Saturday, May 21, 2011

Minnesota, Beer, Chicago, Beer, Wisconsin, Beer

I managed to sneak away into the comforts of the Midwest United States for a few weeks recently and - with my interests shaping my route - many sites related to beer came through the truck window.

Unfortunately, i could not get into Surly for a tour. As always, they have about a 3 month waiting list but I think I can weasel in for my next trip as promised by a sympathetic ear in the head office. So my beer exploits in Minnesota remained fixed at my fathers homebrewery, the vastly expansive free market liquor stores, and as always the usual haunts that have great happy hours. A beer I have to draw attention to that I picked up on my way south from Moorehead Minnesota is called Rooster. It is brewed by a not-for-profit brewery in Hendricks, Minnesota. When you buy a 24 they donate 3x the cost to fund conservation and land management initiatives for critical habits in Minnesota. God I love that state. The majority of my time was spent bulking up my beeradvocate cred and waiting out the rain.

(Misato refusing to recognize my existence, dad in the brewery gettin his bottling on, and obvs.)
My trip down to Chicago was fantastic. Drove through snow covered rolling hills, deep into the Mississippi River Valley where the cliffs rise as abruptly as the mighty miss herself. Stayed with my sisters and hit up as many breweries/brewpubs as we could. Starting with Metropolitan Brewery which was just a few buses away from their place. Metropolitan is pretty freakin cool, particularly in the small shop of 3 employees who basically do it all (they wanted volunteers, and I wanted to be). Also each one of their fermenters had names of obscure star trek characters! Tages and I were talking next to their 4 pronged bottling machine, just top right of that was this cool keg sculpture of a long horned bull. My only qualms was with the beer itself, all German Lagers, no IPA, Ever!
Just had to add in the photo of the Chicago Fire game we took in, where they actually sold Lagunitas at the stands! Craft Brewery at a soccer game! fantastic. And yet the whole city seemed to be smattered with these trite adverts for Miller lite. The traveling fan from Houston clearly chose too much taste and vomited all over the away section, after the fight, and just before his own friends were taking photos 'around the drunk guy' for facebook.

Next was the Haymarket Brewpub. By far the best selection of micro-brews I have had, period. Haymarket famously named after the Haymarket bombing of 1886. The scene there was a bit bourgeois for a bit of proper anarchist history, but ill try and remind myself that the brewers are the ones who make the beer, the managers sell the space. This first picture below is of all their samplers we went through. Their menu of their own beers was a full page, they had 3x that of other craft beers on the back. Even had a section on their menu called "Shit Beer" with your budmillcoors. Number one for me was the Mother Jones Belgian Dubbel, Followed by the Mathias IPA and Speakerswagon Pilsner. Of course we made our way earlier in the day to the Haymarket Memorial, and came upon mutha f**kin Emma Goldman!
After a great time steeping in Chicago culture, I made my way back slowly through Wisconsin (which holds a piece of my heart) so I could hit a few of their growing craft breweries. Sadly the cooperage at left hasn't been active for over 100 years, but it was a nice stroll through an old farm with many of the original trades buildings in tact. Don't ask me where I was, i just followed the sign. New Glarus Brewing (in New Glarus Wisconsin) has an obvious path of success laid before them. Their new brewery is massive, landscaped, and full of shiny everything on the inside. I kinda liked this one more than most tours I have been on because I got to just walk around by myself with a beer in hand while workers were brewing/yeast testing/bottling etc. Very cool. Also got to buy just about every seasonal they have made in the last 2 years. The last photo is their old building, size matters there i guess.

Heading further North towards Madison I made it into Capital Brewery. Unfortunately no such luck on a tour, but I got the guy to show me around a few of their storage spaces and their kettles. I also bought several of their beers. Not a fan personally of most of what i drank, but they too almost exclusively brew the German Lagers. But it was on the map, so I had to do it. They had an awesome beer garden though in back of the place but it was raining, and i hadn't eaten and just sitting in there drinking a beer seemed not quite right. They don't need my business I have a feeling after having been brewing for almost 20 years.

On the whole, an excellent trip for personal experience and diversifying what will continue to be my beer stratum. I highly recommend a trip like this which is relatively close, and several major cities with a handful of hours between each other makes it reasonable. Go slow, take your time, and belt the radio tunes out of the window on cruise!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Keg Time

Brave new world. It was only a matter of time before I decided to put a bit of cash to the next step in this recent-past-time, the experience of draft beer. Thanks to Forrest Whitesides' article in Brew Your Own on building a portable kegerator, it was made easy and very achievable without the extra costs that a ready made setup would set you back! As you can see, the finished project photo has me looking like a proud parent.

The portable kegerator is composed of 4 parts:
-3 gallon cornelius keg
-5lb co2 tank
-Chrome Single Faucet Column (2.5 inch diameter) 11.5" tall.
-70qt/66litre cube cooler (roller?)

I was only able to build this rig because I was in the states which, it must be said, has an appallingly fantastic selection of any kegging equipment/cooler size you could want in comparison to Winnipeg. The entire set was a bit costly, but is much cheaper than if you were to buy a pre-made 5 gallon cooler kegerator with a chill plate (a flat metal device that is made cold and allows the beer line to run through it before going to the faucet which cools the beer on contact as it passes through). In total the price was around $400 dollars. You can choose to make it swanky or basic depending on your ability to find a used 2.5 gallon or 3 gallon Corney keg, economic faucet with tower which is made of black plastic, and not to mention the option of buying a smaller cooler without luxurious wheels and pull-handle as if heading to the airport for a 32,000 ft keg stand.

For a simple tutorial on how to prepare a keg and rack into it, as well as pressurize and force carbonate the beer, Northern Brewer TV has a good video here. As I have never done this before, my curiosity lies in the areas of 'how much pressure should be applied for specific styles?' and 'how do i prevent yeast from being tapped with the beer if the keg cane is sunk into the sludge?' and 'how to I clean my keg lines when the ball locks are fastened onto the hosing?' These answers will be found through trials by fire and will keep posting in relation to them as they arise. In addition to the basic equipment I also got a few extras such as the keg faucet cap which is intended mostly for the picnic sitch to keep bees and flies out of the nozzle. Also I picked up a keg freeze pack jacket because the biggest task with this system will be keeping the beer cold. Because there is a lot of space in the cooler, the more ice or cold items will have to be jammed in there to keep it consistent as temperature change over time is taxing for the yeast.

My next batch, a Lemon Coriander Weiss (which will be a nice light summery brew intended for picnic kegging), will be made this weekend and fermented as usual in the primary and secondary. The major difference is when kegging your beer, you don't bottle and you don't add bottling sugar 'thusly'. However, because my keg is only 3 gallons out of the total 5 being made, I am going to bottle the remaining amount. Because of the C02 that is used in kegging, the yeast only sits to further mature rather than eat additional sugars which would normally be used to add carbonation to the bottle of beer. The keg needs 2-3 days to be thoroughly mixed with the CO2 being pumped into it once it is racked from the secondary. Looking forward to this new challenge.