Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Homebrewing Year in Review - Jeff

My hiatus from brewing in 2012 left me with about half a year with an empty brew kettle - a very sad reflection.  With some serious real-life distraction occuring in my personal life, my Year in Review post is looking a little skimpy.  However, no matter the amount, there was no need to break the Year in Review tradition.  In a manner similar to my 2010 and 2011 posts, here are my 2012 numbers.

  • Number of Batches Made: 5 (All beer this year - missed the opportunity for cider)
  • Number of Gallons Made: 27 gallons
  • Most polular beer style: American Wheat (n=2)
  • First Brew Day of the Year: January 21, 2012 (American Wheat)
  • Last Brew Day of the Year: June 17, 2012 (Straight Lambic)
  • Best Homebrew Competition Result of the Year: German Pilsner - Best of Show Honorable Mention at the 2012 Boston Homebrew Comp and 2012 Ocean State Homebrew Comp.
  •  Number of Lug Wrench Collaborative Beers Brewed: 1 (Eisbock)
  • Average ABV Across Batches: 5.7%
  • Favorite Brew of the Year: The Eisbock that Tom and I brewed, both because it was a collaborative brew and I got the experiment with the icing process.  The Fathers Day Lambic was a close second.
  • Least Favorite Brew: American Wheat since I've brewed it enough that it has become repeatitive.
  • Approximate amount of grain used in 2012: 61 lbs
    • Most popular base malt: German Pilsner (21 lbs)
    • Most popular specialty malt: Munich Malt (15 lbs)
  • Approximate amount of hops used in 2012: 7.3 oz (not a very hoppy year)
    • Most popular hop: Williamette (3 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, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from Lug Wrench

On a day when everyone is giving thanks, Tom and I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  The blog posts may have slowed in the last few months because of outside activities, but we are still here and have every intention of carrying on.

Here's hoping that everyone has a great beer and great company during this holiday season!



"Beer is just the begining."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Churchkey Beer Bar

I was in Washington DC last week for a conference and happened to have a night free.  I quick check of local beer locations showed me that Churchkey was a little over a mile's walk away.  I had previously heard about Churchkey, one of Washington's most famous beer bars, from a number of friends.  It was a nice night for a walk, so I headed over.

Churchkey is a two level establishment, with a restaurant on the ground floor and a large bar on the top floor.    The first thing I noticed, upon arrival, is that the place was packed.  For relatively early in the evening, the bar and booths were all full with a little standing room around the edges.  Churchkey's menu lays out their draft selection, which is very extensive, by grouping beers together in similar groups with simple labels, such as "Crisp", "Roast", and "Hops."  The menu provides basic information about each beer, such as the name of the beer, the brewery, alcohol content, and style.  It also provides information about the serving temperature and the glass it will be served in.  To see a current version of the menu, see the Beers menu item on their site.

Churchkey has a unique draft system.  The bar area is packed with booths and bar seats, so the owners elected to place a cat-walk perpendicular and above the bar.  A huge commercial walk in cooler sits atop the cat-walk, and three large metal refrigerated pipes come out of the cooler.  These pipes serve the three tap boxes at the bar and provide three different serving temperature zones (42 F, 48 F, and 50 F).  This allows the bar to serve different beer styles at temperatures ideal to their flavors, something I have yet to see done elsewhere.  It was very cool.

Churchkey provided a welcome change to the conference events I had been attending and allowed me to geek out on beer.  My only regret was that I was not traveling with anyone else to share the fun with, something I plan on remedying next time I visit.

I have included several pictures that I took while at Churchkey.  Please excuse the poor image quality, as my cell phone does not take decent pictures in low lighting.



 View down the Churchkey bar, note the three pipes that lead to the refrigeration unit behind the Bluejacket banner

 Churchkey bottle library

View of the Churchkey taps, which include five beer engines

Even the bathrooms have beer references, with old beer ads framed on the walls

Monday, October 15, 2012

Local 2012 Great American Beer Festival Winners

The Brewers Association announced the results of the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition this past weekend.  From the press release, the competition awarded 254 medals to breweries across the United States.  The competition presented gold, silver, and bronze medals in 84 beer categories that covered 134 different beer styles.  It had 4,338 entries from 666 breweries, coming from 48 states, Washington D.C. and Guam.  This entry level makes the 2012 competition the largest to date, which comes as no surprise given the number of new breweries coming into the marketplace in the past few years.  Note that the GABF competition uses different style guidelines than authored by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), which have been previously discussed here as part of homebrewing competitions.  In particular, the GABF guidelines have more substyles than those of the BJCP, which also means it must draw a larger pool of judges to evaluate them.

Locally speaking, in Virginia, Devils Backbone Brewing Company is again cleaning up at commercial beer competitions. They won two golds, two silvers, and four bronzes. In fact, of the medals given to Virginia Breweries, they held 66% of the medals awarded. They include:

Gold - Vienna Lager - Vienna-Style Lager
Gold - Berliner Metro Weiss - German-Style Sour Ale
Silver - Old Virginia Dark - American-Style Dark Lager
Silver - Danzig - Baltic-Style Porter
Bronze - Gold Leaf Lager - American-Style Pilsner
Bronze - Turbo Cougar - Bock
Bronze - Ramsey's Draft Stout - Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout
Bronze - Ramsey's Export Stout - Foreign-Style Stout

This impressive win record resulted in them being named the "Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year."  Devils Backbone had been named "Champion Brewery and Brewmaster Small Brewpub" at the 2010 World Beer Cup.  It is safe to say they are doing very well.

Locally speaking, up near Jeff, there were no medals given to a Rhode Island brewery. However, in Massachusetts, the following awards were given:

Gold - Cisco Brewers - Lady of the Woods - Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Silver - Cambridge Brewing Company - CBC Heather Ale - Herb and Spice Beer
Bronze - Jack's Abby Brewing - Smoke & Dagger - Smoke Beer

For a full listing of the competition winners, look at the GABF site, which now has a searchable database of current and prior winners (a very nice improvement).

It is a great time to be a craft beer drinker in this country.



Monday, October 8, 2012

First Cider of the Fall

My homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), has been taking part in group cider purchases for several years now.  Central Virginia has a long history of apple growing and there are a number of established orchards here.  In recent years, there has been a growing interest in heirloom apple varieties that were historically used to make cider.  This interest has fueled the use of such apples, including one of my favorites, the Albemarle Pippin, by small-scale cideries.  CAMRA is fortunate to have established a relationship with one of these, Showalter's Orchard, located in Harrisonburg, VA, and we purchase bulk cider from them several times through out the fall.

For those who have not tried it before, the cidermaking process is simpler than making beer.  On a typical day when the cider is purchased, a few club members leave in the morning with vehicles full of empty carboys and buckets.  The cider is back and ready for pickup locally in the early afternoon.  Because the cider is fresh and unpasteurized, it must be picked up and handled immediately.  If not, the wild yeasts in the cider itself will be fermenting it by the next morning, which leads to unknown results (either good or bad).  The easiest method to process the fresh cider is to pull some of the fresh cider off the top, as there is no head space when it arrives, and pitch yeast directly into it.  If for some reason, the cider needs to be stored before pitching, you must refrigerate it and/or metabisulfite it to kill the wild yeasts.

Just like in beer, yeast selection plays a large role in the resulting flavor of the cider.  However, given that cider is comprised of simple sugars, the cider maker can use either beer or wine yeasts to ferment it.  These lead to drastically different flavors, depending on if you use a white wine yeast that produces subtle and nuanced mouthfeel to the phenolic characters produced by a Belgian yeast.  My personal favorite is the use of an English ale strain, like Safale S-04, as it produces a balanced and quafable product.

Once the yeast strain is pitched, the cider maker's main other job is determining when to halt the fermentation.  Given that cider is comprised of simple sugars, it will ferment out completely, below 1.000 specific gravity.  Cider that dry is abrasive to drink, in my opinion, and does not have much taste or mouthfeel, and certainly does not taste like apples.  To leave residual sweetness in the cider, the cider maker must either let the cider ferment out and backsweeten it or stop the fermentation early.  I prefer the latter, as it is simplest for my homebrewing set-up.  Basically, I test the specific gravity of the cider and when it gets between 1.017 and 1.020, I crash cool the cider in the fridge.  This makes the yeast go dormant and I can rack the cider off of the yeast several days later.  However, using this method, the cider must be kept cold in a keg afterwards, because with fermentable sugars and live yeast still in the cider, it will start fermenting again if it warms.

There has been a resurgence of interest in cider recently and many smaller cideries are springing up all across the country.  I suggest you consider making your own cider, as it is an easy and fun process to do.  I also suggest you try any local hard cider you can purchase and see what works in your area.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

Brew Day with Beer Hound Brewery

A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a brew day with Kenny Thacker, owner of Beer Hound Brewery.  We featured Beer Hound Brewery in a previous post.  Beer Hound Brewery is a nanobrewery with a 1/2 barrel electric-fired brew system.  The brewery intends to sell pints and growlers directly over the bar at the brewery, which also features a homebrew store, The Fermentation Trap.

When I visited Kenny, he was in the process of brewing a Belgian Blonde called Teufelhunde (all of the Beer Hound Brewery beers are named after dogs).  The brew system includes three vessels, a mash/lauter ton, a hot liquor tank, and a boil kettle.  The system uses pumps to recirculate the mash liquid through the grain bed and into a stainless steel coil in the hot liquor tank.  This allows the mash temperature to be maintained exactly by heating the water in the hot liquor tank.  When the mash is complete, the water in the hot liquor tank is used to sparge the grain bed.  This process is called a recirculating infusion mash system (RIMS) in the homebrewing community, and the version closest to the Beer Hound Brewery system is documented on The Electric Brewery site.

Watching the Beer Hound Brewer system in action makes me a little envious.  While Kenny is still working out the kinks, it performed very well and has a compact footprint.  The electric heating elements appeared to work very efficiently and regulated the mash within a degree of the desired temperature.  Perhaps someday I will attempt to build a similar brew system that for my homebrewery.  I have included some pictures of the brew day at the end of this post.

Kenny has all of his permits in place and plans to open on October 13, which should allow plenty of time for conditioning and aging his first beers.  I look forward to trying them and reporting back on the brewery's early success.  If you are in the Central Virginia area, please pay Beer Hound Brewery a visit.



 Brewing system heating water before start of brew day

Control panel with PIDs set to heat to mash temperatures

 Adding grains to strike water 

Mash recirculating

 Beer in conical fermenter in the fermentation room

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beer Hound Brewery

The owner of my local homebrewing supply store, The Fermentation Trap, is in the process of opening a craft brewery in the store.  Beer Hound Brewery, as the new venture will be called, can be considered a nanobrewery in size, as batches will be approximately half-barrel in size.  The brewery is currently under construction and permits are mostly completed with federal and state officials.  I have spoken with Kenny Thacker, the owner of The Fermentation Trap, a number of times about the project and wanted to rely some of the information on to our readers.

The business model that Kenny is planning on pursuing is to sell pints and fill growlers from a bar area being built in the one corner of the store.  This business model is advantageous for several reasons.  First, Kenny will be able to completely control the brewing process, as he will not need to rely on distributors or retail establishments to properly store and serve the beer.  Second, the costs of producing beer in this manner are lower than in other types of breweries, as the rent and utilities are already covered by the homebrewing supply store.  The lower costs, as well as higher margins achieved by selling beer directly without distributor and retailer cuts, will hopefully allow Beer Hound Brewery to brew nanobrewery-sized batched and still be profitable (a problem that many nanobreweries face).  Third, with a smaller sized system, Beer Hound Brewery will be able to make a greater variety of different beers, which should be more interesting both for Kenny and for the public who enjoy the products.  Finally, linking the brewery with an established business should allow Beer Hound Brewery to pull in existing customers, as people coming into the store to purchase supplies can enjoy a beer while doing so.

I have included a few pictures taken of the brewery build out below.  I am excited to see where Beer Hound Brewery will go and look forward to enjoying some of the beer produced there, and maybe even have an opportunity to help make a batch or two.

Good luck, Kenny.



Beer Hound Brewery Floor Plan

 Electric Half-Barrel Brewhouse Layout

 Temperature-Controlled Fermentation Room

 Building Out Bar Area

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poll: Thoughts on Cask Conditioned Beer?

Like all our prior poll posts, 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 attitude / preference / outlook on Cask Conditioned Beers?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 21

There is no ambiguity about how the readers feel about cask beer - it's a hit and for many, the more the better.  The very skewed result may be the result of a growing trend in cask beers offered by commercial breweries (and the bars/pubs that sell them).  Or it may be that the majority of our readers are homebrewers and anyone who is bottle conditioning their homebrew, is basically making the equivalent of cask beer anyways.

While cask beer equipment is predominately sold to pubs and other professional venues, homebrewers are not left out in the cold.  Places like UK Brewing Supplies have complete lines of firkins, pins, bungs, and beer engines if you're looking to serve traditional cask beer out of your home brewery.  However, make sure you have plenty of thirsty drinkers on hand, as the 5-10 gallon casks should be turned over in about a week, or else it might start going downhill.

Let us know the best place you've ever had cask beer.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaiting your participation.



"Beer is a living product"
-Michael McDole

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day

Lug Wrench Brewing Company would like to wish all of our readers a happy Labor Day.  Hopefully, you have a chance to celebrate the holiday and the end of summer with a fine homebrew or craft beer.  The start fall somewhat lessens the craziness of summer as the kids go back to school.  It is also my favorite time to brew here in Virginia, as the crisp autumn coolness of the air beckons me to fire up the burner on the back deck.



Friday, August 31, 2012

Growlers with Identity!

A friend of mine pointed this out to me (thanks Rob!) and after browsing through their gallery, I had to share it.  Carlburg Pottery in Montana is a pottery studio that makes Handmade Growlers that are nothing short of bad ass.  From the simple to the outrageous, the company will create customized growlers to carry the precious cargo of brewers, homebrewers, or craft beer fans.

While they are not cheap, the prices start around $65 and go up for the more ornate vessels.  They would be great if your homebrew club or home brewery has a logo (Lug Wrench growler...?) or have a special occasion coming up. 

Some of my favorite examples from their online gallery have got to be:
Let us know your favorite, or if you happen to pick one up, let us know how it turned out.



"In the beginning, God created ... beer."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Amarillo Mild with Wine Yeast Tasting

Last month, I posted about an experiment of using beer and wine yeast together to produce a unique and interesting beer.  The idea was to pick a beer recipe that would go well with the characteristics of Lalvin 71B-1122, the only commonly-available wine yeast that will co-exist in the same fermenter with beer yeast.  I picked an interesting mild recipe that uses first-wort hopping with Amarillo hops, as their fruity character might pair well with the wine yeast.  I also hoped that the wine yeast might provide some increased mouthfeel for the low gravity ale.

The mild has had a chance to age and condition for over a month now and I wanted to write down and share some tasting notes.

The beer pours an extremely dark brown color that is more reminiscent of a stout than a mild.  It features a pillowly off-white head that lasts for several minutes into the tasting.  The carbonation appears very light on the beer, with no visible bubbles, though with the dark color, it would be hard to tell.  The beer aroma is reminiscent of bread crust and toast, with notes of chocolate milk and whipped cream.  The nose is very pleasant and I find myself smelling it extensively, if I take the time to enjoy the pint properly.

The beer has a very smooth overall flavor, with subtle notes of milk chocolate, caramel, and bread crust.  Its finish is almost silky and the milk chocolate aftertaste lasts for several seconds.  The beer has little to no bitterness and no discernible hop character.  The mild has a full and creamy mouthfeel, which is very prevalent in the overall flavor of the beer.  This has improved dramatically since I lowered the carbonation level on the beer.  I initially had it carbonated up to standard pale ale levels (2.5 volumes), as I only have one gas regulator for all three kegs.  But then I remembered a trick a fellow CAMRA member taught me, where you leave the beer off the gas and only add enough to keep it flowing.  This results in a much lower carbonation level that really fits the style, which is worth the work of occasionally hooking up the gas disconnect.

Overall, I must say that I like the beer very much.  I find its aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel inciting and, at 3 percent ABV, I can enjoy several pints in a row.  Regarding the two parts of the experiment, the hopping and the wine yeast, I am not sure what conclusions to draw.  I picked the recipe to because of its use of a citrus-based American hop and hoped that it would subtly blend with a wine yeast known to produce fruity flavors.  The end product does not have much fruity character at all, but is still pleasing.  I do think the wine yeast provided much of the mouthfeel that I love in the beer.  I mashed quite low (148 F) on this lower alcohol beer, but the mild still has a substantial mouthfeel - one that I think could only have come from the wine yeast.  In hindsight, I should have split the batch and fermented a control beer with only beer yeast and then done a side-by-side comparison.  Perhaps sometime in the future.

I encourage you to try experimenting with Lalvin 71B-1122, given that it is the only wine yeast that plays nicely with beer yeast.  I have found it works well with mouthfeel, but it might augment a hoppy ale's fruit flavors.  Let us know if you do what what you find out.



Friday, August 24, 2012

Beer Reference via Text Message - BeerText.US

Mind you this may not be as useful to the millions of smartphone users out there, but check out BeerText.US, an innovative beer reference service that delivers descriptions of specific beers right to your phone.  The service is simple - just text the name of a beer to BeerText.US's number and it will shoot you back a description, its ABV, and other facts about the brew you are considering.  There is no signing up for the service or convoluted pricing scheme.  It's all free, with the exception of whatever your cell company charges you for texts.

The service comes from a pair of students from my old alma matter, Syracuse University, where it was put together as part of a hackathon.  All the beer information is pulled from BreweryDB, an open beer database API loaded with beer information.  But with all the variety of beer out there, if you find a beer not in their system, simply add it.

When I test drove BeerText.US, it found most of the beers I was looking for, but it did get stumbled once and a while.  The information usually came back in 10-15 seconds in multiple text messages.  Sometimes the text messages would arrive out of order (i.e. 2 of 3, 1 of 3, and then 3 of 3), but the information was still fun.  I could see how this could be real useful for someone without a smartphone, but for the for those of us in the iPhone/Blackberry world, it would take just as long to google a new beer as it would be to send out a text. 

Give the service a try, if nothing more for the novelty of it.  And then let us know what you think.



"Work is the curse of the drinking class"
-Oscar Wilde

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Dominion Cup

The Dominion Cup is one of the largest homebrewing competitions in Virginia, and also happens to be the closest one to where I live.  I volunteered with the competition as a cellarman three years and had a great time.  Additionally, I have entered the competition every year since starting our local homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), and even medaled with one of our Lug Wrench Collaborative beers - Flemish Fisherman.  So, I was excited to finally be able to clear my calendar for August 11 this year and volunteer for the Dominion Cup again.

2012 was a big year for the Dominion Cup and the James River Homebrewers club that runs the competition.  There were a total of 518 entries into the competition this year, which shattered all previous year records.  The event was also hosted at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, one of Richmond's newest and more interesting craft breweries.  More locally, CAMRA organized and was able to submit more than 80 entries to the Cup, a feat that astounded all of us, given the size of our club.

The actual day of the competition was a great deal of fun.  Given the number of entries, the organizers pressed some of us who volunteered to be stewards into service as judges.  I judged saisons in the morning, and our mini-team of 3 judges worked our way through 14 entries.  In the afternoon, I judged lower gravity stouts (dry stout, sweet stout, and oatmeal stout).  In both cases, I judged with some familiar faces and some new ones.  I enjoyed the process a great deal, and learned a lot as we discussed the merits of the beers, what we each perceived, and how it related to style.  The saison session was the harder of the two, as we had to move through more entries and they were higher in alcohol and more wearing on the palate.  By the end of the day, my hand was regularly cramping from writing out all of the judging forms (five sections with lines for perception descriptions on each one) and it reminded me of high school and college essay exams.  It was a very enjoyable day.

CAMRA as a whole ended up with 13 medals, including 5 golds, 4 silver, and 4 bronze.  We spanned a good number of categories too, including: cider, mead, German lager, Scottish ale, porter, stout, and Belgian ales.  I was shut out of medaling this year, but enjoyed the process none-the-less.  

I encourage any of you to have the opportunity to volunteer at a homebrewing competition to do so, it is a very rewarding way to spend a day.



 Judges and stewards getting organized in the morning over breakfast

Judging between rows of fermenters and a rack of barrels

 Announcing the winners at the end of the day

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tripel Overhead Belgian-Style Tripel Ale

In a recent post, I mentioned that we stopped by Mother Earth Brewing on a trip to the Outer Banks.  The brewery features a number of regular rotation brews and we tried most during the visit to the tap room.  Mother Earth also has several special releases that they package in cork-and-caged large format bottles.  One of these is Tripel Overhead, a bourbon-barrel aged Belgian tripel.  We picked up a bottle of the 9.5% ABV tripel on recommendation from a friend with an excellent palate and decided to save it for tasting later.

The Tripel Overhead label read: 

The flavor of our Belgian-style tripel keep rollin' in: filling your mouth with perfect peeling waves of unexpected pleasure.  Respectfully aged in seasoned bourbon barrels, this beer offers you an amazing zest, balanced with flavors of warming oak.  The result?  A complex sipping beer that finishes smooth and sweet, giving you a glide you won't soon forget.

Tripel Overhead was a highly carbonated ale that made mountains of pillowy white head, with course bubbles against the glass.  The beer itself was a cloudy amber color, approximately like that of light maple syrup.  The head slowly faded through the tasting session and left a nice lacing on the glass.

The aroma coming from the tripel had distinct bourbon and oak characters.  The alcohol was very present in significant amounts, which was not surprising given the beer's strength.  The aroma was also musty, with light hints of spice - perhaps pepper or all-spice.  Tripel Overhead tasted complex and smooth at the same time.  Our initial impression was sweet and smooth, moving to a distinct caramel flavor.  The flavor finished with a little alcohol burn, but it was very subdued, especially given its presence in the aroma.  Flavor features vanilla in the aftertaste.  The beer presented a mouthfeel larger than expected for its dry finish, owing perhaps to the carbonation level and possibly from the oak tannin.

Overall, we found the beer complex and balanced.  My wife described the complexity as "5 beers in one glass" and I agreed with her.  The bourbon flavor was balanced and did not dominate, as seems to happen too often in bourbon-barrel beers.  My only complaint, however, was that I would not guess the base beer was a tripel except that I read it on the label.  The beer did not contain the subtle spicy flavor, layered sugar character, or other elements found in great tripels.  While I found the beer very interesting and balanced in its own way, I would hope for more tripel character if that label is used in its name.

If you are driving through North Carolina, I would recommend visiting Mother Earth Brewing, as the beer is worth the stop.



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Yeast Strains Used in Brewing Classic Styles

Below is the fourth and final Ingredients Chart in the series that visually compares the amount of ingredients (base malt, specialty grains & sugars, hops, and yeast strains) used in the recipes of Jamil's veritable book "Brewing Classic Styles" (BCS).  As mentioned in the first Ingredients Chart posting, this project came about as I tried to identify the most frequently used brewing ingredients in order to stock my brewing inventory accordingly.

If a brewer were to brew all 80+ recipes in BCS, it would take 1,197 lbs of grains and sugars, 207 ounces (~13 lbs) of hops, and 88 vials of yeast.  Looking specifically at the yeast usage, the chart below illustrates the top 15 yeast strains out of 29 strains mentioned in the book.  Its not a surprise that California Ale yeast (WLP001) was the most used yeast by far.  Called for in a quarter of all the recipes, this workhorse yeast is full of utility.  Cal Ale is the yeast strain I try to harvest the most after a batch of beer is finished, as there are so many uses for it in subsequent brews.

In addition to the above chart, several other charts were generated for other BCS ingredients.  The links for each chart are updated as they are published.
This project is a bit open-ended, so please let us know what you think or if there are other ways in which this data can be useful to a fellow homebrewer.



"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption ... Beer!"
-Friar Tuck

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mother Earth Brewing

We were travelling to the southern Outer Banks in North Carolina on a recent vacation and wanted to stop at a brewery during the trip.  A quick check of the North Carolina Brewers Guild reveals that, while the center and western part of the state are loaded with breweries, the coast is rather empty.  The I-95 cooridor features two breweries, Mother Earth Brewing Company and Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery.  We were driving right through Kinston, center of an old tobacco-growing region, and decided to stop at Mother Earth.

Mother Earth Brewing is the dream-child of Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring, two guys from Kinston.  Both developed a love of hand-crafted beer and when Trent married Stephen's daughter, their shared passion led to the idea of forming a brewery.  The goal was to create world-class beers, but keep the process as local as possible.  Both men grew up and went to school in Kinston, a little city of under 25,000, and owned small businesses there.  By keeping the brewery local, Mother Earth could help the local economy and satisfy the local thirst for beer at the same time.

One of the facets of Mother Earth Brewing, which is named after an old Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song, that interested me is their commitment to environmental sustainability.  The owners renovated an old downtown Kinston building to provide a home for the brewery, making substantial investments in energy efficiency technologies and green building materials.  Mother Earth also has a 6 kilowatt solar array installed on the roof that helps offset electrical demand (the energy generated from the array even appears as a counter on the tap room's television set).

While there, we were able to try the following Mother Earth beers:

The kolsch was probably our favorite, as it was smooth, clean, and easy drinking.  It matched the hot weather outside and would be easy to finish off several pints.  The Munich dunkel was also very good, with rich bready malt character and a nice dry finish.  The wit was a bit of a disappointment, as it came across the palate with a spicy, black pepper character, that did not balance with the rest of the beer.

If you are driving through North Carolina on I-95, consider a diversion to Mother Earth Brewing.  Their brewery and tap room are worth the trip.



Monday, July 30, 2012 - Geeky Humor

I have long been classified as "geeky."  Over the years, I have played Dungeons and Dragons, collected Magic the Gathering cards, and extensively read fantasy and science fiction novels.  I love board games and computer games.  In more recent times, I have dedicated a large portion of my free time to brewing and enjoying beer - becoming a "beer geek."  In fact, one of my nicknames in middle school was "nerd."  It should come as no surprise that my sense of humor runs in a similar vein.

xkcd is an online comic written by Randall Munroe, a former physics major who worked on robots at NASA.  Randall doodled a fair amount during his younger days and the doodling grew into a full-time job as a comic illustrator.  xkcd is a word with no phonetic pronunciation and fits at the title of a comic on sarcasm, language and math.  I was first exposed to it by a co-worker, Ben, who has followed it for years.

A quick search on the word "beer" revealed a few interesting comics loosely related to the topic that I wanted to share.

#617 - Amusing given the White House's recent foray into homebrewing

#323 - As a computer programmer, I have often wondered about this "study"

#589 - Party planning at its best

#708 - Not beer related at all, but one of my favorites

I hope you enjoyed the xkcd comics and you look further into Randall's interesting view of our world.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Poll: What Book To Recommend to Homebrewers?

Like all our prior poll posts, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we received on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the question "What book would you recommend most to a fellow homebrewer?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 37

The poll question was specifically setup not to ask what book you would give to a "new" brewer, as we felt that question has been overdone.  However, because we did not specify this explicitly, the results indicate that most readers took the question in that light - what would you recommend to someone starting out in the hobby.  "How to Brew" by John Palmer has become the go-to book for folks entering the hobby and one that just about everyone has in their collection.  Even advanced brewers refer back to it from time to time, so the fact that it was the clear winner is no surprise.

So assuming the "fellow" homebrewer already has Palmer's book - what next would you recommend?  My vote, hands down, was for "Brewing Classic Styles" by Zainasheff.  To me, it is a must-have for any brewer as a recipe book reference.  I've spoken of it multiple times on this blog (including a number of visual charts generated from it) and the recipe book is the most page-worn reference in my brewing library.  With an award winning recipe for every style, its typically the first place I start when exploring a new style. 

If you favorite brewing book is not listed above, leave us a comment and let us know the title.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaiting your participation.



"Everybody has to believe in something ... I believe I'll have another drink."
-W.C. Fields

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beer with Wine Yeast?

The Brewing Network moved studios earlier this summer and had a few "Best of the BN" shows on during the transition.  One of them was an interview with Shea Comfort, a wine consultant and homebrewer loosely associated with MoreBeer, that originally aired in November 2008.  I remember originally being impressed at his discussions involving the use of oak as an ingredient and the characteristics of wine yeasts.  Hearing the interview again convinced me that I needed to try one of Shea's ideas soon.

Shea spoke at length about different wine yeasts and the characters they impart to mead and wine.  These include a number of characteristics that brewing yeasts do not possess, including actual structural mouth feel components, as well as some very interesting fruit characters.  However, wine yeast cannot normally be used to ferment wort because of the longer-chain sugars, such as maltotriose, that exist in wort.  The resulting beverage would be very sweet and not attenuate nearly enough to be drinkable.  Shea introduced several techniques to address this problem, including yeast blending. 

During the interview, Shea stated that yeast strains can be characterized as 'neutral', 'susceptible', and 'killer' with regards to their ability to co-exist with other strains.  Those strains that are 'killer' produce a substance that will quickly prevent 'susceptible' strains from being able to reproduce and effectively die off.  'Neutral' strains are immune to the killing substance and can co-exist with either other type.  All brewing yeasts are 'susceptible' and all but one wine yeast strain are 'killer', thus the strains cannot normally live together in the same fermentation.  However, one possibility does exist, using Lalvin 71B-1122, which is a 'neutral' strain that produces tropical fruit flavors.

Armed with Shea's information, I set out to attempt a beer that used 71B and a beer yeast.  A recent post highlighted the BeerSmith cloud recipe site.  I found an interesting twist on an English mild recipe there, one that used Amarillo hops, which have a distinct citrus/tropical fruit character.  This seemed to be a perfect recipe to use as a blended yeast experiment, as both the 71B and the hops would bring similar flavors to the resulting beer.  For fermenting this beer, I pitched half of the yeast as 71B and the other half as Windsor dry English yeast (5 grams each).  Fermentation started in the normal time frame and now I am waiting on the results to see what flavors were generated by the yeast blend.

If you have ever tried to ferment wort with a wine yeast or other non-traditional yeast, please let us know.  We would love to hear about it.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

BeerSmith Cloud Recipe Site

I have used BeerSmith brewing software for a few years now, after winning a copy of it in a homebrewing competition.  BeerSmith is a full-featured software package that provides a number of elements to make your brew day easier and more accurate.  It allows the user to enter information about their equipment and ingredients and uses that data to customize recipes and even provide a checklist of brew day instructions.  It can also track ingredient inventories and predict how much a recipe will cost at the store.  I find it an extremely helpful tool for planning brewing sessions and use it to keep track of what recipes I have completed in a year, though I use my brewing logs more frequently for reference.  In fact, most of the recipes you see on this site come directly from BeerSmith reports.

The BeerSmith software package has seen a number of changes over the past year.  Version 2.0 was unveiled at the 2011 National Homebrews Conference (NHC).  The version saw a large number of user interface improvements and a different organization structure.  More recently, Brad Smith, the developer of the software package, released version 2.1, which included cloud support.  After signing up for a free account, BeerSmith users now have a cloud folder that can store recipes and make them available across multiple computers.  The number of recipes that can be stored varies from 10 (free) to much larger numbers, which involve monthly fees.

With the cloud support comes the new site.  Users have the ability to mark their cloud recipes public, which enables other people to read them.  The site organizes the recipes in a number of different ways, including by style, and allows other users to rate and comment on them.  This social media aspect of the site has some intriguing possibilities, providing the site sees enough usage to supply the necessary data.  At the time of writing, the site has 5,638 users and 2,210 shared recipes.

I took advantage of the BeerSmithRecipes site the other day, while planning a brew day during lunch at work.  I knew I wanted to brew a lighter alcohol beer because I have a number of bigger beers on tap right now.  I was thinking something of a British ale ilk and knew I had not brewed a mild in some time.  So, I searched the database for mild recipes and paged through looking for inspiration.  I found an intriguing recipe called Amarillo Mild that used amarillo first-wort hops to develop a profile that preserves a mild flavor base and bitterness, but with American hops.  I also liked the malt base used in the recipe, which had less crystal malts than other recipes.  So, I copied the recipe into my account's cloud folder and it was waiting for me at home that night.  Very easy.  I also plan to leave feedback on the recipe after I taste the results.

I encourage you to look around BeerSmithRecipes and get a feel for it, especially if you are a BeerSmith user.  I think the site has a lot of potential and hope it goes far.



Monday, July 9, 2012

Hops Used In Brewing Classic Styles

Below is the third Ingredients Chart in the series that visually compares the amount of ingredients (base malt, specialty grains and sugards, hops, and yeast strains) used in the recipes of Jamil's veritable book "Brewing Classic Styles" (BCS).  As mentioned in the first Ingredients Chart posting, this project came about as I tried to identify the most frequently used brewing ingredients in order to stock my brewing inventory accordingly.

If a brewer were to brew all 80+ recipes in BCS, it would take 1,197 lbs of grain and sugars, 207 ounces (~13 lbs) of hops, and 88 vials of yeast.  Looking at the hops usage, the chart below illustrates the 22 different hop varieties called out by the book.  Kent Goldings and the noble Hallertau reign supreme.  This is directly driven by the fact that these are Jamil's generic go-to hops for English and German beers respectively (for instance, all the American light lagers use Hallertau exclusively).  Substitutions can certainly be made if a related hop happens to be in your freezer, but the chart below describes what was called out specifically in the book.

In addition to the above chart, several other charts were generated for other BCS ingredients.  The links for each chart will be updated as they are published.
This project is a bit open-ended, so please let us know what you think or if there are other ways in which this data can be useful to fellow homebrewers.



"Beer is an improvement on water itself."
-Grant Johnson

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bourbon Barrel Fill #2

Members of our homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), gathered again this weekend to fill our bourbon barrel.  Readers of this blog will remember that this barrel was purchased by the club and unexpectedly soured on our first batch, an imperial porter.  After some cajoling, we gathered enough interest to continue with the barrel project by producing sour beer.  The group decided on a Flanders Red recipe and set out to brew 55 gallons.  For a complete listing of bourbon barrel posts, click here.

The barrel has been moved to the back storage area of one of our local homebrewing shops, Fifth Season (thanks for hosting the barrel!).  One drawback of this arrangement, is that the storage area is not climate controlled, so the barrel will see temperature fluctuations daily, with larger fluctuations across seasons.  This issue was very apparent on our barrel fill day, when the temperatures back there were well into the 90s.  The group's general consensus is that this is not inherently bad for the project, as many professional barrel storage areas also have uncontrolled climates.  The changes in temperature can help the beer move in and out of the wood, which can provide better homes for the micro-flora.  The higher temperatures may also result in quicker sour beer production and the batch maybe ready in less than the year originally predicted, though that could be tempered by the low temperatures in the winter.

The other issue the group ran into on barrel fill day was a "catastrophic bucket failure."  One of the brewers discovered a leaking bucket the morning of the barrel fill.  He was just able to get the bucket into an unsanitized larger container when the entire bottom dropped off, resulting in a loss of the entire 5 gallons.  At least he did not have to clean 5 gallons off of the floor and living area.  The group was fortunate that we had planned on having 5 gallons of "top up" beer for the year the batch lived in the barrel.  Well we do not have that luxury any more, we filled the barrel almost to the top.  This is important for limiting oxygen pick up and discouraging the growth of acetobacter, the bacteria that makes vinegar and results in very harsh sour beer flavors.

All in all, I am grateful that the barrel is full and aging.  Time will tell if the barrel can produce quality sour beer.  Hopefully, the bourbon character in the beer has faded with the first batch and barrel rinsing.  Sour and bourbon flavors do not marry well together.  The barrel aging will also give me time to figure out what I am going to do with 10 gallons of Flanders Red, other than just drink it.



Monday, July 2, 2012

Most Popular Beer Styles: 2012 NHC Entry Results

Two weeks ago saw thousands of homebrewers descend on Seattle, WA for the 2012 National Homebrewers Conference.  The conference, among many things, offers seminars, demonstrations, and camaraderie with amateur brewers from all over the country and beyond.  But one of the center points of the event is the culmination of the National Homebrew Competition.  The final round of the comp is held during the Conference with the venerated awards given at the banquet on the last night. 

We've explored the popularity of the different style entries in prior years (2011, 2010).  With the 2012 HNC awards in the books, it was worthwhile to revisit the results and see if the preferred beer style trends continue to be the same or if there is a shift in brewers' preferences. 

For this analysis, I’m only looking at the beer categories themselves (my apologies to the cider and mead makers out there). To normalize the data, all categories are given as the percentage of the total entry pool that they represent. From this year's NHC competition, the most popular and the least popular styles are as follows (with the full dataset given below).

 1. Stouts (cat. 13) - 630 entries or 8.7% of total
 2. American Ales (cat. 10) - 603 entries or 8.3% of total
 3. India Pale Ales (cat. 14) - 553 entries or 7.6% of total
 4. Belgian and French Ales (cat. 16) - 491 entries or 6.8% of total
 5. Belgian Strong Ales (cat. 18) - 454 entries or 6.2% of total

 23. Euro Amber Lagers (cat. 3) - 158 entries or 2.2% of total
 22. Dark Lagers (cat. 4) - 162 entries or 2.2% of total
 21. Fruit Beers (cat. 20) - 169 entries or 2.3% of total
 20. Amber Hybrid Beers (cat. 7) - 174 entries or 2.4% of total
 19. Bock (cat. 5) - 195 entries or 2.7% of total

The top five beer categories have been the same five styles for the past 5 years with the only change being in the ordering.  Belgian & French Ales flip-flopped with Belgian Strong Ales, otherwise the top 5 style rankings remained the same.  As an overall percentage, the number of entries in the top 5 categories increased slightly from 2012 (37.5% vs. 35.7%) representing a slight strengthening in their overall popularity. 

On the other side of the spectrum, lagers still continue to take a beating.  Of the five lager beer style categories, three of them are in the bottom five.  Light Lagers and Pilsners experienced a surge this year, both jumping up two slots (to #15 and #17 respectively), while Bock beers tumbled hard by 5 slots down to #19.  As has been in the past, there are more than three times as many beers entered in the top five categories as compared to the bottom five categories.  

Looking at trends across the past five years (2008 – 2012), popularity has been surging or failing for some categories as the style gain favor or loses it.  Below are the top movers in the positive and negative direction across thefive year span. 

MOST POSITIVE MOVERS (Ranks: '12 / '11 / '10 / '09 / '08)
 1. Smoke / Wood-Aged Beer - cat. 22 (Ranks: 8, 8, 11, 13, 16)
 2. Sour Ales - cat. 17 (Ranks: 14, 18, 19, 18, 21)
 3. Herb / Spice / Vegetable Beers - cat. 21 (Ranks: 7, 9, 10, 9, 12)
 3. Specialty Beers - cat. 23 (Ranks: 6, 6, 7, 10, 11)

MOST NEGATIVE MOVERS (Ranks: '11 / '10 / '09 / '08)
 1. Bock - cat. 5 (Ranks: 19, 14, 15, 16, 14)
 2. Light Hybrid Beers - cat. 6 (Ranks: 11, 10, 9, 8, 7)
 2. Dark Lagers - cat. 4 (Ranks: 22, 20, 22, 20, 18)
 3. Strong Ales - cat. 19 (Ranks: 12, 13, 12, 12, 9)
 3. German Wheat Beers - cat. 15 (Ranks: 16, 16, 13, 15, 13)

The growing popularity of barrel-aged beers and sour beers have definitely played a factor in the rise in popularity of Categories 22 and 17 respectively. For our 2011 analysis, barrel-aged beers were the most positive mover as well.  However, this years tragic drop for Bock beer caused it to shoot up the leaderboard for most negative mover.  A good Maibock or Doppelbock are stable beers, but the style seems to be getting the cold shoulder from competition participants in the last half decade.  

The complete data set for how each beer style category performed is presented below.  

2012 NHC Entry Rankings by Beer Style Categories

2012 RankCat. #Name# of Entries (2010)% of Entries (2010)2011 Rank2010 Rank
210American Ale6038.3%21
416Belg & French4916.8%53
518Belgian Strong4546.2%45
623Specialty Beers3835.3%67
721Spiced / Herb3625.0%910
822Smoke / Wood3354.6%811
109Scottish & Irish3084.2%118
116Light Hybrids3034.2%109
1219Strong Ale2793.8%1312
138English Pale Ale2653.6%1216
1417Sour Ale2553.5%1819
1515German Wheat Beer2373.3%1613
171Light Lager2002.7%1918
1811English Brown1982.7%1514
207Amber Hybrid Beer1742.4%2120
2120Fruit Beer1592.3%2221
224Dark Lager1622.2%2022
233Euro Amber Lager1582.2%2321

Everyone has a list of favorite beer styles – let us know which are your favorites and how they are represented in the competition scene.



"In my opinion, most of the great men of the past were only there for the beer"
-A. J. P. Taylor

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Party Beer Descriptions

For several years now, I have brewed multiple batches of beer for a good friend's summer party.  The party is a definite highlight of the summer for me, with an opportunity to see old friends and to enjoy fresh seafood and good beer.  John and I have a good deal of fun picking out the beer styles and brewing them together.  I am also tasked with writing some tasting notes that get posted behind the tap handles.  I took a slightly historical bent in writing this years descriptions and I thought that our readers might enjoy seeing them.




Havana Flower Cedar-Aged India Pale Ale – American-style India Pale Ales (IPA) exist solely to push as much hop flavor and aroma into a glass as is humanly possible.  They were historically brewed to resist degradation over the long sea voyage between Britain and India.  They fell out of favor with British brewers until the style was saved and rejuvenated in the American Craft Beer industry.  While this IPA features the strong citrus characters found in American hops, it also contains another twist – it was aged on Spanish cedar wood.  Cedar has a wonderful aromatic quality and is usually associated with cigars and hope chests.  The alcohol in the beer extracts those aromas, as well as interesting sandalwood and cinnamon flavors.  We hope you enjoy the marriage between the wood of Havana and the flowers of the hop – Havana Flower IPA.
6.4% alcohol     IBU: 64     OG: 1.060     FG: 1.012

Rainy Day Robust Porter – Porter was once the most popular beer style brewed in the United Kingdom.  The style originated in and around London in the 18th Century and was a dark strong ale manufactured exclusively from brown, highly-kilned malts.  These malts were dried over wood fires and likely had a strong smoky flavor.  Porter was highly hopped for the time and was blended between new batches and older soured batches, resulting in a complex flavor profile favored by the British.  The blending took place in large vats, which were associated with one devastating industrial accident that flooded Giles Parish, London in 1814 with 125,000 gallons of beer in a 15 foot tidal wave, injuring many.  Modern day porters are divided into three sub styles, with robust porter containing a roast character that puts it halfway to a stout.  Robust porters also feature a balancing dark chocolate flavor and smooth aftertaste.  Our example was brewed during a thunderstorm that broke on top of us as the boil ended.  Rainy Day Robust Porter is sure to sooth your rainy day worries away.
7.1% alcohol     IBU: 37     OG: 1.069    FG: 1.016

Last Minute Rush Belgian Pale Ale – Belgium was once described by the famous beer writer, Michael Jackson, as the “Disneyland of Beer.”  The small nation has an expansive beer history, ranging from beer brewed in monasteries for Lenten fasting to beer brewed for thirsty farmhands in the heat of summer.  Flavor profiles range all over the spectrum, from fruity, to spicy, to smooth and clean.  Some of the more famous Belgian Pale Ales are associated with the City of Antwerp.  They feature a wonderful balance of Belgian yeast spiciness and smooth drinkability.  The style has much to offer the Maryland crab connoisseur, with the slightly spicy aroma complimenting the Old Bay spice on the crab, but the smooth aftertaste washing some of the heat away.  The recipe was associated with a last minute dash brew day to get the beer on tap and we hope that you will not rush through its complex but clean flavor profile.
4.9% alcohol     IBU: 25     OG: 1.047     FG: 1.010

Tater Tots Vienna Lager – Germany is arguably the originator of almost all recognized lager beer styles.  Lager, which translates roughly to “cold storage,” occurred because of the invention of different malting processes that produced pale malt, and by extension, pale beer.  A mutated ale yeast, Saccharomyces pastorianus, thrived in the colder temperatures that the pale beers were stored and produced a beverage with a cleaner and drier flavor than the dark ales of the time.  The light clear beer, when viewed through glass mugs that were also becoming more available, made lager an instant phenomenon.  The malt produced around the City of Vienna had a bready and slightly sweet flavor and was kilned darker than the malt in other areas.  The resulting lager beer was amber in color and featured a wonderful malt grainy softness, making it an excellent companion to food.  Our Vienna lager’s name has nothing to do with the beer, the brewday, or any significant event.  It is rumored to have this name because John thinks it is the beer that his girlfriend Mary will like the most.  Since Mary has done a little Tater Tot bashing on her blog ( - oh and you can also buy her book through the main site), John decided he would really like to hear her say "I really like Tater Tots the best, I would like some more and give some to my friends."  Again, this is just a rumor.
5.6% alcohol     IBU: 26    OG: 1.056     FG: 1.014
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