Beer and Pavement

Session #71: Brewers and Drinkers

Posted in Beer, The Session by SM on January 6, 2013

Better late than never, eh?

This month’s session is brought to you by The Homebrew Manual and focuses on the relationship with beer between brewers and drinkers. I consider myself both, but I know of many who are more one or the other. It does taint one’s appreciation of beer, but I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other.

Let’s start with me. I used to be a drinker only. My thinking was that I could never brew something as good as a commercial brewer. And many of the homebrewers I knew proved this to be true. Their beers were mediocre at best and didn’t offer the same wow factor that many commercial breweries offered. I just didn’t see the point of brewing 40-50 bottles of something that wasn’t nearly as good the various different beers I could find at the store or in bars. That and many of these homebrewers seemed ignorant to the tide of craft beer developing under their noses. High IBU’s and ABV’s seemed impossible. “Throw more spice and have another malty beverage!”

So, I threw myself into the craft beer movement. I bought every new release. I built a cellar that might not be the largest you’ve ever seen, it’s still solid in its variety and quality. I lost track of how many beers I had before Untappd (BU), but I have since achieved Legendary status (500 unique beers recorded) with a solid progression toward Extraordinary (1000 different beers). I steeped myself in the culture and blogging community so as to further my enjoyment of craft beer.

Then – I don’t remember whose beer it was – it hit me. It is possible to brew beer at home that’s as good or even better than what the pros produce. It was like a second epiphany. So, I tried some homebrewing. At first, it was a kit that seemed pretty pedestrian, but I didn’t care. It was mine. From there, I completely changed the hop additions and developed an incredible single-hopped Simcoe IPA and the rest was history.

Now, granted, I’ve never moved beyond extract brewing. Some would argue that I don’t really brew. However, I haven’t moved on to all-grain for two simple reasons. First, extract brewing requires less time and is generally simpler. I can steep some specialty grains before I boil for added complexity. Extract brewing is just so easy. Second, my beers have generally been considered “better than extract.” Few have been able to sense the extract and all have loved my beers. I’ve done some insanely hoppy IPA’s/DIPA’s, potent imperial stouts, a ridiculously popular saison, and there’s a boozy Belgian Quad bottle conditioning right now that is loaded with that raisin flavor/aroma brewers strive for.

So, I’m a brewer and a drinker. I don’t think one understands beer better than the other. Brewers can break down a beer into its components, altering the enjoyment from aesthetic-based to one of utility. Each beer is judged like a puzzle, stirring inspiration for the next batch while developing metacognition along the way. Drinkers, however, are not lost in the details and enjoy beer in the moment. Where the brewer tries to experiment with technique and ingredients, the drinker collects and hoards his own variety. Both can be generous with knowledge and refreshment. Both know their stuff. But, most importantly, both appreciate and love beer.

As is usual for this blog, I can find an applicable comparison to musicians and music fans. I am of the latter and not the former. I wish I could play music. I tried teaching myself guitar and bass at one point, but there just wasn’t time in my schedule. Despite my love of the DIY movement, I’ve never really felt that playing music was in the cards for me. However, I don’t appreciate music any less than musicians. I have several musician friends who – for whatever reason – like to read this blog, talk music with me, or come hear me spin. I’m more than a fan. I curate.

But I digress.

Does one need to brew (or play music) to properly appreciate beer (or music)? No. The appreciation is just different. I know a lot more about beer and appreciate a well-made pale ale or Pilsner because of what I know about brewing. However, there are some times when I want to suspend that knowledge and just enjoy the beer for what it is at that moment. Who cares what causes the head retention or that tartness. I just want to appreciate the beer for being a beer.

I don’t ever want to be the brewer that analyzes every beer, sucking out the enjoyment. I don’t want to swayed by technique over the ephemeral. Conversely, I don’t want to drink a beer blindly, ignorant to the efforts that went into making it so great. It’s all about balance.

We need balance in the beer community as well. Drinking beers with only brewers or drinkers makes for a dull, monotonous experience. Beer, as complex as it is, can become a rather boring thing if only seen tasted smelled experienced through one perspective. Beer needs a diversity of thought to be fully appreciated. So, there’s plenty of room for both brewers and drinkers. Also, those of us who float somewhere in between.

Tagged with: , ,

On the Homebrew Front

Posted in Beer by SM on August 20, 2012

I have been brewing a lot lately and have plans for more in the near future. So, look at this as an update of sorts.

The oldest homemade beer I have right now the Belgian-style Quad I’m aging at the moment. Better known as “Guided By Voices“, this sucker measures in at about 10.7% ABV thanks in large part to the maple syrup and candied sugar I added to the boil. I’ve had trouble with Belgian yeast strains in the past, but this beer was fermented in my Ale Pail with a heating belt wrapped around to maintain optimal temperature. The beer nearly exploded it was so active. It’s still sitting in secondary at the moment, aging and developing in complexity. Later this fall, I’ll bottle it and ration them out slowly.

The other two batches I have on hand are the second edition of New Slang Saison and a new scotch ale I’m calling “Tenured Dingo.” Both beers were brewed for my partner’s tenure celebration on the first. So, there will be tasting notes to share for those two beers soon.

New Slang Saison was the Saison I developed last year that included lemon zest, Rosemary, and the lemony Sorachi Ace hop. This year’s version features several changes. First, I was able to secure leaf hops, hopefully allowing for a more fragrant beer, especially thanks to the dry-hop. I also added extra Rosemary to the  the dry-hop, possibly making this a roasted chicken in a glass flavor profile. Finally, the biggest change occurred in the pitching of yeast. Last year, I used a smack pack of a Saison yeast that never really took off. I had to scramble and luckily friends gave me some slurry from their cider that finished off the beer nicely. This year, I just mixed a packet of dry yeast into the wort. It took off despite no starter. The beer has smelled nice throughout and should be ready in a couple of weeks.

Tenured Dingo Scotch Ale is named for my wife. She doesn’t care for much beer but prefers a scotch ale and – more importantly – scotch. So, I soaked some oak chips in cheap scotch and added them to the secondary. The recipe features an odd hop schedule and an American yeast strain, mostly because I can do what I want. I can’t wait to try it once it’s carbonated.

Maybe most exciting of all is the plan to brew a coffee IPA. I’ve had good luck with IPAs, but coffee is a new frontier for me. A new friend roasts his own coffee and can manipulate several variables for us to get the exact flavor profile we want from the coffee. I’m looking at the moment to take a medium-roast coffee with tons of fruitiness. It will cold-brewed so as to lower the acidity. Then, we’ll dump it into the secondary. One idea is to add the coffee to a split batch so that we can experiment with several varieties. We’ll have to see, I guess.

Either way, there will be something to brew after the tenure party. So, there should be more on the homebrew front soon…

Tagged with: ,

Designing a Beer

Posted in Beer by SM on November 22, 2011

I brew.

As my last two batches of home brew disappear and a commercially-made beer disappoints, I begin to look to brewing another batch. Obviously, I don’t brew one batch after another like some. No, I get around to it when I get around to it. I’m starting to get that itch and thought I’d share my thought process.

After Saturday’s disappointing experience with Odell’s Woodcut No. 5, I decided that I wanted to brew a Belgian Quad. First, I had to figure out what goes into a Quad to give it that rich, raisin-y flavor and aroma. That’s easier said than done. I looked around the internet and it doesn’t seem all that clear how the flavors of a Quad are created, especially in a batch using extract. I could read this guy’s book, but I’m feeling a bit lazy and just want to figure something out. Of course, that also means that I want to play with the ingredients to make it my own. For example, I don’t think your traditional Quad contains maple syrup. So, I think I’m really just trying to make a big, dark beer with Belgian yeast.

I’ll play with some specialty grains to obtain that dark color, but the raisin flavors and aromas will be harder to achieve. I am considering a little cheating or even going the Dogfish Head route by adding raisins and figs, but it seems more complex than I might be willing to try. From what I can tell, these beers use very little in the way of hops and what they use tend to be German. Additionally, I’ll add some candied sugar. The Belgian yeast should help to create the flavor I’m after.

The above portion was for my beer/homebrew nerd readers. Comment freely and steer me in the right direction. The conversation below has to do with naming the beer.

I’ve made a point to name my beers after musicians, albums, or song titles. This beer should be dark, sweet, slight funk, and relatively boozy. So, what should I name it?

I really have no clue where to go with this one. Often, it’s where I start. For example, Wowee Zowee Double IPA was intended to pay homage to the Pavement album by the same name. It actually lived up to its namesake. Now, that I’ve identified a style and flavor profile, I have to figure out which album, song, or musician to name my new brew after. Here’s what I’m thinking…

Slint (band) – Spiderland (album by Slint) – “Good Morning, Captain” (song off Spiderland)
The darkness this album paints is best exemplified in the final track. However, I’m not sure if any of these names would make for a good beer name. Slint Quad? Who wants to drink a Spiderland? Can’ Good Morning, Captain make a good beer name?

Will Oldham’s “band” felt like the perfect inspiration for this beer. Dark and oddly sweet underneath… Of course, as I said before, I wasn’t inspired by a band for this particular beer. So, who knows whether this would work.

Blues Xplosion
I dunno. I’m stretching it a bit here. Jon Spencer would drink this brew, right? Probably not. Besides, this name should probably be saved for something more extreme.

The California Raisins

And, that’s as far as I’ve made it. I have a long way to go. So, if you have suggestions for the recipe or the beer’s name, leave them in the comments. We’ll discuss.


Posted in Beer by SM on November 3, 2011

I’ve hinted and shared bits of information concerning two homebrews I currently have around to consume. Well, I’ve had a chance to enjoy and share these brews with others. That’s given me some insight into what I have inside all those bottles taking up space in my cellar. The numbers denote the how many batches I’ve done. There has been a cider and a couple of collaborative projects, but these put me at 9 and 10 batches of my own doing.

Batch #9 – Black Francis Imperial Stout (recipe)
This was to be part of a Christmas gift for people, particularly family, but that idea went out the window once we counted up the souvenirs we purchased in Spain. So, I’ve been drinking and sharing this beer, especially now that the weather has turned a bit.

Black Francis is a relatively big imperial stout (9% ABV) aged with oak chips, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans all soaked in bourbon. Soaking the chips creates an effect similar to a bourbon barrel, but it actually allows for mor surface to touch the beer than a barrel. I wish I had aged it longer, but I worried about a potential exposure issue and I’m impatient with beer.

The beer itself contains an overwhelming amount of bourbon in the nose, but one can catch a bit of the chocolate if he’s paying attention. The vanilla doesn’t come through on its own. It seems the vanilla just augments the other flavors in the beer. The oak comes through a bit under the bourbon, but this may be the vanilla as the two components often bring the same flavors to a beer. I’ve used cocoa nibs before without much success. The vanilla, however, brings the chocolate out a bit. I’m hoping to save a few bottles to see if the bourbon subsides a bit, making room for the vanilla and chocolate to come forward.

Batch #10 – Simcoe-Dependency IPA (recipe)
This is my third go at this brew. The first was an extract beer and a huge success. The second time I tried to brew the beer, my thermometer boke in the wort, causing me to dump the entire batch. This time around, I brewed an all-grain batch with friends. Many remember the first batch and have been looking forward to trying this one.

Simcoe-Dependency is a single-hopped IPA, meaning that I only used one hop for bittering, flavor, and aroma. The Simcoe hop is one of my favorites. It adds a catty, grapefruit-like presence to a beer. For my money, it’s the most potent, identifiable hop out there and is the ideal hop to be solely featured in a beer. All my favorite single-hop commercial brews are Simcoe-specific.

This batch turned out rather different from the first. It’s dryer and features the slight tartness from the hop more so than I’m accustomed. The aroma isn’t as awesome as I remember, causing me to think that doubling the amount of hops in the dry-hop could have made a huge difference. The dryness comes from the dry yeast I used that seemed to eat up all the sugars, dropping my final gravity lower than expected. A sweeter beer might have showcased the hops better, but I have no complaints.

Another interesting aspect of the IPA is the patience factor I alluded to in my summary of the stout. For some reason, I have grown impatient with the time it takes to properly bottle condition my IPA’s. I brewed one in the spring as well as this one more recently. Both were not what I expected on the first few tries. However, as they sit around, they become more complex and the hop presence grows to favorable levels, almost completely changing the flavor and aroma of the beer over a matter of days or weeks. If there’s a lesson to be learned from these two brews, it’s that patience can make a world of difference between a good beer and a great one. Also, relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.


Posted in Manifesto by SM on January 19, 2010

DIY. Do it yourself.

This is a sentiment that has had a long, slow growth over the past couple of decades. While mainly a hippie thing in the sixties and early seventies, punks (and not just the mohawked, rocker types) have adopted the DIY ethic as their own. Creating their own music, style and politic.

DIY has manifested itself in nearly every industry or craft. It’s spread beyond economies and has seeped into our daily lives. We build meat cart beds, sew our own clothes, build our own web presence without giving any real money to giant corporations making these products for us. Sure, the end results are often rough around the edges, but that’s what gives our things, our lives character.

In no other industry or craft has DIY had a greater effect than indie rock and craft beer.

Yesterday’s garage band playing the prom is today’s Lollapalooza headliner. These bands have moved from cheap cassette tapes of their songs to small runs of 7″ vinyl to full albums available online and created on their MacBooks. They didn’t like what the mass producers were mass producing, so they made their own. Some of it good, a lot of it unlistenable, but all of it original.

Take Pavement, for example. A couple of college kids from Stockton, CA decide they want to record some songs and put it to vinyl. A scary hippie with a makeshift recording studio and an uncanny ability to not keep a beat helps them out and you have Slay Tracks. The rest is history. Had SM and Spiral Stairs (pseudonyms) never worked up the nerve to record their own songs, Pitchfork would have nothing to pine over this year.

And Pavement is just a small piece of the indie-DIY puzzle. They sounded like they were doing it themselves (good thing). I haven’t even mentioned Sonic Youth making their own path through the major labels when so many 80’s indie bands had failed. Those old codgers even rebuild their own instruments. Folks at Merge (as well as countless other indies) started a record label just to release records by themselves and their friends. Indie rock is littered with DIY success stories.

Beer had a similar rise. About the same time punk rock was blowing up – making way for the hardcore and indie movements – Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law declaring homebrewing legal. No other development has had more of an impact on the beer market than this one bill. Soon after, a dude named Maytag brewed some steam beers in San Francisco and another guy started a brewery in Chico, CA. Charlie Papazian founded the Association of Brewers. It all took off from there.

It’s this DIY attitude that provides all the innovation for both of these trades to flourish. In the midst of these economically hard times, indie labels and craft brewers are a few of the folks still making money. Major labels have been losing money for almost two decades. The big mega-breweries are experiencing something they never thought breweries would feel: a pinch from a down economy. Folks are willing to pay good money for quality music on vinyl or extremely hoppy imperial IPA’s or sour beers brewed in wine barrels.

Instead of waiting for someone to make something they liked, these indie rockers and craft brewers did it for themselves. And they’re finding that other people wanted the same things they did. So, they’re able to make a living doing what they love.

Even I’ve done some things for myself. I can’t play an instrument and I didn’t have the capital to front a label, but I’ve done what I can to promote and support these DIY bands. Even better, I’ve taken up homebrewing in the last year. Three out of four batches made it to bottles. The first was drinkable; the second was a huge success; and the third gets better every time I try it. These things and various DIY projects litter my life with meaning and accomplishment.

By trade, I’m a teacher. There is maybe no other profession that uses DIY as much as teaching in public schools. There is often nothing in the way of appropriate materials available on a daily basis. We make our own. Now with all this Web 2.0 stuff, we really make our own all over the place.

The point of celebrating the DIY ethic is to call attention to the capabilities we all hold inside. We can do and make whatever we want or need. There is no more waiting for governmental or private enterprises to make what we want. We have to do it for ourselves.

So, build your meat cart bed. Learn to knit. Take a guitar lesson. Plant a garden. Do it for yourself. Don’t wait for someone else. “Yes we can” was not just a campaign slogan. Believe in it. Believe that you can do it for yourself.

This is just the first in a series on my manifesto for life. I feel most strongly about DIY. You should too. Let me know what you plan to do or are doing that fits the DIY lifestyle.

(*Note: This is not some lame-ass hipster, holier-than-thou diatribe. You should really give this a try.)