New local beer alert: Listermann Colonel Plug (Kentucky Style Common Ale)

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I had noticed the label approval for this one a little while back, but now we have the details concerning the beer and its release. From Jason at Listermann:

Listermann Brewing Company will be releasing its first beer in its new Ohio Riverboat Pirate series, Colonel Plug, a collaboration with 1987 Home Brewer of the Year and the founder of the Bloatarian Brewing League in Cincinnati, Ray Spangler. Ray and head brewer Kevin Moreland decided to revive one of the three beer styles that originated in the United States: Kentucky Common.  The Kentucky Common is a sour mash beer that had an 18 hour mash before it was boiled to naturally sour the beer.  The beer was then aged in an American oak cask.

Colonel Plug will be a brewery only release on Friday September 27th at 5 pm. It will be available for draft and bottle purchase. Listermann Brewing Company is located at 1621 Dana AveCincinnati, OH45207

Appearance – Bourbon Hue

Malt – Corn, 2-Row, Honey Malt

Hops – Sterling

Yeast – American Ale

O.G. – 15.5 Plato

IBU- 20

ABV- 6%

Edit: These are $13.99 a bottle with a limit of two bottles per person.

Book Review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

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When it comes to brewing wild/sour/funky beer, it turns out there aren’t many resources out there. Unlike homebrewing in general, where you’ll find more “how to brew” books than you could possibly know what to do this, the relatively esoteric niche of brewing both traditional Belgian sours and their newly Americanized brethren are sadly represented both in print and online. Online, you’ll find some great blogs like The Mad Fermentationist, Bear Flavored Ales, and brewing sub-forums like Homebrew Talk’s Lambic & Wild Brewing section. When it comes to print, though, Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews is pretty much the only game in town.

This might seem odd considering the glut of general homebrew books out there, but in many ways it makes sense. Brewing sour beers is a very, very small niche when you consider how small of a niche hobby homebrewing itself is to begin with. Also, this book has largely been canonical in the world of sour/wild beer brewing. Finally, it’s just not a part of brewing that is particularly well-understood. The use of Brettanomyces and souring bacteria, in my opinion and experience, is much more of an art than a science. You may be able to brew a house IPA over and over and over that you’ve been able to nail down, but on a homebrew level it’s going to be very difficult to brew the same lambic twice. There are just too many vaguely understood moving parts.

Wild Brew is less than 300 pages, but those 200-some odd pages are densely packed with a ton of information. I was concerned that it would be overly “science-y”, but my fears were unjustified. Even at its most scientifically in-depth sections, the average brewer should have no problem comprehending most of it.

The book starts with an overview and history of the classic Belgian sour styles (Lambics, Flanders reds, Flanders browns/Oud bruins), then proceeds to a whirlwind tour of the breweries in Belgium which brew and sell sours. Many of them you’ve probably heard of (Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Rodenbach), but there were a handful that were new to me. There is an illustration section which shows photos of many of these breweries.

It then proceeds on to the science of how sour beers end up like they do, describing the yeast/bacteria involved, the life cycle of fermentation, and the effects of different fermentation vessels that pro brewers use. It then wraps up by explaining how you can make this magic at home and provides a number of recipes that you can use to brew these classic styles.

Verdict? Wild Brews really is canonical for a reason. The information contained in it is damn near exhaustive when it comes to brewing classic Belgian sours. It’s an invaluable asset to any homebrewers who want to start down the path of brewing sours or even for the sour beer lover who wants a better understanding of how the beer he or she is drinking was made. The only qualm I have with the book is that I wish that Mr. Sparrow would issue an updated version of the book. I realize it focuses primarily on the classic Belgian styles of sour beers, but a lot has changed (in particular, in the United States) since 2005 when it comes to craft beer and the rise of sour/wild beers. New strains of Brettanomyces and Brett/bacteria blends have been released by White Labs and Wyeast since then, as well. Overall, though, that’s just me nit-picking and it shouldn’t deter anyone from purchasing this book. Available for less than $15, this is easily the most enlightening homebrew-related book I’ve read since I opened John Palmer’s How to Brew and started down this fun path.

Top 5 Things I’ve Learned from Brewing Sour Beer

I love sour beers, and I love homebrewing. Makes sense that I’d combine the two and brew some sour beers, right? It sounded so simple.

The third beer I ever brewed was a sour beer. I brewed it in the summer of 2011 and bottled it in February of 2013. I had almost no idea what I was doing. Over that time I’ve done many things: I brewed a bunch of other beers (sours included), read almost 100 books, my wife and I renovated our first house, we had a beautiful baby girl, and I learned many, many things about what to do and not to do while brewing sour beers. I just bottled my second sour (a sour blonde with Sauvignon Blanc grapes added while aging) and I figured this was about as good a time as any to put some of this stuff down on paper. It isn’t exhaustive or anything; just stuff that has been bouncing around in my head.

FYI: A much more comprehensive and knowledgeable brain dump on sours is at The Mad Fermentationist. That site has been the single most useful source of information regarding brewing sours that I have found.

1. Be patient

Brewing a sour is different than brewing almost anything else, at least regarding the time commitment. You’re looking at a year plus before you have something even remotely close to bottle. Leave your beer alone and don’t take gravity/tasting samples every week or even every month. You won’t be able to tell much of a difference between these samples if they’re too frequent, plus you introduce additional and vinegar-inducing oxygen. In the early stages, it’s probably going to taste horrible anyways, and you’re going to get freaked out. Just leave it alone. My rule now is to leave a new batch alone for six months before testing gravity and tasting. At that point, you should get a good idea as to what you’re getting into and what you’d like to add in terms of bottle dregs, fruit, oak, etc.

2. Keep your airlocks topped off

Oxygen allows acetobacter to turn beer into vinegar. You don’t want to find out that the beer you waited on for a year isn’t drinkable just because you did something silly like not keep your airlock full of fluid.

3. Commercial cultures are only a base to build upon

Wyeast and White Labs both carry some cultures which contain everything you need to brew a sour beer. Wyeast Lambic blend, for instance, contains a Belgian style ale strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a sherry strain, and all the other bacteria typically needed to brew sour beer are all included in one package. These cultures will create a perfectly acceptable sour beer, but one without a ton of complexity or variation. The fun in brewing sours is the use of bottle dregs. By adding the dregs of a few of your favorite sours during fermentation, you can add an “oomph” in terms of both additional sourness and complexity. With my first sour, I added dregs from pretty much everything under the sun. With my second, I maintained a tad bit more discipline and kept it to two: Cantillon Fou Foune and Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. I liked the characteristics of both of those beers and wanted them, and only them, in mine.

4. Get a cycle going

A year is a long time, yes, but it seems like less if you know you don’t have to wait another year to bottle another batch. By brewing a new sour every 3-4 months, once that first year is over, you should have a pretty solid backlog of beers going. You also have the added bonus of being able to pitch a new batch onto the cake of a freshly-bottled batch to make things simpler/cheaper. I’m still working on this one.

5. Re-yeast at bottling

Traditional unblended lambics are mostly uncarbonated, but I don’t care for my sours this way (and I don’t brew traditional lambics anyways), so I carbonate mine. After at least a year of fermenting and aging, almost all, if not all, of the ale yeast initially pitched in the blend will be inactive, so you’re not going to get much regarding post-bottling carbonation without adding new yeast, even if you do add priming sugar. I’ve used wine or champagne yeast in the past because it’s cheap (about a $1 per pack), it doesn’t impart any flavor, and it can work in an acidic environment. I’ve used both Red Star Champagne Yeast and Lalvin EC-1118 with luck

Just a note: I don’t purport to be an expert on brewing sours or even claim to mostly know what I’m doing. I’m still learning all the time like any good homebrewer should. The world of homebrewing sours is still a very new thing, relative to homebrewing in general and there are, to quote an infamous U.S. Secretary of Defense, many “unknown uknowns”. Maybe the above will help at least one person getting into brewing sours, and that’s good enough for me.

How to sour mash homebrew (AKA: sour beers for impatient homebrewers)

As the thirst for sour and funky beer has taken over the craft beer scene in the form of lambics, Berliner Weisses, and various other Brettanomyces and bacteria-inspired beers; homebrewers have also taken a hankering for trying their hand at these unique beers. There is a large gap, however, between the ease of acquiring a bottle of many sour/funky beers and being able to drink a bottle of your own creation. In the former case, you merely have to skip down to your better beer store and part ways with some cash; the latter involves much, much more time and effort. Particularly time: many lambics and sours take upwards of one to two years to 1) reach an acceptable flavor profile and, 2) reach terminal gravity so you don’t have exploding bottles as fermentation continues in them.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that there hasn’t been an explosion of homebrewing sours. Sure, I’m certain more people are doing so than 1, 5, or 10 years ago, but the number of these people are dwarfed by both the number of new homebrewers and the number of new fans of sours. It makes sense since patience is not a virtue that is widely held by the human race. I bottled my last IPA 8 days after brewing it; I bottled by first sour 13 months after brewing it. Is there no hope for sour beer lovers who would hope to crank something out in a month or two that is both sour and drinkable? This is where sour mashing comes into play. Continue reading “How to sour mash homebrew (AKA: sour beers for impatient homebrewers)”

The Three Best Things I’ve Drank in November

Because I like to think that people actually read what I’m writing here and hopefully they do so because they trust my taste, I’m going to start a new series that I’ll try to get up at the end of each month. In it, I’ll give a brief memorial for the three most stellar things I’ve drank over the month. They might not all be beer; spirits, wines, hell, even not-alcoholic things are fair game. Maybe the other QCD contributors will decide to post theirs, as well (hint hint), and we’ll get a wide spectrum of ideas.

Note: since some of these beers will be limited or draft-only, you may be SOL on trying to get ahold of it when the monthly post goes up. Also note that these are in no particular order.

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Bell’s Black Note
Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout

This is kinda cheating because I knew it was going to be on my list before I even drank it. I’ve had it once before during last year’s Cincinnati Beer Week, and it blew my mind. A blend of Bell’s Expedition Stout and Double Cream Stout aged in bourbon barrels, this beer hits every check box for a beast-like imperial stout. Sweet, yet countered by a slight roast, this beer treads all over your average barrel-aged stouts without even trying. If you see it on tap and don’t order it, that sound you hear is my head shaking at you in shame. If you need any indication of how good this beer is, when I saw it was on tap, I connived to have family in town for Thanksgiving go to the Lager House for lunch the day it was tapped so I could get a pour. Not moving mountains or anything, but still.

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Quaff Bros
Sour Grapes

Though this local beer could have qualified on creativity alone, it scores massive bonus points for being really tasty. Take a hearty red wine, mix it with a brown ale or porter, aged that in a bourbon barrel, and then pretend it doesn’t sound disgusting. That’s what Sour Grapes is like. They were barrel-aging a brown ale, when – OOPS! – it sprung an infection and soured. In trying to salvage the beer, they added Sangiovese grapes and let it ride. The fact that this “by the seat of their pants” project worked out is pretty amazing. Sadly, unless you rob my cellar, good luck getting a bottle. Like every one of the Quaff Bros bottles, these went pretty quickly.

If you’d like, feel free to check out my full review.

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Joseph

Believe me, I was just as surprised as most of you are to see two local brews on this list. It’s probably the first time I would have ever been able to do this and I think it speaks highly to the improving quality of beers brewed in this area. Not to mention the ass that Quaff Bros are kicking all over the block with the stuff they’ve been putting out.

Joseph is a mild coffee stout (coffee provided by Taste of Belgium) aged in Elijah Craig barrels. This is easily in my top five of any beers drank by yours truly with coffee influence. The coffee takes a slight back seat to the bourbon, which is preferable, in my opinion. Perfectly balanced and dangerously drinkable (at 9.5%), if Quaff Bros don’t put another batch of this together on their own regards, I think I’m going to kidnap them and force them to do so. If you move quickly, you can still pick up a growler of this at Party Source ($9.00 for 32oz, $ $17.99 for 64oz) and I urge you to do so. Not only is it delicious, a growler of this might be one of the best barrel-aged beer deals you’ll ever find.

That’s what impressed me this month. Did anything blow you away in the month of November?

Beer Review: Quaff Bros Sour Grapes

It certainly can not be denied that Quaff Bros puts out some interesting beers. All barrel-aged, their portfolio runs from wheat wines to IPAs, brown ales to stouts. Before now, however, they had yet to make anything sour. Luckily for all of us Cincinnati-area beer drinkers, fate intervened  and soured a beer for them. While aging a brown ale in a Four Roses barrel (for what I assume was for Brown Chicken Brown Cow), some wild yeast and various other critters went to work on it and soured it. In a stroke of magnificent luck, rather than ruining the batch, it just created a new beer. Quaff Bros ran with it and added some Sangiovese grape juice to add some extra fruit character and complexity. The result is easily one of the most unique beers I’ve ever tried, and not just locally.

Continue reading “Beer Review: Quaff Bros Sour Grapes”

Beer Review: Green Flash Rayon Vert

My last encounter with Green Flash left me less than thrilled by their Tripel, and honestly this is probably not the best for me to follow it up with. It’s another Belgian, but a Belgian Pale Ale infected with brett…  So this beer takes a bit of explaining to do.

First off what is a Belgian Pale Ale? Belgian pales first came about after World War 2 to compete with the lighter, less bitter styles from other parts of Europe. For a country most well known for ass kickingly strong tripels and quads the pale is their daily session beer.

Second question is what the heck is brett? Even people who have been into beer for years may not have heard of this. That is because it’s  historically viewed as a contaminant and introducing off-flavors. Though it is a common attribute in lambics and saisons, sour beers, which are growing in popularity and are somewhat of a current fad… they are also something I don’t particularly like.

Basically this style is something akin to an “infected” Belgian bud light. Time to find out what exactly this crazy thing is

Continue reading “Beer Review: Green Flash Rayon Vert”