Monday, February 18, 2013

Reader Requests

Well, I've been keeping this blog up for almost nine months now, and Google analytics tells me I've gotten over 3000 views, which means people outside my immediate social circle are finding this blog.  That's great!  So, I'd like to open the floor to my new readers—how do you like the blog?  Please comment on this post and tell me what you like best about it, what's not working for you, and what would you like to see more or less of.  I have a lot of material in the pipeline, but it's always hard for me to make the executive decision about what deserves a blog post and what doesn't, so I'd love to know what my readers think.  Be honest, brutally honest even!  No criticism is so harsh that a nice cold pint can't take the sting off it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: Harvester Brewing, Once Again!

So, back in July of 2012, I finally got my hands on a sampler pack of Harvester's gluten-free beers, after many months of following their progress online and drooling over what I imagined must be the best gluten-free beers in the world.  As my long-time readers will remember, I was less than impressed.  I had wanted so badly to like their beers, but the ones I received were starchy, lacking hop aroma flavor, and shot through with all kinds of ashy/tobacco/burnt-plastic flavors that rendered them undrinkable.  I ordered 12 beers and poured nearly every single one down the drain, and lamented the future of gluten-free commercial-scale brewing in the U.S.A.  

But I am a strong believer in second chances, especially when I could tell that at least philosophically, Harvester had the right idea about how to approach gluten-free brewing.  They have a true craft-beer ethos: they use unusual locally-grown hops, as well as local chestnuts, and they seem to be constantly experimenting with new ingredients and adding new beers to their portfolio (something no other dedicated GF brewery seems to be doing—take the hint, guys!).  They are clearly passionate about their craft and relentless in their quest.  Writing them such a bad review made my heart hurt, so six months later, in Janurary of 2013, I ordered another shipment of their beers from  This one again included the Pale, Red, and Dark Ales, but instead of Raspberry, it included their IPA.

Well, boy howdy am I glad I gave them another chance, because the beers I received this time are completely different.  I don't know if the first batch I got was old or just a bad batch or what...but this second batch of beers completely lacked the starchy feel and ashy/tobacco/plastic flavors of the first batch.  The Red and the Dark were still a little short of perfection, but the Pale and the IPA actually blew me away with their flavors, and are officially my favorite commercial GF beers at the moment.  I'm adding "proximity to Harvester" to my growing list of reasons to move to Portland!

Detailed reviews of each beer after the jump, this time with some unsolicited constructive criticism (when possible).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beyond Barley at DIYine in Santa Cruz, Chamomile IPA Recipe

Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a fundraiser for the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, an event called DIYine.  The basic idea behind the event was to get together a bunch of homebrewers to donate their brews, and offer tasting tickets to the guests for a minimum donation.  It was a smashing success, the event was very well-attended, and very well-supplied with amazing concoctions like walnut wine, pear port, earl grey soda, absinthe, and other beverages made from locally-grown fruit.  I shared the beer table with a regular homebrewer, who was offering up a sour red ale and a honey pale ale.  I tried a sip of each of his concotions, and he was definitely on his game!  The sour in particular was wonderful, made me wish I could drink more than a sip of it without feeling ill!

What amazed me the most was that people were actually interested in my beers.  The last time I did a public tasting, at the 2012 Tour De Ferment, I made the mistake of telling everyone up-front that I was serving "gluten-free beer"--no one would touch it with a 10-foot pole!  At DIYine, my lovely girlfriend made me a nice sign that read "Beyond Barley: Beer Made From Exotic Grains"; I only used the words "gluten-free" on my business cards and the menus I was handing out, and even then it was in fine print.  What a difference!  I couldn't pour the beer fast enough, and many people came back for seconds (and a few for thirds and fourths...not bad, considering they only get 10 tastings per $10 ticket!).

All told, I went through about 2.5 gallons of five different styles of beer.  The first one to go--and the one that people were raving about even after the event--was my "Emerald Beyond Chamomile-Lime IPA" (see below for the recipe).  Of course, I only had 48 oz of the stuff on offer, as I brewed that beer back in July of 2012.  Only slightly less popular were my Hidden Star Cherry-Oatmeal Stout (No-Nonsense Stout with added cherry syrup from Hidden Star Orchards) and my Imperial Maple-Pecan-Wild Rice Amber Ale (which will get its own blog post in the near future).  The Heritage Rice beer was also a crowd-pleaser (though it obviously lacked the sex appeal of the first three), and bringing up the rear was my Molasses Mild--a beer that taught me the need to handle molasses with extreme restraint.  I really couldn't believe how much beer I went through, considering each patron was only allotted maybe a 3-oz pour...if my math is correct, I poured around 107 servings over about a two-hour period, so almost a glass every minute!

I was also amazed at how many people were curious about the beers, as well as my methods and ingredients.  I'm really glad I printed out enough menus for people to take them home, so that I could just show people the ingredient list instead of having to rattle them off from memory.  There were even a few gluten-free people who were amazed to discover my existence.  I got several inquiries about where they could buy my beer, to which I could only laughingly reply "In my kitchen!"  All in all, a very encouraging response to my beer, which lifted my spirits to heights I hadn't dared dream of.  I left that evening with a cooler full of empty bottles, a belly full of some of the tastiest booze I've had the good fortune to sample (if the maker of that pear port is reading this, I'd DIE to swap some bottles with you!), and a heart full of joy and gratitude for the chance to share my beer with so many wonderful people (and alongside so many talented brewers).

And without further ado, the recipe for my (now-extinct) Chamomile-Lime IPA:

3-Gallon Extract Batch:

Sugar Bill:
2 lbs, 8 oz Liquid Sorghum Extract, at flame-out
10 oz Star-Thistle Honey, at flame-out
10 oz organic Palm Sugar, at 60 min
8 oz Rice Solids, at 60 min
3 oz Maltodextrin, at 60 min

Hop & Herb Schedule:
0.5 oz Millenium Hops, 17.4% AA, at 60 min
2 oz Chamomile flowers, at 30 min
1 oz Motueka, 6.7% AA, at 5 min
1 oz Sorachi Ace, 11.6% AA, at 5 min
Zest of 1.5 limes, at 5 min
1 oz Motueka, dry-hop, 7 days
1 oz Sorachi Ace, dry-hop, 7 days

Yeast and Additives:
Fermentis Safale US-05 American Ale Yeast
1 Whirlfloc tablet, as directed

Vital Stats:
OG: 1.056
FG: 1.010
Est. ABV: 6.1%
Est. IBU: 92.3 (Tinseth)

Notes: A very unique beer.  I don't believe the IBU calculations, the bitterness was very soft, and well-balanced by a very tropical-tasting sweetness.  Strong notes of lime and coconut from the chamomile and star-thistle honey, complimented by some resiny character from the hops.  Refreshing and tropical, the ultimate summer beer.