Coppertop Alehouse

A few weeks ago I was able to go to Prescott, Arizona with Karry from Black Bridge Brewery here in Kingman.  One of the places he was adamant about us visiting was Coppertop Alehouse.   It is on Montezuma Street, in the proximity of Whiskey Row, and it’s a tiny place, the proverbial hole in the wall.  A dozen people would crowd the pub.

Gaston and Scott are the brewers/owners/operators.  They are gracious hosts, so here’s a “thanks” to them both for an enjoyable couple of hours.  One of the reasons we went to Coppertop was Karry’s insistence on introducing me to their Belgian quad.  Since Karry knows his Belgians, I was amenable to this idea.   And he was right.

The quad was wonderful.  It hit all the markers in the style guidelines, to be sure.  Mid-range brown, like a cola or tea; it was sweetish, and had a definite dark fruit character.  (Evidently, they make their own candi sugar, too.)  It was a strong beer, no denying that.  But it did have that ephemeral hint of joy mixed in, just a delight of a beer.

But it was the tripel that I loved even more.  This was bright, yellowish-orange, moderate body, and hints of citrus. It was like drinking a sparkly wheat beer in Wonderland (I know, there’s no wheat; it just felt that bright and refreshing).  It is also strong beer, around 10%, but unlike the quad, brewer Gaston disguised the power of the tripel. It tastes and feels like a session beer but it is not.  Far too strong for that such things.

What a cool place!  A small 40+ gallon brew system, their own Candi sugar, their own spirits – vodka, gin and plum schnapps. It’s got a great local pub vibe, familial, comfortable, salubrious. Drop in, grab a chair, chat with the owners.  If I recall correctly, there was even some bartering going on there, fresh eggs for a small amount of a banner quad.  If political debate is your thing … well, stop by and talk to Gaston about that end of things.

And drink that tripel.  Crafted with such elan, just can’t say enough good things about it and the brewery.

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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.

Home Brew Interview: Joe Fellers – Part 2

Here are some additional words from local home brewer, Joe Fellers, from Black Bridge Brewery and the Cartoon Casual podcast.

We left off with his experience with yeast culturing.  You can find the first part of the interview here.  Now, read on for Part 2.

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– So, we’ve talked about beer and cider. What other kinds of alcohol interest you?

I do love whiskey’s. I like – I’m really particular when it comes to whiskey’s. I can’t stand most American whiskey’s except for bourbon. Don’t like sour mash in any way, shape or form. I don’t really like white lightning, moonshine. I do love a good, dark rum. And by good I mean Captain Morgan Private Stock and then up. I’m not even that discerning when it comes to dark rum. Bourbons, rums. Lately, in the past year or so I’ve gotten into Scotch and only because I have a friend who has more money than me and is very …

– Your One Percenter pal?

Yeah, my one percenter pal, who is also very generous with his Scotch and knows his Scotch really well.

– Have you had the rums out at Desert Diamond?

I have. I go out there probably once a month and try their stuff. I really, really like Desert Diamond’s stuff. And again, it’s all local. Even their sugarcane comes from southern Arizona so that’s as local as it’s going to get.

I do love wine. Wine is something that is a new thing for me, probably in the past six or seven years. And only last summer did I finally get into white wine. I looked real manly just swirling my white wine around. It doesn’t matter though, I really don’t care because when it’s hot out there, when it’s 110 degrees and you walk into barely swamp-cooled places and it’s still 90 degrees inside, I want a chilled pinot grigio. It just tastes good. And I will not be emasculated for that!

– Hey, some of the best men in history have enjoyed good wines. Okay, so what’s the best beer trend right now?

Best beer trend? Do you want overall trend, or trendy?

– Overall trend

Best overall trend is toward craft beer because we’re still chipping away at the big boys of beer, their market share. The report for 2017 is another three percent we chipped away. Which is almost twenty percent in the past ten years, excuse me, the past twelve years. Still a long way to go.

Then I would say, trendy, the thing that I love is keeping things as local as possible. When it comes to ingredients, when it comes to staff, when it comes to self-distributing. Because as soon as you pay somebody to distribute your beer you add another barrier between the brewer and the consumer. I like self-distribution. There are several states that have now passed laws in the past twelve months or so that allow for self-distribution of microbreweries, whereas before they had to sell their beers to a distributor and the distributor sells it to a seller and then sellers provide it to the person.

– Is the Homebrewer’s Association working on furthering that? I know they are getting into a lot of legal issues.

I know that the Brewer’s Association is really big on pushing that. I wouldn’t say they are lobbyists but they are definitely pushing things in that direction, providing lawyers when needed to kind of help. People hear about things, legal problems when it comes to the craft beer industry or even the craft distilling industry because they have the same difficulty, a lot of the legal difficulties aren’t barriers put in place on purpose, the laws were just written prior to the industry kind of taking over like it has. The best example of that is in Arizona – up until a couple of summers ago you could only have growlers that were glass. They couldn’t be metal. That changed two summers ago. Now, you had breweries who didn’t care about it, they were like ‘we’re going to use metal because it’s more sustainable, it weighs less’ and etc. But technically it was illegal. It had to be a glass container, 32 ounces, 64 ounces, no more than 128 ounces. And that’s what the law stated. But that’s because the law was written when glass was the only thing available, in a large capacity. So a lot of those things have to be changed. And it’s happening.

Dogfish Head – you know how they got their start. Sam Caligione got the money and, come to find out, breweries were illegal in the state. He went to the state congress and changed it. Pretty phenomenal. So a lot of things on the books are getting changed and I like to see that. And it’s opening people’s eyes. But on the whole, I’d say my favorite trend is the local, essentially farm-to-table, but for beer. Getting things as local as possible. If we had the climate here I would love to see a Kingman hops variety used in twenty percent of the beer.

– I have a friend here who has some hops vines. I need to talk to him some more about it because I’d really like to use that in my home brew. So, I think local hops would be something that’s possible.

Absolutely. It is possible – if you plant it properly.  And you have to water the bejesus out of it. And you’re not going to have the production that you would normally have in an area that was cloudier and cooler, we don’t get that. The Pacific Northwest, central Czech Republic and southern Germany, like those areas, they get their first cold snap, which is what triggers your hops oils to produce and then it warms up again – we don’t get that. Sometimes we do, but sometimes it’s 95 degrees in October. But consistently the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand, those latitudes they hit that cold snap in late August, early September. But you can get it around here. I’ve had beer made with hops from around here. You just have to use a lot more. Jeremy Fass, he grew some in his back yard. It didn’t produce a lot and it took two years, or three seasons to get a few ounces off of one vine.

Tell me the opposite of that, what’s the stupidest beer trend?

Oh man. Let’s see if I can marginalize and alienate people.

– Don’t worry, you can say anything and in the current culture you’re going to offend someone.

Yeah, this is an offended culture.

Anything that’s so extreme that it is a detriment to whatever it is. So if you have an IPA and you put too much hops in there and all it does is eat the enamel off your teeth, there’s no subtle nuances, there’s no finesse to it, I don’t like that. Same thing goes with sours. Oh, I had a smoked pale ale from a brewery I won’t name and it was kind of like drinking liquid smoke. For hours, hours afterward I would burp and I thought a puff of smoke was going to come out.  I only had one of them.  I bought a six pack (I wish I had that $11 back), but I powered through the one. Half of it was while I was eating food so it was easier to take and once I was done eating my food I drank the rest of it and it was so bad. So if you’re going to have a smoked beer, it should be in addition to the beer itself, it should complement. It’s all about balance. Anything that’s completely out of whack for what the beer should be is just too extreme. Going way to extreme is just annoying.

There’s a couple ways to look at that. There’s a beer that’s on tap, most of the time, at a brewery in Vegas, that’s around twelve to thirteen percent [abv]. It’s not very good. And not to toot our horn, but Wicked Poison is at fourteen percent. It’s good. It pays the rent. It’s a very popular beer. It’s like a blank, clean slate. You can add all sorts of things to it but it’s also good by itself. So if the end result of the extremism is a detriment to the product and it’s just extreme to be extreme, that’s annoying to me.

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So we’ll end part 2 here.  The final segment of Joe’s interview will be here soon.

Home Brew Interview: Joe Fellers – Part 1

Kingman has a community of home brewers.  Now is the time to bring them into the light for they are the vanguard of such fabulous beer in this town.  Joe Fellers is one of these home brewers; many of you will also know him from his tapster duties at Black Bridge Brewery on Saturday’s.  You probably also know of the podcast he co-hosts,  Cartoon Casual.  Now you will know more of him.  This interview will be published in multiple parts, so keep reading.

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– First, tell us the story of your beginnings, your home-brewing beginnings . How’d you get started?

In the summer of 2009 I was unemployed and had just been dumped by my live-in girlfriend. So she left, I didn’t have a job or any money, but I still liked beer. So my buddy Steve said, ‘hey you should come over to this guy’s house, he makes his own beer in the garage. Come over and have some beers.’ I was sure it was going to be awful, served out of some plastic buckets.

– You had no faith in home brewing.

None. I had none, because I had had one home brew experience about ten years before and it was garbage. I was just going to go ahead and continue to buy my own beer. I mean, I liked okay beer at the time – Fat Tire, Arrogant Bastard, like the junior league craft beer stuff.

So I go over to Tim Schritter’s house and I walk in his garage – and his garage is set up basically like a brewery. Not basically, it was a brewery. He had a nice stainless steel hand-wash sink; he had six refrigerators or something in there, some for service, some for fermenting; got introduced to Tim and I proceeded to get completely wasted out of my gourd because every single beer I tried was really, really good.  And then I told Tim, “hey I wanna learn how to make beer” (spoken in Will Ferrel’s Harry Caray voice, if you know Joe you can hear it now) and he was like, ‘okay, you come back in the morning and I’ll teach you how to make beer.’ Later on, I found out he didn’t expect me to show up; but I got up, grabbed a couple of Egg McMuffins and some energy drinks and showed up at like 7:30 in the morning the next day and, uh, and that’s it. That’s how I began home brewing. He showed me how to brew beer, I looked up the chemistry – the actual chemistry behind it and got really interested in it because I’ve always been interested in science.  Through Tim, and then Jason Fuller, as well, because he’s a science teacher and a home brewer – we all saw eye to eye. It all just clicked in my brain, it totally made sense to me. It’s one of those things where some people look at something and it makes sense – I looked at recipes, at mash temps and things like that and it just kinda made sense.

– What other kind of science do you have in your background?

Just a giant nerd. I always excelled at science. I grew up in Ohio, so you had to take earth science, biology, chemistry then physics in high school and I tested out in the first two so when I was a freshman I was taking junior level classes and I just went from there. I just absolutely love it. So I had no real background in anything scientifically applicable to brewing, but it clicked in my brain – ‘oh, okay so this – we need to have a good mash pH for this and have this and this and amylase reactions …’ For whatever reasons, that all made sense to me.

– So why do you keep home brewing?

I get like a creative energy that I just need to get out.  I love to cook.  I love taking something from raw ingredients and making something different out of it. Brewing allows me to do that. And I’m not working in a commercial setting so I can do whatever the hell I want. I can experiment, and if it’s god-awful, then it’s god-awful. Like, my Bavarian style hefeweizen ferments at above 68 degrees, has banana characteristics to it.  I love chocolate covered bananas so why not add chocolate to a Bavarian style hef? Not a good idea, for the record. It’s not very good! But I figured that out by making it and then forcing myself to drink five gallons of it. Because I’ve never actually done small batch home brewing, like I’ve never done a one gallon batch – it’s been four and half to five gallon batches every time I’ve done an experimental beer.

– I just saw an article about blending. Have you ever done that with your beers, your home brews? Like if something went wrong, or just purposely blending them together?

No. I never have. Whenever I’ve had anything go wrong, it was so tragically wrong I didn’t even want to dump it down my drain. I wanted to dump it down someone else’s drain.

– Were you able to do that?

Yes, and I will not disclose where it was dumped. I’ve only ever had three tragic failures – only three I can remember were actual real bad failures. And they weren’t even failures of my own – it was the airlock getting clogged and blew the top off and infected the beer. That happened to me twice and another time was just pure dumb.

– Tell us your current favorite beer or beer style.

What’s Red Bridge? Irish red? Current favorite because it’s in my hand.

But honestly I have to say, I have to supplant that with Hops & Dreams, the New England IPA. It’s just so … I went through what a lot of people went through that were into craft beer or have been into craft beer, say, the past four or five years – the hop fatigue, so to speak.  Because IPA’s became so prevalent but also turned into a pecker measuring contest. “Let’s hop it up as much possible!” But that’s akin to the guys at the chili cook off who say “you can’t have more than a couple of spoonfuls of my chili, it’s so hot.” Well, I’m hungry. I want to taste, I want something with good flavor, I don’t want it to be just too hot. The same thing goes for IPAs, it just got to be a little too much. And now sours are starting to become like that. So for a while I just went away from IPAs, heavily hopped IPAs.  But the more I try this “New England Style,” the hazy, citrusy IPA, well I’m falling in love with them all over again. I just had to take a break and then go back to them. So lately my favorite has been the New England Style IPAs.

– So, now that your boss has left, what’s your current favorite brewery?

To be perfectly honest with you it’s almost always Black Bridge and it has nothing to do with brand loyalty, which I do have, obviously.  Brand loyalty because I work here; I’ve seen it grow from Tim making beer in five gallon buckets and serving it in his garage and getting me drunk to what you see now.  But, Tim and I, while we’re friends, I don’t get a lot of communication from him that tells me what’s coming up. He’ll tell me, ‘hey guess what I’m going to brew tomorrow’ but that’s about the extent of it. It’s not like I know what’s going on in his head.  So I’m still surprised by the beers that I’m pouring. But if had to pick a “second favorite” even though my boss is still gone, it would probably have to be Wanderlust, out of Flagstaff.

– All right, I’m on board with that. I love that place.

I do, too. And I love the idea of … I’m a big fan of the farm-to-table movement when it comes to food and I love the idea of making beer as local as possible. Because while it is cool to import things, just weird, exotic things to put into your beers, I like the extreme opposite of that which is grain that is grown down the street and yeast harvested literally out of thin air, which is what they did for several of their beers at Wanderlust. They don’t buy commercial yeast. Their 928 Local, whatever the hell it is, I don’t even know – I think it could kinda be considered a farmhouse ale – 928 Local is yeast that was propagated from sugar water being left out, just like you would a sourdough starter. And it’s delicious. So yeah I’d say that Wanderlust is my favorite, that I don’t work at.

– Have you ever been able to do that ‘bootleg biology?’ Culturing your own yeast like that?

I have. I’ve done it on several different levels. The house strain … oh, I forgot, who makes Fat Tire? New Belgium. New Belgium’s house strain that they use for the majority of their beers is incredibly hardy and it’s related to Scottish 1728 that we use here and they actually use it in their lagers as well. It’s technically an ale yeast.  But I propagated that, or harvested that, from several bottles of Fat Tire. Left a little in the bottom of the bottle, swirled it around, add it to the thing and put it in the fridge and six or seven bottles later start adding some sugar syrup to it and then you propagate.  Then made a batch of beer and saved it. I actually have a few vials in my refrigerator. But as far as spontaneous fermentation, I’ve never done that locally, but I plan on doing it this summer. I have a friend whose mom has several apple trees. I want to make a cider the traditional way. I found somebody in town who has a cider press and I want to try to make 15-20 gallons of cider and ferment the must from yeast I harvested out of the air.

 

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Hooked, aren’t you?  Well, I’m going to stop there for now.  Watch for the next post wherein we’ll uncover Joe’s other favorite alcohol’s, his view on beer trends and legal diatribes.

The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami

I don’t really know who that author is; I found that quote on Goodreads. It seems a good fit for The Session this month. The beer blogging Friday host Joan Birraire posited this for a subject:

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. … I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.”

I am certain that the “culture” referenced above is not of the sort found in the pages of this book: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.   It would refer more to this kind of culture: “the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society or group.” – This definition contributed by Vocabulary.com. The following are the books that have influenced me and that I feel added to the ideas, customs and intellectual conditions of beer and brewing.

Do you remember the Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action?”  Yes, the one where Kirk and Spock get to act like caricatures of gangsters from the 1920s (it also introduced the geniotic card game, fizbin, but that doesnt play into this story, so never mind that part). The entire species on the planet the Enterprise crew was visiting had been influenced by a single book that a previous starship had left, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties.  So, Joy of Homebrewing is that book for home brewers. It has influenced, maybe not the planet, but a huge percentage of the home brewing population. Just a few days ago I was commanded to follow the Papazian Mantra – relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew – and that’s, what, about thirty years post-publication! Good show, Mr Papazian. The book is full of great advice and technique, to be sure, and it has a little history, and certainly it contains the home brew philosophy that many of us live by, especially on Brew Day. As far as importance to culture, I put it at numero uno.  

  • A side note: the Trek episode reminded me of this treasure from Retroactive*.  (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Black Bridge – Def Leppard Friday’s should be a Thing!)

As far as quick reference goes, Miller’s book, Brewing the World’s Great Beers is fantastic, in my opinion. It is categorized in sections for extract, partial mash and all grain, quickly lays out the basic grist bill and instructions for all the basic beer styles. It’s often where I start in recipe formulating. I like the sparse nature of the book, too. No fluff, just beer stuff; knowledge at your fingertips. Like the JoH above, this book has served me well for years of successful home brewing and has survived two children, several dogs, and lots of Brew Days. 

I am enthralled by Belgian beers so it was a lot of fun to read Brew Like A Monk. There are recipe breakdowns throughout, but also brief histories of breweries and the philosophy of the brewers. I am more beholden to beer styles than I realized, though I like to consider myself more creative than to be restricted by rules since they are, like time and reality, just societal constructs and from what I got out of this book the monk brewers are not interested in styles. They make a beer over and over and know it and treat it like a living thing that must be cared for. As far as culture of beer goes, it seems to me that these monks possessed a proto-Papazian RDWHAH thinking.

Randy Mosher enjoys uncovering the arcane secrets and tastes of beer, firing the desires of other brewers. I’ve only read Tasting Beer, but it was enlightening. It again provided some history and discussed the derivations of various beer types. I’ve also been able to hear some of his talks from the home brewers convention. He seems to be always searching for beer knowledge and wants to correct inaccuracies in technique or folk knowledge or wherever so that all can enjoy true beer. 

History flavors culture. At least, it gives us context which is vital for insight into character, decisions, goals. It is the first step to subtext. You can navigate life without being aware of context, but it just makes you appear egotistical, foolish or a bully. No finesse. So books like Ogle’s help provide context to the beer world. Ambitious Brew was a fun read about brewing history in the United States. It provides a glimpse of the goals of those we refer to now as Big Brewers. What stood out to me was their need to expand. Expand. Expand. Take over. Etc. Now, a century later they still expand, by buying independently owned breweries. Stop helping them do that! I think books like this can serve as caution tape for craft brewers who are huge. While it’s nice to have good beers available nationally when do you draw the line between beer passion and building empire? I remember a time when it was the thing to mock Bud for being the SAME product from one end of the country to another. No character, as it were. Now I can pick up a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale anywhere and it’s gonna taste the same – granted its still a better taste than Bud. Before all the proverbial hackles are raised, this is not any kind of indictment, I am not qualified to make a judgement like that about brewery business and goals. What I’m really saying is history books can add to beer culture because it can make us discuss beer ethics. Ethics are the reason I choose to avoid big beer whenever possible. It’s not the taste, it’s the … context. It’s also why I prefer to drink at a local brewery whenever that’s an option. Speaking of local:  this will be out soon, Brewing Local.

To all the beer book authors out there: Thank You. Your work is being appreciated. You are affecting people’s thinking about beer. Cheers. 
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*A cover, I know. Sweet.