Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Brew Year’s Resolutions for 2017

As I reflect on my past year as a brewer there were far more highs than lows. Most recently I moved up in BJCP rank from Recognized to Certified.  I narrowly lost out on the People’s Choice award at Ales over ALS.  After years of avoiding brewing IPAs, I learned a lot during my United States of IPA project. Since I started pointing my social media links to my Blogger page and monitoring traffic, those posts have been some of my most viewed. Speaking of learning, I learned so much at Homebrew Con 2016. I have already put in for the time off to go to Homebrew Con 2017 in Minneapolis, but who knows if we will be able to go.

In 2015 I scheduled and planned out my brews so my seasonal beers would be ready on time and to help me ensure I brewed the beers I wanted to brew. That worked great and I stuck with that schedule for most of the year until my house was overwhelmed with beer. I’ll call that one a qualified success.

Looking forward to 2017 I have a few Brew Year’s Resolutions I want to hit.

  • Brew more big beers and sour beers: This is a carryover from last year. Dawson’s Kriek is still in a secondary fermenter and will be ready to bottle around February 1. Pyrite Pistol came out quite nice and garnered some decent scores in a competition, but then several bottles became infected. A couple were bottle bombs, many others were overly carbonated. Banshee Breakfast Stout is still in a secondary. I love the flavor of the beer, but the finish feels harsh. I can’t decide to dump it, blend it with a new batch of fresh beer, or bottle it and hope it mellows with age. I might have to bring a sample to the shop to get some advice. After those early batches I got away from brewing beers that benefit from extensive aging. I want to do more of that. Especially when our home is cooler during the winter months which helps make sure high gravity beers do not ferment at too warm of a temperature. Empty carboys are a waste!
  • Perfect a house IPA recipe: Unless it has a very specific niche, any would-be brewer needs to have a flagship IPA. I ran a survey on Facebook and the site to see what kind of IPA people would want me to make and New England-style was the clear winner. Also, brewing in Beverly, MA our local water with its high chlorides is most conducive to brewing a New England IPA. I have brewed several New England Pale Ales and IPAs, it is time.to dial in one recipe that can be a house or a flagship IPA.
  • Make other fermentable beverages and food: When I work Saturdays at the Modern Homebrew Emporium I feel I can answer most beer questions and help customer’s put together recipes. However if customers have questions about wine, mead (honey wine), or kombucha (fermented tea), I am out of my depth. I would like to dabble in other fermented beverages besides beer like I recently did with cider. Even if these are one-off batches I at least want to try once. The shop also sells cheese making kits. I purchased a kit for Jennie for Christmas a couple of years ago, but we never purchased the milk to make the cheese. I definitely want to do that with her soon.
  • Enter more competitions: Another thing I wanted to do last year, but got away from. In the middle of the year I brewed six batches just for special events which didn’t leave leftover beer to ship out. I am starting to ramp my brewing up again and should have enough beer to enter into competitions. I have already entered Curly’s Pumpkin Milk Stout in a competition in Maine.
  • Collaborate more: Regular readers know my cousin Andy and I try to brew every few months during the warm weather. We wanted to get one last batch of his house RyePA before the winter but haven’t quite pulled it off yet. I brewed the Utopias Barleywine with my friend Pat from the North Shore Brewers. In 2017 I would like my brewing to be less me alone in my kitchen, and more learning and collaborating with others.

I have a feeling 2017 is going to be a big year for me personally and professionally. As always, watch this space!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I am a certified G and a bona fide judge…

…and you can’t… teach… that!!

Well I did it. After retaking the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Beer Judging Examination for a second time I just barely scored high enough to move up in rank from Recognized to Certified. To move up in rank I needed a score of 70 and I earned exactly a 70.

I am happy that I set out to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. Especially since I did not spend as much time studying as I originally intended to and probably should have. Still, I felt much better after this exam than I did my first exam in 2014. When I think of it that way I was a little disappointed in my score.

The two areas where I ran into trouble were that I noted characteristics in the beers that did not match what the exam proctors found. Perhaps I was over-thinking things and looking for off-flavors in the beer that weren’t there.

The other area that wasn’t strong enough was my descriptive ability. When I judge in competitions I find myself using a lot of the same adjectives to describe the beers I am evaluating. That is something I will look to improve at. Sometimes I think the fact I am a “meat and potatoes” guy when it comes to food hurts me here. One time I was attempting to score a hibiscus beer in a competition and I couldn’t have felt more in the dark. If I had more of a culinary background perhaps I would have better descriptors for beer.

Making the step from the rank of Recognized to Certified was fairly easy. In addition to improving my score on the Judging Exam, all I needed to do is accrue five experience points, half of those from judging.

The step up from Certified is the rank of National. National judges can proctor the Judging Exam. To move up I would need to improve my score on the Judging Exam to 80, and pass the Written Exam. The Written Exam consists of 20 true-false questions and five essay questions. I think I would need to go back on ADD medication for quite awhile to pass that.

There still are not many BJCP judges in the North Shore area. In 2017 I may put together a study group of aspiring judges who are interested in entering the program. If you live in or around Boston’s North Shore and would be interested in joining a BJCP study group email me. If I were to work with a study group, I could maybe see myself taking the Judging Exam again. Barring that, it is mission accomplished.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Belated Brew Day: Pa’s Lager (International Pale Lager)

As I was writing my post about Courageous Kevin’s Cream Ale and Pugnacious Pete’s Porter, I tried to link to my brew day post about my 2016 batch of Pa’s Lager.  To my astonishment, the post did not exist. I had completely whiffed on putting a post together. It’s not the first time I have brewed a beer and not written a brew day post, but I had really thought I had written it. My four and a half day holiday weekend can’t come soon enough.

This is the fourth year I’ve brewed Pa’s Lager. Originally called Pa’s Video Board Lager, we always kind of called it Pa’s Lager. It feels right to just name the beer what we call it.

After brewing essentially the same recipe in 2013 and 2014, I adjusted the recipe to better comply with the new International Pale Lager category. The beer may have been more stylistically accurate, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. For 2016 I wanted to make the beer more like the original.


I discussed the recipe with one of my occasional coworkers at the Modern Homebrew Emporium Nafi, who also works as a brewer at Cape Ann Brewing.  The original recipe used a fair amount of Carafoam Malt. Carafoam adds body and head retention to a beer without changing the flavor. Nafi said he doesn’t use malts like Carafoam, and instead will adjust the temperature of his mash if he wants to add body to one of his beers.


This made perfect sense to me. Also, the San Francisco Lager yeast has a very low attenuation further reducing the need for the Carafoam. When I designed the recipe I was still new to brewing and thought every beer needed a “Cara” malt of some kind.


The recipe used to use Perle hops for bittering and Liberty for aroma. I was able to get my hands on about half a pound of Liberty hops which I used in the recipe for bittering and aroma. That’s also why I used Liberty in my Kevin/Pete split batch. As I was brewing I realized I had turned the beer into a SMaSH beer.


The one change I made to make the beer more like the early batches was to go back to adding a small dry hop a week before packaging. The recipe was designed to be a beer that would honor our Heineken-drinking grandfather, and that we would enjoy. That was why we punched up the gravity and dry hopped it in the first place. I don’t know why last year I decided to be a style Nazi all of a sudden.

I brewed this one at home again like I did last year. As you may have seen I bottled this year’s batch. The idea is to better be able to share any leftover beer and not have to lug around kegs, CO2 tanks, and my jockey box.

See the full recipe here
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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Brew Night: Courageous Kevin’s Cream Ale

Image result for kevin turner patriots

The response I received for Pugnacious Pete’s Porter at Ales Over ALS was overwhelming. I was moved by how much it meant to the Frates family, but I was also taken aback by the response it received from the rest of the attendees. I knew right away that this beer couldn’t just be a one-off.

A couple months later as I start to think about the direction of my brewing and my career I conceived a brand built around “Fresh and flavorful beer brewed to be enjoyed by the pitcher with friends before, during, or after the game!”. Pugnacious Pete’s with its drinkability and flavor fits the bill perfectly.

The Brewer’s Association published their 2016 Craft Beer Year in Review which included a few insights of note. IPAs represent 25% of craft beer volume, no shock there. An IPA is next on the docket for me to brew and start refining. More interesting is that sessionable styles like Golden Ale, Pilsners, and Pale Lagers are up 33%. Those styles also fit my brand like a glove.

Pugnacious Pete’s without the porterine is basically a cream ale. I decided to do a single boil, single fermentation before blending half of the batch with porterine to make Pugnacious Pete’s, while the un-blended cream ale could also be a welcome addition to my burgeoning brand.

When I brewed the first batch, I did a single mash which I then split into two separate batches to boil separately, the other batch being Larrupin’ Lou’s XXX Ale. Most craft breweries have one brewhouse with one boil kettle. A split boil on a commercial scale seems impractical.


Brewing in my apartment the only practical way to make a six gallon batch like I brewed last time is to do a partial mash. As it was I filled my boil kettle to the brim and watched it like a hawk to make sure I didn’t have a boilover.

IMG_1029 IMG_1031

The malt extract is made from 2-row barley, as opposed to the all 6-row base malt I used in the first batch of Pugnacious Pete. When I assembled my ingredients I only had 1.25 pounds of 6-row and 0.25 pounds of Caramel 20 malt left over from the original batch. I used more 2-row and Munich malt to compensate. Critically, I had just enough flaked maize. From talking to brewers from Pretty Things and Notch who have brewed with corn, they have both used a blend of 2-row and 6-row as a way to take advantage of the diastatic power of the 6-row and the smoother, less grainy flavor of the 2-row. I also changed the late hops from Fuggles to Liberty based on what I had available.

I still used the same Wyeast 1272 American Ale II yeast. I thought about trying the same yeast I plan to use in my upcoming IPA, but I decided I didn’t want to change too many variables.

What I plan to do is bottle both beers so I can share them with as many people as I can and potentially enter them into competitions. I think being bottle conditioned where the bottles will be chilled before serving will help the beers clear before serving.

With my single boil both the cream ale and the porter will have the same level of bitterness. Compared to modern cream ales, Courageous Kevin’s will be heavier and more bitter like these beers were before Prohibition. The BJCP recommends entering historic cream ales in the Historic Beer category as opposed entering the beer as a Cream Ale. We’ll see how the beer comes out and how drinkers perceive the bitterness.

I planned to brew this batch on a Sunday during a week where the Patriots played on Monday night. After letting my Sunday get away from me I ended up brewing on a Tuesday night. I think this was my first brew night since Jay Thinks He’s Weizen. If I brew on a weeknight again I will make sure it is either an extract batch, or at least a batch that doesn’t require a 90 minute mash and boil. Luckily I didn’t need to be in the office until 12:30 p.m. the next day.

I did take advantage of that long mash to bottle up my 2016 batch of Pa’s Lager. I added a little more priming sugar to ensure higher carbonation to lighten the body. When I tasted samples all I could taste was priming sugar. Our new QA inspector was on hand to make sure the latest batch is up to snuff.

IMG_1033 IMG_1034

See the full recipe here

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Tasting Notes – Catching up on past beers Part II

This is a belated Part II where I post some thoughts and reflections on beers I brewed in 2016. Click here for Part 1.

Salted Caramel Brown Ale – The other batch we brewed for Jamboree. Adding the actual salted caramel was an afterthought, which given the name of the beer was something of a problem. In a pinch I added Hershey’s caramel syrup and sea salt to taste when I kegged the beer. The beer didn’t have enough time to naturally carbonate in time for jambo. In the end the beer was a decent enough brown ale, with a slight hint of salt and caramel. I promised Jennie I would go back to the drawing board before brewing another salted caramel beer. I still have most of the keg in the basement. I think I will break it out for the North Shore Brewers holiday party in January. Rating 3 out of 5.

NSB SMaSH Base Malt – I jotted down some quick thoughts on the other SMaSH beers brewed by other club members. All of the beers were fairly boring, because the beer was designed to be boring. The point of the exercise was to taste the flavor contributions of various base malts.

The ingredient variable aside, having brewed basically the same recipe as several other brewers, my batch more than held its own. After my Galaxy IPA from the club’s single hop project finished overly dry last year, having this year’s club project beer be as solid as it was validates my brewing process as much as anything. I packaged the beer in four half-gallon flip-top growlers. I opened one at the club picnic. I brought two to jamboree to be served along with the club’s other SMaSH beers. I ended up dumping most of those when I needed to fill the growlers with leftover Broken Fist. Alas, I still have one growler left. Rating 3.75 out of 5.

Commonwealth v Chalifour – This was a tripel recipe I developed, that Andy and his brother AJ brewed. After rushing to have it ready for AJ’s 30th birthday party, we weren’t able to bottle the beer in time. Andy and I each kept four bottles, and gave the rest to AJ. I thought it was pretty good, if perhaps a little light for the style. Jennie said she got some sourness in the flavor. I didn’t really get it. I shared a bottle with the manager at the Modern Homebrew Emporium as part of my “liquid resume”. Plenty of esters from the Belgian yeast. Rating 3.5 out of 5.

Summer Somewhere 2016 – I had originally planned to bring this beer to Beans N Brews in June. However I let the beer sit in the secondary for too long before packaging, and it was not ready for the event. I ended up bringing bottles of Fort Dummer instead.  I ended up bringing a keg of Summer Somewhere to AJ’s birthday party in lieu of the not-quite-ready Commonwealth v Chalifour.

The London Ale 1318 yeast definitely threw more fruit flavor into the beer than the Irish Ale 1084 I used in the 2015 version. The Styrian Bobek hops gave the beer more of a pilsner-type flavor. The beer tasted far more European than the citrus bomb that the 2015 version hopped with Galaxy was.

I brought a one gallon polypin to a North Shore Brewers meeting. The beer had fallen off considerably by then, but was still drinkable.

At AJ’s party there was a half-barrel keg of Samuel Adams Summer Ale and a quarter-barrel keg of Harpoon IPA. That my 3 gallon keg kicked that night is a point of pride. This is a beer I will brew every year. I might play around with different ingredients, but the bones of the recipe will never change. Rating 4.25 out of 5.

Fort Dummer – It’s never good when you find two ounces of hops in the freezer and realize they were supposed to go into the beer you just bottled. The batch was still pretty good. The folks at Beans N Brews enjoyed it even though they were expecting an English summer ale. When I drank it I kept thinking about the missing hops and in my mind the beer should have been better. When brewing four IPAs at once for my United States of IPA project, I made sure to pre-measure and label every dry hop addition to avoid making the same mistake again. Rating 3.5 out of 5.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Making hard cider at home

I haven’t entered as many homebrew competitions this year as I would have liked. Instead of laziness as it was in the past, it has been down to the fact that most of my brewing in 2016 has been dedicated to specific projects like the United States of IPA, and the two batches I brewed for Ales over ALS. I simply haven’t had a lot of extra bottles to ship out or drop off.

In my entire time as a brewer the only medal I have ever won in a competition was actually for a cider. In 2013 my New England Cider finished third out of ten entries at the Boston Homebrew Competition. Since then I have brewed beers that have received higher scores than the 30.5 that the cider earned, but to date that is the only award I’ve won.

Cider is fun and easy to make. After making several batches during our first couple years of brewing, I am making my first batch in several years.

For our purposes here all cider is hard cider. Unfermented ‘cider’ like you drink on Thanksgiving will be referred to as apple juice. Before Prohibition all cider was hard by definition.
  • Start with your juice. The juice can’t have sulfates. Sulfates are sometimes added to juice as a preservative; they will kill your yeast. Fresh pressed cider from a local orchard works best, but I have also made cider with Target brand juice bought on clearance after Christmas.
  • Treat your juice with a camden tablet to kill any wild yeast and let sit for 24 hours.
  • Pitch the yeast of your choice. In the past I’ve used ale yeasts. Wine or champagne yeasts can also work and will make a drier cider. There are also cider yeasts available. When you pitch your yeast add yeast nutrient as apple juice is not as nutrient-rich as a barley wort.
  • Keep your fermenting cider in the primary fermenter for 2-3 weeks.
  • Rack to a secondary for up to 8 weeks for additional conditioning.
  • Bottle or keg as you would a beer. Add priming sugar or force carbonate if you want to make a sparkling cider. Ciders can be sparkling, still, or pellitant which is very lightly carbonated.
  • You can also add ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) at bottling to prevent the cider from becoming oxidized and darkening. Your cider can darken when exposed to oxygen just like the inside of an apple after you bite into it.
  • Some cider-makers like to back-sweeten their cider at this point with sugar or apple juice concentrate. Most commercial cider makers back-sweeten and force carbonate their ciders. If you are brewer with kegging equipment this is certainly an option. If you are bottling your cider and want to back-sweeten you will need to add another camden tablet and make a still cider, or use an artificial sweetener that the yeast won’t ferment. Otherwise you will have gushers and bottle bombs as the yeast ferments the additional sugars in the bottle.
That is the easiest way to make cider at home. You can add different sugars before primary fermentation to increase the alcohol level. You can also add any other flavors you would like to add during secondary fermentation. My ‘award winning’ cider added local wildflower honey and was aged on oak chips.

Cidermaking is more similar to winemaking than it is brewing. More experienced cidermakers know how to manipulate the levels of tanin and acidity in the cider. Many also select the variety of apples they want to use and press the apples themselves. This is all outside of my area of expertise. After several years of not making a cider, and having a better idea of what I don’t know about cider, I wanted to keep it very simple this time.

At Homebrew Con I grabbed a packet of Mangrove Jack’s Cider Yeast. I have been told that this yeast will make a dry cider, but still preserve apple flavor and aroma more than a champagne yeast. I bought my apple juice from the Modern Homebrew Emporium. The shop sources its juice from Box Mill Farm in Stow, MA. The juice smelled and tasted outstanding and should make an excellent cider.


I will probably rack the cider to a secondary this weekend. I think I will take some of the oak cubes I bought for Pyrite Pistol, soak them in some rum, and add those to the carboy. While making this cider I cracked open one of my original ciders from 2012 and found it was still quite tasty. I may have to enter it into another competition to see if I can win another award.

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