Friday, December 11, 2009

Ice Coated Brewing

This past Sunday we brewed another batch of our Back Porch Brown Ale. The difference of brewing this day was that we started brewing was coated in ice.

~This was the deck, first thing in the morning, as we got ready to set up for brewing~

~We're getting set up now and you can see the ice still coating the deck. At least it's not raining, right?~

Brewing went well, despite the bitterly cold start to the morning. Several people have asked whether the cold weather makes it take longer for the water to boil, but we didn't find that there was much of a difference. Our burners are some high kickin' burners though, so maybe that makes a difference? The cooler weather DID make it a little bit quicker to chill down after the boil; which was good because it saved us some water consumption (less water needed to cool it down), and the quicker it cools down the quicker you can get it into the carboys. This equals a smaller chance for infection. Also, the quicker you cool it, the better "cold break" you will get which will reduce or eliminate the occurrence of chill haze. Chill haze doesn't affect the flavor of the beer though, only its appearance; so for those who want a nice, clear, "see-your-hand-through-the-glass" beer, chill haze is something that is a bit undesirable.

~Shannon, in his hat & gloves, helping to skim the foam off of the wort, at the end of the sparge, as it gets ready to boil~

~Here he is dumping the foam he skimmed off into a pot of water that will be dumped out on the grass~

We once again fermented 5 gallons with American yeast and 5 gallons with English yeast. We've been a little lax about keeping good records as to which yeast we prefer in the final product. Note to brewers: keep good records, all the way through!!
5 gallons we will keg and 5 we will bottle. Kegging is easy and quick, and it is hard not to keg all 10 gallons, but we're remembering the importance of bottling beer as well. Gifts, bartering, competitions, beer in bottles can be a good thing.

We'll keep you updated with what we brew next.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Teach a Friend to Homebrew

Last Saturday, November 7th, was National Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day. From ~
The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day is an international event to introduce people to the homebrewing hobby and establish relationships with local homebrew supply shops.
Each year on the first Saturday in November, homebrewers around the world are encouraged to invite non-brewing and brewing friends and family to celebrate Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day and brew a batch of beer together.
Before the event, participants that have Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day events register their site on this web page. These registered sites help the American Homebrewers Association track how many participants celebrated the event.

As usual, the Star City Brewer's Guild hosted a TAFTH at Lamplighter Mall, outside Blue Ridge Hydroponic and Homebrew Store. While we only stayed a short while, we did stop by with the kids for a bit early on in the day. We watched one member add his grains for his all-grain brew, and another start his kit-brewing. The gentleman who was doing the kit-brew explained to the kids how he was hanging the grains from a wire so that they wouldn't burn from sitting on the bottom of the pot. Shannon picked up on this and was able to tell us what he learned on the way home. Tristan, who is still only 3, only noted that the gentleman didn't have crackers and cheese .. something he had when we visited him at his home during a brew day!
HOWEVER, something kinda impressive happened the next morning.

~Tristan helping stir the pot~

Sunday, the 8th, we brewed our "Ruby's Deep Winter" Stout. While both kids insist on helping, it is normally Shannon who is really insistent upon being a part. This Sunday, however, it was Tristan who woke up ready to brew. I have no doubt in my mind this was because of attending Teach a Friend to Homebrew the day before.

While a 5 1/2 year old and a 3 year old may not have exactly been the "target audience" for learning to homebrew, they did learn. And since we live in a society where practically the only thing deemed allowable/acceptable/appropriate for children to do is watch tv, play video games, and generally be worshipped rather than productive members of a household ... I consider them learning how to homebrew a great success.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mellowing into Fall ~ Pumpkin Ale

We brewed our first Pumpkin Ale of the year on Sept. 23rd. We use fresh pumpkins, so the anticipation and wait for them to be in season is an event all it's own. Here are some photos from this past brew session.

~The set-up, with the pureed pumpkin and rice hulls~

~Shannon stirs while Justin adds the grain~

~Tristan watches~

~Tristan and Shannon take turns stirring the pot~

~And, finally, the pumpkin is stirred in~

We must confess here, this didn't turn out quite like we had hoped. To quote Carrie's step-father "it didn't blow our skirts up." So, ingredients have been ordered and we hope to brew another batch this next weekend. That's one of the little hiccups with brewing seasonal ales, if you're not quick enough, you only get to brew once a year! And, we expect our seasonals to blow our skirts up!!
We're also still working on a good name for this brew. Some have come to mind, but we worry about copyright infringement and stuff like that. If you have any good ideas you'd like to suggest, please leave a comment ~ we'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Decadence on Memorial Day

~Quick apology for the lack of photos here, but keep a weather eye our on that horizon for a slideshow of photos soon to come!~

On Memorial Day, after a long weekend (two nights + little kids = long weekend) of camping, we got to brew! Most people were busy grilling out and celebrating pools opening ~ we were busy brewing up our intense "Decadence" and noshing on some homemade pizzas!
Decadence is our Winter Holiday beer. Last year, we brewed it with the intention of drinking it over Christmas, but it ended up being our known as our "winter holiday preparation" beer as only a couple bottles made it to Christmas. It's an Imperial Stout with chocolate, vanilla, and Wild Turkey. It earns it's name! This year, we needed to use up the grain we had gotten via a bulk order from Big Daddy's Brewing ( The grain arrived crushed instead of whole, meaning it would spoil quicker. Decadence to the rescue!
Brewing went really well. We did realize that 36lbs of grain is about all we can handle, with our current set up, during one brew session. We could possibly do 40lbs, but we're not sure how we would get the sparge arm on over it. We hit the OG dead on at 1.100. We also got a chance to really test out the new tent.
If you aren't in the area, or if you are in your own world, you may have missed the fact that the greater Roanoke Valley has been going through a very wet "rainy season" lately. Great for the ground, for building streams and rivers back up, for crops and newly planted trees; but bad for a lot of other stuff. We've set the tent up once before on a brew-day, but didn't have all the hot liquor tank underneath. This time we did. We had water on hand in case of fire, but we needn't fear. One: it did fine. Two: it DID rain!! It poured down for a while actually. The tent worked, everything remained safe and not-watered down, and when the sun returned, we had a nice, dry, shady area to hang out. The only ones not happy about the rain were the dogs. We've begun putting up a baby gate to block them from the deck (Whiskey, our chocolate lab keeps burning herself on the burners .. you'd think she'd learn!), and instead of finding other shelter in the rain, they stood at the baby gate, leaning their heads over it & pouting. Yes, they were pouting. Especially Jomo.
For the most part though the rain ended as our guests arrived. We were joined for this brew-day by our friends Kevin & Bailie. Kevin is a brewer as well and both he and Bailie are also members of the Star City Brewer's Guild.
As usual, Shannon helped add the hops. This time he also got to add the cocoa, which was a nice treat for him. He has now begun telling his friends he can't play with them "because I'm brewing!" This is pretty funny to here a 5 year old say. Tristan was asleep for most of the time, but he did show a lot of interest when Justin was filtering the beer into the fermenter. Carrie was able to get some cute photos of all of this.
All in all, the brew-day went really well. Carrie made two homemade pizzas which were quickly devoured by everyone. She is now on a quest to find some good pepperoni made from pasture raised pork.
The beer has gone through quite a vigorous fermentation process though. If we had hooked up a blow-off tube it probably would've been fine and resulted in less mess to clean up, but hey. To help try and keep it as we want to be, we've put the beer into coolers filled with water and ice packs. The goal is to keep try and keep the beer at a constant 70-72 degrees. This is one of those times where we realize the downside of not having AC, and we're looking for remedies for the future.
The vanilla will be added during the secondary fermentation which might occur next weekend - we'll just have to see how it's all going. The Wild Turkey will be added when it is time to bottle &/or keg the beer. In the future we will plan on using a cask for this time, and let the beer age to absorb the flavors. We're hoping to let the beer age in bottles and still drink it during the winter holidays, but this is like getting boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and expecting them to last for 6 months. You can hope, but don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shooting Creek Brews!

While wandering up to Floyd to pick up a few things, we stopped by Harvest Moon (always a must!) and were delighted to find Shooting Creek Brewery's beer! YAY!!

We tried three of their brews: Farmhouse Stout, Red Tractor Ale, and Buffalo Brown Ale.
Right now, of all the beer being brewed locally, Shooting Creek's is the only one you can actually buy in bottles at a store. I hope the other local breweries follow suit and start making their beer available in bottles too.
The beer is really good. The brewery, the brewers, and everyone involved with Shooting Creek are even better. Quoting their website ( Both a Farm and a Brewery, we produce much of the hops, honey and grains used in our beers. Brewed in small batches, our unique beers will please, refresh and inspire.
Portions of each brew are packaged in returnable containers to help reduce the Brewery's carbon footprint.

This is something that really speaks to us. We grow some of our hops now, and hope to expand that, as well as grow more things for the beers, in the future. Trying to maintain a small carbon footprint and walk lightly on the Earth is very important to us as well.
If you haven't checked out Shooting Creek yet, do so.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May Tasting

For May, in honor of Spring, we decided to sample some fruit beers. Fruit beers are really popular right now, with more varieties seeming to appear stocked on the shelves by the day. It's been fun to watch, and surprising to taste. For reference sake, we bought all of these beers at the Kroger on Brambleton Ave. in Roanoke. This Kroger is locally known as both "the old Harris Teeter" and "the good Kroger."

To start the tasting we tried Orange Blossom Cream Ale. It says it is brewed by Buffalo Brewing Company, but on the side it also says it comes from Pyramid. Here are our thoughts:
~Justin - orange aroma up front. Good but not worth $8.50 or $9 a six-pack
~Carrie - first scent, it smells like cheap beer, orange aroma comes out as it warms up. Very smooth taste, decent. Agree on price.

Up next was Wild Blueberry, a blueberry lager, from Blue Dawg Brewing. (Into alliteration are they?). Here are our thoughts on this one:
~Justin - lots of blueberry aroma. taste is too overpowering, like drinking alcoholic blueberry juice, too much juice used - wouldn't call it beer, but I'll drink it because it is 8% alcohol
~Carrie - aroma reminds me of blueberry muffins. Very sweet, very "dessert-y". No "beer" taste - would be good with dessert, but definitely can't drink more than one in a row ("lacks drinkability")
~ Now, I must note something here. This beer reminded us both of alcohol without the alcohol taste. Like Zima or something. We let Carrie's mother and step-father try it. Both like it, particularly Carrie's mom. She also used to drink Zima. If you're into that, you'd probably really like this. All of us shared the comment about it tasting more like blueberry juice than beer.

Our last beer was Aprihop from Dogfish Head. Here were our thoughts on it:
~Justin - good, a little tart
~Carrie - nice floral aroma, nice flavor
Anyone who knows us, or who has been reading this blog for any amount of time, knows our love for Dogfish. We weren't sure if we didn't have a lot to say because of the following reasons: a slight buzz from the Wild Blueberry, watching a movie (HellBoy 2 for those curious), eating some extremely yummy Roasted Garlic and Parmesan chips, or just not being terribly blown away by this brew. We do agree it warrants a second-round of tasting when all other factors are not into play. We will always give Dogfish that courtesy!
HOWEVER .. this one can NOT go without being noted.

UGH!!! Playboy may have been smooth in the 60's & 70's, but no more! This made me want to smack the carton, or at least smack whoever thought of it upside the head. Playboy today is "Sleeze" NOT "Smooth"!!! While I realize the beer isn't calling Playboy smooth here it is instead Playboy calling the beer "smooth" - well, it is still just wrong. Dogfish is leagues above Playboy. Couldn't they have quoted Frank Sinatra instead?? (yes, I know he is dead .. it's a joke) bah.

SOOO --- What type of beers are you wanting to drink when Spring rolls around?? Do you like the fruit beers? Whaddya think .. we wanna know!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Belgian Blonde Ale

We took full advantage of the break in rain to brew yesterday. They were still calling for a 60% chance of scattered thunderstorms, so we set up the tent that Justin got for Christmas, just in case. Of course, if you plan ahead and set up a tent, it won't rain - and it didn't. But it WAS nice to have a shady deck for once, as ours is always very sunny & in the summertime that means VERY hot!! In the photo you can see Justin taking a few minutes to check out his first issue of "Brew Your Own" (the how-to homebrew beer magazine) that we just got that day. So far, we must admit, this is looking to be one snazzy beer magazine.

We chose to try a Belgian Blonde Ale, our first non-kit Belgian, since 1)we really love a good Belgian Ale, 2)we've noticed that Belgians are pretty popular around here, 3)we've been really inspired by the complexity of Caracole's beers and just "HAD TO" try our own take, and finally 4)though the dark strong Belgian ales are more popular, we were more motivated to do a blonde. Sometimes the beer speaks to you .. or something like that. ha ha ha

We got off to a slightly later-than-usual start due to the rain and some other craziness here at the house, but were able to be mashing by about 10:30. Although we had planned on using Belgian Pilsner malt, but we had gotten some "bulk grain" (American 2 Row) from Awful Arthur's and their brewer had forgotten to not have ours crushed. Since it came crushed, we needed to use it up sooner rather than later, so this time we went with the American 2 row.

Brewing went well. Nothing terribly special or note-worthy, just one boil over when the first hop (Kent Goldings) was added. We finished up with ten gallons and a final gravity of 1.076. The carboys (well, one is a glass carboy, one is a bucket) are now in the dining room. We have been concerned that the dining room will be too warm for a good fermentation, so we'll have to see how that goes over the course of the summer. Old houses without A/C are proving to be tricky. We just checked on them though and they've really taken off. Overall we're thinking it should come out very nicely, on target with what we planned and wanted.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April's Beer Tasting: Belgian Beers

We announced around Christmas-time that we had joined Wine Gourmet's Beer of the Month club, with promises of reviewing the beers for you here. Well .. that didn't happen for a couple reasons, and effective April 1st, we left the Beer of the Month club. We still think very highly of Wine Gourmet, we just personally wanted to go a different direction.
We still plan to do our own "Beer of the Month" though it may be more of a style focus rather than a "from ________ brewery" focus. For April we decided to try out some Belgian Ales.
To keep things simple, we went with two breweries: Chimay & Brasserie Caracole. These are two we already think pretty highly of, or have at least heard lots of good things about.
There were clear "winners" here. Brasserie Caracole just can not be beat. The complexities of their beers are amazing. Seriously, Carrie was determined (a couple years ago now) to name one of our kids Caracole, or some version of that.

First, we tasted SAXO from Caracole. Here is the description from ~
SAXO from Brasserie Caracole is a very complex artisanal Wallonian blond ale with an unusual hoppiness, bitterness and a touch of spice. Bizzare grainy punch of taste preceding hops and waves of flavors whizzing over the tongue.
Couldn't have said it much better ourselves. We did pick up the scent of cloves, and there was also a nice banana taste to it. A great Belgian, summer-time beer.

Next, we tried Chimay's Triple, aka Cinq Cents when bought in the larger bottles. Here is the description from Chimay's website, ~
Named Cinq Cents in 75 cl (25.4 fl.oz.) bottles, this beer with its typical golden colour, its slightly hazy appearance and its fine head is especially characterised by its aroma which results from an agreeable combination of fresh hops and yeast. The beer's flavour, as sensed in the mouth, comes from the smell of hops: above all it is the fruity notes of muscat and raisins that give this beer a particularly attractive aroma. The aroma complements the touch of bitterness. There is no acidity, but an after-bitterness which melts in the mouth. This top fermented Trappist beer, refermented in the bottle, is not pasteurised.
Chimay beers are really popular around here, but we were kinda disappointed. Justin thought it was "alright", Carrie gave it "meh" vote .. bordering on ugh, and not wanting to drink it again.

We decided to stick with Chimay, and next tried their Red, which is a dubbel. Again, the description from Chimay's website:
First sold in 75 cl (25.4 fl.oz.) bottles, it is noted for its coppery colour which makes it particularly attractive. Topped with a creamy head, it gives off a light, fruity apricot aroma produced by the fermentation. The taste perceived in the mouth is a balance confirming the fruity nuances noticed in the fragrance. Its taste, which imparts a silky sensation to the tongue, is made refreshing by a light touch of bitterness. To the palate, the taster perceives a pleasant astringency which complements the flavour qualities of this beer very harmoniously. This top fermented Trappist beer, refermented in the bottle, is not pasteurised.
This one we liked much better, and we think that this is probably the Chimay that most people are going for around here. We both thought it was good, though questioned whether it was really worth the over-all price tag. It brings to mind a nice Belgian version of a brown ale, pretty much anyway.

We finished off our tasting with Caracole's NOSTRADAMUS, a Belgian Dark Strong. Here is the description from ~
NOSTRADAMUS from Brasserie Caracole is a very complex artisanal Wallonian brown ale, rich, warming, little piquant in the mouth with liquorice, mocha flavors, pear and toasted bread background notes, perfect after-dinner drink or night cap.
Again, Brasserie Caracole's beers just whoopped Chimay's butt. Justin liked this beer, noting that it was "very interesting. Carrie also really liked it and noted that it was fairly fruity.

And those were our beers for April's Belgian Beer Tasting. Chimay isn't bad, it deserves a lot of the attention it gets, though it does seem a little on the pricey end for what you're getting. Brasserie Caracole continuously impresses with it's complexity. Maybe it wasn't fair judging them side by side. One is a Trappist brewery (brewed by monks), one is just a good, old Belgian brewery. Chimay has been brewing beers since 1862, Brasserie Caracole has been brewing since 1766, though the name has changed twice since then. I guess that extra century of brewing has proven invaluable as far as knowledge and talent goes. Fun Fact - Brasserie Caracole is known for a couple things: 1)heating their water via a wood heated oven, and 2)bottling and labeling all their beers by hand.

What do you think?? What is your favorite Belgian beer??

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Homebrew on Tap

Every year we set a goal for ourselves, brew-wise. There are other goals that can be achieved, we don't just limit ourselves to one, but we do always have one in mind as "the next step." Last year we went from extract brewing to all-grain brewing. We also began growing, and using, our own hops. This year, the goal was to start kegging beer. Above is a photo of one of our 5 gallon kegs with our own label on it.

Here is Justin filling up the keg. Right now part of our ultra-elaborate brew set-up takes place in the kitchen. At least the bottling and kegging does. Here is what Justin had to say about kegging for the first time:
The kegging went really well. Setup went about as I expected…I had been reading different posts online about it and stuff so I pretty much knew what to expect. It was A LOT easier than bottling and it feels really nice to be able to have draft beer now. Clean up was pretty much the same as bottling...a little less since I didn’t have to clean a bottling bucket and the carboy. It was really foamy at first but like I said that’s to be expected after rocking and rolling the thing around while it’s being injected with C02….it’s like shaking up a soda can…you have to wait for it to calm back down. So I’m looking forward to pulling off a pint and seeing how it is. With this being the first keg and wanting to be able to try it last night I went the impatient route of force carbing so next time or maybe even with the IPA I will do the slower way of just hooking it up at a lower pressure (between 10 and 15 PSI) and letting it sit for a 3 – 5 days before trying to drink it.

Here he is, pouring a beer. It had been in the fridge to cool down, but he took it out so that he could do the rolling & shaking. As he noted above, pouring the beer immediately pretty much resulted in all head.

Finally, here is a shot of the keg & CO2 tank, where they belong, in the cooler. We got the cooler from Sear's, as it had the best deal going on at the time. We chose black in color since the cooler sits inside - we wanted it to look as little like a chest freezer kept inside as possible.
A couple other things that we've decided on regarding the cooler: 1) We decided NOT to put taps on the outside of it. Originally we had wanted to do this, and had planned on it - but we have two little kids. Shannon, who is 5, already knows a lot about beer, and Carrie could pour beer from a keg when she was 4 ... we figured it wasn't a wise parenting decision given the circumstances. 2) We chose a cooler that has a lock on the front. This, we felt, was another wise parenting decision. There will come a time when the boys are more curious about and interested in the beer inside the cooler, and we'll want to keep them out. Until then, it serves the easy purpose of cutting off someone (he knows who he is) who may have already had enough to drink.
So here is a "Cheers" to our "next step" completed. In the above photos we're kegging our Back Porch Brown Ale. Last night we also kegged 5 gallons of our JedHead IPA. Having two kegs on hand, ready to drink, feels good. The other beers seen in the photos are also all homebrews. That feels good too. Pretty damn good actually.

Monday, March 23, 2009

3/22/09 - Brewday review

Although yesterday morning when we started brewing it was barely 40 degrees out, it warmed up quickly and turned out to be a very beautiful day. Here is a review of the day for those who couldn't make it over:

~Justin, starting things off nice and properly by apparently taking a moment to say the "Beer Prayer"
~Justin checking the temperature of the water for the Brown Ale. You can see the IPA in the keg-kettle in the foreground.
This was our first time brewing our Jedhead IPA all-grain, up until now it has always been brewed as an extract. How we haven't brewed this as an all-grain yet is beyond us. The recipe we did yesterday will be completely different from our previous one: it should be a lot hoppier, with more citrus, and be more copper in color. When we brewed our All Right Then Pale Ale, the recipe ended up being similar to the extract recipe, so the new Jedhead IPA should definitely satisfy the hop-heads.
We brewed our Back Porch Brown Ale last time we brewed as well as yesterday. We're still working on our recipe, trying to get it just right. For this batch we changed up the hops used and also added some molasses to it (Shannon got to add that, along with the hops ~ he knew exactly what Justin was getting ready to do, and made sure he got to help!).

~John Merkwan, the current President of the Star City Brewer's Guild. John brought with him for sampling a nice beer from Brooklyn Brewery, Local #2. A very nice beer. We also sampled some of our stouts, our brown ale, and March's Beer of the Month from Wine Gourmet, from Avery Brewing Co.: 14'er ESB, which everyone seemed to enjoy, and Ellie's Brown Ale, which was pretty decent.

~Harry Montoro, a new member but already proving to be a very enthusiastic member & all around pretty cool guy. When we came inside to show them our new keg-freezer, Harry spotted Justin's guitar and took it back outside with him. You can see Jomo "standing guard" - Jomo has become a little hesitant about new people, but found an instant friend in Harry .. who brought over meatloaf & immediately gave some to him! The smoke in the background is from the smoker -- the food came out utterly fantastic, but not until everyone had left. Better planning required for next time!!

~This is Justin's brother Matt, holding up the skirt I had been wearing. Here is the excitement for the day ---- I caught on fire! *NOTE - I told Matt to smile when I took this photo, as he had just saved my life ... so, know, he isn't just looking pleased with himself for burning my skirt or something like that.
I'm not sure how it happened, and all anyone can come up with is that it was one of those flukes - me walking past the burner, wind catching my skirt and/or the flame just right. All I know is that I was standing several feet away from the burner, facing back towards the house when I thought "do I smell something burning", I looked down and my skirt (at about my right calf) was on fire. I hollered about being on fire, swatted at the flame, and thankfully, Matt sprung into action. He quickly smothered out the flames and saved me from being burnt to a crisp.

~This is Matt sticking his arm through the hole, to show the damage done.
I did get slightly burned on my fingers and on the back of my right knee, but no worse than grabbing something hot out of the oven. No blisters, at least not on my fingers, I can't really get a good look at the back of my knee. No harm done though, except to my skirt ~ which I had specially made for me many years ago. I'm thinking about patching the hole from inside, with some fabric that has flames on it. Might as well have a good story and run with it.
A lesson was learned though. From now on, JUST IN CASE, we will be always keeping stuff outside for putting out a fire while brewing (or smoking food). Thankfully no-one was hurt, thankfully it wasn't a guest or one of our kids that caught on fire. Thankfully Matt was there to swiftly put me out, as Justin merely thought we were joking around and didn't believe I had caught on fire. Only Justin can find a way to get himself in trouble when I catch on fire!!! (He did come back to the bedroom as I was changing to make sure I was ok though).

We will be getting to keg some of the beer brewed yesterday, another first for us. So, expect another post for when that happens.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bull & Bones ~ a review

A quick bit of background info: we got married on St. Patrick's Day. One year, for our anniversary, we decided to venture into the world on homebrewing which has now put us on the path of opening our own microbrewery. Now, we've begun a new tradition of sorts: either taking a "brew-tour" (road trip to breweries) or just visiting a brewery nearby. This year we chose the latter.
Southwestern Virginia has gone from having absolutely NADA in the form of brewpubs and breweries to having a rapid string of them pop up. A blessing indeed. So, yesterday we traveled up to Hokie Country (Blacksburg, Va for you non-Hokies ... and if you aren't a Hokie, why are you reading this?) to check out Bull & Bones.
Location: It is located on S. Main in a new development, just off of 460. Good for driving up from Salem. It is in one of those new "outdoor centers" - a wonderful, revamped, and MUCH better version of the old strip mall. Being the luddite and conservationsist that I am, new developement immediately makes me approach with caution, this I liked. There was parking in the rear, easy to get back through to the front, very nice.
Atmosphere: We got up there about 5:30 on Saturday evening, before dinner rush had begun. Interior was very nicely done. Ok - here is where luddite opinion will vary from "the way things are": It was too noisy!! Though the bar is to the left and dining to the right, the ceilings are cavernous and the sound echos .. something not helped by my migraine, I'll admit. However, Bull & Bones is in a COLLEGE town!! It's Blacksburg baby & PROUD OF IT!! So, take it for what it is .. if you want quiet & romantic, this might not be the best spot, but over-all the place is nice.
Food: Now this is where they get a BIG A+! We got their Shrimp & Crab dip appetizer & were REALLY impressed. Normally this dish is pretty greasy and gooey when served at other restaraunts, but this one was awesome!! Justin had the wings for dinner and thought they were good as well. I (Carrie) had the Smokehaus Chicken sandwich - very tasty, though I didn't eat much because of my migraine; their homemade potato chips were also pretty good.
BEER: (Why you're really reading this after-all, right?) We got the sampler to try, just one for both of us, which honestly we thought was enough to know what we liked or didn't ... these are good size samplers (we've gotten WAY less beers at almost every tasting we've gone to .. aside from Starr Hill, so a nice plus here for Bull & Bones). So, here is our take on their beers to date:
*Sun Lit Wit ~ We liked this one. Justin thought Awful Arthur's was a little bit better, Carrie doesn't remember AA's that well, so this was her #2 beer from B&B. Lots of orange present. VOTE: Justin - yes, Carrie - yes
*All Night Light ~ This one was dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. According to Justin "just call it a Miller Lite." Carrie is NOT a fan of American Lagers, and this was no exception!!! VOTE: Justin - meh, Carrie - NO!!!!!!
*Lunch Pale Ale ~ We both liked this one. According to the resident hophead, it could use more aroma, but the non-hophead thought it was ok. I mean, it is Bud Foster approved, and our Lunch Pail Defense is strong, so I'll trust it. VOTE: Justin - yes, Carrie - yes
*IPA (their Seasonal, doesn't have a special name) ~ This one we thought could use some more aroma since it was an IPA. It does have more hops than the Lunch Pale Ale, but it ought to since it is an IPA! VOTE: Justin - yes (and this is what he ordered a pint of), Carrie - yes
*Stricks Dark Lager ~ This one started off nice, and had a nice flavor, but as it rolled around in your mouth it suddenly took on what can only be described as "armpit flavor." A weird combo. VOTE: Justin - meh, Carrie - meh
*Maroon Effect Ale ~ At first we thought it needed some more aroma, but the longer we let it sit out the more the aroma came out, so not too bad. We found it to be a fairly typical brown ale, nothing terribly special, but not bad either. VOTE: Justin - ok, Carrie - ok
*St. Maeve's Stout ~ Great flavor, nice aroma, definitely an Irish stout. We did think it was a little thin, but still a good beer. VOTE: Justin - too thin but ok, Carrie - yes (and this the one that Carrie got a pint of).

Over-all, would definitely go there again. Would be a great place to go and watch the Hokies play while shooting some pool. Their prices can't compare with Awful Arthur's $2.50 - $3 for a pint, but where can? Definitely a good place to go for a night out.

~ A quick side note we found amusing: Another table was being seated nearby and as they walked past our table the girl said "there's a sampler" (referring to the sampler we had on our table) .... one of the guys in the group immediately replied "a sampler of what?" -- Yea. Then, you have us, beer snobs & wanna-be alcoholics (haha). The waiter came up to our table which was full of the beer samples, our pints, and our food. He asked me "have you had a chance to try everything?," to which I replied "... you mean the beer?" -- He was referring to the food. Oops. Justin admitted he thought he was inquiring about the beer as well. -- Yea.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Get your booty movin'

We love Bebop Hoedown. It is really about as simple as that. So, we felt it imperative to share this with everyone. Both Justin and Carrie have known Sonny for many years now, and think it is impossible to know a nicer guy. We can tell you one thing, when we actually get to open our brewery .. plan on hearing some good music ~ they don't know it yet, but they will be playing there!
Just click on this link, turn the sound WAY UP and get ready to boogy:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First Brews of 2009

Saturday turned out to be a very gorgeous day, so like many homebrewers across the valley, we headed outside to brew. We got started at 8:45 am, while it was about 45 degrees out. It quickly warmed up to 62 degrees though, which was quite nice.
We were especially fortunate today because of the amount that we were able to brew. We brewed two 10 gallon batches of all-grain beer: our stout, "Ruby's Deep Winter," and our brown ale "Back Porch Brown." In the top photo you can see the Back Porch Brown still finishing sparging, with the wort being collected in the bottom kettle. In the right side of the photo is our stout in it's final boil. We had decided to brew the stout, as St. Patrick's Day will be upon us soon and it just seems quite wrong to celebrate without a stout. St. Patrick's Day is not only special to us because of our love for beer but also because we were married that day ~ 2009 will be our 4th anniversary!

Here is another shot of the brown ale, March's competition beer for Star City Brewer's Guild, finishing sparging with the wort being collected in the bottom kettle.
One of the really great things about this particular brewing day was the reaction of our boys. They were both not only very interested in it all, but very excited about getting to help. In the above photo you can see Shannon helping add hops to the brown ale, in the bottom photo you can see Tristan getting his turn adding hops. Shannon has been very proud of the fact that he gets to help brew beer. And while we certainly don't condone underage drinking, teaching them about brewing beer is another matter.
We believe in being self-sufficeint and sustainable, and we practice urban-homesteading. Brewing our own beer is part of that. Since we're also homeschooling the boys, we like that in learning how to brew beer they are also learning stuff like volume measurements, some basic math skills, along with the processes of how things come to be. Shannon helps measure, weigh, and grind out the grain. In the summer we grow hops, so they learn about horticulture and caring for the land, as well as the plant. In the fall they get to see how the hops are harvested and stored. They also learn about safety, something that is every parents' concern, since there is boiling water and wort and flames on burners. So far they've managed to learn this lesson very well .. much better than the dogs who keep getting their fur singed!
All in all yesterday's brewing went pretty smoothly and much quicker than we had anticipated. Wind was a little bit of an issue, as it kept blowing out the burner. We were much luckier than some others who had not only burners being blown out, but lids being blown off, and even glasses being blown over! Both beers are now in the fermenters, chugging away like they ought to be. Our only dilemma of the day was using the "new" keg and having to pour some beer over the edge of it, into a fermenter. Hopefully this won't pose a major contamination threat. We will plan to drink that stout first though, just in case. Not like any beer, much less Ruby's Deep Winter Stout, sits around waiting to be drunk for very long here anyway!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Frustration, Envy, & Luddites

Labels are a bitch! Our friend Kevin ( ) always has rockin' labels on his beers, I'm quite envious. His girlfriend recently called me a Luddite: one who opposes and dislikes technological advancements. She has a point.
We've been working on designing our logo, which we've got down in one format but can't seem to get it transfered from that format so that we can use it wherever we want. Hence why you don't see it on here yet. Believe me, it is something we're working on!
For our labels, we're in a dilemma of sorts. So far I've been drawing some of the characters, but again, trying to get them looking nice and onto labels is proving to be quite tricky for me. There are many programs you can use, and while we've had a good one, it is the one that won't allow things to be transfered out.
Today, at Kevin's suggestion, we downloaded Justin has used it before as well and likes it. But, the Luddite in me is having troubles figuring out how to use it. I can't just tell it what I want and have it magically appear. One solution would be to just hire someone to do this all for us, but right now that would be quite silly, and besides we are DIY people, so that would feel like cheating or failing. It just wouldn't work out to well. It looks like we're going to have a couple long nights of trying to explain things to Carrie ahead of us.