Archive | August 2013

A Toast To … Space-age Polymers

O vessel clear, with name inscribed
From which my brew I oft imbibed;
From me too soon your life was took
When clumsily, the table I shook.

I miss your sides, I miss your rim,
I miss the lace upon your brim,
I miss the feel of my glass complete
And filled with lager, stout or wheat.

Perhaps, someday, I will replace
Your perfect sides, your perfect base;
But for today, I mourn the loss –
Into the bin, your shards I toss.

Me, “Ode to a Broken Glass”

I wrote that for a fellow member of the online community a few years ago when he dropped and broke his favorite beer glass. Since then, I’ve recited it under my breath many times while disposing of the shattered remnants of my own glassware. See, I’m a bit of a klutz. Even sober I have inadvertently sent many innocent pint glasses crashing down to the tile floor of my kitchen (and hydrometers, but that’s a story for another day).

So when I was browsing the shelves at Austin Homebrew Supply recently, looking for last-minute impulse purchases I can’t live without, this caught my eye:


I’m sick of “good head” jokes too, so let’s just call it a day.

It’s called a Silipint. Although this version is obviously an Austin Homebrew exclusive, a quick dip into the Google pool shows that Silipints are available at tons of online retailers for around $10 each. As the name suggests, it’s a non-breakable silicone pint glass. After the salesperson helping me threw one to the store floor … hard … to demonstrate its durability, I bought two.

I’m sure some of you are laughing it off already. There’s a lot of debate these days about the “best glass” to serve beer in, and the Silipint might seem to have two strikes against it. It’s in the shape of an ordinary straight-sided shaker pint, which has gotten a lot of criticism from the “best glass” gurus. Not only is the Silipint is molded in that controversial shape, it’s also made from an unorthodox material that feels a little weird between your lips.

I’m not about to jump into the “best glass” debate, because many others out there are doing much better research on it than me – and to be honest, I don’t really care that much. I keep a variety of glasses, and I have preferred shapes for a few beer styles, but shaker pints are the foot soldiers of my glassware collection, and almost everything I pour from my kegerator goes into one.

But no matter the shape, glass breaks. Especially when I take it out of the house. So what’s a guy to drink from on a Sunday afternoon in the backyard, hovering over the grill or the brew kettle? Or when he brings a growler of homebrew to a picnic or a favorite BYOB barbecue joint?

Until now, the choice has been clear: red Solo cups. And I hate red Solo cups. And that goddamned song.

For all the spectrum of snobbery one can imagine in response to a drinking vessel that feels like a sex toy, I found that it actually drinks pretty well. Yes, the silicone does feel weird in your mouth, but it has some fortunate side effects in addition to durability. The rough texture is easy to hold onto (the container would survive being dropped, but we don’t want to waste beer, do we?). And during a brewing session on a Texas-hot summer day, the Silipint kept my Berliner Weisse cold enough to nurse for over an hour while I bounced between brewing tasks, longer than glass would have done.

The Silipint is now my vessel of choice to take with me when I bring homebrew out of the home. So I’m raising my glass today to toast the Silipint and the space-age silicone polymers that made it possible.

In other news, this week I ordered parts to build a portable draft system with a 20-ounce paintball CO2 tank. With that and my Silipint, all I’ll need is something to keep it cool and I’ll be able to bring a whole keg of draft homebrew with me wherever I go. The project will be finished a little late for the summer, but autumn in Texas still offers lots of chances for outdoor imbibing.

Tailgating? Not really my scene. But when I take my son for his first trick-or-treat this Halloween, I’d love to be the guy rolling around an ice-cold keg and offering tastes of pumpkin ale to the neighbors. Who wouldn’t?

An homage to UK pubs (and a classic monster movie)

I vote we go back to the Slaughtered Lamb. – Jack Goodman, An American Werewolf in London

Homebrew inspiration can come from strange places. My favorite homebrews are the ones that were inspired not just by an imagined set of flavors, but by places I’ve visited, stories I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, etc. I love using the language of malt, hops, and yeast to tell a story about something more than beer. The trick, though, is that brewing is not an abstract art. A good concept might make for a great conversation starter, but no matter how high-concept a brew is, if it doesn’t taste good I don’t want to be stuck with five gallons of it (I graduated from a Catholic university in New Orleans, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to brew a crawfish & Bananas Foster porter with Trappist ale yeast for the alumni picnic). Finding the right balance between concept and taste is the ultimate goal.

In spring 2011, Lisa and I visited the United Kingdom for three weeks and spent a lot of time in pubs. We drank real ales from so many regional breweries whose names I can’t remember (except for Brains – #1 among zombies in South Wales) served at cellar temperature, often from beer engines – though at one awesome hole-in-the-wall in a one-road hamlet in Scotland I think I remember drinking beer dispensed from a cardboard box. The taste and aroma of real British ale, even the sight of the interior of a British pub, are vivid and powerful memories for me.

In summer 2012, I saw John Landis’ 1981 film An American Werewolf in London for the first time and my nostalgia was kindled by an early scene in the film at a fictitious Yorkshire pub called the “Slaughtered Lamb”. So I brewed a special bitter with English malts and American hops that I named Kessler’s Rampage Special Bitter in homage to the film’s main character and titular werewolf. Not long after I kegged it my sister-in-law and her husband, a native Sussaxon*, came to visit for a week and emptied the keg while I wasn’t looking. I took that as a compliment, and decided to brew it again this summer.

The 2013 version was 94% (8 lbs) Fawcett’s Optic malt, reportedly the base used by Fuller’s and other UK breweries. 4 oz each of Crystal 40 and Crystal 150 rounded out the grain bill. Last year I used Crystal 120 instead of Crystal 150, but otherwise the malt profile was the same in both versions and pretty typical of the style. The mash was one hour at 155°F.

The hops were my chance to freestyle. American homebrewers can be pretty predictable in their hop selections for English pale ales – occasionally someone might get bold and use a little Fuggles, but generally it’s either East Kent Goldings, East Kent Goldings, or another … what’s it called? oh yeah, East Kent Goldings. I suppose that’s what judges look for in competition, but the lack of originality disappoints me. American pale ales and English pale ales are cousin styles, and I see no reason why American hops can’t play a role in a damn fine English bitter if the right ones are chosen – i.e., probably not the 4 C’s (though I suspect someone has done it well).

In 2012, I used exclusively American hops in keeping with the inspiration (you can see both recipes here). For 2013, I deviated with one English hop in the mix:

  • 0.5 oz Warrior (15% AA) at 60 minutes
  • 0.5 oz Progress (6.6% AA) at 15 minutes
  • 0.4 oz Willamette (4% AA) at 5 minutes

Although Progress is English and Willamette is American, both are Fuggle derivatives, so I thought they would pair nicely together despite being a slight variation on the original inspiration. Consider it an homage to Jenny Agutter’s character Alex in the film, the English love interest of the American David Kessler (yes, I can rationalize anything with my artsy symbolic bullshit).

I pitched Safale S-04 into the wort with an OG of 1.046. True to the old adage that “English yeast do it faster,” the fermentation bottomed out at 1.010 less than 48 hours later, leaving me with an ABV of 4.7%, palpable but still sessionable. I kegged it after 4 weeks, and after 2 weeks under refrigeration it’s just starting to get good enough to drink.

I don’t have any of last year’s batch left over to do a true vertical tasting, but I’m a little disappointed in this year’s model. I’m not sure the Progress hops were a good addition (sorry, Jenny). I’ve used them in more robust English-style beers like porters and stouts to great effect, but with so little malt character to hide behind, I’m getting a strong tropical fruit flavor though it is mellowing with time in the keg. The other fault is less diacetyl than I like in this style, though it may be hiding under all those Progress hops and may become more obvious as the hop flavor mellows.

So the beer’s not perfect. But considering I half expected the skies to open up, swarms of locusts and some ancient BJCP curse to fall upon me when I put hops other than East Kent Goldings in a special bitter, I think I’m still coming out ahead. I don’t get the feeling of being an American lost in Britain in this version, but my second Transatlantic ale experiment is good enough to brew again. And again. Until I get it right.

*Sussaxon: a native of East or West Sussex. My brother-in-law assures me this although this term is technically accurate, no one uses it. We both like it because it makes us think of the people of Sussex as mud-splattered, armor-clad Saxons performing great acts of manly savagery like raiding cottages across the southern coast of Great Britain. They’re not.