Friday, July 5, 2019

Brew Day: Free Shipping Fest (Marzen 6A)

Sometimes events unfold independently of each other that all contribute to a singular result. Years ago, when I was still living in an apartment with no yard and brewing on a stove, I received a free propane burner with a purchase from Northern Brewer.

Years later I was using that propane burner at my new home. I let the gas line get a little too close to the flame and the gas line started to melt. I needed a new gas line, but the only place I could get one was from Northern Brewer.

This occurred after I started working for Muntons. I use at least some of our malt in all of my beers, and most of my brews are 100% Muntons Malt. For base malts I keep a bin of our Pale Ale, Pilsner, Maris Otter Pale, Super Pale, and Wheat Malt. I can brew almost any style with these base malts. Notable exceptions are German styles that require Munich or Vienna malts. Muntons makes outstanding Munich and Vienna malts. I will likely pick up a sack of Munich next time I make it to our warehouse.

One style I have always wanted to brew is an authentic Oktoberfest. Also known as Marzen, German for March, the beer was traditionally brewed in March and then lagered over the summer before being served in the fall. When I brewed my Oktoberfest I wanted to brew it in March and lager it in a similar manner as opposed to trying to brew a mock-Oktoberfest as an ale.

Since I needed to buy a replacement gas line from Northern Brewer, I may as well tack on ingredients for an Oktoberfest so my order would qualify for flat rate shipping.  As I put my order together I thought it would be fun to brew my beer with malt extracts Muntons does not currently make. I ordered Northern Brewer's Munich liquid malt extract and Briess' Pilsen dry malt extract. Competitive intelligence never hurts!

As I put my recipe together I added some Muntons crystal malt to steep. For hops I used two of my favorite American hops with European ancestry: Northern Brewer and Crystal. Other than the bit of British Crystal, this German lager is pretty American.

The brew day was simple enough. While doing other tasks around the brewery I discovered one of my kegs was leaking beer. I ended up emptying my keezer and giving it a good cleaning. I then kegged two batches I brewed for NHC. For an extract brew day I was pretty flipping busy!

Brewed in March, this was the last lager I was able to squeeze in before the weather started to warm up. I did taste test the beer with my colleague Daniel before putting it into a keg and the consensus was that it is pretty good. The keg is tucked into my keezer, waiting to be force-carbonated until the appropriate time.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Brew Day: OG Sam Summer (29B Fruit and Spice Beer)

Image result for sam summer ale
Nice of Boston Beer to so perfectly describe the recipe!

Ten years ago the legendary "Rock of Boston" WBCN went off the air. When it happened it was a bit of a shock to me. Toward the end of its run, I had taken my first cubicle job where I could listen to music at work, and rediscovered the station. 'BCN felt like it would be around forever. That was what my dad listened to in the car when I would tag along with him to jobs. My uncle Mike grew up on 'BCN in the '70s, and stayed with the station all through the '90s as they continued to play new artists as opposed to growing with their original audience. During my formative years the station played the bands I loved to listen to in high school and college.

Essentially the station changed formats and became a sports radio station. The morning DJs Toucher and Rich stayed on after the format change. I remember at that time Rich Shertenlieb of Toucher and Rich comparing WBCN to a restaurant everyone said they loved, but not enough people went to anymore to keep in business.

Samuel Adams Summer Ale was one of my formative craft beers. Not only was it one of the first craft beers I can remember really loving, I have so many fond memories associated with Sam Summer. As I think about those memories, most of them were in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Since that time there has been an explosion in the number of beers and craft breweries. To say nothing of New England IPA.

In recent years I still enjoyed Sam Summer at Fenway Park, and would make it a point to buy it once or twice over the course of the  ̶s̶p̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ summer. That said, Sam Summer wasn't the mainstay in my fridge it once was.

I am hardly alone in that regard. Boston Beer has had to grapple with declining sales of its seasonal beers, Sam Summer included. Like the radio executives that took WBCN off the air, Boston Beer couldn't keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. This year Sam Adams changed the recipe for Summer Ale for the first time in 23 years. The new recipe has a lot more fruit and citrus. The way I read the description, the beer is designed to be more quaffable.

As an avowed capitalist and beer industry professional I completely understand why Boston Beer did what they did. Beer drinkers like me are responsible for Boston Beer feeling the need to do something. That doesn't mean I was ready to see a beer that meant so much to me go the way of WBCN. I wanted to preserve the classic recipe, or at least brew a beer inspired by the classic recipe I loved so much.

The base beer was an American Wheat Beer, with lemon zest and grains of paradise adding the summery taste. Doing some additional research I found the beer was hopped with the same Hallertau Mittelfrueh as Boston Lager, and was a shockingly low 7 IBUs. The lemon and grains of paradise do most of the heavy lifting in terms of balancing the malt.

I was of two minds for the grist. Muntons Pilsner Malt would have been an excellent choice as the base malt. Knowing Boston Beer uses North American base malt almost exclusively, I decided to use Mapleton Pale malt from Maine Malt House. I visited the malthouse in January, a horrible time to  almost drive toto Canada, and was able to tour the malthouse with the Buck family who owns and operates it. This was a perfect time to use their malt.

Very happy with the crush and had a smooth runoff. 

I went with a grist of 2/3 Mapleton Pale and 1/3 Muntons Malted Wheat. I had a beautiful crush and yield with the Maine Malt. I am sure this will be a great base for my beer, and any upcoming brews where I need a North American base malt.

This dehydrated lemon is imported from Spain.
1 oz of hops, one pack of yeast. Those seeds of paradise are also really small and can be tricky to grind 

For the lemon, I used dehydrated lemon flesh sourced from Maltwerks, a company we partner with at Muntons. The dehydrated flesh is more potent than dried peel. I used 2/3 oz of dehydrated lemon along with 2 grams of grains of paradise. For my yeast I used a strain I haven't used in far too long: White Labs 008 East Coast Ale yeast. I have seen this yeast strain referred to as the "Brewer Patriot" yeast. That should work just fine here I think.

I picked a perfect day to brew outside. Even though it would have been faster to brew with my propane burner, I used my electric Mash & Boil for a couple of reasons. There is something to be said for using the same system for each batch to try and gain some consistency. I was also out of propane and am lazy.

As New England IPA becomes almost a monoculture, I find myself wanting to brew the styles and beers that were prevalent in the 1990s and 2000s. Commercial brewers have to brew what sells. As they do that, I feel like the classics are falling by the wayside. Fortunately homebrewers have total freedom to brew the beer we want to drink!

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Homebrewing doesn't have to be pro brewing cosplay

I have been guilty of this myself. Wake up on a brew day, throw on a brewery-branded Dickie's work shirt, and commence a five hour brew day or eight hour double brew day. As I have embarked on my journey as a brewer I have adapted practices and applied theories developed in professional brewing in my own brewing.

Now there is equipment made for homebrewers that is basically scaled down versions of professional equipment. There are turnkey brewing systems with pumps, controllers and chillers that wouldn't look out of place at a nanobrewery. Homebrewers can turn their basements into forests of stainless steel conicals. If you have enough stainless fermenters it only makes sense to hook your fermenters up to a glycol chiller. And to cosplay for your family and friends who may not visit your home brewery, more brewers are buying a can seamer to you can hand out cans of homebrew just like more and more commercial breweries are doing.

There is nothing wrong with any of the above by the way. We all do it for the same reasons: brew better beer! Over the years the quality and consistency of my beer has improved. That is not to say all of the above is necessary to brew great beer and improve as a brewer.

In college my major was sport management. In a sports marketing class one of the concepts discussed was a ladder of fandom. On the bottom wrung might be the person who isn't a fan of the team or property you are marketing, but might go to an game or event socially. The next step up might be the casual fan who goes to a couple of game a year and watches once in awhile on TV. The idea is the higher up on the ladder, the more loyal and attached that fan is.

Let's apply that ladder concept to homebrewing. On the bottom rung is probably a beer drinker that is intrigued by the idea of making their own beer. The next step is would be the kit brewer that makes beer kits made with hopped malt extract. When I started brewing I started on the second rung, brewing with un-hopped malt extract and steeped specialty grains. Staying with the concept, the next rung would be extract brewing with a full boil which typically requires a separate burner and wort chiller. Next would be partial mash, then all-grain at the top. The way the hobby has evolved more and more brewers are starting with all-grain brewing, or at least racing to the top of the ladder as fast as they can.

In sports marketing as fans climb the ladder they become more engaged with a team or sport. With homebrewing that distinction isn't as clear. The homebrewer that climbs the ladder certainly gains knowledge about the brewing process. Armed with the right information they have more control over the beer that they brew. My question is does a longer, more complicated, and often more expensive process make these brewers more engaged?

In a lot of cases the answer is yes. I know plenty of brewers that are brewing new beers all the time. When I see them post on social media they have a new piece of gear in their home brewery. On the flip side, I know plenty of brewers that climbed the ladder, then things changed in their lives like work and family commitments. For them it became more difficult to make time for the five hour plus brew day, or spend money on more shiny equipment.

The innovations that homebrewing has seen in just the seven years I have been brewing have been tremendous. A lot of the high-end equipment I mentioned didn't exist back then. It does seem to me a lot of the innovation has been geared toward the brewers at the top of the ladder. Innovations geared toward the new brewer like PicoBrew, or new LG system do come with a higher price tag that may be more of a barrier to entry than the $100 starter kit you find at the homebrew shop.

Participation in homebrewing peaked in the early part of the decade and has been slowly declining ever since. Homebrewing is a hobby, and hobbies will naturally have peaks and troughs. In my role with Muntons I do speak with both online and brick and mortar retailers from time to time. People in the industry that I talk to are trying to find ways to get new people into the hobby, and keep more people engaged in the hobby. We as a community and as an industry need to embrace ways to keep the barrier to entry low, and make homebrewing easier for everyone to keep brewers involved.

It's not good for anyone if a person who is interested in making their own beer looks at what is involved in brewing and decides it's too much work, too complicated, or too expensive. You can make great beer in 15 minutes with a hopped extract kit. Anyone has time to do that! I couldn't be happier with how my Rundown Irish Red came out. I made that beer with extract and steeped specialty grains, the same process as my first ever batch.

I made an awesome batch the old-fashioned way!
I once described homebrewing to someone as like making pasta sauce. Extract brewing was like making your sauce with canned tomatoes, then adding your own spices and seasonings, while all-grain brewing was more like making sauce with all fresh tomatoes and vegetables. I don't know anyone who turns their nose up at a homemade Italian dinner because the tomatoes came out of a can.

I don't want to sound like I am schilling for beer kits and extract brewing because I work for a beer kit and malt extract manufacturer. Those are just two examples of how you can make great beer at home without playing pro-brewer. I've brewed award-winning beers using a brew-in-a-bag all grain and partial mash method. To date my only first place winner was a lager I brewed on my stove-top, and fermented at room temperature. About as easy and low-tech as all-grain brewing can get!

Denny Conn and Brew Beechum are releasing a book entitled Simple Homebrewing. I pre-ordered my copy and look forward to reading it. I think this is an important book and hope it starts a conversation in the community.

Homebrewing doesn't have to be as complex as commercial brewing, and that's a good thing! It is easy to forget how simple it can be to make great beer. One of the early credos of this space was the homebrewing can be as involved of a hobby as you want it to be. If the hobby becomes so involving that it eats itself that's not good for anyone.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tasting Notes- Pulpwood Stacker (2C International Dark Lager)

Inspired by Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark. A smooth dark lager with just enough malt character to be interesting, but still approachable. Blows Negra Modello out of the water for me. I entered the beer into NHC, let's see how it does!

This was a bit of a re-brew. Last time I tried to brew a partial-mash version of this beer, the batch was infected and I had to dump it.



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