How Not To Brew Beer: A Cautionary Tale

We had all the ingredients for what could be the perfect day of easy beer making:

All that AND the kitchen sink

All that AND the kitchen sink

  • Cold, snowy day (with the prospect of much more cold snowyness)
  • Kit from the Brooklyn Brew Shop for making Chocolate Maple Porter (hops, grains, and yeast)
  • Authentic Ohio maple syrup (not included in kit!)
  • Brewing-on-a-snowy-day soundtrack (Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica; Black Keys, Turn Blue; Patsy Cline, Best of)
  • Brewing beers (Nitro Left Hand Milk Stout)
  • Fuzzy socks

It started out well: I laid out everything I would need, I looked up the instructions online, I actually read said instructions. But then, what was all this nonsense with heating the grain in water and straining and re-straining? (It’s mashing in and sparging, smarty pants!) I’ll just use a grain sock like usual, I thought, feeling rather smug at having found a shortcut. I consulted with Ben, just to be sure, and he said that was fine, making that swatting nah gesture that you often see old men making.

Having thus combined steps one and two, I spent the hour the grain was to be soaking anxiously taking the temperature of the mix every four minutes or so. I was occasionally within 10 degrees of where it should be, but mostly wildly off. I would adjust the stove accordingly and push the sock of grain around with my comically oversized spoon. I consulted with Ben, just to be sure, and he said that was fine, this was a pretty inconsequential step and then he did the frowny thumbs up. Continue reading

The Beer of My Dreams

High Ball Stepper

High Ball Stepper

Obsessions are only unhealthy when they keep you from your daily tasks. Truly I had the best of intentions to write a treatise parallel to Jason’s last post about local foods, exploring beer’s place on the spectrum of America’s beverages. I meant to discuss craft beer’s struggle against elitism versus regular ol’ beer’s place as the working man’s brew. The snob who one-ups me versus the the guy in line with a tall boy who scoffs at my nine-dollar four-pack. But I got hung up on the Jack White part. Lately Jack has been a constant companion of mine, specifically the Jack on the cover of his new album, Lazaretto.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend and her teenaged daughter about how men could be sexy without being particularly good looking. We used Jack as our prime example. The teenager wrinkled her nose. My friend winked at me and I went to that special place in my head where Jack and I have a beer together and he is so inspired that he writes a song about me right there.

dubheWait, this isn’t about beer at all! But what beer could I have possibly drunk with this modern master, you ask? What beer am I obsessed with enough that it would appear in my fantasies? As I’ve previously mentioned, the most appropriate beer to sip with Mr. White is a black IPA. Not out of irony, but necessity. I imagine his calloused fingers around a bottle of Uinta’s Dubhe, long, guitar-plucking nails clicking on the bright label, a small smile on his bowtie lips. What better beer to share than one named after a star?

What other sexy beers are out there to obsess about? On this steamy summer day, this list will have you racing for a cold one. Continue reading

Challenges & Comforts: Preparing Your Fridge for a Snow Day

A rare beer angel

A rare beer angel. I highly recommend making one yourself using your own favorite brews!

This morning there is about five new inches of snow on the ground and a Level 2 Snow Emergency in effect, which means (and I’m paraphrasing): don’t go out on the snowy roads and get so badly stuck the city has to tow you out, you bung hole! So here I am at home today. I checked our supplies, starting with what’s in the fridge. Turns out I have twelve different kinds of beer in there. This pleases me to no end. (I tell Ben and we do a fist bump.) Here’s some of what’s in my fridge and why they’re the perfect beers to be in my snow day collection:

The Brand New

Careful! That branch could fall into the river at any moment!

Careful, lady! That branch could break at any moment!

The Ophelia Hoppy Wheat Ale is Breckenridge Brewery’s newest seasonal beer. It is supposed to be hoppy and wheat-y, although the brewery’s copy also describes it as “The quintessential good girl gone mad,” which I don’t really get. Maybe in the end it was a hops allergy that turned poor Ophelia loony. Or maybe she drank herself silly waiting for that whiny Hamlet. “Get thee to a nunnery” my ass, buddy. Anyway, snow days are an excellent time to try beers you haven’t experienced yet, especially those named after a crazy Dane who knew what a truly rough winter was.

Their slogan is "Normal Is Weird," which I appreciate

Their slogan is “Normal Is Weird,” which I appreciate.

Also new-to-me is Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA from Ontario, Canada. This brewery has only recently started distributing in Ohio, whose citizens suck down over 30 gallons of beer a year, according to the Beer Institute (whatever that is — Fox News used it as “research,” too, and it appeared in an article next to one about the unhealthiest hot Starbucks drinks, because if it’s not running on a ticker beneath O’Reilly’s getting-longer nose we won’t know how bad hot chocolate is). I’m sure my household assures Ohio’s average is over the 30-gallon mark, especially with all this affordable pinko Canadian terrorist beer. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Traditions: Please Pass the Beer

Watchin' football with the other turkeys

In my Thanksgiving post last year I hinted at the fact that this is not exactly my favorite holiday. I may have also insinuated that it takes alcohol to get me through an entire day with my family, which isn’t really fair: I also have to be bribed there with the promise of my Aunt’s pumpkin pie. I only have a week left to prepare, so here is my game plan for now.

We’re always asked to arrive at one-o-clock for a two-o-clock dinner; dinner is never actually on the table before light leaves the sky, so we will arrive at two or three. Since I know I still have quite a wait before real food is served I’ll grab a session beer. A bitter would just be too easy, so I go with my favorite session at the moment, Founder’s All Day IPA — full of flavor, not alcohol. For the one and only time this year, I will find football fascinating. I’ll join my male relatives, who’ve also discovered a spontaneous love of the game, in the dog fur-coated den.

The November light grows thinner and the smell of cooking meat grows stronger. As a vegetarian, I begin to rehearse my yearly explanation for loading up my plate with green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with no gravy. I will need a thinking beer, something bright and effervescent and strong. I’ll go with one I just recently tried, Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton, which is aged in oak barrels. That takes the alcohol edge off the taste enough that I’ll feel the effects of the 10% abv before I taste it. Continue reading

Judging Beer by Its Cover

I believe most of my bookish friends will back me up when I assert that YES, in fact, you CAN judge a book by its cover. I hold that that the same does NOT hold for beer; in fact, many of my favorites have downright ugly labels. (Ahem, Dogfish Head.) But I’d like to share some of my favorite tasty, artsy beers because they look good all lumped together. What follows is a mix of well-illustrated, graphic, eye-catching, and imaginative label art. Click the image for a better look at it; web addresses are below.

This is making me drool a little. I’m sure there’s more out there I’ve yet to taste–what’s your favorite beer label?

*Beers left to right, top to bottom:
Flying Dog (Ralph Steadman!)
Left Hand Brewing
Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
Sixpoint Brewery
Oskar Blues Brewery
Surly Brewing
Brooklyn Brewery
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
Cisco Brewers
Redhook Brewing
Southern Tier
Rogue Brewing

Top 12 Beers of 2012!


We’ve entered that dead man’s zone between Christmas and New Year’s; a week long sugar- and family-hangover that floats heavy over the couch while you sit and watch sequels of Christmas movies and ponder the impending death of another year-full of dreams. Hm. So to distract you, here’s another arbitrary end-of-the-year list! Llalan’s Top 12 Beers of 2012:

12. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing. Since I’ve moved back to Ohio, this brewery has played a large role in my evening imbibing. Last January I was reminded that even the coldest Midwestern storms can be warmed by this beer — itself a tribute the power of The Lakes’ fury. One of the best porters on the market, which I continue to buy regularly despite the risk of having the Gordon Lightfoot song pop into my head.

11. Left Hand experienced a brief flurry of attention when their Milk Stout came out in Nitro bottles. At a favorite bar, the manager passed around a pint of freshly poured Nitro, which rolled and cascaded like a draft Guinness. I overcame my unease at sharing a glass with eight virtual strangers and decided yes, it was worth it.

10. Flying Dog has long been one of my favorite breweries, and not just for Ralph Steadman’s inexplicably terrifying label art. Their biting Raging Bitch Belgian IPA has clawed its way to the top of the pack, despite the gaping wide comic opening it allows my sweet mother. Continue reading