Archive for November, 2008

Lancaster County Brewers Showdown

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

So back on October 18th there was a homebrew competition I entered called the Lancaster County Brewers Showdown, same day as HOPS BOPS this year, and I just got my results back yesterday.

I suppose I could complain about their tardiness on getting the results/scoresheets back, but I already knew what my results were. Also, since it was their first year doing it, I’m sure they learned some valuable information on how to run a competition more efficiently next time. So without dragging this out any longer, here’s what they had to say:

  • Abbey Ale – 18B – Belgian Dubbel – 38/34 – 3rd Place – “Overall a great representation of a Dubbel. Smooth and crisp with sweet malt notes that are not overly acrid or bitter. Great beer!” – “Full of flavor, mild breadiness, apple esters, cherry & raisin esters too, smooth, very drinkable.”

I obviously don’t want to be douchey toward anyone’s judging style, to each their own I guess after they pass the exam, but seriously, my two scoresheets couldn’t have been more opposite with the amount of writing. The first judge was very descriptive and almost ran out of room writing in each category. The second judge didn’t even use the whole first line except in one category. I mean, seriously, people pay you money to judge these beers and you have like ten minutes per beer and all you can write for an overall impression is ‘very drinkable’? Wow, that sure helped me improve my beer the next time I brewed it . . .

And on a side note, which many of you won’t care about and I didn’t think that I did either, but what’s the deal with competitions not giving out prizes anymore? It used to be 1st, 2nd, 3rd always got a prize even if it was a crappy keychain or something. I’ve judged/entered three competitions recently and you know what, only one gave out prizes, and it was of course the one I didn’t place in. And it was their first year, and they had lots of good prizes. I’m assuming it can’t be that hard to acquire prizes then. Anyway, like I said, I thought I didn’t care, but I guess I do, enuff.

Black-out Friday

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

So what did you do on Black-out Friday? Go shopping and take advantage of all the deals, eat left over turkey until you got blotted all over again, or did you get drunk!

What you see here is a close approximation to what we’d like to call a George Thorogood; one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer. I know, Jack Daniels is a Tennessee Whiskey not a bourbon, but I didn’t buy the booze and I wasn’t about to get into an argument before a long day of drinking. Johnnie Walker is of course a blended Scotch whisky from Scotland, and yes there is not suppose to be an ‘e’ in that whisky. And of course, ol’ red white and blue, PBR ASAP ME, Pabst Blue Ribbon, in a can, is an American icon for beer. We just figured, if you’re going to be spending that much on the good liquor, you’d probably be drinking shit beer – so we did.

Let me say, first our pourer had a heavy hand, so that made things happen fast, but from what I learned yesterday two George Thorogoods is more than enough to drink, especially at those volumes. Well, Robert had three, so you can ask him if three is too many, no comment here.

Cider Pop

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

On Wednesday I kegged off my two ciders in preparation for them to be “ready” (read: carbonated) for Thanksgiving. One keg of cider will remain a Traditional English-style cider while the other I planned on doctoring into a Cider-Pop, for real.

So the Traditional cider was no problem, transfer and carbonate, hopefully all will turn out well. The Cider-Pop on the other hand, well, that was a true experiment. First, I had to find a way to “kill” any yeasties that may still be in suspension in the cider so as when I add additional sugar to the solution fermentation wouldn’t just start all over again. I did a little research and it appears the common practice (though there are other solutions) is to add Potassium Sorbate to the cider. This actually doesn’t kill the yeast, it stops them from budding and reproducing. So, there is potential for there to be a small amount of fermentation, but I should be safe.

Next, since I had never back-sweetened anything before, I had to figure out how much of what to add to the cider to make it “good”. After fermentation, and transferring to secondary, and using a clarifier to drop particulate out of suspension, it appeared as if I would be working with about 4.5 gallons of cider. Though I wanted to experiment with both larger quantities and more variation I limited myself to 32oz. With this 32oz. I had determined that I would do four different things to the cider, thus four 8oz. samples which actually divides quite nicely into quarts and gallons. So anyway, the four options were: a control cider (nothing was done to this glass), a cider sweetened with clover honey, a cider sweetened with apple concentrate, and a cider sweetened with both honey and apple concentrate. Some of the other options I had available but we didn’t have enough cider to play with were: cane sugar, corn sugar, karo syrup, and brown sugar. Just for fun, not to determine anything with the sweetness, I also poured 8oz. samples of the Fool Circle ’07 cider and a Hornsby’s Crisp Apple cider.

The experiment was simple and not really scientific, but hopefully it got us to the sweetness area where we were happy. Basically I started by adding a TBSP of which ever sweetener to each cider. and from there we incrementally adjusted as the sweetness started to hit threshold of what we were looking for. So essentially it went sort of like adding TBSPs, to adding tsps, to adding 1/2 tsps and so forth. The honey made the most dramatic difference the fastest in both nose, flavor, and sweetness. I think if you pushed the honey aspect far you could create the resemblance to a Sweet Cyser (sweet apple melomel (mead with fruit added to it)) quite easily. The apple concentrate was the slow runner of the three, not very dramatic at first, but its potential grew as more was added. And the honey and apple concentrate combo was where it was at, which is kind of what we were guessing before we started. The trick to the combo was it needed disproportionate amounts of honey to apple concentrate. The honey was quite overwhelming in nose and flavor but added the right sweetness, while the apple concentrate added the apple flavor back to the mix but it’s sweetness was way lower, but also added a nice tart background to help cut the honey sweetness.

In the end I think we came up with a nice Cider-Pop. Of course it wasn’t really cold, and wasn’t carbonated at all, and a bunch of other variables that will make it completely different than the final product, but I think it was a nice shot. In the end we wound up back-sweetening the keg of cider with 36oz. of apple concentrate and 20oz. of clover honey. I tried to shake the hell out of the keg to hope that all the honey dissolved, but I guess we’ll find out after the first pour. I’m going to try to pull off a bunch of bottles of both to have available for Thanksgiving and then try to put both ciders on tap at the same time for comparison sake. So after you get a chance to try these, if you do, let me know what you think. Thanks!

Cream Ale

Monday, November 17th, 2008

So Sunday was a brew day, and this time it was a Cream Ale, a first for me!

Saturday was the Iron Hill Black & Tan Cask event at their Newark location. The early drinking of cask beers turned into a long night of kicking kegs and fun times. Because of my lack of preparation on Saturday, Sunday came bright and early. So besides brewing a batch of beer, I needed to transfer the CA Red to secondary and dry-hop, and keg both of the Imperial Ambers. So I needed to clean and sanitize two kegs and overall wound up cleaning and sanitizing four carboys. So I was pretty much living next to the sink all day whenever I wasn’t needed next to the kettle.

A Cream Ale is basically an ale version of an American Lager. Imagine the grain bill of an American Lager but using ale yeast instead, and not needing to cold condition (lager) it. Kind of odd to brew a lawnmower beer that won’t be ready until the winter, but whatever. This beer used flaked maize as an adjunct in the recipe, first time I have ever used corn. Because of that, I chose to do a 90 minute mash rest at 149′ to hopefully convert all of the starches and create a very fermentable wort. Also, I chose to do a 90 minute boil to help blow off any undesirables from the wort, with a beer like this there is no where to hide any flaws, and with the longer boil I’d have a better chance of blowing-off the compounds that create DMS, a cooked corn like flavor. So with those two additions I added an extra hour to the brew day. Fortunately the brew day went effortlessly including all of the side work I had lined up, and I was done in just about six and a half hours which wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating.

I also made my first starter using my new fancy stir plate, so that was fun. I was a little weirded out by it at first because the starter wort looked differently than I had anticipated, but I was just being a worry-wort. I also tried to be very conscious not to pour the stir-bar into the carboy, which I didn’t. When I was kegging the two Imperial Ambers I decided I was going to “keg-hop” one of the kegs. So I got the new herb ball out and sanitized it, weighed out a quarter ounce (I know, not much) of whole leaf Nugget hops and dropped it into the keg. I didn’t secure it or anything, I’m actually hoping it sinks to the bottom after the hops absorb the beer and with the weight of the ball. We’ll see. The stupid part was I forgot to mark which keg had the hop ball in it, doh! I’m assuming I know which one it was just because of the locations of where the kegs were to the carboys, but it doesn’t matter, I marked the one I think it is now.


Thursday, November 13th, 2008

A couple Saturdays ago was the 24th Annual HOPS BOPS homebrew competition. Sorry it took so long to post.

The reason I was waiting to post was I had entered three homebrew competitions and I was going to wait and post the results all at one time. Well, one of the competitions, the Lancaster Homebrewers, are taking a very long time to get back results. The first was HOPS BOPS (10.18) and they emailed PDF files of your score sheets, the second was the Lancaster (10.18, also) and they have told me they are mailing score sheets but I haven’t seen anything, and the last was Stoney Creek (11.08, see below) which I was there to receive. So since I already posted the results to the SC competition I figured I might as well do this one too. Anyway, I entered my Abbey Ale as a Dubbel and this is what they had to say:

  • Abbey Ale – 18B – Belgian Dubbel – 34/34 – 2nd Place – “Base recipe seems good but astringency intrudes on malt complexity.” – “The aroma promises more than the flavor delivers, a very good Dubbel just a little lacking in complexity.”

Honestly, it is very similar to what the SCHBs had to say, but scored about 10 points higher, closer to where you need to score to place, go figure. Well, I guess that’s what I get for brewing my Belgian style beer last winter when the basement has controlled temperatures instead of in the summer when it’s warming and letting the yeast run a muck.

Stoney Creek Homebrewers

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

So yesterday was the first Stoney Creek Homebrewers competition held at General Lafayette Inn in PA.

This competition went pretty well. Both Robert and I went up to judge. Yes, Robert has now judged two BJCP competitions as a beer judge, and yes he has not taken the test yet, but hopefully will be in 2009. I also had two beers entered the Plain Porter as a Brown Porter and the Abbey Ale as a Dubbel, neither did very well, bummer. Here is a snippet of what each judge had to say about each beer:

  • Abbey Ale – 18B – Belgian Dubbel -26/24 – “This beer is an OK example but the flavor is lacking the complexity found in this style.” – “Belgian character seems low, suggest higher fermentation temperature.”
  • Plain Porter – 12A – Brown Porter – 25/26/23 – “The roast character is more reminiscent of a dry stout than a brown porter, technically well made however.” – “I would enter this beer as a robust porter, well brewed, no bad fermentation characters.” – “”Really nice dreamy head, this beer has a good base, it’s a good start.”

So it sounds like the judges didn’t think my Belgian Beer was Belgiany enough and my Porter wasn’t Portery enough? Whatever. Being a judge I know how these things go. I think if any one of those five judges would have drank a full glass of either of those beers they would have said they were good and within style. I’m not sweating it, I just thought I’d share.

Tappin the Frootid

Friday, November 7th, 2008

So I tapped the Froodit the Wheat tonight, and all I can say is it is unique.

Back in April Garrett and I brewed 20 gallons of American Wheat beer, with 5 of those gallons I fruited it, mostly with pure pomegranate juice. It turned out interesting, more tart than most fruit beers. It reminds me more of real fruit, like blueberry skin or not quite ripe wild blackberries or something, than anything else. It is definitely not a normal style for me, and really only the second time in recent times that I’ve used fruit, the other was an ABA on about five pounds of fresh peaches. This beer really should have been enjoyed over the summer while playing Cornhole outside, but you know what, it’s pretty good now too.

I also bought an “herb ball” that I am going to use for keg-hopping, kind of like a second stage dry-hopping. The picture is hard to tell since there is nothing to give it perspective, but it is about half the size of my fist. I’m thinking it’ll hold about an ounce of pellet hops or maybe a half ounce of whole hops if I am lucky. My first impression was to try and suspend it from the lid of the keg, but the chain attached is only like three inches long so only the first gallon or so would really get keg-hopped. So my second thought was to weigh it down to be in the bottom of the keg so all the beer passed by it, but it kind of makes me nervous that I’ll have a higher possibility of running into a clogged out-spout again because of the additional draw pressure. Dunno, I’ll figure it out. Anyone else ever use one of these to keg-hop before, what did you do?

Mo’ Spinnin’

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Mo’ Spinnin’ – as I referred to it in the last post, or as Garrett referred to it, a Vortex of Activity (better title).

So recently Garrett has turned into a mad-scientist-of-electrical-mayhem so to speak. Not only has he built the fancy thinking box for his grant, he has also built two stir plates from scratch! Yes, the wiring, the circuitry, the magnets, the everything – it for real boggles my mind to even look at it. Anyway, he built me one, which is super awesome, but I didn’t have a stir bar (the yellow thing in the flask) so I haven’t been able to play with it at all. So, here’s a picture of me testing it out, it pulls a pretty deep vortex in my opinion, though if I turn it up too high the vortex and stir bar become pretty unstable. For one of the first times ever, I can’t wait to make a starter for my next batch of beer. All I really need to do now is get together with Garrett and brew up a batch of starter wort so I can be all set up. Open starter wort and empty into flask, add yeast vial, add stir bar, turn on stir plate for 24-48 hours – mad yeast! Shweet!

California Red

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

California Red – sounds good already, doesn’t it!?

So on Sunday (11.02.08) I brewed at my house for the first time in for-ev-er, for real. It felt good. It still kind of feels like I used “valuable” weekend time to brew and would be better to “waste” a weekday night, but hey, it is what it is. Anyway, I brewed a California Red. Yup, that’s right. I bet this will be an official style whenever they next re-do the BJCP style guidelines. A prime example – Bear Republic Red Rocket. Basically you take an Amber Ale and push the limit West Coast style. Yeah, I know I just brewed 20 gallons on Imperial Amber Ale (IAA) with Garrett, doesn’t matter, different beer, next song. So we got some yummy hoppy love coming up at the Casa de Calhoun.

While brewing, which went perfectly smooth, I also did some other brew chores. I dropped some clarifier into my two ciders, so theoretically within a week we will have crystal clear cider – one batch heading to be kegged immediately an the other off to experimentation world to try the whole back-sweetening thing, we’ll see. I also transferred the IAA into secondaries, and dropped whole homegrown hops into the secondaries. I was stoked to see whole hops in my secondaries, but I was a little bummed to see where the SG reading was, 1.022 – yikes, sweet, oh well. It’ll be bangin’ regardless, mo’ fillin’ fo’ tha chillin’.

Why the brewing spurt? Well, I wanted to, I needed to, brewing with Garrett two weeks ago inspired me, and I just got a shipment of grains in! So what’s in store? A Cream Ale, an Irish Red, a California Red, two Pale Ales, an Toasted Oatmeal Stout, and a “Bourbonized” American Stout, hopefully all brewed by the end of the year and hopefully all ready by St. Patrick’s Day. What else is on the horizon for Fool Circle? Well, I’ll give hints: Mo’ Results, Mo’ Chillin’, and Mo’ Spinnin’. Word!