The Brew Shop

Drink proud. Love local. Brew well.

What Craft Beer Says About 'Murica

Hello again everyone!  Welcome to our first Guest Blog Post - brought to you by Brew Shop employee and all around charming gentleman, Nick King.  Nick wrote a post especially for July 4th, with our nation's freedom in mind.  So Happy 4th and Enjoy!

One morning at the Brew Shop, a man walked through the doors. I greeted him and told him I’d be happy to help him find anything that he may be looking for. He nodded his head towards me and with a German-tinted accent said, “Thanks, will do.” After a few minutes of browsing the store, he approached me at the front counter and pointed to the bomber rack near our taps and said, “Could you recommend any good local beers?” As I pointed out a few selections, the man and I started chatting. It turned out that he was indeed a German visiting the United States and wanted to take back several American beers as souvenirs.  “You know,” he said. “You just can’t get beers like these in Germany.”

“Oh, yeah?” I replied.
“Yeah, there just isn’t that much variety. It’s all Pilsners.”

I found our conversation interesting, because Germany is one of the world’s cultural beer capitals. After all, it was the influence of German immigrants that solidified beer as America’s primary alcoholic beverage of choice (sorry whiskey aficionados). The more we talked though, the more it began to make sense. According to him, there isn’t any real innovation happening in the German beer industry, it’s stagnant. There isn’t anything new happening, and that’s exactly why he liked American beer – it isn’t bound by any antiquated Purity Law.

Over the past few decades, craft beer has exploded in the U.S., with breweries popping up and creating all manner of beer: fruity beer, super bitter beer, pecan beer, cucumber beer (yeah, cucumber). All of these beers fly in the face of tradition. Rather than settling for plain ales and lagers brewers in the States have added their own twists to traditional styles to come up with new and exciting tastes and experiences, and isn’t that what America is all about – innovation?

Two key aspects of the American psyche are “What if?” and “Why not?”

What if we could fly?
Why not put a man on the moon
What if the entire world was connected?
Why not add Ancho Chiles, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, and serrano peppers to a single beer?

Look, I’ll be the first tell you that America has its share of problems, but one of the most amazing things about the U.S. is that it has never lost its sense of creativity and wonderment – and that’s what craft beer says about America: that it is still looking for new ways to do things better, different, or more exciting. So the next time you take a sip of a bitter-sweet grapefruit flavored IPA or smokey bourbon barrel aged stout, take a moment to ponder on what innovation tastes like and that you can’t get beers like those in Germany.

We're Open!

Well, we made it!  Here we are, open at last!  We officially opened last Friday, on January 29, just after the "Snowzilla" decimated everyone's personal beer supplies.  It's been a whirlwind week and we'll make sure to put up a more robust post soon, but suffice it to say we are busy and happy!  The neighborhood has been so very welcoming and we are thrilled to be a part of the Courthouse and NoVA beer communities.  

Hope to see everyone in the shop sometime!

Our hours are:

  • Tuesday-Saturday 11am-9pm
  • Sunday 12pm-5pm

Long Overdue Construction Update

If you've been following us on social media (@arlbrew on Twitter/Instagram and facebook.com/arlbrew) then you've no doubt seen some of the many pictures we've been posting of our construction process.  Well, we've been neglecting the blog where construction pics are concerned, but no more!  Here is your picture-centric, very overdue post of our construction-heavy past couple of months.  We're hitting the home stretch now, with a few inspections and a few finishes to be finalized, and are feeling close to opening day!

The Beginning

Here we are, having absolutely no idea what we're getting ourselves into

Here we are, having absolutely no idea what we're getting ourselves into

Going over the architectural drawings with our GC and Carpenter

Going over the architectural drawings with our GC and Carpenter

Beginnings of the Landlord buildout - our bathroom walls and some HVAC ductwork

Beginnings of the Landlord buildout - our bathroom walls and some HVAC ductwork

HVAC duct work wrapped and insulated

HVAC duct work wrapped and insulated

Getting to hang our Coming Soon sign was a good day.  The definition of "soon" was apparently open to interpretation

Getting to hang our Coming Soon sign was a good day.  The definition of "soon" was apparently open to interpretation

Special Projects

Putting vinyl lettering onto our custom-built sidewalk sign (Thanks, Brew Hubby Mike!)

Putting vinyl lettering onto our custom-built sidewalk sign (Thanks, Brew Hubby Mike!)

All ready for chalk

All ready for chalk

Measuring under the floor to make sure we will have enough slope for our hand sink. (Yeah, we learned a lot of things we never thought we would know in this process!)

Measuring under the floor to make sure we will have enough slope for our hand sink. (Yeah, we learned a lot of things we never thought we would know in this process!)

Brew Hubby Eric doing a little rewiring

Brew Hubby Eric doing a little rewiring

Fresh coat of poly on the shelves built by Brew Hubby Mike

Fresh coat of poly on the shelves built by Brew Hubby Mike

Our Construction Begins

Submitting drawings to the County

Submitting drawings to the County

Hanging approved permits with our architect, Susan

Hanging approved permits with our architect, Susan

In goes the walk-in cooler

In goes the walk-in cooler

Damien putting in our first stud track

Damien putting in our first stud track

Studs for our chalkboard wall and wrap counter

Studs for our chalkboard wall and wrap counter

Our first electrical conduit going in

Our first electrical conduit going in

Putting in blocking

Putting in blocking

We were so happy to have walls!

We were so happy to have walls!

And The Pallets, Oh The Pallets!

The beginning of the pallet wall project.  Hauling the pallets we scavenged.

The beginning of the pallet wall project.  Hauling the pallets we scavenged.

Disassembling pallet wood, by any means necessary

Disassembling pallet wood, by any means necessary

De-nailing pallet wood

De-nailing pallet wood

Oh yeah, some of the pallet pieces had this many nails in them...

Oh yeah, some of the pallet pieces had this many nails in them...

Organizing the pallet wood into piles by size

Organizing the pallet wood into piles by size

Preparing to paint the wall black before putting up the pallet wood

Preparing to paint the wall black before putting up the pallet wood

Starting at the bottom

Starting at the bottom

And going all the way to the top

And going all the way to the top

The Beauty of Finishes

Building the trellis, before hanging it from the ceiling!

Building the trellis, before hanging it from the ceiling!

The shanks for our tap lines

The shanks for our tap lines

A hanging trellis, cabinets, and stainless counter front

A hanging trellis, cabinets, and stainless counter front

New, shiny countertops and hanging pendants almost make this picture look fake (It's real!)

New, shiny countertops and hanging pendants almost make this picture look fake (It's real!)

Shelving set into the outrigger pipe system

Shelving set into the outrigger pipe system

Adding lighting to the trellis

Adding lighting to the trellis

Us with The Brew Husbands after a hard day's work, under our exterior sign

Us with The Brew Husbands after a hard day's work, under our exterior sign

Beer Strangers

It has been a tough, tough month for me with a few unexpected trips to Austin, Texas to tend some family matters.  Thankfully, I’ve had the excitement of The Brew Shop to distract me and the best of friends and family to lean on.  I’m also continually amazed by the kindness of strangers, especially beer strangers.

The weekend of my grandpa’s funeral in Austin happened to be an exciting weekend for Formula 1 racing – read as not a single hotel room available anywhere in the greater Austin area.  Unless I could afford $600 a night for a room… I can’t, duh, I’m opening a beer store!  My aunt’s friend, Michael, offered to host me at his house for the weekend.  Before my arrival, my aunt told me a few things I should know about Michael – he has two grown daughters, an exceptionally nice wife that would coincidentally be in DC that weekend, and an adorable dog named Luna.  All good things in my book.  But if you know me, I was still anxious. 

The morning of my grandpa’s funeral Michael and I were sitting around making small talk and, naturally, Michael asks me what I do.  To be honest, I hate this question… I never know how to answer.  So I said something like, well I was a CPA for nine years, but I recently left the profession to open a beer store.  And then I waited for the obligatory gasp.  But it never came – instead Michael immediately went to show me the bottle of the beer he had the night before:  A Prairie Oakie from Praire Artisan Ales – an imperial brown ale aged in oak whiskey barrels.   Oh man, my aunt forgot to mention one important detail about Michael – he is a fellow beer nerd! 

Meet the Okie - the real deal for whiskey aged beers.  

After a long day, I headed back to Michael’s house to pack up and get ready for my early morning flight back to DC.  Emotionally exhausted, I collapsed in a large leather chair as we searched for a good movie to watch.  After we agreed on Best In Show (no, I hadn’t seen it before!), Michael offered me a beer and showed me his beer fridge in the garage.  Impressive!  Michael is a huge fan of malt just like me, so the fridge was loaded with specialty bombers of Belgian style quads and stouts – Ommegang, Clown Shoes, and Nebraska Brewing Company to name just a few.  I picked Nebraska Brewing Company’s Melange A Trois – A Belgian style blonde ale aged six months in Chardonnay barrels.  The Melange A Trois poured a classic golden color for a blonde ale with the perfect balance of faint oak and Belgian yeasty goodness.  For being 10% ABV, the Melange A Trois is a dangerously easy sipper.  This beer is quintessentially me.   

Delicious Belgian goodness.  Good news, this one is available in Virginia!

Part way through Best In Show, a glass of the Praire Oakie appeared next to me.  And rightfully so, it was just cruel to taunt me with an empty bottle before I left for the funeral!  The Oakie was as delicious as Michael said it would be – pouring a murky, chocolate color, the whiskey flavor was both prominent and comforting. 

To cap off the evening, Michael showed me his beer cabinet – yes, he has a beer fridge AND a beer cabinet.  Michael magically pulled out a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopia and gave me a pour.  If you aren’t familiar with Utopia, it’s a big big boy at 29% ABV and usually retails for about $200 a bottle.  WHAT!?  The Utopia pours dark, with very little carbonation and with the aroma of vanilla, alcohol, and brown sugar – reminiscent of sipping a very good cognac.  The perfect, strong finish to an emotional day.

Sam Adams Utopia just looks like royalty.  

After wrapping up my third trip to Texas in the last month, I’m quickly learning that Texas is a great beer state.  Get your hands on some Deep Ellum IPA from Dallas if you can – hoppy goodness with the perfect malt balance. 

My brother's favorite local Dallas IPA.  It even won over my IPA loving  business partner.  

But I’m also learning, that sometimes it’s a stranger that knows exactly what you need in a weak moment – for me, it was the comfortable conversation and laughs of someone with a shared passion for beer.  I will be forever grateful to Michael for welcoming me into his home and sharing his love of beer with me.  The next morning when I left Michael’s house at 5:30 am, I found a bottle of beer with a note next to the door.  A local beer, one of his favorites – Naughty Brewing Company’s Kentucky Streetwalker.  I’m looking forward to opening up the Kentucky Streetwalker and sharing my tasting notes with Michael.  

Next on my list to try - Austin's own Kentucky Streetwalker!

A Day in the Life

Well, well, Brew Ladies, where the heck have you been?!

Indeed, it has been a crazy long time since we’ve done a blog post.  So, what have we been doing??  I would say what haven’t we been doing!  It’s been a busy couple of months, filled with architectural drawings (Yay Susan at Gordon Castle Architects!), nailing down construction details with the general contractor (Yay Jerry at Levine Group!), exterior sign fabrication (Yay Tim at Dowling Signs!), permitting (Yay Arlington County?), and all sorts of other odds and ends.  We racked our brains to think of a way to catch everyone up, and decided that just blogging a day’s worth of work would be the best way to capture how things have been going for The Brew Shop.  (Spoiler: things are going great!)

So here is our day today.  Wednesday, October 14, 2015.

5:45am Wake-up Call.  OK, yes, this is not a typical start time for us.  We’re just showing off.  (The blog has probably already noted how one of us *cough – Julie – cough* is not a morning person, so early starts are not the norm.)  But today we had to be down at the shop by 7am to meet our walk-in cooler installers – a thing that anyone would be excited for and happy to get up to accommodate!

On the way, we loaded up a cabinet we’d gotten from Community Forklift over in Hyattsville.  Community Forklift is a non-profit reuse-recycle center for home improvement supplies.  It is a magical land of old building supplies that reminds me of my Grandpa’s barn, which was always full of things like old headboards, arcane pieces of wood and miscellaneous supplies, some of the most ancient tools you’d ever seen, and a smell that I could never describe other than to say “old,” and, fondly, “comfy.”  We needed a cabinet for the bathroom, to put our cleaning supplies and such into, and we scored a $5 cabinet and some $5 paint and went to work.

Us with cabinet.  Original fixtures.  Yes, it's still dark outside.

Us with cabinet.  Original fixtures.  Yes, it's still dark outside.

7am Arrival at The Brew Shop.  When we got there a big moving truck was sitting out front, full of all the pieces of our enormous walk-in cooler.  We then watched guys (far fewer than I thought would be needed) unload the heavy, giant pieces.

Moving truck, completely full of the components of our walk-in cooler

Moving truck, completely full of the components of our walk-in cooler

These guys carried the panels in by themselves.  At 7am.  We were impressed.

These guys carried the panels in by themselves.  At 7am.  We were impressed.

9am Assembly Begins.  After some discussion with us, Jerry, and Susan, the installers set the track for placement of the unit.  From there, pieces of the cooler seemed to fly up into place.

Setting the first pieces into the track, just in front of our beautiful mop sink

Setting the first pieces into the track, just in front of our beautiful mop sink

10:30am Tile Pickup.  We needed to leave the installation fun to go pick up some tile we won on auction.  We’ve been scouring auctions for various things and happened to get some porcelain tile for the bathroom floor on the cheap.  So down to Alexandria we went for our five boxes of tile.  As it turns out, tile is heavy.  I mean, not that we couldn’t lift the boxes individually, but maybe loading up the hand truck with all five boxes wasn’t our smartest move.

Waiting for our five boxes...we were getting less than most people

Waiting for our five boxes...we were getting less than most people

Probably should have put some more air in our hand truck tires before loading it up with a million pounds of tiles

Probably should have put some more air in our hand truck tires before loading it up with a million pounds of tiles

12:00pm Lunch.  By noon, we were starving, since we had already been up for practically a full day.  We needed something quick, because, you know, hanger is a risk for us, and had heard there is a great taco truck near the shop, back on 14th Street.  And yes, there is!  El Chilango was a delicious treat – authentic Mexican tacos (so says the truck), sold by super fun and friendly people.

Beth, super happy to have our tacos.  Guy in background, super not happy to not yet have tacos.

Beth, super happy to have our tacos.  Guy in background, super not happy to not yet have tacos.

1pm Back to the Shop.  From there we went back to the shop to check in on the installation.  By this time the doors were going on the front and the shelves were going in behind.  The box was completely built and looked amazing in its enormity.  We are also happy to report that, though we were told it wouldn’t be, the entire thing is magnetic.  Design ideas abound…

The whole big thing

The whole big thing

A view from the inside. Shelves for beer on the left.  Taps for growlers straight ahead (envision it, everyone)

A view from the inside. Shelves for beer on the left.  Taps for growlers straight ahead (envision it, everyone)

The installers finished up for the day and headed out.  There are still a few “open items” including the compressor that will be placed on top…A project for another day.

4pm Toilet Paper Holder.  Yes, that says toilet paper holder.  We only have a single roll holder in the shop, much like you would see in your bathroom at home.  This means we need one of those things that sits on the floor and holds a couple of rolls, so if the TP runs out, whoever is in there won’t be in a panic trying to figure out where we keep our extra rolls.  (Hint, there’s going to be a gray cabinet in there…)  In the interest of not buying one that looks like something your Grandma got at a Midwest craft show, we decided to build our own using a piece of pallet wood (sealed with polyurethane, don’t worry) and some galvanized pipe.

Keeping butts happy

Keeping butts happy

5pm Stamping Six-Packs.  Our blank six packs arrived in the mail this week, and naturally we want to get a Brew Shop stamp on those guys.  This is typically something that gets done in front of the television, but it was Pandora’s Hip Hop Road Trip station that got it done today.  Our six bottle wine holders also arrived this week, but, come on, we’ve already put in a 12 hour day!

Custom Brew Shop stamp designed by Tommy Herrmann

Custom Brew Shop stamp designed by Tommy Herrmann

9pm Visit With Friends.  We’d been meaning to get together with Greg and Stephanie all week – they were fresh off a trip to Troegs, and said they had gotten a little something for The Brew Shop.  Well it’s not little!  But it is awesome!  Look for this sweet Nugget Nectar tin tacker to be somewhere in The Brew Shop once we’re open.

Mmmm, hoppy goodness

Mmmm, hoppy goodness

So there we have it.  A day in the life of the Brew Ladies.  It was both completely haphazard and absolutely typical all at the same time.  Now that construction is officially underway, we are hoping to have more and more pictures to share every day.  Stay tuned.

Drink proud.  Love local.  Brew well.

Allagash Brewery: Belgian Inspired Brewing

The cool breezy weather (hello, DC humidity) is not the only reason Maine is one of my favorite places on earth – the beers, like the people, are just damn good. 

It’s no secret that I love Belgian inspired beer, so I’ve long been a fan of Allagash Brewing Company out of Portland, Maine.  A big enough fan that I convinced (not exactly a tough sell) my husband to take a detour to Allagash on our summer vacation to Portland and Acadia National Park. 

Allagash Brewery in Portland, Maine

Nestled in the outskirts of Portland, Allagash Brewing Company is the creation of founder Rob Tod.  After traveling abroad, Tod recognized a void within the US beer market – while German and English style ales had gained momentum in the US, few craft breweries were producing Belgian style ales.  With that, Tod started Allagash in 1995 on a simple 15-barrel production system.  The first beer Tod sold?  The ever popular brew and Allagash flagship – Allagash White. 

One of my all-time favorites - Allagash White

Allagash has certainly seen some changes since 1995 – they’ve expanded production significantly and the fleet is up to six year round beers.  But, some things haven’t changed, like the ever presence of Tod who we saw strolling around the brewery during our tour.    

We started our tour by equipping ourselves with the required safety goggles and headsets so we could hear our guide over the loud production noises.  We felt very sexy and very official in our gear.

Safety goggles?  Check.  Headphones?  Check.  Beer?  Check.

The tour started in Allagash’s main production facility where the majority of the brewing happens – the mashing of the grains, boiling the wort including hop additions, and the cooling of the wort prior to pitching the yeast.  While most beer typically includes only four main ingredients – grain, water, hops and yeast – Belgian style beer typically pushes the creative boundaries when it comes to ingredients.  Allagash is no different.  We learned that Allagash White includes additions of coriander, orange peel, sugar and one secret ingredient.  Any guesses!? 

Brewing away in the production facility

While the production facility was sweet, the thing that immediately caught my eye was Allagash’s pilot system located in the middle of the production floor.  This five-gallon brewing system provides an experimentation platform for Allagash employees near and far.  Any employee can use the pilot system to brew up whatever their little heart desires.  During our visit, an Allagash rep from New England was trying out his own recipe on the system.  Turns out Allagash’s second best seller – Allagash Saison – was created by an employee on the pilot system. 

Allagash employees brewing a personal recipe on the pilot system

From production, we moved into the kegging and bottling area.  Having spent some time watching smaller breweries bottle, I was blown away by the automation of Allagash’s bottling and kegging systems.  (I was also really into the chic Hunter-style rainboots the employees were wearing.)  Allagash kegs 70 percent of their beer and, surprisingly, the largest region for Allagash consumption is Southern California.  Makes sense, I do want an Allagash White on a perfectly sunny San Diego day.  This logistical combo makes Allagash proud users of MicroStar keg sharing program – Allagash fills a keg, ships the keg to SoCal for consumption, the empty keg is brought to a local brewery such as Stone for refill, and the whole process starts over again.  A cost savings and recycling win for the breweries.

Allagash's sweet automated kegging system.

In keeping with the Belgian style, Allagash has also put a focus on bottle conditioning (for the beer nerds, Allagash bottle conditions every beer except Allagash White!), aging and souring of beers.  In 2008, Allagash built a coolship – a large shallow pool used during the cooling process to encourage fermentation using wild, naturally occurring yeast.  Once the beer has cooled, it’s moved into barrels for fermentation and aging.   This method of wild fermentation typically gives a “sour” flavor to the final beer.  So naturally, the last stop on the tour was a visit to Allagash’s barrel aging cellar so we could check out Allagash’s souring program at work.  The cellar includes an impressive array of barrels – including the aging of Allagash’s own brews such as Curieux as well as Allagash employee’s own brews (talk about an amazing job perk).  

Inside Allagash's barrel aging cellar

In the barrel aging room, we wrapped up the tour with samples of the White, the Speciale Blonde, the Dubbel (my fav!), and the Midnight Brett.   We'll see you next summer Allagash!

The line up for our tasting:  The White, the Special Blonde, the Dubbel and the Midnight Brett

Caboose Brewing Review

The hubby and I finally made our way to Vienna’s Caboose Brewing this weekend.  I’ve been watching this place since I first biked past their banner flying on the back of their building along the W&OD trail last year.  Driving was a slightly different approach, and took us, just like every brewery, through an industrial part of town.  Caboose is very close to the main drag in Vienna though, just a couple blocks away from the Whole Foods.  As you walk up, there is a nice long patio in front of the main entrance, complete with picnic tables and plenty of places to lock up your bike if you’re coming straight off the trail.  There were a couple of seats outside, but with 90 degree heat, I’m an indoor cat.

The hubs ordering our beer.  Isn't he cute?!

The hubs ordering our beer.  Isn't he cute?!

Inside has both a sit-down area as well as a big open bar area, which is lined with tall ledges perfect for holding beer.  The feel was rustic and laid back, with lots of wood accents, chalkboards, and servers in plaid button-downs.  The menu showed 8 beers so we decided to start with a “flight of malt/yeast” in the bar area.

The chalkboard beer menu

The chalkboard beer menu

The flight consisted of The Conductor Hefeweizen, Sidetrack Saison, Caboose Brown Ale, and Vanilla Hobo Stout.  We sampled left to right, as always!  The Hefeweizen was a delicious wheat bomb, with great aromatics.  The yeast gave the banana/clove character you want in a hefe but this guy stayed light and thin and didn’t let the wheat get too chewy, as hefes are sometimes want to do.  The saison was wonderfully classic to style – crisp, bright, just a touch of tartness, and dry on the finish – and excellent for a summer day.

Hefe, Saison, Brown, and Stout

Hefe, Saison, Brown, and Stout

The brown was the most intriguing of the set, because right out of the gate we were wondering if this beer was actually a stout with an identity crisis.  It poured very dark, with a big roasty smell.  It wasn’t until a couple sips into this one that I really started to feel the brown in it – the malts started to come through with that biscuity, caramel feel I was expecting.  So this wasn’t a stout with an identity crisis, it was just a shy brown ale.  Last but certainly not least was the stout.  Big, sweet, vanilla, creamy…imperial for sure.  I was surprised to see it clock in at only 7% ABV, because it tasted enormous and rich.

The taps, and a great view of the brewery behind

The taps, and a great view of the brewery behind

The first flight was so good that we decided to stay for the second: the flight of hops.  This flight was Citra Wheat, Casey Jones Rye Pale Ale, Bandwagon IPA, and Imperial IPA.  We started with the Citra Wheat, which smelled a-mazing.  This one had a big hop presence and just a touch of wheat.  It reminded me a lot of a good session IPA – fruity, bright hops and light malt; a perfect thirst quencher for a hophead.  The Rye was next and, for me, was the most complex and interesting beer of the day.  With hops on the nose and great malt balance, this one said APA all the way.  But the rye, oh the rye!  It added a lovely spice to the smell and that light sort of peppery dryness to the finish.  It was one of those beers that both reminds me of something good I’ve had before and screams uniqueness at the same time.

Wheat, Rye, IPA, DIPA

Wheat, Rye, IPA, DIPA

The Bandwagon IPA and the Imperial IPA had similar hop profiles, charging in with bitterness all over the back of the tongue.  The Imperial IPA was big and toasty, with a malty sweetness, while the Bandwagon stayed lighter.  In the end, we decided to stay for another Citra Wheat.  What can I say, we love sessionable hop bombs!  I know we’ll be back, and by the looks of the brewing operations just behind the bar, I’m sure there will be a whole new lineup for us next time.  Keep ‘em coming Caboose!

Columbus Brew Company's Big Brew Day - Introducing our Fraternal Twin Brews

If you’ve been following the blog (of course you have – you’ve read every post!) then you know that we scored some wort from Columbus Brewing Company on Big Brew Day during our Midwest Road Trip.  What does this mean?  Well, a quick brewing intro is probably in order.  And when I say quick, I mean very quick, a bit over-simplified, and absolutely non-technical.

Piping hot wort directly off CBC's line

Beer is made of four basic ingredients: grain, hops, water, and yeast.  To start, you grind up your grains, get them into some hot water (temperature is typically between 148 and 158 degrees) and let them sit in the hot water for some time, usually 60-90 minutes.  This process is called “mashing”.  At the end of your mash, you remove the liquid from the grains and are left with what is called “wort”.  You then boil the wort, adding hops at various intervals during your boil, which is again usually 60-90 minutes long.  From there you cool the wort, add some yeast (called “pitching” the yeast), and wait.  The yeast makes the bubbles and the giggles (carbonation and alcohol), as they say, converting your wort into beer.

So what the heck did we get from CBC?  We got liquid wort that had been through the mashing process but had not yet been boiled.  This means it was up to us to come up with a hop schedule and choose a yeast for finishing this beer.  We got about 3 gallons of wort in total so we decided to divide it into two batches and make just one small change in the hop schedules of the two batches, so we could taste the effect of the different hops.  Since these two beers were from the same wort, and we knew they would end up being very alike, we decided to call this our fraternal twins brew.  And who are the most famous fraternal twins we could think of?  The Olsen twins, of course!  Hence, Mary Kate and Ashley, the beers, were born.

Our twins boiling away

Our first challenge was to come up with the recipe.  Luckily, CBC provided an approximation of what the grain bill was for the wort AND told us that it’s the recipe they use to make their very own CBC Pale Ale.

The specs for CBC's pale ale wort

Knowing the CBC Pale Ale (delicious, big, and on the dank side of hops) we knew this was a big beer that we could essentially treat as an IPA when it came to choosing our hops.  This was great, because it meant we could go big on hops – a thing Julie particularly enjoys.  It was a natural step to decide to use Columbus hops, so we loaded up on Columbus additions for bittering, flavor and aroma.  But to keep things interesting, we decided to divide our recipe into two batches so that we could switch up one other hop used for flavor and aroma – a Rakau versus Centennial duel! (Warning: beer nerdery / details below)

For the Mary Kate, we used: 0.15oz Columbus @60 min, 0.1oz Columbus and 0.1oz New Zealand Rakau @10 minutes, 0.1oz Columbus and 0.1oz New Zealand Rakau @2 minutes.  (Yes, those hop quantities are right – welcome to one gallon brewing!)  Original Gravity came in at 1.060.

For the Ashley, we used: 0.15oz Columbus @60 min, 0.1oz Columbus and 0.1oz Centennial @10 minutes, 0.1oz Columbus and 0.1oz Centennial @2 minutes.  Original gravity came in at 1.058.

As you can see, it was “go big or go home” on the hops, since our Columbus hops were over 15% alpha acid and Rakau and Centennial were both around 10%.  We used half a packet of Safale US-05 for each brew and tucked these ladies in to ferment in the basement.  A week in primary and two weeks in secondary, and bottling day was upon us.  Both beers smelled great on bottling day and had fermented down nicely.  Mary Kate’s Final Gravity clocked in at 1.009 and Ashley’s at 1.010.

The twins ready to ferement away

Two weeks later it was time for the taste test.  We looped the husbands in on this one – being homebrewers themselves, they were interested in how these brews would turn out, even if they shook their heads at the beer names.

Now those are some pretty labels...

It was very hard to distinguish between the two beers on smell.  The taste difference, though pretty subtle, was certainly there.  The Mary Kate came out a bit softer in the finish, smoother and just a touch fruitier.  The Ashley had punch and had that sort of in-your-face bitterness the four C’s often give. (‘Merica!)  Both beers were very well balanced, and we were glad we paired big hops with this grain bill.  Turns out, we are a group that likes our brews bitter, because we voted 3-1 for Ashley.  All in all it was a cool experiment and an awesome opportunity provided by CBC.  We look forward to next year’s Big Brew Day!

Midwest Road Trip (Part 2: The Mitten)

If you’ve seen Beth’s post, then the Midwest Road Trip needs no introduction.  We did write these posts in backwards order though, because the trip actually started in my home state of Michigan.  (Yes, the lower peninsula absolutely looks like a hand.  We Michiganders affectionately call our state “the Mitten”.  And yes, I am from the thumb – the top thump knuckle in fact.)

Our first stop in Michigan was my sister’s house, for a quick visit with my sister, brother-in-law, (who has been doing awesome design work for us – the logo, business cards, coasters, our eventual exterior sign at the shop, etc.  Thanks, Tommy!) and the nephews.  Because this is how Michigan rolls, we were greeted with fresh cans of Founders All Day IPA.  Welcome to Michigan, The Great Beer State.  Don’t worry, we left them some homebrew and other delicious beer they can’t get in Michigan.

It was a short drive from my sister’s to my home town of Port Huron, which sits on the water and just a bridge away from Canada.  Port Huron is starting to get some good beer bars (Fuel, The Vintage, Lynch’s) but currently has only one young brewery: Thumb Coast Brewing.  I’ve been to Thumb Coast a handful of times since it opened just over a year ago, and each time I go I’m thoroughly impressed with the beer.  They’re making great beer across several styles.  They started simple by nailing it with classic to-style recipes and are now branching out into some more adventurous brews (like the Black Cherry Wheat), also with good success.

Our delicious sampler: Lake Pilot Cream Ale, Skinny Dipper Golden Ale, Right Hand Red, DubhGhaill’s Irish Stout on nitro, Crusade of the Imperialist DIPA, Double Dry Hopped Eastsider IPA

Our delicious sampler: Lake Pilot Cream Ale, Skinny Dipper Golden Ale, Right Hand Red, DubhGhaill’s Irish Stout on nitro, Crusade of the Imperialist DIPA, Double Dry Hopped Eastsider IPA

After a couple of days in the thumb, we headed toward my alma mater, the beautiful city of Ann Arbor.  On the way, we decided to make a quick stop at the homebrew shop – Adventures in Homebrewing.  We needed a ton of stuff for some recipe experiments we’re conducting, and AiH was the perfect place to get those small quantities of many different kind of grains that we needed. 

So many grains, so much homebrew

So many grains, so much homebrew

From AiH we went to Ann Arbor’s neighboring town of Ypsilanti, which my GPS thought was pronounced something like “Pss-lanta”.  A quick stop off at my friend Erin’s house, where she would spend the next couple of days/nights hosting us, was followed by a trip to Corner Brewery, Arbor Brewing Company’s microbrewery.  Of course we imbibed in some Bollywood Blond and Ypsi Gypsy Pale Ale, but we made it an early night because we had a big day of beer ahead of us the next day!

Enjoying the laid back vibe of Corner Brewery

Enjoying the laid back vibe of Corner Brewery

We woke to a gorgeous Michigan day.  There aren’t many of those as early in the year as April, so we took advantage with a quick jog around town, seeing the famed Ypsi water tower/phallus, and Eastern Michigan’s campus.  (I will take the blame for extending our run to make sure it included the water tower, but I blame Erin for making the run 4+ miles.)

See? I told you it was phallic.

See? I told you it was phallic.

We started our Ann Arbor day at Hopcat’s new location.  Hopcat is a beer bar originally out of Grand Rapids, which has recently started to expand.  In Ann Arbor, they are located where the Borders Books used to be.  It brings a little tear to my soul to know that even the very first Borders store has gone the way of the dinosaur, but my “books rant” is a story for another time.  Back to the beer!  We decided to keep it local and went with Dark Horse’s Crooked Tree IPA and Brewery Vivant’s Big Red Coq.  Now, Beth is not usually one for a red ale, but throw a Belgian yeast in there and she’s on board.  (It was delicious – I’m not usually jealous of someone else when I’m drinking something as beautifully hoppy as the Crooked Tree, but I admit I had a small amount of beer envy.)

Too many innuendos for one post?  (The Big Red Coq)

Too many innuendos for one post?  (The Big Red Coq)

A trip to Ann Arbor wouldn’t be complete without a (partial) campus tour, so we checked out some of my old stomping grounds while working up an appetite for more beer.  The B-School, the Diag, the Law Quad, and Liberty Street all led to Jolly Pumpkin, land of sour beer.  We split a Biere de Mars – a Flanders style sour that poured a murky red-ish color and tasted, well, great.  We’re still admittedly sour rookies, but this one was tart without being astringent and intensely fruity.  If you’re into sours, or trying to get into sours, Jolly Pumpkin is putting some great things out there, and is even available in our area!

We closed out our Ann Arbor day with dinner at Blue Tractor, which specializes in BBQ and…you guessed it, brewing!  We went for their sampler, which had all six of their offerings and a bonus brew: a Jalapeno Pale Ale.  The six base beers were all solid, with the nitro stout being my favorite.  (What? It was evening and starting to get cold outside – it’s Michigan!)  The Jalapeno Pale Ale was…something that will have to grow on me.  My spice wimpiness definitely plays a role here, but I am still searching for a pepper beer that I’m into.  But I will keep trying!

All in all a great time was had in the Mitten.  And I will reluctantly admit that Ohio was fun too.  (I’m kidding!  We had a great time all the way through!)  We started the trip with a trunk full of beer, and we came back with a trunk full of completely different beer.  Sounds like a win to me.

Midwest Roadtrip (Part 1: OH-IO)

Julie and I began fantasizing about a “Midwest Roadtrip” well over a year ago when we were both working full time in the accounting world.  The premise of our Midwest Roadtrip:  A week vacation with your bestie in a beer mecca while visiting our old stomping grounds in Michigan and Ohio.  At the time we thought, keep dreaming…

A year later, our lives have changed and we have returned from our Midwest Roadtrip after logging in well over 1,000 miles, traveling through seven states and tasting more beer than we care to admit.  When it was all said and done, we brought back these souvenirs…

We're going to have some fun tasting these new beers over the next couple of weeks... or days.

I bet $50 that Julie will make some reference to Michigan looking like a lefthand when she blogs about our Michigan adventures, so it only seems right to admit that more than a few people have laughed at me when I tell them Ohio is shaped like a heart.  C’mon, it has my heart! 

Once the Midwest Roadtrip left Michigan (look for Julie’s blog post about Michigan coming soon!) we headed south to Oxford, Ohio – home of my alma mater Miami University.  No college experience is complete without beer, so we swung by the original Oxford dive bar Mac & Joe's for a round.  

Mac & Joe's:  The first place my dad showed me when I was kid visiting Miami's campus.  

Once we left Oxford we headed toward Richmond, Indiana.  Despite our next stop being Columbus, we couldn’t resist the urge to take a slight detour for another beer adventure.  Our mission, secure some Upland Brewing Company Dragonfly IPA and Coastbuster Imperial IPA for our architect Susan.  Oh, and maybe try to find some coveted Three Floyds.  It was a win all around. 

Our side trip to Indiana was worth it.  Three Floyds and Upland!

We timed our trip to Columbus to perfectly coincide with Big Brew Day at Columbus Brewing Company.  If you’ve never heard of CBC, you might want to check them out – they’re in the big league after most recently winning Gold at the Great American Beer Festival with their Creeper Imperial IPA (edging out some epic brews including Russian River Pliney the Elder).  Add that to your chase beer list. 

In honor of Big Brew Day, CBC was giving out free wort to homebrewers.  When we strolled up to the brewery to pick up our wort, at least a dozen homebrewers were gathered out back concocting their own homebrew using the pale ale wort.

Just your average Saturday at Columbus Brewing Company.  Homebrewers boiling away on Big Brew Day.

The guys at CBC were filling brew kettles straight off the line -- perfectly ready for the boil and hop additions!  

CBC dishing out free pale ale wort for Big Brew Day

Unfortunately our brewing equipment did not fit in the back of my sedan, so we took our wort to go in a food safe bucket.  The wort was about 180 degrees when it came off the line, so we had the perfect excuse to grab some CBC pale ale at the bar while we waited for the wort to cool down.  Stay tuned for the results of our double brew day using CBC’s wort! 

Our wort... is that gonna fit in the car?  YES!

Columbus also provided the opportunity to visit some great homebrew stores.  We headed to the north side of town to visit Barley Hopsters – a homebrew store and bottle shop.  We also headed to Buckeye Brewcraft in Westerville.  The owner Jim showed us around the shop and gave us a few pointers for The Brew Shop!   He also introduced us to a new base malt, Irish Stout, which was surprising light given its name.  Thanks, Jim!

One of the highlights of our trip to Columbus was visiting an old family friend, Peter Danis, owner of Figlio and Vino Vino.  My family has frequented Peter and his wife Laurie’s restaurants for the last 20 years.  I’ve always admired Peter’s wine list – approachable, affordable, and delicious!  But what sets Peter apart is the way that he describes wine.  Each and every wine on his list comes with an entertaining story.  Who wouldn’t want to drink a wine flight called Sexy Beasts!?  Thanks Peter for your insight and laughter! 

Sipping vino at Vino Vino.

We had a great trip to Ohio – Here’s the summary of what we tasted! 

·         Four String Brass Knuckle APA (My dad’s favorite local!)

·         Four String Big Star White IPA

·         Columbus Brewing Company Pale Ale

·         Rockmill Brewery Petite Saison

·         Fat Heads Sunshine Daydream

·         WINE (Let’s be honest, we went a little too heavy on the wine to list them all…)

Homemade Hops Trellis - We Need Your Help!

Spring is upon us and for many a homebrewer, this means one thing – hop rhizome time.  We need your help with the design of our homemade trellis, which will only be 9 feet tall, as opposed to the 15-20 feet hops like to grow.  Lots of details below, but feel free to skip to the last paragraph to see our quandary!

Two years back, my husband decided to take the journey of planting a rhizome or two in the yard.  Now I’m sure I will get painted as “classic wife” for being skeptical of his planting something that grows like crazy in the yard, but I want to take a quick second to show a picture of what our yard looked like when we moved in (sooooo many things growing out of control) and about a year and a half later.

I will spare you the picture of my poison ivy...

I will spare you the picture of my poison ivy...

You can’t see our blood, sweat, and tears in that “after” picture, but trust me they are there.  So after some negotiation on location of the hops, for the past two years we’ve had some Cascade hops growing along our chain link fence in a part of the yard that gets good sun in the morning and that’s about it.  Fast forward two years, and I am in the process of opening The Brew Shop and have a much greater appreciation for the fact that hops like to grow up (not stretch out lengthwise along a fence) and want tons of sun.  So another round of negotiation resulted in my husband expanding his hop growth to include all four C’s (Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, and Chinook) and to relocate them to a part of the yard that gets good sun throughout the day.  In order to accomplish the goals of vertical growth and sun, he had to build a hops trellis in the yard.

As you can see, he has done a great job making this thing look classy.  (Well, to anyone who knows what it is, it looks classy.  Most of the neighbors just slow their pace and stare at it in confusion on their way by.)  So what exactly are you looking at here?  First he built the planter boxes, using pressure treated fence pickets, which happened to be cheaper than the regular pressure treated lumber.  The sizing was a bit odd, but pretty close to 1” x 6”.  He built four boxes and placed (dug down a bit) the 2’ x 2’ boxes two feet apart.  Then he got two 12 foot poles and put them 3 feet into the ground on each end of the planter boxes, leaving two 9-foot poles as the ends for the trellis.  He strung steel cable across the top between the two poles, using a carabiner at each end so the cable can easily be taken down at harvest time.

He then tied twine from the base of the boxes up to the steel cable, for the hops to grow on.  He transplanted the Cascade rhizome from its old home to the new sunnier spot a couple weeks back.  The other rhizomes just came this weekend, so he got those into the ground and mulched around them.  As you can see, the Cascade hops are already taking off.

Now this is where we need your help.  The poles are only 9 feet in height, but hops typically grow more like 15 – 20 feet up.  Right now, he has added another piece of twine about halfway up the poles with the idea that when a particular hop vine gets too close to the steel cable up top, he will cut that string, allowing it to drape over the twine that is coming across the middle of the trellis; then tie additional twine to the piece that was just cut (and is now down on the ground), running it back up to the steel cable on top.  This should give the hops the chance to grow a total of 18 feet up, in theory.  But we are hoping that some of you can provide some input, whether from personal experience, things you’ve read, or even just ideas that you have.  In theory, we think what’s there will work, but what do you think??


Beer Review: Brewery Vivant Triomphe

Well, today is National Beer Day and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of Prohibition than with a beer review.  Having just returned from visiting family in the great beer state of Michigan, I decided to crack open a Triomphe from Brewery Vivant.  The hubby and I discovered Brewery Vivant last summer when we were in Grand Rapids for the National Homebrewers Conference.  A very cool and ornate location, inside of what used to be a funeral home (we thought maybe a church when we were there, but in fact it's an old funeral home chapel), Brewery Vivant specializes in Belgian and farmhouse brews.  And man, do they know how to make a great Belgian.

I know, I know...but it wouldn't fit in my tulip glass!

I know, I know...but it wouldn't fit in my tulip glass!

The Triomphe is a Belgian IPA ringing in at a nice 6.5%, but look out – it drinks like a session.  The Triomphe poured somewhere between golden and amber, with a small head that dissipated quickly down to just a nice little fog rolling across the top of my beer.  The smell was immediately Belgian to me (that yeasty, clovey goodness) but also citrus.  And then to my first sip….mmm, that delicious first sip.  This one is a bit hard to describe because there were so many flavors, but they were all so, so subtle.  Normally, for me, the Belgian yeast comes through at the very end of a taste of Belgian beer.  But this one had that Belgian yeast character smashed right in between the sweetness of malt and the bitterness of bright American hops.  I had fun drinking this one, and trying to pick out different flavors with each sip.  The complexity of the flavors didn’t overstay its welcome, however, and the finish was quite clean.  This beer left a slight earthy feeling on the back of my tongue, something that turned almost smoldering for a quick second. I didn’t give it very long though, because this is one of those beers that’s dangerously drinkable.  Overall a gorgeous beer, and so fun to drink.

Drink this if you like: subtle seduction, rewardingly complex treasure hunts

Saving Second Base One Beer at a Time: A Breast Cancer Fundraiser

A good thing happened after we launched our website...people noticed it!  We were happy to start seeing traffic on the website (thanks, Google Analytics!) but even happier to receive our first emails in the info@arlbrew.com inbox.  One of the first ones we got was from a fellow female homebrewer named Melissa.  She reached out to offer support and encouragement about our little shop (aww, thanks), but also to ask us for support as well.  Melissa is doing the Avon 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer, and as a homebrewer and beer lover, she decided to do her fundraising with a beer theme.  So today (April 1) at Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in Herndon, Melissa is hosting a fundraising raffle, using items donated from local businesses.  The sponsor list has great local beer representation and includes the likes of Port City, Bluejacket, Lost Rhino, Dogfish Head Alehouse and Right Proper.

Being a part of the community and finding ways to give back are things we want to prioritize.  So of course, we wanted to help.  But without a store yet, we weren't sure what to do.  Giving a gift certificate to a not-yet-open store felt just a touch disingenuous, so we knew we were going to have to think outside the box.  A quick brainstorming session with Melissa had us settled in on assembling a small first-timer's homebrewing kit.  We decided to go with a one-gallon equipment and ingredients kit, and man did we have fun putting this thing together.

                                   Beth doing most of the assembly work

                                   Beth doing most of the assembly work

At the end of the day we had a nice equipment kit, including two glass fermenters (because when you brew one gallon, another fermenter is what you use for a bottling bucket!), an auto siphon, airlock, bottle filler, thermometer, capper, empty bottles and Brew Shop caps, and more!  We also put together an ingredients kit and accompanying instructions manual.  For the brew, we went with a dry hopped Belgian extract recipe that was based on a brew my husband once did called The Belgian Julie, which included a hilarious picture of my "indignant face" on the label.

Our finished product

Our finished product

All in all, a great experience for us to have a cool response to the website and a fun way for us to give back.  We'll be at Jimmy's tonight starting at 6pm and we hope to see you there!

Homebrew Special Delivery: A "Wee Heavy" Scotch Ale

Part of what I love about Arlington is the sense of community.  And by community, I mean walking up to your front door on a Monday night to find a homebrew from your neighbor.  YES, Monday just went from dreary to beery. 

The special delivery was the McCarthy's 120 Schilling "Wee Heavy" Scotch Ale.  We (yes, I willingly shared this brew with Jules and my hubs) opened up this homebrew while making our first one-gallon homebrew kit for an upcoming charity event (stay tuned!).  If you're supposed to drink homebrew while making homebrew (thanks, Charlie P!), you should most certainly drink homebrew while making a homebrew kit.  Perfect timing to crack open the 120 Schilling.

Introducing McCarthy's 120 Schilling "Wee Heavy" Scotch Ale.  Look at that carbonation!

There is nothing like the anticipation of trying a new homebrew! At first pour, we were all impressed by the carbonation and dark copper color.  Mike's first words:  Good head and long legs!  Dirty, but true.  After savoring the malty aroma, we were ready to start drinking!

The 120 Schilling was a big boy and not just because of the 8% ABV.  True to style, this Scotch ale was smooth and malty with low hop bitterness.  Our favorite part of the 120 Schilling was the slight sweetness of raisin and prune.  The extra carbonation made for a certain brightness we weren't expecting from a Scotch ale.  As the brew opened up -- let's be honest, with three of us sharing there wasn't a whole lot of time for opening up -- we noticed a slight tartness which created almost a sweet and sour flavor. 

Community beer drinking requires singing... 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer.  Take one down and pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall.

The 120 Schilling was the perfect brew to kickoff our homebrew kit making adventures.  Thank you McCarthy's for the special delivery and the opportunity to try another great homebrew!  Hopefully this won't be the last homebrew I find on our door step.  Cheers!

A Lease!

Well, it's official!  We inked our deal and have signed a lease to make 2004 Wilson Blvd home of The Brew Shop.  We're in the 2001 Clarendon Blvd building right next to fellow beer lovers Tupelo Honey.  And now the real fun begins.  We'll make sure to keep you updated as we go from cement box to opening.

Oh, you know, just some paperwork

Oh, you know, just some paperwork

So how did we celebrate the lease signing?  With bubbly, of course.  We cracked open a vintage champagne - the 2006 Claude Baron Cuvee Topaze Vintage Brut, scored from Red White & Bleu in Falls Church - with the husbands.  A delicious, delicate champagne with a toasty breadiness and a nice dry finish.  We got a hint of sweetness up front from it, but maybe that was just the occasion making everything sweeter.  Cheers!

DSC00403_cropped.JPG


Fair Winds Brewing - New Brewery Review

The hubby and I have been anxiously awaiting the opening of Fair Winds Brewing all the way back to when it was going to be called Topsail and be in our backyard out in Merrifield.  Alas, a name change, a location change, and some time later, we finally found ourselves sitting in their shiny new taproom down in Lorton.  I should say, it took way less time than I thought it would to get there, being just a couple exits down I-95.  Turns out Lorton and Haymarket are not only in different directions, but also vastly different distances from the “mainland” inside the Beltway. 

Fair Winds opened their taproom on Wednesday, but we waited until the snow cleared and headed down on Saturday afternoon.  The taproom itself was a cool environment – a horseshoe shaped bar with two enormous pass-thru tap towers (which tells me to expect big variety from these guys in the future), homey looking wood tables dispersed throughout, and giant windows along one side that give a full view into the brewery.  They also had two food trucks out front that were willing to run food into the taproom for you.

Fair Winds Brewing taproom

But on to the important things: the beer.  For opening, Fair Winds had four beers on tap.  Obviously, we went with the sampler so we could try them all.  We knew to expect great things, with Charlie Beuttner (formerly of Mad Fox) being head brewer, and the beer did not disappoint.  First up was the Quayside Kolsch.  I’m not much of a kolsch girl, so this one was “good in a kolsch way” to me – light, crisp, just a hint of biscuitiness (is that a word?).  Next up was the Following Cs Pale Ale, which smelled amazing.  Great hop aroma turned into a gorgeous dankness in the taste.  Eric said he could really taste the Crystal malt coming through, giving it a good malt backbone under those resiny hops.  Third was a unique offering – a “Belgian inspired Red Ale” called Running Light Red.  We were both skeptical of this one, seeing the malt of a red paired up with a Belgian yeast strain…but man was it niiiiice.  The banana/clove yeast character balanced out the malt roast in a really good way for me, and even Eric had to admit he had found a red he liked.  Last but not least was the West-Coast style IPA, Howling Gale IPA.  Did we save the best for last?  If you like hops, then that answer is a resounding yes.  A well-balanced IPA with loads of hops coating the tongue like a good west coast IPA and giving that beautiful tropical, bright smell and feel.  I couldn’t get enough of this one, so naturally, we stayed for a couple more pints before heading home.  All in all, a strong starting line-up from Fair Winds that already has me wanting more.

Here's the line up!  Quayside Kolsch, Following Cs Pale Ale, Running Light Red and Howling Gale IPA.

One last thing I should mention, and one of our favorite things about Fair Winds was how at home they have made homebrewers feel.  There’s a full view of the brewery right from your chair, lots of information about the brewing ingredients, beer magazines lying about, and the brewers were right there with the crowd, talking and drinking and celebrating the opening.  I look forward to watching Fair Winds grow, and to bringing their beer into The Brew Shop!

Bottling at Port City: Making 6-packs Happen

When my alarm went off at 5:30am last Friday morning, you would think I would have groaned at the idea of going out in the 15-degree weather to do anything at all.  You see, I'm not a morning person.  (Just ask my business partner how useful I am before lunchtime...)  But Friday was different.  On Friday I had the pleasure of spending my day bottling beer at Port City

I guess more accurately, I had the pleasure of loading and unloading bottles at Port City.  As you can probably guess, the bottling line is a huge piece of machinery that does most of the work for you - but that awesome feat of mechanics still needs someone to feed it empty bottles at the front end, and to unload full bottles at the back end.

When I got to Port City at 7am, I was greeted by brewers Adam Reza and Rob Henry.  WAIT, did you say brewers?!  As in, professional brewers who spend their days brewing the delicious suds that are Port City beer?!  Yes.  Yes I did.  I was quickly introduced to Head Brewer Jonathan Reeves, and sent to the end of the bottling line where Rob and I would be boxing up the Port City Porter that came off the line. 

Boxing the bottles was more intense than you would imagine, with the speed that bottles sometimes come off the line.  This was also the last line of defense on the finished product, so we had to make sure the bottles were properly filled, properly capped, and properly labeled before dropping them into cases that we then taped, stamped with the date, and loaded onto a pallet.  It was about four minutes into this process that I was both glad I go to the gym (lifting a full case of beer over my head and stacking it neatly onto a giant pile of beer is something I am proud to say I can do), and also sad I hadn't brought headphones (so unprepared).

Overall the day was awesome.  Several hours of bottling was followed by lunch with the brewing team, (including the other Port City brewers, Allison Lange and Josh Center, as well as the other bottlers for the day, Pete and Sam,) and then a complete scrub down of the brewery.  Getting to see a big production brewery in action was a truly awesome experience for a homebrewer such as myself.  So was getting to taste a bottle of porter fresh off the line - even if it was well before noon!

On Friday we bottled up 8 pallets of Port City Porter.  I'm not positive on the math, but I think that works out to close to 700 cases, or over 16,000 bottles.  And when I find one of those bottles stamped "2/13/15" you better believe I will raise it proudly between bruised knuckles and conclude that a beer never tasted so sweet.

Homebrew Cravings: Creamy Cream Stout

If I had to describe my beer self, I would say a hop head with a twist of yeast.  But something about this winter has made me want a rich, creamy, milk stout.  My favorite: Bell’s Double Cream Stout.  

But it's a little too late in the season to get my hands on one of those...

How do I handle this craving?  Much like I handle my cravings for chocolate chip cookies.  I decided to brew my own.  An unseasonably warm February Saturday, meant a double brew day at the Helle house with my one-gallon batch of creamy cream stout plus Mike’s five-gallon “Pliney the Toddler.”

Simple is my motto on brew day.  It’s allows more time for drinking homebrew while homebrewing.

B’s Creamy Cream Stout

1 lbs 7.4 oz Munich

3.8 oz Roasted Barley

2.8 oz Barley, Flaked

0.31 oz Nugget @ 60 minutes

½ package Safale US-05

I heated 5 quarts of Arlington’s best water on my stovetop to 160 degrees and mashed in at 150 degrees for 75 minutes.  The result, a rich creamy wort.

I added the Nugget hops and boiled for 60 minutes.  After a quick transfer to primary, I took my initial gravity reading of 1.054.  Here's my creamy beauty ready to ferment for the next couple of weeks.  

Please note the awesome bottle of Zin in the background.  Seriously, why did we not finish that last gulp in the bottom of the bottle? I'm disappointed in myself.

Stay tuned to see if this creamy cream stout measures up.  Cheers.

It's like pushing a boulder up a hill...

That was the advice of our business adviser at Arlington Economic Development.  We laughed - a classic case of someone underestimating us.  We were seasoned business professionals, with a combined two decades working as CPAs in the litigation consulting world.  We had spent years working with the grittiest of attorneys, pulling unimaginable hours, meeting impossible deadlines, and crunching numbers.  Opening a small local beer shop?  We had this one. 

Not so fast...

Turns out, Ed was right.  Opening a business is not for the faint of heart.  Weaving our way through a sea of regulations, laws, industry practices, and personal guarantees is a daily occurrence, as are phone calls, emails, follow-up phone calls, follow-up emails, and the constant effort to change a "no" into a "yes".  Some days the boulder feels heavier than others, but just like a good running back, as long as you keep your legs churning you know you will make some yardage.  (And if you have to go down, fall forward!)  But through it all, we try to pause for a minute and look around - to feel lucky to be here.  And on particularly bad days, it's always great to know that finding and opening a new beer is good business research.  Today, Hardywood Bourbon Barrel Barleywine (the smoothest barleywine you'll drink all year).  Tomorrow, the world (or at least cleaning up some paperwork)!