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.


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