Homebrewer’s First Labels

This is not actually the first time that I have labeled my beer. The first time really was the beer I made for my Family Reunion. However, my cousin designed the labels then, and had them professionally printed on die-cast vinyl stickers. This time I didn’t tell him about this beer early enough, so I quickly made the labels up myself with an online label maker called beerlabelizer. I also added an extra line of text on the bottom using adobe acrobat.

I printed the labels out on a laser printer, and put them on the bottles using the milk method. You simply use milk as glue. It works pretty well, they supposedly are not hard to get off, and they don’t stink when they dry.

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Fisch-Mas: Christmas at the Fisch

Over the weekend I went to my favorite bar, Fischman’s Liquors and Tavern for their First Annual Holiday Beer Event,
Fisch-Mas: Christmas at the Fisch. For 30 bucks, you got unlimited tastings of  12 Christmas/Winter brews. The original plan had the event under heated tents in the parking lot in the back. However, the ridiculous amount of rain that day forced the main event next store, where they will be expanding in the upcoming months.

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Samichlaus 2011: They called this the world’s strongest lager, and not because it beats the other lagers in world’s strongest lager competitions. Brewed once a year on St. Nick’s day, then aged for 10 months before bottling. It possibly is the rarest beer in the world. It was certainly once of the sweetest beers I have ever had, bordering on cloying. It is not something you could drink all night long. The color was also pretty light for a dopplebock, more like a dopplemaibock.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale: One of 4 Belgian Strong Dark Ale’s in the tasting lineup and without a doubt the best one. Probably because it is a little more reserved than the other three. Strange as that might sound. It has an alcohol bitterness (yes alcohol bitterness) that nicely balances out the sweetness of the beer.

Great Lakes Christmas: This was one of the best. One of two truly American styles of Christmas Ale in the group. A malt forward base beer, mixed with the cinnamon and ginger one associates with Christmas.

Port Brewings Santa’s Little Helper: This is one of the two Imperial Stouts showcased. It is very much what you would expect from a fine Imperial Stout, lots of roasted malts, chocolate, and molasses flavors, with some Christmas Cheer in the form of Christmas spices.

Delirium Noel: Brought to you by the same people who gave you the pink elephant glass. This is the second Belgian Strong Dark, and I was warned that is wasn’t the best of them by the bar tender a few weeks before. A dark amber color with chunks of stuff settled in the bottle. I didn’t get any chunks, but it was on draft, so that was probably the reason. I thought it was tasty anyway.

Anchor Stream Christmas: I wasn’t a big fan of this beer. I’m not sure exactly why. The recipe for this beer changes every year, so you can’t really be sure what you are going to get. Maybe another year would have suited me better.

St. Feuillien Speciale: The 3rd Belgian Strong Dark. This is what I tend to think of when I think traditional Beglian Strong Dark. A dubbel on steroids. Got a little bit of hot fusels, tons of dark fruit character, and a little barnyard. I couldn’t tell much of a difference between this one and the 4th Belgian Strong dark, but of course, by now I was far into this list of high alcohol beers.

Old Jubilation: An old Ale. I always think of Old Ales as smaller more approachable Barleywines. Not as intense, not as rich, not as fruity, not as much warming alcohol, but in that direction and very tasty nontheless. It was a nice break from the 4 Belgian Strong Darks we had.

Three Floyd’s Alpha Klaus: The second truly American Christmas Beer. Starting with a quality porter base beer. It was big, it was hoppy, and the more I think of it the more I want some again.

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Scaldis Noel: The last Belgian Strong Dark, and by the then I was sick of them, See my description of the Special above if you want to know what this was like.

Goose Island Baudoinia: Fed by the fumes given off by the incomparable Bourban County Stout, Baudionia mold can be spotted on the barrels stored on the lowest shelves in the warehouse. The similarity named beer has all the flavors one would expect from its famous cousin but with much more prominent chocolate note and a deeper smoother body. Or so the pamplet says. How did the mold beer taste to me? Like Chocolate Whiskey. This isn’t a beer you gulp. It is a beer you sip in small snifter glasses like the billionaires of old (or of Sunday night cartoons).

Vandermill BA Cider: Fermented with Michigan Honey and aged for 8 months in Founder’s Backwoods Bastard Ale. Coincidentally, I just had Backwoods Bastard the last time I was at the Fisch. It is a Scottish Wee Heavy and is bloody intense. You get a bit of that in the cider. It is one of the best Cider’s that I have ever had.

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With so many beers, I tried to go in some sort of order of color and alcohol levels, so that I wouldn’t blow out my palate right away. The problem is that there were so many big, dark beers, it didn’t make any difference. You just had to sit back, get some good food from the Wagyu Wagon and enjoy some delicious holiday beer. Cheers!

The Enhancement of Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale

What is the helper monkey doing with syringes and a strange looking liquid? Is he doctoring his beer with nefarious substances like the brewers of old? Will this beer grant an experience beyond what Alcohol normally grants?

Of course! It will give you Christmas Cheer.  If you read my post about the brewing of Heat Miser’s Mild Christmas Ale, you know I threw a bunch of spices in at the last 5 minutes of the boil. I did not know exactly how much to put in, so I erred on the side of too little, since you can always add spice. Taking it out is another story.

I tasted it last week and got some orange and a tiny amount of vanilla, but nothing of the other spices. There are several ways to add spice after fermentation. One popular method is to make an extract by throwing some spices in a bottle of cheap vodka and letting it sit for a while. This is essentially how you would make vanilla extract. Then you filter out the spices and pout out a measured amount into the beer. I did not have awhile, so my options were basically to throw some crushed up spices into the bottling bucket and hope it was the right amount, or to brew a spice “tea” and pour in a measured amount.

What do I mean by a measured amount? I took a cue from Randy Mosher’s “Radical Brewing” and the Spiced Beer episode of the Jamil Show on The Brewing Network. Both had similar methods for determining the correct amount of the vodka extract. I figured something similar could work for my tea, which doesn’t seem nearly as popular a method, even though Gordon Strong mentioned it for adding more spice to his Christmas Beer if it needed it. Of course he did not mention the specifics, so I (re)invented that myself.

Since in my original recipe, I only used half the spices, I took the other half of the spices and brewed it in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. Then I filtered out the spices into a measurement cup. I took a sample of my beer, and divided it into several 1 ounce samples. One sample remained undoctored. The other samples received between 0.5 and 3 ml of the “tea” dosed out by small syringes I bought for 25 cents a pop at American Science and Surplus the day before.

The Sous Helper Monkey Amy and I both smelled and tasted each sample and determined that 2 ml tasted the best. There was a good amount of spicy aroma and taste, especially cinnamon and nutmeg, without being overpowering. We then made several samples with 2ml of the “tea” spice addition for the purposes of determining how much vanilla extract. The first sample had 1 cl in it, the smallest measurement the syringe could handle, and it was far too much. Therefore, we scratched the idea of adding more vanilla and the proper amount of spice “tea” was calculated. Since there are 640 ounces in five gallons, this means the beer requires 1280 ml of spice “tea”. That is 5.4 bloody cups. Time to brew more tea I guess.

I got worried that with so much extra liquid we were going to thin out the beer. We didn’t think the samples tasted too thinned out. To make sure, I calculated it out, and the gravity would drop less than 0.7 of a point. Plus, I decided to use two cups as the water for the priming solution. We’ll see if that affects anything.

I poured the tea/priming solution in the bottling bucket, racked off the primary and bottled as usual. This is probably the lowest carbonated beer I have ever had. Jamil (from the Jamil Show mentioned above) suggested carbonating to 1.5 volumes, and my little table in the chapter on priming and bottling of my “How to Brew” book claimed I only needed about 1.5 ounces of corn sugar for the temperature the room is at for this amount of carbonation. This is much less than any other beer I have made. Now it’s time to design the label.

Smoque BBQ and Bells Porter

I spent a month and a half in Eastern Tennessee this year. I had plenty of BBQ when I was down there. When you think of Tennessee BBQ, you probably think of Memphis style with Tomatoes and Vinegar style sauces.  Tennessee is a long state, and I was about a 6 hour drive from there. The BBQ by me was a mixture of Memphis and North Carolina. Whatever it was, it generally came out of shacks with a smoker next to the shack. It was delicious, but it was the not the best.

The best came when my fiancé was looking through the Check, Please! website for some place to go. Check, Please! is a TV show on the local Chicagoland public TV station WTTW in which 3 local residents pick their favorite restaurant. Then all three – along with the host Alpana Singh – go to the restaurant and critique it in a round-table discussion.

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Quite honestly you don’t think very much of a BBQ in Chicago.  It’s generally tasty, but not outstanding or extraordinary. It is semi-known for sweet sauce and ribs. I’m not the biggest fan. From what I read about Smoque before we went, they were really known for their Texas style dry rub brisket, and that is what I went for. I also got the slaw, the fries, and the baked beans.

First the fries. They were good, but nothing outstanding. Next time I will get the mac and cheese, which from my one-bite sample, was outstanding.

The slaw – which comes with all the plates – was very good. It had an acidic bite to it. Really unlike any of the very sweet slaws I usually get and I never enjoy.

The fork tender Texas style brisket was better than anything I ever had in Tennessee. There was a side of  Carolina sauce that was tangy and delicious and made a great pairing with the dry rubbed brisket. It’s funny. The place is supper busy and small, so we got it to go. On the wall of the restaurant you saw all the notoriety the place had, including a little plaque from Check, Please! Prominently displayed was a big signed picture indicating that Diner Drive-In’s and Dives   featured the place on their show. This is a show where the host, Guy Fieri, drives around the country and find’s the title places. While watching the Real Deal BBQ episode we ate the food, because no TV goes better with food, than food TV.

Now the baked Beans. Quite simply the best baked beans I have ever had in my life. They smelled like you put your head inside the smoker, because as I learned in the Diner’s Drive-In’s and Dives, they are actually put in the smoker. It was delicious and actually reminded me of the New Holland’s Charkoota  Rye Doppelbock.

Unfortunately I did not have any of that particular beer at hand, nor any smoked beer at all. I did have Bell’s Porter, which has a decidedly coffee flavor. More so than the Aloha Brewery’s Pipeline Porter I also have, despite being made with Kona Coffee. I think the problem is that the intense smokiness overpowered even the porter, and I quite honestly can’t see a better partner to the BBQ than a smoked beer. Maybe not one that is so smokey as the Charkoota Rye, but a smoked one nonetheless. The sweetness of the dobblebock would work nicely with the tangi-sweetness of the Carolina sauce. Next time I will be more prepared.