Tag Archives: New Belgium Brewery

Friday Linkage 1/25/2013

I have been really slow to post anything the past couple of weeks.  No excuses, just nothing to say really.  Do you ever have one of those stretches of time where you look back on the past couple of weeks and wonder what the heck you accomplished?  If it was anything at all?  Yep, that has been the past couple of weeks for me.

On to the links…

Japan to Build World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm near Fukushima—Maybe there is a transition underway that comes out of the disaster at the nuclear plant in Fukushima.  I do not know, but this is a step.

LEDs Emerge as Popular Green Lighting—It looks like we have finally reached the inflection point where LEDs are going to be the dominant form of lighting technology.  This is a good thing.

Solar Panel Prices Continue to Slide—The story is not about the price of solar panels anymore.  It’s about the balance of system costs.  The U.S. needs to work on reducing the balance of system costs to speed adoption of distributed solar generation.

Today’s Seafood Special: Pig Manure, Antibiotics, and Diarrhea Bugs—Shrimp never sounded so good?  Our food safety system is a joke because the foxes are running the hen house.  The only way to guarantee a measure of safety is to know as much as possible about the supply chain of your food and strive to keep it as short as possible.  Yeah, it’s hard but this is the food we put in our bodies.

Popular Antibiotic Tainting Minnesota Lakes—Triclosan is just bad crap.  It’s not really effective as an antibiotic and now it is polluting our waterways because people are so afraid of germs that they expect the stuff to be in every product.  It should be banned.  Now.

Why is Coffee So Expensive?—I tend to fall onto the other side of this question and wonder why coffee is so cheap?  If you ever visit a coffee farm—I have visited several on the Big Island and Kauai—the first thing that will be striking is how labor intensive the effort can be.  Sure, a lot of coffee is harvested mechanically but high quality is coffee is picked manually.  Than you see how much of the weight is lost as the coffee bean is separated from the pulpy exterior.  Never mind transit, roasting, etc.  Now you get my point.

Not Just Another Brookylnite with Chickens—It’s easy to pillory the people with backyard chickens or fancy vegetable gardens as elitists, but growing or raising your own food with whatever resources are available to you has always been a fact of life for people lower down the economic ladder from your average hipster urban farmer.

New Pubs Send Profits to Charity—Why not, right?  Like any of these “schemes” however, I wish people would just donate $20 to their charity of choice directly rather than depend on an intermediary who takes a cut.

Saving Tasmanian Devils from Extinction—I have been following the story of the Tasmanian devils for years as the species looks at extinction from a virulent and contagious face cancer.  It’s a wild story.

New Belgium Brewery’s Kim Jordan Chats with the Denver Post—New Belgium Brewery is important in the beer world because it has helped spread the gospel of good beer.  For me, growing up in the Midwest, New Belgium and Summit in St. Paul. Minnesota were the breweries that produced beer that opened my eyes.  It’s always interesting to hear what people at the head of that movement have to say.

New Belgium Brewery Odds & Ends

After my trip to Colorado I was in the mood to sample more of what the brewing’s mad scientists across the Front Range had to offer.  A quick trip to Benz Beverage Depot yielded a couple of interesting beers from New Belgium Brewery: Brett Beer and Prickly Passion Saison.  Both are beers in the Lips of Faith series at New Belgium.

The Brett Beer is first:

The best Belgian beers that I have had try to find a way to balance the malt with either hops or alcohol.  With this beer I think that the New Belgium folks were trying to go the alcohol route—granted the beer is not that heavy—but it comes across as too much.  Like homebrewers who get obsessed with making the most potent brews possible without regard to flavor the Brett Beer just tastes of alcohol to me.

How about the Prickly Passion Saison:

Let me get this out of the way: I did not taste any prickly pear cactus at all in this beer.  In fact, it tasted like a well-crafted saison and nothing more.  That is no mean feat, but the inclusion of any other flavors seemed like a complete marketing gimmick to me.  Maybe my palate is just not very refined.

This seems to be a growing trend in beer land—gimmicks.  It’s no longer enough to produce a well-made beer.  It’s no longer enough to refine your craft to a level that allows the ingredients and method to be showcased in a subtle and surprising way.  Nope, now it is about brewing beer with yeast cultivated from some dude’s beard or uses an insane amount of hops.

With that being said, the Prickly Passion Saison was a good beer.  It was just not worth the extra price that I paid compared with other well-crafted saisons.

Beer Thoughts in a Time of Drought

One upside to living through the worst drought in the past twenty five years is that after a day of ferrying buckets of water to the plants you want to save a cold beer tastes mighty fine.  By the third beer, as the sun goes down, you even begin to forget that your grass is crispy and the dawn redwood you planted earlier in the summer is really having a hard time.  Ugh!

I was brewing a new batch of beer this past week.  As I was pouring the wort into the carboy, my four year old daughter stuck her head inches away from the carboy’s opening and asked, “Daddy, where’s the trub?”  Yep, my daughter knows about trub.  I am proud parent.

American Wheat

For a summertime treat I went back into my homebrew past to brew up a batch of American Wheat using an extract kit from Northern Brewer.  This recipe is the first one that I tried when I began homebrewing almost one year ago.

It’s my opinion that my skills have improved, but only the beer will prove that out:

Well?  I have mixed impressions right now.  My sinuses are burnt—a combination of the heat, allergies, and medication have left them somewhat desensitized—so nothing smells right.  A big part of beers is the aroma and this beer actually smelled burnt.  Literally, it smelled like burnt malt.  I cannot believe that is an aroma from the beer.

It’s easy drinking, which is good in a time of drought.

Patersbier & Mild Ale

The patersbier I brewed up a few weeks ago has been put into bottles and will be ready to drink in a couple of weeks.  One reason why I keep looking at a soda keg dispensing system is that it cuts out the bottle conditioning time.  There is nothing as bad as waiting for a beer to bottle condition.

One step that I skipped with the patersbier was secondary fermentation.  Since no additional ingredients were going to be added I just extended the time in primary fermentation and went right to bottles.  I am not a fan of secondary fermentation because it adds in the chance of contamination.  The color on this beer is very light.  It will be interesting to see how it looks coming out of the bottle.

Also in a carboy right now is a batch of mild ale.  This recipe is very light on hops.  It only calls out 1 ounce of U.S. Fuggle boiled for 60 minutes.

New Zealand and Australian Hops Arrive on the Scene

The more I brew the more I learn about hops.  Currently, the hop varieties from the Pacific Northwest seem to dominate.  How many recipes do you recall that spec out Cascade or Willamette hops?  Too many to count.  But, it looks like the folks from the southern hemisphere are looking to invade the U.S. beer scene.

New Belgium’s Shift Pale Lager, reviewed below, uses Nelson Sauvin variety.  I could not tell you about that particular hop because my palate is pretty weak at discerning the individual notes.

The good thing about this invasion is that it brings more options to the table.  For the longest time I remember every craft beer that I opened being an exercise in restraining my gag reflex because the over abundance of either Cascade or Willamette varieties made me think I was about to drink day old bong water.  A lot of breweries have gotten away from that heavy hand, but the trend is still prevalent.  If you want to experience a blast of hops like no other check out Stone Brewing Co’s Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary IPA.  Not only is it heavily hopped, but it also clocks in at almost 11% A.B.V.  This is a “big” beer.

Variety is the spice of life, right?

New Belgium Brewery Shift Pale Lager

There are times when even the most disciplined homebrewer runs out of beer.  I was one such homebrewer this week.  I found myself facing ninety degree temps and nothing read to drink for almost a whole week.  What’s a guy to do?

Go to the liquor store of course, but this would be the first time in a while that I had made a purposeful trip to the beer section of my local Hy-Vee’s liquor department.  One nice thing about not having made such a trip in a longtime is that there were a lot of new options.  Most of the new stuff from the macro-breweries sounded pretty vile.  Lime-a-rita or something like that from the makers of Bud Light.  Joy.

New Belgium Brewery’s new Shift Pale Lager caught my eye.  When I buy beer I tend to gravitate toward styles that I do not make myself.  Lagers fall into that category because I have not gone to the trouble to devise a fully climate controlled fermentation system preferring the room temperature joy that is ale.

True to its name, Shift is pale in color:

The taste is anything but pale.  Apparently, the beer uses four different hops (Target, Nelson Sauvin, Liberty, Cascade).  The neat trick is that this beer does not taste overhopped like so many other craft beers.  Oh sure, you can taste the hops but the bitterness and aroma are there in the right amounts.  Unlike beers that are heavy handed with varieties like Simcoe or Amarillo, which seem to be the hops of the moment, the mix of four varieties produces something that is more complex than a one note daisy cutter on your palate.

This beer definitely fits into the “lawnmower” category that I do not find derogatory in any way.

It’s available in 16 ounce aluminum cans so it is venue friendly.  This is important in the summertime when the safety police outlaw the presence of glass bottles.

Olympic Beer Controversy

What is the official beer of the 2012 Olympics?  Why, Heineken of course!

Huh?  These games are being help in a country that is home to the Campaign for Real Ale.  A country that has a long history of unique beers is going to be serving pale Dutch swill for the ever so reasonable price of £7.23 or just over $11.  Nothing like laying down over ten bucks for a schwag imported beer in England.

What’s next, ordering a Bud Light under the shadow of St. James Gate in Dublin?

Random Beer Thoughts

Latest Organic American Ale

My second organic American Ale turned out okay.  The hop profile was subdued with some of the aromas associated with more pungent American ales, especially the kind that predominates in the Pacific Northwest.  Here is a look:

I have not noticed a lot of difference between Wyeast 1272 American Ale II and 1056 American Ale.  My palate may not be advanced enough, but the beers taste similar.  The 1056 seems to produce a beer with more of a head and is more effervescent.  It’s about the only quantifiable difference I can pin down.  Maybe it is the preponderance of American style ales I have been drinking lately, thus I find myself…

Tired of American Style Ales

This winter my brewing has focused heavily on American style ales using Wyeast 1056 American Ale and Wyeast 1272 American Ale II with a variety of malt extract, steeping grains, and hops.  After drinking several batches and trying some brews from fellow homebrewers I can safely say that I am tired of the style right now.

With the weather turning warmer—it’s the end March and the temperature in eastern Iowa has tickled the upper 70s—I am looking forward to “spreading my wings” and brewing up something different.  The Innkeeper, an extract kit from Northern Brewer, is in bottles and should be ready in a couple of weeks.  This weekend I brewed up a California Common (a.k.a “steam” beer”) and an Irish Red Ale is coming on right after that.  I think I might try the AK47 extract kit from Northern Brewer and whatever else strikes my fancy, but it is not going to be an American Ale.

The California Common or “steam” beer is a uniquely American beer.  The key feature of this beer is that it is fermented using lager yeasts at ale temperatures.  Needless to say, this results in a style that does not conform to the dictates of either traditional category although there is so much blurring of the lines anymore that the lager versus ale debate is somewhat moot.  Besides, if it tastes good who cares what official style the beer conforms to?

Originally a beer for working class patrons, steam beer was brought back to the modern beer drinker by the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, which is also the traditional home of the steam beer style.  Compared to the other beers I have brewed the California Common was the most complex.  It involved malt extract added at two different times, hops added at four different times, and will require a secondary fermentation following primary fermentation.  It will also take approximately eight weeks from wort to glass.  Right now it is in the carboy, fully krausened, and bubbling away.

I am very partial to steam beers because it takes me back to graduate school at the University of Iowa where a friend of mine introduced me to a whole range of different beers, including Anchor Steam on tap at the Sanctuary.  Simpler times.

Taste Testing Organic Beers

The folks at Grist have decided to do a roundup of organic beers.  Apparently, New Belgium Brewery is going to be phasing out the high profile organic Mothership Wit.  The overt reason is a decline in sales, but I would say that the decline in sales is in direct correlation to the beer’s total lack of depth or complexity.  It’s a fine pale yellow beer and it’s organic, but that is all that it has going for it right now.  After one pint you sort of look at your choices and move on to something else because there is no point in drinking boring beer.

Organic beer does not have to be boring.  It’s about replacing ingredients, not necessarily cutting out the methodology that can make great tasting beer.  The past two batches of American style ale that I have made had both complexity and lots of flavor yet both were organic—the malt extract, steeping grains, and priming sugar were organic.  The hops and yeast were not.

When a Pint is Not a Pint

How much do we really think about weights and measures?  A pound is a pound, a gallon is a gallon, and a pint is a pint?  Right?

Nope.  According to Jordan Mackay the American pint is just too damned big.  The contention is that the newer ultra-hoppy beers of the U.S. craft beer movement are unsuited to being served in glasses 16 ounces and larger.  I tend to agree with this in principle because most of these beers are not quaffed with near the rapidity of a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

A pint is a somewhat arbitrary measure of beer volume because the variety of what is considered a pint varies dramatically based upon locale.  Get a pint in the U.K. and it is determined by law how much beer is included.  Note: I have a set of Imperial pint glasses from which I drink beer because the glasses can hold 16 ounces of beer with some room leftover for the head.

In the U.S. a pint is generally referring to a 16 ounce glass containing beer.  The Boston Beer Company, the brewer of Samuel Adams and arbiter of all things beer in the U.S., feels that there is something left to be desired in the common glasses used for beer consumption in this country. 

I do not know if I agree with the technical merits of one glass over another as I tend to enjoy beer in all its serving vessels be it pint glass, red Solo cup, das boot, or straight from the can.

Backyard Hops

This just makes me want to order some hop rhizomes from Northern Brewer, build a trellis, and get to growing my own hops in my backyard.  Keepin’ it local!

Cellar Raid

There is something strange about finding four years of a beer “vintage” in a local beer shop, let alone having the newest vintage and receiving an older vintage from a friend.  I have never been one to let a beer age for any period of time or to really enjoy the merits of beer that is aged outside of some of the sour beers being produced by craft brewers all over the U.S.

Maybe this is the next evolution in my beer education.

Waste into Something Else

WTF?  Breweries use 400 million tons of grain a year and most of it is thrown away!  I am glad the macro-beer and purveyor of thin lagers Anheuser-Busch is trying to find a use for the stuff.  I think New Belgium in Fort Collins has already beat them to the punch in using brewery waste in a bio-reactor to generate electricity, but somehow A-B will get a lot of credit for following.  Granted, the impact will be big.  It’s still a copycat.

Weekend Beer Thoughts

It’s the weekend so what am I doing?  Drinking and thinking about beer of course…

American Ale II Wheat Beer

My latest American Ale II Wheat is out of the bottle and into the glass:

Pretty good flavor, balanced hop notes, but a little forgettable.  Like a completely competent car–it gets good gas mileage, handles well, you can find the buttons, etc.–it was nothing that inspired or fired up the imagination.  I would call it the winter equivalent of a lawnmower beer.

This was the first beer that I had brewed with Wyeast 1272 American Ale II.  Some people have commented that it finishes quite different than Wyeast 1056 American Ale.  I do not really know if I could make that statement.  The beer was clear owing to the highly flocculant nature of 1272, but that is about the only difference I could notice between the two. I am going to brew two batches that are the same except for the yeast to really tease out the differences.

Adding Grain and Going Organic

In the past, I brewed one batch of beer with organic malt extract and it turned out well.  Going forward, I am going to try and incorporate as much organic content into my beers as possible.  It’s one way I can make my brewing greener.

I have also moved up to using steeping or specialty grains.  One complaint about extract beers is that the extract can leave beers with a flat flavor profile because of the freshness or lack thereof.  A way to counter this problem is to utilize freshly crushed malted grains to impart some of that fresh flavor back into your wort.  For my latest batch I did just that.

It is very easy to steep specialty grains.  Just fill a muslin bag with your grains, steep like tea in water between 140 to 160 degrees for thirty minutes, and remove before proceeding with your extract recipe as normal.  I really noticed a pronounced malty smell in the kitchen as I steeped the grain.  I am hopeful this ca give my homebrew some of the “pop” it has been lacking.

Here is what the recipe consisted of:

  • Specialty Grains: 1 lbs Organic Briess C60-L; 30 minutes of steeping
  • Malt Extract: 6 lbs Organic Light
  • Hops: 1 oz Cascade @ 50 minutes; 1 oz Cluster @ 20 minutes
  • Yeast: Wyeast 1272 American Ale II
  • Other: Whirfloc tablet added @ 15 minutes

This is the recipe I am going to use to compare 1272 to 1056.

Drinking Trader Joe’s

I am not drinking the bottom shelf at Trader Joe’s.  Thankfully, Will Green over at Serious Eats has already taken care of that task.  Instead, on my last trip to Trader Joe’s I picked up a pair of interesting looking beers: Mission Street Brown Ale and Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale.

Mission Street is a brand at Trader Joe’s brewed under contract by Firestone Walker.  I have tried the Hefeweizen brewed under the Mission Street aegis and found it agreeable.  Not great or really memorable, but agreeable.  The same came be said of the Brown Ale.  It’s color and head are appealing:

The flavor is a forgettable, but not bad in any way, brown ale.  Have you had a Newcastle?  Than you know what I am talking about.  It hits the notes that separate it from a red ale or lager.  You could drink these all night and not really remember anything the next morning save for a few scented burps over breakfast.

The Vintage Ale was a totally different story.  It poured dark and there were a lot of aromas wafting from the head of this beast:

Beast is about the best way to descrive this beer.  It reminded me of overly hopped and high gravity beers that are made just because someone can.  Sure, you can brew a beer with a high ABV and IBU that are off the charts, but if it tastes like day old warthog rectum there is really no point.  Not to say that this beer tastes that bad, but I was left thinking that I drank someone’s ash tray chased by a burnt PBR.

Sierra Nevada Going Eastward

Sierra Nevada, which according to CNBC is the second largest privately held craft brewer in the U.S., is going to be expanding its operations eastward.  With one facility in Chico, CA and a planned facility in Mills River, NC Sierra Nevada will now be able to address the large coastal markets without massive shipping costs in terms of dollars and carbon.

This move is sure to be echoed by other “craft” brewers.  In October when I visited New Belgium Brewery the place was abuzz with rumors about the potential expansion in the east, which would give that company a longer reach into those huge markets.  No word yet on that news.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

The vision of Fort Collins that I had been sold by a lot of different people was a phantasm.  Over the years I had come to believe that it was Amsterdam on the Front Range.  A progressive city full of students, beer enthusiasts, bicyclists, and general iconoclasts so thick that they only way to stand out would be to affirm your belief that it was the right decision to invade Iraq.  Reality invaded quite quickly.

Sure, Fort Collins is a great city to be a cyclist but I did not find it any better than Minneapolis or Madison.  The one benefit that the city does have over other bicycling meccas is that it is flat.  So is the Netherlands and the weather is much better in Colorado.

But, onto the beer because that is why I went to Fort Collins.  In the late-1990s I became aware of the New Belgium Brewery through its gateway drug Fat Tire Amber Ale.  Why was it a gateway drug?  For a 20 year old college student spending that much on 22 ounce bottle of beer was unheard of unless it had a bicycle on it.  This was a time when I strived to make everything I purchased related to cycling.  Why?  Because I was 20 years old with no expenses save for bike parts, beer, and books.  Making the jump from Pabst Blue Ribbon—when it was still just a cheap beer without the shine of irony—to a facsimile of a Belgian ale was unthinkable, yet Fat Tire got me hooked.

Every chance I got the beer got bootlegged back to Minnesota and later Iowa.  Friends filled the extra space in trunks on return trips from Colorado and I made extra space in my own car on trips to visit my sister in law in Kansas.

Therefore, a trip to tour the brewery should be viewed with the same lens as a pilgrimage.  Perhaps not to Mecca, but at least on the order of Elvis Presley fans making the trip to Graceland.

It was what I expected and a disappointment at the same time.

In every picture I have ever seen of the brewery on Linden Street, bicycles assume the position as the dominant mode of transportation.  See the picture taken from New Belgium’s own site:

On the day that I visited for the tour—in my own car mind you—the parking lot and both sides of Linden Street were filled with the cars of employees and visitors.  It was not as if I was surrounded by the quiet clicking of freehubs and squeal of brakes.

Granted, the company does seem genuinely committed to the power of the bicycle and the possibility of doing good while making money.  How else do you explain spending more money to become the first all wind powered brewery in the United States?  Or, the installation of a large solar photovoltaic array on the roof of the new bottling line?  Or, the construction of an anaerobic digestor for the production of electricity through biogas and a water treatment facility tied into the city of Fort Collins?  Or…you get the idea.  The folks at New Belgium are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be sustainable as a business.

The tour was a winner for one reason: no lack of beer samples including the most excellent sour beer at the end.  La Folie is a sour brown aged in wine barrels.  I did not know what to expect when I took my first drink, but unlike most of my fellow tour goers who preferred Mothership Wit or Sunshine Wheat I dug it.  A lot.  Thanks to Bernie for letting me have one of the other glasses that he poured.  When a business is willing to give you a sample of a beer costing approximately $15 for 22 ounces you know they are committed to spreading the gospel of good beer.  Kudos.

The gospel according to New Belgium was where things went off the rails a little bit for me.  It was less about the beer and more about the ownership of the company by the employees and how awesome it was to work at New Belgium.  Thanks for reminding me constantly that I work for a less enlightened company, but doing so at every stop makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth.  I was waiting for one of the samples to be Kool-Aid spiked with the essence of employee ownership and empowerment.

Yes, I would love to have the chance to take home a twelve pack of beer a week from my job.  Yes, I would love to have a freakin’ slide from one level to the next.  Yes, I would love to work in a place that did not demand mind numbing conformity.  Sorry, I am ranting a little.

Maybe I am being cynical because of where I work.  Everyone at New Belgium seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs, the beer was good, and the general mood was ebullient.  Perhaps this is the highest level of achievement we can hope for in a business…

Brewing Beer to Save the Planet

Okay, maybe I am not going to save the planet by brewing beer.  I am, however, going to reduce my carbon footprint and make a product more suited to my tastes by taking control of the means of production.

My path towards homebrew stems from two nagging concerns.  First, spending about $8 per six pack of beer is fine but when I dislike a majority of the beers for a variety of reasons it starts to bug me.  In particular, craft brewers tend to think that more “hoppy” flavors and aromas signify a superior product.  It has gotten so bad with the last couple of six packs that I thought I was getting smacked in the face with a hop clad fist.

Second, the environmental footprint of my beer drinking has to be large.  Here is something that is mostly water and shipped across the country in glass bottles that may or may not be recycled.  New Belgium Brewery, who make some of my favorite widely available beers, conducted an analysis into the carbon footprint of a six pack of Fat Tire Amber Ale.  Four areas—retail operations, glass, distribution, and paper—account for 60.4% of an average six pack’s carbon footprint.  Therefore, by brewing my own beer in reusable glass bottles I am going to have a crack at reducing my beer drinking habit’s carbon footprint by approximately 60%.  Considering that I have made the step of making my own soda at home to reduce my carbon footprint, beer seemed like the next logical step.

What pushed me over the edge is that Northern Brewer, a homebrew retailer in Minnesota and Wisconsin, recently had an offer of 40% off their deluxe starter kit if you bought the Better Bottle carboys.  Carboys are the primary vessels used in the fermentation of beer and are generally made of glass.  The Better Bottle is an non-permissible plastic bottle, which means that oxygen will not seep into the beer through the carboy’s walls.  I would have preferred glass carboys, due to glasses inherent recyclability and durability when cared for properly, but the discount was enough an inducement to get me to jump.

Coming back home from an unplanned trip to Ohio for a funeral, a mountain of boxes from Northern Brewer were waiting for me on the front step.  After unpacking and watching my daughter go hog wild with some bubble wrap I was left with this:

In addition to the deluxe starter kit, I purchased two 64 ounce jug bottles, three cases of 22 ounce glass bottles, and two recipe kits.  The recipe kits are to make American wheat and honey Kolsch beer varieties.  This weekend I will make my first attempt to brew beer and document the process.