Dec 27 2010

Northern Brown Ale with Black Japonica Rice – Rice Burner

So the latest of my strange ideas was to make a beer with rice. This is far from unusual since the macrobreweries in the U.S. use rice all the time to make beer. It thins the body of the beer and boosts the alcohol level, and leaves the beer as tasteless as it always was.

What I wanted to do was to work with some strange rice, but I really had no idea which rice or what style I wanted to make either.  I was happy to let the rice that I chose dictate that.

So I started out by cooking up a few pounds of different rice to see what flavors and aromas they gave me. The basmati rice was very interesting and it gave me a mild popcorn note. I cooked up some wild rice, too, (which apparently isn’t rice at all but various types of grass) and I liked that, as well. Much of the rice I cooked ended up tasting like nothing at all but starch.

The one that stood out for me, though, was the black japonica rice.  It looked cool (ok, that wasn’t really as factor) and it gave you a nice, subtle nutty flavor. I thought that would go well in a Northern Brown ale. Then I was off.

The black japonica is easy to grab at most good grocery stores and I decided to use 2 pounds of it in a 5 gallon batch.

Per the instructions on the package, I cooked the rice for 50 minutes. It turned the water a very vibrant purple color that I wished I had captured on film. I think it would be a cool experiment to use this rice again in a pale beer where the purple could dominate.

I rounded out the grains with Maris Otter, Pale Chocolate, 40L Crystal, roasted barley and victory malt.

In case you thought you were too old for Spin Art, don’t worry as you can still do it with your grain mill:

The brew day went very smoothly and uneventfully. I mashed the 2 pounds of rice in with the rest of the grains and held them all at 152° Fahrenheit for 60 minutes. (If you cooked the rice in advance or if you cooked and immediately poured it straight into the mash, be prepared for the rice to have an effect on your mash temp. Plan accordingly.) I didn’t use rice hulls and had no problems with the sparge.  My OG was 1.060 and I pitched a big starter of Nottingham yeast on the cooled wort, and it was fermenting pretty powerfully at 68° less than 12 hours later.

I’ll update this post once I get it bottled and I get to try the black japonica brown ale. So far, it is darker than I had anticipated since I didn’t expect the purple coloring that was contributed by the rice, but that is a minor cosmetic thing. It seems a bit roastier than expected too, but that has me thinking about faux-barrel aging some of this batch. Perhaps bottling 3 gallons as is, and then putting 1 gallon on rum-oak and another gallon on something stranger. Perhaps cognac-oak.  We’ll see….

The recipe:

Northern Brown Ale with Black Japonica Rice

Starting Gravity: 1.060 (12/18/10)

Mash (65 minutes ~154°)
8 lb Maris Otter
1 lb Victory Malt
0.75 lb Munich Malt
0.50 lb Crystal 40L
0.25 lb Pale Chocolate Malt
2 lb Black Japonica Rice (Cooked for 50 minutes, then added to mash)

Boil (60 min)
1.5 oz Kent Goldings (4.5% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)               
0.5 oz Kent Goldings (4.5% AA) Pellet Hops (5 min)                  

Primary (68º F)  
2 Packets Danstar Nottingham, Rehydrated and starter made


Dec 23 2010

GABF Pro-Am Brew Day and Competition with Starr Hill (with video!)

This could be a very, very long blog post, but I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet.

In August of this year, I was asked by Brewmaster Mark Thompson of Starr Hill Brewing Company to do the Pro-Am entry with them for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). The Pro-Am is where a brewery partners up with a homebrewer and makes a batch of the homebrewer’s award winning beer in their brewery. The homebrew recipe is scaled up and put into the competition during the GABF in Denver.

Of course, I jumped at the chance.

Starr Hill has done this for more than few years and they even won a Pro-Am silver medal at the GABF in 2008.

The beer that Mark was most interested in was my California Common, or “Steam” beer. I jokingly called it “McSteamy” not long after it had been brewed and the name, making fun of the steam name and Grey’s Anatomy, simply stuck.

Every homebrewer, at some point, dreams of brewing with professional equipment and making a huge batch of their beer. In this case, instead of making my normal 5 gallon batch, I worked with Starr Hill to make 360 gallons of beer.  This means that instead of using 14 pounds of grain, we used 875 pounds. Instead of 5 ounces of hops, we used 10 pounds of hops. Upconverting that recipe was stressful for me, but it all worked out in the end.

On the brew day in August, I showed up at the brewery with my friends Will and Jon. Will has there to help out and enjoy the brew day, and Jon was there to do the same, AND he brought along his video camera to record the brew day.  More on that later.

Walk into any big, craft brewery (a bit of an oxymoron, but bear with me), and you will be overwhelmed with the scale and the amount of steel that surrounds you. It is complicated, but glorious, steampunk dream.

On the brew deck I met Levi, who was my Starr Hill brew partner for the day. Levi was amazing, and he truly made the brew day collaborative.  His constant narration of the process of brewing beer on their system was as educational as it was reassuring. I wasn’t a by-stander to my own beer. I was actively working with him on the control panel and transferring the beer from here to there.

Then it was brewing as usual. Well, except for the giant equipment with scientific accuracy.

Just like my equipment at home. Or not.

Once it was all over, McSteamy was transferred to its fermenter, dropped down to 60 degrees F° and it was ready to go.

This is me trying to act cool and pretending that I did it alone (I’m not and I didn’t):

A dry-hopping and a month later, McSteamy was kegged up for the Starr Hill tasting room, the GABF and a few watering holes around Virginia. There were a few bomber bottles, too, that were for the actual GABF competition, and I got a few of those to share with friends and the homebrew club.

The Charlottesville unveiling of McSteamy happened at Beer Run, and that was an amazing evening. It was truly humbling to see so many friends and extended family show up to the event. I’m still stunned that so many support my hobby/addiction. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such good people.

In September, I flew out to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. If you ever get the opportunity to go to the GABF, do it. It is awe-inspiring festival of excess, but worth every moment. And a few of the days it, later, takes to recover from it.

McSteamy did not when a medal, but it turned out great and very drinkable. The whole experience was remarkable.

If reading this wasn’t enough, please click on the video below and check out the amazing job Jon did in capturing the experience. It eloquently captures the brew day more than my mere words do.

Thanks, again, Jon.

Check out McSteamy: