All Things Brooklyn - Make Some Beer

| No TrackBacks - it seems a lot of great things come out of Brooklyn, brownstones, baseball teams, rock bands, restaurants, pubs, and breweries - who in some cases have turned out great books. The most interesting baking books I have read all come from Brooklyn or California. The ones from California always have some connection back to the city. Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller, is by far one of my favorite books. Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson is another one that has caught my wandering eyes of fermentation. Both seem to give authoritative and educated advise on breads. I recently read Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood. He seems like a good guy. I wouldn't bother reading his book. It's ok, but it seems to lack science. Something that is pretty important with bread and beer.

With cooking you can do whatever the hell you please, and it always works, well almost always. Grain based fermentables offer no limits on experimentation, however their god is a bit stricter. Not unlike the action of the rider on the bicycle, or the delicate movement of a pilot in an aircraft, each action, no matter how subtle yields a change from the god of flow and aerodynamics, or in this case the god of fermentation. A bit more protein, sugar, moisture, time, or heat make sometimes significant changes. Perhaps the god of fermentation is the twin brother of the god of flow.

I learned this through experience. I started out with some rather ignorant meanderings and recipes like this one. My bread was wet, flat, had no oven spring, in fact it fell in the oven. I got some help from those that had seemed to perfect bread. But in the end it was the good books that really helped, helped me to understand what nuances yielded what details in the final product. I recently read Baked - New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis. It's a great book. He partners up with Six Point Brewery using their malt to make blondies. I used some malt extract laying around for mine. They were amazing. Baked is of course - in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn BrewShop is another Brooklyn based business with a book. This book has meaning to me because I started brewing in Brooklyn, and when I did, there was no Brooklyn Brew Shop. The closest homebrew supply was a hobby store in New Paltz, NY, and it was crap. You'd drive up there to find they had pretty much nothing. Homebrewing wasn't what it is today. My first batch was a kit. Not the award winning partial mash kits of today with refined dry yeasts. No - this kit when followed closely - made alcohol water which seemed a distant cousin to beer, but close enough we got pretty damn excited about it. Well me and my roommate at least. I can't say the rest of the world tripped over their feet to try it.

The beginning of Make Some Beer by Erica Shea & Stephen Valand explains how Brooklyn Brewshop got started - how the idea originated in their heads -  when they realized there was nowhere in NYC to to buy homebrewing supplies. I was not the only one back in the late nineties making trips to New Paltz to buy homebrew supplies that were questionable at best. I suppose at the time it never hit me as that strange because NYC is a place, as odd as this may seem, where it's hard to find things. You would think that in a city of over eight million people you'd have everything you desired within walking distance. That is rarely the case. I can recall on one cold January morning when I was home sick and bored out of my mind buying a television (this was before the days of flat screens) on Atlantic avenue and dragging it home to Brooklyn Heights, knuckles bleeding from carrying the damn thing for blocks. Well I guess it was still technically walking distance. Anyhow I could relate to how they might have felt. There is of course far more to the story of Erica Shea and Stephen Valand starting Brooklyn Brewshop, and I assure you it's far better reading that TV's on Atlantic avenue, but you'll need to buy the book for that part.

Labeled 'how to brew refresher' the book gives the most concise guide to all grain brewing I have ever read. It introduces stove top all grain brewing, something that certainly would have come in handy back in my days of brewing out of a my little room in Brooklyn. It provides a hop guide, and many other great resources. I like the fact that their recipes are extra, more, creative. It recommends honey for bottling which I find a bit risky if not just pure insanity. Honey does not ferment at a consistent rate, and it is is a great way to introduce bad things into your beer you don't want. I like this book - it is a reminder that all grain brewing does not have to be an all day production and it pushes the average brewer out of his comfort zone with Dandelion Gruit, and Tapioca Ale. It inspired me to get off my ass an start brewing again.

While we are on the subject of Brooklyn. Last years Black Chocolate Stout from Brooklyn Brewery was a train wreck. After much pestering I finally got some response from the brewery. First a T-shirt and glass, which I couldn't care less about and finally a helpful rep, Michael Maraghy, that refunded my $50.00 for the case and assured me they do their best to maintain quality control. I was upset, I love BCS, and I have for a long, long time. I am however happy to report that this years does not suck. It seems to be pretty close to where it was in 2013. I will be doing a vertical sampling soon and will report back.

So anyhow Make Some Beer was a good book. Read it. It might inspire you too.

Oh yes and I am obligied to state that I received this book from Blogging for books for this review.

Also I am not obliged to state that the inspiration for this book review came from Hoppin' Frog D.O.R.I.S. which is totally amazing. Deep rich, minimal head, with notes of everything barrel aged even though it's not. Rich chocolate, vanilla, sweet, just too damn good to be true. Some people just know how to brew beer.

Aviator - October Beast

Aviator.jpgOne great adventure of moving is discovering new breweries. The Carolina's have several. Admittedly sometimes I am a bit hesitant to just buy something with little knowledge of the brewery. I have been eying several of Aviator's brews and with a recommendation from one of the local beer purveyors purchased some.

October Beast is a very true to style Oktoberfest. It pours a nice head, deep amber, a bit cloudy from sediment in the can, and has a great sweet aroma appropriate for the style.  The taste of Munich malt is present, hops are subdued as they should be. The roasted barley notes come forward as it warms up. All in all this was excellent, a great example of the style and next to Manny's homebrewed Pumpkin Ale, the best fall beer I've had this year.

So far I am impressed with Aviator I look forward to trying their other brews.

Goose Island Beer Co - The Muddy

100_5140.jpgOnce upon a time Goose Island made a great Imperial Stout - Night Stalker - then of course they got purchased by AB InBev and turned out a disgusting version of something they called Night Stalker. They should have called it infected old pine tree. Because it was hard to decide what was worse, the little tree air freshener flavor or the nasty infection. But again this is the company that both post, and prior to purchase, have been turning out Bourbon County Stout. Which I am happy to report is still amazing this year. They dropped the abv a bit to expand their distribution footprint, or that's what it would appear. No complaints, I would not have picked some up so easy otherwise.

Expanding their lineup a bit they introduced The Muddy, an Imperial Stout with brewer's licorice, and Belgian dark rock candi sugar. It pours with minimal head, dark, yet transparent, and has a medium body. Initially it has a nose similar to Blackout Stout but much milder, still an aroma I am not crazy about. As it warms the aroma does improve greatly, lending itself to the some licorice sweetness but not much. Overall it's good, I liked it. Dark roasted malt notes are present, slight chocolate and sweetness as well - but not what I would expect from an ale claiming 'amplified sweetness'.

I would drink this again and thought it was a decent stout minus the $5.00 price tag at Hambersham, which is a bit too much. But they like to ride the pricey train anyhow. Unfortunately my computer just corrupted all the photos I took of a full glass, so you get the empty one, sorry. I guess you'll have to buy your own.

I Can't Believe I am going to miss 4Elf this year.


Hoppin' Frog - B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal - Imperial Stout

fu (480x640).jpgI was pretty excited to find out that Habersham got distribution from Hoppin' Frog. I knew that both barrel aged B.O.R.I.S. and D.O.R.I.S. got high ratings on Beer Advocate. Habersham had both B.O.R.I.S. and D.O.R.I.S. I was unsure of what to expect with the non barrel aged versions. With some ales like Sexual Chocolate, the barrel aged version is awesome, the regular one, is just regular. B.O.R.I.S was definitely on my list of ales that I wanted to try. Having been so close to Ohio I still had no chance at getting my hands on this brew. But moving 1,000 miles away gave me immediate access to it, go figure.

Not knowing what to expect, I cracked B.O.R.I.S - the Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout - to be welcomed by an enveloping aroma of chocolate. It poured an opaque deep brown with a moderate head. Chocolatey, smooth like one would expect from an oatmeal stout, and just a little bit sweet. This is a really good ale. I was expecting the standard big bad Imperial Stout - which don't get me wrong I love - but this ale really has something extra. It has this unique little character like a lactic acid sweetness, kind of like a doppelbock. To digress for a moment, I distinctly remember having Garret Oliver's Brooklyn doppelbock at Pete's Waterfront Alehouse in the late nineties. I just loved that sour character. B.O.R.I.S. is no where near that sour, but it just has a tiny bit of something, maybe German malt that I really like.

No level of disappointment here. I love this ale.

The Craft Beer Revolution

Craft Beer RevolutionToday is by far the nicest weather I have enjoyed in over a year. I endured Michigan's brutal winter only to be rewarded by Georgia's summer. Fall has finally arrived, my favorite time of year. When it comes to fall, Michigan does it best, the smell, the trees, the cold chill in the air. As much as I do miss it - according to the internet - at this very moment it is raining and 46 degrees in Michigan. Meanwhile I sit here on the back porch in breezy seventy-six degree temps with zero clouds in the sky.

I cracked open a bottle of 2011 Yeti. It's good. I have been burning through my cellar collection since arriving in the South. My next book review is a brewing recipe book. It will be hard to review if I don't brew, and it will be hard to brew if my Kegerator still has 100 bottles of beer inside. I also need to clean out the deep-freezer I am using for cellaring so I can court fermentation that is not beaten by the temperature waves of Georgia.

This seems like as good of time as any to share a few of my thoughts about my most recent read, The Craft Beer Revolution, by Steve Hindy. Shortly after my arrival in Georgia, Christine contacted me to find out if I wanted to review Steve's book. Having been a fan of Brooklyn for years I said why not. Unknown of course to Christine was that while time is a fascinating feature of the cosmos, and something I have studied a bit about, along with string theory, and physics, I don't really get any of those subjects that well. Case in point, mid sentence my son just woke up and ran outside to tell me that my loaves of bread were entombed in a beeping 460 degree oven. Judging from the crust I would say I have a long ways to go with this time thing. I just finished the book. I am pretty sure Christine was aiming for all reviews to be complete before the material went public domain.  My wife asked me how I could possibly remember what I read. I assured her I took good notes. The same notes that lie before me and slightly resemble hieroglyphics written by a drunk scribe.

The moral of the story however has nothing to do with time or poor handwriting. It is simply this, never judge a book by its cover. The Jacket of Steve's book is something straight out of 1990's internet wallpaper. This combined with my recent disappointment in this past winters Black Chocolate Stout - any favoritism toward Brooklyn Brewery was long since gone when I cracked these pages. Books, like people, are not all made alike. Some of us can run four minute miles, some of us made it into the US Coast Guard and rescue people in ice cold seas suspended on a thin cable strung from a rotor craft tossed by the winds of the sea. Then some of us Joe's are pretty pleased that we make a killer apple pie, or a juicy BBQ chicken on the grill. This book is the Ironman of beer books. 

I really felt schooled about beer history by this book. Maybe you know the feeling, you think you understand a subject well, maybe hold some very strong views, and someone much more experienced than you bursts your bubble and you feel a bit humbled. No book I have ever read has had this effect on me, it is without question one of the best books I have ever read, and clearly the best beer book I have ever read.

Steve starts at the beginning with the pioneers. The guys who struggled and told everyone whatever you do don't start a brewery. Many of these guys did fail but they laid a foundation for something better. Steve gives them their due credit and he gives a balanced view of the role of the big brewers in helping the little guys get started. Something that until reading the book I had no knowledge of what so ever. I thought I knew a lot about Brooklyn Brewery but I learned tons of things I never knew, and I gained a much greater appreciation of breweries I am familiar with like Great Lakes Brewing.

Having spent a fair amount of my life at Brooklyn Brewery I had no idea that their brewery in Williamsburg opened in 1996, just one year prior to my moving to Brooklyn. I did not know that Tom Potter was bought out. Other events that are discussed in the book I remember well. While the focus of the book is by no means Brooklyn Brewery, it does paint a nice picture of the brewery's story. The bottom line is that this is the Bible of craft beer. No other book even comes remotely close. He details the origins electronic and printed beer media, like Celebrator All About Beer, Ale Street News, and others. He discusses the origins of all the brewers associations, current and past. You need to read this book. It's just that simple. Ever want to know the history of any of the major players in the craft beer world today? Just read the book.

Granted the book is told from Steve's point of view. But I strongly think that he does his best to tell the honest to goodness truth of all the players. He covers the shenanigans of Jim Koch and his contract brewed empire. He talks about his experiences with everyone from Charlie Papazian to August Busch IV. He also discusses some very interesting political aspects of beer that I think anyone that gives a crap about craft beer needs to read and seriously think about. I am not sure how I feel about what he says, or if I just don't want to fully accept it, but he makes some really good points. 

So back to this time thing, my bottle of Yeti is about empty and my family would like to know where I have been for the past three hours. As a side note, as a general rule aging imperial stouts two to three years does wonders for them.

Thanks to Christine and the staff at Palgrave Macmillan for allowing me to savor such a great book for the past six months. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. It's not just a good book. It is a must read for anyone that wants to fully understand craft beer, its roots, and its future.


Stream of consciousness

My speech has been termed a stream of consciousness, incidentally also a literary device. A lot has happened since May. I moved, the kegerator arrived, I have purchased an artificial cellar made up of a freezer from Lowes and a STC-1000 temperature controller, also a fermentation chamber once the ale is gone. I have drank a number of ales - of which Westbrook Gose is by far the best ale I have enjoyed since arriving in Georgia. I have driven a ridiculous distance to go mountain biking because it is flat as a board on the Georgia coast and I am ridiculously slow at reviewing books. Good books, of which will be revealed in my next post. The World of beer in Savannah has great service, no food, and pretty much no beer worth drinking unless you enjoy European imitations of Budweiser products. Then there is the Distillery which has great service, great food, and great ales.

So there is the last six months. Also I have already missed Dark Horse 4Elf ale distribution and I will be missing this years 4 Elf party. However now is the time to plot a plan to catch up with old friends at Hunahpu Day.

How is that for being concise. I am normally not so good at that.

Philco Kegerator Cart

Fabrication.jpgFor some time I had some ideas as to how to make my Philco Kegerator mobile. I wanted to install some brackets with square tubing on the bottom of the fridge. The tubing would be welded to angle iron. I would bolt the angle iron to the fridge using the nuts welded to the bottom of the fridge, the ones that the feet thread into. This would allow me to create a cart with forks that slid into the tubing. It would also allow me to create a set of casters that would have two individual C shaped brackets, maybe more like an E without the middle line.  Instead of using the forks on the cart, the brackets would slide in, one in the front and one in the rear. I would use pins to secure the bracket to either casters or the forks of the cart.

I sat on the idea for a few years until the time came to move. I didn't really have the time or money to roll out the cart design so I decided to throw something else together, a wooden dolly perhaps. However, after much thought I decided that I should just go forward with the initial design. The entire point of my cart idea was that you would be able to move the fridge without wrapping straps around it. Straps could potentially dent the fridge or damage the finish.

I still had no welder, and I would be out of town with less than a week on my return to build the cart prior to moving. I purchased the square tubing, angle iron, and a rod for the axle. Then I picked up a couple inexpensive tires and wheels. I ordered the parts I needed for my welder and my good friend Mike picked them up for me while I was out of town. Chris another friend, arranged for me to use his garage and cutoff saw on my return.

Bottom_Bracket.jpgKegerator_Cart.jpgMy welder idea never did amount to much. Thanks to Chris I was not only able to use his garage, but also his welder, he did the welding and a fair amount of engineering for me. After some slight modifications to the design I opted for one Bracket for the bottom that connected both pieces of tubing. In one Sunday afternoon we knocked it out. After a little cleanup I dropped it off with my friend Russ at Kenowa Body Shop. I created the 'headrest' for the cart and I was all set. Well after a few trips to White Creek Hardware for fasteners that is.

I decided to go with bolts that threaded into the bracket as opposed to pins. This eliminated the need to reach under the cart to install a cotter pin. A person could use a few different approaches, as it turned out this worked very well.

I strapped it into the uhaul and it made it without incident all the way to Georgia.

Images of America - Brewing In Milwaukee

Brewers.jpgAs I sit here on an airplane writing a long overdue book review, I am reminded of my first trip via commercial airlines to Milwaukee Wisconsin. At the time I did not know anything of beer or brewing, I was after all, just a kid. Soon I would be exposed to some of the worlds most beautiful brew-houses. I remember being bored when much of the Miller tour consisted of some sort of walk around a museum style display. What I really wanted was to see the brewery operations. Next on the list was Pabst, Pabst was cool. Pabst had big majestic copper brewpots. The images stick with me to this day. We cruised past several breweries with their big brick smoke stacks, and observed the workers taking a break on the loading docks out back. I remember thinking how cool it would be to take a walk through some of those old brick brewery buildings.

Thanks to Arcadia publishing once again offering to let me review one of their books, I got to take just such a walk. A walk though many of the pre-prohibition breweries of Milwaukee via the pages of Brewing In Milwaukee, from their Images of America series. The book provides a history of many of Milwaukee's early settlers and the origin of its many breweries both pre and post prohibition. I love history - so I have yet to find any of the images of America series that weren't fascinating - from the history of General Motors to the aircraft carriers of the Great  Lakes. This book was no exception.

Plow.jpgI think one of the most interesting aspects of brewery history is how they survived prohibition. One such strategy was that used by the A. Gettleman Brewing Company who made high speed snow plows. Talk about a diversified portfolio. Also interesting was the history the book shared about the inventor of the modern beer Keg, beer bottle, and jacketed fermentation vessel. The book details their origination in Milwaukee.


Overall I greatly enjoyed Brewing In Milwaukee. The author is a local historian with an impressive knowledge of Milwaukee. She is a bit sketchy when it comes to her knowledge of the brewing process. She shows a photo of a prohibition era house that most likely blew up due to it's distillation apparatus going south, and then mentions home brewed bottle bombs in the same paragraph. While over-carbonated bottles do pose a danger they aren't going to blow your house up. That said, large fermentation vessels not being vented could, and have, caused serious damage. But I guess we can't all be hardcore beer geeks.

So if you get the chance. Check this one out and remember next time you see a snow plow, think beer. 

Images reprinted with permission from Brewing In Milwaukee, by Brenda Magee, Introduction by Frederick Gettelman. Available from the publisher online at or by calling 888-313-2665.

Beer City, The Great Beer State

NCM_0210.JPGGreat beer should be shared amongst friends, and great friendships deserve to be enjoyed over great beer.

It's not often that I sit and drink from this glass; then again it's not often I enjoy a great Pilsner -  rich gold, moderately sweet to dry, with a great Saaz hop character. It seems that the Bohemian Pilsner has been a very under represented style in the craft beer world.  This is no doubt a result of the damage done to the style's reputation from large macro breweries that dominated through the decades leading up to the craft beer movement.

This particular Pilsner is from Griffin Claw brewery. I purchased it today on my last trip into Siciliano's Market before I leave the great beer state.  Siciliano's is a store that I will dearly miss. G.B Russo is another. But I won't miss them just because they are great beer stores, or just because their stock is always fresh. I won't miss Russo's, solely because they have the very best prices on ale, or a great European selection. It's more than Siciliano's freshest, and most competitively priced homebrew ingredients. It's much more than that.

It's about people. Most importantly it's about friends. Aristotle had some thoughts about this, as do I. They don't differ much from what I can tell. He said when you are young that you have pleasure friends, young loves, party friends, sometimes folks that you just happen grow up with. But often you find later that they are really aren't much for friends. Probably not the kind you would choose to have as an adult. Then there are utility friends, the local butcher, the mailman, the beer guy at your corner store. Acquaintances I would suppose you call them.   

There are a great number of these folks in town -great purveyors of ale many of them. The owner of the crushed grape seems like a solid guy, and a great businessman.  Bellavinos has a wonderful staff. They are good folks and I appreciate their hard work to provide West Michigan with some great offerings. They are just the tip of the iceberg. David has done amazing things at the Cascade, and Knapps Corner Meijer.  I quite enjoy stopping in to chat with him; he is a distinguished beer, wine, and cigar expert.  I would most certainly call him a friend.

Most importantly Aristotle spoke of virtue friends. Those friends are the friends that I reference when I say - great beer should be shared amongst friends and great friendships deserve to be enjoyed over great beer.  Maybe even a cigar or two. The friends you call at midnight when you have car trouble, or the kind of friends whose house you crash at when your roof leaks.

I stopped in at Russo's to grab some boxes to pack up my cellar. Victor invited me back to share a great offering not available in Michigan prior to my departure. Sometimes you don't realize it but you make pretty good friends your beer guy. I have a lot of great memories from over the years stopping in at Russo's.  I still remember the day I bought my Bourbon County Rare from Victor. I genuinely like Victor; I'd drink beer with him even if he wasn't a guy who sells beer. He is a good person, an artistic and creative fellow with a connoisseur's palate for good food and drink. At home at a small trattoria in Italy or down on the bayou at crawfish boil. I will miss him and the friendly staff at Russo's.

Then there is the greatest store on earth, Siciliano's. I still remember my early days stopping in there. I met Steve and ran into Jacob who now brews at Vivant. At the time he brewed at New Holland and I recognized him from a local beer event I had met him at. Over the years I have got to know Doug, John, Katie, Sarah, and many others.  From time to time I will run into and ex-staff member and have a great chat. Steve and Barb have worked hard to make a great store with a knowledgeable staff. I like Steve. He is a bit of an enigma to me.  Maybe it's the pipe, or the way he sits back in his chair, or that thoughtful look that's always on his face.  One thing is for sure, he is a good guy. He works hard, and genuinely cares about people. I wanted to pick up one last cigar today. Doug suggested that I have Steve pick it out. The cigar was on the house.

I smoked that cigar the way it should be smoked, over beer with a longtime friend on his birthday. Happy birthday Tom! When I make it to sixty I hope can still run 5k's and drink like you can.

Perhaps Aristotle was wrong, maybe he glossed over some of the most important types of friends, beer guys, or maybe not. If my beer guys call at midnight with car trouble in Georgia, they can crash with me.


The Brewmaster


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