Saturday, January 23, 2016

Becoming A Homebrewer

I've wanted to brew my own beer for years. Ever since I met my first brewer in person, I've thought of brewing myself. That's why after thinking about it for a long time and being encouraged by friends, a few months ago I took the plunge and finally started homebrewing. That's a decision I am very happy that I made.

To start things off I travelled to my local homebrew supply store. It's a small shop, but has everything you need to brew batches of beer in all styles and sizes. When I visited the store I asked the owner how he would recommend that I start brewing. He recommended that I start all-grain brewing instead of using malt extract, as he found homebrewers who did so were more engaged and learned more quickly. I decided to follow his advice and chose an Oatmeal Brown Ale recipe for my first homebrew.

The owner of the store then walked me around the store to help me collect the ingredients for the recipe. We first collected the grains that would be needed to produce fermentable sugars for the yeast to consume. We then put the grains into a mill for grinding, save for the flaked oats that would be added to the brew. Next we picked the hops and finally the yeast to complete the recipe.

Now, I live in a small studio apartment in Boston. Part of my hesitance to begin homebrewing was the amount of space it would take. However, the store owner informed me that all I would basically need was the room to store a 5 gallon bucket. After hearing that, I purchased the necessary equipment including the kettle,  siphon, hydrometer, cleaner, sanitizer, bottle brush and capper, as well as the fermentation and bottling buckets. I then went home to prepare for my first brew day.

After cleaning and sanitizing all of my equipment (perhaps the most important part of brewing), I filled my kettle with water and put in on my stove to begin heating. I placed a nylon straining bag in the kettle and, once the water reached the required temperature, added the grains. As the malted grain released its sugars, the water soon turned into wort. I next took the bag out of the kettle and began boiling the wort before adding the hops I had chosen. Once enough time had passed I placed the kettle in a bath of ice water in order to chill the wort down to the necessary temperature before pouring it into the fermentation bucket, sealing it, and pitching the yeast. My brew day was over, but fermentation had just begun.

I had taken a hydrometer reading from some of the wort in order to obtain the original gravity, which provides a glimpse of the possible ABV of the final brew. I placed the fermentation bucket in my closet and over the next few weeks monitored it to ensure the brew was fermenting (usually by observing the airlock for carbon dioxide release) and to maintain the correct temperature. Bottling day, when it finally came, was relatively easy. It mainly entailed filling and capping, besides transferring the beer from one bucket to another, adding some priming sugar, and cleaning up afterwards. I then let the bottles sit to condition for another couple of weeks.

I decided to purchase labels for my first homebrew and to enter it into a local homebrewing competition for fun. Upon tasting the beer I was glad that it had turned out as I hoped it would. I received positive feedback from friends and family, who seemed to enjoy it even more than I did. Overall the experience was very educational and a lot of fun. I just finished my second homebrew, a honey wheat ale, and I am very much enjoying brewing as a hobby. I'm not sure where it will lead, but I do know there's nothing quite like drinking your own beer.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Raising the Barstool's Best - 2015

This week I read a post written by Carla Jean Lauter, otherwise known as The Beer Babe, with her take on the best beers in Maine this year. Her post inspired me to reflect on my own year of beer here in Massachusetts. As we're now in the last month of 2015, it seems to be an appropriate time to write about the best beers and breweries I've had the pleasure of experiencing throughout the year.

Best New Brewery in Massachusetts: Medusa Brewing Company

I attended the American Craft Beer Fest in Boston back in May, at which I had the chance to try beers from throughout New England that I had never had before. I tasted my first brew from Lord Hobo Brewing Company, which is now available in most stores in the area. I also got the chance to try a beer from Medusa Brewing Company for the first time, but I knew it would not be my last. Their Zweihänder Imperial IPA displayed a talent for using hops, which was only confirmed after later tasting some of their other IPAs like Citra Legacy and Laser Cat. Here's hoping we see more brews available from Medusa in the Boston area!

Best New Massachusetts Beer: Artaic - Trillium Brewing Company

It seems like every year the new beers being released in Massachusetts continue to improve. This year was no exception. When Trillium Brewing Company released a Double IPA known as Artaic back in May, it instantly became a favorite of mine. Named after a local mosaic design company Trillium collaborated with, Artaic is brewed with 100% Mosaic hops and local raw wildflower honey. It is sweet, citrusy, and nicely balanced overall. A masterpiece!

Best Massachusetts IPA: Santilli - Night Shift Brewing

This year Night Shift debuted its flagship IPA, Santilli. Created from one of the brewery's batches of its rotating IPA called Morph, Santilli smells of fresh pine and has a big citrus flavor with a bitter finish. It's a surprisingly smooth IPA loaded with hops that I could drink just about every day. The fact that it comes in a beautiful tallboy can makes it even better!

Best Massachusetts Stout/Porter: Crasher in the Rye - Clown Shoes

Earlier this year, Clown Shoes released a new version of its Undead Party Crasher with some tasty twists. Rye malt was added to the mix, and the usual hickory smoked malt was replaced with oak smoked malt from Blacklards Malt Company in Texas. On top of that, half the beer was aged in bourbon barrels while the other half was aged in rye barrels. These halves were then combined and bottled as an Imperial Stout with a roasty coffee aroma followed by the sweet taste of milk chocolate along with a creamy oatmeal flavor and a rye whiskey finish. It was delicious!

Most Creative Beer in Massachusetts: Hay is for Horses - Cambridge Brewing Company

Hay is for Horses was first brewed in 2013 but was available in bottles this year. A "Nordic" Pale Ale brewed with fresh, locally grown hay as well as oats and gruit herbs, the beer is light and grassy with a nice spice. Very easy to drink!

Best Label/Can Design: Muerte - Backlash Beer Company

Massachusetts has some incredibly talented artists creating the labels for its breweries. Whether it's Kevin Cimo's rustic and charming renditions of local landmarks for Trillium Brewing or Michael Axt's eye-catching and colorful work for Clown Shoes, there is no shortage of beautiful label art around here. Yet, one beer's label caught my eye more than any other, and it was based on work that artist Sophy Tuttle did for Backlash Beer. Years ago Backlash featured her art on the labels of the beers in their Apocalypse Series. They were black and white, but depicted epic scenes with rolling landscapes. Her artwork was featured on the label for Death, Backlash's Imperial Stout, which was then inverted for the label of Resurrection released last year. This year her work returned on the label of Muerte, an Imperial Stout brewed with vanilla beans, cinnamon, peppers, and coffee. Featuring an elegant portrayal of the classic calavera representing the Mexican holiday often referred to as Day of the Dead, the label is absolutely gorgeous. I hope we see more of Sophy's label art next year!

(Muerte's label is so cool, Trevor Carmick of Beer Labels In Motion even brought it to life!)


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bonding With Brewers

Hey everyone! It's been a while. Things have been pretty busy, but I've decided it's time to start blogging again. I've spent a lot of time thinking about potential topics I could write about to get back into the swing of things. After much deliberation, I thought of a subject applicable to brewers and beer fans alike: how consumers connect with the people that make their beer.
There are many ways that those who drink craft beer form bonds with brewers. I'd like to lay out some that I find important to show how these connections are created, strengthened, and how they contribute to promoting a brewer's brand.
Social Media
We live in an age where everyone is plugged in. People share pictures of their beer on the internet to make sure others know that they actually drank it. Today, most brewers have some sort of social media presence. Whether it's on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Untappd, or all of the above, brewers are online and sharing their beer with the world.
I believe social media is critical to the success of startup brewers, not only because it can expand their reach beyond the scope of their distribution, but because it allows them to introduce themselves to people that may otherwise never hear about them. For instance, I've only heard about some breweries through their Twitter accounts, which led me to their website, where I found a link to their Facebook page and eventually found them on Instagram. These sorts of connections create a network that only continues to grow as more people invite others to share in their discoveries.
Social media also allows brewers to engage their consumers in a way they never could before. Brewers may not get the chance to meet everyone that drinks their beer in person, but they can talk about their beer with their fans over the web. They can share what they're brewing, when beers are being released, and tell consumers about events featuring their beer. I've enjoyed getting to know the people behind certain breweries and hearing about their progress simply by reading their blogs, which I often find through social media.
Drinking the Beer
It may be that you heard about it through social media and arranged a trade. It may be that you were at a restaurant and saw it on the beer list. It may be that you were in a shop and saw it on the shelf. It may even be that you went to a beer fest and saw it at one of the booths. However you found out about a beer, your personal opinion on it only forms after drinking it. If you drink one beer and like it, you're more inclined to try another from the same brewer. If you try more of their beers and like them, you'll feel that they have a reputation for making great beers. You'll then want to talk about those beers with others, who may then try the beer for themselves. Word of mouth is a powerful thing!
Meeting the Brewers
Nothing strengthens the bond between brewers and their consumers more than meeting face-to-face. When you meet a brewer and talk to them on a more personal level, you become more personally invested in their success. When you know the people who brewed your beer, you feel even better when drinking it. In getting out there and spending time with the people who drink their beer, brewers not only enhance their connections, but form new relationships with consumers that can last a lifetime.
Visiting the Brewery
Not all brewers have a space of their own, but those who do have something very special. They have a place where consumers can come together and share in their appreciation for the beer the brewers make. They also have the ability to show consumers how and where their beer is made. There's nothing quite like drinking a beer inside the building it was brewed in. When brewers have a place to call home, the consumers will come to them.
Building the Brand
As more people connect with brewers, their brand becomes more recognizable. Simply wearing a shirt with their logo or mentioning their name may spark conversation. These connections begin locally, but can grow to connect people around the world who drink craft beer. In connecting with their consumers, brewers who start small may become much bigger over time. I know that the more connected I've become to my local brewers, the more I've tried to support them. I not only drink their beer, but I want to share it with others. When that happens, everyone wins.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Conference to Remember

Those who read this blog probably know of other beer blogs that are out there. It's interesting to read different ones and see the perspective that each blogger is writing from. After the beer bloggers conference ended, many people wrote multi-part blogs that covered each day of the conference. Others posted videos of their experiences in Boston. As a recent addition to the blogging world and a first time conference attendee, I've decided it would be best for me to give a broader view on the conference as a whole.

For me, the first day was all about introductions. Things kicked off with a trade show, at which I was introduced to several breweries that I had never even heard of before. Not only did I get the chance to try many new beers, but I also got to start picking up some "beer schwag," the promotional items that both bloggers and breweries gave out for free throughout the entire conference. On top of that, I had the opportunity to meet beer bloggers from across the country that I had been following over the internet for a long time. Over the course of the conference there were plenty of "twitroductions," or in-person meetings of people following each other on Twitter. The most exciting thing for me was finally being able to meet the crew behind the SBL Podcast!

After that, I had the opportunity to introduce Boston's craft beer scene to those who hadn't yet experienced it. We traveled to the Samuel Adams brewery on a bus, and on the ride there I began pouring what would be the first of many "bus beers," Trillium's Fort Point Pale Ale. There was a palpable feeling of excitement when we arrived at our destination, perhaps because everyone was a little buzzed.

I became just as excited as the evening progressed. We were treated to a keynote speech from Jim Koch himself, who later invited us to taste some 10th anniversary Utopias with him in the barrel room. If that wasn't enough, they had a variety of special beers on tap for us along with a nice spread of beer-infused food for us to enjoy! It was a fun night, to say the least.

The second day seemed to be more educational. There was a long list of presentations on the agenda, each one covering a different topic related to beer, blogging, or both. The beers kept pouring and the information kept coming. Being new to this, I did my best to soak it all in like a sponge. It was a long day, but I learned a lot!

On the final day of the conference, things got a bit more personal. The bloggers themselves were able to take their turns giving presentations about what they do and where they came from. Afterwards Ray Daniels, Founder and Director of the Cicerone Certification Program, gave a closing keynote speech  in which he shared his story with us and gave us all some advice on how to become better writers. I am truly grateful to have learned so much from those with such a wealth of experience.

To write about each and every event we attended in detail would take a great deal of time. From the Heavy Seas party at Stoddard's to our visit to the Harpoon Beer Hall, there was a lot going on. Needless to say, the weekend was a whirlwind of sorts. Though, even with the nonstop drinking and learning, I still wish we had more time.

If there was one takeaway from the conference for me, it was this: don't underestimate the value of quality time. The Beer Bloggers Conference brings together people who have priceless stories and lessons to share with others. It's not often that you're able to have a conversation about beer with so many knowledgeable people at once. If for that reason alone, I'd recommend attending the conference. If you're anything like me, it will be one of the most valuable experiences you've ever had. 

(For those who still want to know more about my time at BBC 2013, follow Raising the Barstool on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Of course, you should also visit the Beer Bloggers Conference website. I'll see you at BBC 2014!)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference has ended, and with it, a weekend filled with learning, discussing, and drinking. As a relative newcomer to the beer blogging scene, I thought I'd start by giving my general impressions of the conference. It was my first time attending, so I don't have anything to compare it to. However, I did take plenty of notes during the conference and hope to write much more detailed blogs about the events that took place each day in the near future.

Overall, I am very happy that I decided to attend the conference this year. I really had no excuse since it was being held right down the street from where I live. Aside from the convenience, there were many other benefits to taking part in the conference, especially considering how long I've been blogging. I got the chance to learn from presentations full of all sorts of useful information. I had the opportunity to meet other bloggers who I've always looked up to in-person. I also got to drink a lot of great beer.

The pace of the conference was fast, to say the least. It seemed like we were all going from one event to the next without much of a break in between each one. Don't even get me started on the live blogging. The days were certainly packed, but I can't complain. Everything we did was pretty incredible!

It was nice seeing my fellow beer bloggers in the flesh as we reflected on the state of beer blogging together. I loved the diversity there was in the group that decided to attend the conference as well. It didn't matter if we were male or female, young or old, hopheads or sour fans. People came from all over the country to drink and talk about the one thing we all enjoy: beer!

Looking back on this year's conference, I have to say that it was extremely memorable. I'll remember all the fantastic conversations I had over the weekend, all the wonderful beers I tasted, and all the fun we had. Most of all, I'll remember just how much I learned in such a short time. I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for it, but the conference turned out to be more than I could have ever imagined.

Now that it's over, I feel like I can use what I gained from the conference to take my blog to the next level.  I'm still in the early stages of my blogging journey, but I think I now know which direction I'd like to head in with my blog. It may take some time for me to find my way, but once I discover my niche and establish myself as a dedicated blogger, I'm confident that things will begin to take off.

I hope that you'll come along for the ride with me. As a lover of local beers and the law, I'm going to move towards tailoring my blog posts to the craft beer community in Massachusetts and the legal issues that those in the beer industry face in this state. Before that, I'm going to try to give a more specific account of the lessons I learned at the beer blogger conference. Look out for more posts from me in the days ahead!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The beer market can be pretty competitive.  With over 2,300 breweries across the country, craft brewers are doing all they can to gain market share as more of them start up each year. There are only so many spaces on the shelf, and only so many taps at the bar. Yet, even with all of the competition that's out there, you still see craft brewers coming together to support one another.

Working together rather than working against each other is essential for craft brewers, as they are still only a small percentage of the overall beer market. Today it's more important than ever that they stick together so that the craft beer market can continue to grow. Friendly competition is a good thing, but there is also the risk of becoming divided. That's where beer collaborations come in.

One of the first collaboration beers I had was Rhizing Bines from Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada. Sierra Nevada has also collaborated with Boulevard  to create a brew called Terra Incognita, a blend of different beers that is actually the second in a trilogy of Boulevard-Sierra Nevada beers. Seeing some of the larger American craft breweries collaborating has given me hope that more collaborations will come about in the future.
The bigger craft brewers can have a large impact on the craft beer market as a whole. I remember when I learned about Samuel Adams' hop sharing program, which led to the creation of Salute by Backlash (which appropriately features the brewer saluting Sam Adams). It's these kind of positive relationships between brewers and the support they give one another that I believe will lead to even greater growth in the craft beer industry.
Collaborations are kind of a new thing. You didn't really see them a few years ago, but now you're seeing them more and more. In Massachusetts, the ONCEMADE project set up by Pintley is aimed at bringing brewers together to try something new. The first release was a partnership between Backlash and Night Shift featuring two wild saisons, Wild King and Wild Queen. Two unforgettable beers!
What makes this collaboration even more memorable is the way that it's presented. Two separate bottles packaged together in an elegant pinewood box along with a letter signed by the brewers and a piece of the barrel that the beers were aged in. It makes you realize that this wasn't just a casual fling for the two brewers to make a profit. It was a truly meaningful partnership that resulted in something remarkable.
Other Massachusetts brewers have collaborated as well. Clown Shoes and Brash, two in-your-face brewers that brew their beer out of the same brewery in Ipswich, blended their brown ales to create a big beer known as Pimp. It just goes to show you that two brewers known for the humor can come together to create an even more hilarious beer than they could alone.
I'm sure other brewers are collaborating across the country, and I hope to see more of these kinds of things in the future. Beer should connect people, not set them apart. That's why collaborations are a great thing not only for brewers, but also for the people that drink their beer. We want to see our favorite breweries come together. It brings us closer, and it's a sign that the craft beer industry will continue to thrive.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keepers of the Brew

Now that I've been blogging about beer for over a month, I feel like it's a good time to reflect on some things. Lately I've been hosting bottle shares at my place with my fellow backlashers (the unofficial nickname we came up with for fans of Backlash).  A bottle share is just what it sounds like: people bring bottles for sharing, hang out, and try lots of different beers without having to drink an entire bottle themselves. Getting together with beer friends is not only fun, but can also lead to great conversations about the world of craft beer.

At the latest get-together, we had some pretty good reading material. We talked about the latest issue of BeerAdvocate, but what we were really interested in was this week's issue of DigBoston. It's one of the coolest publications in the city, not just because of its creative style and younger vibe, but because it has a section devoted entirely to beer.

The Honest Pint is DigBoston's beer column that features that latest news and reviews about the craft beer scene in Boston and beyond. It's written by Heather Vandenengel, and features great beer news along with fantastic pictures. I've long been inspired by Heather's talent for writing, but it wasn't until I read DigBoston's craft beer issue that I realized just how talented she is.
There are several articles by Heather in the issue, with topics ranging from brewers of the past to the beers and breweries of the future. There's even one about a beer time capsule! Needless to say, it was the best issue of DigBoston I've ever read, and it got me thinking about other beer writers.
Some of the first things I ever read about beer were blogs. I started by reading a blog written by Michael Loconto, otherwise known as Area Man Drinks Beer. I then started reading Urban Beer Nerd's blog, which gives great insight into some of the more unique aspects of beer both here and around the world. I still look up to these bloggers as I continue to write my own blogs on what has become one of my favorite hobbies.
Brewers can also be bloggers. Backlash has a great blog that features updates as well as tasting notes on their latest releases. Jack's Abby also has a pretty cool blog that lets you know what's going on at the brewery. I love reading the things that brewers write, as they're the ones who have the most intimate knowledge of the brewing process and beer in general. When you read a brewer's blog, it's as if you're getting to know the brewer on a more personal level.
There are so many different blogs about beer, each with something that makes it special. That's why I'm excited to attend my first Beer Bloggers Conference next weekend. I am really looking forward to spending time with other, more experienced beer writers and learning how to improve my own blog. That and tasting lots of new beers!
I'm glad there are so many beer bloggers out there today. Not only are bloggers responsible for spreading the word about great beer and brewers, but in a way they are also beer historians. Like journalists, beer writers do plenty of research and investigating to report the latest beer news. At the same time, they create a record to look back on so that the history of craft beers and the brewers that came before can always be remembered.
I love writing about beer. I don't know why it's taken me so long to start doing it, but as you can see I've been reading what others have written for a while. They are my role models and the inspiration for starting my own blog. I continue to seek out and learn from other beer writers every day, and I hope to one day help others do the same. Until then, I'll just keep reading, writing, and drinking.