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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Stress Brewing (Part 1)

Most people need a stress reliever. Some relieve stress through exercise, some through baking, and yet others through drinking. I discourage everyone from simultaneously employing all three of these techniques. (Although I would pay money to see this)Not surprisingly I relieve stress by both drinking and brewing beer. (Hence the name of the blog). Since the inception of my world class blog I have focused on drinking beer. I believe it is now finally time for a post about my brewing exploits.

In late September it finally arrived. I opened the boxes with baited breath, my heart racing as I tore away the packing paper franticly searching for that irreplaceable meaning of life……my brew pot. Moving halfway around the world is uber stressful, and I desperately needed some stress relief.

My Kitchen Stove
The kitchen stove is the key to my homebrewing as I am a partial mash brewer. Partial mash brewers, unlike most craft beer breweries, use approximately 20 percent malted and milled grain. The remainder of the malt comes in the form of liquid or dry malt extract. As many of you probably know traditional German appliances differ from standard U.S. appliances. The stove in my new home is no exception. An older German glass-top electric stove roughly half the size of a standard American stove. I definitely need to test this new tool.

I anxiously fill my brew pot with a gallon of water and place it on the largest of the four burners as I go about unpacking less essential items, clothes, shoes etc. Suddenly, I hear it, subtle at first, then increasing in intensity. Is it a train, or possibly a helicopter? I race down the stairs and in to the kitchen, a pair of underwear in hand, to find something right out of the Exorcist. My brew pot was shaking violently, threatening to leap off of the stove. I quickly remove it from the stove, using the underwear as a pot holder. (Safety first) I am overcome with a feeling of sadness and dismay. As a tear trickles down my cheek I know the worst has happened. My brew pot is too wide for the burners, the uneven heating causing the pot to vibrate uncontrollably. Is this the end of my brewing career?  

Every cloud has a silver lining. In my case it’s a stainless steel silver. It’s obvious the kitchen stove is no longer of use to me and it’s time to upgrade my aging equipment (Brewing Equipment).  Over the next several weeks I search online for an economical solution.  Halloween passes and Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. My stress level is off the charts. My best friend in the UK is visiting brew shops left and right and sends me a package of fresh UK hops. I start twitching as the urge reaches unbearable levels. I feel like I may explode. I NEED to BREW! Then it happens. While wandering through a local store my wife finds a cheap alternative. A turkey fryer, including a seven gallon pot and a GAS burner! Let the brewing begin!!!!!!!

My New Turkey Fryer

Tune in next time for the continuing saga that is my first homebrewing experience in Germany.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

It’s Been Such a Long Time

It has been too long since last I posted to my blog. So many things have happened since my arrival. Beer fests, brewery visits…the list goes on. Since my last post I have acquired traditional lederhosen, and worn said hosen in PUBLIC. I have visited a local craft beer brewery and discovered there is in fact a budding local craft beer scene.
Last October I donned my shiny new lederhosen, striking off to the second largest October fest in Germany.
The atmosphere at a German beer fest is electric. Thousands of people come together for one purpose, to drink beer. Visitors fill a multitude of beer tents where bands play everything from traditional polka to Supertramp. Singing is not optional, it’s mandatory while picnic tables are not for sitting, they are for standing!

The later it gets, the more table dancing there is.German fest beer may not be at the top of the quality chart but what it lacks in quality is certainly made up for in QUANTITY! A typical craft beer drinker would scoff at the  at the roughly 5.5% ABV of German fest beer Four beers (liters) of beer and several hours later I came to the conclusion that I’m no longer a young man, and lederhosen are not conducive to emergency   bathroom visits. (#LOTSOFBUTTONS).

My fest experience was followed by a visit to Kraftpaule, a German spin on a tap room combined with an interesting selection of bottled craft beer in their cellar. After sampling all six beers on tap (Full Pours) I ventured into the beer cellar where I discovered an eclectic selection of bottled beer. From a marketing perspective Kraftpaule nailed it. Six pints of beer and hundreds of Euro later I staggered away with an extensive array of bottled beer ranging from Californian brewed West Coast IPA’s to traditional Trappist Belgian beers.

CAST Braurei
In November I attended a hop fest at the local CAST Braurei. Located in what can only be described as an alley CAST brewery is what most in the U.S. would consider a nano brewery. Operating on a modest homebrew-like brewing system CAST members franticly poured flights of craft beer amid a fest-like atmosphere of a hundred or so people lining picnic tables. Despite the size limitation CAST is worth a visit. While their IPA is not what the average U.S Craft beer drinker would expect, by German craft beer standards it scratched my itch for hops.

Over the last few months I have gained a new appreciation for the craft beer scene in Germany. Much like the craft beer scene in the U.S. 10 years ago German Craft brewers strive for market share against the entrenched traditional German Beer culture.  It is nothing short of inspiring to witness first-hand the evolving German craft beer scene in the shadows of the big “Fest Tent” that has always been the international trademark of beer in Germany.

Until next time,

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Visit With Carl


Carls Brauhaus , located in Stuttgarts Schlossplatz  (Palace Square), is named after the founder of  the DInkelacher brewery, Carl Dinkelacher. Founded in 1888 Dinkelacker brewing is an infant by German standards, selling their first bottled beer in 1897. In 1900 Carl Dinkelacher was the first brewer in Stuttgart to brew a beer with the Pilsner brewing method. Fast forward to 1996 when Dinkelacher merges with Stuttgart’s Schwaben Brau making Dinkelacher-Schwaben Brau Stuttgart’s largest beer producer. In 2004 Dinkelacker-Schwaben Brau makes a deal with the devil, becoming part of InBev. Fortunately in 2007 they are able to successfully purchase their independence from the InBev devil, no small feat by any standard.
I learned the history Dinkelacher while reading the menu at Carls Brauhaus (Thank You Google Translate) and enjoying a half liter of their Kellerbier (Cellar Beer), which dates back to their original recipe in 1888. According to their menu Carls Brauhaus serves “Fresh Beer Straight from the Barrel” and this beer doesn’t disappoint. Cloudy, as a Kellerbier should be, it tips the scales at a modest 5.6% ABV. Perfectly balanced this beer goes down with ease, leaving me wanting more. Unlike breweries in the states a “Sample” at Carls is a half liter, so I eagerly ordered a half liter of their Privat, a 5.3% ABV Dortmunder Lager. Again I am not disappointed. The beer lineup at Carls Brauhaus consists of 10 traditional German beers. Fearing I may not be capable of returning to my point of origin I cease my “Sampling” but will continue to visit Carls in an effort to sample the remainder of their lineup!

Beer quality aside, Carls location is nothing short of spectacular. Located near the “New Palace” (Original Heavily Damaged in WWII) the area is adorned with sculptures and water fountains, surrounded by shops and eateries. The original Palace was once home to the Kings of Wurttemburg and is currently the home to the ministries of Baden Wurttemburg state government. I can think of no better place to experience historic beer, than in such a historic palatial setting.
"New Palace"

Until next time,

Friday, September 2, 2016

Wilkommen in Deutschland

Three weeks since my return to the land of beer and one thing is painfully obvious. Not much has changed in the German beer universe since last I lived here some 25 years ago.. The tried and true brews are still prevalent. Pilsner, Weizen, and Bock abound.  Who would have thought that Germany would ever lag behind the American beer scene. All hope is not lost though as German millennial’s strive to bring Germany, kicking and screaming into the 21st beer century.
My first introduction to the German craft beer scene came via an unexpected find. While eating dinner at a local bier garden I noticed a chalk board labeled “Craft Beer”. There were only three beers listed and as I would soon discover they are all from the same German Brewery. It Is probably also worth noting that most “Craft Beer “in this part of Germany is in bottle form, not available on tap.
Enter Lucky Hop. Lucky Hop is a German spin, on an American interpretation of a British IPA. Produce by Distelhauser Brewing it tips the scales at a whopping 7.7% ABV and 77 IBU. Maybe they should have called it “Lucky Sevens”. While not as Hoppy as most American IPA’s it still managed to scratch my hop itch. Distelhauser also produces “Black Pearl Classic Porter” and “Loch Ness Classic Stout”, along with several other traditional award winning German beers. While I have only sampled one of their beers you can expect a future post detailing a planned visit to their brewery.

Hohenzollern Castle
On the German Pilsner front one beer stands head and shoulders above the others . After a long arduous hike to a local castle on an uncharacteristically hot day (Low 90’s) I was rewarded
with a bier garden. While they only served Pilsner and Weizen there was a diamond in the rough. Furstenberg Pilsner is absolutely delicious on a hot day. The beer is refreshing yet strong
enough to remind one that they are actually drinking alcohol.

In conclusion it is worth mentioning that I have only sampled a small portion of available beer and visited a limited number of beer venues since I have arrived. This post is in no way intended to “poo poo” German beer, or portray myself as the “ignorant American”, but merely a reflection of my observations so far. There are undoubtedly some great German beers and I look forward to sampling as many as I can.

Until next time,
Stay Crafty

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Queen City Quaff

On the banks of the Penobscot Rivers’ Eastern shore lays the City of Brewer. Often referred to as the Queen City it’s much smaller than its big brother Bangor just across the river. As I enter Brewer I’m shocked to learn of a new brewery, one of the first in downtown Brewer. My “Navigator” quickly fires up Google and we are on our way. I opt not to change my shirt despite the fact that I remain covered in lobster remnants. No time for wardrobe changes when beer is involved.
We find Masons Brewing Company with little difficulty despite the fact that there are no signs. Google comes through again! The brewery sits at the end of Hardy Street, which dead ends at the river. I’m astonished by the size of the building. The large parking lot is filled with cars. Masons is my kind of place, with room for approximately 150 people and an outdoor seating are overlooking the water. It’s downright gorgeous.

The beer list is somewhat eclectic with wheat beers pilsners, saisons and even a weizen. The vast majority of Mason’s beer is in the sub5% ABV range, unusual in this day and age. I take the safe route and order their IPA. Mild by today’s IPA standards at only 5.6% ABV it’s a well balanced example of what an IPA should be. Equally eclectic is the food menu. Arugula and goat cheese abound throughout the menu.  I unwittingly order a bratwurst and sauerkraut pizza, hold the “Arugula”. The pizza is as good as the beer.
 As we are paying our bill the waiter informs us that the owner is in the building, and I rush to try to get a word with him but I’m too late.Never to be dissuaded I return to Masons two days later intent on catching up with the owner. Stalkers are rarely dissuaded. As I creepily scan the crowd I sample their West Coast Pilz, an American spin on traditional German beer using both German and American hops. At 4.3% ABV the beer is crisp and dry which is a refreshing change on such a hot day. Suddenly I see an unshaven man in a baseball cap in the brew house. The owner Chris is in the house and begins busily cleaning around the fermenters. After several minutes of awkward motioning he comes to the bar and I introduce myself.  He pours us each a beer and we retreat to a table. Chris started as homebrewer, like many in the craft beer industry. The brewery was five years in planning and Chris designed the building himself. I’m shocked to learn they have only been open 11 weeks. He tells me “This is my mid-life crisis” to which I reply, “If you are going to have one I can’t think of anything better!” Masons Brewing Company is a must visit for both foodies and beer lovers alike. As part of the Maine Beer Trail one needs only to make reservations on the Maine Brew Bus to visit all the local breweries, including Masons. You will undoubtedly find that one stop at Masons just isn’t enough. During your visit please keep an eye out for a scruffy guy in a baseball cap who will undoubtedly be working behind the bar or in the brew house, enjoying his mid-life crisis.

Until next time,

Stay Crafty

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three-Headed Sasquatch

Welcome to the next installment in the continuing saga of my farewell tour in Maine. Whilst traveling from the coast to central Maine, after consuming not less than six pounds of lobster, I began searching for breweries. Alas, Belfast Bay Brewing is along my route. Yes Please. As my “Navigator" researched the route I wondered aloud why I had never visited the brewery, or even sampled their beer during my many trips to Maine. A quick phone call to the brewery revealed the reason why. Belfast Bay does not have a taproom, and tours are by appointment only. Not the best business plan, in my humble opinion. We pressed on.
Approximately 30 miles north of Belfast is the town of Winterport, home to Penobscot Bay Brewing. Apparently it’s a big bay, hence so many “Bay” breweries. As I enter the brewery my first thought is “This is not my kind of place". Penobscot Bay originally started as a winery, expanding to beer a couple of years ago. Bottles of wine adorn the walls, with a small “Sampling” bar on the far wall. The atmosphere is a cross between a museum and a library. We are the only customers. With  10 days of facial hair and a shirt stained in lobster juice and lobster remnants I look and smell like a lobsterman that was lost at sea for years! The “Taproom” manager looks at me apprehensively, as if a three-headed Sasquatch had just walked in. He nervously asks if I would like to sample some beer. I grunt in approval. I am quickly rewarded with a” Mountain Man” DIPA. How appropriate. 
At 9.5% ABV this beer I surprisingly well balanced, with only a hint of bitterness and hops out the wazoo. I eagerly suck it down. The manager then asks if I would like to try “Humble B”, a Honey Wheat Ginger beer, more grunting. I have had several beers of this type but this one is by far the best I have ever had. “Humble B” is the ultimate easy drinking “Lawnmower” beer.
Fortunately Penobscot Bay Brewing distributes locally, making it less awkward for all the three-headed sasquatches like myself. While their taproom draws low marks I do give them credit for at least offering samples. That being said, it’s painfully obvious that they remain focused on wine. While I don’t recommend visiting the “Brewery” I do recommend picking up a couple bottles of their beer at the local grocery. You won’t be disappointed.

Stay Crafty

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Farewell Pour


As a native of the great state of Maine I can think of no better place to start my farewell "Pour" as I anxiously await my return to Europe . Maine is home to more than 60 breweries placing it in the top 5 of breweries per capita  in the United States.
In 2015 while attending a wedding in western Maine I had the privilege of sampling Maine Beer Company's (MBC) "Dinner",  an oft sought after, limited release IPA. Fast forward one year later to my first stop on my "farewell pour", MBC. Truth be told I made several stops prior to this but my doctor says this is a normal part of the aging process, but I digress. MBC opens at 1100 am, I arrive at 1120 to find the parking lot filled with cars adorned with license plates from across the country, excluding Maine.   I entered the smallish taproom expecting the worst and quickly ordered a flight of all eight of their beers, receiving them in short order. Obviously they recognized me from my blog, a problem I encounter frequently.

As I sipped my beer I watched in amazement as tourists ravaged the cooler, carrying case after case to their cars. I spoke with the taproom manager,  who shall remain nameless primarily because I have forgotten his name.  Not unusual when I'm drinking. The manager explained that MBC's crush of visitors is the norm during the summer as tourists flock to the state. Of the eight beers I sampled a couple stand out. "Zoe" is an Irish Red Ale with a very distinctive "Bock-like" taste. Its probably my favorite beer, second only to their "Dinner" IPA. Coming in a close third is "Lunch", an unassuming IPA, not overly hopped and very easy drinking. The remaining six beers in no particular order included  "A Tiny Beautiful Something", "Mo", "Beer II", "Mean Old Tom"  "Peeper", and "Another One". All equally good, averaging three out of five stars on my personal scale.
The sign at the Maine state line reads "Maine, The Way Life Should Be". MBC's motto should read "The Way Beer Should Be". For anyone planning a beercation to Maine, Maine Beer Company is a must visit. 
Until next time, stay crafty.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

“Upstate” Is South of Here

If one travels north on I-81, following it to its terminus at Wellesley Island on the Saint Lawrence River, you reach what locals refer to as the “North Country”. Most non-natives refer to this as “Upstate” but ask any native of the North Country and the curt reply will be “Upstate is south of here”, probably followed by “Where are you from?” The actual boundary of the North Country is subject to debate but is basically comprised of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, and Warren counties. St Lawrence County is the largest county in NY, larger than the state of Delaware. It is also the most sparsely populated with a population density of 42 people per square mile, according to 2000 census data.
I lived in St Lawrence County for the better part of a decade and still have friends there. The favorite beer of those 42 people per square mile is unequivocally the “Light” beer. Busch Light, Bud Light, Blue Light (Canadian), you get the idea.  Since my departure in 2006 the craft beer revolution has swept over the county like a rogue wave over a dingy (The Small Boat)! The county is now home to…wait for it…..TWO breweries! Saint Lawrence Brewing Company located in Canton, and Adirondack Toboggan Brewing in Goveneur.  A brew pub is planned for Potsdam later this year, although according to my sources they aren’t going to actually BREW beer in the pub.  Of the two breweries St Lawrence Brewing Company is the crown jewel. Opened in 2013 in Canton, home of St Lawrence University, Saint Lawrence Brewing Company boasts a nice selection of beers ranging from their flagship Ruby Canoe Maple Porter to my personal favorite Skinny Dipper IPA. It’s probably worth noting that they tend to frown on disrobing in the tap room while consuming Skinny Dipper. Lesson learned!
Over the long Independence Day weekend I seized the opportunity to stop by the tap room and, much to my surprise, St Lawrence has upped their game. The brewery has revamped some of its recipes with beer offerings ranging from ciders to Saisons. Their Barnstormer Bohemian Pilsner is an easy drinking somewhat mild beer  as they strive to attract and introduce the local population to craft beer, according to the tap room manager. By far the most impressive new offering was their “Barrel Roll “, an imperial IPA aged in whiskey barrels. More like a Belgian than IPA this barrel aged 10% ABV gem sneaks up on you and will slap you silly if you aren’t careful. August will mark the 3rd anniversary of Saint Lawrence Brewing which will undoubtedly be marked by special events. So if you find yourself wandering through Northern New York  Saint Lawrence Brewing is a great place for a “pint stop”.  
Until next time, stay crafty.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

In The Beerginning

Once upon a time in a land far far away…..My first exposure to “Good” beer occurred in Europe, thanks to my Uncle….Sam. As a young soldier in Germany I did what most young soldiers do in their free time. I drank beer, a LOT of beer. My beer experience after Germany was comparable to my hair line, fading fast. Then in 2008 my beer life changed forever.  
On Christmas day 2008 my nephew and I received identical homebrew kits. The kit contained a one gallon milk jug, a small package of pilsner malt, and a package of yeast that was easily as old as I am. Four weeks later we eagerly opened our first “Plastic” bottle of our respective batches. Suffice to say vinegar is less pungent than that first homebrew. Thus began my adventure into both homebrewing and craft beer.
Since 2008 I have been on what can only be described as a beer quest as I attempt to make up for lost time. I have visited countless breweries, both home and abroad, meeting amazing and interesting people along the way. A few of these people have left an indelible mark on my “Beer Life”, much like seeing a unicorn. I have brewed some really good, and some really bad beers (Still Can’t Drink Pumpkin Beer). In a few weeks I will make my triumphant return to the “Land Of Beer”. This blog is my feeble attempt to capture some of the experiences that await me, and to share those experiences with the hundreds….tens……okay, three of my followers.  I hope the three of you enjoy them as much as I do. Let the beer games begin!