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Beer Review #46 Winterhook Winter Ale

I got my hands on a winter beer that I have never seen before the other day. That beer was Winterhook Winter Ale by Redhook Ale Brewery out of Woodinville, Washington. My main surprise with finding this beer is that there were spring seasonals (reviews to come) sitting next to it. I’ve had a few other Redhook beers before, but I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this one since my winter beer experience has been so varied.

The ale pours a dark brown color with some ruby-like highlights when held in the light. It is clear and has a thin tan head. The nose on the beers is malty and slightly fruity. Caramel is the strongest of the malt odors coming from the glass. There is a bit of spice on it, but I really couldn’t pick up exactly what it was. There is also some slight hops on the nose, but not overwhelmingly so.

Winterhook has a good malt body and a nice hop bite on the end. There is a slight Belgian like yeast or spice flavor in there as well. It was much cleaner and more hidden than a normal Belgian, but there was a bit of a kick from it to be found in the beer. The hop gets more and more pronounced the more you get into the drink as well. The ale has a medium mouthfeel and, as I said before, and really nice body.

Winterhook is a super drinkable winter ale. It isn’t really high on the ABV rankings coming in at 5.9% but it has a great balance of everything. It is a nice winter ale that I think a lot of people would really enjoy. There are a lot of flavors going on and it takes a bit of time to break them all down. The beer also had great lacing if that is important to you. Overall I enjoyed this beer but it wasn’t my favorite winter ale of the season. (more…)

What is beer made of?

This questions is actually a bit tougher to answer than what you might think. Traditionally beer was made out of countless things. Some might find that to be a surprise as most people declare that “traditional” beer can only be made with grain or malt, hops, water, and yeast. This belief really only dates back to the 1490s and officially to 1516 when Bavaria’s reigning Duke Wilhelm IV declared that the Reinheitsgebot take place over all of Bavaria. Reinheitsgebot literally means “purity law” and it was the first ever food safety law. This law actually helped Germany and the connecting areas of Bavaria become renowned for their superior quality in beer.

Beer dates back to as early as 6,000 BC and the first real proof we have dates back to 3,500 BC in Egypt. Dogfish Head currently makes a beer called Midas Touch, which I will let their website explain,

This recipe is the actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world! It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine & mead; this smooth, sweet, yet dry ale will please the Chardonnay of beer drinker alike.

The beer is made with honey and saffron among other things. Essentially beer really only needs a few things to work. You have to have some type of sugar, which is usually derived from malt a.k.a barely grain. Water is necessary to get the whole ball rolling becasue the process of making beer involves soaking the grain in hot water (140-160 degrees Fahrenheit) for a set amount of time. While the grain is soaking in the hot water enzymes in the grain are activating and turning the starches stored in the grain into sugar. On a side note beer is about 90% water on average. Sugar is essential becasue the next ingredient needs it to live.

The sugar is eaten by yeasts that have been specially cultured for the beer making process. The yeast eat the sugar and turn it into three things; carbon dioxide, heat, and alcohol. If you wanted to, you could really stop here as you technically have beer at this point. The problem is that the yeast take the time to turn the sugar into alcohol and other microorganisms also like beer. Once the yeast have enough time to turn sugar to alcohol, those microorganisms cannot survive in an environment with alcohol. To give the yeast enough time to do thins, hops has been the ingredient of choice to help preserve the beer. It also helps it have a longer shelf live and helps balance the taste of the malt in the beer. The malt is sweet and the hops are bitter, together you have something that tastes wonderful.

So the German’s Reinheitsgebot does have all of its bases covered for making beer. However there are a lot of other things that can go into a beer to add to it. Think of the Reinheitsgebot in terms of pancakes. It allows you to put pancake mix, water, milk, and syrup into your pancakes. Sure you can have wonderful tasting pancakes with those ingredients but what happens if you want some whipped cream or chocolate or strawberries. I think you get where I am going here.

In the United States the Reinheitsgebot has really never been something that has been followed. During the Colonial times spruce branches were a common ingredient in beer. The were mostly used as a substitute for hops but added a distinct flavor of their own. Today breweries are producing beers with all kinds of extra ingredients in them. Fruit beers, spiced beer, etc are all mass produced and provide something new and different. Our friend from the pancake ingredient list, syrup, is also used in many different beers. So the question of what is beer made of doesn’t really have a true answer. I suppose that all/most beers have the following things in common; malt, hops, yeast, and water. After that it is really anyone’s guess.

Beer Review #44 Snow Cap Winter Warmer

Another seasonal beer found in Lubbock, I can’t believe it. I saw a review of this beer on Taste Buds awhile ago and, being that I’ve never had a Pyramid brew before, I decided this would be a good first offering. It comes in a short but stout bottle much like Sierra Nevada’s beers do. The label is pretty neat and has a whole heck of a lot going on. There are various winter sports on the label and they did a few little graphic design tricks to make it look interesting. When looking for the name of the brewery, I actually saw that it said Pyramid Breweries as there are locations in Seattle, Berkeley, and Portland. Somehow we didn’t make it to Pyramid during our honeymoon in Portland.

Snow Cap pours a nice dark ruby color with tinges of brown in it. It is perfectly clear and has a thick off-white head to go along with it. The nose of the beer is malty with some tones of dried fruit in there. I didn’t really get much in the way of hops, which for a Winter Warmer is a toss-up. There were also some roasty notes in there as well.

The taste of the beer is malty, which is to be expected seeing as how there was so much on the nose. There are some notes of chocolate in there as well which I was not expecting. There are some hop undertones but they are very restrained. And finally there is some alcohol in there as well. Snow Cap actually comes in at 7.0% ABV; just right for a winter warmer. It has a medium body on it as well. I think the biggest thing that I noticed is how dry this beer is. It seems more like an English style dark ale than a winter warmer. This beer is very drinkable as it is very subdued. All of the flavors mesh well with each other and it is excellently balanced. This is more what I was thinking when I want a winter warmer. (more…)

Beer Review #40 2 Below Ale

Yet another New Belgium seasonal beer. I can’t help it, I generally like everything that comes out of that brewery. I was also super excited to find a seasonal brew in Lubbock, Tx. If you have been reading this blog for any period of time, you should know my struggles with finding seasonal beer in Lubbock. And for those of you who are new, Lubbock, simply put, is a hole. There is a complete lack of beer culture, but oddly enough they enjoy expensive wine. Go figure.

Anyway, I grabbed up a sixer of 2 Below as soon as I saw it. As most New Belgium Brewing Company beers have, the label was interesting looking. A nice picture of some freezing pipes with icicles coming down off of the top. Now onto the important part, the beer. It pours a light amber in color with a nice white head. The aroma is nice and strong with tons of floral hops. There isn’t much else to be found on the smell, mostly just hops and maybe some malt if you are really looking hard.

The taste is an explosion of hops, in a good way. The malt and the hops are balanced perfectly. The hops are clean and crisp. On the back-end of the beer there is a slightly bready flavor. You can also expect to finds hints of pepper and other spice in there as well. Unlike some hoppy beers, the hops goes through the entire beer and not just at the back.

2 Below has a light to medium mouthfeel with great carbonation. It is very drinkable but I kind of wanted something darker and richer tasting for a winter beer. The beer comes in at 6.6% ABV so it is not a “weak” beer but I want some more alcohol in my winter beer. The whole warming idea of a winter beer doesn’t really happen at 6.6%. It really is a great beer and I would highly suggest it if you have the chance. Again it is not my favorite winter beer, but it is a solid beer for anytime of the year. (more…)

My homebrew, a year in review

I didn’t do as much homebrewing as I would of liked to do this year. In total I did40 gallons worth of homebrew. That’s eight five gallon batches. Below is a list of the beers that I brewed up this year.

  • Imperial Porter
  • SB Birthday Beer (Amber wheat)
  • Irish Red
  • Belgian Dubbel
  • Belgian Tripel
  • Pumpkin Ale
  • Winter Warmer
  • Amber IPA

Some of those beers turned out better than others. I have to say that my darker beers are my better ones. That is probably I enjoy roasty flavors and it is easier to hide other flavors with them. My Irish Red and SB Birthday beer did not come out very well at all. The Irish Red was a victim of improper hopping. I switched the hops and the bittering component came out way to strong and dry. The SB Birthday beer was the victim of sitting in a fermenter for too long and also was in the sun for a bit of it. They were both drinkable, but not up to a decent standard.

My Belgian beer experiments went pretty good. The Dubbel needed a few more darker malts and I would change the yeast in it to something that would give off a bit more plum and dry fruit esters. Overall it tastedĀ  fine, it just needed to be a bit richer tasting. The Tripel was darn good. The malts and the yeast worked perfectly. It was well balanced and a good representation of a Tripel. There were a few too many hot alcohols in it which was caused by a higher than wanted fermentation temperature.

The Pumpkin Ale was a complete disaster. The stuck spargeĀ  left a ton of extra sugars and I didn’t think it out with extra water. With a lower than normal wort level and a high sugar level the beer ended up being 15% and too highly spiced. I can see it being a really good beer, it just needed to be brewed correctly. It is still drinkable, but edges on not being so.

My Winter Warmer is still bottle conditioning but it tastes wonderful. It is a bit more bitter than I wanted and next time I would take out some more Black Patent malt, as it gives off a ton of flavor. I called the beer a Winter Warmer, but in reality it is a stout. I left the option open to put spices in it, but I did not want to since the beer before it, the pumpkin ale, had more spice than I knew what to do it. All you need to do to make it a true Winter Warmer is add in a few spices and bam, you have it.

The Amber IPA is getting bottled this week, so we will see how that turns out. My real all star for this brew year was the Imperial Porter. It came in a 8% and had everything you could want in a porter. It was well balanced and you could not even detect an alcohol on the beer. I really like it, I wish I had more.

This next brew year I’m not sure what I want to make. I think next on my list is a simple American Amber. After that I have not idea. I am still looking into the colonial beer, but that is a ways off. We will see what this year brings, but I am excited as I am really honing in on my efficiency and turning out beer very close to what I want them to taste like.