Friday, November 26, 2004

Sweetwater Festive Ale

While I was perusing the Beverage Resort in Kennesaw after Thanksgiving dinner shopping at the Publix next door, I spotted a familiar name with an unfamilar brew, Sweetwater Festive Ale. I had never caught it before, mostly because they only brew one batch (55 bbl) per year and I hadn't learned of its existence until working at Sweetwater this past summer. It seems that only select restaurants get the opportunity to tap a keg of the stuff due to the limited production.

About the beer...

Nice and dark, slightly amber hued with a head slightly darker than Coke poured from a glass bottle. The aroma is a little smoky with definite evidence of the typical Sweetwater hops concoction. Medium bodied and dry, somewhere near a porter but not quite as smooth textured as the porters I prefer. It's got a spiciness to it from cinnamon and mace, as read from the bottle label, but friends that have tried former versions say it's toned down a little from previous years. Bitterness from the hops lingers a little, definitely more than their pale ales like the Sweetwater 420. Flavor is slightly sweet from a caramel malt with a dark roastiness (chocolate malt?). Leaves a lingering barley flavor on the palate, quite pleasant but I also like to eat barley. If I had a bar, I'd offer bowls of barley much like old bars served pretzels. I'd guess that the alcohol content is around 7-8% from a totally non-scientific analysis.

I like the beer but I feel like the Sweetwater brand needs to be a little more bold with their product line. There was talk this summer of ending the ESB, formerly known as the Sweetwater Ale, which is probably my second favorite of their beers, just behind Sweet Georgia Brown. Their 420 is good, a beer that supposedly pulls in about 60-70% of their business. I think the 420 is a great, everyday beer, especially for cheap beer drinkers that are trying to wean themselves away from shitty beer. But it seems like they're a little scared to take a risk and put out a truly cutting-edge beer. Perhaps the southeast market is too fickle for such a venture or perhaps sales of the 420 are good enough. I didn't do much, but I helped make their batch of Imperial Stout this past summer, a beer to celebrate Georgia changing their content laws but I never found a place that carried it thanks to the fact that they limited distrbution to kegs. I felt like it was a move in the right direction, but perhaps at least a limited bottled distribution would have been called for, especially in a special 750-mL edition.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Nimbus Rye PA

We hit Nimbus last night. Nimbus is the largest craft brewery in Arizona, and most definitely the best. In the 5+ years that I've lived here, their pub has gone from a 12-foot lunch counter awkwardly positioned next to their loading dock serving nachos and microwave pizza, to a beautiful open-air space with a cool antique bar (c. 1920, I'm guessing), sleek, contemporary seating and tables (I know that sounds strange, but it works) and a full menu.

The beer, however, has always been good. Last night I had their seasonal ale, a "Rye PA", which is made with 10% rye and heavily hopped. Very nice, crisp, dry taste. The rye isn't overpowering, but rather sits quietly at the back of your palette reminding you that there is just something a little different.

This is only the second rye beer I've ever had, the first being the Quality Rye at Portland's Lucky Labrador. Nimbus's brew is much more hoppy and IPA-like (hence the name, I guess)...which I prefer.

Maybe I'll have to try my hand at some unconventional grains before this year's brewing season is out...

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Atlanta Unfriendly to Homebrewers

I hate shopping online. There's something about seeing and touching the merchandise that's much more satisfying than reading a description of an item. Then there's that whole instant gratification deal and the spontaneity factor that you don't get from the World Wide Web. And who wants to pay for shipping, not that it wasn't embedded in the prices at the walk-in store, but at least you can pretend you're getting a deal when the shipping price is not in black and white right in front of your face. And it's more expensive than the sales tax I would pay so there goes that argument.

Up until about 6 months ago, I had a homebrew shop that was conveniently located between work and home and it's only 6 miles to work. A short commute by Atlanta standards and totally counterflow to traffic. But it seems that the owner became ill and eventually died. I never met him, I started shopping there after he became ill and a friend was kind enough to run the shop for him. When he finally died, the friend decided it wasn't lucrative enough and determined that records were too sloppy to provide the necessary data to potential buyers so he just ended up closing. I found out just a little too late, just after the liquidation sale. Too bad, but it's not like selection was that great to begin with. I think that location played a part in it's demise as well. It was in a dingy corner of an antiquated shopping center that is home to a Big Lots, a discount store called Fred's, and several consignment shops. Not exactly the prime location for business traffic but I'm sure the rent was a bargain!

I found a shop about 30 miles away and I tried using them once, but 30 miles in Atlanta traffic just don't cut it for the Chris-meister. It was cleaner than Marietta Homebrew Supply and had better selection, but it just doesn't seem worth it. I'll just ruin the fun of shopping and order online unless something closer opens up.

I tried two websites, Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies. I put the same order in both and compared totals. Almost exactly the same. I ended up ordering from Northern Brewer, mostly because I was hoping shipping time would be less thanks to the relative proximity. For all I know, there could be better suppliers. If you know of others or have good/bad/horror story experiences, leave a comment!

Here's to technology!

Monday, November 22, 2004

IBU for Dummies

After posting yesterday, I set off to the kitchen to make this year's IPA.

(I am still debating whether or not to post recipes here. Part of me wants to throw them out there, open-source style. Another part of me entertains the fantasy of opening a brewery one day.)

Anyway, I set out to make my IPA, and being the (ahem) highly trained scientist that I am, I wanted to aim for a particular level of bitterness: slightly higher than most commercially available IPAs, but not ruin-your-pallete-for-the-rest-of-the-night bitter, either, a la Stone's excellent Ruination IPA.

As it turns out, this means exactly somewhere in the region of 60-70 international bitterness units (IBU).

Calculating IBU is tricky, because in addition to knowing the alpha acid content of your hops, you need to have some idea of the percent utilization, which is a function of both the specific gravity of the boil and the amount of time each hop addition spends in the boil.

Two things made this a lot easier. The first was the wine thief I bought that makes sampling the wort for a quick hydrometer reading quite easy (I took my sample just as everything was dissolved, but before it started boiling) and the second was this handy online calculator that enables you to input the relevent data and spits out your IBU estimate. I ran to the computer and had what I needed before the pot started rolling. Pretty cool.

We'll see how it turns out in about 4 weeks...

Hey everybody!

I would say that I've been driven to the drink by an unfortunate series of events that has limited my source of happiness to small molecules that provide solace via mental impairment but that's simply not true. I probably could say something like that considering some of the stuff that goes on in my extended family... for example, I joke that my mom works at the jail just to maintain a regular relationship with my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. but it's still just not true. I could say that I am genetically inclined to adult beverages thanks to a thoroughbred lineage of alcoholics on both sides of my family. That one probably is true, hence the predicaments that the aforementioned extended family members tend to find themselves in.

But to be honest, I think I'll have to blame my inclinations towards the amber-hued nectar of the gods on the fact that I just fucking like beer. Not just any beer, but pretty much all beer. Hell, I'd even drink that crap they call the "King of Beers" if there really were no alternatives to horsepiss. You never wondered why they chose the horse as their mascot? Yeah, "mascot."

I'll mostly have to blame my preferences for the more expensive section of the beer case on the fact that I started my obsession at the local brew pub, the Atlanta Bier Garten (rest in peace). I swear to this day that I have had only one or two other beers that even came close to the Bier Garten Alt. Perhaps the fact that it is currently unavailable has exalted it's status in my personal beer rankings, but the point is that after swearing beer off thanks to the flavor of beer made with god damn rice and then rekindling your beer experience a second time with such superior beer tends to ruin your palate for the better.

I think it also helped that beer made a comeback in the southeast at about the same time that I started drinking the stuff. Not necessarily at the time we turned 21 thanks to the hotties at the Bier Garten, huh Brian?

This is already longer than I expected it to be. For a little about my personal life, I teach in a public high school. More than enough reason to drink. I live in the metro area of Atlanta, Georgia, the most rootin'-tootin'-est city in the US of A! At least they had the sense to up the beer alcohol content to 15% this summer. I've been able to sample some of the finer beers thanks to that little piece of legislation and I got to help make the first legal batch of high alcohol content beer at Sweetwater Brewing Company, an opportunity that would not have arisen without the generous built-in vacation schedule associated with my job. I still think that getting them to sell beer on Sunday in Georgia would be harder than getting them to let gay people get married.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

By way of introduction...

...and perhaps a bit of explaination...

I started this site back in August, then promptly began to neglect it. An all-too-frequent tale in the blogosphere.

I do, however, have a pretty good excuse. For the past few months, I have been working like a madman to finish my PhD at The University of Arizona. My dissertation is entitled "Nicotinic modulation of cerebral microvascular permeability", and I defended it on Novemeber 12.

What does this have to do with beer?

Absolutely nothing. And that's the point.

I've been a devoted consumer of God's gift for more than a few years. I had the good fortune of coming of age around the same time that the microbrewery revolution really started to take hold in my my home town. And I've been homebrewing since a bunch of my friends got together and bought me a starter kit for my 21st birthday.

In other words, I love beer. I love to drink it, make it, talk about it, and drink it. I love the history of it, the art of it, the culture of it...but mostly, I consider having a pint or two of the good stuff with friends at the end of the day to be one of the most simple and sublime pleasures life has to offer.

I also enjoy writing, and have been doing the blog thing for a while now. So, I thought that starting a beer blog would be the natural marriage of these interests. We'll see how it goes. I'm hoping for this to become an open, informal forum in the spirit of the blogosphere for all things beer-related. I'm especially interested in American microbrews and homebrewing, but posts and comments need not be limited to that.

I have a co-blogger, but I will let him introduce himself. I am also open to others joining the team, if you feel you have a contribution to make. As this is a side project to a side project, I could probably use some help keeping content flowing. Not to mention in site design, which at the moment is less than I would like it to be.

That's enough for now. Stay tuned.


OK, THIS is our logo...
This is our logo, designed by Chris...if I can just figure out how to get it in the right place...