Books: Homebrew Handbook is a Hit

December 6, 2013 0 comments
Future Publishing's [UK] Homebrew Handbook has been out for a little while now - but it was only recently that it caught my eye at the local Barnes & Noble. I'm a sucker for a nicely-produced book or magazine of any kind, so I couldn't resist grabbing a copy and taking up to the checkout.

The handbook is a very attractive, well-written and well-illustrated guide on how to brew your own beer. Like most publications from Future Publishing, it's a very high-quality piece, printed on high-quality paper and made to serve as a handy, durable reference that will last you through many homebrewing sessions. I will look good on your coffee table, too. The handbook looks at three essential methods of brewing (Home Kit, Extract and Full-Mash) and includes some solid reference material on malt, hops, water and various aspects of the brewing process that the beginning homebrewer--whether they are in the UK or the US--will find helpful. As it has been a while since I've brewed myself, it also served as a nice refresher, and the articles on establishing microbreweries and labeling your beer were interesting and inspirational, too.

One of the most useful parts of the book is the nice collection of recipes that are included, from very basic types to some more specialized brews that were provided by some popular craft breweries. Some of these you might be familiar with; others are rather obscure offerings from lesser known brewers, but they are all interesting to read about and assess, and may inspire you to tinkering with your next batch of homebrew.

All in all, a nice publication that we would highly recommend at just $14.99.
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July 24, 2013 0 comments
A new article in TIME Magazine discusses a trend in brewing that we have been expecting for some time now – the increasing emergence of session beers in the U.S. market. Highlighting the efforts of Redhook Brewery in Washington state, it notes the introduction of their new, Game Changer - new pale ale that’s been freshly put on tap at 925 U.S. locations of the Buffalo Wild Wings chain. The target point is just a little higher than a mass-produced domestic beer, and slightly less than your typical high-end craft beer.

“It’s an approachable craft beer that’s not too heavy or too high in alcohol, so people can enjoy drinking it responsibly over the course of a whole game,” says Andy Thomas, president of the Craft Brew Alliance, which owns Redhook.

 Meanwhile, Patrick Kirk, beverage-innovation director for Buffalo Wild Wings, explained why the chain wanted its own special craft beer, and why it was important for the beer to be sessionable:

“We’ve seen an interesting trend, a movement toward craft beers coming back down to be more sessionable, brewed with lower alcohol and an easy-to-drink mentality. That’s what our guest is demanding. If you’re going to stay for a game from kick-off to the end, you can’t really drink beers with 6% or 7% ABV throughout the game. It’s not possible from a responsible service and consumption standpoint, as well as from flavor perspective and a cost standpoint. But you need great flavor. The goal was to not be fully in the craft camp but to be a step up from domestics, and brew a well-balanced, full-flavored beer that hits the middle between 4% and 5% ABV. Game Changer is at 4.6% ABV, so it’s definitely sessionable.”
You can read more of the article here. It discusses a lot of other issues, like the ongoing controversy about what makes a beer a craft beer, anyway. Suffice to say I think we’ll see more of this type of thing as time goes on, because the truth is, no responsible person can go out and drink 7.5% IPAs all night long.
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Summer is traditionally the time of year when I trade in my brown ales, stouts and IPA’s for lighter beers that allow me to hold up a little better in the heat. Over the years, I’ve come to pay attention to what’s in my glass…remembering times in the past when a combination of too much beer and too much sun would put me out of commission for a day or more. If you’ve ever had a bout of beer-induced sunstroke, the memory will stick with you for a long time.

This is the reason why I gravitate to the inevitable Corona, or Modelo, or Pacifico, or Land Shark – or even a Bud Light Lime during the summer months. In particular, I’ve found that there’s something about beers brewed south-of-the-border that helps me avoid the brutal effects of sun-and-suds – so a long afternoon floating in the pool, listening to ska or reggae…and knocking back a bottle or ten doesn’t seem to have any ill effects.

I’ve also found that what makes this even more palatable is adding lemonade to my beer. The proportion may vary, but a 1-part lemonade to 5-parts beer ratio is fine – and I’ve even gone as high as 1:3 on a VERY hot day. “What about bottled Shandys?” - you say?

“We don’t need no stinking shandys…”

Actually, I have bought a few. I’ve found Sam Adams’ Porch Rocker to be pretty good. Leinenkugel’s Shandy is utterly awful (the lemon taste is very chemical – more akin to a cough drop). One of my favorites – Stiegl - is actually a true radler, made with lemon soda – and it is very, very good. I always show up with a few of these at my best friend’s annual Luau and they are always a hit.

Of course, any quality German Lager or Helles will do just fine – though I am less likely to add lemonade to a beer of very high quality with a comparatively delicate taste. On a slightly different note, I recently sampled a Newcastle Blonde Bombshell on a recent Saturday afternoon in the pool and found it to be very fine indeed.

I know I’m not alone in this warm-weather adjustment. As much as I love a cool Guinness, a well-balanced IPA or a delicious Spaten Optimator, I am just not going to drink much of that stuff when it’s 85 degrees outside and I am sweating buckets after moving the lawn and pulling weeds.

Let us know what your summertime favorites are.
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Believe it or not, I've yet to make it to Blues & Brews in downtown Akron - but this is the year I plan to rectify that mistake and enjoy some of the 200 beers from 80 brewers that will be featured. Now in it's ninth year, the beer celebration is one of the biggest beer fests in the state, attracting a number of brewers from across the country and even further.

In addition to Ohio regulars such as Great Lakes, Hoppin’ Frog, Cornerstone, Buckeye, Willoughby, and Fat Head’s, Blues & Brews also will feature a number of other other new breweries like Millersburg Brewing from Millersburg, Portside Distillery from Cleveland, 50 West Brewing from Cincinnati and Listermann Brewing from Cincinnati.

Sponsored by Acme Fresh Markets, The Winking Lizard and Thirsty Dog Brewing, the event promises to be the highlight of the Beer Year in Akron and hop-fully the weather will hold out. The event runs from 2 to 6 p.m. General admission tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the gate. Brewer’s Circle tickets, which allow you into the event at noon and include special beers and food, are $55 in advance or $60 at the door. Live music will be provided by Freddie Salem & Lonewolf, The Billie Smith Band and The Juke Hounds.

To find out more - check out the story on
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October 19, 2012 0 comments

Having spent most of my working life in advertising, I know only too well that marketing is often about dreaming up some gimmick that will get people’s attention.

Now you don’t need to get their attention for long; maybe just long enough to get noticed—or if you’re really lucky, long enough to make a buck or two.

So it was with a bare smile that I noticed the recent introduction at GABF of Wynkoop’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, reportedly brewed with real (roasted) bull testicles. What started out as a joke last spring morphed into reality, as beer drinkers took the April Fool’s day jest seriously and started asking about the nutty brew. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the brewmasters at Wynkoop decided to bag it and deliver a tasty, palatable package.

Reportedly, the 7% ABV brew tastes pretty good, which is certainly a relief. I’m sure a lot of beer drinkers gravitate toward this sort of crazy stuff—inspired by an “I dare ya” attitude toward brewing big, brash, ballsy beers made with all kinds of crazy ingredients. It used to be stuff like chile peppers, unusual herbs, bananas…but these, while out of the ordinary for beer, were still commonly enjoyed foods. Now I feel we’re gravitating toward even stranger stuff—not for the taste possibilities—but for the shock factor. Like the beer recently made with yeast from some the brewmaster's beard.

I’m all for fun and experimentation. But I’m also kinda wondering how long before we see Donkey Wang Weisse, Armpit Ale or Bird Poop Pilsener. Gimmicks can be fun. But enjoying a simple great beer can be a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime – or at least one you’ll want to return to now and again.
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October 12, 2012 0 comments

            When you’re writing about beer, you feel it’s only fair to let people know a little bit about your background and tastes, so they can put your commentary into a context that makes sense. With that in mind, I thought I might share some thoughts about the worst and the best beers I have enjoyed up to this point—which includes about forty years of beer drinking.

            It’s important to keep in mind two things here. One, it’s quite possible that I have yet to come across the absolute “worst” or “best” beer, since we never can really know what the future holds. Two, when categorizing these beers (especially when you’re talking best beer) other factors come into play, like the impact of the moment, the color of one’s memory, and the context of drinking. Think of it this way: that ice cold Coors Banquet beer you had when after you just finished mowing the lawn in 100+ degree, record-breaking heat 15 years ago might be remembered quite fondly. Likewise, the first really good beer you had of a certain type might be remembered as the best, even though you may have had better examples since then.


            This one’s easy. I was working at an ad agency near Cleveland, and a new Indian restaurant was just opening up in the ground floor space in our building. To help introduce themselves and build word-of-mouth business, the new proprietors invited most of the other tenants in our office tower downstairs one late afternoon for a buffet, where we were encouraged to sample a variety of their dishes. The food, as we all had hoped, was really excellent, and after sitting at a table for a few minutes, one of our hosts graciously came out to offer us something to drink.

“Well, a beer would be nice,” I replied. “If you happen to have any.”

            My host's eyes lit up. “Oh yes, of course,” he said. “I have just the thing; I can bring you some beer from India!”

            He returned a moment later, cracking open a tall, 16oz. brown bottle with an ornate gold label and majestically pouring into a tall pilsner glass. I looked at the label, which said World Famous Bombay Beer. I thanked him as he stepped away to help another table.

            Now, before I disparage any hard-working brewer on the subcontinent, please understand that I seriously doubt this beer is a relation to any currently-available beer of this name—blonde or otherwise. This was, after all, over 15 years ago.

            As I raised the glass to my lips and took some long gulps (the food was a little spicy, after all) the girls who worked in the media department observed my reaction carefully, since they were thirsty too, and were wondering if they should follow my lead. As I swallowed, I could see the looks on their faces, no doubt mirroring the confusion, bewilderment and revulsion on my own.
            “What…thefuckisthisshit???” The words were hard to pronounce, since my mouth was probably contorted into the shape of a dog’s anus. Which was kinda what this beer tasted like.
            “What is it?” asked the girls. “Whatsa matter? Isn’t it any good?”

            I set the pilsner glass down in front of me, took a long look at it, and then inspected the bottle label again, just to make sure it did, in fact, say “beer.” Crazy as it seems, I actually found myself tasting it again, as if to confirm my disbelief.
            “This,” I announced slowly, “is-absolutely-the-worst-tasting-beer-I-have-ever-had-in-my life.”
            “That bad, huh?” someone asked.

            “Yes,” I confirmed. “You know the Ganges River, where all those people go to bathe before they go into the Hindu temple? I think they stand downstream and collect the water for this beer there.”

            In fact, after some consideration, I surmised that it wasn’t that they collected water from the Ganges to make the beer, but that the dirty water itself was actually in my bottle. It didn’t even tasted like beer—truly an indescribable mouthful of—something. Worst part was, it was a 16oz. bottle to boot. I left the other 14oz. on someone else's table.


            If you recall what I said at the top of this article about remembering your best beer, then it certainly applies to this example. By the early 1980’s I had enjoyed plenty of decent beers and some very good imports, though there was not a lot available at the time. But after Merchant DuVin started importing more obscure, high-quality beers from overseas, better stuff could be obtained. Trying to save money for our first home, I found a second job working the drive-thru section at the best beer shop in town, called The Outpost.

            I can still remember coming home one night after work with a few bottles of Samuel Smith’s Pale Ale, from the Old Tadcaster Brewery. This was back when it was still in a clear bottle, and I can recall pouring this lovely brown ale into a small juice glass, gazing in wonder at it’s beautiful creamy head and savoring the rich, fruity esters that tickled my nose. The taste? It was absolutely delicious…like drinking a bite of grandma’s apple pie, but not as sweet, of course.

            What a revelation that was. Who knew that beer could be that good—or that a single bottle of “the good stuff” could give so much more satisfaction than any 12-pack of ordinary American pilsner could ever muster? Like most people who have tasted today's well-made craft beers and suddenly had their eyes opened, that first Samuel Smith’s was my own real eye-opener.

            Since then, I’m sure I’ve had beers that were probably every bit as good, maybe even better. But certainly, none have been more memorable…and that is what makes it the best for me.

            If you have a memory of your worst or best beers, feel free to share them in the comments; I’d like to hear about them.
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