REVIEW: Hopothermia by Alaskan Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Alaskan Brewery Company
Location: Juneau, AK
Style: American Double IPA
ABV: 8.5%
IBU: 70
Appearance: Fresh, Shiny Copper with Fluffy Off-White Foam
Aroma: Citrusy, Fruity Mix; Notes of Apricot & Pineapple
Flavor: Balanced, Surprisingly Smooth & Mellow
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Spicy Food, Bitter Salads, Pizza, Wild Game (you caught yourself)

Most everyone knows the on-going love affair between the American craft brew industry and their IPA’s, Imperial IPA’s, and Double IPA’s. So, it will be no real surprise that here I sit reviewing another offering to this already crowded arena. Don’t get me wrong I’m right there with most hopheads in the feeling that “the more the merrier.” This latest addition comes to us from the far, cold north. Alaska. That’s right far to the north they labor to bring us their love affairs, their versions of the common styles.

Alaskan Brewing Company opened in 1986, but remained unknown to a large portion of the lower 48, until recently, when they widened their distribution. I didn’t know a thing about them until they expanded into New Mexico in 2013. This brewery is one of the most decorated Great American Beer Festival entrants and continually turns out high quality beers without taking themselves too seriously.

“A glass to the northern country, and a beer bearing hidden bounty.”

Hopothermia comes in a nice four-pack. The artwork is understated and nice. The cartoon is green with a frozen hop cone making up the degree sign between hop and thermia. There are funny things to read all over the cartoon (like I said, seems they don’t take themselves too seriously). They even wrote a poem to go with this beer. These guys are men after my own heart.
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Why Healthy Yeast Makes for a Happy Homebrewer

While dogs are widely known as man’s best friend, brewer’s yeast should be just as widely known as the brewer’s best friend. What appears to be nothing more then a mere single-celled organism is in fact alive and fully capable of magic that’d make David Copperfield’s jaw drop. While pulling a rabbit out of a hat may impress the kiddos, yeast can perform a feat that serves a bigger purpose; turning sugar water into delicious beer through the wondrous process of fermentation!

Maintaining Yeast Health

While yeast is capable of such an impressive act, like any performer it puts on the best show when it’s healthy. Regardless of whether you’re using dry or liquid yeast, it’s important to ensure that your yeast is in its best possible condition to properly convert the sugars into alcohol during fermentation.
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REVIEW: Smithwick’s Premium Irish Ale

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Smithwick’s & Sons LTD.
Location: Kilkenny, Ireland
Style: Irish Red Ale
ABV: 4.5%
IBU: 20
Appearance: Bright Coppery-Red Hue with Puffy White Foam
Aroma: Mild, Malty Sweetness; Hints of Nut & Roasted Grains
Flavor: Smooth & Malty; Notes of Nuttiness & Toffee
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Corned Beef, Irish Beef Stew, Cabbage, Potatoes

Saint Patrick’s Day is upon us, and with it comes the hunt for some good Irish beer to hoist high in celebration of the old saint and everything Irish. Of course the first beer that comes to most everyone’s mind when talking Irish is Guinness Stout, and with good reason; Guinness is probably the most recognized stout in the world. But, because it is so widely recognized I decided to travel just a bit down the list of imported Irish beers and review something not quite so well known. Cue Smithwick’s, or Smithick’s (the w is actually silent). Now, granted this is a product of Guinness, but it is not a stout, and so may appeal to more palates in search of Irish waters, then its darker brother.

But first, a little history. Saint Patrick’s Day, as it is celebrated today, is really an Irish-American made holiday. Until this change took hold, it was celebrated in Ireland as a Christian feast day, where families would get together and have a good meal. The raucous celebrations we see today are a product of Irish-Americans searching for a way to reconnect to, and celebrate their ties to the old country; including the parades and the color green, which is taken to an extreme in Chicago where a part of the river is dyed green every year.
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The History of Saint Patrick’s Day (And Why We Drink)

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of St. Patrick’s Day is aware of the fact that the celebration is inexorably tied to the excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. While some may believe that this is just another example of lively individuals taking advantage of a celebration, there is actually a solid reason why alcohol has long been a part of the holiday that is now celebrated worldwide.

While there is a justifiable reason for drinking somewhat excessively in celebration of St. Patrick, there are plenty of misconceptions that surround the history of the holiday and the man in whose honor the celebration occurs.

Who Was Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick is considered the most recognizable of all of the patron saints of Ireland, though he was not of Irish descent himself. St. Patrick was born in Great Britain, and was first brought to Ireland as a slave after having been captured and taken from his home.
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The Auto-Siphon: A Must-Have for Every Homebrewer

Transferring liquid from one vessel to another is an unavoidable procedure by today’s methods of homebrewing. At least once during the process you will need to safely move liquid — whether wort and/or beer — from one place to another. In the beermaking world, this is known as racking.

Homebrew Auto-Siphon

There are a few ways to rack beer, but in homebrewing perhaps the easiest, most efficient and most sanitary way is by use of an auto-siphon.

What is an Auto-Siphon?

An auto-siphon is a simple piece of equipment that many would say is worth its weight in gold (for the sake of that, we’ll pretend like the auto-siphon isn’t lightweight). It consists of a racking cane with tubing on one end, with the other end housed within a racking tube. The racking tube will typically have a filter of some kind to block out unwanted particles and the racking cane will have a rubber grommet that allows easy movement within the tube without letting air by — very basic, yet very effective.

The auto-siphon takes the concept of a normal siphon, which utilizes atmospheric pressure and gravity to its advantage, and adds automation by allowing you to start the whole process without having to create a vacuum by “old school” means, like sucking on one end to get things flowing. In fact, that method is a terrible way to go about it as the bacteria in your mouth will undoubtedly contaminate the wort/beer as it flows through. With an auto-siphon, getting things started is even easier and much more sanitary.
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REVIEW: Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Location: Escondido, CA
Style: American Strong Ale
ABV: 7.20%
IBU: CLASSIFIED
Appearance: Polished Mahogany, Stout Tan Foam
Aroma: Oaky Vanilla
Flavor: Sweet Malt, Hoppy Bitterness with Hints of Caramel & Vanilla
Availability: Year-Round

I honestly have yet to try a beer from Stone Brewing that I don’t like. Granted, I haven’t tried all of their beers and some are pretty hard to come-by, but to varying degrees I’ve found each one that I have been able to try pretty outstanding. To my knowledge the Oaked Arrogant Bastard is the exact same recipe as the original Arrogant Bastard with the addition of being aged on oak chips.

Oak and beer have a long history. Oak barrels were widely used in the storing of beer for a long time, but ironically many brewers went to great lengths to keep their beer from picking up much of the flavor imparted by the wood. Some even went so far as to line the inside of the barrels with brewers pitch to minimize contact between the beer and wood. This can definitely be understood in some cases, not all beer styles (especially a lot of the lighter styles), favor oak flavor. The styles most associated with oak and other wood aging are heavier darker beers, such as, Old Ales, Stouts, Porters, Dark IPA’s and Browns (and sours). Arrogant bastard being an American Heavy falls nicely into the beer styles that do benefit from the added complexities gathered from time in contact with oak.

“Glass-trapped darkness delicately cloaked in balancing act with ag’ed oak”

The bottle has the usual artwork endemic to Stone Brewery; stylized gargoyle (this one holding a beer mug), with the words “You’re Not Worthy” across the bottom, and the usual tirade is on the back of the bottle, which incidentally, if you’ve never tried Stone Brewing company, their very funny monologs, alone are worth buying a sampling of their beer. The one for both the Oaked and regular Arrogant Bastard starts with, “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it.” Sounds like a challenge to me.
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Drying Made Easy: The FastRack and Carboy Dryer

When it comes to choosing a storage vessel for your homebrew, bottles are probably the most obvious option for homebrewers both new and old. Bottling homebrew is a great choice for those starting out because bottles are easily accessible and can be reused time and time again. They’re also great for their versatility in being able to store smaller individual servings in many settings and for ease of transportation.

Homebrew Bottles

Seasoned homebrewers also like using bottles for bottle conditioning which allows the beer to further mature and develop over time in a safe and secure package that can be easily stored for long periods of time. Regardless of why you may choose to use bottles to store your brew, one thing homebrewers can agree on is that a big disadvantage of bottles is the inconvenience they present when it comes to cleaning and drying them.

While most all-inclusive brewing kits come with a bottle brush and sanitizer to clean bottles they almost never include a tool for drying and storing them. To remedy this, many use dish racks, some even roll up paper towels and insert them into the bottle, and others may simply balance them upside down on a cloth or paper towel. However, these are all bad ideas for one reason or another, with the biggest issue being that some part of the bottle is coming in contact with another surface that is most likely unsanitary.
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REVIEW: New DogTown Pale from Lagunitas Brewing Company

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Company
Location: Petaluma, CA
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.10%
IBU: 62
Appearance: Bright Gold With Hints of Orange
Aroma: Fresh Pine with Grapefruit & Floral Notes
Flavor: Piney Hops, Malty Sweetness, Dry Aftertaste
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Fajitas, Pork Chops, Turkey

This one is brand new for me. I’ve tried their Maximus IPA, but unfortunately I will have to reintroduce my taste buds to it at some point, because I don’t remember a thing about it, (other then I liked it); which will make it that much more fun to go back and visit.

But, back to the here and now, a new beer in front of me, waiting impatiently to be tried. Lagunitas was started in 1994 by Chicago native Tony Magee and has grown into one of the 6 largest craft breweries in America. According to the Lagunitas website this is not their original Pale Ale recipe, but a mix of that recipe and an IPA called Kill Ugly Radio, a limited release beer in 2007.

Thus the “new” in the DogTown name. All Lagunitas beers have a tongue-in-cheek story that borders the label. This one says,  ”This is not the original Pale Ale as brewed in faraway 1993 in the back of the Old House of Richards Building in the West Marin hamlet of Forest Knolls right next to little Lagunitas… it is way better. Back then the beer tasted like broccoli and kerosene and the carbonation ate right through and drained your stomach into your gut…”I wonder?

The Pour And Aroma

An old and new did merge together in golden brew. The same, was neither. One did not convert the other…
…But almost.

New DogTown pours the color of bright gold with hints of orange highlights. The last runnings splash down through a vigorously built three fingers of lathered foam. Almost perfect lacing is left as foam line drops to meet the level of the golden liquid.

Aroma hits like an IPA. Big pine and fresh resin are very apparent, with some floral character peeking through once in a while, and a little grapefruit on the side. The floral notes, though very subtle and a little hard to catch, are quiet nice once recognized.

The Mouthfeel and Taste

Mouthfeel is light to medium and the first thing I notice is the hops. It is much less mellow then I would expect from a pale ale. This one has a much more IPAish hop forward taste. The bitterness has some grapefruit-citrus notes to it, but the first sip is a bit like chewing on pine needles.

Lagunitas New Dogtown

A little malty sweetness and hints of honey shine all too briefly at the backend of the taste. It tries to peek through the thick forest, and succeeds fleetingly, before being beaten back by the overpowering punch of pine and resin. Aftertaste is dry with remnants of the bitterness bully’s passing. The taste isn’t bad, but it took me by surprise. This is supposed to be a pale ale, right?

Overall Impressions

This beer turns out to be an IPA’s not-so-little brother. In fact, going strictly off of the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines this ale is at the northern limit of the pale ale end and could comfortably make the transition into the IPA category with little to no changes. And (side note here) actually Lagunitas’s IPA ranks lower on both IBU’s and ABV compared to this new pale ale, something that, though strictly speaking does not put this pale in the IPA category, is non-the-less interesting.

The malt character is just barely present, and the IBU’s would fit nicely into the lower end of an American IPA. Placed in either of these categories though, it still wouldn’t be high on my list of something extraordinary. Possibly it is the mixing of their original recipe with an IPA that brings this one dancing, back and forth, across the line between the two styles, but not really making an impression in either. It would be interesting to taste that original pale ale recipe, just to get a hint of where they were coming from when they decided to revamp this beer.

New Dogtown is not a bad beer, but it misses the balance of a good pale ale, instead seeming to prefer taking the harsher road of a wanna-be IPA. I might go back to this beer if I wanted a decent IPA, but (IMO) there are too many better pale ales out there to warrant drinking this one as a representation of the style.

More Beer Reviews:

Comparing Different Types of Water for Homebrewing

Water: Essential Not Only to Life, But Also to Great Beer

Water is perhaps the most overlooked ingredient when homebrewers start out and certainly should not be. After all, more than 95% of beer’s composition is, you guessed it, water. It must be viewed in the same way as any other core ingredients in beer — those being malt, hops, yeast, and of course, water.

Water for Homebrewing

In fact, water is the first ingredient that you should consider when making beer, whether you’re brewing with a prepared ingredient kit or designing your own recipe.

When a brewer chooses the malt for a particular recipe it seems like something one could spend days or even weeks contemplating. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that water merits just as much thought. It serves as the base for your brew, and will have a big impact on how the final product turns out, regardless of whether you did everything else right and used other choice ingredients.

So, what are the main types of water readily available to you for brewing? Chances are you can get your hands on distilled, purified drinking, tap and maybe even rainwater if you have a barrel for a home garden or other purposes. Let’s go through the different types and how they relate to brewing.
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The Ins & Outs of a Kegerator

Beer is best when served fresh, cold, and on draft. Half the cost of canned and bottled of beer, kegged beer is a cost-efficient way to enjoy your favorite beverage. A kegerator makes this enjoyment possible, and depending on your beer buying frequency, can paying for itself in just a matter of months. It’s kegonomics, really.

Kegerator Anatomy

Let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of this aptly named beer dispenser.

Components & Tools Used in Assembly

If you purchase a complete kegerator, all components and tools necessary for assembly will be provided for you.

However, if you’re building your own custom kegerator, you’ll need to be sure you have the following components and tools:
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