The Taco Mac in Buckhead throws “beer dinners” quite frequently – about once every other month. Last Tuesday, April 29th, was a Lagunitas dinner. Folks from the Lagunitas brewery were there along with some special kegs that were available for the dinner: 2006 Undercover Shutdown Ale and their Farmhouse HopStoopid Ale (an Imperial IPA). And, of course, the menu featured their other offerings, like their Pils, the IPA, the Saison, their holiday seasonal Hairy Eyeball, and their latest special release Lumpy Gravy.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend. It was held during the week, and I do not live anywhere near Buckhead. So, alas, I missed my chance to try the Undercover Shutdown Ale and the HopStoopid… Even were it during the weekend, logistics would be difficult since there is a fair amount of beer served with the dinner. They serve 4 to 6 samples of beer – one with each course – and each sample is 8 to 12 ounces. But some of the beers are quite strong, so this leads to a total amount of beer that would require a nearby hotel or a long cab ride.

Since I wasn’t able to attend, I picked up some Lagunitas brew at the package store last Friday. I nabbed their IPA, which is one of the few beers they sell here in Georgia that I had not yet tried. It is quite tasty with lots of piney hops and a wonderful caramel malt backbone. I think I prefer a little more citrus to prevent the level of pine from tasting too herbal – dare I say “shampoo”. But it is still quite drinkable.

I also picked up the latest offering from Victory that is available here: the Sunrise Weissbier. It is an absolutely fantastic Bavarian wheat beer – totally top-notch. I topped off my outing with a 750ml bottle of Allagash Four and a bomber of Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA – both quite good.

And now on to the fun stuff: homebrew! This weekend saw a lot of homebrew activity at the hump house:

Saturday, Malin helped me to keg the Black Kriek – a Robust Porter flavored with lots of sour cherries. Despite the fact that I used a lot of fruit – 3 lbs. of cherry blend purée (included both dark sweet and tart cherries) and another 5 lbs. of puréed, tart, red cherries – the beer is far from overwhelmingly fruity. In fact, not only is it not overwhelming, it is subtle. I was hoping for something more in your face – like a sour cherry Belgian beer (Kriek Lambic or Kriek Flanders Rouge) – but instead created something more sublime. The cherry flavor is noticable, but is not particularly sour nor bold – almost like the cherry flavoring added to cola, except a little less overt.

In any event, kegging was quite a chore because of the massive amounts of puréed fruit in the carboy. We filtered the beer through a cheesecloth to eliminate the chunks of fleshy cherries. Cheesecloth isn’t remotely fine enough for the finished product to be considered “filtered”, and it lets all of the yeast through. So the final product is still a delicious, unfiltered ale.

Later on Saturday, I cooked up a 1 gallon yeast starter, and then dispensed some of the Dunkles Hefeweissbier into bottles (for giving away and perhaps for entering into a competition). That keg is getting low, so I needed to draw some beer out of the keg for safe keeping before I accidentally sucked the whole thing dry.

Sunday, I cooked up an Imperial IPA. This time I did the mash on the stove top instead of on the propane burner outside. It worked much better as far as getting the mash to a consistent temperature and in keeping the mash at that temperature for the whole duration of 90 minutes. To maintain the temperatures (in this case 149 degrees to produce a fairly dry beer), I placed the pot into an oven heated to 170 and then cut the oven off. It maintained the right temperature with very little variance throughout the 90 minute mash.

Unfortunately, the starter had not completed. It was still chugging away anxiously – even after I put it in the fridge for numerous hours, hoping to slow the yeast and let them flocculate out so that I could decant the starter beer off the top. So I had to put the big fermenter in the fridge (so that it would be cool enough to keep any potentially offensive, nearby critters [like wild yeast or bacteria] inactive) and pull the starter out (so that it could finish fermenting and be ready the next day).

Tonight, the starter finished. I pulled the fermentor full of super-hoppy wort out of the fridge, let it warm to over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and then racked it into another fermentor (because a ton of green trub, from all of the hops, settled as it chilled). Meanwhile, the starter was put back into the fridge so that any yeast remaining in suspension would settle to the bottom. About half an hour ago, I racked the starter beer off and pitched two pints of yeast slurry into the eagerly waiting wort.

Tomorrow morning I expect to see serious signs of fermentation, and I expect to smell lots and lots of glorious hops. After primary fermentation, I’ll be dry-hopping this bad boy with 1.5 ounces of Glacier plugs (leaf hops that have been stamped into dense discs of hoppy goodness).