targets, at best. Just this weekend I was discussing with a friend where his beer might fit within BJCP style guidelines for an upcoming homebrew competition. Fact is, it could really fit into a few of them given the width of ranges of most of the style definitions.

Here, take a look at these stats which I have cut and pasted directly from the BCJP site:

OG: 1.056 – 1.075
FG: 1.010 – 1.018
IBUs: 40 – 70
SRM: 6 – 15
ABV: 5.5 – 7.5%

OG: 1.050 – 1.075
FG: 1.010 – 1.018
IBUs: 40 – 60
SRM: 8 – 14
ABV: 5 – 7.5%

Just off the top of your head, which one of these is English IPA and which one is American IPA? The primary difference between the styles is where the hops are grown. From a technical standpoint, it’s also when the hops are added. It’s not like one is a lot stronger than the other or more bitter or significantly different looking or anything, or even different in strength.

As an aside, my favorite one to do this with is Saison and Oatmeal Stout:

OG: 1.048 – 1.065
FG: 1.010 – 1.018
IBUs: 25 – 40
ABV: 4.2 – 5.9%

OG: 1.048 – 1.065
FG: 1.002 – 1.012
IBUs: 20 – 35
ABV: 5 – 7%

(I’ll hold the color measurements and let you decide on your own.)

Now, obviously I’m over-simplifying this. The numbers don’t do any sort of justice for what’s really in the style descriptions. Which are things like:

Color may range from rich gold to very dark amber or even dark brown.

Or

High fruitiness with low to moderate hop aroma and moderate to no herb, spice and alcohol aroma. … A low to medium-high spicy or floral hop aroma is usually present.

(I like the “low to moderate hop aroma” followed by “low to medium-high spicy or floral hop aroma” – so low-to-medium that they had to say it twice!)

Barleywine and saison, if you’re wondering.

My point is not that the style guidelines are weird or wrong or too wide or anything like that. If anything, I think they speak volumes to the wonderful variety that is present in beer and what makes it such a superior beverage, especially when paired with food.

No, my point is that getting stuck into style guidelines is:

1) Difficult, since the style guidelines range so widely.
2) Easy, because style guidelines range so widely.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little bit of an asshole, too.

Here’s the deal: The guidelines overlap like CRAZY. I have a chart that I built of all the numbers for all the styles and most of them are practically identical. If you put together all of the “low-to-medium-high” flavor descriptions it’s almost ludicrous how much they sound alike. But I’m here to say that style definitions – and getting stuck in them – serve a huge purpose in craft beer:

They manage your expectations.

Look, the casual drinker on the street doesn’t know or care about BJCP, World Beer Cup, or BA style definitions. They care about being able to pick up something in the store and being able to reliably identify what’s in the package. You want to know why BMC is so popular? Well, go back to the beginning of this paragraph and start over again. Craft beer can learn a lot from this.

So, yeah, I’m stuck in style guidelines. That’s not to say that I don’t do something wildly different every once in a while – I made my own Black IPA recipe up before people started clamoring for this whole “Cascadian Dark” style. I regularly play outside of style guidelines. I love playing with non-traditional ingredients. There’s no other way to move forward than to experiment, play, and indulge in creativity. In fact, that might be the single most important characteristic of the craft beer industry: creativity.

(Honestly? I can’t get behind “Cascadian Dark”. Yes, Black India Pale Ale sounds stupid. But “Cascadian Dark” has the following problems: 1) It suggests Cascade hops. 2) It’s ridiculously regional and totally ignores that 48 other states have breweries and the ability to make dark, hoppy beers. 3) It sounds like it’s made by elves or centaurs or some shit. I could – and may – write a whole column just about this.)

But you need to manage expectations. If someone comes to my taproom/kitchen and pours a beer, I want them to enjoy it. If I made a porter, but I ramped up the roasted grain, gravity, and hop bill through the roof, then I didn’t make a porter. I may have even made an Imperial Stout. But if I give it to people saying, “This is my porter!” then they’re either going to think the wrong thing about porters or think that I’m not very good at making beer when in reality what I suck at is telling them what they’re drinking.

This past weekend, I “judged” at the homebrew festival that I was at. There were no style separations and no information about what kind of beer it was I was drinking. Many times, when I was tasting the beers I was given I found myself thinking: If I knew what style this was supposed to be, I might really like it, but without an expectation built in it’s almost impossible to be able to tell if someone did what I was tasting on purpose or by mistake. It’s hard to tell if something is well-crafted if you don’t know what they were shooting for.

So, touche, sir. You were right. I do get stuck inside guidelines. Constantly. But only so much as I want to tell people what they’re getting. Information helps people enjoy my beer. Part of that information is a concise definition of what they can expect when they raise that glass in front of their eyes, to their nose, and to their lips. If you’re not stuck inside the style guidelines then your customer – the person drinking your beer – has no easy way to appreciate the beautiful thing that you’ve crafted for them.

I’ve heard it said that style labels are a very American sort of thing. That before we started building up all of these style guidelines people just drank beer and they didn’t care if what they were drinking was a porter, a stout, or a brown ale. Style be damned!

I’d like to posit that Americans need to create style definitions because of the breadth of styles we make in our creative marketplace. We’re not bound by regional specialties that are based on what ingredients were historically available in a given area. The American craft beer market is dynamic and exciting and without style definitions I don’t think we’d see nearly the amount of variety we do. Further, I think it’s the very presence of the definitions that allows our customers to appreciate just how dynamic and creative we are, especially when we do play outside the definitions.

Do I think we have to stick to them and get stuck inside of styles, making only beers that meet a certain numerical specification? No. But we need to promote them and use them, because they are the definitions of our success.

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Categories: Brewers Association, homebrew, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 Feb 2010 @ 09 01 AM

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Tonight! Tonight’s the night!

Back in December, I hooked up with five other beer bloggers to have a brew off. The idea? Everybody makes the same recipe, but we each get to change one thing.

We made a stout, and sent it out, and all that’s left to do is drink. We’ll be having a 5-way conference call this evening over the internets, which will be recorded and shared as a podcast for anyone who’s interested in listening in later. At the same time, keep an eye on this post – any tweets made with the hashtag #brewoff will show up here. Stay tuned to find out if my beer got everywhere and still retained carbonation! [ducks]

Finally, watch this space for a bit of live-blogging as we go.

7:56 PM: Just blew my eardrums out testing my headset with Skype. Now, for the entire call I’m going to be saying, “WHAT? WHAT?!”

8:18 PM: Just set up a video chat room at http://tinychat.com/brewoff. Not sure how many of the bloggers will join me on it, but it’s there. If you’re not one of us 5, I’ll restrict you from broadcasting your own audio/video in the room, but you can watch and type.

8:45 PM: Possible monkey wrench. Just got a DM from @HopfenTreader: “I don’t have your beer yet ???” Uh-oh.

8:59 PM: Just connected via Skype to le conference call of champions. Being recorded; using my podcasting voice.

9:06 PM: And we’re rolling!

9:09 PM: Here’s the tally of what was added/changed to the beers.

Joseph: Toasted Oats in place of Flaked Wheat
Aaron: Lactose (1/2 lb added, last 5 mins of boil)
Derek: Molasses (~12oz added, last 5 mins of boil)
Erik: Abbey Ale Yeast in place of Wyeast 1056
Nate: Maple Syrup (~16oz added, last 5 mins of boil)
Peter: Bourbon Barrel (half of the batch aged in an oak barrel that had been soaked with whiskey, then half batch blended back into whole batch)

9:18 PM: Just tried Jospeh’s – probably closest to the base style out of all of us. Nice sweet slightly roasty flavors. Really, nice and drinkable. Going to be hard to comment on differences until we get into some of the others.

9:22 PM: Aaron’s beer is a lactose beer. I am lactose intolerant. I’m not drinking much of this so that I can.. y’know.. digest it. It is absolutely amazing how much different this is from the beer prior to this. Good. Maybe a little sour. I’m not a huge man of milk stouts in general, so I’m not going to comment on quality, but I can comment on the fact that it’s a BIG ol’ lactose beer.

9:29 PM: Just popped mine open. Low carbonation, which is a shame. I was running out of CO2 when I put everything together. Good, just low carbonated. The abbey ale yeast makes an incredible difference in the flavor. It’s a VERY different beer from Joseph’s. Peppery notes abound, not as many of the esters as I would have expected. I wonder how much is getting lost on the roast.

9:37 PM: Nate’s maple syrup beer. You can really smell it on the nose – doesn’t really come through as much on the flavor. Solid beer. The base style is there, and picks up a lot of nice fruit flavors, some from the yeast that Nate ended up using, but I imagine you’re picking up some fruitiness from the maple syrup post-fermentation.

9:44 PM: Derek’s molasses stout – big.. just.. huge wonderful sweet nose. Nice caramelly flavor on the beer. The molasses really comes through. Just a fantastic beer, and really well-balanced.

9:49 PM: Peter’s Bourbon Barrel Stout – wow – just a ton of oak. Peter put half the batch in an oak barrel with bourbon in there. The oak is really prominent to me – bourbon notes are very subtle. Over all, great beer, would probably be brilliant with aging.

9:55 PM: We just decided on Derek’s molasses stout as the “brew-off winner” – fantastic beer. 12oz of molasses, said he, at the end of the boil. Do it. Great freakin’ beer.

11:15 PM: I just made it back around to Joseph’s Toasted Oats stout. I don’t if it’s the fact that it’s warmed a little or that my palate has gone out the other side of “shot” and back again, but it’s a totally different beer this time around, and with the experience of having drunk all of these other beers all night, I have to say that I quite like it. I think now that it’s warming I’m picking up a little more diacetyl from the oats. There’s a nice butterscotchy undertone that’s really pleasant in the same way that the caramelly sweetness of the molasses beer was. I’ll make a recommendation for the toasted oats as well. Nice addition well done.

As a wrap-up, I’ll be serving my version at tomorrow’s homebrew fest and picking up people’s opinion’s there.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 19 Feb 2010 @ 11 25 PM

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