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
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