Dec 27 2011

Black Rye-IPA – Iron Brewer Championship Round – You’ll Shoot Your Rye Out

In another belated blog post, I wanted to circle around and talk about the Iron Brewer Championship Round that I was in at the end of October.

I had won my qualifying round of Batch 2 of Iron Brewer competition, and that let me move on to the Championship round against the other round winners and my dreaded nemesis Hopfentreader.

Ah, yes, if you haven’t already, you should head over to Joseph’s Hopfentreader blog, which is infinitely interesting and inspirational and, also, “Like” his Burlington Beer Company on Facebook, which is a brewery he intends to open in the very near future. I expect amazing things to come out of that new brewery. You know, despite the fact that he is my nemesis. Lex Luthor to my Superman. Tango to my Cash.

As a quick review, Iron Brewer is a fantastic national competition created by Peter Kennedy of Simply Beer. In each round, he outlines three ingredients that need to be used in the beer. You can make any style that you want, and use any ingredients you want, but you must use the necessary three ingredients. I’m the kind of brewer who loves to be creative with my beers and this competition demands that.

To play spoiler, I won the Championship round against some very stiff competition. I’m telling you this because, as a reason to read this post, whether or not I won probably isn’t amazingly interesting. The story of it is how I won the final round.

What is the trick to Iron Brewer? I don’t think there is one. Well, not a simple one.

Start by making a good, technically solid, beer. You are shooting for a faultless beer, but creativity goes a long way in forgiving some fundamental flaws.

Be unusual. Think about the most obvious thing you can make with those ingredients, and then don’t make that. And figure out a way to make all of the ingredients apparent. Yeah, they may not make sense or even work together. You might end up unsuccessful, but everyone in that round is using those same ingredients, so it is a level playing field. Making them apparent is part of the mission, not something you are trying to hide.

For the Championship Round, the three ingredients were Sorachi Ace (a Japanese hop), Weinstephaner (German) yeast, and rye malt. The most logical way to have gone with this round would have been to make a roggenbier, which is a German rye beer that is fermented with that weizen Weinstephaner beer. Roggenbiers are cool and rare, but I couldn’t do the obvious thing and I had made a roggenbier in the previous round.

In the end, I decided to go the opposite direction and make a black rye IPA. I love rye as a grain, with its light spice, bready flavors, and the Sorachi Ace is lemony citrus hop that wanders into hints of light dill. The trick of this one was the yeast. The Weinstephaner strain is a common hefe/weizen yeast, and it strays to banana flavors at normal fermentation temperatures, clove at lower temperatures and bubblegum if you ferment too high. That wasn’t going to make any sense in an IPA, but I intended to ferment it cold to minimize the banana and avoid the possibility of bubblegum, as well.

Rye and Chocolate Rye


My curveball on this one was my choice of rye. At the time of the round, rye malt extract had just become available and I knew Peter included it since it was now an ingredient that could now be used by extract brewers. I had done many batches with rye, but this was a cool opportunity to use chocolate rye, which would be an added dimension of malt and complexity to the beer.

The brew day was pretty straightforward and the rye did not cause any gummy mash problems either, although I did throw in some rice hulls for piece of mind. I pitched a huge starter of the Wyeast 3068 yeast and fermented the batch at 65°. After a week, I dry-hopped the batch with more Sorachi Ace and then bottled it 7 days later.

It ended up something quite complex, despite the hammering away I did with big, late hop additions, and very drinkable. It had a clear lemon character from the Sorachi Ace, and the chocolate rye, and its 250 Lovibond, gave a balanced roast and spice character. Not unlike dark pumpernickel bread.

I was happy with this brew and it barely won against a bunch of other great beers. I think I’ve said this each time, but each Iron Brewer round I’ve participated in has gotten progressively more difficult and competitive. I guess the final bit of advice I’d give you about Iron Brewer is to be a bit lucky, too.

You’re going to need it.


You’ll Shoot Your Rye Out (Black Rye IPA)

Starting Gravity: 1.065 (9/10/11)
Final Gravity:  1.016  (9/24/11)  Days
6.5% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 74.4%
Real Attenuation: 60.9%

Mash (60 minutes ~153º)
12 lb Maris Otter Pale Malt 2-row
3 lb Rye Malt
1.0 lb Munich Malt
1.0 lb Crystal 40L Malt
0.75 oz Chocolate Rye
0.50 oz Roasted Barley

1.0 oz Magnum Pellet Hops (13.1% AA) (60 min)
1.0 oz Sorachi Ace Pellet Hops (10.9% AA) (10 min)
1.0 oz Simcoe Leaf Hops (14.1% AA) (10 min)
1.0 oz Sorachi Ace Pellet Hops (11.6% AA) (0 min)
0.6 oz Simcoe Leaf Hops (14.1% AA) (0 min)
0.5 oz Amarillo Pellet Hops (8.2% AA) (0 min)
2.0 0z Sorachi Ace Pellet Hops (11.6% AA) (Dry Hop) (9/17/11)

½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)
1 tab Whirlfloc (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (65º F)  
Wyeast #3068 –Weihenstephan Yeast (2000ml starter)

Secondary (º F)

“IBC” on caps


7 gallons of 1.053 collected pre-boil



Dec 23 2011

Organic Blue Agave Nectar Saison Homebrew – Tequilana Saison

The moral of this story, and I seem to be laying that down at the beginning of my blog posts lately, is that you have to know when to quit when you are ahead. That applies to many things in life, but even more so in brewing.

New Brew Thursday and Bison Brewing joined forces months ago to hold a homebrew competition. (Yes, this is a very old post that I’m just getting around to posting now. The bulk of this sending and brewing occurred between May and June of 2011.) Winning brewers from the first three rounds would go to a final round where they’d have to brew an original and all organic beer. Those final beers would be judged by Daniel Del Grande of Bison Brewing and Dr. Bill Sysak of NBT. The winning brewer from that final round would fly out to Berkeley, CA to make their beer on the Bison system, and it will also be entered into the medal competitions at the GABF, too.

Cut to the chase, I entered my Triple Lindy Belgian tripel, which the NBT guys seemed to like, in the first round and that got me into the final round. I had done one batch of organic beer before, the Haka American wheat beer, so I knew brewing organic was no different than what I was already doing. There are just less ingredients to choose from. Not as many crayons in the box, so to say.

I had been planning to do my yearly saison, since I always wait until the heat of the summer when it is easy to maintain those saison yeast fermentation temps, so that seemed like a good way to go for the competition. So, I placed my order with Seven Bridges Cooperative and got to work.

I followed an old recipe that I’ve used several times and been happy with over the years. The only omission was that of my usual few ounces of acidulated malt. I brewed the organic saison up without incident, pitched the yeast, and let the beer begin to ferment.

Then I got to thinking. Yeah, that’s dangerous in any situation, but especially here. I started thinking, “What’s the hook to my beer?” Bison Brewing does a wonderful Honey Basil ale and even a Gingerbread porter. What was special or unexpected about mine?

That’s when I decided to act upon an old idea to use blue agave nectar in a beer. A few of the styles out there are traditionally made with simple sugars. Usually this comes in the form of cane sugar, or candi sugar. The saison style often gets a pound of cane sugar to thin the beer’s body and to help dry out with a low final gravity. Blue agave nectar, a sugar-like sweetener and the base ingredient for tequila, fits that description perfectly.

So at the 48 mark of fermentation, I added 12 ounces of blue agave nectar. When adding the nectar, I noticed that it had a “heavier” aroma than I was expecting. More like a molasses than honey. I was surprised by that but, knowing that it was such a simple sugar, I figured there wouldn’t be much left once it fermented out.

It fermented out very dry and reached a final gravity of 1.001, just above the density of water. I started the fermentation at 76° and let it go (and helped it along with a heating pad) up to 85° degrees Fahrenheit. I’m a fan of trying to ferment beers cool and patiently, but my readings have lead me to agree with some experts who think that saison yeasts are direct descendents of red wine yeast and they like heat and abuse. I’ve probably made saisons as much as any style, and they love to stall and under-attenuate. If you’ve made a healthy yeast starter and added nutrients, then the key is heat and some gentle agitation.

It did not win the Bison-NBT competition, as that was won by Andrew Bell for his Zeal Island Pale Ale. Congrats to him as it sounds like he made a fantastic brew. And thank you to the Bison and the New Brew Thursday crews for putting on a great competition that challenges brewers and celebrates homebrewing. That was amazingly cool. 

How was the Blue Agave Organic Saison? It was good, but not amazing. Two things happened with this beer.

1)        In my meddling with the recipe late in the game and adding the agave nectar, I did add a lot of extra, highly-fermentable sugars. It had a thinning effect and some of the malt soul of the beer was lost.

2)       The saison showed signs of a brett infection about a month later. Now, as far as infections go, this one was a great one. Very similar to the house taste of a Jolly Pumpkin beer, but not what I intended and it caused the bottles to become super carbonated. Not to the point of bottle bombs but close. How did that happen? Either the late addition of the nectar post boil caused a problem (in theory, it shouldn’t have because it is hard for anything to live in a substance that high in sugar), or it picked up a Brett strain from my equipment. The latter is more likely.

All in all, a good beer, but nothing I planned. And, clearly, that was because there wasn’t a lot of thought going on about in this beer after I pitched the yeast. I second thought myself and got a little wild on the back-end. No pun intended.

And to be clear, I not saying that playing with beers after primary is a bad thing. I love splitting batches and adding fruit or oak, and seeing what comes of it all and comparing and contrasting the variants. But fundamental changes in sugar content can be problematic. Think about the beer you made and the effects of new ingredients. It can be wonderful, or it can leave you with something unbalanced.


Saison Tequilana – (Organic Saison) (5.5 gallons)

Starting Gravity: 1.055 (5/30/11)
Secondary Gravity: 1.006 (6/4/11)
Final Gravity:  1.001 (8/4/11) 66 Days
7.7% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 98.2%
Real Attenuation: 80.4%

Mash (100 minutes ~145º)
13 lb Weyerman Organic Pilsner Malt
1 lb Weyerman Organic Wheat Malt
1 lb Briess Organic Munich Malt
1 lb Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar

Boil (90 min)
0.10 oz Organic Hallertauer Mittlefruh (4.7% AA) Pellet Hops (90 min)
1.50 oz Organic Hallertauer Mittlefruh (4.7% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)
0.75 oz Organic Hallertauer Mittlefruh (4.7% AA) Pellet Hops (0 min)

1 tab Whirlfloc
¼ tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient

Primary (start 76º F-> 85º F)  
White Labs 565, 2 Vials, Starter was made
12 oz Wholesome Sweetners Organic Blue Agave (Agave nectar from Weber Azul) 6/2/11



Dec 21 2011

There is no good or bad beer; or what I learned about brewing from Questlove

Inspiration comes from everywhere.

There may not be any obvious parallels between brewing and music, movies, and other art forms, but if you’re not looking you are missing out on the big picture.

In reading through the latest Spin magazine, I came across a feature with Questlove, from The Roots, as well as a few others doing  a Jukebox Jury on the singles of 2011. They went through the biggest and, in this case in particular, the most viral songs of the year. What caught my eye was his takeaway on one of the “worst” songs of the year:

About Rebecca Black’s Friday :

We played this on Fallon, and I remember the irony of us studying the song like a science. What does she do in the second verse? How does the rap go? Doing that made me realize that I no longer believe in good songs and bad songs. I now only think of songs as effective and noneffective. Even though as a technical singer she’s not “good,” this was one of the most inescapable songs of 2011. What does it say when a bad song is inescapable?…….This song reveals a primitive side of us that we’re afraid that we have.” – Questlove 

This, as many things do, had me rearranging my thoughts on brewing. Is there so such thing as a good or bad beer? Is there only effective or ineffective?

Let’s just segment out the beers that have obvious, technical issues. We can’t look at the beers that have unintentionally soured or are rotten with diacetyl. These need to be thrown out the window not unlike a recording session where a guitar string snaps or a microphone breaks. That is bad beer, and not worth talking about.

I’m just as guilty as others of labeling beers good and bad, although never in such black and white terms. But it is easier to apply these labels to beer and move on to the next. We all want to simplify life, but as with any Boolean metric, it doesn’t critique a beer with any depth or insight.

By changing my mental reviewing of a beer to effective or ineffective, I can address the intent of the brewer, my personal tastes, AND the palates of others. Surely this is a more complex method of reviewing a beer, but does it make it harder to come up with a short, definitive answer in the review process? I don’t think it does.


Example Beer #1: Big Freaking Bourbon Barrel Coffee Vanilla Bean Russian Imperial Stout

Brewer: The brewer knows what he wanted to make. Something huge, complex, ready for patience and somewhat absurd. All in equal parts.

Me: I like that sort of beer on occasion, but not everyday and almost never by myself.

Beer Drinker: I think the average beer drinker might be overwhelmed by this beast of a beer, so let’s be honest and address that the beer geek as the one who is really excited and into this huge RIS.


Example #1 – Effective?

Brewer: If the technical pieces are in place, then I we can assume that this is the beer the brewer intended. Unless it is severely under-attenuated and sickly sweet, or they threw too much coffee or too many vanilla beans in the pot and obscured the rest of the beer, hopefully they nailed what they were looking for.

Me: If those issues are kept at bay, I’ll probably find it to be a good beer, although I’ll like it less if there is too much coffee because I’m not a big coffee fan. Again, this is hypothetical.

Beer Drinker: The rest of the beer world? Well, that is select group and they are not your average macro drinkers. They know what they are getting, and they are willing to jump through hoops and pay more money for a beer that is likely to be scarce.

Example #1 – Answer: Yes, that monstrous RIS was effective. It was well made, it was priced and distributed to a limited group that would appreciate it, but it had a little too much coffee flavor for me. So, big picture, it was good and effective.

None. None More Black.

“None. None more black.” 


Example Beer #2:  American-Style Light Lager

Brewer: Did the brewer intend to make this beer? Good lord, how do you make this beer on accident? Seriously, you can’t. Corn and rice don’t just fall into the mash on accident. I don’t want to get shitty here, but you only go wrong if it tastes too much of adjuncts, or hops, or doesn’t have a healthy fermentation. These beers are really hard to make and there is a lot of equipment and back-watering that goes into balancing these beers.

Me: This is a “when in Rome” beer for me. I don’t dislike them, per se. They are just nothing that I want to pay money for and I’d rather drink water. If I’m at a party and that’s all there is, I’ve have a few, but not notice that I am having a few since they aren’t really challenging or interesting. Fringe case: I might pay for one or two at a ballpark on a hot day when there aren’t better options.

Beer Drinkers: The average beer drinker (and, no, I have no idea what that really means anymore) is probably into this beer. Unless it is too low in alcohol and they have to drink a million of them to achieve a slight buzz, they are going to enjoy it and its price point.


Example #2 – Effective?

Brewer: This is a hard beer to make and, if the brewer nailed it, he/she should be proud. Pabst and other breweries win medals at GABF every year for this style. That is critical praise.

Me: I don’t want this beer and I don’t want to pay for this beer. Water is free and much better for you. But I do appreciate the skill required to make this beer.

Beer Drinkers: Increasingly less of the US drinkers want this beer as the years go, but they are still the vast, vast majority of the drinking population. The price point is right for them and this is all that they (know that they) want.

Example #2 – Answer: Yes, that thin and highly carbonated beer is a success. The brewer made something difficult, the crowd will drink it, and it wasn’t made for or with me in mind.


Pulp Fiction Diner

“Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker.” 

I could bring up many more examples and it would be very easy to come up with examples of what would be an ineffective beer. Those are beers that veered from the brewer’s vision and/or beers that no one wants to drink for a multitude of reasons. This post isn’t about changing minds or working out all the scenarios. I just think that I need to take a more complex and faceted view of beers, and maybe you do, too.

I imagine the best brewers out there steal from the world around them, and not in the physical sense. You can learn from disparate masters and, sometimes, Questlove can give you a different angle on beer.

I know the more primitive side of me is brought out by my love of sours. But that is another post.

What do you think?



Dec 2 2011

Wet Hop Ale – Hopped Hard and Put Up Wet – Barlow Brewing

I’m horrendously behind on blog posts, so I wanted to get this one out about the wet hop ale that I brewed a few months ago.

The quick background on this is that hops are quickly dried after harvest to reduce their perishability. But they can be taken fresh off the vine and used immediately in a beer. The effect is that the beer will have a very, very fresh hop flavor and aroma. When one of the local homebrew stores extended the offer of wet hops, how could I say no?

So I ordered a pound of Amarillo, and a pound of Citra wet hops. When harvest time came around, they could only get in Amarillo hops, so I ended up getting 2 pounds of that. Having no idea what I wanted to do with them, I figured I could either make a American pale ale, in order to really maximize the effect of the hops, or I could make a malty IPA base in an attempt at a balanced beer. I decided to go with the IPA base but, in the end, that didn’t seem to matter at all.

So I went with my usual IPA base, Maris Otter, which I prefer over American 2-row for this style for a fuller and nuttier malt flavor, and some Munich and crystal malts. I wanted a firm bitterness, too, but I had to do that with pellet hops since the wet hops are only good for late additions to the boil. For that, I used an ounce of 13.1% AA Magnum hops for 60 minutes.

The Amarillo hops finally came in and the volume of hops, which I knew would be absurd, was…absurd. I’ve been growing my own hops for many years, but I’ve never used that much in one batch.


A few of the Amarillo wet hops


Back to the grind


In an attempt try to keep my system from clogging up forever, I put the hops into bags for the boil.

While weighing out the hops, I discovered that I had over 2 pounds of wet hops, so I threw 5 oz in the mash just for giggles. The rest of the hops were broken into two 14 ounce charges. One went in with 10 minutes left in the boil, for flavor, and the other at flame out, for aroma. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but weights are deceiving. It seems to be a given that 5 ounces of wet, and therefore heavier, hops equal an ounce of the dried cones.

The only real concern for me was the amount of wort that I knew the hops would absorb. To counteract that, I started with 8 gallons of 1.053 wort. In the end, that was still too little because after evaporation and absorption, I was only left with 5 gallons in the carboy. My only real screw up of the day was forgetting to put Whirlfloc into the boil, but this beer probably would have been insanely murky no matter what I did.


Check out the crazy oils just floating on the top of this beer.

The wet hop IPA in the glass

I tried to turn this around as quickly as possible since this type of beer diminishes quickly. I let it sit in primary for a little over 2 weeks, although I did cold crash it during the last three days, and then bottled it right out of primary.

How did it turn out? I really like this beer, and I’ve gotten very positive feedback from friends and other brewers about it. But it was nothing at all like I had expected. I knew there would be some grassiness in the beer, but the grass was big and dank. And I knew that hops and marijuana were closely related, but this beer removes all doubt.

My biggest takeaway was that the wet hops just laminated over my malt and bittering hops. The bitterness from the charge of magnum was non-existent, and all the delicious British malt that I put into the beer just disappeared, too. The hop oils took over and dominated the beer. But not in a deeply bitter, and hugely citrus American way. In a way that was earthy, moist, and dank. Strange, but strangely addictive. But it led to no munchies.

I’ll try to make another one next year. Perhaps on an APA base. Damn the torpedoes, and all.


Hopped Hard and Put Up Wet – (Amarillo Wet Hop IPA)
Starting Gravity: 1.065 (9/5/11)
Final Gravity: 1.012 (9/21/11) 16 Days
7.0% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 80.6%
Real Attenuation: 66.0%

(60 minutes ~152º)
12 lb Maris Otter Pale Malt 2-row
1.0 lb Munich Malt
1.0 lb Crystal 20L Malt
4.0 oz Crystal 60L Malt

5.0 oz Amarillo Leaf Wet Hops (Mash)
1.0 oz Magnum Pellet Hops (13.1% AA) (60 min)
14.0 oz Amarillo Leaf Wet Hops (10 min)
14.0 oz Amarillo Leaf Wet Hops (0 min)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10

(68º F) Crashed down to ~35F during the last 3 days
Safale 05 – 2 packets

( º F)

“WH” on caps

8 gallons of 1.053 collected pre-boil