It’s Been a Long, Long Summer


Sometimes life just wears you down.  Beer helps, but it doesn’t help you get any of that time back.  Here’s a quick summary of my beer-related life over the summer:

June 15-23 – Vacation to California, where we traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles.  It was the first time I have had any Russian River beers, and I see why they score so high.  I tried the gambit of the specials, like

  • Pliny the Elder
  • Damnation
  • Supplication
  • Consecration
  • Redemption

July 4th weekend – brewed several beers, including two sours: a Tart of Darkness clone, and an Oud Bruin, both of which turned out great (they were put in bottles a few weeks ago)

July 11 – Had a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Red at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia.  Need I say more?

September 4 – Enjoyed Sweet Baby Jesus from DuClaw Brewing for the first time in Washington D.C. – A peanut butter porter.  It was pretty tasty.

Dan Carey hard at work
Dan Carey hard at work

September 28 – Iowa City’s Northside Oktoberfest – the event was rainy, so there wasn’t a lot of room for everyone under the tent.  New rules put in place by the state made the event less fun.  The biggest issue with this year’s event was the 1 oz samples for several of the premium beers were 5 or 6 tickets (at 50 cents per ticket).  Does this mean that the entire 20 ounce bottle is worth $50?  No, it isn’t, so I would appreciate equalizing the ticket per sample price to be more reasonable based on the bottle price.

October 4 – Oktoberfest at Millstream Brewing – delicious beer at a cool place.

October 15 – Hit up a place in Santa Monica (West 4th and Jane) that earned me a Founder’s Badge on untappd.  Maybe not cool for you, but it was for me.

November 16 – Took the 3 hour trek with a couple friends to New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin.  We took the “tour”, and had the guide explain a bit more about the brewery.  The coolest part of the trip was we saw Dan Carey, the brewmaster, sipping on several different Thumbprint series beers in the QA Lab.  He waved at our group (since they were like fish in a fishbowl), and just a small part of me wanted him to step out for a photo op.  We creepily stalked him for a while before we packed up our beer and left.

And, pretty much the whole fall we tailgated with the crew, the Keg Totem at each home game.

Oh, and remember the Brew-B-Q?  We plan on having some of the barleywine we brewed at our upcoming holiday party.  It ended up being 12%, and has been aging since then.

How was your summer?  Any great stories to tell?  Let me know!


What is Decoction?


Toward the end of the fall beer season, I like to look back and reflect on how great Oktoberfest beers are.  They have a great malty, almost burnt-caramel flavor to them.  This is because many of these beers use a process called “decoction”.  This is when about 0ne-third of the resting mash is scooped out, boiled, then returned to the original mash.  This raises the temperature to a specific level, achieving a higher resting temperature to activate different enzymes.

Decoction mashing was widely used in Europe, specifically Germany, before the use of thermometers because taking out a portion of the mash and boiling it (a constant temperature) successfully allowed the specific temperature values to occur.  In addition to this, boiling the grains also made extraction of the starch easier by breaking the cell walls of the grain.  Today, this is not as necessary, because most brewing grains are well-modified, so the starches are easily available for starch to sugar conversion.


Kind of a “side-effect” of this style of mashing was the introduction of complex, strong caramel flavors from the boiling, called a maillard reaction, producing melanoidins.

These are some of the flavors found in several malt-forward beer styles, such as Oktoberfests, marzens, or bocks.  Samuel Adams also uses this type of technique for the Boston Lager.

The decoction process is not used as much today because it is extremely time consuming (up to 3-4 times as long), and is logistically very difficult in large scale breweries.  For the homebrewer, however, it may be a process worth exploring.

Have you heard of decoction mashing?  What is your take on the process?

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest
Flying Dog Dogtoberfest

New to the scene is Dogtoberfest, Flying Dog’s take on the traditional Oktoberfest style.

I thought it was a great example of an Oktoberfest.  It started nice and malty, and finished with just a bit of burnt caramel flavor. The hop choice added a bit of spiciness, rounding out the flavor.

I am very picky about my Oktoberfest-style beers, and Dogtoberfest is probably now in my top 5 Oktoberfests.

Have you tried Dogtoberfest?  What did you think?

Shiner Oktoberfest

Shiner Oktoberfest
Shiner Oktoberfest

I was recently in Northwest Arkansas, and had a chance to pick up a six-pack of Shiner Oktoberfest.  This recipe has been brought back after a five year absence, and I’m glad they did.

It was a smooth Oktoberfest, and had a hint of burnt malt flavor. It had considerably less body than a few of my favorite Oktoberfest beers, but it was definitely drinkable.  It finished nice and sweet.

Have you tried Shiner Oktoberfest?  What was your impression?

Beer Styles – An Introduction

Beer Styles
Beer Styles

If you are new to beer, or haven’t experienced many beers, a great place to start is by exploring beer styles.

Peter Bouckaert, the head brewer at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado gets very upset when someone mentions beer styles because he sees beer as an art, and not to squeeze into small style categories.  This is true, but for a beginning beer lover, styles are the best guide to exploring the world of beer because it gives you a framework for interpreting the beer.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), a division of the American Homebrew Association, there are 28 major divisions, with each major division containing 3-4 subdivisions, for a total of almost 100 different beer styles, and the number seems to grow every year.

So where do you start?

Many times, if you are used to lagers or light lagers, it may be to your advantage to try a few wheat beers or pale ales to expand your horizons.  Eventually, if you enjoy the hop flavor enough, you should try the IPA style.

On the other end of the scale, if you haven’t had many beers, it may be better for you to try several darker beers that have a lot of malt sweetness with little bitterness.  Some good examples include brown ales, stouts, or the seasonal Oktoberfest.

The key is to try several examples of each style.  There are prototypical examples of each style, for example Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the prototypical pale ale, but there are other examples that differ in body and flavor such as Magic Hat’s #9 or Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale Ale.

So the moral is just because you don’t like a beer style, maybe it’s just the beer, and not the style.  Or even it’s the situation.  The first time I tried New Belgium’s 1554 Black Ale, I didn’t like it, but this winter, I tried it again and couldn’t get enough of it.

Keep diversifying, and enjoy!