Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival

A little bit ago, Nate and I attended the Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival. Nate had moved to Manhattan about a month ago, and I had never been. He found out about the festival somehow, and I found a reasonable flight. We bought our tickets and, in no time at all, a plan was hatched.

There was an afternoon session and an evening session available (each 2.5 hours long). We opted for later session to give us more time during the day to do the standard touristy stuff, and ending at 9:30p, the later session transitioned nicely into Bar O’Clock. This festival had some pros and cons, so lets start off on the happy notes.

What they did right

View from the festival

Looking out onto Manhattan

The location of the festival was amazing. It was where 11th Ave ended into the river in Brooklyn and it featured some great views of the sun setting behind Manhattan. Also, the neighborhood around the festival had tons of cool bars. Most notably, Brooklyn Brewery was about 2 blocks away. We didn’t make it there, but it looked like plenty of people decided to stop by.

Like I said earlier, the timing of the festival was really nice. It ended early enough that we weren’t too exhausted to head out for a few drinks afterward. Initially, we were a little worried that it was only 2.5 hours, but that proved to be more than enough time for us. The crowd and lines really weren’t bad at all. We were able to get to the beer we wanted very quickly.

They did actually have a lot of good beer there. There were a lot of breweries from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic that I never see in Chicago. They also had some places I really didn’t expect to see, including a meadery from Colorado that had a delicious, dry hopped mead. Unfortunately, a lot of the beer notes are going in the next section…

What Went Wrong

First, and very quickly, when you’re hosting an event with well over 500 people and the equivalent of an open bar, you need more than 2 port-a-johns. It was gross. I don’t really know how the women there were physically able to use the facilities.

Let’s go back to the beer. There were a few local breweries that had their taps manned by people from their brewery. 508 Restaurant and Bar had their brewer there to answer questions, and providing a nice Black IPA and Saison. Most tables, however, were put together by distributors, with the tenders knowing either the rehearsed sales pitch for the brewery or even less.

I was excited to see some of the bigger, more national craft brewers there as well. Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Ommegang, Allagash and Goose Island all had tables, but the beers that were being poured were al the standards. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Michigan Brewers Guild festivals, but the beer choices all seemed uninspired. I think this is largely due to the event being put on by an events company working with distributors, rather than brewers working together with an event company coordinating. Beyond that, I really don’t think Blue Moon and Negro Modelo belong at a craft beer festival, but that could just be snobbery.

Finally, since the beers were being put together by the distributors, you’d think they could put together a list that had some variety instead of half of the booths having at least one Black IPA, IPA, DIPA or IIPA. There were very few malty beers, very few belgian style beers, and virtually no contrast.

The Best Beers There

Like I said, I enjoyed the two beers from 508. Firestone Walker Double Jack is always a winner in my book even among a sea of hop heavy beers. The dry hopped mead was delicious as well. The best beer we had though, was the Innis and Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer. I think it won out for two main reasons. First, it was a contrast from all the hop heavy beers at the festival. It was malty, sweet (but not cloying) and delicious. Secondly, it was a flavor profile I hadn’t had before. I’ve had scotch ales before, and I’ve had beers aged in rum barrels before, but the combination was something new and exciting. Those moments of discovery is why I enjoy going to beer festivals and tastings and events. Those are the moments that event coordinators should try to create.

Starting From Scratch: Building a Setup

Well, after the Breaking of the Fellowship, our brewing has been sparse. Tim, the only one living with brewing equipment, was without a stove, Paul only recently was able to brew, with his friend’s setup, and I was dealing with a roommate who was looking for a reason to get me evicted. Eventually I decided my roommate would just have to grow up and realize he didn’t get his way all the time (this prompted me recieving an empty threat that I was ‘getting an eviction notice tomorrow for brewing beer’, a laughable claim, that has yet to even earn me a landlordian repremand).

So what kind of setup did I want? What pieces did I need/want, and what could I do without? Having pieced together our setup in Ann Arbor over more than a year, I knew what was important, what was convienent, and what I could overlook. These were the things I had to get, and my options for them:

  • Sugar Conversion – Mashtun OR Only be able to use malt extract
  • Brew Pot – Large pot + stove OR Turkey fryer
  • Cooling System – Copper wort chiller OR Use of sink
  • Fermentation Vessel – 6.5 Gal Glass carboy OR Ale Pale
  • Carbonation/Storage – Spigoted Ale Pale/Bottling OR Kegging kit

Part of the fun of brewing is mixing your own grains and mashing them. Only using malt extract is easier, but other than the initial startup cost of a mashtun, the per batch cost of extract is much higher. I went with a 10 gallon rubbermaid mash tun using a modified ( read the instructions and made it up as I went along once I got to the hardware store) version of these instructions.

For the brew pot, I spent some time shopping around, but I actually was able to find a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer for less than I could find a brewpot of the same size. While this route also took the purchase of propane, it was totally worth it, but more on that later.

For cooling, I was able to find a wort chiller for about $45 dollars, but I hadn’ scrimpt on anything yet, and with the time savings from the turkey fryer, I figured I’d go cheap here. 45 minutes in time savings isn’t worth fifty bucks to me… at least not right away.

The final two items I was able to pick up as a package deal, along with other odds and ends I needed (thermometer, hydrometer, etc.) from Adventures in Homebrewing. For a little over $200, I was able to get a kegging kit, ale pale, and 5 gallon carboy. The other option was to drop the kegging kit and get a wort chiller, brewpot and a spigoted ale pale, but for 20 bucks more. Given my feelings about kegging (it’s awesome and easy) vs. my feeling about bottling (it takes too long, and requires hoarding bottles) I went with the kegging kit.

Now, all in all, this totalled up to about $350. Sadly, I also needed to get it to where I live. This added a good $200s in shipping costs, because the Vail Valley is apparently more difficult to ship to than Valdez (hyperbole, but not by much).

In addition to my order from Adventures in Homebrewing, I had them pack in a Wee Heavy recipe and shipped it out. Sadly, the autosyphon that shipped was damaged in transit, but everything else arrived safe and sound in less than a week.I finally got my shtuff together, found a friend to give me a hand and brewed. All went well, aside from a slight snafu involving the airlock seal on the ale pale leading me to think the yeast was dead, leading me to rush to the nearest brewery to beg for some active yeast, only to get home, open the pale, to find a nice layer of krausen on top… Always double check your grommets.

I have yet to fill up my CO2 tank, to keg the brew, but it is now fully fermented, and I eagerly await getting it all done (I did snag a taste of it from the carboy, as well as a gravity reading: A bit strong, and a little more dry than I was hoping, but should be a fantastic brew).

Review, Interrupted: Moylan’s Kilt-Lifter

I’ve been known to love a good scotch ale or two. In fact, it may be my favorite style. Unfortunately, that means when I have one that’s not quite right, it bothers me more than it might most beer drinkers. Alas, that was the case when I recently tried Moylan’s Kilt Lifter.

Moylan's Kilt Lifter

Moylan's Kilt Lifter

The first thing I noticed when pouring the beer is that there wasn’t much carbonation. In fact, it was dead flat. The picture at right was taken mere seconds after pouring from bottle to stein, and there are no bubbles (Paul and Nate will be the first to tell you that I’m typically a violent pour, as well). I’ve never had a commercially-distributed beer that was dead flat, so I’m left to wonder, among other things, how long it had sat on the shelf.

Though I did drink the entire bomber (who am I to turn down beer, spoiled though it may be?), I’m hesitant to review it, because my thoughts are tainted by the dysfunctional ale. The aroma and taste were both near what you’d expect from a scotch ale, with a lot of malt and some peaty notes. However, I’ll have to pick up another bottle of this particular beer in order to give it a fair review.

Oak’d Wee Heavy Recipe

One of our early bar experiences was the Thursday and Friday happy hours at the Heidelburg. There was either a free taco bar or hot wings, but more glorious was the $2.50 bottles of Arcadia Ales. I like a lot of what Arcadia does, but their Scotch Ale will forever have a place in my liver after that summer.  We wanted to created a beer that had that great malt backbone, a decent sweetness and a good kick of alcohol.  To try something new, we also wanted to do some faux bourbon barrel aging. Tasting notes are below the recipe.

Mash

  • 8lbs Golden Promise
  • .5lb 40L Crystal
  • .25 Aromatic Malt
  • .25 Munich
  • .25 Biscuit Malt
  • .1lb Roasted Barley
  • .1lb Black Patent Malt

We did a 60 minute, single infusion mash at about 155ºF. We sparged with about 5 gallons of water to end up with about 6g of runnings.

Boil

  • 2lbs Light Malt Extract
  • 1lb Brown Sugar or Golden Syrup
  • 1.5oz EKG at 60 minutes
  • .25oz Fuggles and .5oz EKG at 15 minutes
  • .75oz Fuggles dry hopped

Fermentation

We used Wyeast 1728 without a starter. After about 10 days of primary fermentation, we moved it to secondary with French Roasted Oak chips that had been soaking in Jack Daniels for at least two hours*. We pulled a little out to taste it every so often, and when the flavor seemed balanced, we racked it into a keg and force carbed it.

*We pulled the wood chips out and strained the whiskey into a glass on the rocks. You get some very nice added smokiness and vanilla in the Jack Daniels from the chips.

Tasting Notes

This is one  of my favorite beers that we’ve ever made. This along with our Peanut Butter Porter are the only beers we have made twice. The first time we made this it was also our first successful kegging attempt, and the keg was empty in a little over a week. This time, we decided to try to savor it more; although, it still didn’t last very long.

The ale pours a dark, reddish brown with a generally thick, cream colored head. You instantly smell the bourbon but there is also very nice malt sweetness along with it. The beer has a rich, velvety mouthfeel that is very smooth. The flavor from the oak and bourbon is mainly caramels and vanillas that add a depth to the malt flavor of the basic scotch ale. If you enjoy malty beers, definitely give this one a go.