December 4, 2008
The hop shortage must have ended, because I just got a nice deal on some hops. Over at HopsDirect, the 2008 harvest hops are now available in both whole leaf and pellet form, by the pound.
I picked up a pound of Columbus, a pound of Cascade, and a pound of Magnum. That’s a LOT of hops.
The pound of Columbus will be used for a single 15-gallon batch of my IPA. But that’s a hop-centric beer, so it works out fine. The Magnum will be used for general-purpose bittering, and will probably be good for 5-8 different batches. And the Cascades will be used for flavor and aroma, which should get me through 3-5 different batches. I’m about to do an Amber Ale, and will be doing my Rye Pale Ale within a fair bit of time, and both use Cascade, so I’ll go through a fair bit on those beers.
It’s just nice to know that I’m pretty well stocked up on my hops and I’ve got about 125# of base malt sitting at home. That will really help with keeping the costs down on my next few batches.
December 1, 2008
So, I haven’t posted anything about brewing lately. Largely, that’s because there’s really been no news. I’ve mostly brewed the same beers I know and love, and haven’t changed much in how I’m doing it. I did toy with this method, which would have been pretty cool to show off if it had worked, but I wasn’t able to dial in the necessary efficiency.
But I’ve been having the itch to create a new recipe, and I stumbled into 150 lb of free grain. 50 of those lbs of grain were Belgian Pilsner, so I asked myself what I might brew that’s heavily-dominated with some pilsner malt… And I decided on a dark belgian ale.
The recipe is pretty simple. I was looking at doing something darker than a Belgian Dubbel, but not as strong as a Belgian Strong Dark. I just took a grouping of dark malt flavors that I thought would be very interesting, and came up with the below. This is for 15 gallons (or thereabouts, I think we slightly undershot volume):
28# Belgian Pilsner Malt
1# Special B
0.75# Carafa I
0.75# Chocolate Wheat Malt
2 oz Cluster (7.7% AA) @ 60 min
2 oz Santiam (4.4% AA) @ 5 min
1 big slurry of Belgian yeast from The Bruery — Thanks Pat & Tyler!
And the final touch?
5# Homemade Amber Belgian Candi Sugar
Belgian Candi Sugar is a staple in many Belgian beers. It’s extremely fermentable, so it helps to lighten the overall body and flavor of the beer while adding alcohol. It’s usually used in a caramelized form, and typically sold as “clear”, “amber”, or “dark” (with a variant of the dark also available as a syrup). For this recipe, I wanted to add a little flavor, but didn’t want to go to a truly deep dark color, so I chose Amber.
But how to get it? Belgian Candi Sugar, purchased from a store, tends to run $5-6 per pound. That might be okay for a 5 gallon batch of beer, but when I need 5 pounds of it for a 15-gallon batch, it doesn’t quite work. So I made my own.
It’s a pretty simple process, actually. The point is to “invert” sugar, breaking the complex molecules into their much simpler-to-ferment components. This is easily done with a combination of [citric] acid — thanks again to Pat & Tyler for the acid — and heat. So how do you do it? Take a 5# bag of table sugar, add just enough water to make it into a nice thick slurry, add a few pinches of citric acid, and put it on the stove.
Of course, “put it on the stove” is a recipe for a sugar burn, a burn that would make this look like fun. So one must be very careful. You raise the temperature slowly to the point between hard ball and soft crack, allowing the sugar to boil, holding it there until the desired color is reached (or slightly before, as it continues to darken). 5# of Amber sugar took about an hour for me. You then raise the temp all the way up to hard crack, and pour it into a pan to harden:
I made a slight mistake on the sugar, in that I either had too much water or didn’t leave the sugar at hard crack long enough. Thus, when I went to break the sugar up and put it into bags, it didn’t “shatter” the way I’d hoped. It was still partly pliable. That being said, it’s not intended to be eaten like hard candy, so I wasn’t worried.
Once I had it all done, brewing went well. Efficiency (due to a very fine crush) was quite high, and my target gravity was definitely much higher than expected (partly also due to low volume, I’m sure). That means we have a nice Belgian Dark Ale (which may be classified as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale) coming it at about 8% ABV.
It won’t be kegged until this coming weekend, so I’ll update with some tasting notes in about 2 weeks or so once it’s cold and carbonated.
July 28, 2008
So I was thinking about this the other day… There are the problems of geological vs. God time, etc. But one thing just occurred to me.
God created man in his image. He created all the animals, and the plants, and gave man dominion above them. Man was king, he was satisfied, and he was happy. But then God thought man was lonely, and on the same day he created Man, he created Woman.
Let me ask you a question…
What Man in his right mind, king of his castle, master of all before him on earth, would get lonely and need a mate within a day? I mean, sure, within a week (possibly a few months if God gave Man beer and football instead) Man might get horny, but a day?
So this God, who we’re supposed to believe is kind and loving, presents us with a creature that seduces us into a fall from grace with her feminine wiles, such wiles that continue to this day to get us men to do all sorts of crazy things to vie for their attention.
As for me, I could have done with the beer and football. That truly would have made the Garden of Eden paradise on Earth!
July 2, 2008
Obviously, the bad news is that doesn’t win me another free trip to Denver.
The good news is that this is still a heck of an honor, especially since the Stout category can often be very crowded. After the results it garnered in the AHA National Comp (won first round in my region, advanced to 2nd round but didn’t win a medal), I was hoping to see some additional positive results for this beer.
I think this recipe is a good one. Considering I’ve got some of this beer, plus some of a very similar recipe to the beer that was a national finalist for LongShot last year, both in my kegerator right now, I’d say I’m in good shape
June 26, 2008
So, we submitted three beers to the Inland Empire Homebrewers’ competition, the SoCal Regional Homebrew Championship.
One was the Rye Pale Ale, which is probably well beyond its life at this point. One was the milk stout, which has already had some very promising results, but didn’t medal at the NHC competition. The third was our recent IPA, which hasn’t been introduced to any competitions prior to this.
Well, the IPA took second in category, which is particularly nice because they split the American IPA category from the English and Imperial IPA styles. A very hoppy IPA, it really seems to have come together exactly how I envisioned it (maybe slightly darker). I’m not sure why the Milk Stout didn’t do well, but I’m still waiting on the score sheets, so maybe I can figure out what happened in the judging process.
Up next is the Orange County Fair, where we entered the same three beers. More to come once we have some results. Based on the milk stout and the IPA, I really would like to see a blue ribbon between those two.
May 19, 2008
The homebrew club I belong to is planning on doing something very cool. Many members of the club are brewing their own version of a Russian Imperial Stout, a very strong beer which stands up well to aging. One of the members of our club recently started his own brewery (more on that in a future post), and happens to have a number of bourbon barrels sitting around that he’ll use for aging of certain beers.
So each member who wanted to participate has brewed some Russian Imperial Stout, and all of those beers will be blended after fermentation and aged in one of the bourbon barrels for 10 months. It should be a very cool thing to be a part of.
Due to the strength of the beer, it needs to ferment at least 3 weeks (preferably 4) to be ready to be added to the barrel. This past weekend was that 4 week mark, and our plan was to brew on Saturday morning. Between my brother-in-law (Dustin) and I, we were brewing 10 gallons, so that when the beer is complete, we’ll each get a full keg out of it.
I was running late, so Dustin started the brew without me. By the time I arrived, the mash was just about complete, and it was time to transfer our mash tun from the floor onto the rack we use during the sparge. This mash tun, of course, had 10.5 gallons of water, had 40 lbs of grain, and itself weighs about 20 lbs. All in all, it probably weighs 150 lbs when completely full, as it was on Saturday.
When I arrived, Dustin had placed the wooden handle of a rake through the handles of the mash tun to lift it. I looked at the rake, and thought to myself, “that doesn’t look as sturdy as the handle we usually use”, but I didn’t say anything. We picked up the mash tun, and started walking over to the destination. We got to the destination, started lifting the tun, and CRACK!
40 lbs of grain and the entire jet-black imperial stout mash ended up on the garage floor.
That cut our brew day very short. We didn’t have time to go out and re-start the brew, and that means it’s pushed out until this weekend. It has to be done this weekend, or we miss the window for the group brew, and they’re expecting us to have that beer ready, as having less than the expected amount will screw up the whole process. This is now twice as hard, because Dustin will be gone all weekend, so I need to find an extra pair of hands to help out, and still end up brewing in his garage. All while not pissing Joanna off, since it was SUPPOSED to be the last brew day for a few weeks, and now I’ve got to do it again.
About the only bright point was that we kegged & bottled the IPA. There are a few competitions coming up, so we really needed to get that done. It’s not fully carbonated yet, so I don’t have any real tasting notes. It did come out a bit higher in alcohol than intended (at about 7.5%, rather than 6.5%), but overall appears to have fermented cleanly and is on its way to where it should be.
But oh, how I wish I had stopped and told him to use a different, more sturdy, handle!
May 8, 2008
The Samuel Adams LongShot contest is probably the most well-known homebrew contest in the United States amongst the general public, but amongst homebrewers, there’s one that dwarfs it.
The AHA National Homebrewing Competition is the granddaddy of them all. With likely more than 6,000 entrants nationwide, it’s roughly three times the size of LongShot, and thus instead of a 3-region competition, there are 10 regions. With a competition that size, they break it into a 1st round and 2nd round. Also, with the size of the competition, simply making it from the 1st to the 2nd round is a big thing.
I submitted the Rye Pale Ale and the Milk Stout. Given that the Rye had scored very highly in the two competitions I’ve entered it (finishing 1st and 2nd in its category), I was almost expecting it to place. But results were released today, and the Rye didn’t do a thing.
But the Milk Stout took 1st in its category*, beating out 40 other stouts. That means it’s definitely advancing to the second round, where the stakes get higher (and the competition gets tougher). It’s one step closer to one of the top honors in homebrewing, a medal from the AHA.
Going up against 20 or 30 of the best stouts in the US, I’m not going to say that I’ve got a lot of confidence that I can make it into the top 3. But I’m mighty happy to get a shot against them!
* To see our names in lights, click here. In the Southwest region, scroll down to category 13, which is the Stout category.
May 1, 2008
For the size batches we’re doing (15 gallons), there’s usually a lot of equipment involved. Big welded stuff. Pumps. Fancy-looking burners capable of taking paint of the ceiling when lit at floor level.
You know, cool man shit. But USEFUL stuff, as manually moving 15 gallons of boiling wort from one location to another using muscle power is dangerous.
Well, we don’t have much of that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t brew good beer, it just makes it harder.
So I present our ghettofied brew setup!
The link takes you to a Kodak Gallery slideshow documenting the basic process of brewing, from start to finish. Enjoy!
April 24, 2008
In the rural areas of Northern California, in the shadow of beautiful Mt. Shasta, lies a sleepy small town. In that town, however, lurks a menace. The town itself elicits laughs from degenerate drug users all over the nation. In fact, the town itself is a literal advertisement for drug use.
At least that’s what the BATF would have you believe:
The federal government has said no to Weed.
Or at least to the bottle caps of beer brewed at a popular local brewery in this small Siskiyou County town, which has a name that no doubt would have kept 1970s pot-smoking duo Cheech and Chong giggling.
Weed brewer Vaune Dillmann faces possible sanctions or fines from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau if he continues to brew and sell beer with bottle caps printed with the label “Try Legal Weed.”
You see, in the world of the government, there is no room for humor. After all, in a country of 300 million people, a few of those people are going to get the wrong idea. Might they believe that a beer company is suggesting that they stop drinking beer and start smoking pot? Maybe so.
And the BATF (actually, the TTB) believes it’s their place to save those people from their own idiocy, and at the same time ruin it for the rest of us.
Now, it’s clear to me that this is nothing more than a clever marketing tactic. As a homebrewer and beer connoisseur, I often see store shelves lined with a dizzying array of six-packs, and outside of word of mouth and places like beeradvocate.com, I have very little way to tell one brewery from another. What might convince me to try something new? Perhaps if it catches my eye for some reason, I might buy it.
The use of the town’s name may elicit a chuckle from a few potheads, but it’s hardly an advertisement by a brewery for a competing (and illegal) product. It’s made even more ridiculous by the fact that a competing (and well-known) brewery has a similar double-entendre in their name and advertising, but is allowed to proceed with their own labeling and advertising.
Dillmann, who says his bottle caps both promote his beers and the community in which he brews them, has appealed the decision.
After all, he said, the labels on his beers have a picture of the Weed arch and the city’s founding father, Abner Weed, on the label. Dillmann’s bottle caps also say a “A Friend in Weed is a Friend Indeed.”
“We’re dealing with a surname that’s been used for hundreds of years,” Dillmann said Monday.
The owner of the Mount Shasta Brewing Co. said he’s also outraged that his beer is being singled out for using a possible pot play on words when Anheuser-Busch has used “Bud” — another name for marijuana — to promote their Budweiser line of beers.
“What’s the difference here?” Dillmann said. “They sell Bud — we sell Weed.”
There is no difference, Mr. Dillman. Some bureaucrat has a stick up his butt and the power of the federal government behind him. You’re bearing the brunt of it. This is the way government works.
In a letter to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s administrator, Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff said California tourism officials have identified Weed as the single most recognized name along I-5.
“Surely, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is not in the business of suppressing the ingenuity of a small business owner, (and) the community of Weed . . .,” Kobseff wrote.
Of course that’s not what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to find some way to apply their one-size-fits-all rules, which don’t allow any room for variation or common-sense, to a situation that requires variation and common sense. It’s not that they’ve got a problem with the town of Weed. It’s much simpler than that. Rules are rules, and you’re not following them.
This is government, folks. Petty, with no sense of humor and a complete inability to understand why we find them ridiculous. You either conform or you get pounded down, in a high-stakes game of bureaucratic whack-a-mole. As Washington called them “a fearful servant and a terrible master”, they’ve been spending a lot more time being the latter.
April 22, 2008
I made it out to Chicago last week, but never had any good pictures to share. And after realizing that my “travel camera” is a steaming pile of a dog crap, I only managed to get one good picture from Denver. My wife keeps the nice new camera, but since it’s very large and bulky, I wouldn’t likely carry it around and use it when I’m on business. I think it’s time for me to buy a new camera, and I’ve got a few things I’d like in that camera:
1. Small/slim (fits in a pants pocket easily).
2. Good value (good pictures, but not overly expensive).
But luckily, the picture I did get happened to be of the entrance to my favorite beer bar:
April 13, 2008
The homebrewing community is, by and large, a very helpful, generous, and kind group. They’re quick to help each other, always ready to offer advice, and enjoy the fraternity of “do-it-yourself” mentality that we all share.
So, when a few homebrewing bloggers got into a 90’s-style internet flame war, we knew this could not stand. Travis from CNYbrew.com is a homebrewer in New York. A Syracuse fan and a northerner, he’ll brave the elements to brew, even if it means dressing like a gay Eskimo. The Monday Night Brewery guys, Jonathan, Joel, and Jeff, met a few years ago in Bible study, and wish to help the beer-starved Southeast by opening their own brewery in Georgia within the next few years. Plus, they’re huge Bryan Adams fans, which makes Travis’ brokeback overalls seem far more normal. The flame war begun, with Travis intimating that MNB was its own grandpaw, and MNB suggesting that Travis simply can’t brew. There was only one way to settle this – man to man, mano a mano, cerveza a cerveza! A brew-off!
So they decided to send samples of their IPA to myself, and two other brewers. This is good, as I consider myself a connoisseur of IPA’s, and live in the mecca of the IPA, Southern California. So, two packages arrived, each containing two IPA’s from each brewer, and my brother-in-law and I took to the task of settling this dispute!
First, the intangibles. MNB sent two bottles of their beer with their custom labels, a very nice presentation. Travis sent his beer in two Saranac bottles that he had neglected to even remove the original label. MNB sent a few bottles of Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, one of the beers I missed from my time in Georgia (which I liked so much that I brew my own RyePA), along with a few Monday Night Brewery pint glasses. Of course, I am evaluating purely on the beer, so the
bribes presentation is not a factor in judging.
Pours a pale gold color, with a strong head that persists for quite some time and leaves very nice lacing on the glass. This got me a bit excited, as the color was exactly what I want in an IPA. I took a few nice long whiff’s of the beer, and got very little hop aroma. What I did pick up was a slightly heavy ester & higher alcohol aroma, suggesting high fermentation temps. The mouthfeel was very thin, with low to moderate maltiness. Taste followed similarly, with a very thin body, mild bitterness, and little to no hop flavor/aroma. The thin body made the beer feel a bit “hollow”, but without a heavy hop aroma, there was little to make up for the light body. I don’t mind a light-bodied IPA, in fact I prefer it to be lighter and more crisp, but it didn’t have the “clean” dry taste or the in-your-face hop characteristic that I expect.
Pours an amber-reddish color, small head, but the head persists while drinking the beer. The aroma had a very mild hop character, but picked up more maltiness. No higher alcohols or heavy esters detected. In the mouthfeel, there was definitely more body, and more sweetness came through. I wouldn’t call this beer a “malt-bomb”, which is good, as an IPA should not be one, but the malt is prominent. Tastewise, there was a good balance between malt and bitterness, but the balance was more appropriate for an American Pale Ale than an IPA. The beer could be well served by additional bitterness and dry-hopping.
I had already heard that Travis had conceded defeat, and the Canadian judge had awarded the win to MNB, and I thought that I might find this to be a runaway win. Instead, it was actually a very close match. Both beers would really have been improved with some dry-hopping, as they did have bitterness, but not the pungent hop aroma. I think the thin body and more harsh higher alcohol I detected in Travis’ brew would be considered a technical flaw, whereas my view of the MNB beer is that it was a good beer, but not a great IPA. But, the results were unanimous (okay, it was only myself and my brother-in-law*), and we also decide in favor of the boys from Atlanta. It was the cleaner technical beer, and in general was something that I’d be more likely to sit down and drink a few in an evening.
So when is round 2?
* The tasting notes are my own, as my brother-in-law is a novice at reviewing beer.
brewpoll.com linked with The Unrepentant Individual » Settling A Homebrew Beer Blogger Dispute...
March 31, 2008
You know, I think when South Swell Brewing Co. becomes a reality, I’m well on the way to one solid recipe. The Rye Pale Ale has already taken one second-place medal at a brewing competition in San Diego.
Rye Pale Ale — 1st Place in the American Pale Ale category
Light Belgian Ale — 3rd Place in the Belgian & French Ale category
As I’ve mentioned, I re-brewed a tweaked version of the Rye recently, and based on my experience, I’m going to go back to the original recipe. The second attempt was lacking body and could be improved. I’m not sure it’s 100% where I want, but the first iteration of the recipe was better than the second, so I will go back towards that.
The Light Belgian scored well in San Diego, and managed to actually place in this competition. I like the recipe, although may tweak it slightly. I do understand that a 4.5% beer brewed with an idea of being targeted at the slightly above-average beer drinker (not the true beer connoisseur) is not well suited to competition, especially in such a competitive category as a Belgian ale.
But I’m slowly laying the groundwork for recipes that I hope will one day be winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival or the World Beer Cup, not just local homebrew competitions!
March 29, 2008
Well, the three-week whirlwind of travel has thankfully come to a close. As it stands, I have no travel currently scheduled, and all intents upon not going anywhere for at least 3 weeks.
Pennsylvania was a quick trip, and outside of the Vegas experience and picking up a few nice beers to bring home with me, largely not worth documenting in pictures.
Phoenix was a little bit more fun, got a chance to return to the Four Peaks Brewery, as well as an Irish Pub called Rula Bula. Both places are actually in Tempe, where our manufacturer’s rep have their offices.
Four Peaks Brewery
Four Peaks Beer List
Four Peaks Bar
Rula Bula Bar
Beers I brought back from PA and AZ. Left to right (Southern Tier IPA not pictured – i.e. already consumed)
Southern Tier Mike & Phin’s Extraordinary Ale, Southern Tier Raspberry Porter, Great Divide Titan IPA, Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra, Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Breckenridge Agave Wheat, Magic Hat #9
(click on photo for a larger version)
I was very pleased with the Agave Wheat. As previously mentioned, I’ve brewed an agave wheat, and it was atrocious. This one is very tasty. First, they based it off a Hefeweizen style, while mine is an American Wheat. The Hefe uses a much more flavorful yeast, and that adds a lot of beneficial flavors to balance the agave. Mine was a very clean/neutral beer, so the agave overpowered it. In addition, I think they used a MUCH smaller proportion of agave in the recipe than I did, which also helps to keep them from having the same sort of failure that I did.
I’ve got another 3 lbs of agave, so I might just have to add it to a hefeweizen instead, in order to finish off that bottle.
March 21, 2008
Definitely an enjoyable trip. I’ve only been to SLC once previously, and that was at 6 AM one December day in 2000 driving through on a cross-country trip. Having driven through from the Midwest at the time, I was struck by the fact that it was my first real experience driving through the Rockies, and it was rather nice to see a city surrounded by snow-capped peaks. My return trip did not disappoint:
From my experience driving around, it appears to be a very interesting city. Visually it’s quite beautiful, and it seems like a city in a state of transition. It’s apparent that there are some older, poor sections of the city, but that business is moving in and salaries are increasing. Excepting the whole 4% beer thing (which is only true of bars/restaurants, the state-owned liquor stores can sell higher), it sounds like a very nice place to live. But, with the beer restrictions, I think I’d be headed to Denver instead!
We did end up making it out to a brewpub called Hoppers:
I had 4 beers (easy to do when they’re so weak). Three of them were fairly good. I had a pilsner, a hefeweizen, and a stout, all of which were good representations of the style, and cleanly-brewed. I also had a pale ale, which failed to impress. I am not even sure I can put my finger on what was wrong with it, but my coworker also found it lacking. I think there may have been too much of a Munich malt bill, and not enough Crystal malt, which is more typical of a pale. Added to that, it seemed to have enough bittering hops, but was lacking hop flavor/aroma. Either way, I was impressed. It just goes to show that you don’t need to make beers strong to make them tasty. I’ve had badly-brewed strong beers in brewpubs, and if I had a choice between a badly-brewed 6% ale and a well-brewed 4% ale, I’ll take the 4%.
The strangest thing I saw, though, was in the airport on my way back. Dressed as a business traveler, carrying only a boarding pass and a laptop, the lady at the security checkpoint directed me to the “Expert Lane”. I was in so much shock that I didn’t think to take a picture of it. SLC’s airport actually has a sign and screeners devoted to an expert security lane, for frequent travelers. This is very useful for me, as I regularly scan the people in front of me in line at the airport, to ensure I’m not behind any families or anyone who looks like a tourist or infrequent traveler. Those of us who spend a lot of time in airports are able to quickly get all of our bags / metal items / laptop / shoes / etc organized and through the x-ray rather quickly. Those who don’t know the rules or don’t do it often can slow the line down immensely. It appears that at least one airport understands this, and is trying to help out those of us that know our way around.
It’s nice to be home… Of course, the situation in PA hasn’t sufficiently improved, so I may be flying back there on Monday… Then coming back home Tuesday evening, only to fly out to Phoenix for Wed/Thurs… I think I’m going to have to use all my frequent-flyer miles and hotel points to take my wife somewhere nice, and soon!
March 18, 2008
In the South, a trend over the past few years has been for states to “pop the cap”, or vote to end their restrictions limiting beer to 6% ABV. These states allow wine above that limit, as well as distilled alcohol far above that limit, but they kept the cap for years. Often it would be prefaced as a way to stop alcoholics from getting their fix easily, or to “protect our children”, despite the fact that most of the beers in that marketspace are expensive and strongly-flavored – not suited towards teenagers looking to get hammered.
Alabama, though, is still a holdout. A local group known as Free The Hops is intent on changing that. Their bill has recently passed the state House, and will soon be coming up in the Senate. This is a watershed moment for Alabama beer connoisseurs, who quite literally would make road trips to Atlanta or Tennessee to obtain the beers unavailable in their home state.
Congratulations to Alabama’s House for coming to their senses… At least a little bit.
If you listen to the debate, what sort of impression are you left with about both the supporters and the opponents?
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