Monday, February 28, 2011

Nanobrewery Interviews: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Part 2)

While many of us have toyed with the thought of starting up our own nanobrewery, there are others who have taken the plunge. To find out who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Idle Hands Craft Ales
Everett, MA

As a follow-up to the first half of our interview with Grace and Chris Tkach, owners of Idle Hands Craft Ales, this post presents the conclusion of our conversation with the new nanobrewery.  Idle Hands, which was founded in 2010, is planning to release its first beer before the summer of 2011.

*   *   *

Lug Wrench (LW): Where did you get the inspiration for the beers you plan to commercialize? How did you pick your range of offerings?

Idle Hands (IH): Chris has always had a fascination with Belgian beer and the concept of pairing beer and food. So the beers that we will produce will reflect those interests. As much as Chris loves hoppy IPAs, he does feel that the style has been a little overdone and wants to offer something a bit unique. We’ve decided to take the idea and turn it on its head a bit which was the inspiration for our first beer, Pandora, a hoppy Belgian pale ale. Pandora is not tongue-numbing bitter, but we think the citrusy characteristics of the late hop additions play wonderfully with the Belgian yeast. It is a beer that you can drink a lot of in one sitting yet still have taste buds left over for other (food) flavors.

Other mainstay beers for Idle Hands originate from the homebrewed beers that Chris has made in the past - ones which have been well received in both competitions as well as with our friends. Our follow on beer to Pandora is called Brevity, a Belgian style Wit. The wit is one of Grace’s favorite beers and has always had a big following among our friends. It has been touted numerous times as ‘very refreshing’ and should be a nice option in late Spring/Summer.

Beyond Pandora and Brevity, we are still working out which beers will be ‘usual suspects’ versus which will be ‘specialty’ beers. Among the options include a single or patersbier, a dubbel, a quad and a golden strong. There are also plans to start barrel aging and souring beers from the start and Chris may even resurrect the barleywine recipe he used for our wedding favor beer (Double Happiness) as a specialty player. We won’t stick strictly to Belgian beers either but we do hope to inspire the theme of beer-food pairings with each offering.

LW: How do you plan to differentiate your beer from all the other offerings that are out there?

IH: We are hoping that Idle Hands can capitalize on being local and offering a focused product line. Boston has a great beer culture and we are fortunate to have a great market for good beer. However, the one thing we believe the city lacks is a lot of “local” beer options. While there are many New England breweries starting up, there are few that really find their home in Boston.

Additionally, many of the breweries that have started up offer a broad array of beers - many English style ales but very few Belgian options. In contrast, Idle Hands Craft Ales heavily leans towards Belgian styles for inspiration. Our plan is to focus on these styles of beers as our flagship and regular options, but we won’t rule out the occasional non-Belgian offering within our specialty line.

We love Belgian beers because of their complex nature and how they help to bring out the flavors of food. This complementary nature of our beer with food is one of the key attributes that we are promoting. As we get established, we hope to place increasing emphasis on beer-food pairings. There are so many flavors in beer in general that work with a large variety of foods; our beers will offer such variety. While the beer and foodie communities are becoming more and more engaged in beer-food pairings, we know that the general public does not realize how synergistic the two are.

In addition, there is an ever increasing movement around buying and sourcing local these days that we hope to capitalize upon. In particular, the “locavore” and “farm-to-table” movements are very strong in the Boston and surrounding metropolitan areas. Once we are able to get buy-in into such restaurants, our plan it to work with them to create unique beer pairings for their menu. Finally, we plan on highlighting recommended pairings on our website so that foodies and gastronomes can enjoy these options at home.

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

IH: Today, our biggest hurdle is the actual brewery buildout. It has been a very long road, one which has taken much more time than we expected. We thought the Federal licensing process would be the limiting factor but we were wrong! We know the buildout is a temporary hurdle, but knowing we are licensed to brew already, it is emotionally draining that we cannot start yet. There are many nights that Chris wakes up thinking about the brewery and what’s still left to be done. On top of that, we’ve had restaurants and stores ask us when they can expect to purchase our beers. It is frustrating that we have the interest and cannot meet their requests yet. We just hope we don’t lose momentum.

Once the brewery buildout is complete, our next hurdle will be sales and distribution. Since we are self-distributing and it is just the two of us who also have “day” jobs, our time for the brewery is limited to nights and weekends. Logistically speaking, it will be a challenge to offer samples and have conversations about Idle Hands and our beers with the individuals we need to in order to get to customers (i.e. restaurant owners, bar managers, beer buyers, etc.). We’ve already had some momentum on this front, but as most small business owners know, how do you continue this momentum and run the business at the same time - plus keep your day job!

Finally, looking into the future, capital for expansion will be our next hurdle. Given the current market, banks are being very careful about lending money. We hope to have an established business and consumer demand which will help to build our case for a small business loan.

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

IH: A lot of people have commented on how much they like our logo. We’re really excited about it and in particular, the way it was developed. A friend of ours had suggested utilizing a crowdsourcing website,, to get our logo developed. After putting together a comprehensive creative brief, we held a contest through this website to develop our logo. We received over 100 entries and after a two week period of critiquing the submissions, we were excited to select the winning logo after soliciting feedback from our Facebook fans. As a small business owner, you need to be resourceful about how you get things done. Developing our logo relied a lot on us knowing what we wanted to be, but it also enabled us to use the power of social media in getting something so important done.

In the spirit of trying to keep things local, we have been aiming to keep our dollars in the community where possible. Also, we are making sustainable (green) choices in inputs and outputs to our business. Though we are far from our goal of always making local and sustainable choices, as we mature and grow, we will do so with these ideals in mind.

LW: Lastly, our homebrewing readers always love a recipe – would you be willing to provide one for people to try?

IH: Here is one of my all time favorite beers to brew and drink. It’s a Scottish 70/- that is brewed in the traditional sense; with no caramel malts. All of the caramel flavors are developed in the kettle and from the boil down of the first runnings. I’m sure that at some point this beer will show up as a specialty release because I love it so much.

Scottish 70/-
batch size: 5.5 gallons
SG: 1.040
FG: 1.011
IBUs: 14

6 lbs 11oz - Scottish or English 2-row Pale Malt (I prefer Golden Promise but have used Marris Otter in the past which adds a slight nuttiness to the final beer)
20z - German Carafa II
1oz - Roasted Barley
1oz - Kent Goldings (4.5% AA)
1 vial - White Labs WLP028 (Edinburg)

Using a step mash routine, mash in at 144F with 1.2 quarts/lb and rest for 20 minutes. Then raise the temp to 158F and rest for another 40 minutes or until conversion has completed. Mash out at 168F.

Pull the first gallon of runnings into a separate pot and boil it down to less than 1 quart. This will create a light syrup filled with medium-light caramel flavors. While that 1st gallon is boiling down, continue the sparge.

I use the rule of thumb of ½ gallon water per pound of grain for any additional water used in the mashing and sparging process. So if you’re using an infusion mash routine with this recipe the maximum amount of water you would use with your additional infusions and sparging is 3.5 gallons (~ 7lbs of grain * 0.5 gallons/lb = 3.5 gallons).

Once you’ve finished sparging add any additional water to the kettle so that you start your boil with 6.75 gallons total. Boil for 90 minutes, adding the hops at 75 minutes and the boiled off first runnings when its been boiled down to the consistency of a light syrup (think warm pure maple syrup).

Chill the wort to 62F and pitch the yeast (I prefer to create a small 1 liter starter for this beer).

Ferment the beer at 65F for approximately 1 week or until fermentation has completed. Let the beer sit on the yeast for an additional 3-4 days after fermentation has completed so that the yeast will clean up any fermentation byproducts.

Transfer the beer to a keg and cold condition for 2-3 weeks at 40F, carbonate to 2 ATMs and enjoy!

* * *

If you want to find out more about Idle Hands Craft Ales, check out their website, or better yet, if you are in Boston, stop by the brewery.



“Beer should be enjoyed with the right mixture of abandon and restraint.”
-M.F.K. Fisher

Midnight Wheat Collaboration Beer Gets A Bronze

This year I entered one or two of the Lug Wrench Collaborative Beers into the 2011 Boston Homebrew Competition (BHC).  The results of the competition were announced yesterday and we were incredibly pleased that our Midnight Wheat collaboration beer placed third in the Fruit/Smoked/Wood-Aged/Specialty Beer category (out of 20 entries).

This marks the second medal in two years that a Lug Wrench collaborative beer has been awarded at the BHC. 

Midnight Wheat, which was a wheat wine brewed with local Rhode Island honey, was a collaboration brew done this past Thanksgiving while I was visiting Tom in Virginia.  The full recipe and background to the beer can be found in one of our prior blog postings.



"They who drink beer will think beer."
-Washington Irving

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beer Dinner: Valentine's Day

Beer dinners and cooking with beer have become topics of significant interest to the craft and homebrewing communities.  There are many factors responsible for this trend, ranging from the Slow Food movement to online resources, like The Homebrewed Chef on The Brewing Network, to books like Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table and Lucy Saunder's The Best of American Beer and Food.  The Brewers Association has also been running an annual event called Savour in Washington, DC that pairs gourmet food, cheese, and chocolate with craft beer from across America.  Even here at Lug Wrench, Jeff has experimented with cooking with beer for his Christmas dinner.  All of this information inspired me to attempt a beer dinner of my own, for Valentine's Day.

Many good beer dinners have a theme to help organize the experience.  The theme helps tie together the disparate parts of the meal and provides a novelty that can keep the guests guessing.  The November/December 2010 Zymurgy featured an article on organizing beer and food pairing dinners and discussed the importance of themes.  For the beer dinner I organized, the theme was American India Pale Ale (IPA).  My wife's favorite beer style is American IPA, especially those commercial examples with bright citrus flavors.  The beer dinner was organized around this theme, with each course both being prepared with an IPA and served with an IPA (the two beers used were Bell's Two Hearted IPA and Terrapin's Hopsecutioner).  The courses, and their inspiration, include:

Appetizer: Homemade Pretzels with IPA Mustard Sauce

Readers of Lug Wrench will note that, in addition to beer, I have a passion for making bread.  There are many similarities between bread and beer, including yeast, and I wanted the appetizer to feature a bread product.  Many people associate beer and pretzels together, so this seemed a logical pairing.  The pretzel recipe came from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day and I paired this with a Homebrew Chef recipe for Mustard Ale Sauce made with Two Hearted IPA.  The pairing worked really well.

Salad Course: Salad Greens with IPA Vinaigrette

The bright citrus character of Hopsecutioner lends itself to a salad dressing.  Taking information from Alton Brown's Good Eats, I created a vinaigrette that featured the IPA.  This course had the most freedom to it, as the dressing was created "on the fly" and I enjoyed dosing Alton Brown's vinaigrette with IPA until it tasted good, and then spicing with with salt, pepper, and a dash hot sauce.  The only problem with the dressing was that it was very thin.  The flavors were good, but if I tried again, the dressing would need to be thickened or some of the vinegar removed.

Main Course: Garlic IPA Brined Pulled Pork

The sweet flavor of roasted pork pairs well with the citrus quality of the Two Hearted IPA.  However, one of the challenges when cooking with IPA is that the bitterness of hoppy beer intensifies as the dish is cooked.  Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, addresses this problem by using the IPA in a brining liquid, which the pork is soaked in.  I loved the concept of this dish, especially when served with the Mustard Ale Sauce from the appetizer.  The problem I ran into was not giving the Boston Butt-cut pork sufficient time to cook low and slow.  The pork I served was cooked through, and very flavorful, but it had not cooked to a pulled texture, which would taken another hour or longer.

Dessert: IPA Peanut Brittle

I was at loss for how to use IPA in a dessert until I found this recipe on the Homebrew Chef site.  The citrus quality of the IPA comes through in the final candy, but the bitterness is balanced by the other strong caramel flavors.  The brittle was simple to make, and very tasty, though accurate temperature measurement is critical to having the brittle turn out properly (something homebrewers are likely used to).  The brittle can also be made ahead of time, which can help manage the hectic schedule of preparing a multiple course meal.

Preparing a beer dinner for Valentine's Day was a lot of fun and a great way to play with my wife's favorite beer style.  If you are considering making a beer dinner, spend some time thinking of a theme and make sure to plan adequately.  A little thought ahead of time can make the cooking process less hectic and more enjoyable.



Monday, February 21, 2011

Nanobrewery Interviews: Idle Hands Craft Ales (Part 1)

While many of us have toyed with the thought of starting up our own nanobrewery, there are others who have taken the plunge. To find out who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Idle Hands Craft Ales
Everett, MA

As we continue our series of nanobewery interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with Grace and Christopher Tkach, owners of Idle Hands Craft Ales. Idle Hands, which is located just north of Boston in Everett, MA, is a nanobrewery on the verge of releasing its first beer (Pandora), which should be out mid-to-late spring.  The brewery is a self-designed, custom-built 1.5 bbl system made from 55 gallon stainless steel barrels. The Tkachs have begun fermenting in 60 gallon plastic conicals for economical reasons, but plan to upgrade after the brewery has become more established.

Idle Hands is planning an extremely local approach to distribution, as they will be initially self-distributing their beer mainly within the 128 beltway of Boston. However, if you live outside of this region, the brewery will also have a tasting area to accommodate visitors and potentially fill growlers, pending town approval.

Below is the first part of our two part Q and A interview with Idle Hands Craft Ales.

*   *   *

Lug Wrench (LW): What inspired you to start-up Idle Hands Craft Ales?

Idle Hands (IH): The idea of starting a brewery was something Chris always dreamed about since he received his first homebrewing kit at the age of 21. However, it was not until the last 18 months, that the aspect of starting a brewery started to get some legs. Chris had been reading about nanobreweries cropping up in the industry and our decision was sealed after an impromptu stop and tour of Maine Beer Company, a nanobrewery in Portland, ME. After speaking with David Kleban, the owner at Maine, we realized - and he encouraged - that such a business was possible.

Once we visited Maine Beer Company, we realized that (starting a beer-related company) didn’t have to be that complicated. Starting small was a (relatively) inexpensive way to enter this business. It was incredible to learn that within just a year, the brewery was essentially paying for itself. After having this conversation with David and physically seeing a nanobrewery set-up, everything seemed much more accessible and things started to fall into place.

Most importantly, Chris received tremendous support for his beer throughout the years. From day one and throughout his 16 years of brewing, he had been submitting his beers to local competitions and had done quite well in many of them. Since his re-engagement in brewing over the last 4 years, he was brewing so much, he had more beer on hand than the two of us could feasibly consume. We attended lots of parties and hosted several ourselves where Chris’ homebrew was a mainstay and center of many conversations. Our friends often commented that his beer was “really good”, often “better than other commercial beers”. They often asked if he was going to sell it. It was those words of encouragement that helped to grow the entrepreneurial bug that had already been planted. While we know our friends can be biased in favor, there was something to be said for the support they had. That support, coupled with knowing that unbiased beer judges rated his beer well, encouraged both of us to run with the brewery. Whether or not we make all of the right business decisions, in the end, we are confident our product will be good!

LW: How did you gather the required capital to start the brewery?
IH: We are fortunate that Chris’ current and past “day jobs” enabled him to build up some savings which we are using to start the business. Our recent wedding gift fund has helped as well! We knew we did not want to bring in any outside partners or investors so that we could maintain full creative license with the brewery. At some point, however, we may look for investors as we grow but for the time being, we are 100% self-funded.
LW: How did you design your brewery? Where did you get all the equipment?
IH: Chris reads a lot about beer and the brewing industry. When we started to look into things more seriously, he had already read about other nanobreweries in the making. The brewing community is very open so he was able to make connections with those brewery owners and he asked a lot of questions on how they designed their systems. He took a lot of design cues from other nanobreweries including Hess Brewing and Breaker Brewing. Chris has an engineering degree so he was able to utilize some of his dusty engineering knowledge to incorporate ideas from other breweries with his own to design both the physical layout of the brewery and the brewhouse itself.
The 55 gallon stainless steel barrels came from a posting on Ebay. It was that posting that helped to inspire the entire brewstand process. From there it was about finding a welder that we trusted and drafting a set of drawings that he could follow. All of the fittings that got welded into the barrels came from supply houses like McMaster-Carr. Our fermenters were ordered from Tank Depot and we’ve used craigslist extensively for odds and ends including the walk-in cooler that will serve as both our fermentation room and cold room.
With the brewstand, the one thing that troubled Chris most was the height needed between the burners and the bottom of the barrels. There was a lot of conflicting information on what the best height was. We hired a welder who came up with an ingenious system that allows us to adjust the height of the burners and thus “tune” them to the brewer’s preference. Our welder also came up with an adjustable system on the mash tun so that the pivot point on the dump can be adjusted up or down which allows us to mash different amounts of grain without worrying about the stability of the pivoting mash tun.
LW: What’s the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started the brewery?
IH: We have realized that the craft beer industry is a very tight knit community. It is extremely collaborative and surprisingly not competitive. There is tremendous support in the group of aspiring breweries just here in the Boston area and we all tend to lean on each other for advice. Nationally, the support is there as well. We hope that this camaraderie continues as we all find our individual places in the market.
It has been great to see the excitement that people have for the project. Most people we have met have encouraged us to follow our dream and are excited to be part of it with us. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t receive an email from an eager fan asking a question or two about the brewery, whether they can help out or when they can expect our beer in the market. It’s been very validating.
LW: If you were speaking to an individual who is considering the prospect of opening their own nanobrewery, what advice would you give them?
IH: It’s not a project for the faint of heart. It’s very time consuming and you need to be prepared to spend more time than you think on other aspects of the business other than the beer. The beer almost becomes secondary to things such as finding a location, dealing with the local government, filing the paperwork, talking to potential customers, managing the buildout, etc. Chris has brewed less beer in the last 8 months than he was expecting - that is for sure!
Also, do whatever you can to find a space that is already 90% built to your needs and avoid having to build out the space yourself if you can.
Finally, just remember there are others out there who have done what you’re trying to do. It is possible - it is tough, but ultimately will be a very rewarding experience. The brewing community has been extremely supportive - reach out to them. We have met a lot of passionate brewers and fans who have offered their help, advice and/or moral support.
* * *

Part 2 of our interview with Idle Hands Craft Ales will be posted shortly. 

If you want to find out more about Idle Hands Craft Ales, check out their website, or better yet, if you are in Boston, stop by the brewery.



“For we could not now take time for further search (to land out ship) our victuals being much spent, especially our beere.”
-Ship’s log of the Mayflower

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Poll: Homebrewing Recipe Sources

Similar to what has been done for all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we recieved on our most recent blog poll.  The readers responsed to the question "Where do you get the majority of your homebrewing recipes?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 30

What I love about these results we received are twofold.  First, print media (whether magazines, books, fliers, etc) still account for a sizeable percentage of where people get their recipes.  In a nutshell, this may mean that people still like to feel paper on their fingertips when they are referencing recipes - more so than digital or online means.  I would conjecture that this may have something to do with the disposable nature of online media.   Recipes in paper-based publications may give the impression that the author would not have paid the publication costs unless the recipe was proven or 'good' - a sense that the recipe may have been previously validated.  Whereas anyone with a blog (...ahem...) can whimsically post a hair-brained recipe concept at anytime with no real implications as to whether the recipe is even worthwhile. 

The second point we can take from the results is that a very large contingent of responders are developing their own recipes, which is fantastic  It can be intimidating to begin building a recipe from scratch.  It took me a year or two before I was comfortable enough to being my own recipe formation, and even then I was just making modifications to existing ones.  Exploring the thought process and challenges of developing a recipe is the central premise of the Recipe Formulation Project that Tom and I have been exploring.  Not every attempt will be a success, but learning from mistakes and adapting as a result is what allows a recipe to improve from 'so-so' to 'awesome'.

Let us know your thoughts, either as a comment or an email.  And if you are reading this, we've put up our next poll which awaits your response.



"The best way to die is to sit under a tree, eat lots of bologna and salami, drink a case of beer, then blow up."
-Art Donovan

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beer Comic - Beef 'N Beer

I first hear of Hop Talk on the BeerSmith podcast, where Brad Smith interviewed the blog's founders, Ron and Al.  In some ways, Hop Talk is similar to the Lug Wrench Brewing Company blog, in that two people are sharing a common interest and passion for beer.  While Hop Talk is focused more on craft beer than homebrewing, and their site is more established, I was intrigued by the similarities.  On exploring Hop Talk further, I discovered they also feature a comic called Beef 'N Beer - a cartoon about brewing.  Read that again, a comic about brewing craft beer.  Fantastic!

Beef 'N Beer is the work of Matt Amaral, a cartoonist from San Francisco.  The comic follows the story of Matty, who is based loosely on the author, and his friend Berger, a genetically modified bull, as they they pursue their passion - beer.  Matty is surrounded by several other characters, including his wife Alisa, a homebrewer, their daughter, Lilliana, and a mysterious beer guru named Brewmaster Bob.  The characters are interesting and funny and definitely worth looking into.

Here are a few of my favorite comics:


Thanks for the laughs, Matt and Hop Talk!



Thursday, February 10, 2011

RFP - Jeff's Concept - Danish Dark Rye Bread

I have to admit that I am pretty excited to see how our Recipe Formulation Project is progressing.  The feedback we've recieved so far from readers has been very rewarding and inspirational - let's hope the results will live up to the hype.

So what did I want to do with my beer and the three ingredients I pulled for the project?  Based on the ingredients, something just clicked and I automatically started to think of Danish or Scandinavian breads.  Perhaps it was my mother-in-law lamenting about her lost Danish cookbook or something else, but the ingredients I had were perfect for taking my beer down this path.  The concept, which is described below, quickly began running with on its own feet.

To recap, my allotted ingredients that were randomly selected are:
Danish Dark Rye Bread
Concept: To make a very drinkable beer reminiscent of Scandinavian dark rye or pumpernickel bread. I’d like to get a luscious character with notes of rye, sweet dark chocolate and coffee, but give it enough of a residual sweet impression to remind someone of a freshly bakes loaf of pumpernickel. Many of the Danish or Swedish recipes for sweet breads also combine the use of cardamom. As such, I’m going to fold that into the mix to give it a little complexity and depth. Cardamom is supposed to have a savory, aromatic flavor with notes of citrus which I think will help brighten up the dark bread character slightly. As I started to go down this path, my third ingredient (Extra Special Malt) got more and more isolated from the idea – I just don’t want that burnt sugar or raison/prune character, so it eventually got dropped.

When all is said and done, I want to beer to be sessionable and a bit more on the dry side to promote drinkability. Part of this has to do with the practical aspects of this project. Given I’ll end up with 5 gallons of the beer and I know I’ll rebrew it for another 5 gallons, I want to make sure that it’s something I can rip through pretty quick. I am a fan of The Bruery’s Rugbrod beer (Danish Rye Beer that Tom and I have enjoyed together), but at 8+% with considerable body, it’s nothing something I could turn the keg over quickly on.

Here’s a rough draft of the recipe and why I pulled in the ingredients I did:

Rough Amount
Munich Malt
I want to get that underlying bready, malty character that I get in Munich Dunkels, so I went with Munich as the 'base' malt per se.
Rye Malt
Required ingredient.  This will add the spicy, dry, rye character to complement the bready theme.  Everything I have read said to keep it between 10-20%.
US 2-Row Malt
With Munich being the base malt, I am concerned about the diastatic power of the mash.  So to bump it up, I'll add 1-2 lbs of 2-row to bolster the enzymes.
Crystal 40 Malt
Chosen to add a bit of toffee/molassas sweetness to help balance some of the roast and dark malts.
Flaked Oats
Added to improve the body and add a luscious character.
Chocolate Rye Malt
Partially added to bump up the color, but also to add a subtle roast / coffee flavor.  Given this is a Rye beer, I wanted to use this instead of normal chocolate malt.  Recommended amounts: 1-5%
(1 tsp?)
Required ingredients.  I'm hoping the flavor contributions will add a contrast and lighten up the dark bread character from the rest of the ingredients.  The amount to add, however, is a mystery.  I've read it can be pretty powerful, so I would rather start small and slowly increase it.

For hops, I want to keep the bitterness low (20-25 IBU) mostly from a 60 minute addition of Perle, Magnum, or Williamette. Also, to work off the savory/citrus character of the cardamom, I’ll probably add a small addition of Centennial at 15 min just to give it a little complementing character – to diversity the complexity.

As for yeast, I’m still going back and forth. Originally I was going to do this as a lager to make it clean and focus on the malt/spices (perhaps the Danish lager yeast from Wyeast). However, I’m not sure if it is worth the lagering effort with all the other flavor components. Alternatively, I’m thinking about using a well attenuating English ale yeast and ferment it cold (65F) to keep the ester production down. If I did both of these yeast side by side, I’m under the assumption that I might not get too much difference, in which case the ale yeast will just be an easier step.

As I continue to put the recipe together, I would love to hear if anyone has any thoughts or suggests for the beer - drop us a comment or shoot me an email



"From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world."

Recipe Formulation Project - Reference Guide
Tom's Recipe:
Jeff's Recipe:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Commercial Beer Labeling Requirements

If a brewery has any interest in packaging its beer in bottles and selling them, the labeling has to go through and be pre-approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (better known as the TTB).  The TTB's mission is to "Protect the Public" - to prevent consumers from purchasing products under false pretenses.  Therefore all beer labeling (labels, packaging, etc) need to comply with the agency's requirements and disclosures, which have been known to be a bit of a quagmire at times. 

Baying Hound Aleworks, a Maryland nanobrewery we have both interviewed and had the chance to visit, has been experiencing the TTB preapproval process since the brewery started packaging in bottles for distribution.  Paul Rinehart, the founder and headbrewer, decided to share his learnings in the recently posted The Anatomy of a Beer Label.  Described as a "breakdown of the required elements" for packaging, Paul recounted his thoughts on a number of labeling aspects.  This included:
  • Brand name size requirements
  • Class and type (style) designation
  • Brewery Address
  • Bottle net contents
  • Alcohol content (which is considered optional?)
  • Disclosures
  • Government/health warnings
  • Country of origin
  • A collection of further reading on the topic
While opening a brewery is not in my future plans, for one reason or another I seem to have an affinity for familiarizing myself with this type of information.  I guess I just mentally file this data in my "Just in Case" file.  And given I don't think I am the only one, I figured I would share the link.

Please let us know if you have any thoughts or comments.



"Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer."
-Frekerick William

Thursday, February 3, 2011

RFP - Tom's Beer Concept - Spring in Your Step

As outlined in our kick-off post, Jeff and I are embarking on a Recipe Formulation Project (RFP).  This project should be a rewarding and enjoyable way to explore original recipe design.  The first step in this process is to conceptualize the recipe.  By developing the beer recipe from a firm inspiration, the brewer is more likely to succeed in creating something that has definition and, at a minimum, develops a nice back story for the beer.

My concept is that I miss Spring.  It has be cold down here in Virginia, colder than is seasonable on many days this winter.  While Virginia have not gotten as much snow as last year, there has been a lot of freezing rain.  My mind is looking forward to warmer weather, green plants, and all the good things of Spring.  The ingredients I drew inspired me to create a beer that will pull the drinker in this direction.

As a reminder, my randomly selected ingredients are:
  • 7.   Honey Malt
  • 13. Orange Peel
  • 19. Fruit Puree/Juice 
The beer will likely be have a substantial wheat base, as many wheat beers can be light and refreshing.  Adding some light Munich malt to this base will help give a little malt complexity, but too much of this character could give the beer a bready character reminiscent of English ales.  The honey malt should add a light sweetness to the beer, which reinforces the Spring concept.  However, too much honey malt could make the beer cloying and less drinkable.  Fresh orange peel will reinforce both the honey sweetness and lend a refreshing character to the beer.  The addition of tartness or acidity can also reinforce a fresh flavor, so the recipe will likely use a small amount of acidulated malt.  The third ingredient, fruit puree or juice had some initial traction in the concept, but faded as ideas solidified around the honey malt and orange peel.

Given the Spring concept, and the fact that this beer will be brewed more than once, I want the beer to be sessionable.  This should translate in to a rough alcohol concentration around 4% ABV.

Rough Amount
Wheat Malt55%Light malt that can support the other Spring-inspired ingredients
Domestic 2-Row28%Contribute to the original gravity of the beer and provide diastatic power, but not create flavors that hide the wheat
Raw Wheat5%Provide some additional flavor complexity to the malted wheat
Munich Malt5%Add malt complexity, but used in an amount that does not push the beer into an English bready character
Honey Malt5%Contributes a light sweetness to the beer that will compliment the wheat and Munich
Acidulated Malt~2%Provide a slight tart flavor to reinforce a overall fresh taste
Fresh Orange PeelA few orangesProvide light citrus character to the beer to supplement the other Spring flavors

To support the easy-drinking nature of the recipe, the recipe will have a relatively low bitterness (~ 20 - 25 IBU), with small amounts of late hopping to reinforce a citrus or floral character.  The recipe will likely use a clean American ale yeast that stays out of the way of the other light Spring flavors, rather than a more flavor-forward German weizen or Belgian yeast strain.

I am looking forward to seeing how this concept becomes an actual recipe as the project moves forward.  I am also interested in seeing what Jeff comes up with.



Recipe Formulation Project - Reference Guide
Tom's Recipe:
Jeff's Recipe:
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