Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Brew Day: Wet Hop Head Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

It was only a couple short months ago that I was marveling that after three years I was still producing content on a regular basis. Between a new job, and hopefully a new house I haven't brewed a batch at home in over two months. Also, when I worked at Modern Homebrew Emporium being around ingredients and brewers once a week inspired me to brew more. Maybe not being in that environment lessened my enthusiasm.

The Chinook had a pungent, spicy aroma
I did have several beers I wanted to brew over the summer. Beers that I had bought ingredients for and to date haven't brewed. The state of affairs is so sorry I am going to Jamboree empty-handed. I should be there representing Muntons. If you are going to Jambo look for my booth and be sure to say hi.

What I needed was some inspiration and some motivation. That came when I was presented with a chance to brew with wet hops. Fitzgerald Farm in Haverhill posted to the North Shore Brewer's Facebook page that they had limited quantities of wet hops to sell. Not being able to grow my own hops this year, I jumped at the chance.

Whereas almost all beers are made with hops that have been dried, wet hops are hops that have been picked fresh off the bine. If hops aren't dried shortly after being harvested they will spoil within a couple of days. When a commercial brewer releases a wet hop beer they go to great lengths to have the hops sent to the brewery and used as soon as possible.

The Centennial looks like it was harvested at juust the right time
I arranged to meet the Fitzgeralds to pick up a pound of Chinook and Centennial. This is only the second year they have grown hops on the farm and the first year they had enough of a yield to sell to brewers. They hope to have more rhizomes to split off and have an even larger yield and incrementally grow. I am actually going to be one of, if not the first brewer to make a beer with hops from their farm.

Picked and brewed on the same day!
With two pounds to work with I decided to brew a batch with only the wet hops. On his blog, Brad Smith suggested using at least six to eight times the weight of wet hops as you would with dry hops to compensate for the higher moisture levels in wet hops.

As for a recipe to showcase these wet hops I had a perfect recipe ready to go. I had planned to brew Modern Homebrew Emporium's best-selling Hophead Pale Ale extract kit and had already bought the extract and specialty malts. I picked up the hops on a Monday night and needed to brew with the wet hops before the hops spoiled. A short and easy extract brew was perfect for a last-minute brew day on a Monday night.

I made sure that all of the hops were submerged. 
I used the same hop schedule as the recipe called for, but I did adjust the amounts and type of hops to use all of the wet hops. The volume of hop material to add to the kettle was substantial. I used one of the large grain bags I usually use for my BIAB batches. After the boil I used a strainer to let the bag drain just as I would let a grain bag drain.

With the huge volume of hop material I did have to top off with almost four gallons of water. I suspect any fermentable sugars lost to hop absorbtion will be balanced by lower hop utilization in the more concentrated wort. With no lab analysis of these hops I am really shooting from the hip in terms of IBUs.

The Fitzgeralds are anxious to hear how hops from their farm. I am almost as anxious to have a hoppy beer in the house again.

Click here for the recipe.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brew Day: Chaltoberfest (Marzen) & Escape From The Rabbit Hole (Tripel)

My and my cousin/occasional co-brewer Andy's affinity for DL Geary Brewing is well-documented. When Jennie and I recently visited the brewery, I made sure to pick up a case of Geary's Summer Ale for Andy. When I dropped the beer off at Andy's house, he was anxious to plan a brew day.

We were both pleased with how the Belgian-style tripel we brewed last year, The Commonwealth v Chalifour came out. Andy is in a place where he likes being able to brew a bigger beer and bottle it; a beer that can sit in his cellar and be enjoyed over a period of months and years.

At the same time, I had a really nice response to my Pretty Things Jack D'or clone. One follower on Twitter sent me a clone for Pretty Things' Field Mouse's Farewell. When Andy wanted to brew another tripel, I immediately thought of Pretty Things Fluffy White Rabbits. I also liked the idea of Commonwealth as a one-off in honor of Andy's brother AJ's birthday.

The recipe I designed was not a clone of pretty things. While I used similar malts as Fluffy White Rabbits, the recipe took almost as much inspiration from a Michael Tonsmeire recipe  My tripel wasn't nearly as hoppy as either beer, and more closely fit the BJCP guidelines for the style.

For our second beer I suggested a marzen. Andy has always wanted to brew one. He brewed an extract kit with his wife last fall and wasn't totally happy with how the beer came out. For this recipe I revisited another one-off Andy & Juli's Weddingfest.

Knowing what I know now that beer was undone by not pitching enough healthy yeast and not oxygenating the wort properly. Andy and Juli enjoyed it, but I think they appreciated the gesture as much as anything. I reviewed the recipe, referenced Brewing Classic Styles, and made some adjustments.

Having not brewed in many months, Andy's basement fridge where he keeps his kegs was wide open. We were able to hook up a temerature controller and use the fridge as our fermentation chamber.

With both beers the goal is the same: to make a complex and flavorful example of the style that isn't heavy or cloying. Andy and I both particularly enjoy the German examples like Paulaner and Spaten. My grist was mostly Pils malt, but I did increase the amount of Vienna and Munich, and added a touch of Melanoidin Malt. The hops were all Tettenang as a tip of the cap to Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

The tripel went a little more smoothly than the marzen. We had a heck of a time stabalizing our mast temperature in the Chaltoberfest. We chilled both batches down to 90F. In the middle of the summer the ground water is too warm to get the wort to be much cooler. Both batches were pitched with some dry yeast.

My brew days with Andy tend to be more social and laid back. When we brew together I stopped worrying about getting the water chemistry and mash pH exactly right. If we can have fun and brew something that ranges in quality from decent to good I am happy.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tasting Notes: Summer of Jennie & Transistor Radio

Split batches are a great tool in the homebrewer's arsenal. Commercial brewers brew several days a week, if not every day. Even the most avid of homebrewer probably only brews once or twice a month. A split batch is a great way to make more than one beer without having to make two separate brews.

Transistor Radio is an American Wheat beer that was based on Shipyard Summer Ale. What was most striking when I poured the beer was its brilliant clarity. Ringwood Ale was so popular among brewpubs and craft brewers like Geary's because it ferments quickly, and at a time when beer clarity was desired, Ringwood Ale yeast produced a clear beer with minimal filtering. Every time I use WY1187 I am reminded why I love using it.

By modern standards Transistor Radio is slightly malty, but the Cascade gives the beer a light citrus flavor. I don't detect any diacetyl in the flavor, but there is a slickness in the mouthfeel. The carbonation is medium high, and the body is medium. The beer is subtle, clean, and very easy to drink. The carbonation and hop bitterness are sufficient to give the beer a smooth finish. Transistor Radio earns high marks for drinkability. It is perfect for a summer cookout or a beach day.

Summer of Jennie was inspired by, and not a clone of Sea Dog Sunfish. Jointly owned by and brewed at Shipyard, I used Transistor Radio as my base beer before adding peach puree, grapefruit zest, and a touch of grapefruit juice. Sunfish uses "natural peach and grapefruit flavor", which are more than likely fruit extracts. That is likely why Sunfish maintained the brilliant clarity that Transistor Radio had, while Summer of Jennie is quite hazy.

I wanted to get an unbiased opinion from Jennie which beer she liked better. Knowing the appearance of the beers would be a strong indication of which beer was which, I had Jennie taste both beers with her eyes closed. After one sip she identified the Sunfish and preferred the Sunfish. When I asked why she liked Sunfish better, Jennie said it was because Sunfish was one of her favorite beers. Okay then.

When I tasted the beers side-by-side Sunfish had a much more prominent citrus aroma and flavor. Summer of Jennie had more peach flavor with the grapefruit balancing the fruit. If I wanted to make Summer of Jennie more like Sunfish I would add more citrus or add a grapefruit extract.

On it's own merit, I love Summer of Jennie. I shared the beer with my old manager at Modern Homebrew Emporium Eamon, and the Mass. Brew Bros. who both thoroughly enjoyed it. I could also have dry-hopped Transistor Radio after splitting the batch if I wanted a hoppier wheat beer. Even half an ounce of Cascade could have livened up the beer to a degree.

I entered both Transistor Radio and Summer of Jennie into the Merrimack Valley Homebrew Competition. I think both will do well.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Do you know the Muntons man??

At the end of last year I thought I was ready to start some kind of professional brewing company. What I realized was that this wasn't something I was equipped to take on myself.  For Bleacher Sports Brewing to really work it would have needed it's own space from day one. To work it would need to have beer good enough to attract the craft beer crowd, but also be a a really great sports bar. To do it right and make it workable would have been very difficult and taken a lot of dough.

Really I was just very frustrated with my job. My career with my employer had hit a plateau. That I couldn't for whatever reason break through the glass ceiling really bothered me. Eventually I got past the anger and disappointment and renewed my focus. Half way through the year, 2017 was on track to be my best year yet!

While a successful 2017 made it easier to catch up on bills, I knew my next step would be elsewhere. Last week I saw a tweet that changed everything:

I sent a direct messagew expressing interest, shortly thereafter I spoke briefly with Muntons about the role, then had an hour-long interview, and was offered the job!

In my new role I will be working with craft brewers and homebrewers selling Muntons malt and malt extracts. I couldn't be more excited to work in two markets I am passionate about and make a good living doing so.

I have always been a huge fan of Muntons products. I used their Maris Otter in a SMaSH barleywine, and their extracts in many beers including my recent Thomas Brady's Ale and Summer Somewhere 2017.

It is still too early to say what my new career means for the blog. Whenever I use a Muntons product or otherwise feel the need to do so, I will be sure to disclose that I am a Muntons employee. I have on occasion used this space to share opinions on the beer market. I may step away from that type of content.

I have lost count of how many people told me this was the perfect job for me. It was almost embarrassing that people think my live revolves around beer to that extent. I also realize that most people aren't as consumed with their hobbies and interests as I am. As of July 31 beer and brewing will no longer be a hobby!

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Brew Day: Pretzel Wheat Beer

One of my Brew Year's Resolutions was to collaborate more. The idea was to brew more with others and brew less in my hot and tiny kitchen. This brew was presented to me and is a great opportunity to do just that.

The Mass Brew Bros are two local craft beer enthusiasts who have visited every visatable brewery in Massachusetts. Their website features articles, detailed maps of every brewery in Mass broken down by region, and a list of breweries in planning that is updated almost weekly.

I originally connected with the guys on Twitter and met them in person at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2016 in Boston. Now that my hours have been cut at Modern Homebrew Emporium for the summer, I hope to be able to make it to one of their upcoming tastings.

Like every beer-lover should, Rob and Bob have dabbled in homebrewing in the past. They had brewed some Mr. Beer kits a long time ago. When the guys wanted to brew a pretzel wheat beer, they reached out to me for help. The inspiration for the beer was of all things Shock Top Pretzel Wheat. Say what you will about AB's crafty brand, but that beer does taste like a pretzel.

The guys sent me a recipe from Brewer's Friend and a description of the Shock Top beer. Having tasted the beer once I had a fair idea of what it should taste like. The beer is essentially a darkeer witbier with a hint of salt.

For the grist I went with Belgian Pils malt for a rich, bready malt flavor; Torrified Wheat to add a doughy flavor and add body; Caramunich as my caramel malt to match AB's description; and Special Roast to add a light toasty quality. Crafty witbiers like Shock Top Belgian White and Blue Moon have a sweeter orange flavor to me than say Newburyport Plum Island Belgian White so I added sweet orange peel. I used one quarter the amount of sea salt that I used in my Westbrook Gose clone

According to my refractometer we missed our starting gravity badly. Unfortunately I didn't have a hydrometer with me to confirm the reading. Everything else went fairly well. I was able to pack up my car and make it home by 3:00 p.m. It was amazing how quickly the day went buy brewing just one batch and not attempting any other beer-related tasks.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three cheers!

Three years ago Jennie was tasked with finding "community bloggers" for the Beverly Citizen's website. Having written previously on a variety of topics, and willing to work for cheap (free), I was a logical person to ask. The blog is still hosted by the Citizen's parent company Wicked Local and has been picked up by sites all over Massachusetts.

It really feels like yesterday I took some birthday cash, purchased my first homebrew kit, and Jennie and I made our first batch. At the same time it feels like forever ago that the back corner of my kitchen wasn't a cluttered mess.

If you haven't noticed I am the type of person who can be consumed by my interests. Brewing is the latest and shows no signs of slowing. At other times I have spend endless hours playing internet poker, Football Manager, other simulated sports, turn-based computer games, baseball statistics and history, health and fitness, and cars just to name a few.

Initially I was tasked with publishing two posts per week. Three years later that is still my goal even if I only achieve it some of the time. Three years is longer than I keep up with most things. I haven't lost interest or given up.

From the beginning this was nothing but an outlet. One man's, and sometimes one couple's journey down the rabbit hole. Three years later I haven't hit the bottom yet.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Brew Day: Pretty Things Jack D'Or Clone (Saison)

When Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project was still a going concern they were my favorite brewing company. A year and a half later I still have a few bombers in my beer fridge that I am holding on to. Their beer resonated with me be because like myself, Pretty Things brewed a wide array of styles. Pretty Things experimented without being different just for the sake of being different.

Last I heard, Pretty Things owners Dann and Martha Pauquette were brewing in Scotland. A year and a half later the taste of their flagship Jack D'Or becomes more of a distant memory. I opened my last bottle of the beer last November, almost a year after the brand ceased operations. I held onto that bottle for too long and just wasn't the same at all. Jack D'Or was a hop-forward beer and I should have enjoyed it fresh.

The last bottle...for now!!

Jack D'Or wasn't a pure saison like Du Pont. Dann and Martha conceived the beer as an American table beer. The malts and hops were all American. A firm bitterness and four yeast strains gave the beer its spicy flavor that made it drink like a Belgian saison. Like many local beer lovers, Jack D'Or was one of the first saisons I can recall drinking. The only way I could relive that taste and the proper level of freshness would be to brew a clone.

A website called Crafted Pours published a clone of Jack D'Or. I am not familiar with the website, and there is no individual listed as the creator of the recipe. The recipe looks reasonable enough. I used that as a bit of a starting point.

Pretty Things website is still up with some information on their core offerings. The information was just some short blurbs, no deails like ingredients, ABV, or IBUs that would be useful for my purposes. Thankfully Beer Advocate still has a more detailed description.

Based on the description I removed the rye from Crafted Pours recipe, while tweaking some of the other malts based on what we carry at the shop. I adjusted the hop regimen so that the Nugget and Palisade were added late in the boil to more closely match the description on Beer Advocate. BA indicated there were four hops total. I don't recall Jack D'Or having a huge citrus or pine flavor so American Pale Ale or IPA hops wouldn't seem to fit. I used Columbus for bittering, and Northern Brewer for flavor. Northern Brewer can give any style of beer a rustic flavor.

My BIAB grains in a bag
A saison is supposed to be a dry, effervescent beer. As such I did add some dextrose to the recipe to dry the beer out and enhance the phenols from the yeast. For yeast I used a sachet of Belle Saison yeast I picked up at Homebrew Con last year.

I was really tempted to brew a five gallon batch. Having not brewed in almost two months I wanted to keep my brew day simple, have time to pull off a double brew day, and bottle Summer Somewhere.

Pre-boil volume on point
Last year most of my batches were of the three gallon, brew-in-a-bag variety. This was my first such batch since February. I was still dialed in with this system. My volumes and starting gravity were both on the money.

A hair above three gallons
Like I did three years ago, I plan to combat the summer heat in the brewhouse by brewing Belgian styles that I can ferment at a warmer temperature. Brewing on the third floor in the summer can be quite hot. Running the stove and an air conditioner in another room makes my circuit breaker go crazy. 

I took Homebrew Con week off in case we decided to or were able to go. The upshot was that I was able to plan my brew day on the coolest day of the week. I have two other Belgian-style beers planned that I will be brewing at home. Hopefully I can brew on a relatively cool day again. 

See the full recipe here.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Brew Day: Summer Somewhere 2017 (British Golden Ale)

British golden ale is a style I first learned about when the draft version of the new Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines were published in 2014. The style developed in England as a summer seasonal. Light in color and body, British golden ale is perfect for the summer. Unlike traditional bitters which are primarily malt focused, golden ale has a similar hop character to an American pale ale. 

This is my third batch of Summer Somewhere. Every year the ingredients have changed, but the recipe has been mostly the same: 95% base malt, 5% flaked maize, British yeast. In 2015 I used Irish Stout Malt, Irish Ale yeast, and Galaxy hops, while last year I used Munton's Propino malt, London Ale III yeast, and Styrian Bobek hops with Cluster for bittering.

While rushing to brew Summer of Jennie, Transistor Radio, 'Murica and another beer for Homebrew Talk, I decided to brew Summer Somewhere as an extract batch. The thinking was that I could more easily brew an extract batch on a double brew day. I ended up brewing the batch while bottling and racking several other batches.

In keeping with previous recipes I used Munton's Extra Light extract to give the beer a British malt flavor, but keeping the color as light as possible. I added half of the extract at the beginning of my boil, and the other half at the end to guard against the extract caramelizing in the kettle.

I did steep a little bit of leftover Propino malt from last year to try and impart some fresh malt flavor and aroma from the freshly cracked malt. There are conflicting reports about steeping as opposed to mashing base malts. I made sure to steep the malt in a temperature range where the starches had a chance to convert. In lieu of flaked maize I used simple corn sugar to lighten the body. 

Munton's is the only extract I'll use in British styles.

Steeping just a little base malt.
With my malt and yeast I also took the easy route. I harvested some Ringwood Ale yeast from Transistor Radio, and used some of my bulk Centennial hops as the single hop

This batch is ready to bottle as soon as I dedicate some time to bottling. I want to enter it into a competition in July and have some time off coming up next week. I did rack the beer to a secondary to help it clear. This batch should be ready to go for July 4 and my homebrew club's summer cookout. 

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Searching for a new brewhouse

One of my most frequent laments in this space is dealing with the limitations of brewing in a third floor apartment. Our apartment is fairly nice, and the rent is very cheap. For brewing it is far from ideal. There is no yard or deck to brew outside on. Our electric stove can only boil up to 4.5 gallons, and it takes a bit of time to get up to a boil. We also don't have space for a kegerator or keezer, so I bottle almost all of my batches.

The blog has been quiet as of late because Jennie and I have been looking for a house. Her car is paid off and her student loans are almost paid off. Now is as good of a time as any.

As we look at houses it is embarrassing to admit how much I think about brewing. Does the yard get enough sunlight to plant hops? Could I run a gas line outside to hook up to my propane burner? Is there a place I can ferment lagers in the winter? Where will I put the keezer I want to build?

Soon enough I will fire this guy up. 
Having lived in apartments most of my life there are also some pretty mundane things I look forward to. Not having to go to a laundromat is mind-blowing to think about. I am super excited to be able to cook on the grill any time I want. A burger off the grill has been a special treat that I can only enjoy when someone else has a cookout.

Our apartment being as small as it is isn't conducive to entertaining. One time we had about five people over and it felt like people were standing on top of each other. Once we're moved in and settled, I look forward to having a huge housewarming party. I want to brew a ton of beer and make it a keg party.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tasting Notes: Endicott Red (International Amber Lager)

I brewed Endicott Red for two purposes: I wanted to brew an Irish Red for St. Patrick's Day while feeling nostalgic about drinking mass-marketed lager at a chain restaurant. Drinking the beer as it conditioned in the bottle was in interesting demonstration as to the effects of carbonation on a beer.

The beer was designed to be light to medium-light in body. To work around my yeast's modest attenuation I added extra priming sugar so the higher carbonation would give the beer the body I was looking for.

The beer I made was okay. It was clean and fairly easy to drink. I entered the beer at the National Homebrew Competition where it scored a respectable 32. That feels about right to me. At nationals to cope with the volume of entries, judges use a modified scoresheet that doesn't provide as much feedback as one would normally expect.

The beer has a nice grainy malt aroma. I made Jennie taste the beer with me and she got a hint of citrus. The beer pours dark copper with a moderate foamy white head that persists decently enough. Medium bodied with medium-high carbonation, the beer has a nice clean finish.

The flavor is mostly grainy and doughy base malt, with a touch of raisin. There is a slight acidity which I attribute the citrus aroma Jennie was getting to. I may have added a little too much lactic acid to my mash, or it could just be the carbonation.

To me the beer doesn't know what it wants to be. When it was young and the carbonation was only at a medium level, the beer did drink like an Irish Red. As the beer aged and carbed up to a medium high level, it did lighten the body as I had hoped. It also dried out the beer a little more than I would have liked.

I want to brew this beer again next year, but with an ale yeast as a true Irish red. I may even reduce the color and/or amount of caramel malt. The next time I brew an amber lager I will certainly use a lighter base malt to lighten the malt flavor.

The beer is perfectly enjoyable. My best friend who isn't a craft beer drinker absolutely loved the beer. He dislikes hop bitterness and hop flavor, and this had little to none of both. When he stopped by to visit, I sent him home with a six pack. That's enough for me to call this batch a success.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Fake Beer - the scourge of crappy internet recipes

In the wake of the 2016 election, the moral panic that is fake news sprung to public consciousness. I would argue that even more of a threat to society than fake stories about the pope endorsing Donald Trump or the Russians allegedly making up stuff about Hillary Clinton, is what I call "fake beer".

Image result for fake news

Just as the internet and social media has made it easier for people to share news, videos, and opinions it has made it easier for brewers to share recipes. That applies to commercial brewers and beer experts as well brewers who may or may not know what they are doing. There are websites like BrewToad and Brewers Friend that have tools to help brewers design and share recipes. These websites are great resources, but unfortunately they are also breeding grounds for "fake beer".

Anyone can create and share recipes on these sites. Unfortunately there is no extreme vetting going on to make sure these recipes are any good or if they conform to style. Untold numbers of these fake beer recipes are sitting in the ether, waiting to deceive a new or inexperienced brewer to find them and think they are proven recipes that are accurate representations of the style they purport to be. I shudder to think that someone might find one of my early recipes online and attempt to brew it.

One fake beer recipe I saw was supposed to be a Scottish Ale, but it called for eight pounds of dark malt extract and a late hop addition. It may actually have been a decent Brown Ale recipe, but a Scottish Ale it was not. Luckily I was able to look at the recipe and explain to the brewer what was wrong with it and suggest changes. Sadly too many brewers cling to their fake beer recipes like that one Facebook friend that still believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

If you are a new and/or inexperienced brewer here are some quality sources of beer recipes that will steer you clear of fake beer:

  • The American Homebrewer's Association (AHA): Every brewer should join the AHA just for Zymurgy magazine which features around a dozen great recipes in each issue. AHA members also have access to award winning recipes from the National Homebrew Competition. The AHA also publishes recipes and articles from noted craft brewers for free on its website.
  • Craft Beer and Brewing: The Craft Beer and Brewing magazine is perfect for a brewer that is also a huge craft beer fan; as the name suggests the magazine and website focus equally on craft beer and brewing. Any organization that can publish a clone recipe for Double Sunshine can be trusted.
  • Brew Your Own: BYO publishes lots of great clone recipes and articles on different beer styles. Many are available for free on their website including several of Jamil Zanichieff's recipes from Brewing Classic Styles. 
  • Brulosophy
  • Michael Tonsmeire: The Mad Fermentationist
  • Any book published by Brewers Publications: Brewing Classic Styles is the book I always reference when brewing a style for the first time or starting a new recipe. The insight into each style is at least as useful as the actual recipes. I also highly recommend Gordon Strong's Modern Homebrew Recipes. Two other titles suggested my members of the Home Brew Network Facebook group: Clone Brews and Radical Brewing
  • Experimental Brewing: Authors Denny Conn and Drew Beechum have also published books for Brewers Publications. 
  • Shut Up About Barclay Perkins: These recipes are from actual brewing logs thanks to Ron Pattinson's extensive research. A go-to resource for historic British styles. 
  • Actual breweries: Stone, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point, and Brew Dog are just a few commercial brewers who have released actual recipes to the public. 
  • Recipe kits: The only difference between buying a kit and putting together your own recipe is that the former is pre-packaged in a box, while the latter likely leaves the shop in a bag. I think there is merit for brewers of all experience levels to brew a kit from time to time. There are lots of ingredients that I would never have tried if they weren't included in a kit. Some shops sell kits based on recipes directly from commercial brewers. 
  • Homebrew Academy: I am not too familiar with this site, but it came recommended on The Homebrew Network Facebook group. Homebrew Academy features recipes, gear reviews, and articles on brewing techniques. 
  • Beer and Wine Journal: Another suggested site I am not overly familiar with, but a quick scan of a couple of articles makes me comfortable adding it to the list. Generally if a recipe is accompanied by an article there is a better chance it is not a fake beer recipe. 
  • HomeBrewTalk*: HBT has a trove of recipes. These recipes aren't necessarily directly from commercial brewers or homebrewing luminaries, but as a message board many of the recipes have long discussion threads. In the threads other users provide feedback, and users will describe how they have tweaked the recipe over time. HBT has massive threads where users have collaborated to clone beers like Heady Topper and Westvleteren 12.
This is not to say that recipes published online by obscure or anonymous users are all worthless or all bad. With any recipe you find never hesitate to look at it with a critical eye. Do the ingredients in the recipe make sense? Will they provide the flavors that you're looking for? If it is a commercial clone recipe, do the ingredients match any information provided by the brewery itself? If the recipe includes brewer's notes that is always a plus.  

If you see something that you are sure isn't quite right or doesn't make sense, don't hesitate to change it. Even the sources I listed aren't always bulletproof. I brewed a clone of Sierra Nevada Celebration based on a BYO recipe, but I made a couple tweaks after double checking Sierra Nevada's website and my own intuition.

If you aren't sure if the recipe you are looking at makes sense or is fake beer never hesitate to ask another brewer for feedback. This is where building relationships with the staff at your local homebrew shop, making friends with people at your local craft brewery, or joining a  homebrew club can be an invaluable resource. This advice is coming from a person who abhors small talk and forced social interaction.

As I describe the threat that fake beer poses with tongue firmly in-cheek, the real threat fake beer poses is that if  new or inexperienced brewers brews one of these poorly constructed recipes and the beer doesn't come out the way they had hoped. Putting the time and effort in to brew a batch and not having it come out the way you had hoped can be discouraging to any brewer. As a community we need to do what we can to guard against other brewers making a crappy beer because they were using a crappy recipe and then losing interest in the hobby because their beer was crappy.

Beer recipes are like anything else you see on the internet, The more reputable the source, the more confidence you can have that all the ingredients in that recipe are there for the right reasons. Always approach everything you see with a degree of skepticism and evaluate it before accepting it as gospel truth.

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*Disclosure: I am a contributor at HBT

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't carboy unprotected

At the beginning of the brewery tour at the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston, guests walk through in improvised tunnel into the brewhouse. The tunnel is actually an old fermention tank cut open on either side. The outside is white fiberglass, but the inside is actual glass. In a lot of ways glass is the best material to store or ferment beer in.

While some homebrewers invest in expensive stainless steel fermenters, the vast majority of us use glass or plastic fermenters. I prefer glass because it isn't as prone to scratching as plastic, it doesn't stain, and it doesn't absorb odor. Glass does carry a few obvious negatives. The most obvious is its susceptibility to shattering.

Related image
Every homebrewer's nightmare. Imagine cleaning that up!

A glass carboy in and of itself is awkward to pick up or carry. Carboys are even more cumbersome when filled with five gallons of beer, or are wet after being cleaned. I can't imagine dropping a carboy full of beer. Firstly, if that happened I would be very fortunate to escape injury. If I were lucky enough not to gash myself, I would then have to clean up five gallons of beer and huge shards of glass.

A long time ago I made the decision to purchase handles for every carboy I own. I won't buy a new carboy without buying a handle of some kind to go with it. For my five gallon carboys I use a coated metal handle that attaches to the neck. These work very well when trying to tilt or drag a carboy, as well as carrying empty carboys. The only issue with these types of handles is that they are not recommended for carrying the weight full carboys. The weight of a full carboy could make the nipple along the neck of the carboy snap. When my five gallon carboys are full, I will use the handle to tilt them up, reach under with my other hand and use that hand along the bottom to bear most of the weight.

All of my 5 gallon carboys have one of these handles.

When I bought my first six gallon carboy, I bought a Brew Hauler harness. The Brew Hauler loops around the bottom of the carboy and can be used to carry a full carboy. The Brew Hauler is more expensive than the orange handle. That's really the only reason I haven't bought Brew Haulers for all of my carboys. 

The Brew Hauler can carry the weight of a full carboy

Both types of handles make me feel comfortable that I won't drop a carboy. One thing that is a concern is sometimes when I move carboys they will clink against each other. Denny Conn had two glass carboys shatter this way and swore off glass forever. Glass carboys are also clear and depending on where they are stored can cause your beer to skunk by exposing them to light.  

To protect my carboys from light, I will cover them with an old t-shirt. My cellar is a who's who of old Red Sox shirseys. Going forward I am going to keep the t-shirts on all of the time to prevent glass-on-glass contact. The only time I'll take them off will be for cleaning.
Mike Lowell could walk into the 2017 Red Sox
That is how I carboy safely, but that certainly isn't the only way to protect your carboys. One method I have seen used is to carry carboys in milk crates. This would seem to guard against glass-on-glass contact and would enable the brewer to carry the full weight of the carboy by grabbing the handles on the crate.

Image result for carboy milk crate
This handsome greyhound approves of his owner's safe carboy practices.

There are specialized carboy bags or carriers online and on places like Etsy that are designed to block light and to be able to carry the weight of a full carboy. Some brewers will make their own, or have a family member make their own carrier for their carboys

This homemade cover/carrier looks cozy enough to sleep in.
If imagining cleaning up five gallons of beer and shards of glass isn't enough to make you want to protect your carboy I don't know what to tell you. It reminds me of some of the insurance customers I talk to who think carrying the bare minimum coverage limits is sufficient because they "have never had an accident". Not protecting your carboy is irresponsible and unsafe. That is to say noting about potentially losing a batch to a shattered carboy. It is a stupid risk to take.

When handled safely, glass is vastly superior to plastic as a fermentation. I have been planning to phase out my plastic buckets and replace them with glass carboy. This winter I did buy two new plastic buckets for the sole purpose of saving a few dollars. When I had to recently dump a batch, that was my final straw. 

I recently purchased two six gallon carboys from another brewer who upgraded to stainless steel colonials. I sold one to a friend who recently dropped a carboy and lost a batch. That gives me two six gallon glass carboys that I can use as primary fermenters for five gallon batches. Even if I have a double brew day I can ferment in glass. In addition to that I have five, five gallon carboys I can use for secondary fermentation and/or long term aging. I can also use one of those as a primary fermenter for my three-gallon BIAB batches

I am now a 100% glass man! The only plastic that will be touching my beer will be tubing, siphons, and bottling equipment. My hope is going all-glass in the cellar, replacing my plastic racking and bottling equipment more regularly, and doubling down on my cleaning and sanitation (in particular my bottles), that I will have clean beer every time. That means avoiding batches that I know are bad right away, as well as the slower-acting infections that have seemed to plague my brewhouse over the years. 

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wicked Weed sells out to the High End

Two years ago Jennie and I went on an epic road trip full of beer and baseball. In addition to passing through Atlanta, North Carolina, and Delaware we spent a night in Asheville. Out of all the places we hit in the area, Wicked Weed was my favorite. I brought back a couple of bottles to save for a special occasion. About a year later Wicked Weed started distributing to Massachusetts.
Image result for wicked weed logo

Last Tuesday night we were sorting entries for our club's upcoming competition. As we sorted all of the entries we received we shared several bottles of Wicked Weed. Wednesday morning Wicked Weed announced that they had been acquired by The High End, AB InBev's craft division.

I have been more ambivalent than most in regards to these type of acquisitions. However I have found when it comes time to buy a beer I have a hard time pulling the trigger on purchasing beer from brands that have "sold out". Last September I was at Fenway Park I was all set to buy a Goose IPA until I saw cans of Harpoon IPA in a case.

Likewise I haven't purchased anything from Northern Brewer since their acquisition.  I've received numerous discount emails offering 10%, 15%, and even 20% off of my purchase, but I haven't been able to bring myself to spend my money there.

Working at Modern Homebrew Emporium every week mitigates the convenience of buying supplies online. When I do spend money on ingredients and supplies there is something to be said for spending it at a place that finds it in their heart to pay me! If there is something I couldn't get at the shop I think I would still prefer to support another vendor that isn't associated with AB InBev.

I can't blame anyone who creates something and then decides to sell it when offered an inordinate amount of money. I still unapologetically enjoy Leinenkugel's, and will probably buy Bourbon County on Black Friday. Still, I find that when I dig into my wallet more often than not I choose to support independent businesses, especially local ones.

There is some gray area as far as "selling out" goes. Brands like Redhook, Widmer, and Kona do not meet the Brewers Association's criteria for craft beer because their parent company, the somewhat ironically-named Craft Brew Alliance, is 31% owned by AB. Brooklyn Brewery sold 24% of their company to Japanese macro-brewer Kirin. The Brewers Association has to draw the line somewhere, but should that 7% difference make a huge difference to a consumer?

One of my favorite breweries Founders sold 30% ownership to Spanish macro Mahou San Miguel. As far as I know Mahou San Miguel doesn't partake in some of AB's more questionable business practices.

I have no particular animus toward any of these brands that have been acquired by AB or another macro-brewer. When I buy beer or buy brewing supplies I go with my gut. I don't buy a lot of sour beer. Maybe I'll pick up a bottle every couple of months. Next time I see Wicked Weed on the shelf I certainly won't feel the same way I felt that night we walked into the Funkatorium.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tasting Notes: Queue Juice (New England IPA)

I held off on a brew day post for this brew as I brewed it specifically for Homebrew Talk. It was a post specifically about New England IPA. I shared my insights, tips, and brewed a sample batch. The recipe was loosely based on my previous Haze for Daze.. As there are several commercial beers named Haze for Daze. I came up with a new name for this brew. Oh, and somehow I ended up adding 43% more hops.

When a beer is dry hopped for too long, or too much dry hops are added the beer can take on a grassy flavor. There is a line where too much is too much. This beer was right on the edge. It was on the edge of the cliff. It's tippy toes were just over the edge. It was looking down as tiny pebbles crumbled off the edge and fell into the abyss below.

The snow on the ground indicates it was bottled awhile ago. 
The beer poured a hazy deep gold color. There was a thick, frothy white head with excellent retention and left a beautiful lacing on the glass.

One thing I am comfortable saying is that this is my most aromatic IPA I have brewed to date. Lots of papaya, mango, and tropical fruits.

Carbonation was medium to medium-high. The carbonation does cut through the creaminess to an extent. It also amplifies the astringency that the hops leave in the finish.

When the beer was young the flavor was a wall of hops. After two weeks in the bottle I did get an unpleasant grassy flavor. A week later that grassy and vegetal taste lessened and the beer hit its peak. It was around this time I shared bottles with several friends and coworkers who all really seemed to enjoy it. Jennie even gave it 4.5 stars on Untappd.  

Eamon, my manager at Modern Homebrew Emporium examines my Queue Juice.

When I saw the Boston Worts added a special New England IPA category to their competition I decided to enter the beer. Their judging was on May 6, the same day as the judging for our competition. Queue Juice was bottled on March 12, seven weeks before judging. I threw a couple bottles in the back of the fridge and hoped for the best. Queue Juice recorded a respectable, if unspectacular 26. As of press time I still haven't received my score sheets.

On Sunday May 7 I opened one of the handful of bottles I had left. The hop aroma was nice but not nearly as intense as it was a few weeks earlier. The grassy flavor was gone and the hop flavor had similarly lessened. That slight astringency in the finish never went away. Without seeing the scoresheets, that score felt right to me as I drank Queue Juice on the couch. 

I can take several lessons from this brew:
  • The flavor of NE IPAs fall off so quickly I will never make a batch larger than three gallons unless it is for an event like Ales over ALS or jamboree.
  • There is a point of diminishing returns with dry hop additions. This beer had a really nice hop flavor and aroma, but if I dialed back and dialed in the amount of hops I add the beer would be smoother. In future batches I will work to find that sweet spot.
  • If entering an IPA in a competition the beer has no chance if it is not at the peak of freshness. I planned out The Anti-Chris perfectly at it placed at the Worts' competition. I suspected freshness would be an issue for Queue Juice and entered the beer as a bit of a lark when I saw the special NE IPA category. 
I am overwhelmed with beer at the moment that is ready to be bottled and racked. Warm weather is also coming which makes fermenting American styles difficult for me. I probably won't brew another batch of Queue Juice until the fall. I do have some fun, experimental hops I look forward to trying in future batches!

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Keeping up with trends: Brewing "New England Style" pale ales and IPAs at home

Keeping up with trends will be a monthly look at trends in the craft beer scene and how it relates back to homebrewing. Published for Homebrew Talk. See the original story here

Whether "New England Style" (NE style) pale ales and IPAs are in fact new styles is a matter of some debate. While there are breweries outside of New England and even the northeast, the style is most prevalent in New England.  What isn't debatable is the impact these beers are having on the marketplace as large national and regional craft brewers are losing market share to smaller brewers. Wachusett, a venerable regional craft brewer with roots going back to 1994 is getting into the game releaseing their own NE style IPA called Wally.

An open-fermented NE IPA I brewed with 1187. It was amazing
until the batch got infected. Perils of open fermentation...
Even more than any other IPA, freshness is key with NE IPAs. The hop aroma and flavor the style is known for can fade quickly. This gives smaller NE IPA producers have a huge advantage over larger brewers. Tree House and Trillium typically sell their beer the same day, or no more than a few days after it is canned. Customers line up, and more often than not that day's allotment of cans sells out. Producers of the style who distribute like Maine Beer Company are judicious in their allotments to retailers to ensure the beer doesn't sit for too long.

In contrast, Founders tells retailers that All Day IPA is fresh up to 120 days from packaging date. The beer is in cans, and if stored cold the beer probably is perfectly fine. However if a discerning buyer checks the date of All Day IPA or another national brand, and then checks the date of a smaller local producer, which one will the customer choose?

As homebrewers we enjoy a similar advantage when it comes to freshness. If you are the type of brewer that will brew a five gallon batch, and keep it on tap for several months as you slowly drink it, NE IPA might not be the best style for you to brew. When I brew NE pale ales and IPAs I usually brew smaller batches, or I'll brew it for a special event where I know the beer will be kicked.

If you are bottle conditioning a NE IPA, add even more dry hops to the beer to compensate for the hop character you will lose while the beer conditions. Kegging is preferable to bottling if you can keg. Some brewers will dry hop in a keg, and use CO2 to push the beer to a separate purged serving keg to avoid exposing the beer to oxygen.

Compared to West Coast IPAs where all of the character in the beer is from the hops, NE IPAs can be a bit more broad and complex. There are certainly many commercial examples of NE IPA that use regular US 2-row malt and Chico yeast, but there are also examples that use more flavorful British base malts and estery yeasts. Any malt and yeast character should still be in the background, but there is room for interpretation. If you do a side-by-side tasting of  The Alchemist's Heady Topper and Lawson's Finest Liquids' Sip of Sunshine, that will give you an idea of the breadth of the style.

As a hop forward style, crystal malts should not be used, or used in very small quantities. If you have a house IPA recipe and want to convert it to a NE IPA, replacing the crystal malt with flaked wheat, barley, or oats is a good start. The flaked grains will provide the body and head retention that crystal malt would have, but without a cloying sweetness. A small amount of Munich malt can also be used to add color and a bit of malt flavor.

If brewing a NE IPA with extract, I wouldn't suggest using flaked grains unless you are going to do a partial-mash. A grist of 95% Golden Light extract and 5% corn sugar will approximate the body and mouthfeel of the style. Subbing out a can of light extract with wheat liquid extract wouldn't be a bad idea either. If employing a partial boil, make sure to utilize a late extract addition  to ensure proper hop utilization and guard against kettle carmelization.

More than anything else the style is known for it's hazy appearance. When John Kimmich designed Heady Topper he didn't try to make a hazy beer. He wanted to make the best IPA he could, and it just happened to be hazy. Backlash brewed their Ricochet IPA with and without biofine, and brewer Helder Pimintel found he greatly perfected the hazier batch. When brewing a NE IPA at home hold off on the whirlfloc. Irish moss, biofine, gelatin, or isinglass.

For hop selection, the newer hops with more of a stone fruit-type flavor and aroma are excellent choices. In particular the new hop varieties coming out of the US and Australia like Mosaic, Equinox, Azacca, Nelson, and Vic Secret. That doesn't mean a homebrewer you should be married to the latest and greatest hard to find hops. Last summer I brewed a wonderful NE IPA using only free hops I brought home from HomebrewCon: Pekko, Idaho 007, and Triple Perle.

Many of the prominent NE IPA producers started as exceedingly small operations. As such, they didn't have the ability to contract for every hop they wanted. Noah Bissell designed Bissell Brothers' flagship IPA The Substance specifically to use less sought-after hop varieties that he knew they could get. Noah emailed me the recipe in 2014, and I posted the recipe on the HBT recipe database.  Hop availabiliy is why commercial brewers use complex blends of hops. If one of seven hops used in a recipe isn't available and needs to be substituted, the change in flavor should be far less noticeable. It is also  why brewers have rotating IPA series like Night Shift's Morph.

More critical than hop selection is the timing of the hop additions. A very small bittering charge at 60 minutes or a first wort hop addition is all you need before flameout. The idea is to have just enough hop bitterness to supply balance without producing a bitter beer.. Commercial brewers will then add hops after flameout during the whirlpool stage. A homebrewer can use pumps to recirculate the wort to create a whirlpool. A stir with a spoon can also work. You will extract some bitterness from the whirlpool hops. BeerSmith gives you as good of an estimate as you can get of exactly how much bitterness you are getting from the whirlpool additions.

Dry hopping is everything in this style. In particular what Michael Tonsmeire describes as biotransformation. Contrary to previous orthodoxy, dry hopping during active fermentation is critical. The way the dry hops interact with the fermenting yeast gives the beer its "juicy" hop flavor. I advise everyone I talk to who is brewing the style to add 1/3 to 1/2 of their dry hops during active fermentation to obtain the haze and juicy hop flavor the beer is supposed to have. The rest of the dry hops can be added 5-10 days before packaging to punch up the hop aroma.

A NE Pale Ale brewed with 1084.
One of the mythical aspects of the style was the Alchemist's "Conan" yeast strain. Before several small yeast labs propagated Conan, home brewers who made the trek up to northern Vermont would culture Conan from cans of Heady. Conan with it's high attenuation leaves plenty of yeast in suspension. It also has a wonderful peach ester profile which compliments the hop flavor perfectly.

The other popular yeast used in NE IPAs is Wyeast 1318 London Ale III. My first experiences with 1318 I brewed bitters, milds, and old ale and a milk stout. Used in traditional English styles 1318 leaves a beautifully clear beer. There is something about how the yeast interacts with dry hops that it stays in suspension and leaves a hazy NE IPA. Always known for it's fruity esters, 1318 with it's moderate attenuation leaves a nice soft mouthfeel that is another hallmark of the style. I work one day a week at a LHBS in Cambridge, Mass, and every week it is a struggle to keep 1318 in stock.

As with the hops, there isn't a need to be married to these sought-after yeasts. Plenty of commercial brewers still use Chico to make NE IPAs. I have personally used Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale and 1187 Ringwood Ale and found that both worked really well.

In my experience the beer should finish with an FG of 1.010 to 1.015 to have the soft mouthfeel it needs. When selecting your yeast, you may need to adjust your mash temperature and  percentage of flaked adjuncts to finish in that range. The last time I used Conan in a regular-strength IPA, 25% of my grist was flaked adjuncts and I mashed at 152F. The recipe below is using Chico, so my grist is only 16.4% flaked wheat, and I am mashing a little bit lower.

The other contributor to the soft mouthfeel is water. Conventional wisdom is that sulfates in water accentuate hop character, while chlorides accentuate malt. When brewing a traditional IPA a 3:1 ratio of sulfates to chlorides was the rule of thumb. With a NE IPA, that orthodoxy is flipped on its head. I've played around with ratios of 2:1 and even 1:1. A friend in my homebrew club brewed the closest NE IPA to Tree House that I have ever tasted. He knows far more about water chemistry than I do, and in that beer he used a ratio of 1:3 sulfates to chlorides. Also when using this many pale malts monitoring the pH of your mash is also critical.

Luckily my municipal water is high in chlorides. I am going to try that 1:3 ratio here. This is a bit of a kitchen sink brew. Based on a previous recipe, I tweaked it to use up leftover ingredients from previous batches. I also grabbed a couple of hops from my LHBS' "experimental" section. As a last minute brew day, Safale S05 from Fermentis should do the trick:

Queue Juice

American IPA (14 B)

Type: All Grain
Batch Size: 3.15 gal
Boil Size: 4.80 gal
Boil Time: 60 min
End of Boil Vol: 3.80 gal
Final Bottling Vol: 3.00 gal
Fermentation: Ale, Single Stage
Date: 20 Feb 2017
Brewer: Jason Chalifour
Equipment: 3 Gal BIAB (8g kettle)
Efficiency: 70.00 %

Mash Ingredients
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
6 lbsBrewers Malt 2-Row (Briess) (1.8 SRM)Grain671.6 %
1 lbs 6.0 ozWheat, Flaked (1.6 SRM)Grain716.4 %
1 lbsBorlander Munich Malt (Briess) (10.0 SRM)Grain811.9 %
Mash Steps
Name Description Step Temperature Step Time
SaccharificationAdd 22.06 qt of water at 157.4 F150.0 F75 min
Mash OutHeat to 168.0 F over 7 min168.0 F10 min
First Wort Hops
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
0.25 ozBravo [15.80 %] - First Wort 60.0 minHop922.2 IBUs
0.25 ozTopaz [16.10 %] - First Wort 60.0 minHop1022.6 IBUs
Steeped Hops
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
0.25 ozBravo [15.50 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 15.0 minHop114.9 IBUs
0.25 ozEquinox (HBC 366) [13.40 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 15.0 minHop124.2 IBUs
0.25 ozMosaic (HBC 369) [11.00 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 15.0 minHop133.5 IBUs
0.25 ozTopaz [16.10 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 15.0 minHop145.1 IBUs

Dry Hop/Bottling Ingredients
Amt Name Type # %/IBU
0.75 ozEquinox (HBC 366) [15.00 %] - Dry Hop 15.0 DaysHop160.0 IBUs
0.75 ozMosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] - Dry Hop 15.0 DaysHop170.0 IBUs
0.50 ozBravo [15.50 %] - Dry Hop 15.0 DaysHop180.0 IBUs
0.50 ozTopaz [16.10 %] - Dry Hop 15.0 DaysHop190.0 IBUs
0.25 ozHBC 438 (Experimental) [16.60 %] - Dry Hop 15.0 DaysHop200.0 IBUs
2.00 ozMosaic (HBC 369) [12.25 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 DaysHop210.0 IBUs
1.00 ozBravo [15.50 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 DaysHop220.0 IBUs
1.00 ozEquinox (HBC 366) [15.00 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 DaysHop230.0 IBUs
1.00 ozTopaz [16.10 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 DaysHop240.0 IBUs
0.75 ozHBC 438 (Experimental) [16.60 %] - Dry Hop 5.0 DaysHop250.0 IBUs

L-R: First wort hops, whirlpool hops, first dry hop,
second dry hop which includes the hops still in the package
I will add the first dry hops two to three days after pitching my yeast. The second dry hops will be added five days before bottling.

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