Where’s the Time Gone?

Well, damn.

Time flies when you’re an adult (in the legal sense, not the – ya know – maturity sense). A lot has happened since the Jambo update. So let’s go through the highlights.

The Return of Symphony of Decay

Last year I brewed two pumpkin beers, and entered a pumpkin milk stout into our club’s annual Pumpkin Beer Competition. Two things of note: I won the first year of this competition, and the trophy is named after me. When the pumpkin milk stout didn’t win, I had to hand over my beloved trophy.

Me, crying over lost trophies

Me, crying over lost trophies

So for this year’s competition, there was no fucking around. I rebrewed and slightly retooled Symphony of Decay for this year’s competition and well… the trophy is back where it belongs. Below is the updated recipe for Symphony of Decay:

Fermentables

Amount Fermentable Maltster Use PPG Color
11.5 lb

Maris Otter Pale (UK)

Any Mash 38 3 °L
1.0 lb

Maple Syrup

Any Boil 30 35 °L
14.0 oz

Crystal 20L

Any Mash 34 20 °L
0.5 lb

Rice Hulls

Any Mash 0 0 °L
0.25 lb

2-Row Chocolate Malt

Briess Mash 34 350 °L

Hops

Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
0.75 oz Northern Brewer (US) 60 min Boil Pellet 9.0%

Yeasts

Name Lab/Product Attenuation
San Diego SuperYeast White Labs WLP090 79.5%

Extras

Amount Name Time Use
30.0 oz Pumpkin 0.0 min Mash
1.0 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice 5.0 min Boil
30.0 oz Pumpkin 60.0 min Boil

Notes:

  • Mash at 154*F for 60 minutes
  • The pumpkin is Libby’s Organic Pumpkin Puree. This is available at most grocery stores in 30oz cans
  • I spread the pumpkin across a cookie sheet and roast it at 350*F for 60 minutes
  • The first 30oz goes in with mash water before the grains. I have no scientific reason for this (or anything I do) but my thinking on it is that adds more orange color to the wort and makes it less likely to create a stuck sparge. Again, I base this on absolutely zero facts.
  • The second 30oz of pumpkin is added at 15 minutes left in the boil
  • The maple syrup goes in at 5 minutes
  • Boil time is 90 minutes

2016 Changes

  • The pumpkin pie spice addition is always more art than science. This year I used 2tbsp of McCormick’s Pumpkin Pie Spice with 5 minutes left in the boil.
  • Along with the pumpkin pie spice, I added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and all-spice. This was all based on feel (or rather, smell). If I had to estimate I’d say I added a tsp of cinnamon and 1/4tsp each of nutmeg and all-spice.
  • I also added a tbsp of vanilla extract with 5 minutes left. I can’t say that this was noticeable in the finished product and might be something I adjust for next year’s batch.

Presidential Election

The United States will soon be run by a fascist Cheeto, and in similar fashion my homebrew club will be trading down from a competent leader to an inexperienced buffoon. In the case of the Mash Holes, that buffoon might end up being me. Our long-term president has decided to step down. As the Vice President that will make me the de facto leader if no one else decides to step up. Club elections are in two weeks so we’ll see how that all shakes out.

The December meeting is also our Wee Heavy competition. It’s the last of our four club competitions that will ultimately decide our Brewer of the Year for 2016. I still need to brew an entry this week, which is going to be difficult with the weather, but I’m shooting for Thursday as a brew day. It doesn’t give me a lot of time for fermentation and aging, so my entry will be a bit young, but we’ll see how it turns out.

Non-Controversial Pipeline

As far as other brews in the pipeline, I have Obie’s Oatmeal Stout about to go into the keg. It’s another “classic” recipe that I’ve updated as I’ve gotten more experienced at brewing. The club just brewed a Russian Imperial Stout to into a Woodford Reserve barrel two weeks ago. That’ll probably spend 6 months in the barrel. We’re also working on pulling out a barleywine in the next few weeks and replacing it with a golden sour ale.

Back here at Anti-Hero Brewing, I plan to do something really crazy: science. Brulosophy recently did an ExBEERiment on flaked oats in New England Style IPAs. The purpose was “[t]o evaluate the differences between a NE-Style IPA made with flaked oats and the same beer made without flaked oats but an otherwise similar recipe.” The idea being that flaked oats impart some of the smooth mouthfeel and haziness typical of NE IPAs. I’ve written about NE IPAs before, and one of my theories is that it’s the dry-hopping timing has the biggest impact on haze. So I’m planning on doing my own *gasp* exBEERiment to test this theory.

Closing Up

So 2016 is winding down to a close, and I intend to do a year-end recap next month, so be on the look-out for that. It looks like I’ll miss my goals in some areas and hit them in others. As of now I’ve brewed about 70-75 gallons of beer this year, which is easily a personal record. I’d like to shoot for 100 gallons next year.

Until then.


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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.

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).

Big Doings at the Brewery

Firstly, I’ve started ironically referring to my house as “the brewery…”

New Personnel

Some of you may remember Reilly, my Chief of Brewing Operations. Well Reilly moved out (along with my ex), which left a vacancy here at Anti-Hero Brewing. So – after successfully completing his training – I’d like to formerly introduce our new Chief of Brewing Oversight and Director of Grains (D.O.G.), Oberyn aka “Obie.”

ObieBrewDay

Oberyn, at 3 months old, napping during his first brew day.

ObieJamboree

Oberyn, at 5 months old, working security at the Homebrew Jamboree

Oberyn, closing in on 1 year.

Oberyn, closing in on 1 year.

‘Award’ Winning Beer

My Symphony of Decay pumpkin ale won our club’s first annual Pumpkin Beer Showcase. In fact, the award bears my name and comes with this nifty trophy. The award is a lit bit of validation and verification that my brewing is improving. As such, I’m entering first competition in the next month, the South Shore Homebrew Brew-Off. I’ll be (tentatively) entering my saison, my pilsner, and my (yet to be brewed) amber ale. It’ll be nice to get some BJCP feedback on these beers that I think are solid.

pumpkinchamp

Club Business

Oberyn isn’t the only one getting promoted; I was recently elected as President of Vice (err, Vice President) of our homebrew club. I’m pretty excited about that, as our club is growing fast, is very active and doing a lot of fun and interesting things. Case in point, we purchased two barrels and have filled them. We’ve already pulled a Belgian dubbel off the barrel and it was excellent. We’ve put a robust porter into the other barrel and added a little bit of Maker’s Mark to sweeten the pot, so to speak. And that’s me doing the honors:

Barrelaging

And Lastly, the Blog

I’m going to try and do a better job of updating this blog (as I’ve promised multiple times before); my brewing sort of took a backseat over the winter thanks to the massive snowfall(s) and my vacation out to California. My 10-gallon brew structure is still buried under the snow out back, but I’ll be doing a 5-gallon batch on Sunday with members of the club. I’ll be posting an update on my brewing goals for the year, and some more of my recipes.

A Good Beer Goes A Long Way

When I first went to bottle this year’s Symphony of Decay (pumpkin ale) something looked off with the beer. The pumpkin matter and krausen created a gnarly looking film over the top of the beer. And it smelled yeasty and sour. Needless to say, I thought the batch was infected. I was pretty bullshit for a number reasons. Symphony is one of the more expensive beers I make and I didn’t want to have ~5 gallons of infected crap to pour down the train; I was responsible for giving a presentation on pumpkin beers for my homebrew club and naturally wanted to have a solid brew of my own to show off; and I suggested a pumpkin beer “best of show” for the club and not even having a beer to enter would really suck. On top of that, I really enjoy Symphony. It was the quickest beer to disappear last year and looks to be again this year.

So I finally did bottle Symphony and after two weeks of bottle carbonating I was able to crack open a bottle. As was my friend Joe and my ex-girlfriend. And you know what? It’s excellent. The body is just a bit lighter than I wanted (I mashed in a little cold), but it is fantastic tasting and smelling and even pretty clear considering all the pumpkin matter. More importantly it was a big confidence boost to my brewing, and part of what inspired me to upgrade my set-up. The fact that I was able to repeat my success from a year ago is a nice shot in the arm, and it feels really good. It makes me feel better about my decision to dump a ton of money into new toys and a bunch more time into this hobby.

So yeah, a good beer can go a long way.

Pumpkinmania, Runnin’ Wild

Pumpkin BeersJust got back from Craft Beer Cellar Braintree and after dropping a stupid amount of money on beer, I came back with 16 pumpkin brews (plus a couple stouts). Not all sixteen are pictured above.

As you’ve probably figured out, I’m a huge pumpkin beer fan. I plan on reviewing all of these beers and possibly a couple others since I didn’t see the Smuttynose, Dogfish Head or Buffalo Bill’s pumpkin ales. Any other pumpkin beers I should add to make it an even 20/25?

 

I’ll also be brewing my maple pumpkin ale this week. Very excited to try that again this year with a little more talent in my game.