Monday, June 27, 2016

Brew Day: Commonwealth vs. Chalifour (Belgian-style Tripel)

It has been a long time since I have brewed anything. My last brew day was Summer Somewhere 2016. That batch is still in the secondary because I have been both busy and lazy.
Andy's younger brother AJ usually stops by when we brew all-grain batches at Andy's house. AJ is turning the big 3-0 at the end of July and wanted to brew a birthday beer. He thought a Belgian-style tripel would make sense. Thirty, tripel, get it?
A tripel is a high alcohol, yet light-bodied beer. The grist is pale and/or pilsner malt, with sugar used to lighten the body and increase the amount of alcohol. Traditional examples do not exhibit a ton of hop flavor. Most of the flavor in the beer is produced by the yeast and the alcohol. The margin for error is very small without the presence of dark malts and/or dry hops to cover up any flaws.
When working on the recipe it became clearer how difficult the beer would be to brew.
  • We would need to use Lactic Acid to lower the pH of the mash because the lighter malts in the beer are less acidic than darker malts. 
  • The beer would need to mash for 90 minutes to ensure the wort would be as fermentable as possible, and the beer would finish dry.
  • The boil would also need to be 90 minutes for several reasons: minimize DMS which Pilsner malts can be more prone to, this would allow us to sparge for longer and get more fermentable sugars from the grain, while boiling down the extra wort produced.
  • We would need a big yeast starter to ensure the fermentation is as complete as possible. If the beer has too much body it won't be as drinkable as it should be.
  • The beer would have to ferment in the mid 60s, at least initially, to make sure the alcohol in the finished beer isn't hot, harsh, and solventy. We don't have a temperature controlled fridge or freezer, but Andy's basement should be cool enough.
AJ threw this out there at the end of May. To have any chance of having the beer be ready for AJ's birthday it would need to be brewed sooner rather than later. We tried to figure out a day in late May or early June where we could brew, but there wasn't a day that could work for everybody. Ultimately Andy and AJ brewed this one without me, while I was at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Boston.
To make the brew day as easy as possible I printed the instructions, pre-measured the water salts, gave Andy a crash course on using the pH meter and adjusting the mash pH with the lactic acid, and made a yeast starter the night before.
I asked Andy how the brew day went. They mash temperature may have been a little low. Andy was using a digital thermometer, and his cat ate through the cord which connected the probe to the display. They ended up pulling off some of the wort, heating it up, and adding it back to the mash to try and compensate.
I'm sure I'll be there when it is time to rack and bottle. The beer should be ready for AJ's party, but it will probably improve with more time to mellow in the bottle. I will probably bring a couple of kegs to the party to share as well.
Click here for the recipe.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pilgrimage to Homebrew Con: Wrapping up the Conference

In my first entry of the series I talk about the trip and what Homebrew Con is about. Click here
In my second entry I discuss the first couple days of our trip. Click here
In my third entry I recap judging at the NHC final round. Click here
As I write this, Homebrew Con ended about ten days ago. A few things are abundantly clear: this now four-part recap is entirely too long, my recap is no longer timely, and there is a fair chance people have lost interest. I think it is time to wrap things up.
The conference consists of numerous seminars, a keynote address, a homebrew expo, a Craft Beer kickoff party, Club Night, and a Grand Banquet and Awards ceremony.
After I finished judging and ate lunch, Jennie and I checked out the expo. The expo consisted of dozens of vendors with various displays, promotional swag, contests, and give-aways. By the end of Saturday I had several samples of malt, a bunch of different bags of hops, several sachets of dry yeast, stickers, and various other items. I was lucky enough to snag a Northern Brewer extract kit which I will probably brew up in the fall. I was happy to win it, but it was heavy carrying it around all day. The expo had numerous homebrew clubs and craft brewers pouring. Self-control was the only thing keeping anyone sober.
Also in the expo the AHA was selling merchandise and books from Brewer's Publications. Next to the merchandise various authors were scheduled to have signing sessions. I brought most of my brewing books with me just in case I had the opportunity to get them signed.
I got to meet John Palmer author of two books that I owned, the seminal book How to Brew, co-author of Brewing Classic Styles. He also wrote the book Water as part of Brewers Publications brewing elements series (YeastHops, and Malt being the others).  I took the opportunity to purchase Water and have all three of his books signed. Palmer was very polite, cordial across the same way he does in his books.
Two days later I wanted to have Gordon Strong sign my copy of Modern Homebrew Recipes. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes I realized that I left the book back at the hotel and accidentally took my already signed copy of How to Brew. This was the morning after Club Night. It was a miracle I remembered to wear pants. More on that later.
As casually as possible I left Gordon Strong's line and hopped into Michael Tonsmeire's line to have him sign my copy of American Sour Beers. I bought the book when I purchased Water. I told Tonsmeire that I had just started dabbling in sours with the Dawson's Kriek and another kit. He was gregarious and gave me some great advice to learn about brewing sour beers so I can start designing my own recipes.
Sam Calagione, owner and founder of Dogfish Head made the keynote address and supplied Biere de Provence for the toast. The Craft Beer Kickoff featured several craft brewers from the Mid-Atlantic region.
I enjoyed the seminars. For the most part they were informative without being too dry. I didn't have time to take in all of the seminars I would have liked, but happily they are recorded and available on the AHA website to all AHA members. Two of the seminars gave me an idea for a fun project for Jamboree; we'll see if I have enough time and money to brew the four beers I want to make, and if there are enough draught lines at the event.
The highlight of Homebrew Con for me was Club Night. All AHA affiliated clubs are invited to attend and pour at Club Night. More than just showing up and pouring beer, clubs build elaborate displays and dress up in costumes. One club build a jail cell, dressed up in orange jumpsuits with D.O.C on the back (Department of Consumption), and were pouring beer out of a prison urinal. A club from Lancaster, PA wore Amish costumes and had taps coming out of a cow's udder. Another club dressed up as pirates, built a "pirate ship" bar that they wheeled around the convention floor. I enjoyed the beer on Club Night more than I did at the Craft Beer Kickoff.
Club Night was on Friday and I felt it all day on Saturday. The one seminar I was most looking forward to was the Beer Bloggers Rountable at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. I barely made it there at 9:15, and had to get up and use the facilities about 10 minutes after sitting down. As you can see in the picture, the panelists weren't feeling much better than I was. During one seminar on regional IPAs I struggled to drink the samples provided as part of the presentation. Jennie and I went on a tour at Heavy Seas lead by brew-master Chris Leonard. The tour was excellent, but I struggled to finish the samples that came with the tour.
From Heavy Seas we took an Uber to World of Beer and slowly I started to feel better. We met a couple of brewers from St. Louis who were buying and sharing the rarest beers from World of Beer's impressive selection with us and the awesome staff.
After several hours we ventured off to Max's Taphouse. I ran into a homebrewer named Vinny from the South Shore that I had met over Twitter. He was partying with John Palmer and the Brulosophy guys. I ended up in some epic pictures with Marshall, the original Brulosopher, and everyone in the group.
The next morning our Uber's GPS made us miss our bus from Baltimore to New York. With no chance of making our connecting bus from New York to Boston, the only way we could make it home was to take the train to BWI airport and buy the last two seats on a flight to Logan. Luckily it was a direct flight and the added bonus was we made it home that much sooner.
The week was an absolute blast. Every serious homebrewer should make it to Homebrew Con at least once. Homebrew Con 2017 is going to be held in Minneapolis. That is the closest major airport to Jennie's family in Wisconsin. Hmmmm.....we may have to go again next year!
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Monday, June 20, 2016

Pilgrimage to Homebrew Con: Judging at the NHC Final Round

In my first entry of the series I talk about the trip and what Homebrew Con is about. Click here
In my second entry I discuss the first couple days of our trim. Click here
Wednesday was the final round of judging at the National Homebrew Competition. The AHA and BJCP were looking for judges and stewards. Not knowing if I would ever have another opportunity to judge in the final round I really wanted to do it. I also didn't want to ditch my girlfriend for an entire day during our vacation. I ended up volunteering for just the morning session so we could spend the afternoon together.
Given my low rank, I figured I would be paired with an experienced judge. I sat down at my table, and saw I would be judging with Mike Dixon. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it right away. Once we started judging I realized he is the admin for the BJCP Facebook Group. When I asked if that was him, he confirmed that he is the Communication Director of the BJCP. During a later seminar, author Denny Conn gave Mike a shout out as the first friend he made in homebrewing.
Mike is a great guy. He is laid back, with a great sense of humor, and will use some colorful language if you meet him in person. It was a great experience to work with a judge that experienced. We were assigned Strong Ales which consisted of American and English Strong Ales and Barleywines. It was reassuring to me as a judge that my scores and thoughts were generally close to Mike's, even if I was usually a couple of points higher.
We went through our flight fairly quickly. This was aided by the modified scoresheets we used that employed check boxes for the different characteristics of the beer, with space to add any comments or feedback a judge might have. Most competitions require the judge to write everything out. At one competition I judged seven Northern English Brown Ales in a row and one every one I wrote out by hand "caramel malt flavor, with a dry finish". That is what the beer is supposed to have, but writing it out on almost every score sheet is tedious.
There were three flights (three pairs of judges) at our table judging the same category. The judges at each flight selected one to three beers to advance to a mini-best of show (BOS) round. The highest ranking judges will taste the beers that advanced to the mini-BOS and determine which beers place first, second, third, and if any other beers deserve an honorable mention. This is done whenever there are multiple flights to ensure consistency.
For example, let's say I gave Beer A a score of 38, and another judge judging another beer in another flight gave Beer B a score of 36. If the award places just went by score Beer A would have placed higher based on scores generated by two different judges. Who's to say that I wouldn't have given Beer B a 39 if I had judged it?  With a mini-BOS judges can taste the best beers side-by-side and discuss which ones are the best and why.
I wasn't selected to participate in the mini-BOS due to my relatively low rank. Initially I was going to observe Mike and the other highly-ranked judges do the mini-BOS, but after waiting for several minutes I decided to eat some lunch and start taking in the rest of what Homebrew Con had to offer.
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pilgrimage to Homebrew Con: Tuesday and Wednesday

Jennie and I both went to the conference. Initially I felt that Jennie was hesitant about going. Not that she wasn't going to go, but I don't think she was convinced she would have fun. Homebrewing started as something for us to do together, but over time I became more consumed with the hobby. It became more my thing than our thing. She wanted to do a some touristy type things on our trip.
Jennie wanted to visit Washington D.C., attend a Washington Nationals game, and attend an Orioles game in Baltimore. The schedule didn't work out for us to visit Nationals Park, but we did spend a night in Washington. We took the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York to DC. We had just enough time to walk around the National Mall and all of the monuments before dark. After walking and dealing with screaming kids, we went to Meridian Pint and enjoyed several beers off their superlative draft list including Abraxus by Perennial Artisan Ales.
The next day we took the train up to Baltimore and just made it to the BJCP Judge's reception. We grabbed a couple of seats in the dining car and drank a couple of Yuenglings to justify sitting there. At the reception I particularly enjoyed Peter Jones and Michael Stein's presentation about Pre-Prohibition Porter. After the reception wrapped up we checked into our hotel, unpacked, and relaxed before heading down to Camden Yards to see the Orioles and Royals.
Before the game we stopped off at Pratt Street Ale House for food and drinks before the game. The bar was formerly the production facility and brewpub for Oliver Brewing Company. I enjoyed their traditional English styles. Any brewery that produces a Dark English Mild gets a thumbs up emoji from me! Located across from the convention center where Homebrew Con was held, we actually went back to Pratt Street the next night when we wanted a quick bite between events.
We had great seats in the lower bowl behind home plate for the game. The craft beer situation at Camden Yards compares favorably to Fenway Park. The park had plenty of craft beer stands featuring numerous beers from local staples Heavy SeasFlying Dog, and Du Claw on draught, as opposed to Harpoon, Sam Adams, or Wachusett maybe having one or two beers to choose from. One Heavy Seas stand featured "Firkin Fridays" that featured Heavy Seas beers on cask. Beyond that, there were beer vendors in the stands throughout the park, as opposed to Fenway where they are only in the first few rows. Prices were similar to Fenway. The concourse at Camden Yards are at least three times the size of Fenway Park which probably gives the Orioles more room to serve more beer.
Inside the old B&O Warehouse over the right field fence is Dempsey's Brew Pub and restaurant. Open after the game ended, we figured we would check it out. The place was really nice with lots of TVs, great staff, and some solid local craft beers in bottles. The house-made beers were disappointing. We tried the IPA and Golden Ale. I honestly think these recipes were designed to make oriole orange beer, and everything else was an afterthought.
We probably made it back to the hotel by midnight. I had to be up early to judge at the final round of the National Homebrew Competition!
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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pilgrimage to Homebrew Con

Homebrew Con, formerly known as the National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) is the American Homebrewers Association's (AHA) largest event of the year. Spanning three days of seminars, exhibitions, and trade shows Homebrew Con is truly an epic event.

When I first learned of the NHC it didn't sound like something I would be interested in. Traveling to another city for a conference felt a little stuffy. I wasn't advanced enough in my brewing that I would want to sit down and listen to highly technical seminars about beer I might not understand. From reading Brulosophy and other blogs, and the BeerSmith podcast it became clear the NHC was not what I thought it was. Other brewers felt the same way which was why the AHA re-branded the NHC as Homebrew Con.
As soon as I saw that Homebrew Con 2016 would be in Baltimore I decided we had to go. I spent the summer of 2004 in the area and looked forward to going back. Baltimore is a manageable eight hour drive which made attending more affordable. The AHA lined up discounted rates at numerous hotels within walking distance of the convention. We were able to book a suite a ten minute walk away for less than $200 a night. When I saw how much it would be to park my car at the hotel we decided to take Bolt Bus down.
In addition to Homebrew Con itself, there were numerous other events going on in Baltimore during convention week. The final round of judging for the National Homebrewing Competition coincides with Homebrew Con week. Additionally the Beer Judge Certification Program organizes several events of its own.
When we decided to go I wanted to do everything! Who knows if I would ever be able to attend another Homebrew Con? The convention was in Baltimore this year and it will not likely be back on the East Coast again for several years. I wanted to make the most of the entire experience.
The week went by so quickly. For two days after it was over I was actually, literally sad. There's a lot to cover. Check this space for all the details this week! 
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tasting Notes: Broken Fist IPA (American IPA)

It seems like whenever I brew something that comes out exactly how I wanted, or is at least pretty close to how I wanted, the beer is gone in a day. This was what happened when Andy and I brewed the first batch of Pa's Video Board Lager. The extended Chalifour family kicked the five gallon keg in less than a day. This was also the case with my three gallon batch of Broken Fist IPA
I brewed exactly three gallons, just enough to fill one of my three gallon kegs. Without the ability to chill and force carbonate, I added some priming sugar to the keg and carbonated the beer naturally. Even when keg-conditioning I typically like to purge the kegs with CO2 to help the beer maintain as much freshness and eliminate as much oxygen in the keg as I can. Sure enough, my CO2 tank ran out of gas on packaging day. All I could do was fill it up, prime, and hope for the best. 
On Memorial Day weekend I picked up ingredients for my next collaboration with Andy, and swapped out my tank to serve Broken Fist and the Wisconsin Belgian Red clone on Sunday. When I tapped those kegs it was the first time I had tasted the finished product of either beer. I was scared that something went wrong during conditioning and the beers could be infected. I made sure to bring a case of Newburyport beer as backup. 
After the first foamy solo cup, the beer had a nice carbonation and hop aroma. I couldn't escape the feeling that the hop aroma would have been more pronounced if I had purged the keg. The beer wasn't too bitter, and had a nice balanced mouthfeel. If anything, the beer could have used a touch more hop bitterness. The hop flavor was citrusy, while the malt provided enough balance. The fermentation character was nice and clean. The hops were the star, and the beer did have a "West Coast IPA" feel. 
I grabbed a tasting glass so I could see the beer before it was all gone. The color was on point. The clarity was disappointing. I think I need to start using gelatin, or biofine as Jennie doesn't eat red meat. I disassembled my jockey box, and soaked all the lines in a hot cleaning solution. Ideally I would have run the solution through the lines. That might have also caused haze in the beer as well. The beer tasted fine. The appearance is just something the perfectionist in me wants to improve. 
Adam loved the beer. Andy stopped by later on and enjoyed the beer too. My future cousin Corey filled up his red solo cup multiple times. The consensus was this beer is a keeper. I might increase the hop rates a little bit, but the bones of a new house beer are definitely there. 
Give me a hell yeah!
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