Guest Post: Hopcat Tasting Event

Special thanks to Geoff of The Hoover Street Rag for this guest post. Geoff took in a tasting event at Hopcat in Grand Rapids, and was kind enough to pass along notes.

Shorts Huma Lupa Licious
IPA - Pint glass.

Love the Huma. Always a favorite of mine.  And $6 for a pint plus the house burger and crack fries is a fantastic bargain.  The first taste is of crashing hops bitterness with citrus.  It mellows briefly  before a second wave hits, then the long finish.

Hopcat Kodial Killer
American Barleywine - Tulip glass

Dark, near-black appearance with an aroma of whisky and dark fruits.  Drink slowly to keep from being overwhelmed by the alcohol and pronounced fruit notes and ruining the flavor, which is refined by aging for four months in spend Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout barrels.

Shorts Bourbon Barrel Huma Lupa Licious
IPA - Globe-shaped sampler glass

I wanted to be able to directly compare the bourbon barrel version to the standard, and it’s almost unnecessary.  The whisky smell is huge off of it, obscuring the grapefruit notes of the original, and the bourbon taste is even bigger, almost obliterating the regular Huma, though it’s there underneath everything.  I’ll defer to the Hopcat description: “Think creamy vanilla-laced hop cones, soaked in bourbon.”

Shorts Bourbon Barrel Sustenance
Schwartzbier - Tulip

Oh, this is delicious.  Full of the toasty schwartzbier maltiness with the bourbon coming in around the edges.  I could drink this all night

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Globe-shaped sampler glass

I had the Bourbon County Stout before, in a 4-pack of 12-ounce bottles, and it was something of a disappointment.  I’d had the Founders KBS before (on tap at the brewery) and hoped that Goose Island would be able to compete with that.  What I tasted was very good, but not in the same class as the KBS.  I’m extremely happy to report that I was totally off base on that.  On tap, Bourbon County Stout is a revelation.  It’s huge, thick; viscous as motor oil and full of chocolate, bourbon, and coffee.  The clear winner on the night.  I still prefer the KBS overall (I think the flavors are a little more complex), but this is ever so close.

Dark Horse Plead the 5th
Russian Imperial Stout - Globe-shaped sampler glass

The lightest RIS I’ve ever encountered.  It pours brown and translucent with no real head by the time it was served.  A whiff of alcohol on the nose, not much more in terms of scent, it has a smooth mouthfeel with tastes of dark chocolate and a strong whisky finish.

Goose Island Imperial Brown Goose
Old Ale - Globe-shaped sampler glass

Pours dark brown with a persistent, thin off-white head.  Goose Island blended their 2004 and 2005 Christmas ales and aged them in 4-year-old Jim Beam and 12-year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, and I can detect cinnamon and nutmeg among other spices alongside a mellow bourbon flavor.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial Stout - Globe-shaped sampler glass

It smells like a beer, but tastes STRONGLY of charcoal smoke.  Must be the oak chips it’s been aged with, giving it a burnt flavor that lingers for a long time after the vanilla flavors fade away.

Avery Samael’s Ale
English Barleywine - Globe-shaped sampler glass

It tastes sweet and light, but packs a 14.5% ABV wallop and finishes with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Founders Backwoods Bastard
We Heavy Scotch Ale - Globe-shaped sampler glass

You can taste the Dirty Bastard under it all, but to me it tastes more like Devil Dancer than anything else.  It has that same way about it where it hits like a sledgehammer and lingers.

Founders Black Biscuit
Old Ale - Tulip glass

The pour overflowed the glass on the way over and now my hands smell like beer and chocolate.  Black Biscuit has a thin but persistently full head and pours thick and black.  This is a black old ale aged in bourbon barrels, and the chocolate, bourbon, and roasted malt flavors dominate.  It’s not quite as huge or complex as a bourbon stout, but the tradeoff is that it’s more drinkable.  Definitely give this one a try if you have the chance.

Atwater Barrel Aged Cherry Stout Firkin
Stout - Globe-shaped sampler glass

Tastes like black cherries soaked in bourbon and dropped into a stout, but not overpowering the stout base.  I’m not a big fan of fruit beers, but I can see myself ordering this as a a full pour.

Peru Brew: Cusqueña

Cusqueña Preium Lager

Cusqueña Preium Lager

My recent trip to Philadelphia provided the opportunity to try many things that aren’t available in Ann Arbor. One such product is a Peruvian import: Cusqueña. Cusquena is produced by the Backus & Johnston Brewery, acquired in 2002 by Grupo Empresarial Bavaria, an international subsidiary of SABMiller.

The Backus website (¡Aviso! en Español) gives insight into the beer itself. I’ll translate for you:

Cusqueña offers pure and internationally recognized fine flavor that makes us proud of the quality of Peruvian products, to be made with 100% pure barley and Saaz hops, the finest in the world.

Their UK website gives a little more detail, including the fact that they use melt water from 18,000 feet high in the Andes, a marketing tip SABMiller must have learned from their pals at Coors.

For a bit more on Cusqueña, check out this blog post I found. It comes with ads!

Tasting Notes

From a visual standpoint, this might as well be a standard American light lager in an impostor’s bottle. The body is not opaque or cloudy at all, the color is light, and the head is barely off-white, dissipating steadily.

The aroma is practically non-existent, with the standard bland smell you’d expect from an American light lager. The flavor is somewhat standard for a lager – except the beer is overly sweet, almost to a point of being sickening. I thought that was interesting, considering the beer boasts about using only barley (see above), and not flavorless adjuncts like corn and rice that you’d find in mass-produced American beers.

Overall… I’m glad I tried this, because it’s something new, I love to expand horizons, and I got to learn a little bit posting about it – but it’s not something that I think I need to have again.

Review: Rogue Morimoto Flight

Rogue Morimoto Flight

From left to right: Black Obi Soba, Hazelnut Brown, Imperial Pilsner, and Soba Ale.

While I love living in Ann Arbor, traveling to Actual Cities (note the capital-A, capital-C) affords a lot of opportunities to try new things, even if that city is in Pennsylvania, one of the least beer-friendly states in the union.

On my recent trip to Philadelphia (previously: tour of Dogfish Head Brewery), I stopped into Morimoto Restaurant. Foodies may recognize the name Masaharu Morimoto as an Iron Chef. The main reason for this lunch trip was to have a high-end ramen noodle dish – which apparently exists – but when the menu also had a quartet of Morimoto-branded ales brewed by Rogue, I couldn’t pass up trying them all in a flight.

Black Obi Soba Ale

This beer (and the base Soba Ale) are both brewed with soba, a buckwheat-based malt that is common in Asian cuisine, but this one added some specialty malts to give more body and flavor. This beer reminded me of a black ale, as the mouthfeel and appearance were incongruous. It was overly dry tasting to me, and I was not a huge fan.

Hazelnut Brown Ale

This had a more sweet, nutty flavor of hazelnut than a lot of standard hazelnut browns, which was the most notable facet of it. It was the thickest feeling and tasting of the three beers, and probably the best overall on its own merits.

Imperial Pilsner

The waitress described this as “like our IPA,” about which I was skeptical, because in no world does an Imperial Pilsner seem like it should be described as such. I was right, she was wrong. This beer had a very light body, and a sweet flavor. As you can (kind of) see in the picture, it’s got a little opacity, but it’s straight pilsner in flavor.

It’s got the sweet hints you’d expect out of the classic czech pilsners, with maybe a more extreme sweetness, which the “imperial” portion would lead you to expect. While I’m an established lager/pilsner-hater at times, I actually thought this was one of the better beers in the flight, and it went particularly well with the salty food dish.

Soba Ale

As mentioned above, this was brewed with malted soba. It was a standard ale with a few distinct flavors from the soba, but nothing special. It had a fairly dry flavor itself.

Overall

I’m a fan of Rogue beers, but these… well, they just didn’t do it for me. They are brewed for a specific use (branding with the Morimoto name), and they’re mediocre enough that I wouldn’t bother to try another Morimoto-branded beer unless it came specifically recommended to me – despite being crafted by a respected brewer.

Beer Tools on the Web

We’re currently living in a golden age of brewing and drinking. It seems like every week there’s a new a brewery opening, or another special release coming out, or another multi-tap bar pouring its first pint. There can be information overload. Luckily, we’re also living in a golden age of information aggregation and crowd sourcing!

I want to give some love to tools that have helped me in my exploits in brewing and drinking from helping me formulate recipes to helping me find bars I want to go to after moving to Chicago. This is by no means exhaustive, and it is not in any order. It’s just a collection of useful and/or interesting online beer resources.

  • The Beer Recipator 2.2

    The Beer Recipator 2.2

    The Beer RecipatorThis delightfully Web 1.0 tool is where we created our first beer recipe. While this might not be the prettiest website to look at, it can help you put together a really solid recipe. While there are a limited number of grains and some of the newer hop varieties are missing, you can modify the parameters of each to match your ingredients or even add completely custom ingredients. I’ve used this website for extract, partial mash and all grain recipes, and it provides a really easy, free way to get an idea of what your beer will be like.

  • BeerMenus.com

    This helped me find a lot of great bars in Chicago

    BeerMenus.com – Currently this is only available for New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco. It is a curated list of beers and bars. The cool thing is that it is indexed by both beer and bar. If you’re looking for a particular beer, you can not only see which bars are carrying it, but the serving style (tap, draft) and price. Want to get a feel for a bar? Just check out its page on BeerMenus. You get a list of featured beers, bottles and drafts. Right at the top it lets you know the last time it was updated, so you can tell about how up to date it is. Any registered user can go in and update a bars line up to reflect what they have on tap. Hopefully this site will expand to future cities, or at least create uncurated, beta sites.

  • The Beer Mapping Project – If you don’t happen to love in one of the few, lucky cities that can utilize BeerMenus.com, the Beer Mapping Project is for you. This massive project provides an extensible platform to geocache bar and beer information across the United States and even some international locales. There’s some customization and even an API reference to automate or create your own apps (!) based on the data. A lot of cool potential here that is only beginning to be tapped (no pun intended).
  • PintleyPintleyA little over a year ago, my cousin and I were taking about making a social network-type thing that was like a last.fm for drinking beer. Basically you can say “I had Beer X at Venue Y and it was Z.” We never actually got around to putting it together, but props to the Pintley folks for actually having follow-through! It’s still kind of new and limited at this point, but if it can develop an intelligent recommendation engine (Amazon meets Recipator… if you can dream it, it can happen!) and keep up with new releases, it could be an amazing resource for finding new, interesting beers. I’ve gone on and rated a bunch of beers and added some more to my wishlist (chi_panel: “add” or “follow” me whatever it’s called). I’m interested to see where this goes.
  • Beer Advocate & Rate Beer – Do these really need much explanation? They are the premiere places to go to see what your peers think about virtually every beer that is out there. Sign up, log in and participate.
  • Complete List of Beer Bloggers – This list, featuring yours truly along with hundres of other blogs, is curated by organizes of the inaugural Beer Bloggers Conference. I’ve clicked through a lot of the blogs on the list, and ended quite a few to my Google Reader. There are a ton of great beer bloggers out there, and this is a great index to use as a jumping off point to find the blogs that you like the most.
  • Beer Blog Search – Brought to you by the guys at Hop Talk and Google, this custom search indexes 600 different blogs at the time I’m writing this post. Al keeps it updated as more and more blogs jump onto the scene. Want to find out the zeitgeist on a particular beer? Search for it here and see dozens of independent’s bloggers’ opinions and ramblings.
  • @USBeerBloggersApparently RSS is so 2008. If you want to stay on top on all the craft beer and homebrewing news, follow this twitter feed. There are a ton of interesting headlines that I find myself clicking through despite the fact that I have a lot of work to do. It’s a great aggregation tool that can help you find great blogs you otherwise would not have stumbled upon. It can get a bit duplicitous depending on who else you’re following, but it is very broad in scope and likely aggregates bloggers that you are not following on twitter.
  • Home Brew Talk – I peruse Home Brew Talk all the time, especially when I’m trying to come up with a new recipe. Looking to use a new, crazy ingredient? Search for it here, and you’ll more likely than not find someone who has done it before. I got tips here that proved to be very helpful in the S’More Stout and the Chili Pepper Porter. We also found a workable partial mash method and Igloo cooler conversion tutorial that we’ve used here. And beyond the forum, there is also a wiki that has a lot of great information on different ingredients. If you’re serious about brewing, you definitely need to check out Home Brew Talk.
  • Adventures in Homebrewing – This is sort of a plug for my favorite home brew store, but I do legitimately use this as a resource to come up with general price estimates for recipes or different pieces of equipment. You can order a lot of different things online, and I can personally vouch for how friendly and knowledgeable their staff is. We actually got a bad lid on a refurbished Corny keg. We were looking at new lids, and they just told us to bring it in and they’d either fix it or replace it for free. It’s a great site to order or your supplies, and it’s even better to drop in and pull your own grain and sample what they have in their kegerator.

This is by no way complete. Off the top of my head, I know of at least two or three other homebrewing forums. There’s also plenty of listservs and local (home)brewers guilds that often have great info. Is there anything that I am really missing out on? What are some of your favorite online resources for brewing and drinking?

Beer Review: Kuhnhenn DRIPA

Double Rice IPA

Kuhnhenn Double Rice IPA

With Ashley’s Ann Arbor conveniently located within walking distance, I get a chance to sample a variety of beers from “Michigan’s Premier Multi-tap.” The latest I tried comes from a Michigan brewery, in Warren’s own Kuhnhenn.

The “Double Rice IPA” is a style I’d never heard of, so of course I had to give it a try.

It looks like a light amber ale, with a clear body. It has a light mouthfeel, but not dry. It is mostly like a conventional IPA. As you can see in the image, the head (which didn’t linger) leaves a nice lattice on the glass.

The taste is really sweet – both the malt body (I assume mostly rice) and hops. Rice is a typically flavorless adjunct, so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t add much flavor outside of sweetness. The hops are really juicy/sweet tasting, rather than the typical bitterness you’d expect from an IPA.

As a new style, it’s interesting to try, but not really that novel, nor is it something I’d go out of my way to drink again.

The Glory of Secondary Fermentation

When we first started brewing, we went straight from our primary fermenter (a 6.5-gallon carboy) into bottles. As our home brewery expanded, we added other fermenters, and switched from always bottling to mostly kegging – but never made a switch to using secondary fermentation.

Meetings of the Ann Arbor Brewer’s Guild produced conversations in which most other brewers stated that they used secondary fermentation, racking their beers over at various points in the process (and when to rack to secondary is a topic complex enough to warrant a post all its own). We had to give it a try.

For our next batch, we transfered from primary fermentation in our carboy to secondary in a bucket, and let the beer continue to ferment for a week or so. When we eventually kegged, the result was a much cleaner, clearer beer, and there weren’t as many off-flavors that can arise from sitting too long on a yeast cake.

Since that fateful batch, most of our beers have spent at least some time in secondary – unless all three of our fermenters are occupied by different brews at the time. Racking to secondary is an excellent time to add additional flavors, and take a taste test to see what else the beer might need in order to achieve its maximum potential.

For the next round of easy ways to improve your brewing, secondary fermentation may have to make the list.

Michigan Liquor Laws a-Changin’?

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

J-Grans Hates Beer

Election season has been past us for over a week now (and this news item is slightly older than that), but as a Michigander and beer lover, it’s relevant nonetheless. Jennifer Granholm, the outgoing Governor of the State of Michigan recently vetoed a change to the state’s liquor control laws that would have allowed Sunday morning liquor sales. She didn’t agree with a trio of provisions also included in the bill:

  • Allowing package liquor stores to give free samples of beer and wine, up to 9oz. in size.
  • Allow restaurants to provide their own alcohol to off-site catering events (presumably purchased at wholesale). They previously had to buy from retailers.
  • Allowing culinary arts programs at universities and community colleges to apply for a limited liquor license. Granholm said this provision may have been unconstitutional.

All three provisions seem reasonable to me – though I’m no law-talker, and if the reason for prohibiting the third provision listed is unconstitutional, then so be it. I also understand if retail liquor outlets pushed back against the second provision, unfair though the current state of affairs may seem.

My biggest issue is with the first taboo provision, about in-store sampling. As regular readers may be aware, I recently returned from a trip to Pennsylvania – a state notorious for its unfairly puritanical liquor laws (you literally cannot buy alcohol in a grocery store. What the hell?). Even in the Quaker State, sampling in stores and bars is allowed, and for it to be prohibited in a state that is supposedly beer-friendly is ridiculous. Granholm stated that 9 ounces was too large a sample size, but this is political posturing. The sampling itself, and not the size, was her issue – and that ain’t right.

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Michigan: The Great Beer State?

Fortunately for denizens of (and visitors to) The Great Beer State, a new version of the Sunday Sales bill is close to passing. The 52-page bill includes some of the original provisions – though definitely NOT the culinary school exception – and has Granholm’s support. For a mere $160 a year, outlets can now get an extra 5 hours of sale every Sunday morning.

Merchants without liquor licenses or on-premises consumption can also hold tastings (3oz. samples, and no more than three per customer in a given 24-hour period, a specific “tasting license” must be granted by the state), a step in the right direction.

To read the full text, head to House Bill 6224.

Beer Review: Short’s Bloody Beer

Short's Brew Bloody Beer

Short's Brew Bloody Beer

Without paying too much attention to the label, I poured Bloody Beer into my glass. “Shouldn’t it be red?” was my first thought. I knew it had tomato flavors, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

First sip: Celery. Dill Salt. Cracked Peppercorns.

Ah ha! “Bloody” is short for Bloody Mary, the breakfast of champions (where “champions” here refers to those who wake up with a hangover). With that in mind, I continued to drink on.

Tomato, celery, and salt are the three overwhelming flavors of the Bloody Beer, even moreso than any particular beer standards like hops or malt. In fact, it’s hard to taste more than the slightest hints that this is a beer at all. More than anything, it’s almost like a blonde-colored, watered-down, carbonated bloody mary than anything. It even has a little of the viscosity of tomato juice, which is a different consistency than you’d get from a beer.

As a beer, I would say it’s below average for those reasons. As a beverage, it’s certainly interesting enough to try once or twice. I split the bottle with someone, and don’t know if I could handle the flavors for an entire 12 ounces. It’s an interesting beer to mix with others, because it can add a lot of flavors that you won’t get from damn near anything you mix with it.