Jun 272008

Every Spring, BYO magazine runs a homebrew label contest, and every year I forget to enter. They just announced the 2008 winners, and I once again kicked myself for missing the deadline. Then I remembered – hey, I have a blog now, and can share my labels with you, my faithful readers. I’m no graphic artist, but I do enjoy messing around with the fine arts – so, without further ado, here are a few labels I’ve made for my homebrew over the years (click any of the labels for a larger picture).

First, my flagship brew, Engine 97 Steam Beer. This beer got its name from an old steam engine running out of Essex, CT. We visited the train once and I took a cool picture of engine #97. It seemed a natural fit for a steam beer, so I put the photo to a Van Gogh backdrop and came up with this:

Engine 97 Steam Beer label

Engine 97 Steam Beer label

Another “production” label I made was for a batch of Joe’s Ancient Orange mead I made for a mother’s day present for a few moms in my life. The label was designed for a 375 mL dessert wine bottle, so it is in portrait orientation instead of the standard landscape. This was done very quickly, so it’s not very sophisticated, but I like to think it captures the fun and simple essence of the mead. Either way, the moms seemed to like it!

Mother\'s Day Mead label

Mother's Day Mead label

Now we get into the labels-in-progress. That’s right, folks, as a special present for frequenting my blog I’m giving you the behind-the-scenes tour of the art studio!

This one was created for my Client #9 Apricot Pale Ale. This beer was brewed as the Eliot Spitzer scandal broke, and I decided to pay homage to my ex-governor by naming the beer after him. I never finished it, since I haven’t bottled any of this recipe yet – I switched to kegging around the same time. I also don’t really like the fonts or the text, but it is ready to be finished as soon as I brew another batch.

Client #9 label draft

Client #9 label draft

Finally, here is something I came up with last year, when I had the idea to brew a boysenberry wheat beer but never got around to it. This beer became reality in a roundabout way when I brewed my Sunset Wheat clone recently and decided to sub in my boysenberry flavoring instead of blueberry like Leinenkugle’s uses. If you haven’t already, check out the June WoT post and drop a comment suggesting a name for this beer. Once I get that nailed down, I’ll put the finishing touches on this label.

Boysenberry Wheat label draft

Boysenberry Wheat label draft

You may have noticed the nautical flags in each label. My brewery is called Harbor Beer Company, and the nautical flags spell out HarborBeerCo. I’m still working on a logo for a bottlecap or neck wrap, probably something with a lighthouse or boat motif.

Well, that’s it! Let me know what you guys think, and if you have any labels of your own to submit, send them in! If we get enough, maybe we’ll do our own label contest!

Jun 272008

Today is my first Fermentation Friday, the brainchild of Adam at Beer Bits 2, and I’ve been looking forward to it! Unfortunately, I had two wisdom teeth removed, so this is getting posted a bit late. That is my level of commitment to the beer blogging community – not even oral surgery and a tummy full of Vicodin can keep me down.

This month’s Fermentation Friday is being hosted by Travis over at CNYBrew – thanks for hosting, Travis, and I can’t wait to read everyone’s submissions.

I fear my entry might be on the boring side of the spectrum. I’ve had several brews which went bad, but only one I can think of where I created something I would call “crazy”. Until recently, I just didn’t have the space or equipment to brew the way I wanted, so every chance to brew was extremely valuable. I never wanted to waste a brewday experimenting too much. One night, however, a perfect storm of leftover ingredients and boredom gave birth to a Frankenbeer.

Question mark

What the....?

I had just mixed up a one gallon batch of Joe’s Ancient Orange mead (I’ll post an article with a recipe and process soon – it is an extremely easy and low maintenance way to start making mead).  I had an extra one gallon jug sitting around, and as I cleaned up from the mead session, I started wishing I could’ve brewed that night. At the time, I was still living in an apartment and making partial-mash beers on the stovetop. I was putting away some equipment when I saw some leftover DME and a half pound each of Crystal 40 and 2-row malt. I knew I had a pack of US-56 dry yeast in the freezer, so I got the bright idea to make a one gallon batch of mystery beer.

I cooked up my wort and went to the freezer where I thought I had some Hallertauer hops. When I realized I had used all my hops in my last batch, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t brew this thing with no hops whatsoever, so I was about to toss the wort when inspiration struck (famous last words).

I had read about spices brewers used before hops were common. I just happened to have a bunch of rosemary sprigs sitting on my kitchen counter, so I figured, “why the heck not” (other famous last words). I added some rosemary at 60 and 15 minutes into the boil, chilled, and racked the wort into the jug. I clocked the gravity at 1.040, pitched the yeast, and went to bed.

The next day, the stuff was fermenting like crazy! I started thinking this might turn out to be a great beer! I would post my findings online and be heralded as a crazy and experimental brewer like Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. I started preparing answers for the inevitable interviews from Brew Your Own and Zymurgy magazines. This was going to be cool!

Days passed. As the mead started smelling better and better, my freakshow brew started smelling worse. It kept fermenting and fermenting, and I started having some doubts. I told myself the slightly rank odor was just fermentation byproducts – after all, no beer really smells good when it’s fermenting. I posted my little experiment on a beer forum and got only one response:

Might make an excellent marinade for chicken.

Finally, the day came to try the concoction. I was filled with nervous anticipation as I poured a bit in a taster glass. I gave it a sniff – hmmm, it was a cross between rotten rosemary and old gym socks. I touched the glass to my lips, tipped it slightly, and…

…spat the nastiest stuff I had ever tasted into the sink. I quickly poured the rest of the “beer” down the drain as well, and threw away the jug for good measure. If I had been thinking clearly I would’ve buried it out in the Rockaways somewhere.

So there you have it – my first foray into “scrap brewing”. It didn’t turn out the way I planned, but I haven’t given up. I have plans to create a garlic brew in the near future – primarily for cooking, but who knows? It might just land me in BYO after all!

Jun 242008

Generic beer

Generic beer

I’m not particularly proud of what I’m about to tell you. It’s not something I like to talk about, and I wouldn’t say anything at all, but I’d rather you hear it from me than someone else.

I drink Bud. Miller, too. And an occasional Coors.

There, I said it. Yes, I write a brewing blog, consider myself a beer connoisseur, brew all kinds of strong, flavorful styles, and yet I still sometimes pick up a can of watery, fizzy macroswill and actually drink the contents.

There is a definite stigma that exists in homebrew and craft beer circles when it comes to BMC. It seems many beer aficionados absolutely despise our domestic light American lagers, and I wonder what impact this confession will have on my beer street-cred. To some, it would be like finding out your favorite gourmet chef eats at McDonald’s, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. None of these macrobrews would ever make it into my favorites list, but I think they can be appreciated for what they are, given the right place and time.

Like, right now. I’m sitting on the train fresh out of work, sipping on a Budweiser as I write this post. It’s thin, it’s ice-cold, and it doesn’t have any malt or hops character to speak of. It’s brewed with rice. It’s just about everything I wouldn’t want one of my beers to be, but it’s cheap and it hits the spot for a quick on-the-way-home brew. Forgive me.

Another “right” time for BMC is when you’re trying to beat the heat at a summertime baseball game. BMC and baseball are two great American pastimes, and they go together very nicely. Besides, the beer guy at Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly hawking Dogfish Head or Rochefort, so I’ll take what I can get. If I’m going to sit in the sun watching a bunch of guys make millions of dollars throwing a ball around, I need a beer. Any beer.

Sometimes, it is also necessary to quaff a BudMillerCoors when attending a social event. If I am at a bar and have a choice of fine beers to choose from, you’d better believe I am ordering something a bit more highbrow. However, I occasionally find myself at a hole-in-the-wall dive or a relative’s barbecue where BMC is the only offering. I will accept it with a smile on my face, knowing I can drink four or five Coors Lights and still drive home.

I do have my limits, though. I recall a night spent visiting friends outside of Morgantown, WV. We went to “the bar” – appropriately named, since there was only one to speak of in town. I was thrilled to find $2 Heinekens on offer – they’re usually three times that price at home. Imagine my surprise when I was ridiculed after ordering one for drinking “the expensive stuff” – the rest of the bar was enjoying 25-cent cans of PBR. You would’ve thought I’d ordered a bottle of $500 champagne. I kept ordering my Heinekens, causing more grief for myself, but I just couldn’t bring myself to drink Blue Ribbon when Heineken was effectively at fire-sale prices.

So, there you have it. I don’t think it makes me any less of a beer lover. If BMC is all you ever experience in the world of beer, I think it’s a bit sad. That’s not the case here – I know what good beer tastes like, and I’ll keep brewing and drinking it for as long as I am able. In fact, I think BMC helps me appreciate the good stuff even more – it cleanses the palate, like water or a bland cracker.

Come on, join in. Confess your worst beer secrets here. I promise I won’t make fun of you, and we can all laugh and cry together.

Jun 172008

Summer is upon us, and I am sad to say the kegerator is only functioning at 50% capacity – one tap. I was supposed to have the second tap full of a new batch of Engine 97, but disaster struck and I had to toss that batch. I was nervous when I brewed up my next batch, but my extra cleaning and sanitation efforts paid off and the summer wheat exceeded my expectations.

Summer wheat

A nice cool glass of summer wheat

Summer Wheat
I love wheat beers, especially in the summer. Hefeweizens, witbiers, American wheats, it doesn’t matter…the more, the merrier. This year I’ve been trying to make an effort to brew some seasonal styles, and as the weather warmed up wheat beers jumped to the top of the list. A household favorite is Leinenkugle’s Sunset Wheat, and that was the benchmark I was shooting for. The recipe I used was pretty straightforward – 50% wheat malt, 50% 2-row pale malt, 1.0 oz of Cascade hops, and some coriander to spice it up. I added a touch of fruit flavoring at kegging – the recipe calls for blueberry, but I had some boysenberry around so I decided to use that. I’m not really sure what style this beer should be filed under, but since it has some fruit flavoring, let’s stick it in Fruit Beers (BJCP category 20, Fruit Beer).

The protein rest I used during the mash seems to have worked its magic – the beer pours with a nice head. It doesn’t stick around too long, but leaves some nice lacing on the glass as it recedes. The coriander gives a definite lemon flavor, which surprised me – I am fairly inexperienced with coriander, and I imagined it would give more of a peppery taste. Nope, it lends a citrus tang and a pithy bitterness (I have some grains of paradise I picked up which I think will get me closer to the pepper taste I was looking for…or, maybe I’ll try actual pepper…but that’s another spice for another brew).

The aroma is inviting, with nice citrus notes from the coriander and just a hint of the boysenberry flavor. More importantly, the beer tastes great! It was brewed with a very clean Kölsch yeast which lets the slightly creamy/slightly tart taste of the wheat really shine through. The coriander lends some lemon zest, and the boysenberry lurks in the background tying everything together with a faint sweetness. I don’t think you would be able to identify the boysenberry if you didn’t know it was in there – it’s a taste that leaves you smacking your lips wondering, “What is that?”

I have it carbonated fairly high, which gives it a nice crisp mouthfeel – this beer will not stick to your tongue. The body is perfect – just heavy enough to keep from being watery or thin, and just light enough to be a nice refreshing summer beer. I trust the protein rest helped out the body, but I will have to brew the recipe again without it to see to what extent that is true…

If I made one mistake on this brew, it was grinding the coriander too fine. I read that fine grinding would increase the coriander effect, and I wanted a strong coriander presence in the beer. However, I think the beer finishes a touch too pithy, just a little too bitter. However, others who have tried it don’t share that opinion, so that might just be me nitpicking. It definitely doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of a pint or two.

I think this has the makings of a new house brew, and I’m looking forward to using the same base recipe with different spices and flavorings during the summer. Wheat beers are pretty quick from grain to glass, which makes them perfect for experimentation.

Now – this beer doesn’t have a name, and I think you guys should help name it. Drop me a comment with your name recommendation and I’ll pick the one I like best and post the results. Who knows, the winner might even get a prize for their trouble!

Jun 122008

This is pretty cool – Adam at Beer Bits 2 (now an official Friend of Lootcorp!) has started up a new, um, “beer blogging community day” – for lack of a better term… You know, where beer bloggers agree on a topic and all post about it on the same day every month.

We have The Session, started by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer back in early 2007, where all the bloggers post about a particular beer style or beer-related topic on the first Friday of every month. However, Adam thought it would be cool to have a beer-blogging day just for homebrewers and homebrew-related topics, and I couldn’t agree more. He has hereby designated the last Friday of every month “Fermentation Friday”, the homebrew blogging day, and I am happy to say that lootcorp.com has already signed up as a host! Many thanks to Adam for the opportunity!

Now, the bad news…this idea was such a success that the host roster filled up pretty quickly, and I’m going to have to wait until January 30, 2009! So, for now, just mark your calendars, and drop me a comment if you have any suggestions for a good early winter homebrewing topic. In the meantime, I’ll be participating in Fermentation Friday every month – this month it is being hosted by Travis at CNYBrew.com, topic TBA (check out the list of scheduled hosts for future months). I can’t wait!

Jun 102008

Click here for this brew session’s recipe…

Sunday, the first of June, was a beautiful and sunny day in Fairfield County – perfect for brewing. I had been planning to make a batch of a Leinenkugle’s Sunset Wheat clone for some time, so I seized the opportunity and fired up the ol’ burners. Since this is the first brew session I am posting, I’ll go into more detail about my process than I would otherwise. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Brewday equipment

My brewday setup

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Jun 062008

The Session logoHappy Friday, and welcome to my first Session! The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. This month’s Session is being hosted by Thomas Vincent, who runs the Geistbear Brewing Blog – head over there to see this Session in its entirety! For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page. This month’s topic was beer festivals.

I have a love/hate relationship with beer festivals. The first real beer festival I attended was Beer on the Pier in NYC. This was about a year before I started brewing, and I think that festival is indirectly responsible for sparking the passion I have for beer today. At the time, I enjoyed beer, but didn’t really know anything about it. I certainly had no clue about the range of beers that were available. I went to Beer on the Pier on a whim, and was floored by the number of breweries represented – where were all these beers in my local stores? (Turns out I was shopping at the wrong stores). At the very least, the festival had opened my eyes to the expansiveness of the craft beer world, and I started to experiment beyond the usual Heineken and Sam Adams.

Since that day, I’ve been to a handful of beer festivals, ranging from brewery parties (Harpoon’s Brewstock) to mass-marketed affairs (Beer on the Pier 2) to events showcasing a particular range of styles (Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest). They all present a great way to expand your beer experience and sample a wide array of styles. However, I’ve also noticed beer festivals have two common flaws:

The Crowd
The more popular beer festivals have become, the more crowded they have become. I generally don’t like crowds, although I’m willing to tolerate them for a good beer payoff. Problem is, beer festivals seem to be attended by fewer beer enthusiasts than “drunk enthusiasts” – people who could care less what beer they are drinking, as long as it contains alcohol. These folks typically get wasted as quickly as possible, wind up making a mess of the place (especially restrooms), and often incite fights or rowdiness… I’ve seen 90 lbs girls turn barleywine samples into shooters, meatheads who only wanted to know which beers had the highest alcohol content, and overheard one disappointed moron ask how he was going to ‘get his buzz on’ with only a 2 oz sample glass at his disposal – he reasoned that he shouldn’t have eaten before he left home. I have nothing against getting drunk or having a good time, I just really wish these people didn’t interpret “beer festival” as “drink-as-much-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can-before-passing-out festival”.

The Bathrooms
This is an area where most festivals are sorely lacking. It is more of an issue for the women I’ve gone with, but even I have to admit the bathroom situation is often abysmal. Porta-potties become nasty approximately 7.8 seconds after the festival starts, and thousands of folks + alcoholic beverages + four porta-potties = disaster, and some, umm, creative alternatives to waiting on the line. I think Harpoon had the best outside arrangements I have seen, with separate banks of porta-potties for males and females. However, irresponsible people managed to ruin it for both genders. Best festival restrooms I’ve seen were at the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, since they were actual indoor restrooms with plumbing and everything. Highly recommended!

Really, I think brewer’s dinners like what The Ginger Man’s South Norwalk location and RockBottom’s Braintree location (SINCE CLOSED!!) put together are the way to go. Smaller, more intimate affairs which really highlight a small group of beers, presenting them with paired cuisine and giving the attendee a real chance to enjoy the experience. For the same price as a beer festival, you get a full meal, a flight of beers, and the possibility to converse with the brewery representatives. These events definitely attract a more foodie/beer enthusiast type crowd than a beer festival. Maybe I’m just getting old, but this sounds much more appealing to me.

All this being said, I still feel beer festivals calling their siren song to me…I see a list of hundreds of breweries presenting and even though I know I will only taste a handful of beers, I fall under the spell. I figure they must’ve figured out the kinks this time around – maybe they’ll have good food, limit attendance, and keep the restrooms clean! Yup, even though I know the truth, I trick myself into believing there’s nothing better…I guess there’s just something about gathering together with 6,500 drunks to enjoy standing in line for a lukewarm taster glass of Boston Lager that appeals to me.

Jun 032008

A stormy night and $4.35/gallon gas prices could not keep me from traveling deep into Red Sox territory, almost to the Connecticut/Massachusetts border – yes, I was able to get out to Granby, CT on Saturday to visit The Cambridge House brewpub.
Ozzie Williams and the Marion Street Blues Band
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Jun 012008

I stopped by our local beer emporium yesterday and noticed all the summer seasonals were back on the shelves. Some people might use Memorial Day as the official start of summer, but I use the appearance of witbiers, light wheats, and easy-drinking lawnmower beers in retail stores as my benchmark. Here’s a review of my first official summer beer.
Sea Dog Bluepaw
Perhaps it was due to a slightly stuffy nose, but the beer did not smell as strongly of blueberries as I would’ve expected. However, the scent is definitely identifiable as blueberry, with a faint touch of grain and a sort of creaminess I assume is from the wheat. As the beer warmed, the creaminess was less noticable while the blueberries became more prominent.

Beer is amazingly clear for a wheat beer and has obviously been filtered. Light gold in color. Formed a large head when poured which settled quickly, leaving no lace on glass.

This tastes exactly like what I think a blueberry wheat beer should be. The blueberry is present and abundant without being overpowering or cloyingly sweet. It also tastes like natural blueberry flavor as opposed to the slightly chemical feel that extracts or artificial flavoring can give. The beer is well-balanced, with the sweetness of the blueberry kept in check by the tart flavor of the wheat malt – it is almost faintly sour, but not in an unpleasant way. Lightly hopped – detected a bit of bitterness in the finish and aftertaste, but the hops are not prominent enough to pick out on their own.

The carbonation level is on the high side, resulting in a crispness which helps further cut the sweetness of the blueberry and works to cleanse the palatte after a sip. This is not a beer which sticks to the roof of your mouth. The beer is light-bodied without tasting too thin or weak.

A nice fruit beer I look forward to each summer. If you don’t like light-bodied, lightly hopped, fruity wheat beers, expect to be disappointed. Personally, I have a special place in my heart for such creations, and love kicking back on a summer night with a few. The blueberry flavor is interesting because the sweetness adds to the body, making this beer feel slightly bigger and smoother than a similar beer with citrus flavors. You won’t make any mistake – this is a light-drinking wheat – but it is more filling that you might expect. Be it my love for Maine blueberries or the dog on the label, Bluepaw is one beer that keeps finding its way into my glass.