Friday, May 29, 2015

What's on tap at New Main?

Well, we let pesky old life get in the way, and now nothing is on tap. Boo. However, we do have a few things in the works to remedy this situation.

Last week, I racked our Russian Imperial Stout, 9*8*7 into 3 separate fermenters for aging. I have a single 3 gallon carboy and two 1 gallon carboys set up to receive different treatments of this stout. I know I want to use some or all of the following: Mexican vanilla extract, roasted chipotle peppers, cacao nibs. The gravity sample tasted great, so I might keep the 3 gallons as the base beer for submission into competitions. That way if anything fouls up on the one-offs, I won't lose too much. Conversely, if those special editions turn out great, they will be something of a special release for anyone we may share them with.

We also made a trip down to Houston to see our great friends for Memorial Day. We spent all day Sunday cooking, eating, playing games, eating, catching up, reliving our glory days at A&M, eating, and... oh yeah! Brewing! My buddy got a brewing kit for Christmas and has been waiting for a chance to dive in, so we brewed up a simple-yet-satisfying 1-gallon batch of an American Wheat Ale. I made sure to check that nothing had gone bad sitting for 6 months, and to my knowledge all the smells and tastes were just right. Checking with our new brewing brother, there was a healthy krausen and some good airlock activity, so beer has been made! Congratulations, Adam and welcome to your new hobby obsession!

We tested a batch of American Pale Ale for our friend's bachelor party coming up in a few months. The test batch turned out great, and there really aren't all that many tweaks I want to make to it. It's brewed to be a crowd pleaser, so it's not crazy on hop flavor or aroma, and it's not even that high in alcohol-just 5.25%. Just a good all day drinker for the lake. When we brew this for ourselves later on down the road, we'll probably throw in some of our homegrown hops for aroma and flavor. Nothing beats fresh hops from the garden!

I do want to get our Rosemary Sage Wit back on tap because it's a great summer refresher, so I may brew that in very soon. I have also been contracted by friends and family to brew up some interesting beers: Peach Wheat, Cream Ale, and a Lager to name a few. The wheels are turning everybody, rest assured.

We are also working on a top secret WTF ingredient to put in our Gose. I'll be experimenting on the stove top next week to brew that one up. If it turns out well, we may submit it at this year's Labor of Love homebrew competition in the Weird S*** category. Yes, that's the name of the category.

We have a much needed vacation coming up soon, so I will probably not post much until the middle of June. We are heading to Portland and Seattle for a week to recharge the batteries and celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. It's no coincidence that the Pacific Northwest is one of America's pilgrimage sites for brewers and beer lovers! I'll try to take some notes and report back on these Texans' experience in that corner of the world.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

North Texas Firkin Fest 2015

On April 25th, New Main Brewing traveled a whopping 4.7 miles to the North Texas Firkin Festival a few weeks ago. Let me begin our review with a Public Service Announcement for the fine folks in charge of event scheduling in Arlington, Texas:

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY CAN’T WE HAVE MORE BEER FESTIVALS IN ARLINGTON?! Arlington is a great centrally located city with multiple large venues, a great downtown district that is only getting better, and parks coming out of their ears. Everyone and their mom knows where Six Flags and AT&T Stadium is! Why wouldn’t it make sense to have beer festivals here on at least a monthly basis?

Whew, that feels better. Sorry to yell, but this festival had to have been the most fun we have attended to date, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why most festivals choose their locations at polar ends of DFW. We used a ride sharing app and spent a grand total of $20 getting to and from the venue, being Arlington residents. The NTXFF had several things going for it: it was relatively small, it had amazing rare offerings, and many of the brewers were on hand to chat with.

Even though this festival was smaller than some well-known and well-loved annual celebrations, there were plenty of beer enthusiasts on hand to sample the bevy of brews. With most of DFW’s best loved breweries represented, a tourist passing through the Metroplex would have walked away from the event with an excellent sample of the leaps and bounds we have made as a brewing and craft beer loving community.

Each brewery brought two “firkins” to offer thirsty patrons. For those who are not familiar, a firkin is a rare version of a commercially available beer that usually has a unique flavoring or aging agent added for complexity. Firkins began primarily as real ale,and rather than being infused with CO2 for carbonation, the beer is allowed to naturally ferment in the serving vessel (a small keg or cask, about 10 gallons) without filtering. This does a few things. It makes the beer a little less carbonated than its normal version. Since it is served straight from the cask, it is also unfiltered and typically a little cloudy. These and a few other factors contribute a very smooth mouthfeel, almost a chewiness to the beer. Normally serving at or just below room temperature also allows more flavor to come through.

Most pubs and breweries add things like fruit, liquor, or coffee to their firkins to accentuate the flavors in the base beer. For example, Rahr & Sons brought one of their most popular firkins - Iron Joe, a coffee bean infused version of their Scottish Ale called Iron Thistle. It’s not uncommon to see vanilla, bourbon soaked oak chips, cherries, or even candy in a firkin.

Others also take the opportunity to go back to the roots of cask ale by offering a true English style real ale. Community Beer Co.’s already stellar Public Ale was placed in a firkin with a variety of UK hops for the true British drinking experience. With many folks screaming for the most extreme this or the hoppiest that, it is refreshing to return to a simple and eloquently executed example of the original cask offerings.

Not that we aren’t interested in the extreme or weird beers out there. On the extreme end, it’s tough to beat Peticolas Brewing’s Sledge Hammer. Let me tell you, it is aptly named. A big honkin’ version of their already potent crowd favorite Velvet Hammer, this TRIPLE Imperial Red Ale boasts 11.5% alcohol by volume and enough bitterness to balance out the massive amount of malt required to hit double digit ABV. This beer was amazing from start to finish. And then 3 more times.

Now, we are not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t drink. We were fortunate enough to be gifted extra tasting tickets, so we were able to try nearly every one of the 30 offerings served up. While we didn’t care for some and others blew our socks off, our tastes are our own and I’m sure nothing like yours. This is why beer festivals are great. There is so much variety that you are bound to stumble upon something great that you would never have thought you would like. Enter the Collective Brewing Project from Fort Worth.

We visited The Collective several months ago, and we were charmed by their great old building, giant Jenga, contagious smiles, and great sour/funky ales. When we saw them on the list of breweries for NTFF, we thought we should definitely stop by and see what they brought. They had a Brett & Citra dry-hopped version of their tasty and refreshing Petite Golden Sour that was puckering enough to cleanse the palate after some other heavy hitters. But then we tasted what I’m certain is being served in heaven at this moment. Their American Sour Red is a special take on a Flanders Red that was aged in cabernet barrels and finished off in the firkin with Brett lambicus bacteria to further sour & funk the beer up. This…was…perfection. I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of sours, but weeks after drinking this beer I still find myself daydreaming about the perfect balance of wine-like flavors, subtle but solid malt backbone, tart and dry finish, and what I assume drinking silk would feel like.

As I mentioned before, we were able to grab many different beers to taste at this festival, but we kept coming back to this beer as our clear favorite. With Sledge Hammer a close second and many other great offerings ranking shortly thereafter, we have to tip our hats to the relative youngsters on the DFW beer scene. The Collective Brewing Project’s American Sour Red was the best-in-show in our minds. We will seek this beer out wherever we can find it. If well-balanced funky sours are up your alley, we think you should too.

Today's Main Break: Sours are becoming very popular here in the states. A common misconception is that brettanomyces is the bacteria souring the beers, but that honor belongs to lactobacillus, pediococcus, and a variety of other beer critters. Once you get comfortable with the idea of sour beer, a whole new and amazingly diverse world of beer is at your disposal!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stewards of the Craft

I recently completed a brew session with a couple of first-timers. These guys were the caricature of the modern homebrewer. Their enthusiasm and vigor reminded my why I love making beer. What they lacked in knowledge was offset by the desire to experience this magical procedure in which one turns perfectly good food into even better beer.

I was pleasantly surprised and frankly encouraged when they showed up with notepads and laptops to record each step of the brew. As we entered each phase of the mash, boil, etc., one of them scratched off simple instructions and/or temperature observations while the other pressed the homebrew store manager and me for our opinions and thoughts. These guys recognized and seized a golden opportunity to pick up first-hand knowledge from actual homebrewers. And better yet, they wrote it all down!

It got me thinking back to my first brew on the stove of our rent house, kit recipe in one hand, plastic spoon in the other, and oh... the aroma! I glanced at a few YouTube videos, read an article or two, and came to the conclusion that if I was at a loss for what to do next, surely the recipe would guide me along the path to righteous beer. While it wasn't the worst thing I've ever made, it certainly wasn't award-winning. If I had taken better notes of that session, I could probably pinpoint at which stage(s) I strayed from ideal practices. However, my confidence arrogance yielded a typical first batch that only its creator could love, and that remains the simple truth about the origins of my brewing journey.

I did not know who these first-timers where before we began the batch. They mentioned to the shopkeepers earlier that week that they were interested in participating in a brew session that the store typically hosts every weekend that folks want to brew, and I happened to have a free Saturday. We decided to brew a clone of the ever-popular Fuller's ESB straight out of the Clone Brews book. We made minor hops substitutions based on the store's inventory and adjusted the quantities for a 9 gallon yield (no way I was walking away without some beer!). In a sense, this was session a first for me as well, having only done 5 gallon and smaller batches thus far.

We had a successful brew and walked away with right at 9 gallons of fermentable wort - I took 4 and left them a standard 5 gallon yield. They were remarkably upbeat throughout the experience, and their passion for craft beer and this new frontier of homebrewing drove them right through to the end.

Homebrewers are a tight-knit community. Anybody can enjoy a well-crafted beer, but those of us who take it upon ourselves to create this beer are a rare breed. We come from many different backgrounds, have very different opinions on brewing, and at times we don’t have a whole lot in common with one another. However, one bond that ties us all together is our love for the craft. No matter what we are making, it is our effort to make it the best we can that unifies us all.

I read an article recently on the very popular online resource in which a homebrewer shared his origin in the craft and extolled the virtues of having a proper mentor. It's a short fun article, so go read it. I believe it is imperative for newcomers to find a seasoned brewer and learn all they can from them. Experience is a much better teacher than YouTube. There are whole libraries of books written on the science and art of brewing, but if I may go Texan on y'all for a moment, all that book-learnin' don't mean squat if you ain't actually doin' it!

Get your equipment dirty. Experience a boil-over. Miss your target gravity. Learn how to overcome the many adversities that sneak up on us once in a while. Some of the best Brewers out there aren't just good at coming up with recipes, but they are people who can think on their feet and turn a potentially disastrous brew day into a success.

Brewing good beer is much more than following a recipe. It means knowing the quirks of your setup, knowing and constantly testing your limits, good note-taking, and most importantly sharing this great craft with anyone who wants to know more about it. If anyone you know has expressed an interest in brewing, plan a brew day with them and share the gift.