Dark Lord Day

In the beginning there were monks.* These monks brewed beer for the greater glory of God. Then people brought their love of beer to America. They wanted to brew beer, so they did. But they turned away from their holy calling and started dedicating their brews to the dark lord. The culmination of their efforts is Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. An unholy brew made by those dedicated to him. It is available on only on Dark Lord Day, and you must go to the headquarters of the group itself to get it: Three Floyd’s Brewery.


I am trying to find brave souls to join me on a quest to Munster, Indiana on April the 28th to search out and acquire the elusive Dark Lord Beer. What is reported to be one of the greatest beers in the world. More information about tickets to the event should be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks.

*Actually the Church is a relative late comer to the world of brewing. Before that it was generally the woman of the household or Alewive’s job to brew the beer. Selling extra beer was also a good way for a widower to make money at a time when there were few prospects for unmarried women

Wisconsin Homebrew Laws

After prohibition of alcohol ended in 1933, they forgot to legalize homebrewing. Maybe “forgot” isn’t the correct word because there are all sorts of wrong with the regulations that allow somebody to brew and sell beer, but that’s another post. In 1979, Jimmy Carter signed a law that made making wine and beer in your home legal. Although federally it is legal, it is largely up to the states to regulate alcohol, and various states have different restrictions

I bet she threw the best party after the repeal.

The state of Wisconsin “forgot” to make it legal to transport home made beer and wine outside the home. Without this provision how are homebrewers to enter their beer into competitions? How are they to bring it to homebrew meetings? Most importantly how are they going to bring it over to a buddys house to watch the Packers lose to the Bears (it could happen)?

It didn’t really stop anybody since apparently nobody had even heard of that part of the law. It doesn’t even seem to be on the American Homebrewers Associations list of state homebrew laws. Nevertheless, it looks like the government of Wisconsin is actually headed in the right direction. A bill that passed the Wisconsin State Senate on Valentines Day would make transporting homemade beer and wine legal.

There is still strangely enough two states that don’t allow homebrewing, and several others where it is ambiguous (as is the way of governments). Maybe one day these states will stop fearing us terrible homebrewers.

Bottling Kuyken’s Coffee Stout

This weekend Amy (one of the helper monkeys around here) and I bottled my third batch of homebrew. I guess I’m kind of working backwards since I’m starting with the bottling on the blog, but you’ll probably learn something, and in addition that means you could potentially taste the beer faster, since it should be fully carbonated in about 2 weeks.

I can’t remember when I decided that I should brew my own beer. I know it was during college since I started collecting empty beer bottles in college (only to throw them all away during a move). I also bought John Palmers book “How to Brew.” If you wanted to get into the craft, that would be the book to get. You could also get Charlie Papazians older book “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.”

So there I was several years after college at the Christmas of 2009 and I find myself with a shiny new homebrew kit. Unfortunately I’m largely at a field site for work and I won’t be permanently back home until June.

Lets get to the present times. I’ve got a few homebrews under my belt and a fancy new brew book “Radical Brewing” by Randy Mosher who seems to be a big fan of the so-called Belgium Reinheitsgebot “Experience, Creativity, and Knowledge,” as he always is pushing what you can do with a beer.

It’s time to step it up a notch, in that I’m not just brewing a pre-made brew kit, but I’m formulating a beer reciped based on radical recipes from the book.There is born, Kuyken’s Coffee Stout.

It starts with a solid American Style Stout recipe, and use some tasty Crystal Malts. Then, after primary fermentation you cold extract a few ounces of coffee and add it when you rack to secondary.

Ok, there was a lot of fancy spancy brewin’ terms in that last sentence. What the hell did I just say? I’ll go into more detail when I post about my next brew from the beginning, but here are some basics.

Crystal Malts: These are malts that are roasted in a rotating drum before kilning. They produce strong toffee-flavors. It will also add to the amount of residual sugars since some of the sugars from this malt are unfermentable.

Wort: This is basically the sugar solution you get from the malted barely and other ingredients, and contains the bitterness, flavor, and aroma of the hops. You then add yeast to this, which will ferment it, and you will get beer.

Primary Fermentation: After brewing your wort, you put it into some sort of fermentation vessel like a plastic bucket or carboy. Then you put in some beer yeast. After fermentation, you will sometimes siphon or “rack” the beer into another vessel that removes it from the yeast cake that developes. This is especially true if you want to mature the beer for a long time.

Cold extraction. To do this you take a bunch of coffee grounds and put it in a small amount of water for about a day in the fridge. Some people use cold extraction to make coffee which generally gives you a smoother less bitter coffee flavor than a brewed coffee. You can store this coffee for awhile and if you wanted to drink it you could mix it with hot water. The reason that this method is used for beer a lot of the time is so it doesn’t add any more bitterness.

To the Bottling!

The first think you need to do with clean and sanitize all of your equipment. I clean all my bottles as I used them, and then I generally put it into the dish washer which has a sani rinse feature, that will sanitize all the bottles.

Use what you got to make cleaning easier.

Then I clean everything else using a low suds oxygenated cleanser called Powders-Brewery-Wash. This is similar to Oxyclean Free. You could really use any unscented detergent, but the oxygenated cleaners barely needs to be rinsed and really are some of the best cleansers out there. Then you have to sanitize your equipment. You can use heat (like I use for the bottles), or you can use a chemical sanitizer. The most common one would be a beach solution, just remember that if you use a bleach solution you have to rinse it really good. I used a non-rinse sanitizer made by Star San, which won’t affect the head on your beer, but there are other brands out there.

A pain in the ass, but very necessary.

Sanitizing is very important for all your brewing activities. To make beer you generally want want one critter and one critter only, yeast. If you sanitize (kill 99.9% of critters), you will easily allow the yeast to kill off the remaining 0.1% of the critters. If you don’t, then other bacterias will start eating away at your beer and you’ll get all sorts of odd flavors. You won’t get sick, because the alcohol will eventually kill off most everything.

You then need to make a priming sugar solution. I completely forgot about this in the “excitement” of cleaning that I didn’t remember the priming sugar until after I started siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket and Amy asked when we put the priming sugar in. The answer of course is, before you start siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket so it mixes itself in good.  We quickly stopped the siphon and ran up to the kitchen to make it.

Keep as much air out as possible.

Priming solution is basically a simple syrup. You just want to add some sugar into the beer so the remaining yeast can ferment it in the bottle and create C02, hence naturally carbonating the beer. This simple sugar won’t add any flavor or body like the wort does.

So we make some and cool it off as quick as possible. Then pour it into the secondary fermenter with as little splashing as possible. After fermentation you want to aerate the wort as little as possible. Adding air to the beer will give you oxidized flavors, which tastes like cardboard. Generally if you have a beer for a long time, you will get these flavors eventually because the bottle cap can only keep out so much air, but by aerating the beer you’re going to get them a lot faster.

Yes that is an MGD box.

So now the beer is in the bottling bucket with a spiget. The tube and the bottle filler have been placed on it. Then I fill each bottle up to the top which after you take out the bottle filler out will give you the perfect amount of head room. You want to leave about an inch on top, which after carbonation will fill with C02 and protect your beer from air.

Amy Sumrall, bottle capper extraordinaire.

Then you take the bottle capper and cap each bottle. It takes a little bit of time, and you have to wait 2 weeks for it to carbonate, but then you will have tasty tasty beer. Yes there were a few snafus, but you’ve got to relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew.

Bottled Beer!

Fullers London Pride

Bitter. Why would anybody want to drink something called a Bitter? Bitter is the flavor of poison in the wild.

Fullers London Pride

It’s the reason kids don’t eat their vegetables. It’s generally seen to our American palate as unpleasant, but this isn’t always the case. What would marmalade be without the use of bitter oranges? What about Tea? What about Coffee? Oh wait, coffee without the bitterness would be something like the Starbucks Peppermint Mocha with whipped cream. So many foods have so much artificial sweetener that most people don’t even know what sweet is.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Why bitter? It’s the balance. Balance is important in everything in life, and this is especially true for your gastronomic experiences.

Without bitterness, beer would taste like malt syrup, and though you might drink a spoonful of this, you certainly wouldn’t be drinking it by the pint. Since about the 15th century, bitterness in beer has come mainly from hops. In darker beers, you also get some bitterness from the highly roasted malt (just like how the darker roasts of coffee are bitterer than lighter roasts). Before this, at least in Europe, you generally had a mixture of spices called gruit. Gruit is usually made up of herbs like sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow, wild rosemary, cloves etc. It varied from region to region and the recipe was usually kept secret. Gruit usually came only from the church or nobility, and acted as a tax on the beer since you had the get your Gruit from them. If you do want to make your own Gruit beer, you may want to omit the yarrow and wild rosemary, as these are questionable at best for human consumption.

Hops eventually came along, and over the period of several centuries and almost completely overtook other spices. This is probably due to its better antibiotic properties that favor beer yeast, and the reason that regions that resisted hops the longest and still to this day prefer other spices, still will include a small amount of hops in their beers.

Fuller’s London Pride is an English Style Bitter. It has a lot of overlap with a pale ale, and some would claim that the only difference is a bitter comes from a barrel and a pale ale comes from a bottle. Others like Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery would claim that Pale Ales are drier and have a very clean sharp hope flavor. This generally is a result of using water with a high level of gypsum in it (very hard water), most famously from Burton-upon-Trent, and adding gypsum to your brew water to make it harder is generally called “Burtonizing,” but that’s another post.

This beer is not exactly the same London Pride that you would get if you went to a Fuller’s pub in England and ordered a Bitter. The we get comes in a bottle and theoretically in England the bitter would come from a “real ale” system. Which means that it is naturally carbonated in the cask, and uses gravity or a hand pump to pour from a cask instead of compressed C02.This method almost died out in England until the Campaign for Real Ale came along and basically saved beer in England. I say you would theoretically get it from a “real ale” system because although these systems are on the rise, using a real ale system is kind of a pain, and since there is no C02, the beers need to be consumed within a few days. It also requires a skilled cellarman. When the cask is ready to be used, the cask is breached and carbonation is let out of the cask until the preferred level of carbonation is reached. This varies depending on the region of the country. Less carbonation in the south and more carbonation in the north.

Now to the beer of the moment.

Fuller’s London Pride

Fuller’s along with Youngs are probably the most famous of the London Breweries and what you think of when you think of beer in London. You could even divide London into the Fullers side and the Young’s side. just like you divide Chicago into the Cubs side and the Sox side. Beer has been brewed on the site of the Chiswick Brewery for the last 350 years, although the current company Fuller, Smith, and Turner only dates to 1845.

Aroma
The aroma is very fruity with some hints of breadiness. The most prominent fruit is orange. This actually confused me a little because you generally expect citrus flavors from an American Pale Ale due to the variety of hops used. I went to the BJCP style guides, and low and behold, there was no mention of orange in the British Bitter/Pale Ale aroma or taste. I didn’t think it was a bad batch because I smelled and tasted orange in more than one bottle. I went to the beeradvocate.com site and a few people mentioned orange in the aroma and taste. Now in looking at my copy of “The Brewmaster’s Table” by Garret Oliver and he does claim the nose contains notes of homemade orange marmalade, so I guess I’m not too far off.

Color
Golden brown and very clear. A short white head that laces nicely as you drink it.

Taste
I still taste orange first with some caramel tastes in the middle. The bitterness is prominent, but there is no real aroma or taste from the hops.

Mouthfeel
Low mouthfeel with a relatively light carbonation.

Overall Impression
This is a great crisp bitter beer that will go as easily with Fish and Chips as with some Chinese takeout. It’s a good session beer to drink all night.

Murphy’s Irish Stout

The last post was one of the lightest beers (at least in color). Now we go to one of the darkest. Murphy’s Irish Stout. The beer brewed from a blessed well in Cork, Ireland. Although the beer we get here in the States is brewed under contract in England.

Murphy's Irish Stout from the Widget Can

Most people first experience an Irish Stout by drinking Guinness. In fact, before the 80s it was probably one of the only decent beers you could find in this country. Murphy’s is in the same style of beer, and maybe has been less susceptible to the general decharacterization of beers that the whole world went through.

When I first came across dry stout (in the form of Guinness) we all convinced ourselves that this was such a heavy beer, kind of like a meal. Of course, compared to the Miller High Life that we had been drinking up until then, to us, it was the pound cake of beer. Of course now I know that Irish Stout is one of the smallest beers. It rarely has an ABV above 5%, and the final gravity, or level of residual sugars left after fermentation is very small. Hence why it is a Dry Stout, and not a sweet stout. This of course means the mouthfeel tends to be lower.

And like most Irish Stouts that we get in the US, the canned version has a nitrogen widget which simulates the nitrogen commonly used to pump Irish Stout from a keg. This is mostly the reason Irish Stouts have that Ice Cream creaminess.

Of course, this isn’t the same beer as Guinness. Murphy’s tends to be slightly sweeter and less assertive than Guinness or even Beamish. Guinness once had an advertising slogan “Guinness, the beer you’ve been training for”. Murphy’s advertising retort “Murphy’s Irish Stout – No Experience Required.”

Aroma

A very roasty malt, with coffee and chocolate ice cream notes. There is no hint of hops at all. It kind of smells bitter, if bitter could be smelled. My guess is that it could be the acidity.

Appearance

It is opaque and very dark brown or black. It has a creamy light brown head.

Taste

The first thing you notice is that it is very creamy, like  a milk shake. This of course comes from the nitrogen widget, and wouldn’t be noticeable in the bottled version of this beer. This gives me a perceived sweetness that I think comes from the creamy texture. It also helps that this is one of the sweeter dry stouts. It has a roasty toasty flavor and has some coffee notes. It also has a bitter flavor which comes from the highly roasted malts. It’s the same reason that dark French roast coffee is more bitter than lighter City Roast coffee. No noticeable hop flavors.

Mouthfeel

 Creamy light mouthfeel with light, almost unnoticeable carbonation.

Overall Impression

A great beer, that has a good roast flavor. It went perfect with the Italian Beef sandwiches. A dry stout like this is almost a required ingredient for a nice homemade beef stew. It has very similar and complimenting flavors to the other ingredients of the stew and will really round out the taste.

Pilsner Urquell

I did it again. I resisted the starting of a new blog, since I always lose interest. And in all probability I will lose interest in this as well, but who cares. As you can probably tell from the title, this blog is about Beer. Both the brewing and the drinking of it. Today we will start with the beer that probably influences our modern state of beers more than any other specific beer. I’m talking about Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), basically meaning original Pislner. Pislner is referring to a beer brewed in the city of Plzen, and more generally the style of light colored lager with a hop focus. Pilsner is the most copied and varied style in the world, with some of the most common examples not much resembling the original at all (in fact not much resembling beer at all). Pilsner is one of the most versatile styles you can find and one that you should always have on hand. Just make it a good one.

Aroma

Intensely malty with a spicy hop bouquet.

Appearance

Brilliant golden color with a small creamy white head.

Flavor

Big malty flavor up front with a deep spicy hop flavor on the back. Very bright, dry and crisp.  A rounded, non-harsh bitterness, which is due to the very soft water used in brewing. A slight buttery flavor that either lessons as the beer warms, or just becomes a smaller part of the equation since the malt and hop flavors come out with warming. A slight buttery (diacetyl ) flavor is a common element in Bohemian Pilsners like this, and isn’t really considered a detriment, but actually can lead to a fuller tasting beer.

Mouthfeel

Medium to full bodied. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression

A crisp refreshing drink. That went perfectly with my Buffalo Wild Wings during the Super Bowl. Especially good for clearing the palate between the different flavors of wings. The carbonation deals nicely with the spice of the hotter wings.

A note on cans. I tend to think in general that cans are better receptacles for beer than bottles. They don’t break, they don’t let light in, and modern lined cans won’t impart any nasty aluminum flavors that the cans of old were known for.  For some reason, central and eastern European breweries seem to be obsessed with green beer bottles. Green bottles are almost useless at keeping out light. Light affects a chemical in hops that turns beers skunky. If you ever drank a Heineken from a bottle, you probably drank a skunky beer. The long trip the beer needs to take will inevitably expose it to light, and it doesn’t take long for a beer to turn skunky. So, for any of those European beers that insist on shipping over green bottles, always opt for the canned version.