Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Brew Years Resolutions for 2019

Image result for new year's resolutions funny

Welp, 2019 is upon us! The one Brew Year's Resolution I failed miserably with from 2018 was to write more. Writing was so much easier when I was in a cubicle and needed something to occupy myself with between phone calls. Working from home it is easier to just watch TV than to write. When I travel it's easier to listen to podcasts, or wade into the cesspool that social media can be.

Before thinking about what I want to do for 2019, let's take a look at the rest of my 2018 resolutions:

I resolved to brew more big beers and sour beers. In 2018 I brewed one, an imperial stout. At Muntons we hired a new sales rep based outside of Chicago named Sven. Sven had previously worked as a beer buyer and bartender, but had never brewed before. When Sven came to Boston to train with me, the first thing we did was brew a batch. Initially Sven wanted to brew a Tripel, but I wanted to brew something that used more of our products than just Pilsner Malt and sugar. I took one of Gordon Strong's recipes from his book Modern Homebrew Recipes, and tweaked it to utilize ten different Muntons malts.

I had a fresh sack of Muntons Maris Otter Pale Malt. The first thing I did with Sven was to show him how to properly open the grain sack by cutting and pulling the threads that stitch the bag together, and had him do it. Then we chewed on each different malt before throwing them into the hopper. We milled our grist so Sven could see what milled grain should look like with the inside of the grain crushed, and the husk intact.

When our gravity was off by a few points after our mash and fly sparge, we weighed out and topped off our wort with Muntons Light Spraymalt (Dry Malt Extract) as a way to show Sven how most craft brewers use our extracts

Too many of the pros get this wrong 

The brew day was great. We had enough fermentable sugars in the mash to do a parti-gyle and make a small beer. I made a huge yeast starter for the Imperial Stout, which took off right away after being pitched. Within a week the beer was within a couple points of it's final gravity. That beer is in a secondary fermenter right now and I look forward to bottling it in a couple of months.

As great as that brew was, it was the only big beer or sour beer I brewed in 2018. Overall I have to say this resolution was a miss. As was my resolution to make other fermented beverages and food; that was a total miss.

The one resolution that was a success was my hop garden and making a beer with my home-grown hops. In the spring I planted five different hop rhizomes: Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Northern Brewer, and Willamette. I suspect I planted the Centennial and Cascade a bit too deep. Eventually I replanted them and they did grow. The Centennial grew to a modest height, but I did clip the Cascade with my weed whacker....whoops!

I had heard that Chinook grows really well in this area. For a first year plant it did okay in my yard, but I do think it would do better in a spot that gets more sunlight. The Willamette looked promising early, but never really took off. I spoke with a representative from Four Star Farms at a trade show who told me that Fuggle-derivatives like Willamette don't always do well in Massachusetts. I'll give the Willamette plant another year and see what happens.

The plant that did the best by far was the Northern Brewer. I planted the rhizome in the middle of my yard, which in hindsight meant it got the most sunlight over the course of the day. I probably harvested about a pound of wet hops from the Northern Brewer plant. I dried them on a screen and used them as the flavor and aroma hops in a California Common. The beer was decent enough, but didn't have a ton of hop flavor. I probably harvested the cones too soon which would explain the lack of flavor and aroma. Next year I won't be so anxious.

In 2018 I wanted to perfect a house beer. I brewed three versions of Galloupe Street Gold to date. The first batch was good, but a little more hop forward than I was going for. I designed the second batch to be more of a traditional English Bitter. That batch was infected and I dumped it. My third batch that I brewed in the summer was pretty good. I used a single hop, Sterling, and just thought the beer was a little one-dimensional. Jennie will want me to brew this one again.

For 2019 I want to keep my resolutions and make them obtainable. I will carry over one resolution from last year, but with a twist:

  • Generate more content next year. Instead of just resolving to write more blog posts, I just want to post more stuff. Whether that content is new blog posts, a quick post on my Facebook page, sharing posts from my archives, or new photos and videos., I want to post more. I could post about brew days, tasting notes, or maybe just cool places I visit on my travels. One or two posts per week should be easy.
  • Retake the BJCP Exam and score an 80. I told myself I would never try to become a National judge. Now I have the requisite experience points and work in the industry, I feel compelled to push on. To move up in rank I need to score an 80 on the BJCP Exam, which for me means I need to take it again, and then pass the BJCP Written Exam. I retook the exam at HomebrewCon last year in Portland. I barley studied and took a punt that additional experience since I last took the exam would carry me through. I scored a 76, which tells me I am not far off. Rumor and innuendo is that the BJCP is loath to give out scores that are off by a point or two because that invites exam-takers to appeal their grade. If I continue to judge and put more effort into studying I am confident I can achieve this one.
  • Dry(ish) January. Dry January is a recent phenomenon that encourages people not to drink in the month of January mainly for health reasons. I seldom drink to get drunk, but I am looking to get back into shape in the new year. In August 2015 I vowed to downsize my consumption and production of beer. For two years I did a fair job with it. There were times my diet and exercise was better than other times. A rotator cuff injury in 2016 didn't help matters. In 2018 the wheels fell off again. From mid-August to mid-September I was on the road almost every week. Eating out, eating at airports, eating at highway rest stops, my food choices steadily became worse. When traveling alone it became too easy to sample the local beer where I was staying. From my experience, a few weeks of abstaining from alcohol can do wonders in terms of lowering my alcohol tolerance, which will help me drink less in one sitting.

    Beyond the calories I will be saving, I think a bit of a break from beer will be good. So many beers I try now are indistinguishable from other beers I have tried. I am increasingly bored with New England IPA.  It has been too long since I have tasted a beer that really wowed me or made me want to try and brew a beer like it. My palette needs a break almost as much as my waist.

    I am calling it Dry(ish) January because my job does make it almost impossible to completely abstain from alcohol. If a brewer asks me to try his/her beer I'll limit myself to just a couple of sips or a four ounce taster at the most. Similarly if I need to taste my own beer, I'm not going to make a huge deal out of it. 
In terms of what I want to brew in 2019, I am going to keep things open ended. Luckily my brewing has been more consistent than my writing over the last six months. I have no overarching goals. I am having fun revisiting my older recipes, and there is at least one new recipe I have been working on that I can't wait to have a go brewing. In 2019 I'm just going to keep having fun with my brewing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Circling back as a brewer

As a beer drinker I try to make it a point to circle back to some of my favorite beers that got me into craft beer in the first place or just inspired me along the way. As a brewer I have always been quite promiscuous. With around 150 batches under my belt, there might be ten that I have brewed more than once. With few exceptions I have never been the type of brewer that has sought to perfect one recipe or one style. Instead I have brewed a wide array of styles as a way to learn more about them.

I brewed beers for our first party at our home, an event that was not necessarily a "craft beer" event. I wanted to brew something for everyone. I didn't want to have six different IPAs on tap. As I was deciding what beers I should brew for our housewarming cookout a strange thing happened, I found myself revisiting some of my old recipes.

Many of these recipes I loved and was waiting for the right occasion to brew again. It is always interesting to look at what I was thinking three, four, and five years ago when I developed these recipes. Some of them still made sense while others made me scratch my head. If there is one thing I have done as I revisited my older recipes it is simplifying them.

The other changes I made were to adjust these recipes to use ingredients I have in bulk; in particular the Muntons malts I keep in bulk. The majority of my recent recipes use 100% Muntons malts, and all of them at least use a portion. I do believe in the quality of the products I sell. An added bonus is that it brings down my cost per batch.

In addition to having malt in bulk, I have also been buying more of my hops in bulk. I found some great deals especially on some of the less sought after hops that aren't commonly used in IPAs. Another way I have been saving money has been reusing my yeast and rebuilding my yeast bank. My cost per-batch is ranging at $15-$20 per batch.

My yeast bank didn't survive the move to our new house. To build it back up again I have gotten back into the habit of over-building yeast starters or saving yeast slurry to re-pitch in a new batch. As backup I always keep a few sachets of dry yeast. Keeping a selection of ingredients in bulk gives me the flexibility to brew what I want without having to buy more ingredients. Although I made adjustments to my old recipes to utilize the ingredients I have, my goal was to always maintain the character of those beers.

After brewing for as long as I have, I have brewed most of the styles I have wanted to brew. My recent re-brews are beers that I always wanted to revisit at the right time. After bringing back a couple of older recipes for our party, I am reviewing more recipes in my log to find inspiration for upcoming brews.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

More catching up

Every writer has their own creative process. For me it was easier to sit down and write when I was sitting down at a cubicle 40 hours per week. I would bang out posts during lunches and breaks. Now most of my desk time is spent researching breweries, managing inventory, and working on forecasts. Although I haven't been posting, I have been brewing, drinking, traveling, and judging.

I judged four flights at the first round of National Homebrew Competition (NHC) judging in New York. I was fortunate to judge some really strong flights, and judge one flight with a master judge. Brooklyn is an area I need to spend more time in as that is the real center of craft beer in New York.

Entry of Convenience, enjoyable but missed the mark.

I managed to enter two beers into NHC. Entry of Convenience scored a 29 which I think was completely fair. The judges thought it lacked the richness of malt flavor to score more highly. I thought the beer tasted like a fudgcicle. My second entry was Thomas Brady's Ale (2017) which scored a 37. That a score that high didn't even advance the beer to mini-Best of Show indicates how strong that flight was. The judges thought the beer was aged on the wood for too long. All I have to do is bottle the next batch sooner, easy enough!

At the end of June I made my return to Homebrew Con in Portland. Oregon. Manning a booth was a bit of a different experience; I didn't make any of the seminars. It was still a lot of fun. Portland is a great beer city. I found the Pacific-Northwest IPAs to be bitter compared to other regions, and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of styles I found at the bars and breweries we visited. Next year Homebrew Con will be in Providence! All of the local homebrewers I've spoken with have been very excited.

The highlight of Homebrew Con in Portland for me was meeting this man:

Charlie Papazian founded the American Homebrewers Association, Great American Beer Fest, and wrote one of the bibles of homebrewing The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Charlie had announced his retirement effective January 2019 and was chosen to give the keynote at Homebrew Con. I had seen Charlie in passing at other events, but knowing this could very well be my last chance to meet the man. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing was the first brewing book I owned and was the only book I brought with me to the show to potentially have signed. Not only was I lucky enough to get my book signed, someone had the presence of mind to take the above photo.

Hazy, but not quite turbid.

I brewed my first New England IPA at the new house. It was a blend of Muntons Pale, Wheat, and Caramalt hopped with Exp Stonefruit hops. On a friends advice I steeped the whirlpool hops at 140F. The resulting beer was quite tasty. It maybe could have used a touch more hop bitterness and haze, but the three gallon batch went fairly quickly. I want one of my four taps to have a NEIPA on all the time.

You can make a great beer with little effort!
Easiest beer I've ever made! All the ingredients are here!
Playing around with some of Muntons homebrew kits, I took Muntons Mexican Cerveza kit and made it my own by substituting amber and dark dry malt extract to make an amber lager. The kit contained hopped extract. That meant there was no boil. All I had to do was boil enough water to dissolve the extract in the kit and the dry extract, then top off with cold water. The top off water was cold enough to bring the wort down to pitching temperature. No need to run a wort chiller. The whole thing took 15 minutes. The resulting beer was a fair approximation of Dos Equis Ambar.

I learned how important mash pH is with a decoction mash.

Trying my hand at another beer inspired by Pretty Things, Modern Mower was my first attempt at a decoction mash. A traditional European method of mashing, decoction mashing invovles removing a portion of the mash, boiling it, and adding it back into the main mash to increase the temperature. Brewers who use decoction mashes now do so because they feel it imparts a richer malt flavor.

In my experience the decoction certainly gave the beer a richer malt color. The fatal flaw of my beer was I let the pH of my mash get too high. This extracted tannin and chill haze. The finished beer was slightly stringent and hazy. It was drinkable, but it missed the mark. Next time I need to add an acid rest and add a decoction, use some acidulated malt, or just acidify my mash. The good news is that these are easy fixes. That doesn't change the fact I should have known better.

Less is more with some spices like chamomile.

Jennie wanted to name a beer after our cat Fredward. Being a white monochrome short hair cat a witbier was an obvious choice. I wanted the beer to be slightly sweet like our kitty is. I tweaked the spices from my house witbier recipe adding vanilla and chamomile. The chamomile dominated the one pint of the batch I was able to try. It reminded my why I stopped brewing with chamomile. I want to make another witbier, but I think Walk-Off White will be coming back.

The reason I only enjoyed one pint of Fredward Wit was because the keg, along with Modern Mower, Cerveza Ambar, and Entry of Convenience froze. I was moving kegs inside of my keezer and inadvertently left the temperature probe outside of the freezer. The temp controller picking up the ambient temperature kept the compressor going. I tried defrosting the kegs, but they just didn't taste the same. I dumped everything in there.

In a couple of weeks we are opening our home to guests for the first time. I brewed six different beers for the occasion. Dumping those kegs at least freed up space. Check this space for details on all six brews.

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