Winter Beer: Five You Won’t Want to Miss!

barrel with snow on top
Winter is not only a time of celebration but also a great time for specialty beers. Many breweries make small batches of their own special beer recipes to sell seasonally. These beers can range from simple to complex and can be made “extra wintery” through a specific fruit ingredient or special spice blend. If you are looking to add to your tasting arsenal, here are a few specialty brews that we recommend keeping an eye out for this season:
Anchor Steam Christmas Ale – Since 1975 Anchor Brewing has created distinctive Christmas Ale. This ale is available only from early November to mid-January and is a rich, dark spiced ale. Each year the Christmas Ale recipe changes – just like the bottle label – but their intent of “joy and celebration of the newness of life” remains the same.
Goose Island Christmas Ale – Similar to Anchor Steam, Goose Island changes the recipe to their Christmas Ale each year so there is something different to look forward to every year. Their Christmas Ale is a bitter brown ale with additional spices that change year to year. Goose Island is only available from November to December and they suggest pairing their Christmas Ale with Aged Gouda or a Dry Jack cheese.
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale – Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale is a full body beer resulting from “fermentation in stone Yorkshire squares” and has an appealing taste to many beer advocates. The type of hops used, Fuggle and Golding, are not kept secret. While the recipe stays constant each year, the image used on their label changes annually.   
Heavy Seas Winter Storm Ale – This winter Ale draws on hops from the West Coast and the UK for its pronounced bitterness. A mix of pale and darker malts give it its tawny color and its bigger body. This ale has a nice nuttiness and earthiness to it and is available from October to December. Similar to Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale, Heavy Seas uses UK Fuggle and Goldings hops. This Ale is ideally paired with a nice Brie cheese or pan-seared steak.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale has been brewed since 1981 and is a “festive fresh hop holiday fun”. This Celebration Ale is one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA. This specific ale is best known for its intense citrus and pine aromas. Celebration Ale is bold in taste and features Cascade Centennial and Chinook hops and is best paired with fish and chips or manchego cheese.
Now that we have told you our favorite winter ale, what’s your brew of choice this time of year?  If you want to get started on brewing a winter batch, you can start with our Homebrewing Kit!

What You Need to Brew Beer at Home

Ever thought about what it would be like to make your own beer? To custom brew a combination of flavors exactly to your personal preferences? You don’t need a factory or plant – all you need are some basic materials and a little bit of space to start brewing beer at home!
We offer the Beermakers Necessities Box as the premiere home beer making kit. It has all you need to start brewing beer at home. For those just starting out home brewing,

  1. Screw-top Fermenter – The fermenter is usually in the form of a tub or jug. This is where the yeast ferments, both in the first and second fermentation cycles. The best fermenters offer airtight concealment and faucets to make draining and bottling easier.
  2. Plastic Carboy – In case your fermenter isn’t optimal for both fermentations, a carboy is ideal for the second fermentation cycle. Its main purpose though is to store the beer (or wine) you’ve created at home in mass quantities (they usually come in 3-6 gallon sizes!
  3. Triple Scale Hydrometer – The purpose of a hydrometer is pretty basic: to track the progression of your fermentation process. The triple scale hydrometer found in this kit can also measure the alcohol content of the finished product.
  4. Curved Racking Cane – The cane’s purpose is to take away any sediment during the siphoning process by acting as a filter system of sorts from the beer to the hose. You want to get a curved racking cane so you don’t have to worry about crimping hoses.
  5. Double Lever Capper – A Capper crimps standard caps into beer bottles and assists with the finishing touches of the bottling process.

The other items included in the kit are: the handbook, vinyl hose, SDH cleaner, a beer bottle brush, and your choice of Brewer’s Best ingredient Kit.
Once you understand the purpose of the basic products necessary for home beer brewing you’ll be on your way to be a beer-brewing master!

Wine Myth #65: "Legs" Are Proof of High-Quality Wines

A previous post, Wine Myth #64: The Older the Wine Is the Better It Is. was so popular that we decided to continue to debunk, or prove, other popular wine myths.
When describing how a wine looks or tastes, many people describe the flavor, aroma, balance, body, and legs. Most of those are self-explanatory, but some might not fully understand the concept of wine “legs”. Wine legs can also be referred to as “tears of wine”, but for our purposes let’s just call them legs.
When you are at a wine tasting and someone swirls a glass of wine and stares at the glass, they are likely looking at the legs. That’s how the wine runs down the glass after swirling; more specifically, the legs are the droplets that run down the glass side from the top of where the wine swished. This phenomenon has been named the Marangoni effect. What’s that? At least define it – don’t tease!
Reality: The legs do NOT determine the quality of the wine.
In fact, legs only indicate the alcohol content of the wine. The more alcohol the wine has, the better chance legs will appear. Not to get into specifics, but think of it as a science experiment. As most home wine makers know, wine mainly consists of water and alcohol. Those two major components have different surface tensions and rates of evaporation. Therefore, when wine is swirled in a glass and disturbed from its usual consistency, the two ingredients can form a ring on the drinker’s glass. Keep in mind, however, that to truly see a difference between wines, they would have to be as different as a fortified and table wine.

Incorporating Fruit into Your Homemade Wine

Have you had success with making homemade grape wine and want to branch out into something a little different? Do you have fruit trees on your property and want to be able to use that extra fruit in your wine-making? Adding fruit to your homemade wine is a little different than making wine entirely from grapes, but it’s not difficult to do.
Beyond Grapes
Homemade grape wine isn’t the only tasty wine that a amateur winemaker can create. Peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, strawberries, currants, blackberries and nectarines are just some of the fruits that can be fermented in wine-making to create wine at home. The best fruits to use are fully ripe and fresh off of the vine. Thus, it’s best to avoid grocery store fruit and deal with your local orchard or farmers market instead. If you have your own fruit trees or plants that’s even better.
Preparing the Fruit

  • To prepare your fruit, clean the fruit gently in a 1:40 bleach solution to get kid of any bacteria, dirt or residue from pesticides.
  • Rinse thoroughly twice with fresh water and pat dry.
  • Cut the large fruit in half and gently remove the stones, if applicable.
  • De-stem, if necessary, and cut out any browns spots.
  • At this point you can either freeze the fruit or proceed by adding it to your wine. Freezing the fruit helps you buy time if your fruit is ripe, but the rest of your wine isn’t quite ready. Some also feel that frozen fruit makes for tastier wine because it breaks down the fiber in the fruit.

Adding Fruit to Wine
Most fruits lack the body and substance to create a tasty wine by themselves so they are generally added to grapes or grape concentrate. To extract the juice, tie the fruit in a cheesecloth bag and mash gently with your hands over a bowl until no solids remain except for the skins. The amount of fruit to be used will vary with the fruit you chose. There are just as many recipes for making fruit wines as there are successful winemakers. All include yeast, sugar and water.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different fruits as you gain experience as a winemaker. Wine-making shouldn’t be limited to just grapes.

How to Properly Taste Wine

Do you enjoy drinking wine, but feel a little intimidated when you order wine at a restaurant or share wine with wine-knowledgeable friends? Are you confused about how to properly taste wine? You needn’t be. Tasting wine the right way is easy when you get the hang of it. Plus, it not only increases your wine confidence, but allows you to enjoy the full aroma and taste of wine. Here’s how:
1. Use the right glass. Think that one wine glass will suffice for any wine? Think again. The proper glass enhances the flavor of the wine. At minimum, you should have three styles of glasses: a clear, stemmed glass with a narrow rim for white wines; a clear, stemmed glass with a bowl and a wide rim for red wines; and a flute for sparkling wines. Remember, too, to hold the glass by the stem so that the warmth of your hand doesn’t change the temperature of the wine.
2. Fill the glass less than half full. Filling the wine glass no more than half full isn’t being stingy with the wine; it’s allowing the drinker to enjoy the full scent (called “bouquet” in wine circles) of the wine.
3. Look at the wine. The color of the wine can tell you a lot about what to expect from the taste. Notice more than just red or white. Is the red wine maroon, ruby, brownish-red or burgundy? Is the white wine pale, straw-colored, yellow or even light green? Look also at how clear or opaque the wine is and whether the liquid clings to the sides of the glass as you move the wine around.
4. Smell the wine. Next, swirl the wine gently in the glass for about 10 seconds, bring the glass under your nose and inhale deeply. What do you smell? Think beyond berries. Wine aromas can include hints of such things as leather, oak, melons and vanilla.
5. Sip the wine. Finally, put the glass to your lips and take a small sip of the wine. Roll the wine around in your mouth before swallowing to allow the flavors to fully develop. Follow with a slightly larger sip and hold the wine in your mouth again for several seconds.
So, stop feeling you don’t know anything about wine. Follow these five steps and not only will you gain more enjoyment from tasting wines, but your wine friends may just start turning to you for advice.

Popular Options for the First-Time Beer Homebrewer

More than one million Americans brew their own beer at home at least once a year, according to the American Home Brewers Association. They also estimate that nearly 90 percent of professional brewers got their start as home-brewers. Crafting your own beer is legal in 48 states (all except for Alabama and Mississippi), and even a first-time effort can yield tasty results.
Have you decided you’re ready to make your own beer, but you don’t know where to start? Tasty home-brewed beer isn’t difficult to make, but you do need the right tools before you begin. Below are just a few popular ways on how to brew to create your own beer at home.

  • Use a kit. Home-brewing kits take much of the guesswork out of making your own brews. Such kits include all of the tools and equipment you’ll need to craft your brew: a book of recipes and instructions, and the necessary ingredients for the brew of your choice (such as pale ale, Irish stout, India Pale Ale, or a host of other brews).
  • Start with Pale Ale. If you decide not to use a kit, it’s best to keep your first beer brewing effort simple. Starting with pale ale allows you to learn the process without the complications of extra ingredients. The only ingredients you’ll need to make pale ale are ale extract syrup, sugar, yeast, hops and water.
  • Use a grain recipe. Although using extract syrup to make your beer is easy and affordable, don’t rule out using a grain recipe for your first brew. This technique of home brewing allows you to craft beer the same way George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison did more than 200 years ago. A grain recipe uses all natural ingredients, such as barley and wheat, in addition to yeast, hops, water, sugar and other flavorings.

So, what are you waiting for? Delicious home-crafted beer is within your grasp. Start creating your own home brews today.

The Art of Properly Tasting Beer

You might enjoy drinking beer, but have you ever stopped to actually taste it? Properly tasting beer, especially your own homebrew, is a lot different than sipping from a glass or a bottle. It’s a process that will enhance your enjoyment of the drink. Learning how to taste beer will open a new world of flavors and tastes to you. Once you learn to taste beer fully, the watery mass-produced beers you might have enjoyed in the past will lack appeal.
Follow Your Nose
The senses of smell and taste are very closely connected, according to brewer Randy Mosher in “All About Beer” magazine. The sense of taste is considerably less complex than the sense of smell. Traditionally, there were four tastes: bitter, salty, sweet and sour. A fifth and a sixth flavor have been recently discovered: umami and fat. Unlike taste, your sense of smell is far more developed. You can smell tens of thousands of aromas.
When tasting beer, you actually taste with your nose before you taste with your mouth and tongue. Up to 95 percent of the flavor of beer comes to you through smell, according to “Beer Advocate.” Try these steps when learning to taste beer:

  • Agitate the beer in glass to release aromas. Swirling the glass with your hand will gently release aromas.
  • Bring your nose towards the glass and sniff the beer, breathing in through your nose.
  • Make note of what you smell. Your descriptions of the aromas can be as creative as you wish. Don’t worry about censoring yourself. Just describe what comes to your head first.
  • Smell and taste the beer in an area that is free from other aromas. A smoky location is not a good spot to taste beer. Don’t wear a lot of perfume or cologne when tasting beer, as the fragrance will interfere with the tasting.

Tasting the Beer
Once you’ve smelled the beer, it’s time to taste it in your mouth. Tasting beer is much more that taking a sip and swallowing. When you sip the beer, hold the liquid in your mouth. The beer should travel over your tongue so that you are able to fully appreciate all the flavors in it. As the beer travels around your mouth, think of the tastes that occur. It might taste sweet one moment, then bitter. Try breathing through your nose as you swallow the beer so that you can fully appreciate all the aromas and flavors.

Making it Personal: Brewing Your Own Beer for Holiday Gifts

Who doesn’t love receiving their own personalized gift for the holidays? Why not give your own home-brewed beer? Don’t forget that the full beer brewing cycle does take around 45 days so get started soon and you’ll have time to give your perfect gift.
In order to brew your own beer at home you’ll need to make sure you have at least one beer brewing kit, which should contain all of the main supplies and ingredients you will need to brew beer, except for something to pour your finished beer into. We suggest purchasing the EZ-Cap Beer Bottles, which hold 16 oz. of beer and they already come with a top so you don’t have to worry about capping your own bottles for each individual bottle of beer. The EZ-Cap Beer Bottles are also a nicely designed bottle, which could serve as a nice gift.
Lastly, don’t forget to jazz up your beer bottles, not only with your own personalized beer label, but you can also package your beer with your secret recipe or with a special message to family and friends.

Halloween Fun: Turn your pumpkin into a keg

Want a way to spice up your Halloween party and you think pumpkin carving is fun? Now that it’s fall, it’s time to try turning your pumpkins into a kegs. Just like you would when you are carving your favorite scary faces into a pumpkin, for a keg, the steps will be quite similar. Follow this guide and you’ll have a pumpkin keg in minutes.

  1. Carve a circle around the pumpkin stem to create the “top” of the pumpkin.
  2. Take out the “guts” of the pumpkin – get every last seed, as even one could clog your keg!
  3. Pick the sturdiest part of the pumpkin for spigot placement and trace a hole for cutting. Note: Don’t make the hole too big! Carve it a little smaller so you can force the spigot through and create as tight of a connection as possible.
  4. Pour your favorite fall beer into the pumpkin and enjoy. Try your favorite pumpkin ales or other similar beers.  Just don’t leave them sitting too long with beer in them or they’ll get soggy.

Hint: Place your pumpkin keg on an elevated surface so your guests can easily serve themselves. A cake stand is a perfect solution for this.