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Palate Training

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As part of my never-ending quest to learn more about the magical elixir known as beer I am working to refine my palate. This is a fancy way of saying I want to better understand what I'm drinking.

I've read some books and taken some classes. I regularly perform sensory evaluations on my homebrew and on commercial products, identifying aromas, flavors, and the rest.

Recently I took my exploits to the next level. I visited a local pub that has 20-25 beers on tap and asked the bartender for a five-ounce pour of anything on the board. I did not look at said board first, nor did I watch her pull the tap. She returned with my beer and wrote its name on a piece of paper that she folded and handed to me.

"This is exciting," she said.

I agreed, and she wished me luck as I retreated to an empty table to begin my Very Serious Work™. I tuned out my surroundings and focused on the task at hand, contemplating the mystery beverage before me.

I ran through my mental checklist: arom…

Joy (and Beer!) in Grantville

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Grantville is one of those San Diego neighborhoods that even natives might not know by name. Just east of Qualcomm Stadium and north of SDSU (down the hill, other side of I-8; think Friars and Mission Gorge), it's home to several breweries, including three that I recently visited.

Benchmark Brewing, Kensington Brewing, and Groundswell Brewing have each carved out a nice niche in the area, offering fine brews and friendly service. As an added bonus, all are within walking distance of one another (as is a fourth, San Diego Brewing, which I've enjoyed on other trips).
Benchmark Brewing The tasting room features a clean layout and was extremely chill on a Saturday afternoon. A yoga class had just finished prior to opening, with participants enjoying a pint before getting on with their day. There is ample seating on the main level and an upstairs that, at least on this day, was being used for a private function.

Having been here several years ago, I knew I wanted the brown ale, on…

Love Beer? Volunteer!

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Last weekend was the most fun I've ever had at a beer festival. I drank only water.

Am I mad? No, I'm a volunteer. This was the first time I'd been on the other side of the serving table, but it won't be the last.

The Pink Boots Society's 10th Anniversary Festival celebrated women in the beer industry, with event proceeds benefiting a scholarship program to help more women advance their careers. With nearly 40 vendors serving quality brews, there was something for everyone.

But who pours the beer? Well, it's a combination of pros and volunteers. In my case I was paired up with Cat Wiest, brewmaster at Seabright Brewery in Santa Cruz (she's the one talking about her jasmine pale ale in this news clip) and all-around cool person.

We poured for 3 1/2 hours, as appreciative guests stopped by the booth to enjoy Cat's excellent beer and chat with her. I got to learn a little about how festivals work and pick the brain of a professional brewer as time permit…

Homebrew Batch 8: Roll the Bones 1.0

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After cutting our teeth on established recipes of several favorite styles (porter, amber, English mild, American brown, Kölsch, and altbier) my wife and I decided to try something different. Inspired by Randy Mosher's excellent Radical Brewing I designed a recipe that nearly defies categorization and which I therefore refer to as American Strong Ale, a delightful catch-all for such awkward situations.

We brew with extract and steeping grains (no all-grain yet, but we'll get there one day), so the concept was to work within Mosher's parameters to create a beer that is easy to design, brew, and drink. The parameters for a 5-gallon batch are 5 lbs pale dry malt extract (DME), 1/2 to 1 1/2 lbs crystal malt (any color), and 4-8 oz high-quality aroma hops (Kent Goldings, Saaz, Hallertauer, Cascade).

Much later in the book there's a cool table of herbs and spices that can be used in brewing. In keeping with the spirit of adventure I perused said table and found something tha…

Great Beer in Hawai'i

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The craft beer scene has been slower to pick up in Hawai'i than elsewhere, which makes sense if you think about it. The islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continental land mass. Hops can't be grown there, and shipping ain't cheap. Tourists want fruity cocktails, while locals go for macrobrews.

That being said, in recent years great beers from California and Oregon have surfaced (Breakside and Pelican are two of my favorites that are available in Honolulu but not San Diego). Even better, local breweries are now popping up and embedding themselves in the community.

My wife is from Hawai'i and we still have lots of family over there, so we make one or two trips a year. People always ask what we do there, probably hoping for tales of snorkeling, zip-lining, or whatever it is we're expected to do. But usually we just visit folks, eat tasty local food, and hang out at breweries.

We stay at my brother-in-law's place…

Beer in Carlsbad: Rouleur Brewing Company and More

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We drove up to Carlsbad over the weekend to check out a few breweries in the area. We hit four in total, and both my wife and I agree that although each had something to offer, one stood out among the rest.
Rouleur Brewing Company According to Wikipedia, rouleur (pronounced "ruler") "is a type of racing cyclist considered a good all-rounder." I know nothing about the world of bicycle racing, which is the brewery's theme, but I can tell you that the beer at Rouleur Brewing Company is quite good.

The key, according to the brewery's web site, is a "proprietary Amero-Belgo yeast blend, which is a clean fermenting strain that adds hints of dark fruit, spices and a faint tartness." Having sampled all seven beers on tap at the time, I'm happy to vouch for the claim. If I had to use one word to describe the flavor profile of the brews in Rouleur's portfolio, it would be "clean."

If I had to use another, it would be "balanced," …

Growing Hops

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We're growing hops in our backyard this year. A local grower generously donated three rhizomes, which we have planted in pots (roughly following guidelines given in this Brew Your Own article from 2009) filled with nutrient-rich soil.

The photo above is of our nascent Centennial bine, which has grown considerably in the few days since it was taken and will eventually stretch 20-25 feet. Normally the bines grow upward, but we are going to have them climb a tomato cage as outlined in this Brew Your Own article from 2001 (thank God the Internet never forgets).

We also planted Cascade and Chinook hops. The Cascade hasn't done much yet (above ground, anyway), but the Chinook is showing signs of life. As with every other aspect of making beer, patience is key.

From everything I've read and heard, we shouldn't expect usable cones this year, as the bines root themselves and grow to full size. That doesn't keep me from hoping, of course. Who wouldn't want to wet-hop an…