Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pondering Pumpkin

I've been too busy to write a blog post, so my wife, Beth, is helping me out by writing a blog post this week.
Hey everyone, it's Beth here taking over the blog today.  Nate's been swamped lately so I thought I'd help him out.  Let's discuss a fall favorite today.

It seems like as soon as the calendar hits September, you are bombarded with pumpkin everything.  Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin breads, there is even pumpkin butter I have heard.  I am not a huge fan of pumpkin things, though I like good pumpkin bread, I don’t do the lattes or the pies.  I will make an exception for one pumpkin thing at this time of the year though and I look forward to and even crave it a bit.  Pumpkin beer.

It has to be done well.  There are a ton of pumpkin beer options out there.  Some of which I haven’t had the pleasure of trying, such as Dogfish Head’s famous Punkin Ale.  (Side note – hey Dogfish Head, come to Minnesota!)   Others I've tried and not liked all that much.  I feel the pumpkin flavor should not overpower the beer flavor.  You just want a hint of the spices, a little something that makes you say “yep, this tastes like fall.”

There are two beers I've had that I feel have done a good job on what I think is possibly a delicate balance.  Southern Tier’s Punking is one of my favorites.  It has a light pumpkin flavor without being over the top.  It reminds me more of pumpkin bread then pumpkin pie, which is also why I prefer it.  I don’t ever want more than about a glass worth of this one though but that is OK, it’s a good sipping beer.  It’s also a tough one to say you’re going to pair with much food – though I had this one on tap at a restaurant recently and ate some hop infused cheese curds (oh yes these exist, maybe we’ll do a post on these little wonders another time) while drinking it and they went surprisingly well together. 

The other one I just had this past weekend at our favorite local brewpub, Barley Johns in New Brighton, MN.  They made a pumpkin bock this year.  It was really the perfect pumpkin beer for my taste – it was mostly a bock, with a hint of pumpkin and spice.  It was very smooth and actually did pair well with the turkey wrap I had for dinner.  Unlike Southern Tier’s, I could have easily had another glass of this one.  Maybe the difference in the two is Southern Tier’s feels more like a dessert beer to me where this one could be the main course.

We have some friends that homebrew like us and they have made a Pumpkin beer this year that we've been promised a bottle of.  They have told me it will be more about the spices than the actual pumpkin as they agree with me that pumpkin flavor can be overdone.  I’m anxious to give it a try as it seems right up my alley.
Others may disagree with me and if you want pumpkin pie in a bottle, I am not going to judge you, just like I don’t judge lovers of the pumpkin spice latte, but for this girl, simple is better.  So I highly recommend Barley Johns Pumpkin Bock to the locals (get there soon before it’s all gone) and Southern Tier to the rest of you!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bottling vs. Kegging, and the Party Pig

I missed posting last week, but with good reason.  Beth and I threw our yearly Oktoberfest bash this last weekend, so I'd been a bit busy preparing for the party to get a post up.

Preparing for the party has brought a topic to mind that I've been thinking about posting for a while though, so here we go.

Bottling vs. Kegging
Almost all new homebrewers start out by bottling their beer.  It's inexpensive to do, and requires very little skill to do properly, and if you do screw something up, it'll only be a few bottles at most, so you'll have the majority of the batch of beer that's still drinkable.

To get into bottling, you need a wing capper like this one, a bottling bucket,  a bottling wand, bottle caps and a bunch of bottles.  You can get the bottles for free by either drinking beer, getting your friends to drink beer, or picking them up off Craigslist.  For only about $40, you've got the equipment you need to start bottling.  If you need to buy bottles, you can get enough for an entire batch of beer for about $20.

Kegging on the other hand, is pretty expensive, and does require a bit more skill to get right.

To get started in kegging, you need kegs, and even used kegs start around $50 each these days (it was about $20/keg when I got into kegging).  You also need a CO2 tank, regulators, faucets, tubing and a whole lot of other little odds and ends.  I'm not even going to bother trying to link to the individual components, and instead link to this kegging system, which runs about $300 on it's own, and just included picnic taps instead of real faucets, and only supports 2 kegs (although, you can expand it, but not cheaply).

Oh, and remember how I said it takes more skill?  Well, you need to be able to get hose lengths correct so you can have the beer properly carbonated,  but not come out as all foam.  I've got my system fairly well dialed in, but some of my taps actually run a bit too slowly.  You also need to be able to diagnose problems with the kegs, and fix them.  As an example, your keg may leak CO2, or even worse, leak beer.

So given all that, why would anyone switch to kegging from bottling?

Well, the big one for me was that bottling is a lot of work, and takes a lot of time.  You need to clean and sanitize ~50 bottles per batch of beer, and fill them all.  I would say that this took about 4 hours per batch of beer.  For kegging, I clean and sanitize one keg, and then fill it, for each batch of beer.  If I'm only doing a single batch of beer, this all takes an hour or less, and a I actually have a couple of extra kegs on hand, so I wait until I have at least 3 kegs to clean, because each subsequent keg takes about 1/3 the time to clean after the first one.  The time difference really starts to show when you've got 3, 4, 5 batches of beer that need to go into bottles or kegs.  3 batches of beer in bottles, 12 hours.  3 batches of beer in kegs, an hour and a half or so.

Another reason is that it's pretty impressive to say "yeah, I've got 7 kegs of beer on tap at home".

There is one downside to kegging that I didn't think about before I made the leap, which is that it's a lot harder to share my beer with friends.  I used to give out six packs of my homebrew to friends and family, but I can't do that anymore.  I can, and do give away growlers of beer, but the beer doesn't last nearly as long in a growler.  You really need to drink it within a day or two.

The Party Pig System
One thing that I tried as sort of an intermediate step between bottling and kegging was the Party Pig.  Each Party Pig holds 2.5 gallons of beer.  You still need to sugar condition the beer, because the Party Pig doesn't carbonate the beer on its own, but it has a pressurized pouch in the Party Pig that keeps the pressure constant after you've carbonated the beer.

It's definitely more convenient than bottling, but it has the down side of needing a place in the refrigerator.  I also had an issue with the faucet in the Party Pig sticking from the dried beer, and dripping a little beer in the fridge every time I would pour a glass of beer.

In hind sight, I would say don't bother with the Party Pig.  If you really don't want to spend the money on a full kegging system, there are also smaller pony kegging systems.  I've got friends that are perfectly happy with the smaller 5 liter kegs. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Indeed Brewing Company

Beth and I have now made a couple of trips out to Indeed Brewing Company's taproom.  The first time we just picked up a few bottles of beer and left, this last time we decided to grab a couple of beers, hang out and check out the scene in this new taproom in NE Minneapolis.

Indeed's tap room consists of a long bar, a bunch of tables and some outdoor seating on the patio.  There is no table service, so you must get your beer from the bar, but it's well run, so if a line does form, it disappears pretty quickly.  They don't serve any food themselves, but there are food trucks parked outside earlier in the evenings if you start to feel peckish.

Unlike a lot of breweries, they don't have anything in their lineup that a non-craft beer drinker would find to be a gentle introduction into the craft brew world.  There are hops, roasted malts and ester producing yeasts abound at this brewery, but I think that's going to be OK for Indeed.

There is already plenty of competition in the area from other craft breweries and brew pubs with milder tasting beers such as Surly's Cynic, Summit's Pilsner and Little Barley Bitter from Barley John's.  With their limited brewing capacity, I think Indeed is better off realizing that they can let other craft brewers woo new craft beer drinkers, while Indeed targets the already established craft beer loving crowd.
Their permanent lineup includes:
Day Tripper - A pale ale with the now familiar citrus hops that mark most pale ales on the American market.  This beer is well done, and quite drinkable.  At 5.4% ABV, it's not exactly a session beer, but I could easily see myself sitting around, shooting the breeze with friends and drinking a two or three of these in an evening.

Midnight Ryder - An American Black Ale (or Cascadian Dark Ale).  My wife is a huge fan of this one, as she is of most American Black Ales, and I have to admit, I really do think this one has a really nice balance of roasty and hoppy flavors.  While I would likely get a different beer while actually at the taproom, I have no qualms about buying a bottle to enjoy with Beth at home.

Also on tap when we've been there:
Shenanigans - This was their summer ale.  It's lighter tasting, with a little fruit/citrus flavor, and a bit on the sweeter side. Definitely a good summer beer.  

Fresh Hop - Another pale ale, but fresh hopped this time.  It was a good beer, enough hops to put it in the APA category, but missing a little something for me.  I think I was hoping for slightly more green, vegetal flavor.  Still a good beer though, and worth a try at least.

Along with the normal tapped beer, Indeed also offers a small variety of infused and cask beers.  Beth tried the raspberry infused Shenanigans, which she said was good, but was a bit too sweet for a full pint.  I had the Day Tripper on cask, which I really enjoyed.  I'm not always in the mood for a cask beer, but when I am, it's nice knowing there's a place with beer on cask close by.  Day Tripper really held up well to the lower carbonation and the higher serving temperature really let some of the complexity of the beer shine through.

Indeed is definitely worth checking out, but be aware that you might need to walk a little as they don't have a lot of parking nearby (it's pretty much all street parking).  Their beer is already available at a number of bars in the area, and they've also invested in a canning line, and plan to start selling their beer in liquor stores in the area in late September (possibly before you even get a chance to read this article.)