I think I learned what it is to be a patient man this evening.

Toward the end of the work day I caught the brewing bug, and after some quick recipe formulation I settled on a fairly standard Bavarian hefeweizen recipe, using half malted white wheat, some pils, and Munich for a bit of character. I also opted for a couple ounces of German Tettnanger hops to help balance things out, although with this beer the defining characteristic certainly comes from the Weihenstephan yeast strain that will deliver a fragrant banana and clove aroma. Amidst all of this, I had the foresight (or so I thought) to add some rice hulls, considering what I already knew about the gummy nature of wheat in the mash and how long sparging can take with this kind of grist.

After more than an hour sparge with less than half my brew kettle filled, I felt like giving up watching the torturously slow trickle of wort dribbling out of the tun. I didn’t actually get boiling until nearly 10 p.m., long after I’d started the process. What should have been a pleasant after work brewing experience turned into a tiring brew night. But that’s the way homebrewing goes some times. On the plus side, I had plenty of time to destroy nearly every microbe in my house sanitizing the hell out of all my brewing equipment.

Here’s the recipe I went with:

Single infusion mash at 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Boil volume: 6.5 gallons
Boil time: 60 minutes
Batch size: 5 gallons

OG: 1.053
FG: 1.013
ABV: 5.1%
IBU: 19
SRM: 7

5 lbs Malted White Wheat
4 lbs Pilsner
1 lb Munich
0.5 lb Rice Hulls
0.5 oz Tettnanger (4.8% AA) @ 60
1 oz Tettnanger (4.8% AA) @ 30
0.5 oz Tettnanger (4.8% AA) @ 2
Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen

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Downtown St. Paul is a quaint little area, a mix of the historic and new. Modern business towers mingle with 1930’s gangster-era theaters. Cobblestone streets lead to corporate coffee shops dotting several street corners. And the tattered remnants of Lowertown warehouses from yesteryear overlook sparkling condominiums on the Mississippi riverfront.

If you’re not careful, you might actually fool yourself into thinking you’re in a thriving city filled with adventure and things to do. But when 5:01 p.m. hits on any given weekday, that thought quickly evaporates as the place becomes a virtual ghost town. Throngs of white starched shirts and pressed business suits filter out of corporate monoliths to make their way to the burbs. Homeless people roll through Rice Park like tumbleweed. And bartenders at watering holes quietly work their way through the day’s Pioneer Press crossword puzzle, waiting for someone…anyone…to give them something to do.    

The scene at Great Waters Brewery on St. Peter Street was thankfully a little more lively than that when I showed up Wednesday evening, but not by much. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, and was glad to see a slew of interesting beers on draught. I sampled a few, all of which were mighty tasty:

Cask Rye Pale Ale Dry Hopped with Chinook
Of the eight or 10 beers on tap, about half were cask-conditioned, which I think is great not only for the beer geeks interested in supporting real ale, but also a fun way for your everyday beer drinker to learn more about the difference in unfiltered and unpasteurized ale pushed naturally from the cask. Their Rye Pale Ale dry hopped with Chinook was a great example, poured surprisingly clear with a nice medium amber hue and beautiful combo of the bready rye and pungent aromatic hops in the nose. Taste was not as malty as I expected, but rather a bit dry leading to a spicy finish thanks to the rye. A very enjoyable beer.

Rating: A-

KaizerWeizen Hefeweizen
Poured golden cloudy with yeast like a good hefe should. Really no head to speak of, but that’s likely more a function that it was served in one of their half-pint glasses. Faint banana and bubble gum aroma, leading to a fairly non-descript flavor of light grain. Fairly spritzy mouthfeel. While this was a very clean, obviously well-constructed beer, it only reinforced my general disdain for hefeweizens as a relatively mundane style (unless you’re talking about Weihenstephaner, in which case pour me another!).

Rating: B

Cask Oak-Aged Black Watch Oatmeal Stout
Another cask-conditioned ale in the form of an oatmeal stout. Very deep brown pour, with a really subtle oakiness in the aroma. And in fact, too subtle in my opinion. The bartender told me they age it in oak casks for about a month, which to me doesn’t sound like enough to really impart that unique barrel characteristic. Some nice chocolate and roasted notes in the nose as well. Taste was smooth, almost velvety from the oatmeal. But compared to other stouts, I’d say a bit light in the mouthfeel department. A solid beer overall.

Rating: B

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Some days are better than others.

Most days, I wake up, head to work, and if I’m lucky, I may cap off my drudgery with a nice beer or two. Usually a homebrew, but maybe even something highly rated on the Beer Advocate “Best Of” list. While spending a long weekend in New York City, I may have completely outdone myself, reaching heights not likely to be attained again any time soon. Some may not immediately think of NYC as a beer town, at least compared to other locales out West. But after hitting up Brooklyn Brewery, a few of the best craft beer bars in America, and a stop at one of the tastiest BBQ joints I’ve come across north of the Mason-Dixon, I think NYC should be near the top of every beer geek’s list of places to go.

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Westy 12 & Rochefort 10

Along for the ride and serving as our very gracious tour guide of the city was my good friend Aaron over at The Vice Blog, New York’s favorite beer blogger, who joined my brother-in-law and me at our hotel to kick off the weekend with your average, run-of-the-mill tasting that included a few beers you may have heard of…Westy 12, 8 and Blonde; Dark Lord 2009; Lost Abbey Angel’s Share Brandy Barrel-Aged 2008 and Bourbon Barrel-Aged 2009; and Rochefort 10. Just standing in the presence of these assembled beers, I almost didn’t want to ruin the moment by cracking the first bottle open. But that of course would be ridiculously stupid. 

We started off with a blind tasting of Westy 12 and Rochefort 10 (which some deem to be nearly identical), and surprisingly showed that not only was Westy 12 the significantly more desirable beer (much maltier and sweeter, in our collective opinion) than Rochefort 10, it made Rochefort 10 seem more akin to a poorly concocted homebrew than a finely crafted Trappist quadrupel. Really…I’m not trying to be insulting or funny, the beer smelled faintly like vomit or rancid cheese, which completely surprised me. The taste was OK, though.

DSC02511The Angel’s Share bottles were excellent in their own right, certainly both A-level beers. The Brandy Barrel-Aged version, from my understanding, is the one that gets knocked for its lack of carbonation, but it didn’t bother me in the least. Both versions poured with a huge, full-frontal assault of booze and dark malts, very reminiscent in that regard to Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout or Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. Burnt malt and coffee notes with both, and a medium mouthfeel. I really enjoyed both of these beers, tough to say which is better.   

DSC02535After a phenomenal afternoon session, I felt a little like Han Solo emerging from his cell of carbonite as we stumbled out into the blindingly sun-drenched streets of Manhattan. We pushed on to Rattle n’ Hum, a fairly new beer bar a block from the Empire State Building that immediately makes any beer lover feel like they’ve hit the big leagues. Nicely appointed, warm wood throughout, and arguably one of the most impressive tap and bottle lists I’ve ever seen this side of Belgium. A true beer oasis.

DSC02530After sampling a handful of great beers including Stone Russian Imperial Stout, Sixpoint Northern Lights, Dogfish 90 Minute and Weihenstephaner Hefeweiss on draught, we asked the bartender if she per chance happened to have an extra bottle of Alesmith Yulesmith floating around somewhere behind the bar. Not seeing it on the menu, but hearing rumors that it had recently been on the premises, we figured it was worth a shot. Lo and behold, she emerged from the depths of the beer cooler with a nicely chilled bottle and plunked it down in front of our bulging eyes.

DSC02542This being my first ever Alesmith tasting, I didn’t have much to compare it to when it came to the brewery itself, but Yulesmith really knocked my socks off. It’s a double IPA billed as a holiday beer, which like Sierra Nevada’s annual Celebration Ale series always makes me scratch my head a bit. I guess out in California, hops equal holiday cheer.

Poured with a nice billowing head bursting with citric hops and spiciness. Beautiful malt backbone, a great balance between the sweet and bitter. Slick and oily from the hop resins, leading to a lingering bitter finish. Really a nice example of a very well put together West Coast IPA. I’d give it at least an A.   

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Nicely pickled, we continued the beer parade by catching a cab for Brooklyn Brewery to check out their happy hour and sample some of their finest. After a long and winding drive through several very hip Brooklyn neighborhoods, we arrived and walked in to an amazing scene. Tons of craft beer lovers (and a few folks who clearly didn’t realize how good they had it) packed into a very cool warehouse space amidst an ambience-inducing bottling line and handful of bright tanks. Right up front, they also had a great display of antique beer bottles, most of which were from former breweries in the city. A great touch from what I assume is the consummate historian and renaissance man himself, Garrett Oliver.

DSC02555We sampled a handful of their stuff on draught including Blanche de Brooklyn (a yeasty witbier), Sorachi Ace (a very peppery saison, part of their Brewmaster’s Series) and Intensified Coffee Stout (one of the best coffee beers I’ve ever had, in league with Surly Coffee Bender and Great Divide’s Yeti). The single line to get a beer at the pouring station was a mile long, but somehow we were able to bypass all of this by making friends with the bartenders. After a few beers, we decided to share a bottle of Local 1, a Belgian pale, having recently favorably reviewed their Local 2. Very nice, a delicate use of malt and hops, but nothing too mind blowing. Probably a strong B-level beer.  

After getting our fill at Brooklyn Brewery, we somehow found a cab, which was a bit of serendipity given our location in a somewhat desolate part of Brooklyn, and made our way to The Ginger Man, another highly regarded New York craft beer bar. I’d provide some pictures from the experience, which like Rattle n’ Hum was jaw-dropping in the number of hard-to-find and vintage stuff on hand, but I was frankly too mesmerized with a snifter of Goose Island Night Stalker to pay much mind to the camera. Deep chocolate nose, booze in the back end from the hefty 12% ABV, and a very full, solid mouthfeel throughout. Certainly an A-level kind of beer, if only for the fact that it lasted approximately 2 minutes before I’d guzzled it all down.

Later this week: Dinosaurs BBQ and The Blind Tiger

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Brooklyn Local 1

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I think this might be my first hefeweizen review, and there’s a reason behind it. More often than not, I tend to feel like wheat beers can be thin and fairly one-dimensional. I think about beers — as nice as they are in their own right (because trust me, I know they have their own set of rabid fans) — like Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat or Bell’s Oberon. The wheat just doesn’t do as much for me in the complexity department like most other grains, specialty malts in particular. Thus, I don’t generally drink them.

After recently enjoying Aventinus, a weizenbock, and now this hefe from Weihenstephaner, I’m beginning to slowly change my mind on the broad category*.

An almost luminescent golden, hay colored cloudy pour. Massive billowing head, with a banana boat-load of fruity esters and a light gingerbread clove effect. A pleasing warmth in the nose.

Taste was more on the clove side versus banana, a bit spicy with a brief bite in the finish, all backed with of course a healthy dose of wheat. Medium-full mouthfeel, which as I noted is better than what I’ve come to expect with most hefes. Pretty light on the alcohol front, only 5.4% ABV. The beer paired extraordinarily well with my homemade shrimp chowder, the banana and clove becoming much more pronounced and pleasing after each spoonful of cumin- and cayenne-infused chowder.  

This is just a simple, straightforward and glorious beer. I guess if the billing on their label as “World’s Oldest Brewery” is true, they’ve got a bit of a head start on the rest of us when it comes to mastering your craft.

Rating: A+

* I’m trying to branch out in the homebrew department with wheats, as well, having just brewed a lambic-style ale. However, on second thought, lambics have just about nothing in common with your average hefe aside from the initial grain bill, so scratch that.