Monday, August 29, 2011

Mystery Hop Harvest!

The mystery hop plant that has been growing in my front yard has been a source of excitement for me as I've seen it go from 'I think that's a hop" to hundreds of cones being developing. 

When the news of the hurricane coming up the coastline and the hop cones turning papery, it was time to pick the cones before the winds decided to take them.  Once I got into the bines, it turned out that there were more cones that I expected.  Even as the initial rains from the storm system started coming down, I was out there picking the last of them.  In the end, I collected 3/4 lbs hoppy goodness.

All the cones are now spread out on a screen in front of a fan drying in our basement.  Breaking a few open, the aroma is still a bit grassy with some floral and citrus notes to it.  Nothing citrusy like the American "C" hops, but a background note.  I'm planning to brew the Mystery Hop Pale Ale next weekend so that the hops don't go to waste, but I am a little concerned about the grassy, chlorophyll notes.  Where the cones picked to early?  Will the green aromas fade as they dry?  If anyone has any guidance, please let me know.

Either way, it's been a great fun this summer watching them develop!



"It's not easy being green."
-Kermit the Frog

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lager Yeast Precursor Found in Wild

A study found in this week's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports to have found one of the precursors to lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus).  The main yeast used to ferment beer, wine, and cider around the world is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, whose strains include the ale yeasts used by many craft brewers.  Saccharomyces cerevisiae likes to ferment at room temperatures or warmer and quickly consumes sources of sugar.  However, in the 15th century, Bavarian monks developed a new strain of yeast, rather by accident.  The monks stored and matured their beer in cold, dark caves to help preserve one of their main sources of sustenance.  This environment encouraged the development of lager yeast, which could endure the colder temperatures, but fermented slower than its ale yeast cousin.  The resulting beer was cleaner and milder tasting than ale and it developed into a separate series of styles which are most popular worldwide today.

Lager yeast is actually a different species of yeast than Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which earned it the different name.  This is opposed to the various strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which include the various ale strains and even baker's yeast.  While the strains behave differently in the brew house and produce different flavors and aromas, they are basically the same yeast.  Lager yeast is different all together and the differences allow it to endure and out-compete other yeasts in cooler temperatures.

However, scientists were unable to fully map lager yeast's genetic parents.  They knew that one precursor was Saccharomyces cerevisiae itself, but the other main precursor was unknown, until now.  An international team of researchers discovered a yeast that lives in galls that infect beech trees in the forests of Patagonia.  The yeast, which researchers named Saccharomyces eubayanus, is a 99.5% genetic match for the missing precursor to lager yeast.  "Beech galls are very rich in simple sugars.  It's a sugar rich habitat that yeast seem to love" says Chris Todd Hittinger, a co-author of the study.  Combine a sugar rich environment with cold temperatures, such as the -2 degree C average daily lows in the Patagonia beech tree forests, and you have the perfect parent to lager yeast.

How the Saccharomyces eubayanus got from Patagonia to Bavaria remains a mystery.

For more information on the study, please look at the articles in the USA Today and BBC News.



Monday, August 22, 2011

Flemish Fisherman Collaboration Beer Gets A Silver

Back in July, I posted about whether to send some of my few remaining bottles of Flemish Fisherman into the Dominion Cup.  I elected to send two bottles into the competition and the results are in and the Flemish Fisherman took a silver medal in the Belgian Strong category (BJCP Category 18).  The Dominion Cup had 22 entries in this category.  I am glad that I sent the beer into the competition and I am looking forward to reading the judges feedback.

Flemish Fisherman was brewed in the beginning of July 2010 as part of our Lug Wrench collaborative beer series.  The recipe was supposed to be a clone of De Struise's Pannepot, a world class complex dark ale.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pilsner Urquell Master Homebrewer Competition

 Pilsner Urquell has organized three homebrewing competitions here in the United States this summer.  The purpose of the competitions is to test the ability of homebrewers to recreate their historic pilsner.  Events were held in New York City, Chicago, and Washington DC.  I was fortunate enough to attend the event in Washington DC, along with Jamey Barlow, who was one of the 50 competitors.

Pilsner Urquell, which translates roughly as the original source of pilsner, is hailed as the original pilsner style beer.  Traditional Bohemian beers were dark and thick ales and were losing market space to golden beer imported from neighboring Bavaria in the mid-1800s.  In 1842, Josef Groll was brought in from Bavaria to create and run a new modern-style brewery in the town of Pilsen.  He brought with him a lager yeast from his homeland, along with Bavarian malting and brewing techniques.  When these were combined with the soft water of Pilsen, the golden lager beer style of Bohemian Pilsner was born.

The Pilsner Urquell homebrewing competition asked homebrewers to attempt to clone the original Bohemian Pilsner.  The brewer who made the beer closest to the original would win the grand prize, a trip for two to Pilsen to tour the Pilsner Urquell brewery.  Heading up the judging panel was Vaclav Berka, the Pilsner Urquell Brewmaster and only the sixth person to hold that title since 1842.  "Home brewing is becoming more and more popular, and these brewers keep getting more talented, so we're excited to offer this challenging opportunity," said Berka. "The competitors will need to brew carefully, but the potential prize, including their wonderful batch of beer, should be a strong incentive."  In addition to Berka, the judging panel included import and brand personnel and some beer personalities from each competition city.

While the competition is definitely part of a larger public relations campaign, the company certainly did it right.  The Washington DC event was held at a popular bar, Smith Commons, that had adequate space for judging and chatting, along with a nice draft selection.  They assembled a good panel of judges and clearly stated the judging criteria - the beer that best matches Pilsner Urquell wins.  Pilsner Urquell invited 50 homebrewers and their "+1's" to the event and provided food and tickets for draft Pilsner Urquell.  As a side note, I must say that I found the draft version of the pilsner to be a bit lacking, as it was relatively high in diacetyl and tasted flat.  I have tasted better versions in bottles.

I enjoyed the evening and even got to meet some Washington DC homebrewing celebrities, like Michael Tonsmeire, author of The Mad Fermentationist.  If Pilsner Urquell elects to repeat the event next year, I will definitely enter and if they come to a town near you, I would encourage you to do the same.



Thursday, August 11, 2011

Teaching and Learning Opportunity

One of the best ways to learn what you do not know about a subject is to try and teach that subject to others.  The act of organizing information about a subject in a logical and understandable order highlights the parts of the subject that you are less knowledgeable about or confident in.  While daunting, this can motivate you to explore those areas you lack knowledge and turn the teaching activity into a learning opportunity.  This maxim has proven true at many points in my life across many subjects and is now true of homebrewing, as well.

The owner of my local homebrew shop, The Fermentation Trap, invited me to teach a class on all-grain brewing earlier this year.  We settled on presenting the information in the traditional theory and practical manner, where all-grain brewing basics would be provided in a lecture-style session first and then followed up by a brewing demonstration.  This method allowed the attendees to absorb the information and then apply it in a real situation.  The lecture portion explored the all-grain process by discussing the following points, which were punctuated by showing the participants examples of actual homebrewing equipment.

  • Recipe Preparation and "Beer Math"
  • Mashing
  • Sparging and Lautering
  • Post All-Grain Steps
    • Boil
    • Cooling
    • Fermentation
The actual class went fairly well.  We had fewer participants than the 10 we were shooting for, but they asked questions and seemed genuinely interested and engaged.  It helped that the Fermentation Trap had a version of the beer the class would brew during the demonstration on tap to taste, and some class members brought in beer to sample.  I also discovered I had too much information to present than the 90 minutes we scheduled and I ended up adjusting part way through to cover less detail.  This is certainly something that can be fixed for next time, with less time being spent on the preparation and practical "Beer Math" and more on the different sparging systems, which seemed to present the most mystery to the attendees.

The demonstration also proceeded well, with more people showing up to see the actual process.  The biggest hurdle was the heat, as it was close to 100 F that day, but the owner of the Fermentation Trap figured out a way that much of the process could proceed in the air-conditioned indoors, which was a life-saver.  The group ended up hitting our numbers on our Thunder IPA and being able to apply some of the knowledge learned from the previous portion of the class.

Overall, teaching the class was enjoyable and a learning opportunity for me.  If you ever have a chance to do something similar, please consider doing it.  Teaching is a great way to give back some of the knowledge we have accumulated over time and is very rewarding.  I am happy to send anyone a copy of my talking points, just send me an email.



Monday, August 8, 2011

Poll: Brewing Ingredients From Farmers Markets?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we recieved on the most recent blog poll.  The reader's responses to the question "How often have you bought brewing ingredients from a local farmers market?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 13

I was a bit stunned when these results began coming in.  Farmers markets are thriving these days and people can buy many interesting and curious items at the stalls and stands the line these markets.  During the late summer, such as this, fruits and vegtables of all types are starting to show up (at least here in New England), which creates an even larger bounty of opportunity for brewing. 

Even with that all said, I'll admit that I am one of the 'Never' voters as well.  I'm not sure why, but I have yet to cross my farmers-marketing (if that's a word) with my brewing like so many other voters.  Maybe I don't associate the two.  Maybe processing raw ingredients into brewing ingredients is just enough additional work that I just shrug my shoulders.  I really don't know.

While I resort to the latter, I really do believe in the former.  I would challenge any brewer to think about it the next time they are wandering the rows and aisles - what flavors could I use in my beer/mead/cider that can be found at this particular local market?  Who knows what will come out of it.

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


-Homer Simpson

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Alpha Acid Ranges by Hop Variety (Hop Union)

After the Style Profile Charts and Yeast Charts we've featured in the past, I was searching for another topic to explore for the next series of charts.  The Hop Union's Hop Variety Data Booklet provided the perfect data set for the next topic: Hops.  Which varieties would be best for a high IBU brew?  Which varieties will produce the smoothest bitterness?

The first comparative hop chart in the series is the Alpha Acid Ranges by Hop Variety, which is presented below.  Alpha acid is a staple for every brewer in determining the bitterness imparted in a beer.  Click on the thumbnail to get a higher resolution image of the chart.  The other hop charts in the series will be added in subsequent posts.

In addition to the above, check out the other Hop Variety chart(s) previously posted:
If you would like a high resolution PDF of this or any of the other charts, just shoot me an email.  I'm more than happy to share.



"A quart of ale is a dish for a king."
-William Shakespeare

Monday, August 1, 2011

Patrick Rue and Candi Sugar

A few months back, we featured a few well drawn comic strips by Arne Frantzell that roasted Tomme Arthur of The Lost Abbey.  Since that time, Arne has teamed up with The Full Pint to reguarly draw the Trouble Brewing, a comic strip poking fun at the craft beer world.  And one of the recent targets was Patrick Rue, owner and brewer at The Bruery - a personal favorite of mine.

Below are two of the comic strips where Patrick is ribbed for his use of a particular brewing ingredient.  Click on the image to get a larger image...

You can find the entire collection of Trouble Brewing over at The Full Pint.

Got a link to some other good beer related comics or art?  Let us know!



"Who does not love beer, wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long."
-Carl Worner
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