Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lucky Bucket's BBQ Party, Children of The Corn, Brewday Saturday, RRBC Meeting Monday

Last Friday was Lucky Bucket's BBQ party shindig at their brewery in Papillion.  There was a homebrew contest and a whole lot of music, beer and Red Zone BBQ.  Representing like champs, the Railroaders showed up with 8 different home brewed beers to share at the event.  I brought out my Honey Ale, Jeff Conrad had an excellent English Brown and English IPA, Vinie had his Witbier, Tom brought a "Mo-Wheat-O" beer, a Watermelon IPA and the club brought out two of our group beers.  The Golden Spike Watermelon Belgian Blonde and the Pink Spike "Cosmopolitan" beer.  There were a few other brewers there but no other clubs really showed up in force other than a member of the S.O.B.s who we accepted as one of our own.  Nice guy but I forgot his name already.  He brought an awesome blueberry beer that was very tasty.

The evening started off with hordes of thirsty Lucky Bucket fans pouring through the entrance to the back parking lot where the DJ had songs playing through loudspeakers.  There was a ton of Lucky Bucket beer on tap, plenty of SWAG to buy, lots of beanbag lawn games,  and our homebrew on tap for everyone to enjoy.  We noticed fairly quickly that the masses converged upon our tent with quite a bit of enthusiasm.  Everyone there was really friendly and loved our beer.  It was great to hear so many awesome comments and critiques of what we had created.  One of the best parts of being a homebrewer if you ask me.

As you can see, there was quite the line for homebrew.  We ended up running out of beer well before we could get samples out to everyone there.  Next year we'll have to bring more.  Overall I think things ran fairly smoothly.  Except for the contest portion of the event.  Now I'm not on here to complain at all, because I really loved the event as a whole.  I had an awesome time and got exactly what I was hoping for as far as the event went in general.  I just think that something could have been done about how the contest was organized for the homebrewers.  It really made things a bit lopsided for brewers who were actually "in the running" for winning and weren't stationed down next to the voting bucket.  I really wasn't pushing my beer too much to people and in fact told people to "make sure you vote for whoever you like."  I'm not sure of a good solution, but an unmanned bucket to drop tickets in at the end of the tables didn't really seem like a good way to go.  I witnessed several of the homebrewers there standing over the bucket several times during the competition and "suggesting" people vote for their beer and even helping them write out tickets.  I also witnessed a female who thought it was "oh so funny" to write out several tickets and drop them into the bucket to vote several times.  Now.  I am not sure which brewer this person was voting for, if it even mattered, or if they were the winner.  But, I do know that there wasn't really anyone there to watch over the bucket to make sure things were legit.  So I can pretty much shrug the competition off as a "hey we kind of want to do this but we're not going to take it too seriously" type of contest.

All of this being said.  I did try the winners beer and believe it was fully deserving of winning the contest.  I do know that several other beers were just as good and maybe a couple were even better.  But I don't want anyone to think that the person who won (don't even know his name but he was a nice guy) wasn't making good beer.  He definitely was.  I just would like to see things organized a bit better next year if possible.  Anyway, there's my rant.  I hope it doesn't make you lose hope in humanity.  I know that it's probably just something that needs a little more attention for next year and it'll be great.  With the chance to brew a beer at Lucky Bucket you made, that's an awesome opportunity for homebrewers.  So definitely a great thing they're doing.  Back to the fun stuff!

So, as I have previously stated.  I haven't always been a huge fan of the Lucky Bucket library of beers in the past.  I wanted to make sure I went through and tried as many beers as I could that night to give them my honest opinion.  Beers change over time and develop as breweries develop.  I must say I found a winner that night in their seasonal "Children of the Corn" beer.  It was really, really good.  I would say that this was my favorite of the night.  This beer gets a 6.9/10 for me and is a great drinkable brew.  Definitely something you should try out if you have the chance.  I also had the lager and my favorite of their offerings the Certified Evil stout.  Anyone who hasn't had the Certified Evil and is a fan of darker beers should go try some when you have the chance.  It is a 7.3/10 for me as far as barrel aged Stouts go.  This beer tastes great with excellent malty fullness, but can sneak up on you.  I have to say I'm still not sold completely on their lager though.  It may just be my taste.  But with other beers there I did like it didn't make it hard to find something to enjoy.  I didn't get a chance to have the IPA that night, but I figure I'll get around to trying it again eventually.  Luckily Tom's wife was driving us home so I didn't have to worry too much about feeling a little warm and happy with my beverages.  I switched to water halfway through the night to ensure I wouldn't keep drinking beer and wish I hadn't the next day.

Super fun times and the barbecue was amazing.  Red Zone really had some good food there.  I might be biased though because we go there quite often for barbecue anyway.

Saturday was brew day.  I ended up having some of the Railroaders over to make some beers at Browar Harvat.  I brewed a Belgian Trippel and my first attempt at a recipe for an Oktoberfest.  Both of which are bubbling away in my basement right now.  The other guys made a few other beers, but I can't remember off the top of my head what they were.

I broke my rules a little bit and ended up enjoying some beer during the brew day.  I don't usually like to drink beer and brew at the same time as I always end up making far better beer when I'm not half cocked.  Both beers ended up just fine though since I once again switched to water part way through my brew day.  During the brewing process I went in the back yard and checked on my hops again and noticed that I'm starting to get some cones on my bines now.  I'm really looking forward to making a big wet hop beer in September.  Can't wait.

I started brewing at 8AM on Saturday and didn't get through with my second all grain batch until 6:45 that night.  I was fairly exhausted.  But I'm glad I made it through my brew day keeping things sanitary and going through all of the processes I have learned from other brewers and from Mr. Palmer's book.

Sunday ended up being a "hang out with the wife day" and we got to go out to Mahoney to enjoy the water park there.  Lots of fun stuff to do there, not beer related I know.  But check it out if you like wave pools and waterslides.

Monday we had our Railroaders meeting at Goldeez restaurant and bar.  The venue was very welcoming and had a lot of great brews available on tap and in bottles.  We had a really big group of members show up.  Its great to see our club getting bigger and bigger.  Lots of new brewers to hang out with and bounce ideas off of.  Not to mention tons of new beers to sample!

The style for our meeting was Farmhouse Ales.  Lots of Saisons to try and some Beer De Gardes as well.  I brought a club beer I fermented for the "Best Damn Beer" competition.  This is our monthly open category competition.  But since it was a group beer I entered it as an exhibition beer.  I brewed and fermented it but technically the recipe was the clubs so I didn't want it to count for anything other than a good shared brew.  The evening went great and I ended up not having to take any leftover beer home.  Always a good sign.

Tonight I'm looking forward to kegging up a Pale Lager, a Red Rye Pale and my farmhouse ale (didn't have it ready in time for competition.)  That will free up 3 fermenters for me so I can brew again this weekend.  I'm scheduled to make an American Brown with David as a collaboration brew.  In my next blog post I'll let everyone know how it goes.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sunfest Recap, Bottling Hop God at NBC, Brewing a Saison, Hop Garden, Lucky Bucket BBQ!

Last weekend at Sunfest was a heatwave of fun.  Well at least most of it was.  I love the Beer Corner USA area and the vibe of "we have worldly good beer" that I get when I walk into Beertopia.  Getting there early around 2:15ish we setup at the Railroaders tent.  I tapped my keg of Honey Ale and started making my rounds to go check out what I'd like to drink later.  It was H-O-T outside!  It made things a little rough for a larger man like myself throughout the day, and the perspiration showing through my shirt was proof of how much I must love brewing and beer in general.  I admit I switched to water after about the first 4 hours and even before that I only really sampled beers that truly captured my attention. Overall we were treated very well by the staff and the crew hosting the event.  They put a lot of effort into ensuring entertainment, food, and plenty of good beer was on hand.  The crowd seemed a bit thinner than usual for a big beer event.  I would definitely say that was because of the heat.  Luckily there were plenty of die hard beer lovers there to make the day still feel like a festival.  I noticed that many of the population wandered inside and filled up Huber-Haus and Crescent Moon to get away from the heat.  Which can't be a terrible thing since there was plenty of great beer inside and good food.  I know a couple of us went in to have food and took shifts manning the tent.  This made the day go by easier.

The club is thriving right now and I think it really showed at this event.  We had so many members there that there were more than enough Railroaders to man the taps we had.  I was able to go sample the beers from the S.O.B.s (I always make it a point to do so because Phil and the crew always make excellent beers) and various other commercial brewers.  I think that the public is really responding to the homebrew clubs at these events more and more.  While I saw plenty of people trying out the commercial beer, there was always a healthy line of beer enthusiasts at the homebrew club tents.  We make some crazy and fun beers that people may not get to try elsewhere, and many times will never get to try again.  Small batch beers make a unique and fun draw to the homebrew club tents, like our "Pink Cosmo" which was a beer flavored with purees to match the flavor of a "cosmo" or the "Beat it Nerd" Citra Pilsner.  Which Chris and Kyle made to side with a ring of Nerds Candy powder stuck to your glass to imitate the salt on a Margarita glass.  We even had a Watermelon IPA there that was run through a randall full of sliced watermelon.  It was very tasty and just the type of summer beer you would hope to find at an event like this.  My point is:  I think that the event coordinators are noticing that we are doing a great job and we have become something for the public to look forward to just as much as the commercial beer companies.  It's pretty cool to have the opportunity to share too because the best way (in my opinion) to find out if your beer is any good, is to let the public drink it.  The reactions, ideas, and descriptions you'll get from beer fans is always a great resource to have as a homebrewer.  I think we're lucky to have the cooperation and welcoming attitude we do from events like Sunfest.

So after several more hot hours I went and had a few more beers and special releases.  Empyrean had a really excellent version of their Watchman IPA that was brewed with Belgian Yeast to make a fruity and very tasty Belgian version of the beer.  The guys at Empyrean are always coming over to talk with us at the homebrew tents and try out a lot of our beers too.  Another good example of local brewers that really help support the homebrewers and give great advice.  Soaring Wings had a new stout there that was really great.  At first you might think "why would you want to drink a stout when it's 98 degrees outside?!"  And I agree, that's not the most appealing thing in the world.  But John (Brewer from Soaring Wings) made it appealing with a great idea, he had vanilla bean ice cream to put in your glass and made Stout Floats out of your sample.  It was a very tasty way to have a stout.  I tried the beer with and without ice cream.  The flavors were much different but the beer was outstanding.

Overall I would say that if the weather wasn't a factor this event was well put together and it should have been a top notch event.  Not to say that it wasn't, but I wouldn't blame anyone involved just the weather for my experience.  As a "not so slim guy" I melt under the sun and I always sweat a lot even at the gym.  So A+ for execution but C- for the heat!  Ah well it just makes me look forward to the fall events like Oktoberfest and Extreme Beerfest.  I know I'm supposed to have video for this event, and I do have some.  I'll see what I can do to get it edited in the next few days.  Maybe we'll have a surprise before the weekend.

Sunday I woke up really early to bottle beer at Nebraska Brewing Company.  I have been on their bottling volunteer list for a while and Tyson will send out emails when he needs volunteers.  I agreed the moment I found out we'd be bottling barrel aged Hop God.  Being that barrel aged Hop God is one of the best, if not the best beer I have ever had in my life.  I will usually never turn down the opportunity to go help.  You end up with a couple bottles for yourself once the batch comes out and they always end the day with a ton of food fresh from the kitchen for everyone to eat.  Not only that, but for the rest of the day while you are there you can have as much NBC beer on tap as you like.  After Sunfest I was very much beered out, but after having a "Hop God Memosa" (which is as heavenly as it sounds) I was ready to go.

We bottled up the Hop God and after over a thousand fills we were done.  All the beer from the next batch will have been filled by me.  Which is pretty cool if you think about it because everybody will have opened a bottle I filled somewhere in the United States.  We made our way out and had lunch.  Tons of great pizza, pasta, and plenty of Cardinal Pale Ale.  Which is my favorite pale ale on the planet.  The Nebraska Brewing Company crew always treat you well and are very thankful.  They are definitely my favorite brewery in Omaha and I can't say enough about how cool they are to anyone who asks questions, or wants to be a part of what they do.

Monday I brewed a Saison.  it was about the most tragically awful wort creation process I have ever had doing all grain yet.  I missed my temps and they were low, I sparged wrong, I overshot my gravity by 4 points.  Ah well.  At the end of the day I am not going to be satisfied unless I hit my gravity spot on or by one point.  But I hear from other brewers that I'm an idiot and 4 points is pretty good.  So, whatever.  I'm sure it'll turn out just fine.  I received a healthy pitch of yeast from my friend and fellow Railroader Tom Malowski.  The fermenter is still going like crazy and I just started raising the temps today.  Overall Tom said to me the other day "don't worry as much about wort creation as you do about a proper fermentation process, as long as you're clean and sanitary it will always still make beer."  Wise words from Tom I believe.

My hops in the back yard are finally starting to reach the top of my gazebo!  This spring I decided to build my own hop gardens in the back yard.  When Tiff and I bought the house we had acquired a nice big gazebo but it didn't have a canvas or roof on it.  It also had a broken leg on it.  I went to the hardware store and bought some supports and we bought some "hawaiian looking" reed fencing that we converted into a roof for it.  Now when we have people over and want to bust out the tiki torches it fits right in.  But the best part was when I started digging holes and cutting out grass.  MAN, was my wife stoked when I started doing that.  (hahaha.)  Anyway, the result was several small gardens separated by 2x4s and a bunch of small rhizomes were planted that I didn't think would amount to much.

As you can see, they have really taken off.  They're already up on the roof and I'm getting little hop cones forming on some of the branches.  Pretty exciting to me.  I am looking forward to making a wet hop beer with all my own homegrown hops in a few months.  I have Horizon, Columbus, Centennial, Cascade and Galena growing.  All of them are doing really good except for the Horizon which is just now waking up and starting to climb.

For my last portion today I want to bring up Lucky Buckets "Beer-B-Q" thing they're hosting on Friday.  I'm bringing some beer out for it and I am keeping an open mind about things.  I have heard that Lucky Bucket has begun working on improving their quality and I have also heard a lot of good things about some of their new seasonals.  I admit I haven't always been pro-LB and their lager, which used to be really great, has fallen short for me in recent attempts to enjoy it.  While their lager might not be my thing, I really want to give them a good shot this weekend and try as many of their new beers as possible.  It'd be great to be pleasantly surprised.  I guess we'll see.

Thank you for taking the time to read this far into my mass of thoughts.  Hope to see you all at the Lucky Bucket Barbecue this weekend.  Come out and hang with me at the Railroaders tent!

Friday, July 13, 2012

The purpose of this Blog, Homebrewing, Sunfest and Sexy Betty

Today I decided to start a brewing blog.  Why?  Because it sounds like a good plan for me since I have about nine million ideas that fly through my A.D.D. head every day.  Tons of superior ideas that pretty much blow everything you're thinking about right now out of the water.  I figure I should enlighten everyone about how brilliant I am, and how insanely good my taste is in beer is.....

Well, if you could tell from that previous statement I am a bit of a "confident individual" at times.  I do love what I love, and dislike what I dislike.  This isn't going to be a "beat around the bush" kind of blog.  I am very straight forward and love to talk about things in my own perspective.  I also love to hear others perspectives too.  So one thing I hope people do when they read this, is tell me what they think on any of the subjects I write about.  As right as I might think I am sometimes, I always like to hear others' views.  So definitely leave comments especially if you think I am full of "garbage" about any specific subject or opinion.  Okay then, moving onward:

Since brewing and beer making is a big hobby of mine.  This seemed like the best course of action to enhance my enjoyment of the hobby.  I started this journey far later than most.  I'm 31 years old and I bought my first homebrewing kit last July.  I joined the Railroaders Brew Club last October.  So I have only been a homebrewer for a little over a year.  I have had a ton of hobbies over the years.  Video games, paintball, modeling.  Out of all the nerdy hobbies I have had, nothing challenges me or brings me the enjoyment I get that I do with homebrewing.  I love making beer, I love sharing it with anyone and everyone who wants to try it, and I love talking about it 24/7.  My wife, is a VERY patient woman.  And I thank God every day that she can deal with my obsession.

After some big purchases and about a grand later.  I had a pretty decent setup in my apartment.  The only problem was I had the living room in the apartment absolutely filled with beer.  I had boxes stacked up half way to the ceiling and practically ruined the stove in our apartment from making extract brews.  The day Tiff and I bought a house, she breathed a sigh of relief to have a home and kitchen free of brewing.  She banished me to the garage, which to this day she cannot park in because of my home brewery.  But I think trading a garage and a basement office for an entire house is a fair deal to me.  She gets to decorate and I get to brew.  We're both happy.  (Even though her decorating means I get to hang curtains, shelves and move 400 lb. armoires into the house.  But who's complaining I get to brew!)  I then proceeded to buy more gear for an all grain setup.  Made several beers and attended several events with the Railroaders.  Learned a lot from brewers and breweries in the area.  If there's one thing I can say about Omaha.  It is that homebrewing and beer in general is thriving here.  Tons of new people are enjoying the hobby every day.  And with the resources we have around here, it's not hard to start making good beer in a hurry.  Don't get me wrong.  I have made some awful, TERRIBLE, beer in my day.  I have screwed up Witbiers and over lemoned a lemon shandy to the point of near "cough-syrup" like flavors.  But even after throwing out well over 20 gallons of beer thus far in my career I can confidently make most of what I set out to make and end up with good, tasty, homebrew.  A lot of this is due to clubs like the Railroaders that give homebrewers a place to start learning, and to friendly local professional brewers like Tyson Arp and Sam Riggins.  Who will invite homebrewers to brew with them and answer all of my stupid questions.

If you're a homebrewer looking for a place to start, here's a good resource in Omaha.

As a Railroader.  I can say we welcome any and all local homebrewers with open arms.  We have tons of great events, and we have a TON of fun.  If you want to engage with friendly, like minded homebrewers with the aim to improve while also kicking major ass....er I mean brewing good beer, then here you go.  Come out to an event.  Look for me or talk to any one of us in our Railroaders t-shirts and we will be glad to introduce you to homebrewing.  Heck, even if you decide it's not for you the worst that can happen is you get free beer out of the deal.  There is not a single event held by our club that does not include wonderful, shared, free, beautiful, homebrew.  Did I mention our meetings rock?

More on my life of beer nerdvana later.  I want to discuss this weekend.  Jumping forward with an incredibly smooth transition of subject matter.  On Saturday, July 14th Crescent Moon and Beertopia are putting on the Sunfest event in midtown Omaha.  I have made a 4.9% ABV 20 IBU Honey Ale Braggot for this event that I will be tapping for the first time.  I'm stoked to bring this honey beer (AKA braggot, you have to call it that or the purists will attack you with facts.  It happens, true story.) because it is only my 3rd beer I have ever kegged.  I recently purchased a bunch of kegs in a group buy with the Railroaders.  The first two didn't taste right and had some residual "funk."  So we will see if my overbearingly thorough cleaning and replacing of o-rings will make a difference for this brew.  I immediately went into quality control mode last week and washed the living bajeezus out of my kegs to make sure they were sanitary and cleaned to beyond restaurant standards.  There goes my O.C.D.  At least once I have this right I will not have to spend hours bottling anymore.  I hate bottling.  Most of you that brew can relate.  Those that don't yet, get ready for bottling because it's FUN! (sarcasm implied)

I know there are supposed to be about 90 billion breweries at this event.  So even if that number may not be accurate, you should still come out and enjoy in the festivities with me.  I'll be bringing my portable video camera with me and should have some footage to show of the event.  So check out my blog for updates with a new video in the next week or so.

You can check out the event online if you haven't bought your tickets at http://beertopiasunfest.com/
I'd add a really awesome picture of the Sunfest logo on here but their website stops you from stealing their images.  So I guess we'll just have to move on from here and talk about something else while we awkwardly don't have their awesome logo sitting on my blog site to help get you stoked about Sunfest.

Lastly, for my very first entry on my blog, I would like to hardcover this book with my review of the new "Sexy Betty" from Nebraska Brewing Company.  Here is what our table looked like at the brewery last night:

As you can see, the bottles themselves are a sight to behold.  Probably some of the coolest labeling I have seen on a beer.  The cutout design and the almost "wine like" appearance made you know right away you were holding on to something really special.  Once you poured the beer from the 22 you can immediately smell the sweetness of the malt and the undertones of the Cognac.  The taste was a perfect balance of the best qualities in the Betty series Imperial Stout mixed with just the right amount of Congac that didn't overpower you.  Definitely something you want to let linger on the palette to fully enjoy.  I would say this beer gets a 8.9/10 for me.  I know this is only my first beer review and this might be a little high to be handing out scores like this right away.  But even with many reviews coming ahead I can confidently say this beer deserves a score like this.  Having Weyerbacher Heresy, Goose Island Bourbon County, and even brewing my own Whiskey Barreled Stout I can appreciate this beer as it hits the nail on the head for not only giving me that warm, happy, distinct feeling that I have when I drink a fantastic beer.  But also for the presentation of the product which is so important to me.  As a Senior Marketing and Communications Specialist I will always be reviewing presentation of beer as much as taste and aroma.  There are plenty of beers that get this part right, and some that don't.  Weyerbacher Heresy is one of these.  Their beer is fantastic, but the label is absolute garbage.  Others like Lucky Bucket Lager really do a superior job with Marketing and presentation.  Yet some of their beers fall short to me.  You can look forward to my honest opinions on this in the future, and leave your own comments as to my conclusions.

But I digress....

This beer was limited to 30 cases in existence and each beer had been aged in 50 year old French Cognac barrels.  I was glad I was able to experience the release party at NBC last night because I would have been upset with myself had I not attended.  Having two bottles in my fridge is a good addition to my "special occasion beer" collection.  The taste was something I will not soon forget.

After drinking some Sexy Betty I proceeded to move on to the cask of Summertime Rye.  This beer was a 4.8% ABV American Pale Ale that had some great drinkability.  I only was able to enjoy one pint of this beer as I didn't want to overdo it last night.  Even though I wasn't driving I have found it's not a good plan to drink too much on a work night.  I can say that this beer was very citrusy and the Citra hops used gave it a very big nose.  The taste was very smooth and I found this to go down very fast.  On a scale of ten I would give this a 6.3/10 as a solid, drinkable pale ale.  I enjoyed it but I am still a huge fan of Cardinal in comparison.  But we'll talk about my love of Cardinal Pale Ale another time.

Well, at the end of this blog I just want to thank you for reading this far.  My mind shoots out plenty of content and I can write stuff like this quicker than I can sometimes complete thoughts.  So if anything doesn't make sense just know I'm not an English major and I hope I didn't make this too unreadable.  As for my opinions and statements.  These are truly my own.  So feel free to leave comments, and change my mind.  It's improbable, but certainly possible.  Have a great weekend.  -Bill