Bitterly Cold Beer Thoughts

The mercury or whatever they use in thermometers these days was showing an ambient air temperature below zero for much of the morning here in eastern Iowa.  It’s the kind of cold that feels like someone has just pinched your spine when you walk outside or, rather, run between buildings in an effort to avoid exposure.

It’s on days like these that I wish I could stay home wrapped in blankets drinking a beer.  Instead, my thoughts wander to beer while I look at spreadsheets all day long at work.

Brickwarmer Holiday Red

It’s been about a week since I cracked open the first 22 ounce bottle of the Brickwarmer Holiday Red:

Brickwarmer Holiday Red

The beer turned out okay, but it really lacks some of the flavors in the description.  In particular, the description noted that it would have pronounced citrus flavors but none of that came through in the final product.

However, the beer does seem to hit a lot of the right notes for these cold days.  It is hearty in terms of malt profile and the hops do come through strong without turning into a gut punch.  Or a smack to the teeth depending upon your perception of hop bombs.

I think that next year I will try a recipe similar to this but add some fruit or spices to make a unique holiday ale.  A Christmas present for the beer drinker in my life…me!

Like my second batch of The Innkeeper [insert link] the carbonation of different bottles has been highly inconsistent.  Some bottles are carbonated perfectly while others are quite flat.  It is a problem that is pushing me closer and closer to going the keg route.  I just want to build a keezer.

My Rye Ale

This weekend I brewed up a batch of rye ale that started with the American Rye Ale extract kit offered by the good folks at Northern Brewer.  I have made this exact recipe before, so I wanted to do something a little different.

I felt that the beer really lacked a defining rye characteristic, something that my rye whiskey drinking friend agreed with wholeheartedly.  In an attempt to up the rye quotient without upsetting the balance of the beer I steeped one pound of Weyermann Chocolate Rye Malt for twenty minutes as a specialty grain to add some depth to the beer in general.  It will darken up the beer and add those roasted notes that can really make a beer shine.

When the weather turns warmer and, depending upon the success of this batch, I am eager to try substituting the dark chocolate malt for a lighter Weyermann Rye Malt or Fawcett Crystal Rye Malt.  The other change I am looking to try is moving away from the ubiquitous Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast or the slightly less ubiquitous Wyeast 1272 American Ale II.  This weekend I bottled a batch of American Amber Ale that used Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale.

The “problem” I am having right now is that I can spend hours on my iPad with iBrewMaster crafting new recipes to try come springtime.

What is Craft Beer?

There is a debate raging in the beer world over the term “craft” and what it means.  In December the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based member association comprised of self-identified craft brewers, released a statement entitled “Craft vs. Crafty: A Statement from the Brewers Association.”  While I will not qualify the resulting conversation as a firestorm, it has been a heated debate within the world of beer.

The “traditional” criteria of a craft brewer is one whose production is less than 6 million barrels a year and has an ownership structure where less than 25% is owned by a parent company who is not themselves a craft brewer.  Therefore, a brand like Shock Top would not qualify because it is wholly owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

I feel that some of this argument is reminiscent of the whole debate surrounding organic when the federal government put into place standards that were used to define organic.  While there was general applause over there being standards by which to qualify organic, a lot of people felt that there was a departure away from the spirit of what it means to be organic.  In the debate over craft there is the same tenor.  Is being a craft brewer purely a numbers game, as the Brewers Association’s definition would suggest, or is it about approach?

I would argue that what defines “craft” is approach.  If a brewery is independent of a large parent, but brewing watered down schwag lager to be consumed via beer bongs no one is going to label that a craft brewer.  Sorry, whether it’s 10 million barrels or 2,000 barrels crap beer is crap beer not craft beer.  That is, in essence, the problem with simple thresholds.

BTW, why 6 million barrels as the threshold?  The Boston Beer Company, which brews Sam Adams, is the largest craft brewery in the United States.  In 2011, the company brewed 2.5 million barrels itself and another 13 thousand under contract according to its annual report.  If the largest craft brewer is not even halfway to that number why is it even considered a threshold?

Ironically, included among the list of members for the Brewers Association is AC Golden—a division of the gigantic Molson Coors Brewing Co and part of the Miller Coors Brewing Co joint venture, Goose Island Beer Co—owned by the megasized Anheuser-Busch InBev monstrosity, and others I am too lazy to track down the true ownership structure.  The Brewers Association is going to produce a list in the first quarter of 2013 of the breweries that meet the “traditional” criteria of a craft brewery and that remain independent of a larger parent company.

I am just going to stick to my homebrew.  It’s as craft as you can get.

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