Category Archives: Informational

Guest Post: How to create and stock your own home bar

[Ed.: We’re always open to guest posts here on Queen City Drinks, if you want to do 1 or 100 just shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com. This post is from Blake Daniels a stay-at-home dad from Upstate NY that enjoys the simpler things in life. You would most likely find him building forts with his boys, cooking delicious meals for his wife, brewing and enjoying beer or mowing the lawn.]

Whether you’re a professional brewmaster, amateur homebrewer, or someone that simply enjoys finer beer and liquor, a home bar is something that might make the perfect addition to your house or man cave. You may have seen some extravagant home bars on television or in movies and thought to yourself, “that’s too rich for my blood”. However, you can have your very own home bar for a reasonable price by cutting out the more luxurious components and bringing it back to basics. At its core, a home bar should consist of the spirits and drinks that you enjoy, as well as the accessories you need to enjoy them properly.

Things to drink

The most obvious thing that you need is alcohol. Without it, your bar is just a collection of cool glasses and mixing equipment. Since you want to be prepared for the varying tastes that your guests may have, you should go with a range of whiskeys, scotches, vodka, gin, rum, beers and a seemingly endless stream of other essential spirits. Now that you have the ingredients, the other things you’ll want to focus on include specialized glassware, bartending equipment, and some aesthetic touches.

Things to drink out of

There are two main types of glassware for a typical bar; one for drinks and the other for ingredients. To cover the basics for both, every bar should start with at least a few of the following:

glasses

  • Whiskey Glasses – These glasses are versatile, can also be used for scotches and bourbons, and are necessary for a number of specialty mixed drinks
  • Beer Glasses – When it comes to beer, many styles require a special glass to enhance the flavor and aroma, here are a few examples along with the beer(s) they should be used with.
    • Tulip – Belgians, Imperial IPAs and Sour beers
    • Weizen – Wheat beers (American, German, etc.)
    • Shaker Pint – Pretty much any style, but is best reserved for your BudMillerCoors drinking friends
  • Mason Jars – Easy to find and perfect for storing things like simple syrups and alcohol infused fruit

In all seriousness, if you can’t invest in dozens of different beer glasses, shaker pints will work well with most styles. If you decide to go with standard pint glasses, you can at least add some personality to them by picking up a personalized set.

Things to make drinks with

It’s not all about glassware when it comes to a home bar, it’s also about the tools of the trade.  A well-prepared bar is what separates the boys from the men. You never want to be asked for a drink order and be caught off guard. The most immediate image in people’s minds when they think of bartending is usually the stainless-steel shaker with strainer and maybe a muddler (used to mash fruit, herbs and spices in order to release their flavor); however, jiggers (used for measuring small amounts of liquor), bar spoons, whiskey stones (keeps the drink cool without watering it down) and an ice bucket are equally as important. These tools will provide you with everything that you need to raise your craft to a professional level.

A place for all your things

The final and most important task to tackle is how to set-up or build the bar itself. It won’t do you much good to simply have all of these items sitting around your kitchen, you need to give them a home. A simple solution is to convert one of the cabinets you already have in your house. This is done by adding shelves and drawers into the space available, creating a secret storage unit that fits in perfectly with your other furniture. Using mirrored glass for shelving is always a nice touch, and including special napkins and towels can really impress your guests. For those who would prefer a more permanent setup and aren’t afraid of using a few power tools, you can easily craft your own bar using a set of DIY plans.

Remember, the goal of setting up your own home bar is to create a space where you can relax and enjoy spending time with family and friends. This is a chance for you to be creative and have fun with the process, which will make the final product that much more enjoyable.

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Changing of the Guard: Part II

Tom here and this is all in response to Josh’s post last month, if you haven’t read it go check it out and come back.

I’m sad to see Josh go and regret only knowing and working with him for such a short time. I’m taking over operations here but I’ve made it clear to him he’ll always have a place to post whatever he wants. I owe him a tremendous amount for taking a leap of faith on me on a year and a half ago.

As far as the future of the blog goes I plan on changing very little of what you see but a bit of what you don’t. We’ve been hosted on WordPress.com from the get go and have begun to feel very constricted here. Both Josh and I agreed on this before he found out he’d be leaving town. During the next few weeks I’ll be moving the site off WordPress.com and onto separate hosting and a WordPress.Org setup. Hopefully nothing will change from the readers viewpoint.

One of the other big things that will be changing is the ads. WordPress was kind enough to invite us to join their WordAds program, the only advertising allowed on WordPress.com hosting, and put this videos at the bottom of every post. Those will be going away and be replaced with sponsors. The plan here is to display the sponsors logo and have it link to their site. I’ve already got at least 1 interested person and if you’d like to sponsor the site as well please feel free to email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com for more details. If that is able to cover the bills those will be all the ads there are, if not I will look into other advertising but I promise to keep it as unobtrusive as possible.

Content wise I plan very little to change. Ginny Tonic graciously welcomed her “new Queen City overlords” so she’ll still be writing for us. I also want to re-stress one of Josh’s long-standing policies that anyone who wants to write anything from 1 post to 1 series to the 200+ posts I’ve written is more than welcome! Just send me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com with your ideas and we’ll get ’em posted. If you like it enough I’ll create an account and you can have a free hand!

If that was all too long and you didn’t read it then rest assured that this changing of the guard means very little is changing here on Queen City Drinks, we’ve had a good thing going and I don’t want to screw it up.

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3 Tier System: Distributors

One of my blogging goals this year has been a breakdown of the 3-tier system focusing on each level. I’ve already covered general info on the 3-tier system and the history of it’s creation as well as a full post dedicated to breweries (links below). This post, as the title suggests, is all about the distribution industry and their role in the system.

  1. Introduction and History
  2. Breweries
  3. Distributors (you are here)
  4. Retailers
  5. Variations in States

Put very simply distributors are large companies mainly comprised of warehouse space, trucks, delivery guys, and sales men. Distributors take beer from breweries and move it to stores and bars. More complexly they warehouse a vast inventory of beers from a vast number of breweries and take care of the logistics of picking it up, storing it, and delivering it to a vast network of resellers.

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The Things I’ve Learned from Brewing Sour Beer

I love sour beers and I love homebrewing. Makes sense that I’d combine the two and brew some sour beers, right? It sounded so simple.

The third beer I ever brewed was a sour beer. I brewed it in the summer of 2011 and bottled it in February of 2013. I had pretty much no idea what I was doing. Over that time I’ve done many things: I brewed a bunch of other beers (sours included), read almost 100 books, my wife and I renovated our first house, we had a beautiful baby girl, and I learned many, many things about what to do and not to do while brewing sour beers. I actually just bottled my second sour (a sour blonde with Sauvignon Blanc grapes added during aging) and I figured this was about as good a time as any to put some of this stuff down on paper. It isn’t exhaustive or anything; just stuff that has been bouncing around in my head.

FYI: A much more exhaustive and knowledgeable brain dump on sours is found at The Mad Fermentationist. That site has been the single most useful source of information regarding brewing sours that I have come upon.

1. Be patient – Brewing a sour is different than brewing pretty much anything else, at least in terms of the time commitment. You’re looking at a year plus before you have something even remotely close to bottle. Leave your beer alone and don’t take gravity/tasting samples every week or even every month. You won’t be able to tell much of a difference between these samples if they’re too frequent, plus you introduce unnecessary and vinegar-inducing oxygen. In the early stages, it’s probably going to taste horrible anyways and you’re going to get freaked out. Just leave it alone. My rule now is to leave a new batch alone for 6 months before testing gravity and tasting. At that point you should get a good idea as to what you’re getting into and what you’d like to add in terms of bottle dregs, fruit, oak, etc.

2. Keep your airlocks topped off – Oxygen allows acetobacter to turn beer into vinegar. You don’t want to find out that the beer you waited on for a year isn’t drinkable just because you did something silly like not keep your airlock full of fluid.

3. Commercial cultures are only a base to build upon – Wyeast and White Labs both carry a number of cultures which contain everything you need to brew a sour beer. Wyeast Lambic blend, for instance, contains a Belgian style ale strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a sherry strain, and all the other bacteria typically needed to brew sour beer are all included in one package. These cultures will create a perfectly acceptable sour beer, but one without a ton of complexity or variation. The fun in brewing sours is the use of bottle dregs. By adding the dregs of a few of your favorite sours during fermentation, you can add an “oomph” in terms of both additional sourness and complexity. With my first sour, I added dregs from pretty much everything under the sun. With my second, I maintained a tad bit more discipline and kept it to two: Cantillon Fou Foune and Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. I liked the characteristics of both of those beers and wanted them, and only them, in mine.

4. Get a cycle going – A year is a long time, yes, but it seems like less if you know you don’t have to wait another year to bottle another batch. By brewing a new sour every 3-4 months, once that first year is over, you should have a pretty solid backlog of beers going. You also have the added bonus of being able to pitch a new batch onto the cake of a freshly-bottled batch to make things simpler/cheaper. I’m still working on this one.

5. Re-yeast at bottling – Traditional unblending lambics are mostly uncarbonated, but I don’t care for my sours this way (and I don’t brew traditional lambics anyways), so I carbonate mine. After at least a year of fermenting and aging, almost all, if not all, of the ale yeast initially pitched in the blend will be inactive, so you’re not going to get much in terms of post-bottling carbonation without adding new yeast, even if you do add priming sugar. I’ve used wine or champagne yeast in the past because it’s cheap (about a $1 per pack), it doesn’t impart any flavor, and it can work in an acidic environment. I’ve used both Red Star Champagne Yeast and Lalvin EC-1118 with luck

Just a note: I don’t purport to be an expert on brewing sours or even claim to mostly know what I’m doing. I’m still learning all the time, like any good homebrewer should. The world of homebrewing sours is still a very new thing, relative to homebrewing in general and there are, to quote an infamous U.S. Secretary of Defense, many “unknown uknowns”. Maybe the above will help at least one person getting into brewing sours, and that’s good enough for me.

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Cider, really?

[This post was put together by Roger Fecher, a friend of mine and reader of the blog. I’d like to thank him for submitting it to be published. -J]

With the wide world of alcoholic beverages available to you, you’ve probably thought, “Why would I want to try that?” or “That’s not for me” or “Is there anything special about that?” Some of you have even contemplated these very questions while looking at a bottle of cider. Some of you haven’t even gone that far because you discount the beverage outright. And why not, right? In the world of alcohol many of us like to stick to one kingdom: cereal grains. Bread and pasta can be good, even great, but cereal grains come into their own in the world of alcohol. Give me the complexity of a fine beer or a well-aged whiskey and I’m a happy dude.

Sure, you occasionally step out of your comfort zone and have a wine with dinner. You might even order a glass of mead or put your trust in B. Nektar and order a cyser (mead fermented with apple juice or cider). But have you ever given cider itself a chance?

ciderI’m sitting here sipping a Domaine Dupont Reserve cider considering how blessed I am. My brother told me for years about the glory that is cider, but unfortunately most of our domestic product falls short (most of it just plain sucks). It was on a trip to Paris that I made it a personal quest to try a variety of ciders from Normandie one of the areas where traditional cider has been produced for hundreds of years with ancient apple varieties generally not available in the US. In addition many of their ciders are bone dry with a huge effervescence. When so much of the sugar has been fermented out the character of the cider can really shine through.

Truly good ciders have an incredible gueuze-like funk to them with horse blanket and barnyard. There’s a tartness of the tongue, but these aren’t sour. And don’t get me wrong, they won’t blow you over with funk like a gueuze might, but they can certainly hold their own.

This particular cider was aged in calvados casks for six months. Calvados is essentially apple brandy produced from the same apples in Normandie. This cider is produced once a year. The apples for this bottle were harvested in 2011 and matured in 2012.

The bottle pours with a nice white head that diminishes to a small ring but never fades away. The cider is slightly yellow with a touch of copper and a steady stream of bubbles similar to champagne. The aroma is heavenly; lemon, barnyard funk, gueuze, tart apple, leather, and oak – just an incredible mix.

While the base cider was clearly fermented out leaving a bone dry, crisp cider, the calvados casks add back some of that sweetness. It’s akin to the difference between a dry Riesling and a late harvest Riesling. Sure there’s a bit more sweetness there, but it’s a complex sweetness with vanilla and caramel. The taste is both slightly tart and sweet. The finish is completely drying leading to a continual desire to take another sip. The high level of carbonation makes this a super easy drinker. At 6.9% ABV it’s also an easy bottle to open with just one other person (750 mL).

If this intrigues you at all, I highly recommend that you give ciders a(nother) go. Try the ciders from Normandie first, especially from Domaine Dupont. The Domaine Dupont Reserve cider is certainly among the best that I’ve tried. I believe I picked it up at The Party Source for $20-30. TPS seems to get Domain Dupont on a fairly regular basis.

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3 Tier System: Breweries

This is my long over due follow up to the 3-Tier system introduction I posted back in April. I started off with an overview of the 3-tiers but now we’re going to dig into the top, and most exciting, tier. Breweries are were all the magic happens!

  1. Introduction and history
  2. Breweries (you are here)
  3. Distributors
  4. Retailers
  5. Variations in States

Besides being where the magic happens breweries are also the easiest tier to discuss because all they need to do is make beer. OK, so making beer can be very difficult but that’s far beyond the scope of the 3-tier system. For their role in the 3-tier system it really is just a matter of producing a product and making money off of it. Depending on the state there are a couple of ways that they can make that money. Some states allow breweries to sell their beer themselves out of the brewery, like Ohio’s tap rooms, or sell it themselves around their state, aka self distribute. That’s the less common route for breweries to make money. Most brewers depend on a third party to buy their product then sell it to every one else, to distribute the beer.

7-17-2013 11-21-04 AM

The upsides to signing with a distributor are that brewers get to focus on making the best beer they can, and that’s really all they need worry about. They make the beer and sell it to their distributor who takes it from there. Without a distributor brewers would need to find their own way into meeting bar or store owners and convincing them to carry their product. That also means that every bar would have 1 more account to deal with and keep track of. Distributors simplify the process of well… distribution.

Of course that’s a bit of over simplification as the breweries have to manage the relationship with the distributor and do plenty of marketing themselves. Also many distributors provide far more services then just selling beer. Like providing signage or having a rep pour at beer fests and storing  all those kegs/cans till the retailers are ready for them

3-tiers let this become the distributors problem instead of the breweries

The alternative to that is self-distribution. Ohio, Indiana, and about 30 others states allow self-distribution. Cincinnati is currently home to 4 self-distributors: Listermann, Rhinegeist, Double Barrel (I think), and Cellar Dweller. I had the opportunity to discuss self-distribution recently with Cellar Dweller and Listermann. I also covered this topic with Scott LaFollette from Blank Slate Brewing Company who self-distributed for the first six months.

What everyone made clear was that self-distribution had some distinct advantages in a better overall view of the business, a better relationship with customers, and slightly higher margins. However all of that results in less time for them to focus on making beer or having to hire delivery people and buy trucks for them to drive.

Lastly all brewers I talked to had strong feelings about franchise law. In a vast over simplification franchise law means that 1 brewery is stuck with 1 distributor forever. If I can stick to my plan then this fall there will be a post on Learning About Beer: Franchise Law where I will break down this controversial subject. Also planned for late September or August will be the next tier, Distribution!

P.S. Many thanks to all the brewers who were willing to be interviewed about this.

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How to sour mash homebrew (AKA: sour beers for impatient homebrewers)

As the thirst for sour and funky beer has taken over the craft beer scene in the form of lambics, Berliner Weisses, and various other Brettanomyces and bacteria-inspired beers; homebrewers have also taken a hankering for trying their hand at these unique beers. There is a large gap, however, between the ease of acquiring a bottle of many sour/funky beers and being able to drink a bottle of your own creation. In the former case, you merely have to skip down to your better beer store and part ways with some cash; the latter involves much, much more time and effort. Particularly time: many lambics and sours take upwards of one to two years to 1) reach an acceptable flavor profile and, 2) reach terminal gravity so you don’t have exploding bottles as fermentation continues in them.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that there hasn’t been an explosion of homebrewing sours. Sure, I’m certain more people are doing so than 1, 5, or 10 years ago, but the number of these people are dwarfed by both the number of new homebrewers and the number of new fans of sours. It makes sense since patience is not a virtue that is widely held by the human race. I bottled my last IPA 8 days after brewing it; I bottled by first sour 13 months after brewing it. Is there no hope for sour beer lovers who would hope to crank something out in a month or two that is both sour and drinkable? This is where sour mashing comes into play. Continue reading

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Learning About Beer: Canning

In my quest to continue to shed light on the less glamorous or well known aspects of beer I’m moving onto an incredibly important one, essential the question of how this delicious liquid gets into containers to get transferred into our bellies!

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3-Tier System: Introduction

I feel lucky in that a lot of posts write themselves and I don’t have to try too much, except in researching things and drinking beer. The 3-Tier system however has been a 9-month long battle for me of how to talk about this complex, occasional divisive, topic. Initially I planned 1 post, which became 1 massive post, which is now a series of 5 posts in the following order (as posts are published I’ll update these links):

  1. Introduction and history (you are here)
  2. Breweries
  3. Distributors
  4. Retailers
  5. Variations in States

Through out all of this I will strive to remain impartial  and address both pros and cons of the system. I’ve made it my goal to publish all these posts this year, as they same there’s no time to start like the present so lets start in the past.

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DIY Syrups for Cocktails

violet syrup

Vanilla Violet Syrup

One of the great things about making cocktails is the almost endless number of ways you can combine spirits and mixers to create new taste profiles. With the rainbow of flavored vodkas and liqueurs on the market this is more true now than ever. But I am here today to let you know that there is an easier and cheaper way to get new and interesting flavors in your cocktails. You could create your own infused spirits, liqueurs, and even bitters from ingredients you have at home but the easiest way to start to really customize your cocktails is with homemade syrups.

The simplest recipe is of course for simple syrup. A huge number of cocktails call for additional sugar and simple syrup is the easiest way to get a smooth mix. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until they are dissolved and there you have it. It will keep in the fridge for up to six months but to extend the shelf life even longer add a little vodka; I usually use about 1/2 a teaspoon per cup of syrup. To this basic recipe you can add just about any flavor you want during the boiling phase: herbs, fruit, and tea all work well. Or you can replace the water with juice and go from there. The possibilities are endless. Also these syrups can be mixed with club soda to make your own sodas and virgin cocktails for non-drinkers.

To get you started here is one I have come up with recently that I really liked but I encourage you to experiment freely because there is not a lot you can do to mess this up.

Vanilla Violet Syrup

vanilla flyer

Vanilla Flyer Cocktail

1 cup fresh violets
1 cup boiling water
1 cut vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
Fresh lemon juice

First pick the violets growing profusely this time of year in your front yard or better yet, have a small child pick them for you. Put the violets in a mason jar and cover with one cup of boiling water. Let the mixture sit over night or up to 24 hours to steep.

Strain the mixture and press out all of the liquid. It will be kind of blue grey at this point. That is ok. Put the violet water in a pan, add the sugar and the vanilla bean and bring to a low boil for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup through a nice thick cheesecloth because the vanilla will leave specks. Next add the lemon juice to adjust the color. It doesn’t take much so add just about 1/4 teaspoon to start and add more until you get the color you want. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. This syrup makes a delicious cocktail that is a variation on the aviator cocktail so I called it:

Vanilla Flyer

1 1/2 ounces Hendricks Gin
3/4 ounces Vanilla Violet Syrup
1/4 ounce lemon juice

Shake well over ice and serve in a cocktail glass.

I realize that violets are a little fiddly and obscure as an ingredient but since I’ve really been getting into the idea of local drinks I couldn’t resist using something that was literally growing right outside my front door. Check out Episode 10 of Bottoms Up for recipes for Mandarin Orange Syrup and Rosemary Mint Syrup if you want recipes that don’t involve foraging.

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