Sep 142016

My friends, I have strayed…

Over the last few years, my brewing became more and more sporadic, evidenced by the lack of posts on this site. Increased work responsibilities and other interests were competing for my time and energy and brewing became… a chore. I made a handful of batches to try and stay current, but the brewery gradually fell into disarray. My brewday documentation became non-existent. I stopped reading (and writing) beer articles. The beer, while still drinkable, suffered greatly. I had fallen from grace.

But O! I am nothing if not resilient! The fire was rekindled this weekend when I was convinced by The Hammer to enter my first homebrew competition. The only beer I had available was a Heady Topper clone I brewed a few weeks ago. Everything that could’ve gone wrong with this beer did. First I unknowingly bought an extract kit instead of all grain — oh well, roll with it, it’ll cut a couple hours off the brewday, right? Boil and hops additions went well, until I realized I forgot to use my hop spider — a huge mistake when using a plate chiller. When it came time to chill the beer, my chiller got clogged and I was dead in the water (worter?).

Five gallon Torpedo kegI wound up throwing the wort in the fermentor and leaving it in my basement overnight to cool. Pitched the yeast the following day, then ignored the beer for a month. Did not dry hop it, did not take gravity readings, I couldn’t care less about this brew. Until this competition deadline was looming.

Somewhere on Sunday, as I cleaned my kegs and racked the beer and fought a CO2 leak… as I gazed over the dust-covered, neglected collection of my brewing equipment, I got mad. I was pissed that I had let things go like this. Pissed that I let the world take the fun out of brewing. Pissed as I watched the beer world explode around me, breweries opening every day, homebrewing equipment and ingredients and techniques reaching never before seen heights…pissed at myself that I wasn’t a part of it all.

The next day I went online and ordered the ingredients needed to brew one of my favorite old recipes, Engine 57 Steam Beer. They arrived today, along with a gleaming new keg (pictured above). I’ll be brewing that beer this weekend. Next up is my IPA recipe. Then on to some other styles. I’m not stopping until I have all five of my kegs full of beer. I’m entering these beers into competitions, and I’m going to win medals. I’m getting my brewing mojo back, dammit!!

That Heady clone? Not ready to be competitive yet, and it might never be. It has a harsh hop bitterness in the finish that might mellow with time in cold storage, or might be a result of staying on the trub too long and never fade. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty, but I don’t expect a high score from it. It doesn’t matter, though — I entered it anyway. It was more of a symbolic act — atoning for my sins, getting back in the scene, and making some amazing beer.

Aug 182010

My first hydrometerWell, it was bound to happen eventually.

That picture is of my very first (and only) hydrometer. I got that in the starter kit I bought over five years ago, when I began this long and crazy descent into brewing madness. Over the years, I’ve treated this thing with kid gloves – especially as the time and brew sessions kept adding up. “How cool would it be,” I mused, “to still have that original hydrometer, that connection to my humble beginnings, forever?”

I had planned to eventually retire it, perhaps mount it and hang it over that bar I’m going to build one day. I daydreamed about its last task being the measurement of my first professional wort’s gravity. It served me very well throughout the years, and today, it is no more.

My dear wife accidentally dropped it today when she was helping me clean up some of my brew gear. She feels horrible about it – she knows how much that hydrometer meant to me – and she’s keeping the pieces to make some sort of tribute or memorial to my trusty friend. Perhaps it will still find its rightful place in my personal brewing museum, as time keeps marching on and I try and make this less of a hobby and more of a profession.

However, as I think about it, I can’t be that sad. After all, it’s just a hydrometer – an easily replaceable tool, and one which I have been considering replacing with a refractometer for some time now anyway. When I stop and think about what’s really valuable, what’s been with me since the very beginnings of my brewing journey and what has always encouraged and supported this passion of mine, it’s my wife.

She took me to my first brewery tour at Harpoon in Boston, and we brewed our first beer together. She came with me to pick up the kit, to learn how to use that tricky hydrometer for the first time, and to drink that brew which was the best beer I’d ever had because I had made it myself. And she has put up with the never-ending array of gadgets, freezers, buckets, and CO2 tanks which have taken over our home. She encourages and inspires me, and I truly think that helps me brew better beer more than any tool could.

So, rest in peace, hydrometer. You served me well, and you will not be forgotten. I raise a glass to you tonight – to brews of the past, and the brews of the future you will not be there to measure. However, I shall not be sad, for I still have the really important things in life, and to lose sight of that would be the real tragedy here.

Mar 202009

Holy Hops!

Holy Hops!

So, probably the most unique and interesting beer event during my hiatus from the blog occured a couple of weekends ago. Girlfriend and I were lucky enough to be invited for dinner at the home of some friends of ours. One of said friends (we shall call him J-Dawg for privacy’s sake) is a phenomenal cook and a fellow homebrewer.

Dinner was excellent, and we also got the chance to sample an IPA J-Dawg had crafted. I thought it was excellent, reminiscent of a fresh/wet hops IPA like Sierra Nevada’s wondeful Harvest series. J-Dawg does not fear the hops (he was co-brewer on our “Pale Ryeder” RyePA last year), and I was reminded of a story he had told me last time we were hanging out.

It would seem J-Dawg, some time ago, had brewed up a beer with a friend. To make a long story short, the grain for this particular brew was not milled. At all. Like, not even cracked a little bit. Now, you experienced homebrewers are probably groaning as you know where this is going, but for those who might not realize the significance of this fact, let me explain.

Beer gets its flavor from malt and hops. The sweet malt and the bitter hops ideally balance one another out, creating the harmonious flavor experience we call beer. When one of these flavors is not in proportion to the other, you get an unbalanced beer. When one of these flavors is completely absent, well…

J-Dawg does not like to talk about this beer, and he wears an obviously pained expression when the story comes up. However, for whatever reason, he has held on to a cache of said beer, which I now wanted to try. Luck was my lady that night as a bottle was produced!

I drank some, and I must say, it was indeed the hoppiest beer to ever cross these lips. However, it wasn’t THAT bad. I swear, somewhere on the West Coast lives a hophead who would brew this on purpose! It might not be the most drinkable session beer out there, but I could definitely see some cooking applications for it.

So, in honor of J-Dawg’s Hoptastic Bastard Ale, I’ll throw out that old standby of brewing discussion topics: What was your worst brew, and what did you wind up doing with it?

May 282008

Just when I thought I had my system dialed in… When the last brew session had gone well and I’d hit all my numbers… When I could do no wrong…Five gallons down the drain...
Yes, that’s five gallons of Engine 97 being poured down the kitchen sink. I kegged it on Saturday and noticed an interesting aroma – it was a weird fruity scent, not all that unpleasant, but definitely abnormal for this beer.

I tapped the keg for a sample tonight and the beer was just bad. I can’t even properly describe the off flavors – just a sweetish fruity aroma and a nasty taste… too sweet and too bitter all at the same time. It tasted nothing like Engine 97 – I’ve brewed this recipe quite a few times, and it wasn’t even close. I suspect some kind of infection, but where did I pick it up? I noticed the aroma out of the fermentor, so at least it isn’t my kegging gear.

I suspect it was either during cooling (I was rushing because the brew session ran late – perhaps some unsanitary water found its way into the cool wort?) or when I pitched the yeast (I reused yeast slurry from the last batch – it could’ve been contaminated anytime between harvesting and pitching into this batch).

Well, tossing a batch sucks, but it happens to the best of us. Normally, I would agree with those who say never to toss a batch, since age can do wonders for a funky beer. However, this one was definitely beyond salvage. This is only the third batch I’ve tossed in my homebrewing career – usually I can drink my mistakes, but sometimes you have to draw the line and cut your losses.

Oh, well. On the bright side, I was supposed to brew today and had to postpone until this weekend. I was upset at the time, but it was a blessing in disguise – if I’d brewed without knowing this batch was infected, I might’ve made the same mistake again. At least now I can break down and clean the heck out of my equipment, as well as take a closer look at my procedures and sanitation practices. This batch might’ve just been a one-time fluke, but I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.