Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tasting Notes: Hot Stove 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.

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.

The Hot Stove Porter pours a very dark brown with mahogany highlights. Lightly carbonated, the beer has a thin off-white head with good persistence. There is a roast coffee aroma complimented nicely with an earthy and unfortunate grassy aroma from the hops.


The beer is medium-bodied thanks to the malted oats. The malted oats don't seem to contribute the same silkiness or almost sweetness that flaked oats would (like you would find in an oatmeal stout). I probably would want to mash at a slightly higher temperature to increase the body and leave a touch more residual malt flavor. The finish is quite dry. I don't mind it, but it could some might find it to be bitter.

There is sweetness up front, then the hop flavor and a big roasted flavor kicks in. What was missing was any discernible citrus flavor. I actually added the tiniest Centennial hop pellet I had to a bottle, re-capped it, and tried it side-by-side with another bottle. My girlfriend didn't notice much of a difference, but she may well have just been annoyed that I asked her to stop what she was doing to do some blind taste test. I thought the beer with the Centennial was better. For next year I think I will add some Cascade to compliment the Mosiac and British hops.

The beer also had a grassy flavor. This can be a defect caused by dry hopping for too long, hop material making it into the bottle, or hops from the boil making it to the primary fermenter. In this case I think it was just the hop varieties I selected. British hops are notorious for adding a grassy flavor when used in large enough quantities. Subsequent research indicated that Mosaic can do that as well. Hopefully tweaking the hops will reduce the grassiness as well as adding additional complexity of flavor.

I think the beer is good. It doesn't taste exactly like a spiced Christmas beer, but it does have some spiciness to it. The esters from the Burton Ale yeast complemented the beer perfectly. By adjusting the mash temperature and adjusting the recipe just a little I think I can get this beer exactly how I want it to be. More trial and error is in order. Maybe I can try adjusting the recipe early in 2015 so it is how I want it next Christmas.

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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.


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.

An ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter. It is the biggest and best pale ale that is typically offered by a particular brewery in England. Purchasing the kit gives me a chance to brew an entirely different interpretation of a style that I have brewed before and am familiar with. In my mind an English Pale Ale consists of British pale malt, Crystal malt, Fuggles and/or East Kent Goldings hops, and fruity or floral esters from English yeast. I actually have not had the original beer by Mystic, so I didn't know what to expect. Not knowing when I would brew the kit I chose the dry yeast option as opposed to the liquid yeast which loses viability more rapidly than dry yeast..

The dry yeast they gave me was S-33. I was not familiar with it at all; the employee at Beer & Wine Hobby said it was similar to Nottingham, a strain with a much cleaner flavor profile than I would have selected if I developed my own recipe. For over a month that was my only clue as to what the recipe was.

This past weekend a Christmas party I had been invited to was cancelled at the last minute. The dry yeast that came with the kit does not require a yeast starter like a liquid yeast making it perfect for a last-second brew day. I opened the box expecting a simple extract recipe with light malt extract and probably some specialty grains. When I opened the box there was Amber malt extract, English pale malt, Aromatic malt, and most surprisingly flaked maize.

Corn is sometimes used in English beers. I wonder what it will do to the flavor of this beer.
The recipe was actually a partial mash. Whenever there are unmalted or flaked grains there needs to be some type of mash. Corn is commonly used in American styles. I actually enjoy the flavor corn can contribute to a recipe and even used it in a stout. According to the 2008 BJCP Guodelines, corn is sometimes used in English styles like an ESB. I am very interested to see how it works in this beer.

The wort is a dark copper and didn't lighten after adding amber malt extract.
The hops were Challenger, an English bittering hop I have never used, and Northern Brewer, a hop I have used many times. The last hop addition is at 15 minutes. The Aromatic malt had an intense toasted flavor, like toasted bread that is dark brown but not quite burnt.

 Nice cold break starting to form
I think the beer is going to be a malt-forward interpretation. There is only one late hop addition which is at 15 minutes. The yeast strain is clean and should accentuate the malt flavor. The Aromatic malt, along with the specialty malts in the extract should provide most of the complexity. This might not be a hop-head's beer of choice. If you're like me and can appreciate a balanced or malt-forward beer as well as the hoppy pale ales and IPAs that are increasingly popular, this should be an enjoyable brew.

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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.

Last year I took a break from brewing right around when it was time to brew my spring beers. The year before I brewed a couple of Irish beers that I thought were legitimately excellent. I am excited to finally have the chance to brew those again applying all I have learned in the two years since I brewed the original batches.

I also brewed a witbier that was decent but was littered with rookie mistakes. Allagash founder Rob Tod recently shared 5 Tips to Brew a Better Witbier and I ran afoul of two of them. Tip 1 was to use light colored malts. As I learned and a friend who recently brewed a Blue Moon Clone kit experienced, wheat malt extract is almost always dark, especially if it is older and oxidized. It is certainly darker than white wheat malt. That won't effect the flavor, but the finished beer will not have the same beautiful, almost white appearance. I also went way overboard with the spice editions. The finished beer was brownish with a muddled flavor. I may well brew this after I finish the Irish beers.

Last night I revisited the old Irish recipes and already started tinkering. I was trying to remember exactly how it looked and tasted to see what I could do to improve it. I suspect I will continue to come back to these recipes for the next few weeks before I finalize everything and buy ingredients next month.

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.

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.

In this beer the malt is only there to provide balance to the hops. Having less control over the wort from using the extract is not much of a concern. I used a blend of Centennial, Chinook, and Amarillo hops with additions at 45 minutes, ten minutes, and flameout. The idea being to have plenty of hop aroma, bitterness, and flavor.

As opposed to the Essex Extra Pale Ale which was envisioned as a lighter, more drinkable interpretation, the Peabody Pale Ale will hopefully have a bit more attitude. While not hoppy like an IPA, the idea is to have a beer where hop flavor is at the forefront. I haven't made the trip to Trillium Brewing yet, but Fort Point Pale Ale is an excellent example of a pale ale where the hop flavor is paramount but does not effect drinkability. That's the goal here.



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 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.

I had wanted to brew a milk stout for awhile. Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro is one of my favorite beers. Zymurgy had a feature on milk stouts including a recipe for one of the original examples: Mackeson Triple XXX Stout. I combined elements of those two beers with elements of an earlier stout I had brewed and ingredients I had lying around when I formulated the original recipe for Curly's Milk Stout.

I could not have been happier with how that first batch came out. It was only a matter of time until I brewed a full five gallon batch. To brew a full batch and brew it at home required a few adjustments to the recipe. I brewed a partial mash, adding 3.15 pounds of liquid malt extract and one pound of dry malt extract at the end of the boil. The hops were Northern Brewer and Fuggles. I added the Northern Brewer at 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes left in the boil to reduce the hop flavor slightly. I also used the Burton Ale WLP023 yeast I used in the Hot Stove Porter instead of London Ale III 1318 because that is what I had on hand. I also added carbonates to the water to bring out more of the roasted character putting what I have learned about brewing water to use. I still have one bottle of the original version to compare with this version when it is done.

People ask what my favorite beer is. It is a question I struggle to answer. There is something to be said for having a flagship beer. After two years I still do not have one. If the five gallon batch comes out at least as good as the original this beer can at least be one of my flagship beers. A beer that I will make year-round and always have on hand. Once my bottles get low I can brew some more. Someday when my kegs are set up I can keep this on draught at all times too.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="332"]IMG_0644.JPG The beer looks gorgeous already.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="332"]IMG_0643.JPG Starting gravity is on point. It was a very smooth brew day.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="345"]IMG_0634.JPG I adjusted the rollers in my grain mill. At first the crush was too fine, but after adjusting again it was perfect.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="332"]IMG_0637.JPG I had to "sparge" the grain bag by soaking it twice in sparge water to have enough pre-boil wort.[/caption]

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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.

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!


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taking the BJCP Tasting 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.

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.

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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.

This was the first edition of this particular competition and it was run by The Homebrew Emporium. Last time as a novice I was paired with experienced, certified judges. This time around there were not as many experienced judges. In the morning I was paired with a novice judge who worked at a tea house. It was different and fun to be the person offering insight and guidance. At our table was a mechanical engineer and MIT grad who really knew his stuff. He was not certified, but he was in a study group for the exam where the group studies, tastes, and critiques a different style of beer every week to prepare for the exam.

The quality of beer at competitions runs the gamut from excellent to undrinkable. In the Belgian category we were fortunate to have several excellent beers. Having a smaller and less experienced group of judges enabled me to judge the mini-best in show round. At a competition, not all of the judges in a particular category can judge every beer. If the awards were based only on the score, and certain beers were tasted by judges who gave more generous scores, those beers would have an unfair advantage. In the mini best-of-show round, three or four of the highest scoring beers are set aside. Either all of the judges, or at a larger competition the highest ranked judges in a category will taste all of the beers and decide what order to put them in. Once a winner has been declared for every category, this process is repeated for the best-in-show round.

The winner was a patersbier, or table beer. It is the style of beer that Belgian monks drink every day at the monestary. This beer was clean, crisp, refreshing, and just estery enough to add complexity. After a long day of silence and tending to an herb garden, I would gladly drink a stein or two of this beer. In second was an excellent Belgian IPA. Instead of brewing an American IPA with a Belgian yeast and calling it a Belgian IPA, this beer tasted like all of the ingredients were Belgian: malt, noble/Continental European hops, and yeast. There were several Saisons that I enjoyed. The third place beer was a saison that ticked all of the boxes in terms of flavor and used brettanomyces (brett) adeptly.

The American ales I judged in the afternoon were a relative disappointment. I think less-experienced brewers gravitate more to American styles since it is what they are most familiar with. The competition wrapped up fairly early. Several of us went to Redbones in Sommerville for food and drinks. The beer selection was quite good, they had Ipswich Ale's Oatmeal Stout on cask which was excellent. If I didn't have to drive home to Beverly I would have had a few more. I made a couple new friends including Dave from Back to Basics Beer who I was paired with in the afternoon. He retired from the Coast Guard, bought a farm in the South Coast, and has been brewing for 15 years. It was great to have the opportunity to pick his brain.

While I was in Cambridge I stopped at the Homebrew Emporium and picked up ingredients for the next collaboration Andy. This time, we will be brewing together at my place. At this point it is too windy and cold to brew outside. This will be a special beer that nobody else will be able to exactly duplicate. I look forward to showing Andy and his wife Juli my setup and how I brew at home.

It was a fun day and I learned a lot. Hopefully it will hold me in good stead this weekend. One of the judges from the afternoon session said he thought I would be fine and do great. I hope he is right!

(I suck at names. To anybody I met last week, I apologize for not mentioning you by name. I should have taken notes for the blog if nothing else. Again, I suck).

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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!

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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:

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.

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.

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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!

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Brew Day: Pa's Video Board Lager (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.

The local Budweiser brewery is located in Merrimack, NH. When the textile mills were in their hay day, the Merrimack River was also among the most polluted bodies of water in the country. Pa Chalifour was certainly old enough to remember how the Merrimack River would change colors every day depending on what color dye the mills were using. I am sure the water used to make Budweiser is perfectly safe, but he would bristle at the notion of drinking a "Merrimack River Budweiser".

One of the recipes I always wanted to brew from the Complete Joy of Homebrewing was the Heiniestella European Delight. The recipe is exceedingly simple:
6.6 lbs (2 cans) of the lightest unhopped extract you can find 1.5 oz Perle hops - 60 min .5 oz Liberty hops - 2 mins

Use a lager yeast if you can get your temperature cold or use a clean ale yeast. However, the cleanest ale yeasts don't flocculate well, so you may want to use some gelatin or isinglass to get it to drop bright

Last year, right around the anniversary of Pa Chalifour's passing I thought brewing a beer that Pa would have loved would be a great way to honor him. The beer would also be ready for us to share with the entire extended family at our annual Christmas gathering.

I made a few key changes to the recipe. I converted the original extract recipe to an all-grain recipe by replacing the extract with Belgian Pilsner and Carafoam Malt. The Heiniestella would finish around 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), too small for our tastes, so I increased the grain bill hoping to finish around 6.5% ABV.

The big challenge we had was that we did not have the ability to ferment the beer at lager tempertures, in the mid 50F range. The California Lager WY2112 strain has a clean lager profile at temperatures as high as 65F. The trade-off is the low attenuation meaning less of our fermentable sugars will be converted to alcohol, so the finished beer will be sweeter and fuller-bodied than if we used a yeast with higher attenuation. I balanced that by using the leftover 0.5 oz of Liberty hops (assuming they came in a 1 oz bag) as a dry hop addition.

The finished beer didn't conform to a particular style due to the alcohol level and hop flavor, but it was excellent. We have a large extended family, and we kicked the 5 gallon batch in no time. For this year we brewed a 10 gallon batch, plus the 5 gallon beginner, all-extract version I came up with and had already brewed for Learn to Homebrew Day.

It had been a long time since we brewed a 10 gallon batch and the rust showed. We also didn't have our digital thermometer to keep track of our mash temperature. According to the refractometer our starting gravity was only 1.043 where it should have been 1.064. If that reading was accurate that means we ended up with significantly less fermentable sugars than I had hoped. The beer may only finish between 4.0% and 4.5% ABV. I am not sure why our efficiency was so poor. I suspect that our mash temperature was too high and/or we sparged too quickly. This was our first batch with our new screen in the mash tun so the water may have ran off more quickly that it did with the old screen. A sparge arm may be worth investing in as well to control the flow of water on top of the grain bed.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="359"] Our low-budget, gravity fed setup. Courtesy[/caption]


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="366"] New bazooka screen, courtesy[/caption]


If the ABV is low it won't be the end of the world. It just shows how important and how challenging it can be to come up with a process, dial it in, and repeat it every time. Extract is idiot-proof in that regard since the maltster who made the extract already extracted the fermentable sugars from the grain. The beginner version may well be closer to the intended beer than the "more advanced" all-grain version. It will add another dimension to when I compare and contrast the beginner version of the recipe with the all-grain.

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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.

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.

At the competition the stewards will organize and deliver the beer. The judges will take a look at the bottle to make sure it's filled properly. From there the bottle is popped and poured into small sampling cups. First the judge will smell the beer and take in the aroma. Then the judge will look at the beer and take note of the appearance to see how the color, clarity, and head match the style of beer. After that the beer has had a moment to warm. The judge will stick his/her nose in again to get a second sniff of the aroma. By then the judge will taste the beer taking note of the flavor and mouthfeel. The judge will score and comment on the beer's aroma, appearance, flavor, and overall impression.

When most people drink a beer he/she will mentally ask "does this taste good?" Beyond identifying obvious flaws, when a judge tastes a beer the question is "does this beer taste how it is supposed to?" In the past I have entered beers I really liked into competitons, but because the judges felt they didn't conform to style the scores weren't as high as I had hoped. When I judged at the BHC I was assigned to the stout category. I remember having several beers that were entered as Imperial Stouts that were enjoyable beers, but they didn't feel heavy enough to be an Imperial Stout. I wrote on a couple of scoresheets that I would have given the beer a higher score if it was entered as a Foreign Extra Stout.

Judges become certified by the BJCP by passing an online test and then passing an in-person tasting test. From there based on the number of competitions you judge and passing additional tests, a judge can move up in rank. After judging at the BHC I started thinking about becoming a certified judge. What made me decide to make the leap was that I felt that the knowledge gained as a judge would help me as a brewer to make better beer. As great as constructive feedback is, it would be nice to place or even win at a competition.

On their website the BJCP recommended that a prospective judge find a place in a tasting exam before taking the online exam. When I looked initially I didn't see any tasting exams in New England. If I am going on a plane somewhere it will be somewhere warm and where I can gamble, not to take a beer test. I checked back about a month ago and saw there was an exam in Portland. I contacted the judge administering the exam. He got back to me a couple weeks later advising that he had two open spots and that I needed to pass the online exam and forward my certificate.


For once my "jack of all trades" approach to brewing paid off. Having brewed several different styles I was familiar with the different styles going in. As a beer drinker I enjoy almost all styles, that certainly helped as well. Entering and judging as a novice gave me a decent background on how judging works. Beyond that I reviewed the study guide on the BJCP website. The off-flavor flash cards were particularly helpful.

After a few days of studying I passed the online exam on my first try. I have now officially achieved the ranking of Provisional Judge. Yes, the test was open-book, but it was timed. Answering 200 questions in 60 minutes is a challenge. The questions were true/false, multiple choice, and the dreaded multiple answer. I am an excellent test-taker. In the past I finished all the questions on the Wonderlic Test for a job interview. For this test I was able to answer all 200 questions in 44 minutes.

My tasting exam is on November 22. I anticipate this being more challenging for sure. The week before I will be judging at the Best of Boston Homebrew Competition on November 15 in Cambridge to help prepare. If I am going to try to find parking in Cambridge it had better help!

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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.

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.

My intuition was verified when I entered the beer in a competition. The judges seemed to have liked the beer, but felt it did not conform to the American Brown Ale style. One judge said it tasted like an "older style" brown ale which I took to mean less hoppy. They both said the beer would have scored much better as a Brown Porter. In contrast to the Hot Stove Porter which is a Robust Porter, a Brown Porter has less hop flavor and roasty character. It can be broadly described as a more traditional, English-style porter.


The beer pours an opaque dark brown color. There is a thick off white head that persists beautifully. The aroma is sweet and balanced by notes of chocolate and toasted bread. The toasted aroma flows into the flavor. There was little citrus flavor from the Cascade hops; you really have to seek it out to find it. The Willamette added an earthy flavor that works nicely and reinforces the English feel. Carbonation is medium-low with a creamy mouthfeel, and a slightly dry finish.

I am happy with the beer even if it wasn't exactly what I was going for. I do want to try another American Brown Ale. I may brew a one gallon test batch to see if I can come up with a beer with a lighter beer with a more assertive American hop flavor. I might tweak the 1944 Brown Porter for next fall. My first thoughts would be to use an English yeast and maybe an English bittering hop like Challenger. I entered the beer in another competition, but this time as a Brown Porter. I am interested to see how much higher the beer scores.

Given my initial thoughts and the judges feedback I decided if the beer walks and talks like a porter, I might as well call it a porter. In 1944 Major League rosters were decimated by World War II. Most of the players left were too old or injured for military service. This depletion enabled the hapless St. Louis Browns to win their only American League pennant before moving to Baltimore.

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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.

The grist in the all-grain version is very basic, so in this beginner's recipe there are no specialty grains to steep. All you need to do is boil the extract and add the hops at the appropriate times. I substituted Nottingham dry yeast for the liquid yeast in the all-grain recipe eliminating the need for a yeast starter. Nottingham is one of the cleanest fermenting and highest floccuating ale yeasts, so the finished beer should have more of a lager-like flavor and clarity as opposed to using S05, or other popular dry yeasts.

If you have never brewed anything in your life you can go to a homebrew shop, pick up a very basic starter kit, print this article, and have somebody who works there help you find all the ingredients to brew this as your first batch. I brewed this Thursday night, took lots of pictures, and created a slideshow almost every step of the way for you visual learners.

Pa's Videoboard Lager (Extract)


  • 9.15 lbs Pilsner Liquid Malt Extract (LME) &

  • 1lb Pilsner Dry Malt Extract (DME)

  • or 9.9 lbs Pilsner Liquid Malt Extract

  • 1 oz Pearle Hops

  • 1 oz Liberty Hops

  • 1 Packet Nottingham Yeast

  • 5 oz Corn Sugar

  • Water (If your tap water is good enough to drink, it is good enough to brew with. Otherwise purchase 6 gallons of bottled water)


  • Stock pot (at least three gallons)

  • Fermentation bucket or carboy

  • Small cup

  • Sanatizer or bleach solution

  • Airlock

  • Thermometer

  • 2 lbs of ice or two 2 L soda/1 g juice bottles filled with water and frozen

For bottling day you will need bottle caps and 2 cases of pry-off bottles (approx 48 12 oz bottles, or 12 22 oz bombers). You can buy these, or clean and sanitize used bottles from store-bought beer. Just make sure they are not twist-offs!

  1. Assemble all of your ingredients making sure you have everything you need to get started

  2. Soak the extract in a pot or sink filled with hot water. This will make it easier to pour out of the container.

  3. Bring 1.75 gallons of water to a boil in a 3 gallon or larger stock pot (brew kettle).

  4. Remove the boiling water from the burner, quickly dump in all of the DME, and slowly add 3.15 lbs of Pilsner LME. Stir as you add the LME to prevent the extract from scorching at the bottom of the kettle. If you purchased three 3.3lb cans of Briess Pilsen Light LME, just go ahead and add the entire can; it's close enough.

  5. Once the LME and DME is fully dissolved in the water, put the kettle back on the burner and slowly bring to a boil. The liquid in the kettle is now called wort.

  6. As the wort approaches boiling temperatures, a foam will start to rise called a hot break.

  7. When the wort starts to boil, wait a few minutes for the hot break to boil off, then add the 1 oz of Pearle Hops. I always smell the hops after opening the bag and before adding to the boil.

  8. Set a timer for 58 minutes for the next hop addition.

  9. While the wort is boiling, sanitize your fermenter, lid, airlock, the small cup, or anything else that will touch the wort or yeast after it is boiled. If you have, or if your kit came with a no rinse sanitizer like Star San or Iodophor all you need to do is soak your equipment. If not, a solution of 1 TSP of bleach per 1 gallon of water will work. It just needs 15 minutes of contact time, and be sure to rinse thoroughly.

  10. When the timer is down to 3 minutes, start to prepare an ice bath in a tub or sink. Add your ice or frozen bottles.

  11. Add 0.5 oz of Liberty hops and set the timer to 2 minutes. If you don't have a scale that can measure weights that small, just add approximately half the package of hops. This doesn't have to be exact.

  12. When the timer goes off again turn off the heat and add the rest of the extract. Stir as the LME is added to avoid scorching.

  13. Once the additional LME is dissolved, put the wort in the ice bath to cool. Set a timer for 20 minutes.

  14. Take the yeast packet and the sanitized cup. Fill the cup with water, sprinkle in the yeast, and stir until the yeast is fully hydrated and free of clumps.

  15. Add 2 gallons of cold or cool water to your fermenter.

  16. Once the timer has gone off and the wort has had 20 minutes to cool, add the wort into the fermenter and the water already inside. Then add additional water until you have about 5.25 gallons of total wort.

  17. Place the thermometer in the wort. Once the temperature is below 80F, add (pitch) the yeast, put on the lid or bung, and seal with the airlock making sure it is filled with sanitized water or alcohol.

  18. Find a cool dark place for the fermenter. The temperture range for this yeast us 57F-70F. Ideally this beer should ferment on the lower end of the range to have more of a clean, lager-like flavor. If you don't have a place that cool, the beer will still be fine. It may just taste more like a blonde ale than a lager.

  19. After two weeks siphon (rack) the beer to a secondary fermenter and add the leftover 0.5 oz of Liberty Hops. Keep in the secondary fermenter for 1-3 weeks. If you do not have a secondary fermenter, just add the dry hops and be sure to bottle in 1-2 weeks.

  20. Bottle: Boil the 5 oz of corn sugar in 1 cup of water. Sanitize 2 cases of bottles and an appropriate number of bottle caps. Add the sugar solution to your sanitized bottling bucket, rack the finished beer on top of that, fill your bottles about half way up the neck, and crimp on the bottle caps.

  21. Have the finished beer sit at room temperture for 2-3 weeks. I usually sample the beer at two weeks to see if the beer is carbonated yet.

  22. Once the beer is carbonated it can be stored cold, or cool if you do not have fridge space for all of this beautiful homebrew. For best results let the beer refrigerate for two days.

  23. DRINK!

A few additional pro-tips:

  • After pitching your yeast and putting on the airlock, give the fermenter a good shake and make sure there are plenty of bubbles on top of the wort. This will help make sure the yeast have enough oxygen for fermentation

  • After fermentation, oxygen becomes the enemy. Rack your beer as quietly as possible and minimize splashing when transferring from one vessel to the next.

  • Store the extra hops for the dry-hop step in a ziplock back in a refrigerator or freezer.

  • Start a brewing journal and take detailed notes about your brew day and how the beer ends up tasting. If something is off it will help identify the reason why.

  • As you start your boil keep a spay bottle of water handy. If the hot break starts to boil over, turn the heat down immediately and spray the boil over with the water to cool it down rapidly.

  • If you are dying with anticipation to try your beer while it ferments, go brew something else! All you need is an additional fermenter and ingredients. If you really get sucked into the hobby, you want to keep the pipeline moving. If you brew once a month or every couple of weeks, you will have a new beer to try every month or every couple of weeks.

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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.

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.

The past two years we brewed a spiced honey porter. In 2012 we were still neophytes and brewed an extract batch. I thought it was excellent. When we entered it in our first ever competition the judges thought it was lacking in roasty flavor. I came to realize that was a limitation of dark malt extract. Since then I always use light extract with steeped or mashed specialty grains to get the desired color and flavor. Last year I brewed a partial mash and included a pound of chocolate malt to tick the box in terms of roasted flavor. It came out exactly how I wanted until the entire batch became infected about three weeks after bottling.


This year I started with a clean slate as I sought to make a spicy winter beer using only water, malt, hops, and yeast. The spicy flavor will come primarily from late hop additions. I used the lesions I learned from The Sustenance by having a first wort addition, with most of my additions with 20 minutes or less in the boil. Some winter beers like Samuel Adams Winter Lager use bitter orange peel. I want to replicate that citrus by blending more earthy and subtle English hops with more assertive American hops.

The one I hop I knew for sure I wanted to use was Northern Brewer. The earthy, almost minty flavor is too perfect for a beer like this. From there I did a search of hops that were classified as "spicy". Cluster, which I have a well documented fetish for, showed up in the results as well. Having brewed a Cream Ale with only a 30 minute Cluster addition I know exactly the level of bitterness and flavor it would provide. When Mosiac showed up my eyes lit up. It was a hop I have wanted to use and I think it will work perfectly. It has such a unique flavor while being high in alpha acids I used it for the first wort addition, flavor addition late in the boil, and will use it as a dry hop addition. I will also blend in two British hops I'll be using for the first time, Progress and First Gold.

The grist is American 2-row barley (and light malt extract), malted oats, carabrown, chocolate, and black patent malt. I considered using honey malt in lieu of actual honey, and flaked rye which would certainly add spiciness, but was concerned about having too many specialty grains that the different flavors would drown each other out. Having never used malted oats before I am anxious to see what they contribute in terms of flavor and mouthfeel.

I was torn between using WY1318 London Ale III yeast that I have used before and love, or trying the WLP023 Burton Ale. When Beer & Wine Hobby was out of London Ale III the day I visited, but had Burton Ale my decision was made for me. According to White Lab's website the yeast will provide subtle fruit flavors like apple, pear, and clover honey. With any luck it may . Burton Ale also appears to work well with the next two beers I have in the pipeline. I also can't not brew a Burton IPA with Burton Ale yeast!

I also applied what I have learned about water chemistry by mimicking the water profile in London where so many great porters were traditionally made. I added a little bit of gypsum to add calcium and balance my sulfate to chloride ratio to help balance the malt and hop flavor. The chalk/calcium carbonate will harden the water and accentuate the roasted flavor.


The brew day itself went ok. My efficiency wasn't what BeerSmith had estimated, so the alcohol of the finished beer might be 0.5% lower than I had hoped. I need to get in the habit of taking a refractometer reading toward the end of the boil so I know exactly how much fermentable sugar I have. If it is less than I estimated or wanted I can add sugar or malt extract to make sure there are enough fermentable sugars to get the alcohol levels I am going for.

To be ready on Black Friday, the seasonably appropriate time, I probably should have brewed this a week or two ago. As it is, it will be ready in time for Christmas parties. This is a five gallon batch so there will be plenty to share!

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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.

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.

There are a few of different ways to make sure you have enough healthy yeast. If you use dry yeast, those packets almost always have enough cells. With liquid yeast you can buy additional vials/packages, but that can get expensive in a hurry. The alternative is a yeast starter. All you do is use some dry malt extract to create a low gravity wort, pitch your yeast, and let the yeast ferment and multiply in the yeast starter. After a day or two you can pitch the starter into your finished beer, or put your starter in the refrigerator so the yeast can crash out of suspension. Once that happens you can pour off most of the starter wort, leaving just enough to mix up the yeast cake at the bottom, and pitch that into your wort.

In the past I would ferment my yeast starter in either a half gallon or one gallon growler. To oxygenate the starter wort I would intermittently shake the growler. The shaking helped somewhat compared to just letting the starter sit there, but it still required a large volume of starter wort for a higher alcohol beer, or if the yeast was older and had less viable cells in the package. For the upcoming Learn to Homebrew PArty for PArkinsons we plan on brewing a 10 gallon batch. With just shaking I would have had to made a two gallon starter to have enough cells for the beer we are planning. That clearly would have been unworkable.

The stir plate works when a spinning magnet inside the plate causes a corresponding pill-shaped magnet inside the starter called a stir bar to spin inside the starter and stir the wort.


This causes a continuous aeration of the wort, forces CO2 out of the wort, and keeps the yeast cells in suspension as opposed to crashing. All of which enables the starter to generate significantly more yeast cells. This chart demonstrates the impact that a stir plate has:

Yeast Chart

With winter coming and having bigger, winter beers in the pipeline it was an ideal time to invest in the stir plate. Time is not on my side to have my new winter beer done at the seasonably appropriate time. I will be working on that this weekend. The yeast in the flask will be coming to a porter near you.


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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.


If you are artistic or creative, coming up with labels for your beer can be just as big a part of the hobby as brewing. When giving homebrew as a gift it just looks classier to give a bottle with a cool label on it as opposed to a blank bottle. It also helps the person know what is inside (duh!). Inevitably if the bottle isn't labeled the person will forget what kind of beer it is.

From there you get to name each beer that you come up with. Until very recently all of our beer names were baseball themed. Before I took my ancient Windows XP PC offline, we would use Photoshop Elements to come up with a unique label and logo for each beer. Each label had a similar layout, but each different beer featured a different ballpark and a different background color.

We then would then create albums on our Facebook page, upload the logo and any pictures related to the beer. We created the Facebook page so we wouldn't continue to spam our personal Facebook feeds with homebrewing pictures and anecdotes. That way friends who wanted to follow our brewing could, and those who didn't wouldn't have to un-friend us.

I ordered a ton of blank labels from, and would just print them at home. If I labeled every beer and did more printing, I would invest in a color laser printer. After a couple batches of labeling and then peeling approximately 50 12 oz bottles, we started labeling only gifted beer. I miss creating the labels and may have to buy a Windows 7 PC for the sole purpose of creating and printing beer labels.

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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.

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.

When working on The Substance Ale clone I mentioned how I was equal parts intimidated and uninterested in brewing IPAs. A couple weeks before I had the idea to clone it, I took advantage of Northern Brewer's 20% off sale to purchase the Plinian Legacy kit along with my grain mill and wort chiller. At that time I had just brewed a Red IPA that was OK, but was missing something. I knew I had a lot more to learn about brewing a great IPA.

[caption id="attachment_488" align="alignnone" width="442"]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.[/caption]

I am too lazy to to troll Beer Advocate to find somebody to trade #beermail with, so I haven't had a chance to try Pliny the Elder. Brewing a clone of one of the best IPAs in the world seemed like a good way to learn more about brewing IPAs. In the process I'll have five gallons of a close approximation of a world-class beer. Most of my recent brews have been either session or regular strength in terms of alcohol level; it will be nice to have a big beers in the house. Sometimes at the end of the night it's nice to kick back with a big IPA or imperial stout as a way to cap off a drinking session.

[caption id="attachment_490" align="alignnone" width="384"]This was my first time using a hop shot. Instead of actual hops, the shot contains hop extract. This was my first time using a hop shot. Instead of actual hops, the shot contains hop extract.[/caption]

I waited to brew this for similar reasons I waited to brew The Substance. I used the WLP001 cultured from the original yeast starter. I actual pitched some extra yeast from the original starter into a new starter so I had enough healthy cells for this, the Pumpkin Wheat, and the Ballantine IPA clone. I then saved yeast from that second starter I can save and pitch in a third starter when I need to use the yeast again in the future. From reading the comments in Brulosopher's post, I can keep the yeast in the fridge for several months.

I brewed this at the same time as the Essex Pale Ale. When I added the late extract I put the lid back on the kettle to bring the wort back to a boil. While I transferred the pale ale wort to the fermenter, I had a boil over on the stove. As I cleaned up I forgot the hop addition at flameout. I noticed while the wort was cooling, and threw the hops in as soon as I noticed. I didn't strain out the hops when pouring the wort into the fermenter to try and compensate. If that helps extract any additional hop aroma it is a win, even if I lose a little bitterness by not adding the hops when the wort was still at a near boiling temperature.

I plan to do more research and experimentation with different hop varieties before attempting my own IPA recipe again. What I have learned from this and The Substance is the importance of blending different hops to come up with a truly unique and complex flavor. That involves using new hops I haven't used before, lots of test batches, and basically trial and error.

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.

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.

My girlfriend picked up a mix 12-pack from Southern Tier. The first beer I tried was the PMX. It was an extra pale ale in the sense the beer was extra pale in color and flavor, not an extra big or malty pale ale. It reminded me of Flying Jenny by Grey Sail and Pamola by Baxter. It was relatively light in color and malt flavor. It had a nice hop balance and a subtle notes of toasted bread which dried out the finish nicely. Having just bottled a hop-forward IPA, and with dark winter beers in the pipeline, an extra pale ale felt like a good place to start in my pale ale experimentation.

The grist was 2-row, some Caramel 60 malt, and toasted malt. The toasted malt was 2-row I literally threw in the toaster oven at 350F for 15 minutes. It's a trick Charlie Papazian outlines in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Per BeerSmith:
Similar to Biscuit or Victory malt - this malt adds reddish/orange color and improved body without sweetness. Toasted flavor. Mashing required to avoid haze.

An added plus is the intoxicating aroma of freshly toasted barley. The apartment smelled of malted goodness. If I were to scale the recipe up to a five gallon batch I probably would use Victory Malt as opposed to toasting large quantities of malt at home. I used Centennial hops for bittering and flavor additions to give the beer a distinctly American flavor, and UK Fuggles for finishing/aroma. The earthy flavor and aroma should go nicely with the dry finish I am going for. I used the same WLP001 yeast I have been using of late simply because it's what I had lying around.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="430"]IMG_0568.JPG Essex Pale Ale is on the left, I have another wort boiling on the right.[/caption]

The brew day was off to an inauspicious start when I spilled a bunch of grain trying to pour it into my BIAB bag. As a result my extra pale ale turned into a session ale. I still may add some corn sugar to boost the alcohol level. As I continue to experiment with different recipes and ingredients I eventually want to develop a house pale ale recipe that is all mine. In the meantime I can experiment blending different flavors and ingredients to see how they work together.

Learn to make your own beer from The Would-be Brewmaster on Learn to Homebrew Day, November 1st!

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