#14 - Brown Ale - A Beer With No Name

So we are finally here to share our latest beer and first brown ale, a beer with no name.

We bottled it probably 2 months ago now and have been slowly enjoying it. If you have followed our previous brewing attempts you know we have had some trouble with a skunky taste. After some research and soul searching we modified our technique and bought some new equipment.

Here are our impressions:

Sergio-sweet with light roasty notes
Jason-light malty beer without a hint of skunk

To be honest, there isn't really much more to say.

We haven't yet made plans for our next beer but we expect there will be one. -jkr


Flightless Bird Brewery Tour March/April 2010

Well, it took us a while to get this edited and posted. It's a little late but some of you may still like to see it. This is how we remember the trip...

Flightless Bird Brewery Tour 2010 from Sergio Salgado on Vimeo.

Here is a link to the YouTube version for those of you if Vimeo is a bit slow for you.



Another conversation with Lee

A few weeks ago Nate, Sergio, and I went back to Blind Lady Ale House to talk to Lee. We spoke with him near the start of our homebrew career and he told us that if we ever had a beer we wanted him to try, to bring it in. After our most recent failure we decided it was time to take him up on his offer.

We took our latest marzen in a 22oz and found him speaking with some customers. He greeted us and then poured four glasses, one for each of us. He smelled it, looked up, and said, "that's (messed) up." He didn't even need to drink it to know it was a failed batch. We then had an extended conversation about sanitation and all the various steps in the process that can introduce contamination.

the water
cooling process
transfer equipment

We went back and reviewed every process of our operation, replacing pieces that were old, returning to our most stringent procedures. We also built a wort chiller from scrap at home depot to reduce the cooling process from overnight to 10 minutes. We recently tested out these changes with our first brown ale which we bottled this past Saturday.

We're excited to see if our changes made a difference. We'll let you know.



A history of failure

For record keeping purposes, and cause we're honest, this post simply states our recent failures.

#12: red ale V (it was bad)
#13: marzen (it was badder)

And here's to hoping our recent brown ale isn't added to this list.



Some Serious Failure

Don't worry, we're still alive. And we're still brewing.

The problem is that we're still brewing, but we aren't brewing anything worth writing about.

Truth be told, we're actually brewing horrible beer. We've been doing so for awhile now. I've lost count, but I think it would be safe to say we've brewed at least three bad batches in a row. We thought we had it all figured out. It's got to be the ceramic pot, we figured, because the coating had worn off and there was visible rust inside. Makes sense, right?


We got a nice new stainless steel pot and there was no difference. So now we really have no idea what's going on. We even brewed a batch with a friend of Sergio's who has been brewing some good beer lately and he didn't see much wrong with our processes. Our last batch, just to let you know how far we've taken this, was the Marzen that was our second brew ever. We brewed it because we liked it so much and followed our prior recipe to the letter and number. No deal.

So although we are disheartened we haven't given up hope. We plan to swallow our pride and take a bottle of our disgusting brew to Lee, the guy we've blogged about previously who worked at Stone Brewing and now co-owns Blind Lady Ale House in North Park, San Diego. He gave us the green light to bring something in if we ever need help.

If ever there was a time, it's now.



The 2010 California Brewery Tour Summary

We returned from our brewery tour over a month ago. We came to understand several things about breweries and beer on our trip. The experience, and much of what we learned, has stayed with us.

1. Hops are not everything-Going on a California beer tour means going on a West Coast beer tour. I've grown up surrounded by the West Coast craft beer movement and it is a hop driven movement. That being said, we came to appreciate early on our tour that malt forward beers are good. From our first stop at Eagle Rock Brewery we experienced great malty beer that was often more drinkable and in some ways enjoyable than the hoppy beers we have come to expect. Magnolia had some great malt-forward beers, as did Lagunitas (although they had their fair share of hoppy ones as well), Moonlight, and 21st Amendment. While this was by no means our first experience of malty beer, we came to appreciate the break from the one-and-done hop of many beers on the West Coast.

2. Brewing large scale is often a labor of love-For some reason I ended up asking a lot of business questions on this trip. When we had the chance to talk to brewers and owners I asked questions like: How many barrels per year do you produce? Are you profitable? Can you share your journey from homebrewing to now? What I learned was interesting. Several breweries do not make money. One had been around for five years and did not make money. The owner had to sell his house and his wife still worked to support the family. But they both supported the business because they loved it. It gave me a lot of admiration for these breweries. Beer for them is so much more than a drink. It is an art and they are willing to give a lot to make their art so others can enjoy it.

3. Seasonal beers say a lot about a brewery-Another unique aspect of our tour that highlighted the benefits of being up close with breweries was the chance to peek into the pantry, so to speak. It is difficult to get a sense of a brewery from a web-site or the limited selection you see on the shelf at any given store. When you visit breweries, however, you can take in the entire lineup of beers currently being made and oftentimes the many beers that are now part of their archive. This was no more obvious than at Lagunitas Brewing Company, where there's always a season for a new seasonal. We sampled a couple different seasonals and saw on their shelves many that have come and gone. This was contrasted by North Coast Brewing Company which does not make seasonals at all; they stick to their stock beers and don't venture out much. A brewery like Lagunitas, however, displays creativity and boldness, and while prolific, their quality does not suffer. It says a lot about a brewery and their brewmaster when they are able to consistently offer new and noteworthy creations, season after season.

We had many more beer related revelations on our trip; perhaps the other guys might wish to add to this list. Overall I felt that visiting breweries in person truly did heighten the enjoyment of the beer. Meeting the people, seeing the facilities, and connecting it all with the beer is an experience that reveals new aspects of something old and familiar. It is certainly something I recommend.


#11 Porter

A couple months ago we tried our hand at our first porter. We had already brewed a successful stout and felt it was time to brew heavy again. After our red ale follys prior to Christmas we made the decision to follow the recipe more closely this time around.

What we got was certainly drinkable, but some bottles still had the slight "off" taste we've been noticing, however I considered it successful enough to write about it. Another indication that it was ok rests in the empty cupboards where the porter once sat.

Like many porters, it was rich and creamy with possible coffee and definite chocolate notes. This particular bottle was had with a smoked andouille chicken sausage, an unlikely pairing that brought out the chocolate flavor. I felt some of the bottles were borderline over-carbonated but many were not. All in all, save the occasional funky off after-taste, it was a nice addition to our FBB line.



A Letter to Sam

Dear Sam,

World Pub was exactly as you described: a non-descript exterior, with nothing in the way of decor or vibe, serving quality beer on tap and by the bottle.

We debated a game of Candy Lane or darts, both readily available, but decided instead to enjoy our beers within sight of the flickering electronic fire near the black leather well-worn couches.

As you have yet to get over your Mad River kick (and since we never made it up to Blue Lake) your dad had a Steelhead in your honor. The rest of us ordered the IPA from Lost Coast, the Black Butte Porter from Dechutes, and the Lagunitas Folly Ale to complete out the round.

Unfortunately the owner wasn't working so we couldn't talk beer with him as you have described he is readily willing to do.

In the end we were sad we couldn't enjoy the experience with you, but believe there will be another opportunity someday. Hopefully the fire hasn't been turned off by then.

Jason, Nate, Greg, and Steve


14th Stop-Auburn Alehouse

Our trip to the Auburn Alehouse marked the second for Nate and I. Last May, along with Sam and a couple other friends, we sampled beer here in what was then their first year of brewing. They have continued to do well, making some very good beer.

With Sam's dad, Steve, taking the place of Sergio, we pulled up at the bar and ordered their brown ale, porter, and Irish red stout. We were most impressed with their brown ale and porter. With an ABV of 3.6%, the brown was a really tasty "session" beer. Indeed it was the only time on this trip I ordered the same beer twice in one sitting. The porter was stronger and had roasted barley tones.

The Aubun Ale house does not bottle their beer but offers growlers and taps a cask every Wednesday evening. The cask was empty by our visit Friday night.

A nice small brewery in a nice small town. Well worth the second visit.

Location:Auburn, California

13th Stop-Sudwerk Brewing Company

As we sat down in the very wood-paneled, soccer and college friendly restaurant of the Sudwerk Brewery we argued about why we were there. Was it because we had tried their beer in San Diego or was it just on a recommendation? Had we heard it was related to the now-famous and nearby UC Davis brewing school, or was it just a German lager-loving place?

As we tried to answer some of these questions we ordered a Pilsner, Marzen, and Helles Lager.

The Pilsner was straw colored with a scant floral aroma and was cleanly bitter, as good German pilsners are. As we drank we discussed how different beers, all brewed with hops as a main ingredient, can taste so different. The bitterness of a German Pilsner is vastly different from the bitterness of an IPA, owing to varying hop varieties, differing recipes and ratios, and a host of other factors.

The Marzen was a translucent copper brown and less bitter than the Pilsner, and inspired us to re-brew our FBB Marzen, the second ever beer we made. The lager was golden in color, very light and smooth. We also tried a seasonal, their Dunkelweis, a dark wheat beer. It had a banana nose and taste, with chocolate tones mixed in.

We never were able to learn much about their brewery or history, despite asking everyone we could find. We learned from their web-site that they began in 1989 and have only an ancillary connection to the brewery school at Davis. We don't know how many barrels they produce per year.

Generally speaking, we enjoyed their beer and liked their facility but were unimpressed with the experience. And their food was pretty bad, but this blog isn't about food.

Give their beers a shot, but don't worry about visiting Davis, CA to do so.

Location:Davis, California


12th Stop-21st Amendment Brewery

21st Amendment Brewery was another modification to our original schedule. Because we hit up Magnolia on our first pass through San Francisco, we decided to add 21st Amendment on a recommendation from our bartender at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery. It also happened to be within walking distance from the Giants game.

The bar had a San Diego feel, with a young after-work crowd and large windows that open onto an outside patio. They are one of a growing number of breweries to can their beers, something that is becoming less and less of a turn-off in the craft brewing world.

We tried only three of their beers and an apple cider they had on draught, all nice. The first was a malty amber ale that had a nice finish and was more drinkable than it's 6.5% ABV would suggest. Their IPA was without much aroma and was considerably less hoppy than expected. The Irish Red was smooth and creamy, with more malt than hop.

To summarize, their beers were consistently on the malty side. By no means was this a negative quality. The beers had a drinkable quality that is not often present in hoppy beer with alcohol contents greater than 5%. An interesting observation.

It was a fun bar with good beer that we hope to see in San Diego soon.

Location:San Francisco, California

11th Stop-North Coast Brewing Company

North Coast was perhaps the most anticipated brewery of our trip, at least for me. Between the four of us we have had every one of their regular beers; it turns out they don't really have any others. But first things first.

The town of Fort Bragg is a small coastal town and it was raining as we arrived. The North Coast brewery was under construction so we weren't able to tour the facility, but they have a restaurant/bar directly across the street.

We were hoping to taste some seasonal or rare brews not available in San Diego, however as alluded to above, they don't have any. The closest they come is their Old Stock Ale, which is bottled by year, similar to wine. We learned of some old seasonals, Christmas ales and such, but nothing of late.

It didn't matter. Their regular lineup is one of our favorites. We had, between the four of us, the Scrimshaw, Red Seal on cask, Acme Pale Ale and IPA, Pranqster, Old No. 38 Stout on nitro, and Old Rasputin Stout on nitro. We won't describe them here.

Some interesting history on the brewery. They began in 1987 with the Scrimshaw, Red Seal, and Old No. 38 Stout. In the 90's, an old microbrewery by the name of Acme was going under, so North Coast bought their recipes and began making their beers. Their pale ale and IPA came out of this transaction, and their balanced hop profiles fit well with the North Coast originals. Interestingly, they also bought a brown ale recipe from Acme that didn't sell well and was discontinued. North Coast remains without a brown ale in their lineup.

North Coast then added their Old Rasputin Stout (more spicy and less of a session stout than Old No. 38) and their Belgians (Brother Thelonius, Pranqster, and La Merle) in the 2000's.

All in all a quality brewery, something we knew prior to our visit. We would advise, if you haven't already, that you try North Coast and return often.

A beautiful sight.

Location:Fort Bragg, California


10th Stop-Anderson Valley Brewing Company

We squeezed this brewery into our schedule as it was on the 128 on our way to Fort Bragg. We have often seen their beer on the shelves at Trader Joes and on tap at The Station in Southpark, San Diego.

They had nice facilities, a Don told us they would. We were unimpressed, however, with their decor. It was a confused mix of banners and tie-dye, with copper accents.

Luckily their beer was better. We especially enjoy their darker beers, including their Dark Ender Porter and their Oatmeal Stout. They have a smooth, rich, simple quality that doesn't try to do too much. We also tried their pale, ESB, and wheat. They were average.

Greg sampled several of their tap sodas, including the root beer and cream soda, and had a lively conversation with their soda "brewmaster/craftsman." The sodas are all made from scratch without preservatives. They are awaiting their FDA approval to begin bottling.

All in all this brewery (producing only 30,000 barrels per year despite their wide distribution) is more of an icon given their early start (in 1987, they were one ofthe first microbreweries in the area) and mentorship of other breweries. At the end if the day, however, our opinion did not change much on their beer. It was ok.

Greg with the soda guy.

Location:Highway128,Mendocino-Anderson,United States

Giants Game

Giants/A's exhibition game with Rutman.

Location:Barbary Coast Trail,San Francisco,United States


As is obvious, our schedule has
changed more than once so far this trip. We never made it to The Bruery (it was closed), Telegraph (we were hung up in LA), or Anchor Steam (turns out if you don't have a tour reservation, which are required two months in advance, you can't go, and they don't have a taproom). We also have decided to cut out the Eureka/Fortuna leg of our trip due to time constraints. Mad River and Eel River will have to wait for another tour.

Instead we have hit up Magnolia early, added Moonlight in Santa Rosa, and stopped at Anderson Valley on our way to Fort Bragg. We also made an additional stop at Firestone Walker.

There certainly are no shortage of breweries to see, and we decided quality over quantity was more our style.

9th Stop-Moonlight Brewing

Moonlight is a small brewery that only kegs their beer. It's been on tap at our local The Linkery in North Park San Diego. Good stuff.

We tried their beer at Flavor, a restaurant just around the corner from Russian River. The food was amazing and the beer was a welcome step-back from the aggressive style of RR.

We tried the Pilsner (a really well composed, complex, light lager) and a dark lager. They have a reputation of making quality drinkable beer and we would agree.

Location:Santa Rosa, CA

8th Stop-Russian River Brewing Company

Russian River was a quick stop on our tour. The location had more of a bar feel, located in "downtown" Santa Rosa, and we didn't actually see any of their brewing operation. The place was busy.

They were serving several of their regular beers and also a few unusual brews.

Nate, Sergio, and I each had one beer here. We'll each describe them in brief, as best we can.

Nate (Consecration Ale): a sour juicy ale, brewed with berries.

Sergio (Temptation Ale): Belgian single sour, light in color.

Jason (Happy Hops): It was overwhelmingly hop forward; I'd say we found the West Coast hop kick.

Location:Santa Rosa, CA


7th Stop-Lagunitas Brewing Company

Our seventh stop was unanimously the favorite of our trip thus far. The reason was obvious: they gave us free beer.

The visit began with a tasting hosted by Don, who was also our tour guide. He started by saying he had no more Pils on tap but that he would "make up for it." He proceeded to pour us seven 4-ounce pours of various regular and seasonal beers.

We tasted their Dog Town Pale Ale (dry with lingering hop finish), IPA (hop body with tasty malt finish), Undercover Shutdown Ale (an imperial pale seasonal), Gnarleywine barleywine, Wilco Tango Foxtrot (a brown ale seasonal), Imperial Stout, and finally their Hop Stoopid. Several of these beers were 10% ABV or above; I think you get the point.

After the 40 minute tasting was over, Don, who had been drinking right alongside us, began our tour. He took us through the bottling and packaging line, into the main brewing room with the masher and mixing tanks, and outside where the fermenting tanks rise high above the brewery roof. It was an awesome tour for multiple reasons. The first I'll skip, but also because he was quite knowledgeable about the process, was honest and open about the difficulties they've had (a theme among the brewing community thus far), and let us stick our heads into the fermenting tanks, climb ladders, and drink reject fresh beer right off the bottling line.

We were really impressed with Lagunitas Brewing. They showed us the utmost hospitality and their beer is really good. We would recommend the experience to anyone.

That's Don.

Location:Petaluma, CA


6th Stop-Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery

After an afternoon spent checking out the streetfront made famous by the Full House show of the 90's and getting our second replacement iPhone of the trip at the SF Apple store (don't worry, both were under warranty), we made our way to Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery in the Haight and Ashbury neighborhood.

The space is quite European (according to Nate, the only one of our number who's been to Europe), with black leather-button booths, a community bar table, and several cask handles serving English style beer.

As for the beer, it was a contrast with the traditional microbreweries we have visited thus far, although admittedly the more West Coast style breweries are yet to come. Exemplifying the contrast was their Gruit style beer, which is brewed without hops. Instead, various herbs are used along with the malt base, giving the beer a wild floral character that made me happy I asked for only a taste.

Generally their beers were very good. They were decidedly malt forward and on the smoother side. With 3 cask beers alongside their impressive draught lineup, the brewery emphasized an English style that is rarely found in an American brewery west of the Mississippi.

One of their lighter beers (ABV 3.6%, IBU 22), Dark Star Mild, had a dark color but drinkable quality that reminded us of the "session" beer at Eagle Rock Brewery. Their pale and IPA were also very mild, with IBUs of 77 and 78 respectively. As noted by these numbers, they have decidedly more similar IBUs than most pale ale/IPA pairs at the other breweries on our tour. A nice reminder that hops aren't everything.

All in all, "unique" and quality beer at a busy gastropub with a great vibe.

In this video Nate pulls his first cask.

Location:Haight and Ashbury, San Francisco, CA


5th Stop-Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery

Our fifth stop was Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, one of 5 (soon to be 6) breweries in Santa Cruz. They are a small operation (1000 barrels/year). They consider their brewery a "labor of love," as they aren't in it for the money but rather good beer.

They specialize in organic beer and just yesterday planted an acre of hops on the property of a woman who feeds their mash remnants to her sheep (13 pounds per batch). They then sell the cheese products from these sheep in their tasting room.

Their beer was good. Again, fresh. We tried their organic IPA, one of their finer offerings. It had a clean body and light hop finish-very tastefully composed. We also tried their porter, brewed with organic free-trade coffee. It was also well done. Their brown was decent but unremarkable.

We also had a special edition witbier, the Witches Wit. It was brewed by the women of the brewery, with corriander, lemon, and St. John's Wort. It was quite mild and enjoyable.

One aspect of this brewery we truly appreciated was their honesty and openness. We learned of how they got their start, how they approach the process of beginning a new beer, and the ways in which they are looking to improve. We also got an impromptu tour of their 800 square foot brewing space. All in all, a very intimate stop.

Next up, San Francisco and Anchor Brewing.

Location:Swift Street, Santa Cruz, CA

Big Sur

We spent our second night at Plaskett Creek Campground. It was beautiful.

Location:Plaskett Creek, Los Padres National Forest, Ca


4th Stop-Firestone Walker Brewery

As promised, we stopped at the FWBC brewery and were treated to an impromptu tour.

It was the tourguide's first tour, but she did a fine job. In reality we interrupted so often she never had a chance to get in the flow.

Firestone uses a patented oak barrel fermentation system unique to them, at least in the US. They have also been increasing production in the past few years, up to 60,000 barrels last year (for some perspective Stone was at 90,000 and Sierra Nevada 5 times that). They are considered a "medium size" brewery.

We also learned a bit more of their history. Firestone is the family name (also responsible for Firestone Tires and Firestone Vineyards). A Firestone son teamed with a brother-in-law, David Walker, in 1996, and started the brewery. They actually ran into a lot of difficulty in the early years but invited head brewmaster Matt onboard soon after and have had success ever since, winning multiple awards in recent years.

We also met a friend at the brewery. Our second friend drop-by (the first was Jason's brother Jon at Eagle Eock). It was a nice stop.

After scoring a few palates for firewood and hitting up Trader Joe's for some dinner grub, we are off to Big Sur.

Location:S Vine St,Paso Robles,United States

3rd Stop-Firestone Walker Taproom and Restaurant

So apparently Firestone Walker Brewing Company, out of Paso Robles, has a restaurant in Buellton, about a half hour north of Santa Barbara. This is in addition to their tasting room in Paso, where their brewery is located. We first heard about this second location from Steve at Eagle Rock Brewery.

We were driving through Buellton headed to Paso, paying little attention, when Sergio saw the restaurant. We decided it had been at least two hours since our last meal so we stopped for some grub and beer.

Firestone specializes in pale ales, and they didn't disappoint. The hop aroma was present and pleasant. And something we have noticed at both breweries we have visited thus far, the beer is fresh. It is hard to describe, and whether or not it is true or just a product of our excitement, the beers seem to have a freshness they do not have in the bottle.

Lastly, Firestone was serving a Russian Imperial Stout called Parabola (think back to high school pre-algebra) that was excellent. More of a dessert beer, it had a strong burbon body with chocolate overtones. It was enjoyed in sips by all.

We were quite pleased with this stop. So much so, we may stop at the tasting room in Paso Robles for a second (or third) round.

Location:Buellton, CA, United States

Camping near Santa B

After calling around to campgrounds after dark and getting no response we did what any truck full of dudes and camping equipment would do; we drove around to different campsites until we found one that was open. I know, smart.

Our site was #115 at El Capitan State Beach. A fine site. Roomy enough for our "palace" and cardboard fire. We ate tacos for dinner and potaotes with kale for breakfast.

We are now on our way to Firestone Walker Brewery in Paso Robles.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Goleta,United States


2nd Stop-Eagle Rock Brewery

Improvising as we go, we decided to hit up Eagle Rock Brewery, a father-son joint, in place of our failed The Bruery attempt. Eagle Rock was on our list as a maybe for the way home.

Eagle Rock was inconspicuous from the outside; it was downright hard to find. No matter, we were in it for the beer.

We were greeted by Steve, the head brewmaster, who told us about their philosophy. "Beer for the people." They pride themselves on accessible beer, with three regular beers each highlighting a core ingredient: malt, hops, and yeast. All were very palatable.

All in all, a great second stop. And beer you can't get anywhere else, for now.

Location:Roswell St,Los Angeles,United States

1st stop-The Bruery Parking Lot

When we decided to take this brewery tour we didn't want to micromanage things. Translation: We didn't pay attention to the details.

So when we arrived at The Bruery, two hours before they opened but right on time according to our schedule, we pulled out our lawn chairs and brews in their parking lot.

Location:Dunn Way,Placentia,United States

Here we go