Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aging beer. Proper storage and things to consider.

Taking the advice from an employee at a local brewery, we decided to make an attempt at aging beer. At first, we thought it was a simple matter of putting the bottles on racks and leaving them for at least a year. But after reading into it more, and asking the advice of the brewery, it was suggested to store the beer upright due to many different factors.

Last year was the first year I made the attempt and realized after drinking the one beer that survived my cravings during the months that the wait is worth it. Beer can be aged just like wine. It's obvious that if you're buying a beer to age, you probably enjoy it. But make sure you buy enough to drink some now, and enough to put some away. There are just as many factors to consider like in the wine cellar business but you can keep it simple by applying these rules to your "beer cellar".

  1. Keep the beer out of direct light. The affect of light can quickly ruin your beer making the moment you open that bottle a year or more later a big disappointment. 
  2. Just as important as light, keep it away from any heat source. Right now, my stash is placed within 2 feet of my furnace. Although we haven't turned on heat our, I know it will have to be moved before winter begins. Heat will just as quickly destroy the beer. 
  3. Store your bottles upright. Unlike wine, beer should be stored just as it is in the store, standing up. There are two basic reasons for this. First, standing the beer laying down will allow the yeast to settle on the side of the bottle. After storing my own in a wine rack before learning about this, I was witness to this and it can throw off the flavor of the beer. Second, you want to keep the liquid away from the cork, or other capping device. In the case of cork, there are a slew of different reason to keep the beer away from it which you can find all over the internet.
  4. A good rule of thumb to follow is this, Larger = longer, Smaller = shorter. This is in regard to the ABV content. Larger ABV beer will be able to age longer and not spoil therefor allowing more changes to happen within the bottle. With smaller ABV's, less time aging due to a quicker spoil rate won't allow for such unique changes to occur. 
  5. Buy and store the beer at room temperature. There are two reasons for this. One is for the actual beer, the other is for you to save money. Most of the time, your basement will be slightly above 60 degrees(F)  on average through out the year. That's unless you have a furnished basement. This is a pretty good temperature to keep all your beers. Unless you wanna get very very involved, there isn't too much need to worry about humidity levels. The other reason for room temperature beer, is so you don't run a second fridge! The refrigerator is one of the costliest appliances in a house to run. Save yourself the money by buying and storing at room temperature. And then use the money you saved to buy more beer to age!
  6. If you don't have a basement, put aside a little corner in a closet to store a few beers in. You will get a low light environment and will just have to ignore the higher storage temperature. 
  7. Lastly, DON'T DRINK THE BEER FOR AT LEAST A YEAR!! This is by far the biggest challenge in the whole process. Mostly all the other requirements are easy to meet as long as you aren't homeless. Ignoring a glorious stout that came out in the beginning of the year around time for Thanksgiving, or avoiding that 6 pack of summer ale you bought in april during a warm spell in September is the hardest thing to do. Have strength and know it will be worth it in the end. 
Cheers! And Happy aging!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Local. It doesn't get any better.

After reading a few books, my wife and I decided to put the effort in and become big supporters of our local farms and businesses. Beer naturally became part of the mix and it has become so enjoyable. With the same idea behind food, Closer = fresher = tastes better and Local business = not a mini mall or factory size store, we have found some excellent brewers in our area.

Most are within an hour drive enabling us to visits them and witness how they're making the product we're putting into our bodies (can't do that with "The Great American Lager"). We've also learned so much about the brewing process in general.

Depending on your area you may have breweries close like we do, or maybe a little further away. But they're working with the distribution chain to ensure their product is available to you. Take the time to visit them. By devoting the day or maybe afternoon to driving out and meeting with your brewers, it will show them that what they are doing is worth while in more ways than just the paycheck. Some of the breweries may be small with almost no signs in the front. Others are bigger like Sam Adams now is. And then you may have brew pubs. Each one will have different things to see and cool people to meet.

It's taken some time, but we have found most of the brewers in our area though word of mouth. But recently I found a great website making the whole process quick and easy. Check it out...

Brewers Association


Saturday, October 22, 2011

"I don't like that bitter taste". Understanding, acclimating, then falling in love with hops.

Being a beer fan for years i have come to love my hops. that nice floral and sometime bitter flavor in your that most newer beer drinkers have come to associate with beers they dont like. in order to fully judge a beer on the hops alone it would be fair to know why they are used during brewing in the first place.

Hops are the female flower cluster of the hop plant. the hop plant is a large climbing vine like species much like grape plants that is generally used to stabilize and flavor beer. in addition to its basic uses there are a number of other benefits from using them. they balance the sweetness of the malt, add antioxidants, and was found to reduce the spoilage of beers. traditional IPA's(india pale ale) feature a large amount of hop flavor. during the 17th-19th many IPA's were shipped to India so hops were added in excess to ensure the beers wouldnt spoil during the long trips across the ocean. but hops were used way back in the 800's as well.

hops being adding to the mash

Hops, like most plants have many different species. each one featuring a different taste quality than the other. brewers will now grow their hops specifically based on which flavors they are wanting to feature in any number of their beers. the brewer will harvest then either dry or use them fresh in their brewing method. most time the hops are added to the brewing method right around the time the brew begins boiling. although some breweries will add the dried hops directly to the beer then filter them out, others will sometimes pour the premature beer through a large strainer loaded with fresh hops. it simply adds a different flavor to the brew by quickly exposing the mix to the oils on the flowers. Think of hops like tea leaves in boiling water. same concept.

example of wet hopping using a strainer                                              

now knowing a little more about why that beer your drinking is bitter hopfully gives you some desire to delve into some hoppier brews. below are some "less hoppy" hoppy beers as i like to call them. these should give you the a nice introduction into hoppier beer and then the big IPA's. although the hops wont be as pungent, you will still get the bitterness when trying these out. 


Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter
River Horse Special Ale

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale

Anchor Brewing Porter

Wolaver's IPA

Otter Creek Black IPA

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Ales (part 2)

after much thought this is the final 5 in my top ten.

6. Fegley's Brewworks Devious Imperial Pumpkin Ale

this was also a new experience for me in 2011. taking advice again from the local beer rep i grabbed a single and am sure glad i did. at 9% abv the name of this beer says it all, devious. it was a toss up for 5 and 6 between this and the Schlafly's but the deciding factor was the alcohol. schlafly's did a little better job of hiding the burn. but both beer were enjoyable. this has a little higher level of carbonation and the drinkability is not as there as the others. but it does pack great flavor. more note of the pumpkin pie type flavors and less featured is the earthiness of the pumpkin. but this is another seasonal i will add to my list to keep an eye out for each year.

7.Wolaver's Will Steven's Pumpkin Ale

wolavers is the subsidiary of two different vermont breweries. it is the organic variety from otter creek which is also owned by vermonts larger brewery, long trail. merging all three enabled them to produce more, and reach more people. im glad it makes its way to nj every year. this beer has numerous qualities i enjoy before even opening it. 1, its organic and there is a lack of organic beer on the market today. 2, it local. and produced closer = fresher and better. 3, and probably by favorite, the pumpkins that go into this ale are grown within 15 miles of the brewery.

but for all the qualities i enjoy it was slightly disappointed this year. at 5.3% abv there was no problems with alcohol taste but it was lacking any real pumpkin flavor. and being much more carbonated than i would expect out of a craft beer i slowly got through the six pack in my fridge. the saving grace for me was being able to experience it on tap. quite different flavor and carbonation level made me enjoy this brew as a pumpkin ale and not as a sub par christmas ale due to the spices it did have. find this one on tap if you can. you may want to pass on the bottle

8. Triumph Brewing Company of New Hope

triumph brewery is brewpub that unless you live in the nj or pa area you most likely havent heard of. putting out a different offering of 7 sometimes 9 beers at each 3 locations gives this small brewery a loyal following at all 3 of its locations in princeton and new hope, nj and philadelphia, pa.

every year triumph puts out a great pumpkin ale. not 100% sure if each brewery has the same one or if all 3 differ slightly but either way the one in new hope is good! though 8th on the list this brew is still respectable and enjoyable. has a heavy malt flavor and just the slightest hints of spice and pumpkin balance nicely with the malt and ends up making this a nice drinkable pumpkin ale at 5.7% abv.

triumph also has tremendous food that they prepare from ingredients sourced from local farms. great local beer, great local food, and an enjoyable pumpkin ale year after year.

9.UFO Pumpkin by Harpoon Brewing

my first year trying harpoons "un filtered offering" (U.F.O.) proved that i had been missing out by not trying it in the past. harpoon makes one of my favorite oktoberfest brews but their pumpkin didnt have as much strength. this is a very nice beer that owes to the unfiltered technique harpoon uses. the pumpkin flavor isnt the star here but rather the spices. there is also a nice touch of hops and malt and the pumpkin is very faint in the end of each sip. but this one is all spice and malt. the low ranking is due to the carbonation level. if you didnt have taste buds this could be slipped in with a coors or other mass market beer. but the flavor makes up for it and at 5.9% abv, you may find yourself easily able to put a couple of these away then getting hit with the medium to higher level alcohol.

10.Post Road Pumpkin Ale

post road is a 5% abv pumpkin ale from brooklyn brewery. this is a nice earthy brew. and has a balanced combination of fall spices, malt, hops and yeast. there isnt too much complexity it to it though but its amazingly drinkable! this one can go down quickly and since not flavor is too overbearing then this is a nice one to pair with food. the only negative was that there was nothing specifically that amazed me. it was just easy to drink, and well balanced. would like to see if having this on tap would make a difference like with the wolavers.

there you go. a wide variety of pumpkin ales that touch on both categories of pumpkin's. sweet as candy, or earthy like the pumpkin. every one of these beers will give you a reason to be excited for fall year after year. just dont buy too much. most of these are made to be savored now and not aged. stick to the higher ABV brews if your looking to hang on to them til thanksgiving and after.

and once youre finished with your last one, the invasion of the winter beers will be wide spread in every brewery, pub, and liquor store.

To health and happiness....Cheers!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Great Pumpkin Ales (part 1)

tis the season for the wide variety of pumpkin ales, pumpkin stouts, and all other types of alcohol educed pumpkin beverages. after discovering an oktoberfest at a much younger age and realizing that every season holds a bounty of new beers, pumpkin ales are the ones my palate becomes most excited for!

this years batch has been a surprise in different ways. while some breweries annual offering was a disappointment, others where a home run. here is my top 10 list for pumpkin beverages for 2011. feel free to comment

1. Riverhorse Hipp-o-Lantern

this is RH's second year in the pumpkin business and wow what a beer! coming in at a high 8.2% abv you would expect pumpkin flavored rubbing alcohol. but the NJ brewery hit this one right on the head. not too much of one thing and so much of everything that this brew excites with every sip. has the common spices you see in almost every pumpkin offering but this one goes further. and there is a slightest little warming note of alcohol after each sip that will be a pleasure around any fall out door fire!

2. Souther Tier Pumking

this like river horse is another big alcohol volume beer. advertised as 9% this is another one whos alcohol is masked well is the overwhelming amounts of spices and malts and other mysterious pumpkin flavors. pumking is by far the most confusing of all the ale. when first sipped one has to be reminded they are drinking a liquid and not eating a wonderful tasting candle or a pumpkin pie. although at #1 for me last year pumking slipped one spot due to the bigger alcohol flavor which riverhorse is lacking. still amazing though.

3.Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

this was one of my dissapointments. even though still listed at #3, in the past this was always 1 or 2 being shared with pumking. maybe gaining the knowledge that weyerbacher imported pumpkin puree from china turned me off, or it may just not have been as good. either way it is still a great beer and outdoes many others in this category. rated at 8%, weyerbachers version is not hiding the alcohol like the all the other big pumpkin ales from this year. is also featured more of a pumpkin candy flavoring and less of the earthiness like in the past. enjoy this one though while it is still around.

4. Smutty Nose Pumpkin Ale

the first of the the lighter abv beers to be rated. smutty nose puts out great beer all year that are well balanced and easy to drink. the pumpkin is no different. labeled at 6% this pumpkin features no alcohol flavor like the other so far. instead you enjoy what is somewhat a surprise. the earthiness of the pumpkin is the feature here. though there is plenty of spice in this beer it is much more a beer with pumpkin in it than a pumpkin with beer in it. but it is nice. has similar characteristic as summty nose's winter ale in its thick body and enjoyable caramel maltiness. may not age well like the the others due to the lower abv, but it is great to drink fresh.
*will let you know how this ages next year when the one in my basement is ready.

5.Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

this was a new one for me this year. taking the advice from local liquor stores beer rep i picked up a single. i dont usually stray too far away from the north eastern breweries but his advice is always good. shlafly is a big abv beer. the 8% abv isnt overbearing though just a warming kick after your done with each sip. its a very well balanced pumpkin that has all the right amounts of pumpkin, spice, maltiness, and warm touch in the end. i will be keeping an eye out for this one next year.

thats it for now. next will be #5-10. enjoy the pumpkins while they last!