Jan 11 2011

The Virginia Estate Ale Experiment

When a local farmer gave me a call about the grain he was growing, I was intrigued. It appears that Virginia Tech’s Small Grains Breeding Program had released a Thoroughbred barley variety.  So far, it seems to have only been used by Copper Fox Distillery (just an hour’s drive from me) to make whiskey. It is a 6-row malt, which I understand is better suited for the Virginia climate, and I can’t remember using anything other than 2-row in my homebrewing before.

The farmer was curious about using it for a beer, so he gave me about 5 pounds of the grains to play with. I initial thoughts circled around testing the quality and efficiency of the malt. How would the sugars I could mash out of the grain compare with the 2-row I normally use? Also, and this is the real bottom line, how would it taste?

When I received the grains they had already been malted and separated into 3 Ziploc bags. From what I understand from his process, he had malted and roasted them at different temperatures and times. Looking at the color of the grains and tasting them, they all seemed pretty similar to me. It looked like all of them were 6-row pale malt.

Since this was going to be a small batch, given the amount of grain he brought me, I set out to devise a simple recipe for this beer that would only feature this grain and some restrained hop additions. It, then, occurred to me that I could make a Virginia estate beer (a la Sierra Nevada’s Estate Ale). The grains would be the local farmer’s, the hops would come from my homegrown hop vines, and the water out of the local system. The yeast would be the rub, but used an American ale strain that I had gotten from Starr Hill. That yeast began in California, but it had surely gone through several generations at Starr Hill and then it had been used by me on several occasions. It was Virginian but nurture, if not by nature.

The brew session went quickly. I had decided to do an American Pale Ale and it would be very similar to a SMaSH brew (which is Single Malt and Single Hop beer). Only the 6-row grain and my homegrown cascade hops.

The grains were very normal looking and most of the rootlets had been spun out by the farmer.

The cascade hops were from last year’s harvest (2010) and I had dried, compacted and frozen them in a bags.

The original gravity of this brew was a 1.044 with an efficiency of ~70%. Given that this was a small batch, the batch didn’t go through my normal mashing process, I know efficiency was lost in that.

The yeast is pitched, and I look forward to tasting this Virginia beer. Definitely not the first of its kind, but maybe the beginning of a new, modern era.


Sep 10 2010

Black IPA Homebrew – Moor is Better

The Black IPA……. Here’s a beer that isn’t a style yet that doesn’t have a name that anyone can agree upon. So, like all imaginary things, I had to make one.

For the purposes of this email, I’ll call it a Black IPA because that makes the most sense in casual conversation. There is no official style guideline for this beer because it hasn’t been declared a style. Some just think it is a hoppy porter or American stout, and they probably have a point. The guys in the Pacific Northwest are claiming to have brewed it first, but most evidence points to it being first brewed by Greg Noonan up in Vermont (although I think the west coast obviously gets the credit for tweaking and perfecting it.  Whatever “it” is….)

And the name. Well, the beer is a strange hybrid (on paper) of a stout and an American IPA. Some are calling it a Black IPA, although it is only part IPA and really owes nothing to the “India” part of India Pale Ale. Some are calling it a Cascadian Black Ale (referring to the mountains in the NW, not the hops) and some favor American Dark Ale (which I like the best, but it isn’t all that descriptive.)

So, it is not a style, it doesn’t have a name, and there’s no rules as to how to make one of these things.  So I did what I always do: I made shit up.

I wanted it to be a clear combination of a roasty stout and a hoppy IPA. I could have just bought some Sinamar (which is just a dark liquid made from Carafa malt you can add to beers while imparting only a small amount of a roasted or burnt character) and dumped it in there, but then it would have just been an IPA that was black in color.  So I used roasted barley for the, duh, roast and some Carafa III, which is a debittered black malt, to mostly impart color. I, also, hopped this one up quite a bit. I used a lot of Amarillo (apricot, mango) and Simcoe (pine, grapefruit) hops at the end of the boil and dry-hopping.

I really like this homebrew, but it took me a few moments to get my head around it. I dig the way the pine seems to roll with the roast. I’d recommend a commercial version, but I really haven’t had one that I loved. I think the 21st Amendment’s Back in Black is very good, but nothing else comes to mind.

So there you go. This one is called “Moor is Better”.

Moor is Better – (Black IPA)

Starting Gravity: 1.054 (7/22/10)
Secondary Gravity: 1.011 (8/5/10)
Final Gravity:  1.011 (8/13/10) Days
5.7% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 78.9%
Real Attenuation: 64.6%

Mash (65 minutes ~152º)
12 lb American 2-Row
0.75 lb Crystal 60L
0.75 lb Carafa III
0.50 lb Wheat Malt
0.50 lb Roasted Barley

Boil (60 min)
2.0 oz/ 56.7 grams Chinook (11.4% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)
1.0 oz/ 28 grams Amarillo (7.2% AA) Pellet Hops (10 min)
1.0 oz/ 28 grams Simcoe (12.7% AA) Pellet Hops (10 min)
1.0 oz/ 28 grams Amarillo (7.2% AA) Pellet Hops (1 min)
1.0 oz/ 28 grams Simcoe (12.7% AA) Pellet Hops (1 min)
1.0 oz/ 28 grams Amarillo (7.2% AA) Pellet Hops (Dry Hop) (7/29/10)
1.0 oz/ 28 grams Simcoe (12.7% AA) Pellet Hops (Dry Hop) (7/29/10)

Primary (68º F)
Yeast – Safale-05


Aug 8 2009

Simple and Basic Homegrown Hop Drying – (1st Harvest of 2009)

So far this year, I’ve harvested hop cones from my Nugget vines twice and new fairly Cascade vines once.

1st Hop Harvest Nugget 7-09 - 4oz of Goodness

I harvested an initial 4 ounces of Nugget cones (the Cascades were still a bit behind) and after drying them they ended up being only 0.75 ounces.  Ripe hops are about 70% moisture at harvest, and they drop down to the teens when prepared for brewing.

The second harvest of hops gave me another 4 ounces of Nugget and 1 ounce of Cascade.  They are still drying so I don’t know their final weights just yet. 

Interestingly, here’s a visual comparison of the two hops.  The Cascade is on the left, the Nugget is on the right:

Cascade (left) and Nugget (Right) Cones

Cascade (left) and Nugget (Right) Cones

If you’ve happened upon my blog hoping for some high-tech methods for drying your homegrown hops, I am going to disappoint.  I don’t have an expensive food dehydrator where I can hold my cones around 100° F for a few hours and dry them to perfection.  And I haven’t (yet!) constructed a complex homemade system involving fans, thermometers, heating elements and flux capacitor.

Flux Capacitor

I’m still pretty lo-fi, but my method has worked for me for many years.  I simply grab the batch of hops off the vine and put them on a screen that I take off of one of the windows of my house.  I clean that screen up, spread the wet hops across it, and put it in my garage for a few days.  The reason this works is because my garage gets into the 90s everyday during the summertime (or hop harvest time for present purposes), and the screen lets air flow above and below the hops and allows them a better opportunity to dry.

Nuggets on the Screen

This process only takes two or three days, and it will be necessary to go out there at least once a day to stir ups the hops and rotate them a bit on the screen.  The dried hops will become more brittle and the stem will break more easily when they are done since that is the center of the hop and the last to dry out.

But before you do this at home, look at the condition of your garage.  Does it get into the 80-90 degree range?  Is it free from bugs that might feast on your cones?  Does it get windy in there enough to cause problems?

What does your garage smell like?  I used to store my lawn mower in my garage, and there was an obvious gasoline smell that transferred to the drying hops.  Needless to say, lesson learned.  Look around your garage and smell for things that you DON”T want to taste in your homebrew.

After that, I jam as many cones as I can into sealed bags, I suck the air out of the bags and I store them in the freezer with the type of hop, weight and date written on the side.  I know that some home hop growers cram the cones into stoppered PVC pipes and make their own hop plugs out of them.  That sounds like a fun thing to try in the future, but mine are fine as is.

Dried Nugget Cones for Freezing

And what is the alpha acid for my homegrown hops?  I really have no idea.  I’ve read articles from Zymurgy that estimate that homegrown hops are up to 50% more bitter than commercial hops, since they are subject to less processing, but that is seems like some fuzzy math.  Until I figure out a better way, I will just be using my hops as late flavor and aroma additions.

Hopefully, I will be able to harvest enough Cascade hops this year to let me do a wet hop ale.  We will see.


Apr 17 2009

Home Grown Hops -Ready for the Trellis

If it has been a warm and rainy April, you need to check up on your hop plants.

Otherwise you walk outside one day to see this:

Those are my Nugget hops. I’ve had them for at least 7 years, and they come up each season without fail and with a vengeance. They look out of control, but it’ll only take me a few minutes to run the trellis strings back down to the ground, cut these shoots back to a few strong vines, and to train them up the first foot or so of string. Later on, I’ll add some more mulch, and then I’ll plant the marigolds around the trellis to ward off insects. I’ve had these hops so long, they barely need me. If they could, they’d probably push me away like a surly two year old until harvest time. Unless I had the hose with me, of course.

The interesting ones are the Cascade hops:

As you can see, they are running behind, which is fine because they are second year hops. I will finally get some cones from them this summer since they had all last year to establish their root system. I’ll have to compare and contrast to two hops as the spring turns into summer…..