Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pouring tallboys into glasses

When I was a younger man that frequented crowded bars, beer out of the bottle was ideal because my only concern was not spilling or splashing my beer if I was bumped into. I held my beer by the neck with my index and pinky finger like a douche.

As I slowly stopped going to those kind of places and really started exploring beer I realized the importance of pouring my beer into a glass. When pouring a beer into a glass it must be poured with some vigor. To truly enjoy a beer a good head of foam is essential. The size and retention of the head can vary by style, but it has to be there at least initially.

A proper pour does two things: the head traps in aromas from the beer, and it releases CO2 from solution. A slow pour intended to minimize foaming will lead to this:

The proliferation of the 16 ounce "tallboy" can has lead to, if not an epidemic of poorly served beers at least an outbreak. Beer drinkers, or God forbid beer servers can ruin a beer by trying to fit all 16 ounces in a tallboy into a pint glass. That can lead to pours like this:

No bueno. When pouring a tallboy into a glass, please pour it the same way you would a 12 ounce bottle. I start along the edge, and when the glass is 80% full I'll pour in the middle. At this point it is like driving a stick shift, I know when I need to change gears. If I am pouring one of my homebrews with low carbonation, I might pour the beer in the middle of the glass the entire time.

Getting back to tallboys, if your glass is full but there is still beer in the can, set the can aside. I keep two coasters on my end table just for this purpose. When my glass is around half empty and the head receded, I'll empty the can into my glass like this:

If this is how John Kimmich drinks out of a tallboy can, this is how you should drink out of a tallboy can.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Brew Day: Broken Fist IPA (American IPA)

This is a beer I brewed earlier this year primarily for a HomebrewTalk post about fruited IPAs. The batch was infected and I dumped the entire six gallons. The only silver lining is that I didn't waste more hops on a second dry hop. 

A long time ago Jennie and I set up a Twitter account for our home brewery. Every now and again I get Twitter alerts for that account. One day I received an alert for a tweet with a link to a Beer Advocate thread entitled: "Is West Coast IPA still relevant?"

My answer is yes, of course it is! Some drinkers are so into and obsessed with New England Pale Ales and IPAs that perhaps those drikers feel that West Coast IPAs may no longer relevant. Some are so involved in their beer geekdom that they forget that not every craft beer drinker wants to wait in line at or trade for Tree House or Trillium. The craft beer drinkers that buy beer at a store are still buying plenty of West Coast and Midwest IPAs.

Modern West Coast IPAs from the San Diego area and New England IPAs are more similar than they are different. Neither type of IPA is overly bitter and both are highly aromatic. If you served a San Diego IPA and a Vermont IPA to a blind-folded drinker that hunts "whalez", that drinker would have a harder time than they would think discerning the difference in flavor between the two. In one blind tasting I actually preferred Port Wipeout IPA, a San Diego IPA that goes for $7 a bomber, to Heady Topper. Beer drinkers in general need to be more aware that they don't know what they don't know, and that Beer Advocate, RateBeer, or Untappd ratings are everything.

Digressing to my brew day, I dry-hopped my last New England IPA so aggressively that my three gallon batch only resulted in 24 bottles. As happy as I was with it, the beer went quickly. I needed to make another IPA soon. As much as I wanted to make another New England IPA, I already had most of the hops I needed to make another batch of  Broken Fist. When I think of Southern California I think of sunshine. With summer coming, a SoCal-inspired IPA will hit the spot.

I have always hopped Broken Fist a little bit like a New England IPA with a small dry hop addition toward the end of active fermentation. That first dry hop is smaller than I would employ with a New England IPA, but it's there to boost up the hop flavor.

Beyond the hopping, Broken Fist is more of a conventional West Coast IPA. In my West Coast-inspired IPAs like Broken Fist and The Anti-Chris, I still use water high in sulfates to yield a beer that is dry and accentuates the hop flavor, whereas in my latest New England IPA I flipped convention on it's head and brewed with water high in chlorides. I use generic US 2-row malt for the most part, and WLP090 San Diego Super yeast to produce a purely hop driven beer. And yes, I use kettle finings in my West Coast IPAs to try and make a beer that is reasonably clear.

I brewed an all-grain, six gallon double batch. I employed the same double boil that I did for the North Shore Brewers Wee Heavy. After primary fermentation, I am going to split the batch. Half of the batch will be dry hopped as normal, while I will add grapefruit peel to the other half. The split batch will be for a post on another website. Citrus IPAs and pale ales aren't going anywhere, so I may as well try to make one.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Brew Day: Spontaneous Ferment Cider

Fittingly now that my last cider is finally in a keg, I have a new cider fermenting. Yeast and bacteria are all around us. It is natural and it is unavoidable. A fresh-pressed juice from an apple orchard by law does not have to be pasteurized. If you buy a jug at your local orchard that is not pasteurized, the jug will likely be adorned by some type of warning. As a result, any yeasts or other microorganisms on the apple when it was pressed are in the juice. Thus it is possible to ferment juice into cider without adding yeast.

Recently my friend Doug offered to pick up five gallons of fresh-pressed juice from an orchard in Amesbury, Mass. After he dropped the juice off, I decided to take one of the five gallon jugs, pour it into a one gallon growler, and let it spontaneously ferment to see what kind of unique flavors I might get.

Doesn't get more fresh than this!
I tucked the other four jugs into my mini-fridge. My intention was to ferment the rest of the juice with a white wine yeast. All I needed to do was free up a five gallon carboy. Three weeks later, by the time I did have a free carboy the bottles looked like this:

Bloated like me after dinner on a business trip
Much to my surprise the juice had already started to ferment. Most micro-organisms go dormant at refrigerator temperature. The CO2 that was produced caused the jugs to swell. When I broke the seals, I had to bleed off the pressure. One of the juges even gushed. Luckily I aimed the gushing juice right into a funnel.

At that point I decided to let the spotaneous fermentation go. I blended my original one gallon in with the four gallons from the refrigerator. I tasted a sample from the one gallon jug. It smelled kind of
sulphury, but tasted okay. To de-gas I may rack the cider again, but it probably just needs time.

The ability to keg and force carbonate gives more more room to experiment. I can sulphate and back-sweeten a cider with apple juice concentrate or un-fermented juice without worrying about yeast re-fermenting the added sugars.

When I finally built my keezer, my last cider was one of the first three beverages I put on tap. Cider is so easy to make I should try to keep on one draft all the time.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Keezer Build

From Day 1 the ethos of this blog has been that homebrewing can be as involving of a hobby as you want it to be. The level of involvement does not just apply to brewing beer. Many homebrewers enjoy building stuff to brew or serve beer as much as the beer itself. When it comes to building bars, man caves, and draught systems these folks are in their glory. 

Myself, I am just handy enough to be dangerous.When it came time to set up my own draught system, I wanted the design to be as simple as possible. My other goal was for the system to be flexible. I want to easily be able to serve from different types of kegs and different types of beer.

My precious....

The main component of a draught system is the keg itself. Most homebrewers use the cornelius or "corny" style keg. The corny keg was the industry standard for serving soda until the development of the current "bag in a box" system. These work well for homebrewing because there is a removable lid which can be used to rack the beer into and for cleaning.

There are two types of corny kegs with two different keg posts: ball lock which was used primarily by Pepsi, and pin lock which was primarily used by Coke. Ball log kegs are taller and thinner than pin locks. They are also more common in this day and age, while pin locks tend to be cheaper. Most experts suggest choosing and staying with one format. Think of it as the iOS versus Android of the homebrew world. 

The first kegs I bought were pin locks and I have stayed with them. In order to easily switch between ball and pin lock, or even a commercial keg,  all of the lines use swivel nuts and flare fittings. Everything is screw-on and screw off. I can easily screw on a flared ball lock disconnect. All I need to serve a commercial sanke keg is a sanke tap and a couple flared tail pieces.

A commercial kegerator can be retrofitted to serve homebrew. In addition to changing fittings on the lines, you also need to add a new tower to dispense more than one beer. The most popular and more cost effective way to serve homebrew is to convert a chest freezer into a kegerator. This is known as a keezer.

Compared to a stand up refridgerator a keezer can fit more kegs. To keep the keezer at the proper temperature, the freezer is plugged into a temperature controller. Having slowly gathered the equipment I needed for my keezer, I purchased a single mode temperature controller during a 20% off sale. Since then, cheaper dual mode (ability to heat and cool) models have hit the market. Since I am only looking to cool, this will work just fine.

There are many different types of faucets on the market. The inexpensive faucets have a rear seal and can become sticky from dried beer. This can be more of an issue with a home system that isn't used as frequently as a bar or brewery tap room. Higher end faucets use a forward seal that is less of an issue.

Perlick faucets are widely known as the gold-standard, but I opted for Intertap faucets and shanks after reading this review on Brulosophy. I also purchased Intertap's stainless steel shanks which connect to the faucets. The shanks came with barbs that attach to the beer lines. 

What really won me over is the modular nature of the faucets. I love the ability to screw off the spout, screw on a barbed tip to fill growlers, or a nitrogen tip. Instead of paying $60 or more for a stout faucet than can only do a nitrogen pour, I can purchase a $12 spout. When I don't have a beer I want to serve on nirto, I can easily re-attach the regular tip.

Most keezers have a wood collar. The added height from the collar makes it easier to fit kegs inside, especially on top of the hump that most chest freezers have. The collar also provides a safe place to drill holes to feed the shanks through. This is where the more handy and creative brewers can pretty up their keezers. One of the favorite things about my house is that the upstairs has the original wide pine floors. Originally I was going to try to give my keezer a similar finish. Then I read about what a pain it is to stain pine. My keezer is in an unfinished basement. It is not a display piece. It just has to be functional.

I purchased a couple 2x8 boards and had them cut to size at the store. I assembled the collar, measured, and drilled holes for the shanks on the floor. Next, I removed the lid on the freezer. I placed the collar on the freezer to make sure it fit. 

Even I was able to screw these four pieces together.
Four taps to start. I could probably fit two more.

Once I was sure the collar was the right size, I applied Clear Flex Shot along the edge of the freezer, and placed the collar back on. I also used the Flex Shot along all of the seams to keep the cool air in. It was very easy to use. Any excess was easily wiped up by a paper towel. Compared to spray-on insulators and gap fillers Flex Shot doesn't give off any fumes or gasses. 

Perfect fit!
Flex Shot bound the collar to the freezer and
sealed the joints.

I also mounted my gas manifold, temperature controller, and bottle opener to the collar. For something I slapped together without much effort, I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.

I can shut off any of the four lines with the flick of a switch.

I still have my mini fridge that may well contain
bottles that need to be opened.

Set it and forget it.
Once I set everything up, I put on kegs of cider, a trappist single: Chali 4, and Wet Hop Head. I had a couple leaky connections. I learned those flare fittings, and hose clamps that clamp the line onto the swivel nuts need to be super tight. 

With the collar I can't actually reach the bottom of the freezer. I was just able to suck up the spilled beer with my wet vac. Within a few days my CO2 tank was empty. I think there was a washer missing between the tank and regulator. Going forward a backup tank is probably a good idea.

Just like it took me awhile to get my brew system dialed in, I'm sure I'll get all the kinks ironed out. When I do it will be a game changer for me and my beer.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Making the leap to kegs

Investing in kegs is a leap most semi-serious homebrewers make. It is easier to clean and sanitize one keg than up to 50 bottles. If you use the CO2 tank to carbonate your beer it is ready to drink much sooner than when the beer is bottle conditioned. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) has a great introduction to kegging article on their website.

Kegging was something I figured I would start doing at some point, but had put on the back burner. After trial and error, I became quite adept at bottling efficiently. As long as I brewed regularly and didn't let my beer sit in the fermenter for too long, I always had new beer in the pipeline making the quicker carbonation less of an issue.

There are certain styles like IPA that are best served as fresh as possible. Those styles will taste better out of a force carbonated keg because the beer doesn't need 2-3 weeks to carbonate like a bottle-conditioned beer. A properly purged keg will also expose the beer to less oxygen than a bottle. A capped bottle is not a 100% airtight seal and will slowly let air in over time. 

Bottling is not without its advantages. Some of the more obvious advantages are it can be easier to bring bottles to parties and give as gifts. Some styles like imperial stouts and barleywine will change over time as they oxidize. For me, those big beers are reserved for special occasions. A keg of barleywine can tie up a draft line for a long time if beer is only pulled from it every once in awhile.

A couple years ago I purchased four three-gallon kegs with the intention of regularly kegging my beer. Before we moved to our house, our apartment was cluttered with carboys, bukets, and brewing gear. Jennie really had the patience of a saint to put up with it. However the idea of having a kegerator in the corner of our kitchen or living room was a bridge too far. With no way to chill and serve kegged beer at home, I only used the kegs for events like Jamboree and Ales over ALS

Buying our home I was just as excited about being able to have kegged beer at home and I was having a yard and being able to brew full batches outside. Over the years I looked for bargains and slowly amassed everything I need to chill and serve kegged beer. All I need to do is build my kegerator!

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Surveying the damage of my own neglect

Not only have I barely brewed over the last several months. I have also been too busy, distracted and lazy to package beers in carboys, Beers that have been ready to go for quite awhile. I couldn't even package my beers before we moved. On moving day, the movers carried my full carboys down the street from our old apartment to our new house.

As I work on getting a plumber to install a hose bib so I can get brewing soon enough, I took draws out of all of my carboys to see what beers are still worth packaging, and what beers I should just dump.

Wet Hop Head Pale Ale: My most recent batch is also the only batch I have brewed at home since June! Who am I? What the hell is going on?? Anyway, this had a really nice, floral hop flavor. It was restrained in the sense that the beer drank more like a pale ale than an IPA. The light caramel and Biscuit malt provide balanced and a similarly restrained malt flavor. This would have been a cool beer to bring to Ales over ALS. It would have been a cool story to tell attendees that the beer used fresh picked hops that were locally-grown on a family farm. Verdict: keeper

Pretty Things Jack D'Or Clone: One of my friends on Twitter recently asked how this beer came out. Much to his and my disappointment, it wasn't good. This was a three gallon batch that I fermented in a five gallon carboy. I never racked the beer to a smaller vessel. This batch was just infected. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the off-flavor was, but it wasn't good. I'm going to give this a try again, probably with a different yeast. Verdict: dumper

The Sour Chris: Coming along nicely. Has a clean sourness. If one is clean, and ten is vinegar, I'd give this about a six in terms of tartness. I'm going to give this more time to see if it adds tartness and complexity. Verdict: keeper

The Pasteinator: Man I really wanted to nail this beer, but boy is it terrible! I had originally brewed this for our club's competition. I held off because the beer was quite alcoholic. My hope was that the harshness would mellow in time. After tasting the beer for the first time in months, the harshness had lessened, but was present enough to ruin the beer. I chalk this one up to fermenting at too high of a temperature. I look forward to brewing another bock or dopplebock this winter to enjoy next spring. Verdict: dumper

Simple Cider: This has been in secondary for quite awhile. When I tasted the cider when I racked it, it was quite good. The extra time has only made it better. Verdict: keeper.

Chali 4: This was an extract Patersbier or Trappist Single I slapped together as a starter beer. My plan was to use the yeast cake from this beer to ferment a planned Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

When I took a pull and gave Jennie a taste she said it didn't really taste like anything. When I explained that it is supposed to be a light, easy drinking beer, and to imagine the beer carbonated she smiled and kind of shrugged. This was an easy beer to make and I have reasonable hopes for it. I could easily brew this again next summer to build up enough yeast for a Belgian quad. Verdict: keeper

While I still can't brew, I do finally have a chest freezer. I already had a temperature controller. I plugged the freezer into the controller, set it for 35F, and kegged Wet Hop Head, Simple Cider, and Chali 4. Now I just need to finish building my draught system.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

What I have learned selling malt

I was really hoping to have a brew day post or two ready to go by now. I have everything I need to brew five gallon, all-grain batches in a reasonable period of time now that we have our own home with a yard. On brew day I realized I was missing one critical component, a place to attach a hose. I bought the only house I have ever seen with no hose bib outside. The kitchen faucet wouldn't even take a hose adapter. With no way to chill five gallons of wort, anything other than extract is out of the question until I get that hose bib installed. Seems like as good of a time as any to reflect on three months working for Muntons.

In the time I accepted the position with Muntons until I actually started, I read Brewers Publications book on Malt cover to cover. As part of my on-boarding with Muntons I participated in live Skype training sessions with the people at the maltings in the UK. The brewers and maltsters went into great detail on the malting process and Muntons various products.

In everything I have ever sold I was a product knowledge expert. The customers I was working with were usually counting on me to educate them on the product. I have been working in sales since I finished college, but selling malt to brewers is completely different than selling cars, electronics, or insurance.

As many batches as I have brewed at home, or beers I have tasted, a professional brewer is going to know, or at least think they know, more about beer and ingredients than I do. If I compared my homebrewing to what these people do every day I could easily sound like a sports talk radio caller that compares his experience in Little League or high school to the pros. That guy always sounds like an idiot.

Every brewer approaches malt a little differently. Some brewers are married to particular malts, while others will switch malts just because one was cheaper. I had the owner of one brewery that has been open for over 20 years switch from our Propino Pale Ale malt to US 2-row, and then ask me on the phone why our malt is more expensive. After mentioning yields, degrees of modification, and flavor, I also mentioned how our malt has the added expense of coming to America on a boat.

I suspect that owner knew that I was new and was just testing me. When I met him in-person he told me that he felt Muntons' competitors had been more aggressive trying to earn his business and that he wasn't enough of a priority. The owner even said that price wasn't everything. I think I built up enough rapport with him that I have a chance to win him back next year.

What I've learned is how important relationships are.  I left a bunch of Muntons caps with one of our larger customers. The head brewer emailed me back to say his guys loved the hats. I made it a point to visit one local brewery owner at the Great American Beer Festival. I met him at his brewery. He had used our products when he worked at another brewery, but isn't in a position to buy anything from us now. Still, when I saw him he recognized me as the Muntons guy. He asked if I had any t-shirts. I didn't then, but will be sure to bring one next time I am near his brewery.

On our sales call last week my boss reiterated when a brewer offers beer to take the beer. Often brewers are too busy or disinterested to give you that time. When I do have that opportunity, it is easy for me to nerd out with a brewer as we both try the same beer. That's usually when I try to sprinkle in my beer knowledge and talk more about Muntons.

This week I am flying to Buffalo, NY to meet with an existing client. While I am in town I plan to spend a day knocking on doors, and another day in Rochester, NY doing the same thing. If I am lucky I'll get a couple of decent leads. If I know who to ask for next time I am in the area, that's a win. If I had a chance to build any type of rapport during my first visit even better. Maybe they will remember the 'Muntons guy'!

I think that is where outside sales, and selling to business is different from inside sales to the public. Yes, follow up is important in any type of sales, but your best chance of closing someone you have on the phone or at your store is when that person is on the line or in front of you. I know when salespeople call me I avoid them like the plague. With malt, even when a customer says they are going to buy from you it could be weeks, months or never. My job is to keep showing up until they do.

"80 percent of success is just showing up" —Woody Allen
That one line is basically what I do.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ales Over ALS 2017

In sixth grade I put off and I put off starting my project for the school science fair. Finally, a couple days before the fair I slapped together the easiest experiment I could think of. I tested static electricity by rubbing my feet on a carpet and touching a door knob. As a visual aide I drew pictures of myself rubbing my feet on the carpet, and the spark produced. As I presented my experiment to my class and how I had tested my hypothesis about static electricity, one intrepid classmate asked "Did this take you five minutes?"

Somehow I received a B minus for my "work". I was never the most devoted student, but I remember feeling embarrassed seeing everyone else's displays that they had put weeks of work into, then seeing my sad project. I was reminded of that feeling at this year's Ales Over ALS.

Last year's event was an emotional experience. I had planned to brew Larrupin Lou's for months, and Pugnacious Pete's for weeks leading up to the event. This year I had planned to brew a witbier, then I let life get in the way. In addition to my new job with Muntons and all the traveling that has entailed, we finally bought a home! As exciting and at times unnerving the past couple months have been, I was never able to brew the witbier. 

Plan B was to bring Wet Hop Head. I figured telling people at the event that the beer was made with freshly harvested hops from Essex County would make them excited to try the beer. The week before the event I attempted to keg the beer and I realized I had lost my keg post socket. That meant I couldn't remove the dip tubes for cleaning or check the O-rings.

Plan C became to figure out what beer I had in bottles that I could bring and not run out of. The one beer I had more than a case of was Hazy Brown. That beer scored a 37 in a BJCP competition, and I was thrilled with how it came out. Additionally I found a case of an old cider while moving that I also brought to serve at the event. The cider was my take on Woodchuck Belgian White.

The day of the event I iced the bottles down in my cooler. After parking my car I tasted the Hazy Brown. Bottled in April it had held up nicely, but it was slightly oxidized to me. For the competition I decided to enter my Witcidre into the competition.

People seemed to like the cider. I think more people liked the Hazy Brown and it may have done better in the People's Choice voting. Three of the four judges gave the cider very favorable scores and writeups. One judge was decidedly harsh. To be fair, I agreed more with him.

This was a cider I made in early 2013. At that time I had been brewing for only a few months. I was still working at Target; After Christmas I stocked up on Archer Farms (Target Brand) Cider that had gone on clearance. I found the idea for a Belgian cider on a HomebrewTalk forum. When it was young, the cider was very dry and tart. I probably used the wrong type or orange peel or just used too much of it. In time that faded, but so too had the spice and any yeast character.

Instead of coming up with a plan and following that plan to brew something cool and interesting, I dug through my cellar and just brought whatever I could find. Both beverages I brought were enjoyable enough, but neither were the best representation of what I am capable of as a brewer. 

This is six weeks after I couldn't manage to bring anything to Jamboree. Instead I got Muntons to sponsor the event and set up a table to exhibit. At least I exhibited until it rained. Currently I have Thomas Brady Ale, Sour Chris, Simple Cider, Pastinator, Jack D'Or Clone, Wet Hop Head and Chali-4 still in carboys. I need to get these beers in kegs and bottles, and then get brewing again.

I have a house with space to brew outside, a basement to store grain in bulk, and space for a kegerator. Next weekend it is time to fire up that kettle and get back on track. As for Ales over ALS 2018, I decided on my way home from Ales over ALS 2017 what I want to bring. I am going to brew it sooner rather than later, because this brew will need a bit of time!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tasting Notes: Summer of Jennie & Transistor Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Do you know the Muntons man??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Brew Day: Pretzel Wheat Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, June 19, 2017

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

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

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

The last bottle...for now!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the full recipe here.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Brew Day: Summer Somewhere 2017 (British Golden Ale)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Searching for a new brewhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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