Tag Archives: brew

A visit to Beer Nirvana (aka Halftime, my favorite beer store)

So while I typically am not a fan of driving an hour and a half away for work, every once in a while there are the perks.

For the few clients and times I head into Poughkeepsie NY, I get to go to Halftime Beverage.

To be honest I had never heard about the place until I happened to pass by it on a previous client visit into the area.  The enormous bottlecap logo was the draw, and I’m always on the lookout for a good beer store.

So what makes a good beer store in my mind?

A combination of selection, prices, options, and a staff that knows their beer.  At Halftime, they’ve got it covered.  You laugh at the door sign, until you’re hooked too :)

Halftime BeersNot only do they have a few thousand beer varieties available, you get it all for a decent price (not full retail).  They have the occasional sale, size options like a 6 pack or the big boy 22 ounce, but perhaps the best of all, is that you can get every bottle as a single.

I can’t say how many times I’ve just wanted to try a beer, without committing to the cost of a whole six pack.   Usually when I do it works out, but sometimes I get god awful stuff like the Blueberry Sour beer I got last summer – yeugh!  This way I get to try out the entire line of Dogfish Head, all at the price of a single six pack of theirs :)

Another topper is that they’ll give you a free beer glass if you spend somewhere north of $50 too.  Not sure of the exact amount, but lets just say I’ve gotten one every time…

So here was my shopping list this time around:

  • Affligem Tripel
  • Sly Fox Ibcubus
  • Sierra Nevada Glissade
  • Abita Abbey Ale
  • San Miguel Dark
  • Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
  • Ommegang Three Philosophers
  • Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale
  • Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
  • Dogfish Head Old School
  • Flying Dog Garde Dog Biere De Garde
  • Goose Island Pere Jacques
  • Goose Island Bourbon Stout
  • Goose Island Nut Brown
  • Goose Island Honkers Ale
  • Troegs Troegenator Doublebock
  • Troegs Hop Back Amber
  • Troegs Rugged Trail Brown

Can you tell I was on a brown ale kick this time? :)

I HIGHLY recommend the Goose Island Pere Jacques.  The one they have there is the Dubbel 2007 bottle, and having aged 2 1/2 years it is unbelieveable, complex, flavorful, and one tasty brew.

FYI, my other favorite stores are Stew Leonards Discount Liquor in Danbury CT, Mountview Wines in Naugatuck CT,  and Fairground Liquor by the airport in Danbury CT.

Any others you can recommend?  Share please!

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Make Hard Cider – Step 4 – Bottle It Baby!

Cleaning bottles againSo after roughly a month, I am back to the cider.

After having sat there in the chill of the garage, it looks to have cleared up really well.  All the particles from the pressed apple juice have fallen to the bottom, and I’m left with a clear amber liquid – yum!

From the tasting before I left it alone, I found it was a little dry, and more like wine than fermented apple juice.  To make it bubbly when you open the bottle, you’re supposed to add some sugar back in.

I figured, why not kick the flavor back in, which giving me the bubbles I’m looking for anyway?  So I went out to the store and got a can of apple juice concentrate (all natural).  The sugar content was near even with a measured cup, so for the 5.5 gallons I have, I added in just over a cup of concentrate.  Since you’re supposed to add about 1/4 cup of sugar per gallon to make it bubbly, I had the numbers just about right.

Cleaning the bottles twice!So I blended it all back into the 5 gallon carboy, which barely fit, but just enough.  Next step was to prep the bottles.

You have two options here.  Buy them new, or wash out ones you have.  I opted for the second, not just to save a few bucks, but I also figured it was a home brewing right of passage.

I started picking out bottles that looked in decent shape, and soaked them in a bathtub for 30 minutes or so.  After that I set to scraping off the labels, and quickly found some brewers use more glue than others.  If I had to recommend, I’d say to stick to Sam Adams or Dogfish brewery.  Both labels came off easy enough after a soaking.  Magic Hat however was a bear, and while I made do, I used different ones for the next batch.  After that I put them into the dishwasher, without soap, to rinse out any bacteria and reduce any odd flavors it would lend.

Then I used my siphoning wand once more to rack it out of the carboy and into the clean bottles.

Suck it Laverne & Shirley!A few spills here and there, and the thoughtful use of a catch basin helped a lot.  There was a little loss, but not too bad and nothing I couldn’t live with.  The floor might be a little sticky until I can bust out a mop though ;)

I put the last few overflow ounces into a bottle for tasting later on.

The day before I lucked out, as the brewing store was only open for a few hours on their holiday schedule.  Thankfully they had more than enough cappers and caps for me to pick up.  After getting the bottles ready, I learned on the fly and capped them off one by one.  I filled the bottles up 1-3 inches below the cap depending on the bottle, so we’ll see if the air, and how filled they are, makes any sort of difference.  My fear was that the carbonation would build too much and make the tops pop off well before I’d get a change to drink any of them.  So I thought to vary how filled they were in turn.

Bottles bottles everywhere!As with the labels I found some brands better than others.  Thankfully the Sam Adams held up well.  The Wychwood bottles that I was really keen on using (with the embossed witches on them), turned out to have bulby tops rather than the bulgy standard, and I nearly broke the capper trying to fit a cap on.  While moping about them I couraged up considering I hadn’t spilled a drop, and picked out another bottle instead.  I might need another capper, but it lasted through the rest regardless.

As for the taste test?  So far so good.  Definately a stronger brew, and still not quote as “apple-y” as I’d like (but closer), but that should  change once the bubbles kick in.  If you’ve ever tried a flat soda or beer, you know what I mean.

Overall I’m really enjoying the process.  Its nice to have a start and finish, and so long as I don’t take it too seriously I’m having fun learning it all too.  It seemed to make for a nice Christmas present for friends and family, so I have about 30 bottles now when all is said and done.  Perhaps this will help me get into brewing my own beers later on ;)

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Make Hard Cider – Step 3 – Secondary Fermentation

So the primary fermentation has stopped.  How do I know?

Simple.  No bubbles!  When I began it naturally foamed up like a bubble bath as the yeast chewed through the sugar, and shed gas and alcohol.  Now it looks flat with no bubbles on top.

Cleaning the equipmentAs with the other steps I began with a cleaning cycle.  I had picked up a long plastic wand, that I can use to siphon it out of the bottle (called racking).  You do this to filter out the drink from the yeast and whatever else has settled to the bottom of the bottle over time.

The gallon bottle I was going to use to set some aside.

Once that was done I headed down to the basement to begin racking it.

Racking from primary fermentationThe wand is nothing more than a tube and a plunger type thingy.  You move the plunger up and down a few times and it creates suction that pulls it out of the upper bottle and into wherever the hose is directed.

I managed to get the 1st bottle drained down ok.  I had to leave about 3/4 of an inch on the bottom, otherwise I would end up suctioning the yuck off the bottom that the racking was all about.

On the 2nd bottle, I tried to be trickier about it, moving the full bottle to a higher point first.  But all I did was end up pulling the hose out accidentally, and spilling some all over.  Not a huge loss, but enough that I spent some time on cleanup afterwards.  In the end I sloshed it around more than I wanted to also, so if I kept racking I would have brought over more of the yeast than I wanted to.  So I chalked up the remaining 2 inches (maybe a quart) to experience and pitched it.

I also siphoned some off into the gallon bottle for tasting, to see how it was coming along.

Once this was done, I refilled the airlocks and moved the bottles over into the garage where it is cooler and less apt to get bumped.

Primary CiderSo how has it turned out so far?

Well, lets just say I was hoping for a cider similar to what you’d buy in a store, like Woodchucks.  What I have so far though is more like a dry white wine.  Definately high in alcohol content, and drinkable, but no real apple taste to speak of.

I asked around as to what other people had done, and between this and online research it looks like my best bet is to mix in some concentrate and sugars just before bottling.  This will kick in the carbonation as well as bring back more flavor.  Supposedly, allowing it to sit a few weeks and months also brings out a stronger flavor.

So while it’s not exactly what I expected right now,  I’m pretty sure it will get there eventually.  Maybe I can make a Christmas gift out of it?

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Make Hard Cider – Step 2 – Primary Fermentation

So after some back & forth, I’ve finally gotten the call from the orchard that the cider is pressed and ready for pickup.

Apples everywhereAs requested, I’ve got about 3 gallons in each of the 5 gallon carboys.  Now its time to mix it all together.

Now if any of you have done a search on how cider is made, you’re going to come across a whole lot of recipies.  I had pretty much decided which one seemed the most in the middle, and ran it past the guys over at Maltose Express.

They’re the closest “do it yourself” store for brewing guys.  I picked up some new bottle corks, tubing, a racking system (big plastic wand to suck out the cider), some yeast for the mix, a bit of malic acid, and a copy of their own recipie.

Here’s what I did.  For each 3 gallons I poured out some of the cider, heated it, and mixed in 2 pounds of brown sugar.  I did the same with another 1lb of local honey, and another 1/3 lb of sugar in the raw, mixing it all back in.

Sugar mixThe yeast I used works in a packet, filled with the yeast and some nutrients.  You mix it together, open the packet and pour it in.  Because I had a split batch though I poured it into a measuring cup first and doled out half to each bottle.

A swirl later, and away we go!  With this first step some people say you only need to cover it with a loose lid (if you’re using a bucket).  I’m probably stepping it too far, but since I had gotten some airlocks, I decided to give them a try.  You wash the heck out of them, stick them into special corks, put them in place atop the bottle, and then fill it up with some vodka in the lock.  The vodka evaporates a lot slower than water so you don’t need to fill it as often.  The vapor lock keeps the outside air from getting in, while letting the air escape as the yeast does its thing so the pressure doesn’t build up.

Primary FermentationSo now I’ve got the two bottles sitting in the basement, gently warming.  They tell me it takes about a week and a half for this initial stage, then I’m to siphon it off and let it mellow and clarify for another month.  It is really murky and the sugar made it a lot darker than I expected.  Right now it looks like there’s a 1/2 inch of bubbly cheesecake on the top.  I’m excited about the whole process and it has been a bit of a learning curve.  I figure worst case scenario I’ve made a big batch of yuck, but hopefully it’ll turn out good in the end.

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Make Hard Cider – Step 1 – Clean The Bottles!

Ugggh - Dirty Bottles!Being interested in beer as I am, I’ve found myself tinkering with the process of making my own.  It seems a good way to begin learning the process is going about a simple batch of Hard Cider.

I began with looking up the information online.  Seems like everyone and their mother has a version of a cider recipe.

I pieced together one, along with advice from others, and began gathering my components.

Other than the obvious of needing some pressed cider, I also needed something to make it in – the bottles.

I consider my self very fortunate in this area.  You see my father took it upon himself to make some very awful batches of wine back in the day.  Occasionally he would step it up with exploding beer, and overly carbonated soda that would make you throw up.  Thankfully however, all of his bottles were saved.

As with many hand me downs from them, it needed some work.  They had collected their fair share of dust  and yuck over the years of unuse.  One had nearly an inch of dark foul smelling things collected at the bottom.

Once I knew I would do this, I had stopped by a “brew-your-own” store ahead of time.  Picked up a bottle brush, and a jar of food grade cleanser.

I began with scouring the entire outside of the bottles.  Moving onto a basic fill and rinse.  Then I dumped 3 cups of bleach into each, and topped it off with water, leaving it to sit overnight.NicoCole 2009 EndOctober 137 (Small)

The next day, I continued.  First with using the brush anywhere and everywhere it could reach.  Flushed it out with water, and then brushed again.  I next put a quarter cup of the bottle cleanser into some water, diluted it, and filled it up halfway.  Another brushing all over, and I even got Nico involved with scrubbing the outside this time.

A half hour later, with multiple rinses, and voila!  I turned them all upside down, let them drip dry, and followed up with a towel down.

I decided to make 6 gallons, but I’m not positive if the tall skinny ones are 3 gallons or 2 1/2.  To be on the safe side I decided to use the (2) 5 gallon carboys and fill them up 3 gallons each.  A call and a stop over at March Farms (the local orchard), and after I receive a fill up call later this week we’ll be on our way :)

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BrewFest Was A Success! (Kind Of)

Waterbury BrewFest (YouTube Clip)Yours Truly

So I managed to not only survive the Beerfest, but skillfully avoided getting far too loaded to drive home (unlike the shmoe who got a takedown 15 seconds after I took his picture)

Overall I had a good time.  Here’s my take:

Liked:

  • Samples, samples, samples.  They didn’t have everything I was hoping for, but I found a few new drafts  I’ll have to get again.  Schmaltz He~Brew ReJewvenator, Sea Dog Pumpkin, Heavy Seas Hang Ten Doppelbock, and Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter.
  • Getting to talk to the brewers (when available).  When the lines were lighter and they weren’t too busy refilling they were more than willing to talk up their lines.  Good to hear more Ten Penny Special Reserve is on the way, and I’ll be on the lookout for new River Horse shortly.Buddy!!

Didn’t Like:

  • The entry line.  What’s the point of buying online if they lump you allWaiting to get in... together anyway?  Sure I was guaranteed to get in, but after I pay an online handling fee, I’m saving all of $2 to get in the door 20 minutes after Johnny-On-The-Spot (who had a separate shorter line)
  • Not enough beer! I was hoping to try more of the beers I wanted to sample, but didn’t want to commit to a whole 6 pack to if they were not what I was expecting.  Maybe I was hoping it would be more like an entire free beer store, but it was more like a smaller selection.  I was hoping for Sam Adams Big Beers, Harpoon Leviathan, or the Sam Smiths Yorkshire Stingo.  Better yet I wanted to try the lead product from Blue Point, their Toasted Lager.  Sam Adams brought only sample A and sample B for a taste test, Harpoon had nothing more than their usual rack stuff, and all I saw of Sam Smiths was a single empty bottle of porter.  Blue Point ran out, as did many of the brewers barely half-way through the fest.  There were a few others in the Belgium tent I’d never seen before, but what good is that if I don’t see them in my usual stores?
  • Pourers without a clue. While many of the brewers knew of what was coming, or what made their beer so darn good, there were at least 3 that were little more than a man with a bottle who was told to keep pouring until he ran out.  And they knew nothing about the beer, the lines, or even where the brewery was based sometimes.  I wanted to get some info and was disappointed too many brewers just wanted to wing it and hoped the samples would speak for themselves.
  • Where’s the schwag!? One brewer brought a single TShirt for display behind him.  Others had plenty, but you had to shell out $20 a pop.  A few had stickers or product line flyers, but too many had nothing more than beer coasters to take home.  How about a discounted “fest-only” hat?  Would it kill them to have a “guess the amount of hops in the jar” game for some glassware?

Some drunkMaybe I had expectations too high, or maybe I had them just about right.  In either case I still had a good time, though I’m hoping they can improve it for next year.  My taste buds will have gotten sharper too so look out!  If it all follows as it has been, it’s been growing nearly double in size every year.  I say the more the merrier :)

Just try to get home a little straighter than this guy.

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Brass City BrewFest!!

Brass City BrewFestSeptember is looming, and that brings the end of the summer, and the beginning of the fall season.  The crisp air, the tumbling leaves, the Octoberfests, Pumpkin Ales, and the Porters…  Mmmmmm…

Ever since I moved to Woodbury I’ve been wanting to go to their yearly brewfest.  Looks like my timing was good as they’re only in their 3rd year, which is nearly exactly as long as I’ve been in town.  I ended up missing it for one reason or another, but this year I’m making a point of it.

I haven’t been to one of these before, but I’m excited to finally go.

One price, endless samples, 150+ brewers and live music to boot.

You pay extra for the Belgian tent (well worth it if you like them I’m told), but otherwise its one price for all.

I’ll have to check back later when they have a complete listing of the vendors, but there are definately some favorites I’d love to speak to the master brewers about.  There’s also other brands that I’ve always been curious of, but because of costs I couldn’t really afford to buy all the beers all at once – but now I don’t have to!

It is hosted by my favorite beer store, Mountview Wines & Liquors in Naugatuck.  They have an incredible selection, and some of the best prices I’ve seen.  If you’ve never been there, and you’re on the lookout for a good deal, I can’t say enough about them.

I’ll have a list soon of what I’m looking forward to, and we can compare notes.  More to come.  See you there!

P.S. – Did you know we almost named our son Festival October?  True story!

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Brew Review – Summertime Wheat Times Four

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

RiverHorse-DoubleWit

Ever since I found more in the beer stores than in the supermarkets, I’ve been drawn to the summer wheats.

A nice heartier drink that just makes you smile as you gulp it down.  All the more so when its nice and cool, and you’re hot and thirsty.

Since I drank a number of these all at once I figured I’d group it together into one review for comparison.

Sierra Nevada – Kellerweis.  A nice honey color much like the rest in this category.  I was drawn to this thanks to a review in Chow magazine, but in part because I like Sierra Nevadas in general.  It had a nice unfiltered, foamy head.  The flavor had citrus tones to itIpswich-SummerAle, and there was BoulderBeer-SweatyBettysomething to this one that made me say “Give me more!”

River Horse – Double Wit.  Not a true summer beer in that it was made just for the season, but it falls into this group anyway.  When I first tried this I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.  Maybe it was the higher 7.4%ABV, or maybe it was what I had just eaten at the time that it didn’t match with.  It is definately more of a true Belgian style wheat than the more mass produced ones.  I had it again a few days later and it was a far better experience.   I loved the rolling cloudy bits floating in the foam.  The scent was much stronger too with the citrus and light spicing.   I think it lent itself more to the role as a great beer when you’re in the mood for a beer when you’re hot and thirsty.  Pretty much what you’re looking for in a summer beer.

Ipswich – Summer Ale.  I love their oatmeal stout so I figure I’d give this a try when I saw it on the singles rack.  I’m not really into the taste of IPAs, and this was more in that realm.  If you like IPAs I’m sure you’d be loving this, but as I’m not – I wasn’t.  The over hoppy tones erased any other stand out in the beer for me.  Otherwise it wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I’ll pick this one up again.

Last, but definately not least was the Boulder Beer – Sweaty Betty.  This was a great brew.  They classify this as an American Pale Wheat.  It had a nice tang that you get with a pale ale with the hops, but not overly strong to take away from the rest.   It was only slightly fruity with not as much of a strong flavor as the others, which made it harder to tell whether it was orange, lemony or something else.  Whatever it was I’m liking it.  A really good mix of flavors, and overall probably my favorite of the group.  I’ll be on the lookout for more from their lineup.

Try some for yourself.  1 month to the Octoberfests!

River Horse Double Wit (4pack only) PP6Pack = $11.98

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis PP6Pack = $9.99

Boulder Beer Sweaty Betty PP6Pack = $8.99

Ipswitch Summer Ale PP6Pack = $7.25

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Brew Review – Avery Samael’s

AverySamaelOne of three they’ve deemed part of ‘The Demons of Ale.’

Can’t say I’ve tried any others, but this one was pretty damn good.

When I walked up to the cashier he asked me if I had tried it before, and when I said I hadn’t he asked “Do you like full beers?”  I had an idea of what to expect from right then on.

It’s definately a strong beer – 14.5% ABV.  My wife thought it was a liquor when she tried a taste.

Much of its flavor supposedly comes from oak barrel aging.  Its very rich, and somewhat syrupy.  There are some caramel tones along with vanilla, with a great smell and spice to it.

I thought it had just the right amount of hops, which Avery says is one of the least in their lineup.

The color is great too, though the picture doesn’t show it too well with a nice cloudy reddish brown.

I’ve heard good things of Avery Brewing, and if this is any hint I’ll have to give their others a try too.

Definately recommended if you like a full bodied beer.

Only available in singles.  PP6Pack = $27

AverySamael02

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