Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Labor of Love 2016

Deep Ellum’s Labor of Love homebrew competition/festival was this past weekend, and New Main Brewing was well represented.  I entered three beers, the saison with pumpkin pie spice (entered as a normal saison, since the pumpkin pie spice flavor is almost non-existant), the IPA, and the Belgian quadruple.  David didn’t enter any beers, but he brought several beers to pour at the festival.  These recently-named beers made an appearance, and all went pretty quickly: Victory or Death Pale Ale, Gone Toobin’ IPA, Runaway Scrape Porter, Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Bigger NTX Stout, and the unnamed Belgian Quad.  The quad was gone first, unsurprisingly, since I only had a 1L growler of it.  The BBA Bigger NTX was next gone.  The rest were all gone by 8:00pm.  It was a good night, lots of people stopped by our tent, and everyone had great things to say about our beer.

Now, for the competition part.  I was unfortunately unable to defend my gold medal, but the saison did pick up a silver medal, which isn’t too shabby!  Back-to-back medals for that beer, so I feel pretty good about its success as a commercial beer next year.  The other two beers didn’t medal, but the IPA did score very well with the judges.  It got a 43 and a 40 (out of 50, anything over 40 is really good), with one of them commenting with something like “I would drink this beer again and again, no question.”  I don’t have the scoresheets in front of me for the exact quote, but that’s pretty high praise, I think!  The quad didn’t fare as well, averaging 29.5.  I think it really doesn’t fit into the narrow range of the Belgian Dark Strong Ale category.  I really like the beer, and so did everyone who tried it on Sunday, so I’m probably not going to mess with it much.

On the Gone Toobin IPA, both David and I felt like it wasn’t quite as aggressive with the bitterness as we wanted, so I brewed it again yesterday morning and swapped out the Magnum hops I originally used for bittering with some Columbus hops.  Everything else stayed the same, as the flavor and aroma and balance were all spot on.  We’ll see how it comes out with the tweaks.  David is also brewing another batch of Victory or Death Pale Ale coming up soon.  Hopefully we’ll have both beers ready for Pantegofest on September 24th.

As always, check out the brewery blog to see the weekly status updates on the progress of the brewery.  We have a couple of locations we’re looking at, and hope to have one picked out here soon!  Once that’s done, things should start rolling pretty quickly.  Once we can get our equipment ordered, and renovations done to our location, we can start working on getting all TTB and TABC licensing going.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Beer Updates

Thanks to everyone who came out to J.R. Bentley’s in Arlington last Friday night, it was a huge success!  The saison and porter were both big hits with the crowd.  We actually ran out of the saison toward the end of the night, so I’ll have to brew up another batch soon.  The pale ale also got good reviews, and we got some good feedback on the IPA.  While people did really like it, I think we can make it better by bumping up the bitterness just a bit, and adding to the aroma by having a longer dry-hopping.  I’ll brew that again soon, with the slightly tweaked recipe.  I’m going to do a 90 minute boil, with the bittering hops boiled the entire time.  That should bump up the bitterness some.  I’m also going to split up the flavor and aroma additions and add some earlier in the boil.  The dry hops will get increased to 10 days from 5.  I also plan to change the OG from 1.060 to 1.062.

I’m doing a one-off brew this weekend by brewing up an Oktoberfest.  It’s a few months late to be brewing it (usually brewed in March), but that’s ok.  I’m going to be out of town for a couple of weeks, and letting a lager sit at a lower fermentation temperature while I’m gone just seemed to make sense.  When I get home, I can push the temp up for a diacetyl rest before cold crashing and transferring to a keg for lagering.  Here’s the recipe I’m going with:

7.5lbs German Pilsner
7.5lbs German Light Munich
1lb German Dark Munich
0.5lbs German CaraMunich II
1oz Hallertau @ 60
0.5oz Tradition @ 15
1oz Czech Saaz @ 5

WLP820 or WLP830, or Wyeast equivalent, depending on what the store has.  It’s going to need a pretty big starter from two vials most likely.  Should be fun, only my second lager.

New Main will next be pouring at Pantegofest on Saturday, September 24th.  Come out and see David and Amanda, and try some great beer!  We’re working on getting more events scheduled for the rest of the fall, as well as putting out our next fundraiser.

The winners for Martin House's Riverside Shootout were announced this week.  Unfortunately, neither David no I won, but David's pineapple stout did make the top 10!  I'll be turning in my entries for Labor of Love 4 today, and I have high hopes that more medals will be coming our way on September 4th.  Stay tuned for more info on that.

And finally, today is IPA Day, so get out there and be hoppy!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Beer Tastings!

Planning and number crunching and brewing for New Main continues.  Sometimes it seems like it’s slow going, and other times things happen in a big flurry.  David has been doing a great job of blogging throughout the process, and you can read all about that here.

David and I have both been busy brewing up test batches to work on dialing in recipes.  We’re making pretty good progress on that front, I think, as we’ve locked in the Saison, IPA, Pale Ale and Porter.  There might be minor tweaks here and there based on feedback we might get at tastings, but we’re pretty happy with how those taste right now.

Speaking of tastings, this Friday we’re going to be having a tasting at JR Bentley’s in Arlington.  David is bringing the porter and pale ale, and I’ll have the saison and IPA.  The pale ale and IPA were both kegged this week, so both are super fresh, and we’re excited to have people try them.  I’m also going to bring a small amount of the Belgian quad to see how it’s progressing as it ages, and I might bring a couple of bottles of the saison that had pumpkin pie spice added.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to go ahead and enter Deep Ellum’s Labor of Love again this year, but David is not.  I’m going to enter the saison, quad, and IPA, since you can enter 3 beers this year, compared to just 2 last year.  The festival is September 4th this year, the Sunday after Labor Day, as always.  Entry is $30 per person, which gets you unlimited tastings of homebrew.  There was lots of great beer last year, and I expect this year to be no different.

This week we’re working on finalizing our beer names so we can start working on getting trademarks for those.  We’re not quite ready to share that yet, but should be pretty soon.  Once those are all set and trademarked, expect to see New Main popping up on Untappd as a commercial brewery, and not just a homebrewery.

I know David’s talked about this some in the past, but I wanted to touch on it as well.  Like most brewers who start a brewery, we’re coming from the homebrew world, and we are going to make sure we remember our roots.  So, we’re going to have lots of homebrew-centered events.  A homebrew competition is one obvious event, but we also want to host things like a homebrewer’s roundtable from time to time, to let local homebrewers have a chance to chat with a local brewery, and to get tips and tricks for us and each other, as well as share their beer and get feedback.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who bought t-shirts for our first fundraiser!  We’ll have more coming soon, including glassware, more t-shirts, and more cool stuff!  We will also have a small number of t-shirts available at our tasting on Friday for $25.  Keep an eye on the New Main Facebook page for more info, as well as upcoming tastings and other events.

Friday, June 17, 2016

New Main Brewing is Going PRO!

It’s been a while since my last update, and quite a bit has happened.  For those of you who aren’t my Facebook friends (I’m not sure how else you might have gotten here, but I digress…), there has been some big news in the last month.  We’re starting a production brewery!  We’re teaming up with David and Amanda at New Main Brewing to go pro.  We’re going to use the New Main name and concept going forward.  David is doing a great job of blogging about the journey of opening a brewery over at the New Main blog, so I'm not going to get into the weeds on that end.  Hopefully in a year or so, when we’re up and running, it will be fun to go back and read through that!

I’ll be the head brewer for this, and I’ve been working on recipe development and tweaking.  Between the two of us, we have several award-winning beers, and many others that didn’t win, but were still highly rated.  Too many, really, to start with, so we’re having to pick a good core of 6 or so beers to start.  I can tell you that most likely my gold-medal winning saison will be one, as will David's best-in-show-winning porter.  We’ll be getting input from the community as we do fundraising, as well.  In fact, tonight David will be at Dr. Jekyll’s Beer Lab in Pantego pouring samples from several of our beers.  If you’re in that area, you should head over and check it out.

Recipe development and going from the homebrew scale (5-6 gallon batches) to a production brewery scale (15 barrels, or 465 gallons) can be a daunting challenge.  I've been doing tons of research, and have created numerous spreadsheets filled with brewing equations to help.  Good thing I'm an IT and Excel nerd, eh?

A few weeks ago, we did a joint brew day to do a test batch of David’s witbier recipe.  We split the batch in two, and each fermented half at different temperatures, so see what the differences did to the flavor of the beer.  David will have both of those tonight, so swing by and help us decide which one to use!  Taste beer for free and give us your honest feedback.  This is your chance to have a say in what a brewery makes, don’t let it pass you by!

We're also working on coming up with a naming scheme for our beers.  We'd like to have some kind of theme in the different names.  If you have ideas, let us hear them!

This weekend is the deadline to turn in our entries to Martin House’s Riverside Shootout that we both did back in April.  David brewed his tropical stout, and I brewed the Belgian rye IPA.  Both turned out pretty good, so we’re excited to see how they do in the competition.  Next up will probably be Deep Elum’s Labor of Love.  Since I’m not technically employed by a brewery yet, since we’re still working on fundraising, I can still enter.  You can enter 3 beers this year, instead of two.  I brewed a slightly tweaked batch of saison last weekend (added a touch of wheat malt for head retention), so I’ll probably enter that.  I might enter the Belgian rye IPA if it doesn’t win at Martin House.  I also have the wit and quad kegged, so those are also possibilities.  Once the saison is done, I have an IPA recipe to try out, too, but that might not be ready to turn in before I head off for my National Guard annual training in early August.  A good showing there will hopefully help in our coming fundraising efforts.

Speaking of fundraising, you have 2 days left to buy a limited edition (one time only) New Main Brewing t-shirt to show that you were an early supporter of the brewery!  Head over to our booster.com page and buy one of each color!  On the New Main blog, you can also visit the store on the right hand side and buy things like personalized barstools at the brew pub and brewer for a day parties once we open.

Check back in the coming weeks and months for more news on upcoming events and tastings.  Hope to see you all soon!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Martin House and Podcasts

This past Sunday was the 3rd annual Martin House Riverside Shootout brew day.  I loaded up all my brewing equipment into the back of my dad’s SUV, and we headed down to Ft. Worth to the brewery.  This competition is pretty unique in that you actually brew at the brewery on your own equipment, using mostly their ingredients, and then take the beer home to ferment.  After packaging, you’ll bring 6 bottles back to the brewery in the second week of June to be judged.  Pretty cool idea, and I was excited to try it out.

We got down to the brewery a little earlier than our 11am start time, which gave us ample time to get everything set up.  We got pretty lucky and managed to snag a spot right next to New Main Brewing, which came in pretty handy later in the day (more on that in a bit).  After getting everything unloaded and setup, I went and got my base 2-row grains from inside the brewery.  The only ingredients you can use that aren’t provided are any base grains other than 2-row, and any specialty grains you want to use.  Hops and yeast are provided by the brewery.  They do this so that the winning recipe is as close as possible to how it was brewed by the homebrewer when they scale it up to brew on their system for the Pro-Am beer.

Dad and I lugged the brew kettle over to the hot water spigot and got just under what I needed for mash water.  Since the water was around 180F, we used ice to cool it down to where I wanted it, which also helped get me up to the correct volume.  I added my specialty grains to the 2-row and dumped everything into the water to start the mash.  Meanwhile, David had started a little earlier than me, so he was getting ready to start his boil.

It was a very windy day on Sunday, and David had some problems getting his wort up to boiling.  It took him a good hour and a half to get it going, which allowed me to catch up.  Since I was using quite a bit of pilsner malt, though, my boil was an hour and a half compared to just an hour for him.  Boiling went fine for both of us, with the exception of having more boil-off than we normally do.  That was probably due to having to keep adjusting the flame to compensate for the variable winds.

Once David’s boil finished, we used my wort chiller as a pre-chiller.  I had a big tub that we filled with ice, then used my chiller in that, and connected it to David’s chiller which was in his boil kettle.  This got the cooling water very cold, which helped immensely in cooling his wort.  This is where being set up next to each other really came in handy.  The timing was also perfect, as just as his wort was done cooling, my boil ended.  It was a simple matter to transfer the (sanitized, from being in his boil) chiller from his kettle to mine.  Once mine was cooled, it went into the carboy, and we all packed up and re-loaded our stuff into our respective vehicles, then headed home.  Oh, and in there somewhere David grabbed the yeast for both of us.  I pitched when I got home and got the carboy into the chest freezer.  It took off pretty quickly; I had a good 2-inch krausen the next morning.

I'll get the recipe up on the Recipes page here soon.

Speaking of David, he’s part of a podcast called AtypicalDFW.  They talk about beer mostly, but all kinds of other random topics as well, and they asked me to come on this week and talk about homebrewing.  I’ve listened to their shows in the past, and it sounded like a good time, so I agreed.  I headed down to their Arlington studios (one of the guys’ apartment) and took some beer with me.  This was my first podcast to be a part of, and I had a blast.  You can check out the episode here if you’re interested.  (NSFW)  It’s just under an hour and a half long (it seemed like about half that recording it, though).

That’s all for now.  Future brewing planning is taking place as we speak…gotta get ready for the fall competitions!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lots of Good News!

It’s been a last good month and a half!  First, and the best of the news, is that our daughter, Kathryn, was born last month.  Mom and baby are both doing great, and we’re learning how to be parents, since this is our first!  No beers named after her, though…at least not yet!   Next, I was promoted to Captain in the Texas Army National Guard at drill this past weekend.  I got my state orders for CPT on August 20, but the Federal Recognition process the DoD makes NG officers go through takes forever, so those orders just published on the 29th of March.  It felt odd getting saluted and called “Sir” by LTs, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.  And lastly, today my first article over at HomebrewTalk.com was posted.  I’m pretty excited about that, and hopefully there will be more to come!

Now that all of that is out of the way, on to homebrewing.  My test/pilot batch of Blindicide (Rye Belgian IPA for those who forgot since last time) came out way better than I ever could have expected.  I’d rank it right up there with Canon de 12 and Fiddler’s Green when it comes to the best beers I’ve brewed.  I’ll be brewing it on Sunday at Martin House for their Riverside Shootout competition.  Hopefully their house saison yeast is similar to the yeast I used, because that’s what really made it shine, I think.  The flavor profile from the yeast paired perfectly with the hops I chose.  Here’s the final recipe that I’ll be brewing:

Mash @ 149F for 60 minutes
6.5lbs 2-row (Great Western, supplied by Martin House)
6.5lbs Belgian Pilsner
4.5lbs Rye Malt
0.25lbs Carapils Malt

Boil for 90 minutes (all hops supplied by Martin House)
1oz Cascade (8.5% AA) and 0.5oz Falconer’s Flight (10.5% AA) @ 60
2oz Cascade @ 20
2oz Cascade and 0.5oz FF @ 10
1oz Cascade and 1oz FF @ 1
1oz Cascade and 1oz FF dry-hopped in Secondary (~10 days)

I plan on following the same fermentation schedule as I did with the test batch, pending any input I can get from the Martin House guys on their strain.  Here’s what I did:

Primary: ~ 5 days at 70F, the rise up to 80F and hold for another ~6 days
Secondary:  ~10 days at 72F

I’m looking forward to taking my setup out to Fort Worth overlooking the Trinity and brewing.  Sunday is supposed to be a fantastic day.  Next up, in May sometime hopefully, I’ll brew up a Wee Heavy recipe that I’ve been working on.  That’s going to be for Labor of Love.  After that we’ll play it by ear.

Short one today, I’ll hopefully have a good update after this weekend’s brew session!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bluebonnet Results

The Bluebonnet Brew-Off awards were announced a couple of weeks ago.  I wasn’t able to make it for the ceremony, but they had the results a few days later.  Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything, but I did get some good feedback on both of the beers that I entered.  My saison did very well (37/50 and 41/50) in the first round of judging, but didn’t place.  The only negatives in the comments were slightly low carbonation (to be expected when bottling from a keg), and low head retention.  When I entered it into Deep Ellum’s Labor of Love last year, they also said it needed better head retention.  I could easily get that by adding some CaraPils malt or some wheat malt, but I like that it’s a SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer, so I’m keeping it just the way it is.

The quad didn’t fare as well, though, as the saison.  It didn’t get out of the first round of judging (23/50 and 26/50), but there were some good comments on it that I can use.  Both judges commented that it wasn’t complex enough.  That’s not too surprising, since it only had 2 base malts (half pilsner and half pale ale) plus a pound of Belgian candy syrup.  Both judges said it could benefit from some Special B.  So, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit to add come complexity.  They also both said to up the fermentation temp to get more esters and a dryer finish.  Here’s the new recipe, which I’ll be brewing this weekend:

9lbs Belgian Pilsner Malt
9lbs Belgian Pale Malt
1lb CaraMunich Malt
1/2lb Biscuit Malt
1/4lb Aromatic Malt
1/4lb Special B Malt
1/4lb Chocolate Malt
1lb D-45 Candi Syrup
1lb D-180 Candi Syrup

1oz US Northern Brewer @ 60
1oz Hersbrucker @ 15
1oz Styrian Golding @ 5

Wyeast 3787 (same strain as WLP530, which I used last time, but it wasn’t available when I ordered everything), 4L starter is probably necessary for a beer this big. 

I’ll pitch it at around 70F and let it warm up to mid-80s and hold it there for a week or so, then start bringing it back down to 65ish and hold there until FG is reached.  Then I’ll keg and carbonate, then let it age at room temperature until it’s time to serve at Operation Bravo in November.

In other beer news, I met David from New Main Brewing out at Shannon Brewing in Keller on Saturday, where his pro-am beer, an Irish Breakfast Stout that he brewed with the guys at Shannon, was on tap for their St. Patrick’s Day celebration.  It was very good.  Probably my favorite of the beers they had on tap that day, followed closely by their dry-hopped Irish Red.  We also got to chat with one of the brewers from Deep Ellum for a while, which was cool.  It's always fun to talk to the guys who brew for a living!

And speaking of David, our English Dark Mild didn't get out of the first round, either, but we also got some good feedback on it.  We both really liked the way it turned out, though, so if either of us brew it again, I don't know that we'd change much of anything.  I'd probably use a different yeast strain, since I had so much trouble with WLP007 both times that I used it.

As for what’s up next, after the second batch of the quad, I have Martin House’s Riverside Shootout at the end of April.  I bottled the test batch of the Rye Belgian IPA yesterday, and it smelled awesome!  I’m pretty excited to try it in a week or so, once it’s had a chance to get carbonated.  The hops, yeast, and rye flavors all seems to come together really well in the small gravity sample that I tasted.  Of course, it was hot and flat, so we’ll just have to wait and see.  If it does indeed come out as well as I’m hoping, that’s the recipe that I’ll be brewing for the Martin House competition.  I’ll brew it there at the brewery on my equipment, and then bring home the wort along with a pitch of their house saison yeast strain blend.  After fermenting and packaging at home, the bottles are due back at the brewery by mid-June for judging.

Looking ahead to May and June, I need to start thinking about what I want to enter into Labor of Love this year.  My current thinking is that I’m not going to enter the saison again, it already won gold.  I do want to enter the Killer Junior IPA again, though, and hope it turns out better than last time.  I can wait until July to brew that one, though.  I’m thinking I may try a Scottish Wee Heavy in May and let it age until September.  That should be just about perfect.

One last thing before I let you all get back to your days.  A couple of months ago I got an email from HomeBrewTalk about possibly doing some articles for them.  I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I asked for more info.  After some discussion, I was able to pick from a list of possible topics, and got my topic back a couple of days later.  I’ve written and submitted the article, so hopefully it’s published soon.  Once it is, I’ll be sure to post on here!

Everyone have a great week, and happy brewing!

Friday, February 12, 2016

More Competitions

For those who are friends with me on Facebook, you might have seen my post about Martin House’s Riverside Shootout coming up in April.  Basically, they invite homebrewers out to their brewery to brew for a competition (there’s a $45 per team fee, each team can have up to 3 people).  It’s a staggered start to make sure they have enough power and pre-heated water for everyone.  They’ll provide as much 2-row malt as you need, any other base grains, and all specialty grains, will have to be provided by the homebrewer.  They also provide all the hops that you’ll need, and they have several varieties to choose from.  The homebrewers will take home the wort they get from the brew day, plus Martin House will give each brewer enough yeast to pitch.  They have two strains they’ll give out, their house strain, which is similar to WLP001, and their custom saison blend.  The hops that can be used are Columbus, Chinook, Cascade, Sorachi Ace, Falconer’s Flight, German Polaris, US Brewers Gold, Czech Saaz, French Strisselspalt, and US Northern Brewer.

They want people to push the envelope of creativity, and brew something they haven’t thought of before.  I’m more of a traditional brewer, so that’s a little strange for me.  I’ll push the boundaries of a style a bit, but I don’t get too crazy with fruits, spices, herbs, etc, in my beers, so coming up with something unique, while staying true to how I like to brew, will be a challenge.

As anyone who has read more than a couple of entries on here will already know, I’m a big fan of Belgian beers.  So, that’s my starting point here, using their saison yeast blend.  I’ve had their River House Saison a few times, and I’ve really enjoyed it, so I know I can work with that yeast.  I starting thinking about what I can do that’s going to be different.  Belgian IPAs are pretty common these days, but how about a hybrid of a hybrid, and do a Belgain Rye IPA?  The rye malt flavors should pair well with the spices created by the yeast, and some floral and citrusy hops will add nice aroma, flavor, and just enough bitterness.  That’s the plan anyway. 

Instead of going in totally blind, I think I’m going to do a test run of the recipe in a smaller, 1 gallon batch, first.  If it turns out good, then I’ll scale it up to 6 gallons for the competition brew.  If it turns out bad, well, I’m only out a gallon of beer, and I’ll think of a backup plan.  So, I started with a regular 6 gallon (5.75 gallons, actually, since I lose about .75 gallons to fermentation losses with the ported Big Mouth Bubblers) batch, then scaled it down to 1.25 gallons (I assume I’ll lose about .25 gallons to fermentation losses, but I’m not too worried about it).

Here’s the full 5.75 gallon recipe:

Grain Bill
5lbs 2-Row (Great Western)
5lbs Pilsner (Briess)
4lbs Rye Malt (Briess)
0.25lbs Carapils (Briess)

Mash @ 152 for 60 minutes

90 minutes boil

Hop Schedule
2oz Cascade and 0.5oz Falconer’s Flight @ 60 minutes
2oz Cascade @ 20 minutes
1oz Cascade and 0.5oz Falconer’s Flight @ 10 minutes
1oz Falconer’s Flight and 2oz Cascade @ 1 minute
2oz Cascade and 1oz Falconer’s Flight dry-hopped for last 10 days
For the test batch, I think I’ll use WLP568, which is White Labs’ Belgian saison blend.  Hopefully that will get me close enough to what they use.  I’ll use the same fermentation schedule for both:

5 days at 70°F, then let it rise up to 80°F over the next 6 days. Then bring down to around 72°F and dry hop for the last 10 days.  Then I’ll cold crash before bottling, and let them carb up for 3 weeks or so.  Hopefully, they turn out amazing, and I’ll use the big recipe for the competition.

Oh, here’s what it scales down to:

1.4lbs of 2-row and pilsner
1.1lbs of rye
0.8oz of carapils

The hops are a bit trickier since IBU calculations include boil volume, but here’s what I got to get the IBUs right around the same:

.5oz Cascade/.15oz Falconer’s Flight @ 60
.5oz Cascade @ 20
.25oz Cascade/.15oz Falconer’s Flight @ 10
.25oz Falconer’s Flight .5oz Cascade @ 1
.5oz Cascade/.25oz Falconer’s Flight dry-hopped

Hopefully that’s not too confusing.  Eventually, I’m sure I’ll break out of my homebrewing shell and play around with wacky ingredients, but I like what I like.  And remember, I did do a pumpkin spice saison that turned out pretty damn good a couple of falls ago!

As for what’s up between now and Riverside Shootout, I’ll probably still try to brew a batch of the Canon de 12 quad to get it aging.  There should be plenty of time between finishing the pilot batch of the Belgian Rye IPA (tentatively named Blindicide after a Belgian version of the bazooka) and the actual competition brew day at Martin House.  After that I’ll have to start thinking about what I want to do for Deep Ellum’s Labor of Love this year.  I might have to try to repeat my gold medal with the Fiddler’s Green Farmhouse Ale!

As for Bluebonnet Brew-Off, I won’t know the results until March 12th.  That’s a drill weekend for me, so unfortunately I won’t be able to make the awards ceremony.  Hopefully David will be able to make it and can text me if we win anything for Steel Main Dark Mild, or if either of us wins for individual entries.

Happy Friday everyone, enjoy the beautiful weekend!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Quick Update

After serving my two week sentence training at Fort Sill, I’m back and the Dark Mild was ready for sampling.  David tried his a couple of weeks back and also shared it with the guys at Atypical DFW Podcast (definitely a NSFW podcast, you’ve been warned!).  They all seemed to enjoy it quite a bit and that’s a good sign, since we entered his into Bluebonnet.  I kegged mine and got it on CO2 before I left, so it was ready when I got home.  I poured a pint last night, and it was delicious.  The malt really shines through, with just enough bitterness from the hops for a good balance.  At 3% on the dot, it’s also very sessionable.  We’re both hoping that it does very well at Bluebonnet.

As for The Chestnut Troop Best Bitter, I racked it onto the yeast cake from the mild and let it sit for the two weeks I was gone at around 73°F.  I kegged it last night, and the diacetyl is all gone, and it finished at 1.010.  I’m really glad that racking onto the yeast from the mild worked to get rid of the diacetyl, but I’m guessing that in the process, I introduced too much oxygen to the beer, as I have a strong green apple flavor.  That off flavor is generally caused by acetaldehyde, which can be caused by oxidation or infection.  I was very careful with my sanitation, so I’m confident it’s not an infection, but oxidation was a worry for sure.  I’m hoping that with a little time, it’ll clean itself up.  Even with the acetaldehyde, it’s way better than it was with the diacetyl, so I’ll take the tradeoff.

I moved the mild into the chest freezer and bumped it down to 45°F and put the now-kegged bitter into the kegerator and hooked up the CO2 so it can get carbonated.  Once I empty a keg, I’ll move the mild over and it will be already carbonated, so it'll be ready to drink immediately.

With 4 kegs now, I’m pretty set for the time being, so no brew days are planned as of now.  Once a keg blows, I’ll plan a day to brew another batch of Canon de 12 so I can have it aging and ready for Operation Bravo again this year in November.  After that, I’m not sure what the future holds for brewing.  I need to do another IPA soon, since it’s been a while since the last one.  I’m not sure if I’ll do another batch of Charge 8 or Killer Junior, or try something new.  I’d also like to try again with a lager, maybe a Maibock.

Above, I linked to a podcast that David from New Main Brewing has started participating in.  It’s a pretty good listen for craft beer fans.  Check them out!

Short one today, that’s all for now.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Diacetyl, Plus Some Tips for New Homebrewers

I haven’t had much experience with diacetyl in my beers.  I’ve only brewed one lager, and that’s generally when you see diacetyl, because of the lower fermentation temperatures, and I allowed for a good diacetyl rest on the lager I did do, so I didn’t have any problems with it.  That makes my latest conundrum all the more head-scratching.  Both the bitter I kegged a while back and the dark mild I have in primary are loaded with diacetyl.  In addition, I think both stalled out short of finishing fermentation.  On the bitter, I was expecting a final gravity of around 1.009 and ended up with 1.013.  That’s not terrible, really, though, so I let it go since it was stable.  The dark mild, however, was at 1.019 after the yeast had been dropped out of suspension for a few days.  I was also expecting around a 1.009.  10 points higher than anticipated is way up there.  In addition, both have heavy diacetyl (think movie theater popcorn butter or butterscotch) off-flavors.

Since the bitter is already kegged, it’s off the yeast, so there’s not a ton I can do to it as is.  For the dark mild, I tried rousing the yeast and I bumped the temp up to 74F.  The 1.019 sample was on Friday evening.  Yesterday morning I took another sample, and it was down to 1.016, so that’s progress.  David said his bottomed out at 1.015, so I’m in that ballpark.  He also didn’t have any diacetyl, so I’m hoping that it’s cleaning up now, and will be good to go here soon.  He has his kegged now, and so if it turns out tasting good after carbonation, we’ll go with his for Bluebonnet and I’ll just give mine time and see how it turns out.  For the bitter, I’m either going to make a yeast starter from a neutral dry yeast like US-05 and pitch it in when it hits high krausen, or I might take a couple of pints of yeast from the dark mild when it’s done and pitch it.  Either way, I’m hoping the yeast will clean up the diacetyl left over from the WLP007 fermentation.  My preference is probably to use new, clean yeast.

I’ve also heard that you can hook up your CO2 to your beer out post and let the CO2 bubble up through the beer in the keg while the valve on top is kept open, and this could help “blow-off” the diacetyl.  I’m skeptical that will work, but I might give it a try.  Otherwise, I’m not sure how I’ll have it ready to enter Bluebonnet, since my entries will have to be bottled before I leave on Sunday for Fort Sill.

Even if I can’t enter the bitter, or if we can’t enter my half of the dark mild, I’m still going to work on seeing if they can be fixed up enough where they’re good enough to drink.  I’m confident that I can do that, at the very least.  I used WLP007 that I bought less than a week apart from the same store, so maybe it’s a bad batch of yeast or something, who knows.  I’ll probably avoid that strain from now on, though, since I’ve never had this problem before with other strains, even other English-style strains like WLP002.

In other news, I’ve be seeing lots of new homebrewers on my Facebook feed lately (or maybe not-so-new homebrewers, I just never saw their homebrew posts before, who knows with Facebook).  I think it’s awesome so many people are getting into homebrewing.  It’s a great hobby.  You get to enjoy the process of making something yourself, and you have tons of control over the final product of your labors.  Then, when you’re done, you have great beer to drink!  I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years, going from total newbie who didn’t know what he was doing, to award-winning homebrewer (it may just be one award so far, but I’m still pretty pumped about it!).

  1. Sanitation.  It gets said over and over by pretty much every experienced home-brewer.  Sanitation is the number one key to making good beer.  I’ve been fortunate in that I have yet to experience first-hand the results of bad sanitation.  I’ve had no infected beers.  I have tasted some infected beers, though, and that’s not something that you want, unless you’re intentionally trying to sour beers, and that’s not something a new homebrewer should be doing, anyway.  Everything…and I mean EVERYTHING…that the beer touches post-boil needs to be sanitized.  A no-rinse sanitizer like StarSan or Iodophor is my recommendation.  Both work very well.
  2. Fermentation temperature control.  If sanitation is the number one key to making good beer, then fermentation temperature control is the number one key to going from good beer to great beer.  My first beer was fermented in the pantry in the middle of summer in Texas.  Even with the A/C running, the temperature in there was mid-to-upper-70s.  Ale yeasts like it in the mid-to-upper-60s to ferment cleanly.  Some Belgian strains can get up into the 80s and be ok, but even then, you generally will start fermentation lower and ramp up once active fermentation is complete.  Higher fermentation temperatures can create all kinds of off flavors.  In my first beer, an Irish Red kit from Northern Brewer, I had some pretty bad fusel alcohols, which give a “hot” or “solvent” type flavor.  While the beer was still enjoyable, I knew it could be better.  In order to attempt to better control my fermentation temperatures, I started using what’s called a swamp cooler setup.  I used a bathroom in our house upstairs that wasn’t used much, if at all, and could be completely dark.  I had a Rubbermaid tub and filled it up with enough water that the water level was even with the beer level in the carboy I was fermenting in.  I would then drape a wet t-shirt over the carboy, with the tail of the shirt in the water.  This would help with evaporative cooling of the carboy.  I also rotated out frozen water or Gatorade bottle to keep the water around 65F, or whatever my target temperature was.  I’d swap the bottles out when I left for work in the morning, when I got home in the afternoon, and before I went to bed at night.  This worked pretty well, and I saw an improvement in the quality of my beer very quickly.  It was still far from perfect, though, as there would be some pretty major temperature swings, especially during the day in the middle of the hot Texas summers.  I knew I wanted to be able to more finely control the temperatures.  Eventually, I moved to the setup I have now.  I got an old, but perfectly working, chest freezer from Craigslist and an STC-1000 temperature controller from Amazon.  Using a couple of different blog posts (here and here), I got the temperature controller wired up.  The heating side goes to a light bulb inside a paint can that sits on the compressor hump inside the freezer, and the cold side goes to the freezer itself, which sits out of the way in the garage.  It works perfectly.  I’m able to keep the temperature within less than a degree of the target temp, even in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter.  The quality of my beer made another huge jump.  I was able to create a saison with a pretty complex fermentation schedule.  It started at 65F, and stayed there for 3-4 days, until active fermentation completed, then I bumped it up to 75F and let it rise up to there over the course of a couple of days.  I kept it there for another 10 days or so before bringing it up one more time to 78F and letting it finish there.  That’s the beer I won a gold medal for, so you can see the benefits of having good fermentation temperature control.  While I haven’t taken much advantage of the ability to do lagering, I can now do lagers, even in the summer, if I so choose.  The length of this paragraph alone should show how much I think about fermentation temperature control!  It probably should be overall number 1, but without proper sanitation, fermentation temperature won’t get you anywhere!
  3. Yeast.  If you're not pitching enough yeast, you could overwork the little guys, which can also cause some off-flavors.  Generally, you can see increased levels of diacetyl from underpitching, and you can also see stuck fermentations (yes, this did occur to me with my problem describe above).  There are a couple of ways to ensure proper pitching rates.  For most 5 gallon batches, a single pack of dry yeast is going to be more than enough yeast.  If you're using liquid yeast, even if it was produced that day and is 100% viable, you're going to be drastically underpitching.  The best way to pitch liquid yeast is by doing a yeast starter.  A yeast starter is basically a very small batch of unhopped wort.  For every 10ml of starter volume, you'll need 1 gram of DME (dry malt extract).  So, for a 1L starter, you'll need 100g of DME.  I like to use the lightest DME I can find, so you're not adding any color to your wort.  Boil your water and add in the DME.  I usually boil in a seperate pot, then pour the water into my pyrex flask, then add the DME.  Bring the DME/water mixture back to a boil and let it boil for at least 15 minutes.  After you've cooled the starter wort down to 70F (with such a small volume, this is pretty quick in an ice bath in the sink), give it a good shaking to aerate the yeast (or, if you have the setup, you can actively oxygenate the yeast), then add your yeast.  Cover the top with a sanitized piece of foil.  If you have a stir plate, before covering, you'll need to drop in your stir bar as well, then put it on the stir plate.  I use the lowest setting that I get a vortex going at.  If you don't have a stir plate, no problem, you'll just need a bit bigger starter, and will want to shake your starter periodically.  Mr. Malty's starter calculator is a great resource for determining how big of a starter you're going to need based on your batch size, the starting gravity of the beer you're making, how old the yeast is, and whether you're using a stir plate or not.  After 24-48 hours, your starter should be pretty much done.  At this point, you can pitch the whole thing into your wort, or you can put it in your refrigerator to get the yeast to drop out of suspension.  I generally will cold crash for a day or two prior to brew day, then take the starter out of the fridge at the beginning of my brew session and let it warm up to room temperature.  When I'm ready to pitch, I'll decant off most of the liquid, leaving only the yeast cake plus enough liquid to swirl around in the flask and have a slurry to pitch.  It all goes into the wort at that point, and you're only adding a negligible amount of extra wort in.  You do also want to be sure you're not overpitching.  Check the starter calculator to see how many yeast cells you need for adequate pitching.

If you’re doing the three above things, and doing them well, you’ll make great beer.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a 100% extract brewer doing only recipe kits you buy online, or if you have the ultimate 3-tier all grain system and you’re making your own recipes and crushing your own malts.

Happy brewing everyone!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bottles and Kegs, Oh My!

I finally got my new Last Straw bottle filler working perfectly yesterday, and I was able to bottle everything for Bluebonnet that I have ready as of now.  Got 6 bottle of the saison (3 for entry under Saison, and 3 for entry under New Entrants) and 3 bottles of the quad, which is now just under 6 months old.  I was also able to squeeze out 3 more bottles and about half a growler out of the keg for personal consumption!  I had one of the bottles last night, and man is it good.  I almost wish I hadn’t entered it into Operation Bravo, so I’d have some left to age even longer.  I got some good feedback from people who had it there (including the judges who didn’t get to try the entry bottles), so it was worth it.  I can’t imagine how good it will be in another 6 months.  I’ll try to save at least one bottle that long.  I’m going to have to brew another batch and not touch it for at least 9 months.  I think I’ve said that before, though, so we’ll see.

Anyway, back to the bottle filler.  They advertise that it’s able to fill bottles directly from kegs at serving pressure, but I’ve found that to be totally inaccurate.  Even with pre-chilled bottles, at serving pressure (8-10 PSI), it was almost all foam.  I lowered the keg pressures down to under 5 PSI and purged the head space, and there was only a very small amount of foam.  I was able to completely fill the bottles, then cap on the small amount of foam that came out, leaving the perfect amount of head space in the bottles.  Hopefully they have enough carbonation in them, but I can’t see that they won’t.  A couple of hours later I opened one of the quads, and it had a good amount of carbonation.

Here's the quad after the head had dissipated some
I also kegged The Chestnut Troop (my British best bitter) last night, and I have it on CO2.  Since it’s such a lightly carbonated beer (0.8-2.0 volumes of CO2, compared to around 2.3-3.0 for most "regular" beer styles), it shouldn’t take long.  I also bumped the temperature in the fermentation chamber up a few degrees yesterday before I left for work, so that the yeast in the dark mild can finish cleaning up before kegging this weekend.  I’ll try to force carbonate that one pretty quickly so I can get it into a few bottles, so David and I can meet up and do a quick blind taste test and decide which one we like best, and enter that one into Bluebonnet.  Entries are due by the 28th, but since I’m out starting on the 24th, I’m going to have to get my entries in before then.  Shouldn’t be a problem.

Speaking of the dark mild (named Steel Main, a combination of our brewery names), David has his recap of our brew day up, along with some really cool stuff on Dr. Jekyll’s Beer Lab down in Arlington.  They’re a homebrew store with 40 craft beers on tap, and David is working with them on building an awesome in-house brewing system.  For a small fee (plus the cost of ingredients, of course), you’ll be able to brew a batch in the store, then take the wort home with you to pitch your yeast.  Sounds like an awesome way to get into homebrewing, or, if you’re currently an extract or partial mash brewer, to move up to all grain without the up-front cost of upgrading all of your equipment right away.

Moving forward, I’m about to have 2 more than half full kegs, and 2 completely full kegs (I have to double-check the saison and the dunkelweizen, to see how much is actually left in those), so I need to have a beer-drinking party soon, maybe.  I would like to be able to do a brew day for a new batch of the quad so it can get to aging.  It would then be 9 months old at Operation Bravo, and almost a year for next year’s Bluebonnet.  After that, I’ll work on a beer every couple of months or so to keep the pipeline full.  I’ve been batting around several ideas for new recipes, and also returning to some old favorites.  Some of the new ones include a Rye IPA, a Schwarzbier, and a Helles Bock.  Returnees will probably include Killer Junior and D30.  I might also try some small batches and experiment with ingredients.  I’d also love to try my hand at a sour beer, maybe a Lambic of some kind.  Those take patience, though, and an extra set of fermenting gear just for sour beer.  Of course, I will also take any suggestions in the comments on the blog (which I never seem to get) or on Facebook (I do get some of these).

Unfortunately, we did not win the Powerball drawing last night, so Steel Rain Brewing will stay a homebrew operation, and Erin and I will have to keep our day jobs.

I'm working on adding more recipes to the section on the right, I'm still hoping to eventually have everything I've made on there (serves as a good backup in case I lose my data), and keep it updated as I brew more and more.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Collaboration Day

Brewing beer is fun.  Brewing beer with friends is more fun.  Collaborating to brew a lot of beer with friends is even more fun!  That’s what I learned this weekend.  As you know if you read the last entry, David and Amanda from New Main Brewing came over on Saturday to brew up a double batch of a Dark Mild recipe David and I collaborated on to come up with via email a few weeks ago.  The idea got its genesis when we shared a tent at Operation Bravo back in November.  We wanted to do something we could enter into the Bluebonnet Brew Off, and since the deadline to have entries submitted is Jan 28th, we needed something that would be ready quickly.  A British Dark Mild fits that bill nicely, as it’s pretty routine to go grain to glass in just over a week.

It was a little chilly on Saturday afternoon, but that didn’t stop us, or stop a couple of neighbors who showed up sporting nearly-matching Pittsburgh Steelers jackets from the 90s, I think.  My next-door neighbor, David, even had one of those old beanies from the 70s with the pom-pom ball on the top!  But I digress…With 15 pounds of grain and 14+ gallons of water, it’s a good thing I have the new 20 gallon kettle.  The total mash volume was just over 16 gallons, so with my old one, or with David’s keggle, we would have needed to add a sparge step to make the mash fit.

We doughed in a little warm, but with the cool temperature outside, we got it back down to our target mash temp of 155°F pretty quickly, and wrapped the kettle in blankets to keep it from dropping too much more over the 60 minute mash.  The rest of the day went pretty well, no hiccups to speak of.  We ended up a tad under the goal of 11 gallons, but not by much.  We each had nearly 5.5 gallons to take home.  I pitched a 1L starter of WLP007 and David used a packet of Mangrove Jack M07 dry yeast.  They’re supposedly the same strain, from what I’ve seen, but we’ll see.  We’re planning on meeting up once they’re both done and seeing which one we like better to enter into the competition.  I think we have similar fermentation plans, so it will be interesting to see how much different they actually turn out!

In other news, I think I’ve got the Last Straw bottle filler figured out, as I was able to get a couple of bottles filled with the saison and opened one last night, and it was pretty well carbonated still, and had the correct amount of head space.  Since I’m entering the saison in its category as well as the New Entrant category, I need 6 bottles of it.  I’m not going to enter the dunkelweizen I’ve decided.  While it still tastes good and drinks well, the scorching during the boil (see last blog entry) gave it a bit of a burnt flavor.  I don’t mind the flavor, and it doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the beer, but it will definitely cost me points, and I’d rather brew it again without the scorching and get comments on it that way.  This way, I know most of the comments are going to be about the burnt flavor, and that’s not really going to be helpful.  I also need to see if I can get three bottle of the quad from the keg.  If not, I’ll just drink the rest to free up the keg and the space in the fridge, since I need to keg the bitter soon, as well as the mild.

Those loyal readers who have been following along for a while will notice that I removed the pages banner from the top and moved the recipes portion over to the right hand side.  I’ll work on adding recipes this week until I’ve got them all up there.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Brew Kettle Down!

May the first part of this blog entry serve as a PSA for all you homebrewers out there, and add something to your “don’t do this” list…

So, I had planned on brewing an English bitter right after Christmas, and had gotten all the ingredients at the new homebrew store up in Denton, Baron’s Brew Works, and got my yeast starter going.  I got a stir plate for Christmas, so I put the starter on that for the rest of that day, then put it in the fridge in the evening to drop all the yeast out of suspension.  Everything was ready to go for brewing the next day.

I got everything setup on Saturday, the 26th, to start around noon.  I called/texted/Facebook messaged all my regular brew day attendees, and I was ready to go.  I started filling up the brew kettle with my mash water and start heating it up.  As it’s heating, I notice that water is dripping from the bottom of the kettle onto the propane burner.  This is odd, since I haven’t had a leak before.  I thought maybe the seal on the spigot wasn’t good, but I checked it, and that’s not where the leak was coming from.  I turned off the heat and let the kettle cool back down, and found the site of the leak was on the underside of the kettle, and the kettle was warped on both the inside and the bottom at the leaking spot.  There wasn’t a clear hole, though, that I could see.  So, brew day was cancelled.

I eventually worked out what happened.  When I brewed the dunkelweizen a few weeks before, I had done what I always do and used the lid from my old 8-gallon aluminum stock pot as a heat shield at the bottle of the kettle during the mash.  I do that so that if I have to heat the mash, I don’t have to worry about melting my BIAB bag.  Well, I totally forgot about it when it came time for the boil, and left it in there.  Big mistake.  Not only did the kettle get pretty badly scorched, but it also apparently caused the warping, which must have caused a small crack to develop in the steel (single ply bottom on this kettle).  So, there would be no brewing on that day.

I considered trying to fix it, as we have some friends with welding equipment and experience, but since I couldn’t pinpoint and exact spot, or see the crack, I thought that might be too difficult, so eventually I just ordered a new brew kettle, this time with a triply bottom.  I got a Concord 20-gallon kettle with 2 welded couplers for a ball valve and a thermometer.  It’s very nice, and it got here on Monday.

So, what did I do?  I brewed, of course!  My efficiency actually jumped up a few points with the new kettle, too.  I also got a Thermapen instant read thermometer for Christmas, so I don’t really need the thermometer on the kettle, but it is nice to have it to know when I’m getting close to hitting my strike temp for the mash, and to check the temp during the mash without removing the lid and whatever I’m using to insulate during the mash (usually a handful of blankets).  I hit my strike temp and mash temp right on the nose, and lost a couple of degrees in the first 30 minutes, so I turned the burner on and stirred the mash with my fancy new mash paddle while it was heating to avoid scorching the wort or melting the bag.  Way better than using a heat shield and possibly forgetting it again.  After I got back to 153°F, I covered the kettle back up and let the mash work its magic.  Another 30 minutes and I started the boil.  No problems at all with the brew day, and with the colder temperatures, I was able to get the wort cooled do to 85°F pretty quickly, and got it into the fermenter and got that into the chest freezer to cool the rest of the way overnight.  I’ve been doing that lately when I’m pressed for time, and haven’t had any ill-effects.  I pitched my yeast starter Tuesday morning before leaving for work, and that afternoon it was happily bubbling away!  I didn’t get quite as much into the fermenter as I wanted, but I’ll figure out the quirks of the new kettle pretty quick and get my volumes dialed in.  The only thing I miss about the old kettle is the volume markings on the side.  I used a tape measure to help calculate my volumes as I went, but that’s probably not the best way to do it.

Here’s the recipe for The Chestnut Troop (the name come from A Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, the senior battery in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, British Army):

7.5lbs Maris Otter
1lb British Crystal 60L
.5lb Flaked Corn
.5lb Flaked Barley

Mash @ 153 for 60 minutes

1.5oz Fuggles (UK) @ 60 minutes
1oz East Kent Goldings @ 15 minutes
.5oz Fuggles (UK) @ 5 minutes

60 minute boil

WLP007, fermenting at 65 for 3 days, then bumping up to 70F until finished.  Probably going to naturally carbonate with priming sugar in the keg to 1.3-1.6 vols of CO2

My OG target was 1.043, but since I got higher than expected efficiency, I hit 1.045.  This might be closer to a Strong Bitter (ESB) than a Best Bitter, but we’ll see what the FG ends up being.

This weekend is going to be my collaboration brew day with David from New Main Brewing.  We’re doing a double batch of a British Dark Mild, and each take half to ferment. Hopefully it turns out well!