Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from Lug Wrench

Another year has passed, and today we give thanks for all that we have been blessed with.  Tom and I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that everyone had the chance to reflect on friends and family that enrich our lives.

After a year of personal challenges, this Thanksgiving was more important than most and we were very pleased that things have turned out how they have.  Here's hoping that the coming year will be just as fortunate and enjoyable. 

Cheers to all and hopes that everyone has a great beer and great company during this holiday season.



"What event is more awfully important to an English colony than the erection of its first brewhouse?"
-Rev. Sydney Smith

Monday, November 25, 2013

Heady Topper - The Taste of Hops

My good friend, Jeff, recently presented me with an awesome treat - a can of Heady Topper.  Heady Topper is a Double IPA that is brewed by The Alchemist Brewery, located in Vermont.  Its intense flavors and limited distribution have resulted in a cult-like status surrounding the beer.  Heady Topper has earned top marks on beer rating sites like ratebeer and beeradvocate.  The Alchemist was featured in the March/April 2013 issue of Brew Your Own (BYO) magazine, which provided interesting back story on the brewery and beer, some fun anecdotes of people trying to get cans of Heady Topper, and a clone recipe.

The beer pours a very hazy clover honey color with a thick white head that thinned relatively quickly.  My wife's glass had chunks at the bottom, which the can label identifies as hop resins.  The aroma features a huge burst of grapefruit, lemon zest, and pine tree resin.

The flavor of Heady Topper is as intense as its aroma.  It begins with a burst of citrus fruit character that slaps your taste buds around.  The middle of the flavor features a strong pine resin character, along with a hint of sweetness.  It also features a substantial mouth feel, including the prickly sensation of carbonation.  The beer has a long finish, with a bracing bitterness and alcohol warmth in the back of the throat.  The finish lasts for at least 30 seconds or more, but is not cloying in any way.

Heady Topper is certainly an intense tasting experience, but certainly not something I would have as an every day beer (my wife likely differs with me here).  I found the beer changed flavors as it warmed, featuring more citrus qualities over pine resin and more sweetness over the length of the tasting.

The labeling recommends that you drink it directly from the can to help reserved the intense hop aromas and present them directly to your palate.  An interesting thought, but I think I would rather see the beer in a glass than drink it from the can.

What a fantastic beer.  Given our enjoyment of Heady Topper, and my wife's love of hops, I think I may have to try the BYO clone recipe sometime in the future.  If you have already done so, please leave a comment to this post, as I would love to hear about it further.

Thanks again to Jeff for his incredibly generous gift.



Monday, November 11, 2013

Lug Wrench Brew: Cait the Grate, Imperial Stout

It has been nearly four months since our last blog post, and nearly 18 months since our last Lug Wrench collaborative beer.  Shame on us...we know.  Tom and I have the best intentions of continuing to fuel the blog with more content, but many times life just gets in the way. 

We were fortunate in that last weekend Tom and his family made the trip up to Rhode Island for a long over due get together of the families.  And while both our wives rolled their eyes at the mention of brew session, Tom and I made sure it happened.  The style: a Russian Imperial Stout.  Why?  Because we have never done one before and its the perfect beer for long term storage and aging.  Plus, when done right, they are oh so good.

After a bit of conversation, we decided to go with a RIS recipe from a friend of Tom's down in Virginia (thanks Jeff!).  Modeled after a famous RIS brewed annually by the Portsmouth Brewery, this homebrew version came with thumbs-up recommendation of having produced good results in the past.  While, our intent was to follow the recipe as written, our last minute attempt to get ingredients together caused us some foibles and we had to made a few substitutions.  The two largest changes was first that the LHBS was out of flaked barley when we stopped in, which caused us to improvise by adding a combination of flaked oats and wheat.  Secondly, our pre-boil gravity appeared to be much lower than expected, causing us to add in all the DME I had in the house along with brown sugar (neither which was in the original recipe) to bump up the gravity. 
To make the brewing session a bit more "special", because of the large amount of grain we used and the assumed low efficiency, Tom and I decided try making a second beer via a partigyle method with the mash.  After the primary boil kettle was full, we ran another 3 gallons of hot water through the mash tun into a smaller kettle that could be boiled in on the kitchen stove.  This second beer, which was hopped in the direction of an American Stout, had an OG in the 1.065-70 range.  We'll try to put up a separate post on this beer shortly.

At the time this post's writing, it is obviously too early to tell how well the beer will turn out.  However, it was yet another good Lug Wrench Collaborative Brew Session that kept us on our toes.

Below are the notes and recipe for the collaborative imperial stout.  The notes will be updated as the beer continues to ferment, aged, and be tasted.

Cait the Grate, Russian Imperial Stout

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.0 (6 gal left in the kettle, 5 gal in the carboy)
Total Grain (lbs): ~32
OG: 1.118 (target: 1.012 without sugar additions)
FG: 1.034 (69% apparent attenuation)
SRM: 57.8 (Rager)
ABV: 11.3%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60% (dropped to accommodate lower efficiency with big beers)
Wort Boil Time: 75 minutes

Grain / Extract / Sugar
24.5 lbs American 2-Row Malt (Briess)
2.0 lbs White Wheat Malt
2.0 lbs Extra Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)
1.12 lbs Special B Malt
0.94 lbs Carafa Special II
0.81 lbs Aromatic Malt
0.63 lbs Crystal 60 Malt
0.63 lbs Roasted Barley
0.50 lbs Flaked Oats (instant quick oats)
0.50 lbs Brown Sugar
0.32 lbs Black Patent Malt
0.32 lbs Crystal 120 Malt
0.32 lbs Chocolate Malt (English)

3.1 oz Newport Pellet Hops (9.8%) at 75 minutes
0.3 oz Centennial Pellet Hops (10%) at 10 minutes
0.6 oz Palisade Pellet Hops (7.5%) at flame out
0.4 oz Styrian Goldings Pellet Hops (5.4%) at flame out
0.4 oz Williamette Pellet Hops (5.5%) at flame out

28 drops of Foam Control in the boil

2.5 packets (11g per packet) of US-05 dry yeast, hydrated before pitching

Mash Schedule
60 minutes at 148° F
Batch sparged to get 7 gallons in the brew kettle

Brewed on 11/3/13 by the Wallace Brothers.  Eighth collaborative session brew

Aeration was accomplished via an oxygen tank and diffusion stone, run for 60 seconds.

Beer was about 59° F after aeration.  Pitched the 2.5 packets of hydrated yeast (hydrated in 2 cups of 90° F pre-boiled water) into carboy and placed the setpoint of the fermentation fridge to 64°F.  Since there will be a lot of activity that will generate heat once fermentation kicks off, the setpoint was set low to keep the temp from spiking.

Activity kicked off in the carboy in less than 48 hours after pitching yeast.

11/24 - Racked the beer into a sanitized keg for aging.  FG was measured at 1.034, which gives a 69% apparent attenuation and an ABV of 11.3%.  I would have liked to seen it get below 30, but a 70% attenuation on this size beer is not bad.

Monday, July 8, 2013

2013 Summer Party Beer Descriptions

One of my favorite events of the summer is brewing beer for and attending my friend's crab and clam party, held just after the Fourth of July.  John and I have a good deal of fun picking beer styles and brewing them for the event.  The creativity of naming them usually falls to John, though inspiration often comes from brew day events.  To cap it all off, I write descriptions of the beers that hang near the kegerator to provide information about the beer, and a little humor.  As in years past, I wanted to provide these descriptions for the enjoyment of our readers.




Cicada Invasion West Coast Red Ale - The moniker “West Coast” usually means a hoppier and higher alcohol version of the normal beer style. Cicada Invasion has the malt base of traditional American Red ales but an increased hopping rate, making it the hoppiest of offerings at this year’s party.  The ale is hopped with Magnum for bittering and equal portions of Cascade and Centennial, which bring a delectable citrus and floral note to the beer. We hope you enjoy the deep and smooth malt notes along with the hop forward finish of Cicada Invasion West Coast Red Ale. Cicada Invasion was inspired by the intense song of this summer’s most talked about insect, the cicada. At its peak the sound reminded us of an alien space craft landing, thus the name. The cicada’s eerie red eyes match the deep red hue of the beer which hopefully you will not have to wait 17 years before seeing again. No insects were harmed in the making of this beer.
6.3% alcohol     IBU: 66     OG: 1.061     FG: 1.014

The Experiment Chocolate Oatmeal Stout - Oatmeal stouts are derived from dry Irish stouts, through the addition of oatmeal in the grist.  The oatmeal provides a rounder and less edgy finish, which is often described as a “slick” feeling on the palate. Oatmeal stout all but died out as a style in Great Britain until the famous beer writer Michael Jackson wrote about it in the late 1970s.  Since then, the American Craft Beer movement has embraced the style and it is once again commonly brewed. The Experiment has been aged on a large bed of cocoa nibs, which are the agricultural product that ends up as chocolate. The cocoa nibs give the stout an intense chocolate nose and flavor.  John has been using a stout tap to serve oatmeal stout and other dark beers since 2008. The stout tap uses a nitrogen/CO2 gas mix to carbonate the beer, which provides it with a rich and velvety finish and a dense foamy head. The Experiment is named for a brewing gadget that John has been perfecting to control hot water flow rates into the mash tun, a wonderful invention. We hope you let the stout Experiment with your taste buds and leave them wanting more.
5.6% alcohol     IBU: 36     OG: 1.058     FG: 1.016

Fallen Spring 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, with an almost lager like finish. 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, modified from last year, was created during our exceptionally short real Spring season this year – the part between the wet and cold and the hot and humid weather. The brew day was cool and crisp, clear and breezy, a perfect fall day. But it was spring, therefore, Fall in Spring. We hope you will remember this year’s Fallen Spring and fall in love with this complex, but cleanly flavored ale.
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 in which the pale beers were stored. This 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 brew day, 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 like to hear her say "I really like Tater Tots the best; I would like some more and I would like to give some to my friends." Again, this is just a rumor.
5.6% alcohol     IBU: 26     OG: 1.056     FG: 1.014

The Replacement Rye Session Ale - The term “session ale” means a lower gravity beer that is designed for easy drinking, as part of a social gathering. A drinking session, in British terms, is a gathering of friends at a local pub, where the friends take turns buying rounds of drinks. Because it has lower alcohol (usually under 4.2%), yet is a flavorful beer, it is enjoyable but does not leave the drinker in a condition adverse to carrying on a conversation. One typical fault of session beers is that they lack mid-palate mouth-feel and flavor, which makes them come across watery or bland. The Replacement is an attempt to counter this issue by “replacing” some of the base grain with flaked rye, which adds mouth-feel in the beer and leaves a nice light spicy flavor on the palate. Partnered with a blend of spicy and citrus hops, the Replacement should leave you wanting more. The Replacement is named because Tom had some concerns that the Vienna Lager would not be finished in time for the party, so he decided to make a back-up beer, just in case. This beer is no second stringer, so fill up your glass and enjoy the game.
3.6% alcohol     IBU: 40     OG: 1.040     FG: 1.013

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Poll: Percentage of Your Beers That Are Lagers?

Like all our prior poll posts, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we recieved on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the question "In the last year, what percentage of the beers you brewed were lagers?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 31

These results show the unfortunate trend in homebrewing where lagers are, for the most part, forgotten about.  Whether they are more difficult for most homebrewers to attempt, take too long for homebrewers to create, or require more equipment than what most homebrewers have, lagers are not a preferrential set of styles folks like to brew (except for the 3 of you who indicated >50% of your beers are lagers - a real kudos to you!!). 

Reflecting these results on my own personal brewing, I brew somewhere between 10-30% of beers are lagers.  The time committment it takes to turn around a lager is probably the biggest mental hurdle I run into.  However, some of my best beers have been lagers (i.e. a German Pils getting HM in BoS, our collaborative Frosty Fool Eisbock).  Its just unfortunate that these beers always seem to take a back seat to the APAs and IPAs that always wedge their ways into my brewing calendar. Something I'll need to mentally address moving forward....

Let us know where you stand on lagers and what prevents/hinders you from brewing more of these beers.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaiting your participation.



"I'm a lager lad."
Michael "Mufasa" Ferguson

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ryetronic Pale Ale

Back in January, I resolved to try and brew more session ales this year.  This decision was made for a number of reasons, including the challenge of making flavorful lower gravity beer.  Last month, in support of the goal, I decided to make up a recipe for a pale ale with around 3 percent ABV.  Lower gravity ales I have made in the past have been bland or watery, particularly around the middle of the flavor profile.  So, I decided to boost the middle by using flaked rye, which is not malted, and should provide both flavor and mouthfeel.  Now that the beer, called Ryetronic Pale Ale, has aged and carbonated, I figured I would post some tasting notes and the recipe.

The beer pours golden copper colored hue with a thick and pillowy white head.  The head forms slightly irregular lumps as the pint is consumed and leaves a nice lacing pattern on the glass.  The beer's aroma is spicy and interesting, including hints of biscuit and bread crust.

The beer's flavor is initially spicy along the lines of pepper or all-spice.  This character fades to a mid-palate creaminess, with a slightly slick mouthfeel similar to an oatmeal stout.  The flavor ends with a hint of bitterness, but one that is barely there.  This smooths out of a period of several seconds before rinsing clean.

Overall, the beer is very drinkable and balanced.  It has more character that other lower gravity ales I have made in the past, which have often been watery and bland.  I think I would like a bit more character in the middle of the flavor palate and would consider bumping up some of the specialty malts to try and achieve that.  Perhaps increasing the crystal malt or the biscuit malt would provide that missing character.  But, overall, I am extremely happy with how this 3 percent ABV session ale has turned out.

Have you brewed an interesting lower gravity ale in the past?  If so, what are some tips that you could share on how to keep these ales both flavorful and drinkable?




Recipe: Ryetronic Pale Ale
Brewer: Tom Wallace
Style: American Pale Ale

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.97 gal
Post Boil Volume: 7.02 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 6.00 gal  
Bottling Volume: 6.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.037 SG
Estimated Color: 7.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 43.3 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 81.0 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
Mash: 155 F for 60 min

7 lbs - Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM)      
8.0 oz - Biscuit Malt (23.0 SRM)        
8.0 oz - Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L (80.0 SRM)    
8.0 oz - Rye, Flaked (2.0 SRM)      
12.00 g - Warrior [16.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min
10.00 g - Perle [7.70 %] - Boil 60.0 min    
1.00 Items - Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 15.0 mins)
14.00 g - Cascade [7.30 %] - Boil 5.0 min
14.00 g - Challenger [7.20 %] - Boil 5.0 min  
14.00 g - Cascade [7.30 %] - Boil 1.0 min    
14.00 g - Challenger [7.20 %] - Boil 1.0 min  
1.0 pkg  - Safale American  (DCL/Fermentis #US-05)    

3/23/13 - Racked to secondary, as needed the larger carboy for another beer.  Beer is very clear and has a neutral nose, but a rather full flavor with biscuit and spice, at room temperature.

4/14/13 - Kegged the beer.  Nose is neutral.  Beer has a pretty copper color.  Flavor is smooth and light  with hints of caramel and biscuit.

4/29/13 - Beer is really turning out nicely and has been well received by friends.  If any changes should be made, perhaps bump the biscuit or crystal malt for more mid-palate flavor.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Modern Times Beer's Use of Kickstarter

I have been following the development of Modern Times Beer for quite some time now.  The brewery, which will be opening in San Diego later this year, is the brain child of Jacob McKean.  Jacob was involved in marketing beer for Stone Brewing Company and decided to strike out on his own.  I first heard of the venture because he reached out to Michael Tonsmeire to help with recipe development (Lug Wrench readers will recognize Michael's name, as we have exchanged beer with him before and are huge fans of his blog).  This collaboration has been featured extensively on the Mad Fermentationist blog, mentioned on the Basic Brewing Radio podcast, interviewed on the BeerSmith's podcast, and others.  But, what I have found most amazing about Modern Times recently is their use of Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a relatively new method to fund creative projects that was launched in 2009.  The basic idea is that a person wishing to develop a project creates a Kickstarter account.  The resulting Kickstarter campaign page details what the person/company wishes to accomplish and also sets a very specific monetary goal and a fund raising deadline.  The Kickstarter campaign then begins to crowd-source funding for the project to help meet the goal.  People can give whatever amount of money to the project they wish and the person/company usually promises to give away incentives or prizes for different giving levels to help encourage participation.  If the Kickstarter campaign is successful and receives enough funding by the deadline, the money is awarded to the person/company, after Kickstarter takes a five percent fee to maintain the website and service.  If the campaign is not successful, all money is returned to the donors.  It is all or nothing.

As of this writing, the Modern Times campaign has been the most successful funding of a brewing yet on Kickstarter.  The purpose of the campaign is to raise money to help outfit the Modern Times tasting room, purchase wine and spirit barrels, and buy lab equipment.  The brewery set a $40,000 goal for the campaign and it has blown by it.  They are currently working on a stretch goal of $65,000, which will fund a solar water heating system for the brewery.

Public response to the campaign has been amazing to watch.  I think this has a lot to do with Jacob, who has experience marketing beer and a solid understanding of the market he is reaching.  He has created a number of prize packages that are unique and rather hipster (interesting t-shirts, brewer playing cards, brew sessions, etc.).  The success is also due to the campaign trying to raise money for a specific, and very public, part of the brewery - the tasting room.  I think that people identify with the tasting room and can see their money extending their enjoyment of visiting the brewery.  Yes, the brewery will still open without your donation, but it will be much cooler for you if you donate.  Finally, I think there is a snowball factor going on.  Jacob has highly publicized how they were approaching the Kickstarter record and even organized a donation to a local charity when they passed the record.

What can other breweries learn from Modern Times' success with Kickstarter?  First, do not try to finance your entire brewery through Kickstarter.  Instead, use it to augment something that the public can directly relate to, such as a tasting room.  This will encourage participation.  Second, ensure there are a number of interesting prizes for all donation levels.  If there is something interesting, even for the lower levels, the campaign will get more people who were on the fence about donating   Finally, understand that one of the biggest benefits about a Kickstarter campaign is getting the public to invest themselves in your project.  Set a reasonable goal and its success will be an excellent source of interest in the brewery for years to come.

Let us know if you have ever started or contributed to a Kickstarter campaign and how it worked out.  We would love to hear from you.



Thursday, April 18, 2013

Electric Hot Liquor Tank Regulator

Having an engineer as a friend can have its rewards.  My friend John, the one who I brew beer for his summer party, has come up with a new gadget for the homebrewery.  I like to fly sparge, which means balancing a slow flow of hot water out of the hot liquor tank (HLT) into the top of the mash tun, while allowing wort to trickle out of the bottom of the mash tun.  The hot water slowly rinses the grain bed of additional sugars, a process that mimics what is done at the professional brewery scale.  However, the flow rates must be adjusted during the 45 minute sparge because of the changing head pressure from the HLT as it empties (I use a gravity feed).  Having witnessed the many adjustments, John has designed a gadget to automate the adjustments.

The gadget has a rather simple concept.  It uses two metal wires that are mounted close together and suspended over the mash at the desired height of the mash column.  As the sparge water flows into the mash tun and the level rises, it eventually contacts the two wires.  This completes a circuit that closes a valve and blocking the HLT port.  As the mash tun drains, the water level goes down and breaks the circuit, thus opening the valve and allowing the sparge water to flow again.  This is all powered by a "wall wort" that came from an old electric keyboard my wife used to play.

In a way, the mash acts as a switch.  John has explained it in detail to me, but most of it is over my head.  My understanding of circuits does not extend much past the light bulb and battery circuit experiment I did in 4th grade.  But, I can say the gadget is really quite cool.

The prototype is currently on version 3.0.  The main problem we have had so far is the size of the electrical valve's aperture.  The first two versions used valves that were not large enough, mainly because John scavenged them from other projects he has worked on.  Now that we have a good idea of flow rates and how the gadget works in practice, we will pick up a valve sized for the job.  Other, more minor adjustments have included how to mount the gadget and how to secure the probe wires.  Once these are complete, we still have to figure out how to put it in a durable package so that it can be protected for years to come.

Thanks for the idea and all the hard work, John.  I look forward to many more years of gadgets to come.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mason Dixon Line Mead Tasting

Jeff recently posted that our Mason Dixon Line Mead won a gold medal at the 2013 Ocean State Homebrew competition.  He had mentioned to me that he brought it to a recent homebrewing club meeting and that it was really well received.  Jeff encouraged me to open a bottle and give it a try, something I had not done for quite some time.  After it won gold, I figured the least I could do was to enjoy a glass and post some tasting notes.

Upon opening the bottle of Mason Dixon Line Mead, there is a clear hissing sound, demonstrating evident carbonation.  This is confirmed by medium sized bubbles racing up the sides of the glass when the mead is poured.  The mead appears brilliantly clear pale straw color.  It carries a delicate floral scent along the lines of honeysuckle, though not nearly as strong.  A light honey aroma is also present, especially as the mead warms. I did not detect any of the medicinal aroma that I recall from the mead shortly after bottling, more than two years ago.

The mead's flavors are delicate, much like the aroma.  The initial flavor perception is floral and smooth.  This fades to a slightly herbal or spice-like character, perhaps something warming like cinnamon  though this could be related to the alcohol strength.  The end of the taste is slightly sweet on the tongue, though it fades rather quickly.  There is also a lasting alcohol warmth in the back of the throat that is rather pleasant   The carbonation level is light and provides a mild mouthfeel.

Overall, I would say Jeff is correct.  The Mason Dixon Line mead has completely turned around.  It lacks its former medicinal and abrasive flavor characteristics.  It is enjoyable to drink now and has a positive character all its own, supplemented by the back story of where the honey was sourced.  In many ways, I am glad that I did not like it at first, so I still have a decent stock to age for years to come.  Congrats to the mead for winning gold!

Photo credit: The mead appears with a picture drawn by my daughter, who nicely granted the rights so that it could appear on this blog.



Monday, April 8, 2013

Two Lugwrench Beers Medalled at OSHC

The results of the 2013 Ocean State Homebrew Competition were announced last night and Lug Wrench was elated to see two of our "beers" on the list of winners.  It has been a real pleasure watching the OSHC grow from small beginings into a sizable competition, with 359 entries this year.

Our Frosty Fool Eisbock was awarded a silver medal in the Bock category (out of 12 entries).  I struggled with whether to enter it as a doppelbock or a true eisbock, but ended up putting it in the doppelbock category as I didn't think it was "over-the-top" enough to do well as a eisbock.  Competitions tend to award those beers that stand out in their categories, so strong doppelbock would likely do better than a middle-of-the-road eisbock.  The true test will be when I get to read the judges comments to see how the pegged the beer, but given its place on the awards table, it obviously did well as a dopplebock.

Our Mason Dixon Line Mead won a gold medal in the Traditional Mead category.  However, given there were only two entries in the category, we'll take this win with a grain of salt.  This was actually the first time I've entered a mead (Tom has won a few medals before for his meads), but this mead was special as it was a combination of Virginia and Rhode Island honey (thanks yet again to Bil for the RI honey!).  What impressed me most about the mead is how it has evolved over the years.  Tom originally described it having a very medicinal quality in its early life and we both shelved it and forgot about it.  But recent tastings showed it to have transformed considerably - enough so to give it a try in competition.  It goes to show that unless a beer or mead is critically flawed, there is always value in letting it age out and watching the flavors change over time - many times for the better.  The scoresheet and score on this mead will be the real tell for how well the taste has evolved.

Our thanks go out to all the organizers, judges, and volunteers who took part in the 2013 OSHC - we look forward to another good comp next year.



"Drink is the feast of reason and the flow of soul."
-Alexander Pope

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Doctoring Beer Post Kegging

I have posted previously about my experiments using tinctures and other elements to alter the flavor of finished beer.  The general idea is that by tasting small volumes of beer, and adding measured amounts of flavorings, you can more precisely control the final blend of flavors.  When the desired flavor profile is reached, the flavorings can be scaled up to the final package size (bottle, bomber, keg, etc.).  I have used this method half a dozen times and found it quite a bit of fun.

Last weekend I thought of an idea to extend tincturing and flavor additions further.  We have a keg of a Dead Guy Ale clone that is about a third full.  The beer is very mild tasting and comes across the palate slightly watery.  It has not been the most popular keg on tap and we have grown slightly bored of it.  While pulling a pint, I wondered if I could alter the flavor of the keg to make it more interesting.  The process would be similar to adding tinctures before, with a few differences.  First, you would need to brainstorm what flavors would be compatible with the beer, as it already exists in a finished state.  Then, after tasting a variety of flavor additions and picking the desired one, you would have to sample for concentration and ramp up the flavoring addition to match the amount of beer left in the keg.

For the Dead Guy Ale clone, we tried the following flavorings:

  • Lemon extract
  • Rosehip tincture
  • Hazelnut extract
  • Islay scotch that had soaked in oak cubes
  • Kahlua
  • Cinnamon tincture
The lemon extract was the winner by far, though the Islay scotch had enough oak tannins in it that it smoothed and blended with the beer in an interesting way, as well as adding a distinctive mouthfeel.  After selecting the lemon extract, my wife and I dosed 2 ounce samples until we ended up with the dosing rate of 5 drops in a sample.  This scaled up to 320 drops in a gallon (or 9 mL per gallon).

However, with a sealed keg, we had no idea of how much beer was left.  To estimate the amount, I pulled the keg out of the kegerator for 5 minutes or so.  After that time, a condensation line was clearly visible on the outside of the keg.  Measuring the number of inches the line was from the bottom, versus the total height of the metal part of the keg, provided me with estimate of 1.5 gallons remaining.  I used this volume to come up with the dosing amount of 14 mL, which we added to the keg.

After shaking the keg up to mix the lemon extract in and letting settle for a day, the altered beer has a very distinctive lemon character and gives the impression of a shandy.  I must say that we both like it a good deal more now and I think the keg will not last much longer.  It was a change for the better.

Have you ever altered the flavor of a partially full keg, whether through adding flavorings or blending with another beer?  If so, leave us a comment and let us know your experiences.



Monday, April 1, 2013

Lug Wrench Chart Featured on Brookston Beer Bulletin...Again!

Back in February, Tom and I were floored when one of our Beer Charts was featured by Jay Brooks's Brookston Beer Bulletin.  Both being fans of Jay's site and the information it extolls, we were thrilled to see that our work some how made it onto the pages of a craft brew icon.

Well on March 25th, another of our Beer Charts were featured - this time the ABV Range by Style chart.  Tickled pink is an appropriate expression....

For anyone interested, all the beer charts we've done can be found on this page, including links to download PDF copies of each collection.



"Be in good cheer, drink only great beer."
-Jay Brooks

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Start of the 2013 Summer Brewing Schedule

Every summer, around July 4, a good friend of mine hosts a seafood-themed party.  There are crabs, clams, and a host of other good food.  For a number of years now, I have also worked with him to create a series of homebrewed beers for the party.  John found an old soda fountain machine that he has retrofitted to dispense beer and the guests have several to choose from.  You can read posts about the beer brewed for the party in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

This past weekend marked the first brew day for the summer party.  While it may seem funny to start brewing for a summer party when there is still snow on the ground, we really need to start this early to account for scheduling and resources.  I have a limited amount of fermentation space, so we need to plan to have only have beer that ferments at the same temperature hitting that space at the same time.  We also account for beer production and aging time, so that the product enjoyed at the party shows its best.  Then there is finding time to get together for brew days amongst our busy schedules.  All of these factors go into the planning process, and certainly not for the first time, I am glad my friend is an engineer.

Saturday's brew day went well.  John and I brewed and oatmeal stout and hit most of our numbers.  We have dubbed the beer "The Experiment" for a number of reasons, some of which will be documented in future posts.  We enjoyed hot scotchies, good beer, and good food.  Days like these remind my why I love this hobby so much.

Have you ever had to schedule homebrew production to support an event?  If so, leave us a comment.  Jeff and I love to hear from our readers.



Monday, March 25, 2013

Poll: Favorite Homegrown Hop Varietal?

Like all our prior poll posts, this post takes a moment to memorialize the results we recieved on the most recent blog poll.  The readers' responses to the questions "Growing your own hops: what's your favorite varietal?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 14

I  knew when I put this poll up that it was going to be a bit hit-or-miss with participation.   The question is only applicable to those homebrewers (or brewers) who specifically have the land and interest in planting their own hops.  The interest level has spiked up in a few years, but the number of homebrewers that put rhizomes in the ground is a small fraction of the population.

Initially, the question was originally posted as a way to get suggestions about what type of hops I should plant.  A few years back, I had purchased some rhizomes and planted them in pots at my old house, which did particularly well in their first season.  However, the move to our new house and the lack of attention I was able to give them the first summer caused the plants to die off. But with the impending thaw coming (it is coming, right?), I got interested again in trying it again.  However, I ended up jumping the gun and purchased rhizomes (Sterling and Centenniel) before the poll could give me any suggestions on way or another.  Oh well - if I had waited, I would have been the proud owner of Centenniel and Willamette hops, but Sterling will just have to do.

Let us know if you've got hops in the ground at your home, and if so, what varieties?  I'm sure I'll write a bit more about the new rhizomes and their progress in the future, but I'm curious to hear what everyone else has.  And if you are reading this, our next blog poll is up and awaiting your participation.



"When the pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, landed at Plymouth rock, the first permanent building put up was the brewery."
-Jim West

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Oatmeal Stout Aging - Revisited

I have been given a rare gift by a good friend, a bottle of oatmeal stout that we brewed together three years ago.  My friend, Tres, possesses an amazing ability to resist the urge to drink well-aged beer.  We visited his family several weeks ago and before we left, he presented me with a bottle labeled "Oatmeal Stout March 2010."  I had assumed that all of the beer was polished off, but now have an opportunity to taste it again and see how it has aged.  I last posted about this beer almost two years ago, when I was able to taste it next to a much younger version of the same recipe.  At that point, I preferred the younger beer, as it tasted more in line with what an oatmeal stout should taste like.  This time I do not have a comparison beer, other than having brewed this recipe, originally from Brewing Classic Styles, with some variations, at least half a dozen times.

The aged oatmeal stout pours midnight black, with no highlights at all.  I put it up to a strong light, but did not get ruby highlights as I expected.  After the initial pour, the beer produced a thick off-white head comprised of tiny bubbles.  The initial head volume decreased rapidly, but left a thin layer of foam on the surface of the beer that lasted throughout the session.

The stout delivered a strong aroma of unsweetened bakers chocolate.  This was supplemented with an oxidized sherry character, with sour cherry notes.  The beer also had some alcohol notes to it, but lacked the coffee smell that younger versions of this beer often possess.

The beer initially tasted of unsweetened bakers chocolate, reinforcing that element detected in the nose.  This character moved towards a slight tartness in the middle of the flavor.  I did not detect a sour note, so I doubt the bottle had an infection, but the tartness was more in line with that from a cherry or raspberry.  The flavor then moved to an oxidized sherry character that was rather pleasant.  The beer was appropriately carbonated, but the middle of the taste was flat, missing some of the mouthfeel I find in younger versions of the recipe.  It did have a very long finish, over 30 seconds, that I rather enjoyed.

Overall, I would say the oatmeal stout held its age very well.  There was no real evidence of infection or beer degradation, but the stout had obviously changed over time.  Younger versions of this beer clearly have more coffee and roast character, but this has faded leaving a well-blended chocolate flavor.  The younger versions also have the slickness in mouthfeel that I so like about the style.  But, the older version was more complex in some ways and the finish was fantastic.  Like I mentioned in the last post, I think I prefer the younger version, but would love to age a few bottles again to see what they do.  Perhaps I should just give them to my friend, as he has better luck doing so than me.

Have you ever conducted aging experiments with your homebrewed beer?  If so, leave a comment and tell us what you found.



Monday, March 18, 2013

Evaluating Taste and Aroma Of New Hops

New hop varieties are raining onto the beer scene in surprising quantities, which is of course great if you're a hophead. However, getting familiar with the flavor and aroma profiles of all these new hops is a task that is worth investigating. As a homebrewer, it could be easy to just brew a batch of beer with a new variety to see how it comes out, but which new varieties to choose from? If you're going to go through the 2-4 week process of producing a beer with the new hop, which one matches your flavor preferences the best?

As my local homebrew club (RIFT) is getting ready to do another round of our Single Hop Beer Experiments, several of us have been looking at all these new hops and wondering which one to claim. In order to help augment the hop selection process, we decided to do a quick-n-dirty technique which Anchor Brewing has used, or at least described in a recent interview. Thanks for the Bertus Brewery blog for inspiring our club to give this a try.

Essentially, the method involves taking a 6 or 12 pack of Bud Light (or other industrial lager), pops the caps off, drops in a few hop pellets, and then recapping the bottle to let the dry hop infuse its oils (more details can be found on the Bertus Brewery page). Granted only the dry hop flavors will be present and not the flavors produced when boiling in a kettle, but its a creative and quick way triage hops.  By using these low-in-flavor stypes of beer as a base, the hop flavor and aroma becomes a focal point without distractions. Plus, since multiple hop varieties can be done all at once, it makes for a great tasting panel to evaluate what the hops might taste or smell like. In other words, a great way to find out if that unknown hop is worth the effort of putting into a full batch of beer.

For the RIFT tasting, we decided on using Narragansett Lager as our base beer since it is local and is not as watered down as Bud Light (which Anchor described). Two or three of us each picked up a six pack and will be dry hopping with hops coordinated from our freezers. The plan was do two bottles per hop variety (so there is enough for everyone to taste) and use both common and uncommon hops (with the common hops acting as a reference flavor). The three hops I'll be doing for the panel are: Amarillo, Northern Brewer, and Newport

After dry hopping my beers last night, the biggest challenge was trying to reseal the twist-off bottles. Since almost all the commercial lagers come with twist-off caps, sealing them back up is a problem.  When I recapped the bottles, most of them began to produce small amounts of foam/fizz from under the cap when the bottles were agitated. I tried recapping a number of times to see if I could get a good seal, but only 2 out of the 6 had great seals. Its gotten me a little worried. 

In an effort to maintain some level of carbonation, I’m going to keep the beers cold during the 3 day dry hop (thereby keeping more CO2 in solution) and minimizing and handling or jostling of the bottles. It seems like a very primitive approach, but if I can just keep enough CO2 in the beer until Thursday (when the club meets), I'll be ok.

If you have any tips of tricks for resealing twist-off bottles or other methods for quickly evaluating hops, please let us know.



“Americans express hops better than anyone.”
-Garrett Oliver

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Themeatic Recipe Design

Beer recipes can be inspired from a wide variety of different sources.  These can range from brewer memories, such as Fat Tire, brewing practices, such as 90 Minute IPA, regulatory events, like Censored Amber Ale, and many others.  These inspirations do not just apply to professional brewers, but are actively found within the homebrewing community as well.  I recently had the pleasure of designing a beer recipe for a group brew with adult members of a community acting company my family has long been involved with - Black Box Players.

For several years now, members of the acting company who are interested in beer have asked me about homebrewing.  The queries did not tend to run too deep, other than those who have since started homebrewing, but there was definitely a general curiosity   One evening, one of the actors asked if there were any beer styles that sounded like "Black Box."  Someone else responded that "box" and "bock" are similar and wondered if there was a "black bock" beer style.  This simple conversation eventually worked its way into a group brew day demonstration, with the intention of distributing finished beer to interested members of the acting company.  It fell to me, and another homebrewer associated with Black Box, to develop a recipe around this concept.

The concept clearly centered around a bock beer style.  Given the nature of the brewing event, we quickly decided to go with the traditional bock style, to avoid the complexity and longer aging times associated with the higher gravity versions.  To start with, I looked at several different bock recipes, including those found on the BeerSmith recipe site, Homebrew Talk, and Brew Your Own's archives.  In the end, I went with the base recipe found in Brewing Classic Styles, which is my go-to recipe source for styles I have not brewed previously.  The other obvious criteria from the recipe concept would the mechanism to make the beer very dark in color.  There are a number of grains and additives that can do this, but we still wanted the beer to still taste like a bock.  So, anything that added excessive roast or chocolate characters, like roast barley or chocolate malt, were out.  In the end, I added a pound of Carafa III Special, which is a de-husked malt that lacks the roast quality found in other dark malts.

But I did not want to stop there, as there were many other aspects and stories of the acting company that could be incorporated into the recipe.  We decided to add a wood character to the beer because the stage we act on was constructed of wood.  This would be accomplished through the use of oak cubes, which should give a multidimensional oak character to the beer.  Additionally, we elected to soak the oak cubes in scotch, as there were some stories about "tours of Scotland" associated with older members of the company.  There was also consideration of a "smoke" element being added to the beer, given some of the hot rehearsals in un-air-conditioned spaces during the summer, but that was discarded because smoke flavors are an acquired taste and we were distributing the beer to a number of people.

The brew day occurred a week ago, in-spite of having to relocate the brew session to my local homebrew shop because our house did not have power after a snow storm.  It was a fun day and the black bock is fermenting away now, awaiting the addition of Scotch-soaked oak cubes in secondary.  Apologies for not providing some pictures of the day, but time got away from me.  It has been a fun process so far and hope the acting company does other beers together in the future.

Have you ever developed a beer recipe on a theme?  If so, leave a comment and tell us about it.



Monday, March 11, 2013

Lug Wrench's Collection of Beer Recipes

While wandering through the over 300+ posts we've published here at Lug Wrench, I noticed there are a considerable number of beer recipes given and discussed.  Even as the author of many of them, there were several recipes that I had completely forgotten about.  So I wanted to compile all the information into a single post, which will make it easier to refer back to.

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 published recipes that can be used for everyone's reference.  We've organized the recipes into rough categories (based on origin) to aid navigating the list.  In the cases where a recipe overlaps more than one category, we'll just pick one arbitraily.

American Inspired Beers
Amarillo BIAB Pale Ale - A hoppy beer brewed via the Brew-in-a-Bag (BIAB) method
Dragon's Breath - Dark ale aged on bourbon oak, inspired by Dragon Milk (Collaborative Beer)
Foreign Export Stout #1 - Brewing the Mad Fermentationist's FES recipe for The Session #39
Foreign Export Stout #2 - Rebrewing the original as part of a homebrew club Big Brew
Spring in Your Step #1 - Tom's RFP American Wheat recipe with honey malt & orage peel

Belgian Inspired Beers
Boosted Belgian Brown - CAMRA Iron Brewer recipe w/ blue agave nectar and Palisade hops
Devoted Brother - Belgian pale ale inspired by Lost Abbey's Devotion (Collaborative Beer)
Diminutive Belgian Golden Strong - Scaling down a BGS to a more sessionable beer
Flemish Fisherman - Spiced Belgian Quad inspired by De Struise's Pannepot (Collaborative Beer)
Single Hop Beer Experiment - an APA recipe designed to allow for multiple single-hopped beers.
Stout de la Belgique - Belgian Imprial Stout brewed as part of a homebrew club activity
Vaderdag Lambic '12 - Fathers Day Lambic for 2012.  First attempt at a Lambic

German Inspired Beers
Frosty Fool - An Eisebock lager where we described our icing process (Collaborative Beer)

English Inspired Beers
Brother Barleywine - English barleywine (Collaborative Beer)
Frozen Loose Change - Scottish 60/- based on Nathan Smith's beer of a similar name.

Other Beers
Dark Side of Denmark Rye #1 - Jeff's RFP recipe inspired by the Bruery's Rugbrod
Midnight Mini-Wheats - An attempt to make a low-alcohol version of Midnight Wheat #1
Midnight Wheat #1 - Wheat wine braggot brewed with RI & VA honey (Collaborative Beer)
Midnight Wheat #2 - Rebrew of the original recipe with only VA honey

Mead and/or Cider
Mason Dixon Line Mead - Made with the same VA and RI honey as Midnight Wheat #1.

If you know we did a beer that is not listed here or have any feedback on the above, please let us know - we love to hear it!



"Blessed is the mother who gives birth to a brewer."
-Czech Proverb

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Poll: Favorite Season To Homebrew 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 favorite season to brew homebrewed beer?" are presented below.

Total Votes: 18

Granted this poll was put out during the autumn, but unless folks just prefer to brew during the season they are currently in, it looks like autumn was the clear winner amongst seasons.  Winter was a distant second, which is a bit of a surprise to me (but then again, I'm biased by fact that I brew outdoors that this winter has been particularly snowy for us in New England). 

The biggest shock had to be that summer got completely shutout - not a single respondent prefers to brew during the summer months.  This may be because folks have less free time in the summer with all the outdoor activities and chores clog up schedules, or the heat plays hell on their fermentation (assuming they don't have temp control).  But apparently those lazy summer days are just not days for brewing.

Let us know what your favorite brewing season is and why.  And if you are reading this, our next blog post is up and awaiting your participation.



"I'm very picky about my people and my beer."
-Shelby Lynne

Monday, March 4, 2013

Vaderdag '12 Lambic Tasting

In preparation for a homebrew club meeting (the first I’ve been to in a long time), I figured I would pull a sample from the Lambic that was brewed 8-9 months ago to see how it is progressing. In addition to filling a bottle to take with me to the meeting, I pulled my own tasting sample and took some notes.  I wanted to post the notes here to easily keep track of the beers progress and how the flavor develops.

Aroma: What first hit me was a distinct cidery note coupled with a bit of a fruit ester and a hint at acidity. The cidery note was very reminiscent of a naturally fermented cider I did back in 2010, which leads me to wonder if the bret is kicking off an aroma that I'm mentally linking to that cider (and hence the cider association).

Appearance: Sharply clear, almost as if it had been filtered. Medium copper-gold in color with some orange highlights in the depths of the glass. No head or carbonation.

Flavor: The aroma contradicts the flavor as there is an initial sweetness that quickly fades to mild acidity/sourness. The acidity yields to a fruit punch-like ester in the mid to late palate. The end has a hint of bitterness or astringency that finishes with slight acidity in the back of the mouth. I was hoping the beer would have attained a bit more sourness, but I’ll just have to give it more time.

Mouthfeel: Hard to judge as I'm used to evaluating beers with carbonation. Medium body with the slight acidity that impresses a smooth feel on the tounge.

Overall: It is still a little too early for the beer. The sourness is not there yet and the beer still has some residual sweetness that I'm hoping the microbes will continue to pull down. The cidery nose threw me for a loop, but as mentioned, this might be just a connection in my mind between a prior brett fermented cider.

Date of Sampling: February 27, 2013
Sample’s Gravity: 1.011



“Patience is power.”
-Fulton J. Sheen

Thursday, February 28, 2013

General Homebrewing Equipment Recommendations

One of our readers left a comment on a recent post asking for equipment recommendations for new homebrewers.  I know this reader personally, as he attended the last all-grain training class I taught, and we discussed specifics off-line.  But, the core of his request remains an excellent post topic, as the variety of equipment options can be daunting to those just entering the hobby.  I have found some general maxims to keep in mind when considering homebrewing equipment that I hope others will find valuable.

The first, and arguably most important advice, is to carefully consider your purchases and "slow down."  You do not have to purchase ever possible piece of equipment right away.  New homebrewers can jump into the hobby with both feet and quickly spend a lot of money for little gain.  I would recommend that new homebrewers purchase the bare minimum of equipment at the beginning and then start to make beer, which is the end goal of this hobby.  Sure, if you know you want to go all-grain right away, do it.  But, by starting with the basics, new homebrewers can spend their money on ingredients and decide what they like about the hobby.  If they stick with it, then slowly upgrade things that can be effectively used in their process and their situation.  Following this maxim, equipment purchase decisions become more surgical in nature, and more effective.  Remember, people who have been homebrewing for a long time have also accumulated equipment over a long time.

Secondly, developing a process is of critical importance.  Arguably, it is more important to have a repeatable process that works in your environment, than to own all the latest gadgets.  Extract brewers with a solid process can make better beer than all grain brewers with varying temperature controls.  Get settled into a process and then upgrade one or two things at a time.  This more scientific method of equipment purchasing, allows the brewer to try things out and see if they actually work in that brewers process.  Overall, the process slowly changes over time, which allows the brewer to remain comfortable with it and for it to remain repeatable.  Adjustments can then be made that are not simply equipment related, but can be changes that save time, or increase control over critical values, focus on cleaning and sanitation, etc.

Third, when making equipment purchases, buy bigger than you need.  This maxim is particularly true of vessels that hold volumes of liquid (water, mash, wort, etc).  The increased size, to a point, provides increased flexibility, often for only a slightly higher cost.  For example, a new brewer could buy a cooler mash tun that is 5 gallons for around $25, while a 10 gallon version costs $45.  The 10-gallon cooler's capacity allows the user to make a normal 5-gallon batch, an imperial 5-gallon batch, or a normal strength 10-gallon batch.  The 5 gallon cooler only allows the brewer to make a normal 5 gallon batch.  The increased flexibility outweighs the increase in cost and the brewer can avoid the mistake I made by purchasing the smaller one, then a year later buying the bigger version.  The same sort of logic applies to boil kettles, conical fermenters, hot liquor tanks, etc.  As always, use common sense because purchasing a 55-gallon kettle when you would never use that volume is a waste of money.

Finally, exposure to new ideas and methods is positive.  I love attending group brew sessions, despite having to haul my equipment outside of the house.  I find the different ways other brewers tackle problems fascinating and have adapted the methods of others to my process numerous times.  Information comes from a wide variety of sources, including podcasts, books, magazine articles (BYO and Zymurgy are great), classes and more.  Homebrewing clubs are fantastic sounding boards for ideas and seeing what other homebrewers are doing.  When examining this information, do not accept it wholesale, but evaluate it to see if it fits well with your process and the knowledge you have accumulated.  If it fits, give it a try and see what happens.

Most importantly, remember homebrewing is about having fun.  Some people love gadgets and equipment.  If that is what excites you, go for it, and even look into what it takes to make your own equipment.

If you have suggestions about equipment for new homebrewers, or old ones, please leave us a comment.



Monday, February 25, 2013

Lug Wrench Chart on Brookston Beer Bulletin!

When we started posting Beer Charts on the blog, I remember sending the first chart to Tom and when I asked if it was worth posting, the response was "my wife just saw it, rolled her eyes and mumbled something about beer should definitely post it!"  Fifteen charts later, the project has been going strong.

But on Tuesday February 19th, one of our charts were catapulted beyond our expectations when it was featured as an infographic by Jay Brooks's Brookston Beer Bulletin.  Jay and his site are arguably one of the most influential beer blogs in the craft beer industry.  Tom and I have been fans of his for years, so I think the two of us were floating a few inches off the ground when we our chart come up on his site.  Thanks a millon Jay!

For anyone interested, all the beer charts we've done can be found on this page, including links to download PDF copies of each collection.



"Be of good cheer, drink only great beer."
-Jay Brooks

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Return to Brewing with a Scottish 60/-

After taking almost 8 months off from brewing (which was not by intent but by real life getting in the way), I was finally able to dust off the brew kettles this past weekend and get a brewing session completed. Sadly, I’ve been planning this brewing sessions for 2 months but one excuse after another delayed it until I finally had a free Sunday to brew. But let's rejoice as the beer is now in the fermentor bubbling away!

I’m not sure why, but I’ve had an itch to brew a Scottish 60/-.  Its easy drinking style and a good excuse for some of my non-craft beer friends to try some homebrew. Plus, it’s a style I have not yet attempted, so I would be able to cross it off my To-Do Style List. The recipe itself (modified for what I had on hand) was from a Pro/Am beer done by homebrewer Nathan Smith and Triple Rock brewpub in the San Francisco areas. The beer was talked and raved about during the September 9th, 2012 episode of the Brewing Network’s Sunday Session, which locked my sights on that particular recipe.

On the brew day, it did not take me long to get back into the groove as it seems like much of the activity of brewing is like riding a bike. I overshot my gravity by a few points, which is somewhat normal for small beers (I need to bump up my efficiency for anything under 1.040). However, the biggest issue that battled me was the weather. Over the last 1-2 weeks, we’ve been battered by blizzards and snow. On this particular brew day, the wind was howling through backyard and made a mockery of the burner's attempt to bring the wort to a boil. After an hour and a half of sitting on the burner without a boil and the light fading from the sky, I ended up moving the entire brew kettle (wort and all) onto my kitchen's cooktop electric burner. Steeling myself against the complaints from my wife, I was able to get the wort boiling in the kitchen (albeit a gentle boil) and the brew day could continue.

Based on the guidance given with the recipe, even though primary fermentation should be done within a few days, it was recommended to leave the beer for a full two weeks in the carboy to let it pull itself together. So while I’m anxious to get the beer on tap, its back to the waiting game for me.

Cold Loose Change
Style: Scottish Light 60/-
(recipe modified from Nathan Smith’s recipe described on 9/9/12 Sunday Session)

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size: 6.0 gal
Boil Size: 7.0 gal
Measured OG: 1.038 (Target: 1.034)
Measured FG: 1.008 (Target: 1.010)
Estimated SRM: 10.8
Estimated IBU: 16 (Rager)
ABV: 3.9% (Target: 3.3%)
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75% (should have been 80-85% to hit OG target)
Boil Time: 65 Min

Grain / Extract / Sugar
5.75 lbs Rahr US 2-Row Malt (this was supposed to be Maris Otter malt, but used 2-Row + 10% munich
as a substitute, which was a trick I heard during an interview with the brewer from Firestone Walker)
0.75 lbs GlobalMalt Munich Malt
6 oz Crystal 40 Malt
6 oz Crystal 120 Malt
2.5 oz Pale Chocolate Malt

0.5 oz Northern Brewer pellets (8.9% alpha) at 65 min.

30 drops of Foam Control in the boil

1 pack of US-05 dry yeast

Mash Schedule
Saccharification rest at 151-152 F for 60 minutes
Batch sparged twice with each sparge being 3 gallons of water (temp: 168-172 F)

Brewed on 2/17/ 2013 by JW

Mash Temps were intended to be in the 154 F range, but I left it at 151-152 F as I didn’t have any hot water ready to go at dough in.

OG was overshot because of my systems increased efficiency at low gravities – I was already over the target when I took the pre-boil measurement. Added 0.5 gallons of boiling water to the boil at 15 minutes to flameout to bring the volume back up to pre-boil volume.

Could not get the kettle to boil outside because of the cold and wind, so had to move it to kitchen’s burner. The boil was gentle as compared to what I normally get from the burner, so there is some concern that I did not drive everything off or that there was lower utilization.

The intent was a 60 minute boil, but I extended it by 5 minutes as the boil halted for 5 min when the water addition and immersion chiller were added with 15 minutes before flameout.

Oxygenation was accomplished with an O2 system and diffusion stone , run for 60 seconds.

Yeast was proofed in ~1 cup of boiled and chilled water (90 F).

Yeast was pitched at carboy was placed in chest freezer with setpoint set to 66 F. Signs of fermentation showed up ~18 hours after pitching.

Feb 27, 2012 - After 10 days of fermenting and the activity having been completed for several days, the beer was racked into a keg to be carbonated.  FG on the beer was 1.008, which was a few points than I would have liked.  The beer is light bodied, as would be expected, and there is a defined burnt sugar / chocolate malt character to the beer.  A little cold conditioning should do the beer well.



“I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer”
-Homer Simpson

Monday, February 18, 2013

Super Hopped Pale Ale and Peanut Brittle

A few weeks ago, I posted about an all-grain brewing class I taught at my local homebrewing store, The Fermentation Trap.  The class was divided between one night of lecture and a practical brewing demonstration on my equipment.  The goal being to reinforce what the students learned through slides and talking with a brew day, and to let them ask questions regarding the actual process.  Given my goal of brewing mostly session beer recipes, I elected to make a recipe created by a San Diego homebrewer and Stone Brewing Company, called San Diego County Session ale.

As can be seen by the recipe, the beer calls for a ridiculous amount of kettle and dry hops.  The hop bill is more in line with a double IPA, than an approximately 4% ABV session pale ale.  To be honest, I do not think I have ever hopped a 5-gallon batch to this level, and it caused several interesting issues during the brew day.  The most significant of these was that I only ended up with 5 gallons of wort from the kettle - it is amazing how much liquid hop matter can absorb.  Now that the beer is carbonated and ready, I wanted to post some tasting notes on it, along with a peanut brittle I made using it for Valentine's Day (my lovely wife is a huge hop head).  The peanut brittle recipe is from Sean Paxton and has been made in my house many times.  I would encourage our readers to give it a try.

Beer pours a very hazy clover-honey color, with a few bits of dry hop at the bottom of the glass.  The head is off white and about a half inch thick and leaves a nice lacing on the glass.  The beer has a very strong grapefruit aroma, almost like fresh pressed grapefruit juice.  The aromatics are layered with hints of pine needles and something slightly dank or herbal.

The initial flavor impression is very reminiscent of the aroma, with lots of grapefruit juice character.  This fades to a bitterness with the slight character of lemon pith.  The bitterness is present in the end, but nothing like what one would expect given all of the hop matter in the beer.  The bitterness lingers on the palate for some time, but not in an unpleasant manner.  There is little malt character in the beer and its lack of alcohol or malt body leaves the beer tasting a bit thin.  For all the raw hop presence, I feel the beer is missing something.

When tasted with the peanut brittle, the beer holds up surprisingly well.  The caramel sugar flavor seems to fill the missing body component in the beer, as well as the the sweetness of the brittle, the saltiness of the peanuts, and the citrus of the beer combine to make an interesting flavor on the palate.  By itself, the peanut brittle is very good, but I get little of the citrus character that is supposed to come from the beer.  But, tasted with the base beer, I think a flavor in between the two elements comes through and makes it better than either of the parts.

In the end, I think the beer needs some adjustment, if I ever make it again.  But I must say, I love the peanut brittle.



Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 National Homebrewers Conference

After many years of wanting to go, I am finally going!  The 2013 National Homebrewers Conference, put on by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), will take place on June 27 to 29 in Philadelphia, PA.  Entitled "Brewing Up A Revolution," this year's conference promises to be bigger than ever, nearly doubling the 2012 capacity to 3,400 attendees.  The conference set other records too, as I found out when I tried to register for a hotel room.  The main hotel sold out in less than three hours after starting registration for the event, which I discovered while on the phone with them.  I was fortunate to get one of the few remaining rooms at a hotel directly across the street.  The conference itself sold out in 20 hours, breaking the previous years record of about two days.  I am very exited to be attending.

Some of the conference events I am looking forward to include:

  • Seminars: There will be 36 seminars on a variety of topics this year, during the conference.  Looking at offerings from previous years, the topics range all over the place, from going professional, to brewing session beers, to interesting new hop varieties.  There will be something for everyone.  On top of that, AHA members can access recordings of the talks on the AHA website.
  • Club Night:  Clubs from around the area put together themed booths and stands to serve their beer in one of the biggest homebrew parties of the year.  Many of the beers being served are "experimental" to say the least.  There is even a small chance my local club will participate in a Virginia club booth, but time will tell.  For those who have not seen it, Basic Brewing Radio has shot video episodes of this event in the past and it looks like great fun.
  • Meet Homebrewing "Luminaries:" Many of the homebrewing world's celebrities (if you can call them that) attend the conference.  I would enjoy meeting some of the authors, podcast hosts, and other members of the larger homebrewing community that I have read and listened to over the years.
  • Awards Banquet:  The conference culminates in a gourmet dinner prepared by Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton.  Sean works with Rogue Ales to cook with, infuse into, and pair food with their variety of beers.  I have read many reviews of these dinners in the past and I am exited to experience the food and beer first hand, as well as cheer on any people I know who make it into the second round of the National Homebrew Competition.
I also hope to bring home some pictures and stories to share with the Lug Wrench audience.  If you have attended a past AHA Conference and have any tips to share with me, I would love to hear them.  Feel free to leave a comment on this post.



Monday, February 4, 2013

Root Beer

My son has liked to drink root beer for some time.  Thinking back, I cannot pinpoint when he developed an interest in it, other than his love for soda of all types (and how it makes him burp).  The interest in root beer is reinforced, probably, by seeing the amount of time I spend with the homebrewing hobby, and the fact that giving the kids soda is a relatively rare occurrence at our house.  So, when root beer was first offered at one of our local brewing companies, Beer Hound Brewery, my son's immediate question was "Dad, when can we make some?"

Admittedly, I was not immediately supportive of the idea.  The most significant reason was related to space in the kegerator, as my son imagined having a tap for root beer, just like they do at the brewery.  This would make managing beer production more difficult.  Additionally, root beer's aroma has an incredible ability to permeate plastic hoses and gaskets and I have even heard stories of the aroma migrating through shared CO2 lines to alter kegs of beer nearby.  This would require separate gas lines and taps in the kegerator, making the idea even less appealing.    Finally, there was the problem of having 5 gallons of soda on hand and the kids asking for it all the time and all of the parenting headaches this would cause.  But, my son prevailed on me and I think I figured a way around all of those issues.

The root beer soda extract I purchased from my local homebrewing store has a recipe to make just a gallon of soda at a time.  It recommended mixing a tablespoon of extract along with 2 cups of sugar and a gallon of water.  This solution is stirred until the sugar is dissolved and 1/8 teaspoon of brewers yeast is added to the mixture (a fraction of a package).  The root beer is then split into two separate 2-liter soda bottles that have been cleaned and sanitized.  The bottles are left at room temperature to bottle condition for a week or so, until the plastic is firm with carbonation, then they are kept in the fridge until consumed.  Squeezing the plastic bottles gives an excellent gauge of carbonation and prevents over-carbonation into bottle bombs, a big problem with homemade soda.  The goal is just a tiny bit of fermentation to carbonate, but to leave almost all of the sugar remaining.  If left to its own devices, the yeast would ferment until all the sugar is gone, massively over-carbonating the beverage and making glass bottles very dangerous to handle.

We are still waiting for the bottles to firm up before putting them in the fridge, but they are almost there now. If the experiment proves tasty, I am sure we will try other homemade sodas, or even trying to make root beer out of actual roots.  A friend of mine at work has done that and is willing to loan me a few books that his son and he used to research root beer, its history, and manufacture.  The sky is the limit and I can certainly say we have had fun so far.

Let us know if you have ever made soda at home or have any advice on the subject.


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