“Letters to a Young Brewer” or, “Unsolicited Advice You Didn’t Know You Needed”

September 13th, 2010 by Steve Travis

When I don’t get the chance to brew for several weeks in a row (my wife keeps us on the move pretty much constantly in the summer) I spend some time scanning the homebrew forums, looking for insights. Sometimes I find them, most the time I just find anecdotal BS passed off as wisdom, but hey, it’s the internests, so take it as it comes. I very often see posts by new brewers asking a series of questions that the seasoned vets among us don’t spend much time thinking about, but probably should.  So I thought I might do a quick rundown of the things I’ve learned brewing and pass along my own anecdotal BS wisdom. I think I may do this as a weekly.

Fermentation practices seem to scare the bejesus out of new brewers, perhaps rightly so, but I see lots of hand-wringing about it on the forums, so I thought I’d start there.

It can be said that sanitation in all elements of brewing is the most important thing you can do at all times, and you would be correct. However, if you accidentally touch the wort when transferring it to the kettle, or have to scoop out a stupid bee that decided to end it all by kamikazeing into your collection vessel (don’t ask), the boil will take care of most issues such as this. Do feel free to stomp on the bee and swear at its mangled corps once you have it out of the wort. No one could blame you for that. However, once the boil is done and the cooled wort is transferred to the fermenter, there is no safety net. I follow a few steps to mitigate contamination in the fermenter:

  1. Right about the time I have the boil started and the first charge of hops thrown in, I retrieve the fermenter(s) and give them a quick rinse just to get out any dust or loose “stuff” that may be hanging out.
  2. I fill them about 1/3 full of warm water and dump in about 5 tbsp of PBW powder, swish it around in the fermenter until I feel it’s mostly in solution, then fill it up the rest of the way.  I’ll let the fermenters sit like this for about 45 minutes while the boil is going on.
  3. After a good scrub with a cleaning brush, I then dump and rise the fermenters with warm water.  I usually rinse 2 or 3 times with about a 1/2 gallon of warm water each time to be sure the PBW is out.
  4. I then mix up a 1/2 gallon of warm water with about a tbsp of Star San, dump it in the fermenter, cap the fermenter with aluminum foil, then swish the sanitizer all around the vessel.  At this point, you have done about all you can to insure that there are no “bugs” in your fermenters.
  5. Just before I move the chilled wort to the fermenter, I give the sanitizer one more swish around, dump out the excess (no rinse needed for Star San), then drain in the wort from the kettle into the fermenter.  From that point you can add the yeast and aerate the wort by your preferred  method, cap with your airlock and store it for the primary fermentation.

Happy brewing!

Fifty Fifty Brewery – Truckee, CA

August 19th, 2010 by Steve Travis
Spending the back end of the week here in Truckee, CA and, surprise surprise, I found a brewery! Full disclosure – I’ve been here once before a few years ago after a long day at Northstar ski resort, but I honestly didn’t recall what I thought of the brewery. So this time I went with an eye toward a proper tasting.
I started with the Manifesto Pale Ale. It’s more malt forward that I was expecting, but not out of style. The hops were definitely present, but not overwhelming. The menu said 35 IBU and I buy it. Very California/West Coast citrus hop character, I’m guessing Cascade or perhaps Amarillo. It definitely grew on me after a few sips.
The Rockslide IPA was pretty impressive. Again, a bigger malt character, than your run-of-the-mill IPA. The hops were also pretty big with Amarillo, Centennial and Summit hops. You get a big hit of grapefruit, and hop resin flavor followed by a reasonably dry finish. They don’t filter it so it has a real homebrew aspect to it.
I will be back for their Donner Party Porter and the Basecamp Golden Ale, which I didn’t have time for it on this trip, but it’s always good to leave wanting more! 🙂

Cascadian Dark Ale – First impressions

August 12th, 2010 by Steve Travis

I was able to keg my CDA today and a took a quick sample to see how it came out. A few points before I give my tasting notes: This was the first fermentation I’ve been able to do with full temperature control.  It maintained 67 F for 10 days then I dropped it to 44 F for another 10 days.

The bad news – nothing serious, but it turns out that the Carafa II that I picked up was 320 L when I had it set in my brew software as 400 L.  This resulted in creating a deep brown color instead of the black that one would expect from a “Black India Ale”.  No biggie.  I’ve corrected the data in my software so next time I’ll at that extra 1/2 ounce to get to the deep black color I was intending.

The good news – It tastes crisp and clean with just a hint of dark roast character in the malt and with a very big citrus/resin hop profile.  The hop aroma is not very deep, but it’s not carbonated yet either, which may enhance the hop aroma in a few days when it hits the proper CO2 level.  There are some definite differences here from an IPA, the hint of deep roast flavor in the malt character, but it’s not overpowering at all.  In fact, if I don’t look at the beer while I’m drinking it, I would certainly have guessed this to be an IPA.  I’m not picking up any real yeast flavors or aromas at all.  It came out very clean.  I look forward to tasting this in a week or so to see how it matures!

Michigan breweries – Tasting notes

August 12th, 2010 by Steve Travis

During my high-speed posting while at the breweries and brewpubs last week, I really didn’t give proper tasting notes for much of what we had.  I thought I’d rectify that with an overview of my favorite beer from each of the places I visited:

Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids
While I was very fond of the Bourbon Apple Cream Ale, the Looking Glass Double IPA came away as my favorite. Seems when people do a 2xIPA they tend to come out a bit sweet, regardless of the truckload of hops that go in to them. Looking Glass, despite clocking in at 11% ABV, had a residual sweetness, but the hop character still came through, keeping this an outstanding IPA rather than an over hopped barley wine.
New Holland Brewing Co., Holland
I’m going with the Smoked Hatter as my favorite this time. Not just for the guts it takes to monkey with your main beer, but for the truly excellent malt and smoke flavor of this beer. If you’ve had a Rauchbier from Germany, the smoke flavor can be overwhelming, but this one added such a nice compliment to the beer while not dominating the malt and hop character that I love in the original Mad Hatter IPA.
Hideout Brewing, Grand Rapids
The Ginger Lee narrowly beats out their Belgian style sour beer for my favorite this time out. The ginger was well pronounced, perhaps even dominating over the malt and hops, but since I’m such a ginger fanatic, I loved it! The base beer is a pale ale, brewed with a light malt and hop character, not doubt to allow the ginger to knock this one out of the park. It was a very nice spice finish with no residual sweetness to cover the mild citrus hop character.

A return to heaven – New Holland Brewing Co.

August 4th, 2010 by Steve Travis

Some years ago, I started going to Michigan with my wife to visit the in-laws. Of course I looked up brewpubs in the area and New Holland came up quick. They have never disappointed and this trip was no exception. They love playing with their flagship beer, Mad Hatter IPA. This time, aside from the usual high gravity Imperial Hatter, they had an oak aged and a smoked Hatter. Both were delicious! I simply can not rave about this place enough and if ever you are in the area you would do yourself a big solid to swing by and try these for yourself!

Hop Cat

August 4th, 2010 by Steve Travis

Hop Cat is a daring place. The have some 40 or 50 beers on tap and some in bottles, the majority of which are top-shelf stuff. Then they also have their own stuff which is brewed on the premises. Their IPA was well hopped with good citrus notes. The food here is better than average pub grub. Worth a stop. It’s not a very clear shot of the beer list, but you get the idea.

The Hideout – find it!

July 31st, 2010 by Steve Travis

This completely out of the way brew pub is well worth a look. They have an excellent sour beer on tap and a very good ginger infused pale that I had twice. They do small batch runs – 50 gallons or so it looks like. I bought the t-shirt, so you know it’s good!

Next stop: Michigan Brewing Co.

July 31st, 2010 by Steve Travis

A good pale ale, wheat and oatmeal stout, but nothing that blew my mind. Still, solid beers. I can see why the locals like it.