Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tasting Notes: Hot Stove Porter (Robust Porter)

If you have ever been to the Samuel Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain the first thing that becomes evident is how small it actually is. On the tour, the tour guides acknowledge that almost all of the Samuel Adams products sold at the packie are in fact brewed at facilities in Pittsburgh and Ohio. The Boston Beer company only leases a portion of the old Haffenreffer Brewery which acts as their corporate headquarters and the site of their test brewery.

A decent first attempt at what I was going for.

Developing and perfecting a recipe takes lots of trial and error. For the Hot Stove Porter I started with a blank slate and used several ingredients for the first time: malted oats, several of the hop varieties, and the yeast strain. It is one thing to have an idea of how all these different flavors would compliment each other in the final beer, it is another to see it in action.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Brew Day: Welkin Ringer ESB

The local homebrew shop (LHBS) can be a dangerous place to hang out. I was at Beer and Wine Hobby over a month ago to pick up some odds and ends. I ended up leaving with their Welkin Ringer ESB kit which is a clone of Mystic Brewing's beer from their Wigglesworth Series.

Bottle conditioned ESB goodness.

Often when I brew kits it is to leave my comfort zone. When I develop my own recipes I tend to drift back to the ingredients and recipes I know well and have used before. That can help master a particular beer or style, but it doesn't help a brewer grow. Developing new recipes for new styles or using a lot of ingredients for the first time is both daunting and risky. Knowing where to begin can be daunting, and the risk is your beer not coming out very good.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thinking about the spring before winter has truly started

Every chance I have I publicize my guidelines for seasonal beer. Is it over the top? Maybe. Is it something I am passionate about? You betcha! Is my indignation exaggerate as part of an act? Probably, we are just talking about beer after all.


I have already brewed a new winter seasonal beer, what hopefully will be one of my flagships, and I have a couple other batches I already have ingredients for another couple of batches. Once those are brewed it will be January and it will be time to start on beers for the spring to make sure they are ready for the middle of February.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Brew Day: Peabody Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

The latest installment in my experimentation within the broad category that is the American Pale Ale is a recipe that I threw together in a matter of minutes. While assembling the ingredients for Curly's Milk Stout I realized I had a lot of odds and ends lying around. Half-full bags of specialty grains, zip-locked bags of hops. None of this stuff is getting better with age.

Double brew day in-progress.

The recipe for Curly's Milk Stout called for one pound of light dry malt extract. However I only had a three pound bag. It made perfect sense to use the rest of that extract for a one gallon batch. I stepped some crystal malt I had lying around for color, flavor, body, and hopefully a bit of freshness.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Brew Day: Curly's Milk Stout

About a year ago my home was overwhelmed with beer. Brewing one or two five gallon batches every month, and then buying the latest and greatest commercial beers can certainly add up quickly. That is when I started brewing one and two gallon batches, which also enabled me to brew all-grain BIAB batches on my stove-top.
The beer looks gorgeous already.

The main downside to small-batch brewing is that if the beer turns out to be excellent, and you only brew a one gallon batch, you only have eight 12oz bottles of this excellent beer that took the same amount of work as a larger batch. This is exactly what happened with my first small batch brew.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shop Small: Check out a Local Homebrew Shop

The local homebrew shop (LHBS) is the lifeblood of the hobby. If you have one nearby it is the easiest place to buy ingredients. It is also where most homebrewers get started.

Support your local homebrew shop.
If you are a reader of this space and have considered getting involved in the hobby, a LHBS is the perfect place to start. If you have a loved one who loves beer, the staff at a LHBS can help you select the perfect kit to guy as a gift. You can walk in, talk to a human being, and ask questions. Their business depends on new customers like you. You're not wasting their time by "asking stupid questions".

Even after brewing for a couple of years I'll still chat with the staff and other customers at the LHBS. When I picked up my stir-plate, they made sure I didn't buy too small of a flask and made sure I had everything else I needed.

When you shop at a LHBS you are supporting a local business, its employees, and keeping the money you're spending in the local economy. Find a LHBS using the American Homebrew Association's directory. Check out your LHBS!

Follow me on Instagram @wouldbebrewmaster
Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taking the BJCP Exam

I made it to the Rising Tide brewery where the exam was held about 5-10 minutes before the exam was set to begin. The only seat left was at a table in the front of the space in the brewery set aside for the exam. As the exam began, I looked over to my left and saw three people at that table start their evaluation of the beers and whip out the BJCP Guidelines. I didn't realize the exam was open book, so I pulled out my iPad and opened the BJCP app to reference the style guidelines as I judged the beers.

The gentleman administering the exam then walked by, said the exam was indeed closed book and took my iPad and iPhone. I felt like a kindergartner whose toys had been taken by his teacher. Evidently I was sitting next to the exam proctors who are supposed to have the answers.
Will this be me?

The exam itself consisted of judging six different beers. Since the exam was clearly closed book I was fortunate that I was familiar with all six of the styles. When judging beer in a competition setting style adherence is clearly important. When the exam is graded the proctors will be looking at the descriptiveness of the comments, what off-flavors or defects in the beer did the exam-taker (me) notice or not notice, and what if any suggestions to improve the beer were offered. As I studied for the exam, the feedback on the scoresheet seemed to be what separated the good scoresheets from the better ones.

The actual beers at the exam can be a curious mix of beers. If the exam consisted of six commercial and/or award winning homebrew beers it would not be the best way to evaluate a prospective judge's ability to notice flaws. Two of the beers I tasted were well known commercial beers that had been altered so that they would taste like they had obvious defects. One was a blend of three different homebrewed beers that were each six months old. There was one unaltered homebrew that I thought was excellent and gave a 39, and there was an unaltered commercial beer that as soon as I found out what it was kicked myself for being overly critical in my comments and giving it a score in the mid 30s. Just like a competition, the condition of the beer when it is served is out of the brewers hand. I think all the beers we judged came out of growlers and were on the flat side which can certainly effect the aroma, mouthfeel, and flavor of a beer.

After the exam I mingled a bit with the other exam takers and the exam administrator. Speaking with them made me feel like I did okay on the exam. If I finished with a score of 70 or higher I will be attain the rank of a Recognized BJCP judge. From there based on the exam score and accruing experience points judging at competitions, a judge can move up in rank from there. It is also possible to retake the exam to try and obtain a higher score and ranking.

It can take several weeks or even months to receive the results. These are people with jobs who do this in their spare time. If I pass the exam I can see myself judging locally at competitions. I don't think I see myself taking Written Proficiency Examination or aggressively trying to move up the ranks, but if I find I enjoy judging who knows? If the experience can make me a better brewer that was always my main intention. I certainly think that it has.

Follow me on Instagram @wouldbebrewmaster
Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Friday, November 21, 2014

Judging at the Best of Boston Homebrew Competition

As preparation for my upcoming Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) tasting exam in Portland this weekend, I judged at the Best of Boston Homebrew Competition last weekend.


My only previous judging experience was at the Boston Homebrew Competiton run by the Boston Wort Processors Homebrew Club. That day I judged stouts in the morning, and light hybrids in the afternoon. This time around I wanted to experience brewing something completely different, and was assigned to Belgian ale in the morning and American ale in the afternoon. The former consisted of saison, bier de garde, and Belgian specialty, a kind of catch-all for any Belgian beer that did not conform to any particular style. Having brewed none of these, I made sure to study in the days leading up to the competition.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Free Beer Contest Winner!!

In honor of The Would-be Brewmaster Facebook Page hitting 100 likes I awarded one lucky fan a free sample pack of my homebrews.

Instead of cutting up little slips of paper, writing every fans name on one, and pulling a name out of a hat, I used Woobox to pick a winner. All fans had to do to enter was to like and/or comment on this photo.

The winner is Charles Hildebrand of Salem!

Free Beer Contest


Thankfully this means I don't have to pack and ship beer to some far off locale. I will have another giveaway once the page has 200 fans!

Follow me on Instagram @wouldbebrewmaster
Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tasting Notes: The Sustenance (American IPA)

This is a beer that I dedicated not one, not two, but three posts to. This was as near and dear to me as anything I have tried as a brewer, which is ironic because most of the recipe came from a professional brewer. Even though this was an extract batch where water chemistry is less important, it was still the first beer I applied what I had learned about water.

On a scale of one to ten with ten being the most satisfied, I would give the beer a seven. I did a side-by-side comparison of The Sustenance and The Substance:

My beer is on the left, Bissell's is on the right. Looks like it cleared while in the fridge

The can I cracked open was three months old, but still had a noticeable hop aroma. The clone didn't have as pronounced of an aroma, but it had slightly more hop flavor. I think the hop bag I used in an almost full carboy didn't enable enough of the hops to be in contact with the beer. I would also whirlpool for 15 minutes instead of the 20 minutes that I did to try to capture more aroma and less bitterness from the late hops.

Slightly better picture of the clone. Slightly.

I think using the campden tables to de-chlorinate the water made a huge difference. When my girlfriend tasted the beer she noticed the difference right away. She couldn't put her finger on it, but did say the beer tasted a lot better. Well, that was easy and something I should have started doing a long time ago.

If I were to do the extract version of the recipe again I would use more corn sugar and less extract to try and match the attenuation in the commercial version. Honestly, if I were to brew this again I would want to do an all-grain, or at least a partial-mash batch. I would be able to more closely match the color, and by mashing at a lower temperature create a more fermentable wort. Even adding most of the extract at the end of the boil, the clone is still noticeably darker.

As the picture shows, the clone has a much larger head. The bottles aren't gushing, but the beer is very foamy. Even when poured slowly there is a thick white clumpy head. The beer itself is almost opaque. The beer looked clear all the way until bottling. Initially I was afraid the beer became infected at bottling, but luckily the beer hasn't started gushing and it still tastes fine. Another adjustment would be to use less priming sugar.

The beer is entered in the Best of Boston Homebrew competition where I will be judging tomorrow as a final practice before my tasting exam on the 22nd. If the beer comes in with a score higher than a 30 on the BJCP 0-50 scale I will be pleased.

Follow me on Instagram @wouldbebrewmaster
Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Win free beer!

I had been running a contest to drum up likes for my Facebook page that as soon as the page hit 100 likes that I would select one lucky winner to receive a sample pack of some of the very beers you have read about me brewing on this blog

If you are a fan of the blog, have a Facebook account, and like free beer, all you have to do is Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook, like, comment, or share the post pinned to the top of the page (one entry for each), and you are automatically entered. It is that easy!

Follow me on Instagram @wouldbebrewmaster
Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Monday, November 10, 2014

Brew Day: Pa's Video Board Lager (International Pale Lager)

Our grandfather was certainly his own man. He had his views and opinions and was never afraid to share them or make excuses for them. When he was a younger man craft beer wasn't exactly a thing yet. In those days at a bar there would often be a price for a domestic beer (Budweiser, Miller, etc.) and a price for an import which usually came in a green bottle. The imported beer would usually be a bit more, but the import was perceived to be of a higher quality which was likely why that was what Pa Chalifour liked to drink.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Beer competitions and becoming a judge

Competitions are an important for the homebrewer, especially a "would-be" like myself. It is not always easy to get constructive feedback on your beer. Most of my friends aren't hardcore craft beer aficionados. When you share your homebrews with a Bud Light drinker he/she will probably say the beer tastes like a Sam Adams because it is likely the only beer that the person can think of that has actual flavor. Even when you share your beer with a beer geek, if he/she isn't familiar with the brewing process he/she won't likely be able to offer any advice to improve you beer.

Passed on the first try! Boom!

Most competitions are use Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) judges, scoring, and style guidelines. Not all of the judges who judge your beer are certified by the BJCP. Any brewer or beer lover who feels like he/she knows his/her stuff can judge a competition as a novice judge. The competition organizers will pair or group a novice judge with an experienced or certified judge(s) to provide guidance. My girlfriend and I volunteered as novice judges at this past Boston Homebrew Competition (BHC) organized by the Boston Worts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tasting Notes: 1944 Brown Porter

No, I didn't brew a porter and not write about it. If you recall my new fall seasonal beer was originally Bill's Brown Ale, an American Brown Ale. That beer used balanced Willamette and Cascade hops as well as darker malts and molasses.

Beautiful color, if too dark for style. 

The finished beer didn't have a distinctive American hop flavor and came out a bit darker than I had anticipated. When I had my first sip my first thought was that the beer tasted like a porter. The molasses I used to prime the bottles and carbonate the beer had a profound impact on the color and flavor. There was a noticeable difference from when I sampled the beer out of the fermenter on bottling day and now.

Friday, October 31, 2014

How to brew beer at home

This Saturday is Learn to Homebrew Day. As regular readers of this page will know, we planned on having a Learn to Homebrew Day event, but it was eventually cancelled due to a forecast with a 90% chance of rain and 23 MPH winds.  Kind of makes brewing outside problematic.

The plan was to brew a 10 gallon, all-grain batch of a special beer I came up with last year in honor of our grandfather who died after a long battle with Parkinson's.  We would have been using equipment and techniques including a mash-tun, a large boil kettle, propane burner, grain mill, wort chiller and a huge yeast starter that would be a bit much for a first time brewer. In the spirit of Learn to Homebrew Day, I decided to develop a simplified version of the recipe that requires nothing more than a basic starter kit you can pick up at a local hombrew shop like Beer & Wine Hobby or online, and other items most people have in their kitchen already.

When I started the blog I decided early on not to make this a "how to" type of blog. John Palmer and Charlie Papazian are infinitely more qualified than I am to teach and explain the brewing process. Instead I took a similar approach to James Watt and Martin Dickie on the TV show Brew Dogs. Watt and Dickie brew what they brew, and if there is a process or concept that they feel warrants additional explanation, they will explain it as they go. That is what I have always tried to do considering that the blog is hosted on a newspaper website and most of my Facebook fans aren't homebrewers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Brew Day: Hot Stove Porter (Robust Porter)

They may not have been the two best beers I had this summer, but they were the two beers that got my wheels spinning as a brewer. Riverwalk Brewing's Screen Door, which I had when I visited the brewery, and Wanderlust by Foundation Brewing in Portland, ME took your traditional summer wheat beer and turned it on its head. Instead of using citrus, these beers tasted like a summer ale using no citrus. Screen Door was dry-hopped with Cascade hops, Wanderlust used citrusy American hops and if I remember correctly saison yeast to give the beer added complexity.

Winter is hot stove season. And I have no pics from this brew day. 

By the time I had these beers it was too late for me to brew another summer beer. Instead what I set out to do was apply these lessons to a winter beer. The winter might be my least favorite season for beer. There are too many beers out there that are too heavy and overly spiced. Thank god for Great Divide's Hibernation Ale, the best Old Ale I've had made in the US, and Celebration Ale which proves a superlative IPA is appropriate in any season.

New toys! Yeast stir plate

Just like my grain mill and wort chiller, this should be a lifetime investment that will improve the quality of my beers immediately and as long as I brew. After doing a couple yeast starters for recent batches, and only using yeast that has never been used in another full batch, I have found that doing it is not as much of an inconvenience as I thought and I think it will lead to better beer.

No more 1 gallon yeast starters!

Let's start at the beginning. Yeast are living beings like us, and as such they need oxygen. The more oxygen they have, the healthier the fermentation, and the more the yeast will reproduce additional cells. For a healthy fermentation of your wort you need to make sure that you pitch (add) enough healthy yeast cells. If you don't have enough yeast you may experience: infected finished beer, higher than normal final gravity, excess production of objectionable flavors caused by fusel alcohols, esters, diacetyl and sulfur compounds. I assure you all that stuff is bad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You are only limited by your imagination

When you brew your own beer you are only limited by your imagination. When brewing the beer itself you can use any ingredient you want. A commercial brewer has logistical and legal issues that a home brewer does not. Using 12 types of malt, 10 varieties of hops would be a logistical nightmare for a brewer brewing on a commercial scale. I was able to brew a Ballantine IPA clone using traditional ingredients that Pabst either could not use or chose not to use. You can also use ingredients that a commercial brewer can't use. Do you want to add Jameson to your Irish Stout? You can, but it is illegal for a commercial brewer to add hard alcohol to a beer.


Brewing the actual beer is only the tip of the iceberg. How often in life do you get to name things? The only examples that come to mind right away are boats, pets, and children. The last one could very well grow up and change his/her name anyway. As our first batch fermented, there was a protracted debate as to what our home-brewery would be called. My original idea was Danvers River Brewing. For most of my life I have lived or worked in communities along the Danvers River, so the name felt appropriate. My girlfriend hated it, along with the next ten ideas I came up with. Since we both love baseball we toyed around with baseball themed names until we settled on Bleacher Brewing Company.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brew Day: The Plinian Legacy (Imperial IPA)

In hindsight we may have started too soon creating our own recipes. None of our early beers were truly bad. We learned by doing, but maybe we could have "learned while doing" more proven recipes. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Now, instead of tweaking our early recipes I find myself starting from scratch like I did with my recent brown ale and pale ale.

I may not have used all these hops if I tried to come up with my own IPA recipe.
I may not have used all these hops if I tried to come up with my own IPA recipe.

Kits are a good way for a brewer to try new ingredients and to step out of his/her comfort zone. Last winter I brewed Northern Brewer's Kiwi Express as a way to learn about New Zealand hops. This summer I brewed Speckled Heifer to supplement the Spotted Cow we brought back from Wisconsin. In my latest order I bought the Australian Sparkling Ale kit to brew with Pride of Ringwood hops for the first time. In the future I want to brew one of Beer & Wine Hobby's Mystic Brewing kits.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Brew Day: Essex Extra Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

Almost every craft brewer has a pale ale. Usually the pale ale is the flagship beer, or it is at least a year-round offering. An extract pale ale was one of the first original recipes I came up with when I started brewing. I benchmarked a few local pale ales that I liked: Samuel Adams Boston Ale, Wachusett Country Pale Ale, and Shipyard Chamberlain's Pale Ale. My first pale ale was a success, but tasted more like an English Pale Ale. Given the beers I benchmarked it in hindsight was to be expected.

Essex Pale Ale is on the left, I have another wort boiling on the right.

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines for an American Pale-Ale are incredibly broad. I enjoy the more English-inspired beers like the ones that inspired my first pale ale, but I also enjoy hopper interpretations like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the excellent Fort Point Pale Ale by Trillium. What I want to do is brew several one gallon pale ales that explore the broad parameters of the style. It helps that I have a ton of leftover hops from previous batches. Experimentation is a good way to put them to use.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brew Day: Pennant Race Pumpkin Wheat (Autumn Seasonal Beer)

With fresh, local pumpkin finally available it was time to brew our annual pumpkin beer. Last year our pumpkin beer in late October, and the five gallon batch was not ready until almost Thanksgiving. We ended up with a lot of leftover pumpkin beer.

A sugar pumpkin like this has plenty of flesh for pumpkin pie, and throwing into the mash.

This is our third year in a row brewing a pumpkin beer. The Pennant Race Pumpkin Wheat was one of our first batches when we started brewing. The first batch was an extract recipe with specialty grains, where we used the simple steps I outlined to brew a pumpkin beer as easily as possible. As to why we used a wheat beer as a base style? I honestly don't remember. I think we just grabbed a couple cans of wheat liquid malt extract as we threw the recipe together.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Brew Day: Ballantine IPA Clone

When news came out that Pabst was going to resurrect Ballantine IPA I was certainty excited to try it. I was vaguely familiar with the Ballantine brand before the relaunch. As my strong sense of nostalgia took hold I did more research and became intrigued.

The original American IPA

Due in part to mass emigration from Germany, lager became the preeminent style of beer in the US, and internationally for that matter. Based out of Newark and founded by Scottish immigrants, Ballantine was the one major US brewery that lasted well into the 20th century brewing ales and borrowing more from British traditions. Ballantine pushed the envelope in terms of styles and flavor. It was craft beer before craft beer existed. Unfortunately the brewery lost market share and closed in 1972. After a series of corporate transactions Pabst acquired the Ballantine brand.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sanitation is godliness

Beer is a living thing. If it's not quite a living thing, it is made by living things. I am not talking about human beings either. Our beloved potent potable made from fermented grain would not exist were it not for fragile, single cell organisms called yeast. After the yeast is pitched into the beer they go into a frenzy of constant eating and procreation. Is that living the dream or what?

Always within arm's reach. I wouldn't be shocked if Andy slept with it under his pillow.

As the yeast digest the fermentable sugars and produce alcohol and CO2, it needs to be protected from other organisms that want to do the same thing. Sanitation is how we as brewers protect our friends, the yeast, from other organisms that threaten to crash the party that is fermentation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tasting Notes: Andy & Juli's Weddingfest (Octoberfest-style ale)

This is a special surprise beer I made as a wedding gift for my cousin and brewing partner Andy and his lovely new wife Juli. On the oft chance he might read the blog or see it on Facebook, I did not write a brewday post for this beer.
Using a swamp cooler to keep ferm temps on track.

The Weddingfest was a 2 gallon BIAB batch, which was my attempt to brew as close to an Octoberfest as I could without the time or ability to let the beer ferment at lager temperatures (high 40s-low 50s F). Octoberfest is also known as Marzen, which is the German word for March. The beer was traditionally brewed in March, clean lager yeast was used, the beer was then lagered (lager is the German word for store) in caves at cool temperatures during the summer, and then served in the fall.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Learn to Homebrew PArty for PArkinson's

November 1 is The American Homebrewers Association's Learn to Homebrew Day. Organized by the AHA, Learn to Homebrew Day is an international event held on the first Saturday of November. Since 1999, thousands of homebrewers have gathered each year to teach friends and family the basics of the homebrewing hobby.


“If you’ve ever had an interest in homebrewing, Learn to Homebrew Day is the ideal way to get started. Brewing a batch with an expert is a great way to get started, which is why this event connects aspiring homebrewers with experienced ones for a hands-on education,” said Gary Glass, AHA director.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Paper, erm... glass or plastic? The eternal debate...

At the grocery store it was a decision I could never make. I leaned toward plastic because I could carry more at once. My home is perpetually overrun with leftover plastic bags. I like the idea of reusable cloth bags, but I can never remember to bring the damned things with me to the store.

In life there are only trade-offs. 

In the homebrewing community a similar debate rages between brewers who prefer plastic or glass fermentation vessels. Like so many other things in life there are pros and cons to both. It is a matter of personal preference. My first kit came with a plastic primary fermentation bucket and a glass carboy to use for secondary fermentation, so I have used both from the beginning.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Brew Day: The Sustenance (Substance Ale Clone - American IPA)

Check out Cloning The Substance Part I and Part II for the recipe and the story behind it.

Steeping my specialty grains. I could also have used a muslin bag.

I designed the recipe as an extract recipe so any brewer could brew it. My last brew day was Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale so it was nice to have an easier brew day for a change. I steeped the flaked grains with a little 2-row in a 3 gallon stock pot. I let the grains steep for a little longer than 30 minutes as I fiddled with the recipe on BeerSmith.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cloning The Substance - Part II

After driving home from Maine on Saturday evening and recovering from Beer Camp I was finally able to crack open a can of The Substance on Sunday. I was sure to drink slowly and critically to imagine what the ingredients were that they used. The malt was present to balance the beer, but stayed out of the way to let the hops shine. I figured the base malt was American 2-row. I didn't detect any esters from the yeast so I felt safe in assuming that the yeast was the Chico strain (S05, 1056, WLP001). 

Taking notes to create my recipe.

I was at a loss as to the hopping. Having only brewed a couple IPAs I wasn't sure where to begin. If there was one high alpha acid hop like Centennial, and lighter hops like Cascade it would be easy to ascertain that the big hop would be the bittering hop, and the lighter hops the late additions. All the hops on the chalkboard were big, high alpha hops that could be used for bittering and aroma.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cloning The Substance - Part I

Sean, my new team lead at work might arguably be more of a beer nerd than I am. He is deliberating making the leap to start homebrewing. When it comes to appreciating craft beer Sean has me beat. Sean is all over Beer Advocate looking for new beers to try, news on when beers are being released, and looking for people in other parts of the country to trade beers with that aren't distributed locally. 

Target acquired!

When I told him my girlfriend and I were going to Portland for Beer Camp last month he told me to pick him up some of The Substance by a brewery in Portland called Bissell Brothers. I had never heard of the beer or the brewery. It took me an embarrassingly long time to remember the name of the brewery and stop calling the beer The Sustenance. I can't tell if I am getting old, if beer is effecting my brain function, or both.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Brewing with Beverly/Salem Water Part II

I shared the post on the North Shore Brewers 
Facebook page because I thought it might be interesting to a group of local homebrewers. I got an interesting and detailed response:


Homebrewing can be as involving as you want it to be. It is fair to say after my last post on water chemistry, and specifically how it relates to our local water supply, I've gone a little deeper down the wormhole. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Master Crowd Brewer, still not a brewmaster

A few weeks back on my Facebook page, I shared a really cool contest Innis & Gunn were running called Crowd Brew. They crowd-sourced the recipe by letting people who were fans of their Facebook page to vote on the style, type of malt, hops, and barrel that the beer would be aged in (all of Innis & Gunn's beers are barrel-aged). If you voted for the winning ingredient you were entered to win a chance to be a "Master Crowd Brewer" where your name will appear on the beer and you win a prize pack.


For the hop type I voted for Northern Brewer hops. At that point Scotch Ale had already been selected as the style, and I thought the almost minty flavor Northern Brewer has would work perfectly with the malty profile of a Scotch Ale. I used Northern Brewer in a Milk Stout a few months back and it was a perfect contrast to the roasted barley and the lactose. I also used a small amount as a late flavor addition in a kolsch. It still had enough of a continental hop spiciness that it gave the beer the desired crisp finish.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tasting Notes: Summer of '18 Ale

With only a couple weeks left in the summer beer season, this beer just snuck in as it was ready to drink by mid-August. Since it's a little cooler in the late summer a bigger summer ale feels appropriate. The brew is summery enough for a 70 degree late-summer day, but hearty enough for a cool night next to the fire.

Summer Ale turned up a notch

The beer pours a cloudy straw color. The soft white head fades quickly. Not including any cara malt like carapils or carafoam was a rookie mistake.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brew Day: Sean Claude Van Damme (Mixed Style Beer)

This beer came together quickly due to a confluence of factors. A few months back I decided I wanted to perfect a recipe for an English bitter. At the time I was brewing mostly one gallon batches. My first bitter recipe became infected. I ordered a couple pounds of Halcyon malt, which allegedly has a "sharper" flavor than Maris Otter, the British base malt I typically use in English styles that I brew. I was curious to see how the flavor might be different. Suffice to say, I never got around to brewing the bitter.

Just a touch of roasted barley to help balance the malt sweetness.
Just a touch of roasted barley to help balance the malt sweetness.

I have two gallon BIAB tripel I plan to brew, but my BIAB bag finally bit the dust. After lots of use it developed several holes. I figured I could brew a one gallon batch and remove the grain from the mash with a strainer. Essentially it would be brew-in-a-bag without the bag. At that point it made sense to use the Halycon malt in my one gallon batch.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pumpkin beer, if you must

As a society it seems we are in a bit of a pumpkin craze. Pumpkins used to be for carving and the occasional pumpkin pie. Now in the fall pumpkin is everywhere. Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spiced coffee, pumpkin lattes, and of course pumpkin beer.

Carving pumpkins work better to serve out of than as an ingredient.
Carving pumpkins work better to serve out of than as an ingredient.

In the craft beer world the proliferation of pumpkin beer is over the top. I know one Beverly beer and wine shop is purposely reducing their selection of pumpkin beer so as to not waste valuable shelf space on a bunch of pumpkin beers that all taste the same. There are only a couple pumpkin beers that stand out above the pack for me. Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin is so vastly superior to the ubiquitous Pumpkinhead I have no desire to ever have the latter again. The same applies to another of my favorites, Harpoon's Imperial Pumpkin as it relates to the UFO Pumpkin. Pumpkin aficionados swear by Pumking, according to my notes and recollections I was lukewarm at best.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tasting Notes: Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale

I am not one to leave loyal readers of the blog hanging. I am sure you are all absolutely dying to know how the beers I have chronicled brewing in the blog actually taste. As we go I will be doing "Tasting Notes" posts where I share my thoughts on how the beers actually come out.

The Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale pours a light amber color. There is a small white head that fades quickly. Clarity is decent, I probably could have decanted from the bottle a little more carefully. In a bottle conditioned beer there will be sediment at the bottom of the bottle. It won't kill you, it's actually high in B Vitamins, but it will make the poured beer cloudy if you don't pour carefully.

Really nice color on this brew.

The aroma has hints of pear with an underlying malt sweetness. As I would expect from an extract beer, the beer is medium-bodied. Given the 4.56% alcohol by volume (ABV), the beer is quaffable and finishes just dry enough that you want another sip. I think I had just enough of a late hop addition to add flavor and complexity.

The Belgian Ardennes yeast flavor is front and center. There is a spiciness, and I detect a subtle banana flavor, but none of it takes away from the drinkability. For a style that is an "everyday" beer in the Flemish provinces of Belgium it's exactly as it should be. It's not exactly the most complex beer in the world, but it was exactly what I hoped it would be. It's a very good, very sessionable beer that I could drink all day. I shared a bottle this weekend at a get together and that seemed to be the consensus.

If anything, if I were to brew this again I might increase the ABV a touch to get it closer to 5.0%. The beer finished dark enough I could add a little more extract or base malt if I converted the recipe to all-grain. I am very happy with how it came out, and look forward to enjoying this beer over the next few months. Since it's a five gallon batch, I have plenty to enjoy and share.

Follow me on Instagram  @wouldbebrewmaster
Like  The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook 
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Friday, August 15, 2014

Tips for homebrewing economically

Homebrewing can be as involving of a hobby as you want it to be. A simple starter kit with ingredients for your first batch requires a modest initial investment of around $100-$200. If you want to brew more than one batch at a time you will initially be looking to buy additional fermenters. There are other gadgets and accessories that while not entirely necessary that make the process easier and your beer better. If you then decide to take the leap to all-grain brewing or kegging the investment is even more significant. Here are some tips to save money as a homebrewer:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Creating your own recipes

There are plenty of brewers who are more than content to brew kits. Some kits come with hopped extract and a sachet of dry yeast attached under the lid. There are also kits that come with a recipe and pre-measured and packaged ingredients. A colleague of mine brewed up Cooper's Mexican Cerveza, and said if he put a lime in it it was just like a Corona. He was perfectly happy with how it came out.
Homebrewing can be as involving as you want it to be. If you are a kit brewer you can make great beer at home and have fun doing it. I'll brew a kit if I stumble across something that looks interesting. However, if you are a kit brewer who is ready to dabble and make something your own, here's a good place to start.

For a novice it can be daunting to walk into a homebrew shop and see the myriad of different malts, hops, and yeasts. Our earliest recipes were the two of us wandering around the homebrew shop by dead reckoning trying to figure out what to buy. Sometimes I still do that. On a recent visit I left with ingredients thrown together for a Belgian Pale Ale and Belgian Style Dubbel. Eventually I started doing more homework when planning what I was going to brew.

Beyond throwing ingredients together and hoping for the best, a good starting point is to simply ask yourself what do you want your beer to taste like? If you're going to brew an American Pale Ale do you want it to be a balanced, almost English Pale Ale like a Shoals Pale Ale or Wachusett Country Pale Ale, or do you want to make a hoppy West Coast Pale Ale like a Sierra Nevada or Dale's Pale Ale? What I started doing was to research clone recipes for commercial beers to benchmark and to give me a starting-off point. If you Google "'Beer X' clone recipe" you should have no trouble finding results unless "Beer X" is new or obscure.

Now one of the first places I look when starting a new recipe from scratch are the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style guidelines. The BJCP description provides broad parameters of what the beer should taste, smell, and feel like, what ingredients to use and commercial examples. Unless you plan on entering a competition, don't feel shackled to the guidelines.

Once you have a broad idea of what ingredients you want to use and what you want the beer to taste like, there are several apps and websites you can use to calculate the alcohol by volume (ABV), estimated starting gravity and final gravity, bitterness, and even color. You can then adjust your malts and hops in your recipe to get it exactly the way you want it. If the app you're using does not have journaling or note-taking capability make sure to keep a manual journal. If it does, it's not a bad idea to print out the recipe with the notes and keeping them in a binder. Keep track of anything that may or may not be relevant on brew day, when racking, on bottling day, and of corse tasting notes. If your beer doesn't quite come out exactly how you had envisioned you have a better idea of what adjustments to make. If the beer is perfect you want to have as much information as possible to duplicate the results.

Whether you are making your own recipes or brewing kits, you want to brew with different malts, hops, and yeasts all the time. That is the best way to know first-hand how different ingredients will effect the finished beer. Once you have an understanding of different types of ingredients it is easier to make recipes with confidence.

As Charlie Papazian said, "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew!" As long as your cleaning and sanitation are where they need to be what you make will be beer and taste like beer. If your first batch or first attempt at a particular style isn't what you had hoped, it's still a learning experience and a starting off point. Chances are if you have ever had Rolling Rock or Milwaukee's Best, whatever you make can't be worse!


Follow me on Twitter @JChalifour
Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Brew Day: Bill's Brown Ale (American Brown Ale)

Two years ago when I purchased my first homebrewing kit it came with a basic recipe for the first batch. I was given a choice between light, amber, and dark malt extract. I wasn't entirely sure what the difference was, but since I liked darker beers I got the dark extract. In addition to the rest of the kit the initial recipe was the extract, a pound of medium British crystal malt, one ounce of Cascade hops, some gypsum for water adjustment, and a sachet of Munton's yeast. The kit also came with Charlie Papazian's Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

The instructions in the kit matched the instructions in the book for brewing a first extract batch. In the book Papazian said adding molasses to beer would make it taste like Old Peculier and suggested using 1/4 cup of molasses for priming at bottling. I love Old Peculier and wanted to make my first beer a little different so we primed with molasses and our first beer came out excellent!

After gaining some brewing experience we wanted to improve on that first batch. We changed very little to the original recipe. I steeped some honey malt along with the crystal, and added Willamette finishing hops to add flavor and aroma. I was fairly happy with how the beer came out. I entered it into a competition where it scored a 30 out of 50, in the "very good" range. What prevented it from scoring higher was that it lacked a roasty or nutty character that a great brown ale should have.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bottling: because you have to put your beer in something

Almost all beginning homebrewers start out bottling their beer. It is the least expensive way to package and carbonate your beer. My first kit came with a bottling wand that had a spring loaded tip to regulate and slow the flow of the beer into bottles, bottle caps, and a capper to crimp the caps over the top of the bottle. 
The neatest way to bottle homebrew.

At bottling a small amount of additional sugar called priming sugar is added to the wort. This additional sugar is fermented inside the bottle. Since the bottle is capped, the CO2 produced is trapped inside the bottle and absorbed into the beer. This is called bottle conditioning. Most traditional Belgian brewers and several American craft brewers (notably Brooklyn Brewery) use this traditional method.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Going from homebrewer to pro brewer

"When are you going to start selling?" "I know a guy who runs one of the biggest beer distributors in New England." "Hey, if you are serious about your brew, hit me up. I have some amazing space that would make for a great first brewery..."

These are all questions I've gotten from my amazing and well-meaning friends. It's one thing to enjoy baking and sell cupcakes as a side business, it's quite another to love beer and open a brewery or even become a "gypsy brewer". When people ask about going pro it's easy to shrug it off or come up with a non-answer. When a journalist asks that question needing a quote, not so much. Sarah Thomas asked me that question on the record, a question I had been asked tens of times, in her profile for The Beverly Citizen, and I struggled to come up with a clear and concise answer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brew Day: Ground Rule Double (Belgian-style dubbel)

Out of all the iconic Belgian beer styles, the dubbel might be my favorite. Witbier may be more common, while tripels and quads get more fanfare, but the plum and burnt sugar flavors found in a dubbel set it apart from other Belgian styles where the beer is soured or the yeast flavor more prominent. Technically, this is not a Belgian dubbel because it was not brewed in Belgium. Instead of calling it an American dubbel, I further Anglicized the name to come up with another baseball-themed beer name.
3 gallon batch going into the primary fermenter.

I hastily bought the ingredients for this beer at the same time I picked up ingredients for the Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale. I grabbed six pounds of Belgian 2-row barley, Special B malt, dark candi sugar, and Styrian Goldings hops. These were ingredients I had never used for the most part, but knew were common in Belgian beers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fighting Seasonal Creep - The Definitive Guide for Seasonal Beer

Seasonal creep is the phenomenon of seasonal beers coming out earlier and earlier. This past year we saw Samuel Adams' and Harpoon's new spring offerings on store shelves Jan 2! Ironic that it was one of the coldest winters in memory.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: AHA Rally at Samuel Adams

This past Thursday, we attended an American Homebrewers Association (AHA) rally at the Samuel Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain. Every serious homebrewer should join the AHA. The subscription to Zymurgy alone is worth the membership fee. Additionally, AHA members have first dibs on tickets for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), other member discounts and rallies such as this one.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brew Day: Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale

With the Summer of '18 fermenting in my cousin's cool basement, I've decided that brewing Belgian-style beers is the way to go for brewing at home. I picked up a package of Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes yeast at Beer and Wine Hobby when I decided on a whim I wanted to brew Belgian beers this summer. According to reviews on Northern Brewer this yeast can ferment well into the 80s which will be perfect for my apartment which is usually in the 70s.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beer inspiration in our backyard: Riverwalk Brewing & Newburyport Brewing Co.

As craft beer continues to grow, we in Massachusetts are lucky to have great beer made right here. Like a musician or an artist is influenced by other artists, so too should the homebrewer be influenced by other beers.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Massachusetts Brewers Guild came up with the Craft Brewers Passport. You can pick one up at a local brewery or print it at home. As you visit the Commonwealth's amazing local breweries, your passport gets stamped. When you complete a region you get a T-shirt; and, if you hit every brewery in the state, you get a "prize pack." As nice as it is to get swag, it really is about the journey of visiting the breweries and supporting the local scene. This week, we went up to Newburyport to visit Riverwalk Brewing and Newburyport Brewing Co.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Grain mill and wort chiller, investments for a lifetime

While watching Episode #77 of the BeerSmith Podcast on BIAB brewing, guest Jake Keeler rattled off three items that are a lifetime investment for a homebrewer: propane burner, wort chiller, and a grain mill. In other words these are things I had to have.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Brew Day: Subway Series Stout (American Stout)

At the risk of losing craft beer street cred, I will admit I am a Leinenkugel's fan. I'll suck down Summer Shandy on a hot summer day, but some of my favorite beers by Leinie's are some of their beers that aren't as well known in these parts. Lienenkugel's Original, for my money, is as good as any American-style lager. Their Canoe Paddler Kölsch won gold at the Great American Beer Festival and the Red Lager is excellent, but my favorite by Leinie's is the Creamy Dark.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Brew Day: Ruthian Summer of '18 Ale (Fruit and Spice Beer)

Two of my cousins have been brewers for longer than I have. When I decided I wanted to try homebrewing it was likely inevitable that we would brew together at some point. During our first collaboration my cousin Greg proclaimed that, "they didn't brew light or session beers!" at their brewery. That spring day in 2013 we brewed an imperial stout. As summer approached that proclamation got my wheels spinning.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What the Salem and Beverly Water Quality Report means to your beer

Every year the Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board sends out a water quality report. I imagine it's a legal requirement and that 99% of residents throw it in the trash like it's junk mail. I always figured that if there was something truly bad in the water supply it would make the news or somebody smarter than me would understand what the jargon in the water report actually means. As a brewer this is actually relevant information.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beating the summer heat at the brew house

Most ale yeasts need to ferment no higher than 70°F-75°F at the absolute high end. When our yeasty friends are hard at work turning the wort into beer, the temperature inside the fermenter raises several degrees. We live in a third floor apartment where if it's in the 90s outside it doesn't get cooler than the mid 70°s with two window air conditioners on full blast. That might be comfortable enough for us, especially when enjoying a nice cold homebrew, but not so much for brewing at the peak of summer.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Brewing in a Bag? My BIAB Setup

To novices or people who have never brewed before and read my first two posts, and/or watched the AHA videos I linked to; those both detailed extract brewing. Essentially a malt house converts malted grain (mashes) into fermentable sugars (wort), and either reduces the wort to a syrup (liquid malt extract) or dehydrates it to powdered form (dry malt extract).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Making better extract beer

One of the best resources for homebrewers, especially newbies is the website and message boards on You can find me on there under the name of our brewery BleacherBrewing. They have a massive database of recipes, boards dedicated to any beer or brewing topic imaginable, and lots of users who are experienced brewers willing to offer their advice. Chances are if you were to look at the most recent threads a good portion are newbies introducing themselves or asking questions.

The ingredients from my first ever batch! All that's missing is the 1lb
of crystal malt that came with the kit. 

When we started and were either brewing all extract batches, or extract with some specialty grains, our beers were good, but seemed darker, sweeter, and not as hoppy as I had hoped. One thread I found in particular on HomebrewTalk solved a lot of those problems by offering 10 tips on making better extract beers. Some of the steps we were doing already, and in a post for another day I'll touch on number ten. The big changes I made were larger boils and late extract additions.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Welcome to my new blog! Brewing your own beer at home is an amazing hobby. It is unique in that you can get as involved in it as you would like, or your time and budget allows. You will never have a fresher beer than a beer you brew yourself. Cracking open your first homebrew is a moment you will remember forever. You will be amazed that you made something like that yourself, and your friends and family will be even more so.

Sharing your homebrew with family, friends and new friends is rewarding in and of itself. I passed out bombers to several co-workers, and one went so far as to even give me a hug. I also scored points with my boss, which is never a bad thing either. The holidays are also easy. If somebody gave you an amazing, hand-crafted homemade beer, wouldn't you be thrilled?

Many homebrewers get their start with a simple and easy kit like Mr. Beer. Everything you need to get started is included, and you will be able to make fine beers at home.

Plenty of folks are perfectly content with making kits with this kind of setup. However, if you want to go beyond the refills that are available with kits like Mr. Beer, or even experiment with your own recipes, you will need a more flexible setup. Every homebrewing website and local shop will have kits for the beginner. The closest homebrew supply shop to us in the North Shore is Beer & Wine Hobby in Wouburn. They're located about five minutes off Route 128, so it's an easy ride if you avoid rush hour.

I got my start with this kit. I had a feeling we would outgrow a Mr. Beer type setup in a hurry. My girlfriend loves to cook and come up with new food recipes all the time. After brewing the beer that came with the kit, we started tinkering right away. There are literally tons of recipe kits you can buy that will work with a starter kit like this if you're not ready to make that leap. I know plenty of brewers who are happy to stick with proven recipe kits. Like I said, you can be as involved as you want with this hobby.

I won't bore everyone with step-by-step instructions on how to brew beer. Whatever starter kit you buy will come with instructions. There are also classes you can take and online videos you can watch. The American Homebrewers Association has a series of excellent videos that walk you through the process to brew your first extract batch.

After buying my first starter kit a couple years ago, I wouldn't say I let homebrewing take over my life, but some people might! As the "Would-be Brewmaster" I'm not claiming to be an expert. To paraphrase HHH and Stephanie McMahon I'm probably a "B+" brewer at best. More of my beers have been good than bad. Some, I feel, are genuinely excellent, while a few gushed like the volcano we all made for our elementary school science fair.

As we go, I'll be chronicling what's brewing, offering tips from my experience, and, if there are any experts out there who have advice for me, I'd love to hear that, too. Since homebrewing and the craft beer movement go hand-in-hand, I'm sure we'll touch on that too without infringing on The Beer Nut's turf.


Follow me on Instagram  @wouldbebrewmaster
Like  The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook 
Share what beers you are drinking with me on Untappd