Saturday, August 20, 2011

First Brew in Awhile, and... CRAP - Old Hops!

Yeah it's been awhile - Meg and I have been traveling, working like crazy (Meg landed an event planning gig at Revolution Brewing), hosting and attending parties, yadda yadda. Even though rain was in the forecast today, I said heck with it - it's rained like the past 3 times we've brewed, we'll deal! We need a good IPA on tap, stat.

So the mash and everything went well, then it started to sprinkle, then thunder and lightning got me thinking we need to do something. Normally I'd rig up the tarp, but since we've had work done on our house, all the hook-up spots where gone, so into the garage is was! Surprisingly, this worked really well - why hadn't we just done this before? ANYWAYS...

We get the kettle fired up and I chuck my bittering hops in, some Columbus - 1oz as a first wort, then 2oz in a hop sack come boil. After we've been boiling 10 minutes or so, Meg and I are chatting over the kettle when I notice a minty smell - I ask Meg about it and she's like, "Yeah, herbally." I fetch some of the Columbus pellets and crack one open - crap, that's it. I check my inventory records, and we bought a pound of these in May 2010 - crap. We store them pretty well - wrapped in the oxygen barrier bag they come in, wrapped in another freezer bag. But I guess old is old unless you're super crazy and vacuum seal every time, and we don't have one of those. I noticed kind of an herbally flavor in one of my more recent beers too, likely the same problem - hops we bought in bulk last year are noticeably oxidizing. I know that's usually a cheesy smell, but seems it can be herbally too. Maybe it's herbally cheesy.

So back to brewing - I immediately take the hop sack out, nothing to do about the 1oz still in the kettle. Fortunately, the rest of the hops - Centennial and Simcoe, were fresh - so all good there and I think all will turn out well. I mean, there's like 5oz of hops in this recipe before we even get to the dry hopping.

But from here on out, I'm keeping on eye on hop freshness and smelling everything before I dump it in the kettle - cheers!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cheese & Beer Dinner - CCBW 2011

Whew - we survived another American Craft Beer Week! The Illinois Craft Brewer's Guild always puts together a week full of great events right here in Chicago for the occasion. Of course, we couldn't resist hitting up a few of the events, so you'll get a rundown here. Though it may not have been an "official" CCBW event, one of my favorite events of the week, and certainly the most delicious, was a Wisconsin Cheese & Founders Beer Dinner at Kendall College.

We were asked to attend this dinner by the good folks at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. (Thanks, Joanna!) How can you resist Wisconsin cheese paired with brews from one of our favorite breweries? Neither of us had been to Kendall for a dinner before, and were we surprised by the amazing facilities! The faculty and students there putting out some very impressive food and service for a bargain price. (Check out their Monday Night Dining Series for more info.)

For our dinner there were 5 courses on the menu, plus a beer & cheese reception. It was apparent that a lot of thought was put into each course & pairing. For me the cheeses really stood out as the most interesting part. (I am a sucker for Widmer cheddars and anything Carr Valley.) The Hook's Tilston Point Blue with the Centennial IPA was intense, but the winner in my book. (However, it was followed pretty closely by the apple salad/Red's Rye pairing.)

A couple of the pairings, although good on their own, just didn't shine like the others. The Dirty Bastard made a nice sauce for the Braised Beef, but was just a little too mild for the dish as a whole. Same for the dessert (pictured left). The big flavors of the gingerbread needed a boozier brew - like a barleywine or Russian imperial stout to match its boldness.

Overall, I think this was a fantastic event. It's through dinners like these that people who don't often think of beer & fine dining get acquainted with the subtleties of pairing beer and food (especially cheese). Thanks again to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for hosting a fantastic evening!

PS - Our fellow guests, Guys Drinking Beer, also posted their thoughts on the evening.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why We Need an Indoor Brewing System

Yes, that's Matt during a thunderstorm holding an umbrella over the brew kettle, which is underneath a leaking tarp. We also had a floodlight set up just so we could see.

This beer will be named (aptly) Sturm und Drang.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We Took the BJCP Exam

So last Saturday we headed down to Plant Chicago to take the Beer Judge Certification test. We'd been part of a study group, which met around once a month since last December. The study class, led by National Judge/chemist Steve McKenna and organized by our homebrew club, HOPS!, was key. In the class you don't just just learn about beer styles, ingredients, processes, etc. - but you learn how to take the test. 3 hours may seem like a long time, but you need to cram *a lot* into those three hours. Many people don't even finish the test, so you need a strategy going in.

As part of the test is judging, we learned about identifying not only what's appropriate (or not) for a given style, but we also isolated off-flavors to help us identify them. This typically involved doctoring a bunch of Bud Light. This was kinda funny - here we were, supposed beer people, bringing cases of Bud Light to a beer meeting.

We also sampled classic examples of various styles, and each-other's homebrews.

The test itself consists of 9 essay questions, judging 4 beers, and filling out a scoresheet as if you were tasting a classic example. Part of what made the test so difficult is that it pulls from a large pool of possible questions. For example, there's an ingredients question. It might ask you about hops, or mashing, or malting, or water, or yeast. To get a good score on the question, you gotta know your stuff. If you get mashing, you need to talk about what happens during mashing - how the malt's enzymes convert starches to sugars, etc. - there's chemistry of some sort in every answer. To our dismay, we got malting - one of the longer and more difficult questions to answer.

It boils down to about 12 minutes an answer. Even with a watch, it's tough to manage your time. You'll be cruising along on a question when an administrator plops a beer down in front of you to judge. So you gotta stop what you're doing, get out a scoresheet, and judge. The admins can be tricky too - and give you a beer that perhaps is said to be one style, but would actually fit better into another style - and hopefully you can pick up on that.

When the three hours were up, my hand was killing me - I think Meg and I each wrote 20 pages or more. Even with all our prepping, our last couple answers were rushed and not stellar, but hey, we finished. After that, we hit the bars and got ripped like we just finished finals.

This is the last year the test will have this format. Starting next year, you'll need to pass an online, pre-test of sorts before you can even take the full test. The tasting and written portions will be held on separate days. This sounds like a good format, but I was also glad to kick it old school.

I went into the test just wanting to learn things to help me become a better brewer. I certainly got that, but also met some really cool people and got to know some folks in my homebrew club even better. And some of those elusive styles and off-flavors aren't so elusive anymore. Worth it? Totally. Major props to HOPS! - especially Mr. Corey and McKenna for devoting so much of their free time to organizing everything, and to the good folks at New Chicago Brewing for hosting the exam.


Monday, April 25, 2011

BOSS Homebrew Awards, Flossmoor ProAm & Stout!

First off, I'd like to extend a big "huzzah!" to our brewing brothers and sisters at BOSS for hosting a great competition last March. We entered a few beers, and also judged. As homebrewers, we've found judging to be extremely useful for sensory development - that along with the BJCP study class we're taking. As a judging apprentice (someone who hasn't taken the test yet), you'll get paired up with a more experienced judge who will help you - it's worth pursuing as you'll learn a lot about common off-flavors and brewing mistakes, and chances are you'll try styles that you've never tried before or maybe don't know much about.

Anyhoo, we took home three awards from that comp:
  1. 3rd place for an American Pale Ale
  2. 1st place for English Barleywine
  3. 1st place for American Stout
The first two beers on the list were actually brewing goof-ups that we fixed, so I can't really provide accurate recipes for those. The barleywine was originally brewed an an American barleywine (from Jamil's Classic Styles) - but due to some unexpectedness on the brewday and some needed improvising/tweaks - turned out more malty than expected. 

This proved a good case for submitting your beers to competitions. Not really knowing any better, I submitted this barleywine to a different comp where a judge remarked that it was more like an English barleywine. So for BOSS I entered it as such and bam, it placed. Good judging sheets can be priceless.

The American Stout is a recipe we've been working on awhile. It still needs a few tweaks here and there, but here is it if you'd like to try it. It assumes 80% efficiency, and 8 gallons pre-boil volume:

Recipe: Stupid American Stout
Style: 13E-Stout-American Stout
Recipe Overview
Wort Volume Before Boil: 8.00 US gals
Wort Volume After Boil: 6.72 US gals
Volume Transferred: 5.50 US gals
Water Added: 0.00 US gals
Volume At Pitching: 5.50 US gals
Final Batch Volume: 5.00 US gals
Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.059 SG
OG: 1.070 SG
FG: 1.016 SG
ABV: 7.2 %
ABW: 5.7 %
IBU (using Tinseth): 69.9
Color: 39.3 SRM
Apparent Attenuation: 76.5 %
Mash Efficiency: 80.0 %
Boil Duration: 60.0 mins
Fermentation Temperature: 67 degF
US 2-Row Malt 13lb 12oz (85.3 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Caramel 40L Malt 12.00 oz (4.7 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Dark Chocolate Malt (420) 10.00 oz (3.9 %) In Mash/Steeped
Belgian Debittered Black Malt 8.00 oz (3.1 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Roasted Barley 5.00 oz (1.9 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Caramel 120L Malt 3.00 oz (1.2 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Horizon (9.1 % alpha) 2.78 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 60 Min From End
US Centennial (9.1 % alpha) 0.80 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 5 Min From End
US Cascade (5.4 % alpha) 1.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used Dry-Hopped
US Chinook (11.5 % alpha) 1.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used Dry-Hopped
Other Ingredients
Yeast: White Labs WLP001-California Ale OR Wyeast 1056 - 1.5L starter
Mash Schedule
Mash Type: Full Mash
Schedule Name:Single Step Infusion (68C/154F)
Step: Rest at 154 degF for 60 mins

So why "Stupid American Stout"? Lots of reasons - but if you drink enough, you'll act like a stupid American ;)

One thing I've really learned brewing this is that stouts really need to age a bit before you really know what the beer can be. After dry hopping and carbonating, this beer had an almost ash-like flavor and I was really bummed out - but it improved over the course of a month, and well, now I'm glad I kept it around!

This beer will also be brewed by Flossmoor Station as their GABF ProAm entry, where a professional brewery brews a homebrewer's recipe. The recipe has to take 1st at a BJCP sanctioned competition - lucky for me, I know the brewer at Flossmoor and lucked out. If you brew it, let me know how she turns out. And look for this to be on tap at Flossmoor late this summer.

'til next time - cheers!