Co-Op Brewery Week

Several weeks ago, Dave Bardallis wrote in a post that our local home brew shop, Adventures in Homebrewing, was opening up a location in Ann Arbor. Naturally, this sparked a conversation between me and Tim. He mentioned that it would be awesome if it was both a home brew shop and a brew pub.

We then started getting into how awesome it would be if the guys from Adventures teamed up with the amazing and capable Ann Arbor Brewers Guild and operated some sort of community brewery. Home brewing and even craft beer is such a communal movement, that it only seems natural to harness some of that community energy to make great beer.

Black Star Co-Op

Black Star Co-Op Pub and Brewery in Austin TX

This idea seemed to cool to be completely original, so I started poking around the Internet to try to find any community breweries, which led to research on co-op breweries. I was actually a little surprised to find how rare they were. As far as I could find, there is only one operating co-op brewery, Black Star in Austin, TX. Flying Bike Brewery in Seattle is still in the formative stage, but has a definite form and is moving forward.

Wanting to learn more about the co-op brewing concept and, even more interesting, the process of implementing and executing that concept, we reached out to both Black Star and Flying Bike. We were lucky enough to be able to ask the founders, Steven Yarak and Jeff Hicks respectively, some questions about the co-op brewery concept, and how the process their going through or went through to make it a reality.

Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery

Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery in Seattle, WA

Over this week, we’ll be exploring different aspects of the co-op brewery model from challenges presented by the unique organizational model to its feasibility in other cities. I think Steven and Jeff both provided some interesting insights into the world of co-op brewing, and at the end of the week, we’ll post lightly edited transcripts of the interviews.

Have any of you been to Black Star down in Austin? Is there an  awesome co-op brewery that I completely missed in my searching? Let us know in the comments. Also, as Steven and Jeff both encouraged us to send any follow up questions, so at any point during the week, if you have a question let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Brewery Review: Breckenridge Brewery

I had a couple friends come up to Vail a couple weeks ago, for their spring break. On one of their days here, we took a trip to Breckenridge, for a change of scenery and slopes. This had the wonderful side effect of giving me a chance to visit Breckenridge Brewery and do a bit of a YB&D rundown of the beers they had available at the time.

Before we could visit the brewery, however, I had to survive the slopes, which turned out to be a slightly more difficult ordeal than one would assume, being that I’m on them every day…

After an incident involving a tree, copious amounts of blood loss, a ski patrol-led toboggan ride and a quick jaunt to the E.R. (I’ll save you the gore from the pictures; this is a beer site, not a snuff blog. Needless to say, my nose was picking up iron notes, not from the beer…), we finally arrived at Breck Brewery. I had been to this place twice before, both times, with Tim. The first was our first night in town, on vacation about a year ago, and the second was a few days later, during their ‘Ladies Night’. This fantastic creation involves unlimited drafts of any of their beers at no charge for those of the fairer sex, and a flat $5 cover to get the same, if you possess a Y chromosome: Score.

"I am a monument to all your sins."

When we arrived this time, however, we were in the Apres-ski/Happy Hour deal, featuring all of their brews (except the DIPA) for $2. I almost felt like I was back at Grizzly Peak… To start off I tried once of their rotating beers, the Baldy Brown. After about half of my pint, I realized the lack of blood in my system was having a significant effect on my tolerance, so I wisened up, and went with a full flight of the 8 beers on draft. Had I not, I felt I wouldn’t have been able to try more than one more brew without serious issues, like ‘staying awake’. My notes follow:

Baldy Brown

Hazelnut and Grape notes in the nose, with little hop character. Lighter malt flavor than I was expecting considering the style and color. Vanilla notes and I wasn’t sure if I picked up a few esters in the mouth as well. The mouthfeel was a bit fluffy for a brown. I was expecting something with slightly more weight.

Vanilla Porter

Noticably more hops here, but more in the mouth than nose. Very similar to the brown, just a bit -more- of everything, especially the vanilla. Though heavier than the brown, it seemed, again, lightweight for the style, who knows, maybe I’m just out of touch…

Breck Light

Being that BB is in a tourist town, and gets a lot of non-beer enthusiasts through its doors, they need to cater to more general crowd, and I think this is it. Honey notes in the mouth and nose. Low malt character. A light earthy hop aroma with a slightly hoppy finish.

Trademark Pale

Nice dose of floral hops in the nose. Malt blends well with the hops in the mouth. Maybe a little fructose in there as well. Nothing bad to say about this one.

471 IPA (DIPA)

Strong hit of floral and citrus hops in the nose. Also: Alcohol -both in the nose and mouth, including a little bit of a burn. A little diacetyl as well. Finished very hoppy.

Avalanche Amber

Slightly sour flavor, possibly from lactic acid addition? Earthy hop flavor but not as present in the nose. The malt flavor also was very pronounced. Tasted very dark, much darker than that color. My favorite of the night.

Oatmeal Stout

Pretty high carbonation for a stout, IMHE. Got a lot of nutty malt flavor, particularly almond. Warm cherry notes in the finish. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the only ‘cherry stout’ I’ve tried, but the flavors go well together. I’d like to experiment at some point.

Agave Wheat

Honey in both nose and mouth, agave nectar tastes exactly like honey but sweeter, so: go figure. On my note card I have ‘hops and bitterness – good pairing’ I must assume this means at this point the bloodloss/alcohol was getting to me, and that I meant to say the honey and bitterness paired well together. The rest of the notes I have on this are pretty difficult to read… Maybe next time.

What I Want in My Local Homebrew Store

There are few things that can help improve your homebrewing more than having an excellent homebrew shop in your neighborhood. This is using a very generous definition of neighborhood. While there are plenty of great homebrew shops online, there are certain benefits for being able to visit the shop, interact with the people, stumble upon things you wouldn’t otherwise find.

Brew And Grow

Brew And Grow is my local homebrew store in Chicago

When I started brewing, we picked up supplies from a party store that carried to aisles of homebrew supplies. We checked out a place that was a drive away, but had a much larger selection of ingredients and equipment. Finally, we ended up at Adventures in Homebrewing which, despite being about half an hour away, became our go to stop for any large shopping trip.

I don’t want to get into specifics and reviews of the different shops; that can be done at other times. I want to go into the things that I like to see when I head into the shop, and what separates a good place from a great local hombrew shop.

Knowledgable Staff

I was going back and forth about which aspects to lead with, but after a bit of internal debate, I decided this was the most important for someone at my level. I’ve been homebrewing for about 18 months. I read a ton about different ingredients, equipment and techniques. That being said, I’ll be the first to admit that I can use all the help I can get when I’m putting together a recipe.

When we were formulating the recipe for the all-grain version of our S’more Stout, we went into the store with a basic outline of what we were going to do. Working with the staff there, we swapped out the chocolate malt and roasted barley with CarafaII, which is definitely worked with our idea. It lends similar color and roastiness with out giving that acrid, burnt taste.

That’s one example, but plenty of times we’ve gotten yeast recommendations, tip on how to make sure we don’t get our keg clogged, equipment that might help and tons of other stuff. Being able to talk through my recipe idea with someone who has been brewing for a long time almost always results in something better than I could have come up with on my own.

Consistent Selection

Hop Pellets

These should always be in stock

I know when dealing with perishable items it can be a struggle keeping the stock consistant. Also, with hops especially, there can be runs when everyone rushes out to make an Amarillo pale ale or something. That being said, it is crucial that a shop tries to minimize these outages.

Especially now, going to the hombrew shop is something I need to plan. I usually try to pick up two or three recipes at a time. It gets really annoying if the shop is out of something that’s nearly a staple like Special-B malt or Wyeast 1056. There are usually alternatives, but it can be a downer when you get there and see an empty bin or shelf where what you want should be.

Convenient Hours

Maybe this is just my not being totally used to having a 9-5 (technically 8:30-5:30, I guess), but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense having your shop open from 9am to 7pm or so. If I hustle out of work a little early, jump in a cab and tell him to step on it, I could probably get to the store with half an hour to spare. Maybe I’m naive, but honestly, how many sales happen between 10 and noon. Stay open until 9pm.  Please. I’m begging you. Maybe even be open from 10a-2pm on Sunday so I don’t have to wait a week to bottle because I don’t have enough caps, but that’s just selfish.

Bulk Grains

Bulk Malt

As you're measuring it out, grab a grain and try it. It's amazing how different they taste.

I don’t have a crusher at home, and I assume that most homebrewers don’t. Most homebrew shops do! There’s something perfectly simple about measuring the exact amount of grain you need out of a bin, mixing them all together for your recipe, running them through the crusher and being good to go. There’s something maddening about having to buy a 1lb bag of a specialty malt when I only need to a quarter pound and won’t be able to brew again for a while. Honestly, it’s probably not that big of a deal in dollars and cents to the consumer, but I really do think it’s the better way to go.

New and/or Special Items

These don’t fall under the consistent selection heading. A great shop should be able to secure the special release yeasts from White Labs and Wyeast. A great shop should be able to get the special recipe kits. Not every time, but maybe in a rotation have the newer, weirder hops like Citra or Sorachi. Help the homebrewer explore the world of potential out there.

A Sense of Community

This one is last, but no less important. Homebrewing is all about community. I learn a ton from talking to other homebrewers, trying their beers, having them try mine. Having the folks working at a homebrew shop be friendly and not condescending is so important. There will be people just getting started and people who have been brewing for years, but they’re all excited about making beer.

Additionally, I really like the idea of homebrew stores holding classes or having workshops or special guest speakers. Make it almost like a public square for the homebrewing community. Plus, how many homebrewers will walk into your store for an event and not leave with at least some sanitizer or a some priming sugar. If the law allows it, having samples from the kits you sell or recipes you provide is also a great perk that helps spark conversation and build knowledge.

What Do You Think?

Any big factor you need in your shop? Anything you disagree with? Let me know or set me straight in the comments!

Yard’s Brewing, Philadelphia

Yard's Supports Our Founding Fathers

Yard's Supports Our Founding Fathers

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I got the opportunity to visit Yard’s Brewing, one of the City of Brotherly Love’s most well-known breweries. If it weren’t just a block away from a very busy 8-lane surface street, I would have felt like it was in downtown Detroit: abandoned buildings, empty lots, BOOM CASINO, BOOM BREWERY. It felt like I never left home.

Walking into the building, it has a similar feel to many warehouse-turned-brewhouse establishments – though the tap room was in stages of being renovated. High ceilings, big windows into the brewhouse, and assorted varieties of seating in addition to a bar were all still present.

Bowling Alley Bar at Yard's

Bowling Alley Bar

As for the bar itself, it’s apparently crafted from wood that once comprised bowling alleys. Additionally, some of the benches were once church pews, and their billiards table is some form of antique. Unfortunately, the only part of the distinctive decor captured here for posterity is the bowling alley.

So, uh, I didn’t just walk into a brewery to note the decor, did I? Of course not. Onto the beers:

Yard's TapsRevolutionary Road (or something)

Yard's Taps

The taphouse had 8 beers on tap – though as you can see one of them was lacking a tapper (actually, the stout may have been poured from a beer engine elsewhere – I don’t remember). The beers were decently cheap, at about 4 bucks for a pint, but the flights were a ludicrous deal – 5 bucks for four 10-oz samples. That’s just a dollar for 8 ounces. Naturally, I got one of everything they had on tap:

Yard's Brewing: The Flights

The Flights

None (or at least very few) of these beers are available in Michigan, so it was a good experience in tasting. The IPA and Pale Ale were standard, with the former being a little light on the hops and malt for the style (though I don’t exactly drink beers right on the edge of the style most of the time).

I’d had the Brawler before, though I’m nearly certain that “pugilist” is not an actual beer style. It, like the pales, is a little light on the flavor. That’s not to say there was none, but as a hoppy brown ale, I expect a little bit more out of it. I thought the ESB was probably the best of the beers on the right-side tower. It’s not necessarily my favorite style, but Yard’s absolutely nailed the style. I couldn’t help but think how badly we missed on it when brewing our own ESB.

The left side had a Founding Fathers theme, and was called Ales of the Revolution. The Love Stout didn’t really belong with that group, but whateva, I mis-apply labels when I want. Said stout had nice chocolatey tones and a decent body, but was fairly standard. The other brews over there, however, where interesting.

Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale (named after Benjamin Franklin’s Almanack of the same name) had a lovely spruce aroma and a flavor that jumped out right away. Unfortunately, once you got that flavor, there was nothing to back it up behind. The malt profile and/or bitterness just weren’t there to accompany the spruce.

General Washington’s Tavern Porter is based on a recipe that George Washington himself brewed! Of course, I’ve mentioned Washington’s brewing before, and might explore it in this space later in the future. The beer itself lacked a little OOMPH that I look for in a porter – either with an adjunct or a depth of flavor – but since they were going for authenticity to el Presidente’s brew, I can’t fault the folks at Yard’s.

Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale was a standard golden ale. Not really my cup of tea, so I don’t want to criticize it, but I wouldn’t order it again, most likely. Like Washington’s beer, it was based on a Jefferson recipe – though TJ’s wife took care of the brewing. Can’t fault the folks at Yard’s for striving toward authenticity.

In all, I enjoyed the Yard’s experience, and would certainly make a return trip next time I’m in Philadelphia. See, look how much I’m enjoying:

Tim enjoys Yard's Brewing in Philadelphia

Good Times

Rare Beers Close to Home (Pt. 2)

This got split up into two parts. You can read part 1 Here.

Rare Goose Island Belgians

The details of the tasting at Sheffield’s are available here. The descriptions of the beers  are a little wordy, so click through if you’re interested in the official descriptions.

Goose Island Sisters Flight
Goose Island Sisters Flight

I got there at about 8:45 when the beers started pouring at 7. My friend and I both ordered the flight, but unfortunately they only had enough Lolita for one of us. Luckily for us, the staff at Sheffield’s is awesome. The Chief Beer Nerd brought out a bottle of Sofie for us and hung out for a while talking about the beers. It’s always fun to have someone knowledgable and passionate talk about something, and he sort of led us through the four main event beers. It was the next best thing to having the brewer there talking to us, and it really added something special to the event.

All five of the beers were very good, so this is really splitting hairs, but here are my official (not that that really means anything) rankings with some brief notes:

  1. Juliet
    • This beer wins out because not only was it delicious, but it was also something I haven’t tasted before. It had a dryness, not from the bitterness of the hops, but rather from tannins like you would find in a red wine. It had a hint of sourness to go along with a complex, fruity flavor. If you have friends who just drink wine, try finding a bottle of this and sharing it with them.
  2. Dominique
    • This one didn’t seem to get the same love as the others with its description being just one sentence. I guess it’s relatively simple: 1) Make a belgian sour 2) Put beer in a Bourbon County Stout barrel.  But what came out of this was anything but simple. It was a mix of the fruity, spicy notes of the belgian yeast and the smoothness, vanilla and very slight bourbon notes from the barrel. This beer was close to being number 1.
  3. Madame Rose
    • There was sort of a drop off at this level. This is still a very, very good beer. The balance of the vinegary flavor, the tartness from the cherry and the notes of the yeast was very well done. I think I mentally downgraded this a bit because I tasted a very similar but more mind blowing version of this beer made by a homebrewer in our local guild.
  4. Lolita
    • This beer might have been third had we gotten a full taste and if it wasn’t a bit too flat. I certainly don’t need my beer to super carbonated, but I feel a bit higher level would have helped brighten and separate the flavors. They got a bit muddled as it was. I was also hoping for a bit more of a funky flavor from the brettanomyces.
  5. Sofie
    • It’s sort of unfair to compare Sofie with the other sisters here. She’s a very well made Belgian Golden Ale. The yeast just imparts a hugely floral and fruity flavor that is backed up by a solid, but not heavy malt body. It’s good, but more standard.

I asked in a post back when I first moved to Chicago, “Am I spoiled?” Well… with both these places within walking distance of either work or home, as well as a Binny’s across the street, I can safely answer that question with: Yes, Yes, A Thousand Times Yes. I totally encourage you to keep your ear to the ground. Follow beer bars on Twitter or Facebook, sign up for their newsletters, visit often and talk to the bartenders. Whatever you need to do, find out about events. There’s no better way to get excited about beer than being surrounded by other folks who are just as excited as you are!

Have any of you had an awesome experience at a beer-centric event? Let me know in the comments.

Rare Beers Close to Home

The weather has changed and we’ve had four or five days straight of sunny days over fifty degrees. This has led me to start walking home from work most days. In addition to the weather, an advantage to walking home is that I can walk right by Local Option. I went there for the first time a couple weeks ago, and had some ridiculous beers.

Wednesday morning I got an email from the excellent Chicago Beer Society Listserv (viva los 90s!) with the tap list that Local Option would be having that evening. The relevant excerpt:

Founders Black Biscuit
Founders Breakfast Stout
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
Founders Double Trouble
Founders Endurance Ale
Founders Imperial Stout
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

I originally wasn’t planning on stopping in. I had some silly ideas of going to the gym, and I was heading to rare beer event at Sheffield’s later that night. All that said, as I walked by Local Option on the walk home, I was drawn in like a moth to the flame.

Local Option

Some of the Taps at Local Option

The place was packed with a wide assortment of beer nerds. There were the stereotypical befacialhaired folk wearing the shirt/hoodie of their favorite brewery; there were men and women still in fancy-pants work clothes; there were DePaul students in their craft beer adolescence with a chance to try one of the pinnacles of the movement. What I’m trying to say is that it was a diverse, excited crowd all waiting for 6pm when the Founders kegs would be tapped. I’ve mentioned this before, but like going to see a movie at midnight, going to special tappings and being immersed in a crowd that is buzzing with excitement for the same thing makes the wait nearly as exciting as the payoff.

I grew up in Grand Rapids and still have friends and family there, so I’ve been lucky enough to be able to routinely go to the Founders Taphouse. Between that and the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals, I’ve tried all but one beer on that list, the Canadian Breakfast Stout.

They were doing small pours (about 7-8oz) to ensure all beer nerds in attendance got the chance to try something from each 5gal keg. Even so, the Canadian Breakfast Stout was the first to kick – after only 25 minutes. Luckily, I got my glass and, as so often seems to happen at Local Option, struck up a conversation with some other folks who were trying the CBS. I’ll do a brief review of the beer:


I feel the better the beer, the less I’m disposed to analyze it and try to isolate flavors. When I drink something that is that good, I like to turn off the analytical side and just enjoy the experience.

So after my amazing beer and meeting a fellow homebrewer (bottle exchange coming soon), I left the bar and headed home to get ready* to taste some crazy belgians made by Goose Island.

…To Be Continued [Part 2]

*“Get ready” is a phrase which here means “lose by 30+ points to Tim in NCAA Football.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

As an Irish descendent myself (we Sullivans are like that), I’ve been known to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day quite heartily. I’ll probably take it easy today, and watch some NCAA Tournament games… but that doesn’t mean I won’t start out with a theme drink:

Jameson's Irish Whiskey

Mmm... Whiskey

Since this is primarily a beer blog, not a liquor blog, take a look at some of our greatest St. Patrick’s Day-themed hits:

Man, as a stout lover, I’m definitely disappointed we haven’t brewed more of them. That’ll have to change whenever I get back on the brewing wagon… Of course, it’s a great day to drink Guinness, Killian’s (if you’re into that sort of thing), that substance pictured above, and, if you must, green beer.

Enjoy the day, and be safe.

Review: Birra Moretti

Though I’m not sure it qualifies as a “craft beer,” I’d certainly never tried Birra Moretti until recently, and therefore a review is in the offing. The brand was formed in 1859 by Luigi Moretti and since 1996 has been owned by Heineken International.

Birra Moretti

Look at that glorious head That's what she said

As is obvious from the included picture, Birra Moretti is a light lager, though there are seven other beers produced under the Birra Moretti label.

The beer was similar to your standard American macros, with very little hop flavor, and to be honest, very little flavor at all. The one thing I did notice is that it had a fruity sweetness, like a lot of other European Pilsner-type beers. Pilsner Urquell, for example, springs to mind as a great example of this fruity sweetness.

All other aspects were as expected, though it was a little flatter than many American Light Lagers. The finish was clean with very little aftertaste, the mouthfeel was pretty light, almost like lightly carbonated water, and the aroma was very weak. There was a hint of that sweetness in the nose, but not as much as te flavor.