Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Brew Day: Dundalk Irish Heavy (British Strong Ale)

At Homebrew Con Northern Brewer, being the largest homebrew supplier in the country had a huge setup. They had a ton of swag they were giving away, were running daily raffles, and were giving away recipe kits. When we stopped by their booth on Friday they had three of their Big Mouth Bubbler fermenters set up in a row, and were giving away kits to anyone who could throw three consecutive rubber bungs in into the fermenters.

When it was my turn I sank my first bung, and barely missed with my next two tosses. Somewhat disappointed, I took a look at the huge stack of kits to see exactly what I had missed out on. I saw it was their Dundalk Irish Heavy, I told one of the reps working the booth, “Ahh the Dundalk, I really wanted to try that one”. That was true by the way. I had seen the kit on their website and thought the recipe was interesting. Without saying a word the rep smiled and handed me the box.

This occurred in the middle of the afternoon. Not wanting to leave the convention center I carried around that box all day. I managed to just fit it inside one of those drawstring backpacks I had gotten from the BeerSmith booth. After awhile the the box became increasingly awkward and heavy. A small price to pay for five gallons of free beer.

“Irish Heavy” isn’t a style. I rigorously researched for several minutes to see if it was perhaps a rare of obscure style that wasn’t included in the latest BJCP Guidelines. Looking at the recipe closely it sounded a lot like an English Winter Warmer which falls into the British Strong Ale category. In contrast to American beers with the “winter warmer” moniker like Harpoon’s version, English winter beers are not spiced. Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is one of my favorites, and locally Shipyard Prelude and Geary’s HSA are solid examples of the style.

While the grist is essentially a scaled up Irish Red, the instructions call for English Yeast. Specifically it calls for White Labs WLP002 or Wyeast 1968, both of which are rumored to be the Fullers strain. I would have used the suggested yeast, but I was able to get some expired Wyeast 1187 Ringwood Ale yeast for free. Expired yeast is perfectly good, it just requires building a bigger yeast starter. Other than the malt extract I used to make my starter wort, this entire batch didn’t cost me a dime.

Like WLP002, Ringwood Ale is “highly flocculent and rapidly fermenting”. I also harvested some extra yeast from my starter for future use. I think I might try another batch of Alan’s Stepchild. I might also try it in my next batch of Pugnacious Pete’s.

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I took advantage of the easy extract brew day to catch up on a few other beer related tasks. I made and bottled another three gallons of starter wort. I used some of the starter wort to make a yeast starter for the 2016 version of Pa’s Lager.

I also finally racked Dawson’s Kreik onto the cherry puree. I was waiting to buy a new siphon and tubing so I would have separate equipment for sour beer and for clean beer. I used my six gallon glass carboy that had been holding Dawson’s Kreik to ferment the Dundalk. I soaked it with a PBW solution, brushed it, examined it, brushed the tiny spots I missed the first time, rinsed it, and sanitized it three times to be as sure as I possibly could be that none of the bugs from Dawson’s Kreik made it into the Dundalk.



After pitching my starter fermentation took off quickly, before lagging after a couple of days. I looked at the temperature on my fermenter and it was down to 64F.  After swirling the carboy to bring some of the yeast back into suspension, and moving the carboy to a warmer location in my apartment the airlock started to bubble steadily again.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Beer Inspiration in our Backyard – Cape Cod

The last couple of posts have touched on the fact that I am starting to seriously think about starting some kind of professional brewery. While I may have been slacking on brewing and writing, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy lately.

The biggest thing that has happened is that I started working Saturdays at the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge. My main job is to help customers and share my ‘expertise’ in brewing. Most of the customers on Saturday came in with their recipe knowing exactly what they were looking for, but I was able to help one customer buy their first starter kit and recipe kit. I look forward to making some extra money, meeting more people in the beer community, and having fun talking about  beer.

I had a prior commitment to pour for Newburyport Brewing Company on Cape Cod the first Saturday the shop wanted me to work. I worked for a couple hours at the shop in Cambridge, before driving to Centerville, MA. As I crawled down Mass. Ave I kept watching my estimated time of arrival become later and later.

The last time I visited the Cape was for a wedding. I was excited to have a chance to try beers on the Cape that don’t make their way up on the North Shore. While I was pouring at Cape Cod Package, I was able to sample beers from Cape Cod Beer and Naukabout Beer Co. I found both of their beer very easy to drink. Cape Cod is a vacation spot. When you’re on a boat or at the beach you don’t need a beer that hits you over the head. Next time I’m on the cape hopefully it will be a purely pleasure trip, and I can make time to stop by Cape Cod Beer and Naukabout Beer’s new tasting room in Mashapee that’s opening in the spring of 2017.

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The nearest brewery was Devil’s Purse Brewing Co. in Dennis. I arrived about a half an hour before closing and grabbed a couple of sample pours. As I took a photo of the brewhouse from the tasting area, co-owner Mike Segerson invited me back and showed me around. We talked about beer, did a side-by-side with a couple of Newburyport and Devil’s Purse beers, and he shared some of his rarer beers including an oyster stout and a raw Nordic-style saison brewed with Juniper branches and fermented with every yeast at the brewery in a barrel. Knowing I had a long ride home, Mike even gave me a couple of cans of Mountain Dew for the ride home. My only regret was not grabbing a crowler of their IPA.

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There was still one stop I wanted to make before heading home, the outermost brewery on Cape Cod: Hog Island Beer Co. in Orleans. In addition to my need to drive home responsibly, I was also absolutely starving having not eaten since breakfast. The brewery shares a building with the Jailhouse Tavern. It was pitch black when I arrived and I unwittingly walked into the tavern and sat at the bar. Seeing some Hog Island beer on tap and desperate to eat, I ordered the Hog Island Stout.

After my meal I asked the bartender where the brewery was. The brewery is actually in the back of the building, but is easily accessible via a path from the back of the restaurant. As I walked into the brewery there was live music, a pool table, and overall a more casual atmosphere. I enjoyed a sample flight and took a crowler of the Moon Snail Pale Ale to take home.

Brewing on Cape Cod is not easy. Many of the residents and business are seasonal in nature. There are no sewer lines on the cape which makes disposing of waste water more expensive than it is in other places. Luckily for vacationers and year-round residents there is plenty of quality beer brewed on the cape.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

What should our flagship IPA be?

After years of "someday when" talk that was speculative at best, I am seriously considering starting some kind of professional brewing company.  I have re-branded what was a baseball themed home brewery, Bleacher Brewing as Bleacher Sports Brewing. Our brand is:

Fresh and flavorful beer brewed to be enjoyed by the pitcher with friends before, during, or after the game!
While our beers are going to balance drinkability and flavor, our brand wants to capture the fun and camaraderie of sharing beer by the pitcher.  During this past softball season, as we were passing around pitchers of PBR after the game, I realized that this was something craft beer was lacking. If our brand can capture that it will differentiate us in the marketplace.

What from that would take on Day 1 is still very much up in the air. Whatever form it is we will more than likely have to launch with a flagship IPA. I have experimented with a variety of different IPAs and could go in any number of directions. 

I am running a poll on what style of IPA Bleacher Sports Brewing should launch with. The idea is have fun and engage people.

This is still very early days. So far all I have done is come up with the new name and branding, had a new logo made, and registered the URL. That is the easy part. The hard work will be to come up with budgets to figure out how much this thing will cost, and how much beer we would have to sell. I will take a look at several models and determine which one makes the most sense to start. Then I have to actually raise the money we would need to start.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Figuring out my next step

Lately I have been thinking a great deal about what the next step in my career should be. After working for large corporations for half of my life, I have reached a point where I want to control my own destiny and show people what I am capable of doing. At the same time I have thought a great deal about what the next step in my brewing, and my and Jennie’s home brewery.

In my head I can think of a ton of reasons why becoming a professional brewer is a bad idea: the marketplace is overly crowded, our beer isn’t good enough, there is a mountain of red tape to cut through, we don’t have the capital to become professional brewers.

When I was in college I majored in Sport Management. I recall I had to write a paper about a possible career path in the sports industry. Unsure of what direction to go, I threw a paper together outlining a career as a Major League Baseball general manager. There are only 30 MLB GM jobs. Getting one’s foot in the door to work in baseball operations is difficult enough. I cited articles and online chats that I had read for pleasure. I turned in my paper fully expecting my professor to take a stinging dump on the pie-in-the sky career path I described. I was shocked when I actually received a high grade on the paper.

I think about that paper now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think I am smart enough to know what I need to do to get where I want to go. Secondly, just because something is difficult that doesn’t mean it is something I am incapable of doing. In life it is easy to tell others how hard things are and garner instant sympothy.

Yes, I have a passion for beer and brewing. If I were to become a professional brewer, that passion would not be the only reason why I would do it. If I were to control the destiny of my career at this point in my life, beer is what I know best. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I never ended up working a full-time job in the sports industry. I tried for awhile and then I stopped trying. Over ten years after graduation I still don’t have a great answer as to why. When asked I usually make up some BS answer on the spot and change the subject. Whether I make the leap and become a commercial brewer or not, I want to make sure I have no regrets.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brew Day: Utopias Barrel SMaSH Barleywine

Shortly before I rejoined the North Shore Brewers, the club obtained two used Samuel Adams Utopias barrels. Utopias is one of the rarest and most sought-after beers in the world. I was lucky enough to have a very small sample at the brewery. I made sure to savor every mini-sip. It is a big deal for the club to have gotten its hands on the barrels.

Around the time I joined, the club filled both barrels with an imperial stout; a clone of Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great. Several members of the club brewed the beer, let it ferment out, filled the barrels, then after the beer had aged for several months got the same volume of the now blended beer back. On top of that the club got five gallons to pour at Jamboree. The keg at Jamboree kicked fairly quickly once word spread the club had a Kate clone. I made sure to try some early on, and it was outstanding.

After emptying both barrels the club decided to fill one of the barrels with an English Barleywine. Like the SMaSH Base Malt beers we brewed earlier this year, the SMaSH Barleywine used a single malt, Maris Otter, and single hop East Kent Goldings. A big beer like this uses a lot of grain, 20 pounds to be exact. There was no way I would be able to brew that at home. The brew day would also be very long. I wouldn’t want to impose a long brew day like that on Andy. As it is we will do well to squeeze in one last brew day before winter.  In my mind I was going to sit this one out and maybe brew something when it is time to fill the second barrel the second time.

At the last meeting I was encouraged to brew a batch of the barleywine because there was room in the barrel for another three batches before it would be full. I texted my friend Pat who is also in the club and we arranged a brew day at his house.

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My 10 gallon igloo cooler mash tun was plenty large to accommodate all of the grain and mash water. Pat asked about maybe brewing a 10 gallon batch, but we would not have been able to do it with the equipment we have. Our target mash temperature was right on the money at the end of the mash rest.

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The recipe called for boiling down one gallon of the first runninigs, that is the first liquid to run out of the mash tun after the mash and is the highest in sugars, all the way to one quart. The idea is the concentrated first runnings would add some additional malt complexity to a single-malt beer. The boil was 90 minutes. The longer boil enabled us to collect more fermentable sugars before boiling it down to our five gallon batch.

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We started around 10:00 a.m. and finished around 4:00 p.m. While long the brew day was fairly smooth. In about three weeks we will drop off the beer to be racked into the Utopias barrell. From there it will probably be at least six to nine months before we can collect our share. The plan at that point is to add some fresh yeast before bottle conditioning and splitting the bottles.

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