Why Beer?

I get a lot of strange looks when people ask me what my interests are. Sure, everything is fine as I run through lists of things I love but when I inevitably land on ‘beer’ as an interest, most people look at me with that look that is the perfect combination of confusion and judgement. I continue to explain that I make it, I drink a bunch of it, and I am passionate about it – and that look never really goes away, but people do get interested enough to ask me “Why beer?”

I’d like to take a stab at answering that question.

First, I must begin by addressing anyone who has a lingering concern about over-consumption or how craft beer as a hobby should somehow be inherently negative. Certainly if you follow me on Twitter (shameless plug: follow @colinkoop and @impossibrewbeer) or on Untappd (I’m colinkoop over there too, hint hint), I can see where that perception might stem from. However, I can confirm with 100% certainty that this is not the case. There is a massive difference between enthusiasm and abuse. I’ve never drank beer or used any other substance as a coping device. I’ve never relied on it to get me through tough times. In fact, the way I experience beer is completely the reverse of any of that.

I view beer as a celebratory thing. It’s the end of a long day, a reward for a job well done, or a blissful moment of time to cast your worries aside. It’s something you share with others, marking the coming together of friends and the meeting of new ones. It inspires conversations as a social lubricant and makes strangers clink glasses as if they had known each other for years. I dare you to go to a pub and not get your glass cheers-ed by a stranger at some point. It’s damn near impossible! There’s a reason we raise our effervescent pints high when we’re all together, and that’s because beer and friends and good times go hand in hand in hand and they have since the stuff was invented.

Speaking of when beer was invented, it’s also a historical link to the past. Everyone from every walk of life has enjoyed beer, from the great Czars of Russia to the slaves that built the Pyramid of Giza. From the top class to the bottom and throughout history we all have very little but beer in common. It’s the ultimate equalizer. Beer formed the basis for the first economies by being traded for other goods. It provided nourishment to Egyptian children and a sanitary source of hydration for Europeans during plague times. Truly, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this, beer has been a massive part of human history. I don’t know about you but to me that is an amazing and wonderful thing.

Beer is fascinating. In it’s purest form, beer only contains only four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast, and water. Yet these four ingredients alone can be combined in varieties and ratios that produce countless styles and variations on styles – and that’s before we even get to talking about things like fruit, chocolate, coffee, candy sugar, and barrel aging to name a few. It is simultaneously simple and infinitely complex. From the characteristics added by different malts with different roastings to the esters and other qualities imparted by different yeast strains, the combinations are almost endless.

Perhaps above all these reasons though, I think the most important of all must be the craft beer community itself. Craft beer doesn’t exist because someone is trying to get rich – craft beer exists because of brewers who love to brew amazing beer and people who love to drink it. Craft beer exists so people can talk about it and gather around it. It’s a glue that brings like-minded people together that likely wouldn’t otherwise due to factors like geographic distance, profession, or social circle. In the last two years I have met some amazing people because of craft beer – most of whom that I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise. I watch brewers across the world from each other collaborate to help one another and make new and interesting beers. It embodies the very essence of community because in most industries that’s something that just wouldn’t happen. There are no big brands trying to steal market share from one another and no companies trying to put each other out of business. There are no walls or lines or divisions because whether we’re brewers, workers, or just regular consumers: we’re all craft beer lovers.

So in summary: it’s good for the soul and it always has been. That’s why beer.

Eat Your Beer: Tripel Onion Soup

Holy cats, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything! My apologies to you, adoring public.

I must admit that I’ve dropped the ball on this one. I received an overwhelmingly positive response to ‘I, Pooper Stooper‘ and I should have followed up with something equally as strong so as not to lose momentum on the blog. The reality is, though, that I just haven’t had any strong enough opinions about anything in the last month to warrant putting anything interesting up. And the worst part is that I still don’t have anything controversial or even really that interesting to say right now, so I’ve decided to launch into something new. (Don’t despair too hard – there are likely to be more opinion-oriented ramblings coming down the pipe in the not-too-distant future.)

If you know me personally then you likely already know that I really love food. Even if you don’t know me personally you’ve probably figured out that I really love beer. I also really love to pair beer with food. The natural convergence of all of that is, of course, to just combine all of that together and throw the beer right into the food! So with that, I give you a new (semi)regular feature on Impossibrew!: Eat Your Beer.

In light of Valentine’s Day coming up, I feel like an appropriate recipe to share with you would be a dish I first made to serve to my better half as part of an elaborate Valentine’s Day dinner. To start off our romantic meal, I put together a Tripel Onion Soup that came out exactly like I was hoping. It highlighted the complexity and profile of the beer style perfectly, keeping the flavours light and interesting while offering up the luxurious and gooey cheesy awesomeness of the more traditional French onion dish.

I should give some props where they are due. This dish was inspired in no small part by a similar soup once served at the more-than-awesome Lo Pub’s bistro in downtown Winnipeg. When they closed down a couple of years ago, my first thought was “Oh my God, where will I get that soup?” This recipe was an attempt at recreating and resurrecting that dish so my heart wouldn’t be so sad at the loss of such a great establishment.

Impossibrew! Tripel Onion Soup

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups sweet yellow onions, sliced thinly (about 10 medium onions)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 bottle (about 350ml) Belgian Tripel style ale
  • 1 Tbsp course Dijon mustard
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 baguette, sliced diagonally and toasted
  • 2 cups Oka cheese, grated
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. In a large non-stick saucepan, brown the onions in butter until golden and soft, about 30 minutes.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Dust mixture with flour and cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Add the beer and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the broth and again, bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add more broth if necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
  6. Season with Dijon mustard and additional salt and pepper to taste.
  7. With oven rack in the middle position, preheat the broiler.
  8. Ladle soup into 4 ovenproof bowls. Place 1 toast in each brown and top generously with cheese. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, then broil until the cheese bubbles and turns golden brown on top.
  9. Serve immediately.

In choosing your beer for this recipe, remember that it will be a huge part of the flavour profile of the dish so choose something suitably tasty. Remember – if you woudn’t drink the beer it doesn’t belong in your cooking. When I make this at home I typically use Unibroue La Fin du Monde since it’s delicious, readily available, and inexpensive. Other great traditional tripels that would work well here might be Chimay Tripel, Westmalle Tripel, St. Bernardus Tripel, Tripel Karmeliet, or Val-Dieu Tripel.

For something extra funky, try using Sam Adams’ New World to inject some vanilla notes with its oak-aged goodness, or if you feel like everything in life could use more hops, try Phillips’ Hoperation Tripel Cross to give it a bitter citrus punch.

No matter what beer you use though, make sure you have enough to share with the soup. There’s nothing sadder than a thirsty chef!

I, Pooper Stooper

Last night after watching Manitoba’s own Farmery Brewery secure a deal on Dragon’s Den, I wrote a tweet:

“With this new investment, I’m hoping @FarmeryBrewery develops an interesting beer.”

I had chosen my words carefully, mulling over my allotted 140 characters so as to make sure I got the intended message across. I was fairly certain I had typed a simple message, nothing malicious or controversial, so I confirmed my tweet and went to bed.

I awoke to a response from the Farmery account:

“@colinkoop wow! Every comment from you from day one has been negative! you’re a pooper stooper, wasn’t the dragons thumbs up enough for you?”

Throughout the day, other users chimed in and most had harsher and more condemning words than my own. I won’t elaborate on the PR faux-pas that they committed or the maturity level of the response because I’m sure they realize their mistake.

While I’ve attempted a short-form response over Twitter, I think I can elaborate and expand a bit on how I feel about this brief but loaded exchange – and how it fits into my view of the craft beer world and Manitoba’s craft beer scene. Queue an elaborate analogy.

In the wake of the 70’s punk rock scene came a movement referred to as post-punk. The post-punk movement was characterized as being introverted, artistic, experimental, and incredibly varied in musical style. Each post-punk artist experimented with sounds, shed their traditional musical values, pushed their own boundaries, and en masse created a movement that changed the face of music. They didn’t make music that record execs wanted them to make – they made what they felt was good. And people didn’t listen to it because someone said it was good – they listened because it was good. It was a stark contrast from the noisy, riotous sounds of punk rock bands that began with rebellious political messaging but had lost their spark over the years. It was… amazing. It wasn’t for everyone, but my God it was for me.

To me, craft beer is the post-punk movement of food and beverage culture. Craft beer brewers are striving to change people’s preconceptions and break down the barriers of how consumers view beer. They vary in style from the established to the forgotten to the experimental and everywhere in between. They are unafraid to try new things just in the name of trying new things. Most importantly, like those post-punk musicians who made great music for the sake of expression through great music, they brew great beer for the sake of expression through great beer.

Craft beer drinkers don’t need Dragons to tell them when beer is good or not. They’ve already figured it out for themselves. Craft beer drinkers are intelligent, passionate, and more aware of what’s in their glass than some might realize. The craft beer community in Manitoba is small but it’s growing and despite its size it’s a thirsty, vocal community that craves great options. This province is ready for it.

My tweet was certainly not intended to offend. Nor was it intended to be negative in any way. We just don’t need another Rolling Rock, Stiegl, or DAB on liquor store shelves in Manitoba. What we need from you is some post-punk beer, guys.

Three Styles to Rule Them All

Fairly recently, I had the pleasure of being part of an excellent discussion revolving around favourite beer styles. Eventually the discussion turned to a perhaps familiar place: If you could only drink one beer style for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Of course, for a beer geek this is an almost impossible conundrum. I’ve tried to solve it, but I can only narrow it down to three styles and no fewer. If really, really pressed I could probably narrow it down to two but that would hurt my soul a little. And seeing as how this is my blog, I see no reason to inflict such sorrow upon myself, so with that I give you the three beer styles that would keep me content forever.

In no particular order…

1. India Pale Ale. It’s probably tough to tell at this stage in the blog, but I’m a huge hop head and it doesn’t come hoppier than the IPA. I’ve yet to meet a beer too hoppy for me, from Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker to Mikkeller’s 1000 IBU. If hops are awesomeness (which they are) then saying that something is too hoppy is saying that it’s too awesome, and saying that a beer is too awesome is… Well, that’s just crazy, right? Trust me, the logic is rock-solid. In all seriousness though, a heavy dose of hops can add big aromas and flavours of pine, lemon, lime, grapefruit, flowers, grass, herbs, or even tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, and passion fruit. When a really skilled brewer is able to take all the complexity from their chosen hop varieties and balance them with a big caramel and biscuit malt backbone, that’s when this style really shines for me. With so many to choose from, it’s not hard to find a great IPA that suits your taste just right. My personal favourite IPAs: Central City Red Racer IPA, Surly Furious, BrewDog Hardcore IPA

2. Stout. To me, stout is the ultimate winter warmer or a perfect drink for a cool autumn evening. Having evolved from porters, traditionally stouts are heavier in body than their ancestors but share many aspects of their complex flavour profile. Stouts are bold and heavy beers with a smooth and luxurious mouthfeel. They are typically lightly-hopped, allowing the brewer to showcase the abundant crystal, chocolate, and black malts that give these their traditional coffee, chocolate, molasses, or even wood smoke characteristics. That doesn’t mean they need to be strong though – traditionally stouts are only 4-5% abv with imperial stouts pushing up into the low teens percentage-wise. I tend to like my stouts on the stronger end and on a cold night to warm the bones. Oh yeah, and if you age stout in wood barrels for a period of time, magical things can happen. My personal favourite stouts: Southern Tier Creme Brûlée, Founders Imperial Stout, Half Pints Le Temps Noir

3. Saison. Perhaps an oddball choice for some, saison is experiencing a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Traditionally a style brewed by Belgian farmers to quench the thirst of their farmhands during harvest time, saisons are an incredibly drinkable, refreshing and all-around delicious style beer. It all starts with the subtle aromatic combinations of orange peel, coriander, peppercorns, lemon, and cloves. Then there’s the sight of the fluffy white head that just won’t quit and the swirling haziness of bottle-conditioned yeast sediment and fine carbonation. And that’s all before it hits your lips. If you haven’t had a saison before, get ready for a treat that tastes as good as it smells with some added farmhouse “funk” to give it that rustic, old-world taste. If you’re lucky and holding a really great bottle, you might even have some Brettanomyces in there adding that little bit of tartness that really adds the punch that makes this a sublime style. My personal favourite saisons: Saison Dupont, Boulevard Saison Brett, Logsdon Seizoen Bretta

So there you have it. A collection of IPA’s, stouts, and saisons should cover my bases and appease every inch of my palate if a beerpolcalypse ever should occur. On second thought, let’s hope that never happens. There’s far too much amazing beer out there to limit ourselves.

mt-header

Building a 10-Gallon Mash Tun

Looking to build an inexpensive and effective mash tun? Look no further, and read on!

Please note: All specific parts listed here are fitted for a 10-gallon Igloo beverage cooler. If you have a Rubbermaid or other brand of cooler you may need to adjust the size of the fittings to cooler but the same principles apply.

One of the most important pieces equipment in a brewery is the mash tun, the large vat which extracts the fermentable sugars and tasty deliciousness from crushed grains. In the case of homebrewing, we perform essentially the same step when we steep specialty grains, perform a partial mash, or when we move to an all-grain setup. This requires that we hold our mash at a constant temperature for a period of time – usually 60 minutes if we are dealing with grains that produce fermentable sugars. This can be a tricky task when dealing with larger volumes of water. Sure, kitchen elements and propane burners provide heat but these heat sources can be difficult to dial in to yield that desired constant temperature over an extended timeframe. And really, who really wants to sit and babysit a pot and thermometer for an hour longer than they need to?

Instead of applying constant heat, many homebrewers have turned to a solution to keep the heat inside rather than pull it from the outside. Enter the insulated beverage cooler. Available in varying sizes, these can be converted into an ideal mash tun with a little DIY handiwork. Last week I converted a cooler with great results – I was able to mash my grains and only lose exactly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the course of the hour, well within the accepted range.

To make a mash tun:

1. Obtain a beverage cooler of appropriate size. I decided on a 10-gallon round Igloo beverage cooler that I purchased at Lowe’s for $49.99 in Grand Forks, ND. If you’re Canadian like me you’ll find that these are significantly less expensive South of the border. You can definitely use the smaller versions too for partial mashes, but I am slowly upgrading toward all-grain batches so the ability to hold 5 gallons of water plus grains dictated that 10 gallons was the right size. You can also find other brands like Rubbermaid of similar quality for similar prices.

2. Hit up your local hardware store(s) for some fittings:

brass and stainless steel fittings lined up in a row

Hardware needed, in assembly order

Parts list, from left to right (leftmost parts are installed inside the cooler, moving toward the outside):

  • (a) 2 – 3/8″ stainless steel hose clamps
  • (b) 1 – brass square head plug (Watts A737)
  • (c) 1 – stainless steel braided faucet connection hose
  • (d) 2 – 3/8″ barb x 3/8″ MIP hose barb adapters (Watts A294)
  • (e) 1 – 1/2″ FIP x 3/8″ FIP pipe reducing coupling (Watts A815)
  • (f) 2 – 1/2″ faucet lock nuts (Moen M3875)
  • (g) 2 – 11/16″ inner diameter O-rings (Moen M3959)
  • (h) 1 – 1/2″ MIP brass pipe nipple (Watts A836)
  • (i) 1 – thick as possible O-ring with at least 1/2″ inner diameter (not pictured)
  • (j) 2 – 1/2″ galvanized washers
  • (j) 1 – 1/2″ x 1/2″ brass ball valve
  • (l) 1 – 1/2″ MIP x 3/8″ FIP brass pipe hex bushing (Watts A828)
  • 1 roll teflon tape

3. Remove the existing spigot from your cooler. This is easily done by unscrewing the interior plastic nut.

4. Wrap any visible threads with teflon tape to create a water-tight seal.

5. Assemble the ball valve. Insert one of the hose barb adapters (d) into the pipe hex bushing (l). Insert the male end of the pipe hex bushing into the ball valve (j) as shown. (Yes, I now realize the ball valve is backwards in the picture…)

a barb fitting inserted into a ball valve

The ball valve fitting that will form the spigot to our mash tun

6. Insert the brass nipple (h) into the spigot hole. Inside the cooler, stretch one of the O-rings (g) over the nipple and follow with a lock nut (f) to create a seal on the inside.

a brass nipple with an o-ring and locking nut applied

Inside view of the bulkhead

7. Attach the coupling (e) to the remaining thread, then screw the other barb adapter (d) into the coupling.

hose barb attached to bulkhead

The hose barb attached to the bulkhead

8. On the outside of the cooler, stretch the larger O-ring (i) over the nipple and push against the cooler wall. Add two washers (j), then add the last small O-ring (g) and optionally the second locking nut (f) if you enough thread bare. This should now be nice and tight when all screwed together.

washers, o-ring, and locking nut attached to outside of cooler

Outside view of the cooler bulkhead

9. Attach ball valve assembly from step 5 to the nipple.

Ball valve attached to cooler

Ball valve attached to cooler bulkhead

10. At this point, stop and fill with water to make sure your fittings are watertight. If you detect any leaks, check your connections, particularly where the o-rings press against the cooler. If it is indeed watertight, congrats! You’re almost done.

11. Now you need a way to strain your wort. To build the filter, cut both ends off the braided faucet line (c) with a hacksaw or a dremel.

faucet line with end cut off

The end of the faucet line after being sawed off with a hacksaw

12. You’ll have to remove the tube lining the stainless braid. To do this, carefully push the braid off the tubing with needlenose pliers to expose it. Grip the tubing and pull slowly and firmly while pulling on the braided casing in the opposite direction. Be extra careful to pull in the opposite direction of the braiding – you don’t want that to unravel accidentally.

Tubing being pulled from stainless braid with pliers

Tubing being pulled from stainless braid

13. Once the tubing is removed, you’ll have a flimsy feeling stainless steel braided hose. This forms the filter for your wort, since the grain particles are too large to get through the gaps in the braid, but liquid can easily flow through it. The edges of your braid will be frayed on both sides, so use pliers to bend those inward to guard against nasty cuts and scratches to your cooler. Insert the square head plug (b) into one end of the braid.

Square head plug inserted into stainless braid

The end of the stainless steel wort filter

14. Tighten one of the hose clamps (a) around the end of the filter to make sure it doesn’t separate from the head plug.

a hose clamp around the end of the wort filter

End of wort filter with hose clamp

15. Slide the other end of the filter on to the hose barb inside the cooler and fasten with another hose clamp (a).

Wort filter attached to hose barb

Wort filter attached to hose barb

16. Huzzah! It looks like the inside of your cooler is done now too. Fill with water and test it out to make sure it’s not leaking again.

an igloo cooler with ball valve attached

The converted cooler mash tun, all ready and ready to mash

17. There’s nothing left to do but put it to use. Sterilize the inside and spigot, rinse it out, and get mashing!

overhead view of grains mashing in hot water in cooler mash tun

My first test mash in the new mash tun

So there you have it! You can now go off and build your very own mash tun to expand your setup or make life easier on yourself – and you can do it for under $100. Like I mentioned earlier, I experienced great results on my first mash with this setup.

I should also mention that this also gives you the option of adding a false bottom if you choose to go that route. I plan to in the near future, but the stainless braid was a nice cheap alternative that got me mashing before I decide exactly how the false bottom should work. Of course, I will be updating this blog with any upgrades I do to my setup so stay tuned!

If you do have any questions about any of this or ideas on how to improve on this, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or find me on twitter at @impossibrewbeer

A snifter and bottle of North Coast Old Rasputin

Happy International Stout Day!

In a day and age where every beer style seems to have it’s own designated day, November 8th is one of the best days of them all: International Stout Day. And wouldn’t you know it, it lands on a Friday this year to boot! If a midweek beer isn’t your thing, then consider today your lucky day.

Stout happens to be one of my favorite styles of beer. In fact, it’s one of my top 3 desert island styles (I smell a future blog post coming on). From the roasty chocolate malts to the bitter coffee notes to the thick, luxurious mouthfeel – there is nothing finer on a cold dark night to kick back with than a massive imperial stout.

Make sure you check into a stout on Untappd before midnight tonight for a special badge. While you’re at it look me up and toast with me. You’ll find me under my username: colinkoop.

Off to the fridge with you! Find a stout that you’ve been saving for a special occasion, or a stout you’ve been eyeing up at your local bottle shop, or knock back a pint of a familiar favorite at your local pub. Better yet, do them all! No matter how you do it, embrace the dark side… even if it’s just for tonight.

So what stout are you going to be drinking tonight?

A glass of beer beside a Pumking bottle and a gargoyle figurine

2013 Pumpkin Beer Roundup

Now I know I said I wouldn’t be doing many beer reviews, and I’m going to keep to that. However, I am going to make an early exception to run through the very polarizing category of pumpkin beers. ‘Tis the season, after all.

Pumpkin beer has been a craft staple for years and as time goes on it seems like every brewery out there is getting on the bandwagon and brewing one. Some do it well and some do it poorly, much like most other styles of beer.

I’ve had the pleasure of sampling more pumpkin beers this year than all my other craft beer drinking years combined. This is my list for 2013 (so far) from worst to best. Please do note that I haven’t ranked anything that I haven’t tried in 2013 so amazing pumpkin beers like Half Pints’ Punk ‘N Fest that would normally appear high on this list, unfortunately are left off.

We begin with the weakest entries into the list from 22-19. Skip to #18 for some real pumpkin pie flavour.

22. Prohibition Brewing Harvest Pumpkin Spiced Ale
21. Third Street Brewhouse Jack’d Up Autumn Ale
20. Granville Island The Pumpkining
19. Cannery Brewing Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale

Selections 18-14 are beers where the flavours are so similar that it was hard to rank them properly. They weren’t stand-out, but if you were jonesing for a fix of pumpkin, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg – these would fit the bill.

18. Fernie Brewing Pumpkin Head
17. Phillips Crooked Tooth
16. Nelson Organic Pumpkin Ale
15. Grand Canyon Pumpkin Bock
14. Lighthouse Pumpkin Ale

13. Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter – A solid chocolate porter in it’s own right. The pumpkin is subtle here. Buy for the chocolate, stay for the creamy pumpkin in the finish.

#12-9 represent spicier brews. Think of a pumpkin muffin or scone from Starbucks. Things are getting tasty…

12. Longwood Brewpub Full Patch Pumpkin Ale
11. Central City Red Racer Spiced Pumpkin Ale
10. Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale
9. New Belgium Pumpkick
8. Howe Sound Pumpkineater

7. Parallel 49 Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest – A Marzen brewed with pumpkin. It’s sweet, it’s malty, and it tastes strongly of pumpkin without being too heavy-handed on the spice.

6. Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin – Big notes of vanilla here. More pumpkin spices, and a biscuit-like backbone.

5. Phillips Crookeder Tooth – Barrel-aged pumpkin beer! Superior in every way to it’s little brother Crooked Tooth, this incorporates vanilla and oak into the palate.

4. Alley Kat Pumpkin Pie Spiced Ale – Big on the spice and on the pumpkin taste. Like pumpkin pie filling in a glass.

3. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela – A pumpkin sour beer? Yup, and with just the right amount of spice. Outstanding!

2. Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale – Sweet, malty, spicy, and overall just delicious. If you’ve heard of Night Owl before, there’s a good reason for that: it’s one of the best pumpkin beers out there.

1. Southern Tier Pumking – As the name suggests, this is the king of pumpkin beers. It’s like pumpkin pie in a glass, graham crust and all. This is one beer that lives up to it’s hype.

So there you have it. Do you agree? Disagree? Have I missed one that’s a must-try? Let me know in the comments below.