Jul 062009

Summer beer

Summer beer

With the Fourth of July officially in the bag, we move into the “dog days of summer” phase of the year. What have you guys been brewing up for the hot months of July and August? Are you still making Hefeweizens, Wits, and light lagers? Anyone bucking the trend and making Imperial Stouts or something? Super organized brewers already planning their pumpkin spice brews for Thanksgiving?

I’ve got one Witbier planned (didn’t get to it this weekend), along with the 5 gallons of my banana wheat beer (which is aging nicely, with the banana becoming a muted tone instead of an attention hog). Then what? Maybe a lager – I’ve had Kölsch on the mind for awhile. Anyone have a good recipe?

Jun 222009



Well, you can’t win them all.

I kegged up the summer wheat beer I brewed up a few weeks ago, and I knew I had a problem as soon as I opened the fermentor and the rich smell of ripe bananas washed over me. My first thought was some sort of infection – I had used Wyeast’s 3333 – German Wheat and expected a nice, clean flavor like an American Wheat (my first yeast choice, which the homebrew shop was out of). However, a little reseach led me to the fact that 3333 can indeed throw out banana esters when fermented a little on the high end of the temperature range. I had fermented this in the kitchen and the ambient temperature probably ranged from 65-75°F. Here is where laziness came back to haunt me – I have a fermenting refrigerator and forgot how important a cool fermentation is for a clean tasting wheat. I should’ve used the fridge and had this beer fermenting in the very low sixties.

Anyway, what’s done is done, and I now have an interesting brew on my hands. There is a definite banana flavor and aroma there – mixed with the citrus notes from the grains of paradise, the flavor reminds me of those Tropicana orange/banana fruit juice blends. The base reminds me a bit of Sam Adams’ Summer, which is sort of what I was aiming for, but the banana really throws it off. It isn’t fully carbonated yet – adding even a touch of carbonation helped the beer even out quite a bit, and I’m hoping some cold conditioning and proper carbonation might save it in the end. It is definitely drinkable at this early stage, but it is certainly not my best work, and a problem which could have been easily avoided. Maybe it will wind up drinking like a slightly weird Hefeweizen – I’m crossing my fingers.

I was hoping this would be my first competition beer – I might enter it just to see what the judges make of the flavor, but I’m not bringing home any Best of Shows with this one…

Jun 012009

Blichmann Engineering's BeerGun

Blichmann's BeerGun

With my newfound desire to enter my beer into some competitions, I needed a way to get it out of the kegs and into bottles. I’ve been messing around with filling growlers and trying out a Carbonator Cap for homebrew portability, but I wanted a way to bottle my beer that would preserve the quality and allow me to send some off to the judges. Enter the BeerGun by Blichmann Engineering.

Are any of you using this beast? It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of draft-to-bottle technology.

For those unfamiliar with the issues of going from keg to bottle, beer will foam when exposed to rapid pressure changes – this makes filling bottles from a pressurized keg difficult. The only real solution used to be counter-pressure bottle fillers, which are unwieldy contraptions that pressurize the bottle and allow you to fill it without the beer foaming all over the place. The BeerGun is supposed to be a much more elegant solution, gradually reducing the pressure of the beer and allowing for one-person operation.

It should be here in a couple of days, and I’ll be sure to post a full review once I get a chance to use it. I’ve already missed the NY State Fair competition deadline, so I’ll have to check the AHA/BJCP calendar and see what my next target is.

May 262009

Speckled vs Reckless

Speckled vs. Reckless

The Memorial Day testing is complete, and I am happy to report that my Old Reckless Hen (ORH) has edged out Old Speckled Hen (OSH) in a completely biased and partial competition! Here’s the tale of the tape.

Appearance: The beers look nearly identical – a rich copper color with a thick head that sticks around awhile but vanishes with no lacing. If anything, ORH was a touch darker, which makes sense since it was a partial boil extract brew. Winner: Tie

Aroma: Upon pouring, OSH greeted me with a skunky odor – perhaps due to the long distance the beer traveled and the clear bottle (why?!?) it came in. The skunkiness dissipated a bit and gave way to an aroma that reminded me of iced tea. ORH had a much more appealing aroma – no skunkiness, and a slightly sweet, fruity note hanging very discreetly in the background. For some reason, it reminded me of those orange candy circus peanuts that taste like bananas. That’s a horrible description, since you will conjure up all kinds of negative connotations, but I assure you, it was a pleasant and very subtle scent that enticed you to take a sip. Winner: Reckless

Mouthfeel: Both beers drink very nicely. Moderate carbonation with a soft feel on the tongue. They both finish clean on the palate, with no syrupy residue and a pleasant bitterness on the tail end. However, the bitterness in the OSH was a bit more refined and less harsh than ORH. Points go to Speckled here, but I’d like to point out that Reckless is only three weeks old and that harsh bite will mellow nicely. Do I hear rematch? Winner: Speckled

Flavor: OK, so here’s what really matters. Both beers are tasty, with nice malty backgrounds. However, with OSH I pick up an almost lemony flavor – a brightness that’s not quite unpleasant, but seems a touch out of place. Combined with the iced tea aroma, I feel like I’m drinking a spiked Lipton’s at times. This effect was accentuated as the carbonation faded and the beer flattened out. The ORH has a chewier, more complex taste – next to the malt, there are some delicate notes of…what, exactly? Almost fruity, but it disappears too quickly to pin it down. I like both of these beers, but I’m going to give the points to Reckless, simply due to the slightly fuller & more complex taste. Winner: Reckless

Overall: Well, there you have it – Reckless wins by a nose. However, we have to consider the fact that one beer is fresh and on draft while the other has been shipped halfway around the world in a clear bottle. Maltose’s kit came very close to the original, and some of those evasive fruity notes might be due to the two yeast packs that got pitched on brewday. I’ll take the victory, although I think Old Speckled Hen would taste much better in an English pub and Old Reckless Hen needs to mature and mellow out a bit more. If anything, the reckless brew experiment should prove to new homebrewers everywhere – relax! You WILL make beer, and chances are it will be pretty good!

May 172009

Let me just say, corny kegs are awesome. Not only do they make racking days a piece of cake, they apparently have mystical powers which protect and nurture your beer.

I needed to get ready to keg the Old Speckled Hen clone I brewed up a couple of weeks ago. I had some kegs from last summer sitting in the chest freezer – an almost-kicked boysenberry wheat and a few gallons of my RyePA (Pale Ryeder). It had been almost a full year since I had tasted either of these beers, and I was expecting them to be long past spoiled.

I tasted the Pale Ryder first, figuring it would have held up better against the ravages of time. Indeed, the beer tasted fine – great, even. Perfect carbonation level, good balance, just a touch of that heavy, almost syrupy mouthfeel found in Imperial IPAs. I enjoyed a quick sample and turned to the other keg…the wheat beer. There was no way this beer was still good. I braced myself for the unpleasant task of cleaning out the keg and dragged it outside.

I dispensed a little beer and sniffed it. It smelled OK. Ah, you only live once, right? I gave it a taste…and it was delicious!! I immediately dispensed the remainder of the keg into a pitcher, shocked that the beer had held up so well. I see it as a sign my sanitation and racking procedures are OK. What’s the longest you guys have kept a beer in a keg?

In other corny news, I kegged the Old Reckless Hen tonight, and it tasted pretty good out of the primary – can’t wait to try it with some carbonation. I’m going to enter the Old Reckless Hen, the new wheat beer that’s almost ready, and, why not, some Pale Ryder to the NY State Fair. This will be my first competition, so I’m excited to see what kind of feedback I get. I’ll let you know!

May 112009

American Craft Beer Week

American Craft Beer Week 2009

Yes, beer lovers, it’s that time again – American Craft Beer Week starts today and continues through May 17th. Keep your eyes peeled for local beer events, go out and support your local craft brewers, and give thanks that we can enjoy such a huge selection of quality beers.

I will be trying to find one craft beer I’ve never tried for each day of the week, preferably from seven different breweries. I’ll let you know how I made out at the end of the week. Do you guys have any cool events near you or traditions revolving around American Craft Beer Week? Drop me an email or leave a comment and let me know!

Check out the official website and become a fan of American Craft Beer Week on Facebook to show your support!

May 102009

Boiling the wort

Boiling the wort

First off, Happy Mother’s Day to any moms out there! I’ll drink one in your honor tonight!

Yesterday was a very productive brewing day. I woke up to heavy rain and resigned myself to having to postpone yet another brew. However, a couple of hours later the rain had stopped and I thought the day had a chance of clearing up. I decided to plan a quick extract brew, hoping to sneak it in before the weather turned again.

I ran out to Maltose and picked up some ingredients – 6.6# of wheat LME, an ounce of Vanguard hops, a pack of Wyeast German Wheat, and a pound of Orange Blossom honey. My recipe was a slightly modified version of the Wildflower Wheat found in Sam Calagione’s book Extreme Brewing. I couldn’t find chamomile anywhere, so I planned on using some dried elderflower I had at home. I couldn’t find the elderflower, so I settled on some Grains of Paradise instead, hoping it would give a touch of peppery citrus to the finished beer.

A few hours later, I had five gallons of beer sitting in the fermentor. The brewday was perfect – the weather turned beautiful, everything went smoothly, and doing an extract brew saved me a bunch of time. I did a full boil in my aluminum kettle (which usually serves as my HLT) – just didn’t feel like breaking out the huge kettle when I had the smaller one ready to go.

The wort was treated to a 60m boil, with hops added at 60m, honey and Whirfloc at 10m, and spices at 1m. Since I was using the smaller kettle, I didn’t have my evaporation rate nailed down. I finished up with around 5.75G of wort, chilled down to 64ºF, and pitched my yeast. I was expecting a very short lag time since the date on the smackpack was only five days old (think that’s the freshest I’ve ever gotten!). This morning I still had no airlock activity, but upon closer inspection that was due to a loose gasket around the airlock. I wrapped the airlock with some sanitized teflon tape and wedged it in there. Problem solved, and now this beer is fermenting like crazy!

Original gravity clocked in at 1.047 (right on target – man, that 100% efficiency with extract is a nice change of pace!!) and I anticipate kegging in about two weeks. I may decide to throw some fruit extract in after primary – depends on how much of the delicate spice and orange honey flavor comes through. I also have the Old Speckled Hen clone nearing completion – I’ll probably be kegging that up next weekend, as well as starting a wine kit (Shiraz) I’ve been sitting on. Shaping out to be a very nice Spring so far!

May 042009

Well, thanks to our gracious hosts J-Dawg & Mike , my brewing drought is over and the first batch of 2009 is bubbling away! The group brew was a great time – eleven people turned out, four batches of beer were brought into the world, and numerous microbrews and homemade Buffalo wings were devoured by all.

A rainy day did not slow us down as J-Dawg & Mike’s spacious garage gave us the shelter we needed to get on with the festivities. I was brewing an Old Specklen Hen clone I picked up from Maltose Express. I got a bit of a late start because I was busy drinking beer and chatting, but once we got underway it was smooth sailing. It was a pleasure to take a break from the complexity of an all grain brew – I didn’t measure, didn’t take any gravity readings, just followed the directions in the kit (ha!) and concentrated on having a good time.

My Big Brew setup

My Big Brew setup

Continue reading »

May 032009

Big Brew 2009 poster

Big Brew 2009 poster

Yesterday was the AHA’s Big Brew 2009 – National Homebrewing Day. I’m actually a day late here, but that’s because I’ve been invited to a group brew at J-Dawg’s house (of Hoptastic Bastard Ale fame). I’ve never attended a group brew before, and I’m looking forward to it.

I wasn’t originally planning on brewing today at J-Dawg’s – I figured it would be too large a production to get all of my gear out there, and I would most likely make a few mistakes along the way due to being distracted by the food, beer, and company at the event. I was going to just show up and hang out, but I realized I’m really, really jonesing to brew, and sitting there watching everyone else brew would likely drive me mad. So, I decided on a compromise – reckless brewing.

I usually like to control every last variable in my brewing – as I’ve gotten better at the craft, isolating and experimenting with the little things has given me greater control over the final product. I usually obsessively plan each brewday, down to precisely how much water will be lost to evaporation or absorbed by my grain. Hitting my predicted numbers is a sort of game – I have never had a brewday where I hit everything spot on, but I’ve come close, and the better I get to know my system, the closer I get.

So, you can see how this would not lend itself to an enjoyable Big Brew experience. I’m going there to have fun – to celebrate the craft with other brewers, and to have a good time doing it. In a sense, the brewing is actually secondary – we’re not there to make perfect beer, we’re there to remind ourselves how much fun brewing really is. To this end, I’m using an Old Speckled Hen extract kit I bought from Maltose Express around Christmas and never had a chance to brew. Doing an extract brew (partial boil, even!) will bring me back to my brewing roots and cut down on the time, effort, and amount of equipment I need to bring. I’ll be able to have fun and remember our motto: “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew!”

Ingredients might be a bit old? Who cares. I probably won’t exactly hit my predicted gravity, or have my steeping water at exactly 155°F? No worries. I have a feeling the beer is going to take care of itself, and everything will be just fine.

I’ll be Tweeting (Twitting? Whatever the kids are calling it these days) on location at the group brew, and will post some pics and hopefully a funny story or two when I return.

May 022009

Sam Adams LongShot Competition

Sam Adams LongShot Competition

I was cruising the aisles of the ol’ neighborhood purveyor of fine spirits when I came across the Sam Adams 2008 LongShot sixer. If any of you are unfamiliar with the LongShot Contest, it is Sam Adam’s annual homebrew competition. The main prize, of course, is that some beer blogger cruising his local liquor store is going to be able to buy your beer and write about it – that’s right, national distribution by the Boston Beer Co.

Each year, three winners are selected – two homebrewers, and one Sam Adams employee brewing on their own. The top four non-employee finalists in the competition get a “most expenses paid” trip to the GABF for them and a guest, and the two Grand Champions are announced at the festival. The Grand Champions get a $5,000 one-time royalty for their recipe, which is then mass-produced and sold in the LongShot six-pack (which contains two of each of the three winning recipes).

I’ve been planning to enter this competition since 2006, and guess what – I missed the deadline again! The cutoff for 2009 entries was yesterday, and that doesn’t give me much time to get a beer brewed up, bottled, and shipped out. That means it will be at least two years before you see my mug plastered on a Sam Adams label. However, it doesn’t mean I can’t enter some other competitions, which has been a homebrewing goal of mine since I started the craft.

Are any of you guys big competition brewers? I hear the first step is to actually brew a beer, so I’m going to get working on that. I’ll let you know if I wind up entering any comps this year. And if any of you sent some bottles to LongShot, good luck to you! Shoot me a comment and let me know you’re in the mix.