Thursday, April 28, 2016

Keezer Build

There is a awesome little spot in St. Paul right now that you need to check out. They have comfortable seating, homemade meals, and fresh drinks. If they don't have drink of your choice, they'll go out and get it for you. You have full control of the jukebox and they have a wide array of fun board games. Plus, they have a new beautiful tap system pouring some fresh beers from local craft breweries. The name of the place? My house!

There is debate as to whether beer is better from a can or bottle, but everybody agrees that you can't beat tap beer. With the help of a buddy who is more adept with power tools, I built a keezer (kegerator made from a chest freezer) so that I can enjoy some of my favorite beers on draft. It was remarkably simple and looks amazing sitting in the corner of our living room.

The first step was finding a freezer to serve as the cooling unit and base for the keezer. You can buy new from any appliance retailer, but I highly recommend just cruising around Craigslist for a good deal. I was able to find a freezer that had been sitting in a guys basement for the past 10 years and he was just looking to get rid of it for $90. It has the ability to hold a CO2 tank plus either one 1/2 barrel and one 1/6 barrel or four 1/6 barrels. You will need to buy a temperature regulator to keep the beer from freezing. Unless you plan on fermenting your homebrews in here where you would need a more precise temperature, I would suggest just getting the basic analog version.

The next step is building the collar. The collar allows you to have more room to work inside your keezer. With a collar, you can also drill your tap lines through that instead of through the freezer which presents the risk of hitting a cooling line. We first removed the lid to the freezer by unscrewing a couple fasteners (watch out for the spring loaded hinges). For the collar, we used a simple design involving four 2x4's. Measure twice, cut once! We then added 1x6's to the 2x4's so that there was a slight over hang on three sides, thus preventing the collar from moving around and eliminating the need to fasten the collar to the freezer and risking damaging it. We added weather stripping to give it a good seal. Reattach the lid to the collar, drill holes for your tap lines, and you're almost done. Stop by your local homebrew shop and they will tell you exactly what parts you need to get up and running.

If you just do one line, you can save a lot of money. If you want to have multiple tap lines, you will need to a buy a gas distributor and all of the hosing and tap hardware for each new line. I figure each new line cost me nearly $160. My two main reasons building the keezer were #1 to have beer on tap and #2 to eliminate the hassle of bottling when I inevitably start homebrewing. So it was important for me to have multiple lines so that I could eventually brew multiple batches at a time.

To make the unit look nice and make my wife happy, I stained the collar a dark cherry color and painted the freezer with chalkboard paint. It looks very nice now and serves as a conversation piece in our living room. The chalkboard paint allows me to label the beers on tap without having to buy expensive handles.

Here is a breakdown of the costs:

Freezer - $90
CO2 tank, shank, hosing, gas regulator, coupler, etc. I got from a friend at a discount - $250
Chalkboard paint - $16.46
Temperature regulator - $69.55
Collar materials - $40.12
Additional line and distributor - $221.28
Cleaning supplies - $98.96
Total - $786.37 (don't let my wife see this)

For each keg of beer you get (I usually get 1/6 barrels), you can expect to pay at least $70 plus a deposit on the keg itself. For some nicer/foreign beers, be prepared to pay nearly $200 or more. To find your favorite beer in kegs, just ask your nearest liquor store. They can then ask their distributor if they can supply it. Ask for a price and shop around, some places may get a better price because they specialize in keg beer.

This really is a fun thing to have. It is so convenient to pour a glass of Surly Coffee Bender and enjoy the new episode of Game of Thrones within the comfort of your own home. I love showing it off to all of my friends and sharing my passion for craft beer with them. I don't think I actually save any money buying a keg vs buying a case, but as I said before you can't beat beer on tap.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Saison Tasting

This past weekend, my wife, Carrie, and I hosted our first beer and food pairing. I decided to focus on saisons as they are a strange group of brews that aren't widely understood and appreciated. We sampled seven different saisons (two Belgians, two from New York, and three from local Minnesota breweries).


If you decide to host your own beer and food pairing, just know that it takes a lot of preparation. Not only do you have to make sure your home and dining table are all set, but you also should do your homework so that you can tell your guests about what they are consuming. A book that really helped me out was one that I received for my birthday last week. The Oxford Companion to Beer by Garret Oliver is a wellspring of knowledge for anything you may want to know about beer. I found a couple encyclopedia-like entries about several of the beers that we were drinking as well as information about the saison style and its ingredients. This book is also on the Cicerone study guide.

I started by going down to my local bottle shop, Ale Jail, and perused their Belgian section and found a couple recommended saisons. I then went home and checked out the breweries' websites and various beer review websites to learn about the ingredients as well as the history of the breweries. I was then able to grab some pilsner malts and some German noble hops from the brewery I worked at so that our guests could actually sample the ingredients.

You also want to make sure that your setting is conducive to tasting. Your sense of smell is extremely important when picking out the subtle differences between each beer (it accounts for approximately 70% of your sense of taste). For this reason, I snuffed out all of the candles, I advised that people abstain from any fragrances, hand lotions, or lipsticks. You will also want to provide lots of water. Not just as a palate cleanser or a rinser for your glass, but also so that people stay hydrated and don't lose their senses to the alcohol. We also provided a bucket for guests to dump their rinse water. Don't forget to use proper glassware such as tulip or wine glasses so that the beer is presented in the best possible way.

We decided to also rank the beers we were drinking, so we printed some tasting sheets from the Brewers Association website and made a chart to record everybody's rankings.

Find it here

Saisons are like champagne when it comes to food pairings. They are highly effervescent and have a complex flavor profile that allow them to be paired with nearly anything. We paired them with a cheese, an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert.

For the cheese, Carrie found a cheddar-gruyere mix. The sharpness of the cheddar and the funk from the gruyere complemented the same flavors of the saisons. It also provided a nice palate cleanser when switching from one saison to another.

Mussels are a perfect pairing for a saison. They are both light in flavor and won't overwhelm the other. The sweetness and effervescence of the saison bring out the salinity and natural sweetness of the oyster. We grabbed some frozen mussels from Trader Joe's that were steamed in a white wine sauce. They were super easy (just took a while to boil the water) and super cheap (these tastings can be expensive to host, so save where you can).

For dinner we grabbed some pad thai take out from a local restaurant. The peppery and fruity flavors of the yeast as well as the spices that are added to some saisons go well with spicy middle-eastern and Asian foods. Our Minnesota palates were not accustomed to the overly spicy dishes, so we needed to go back to the cheese round to soothe our burned tongues.

Our friend baked an absolutely delicious dessert for us. It was a green apple crumble pie with extra cinnamon and nutmeg. Many of the flavors in the pie were also found in the beer. Green apple esters as well as some pepper phenols were accentuated by each bite of the pie. I highly recommend this pairing.


Now for the most important part, the beer! I'll list each beer with some of the notes that were taken by everybody. As a note, this was a blind tasting so nobody knew what they were drinking until it was revealed at the end.

CynicAle by Surly

APPEARANCE: This one was darker than the others with a light copper/amber color. It was filtered and clear. Higher carbonation with a thick lacing pattern.

AROMA: Light in aroma. Caramel. Several artificial fruit notes.

FLAVOR: Sweet butterscotch. Artificial sweetness with a light hop bitter finish. Some said a grapefruit or lemon citrus flavor and one person suggested a metallic flavor.

OVERALL: This one received generally high marks with an averaged score of 6.25. Most peopled noted that this was probably not the best representation of the style, but was still enjoyable.

Harmony Farm by Lakes & Legends

APPEARANCE: This one also had a copper color with a slight haze, but was lighter than the Cynic. Light lacing and low carbonation (could be due to it being from a growler).

AROMA: This one was agreed to have more of the stylistic barnyard/hay/earthy smell.

FLAVOR: Definitely sweeter. Some of the pepper spice. We were split on our ability to pick up the hop bitterness, but if it was present it was light.

OVERALL: I was nervous to include this one, as I have a sense of pride when it comes to the beers that Lakes & Legends puts out. Overall though, people seemed to like it and gave it an average score of 5.75 landing it right in the middle.

Hennepin by Ommegang

APPEARANCE: Lighter straw color and much hazier. Highly carbonated.

AROMA: The aroma on this one was one of the best. Fruity esters of pear, banana, and strawberry.

FLAVOR: The flavor was much more subtle than the aroma. Citrusy with notes of orange peel. Clean finish and some champagne dryness.

OVERALL: This would make a nice spring or summer beer with its light flavor and blissful aroma. It received an average score of 6.25.

Sorachi Ace by Brooklyn Brewery

APPEARANCE: Cloudy with a gold color.

AROMA: Definite citrus aromas. Strong lemon aroma. Almost an apricot or tangerine.

FLAVOR: It had a strong orange pith flavor. Not sweet. Very dry finish (makes sense since they add champagne yeast).

OVERALL: This one is unique as it uses the Sorachi Ace hops which were developed by a Japanese brewery and aren't commonly used. This was not a crowd favorite and received the worst score of 4.25.

Saison Dupont (Vielle Provision) by Brasserie Dupont

APPEARANCE: Highly carbonated. Light color. Cloudy and sediment present.

AROMA: This also had the barnyard aroma. A bit of a wit-like orange aroma.

FLAVOR: The hop bitterness/spiciness was definitely more present in this one than others. More of a wheat flavor. A long lasting finish.

OVERALL: The Saison Dupont is the quintessential guide to what a saison is. I was very happy that this one received top marks from everyone resulting in the highest score of 7.0.

Farm Girl by Lift Bridge

APPEARANCE: Very light color with a slight haze. Low carb (also from a growler)

AROMA: Very little hop aroma and I think this one may have had some off flavors of diacetyl because several of us picked up on some butter popcorn aromas.

FLAVOR: Very light in flavor. A bit of an orange fruit taste. Someone even said it was a bit like a lager in its drinkability.

OVERALL: Nobody in our group was wowed by this one, however it did receive higher marks for being one of the easiest to drink. It was pretty balanced and could easily be enjoyed via a full six pack. Farm Girl received an average score of 6.25.

Avec les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont (Bons Voeux) by Brasserie Dupont

APPEARANCE: Super hazy with quite a bit of sediment. Slight carbonation.

AROMA: You could definitely smell the saison barnyard funk. Some hay or wet grass. Yeasty. There was some hop spice. I picked up some artificial grape aroma. The higher ABV of 9.5% was also apparent in the smell.

FLAVOR: The barnyard character was apparent in the flavor as well giving it a hay or sour taste. It had more of an earthy tone than a fruity one.

OVERALL: Bons Voeux originally was not made available to the general public. It was brewed a a happy new year beer for Dupont's special clients and friends. Translated it means "With the best of wishes of the brewery Dupont. Because this beer has a special tradition, I was a little disappointed to see it only receive an average score of 5.625.

This was a really fun experience and I can't wait to do this again. I'm thinking it would be fun to do a tasting with American IPAs vs English IPAs to better understand the differences in flavor between the two hop families. One thing I would do differently next time would be to limit the number of beers. Toward the end it was hard to remember what the first beers tasted like. I would also recommend buying more of each beer than you think you would need. Just to help people remember the first couple beers, it would be nice if they could try another splash. I highly recommend hosting a tasting of your own as it is really educational and a lot of fun.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Five Beers on Friday

I recently passed the 500 unique beers mark on Untappd (Legendary!) and am looking forward to keeping the momentum going to 1000 this year. I'm off to a good start with about 50 new ones in January. Here are a few of my favorites from the past month.

Harvest Wild Hop IPA w/ Neomexicanus Hops - Sierra Nevada

Funky. Different. Must try. This IPA from Sierra Nevada is part of  the Harvest series in which they use new and experimental hops. This one uses a relatively new hop that was found out in the wild in the valleys of New Mexico and is thusly named neomexicanus. This wild hop has a distinct smell and flavor that is similar to cannabis. Most people are aware that hops and marijuana are cousins, but I have never found a hop to be so similar in its perceivable flavor and aroma. It also has a bit of a citrus hop flavor. I was so intrigued by this beer and I wish I could find more like it, but it looks like a New Mexico monastery has bought up the land where this variety grows which has limited the availability of it.

Narwhal Imperial Stout - Sierra Nevada

Another must try from Sierra Nevada. This malt forward imperial stout is full of great flavors. The chocolate and coffee notes are strong with a noticeable warming factor from the 10.2 %  ABV. I wasn't in a traditional craft beer bar when I ordered this, which was apparent when they seemed shocked to find that it was only served in 10 oz glasses. I don't think I would want a full pint of this one as it is meant to be savored rather than slammed. Also, how about that label?

Wahoo White - Ballast Point

I wasn't amazed by this one, BUT it is one that I would grab a 12 pack of for a camping weekend. It is light, yet full of orange and citrus flavors that are associated with the Belgian wit style. An easy drinker (4.5% ABV) that satisfies.

Death by Coconut - Oskar Blues

This is by far one of the best beers I've ever had. Top 10 for sure. It was part of a tap takeover at Pat's Tap in Minneapolis by Oskar Blues. The description on the menu mentioned chocolate and dark caramel and that it was a limited yearly release, so I thought I'd give it a try. When it arrived at the table, I didn't even have to take a sip to know that it was going to be good. The aroma alone will knock your socks off. The smell of baked coconut fills your nostrils and you begin to salivate. The coconut is complemented by the subtle chocolate and caramel flavors. It reminds me of the Girl Scout Samoa cookies. I will definitely be seeking this one out at my local craft beer shop.

Size 4 - Steel Toe

One of our regular customers at Lakes & Legends is an employee over at Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. Super friendly guy who has a lot of insight into the craft beer scene in the Twin Cities. Once in a while, he drops off a growler of Steel Toe's brews for the L&L staff to enjoy. Recently, he graced us with Size 4 a session IPA (the sizes of their IPAs are based on the ABV, try out their Size 11 if you're looking for something really special). It was refreshing, not overly hoppy, and something that I could drink a fair amount of which makes the 4% ABV even more appealing.

Na zdrávje!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Your Older Brother vodka cocktail

For Christmas, I have a tendency of receiving alcohol inspired gifts and this year was no different. From my wife, I received the perfect muddler and a notebook to jot down all of my favorite cocktail recipes. My wife's aunt and uncle gifted me with some awesome tulip glasses. From my in-laws, I received several books about beer, a bottle of port, and an interesting cocktail mixer. It is a piney, citrus flavored mixer made by White Whale called Your Older Brother.

White Whale makes several mixers from herbs and juices intended for a particular spirit. Their drink recipes are really simple; one part mixer, one part spirit, and garnish. Your Older Brother is meant to be mixed with vodka and garnished with a slice of lemon. I decided to bump up the orange flavor and a couple dashes of orange bitter and garnish with a orange slice. It is super refreshing and would be best a hot summer afternoon (it may be a while). You can purchase this mixer and explore the others here.

-Fill glass with ice and add 1.5 ounces vodka
-Add 1.5 ounces of White Whale Your Older Brother mixer
-Optional: add three dashes of orange bitters
-Garnish with a lemon or orange slice (or both!)
-Stir and drink!

Gan Bei!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Five Beers on Friday - Chrismas

Merry Christmas everyone! In the air you can feel the holiday cheer and in my fridge you'll find some holiday beer. For this Five Beers on Friday I have put together a list of five Christmas style or winter style ales that I have enjoyed recently. Having five of these darker full flavored brews will make it much easier to get through the day with family.

Boreal Winter - Lakes & Legends

I'm starting off with a beer from the brewery that I work at, Lakes & Legends, because why wouldn't I. This is one of two seasonal beers that we have on tap and it is going fast. It is a winter warmer ale that is packed full of flavor with strong roasty and dark chocolate notes. A friend of mine had a blind taste test of ten different stouts with a group of nine other people and this beer took the prize as crowd favorite. If you need to drown out your younger cousins quickly this one will help with an ABV of 10.1%.

Milk Stout Nitro - Left Hand

I am loving all of the breweries that are experimenting with adding nitrogen to their canned and bottled beers. It creates a smoother and creamier head that you would only think to find straight from the tap. Left Hand Brewing Company out in Longmont, CO was the first American brewery to bottle a nitro beer with their milk stout back in 2011. This beer is so amazing! It is so smooth and refreshing. I won't say much more than to tell you to just go out and buy it right now.

Snowdrift Vanilla Porter - Leinenkugel's

I have a great fondness for my hometown brewery, Leinenkugel's. Even though I am slightly biased, I believe their Snowdrift Vanilla Porter is a top notch beer that can stand up against any other winter beer. It has a strong vanilla flavor that is complemented with chocolate and coffee notes. I have this every year and I've never been able to limit myself to just one.

Winter Ale - Summit

Summit's Winter Ale is a nice introduction to the winter warmer category. It is approachable with a medium body, a slight hoppy spice, and some sweet caramel flavors. A nice easy drinker that I compare more to a brown/amber ale than a stout/porter.

Canneberge - Lakes & Legends (cranberry saison)

While this technically isn't a winter or Christmas style ale, the Canneberge is a cranberry saison that is the second of our two seasonals at Lakes & Legends. The cranberries were actually harvested from Minnesota's only commercial cranberry bog making it a true farmhouse style ale with a farm-to-glass approach. This has been a huge hit and it may actually be gone already (there were only two kegs left on Tuesday). It has a slight tartness from the cranberries and a little saison spice to complement. This beer is a perfect pair with a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. A pocket full of money and a cellar full of beer!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Five Beers on Friday 12/18

My wife has been linking up with some other lady bloggers who do a "Five Things on Friday" post each week. For a lifestyle blog, it's a nice and simple way to share the things that have currently peaked your interest. I've decided to take my own spin on this idea and start a Five Beers on Friday post where I can share some of the great beers that I've recently enjoyed.

As a note, I'm not into the intense beer reviews that some other beer enthusiasts do (appearance, aroma, taste, overall score). There's nothing wrong with doing that, but I don't find a whole lot of value in them as everybody's tastes are different. One person's opinion and interpretation on a beer will be completely different than another's. I would rather bring your attention to some beers that I have sampled and explain what may make them attractive to others.

For my first post, I think it would only make sense to highlight five of my favorite beers from the brewery that I have the pleasure of working at; Lakes & Legends Brewing Company.

Slim's Grin - Raspberry Braggot (honey ale)

This is by far my favorite beer that is on tap right now. It is a raspberry flavored braggot, which is a beer style that I had never heard of before. It is like a mead, but whereas a mead is made entirely from honey, a braggot is made from honey and malt. It is very sweet with nearly zero hop flavor (4 IBUs). It is heavily carbonated giving it a fizzy mouthfeel that plays on your tongue. I compare it to a wine-cooler and always recommend it to customers that are not overly fond of beer. Be careful though, its sweet and refreshing flavor masks the high alcohol content of 7.2% ABV.

Silky Stout - Belgian style stout

If I could only choose one beer to have on tap at the brewery, the Silky Stout would be it. I love the raspberry braggot, but one is generally enough for me. The stout is such an easy drinker that I could have several growlers full. It has a coffee ground and dark chocolate bitterness, but the addition of milk sugars and the Belgian yeast give it a sweet smoothness. Adding a splash of our cold brew coffee creates an extra special treat on a frigid Minnesota wintry night.

Great Wit North - Witbier

This is a great beer to introduce people to Belgian style ales. I offer this one to anyone looking for a lighter body beer. It is quite sessionable at 5.6% ABV (the lowest of all of our beers) and is comparable to other major market witbiers. It has a orange zest and coriander aroma that is complemented by clove notes of the Belgian yeast.

Bitter Farmhand - Belgian style IPA

Focusing on sweeter Belgian and farmhouse style ales runs counter to the hop crazy trend that currently dominates the American craft beer scene. To appease the hop heads, there is this Belgian style IPA. It isn't overly hoppy (71 IBU), which I appreciate. The Belgian yeast cuts the hop bitterness creating a nicely balanced beer to be consumed all year round.

Preservation - Belgian rauchbier (smoked beer)

Smoked beer isn't for everyone, I'm not always a huge fan either, but this one is very approachable and won't overwhelm. The aroma is reminiscent of a smoked ham and I imagine it being the perfect beer back for a bloody mary. You can still get a small hint of banana flavor from the Belgian yeast which contrasts the smokiness.

These are only five of the nine beers available at Lakes & Legends. A tenth brew will be unveiled in the next few weeks and eventually there will be a full sixteen on tap! I'm super excited to be working for such a great brewery and the amazing beer makes it even better. Come stop in and allow me to pour you a glass!

À la vôtre!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lakes & Legends

As I have been preparing for my Cicerone certification, I've read plenty of tips from people who have already taken the exam. One piece of advice that everyone seems to give is that you must have serving experience. Which makes sense. The primary reason for the cicerone program's existence is to promote proper beer handling and presentation. So, in order to be a good cicerone, you should know what it takes to go behind the bar and pour that perfect pint. I followed through on this and just recently obtained my very first serving job at a new brewery called Lakes & Legends Brewing Company.

I read about Lakes & Legends in our local craft beer magazine, The Growler. This led me to check out their Facebook page where I learned that they were looking for beertenders. I applied, interviewed, and surprisingly was offered a job despite having zero serving experience. The owners, two brother-in-laws, are focused on creating a team that will help build the brand that they are after. Their goal is to create an educational experience where patrons can learn about the ingredients in their beer and the process by which they are created. I believe my pursuit of a cicerone certification helped set me a part and I am so thankful for the opportunity. The brewery opened up last week and I am thoroughly enjoying my new position behind the bar.

Lakes and Legends is located in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis on the ground floor of a swanky new highrise. They focus on Belgian and farmhouse ales, which are some of my favorite beers. Opening night featured four beers; a saison, a wit, a golden strong ale, and a Belgian stout. This week, a raspberry braggot will be added to the line-up which is like a mead, but instead of being made of all honey, a braggot is part honey and part malt. I had an unfiltered sample straight from the fermenter and was blown away. Eventually, there will be a rotating list of twelve beers on tap!

Not only are the beers delectable, but the taproom is absolutely gorgeous. They definitely nailed the farmhouse kitchen look. Sturdy wooden tables with benches fill the room and there is an indoor patio area with Adirondack chairs and astro-turf. Above the taps there are canisters full of malt which can be sampled upon request. Live entertainment is also in the future for the brewery as there will be a stage on one end of the taproom.

I'm super excited for this awesome opportunity. To be a part of a brewery as it first opens its doors presents some great moments of learning. Additionally, I recently learned that one of the other servers is also studying to become a certified cicerone, so we have agreed to study together through tastings and discussions. If you are ever in the Twin Cities area, be sure to stop by and order a flight at Lakes & Legends.

Op uw gezondheid!