Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Making the leap to kegs

Investing in kegs is a leap most semi-serious homebrewers make. It is easier to clean and sanitize one keg than up to 50 bottles. If you use the CO2 tank to carbonate your beer it is ready to drink much sooner than when the beer is bottle conditioned. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) has a great introduction to kegging article on their website.


Kegging was something I figured I would start doing at some point, but had put on the back burner. After trial and error, I became quite adept at bottling efficiently. As long as I brewed regularly and didn't let my beer sit in the fermenter for too long, I always had new beer in the pipeline making the quicker carbonation less of an issue.

There are certain styles like IPA that are best served as fresh as possible. Those styles will taste better out of a force carbonated keg because the beer doesn't need 2-3 weeks to carbonate like a bottle-conditioned beer. A properly purged keg will also expose the beer to less oxygen than a bottle. A capped bottle is not a 100% airtight seal and will slowly let air in over time. 

Bottling is not without its advantages. Some of the more obvious advantages are it can be easier to bring bottles to parties and give as gifts. Some styles like imperial stouts and barleywine will change over time as they oxidize. For me, those big beers are reserved for special occasions. A keg of barleywine can tie up a draft line for a long time if beer is only pulled from it every once in awhile.

A couple years ago I purchased four three-gallon kegs with the intention of regularly kegging my beer. Before we moved to our house, our apartment was cluttered with carboys, bukets, and brewing gear. Jennie really had the patience of a saint to put up with it. However the idea of having a kegerator in the corner of our kitchen or living room was a bridge too far. With no way to chill and serve kegged beer at home, I only used the kegs for events like Jamboree and Ales over ALS

Buying our home I was just as excited about being able to have kegged beer at home and I was having a yard and being able to brew full batches outside. Over the years I looked for bargains and slowly amassed everything I need to chill and serve kegged beer. All I need to do is build my kegerator!

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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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