How I Celebrated My 6th Brewing Anniversary

Today is the sixth anniversary of my brewing obsession. On January 7, 2007, I brewed my first batch of beer, an extract Red Ale kit I bought from Bet-Mar Liquid Hobby Shop in Columbia, SC. It wasn’t a great beer, or even good, but it wasn’t terrible and showed me that I might be capable of making good beer.

1.088 OG for those scoring at home.

1.088 OG for those scoring at home.

To celebrate my brewing anniversary, I wanted to do something completely new, so I made wine on Saturday! I got a Pinot Noir kit from Midwest Brewing Supply and went to work.

Well, calling it “work” was a stretch. As a brewer, making wine was so ridiculously easy it almost feels like cheating. Literally, it’s a five-step process:

  1. Sanitize a bucket, spoon, thief, and air lock.
  2. Dissolve yeast nutrient in warm water.
  3. Pour in the grape juice concentrate.
  4. Add water up to 6 gallons and take a hydrometer reading.
  5. Pitch yeast and close the lid with an airlock.

It took 30 minutes.

From here, all I have to do is rack to secondary after 5 to 7 days and add sulfates and clarifier. Then after another 10 to 14 days, I bottle. That’s it.

Now, that’s not to say that making great wine is easy and that’s there’s no art to it. While the work of the brewer is in the formulation of a recipe and in the brewing process itself, the labor of the vintner is in the cultivation of the grapes. I just happened to cut all that out.

I’ll write a full review of my first batch once it’s bottled and matured in a couple months. We’ll see if it’s any good!

However, not all was happy and merry on my brewing anniversary weekend. After making my first batch of wine, I went into the basement to take a hydrometer reading of two 10-gallon batches of lagers that I had brewed the Friday before Christmas. I had intended to move the beer into secondary for lagering in my chest freezer for 8 weeks, ready just in time for Spring.

To my horror, fermentation both batches of beer stuck about half way to where I wanted them, at least 20 gravity points off.

My heart was broken as my fears from brew day were realized. It was a brutally cold day, under 40 degrees when I started that morning. I tried to compensate by increasing the strike water temperature, but I didn’t go high enough.

To compound the problem, my digital thermometer was flaking out, so I had to use my old-school analog thermometer, which takes about 5 minutes to get a good reading. Either way, I wasn’t able to get much over 145 degrees, if it even got that high.

It was a fiasco, I felt rushed, and I just crossed my fingers that it would turn out ok. Turns out my conversion didn’t complete and I was unable to get enough fermentable sugar in the wort.

After an hour, I came to grips with the incomplete fermentation. Seeing no way to remedy the situation, I made the difficult choice to put my beer down. It’s the first time in six years I’ve had to dump a batch of beer. I felt like I had just shot Old Yeller.


A brewing tragedy.

(Last year, I wrote about a sour mashed Berliner Weiss that I dumped because it smelled like a dirty diaper. Actually, I couldn’t bring myself to dump it, so I let it sit in secondary for about three months. Lo and behold, the beer turned out ok. It was actually drinkable, though nowhere as tart as I wanted it.)

It’s a tough lesson to learn, but we learn the most through failure. I can’t wait to brew again and get my mojo back. My confidence is shaken, though I will return!

In the mean time, toast a glass to the beer that never was.

Posted in Homebrew | Tagged | Leave a comment

You’ll Always Remember Your First (Marathon)

Setting the stage.

My training for the 2012 Kiawah Island Marathon began in August of 2006. While most people need 16 to 20 weeks to train for a marathon, I needed six years and four months.

Back in 2006, I was basking in the glow of my second half-marathon, which was also at Kiawah, in December 2005. I had posted a personal record (PR) 47:02 in the Cooper River Bridge Run 10k that April, so I was feeling good about myself. I’d done two half marathons by that point and was feeling frisky. Let’s go for a full!

I began my training program from the Runner’s World website. Even as an experienced runner of five years, it was not easy. After each long weekend run, it felt like someone took a jackhammer to my legs to break up the concrete of inactivity I’d built up for 30 years.

I continued to trudge through it, and got all the way up to my 20 mile long run five weeks before race day. Despite being the most grueling thing I’ve put myself through up to that point in my life, I felt good. All systems appeared go, no injuries or anything.

However, it all came crashing down the following Tuesday on my short tempo run at Riverfront Park in Columbia. I was about two miles into my run when I felt a shooting pain on the outside of my left knee. I tried to run it off, but it got worse as I went on.

I decided to let discretion be the better part of valor and I called it a day without finishing the workout. I skipped my following workout and tried to run again that Saturday. Same deal. About two or three miles in, shooting pain on the outside of my left knee.

At that time, I was four weeks out from the race. I took the next week off, but I still had the same problem when I tried to run again. After doing some amateur physical therapist research online, I diagnosed myself with Illiotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).

According to literature (also known as Wikipedia), ITBS is inflammation of the illiotibial band, which is a long stretch of tissue that starts at your pelvis, goes down the outside of your femur, and attaches below the outside of your knee. There are a myriad of potential causes, including weak hip abductor muscles. I’m not even sure I have hip abductor muscles.

Since it can take a month or two for ITBS to heal and the pain was too intense, I felt the best thing to do was to shut it down being so close to race day. Needless to say, after coming so far in my training, I was extremely disappointed.

In the fall of 2008, I got up the courage to try the marathon again. I posted a PR 1:46 in the Kiawah Half Marathon in December 2007 and ran the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in August 2008. I was on my high horse, ready to bust through some new ground.

I started my program right after the Virginia Beach race. The training was a little easier this time. Apparently, most of the concrete was removed from my leg muscles in 2006, so my long runs weren’t as bad.

During the workout following an 18 mile run, an old, familiar friend showed up. “You’ve got to be kidding me!!!” I exclaimed. There it was again, shooting pain on the outside of my knee, this time on the right leg.

I immediately knew what that meant. I was done. Again.

I began to question my body’s ability to run that kind of distance. Certainly, there was something out of alignment, a weakness or inflexibility somewhere, that was causing this problem.

It took a few years for the memory of my previous two failed marathon attempts to subside enough for me to want to try again. This time, I knew I had to make some adjustments in my training.

I decided that I would run the 2011 Colorado Marathon outside of Ft. Collins on the first weekend of May. It’s an awesome and scenic course. They shuttle you up a mountain 26.2 miles from Ft. Collins and wish you luck as you roll downhill back into town. Sounds perfect! 26 miles downhill (for the most part), how could that get any better?

In preparing for this race, I was doing yoga once a week to increase my flexibility. At the behest of my personal trainer brother-in-law Billy, I also began using a foam roller to soften up my muscle tissue and keep the kinks out.

Once again, the training got easier as I went. I was feeling fantastic, and on a weekend trip to Charleston six weeks before race day, I went out for a 20 mile run on the West Ashley Greenway.

Four miles into the run, I nervously noticed a little tightness on the outside of my left knee. The tightness soon turned into the shooting pain of the ITBS. Knowing that I had to finish that 20 mile run if I had any hope of running the marathon, I decided to hell with it, and kept on running. I was so pissed off, I hobbled the remaining 15 miles on a bad leg.

I’m sure you can guess, but I was done. A third try, another failure. I was at a loss as to what to do. Was I just not built for this? My body seemed fine up to 15 or 16 miles. What happened after that point that caused things to fall apart?

Searching for answers beyond Wikipedia, I checked out Born to Run by Christopher McDougall from the library. It was highly recommended by a couple running friends of mine.

Aside from being a highly entertaining story, the controversial theme of the book is that the human body is naturally designed to run long distances, and then we f*ed it up with running shoes in the 1970s. 10,000 years of evolution and experience, and the founding fathers of Nike decided they could do it better.

Anyway, this is a story of personal triumph, not an essay on running shoes vs. feet. After finishing the book, I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes. It took several months to slowly adjust, but I immediately saw an adjustment in my running form.

I was striking the ground with the balls of my feet, not my heels, even when I would switch back to my regular shoes. I felt more upright, lighter on my feet and swifter. Before, I felt like I would slog through my long runs, shuffling along on my heels. Now, I felt like my legs were springs.

Armed with a foam roller, ankle stretches and a new stride, I struck off on my 16 week FIRST marathon training program. The program takes a less-is-more approach, only running three days per week. It relies on speed workouts twice a week and one long run. It allows you to live a somewhat normal life while training for a marathon.

I had a scare in week 10 of the program. After a 16 mile run, I felt a pain in the top of my left knee. The good news was that I could run through it if I wanted to. It also wasn’t the ITBS monster back for vengeance. I decided to take a week off and hope things returned to normal. I missed an 18 mile long run, which may have hurt my performance in the race (more to come later). The good news was that after the time off, the discomfort went away, and I was back on track.

I even made it through my perilous 20-mile run in a shade under three hours. I really felt great, and at that point it was all downhill. I had three weeks to taper and get ready for the race.

The Marathon

After six years of training and three failed attempts, I was finally at the starting line of the Kiawah Island Marathon by 7:40 A.M. on December 8, 2012. It was a great feeling, knowing that no matter what happened over the next four hours, I had made it through the hardest part, 16 weeks of training, and survived.

Brian and Nicole before the start. So happy and hopefully.

Brian and Nicole before the start. So happy and hopeful.

There was a nervous energy in the air before the start. The buzz built up as it only can among a few hundred people that know how good they are, how hard they’ve trained, yet are faced with what they’re up against. A mix of people about to embark on on a 13 or 26 mile odyssey that is more a test of the mind than of the body.

Eight A.M. sharp, and the announcer sounds the start. Runners pour across the line, tapping the start banner as they passed underneath.

As I began, I tried to keep a modest, yet aggressive pace. I couldn’t help but be nervous about the weather conditions. Foggy and 55 degrees at the start with 100% humidity, sunny and warming to 65 degrees by 11 am. While that might make for a great December afternoon of Christmas shopping on King Street in Charleston, it’s not my ideal running conditions. I’d rather it be 40 at the start and warm up to 52 by the end.

While my ultimate goal going into the race was simply to finish, my competitive nature couldn’t help but want to finish in under four hours. I felt pretty good and ran the first nine miles at an average of 8:40 pace, and that’s when the cramping starting. That was the first ominous sign that this may not be a smooth race day.

I got to the halfway point in 1:54. While I was encouraged I was a full six minutes ahead of my four-hour finish pace, I felt like I was already slowing down. I ran my first over-nine-minute mile at mile 15.

Mile 17 took me 9:49. The cramping was getting worse. My legs were feeling tired. Every time I came out of the shade into the sun, I felt like a scorched, withering plant. I wanted to stop running.

That’s when I launched into a Bobby Knight-esque verbal ass kicking of myself. I was not going to be denied. I didn’t come this far to stop. I will continue! Only 8 miles to go! I can run 8 miles IN MY SLEEP! COME ON!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!! (Just intersperse profanity every-other word, and you’ll have a transcript of my inner dialog. I’m sure people thought I was losing it. Then again, I think I was.) I coaxed myself to run mile 18 in 9:06.

The Wall is the mythical point every experienced marathon runner talks about when the reminisce about their first marathon. The stories vary, “My brain wanted to keep moving, but my body wouldn’t let me.” “My legs just locked up.” “I had to sit down for 10 minutes.”

Since most beginner marathon programs only train you up to 20 miles, the final 6.2 miles of a marathon are all about will and determination. There will come a point when your body stops behaving normally and more or less shuts down. It’s just a matter of when.

I hit my Wall during mile 19. I couldn’t keep running. Looking back, it was strange. My muscles weren’t cramping. I could still breathe. Nothing felt injured. I simply couldn’t keep running. I was totally out of gas. The hopeless part about it was that I still had over seven miles to go.

My marathon mile split times. This is what a Wall looks like.

My marathon mile split times. This is what a Wall looks like.

The inner struggle was greater than I thought it would be. I had trained for four months and endured three previous failures to get to this point. Yet in this moment of agony, all I wanted to do was stop. Everything hurt. This 36-year old body that eight months prior rocketed across the Cooper River Bridge Run in a PR 44:47 was completely broken down. I was close to giving it all up.

Despite the despair running through my head, a faint flicker of my competitive fire kept me going. Even though my pride was broken as people from all walks of life and fitness passed me while I walked, I had to finish.

I continued alternating walking and shuffling through the last few miles. I did manage to pull it together somewhat for the final two miles, averaging about 12:30 pace. The onlookers were great, encouraging the runners and telling us we were doing great, even though I’m sure they were secretly aghast as we looked like death.

The home stretch of the course begins as you round a left turn into the final 2/10 of a mile to the finish. I decided I’d summon what little I had to show a final burst of strength for the crowd. After all, I am a showman.

marathon finish

With a final burst of energy, I cross the finish…

As I approached the finish line, I was verklempt and overwhelmed with emotion. I’m not sure if it’s because of the accomplishment or that I realized I could finally stop moving. I crossed the finish line, accepted my participant medal and my space-age-silver-reflective plastic blanket, found a patch of grass and fell to the ground.

It was over. I did it. I finished in 4:26.

The Aftermath

After icing down my knees, Nicole and I went over to the post-race runner’s lunch. The Palmetto Amber that I drank there may have been the best tasting beer I’d ever had.

...and fell to the ground.

…and fall to the ground.

Overall, I was in good shape after the race. Despite my hardships during the run, I appeared to be free of any injuries or conditions that required medical attention. Another win!

Now that I’ve had a couple weeks to recover, more so mentally than physically, and gain some perspective, I still feel like this was the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished. I don’t remember another time when my body more or less shut down with so much more to go. At that point, it totally becomes a mental battle. Do I continue or do I stop? I never felt such a release of relief when it was over.

With all that said, it was an incredible experience. It taught me a lot about perseverance and not giving up. I often struggle with giving up too easily in other areas of my life. I play it safe. “Better not to start than to risk failing.” If I live my life like that, I’ll never achieve anything great.

In the grand scheme of the world, a marathon may not be the greatest accomplishment of all-time, but I just did something that 0.5% of Americans have done. And if you had gone back and told 23-year-old Brian, after he had just struggled to barely jog 20 minutes, that 13 years from then he’d run a marathon, he would have figured you just did a line of bath salts.

So, after three failed attempts and one miserable race, will I ride off into the sunset or will I do this again?

You’re damn right I’m going to do it again. I’m breaking four hours.

Posted in Motivation, Non-beer | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Community Tap Craft Beer Festival Tickets On Sale

commTap_logo_colorTickets for The Community Tap Craft Beer Festival on April 13, 2013 are now on sale. This is going to be a small, intimate festival with only 400 tickets available.

There are sure to be rarities, seasonals and the best the each brewery has to offer. In addition, the Upstate Brewtopians homebrew club will have representatives (including myself) on hand pouring our beer, so you’re guaranteed to have some one-of-a-kind beer!

Get your tickets now, while you still can!

Posted in Beer events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Belgian Vertical Tasting with Chimay Blue & Unibroue

If you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time. — Willie Nelson

I did my first-ever vertical beer tasting at the Charleston Beer Exchange with Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine in January 2009. After a beer dinner at Ted’s Butcherblock, we were invited back to CBX to partake in some aged beery goodness.

It was one of those seminal moments in my beer education when a layer of scales fell off my eyes. I had never thought about “cellaring” beer and the positive effects of age on higher ABV beers. And as another birthday approaches for me, it’s given me a positive perspective about age on my own body.

Since, I’ve started my own small beer cellar. I’ve put a few beers down for some time, and this year I’ve felt it’s time to crack a few open. A couple of our good friends, Andy and Lori, are huge fans of Belgian beer, so I brought my stash up to Asheville to share a Belgian-inspired beer dinner and tasting.

The three test subjects: Unibroue Maudite, Unibroue Trois Pistoles and Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue Cap). I recently bought a bottle of each so that we might compare my cellared with newer versions. Like an energetic cougar, age did not disappoint.

Unibroue Maudite: April 2008 (4 years, 7 months) vs. July 2011 (1 year, 4 months)

2011 (right) vs. 2009

The first beer in the array was the Maudite, a Belgian amber strong ale by birth. It was the lightest beer in the flight at 8.0% ABV.

The 2011 tasted of fresh fruit: apples and pears. It also had a pronounced clovey, spicy character. Though over a year old, it still tasted fresh.

The 2009 was a different beast. As can happen with aged bottles, this one lost most of its carbonation, so I’m not sure this qualifies as a valid scientific experiment.  It was apparent that after two additional years in the bottle, it lost the fresh fruit flavors in favor of more of a dried fruit character.

The spiciness wasn’t there as it was in the 2011. It was also thinner in body, though I attribute that to the loss of carbonation.

Overall, I favored the 2011. It would have been interesting to try the 2009 from a bottle that kept it’s carbonation, as I felt the 2011 had more life and complexity. The fresh fruit flavors of the newer beer jumped off the palate, while I felt the aged version was listless due to the lack of carbonation.

Unibroue Trois Pistoles: November 2011 (1 year) vs. February 2009 (3 years, 9 months)

2011 (left) vs. 2009

Next up was the Trois Pistoles. For those that don’t speak French, it doesn’t mean “three pistols,” but rather “three coins.” Not as dramatic in my opinion, but you can read about the legend and judge for yourself.

The 2011 version tasted of bananas foster. Burnt sugar, bananas and creme. A remarkable beer.

The 2009 Trois Pistoles aged similar to the Maudite in the dried fruit character, though it held up much better. It had a character of dried prunes and apricots.

In this case, I think each was a great beer, though again, I preferred the younger. I think the 2011 had a fresher, more interesting character.

Chimay Grande Reserve: February 2011 (1 year, 9 months) vs. February 2008 (4 years, 9 months)

2011 (left) vs. 2008

The last beer we got to was the Chimay Grande Reserve. (We also had a couple bottles of Unibroue Terrible, but the ABVs caught up with us.) Often overlooked because it has become the ubiquitous Belgian Strong Ale in the US, it is still one of the best.

We started with the 2011, which had a pronounced caramel malt flavor with a twist of burnt candy sugar. I didn’t get the same fruity phenols from the Chimay that I got from the Unibroue. The 2011 Chimay was more malt-centric.

The 2008 was like drinking a cross between bourbon and port wine. It had a leathery flavor and a mellow creme-like body. The 2008 was boozy, smooth and rich.

This was the only one of the three we tasted where I liked the aged version considerably more than the newer. Though both vintages were great, the 2008 was more complex and enjoyable than the 2011.

This mini-vertical made for a great evening, and I’d recommend to anyone with a little extra shelf space in a cool, dark place to set aside a few bottles and forget about them. It’s amazing what a few years will do to make a great beer… greater.

Posted in Beer | Leave a comment

Greenville gets a taste of rare beer with two upcoming festivals in 2013

Yo Greenville, check your stats:

  • One production brewery, two more on the way
  • One Brewpub
  • Five specialty craft beer stores
  • Two outstanding craft beer bars
  • Three craft beer festivals

If you’re keeping score at home, you might be scratching your head about that last bullet. “Three beer festivals in Greenville? Why haven’t I heard of this???”

With all due respect to the Upstate Beer Festival, which first appeared in Greenville as Top of the Hops in 2010, it doesn’t offer much for the beer geek. It’s well-run, but I attended the first one and I think I already had about 190 of the 200 beers offered.

Two of Greenville’s beer moguls, Barley’s Tap Room and the Community Tap, are each using their magnetic forces of attraction to bring rare and one-off beers to Greenville in 2013.

The Biggest Little Beer Fest, January 20

Barley’s/Trappe Door is putting on the second annual Biggest Little Beer Fest on Sunday, January 20, 2013. I wasn’t able to make it to last year’s inaugural fest. I heard it was jam packed with great beer and food.

All three levels of the the Barley’s/Trappe Door beerplex are dedicated to 80+ vintage and rare beers on tap, 8 casks and 6 randalized specialties. Great food and live music will round out a great atmosphere.

The Community Tap Craft Beer Festival, April 13

Just announced, the Community Tap is putting on their first-ever craft beer festival at Larkin’s Sawmill on Saturday, April 13, 2013. Their aim is to keep the festival smaller and more intimate, with only 30 breweries invited and 400 tickets to be sold.

You can be assured that each brewery is going to bring out its finest: rarities, one-offs, seasonals.

Tickets are not yet on sale for either event, so keep your eyes open when they do go up. Follow each on Twitter @barleygille and @communitytap for updates.

Posted in Beer events | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Homebrewers Star at the Charlotte Oktoberfest

Brewtopians beer in transit to Charlotte. Now THAT’S a nanobrewery!

I’ve had the opportunity to pour beer for Thomas Creek and Mother Earth at a beer festival before, and I always tell people it’s much more fun to be behind the bar than the one attending. You’re basically a rock star behind the bar at your table.

I one-upped that this past weekend at the Charlotte Oktoberfest. I was able to pour my own beer at the festival in the homebrew tent with the Upstate Brewtopians. There is no better feeling as a brewer than pouring your beer for a random stranger, having them give you a thumbs-up, or even come back for seconds when there are 200 other beers they could have moved on to.

That is one hot brewing couple. More so on the right side of the photo…

First, I want to give a shout to the awesome people with the Carolina BrewMasters (CBM), the hosting homebrew club. I am in awe of what they were able to pull off logistically. They put on a beer festival with over 6,000 attendees, 85 breweries and 14 homebrew clubs, while raising over $60,000 for charity. I can’t imagine the work that went into this event, and I thank them for inviting the us to be a part of it. My mesh baseball hat goes off to you!

The weekend kicked off with the brewer’s pre-party Friday night at the hotel. Much like a race, it’s important to carb load before a brew festival. The CBM provided a delicious pasta dinner and five kegs of homebrew to go along with growlers from Pisgah Brewing and NoDa Brewing.

The night before a festival is kind of like the night before a wedding. You know how it goes. A bunch of friends that haven’t seen each other in months or years get together, the drinks start flowing, before you know it it’s 1 am, for some reason you started drinking Jack Daniels Single Barrel, and you wake up the next day with a splitting headache and you can’t even enjoy the wedding reception.

I try to avoid that these days. I started off on the slippery slope with a delicious saison made by one of the CBM brewers. Luckily the three chafing dishes of pasta filled me up and gave me a powerful foundation on which to build a weekend.

After hanging out, meeting some new brewers, catching up with old friends, I was about to retire at a reasonable hour. I awoke Saturday morning refreshed and ready to take on the throngs of beer enthusiasts who would be experiencing my beer for the first time that day.

We arrived at the festival grounds around 11 am to set up and get ready for the 1 pm start with the VIP patrons. It rained the night before, so the ground was sloshy and muddy, what I consider perfect conditions for a beer festival. The bonus possibilities now included mud wrestling and drunk people slipping on their asses. How is that not a good thing?

At 1 pm, the first of the 650 VIP ticketed fest-goers came through the gate. To my surprise, the first place many of them came was the homebrew tent. Throughout the day, we got the comment from several people that the most interesting, and often best, beer at the festival was found with the homebrewers.

The Brewtopians Crew, minus Nicole who was off wandering in search of a fried bologna sandwich.

That’s a testament to the brewer’s spirit, unencumbered with the shackles of economics. Commercial brewers have to worry about servicing their accounts, lost sales, and that darned supply and demand. Therefore, most commercial breweries don’t bring their best out to festivals unless they are paid for it. (I don’t blame them for that, by the way.)

Homebrewers, on the other hand, give away their beer all the time. Their purpose is to make the best, most interesting stuff that they want to drink and share. What better venue for sharing their handcrafts than a beer festival?

At the Brewtopians table, we had a small, yet stellar lineup of beer offerings for our rookie campaign:

  • Metrosexual Chocolate by Nicole Cendrowski – A chocolate raspberry stout, made with 100% cocoa and 10 lbs of raspberry puree
  • Dieterhosen Festbier by Brian Cendrowski – A straight-up marzen
  • Hang Tough Belgian Tripel by Hang To – A dark fruity masterpiece of Belgian goodness
  • Sage Advice Black IPA by Jake Grove – A black IPA brewed with black sage honey
  • Stiche Alt by Bill MacElroy – a malt bomb German alt-bier
  • The Fixer Smoked Baltic Porter by Brian Cendrowski – a Baltic porter with 2 lbs of cherry wood smoked pilsner malt
  • Harold-is-Weizen Hefeweizen by Jeremy Grieshop – Bananas and cloves came through like a prize fighter in this creamy wheat beer

The Metrosexual Chocolate was the star of the show from our table. Obviously, people just wanted to say it, and the chocolate raspberry flavor was a hit with the ladies. True marketing genius, but the beer lived up to the hype. Nicole received several offers from people to buy some of it off her. She should have brought up some bottles!

Bill’s Stiche Alt also received huge praise from the brewer at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte. He came over to visit our table, and told Bill it was a fantastic representation of the style and that he would be doing the world a disservice if he didn’t enter that in their beer competition coming up.

Some of the other memorable brews I had from other clubs were a mint chocolate stout that tasted like a thin mint Girl Scout cookie, a coconut stout (which is very difficult to pull off well) and an amazing double IPA.

It was such an awesome experience, and Nicole and I were already planning ahead to what we want to do next year. It definitely reaffirmed why I brew and why I love the beer community. We’re all united for better beer.

And who could be against that? (Well, except for teetotaling right-wing zealots…)

Posted in Beer events, Homebrew | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Panel Discussion at Euphoria Beer Garden on September 22

Euphoria is a four-day food, drink and music event stretching from Thursday, September 20 to Sunday, September 23. I hesitate to call it a “festival” because it’s more a series of tastings, meals and sessions, rather than a traditional festival where you just wander around and try stuff.

It’s more a celebration of the finer things in life, gourmet food from the best chefs in Greenville, fantastic wine tastings and live music to enhance the atmosphere.

And of course, there’s good craft beer. On Saturday, September 22, a bier garden will be open from 11 am to 4 pm. It will feature a small, select group of local and regional breweries and will be much more intimate than your typical drunkfest.

I’ve been asked to represent the homebrew community at a panel discussion at the beer garden. The panel will be moderated by Ale Sharpton, beer writer extraordinaire out of Atlanta. The other participants in the panel will include Josh Beebe, owner of Barley’s Tap Room and Trappe Door, Mike Okupinski, co-owner of The Community Tap and Don Richardson, head brewer at the soon-to-be Quest Brewing (formerly of All Good Brands).

There will also be a second panel featuring Bill Davis from Thomas Creek, Sweetwater Head Brewer Nick Nock and Terrapin Founder John Cochran.

It’s a hell of an honor for me to be included with some of the top beer entrepreneurs in the Southeast. I’ll have to strap on my big-boy pants for this one. I just hope my panel goes first so I haven’t had too much beer before going on.

Tickets to gain access the beer garden come with the Tasting Showcase ticket ($75) and the Tasting Showcase + Wine Seminar ticket ($100).

I hope to see you there. And please lob me some softball questions, it’s going to be hard enough to look smart on this stage.

Posted in Beer events | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Perennial Favorite: Samuel Adams Octoberfest

This past Sunday, I walked into Publix on a mission for tortilla chips to go with a quick guacamole that I whipped up while Nicole was brewing her batch of stout she’s going to bring to the Charlotte Octoberfest.

I nearly leapt for joy when, to my surprise, I saw a huge stack of Samuel Adams Octoberfest cases at the front of the beer isle. Sam Adams was the first Octoberfest I ever had, and it will always have a special place in my heart.

The release of Sam Adams Octoberfest is one of my favorite occasions of the year. It’s a sign that the brutal South Carolina summer is nearly over and that my favorite season, fall, is just around the corner. That means football, brats, leaves changing color, running during daylight hours, jeans, soups and lots of dark beer.

An Octoberfest, also known as a Marzen, is a style that was traditionally brewed in Germany in March (which is “Märzen” in German) and lagered in caves over the summer, then served at the beginning of fall.

The style is typically full-bodied, rich, malty, and toasty. It’s not usually hoppy or bitter and really highlights the malt character of the beer. It exudes flavor, yet has a moderate alcohol content, around 5-6%, so it can be consumed as a session beer. (i.e. in gigantic quantities at Octoberfest celebrations…)

I feel that the Octoberfest is Sam Adams’ best beer, even topping the ubiquitous Boston Lager. It is so incredibly smooth and creamy, with a rich bready toasty malt backbone. It also has a crisp hop finish and subtle hop aroma, which makes it more American than the traditional German varieties, and I feel this adds a perfect balance to the beer.

What can I say? I’m an American.

Posted in Beer, Beer events | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

5 tips for creating all-grain homebrew recipes

My first brew day, January 7, 2007. From a rookie…

I’ve been homebrewing now for over five years. My beer has come a long way since the days of pouring extract syrup into a 2.5 gallon stock pot that was way too small and always boiled over.

One of my favorite aspects of brewing is recipe formulation. It’s my creative outlet and is essential for me to feel like my beer is my own. If I simply poured pre-made ingredients from a can, or followed a recipe like I was making Toll House cookies, I’d have quit long ago.

If you’re brewing extract or partial-mash, there’s only so much flexibility you have. For those of you who may be getting into all-grain brewing, I wanted to share five quick tips that I feel will get you a long way in making good beer. These suggestions are primarily for you.

1. Find a trusted guide

The Internet is the single greatest store of information that the human race has ever known. And 90% of it is crap. HopGod5728 may or may not know what the hell he is doing, or his palate may be completely shot and he doesn’t taste bitterness less than 100 IBU.

I gave up on Internet recipe research long ago. I now only use a select few resources from authors that I trust. I use these books or magazines to get an understanding of the style or end result I’m looking for, then I tweak from there to make it exactly how I want it.

My three most used resources are:

  1. Brewing Classic Styles, Jamil Zainasheff & John Palmer
  2. Radical Brewing, Randy Mosher
  3. Zymurgy, American Homebrewer’s Association

There are dozens of great brewing authors out there. Find three or four that share your brewing spirit and stick to them. There is such a thing as too much information.

2. Use less than 20% specialty malt

One of the most common critiques I have of homebrew is that it is often too sweet. They seem under-attenuated and way too malty.

When I first started making all-grain batches, I got all excited about specialty malt and trying to make complex, advanced, “layered” beers. What I actually made was beer that tasted like homebrew.

Specialty malts, such as caramel, black malt, chocolate malt and roasted barley, are more highly kilned or roasted than your typical base malts, such as 2-row, Munich, Vienna, pilsner or Maris Otter.

Through the kilning process, the malt become less attenuative, meaning that the sugars don’t ferment as well as the sugars from the base malts do. The result is a sweeter, fuller character than you get from a base malt. Now, depending on the style, this may or may not be a good thing.

(Note: similar effects can be achieved through different mash temperatures, so if you do want to use a higher percentage of specialty malt, consider mashing at a lower temperature, which will yield a more fermentable wort.)

When looking at specialty malt, I apply the “less is more” rule. You can still get great color and depth of flavor by scaling back on the specialty malt.

Unless you are doing an insane Russian Imperial Stout or something completely experimental, try keeping the specialty malts under 20% of the total grain bill. You’ll get a cleaner beer that more closely resembles what the pros make.

3. For IPAs, use at least 2 ounces of dry hops

When I first started brewing, I was pretty much sticking to the book as far as the recipes went. I’d order a kit and use whatever the homebrew shop sent me.

What I found, even in IPA kits, was that the beers never had the hop flavor and aroma that I came to love in my American IPAs. Perhaps, under ideal conditions with ideal equipment, the amounts of late addition and dry hops that they give you are enough, but I never found that to be the case.

It wasn’t until I started doubling, sometimes tripling, the amount of hops the recipe called for at flameout at the end of the boil or in dry hopping in secondary fermentation, that I started achieving the hop-forward character I was looking for.

Through various experiments, I found that I could not get a significant improvement in hop flavor and aroma if I used less than 2 ounces of hops to dry hop in a five-gallon carboy. One ounce or less of dry hops made very little difference over the same beer that didn’t have any dry-hopping at all.

4. Let the magic happen in secondary

All homebrewers want to experiement. That’s why we brew. We want to throw everything in our beer, from herbs to peanut butter.

Let me qualify everything I’m about to say with, “It depends…” Depending on whether you’re using fresh or dried, whole or crushed, you may want to add your fruit, vegetables, spices, herbs, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter, fruit, wood, liquor, you name it, you can add ingredients anywhere from the mash to the beginning of the boil to the end of the boil to flameout to secondary to bottling to in your glass right before you drink it.

So if I qualified that effectively and confusingly enough, allow me to simplify. Unless you have a good reason to add a particular adjunct ingredient at a particular stage in the process, first consider adding it to your brew in the secondary fermentation stage.

I have two main reasons for this. First, many of the characteristics from herbs and spices can easily evaporate off if you add them during the boil. Coffee can be harsh and astringent if you add it during the boil. In secondary, there is no heat or bubbling action to send any of the good stuff off into the atmosphere.

Adding ingredients to secondary also gives you a little more control. You can start by adding a little, waiting a day or two, then sampling your beer. If you feel like you need to add more to get your desired character, you can always do so. You can’t remove what you’ve already added.

5. Don’t forget the salt

Water is one aspect of brewing that I neglected until the past year or so. I would either use store-bought spring water or whatever came out of the tap. Maybe I’d throw in some gypsum or something, depending on the recipe.

The mineral content of water is a very important aspect of how the finished beer will turn out. After all, that’s why classic beer styles are so regionalized. The hardness and mineral content of the local water determined what styles of beer would taste good.

That’s why you traditionally have uber-hopped pilsners from Pilsen, Czech Republic, malty amber lagers from Munich, Germany, and stouts from Dublin, Ireland. When you study water chemistry and it’s effect on beer, it’s like the universe opens up before you.

I encourage you to get a water report from your local water utility. Find out if you have soft or hard water. If you have soft water, like we do here in Greenville, you may need to add some brewer’s salts such as gypsum, epsom, table salt, or calcium chloride, to achieve authentic-tasting darker styles of beer.

If your water is very hard, you may need to dilute it with some distilled water if you want to keep your light-colored or hoppy IPAs from turn turning out too harsh or astringent.

…to a grizzled vet. Brew day in the snow, January 30, 2010.

Posted in Homebrew | Tagged , | 5 Comments

An Epic Meal of Simplicity: Meat, Cheese and Beer

Wine and cheese is so 20th Century.

Beer and cheese is a vastly underrated pairing. Wine is the classic choice to pair with cheese, but beer may actually be a better match. The carbonation in beer in effect washes the fat and oils of the cheese off your tongue, keeping your palate fresher.

For those that don’t care about fresh palates, beer is extremely versatile and it’s relatively simple to find great pairings. From light lagers to spritzy Belgians, malty ambers, toasty porters and funky sours, it’s very accessible to figure out what will go well with a spread of meats and cheeses.

A couple weeks ago, I bought a bottle of LambickX from the Community Tap. A three-year old lambic isn’t exactly a beer you crack open on the boat (or at least I don’t), you’ve got to step it up. What better inspiration to drink some funky beer with funky cheese?

I bought a spread of four cheeses from Whole Foods to accompany the beer: drunken goat, Rogue Oregonzola, truffle brie and idiazabal (an aged sheeps cheese).

If we’re having cheese and beer, you gotta have some meat. Prosciutto, hot cappicolo and hard salami would do nicely.

With all that salt and savor, sweet was needed to balance. In came the freshly picked blueberries and blackberries, figs, granny smith apples and South Carolina peaches. You know, just because we could.

Once the table was set with 87,178,291,200 possible flavor combinations, we popped open the bottle of LambickX and began the feast.

The lambic was as advertised. Horse blanket, wet hay and grass on the nose. The barnyard wasn’t as prevalent in the flavor. It started out like a sweet tart and finished with a bitter twist. It was crisp and light. It had everything you could ask for to pair with funky cheese and cured meats.

Our guests, Madeline and Jason, brought with them a bottle of Rodenbach Grand Cru, which was a welcome addition to keep the sour going after the LambickX was through. The Grand Cru was sweeter and maltier than the lambic without the barn. It was a nice step up to match the building intensity of the cheese.

My favorite combination was the Oregonzola with a fig and prosciutto, chased by the LambickX. It was a perfect swirl of funky awesomeness, and beer took it to a heavenly place.

Other favorites included the truffle brie and peaches; granny smith apples with the drunken goat and salami; and the idiazabal with blackberries and cabernet infused sea salt. Oh yeah, we had cabernet infused sea salt. POW!

We finished the evening with New Belgium Clutch, a dark sour ale, to go along with a chili dark chocolate bar.

What was an epic feast. It goes to show that if you slow down, give it some thought and choose items with real flavor, you can do some amazing things with very little effort. All it takes is a little imagination.

Posted in Beer, Beer & Food | 1 Comment