Sep 292008


Avocado beer?

Fermentation Friday was started by Adam over at Beer Bits 2, and it’s a chance for all homebrew bloggers to sound off on a singular theme at a set date – the last Friday of each month (check out Adam’s post explaining the origins).

This month Fermentation Friday is being hosted by Marcus at FinalGravity, and he has asked us to answer the following question: What indigenous brewing ingredient have you used or would you like to brew with and what style would that beer be?

Thanks to Marcus for hosting, and make sure to check out the roundup post to check out everyone’s responses!

Good topic this month. My tastes definitely lie towards beers featuring interesting ingredients. Fruit, spices, vegetables, whatever – I like adjuncts of all kinds in my beer, even if it’s only for the novelty factor.

The way I see it – I know what most beer styles out there taste like when they are brewed “by the book”. A perfectly crisp and clean Kölsch; a silky smooth stout that pours as dark as your childhood nightmares. I enjoy beers brewed to style, and I often brew to style as a way of refining my process. Aiming for a set target with defined OG, color, and bitterness values is a great way to keep your system and process properly calibrated. However, brewing to style is not a terribly creative process.

When cooks get creative, they take established recipes and turn them on their head using interesting and unusual ingredient pairings. When brewers get creative, they do exactly the same thing. Take a Mexican lager and throw some chile pepper heat in there. Take that velvety stout and add some vanilla, some hazelnut, maybe some chocolate and cherry notes. Add some fruit to a basic American wheat, and you make an entirely different beer. Mess around with the grainbill and change the mouthfeel or the “chewiness” of the body. This is the stuff that gets me excited to brew – pushing the boundaries and perhaps coming up with the Next Great Beer.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to really stretch my wings that much. I’ve messed around on a few recipes, but for the most part, I’m still being cautious, because I don’t know enough about how ingredients interact yet. Most of my brewing takes established recipes and changes one or two variables, so I can gain the knowledge and confidence to really take it up a notch.

And there’s one ingredient I’ve been dying to use.

I’m not even sure if this is possible, or if it’s been done before (casual web searches say no).

It’s almost certainly not advisable.

Yes, I’m talking about avocado.

There’s just something about the creamy, unassuming taste of the humble avocado. It forms the backbone of guacamole. It finds a home in salads. Why not land a starring role in beer? Heh, my girlfriend thinks such a concoction would be horrible, and she might be right. The conspicuous absence of any avocado-beer recipes might be a sign that this is not a wise idea. However, I think if it was done correctly, if it could be done correctly, it would be tasty. Or disgusting. Hmmmm.

Aside from the fear of creating a nasty, undrinkable brew, I wonder about the oily avacado’s impact on head retention and other such issues. I need to go read my copy of Radical Brewing again and see if avocados are mentioned.

Please, if you have tried this, or know of a brewery that has, let me know. I know I can’t be the first to think of this, and I’m sure if I really searched I could find more info about it. In a way, though, I don’t want to look that hard – every time I thought I had a great, original idea for a brewing ingredient, a quick websearch told me I was brewer number 53,204,285,274,127 to give it a try. This is the only hope I have left to be a trailblazer – to go where no brewer has gone before. So, maybe you shouldn’t tell me about that great avocado beer your local brewpub has on tap every year – let me give it a shot and at least pretend I had an original idea. My girlfriend will let you know how it turns out.

Sep 232008



The weather is getting cooler and it has been far too long since I have stirred a mash. I’ve been dying to make a pumpkin spice beer for quite some time now, and I think the time is right to give it a shot.

Sadly, I’ve read that you won’t find pumpkin anywhere near most pumpkin beers – they are often brewed with pumpkin pie spices instead of the real deal. Using real pumpkin involves roasting and mashing the stuff, then trying to sparge through the resulting mess – too much work for most people, it would seem. Both sides are very polarized on the issue – the spice heads say there is nothing but heartache and pain to be gained by mashing large orange squashes, while the pumpkin heads say you can’t call it a pumpkin beer unless it actually contains authentic Jack-o’-lantern brains.

Who is right? Damned if I know, I haven’t made one either way. The way I see it, there is only one way to settle this – a pumpkin beer face-off. I shall brew two batches of wonderful and delicious pumpkin beer, one using nothing but spices and one with spices and real pumpkin added, and see which one prevails.

Why spices in both? ALL pumpkin beers contain spices (usually cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc…) – so I’m thinking a pumpkin beer made with real pumpkin but no spices would not be very good. Best way I can think of to compare the two is brew the exact same beer, except for the pumpkin addition, and see if the mouthfeel/body/taste differs at all.

Rumor has it some six-packs of these competing pumpkin beverages might get bottled and distributed as part of a contest near Thanksgiving. Any interest?

Sep 172008

The Session logoWell, hosting The Session last month was a great experience, and I hope to have the opportunity again someday. For now, though, I must pass the torch.

Next month’s Session will be hosted by Bathtub Brewery. The October topic is Beer and Memories – I quote the announcement post:

For the 20th Session, Bathtub Brewery threw our hats in the ring (our hops in the fermenter?) to host a Session topic you might not expect. I’m sure you were figuring we’d quiz you on the best pumpkin brews to pass your lips, or ideas for wild and crazy ingredients for a harvest ale. Well, that won’t be the case. Instead, I pose this question for you to ponder:

Is there a beer that reminds you of a specific memory?

If you’re thinking, “Huh?” then you might want to craft your response along the lines of “Whenever I drink [insert brew here] it reminds me of that day …” Or perhaps it’s the reverse. Oooooh.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t even finished his Session post for last month, I don’t want to throw out pie-in-the-sky promises about next month. However, I do have some cool ideas for this topic, so we’ll see what happens. And yes, I am still working on my Deutsches Bier Session post – don’t lose hope!

Sep 112008

Beer and charity...perfect together!

Fellow Nutmeg State resident Bryon over at brought my attention to a great beer-related charity event going on in November. The 4th Ever CT River Valley Not-So-Snooty Beer, Wine, and Cheese Tasting Adventure will take place on November 21, 2008 at The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT. If you are local, I strongly urge you to attend. You might even get a chance to meet me!

The event will feature locally produced beer, wine, and cheese, as well as hors d’oeuvres, raffles, coffee, and dessert. Tickets are $45 ($35 for members of the military), and all proceeds will benefit The Hole in the Wall Gang. The Gang runs a camp in CT for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and is certainly a worthy cause.

So far, the participating brewery/brewpub list includes:

  • Boston Beer Company
  • Olde Burnside Brewery
  • City Steam Brewery Cafe
  • The Cambridge House
  • Sherwood Forest Brewers
  • John Harvard’s Brew House
  • Thomas Hooker Brewery

If you are a affiliated with a CT brewpub/brewery and are not on that list, give Bryon a shout and get on the list.

Sep 082008

Denny Conn

Denny Conn

I am extremely happy to announce the second in the Private Tastings interview series: Denny Conn! Denny is an extremely well-respected homebrewer, well-known for both his award winning recipes and his enthusiastic promotion of the batch sparging technique. Both have had a dramatic impact on my own brewing, and I am honored to have Denny as a guest. Thanks, Denny!! Let’s get to the interview…

Private Tastings: What inspired you to begin homebrewing?

Denny Conn: I started cooking for a hobby after I first saw Julia Child when I was about 13 years old. Also, growing up in the 60s and 70s kind of gave me a “do it yourself” kind of attitude. Once I moved to the Pacific Northwest in the mid 70s I discovered some of the great new craft beers that were happening here. I really wanted to make them myself, but it wasn’t until my business partner started brewing and showed me how easy it was that I was really hooked. It was cooking to the max, combined with science, another major interest of mine…and you got to drink the results!

PT: One could say there are two extremes when it comes to brewers – artistic brewers who eschew exacting measurements and style classifications, and scientific brewers who aim for precision and consistency over creativity. Do you lean more to one side than the other, or would you fall in the “a little of both” category?

DC: I’m firmly in the “a little of both” camp. Precision and consistency are wonderful things, but it’s not necessary to think of them as mutually exclusive to artistry and creativity. For me, it’s the science and precision I’ve learned that give me the knowledge and confidence to pull off the crazy ass stuff, like Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter or Chanterelle Wee Heavy.

PT: If you could give only one piece of advice to a homebrewer who wants to make better beer, what would it be?

DC: Pay attention to what you do and how your beer reacts to it. And that starts by learning some fundamentals so that you know what to pay attention to. When I started brewing, I found what was about the only Internet resource at the time, the rec.crafts.brewing Usenet newsgroup. To this day, I still check in there every day. I learned to recognize the more experienced people and try out what they said they were doing, especially if some of what they said matched experiences I’d previously had. Sometimes their advice worked for me, and sometimes it didn’t. But this is the course I’d advise every new brewer to follow…gather all the information from various sources that you possibly can and filter it through your own experience. Identify people whose advice and experience you think you can trust, and try things to see what works for you. Before too long, your own experience will make you the expert.

PT: You are probably best known to the brew world for two things: your promotion of batch sparging, and your killer recipes. Starting with batch sparging – what was the reaction you got from fellow homebrewers when you first started promoting the technique?


PT: How did you come about using batch sparging in your own brewing? Was it a sudden epiphany, or a gradual evolution?

DC: I learned about batch sparging first from a mention in the HomeBrew Digest from George Fix. I’d already done a couple stovetop, hand-fly-sparged batches and found it total pain. Then, I ran across an article by Ken Schwartz that explained how to batch sparge and provided equations for calculating amounts of grain and water. Another article by Ken had plans for building a cooler mash tun using one of Jack Schmidling’s SureScreens (all of Ken’s articles are available at I tried it and was amazed by how much easier it made things and the quality of the beer that came from it. I began talking about it on rec.crafts.brewing. There was a LOT of skepticism from brewers……I recall one person saying he’d told the owner of the LHBS about it and was told it would make “dirty beer”!

Fortunately, a few posters on rcb were already doing it so I had some support. One of them was Bob Regent, who had been around a while and was a respected brewer. He talked about how he had given up his fly sparging rig for batch sparging. He not only backed me up, I also learned a lot from him. And it never hurt to mention that George Fix thought highly of it! Eventually, people started trying it and getting the same kind of great results that I had. I think I started using the hose braid after someone on HBD had said something to the effect that “if the SureScreen worked, it seems like the braid off a toilet hose would work”. I tried it, and sure enough, it worked great. So the entire system was put together from a collection of various ideas that I tried to weave together into single system and technique. These days, I’d wager that there are as many homebrewers batch sparging as fly sparging.

Editor’s Note: We at are firmly in the batch sparge camp, all thanks to Denny’s great tutorial page, Cheap ‘n’ Easy Batch Sparge Brewing. Check it out.

PT: Regarding recipes, how did you come up with such favorites as your RyePA, Nick Danger Porter, and Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter? These are all big, robust beers with complex taste profiles. Were they the result of random experimentation, or were they carefully planned out? How many batches did you have to go through before you got to the “final” versions?

DC: I’m more of a “plan it out and brew it” guy than a “throw some stuff in there and see what happens” guy. Sometimes that works in my favor, other times it might constrain me from trying something new. But for most recipes, I fall back on my cooking skills…I use my “taste imagination” to either “visualize” what the finished beer will taste like, or what the combo of ingredients I use will taste like. Then I brew the first iteration and evaluate how close it came to what I was shooting for. In the case of the Rye IPA recipe, it began with the idea to brew an IPA using Mt. Hood and Columbus hops. It was going to be a special beer for my wife’s annual birthday party since she likes super hoppy IPAs. I brewed several variations and ran each by her for comments. At one point, I thought about using some rye for part of the base malt, and brewed several more versions to get the right balance of rye and the specialty malts. Altogether, I’d say I brewed it maybe 10-12 times before we settled on the final version. The BVIP took about 4-5 test batches of the base porter before I got it to the point where it would play nice with the other flavors in there (BTW, a good friend uses the base porter recipe to make a delicious coffee porter). I’d say that Nick Danger took about 3-4 tries.

PT: I just brewed my first batch of RyePA with the Denny’s Favorite yeast – I’ll be reviewing my batch shortly after posting the interview!


PT: Wyeast recently named one of their Private Collection strains after you – can you give a brief description of the strain and how it came to be called “Denny’s Favorite”?

DC: Early on in my brewing hobby, I decided I wanted to start ranching yeast and bought the equipment and a few plates of yeast from a company called Brewtek. I had no idea what most of the yeasts were like. One of them was “California Pub Ale Yeast CL-50”. I tried it in a batch of Rye IPA and found that it gave the beer exactly the kind of mouthfeel I loved…rich and silky, but very clean. I used the yeast, keeping it on slants, for many years, all the while extolling it to other homebrewers. One of the guys in our club tried it and liked it as much as I did. Fortunately, he’s a microbiologist in real life and took over keeping it in our club’s yeast bank, which he also manages. Brewtek closed down and the strain bounced between a couple other companies for a few years before the last one to have it closed down also. In the meantime, other brewers had begun using it and loving it, and many more wanted to but were unable to source it.

I spoke with Dave Logsdon about Wyeast carrying it at a homebrew comp in about 2005 and again later that year at NHC in Orlando. He was interested, but at that time another company had it so he declined. After the final company carrying it closed down, Wyeast contacted me to get a sample for their lab, so the WY2450 people buy from Wyeast came right out of the club yeast bank! Apparently, they got really great response from it and are considering releasing it again. If people are interested in seeing it come back, they should contact Wyeast and let ‘em know they want it!

Editor’s Note: It really is some great yeast – get on Wyeast’s case about re-releasing it, and when you see it on the shelves again, buy some!!

PT: Being a homebrew celebrity must come with some benefits – besides having yeast strains named after you, have you enjoyed any other cool perks?

DC: Wow, “homebrew celebrity”…that’s kinda a weird concept to grasp! I’ve been lucky in that since I love to talk about beer, my name has gotten around. Sometimes I get samples of new products, sometimes other homebrewers ship me their beer to try…but I’d have to say the biggest perk for me is when somebody says to me that they learned to brew AG beer by reading what I’ve written, or that they brewed on of my recipes and loved it. I got so much help from more experienced brewers when I started brewing, and it’s a real pleasure for me to pay that back by helping others when I can. For me, being part of the community of homebrewers is the biggest perk of all!

Well, there you have it. I think that was a great interview, and I’d like to say thanks again to Denny for spending the time on it. Look for the review of my batch of RyePA in the next day or two!

Sep 082008

The Session logoThe 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. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page.

This month, The Session is being hosted right here. Keep reading for this month’s roundup post.

It’s Sunday night, and I’ve spent the weekend reading through all the great responses to this month’s Session. It seems like everyone related to the topic and had a good time with it – there were some very creative approaches out there!

Before I get down to business, I just want to thank everyone – thanks for giving me the opportunity to host, and thanks for participating and sharing all these great posts. If you have a late post, I missed your post, or I spelled your name wrong or something, please let me know and I’ll get it fixed.

  • Let’s kick it off with Beckel @ Legal Beer, who explored the history of the Helles style while sampling Surly Brewing’s Surly Hell. He mentions he isn’t really a lager fan, so I give him credit for stepping out of his comfort zone. Oh yea, he traced the first shipment of Spaten Helles from Munich to Hamburg, so we’ll throw in a few Bavaria points.
  • Speaking of Bavaria points, I don’t think anyone is going to top Jay over at Brookston Beer Bulletin. He writes about a press junket trip he took to Bavaria in 2007 where he visited several small and relatively unknown (in America) breweries. He also posted an amazing array of photos from the trip, which have made me realize its been two very long years since I’ve been to Germany. Hmm, wonder how I can get on one of those junket trips?
  • Bryon at Home Brew Beer spins tales of lost beer and victorious yodeling at Epcot’s German Biergarten and an authentic German restaurant right here in CT. Thanks for the tip, I’ll be sure to check it out!
  • Flossmoor Station gives us a collection of German beer photos from the archives.
  • Boak over at Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog went on a virtual tour of Germany through beer at London’s Zeitgeist, a bar for German ex-pats.
  • Dan and Ethan over at Beer-O-Vision have posted a very interesting video comparison of Schneider-Brooklyner and Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen Weiss. These two beers are the result of a collaroration between Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver and Schneider Brauerie’s Hans-Peter Drexler.
  • Shawn over at Beer Philosopher also found the Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen Weiss worthy of blogging about. Talk about a symbol of German-American beer cultures intertwining! He writes a terrific review of the beer – I am definitely going to have to get my hands on this one.
  • Lew Bryson at Seen Through a Glass does an excellent job of comparing different drinking cultures around the world and putting to paper what makes the German beer culture and experience so unique. Great read.
  • Tom at Yours for Good Fermentables has advice we should all heed when reviewing beers: “Taste first; offer (gentle) criticism later.” His Session post speaks of the misunderstood kellerbier – why can’t lagers and casks go hand-in-hand? This post made me thirsty.
  • Josh over at Hump’s Brewing found reason to get back to The Session after a long absence, and offers a great history lesson on some of the many, many German beer styles out there. He also has a rauchbier in the works, and I’d love to try some when it is done!
  • Rob at Pfiff! exposes the seedy underworld of German brewing and finds comfort in the fact that there’s still room in Germany for a brown-bagger pils… and, it’s not that bad!
  • Let’s head over to Adam at A Good Beer Blog, who reviews one of my favorite styles, the Berliner Weisse. Good review, if you can make it past the disturbing shirtless lederhosen lager pub reference…ahem, moving right along…
  • Jon over at The Brew Site muses about how pervasive das Reinheitsgebot is in brewing culture, and throws in a few German beer reviews for good measure.
  • Virgil at Vbg-log sits on the other side of the fence…he doesn’t much care for the Reinheitsgebot. Luckily, his beloved Weizens, usually being ales, don’t really fall under it’s reaches. Just don’t fruit the man’s beer!
  • David from Musings Over a Pint brings the discussion back to the U.S. with a roll call of American craft beers which have been influenced by or brewed in the style of German beers. I am printing this list out and using it as a shopping list next time I hit the beer store!
  • Stephanie at teamed up with Ray and Melissa (from Bathtub Brewery) last September for their very own Oktoberfest party. Nineteen different German beers made it to the party, along with some good-sounding German fare. I guess my invite got lost in the mail… :(
  • Speaking of Ray @ Bathtub Brewery, he weighs in with this Session’s most philosophical post. Does tradition truly handicap the human race? Has clinging to the Reinheitsgebot prevented the Germans from taking their brewing to an even higher level? Agree or disagree, this is a great thought-provoking post.
  • Brad at La Petite Brasserie is a first-time Sessioner who also thinks the Reinheitsgebot is an outdated piece of government interference, but he can’t argue with the results.
  • Matt of Hoosier Beer Geek talks about how he thinks the American craft beer world would not be what it is without the rich brewing history German immigrants brought here. He then eloquently describes the beautiful rauchbier – particularly Aecht Schlenkerla, one of my favorites.
  • The Beer Nut also appreciates a good rauchbier, and he writes about two I have not yet had the chance to sample – Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier and Spezial Lager. The Beer Nut writes to us from Ireland, and his proximity to the promised land of European beer makes me jealous.
  • Another author from Ireland, Thom from the Black Cat Brewery, says German beer might not be his favorite, but the easy-drinking wheats did open his eyes to the world of good beer. Another victim of the seemingly innocent wheat beer!
  • YET another Irishman :) , Adeptus at The Bitten Bullet, found this to be the perfect topic for his very first Session post. Not only was he lucky enough to be introduced to good beer in Germany, but he is now actually residing in Germany within striking distance of both Köln and Düsseldorf!!! This is a great story of one man’s journey through beer and life.
  • Speaking of beer journeys, Matt at A World of Brews tells us how his passion switched from wine to beer during a trip to Europe with his wife. I love it – a beer bar in Berlin opens his eyes to the complexity of beer three years ago, and now he writes a beer blog! Nice story.
  • Jason at is another first-time Session poster, and another lost soul who was shown the good way by Germany and its addictive wheat beer! Nice post about a great social experience he had that seems to be a defining feature of the German beer culture.
  • Ted @ Barley Vine was lucky enough to live in Köln for a few months, and he writes a nice piece on the beer culture surrounding Kölsch. He makes an interesting point about how Americans separate their beer culture from the rest of their lives, where other cultures, like the Germans, integrate the two. He also includes a good review of an American Kölsch style beer.
  • That brings us to E.S. from Relentless Thirst, who gets in touch with his German roots by reviewing three Oktoberfest offerings from American breweries.
  • Mario @ Brewed for Thought teamed up with Peter from Better Beer Blog and conducted a Kölsch tasting. Find out how the authentic Kölsch Reissdorf matched up against some other American Kölsch style offerings.
  • Stephen over at thatstheSPIRIT writes a great piece on the dueling cities of Köln and Düsseldorf. He states that it is impossible to truly appreciate a Kölsch or altbier without trying them in situ – I’ve been fortunate enough to visit both cities, and I have to agree! The cities are the beer, the beers are the cities…it is beer culture to another level, and it is beautiful to behold.
  • How can we leave out the driving force behind The Session? Stan over at Appellation Beer pens an interesting post about the beer found in authentic German towns along the Romantischstraße – they may not all fit style guidelines, but the residents sure enjoy drinking them.
  • Finally, we have our host…who isn’t done writing his post yet! I was so busy working on the roundup that I neglected my own response! I should have it finished real soon now! and will link to it here.

Well – looks like that’s it! Thanks again to everyone who participated – it was great variety of takes on the topic and made for some really interesting reading (and watching!) I’ll keep an eye out for any stragglers and will update this post as necessary.

Until next time – Prost!