Barley Mowat 

Great Barrel Experiment: Beer One Review

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As promised, I cracked open some bottles of my of modified beers over the past week and sampled. What were the results? Is this beer nirvana, or just a horrible waste of time?

So far, I can only comment on my first beer: the unaltered Howe Sound 4 Way Fruit Ale. Before we get that far, though, let’s recap procedure.

Source Beer: Howe Sound 4 Way Fruit Ale (5 Litres)
Barrel: 5 Litre New American Oak
Age: 3 weeks in barrel; 3 weeks in bottle
Adjuncts: None
Carbonation: Dextrose/Champagne intro’d in-barrel, then in-bottle at capping

Now that that’s out of the way, how about I avoid the topic of how it turned out some more and talk about what I expected this rather innoculous procedure to do? Ok? Ok.

I was going for the addition of some nice, light oakiness to an otherwise decently-balanced fruit ale. I felt the body of the 4Way was perhaps a touch too sweet for my tastebuds, and thus I wanted to add a bit more… wood… I guess?

I also threw in some champagne yeast and some dextrose to add a bit of carbonation without too much flavour. I did this in-barrel to get positive pressure going, and thus keep out all the oxygen, and then I ramped it up in-bottle to get the beer back up to a bubbly, happy carbonation.

I’m pretty sure he’s high on more than just life.

The results? Well, not as great as all that sounds. First, while the oak is not as strong as I’d hoped, it IS strong enough to mask out the subtler fruit flavours. Know how the 4 Way tastes like peach fuzz? Yeah, well, mine doesn’t. Mine tastes like peach fuzz you rubbed on your hardwood floors for a few minutes before you ate it… and before you cleaned your floor.

Second, this beer was strongly carbonated, and despite my best efforts I simply could not replicate the high CO2 levels Howe Sound no doubt force-injected into the original. There’s quite a bit of residual dextrose in the beer, though, so perhaps more time on the shelf will bring up the carbonation, but I have no delusions of hitting the 12+psi of the original (that’s a guess). The result is that the liquid kind of sits there on your tongue–a sensation that isn’t helped by all that residual sugar.

Third, the choice of champagne yeast was to avoid messing with a delicate flavour mixture, however even champagne yeast still tastes like yeast. Kinda neutral “meh” yeast. As a result, the yeast nose was quite inviting, but there was just no fungal punch to the palate to back it up. With every sip I kept regretting not grabbing a nice saison yeast off the shelf below, as the nose promised a lot more than body actually delivered.

In the end, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that I’ve gone and made a great beer slightly worse. There is some hope of salvation, though: mixing my version with the store version results in less over powering yeast nose, lighter oaking, and stronger carbonation. I feel the mixed version really is an improvement over the storebought variety.

Much like how making your own veal is ever so slightly better than buying it at the store. Plus you get to straight-up murder a calf.

Good thing I have four more litres of this. Actually, even unmixed it’s very drinkable, and time will help the champagne yeast bring that carbonation up.

Not dying while I drank this makes me less hesitant to pop open one of the other two. The bourbon/vanilla aged Pothole Filler will likely be first, as frankly the heavily altered White Bark scares me more than a little. Maybe all the booze of the Pothole Filler will give me the bravery I need.

Written by chuck

June 28th, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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Getting There Is Only Half The Journey

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…Getting Back Is The Other Half

Sadly, I won’t be attending Central City’s Summery Cask Fest this weekend. And nope, despite rumours to the contrary, the primary reason isn’t that said caskfest is in Surrey and that I’m a collosal downtown snob. (Hey, just because I refer to Kits as “the ‘burbs” doesn’t mean I’m a snob)

The reason is actually much simpler: I won’t be here. In fact, the day before I will be leaving Vancouver and traveling east… then south… then through Surrey (I know, I know)… then, uh, through, um, whatever’s next (I don’t get out that far very often), then over the border.

The smart amoungst you have already pegged my mode of circuitous transport (a train), and therefore very likely pegged my destination as well: Portland. Yup, I’m forgoing a great beer festival at the edge of my mental map of the world for a trip to the great beer city that’s only very slightly beyond it on said map (yeah, my geographical knowledge kinda breaks down south of 16th… so Surrey is, like what, 1/2 way to Portland?)

Portland is the Grande Towne of Beer, and I cannot stress enough that everyone even remotely curious about our favourite beverage should make the pilgramage as often as possible. Step one of that trip, though, is simply getting there. So, without further adieu, here is my guide to Getting To Portland:

Option 1: Bolt Bus

So you desperately want to go to Portland, but even after cleaning out the back of the couch all you can find is $25 in change and a half smoked blunt? Well, don’t worry my friend, that and $25 more will get you not just TO Portland, but also back again! What a world we live in! Although what you’ll do while there and where you’ll stay without money is beyond me.

Bolt Bus thundered (yeah!) on to the scene promising the cheapest method of inter-city transit short of dismembering yourself and dropping the individual parts in the mail (what, too soon?). Fares start at about $20 each way and go up from there, peaking around $50-60 if you really need to go tonight.

In addition to taking out a row of seats to give everyone 2 whole inches of extra leg room, BB has wired up the bus with free internet so you can surf slovakian midget porn the entire way and forget that you’re stuck on a bus with 50 other people who, like you, also shower every other day to save money.

Poor people smell, is what I’m saying.

— At least one $1 fare on every bus, but most seats ~$20 each way
— Up to $60 each way day of
Travel Time:
— 8 hours plus traffic
Biggest Plus:
— Seriously Fucking Cheap
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Wireless signal can fade towards back of bus
— You have to get off at border, get your bags, and walk through
— You have to transfer in Seattle
— You’re on a bus
Pro Tips:
— Don’t take the bus, man.
— Seriously don’t. You’re better than this.

Option 2: Fly

Planes are an intriguing option, with a flight time of about 45 minutes to an hour. Sure, the cost is much higher, but that’s a fair price for the fastest means of getting from A to B minus a sub-orbital ballistic trajectory.

There are some minor issues, in that airports don’t tend to be anywhere near downtown–that plus customs adds a solid 90-120 minutes back into your travel time, plus ensures that you’ll likely have to talk to at least one cabbie. Although it should be noted that even the worst case scenario here beats up the bus/train timetable and takes their lunch money.

The trick is luggage restrictions. You see, I’m going down to Portland to not only have fun, but to also buy massive amounts of beer. Canada sees fit to allow me to come home with 8.5 litres of foreign beer, and I plan on bringing home every drop. 8.5 litres is about 30 lbs of beer including bottles, and that means you’re checking that bugger. Have a nice, relaxing flight back home, knowing your box of highly fragile precious is being handled by the ramp rats at YVR.

They’re also called “Luggage Throwers” FYI.

— $125-250 each way in steerage
— $350-400 each way with civilized people
Travel Time:
— 3h door to door
Biggest Plus:
— Fast, Fast, Fast
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Airports are in the boondocks
— Baggage restrictions and handling
— Pricey
Pro Tips:
— Nexus pass is your friend, but it won’t make the plane fly earlier
— Watch out for seat sales
— Pick an airline and stick with it. Rewards build fast on short flights.
— Horizon has free craft beer on PNW flights

Option 3: Drive

I get it. Your car is nice. Yeah, the stereo is pretty sweet, and sure, these leather seats are comfortable. No, I don’t want you to turn on the seat heater. Yes, I’m pretty sure. No, I’ll leave my seat upright, thank you. Um, I’m pretty sure you can shift gears without also groping my knee.

Driving is a nice option with plenty of upsides, the main one being that you get to take your pride and joy along with you for the trip. Plus, you’re allowed virtually unlimited baggage on your return trip, and you’ll rest well secure in the comfort that you yourself packed it in the trunk securely. Or you could, if you weren’t driving for at least 6 hours that day.

Piloting a car also gives you the option of leaving when you want and pulling over just about anywhere for food. Sure, it seems like having the choices are nice, but it does also have the nasty habit of slowing you down. It’s funny how people can confuse freedom with inefficiency.

— $60-200 gas each way, depending on your car
— $10-25 a day parking
— Unlike other modes, these prices are spread over several people
Travel Time:
— 6-8h depending on border, stops. 5h30m if you’re insane.
Biggest Plus:
— Freeeeedooooooooom!
— Can eat at nice restaurants
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Pretty cramped
— Border line-ups
— Traffic is highly variable
Pro Tips:
— Get a Nexus pass, and make sure all your friends have one too
— Seriously, force non-Nexus people to take another car
— Not sure what else; it is your car, afterall

Option 4: Train

I, however, much prefer the train to all the other options. The trip takes about 8 hours, and both starts and ends right downtown. The bar car carries a small but decent selection of US beer, including Deschutes. They accept Canuck cash but only give US change (at a decent rate), which actually can serve as a nice little currency exchange depending on how many beers you want to drink before noon.

Oh yeah, the train leaves before 7am. They kinda left that detail out of the brochure, didn’t they? Plus, Amtrak’s reliability on the early train (train 513) is just over 50%. This wouldn’t be so bad if the delays were measured in minutes, but I personally was once stuck in Tacoma for four hours.

All told, though, I think the train is a nice balance, and a relaxing way to travel. The seats are huge and cushy, the wireless is nice, and everyone has a big picture window to look out of… that hasn’t been cleaned in years (bring a squeegee).

— $60-120 each way
— $30-40 more for business class
Biggest Plus:
— Scenery, plus trains are cool
— Bar car
— Can get up and move around
Biggest Drawbacks:
— Slooooooooow
— Wireless can be spotty
— Bar car food is sketchy
— Early departure
Pro Tips:
— Book into business; it’s cheap and much much nicer. Plus you get off first for customs on the way back.
— Pack your own food (remember border restrictions)
— Pack your own beer for the trip back

Written by chuck

June 26th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Beer and You

No, YOU Drink It

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One of the scarier aspects of homebrewing is that eventually you have to drink the damned stuff. Even worse, there’s often so much of it that you must force it upon your friends, who will either claim its great while silently judging you with their eyes, or immediately keel over dead, depending on how thouroughly you cleaned the equipment.

A quick rinse and we’re good to go! What do you mean, no?

You see, not everyone is an award-winning homebrewer like Rick August or Dave Shea, whose beers are only distinguishable from professional brews by the very real chance that they are actually better. The vast majority of homebrewers are incompetent fuck-ups who are either too cheap to buy real beer, or who think that cramming perfectly drinkable beer into tiny oak barrels for a month is a grand idea.

That leads us to me, to today. My beer has now been out of the oak barrels for about two weeks. It’s mellowing in a number of sanitised and repurposed Howe Sound Brewing bottles, being kept cosy by a strong helping hand of champagne yeast and raw dextrose sugar. The yeast and sugar was added during bottling for two very distinct purposes.

First, the champagne yeast will ferment the sugar in the bottle, and produce carbon dioxide, which will then carbonate the beer because the bottles are capped and the C02 cannot escape. Second, it lets me say that my beer is “finished with champagne yeast” with elegant airs–a phrase that pleases me as much in the saying as it makes those around me want to punch me in the face.

Or, at least that’s the hope. My champagne+dextrose combination was bubbling away merrily when I put it in the bottles, but since then the results have varied by the beer it was paired with. The Whitebark continues to carb up, while the Pothole Filler just kinda… went flat.

However, all that is solidly in the past now, and there ain’t a damned thing I can do about it. Two weeks should be sufficient time for champagne yeast to at least begin doing its thing to make with the bubbly bubbly, and thus I’m now stuck with the task of busting this stuff out and seeing exactly how blind I go.

I’m guessing pretty blind.

To aid in this procedure I have stowed away bottles of the original, unaltered beers for comparison, and to also make me very sad when I realize exactly the level of crime I have commited here. I’ll sample this weekend and report back next week, assuming I manage to stay out of the hospital.

For the record, here are my tasting notes just prior to bottling:

HS Pothole Filler + Bourbon Oak: Tasty, but sure needs some carbonation… any carbonation

Whitebark + Grapes + Brett + Lacto: Whoa. This went from awful to decent to great. A nice sour beer with all sorts of wine and oak characteristics. Very amateur and thin, though, but better than I’d expected for my first try.

HS 4-Way Fruit + Nothing: Decent, but the oak is a bit strong for this brew. Also detected traces of oxidation, which is odd considering the extreme lengths I went to keep deadly oxygen away from this beer. Time in the bottle should mellow the oak.

Written by chuck

June 22nd, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Beer and You