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



Jan 14 2011

Black Saison Homebrew – Black Orpheus

This is another one in the strengthening pattern of my somewhat unhinged homebrew batches. After doing a lot of straightforward and style-centric beers over the last year or so, I’m back to doing absurd experiments. The brown ale with black rice is bottled, and I’m deconstructing a saison now.

Playing around with Carafa III in my black IPA (now called an “American-Style Black Ale” by the Brewer’s Association) and a few other brews was fun. So I decided to play with it again, but to make a black saison. Much about the saison has been written, and they are highly regarded by the beer geeks of the world.

My twist on the common saison recipe was to substitute some international ingredients. The German carafe III malts would blacken the beer. I used the Mexican piloncillo, or panela, instead of cane sugar. I added hibiscus flowers to enhance the herbal notes. I used African grains of paradise, this is not unusual for the style, to increase the pepper notes. And, finally, I used the Japanese hop Sorachi Ace as a late addition and dry-hop in the hopes of getting a light lemon note.

To complicate matters more, this was a split batch where one side would be racked onto white grapes during primary fermentation, and both carboys would get brettanomyces claussenii, a low intensity brett isolated from English stock ales, in secondary.

Yeah, this is a really fucking busy recipe and I’ll make no excuses for it. I had a certain idea in mind for it, that I’ll share in a later post, and hopefully this will make sense after it has time to evolve in the bottle.

I had intended to call this batch the “Ace of Spades”, but it appears that a brewery has already stolen that Motörhead reference. Bastards. (And was for a freaking double IPA, too.)

In the end, I went with something  unfunny and more literate. This batch is now “Black Orpheus”, and you can interpret that in any way that you desire. I’m unsure what the white grape variant will be called, if it gets a unique name at all. Maybe “Black Bacchus”

The brewday began with the mashing of the grains, and here are the acidulated and carafe III malts. My secret weapon in saisons has been about 4 ounces of acidulated malt to add a slight sour note to the finished beer.

Next came the piloncillo, hibiscus and grains of paradise.

The grains of paradise, or alligator pepper, were ground up and added at flame out.

Hibiscus was added at flame-out, as well. I’ve come to learn, later, that hibiscus can be a diuretic. So, if you get to try this beer, I apologize in advance for all the pissing and such.

The piloncillo is a bitch to work with. I loved the taste of the sugar but the little pylons were hard as rocks. My Hispanic friends told me, after the brewday, it is common for people to put the pylons into pitchers of water to let them soften over night. Good to know. Wish I knew earlier.

The mash was for 75 minutes and at 147° F, in order to make the wort as fermentable as possible.

With 10 minutes left in the boil and during dry-hopping, I used the lemony sorachi ace hops that were developed at the Sapporo brewery.

After the wort was cooled, the batch was split into two fermenters. Half received white grapes after the first 48 hours of fermentation. Both received a healthy pitch of brett c as they were moved to secondary.

We will see how this all turns out. I’m not worried that too many ingredients and changes will overwhelm the beer. In this scenario, it is much more likely that some of the ingredients will just become unnoticeable.

This one is bottled and awaiting the bubbles of carbonation. I hope it doesn’t play hard to get.

The recipe:

Black Orpheus – (Black Saison) (8 gallons)

Starting Gravity: 1.061 (11/21/10)
Secondary Gravity: 1.012 (12/5/11)
Final Gravity:  1.006 (1/13/11)
7.3% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 89.7%
Real Attenuation: 73.5%

Mash (75 minutes ~147º)

13 lb Belgian Pilsner
1.0  lb Munich Malt
1.0  lb Wheat Malt
0.50 lb Carafa III
0.25 lb Acidulated Malt
2 lb Piloncillo Sugar (4 pylons)

Boil (60 min)

0.25 oz Goldings (5.7% AA) Leaf Hops (90 min)
1.75 oz Goldings (5.7% AA) Leaf Hops (60 min)
1.0 oz Sorachi Ace (10.1% AA) Leaf Hops (10 min)

¼ teaspoon Grains of Paradise (0 min)
1 oz Hibiscus Flowers (Dried) (0 min)

Primary (80º F)

White Labs 565, 2 Vials, Starter was made

Secondary (72º F)

Brett C was pitched on both on secondary

1.0 oz Sorachi Ace (10.1% AA) Leaf Hops (Dry Hop) (0.5 oz per carboy)