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



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


Oct 15 2010

Bacon Beer? Yeah, THAT Just Happened

My Iron Brewer beer turned out great, but simply bringing together the three disparate ingredients of centennial hops, vanilla beans and smoked malt wasn’t enough. No, sir.

I made 7 gallons of that beer and racked 6 gallons into a standard fermenter, but the last gallon went into a glass jug.  That gallon jug fermented alongside the rest, but it had a special purpose: bacon.  I had been joking about adding bacon to a beer for quite some time, but this was one of the few batches I’ve done that it actually makes sense to add the bacon to.

The beer already had a good amount of bacon-like flavor in it due to the Bamberg smoked malt that I had brewed it with originally. So, in order to maintain the swiney goodness the bacon brings, I decided to dry hop the beer after the lagering was done. (Or, as James at Basic Brewing correctly called it, dry porking.)

I cooked up a half pound of natural smoked bacon and cooled them on paper towels in the hopes of sopping up as much of the fat as possible. I actually cooked the bacon in the oven to keep the grease at an all time low.

After they cooled a bit, I chopped up the bacon very fine and put them in the beer. Interestingly, and unsettlingly, the strips of bacon rehydrated in the beer and appeared almost raw again. Mmmmm.

I’m planning to let the bacon float around in the beer for about a week at room temperature before I crash the beer down again. After talking to Garrett Oliver at the GABF about his Reinschweinsgebot bacon beer, he advised that I fat wash the beer. (Yeah, I just name dropped. I’ve got no one to blame but myself.)  Fat washing is not unlike what we brewers do when making an eisbock.  Once all that fat congeals (I know, SEXY) and floats to the surface, I’ll rack underneath it and get a beer with all of the bacon and none of the fat.

It is still dry porking right now. I’ll update with tasting notes later.



Aug 22 2010

Smoked Baltic Porter – Iron Brewer Competition Beer

I’m in the third round of the Iron Brewer competition, which was started by Peter from Simply Beer.  The concept is really interesting and, much like the Iron Chef show, there are mysterious ingredients that you need to use in the batch.  

In Round 3, the required ingredients are:

1)       Centennial Hops

2)      Vanilla Beans

3)      Smoked Malt

In all honesty, smoked beers are the only styles that I haven’t gotten my head around just yet. But I decided to homebrew all of the BJCP styles a few years ago and I needed to get to these challenging beers eventually. This friendly competition is the perfect reason to get my feet wet. 

So, in looking at the possible beers I could make, I immediately thought of a smoked porter or brown ale. But that honestly made too much sense. I know a few of the other brewers in this round and they make very good beer. The pressure was on so, I decided I needed to do something bigger and more foolish. In other words, I needed to go big or go down trying.

In looking at the hot trends, Great Divide and Surly brewing both make a smoked Baltic porter. That proposes a few problems. I didn’t have any frame of reference for concocting a recipe, I had never tried either beer, and Baltic porters are actually lagers which take longer to make and age than the timeline of the Iron Brewer round allows. For all those legitimate reasons NOT to make it, I decided I had to make a smoked Baltic porter.

Looking at the broad breakdown of the Surly Smoke, I used that beer (which, again, I’ve never tried) as the springboard for my Iron Brewer entry. It veered away from the traditional Baltic porter ingredients in favor of American 2-Row malt and some amount of flaked oats.  I decided to use those grains but, also, to pull in a more traditional base malt like Munich and the required smoked Bamberg malt. I could have gone small on the Bamberg, but I wanted the smoke to be apparent and not hidden behind the other ingredients.

After that, using the centennial hops for bitterness and the vanilla bean at the end of the boil were simple decisions. And, although I could have made the smart move and gone with a San Fran lager yeast for a faster steam-like fermentation, a chose the Saflager 23 since I had little time to build up a huge liquid yeast starter.

So the final grains where American 2-Row, flaked oats, smoked malt, chocolate malt and Munich malt.

The mash was uneventful and lasted 70 minutes at 150 degrees.

Mmmmm. Rolling boil.

It was pitched into a 6 gallon carboy and shot with pure oxygen before pitching the yeast.

The recipe is listed below, but I’m not sure what final tweaks I will put on this batch. Depending on the taste of the beer, post-fermentation, I may add some oak, which would complement the vanilla. I might siphon off a gallon and dry hop that with bacon, as well. 

Recipe: Smoked Baltic Porter
Style: Other Smoked Beer

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 17.50
Anticipated OG: 1.075 (Plato: 18.15)
Anticipated SRM: 37.4
Anticipated IBU: 52.2
Brewhouse Efficiency: 69 %
Wort Boil Time: 60 Minutes

9.00 lbs. Pale Malt (2-row)
2.00 lbs. Munich Malt
5.00 lbs. Smoked (Bamberg)
0.50 lbs. Flaked Oats
1.00 lbs. Black Patent Malt

One Step Mash Held at 150 F for 65 minutes
Batch Sparge

60 Min Boil
15 Min One Whirlfloc Tablet
10 Min 1/2 tsp Wyeast Brewer’s Choice Nutrient Blend
10 Min One Vanilla Bean (Sliced in half, scraped)

1.75 oz. Centennial Pellet 8.00% 60min.
0.50 oz. Willamette Pellet 5.00% 15 min.

2 Packages of Saflager S-23
60 Sec of pure oxygen
Starting fermentation at 53 F
Diacytel rest when 80% fermented
Lagering as long as I can