JAMBO Recap

Or, How We Pillaged a Small Town in New Hampshire. Oh and broke my girlfriend’s leg.

Ah, Jambo (bka The New England Homebrewers’ Jamboree). The one time a year where I allow myself to get completely wasted and be a total ass.* As always, my homebrew club – Metro South Homebrew League aka The MASH HOLES – made the trip up to Tamworth, NH on Friday afternoon for a weekend of drinking, drinking, puking, and drinking. This year was special for a number of reasons. First, it was the 20th anniversary of the event. Second, my lovely and foolishly trusting girlfriend decided to tag along. And third, the “special surprise” I had teased came to fruition: The Swinging Cowboy himself, Dan Joey, made a trip out from California (with his lovely and foolishly trusting girlfriend).

Joey is one of the original members of the MASH HOLES, and earned the nickname “The Swinging Cowboy” at the first Jambo that we attended. He was wearing a sun hat around all weekend, and ended up being propositioned by a couple, hence the name. Anyway, Joey had reached out to me a few months earlier and said he wanted to surprise the club at Jambo. So I helped a little with coordinating that effort, keeping him informed of the plans and surprising the crew with his arrival at Smuttynose.

Friday

Ah the first day/night of Jambo. The Girlfriend, The Dog, and I piled all of our camping shit into The Girlfriend’s larger and more fuel efficient car and started the drive up to New Hampshire. Surviving both my driving and my ranting/raving about other people’s driving, we met up with Joey, Joey’s girlfriend (Michelle), and most of the club at Smuttynose for lunch.

Ya boy's on the left, rocking the Bullet Club shirt and throwing up the Too Sweet.

Ya boy’s on the left, rocking the Bullet Club shirt and throwing up the Too Sweet.

Food and beer were great, natch. Smutty’s Pumpkin Ale was probably the winner, but I’m also a basic bitch so take that opinion with a grain of pumpkin spice. After a pit stop at Stoneface Brewing (best beer: IPA), we arrived at the Tamworth Campgrounds. One of ours, JT, was working the front gate and Andy & Amanda had already camped out the night before.

We spent the next hour or so setting up our tents, arguing about how to layout for pouring tent, casually drinking/watching Jason struggle to put up his tent, and waiting on the rest of the club to arrive. And then the real drinking began.

At this point, I should probably mention The Hammer.

The Hammer. And some MASH HOLES.

The Hammer. And some MASH HOLES.

The Hammer is a club joke/weapon. Our President – unlike our President of Vice – is a soft-spoken guy, so we decided he needed a gavel. As you might expect, a club named the MASH HOLES doesn’t do subtlety very well. And thus The Hammer was born. The Hammer usually stays with me, as I am the most worthy, and makes occasional appearances at club events. This year it became the focal point of our club shenanigans. Some time around 10pm or so, deep into our cups, Joey and I decided that we needed to let the other fine upstanding clubs know that the MASH HOLES were here, and we were here to drink their beer.

So, grabbing The Hammer, we yelled “PILLAGE!!” and stormed off to each tent, demanding “tribute” and “subjugation” (a word that became harder and harder to pronounce). From there, things get a little hazy. We didn’t so much strike fear into our fellow homebrewers as we annoyed the shit out of them. Either way, free beer was add, things were yelled, and I accidentally broke The Girlfriend’s knee. But that’s a story for the courts…

Saturday

Showtime!

Unsurprisingly, many a MASH HOLE had a hard time rising and/or shining. Normal stalwarts were reduced to shameful vomiting, and yours truly managed to miss the case when putting away the contact lenses and had to spend the day four-eyed. After much hemming and hawing about the tent set-up, display, beer names, and literally every other thing that could possibly be argued about, we finally pulled our shit together in time for the festivities.

Our brand spankin' new sign

Our brand spankin’ new sign

A group of HOLES arguing over where to put the new sign. Yours truly, quiet upset.

A group of HOLES arguing over where to put the new sign. Yours truly, quite upset.

We ended up with our merch and sign to the left, our 15 different beers and tap system in the center, and Vinny’s Drinking Game Fuckapalooza on the right. Those first two areas are probably self-explanatory, so let’s focus on the drinking games. A few days before Jambo, I had the brilliant idea to challenge festival goers to drinking games. To entice players, they’d have a chance to win merch if they put money down and were able to best me at either (three cup) Beirut or Flip Cup. They could also take the coward’s way out and throw 3 cornhole bags for a shot at merch. Thankfully (and unthankfully) only one man took the coward’s way out.

Unfortunately what this meant was – as the games originator/mastermind – I was forced to be the primary competition for anyone daring to play. I played about 17 games before taking a mid-day nap. I was awakened by The Girlfriend bursting into the tent yelling “Vinny, get up! Larry said he needs you because Scott is terrible and losing all the games!” And well, the President of Vice can’t leave his club in the hands of someone like Scott. By the end of the day, by the semi-official tally (i.e. a series of cross-marks I made on my arm with a dry-erase marker), my final count was 29 Wins and 11 loses. Good enough to bring in just under $200 for the club.

Outside of my drinking heroics, the club entered our Barrel-Aged Oud Bruin into the competition where it scored a whopping 5 out of 50 from the esteemed* judges, with such helpful feedback* as “sour” and “too sour.” Noted. Next time we make a traditionally sour brown ale, we’ll just make a brown ale instead… I guess. In more qualified beer judging news, big thanks to Jeffrey Lyons of New England Beer Review on Youtube for checking out our tent and reviewing Swinging Cowboy (!!). The MASH HOLES segment starts at 4:04 –

I’m happy to report that Swinging Cowboy was the first keg to be kicked, followed by other fantastic brews: Samurai Juice (Colin’s green tea IPA), Smaug (Larry’s RIS), Dicks out for Harambe (my RIS), Disgusting (my Oktoberfest), Swing and a Mrs. (fka Walk of Shame, Andy’s Coffee Cream Ale), Hopnoxious (Larry’s hoppy saison), Demonic Monk (Colin’s spicy Trappist beer), and several of our other awfully named beers. If my memory serves – which it often doesn’t – every single keg we brought to Jambo this year was kicked by the end of Saturday night.

The night was capped when the fearless and fearsome ladies of the MASH HOLES took The Hammer for a much more successful pillaging. A big thanks to everyone who showed up for Jambo including my brother and parents (!!), who I’m sure were so very proud of my stand-up behavior (i.e. the fact that I was still standing up).

As always: can’t wait til next year!

 

* For those who don’t know me personally, this is what we call “sarcasm.”

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Clear Wort, Full Kegs, Can’t Lose

Right now I’m in the midst of a beer-centric couple of months. This upcoming Thursday is the New England Homebrew Jamboree, which I may have mentioned before, and as such, I have a bunch of full kegs and fermenters at the “brewery.” I figured since I have the long weekend, and no plans/space to brew for a while, it would be a good time to drop an update.

What’s Kegged

Right now I have about a keg and a quarter of the homebrew club’s Barrel-Aged Robust Porter w/Maker’s Mark. One keg I’ve been slowly drinking down myself, and the other is full and heading to the Jamboree on Thurday. The BARP is a really interesting beer. It looks like a standard porter – opaque black with a dark tan/brown head – but the smell and taste let you know something is different. The Maker’s Mark doesn’t come through very much, but there is a distinct sour note that melds well with robust porter’s natural roastiness and sweetness. It’s also deceptively drinkable at over 9% ABV. This was definitely a winner.

Ah, my pride and joy: Symphony of Decay, maple pumpkin ale. Truth be told, this year’s version is different from the previous iterations due largely to missed targets on brew day. I’m still getting used to my new-ish equipment, and brewing on a day with 100% humidity probably through off the boil-off calculations. This is all to say I missed my target gravity by 0.015 (which is a lot for the uninitiated). Some of that has to do with the extra wort leftover, and some from mashing in about 4*F higher than target. Thankfully the wonderful San Diego Superyeast attenuated the beer below my target final gravity, ending with a 5% ABV beer. Much more sessionable than the standard 7.2%. So how did it turn out? Well, it’s not the champion it was last year. There’s a strong aroma of pumpkin spice (nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon) and just a hint of biscuit as well. It looks a little… dirtier than I was amazing for, but the amount of pumpkin that goes into this beer is probably to blame for that despite a Whirlfloc addition and some cold crashing with gelatin. It is a nice dark orange color, though. My big qualm is in the flavor. It tastes unripened for lack of a better descriptor. There’s a kind of green apple sweetness to it that seems out of place. It’s not too strong, but it does take away from the pumpkin flavor and base amber style. It’s not cloyingly sweet, so maybe this is something that will gradually age out of it. It becomes less noticeable as the beer warms, but something definitely went off the mark here. Not a drain pour or even a bad beer,  but SoD has a reputation to uphold and I don’t think this beer is a contender for the crown this year.

Lastly, there’s my  latest pet project: The Hustler, New England style IPA. The last batch I brought to a homebrew event – Beans and Brew – and it was well-received. It was close to what I had set out to brew, but didn’t quite have the bitter punch I was hoping for. It was suggested that I start screwing around with my water treatment, but I wasn’t quite ready to take that on for this batch. This beer finished under my target gravity, but part of that was due to my forgetfulness (I neglected to add Turbinado sugar until after the boil/cooling). It doesn’t account for the entirety of the difference, but it makes up for a lot of it (again this was another humid brew day, I’m not good at calculating my losses, etc.). Again, my yeast worked overtime and attenuated the beer past target resulting in a 6.2% beer (target: 7.3%). Anyways, it came out GREAT. You could snort cocaine, and the smell of this beer would still be the best thing going up your nose. Mango, papaya, fruit juice, oranges, fucking probably a ton of those tropical fruits that I’ve never heard of before, too. The flavor follows along the same notes as well with a very mellow bitterness. I’m starting to really believe that the Conan yeast strain eats away at perceived bitterness. I increased the IBUs to a (theoretical) 148 from 86, and it still doesn’t taste quite bitter enough to me. But it’s still a pretty wonderful IPA nonetheless.

What’s Fermenting

The (infamous) Matt Brown Marzen(/Oktoberfest)  is into its second week of lagering. I expect it to be ready when I return from the Great American Beer Fest at the end of this month. My initial taste of it, prior to fermenting had it more bitter than I remember, but I’m hoping the long lagering period (31-32 days) will let that mellow out a bit.

My latest (and possibly craziest) recipe went into the fermenter on Friday: the Headless Horseman, pumpkin milk stout. There’s a few pumpkin milk stout recipes out there, but I wan’t to try something a little different. I removed the traditional highly-kilned grains from the malt bill to keep the beer’s orange color, and replaced the base 2-row malt with Maris Otter to balance out the sweetness with a little biscuity breadiness. I have no idea what to expect from this beer, but I may try to put it on nitro. If it’s a winner, it’ll be my likely entry into the Mash Holes Pumpkin Beer Competition in October. If not, well I’ve still got the Pumpkin Pie Porter up my sleeve.

 

So that’s it for updates for now, I’ll see you on the other side of the Jamboree, survival permitting.

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).