03/05/08 10:29 PM
My Brewing Weekend at Camp Cisco!!!
Well Brothers, I finally did my time at Beer Camp Cisco last weekend!!! Words fundamentally can't describe the complete experience of brewing and hanging out with John but I'll give it a try:
John (Cisco) picked me up on Friday afternoon after I arrived at Tucson airport. We took a drive over to his place and sampled some of his excellent Belgian style home brews. Beers sampled included a wonderfully balanced and refreshing Saison that was only about two months old. Other beers sampled included a Strong Golden spiced with Grains of Paradise and an absolutely fantastic Gran Cru. This Gran Cru kicked major ass!!!! John pointed out that he still wants to tweak the recipe but I was beggin' him to leave it alone!!! I think it's fine as is and with some age should be even more Gran Cruey! What a killer beer that I'm still daydreaming about! Friday night found me, Johns very cool wife Bonnie, who, by the way is an accomplished harpist, and some friends at a nearby pub watching John's band playing some good covers of all types of classic rock tunes. I had a great time and tasted a Fat Tire and Sierra Nevada Pale which seemed like swill compared to what I had a Johns place earlier that day. I was later shocked to find out that John has been playing bass for only six years yet he was very accomplished on the instrument.
Saturday was brew day. Johns plan was to brew a Belgian Triple that he has been brewing for several years and is his house recipe. I was able to sample a previously brewed version and was very impressed with its balance and complexity. It reminds me a bit of St. Bernardus Triple meets Gouden Carolus Triple meets Triple Kameliet. This beer is brewed with Palm sugar and some spices and is hopped with whole leaf Goldings and Sterling hops. Again, it is a very complex and fantastic brew. I learned a lot of interesting things during the brewing session that either reinforced my current techniques or caused me to rethink other techniques I have been practicing. One thing I learned for sure is I've get to get out of the kitchen and start brewing larger batches with equipment that is repeatable and does not require so much technique dependence. John is a very artisanal brewer and doesn't stress over things like target volumes or slight misses on gravity readings yet his beers are killer. The other thing I like is his ability to keep organized and have his work day flow without much ado running about and frantically searching for hoses or equipment etc. One other point I'd like to make is on sanitizing. John's beers are very clean yet his sanitation practices are not over the top e.g. just normal, sound sanitation practices that we all have learned reading the How To brewing books. Also, what is very important is that he never allows his beer to see a plastic bucket nor handles it after brewing with plastic utensils. The only plastic the brew comes in contact with is the PVC tubing used to transfer it from kettle to fermenter and from fermenter to keg. Everything else is either stainless steel or glass. Saturday night was really neat 'cause we first went to a pizza joint that served quite a few BelgiansíK.John had a Moinette Bruin on tap while I had a Gouden Carolus Triple followed by a Triple Karmeliet, both on tap and both were very, very good. John's wife sold out on a Dogfish Head Indian Brown aleíK.ho hum â║ Afterwards, we went to see one of his buddies play in a Led Zep tribute band. They were pretty good at pulling off the spirit and sound of many of Zeps tunes. Again, I had a Fat Tire and again it tasted like swill compared to what John had served earlier that day. That's not a slam on New Belgium, rather, it is a testament to John's brewing capabilitiesíKíK..of particular note that day was his Belgian Wit with pure, organic sour cherry concentrate added. Nice and sour and refreshing. A beer the chicks would love too!!!
Sunday came and we bottled a Strong Golden fermented entirely with Brett Cl. This beer had spent nearly two months lagering and required reyeasting before bottling. We had about 200ml or so of yeast slurry left from the previous days brewing which was utilized to inoculate the batch for bottling. I was so thrilled to participate in the bottling session because I've had so many problems packaging my own brews. The bottling session was quick, easy and fun. We filled and corked five gallons of the brew which John says he may sample in a month to see how things are coming along. I learned a lot during this session particularly about reyeasting and corking and wire caging the right way. I no longer have fears of screwing up my batches due to piss poor bottling habits that I had practiced earlier (like pitching inactive yeast into the batch with nutrients). Before dinner, John and I headed over to one of his friends house, also named John, who is in his brew club. Talk about sampling some killer beers! We tasted a Scotch Wee Heavy out of an oak barrel but for the life of me, I can't remember the spirit that was previously in the barrel. I think it was a whiskey barrel. Another beer tasted was a Strong Golden in another oak barrel which I think had been used as a brandy barrel previously. Regardless, both of these beers took on the taste of their respective reservoirs beautifully. John, our host had some great brewing equipment on hand ranging from a huge industrial soup kettle that will mash over 150 lbs of grain to very large stainless steel fermenters. I was impressed! Oh, I almost forgot, we also tasted a very unique wheat wine and a Madeira/Sherry on oak! On the way back to John's house, we talked beer and brewing and the subject of the Trappiste beers came up with Westvleteren beers in particular. I mentioned to John that I had never had the opportunity to sample a Westvletern brew. He seemed very shocked and surprised that I had never tasted one. Well to my surprise, upon arrival to John's house, he brought out a six year old Westvletern 8 and split it between him and his wife and me. What a lovely beer with a body that was impossibly light. This beers body was lighter than most Saisons I've had with a raw, doughy, pie crust aroma and flavor. Real nice! We joked around that because the beers' body was so thin, a BJCP judge would probably ding it! Yeah, we thought, you just gigged one the highest rated beers in the world!!! Ha!
The next morning we had breakfast and John took me to the airport for my flight back to Chicago. Before I left however, he let me have my pick of home brews in his collection. I selected a couple of tasty brews and he threw in one more for good measure. He also gave me the empty Westy bottle from the previous night along with a package of tangelo orange peels that he had hand picked, peeled and dried from his own yard.
When John drove away I felt that familiar feeling you get when a good friend or family member leaves and you know you may not see them again for a long time. I also felt fortunate, honored, acknowledged and most of all grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days with one of the most generous human beings I have ever met. Thank you John for a fabulous weekend of good fun, great brew, your excellent tutelage, sage advice but most of all for sharing your time and friendship with me. I'm simply honored to know you.
03/06/08 10:53 AM
Re: My Brewing Weekend at Camp Cisco!!!
"The only plastic the brew comes in contact with is the PVC tubing used to transfer it from kettle to fermenter"
Clarification: I transfer from the kettle using PVC to a 3 gallon corny which gets walked over to the fermenter in the house (10 feet away)and dumped in. I use the same 3 foot hose for each year's brewing season which is October to the end of April. The hose sits in a bucket of iodophor during the whole brew day, and yes it is very discolored from the iodphor. At the end of April the hose gets tossed.
Regarding the two barrel projects, the Wee Heavy is in a Bourbon barrel and the Strong Golden is in a Brandy barrel and totally fermented in the barrel with Brett CL. This was the second use of the Brandy barrel, last fall we aged a Belgian Quad with 44lbs of dark candi syrup for 3 months in it. Ross forgot to mention that he also drank a bottle of the Brandy Barrel Quad with me and my wife and was able to take a bottle home with him.
Next weekend my little club of 5 called Los Cebadartistas are making a Belgian triple (70 gallons) which will go into the Brandy barrel right on top of the Brett CL dregs. Of course we will transfer the Golden in that barrel on brew day to kegs and split it up to the 5 members for their own bottling.
As far as the Gran Cru (my first attempt at one), we also opened up a bottle of the same Gran Cru (split the batch) that was fermented with Brett CL which was totally different. Maybe Ross can explain what he tasted.
Ross, you are welcome back any time. It was great to spend time with someone so impassioned and focused on improving their brewing skills. I consider you as a really great friend and brewing colleague. Some day I'll get you to strap on a guitar and play live again so start doing some wood shedding and get those chops back! Thanks for coming out and I hope to see you again in the near future.