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
Chicago-West Loop IL

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.
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.

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.

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. 

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
Portland, Ore

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. 
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.

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.

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 inspired and community and culture driven. The romance for us is to have less of a predictable road. 

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 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


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pouring in Portlandia - Top5 Tuesday

When I was in my 20's my sister lived in Portland and I'd visit her at least once a year. She'd take me to the coolest places, like McMenamins Pubs, which I loved for not only their artistic creativity of their spaces but for their food and drink as well. She introduced me to craft beer and wine tasting in general. I can still remember the first time I tasted the Ruby, a McMenamins raspberry ale. I had no idea there was such a thing as fruity beer, it tasted so good! In Chicago at that time, there was no craft beer option, other than Goose Island, and they were brewing more traditional styles not fruity or experimental ones.  

This past weekend was my first time back to the Pacific Northwest in years and I knew there would be so many favorites to revisit and new places to discover. Below are my Top5 Breweries, and Top5 Beer Bars in Portlandia to grab a tulip of liquid bread. I also have my Top5 that I need to hit up next time. Unfortunately there weren't enough days to see and drink everything that I wanted. I had to make some tough choices and we went to mostly to breweries where you can't buy their beer here in Chicago.

Top5 Breweries in Portland

  1. The Commons Brewery - If European inspired craft is what you crave, Commons has your answer. We ordered one of everything... please. They had 10 on tap. I love getting tasters to try a bunch of different styles. It's my favorite way to taste a new brewery. I feel like I'm able to get a sense of their quality and style as a whole. The space was a large and inviting warehouse with charm. My favorites here were Rouge Melange a delicious blend of a fruit beer and a Syrah, Fleur de Blanc a saison, Aquavit Urban Farmhouse, and the Baltic Porter.
  2. Upright - If you can find this brewery in the basement of the building that it says it's in, you should automatically get a free tulip of craft upon arrival. We walked here from the White Eagle Saloon, where we were staying... it wasn't far, it's just under a mile, but it was 95 degrees out and super moist. Then we walked around the entire building which was a full block in width, because Google didn't indicate the entrance side. We were fully parched about the time we found the door. Then we walked up the stairs and then down the stairs, and finally took an elevator to the basement. If there was one top-secret brewery in Portland, it would be Upright. Their beers are very much undercover! We had a full flight, some of which we can get in Chicago, but I had not had yet. Their 4-7 series, are sold at my local bottle shop, but I've never had 5-7. They were tasty and of that series 6 and 7 were my favorites, and their Barleywine was perfection, but BB Stout stole the show for me... A blueberry stout. I'm such a sucker for a good stout.   
  3. Casscade Brewing - House of sours, oh my! Their Honey Ginger Lime beer was one of the most magical beers I've ever tasted. It was a perfect combination of sweet, tart, and spice. I would have gotten a bottle to go, but because they use raw honey, sadly they do not bottle it. I'm definitely going to have and try to recreate that one! Another great was a holiday ale called, "Red, White, and Brew" It was a really fantastic blend between a beer and a wine. This beer was a combination of cherries, white wine barrels, and blueberries. If you go when it's really warm, dress lightly. They don't have air-conditioning and their high-alcohol chilled beers go down way too easy in the heat.
  4. Base Camp - These guys are real campy... see what I did there? Ha. I loved the outdoorsy vibe that translated from their space, to their bottle design, and even to their beer styles... like S'more stout, which was served with a real toasted marshmallow on the side of the glass, as you ordered. Other great brews to try: In-Tents, Lost Meridian Wit, and Solstice IRL, which is an Indian Pale Lager 
  5. McMenamins - Super biased here. Not only is McMenamins one of the first places I ever drank craft, but it's also one of the original Portland breweries who helped pave way, even in legislature, for other breweries and brew pubs to follow. I also love that when they move into the buildings that they reside in, like old saloons, schools, chapels, firehouses, etc., that they embrace their original character and history of each. They are all different and yet the artwork throughout each binds them together. The other cool thing is that they have many hotels in these establishments so you can stay the night right above the pub! Talk about convenience. Every visit to Portland, must involve a few visits to their establishments and they make that even easier with their McMenamins passport. I purchased one while I was there and collected stamps from each place I visited, then combinations of those stamps allow you to win prizes. On this trip we went to/stayed at: White Eagle Saloon, Chapel Pub, Hotel Oregon, Cellar Pub, Rooftop bar, Lighthouse Brewpub, Crystal Hotel, Al's Den, Zeus Cafe, Ringlers Pub, Bagdad Pub, and Edgefield, which includes a winery, distillery, and their main brewery, among other awesome amenities like soaking pool, spa, pool hall, pub golf course, brew and view, and many restaurants. Take a look at their campus map here. Oh and don't forget the beer... Try the Ruby, Terminator Stout, or the Bagdad!














Top5 Beer Bars in Portland

  1. Horse Brass Pub - Shaun from the White Eagle Saloon recommended this gem and if I lived in Portland, this is where you'd find me. A lovely classic English pub with the best Reuben I've ever tasted! Seriously. It paired beautifully with Fred by Hair of the Dog Brewing Company. Another tasty stout with those of you who have a sweet tooth was Black Cherry Stout by Walking Man Brewing. The craft list was expansive and impressive, the staff was cheerful and friendly, I'll definitely be back.
  2. Belmont Station - Jesse was the most helpful bottle shop guy ever. He walked me through each Oregon brewery, bottle-by-bottle, and I had a delicious Commons Porter while I shopped. Yum.
  3. Baileys Tap Room- Co-creator of the digital beer board called, Digital Pour. This might be the coolest bit of technology to ever grace a taproom. Among the usual, like beer style, brewery and description, it also lists the remaining ounces/pours left in a keg, the appropriate glassware, and sizes/pours offered. The beer list was impressive too. My favorite taster there was Red Sea Imperial Red With Chocolate by Caldera Brewing Company. Which everyone could read off their digital social media board as I posted what I was drinking there. 
  4. Saraveza - Midwest roots run deep in this shop, and not just because of the New Glaurus bottles decorating the bar, the shop owner herself, Sarah is from Wisconsin. Everything about this bottle/beer shop was super chill and ready to go for some day drinking with a friendly bartender. We had a flight of Oregon beers that were on tap and some of my favorites were...  Marionberry Wildfire by Block 15 Brewing Company and Lime Habanero by Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co.  
  5. Hop & Vine - Another awesome woman owed craft beer bottle shop, yes please. Where else can you get bacon wrapped dates, craft on draft, and a bottle of Commons to go?

Top5 (must visit on next return!)

  1. Breakside
  2. Heater Allen
  3. Burnside Brewing
  4. Gigantic
  5. Hair of the Dog
  6. *Bonus: Ruse Brewing (new to the craft scene!)

Nancy Brew wants to know! Is there something that I missed? Did I pass over a favorite watering hole of yours? Please let me know. I'd love to hear your favorites and check them out next time I visit. Cheers!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Beligum or Bust!

This Summer I'll be heading to the International Beer Writers Conference in Belgium. I haven't been back to Belgium since I studied abroad in France during the last Summer semester of college when I was 22 years old. Back than I didn't have the appreciation or palette for fine beers, so needless to say I'm excited to revisit and expand my knowledge of the craft.

In addition to going to Belgium, I'll also be visiting France and Germany, so this winter I brushed up on my French at Alliance Française de Chicago. I still have a far way to go as it's been since High School since I took French, but it was great to have the refresher.

Some of my favorite beers to drink and brew are Belgian styles, so I'm thrilled to get the chance to go to Belgium meet the brewers and drink fresh saisons, tappists, lambics, and more, direct from the source while talking shop. I'm also reading Brewing like a Monk, which I purchased at the past National Homebrewer Confernece in San Diego earlier this month. The book goes into detail on the history of Belgium brewing and the origins of the holy grail of tappists beers, while also providing some homebrewing recipes for beers like Dupont. I'm also hoping to find time to squeeze in brewing session of a Dubbel before I leave. I have yet to brew that style and would love to drink it in the Fall when I return.  

Below is taste... a visual beer wall of what I'll get to drink on this trip, it's an the amazing lineup! I can almost taste the effervescent bubbles dancing on my tongue!

Brewery PALM
Lindemans Brewery
Dupont Brewery
Dubuisson Brewery

Featured breweries: 
Omer Vander Ghinste
Van Eecke
De Koninck
De Brabandere
Van Honsebrouck
De Ryck

Other topics and activities at the the conference include:
History, Present, and Future of Brewing in Belgium
Press Conference & Live Beer Tweeting
Dinner at Brussel’s, Belga Queen followed by drinks at Delirium Café
Beer Marketing with: BrewDog, Nøgne Ø, and Modern Lambic
A Moveable Feast (walking lunch beer and food tour)
The State of Beer in Europe
Sour Beer Feature, Presented by De Brabandere
Pub Crawl with Paul Walsh of Belgian Beer & Food Magazine

Hopmuseum Poperinge
De Plukker in Poperinge
Abbey of Sint Sixtus
Struise Brouwers
Rodenbach Brewery
Brugs Beertje
Bourgogne des Flandres
Bruges Beer Museum
Brewery De Leite
he one day pre-conference excursion on Thursday, August 27th is hosted by the Belgian Family Brewers The excursion is 20€.  All meals, tours and expenses are covered during the excursion. The excursion will start and end at the Hotel Marivaux in Brussels.
Innovation Meets Tradition on the “Oak, Fruit, Hops, and More” Excursion with Belgian Family Brewers
  • 12 noon: Pick-up at Hotel Marivaux and transport to Diepensteyn Castle for Discussion of HOPS and Belgian beer with Brewery PALM
  • Transport to Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek for Education about the use of FRUIT in Belgian beer
  • Transport to Dupont Brewery for MORE beer secrets are uncovered 
  • Transport to Dubuisson Brewery for Discussion of OAK at the oldest brewery in Wallonia
- See more at:
he one day pre-conference excursion on Thursday, August 27th is hosted by the Belgian Family Brewers The excursion is 20€.  All meals, tours and expenses are covered during the excursion. The excursion will start and end at the Hotel Marivaux in Brussels.
Innovation Meets Tradition on the “Oak, Fruit, Hops, and More” Excursion with Belgian Family Brewers
  • 12 noon: Pick-up at Hotel Marivaux and transport to Diepensteyn Castle for Discussion of HOPS and Belgian beer with Brewery PALM
  • Transport to Lindemans Brewery in Vlezenbeek for Education about the use of FRUIT in Belgian beer
  • Transport to Dupont Brewery for MORE beer secrets are uncovered 
  • Transport to Dubuisson Brewery for Discussion of OAK at the oldest brewery in Wallonia
- See more at:

Nancy Brew wants to know! What's your favorite Belgian beer?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Honestly Mild - Seriously throwing back Thursday - a Vintage ale tale

Well this is indeed a Throw Back Thursday... all the way to 1865! The same year that  President Lincoln was assassinated.

My good friend Liz, from History on Tap, who is a Chicago Historian wanted to do an event to commemorate his life and work. Check out her documentary road trip following the birth, childhood, and up-bringing of a legendary man at For the Love of Lincoln. As Liz was telling me about her plans for the road trip, I got excited and wanted to contribute something to the event, so I proposed we also make a vintage beer that was popular 150 years ago. In the past we had discussed brewing vintage beers and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to link it to one of her events.

When I first started researching beers that were brewed in America 150 years ago, I found some really wacky recipes like "Spruce beer" which was boiled water and molasses, mixed with cold water and some spruce branches thrown in for some "earthy/bittering" flavor. I wasn't too keen on the idea of what this might taste like... Although part of me still wants to brew this beer, but maybe just a gallon, in case it's awful. After my internet searching went bust on recipes that I felt could be palatable, I turned to my home-brewing book, The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer, that provided previously commercially produced beers but in 5 gallon batch recipe proportions. The beer that I selected was a popular beer from 1865, an English Mild, made by an English brewery called Lovibond that closed in 1909. The beer was sold primarily to households and hospitals, but not to pubs. Today, Milds are almost an extinct beer, although more recently I have seen a few craft breweries starting to produce it, and because of it's rarity I was really looking froward to brewing this style.

I plugged in the recipe provided in the book into my Beersmith software to see if the recipe was balanced. The stats showed it would be more like a dirty blonde, rather than a brown beer, which is what the color should be by standards today. This gets tricky, cause even if you brew a beer or cook a dish from a recipe that is decades or hundreds of years old. Try as you might, this still will not be the same outcome. Our food sources are evolving, chemicals, and government restrictions are monitoring our food production, so it would be an impossible feat to identically have the exact same grains, hops, and yeast they had access too. Even our water is most likely (I'd hope) better purified now. So this beer is in fact mimicking what it might have tasted like, but it's not an exact match. The ABV is also effected because the ingredients varied. This beer back then would have been under 5%, but mine was closer to 6% because the conditions and ingredients I was brewing with provided a higher OG to produce a higher alcoholic beverage. I also ended up decided to add 1/8 of chocolate malt to the grain bill to get the color of the beer to at least on the low end of the acceptable browns so that a drinker would not be visually thrown off by it's appearance. I'm sure that this same recipe brewed back in 1865 was brown, or a murky muddy color, but with today's ingredients and fresh/purified water it would be at best a dirty blonde.

Honestly Mild, named after an honest man, who didn't really even drink, but I think if he did he would have liked this beer. I was really pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable it was. It was by it's own definition very mild. The hops and grain were really balanced, it was an easy beer to drink for everyday consumption and no fancy frills. I would brew this beer again.

Nancy wants to know!

Have you brewed any vintage beers? If so what were they and were did you locate the sources for the recipes?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Taste my beer at Goose Island!

This Wednesday March 25th at 6:30pm, Goose Island Clybourn Brewery and Pub is hosting their monthly Beer Academy Series and in honor of National Women's month, they are featuring Women at the helm of craft.

I've been invited to the event to share some of my homebrews, talk about the beer styles, and my brew club CHAOS where I brew them.

Come out at sample two of my beers French Kiss, a Belgian Saison with lavender and lemon thyme (6% abv) and Raving Banshee a classic Russian Imperial Stout (11% abv). Goose Island will also be featuring other beers by women in the craft beer industry, so there will be many styles to sample... including a special release by Goose Island of their Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad!

Call 312.915.0071 to reserve your spot, space is limited but a block of seats are set aside for Nancy Brew and CHAOS members. Hope to see you there!

Cheers, Nancy

I want to know!

Do you know other women that brew (commercially or at home) or who own/partnership in a brewery? Where are they located? What are their names and their breweries?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sláinte! Go black this St. Patricks Day! Top5 Tuesday - Best places to grab a dark pint from Chicago to Ireland!

Sláinte! A few years ago my sister and I went to Ireland, the mother-ship of our Irish heritage. I told her that among the castles, churches, culinary classes, and other shenanigans that we were about to get into that a visit to the Jameson distillery and the Guinness brewery was a must for me. She agreed and was a good sport, she even tried ciders for the first time. We had loads of fun hitting the pubs, which are in fact the only place to eat. They don't really have restaurants there, they have pubs... and the farm-to-table food is always fresh and pairs excellent with a stout.  

Photo caption: Selfie with my sister Mary. Taken at the top of the Guinness Brewery, Dublin in the GRAVITY® Bar. Which has a 360 view of the city and pours the best creamy pints of this delicious stout!

Many people also have a misconception about dark beer. They think dark equals strong. This is not the case. Guinness actually has fewer calories than a Budweiser or Corona Extra. It's only 125 calories a pint! When I was training for the marathon I considered it my go to diet beer. I really enjoy the dark roasted taste, I like bold flavors, but I'm also a coffee consumer and I've noticed that among my friends, those that don't love coffee usually stray from stouts. I love stouts and Guinness has a nice clean dry finish and with the right pour it can taste like our drinking a dry roasted frothy coffee... but it's beer!

I remember the first time I had this beer in London, while I was studying abroad in college. It was poured so differently than in the USA and you could get a half pint or full. I really love that about European drinking establishments, they let you choose your size, unlike so many American watering holes. It also was served a bit warmer, not so cold and it tasted better, more roasty, not so bitter, maybe fresher, maybe it was the temperature it was served at or a combinations of all of those things. Regardless, as long as I can remember I have been a fan of the black beer and to get a pour from the source that uses water from the Wicklow mountains was a dream! It really does taste better over there. Not that its not tasty here, it's just that water is a strong factor/ingredient in beer. Pending it's PH balance, minerals, and taste, water can taste differently and those differences can effect the overall outcome/taste of your beer.I think I'll need to do a post about water soon... but for now, here's my Top5 favorite places to grab a pint in an Irish pub in both Chicago and Ireland. I know there are hundreds, thousands even, but these places I've listed all have special meaning to me.

Top5 Chicago Irish Pubs

  1. Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro - Bangers and mash anyone? True to the Irish pub menu, they even serve blood sausage! Not personally one of my favorites, but it is a staple in the Irish breakfast. They have a large formal dinning area, cozy fireplace near the great wooden bar area, and an authentic gourmet food shop upfront. All the comforts of Ireland!
  2. Lady Gregory's Irish Bar & Restaurant - If whiskey and beer is what you crave, with a side of deviled eggs... then head over to this classic neighborhood pub where you can order whiskey flights like "Charlie Sheen Crazy" (you can only imagine how crazy that is...) or "Irish Singles Mixer" which is a collection of single malt whiskeys.Then wash down your flight with a frothy dark pint.
  3. O’Shaughnessy’s Public House - If you can't understand your bar keep cause his brogue is too thick, you're in the right place! Classic Irish pub fare and atmosphere. This is a great neighborhood gem, where not only the beer is imported, so are the employees!
  4. Cork & Kerry - A south-side institution. Having grown up on the south-side, I can say there are an unlimited number of pubs scattered down Western Ave. (The south-side Irish corridor) but this one has been there almost 30 years and is still going strong. One of the places I used to hit back in my college days. Definitely a must stop when down in Beverly.   
  5. Fado - OK, so they might be a chain, but they are all Irish owned and authentic. They will absolutely not allow you to order anything other than an Irish beverage... We'll at least they did that about 10 years ago. I was with my friend Erin, who kept trying to order a Miller Lite and the bartender kept saying "try again," until she figured out she needed to order something Irish and she ended up getting a Harp. I'm sure that was just a sassy bartender and really they'd let you order what you like, but that memory stayed with me. The Irish are proud, witty, and sometimes a bit pushy, but they just want to share the best they have to offer with ya! You can also catch just about any football (soccer) match or rugby game here. 
Honorable mention: Reilly's Daughter at Midway Airport. Just passing through Chicago? This is a must. Family owned and operated true to the south-side Irish for decades.

Top5 Ireland Pubs

  1. Temple Bar - Dublin, a bit touristy, but it's a must for live Irish music, the perfect pint of Guinness and some oysters. Everyone that's passed through Dublin, I'm sure has passed through the Temple Bar at least once. 
  2. Hargadon's Pub - Sligo Hands down, my favorite pub for food in Sligo! The beef stew was mouth-watering, made with grass-fed beef, fresh vegetables, mash and washed down with a pint of Guinness. I can't wait to go back.
  3. Sheehan's Pub - Killarney. Loud and lively. This place is jam packed with people and music. Live traditional Irish music served up nightly in the front bar with a pint of your favorite beverage. 
  4. O'Neil's Bar and Restaurant - Dublin Did someone say Irish craft beers? Yes, please. In the heart of Dublin across the street from Trinity is this packed pub with people, music, food, beer, life, art and history... This pub has been there for over 300 years. The walls, if only they could speak and some do, with murals, clippings and posts. This is where locals and visitors meet and tell tales as only Irish can spin em. My sister and I weren't there five minutes before friendly faces struck up conversations.
  5. Vaughans Anchor Inn - Liscannor Mouthwatering dishes, this is not your average pub! They've been getting culinary awards since 2006! If you're headed out to or fro the Cliffs of Moher, this is a no-brainier pub stop. Since this establishment is near the sea, I'd suggest the crab cakes or mussels, the menu is always changing seasonally but anyway you go, you can't go wrong. What more can I say... paired with a pint of Guinness you'll have some of the best cuisine in the country... I get thirsty and hungry just thinking about it.  

And if you don't mind me being a bit Irish and pushy... choose wisely this St. Patrick's Day and order a black beer instead of a green one! Something has always freaked me out about drinking chemicals and consuming non-natural things. That's part of the reason I decided to start brewing myself. Just because something is green, doesn't make it Irish! The stout is Irish, they've been brewing it for over 250 years! So go to the dark-side this year and grab a pint of black this St. Paddy's day and toast to the country that put stouts on the map!

I want to hear from you!

Did I leave one of your favorite Irish pubs off the radar? Please let me know what it is, I'd love to check it out!