All posts by Mat O

The Bug is Back

There was a point about 4 years ago where I was homebrewing every two weeks, had multiple batches of kombucha active and had started to play with water kefir and sauerkraut. My kitchen started to look like a biology lab. Needless to say I was very much into fermentation. And then life happened. Luckily I always had time for at least one batch of one ferment or another, but my time was limited with moving to a new state, finding and then working a full time beer job and raising two children. Passionately pursuing the ins and outs of fermentation was no longer a priority. Call it luck or intuition, but moving to Eugene, OR was a boon for someone as into microbes as I am. We have 2 homebrew shops, roughly 15 breweries,  multiple distilleries, a world-class cider producer, an annual fermentation festival and a whole lot of people interested in all of the above. So while it took some time to shake out the larger life details, I can say with great pleasure that the urge to have fun with fermentation is back thanks to a few welcome additions. In part, the flame was lit by something spicy and new.

Kimchi!
For years I had steered clear of Korean food under the impression that it was a bit of the fiery side for me to tolerate. Luckily in recent years having known more families willing to enlighten me I got exposed to a few tasty side dishes that kindled my curiosity for the funky stuff. Admittedly I watch a lot of Maangchi on YouTube and after watching her integrate kimchi and other fermentation into yet another video I figured it was about time to try a batch for myself. Other than a few confusing moments of trying to scale back the recipe size and also guess at how many pepper flakes to hold off  things went really well. I like my cabbage well fermented so I did let it go considerably longer than she does, but all in all it wasn’t scary and I’ve been nibbling at it over the last few weeks to much delight. Using unfamiliar ingredients was enjoyable and reminded me to add foods I have on hand into products I had never really thought about before.

“Homegrown” Kombucha
I’ve been a lover of Kombucha for years now, but I never really took to getting to creative about my addition of flavors. I’m usually happy without much else in it although I am partial to adding lime and ginger slices upon bottling. In regularly visiting small local markets, I noticed commercial Kombucha producers adding an array of seemingly out-there ingredients such as chamomile, lavender, turmeric and hops. Being a lover of IPA  and realizing the small amount of hops I grow in my yard might work as a dry-hop turned out great in one batch. The herb garden we started last year provided a wonderful combo of mint and rosemary. Really what excited me was being able to walk out my door and start seeing (and tasting) homegrown fermentation creativity. The other thing that led to better and more frequent Kombucha is something I’d been meaning to do for years, but only recently felt the push to do – building a kegerator.

The Joys of Kegging
I’ve never hated bottling in the way that so many of my fellow homebrewers do. Perhaps it’s the love of seeing products from start to finish or the tangible feel of glass and the hiss of a well carbonated bottle being opened. All the romance aside, with the way my schedule and utter lack of time goes these days, I’ll reserve bottling for special occasions. I’ve been collecting used draft parts over the last two years knowing someday I’d have enough second hand soda kegs, spare regulators and other bits to throw something functional together. Realizing I could have homebrewed beer, kombucha, as well as packaging-free sparkling water at home was enough of a pull for me to seek out a deal on a chest freezer and finally put it all together. The amount of time I used to spend bottling homebrew and Kombucha really added up. Kegging takes a fraction of the time and takes far less floor space and setup. I was perpetually short on bottles, and given that I barely had time to brew, dumping any product due to lack of glass was a crime. It’s all this savings of time and space that has really been put back into experimentation and finding new techniques or products to make.

What’s next?
Because winter is thawing here, I’ve already got ideas going for what I can plant and have on hand in a few months to add to already existing ferments. Mostly some additional herbs to add to kombucha, a new variety of hop and possibly some vegetables to pickle. I’ve also gotten to homebrew considerably more recently and did my first lager. I am now plotting the next few months of beers to have on hand through seasons change. In the longer term, there’s a couple new-to-me ferments that I would like to take a crack at. The few real misos I’ve tasted have been mind-blowing, but something about working with koji is daunting. Someday I’ll get a proper miso and sake going, but until then, I’m just trying to keep the right amount of ferments on the counter going that won’t get my family to think I’ve lost it. While my temporary time away from frequent ferments was tough, I can say I’m glad the bug (really all the bugs) is back. Let me know in the comments what cool ferments you have going!

I’m back, but I also never left!

Hi! Just a quick update to let you all know I hope to resurrect this site from the dead. I’ve spent the last 2.5 years working at a brewery here in Eugene and haven’t needed this site in the way I intended, which is great! I’ve been writing for work as well and there’s a lot of content I’d like to publish that doesn’t make sense to do at work and I’d like to use this as an outlet. Sooner or later I’ll edit the site to reflect these changes as well as cross post some writing I’ve done for work. Talk to you soon!

RAHAHB

“Relax, and have a home brew”  – Charlie Papazian

Charlie has influenced my last few months here in Oregon for the better. Moving to Oregon, particularly Eugene, has made me consider and reconsider what I do on a daily basis in my beer career. Particularly with regards to my online presence, small as it may be. As it is, I have three or four articles mostly written that haven’t been published here because they either slam the public, or critique aspects of the industry and don’t really reflect (what I believe) is my holistic approach to this industry. I’ve been writing articles that go out within my home brew club, and have been putting together some presentations for the same, but I’m not attempting to gain traffic here by publishing outlandish articles simply to play devil’s advocate.

As a result I’ve been home brewing a lot, focusing more on trying to better understand the brewing process, and less on the industry side of things. I’ve been reading and re-reading books to help me through that process. Maybe I’ll put up an article on some literature that has really helped me thus far in the near future. In the meantime, I wanted to reinforce the fact that I use Twitter and Instagram frequently to put out little snippets here and there. Feel free to follow me on Twitter – Cascade_Kid, and Instagram – Cascade.Kid

 

HUB Lager
HUB Lager

Anger Among the Blinded

As you may have read on the internet recently 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Boise and soon to be Portland, sold their brewing company to AB InBev. The gut reaction of many consumers to this kind of thing is somewhere between indifference and vitriol. Some are angry about it being conglomerated, some are worried about quality decrease, and I think many others are under the impression that AB and other breweries buying up craft brewers is a very recent thing. I think it’s important to understand just how many “indie” breweries out there have “major label” ties and that time may be healing wounds after the initial blow back, along with inevitable new growth in a market less tapped into the sources of criticism.

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The Goose Island sale was probably the most anger driven in recent years. It was sold outright to AB InBev in 2011, but nobody on social media seemed to really cry foul until they had to wait in long lines for Bourbon County Brand Stout in new distribution territory at the end of 2013! The irony here is they signed a deal back in 2006 that would have west coast distribution through the Craft Brewers Alliance (made up of Redhook, Kona and Widmer and invested in by Anheuser Busch.) and nobody majorly blew up. The Chicago Tribune wasn’t surprised when they sold in 2011 , so why were so many consumers? It certainly didn’t seem to matter to CA consumers when my former place of work held an inaugural Bourbon County night earlier this year. It was one of the busiest events we’d ever hosted.

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Just last year Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City announced it would be selling a majority share to Duvel Moortgat.  The initial online reaction was mixed, but ultimately I think the fact that Duvel Moortgat’s biggest exports (Duvel, Maredsous, La Chouffe, etc) are associated with “craft beer” and didn’t produce the hate you see with an AB InBev purchase.  A year later you haven’t seen anyone spitefully drain-pouring Saison-Brett, mostly because it’s delicious.

Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY has had major label ties since day one, but that never really gets talked about. By the time us West Coasters had regular access to their beer they had already been fully absorbed into Duvel Moortgat in 2003. And just to further play devil’s advocate, in the last year they’ve had a run of co-branded beers with tv series Game of Thrones and I haven’t heard much rumbling about that other than people clamboring for bottles before the next episode.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you already know this information and just maybe, you forgave it. Maybe you already know Magic Hat and Pyramid are under someone else’s roof.  And you also know that Shock Top and Stella Artois are AB InBev products and Blue Moon is an SAB Miller product despite the claim that it’s “Craft Beer” right on the label . A cursory #craftbeer check at sites like Instagram demonstrates that many consumers haven’t bothered to read very far. Even now I’m sometimes surprised when I realize the product I’m drinking came from somewhere I didn’t think it should (remember when Firestone Walker owned/brewed Nectar Ales or the Mission St Trader Joe’s beers?). I’m sure there are countless more investments and ownerships that are under the radar and it’s only a matter of time before the next big “scandal” hits the internet. The fact is, it’s a small group of people who vitriolically carry the flag talking about these takeovers. Perhaps they feel the rug was pulled out from underneath their idea that every brewery was started by a “scrappy young artist gone brewer”. You only need to glance at the wine industry to realize money often begets success in these areas. The rest of the consumers not “in-the-know” are going to have access to a new product in their distribution territory that is delicious and they’re not reading labels or doing research anyway! And let’s be honest, if a consumer drinks a Bud Light the money is going to AB and that’s probably all they’re going to drink anyway. If they see a brand new beer called “10 Barrel Swill” and like it, they might just look into it and discover some awesome sour beers brewed by independent brewers they didn’t know about.

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The rub of all this information is not excusing the sale of breweries to AB InBev or other larger operations. Though I think everyone is entitled to make their dollar, at the end of the day I do my best to read labels and do my research and often look elsewhere when it comes to spending money that’s just going straight to a major corporation. Drinking local is extremely important, but I refuse to fall on the sword for a terribly brewed beer. However that’s another discussion entirely. What I’m really trying to drive home here is that you might need to do more research than you think to be certain you’re drinking local and independent. On top of that a lot of independently owned breweries still have private investors and are strictly motivated by profit, or at least it would seem sometimes. We need to pull the blinders off and realize that nothing is sacred. And if all else fails, let’s take some advice from Charlie Papazian and “relax and have a homebrew”. At least we can still brew our own.

The Report of My Death Was an Exaggeration

It’s been a while. Overall, this site was never meant to be a “blog” or anything specific, so I never feel the need to post without substance, but the spam-bots keep reminding me that the site exists.

The reason content has gotten derailed is that I moved from the SF Bay Area to Eugene, OR last month and I’ve had everything packed up in boxes. The BJCP photo project got slightly skewed with the recent release of the new BJCP guidelines, so I’ll be fixing those numbers and creating some more soon.

Since landing in Eugene I’ve had some awesome experiences. Most notably being invited to the Whiteaker Block Party through Ninkasi, which got us some VIP tours and access. My family and I also got to help out Agrarian Ales with their hop harvest at the end of August which was awesome! I’m heading to Corvallis tomorrow for Septembeerfest and to close out Corvallis beer week so I’m sure I’ll gather some content from that. In the meantime,  breathe deep and drink well!

Agrarian Ales

11A – Mild

About 8 weeks ago on a very rainy day I brewed an English Mild, arguably influenced by Morrissey.

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Realistically it was the recipe “Through a Mild Darkly” taken directly from the Zainasheff/Palmer book, “Brewing Classic Styles”. I brewed this specifically for my BJCP project because it’s not very easy to find packaged Milds in the US and despite the fact that I love hops, I admire this style of beer.  When Anchor Brewing released “Mark’s Mild” as a reaction to the apparent double IPA/hops craze we put it on draft in our bar and I fell in love with the approachability of a “dark beer” for our “light beer” patrons.

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My version of the recipe came out fairly dark, but has a nice rounded sweetness as I mashed above 156°. Estimated abv is around 3.14% and IBUs around 20. I pitched SAF-ALE US-05 and fermented at 68° and raised to 71° after a couple days. I bottle conditioned to a fairly low level, which gives it a nice soft bubble.

I’ve already got another BJCP beer homebrewed and ready to drink. In the meantime, check out the official 11A – Mild specs from BJCP

“Craft Lager” – Some Lessons on Tasting

A few weeks ago two friends that work in the beer industry, a Sommelier and I (Certified Cicerone) decided to punish our egos. We did a semi-blind tasting of 8 different “pilsner-style” beers comparing a new wave of “craft lagers” to each other, but threw in some mass-market lagers for painful fun. We knew the group of beers we were choosing from, just not which was which. The goal initially was simply to point out differences between them. Because we knew the lineup and knew some rice/corn-based beers were in there, it quickly turned into a scenario where we wanted to try and guess which beers were which. The tasting process itself wasn’t much to speak of, but the fact that none of us guessed more than 3 out of 8 correctly taught us a lot. Here are a few things we thought of during the process:

glasses

Go With Your Gut – Though I feel like this is something that has constantly been discussed before, it bears repeating. Aromatics in beer can sometimes dissipate quickly and the assessment needs to be made without too much swirling and thinking. I second guessed myself on several of the beers I was tasting, possibly because I went back and tasted them a second or third time. After revealing the beers I went back and looked at my notes. The aroma and mouthfeel descriptions I made initially should have led me to a better conclusion than I tricked myself into believing. I ignored my palate and was “guessing”. Which leads me to my next point…

 

Fully Blind is Better than Semi-Blind – Knowing what beers we were tasting was detrimental. After the first pass through the glasses I found myself looking at the lineup and guessing at what flavors I should be finding. “One of these should be ‘Corny’, and one of these should be full of Acetaldehyde” etc. In the end this threw me off my notes and persuaded me to taste flavors that were not actually in the beer.

 

This is Actually Difficult! – This isn’t like the Certified Cicerone test where you’re trying to pick between differing styles, all of these beers were within the first two BJCP categories. If we were doing this blind and strictly trying to pull out defects or flavor descriptors, this would probably have been more straightforward and not as noteworthy. Trying to guess which beers were which from nothing but sensory memory (sometimes from a long time ago) is difficult.

 

Where Does Quality Reside? –  This is a huge issue that I’m not going to tackle here, but if a “craft” lager doesn’t taste too dissimilar from a mass market lager, what exactly are we judging besides the label? There’s a strong case to be made that new craft brewers have a lot to learn and if we’re really judging beer quality and not the brand, a lot of the beers tasted in this panel would have been out-scored by macro beers.

We hope to do this sort of thing on a more regular basis, and as we learn, I hope to post more similar entries.

13C – Oatmeal Stout

Spotted some Firestone Walker at the store and was inspired to use the rest of my flaked oats for a homebrew. 13C is the BJCP category for Oatmeal Stout and so far my beer falls within the stats.

I am using some East Kent Goldings for hopping and Maris Otter for the base malt. Unfortunately it wasn’t worth an hour of driving to get some British yeast, so I’ll use the US-05 that I’ve got.

Pretty easy to spot the missing ingredient!

13C

BJCP Journal – 1A, 1B, 1C

In the process of studying for my Certified Cicerone® exam I started learning BJCP style guidelines the best way I knew how: By drinking them! Whether it was visiting the German beer bar down the road, or sulking out of the grocery store carrying some canned American Lite Lager, I got firsthand experience and started to get some funny shots along the way. I will continue to add to (and improve upon) this project along the way. To open it up, here’s 1A, 1B, 1C.

1A, 1B, 1C