Friday Beer Review

Friday, November 30, 2007

Winter gives us two things: dark beers and the ability to more easily lager beers. The best of both worlds, a dark lager, is up for today's offering.

Many of the contributors here meet up on Thursday nights at a friend's house who has a kegerator. You chip in some cash, and by the tiome we drain it, he's got enough to buy a new keg. Normally, he takes his trips to Michigan Brewing Company. I've done a slew of out-of-state and foreign beers, I figured it was about time to highlight a Michigan beer from what I think is a consistently good brewery.

Every Thursday for the past month or so (we are clearly not drinking fast enough), Greg has offered our group of nerds Michigan Brewing Company's Bavarian Dark. It is an absolutely lovely Munich Dunkel.

Out of the keg, this deep, smokey offering pours a dark mahogany color with beautiful ruby highlights. It has a 1- to 2- finger head with retention that lasts almost the whole glass, and leaves a sticky, lovely tan lacing all the way to the end.

The aroma suggests a very drinkable beer; it is balanced towards malt, for sure. Bready, more like toasted bread crust. A scant hint of chocolate and a surprising (as it is not common for the style) smoke smell; not "camp fire" like a rauchbier, but just smokey. A tinge of hops makes an appearance towards the end of the nose, but definitely the malt dominates.

On tasting, I got some big-time toasted malt, not of the sweet variety but more of the bready/toasty variety with some sweetness. I get some chocolate, some nuttiness, but I also get this really beautiful smokey taste under the malt. It's like a smoke/coffee flavor that I found to be tasty and perfectly complimentary to the overall beer without overpowering the malt. It's there, but it's not the most prominent. I don't really expect that taste for this style of beer, but again, I think it enhanced it. Very subtle (but not weak) hops.

This beer has a nice medium body to, thickened a bit by the dextrins from the malts. It is a great, clean lager taste, accentuating the breadiness of the malt. This is definitely a "session beer" as I find myself downing one after another every single Thursday.


Legislative Bratwurst

Thursday, November 29, 2007

For those of you who have never experienced representative democracy first-hand, I have a suggestion for you;

Don't. Ever.

Smitty and I had the distinct pleasure this morning of sitting through a 2-hour committee debate/discussion of municipal bonding for retiree health care costs. It's hard to describe in words, but picture a combination of:


Think of committee like a one-room schoolhouse. Everyone, kindergarten through 12th grade, is in the same class. Some committee members are well versed in the topic of the day, and some are just struggling to not wet themselves before nap time. Therefore, the experts who testify must explain every tiny detail, from the complex (rate structure vs. debt servicing) to the bare-ass obvious ("Health care is when someone gives mommy money if she gets sick...").

There's an old saying that dictates that there two things you never want to see made; laws and sausages. I used to think that was because both turn out pretty well, but the process used to make them is messy and unappetizing. More and more I'm beginning to think that, as with the sausage grinder, you just don't want to know what low-grade refuse is used as filler to create the final product. Sure, most of the flavoring is done by the people who know what they're doing, but you don't get to the final mass without a little bit of hoof and snout.

Bon Apetit.


Santa's Little Helpers

Sunday, November 25, 2007

You know, I've always suspected that Santa's elves were beer drinkers. Trouble-makers and rabble rousers they are, like any good beer drinker. They thumb their noses at authority. And this picture I think is proof:

Well this year, my wife and I are putting together the "home-made" style Chritsmas presents. You kid...twins...don't know what the Hell to buy we opted for the home-made gift. It's effort, it's love, and it covers for the fact that we have no idea what to buy anyone.

So while Santa has to deal with the helpers pictured above, this "Santa's" helpers look like this:

This year, we're giving the gift of beer. And Santa's little helpers are a fine English Ale Yeast compliments of White Labs.

The problem I faced is that we are just under 2 weeks before the first Christmas party with family (yeah, we start early). Thus, I needed to brew a beer that ferments and matures quickly and that has enough mild flavors to cover for any "young" or immature flavors. I was thinking a British Brown Ale.

The recipe:
6.6 pounds muntons dark plain malt extract
1/2 pound crystal malt (I used Crystal 60L)
1/4 pound black patent

Now here's where that hops shortage post we put up is affecting brewing recipes. I wanted to use 2 oz. of Fuggles for the bittering and 1/2 oz. Fuggles for the aromatics...but Fuggles are unavailable until at least January. And this is from a homebrew shop that' part of a brewery that has a hop contract with suppliers. Yikes. But, they did have UK East Kent Goldings. The difference between the two is .2% alpha acid, so the difference is not that huge. The biggest difference is some mild floral scent from the Kent versus a hint of spiciness from the Fuggle. No biggie.

I added 4 tsp of gypsum for yeast health and WLP005 White Labs British Ale Yeast (Perfect for malty beers). Less than 12 hours later, I've got a healthy fermentation cooking, a thick 3-inch yeast cake on top and things are moving along just fine.

I did this without Chief Assistant Brew Master Joel. This is not something I will do again. Not only is the extra set of hands a huge benefit, but Joel knows what's up. His sage wisdom like "dude, you realize that boiling water can melt plastic, right?" and "hey, this works a lot better when you put the funnel actually over the bucket, dude" are actually the reason that my beers turn out as good as they do. But Joel was somewhere else in the country this past weekend, so I was forced to go it alone. I barely made it. A spill, a slosh, some melted equipment and a missing rubber bung later, the beer is in the fermenter. Joel, I can't do it without you. You....complete me.

So Santa's little helpers are fermenting away. Hopefully, this year's Christmas beer turns out how I hope it will and is a pleasant drinking experience.

If not, I blame Joel.


Thanksgiving Itinerary

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that there is sheer gluttony at the Smitty In-Laws house today; turkey, 2 kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries of various man-made and/or natural variations, white-trash church banquet green bean casserole (that kind with the cream of mushroon soup and the crunchy onion topping), assorted pies, etc. etc. etc.

As I reflect on the day I am about to embark upon, I was reminded of this post from a "regular" over at Kissing Suzy Kolber, which is a decent blog, by the way. It's his itinerary for Thanksgiving. And you may find it surprisingly accurate...

At any rate, have a great thanksgiving. Allow me to leave you with this commercial. It's funny because that size of turkey is roughly how much it takes to feed my brother and I on thanksgiving. Thanks for all the turkey, mom!


Lions for Lambs

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mrs. Smitty and I pawned Smitty Jr. off on the grandparents this weekend and had a day-long kid-free shop-a-thon.

And what did we buy, mostly? If you guessed "stuff for Smitty Jr." you'd be correct.

At any rate, one of the many things that we crammed-in yesterday was a viewing of Lions For Lambs. I must say, Mrs. Smitty and I were impressed. The movie really got us thinking, and it awakened a lot of thoughts that I had repressed and allowed to go dormant.

Quickly, so I don't give much away, it's about an hour and 20 minutes, give or take, in the life of 3 sets of people: a reporter (Meryl Streep) and her hour-long interview with an up-and-coming Republican Senator (Tom Cruise); a college student in a come-to-Jesus (and not the religious kind) meeting with his professor (played by an Andrew Garfield and Robert Redford, respectively); and 2 Army Rangers in a pretty shitty spot (played by Michael Pena and Derek Luke, two folks I've never ehard of but I'll give credit where it's due). Their three separate story lines converge, in a way.

It's more of a vignette. You come in to the story with events happening, and leave it without everything having been wrapped-up. I really like that as a device. But that's not all the movie does for you. For me, it left me asking what one of the characters would do. And in essence, it was like asking myself what I'd do.

Before I get into any philosphical discussions I guess I'll touch on the movie itself. Critics have been slamming this film and there's some folks out there who think it's emotionless and dull. Well, true, the only action scenes take place with the Rangers in Afghanistan. But you go to this movie to listen to what it says through its characters. And even from what they say, I imagine 2 different people with 2 different biases would come away with 2 different messages from this movie. That's pretty cool. Don't go to this movie looking for a Private Ryan-esque shooter or even a The Kingdom gripping thriller. It's not. It's 2 debates and 1 set of consequences. I found the movie to move very quickly despite the lack of action because the interplay of the 3 different stories, as well as the philosophy behind the dialogue, really moved it quickly forward.

This movie also doesn't wrap stuff up in a neat little bow for you. It makes you ask yourself what happens, and as I said above, it makes you ask yourself what you'd do. So if you need things wrapped up like a little present, don't go see this movie.

Speaking in broad terms, here's what it did for me. I am dissatisfied with our progress in the War On Terror. I don't think that stopping completely is the right answer. I see a different answer that involves engagement at many different levels; military, social and educational. But what can I do? I've served, honorably, in the military already for 8 years. I have a wife, a Smitty Jr. and a Thing 1 and Thing 2 on the I reenlist? My wife certainly doesn't want me to. But like the movie points out, talk is cheap if you can figure out a way to make a change, even if it ultimately brings you to the same place as doing nothing. But where I am stuck right now is what, exactly, can I do right now to institute change? Can I run for office and get my ass kicked by Congressman Mike Rogers (R - Brighton)? Not to mention I'm a political Nobody; just another lobbyist.... Should I try to attend the National Defense Institute? Maybe. But right now, I am dissatisfied with the current direction and dissatisfied with my level of involvement.

At any rate, go check the movie out. It's not a thriller folks, but it at least makes you ask yourself important questions: is the passion of those willing to continue or repackage the war misplaced? Is it bullshit? Is our media complicit? What would you do to change things?


A Michigan Man

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lloyd Carr might be one of the easiest punching bags in the college football world. After all, there are always 3 "L's" in Lloyd. His Michigan teams are like opossums (after all, they play dead at home and get killed on the road). And he pretty much perfected the Wolverine Cookie recipe; put them in a big bowl and beat for three hours. It's easy to make fun of Lloyd. But you'd be hard-pressed to find many coaches with a better track record.

His football credentials are solid. He coached for 13 seasons, and had 13 winning seasons. I can think of a lot of schools who would love to be able to say that (Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, and the University of Miami come to mind). With a 121-40 record, he took the highest all-time winning percentage in college football and IMPROVED it. A National Championship, multiple Big Ten titles, multiple Rose Bowls. And he ended his tenure with 11 straight wins over Penn State and 6 straight over Michigan State.

The knock on Lloyd was always that he was too "old school". He didn't adapt well to the evolution of the spread offense on either side of the ball. His defenses couldn't stop it, and his offenses couldn't run it (and never tried to adopt elements of it). He ran more draw plays on 2nd-and-10 than the rest of the Big Ten combined. And he was always content to try to win a game 13-10 in an era when 33-30 was more likely. Vince Young, Appalachian State, and the Man in the Sweatervest made that more and more obvious as the years went on.

But there is another side to the "old school" moniker. He came from an era where a successful program was not a springboard for the Next Big Thing (Nick Saban, I'm looking in your direction). It was never about Lloyd; it was always about the program. He hated interviews and the media. He was loyal to his assistants and his players (almost to a fault), and never threw them under the bus. That's probably why he was such an easy target; he never ducked.

In 13 years, Michigan's program was beyond clean. It was virtually spotless. There have been no Maurice Clarett incidents. No Reggie Bush scandals. No Florida State University (i.e. Free Shoes University) happenings. Not to pick on my Sparty brethren, but two MSU players are still starting while under indictment for armed robbery. Oklahoma seems to have a weekly appointment with the NCAA infractions committee. Even Penn State and Notre Dame, with their reputation as "above the fray" programs, have had their incidents. But Michigan remains nearly unblemished.

That was the legacy of Bo. And I have a feeling that it will be the legacy of Lloyd. Consistency, excellence, and above all, integrity.

So now the search for a replacement begins (although it has actually been underway for several weeks). Les Miles, LSU's coach, is the logical replacement. He played for Bo, and served as an Assistant at Michigan many years ago. Those of you who don't follow Michigan may not be aware of the obsession with finding a Michigan Man. It doesn't necessarily mean someone who went to Michigan (though that helps). A Michigan Man is one who puts the program first. He honors the building that Fritz Crisler and Fielding Yost built, and the program that Bo revived. The list is short. Jim Harbaugh was on that list until earlier this year. But he violated that trust by putting himself by badmouthing the program to score cheap points. That's something that a Michigan Man doesn't do.

So thank you, Lloyd. And the first time Les Miles runs a 5-wide receiver set onto the field, I'll remember the times when "Mike Hart behind Jake Long" played like a broken record, and I'll be thankful again.


As American As Mom, the Flag, and...Beer

Friday, November 16, 2007

There are brown ales, and then there are brown ales. The Brits brew brown ales in the form of Mild, Southern (or London), and Northern. Most people are familar with Newcastle, which falls into the Northern category.

But then there's American Brown Ales. This is a really interesting style in that its origin is actually with American homebrewers. It's a style where homebrewers, back when homebrewing was made legal under the Carter Administration (in what some would say was his best act as President), tried to emulate the British style brown ales which were malty, sweet, mild and very pleasant beers. However, many of the most appropriate malts and hop varieties weren't yet available in the states, so they had to use the closest American approximations, which end up lending a different character to the beer altogether. Thus, a new style of Brown ale grew to be its own very distinct category of beer. Its roots are most assuredly present in the British varieties but it has grown to have that distinct American flavor that sets it apart from its cousins across the pond.

Today's selection is Sierra Nevada Brown Ale. And as most Sierra Nevada beers, this one is the quintessential American Brown Ale style of beer.

It poured a thick, creamy one-finger head, which left beautiful lacing all the way down the glass to the finish. It is a very clear beer, and showed-off some really eye-catching brassy hues.

Like its British cousins, you get a lovely nutty toasted malt nose with some roasted grain and brown sugar. But there it is, that thing that sets it apart, that lovely citrus scent only available in the best of American hop varieties.

This beer is smooth in every sense. There's a load of toasty malt sweetness up front. Caramel and brown sugar make an appaerance with just a hint of nuttiness. But then that citrusy hop leaps out from nowhere and adds an ample bitterness that you just don't get in the English styles. It's not overpowering at all, it's just very American. It finishes on a nice rounded toasted grain note.

Smooth and crisp, with a moderate body, makes this with an ideal session beer; enjoy one after another...after another...after another...

The difference in stykes between American and British isn't just in the more pronounced hops. You also don't always get some of the fruity esters you get in some of the English styles, nor some of that deep fruit like plums or prunes. There is way more interplay between hops and malts in the American style, but it is still very balanced. I still would not classify this style of beer as "hoppy" by any means, but compared to its British counterparts, it is.

Next time you crack this stunning beer, hoist one to the ingenuity of American homebrewers for being enterprising enough to come away having created a unique style of beer. Cheers!


All Those Keggers Paid Off

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


cash advance

Thanks to a link over at george's place, there is a nifty little widget that indicates the reading level it takes to read your blog.

Proudly, we achieved "postgrad" status!

I attribute our vaguely-advanced reading level to the amount of times the words "beer," "drunk," and "sorority girls" appear in this blog.

Actually, I can't think of one single time any of the contributors here ever included "sorority girls" in a post. However, one intrepid contributor did indeed include the phrase "fresh cod, gay weddings, and Ted Kennedy's urine" in a post. All in the same sentence. That's how we roll here.

And let's not forget the "Brewing Extravaganza" episode.


It's Corny that Beer Prices Ale Me

Monday, November 12, 2007

My father in law, who lives in Myrtle Beach, sent me this alarming article about beer consistency, quality and prices.

Looks like bad weather has damaged the hops output in America and Germany. I blame global warming. If ever there was one issue that would finally get me off the stick to do something about globa, warming, it's that is threatens my ability to use what hops I want to use, and will increase the price of my favorite beers, and homebrewing. Damn you, global warming. From the article:

Australia endured its worst drought on record. Hail storms across Europe damaged crops. Extreme heat in the western United States hurt both yields and quality.
And then, to make matters worse, I find out that the fucking solution to global warming is increaing the prices of wheat and barley because farmers are switching to growing corn to meet ethanol demands!
Barley and wheat prices have skyrocketed as more farmers plant corn to meet increasing demand for ethanol, while others plant feed crops to replace acres lost to corn.
How, now, am I supposed to b environmentally-conscious when the much-celebrated ethanol-burning vehicles of the future are actually responsible for driving-up the price of my favorite beers?

The answer, fellow beer lovers, is Cellulosic Ethanol:
While chemically identical to ethanol produced from corn or soybeans, cellulose ethanol exhibits a net energy content three times higher than corn ethanol and emits a low net level of greenhouse gases.
Get off of corn ethanol, folks. It's going to drive up food - and beer - prices. Get on the cellulosic bandwagon.

This is a classic example of being careful of what you wish for. Global warming, all jokes aside, is a huge issue; climate change in general is going to be a key factor in how and where we farm. But sometimes the easiest solution, which in this case is making fuel of something using a process we and our ancestors have used for millenium - distilling, is economically the wrong solution. We're in a huge hurry to invest in corn ethanol when we should be investing in ethanol period, derived from plant matter. It's more flexible and adds value to all crops across the board.

And it won't increase the price of my beer!


Parenting Advice from a Single Guy

Thursday, November 08, 2007

In the spirit of Smitty's newest additions-to-be, I figured I would pass along my best piece of parenting advice. I have no children, and I am not planning to in the near future. I have one very cute nephew, however, and I have learned a few things from watching him.

  • Rule #1: Do not give your child GHB. You would think that one would be self-explanatory. But apparently not.
  • Rule #2: Finding the right gift for your child's birthday can be difficult. Don't be afraid to think... um... outside the box?
  • Rule #3: Do NOT give birth to twins on the day Daylight Savings Time begins. It just causes problems.

That's all I know. But I feel like it's a good start.


Just Shy of 8 Is Enough

Monday, November 05, 2007

So I'll keep it short.

Here's a picture of the new Smitty Family purchase.

Yes, it's a Chevy Uplander. A minivan. Oh ye Gods, a minivan. But we love it.

Why, you ask, through gnashed teeth, whilst shaking your fists at the sky. Why on earth would such an awesome family like the Smitty family enjoy the purchase of a minivan?

Because Mrs. Smitty and I are thrilled to announce that this coming May, we will be expecting TWINS!

As for now, we are calling them Thing 1 and Thing 2. We won't know the gender until January-ish, and while the doctor sees signs of their being identical twins, we won't know for sure without a blood test after they're born.

Smitty Jr. is looking forward to 2 new hockey enthusiasts joining household. Mrs. Smitty and I are thrilled for more indentured servitude 12 more years down the road.


We're #1!!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It is finished! Around the Keg is #1 on Google for the phrase Brewing Extravaganza!

I would like to thank all of our contributors and guests for your hard work and dilligence in getting Around the Keg as the #1 spot on Google for Brewing Extravaganza.

This is a very proud moment for us. We'll pop the cork on a nice bottle of Unibroue's Maudite to celebrate.

First: Brewing Extravaganza. Next: The World!


Now Here's a Real Ice Beer

Friday, November 02, 2007

Forget Icehouse, Molson Ice, Miller Ice and whatever other kind of ice beer exists in the mass market segment. Leave it to the Germans to have created, over 100 years ago, a real ice beer.

It's called an eisbock.

Imagine this: an enterprising bar owner stored his kegs outdoors in the winter. Makes sense. Natural refrigeration. One day, after an especially vicious-cold night, he went to tap a keg of doppelbock. There was a problem: it was frozen. He decided to tap it closer to the bottom and found that there was a lovely, highly-concentrated bock left on the bottom, apart from all the other stuff that froze. He called it eisbock, and it sold like mad.

Today's selection is considered the original: Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock.

Aventinus pours a hazy brown with amber highlights. It is completely opaque, due to the hazy wheat and suspended yeast, much like a hefe weizen. It gave a nice, fluffy off-white head, but the 12% ABV of this beer killed it pretty qui8ck. What was left was a lovely off-white ring down the glass.

Right up font I got some clovey-phenolic smells (again, much like a hefe weizen...appropriate given that this is a weizen itself and has lots of...weizen in it), with a bit of banana. I also got some deep fruits like prune, nice and sweet and dark. No hops here, just wheaty malts.

Pow. Right away is a sweet malt attack. Not cloying in the least, just big, concentrated malt. Doppelbock on crack. Or ice. Whatever. Full, thick, syrupy with honey, coffee,chocolate and dark dried fruits. Brown sugar and caramel too. Clove flavors surface towards the end, and you can taste a bit of the wheat and its grain-husk tannins. For such a massive ABV, this beer hides the alcohol very well under all that malt, but there is a definitive alcohol warmth. Again, this is a doppelbock extreme-style; all those flavors turned way up. It's the differenec between listening to, say, old Metallica (the good stuff, you know, before they decided to become sober...and bitch-like), and old Metallica REALLY LOUD. I could see drinking this when it's wicked-cold outside and being juuuust fine.

This beer is so smooth on the palate, almost creamy. The harsh alcohol bite for such a high ABV is deceivingly absent, but there is a distinct warming effect. You can enjoy this beer as a sipper; definitely not a "session" beer but perfect in and of itself for a bottle or two. It goes down so smooth and creamy.

Enjoy a bottle on a cold night, maybe with some dark chocolate dessert that can hang with the sweetness of the beer. Or, just make this your dessert.

Maybe I'll try to make one during my next Brewing Extravaganza.


Another Damn Meme

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fom over at george's place there appears to be another silly little meme running around.

The goal appears to be to find 5 phrases in various posts in your blog that when you google them actually make your blog the first search result.

So here's what sets Around the Keg apart and above all the rest. It's a proud, proud list:

1. large-ass megalopolis
2. October-Long Oktoberfest
3. The head is a behemoth perfection
4. a sordid tale of sex and betrayal at a beer festival
5. massive-beer-geeks

And those, my fellow keggers, are what set us apart from all the other blogs. Sex and betrayal at a beer festival, month-long celebrations, head, huge cities and beer geekery. I am bummed, though, that the phrase "brewing extravaganza" did not include this site. We must try harder, people.



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