Jun 28 2011

Roggenbier – Iron Brewer Batch 2

I’m in the Iron Brewer competition again and there are three new ingredients to work with. The beer that I made for Batch 1 was an oaked-aged smoked Baltic porter. It came in second place in the Iron Brewer judging to HopfenTreader for that round, but it medaled in the CASK competition and made it past the first round of the National Homebrew Competition this year in the Smoke-Flavored and Wood-Aged Beer category. And, more importantly, it was pretty tasty.

The three ingredients for this batch are: flaked oats, hersbrucker hops, and peppercorns. Oats don’t make much of a taste contribution but, as in oatmeal stouts, they will add to a beer’s mouthfeel and creaminess. Hersbrucker hops are  a variety that I hadn’t used before, but they are German and are said to add some spice and earthiness to beers. Peppercorns were the wildcard, but the previous ingredients were leading me down the path of a style that would complement a fuller beer with spice notes. A roggenbier is a German ale that is similar to a dunkelweizen but made with up to 50% rye instead of wheat. A big, thick rye beer seemed to be the perfect backdrop for the spice of the hops and the peppercorns. To make things interesting, I decided to use pink peppercorns, which are actually not true peppercorns but rather the berries of the baies rose plant. They give a firm, deep pepperiness and a light twist of citrus in the end. Mostly lemon notes to my tongue.


Pink Peppercorns

The Close-Up: Pink Peppercorns

Armed with that taste in mind, a wrote my recipe trying to formulate a way for the all of the necessary parts to shine. A pound of flaked oats should be more that enough to increase the mouthfeel of the beer. And I used the hersbrucker hops for bittering and in conjunction with traditional Czech saaz hops as a flavoring addition. The pink peppercorns would be a 5 gram addition that would be crushed and put in the boil pot during the last 10 minutes of the boil.


The Grains: Rye, Flaked Oats, Pale 2-Row, Carafa II, Munich, Caramunich

My only concern for the brew day was the large volume of rye malt that I would be using in the mash. I used to use rice hulls to insure that I wouldn’t get a stuck sparge but, after running out a few times, I realized that my system didn’t need them. I frequently do 50% wheat beers without incident, but rye is a completely different beast. I’ve used up to 30% rye before and the mash began to get really thick and gelatinous.


The Real Secret Ingredient: Rice Hulls

To be safe I added 1 pound of rice hulls, which is an absurd amount, but I had no problems whatsoever during the sparge. But remember, when you add rice hulls to a mash you need to increase your amount of water, as well. My mash was less soupy than I normally shoot for but my conversion and efficiencies were fine.


No Stuck Mash

The runnings were a little slower than usual, and looked a bit like hot caramel, but at no point did I think the mash was going to stick.


The First Runnings

The rest of the day was smooth and uneventful. A favorite saying of mine and a good thing.

I made a big yeast starter of the White Labs 300 Hefeweizen strain. I’m fermenting at 62F to keep the more traditional banana and cloves aromas at bay.


Fermenting Away at 62F

I got busy with family and work, so the brewing of this one happened very late. But hopefully I can turn it around quickly and well. Thus far it has had many, many names. Roggen Hard and Put Up Wet. Roggen’s Hereos. Roggenly Handsome. Etc., etc. We’ll see.

The Recipe

(Roggenbier) Iron Brewer Batch #2

Starting Gravity: 1.062 (6/25/11)
Final Gravity: TBA

Mash (154º for 70 min)
6.0 lbs Rye Malt
3.0 lbs Munich Malt
3.0 lbs American 2-Row
1.0 lbs CaraMunich Malt
1.0 lbs Flaked Oats
2 oz Carafa II

Boil (60 min)
1.0 oz Hersbrucker Pellet Hops (4.5 AA) (60 min)
0.25 oz Czech Saaz Pellet Hops (3.5 AA) (15 min)
0.25 oz Hersbrucker Pellet Hops (4.5 AA) (15 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
5 grams of crushed Pink Peppercorns (Boil – 10 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (62º F)
WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale Yeast – 2000ml Starter Made


Jun 24 2011

Schwarzbier – Dark Helmet

Lots of factors go into what my next homebrew will be. (Some of them are even rational.) The time of the year will push me towards porters and stouts, or will swing me the other way to pale ales and Berliner weisses. Sometimes it is a seasonal yeast strain, or the availability of scarce hop varieties that inspire me to try something new.

I don’t do lagers very often, so when I know I’ll have to dedicate a cooler to lager fermentation (around 50F) and subsequent lagering (around 32F), I might as well do two at once. So I did a triple decoction bohemian pilsner in the morning and a schwarzbier in the afternoon back in April. It was a long and, occasionally, trying day but I ended up with 2 batches of lager beer in the end, so it was worth it.

Quick rundown: a schwarzbier is a smooth, moderately malty, dark lager of German origin. It is pretty tightly balanced and the ones that I’ve tried that were out of style were so because they were too roasty and porter-like. That is something that Gordon Strong was complaining about on Twitter the other day, as well.

The malts: Munich, Black Roasted Barley, Crystal 60L, Carafa II, Pilsner, and Chocolate malt

Dark goodness

There is nothing revolutionary about this schwarzbier and it cuts very close to JZ’s recipe for the style. I used a blend of the Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager strain and the White Labs WLP830 German Lager strain. That was a bit of a necessity considering that I had to ramp up a huge culture of the Bohemian lager for the BoPils, and so to get to the right pitch count, with my meager yeast farming setup, I used some of the Bohemian strain to complement the planned German strain for the schwarzbier.

It was bottled last week and should be ready to taste in a few more days.

This one is named Dark Helmet after the Spaceballs character who was a master of the “Schwartz”.


Dark Helmet – (Schwarzbier)

Starting Gravity: 1.059 (4/17/11)
Secondary Gravity: 1.015 (5/2/11) (Lagering)
Final Gravity: 1.015 (6/15/11)
5.9% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 73.6%
Real Attenuation: 60.3%

Mash (154º for 80 min)
5.0 lbs Pilsner Malt
6.0 lbs Munich Malt
5 oz Crystal 60L
7 oz Chocolate Malt
4 oz Black Roasted Barley
4 oz Carafa II

Boil (90 min)
1.5 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops (3.8 AA) (60 min)
0.5 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops (3.8 AA) (20 min)
0.5 oz Hallertau Pellet Hops (3.8 AA) (0 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (50º F for ~2 weeks, including a diacetyl rest)
Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager – Starter Made
WLP830 German Lager Yeast – Starter Made

Secondary (34º F for ~6 weeks)


Jun 14 2011

Beer is Art – An Interview with Mike and Nate of Wilderness Brewing

This week is the National Homebrew Conference, and homebrewers from all over the country are heading to San Diego to talk shop, attend brewing workshops with experts, and to find out the results of the final round of the National Homebrew Competition.

It is a time to celebrate the art and the hobby of homebrewing, and what better way to do that then to talk to a pair of homebrewers who are making the leap to become professional brewers. I first came across Nate and Mike through their blog Thank Heaven for Beer. These homebrewers now have a Kickstarter campaign going to raise funds for their start-up: Wilderness Brewing.

After you get to know these guys, be sure to stop by their Kickstarter page and support them!

And Interview with Nate and Mike from Wilderness Brewing in Kansas City, MO:

Barlow Brewing: Where does the name Wilderness Brewing come from?

Mike: It comes from our philosophy on brewing. As we were working through our name ideas and their various iterations, we came up with the name from getting into the nitty gritty of our approach.  Wilderness speaks to a place of wondering, exploration, and navigation through various terrains.  That’s what we want to do with brewing. We want to stay on the move and “wander” the wilderness, so to speak. The name just seemed to fit.

Barlow Brewing: Who the heck are these guys Nate and Mike?

Mike & Nate: We are guys who love beer and want to do something great with it. We are really no different than you, and anyone else reading this. We are bloggers who have been writing for three years and learning everything we can about beer. Now we are guys who are ready to brew for a living. We have discovered that what we set out to do in life wasn’t the end destination, just a location along the journey.

Barlow Brewing: What got you guys into brewing? Why has your passion for it continued?

Mike: My wife bought me a home brew kit for Christmas one year. She saw how passionate I was becoming about beer and thought I would like to try to my hand at brewing. My passion for it has continued because I love diving in and seeing how things work, exploring a variety of flavors, and creating. I also love to cook. The two go together, and cooking has informed my brewing (and vice versa). But seeing people taste and appreciate beers I’ve brewed has maybe been the greatest fuel for continuing my passion. Additionally, I’ve had the privilege of teaching other people to brew as well.  That has fueled a collective passion.

Nate: I first brewed with Mike and was fascinated by the paradox of simplicity and complexity in the process. I became addicted to brewing when my dad bought me a kit for Christmas. I thought I would brew every couple or months or so, but soon find myself doing it weekly. I almost went to art school, but changed my mind last minute. I see brewing as no different than painting with oils or molding a lump of clay into a functional piece of dishware…it’s an art…that’s why my passion has continued. The aspect of self expression is so tangible, both in the creation, and seeing other enjoy the work.

Barlow Brewing: What are the best and worst beers you’ve ever made as a homebrewer? How did they change what and how you brew?

Mike: I have never really brewed a bad beer. I’ve certainly had beers I would change. Perhaps the one I consider the worst is my second double chocolate stout. A bit more cocoa powder than I would have liked. Ironically, my best beer is also a chocolate stout. I home roasted the cocoa beans (much better than powder) and got it to a huge ABV. Then I added bourbon. Then I eisbocked it. I consider it a delicious achievement.

Nate: I had one bad beer. I brewed a big barleywine-ish (10%) beer and dosed it with sarsparilla. The flavor was decent, but the harsh aroma of the sarsparilla screwed with me when I went to take a sip. I almost threw it out, but my wife convinced me to keep it. After about a year and a half, it turned out to be pretty good, since the sarpsarilla has faded to just a nuance. My best beer…hmmm…I just brewed a couple of Flanders style brews and though they won’t be drinkable for a while, I think I’ll covet them.  But, for the time being, believe it or not, I am a huge fan of my Pilsner. It’s a bit hop forward, but I can’t find a beer to parallel it to…it drinks like a session beer, but is packed full of flavor.

Barlow Brewing: Why is beer art?

Mike: Because it requires thought and consideration rather than rote memory or action. Because it inspires both the brewer and the drinker. Because it can be interpreted in multiple ways and becomes a masterpiece in the hands of the right person. It is not simply a formula; it is jazz.

Nate: I kind of covered this earlier, but I’ll reiterate: How is taking an amalgam of denominators and combining into something that is enjoyed by the senses NOT art? A visual artist combines shades of color and line to create something the eyes can enjoy. A brewer combines shades of grains with hops, water, and living organisms to create something that is not only enjoyed by the eyes (beer is beautiful to behold), but also by the nose and the tongue.

Barlow Brewing: Why is now the time to open a brewery? What was the tipping point?

Mike: It is time to open it because it is the right time. So many aspects of our hard work and thought have converged in this particular moment. The tipping point was the fact that we thought about it so long and not gone for it. My personal tipping point was a kick in the ass from a person who basically asked me, “So what are you doing about it now?” Aside from that, my wife finished her course work for school and can write her dissertation anywhere. Plus, the dream only sustains you so long. At some point, you have to act or decide to deceive yourself indefinitely.

Barlow Brewing: What batch sizes and capacity are you planning to start with?

Mike & Nate: 62 gallons (i.e., two barrels). But that’s just starting point. Regardless, at this point, we have no intention of ever growing to fermentors the size of small aircraft.

Barlow Brewing: You say that you want to stay small. Why, and how might that be harder than you think?

Mike: The reason we want to stay small is related to interest and integrity. As stated above, beer is art in many ways. If we really think of it this way, then we have to keep being creative (if for our own sanity).  I also think that once you get to a certain point of volume, the market will dictate to you what you make.  In other words, you have to brew this to stay open or you have to make that if you want to pay the bills.  It might harder because maybe attitudes about this differ. Some may argue that you make the flagship in order to create. However, the volumes will keep this from being the case. I also think it may be a bit harder because demand may go up quite a bit and fulfilling demand may force us to grow. It’s not that I am fundamentally against it, and it’s honestly about arriving at the right level rather than staying small forever. Perhaps we could amend the phrase to say, “We want to stay small [enough].” Small enough to maintain a free reign on creative license.

Barlow Brewing: What does the Kansas City market not have that Wilderness Brewing brings to the table?

Nate: Kansas City has a great beer scene. There are more than a handful of beer stores that offer an amazing selection. Also, Boulevard is a pillar in the craft world that we love and look up to, and we don’t want to diminish what they bring to the community.  We hope to bring unparalleled variety and exploration of historic and avante-garde brews. We’d love to bring a wealth of sours to the scene…in fact, sours lack shelf space across the United States. We’d love it if folks find themselves saying, “what will they brew next?”

Barlow Brewing: You say, in your video, that you won’t have a flagship beer. What are you hoping will be a crowd favorite?

Mike & Nate: You actually just named it. If we have a flagship, it will be a crowd favorite. We don’t believe a brewer should tell the consumer what the flagship is. Not that it’s wrong…we just have a different philosophy. The people who drink our beer can tell us what their favorite is and we can work with them to keep making it. Perhaps the flagship, like a strain of yeast, can even evolve over time into something deliciously different than what it started as.

Barlow Brewing: I know you like to make sours. Because of how long those take to make, will they not be part of your initial brewing?

Mike & Nate: We will probably brew them almost immediately but they, as you say, take a while to age and become what they are supposed to. We could offer some brews utilizing a sour mash (we both utilize this method frequently) that have a sour aspect that are drinkable much sooner than something that requires lengthy aging.

Barlow Brewing: How will you be able to balance a start-up brewery and a family?

Mike: My wife is very supportive (as is Nate’s), but my wife and I don’t have any kids right now, so that will make a little easier for me than for Nate. However, Andrea will be a regular participator in brewery life, and I’m confident that we will have plenty of time together.

Nate: My wife has been pushing me towards this for a while. When I was working a job that just sucked the life out of me she would encourage me to follow my passion. When you have your spouse’s support, the balancing act is much easier. Additionally, I managed to be a father to 2 kids (I have 5 now) work a full time job, and be full time graduate student who maintained a 3.5 gpa. I love hard work, and in a weird way, feel like it to be sanctifying.

Barlow Brewing: Why should someone give you guys money to make Wilderness Brewing a real brewery?

Mike: That’s the hardest question to answer. After all, it’s hard to convince someone you don’t know to fund something you are doing. But I think I have three answers that are enough for me to give to campaign. One, I believe in what someone is doing and they convince me that it is a worthwhile pursuit. Two, because most people have dreams. And while they may have missed the boat on theirs or haven’t arrived at their dreams, they understand what it is like to hope and aspire. That is enough for many people. Three, you have say over your money for once. Money that you have deducted for taxes may or may not be used for something you like or agree with. People giving to the campaign now have say over giving their money to something they see as meaningful (it doesn’t hurt that they can get some swag).

Nate: Well, nobody has to give…and we don’t want anybody to be guilted into it. But, there is an aspect of “community” that the craft beer world exhibits; there-within the answer may lie. I know of a bunch of breweries who have helped out other breweries in times of hop shortage, I know of guys who have supported other new brewery startups–like Mystery Brewing Co., and bloggers, like yourself who help spread the world, pledge money, and surprise beer blogger like myself with auto-siphons. I remember watching an old fashion Amish barn raising in Northern Ohio when I was a kid…brotherly love just seems right.

Barlow Brewing: If I happen to be in Kansas City, would you let me brew a batch with you? What if I want to make a triple decocted eisbock aged in Zima barrels?

Mike & Nate: Maybe not the Zima barrels. I think we will always be open to having people brew with us or participate in the process. Letting people brew a batch with you and determining the recipe are pretty different. However, we are open to the possibility of working with people to brew some batches. In fact, I would personally like to use the brewery as a teaching avenue if people in the area are interested in it. We love the idea of Sam Adam’s longshot, and have even written about the “collaboration craze” and how the collaboration between a brewery and a homebrew would be rad.  Having tasted your Eisbock, for you, the answer would be yes…it was delicious. Perhaps even some internships would be something we would love to do.

Barlow Brewing: If I stop by, can I crash on your couch? I don’t snore. Much.

Mike: Absolutely. That’s all I can say to that one. Anything to encourage the transient life of a wonder-lusting peripatetic.

Nate: Absolutely. You might have to deal with a sleep walking 5 year old or a crazy howling beagle, but I doubt you’d notice that after a few homebrews.

Barlow Brewing: Thanks for taking the time to answer my occasionally serious questions. Good luck!

And make sure you visit Kickstarter and support Nate and Mike in making their dream of Wilderness Brewing a reality.