Tuesday, August 27, 2019

2019 hop harvest is underway

Hop harvest is a favorite time for many brewers. Large commercial brewers are invited by hop growers and brokers to the Pacific Northwest for hop selection. At hop selection, brewers and purchasers are ushered through tours of the fields, and then sat at picnic tables where they rub and smell various lots of hops selecting the lots they wish to buy. Hop selection is part sensory experience and part junket. Plenty of beer is consumed by the visiting brewers.

For a homebrewer growing hops in the backyard, hop harvest is a lot more work. The tendricles that allow hops to climb can really irritate the skin. Gloves and long sleeves are a must. On a still-warm late August day it can be quite hot. I drank three bottles of water while picking cones off of my first bine.

The cones on the bine will ripen at different times. One advantage a home-grower has is the ability to pick the cones as they ripen over a period of time. For a large commercial grower this is entirely impractical.

Last year I planted five rhizomes: Willamette, Northern Brewer, Chinook, Cascade, Centennial. I clipped the Cascade with my edger and it never grew back. The other four plants did grow nicely their first year.

First-year hops typically don't yield many cones if they even do at all. The Northern Brewer actually yielded quite a bit. Enough for me to brew a batch, a California Common I named Uncommon First Harvest. Using the pick as you go method, I was able to dry the hops on a screen. After tasting the beer I brewed the lack of hop flavor made it pretty clear that I picked the hops too soon. There was almost no hop flavor, but the Muntons Crystal malt flavor really came through and I thoroughly enjoyed the beer.

For this year I planted three new hop plants, not rhizomes: Cluster, Brewers Gold, and Canadian Red Vine. The Cluster and Brewers Gold were purchased with the idea of using them in historic recipes. Canadian Red Vine on the other hand I had never heard of. It's supposed cherry flavor sounded interested. That it has French-Canadian origin (like me!), made me think it would grow well in New England. 

Here is a rundown of how my plants did this year

Northern Brewer: Again this was my most vigorous grower. The cones were ready for harvest the fourth week of August. I knew the cones were ready when I saw more yellow lupulin than when I harvested last year, and some of the leaves were just starting to yellow and brown ever so slightly. The clincher was when I rubbed a cone in my hands I could see and feel the hop oil in my hands. With the huge volume of cones, I elected to harvest them all at once. I could barely fit the yield in a five-gallon bucket.
Look at all of those cones!
Chinook: This plant really made a leap in year two and has produced numerous large cones. I can't wait to use them in a hoppy pale ale or IPA.

I could barely fit the plant in the frame. Lots of shoots with good
cones too,
Centennial: It has done better in it's second year and produced some cones. The cones however are rather small. I think the plant isn't getting sufficient sunlight and may need to be replanted in a better spot. Our deck, and the neighbor's house and deck block the sunlight at different parts of the day.

The Centennial in the shade. It isn't high enough to clear the
neighbor's deck. 
Willamette: I spoke with a rep from Four Star Farms, a hop grower in Western Mass about my Willamette after it grew very slowly last year. In their experience English or English derived hops do not grow as well in New England. My plant did do better this year and produced a few cones, if not quite enough to be worth harvesting. I am going to leave the plant in-tact as long as possible so it can continue to receive sunlight and strengthen its root system. I think that next year I will have a more substantial yield.

The Willamette produced a few cones in year two and does look
pretty hanging off of my porch,
Cluster and Brewers Gold: Planting dormant plants as opposed to rhyzomes is that plants are supposed to grow more vigorously their first year. That was not the case with these two. I planted these along my fence on either side of the Northern Brewer where I thought they would get the most sunlight. Instead the Norther Brewer shaded out both of these. The Cluster eventually slowly started to grow. With the Northern Brewer cut down it should have six to eight weeks of warm weather and sunlight to help the root system for next year.

The Cluster is the thin plant to the right.

The Brewers Gold never took off in it's original location. I replanted it along my porch next to the stairs. While that location is blocked from the morning sun, it does get plenty of sun from mid-afternoon onward. It did slowly start to take off a little bit in its new location.

Believe it or not this is improvement.
Canadian Red Vine: By the time my new plants arrived I had completely forgotten that I ordered this one. I planted it along the porch just to see how it would do. I was concerned about the lack of morning sunlight which proved not to be an issue at all. The plant reached the top of the porch, then found a cable line along the side of the house, and worked it's way up that. The plant has produced plenty of cones that probably won't be ready to harvest for another few weeks.

The roofline on the porch is probably 15'-20' high.
Expecting a larger yield, I purchased some new toys to properly store my homegrown hops. I bought a food dehydrator to speed up the drying process. There are all kinds of DIY hop drying projects that involve box fans, building wood frames, and stapling screens to them. The dehydrator I purchased was $80, but give me a turnkey solution and I will take it every time. I can also use the machine to make beef jerky! To store my dried hops I bought a vacuum sealer.

I end up with 6oz of dried hops per batch.
The dehydrator is working great! With the temperature set at 95F the hops dry in nine hours. With the huge yield of Northern Brewer I will probably have to run five to six batches to dry them all. Wet hops, hops that are picked fresh off the bine, will start to get moldy after three days. I should just be able to get them all dry by then.

I weighed out my dried hops into two ounce bags which were then vacuum-sealed. The bags for the vacuum sealer come in a roll and it took some trial and error to figure out how large of a bag to cut. As I work through these hops the next challenge might be to find enough fridge

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Using the wayback machine for some recipe research

My homegrown hops are almost ready for harvest. In particular my Northern Brewer plant in its second year is yielding even more cones and is taking over two maple saplings in my neighbors yard. The cones will be ready to pick very soon.

As much as I'd like to brew another batch of Uncommon Harvest, I have a vial of the limited edition White Labs 006 Bedford British Ale that was just released from the White Labs Vault. While thinking of what beer I could use with that yeast and my homegrown Northern Brewer.

Almost forgotten now, Pete's Wicked Ale was one of the first prominent craft beers in the 1980s and 1990s. The brand was sold and died a slow death before being discontinued in 2011. The beer was a brown ale, a style that could work with the ingredients I want to use. Yes, I wanted to do another beer inspired by a 1990s recipe.  In my mind I thought that Pete's Wicked Ale was flavored with Northern Brewer hops.

Brew Your Own published a recipe ($) that called for Northern Brewer for bittering and Brewers Gold for the flavor addition. Most of the other clones and descriptions of the beer that I found highlighted that Brewers Gold was the flavor hop.

To confirm this I looked up the old Pete's Wicked website via the web archive.


It's not a suprise my memory was off. Incidentally I did buy a Brewer's Gold plant earlier this year. The plant didn't really take off until I moved and replanted it in a new spot. With any luck I'll have some homegrown Brewers Gold next year that I can use in a true clone of Pete's Wicked Ale. I could also use them for some other historical recipes.

Like many beers, the recipe for Pete's Wicked Ale may have changed over time. I can't imagine making a brown ale with only pale and caramel malt. If I were to freestyle a guess, maybe the new owners tried to make the beer lighter in color. Another clone I found in the AHA thread is allegedly the original recipe from Pete. Maybe I will give that recipe a try next year. I am intrigued by the stupid amount of crystal malt.

The plan is to still do a brown ale with my Northern Brewer. One not inspired by Pete's Wicked Ale, even though I could make a reasonable approximation with Northern Brewer hops. Considering I never tasted the beer before it was discontinued, let alone in it's hey day, a clone should probably be as close as I can make it.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Talking Malts with Special Co-Host Jason Chalifour from Muntons -- Ep. 144

A bit late in sharing this, but I had a lot of fun co-hosting the Homebrew Happy Hour postcast with Josh. We talked a bit about Muntons Brewery-in-a-Bag kits.

I will have to send him my definitive guide to seasonal beer.




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Monday, July 22, 2019

Brew Day: Old North Shore Ale (American Amber Ale)

When I attempted to recreate the classic recipe for Samuel Adams Summer Ale, I may have come off as the old man yelling at a cloud. With this brew you may think I am doubling down on my malcontentment.

Image result for shoals pale ale
Shoals was typical of New England craft beers 25 years ago. Sad to see it go. 

Recently I was disappointed to learn that Smuttynose is discontinuing Shoals Pale Ale. Sadly for me the English-inspired pale ales that helped start the craft beer movement are being hazed out so to speak. Even Goose Island isn't bottling Honkers Ale anymore. Smutty's problems were far more pronounced when they decided to pull the plug on Shoals than Boston Beer's were when it changed the recipe for Sam Summer. I am not going to show up to their previously over-leveraged brewery with a pitchfork, but I am sad to see Shoals go.

When I saw Shoals was going away, I wanted to come up with a recipe that was at least inspired by it, if not an outright clone. Then at a Northshore Brewers meeting, the topic of the club's 25th anniversary party came up and I was asked if I would brew something for the event.

The club's anniversary felt like the perfect time to brew an English-inspired ale. When the club was founded in 1994 these were the type of beers that were being brewed at 'microbreweries' and brewpubs. Malty and darker ales, or at least beers darker in color than urine, were positioned as an answer to big beer.  Having enjoyed beers brewed by some of the long-time members of the club, I am comfortable saying these were the type of beers brewed in the early days of the club.

Like the best early craft beers made in New England, Old North Shore Ale uses a base of the finest British malts; Muntons Planet Pale, Caramalt 30 (15L), Crystal 150 (60L), and a pinch of Chocolate Malt. "Malt backbone" might be one of the most tired flavor descriptors in beer. Well, this beer is going to have one!

For hops I am using Chinook and Cascade hops grown on the North Shore. Ok Amesbury, which is pretty close to the North Shore. I was given these hops when I bought some second-hand glass carboys. What better hops for a North Shore ale?

Using whole cone hops is itself more traditional, but it does present some challenges that modern hop pellets do not. At the end of the boil, the cones clogged the ball valve on my kettle. I had to siphon most of the wort into the fermenter. As I got toward the bottom of the kettle, I poured the wort through a funnel with a screen, which kept getting clogged. Next time I use whole hops I will be sure to use a bag.

For yeast I am using WLP008 East Coast Ale yeast. It is not as dry and has a touch more character than most American Ale strains. It was easy to repitch some slurry from OG Sam Summer right into my fermenter. The re-pitched yeast took off like a rocket. Krausen formed within three hours, and the temperature was up to 90 degrees. I covered my fermenter with a wet t-shirt, and left it outside overnight. By the next morning the temperature was back under control.

Following another traditional method, after two weeks I racked the beer to a secondary fermenter. I have always thought racking improved clarity of my beers. The WLP008 really doesn't like to flocculate. With this batch and OG Sam Summer the beer was quite hazy after primary fermentation with a layer of yeast stubbornly floating at the top.  Here is a pic of OG Sam Summer which went from the primary directly to the keg:

Wheat beer is supposed to be hazy. I think this looks sexy.
Old North Shore Ale had a similar haze after primary fermentation. Here is how the beer looks after 10 days in the secondary:

Noticeably clearer and exactly what I was going for.
As a traditional craft beer evocative of a bygone era I wanted the beer to be reasonably clear. The slight haze gives it a characteristic "unfiltered" look. Not only were copper-colored ales novel 25 years ago, unfiltered beer was too.

That time in the secondary really gave the beer needed time to condition. The samples I tasted when racking were very bitter and green. When I tasted the beer again before packaging it had smoothed out considerably. I imagined the beer as pale ale, but it really straddles the line between a pale and amber ale in terms of balance.  It could almost pass as an ESB if the American hop flavor was less pronounced. If I wanted to make this more of a pale ale I could easily dry hop it, but I enjoyed the samples exactly as it was.

At packaging I added some priming sugar to a keg to naturally carbonate the beer. It seemed like another nod to traditional. My keezer was also full.

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