Monday, June 21, 2010

NHC 2010 Pictures

Here's a picture set from the 2010 National Homebrewers Conference! Not that many - but my hands were busy either holding beer, tapping kegs, hauling gear, etc. Next time I'll be a little more prepared to document the madness ;)

In the picture below:
Meg, John Blichmann, Me, Bill, Bob, and Doug (also of Blichmann Engineering). With the exception of the Blichmann guys (awesome to hang with ya'll), we're all members of HOPS!.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

NHC 2010 - Day 3 Recap

It is becoming apparent that this conference is all about endurance - fortunately our hotel has some good strong coffee! While the coffee goes great with a delicious breakfast croissant, it was not so great with bruschetta, sauteed mushrooms, and blue cheese - which is what we were sampling during out first seminar today: food and beer pairing.

During the Practical Food and Beer Pairing: Planning and Hosting Your Own Pairing Dinner we learned some great tips from Kyle Jones. It was encouraging to hear how you don't need a degree in food science or brewing to put together a great evening of pairings - you educate your palate as you go. Kyle, like many of us, will daydream in his office, car, etc. about food and beer and jot down any pairing that sounds interesting and then try it out. The important thing of planning out a pairing dinner is just that: planning. After setting the menu, he'll start 30 days in advance, contacting various vendors to secure the food/beer he wants - and does as much prep work as possible the days before the event. Having a helper is key too.

We tried some crusty crostinis with bruschetta-like tomatoes/basil, paired with Sierra Nevada's Kellerweiss, which was excellent. The wheat beer really balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes. Next up: sauteed mushrooms paired with Deschutes Black Butte Porter. The logic behind this pairing is that the earthiness of the mushrooms would balance well with the roasty, earthy flavors of a porter. Meg really liked this one, but I wasn't such a big fan - I think I was picking up too much of the chocolate from the beer, and chocolate 'shrooms aren't my thing.

Lastly, we had some blue cheese paired with Summit's (?) IPA. This was a great one. The hoppy-bitter/fruity beer did a good job of keeping the strong cheese in check, sort of bathing your mouth, prepping it for the next bite of cheese. Kyle also recommends paring IPAs with cheesecakes and recommends always having a dessert (or two) at your dinner.

A great talk. The overall theme was to think it, try it, and don't be discouraged if it doesn't work. Let your palate guide you. My only complaint was that the 9am class time probably wasn't the best slot for this....

Next up was Hop Variety Overview: What is Quality and How Can I Find It by James Atweis of Gorst Valley Hops. This was also great, as it covered a bit of chemistry but focused on how it impacted hop flavor in your beer. Hops consist of various oil compounds, and these compounds have flashpoints - basically, temperatures at which they work best under. If I see James again, I think I'll ask him if this is why bittering hops don't matter much taste-wise. You toss them in at the beginning of your boil, and if that's all you did - flavor-wise you'd be hard pressed to tell what you used because those flavor oils all have flashpoints well under 200F. By using late addition hops, you loose less as they don't spend as much time over their flashpoints - another reason to cool your beer quickly post-boil. I didn't take notes so please correct me here if you attended this one (my stomach was still yelling about digesting coffee and the food/beer pairings).

The "big thing" I got from this was that most hop flashpoints are around 114F - so next time, I'm going to try cooling my wort down under this, and chucking in some hops then. Also, I think I finally understand the logic behind a hop-back, which is used post-boil to lock in those flavors and aromas normally driven out by the boil. In fact, I can't wait to experiment with this.

After lunch and a heart-warming keynote from Mark Stutrud of Summit Brewing, one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement in the 80's.  Following the keynote, we went onto Fermentation Management by Greg Doss of Wyeast Labs. We had to sit on the floor for this one as the room was packed. Greg covered lots and lots of stuff (judging from the way he was skipping slides, we missed quite a bit). The things I took away was that as far as attenuation goes, all ale strains are really about the same. What matters is the recipe and wort composition. Things like flocculation didn't matter in his tests. For example, he did shaken vs. completely static fermentations side by side, and there was only a 1-2% difference in attenuation. So according to this logic, swirling your carboy to keep the yeast up in suspension doesn't do a thing as far as attenuation goes (though perhaps it gets the job done faster?). To me, this was pretty ground breaking info as about everything I've read seems to say the opposite. The one big factor we didn't cover much beyond the basics was temperature.

Another interesting thing he discussed was pitch-rates, and how he really didn't think pitching high was much of a concern. Basically, better to pitch high than low. Granted by pitching high, you may loose some desirable esters (especially in wheat beers), but better that then getting the less desirable esters associated with under pitching (and why I always make a starter). I and some other fellows chatted him up in the hospitality suite over a delicious English Bitter he brewed. One fellow said how he pitched 5 successive times on the same yeast cake. Of course, this is way over pitching and Greg told him as much, as well as the fact that while reusing your yeast is fine, to note that you carry over IBUs from your previous batches - so keep in mind that your beers may get more and more bitter as you reuse your yeast (I think I've experienced this). Greg is also not a fan of yeast washing/rinsing - saying that it often does more harm than good by stressing out the yeast. I wanted to talk more about this as my experience is quite the opposite, but will have to do it later as he was quite busy answering lots of questions.

Last up, we attended Bottle Conditioning Like a Pro by Jennifer Helber - a lab worker from Boulevard Brewing. It was interesting to hear someone so gung-ho about bottling, something many homebrewers (including myself) tend to avoid like the plague in favor of kegging. Jennifer started by covering lots of the basics - but here are the "pro" highlights.

First - she doesn't just sanitize her bottles - she sterilizes them in the oven using this procedure:
  1. Put your bottles in, and preheat to 240F.
  2. Every 5 minutes, increase the temperature by 20 degrees until you reach 340.
  3. At 340, bake for an hour.
  4. Let cool in the oven, keeping the door closed until ready to use.
She said she's gotten some flack about this method destabilizing the glass. But after contacting a major bottle manufacturer, confirmed that bottles (and glass in general) are stable up to 800F - so no worries here.

Now, the "like a pro" part comes into play. She adds both yeast and sugar to her bottling bucket. I've always thought that there was enough yeast left in suspension to take any priming sugar and fully carbonate in the bottle. In fact, I've never had a batch not carbonate using this method. But I suppose the point is that this is what the pro breweries do whether or not they filter their beer. Also, she was driving home the points that the extra yeast will help absorb any oxygen and other off flavors that might have been left over post fermentation. Here's the skinny on how she does it:
  1. Both she, and Boulevard, use Safbrew S-33 dry yeast.
  2. For 5 gallons, use 1/4 teaspoon. Boil and cool 1 cup of water to 80F, and completely dissolve yeast.
  3. For sugar, the only real difference between dextrose and sucrose is that dextrose seems to leave the beer clearer. 
Now, there's many charts/calculators out there for determining how much sugar you need, and her point is that none of them take the beer's terminal gravity into account - which may be why folks get mixed results. So for your bottle conditioned beers, record how much you use for each batch - as well as what the terminal gravity of the batch was. What she sometime did was "bracket" the amount of sugar she added for a batch. For example, she'd add some of the sugar solution, bottle some beers (and mark them appropriately), then add some more sugar, etc. keeping track of the amounts. Then she'd have various levels of carbonation in a batch and could pick the one she liked best (she had a system for doing this but I didn't note it). 

Someone asked the question of storing the dry yeast after it'd been opened, to which she replied she seals  it up best she can, puts it back in the fridge, and doesn't use it after the expiration date. And there you have it, more than I ever thought I'd know about bottling beer.

Club Night
It'd been a long day, but the real work was still ahead of us - Club Night! Lots of keg hauling, setup, food prep (we helped put together 144 Chicago-style hot dogs). Homebrew clubs from around the country put their best (and not so best) beers on display, and what displays there were! Some people assembled full bars, while others sported a Wild-West theme, a tropical theme, 50's theme - in short everyone put on a show. The Iowa club brought 600 kegs - 600 kegs! Quite simple there was too much beer in the room - too much beer! So much beer that from what I gathered, hardly anyone blew a keg. Afterwards we tore down and partied into the night. Wherever there was a spare room/space in the hotel (they kicked us out of the ballroom around midnight), some club had setup some kegs and was pouring beer. We left around 3am, and there was still beer flowing. Wow. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

NHC 2010 - Day 2 Recap

Next year, I hope to see Right Guard as a sponsor.

We went to 3 seminars today:

1. Tips and Tricks to Set Up Your Own Homebrewery, by John Blichmann of Blichmann Engineering.
John makes some of the best homebrew equipment in the industry. If you have one of his boil kettles, you're likely the envy of your fellow homebrewers. John laid out a very friendly, personable presentation of his own homebrewery, as well as those of some other homebrewers. The overall theme was less is more, and to utilize your space well. Much like a well designed kitchen, you don't want to be constantly moving across the room. Now being an engineer, John has done some very engineer-like things. For example, installing a pulley system in his ceiling so he can easily raise and push full (15.5 gallon) kegs in and out of his chest freezer and installing a crazy ventilation system. The full presentation will eventually be available on either the AHA site, or his own site.

2. Aged to Perfection: The Maturation of Beer by Steve Parks.
Part of what was great about this was Steve's British accent, and the way he said maturation. Steve works for the American Brewers Guild, and did his best to take his commercial work and lay it out in a manner than us homebrewers can understand and apply. Some of it was very technical, getting into the chemistry of yeast what it does during fermentation, and how important fermentation temperatures are. Having read about and experienced things like diacetyl and off-flavors, I was able to follow along pretty well. Steve also was just very good natured and personable - taking what would normally be a very dry subject and making it interesting, like any good teacher. He also made no qualms about bashing Budweiser, noting how producing a top-notch German lager requires a long, cool fermentation between 40 and 50F, but Bud is fermented at 57F for faster turn around. Along these lines, he discussed things like chill haze/clear beer - and how the biggest mistake us homebrewers make is rushing the fermentation process - which can cause both hazy beer as well as off-flavors that the yeast would normally clean up if given more time (yeast are amazing little buggers!). (Albeit, sometimes hazy beer can't be avoided (dry hopping), or is actually part of the beer style.) He also discussed the importance of oxygenating your wort and providing yeast nutrients, especially if you re-use your yeast. The yeast you buy at your homebrew shop is top-notch and actually requires little of either, but successive generations of that yeast require more to maintain their cell walls and stay healthy. He also talked about pitching rates, which I have a general concept of and need to study more. Let's face it, yeast and fermentation are key in brewing.

3. The Science Behind the Art: Hops in Brewing by Joseph Wegner
Little did we know there's a small hop farm just outside Madison called Gorst Valley Hops. They are small for a reason - their mission is to simply produce the best hops possible, and feel the larger the hop farm, the more difficult this becomes. This sounded great, but Joseph is obviously a chemist and not used to public speaking, which made his charts and diagrams of chemical structures even harder to digest. As he discussed free radicals and what happens to them during the boil etc., I couldn't help but wonder why we weren't focusing more on the flavors produced by said chemistry, and how we can use this knowledge to make better beer. I mean, we're homebrewers, not lab chemists. And maybe he did get into this, but I was just so zoned out at that point I missed it. While I'm sure there were some folks able to follow along, I think this talk probably belonged in a classroom with a strong cup of coffee, not a place with free-flowing beer.

Pro-Brewers Night
The awesomeness of this is hard to put into words. 30-40-some breweries, showcasing their best beers. I think my favorite was an IPA by Dark Horse - but there were so many good beers here (and some not so good). I finally got to try the Watermelon Wheat beer by 21st Amendment, and was surprised and how great it was! Unfortunately we can't get that in Chicago, or I'd have some in my fridge all summer. Probably one of the highlights of the night was hanging out with John Blichmann, and his coworker/buddy Doug. These guys are so down to earth and eager to talk shop and beer, it was great. We also got to hang with Nate Smith some more, and discuss not only beer but our crazy beer-loving cats.

Again, pictures forthcoming! Cheers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2010 NHC - Wednesday Arrival & Brewing Network Party

First off, pictures forthcoming - stay tuned! I didn't bring my downloader.

Last night we were fortunate enough to get into the Brewing Network's pre-conference bash. After jumping on one of the many school buses provided as transportation, we found ourselves at the Northern Brewer warehouse - which resides in some warehouse district outside of Minneapolis.

Let's just say these folks know how to throw a party.

After getting our bag-o-schwag and all important tasting glass, our eyes glazed over all the beer-trailers, complete with 4 or 5 taps on each side. There was a Surly trailer, and 3 (4?) others providing roughly 30 beers on tap. Other than Surly, there was Moylan, Firestone Walker, Boulder, Two Brothers, Ommegang, Bell's, Town Hall, 21st Amendment, some excellent homebrews provided by the generous Northern Brewer staff, and others I can't recall. The mighty Tasty McDole was there, but unfortunately the precious few bottles of Janet's Brown (the delicious recipe he crafted for his late wife) he brought were gone like that.

The Homebrew Chef was also there, and provided some ass-kickin' sausages, which we devoured as soon as we were off the bus. The DJ was spinning some great tunes - the night was beautiful, we actually saw stars outside, a rarity in Chicago.

On the bus ride home it was a pleasure to chat with homebrew ninja Nathan Smith, a fellow musician and helluva nice guy.

Upon getting back to the hotel, we helped Mike and Bob - fellow HOPS! members, haul 14 kegs up to their room, and then raided any ice machine in sight to cool them all down for serving on Friday (apologies to any neighbors trying to sleep - we made quite the racket). Now those are some funny pics.

Will try to keep doing daily recaps each morning - fortunately there's some strong coffee here - cheers!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Got Dry Yeast? You should.

I'd read/heard somewhere that it was a good idea to always have a couple packets of dry yeast in the fridge. Maybe you want to brew and have no yeast, or maybe you'll need it to save a batch. This past weekend I experienced the later.

I'll be brewing a series of Pale Ales and IPAs this summer, and I was going to kick things off with a basic American-ish pale ale, fermented with yeast used in my last batch of Belgian Prankster (Belgian Ardennes). I decided what I like doing is racking finished beer off a cake, leaving some beer behind to make a nice slurry. Then I just pour some of that into my fresh wort - right from the old carboy into the new. This way I avoid over-pitching on the cake. It's worked well for me in the past, but I never did that with this particular yeast.

So, nothing was happening 24 hours after pitching. I've never had this happen before and was baffled. Did I not pitch enough (slurry too thin)? Was this yeast dormant too long? Was it just too cool in my basement? Yet the temp strip read 68, which is what I usually start Ardennes at. I rolled it into a warmer room and waited longer. Nada. The liquid was smooth as a mirror.

And it was Memorial Day - good luck finding a local homebrew shop open on a holiday.

Fortunately I had a packet of SafAle US-05 in the fridge. I just shook it right in and a few hours later had fermentation - hurray! Maybe things would've kicked off if I'd waited more, but I was also just curious to see how this dry yeast worked out, and if I'd get some sort of belgian-american yeast mix (though I hear if you use 2 yeasts in a brew, one just takes over). Now I have some serious krausen, and am wondering if the two yeasts are both active and going at it. Either way I'm extremely curious to see what comes out of this.

So, I'll always be sure to have some decent dry yeast in the house cause you never know, cheers.