Monday, February 27, 2012

Lug Wrench and the 2012 Boston Homebrewing Competition

For those homebrewers in the New England area, the 2012 Boston Homebrewing Competition took place this past weekend and appeared, at least from the outside, to be a much more organized competition than prior years. I’ve been a fan of the competition for several years and it has been nice to see the comp’s efficiency come back and it's registration levels return to the 400+ level.

After all the score sheets were tallied and refreshing my browser countless times, the results of the competition were posted.  For me, my goal in any comp is simply just not to get skunked, so it was very humbling to be awarded several medals.  Two of my beers that placed, in fact, have been described in one or more posts here on Lug Wrenchand I though it would be fun to point out where they have been referenced.

  • The Belgian Golden Strong (“Eagles Nest Revisited”) was original recipe I tried to shrink down when I posted about my attempts to create a sessionable Belgian Pale Ale with the same flavor profile.  The Golden Strong recieved a bronze medal, while the Belgian Pale Ale, which was entered, did not place in its category.  
  • The German Pilsner ("Congdon Hill Pils") was recently posted about when a local brewpub brewer saved my brewday by donating a growler full of lager yeast after my yeast starter failed.  The Pils ended up winning the Pilsner category and then went on to recieve an honorable mention in the Best of Show round - a feat that is a personal best for me.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that my local homebrew club (RIFT) made me incredibly proud when the brought it strong in the competition.  The club scored 13 medals across all categories, which was only topped by the hosting club, the Boston Wort Processors.  An special congratulations to Tom Auer for winning Best of Show: Cider honors - 'atta boy Tom!
The scoresheets are scheduled to be shipped out sometime next weekend, which to me, is the real prize of any competition.
"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."
-Winston Churchill

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Visual Brewing Charts by Lug Wrench

Ever since I posted the very first brewing chart I did, we've been getting lots of positive feedback and praise from the readers.  About once every other week, I get an email from someone asking for the PDF versions of the charts, which is great.  However, navigating through the site to get at all of the charts has been a mild complaint which I wanted to rectify.

Eventually, Tom and I will create a static page that contains similar information to what is below, but in the meantime, I wanted to list out all the current charts in a single post that can be used for everyone's reference.

BJCP Beer Style Visual Regerence Charts
  1. SRM Color Ranges by Style
  2. IBU Bitterness Ranges by Style
  3. OG and FG Ranges by Style
  4. Alcohol by Volume Ranges by Style
  5. "Apparent" Bitterness (IBU/OG) Ranges by Style

White Labs Yeast Visual Reference Charts
  1. Fermentation Attenuation Ranges by Strain
  2. Floculation Ranges by Strain
  3. Optimal Temperature Ranges by Strain
  4. Alcohol Tolerance Ranges by Strain

Wyeast Labs Yeast Visual Reference Charts
  1. Fermenation Attenuation Ranges by Strain
  2. Flocuation Ranges by Strain
  3. Optimal Temperature Ranges by Strain
  4. Alcohol Tolerance Ranges by Strain

Hop Union Hop Variety Visual Reference Charts
  1. Alpha Acid Ranges by Hop Variety
  2. Cohumulone Ranges by Hop Variety

In addition, I have uploaded PDFs of each collection to a public folder on DropBox, which should give access to anyone who wants the higher resolution PDFs of the charts.  If the link below do not work, please leave us a comment and I'll try to fix them again.

PDF Versions of the Above Collections
  1. BCJP Beer Style Visual Reference Charts
  2. White Labs Yeast Visual Reference Charts
  3. Wyeast Labs Yeast Visual Reference Charts
  4. Hop Union Hop Variety Visual Reference Charts

If you have any suggestions for future chart topics or have any feedback on the above, please let us know - we love to hear it!



-Homer Simpson

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ovila Dubbel

I first heard about the Ovila range of beers on Craft Beer Radio, as part of their coverage of SAVOR 2011.  In one of the private tasting salons, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Father Thomas of the Abbey of New Clairvaux discussed their release of the Ovila beer series.  The Ovila project is a collaboration between the brewery and the Abbey, which is located in Vina, California.  The project's goal is to develop a series of beers that follow the traditions established by centuries of monastic brewing.  Many monasteries traditionally brewed beer, both a a mechanism of self-sustainment and to allow them to trade or earn money for other supplies.  These traditions exist today, most notably in the Trappist breweries of Belgium, which we briefly discussed in a previous post.

In addition, the proceeds of the Ovila project will benefit the Abbey's attempts to rebuild the 12th century Spanish medieval Santa Maria de Ovila chapter house.  The chapter house was built in 1190 was originally located in Spain, near the village of Trillo.  In 1931, a wealthy California newspaper owner named William Randolph Hearst found the chapter house in disarray and purchased it for transport to the United States, stone by stone.  It was never reassembled and was eventually given to the city of San Francisco, where the pieces were subjected to vandalism and fire.  In 1994, the Abbey of New Clairvaux gained possession of what was left and began restoring the chapter house.

The Ovila series of beers include a dubbel, saison, and quad.  The tasting notes for the dubbel, which I managed to obtain, include:

"Clear and deep copper in color, this Abbey Dubbel has a complex and rich malty sweetness with hints of caramelized sugar.  The aroma is a heady and layered mix of fruit and spice with hints of clove, raisin, and black pepper from the user of an abbey-style yeast."

For my tasting of the beer, I found it to pour a rich amber, almost garnet color.  The beer was topped by a thick layer of course bubbles that almost exploded into the glass with carbonation.  The head quickly faded, but left a nice Belgian lace down the glass through the tasting.  The dubbel has a rich aroma, loaded with dark caramel, figs and spices.  The complexity of aroma is consistent with some other dubbels I have tasted and is one of the elements I like best about the style.

The first impressions of flavor I experienced were mostly around mouthfeel.  The beer has a thick and rich texture that is counterbalanced nicely with its carbonation.  The mid-palate has a significant caramel character, along with some hints of black pepper that come through more in the finish.  The pepper is  character is subdued, though, and does not approach levels that throw me off of some other Belgian beers.  The finish has a nice alcohol warming (7.5% ABV), but finishes surprisingly dry for the rich flavor characteristics.

I was very pleased with the beer, both because of its flavor and its backstory.  In fact, I would argue that the backstory, the very uniqueness of the beer's origin, increased my enjoyment of the beer.  The visceral act of tasting food and beverages is such a subjective experience, that the environment and setting in which it is done plays a big part of the overall effect.  Identifying with the product being tasted plays a significant role, which is perhaps why I seem to enjoy beer from breweries I know more than those that I do not.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bourbon Barrel Project - Group Brew Day

My local homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), is currently in the middle of a group bourbon barrel project.  The general idea is that purchasing and filling a large bourbon barrel is daunting for an individual, but a great group project for a homebrewing club.  Our club planned this purchase for over a year and is now preparing to fill the barrel.  An overview of the process, along with some ideas for other clubs to consider when buying and using a barrel, can be found in a previous post.

One of the goals of the CAMRA barrel project was to truly make it a group experience.  Once the brewers were selected to participate in the project, we debated what recipe to use.  The general parameters of recipe choice focused primarily on beer styles that would age well in a barrel.  In particular, the selected recipe would have to handle a substantial bourbon character.  The barrel we purchased came straight from the distillery and still had a small amount of bourbon in it.  As such, the wood was still saturated with bourbon and will add a decent amount of bourbon and oak flavor, even with a short aging time.  As the barrel experiences subsequent fillings, less bourbon and oak flavor will come out of the wood and require longer aging times.  Initial recipes all focused on darker stronger beers, particularly porters and stouts.  Several brewers suggested Denny Conn's Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter, which they had brewed and loved.  The group decided on that recipe and moved forward with planning a group brew day.

In early January, a number of us gathered a club member's house for the group brew session.  The brewer turn-out was less than originally expected because of the weather.  While Central Virginia has experienced a mild winter this year, the early morning of brew day saw a minor ice storm that made some roads difficult traverse (I barely made it up the hill near our house).  The weather and cold temperatures made several members brew at their own houses, but we still had three brewers and two helpers gather together for the brew day.  We enjoyed the warm welcome and fantastic brews of our host and had a great time (thanks, Evan!).  The cold weather even dramatically increased the efficiency of our wort chillers.

Group brew days are one of my favorite parts of the homebrewing hobby.  They allow brewers to socialize and enjoy each others company and homebrews.  Given that homebrewing equipment and processes vary dramatically, group brew days also provide people the opportunity to see how others brew and take ideas to improve their own processes.  These benefits, in my opinion, make group brew days worth the inconvenience of lugging equipment around and operating in different environments and difficult circumstances.

Personally, I was low on my original gravity on brew day.  But, the beer has fermented out well and is tasting clean and smooth.  I am looking forward to filling the barrel with the group's efforts and seeing what comes out on the other side.



Monday, February 13, 2012

Nanobrewery Interviews: Night Shift Brewing (Part 1)

While many of us have toyed with the thought of starting up our own nanobrewery, there are others who have taken the plunge.  To find out who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Tom and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweris to get their stories.

Night Shift Brewing
Everett, MA

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the three owners (Michael Oxton, Robert Burns, and Michael O'Mara) of a new Boston nanobrewery that is on the verge of opening its doors.  Night Shift Brewing is setting up shop in an old WWII parts manufacturing facility in Everett, MA.  After signing the lease back in July 2011, the trio have been pushing hard to get their space in shape.  And with all the pieces finally coming together, the company was awarded their Farmer Brewery License just last month.  Brewing on a custom-built 3.5 bbl system, the brewery is planning to self-distribute to the Metro Boston area with targeted spots in the North and Southshore regions.

If Everett, MA sounds familiar, it might be because Night Shift Brewing is also the physical neighbor to one of our prior interviewees, Idle Hand Craft Ales.  With Night Shift tasting room almost complete and beer targeted to be ready to served toward the end of this month, a visit to the 3 Charlton Street facility in Everett to check out the two breweries should certainly be a worthwhile venture.

Below is the first part of our multi-part Q & A interview with Night Shift Brewing.  The conclusion of the interview can be found here.

*   *   *

Lug Wrench (LW): How long have you been planning the Night Shift nanobrewery?

Night Shift Brewing (NSB): Starting a brewery has been on our minds since we graduated college. Two of our three founders – Rob Burns and Michael Oxton – went to Bowdoin College in Maine, and were exposed to a lot of great craft beer from Allagash, Geary’s, Shipyard, etc. Rob actually brewed his first beer in college, looking to get deeper understanding of beer and its ingredients. After graduation, Rob and Michael. both moved to Boston, and began brewing more and more often. Honestly, it only took a few batches until the hobby of brewing became a total obsession.

During this time, our third founder and childhood friend of Rob, Mike O’Mara, had graduated from Philadelphia University and began brewing beer himself down in Philly. His exposure to some of the great PA/NJ breweries like Weyerbacher and Flying Fish definitely helped influence his perception of craft beer. In the summer of 2010, Mike moved to Boston when Rob and Michael (different person) began exploring the possibility of starting a nanobrewery.

Now homebrewing 1-2 times a week on our 15-gallon system, we also started developing this idea of Night Shift Brewing, a name we had given to our nocturnal brewing efforts. After some serious planning and organization, we incorporated Night Shift Brewing in January of 2011. Our business plan took shape soon after that, and it all escalated from there. About sixteen months of hard work and serious planning has led us to where we are now, on the verge brewing our very first official batch.

LW: When did you know this was something you were going to go for, as opposed to just just daydream material?

NSB: In our six-bedroom Somerville apartment, we began holding weekly beer tastings. Quite often, we’d have 10+ friends show up, each with 1-2 beers that would all get sampled, discussed and rated over the course of the night.  Over the years, we tasted and documented over 400 different beers this way, which became invaluable market research.  At the same time, we were just beginning our foray into homebrewing. Drawing inspiration from our many tastings, we experimented with our own recipes in an attempt to create beers that were equally unique, interesting and delicious. We often played with unorthodox ingredients and many strains of yeast, looking for flavors that were great, but also memorable.

Eventually, we began slipping homebrews into our weekly tastings, just to see how they stacked up. It wasn’t all positive at first, but after some improvements in our equipment, techniques and recipes, ratings for our homebrews went up. When they began tasting on par with certain commercial beers, the realization hit: we could actually do this professionally.

Fueled by this possibility, our brewing efforts increased even more. We bought better equipment and put as much time into brewing as we had available. With beer piling up around the apartment, we decided to start throwing tasting parties. These were a huge success – we’d usually have close too 100 guests show, all sampling 6-8 of our different beers on tap. We handed out rating cards to everyone, and collected feedback that way, and through conversation. When it became clear that many types of people with many different tastes thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated our product, we began developing serious ideas for the business.

LW: How did you gather the required capital to start the brewery?

NSB: Our start-up capital came from our friends, our family, and ourselves. As a business with no credit history, banks or traditional lenders would never have given us the necessary loans. So, we wrote a strong business plan and convinced friends and family members that our strategy and product had real potential for success. The business plan itself took a lot of work and many, many drafts, but it was hugely helpful and ultimately quite successful.

LW: As you began to plan the nanobrewery, what resources did you use to gather information?

NSB: Starting the brewery has been a long and painfully slow process. Everything has taken longer than expected. Perhaps most helpful to us were conversations we had with other brewers and breweries - we tried to learn as much as we could from them. We were also lucky to have Idle Hands Craft Ales directly next door to us, and 6 months ahead of us in terms of licensing and build out. Chris Tkach, the owner of Idle Hands, was a fantastic resource.

We also read a number of beer blogs to help us navigate the mess. The Bruery’s blog was one of our best resources, as they fully documented a large part of their start-up. Another great site is There are a lot of active discussions on there, and many people who will answer your questions.

LW: Night Shifts initial plan is to self-distribute. Why is that?

NSB: We chose self-distribution because (a) we simply cannot afford a distributor right now (b) we don’t really need one until our production increases, but also (c) we’d much rather become familiar with our accounts as we start. Being able to speak personally with the beer buyer or restaurant manager about our own product is really important to us, and that relationship is something we want to cultivate before we grow too big.

Eventually, we would like to expand to other New England states, as well as more of the east coast (especially Pennsylvania, where two of our founders are from). For now, though, given our small size, our focus is on Massachusetts.

LW: How are you planning to differentiate your beer from all the other offerings that are out there?

NSB: Night Shift Brewing is really trying to be an innovative brewery. Each of our beers will incorporate unusual ingredients, processes, or inspiration from rare styles. Our goal is to fuse these ideas into beers that are truly memorable and interesting. But we’re not looking to make gimmicky beers or put out extreme flavors. Rather, we want to build unique, complex flavor profiles that create a product that, above everything else, is simply great beer. People will hopefully find intricacies in our beer, but the focus is a drink that people will enjoy, and remember.

When possible, we also plan to source ingredients from local businesses. Two of our three initial offerings use a locally sourced product – our Bee Tea uses organic green tea from Somerville’s Mem Tea, and our Taza Stout uses organic roasted cacao nibs from Somerville’s Taza Chocolate.

Finally, it is our belief that beer and food are a natural combination. While our beers should be worth appreciating on their own, they should also pair well with the right complementary dish. Our labels will details “Suggested Food Pairings” for each beer, and our blog will have an ongoing focus on both eating and cooking with beer. We also plan to work with various restaurants in and around Boston in hopes of uniting great craft beer with great food.

* * *
Part 2 of our interview with Night Shift Brewing can be found here.

If you want to find out more about Night Shift Brewing, check out their website, or better yet, if you are in Boston, stop by the brewery.



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

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Westmalle Trappist Dubbel

I am extremely fortunate to have kind co-workers who travel to far away places and bring me back beer and beer-related items.  One of them recently returned from a trip to Belgium and left a bottle of Westmalle Trappist Dubbel on my desk.

Westmalle is one of six Trappist monasteries that still brew beer in Belgium.  The others include Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, and Westvleteren.  Westmalle is located in the central Northern part of Belgium and started brewing in 1836.  According to Hieronymus' Brew Like a Monk, Westmalle was founded by monks who fled France in 1802.  The brewery has expanded several times since 1836, mostly to finance different Trappist ventures.  However, unlike older days, Westmalle monks no longer actively participate in daily brewing, which is done by lay employees.  The monks do sit on the brewery's board and set the rules for its output, capped at 120,000 hetoliters annually, and its recipes, which remain unchanged over the years.  The brewery produces a dubbel and a tripel and is the only Trappist brewery to label its beers with those traditional names.

The following statistics on the Westmalle dubbel come from Brew Like a Monk:

  • Original Gravity: 1.063
  • ABV: 7.3%
  • Apparent Degree of Attenuation: 87%
  • IBU: 24
  • Malts: Pilsner, caramel, and dark malt
  • Adjuncts: Dark candi sugar
  • Hops: Tettnang, Styrian Goldings, Saaz
  • Yeast: Westmalle, which is also used for bottle conditioning (commercially, WLP 530 Abbey Ale or Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity)
The beer pours a deep amber red color with high amount of carbonation and makes a distinctive hiss as it hits the bottom of the glass.  The carbonation supports a off-white colored head with coarse bubbles that fade after two or three minutes.  The foam does leave a nice Belgian lacing as the beer moves down the glass.  The dubbel's aroma has hints of dark fruit, perhaps raisin or prunes.  It also smells of dark caramel sweetness, with a slight herbal/basil note.

The first taste of the dubbel reveals the prickle of carbonation evident during the pour.  This subsides into dark caramel flavors, but without the sweetness.  The mid-palate includes evidence of the dark fruit flavors hinted at in the aroma, but again without any sweetness.  The flavors finish very dry and almost evaporate off the tongue within seconds.  The 7 percent ABV is completely hidden in the beer, without any burning or harsh characteristics.

I brought a lot of expectations to this tasting, based on my experiences with other, mainly American, dubbels.  I anticipated a beer with large flavor components, featuring layered sugar and caramel characteristics.  I certainly expected some degree of sweetness and a lingering palate that encouraged slow sipping.  What I experienced, instead, was a very dry beer with subdued flavors that appeared almost flat compared with my expectations.  Even after knocking out a good amount of the carbonation, I still did not find more complex flavors.

In an ideal dubbel, I would like something between my expectations and what I tasted in the Westmalle dubbel. The beer I tasted was very well brewed, without any apparent faults or mishandling, but I would like some more robust and interesting flavors.  On the other hand, I found the Westmalle example more drinkable than many American dubbels, which often end sweet and are too big to truly want more than one glass.

Thanks to my co-worker, John, for bringing me a Trappist beer direct from Belgian.  I truly appreciate his generosity.



Monday, February 6, 2012

RFP - Jeff's Initial Recipe and Brewing

I realize that it has been over a year since we initially announced our Recipe Formulation Project (RFP) and while there was a lot of energy around it, the chatter died off after Tom completed his first beer for the project.  While I had every intention of brewing my beer, 2011 did me in with very few brew days, which caused my contribution to the project to get procrastinated.... seriously procrastinated.  However, with a new head of steam for brewing in 2012, I got back on the horse, compiled my recipe, and brewed the beer this past weekend.

As a quick synopsis, the RFP idea was a way for Tom and I to explore new ingredients that were outside our comfort zones.  Each of of us selected three randomly generated ingredients and had to brew a beer with two of the three.  For my beer, I was allotted rye malt, cardamom, and extra special malt (see the Beer Concept post for all the details).  My ingredients took me down the path of Danish dark rye bread, which was the inspiration for the recipe below.

The final recipe that was brewed is very similar to what was discussed in the beer's concept phase.  However, I did make a few modifications that should be noted:
  • Rice hulls were added because of all the rye and oats in the recipe.
  • Cardamom was kept out of the boil as I decided I'll add it at bottling/kegging.  I'll be using a a manner akin to the method Tom described, which will give me the ability to dial in the cardamom flavor and potency.
  • The late addition of centenial hops was increased but pushed closer to flame out.
  • WLP001 was used as the yeast in lieu of the English or lager strains I initially contemplated.  This yeast would be easy and have a clean character that would allow the other ingredients to take center stage.

Other than a slow sparging process and letting the wort get too cold during chilling (~45 F) which slowed the initial yeast activity, the brew day was a success.  In about 2-3 weeks, the beer should be ready for cardamom dosing.  I should be able to do a side by side with the spiced and non-spiced version to really understand how the spicing is complementing the end result.

Dark Side of Denmark Rye
Style: Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 6.00 gal
Boil Size: 7.0 gal
Measured OG: 1.046
Measured FG: 1.011
Estimated SRM: 17.5
Estimated IBU: 24.8 (Rager)
ABV: 4.6%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 73%
Boil Time: 60 Min

Grain / Extract / Sugar
5.50 lb GlobalMalt Light Munich Malt (53.66%)
1.56 lb Weyerman Rye Malt (15.22%)
1.50 lb Rahr US 2-Row Malt (14.63%)
0.56 lb Flaked Oats (5.46%)
0.50 lb Crisp Crystal 45 Malt (4.88%)
0.38 lb Chocolate Rye Malt (3.71%)
0.25 lb Rice Hulls (2.44%)

0.70 oz Sterling (6.0% alpha) at 60 minutes
0.80 oz Centennial (8.4% alpha) at 20 minutes

40 drops of Foam Control in the boil

1 vial of WLP001 (Cal Ale yeast) in a 1000 ml starter

Mash Schedule
60 min at 151 F

Brewed on 2/3/2012 by JW

Whirlfloc was left out of the brew by accident as I found out I had no more tablets when it came time to add it.

Aeration was accomplished via an aquarium pump and diffusion stone, run for 30 minutes.

Yeast was pitched into cold wort (45 F) and allowed to ramp up to the targetted 67 F fermentation temperature.  The low initial temperature caused a delay in the first signs of fermentation activity.

Cadamom, one of the required ingredients, will be added after fermentation at the type of packaging.

Feb 19, 2012 - All signs of fermentation activity have completed.  Dropped the temperature of the beer to 40 F to cold crash  prior to kegging.

March 25, 2012 - After being lazy with this beer and letting it sit in cold temp for 5 weeks, I finally got around to kegging it.  When I was pulling the carboy out, the carboy was under negative pressure (from when the beer got cold I guess) as the blow-off tube had sealed itself.  In my attempt to relieve the pressure in the better bottle carboy, the blow-off tube unsealed itself and sucked 1-2 cups of star san into the beer :(  The beer was kegged and put under Co2 gas to carbonate.

* * *



"Beer is the Danish national drink, and the Danish nation weakness is another beer"
-Clementine Paddleford

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poll: New Year's Beer-Related Resolution?

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 "What Beer-Related New Year's Resolution Is Most Appealing To You?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 23

Bring on the new kettle, march pump, temp control, etc .... it seems everyone is looking to improve their homebreweries this coming year.  I'll have to admit that I fell into this category too.  With any homebrew mail order, I find myself always trying to add one or two items that will improve my process.  Whether its an oxygenation kit, a diffusion stone, or a refractometer, I can never pick up just a few ingredients.  However, as I mentioned in my 2011 wrap-up, my next homebrewery improvement needs to be a second chest freezer so I can keep beer on tap when I'm fermenting a new one.

One of the categories I was hopeing to see get a bigger turn out was for "Take a beer-related trip", as this was a close second for me.  I am sure most beernuts are like me and unconsciously do this anyways (heading to city X?  What breweries/brewpubs/beer bars are there?), but taking a serious trip to beer-meccas like Belgium or Germany have always been on the short list.  I've got to move that up on the priority list for sure. 

Let us know what your thoughts are on the topic.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaiting your participation.



"If God intended us to drink beer, He would have given us stomachs."
-David Daye
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