Monday, August 31, 2015

Downsizing production and consumption

This year I have brewed almost all five gallon batches. As a result I have more beer than I know what to do with. I know, talk about a first world problem. Judging by how my clothes are starting to fit it is also time to downsize beer consumption as well as beer production.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="418"] Beer everywhere! It is like Ace Ventura with his pets.[/caption]

I am old enough, and dare I say mature enough that I am not drinking in excess almost every night. I'd say 2-3 times during the week I'll have two or three beers. Then I will indulge further on the weekends. Honestly food is probably a bigger problem for me than beer. As a beer lover I love bar food. I could live off of burgers, fries, pizza, subs, sandwiches, and bagels. On top of that I also love sweets.

As long as I can remember my weight has fluctuated. As a child I would put on weight, grow into it, and repeat. By the time I reached high school I was given an Adderall prescription for Attention Defecit Disorder. Just taking a small dosage as prescribed by my doctor sped up my metabolism and caused my weight to plummet. By the time I graduated high school I probably weighed around 145 pounds and my dosage was lowered to only 10 MGs.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="210"] This kid could use a sandwich.[/caption]

After high school I stopped taking Adderall. Once I turned 21, transferred to a four-year college, and stopped working on my feet full-time, I slowly started to gain weight. I tried different approaches to manage it with moderate success at best. By the time I hit my mid-to-late 20s, I was fat.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="362"] My mother and I in 2009[/caption]

It was then I joined the CrossFit gym around the corner from my apartment. It was the perfect place for me because contrary to what you see on ESPN the program is scalable, so even somebody with conditioning as bad as mine was could do the workouts.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="324"] One year later in 2010 my face is noticably less fat.[/caption]

I really liked that the program promoted health as opposed to counting calories and obsessing over a reading on a scale. A fit appearance was the result of a healthy lifestyle, not the other way around. After a year I had lost around 30 pounds, but had started to plateau. Then, almost on a whim I started on a paleo-like diet. I wasn't eating eggs my backyard chickens had laid, but I did eliminate most of the sugar and grains (beer on the weekend excepted of course) from my diet. I looked and felt the best I ever had in my entire life. I exceeded all expectations I had for myself. People who hadn't seen me complimented me on how I looked. Being single at the time, I certainly noticed women we're looking at me differently.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="432"] Out with friends at the since closed Sports Page in 2011.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="430"] Racking our first ever batch in 2012.[/caption]

That was four years ago. Then I slowly stopped doing what had worked before. The how and why don't matter. I don't have a reason, I just wasn't doing what I know I needed to do. There was an 18-month period where I didn't really work out at all. I went back to the gym for a year with no consistency at all, and for the past eight months my only exercise has been the occasional street hockey game at work. My diet is as bad as it ever has been. I was in my cousin's wedding this month and looked awful in all of the photos. It's time to start taking care of myself again. At least I still have my hair.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"] This is me from this month. Bleh...[/caption]

The major part of taking better care of myself is the aforementioned diet and exercise. I will also limit my beverage intake to the Thursday tastings at my local bottle shop and one day during the weekends.

Going forward I will brew mostly one-gallon batches. That will enable me to still brew a variety of styles and recipes without having my apartment overloaded with beer. Even the way I have been drinking up to now, I was brewing too much beer. I can still brew the occasional full 5-gallon batch at home, especially if it's for an event or club meeting. I'll still brew full batches with Andy every two or three months as well.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tasting Notes: North Shore Brewers Single Hop Project

Six weeks ago I brewed a Galaxy IPA as part of a project with my homebrew club, The North Shore Brewers. With so many new hop varieties being bred and developed, the idea is that we could learn about the flavor profiles of these new hops when we shared our brews.

Most of the project participants brought their brews to the club picnic. Several of us, myself included will bring our beers to the New England Homebrewers Jamboree.


We all brewed essentially the same recipe, the only difference was supposed to be the different hops that we used. I used a different bittering hop and yeast. Some of the other brewers may have made similar adjustments.

The project was also a way to compare and contrast all of our differences as a brewer. The recipe didn't call for a specific water profile. There was no stated mash temperature or carbonation level. This gave the individual brewers some room for interpretation with the recipe.

I brewed my beer with distilled water and added my desired minerals to make sure the water enhanced the hop flavor. If I brewed the same exact beer with un-treated Beverly tap water, the beer would have tasted different. I mashed my beer at a low temperature of 148F with the idea of brewing a light bodied beer, that would finish dry, and accentuate the hop flavor.

I jotted down some quick tasting notes on all of the different brews at the picnic. I sampled them out of a red solo cup making it difficult to compare the appearance and aroma of the beers. I could only stick my nose so far into a partially filled cup.

I reached out to other members of the club for brewer's notes. I included all of the replies with my tasting notes.

The beers are in the order in which I tried them. Take that for what it's worth.

Nelson Sauvin (Brewed by Julian): White grape, light passion fruit, soft bitterness. Subtle fruit esters from the yeast. Medium-light body. Julian is an excellent brewer. I look forward to trying this again at Jamboree.

El Dorado (Brewed by Eric Keating): More assertive aroma than Nelson. More malt sweetness. Light bodied, medium-low carbonation. Honeydew like hop flavor, works well with malt. Brewers notes: "Mash at 149, Salem water profile (same as yours, I presume) plus sodium metabisulfate to neutralize chloramines, Fermentation temp got out of control for a day or two, into the high 70s, No change to the recipe."

Mosaic (Brewed by Tim Broderick): Mousy head with fair retention. Grassy, hay aroma. Berry-like hop flavor. Not dank or resiny at all. Medium body and carbonation. Very drinkable. Brewer's Notes: "I did the Mosiac and I'm going off of memory. Mash at 152F (a little higher than I wanted) Ipswich water filtered through a potasium water filter. Jake installed a new water filter system at his house and I got the water from him. It's much softer than my Hamilton water. I added 1 tsp gypsym and 1/2 tsp calcium chloride to the water. The rest of the brewing followed the recipe with the exception of 25 ml of a hopshot for bittering. Added the sucrose (table sugar) with 10 minutes left in the boil. Fermented with US-05 in my basement. Average temp was around 70F"

Bullion (Brewed by Chris M): Served on tap. Thick creamy head with good retention. Faint raspberry aroma. Medium body and medium high carbonation, Dry finish. Fruity, pear, melon.

Galaxy (Brewed by Jason Chalifour): Bottle conditioned. Very nice hop aroma. Grapefruit, passion fruit. More dank, bitter, and IPA-like than the others. Dry finish. I might have fermented a touch hot, tasted solventy. I'll have to have a full pint to be sure.

Zythos (Brewed by John C): Thin head with good retention. Navel orange hop flavor. Very nicely balanced. Nice finish, not too sweet or too dry.

Ella (Brewed by Danielle Broderick): Bottle already half-empty. Thin, mousy head. Muted aroma. Medium body and mouthfeel. Best balanced. Brewer's Notes: "Ipswich water from Jake's water filter system (same as Mosiac). Same 1 tsp gypsum and 1/2 tsp calcium chloride added to the water 25 ml of a hopshot for bittering. Followed the recipe for grains and hop schedule. Added the sucrose with 10 minutes left in the boil. We ran out of propane with 10 minutes left in the boil. Switched tanks and finished the brew, but the final gravity was low due to a shorter boil. Fermented with US-05 in my basement. Average temp was around 70F"

Motueka (Brewed by Ryan Veno): Poured from opened growler. Decent head and good retention. Very smooth, subtle toasted quality. Light, juicy almost pink lemonade hop flavor, but light enough not to be puckering at all. Hop flavor not as assertive as I would have thought. Very drinkable beer. Brewer's Notes: "OG: 1.0525 FG: 1.008 ABV: 5.8% Ferm. Temp: 69° Spring Water I did a double dry-hop (2 oz. for 4 days followed by 2.5 oz. for 4 days). From brew day to tasting was 21 days."

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Brew Day: Rounders Brown Ale

Last year I brewed a beer originally called Bill's Brown Ale. The idea was to brew a brown ale inspired by the first beer I ever brewed. The finished beer ended up tasting more like a brown porter than an American brown ale. I even renamed the beer.

In the interim I judged the English Brown Ale category at the Boston Homebrew Competition. As defined by the 2008 Beer Judge Certification Guidelines, mild (like my Midland's Mild) and Southern English brown ale are practically extinct commercially. At the competition the judging flight consisted of one mild, followed by seven consecutive Northern English Brown ales.   It is higher in alcohol and drier than Mild or Southern English Brown Ale. Newcastle Brown Ale is the best-known commercial example of the style and a personal favorite of mine.

None of the beers I judged were terrible, but most of them were very similar. Thick, caramel sweetness from the use of English crystal malts, varying degrees of nuttiness characteristic of British barley, and a dry finish provided by chocolate and/or roasted malts, which also provide the brown color. There were two beers that stood out. One beer had a hint of diacetyl which is not entirely out of place in the style. Diacetyl is a byproduct of fermentation that is especially common in English beers, that has a butter, toffee, or butterscotch flavor. The light butterscotch in that beer from the diacetyl added some complexity. The clear winner of the flight was the only beer to have a noticeable hop flavor and aroma. My eyes probably lit up when I had a whiff of earthy, English or English-derived hops.

After having so many of the same style of beer consecutively I really have a firm grasp on the style and thought about the kind of English Brown Ale I want to make. I want the beer to have a crisp finish without being too roasty. I don't want the beer to be overly sweet or malty. To accomplish that I decided to use White Labs WLP007 Dry English Ale yeast. It attenuates more than WLP023 Burton Ale which has been my English yeast of choice in recent batches, and should lead to a drier beer. I can compare this beer to Midlands Mild as a way to compare the two yeasts in two similar beers. Another recipe I plan to brew soon also calls for Dry English Ale.

I wanted some identifiable hop flavor and aroma. I took stock of the hops I had and tailored the hop amounts and schedule accordingly. A small addition at 10 minutes, and an even smaller addition at flameout should provide the hop character I am going for while still fitting into the style parameters.

I originally designed a BIAB partial-mash recipe. While working on the recipe I realized how easily I could brew the exact beer I wanted using all extract with some steeped specialty grains. English-made Munton's Amber liquid and dry malt extract will have the exact base and crystal malt character the beer needs.

I toasted some English bast malt in my toaster oven to provide a biscuit flavor. Toasting malt at home provides a similar contribution as a malt like Victory Malt. When brewing on a small scale at home it is easy just to toast some base malt at home. The aroma from the freshly toasted malt will fill your brewhouse and is intoxicating.

I steeped the Toasted Malt with a very small amount of Chocolate Malt. Just enough that when added to amber-colored extract to give the beer it's brown color and to dry out the finish.


  
It has been over a month since I have brewed anything. This summer has been very busy making a quick extract batch ideal. The day I brewed this beer was the first free weekend day I have had in weeks. As it was I had to do laundry during the day and brew at night. The things I do to give you the readers fresh content!

I heard John Travolta say in an interview that an actor should ideally have one film in theaters, one "in the can", and be filming another one to ensure you always have work and as a hedge against one of the films tanking. A homebrewer should have at least one drinkable batch in bottles or kegs, another batch fermenting, and be planning the next batch to ensure you always have homebrew to drink. If you have to dump a batch, more beer will be on the way! Even for an experienced brewer, an extract brew day is a great way to get back on the horse and jump-start the beer pipeline again.


  

As you can see my color was on point. I chilled my water I added to my concentrated wort to bring the temperature down. This enabled me to pitch my yeast at 68F.

I carefully designed this recipe to be middle-of-the road in terms of color and malt flavor. With how simple this was to brew, less should be more. This shouldn't be a beer I have to rename.

See the full recipe

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: Brew at the Zoo

The name says it all. Brew at the Zoo was a beer festival at The Franklin Park Zoo. My lovely and awesome girlfriend bought us tickets for my birthday and we had an excellent time.



Having been to my share of beer festivals this was one of the best run festivals I have attended. There are a few key aspects to running a beer festival that take an event to the next level.

One of them is transportation. The easier it is to responsibly come and go at a festival the better. The folks at the zoo arranged free shuttles to and from Forrest Hills station on the Orange Line. That made getting there for us a piece of cake. We took the Commuter Rail to North Station, where we were able to pick up the Orange Line.

The organizers made sure there was plenty of free water. The fact it was a hot and humid day made this even more important. They also did a great job having plenty of food vendors with free samples. Most festivals your lucky to have a couple of food trucks; often it's crappy food from a concessionaire.

There wasn't a ton of beer there I hadn't had before. I am up to 2200 unique check-ins on Untappd; it would be harsh to slight the festival for the selection. It is getting to the point where I have to travel to try new stuff. I took the opportunity to circle back to some favorites. Unfortunately several brewers like Samuel Adams and Leinenkugel's brought Oktoberfests and Pumpkin beers. When I asked Mayflower if they were pouring Summer Rye their rep pouring was almost apologetic when he said they brought Autumn Wheat. I did my best not to come across as a whiny dick about it.

There were a few smaller Massachusetts brewers that aren't widely available on the North Shore who were there. Hopsters brought two IPAs: Comet Citra a lighter, citrusy IPA, and Ship of Fools a hoppy IPA with a solid malt flavor which reminded me a lot of Newburyport Green Head IPA. Rapscallion poured a very solid Summer White witbier and Pilsner. Aeronaut brought four beers including Kristallweizen, a clean and clear German wheat, in stark contrast to a cloudy hefeweizen chock full of yeast flavors. Weiheinstephanner makes an excellent Kristallweizen. This would be a fun style to brew some day. I really enjoyed the three other beers Aeronaut brought. We will have to visit them and Slumbrew's new facility in Somerville some time soon.

There was a new brewery called Mighty Squirrel. They produce low calorie beers with extra protein for active individuals. The Original is a Vienna Lager with a light caramel flavor. They also have a Light, an American Light Lager I did not try. I asked if they added protein powder to the beer in the tank. They spent four years developing a process to extract the additional proteins from the malt without adversely effecting the taste, clarity, and shelf-life of the beer. I enjoyed the Original for what it was. If nothing else their beer is a local and more flavorful alternative to Michelob Ultra.

I hadn't been to a zoo since going to The National Zoo in the 8th grade. It was fun seeing all the different animals. The zebras and giraffes were out. The peacocks seemed to have free run of the place. We got to see kangaroos, hyenas, condors, flamingos, lots of different birds. When a thunderstorm rolled in we took refuge inside a barn with horses, a  donkey, baby goats, and we spent some quality time with a cow.

The only downside was that all the vendors shut down when the rain started. The weather isn't something anybody can do anything about, but it was unfortunate the event was cut short. In all it was a good time and I have an idea for a possible summer beer for next year.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hoarding your "sponge-worthy" beer

When Elaine from Seinfeld's contraceptive of choice, the sponge, was removed from the market she went out of her way to buy as many sponges as she could find. She then thoroughly vetted every potential sexual partner to determine if he was "sponge-worthy", less one of her precious sponges be wasted on a beau who was not sponge-worthy

.

My uncle Dave loves Samuel Adams Cold Snap and stocked up on it while it was still on store shelves. He and a buddy of his made the sponge-worthy analogy when deciding when to enjoy one of their stash.  Although Cold Snap is Sam's spring beer and it is released in January, Cold Snap is actually a really good beer to enjoy during the summer. Witbier is light, refreshing, and has a bit of citrus flavor. That's what I tell people about Plum Island Belgian White when I pour for Newburyport. Dave finally enjoyed the last of his Cold Snaps at a sponge-worthy beach day a couple of weeks ago.

With the scourge of seasonal creep upon us, pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers are already appearing upon store shelves. I am not opposed to saving seasonal beer for sponge-worthy events that may occur when the season is over. Do you really want Pumpkinhead when it's 80 degrees on Labor Day weekend? If your pool is open, or you head to the beach during September, do you want an Oktoberfest? How about a light summery beer during an Indian Summer in October? With summer temperatures thankfully persisting into August, now is the time to stock up on commercial summer beer. With Labor Day over two weeks away, hopefully you still have sponge-worthy summer events that will require summer beer.

The key to preserving beer is preventing oxidation and exposure to ultra-violet light. Any beer ideally needs to be stored in a cool, dark place. If you have a dedicated beer fridge that is the best way to store beer for long periods of time. Basements or closets also work well as there is little light and they tend to be cooler in temperature. Temperature is key because the colder the beer is stored, the more CO2 is absorbed by the liquid, and the less oxygen that is absorbed.

Generally speaking, beers that are higher in alcohol will keep better than lighter beers. If you brew or buy big stouts, porters, or barleywines for the winter you can keep those beers for months or even cellar them for years until the right "sponge worthy" moment. I have a bottle of Yankee Swap 2013 that I still haven't had the right sponge worthy moment to open. Many breweries have "best by" or "born on" dates on the package. These are recommendations from the brewer. In my opinion you can almost completely disregard them in a dark, malty beer.

Hop flavor and aroma are the first characteristics to go in a beer, but beers with plenty of hops tend to generally keep better than lightly hopped styles.  An IPA is best enjoyed as fresh as possible. A balanced style with plenty of hops like an ESB or Australian Sparkling Ale will keep fairly well. Lightly hopped beers like many American wheats, kolsch, witbier, and hefeweizen tend to lose their flavor more quickly. Anecdotally, I would suggest not hoarding a Sam Summer or a similarly light style of beer for more than a season or two. In my experience the flavor is diminished by Christmas.

As soon as you notice your sponge-worthy beers start to taste stale it is time to let go. Drink them up as soon as possible, the flavor is not going to get any better. If the beer is skunky that means ultra-violet light has ruined your beer. Contrary to conventional wisdom temperature does not make beer skunk. If the beer tastes papery, or like wet cardboard that means the beer is oxidized. This year I have so much homebrew from the summer, I don't need to rush out and buy sponge-worthy commercial beer.

If you are not sure if an event or occasion is sponge-worthy my advice is when in doubt to just drink the beer! If you homebrew, you can almost always brew another batch. If you are hoarding a commercial beer, and it is out of season or no longer available, it is not the end of the world. Maybe you will find a new favorite beer when forced to buy something else.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tasting Notes: Summer Somewhere (English Golden Ale)

Summer Somewhere was about brewing a new style for the first time, brewing with Australian Galaxy hops for the first time, and using 1084 Irish Ale yeast in something lighter than a stout or Irish Red Ale.

The beer pours a very cloudy straw color. The beer looks like a wheat beer. That was not what I was going for. The head is a frothy, white and persistent.

The aroma features notes of passion-fruit and kiwi. There are dandelion eaters from the yeast. There is an underlying aroma of fresh cereal from the grain. Like when you first open the bag inside the box.

SSSS2

Golden Ale is a British Ale, designed to compete with European lagers, but hopped like an American Pale Ale. The hop flavor is prominent, but I wouldn't describe the beer as "hoppy" by today's standards. In the past I've brewed pale ales that could easily have been IPAs I'm glad this didn't fall into that trap. There are light, fruity esters that compliment the hop flavor and add complexity.

The Malting Company of Ireland Stout Malt isn't as nutty as some English malts like Maris Otter. Making up 95% of the grist the malt flavor is more Pilsner Malt-like than I had expected. Given how both malts are lightly kilned and lightly colored it makes sense. There wasn't enough flaked maize to make a flavor contribution, but it did lighten the body. Since I had the flaked maize it made sense to use it. I'm sure I could use corn sugar in a future batch and end up with a similar flavor.

Unlike my Crackerjack Cream Ale, when I brewed this batch I could not get my wort to a rolling boil. I think that hurt the clarity of the beer. I also get a very light DMS-like flavor. It doesn't ruin the drinking experience, but I think with a longer and more vigorous boil I would've ended up with a cleaner beer.

My team leader who is a beer-trader and homebrewer said this was his favorite beer of mine. He thought the beer tastes like a Pilsner and that he enjoyed it while mowing his lawn. As summer beers go, that sounds like a success to me.

SS3

I plan on using some of the same ingredients and processes in this beer and applying them to an upcoming brew I am working on. It will be a contemporary New England IPA. I can't wait to brew that in the coming weeks.

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