Side-by-Side IPA Comparison

Looking into this my chest freezer this fine Wednesday evening (what is it with me and Wednesdays?), I realized that I had two different kegs of IPA. The older of the two is Hustle and Swagger, an IPA brewed with the myriad of free hops I received at Homebrew Con 2016. The younger is a just-kegged, double-dry-hopped take on my old Eighty-Sixed recipe called Swinging Cowboy*. So I figured I try them out side-by-side and see what I like and dislike about each IPA. First, the recipes.

Swagger (left) and Cowboy (right)

Hustle & Swagger

Fermentables

Amount Fermentable
11.0 lb

Pilsner (US)

2.5 lb

Maris Otter Pale (UK)

2.0 lb

Munich – Light 10L (US)

0.5 lb

Munich – Dark 20L (US)

0.5 lb

Turbinado

Hops

Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
2.0 oz Nugget (US) 60 min First Wort Pellet 14.3%
1.5 oz Chinook (US) 15 min Boil Pellet 12.0%
1.5 oz Centennial (US) 15 min Boil Pellet 10.5%
2.0 oz Cascade (US) 0 min Boil Pellet 7.0%
1.0 oz Equinox 0 min Boil Pellet 15.0%
2.0 oz Zythos (US) 5 days Dry Hop Pellet 11.0%
1.0 oz Equinox 5 days Dry Hop Pellet 15.0%
1.0 oz Pekko 5 days Dry Hop Pellet 13.0%

Yeasts

Name Lab/Product Attenuation
Hansen Ale Blend White Labs 78.0%

Swinging Cowboy

Fermentables

Amount Fermentable
6.75 lb

Golden Promise (UK)

6.75 lb

Pilsner (US)

1.25 lb

Flaked Oats

0.75 lb

Turbinado

0.63 lb

Carapils (Dextrine Malt) (US)

Hops

Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
1.25 oz Nugget (US) 60 min Boil Pellet 14.3%
1.5 oz Cascade (US) 30 min Boil Pellet 7.0%
1.1 oz Centennial (US) 15 min Boil Pellet 10.5%
2.0 oz Citra (US) 0 min Boil Pellet 13.7%
3.0 oz Citra (US) 4 days Dry Hop Pellet 13.7%

Yeasts

Name Lab/Product Attenuation
Vermont Ale The Yeast Bay 78.5%

Another look.


Comparison

Miscellaneous

  • Hustle & Swagger is noticeably dark in color, though the calculated difference is only supposed to about about 1 SRM.
  • Both beers were dry-hopped, but Swinging Cowboy was double-dry hopped in the fermenter, while Hustle & Swagger was dry-hopped in the keg.
  • Neither beer is particularly clear and both contain some hop particles.

Aroma

  • Despite being brewed on 6/30, Hustle & Swagger still packs a noticeable hop aroma. That aroma is predominantly “green” and “dank.” This is probably from the multitude of different hops that went into this thing. There is a citrusy, sweet, fruit aroma on the back end. Almost like tropical fruit candy, but less artificial if that makes sense.
  • Only three days removed from its second dry-hop charge, Swinging Cowboy has a grassy nose. There’s underlying citrus in there behind it, but this smell a lot like lawn clippings (and not because I mowed the lawn today).
  • Winner: Hustle & Swagger, by a nose.

Appearance

  • As noted above, both beers are turpid with some small hop particles swirling. In Hustle & Swagger this is likely due to the hops still being in the keg. With Swinging Cowboy, the beer just finished carbing and hasn’t settled yet. This is the very first pour of the beer.
  • They are fairly similar, with SC being a shade lighter.
  • Winner: Draw

Flavor

  • Hustle and Swagger has mellowed nicely. This was originally one of the most bitter beers I’d brewed, but some of that has evened out. There’s still a nice bitterness but there’s more hop flavor coming across: some citrus, mango, and a hint of sweetness before a bitter finish. Not world-class, but pretty good.
  • Woah. Um… what’s going on with Swinging Cowboy? The flavor is a… not good. Vegetal, grassy. There’s hints of citrus buried underneath but this will need some time to clear up, much like the aroma.
  • Winner: Hustle & Swagger

Mouthfeel

  • Hustle & Swagger is a bit thin for what I was going for; I prefer the juicier, fuller New England-style bodies on my IPAs (actually on most styles). This is within range for an IPA, and not watery but not dry enough on the back-end for that West Coast bite.
  • In contrast, Swinging Cowboy is right where it should be. It feels substantial without being thick, viscous, or chewy. This is right in line with where I like my IPAs.
  • Winner: Swinging Cowboy

Overall

  • By the numbers, Hustle & Swagger is the clear winner, which is a bit of a disappointment.
  • Of course, this comparison isn’t exactly “fair” or “scientific.” Swagger is over a month old and Cowboy is fresh off the dry-hops.
  • That said, Swagger is the better beer right now, but I’m not sure Cowboy won’t surpass it in about a week or so.

Final Thoughts

Truth be told, I’m not sold on either of these beers. Hustle & Swagger is okay, but not up to snuff. I think the “kitchen sink” approach I took with this beer left it flawed and muddled. Still drinkable, but not worth attempting again. Swinging Cowboy on the other hand… I don’t know what to think of this beer right now. When I tasted the hydrometer sample it was a little off, and fully-carbed I’m not so sure what happened here.

Given the busy-ness of this summer, the rushed nature of both these brew days and the state of my brewing equipment (read: not properly cleaned), I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t significant flaws hiding behind all the hops in these beers. It’s hard for me to say. Much like my momma is blind to my many flaws, I have trouble nit-picking my own creations. I still have some hope that Cowboy will get better with a bit of age, but I think Swagger is as good as it’s going to get right now, which is a bit disappointing.

Lesson learned: I need to better prepare for my brew days and need to re-dedicate myself to mess of chemicals, tubing, fixtures, and kegs in my bathroom that need a thorough cleaning.

Cheers!

* The story behind “Swinging Cowboy” is a long one that I may regale you with after this year’s Homebrew Jamboree (aka JAMBO). 


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Great Beer Writers

It seems like every time I have a “controversial” stance on beer I’m standing opposite of Andy Crouch. For what it’s worth, Crouch is a far better and a far more respected writer than I ever hope to be. And he uses a lot less fucking curse words (and I respect him a great deal). That said, his latest Beer Advocate column found its way across my Facebook feed and I can’t help but take issue with it.

Crouch’s article deals with the issue of beer dating, and not the kind I do with an empty can and a bottle of lube. Crouch goes after breweries for administering a “Best By” date to their products. His argument boils down to the fact that there is no uniform measure – by style or brewery – for when a beer falls out of sync with its intended flavor profile. This is an inarguable fact. However, the solution that Crouch seems to propose (in lieu of any actually proposition) is a bottled on (or brewed on) date. The problem with this is that it suffers from the very same problems that a “best by” date suffers from:

  • There is no uniformity for style
  • There is no uniformity for brewery
  • Any date stamped on the bottle is essentially meaningless for the two preceding reasons

The concept beyond the “best by” date is that it provides the consumer with a time-frame within which the brewer feels their product is at its peak. There are innumerable variables for which the brewer cannot control, most of which deal with shipping conditions. A “best by” date, through the very nature of the beer industry is – at best – a best guess. Crouch, in his article, lambasts the “best by” date as an:

amorphous, arbitrary tactic that only a manufacturer could love. Masquerading as an effort to help consumers, such dating of beer results in the illusion of honesty, leaving drinkers with no actual tangible information on which to base purchasing decisions.

Okay. Not wrong. But I defy Mr. Crouch – or anyone else – to offer an adequate solution. Crouch states, “As a customer, I want to know when my beer was bottled (or better yet, brewed), not the outer limits of when a lab technician thinks it will still taste like beer.” And that’s a fair point, but what REALLY does that date tell you? Does it provide you with any more tangible information than the nebulous “best by” date?

In practically, no it doesn’t. It can tell you the date a beer was brewed on, but that serves no greater purpose than drinking a “best by” beer further away from its “best by” date. In essence, both dates suffer from the same meaninglessness. There is no standard against which to judge this beer, making any measure of its “freshness” thereby irrelevant.

This is my problem with “great beer writers.” Too often they crusade for the “rights” of the consumer while losing track of the numerous variables that exist between grain and glass. Mind you, nothing in Crouch’s piece is wrong – per se – but it is wrongheaded in that it puts the onus on the brewer to force intelligence upon the consumer. Please name another food product – or any product – on the market where the onus is put upon the manufacturer to educate the consumer to the downsides, flaws, or shelf-life of the product within any reasonable timeframe. None exist. Your closest parallel is in dairy products, but those date are just as meaningless; a by-product of government regulation. What – exactly – are breweries putting over on consumers by not placing dates on their products? Remember, breweries have little to no input on how/where their products are distributed and even less influence on how/where/when/and for how much their products are sold to end consumers (Thanks, three-tier system!).

So please, continue to ignore the hypocrisy of drinking a gallon of milk a few days past it’s “Best By” date while turning up your noses at a “hop-faded” IPA. Rest easy knowing all the “great beer writers” support your decision.

Beer Review: Traveler’s Jolly Traveler Shandy

It’s been a while since I’ve done a commercial beer review, and this one is a little something different. Normally when I review a beer it is because I wanted to try it, went out and purchased it, and decided on a whim it was worth writing about. In this case I was contacted by the fine folks at Traveler’s and asked if I wanted free beer, an offer I would only say “no” to if it came from Heineken.

That said, when I wrote my Pumpkin Beer Ranking for Deadspin, I was pleasantly surprised with Traveler’s Jack-O Shandy. I’m not normally a shandy drinker – being that I am burdened with so much testosterone and machismo – but the Jack-O, and before it Narragansett’s Del’s Shandy, have flipped my opinion on the style.

This is all to say: Jolly Traveler was given to me by the company to review, I’m reviewing it with an improved eye towards the style, and since I make no money off this blog, I’m still just a poor dork like the rest of you. Now avert your gaze as I pour this beer into my crystal goblet…

Travelers2

Promotional image. Their professional photographers take prettier pictures than my iPhone.

The Vitals

Malt Varieties: 2-row malted barley, malted wheat
Hop Varieties: Hallertau-Hallertau
Special Ingredients: Holiday Spice, Orange and Pomegranate
ABV: 4.4%
BUs: 7

The Hype

Driven by a desire to embrace all things wintry, the Jolly Traveler warms the spirit during the months when it’s needed most. Embracing the flavors of the season, Jolly is the first-ever winter shandy with notes of orange, pomegranate and spice.
We proudly introduce the Jolly Traveler, a cool fellow with a WINTRY disposition.

Beer Advocate: 81, N/A
RateBeer: Unranked
Untappd: 3.46

The Review

A surprising clear brew given the added spice, orange, and pomegranate, Jolly Traveler is a looker with a burnt orange/copper color and a thin white head of tiny bubbles. There is a little haze, but not much and the head persists, with fine lacing, despite being diminutive.

Jolly Traveler smells amazing. I’m reminded of mulled cider (one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages. Try it with rum), but fruitier. Orange is the most dominating smell, mostly due to familiarity but there’s hints of the pomegranate that give Jolly an almost tropical vibe. I don’t pick up on too much of the spice, though I’m guessing cinnamon and nutmeg with maybe clove and ginger. And of course, there’s hints of lemon as well. The beer smells sweet, but that’s to be expected with the style I’d think.

Jolly Traveler reminds me of fruit snacks, the ones shaped like sharks. This beer is sweet, like candy, but isn’t cloying. In fact, it’s actually quite pleasant. Fruit is the defining characteristic, unsurprisingly, but it is a dark fruit flavor – most likely from the pomegranate – that takes the lead. There’s nice hints of citrus that balance out the pomegranate’s slight tartness, but I think the combination is too strong to allow any of the spices through; though I do catch a hint of cinnamon on the finish.

Jolly is crisp with bubbly carbonation that is light, but about right. I might like a tad more effervescence but just typing that makes me feel ashamed. The body is light-to-medium, tending more towards light,1 and finishes dry and crisp like you’d expect from a lager (this is an ale). The overall flavor is almost syrupy without any of the cloying, syrupy texture. A neat trick at the least.

Final Verdict

I’m going to knock Jolly Traveler for the same reason I knock most shandies: it doesn’t taste like beer. Of course that’s a subjective and ill-defined critique; after all what does “beer” taste like? ‘Craft Beer People’ – who I’m not a fan of – tend to like XXXTREME beers: the hoppiest IPAs, the heaviest stouts, the sourest sours, et cetera. I made the joke in the opening that I had too much testosterone to enjoy a shandy; sadly, for a lot of Craft Beer People that’s not a joke. Those assholes need to lighten up, because Jolly Traveler is delicious. I wouldn’t drink it in the shower after a hockey game, I wouldn’t drink it when I wanted an DIPA or a stout, but I would drink it at a holiday party (despite there being little about the flavor profile that says “holidays” to me, but I digress) as a nice reprieve from those stouts or winter warmers.

I wouldn’t recommend this beer to beer snobs whose blind devotion to ‘The Movement’ has them yammering about “whales” and “sell-outs”, but that’s because I tend to ignore those turds and their fedoras. More importantly, if you don’t like sweet drinks this probably isn’t for you. Jolly feels/tastes more like juice than a typical ale. It would not be my standard fare, nor probably something I’d have more than two of in a given drinking session.

I would recommend Jolly Traveler to anyone who appreciates something sweet, but without the heft of a stout or porter. If you’re into witbiers, hefeweizens, Harpoon’s UFO beers and that ilk, you should check out Jolly. This is fruity, juicy sweetness and not the vicious chocolate you’d usually expect from a sweet beer. I wouldn’t recommend trying to kill a six-pack by yourself; the ABV is low enough but that’s too much sweetness for one sitting.

Kudos to the Traveler’s folks; I’m pleasantly surprised again.

Some Days You Just Need A Beer

As the title says, some days you just need a beer. Tonight’s beer is Out of Bounds Stout by Avery Brewing out of Colorado. The label depicts a skier traversing a back-country slope. I had the privilege to get stranded in Colorado while on a snowboarding trip. A big storm hit Boston and delayed our flight home; my dad, brother and myself spent the weekend in Denver and made a trip out to Avery’s brewery. Avery is fantastic. The majority of their beers are just killer.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Summer was busy, which is to be expected. Birthdays, BBQs, camping trips, weddings, and (unfortunately) funerals. As this is, ostensibly, a homebrewing blog I didn’t feel much need to update it since I hadn’t been brewing very much. The last two brew-days I’ve had were group brews with the Metro South Homebrew League. I’m hoping to squeeze another one in this week after Sunday’s semi-successful session. The club bought two barrels from Jack’s Abby, and we’ve brewed a Belgian Dubbel for one and a Flanders Red for the other. It’s shaping up that the Belgian barrel will get some kind of stout next.

Avery OOBS

Out of Bounds is roasty and dry. It smells sweet and chocolaty, but the flavor is more bitter with a strong roasty flavor. The bottle states that Avery isn’t “afraid to use a ton of roasted barley and a mountain of hops to give this full-bodied stout that little extra something.” It is definitely robust, finishing dry with a little bit of sweetness. A solid beer. Not what I was hoping for, but certainly not a disappointment.

I’m planning the next beer to be my pumpkin ale, Symphony of Decay.

Homebrew Review: Bandito

Oh shit, you guys. It’s that beer I never shut up about! Yes, the elusive IPA – a rarity into today’s craft beer market – has been my homebrewing white whale since my first failed attempts at the style (and its variants). It started with Suicide By Hops, an exercise in lupulin-based hubris. Completely foregoing any rational thought, I went straight for the double IPA style before even dabbling in its weaker (and therefore, inferior) namesake. I was reward with an uncarbonated and undrinkable liquid that I wouldn’t serve to my worst enemy (though I probably made my girlfriend taste it). Next I tried a black IPA, a style that is so well-defined and agreed upon that only a buffon could make a bad one… and thus Midnight In the Garden was born and subsequently withered on the vine.

It wasn’t until Cheeky Bastard that I first sniffed the citrusy, piney scent of potential success. And though Cheeky was a fragrant and full-bodied brew, it lacked the bitter oopf required of an IPA. And thus, the recipe and journey towards Bandito was embarked. So here we are…

Bandito 1So how is the mysterious, elusive Western brew? In the words of my friend Jamie “pretty freaking good.” But Jamie works for tips, so let’s take that with a grain of salt… then again, in the words of Matt (eponymous marzen fame) called it “really good. [H]oppy but not like “imma kick your tongue in its ass” kind of way.” Okay, 2 for 2. We can’t rely on Untappd for reliable results, since all the check-ins are mine. So I guess that leaves it up to me to analyze…

This beer was brewed and dry-hopped with a copious amount of Mosaic hops, which is said to have a distinctly “blueberry” quality. I don’t know if I agree with that assessment, but it does impart a unique, fruity quality in both smell and taste. You’d recognize the Bandito when it walked into  the room; the aroma is strong, pungent even, with that distinctly Mosaic stonefruit/tropical fruit/blueberry aroma, backed by an ample dry-hopping of Simcoe and Cascade that supports the fruity, citrusy character without completely dominating the resiny tinge. The malts, however, are fully dominated in aroma.

But not necessarily in taste. The hops are Bandito‘s flash but the malts temper that just the right amount to provide balance. This beer is bitter – 83 IBUs – but it doesn’t scorch your tongue. The flavor profile follows the aroma nicely, that distinct Mosaic mix of fruits leading the way. I kept it consistent with Simcoe and in the flavor/aroma additions, but used Nugget for the bittering phase. I am very happy with Nugget’s ability to give a nice “rounded” bitterness that lingers, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. The malts provide a vehicle for the hops, and that’s it. There’s no sweetness to this beer except in the hops’ fruitiness.

The finish is just dry enough to encourage the next step, but leaves that hint of bitterness of the tongue that let’s you know it was there. The mouthfeel is what you would expect from an IPA, but is a tad too slick and light for my preference. I want something a little chewier without being too sweet. The beer came out hazy, which is to be expected from the extensive double dry-hopping, but still a nice burnt orange color that is probably too dark for your usual IPA. The head is white-to-off-white and make of tiny bubbles. Not too much lacing on this one (it’s pretty quaffable so it doesn’t linger in the glass long).

So what’s the Final Verdict on Bandito?

I am happy with how this beer turned out, and that enthusiasm has been bolstered by the positives from everyone who has tried it. There are a few changes I would make, though. Firstly, I’d cut back on the Mosaic, or maybe sub it out entirely for Citra. Mosaic distinctness is not exactly in my wheelhouse for flavor. I think this beer does a very good job of showcasing Mosaic’s uniqueness without letting it get carried away, I think I would be better suited with a different hop at center stage. I also want to tool around with the yeast a bit. I get the feeling that this beer will  never be brilliantly clear, so I want to try to achieve that elusive Heady-Topper-esque mouthfeel that is simultaneously creamy and dry. I have a few yeasts I want to play around with to get closer to that style. I also think I might but the Crystal 40L just a touch to get a bit more sweetness. Unfortunately that’ll only serve to make Bandito darker, but I’m not worried too much about the color. Overall, though, I think this is one of the better beers I’ve made  to date.

The recipe for Bandito can be found here, along with all my other recipes.

 

Beer Review: Banner’s Run to Equinox

I reviewed a Banner beer yesterday (actually both of these beers were reviewed Thursday, but I’m time-travelling via the magic of the Internet and virgin sacrifice). Today I’ve got another that I picked up at my local. Today’s beer is Banner’s Run to Equinox, a hoppy brown ale.

Banner Equinox 1

Run to Equinox is another sessionable beer, weighing in at 4.2% ABV and again, I am thoroughly impressed with the flavor density (a term I just made up) in this beer. First off though, this is another good looking beer. Mostly clear, but particularly bright for a brown ale, I’d call this a toasted brown color that’s much more translucent than a lot of brown ales I’m used to. It a thin white head that leaves some decent lacing on my pint glass. Aroma-wise I don’t get a ton of hop notes (in fairness this beer was canned on 2/20/14, so some of that may have dissipated), but I do get a nice nutty, toasty malt smell. It has that “brown ale” aroma note that I can’t quite name, but regardless it’s a nice smell. Taste-wise this is a really solid brown ale. Unfortunately, I don’t get too much of the “hoppy” in this “hoppy brown ale.” Biscuity and nutty with hints of caramel and toffee. A nice full-body on this beer too, with a silky mouthfeel. But not sweet; there are hops here for bitterness that helps balance this beer out but nothing I would call hoppy. It’d guess the hops are of the earthy, spicy, floral variety

Final Verdict: As far as brown ales go, I really like Run to Equinox. Brown ales are one of my favorite – and I feel under-appreciated – styles. This is a really strong example, and not one that goes overboard with body, booze or hops. I really easy drinking brown ale that I can recommend pretty easily.

Banner Equinox 3

Beer Review: Banner American Ale

Note: Another version of this review was posted but seems to have disappeared from the site.

When you say “I could really use a beer,” what is it about the beer that you’re looking for? Is it a particular type of beer? A particular flavor? Or just the idea of the beer? Beer means so many different things to so many different people, yet it seems like a universal sentiment to say “I could really use a beer.”

I bring this up because I personally, and loudly, just uttered those words. The beer I reached for was Banner’s American Ale. Banner’s name, label and whole ethos lacks any of complexity-cum-pretentiousness that craft beer has become known for (rightly and wrongly depending on the beer/brewer/voice in question).

Banner AA 1

This American Ale is a paltry 3.4% ABV, making it more sessionable than mostsession beers. That said, the flavor on this beer is more potent than what I’m used to from beer’s twice its weight; not really, unless that beer is Bud Light Platinum, but this is a very robust flavor for such a light beer. The aroma and flavor are both malt-forward without being sweet (there are notes of caramel as well). There’s a biscuity/bready character to the smell and taste that is pleasant and inviting. But the malts are not alone; the there is a spicy hop character to this beer as well that balances out the malts with a firm, if light, bitterness. You will not mistake this beer for a red IPA, but that’s a good thing.

It’s a pretty beer, with a amber color that is fairly bright and clear for what I’m assuming is an unfiltered ale. Carbonation is good, with a thin white head that didn’t leave much lacing on my pint glass. The mouthfeel is light without being watery.

Final Verdict:  I really like this as a session beer. I am amazed that a beer this light can have such a strong flavor. The flavor isn’t complex, but you don’t always want that in a beer, especially one you plan to drink 6 of (I only have the one, but I wouldn’t see an issue putting down a bunch of these). This is an excellent summer/”lawn-mower” beer. It’s a beer I’d recommend to most folks, especially to the Bud/Miller/Coors crowd who like a light beer, but might want a little (a lot!) more flavor.

Banner AA 3