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
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