Thursday, May 26, 2011

Poll: Have you grown hops at home?

Similar to what has been done for all our prior blog polls, this takes a moment to memorialize the results we received on the most recent blog poll.  The reader's responses to the question "Have you ever tried growing your own hops at home?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 20

There is little to discuss with this one - hops are on everyone's mind.  Only 10% of the responders did not have an interest growing their own hops.  Everyone else is either interested or already put some rhizomes in the ground.  And interestingly enough, anyone who decided to plant hops planted more than one.

Tom and I are both backyard hops growers.  While Tom has been at it more years than I have, my two hop plants are entering their second year.  I did get a handful of hop cones last year, but I'm looking forward to see what the plants yield this fall.

We'd love to know what you think of the results and how they can be interpreted.  And if you are reading this, we've put up our next poll, which awaits your response.



"Beer may cause you to digress - and lead a happier life."
-Michael Jackson

Monday, May 23, 2011

Devils Backbone Brewing Company Tour

My homebrewing club, Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), organized tours of two local brewing companies this past weekend.  The first stop was Devils Backbone Brewing Company (DBBC), which is located  at the foot of Wintergreen Mountain, near Nellysford, VA.  DBBC gained national recognition last year when they the 2010 World Beer Cup Champion Brewery and Brewmaster Small Brewpub award for wining the most medals in their size category at the World Beer Cup.  The brewery started making beer in 2008 and has done well enough for themselves that they are opening a bottling facility to take their beer to a larger market.

The brew pub building is has a very rustic style to it, one that fits well with its mountainous surroundings.  The main part of the pub has vaulted ceilings and walls that are adorned with various mounted animals, making the pub seem like a hunting lodge.  The wall behind the bar has glass windows that looks in on the brewhouse, which is of German design, but was manufactured in Japan (the instructions around the switch board are still in Japanese).  The DBBC brewmaster, Jason Oliver, gave us a tour, which was very informative.  After it was over, we all sat down to have a nice lunch on the DBBC deck, which overlooks the beautiful countryside.

Stay tuned for the second stop on the trip, Wild Wolf Brewing Company.

It was a great day,


Pictures from the event are below.  I apologize for their quality, as I only had my cell phone on hand to take them.

Mounted big horn sheep adorn the walls of the brew pub

The DBBC copper brew kettle

The DBBC brewhouse switch board, where the labels are written in Japanese

An tank holding aging beer on brettanomyces, with a picture of Bret from Flight of the Concords stuck on it

DBBC cold-conditioning room 

Lunch included a wonderful German bratwurst served on a spent-grain roll, German potato salad, pickle and a few pints of DBBC beer (Maibock and Reilly's Rye Ale)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

RFP - Spring In Your Step Initial Tasting

When Jeff and I started the Recipe Formulation Project (RFP) at the start of the year, one of the objectives was to brew the recipe at least twice.  We felt that only by committing to brew with new ingredients, and adjusting the recipe based on our tasting evaluation, could we begin to understand how professional brewers "tweak" and work with their recipes.  With that in mind, a couple trusted palates and I gathered at my house to evaluate my Spring in Your Step RFP beer.

Our general perception of the Spring in Your Step beer was that it fit with the beer concept, which was that the drinker was wishing Spring would come soon.  The beer displayed some citrus character that highlighted one of the theme ingredients.  It also featured a bit of sourness, which increased the refreshing perception of the beer.  This characteristic was complemented by the beer's dry finish and a hint of spiciness.

However, the tasters came away impression that the beer was stuck between "worlds."  While the beer had a hint of sourness, it was not truly sour.  While the beer had a hint of citrus, it lacked a distinctive citrus character.  The beer also seemed too bitter for its body and flavor base, in a way that pushed it towards an American pale ale character.  These different hints of flavors seemed to leave the taster with a muddled perspective, one that made the taster wish the beer would move in one of the three directions.  Add to that impression that the beer lacked any distinctive character from the other theme ingredient, honey malt, and it was obvious that some recipe re-tooling was in order.

After these flavor perceptions, I think the best direction to push the recipe would be toward sour citrus.  I love the flavors of a crisp margarita, especially in the Spring time.  The sour citrus character is refreshing and delightful.  Thus, I think I will retool the recipe to use more acidulated malt and provide more citrus character.  I have a feeling that the bitterness in the beer came from pith on the fruit rinds, so I plan on trying to reduce the pith next time.  As for the honey malt, I do not feel it added much to the finished beer.  So, I plan to reduce its percentage in the next batch's grist to encourage a crisp flavor finish.

Hopefully, the RFP experiment has been of interest to the Lug Wrench reader.  Stay tuned for the next version of Spring in Your Step.



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

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fun with Art IV: Meat Sections

I've continued to enjoy Alyson's Meat Section blog.  While the content of her blog focuses mostly on non-beer related, every so often a 'beer' sectioned diagram pops up.  I've highlighted a few of them in prior blog posts, and this one is no different.  The topic: Lost Abbey's Cable Car - a blended american wild ale.

What I particularly love about this piece is how Alyson breaks the beer up by it's three blended components, Red Barn, Avante Garde, and Amigo Lager.  Some of the ingredients are a little hard to read (click on the image to get a larger version), but listing out the hops, grains, and spices included in this super complex beer struck me as just plain slick.  As always, excellent job Alyson!

For the homebrewers out there and up to the challenge, Mike over at the Mad Fermentationist took a crack at cloning this sour beer.  Take a look at his notes and recipe to see how it turned out.

If you've got a moment, take a detour over to Meat Sections, check out some of its content and try subscribing to it's feed.



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

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Brew Your Own Beer Television

Reality television has become a major media genre over the last dozen years or so.  There seem to be reality television shows for almost every topic that could interest the viewing public, including singing, cooking, modeling, and even rich people social in-fighting.  To be honest, none of these shows interest me, with the possible exception of Top Chef.  But now, there is a reality television show that rewards beer and homebrewing knowledge - enter Brew Your Own Beer (BYOB) TV.

BYOB TV is the brain-child of The Brewing Network and San Francisco-based television station KOFY.  The hosts, Justin Crossley and Jason Petros, organize teams of homebrewers, as they compete against each other in innovative and entertaining challenges.  The BYOB TV teams are:

The BYOB TV challenges feature each teams knowledge of craft beer and homebrewing.  Some of my favorite challenges so far include: a race carrying spent grain, a sensory analysis exercise to identify different brewing ingredients, and an engineering competition to design an all-grain system out of junk material.  The winning team receives a trip to the Czech Republic to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery.

If you are turned off and bored by main-stream by reality television, I urge you to give BYOB TV a try.  It is interesting and fun and available online.



Monday, May 9, 2011

National Homebrew Day and Big Brew

Each year, on the first Saturday in May, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) organizes an event called National Homebrew Day.  The purpose of the event is to gather homebrewers together and celebrate our wonderful hobby.  What better way to celebrate than by brewing together.  Homebrewing clubs and stores are encouraged to host events and register them with the AHA.  As of the writing of this post, 290 sites participated in the 2011 event, brewing 674 batches or 5,347 gallons of beer, with an estimated 2,693 participants.  The AHA even hosts a video contest for the "Big Brew."

In the spirit of bringing people together, the AHA posts three different recipes for participants to brew.  While not expressly limiting brewers to these recipes, by electing to use them, homebrewers know they are sharing the experience directly with many of their fellows across the country.  The 2011 Big Brew recipes, which were selected for various reasons, included:

  • East India Pale Ale - recipe from the 1800s, featured in an upcoming book from Brewers Publications
  • Must Be The Season of the Wit - encourages the use of local ingredients and coincidentally marks the death of Pierre Celis, the famous brewer who revived the style
  • Rocket Rod's Positively Porter - honors the passing of Rocket Rod Romanak, a prolific homebrewer from Hawaii, who attended over 25 AHA National Homebrewers Conferences in his lifetime
I was able to participate in Big Brew Day with several members of my local homebrewing club at a local homebrewing shop, The Fermentation Trap.  I elected to brew a variant of the wit recipe, calling my beer "See Ya Celis."  Without any local ingredients I could think to include at this time of year, I merged the recipe with elements of my favorite wit recipe from Brewing Classic Styles.  Highlights of the day included enjoying the company of friends, freshly grilled sausages, and a pick up Frisbee game.  What a great day!

I hope you had a chance to participate in National Homebrew Day and its Big Brew.  If not, I highly encourage you to do so next year.



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Does Glassware Change Our Perception of Beer?

Basic Brewing Radio (BBR), a podcast I have listened to for more than four years, and Brew Your Own Magazine (BYO), a publication I have read for just as long, have joined forces to conduct homebrewing experiments.  The concept is that homebrewing culture supports a fair number of theories that are spread through the community by word of mouth.  Some of these theories are based on fact, at least partially, while others are better classified as "old wives tales."  Using the large audiences between their media outlets, BBR and BYO decided to organize experiments to prove, or disprove, some of the theories.  While the size of their data sets might not be statically accurate to the standard of academic journals, the trends they present are interesting and worth noting.  The results of each experiment are published in BYO and discussed on a BBR podcast.

The seventh BBR-BYO Collaborative Experiment seeks to answer the question "Do different styles of glassware really affect your perceptions of the beer that is in them?"  Chris Colby, the editor of BYO, developed an experimental method that includes a surprising number of data points for the experiment.  The experiment seeks to collect data on each glass used (volume, diameter, etc.), perceptions of the beer in each glass, and even a method to count the bubbles.

I received a Chimay chalice glass as part of a beer sampler I got for Christmas a number of years ago.  So, I elected to purchase a bottle of Chimay Cinq Cents (a tripel) to try it in the glass designed to go with the beer.  To contrast the chalice, I selected the most different glass I own, a tall and thin pilsner glass.  My wife and I sat down tonight to complete the experiment and our results are listed below.

Chimay Chalice
Volume: 400 mL
Diameter: 2.75"
Head Height: 0.25"
Pour Time: 17 seconds
Beer Volume Poured: 350 mL
Bubble Count: 350

Pilsner Glass
Volume: 500 mL
Diameter: 3.5"
Head Height: 2"
Pour Time: 18 seconds
Beer Volume Poured: ~350 mL (best estimate)
Bubble Count: 225

Our general impressions were that the chalice glass presented the best aroma, which was a light citrus character overlayed by a rich yeasty character.  This could well be due to the wider beer surface that the chalice presented to our noses, compounded by the thicker pilsner glass head.  The pilsner glass preserved the fine-bubbled beer head throughout the entire drinking session, while the courser chalice head dissipated within a few minutes.  The beer color was slightly darker in the chalice glass, which makes sense given the thicker fluid column.  The other notable difference was mouthfeel, which grew more distinct as the beer warmed.  The pilsner glass developed a smooth rich mouthfeel that became almost silky at the end, while the chalice glass presented a courser more abrupt mouthfeel.  In the end, both of us preferred the pilsner glass presentation over the chalice that was designed to serve the beer.

It was surprising how the different glasses impacted the beer, with everything except flavor differing between the two.  I recommend you give this experiment, one of the quickest BBR-BYO Collaborative Experiments so far, a try and send your data along.  The deadline for accepting experiment data is May 15, 2011.  It will be interesting to see if this craft brewing/homebrewing theory is validated by our data.



Monday, May 2, 2011

RFP - Tom's Initial Recipe and Brewing

In January, Jeff and I kicked-off our Recipe Formulation Project (RFP).  The core idea behind the project was to propel Lug Wrench into the recipe design and formulation world, a place where neither of of us had yet to venture.  I drew and decided to use two ingredients from our random list - honey malt and orange peel.  From these ingredients, I developed a beer concept called Spring in Your Step.  This concept was further refined into the recipe that can be found at the bottom of this post.

Spring in Your Step was brewed at the end of January.  The brew day was largely successful and I hit the majority of the target brew numbers (original gravity was only 0.02 specific gravity points low).  With all of the wheat in the mash, I elected to include rice hulls to prevent a stuck sparge.  A good rule of thumb is to use 0.5 pounds of rice hulls per 5 gallon batch if the recipe includes more than 25 percent wheat malt.  The only other notable issue dealt with the orange peel used in the recipe.  I forgot to purchase fresh oranges at the store before brew day and ended up using the peel of four tangerines that were slightly past their prime.  The peels were thinner than normal and did not have as much bright citrus aromatic oils as would be ideal, but the fruit was still good.

Spring in Your Step fermented normally at standard ale temperatures (68 F).  Even after crash cooling, settling, and the user of gelatin clarifier, the beer was cloudy.  With all of the wheat in the recipe, this is not completely unexpected.  However, it is possible that the suspended yeast and proteins played a role in the flavors in the beer early in its aging cycle, but more on that in a future post.

Here is a reference chart to keep track of the posts in the RFP project.  The Spring in Your Step recipe follows at the end of the post.

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




Spring in Your Step
Style: American Wheat or Rye Beer

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 6.00 gal    
Boil Size: 7.95 gal
Estimated OG: 1.045 SG
Estimated Color: 5.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 27.2 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

0.50 lb Rice Hulls
5.00 lb White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)
2.75 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)
0.50 lb Honey Malt (25.0 SRM)
0.50 lb Munich 10L (Briess) (10.0 SRM)
0.50 lb Wheat - White Malt (Briess) (2.3 SRM)
0.25 lb Acid Malt (3.0 SRM)

0.50 oz Magnum [12.30 %]  (60 min)
0.25 oz Sarachi Ace [12.50 %]  (10 min)
0.25 oz Sarachi Ace [12.50 %]  (1 min)

1.0 Tab Whirlfloc at 15 minutes
32 drops of Foam Control in the boil

11 grams - Safale US05 (Fermentis #US05), Dry Yeast

Mash Schedule
60 min at 152.0 F
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