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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yin - Red Wine Barrel Aged Baltic Porter

60 gallons of high gravity Baltic Porter
With over 8 months of aging on the Sour Seven it was more than time to get Shawn's other red wine barrel, which like it's sister is an old red wine barrel from from Hogshead Wine, into production. Somehow Shawn let me be the Project Manager on this one, probably in exchange for space in my garage to store the barrel.  I mentioned in the Sour Barrel Ale Project post my thoughts on doing a big stout in the other barrel, while at the back of my mind I was thinking of a Baltic Porter.

For the last few months I've been part of a Monthly Share/Evaluation/Advice Meet-up group operating on the code name Tao of Fermentation. It's a loose group of brewers at various experience levels with the goal of seeking critical evaluation on our beer.  It was also the perfect group to get together for a group brew to fill the other barrel.

Good use of my time
Once it became clear Shawn was going to let me take the lead on this one I started steering the project starting at the October evaluation meet-up.  Seeing as how the first barrel had gone straight to being a sour barrel I wanted to try and keep this one clean to began with.  I figured as it developed in the barrel we would have plenty of time to steer it to sour if need be but a clean red wine aged dark beer sounded delicious.

It was also at that meeting that I suggested that we go with a Baltic Porter and asked Daniel if he could help develop the main base beer.  To me Daniel had made some of the best Baltic Porters I'd ever had including one that was the base beer to Black Lingerie. The big problem I was going to run into was controlling the temperature as I planned on doing a group primary in the Beast again. I figured however that by December the crazy weather we'd been having would mellow out and winter would arrive. For the yeast we used some Saflager 34-70 surrey that Shawn had washed from a Bavarian Dunkle he made. In addition I asked everyone to bring a couple extra packs with them to pitch.

By mid November we were set on a December 9th brewday and by the time the day came the forecast looked perfect to do a monster lager. While we had discussed getting together for the brewing it wasn't feasible given the set up of everyone's brew system.  So instead it was decided that people would drop off during the day.

The next morning = more cleaning
It ended up being a pretty mellow brewday, as I didn't race to get up and get started.  While my brewday was mellow it wasn't without it's challenges. My scale was broken which made measuring my bulk 2-row a bit challenging.  While she wasn't overly pleased with it my wife allowed me to use her as the tare on our house scale to weigh out the grain (no I didn't get a picture as I value my life).  I also had a nice little mess to clean up when the hose I was using to recirculate spilled out - it actually happened twice.  In the end I had a measured gravity of 1.110, which is a new record.  Overall the group averaged right around 1.095.

I correctly predicted that people would be dropping off most of the day so I didn't really need a set end time, in fact drop off started just after noon and went until 9ish that night.  I spent most of the time doing odd brewing chores such as kegging up some Imperial Browns that I brewed back in October during a disastrous brewday - so disastrous that I doubt it will ever make it to a post. I also cleaned everything that needed cleaning including a bunch of the draft lines on the Indy Crate

The next day I came out to a massive fermentation from both fermentors.  By the time I got home the blow-off was all over the garage requiring me to change the sanitizer and clean the garage. I tell you my garage has never smelled more like a brewery than it did that week.  One step of caution I took was given the amount of fermentables I was using I knew there would be a massive amount of CO2 output, I therefore kept the garage partially cracked and the door open to create a draft.  CO2 is very dangerous and heavier than air and I did not allow my dog or child in the garage unless it had been fully opened first.



Putting the "Yin" in the Barrel
Yin Part Three - Draining the Barrel

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stone Epic Festival: The Final Chapter

Not everyday you get up to
drink whales bro
December 12, 2012 (12.12.12) is a beer day that I’ll always remember.  Not only was I able to grab a brick of Westvleteren 12, pick up my Barrel Aged Speedway Stout and get my hands on my Eclipse Futures, it was also the last time for next 89 years that the month, day and end digits of the year we all be the same (look out January 01, 2101).  Stone Brewing Company has been celebrating this numerological alignment since 2002 by releasing a new Vertical Epic beer starting with Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale.  Each subsequent Stone Vertical Epic Ale was released one year, one month and one day apart with the long term plan of allowing the consumer to open them all side by side on 12.12.12.
Given their commitment the phenomenon it was no surprise that Stone decided to go out in a blaze of glory.  Not only did they help throw Vertical Epic celebrations across the county (Including one at Out of the Park Pizza) they also hosted an Epic Eve Dinner.  The main event however was their big blowout festival the Stone Epic Festival: The Final Chapter.  This was the only large event at Stone that included all 11 of Stone Vertical Epic Ales together. 
Grabbing a ticket gave me access to 3oz pours from every Stone Vertical Epic Ale in a commemorative glass. Food stations that paired unique dishes to each of all 11 VEAs (Yeah I abbreviated Vertical Epic Ale, you wanna fight about it) I enjoyed and Three 4oz samples of your choice from four additional barrel-aged and cask versions. Personally I viewed this as a once in a lifetime event and knew it was going to be straight up epic (you know VERTICALLY EPIC) so I pulled the pretty pricy trigger and bought tickets the day they went on sale. Apparently it was not as easy of a trigger to pull as it never sold out in fact you could buy tickets at the door.
Eric and Marshall gearing up
to take down Epic Ales
I was able to convince both my buddy Marshall and the indomitable Eric Hammond to join for this experience.  Marshall’s finance Christa even volunteered to be our DD with was epic in its own right as it really took a lot of outside pressure off of the situation.  We got there pretty early and did a little shopping in the store (I might have bought my wife a Christmas present there – I doubt typing this will spoil anything since I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my blog). They had closed down there entire bistro and gardens which was fantastic as it really did create a “A gorgeous festival atmosphere” that allowed us to enjoy our beers and pairings at our own pace (great discussion Stone).
The event kicked off exactly at 12:12 pm with Stone CEO and co-founder Greg Koch leading the attendees in a final countdown.  Going in my crew decided that we would buck convention and not do it in the expected order of 02.02.02 to 12.12.12.  We even asked Dr Bill for some tasting order advise (he recommended making sure we spaced out those that paired well with desserts).  By splitting which 3 barrel-aged and cask versions each of us got we were able to try everything they were pouring.

Here’s the order we did it in (with notes)
  • Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Aged In Bourbon Barrels (Added it Untappd)
  • Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale (Wanted it do it back to back, the bourbon had covered up a lot)
  • Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale (Eric says I can hash tag it as a white whales bro. #WhiteWhalesBro. This was a real treat and was fantastically drinkable for an eleven year old Witbier)
  • Stone 05.05.05 Vertical Epic Ale
  • Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale (Great food pairing and really a nice winter warmer or Christmas beer)
  • Stone 03.03.03 Vertical Epic Ale
  • Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale Cask (A lot darker than Eric’s regular version)
  • Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale aged in Red Wine Barrels (Really unpleasant – pass)
  • Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale Cask
  • Stone 04.04.04 Vertical Epic Ale
  • Stone 04.04.04 Vertical Epic Ale Cask
  • Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale (Different than all the bottles of it I’ve had)
  • Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale aged in Red Wine Barrels
  • Stone 10.10.10 Vertical Epic Ale
  • Stone 10.10.10 Vertical Epic w/ French Oak
  • Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale
  • Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale Cask
  • Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale (enjoyable little (yeah right) pepper beer)
  • Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale
Most of the food paired great with the beer, I recall only one match that changed the taste of the beer for me in a negative way, but with the exception of that job well done. Also if you wanted to try one of the paired items again you were easily given a second helping. The festival atmosphere was great as was the pace we enjoyed it at, we never felt like we had to race to a station to get a pour of anything. In fact once everything was flowing within the first hour it became rare to wait in any line for any beer.  In addition to the great pairing stations by each tap location, they also set up to food stations filled with bread, cheese, fruit and the amazing bacon bread which paired with everything. I also got the chance to hang out with the hosts of one of my favorite webshows, New Brew Thursday, Stephen and John.  Stephen came back later and crushed at our table for a while, which was really cool as he had a bunch of great stories to share. 
Overall this gave the Firestone Invitational Beer Fest a run for the title of Best Run and Best Overall Beer Festival of 2012.  The really did create something special with this one.  In a big way it’s sad that this was a once in a lifetime event because I would love to do it again.  Was it pricy? Yes. Was it worth it? Hell Yes!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Official Logo
Way back in January 2012 I brewed a tribute to Westvleteren 12 which I tongue-in-cheek called Westbennetteren 12.  I mentioned at the time that my two brewbrothers-in-arms Shawn and Daniel also ended up brewing quads that same month.  Over the course of the next several months, as our quads bulk aged, we started to talk about getting together sometime that winter once they were conditioned for a little tasting. 

By the time I bottled my quad in July plans to hold a Quad night sometime in November/December were in full swing. It's funny to read that I'd planned on opening my first bottle then as I ended up imbibing on nearly half the batch by the time we got together.  Over the summer Daniel obtained 6 Westvleteren 12s for us to enjoy side by side with our quads. I figured if we were going to enjoy some Westy 12 we should enjoy it out of the proper glass so I grabbed 3 off of eBay.

By August it had officially started to be called Quad fest and by the end of that month I had designed a logo and t-shirts for the event.  I've often said that the best thing about homebrewing is you can take it as seriously or as sillily as you want, and the idea of making fest related t-shirts with our logos and beer names was too much fun to pass up. 

The Westvleteren Set
In October we settled on both a date (December 7th) and location (The Globe - Dine • Bar) for the event.  The Globe was an easy choice for something like the QuadFest.   In addition to a global focused menu, owner Michael Pauwels has always been extremely accommodating to opening homebrews to share.  As a bonus they also have one of Orange County's best selection of Belgian and Trappist beers available, which was key for QuadFest.

After months of anticipation we meet up at Shawn's place, in our official shirts, for some pre-game tasting so some of Shawn's latest triumphs of brewing.  Shawn's wife Sonja had volunteered to be our DD and given the amount of 10%+ beer on the schedule to be consumed we felt it was a great idea to carpool. We also brought a bunch of bottles to give each other in addition to the ones we planned on opening that night.

When we got to The Globe we ordered some of the delicious noel beers that Michael had on tap.  I personally really enjoyed the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale and felt it was a perfect warm up beer for the night. 

Then it was time to start the main event.  We decided to open up a couple of bottles of Westvleteren 12 to calibrate our palates and allow us a decent pour. I've had this beer a bunch of times over the last year, some bottles better than others.  Fortunately these bottles were spot on what I remembered. I'll get around to doing a full review of it later.

Classic Daniel
Next up came my Westbennetteren 12. I'm very pleased with how it came out.  Lots of nice dark stone fruit flavor.  Great character from the yeast. Slightly high level of carbonation but not as bad as I had feared.  Similar to the Westvleteren but not as dead on as I was hoping for. It was definitely a little darker and the taste was close but not right there. I had another bottle of it the next day and took some notes for a tasting analysis. Next year I'll follow some of Daniel's advice and simplify the grain bill even more going straight up plisner.

Next came Shawn's quad - The Blessed One.  While it wasn't exactly how I remember it tasted it was still very well done. I really loved the added details he put into the packaging of it.  I'm glad I have another bottle of this to enjoy later.

Daniel was really concerned with the carbonation levels he'd been experiencing with the bottles of Westy Southwest that he'd been opening for people.  He suspects that it's probably a cap issue as there is evidence of sediment on the bottle of the bottles that suggest bottle conditioning had occurred.  Fortunately the bottle he opened for us was wonderfully carbonated.  Again, it was just a fantastic quad that hit all the right flavor notes.

Me, Daniel, Sonja and Shawn
After that we opened a few other beers that Shawn and Daniel had brought.  Shawn had another version of his quad that he had soured which I'm really looking forward to trying again soon.  Daniel brought a preview bottle of Black Lingerie batch 2.  The rebrew of a beer I've gone on the record as saying it was one of the most complex beers I'd ever had. The taste was strikingly reminiscent of the first batch just much younger.  I definitely want to grab a couple of bottles when he releases it next year.

To sum it up QuadFest 2012 was a pretty big success.  All of us had a lot of fun and want to do it again.  We've already starting thinking about expanding it to even more brewers.  The big thing is that make it in time all participants have to have beers fermenting in the next quarter. For me I'll probably brew my next batch of it in mid January.




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Darkness Day 2012

Darkness 2012 - with the new glass
For the second year in a row I found myself in line outside of Surly Brewing Company, drinking beer, meeting new friends and having way too much fun in a line all in pursuit of one of the last great non-barrel aged imperial stouts worth chasing - Surly Darkness.  Unlike the first year where I showed up at 5:00 in the morning to get in line this year I convinced my brother to join a group of my Minnesota friends in camping out - OVERNIGHT.  

After getting off of work we met at his house.  After unwinding with a little rock climbing and grabbing a bite to eat we loaded up the car with gear to survive in the 23 degree weather that was expected that night.  We arrived and connected with my buddy Brandon who immediately handed me a bottle of 2007 Darkness and told me to take a drink - it was pretty god damn tasty and set the mood for what would be the best beer related experience I've ever had. A lot of people in the community made that statement possible but I'm going to have to single out Brandon (Biglobo8971) as being outstanding. After settling in for a while Ryan and I took a walk with a glass of Cantillon Classic to scout the area, the entire business park was packed with people.  We chatted with a group around the area I was at last year at 5am and they told us that they had arrived around 7. It was unbelievable. 

That night I had some incredible beer, meet new people and overall just had a blast.  We decided to head to the tent around 2 am to grab a quick four hour.  My brother, who is a doctor, clearly had trained his body through years of little sleep to instantly crash out as he was sound asleep pretty much as soon as his head hit the pillow. Me, not so much as the light above where we made camp and the sound of a nearby generator both kept me awake most of the night.

Untappd version 0.2
Last year I got to meet a bunch of great BAs and put faces with names this year I really felt like part of a community. It was an amazing feeling being that welcomed. I got to hang out with several trading partners including my main Surly hookup Dan (Ungertaker) and put more faces with so many BAs. Lots of insane beer was poured and I got to try several that I never thought I'd have the opportunity to try, so that was cool.

Plus I got to hang out overnight with my brother and expose him even more to the world of BA.

On the downside, as I told my brother, I'm no longer allow to make fun of people who camp out for iPhones. He did point out that we probably had more fun in line than they ever will so there's that.
"Last year waiting in line was half the event, this year it was the event" - Me
My brother Ryan sharing a mini keg of beer
One of my favorite moments of the day came after wristbands were handed out. My brother had bought a mini-keg of Two Hearted and I think because of it's placement it didn't get consumed at lobo's truck. So we decided that we would kill it by walking up the line sharing with anyone that wanted some. While there were a few camps that semi turned their noses up at it most were very stoked and loved it. We almost made it the whole line and almost everyone who had some offer great beer in return. Definitely one of the highlights for us.


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