Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Surveying the damage of my own neglect

Not only have I barely brewed over the last several months. I have also been too busy, distracted and lazy to package beers in carboys, Beers that have been ready to go for quite awhile. I couldn't even package my beers before we moved. On moving day, the movers carried my full carboys down the street from our old apartment to our new house.



As I work on getting a plumber to install a hose bib so I can get brewing soon enough, I took draws out of all of my carboys to see what beers are still worth packaging, and what beers I should just dump.

Wet Hop Head Pale Ale: My most recent batch is also the only batch I have brewed at home since June! Who am I? What the hell is going on?? Anyway, this had a really nice, floral hop flavor. It was restrained in the sense that the beer drank more like a pale ale than an IPA. The light caramel and Biscuit malt provide balanced and a similarly restrained malt flavor. This would have been a cool beer to bring to Ales over ALS. It would have been a cool story to tell attendees that the beer used fresh picked hops that were locally-grown on a family farm. Verdict: keeper

Pretty Things Jack D'Or Clone: One of my friends on Twitter recently asked how this beer came out. Much to his and my disappointment, it wasn't good. This was a three gallon batch that I fermented in a five gallon carboy. I never racked the beer to a smaller vessel. This batch was just infected. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the off-flavor was, but it wasn't good. I'm going to give this a try again, probably with a different yeast. Verdict: dumper

The Sour Chris: Coming along nicely. Has a clean sourness. If one is clean, and ten is vinegar, I'd give this about a six in terms of tartness. I'm going to give this more time to see if it adds tartness and complexity. Verdict: keeper

The Pasteinator: Man I really wanted to nail this beer, but boy is it terrible! I had originally brewed this for our club's competition. I held off because the beer was quite alcoholic. My hope was that the harshness would mellow in time. After tasting the beer for the first time in months, the harshness had lessened, but was present enough to ruin the beer. I chalk this one up to fermenting at too high of a temperature. I look forward to brewing another bock or dopplebock this winter to enjoy next spring. Verdict: dumper

Simple Cider: This has been in secondary for quite awhile. When I tasted the cider when I racked it, it was quite good. The extra time has only made it better. Verdict: keeper.

Chali 4: This was an extract Patersbier or Trappist Single I slapped together as a starter beer. My plan was to use the yeast cake from this beer to ferment a planned Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

When I took a pull and gave Jennie a taste she said it didn't really taste like anything. When I explained that it is supposed to be a light, easy drinking beer, and to imagine the beer carbonated she smiled and kind of shrugged. This was an easy beer to make and I have reasonable hopes for it. I could easily brew this again next summer to build up enough yeast for a Belgian quad. Verdict: keeper

While I still can't brew, I do finally have a chest freezer. I already had a temperature controller. I plugged the freezer into the controller, set it for 35F, and kegged Wet Hop Head, Simple Cider, and Chali 4. Now I just need to finish building my draught system.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

What I have learned selling malt

I was really hoping to have a brew day post or two ready to go by now. I have everything I need to brew five gallon, all-grain batches in a reasonable period of time now that we have our own home with a yard. On brew day I realized I was missing one critical component, a place to attach a hose. I bought the only house I have ever seen with no hose bib outside. The kitchen faucet wouldn't even take a hose adapter. With no way to chill five gallons of wort, anything other than extract is out of the question until I get that hose bib installed. Seems like as good of a time as any to reflect on three months working for Muntons.

In the time I accepted the position with Muntons until I actually started, I read Brewers Publications book on Malt cover to cover. As part of my on-boarding with Muntons I participated in live Skype training sessions with the people at the maltings in the UK. The brewers and maltsters went into great detail on the malting process and Muntons various products.

In everything I have ever sold I was a product knowledge expert. The customers I was working with were usually counting on me to educate them on the product. I have been working in sales since I finished college, but selling malt to brewers is completely different than selling cars, electronics, or insurance.

As many batches as I have brewed at home, or beers I have tasted, a professional brewer is going to know, or at least think they know, more about beer and ingredients than I do. If I compared my homebrewing to what these people do every day I could easily sound like a sports talk radio caller that compares his experience in Little League or high school to the pros. That guy always sounds like an idiot.

Every brewer approaches malt a little differently. Some brewers are married to particular malts, while others will switch malts just because one was cheaper. I had the owner of one brewery that has been open for over 20 years switch from our Propino Pale Ale malt to US 2-row, and then ask me on the phone why our malt is more expensive. After mentioning yields, degrees of modification, and flavor, I also mentioned how our malt has the added expense of coming to America on a boat.

I suspect that owner knew that I was new and was just testing me. When I met him in-person he told me that he felt Muntons' competitors had been more aggressive trying to earn his business and that he wasn't enough of a priority. The owner even said that price wasn't everything. I think I built up enough rapport with him that I have a chance to win him back next year.

What I've learned is how important relationships are.  I left a bunch of Muntons caps with one of our larger customers. The head brewer emailed me back to say his guys loved the hats. I made it a point to visit one local brewery owner at the Great American Beer Festival. I met him at his brewery. He had used our products when he worked at another brewery, but isn't in a position to buy anything from us now. Still, when I saw him he recognized me as the Muntons guy. He asked if I had any t-shirts. I didn't then, but will be sure to bring one next time I am near his brewery.

On our sales call last week my boss reiterated when a brewer offers beer to take the beer. Often brewers are too busy or disinterested to give you that time. When I do have that opportunity, it is easy for me to nerd out with a brewer as we both try the same beer. That's usually when I try to sprinkle in my beer knowledge and talk more about Muntons.

This week I am flying to Buffalo, NY to meet with an existing client. While I am in town I plan to spend a day knocking on doors, and another day in Rochester, NY doing the same thing. If I am lucky I'll get a couple of decent leads. If I know who to ask for next time I am in the area, that's a win. If I had a chance to build any type of rapport during my first visit even better. Maybe they will remember the 'Muntons guy'!

I think that is where outside sales, and selling to business is different from inside sales to the public. Yes, follow up is important in any type of sales, but your best chance of closing someone you have on the phone or at your store is when that person is on the line or in front of you. I know when salespeople call me I avoid them like the plague. With malt, even when a customer says they are going to buy from you it could be weeks, months or never. My job is to keep showing up until they do.

"80 percent of success is just showing up" —Woody Allen
That one line is basically what I do.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ales Over ALS 2017

In sixth grade I put off and I put off starting my project for the school science fair. Finally, a couple days before the fair I slapped together the easiest experiment I could think of. I tested static electricity by rubbing my feet on a carpet and touching a door knob. As a visual aide I drew pictures of myself rubbing my feet on the carpet, and the spark produced. As I presented my experiment to my class and how I had tested my hypothesis about static electricity, one intrepid classmate asked "Did this take you five minutes?"

Somehow I received a B minus for my "work". I was never the most devoted student, but I remember feeling embarrassed seeing everyone else's displays that they had put weeks of work into, then seeing my sad project. I was reminded of that feeling at this year's Ales Over ALS.

Last year's event was an emotional experience. I had planned to brew Larrupin Lou's for months, and Pugnacious Pete's for weeks leading up to the event. This year I had planned to brew a witbier, then I let life get in the way. In addition to my new job with Muntons and all the traveling that has entailed, we finally bought a home! As exciting and at times unnerving the past couple months have been, I was never able to brew the witbier. 

Plan B was to bring Wet Hop Head. I figured telling people at the event that the beer was made with freshly harvested hops from Essex County would make them excited to try the beer. The week before the event I attempted to keg the beer and I realized I had lost my keg post socket. That meant I couldn't remove the dip tubes for cleaning or check the O-rings.

Plan C became to figure out what beer I had in bottles that I could bring and not run out of. The one beer I had more than a case of was Hazy Brown. That beer scored a 37 in a BJCP competition, and I was thrilled with how it came out. Additionally I found a case of an old cider while moving that I also brought to serve at the event. The cider was my take on Woodchuck Belgian White.



The day of the event I iced the bottles down in my cooler. After parking my car I tasted the Hazy Brown. Bottled in April it had held up nicely, but it was slightly oxidized to me. For the competition I decided to enter my Witcidre into the competition.

People seemed to like the cider. I think more people liked the Hazy Brown and it may have done better in the People's Choice voting. Three of the four judges gave the cider very favorable scores and writeups. One judge was decidedly harsh. To be fair, I agreed more with him.

This was a cider I made in early 2013. At that time I had been brewing for only a few months. I was still working at Target; After Christmas I stocked up on Archer Farms (Target Brand) Cider that had gone on clearance. I found the idea for a Belgian cider on a HomebrewTalk forum. When it was young, the cider was very dry and tart. I probably used the wrong type or orange peel or just used too much of it. In time that faded, but so too had the spice and any yeast character.

Instead of coming up with a plan and following that plan to brew something cool and interesting, I dug through my cellar and just brought whatever I could find. Both beverages I brought were enjoyable enough, but neither were the best representation of what I am capable of as a brewer. 

This is six weeks after I couldn't manage to bring anything to Jamboree. Instead I got Muntons to sponsor the event and set up a table to exhibit. At least I exhibited until it rained. Currently I have Thomas Brady Ale, Sour Chris, Simple Cider, Pastinator, Jack D'Or Clone, Wet Hop Head and Chali-4 still in carboys. I need to get these beers in kegs and bottles, and then get brewing again.

I have a house with space to brew outside, a basement to store grain in bulk, and space for a kegerator. Next weekend it is time to fire up that kettle and get back on track. As for Ales over ALS 2018, I decided on my way home from Ales over ALS 2017 what I want to bring. I am going to brew it sooner rather than later, because this brew will need a bit of time!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Brew Day: Wet Hop Head Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

It was only a couple short months ago that I was marveling that after three years I was still producing content on a regular basis. Between a new job, and hopefully a new house I haven't brewed a batch at home in over two months. Also, when I worked at Modern Homebrew Emporium being around ingredients and brewers once a week inspired me to brew more. Maybe not being in that environment lessened my enthusiasm.

The Chinook had a pungent, spicy aroma
I did have several beers I wanted to brew over the summer. Beers that I had bought ingredients for and to date haven't brewed. The state of affairs is so sorry I am going to Jamboree empty-handed. I should be there representing Muntons. If you are going to Jambo look for my booth and be sure to say hi.

What I needed was some inspiration and some motivation. That came when I was presented with a chance to brew with wet hops. Fitzgerald Farm in Haverhill posted to the North Shore Brewer's Facebook page that they had limited quantities of wet hops to sell. Not being able to grow my own hops this year, I jumped at the chance.

Whereas almost all beers are made with hops that have been dried, wet hops are hops that have been picked fresh off the bine. If hops aren't dried shortly after being harvested they will spoil within a couple of days. When a commercial brewer releases a wet hop beer they go to great lengths to have the hops sent to the brewery and used as soon as possible.

The Centennial looks like it was harvested at juust the right time
I arranged to meet the Fitzgeralds to pick up a pound of Chinook and Centennial. This is only the second year they have grown hops on the farm and the first year they had enough of a yield to sell to brewers. They hope to have more rhizomes to split off and have an even larger yield and incrementally grow. I am actually going to be one of, if not the first brewer to make a beer with hops from their farm.

Picked and brewed on the same day!
With two pounds to work with I decided to brew a batch with only the wet hops. On his blog, Brad Smith suggested using at least six to eight times the weight of wet hops as you would with dry hops to compensate for the higher moisture levels in wet hops.

As for a recipe to showcase these wet hops I had a perfect recipe ready to go. I had planned to brew Modern Homebrew Emporium's best-selling Hophead Pale Ale extract kit and had already bought the extract and specialty malts. I picked up the hops on a Monday night and needed to brew with the wet hops before the hops spoiled. A short and easy extract brew was perfect for a last-minute brew day on a Monday night.

I made sure that all of the hops were submerged. 
I used the same hop schedule as the recipe called for, but I did adjust the amounts and type of hops to use all of the wet hops. The volume of hop material to add to the kettle was substantial. I used one of the large grain bags I usually use for my BIAB batches. After the boil I used a strainer to let the bag drain just as I would let a grain bag drain.

With the huge volume of hop material I did have to top off with almost four gallons of water. I suspect any fermentable sugars lost to hop absorbtion will be balanced by lower hop utilization in the more concentrated wort. With no lab analysis of these hops I am really shooting from the hip in terms of IBUs.

The Fitzgeralds are anxious to hear how hops from their farm. I am almost as anxious to have a hoppy beer in the house again.

Click here for the recipe.
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