It’s JAMBO Season

Holy fucking shit. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, kids. That’s right, it’s JAMBO season!

WTF is JAMBO Season?

So, my homebrew club – Metro South Homebrew League a.k.a. MASH HOLES – has officially been in existence for a little over two years. Our biggest participatory event of our inaugural year was the New England Homebrew Jamboree in Tamworth, NH. In the grand scheme of things, the NE Jamboree (or “Jambo”) is pretty small potatoes; it is a gathering of homebrew clubs from around New England for a weekend of camping/debauchery. It is also a shit-ton of fun. The MASH HOLES made a bit of a name for ourselves last year – as MASH HOLES are wont to do – and this year we’re rolling twice as deep, with plans to drink twice as much and party twice as hard (sanity permitting).

Cool story, bro. Why should I care?

A fine question, assuming I cared about you, part of my psyche asking these questions. This – like 99.9% of this blog – is about me. I am ungodly excited for this year’s Jambo, and have been brewing up a storm in antici…pation.

anticipation

Today, I started kegging the only three time (three time, three time) brewed beer here at Anti-Hero Brewing: Symphony of Decay. And while I have my reservations about the 2015 vintage after an initial tasting, only time will tell how it stands up against its predecessors. SoD will be making the trip up to the Jambo, along with its personal tap handle, created from the club’s annual Pumpkin trophy:

IMG_0859

Symphony will be joining the well-received Hustler (NE-style IPA) at Jambo, as well as the club barrel-aged robust porter with Maker’s Mark. So I’ll be rolling three kegs deep. If you’re in the New Hampshire/New England area, and are interested in attending here’s the Jambo website. I’ll be the guy with the douchey undercut at the MASH HOLES tent, making fun of people and (if history serves) accidentally cutting myself with a Leatherman and taking 11am naps.

Beyond Thunderdome Jambo

But the hits just keep on coming, Internet friends. This week and next, I’m planning to fit in two more brew sessions. Odds are both of them will be pumpkin-based beers. Right now I’m debating the styles; my Pumpkin Pie Porter (P3) is most likely going to one of them and the other will either be my planned Pumpkin Saison or a recipe I just came up with yesterday: a Pumpkin Milk Stout. I’m leaning towards the milk stout at the moment because I think there’s a lot of potential for something unique there. I’m also debating adding vanilla bean to it to round out the flavor, but we’ll see.

The next brew day is scheduled for Thursday or Friday of this week, so I’ll probably be making up my mind shortly.

Other News

I almost forgot to mention that I purchased another chest freezer/fermentation chamber this week. I’ll soon be able to have four simultaneous fermentations, which will let me continuously churn out new brews. I’m excited.

 

Anywho, that’s my updates for this week. If you’ve got an opinion of pumpkin saison vs. pumpkin milk stout, feel free to leave a comment. Also – as always – if there’s something you’d like me write about, feel free to mention that as well.

Later.

Pumpkin Brew Day and Shut Up About Seasonal Creep

If you know one thing about me, it’s probably that my blog posts are absolutely riddled with typos. But if you know two things about me, the second is probably that I’m an unabashed fan of pumpkin beers. And though I was largely underwhelmed by last year’s commercial offerings, I have always enjoyed brewing my own pumpkin beers. Last year was the first time I brewed two pumpkin beers (my signature pumpkin ale, Symphony of Decay, and a new recipe, Pumpkin Pie Porter), and this year figures to be the first year that I brew three – count ’em – THREE pumpkin beers. The new addition will likely be a pumpkin saison, both thanks to the success of the saison I made over the winter and the shocking deliciousness of Troegs’ Master of Pumpkins.

This afternoon, I knocked one of those brew days out by making Symphony of Decay. It was unbearably hot just south of Boston today, with highs in the 90’s and a humidity rating of “Satan’s sweaty taint.” Nevertheless, we here at Anti-Hero Brewing persevered, totally missed our numbers, and managed a sunburn along the way. Basically, an unqualified success like all brew days that don’t end in fatal injuries.

Though the combination of brewing a pumpkin ale in the oppressive heat, and reading some posts on the Book O’ Faces got me thinking about the commercial pumpkin beers that are on their way/already here. Yes, now is the time for pumpkin beers to start appearing and for members of Craft Beer Movement to start bemoaning seasonal creep. To these people I have one very simple thing to say:

Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

This comes not from a defensive position as someone who enjoys pumpkin beers – I won’t even start purchasing or drinking them until the end of this month at the earliest – or even a place of anger at those snobs that turn up their nose at pumpkin beer as if it is somehow inferior to more haughty styles. No, my cursing and demands for silence comes from a place of utter frustration at the hive-mind and idiocy of those loud-mouth pumpkin-pundits who think that 1. they have any real ability to affect change and 2. that things you be changed because they want to be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the textbooks would refer to as “entitlement.”

I have to make the assumption that any brewery with a working knowledge of arithmetic and access to a spreadsheet can crank out the rudimentary analysis to determine how to make the most bank from their brews. Pumpkin beers – like IPAs – are an undoubtedly popular “style” and frankly no one gives a shit if you’re “over them.” The reason for seasonal creep is a basic Capitalist calculation: a brewery will make more money putting out pumpkin beers in August, because people – despite what keyboard warriors may write – will fucking buy them in August. Not only that, but they will buy them in higher quantities than whatever summer varietal or other beer they are (nebulously) “sacrificing” to put it out. The same goes for draft lines. If a beer doesn’t think it will make money on a pumpkin beer in August, it’ll sit on the keg. At least any smart bar manager would.

So what’s the problem? The “problem” is that people like summer. Not summer beers, mind you, but summer itself. They don’t even actually like summer itself so much as the concept of summer. People bitch about the heat constantly (I did it twice already in this one post), even in places like Boston (hi!) where the snow just finished melting last month. People don’t like seeing the bright orange bottles on beer shelves because it signals to them that summer is ending. As if this hasn’t happen every previous year of their existence, and as if the summer’s actual length is affected by the arrival of Jack O’Lantern-themed bottles. The appearance of pumpkin beer – essentially – gives them a sad.

Shut the fuck up, you whiny entitled gnat.

I, as a logical human being with functional brain cells, don’t think that people’s livelihoods should be beholden to the whims of my mood based on packaging I see at the packie. You don’t like pumpkin beer? Tough shit. I don’t like Donald Trump, but complaining about him isn’t going to make him go away or make him act like any less of sentient human feces in a ginger toupee. So, basically, grow up. Or if you really have a candle up your ass about this, continue to vote with your dollar. Just stop polluting my breathing space with your noxious and obnoxious hot air.

Another Hustle, New England IPAs, and Lots of Events

I last posted about The Hustler, my attempt at a New England-style IPA. What is a “New England-style IPA?” Depends on who you talk to, and what year you’re having that discussion. In 2013, Harpoon tried to rebrand their flagship IPA as a “New England IPA.” Unfortunately for Harpoon, the Craft Beer Boom launched several new breweries in New England and a new-ish twist on the classic India Pale Ale emerged. Harpoon’s (excellent) malt-forward IPA, however, doesn’t fall in line with these new brews.

The NE IPA has no official definition, but since we’re on my blog, you’re getting my definition. The NE IPA trend probably started with The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, a phenomenal IPA from Vermont that sacrifices clarity for a fuller body, massive tropical fruit aroma, and strong but pleasant bitterness. Heady sets the bar for this style, but there are plenty of competitors that have emerged in the past few years:

  • New England Brewing Co’s Ghandi Bot (which is being renamed) is almost as sought-after and has similar descriptors to Heady.
  • Out in Western Massachusett’s, Tree House has released several NE IPAs: Julius, Green, and Sap. All amazing.
  • In Boston, Trillium has been releasing small batch IPAs that fall into this category, and their Fort Point Pale Ale is certainly a close cousin to the style.
  • Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Vermont has long had its Double Sunshine and recently released its Sip of Sunshine.
  • And then, of course, there’s Hill Farmstead.

When I brew The Hustler, here’s the characteristics I’m shooting for:

  • Appearance: hazy, near opaque, with a bright orange color and fluffy white head
  • Aroma: BIG hop aroma, specifically pine, peaches, apricot, tropical fruit, and floral notes
  • Mouthfeel: smoother and fuller than your average IPA with a dry-ish finish
  • Flavor: lots of hop character, smooth bitterness, lots of fruit notes with none of the medicinal sweetness that comes with a lot of DIPAs (or older IPAs).

The first go-around with The Hustler was a success, but could’ve gone with some minor improvements. The appearance was spot-on, and the aroma was great but could’ve been a little more potent. The mouthfeel was exactly what I was looking for in this style, but the flavor could’ve used a bit more bitterness. The solution: MOAR HOPS. I’ve brewed a few times with the Conan yeast strain used in Heady Topper, and I’ve found that this yeast strain tends mute the hop character that comes through in the beer. It throws its own wonderful esters and provides that great rounded mouthfeel, so I opted for it again this past Monday when rebrewing this beer. I increased my hop additions across the board, so we’ll see how that all turns out.

One minor issue with Monday’s brew: I forgot the Turbinado sugar. My plan is to boil, cool, and add the sugar tomorrow during active fermentation which will hopefully help dry out the finish of the beer a bit.

Beer Events

This Friday (the day before my birthday!) is Mama Said Hop You Out at a liquor store, not too far from my home. I’ve been to this event the past few years, and it’s a great chance to get some Hill Farmstead, Tree House, and other hard-to-find IPAs for only $30. This event is put on by Gordon’s Fine Wines in Waltham, MA. They do a few events like this each year, including a sour beer event and a dark beer event. The attendance on these events is usually less than 100 people and the beers are all – generally – amazing. These are some of my favorite events due to the intent nature, cheap price, and great finds. I realize I’m blowing up my spot by posting about these events, but if you’re in MA you should try to get to one.

September 10-12 is another of my favorite annual events: The New England Homebrewer’s Jamboree. My club, the Metro South Homebrew League (aka MASH HOLES), went to our first “Jambo” last year. It was an absolute blast. One of our guys took home the prize for best amber beer (the categories are broken down to light, amber, and dark). We’re hoping to not only snag a few more awards this year, but hopefully place in the People Choice Award for best club. We only brought about 10 people last year, and this year it looks like our group will double in size. It’s going to be a shitshow, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Last but not least: I’m going to the Great American Beer Festival this year! GABF is THE beer event, and I am pumped to have a chance to attend. I’ll be going to the American Homebrewer’s Association (AHA) session on Saturday with my younger brother, who happens to live in Boulder and will be putting me up for the week. The winners for each category are announced before the AHA Session, so we’ll have a brief period of time to create a plan of attack. Not to mention a week in Denver/Boulder. September is going to be an awesome month.

Final Notes

Holy shit, my hops are blowing up this year.

hops

This photo is about a month-and-a-half old, so they’ve actually gone a little more crazy since these were taken. Not sure how much Willamette I’m going to get out of this year’s harvest, but I’m excited to use them in some of my darker beers (Willamette is my go-to hop for stouts and porters). This will be my first year of actually harvesting and using these hops. I had a decent amount last year, but I decided the amount wasn’t forth the effort to dry and use them. Excited to see how these turn out.

Pumpkin beers are coming! I’m a huge fan of pumpkin beers, and have developed two pumpkin-based homebrew recipes. They are two of my better recipes and I intend on brewing both the Symphony of Decay and Pumpkin Pie Porter this year, as well as a third pumpkin recipe. The third will probably be a pumpkin saison (tentatively titled: Saisonal Creep).

I’m a Hustler, Baby… (new IPA on the way)

As we speak – well as I type and you read – I have somewhere between 4 and 5 gallons of a new IPA recipe dry-hopping in my basement. This new IPA – The Hustler – uses only two hop varieties (Chinook and Centennial) and features the (in)famous Conan yeast strain that is used in Heady Topper

I’ve talked about it before, but the IPAs I’ve brewed have been – for the most part – a huge disappointment for me. Maybe it’s because there are so many excellent commercial examples that even a “good” homebrew seems lackluster, maybe it’s just lack of practice, or lack of experience with different hop varieties. I don’t know. I do still love IPAs despite their ubiquity (and slipping quality), and I’d really love to craft one of my own that I can enjoy.

That’s all to say I have high hopes for this beer. It should be ready to keg by Thursday and ready to drink by Sunday.

Women Hate Beer; Sexism in Craft Beer

Last time I went off ranting and raving, I actually (and accidentally) got noticed for it. So in the interest in learning from my mistakes I want to state up front that:

  1. I am a white, heterosexual, cis-gender male
  2. I was not in attendance at the Craft Brewers’ Conference (CBC) in Portand, OR
  3. I am really, really tired of having this discussion, bros

I follow a lot of beer nerds, geeks, dweebs, and various other beer-related non-norms on the Twitter. One of them, Carla Jean Lauter aka The Beer Babe*, tweeted this into my feed on Friday Night:

https://twitter.com/beerbabe/status/589056825733033984

The hullabullow, which you can read a balanced take on here, involves craft breweries holding their events for CBC at strip clubs in the Portland area. On its face, this is obvious sexism at its most tone-deaf and basic. But… There’s a bit of nuance when you realize, holy shit Portland has a ton of strip clubs. Here in Puritan-founded Massachusetts, our favorite strip club is located in Rhode Island, so I’ll be forgiving and say that there is an aspect of cultural difference that may account for these events. And naturally Portlandians pride themselves on their craft beer almost as much as their fixies and ironic facial hair, so I don’t doubt that Portland’s strip clubs boast a more impressive beer selection than that BYOB joint we took Tim for his bachelor party.

There’s your argument that “this is not a big deal.”

Counter-argument: this is an industry business conference, not my shithead friend’s bachelor party in seedy-as-fuck Atlantic City. Look, I have no intention on getting on a high – or even medium-sized – horse about strip clubs and what they say about us as a society. I am much a feminist as Craig Grebeck was a professional baseball player (i.e. sure, I guess so, if you use the simplest, most basic, and loosest definition, then fine), so I don’t intended to make this about a larger societal issue.** But the Craft Beer Industry doesn’t exactly have a great track record with women. From off-color beer names and labels, to a general boys’ club culture and mentality, to the fact that just about every woman in the industry I’ve talked or read has stories like these… it’s just not a good look for Craft Beer Bros.

But no matter where you stand on the socio-political spectrum, even the most staunch “beer as art” pundits recognize that beer is also business. And if you don’t make the green, you don’t make the beer. So in an industry that has a clear, and public, perception issue with the way it does (or doesn’t) make itself more inclusive to women… why host your events in a venue where they get naked for money?

Hey, I like boobs as much as the next guy. And – as an Internet blogger – I hope to see some in person one day, but even I hear about these events and think “Well, that’s a pretty damn stupid business decision.” Do I think it was malicously-intended? Probably not, but you have to question whether or not you’d want to invest in a company – as an investor or a consumer – that is that ignorantly tone deaf. And it probably made a good number of the conference attendees (male and female) uncomfortable (good being described as “above 0” because this is – again – a FUCKING BUSINESS CONVENTION). Lack of malicious intent is not a money-making business model, and paints the breweries, the Brewers Association, the conference, and their supporters in a bad light (probably a shade of red, with some strobe effects, and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” playing in the background).

Beer is for people. It doesn’t care what bits you have between your legs. It doesn’t care what color your skin is. It doesn’t care what language you speak or where your parents came from. Beer’s pretty fucking understanding that way (unless you’ve got Celiac’s. Then sorry. Beer’s not perfect). So I simply beseech everyone who makes beer their business, hobby, or passion… stop fucking it up for the rest of us with your bullshit. As Big Vin said to me once: “Vinny, life’s hard enough. Don’t make it harder by being a moron.”

 

* With all due respect to Carla, a moratorium forever on calling yourself “The _____ Babe.” There is one Babe, his name was Ruth, and I say that as a Red Sox fan. So please stop, or I’m going to start referring to myself as The Homebrew Stud, and no one wants that.
** I actually looked up Craig Grebeck’s career numbers and either I’m more of a feminist than I thought, or I owe Craig an apology.

The Great Thaw and Peak Brewing Season

Well the Great Thaw is upon us here in the Boston area. Over the past few weeks, the majority of the record snowfall has melted leaving behind a king’s ransom in trash and dog crap. Some cleaning is in my new future, but also so is more brewing.

Spring is peak brewing season for “us” here at Anti-Hero Brewing; it’s warm enough to brew comfortably outside and the ground-water is at its coldest without being frozen. And now that I have a fairly excellent (if I do say so myself) saison recipe to brew again for this Spring/Summer, I’m looking forward to a couple of brew sessions in the near future. Right now I’ve got 4 kegs in the freezer; though two of them – barrel-aged Belgian dubbel and the aforementioned saison – are nearing completion.

The our club – which just got a Twitter account – is having an internal competition this Wednesday for brown ales. I brewed a variant on Arctos, a brown ale I made that was well-received (BJCP score of 38-40). I think this variat, Bad Jackson, is much better than the original. A little bit of roast, some chocolate, good mouthfeel, etc. It’s one of a small handful of beers I’ve brewed that I would purchase commercially (the saison is another).

I’m going to try and kick the saison keg in the next couple days and get another brew day on the calendar for a variant on the recipe; I was unsatisfied with the yield and think I can get more beer if I alter the bittering hop addition. I also want to brew a couple of IPAs this summer and get one that I’m happy with which is pretty much a never-ending pursuit for me. We’ll see how it goes.

Back-to-Back Brew Days

I’m leaving for St. Croix on Friday, so I’ve been trying to cram as much brewing into this week as possible. I had meant to brew an amber ale on Sunday, but Daylight Savings (and a hangover) put a pin in that plan. My homebrew club is having a brown ale competition on April 8th so I needed to make sure I had one of those brewed and fermented. So instead of trying to cram another brew day in after my trip, I decided to brew the amber on Monday and brew the brown today. As of right now (4pm EST), the amber is bubbling away in the fermentation chamber, and the brown is in a snowbank chilling down.

Brewing in my backyard provided an interesting challenge on account of the mountains of now and the warmer temps causing it to melt around my system and under my feet. At a few points today, snowmelt came flying off my roof and either into my system of off my arms/back as I attempted to shield the beer. Outside of that – and a minor boil-over today – the brewdays went off without a hitch.

I did have some volume issues with the amber, which I’m going to chalk up to using a mismash of my 10-gallon system and my old 5-gallon system. I had to use my 10-gallon, non-insulated, mashtun to mash both of these beers, and boil both of them in my 8-gallon kettle which generally has a TON of boil-off. So I ended up with only 4 gallons of amber in my fermenter which will probably result in about 3.75 gallons in the keg, but if it comes out well, it’s a good excuse to brew it again. I did over-compensate with the brown ale today, so I doubt I’ll come out with less than 5-gallons of the brown in the fermenter.

That is one of the benefits of brewing more frequently; instead of slavishly following my calculators, I can tune my approach to my system. I would very much like to get some consistent brewing going on my full system so that I can calculate and dial in my efficiency, but for now I’m happy just getting the time to brew as often as I want and to have the products be pretty damn tasty.

For those interested, here are the recipes.

The amber is based on Alaskan’s Amber ale, and it stole the name from the amber ale I never bothered to carbonate: Uncommon Wrath.

The brown is a reworked recipe of Arctos, my brown that scored a 40 from my club’s judges, and will be entered in the club’s competition: Bad Jackson.