Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Homebrewing Year in Review - Jeff

I'll have to admit that 2011 was a huge year for me, but just not in terms of brewing.  We purchased a new house back in March/April, which sapped up the lion's share of my free time.  Additionally, in November I left the job I had been at for 6 years for a new opportunity at a different company.  With all this going on, my brewing efforts seemed to get the short end of the stick.  Compared to prior years, my numbers were down (25 and 19 batches brewed in 2009 and 2010 respectively).

The Congdon Hill Brewery

From an equipment standpoint, this year saw no real major brewery upgrades either.  There was actually a bit of a downgrade to be truthful.  My fermentation freezer (stand up freezer with a digital temp control) did not make the move with us.  This now leaves me with only with a temp-controlled chest freezer to ferment as well as house the tap system.  This poses a bit of a problem as all the kegs have to come out of the freezer for 1-2 weeks when I am fermenting a new beer.

In the same vain as roll ups from prior years, here is what my brewing operation looked like in 2011: 
  • Number of Batched Made: 9
    • Number of Beer Batches: 8
    • Number of Cider Batches: 1
  • Number of Gallons Made: 53 gallons
  • Most popular beer style: American Ales - Cat.# 10 (n=2)
  • First Brew Day of the Year: January 3, 2011 (Ordinary Bitter)
  • Last Brew Day of the Year: December 29, 2011 (German Pilsner)
  • Homebrew Competition Medals Earned: 5 Medals - Silver, Boston Homebrew Comp (Belgian Golden Strong); Silver, Ocean State Homebrew Comp (Irish Red); Bronze, Boston Homebrew Comp (Midnight Wheat); Bronze, Boston Homebrew Comp (Ordinary Bitter); Bronze, Ocean State Homebrew Comp (Standard Cider).
  • Average ABV Across Batches: 5.7%
    • Highest ABV: 9.6% (Belgian Golden Strong)
    • Lowest ABV: 4.1% (Ordinary Bitter)
  • Number of 'Cloned' Beers Brewed: 1 (Timothy Taylor's Ordinary Bitter)
  • Favorite Brew: Ordinary Bitter - besides being a great drinking beer and winning a bronze medal, this beer was selected by my homebrew club to represent it at the AHA's battle of the bitters.  What made this so special was that Tom's club sent his bitter to represent their club as well making it a Unique Situation for us. 
  • Least Favorite Brew: American Pale Ale - not because the beer came out poorly, but this was the second beer in a double brew day resulting in a very fatigued brewer.
  • Approximate amount of grain used in 2011: 91 lbs
    • Most popular base malt: US 2-Row (40.3 lbs)
    • Most popular specialty malt: Munich Malt (3.25 lbs)
  • Approximate amount of hops used in 2011: 1.2 lbs
    • Most popular hop: Hallertauer (5.1 oz)
From both Tom and I, we wish everyone a wonderful New Year and many more brewing sessions to come.



"Let us drink for the replenishment of our strength, not for our sorrow."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Local Breweries Rock For Homebrewers

I have been making plans to brew a German Pils for while in order to work on my lagering process.  To get the right yeast pitch, I made a starter with two vials of yeast with plans to brew at the end of the week.  Then, about 1-2 days later, the starter just went bad for some reason, which deep-sixed my brewing plans.

On a whim, I sent out a message to one of the local brewers I know from an area brewpub (Coddington Brewing Co.), in the hopes that he might have some spare lager yeast.  Being the accomodating guy that he is, he hooked me up with a growler full of lager yeast (Saflager S-189) from a Dopplebock he brewed a week and a half ago.  Score!

And this is what I love about most crafter brewers - they love beer and they are always willing to help out others who share the same passion.  I am sure there are exceptions, but as a homebrewer, there are lots of dividends for interacting with and getting to know the local brewers in your area.  Whether its for information exchange, help with some materials, or just hanging out with like minded individuals, get to know your brewers.  You would be missing out on a great resource and comrade if you let it pass you by.

My hat is off to you Marshall - thank you very much for saving my brew day.



"We brewers don't make beer, we just get all the ingredients together and the beer makes itself."
-Fritz Maytag 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Poll: Ideal Beer for Holiday Feasts?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we received on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the question "What Is Your Ideal Beer To Pair With Holiday Feasts?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 21

Cold weather always seems to make the taste buds yearn for something a bit stronger than the rest of the year, and that is certainly apparent here. Belgian ales, which are typically a bit more potent by nature, or Stouts were the clear winners in this poll, with the occasional barelywine coming in third. Cheers to the season for sure!

The popularity (or lack there of) for Spiced Ales was a bit of an outlier from my expectations.  All the "Noel" style beers are mulled or spiced for the most part, but yet they do not seem to nake it to the tables of those who responded.  As long as these offerings are not overspiced, the seasonal beers always seem to pair well with the robust and favorable foods of the holidays, in my opinion.  I would have expected them to be more popular.  Huh.

Let us know what your thoughts are on the topic.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaiting your participation.



"A wise son brings joy to his father, but the wiser son brings beer."
-Mad Mordigan

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Brewmaster's Night Before Christmas

This is a reposting of the poem "The Brewmaster's Night Before Christmas", which came from the Homebrewers Association site.  The poem's many homebrewing and craft beer references gave me a good chuckle.

The AHA is a great resource from homebrewers, and is definitely worth following through its RSS feed (how I saw this humorous farce in the first place).




"Twas the night before kegging, when all through the pub
Not a carboy was stirring, not even a blub;
The hops had been added to the wort with care, 
In hopes that a 50/50 soon would be there.
I was nestled all snug in my bed, 
While visions of blue ribbons danced in my head;
The spices were added, allowed nicely to steep, 
And I was all settled down for a long night's sleep.
When out in the pub there arose such a clatter, 
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter;
Away to the brewpub I flew like a flash,
Tore open the door and tripped on a sash.
The glow of red on teh pool table so bright,
Gave me pause as I saw an unbelievable sight;
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, 
But Santa and eight reindeer, drinking my beer.
With a belly so round and his hat all askew,
I knew in a moment, he'd had more than a few;
More rapid than eagles he lifted his mug, 
And he whistled and shouted, and took a few chugs.
"More Belgian! More Porter! More Kolsch and Stout,
More Amber! More Wheat! More Bock and Alt."
His eyes, how they glazed, his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
The hair from his cap was in need of a comb,
And the beard on his chin was covered in foam;
My eyes flew to my kegger, holding eight kegs of beer, 
Sipping each tap was a tiny reindeer!
The glow in the room flashed on my night clothes,
It was Rudolph, I could tell by the red of his nose!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
I yelled, "Dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
Brewing barrels of coffee, I begged them partake,
They sipped the hot joe and they jolted awake!
Now up to the house top the coursers they flew,
Old Jolly and reindeer yelled, "Thanks for teh brew!
Warm cookies and milk await us tonight,
Your homebrew was perfect, the flavor just right!"
As I stood in stunned silence, and was shaking my head,
I thought, "Did I dream or fall out of my bed?"
My thoughts were confirmed, as I heard out in the night,
"I'm a convert this Christmas. To heck with 'beer lite'!"
© 2011 Matt Collins

Monday, December 19, 2011

Who Owns Who - A Graphical Representation

I've always had a soft spot for graphical representations of concepts - I've blogged about it a number of times (charts, maps, etc).  So whenever I find a new and interesting graphic about beer, I take notice. 

While reading Jay Brooke's blog, Jay turned me on to a new graphic that I found facinating enough that it was worth sharing here.  Dr. Philip H. Howard, assistant professor of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resouce Studies at Michigan State, created this great bubble chart that details the major players in the US beer market. 

Click on the image or go here for a larger version of the image. 

What I love about this infographic is how the clustering starts to show patterns in each of the companies business plans.  When belgian beer became mainstream, AB picked up brands like Hoegaarden and Leffe.  Or how Diageo has surrounded itself with "irish" brands, including Red Stripe?!? 

Let us know if anything interesting pops out at you when you check out the chart.  See any of your favorite brands and wished they resided under a different owner (i.e. Bass, Pilsner Urquell)?  Furthermore, if you happen to bump into other beer-related infographics, please point them out to me!



"When we drink, we get drunk.  When we get drunk, we fall asleep.  When we fall asleep, we commit no sin.  When we commit no sin, we go to heaven.  Soooo, let's all get drunk and go to heaven!"
-Brain O'Rourke

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Monticello Reserve Ale

While perusing the beer section of a local supermarket, I stumbled upon a bottle of Starr Hill's Monticello Reserve Ale.  The label displays an image of Monticello's famous facade, which was once the home of Thomas Jefferson and is a popular local historical attraction.  The label also proclaims the Reserve Ale is the "Official Beer of Monticello."  Intrigued, I purchased the bottle, intent on doing some research and posting tasting notes.

From the bottle label: "Beer produced on the Monticello plantation was served during dinner, with wine served after the meal.  From her first arrival at Monticello in 1772, Jefferson's wife Martha oversaw the periodic brewing operations, producing fifteen gallon casks of small beer - beer with low alcohol content - about every two weeks."

"Larger scale brewing began with the appearance of a British brewer detained in Albemarle County during the War of 1812.  Captain Joseph Miller improved upon the equality and quantity of Monticello beer, introducing ale, stronger beer better suited to storage.  Joseph Miller trained the enslaved Peter Hemings in the arts of malting and brewing.  Hemings - a brother of Sally - carried on the brewing operations, making one hundred gallons of ale every spring and fall."

Starr Hill's site lists Monticello Reserve Ale as an unfiltered American wheat beer, made solely with wheat and corn.  It is moderately hopped with East Kent Goldings (27 IBUs) and weighs in at 5.5% ABV.  It also won a silver medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, in the Indigenous Beer category.  According to a blog post by Levi, one of the Starr Hill brewers, the beer was 8 years in the making, as Monticello and Starr Hill worked out the legal and other details of brewing an official Monticello beer.  Levi collaborated with the Monticello staff and utilized a historical text to come up with the final recipe, including the exclusion of malted barley, which was not grown at the plantation.

The beer poured an incredibly light straw color, almost as light as a cider.  The pour left very little head in the glass, which is surprising given the large wheat component in the malt bill.  The carbonation of the beer appears fairly light, given the low levels of foaming and bubble formation during the pour.  The beer had an extremely mild aroma, though my perceptions were dulled by the end of a head cold.  I did detect a mild floral smell, perhaps similar to jasmine or honeysuckle, along with a slight herbal character along the lines of fresh mint.

The initial flavor of the Reserve Ale was strongly floral and slightly harsh.  Honeysuckle and chamomile explode on the palate in an interesting manner.  If I had not read information on the beer ahead of time, I might have thought it a gruit flavored with flowers.  Some bitterness appeared mid-palate, but it was fairly subdued.  The flavor finished fairly dry, though the floral character of the beer lingered for almost a minute afterward.  I also detected a slight corn flavor at the end of the taste, which was interesting, but slightly distracting.

Overall, the beer was enjoyable and different than anything I had tasted from Starr Hill before.  However, the lingering floral character continued to build throughout the pint, and it was slightly off-putting.  While interesting, I do not think I would order another pint in the same sitting.

Thanks to Starr Hill for undertaking a historical beer of this nature and making it available in quantities that the local general public could taste.  Have any of you had the opportunity to taste a historically-based beer?  Leave a comment and let us know about your experiences.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Fun with Art V: Drywell Art

It is always a pleasure to see an up-n-coming artist find their niche.  That's exactly what happend to Alyson, the artist who writes the Meat Sections blog that I've posted about previously.  Even though her success has caused the Meat Sections blog to be put on the backburner, she's still doing some great beer art.

Below is another great example of her work that was recently completed, wherein the Anantomy of a Beer is sectioned out (with prints available here).   

While Meat Sections is on hiatus, Alyson's main blog (Drywell Art) is regularly updated with plenty of 'Food' related art and features the beer-friendly artwork from time to time.  Check out out prior posts about Meat Sections to get a few more examples of why I've been a fan of Alyson's site.



"Beer is a wholesome liquor.  It abounds with nourishment."
-Dr. Benjamin Rush

Thursday, December 8, 2011

CAMRA Iron Brewer Competition

My local homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale, decided to host a club-only Iron Brewer, based on club member experience with the real Iron Brewer competition and general interest in the idea.  We decided to adopt as many of the Iron Brewer rules as practical to make implementation of the contest easier.  The brewing timeline was extended slightly to fit with our meeting schedule.  The club reached out to Peter Kennedy, who runs Iron Brewer, to have him pick the three theme ingredients.  He selected:

In a similar manner to Round 6 of Iron Brewer, I was well-acquainted and comfortable with two of the theme ingredients, and completely unfamiliar with the other one.  The chocolate malt again guided me in the brown ale direction because to use it in any paler beer would not highlight the malt character enough to allow it to stand out.  But, I did not want to repeat another American brown ale, and the Palisade hops provide a fruity, but not aggressive citrus character, that does not match American styles on its own.  So, I thought I would go the Belgian Brown route, but not in the vein of an Oud Bruin.  I decided to use a standard brown ale recipe, but selected Abbey Ale yeast that I hoped would provide some complementary fruit character and some light phenolics to enhance the Palisade hops.  The agave nectar was an unknown factor and I decided to use it instead of simple sugar that is often found in Belgian beer recipes.

The beer is brewed and carbonated and the competition will occur at the CAMRA meeting next week.  I am happy with how the flavors have melded together, though they took a while.  Several flavors are in the background of the beer that I attribute to the agave syrup, which can be primarily described as melon with hints of citrus.  The Belgian yeast phenolics and fruitiness are also there, and in balance with the other flavors.  We will see how it does.  

Have any other clubs out there tried to do an internal Iron Brewer competition?  If so, leave us a comment with the details and how the event was received by your club.




Boosted Belgian Brown
Brewer: Tom Wallace

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 8.0 gal
O.G.: 1.051
F.G.: 1.013
SRM: 22
IBU: 26
ABV: 5.0%
Mash: 151 F for 60 Minutes
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt                   Name      
7 lbs                 Pale Ale Malt 2-Row (Briess) (3.5 SRM)      
1 lbs 8.0 oz          Vienna Malt (Briess) (3.5 SRM)  
12.0 oz               Chocolate (Briess) (350.0 SRM)    
8.0 oz                Caramunich I (Weyermann) (51.0 SRM)        
8.0 oz                Victory Malt (biscuit) (Briess) (28.0 SRM)
1 lbs                 Raw Blue Agave Syrup      
28.00 g               Palisade [6.70 %] - Boil 60.0 min  
1.00 Items            Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)    
14.00 g               Palisade [6.70 %] - Boil 5.0 min    
1.0 pkg               Abbey Ale (White Labs #WLP530)          

Brewed for CAMRA internal Iron Brewer competition

11/13/2011 - Dropped to lager temps.

11/14/2011 - Added 3 tsp gelatin in 1 cup 140 F water to help clarify.

11/16/2011 - Kegged.  SRM ~ 22.  Beer is very dark brown with no head.  Aroma is faintly yeasty, with some hints of black pepper.  Initial perception of flavor is watery, with mid-palate spice and fruit, followed by a dry finish.

12/04/2011 - Flavors have melded much better together.  Hints of Belgian phenolics and a strange citrus/melon character I attribute to the agave syrup.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shower Them with Beer!

A recent tweet from Firestone Walker Brewing Company and gave me a chuckle and amazed me at people's creativity.  Meet the Shakoozie.  This magical device allows its user to enjoy a beer while in the shower.  Just pause and think about that.  Showers bring hot relaxation and beer brings cold relaxation.  Combine the two opposites together and there must be magic, much like sweet and sour sauce.  The Shakoozie allows beer to be placed away from annoying things like warm water spray and soap suds.  It also insulates the beer glass (please do not drink your beer directly from the bottle) from the heat of the shower and keeps it cool.  Wow!

To be honest, the idea of showering with a beer never occurred to me.  I am trying to imagine the set of circumstances that led the inventor of the Shakoozie down that road.  Perhaps the inventor was trying to recover from a hangover using two different methods, or perhaps the inventor loves to multi-task and just could not put that beer down.  Who can say what the impetus for the invention was, but I can say that reading about the Shakoozie gave me a good laugh during a busy week, which is very appreciated.  Who knows, maybe I will have to try it out some day.



Monday, November 28, 2011

BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse

I wanted to put up a short post about my experience at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse.  My family was recently on vacation at Disney World in Florida and I noticed an advertisement for BJ's Restaurant in the greater Orlando area.  BJ's Director of Contract Brewing, Michael Ferguson, better known as Mufasa, has been a regular guest on The Brewing Network.  His brewing knowledge, passion for drinkable beers that go well with food, and his laughter were very memorable.  I made a mental note to try going to a BJ's Restaurant if the opportunity presented itself, and was able to convince my family to go there after Disney closed for the night.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was a bit similar to an Applebees, but much more modern, with an impressive bar area and the requisite television screens.  There were large posters on the wall of their different label art, along with a cool mural of farmers and barley fields.  The decor was tastefully done and very welcoming.  The restaurant offered a full selection of the BJ's beers and we tried the Piranha Pale Ale, Nutty Brewnette, Tatonka Stout, and their triple berry cider (not sure of the name and it is not on their website).  We really liked the pale ale and the brown ale for their interesting and nuanced flavors, but all of the beer went well with the food.  The Orlando location also had a large number of guest taps, which is unique for most brewpubs I have experienced.  The guest beers ranged from local brews from the Orlando Brewing Company, to craft beer standards.  I commend the use of guest taps, and is shows a more sophisticated view of the craft beer industry than many brew pubs offer.  They can make money off the other beers, and although perhaps not as much as their own pints, it should help draw a more diverse crowd to the restaurant.

The food was also excellent.  The BJ's menu was huge, well over 12 pages, and was almost overwhelming.  This included the normal pub fare, but also a wide range of deep dish pizzas, entrées and desserts.  There were a number of items under $20 and that was a welcome change from the prices our family was paying in the Disney parks.  The pizza and appetizers we shared were very good and would happily go back again.

To sum it up, the experience was all I hoped for from the information I heard in the interviews with Michael Ferguson.  The meal was a memorable part of our vacation and I only wish they had a location in Virginia.  If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend it.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Poll: How Often Do You Homebrew?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we recieved on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the question "How Often Do You Brew Beer At Home?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 25

This past year, my brewing frequency has dropped from being in the majority (ever 2-3 weeks) to once ever 2-3 months.  While the number of open kegs used to drive my brew days, it seems the new house and other life activities have moved me to the right on the above chart.  Certainly more so than I would like.

In rolling up the poll results, I wanted to hear what people are doing to make their brew days more efficient, and therefore more frequent.  We've all had one or two brew days that never got off the ground as the 'effort' to pull out all the equipment and dedicate ~6 hours was enough incentive to procrastinate.  That seems to be happening to me more than I would like.  So how do you make the brew day easier?  What tips or equipment have made your brewing more efficient?

Let us know what you think.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up awaiting your participation.



"Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health.
-Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Collaborative Beer Repeat - Wheat Wine

One of my favorite beers from last year was Midnight Wheat, the collaborative wheat wine braggot that Jeff and I made last Thanksgiving.  To my tastes, the beer has exceptional flavor complexity and aged well.  It also scored the highest number of points I have ever received in a BJCP homebrew competition.  For all these reasons, I was keen to repeat the beer this year.  Additionally, my good friend, Kenny, owner of The Fermentation Trap, wanted to brew the beer too.  So, we scheduled a double brew day and began planning.  We immediately ran into some trouble.

Midnight Wheat is a big beer, with over 10 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).  To get that concentration of alcohol, the recipe requires a lot of grain.  The original 5 gallon recipe called for over 17 pounds of grain and 5 pounds of honey.  That amount of grain barely fit into the 10 gallon mash tun, so doubling the amount would certainly exceed its volume.  So, we elected to attempt to use two mash tuns and combine the runnings into one brew pot for the boil.  This creates some more complicated logistics because the specialty malts need to be divided roughly evenly between the two mash tuns, especially any dark roasted grains.  If all of the dark roasted grains went into one mash tun, the resulting mash could become too acidic and impact conversion rates.

Big beers also impact the efficiency a brewing system returns.  By cramming as much grain as possible into the mash tun, the water to grain ratio decreases because some of the brewing water is removed to fit more grain into the tun.  Additionally, the grain receives less sparge water, per pound, then it would for a lower gravity wort.  My system usually gets between 70 and 75 percent efficiency for "normal" strength beers (4 to 6 percent ABV), but this decreases to 60 percent efficiency or lower for very strong beers.  This lower efficiency resulted in Midnight Wheat requiring an extra 3 pounds of dried malt extract (DME) being added near the end of the boil last year to boost the gravity.  For the second batch, I tried to correct this by assuming a lower efficiency and adding more base malt.  We still ended up being about 7 gravity points short and did not have the DME on hand to boost it up.

All in all, it was a fun brew session and a gorgeous Fall day to be making beer on the back deck.  I was glad that Kenny brought his full system along so that we two sparge tanks and a separate burner for additional heating capacity.  The beer is bottled now and initial flavor samples contain the complex, layered sugar character that I love so much in the first batch.  Time will tell if it is as good as the first batch that Jeff and I made, given that we did not have any of Jeff's fresh Rhode Island honey and we made some hop substitutions.




Recipe: Midnight Wheat
Brewer: Tom Wallace
Asst Brewer: Kenny Thacker
Style: Specialty Beer

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 14.28 gal
Post Boil Volume: 13.26 gal
O.G.: 1.094
F.G.: 1.014
SRM: 10
IBU: 40
ABV: 10.8%
Mash: 154 F for 60 Minutes
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt                   Name                                    
6.00 g                Baking Soda (Mash 60.0 mins)        
2.00 g                Calcium Chloride (Mash 60.0 mins)          
2.00 g                Chalk (Mash 60.0 mins)
2.00 g                Calcium Chloride (Boil 60.0 mins)            
2.00 g                Chalk (Boil 60.0 mins)          
1 lbs                   Rice Hulls (0.0 SRM)    
17 lbs                 Maris Otter (Crisp) (4.0 SRM)    
11 lbs 8.0 oz      White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)      
3 lbs 8.0 oz        Wheat, Torrified (1.7 SRM)      
1 lbs 12.8 oz      Caramel Wheat Malt (46.0 SRM)        
9.6 oz                Caramunich Malt (56.0 SRM)            
56.70 g              Pearle [6.50 %] - Boil 60.0 min  
42.52 g              Magnum [12.30 %] - Boil 60.0 min  
1.00 Items         Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)
56.70 g              Hallertauer Hersbrucker [2.60 %] - Boil  15.0 min  
56.70 g              Williamette [4.80 %] - Boil 15.0 min    
6.0 pkg              Safale - US05 (Fermentis #US05)      
10 lbs                 Honey (1.0 SRM)  

10/9/11 - Lowered IBUs in recipe from 60 to 40 after double check of last year's calculations showed they were incorrect and actual IBUs in beer was about 40, using Rager.  Also, because of lower efficiency than planned, if we do the recipe again, make sure to have DME on hand to boost at end to hit target gravity.

11/2/11 - Beer is very cloudly and carbonated.  I did not add gelatin this year, unlike the last batch.  The beer smells yeasty and there are hints of the complex sugar character I like so much in the last batch.  Flavor is similar to the last batch, but a bit muddled.

11/3/11 - Bottled.  Used 4 carb tabs (Muntons) per bottle.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Diminutive Belgian Golden Strong

With Thanksgiving around the corner and the fact that we will have plenty of guests visiting come Turkey day, this weekend I broke out the brew kettle so I could be ready with fresh beer on tap. In searching for what beer to brew, I kept coming back to one of my favorite recipes – a Belgian Golden Strong (BGS) which has won me several awards. However, keeping everyone’s cup full of a 9% ABV beer is wanting for trouble. So what about trying to shrink the recipe down for a more sessionable Belgian Pale Ale (BPA)?  That could prove to be an entertaining experiment and (hopefully) a good beer to boot. 

Using Tom’s two prior posts on making big beers smaller as reference, I went about modifying the recipe for my BGS into a BPA. If I could get the similar flavor profile and dry finish, the end result would be excellent. I was fortunate in that the recipe is fairly simple and straight forward. Tom had mentioned his trouble with modifying our Wheat Wine Braggot recipe, which had a complex list of ingredients (multiple wheat malts, two types of honey, etc). For the BGS, there were only three ingredients which I am hoping will simplify the scaling process. 

For the BPA malt bill, I did not change the amount of either specialty grains (Wheat, Melanoiden) from the original BGS recipe.  Only the base malt was modified.  Additionally, the BGS calles for 2 lbs of sugar to be added, which was dropped.  Lastly, I dropped the number of IBU's a bit to make sure the bitterness stayed in balance.

The brew day went off well with the only trouble being the gusty winds that knocked over everything except the brew kettle. Reflecting back after the brew day, there were to modifications to the recipe that I am conflicted on. The first was that the local homebrew shop did not have the yeast I wanted (WLP570), so I had to take a substitution (WLP500). Secondly, I kept going back and forth with whether to leave the beer color the golden hue that the BGS would have been, or to modify it so that it was within the color ranges of the BJCP guidelines (which makes it more of an amber beer). I’m still gritting my teeth about it, but I did add 2 oz of Weyerman’s Carafa Special II to darken the SRM color.  The Carafa should add minimal flavor contributions, so I'm hoping the only effect is on the appearance.

While the beer is not an exact translation of my favored recipe, I did enjoy the recipe modification exercise and I’ve got a beer bubbling away in the fermentor to look forward to. Below is the recipe I ended up brewing – I’ll be sure to report back on how it turned out in a future post.

Belgian Not-so-Golden, Not-so-Strong Ale

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 11.13
OG: 1.050
FG: ?
SRM: 9.2
IBU: 24.6 (Rager)
ABV: 5% (target)
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73%
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

10.0 lbs German Pilsner Malt
0.50 lbs Melanoiden Malt
0.50 lbs White Wheat Malt
2.0 oz Carafa Special II Malt

All hops are pellet hops
1.1 oz Sterling (6% AA) at 60 minutes

WLP500 - Trappist Ale Yeast (2L starter)

Mash Schedule
60 min at 152° F

Brewed on 11/12/2011 by myself.

After the boil was complete, chilling was accomplished with an immersion chiller.  Being a little lazy on brew day, I let the wort chill for 2-3 hours before racking it into the fermentor.

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

Aerated wort was placed in the fermentation chamber at around 60° F.  The beer was allowed to free rise up to 67° F, where the temp controller kicked in to maintain a 67° C fermentation temp.

Fermentation activity kicked off within 24 hours of pitching.



"It is not 'just beer', it is a noble and ancient beverage which, like wine, food, and television advertising, can be extraorinarily good or unmercifully bad."
-Stephan Beaumont

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cohumulone Ranges by Hop Variety (Hop Union)

Below is the second Hop Variety Chart, which visually compares the cohumulone ranges of each hop variety from Hop Union's Hop Variety Handbook.  Cohumulone, an alpha acid found in hops, in higher levels is widely believed to present a harsh, unpleasant bitterness as well as have a negative impact on head retention.

As mentioned in the first Hop Variety Chart, this project is intended to visually compare the critical parameters of each hop variety 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 Hop Variety chart(s) previously posted:
If you would like a higher resolution PDF of this or any of the charts, just shoot me an email.  I'm more than happy to share them.



"I adore simple pleasures.  They are the last refuge of the complex."
-Oscar Wilde

Monday, November 7, 2011

So That's How They Get the "Super" In The Beer....

If you've spent enough time in front of the television on any given Sunday, you're bound to get bombarded with promotions and marketing from the industrial lager brewers.  While the majority of the adds are playing on stereotypes or targeting their demographics weakness for scantily clad women (wait, what's wrong with that again?), there are a few that jump out as original.

The video below is not from American television, but it belongs in the "wow" category. From the Australian brewery Hahn's, the commercial explains just how they get that special something into their beer. Saturated in just about every 80s cliche, this is the brewery for T.J. Hooker, Hasselhoff, and Magnum P.I. All that is missing is the red Ferrari.

Make sure your volume is on and enjoy...

If anyone has any rhinestone Elvis Jackets, my fermentors is now seeming in need.

Thanks to J. Foley for forwarding the link several moons ago. 



"Milk is for babies. When you grow up, you have to drink beer."
-Arnold Schwarzenegger

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Session #57: Beery Confession - Clear Beer

Welcome to The Session - a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic.  For the month of November, Steve Lamond, from Beers I've Known, chose "Beery Confessions: Guilty Secrets/Guilty Pleasure Beer" as the collective topic to explore.  A round-up of all the blog posts will be posted in the near future.  You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday ("The Session") over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Reading this topic immediately started my mind thinking about experiences in college.  I attended Allegheny College, in Meadville, PA, during four wonderful years in the mid 1990s.  Like many others, my college life was enhanced by alcohol and the camaraderie of friends at parties and bars.  But, my college days house a dark secret, especially given my current passion for homebrewing and beer blogging.  In college, I loved Zima!  That's right, Zima!

Many people do not know that Pennsylvania has an old law that requires distributors to sell beer by the case.  Residents cannot purchase beer or malt-based beverages by the six-pack or bomber unless they are bought from bars or special bottle stores, both of which charge a hefty mark-up.  Being a poor college student, that meant my friends and I usually stuck to bottom-shelf liquor or cheap beer like Keystone Ice ($8.00 a case at the time).  However, we soon discovered that a case of Zima could be purchased for close to the same price, and that a greater number of people preferred it.  More people sharing the cost means less cash outlay per person, which makes a college student quite happy.

Zima also offered excellent "mixing" opportunities.  You could mix it with a number of different juices for interesting results, such as orange juice that made a screwdriver "lite."  However, my all-time favorite way to drink Zima was with a Jolly Rancher chaser.  By sucking on the Jolly Rancher hard candy at the same time as drinking Zima, you effectively flavored each sip.  The possibilities were endless and I was particularly fond of using the grape and cinnamon flavors.  Given that Jolly Ranchers were relatively cheap, they extended Zima's flavor flexibility in a manner that really stretched the dollar, which also makes a college student quite happy.

So that is my deep dark Beery Confession.  I loved Zima in college.  I have not had one in quite a while, and I do not really feel the pull to do so now, even if I could.  But, at that time in place in my life, Zima was much more prevalent than the craft beer I enjoy today.



Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween from Lug Wrench

With America celebrating our tribute to All Hallow's Eve today, Tom and I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Halloween.  And what better way to celebrate the ghost and ghouls out there than a pint of an old favorite: Wychwood's Hobgoblin.

And for those homebrewers out there, the Brewing Network did a great job putting together Hobgoblin clone - give it a try if your a fan.



"Meet me down at the bar! We'll drink breakfast together."
-W. C. Fields

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Garrett Oliver's Four-Course Beer Dinner

Beer and food pairing interest is growing across the United States.  Craft beer, which was once maligned when compared to wine in food pairings, is now a popular accompaniment and even ingredient in food.  Shows like The Home Brewed Chef on The Brewing Network, events like Savor, and articles in Brew Your Own magazine and Zymurgy all show this trend.  Even, the website of the Brewers Association, has an entire section on beer and food, which features a wide variety of recipes and tasting suggestions, including steps to host your own pairing event. also recently featured instructions and recipes for conducting a four-course beer dinner by Garrett Oliver.

Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and a well-known expert on beer dinners.  His book, The Brewmaster's Table, is considered one of the key guides to food and beer pairing and he has even appeared on The Food Network's Iron Chef America series.  In the feature, Garret presents four dishes that "normal" people can prepare, along with recommended beer pairings.  The recipes include:

  • Linguine Carbonara Paired with a Belgian-style Dark Abbey Ale
  • Indian-spiced Crab Cakes Paired with an India Pale Ale
  • Roast Rack of Lamb Paired with a Brown Ale or Porter
  • Imperial Stout Float
The thing I like best about these recipes is that they are designed to allow you to host the dinner party.  This means that you should be able to socialize and interact with your guests, rather than slaving in the kitchen the whole time.  The recipes feature clear instructions on organization and what to do ahead of time and how to minimize work when the guests arrive.  They are well thought-out and clearly the result of Garrett's experience in the kitchen.

The other thing I like about the recipes is that they are interesting and different.  They do not feature the same tried and true beer pairings, but instead would likely expand the cooking skills of many home chefs and the palates of many participants.  While a bit exotic, they also feature ingredients that should be easily found in most parts of the country.

While I don't think I will be doing the entire dinner anytime soon, I do intend to give the Linguine Carbonara and the Imperial Stout Float sometime in the future.



Monday, October 24, 2011

Big Brew: Foreign Export Stout

Over this past weekend, members of my homebrew club (Rhode Island Fermentation Technicians) got together for a Club Big Brew.  Typically, we pick a recipe, brew up 50+ gallons, and everyone goes home with a full carboy or two.  For this most recent club brew, the club picked a recipe from Lug Wrench's past: a Foreign Export Stout.  About 18 months ago, I brewed this FES as part of a collaboration we did with the Mad Fermentationist.  The result was an excellent stout - one that I have been looking forward to rebrew.

With 13 or 14 brewers taking part, we targeted 70 gallons of wort, made the appropriate substitutions, and plugged the recipe into brewing software.  The resulting grain bill (157 lbs!) is listed below along with a few photos from the event.  With the exception of fighting through a stuck sparge, the brew went relatively smoothly.  Thanks to all those who attended and an extra thank you to the host (John C.) for letting us descend on his house and use his equipment.

The "brewhouse"

Mashing In

150+ lbs of spent grains

The Mad Fermentationist's Foreign Export Stout - RIFT's Take

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 66 gallons
Total Grain (lbs): 157
OG: 1.068
FG: ?
SRM: 31
IBU: 51.6 (target)
ABV: ?
Brewhouse Efficiency: 82%
Wort Boil Time: 60 minutes

130.0 lbs Pale Malt (2-Row)
13.0 lbs Flaked Barley
7.0 lbs Roasted Barley
4.0 lbs Chocolate Malt
3.0 lbs Black Patent Malt 

All hops are pellet hops
10.0 oz Magnum (13.0% AA) at 60 minutes
5.0 oz Willamette (5.0% AA) at 20 minutes
4.0 oz Willamette (5.0% AA) at 20 minutes

Cal Ale yeast (from a local brewery)

Brewed on 10/23/11 with RIFT club members

*   *   *



"He was a wise man who invented beer."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pizza Quest - The Big Reveal

I mentioned in a previous post that Peter Reinhart and Pizza Quest have been working on a cool project with The Bruery.  While doing a segment with Kelly Whitaker of Pizzeria Basta, in Boulder, CO, the Pizza Quest crew were turned onto The Bruery's unique and different beer.  One of the Pizza Quest producers, Brad English, lives near The Bruery and started talking with Patrick Rue.  Those conversations resulted in a challenge nicknamed The Big Reveal.

The basic premise was to reverse the typical beer and food pairing, where food is prepared to match a given beer.  Instead, Kelly Whitaker and the Pizza Quest crew challenged The Bruery to design and produce a beer based on a special pizza that they created.  The caveat being that the challenge pizza would involve some unique and different ingredients, which matches well with The Bruery's brewing philosophy.  The pizza crust was built on Italian double zero flour, pumpernickel rye flour, and crushed amber crystal malt, which pulls in the beer theme even more.  The pizza was topped with fresh burrata cheese (a blend of fresh mozzarella wrapped around creme fraiche), sweet white sardines, preserved lemon, squash blossoms, fresh arugula sprouts, and fennel salt.

In response, The Bruery created a biere de garde style ale called Birra Basta.  The malt base included pilsner, six-row, munich, biscuit, amber, and aromatic malts.  It was hoped with Columbus and Strisselspalt hops.  To match the pizza, Birra Basta included a variety of other spices and ingredients, including roasted zucchini, fennel seeds, lemon peel, and Spanish cedar.  The zucchini, perhaps the most interesting ingredient, was used in the mash, while the other ingredients were added to the fermenter.

To top it all off, The Big Reveal featured a public beer and pizza pairing event during the Great American Beer Festival, on September 30th, at the Summit Beer Garden.  The pizza was baked by Kelly Whitaker outside the restaurant on a portable wood-fired oven.  Birra Basta was served from a special keg and the tasters could compare it with the pizza.  The general perception was that the pairing worked magically, with the unusual ingredients in the beer matching with the white pizza perfectly.  Peter Reinhart summed it up:

"But here's how I experienced the flavors when I had them all together: they worked! What I mean, and I'll try to describe this without hyperbole or fake gastronomic melodrama, the beer really did change, and so did the pizza, when we had them together. The best way I can describe it is that they both took on a new degree of depth, as if the flavors of one filled in the blanks of the other and a wholly new level of completeness revealed itself."

What an excellent idea and one that we can hope will be carried out further.  Being homebrewers, we have an even greater ability to design beers to go with specific foods or meals because of our smaller batch sizes.  Give something like that a try and let us know how it turns out.

A list of Peter Reinhart's blog posts about The Big Reveal include:



Monday, October 17, 2011

Poll: What's Your Favorite German Lager?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we received on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the question "What's your favorite German lager?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 16

Given the time of year this poll was active, its no wonder that Oktoberfest is on everyone's mind.  With Marzens being a favored style of mine in particular, the fall seasonal line ups from breweries is always a welcome site. 

What surprised me the most about the results has to be the stand out performance of the Schwarzbier.  There are very few commercial examples of the style here in the US, which leads me to the question of where this love for the german black lager comes from.  A regional breweries special tap handle?  A homebrewer's favorite recipe?

Let us know what you think of the results and if you voted, let us know the origin of why you prefer your favorite style.  And, if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up awaiting your participation.



"No matter how rich you are, you can still only drive 17 tp 18 liters of beer a day"
-Anonymous German nobleman

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Helping a First-Time Brewer

One of the great joys of this hobby is that there is a real support community to help brewers of all levels.  When I first started, a grad-student friend of mine invited me over to watch a brew day on his system and then helped me with my first brewing session.  So much information can be conveyed through watching someone work through their brewing process and by asking questions.  It goes a long way to take away the mysterious and intimidating aspects of the hobby and encourages people to take the first step.

I recently had the opportunity to "pay it forward" with a good friend of mine, Tres, who purchased a brewing kit.  He and I met at the Fermentation Trap and picked out some equipment and an English Brown Ale extract kit.  Later on, we got together at his house to brew the kit, celebrate with a few pints of beer, and enjoy each other's company.  Our wives and children are also good friends, so it was a very enjoyable afternoon.

Teaching a subject is one of the best ways to both demonstrate how much you know about a subject and determine how much you still can learn.  I find the act of explaining the brewing process, at least how I do it, and responding to questions helps me look at the steps in a new light and can lead to new ideas.  In this case, I had not done an extract brew in quite some time and had to dredge some of the steps up from memory (and the kit instructions helped as well).

If you ever have a chance to introduce someone to the hobby and share a brew session with them, I highly encourage it.

Thanks to Tres for the afternoon and to Cyndi for sending along the great pictures, some of which appear below.



Adding the steeping grains 

DME sticking to the sides of the bag 

Hops added to the boil 

Hydrometer reading of the wort 

Pitching yeast 

Love the carboy! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Columbus Day!

For those of you here in the US, Lug Wrench Brewing would like to wish you all a Happy Columbus Day.  Here in New England, we've been blessed with outstanding weather on this holiday weekend.  Hopefully you and yours have had the chance to kick back, enjoy some good weather, and quaff a great beer while you do. 

And for those of you outside the US or other locations who don't honor this holiday, we wish you a ... um ... Happy Monday.



"Riches don't make a man rich, they only make him busier."
-Christopher Columbus

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mac's Brewbars - New Zealand

New Zealand has a burgeoning craft beer industry that defies its small overall population size.  Authors like Jamil Zainasheff have been writing about New Zealand's impressive, but little known, beer scene.  Breweries like Epic and 8 Wired Brewing Company have been gaining international attention for their products.

I am fortunate to have co-workers to periodically travel to New Zealand and bring me back stories about the beer they try.  With this latest trip, they were talking about a brew pub called Mac's Brewbar that they found while looking at a stadium being used for the Rugby World Cup.

From Mac's website, it appears that the company runs a franchise of brew pubs throughout New Zealand, with eight locations on the North and South Islands.  They feature a variety of different beers, including Gold All Malt Lager, Spring Tide Lower-Carb Lager, Hop Rocker Pislner, Sassy Red Best Bitter, Black Mac Dark Beer, and Great White Cloudy Wheat Beer.  In addition to bringing back stories, my co-workers carried several Mac's bar coasters with them.  I have included pictures of a few with this post.

I really like Mac's branding style.  It ties directly to the chalk boards seen at bars and breweries across the world, featuring the various beers on tap or bottle.  The chalky block lettering is apparent on the coasters, where one side features the beer's name and the other has a cheeky and sarcastic description of the beer.  The branding carries forward to the beer labels and even on the strange ribbing found on the necks of the beer bottles.  The website features similar fonts and looks great, even if it loads slowly from the other side of the world.

Thanks to my co-workers, Craig and Stephanie, for bringing the coasters and the stories back with them.



Monday, October 3, 2011

Making Bread with Wort

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have a passion for making bread.  It is a process that is surprisingly similar to making beer and is, to me, equally satisfying.  Given the similarities in process (both use yeast, both are built from cereal grains, etc.), there must be ways of combining the two together.  I have had mixed success by making flour out of malted grain several times and working it into a bread recipe as part of the flour bill.  I have also tried to substitute beer as a portion of the water mixture in the dough composition.  This resulted in a very dense bread, where the yeast activity was likely impacted by the alcohol concentration of the beer.  While the resulting flavor was interesting, the technique seemed more suited to quick breads, where the leavening comes from chemical reactions instead of from yeast metabolism.

But I recently came across an idea on the Pizza Quest website that set my creative gears turning.  Pizza Quest is a great website that chronicles Peter Reinhart, one of my favorite bread authors, and his quest to find incredible pizza and those who make it.  The site features short webisodes that are recorded with various pizza makers and other chefs, as well as recipes, techniques, and other commentaries.  Pizza Quest has been working on a beer and pizza challenge with The Bruery that I plan to cover in another post.  That series generated a reader suggestion that said, why don't you use wort in bread?

What a fantastic idea!  It would remove the alcohol-retardation problem when finished beer is used directly in the dough.  Being a liquid, it would blend easier in dough, and if used in higher quantities, should not result in any kind of husky or grainy flavor.  I had to try it.

The next day, I set about making my favorite sourdough recipe, Norwich Sourdough, from the Wild Yeast blog.  I selected this recipe because I have made it literally dozens of times and I am familiar with how the finished bread tastes and smells, as well has how the dough responds during rise times.  I took the base recipe, and substituted the water for a mash made of malted grain, which I used a Cara-Red malt that I had in stock.  I used 15 percent by weight of malt, when compared to the water (90 grams of malt to 600 grams of water).  I ground the malt by briefly pulsing in a cleaned coffee mill.  I mixed the water and the grain together and heated the mixture to about 150 F, then let it cool to room temperature.  I then poured the mixture through a coffee filter, to separate the solids, and used that in the dough.  The grains absorbed about 140 grams of water during the heating process, so I added back normal tap water to make up for the loss.  The rest of the baking process followed the recipe as normal.

The resulting loaves were darker than usual.  The most noticeable difference was that the crust had an almost candy-coating like hardness.  It definitely took some work to get through it with the knife, but once through the outer layer, the bread crumb was a normal sourdough consistency.  Upon tasting the bread, the crust really crackled in your mouth, again like a candy-coating, but without the sweetness.  The bread flavor itself was not remarkably different, perhaps a little richer.

This is definitely something I plan to play with more.  The next attempt will probably use a darker malt, probably pale chocolate, in a lower percentage because of its more intense flavor.  I would encourage any of our baker readers to try to do the same and let us know how the bread turns out.



90 grams of Cara-Red malt used to make wort for bread 

Separating the spent grain to use the wort in the bread dough 

Resulting bread dough is darker than normal

Friday, September 30, 2011

200th Post: Still Going Strong....

I would not have guessed we would have made it this far when Tom and I started this little 'project', but here is our bicentenial post.  I'm a bit of a data hound, so as I've done for our prior milestone posts, here's a roll up of all the content that have passed through these pages.

As of today...

Number of Posts: 200
Number of Days Old: 635
Number of Comments: 110
Number of Subscribers (via Feedburner): 97

Top 10 Pages Visited (via Google Analytics):
  1. Single Hop Beer Experiment (1,108 page views)
Number of Tags: 233
Top Ten Tags:
  1. Nanobrewery (19 tags)
  2. Humor (18 tags)
  3. Competitions (17 tags)
  4. Homebrew Recipe (17 tags)
  5. Poll Results (17 tags)
  6. Breweries (17 tags)
  7. Homebrewing Clubs (16 tags)
  8. Interview (16 tags)
  9. Collaborative Beers (15 tags)
  10. Nanobrewery Interviews (15 tags)
Number of Lug Wrench Collaborative Beers: 6
Number of Gallons of Collaborative Beers Brewed: 36 gallons
Number of Gallons Remaining: ?
Look for our 201st post to be coming out next week and we are hoping to keep up the same posting cadence moving forward.  As always, if you have any comments, suggestions, or questions about anything on the site, please let us know - we always love hearing from readers.



"If God had intended us to drink beer, He would have given stomachs."
-David Daye
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