Thursday, July 29, 2010

“Apparent” Bitterness (IBU/OG) Ranges By Beer Style

After the completion of the initial four BJCP style charts that we published, a reader (thanks Andrew D.) suggested publishing a fifth chart looking at the IBU to OG ratios or “Apparent” bitterness of each style. Given that bitterness is typically set to offset the residual sweetness in a beer, looking at the relative OG and IBU values allows a brewer to gauge whether the style will typically be sweet, balanced, or bitter in the final product.

As was described in the first Style Chart posting, this project started out as a simple impulse, but turned into a series of graphical charts demonstrating how each BJCP style compare to one another.

Click on the thumbnail below to get a higher resolution image of the chart.

In addition to the above, check out the other four Beer Style Charts:
Please click here for a higher resolution PDF of this chart or any of the other charts – I’m more than happy to share them.



"No soldier can fight unless he is properly fed on beef and beer."
-John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough

Monday, July 26, 2010

Brewing Water Chemistry is Your Friend

I recently gave a presentation at my homebrewing club on practical brewing water chemistry.  The goal of the talk was to provide an overview of the key aspects of water chemistry that impact the brewing process and what ways they can be manipulated to make improve the resulting beer.  This included several specific steps and procedures that homebrewers can take before and during brew day.

Jeff and I figured this information would be of interest to our viewers and I have listed the speaking notes below.  Please keep in mind that adjusting water is a relatively advanced brewing technique.  Brewers who are starting out should focus on sanitation and fermentation control first before working with water, because these elements make a much greater impact on brewing quality and consistency.

1.      Why should you care about changing your brewing water?
o       You can make excellent beer without worrying about it at all
o       However, water adjustments can help fine tune your beers and make good beer even better
o       Understanding how your mash works, for all-grain brewers can be important
o       Many people have trouble brewing beers at ends of the color spectrum, which can be due to   water hardness (stouts versus pilsners)
2.      Where to start?
o       If you are an extract brewer, you will likely want to do nothing, or if you have hard water, dilute with reverse osmosis (RO) water
§         Extract already contains concentrated ions from when the wort was concentrated
§         It is difficult to know what the concentrations of those ions are, so you certainly don’t want to add more through brewing salts
§         Trial and error, along with getting used to a specific brand of extract, is your best way forward
o       Assuming you brew all-grain, your first step is figuring out your waters brewing ion concentration
§         Without knowing this, it is hard to proscribe anything more than a generic recommendations (use 1 tsp of gypsum for hoppy beer)
§         Your water report may provide the key information
§         I got a report from Ward Laboratories for $16.50
·        Realize that your water chemistry will likely change over the year
§         Key ions include: Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfate, Chloride, Residual Alkalinity (RA) (from Bicarbonate or Total Alkalinity)
·        RA acts as a buffer to neutralize the acidic nature of mashes that use darker roasted malts
o       Figure out some key elements of the beer you are trying to brew, including its color and whether it is hoppy, neutral, or malty
3.      Brewing salts
o       In general, we adjust brewing water for ion concentration using brewing salts
§         Salts are cheap and they are an easy method of transferring the ion we want
§         You can also use acids or bases directly, but this is less common
o       Chalk (calcium carbonate – CaCO3) – used mostly for calcium – can reduce RA
o       Gypsum (calcium sulfate – CaSO4) – used for sulfate – can reduce RA
o       Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) – used for chloride – can reduce RA
o       Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate – MgSO4) – used for magnesium
o       Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate – NaHCO3) – used for RA
o       Other products, like Five Star’s 5.2 stabilizer, can provide basic buffering capacity to the mash
4.      Procedure for adjusting water on brew day (and before)
o       Planning
§         You are adjusting for ALL the water you are using on brew day (mash, sparge, and any kettle additions)
·        Evaporation is considered in this already, so plan on dosing all the water you have
§         Figure out your chloride to sulfate ratio (this has the most impact on flavor)
·        It is the RATIO that is important, so you need to know where you are starting from
·        0.0 to 0.5 Cl:SO4 ratio will be a very bitter beer
·        0.5 to 0.75 Cl:SO4 ratio will be a moderately bitter beer
·        0.75 to 1.25 Cl:SO4 ratio will be balanced malt/hop
·        1.25 to 1.5 Cl:SO4 ratio will favor the malt
·        1.5 to 2.0 Cl:SO4 ratio will be very malty
§         Shooting for 75 ppm calcium, which helps with yeast health and flocculation
·        Calcium reduces RA, so you don’t want to go over board
·        Calcium comes from gypsum, calcium carbonate, and chalk.
o       Figure your sulfate to chloride first, then bump with chalk
§         Figure out RA
·        This is what controls mash pH – where you are targeting 5.2
·        The darker the beer, the more RA you need (up to 300 ppm for Russian Imperial Stouts)
o       Don’t go higher than this, or it will taste minerally and thin
·        Baking soda is your primary adjustment here
·        This is the most complicated, so use a spreadsheet
o       On brew day
§         Mix your salt additions for your mash water right in with the grain
§         Do NOT add salt additions to the sparge water directly
·        pH is not low enough to make them dissolve
§         Instead, add them to the boil kettle at the start of the boil
§         If you are adding any water to the kettle during the boil (kettle too small) then make sure to add those salts at the beginning of the boil too
§         Check your pH, if you like, half way through the mash time, after the salts have had a chance to impact the pH
·        Target is 5.2
5.      Neat idea
o       If you want to play with the sulfate to chloride ratio, try adding a pinch of a brewing salt directly to a pint or a half pint of beer
§         Stir it up and see how it changes the flavor
§         Calcium chloride – maltier
§         Gypsum – more bitter
6.      Resources


While brewing water adjustments are a relatively advanced brewing topic, they can be effectively utilized with a little research and trial and error.  Hopefully, the information presented above can act as a catalyst to beginning to work with water.  Please leave a comment and let us know if it was helpful.



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tasting Notes: Pannepot Clone by The Mad Fermentationist

Tasting notes always seem like the easiest thing to write down, but for some reason, I find them peculiarly difficult to wrap up into a blog post. Choosing the appropriate words is not the hurdle – its just breaking down my own inertial propensity for “I’ll just do it tomorrow” and getting it done.

Back in May, Mike over at the Mad Fermentationist and I exchanged a few homebrewed beers, including his 5-6 month old Pannepot Clone. This particular beer was most interesting to us, as it was the recipe that Tom and I decided to brew together while he and his family visited us in Rhode Island. During some downtime while brewing our own version of the recipe, Tom and I were able to sit down and taste Mike’s Pannepot Clone. Given below are the tasting notes we took during that sitting. Coincidentally, the tasting [7/11/10] took place 6 months to the day from when Mike brewed it [1/11/10].

(It should be noted that I was suffering from an unseasonable cold during this particular weekend, so the majority of the aroma notes come from Tom’s perceptions, given my disabled nose).

* * *

Appearance: The beer appeared a deep ruby brown color with an off-white / tan head that dissipated fairly quickly after the pour. The beer was slightly cloudy or hazy in appearance, which is most likely some form of chill haze, as it went away as the glass warmed.

Aroma: Dark caramel sugar, assertive alcohol, and dark fruit (plums and raisons) dominated the nose. A hint of banana was detected just after the pour, but was not noticeable later on. Additionally, a small amount of spice (perhaps clove?) and a little vanilla was detected.

Flavor: A warming, sweet alcohol is the initial impression that presents itself upon tasting. Not harsh or solventy, the flavor is assertive with similarities to a good bourbon. Behind the alcohol, dark caramel and Belgian candi sugar (dark fruit, sweetness) is also present along the mid-palate. A hint of spicy hop character is also detectable. The beer ends on the sweet side, not overly sweet, but it does not wash away completely and leaves a residual on the tongue.

Mouthfeel: The beer is full-bodied, thick, and residual with a warming sensation from the alcohol. Carbonation was medium and appropriate.

Overall: This beer certainly has a broad range of different flavors in one glass. It is certainly interesting to the taste buds and is more of a sipper than a quaffable beer – the alcohol is detectable and stands at the forefront of the flavor, which reinforces it as a slow-drinker. Overall it is very enjoyable and complex.

* * *

After our tasting, Tom and I were very pleased with what the recipe produced. The only ‘on-the-fly’ change we made after experiencing Mike’s beer was to keep the fermentation temperatures cool for a little bit longer period (48 hours vs. 24 hours) before ramping it up. We hope this change can help tuck away some of the alcohol’s assertiveness. Time will tell…

Thanks Mike!



"The sum of the matter is, the people drink because they wish to drink."
- Rudolph Brand

Tasting Notes: Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy by The Mad Fermentationist

In addition to the Pannepot Clone sent to us by Mike over at the Mad Fermentationist as part of our homebrewed beer exchange, we also received a bottle of Mike’s Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy. With Tom being in town, we got the opportunity to taste the beer together (during a brew session) and below are the notes we took during the tasting.

(It should be noted that I was suffering from an unseasonable cold during this particular weekend, so the majority of the aroma notes come from Tom’s perception, given my disabled nose).

* * *

Appearance: Upon pouring, the beer presents a nice deep amber-red hue and is very clear without any detectable haze. It possesses a small off-white head of tiny bubbles, which dissipated relatively quickly.

Aroma: The initial waft is dominated by bourbon and vanilla, which was as expected. Tucked in behind is a bit of caramel and brown sugar sweetness that can be picked out periodically. There is no clue detectible sour aroma at all.

Flavor: The first taste provides a rising acidity / sourness, similar to perhaps fresh lemon juice.  This sour flavor initially blankets all of the other flavors. In the mid palate, the sourness subsides and reveals a mild malt flavor with a slight hint of caramel. The beer has no bourbon or vanilla flavors that are detected and has no residual sweetness. Additionally, the aftertaste is very clean with as the acidity seems to clear the tongue nicely.

Mouthfeel: We were pleasantly surprised that the beer maintained a medium body that was not as thin as would be expected from the sour character. Carbonation seemed appropriate and the beer finishes nice and dry.

Overall: What an interesting beer! The taste (sour with no bourbon/vanilla) is almost completely disconnected from the aroma (bourbon/ vanilla with no hint of sour). The beer itself was such a pleasant enigma and it provided great conversation as we drank it. The acidity and sourness kept cleansing the tongue after each sip, which prevented palate fatigue.

* * *

What Tom and I both appreciated about this beer, other than the aroma/flavor disconnect described above, is the serendipitous path that created this soured Wee Heavy. It is a great example of adapting to uncontrollable changes, letting things run their course, and keeping an open mind with regards to the results. While a clean version of a Wee Heavy was the initial intent of this brew, bugs from a neighboring barrel quickly set the beer down a different path. It created something unplanned for, but in hindsight, something certainly worth appreciating.

Cheers to the unintended! And thanks again Mike!



"What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?”
- W. C. Fields

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Wolf Hills Brewing Company (Part 3)

While most of us have toyed with the thought of starting up a nanbrewery, others have taken the plunge.  To find out more about who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Jeff and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Wolf Hills Brewing Company
Abingdon, VA

In the final portion of our interview with Wolf Hills Brewing Company, we conclude our discussion with Chris Burcher and he shares a couple recipes with us.  Chris founded the nanobrewery in 2009 and has enjoyed enough success to be building out an expansion.  Wolf Hills beer can be found in Abingdon, Virginia at the The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa and at the brewery.  Earlier parts of the interview can be found here (Part 1, Part, 2).

*  *  *

Lug Wrench (LW): In our correspondence, you indicated that your nanobrewery is considering expanding.  Can you provide us with the expansion details and how you have been able to grow successfully?

Chris Burcher (CB): First, it was either grow or quit.  That was the plan.  Our nano-scale was not sustainable with respect to quality control or maintaining our brand through time.  This business operates on small margins, meaning you make a little bit on each keg rather than a lot.  At first I thought it would be more like a farmers market deal, where quality products cost a lot more and people are willing to pay for it.  For example, asparagus from wherever can cost $2 at the grocery store, but you pay $6 for locally grown organic stuff.  I found this NOT to be true with beer at the restaurant level.  Overall, it's still up to the restaurant manager to decide what he/she wants to sell and I can see where it would be hard to pay $60 for a keg of ours over $50 a keg for an established brand (costs are listed as an example, only).  So, we need to make more beer to sustain the business.

So, we got quotes for new equipment that were very high.  We searched the used market and found a brewery that was going out of business and was selling all of their equipment as a lot.  We were also offered a great building in town that's almost 6,000 sq feet (as opposed to our 288 sq ft current locale).  It is the old icehouse and the owner wants to maintain its historic value, which we can accommodate.  We are currently rehabbing the building.  After that, I have to learn how to use it - having never brewed on this type of 'real' equipment before.

The expansion will allow us better control over our product and to make it more resistant to the perils of distribution.  We will be able to produce more beer and move into more restaurant accounts.  We will be able to have more than 3 retail hours a week and will try to add Saturday hours and maybe one lunch-time session per week.  We will be able to offer educational tours (as a teacher, I love that part of the job) and 'show off' our equipment/brewery.

Eventually, I hope to double our fermentation space and do small bottling runs to put us in the local grocery stores.

LW: Is there anything else you think our readers might enjoy learning about you or your brewery?

CB: As homebrewers advance they learn that brewing is largely sanitation and fermentation.  The actual brewing is a small part of the job.  The transition from homebrewer to brewer/owner has been very similar.  The fun things (brewing, talking to beer lovers) is a small part of the job. Sanitation and fermentation are still the largest aspects of brewing, but there is so much more.  Like I said, I embrace and enjoy most of these things.  My stress level has been fairly low, but at times it has been rough, especially worrying about the beer once it is out the door.  Eventually, I figure, this will ease but the stress will be about something else.  Overall, it is very exciting.

LW: Many of our readers are homebrewers and love to hear about new recipes.  Could you provide us with a recipe you think may be of interest?  It can be a recipe from your current brewery, one from your homebrewing past, or even one you always wanted to try, but never got around to doing.  Anything goes.

CB: Many of my recipes are still evolving.  When starting a recipe, I refer to Palmer and Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles book, Ray Daniels, and to the plethora of clone recipes on the internet and in works like Clone Brews.  I look at the commonalities of the style and look for patterns and differences.  Then I make a 'bumped up' recipe, figuring that most of these recipes are smaller or less intense than I prefer.  I then brew a test batch and go from there.

Here are two recipes from my homebrew days that were eventually scaled up and probably changed a bit, but they represent very close approximations of current Wolf Hills Brewing Company offerings.

The recipes are all-grain, single infusion mash recipes that yield 5.5 to 6 gallons to the fermenter.  They assume an approximately 7 gallon pre-boil volume.

1) Dry-hopped American style Pale Ale
  • 8 lbs domestic 2 row brewers malt or pale malt
  • 1 lb wheat malt
  • 1 lb munich malt
  • 1 oz magnum/horizon bittering addition at 60 min
  • 1/2 oz simcoe 10 min
  • 1/2 oz centennial 0 min
  • 1 oz amarillo/1 oz simcoe 7 day dry hop in secondary - rack after 10 days primary fermentation
  • Fermentis Safale US05 or California ale liquid yeast with a yeast starter
  • Mash at 152 F - single infusion
  • Target OG ~1.054

2) Double IPA (slightly based on internet Pliny the Elder recipes)
  • 20 lbs 2 row brewers malt (note, need big mash tun or some DME)
  • 2 lbs munich
  • 1.5 lbs wheat malt
  • 0.5 lb crystal 40
  • 2 lbs table sugar end of boil
  • 1 oz chinook mash hop (just for fun)
  • 90 minute boil
  • 1 oz chinook/2 oz magnum 90 min
  • 1 oz magnum 45 min
  • 1 oz centennial 30 min
  • 2 oz amarillo, 1 oz centennial, 1 oz cascade 0 min
  • Dry hop with 3 oz amarillo, 3 oz centennial for 7-10 days
  • Big starter with California ale liquid yeast or 2 packs Fermentis Safale US05
  • Mash at 152 F - single infusion
  • Target OG ~1.090
*  *  *

Prior parts of our interview with Wold Hills Brewing Co. can be found here (Part 1, Part 2). 

We want to thank Chris for taking the opportunity to share this information with us and our readers.  It is very much appreciated.

If you want to find out more about Chris or Wolf Hills Brewing Company check out their website or better yet, if you are in southwestern Virginia, stop by the brewery.



Monday, July 12, 2010

Results from Single Hop Beer Experiment: Round 2

Back in January, we posted the set-up for a Single Hop Beer Experiment, wherein each brewer brews the same American pale ale, but with a different hop variety.  After suggesting the concept to my local area homebrew club (Rhode Island Fermentation Technicians), Round 1 of the experiment took place in the February/March timeframe.  During Round 1, the following hops were used:
Williamette, US Goldings Northern Brewer, Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, and Summit.

The Single Hop Experiment was so enjoyable to the club that a second round was planned with brewers picking new hops to utilize.  As he did before, fellow clubmember Tom H. took notes from the tasting and posted the results on his blog, “And Another Thing…”. Tom H.’s summary notes are reproduced below.
It should be noted that the first round had a number of classic American hops, a large number of which were fairly low in alpha acids. This round included some lesser known hops and alpha acids were generally higher than the last round. As before, we decided to taste these in ascending order of alpha acid strength, to reduce any risk of blowing out our taste buds. Here are the tasting notes from the June 2010 RIFT meeting.

Very clean, with spice and clove in the nose. It contributed to a "malty nose". This was thought to be good in Belgians and Wits.

Mt. Rainier
Notes of clove, anise, licorice, and a minty flavor.

Strong complex nose. Metallic, grassiness, lemon citrus, grapefruit. Would be good in a copper ale.

This is a brew from the first round, brought back for comparison. Citrus, lemon, dry grapefruit, smooth, piney.

Sorachi Ace
Phenolic, cat urine, pine sol. Raw hop, green hop. Smooth bitterness. This was a bit of a surprise, as we did not detect any of the "lemon" character that this hop is supposed to have. It is also a surprise after tasting Brooklyn's Brewery's Saison that features this hop and has a completely different character. This is a hop that needs to be carefully integrated into a brew.

Papaya, fruit. Strong nose of grapefruit. Bready, yeasty. Classic American "Big C" hop for bittering.

Piney, papaya. Tangy, fruity, smoother than Summit. Similar to Roxy Rolles.

The Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus offspring. Ok, John cheated a little bit here, deviating from the base recipe to make a darker, maltier, better integrated Pale Ale. That being said...
Flavors: Candy cigarettes, neutral, clean, malty, earthy. Very tasty.
While many of these hops were not the prototypical hops most people brew with, being able to taste and experience each of their flavors was a great learning experience.  I'd have to say that I was the most impressed with Chinook (which I wouldn't have expected walking in to the tasting) and plan to use it in the future.

Have any other clubs out there tried similar experiments? If so, please post a comment and let us know your club's experience and what, if anything, could be done to improve upon the event.



"The mouth of a perfectly happy man is filled with beer."
-Egyptian Proverb

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lug Wrench Brew: Flemish Fisherman, Spiced Belgian Quad

Eight months have wisped past since the last opportunity Tom and I have been able to brew a beer together – the last being the English Barelywine brewed at Thanksgiving.  But this past weekend, the planets shifted into alignment, Tom and I were both in the same place, and the opportunity presented itself. With a large contingent of family decending on Rhode Island for a certain six-year old’s birthday, we weren’t going to miss the chance to add a 4th beer to our collaborative series.

Plans for this brew session have been building for several months. Choosing what to brew was decided back in May – De Struise’s Pannepot. The beer has such depth of complexity, such great flavor, and made such a good impression on us that the idea of brewing a clone rapidly bubbled up to the top of our short list. Furthermore, when we began collaborating with Mike over at The Mad Fermentationist, Mike had already devised a Pannepot Clone (from a translated ingredients list directly from the brewery) and he sent us a few bottles of the clone during our last beer exchange.  This sealed the deal and the ingredients for the Pannepot clone were gathered.

Of course with the 15-20 people crashing my house for the weekend, finding the 6-7 consecutive hours for a brew session was quite the challenge. In the end, after 2 nights of rain delays, we were able to squeeze in the session on the last night of Tom’s visit.

Below are the notes and recipe for the collaborative beer. The notes will be updated as the beer continues to ferment, age, and be tasted. Additionally, a few bottles are due back to Mike for his thoughts and feedback on how the recipe held up in our hands.

Flemish Fisherman, Spiced Belgian Quad
(recipe modified from The Mad Fermentationist's Pannepot Clone)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.0
Total Grain (Lbs): 15.32
OG: 1.094 (target: 1.096)
FG: 1.027 (higher than anticipated)
SRM: 29.7
IBU: 33.5 (Rager)
ABV: 8.8%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

14.0 lbs. Castle Pilsner Malt
0.50 lbs Flaked Corn
0.50 lbs Special B Malt
0.16 lbs Carafa II Special
0.16 lbs Chocolate Malt

1.85 oz Williamette Pellet Hops (4.8% AA) at 45 minutes
0.30 oz Sterling Pellets Hops (6.0% AA) at 20 minutes

2.0 lbs Dark Candi Sugar (80 SRM, 1.032 ppg) added at pre-boil
1.0 Tab Whirlfloc at 15 minutes
0.25 tsp Yeast Nutrient at 15 minutes
1.0 g Cinnamon (dried, pre-ground)
1.0 g Thyme (dried, pre-ground)
3.0 g Coriander (dried, pre-ground)
5.0 g Sweet orange peel (freshly zested)
30 drops of Foam Control in the boil

23 grams – Safbrew T-58, Dry Yeast

Mash Schedule
100 min at 154°F
Batch sparged to get 7 gallons in brew kettle

Brewed on 7/11/10 by the Wallace Brothers. Fourth collaborative session brew.

Due to limitations of the mash tun, the water to grain ratio of the mash was 0.8 – 1.0 qt/lbs. Because the mash was so thick, sparging took an extra long time (consider adding rice hulls to mash if there is room to help lautering).

After the mash and sparge was complete, 1 qt of wort was pulled from the brew kettle. The 2 lbs of Candi Sugar was mixed into the 1 qt until mostly dissolved, after which the mixture was added back to the kettle and a pre-boil gravity was taken.

Originally the recipe called for Saaz hops at the 20 minute addition. However, after checking my inventory, we decided to substitute Sterling hops instead. The change to the beer's flavor profile should be minimal.

Aeration was accomplished via an aquarium pump and diffusion stone, run for 30 minutes.

Aerated wort was placed into the fermentation chamber with the temp control set to 65°F. Once at 65°F, the hydrated yeast was pitched.

Temp was maintained at 65°F for 48 hours, before being allowed to ramp up to 75°F (over a three day period) for the remainder of the fermentation.

Fermentation activity kicked off within 9 hours of pitching. Activity grew so vigorous that it pushed up through the airlock and clogged it. Airlock was replaced and 10 drops of foam control was added to the fermenter to control future foam overs.

7/24/10 - After 5-6 days of no noticeable fermentation activity, the carboy was cold crashed (35°F) for 48 hours and then pulled for racking.  The beer was racked into a clean, sanitized, and CO2 purged keg where the beer will lager for ~6 weeks at 35° - 40°F.  Gravity at this point was 1.027 (8.8% ABV).  The taste was surprisingly smooth given its age, a bit of sweetness to it and only had a brief hint of alcohol.

11/10/10 - While the original intention was to let the beer lager for 6 weeks, I got very busy and forgot about the beer for much longer than that.  So finally, after ~14 weeks of lagering, the beer was bottled.  Using a new packaged of rehydrated T-58 yeast and 4.2 oz of corn sugar (2.8 volumes), the solution was mixed into the keg and 39 bottles were bottled.  Based on the taste (which had the priming sugar in it), the beer is smooth with hints of alcohol, but not many sharp edges.  The biggest concern is the sweetness, which might have been partly from the priming sugar, but we'll have to see in a few weeks when the first carbonated samples are tasted.

7/25/11 - Posted tasting notes more than a year after the beer was brewed.

8/13/11 - Flemish Fisherman gets a silver medal at the 2011 Dominion Cup.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Wolf Hills Brewing Company (Part 2)

While most of us have toyed with the thought of starting up a nanbrewery, others have taken the plunge.  To find out more about who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Jeff and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Wolf Hills Brewing Company
Abingdon, VA

In the second part of our interview with Wolf Hills Brewing Company, we continue our conversation with Chris Burcher.  Chris founded the nanobrewery in 2009 and has enjoyed enough success to be building out an expansion.  Wolf Hills beer can be found in Abingdon, Virginia at the The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa and at the brewery.

*  *  *

Lug Wrench (LW): With regards to selling your beer, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced in getting draft accounts or shelf space?

Chris Burcher (CB): We don't bottle so shelf space is not an issue yet.  Getting draft accounts has been difficult mostly because of price.  We are the first 'boutique' or real craft beer our Virginia distributor has seen.  People, in general, do not understand that we are not Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada.  To most people, we are a microbrewery and we are all in the same category when, in truth, we are as different from those guys as they are from InBev.

Education is our biggest obstacle.  We basically have had to bite the bullet and come very close to the price of those large micros in order to compete.  Of course, this is largely a new challenge as we have been selling most of our beer at the retail level in growlers at competitive prices.  Here, a six-pack of a domestic craft is about $8.50 and a growler fill (about a six-pack, 2L) is $10.  So, being first has been a challenge with respect to educating our consumers.

LW: Looking forward, what are the biggest hurdles you see your brewery facing?

CB: Shelf life and packaging.  The biggest lesson I have learned, having no professional brewery training, is that homebrew is far less stable than most homebrewers (myself included) would ever know.  Without crash cooling and even filtering, homebrew has a lot of yeast in it.  When you send these kegs, via a distributor, out to accounts they run the risk of stirring up and/or getting warm.  Both of these things are bad for the beer.  Filtering will help but it will also change the flavor.  So, we will continue to produce unfiltered beers for our retail sales, but we will filter beers going out to accounts.

LW: If you were speaking to an individual who is considering the prospect of opening their own nanobrewery, what advice would you give them?

CB: Do it.  But understand our success is due to: 1) My wife has a job. Although I pay myself about half what we earn, the first few years would not support a family or maybe even an individual.  This MUST be a part of the business plan.  You must plan for the ability to pay yourself.  2) Find someone or some people who compliment your abilities.  I am a brewer and I beer lover.  I have some business sense.  I would not have been able to get through the hurdles of local government or the loan process easily.  Without my partners, I would not have arrived where I am now.  No one person can do it all.  Or, maybe they could, but it would be a lot harder and I am not sure it would be sustainable.

LW: What's the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started the brewery?

CB: That's tough.  The whole experience has been so wonderful.  On the down side, worrying about each and every keg has led to some restless nights.  Quality control is much more difficult at larger scales than at the homebrew level.  It is easy to make one keg of awesome beer, but it is much harder to replicate.  On the good end there is so much.  Realizing how much I like the 'other' aspects of running a brewery.  The equipment, the market, the industry, learning about other breweries are all at least as interesting to me as the process of brewing.  I honestly can see spending the rest of my career doing this and never really learning enough.  Also, the support and interest of our customers has been great.  As a brewer, my ideal customer embraces our brand and, rather than looking for a particular beer style or brand, trusts our company and will try anything we make.  We have that on a small scale now and I hope we can keep it.  

Another interesting factor was our growlers.  When we were deciding to buy our first growlers, the minimum order was 10, but we had to buy 100 if we wanted them screened with our logo.  I was convinced we would never sell 100 growlers and so should just get 10 plain ones.  My partners convinced me otherwise and we sold 65 of the 100 in about two hours.  Currently there are over 500 of our growlers out there.

* * *

Part 1 of our interview with Chris Burcher and Wolf Hills Brewing Company can be found here.  The conclusion (Part 3) of our interview can be found here.   

If you want to find out more about Chris or Wolf Hills Brewing Company check out their website or better yet, if you are in southwestern Virginia, stop by the brewery.



Monday, July 5, 2010

Summary Round-Up of Session #41: Craft Beer Inspired by Homebrewing

Welcome to The Session – a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic. For July, we at Lug Wrench Brewing Co. had the opportunity to choose the topic: Craft Beer Inspired by Homebrewing as the collective subject for everyone to explore and write about. You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday (“The Session”) over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

With another "Session" come and gone, it was time to round up all the contributions and put them together as closure for 41st edition of Beer Blogging Friday.  Listing the contributions in the chronological order they came in, here is what was said ...
  • Mike at Beer Made Clear contributed his take on the topic by talking about the Letter of Marque homebrew competition - a comp put on by Heavy Seas Brewery (formerly Clipper City), where the winning recipe gets put in a Heavy Seas bottle.  "(Heavy Seas') Letter of Marque is both an homage to the crazy creations of home brewers AND a way to lend legitimacy to brewers who never believed their recipes would be bottled and shipped across state lines to a wider audience."
  • Greg at the Pour Curator takes a spin on the topic and wrote about "craft beer art inspired by homebrewing".  Selecting the Rube Goldberg-styled artwork of Jason Roberson featured in Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp marketing, Greg discusses the advantages how "it's actually a fairly astonishing amount of work for a side project to which many breweries would not devote an entire (Beer Camp) site, let alone an artistic undertaking of this size". 
  • The Beer Nut give us the Irish perspective of homebrewing's influence on craft beer.  Weaving in a review of Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout Highland Edition, The Beer Nut also provides a wonderful lament on the misconception by some on homebrewing.  "I always find it strange that someone would turn their nose up at a homemade beer ... while regarding anything else homemade to be of superior quality to the pre-packaged factory-made alternative".
  • Nemsis at took a linguistic approach to the topic.  By examining several brewering terms from historical times, the post states "so many words that are commonplace today and are not used to describe beer or brewing anymore have their origins in those most revered areas of life."
  • Joe over at the Thirsty Pilgrim discusses the inspiration for one of his recent homebrews - and speculates all commercial beers that were once probably homebrews themselves.  "It's got German pilsener malt and British and American hops. Certain Belgian and British ales inspired its low alcohol and high drinkability. In its conception it were equal parts Taylor's Landlord, Taras Boulba and Sierra Nevada."
  • Sean at Beer Search Party describes his theory for how to normalize the gender discrepancy seen in commercial brewers.  "My theory is that home brewing is the minor leagues for the craft beer world. That means the more women brewing at home means the better the chance that they might go pro."
  • Derrick the Beer Runner uses the title "How Jimmy Carter Unwittingly Created the 'Disruptive Technology' That Launched the Craft Brewing Revolution" to remind us how the obscure tax bill Jimmy Carter signed into law in 1978 has had such an effect on today's beer market.
  • Stan at the Appellation Beer blog brings forth and discusses one of the winners of the 2009 Sam Adams LongShot contest: Ben Miller's American Barleywine.  "I’ve had the homebrewed version, the batch that Boston Beer brought to the (GABF) when it was announced Ben Miller’s recipe was one of the two winners, right when it was released in April and just the other day. Never quite the same, but that’s an aside."
  • Over at the Reluctant Scooper, the homebrew origins for Thornbridge Brewery's black IPA ('Raven') is described.  So what does a professional brewer who turns their homebrew recipes into a commercial success do next?  Keep homebrewing of course.  "Because homebrewers don't stop being homebrewers just because they turn pro. Here's the experimentation, the craftsmanship."
  • Brian at the Beer Odyssey reminds us that beer companies, whether small or large, were most likely were started from homebrewing.  "Somehow, in these people's eyes, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Widmer Hefeweizen, and New Belgium Fat Tire are so far removed from small batch craft beers ... beyond a shadow of a doubt, these beers were first brewed on systems smaller that most mid-sized craft breweries' pilot systems."
  • Thomas at Geistbear Brewing Blog reflects on the craft beers that still inspire him to homebrew.  Specifically focusing on "one style in particular that remains elusive ... dark Czech lagers that are more like dark bread and less roasty than their German cousins", the post offers rare commercial examples and a few tips on brewing these hard-to-find beers.
  • Jay at A Beer In Hand tells the tale how craft beer has inspired him to try his luck with homebrewing.  With a bit more space now available, he's eyeing his first batch and wrestling with which style he'll start his journey with.  "To some people homebrewing is their life. To me it is the start to a new life." 
  • Alan over at A Good Beer Blog describes a good dichotomy about homebrewing being the testing grounds for those destined to be pro brewers.  "It is where I expect the future pro brewers who earn our hard currency to have made their mistakes ... I am not interested in paying for craft brewer' experiments even if they are called "extreme" or the hot new trend from Italy.  Work that stuff out on your own time." 
  • Tom at Yours for Good Fermentables reminisces about his own brewing journey from catching the homebrew bug, to enrolling in Siebel, to apprenticing in a Baltimore area brewery and beyond.  "From there, I would go on to brew at several other breweries, opening two, and owning one."  And while he has been out of the brewing business for several years, all it takes is a pint of Scottish porter to bring back the memories.
  • Jon from The Brew Site describes several brewers in the Oregon beer scene (John Maier, Shawn Kelso) who started in their kitchens.  "Oregon, craft beer, and homebrewing are inextricably linked, and the beer industry is benefiting enormously from it."
  • Jay at the Brookston Beer Bulletin points out that one of the admirable traits exemplified by American Craft brewers is probably a legacy influence from the homebrewing community.  "The one (contribution) that always resonates with me is the way in which the sharing of knowledge and technical assistance that is the hallmark of the homebrewing community has translated to commercial brewing".  
  • And lastly, our contribution from Lug Wrench Brewing centers around a discussion with White Birch Brewing and the inspirations for their Berliner Weisse.  "What better way to talk about commercial beers influenced by homebrewing than to talk with Bill Herlicka, owner and brewer of White Birch. Bill ... a long time homebrewer before taking the plunge last year."
And that, as they say, is that. 

It was a great pleasure to host this month's session and to be able to collaborate with so many others as part of the experience.  Our thanks to all who participated.

Mark your calendars for August 6th, when Derrick Peterman (a.k.a. the Beer Runner) will be hosting the 42nd edition of Beer Blogging Friday.  The topic: "A Special Place, A Special Beer."


-The Wallace Brothers

"The brewery is the best drug store."
-German proverb

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Session #41: Craft Beer Inspired by Homebrewing with White Birch Brewing Co.

Welcome to The Session – a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic. For July, we at Lug Wrench Brewing Co. had the opportunity to choose the topic: Craft Beer Inspired by Homebrewing as the collective topic for everyone to explore. You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday (“The Session”) over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.
This month’s topic was the perfect opportunity to collaborate with one of the many small regional breweries in the New England area. During a recent trip up to New Hampshire, I nabbed a few bottles from White Birch Brewing Co.  Driving back to Rhode Island, the lightbulb went off in my head as I contemplated topics for this month.  What better way to talk about commercial beers influenced by home brewing than to talk with Bill Herlicka, owner and brewer of White Birch.  Bill, who has been a prior guest on this blog for our Nanobrewery Interview series, was a long time homebrewer before taking the plunge last year and founded White Birch.

The beer that I was most interested in talking with Bill about what his Berliner Weisse - an unique German sour wheat ale that is perfect for summer.  And also one that is not commonly found on most shelves.  Bill graciously agreed to talking about the beer and its influences, the summary of which is provided below.

Lug Wrench (LW): In general, how does what you learned as a homebrewer helped you as a commercial brewer?

Bill Herlicka (BH): I have only homebrewed prior to opening White Birch so I guess you can say it is a major influence as a commercial brewer. For example, I make the beer the way I want regardless of materials cost or time to age. It’s how I approached my homebrews and I have no interest in changing. The thought of trying to shave costs by shorting grain or hops in the hopes that the consumer won’t notice to me makes no sense.

My beers are hand made, hand bottled, hand labeled and a bit esoteric. I like that and find going into the shop fun every day. I contrast this to a conversation I had with another brewer who had to justify any new beer and some continuation of popular new beers with a cost benefit analysis. He says his brewery owners were more interested in profits than a new beer that was proving popular with local drinkers (it cost more and took longer to make). Brewing is a business and an art. We all have to live with our choices and for me I want to make what I enjoy, not what a "bean counter" would enjoy.

LW: Where did the recipe for the Berliner Weisse come from?

BH: It’s my take on the style. I researched as many examples of the style as I could find, the history of the beer, and what recipes were out there online. From my research and tasting I found that the basics of this beer were a light wheat based beer and that it was made with either a sour mash or through the use of lacto bacillus. From my tasting notes I found I prefer the softer body of a lacto based Berliner over a (sour) mash. Sour mashes seem to have a sharper range of tart and additional flavors that either work or in some examples are a bit more than what I’d expect in the style.

LW: Is there anything from your homebrewing days that influenced the Berliner Weisse recipe?

BH: Yes, I’ve always brewed bigger beers. Making something this small took so little grain that I found myself pushing the grain bill up so it “looked” right. My hope is that people enjoy the beer and style purists let the higher ABV slide.

* * *

White Birch Brewing's Berliner Weisse
Brewed: June 2, 2010
Batch: 1; Bottle: 786 of 1458

After chatting with Bill about the beer, my taste buds were primed and ready to crack open bottle I had in possession. With the recent heatwave we've been experiencing the past few days, this was a great complement to relaxing on the back porch enjoying the thermometer returning to more tolerable levels. 

The beer pours a faint straw color, but remains cloudy with a haze.  It produces a billowing white head which dissipates quickly down to the bubbling gold liquid.  A lactic burst is the first thing that hits the nose followed by a subtle wheat/malt undertone.  Hidden amongst the lactic is a faint wheat twang as well as a minor notes fruitiness and a slight hint of shellfish.

The taste reveals a citrus-like acidity and tartness with an underlying wheat and malt flavor.  A clean sourness, but not pungent, with no funk detected.  The wheat/malt resides until the mid-palate where it falls off leaving a pleasant tartness that slowly evaporates away.  The beer finishes very clean with a dryness and a lingering hint of citrus and lemon. 

Overall, the beer is a very refreshing, light, sour ale with enough tartness and clean sourness to cleanse the palate without fatiguing it.  Dry and clean, it leaves little behind other than a pleasurable essence of lemon sourness.  One sip just asks for another.

If you happen to be homebrewers like us, Bill offered these tips and tricks for those interested in trying their own interpretation of a Berliner Weisse:

I’d suggest 60% wheat malt, 40% pilsner, a very light hand with the hops and lacto. Don’t be afraid to step into the real wild bacteria. If you can make more than one style of beer at a time with different yeasts you can use wild “critters”.

I do recommend dedicated plastic for bottling and stronger bottles than standard 12 or 22oz bottles too.. Heck, if you think about it, wild yeasts are in the air and on everything. If basic sanitation lets us brew a beer without an infection then why not use a cultured “critter”.

I would certainly recommend anyone who find the beer to pick it up and try it.  If you've been fortunate to have any of White Birch's beers, let us know what you thought.


-The Wallace Brothers

“Don’t try to create someone else’s vision … do what you love and do it with passion. You’ll find your audience.”
-Bill Herlicka
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