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.

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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

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.

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).

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.