dsc02021I woke up Friday morning and could barely bring myself to get out of bed.

The previous day, I’d spent a total of 20 straight hours traveling/working for a one-day business trip to Toronto, spending the majority of that time sitting in various airport terminals, running at breakneck speeds to make connecting flights, or slowly working my way through customs. I’d gotten home about midnight from Minneapolis/St. Paul International, and had slept for seven or eight hours, but I still felt completely exhausted. After sitting in uncomfortable airplane seats all day, my back ached like someone had dropped a 16 pound bowling ball on my lower vertebrae. And to add to the malaise, the severe head cold I’d been dealing with the previous two weeks was still maintaining dominance over my general well-being.

In short, I felt like a can of smashed assholes.

I laid there staring at my bedroom ceiling, wiping the cloud of sleep from my eyes, and wondering how in the hell I was going to summon the energy to move on. And then it hit me. One simple motivating image crept back into my mind…a review that I had read on Beer Advocate:

“The taste of Dark Lord is hard to explain. Imagine you’re walking down the street and someone just shoved a sandwich in your mouth. You’d be shocked, and I still am every time I drink it. Sorry I can’t go any further than that…just get some.”

I sat bolt upright, leaping out of my bed like Jarron Gilbert out of a pool, because this was no ordinary day folks. No illness or sore back was going to stand in my way. I was about to embark on what very possibly would become the greatest beer adventure of my life…the legendary Dark Lord Day, held at Three Floyds Brewery in beautiful Munster, Indiana.

I packed up the car and picked up my brother-in-law about 10:30, a trunk filled with various Surly stuff for trades (Furious, Bitter Brewer, Coffee Bender), and a couple growlers of Town Hall Masala Mama. I figured folks down at DLD would be clamoring for what were for most a couple very difficult breweries to come by, and I’d hopefully get some great stuff in return.

dsc019861We drove about four hours to the outskirts of Madison, making our first stop of the weekend at Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills where we met my good buddy Stu at Friday Night Beer. Jessie Nimm, beer evangelist for the brewery, greeted us in the lobby and was kind enough to show us around the place. We grabbed a pint for the tour, trying their Benji’s Chipotle Smoked Imperial Porter, which was an incredibly well-crafted beer. I’m usually not a big chipotle beer guy, but this one really stood out for me. Beautifully balanced chocolate notes mixed with pepper and bitter smoke. Fantastic. 

We checked out their brewhouse operations, which were pretty impressive. A number of fermentors, each lovingly named after a friend or family member of head brewer Rob Larson. Most interesting for me was taking a peek in their cooler room where they kept their store of hops and aging beers in bourbon barrels, including Rocky’s Revenge. Along the way, we had the fortune of also meeting Nevin McCown, assistant brewmaster for Tyranena who was extraordinarily gracious in sharing his knowledge and perspectives on craft beer and Tyranena’s brewing process. Really smart, thoughtful guy who knew his stuff. 

dsc01988We ended up hanging with Nevin for a while in Tyranena’s tasting room, enjoying their just-tapped Scurvy IPA, a very unique beer brewed with orange zest, giving it a very nice citrus quality in the nose and a bitterness that explodes off the tongue. Nevin talked about his experiences as a homebrewer and how he parlayed that into a career in commercial brewing, which evolved into conversations about hot side aeration, beer distribution in the United States, and hop growing techniques. Coincidentally, I’d brought along some of my own homebrew to share with friends in Chicago (including my dubbel, port barrel-aged Belgian brown ale and smoked porter) and offered some to Nevin who agreed to sample a few. He provided some very nice and insightful comments which I found incredibly useful.

After a very nice experience at Tyranena, we continued our journey south to the west side of Chicago, home to Two Brothers Brewing in Warrenville. To say Two Brothers is a little tough to find would be an understatement, as we drove through every street in the area looking for the place. My college friend from Chicago who we were staying with for the weekend was already at the brewery, so he helped us navigate to what was a non-descript industrial park where Two Brothers was located, not a sign on the place. Kind of odd, especially if they’re interested in people actually patronizing their establishment.

But any misgivings we had about the location were quickly erased as we walked into a very nice brewpub with loads of people enjoying quality craft beer. In fact, a local Beer Judge Certification class was being held in the back corner, surely the mark of a well-regarded local brewery. My brother-in-law and I grabbed a burger and a snifter of their Northwind Imperial Stout, a very nice beer loaded with malty sweetness and a nice, smooth finish. My other friend sampled their Domaine Du Page biere de garde at my suggestion, which he found very nice and refreshing on draught.

With many miles and many craft beers under our belt, we headed back to my friend’s house to get some rest for what was sure to be an eventful Dark Lord Day…

Read on Dark Lord Day part two…

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Half case of smoked porter on left, port barrel-aged Belgian brown on right

All  kinds of homebrew fun this past weekend. But unfortunately, not much of the actual brewing variety. For one reason or another over the past few weeks, I’ve neglected to keep my various beers moving along through the process. So I spent most of Saturday morning handling the tedium that is racking, bottling and kegging.

First up, I bottled my port barrel-aged Belgian brown ale, which smelled and tasted phenomenal coming out of secondary. The lactobacillus I added after primary fermentation definitely gives it a nice sour and acidic characteristic, and the oak comes through very well in the nose. Carbonated, this should be a very unique and interesting beer.

Second was bottling and kegging my smoked porter. I was nervous about this one, considering I’d never used smoked malts before and wasn’t exactly sure how much would be TOO much. Must be a case of beginner’s luck, as the 3 pounds of cherrywood smoked malt I added to the recipe really did the trick. Perfect smoky nose, and nicely balanced with the chocolatey malt. Really looking forward to this one. For the 3 gallons that I kegged, I set the CO2 pressure to about 15 PSI for the first day, then backed it off to about 8 PSI so it’ll saturate at about 1.8 volumes at 45 degrees F.

Third and fourth were racking my raspberry imperial stout and “regular” imperial stout to secondary, as they’d both been in primary for nearly a month. I normally don’t like to let beers sit on the yeast bed that long, but these beers were both so big I knew it was going to take a while to ferment out properly. The raspberry imp stout smelled very nice, as expected. It was the other imperial stout I was concerned about, because as you’ll recall it was the one that literally exploded all over my dining room after I pitched a very healthy yeast population. I left it to ferment in the open for about a week so the krausen could settle down, then I capped the bucket. No visual signs of bacterial infection when I opened it up again, but it did smell just a tiny bit off in some way. Kind of hard to pinpoint, as the alcohol kind of dominates the aroma (the OG on this was 1.150, FG 1.030). So I’m hoping that whatever may be in there subsides over the next several months as I let it condition in secondary. We’ll see.

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dsc01704This past weekend I ended up racking my smoked porter into secondary after a vigorous two-week primary fermentation. After I shot that video, the yeast took off in a big way, and nearly had me running out to Home Depot to find myself a blow-off tube to prevent any eruptions out of the air lock. But thankfully, the krausen crested just shy of the carboy neck and slowly subsided over the course of a few days. Pain in the rear to clean, though, which is why I usually stick to the 6.5 gallon food-grade buckets for primary.

Final gravity reading came in at 1.015, which will put this one right around 7% ABV. The aroma coming out of the carboy as I siphoned was out of this world. The nearly three pounds of cherry wood smoked malt I used in the recipe seem to give it a real distinct aroma, reminiscent of a distant campfire or fresh jerkey. I’m hoping the smokey nose doesn’t overpower the Crystal, chocolate and black patent malts I used to help balance and provide some complexity in sweetness and color.     

I’ll let it sit in secondary for at least a couple months, maybe cold condition (but probably not necessary), then bottle. Should be ready by mid summer. This will certainly complement a nicely marinated NY strip steak or BBQ-slathered rack of ribs on the grill, augmenting some of the char and tangy flavor. Can’t wait.

dsc01624Decided to brew up my first beer using smoked malts.

I was inspired by Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter, which is a fantastically well-balanced porter infused with alder-smoked malts. My version uses malt smoked over cherry wood, which compared to the beechwood smoked malt at my homebrew supply shop seemed like a much more robust and complex alternative.

Here’s the recipe I used:

8 lbs. Golden Promise
3 lbs. Cherry wood smoked malt
2 lbs. Munich
.75 lbs. Caramel 40
.75 lbs. Caramel 80
.75 lbs. Chocolate
.5 lbs. Black patent
2 oz. Cascade (60 min)
1 oz. Willamette (20 min)
1 oz Willamette (10 min)
Wyeast 1007 German Ale

I mashed in right at 152 degrees and held it for just about two hours. 30 minutes to sparge, and a full 60 minute boil. Didn’t yield a full 5 gallons, but I decided to just go with what I had versus topping off with tap water. Original gravity reading came in at 1.070, so depending on where this finishes out it will likely be in the 7-8% ABV range.

 I’ll try and take a video of the fermenting porter in the carboy over the next few days.