Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fun with fermentables

No contest when it comes to consumption - beer wins by a country mile. But, I must say that I enjoy baking bread every bit as much as I enjoy brewing beer. Guess that makes me bit of a yeast monger...

And thanks to a brief stint in unemployment this past summer and strategic time management since, we haven't had to purchase a loaf of bread in six months. I like it that way. At any given time, our freezer boasts loaves of rye, whole wheat, cinnamon raisin, or olive bread. I recently made bagels (which turned out fantastic) and am venturing into the realm of 100% whole grain (i.e. no processed white flour).

The parallels between beer and bread are obvious: yeast acting on grains through fermentation and the application of heat; heady aromas and delicious end-products; origins rooted in the deepest of human history.

Today's post meets at the literal intersection of bread and beer: beer bread! Full disclosure - I'm not that crazy about beer bread; I've made it once or twice before, and I always conclude that I prefer my beer in a glass rather than a loaf.

That said, I'd been feeling the urge to whip up a loaf of beer bread since dropping by my favorite pottery shop in the known universe over the holidays. Located in Petoskey, Michigan (my hometown), Sturgeon River Pottery is owned by Karen and Steve Andrews. Steve was a high school football coach of mine and I went to high school with his sons. Whenever Elena (the wife) and I visit Petoskey, we make a point of stopping by their store/studio to see what's new (and we usually leave with an item or two).

On this particular visit, Elena was looking for a piece to purchase with the gift certificate I'd given her for Christmas. While she perused, Steve and I got to chatting. Once our conversation meandered from making a living Up North, to homebrewing, to bread-baking (with several topics in between), Steve showed me a beautiful bowl that doubled as a bread baker. We chatted for a few more minutes before Steve excused himself. He and Karen were closing up for winter and preparing to head south, where they'd spend a few months throwing and firing next season's pottery. We said goodbye.

We shopped a little longer, and were surprised to find one of Steve's bread bakers (along with a recipe card) waiting for us at the register. The clerk explained that it was a gift from Steve. The bowl has become my every day oatmeal/cereal bowl - just as Steve said his had. Beautiful pottery from good people.

Below is the Andrews' beer bread recipe. The beer I used for this bread was Blue Point Brewing Company's Toasted Lager, though Steve said any beer will work. Experiment!

Beer Bread Recipe
1 can/bottle warm beer (for bread)
1 can/bottle cold beer (to enjoy with the freshly baked bread)
4 T. sugar
3 c. self-rising flour
3 c. flour
4 1/2 t. baking soda
3/16 t. salt
Mix ingredients together and pour into greased "Bread Baker." Place in a cold oven so that the baker heats with the oven. This will keep you from cracking your baker. Bake at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes. Enjoy!
The bread turned out well - dense and rich. The richness (which some might love) is part of what I find a little off-putting about beer bread. As I said, I prefer my beer in liquid form. In bread, the earthy flavor of cooked beer is a little too intense for me. The best way to eat a bread like this, in my humble opinion, is slathered in butter and mom's sweet, homemade jam.

Toasted Lager (5.3% ABV)
Patchogue, NY
Appearance: Crystal clear body with a thick and creamy head. Copper/Amber in color. Plenty of bubbles migrating north during the tasting.

Aroma: Distinct hoppiness with a subtle malt lingering in the background. Clean and balanced aroma. A sweetness emerged as the beer warmed.

Taste: Great mouthfeel. Carbonation made its presence felt, but faded quickly. Wonderfully balanced hop/malt balance. Drinks like the well-bred offspring of a bold pale ales and an understated IPA. Cleanness of the lager allows the hop character to stand out. Grassy notes. A simple and straightforward taste.

Overall Impression: I'm usually an ale-exclusive quaffer, but this lager is good! With the thermometer topping 70° today (what a difference a month makes), this was a perfect beer to celebrate spring. Not surprising that the Toasted Lager took gold at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Here is Blue Point's explanation of the "toasted" in Toasted Lager: The "toasted" part of the name refers to our direct-fire brew kettle's hot flames that impart a toasted flavor to our most popular microbrew. Most brewery systems achieve temperature control through computers and electric heat; Blue Point is kicking it old school with this flame-broiled lager. I'll toast to that!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Dogfish Days of Winter

Forty-five inches of snow couldn’t keep us from traveling to Baltimore over President’s Day weekend - not when the objectives were to visit our dear (and soon to be married) friends AJ and Amber, and to journey to the Mecca of American Craft Brewing in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Most home brewers and beer geeks already know about Dogfish Head and their lineup of super-unique and super-sized beers (speaking of super-sized, eight of the 16 beers we sampled weighed in at over 10% ABV, with two tipping the scales at a whopping 18%), but if you (a) have been living under a rock, (b) want a glimpse inside the mind of Dogfish’s founder and owner, Sam Calagione, or (c) need even more reasons to loathe all that Anheuser-Busch InBev stands for, then I suggest you check out this excellent little film called Beer Wars (available from Netflix).

The Tour
Anyway, even after daydreaming about this visit for weeks, I was not the least bit disappointed by the actual experience. AJ made a reservation for us to tour the brewery in Milton, Delaware, followed by dinner at the brewpub in Rehoboth Beach where Dogfish was born in 1995. John (our Off-Centered Tour Guide) was a home-brewer himself, and I was quite jealous as he described his recently built, 1,500 square foot, backyard brew house. He said he needed space for the sixty or so brew pals he invites to his annual chili cook-off, and I can’t blame him for wanting to relocate that many chili-eating, beer-lovers from his living room to the great (ventilated) outdoors...

The tour itself offered the typical sights and sounds – a sniff of hop pellets, a stroll past fermenting tanks, an overview of the beer making process – as well as a few fun facts about Dogfish. For example, I was delighted to learn that Dogfish Head was founded on $30,000 and a dream. (Don’t worry, Danger Kitten, I won’t sign any leases without your input...) I was also delighted to learn, although not surprised, that Dogfish brews contain almost 4x as much malted barley as the commercial giants, i.e. Coors, Miller and Bud, and nearly 2x as much as other craft brews.

After the tour, we retired to the tasting room where Marisa (a.k.a the Temptress of Taps, the Seductress of Samples) served up a few of the brewery’s finest (which you can read about on the website): Midas Touch; Red & White; Black & Blue; Paulo Santo; and 60 Minute IPA. Amber loved the Black & Blue (a belgian-style Golden Ale fermented with blackberries and blueberries) so much that she bought a 750ml bottle to take home. We bought a bottle of the Red & White (a belgian-style Wit brewed with coriander and orange peel and fermented with Pinot Noir juice) for Danger Kitten’s dad, Carlo, who is a wine-guy turned appreciator of good beer.

Before hitting the road, I had the chance to chat with Mark, whose business card (which happens to be made of wood) reads Event Czar / Donation Dude. We talked about local farms, his journey to employment at Dogfish, a great little package store in PA (though the name escapes me), and his most excellent beard (which put mine to shame). Mark also made mention of three excellent events the brewery is affiliated with: the late September Dogfish Dash 5K; the Off-Centered Film Fest; and the Dogfish Head Intergalactic Bocce Tournament – which appears to be even more awesome than it’s name, if that’s possible...

The Brewpub
Once we finished off our samples and settled our debts in the gift shop, it was off to Rehoboth Beach for dinner at Dogfish’s brewpub. Thanks to Michael Pollan (author of Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and the film Food, Inc., Danger Kitten and I are pretty careful about the meat we put in our bodies, i.e. we’ll pass on the antibiotics and growth hormones found in most industrial beef and poultry. We also happen to LOVE hamburgers. Therefore, we were thrilled to learn that the beef served at the brewpub is raised on a steady (and chemical free) diet of grass and spent brewery grains! Lucky cows... Danger Kitten and AJ opted for the Indulgence Burgers (with cheddar, bacon and onion rings on top), while I went with the classic swiss and shroom. Amber’s feta pizza with crab and spinach was damned good, too!

But who am I kidding? We would have been happy eating bread and butter that night, so long as the beer flowed. And flow it did! Our first flight consisted of five offerings: Punkin Cask Ale; Life & Limb (a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish); Black & Blue (again); Midas Touch (again); and Burton Baton. And, following that: Chicory Stout; Indian Brown Ale; Shelter Pale Ale; Raison D’Etre; Black Thai; Fort; and World Wide Stout. Black Thai was a new brew that epitomizes what Dogfish Head is all about. An Imperial Stout brewed with edamame (soy beans) and Thai Basil and fermented with lager yeast and 250 pounds of pureed blackberries, Black Thai was the brainchild of Butch in Dogfish’s Maintenance Department. It was totally random and quite tasty.

I fell in love with the Burton Baton, a blend of 90 Minute IPA and an oak-aged English strong ale. But the show-stopper was the World Wide Stout. This unbelievably rich and smooth (and strong – 18% ABV) stout was described by John (our Off-Centered Tour Guide) as, What Guinness dreamed of becoming as a child. And I can look you in the eye and tell you honestly that at $30 a four-pack, this beer is worth every penny. It begs to be sipped from a snifter by the fireplace on a cold winter’s eve...

We were sad to leave Rehoboth Beach, which looked like a great place to spend a the summer, but it was getting late and we had a two-hour drive ahead of us (don't worry, Amber was our DD). Fortunately, our beer adventure wasn’t quite over, since I’d packed three barleywine ales that I’d been saving for a special occasion.

The (next day) Tasting
My stalwart readers will recall that Eric, Scott and I brewed a batch of Wallace Fogbottom’s Strong Ale in August. Since I happened to have a few bottles left, I decided to square it off against a few big beers... Comments from myself, Danger Kitten, AJ and Amber are commingled below.

Wallace Fogbottom’s Strong Ale (8.4% ABV)
Eric’s Kitchen
West Haven, CT

Brew Date: August 29, 2009
Bottling Date: November 27, 2009
Tasting Date: February 14, 2010

Appearance: A figgy brown, deep amber color; darkest of the three; hazy/cloudy with a nice head.

Aroma: Sweet motor oil (thanks, honey); slightly yeasty; sweet and simple; deep bitter with a tangy finish.

Taste: Super-sweet and sticky; boozy, with no hop bitterness; a lingering caramel aftertaste.

Overall Impression: Balanced; light, sweet and fruity; easy aftertaste; very smooth and sweet; not as big as a barleywine is apt to be, but bigger isn't always better - isn't that what they say?

Olde School Barleywine (15.0% ABV)
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Milford, DE

Appearance: Almost garnet in color; lightest of the three; a deep but clear amber; bubbly.

Aroma: A spicy/alcoholy nose; more pungent than the others; fruity and complex with no noticeable hops; fresh; bitter and hoppy.

Taste: Almost cloyingly sweet; candy-like; flowery; bitter and hoppy with a lingering aftertaste.

Overall Impression: A soft, sweet aftertaste; satisfying; lets you know you’re drinking a stronger beer; aftertaste is bold, but not overpowering; packs a punch, but in a non-violent, peace-loving sort of way...

Monster Ale Barleywine (10.0% ABV)
New York, NY

Appearance: A darker amber; clear but not clean(?); ruby colored; sharp(?) amber. <-- Poetic license?

Aroma: Bitter smell; hoppy; piny but not over-strong.

Taste: Cloying; fizzy with a bitter aftertaste; a sharp,malty bitterness; full-bodied with a quickly dissipating aftertaste.

Overall Impression: Deep aftertaste; a bitter and fairly dull beer that leaves you yearning for something more (ouch!); a tad more bitter than you'd expect from a barleywine; least favored of the three, but one I'd certainly order in a pub.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Great bread. Great Lakes. Great bouillon. So-so beer...

Despite the single digit readout on the thermometer, this past Saturday was a 10. (Notwithstanding the beer, but more on that later.) The wife and I ventured down to Norwalk to visit the So No Baking Company & Cafe - a place Danger Kitten has been itching to see. The proprietor is a graduate of the CIA, which is an institution the wife has been thinking, reading and dreaming about lately. Note: this CIA trains chefs and bakers, not snoops...

The bakery is located a block from Long Island Sound on the outskirts of trendy Southern Norwalk - an area that appears to have enjoyed a reincarnation of sorts in the past twenty years - across from a shipyard. We enjoyed lunch and pastries while watching a baker make chocolate croissant. If you ever need to kill an hour in Norwalk, Connecticut, look up the bakery.

After lunch, we made the half mile trek to the aquarium. We'd decided to make a day of it in Norwalk, as it seemed silly to drive an hour just for lunch, and were excited to discover that the aquarium's IMAX was showing Mysteries of the Great Lakes. As someone who grew up on (and in) Lake Michigan, I was pretty thrilled. The film provided an excellent, albeit quick, glimpse of the beauty, history, and threats facing the Lakes. The tragic tale of the mighty and once abundant lake sturgeon brought tears to Danger Kitten's eyes. I mean a lot of tears...

Fortunately, the emotional surge caused by the sturgeon wore off pretty quickly, as our next task was to load up on seafood and fish heads for the evening meal - Court Bouillon. Lucky for us, Norwalk has an excellent little fish market called Paganos. The wonderful fishmonger sold us mussels, bay scallops, monkfish and cod, and gave in a bag of Red Snapper carcasses.

A pot of happy Snappers.

As an aside, check out this picture of a monkfish. The fishmonger explained that monkfish is the "poor man's lobster," and at $6.95/lb, who were we to argue? It earned this name mainly because the only edible part of the fish is the tail, which yields firm, versatile, and mild meat. Because the fish is so damned ugly and yields so little meat, fishermen used to simply take the monkfish tail home for use in their own kitchens. Buy some if you get the chance, but try not to think about the picture you just saw...

The Court Bouillon was rich, satisfying (particularly on a frigid January evening), and perfect with the crusty ciabatta we had in the freezer.

And so, after a full day and a full stomach, it was time to taste a beer. (You knew I'd get around to beer eventually.) I'd been looking forward to a strong ale to warm my innards and titillate my senses. Unfortunately, the beer I chose was up to the first task, but not the second, which disappointed given how much I'd enjoyed the brewery's Autumn Ale during our Oktoberfest tasting...

Weyerbacher's Abbey-style Quadruple Ale (11.8% ABV)
Weyerbacher Brewery
Easton, PA

Appearance: Deep copper. Orangey reddish. Very little head retention, although the bubbles rose until the pint was finished.

Aroma: Powerful. Lots of malty sweetness punctuated by yeast. No hops to speak of.

Taste: An explosion of malt and alcohol. Spicy with very little bitterness. A distinctly Belgian sweetness (not surprisingly). Full-bodied but a bit flat. Weak body with a fleeting mouthfeel that was muscled out of the way quickly by booziness.

Overall Impression: Not the most balanced of beers. Dominated by a rich and deep malty sweetness. Too much “Big Beer” and not enough subtleness or complexity. A case study in less would be more...


Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's the economy, stupid

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving and, for state employees like me, this year the day meant more than just feeling bloated and planning creative ways to use up all that cranberry sauce. This year, it meant taking an unpaid vacation day (i.e. a furlough day) to help address the state’s fiscal crisis in my own infinitesimally small way. You see, the State of Connecticut is projecting a deficit this year of almost $400 million, and is counting on its many thousands of employees to help plug those pesky budget holes by taking a few uncompensated days off before the end of the year.

Being loyal and humble public servants, we (my pals Eric and Scott are also state employees) decided that since we had to furlough, we might as well furlough in style. Breathe it in deeply and embrace it. Fill it with activities as far removed from work as possible.

Therefore, after a vigorous morning hike (on the blue trail) at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, CT, we got down to the serious business of bottling our Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale and brewing a batch of High Octane Furlough Stout.

Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale (8.4% ABV)

You can read about Wallace Fogbottom's conception here. We brewed the batch on August 29, pitched extra yeast (dry) on September 25, and bottled it on November 27. Initially, we planned to bottle it closer to Halloween, but laziness and the challenge of matching three schedules kept pushing the date back. Our brew had a hefty O.G. of 1.099 and an F.G. of 1.040, meaning the ABV came out to a respectable 8.4%. Fogbottom was based (ever so loosely) on Anchor's Old Lighthouse in the Fog Barleywine Ale, which has an ABV of 8.8%. The recipe we used gave us a target O.G. of 1.099 (bull's eye!) and F.G. of 1.032. With different yeast (i.e. a little more care), I think we would have gotten there. In any case, the green beer tasted great. Strong and sweet, though with a little less hop bite than I would have liked. Once this strong ale ages for another month or so, I think it will be a pretty special brew to hunker down with on a cold Christmas Eve.

High Octane Furlough Stout

Our Furlough Stout is based on a recipe for Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout from Charlie Papazian's book, Microbrewed Adventures. Our grain bill differs slightly from his insofar as we had to substitute the 10 ounces of crystal malt in his recipe for 7 ounces of Munich + 3 ounces of Vienna that we had on hand. To his recipe, we're planning to add 2 quarts of espresso steeped water after fermentation for a little umph!


4.5 lbs amber malt (3.5 pounds extract; 1 pound dry)

8.0 oz wheat malt (dry)

2.0 lbs Briess 2-row pale malt (crushed)

1.5 lbs British roasted barley (crushed)

12.0 oz organic rolled oats (whole)

7 oz Munich malt (crushed)

3 oz Vienna malt (crushed)

1.0 ounce Magnum hops pellets (14.4% alpha) - 90 minute

0.5 ounce Hallertau hops pellets (3.0% aplha) - 30 minute

1.0 ounce Cascade hops pellets (7.3% alpha) - 1 minute

1 tablet Irish moss - 10 min

Irish ale yeast

Target O.G. 1.061

Target F.G. 1.016

Target ABV 5.7%

Target IBU +/- 44

Actual O.G. 1.052

Post fermentation, we'll be adding 0.5 lb ground espresso beans steeped in 2 quarts water.

We began by bringing 5 quarts of distilled water to 180° F, adding the crushed grains (Briess malt, British roasted barley, Munich malt, Vienna malt, and rolled oats), stirring to distribute the heat evenly, and turning off the heat. Over the next 45 minutes, the heat in the pot stabilized at about 150° F. The consistency in the pot was that of super hearty oatmeal. In fact, Eric claimed (after a few beers) that he planned to save the spent grains and eat them for breakfast the following week.

We then brought the temperature of the grains back up to around 167° F and strained them into a second pot, rinsing them with water that we heated in a small saucepan to 170° F. At this point, we added enough water to achieve 2.5 gallons in the pot, added our amber malt, wheat malt, and Magnum (90 minute) hops, turned up the heat, and turned our attention to Wii Sports. We brought the pot to a boil and reduced the heat at around 190° F.

An hour later, I'd lost every game we played (as usual), and we added our Hallertau (30 minute) hops. With ten minutes to go (80 minutes after adding the amber/wheat malt and Magnum hops), we added a tablet of Irish moss to help clarify, and nine minutes later we killed the heat and added our Cascade (one minute) hops.

We strained the brew into our fermenter, adding enough water to hit 5.5 gallons, and dropped in the wort chiller. Once we hit 70° F, we pitched our Irish ale yeast and sealed the lid. One week until we re-rack. Two weeks until we bottle and add the coffee. Then presto! Our High Octane Furlough Stout will be ready just in time for Christmas!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Christmas in Oktoberfest

Last month, we rang in our fifth Christmas in October. That’s right, Christmas in October. This tradition, which admittedly hasn’t spread a whole lot further than our immediate families, began way back in the fall of 2005. Danger Kitten and I were living down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, working hard as public educators, and beginning to suspect that our relationship might outlast our two-year commitment to Teach For America...

Case in point: at the mall on a balmy September Saturday, I found an almost-too-good-to-be-true deal on a Kitchen Aid mixer and snatched it up faster than a Cajun on a crawfish. Nothing says I'm in this for the long haul like a counter-top mixer (with the exception, perhaps, of a mortgage). Danger Kitten had been intimating for some time how much she wanted, nay needed, a mixer, and this one was even the right color -- majestic yellow.

As the owner of an insatiable sweet tooth, I’ll be the first to admit that this purchase wasn’t entirely altruistic. As I stood in the store, gazing at the mixer, I imagined an unyielding parade of cookies, cakes, and other such delights marching down the counter and onto my plate. I knew right then that the sooner I gifted this little machine, the sooner I’d be sated!

Therefore, I immediately set to teasing my future bride with hints that her Christmas gift was already purchased, and that she was really, REALLY going to like it. After several weeks of this, she announced that she, too, had gone Christmas shopping, and that perhaps it would be best to exchange gifts early in order to end the suspense. I heartily agreed, and the holiday was born. We pulled out our decorations, loaded some holiday music on the iPod, and celebrated an impromptu Christmas, in the middle of October.

Celebrating our first Christmas in October, down on the bayou.

This year, Christmas in October happened to be scheduled exactly two weeks after the bottling of our Oktoberfest homebrew: Lavoratory Choctoberfest (which I first wrote about here). Given Danger Kitten's work schedule, and the fact that I was unemployed at that point, I had total autonomy over the planning and execution of the event. So it was decided that (a) we'd have a German themed celebration and (b) there would be lots of Oktoberfest. Here's a little taste of what we ate:

Appetizers: liverwurst from Moon In The Pond Farm in Sheffield, MA; rye bread (which I baked); cheddar cheese; and apple slices.

Dinner: chicken schnitzel; spaetzle (German egg noodles which I made with a little help from my stepfather); and brussel sprouts in browned butter.

Dessert: anisplatzen and pfeffernuse (German Christmas cookies); and pumpkin ice cream.

I planned the meal with an emphasis on advanced food prep, which meant I'd be free to enjoy my Oktoberfest in a state of unrushed bliss, rather than hustling about the kitchen like a mad man. The only cooking that needed to be done at supper time was the dredging and frying of the schnitzel, the boiling of the spaetzle, and the browning of the brussel sprouts. In the words of Charlie Papazian, I was able to relax, not worry, and have a homebrew!

My stepfather, Michael, happily stirring the spaetzle.

The blind tasting, which preceded dinner, included the following Oktoberfests:

And, of course, our very own Choctoberfest.

Our illustrious lineup, brought to you by Dario's unnamed cousin.

The panel of tasters included myself, Danger Kitten, my father-in-law and his girlfriend, and my mother (for the first three samples) and stepfather. Grandpa opted for his usual -- Beefeaters gin, neat, with one cube.

The beauty of this panel was its inexperience. No one knew much about head retention or IBUs; instead, the focus was on taste, appearance and overall impression. It was a lot of fun tasting and discussing each beer as we went. And because I masked the bottles early in the day, the only beer I knew for certain during the tasting was my own (#4).

The blind tasting, served up with liverwurst, apples, cheddar and rye

The main takeaway for me from the tasting was that no one was able to identify the home brew in the lineup by taste, although Michael did eventually notice the haze in sample #4. It is my hope that someday my home brew will stand out from the crowd for its singular excellence. But, at this point, I'm just glad it blended in with its commercial peers.

In fact, the Choctoberfest (named after Eric's chocolate lab, Wallace) ended up one of the highest rated among the bunch. The big winners in our unprofessional tasting were Blue Point, Weyerbacher, and the Choctoberfest. Some of the comments offered on our beer included: yeasty; great aroma; light amber, cloudy color; very drinkable (which is always good); sweetly balanced; and spicy flavor.

Fast forward to today (November 21), and it's been a month-and-a-half since bottling and three weeks since Christmas in October. Since I'm finally almost ready to publish this post, it seems like an opportune time for another tasting! Therefore, without further ado...

The sweet nectar of fall - Lavatory Choctoberfest!

Lavatory Choctoberfest (4.1% ABV)
Eric's Kitchen
West Haven, CT

Brew Date: August 29, 2009
Bottling Date: October 3, 2009
Tasting Date: November 21, 2009

Appearance: Copper in color. A creamy, hazy body. Thick head with fat bubbles.

Aroma: Bright, spicy, yeasty, malty.

Taste: Heifeweizenish? Yeasty with hints of clove. Spicy. A smooth, malty flavor. Mild bitterness. Tastes Oktoberfest!

Overall Impression: Hands down the best beer I've been party to. I was a bit more critical of the beer at the Christmas in Octoberfest tasting a few weeks ago than most of my guests (I've always been my own toughest critic); but in this brewer's opinion, the beer has really opened up since then. Very balanced. Great color. Great flavor. I'll be taking a six-pack to Thanksgiving next week, and I look forward to sharing it with the uncles! Should be fun.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Northwest Brewfest

A wise old soul once told me (or did I read it somewhere?), "Practice moderation in everything." And, for the most part, this rule describes my life fairly well. I'm pretty balanced in my approach to work and leisure (excepting fantasy baseball, on which I spend entirely too much time...), and I try not to overdo it. That said, sometimes it's just more fun to cut loose.

From left: my father-in-law, Carlo; his girlfriend, Reka; my pal, Eric; and yours truly, Brewfus. Eric is a fellow brewer and blogger. And yes, we coordinated...

On August 23rd, my comrades and I attended the
Northwest Brewfest in Torrington, Connecticut, and cut loose we most certainly did. I mean, how can you not when surrounded by 50 brewers, wielding 100+ of their best beers, who gleefully fill your 4 oz. plastic cup to the brim, over, and over, and over again. Another expression I like is, "When in Rome..."

The Brewfest was a riotous time, and the lineup of brewers in attendance included some of the big dogs of the craft brew world (Boulder Beer, Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head, and Sierra Nevada) as well a local favorites (Thomas Hooker and Willimantic BrewingCo).

Even Kona Brewing showed up, which was fun for me because my wife and I honeymooned in Kauai, and Kona was our beer of choice!

Clearly, Carlo needed a re-fill...

The highlight of the day for me was sampling Sierra's Kellerweis, an open fermented American hefeweizen. (I can't be expected to remember its finer points, as we were 80% of the way canned, err, through the event, when we reached Sierra's table. Suffice it to say it stood out from the least for me.) Here's an excerpt from this Beer Advocate article about the beer's unique brewing process:

Several years ago, the brewers began working with a unique Bavarian hefeweizen yeast strain unknown in this country. This amazingly flavorful yeast was so exciting that they began working on a recipe for a traditional German hefeweizen with the Sierra Nevada twist. Traditional hefeweizen is a style that seems deceptively simple, but in reality is devilishly complex. For years the brewers weren’t satisfied with the beer; something was missing. In a flash of inspiration, an epic trip was arranged. The brewers took a whirlwind tour through the legendary Bavarian wheat breweries to see what they were doing. It was there they realized the advantages of making wheat beer using the traditional system of open fermentation.

My father-in-law (see pictures above) fell in love with three of the heartier brews being poured: Brooklyn's Local 2, Dogfish Head's Palo Santo, and Sam Adam's Dunkel. He's not a fan of hoppy beers, which explains his affinity to these rich nectars.

A Reka sandwich, courtesy of the twins.

While the boys played at the Brewfest, Danger Kitten (my wife) and Cup O'Cake (Eric's wife) got together with their friend Linda for a little Bake Over, which you can read about on their blogs here and here. Needless to say, there's nothing like capping an afternoon of beer drinking with hot-from-the-oven baked goods. Except, of course, a nap.

Never let anyone convince you that beer tasting is easy!