Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bottle bombs and gushers, hazards of homebrew



Last night I was trying to relax after a rough day at the office. I was startled by a loud pop that almost sounded like an explosion. It turns out a bottle of leftover Pennant Race Pumpkin Wheat blew up worse than Clay Buchholz blew up on the mound.

This is aptly called a bottle bomb. It is the worst case scenario when you bottle condition, or naturally carbonate your beer inside the bottle. Luckily my bottle bomb from last night was contained inside a 12-pack box located on a landing. All in all it was like a Wade Miley start, scary but mercifully quick. The last time I had a bottle bomb I woke up and went to the kitchen to make some coffee I saw a bottle cap facing me on the floor. Then I saw it was still attached to the neck of a bottle which was almost as confusing as what happened to Justin Masterson's fastball velocity. More unusual was that the rest of the bottle was nowhere to be seen, until I figured out what had happened. I was lucky that time that I noticed the debris from the bottle bomb before walking into the kitchen in bare feet.


Usually before a bottle of beer becomes a bottle bomb, it will be a gusher first. If a beer is a gusher the beer will gush out of the bottle as soon as you pop the cap. After one of the bottles exploded last night, I dumped the rest of the beers in the box. Here is video of the beer gushing as I popped the top. A best practice is to pop the top ever-so-slightly to bleed the pressure so you don't have beer spraying all over the place like Joe Kelly's fastball.



Bottle bombs and gushers can be caused by several different factors. If you bottle your beer before fermentation is complete, the additional CO2 is trapped in the bottle and the pressure will build. Adding too much priming sugar on bottling day will yield similar results as your beer explodes out of the bottle faster than a Rick Porcello gopher-ball leaves the park. That is why it is critical to wait until fermentation is complete before packaging your beer. I strongly recommend a priming sugar calculator to make sure you use the proper amount of priming sugar.

The beer was only a small batch. The box in question was misplaced until I found it in the middle of December. I did enjoy a few of these before last night even though I never did write a tasting notes post. At that time the carbonation level of the beer didn't seem off which makes me think neither of the problems above were what caused the bombs and gushers. Remember, when brewing sanitation is godliness.

The fact that this didn't blow up until now makes me think it was a contaminant that got into the beer. Whatever it was acted slowly. The pressure inside the bottle built up slowly until one of the bottles finally went boom.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Back from Beercation! Atlanta, Chapel Hill, and Delaware

After leaving Asheville after what felt like all too short of a stay, we headed further south to Atlanta to make it to Turner Field for Braves opening night. We traded in the cold and rain in Philadelphia for mild temperatures and torrential rain in Atlanta. Thankfully, unlike Fenway Park where beer vendors only serve spectators in premium seats, the Ted had plenty of them. During the rain delay they set up shop in the middle of the concourse and it was easy to grab a quick can while waiting out the rain. We grabbed and shared Sweetwater IPA and 420 Pale Ale. Both were quite enjoyable, reading the descriptions on Sweetwater's website there is plenty of Munich malt flavor that came through to more than balance the hops. Terrapin's Hopsecutioner had a more pronounced hop flavor, but still wasn't quite as hoppy as beers available locally.

After the rain delay and waiting an eternity for a cab, we went back to our hotel to crash after the game on Friday night. We had all day Saturday and part of Sunday to check out the city and the beer scene. Downtown Atlanta is walkable, but the breweries are spread out. There is no Industrial Way or Old Port like there is in Portland. We started at Max Lager's brewpub as it was a block from our hotel. As the name suggested the lagers in particular were excellent, especially What the?! Helles. Helles is a lightly hopped German lager, perhaps the antithesis of an IPA, and I love when I find a quality example. Locally, Jack's Abby House Lager is also worth checking out.

From there we walked around and checked out a few bars. As this trip went on I felt like we were living in an episode of Best Bars in America. At Cypress Street Pint and Plate I enjoyed the truly outstanding Liquid Bliss Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, and was quite suppressed to find Funky Jewbulation 2013 on draught, or even that Schmaltz distributed that far south. Cypress Street was the consummate craft beer bar: great selection, laid back atmosphere, friendly staff, and involved in the local scene. The night we were there they were raffling off tickets to 420 Fest. We didn't win, but we wouldn't have been able to go anyway. Taco Mac is a regional chain that reminded me a bit of Buffalo Willd Wings but with better food, five times the beer selection with their 100 draught lines, and literally 20 times the selection of craft beer. Transmigration of Souls by Orpheus Brewing was the best IPA I had in Atlanta.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="292"] The lack of a sign was the only negative at Cypress Street Pint & Plate[/caption]

On Sunday afternoon as we were leaving Atlanta we visited the Sweetwater brewery which was about a 15 minute drive from our downtown hotel. We got souvenir pint glasses and tickets to sample five beers. The pours were around five ounces and regrettably we did not have time to use all of our drink tickets. All the beers I had at Sweetwater were very, very good. Atlanta could do a lot worse than to have Sweetwater as their largest and best-known craft brewer.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="292"] It was a beautiful day for beer at Sweetwater.[/caption]

The fact we spent as much time in Atlanta on Sunday meant we did not make it to Durham, NC in time to visit Fullsteam Brewery. We needed to make a seven plus hour drive to Rehobeth Beach, DE on Monday, and there aren't a lot of breweries open at noon on a Monday. We did stop at Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill and the beers were all solid. The Jumpin Bean Coffee Stout on cask was a perfect beer to have before noon on a Monday. My favorite part of the brewpub was that the brew system: mash/lauter tun, boil kettle, and fermenters were all behind the bar. I wish we were there on brew day.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="389"] I love having the brewing system behind the bar![/caption]

Before leaving North Carolina I had to have some North Carolina barbecue. The aptly named, The Pig was recommended by Foursquare. The food was excellent and fortunately for us they did have some local beers on tap. Although we did miss the brewery, they did have the Fullsteam flagship California common. It had a lot more hop flavor than I recall Anchor Steam having, but was still crisp and refreshing. I loved it!

After another long drive, crossing the Chesapeake Bay bridge, and learning how rural the Maryland Eastern Shore and southern Delaware are, we finally made it to Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats in Rehoboth Beach. This is the brewpub where Sam Calagione started it all, and is still the place where Dogfish Head tests its new brews. Dogfish 90 Minute IPA might be my least favorite of Dogfish Head's year round offerings, but they had a dry-hopped variant called Squall on cask which was out of this world. The restaurant's hours are literally noonish to close. The place was pretty quiet so we only got to stay for dinner and a couple of rounds.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="360"] It all began for Dogfish Head at this very brewpub.[/caption]

Tuesday was the last day of our vacation, we both had to work on Wednesday. Brew Dogs ranked the Pickled Pig the best beer bar in Delaware. It was right near our hotel so we went there for lunch. Coincidentally it was Delaware Beer Week and they had numerous local beers on draught. The best on was a one-off for Delaware Beer Week, a Vienna Lager by Twin Lakes Brewery. I encouraged them on social media to make this a year round offering.

Our last stop was the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton. This tour was a blast. You can tell the entire company from Sam all the way down had the same offbeat, fun vibe. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and told some gloriously awful jokes. We got to see Sam's original 10 gallon setup bottle filler; the mash tun, lauter tun, and boil kettle while they were brewing; the giant wood vats where Burton Baton and Paulo Santo Marron are aged; and other parts of the brewery. I grabbed a work shirt for my next brew day and a Spieglau IPA glass at the gift shop. Again, I wish we had more time to spend there.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="389"] Sam Calagione's first system wasn't that much different than the system Andy & I brew on.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="389"] American white oak on the left where Burton Baton is aged, Palo Santo on the right which is used for Palo Santo Marron.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="360"] According to our tour guide, Dogfish Head is distributed in two countries: the US and New Jersey.[/caption]

It was an epic trip. After all this driving we will be flying and staying at one location for our next vacation. If it is within driving distance I might take the bus. I an already working on an IPA recipe inspired by Squall and all the great East Coast IPAs we enjoyed. I must confess I did find myself craving the amazing hop-forward beers we have around here. As good and occasionally great the beers we had on our trip were, we are fortunate to have as much great local craft beer as we do.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Back from Beercation! Philadelphia and Asheville

Admit it, you guys missed me! I was away on vacation last week. I was on an epic baseball and beer road trip. If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Swarm, and/or Untappd I hope you enjoyed the ride with me.

The first stop was Yards in Philadelphia. As we pulled into the parking lot you could smell the malt, and let me tell you it was glorious! We split a flight of their Signature Ales and Ales of the Revolution. English Mild is one of my favorite styles and I really enjoyed Brawler. In a theme that would continue throughout the trip, the IPA was a traditional East Coast IPA with plenty of nutty and bready English malt flavor to go with the American hop flavor. We enjoyed several more of these as we closed the hotel bar.

You could smell the malt from the parking lot. It was intoxicating.
We were at Citizens Bank Park last Wednesday for the Red Sox/Phillies game. If you saw the game on TV the experience at the ballpark was more cold and miserable than it looked. Troegenator Double Bock, with it's big malt flavor and full body was an ideal choice given the conditions. After the game at McFadden's Pub inside the ballpark I enjoyed a Yuengling Lager; I was in Pennsylvania after all; while my beer girl had a Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Some people will never consider Yuengling "craft beer", but have it and a Sammy back-to-back and they taste more similar than you would think. Another example of always checking your preconceived notions.

Our next stop was Asheville, NC which in the past has been voted "Beer City USA". We hit has many spots as we could in just one night. Green Man ESB might be the best American-made ESB I have had. The IPA had a similar English influence and reminded me a lot of Yards IPA. We then had some fine beers at Burial Beer Co and Hi-Wire Brewing.

The stand out brewery in Asheville was Wicked Weed, particularly their sour beers at the Funkatorium. It reminded me of some of the stuff Night Shift does, but much better. I wish we had more time to spend at the Funkatorium, but in trying to get to as many places as we could we only made it about a half an hour before closing. It was a beautiful night to enjoy an immensely walkable downtown. It is a lovely place to visit. Being in the Blue Ridge mountains, it is especially nice for folks who enjoy the outdoors.

What a brilliant way to order a flight.

The next morning we stopped at Appalachian Vintner to pick up some local brews and beer we can't get at home. We were able to grab Bells Oberon, Appalachian Mountain Brewery Black Gold Porter, NoDa Hop Drop and Roll,  Westbrook IPA, One Claw rye ale, and the highly sought after Gose,  The selection was overwhelming. There were displays for prominent breweries like Bell's, Allagash, and New Belgium. There was an entire wall to imported beer featuring almost every prominent beer from Belgium, Britain, and Germany; an entire wall of local beer from the Carolinas; and another wall with craft beer from across the US broken up by region.

 I easily could have filled my car.
We then had lunch at one of Asheville's original craft beer bars, Barley's Pizza and Taproom. The owner sat next to us at the bar and we chatted about how when he opened in 1994 there we no craft beer bars and the only widely available craft beers were Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. They started with only nine beers on tap and have expanded to 40. Barley's offered flights and we were able to try several beers from breweries we didn't have time to visit. As much fun as it is to visit breweries, going to a beer bar like Barley's where you can try various local beers all in one spot.

The overwhelming choices at Appalachian Vinter and the amazing food and beer at Barley's made us miss our scheduled tour of Sierra Nevada's new brewery in Mills River. We were ambivalent at first because brewery tours tend to be kind of similar. As a homebrewer it can be tedious to hear a tour guide explain to novices how beer is made. When we made it to the brewery I immediately regretted missing the tour.



The place is massive. I could barely fit it in a panoramic photo. Everything about the facility is immaculate and earth-friendly down to the recycled cardboard pens. I am sure it would have been a fascinating tour. I didn't see anything super rare at the brewery except a Bigfoot vertical featuring six vintages of the beer. I passed on paying $25 for a six-pack. Andy and my beer loving team leader have since ridiculed me for that decision. There is an excellent gift shop and gastropub at the brewery. We had time to sample a couple of flights before we had to leave for our next stop.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Brew Day: Blueberry Wheat Ale

A few weeks back I had an appointment in Woburn that happened to be around the corner from Beer and Wine Hobby. You know what they say, "When in Rome!"

My girlfriend has wanted to brew a fruit beer for a long time. Last year we even started to brew one, but never got around to buying the actual fruit which turned out to be something of a problem. The wort ended up sitting in the fermenter for several months before I finally got around to dumping it.

I enjoy fruit beers. I might not enjoy them as much as stouts or IPAs, but I do enjoy them. Last year I ordered an entire flight of fruit beers at Lowell Beer Works and thoroughly enjoyed it. That said, it wasn't a style I was particularly motivated to brew. Most fruit beers have a base beer that is either an American Wheat or Blonde ale that gets out of the way of the fruit flavor. It didn't feel like the type of beer I could put my own spin on.



When I saw the kit at Beer & Wine Hobby it was a no-brainer to pick it up. I could brew a beer that my girlfriend has wanted for a long time, and I wouldn't have to come up with my own recipe. The fact that the kit was extract meant it would be an easy brew day.

I also used this as an opportunity to reengage my girlfriend in the brewing process. Brewing started as something we could do together and slowly over time I got more into it. Now it is to the point where I brew mostly alone when I brew at home. An easy extract kit brewed the way we made beer when we started, that is also a beer she wanted to brew was the perfect way to get her more involved again.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="292"] Cracking the steeping grain with a can, really kickin' it old school![/caption]

The grist was very simple: dry and liquid wheat extract with a small amount of wheat malt to steep, probably just to provide a bit of freshness to the brew. The hop additions were at 45 and 15 minutes in the boil, and having plenty of yeast at home I elected the dry yeast option. 

The instructions indicated the beer would have a starting gravity of 1.040, a little light for my taste. I added some leftover wheat and pilsen extract from previous yeast starters, and a half pound of corn sugar to boost the alcohol without adding too much body to the beer. In accordance with my tips for making better extract beer, I added all the dry extract at the end of the boil to improve hop utilization, prevent the beer from finishing too dark, and most importantly prevent kettle carmelization where the extract caramelizes like an onion on a saute pan making the beer overly sweet. I saved the dry yeast the kit came with and used 1272 American Ale II. The Wyeast website indicated it works well in a fruit beer, and I am curious how the yeast performs in a lighter, less hop-forward beer in comparison to the Camp Randall Red IPA.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="311"] Might was well throw in some odds and ends, especially if it means a little more alcohol.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="292"] Last weekend I let Briess do the work of mashing my grain for me.[/caption]

The blueberry flavor will come from extract added at bottling, and canned blueberry pie filling added in the primary fermenter. I usually seek out the freshest ingredients possible and would want to use fresh fruit. Using fresh fruit exclusively has it's own problems. Fruit has fermentable sugars, but it also has water. The net effect is usually a lower alcohol beer. A fruit like blueberry which has a delicate flavor will require the addition of a lot of fruit to have a noticeable impact on the flavor. In Homebrew Beyond the Basics, Mike Karnowski recommends 12-20 pounds of blueberry for a five gallon batch. Sheesh! Maybe someday, but I didn't feel like putting in the effort and expense this time. I think the blueberry extract and garnishing with a couple blueberries will be sufficient.



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Friday, April 3, 2015

Buy my beer! Would-be Brewmaster kits delivered to your doorstep via Kit Lab

Well, you can't exactly buy my beer. I am not a licensed commercial brewer so I can't sell my beer. A start-up called Kit Lab will be selling kits of my beer. With the click of a mouse, your favorite Would-be Brewmaster beer will arrive at your doorstep with all the ingredients and instructions you need to brew like me.



I stumbled upon this project a few months back when founder Ryan Sanders was still conducting surveys to determine the viability of the project. I then received an email when he decided to move forward with the project asking me to contribute and what recipes I would share. Initially I volunteered to share two or three recipes. I will only share recipes that meet or exceeded my exceptions like Curly's Milk Stout and Walk-off White.

I am excited and happy to be involved with this project. This really is a great idea. It can be a pain to try and track down all the ingredients for a particular recipe. When I brewed The Sustenence I had to order from multiple places to find all the ingredients. Even if a shop or website has everything I need it is still easy to overlook an item when you are ordering 20 different things. On Kit Lab you find a beer you would like to brew, click "buy", and everything you need will arrive in one box. As easy as it gets! If I can start to make a couple bucks off all of my brewing and writing, all the better!

The project is still in the development phase and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to get off the ground. Here is the link for the crowdfunding campaign. There are lots of cool perks to choose from. Once I am back from my beercation after next week I'll pledge at least $50 assuming I am not destitute when my vacation ends.

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