Saison Season

If you’re a beer lover, summer may mean different things to you:  Light lagers and Hefeweizens are two common “summer” beers.  To me, summer is “Saison Season”.  (Minor language joke there, if you know your French.  If not, it’s not too hard to figure out.)

As such, I typically brew one or more Saisons during the summer months.  I thought I’d share the one I did recently, as it came out very nice.  This recipe is modified from one that I did last year, with the main change being conforming to the “single-hop” style of brewing.  Also, there’s more of a wheat base to this than originally planned.  This is due strictly to the fact that they gave me the wrong dry extract at the store, and I didn’t notice until I got home.  I didn’t feel like going back, and since historically “Farmhouse” beers would often be based on whatever grains the farmer had on-hand, I felt it apropos to go ahead and use it.

Something to note with this recipe is it took a long time to ferment.  Saison yeast can be lazy, and they certainly were with this batch; it took four full weeks in the primary to hit my target final gravity.  (I probably could have let it sit another week to end up with a dryer beer and slightly higher ABV, but I was getting impatient and just wanted to get it in the bottles.)  If you’re going to try this, I would suggest waiting two weeks before checking the gravity, then take a reading once a week until it gets down to where you want it.

Anyhow, here’s the recipe:

Single Hop Saison
16-C Saison
Size: 5.0 gal
Calories: 198.45 kcal per 12.0 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.060
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Color: 12.85
Alcohol: 6.3%
IBUs: 32.6

Ingredients:

1.0 lb (12.4%) White Wheat Malt
.25 lb (3.1%) Munich 10L Malt
3.3 lb (41.0%) CBW® Golden Light Liquid (Malt Extract)
3.0 lb (37.3%) CBW® Bavarian Wheat Powder (Dry Malt Extract)
.5 lb (6.2%) Candi Sugar Amber – added during boil, boiled 60 m
2.0 oz (50.0%) Czech Saaz (3.2%) –  60 m
1 oz (25.0%) Czech Saaz (3.2%) –  30 m
1 oz (25.0%) Czech Saaz (3.2%) – 0 m
1.0 ea WYeast 3724 Belgian Saison™

Steep grains in 2 gallons of water at 155° for 45 minutes. Drain and rinse slowly with 1 gallon of 170° water. 1 hour boil, add hops according to schedule.  (You could probably do a 90 minute boil, using the same hop schedule.) Top off to five gallons and ferment warm (74°-78° F).

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By chitowngeorge Posted in Beer

Goose Island One Year Later

Over a year ago, the Goose Island Brewery was bought out by AB InBev.  This caused a stir, not only in Chicago, but nationwide in the craft beer community.  A recent article at the Chicagoist.com by Paul Schneider stirred up this old “controversy”.  I don’t have anything to add to what he said.  Go read his article, and his follow up on his chitownontap.com blog:

The Honk Heard Around the World: Goose Island One Year After the Sale

Echoes of A Honk Heard Round the World: Revisiting the Sale of Goose Island

I would, however, like to expand on what I wrote about the sale at the time:

More on the Goose Island Deal

(This is from the comment I left on the article at Paul’s blog.)

In that post I wrote: “One of the things that’s bothered me with Goose Island recently is they’ve stopped releasing beers like their Oatmeal Stout, and the Hex-Nut Brown so that they could pump out more and more or the 312. If this deal allows them to ramp up production, to keep up with demand, of the 312, but still produce things like Oatmeal Stout and Hex-Nut Brown, then that’s good.”

And what’s happened since?  312 production has moved to other facilities, Hex Nut is back on the shelves (still waiting for the Oatmeal Stout), and Bourbon County will become a year ’round offering.  They’ve expanded their Barrel program and continue to experiment and innovate.

These are all good things, and none of this would have been possible without the AB InBev deal.  I can’t believe there are people who sill hold a grudge against Goose Island (and the people who work there).

I can’t wait to see what Goose Island does in the future.

Beer Tour of Montréal and Chambly

Les bières de Montréal et de Chambly

As previously posted, we recently visited Montréal. Naturally, we checked out some of the beer scene. There’s an active craft brew scene in Quebec, notably in and around Montréal. I wouldn’t say it’s enough to plan an entire trip around, but there are plenty of options if you’re a beer aficionado who happens to be taking a trip.

The first really beer related thing we did was rent a car and drive to Chambly. Of course, Chambly is the home of Unibroue, so this was a natural destination for us. We went to Bedondaine et Bedons Ronds and Fourquet Fourchette (which is the restaurant associated with Unibroue).

Bedondaine et Bedons Ronds is a small brew-pub, (which did not seem like much of a tourist attraction – we were the only non-locals there when we went) that bills itself as a Musée de la Bière (Beer Museum). The walls are lined with display cases filled with beer bottles from around the world, the ceiling is covered with old serving trays featuring different beers and breweries, and there are other beer-related paraphernalia around the bar. (There was a space next door to the bar that presumably held more of the “museum”, but we didn’t end up going in there.)

The beer there was very good, and it should definitely be on your list of places to go if you’re visiting the area.

From there we headed to Fourquet Fourchette for lunch. It’s a lovely building with a great view of the Chambly Basin from the terrace (which is where we sat). The concept, according to the website, claims to be a “marriage between gastronomy and a love of beer”. We were, however, slightly disappointed in the food. Maybe it was because we were there for lunch, but the menu was very limited and the food was just so-so. (I didn’t realize until after our trip that there’s second location in Montréal – maybe the food is better at that location.)

The beer, naturally, being entirely Unibroue selections was very good. My only complaint, as far as the beer goes, is that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t get at any decent liquor store in Chicago. I was hoping they’d have selections that were only available there, but that was not the case.

In Montréal we went to Benelux and Dieu du Ciel! Both were worthwhile stops, but Dieu du Ciel! was our favorite beer stop during the trip.

The beers at Benelux were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. We didn’t eat there, but the menu seemed very limited.

We went to Dieu du Ciel! on our last day. I’m actually glad we didn’t go there sooner, as we might have just kept going back there and not checked out anything else. There beers are excellent, with a good variety and some not-very-oridinary selections.

We did have lunch there, but again, the menu was nothing to get excited about – limited selection, and good, but not great, food. This seemed to be the standard for all of the beer bars and brewpubs there. The focus is strictly on the beer, with the food menu being an after-thought. At least, coming from Chicago with places where the food is exceptional, and just as important as the beer – like Goose Island, Revolution, Owen & Engine, etc. – it seemed that way to us.

There were a few places on our list we didn’t get to. Le Cheval Banc was closed when we went (I didn’t notice on their site that they’re only open in the evenings, not during the day), and we just didn’t make it to Vices & Versa. However, that gives us more to explore next time we go.

More on the Goose Island Deal

Yesterday’s news (Anheuser-Busch InBev to take over Goose Island) caused a huge stir in the craft brew world, and in Chicago. “Goose Island” was a national trending topic on Twitter for part of yesterday. Beer blogs and comment boards were lit up with worry and speculation (and accusations that Goose Island is “selling out”).

Well, finally last night, came word via Goose Island’s Twitter feed on their side of the story:

In response to today’s deal with AB…This will allow us to make more beer as opposed to discontinuing medal winning brands due to capacity.

We will continue to be a Chicago brewery, to invest in Chicago brewing facilities/jobs, & support Chicago’s cultural and environmental orgs.

We will always be driven by the art of beer. Our team of brewers, led by Brett Porter is the same as it has been for some time.

Our innovation will be expanded, including new styles, as a result of not having as much limitation on capacity.

Our brew pubs are not a part of this deal and the pub brewers will continue as usual.

I take that as good news. One of the things that’s bothered me with Goose Island recently is they’ve stopped releasing beers like their Oatmeal Stout, and the Hex-Nut Brown so that they could pump out more and more or the 312. If this deal allows them to ramp up production, to keep up with demand, of the 312, but still produce things like Oatmeal Stout and Hex-Nut Brown, then that’s good.

Also, the fact that the brewpubs are independent and not part of the deal is great news.

Again, I’m taking a “wait and see” approach. I haven’t already written them off, like some people. If this deal simply means AB taking over production of 312 (and, honestly, who really cares if they cut corners on that one?), but the Fulton Street brewery continues to produce quality beers, and return old favorites to the shelves, I’m all for it.

Anheuser-Busch InBev to take over Goose Island

Not the news I wanted on what’s already a pretty crappy Monday morning:

A-B Acquires Goose Island
Anheuser-Busch to take over Goose Island

I’m not really sure what to make of this, though. This could actually be a good thing. I know Goose Island has been struggling to meet demand, and that looks like the driving factor in this decision. And, A-B sees the value in the higher-end beer market. As long as they don’t mess with how things are done, it may be okay.

The articles state that John Hall will be staying on as CEO and overseeing production, so that’s a good sign. But, Brewmaster Greg Hall is stepping down, so that’s potentially a bad sign.

Even though initially dismayed by this news, I’m going to try to take a “wait and see” approach to this. I’ll continue going to the brewpub, and I’ll continue buying their beers off the shelf. I’m not going to just stop patronizing Goose Island on “principle”, or anything like that.

But, if they start messing with the recipes, or start using cheaper ingredients, or there is any noticeable decline in quality, there are plenty of other craft brew establishments in Chicago I can take my business.

Brew Day – Vanilla Porter

We were in Binny’s last weekend (the one by Goose Island Clybourn) and noticed a sign advertising that they are going to be hosting a home brew competition event in April (for Sam Adam’s Longshot Home Brew contest). I’ve wanted to enter the competition for a few years now, but I always seemed to miss it. You have to brew 6 weeks to two months in advanced, depending on the style (sometimes even longer). I just never found out about it in time to have something ready to enter.

Since I have plenty of lead time, I decided to give it a shot this year. The recipe choice was obvious; The one original recipe that I brew that is universally praised by all that have tried it is the Vanilla Porter. So, I went to the home brew store today, got what I needed, and brewed up a batch.

I ran into problems the last time I brewed the Vanilla Porter: I deviated a bit from my normal procedure, and also used a yeast that I harvested from a previous batch, which didn’t work out too well (the fermentation never kicked off, and I ended up throwing some dry yeast I keep on hand for emergencies on it). This time I stuck to the script: I used my tried-and-true methods and bought some fresh yeast. I was also very careful with my sanitation procedures (as I will be on bottling day in a few weeks).

Hopefully, come mid April, I’ll have a top-notch brew ready to enter the competition. (At the very least, I’ll have a really good beer to drink!)

Batch #50

It’s Been a While

Wow. It’s been so long since my last post here I forgot my password! I am involved in a new music project, so hopefully I’ll have more to write about as things progress on that front. In the mean time, I thought I’d end the dry spell with some beer news.

Batch #50

This past weekend I racked* my 50th batch of beer. I didn’t notice the milestone until I logged the batch into the spreadsheet I use to keep track. Had I realized, I would have tried to do something special for this batch. As it was, it just ended up being a basic porter thrown together with left over ingredients from previous recipes.

Oh, well. It should turn out to be a decent beer, at any rate.

Batch #49

The batch before the 50th, however, turned out to be an amazing beer. I brewed a Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter. It was based on the Norther Brewer Bourbon Barrel Porter recipe, with some minor modifications.

The “barrel aging” is faked, of course. You take oak chips (or cubes) and soak them for a few days in a top quality bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark, as the recipe suggests), then add the wood and bourbon to the beer in the secondary fermenter.

The beer came out great, the best thing I’ve done in a long time. (This was welcome after this year’s Vanilla Porter did not turn out that great.) I took some to a holiday party last Friday and it was universally praised by all who tasted it.

Maybe I’ll hang on to this recipe for the 100th Batch milestone. That is, if I don’t miss that one, too


*Transferred to the secondary fermenter.

You Say You Want a Revolution

I finally made it to Revolution Brewing last night, so I thought I’d share my opinions.  Short version: it did not live up to the hype.

Before I get into the food and (more importantly) the beer, let’s talk about the ambiance.  The space is nicely designed from a visual standpoint – wide open with a large bar in the middle – but the first thing you notice is the noise level.  The wide open design, with large, flat brick walls, causes table conversation to be amplified to an annoying level.  So much so that it’s difficult to actually carry on a conversation in the place.  Something needs to be done about that – it’s the single worst aspect of the place.

I was impressed, however, by the fact that there weren’t TVs showing sports everywhere you looked.  There was a single TV over the bar, which wasn’t even turned on.  That makes it clear Revolution is trying to be more of a restaurant than a bar.

Apart from that, the service was a little slow.  While I was waiting for a table (I was the first of my party to arrive and had put my name on the waiting list) it took a while to find a free space at the bar to sit down and order a drink.  Once I did however, I sat there waiting for one of the bartenders to acknowledge my presence, even though they had each walked past where I was sitting several times.  One even filled a growler for someone who came up to the bar right next to me (apparently a “regular” who, obviously, deserved  more attention than me) before asking me for my order.

Also, I thought it was odd that they held my credit card to run a tab.  For a place that’s striving to feel more like a restaurant than a bar, I thought that was odd.  It’s something dive bars, college bars and obnoxious trendy “clubs” do.  Restaurants keep track of your drink orders then transfer your tab to your table when you’re finally seated, or until you’re ready to pay at the bar.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a place that held your credit card to run a tab.

On to the beer.  Overall, I was not impressed.  The beers I had were good, but not great.  I started with the Workingman Mild.  I wanted to start with a lower alcohol brew, and I was curious if theirs suffered from the lack of flavor that affects many lower alcohol beers.  I have to say that it had more flavor than expected, but still it was pretty average.

The next beer was the Working Woman Brown.  I was very disappointed in this one.  It didn’t taste much like a brown at all.  Browns should be malty, with maybe a little bit of a biscuit flavor, and maybe a little bit of sweetness.  This one was hoppy.  The hoppiness masked any malt/biscuit/sweet that you would expect in a brown.

After dinner I had the Eugene porter.  This was easily the best of the three beers that I tried.  Where the Workingman had more flavor than you would expect from a 3.5% ABV brew, the Eugene didn’t taste like a 7% ABV brew (which I think is a good thing in this instance).  It just tasted like a full, robust porter.  Though, I would have liked a little more of that roasted flavor that some porters have.

The food was probably the best part.  I had the Forest Burger (with Gorgonzola cheese, cremini mushrooms, and crispy shallots) and it was delicious.  My dining companions each had a different burger, one the Workingman Burger (aged cheddar, beer onion and bacon) and the other a mushroom-swiss (which wasn’t on the menu, but they made for him anyway).  They both agreed that the burgers were excellent.

My only complaint with the food was that the fries were those skinny “shoe-string” style fries (the menu calls them “hand-cut frites”), which I absolutely hate (besides the fact that these were over-cooked).  I honestly don’t know anyone who prefers shoe-string fries.  I think some restaurants use them because they mistakenly think they are somehow “classier” than regular fries or steak-house style fries.  They’re not, and you’re a brewpub, so get over yourself.  Goose Island (Clybourn) served the shoe-string fries for a while right after they changed their menu, but thankfully they switched back (we actually complained about it).  I think Revolution is trying to project the image of a being more of a classy restaurant than a brewpub, which is ironic given the their name, and the names of their beers and some menu items – not to mention their location.

All in all, I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there again.  Maybe if I happened to be in the area, and I happened to be hungry, I would stop in.  If I do go back, I’ll definitely explore the menu beyond the burgers (but I certainly won’t try the fish and chips, knowing that it’ll come with those abysmal, over cooked shoe-string fries).

To sum up:

Over-hyped, by far.

Pros: Good (but not great) beer.  Really good food.  Not being bombarded by sports on the TV.

Cons: Noisy acoustics.  Slow service. Shoe-string fries. Disappointing beer (the biggest flaw for a place with “Brewing” in their name).

Batch 9000 Shutout

Bell’s recently released their “Batch 9000” commemorative beer.  So far, I’ve been shut out on getting my hands on any.

I was at a little independent organic grocer last week and they had it.  I didn’t get it at the time since I had to go back to work, and I couldn’t very well bring it with me.  I figured that I would just pick some up later.

Well, over the weekend I stopped by Binny’s (which used to be Sam’s, which I’m still pissed it was bought out – Binny’s sucks compared to what Sam’s used to be, but that’s a whole different post), but they were already sold out and said they wouldn’t be getting any more.

I went back to the independent grocer, in hopes that they were small enough to be under the radar of the craft beer aficionados, but they were sold out of it already as well.

I’m sure, at this point, it will be the same story anywhere I go.  My only hope is to find somewhere that has it on tap.

So, if anyone happens to know of anyplace in Chicago that has it on tap, or any stores that happen to still have six packs, please, please, please let me know.

Bourbon County Stout

Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout is one of my favorite beers.  Incredibly rich and complex, it is a great beer to slowly sip an appreciate its aromas and flavors.

Today’s Tribune has a short review that talks a bit about the history and future of Bourbon County: A stout mash note to Bourbon County.

It mentions some plans Greg Hall has for future version of the beer:

Next month Goose Island will release Bourbon County Coffee Stout — a partnership between Goose Island and Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea — a stout aged for more than a year in bourbon barrels and then infused with Intelligentsia’s Black Cat espresso. Later this year, the brewery will introduce variations such as a stout aged with vanilla and one aged in 25-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels.

I can’t wait to try these, especially for the vanilla one.  (We’ll see how it stacks up against my own vanilla porter!)