Monday, January 18, 2016

kicking the year off right... sound check 1-2-3


It's been awhile since my last post, but I have been busy brewing up a storm, drinking all over Belgium and Germany, laying out a new website, and much, much, more!... so my posts unfortunately have taken a temporary backseat, but they will soon return, I promise!

In the interim, I wanted to share this conversation I had earlier this month with Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting. If you're interested in hearing me talk about hombrewing (direct form the source!) take a listen to the podcast here.

Cheers + Happy New Year!
Nancy

Friday, August 21, 2015

Lagers... Chicago to Germany!

Guten tag! Germany or bust! My bags (and bottles) are packed! I'm headed to visit my dear friends, Csilla and Daniel who live in Ludwigshafen, right outside of Frankfurt.

Daniel grew up in Mönchengladbach. He's a big fan of football and a great beer. His favorite style is an Altbier, a copper to brownish lager with medium body and no hops or esters present. This beer style originated in Düsseldorf near his hometown.
  
On my last visit to Germany, in 2012, my friends took me to the breweries of Colonge and Düsseldorf. At that time I was not into home brewing yet, but I have always had an appreciation for great beers and trying the local brew. I loved the history of these two cities, which are separated by a river, having some very distinct and almost opposite styles. And I was amazed to find out that almost all the breweries in these two cities only brew one beer and true to one style per city. Each city stakes their claim on a style and each brewery has an interpretation of that style...  Colonge owns the Kolsch, a light and complex refreshing lager (see pic to left from my refreshing bier at Fruh) and Düsseldorf on the other side of the river claims a bit darker style... an Altbier. In each city they have many breweries but they only brew that one style and one beer per brewery. So when you go there you don't need to see a beer menu, you just ask for a beer and they will bring you their house beer. Think of it as beer tapas... you hop and hop from one brewery to another trying the subtle differences in the beer styles that each city has to offer.

But be careful when you are drinking beer in Colonge... if your glass is empty, they just bring you another without asking. They do not ask you if you want another beer, they just assume you do if your glass is less than half-full. If you want them to stop bringing you beer, you need to put your beer coaster on top of your beer glass.

When I told Daniel that my neighborhood brewery, Metropolitan Brewing, was brewing an Alt, he was surprised and excited to try it. Until recently, Altbier been a very rare beer to find commercially. So I decided to round up a collection of some Chicago brewed lagers to take with me. Metropolitan has yet to release their Oktoberfest (it will be hitting the markets very soon in Sept.!), but they were kind enough to provide me with a few bottles for the journey to Duetchland! I'm very excited to share these beers with my friend and ask him what he thinks. Maybe he will be nice enough to provide some reviews once he's had a sip! What do you think Daniel?

Nancy Brew drinking an Altbier outside at Uerige in Düsseldorf. It was a bit chilly and rainy on this Autumn day, but my company and the beer kept my spirits warm.  

Other German breweries visited:

Pfaffen Brewery - Cologne
Their food is amazapants! Pretty much a fried egg on anything gets a thumbs up from me!

Fruh - Cologne
Too easy to sit outside and put down a handful of these without even realizing it... especially after you climb the church tower across the street. 
Füchschen Alt  - Düsseldorf
Crazy like a fox, this place has some character.

Hausbrauerei Zum Schlussel - Düsseldorf
Don't leave without a bite to eat!

Hofbrauhaus - Munich
A classic...
One of my favorite German breweries!
Spaten - Muinch
Another classic...

Nancy Brew wants to know!
Do you have a favorite German beer style or brewery? Is it in Germany or the States?
Do you like brewing lagers? If so, what's your favorite style to brew?


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Home to Pro, a Q+A series: Brian Buckman of Illuminated Brew Works, Chicago (West Loop) IL

Brewer: Brian Buckman
Brewery Name: Illuminated Brew Works
Location:
Chicago-West Loop IL

BACKGROUND
Q - How did you get into home brewing?
A - Years of research and development and a strong desire to spend more time around beer inspired the start of this project. 

Q - When did you know you wanted to go pro?
A - The switch just flipped immediately. Matt and I have worked on several projects over the years and we’ve both always enjoyed the physical parts of those projects as well as the problem solving skills required. If hard work and puzzles turn you on, then brewing is the perfect fit. Add to that that I really enjoy seeing people get off on an intoxicant of my making. So when I started brewing it was like coming home after a long time away.
 
PROCESS 
Q How long did it take from initially thinking you wanted to go pro and when it was actualized?
A - Around 6 years. 
Q - If you were to outline a simple 5 step process from transitioning from hobby to professional, what would it be?

  1. Start by spending some real time around a brewery to see if this is something you really want to do, and I mean real time. Volunteer somewhere and spend enough time for the honeymoon to wear off. 
  2. Make a business plan and a pro-forma. Figure out how much money you’re going to need, then double that, then add 30%... and then leave yourself an extra buffer of about 30% on top of that.
  3. Check out a lot of breweries and see who is doing things in a way that is smarter, better or more interesting than other places. The time I spent at Une Annee was invaluable. Seeing Jerry’s solutions for his brewhouse was a huge inspiration for us.  
  4. Put together a good team. Nobody can do this alone... and why would you want to?
  5. Don’t rush.

Q - What was an obstacle that you had to overcome to open your brewery or get licensed?
A - We’ve been through at least 3 skins in the process of getting IBW open. One of those was around 2012 when we were looking to open a brew pub in Oak Park.  we were working with some investors that we aligned with because we wanted to get rolling, not because we had a good chemical fit with them. They had shitty ideas but a lot of money. We had great ideas but no money and they really started to think that their money made their ideas good. It became clear fast that we were going after something much different. We fired them and about ended our friendship. We took about 6 months off from talking to each other and hanging out and then slowly began rebuilding our friendship. After some time we came back to our ideas, pairing down to essentials and we started thinking very hard about how we could do this without bringing in investor money. Once we made that honest assessment of ourselves we found the project began take life again.

Q - Any weird state or government laws you had to battle?
A - Nah.

Q - What do you know now that you wished you had known before starting the process? 
A - The capital expenses really have been a surprise and we were pretty honest and seasoned as far as figuring out our costs. But, particularly because of the way we’ve done this, growing organically rather than looking for a sugar daddy... cap ex just keeps coming and shaking us down. It’s little stuff like extra tri-clamps or a broken chiller or some tool or some gauge or some build out need, they just keep at you. Every month it’s something new and unexpected. It really is surprising and sometimes painful.

Q - Would you do anything differently? 
A - Well, we clearly had to learn the lesson about investors probably to help us later down the road. That said, I would have liked to have not lost 2 years and change on that first phase and to be where we are now back in 2012, but so be it, this is the narrative and I’m not complaining.



















THE NUMBERS
Q
-
What did your start up cost? How did you fund it?
 

A - We worked *very* hard to keep our start up costs down. We’ve spent about $35k up to this point which, when you compare that to other professional breweries of our size, it’s pretty impressive. Jason has been a huge help. He worked with me visiting other fabricators from Wisconsin and visiting breweries to come up with a plan for our brewhouse and building it out. You cannot overvalue having a professional welder on your team.

Q - What size barrel system is your brew house? How much beer are you planning to produce annually? 
A - We can make 7.5bbls at a pop and we’ve got 20bbls capacity.









YOUR BEER 
Q - How did you come up with your brewery name?  
A - I like the Promethean fuck you attitude of great beer and I’ve always wanted to run a cult. You do the math.

Q - What differentiates your beer from other craft breweries? What's your style?
A -
We do what we call American Farmhouses.  it’s purposefully oblique. I’m not a fan of styles and we try to thoughtfully break the rules of styles with our beer.  but mostly we're just making beer that i want to drink.  which generally is low ABV, high complexity beers that work very well with delicious food and can be consumed for about 20 hours at a time without spinning you out too much.  we also don’t put much focus on hops at all at this point.  i kind of want to get hops out of our beer altogether.  we let the yeast drive to boat. it’s far more interesting to me as a beer drinker and a brewer. 

Q - How are you going to set yourself apart?
A -
Making complex, yeast driven beer has proven very effective as a differentiator up to this point.

Q - If a consumer can take away one beer or a vibe about your beer company, what would you want them to remember about you and why? 
A - That we make beer that tastes like no one else's, that our beer makes them smarter and will reward them greatly in the next life. 

THE FUTURE OF CRAFT 
Q - Where do you see your start-up brewery headed in 5 years?  
A - We’ll have multiple bars doing delicious and hilarious things to back up our continually evolving beer gestalt.

Q - If you could give one piece of advice to a home brewer that wants to go pro, what would it be?
A - If you don’t have a method of intense and honest self-reflection right now, get one right away. 

Q - Anything else you want to add?
A - Have fun.
Nancy Brew wants to know! 

 - Are you in the process of transitioning from home brewer to a pro brewer? If so, I'd love to hear from you!

- Are you curious about transitioning from home brewer to pro? Did you find this Q/A helpful? 

 - What other questions do you want to know about going Pro?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Get carried away with these Summertime Beer Floats!

Just in time for the weekend! Try one of this Summer beer floats to cool off with and chill out...
Because I love making things from scratch, this past year I've also started making my own sorbets to go with some of my beers. The floats are perfect for parties, BBQ's and really get a wow factor from your friends. Here are some of my favorite beer float combinations and recipes.

French vanilla ice cream with a Chocolate Roasty Stout
My homebrew: Hex Mex Mocha
Commercial try: Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout or Begyle Neighborly Stout


Raspberry Mint Sorbet with a Sour Beer
My homebrew: Lemony Lick-its, Berliner Weisse
Commercial: Counter Clockwisse by Destihl
Here is the Raspberry Sorbet recipe I used.

Blueberry Basil Sorbet with a Belgian Saison
My homebrew: Blue & Green, A blueberry green tea Saison
Commercial: Eille by Off Color Brewing
Here is the Blueberry Sorbet recipe I used, but I infused the simple syrup with fresh basil from my garden.

 I'd recommend making all the sorbets and ice creams at least one day in advance so they can get firm enough to scoop. Be creative and start with a basic recipe and if you feel like adding some citrus zest an herb or a spice, go for it!

Nancy Brew wants to know! Do you have a favorite beer float? If so, I'd love to hear about which combination is your favorite.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Home to Pro, a Q+A series: Shaun Kalis of Ruse Brewing. Portland, Ore


Brewer: Shaun Kalis
Brewery Name: Ruse Brewing
Location:
Portland, Ore

BACKGROUND
Q - How did you get into home brewing?
A - I got into homebrewing when my college roommate needed help bottling some of his homebrew, I thought it was so cool and interesting. The whole act of creation and having a start to finish of something seemed so inspiring. I have an art and music background and it fit perfectly as the puzzle piece of my imagination.

Q - How did you get initially get into the industry?
A - I lucked out and my girlfriend happened to be working at a pub that needed an assistant brewer. She recommended me to the head brewer (who was also from Michigan like myself). We met and really hit it off. Not only was I a homebrewer (and not a very knowledgeable one), but I also worked in sales at a great craft beer bottle shop in the Detroit suburbs. These experiences helped me get my foot in the door. I basically learned to become a brewer on a commercial scale without much homebrewing or any experience. I was only 22 when I became a brewer too.

Q - When did you know you wanted to go pro?
A - It took me a couple of years of learning about styles and homebrewing before I wanted to go Pro. I also studied Entrepreneurship at Central Michigan University where I did my final business plan on a brewing company operation. It all came full circle when my girlfriend suggested we move to Portland, Oregon...the craft beer capital. Then I knew I had to pursue this as a dream and career. 
PROCESS 
Q - If you were to outline a simple 5 step process from transitioning from hobby to professional, what would it be?
  1.  Look into schooling. I studied Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering at the American Brewers Guild. (A school taught by all brewers) The knowledge you will gain will be unreal. I learned so much, even after 5years of already having the commercial experience.
  2. Ask as many questions as possible. The brewing industry is by far one of the coolest, most brewers are excited and willing to help. Emails work great for questions.
  3.  Read as many books as possible. There are some great books out there, especially the brewers publication books!
  4.  Train your palette. Sensory analysis is one of the most important aspects of our industry. If it doesn’t taste or smell good, then figure out the why.
  5. Yeast is your best friend. My company is a very yeast forward brewery focusing on beers such as Saisons and mix culture barrel aged beers. Make sure your yeast is healthy and you are pitching at accurate rates at ALL times.

Q - What was an obstacle that you had to overcome to open your brewery or get licensed?
A - Getting money. Banks have tightened up money big time and SBA loans for a high risk startup is not an option. Private money can be hard to obtain because of the huge amount of startup capital needed. I still am facing this challenge. Although I currently don’t have my own facility open, I am brewing my brand out of another brewery get started. Unlike contract brewing where you hand over your recipe and another manufacturer produces it, I just rent the brewery space to use when I need. I store my kegs, raw materials there just like the brewery is mine. This was the best option for me until I gain the adequate capital I need to open my own facility or I am no longer considered a high-risk startup. 

Q - Any weird state or government laws you had to battle?
A - The TTB wait times have been less than ideal but what are you going to do. 

Q - What do you know now that you wished you had known before starting the process? 
A - What I have learned along the way is to have patience. Opening a successful business takes all necessary planning and steps to get ready. Don’t rush it. Be humble, ask questions.

THE NUMBERS
Q
-
What did your start up cost? How did you fund it?
 

A - Startup cost-$552,000. (200k for buildout, don’t compromise in this area because it will cost more than you think) Still working on all the funding. I had 50k of my own to get my Alternating Proprietorship, I also have a lead on a family friend investor back in Michigan. I would ideally like to be privately funded to avoid any bank relationships which I don’t like so much. 

Q - What size barrel system is your brew house? How much beer are you planning to produce annually? 
A - It's a 10bbl system, with 10’s 20’s & 30bbl FV’s. I plan to do 1500bbls by year 3 and no more than 3000 at my facility. I want to stay small.













YOUR BEER 
Q - How did you come up with your brewery name?  
A - I had it on a list of potential names and a few buddies and I were sitting around brainstorming, they really liked the name. (I actually thought it when I was listening to "My Friend," by Phish) I'm going to kinda tie ruse's into my branding...just like the penrose triangle, mazes, etc. I have always liked things that make you think when you look at them. I plan on my tasting room to have all sorts of visual arts for customers to enjoy and ponder. I am also a huge fan of MC Escher, I always have thought..what would his brewery tasting room look like...hmmm, this is when the whole Ruse Brewing lightbulb went off. 

Q - What differentiates your beer from other craft breweries? What's your style?
A -
How am I going to make myself different. Not a huge fan of this question because we are not reinventing the wheel. But I want to incorporate my love for music, art, and craft beer by having a music venue/art galley brewery in which shows are paired with beer releases. I like the fruit and floral of Oregon in some many ways and hope to highlight these in my beers. Supporting other business and my local community is must of my company. It is pretty amazing I can get all my ingredients for Ruse Brewing within a 60 mile radius. 

Q - If a consumer can take away one beer or a vibe about your beer company, what would you want them to remember about you and why? 
A - If a customer wanted to take one vibe away from my company it would be to expect many different beers and less year rounds. I plan on having 4 year rounds and the rest will most likely be one offs. Also, is that we stay true to what we believe in..art inspired and community and culture driven. The romance for us is to have less of a predictable road. 

THE FUTURE OF CRAFT 
Q - Where do you see your start-up brewery headed in 5 years?  
A - My brewery by year 5 will be packaging much more..standard and sour released stuff will be available to a wider consumer base..WA, ID, CA, CO. I hope to open a second location maybe..Just a tasting room. 
As for the industry, you will start seeing closures. There is no more room for mediocre beer. Set the bar high for yourself and your company…you have one chance in this industry. If the beer is not good, cut your losses. I have definitely dumped barrels in the past that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them. 

Q - If you could give one piece of advice to a home brewer that wants to go pro, what would it be?
A - You never stop learning, be humble and ask tons of questions and learn from each other. Share things that have worked for you too.
 

Nancy Brew wants to know! 

- Are you in the process of transitioning from home brewer to a pro brewer? If so, I'd love to hear from you!

- Are you curious about transitioning from home brewer to pro? Did you find this Q/A helpful? 

 - What other questions do you want to know about going Pro?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Beer/Food Pairing - Infographic tea towel!

Few things amuse me more than well executed infographics, so when I saw these awesome and beautiful tea towels featuring food and beer pairings, from UK designer, Stuart Gardiner, I had to have it!

He also makes white and red wine charts too and other beer graphic items. Perfect gift for any foodie and craft lover.

Nancy Brew wants to know! 

- Do you have a perfect craft beer gift for a beer lover? What is it?  

Monday, July 13, 2015

How to become a better brewer... Study the Classics.

When I first got into homebrewing, I had no idea that there was such a thing as classic beer styles, but I soon learned that you needed to know them, if you wanted to be a better brewer and/or were going to enter into home-brewing competitions.

The first time I entered my Maironberry Belgian Triple, I was a bit confused on which category it fell into... was it a Belgian Triple, a fruit beer, or a Belgian specialty?  I ended up entering it as a fruit beer, because the fruit was primary dominate. But then it got me thinking... What else don't I know about beer? I mean I've been drinking it for well over 15 years, good beers too, but it's a whole different level when you start to brew it. I thought if I'm going to embrace brewing beer, invest in equipment and the hobby, spend the better part of my days elbows deep in grain, I should further my knowledge and get this right, right?

So from Fall of 2013 to the Summer of 2014, I spent many of my days studying for the BJCP. At that point I was brewing almost weekly, and Brewing Classic Styles, was my go to guide on many recipes. I had fallen in love with brewing pretty quickly and felt the need to literally emerge myself in all things craft and to be honest I felt a bit behind... How was I not doing this any earlier in my life? I had always loved craft beer and even thought about homebrewing years ago, when I'd attend other craft beer festivals where they had a homebrewing shop in attendance. I just never pulled the trigger until Spring of 2013. And at that time none of my friends were brewing and I wanted to find others who shared my passion and had some knowledge and more experience than me. I was looking for a community.

I researched online, and found a bunch of local home brew clubs and online forums. There were a few local club stand outs... Square Kegs, Evanston Home Brew Club, and CHAOS (Chicago Hombrewers Alchemist of Suds). I loved all the clubs when visiting their monthly meetings, the members were friendly, the beer was tasty, but there was one standout... CHAOS. They are a registered non-for-profit organization dedicated to furthering one's education on craft brewing and becoming better craft consumers through classes and seminars. They also had their own space to brew, which is key in an urban area, and they had a ton of social events, perfect for the social butterfly in me. 

Luckily, that same year they were offering a series of monthly classes to study for the BJCP, a Beer Judge Certification Program which studies the classic styles. I had stumbled upon these late, and didn't start attending the classes until Fall 2013. The 2 hour classes consisted of studying one classic category per month. This was great, because we'd get an overview on the style by a BJCP Master, James Lewis, and then taste classic examples of the style using style sheets to take your notes as you would do on the tasting exam or when beer judging. The classes started in January 2013, and I had just jumped on board in Sept. so I was way behind the rest of them, which meant I had to do a lot of studying on my own. This seemed challenging at first, I had suddenly realized I forgot how to study. I hadn't studied anything since college, which was well over a decade ago, but to my benefit BJCP.org offers PDF study guides and flashcards that you can download to help you review.

I downloaded the flash cards to study/memorize the classic styles and off flavors. I spoke them out aloud, highlighted important differentiators, and wrote them out in a notebook. I even had my friends quiz me with the cards. I also reviewed the judging ethics guidelines, which also counts for a portion on the exam and over all score. The BJCP is a 2-part exam. The first is an online multi-choice, multi-answer timed 60 minute exam that consists of 200 questions. You must get 70% overall or higher to pass and 70% or higher. The exam has questions ranging from: technical brewing aspects, classic style references, detecting off-flavors, and judging ethics. After you pass the online exam, you're allowed to take the tasting exam at a sanctioned registered location, which you must register for. Many places have waiting lists, so you need to secure your spot once you pass the exam, as your opportunity to take the tasting exam will expire in one year from passing the online test.

I recommend purchasing the 3 pack exam. I took the first one totally blind, before heavily studying, but still with some knowledge. I noted the questions and what they asked and what I needed to improve on in my areas of study and I assessed my pacing then adjusted my method to complete it in time. I found it most efficient to answer every question as you came across it and if I was unsure to flag it and revisit later. When I tried to skip questions, I just ran out of time and wasn't able to answer everything in the 60 minutes. Clearly I didn't pass the first go. It wasn't my intention to pass, I just wanted to get a feel for the environment of it first. The second attempt I made was a success and I did that by heavily studying all the areas covered.  

Once I received my certification for Provisional Judge, I started studying up for the tasting exam. This consisted of actually drinking the classic styles and partaking in some competitions as an Apprentice or Provisional judge. I bought one of each of the classic styles and photo documented the label with a poured sample in a plastic taster glass to simulate the tasting exam. I filled out an offical judging form for each style of beer I tasted, which helped with sensory memorization. Binny's, in Chicago is a great beer store for these purchases, because they sell most of the classic beers and you can usually find in build your own six pack area, if not one of the employees usually will be nice enough to open up a pack to put it in that section. Get a friend or neighbor to help you finish your beers, as you should only allow yourself to drink 1-2 ounces of each beer, so that you don't get too tipsy and hinder your senses on the later beers.

The tasting exam is also intense. I was able to take mine at the AHA 2014 National Homebrewers Conference. I was in a conference like room, with long rows of tables set up with water and crackers set up on each. Your given mechanical pencils as regular Number 2s shavings, may infringe on your sense of smell. And wearing perfume, cologne, or chapstick/lipstick is strongly discouraged, since these too can interfere with yours and your neighbors senses. You're given blindly 6 beers to evaluate in 15 minutes a piece. The only thing that is provided to you, is the style of beer. Everything else you're senses and beer knowledge must do the rest of the work. Which includes observing and documenting the beer for: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression, noting any off-flavors if present and how well it falls into it's said category. After turning in all of your judging sheets, you must wait for 3 to 6 months for your scores to come back, since they are hand-graded and compared to Master judges notes of the exact same beers. While you are judging the beers in one room with fellow judging candidates, master judges are in a room near by also judging the exact same beers at the exact same time that you are taking your tasting exam. There notes are used to compare and contrast against your notes to assess your level of knowledge and understanding of the styles. Then there is a point value system to rank your level, once you passed. I luckily found out on Christmas Eve 2014, that I passed and was ranked a Recognized Beer Judge, it was the best Christmas present!  

I also continue to further my education on craft beer by recently passing the Cicerone (CBS) exam with a goal of working towards the Cicerone title and I'm also currently reading Brewing Like a Monk as some of my favorite styles are Belgian. I have yet to brew all the classic styles, that would be a definite undertaking, but I wouldn't discount that possibility either. I love to continually evolve and work towards being a better brewer.

Nancy Brew wants to know!

- Are you interested in becoming a BJCP or are you currently studying to be a judge? Are you one already? If so, where are you located?

- What are you doing to become a better brewer? Do you have a method, a recommended book?

I'd love to hear what your thinking!

Happy Brewing, Nancy