The Thai Have Slightly Thicker Beer(ds)

If I were to take a random sampling of my readership audience I’d wager a bet that at least 90% of you are white men. Of this group, 75% of you have pretty legendary beards, and if you don’t it’s probably because your beard growing capabilities are sub-par. Of the remaining 10%, half of you are white females (probably not bearded), and the rest of you are from various ethnicities (though you’re most definitely blokes). The GTA Brews Homebrewing Club – of which I am a member – is the biggest of such clubs in Toronto. Toronto has one of the most diverse populations in the world, and yet GTA Brews struggles to broaden its base to appeal to women and minorities. We’re trying though. Amongst the rarest in the group, it seems, are black, and Asian people.  

If you’ve been following the blog of late, you’re aware that I’m in fact currently backpacking across Southeast Asia with my girlfriend, Sara. She’s of Malaysian descent and technically a GTA Brews member – whaaaaat?! We started our travels in Singapore, flew to Indonesia, then hit up Malaysia and Sri Lanka before landing in Thailand. Sadly, the variety of beer in these countries has been quite limited. I can only occasionally sniff out craft beer, and when I do it’s usually in obscure pockets of big cities. Even still, the beers at these niche bars are usually imported from Europe or North America and (almost) never locally brewed…

… unless you’re in Bangkok!

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Huzzah!

Let the Boy Die is the name of a hidden craft beer oasis in Bangkok, Thailand. Its name, I’m told, is a homage to HBOs Game of Thrones series. The restaurant’s trendy interior is deliberately rustic with dimmed incandescent bulbs dangling from the ceiling, line art painted on chipped cement walls, and exposed brick framing the draught tap wall. Were it not for the local Thai makeup of its customer base, the establishment could easily be mistaken for a hip, North American microbrewery. When we first arrived, there was a table of white tourists enjoying pints by the taps (see picture below), and by the time we left, I was the only white person around. In fact, the bar seemed to be buzzing with Asian women, and I think there may have been more women than men this night! Yo,Thailand!

The beers on tap are all local Thai beers from various brewing companies. In researching the place I learned that the beers are rotated out quite frequently, and that the taps are ever changing. In fact, when we arrived, I snapped a picture that listed five beers on tap, and when I left two of those five beers had been rotated out and replaced, and a third was tapped and added to the menu.

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This menu changed by the time we left...

The owner, Pieak Ska, is a friendly, trendy dude who brews all his beer (those listed as Three Coins) on a homebrew 5 gal. batch setup (perhaps this is why his lines are always changing). Since the establishment represented such a rare peek into Asian craft beer culture, I decided I should take the opportunity to give all the beers a shot, and review them in what shall henceforth be dubbed Silly Sir’s Pompous Snobbishism Report (SSPSR). Before I begin, it should be noted that several of these tastings were from tiny, sample cups, and so I wasn’t really able to fully appreciate those beers. It would have been very expensive (and dangerous as I am quite the lightweight) to buy them all, especially since I’m on a shoestring budget. It may not be fair that I even reviewed them at all, so I’ll make note of the “sample size” beers accordingly. Take those notes with a grain of salt.

With that disclaimer out of the way and without further adieu I present to you Issue #1 of the SSPSR:

Beer #1: YOD’s Bear Gryll [sic] IPA – 6.2% ABV – 180 Thai Baht ($6.65 CAD)

Appearance: light brown, and very hazy. Excellent creamy head retention, and lacing.

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Right: Bear Gryll (sic) IPA... Lighter than the picture reveals, but still quite grizzly...

Aroma: typical west coast hops. Very citrusy (predominantly orange) with pine.

Taste: mirrors the citrusy aroma pretty closely. Medium to low bitterness for an IPA. Not much malt flavor going on, very slight toastiness.

Mouthfeel: creamy texture, with medium-low carbonation.

Overall: a solid, well rounded IPA whose aroma perfectly mirrors its taste.

Beer #2: House Beer’s Kolsch – 5.5% ABV – 160 Thai Baht ($5.92 CAD)

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Right: das Kolsch bier! Ya.

Appearance: very hazy, pale yellow. Medium head retention and lacing.

Aroma: overall very muted. I’ve heard the word “horse blanket” thrown around to describe beer, and never really knew what it meant but I think this beer may have a slight horse blanket aroma to it. It’s very earthy, and herbal. Aromas of corn bread, and yeast.

Taste: slightly funky, and earthy with a real quick finish. Tortilla chips.

Mouthfeel: medium carbonation, a little watery.

Overall: an inoffensive, if a little underwhelming Kolsch. It doesn’t have much body, and comes off a little thin. Not bad, and worth trying.

Beer #3 – House Beer’s America Redweizen – 5.5% ABV – 160 Thai Baht ($5.92 CAD)

Note: this was a tiny, sampler shot.

Appearance: orange-brown, and very hazy. Medium head retention, and lacing.

Aroma: pineapple, orangepeel, tropical. Very slight bubble gum.

Taste: slight caramel (the maltiness of all the beers is really subdued), tropical fruits. Medium bitterness. Balanced sweetness, and quite delicious.

Mouthfeel: medium carbonation. Creamy, lingering finish.

Overall: solid, rounded, and robust beer. I would have enjoyed a bit more depth from the malts for the style.

Beer #4 – Golden Coins’ Pale – 5.5% ABV – 160 Thai Baht ($5.92 CAD)

Note: this was a tiny sampler shot.

Appearance: pale yellow, hazy. Excellent head retention and lacing.

Aroma: earthy, herbal, and fresh

Taste: earthy, grainy cereal. Medium-low bitterness.

Mouthfeel: finishes really quick, leaves you wanting more.

Overall: a good, fresh and balanced standard pale ale.

Beer #5 – Golden Coins’ ChoChoo!! Stout – 5.5% ABV – 160 Thai Baht ($5.92 CAD)

Note: this was a tiny sampler shot.

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Chocolate stout in the middle...

Appearance: hazy, medium-dark brown. Murky, with carbonation sticking to the sides. ½ m visibility or less (I just got my scuba certification on Koh Tao, Thailand 😜). No head or lacing.

Aroma: smells great! Chocolate birthday cake, pandan leaves, and coconut. Sweet.

Taste: not so great. The chocolate tastes cheap, and the beer finishes slightly sour. Sight brunt coffee.

Mouthfeel: a little flat, and lacking the robust creaminess I expect from chocolate stout.

Overall: a sneaky beer. Looks unappealing, smells awesome, and doesn’t taste good. Apparently it’s only Pieak’s second iteration of this recipe. If you’re reading, Pieak, I would suggest using some oats and black patent malt in your next iteration to improve the appearance and head retention, up the carbonation slightly. How did you go about bringing the chocolate notes?

Beer #6 – House Beer’s Pilsner – 5.5% ABV – 160 Thai Baht ($5.92 CAD)

Note: this was a tiny sampler shot.

Appearance: light straw, and very hazy! Medium head retention and lacing.

Aroma: earthy and herbal. Tree bark.

Taste: earthy, herbal, and a little sour. Not a very “clean” Pilsner, and maybe not to style but I like it. Lingering finish.

Mouthfeel: medium-low carbonation. Quite robust for a Pilsner.

Overall: I quite liked this Pilsner. I usually think of Pilsners as rather floral, but this is not. Again, maybe not to style but if delicious nonetheless.

Beer #7 – Three Coins’ Amber Ale – 5.5% ABV – 160 Thai Baht ($5.92 CAD)

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I really do hate myself.

Appearance: amber-orange, hazy, with excellent head retention and lacing.

Aroma: citrus, grapefruit. Not much malt aroma.

Taste: quite hoppy (bitter) without much maltiness coming through. Grapefruit comes through quite strong. Not really to style, but delicious.

Mouthfeel: appropriate carbonation levels for the style, with a medium-length finish.

Overall: Three Coins’ best beer on taps (though in my opinion, not really to style). It lacks a bit in malt flavor and aroma, and is high in West Coast hops leading it into American Pale Ale territory. Very good.

Overall, Let the Boy Die is a must-visit for beer aficionados looking for great beer in a region known for its sea of mass produced lagers. The selection is varied, and while the beers aren’t always exactly to BJCP guidelines, are close enough and delicious nonetheless.

*Whew*… we got through it! We treaded through the snobbishism and emerged relatively unscathed! While it can be tough to defend the knee-jerk silliness of describing beer, I’d argue that it can be quite useful in articulating what you like and dislike about your drinks. If you know what you like, you can seek out more if it. If you can’t describe beer, you’ll have a harder time finding a beer you enjoy. Most stouts, for example, have coffee and/or chocolate flavours to varying degrees. Some are even nutty. If you dislike chocolate (well, are you human?) but love coffee, you can ask your server about whether her stout fits your taste, and order accordingly.

What some people don’t realize (I didn’t, initially) is that this process is entirely subjective, and that two people can pick up entirely different things when tasting beer. I once rolled my eyes at a documentary I watched on wine somaliers. I was put off when one of the guys confidently (and inaccurately) attempted to match a particular wine to a growing region in the world based solely its taste. His mistake was apparently quite a novice one, as the styles were nothing alike. Instead of laughing at himself, and owning the mistake, and accepting that his chosen path life was a teens-weensy bit silly, he insisted the wine bottles had been switched and that he was actually correct. The other two somaliers featured in the film were able to laugh at themselves, and actually made fewer mistakes because of it.

I try and take beer seriously, but in a self-aware, and silly way. I’m no expert on beer styles (although I’m fairly familiar with some) but when it comes down to it the most important question to answer is, “do I like this beer?” If the answer is yes, great. Drink more of it. It ends there.

If you however want to open yourself up the wonderful world of beer, in all its varied styles, I encourage you to take it a step further and consider why you like a certain beer. It’s really easy, there’s no right answer, and can be as simple as, “I like it because it’s fruity!” As you explore fruity styles (there are many) you may discover other flavors and aromas in beer that you enjoy and that are linked to certain memories.

Just as cilantro takes me to a forest, just as chai spice reminds me of autumn, and just as the scent of pine takes me back to memories of ancient Christmas celebrations. These links have all been conditioned into me, and are very real. Is it blasphemous to reveal that I love the taste of Molson Canadian adjunct lager as a craft beer lover? Bugger off. My association with it brings me back to summers on the lake with good friends.

The more beer I drink, the more particular styles, or brands seem to transport me back to certain places or events. In other words, you can intentionally condition yourself. This can lead to a wonderful time warp that brings on the nostalgic smiles, if you let it. You just have to be patient.

How have you found the Asian craft beer scene? Does describing beer make you somewhat uncomfortable as it does for me? Are there beers that you associate with different times or places?

Insane and Idealistic – Exactly What’s Needed

Many hobbyists in the homebrewing community feel as though the craft brewing market is saturated with brewpubs and microbreweries that it’s inevitably slated for collapse. Some argue that opening a brewpub or brewing company is not worth the risk, and that it’s current rate of growth is unsustainable. By this same logic, New York City’s massively successful Shake Shack burger joint would probably never have opened since there were already hundreds of hamburger restaurants in the city at the time, and the burger market share in New York was spread so thin. In 2004, Shake Shack took off.

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This place is always booming...

Through my travels (I’m currently doing a half-year trip around Southeast Asia) I’ve had lots of downtime at airports and on buses to reflect upon these apocalyptic predictions and to consider the risks involved in my own brewing ambitions. Opening a Silly Sir brewpub and/or brewing company is a daunting, high-risk task that will require intense dedication, long hours, and serious commitment and consideration if it is to become the bustling hangout I envision. At this point, my role is almost exclusively that of a sponge – soaking up as much information as I can on how to successfully run, market, and sustain a viable business. Here’s what I’ve learned so far in listening to podcasts, reading books, and skimming websites on the matter.

The Biggest Risk is to Not Take a Risk

Seth Godin is a revered marketing guru that my girlfriend Sara recommend I examine in order to learn some important lessons marketing. In his book The Purple Cow, Godin posits that marketing (as we know it in a traditional sense) is dead and that in order for a business to succeed in a world where people have more options than ever and less time and willingness to explore these options than ever it has to be a “purple cow”. It needs to stand out in some essential way, in a field of brown cows. That isn’t too say it needs to be gimmicky, in fact gimmicks are dangerous and unsustainable, but your product, service, or business needs to have the marketing built into it in order for people to notice and say wow. You need to be remarkable. Word of mouth spreads from early adopters – those looking for new and exciting business to support – who sneeze out and infect the early and late majority which is where you make most of your money. Without their support it’s incredibly difficult to gain traction.

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Be the purple cow...

How to Reach a Tipping Point

Maybe you’ve heard of, or even read works by Malcolm Gladwell. He is a best-selling author most famous for his book The Tipping Point where he explores what it takes for a business or idea to “tip” and progress from relative obscurity to mass popularity. Ideas, products, and services reach their tipping points when certain people (whom Gladwell refers to as connectors, mavens, and salesmen) work in conjunction to propagate their utility.

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Gladwell distinguishes connectors as individuals with huge social circles and whom others like and trust. Connectors have no trouble connecting people into mutually beneficial relationships. They’re tied to many social circles, from brewpub owners  to producers, florists, architects, actors, and everything in-between and have a special gift for bringing people together.

Mavens, on the other hand, are people who have acquired a nearly obsessive database of knowledge about a particular interest (or group of interests) and are eager to share this information with others. They are information specialists. Mavens know precisely what’s up and will happily advise you on where to buy the best hamburgers in the city because they’ve scouted them out themselves. They know the particular grade of beef in each burger, how restaurant A prepares the dish compared to restaurant B, whether the juices have been pressed out of the patties by the griller, the best day to visit said joint to avoid lines and because Ralph works that day seems to load the burger up with extra stuff. People listen to them because they’re in the know and will not lead you astray. Seth Godin would refer to these people as possessing Otaku – Japanese for being obsessively knowledgeable.

Finally we have salesmen who are charismatic persuaders with a great knack for negotiation. They are likeable, and possess a certain confidence that people trust, and are drawn to.

To Gladwell, if you can draw in connectors, mavens, and salesmen as a substantial part of your early adopter base, you’ll have an easier time spreading your idea or business to the masses. Ideally if you, or your business partners share some of these characteristics yourselves, you’ll be in a much better position to draw customers to you cause

For a Brewpub, It’s About Community

I’ve yet to really decide whether Silly Sir will be a brewpub, brewing company, or both. Perhaps I’ll start as a brewpub and grow into a brewing company later, I’m not sure. In the Toronto Beer Podcast, host Chris Schryer examines the brewing industry of Toronto (usually with Mandie Murphy of Left Field Brewing). In listening to several episodes I’ve learned that part of Left Field’s success seems to come from them being community oriented. For example, Left Field has used the spent grain from their batches to bake dog treats that are given to customers, and proceeds from the sale of Wrigley Pale Ale are collected in order to expand and maintain a local dog park. By giving back to the community, Left Field establishes rapport and trust in the neighborhood which draws in customers, increases sales, and increases the sense of community in the area. Bringing people together and strengthening bonds what beer drinking is all about.

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This place is ballin'. Pun intended.

Being the First to Tap the Blue Ocean

Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head is an inspirational auteur who’s built a successful brewing company that I draw parallels with in Silly Sir. Dogfish’s motto is “Off-centered ales for off-centred people” which is an idea that resonates with me. His brewing company benefited from being one of the first to break the market with experimental beers. Still, if great experimental beer was all I had planned for Silly Sir, I don’t think would necessarily take off. It may become moderately successful, but would not achieve purple cow status. There’s enough fantastic beer out there in the world for us to enjoy, and I am planning for Silly Sir to be something more, I’m just not ready to share exactly what I’m planning with the world just yet.

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Sam's book Brewing Up a Business is incredibly insightful too...

Really though, all I know for certain right now, is that I don’t know much. I’ve got loads more to soak up before being ready to officially unleash Silly Sir beer to the world. I’ve got a vision that I will eventually execute with fervor and tenacity in order to become a truly remarkable brewing company. Until then, I will continue to investigate what exactly I can do to be remarkable, and to disrupt the industry in a positive way while being true to myself.

Am I crazy to open a beer company in an rapidly expanding, arguably “oversaturated” market? What would you do differently? What do you think I’m overlooking at this point in the journey?

Durian + Alcohol = INSTANT DEATH?!

Most Malaysians go absolutely crazy for this perplexing, stinky fruit called durian. Its creamy fruit centre is encased in a hard, spiky shell, and its distinctive sulphuric stink immediately envelops its surroundings in a foul, garbage-like wave of offense. It is said that consuming alcohol and durians together will result in an instant death. Sara’s younger cousin insisted that I not drink any beer while consuming the controversial fruit as I’d immediately keel over and die.

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Who decided this was edible?

I was skeptical. Being the experimental brewer that I am, I bet against this notion and almost took it as a challenge. ‘I’ll show you!’ I thought, ‘I’ll even make my own durian beer to falsify this silly myth!’ (though I’d give it to the suckers in my local homebrew club to try first, of course, just in case).

When I queried will mixing durian and alcohol kill you? into Google, the results were inconclusive. Since websites said it would, while others claimed it wouldn’t. Many said that it was mixing it with hard liquor that would make you make you very sick, but not dead.

It’s hardly surprising. The first time I tried durian, I wasn’t quite sold on the fruit writing, ‘I give durians a 4/10 with 1 being definitely poison and 10 being eh, maybe poison.’

But then I tried it again in Penang – a city known for its exceptional durian – during peak season. These durians were fresh from a tree in a durian orchard on a mountainside. They were awesome. I ate two whole durians. They tasted much sweeter this time around round – less like garlic and more like brown sugar, and deliciously creamy.

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I was then offered some Carlsberg to go with my durian. I noticed the orchard farmers were enjoying it with their durian, so I figured it must be safe.

But it wasn’t. I immediately started convulsing and died. 😞

Bali Hai – Indonesia’s Best Beer

Sara and I are currently in Bali, which is home to our new favourite Southeast Asian beer thus far: Bali Hai. We stumbled upon it at a knock off 7-11 (Mini Mart) in Ubud, and were thrilled to finally find a beer that wasn’t Heineken or Bintang (Indonesia’s favourite beer). I bought a small can of it for the equivalent of about $2.40 CAD and proceeded onward to the Alcoholic Monkey Forest.

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This one passively pawed at it, but I would not let go...

While nothing special, the beer far surpasses Bintang in terms of drinkability. It’s a typical adjunct lager with a slight cereal aroma and taste. It’s a little sweet overall, but quite balanced. Meh, it’s another lager.

As we entered the forest, an alpha climbed onto my back swinging from arm to arm in a desperate attempt to score some swigs. These are bloody alcoholic monkeys man, and I guess they’re just sick of Bintang. I am too.

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Before the ambush, I posed like a douche and ignored the sign...

Have you tried Bintang or Bali Hai? What did you think? What’s your favourite international beer that you can’t get back home?

The One Good Beer of Southeast Asia (So Far)

In considering what to write about Southeast Asian beer, I almost just want to say don’t bother and leave it at that. The beer is just not good. This is hardly surprising given that the Muslim population of Indonesia, for example, hovers around 90%. Still, I find myself compelled to write. There’s one exception, and I’m bored on a 9 hour train ride to Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The Good Beer Company is located in Singapore’s China Town area, and we discovered its existence purely by chance. The New York Times featured an article on the rare storefront that Sara just happened to bring my attention to back home in Canada. This little stall was hidden in a food complex amomgst hundreds of other barely distinguishable stalls.

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After nearly 20 minutes wandering the massive food court, we finally found the place though sadly, it was closed. We had to return later in the evening if we wanted a shot at good beer.

At night, the stall was bustling. Most customers seemed to be tourists who’d presumably also heard about the place in the New York Times. I ordered a half-pint of Hardcore IPA from Brew Dog, and it was my first, and only taste of delicious hoppy beer in Southeast Asia. Guess how much this half-pint set me back?

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Very piney bitterness, sharp alcohol flavour...

… are you ready? Did you guess? Wow you got it exactly right! Yeah, it was around $14 CAD! Ridiculous. So ridiculous in fact that I could only afford half a pint of this one beer. Granted, it was deliciously hoppy (pine) and at 9.2% ABV was rather strong, but what the hell, Southeast Asia?! Give me more!

The rest of the beers I’ve tried just don’t appeal to my North American palate. It’s as if Southeast Asia is 20 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to craft beer. Although the following beers are inoffensive, they are remarkably bland and most comparable to light, mass-produced North American lagers. Please mind the picture quality.

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The word bintang means star in Indonesian.. Yes, I'd give it maybe one star (out of five)...

Bintang, Indonesia’s favourite beer, is made with water, barley, sugar, hops (maybe a pellet’s worth) and yeast. Meh.

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Kingfisher from India

Equally bland, though maybe a touch hoppier is Kingfisher lager from India. I had this one in Singapore and I must emphasize that it’s not bad, it just lacks distinguishable aromas and taste. Meh.

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Not as flavourless, and a bit stronger at around 8% is Black Label. There’s a bit of spiciness to this beer, but it’s quite unbalanced. This is a beer for getting drunk.

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As we walked through the Botanical Gardens of Singapore on a very hot and sunny day, we sipped Anchor Strong from Malaysia. Though awful, it hit the spot by quenching our thirst and cooling us down. Still: meh.

I’m thinking a craft beer revolution in Southeast Asia could be imminent. Perhaps it would be wise to set up shop over here as the market is less bloated. To the contrary, in fact: it’s rather thin. As an early pioneer, Silly Sir could take the region by storm!

… a man can dream.

If you have any tips on where I can find good beer in Southeast Asia, please leave a comment below. I am desperate (conversely you can ship me some too, I won’t mind. I’ll be having an extended stay in one location of Malaysia for about a month very soon with Sara’s extended family)

Introducing: Klifferd the Big Red Ale

Top o’ the mornin’ to yeh! Or evenin’… ♩ Lar-de-dar-de-diddle de-dum de-dee! ♩ *clicks heels in the air*

*ahem* excuse me… sorry. I sometimes (err…often) get carried away. I was typing in an Irish accent if you didn’t follow. I hope you read it that way. If not, I’ll give you five seconds to go back and read it again with an Irish voice in your head… Done? Good. The Irish always seem so chipper, with St. Paddy’s Day finally here, there’s much to be chipper about. For instance, Silly Sir Brewing Co. (a.k.a. me) is proud to announce the release of it’s second Irish Red ale: Klifferd the Big Red Ale. It’s big, it’s Irish, and it’s a whole lot of deliciousness capped and trapped in a bottle.

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Rapidly chillin’ the wort with copper coils

Man, I’ve typed so much, yet said so little. Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

This is the first brew day I’ve extensively documented through pictures. I’ve had requests from many of the Reddit readers of this blog to outline my procedures and recipes more thoroughly. This post is primarily for home brewers, but I will attempt to explain everything in an easy to follow way for those of you who are just interested in the process.

My recipe was adapted from Homebrew Talk Forums. I was drawn to it because it 1) apparently took 1st place at a homebrew competition, 2) uses American hops, 3) had several grains I’d never used before, and 4) looked deliciously malty. Irish Reds are not particularly popular styles of beer for homebrewers to brew (presumably because they’re relatively low on the bitterness, and most of us are hop-heads), but this recipe is really quite delish and malt forward.

MY ADAPTED RECIPE: 

Recipe Type: All Grain
Yeast: WLP-001
Batch Size (Gallons): 5.0
Original Gravity: 1.055
Final Gravity: 1.011
IBU: 32
Boiling Time (Minutes): 60
Color: 16.5 SRM
Primary Fermentation (# of Days & Temp): 12 days @ 70 F
Tasting Notes: Medium malt aroma and big malt flavours of biscuit and bread. Medium sweetness with slight honey notes balanced out by the citrus of the Cascade hops.

ADAPTED Ingredients

8.00 lb Maris Otter (2 Row) UK (2.0 SRM) (72.7%)
1.00 lb Caraaroma (130.0 SRM) (9.1%)
0.50 lb Carafoam (2.0 SRM) (4.5%)
0.50 lb Melanoiden Malt (20.0 SRM) (4.5%)
0.50 oz Northern Brewer [6.00 %] (60 min) (11.9 IBU)
1.00 oz Cascade [6.60 %] (30 min) (21.1 IBU)
1.00 lb Honey (1.0 SRM) (add at flame out) (9.1%)
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001)

Silly Sir Apartment Brewing - Irish Red

My Tiny Apartment Brewhouse – It’s tiny but I get by just fine.

I made a few adaptations to the Homebrew Talk Forum recipe. For example, I used 0.5oz Northern Brewer hops instead of 1.0oz Crystal. I also used Maris Otter instead of US 2 Row as I thought it would contribute a more pronounced biscuit profile for this style of beer. Finally, I adjusted the batch size from 5.5 gal to 5.0 gal because my grains hadn’t been crushed enough and I feared I’d undershoot the OG without adjustments (I didn’t have my own mill at this point).

To start, I heated the strike water to 163.5 before adding it to my mash tun.

I really had to ensure that I killed any clumps in the mash before I added the cooler lid. I also let the mash sit an extra 15 minutes, hoping to extract as much sugar as possible. I knew the added time probably wouldn’t do too much to the gravity (sugar content) readings – if anything at all – but I didn’t mind waiting a bit longer.

After an hour and 15 minutes, I collected the first runnings in my little pot, and recirculated before drawing it into the boil kettle.

I measured out my hops, brought the wort to a boil on my electric stove, and boiled the Northern Brewer hops for 30 minutes before adding the Cascade hops and boiling them together for another 30.

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0.5 oz of Northern Brewer at 6.0% A.A.

I added 1lb of liquid honey at flame out…

… and immediately chilled the wort down to 64.6 F in about 12 minutes with my new wort chiller. It’s the best, and saves me from tub-chilling (which takes forever and uses up so much water, ice, energy, and dignity). Please consider the dignity levels of the following two pictures:

Right?! In the first picture, I have zero dignity, a dopey smile, and am sitting on a toilet. In the second, I am standing upright lookin’ dangerous and conquering the hot wort like a hero. Every homebrewer should have a coiled wort chiller from day one.

I’ve learned that it’s important to chill it really fast to avoid bacterial contamination as well as possible vegetal flavours caused by Dimethyl Sulphide (DMS). Vegetable beer sounds almost as gross as Pickle Tournament Beer.

After chilling, I took a gravity reading, added the yeast, and aerated the wort by sloshing it from pot to bucket three or four times. Doing so adds oxygen to the wort which the yeast needs in order to convert fermentable sugar to alcohol. Many home brewers pump their wort with pure oxygen. My method seems to do the trick just fine, but is admittedly ghetto. It also runs the risk of contamination, and picking up any particles in the air. So far I’ve been okay.

After 12 days of fermentation, I kegged, gelatin crashed, and carbonated. I used Marshall Shotts preferred method from Brulosophy and while it usually does the trick really well, I’m noticing it’s still pretty hazy. I speculate it may be the honey contributing to the haze, but I’m really just talking out my ass.

I’ll update the blog with more pictures if it clears up further. I loves me some crystal-clear beer. I’ll also post something with remarks from casual beer-drinking friends, and my beer snob buddies in the GTA Brew club to add objectivity to my tasting notes. If you’re thinking of diving in to this amazing hobby and live in the GTA, GTA Brews people are crazy supportive.

Are you a fan of Irish Reds?

Matti

Introducing: Giggle Splash IPA

 

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Giggle Splash is my first attempt at a highly aromatic American IPA. American IPAs are marked by their bright, citrusy hop aromas, and high bitterness. Giggle Splash sits at around 57 International Bitterness Units (IBU) which is considered moderate according official guidelines. For comparison, Budweiser and Molson Canadian sit at around 10 IBU or so (plus or minus a few units). So yes, it’s quite hoppy.

The recipe comes from Eric Brews and was originally brewed for his wedding. Eric Cousineau is a highly experienced and technical homebrewer who helms the GTA Brews Homebrew Club of which I am a member. As such, I knew this recipe would be tops blooby, so I decided to give it a shot.

As for the name of this beer, I reached out to several friends for suggestions. I told them it would be citrusy, and bitter. Among the suggestions were: Snacky Tasty Beery Drink, Golden Juice, Cloud Display, Orange Appeal, OJ IPA. While I wasn’t initially sold on Giggle Splash, my friend Ethan defended his suggestion:

“…it’s light. It’s refreshing, it causes giggles. Splash is associated with citrus all the time (juices, soda)… consumers care about how it makes them feel…”

… and that’s why I keep Ethan close to my heart. He articulates so perfectly what I know to be true instinctively and encourages he my insanity.

As always, my indulgent girlfriend Sara designed and executed the labels. I told her I wanted it to be extremely bright, cartoonish, and ridiculous. The labels were designed to emphasize the citrusiness of the beer by featuring a cartoon version of myself riding a unicorn and jucing an orange on the giggling unicorn’s horn. It perfectly captures the existential silliness and fun of the Silly Sir brand.

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“Make sure the juice is dripping down the horn!” said Matti prematurely

I’m really quite proud of this beer. My brew club buddies enjoyed it, and I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from friends and family. I’m always thinking of ways to improve my beers so I already have plans on how I could do things a little differently so as to extract even more juicy aromas from the hops. I’ve been home brewing for about a year, and while I’ve learned a great deal know I’m only just skimming the surface of what great beer can be.

Matti

May the Schwarzbier With You

Special thanks to Brulosophy’s Marshall Shott for the awesome recipe and name. This beer is a damned good simple, and inexpensive beer to brew. Very clean, and surprisingly crisp. I think the low fermentation temperatures were key to this. I wish there was more head retention, and it may have to do with carbonation levels at this point (they’re still a bit low) but I’m wondering what I can do to up the head retention without adding wheat.

Stay silly and may the schwarzbier with you,

Matti

Introducing Silly Sir’s Spiced Ginger Saison

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0% Soul

It is ready: Silly Sir’s first saison!

Saison beers are typically consumed during the summer, and are usually: highly carbonated; moderately high in alcohol; light to moderate in colour and bitterness; and full of beautiful esters that impart distinctive notes of banana, cloves, and spice. If this sounds like it’s your jam,  contact me and I’ll let you test one in exchange for critical feedback. The distinctive aromas of this beer form due to the warm temperatures required for optimal fermentation by this particular strain of yeast. This beer fermented at around 88F for about a month which is a much higher fermentation temperature than most yeast strains are used to.

For the labels, I wanted to create something that was both humourous, and to the point. I’m not a huge fan of putting puns in beer labels or names and because Punland was the only place my mind would go, this beer’s name ended up being completely descriptive.

The Akubra hat is a subtle nod to my friend John Tyler who provided me with his recipe and was wearing one when I first met him. This beer is 7.4% ABV, and yet has 0% soul… Because it’s a ginger beer. And gingers have no souls. As always, my kick-ass girlfriend executed the labels to perfection. She runs Sara Knits Co., an online Etsy shop for high-quality hand knitted goods, and she’s always taking requests. You can also shoot me (or her) a message if you want to commission her to design you a label. She’s insanely talented.

What are your thoughts on punny labels? Do they work? Are they over done? What are some of your favourites?

Until next time, stay silly,

– Matti

 

Eisbock! Ice-Beer! Accident averted!

Well this was an interesting experiment…

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Eisbock is typically a term given to beers that have been created by freezing off a portion of the beer’s water and then discarding it so as to increase its percentage of alcohol and elevate its maltiness. Typically an eisbock (German for ice strong-beer) has an alcohol percentage of around 10% or more. The alcohol levels levels for this beer however were much lower. This beer had a huge problem that needed a solution.

I wanted to brew two-1 gallon batches of the same beer together into a single 2 gallon batch, but grossly miscalculated the absorption of water into the grain, and sparge water amounts. I ended up with about 4-gallons of beer in the fermenter, roughly double what I had intended. The beer was extremely diluted. I was concerned I’d ruined a brew day.

Annoyed, I began to consider how I might be able to fix this problem. If I hadn’t already cooled the beer and pitched the yeast, I could have just left it on the burner to boil off most of the water and achieve the proper volume of wort. I didn’t do this because I had no extra yeast to pitch. If I brought it back to a boil, it would die.

I knew there had to be a solution to my problem but wasn’t sure what it was. I knew alcohol had a much lower freezing point than water, and I also knew it was winter and that I could leave it out on the balcony to freeze it. I checked online to see whether anybody had ever frozen their beer to elevate their alcohol percentages, and came across this “eisbock” thing. I’d never even heard the term before.

Basically, you just partially freeze the beer after it’s done fermenting, and skim a crap ton of ice from the top. I got rid of approximately half of the ice to bring the alcohol levels to within a “normal” range. I estimate that the ABV is between 3-4% now, which while quite low is a substantial improvement from 1.5-1.9% which I estimate it was at before my experiment. I don’t think it’s quite doubled as I’m sure I discarded some alcohol that was encapsulated in the ice too, but the beer now tastes much fuller, and has been saved.

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Left: melted ice that was freshly skimmed off the top. Middle: melted ice taken from the brew kettle. Right: the concentrated “eisbock”

I use the eisbock term liberally. This is not a “strong-beer” by any means. Still, I’m proud of how I was able to rescue a beer that would otherwise have been dumped. It is now on tap in the Silly Sir keg, and ready for consumption by friends, family, and let’s be honest: mostly myself.

Have you ever had to rescue a beer from certain doom? What was the problem, and what was the solution? Let me know in the comments below.

Stay silly,

Matti