5 Beers for 5 Years

Congratulations & respect to Black Bridge for making it to the five year mark.  That milestone, no easy task for any business at any time, will be commemorated this weekend.   The little powerhouse of a brewery has accomplished so many things in the past half decade … never pouring a bad pint, securing medals, spearheading the renaissance of downtown Kingman, flashpointing a community of brewers, other stuff I’ve not listed here.  Sincerely, it’s a wonderful place deserving of all its success.

Some markers of success for a business:  1) solid business plan; 2) realistic growth plan; 3) attracting a successful staff; 4) desire to succeed; 5) good product that creates repeat customers.  Mission accomplished, so here’s a big Cheers to Five Years!  A virtual high five, as it were.

Since this my blog I’m going to write about what I say are the 5 best Black Bridge Beers from the past Five Years.  And, of course, I will be right about them all.  Leave a list of five more in the comments.

Locomotive Stout
Alas, this stout is no more.  It has been replaced with Hooley Stout.  To be sure, that is a good beer as are Stresstout and Angry Elf.  But nothing will replace Locomotive.  It contained a ridiculous amount of hops and a ridiculous amount of roasted grain, according to Tom.  That made it ridiculously dry and ridiculously tasty to me.   When I couldn’t decide which beer to have, when the bloody huge taplist just overwhelmed my brain, it was always the choice.  Just the right amount of body, session level alcohol content.  Yeah, it’s pretty much the beer that made me a fan of Black Bridge.

Wicked Poison
It looks like an unassuming, delicate pint of pilsner with a hint of turbidity.  It is not.  Wicked Poison is disingenuous wheat wine and it’s alcohol content combined with an ephemeral drinkability will bring you to a reckoning if you are not careful.   While your local brewer does not personally like the beer, there is no arguing that it is still talked about five years on and almost everyone else in Kingman loves the thing.  It is actually a good gateway beer – wine drinkers, especially, and many who just don’t think they like beer will consume some Wicked Poison and the scales fall from their eyes.  The beer adventure begins.

80 Shilling
I still remember standing at one end of the bar in Black Bridge and Tom at the other and he yelled out “80 Shilling will be ready Tuesday!  I promise!”  Because for a while it was 80 Shilling and Locomotive that I drank and that day they were out of the quiet little Scottish export beer.  It truly is an unassuming selection at B3.  Orangey-red in color, nice sustainable collar, malty sweet and smelling of light caramel and toast it’s just an easy beer to love and drink.  It’s been on tap from the beginning, it seems.  Never bad, never off, always fantastic.

Scorched Earth
One of my first craft beer experiences was Crazy Ed’s Chili Beer.  And it was awful.  I survived, I persevered.  Eventually I had Ring of Fire from Dragonmead Brewery.  That was good.  Then Tom took Evil Red, his hoppy amber beer, and shoved an idiotic amount of peppers in it.  And it was Good.  No, it was better than that.  I still have no idea how he made habanero and ghost chili’s palatable but he did.  Yeah, it takes a little while to drink a pint (if you’re smart) and it numbs your lips.  But there is no better chili/pepper beer.  The brewing of Scorched Earth has become an event in these parts and word is getting out to the rest of the state and even Las Vegas.

Legend of Tom
Coffee Porter.  It takes all the porters B3 has done and combines them into one drink, and makes them all better.  It makes coffee better.  Decent alcohol level,  luscious coffee scent; the first iteration was barrel aged and had the added benefit of the flavor and aroma of spirits.  It’s only been on tap twice but it was brilliantly done both times.  Locomotive made me a fan, Legend of Tom made me a loyalist.

Those are my five picks.  Time and space would fail me if I went on to recount the goodness of Holy Water, Wagonwheel, Smokebox, Chichester, Evil Red, Katastrophic Humiliation.

Need a beer now.

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Brew Day at Black Bridge

Supporting your local brewery can lead to great beer and brewing experiences. Recently the good folks at Black Bridge Brewery let me spend a day with them and brew K-Town, their understated and charming weissbier.

I arrived there on a Friday at approximately 8 am. Kevin was there, transferring some of their old ale into kegs for transport to an event later in the day. Hops, the the fawned-over-feline and possibly official mascot of Black Bridge, peeked around the stage shortly after my arrival to see who was present to worship him. Well, Kevin was there, so …

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A little before Tim was to arrive he called and had Kevin start up some mash water, so I followed him over to the vessels and watched him work a couple of valves and, voila, hot water started to fill up one of the tanks. Once Tim arrived with more malt we fed that into the grain mill which had been attached to the mash tun. I’m used to working with around five pounds of malt instead of fifty and I usually purchase mine already cracked and have never milled it myself. There’s nothing complicated about that step in the process, dump the bag in the hopper and let the electric drill attached to the crank do the hard work, but at least I can say I have milled grain now. I’m sure there are other aspects to it, such as determining how fine you want the barley cracked, but that was not part of this brew day.

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Once the grain was milled the hot water was transferred to the mash tun and the grains were stirred and temperature reached and …. time to wait, just like brewing at home. While waiting I got to see some new sound equipment that had been delivered and tried to help research a couple of other pieces the brewery was seeking. Around this point, Heather arrived and started going through her routine of opening up for the day.

Then it was time to sparge – rinsing the mashed grains with more hot water to extract all the sugars out of the grains. After recirculating a portion of the mash water a copper ring is attached to the mash tun. Hot water is sprinkled from this arm onto the mash and mash water is transferred to the boiling vessel.  The hot water is added via this sparge arm at the same rate the mash water is transferred into the boil kettle. It was nice to see this method, continuous sparging, in action. I’ve read about it and understood how it was supposed to work. But in my home brewing I’ve used the batch sparging method. So, in a sense, this was new for me, too.

Once the mash tun was drained it was time to clean it out while waiting for the temperature to rise in the boiling vessel. That’s right, cleaning and waiting. Just like home brewing. Oh, and of course there was some beer consumed. K-Town, in fact. I adhered to the head brewer’s pattern of drinking what was being brewed. Good call.

By this time, the doors were open and people were arriving. Tim was mingling with his customers, Heather was pouring beers, Kevin was either playing with Hops or cleaning some fermenting vessels. I think I tried to help him a little, but I may have just had another K-Town.

Speaking of hops, once the boil was reached the hops addition was measured out. I was taught the proper way to tie a string around a mesh bag. The hops, in the properly tied bag, were immersed in the boil. And then there was more waiting. Finally it was time to chill the wort and transfer it to the fermenter. After adding the yeast strain to the fermenting vessel, the wort was transferred through the plate chillers to the fermentation vessel. And we were done.

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All this is just an every day routine for brewers, like Tim (and he did keep reminding me about that).  But it was great fun for me. I was able to see some brewing methods at work that I’ve only read about.  Professional nano-brewing is like brewing at home, just on a bigger scale.  There is much waiting and relaxing and drinking.  Sure, maybe there was not pH testing of mash or water treatment or refractometers – but whatever. The end product speaks for itself.

Tim would be a good educator, by the way.  He walked me through his steps, explaining each valve and why he wanted it to do what it did, explained his motors, talked about the equipment he’d like to have and how it would change his process. While eating lunch with his friend and mentor, Jason Fuller (to whom this town owes a debt of beer gratitude), he talked about hops experiments he did and how those did or did not change the bitterness and aroma values of the final beer.  He was encouraged, during his mentoring, to question everything he reads or hears about brewing, test it, and just brew beer that is his.

I learned a thing or two I can incorporate in my brewing.  I also feel a little more invested in the product being served at Black Bridge.  In addition to all that, it was enjoyable getting to know Tim and the crew a little more.  So thanks to all for the day of brewing.  Now I wanna brew more … another beer at B3 and plenty of my own.

Get to know your local, people, you never know what cool things can happen.  And if you are new to home brewing, definitely get to Black Bridge and hang out.

P.S.  The day after the brew day above we checked fermentation on this batch.  Well, that yeast was vibrant and healthy and working away.  Can’t wait to have some of this batch of K-Town!

 

Home Brew Interview: Joe Fellers – Part 3

The second part of this interview with local home brewer Joe Fellers can be discovered here. Therein he talked about local ingredients, legalities and beer trends. Below is the final segment and it gets historical and philosophical.

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So let’s get back to home brewing. Why should people get into home brewing?

It’s one of the oldest art forms. And it’s not just home brewing, I think there’s a lost art of making things we consume. There’s too much consuming and not enough making. Prior to getting into home brewing I liked to cook, but it has somehow enhanced my love of cooking and my love of food and the process because I’ve refined my palate. It’s turned me into a real elitist prick – but you know what I tell people? Just because I don’t like ****** things doesn’t make me an elitist. I will admit that I drank four Coors Light last night

– I can cut that part out.

No. No don’t. You know what I wanted to do? I wanted to drive home but I kinda wanted something that tasted like beer.

– Honestly me and a friend did a blind taste test years ago. We sampled Bud, Miller, Coors and threw Corona in there, just for fun.

Did you do Corona in cans or Corona in bottles?

– Bottles

Yeah, see if you did it in cans you can tell … I was just going to bring that up. I recently had three Corona’s from cans and you know what it tastes like? Come to find out, there’s a reason it tastes like this, but it tastes just like, well, a 90% match, with Hofbrau House Original Helles. And that’s because some people from the Hofbrauhaus, in the mid-1800s, settled in central Mexico and that’s where the Mexican light lager comes from. They brought yeast strains with them. I knew that there were Germans in Mexico but I hadn’t had Corona in cans – other than hammered at the lake – in fifteen years. I poured it into a glass and it was a nice straw color and it wasn’t skunky. I had forgotten what unskunked Corona tastes like. But anyway – you were doing a blind taste test.

– Yeah, and that might’ve made a difference

I’m telling you, man, it’s a huge difference. Heineiken’s the same way. Heineken is a very good lager, a fine example of a European light lager. And I don’t think they’re an adjunct beer. I think it’s all grain.

– Well we did that blind test – and I’ve always put Coors down, but honestly that one tasted better than the others.

It was ice cold?

– They were nice and cold, we had other people pouring for us. I was surprised how well Coors tasted compared to the rest.

It’s interesting to do stuff like that. I wish I could do taste testing like that here. But our distributor will not allow,and Tim won’t allow, Budweiser products here and I completely understand. But I would like to do it to prove a point. People have their brand loyalty when it comes to things but they have brand loyalty up here (points to the brain case) and not what they actually taste.

– Tell us the best resources for home brewers.

Your local brewery. Always. Make friends with your local brewer and the day shift bartender throughout the week. They’ll introduce you to people. The second best resource is going to be online home brew forums. Message boards and forums are kind of an antiquated form of communication on the internet but when it comes to home brewing they are a wealth of information. That’s where I’ve learned almost everything. In a lifetime, if you spent even three hours a day, you’ll never get through all the information there.

But number one would be your local brewery. As long as you like their beers. If you think their beers are not that great, then don’t go to them. But chances are, if they’re still in business they know what they’re doing. And talk to the brewers because they’ll be the first ones to tell you, “don’t do that.” Most brewers, most professional brewers started out as home brewers. In fact, the majority of them that I’ve ever met started off brewing beer because they were underage in college. They bought a home-brew kit on line because they didn’t card them online and so they could brew the beer. It gets you drunk. It’s college. Who cares. Some Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice and some grain you bought for $15 online, might as well do it.

– Are there any brewing techniques or processes that you have discovered that can help home brewers make better beer?

Don’t be afraind to fail. Don’t be worried about “oh, man, I hope this doesn’t taste bad.” You’re going to make bad beers. You’re going to have bad ideas. You’re going to forget to do something. You are going to make the mistake of drinking while you’re brewing, which is a bad idea. It’s a terrible idea. It’s how you end up with really terrible IPAs, that’s how you end up with infections, that’s how you end up making mistakes in your quantities. You get yourself a 15% IPA when you wanted a 6% or you end up with a 2% IPA.

It’s hard for me to give advice when it comes to home-brew technique because I kinda started ahead of the curve – because of Tim. Tim has such an engineering mind that he said, “listen, I went through all this, I don’t want you to have to deal with that. So we’re going to start you off at 7 as opposed to going 1-6.” So a lot of my techniques come from that.

Clean. Be clean. If the cleanest area of your house – you could be a slob, your room could be terrible, your dishes are dirty, food caked on stuff in your fridge – if the only area of your house that is clean is where your brewing equipment is and it’s clean, you rinse it off before using it and scrub it clean after youre done using, you keep all that clean. Make sure you put your concentration in that area. If you’re going to home brew you have to keep things clean otherwise you’re going to have garbage. Garbage in, garbage out. That’s the key. Sanitization.

– Any good gadgets that have helped your brew day be better?

If you brew in a garage have a deep sink. If you have a deep sink in your garage put a hose fitting on the faucet and then run a tube off of it. Just like we [B3] have out back. I have one in my house. It’s so handy for everything. For cleaning. I’m not kidding, I walk out in my garage from my kitchen when I have to fill up more than a gallon, when I have to make stock or something like that, I’ll go out there and use it because I can set my pot on the ground and fill up from that hose. That’s my number one favorite gadget.

Spray bottle. It sounds weird. A spray bottle with sanitizer or just alcohol. I have three of them at my house at all times. I spray down everything. I actually will do a fine mist of sanitizer in my fridge like once a week, in my ferment fridge and my serving fridge. Just to keep any sort of bugs at bay. But I’ll also do a fine mist of sanitizer in my bucket. I also use isopropyl alcohol if I’m going to do any kind of hot ferment. Anything above about 62 degrees, for like my ciders, a few hefeweizens and a few other things. I have one stout I ferment at 68 degrees, which is weird. But if I do a hot ferment everything gets sprayed down with alcohol because I want to control every aspect. And that comes from home brewing. I didn’t do that before.

So spray bottles and a hose bib connector for your sink, both are invaluable.

– What is your personal brewing philosophy, if we haven’t covered it yet?

The Sumerians were brewing beer thousands of years ago. You’re going to make beer, and whether you like that beer or not, that doesn’t matter, you’re going to make beer. So always keep it simple, listen to people that know more than you. That’s it. And I follow that all the time. I’ve got one friend of mine who’s .. four batches I think he’s made, maybe five. He just kegged his first batch about three weeks ago. It’s a Belgian blonde with blood orange. It was really good except he bought a kit and it wasn’t … the blood orange syrup that went into it just didn’t last. It lasted about two weeks and now he has a blonde ale. it doesn’t even have Belgian-y characteristics to it. It tripped the trigger. It got you in. Now he’s hooked. He keeps asking ‘what-if’ questions. I tell him it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. He asks, ‘well aren’t you worried about this or that?’ And I’m not. I’ve done 216 batches and had three infections and about 10 that I didn’t like. So, 13 beers in 200 batches, okay. That’s enough failure for me to learn lessons. You’re going to fail, you’re going to screw up. But no matter what you’re still going to make beer, even if you don’t like it. Then learn from those mistakes.

– Tell me some positive things about Kingman, as a home brewer.

That any time from about 6 am to about 10 pm at night, sometimes even later, we’re a tight knit community of home brewers; you always have someone you can get hold of. Tim, even though he seems surly, he’s a real big softie, he’s a big baby, he’s a real nice guy. If you’ve got an emergency and you’re like, ‘man, I’m like 35 minutes into my 90 minute boil and I just realized that I don’t have enough hops’ – call him up and he’ll help work it out. Because chances are he’s had that problem before. Jason Fuller, same thing. Me, I work nights. Three nights a week you can catch me at 2 am. If for some reason you have a brewing emergency at 2 am you can hit me up. And I know about 5 or 6 other brewers locally who are the same way. We’re all willing to help each other out. Brewing is a community. We’re all weird, brewing nerds. We all just love this stuff.

– What is the social need for alcohol?

Oh man, that’s a multi-tiered answer. First and foremost, humans have been consuming some kind of alcoholic – excuse me – some kind of mind altering substance as a form of community for thousands of years. It pre-dates the written word … I would say it’s right around the same time the spoken word came about. Anthropoligists say that humans started settling into communities and stopped being nomads because they needed to make substances that altered their minds. And to do that you can’t just roam around – well, it’s easier to grow your wheat and your barley and your sorghum and whatever it is your growing to make your alcoholic substance. So there’s a sense of community that comes with that.

When this country was being formed it was formed in taverns. Even the teetotalers showed up to the taverns because they knew that’s where the sense of community was centered. Not only that but your small communities, even up until just barely pre-Prohibition in the US, most decisions were made, in small towns, at the local tavern or ale house. Or at the brewery. Sometimes all three of those were the same place. So you had city council meetings, you had planning and zoning commissions, you had all those different things, all those things that were decided as a community, in and around alcohol. That’s number one, a sense of community. And that’s a very ancient thing, a very old part of our brain. It goes back thousands and thousands of years.

The need for alcohol, the social need – most people don’t want to talk about it, but everybody has social hangups. Not everyone is forthright and honest without some sort of chemical alteration. Whether it’s benzodiazepines to calm your social anxiety and makes you more outward and outgoing. Alcohol covers those bases and allows me to be more honest about what I’m talking about now. Literally self-referential.

– What’s an overrated craft beer?

Stone IPA

– What’s an underrated craft beer?

Any good pilsener from a microbrewery. And the reason I say pilsener is because a lot of people don’t realize, unless they are a home brewer, that a pilsener is one of the hardest things to brew. Because there is nowhere to hide. You’ve got an IPA, you can screw up your fermentation, your mash pH and all that – just add more hops, add more hops. Boil longer. Leave it in the keg longer. When you have a pilsener and it takes you five weeks to make it and you have five weeks and one day to put it on tap, there’s nowhere to hide. You have to be perfect. There’s no room to screw it up. That’s why when I go to a brewery that has a pilsener on tap, and they call it a pilsener, that’s the first beer that I order. Just to see if it’s good. If that pilsener’s good, I don’t even have to try the rest of the beers. I know they’re going to knock it out of the park because it’s so tough to make a pilsener. Which is why I’ve never tried to make a pilsener. I did a Munich style helles one time and it was okay but it took way too long. It took me almost five weeks, probably four weeks and about 3 or 4 days. No. Give me a hefeweizen, three days primary fermentation, two days to crash cool it, keg it one day. Five days.

– Tell me about the beer scene in Kingman. Is it good, bad, otherwise?

It’s so, so much better. More people are getting turned on to home brewing, more people are getting turned on to craft beer. While I’m conflicted about a second brewery in town, I know that the more breweries the better because that means there’s less bad beer out there. Or less boring beer. Because I don’t like boring.

Flight of the Cricket – Six Beers from Rickety Cricket

There are two breweries in Kingman.  I spend most of my beertime at Black Bridge.  It was the first and it is still my favorite.  However, I do need to spend some effort on Rickety Cricket’s beer.  After all, this blog is about the Beer World of Kingman.  And so, for you, the community, I have made sacrifices.  I have dedicated myself to drinking beer at more than one location.  You are welcome.

Upon arriving at Rickety Cricket you will be met by the smiling face of Nicole; if not, find out why – she is the bartender you want.  She knows beer and can provide good guidance on tap choices and stories about the local brews.

Now, the title of this blog post indicates I had six beers.  This is true, but I also decided to add one more.  I’d found these brief notes made during a dinner at the Cricket.  They are in regard to the Coffee Porter.  Terry had told me when it was debuting and I wanted to make sure to try it right away.

So, seven, seven beers!  Once again, you people types are welcome.

Coffee Porter:

Dark. Medium body. Good tan head. Head dissipates quick. Cold brew coffee added. From Beale St. Nice subdued addition. A little bitterness added but not too much. Subtle touch. Comes up on back end to add a nice touch to the porter. Elegant. Balanced.

Slight coffee aroma no hops evident. Brown porter. Gone before I knew it.

Rickety Cricket has eleven beers on tap, to my surprise.  I only expected six.  I only tried six.  Look!  More opportunities for me to diligently apply myself to the consumption of barley based libations for the betterment of all Kingman.  I feel so altruistic.

The Flight of the Cricket:

Anaconda Squeeze. Rebranded an IPA.  That works.  Danky hops, dry body, good legs.  Smells like the APA below. Much better now than it was a few weeks ago.

Angry Ex Girlfriend (once called a blond, now an American Pale Ale). Splendid aroma. Citrusy. A little chalky maybe? That could be me. This is better as an APA than it was a blond. Not hoppy enough to warrant “angry.”  But good.

Bearded Bagpipe.  Meh on the name. More meh on the taste.  I think this is a miss. There is a sharp, dark flavor I can’t quite figure out. But it’s not quite right.  It’s off in some way I can’t pin down here at the bar.

Porter. Roasted grain. Dark toasted flavor. Yeah, lost track of notes while drinking. Fantastic.

Stay Puft. A stout. Let’s see … nice. Lactic character at the end. Sugary.  A sweet stout to be sure.  Good color.

Bird Cage Blonde.  Well done. A little more hops than I anticipated but not bad at all. Dry but decent body. Great color. Impressed.

Overall, the beers seem solid, stable.

Anaconda Squeeze started life as New England IPA, but it wasn’t right at all.  Making it a straight IPA was a better idea, although I would have just kept it as is and left it as my American Pale Ale.  Angry Ex Girlfriend could have then be re-designed into Bird Cage, which is just a fabulous light, easy beer. What?  That would leave them without an IPA?  Oh, heaven forbid that a brewery exist that has no IPA!  What blasphemy!  But, anyway, my real point behind all that chatter is that Anaconda Squeeze has turned into a pretty good beer.

The Irish Red, however, the Bearded Bagpipe, was not so delectable.  It suffered from some temperature issues, I was told, resulting in a woody character that didn’t fit.  This round of that beer was not good at all, but Nicole says they’ll have more ready in about two weeks so I’ll give it another go then.

The porter was my favorite of the flight.  I’ve got a growler of it at home so I’ll spend some more time with that beer later.  There’s also a black IPA, a collaboration beer with Black Bridge, that I’d like to further study.

Gender Roles and Brewing

One of the first axioms learned in home brewing is Charlie Papazian’s Proverb:  “Relax.  Don’t worry.  Have a home brew.”  Two weeks ago I heard that refrain on the Brewing Patio at Black Bridge.  A Belgian Blonde was being brewed by two women, Rachel & Sharon.  They were both questioning temperature as the beer was being transferred to the fermentation vessels.  They were told to ‘not worry so much.’  Their response was, ‘we’re women.  We worry.’

The declaration made me wonder: do women, in fact, worry more than men?  What is the objective of their worry compared to men?  Are they concerned about their reputations?  Or are they concerned about the well being of those they serve? Or is it pointless to even make that a thing because, we are all, you know, people?  After all, let’s not forget it was a man who penned the above warning regarding worry.  Many men have read that warning and have had to remind themselves of it during a stressful brewday.

Before you continue reading, I feel I must warn you – there are no answers to the above questions.  At least, not from me.  Go forth, then, and have a full discussion of gender roles.

Traditionally women have been entrusted with domestic management.  They have always been concerned about how and known the way to take care of their family.  An important part of family life is centered around food and drink.  Beer – or wine, or mead, or alcohol of choice – has always been a part of human life; from ancient times women were usually bread makers and beer brewers. It was a home activity. Once it became a profession or an industry men arrogated it.  More women are becoming involved in the commercial brewing industry now.  Women may especially worry about their performance in this industry and others because they are working in what has now become a man’s environment and they feel they must prove themselves.  Whose fault is that?

The point?  Humans have brewed.  Humans are brewing.  Maybe we should just leave it at that.  Gender politics should not be a thing.  Therefore, I have mixed feelings on whether I should write this up the way I am. But here I am doing it.  Fine.  I’ll throw this in – one difference I noted in the Belgian brewday was the number of selfies happening.  I have no idea how that fits into the gender role discussion.

As noted above the beer being brewed was Belgian Blonde with additions of prickly pear.  That’s right, No Pricks Allowed has returned.  While the female brewers of the beer were different than last year there have been no other stylistic to the beer.  From what I recall, it was a beautiful beverage – outstanding clarity and bright purple color.  It had a light body and drank quickly and easily.  It’s Belgian-ness was not overpowering, nor was the prickly pear.

Here we are in the post-modern information age and still arguing over race and gender.  I’m simply going to argue that No Pricks Allowed was a good beer last time around.   And If I recall correctly, last year’s iteration of this beer encouraged Janelle to begin her own home brewing adventures.

Politics, gender or otherwise, may be a verboten subject at the brewery (yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not true) but beer and brewing is always on the table so check for this Belgian Blonde in the coming week.  Raise a glass to the people in your life.