Monday, November 28, 2011

Hand-Made Casks In Charm City

Wet hop bud in my hand
OK, so I was gone for a while. Sorry. It's what I do. Where did I go and what did I do? Is that really what you want to know, or do you just want to hear about how this all affects you? It's OK, that's natural. Nothing to be ashamed of there. In fact, where I was the week of November 21st could possibly affect you. If you're lucky (more on that later). But last week I was on Thanksgiving break like the rest of the country. But I didn't go anywhere. Family came to me this year. What a beautiful weekend to visit Atlanta, huh? So I am sorry for the long absence, but I am sure that you were busy too.
You will notice: Beer first, reading second

But the week before last, I went to Baltimore to visit Heavy Seas Brewing and make some casks. Their resident cask guru, Steven, was there with  a table full of ingredients--many from his personal garden--for us to choose from. More importantly, though, he was there with his expert opinion. Without him, for example, I would have probably killed an IPA with juniper berries. I mean, how many juniper berries would you add to 10.8 gallons of beer? Two? Twenty? I mean, that's a decent amount of beer, and why put anything in the beer if you aren't going to taste it, right? (Turns out the correct answer is five juniper berries.)

Signed, sealed and soon-to-be delivered
So first we made the IPA casks, one for me, one for another bar owner. We were using Loose Cannon that was in the conditioning tank. That beer is great, and I was not interested in hopping it to death. I mean really, can't we just stop trying to act like over-hopped beers are "awesome". It's like nobody want to be the lone dissenter to say, "I don't think there was much artistry in killing this beer with an obscene amount of hops". So I will be that guy. Hey, I can make food so spicy that you will go blind for a few seconds after you eat it, but that doesn't make it good. Same with beer. No one is going to take away your beer-lover credentials if you admit that tongue-curling bitterness that makes it impossible to taste anything else for six hours does not make a beer "great". There, I said it. And if you put too much Simcoe hops in a beer, it tastes like a giant cat just pissed all over your face. I like hoppy beers as much as the next person, but some people out there are making garbage and passing it off--with an incredible price tag!--as liquid gold. So I went the other way with this cask, adding bay leaves, rosemary, cardamom and the juniper berries I mentioned. All were in very small and judicious amount to not completely erase the taste of the Loose Cannon. And then, just in case you thought I had gone soft on you, we dry-hopped it with wet, east coast Cascade and Centennial hops. How did we get wet hops in November? They were frozen. The dry hopping is to compensate for the diminished hop flavor you get in a cask serving as opposed to a standard, gas-driven draft system. I think this beer is going be incredible.

Below Decks in whiskey cask
Cask number two was their Below Decks Barley Wine. I added cocoa nibs, cinnamon chunks, red oak chips and dried persimmons. That cask was dry-hopped with Brewer's Gold, a low-alpha acid hop, also grown on the east coast. The persimmons were from the brewer's own back yard, and the one ingredients he said he hoped we would select. I have very high hopes for this one too. Once these casks are ready, they will be shipped to Atlanta for some special events. Stay tuned. I also brokered a deal with the owner of the brewery to fly this cask guru down here next year for a meet and greet with folks like you. He will make some special casks himself, then come down once they are ready to talk to you about them and, well, drink them of course. You will love this guy. He knows his stuff big time.
Below Deck in wine cask

After the brewery visit, I went to D.C. for a football game. If you watched the Dallas Cowboys win in overtime against the Redskins, I was at that game. It was a friend's gift from his wife, and as his only friend who loves the Cowboys (he is a 'Skins fan), I got to go along. Thanks Stephanie! You rock. The seats were Row 1, 50 yard line, seats 15 and16. Just look at the pictures I took from my seat. Not too shabby. Like I said, she rocks.

Anyway, I am home now and back to my usual tricks. So here are this week's beer events:
50-yard line seats, Row 1

  1. Deckard's is tapping a firkin of Rogue Mogul Madness on Wednesday. This will be the first application of what is called a cask "widge". Want to learn about what that is? Better be at Deckard's on Wednesday. This thing may revolutionize how we pour and enjoy cask beer for the rest of our lives. No, I am not kidding. I learned a lot about the "widge" in Baltimore. Plus, that beer is going to be delicious.
  2. On Friday, there will be a mass assortment of Heavy Seas beers at The Fred Bar. Draft specialties will include Smoke on The Water and Hop Haarvest, plus some of the usual suspects. The bottled beer line-up will see Greater Pumpkin, Hop Haarvest, Davy Jones Lager, Smoke On The Water, Letter Of Marque, Below Decks 2010 and Siren Noir 2010. There also might be a case of Plank One, but I need to check on that to be sure. I will be there, along with Kevin from Heavy Seas. So if you have any questions for me about my cask-making experience, or for him about the brewery in general, this Friday is your chance to ask any and all of those questions. I think that we are going to have a firkin of something too, so expect a full reminder later this week with all of the beers detailed.
Here is a preview of next week:
    1. Cask in Cumming on Tuesday, December 6th. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for details.
    2. I was kind of close to the quarterback....
    3. Also on Tuesday, Deckard's is doing a Sierra Nevada blow-out. There will be some rare Beer Camp beers on draft, the new Ovila Quad, plus tons of other stuff they have been saving for just such an occasion. Again, mark your calendars and stay tuned for more details. This one is going to be killer. You should find a designated driver if you are smart. And judging by your choice in internet reading material, you are a genius.
    That's all I can think of for now. Have a great week everyone.

    PS--If you have never beer to Baltimore, it is a very cool town. I highly recommend that you check it out. Lots of great food and history and places to drink fresh beer. Next year Heavy Seas is opening their own tap house/restaurant in the city. I think it going to be a huge success. Look into it.
    That would be the ingredient table for making special casks, me, and "The Man"

    From My September Trip-Sierra Brewhouse

    From My September Trip-Sierra Brewhouse
    This is the top floor of the brewhouse, with buckets of fresh hops about to go into the kettles.