Watknee’s Cream Stout Homebrewing Kit from Midwest Supplies 

Watknee's Cream Stout Brewing Kit from Midwest Supplies

We were recently approached by Midwest Supplies about reviewing one of their many, many brewing kits. While we haven’t purchased from this particular homebrewing and winemaking company before, I had heard good things about them, so I figured, sure! Plus it’d been awhile since we brewed, and even longer since using a kit.

Midwest has a very large selection—more than 100!—including kits that are good for beginner, intermediate and advanced homebrewers. I picked the Watknee’s Cream Stout kit, a clone of the British Watney’s Cream Stout. We’ve had some tough times with our own stout recipes, so we thought the kit might be good practice, and I’ve never worked with maltodextrin.

Watnee's Cream Stout Kit pieces

The kit arrived in a perfectly packed box—Midwest doesn’t mess around with unnecessary shipping materials! We received the key ingredients of DME, specialty grains, hops, yeast, maltodextrin … and we even got Irish moss, a muslin bag, and priming sugar for when we bottle! The instruction sheet has both a “quick” to-do list (for those of us familiar with brewing) and a longer set of instructions, which are quite thorough.

Box close up

I’m a sucker for design, but I really like the packaging Midwest uses for their kits. They use almost every available surface to communicate with the homebrewer, providing the kit’s info (ingredients, brewing info, etc.), a handy brewing calendar, and at least 4 different ways for customers to get a hold of Midwest if they have any questions.

Since we’re pretty busy through November, we’re looking to brew this kit in December, bottle before the New Year, and enjoy the stout in January … maybe for my 31st birthday party? So stay tuned!

Disclosure: I received a this homebrewing kit for free from Midwest Supplies. However, my opinions are my own.




Ed Stoudt on Beer 

We were in the Stoudt’s area this past weekend taking care of wedding-related tasks. During a break between appointments, we decided to have a couple rounds at our future wedding venue, and while we were there, co-founder Ed Stoudt, taking a break from shucking oysters, called out to the room, “Brewery tour!”

And so we followed one of Pennsylvania’s beer godfathers over to the brewery, where Ed began the tour with a rousing monologue about beer, prohibition, macrobreweries, and more.

We were taken completely off guard, but I managed to get most of it on video. It’s shaky, washed out, and noisy, and due to a corrupted file that I didn’t notice until it was too late to fix it, we’re missing about a third of Ed’s thirty-minute speech, but it’s something. It’s just a shame, because he made a lot of great points about how prohibition devastated America’s taste in beer during the missing ten minutes, points that he only briefly returned to later on.

But here’s what still exists, in three parts (2 and 3 are the best — he mostly just talks about the process in Part 1):




The Genius of Iron Hill’s Mug Club 

The Mug Club at the new Iron Hill in Maple Shade is already proving to be a great deal. The ceramic mug you get when you join is probably enough to offset at least $10 out of the $35 membership fee, and then you also get 24 oz beers for the price of a pint as long as you maintain your membership every year. If you figure on $6 per beer, you’re effectively saving $3 every round, which means you’ve broken even after 8 1/3 beers.

That should have already been enough to justify joining, but then Iron Hill held their first Mug Club Party this past Saturday, offering free appetizers, t-shirts, door prizes, and an exclusive beer tasting to any Mug Club member who cared to partake. If they keep throwing these shindigs every quarter like they’re promising, then the club will prove to be an even more tremendous value than we expected.

Mind you, we’re under no illusions that we’re spending less money by being in the Mug Club, but it sure feels that way. We just prefer to, you know, downplay the fact that we’re going out for beer twice as often as we normally would.

It’s a pretty brilliant strategy, and almost resembles a sort of perverse bonds program. From our perspective, we buy into the program for a nominal fee, and essentially get a larger payout from it the longer we stay invested. For Iron Hill, though, they’ve effectively convinced the public to pay them for the opportunity to spend money there more often.


Head brewer, Chris, serving the ravenous hoards.

Head brewer, Chris, serving the ravenous hoards.

Commentary aside, there were two exclusive beer offerings at the party, available only to Mug Club members. The first was a Cherry Vanilla Porter, aged on whole Mexican vanilla beans and concentrated sour Montmorency cherry juice from King Orchards in Michigan. It tasted like Cherry Garcia. They also had a grotesque chimera of a beer called Entirely Inappropriate, which was made by priming Octoberfest with actively fermenting Tripel wort in a firken, and then dry hopping it with Amarillo hops. I bet it was delicious, but unfortunately, the last person to get to try it was the guy in front of me in line.

The beers were not free, but the food was. At the far end of the bar area, the staff had set up a spread of hummus with feta and tapenade, nachos, and HUGE, inch-thick sweet potato fries with dipping sauce.

'Twas of the tasty persuasion.

'Twas of the tasty persuasion.

The party was capped off with a very limited tasting of a 2003 bottle of Barleywine. Throw a steak into a cage of hungry lions, and you’ll get an idea of how this played out, but those who held their hand out quickly enough (I managed it twice, once for me and once for Mel) were treated to a smooth, complex elixir of malt and alcohol that had clearly weathered the last six years in that bottle with great enthusiasm.

Theoretically, one could have spent $7 that afternoon on an entire, albeit not very healthy, meal, but once we were in the door, it was pretty hard to resist the siren’s call of a juicy burger, a portabella mushroom sandwich, and a growler of IPA for the ride home, proving once again that the best way to get people to part with their money is to make them pay for the privilege.




Session #29 — The Marketable Mecca 

Session Logo -- High-ResWelcome to The Session, a monthly event for beer and brewing bloggers! This is Session #29, for which Beer By BART writers Gail and Steve have chosen the topic, “Will Travel for Beer.”

As if our recent road trip wasn’t enough, we spent a 3-day weekend at the end of June in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to relax our way up and down the boardwalk and partake liberally in the offerings at Dogfish Head’s brewpub, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. Over the course of two delicious meals, we got to try several Dogfish rarities.

I started with a pint of 90 Minute IPA, already one of my favorite Imperial IPAs, piped through Randall the Enamel Animal. After a trip through Randall, a lot of the carbonation is lost due to the turbulence, which allows the malt to shine through a bit more, and the extra helping of whole leaf hops adds a pungent flowery, citrusy aroma and flavor that takes a beer already cranked up to 11 well beyond the next level.

Dogfish Head Yum YumsThen there was Mel’s pint of Grau Dunkel, a German style Dunkelweizen brewed with wheat malts smoked over the oak chips that Dogfish uses to age their Brown Honey Rum, giving the beer a complex combination of smokey vanilla, honey, and molasses flavors that could not compliment each other better.

Finally, Pale India Ale was a Belgian style pale ale brewed with Fenugreek, Big Elachi, Green Elachi, Kalonji Onion, Garam Masala, and Tamarind Paste. I don’t know what most of those are, either, but the result is nothing short of fascinating, with sweet, Belgian pale malt flavors and neutral hop bitterness mixing with prominent Indian spices, of which I found the two Elachi spices (cardamom) to be the most pronounced.

Each beer was completely unique, and only available at the brewpub. These were alongside various vintage beer offerings and Dogfish Head’s extensive line of delicious spirits. We picked up a bottle of Squall IPA, Sah’tea, a 2006 bottle of Immort Ale, and a bottle of BE, a distilled honey mead. These exclusive items got Mel and I thinking about the business strategy of building a wide-spanning bottle distribution while also maintaining a pub to call home base.

When it comes to raw numbers, I can’t imagine that Brewings & Eats contributes more than 10% of Dogfish Head’s yearly revenue stream. That may even be a bit high, actually. On paper, the pub appears to be nothing more than a nice little value-add for the books.

But man does it ever please the fanboys. Many, many people enjoy Dogfish Head’s beer; that is a given. Most of them will probably never go to the trouble of trekking through Slower Lower Delaware to get to the pub, but for potential hardcore fans, Brewings & Eats provides a sort of Mecca to which one can make a rewarding pilgrimage, drawn by visions of exclusive beers and unique souvenirs.

After a weekend of feasting on the pub’s excellent food and limited edition brews, weighed down with t-shirts and branded glassware and high on beached relaxation, patrons return home transformed into loyal minions spreading the news of just how very immensely great Dogfish Head is. If each visitor convinces even one acquaintance to take a trip to the pub for themselves, the word-of-mouth will explode into a cascade of consumer awareness.

As far as buzzwords go, you can’t get much more apt than “viral”.




Make Beer, Not War: Why Macrobreweries Aren’t Worth Getting Worked Up Over 

Oh no! We're probably all gonna die!I have a question for you, and I’d like you to answer honestly: How much harm has AB|InBev caused you? No, making you drunk dial your ex-girlfriend does not count.

There was a hell of a lot of Big Light Lager vilification in Beer Wars. Overall, though it was quite entertaining, I found the movie cynical, masturbatory, and very much preaching to the choir. Close to half of the film was spent illustrating the detrimental effects macrobreweries are having on craft beer and customer choice, and the rest was spent portraying the craft brewers as persecuted visionaries. It has certainly been successful in stoking the righteous indignation of independent business owners and their faithful patrons, but it makes me wonder just what we’re getting so upset about.

Most of the beer varieties sold in America are barely differentiable light lagers all brewed by the same conglomerate. We can spend all day arguing on the grounds of spirit and soul over how obviously horrible this is for the beer world, but when you stop and think about it, does it really matter?

In every creative marketplace, given enough time for growth, there will emerge a dichotomy of commodity and culture, be it food (McDonald’s v. Morimoto), movies (Scary Movie v. Sundance), comics (X-Men v. Watchmen), games (EA v. 2D Boy), art (Kinkade v. Not Kinkade), or beer. In every case, the two sections of the marketplace are so distinct and separate that it’s rare that they overlap. Sure, AB|InBev is probably in a position to purchase and digest every microbrewery in the world, suing the last holdouts into oblivion, but if this was really such a big threat, don’t you think it would have happened by now?

There were two points that were made in Beer Wars that really bugged me (among the many that only bugged me a little bit), because while they were obviously intended to show that macrobrewing is bad and you should be ashamed of yourself for having ever looked at an MGD, all they did was prove, albeit obliquely, that microbrewers really have nothing to worry about.

The first was the revelation that macrobreweries are starting to try to mimic the craft breweries. Sam Calagione pointed out that these faux-craft beers will go onto the shelves at much lower prices than is feasible for the more expensive to produce microbrews. Customers might see, say, a $3.99 pumpkin beer made with cheap spices and adjuncts, and choose that over Dogfish Head’s $10.99 pumpkin beer made with all of the best ingredients. They’ll get home, try the beer, think it’s disgusting, and never try another craft beer again. SCARY!

Do we honestly think the typical Joe Minivan or Jane American Idol who eats at McDonald’s and has eight Kinkades on their living room wall is even interested in craft beer in the first place? Hell, do you even want to associate with them? These people are members of the commodity marketplace! Maybe 1-2% will try a craft beer and join the culture side of the market, but other than that, you’re talking about an entirely different world. It’s like saying Morimoto has trouble getting business because McDonald’s food is cheaper, or that The Hold Steady can’t sell records because they’re not a member of a big RIAA label.

The other point that just drove me crazy was the story of Ronda from New Century Brewing Co., makers of Moonshot “Premium Beer With Caffeine”, and her epic struggle to market her beer and feed her poor babies. At no point did we see Ronda in anything but the Victimized Hero role as she sacrificed family time to meet with “No” after “No” in her battle against the evil corporations. There are so many layers to this story for me to hate. I’ll focus on two.

First, the easy one: “Beer With Caffeine” has got to be one of the worst marketing gimmicks I’ve ever seen. There are already other (better!) beers that have caffeine in them. This is nothing new! The only people you’d ever fool with this are the consumers in the commodity market, and they’re not interested anyway.

Secondly, the way Ronda was portrayed as a helpless victim in a big corporate world was mind-bendingly frustrating. If she didn’t spend all of her time trying to sell out, I might have some sympathy for her, but instead of starting at the grassroots level and slowly building her brand through a good product and word of mouth, she tried to play the corporations’ games, and came off as hopelessly naive because of it.

Look, yes, for all small businesses, there is the danger of losing everything you’ve built to a large corporation, but it isn’t that hard to prevent. I’m not an expert in business, but it just seems like a bit of common sense and patience is all you need. The most important things to do are these:

Cultivate — You will never have the tons of customers that the big companies have, so take the fans you do have and make them obsessively loyal. The way to do this is through simple good faith. Put out a consistently wonderful product, interact with them, let them know that you are real people, and they will grow to trust you, thus allowing you to count on them.

Grow Slowly — Ronda kept trying to run with the Goliaths, hoping to turn her brand into a breakout overnight hit. Unless you are expansively lucky, that is never going to happen for you. Be happy with 8% growth per year, and learn to work with it. It’ll take you longer to come up with the several million dollars you’ll need to expand your operation, but that’s several million dollars that’ll be earning interest in your company’s bank accounts until you’re ready to make the leap.

Own Your Business — If you want to grow fast, you’re going to have to sell pieces of your business to investors. Do not do this. Make sure that you and your most trusted business partners own a combined 51% at all times. If you ever get the inkling that one of your partners is going to sell his share and the voting power that comes with it to someone else, buy him out, even if you have to pay more than what his share is worth. It’ll hurt in the short term, but it beats losing your controlling interest in the company.

We’ll all be a lot happier, and enjoy our beers a lot more, when we stop trying to convince ourselves that the Man is keeping us down. Chill out, pretend Budweiser doesn’t exist, relax, and don’t worry.




Session #22 — Repeal Day and the Failure of Representative Government 

Welcome to The Session, a monthly event in which beer and brewing bloggers get together to all write about a chosen topic on the same day! This is Session #19, for which 21st Amendment Brewery writers Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan has chosen the topic, “The Repeal of Prohibition”.

Happy Repeal Day! 75 years ago today, the United States of America ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, and returning to the people the right to consume alcohol! The system works, and no harm done! Obviously!

Agh, my head…

A lot of people, especially beer drinkers and brewers, view December 5th with a great deal of reverence. In ways, it’s justified; not having a freedom restricted is probably something to celebrate — I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone their revelry. To me, though, Repeal Day symbolizes the inherent failure of modern democracy to govern effectively.

Prohibition was one of the most universally reviled pieces of legislation in American history. It was an act of cut and dried oppression that, despite public disapproval, lurched through Congress and state legislatures on a platform of moral and religious activism (separation of church and state indeed!), turning the American people into a nation of criminals overnight.

Few people are still alive who remember the days of Prohibition vividly enough to appreciate the gravity of the 18th Amendment’s passing. It forced higher federal income taxes — thanks for setting that up, 16th Amendment! — to counter the loss of revenue from alcohol taxes. It created violent black markets. It turned some law enforcers into corrupt pawns of gangs looking to smuggle their newly illegal wares around the country, and turned the rest of the police into goons enforcing an unjust law.

Though remarkable, it should not be the least bit surprising that such an unpopular piece of legal detritus could ever appear in the United States Constitution. I stress this to people all the time: No public official at any level of the United States government is required to execute the will of his or her constituents. We expect our legislators to answer to us, and in many cases, they do, but a Republic is nothing more than a dictatorship with the blessing of the people.

We give our elected officials free rein the moment they enter office, rarely removing them for misbehavior until their term of office is up, usually long after the damage has been done. But we tolerate this by comforting ourselves with the belief that we’ve got freedom and democracy right and that no other country has figured it out. Meanwhile, our government erodes our freedoms on a daily basis under the marionette strings of wealthy benefactors and pious zealots.

Repeal Day reminds me of the inherent flaws in representative governance, and of the lolling complacency that Americans have given themselves to about it. It reminds me that in politics, it is far less important to be right than it is to be convincing. Most of all, it reminds me that the desires of the powerful few will always outweigh the needs of the common many, so long as the people remain so ignorant as to believe any suited figure that tells them that it knows what’s best for them.




Brews and Birds 

I’m sure we’ve all seen the recipes for beer can chicken, but I’m not talking about that — though Ray and I have been more than intrigued with it. And I am by no means discussing Philadelphia Eagles — if you begin that chant, I will kick you … sorry football fans, but you can take it out to the stadium parking lot for tailgating, not here. I’m talking about the day when people overeat, overdrink, and overwatch TV: Thanksgiving.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s always nice to sit down to a special meal with family. This year we’ll be going to my parents’ house just north of Syracuse, and Ray will get to take part in the small and quiet Ward family dinner. My mom has a fairly simple, but tried and true menu lined up, but along with the pumpkin pie Ray is baking, we’ll be bringing something else. Beer.

Before sitting down to write this, I took a few moments to Google “Thanksgiving Beers,” not sure what I would find. There doesn’t appear to be a single “Thanksgiving” beer — though the winter warmers have begun hitting the shelves — but there are a number of articles discussing the pairing of certain styles with certain dishes. Ah-ha! Something useful!

For your own reading pleasure, here are a few that I found to be interesting:

As for Ray and I, we’ll be bringing some bottles of our tripel up, which should pair nicely with the turkey, as well as another one of our homebrews that we have yet to tell you about. I plan on serving my parents samples, just to show them what we’ve been up to, and then on Sunday we’ll share some of my homebrews with my aunt and uncle, who are very eager to try them — my uncle even asked if we’d be towing a barrel behind the car!

So to all of you: Have a great Thanksgiving, don’t stuff yourself, and crack open a craft beer in lieu of a bottle of wine for the big feast. Enjoy!




Mel’s Take on Recipe Writing 

Out of my brewing group, I think I’m the only non-engineer. Numbers? Science? Pshaw … I want ass-kicking flavor and a nose that will tickle the fantasies of your olfactory glands. Sure, you can get that with very precise and measured recipe writing, and honestly that’s admirable. As much as I am a baker (where measurements are important) I’m an experimenter, and I like throwing in a little bit of this and that.

Perhaps I might be taking after entrepreneur and brewer extraordinaire Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, who in his book Brewing Up a Business recalls his great grandmother during the discussion of his first brew: “…my great grandmother … was known in her town for making the best sausage using only pinches and handfuls to measure. I felt comfortable trusting my judgment and it actually worked well.”

A little less than a month ago, I sat down to write my first recipe, after following many of Ray’s innovative and successful endeavors (I swear, nothing beats that Tripel we brewed!). I knew what I wanted to brew, and I knew the flavors I wanted to bring forth, but how to get to that point took a little time. I started with Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, reading about the style I was interested in and making notes about a few of the recipes Papazian recommended. Though I wasn’t interested in copying one of his recipes, it was a great place to begin. I also googled the type of beer I wanted to brew — I know I’m being elusive, but I want the recipe to be a surprise — to see if anyone else had attempted it. I had some luck with forums, getting a few ideas for ingredients. Then, it was off to our handy-dandy brewing software, Beer Alchemy.

I find Beer Alchemy to be user-friendly, and quite honestly a whole post could be written about it (Maybe if you ask Ray nicely he’ll write about it.). With MoreBeer.com open, I could search for malts, hops, adjuncts and yeasts, getting an idea of what the site stocked, and then analyze what certain ingredients would do in the recipe. It can be fascinating how an extra ounce or two of malts or hops can make a difference in SRM or IBUs.

Just the other day we received our shipment of the ingredients for my recipe as well as Ray’s next one for January. I’m excited — look for a post on December 8  — and I will try my hardest to not add a pinch of this and a scoop of that. Our digital scale will be my friend.




Your Politics and Your Homebrews 

The 2008 Presidential Election has come and gone. While I’m sure there are some of you out there who aren’t happy with the outcome, now that it’s over, I think we can all agree that it’ll be nice to see the endless debate and discourse settle down so we can get back to liking each other. That’s why I figure, hey, why don’t I write a political humor article to get people all ticked off again?

It goes without saying that your world view tends to be reflected in your choice of candidate, but the effects that your personal philosophies have on your homebrewing habits may be more subtle. Let’s take a look at the sorts of homebrewers that supporters of the different candidates may be:

Barack Obama Supporters (Democratic Party)

After carefully examining the failed beers brewed previously, you throw out all of your recipes, pledging to bring new brewing ideas to the table without really specifying anything. Nevertheless, your beers have won you a lot of devoted followers, though they do sometimes come off as a little bit fanatical.

John McCain Supporters (Republican Party)

You focus on all of the big, high ABV beers, the theory being that what you bestow on them will trickle down to the weaker brews (which, coincidentally, your wealthy in-laws make quite a lot of money on). You frequently attack beers brewed by Obama supporters. Also, you were a POW in Vietnam.

Chuck Baldwin Supporters (Constitution Party)

You firmly support the Reinheitsgebot, and try to base your recipes on the fundamental laws it sets down. You support any homebrewer who wishes to secede from the AHA.

Bob Barr Supporters (Libertarian Party)

You tend to focus on your own brewing, and prefer not to intervene in other brewer’s lives, to the point where you refuse to give your homebrewer friends any assistance when they ask for it. In fact, you believe they would use your help against you in the end. You oppose any federal definition of brewing.

Cynthia McKinney Supporters (Green Party)

You do your best to minimize waste when you brew. You use only organically grown malts and hops, and you compost everything when you’re done. You embrace all kinds of beers, and wish for everyone you know to participate in the creation of your recipes. No one seems to notice that you’re Black, too.

Ralph Nader Supporters (Independent)

Though people generally do not object to your beers, not many are particularly interested in drinking them, either, no matter how often you try to brew. Recently, you’ve made a few off-color beers that you later had to apologize for.

Ron Paul Supporters (write-in)

You believe that your beers should be what they want to be, so long as they don’t impinge on any other beer’s right to do the same, and so you tend to exert minimal control when writing your recipes. You provide a few ingredients and try to give your beer guidance, but ultimately, you believe that whatever the beer ends up being will be ultimately good. That said, you absolutely, positively refuse to support another brewer’s decision to abort a beer currently fermenting.

Disclaimer: This is just a stupid blog post so seriously don’t get all bent out of shape all right?




The Session #19 — Reinheitsgebot und Philosophie 

Welcome to The Session, a monthly event in which beer and brewing bloggers get together to all write about a chosen topic on the same day! This is Session #19, for which Lootcorp writer Jim has chosen the topic, “Deutsches Bier.”

It’s funny how old rules get thrown out of proportion and miscontextualized sometimes.

The German Reinheitsgebot, literally “Purity Law”, sets down, in its current form, that beer brewed in Germany must only be made of malt, water, hops, and yeast. When it was first written in 1516, however, the law stated that beer could only be made from barley, water, and hops. The differences between the classic Reinheitsgebot and the current German beer law shed light on some interesting quirks in human knowledge and thinking.

The most striking difference between the two versions of Purity Law is the lack of a provision for yeast in the old law. This is due to the fact that nobody in that time period knew that yeast existed. The conversion of wort into beer was generally attributed to the will of God until Louis Pasteur uncovered the role of yeast in fermentation in the 1800s. Many brewers had at least figured out that the sediment at the bottoms of their fermentation vessels could be put into other batches of beer to encourage fermentation, but they didn’t know why doing so worked.

If I may be permitted a brief editorial, as a devout Atheist, I am endlessly amused by how often the will of God turns out to just be germs. End of editorial.

More interesting than the addition of yeast, though, is the change in wording from “barley” in the classic law to “malt” in today’s law.

The original motivation for Reinheitsgebot was not a quest for higher-quality beer, but was instead a desire to curb shortages of more expensive wheat and rye, by requiring beer makers to use barley, in order to help bread makers. This purely economic concern is obviously not relevant today, and so current German beer law now allows all malt, regardless of what kind. Hefeweizen lovers should be thankful for that.

The rationale for German beer law today is that it leads to better beer. Indeed, brewers all over Germany proudly proclaim that this law is proof positive that Germans brew the best beer in the world. While we certainly cannot deny that there are many excellent German beers, one need only open a badly skunked bottle of thoroughly unexciting Beck’s to realize how absurd this assertion is.

More likely is the case that Germans cling to Reinheitsgebot simply for the sake of tradition. And who can blame them? I certainly would not begrudge anyone their national pride. But tradition does not make German beer good; Marvelously skilled German brewers are what make German beer good. And do please note that this only applies to the good beer. There is plenty of bad beer in Germany, I promise you.

That people around the world still defend an ancient and antiquated economic ordinance on the grounds that it is the reason for unrelated modern successes is symptomatic of the importance of tradition inherent to the human condition. It points to the power of belief at the expense of reason, the propensity for people to feel when they could instead think. It restrains progress and inhibits learning, endangering our development as a species. The fact that the problem of tradition affects something even as ultimately inessential as beer shows just how stubborn humans are capable of being.