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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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Don't be an anti-bottlite

Image result for bottles vs cans

I remember the first time I saw a can of Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale. I was living with my cousin Adam at the time, and let's say friends showing up with beer was not an uncommon occurrence. When I saw this strange can in our vegetable drawer I wondered what kind of swill was inside. When I tried one I was blown away by the flavor.

Back then few people had seen craft beer in a can. Cans were the domain of macro beer. Now, in New England the overwhelming majority of craft beer is in cans. As brewers started marketing beer in cans they drilled the benefits of beer in cans into the heads of drinkers. Cans are lighter, cans block out all oxygen and light, you can take cans certain places more easily than bottles, and so on. 

Eventually the market has evolved to a point where consumers reject almost any beer in bottles out of hand. One local brewer told me bottle shops didn't want to carry his beer just because it was in bottles. When that brewer was able to switch to cans their sales went through the roof.

Things are getting to the point where the glass industry is starting to get nervous. Sponsored content like this from the glass industry has started to appear. A few months ago I saw a promoted tweet linking to an article about Yazoo Brewing in Nashville's new bottling line. One reply to the tweet accused Yazoo of "selling out" citing the advantages of cans that have become ingrained in the minds of many beer drinkers.

In the article Linus Hall of Yazoo explained, "... we feel that glass gives us the best chance to get that beer to our customers with low dissolved oxygen pickup." Low dissolved oxygen pickup is the key. While a can is air-tight, if there are high levels of oxygen dissolved in the liquid when it goes into the can that beer will metaphorically rot from the inside.

One of the barriers for craft brewers moving to cans was the availability and cost of canning equipment. Canning lines have gotten less expensive, and mobile canning companies enable craft brewers to rent a canning line without having to purchase one. There are even can seamers that allow small brewers to fill one can at a time. As more beer has been packaged in cans, the more bad beer I have had in cans.

Fill levels in cans can be a crap-shoot. I've spilled beer on myself and have had overfull cans foam over. Most damningly I have had several beers show obvious signs of oxidation. There is nothing worse than a New England Pale Ale that is brown like a rotten apple. Almost all hop character is gone and the beer is undrinkable. 

Image result for oxidized new england pale ale

Glass does have a few advantages to aluminium. Since a glass bottle is thicker and stronger than a can, it is easier to purge the vessel of oxygen. While aluminum is a finite resource that has to be mined, glass is made of sand. Earth has plenty of sand. If you are the type that is concerned about BPA, you can be sure there is no BPA in a glass bottle. One advantage for brewers is that bottling lines tend to be a lot faster than canning lines.

Like most things in life, cans and bottles both have their pros and cons. Don't be so beholden to cans that you refuse to buy beer in bottles. Any package is only as good as the liquid inside.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Brew Day: Entry of Convenience (Baltic Porter)

Welp, I guess the last couple months got away from me. Lately that is my stock answer for when I don't get around to doing things. "Sorry I didn't do XXXX until now, the day/week/month just got away from me."

The malt business has been keeping me busy. I was lucky enough to attend Brew Your Own Magazine's Bootcamp in San Diego with Muntons. In between talking to brewers, I was able to mingle with brewing luminaries. I sat in on a session with Mitch Steele and learn about Advanced Hopping Techniques, and Advanced Homebrew Techniques from Gordon Strong. I have already started to apply those lessons.

Additionally I have visited in no particular order Northern Maine, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh, and Ontario. The good news is unlike my last lengthy gap in posting on the blog I have been brewing.

After entering a lot of competitions last year and picking up my first medals, I haven't been active in entering competitions this year. Really I have been focusing on just brewing beers Jennie and Ilike to drink and enjoying drinking them on tap. It is crazy how much more homebrew we have been drinking since we have the keezer. As far as competitions go, the National Homebrew Competition is a different story.

This year I will be making my triumphant return to HomebrewCon. Instead of going as an attendee, I will be there as a vendor representing Muntons. Everyone at HomebrewCon is given a badge. The AHA also gives out ribbons to stick to your badge. Last time I received a ribbon for judging the final round at NHC. If memory recalls, vendors, presenters, and NHC finalists also got ribbons. I want to have as many pieces of flare as possible! I know I will get vendor and NHC judge ribbons; the one I want the most is NHC finalist!

To maximize my odds of having a beer advance beyond the preliminary round I applied for the maximum of six entries. The plan was to brew and re-brew my beers that had performed the best in competition. In the end I was only awarded four entries.

Pa's Lager, my only first place winner is an automatic, and I rebrewed a three gallon batch. I was very happy with my first batch of Galloupe St Gold. Even though I did not entered it into competition, I am confident it can do well with a couple of tweaks. After taking a pull of Thomas Brady's Ale I bottled it up and made that my third entry. I wasn't sure what my fourth entry would be.

Eamon, my old boss at Modern Homebrew Emporium had applied for entry into NHC the past two years and not received any entries. I offered to brew a collaboration beer with my fourth entry and our marriage of convenience was formed.

Eamon's suggestion was to brew his outstanding Baltic Porter. Baltic Porter being a high gravity and high alcohol style, I wanted to brew it as soon as possible to give the beer as much time to condition as possible. I took Eamon's malt profile and approximated it as best as I could with the malts I had in my inventory.
Just like Gordon Strong suggested, I didn't mash my colored malts.
Instead I added them at the end of the mash.
In his talk at the BYO Bootcamp, Gordon Strong was a big proponent of not mashing roasted malts. Adding roasted malts at the end of the mash and before sparging will provide color and flavor just like steeping specialty malt during an extract batch will. Most extract brewers steep specialty malt for 30 minutes. That is basically how long a mashout and/or sparge will last. The benefit is that this method extracts less harshness from darker malts.

A gas stove makes yeast starters so much easier!
Baltic Porter is a cold-fermented style. Lager yeasts are commonly used, but a relatively clean ale yeast can work if fermented cool enough. I made a 2000 ml starter of Darkness from Imperial Yeast. Like Guinness Blonde American Lager I would ferment the beer at a cooler temperature to produce a clean beer.

The beer isn't quite at pitching temp, but my
controller is set for 64F. This setup worked great!
To control my fermentation temperature I fermented the beer in my cold basement. My basement sits in the low to mid 50s during the winter and has allowed me to brew lots of great lagers. To get into the temperature range of my yeast, I plugged in a heat wrap to a temperature controller. I purchased a thermowell stopper. The thermowell is a metal tube closed on one end. By putting the probe from my conroller into the thermowell, I can measure the temperature inside the carboy.

I fermented the beer at 65F, before ramping it up to 70F for a diacetyl rest, and then unplugged the heat and let the beer cool to basement temperature.

I bottle conditioned two gallons to make sure I had enough bottles for NHC as well as any other competitions I may want to enter the beer in. The remaining three gallons I racked into a keg for keg conditioning.

The samples I pulled were so smooth and full-bodied. The flavor reminded me of a Fudgesicle. I think the overall balance is there. The judges may think the beer is light for the style. We shall see!

See full recipe here

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