Thursday, March 29, 2012

Poll: Next Lug Wrench Collaborative Beer?

Like all our prior blog polls, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we received on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the question "For the next Lug Wrench Collaborative Beer, what beer should we brew?" are presented below.

It looks like we'll be lagering!  The race was awefully tight between Baltic Porter, Eisbock, and Flanders Brown Ale.  Just about every day, Tom and I would be checking the results and one of those three would edge up a vote, keeping it a close race.  But it looks like we'll be brewing German this weekend after all.

The recipe for the beer will most likely be from Jamil's book Brewing Classic Styles, as its pretty much the only trustworthy recipe I've been able to come across (does anyone know any others)?  Additionally, I've spent some time listening to Jamil's description of the style on the Brewing Network's Jamil's Show to get a better feel for how the beer will be 'iced' after the lagering process.

Wish us luck!  I'll likely be posting on the brew day in the coming week or two.



"Nothing ever tasted better than a cold beer on a beautiful afternoon with nothing to look forward to than more of the same."
-Hugh Hood

Thursday, March 22, 2012

AHA Governing Committee - Vote!

The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) is currently conducting its annual election of Governing Committee members.  The Governing Committee is comprised of representatives that are elected by the AHA members for the sole purpose of providing advice and guidance to the AHA leadership and the Brewers Association Board of Directors.  Committee members are elected for 3-year terms and can be re-elected up to three times.  They are elected on a staggered schedule, so that only a portion of the Committee turns over each year.  Members help in shaping the direction of the AHA and its policies, as well as providing advice on topics ranging from the annual National Homebrewers Conference to website upgrades to interactions with homebrew shop-owners.  The Governing Committee is our voice as AHA members and they volunteer their time to make our organization and hobby grow and thrive.

Please take a moment to review the candidates biographies and platforms on the AHA website.  Additionally, the Brewing Network has interviewed all of the candidates on the Sunday Session show during the past two months or so.  Those interviews were done live near the beginning of each show and present a candid view of each candidate, allowing AHA members to get a glimpse of their personality.

Voting ends on April 1, 2012 and can be completed by AHA members online.  If you are not a member of the AHA, I would highly encourage you to become one, as the organization represents the best interests of homebrewers and homebrewing across the United States.



Monday, March 19, 2012

More Variety and More Efficiency

I have maintained an internal debate within my homebrewing-obsessed mind for quite some time - variety versus efficiency.  Having a variety of beer styles available to taste keeps the hobby new and interesting.  It allows the brewer to experiment with a number of different beer styles and learn new techniques.  Given homebrewing's currently increase in popularity, there is no shortage of interesting ideas in the magazines, podcasts, and online forums.  There is certainly no way to ever try all of those ideas, but brewing greater variety allows the brewer to at least pretend to chase that fleeting dream.  Variety appeals to the creative side of the homebrewing hobby.

Brewing efficiency, on the other hand, allows a brewer to dial in their brewing process.  If the brewer constantly switches recipes, it is hard to lock down the process and truly improve as a brewer.  Many educated sources state that the most technically difficult brewing task to complete is to brew the same recipe several times and have the batches taste the same.  This is the challenge of the professional brewer, who's clientele demand that their favorite brand taste the same or they may look elsewhere for quality beer.  Efficiency can also relate to time, our most precious commodity.  With the appropriate equipment, a brewer can produce significantly more beer in the same period of time that it would take to produce lesser amounts of beer in smaller batches (think 5 gallons versus 15 gallons - it does not take much longer to get triple the production volume).  Consistent use of the same brewing process also provides familiarity and time-saving techniques during the brew day - see Brew Your Own magazine's March-April 2012 on Speeding Up Your All-Grain Brew Day).  In many ways, efficiency is the ideal driving the technical side of the homebrewing hobby.

But, I ask, why is it not possible to strive to have a little bit of both.  This question is driven primarily by an article I read in the September/October 2010 issue of Zymurgy, entitled More Beer from Your Brew Day.  In the article, Drew Beechum explains that he likes the efficiency of brewing 10-gallon batches, but gets bored of drinking the same beer day after day.  The boredom has driven him to explore ideas to get more beer variety out of the same base beer.  The techniques he developed feature alterations of the base beer during the boil, fermentation, aging time, and packaging processes.  I interested enough in his discussions of aging beer on different products, such as oak, fruit, and cocoa nibs that I decided to attempt it myself.

My local club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA) have started conducting fun internal competitions using the Iron Brewer model.  The latest competition featured white wheat, Chinook hops, and grapefruit.  I did not want to have an entire batch of grapefruit-flavored beer, so I elected to use some of Drew's ideas.  I brewed an oatmeal stout recipe with a significant amount of wheat malt and a bittering charge of chinook hops.  After the beer fermented out, I transferred some of it to two sanitized and CO2-purged 1-gallon glass jugs.  In one of these, I put 1.5 pounds of frozen sour cherries I had bought at a farmer's market.  In the other jug, I put 1.5 oz of cocoa nibs I had left over from another beer.  I plan to dose the remainder of the beer with a tincture I made from the zest of two grapefruit soaked in vodka, using a technique I outlined in a previous post.

I hope to end up with three distinct beers (one kegged and the other two bottled) from one brew day.  This should give me some variety, while using efficiency gained from brewing a familiar recipe at a comfortable 5-gallon brew size.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nanobrewery Interviews: Night Shift Brewing (Part II)

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

As a follow-up to the first half of our interview with Night Shift Brewing, this post presents the conclusion of our conversation we had with the nanobrewery.  Night Shift Brewing has just recently completed all its licensing, brewed their first batches, and have now launched their first commercial offerings at select locations around the Boston area.

*    *    *

Lug Wrench (LW): What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far in starting the brewery?

Night Shift Brewing (NSB): Probably the biggest challenge has been dealing with how slow everything progresses. If we did not have day jobs during the initial stages, it would have been extremely tough to survive. Perhaps the next biggest hurdle is figuring out everything you need and where you are going to source it. All those minor things begin to add up. Simple tasks like choosing our bottle supplier took months to figure out. We talked with many different suppliers, emailed other breweries, compared quotes, compared shipping costs, etc. We looked at bottles from US companies, Canadian companies, and even bottles from a French company. It was often the company that showed the most initial effort and responded to our questions the fastest that got our attention – time is so important, and you value people who appreciate that.

LW:  I love the visual look of the website and company logo. Where did the company name and imagery all originate?

NSB: The name “Night Shift Brewing” comes from how we started this brewery. When we first began, we all had separate day jobs, but would come together at night to brew test batches and talk about developing the business. It was like a second job, only at night. We’d often be up brewing until two or three in the morning, only to wake up hours later for “work.” In this sense, our day jobs sustained our night shift brewing, which is where our passion truly lived. Thus, “Night Shift Brewing” reflects our origins, our brewing passion, and our observation that the night shift really does seem to bring with it a sense of magic and possibility.

It’s also worth noting that we’ll continue night shift brewing at our brewery in Everett. Two of us – Michael Oxton and Mike O’Mara – work full-time for the business, but our third founder, Rob Burns, will continue his daytime job as a software engineer until we can afford to pay him full-time as well. As Rob is our de facto Brewmaster, we’ll do most of our brewing when he’s back from work, so we’re still on the night shift (day shifts will be spent selling, pouring, promoting and just contemplating about beer).

We really wanted an animal logo, something active and recognizable, but also memorable. An owl was the perfect fit – mysterious, nocturnal, apparently quite wise, and fairly unique (and, let’s be honest, owls are just cool). The final image for our logo is the hop-owl (its body has the shape and texture of a hop), which was drawn by one of our founders, Michael Oxton.

Our general branding attempts a look that’s handcrafted and rustic, but also classy. We’re small, we’re making our beers by hand, and we brew in an old WWII parts factory, so our look needs to feel a bit raw. But, we’re also making very complex, intricately flavored beer – a beverage that’s closer to wine than Bud Light. So, we also want to appear tasteful and refined, not cheap.

LW: I've noticed you guys use a lot of social networking - how has social networking and other online tools been useful for Night Shift as you started building the business. What has worked and what has been disappointing?

NSB: Online social networking is huge. It allows us to connect with fans and really interact with them in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. It’s been especially interesting to learn how Facebook and Twitter can be used most effectively, and differently. At first, we treated them both the same and would simply post the same messages on both. What we’ve learned, however, is that we have two fairly different sets of people following us on each, and the manner of our interaction should be different, as well. Twitter is more about our dialogue with an online community, where Facebook is more about Night Shift news and updates. With Twitter, we try and craft interesting, relevant messages that others can re-tweet and use to generate a conversation. With Facebook, we’ve put a bigger focus on visuals and letting people learn about us through photo albums.

Our blog, however, is currently our most important and useful online tool – it just gives us so much freedom to tell the Night Shift Brewing story and share our voice. The more you can share with people, the personal and interesting your relationship with them will be. The blog is still very much in its infancy, but we’ve had great success with it so far.

LW: Where did you get the inspiration for the beers you plan to commercialize? How did you pick your range of offerings?

NSB: We draw a lot of inspiration from the culinary world – restaurant menus, cooking at home, and even non-alcoholic beverages. Quite often, a recipe idea comes from something completely unrelated to beer. One of our launch beers, Bee Tea, is a prime example. Bee Tea is a wheat ale with orange peel, orange blossom honey and green tea. Rob designed this recipe after growing to appreciate the green tea and honey combo at work. There was a challenge in translating that idea into a tasty beer, but we brewed a lot of test batches and ended up with something we really like.

As stated before, our initial range of offerings is the very best of our 80+ homebrew recipes. We did keep it diverse – a wheat ale, a Belgian-style pale ale, and a stout – but those also happened to be some of our favorites. We plan to be constantly experimenting, however, and coming up new recipes all the time. Much like what White Birch has done so successfully, we plan to release a lot of specialty batches as we move forward. It’s more fun for us to share what’s new and interesting, and hopefully it’s more fun for our drinkers.

LW: Any plans to do collaborative brews or even Pro/Am brews with other local brewers/homebrewers?

NSB: We don't have any immediate plans, but it would definitely be great to do collaborative brews with some of the local Massachusetts brewers. To our knowledge, there actually hasn’t been a collaborative brew between two MA breweries, so maybe we’ll be one of the first.

We would also like to work with homebrewers. Boston has a great club, The Worts, who have an insane amount of knowledge. We also recently featured some beers at a North Shore Homebrewers meeting, and they’re another crew with lots of interesting, experienced brewers. It would be great to support the people in groups like those, and work with them to create some special beers.

LW: Since you've started this venture, what's been the most rewarding or interesting thing that's happened to you?  

NSB: Very tough to say. We’d like to think that the most interesting phase has yet to come. However, just watching the enthusiasm build around our beer and our brand has been incredibly exciting. When a friend in Maine tells us that people in Portland are talking about Night Shift, or when an account in Boston goes “Guys, customers want to know when your beer hits the shelves,” it’s really hard to not feel almost stunned. Until quite recently, our beers were only shared with friends and family, and no one outside our social circle had heard of “Night Shift Brewing.” To see this hobby (ok, maybe obsession) transform into something so much bigger, something that people care about, is just incredible. The culture of “sharing” is something all three of us seem to enjoy and embrace – now it’s become our full-time job.

*    *    *

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



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

Monday, March 12, 2012

Help Lug Wrench Pick The Next Collaborative Beer

It will have been almost 18 months since the last time Tom and I were able to brew a Lug Wrench Collaborative Beer.  That dryspell is coming to an end, as it looks like Tom and his family will be taking the 500 mile trek to Rhode Island fir a visit at the end of March.  And you know what that means - its brew time!

Like the majority of our prior collaborative beers, we've typically focused on darker, high alcohol beer styles - beers that can cellar well for long periods of time.  When we are lucky enough to be in the same town again, Tom and I will often open one or two of these beers from the growing library as a way to look back at our collaborations. 

In planning for this upcoming brew in March, Tom and I threw around several different options and were able to narrow the list down to these six possibilities:
  • Russian Imperial Stout
  • Strong Scotch Ale
  • Baltic Porter
  • Eisbock
  • Flanders Brown Ale
  • Imperial Smoked Porter
Of course, picking which style to brew from the list is never easy we love too many of them.  So we thought - Why not let the readers decide?!? As a result, we put up a poll (on the right side of the page) and are asking all our visitors to let their voices be heard for what style of beer we should brew next.  Give it some thought.  Don't give it any thought.  Flip a coin.  Either way you do it, vote and help us out.  The results will be in our brewpot at the end of the month!



"I'm gaining weight the right way: I'm drinking beer."
-Johnny Damon

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reusing a Yeast Cake

Professional brewers reuse yeast all the time.  This reuse allows them to save a substantial amount of money, rather than growing up or purchasing a new yeast pitch each time.  Additionally, many people claim that yeast cultures take a couple generations to hit their stride (a generation is fermenting a single batch of beer) and that the yeast performs best after the third batch.  Eventually, they yeast colony begins to mutate, alter its performance or resulting flavor profile and needs to be removed from the brewery.  The number of generations a brewery uses its yeast varies by brewer beliefs, yeast strain, equipment and other factors.  Many breweries maintain labs and run chemical and biological analyses of the yeast to determine its maximum generation number, while other breweries rely on experience and work processes.  All things considered, yeast reuse is almost mandatory in the professional beer world.

The same is not true in homebrewing.  Yeast costs are much smaller for homebrewers, so there is less incentive to try to save money by reusing yeast (if you are making your own beer solely to save money, you may be in the wrong hobby).  Homebrewers also do not have much experience with saving yeast and performing proper procedures to limit bacterial load and optimize yeast health.  But, the largest reason for not reusing yeast, in my opinion, is scheduling.  Liquid yeast does not have a long storage life, even in optimal conditions.  If a homebrewer saves a batch of yeast and does not use it within two weeks, the yeast may need a starter to revitalize it before repitching.  Most homebrewers I know do not brew more than once or twice a month, so storage becomes a problem.  Combine this with the fact that we rarely brew the same beer style back-to-back, often using different yeasts, so scheduling becomes quite an issue.

All that being said, I have intended to reuse a batch of yeast for more than one beer for quite some time.  The easiest way to do this is to ferment a batch of beer, siphon the new beer off the cake, and have fresh wort ready to go on the yeast immediately afterwards.  This method does not require rinsing the yeast; nor does it require lengthy yeast storage.  It is a simple process, but requires planning to time the two batches properly and ensure they can use the same yeast (I did an Irish Red and an Oatmeal Stout with White Lab's Irish Ale Yeast).

If you consider reusing a yeast cake, keep the following in mind:

  • Do not use the same cake more than two or three times.  Because you are not rinsing the yeast, each batch leaves trub, hop matter, and dead yeast behind.  This can slowly degrade and produce off-flavors in your beer.
  • Do not use a high-gravity wort or very hoppy wort until the terminal batch of beer.  High-gravity wort stresses the yeast and may make it less likely to fully ferment the following beer.  Highly-hopped worts leave bittering compounds in the yeast cake that can over-bitter the subsequent beer.
  • Target a yeast that settles out well, so that it is easy to rack off the yeast cake and not have it be overly disturbed before receiving the new wort
  • Avoid using fining agents, like gelatin, that will be left in the yeast cake and can inhibit the subsequent fermentation.
  • Be prepared for VERY quick yeast activity and use a blow-off tube because of the violence of subsequent fermentations (see the picture for what my Oatmeal Stout left in the fermentation chamber)
Reusing the yeast cake has been a fun experiment for me.  The stout is not done yet, so I cannot compare the yeast's performance to other batches of the recipe I have completed.  But I am confident that it will have performed at least as well as previous batches.  However, the difficulty and limitation of reusing the cake makes the process likely to only happen infrequently in my homebrewery.

If you have ever tried reusing yeast, leave us a comment and let us know how it went.



Monday, March 5, 2012

Poll: Most Important Thing for New Homebrewers?

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 is the most important thing for a new homebrewer to focus on?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 43

This was one of the more enjoyable polls that we have done in a long time.  It was a real get back to basics topic.  Many times, we are guilty of focusing on advanced or peripheral topics in homebrewing, but the fundemental building blocks are way more important than anything else when it comes to brewing beer.

Focusing on the poll results specifically, its really no surprise that good sanitation practices is considered such a critical element for homebrewers.  Without the ability to control microbe populations in and around our beer, the resulting beer would be a crapshoot - a completely random beverage that would be more times undrinkable than drinkable.  For begining homebrewers, learning to properly sanitize equipment and how to handle the wort on the cold-side is the first step in producing repeatable results.  But sanitation is certainly not something just for beginers to consider.  It is a concept that everyone should strive to improve.  If you've been brewing for years and have a set process, ask yourself "how can I improve my brewing sanitation?".  Where is the most likely place an infection might jump into my beer?  Continuous improvement should be the mantra homebrewers adopt - make small improvments whenever you can and your brewing will continue to improve right along side.

We will likely return to this topic in future polls, so let us know what you think.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaying your participation.



"What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?
-W. C. Fields

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bourbon Barrel Project - Barrel Fill

My local homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), is currently in the middle of a group bourbon barrel project.  Some elements of the project have been covered in previous posts on organization and group brewing.  After individually brewing the beers, it was time to gather and fill the barrel.

Bourbon barrels are delivered in a variety of conditions when ordered.  The condition depends on a myriad of factors including their age, storage time, and method of transportation.  The most important thing to immediately assess is how likely the barrel is to leak.  Barrels are made up of individual pieces of wood, called staves, which are held together with metal bands, called hoops.  The wood used for staves, often white oak, is split and aged and dried.  When properly cut, trimmed, and assembled, the staves fit tightly together and swell to become waterproof in the presence of a liquid.  If a barrel is allowed to dry, the staves can shrink and the barrel may leak.  Leaks can also come from barrels that are damaged in storage or transport.  In the case of the barrel used by CAMRA, we had no idea how long the barrel sat before being transported to us after purchase.  We also stored it for several months before we were ready to fill it, so there was concern about potential leakage

Barrels are plugged with a wooden bung, that seals the cone-shaped hole on the top stave of the barrel.  Bungs are often hammered in and can be difficult to remove.  The CAMRA barrel's bung was flush with the surrounding stave.  There seemed no easy way to remove it without damaging it until the club organizer thought to use coarse wood screws to attach metal brackets to the bung.  Then we were able to apply leverage and twist it out.

The CAMRA barrel was empty, but smelled fantastic of Virginia Gentleman from the A. Smith Bowman Distillery, which is the bourbon it contained.  If the barrel contains any liquid bourbon, it is advisable to collect it, as mixing it in with the beer will likely give an overwhelming bourbon character.  There is plenty of bourbon absorbed in the wood already.  The lack of bourbon in the barrel increased our fear of barrel leaks, but we decided to proceed anyway.  The barrel was stored on a small barrel rack at a local homebrewing shop, Fifth Season, and we could watch underneath the barrel to catch any developing leaks early.

The barrel fill went very well and our batches of fermented beer were siphoned in rotation into the barrel.  The project had nine brewers, with two of us brewing double batches.  We had intended one of the double batches to provide a 5-gallon keg to top-up the barrel if beer evaporated.  Having extra beer on hand was fortunate, as we needed half of the top-up keg to fill the barrel completely.  It is always better to have a little more beer on hand than be short and risk increased oxidation through the barrel headspace.

The barrel is now topped up and has an airlock in case of changing pressures.  The plan is to taste it in a month and see how the flavors are developing.  We do not want to taste it more frequently and risk oxidation or infection.  Because new barrels can quickly provide bourbon and oak flavors, it is likely we will need to change the beer out in as little as a few months.

Thanks again to Fifth Season for hosting the barrel and to Greg W. for organizing the project.  I am looking forward to seeing how the beer turns out.


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