To Reiterate: My Beer Sucks

I got some more scoresheets back from another competition I entered, and – like last time – they were not good. But honestly, I actually feel much better about this than after the previous competition, and I have couple reasons why.

The scores – a 23 and a 24 – are roughly the same as I received last time (23 and 24.5), but the feedback related to the IPA (The Howler) matched up pretty closely with my hypotheses about why these beers were tasting and scoring so poorly.

Oxidation – mainly from poor packaging – is something that came up in every judge’s review of every one of the four beers, if not by name than by description. I am a pretty big noob when it comes to packaging for competitions, so this seems like an obvious area for improvement. It’s also worth noting that I’ve been drinking The Howler from the keg for a couple weeks now and haven’t noted any of the off-flavors the judges picked out. What I have noticed are their other critiques:

  • Low/subdued aroma – I had an abbreviated dry-hop on this beer in order to package it for the competition
  • Low carbonation – the beer was rushed and wasn’t fully carbonated when packaged
  • Low hop flavor – something I’d noted myself for a next pass at this beer.

I entered these competitions with the hope of getting this kind of constructive feedback. I think proper packaging alone would be enough to add 6-8 points to the overall score and move it up into the “Very Good” range. It’s a beer I enjoy and plan to brew again, especially with some guidance on modifications to improve it.

Frankly, I should have been entering competitions much earlier in my homebrewing “career.” This sort of feedback is invaluable even if it hurts to read. So I’ve bookmarked some upcoming comps; let’s up we start seeing some higher scores.

Cheers.

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My Beer Sucks. Now What?

I mentioned in previous posts that I entered a few beers into some competitions. Well, I got the scoresheets back on the first one of those comps and the results are… not good.

Woof.

Well, in the parlance and scoring of the BJCP they’re technically “good,” but here in reality where we live: they’re straight up bad. In fact, both beers got called “lifeless.” Ouchie.

To be honest, I knew one of these beers had significant flaws. The maibock definitely suffered from some fermentation issues, and had a noticeable green apple flavor that is a tell-tale sign of acetaldehyde. I also got dinged for no carbonation on both beers, which probably drove down the scores both because of the lack of carbonation (and it’s contributions to aroma and mouthfeel) but also from oxidation in the bottle. The stout also got dinged for diacetyl which I didn’t pick up but could be result bottling conditions.

So what now?

Obviously this was a pretty big shot to the ego, but a much-needed one. I get to enjoy my beers both as the output of my hardwork, but also under near ideal serving conditions. That’s not the case for other people, and it’s definitely something I need to take a long, hard look at improving.

For one, I need to do some more research on my Blichmann Beer Gun, because it clearly isn’t operating the way it’s supposed to in terms of bottling from the keg. I also think it may be time to ditch all of my fermenting buckets. I wouldn’t have thought fermentation was an issue with my process – outside of the lagers – but apparently I’m getting significant off-flavors.

I also probably won’t to look at how I store and care for my beer after it’s been kegged. Right now I’m sort of “between solutions” for my post-carbed beers. They tend to sit in a big chest freezer, but not constantly on CO2.

A big purge is on the way as the weather starts to get nicer around here. I have plans to dump a bunch of old brews and some unused equipment. I also plan to build a full-fledged kegerator over the Spring with some help from the guys in my homebrew club.

I’d been underwhelmed with my progress as a brewer over the past year, so this was a well-timed wake-up call. I’m going to revisit the basics and try to hone in every detail of my process. I expect 2018 to be an expensive year with a lot of trial and error, and hopefully some vast improvement.

Brew Day: Fury of the Claymore

This is a cross-post from my primary blog. The original post is here. Original post date: 3/23/2018.


Big doings at the homebrewery today. Took a day off from work to brew a Scottish Export ale for an upcoming club competition, and transferred my red(ish) IPA to the keg.

Kicked off around 10am, mashed in a little before 11:30am. I decided to do a 75 minute mash, because I did an extended mash on my Red(ish) IPA (now called The Howler), and I hit my target pre-boil gravity on that one. I also let the sparge rest for 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, I still came in at 1.038 pre-boil gravity, despite a target of 1.042. And though I made water adjustments to lower the pH, I naturally forgot to measure the pH of the mash. Because I’m dumb.

I did anticipate missing my target pre-boil gravity, so I set this batch up for a 75 minute boil. I broke a little from traditional Scottish ales and bittered with Nugget and added a 10 minute addition of GR Hallertau because I didn’t want to buy an ounce of Fuggles or EK Golding.

The brew itself went pretty well; I hit my pre-boil target volume and ended up with right around the 6 gallons I was expecting with a original gravity (OG) of 1.053 – off the target OG of 1.054 by just a hair.

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I made a yeast starter with some light DME, yeast nutrient and Wyeast 1268 Scottish Ale yeast on the stir plate. This thing was COOKING by the time I pitched it into the wort. I’d chilled the work to under 60°F before adding the 1.6L starter (a little over 60°F). 60°F is my target fermentation temperature for this brew. Jim from the homebrew shop said that this yeast throws some nice esters at a low fermentation temp. (He also chastised my grain bill and my hop additions because he’s a purist and a big Scottish ale brewer) You can check out the full recipe here.

Fury of the Claymore recipe

Tomorrow The Howler gets a quick turnaround to the bottle for a competition; I’ll post an update at some point if my 24 hour carbonation actually works. And tomorrow is also pizza day.

Cheers.

Hittin’ ‘Em With That Combo

As September kicked off, I was way behind on my goal to brew 15 batches this year. I had only completed 6. Fast forward to now, and I’ve just completed a c-c-combo of back-to-back-to-back weeks of brewing. This is my first time ever brewing three batches in three weeks. I had not actually planned to brew today, but I figured I could move my pumpkin beer to the keg and free up a fermentation chamber so that’s what I did.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Two weeks ago, I brewed my annual batch of pumpkin beer, Symphony of Decay. Today it exited primary fermentation and was transferred to a keg with some gelatin for fining. I also topped it off with a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice to up the aroma a little bit. Probably a bit of overkill, but I worried a bit about the gelatin pulling some of the pumpkin character out of the beer. I tasted the sample from my hydrometer (hit the reading, dead nuts) and – oh boy – this may be the best batch yet. It really should be though, I’ve brewed this recipe every year for 4 years. Which isn’t to say everything went according to plan. I actually ended up dumping almost two gallons of this batch post-fermentation because I didn’t have room in the keg for it. SoD was my first batch on my new Anvil burners, and I need to re-calculate my brewhouse efficiency to compensate. I’m noticing significantly less boil-off.

Last week I brewed a Nugget Nectar clone (Ambrosia) with a couple buddies from the homebrew club. It was an away game, but things went pretty well without the home-court advantage. That should be ready for its first dry-hop charge in about 4 days or so.

And finally today we had trouble right from jump street. First off, there was a thunderstorm. So yeah, that made things interesting. Normally being outside surrounded by metal in a thunderstorm is a stupid idea, but today… it was still a stupid idea but I did it anyway.

THUNDAH BEER

Today’s recipe was a variant on my Oktoberfest recipe. And by “variant” I mean I accidentally grabbed 4.5lbs of Maris Otter instead of 4.5lbs of Munich malt. Oops. The plan is to turn this into an amber kellerbier. Kellerbier is a style I’d heard of but hadn’t had the chance to try until a local restaurant (The Townsend) had one in the can. Kellerbier, which means “cellar beer”, is basically a helles or an Oktoberfest that is fermented and lagered in a barrel at cellar temperature. They used to be lagered in caves, which is pretty cool. It’s usually served with very low, natural carbonation. Since I don’t have the time, energy, equipment, know-how or a cave, I’m going to do this the AHB way (see also: the wrong way). After primary fermentation – about a month – I’m going to add some French oak chips for about a week to pick up some of that oak character and serve is on low (but not too low) PSI from a regular old corny keg. If that sounds like a bit of a cop-out please remember that it was brewed in a fucking thunderstorm.

The windy conditions weren’t great for my Anvil burners, or more accurately the winds made it harder for the burners to effectively use the limited amount of propane that I was feeding them. I emptied the two propane tanks you see in the picture above. On a nicer day I would’ve had enough gas (hehe) to power through, but unfortunately today we came up about 10 minutes short on the 90 minute boil. I missed my target OG by about .007 and ended up with more wort than anticipated. Still, I have high hopes for this batch.

As always, I’ll let you know how they turn out.

Cheers.

Six Months Later…

I remember sitting at the homebrew bloggers panel at Homebrew Con in 2016, and someone asked the question about what turns you off from a blog. One of the panelists said “seeing the first post is an apology for not updating for a while.” So in that vein: no apologies for you, suckers!

I’d plugged away at a couple of updates over the past six months, but I either abandoned them due to lack of time or lack of coherent thought. I know, the latter never stopped me before. Not to go too far down the rabbit hole, but there’s been a confluence of factors that contributed to the lack of posts. Work has been busy, my girlfriend moved in (with her cat, which hates my dog, but I’m working on that), and – in case you hadn’t noticed – the world is slowly sinking into the ocean faster than America is slipping into the fascist state of President Baby.

Anywho… that’s a lot of words to say that when I sit down at the computer to noodle on things homebrew-related, I’m generally exhausted. I have to divide that energy between my actual brewing (recipe formulation, education, equipment calculations, etc) and my duties as president of my homebrew club (the Mash Holes). [Editor’s Note: I had to take a five minute break as both the cat and dog came into my office, begging for attention] As the club is rapidly growing and trying to do bigger and better things, that’s taken a lot of my time and energy. Being President Baby isn’t easy.

But our big event for 2017 is in the rear-view. Wedding season is slowing down (still have 2 more left and had to bow out of one). Summer’s over. The cat and dog are starting to tolerate each other. I’m settling into a routine with work, diet/exercise, and brewing. And the girlfriend is out of town for 3 weeks. So I’ve finally had the time and motivation to sit down and write something for all my fans out there.

While You Were Out

As I just mentioned, the New England Homebrewers’ Jamboree has come and gone. Despite some rainy weather, it was another successful outing for the Holes of Mash. We decided to go with a Viking theme for this years activities and… we kind of nailed it.

The club built a mobile Viking ship, and put a jockey box filled with mead inside of it. We rolled that bad Jackson around the campground and basically caused mayhem and (liver) destruction. Eagle-eyed readers might notice that yours truly is not in the above picture. So as not to deprive you of Viking Vinny:

On the right, for those who don’t know.

So yeah, that was thing that happened. And will probably happen again next year.

I got away from brewing a bit this summer, or brewing got away from me. I usually crank out a handful of batches between May and August, and this year I think I only slipped in one or two. So I’ve been playing catch up. I brewed two beers for Jambo; a session NEIPA which was good, and a North English Brown ale which was also just good. This past weekend I cranked out my annual Pumpkin Ale, Symphony of Decay. I didn’t tweak the recipe too much this year, but I did (finally) track down some Grade B Maple Syrup, which has a much more potent aroma. I’m hoping that gives a little more maple to this version, instead of just fermentable sugars. SoD puts me just over the halfway point (8) of my target of 15 brews this year.

I’m planning to move a little closer to that goal this weekend with a Nugget Nectar clone, named Ambrosia. I wanted to brew a “have-around” IPA, and was struggling to come up with a recipe. In looking through my BrewToad logs, I realized I’d come up with a Nugget Nectar clone I’d never brewed. This should be a good hold-over until the real deal drops in January. If it turns out well, I’ll share the recipe here (it’s already up on BrewToad, if you’re curious).

I also bid adieu to my King Kooker brewstand (which never really worked), and threw down some cash for a pair of Anvil burners that I fashioned into a two-tier system. So yet again I have to dial in numbers, but c’est la vie. I’m also finally starting to do water adjustments. I use the Bru’N Water spreadsheet for now, along with my local water report, but I’m going to finish reading Palmer’s Water and see how far off I am.

So that’s the long and short of the past six months. See you in a half a year?

Cheers,
– V

Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself

Optional musical accompaniment to this post:

So it’s been a minute since I last updated you on the comings and goings at Anti-Hero Brewing. It’s been a busy year inside and outside of brewing. I spent a good portion of February in St. Croix soaking up as much of the sun that could penetrate my chest sweater. I’ve also managed to sneak in three brew days already this year. That may not sound impressive (I mean, it boils down – no pun intended – to one per month), but you have to remember that here in the Boston area we spend most of the winter in sub-freezing weather and under 3000 feet of snow (rough estimate). Thankfully, this year we’ve been #blessed with unseasonable warmth (but still plenty of snow). I usually only get two brew days, at best, in between 1/1 and 4/1 each year. I play catch-up in the warmer months.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I wanted to take a few minutes in-between a busy workday to reset on the blog. I’ve been doing this shit since March 23, 2013, and with my four year brewing and blogging anniversary coming up, I figured it’d be a good time to reflect.

Origin Story

Over the past four years this blog has taken on many different forms. It’s been a brewing log/journal, an occasionally beer review rag, and even briefly a poorly-worded indictment of Craft Beer Culture. That last one being the most read and most controversial. But it all started with a Mr. Beer Kit and a bad pun. As I bumbled and fumbled my way through brewing and blogging, I gradually learned from my mistakes (usually on the third or forth pass) and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way as a brewer (as a writer, I’m still dog-shit).

My love of homebrewing followed by my love of craft beer, and my like of blogging followed a love for writing and social media. I’ve had a few “personal” blogs over the years, but I largely entered the world of beer through Twitter and Untappd. I was one of the beta testers for the latter, and an early adopter of the former.  My out-spoken opinions in-and-outside of craft beer garnered me slightly more attention than your average shit-poster, and I began attending craft beer events and meeting folks on the other side of the computer screen. I was a few years out of college and most of my friends had either moved away or lacked disposable income, so I did the hardest thing any adult can do: met new people.

I met beer writers, brewers, bar/beer managers, bartenders, and just regular old drunks. I told some of these people about this blog and some of them told other people. Some folks were polite and claimed they’d heard of it, which led to the tagline: “The Hill Farmstead of Beer Blogs,” because people kept telling me they “haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things.” It was nice platitude, and it led to some dopes actually paying me to write for their websites.

All Aboard the Struggle-Bus

But I’ve never had a concise vision for this blog. I enjoyed reading other beer blogs and wanted to get in on the party. I created this blog to start a conversation, and I started that conversation like a drunk on the Red Line: by screaming loudly and profanely and seeing if anyone would engage me. And surprisingly, a lot of people did. I attribute this to the Pareto Principle as applied (inversely) to human decency: if 80% of people are assholes, that leaves 20% that are less-than-assholes (and maybe even nice!).

When I started sharing my journey into homebrewing, I purposefully did something different from what I’d seen on other beer blogs: I highlighted my failures. For example:

Much like my teenage poetry, these were poorly constructed cries for help. I tried to present my mistakes in an entertaining way, because it helped me from getting discouraged with my new hobby and it seemed to be getting people to read and respond. Around this same time, I joined a homebrew club in nearby Weymouth: the Metro South Homebrew League aka The Mash Holes.

Homebrew Club or Beer Farts in a Confined Space

A few guys at my local homebrew shop decided to start a homebrew club right around the time I was looking for one to join. I happened to see a flyer at the shop, reached out to JD and was one of the ten or so guys at the first meeting. From there the club has grown to about 30-35 members, had 3-4 guys go on to work at professional breweries, and made the horrible mistake of electing me as their president/dictator.

It’s been a wild three years with the Mash Holes, and I’ve made more friends through this club than in any other way since college. For anyone considering joining a homebrew club: do it. For anyone considering starting a homebrew club: do it.

Four More Years?

I started this entry to just get back into the habit of blogging about my brewing. I just entered two beers into a local competition and had planned to talk about those, but as I realized that I was writing right around my 4-year anniversary, I got a little introspective. I well-and-truly love brewing. It may get lost some times in my tirades, frustrations, (copious) mistakes, and rantings but I fucking love doing this. And to all of you who have been a part of it – readers, commenters, fellow brewers,  sponsors, Gregs – thank you.

Cheers!


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Fuck Off, 2016!

Happy 2017, the last year of human existence! We had a good run, folks, and I can’t think of a better way to wait out our inevitable nuclear holocaust than with many, many beers. With that in mind, it’s time for the Annual Half-Assed New Year’s Post!

2016, Smell Ya Later

A lot in the year of our Dog, 2016. Most of awful, some of it terrible. For starters, a totally unqualified man was elected President… of my homebrew club. That man was (is) me. Say hello to the new El Hefe of the Mash Holes. The people have spoken and they demand chaos. In other news that’s good for me and embarrassing for everyone else: I also tied for our club’s Brewer of the Year award. I’m not not proud of that accomplishment, especially since the man I tied – Andy – is probably one of the best homebrewers I’ve ever known.

As for the brewing goals I set way back in the carefree days on January-last, I fell a bit short… pretty much in all of them. I was initially pushing to brew 20 batches of homebrew last year, or roughly 100-120 gallons of beer. I ended up at 14 batches and roughly 75 gallons of beer. Not bad, but not quite the high marks I was aiming for. I also didn’t enter any BJCP competitions like I had planned; though I did win the club Pumpkin competition, and placed highly in our other club competitions and another local competition. And I never did get around to putting collars on my kegerator or fermentation chambers. But I did go to Homebrew Con, so that kind of makes up for it all, right?

2017, The Reign of Error

So with those shortcomings in the rear-view mirror, I’m looking forward to 2017. My first and primary goal is to not run my homebrew club into the ground. I’m one of only two returning Cabinet members from last year, so there’s a lot of fresh blood/ideas for the new year. Early recruitment efforts appear to be working out, so I’m hoping we can continue to grow despite what will likely be dubbed “poor leadership.”

On a more personal level, I’m revisiting my goal from 2016 and revising it based on last year’s performance. This year I’m shooting for 15 batches brewed and 75-100 gallons of beer. Given our club brews, a couple 10 gallon batches, and a some warmer-than-average weather I think I may be able to hit this goal. I will be somewhat hindered by vacations (one in February, one in May), a likely trip to Homebrew Con in June, various weddings throughout the summer, and good old fashioned Lack O’ Fucking Money.

I do want to try some lighter (read: cheaper) styles of beer this year as well. I’ve written a recipe for a – gasp – American Lager. My reason for brewing such a sacrilegious concoction? Frankly, I enjoy Miller High Life, and I enjoy a shower beer after a hockey game or a sparring session at the boxing gym. So intend of giving $8 to the sketchy liquor store down the street, I figured I should try to brew my own. I mean, that’s the point of homebrewing, right?

With all due apologies to the boys at Brulosophy, I’m also hoping to do some exBEERiments in 2017. I’m hoping to get the homebrew club involved in this, but I’ve got at least one or two members that are interested in doing some experiments related to New England IPA haze/character/clarity, etc. My hypothesis is that dry hopping during active fermentation is the key contributing factor to dat haze, so we’re planning to test that and other variables with split batches. I’ll probably end up hosting the beers since I have the fermentation chambers.

I’m also going to get off my ass and enter at least one damn BJCP competition. Well, more accurately my goal is to WIN one damn BJCP medal, but since I didn’t even get around to entering a competition last year, we’ll start small and work our way up.

Lastly, the beer-cations. Homebrew Con, Beans N Brew, and of course JAMBO are all on the to-do list for 2017.

Status Report

Well, it’s already 3 days into 2017 and I haven’t brewed a single beer yet. Better luck next year, I guess.