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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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Brew Day: Rundown Irish Red

Time goes by so fast. You only wanna do what you think is right. You know what doesn't feel right? That I haven't brewed either of my house Irish beers in a very long time. As I have started to circle back, I contemplated re-brewing my Spring Training Stout or Rundown Irish Red.

My other impetus for brewing these beers again is the fact that these style of beers are not as prevalent as they once were. At least not as prevalent in the portfolios of American craft brewers. Gentile Brewing in my hometown is an exception as they brew a year-round stout and seasonal Irish red.  Nowadays many craft stouts have some kind of adjunct like coffee, chocolate, vanilla, spices, and most are imperial in strength.

A subtle, slightly malty style like Irish Red couldn't be more different than say New England IPA. That doesn't give craft brewers impetus to brew them. Several examples are made with American malt. In a malt-driven style like this using authentic ingredients is critical. I've bought "Irish Red" ales that tasted like under-hopped American Amber Ales.

As I drink less these days, I didn't have room to put two Irish beers on tap. On tap right now I have Employee Orientation 102, the second runnings of a training beer I made with a colleague, and a re-brew of a dark lager Pulpwood Stacker. If I could only brew one, the Irish Red made the most sense.

I kicked the batch further old-school by brewing the beer with malt extract. Two cans of Muntons Maris Otter Pale extract to be exact with some steeped specialty grains. I brewed this batch the same day I brewed Thomas Brady's Ale. To heat my water for steeping my specialty grains I used the first gallon of water to come out of my immersion chiller as I started to chill my first batch. The water was piping hot and seemed to do the job just fine in terms of extracting flavor and color from my grains.

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Who needs a muslin bag?

From there I strained my specialty specialty grains and collected the wort in my Mash & Boil, topped off with more water, heated up the wort to near boiling temperature, and cut the heat before adding my malt extract. The idea is to not scorch the kettle or the extract. Also, the Mash & Boil has a breaker that shuts off if the water is too low to stop the unit from heating up when it's dry. I made sure my liquid extract was fully dissolved before powering back up to get to a boil.

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The same thing as using Maris Otter out of the sack, except I let my colleagues in Stowmarket
do the mashing for me. 

Every time I brew with malt extract I ask myself why I don't do it more often. Are there limitations that come with extract brewing? Yes, but every brewer has limitations of some kind. I visited a large brewery that had only just opened. The brewers stared at monitors like Homer Simpson at the nuclear power plant as almost everything in this state-of-the-art brewery was hard piped. Even touring that facility, the brewer lamented a couple bits and bobs he wished they had done differently that they had to work around.

Usually as soon as I am done brewing, my mind immediately shifts to thinking what I will brew next. Enjoying the beer is almost an afterthought. For some reason I am particularly excited to enjoy this batch. I think I am excited to enjoy a beer made with such relative simplicity. A beer where the base was malt extract, the proportion of specialty malt was small, the flavor is designed to be subtle, and the balance makes the beer crushable.

The beer is already in the keg. Pints will be enjoyed on Saint Patrick's Day!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Brew Day: Thomas Brady's Ale (2019)

It's been two years since I brewed the first batch of Thomas Brady's Ale. Originally I had intended to brew the beer on an annual basis. Unfortunately last year I was busy settling into a new house and new job, and just never got around to it.

The idea for the beer came from my friend Eamon. Every New Years Day he brews his barleywine, ages it over the course of the year, bottles it in the fall, and opens the first bottle on New Years Eve. I brewed my batch a few days after New Years.

Brewing on a stove-top, I made my first barleywine with an obscene amount of malt extract. Now that I have both a yard to brew in where I can use my propane burner, and my Mash & Boil that is capable of a full volume boil. That makes brewing an all-grain barleywine with a grist of over 20 pounds of grain far more practical. The bones of this all-grain recipe are very similar to the original extract version.

The last label from my last sack of
Propino Pale Malt.

For the last several years at Muntons our main spring barley variety has been Propino. Before I worked for the company, the North Shore Brewers had our SMaSH base malt project where members brewed beers with different base malts as a way to evaluate them. In hindsight it was fortuitous that for my SMaSH blonde the "UK 2-row" I used was Propino. Out of all the SMaSH beers brewed, I liked the one I brewed with Propino the best.

New barley varieties are developed every few years as growers seek greater yields in the field and disease resistance. In East Anglia, where Muntons sources most of its barley, Propino is on its way out and Planet is on it's way in. My craft beer customers have all switched over to Planet, as I was down to about 14 pounds of Propino. Using the last of my Propino in a special beer like Thomas Brady's Ale that will be cellared for years felt an appropriate swan song.

When I decided to brew this year's vintage as an all-grain beer, I revisited the recipe Pattinson published on his website:



It is interesting that the grist uses both pale and lager malt. English pale malt is relatively low in diastatic power. My educated guess is that the lager malt was added to help convert the un-malted wheat in the grist. Most American brewers are not familiar with lager malt, and most homebrew shops don't sell it. Lager malt is light in color like Pilsner malt, but usually doesn't have the same honey-like sweetness.

As I slowly work through a sack of wheat malt, I used wheat malt in my recipe. This makes diastatic power not a concern. Considering I didn't have any lager malt this was a good thing. I still didn't have quite enough Propino Pale Malt to replace all of the lager malt in the original recipe. As a substitute I used Muntons Super Pale Malt.

Super Pale is an awesome malt. It is the lightest colored malt Muntons makes; lighter than even its Pilsner and Lager Malts. The bag I have at home is 1.3L in color. Super Pale was designed for hoppy beers, and in this recipe will allow most of the base malt flavor to come from the Propino Pale.

The specialty malt in the 2017 vintage was a caramel rye malt, and I aged the beer on oak cubes soaked in rye whiskey. As I thought of which spirit I would use for this batch the choice that immediately came to mind was a bourbon made by one of my customers. This bourbon uses a small amount of Muntons Crystal 400 which is 150L. Since the malt is in the spirit it was natural to use it in the beer.

Brewer: Jason Chalifour
Batch Size: 5.25 galStyle: English Barleywine (17D)
Boil Size: 6.85 galStyle Guide: BJCP 2015
Color: 18.8 SRMEquipment: Mash & Boil With Cooler
Bitterness: 60.6 IBUsBoil Time: 105 min
Est OG: 1.103 (24.5° P)Mash Profile: Single Infusion, Medium Body, No Mash Out
Est FG: 1.024 SG (6.1° P)Fermentation: Ale, Two Stage
ABV: 10.8%Taste Rating: 
Ingredients
AmountNameType#
9.61 galAmber Full (7-17 SRM)Water1
2.06 gChalk (Mash 60 min)Misc2
1.28 gEpsom Salt (MgSO4) (Mash 60 min)Misc3
1.10 gGypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60 min)Misc4
14 lbs 7.04 ozPale Ale, Propino (Muntons) (2.5 SRM)Grain5
4 lbs 8.00 ozSuper Pale Malt (Muntons) (1.7 SRM)Grain6
2 lbs 8.00 ozWheat Malt (Muntons) (2.2 SRM)Grain7
1 lbsCrystal 400 (Muntons) (170.0 SRM)Grain8
1.25 ozNugget [13.0%] - Boil 75 minHops9
1.00 ozAurora [8.2%] - Boil 30 minHops10
0.24 tspIrish Moss (Boil 10 min)Misc11
2 pkgsNottingham Yeast (Lallemand #-)Yeast12
0 pkgsSuper High Gravity Ale (White Labs #WLP099)Yeast13

This was the second batch in a row where my yield was exceedingly poor. The last batch was a re-brew of Crackerjack Cream Ale I intended to enter into NHC.

My starting gravity going into the fermenter was 1.080, barely enough for the beer to be a barleywine. When my pre-boil gravity was off, I disassembled my mill as I waited for my wort to reach a boil. I found a barley kernel that may have been causing one of the rollers to jam. I cleared that out, gave the mill an overdue brushing, and reset the gap to the factory default position. Hopefully things will be back to normal during my next all-grain batch.

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