September: The End of Summer, The Beginning of BEERFESTS!

First up:

Oktoberfest presented by Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber

When: September 21st, 12pm – 5pm.

Where: Knights of Columbus, 2 Columbus Drive, Brunswick, ME

Cost: $45 in advance or $50 at the door. Buy in advance here https://www.midcoastmaine.com/calendar/registration/e/cmVnaXN0cmF0aW9uLTQxNTc.

About: First annual event. On the Facebook write up: “Come join us for authentic music provided by the Oberlaendler Hofbrau Band, food by Richard’s German Restaurant, keg throwing and stein hoisting competitions and beer by Samuel Adams Octoberfest, festivities and fun!”

Additional Reviews of Chuck’s Wares

While cleaning out my email tonight, I noted an email from Chuck back in November of 2012. I realized two things: 1) I need to clean out my email more regularly; 2) I forgot to review a couple of Chuck’s creations! He had sent me away in December with a beer he described as “a boring lager” and a bottle of some red wine that he had made. He wanted me to let him know what I thought. Whoops! Better late than never!

The wine was quite good. Most kit wines taste too sweet to me–like Boone’s Farm. This red wine was sweet, but not sickeningly so. I’d drink another bottle.

The “boring lager’ was aptly named. Ha!

As you can see, I drank them both to the last drop.

The not-too-sweet red wine and the boring lager

The not-too-sweet red wine and the boring lager

I’m excited to say that Chuck invited me over to do a compilation brew soon. Chuck said we can call it MCC Ale (Melonie Chuck Collaboration Ale). It’s lady’s choice, so I decided I want to brew a Märzen, otherwise known as Oktoberfest. I chose this style because I like the malty taste of Oktoberfest, it’s traditionally brewed in March (März is German for March), and requires fermentation with lager yeast. I’ve never used a lager yeast because I refuse to keep my apartment at 50 degrees. After I see Chuck’s amazing setup in action–which includes a fridge just for fermenting lagers–I might need to add to my birthday wishlist!

Look for future blog posts about MCC Ale in the future. Actually, this beer is technically a lager. MCC Lager just doesn’t sound as fun. Rats! What do you think it should be named?

Techincal Difficulties, Part Deux: “Are you Chuck?”

Yes. It was Chuck who greeted me. His place is also his place of work—a funeral home. As a friend recently commented, “What better place to ferment lagers?” (For those of you who don’t know, lagers require refrigerator-like temperatures to ferment. But have no fear, the beer was removed from any type of formaldehyde or morgue.)

Beyond the funeral home, the first thing I noticed about Chuck’s homebrew was the set-up. He actually has a small room dedicated to the brewing and the set-up is way more elaborate and inventive than mine: boiling kettles fabricated out of old kegs and a cooler; a home-made framework designed to work with gravity; wing-wangs that rapidly chill the brew after it’s been boiling; a conical fermenting container for easy separation of sediment; a fridge for lager fermenting; another fridge to store bottled brews and yeast; a laptop specifically for beer recipes; and all materials required for kegging his brews. Here are some pictures of his brew room, or, as I like to call it, the Broom.

Chuck's conical fermenter to the left and frame system to the right

Chuck’s conical fermenter to the left and frame system to the right

Will you take what's behind fridge door # 1 or fridge door # 2?

Will you take what’s behind fridge door # 1 or fridge door # 2?

Sanitation is key!

Sanitation is key!

He also had a really cool device that electronically measures the sugar content of brew. It’s called a Brix refractometer. I’m still in awe of it. I use the good ol’ hydrometer instead which involves trying to read a measurement through a cloudy meniscus and then puzzling over its meaning. Since the Brix refractometer is pricey—a minimum of $75 in a quick Google search—I guess I will puzzle over the hydrometer some more. The link below actually does help clear things up a bit for me. Yea for the Internet!

http://distillers.tastylime.net/library/Fermentation-chart/fermentation-chart.htm

Chuck and I sampled many of his incredible home brews on this visit. These two are the ones that stood out the most to me.

  1. Chipotle Pepper Beer. Light in color. Smooth up front but in the end it kicks you in the uvula with a spicy-hot, smokey chiptole flair– and makes you want to drink more to quench the flame. I suspect drinking a great deal of this would have you singing “Burning Ring of Fire” on the toilet the next day. Me thinks I want the recipe! Hee, hee, hee!
  2. Candy Beer. Light in color. Smelling of Pixy Stix and tasting of Sweet Tarts. Think fruity drinks that don’t taste like alcohol—a beer for the stereotypical chick who claims she doesn’t like beer. Actual ingredients used to sweeten the batch were Sour Apple Jolly Ranchers and a few Grape flavored ones, too. If this beer were ever marketed it would go great with candy cigarettes.

Moving on…

I asked Chuck why he chooses to homebrew versus buying craft or micros at the store. Paraphrasing his answer, he likes to be as involved in the process as possible. Instead of brewing with extracts (a syrup looking much like molasses), he steeps the malted barley. Instead of purchasing new yeast every time, he propagates and re-pitches yeast for several brews. And instead of purchasing hop pellets like I do, he grows his own crop in his back yard!

I love that Chuck grows his own raw hops and he loves the challenge of creating beer from the purest ingredients he can find. But what of the ingredients in beer? If you didn’t know, by definition beer must contain the following four ingredients: water, yeast, malted barley, and hops. I guess most of you know what the first two ingredients are. Perhaps you’re fuzzy on the third and you’re wondering what the hell hops are.

Let’s start with Hops. These are the flowers that impart flavor and aroma to beer. They also help stabilize the beer and balance the sweetness of the malted barley. Here are some photos of Chuck’s hops.

Pine cone? Not quite.

Pine cone? Not quite.

Lovely, towering trellises of hop heaven.

Lovely, towering trellises of hop heaven.

Can't you just picture me climbing this? Mell and the Hop Stalk! Way better than a bean stalk.

Can’t you just picture me climbing this? Mell and the Hop Stalk! Way better than a bean stalk.

And what of malted barley? We all know that barley is a grain, but why is it malted and what does that mean? Malting is a process that involves germination and then heating to halt germination of the barley seed. This process causes some of the starches of the barley seed to turn into sugars. When eventually added to the brew, the yeast eats the sugars from the malted barley creating byproducts that I like to refer to as farts (carbon dioxide) and urine (alcohol). Don’t be so freaked out—pieces of fruit are actually plant ovaries.

Okay, time to get back on course.

In closing I want to extend my most sincere thanks to Chuck for his willingness to share his knowledge, brews, and passion with me. I also thank our mutual acquaintance for introducing us—you know who you are and you’ve been a windfall for me and my budding blog. As the Irish say, “Tanks a million!”

Technical Difficulties

You may have been wondering why I stopped posting to the blog in December. I can tell you it is not from lack of passion. I have been researching, interviewing, and taste-testing like a mad woman. If you still doubt my passion, read this story. Would you have given up or turned back?

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A friend of mine thought I should meet Chuck, a homebrewer of 25 years. After a few email exchanges, Chuck and I scheduled a late morning visit at his home and brewing area one Saturday in early December. I was to be there at 11 a.m.

Now, if you know me, you know I’m not exactly punctual. So I tried my best to get out the door with enough time to travel. In my haste I locked myself out of the apartment without my keys. Seriously?!? My set of spare keys was about 12 miles away and jumping though second story apartment windows wasn’t really an option. In that moment, all I could do was laugh. I was going to be late after all.

Good fortune greeted me with a memory of the extendable ladder left behind by the property owner. This would be quicker than calling my mother in from out of town. After I determined which windows were mine, I then chose the window that would be the easiest to crawl through, was unlocked, and had the most disposable screen. I thanked my lucky stars for arranging this challenge at a time when no neighbors were home and prayed that the extendable ladder wouldn’t pull a Chevy Chase on me:

Click on the photo for animation. Click your browser back button to come back to the blog.

Click on the photo for animation. Click your browser back button to come back to the blog.

Luckily, the ladder did not collapse. When I reached the window, I cut the screen with a pen, lifted the window open, pushed my curious cat, Hope, inside, and crawled through in a manner similar to Playdoh, but with souvenir bruises.

Playdoh

I found my keys in the bathroom. What the hell were they doing there?

I got in the car and started driving to Chuck’s. On the way, I called him to tell him I was running late. But it went to voice mail. Why didn’t he answer? I started freaking out thinking I confused the meeting time or day. Had I seriously just broken into my apartment for no reason? But something in me decided to press on confidently.

When I drove into town, my cell rang. It was Chuck. He forgot his cell at the airport and hadn’t gotten my message. (Yes, this dude has a pilot’s license.) While apologizing for my tardiness, I explained the reason for it as well. It felt like telling a new teacher that a dog ate my homework. Luckily, Chuck didn’t seem miffed in the least. Before we hung up I told him I’d be there in about two minutes.

Pulling into the driveway my confidence collapsed as it appeared I had made a serious mistake: I was at a funeral home. I thought, “This can’t be it. But this is the address he gave me.” I decided to knock on the door because I figured I’d met my quota for technical difficulties that day. But maybe not. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the house that day.

A man greeted me. “Chuck?”

Review: UFF’s Dry Hopped Cidah

Today I had the great fortune of patronizing Lion’s Pride in Brunswick, Maine (http://www.lionspridepub.com/).  They are open from 11:30 ’til close, seven days a week and I highly recommend trying them out.  They carry 36 beers on draft that represent a whole range styles, tastes, breweries, and crazy beer experiments.  And with samples to the tune of 25 cents a piece, you can’t go wrong!

Okay, back to the review of the goods…Of the four hard ciders I sampled, UFF’s Dry Hopped Cidah really blew my skirt up.

First and foremost, it’s a product manufactured in Portland, Maine.  I do love supporting my fellow Mainers whenever given a yummy chance.  Urban Farm Fermentory (UFF) specializes in the fermenting of foods (i.e. pickles, sauerkraut) and beverages like cider and wine.  They also produce honey and sustain a micro farm.  The vision is to operate very much like a community supported farm as they encourage involvement and sharing of skills towards the overall project at UFF.  So git yer bee keeper suit on and knock on their door; take grandpa’s mustard pickle recipe over with a case of Mason jars; lend your permaculture expertise.  Or…just buy some products from them.  Check them out at http://www.urbanfarmfermentory.com/home

Second reason to love the cider: it’s hopped like a beer.  In case you don’t know, hops are plants that are added to beer to impart bitterness and aroma.  There are many different hop varieties and I am unsure of the variety they use, but it is an amazing choice.  Hopped cider is definitely new to my palate and nothing I had ever heard of before today.  So let me try to describe…

The first sniffs reveal a lovely bouquet of floral, honeysuckle-type notes from the hops.  I couldn’t stop huffing it.  If they made a perfume out of it, I’d spray it on myself!  The first taste is a dry cider that finishes with a faint reminder of the sweet, floral notes.  I really enjoyed it…and you can, too!