Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Is beer-flavored-beer making a comeback? Observations from Homebrew Con 2022

Homebrew Con 2022 is in the books. Taking place in Pittsburgh, I made the drive from my Boston-area home to mule beer and other supplies for the show. The first in-person Homebrew Con since the Covid pandemic, the show was smaller than in the past. The Craft Brewers Conference, the main industry trade show for professional brewing, was also smaller in scope. From speaking with other vendors, attendance at large festivals and conferences are down across the board. The Pittsburgh RV show only needed one room at the convention center.

The highlight of the show for me was the chance to present a seminar on brewing English-style Ales. I was also working the show with Muntons. While the topic of brewing traditional English styles didn't exactly coincide with the products we were featuring at our booth, this is a topic brewers have asked me about. In the past I struggled to clearly articulate my approach. The process of sitting down and creating a presentation allowed me create a narrative that hopefully made sense. 

As I put the seminar together, and as I was driving across Pennsylvania I had two lingering thoughts in my head: Would other homebrewers like the seminar and find it informative, and how many people would actually care enough about the topic to show up? Thankfully I received plenty of positive feedback from the talk. As far as interest in the topic, here is a picture taken as I was being introduced:

As a few late arrivals walked in and stood against the wall as all the seats were full. English-styles haven't been setting the world on fire the last several years on the craft beer market. If beer drinkers haven't been buying these styles, would homebrewers want to listen to me talk about how to brew them. The answer at least with this crowd was an emphatic yes.

I brewed four, 3-gallon batches to serve during my seminar.  The recipes and my presentation slides can be viewed on the Homebrew Con app. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) will publish a recording available to AHA members in coming months.

I thought that would be more than enough beer for everyone to taste as I discussed them. That clearly was not enough beer. I don't think anyone was able to try all four beers. Most were lucky to try two, and some attendees didn't get to try any at all. Several people went to the Muntons booth after the seminar hoping to be able to try the beers there.

The Homebrew Expo opened shortly before my seminar ended. Homebrew for Muntons is ran globally out of the UK. The team over there wanted to promote Muntons new Flagship Range of kits and our expanded Ingredients Range of malt extracts. The UK asked me to make the Hazy IPA kit from the Flagship Range, brew the Hazy IPA as a partial-mash with Muntons new Oat Malt Extract, and brew the Hazy IPA with all grain. At the show the plan was to do a side-by-side and challenge brewers to guess which is which. 

The grist for the all grain was
75% Craft Pale Malt, 25% Oat Malt

Sparging the partial mash Hazy IPA

I made ten gallons of all three versions. Making two of the beer kits was simple enough. For the partial mash, I used the "Palmer Method" of a partial boil and late extract addition. The all grain was actually the first ten gallon all-grain batch I've brewed at home. I used my Mash and Boil as my Hot Liquor Tank. When that wasn't quite large enough, I heated up some extra water and topped off the HLT as the batch sparged.

To add some variety I also brewed a Passion Fruit Sour ale recipe created by Muntons' NPD Brewing Technologist Nick Piper with Muntons Sour Malt Extract, as well as a Vienna Lager with Muntons Vienna Malt Extract. The lager recipe borrowed heavily from Jamil Zainasheff's recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. The Passion Fruit Sour was a partial mash, while the Vienna was all malt extract.

One can of Sour Malt Extract made a tart beer,
and replaced approx 5lbs of base malt.

The grist of the Vienna Lager...plus
an extra 0.5 lbs of Light DME

Our booth was so busy it made it difficult for us to tally responses to the side-by-side. The response was positive. Even brewers who picked out the beer kit, or selected all three correctly tended to need several sips. I didn't see anyone wretch or dump the kit or partial mash beers. The exercise at least demonstrated that brewers can make quality beer with malt extract or a beer kit.

I was really happy with the Passion Fruit Sour. When I kegged it, the fruit flavor seemed to have fermented out. Once the beer was cold and carbonated the fruit flavor was quite nice, if not quite as intense as a commercial brewery adding fruit post-fermentation. 

The Vienna Lager was excellent. I didn't have time to lager the beer for several weeks, so it wasn't as clear as a commercial example. The flavor was damn close. The response from attendees was quite strong.  One master judge who has brewed the style a lot really liked the malt flavor. His only minor critique was that he wanted a little more hop bitterness. 

We had four taps at the booth. The first day of the show we served the three IPA variants and the sour. The second day was the Hazies and the Vienna Lager. We went through the entire keg of Vienna Lager in one day. Having a classic style on tap scratched an itch for a lot of attendees.

As the show wrapped up I looked at the winners of the National Homebrew Competition. For each category the AHA listed how many entries there were for that category. The most entries by category:

  • Pilsner - 146 entries
  • Strong Belgian Ale - 124 entries
  • American IPA  - 117 entries
  • Fruit Beer - 113 entries
  • Pale Malty European Beer - 110 entries
  • Amber European Beer - 110 entries
  • New England IPA - 110 entries
  • Dark European Lager - 108 entries
  • Pale European Beer - 102 entries
New England IPA in a three-way tie for fifth. Regular, old fashioned clear IPA was in third. The lager categories were some of the most competitive in the competition. 

Most craft brewers I talk to started as homebrewers somewhere along the way. NHC was inundated with lagers, my seminar on English ales was standing-room only, people left the seminar looking for more of the English ales I made for the seminar, and the most popular beer at our stand was a Vienna Lager. Homebrewing has been considered a bellwether for commercial brewing.  Is beer-flavored-beer making a comeback? If homebrewing is a leading indicator on where craft beer is going, the answer is yes.

People in beer have been predicting that lagers or classic styles will be making a comeback for years. A lot of it might be wish-casting as craft brewers have continued to pump out New Englannd IPA. I'm not ready to say with certainty that beer-flavored-beer will make a comeback. I am leaving Pittsburgh with a little bit of hope for at least a modest resurgence. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Revisiting seasonal beer

One of my favorite posts was my definitive guide to seasonal beer. Going by that schedule, I would be stocking up on spring seasonals if there was an actual spring training this year. It is hard to believe that I wrote that post eight years ago. At that time seasonal beers were a big deal and seasonal creep really annoyed me.  Seasonal beers were coming out so early that they were gone while being still "in season". I remember one year when I couldn't find Celebration in early December.

Many of the seasonal beers I used to look for were distributed by regional and national breweries. Yard Sale by Uinta was a sessionable dark lager released in the winter, a perfect antidote to full-bodied and boozy winter seasonals. Uinta is no longer distributed in Massachusetts. Even brewers like Sierra Nevada struggled to maintain traction with their seasonal lineup. I couldn't find Summerfest the last couple of summers. This year the beer will be retired and replaced with an IPA. As more local options emerged in the late 2010s, it became harder and harder for out-of-state brewers to keep shelf space at retail, and consciousness among consumers. 

In 2022 the notion of a brewery having a set lineup of four seasonal beers is as quaint. Sure, Sam Adams is still doing it, but that feels more like inertia than anything else. Breweries will release certain beers or styles seasonally, but you don't see as much of a set seasonal lineup. 

The main reason for the decline in seasonal beer is that instead of looking for a familiar seasonal with the change of ever season, drinkers want to try new beers and visit new breweries all of the time. The risk for brands is alienating people who love the old brands, and new beers not finding an audience. Samuel Adams has tried to keep a few of their venerable brands fresh by changing recipes for Summer Ale and Winter Lager.

As much as drinkers were trained to drink seasonally in the 1990s and 2000s, too many seasonal beers were similar. How many American Wheat ales with or without citrus do people want to drink? Fall was a deluge of cloying oktoberfests with too much caramel malt, and then it was pumpkin ales loaded with cinnamon. Winter was the domain of boozy stouts and overly-spiced winter warmers. Spring never quite had the same homogeneity, but people generally drink less from January to March anyway. 

This sameness over most of the beer year was probably always going to dampen enthusiasm for seasonal beer. Ironically, you could argue that the sameness of seasonal beer has been replaced by the sameness of New England IPA.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

Homebrew Happy Hour ep. 268 Storing grains, American vs Continental malt, Expired LME

I realize it has been quiet in these parts. Sadly I haven't brewed in six months; the longest I have gone without brewing since I started. I am going to fire up my kettle again soon. I need Irish ales on tap for St. Patrick's Day. 

Anyway, It is always fun to be a guest on the Homebrew Happy Hour podcast. We talked about what I have been working on with Muntons as of late, and what Josh and Todd have been up to. I certainly appreciated answering some malt-related questions. 

Check out the episode here:

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Brew Day - Angel's Wing's (Helles Bock)

I'm a loner Dottie... a rebel
As an only child who is a bit of an introvert, I tend to pursue most of my hobbies and interests alone. Being an independent learner means that most of what I have learned about brewing when it comes to my own beer and to my work in the industry was the result of self-study. I passed my first BJCP Exam after a month of cramming. For my role with Muntons, I passed the Institute of Brewing and Distilling's Malting Certificate Exam the same way. 

Homebrewing evolved from something Jennie and I did together to a solitary activity. Once in awhile there will be something Jennie wants to brew and she will want to brew it with me, but that is more the exception than the rule. I haven't brewed with my cousin Andy since he and his wife Juli had their second child. Since then they moved out of state. 

This batch was the first one in awhile I brewed with someone else. I first met Nate at a beer tasting; Nate was friends with Kert, who is the buyer at my local bottle shop. When Nate started working at my local homebrew shop he actually recognized me with my mask on. Eventually he pinged me on social media wanting to brew. 

Nate suggested brewing a lager of some sort. I suggested a Helles Bock as it's one of the few styles I've never brewed. It is also a style I have had very few examples of. The recipe in Brewing Classic Styles was simple enough: a blend of Pilsner and Munich Malt, a 60 minute hop addition, and lager yeast.

I almost always keep Muntons Pilsner Malt in my brewery, and I started keeping Muntons Munich Malt after having to make too many changes to recipes that called for stewed malts like Vienna, Munich, or Melanoidin-type darker Munich malts.

Perfect crush after first pass thru the mill.

I told Nate to pick out the hops and yeast while I had the malt taken care of. When the Alpha Acid percentage on the Magnum hops Nate picked out were a little high at 14.7%, I made a last minute change to the recipe by adding 0.75 ounces at 60 minutes and the remaining 0.25 at 15 minutes.

Nate really likes Imperial Yeast and chose their Harvest strain. A fine choice for a malty style like a Helles Bock, it's attenuation is moderate in the 70-74% range. To make sure the beer didn't finish too heavy, I lowered the mash temperature from the recipe in the book. 

Nate and I mashing in
Beautiful wort, looks like apple juice.

Although not as big as Field of Immortals, we were shooting for this beer to be over 7%. I replicated my process from the Field of Immortals brew day fairly closely. Again the mash efficiency was high, and the starting gravity of the finished batch was high. So high in fact it falls out of the parameters of the style. Once I entered our hop additions into BeerSmith, our calculated hop bitterness was also high.

How I am going to do every batch.

Nate and I ended up with almost exactly 5.25 gallons going into the fermenter, which should lead to five gallons of finished beer. It might make sense to dilute the residual sugar, alcohol, and hop bitterness with one gallon of water. That would make the beer more to style and would give us more beer. From now on I am going to assume higher yields in all of my batches and plan accordingly. 

Pitching yeast in well-aerated wort.

It was fun to brew with another person and share knowledge. I'm sure we will collaborate again. Hopefully next time with Kert. 

Wort getting down to lager temps.

Recipe: Angels Wings
Brewer: Jason 
Asst Brewer: Nate 
Style: Helles Bock
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (0.0) 

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.49 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.99 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.25 gal   
Bottling Volume: 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.067 SG
Estimated Color: 7.1 SRM
Estimated IBU: 41.7 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 76.7 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes

Amt              Name                                             Type          #          %/IBU         Volume        
8.86 gal         Yellow Full (Under 6 SRM)                        Water         1          -             -             
2.37 g           Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash)                  Water Agent   2          -             -             
1.58 g           Calcium Chloride (Mash)                          Water Agent   3          -             -             
0.79 g           Epsom Salt (MgSO4) (Mash)                        Water Agent   4          -             -             
0.50 tsp         Lactic Acid (Mash)                               Water Agent   5          -             -             
9 lbs            Pilsner Malt (Muntons) (1.9 SRM)                 Grain         6          65.5 %        0.70 gal      
4 lbs 12.0 oz    Munich Malt (Muntons) (8.1 SRM)                  Grain         7          34.5 %        0.37 gal      
0.50 tsp         Lactic Acid (Sparge)                             Water Agent   8          -             -             
0.75 oz          Magnum [14.70 %] - Boil 60.0 min                 Hop           9          35.8 IBUs     -             
0.25 oz          Magnum [14.70 %] - Boil 15.0 min                 Hop           10         5.9 IBUs      -             
0.00 tsp         Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins)                      Fining        11         -             -             
1.0 pkg          Harvest (Imperial Yeast #L17)                    Yeast         12         -             -             

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, No Mash Out
Total Grain Weight: 13 lbs 12.0 oz
Name              Description                             Step Temperat Step Time     
Mash In           Add 17.99 qt of water at 163.9 F        150.0 F       60 min        

Sparge: Fly sparge with 4.74 gal water at 168.0 F
Original recipe needed 12 oz Acidulated Malt. Used Lactic Acid in Mash and Sparge instead. AA% on Magnum was high, so used 0.75 at 60 and 0.25 at 15 instead of 1.0 at 60 min.

Awesome mash, sparge and boil. Crush was perfect first time through mill. System is dialed in and will adjust profile accordingly. 
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