Auburn Ale House – Auburn, CA

April 6th, 2012 by Steve Travis

It was our final weekend at our ski lease up in Truckee, Ca. It’s bittersweet in that I’m bummed it’s probably my final weekend of snowboarding, but even I’m ready for spring after this below-average winter. Of course, on our way up there from lovely Half Moon Bay, we stopped at the Auburn Ale House for a celebratory lunch and beverage! I’m kind of surprised I’ve not written about this place before. It’s really an outstanding brewpub here in the gold country of California, and it’s such a destination spot for us and many of our friends who spend the winter up here in the Tahoe area. So allow me to amend that oversight now!

Their standard line-up includes the American River Pale – one of my favorite pale ales anywhere. The Gold-Digger IPA – Hoppy, citrus-y but with a very nice malt back. The Old Town Brown – Mrs. Brewer’s favorite, with big malt character and a minimal, but present, hop flavor. The Fools Gold Ale – another take on the pale but with bigger hop character. The PU240 Imperial IPA – BIG bomber of a beer as the label’s WWII-style pinup girl sitting on a bomb might clue you into. These are my favorites when I’m there, but there are several others that they have on tap most days along with a few cask ales as well. Most of the beers on tap are available for growler take-away and several are in 22oz bottles if you’re not in for the full gallon.

I might mention that the food is also very good. They take pride in creating solid upscale takes on pub fare. Mrs. Brewer can’t get passed the blue cheese burger and the pulled pork sandwich. I love the ruben and the french dip. I will say the wings are sometimes a little skimpy, which is always a bummer, but they make up for it with the 3 different types of fries they serve which include a sweet potato option.

If you’re heading up 80 to North Shore Tahoe, drop in and check it out!

Ruthlessly Awesome

March 23rd, 2012 by Steve Travis

I love seasonal beers. I look forward to many offerings from Anchor, Anderson Valley, Ballast Point and of course, Sierra Nevada. This year, Sierra fired off a new one called Ruthless Rye. We’re coming to the end of it’s seasonal run this month and I wanted to write up a quick post about it, as it is an outstanding brew! I’ve always enjoyed brewing with Rye. It lends a earthy, spicy note like no other grain. Sierra balances that with a variety of hops including Chinook, Citra and their own “experimental hops” that (I’m guessing) come from their back yard hop garden up there in Chico. I’ve been knocking these down with reckless abandon, expecting the inevitable loss for the 8 months or so until it returns to the shelves.

The hop aroma is present but not as overwhelming as a Racer 5, Hop Rod or other big IPAs and the bitterness, while present, doesn’t overwhelm the malt character. I’m guessing this was done to showcase the rye instead of burying it with an avalanche of “C-hops”. The malt character is spicy and rich with a bit of roasty flavor from the chocolate malt, but completely balanced on the hops. Even at the 6.6% ABV, there’s no harsh fusel alcohol flavors and unless some of that spice is coming from the yeast, it’s fermented very clean, but not so dry as to lose any of that killer malt character. At that level of boozy goodness you wouldn’t expect this to be a session beer, and I guess it’s not… for the lesser of constitution. But like it’s bigger cousin, Torpedo, before I know it, I find myself three rounds or so in when my friends are hanging out. Oh well…

It’s still around for a few more weeks, so grab up a couple of 12-packs!

16th Anual Boonville Beer Festival – May 12th, 2012!

March 16th, 2012 by Steve Travis

Now that we’re coming to the end of what I wouldn’t technically call “winter” we must begin planning the anual pilgrimages to the beer and music festivals! For me, the pinnacle of the beer fest scene is The Boonville Beer Festival, hosted by the good people at Anderson Valley Brewing Company on May 12 this year. It’s just a one day event starting at noon on May 12th and going until 4-ish, which sounds short if you’ve not been, so let me explain: If you know what you’re doing (and I know what I’m doing) you show up Thursday evening, or Friday morning with camping gear in hand to score the best spots (camping’s $10/night and you’re welcome to start on Wednesday if you like). You then begin to notice your fellow campers are starting to set up their mobile bars and clipping in the homebrew kegs. Thus begins the festival inside the festival (festival inception, if you will). You’ll spend friday wandering around camp, sampling some beers from the nicer campers and meeting fellow beer enthusiasts. You can also wander down the street to the brewery and take a tour, or over to the Buckhorn Saloon, where you can get nearly all the AVB Co’s brews on tap with the added bonus of some serious A+ pub grub.

The Festival itself is a who’s who of California craft brewers. In past years, over 80 breweries have participated in the insanity, representing brewers from San Diego to Humbolt. For the price of admission (usually around $40) you get a tasting glass and unlimited tastings. The event area is huge, meandering all over the fairgrounds with the a live music stage and plenty of merch tents everywhere. The food is far better than your average $7 hotdog festival chow – if you’re a carnivore, do try to find the tri-tip sammich tent – just wow. Now you might think, “Only four hours… how much can I possible taste in four hours?” Well by the look of a good number of festival-goers around 3:30… quite a bit. As always with these types of parties, there are plenty who over do it, which provides for the entertainment portion of the evening – watching these folks play the timeless game of, “where’s my tent?”, or “Hey, that’s my girlfriend!!”

I’m not going to lie to you, Sunday can be rough, but honestly, you knew the risks going in. It’s a Bahl Hornin’ good time!

Well… Crap! The NHC Sold Out Already!

February 16th, 2012 by Steve Travis

So yeah I’ve been a bit slow off the line on a few things this year, but I must admit, I did NOT expect the National Homebrewer’s Conference to sell out inside of a MONTH! I guess the silver lining here is that with the popularity of the conference, the venue may grow further next year and there will be more sessions, perhaps. I’ve put myself on the wait list for the event, so here’s to hoping for a few people to drop out or something. I swear, if this keeps up, they’re going to have to hold this thing out in the Black Rock Desert! Having said all that… Anybody got an extra??

Brewery Vivant – Belgium Meets Michigan (Awesomeness Ensues)

January 16th, 2012 by Steve Travis

As I’ve mentioned before, I end up in Western Michigan from time to time visiting the in-laws. It seems as though each time I visit a new brewery or brew pub has miraculously appeared in the interim. On this occasion I visited Brewey Vivant, another oasis in the desert of macro brew hell that has plagued our friends in the middle of the country until recent years.

But even with the advent of such great players as Founders, New Holland, Shorts, and Bell’s, Brewery Vivant stands out as unique. Offering up Belgian tradition in the land of Miller Lite is daring to say the least, but Brewery Vivant has several great things going for it, not the least of which is its location inside what used to be a funeral home that looks strikingly like a Belgian monastery. My wife and I were able to sneak away the day after Thanksgiving for a few rounds, which turned out to be a perfect time. There were only a handful of folks in the taproom and we happened to catch one of the managers at the taps. We had a great beer geek conversation about what they were doing and, after talking for a while, we scored a private brewery tour through the beautiful towers of stainless steel and wooden barrels behind the taproom. It always inspires me to see the operating floor of brewpubs and how they can create great brews in a small space.

While their beers obviously tend toward the Belgian malty and yeast-forward flavors, they are brewed with a certain (I hesitate to use the word) restraint. This is not to say they are timid about the Belgian style at all, but rather have created a line up of beers that can be both enjoyed for their complexity without being so overwhelming that you only want one. I have been handed more than my share of “Belgian Triples” that made my eyes dilate with intense sweet or ester flavors. Brewery Vivant has not fallen into these practices in the least, opting instead for a refined, very drinkable compositions.

Another point of note for Brewery Vivant is their use of cans over bottles. Not just any cans, mind you, but 16oz “pint cans”. I’ve been a fan of the can for some time now, and it’s great to see another brewery going that direction, not just because cans keep out the light, but also for the better environmental impact. In another nod to the environment, they offset their energy use by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits. All of this makes the California Hippie in me very happy, all the more so after a few of their Farm Hand and Solitude ales. I’m already looking forward to my next trip!

Yeah, I Know, Been Too Quiet Lately

January 10th, 2012 by Steve Travis

So it’s that time of year where holidays lead to ski vacations, lead to whatever else imaginable to keep me away from my brew rig, but that’s not to say I haven’t been thinking about brewing! I have a couple of reviews in the can of some new spots I was able to visit over vacation and a few new recipes to get in the mash tun. And of course, I still have the new brew system to build, so yeah, I’m getting there. Stay tuned, I’ll be more prolific soon!

My Favorite Holiday is Coming Up! Time to Brew!

October 10th, 2011 by Steve Travis

With snow already settling into the higher elevations, before we get too excited about winter we need to celebrate the coming of ski season with some good ol’ Halloween action! I brewed a pumpkin beer for the occasion and thought I’d walk through the process since brewing with pumpkin can be tricky.

First off, Pumpkin beer can be more than a simple novelty where people have one pint, then move back to the IPA. The “trick” is to create a good beer first, then add the pumpkin and spice as an enhancement instead of building the beer around a “pumpkin pie” idea. I’ve included my 10 gallon recipe here. It’s a basic, solid amber ale with the finishing hops removed in favor of the pumpkin pie spice. This beer would do very well being finished with an ounce of Amarillo or Willamette, the spice simply replaces that nose and hint of spice in the finish.

Very sincere.

Picking your pumpkin First, find the most sincere pumpkin patch you can… ok look, you just need 3, 1 lbs “baking” pumpkins. These are the ones that your grandma used to make pie before they canned the stuff. Not that your grandma would ever use canned pumpkin, but I digress. Quarter and seed the pumpkins and place them on a cookie sheet flesh-side-up. Bake at 350F for an hour or until some caramelization occurs along the edges. After they cool, use a chefs knife and remove the rind, then dice the pumpkin into 1/4″ pieces.

Everybody in the pool!

After dough-in, stir in the pumpkin pieces and follow your standard mash schedule. Pro Tip: when working with any kind of fiberous adjunct, add 1lbs of rice hulls. While adding no flavor or fermentables, this creates more “space” in the mash so you won’t be dealing with a stuck mash at sparge time. Keep in mind that you will have to account for the rice hulls and the pumpkin in your strike temperature calculations as additional grain weight since they will absorb heat and water.

Add the pumpkin pie spice at flame out which will allow it to steep while you cool the wort. At this point there’s noting else you need do differently from your normal brewing routine. I would suggest you use a neutral yeast like WL001, Nottingham or Saffale 05. All of these are hard working yeasts but add little yeast character. You’re shooting to get that hint of pumpkin and spice and while you don’t want it overwhelming, you don’t want it fighting with yeast flavors either. Follow your standard fermentation schedule as you would for any amber ale.

So get in the spirit and brew up some pumpkin beer! If the parents of the trick-or-treaters are really nice, perhaps you might even hand them a cup! Happy Halloween!

Notes on the Summer

September 20th, 2011 by Steve Travis

You'll notice no one is brewing in this picture

One may assume that summer is a time where we can all be free to brew our little over-hopped hearts out. A time to fire up the brew rig three times in a weekend and stock up with crazy amounts of crafty, insane experiments that fly in the face of convention and style. Your summer may have been like this. I, however, have an incredible, loving, beautiful wife… who happens to be an elementary school teacher. Who is off during the summer. And gets bored easily. So needless to say I am thrilled with the fact that school is now back in session and we can get back to some normalcy around here! Not that the zoo, Academy of Science, aquarium, camping and road trips aren’t great. They are! But the summer caps off with my youngest’s birthday party which means whatever brew I was left with during the summer is now vaporized by thirsty parents who just adore my kegerator and need to drown out the sounds of 34 4-year-olds in the bouncy house. I’m not actually complaining, as I’ve had a great time this summer, but that leaves me with the reality that my stores are dry and I need to get brewing! In an effort to kick-start my fall brewing, I invited a friend of mine, who is getting back into the game, to come over for an all-grain brew session. A good friend of mine from England was also around at the time so perhaps I’ve added a new brewer to our cousins across the pond! To further drive my brewing mayhem, I’m working on procuring some pipe steel and welding up a brew stand, slowly putting together a HERMS system over the next few months which I will document on the blog for those interested in seeing what it takes to knock out a DIY brew sculpture! So I’m back, baby! And we’re brewin’!