Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Roggenbier! Gesundheit!" or "Adventures in Yeast, part 2"

My most recent brew was a Roggenbier, which is a German style of rye beer.  It is supposed to be formulated very much like a Dunkelweizen (dark wheat beer) but with rye instead of wheat. I've actually never had an authentic Roggenbier, so I'm not entirely sure what to expect, but we'll see.

The brew day was also complicated by the fact that a group of documentary film makers from Cambridge Cable TV (CCTV) was here filming my every move.  Despite, or maybe because, of that, things went smoothly brewing the beer, from grinding to mashing, to lautering, to boiling, to cooling and then to pitching.

The joker in the pack was that I planned to used the left over yeast from a Hefeweizen I brewed back in June. I put it in a sanitized container in the fridge, and pitched it at the appropriate time. Luckily, I also had a spare, new, vial of WLP300 (the same yeast) just in case!

Well, "just in case" turned out to be necessary, because 24 hrs after pitching, there was NO activity in the airlock.  So, I dumped in my vial of yeast, and within a few hours it was off to the races. And then a very strange thing appeared in my carboy on day 4(see photo).  It was kind of slimy looking, and not what you would normally see for krausen, but, my club assured me that it was OK.

I checked the gravity, and it was at 1.029, and was syrupy and sweet when I tasted it. Definitely not infected!  So I keep the heat on, and let it continue.  Yesterday, after all airlock activity stopped, and it sat for a bit, I checked the gravity again, and found it was 1.026. Strange, after several more days of fermentation at 66 degrees, I expected it to drop further.  When tasting it, it was clear that it had attenuated more, as the sweetness was gone, and it was no longer syrupy in texture.  I wonder if my hydrometer is off! It actually tasted like the beer is done fermenting-a little hop presence and very slight rye bite.  But as I said earlier, I've never had a real Roggenbier, so it is hard to tell.

I am going to keg what I have and see how it goes.  The beer will debut publicly at the documentary premiere, tentatively Wednesday 2/24/2010, 7-9 PM in Cambridge. More on that when it gets closer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brewing Oatmeal Stout-one year later

This Sunday I stayed in on a beautiful fall day and brewed Oatmeal Stout.  This one is not destined for the Sam Adams Patriot Homebrew competition, since I'm pretty sure they wouldn't let me win twice in a row with the same beer!

I set out to duplicate the award winning recipe, but ended up changing it a bit because I ran out of two of the ingredients--that's what you get for not planning ahead!  I didn't have all the the Black Patent malt that the recipe calls for, so I made up the difference with Carafa II, which has a slightly different flavor, but we're talking about less than 1% of the grain bill, so it probably won't be noticeable. I also ws out of Dextrine Malt, so I substituted Wheat Malt since the dextrine was for head retention anyway.  Again this is a small amount, about 1.3% of the grain bill.  It shouldn't end up tremendously different from the original, but it will be interesting to taste.

The third change was less dramatic (I hope), which is that I replaced the liquid yeast in the original (White Labs WLP001) with dry yeast (Safale S05), which is essentially the same yeast.  The lag time was a bit more than I would have anticipated, but it started up OK and is fermenting strong as I write!

One of the funny things about winning the competition is that people ask me all the time if Sam Adams can't "steal" my recipe.  First, they paid me a royalty for it, so it wouldn't be stealing if they used it in a more widely distributed beer.  Second, I published the recipe in BYO magazine, so it is in the public domain now.  Third, all they would really have to do is tweak it slightly to get essentially the same flavors but with a different grain bill and it would be a different recipe.  Not that I expect them to do that, since they are honorable people, but that's all it would take.  Heck, I tweak it myself, every time I brew to attempt something different or just because I ran out of some ingredient or other.

Brewing for me is about creativity.  I have a great time trying new things and tasting the result. If I like it, then I'm happy, if I don't then I'll try again (and find someone who does like to to give the first batch to).  That's how I got rid of the first batch of Oatmeal Stout that I made--my brother in law loved it!  I hope this batch is good, but there's always another one in the queue. More on it when it comes out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oatmeal Stout Update - Thanksgiving Weekend 2009

We're now 6 games into the Patriots regular season, which means the Oatmeal Stout has been on draft at Gillette since August, through 2 pre-season and 6 regular season games.  We've got 2 regular season games to go, and hopefully 2 post-season games!

As far as I can tell, they have run out of the stout at EVERY game before halftime!
At the Dolphins game on November 8, they were out by 12:30pm (it was a 1:00 game)! I was very disappointed not to get my beer at the game, I have to say.

Erica, at Boston Beer Co. tells me that the Oatmeal Stout was (is?) available at Bar Louie at Patriot Place as well. I was hoping to go before the most recent game (a resounding defeat of the JETS), but the line was ridiculous! Maybe next time.  I did meet some nice guys waiting in line for the stout at the stadium who were coming back every game to get it--before they headed up to their seats in the 300 level. 

It is really gratifying to hear that people like the beer that much--thanks guys!  Go Pats!

Make way for yeast!

I wanted to share my recent brewing activities, which I think are pretty interesting.  Eight or nine weeks ago I decided to brew an English Southern Brown Ale, which I brewed once before, a couple years ago, and greatly enjoyed. It is an unusual style, having almost died out in the UK.  Most of us are familiar with the Newcastle Brown or Sam Smith's Nut Brown, both of which are Northern Brown Ale--dryer and less hoppy.  Northern Brown is strongly influenced by the brewing water of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is quite hard, and imparts a very distinctive character to that style.  The Southern English was brewed in London, which had softer water, and is a sweeter style of brown ale, and lacking the hard water's influence.  I think the Southern Brown is a very nice beer, though I like both styles--I was really attracted to it because I can't go to the store and buy it anywhere.  That's a major point of home brewing to me, that I can brew beer which can't be found in the store anywhere--how cool is that????

Anyway, I pulled out Jamil Zainacheff's recipe for the Brown and planned my brewing day.  One of the key factors in a beer like this is the yeast, and I picked up a vial of White Labs WLP002 English Ale yeast and made a starter to get the yeast going.  The brew day went very well and I hit all my planned gravity numbers, pitched the yeast and everything was good!  Very good, as I won a First at the NERHBC with it!

One key question (as always, when a brew is done) was what to brew next.  Since I had a big yeast cake with WLP002, I decided to do a British Best Bitter, another favorite of mine, that does best on that same yeast.

Again, the brew day went well.  The big question, however, was how to rack (transfer) the Brown to a keg, while cooling the Bitter, so that the carboy (the fermenter, a big 6.5 gal glass jug) was not empty for long before I could add the Bitter wort to it.   So, I  set up my siphon and started transferring the Brown, but forgot how much ale I had (nearly 6 gals), and was taken by surprise when I heard the sound of splashing.  Yup, the keg overflowed, and I had Brown ale all over the floor. It was a sticky mess!

I stopped the flow of the siphon,  grabbed some bottles, and began bottling the overflow.  When that ran out, I had to bottle some of the contents of the keg to get the level down sufficiently to avoid backflow into the CO2 if it ran out. There's not much that's worse than beer in your CO2 tank!  Although beer all over the floor counts, too--and I had plenty of that!  In the end, I got it done and bottled 7 bottles of Brown ale and got the Bitter fermenting VERY quickly, virtually no lag time at all. Cleanup, however, took some time.

A few days later, the fermentation was done and the yeast flocculated (a great word, meaning "clumped and dropped to the bottom" so there was a nice clear beer, with just the right level of alcohol and no off flavors! So I set to work planning my next brew.  Bear in mind that I had been feeding and caring for the same yeast through two relatively low alcohol beers, and they were strong and healthy and ready to keep growing.

High alcohol beer (over about 7%) requires a good amount of yeast to start, particularly because as the alcohol level increases the yeast start dying  off because too much alcohol will kill them.  So if you have a lot of yeast to start, you can spare a few.  My fellow BFDer, Mike Robinson published his English Style Barleywine recipe to the group, and it looked like a winner to me (Mike has more ribbons for his brewing than pretty much anyone I know--they cover both sides of a 10 foot rafter in his basement, and there are probably more--he's good!).  So I got all my ingredients for the Barley Wine, including another yeast--this one a dry yeast with higher attenuation (it keeps working longer in a higher alcohol concentration) to work with the original WLP002.

Armed with all that, I started brewing the Barleywine on a Monday morning....

Things went generally well, but I did not get the starting gravity quite as high as I was expecting.  However, I racked it onto the existing yeast, oxygenated, added the second yeast, mixed well and put in the airlock.  Within 30 minutes I had bubbles of CO2 coming out of the airlock, so it took off pretty well.  I was very pleased until the next morning I discovered that I had YEAST coming out of the airlock!  The fermentation was extremely strong, so I had to pull the airlock and put in a "blow-off" tube, which is another type of airlock that uses a bucket of sanitizer as the airlock.

So the experiment worked.  One vial of yeast produced three beers, one of which already won an award!  I'll be bottling the barleywine soon, and maybe it will win something-- but even if it doesn't I'll have a great beer to enjoy for some years to come!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A tale of two brewpubs

As a frequent traveler, one of the fun things I get to do is try out new brewpubs and beer bars wherever I go.  This past week I was in Rapid City, SD and had to try out the Firehouse Brewing Co. with my colleague Charles.  Anyway, off we went to Firehouse in downtown Rapid City, looking for some good beer!  No doubt about it, it is a pretty building, and had a nice patio with outside seating--and we were there on a nice warm night, so that's where we went.  For a Tuesday night, it was pretty busy, but we were seated immediately, very nice.  Time for beer!

Our waitress informed us that they only had 3 beers on draught--a surprise there!  Also, they have tasters, but you pay for 5 beers even when there are only 3.Not cool, since I want to try all three.  So Charles goes for the Wilderness Wheat, and I have the Strong Arm Porter.  The porter is not especially, er, portery, or even especially distinguished.  It is drinkable though, and I enjoyed it. I followed up with a Firehouse Red, which also wasn't distinguished--frankly it was disappointingly ordinary, and even had some off flavors.  At this point I thought  I would ask our waitress about the beer--and this is where I was incredibly shocked!  She knew NOTHING about beer, and was a self admitted whiskey drinker.

I can't help but contrast this with my favorite local brewpub, The Tap in Haverhill, MA.  While they have had turnover in their brewers, the beer there is consistently good and consistently matches the descriptions. Haverhill, by the way is a little smaller than Rapid City (56,000 vs 64,000 population), but is part of the greater Boston area, so there is more competition.  The Tap is all about beer.  The last time I was there, my waitress Delsie, was able to tell me all about each of the beers. And about the brewer.  And if she didn't know an answer, I'm pretty confident she would have been able to get me one. 

If you are going to run a brew pub, it seems to me you really need to hire staff that know about beer to help sell your product. In this man's world, the only reason to go to a brew pub over and above another restaurant is because of the beer. The lure of fresh, regional beer is a big one for me, and I'm always looking for great beer, as I was in Rapid City.  If you are ever in Haverhill, stop in at the Tap. If you are in Rapid City, go to the Delmonico Grill--it is across the street from the Firehouse, but the beer is MUCH better--and they know their product.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Season Opener at Gillette: Patriot Oatmeal Stout sold out before halftime!

Oh, and the Patriots beat the Bills, 25-24!  What a game! 

My friend Craig was chiding me all evening (including the 2.5 hour ride down in miserable traffic) about how this season going to Gillette is less about the Pats than the Stout, and I guess to some degree it is true.  At any rate, my arrival routine has changed so that instead of heading left up the ramp toward my seats, I now head right, and up the stairs for my beer!  So it is a good thing, because Craig and I got our Patriot Oatmeal Stout just as the game started.  JL from the Patriots organization told me Max Lane was going to be at the Sam Adams Brewhouse at the half, so I figured I'd get his autograph and another Stout, but NO!  When we got there, there were no white tap handles to be seen!  The guy in front of me was looking for Stout too, but the woman behind the counter told us they had sold out!

OK, Boston Beer Co., the gauntlet is thrown!  Let's see how much Patriot Oatmeal Stout we thirsty Patriots fans will drink at a game!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brewing a Saison

Last Saturday I brewed a Saison, which is a nice, refreshing summer beer. I started thinking about this in early August, when summer finally arrived in Boston this year, and it was HOT!!! Ironically, it has gotten much cooler here, starting the day I brewed. Oh well.

I followed Jamil's recipe for the Saison, pretty faithfully. The biggest change was that I replaced 1.4 oz of one malt with a slight lighter version of the same malt. In a grain bill of about 12lbs, it shouldn't make much difference.

Anyway, it was a really interesting brew session because I was using a lower than normal mash temperature, and per Jamil, mashed for 90 minutes rather than the usual 60 to make sure I extracted all the fermentable sugars. I guess I did it right because I hit the appropriate gravity in the fermenter when all was said and done, and there was a fairly short lag before fermentation really kicked off. I used a Saison blend yeast, rather than a straight Saison yeast--so White Labs says it will ferment more completely than the standard Saison yeast.

Right now (Thursday afternoon, 5 days later) it is still fermenting away, with the airlock bubbling out about every 7 seconds. That's a pretty long fermentation, but it bodes well with regard to hitting the appropriate FG. If it doesn't hit, then I would have to pitch some Champaign yeast to dry it out the rest of the way. I think I'll know in a few days when it slows down significantly and I check the gravity (that's the amount of sugar left).

More on this as it develops. In the meantime, bottoms up!

Note, if you want to try a Saison, look for Saison DuPont, which is fantastic. If you can't find that, there are some other commercial examples that are quite good, but that's my favorite.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The big debut--The dream comes true!

Thursday, August 20, 2009 was a red-letter day for me! Patriot Oatmeal Stout is now available to me, and my fellow Patriots fans, at Gillette Stadium, and will be on draft for the rest of the season! It was almost exactly ten months ago that I brewed the batch of oatmeal stout that won the competition, too!

The day started at 7am, when I was on WROR's Loren and Wally show with Jim Koch. That's me on the left in the photo. Loren and Wally, and their producer Brian, were all judges in the final round of the competition (5 beers were judged) along with eight other media folks and Jim Koch himself. So there we were at 7am opening bottles of Patriot Oatmeal Stout, Sam Adams Oktoberfest and Boston Lager and talking about BEER! For those who haven't listened to the show (and I'll confess, I hadn't until Katie told me I was going to be on it), it is VERY, VERY FUNNY! This group has a great chemistry and they are quick witted. Anyway, I found out that they are also very nice people as well as beer lovers, and funny. So it was a good time. Also one of the few times I've had my first beer at 7:30am!

It was also the first time I met Jim, and that was pretty exciting as well! Jim has lived the homebrewer's dream--making his beer at home and become a successful entrepreneur with it. Boston Beer Co. is a big homebrewing supporter, with the Longshot and Patriot Homebrew competition, and I appreciate that he hasn't fogotten his roots! It was a real honor to meet him and talk about the oatmeal stout and the brewing business.

Around 9am, we finished up and I headed to Logan airport to pick up my friend Skip Drew, who came in from Chicago for the big event at Gillette. A few hours later, Skip , my son Ethan and I were on the road to Gillette where we met my friend Andy Linn and then found Katie and Erica and Rob from Sam Adams for the start of everyt
hing. Jon from the Pats sales office brought us in before the stadium was open....and here's what the evening was like:

We headed up to the Sam Adams Brewhaus on the first level, which is the ONLY place in the stadium you can find Patriot Oatmeal Stout -- so make the trek, I think you'll find it is worth it! While the stadium crew hooked up the taps, Erica and Katie put up the banner on the brewhaus (we couldn't keep it there, so it is now hanging in my kitchen). It was pretty cool to see my name right there on the bar!

After that was done, it was time for the ceremonial first pour!

OK, maybe the first pours, because we all had to try the beer (except Ethan, who is underage)! It was a real thrill to have my son and my best friends with me for this event! I had to share it with people close to me and who are a big part of my life. Skip has been my friend since high-school, and Andy for about 25 years. Andy and I got the Pats tickets together originally in 1994 and have been going to games together since then. What a great way to celebrate!

After we did the first pour (or 2 or 3), while Rob took lots of pictures, a larger group from Sam Adams joined us. Erica and I asked a few of the people buying stout what they thought about it, and the response was pretty good. One man told me he never had stout before, but he heard me on WROR and wanted to try it -- very cool! I heard this from a several people I spoke with, and a couple even asked to have their picture taken with me--amazing!

Jon gave us all VIP passes, and took us do
wn on the field to watch the players warm up.. This was a new one for us, and we got to see a lot up close and personal! We were also close to the cheerleaders (who, you'll notice, seem to be pretty young this year), and linesman and such, who work behind the scenes. This was very exciting and a great experience!

Just before the game got underway, they shoo-ed us out and we went up to our seats to watch the main event. Let's just say it was not the Patriots best effort, since they lost 7-6, but we had a great time hanging out on the 17 yard line (south end of the field). The view of the field was excellent, as we were in the 34th row up. Nice!

Finally, in the 3rd quarter, we went up to meet Jim Koch for photos at the
brew house. I introduced Jim to Ethan, Skip and Andy. We took a few photos before Jim went down to do an on-field interview with Steve Burton. I got to keep the banner we put up on the Brewhaus, though, because the Patriots wouldn't let it stay on, and it is now hanging proudly in my kitchen! We also found out that the Brewhaus sold out all the stout they had on hand--though they brought more than they forecast originally. What a great start--and I think they will sell even more when the weather gets cooler, since stout is a great beer to warm you up on a cold day!

Then it w
as time to finish off the day with a visit to our regular seats, which were occupied by a friend of Ethan's and his dad, along with Ethan's uncle Dave and his friend Joe, and then head off to face the traffic on Route 1! Bad as it was, the traffic couldn't wipe the smile off my face thinking about the fun I had! Time to enter the next competition!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Draft Magazine: Front Page News!

Currently (18 August 2009) on the home page of Draft Magazine:

Detail at:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Update on Thursday interview on WROR

I just (17 July 09) got the following in an email from WROR (105.7 FM). No mention of me, but Patriot Homebrew is there....

Tune-in ALERT! Jim Koch, Founder and Brewer of Samuel Adams® beer, will be in the studio on Thursday at around 7am to talk football... Well, the beer they will be serving at Gillette this season thanks to the Patriot Homebrew Contest. Have a question for him? Click here and send it to Lungboy!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Brewing my beer at Sam Adams - Part 2

Though the official debut of the beer is August 20, the Oatmeal Stout was on draft the night of July 30th for the AHA rally. So, while the AHA folks were doing the brewery tour, I was out in the Biergarten having beer and cheese with some press invited by the folks from Boston Beer Co.

In this picture (clockwise from left), that's me in the blue, Katie from Boston Beer,Gail Ciampa from the Providence Journal (a judge in the contest), and a friend of Gail's.

My friend Bert Bingle (on the right, below) from Brew Free or Die also came by, and met Bert the brewer!

It was a great evening, and the first time I had the finished product as brewed by Sam Adams. They did a fantastic job converting the beer to their system and scaling it up (Bert and I still need to have a conversation on what the considerations were). I was very proud to have my beer served there and enjoyed by all the attendees--they even drank one of the kegs dry!

Next stop-Foxboro!

Brewing my beer at Sam Adams - Part 1

One of the fantastic parts of winning the Patriot Homebrew Competition is that you get the opportunity to go in and brew your beer at the Sam Adams brewery in Boston-- how cool is that??? (Click here to see more photos)

My big day came up on July 30th, which coincided with an AHA rally at the brewery and a press reception for me (cool!) at 5pm as well. That makes for a pretty long day, as I was told to report at 9am! I have to say, this was a really fantastic experience, and here's how it went:
  • After getting stuck in the wonderful Boston rush hour traffic for the first time years (I work from home), I slogged my way through and found a spot in the brewery yard around 9:15. I came in and met Dean, one of the brewers, who got me set up in coveralls and rubber boots.
  • Dean, Andrew and Bert, the three brewers I was working with had set up the day so that we did two batches. The first batch, which had a slightly different grain bill from the second, was already mashed in and was in the lauter/collection stage. Dean gave me an orientation to the equipment which included 4 different "tuns" or kettles (l to r in photo): lauter, mash/boil (2 of these) and whirlpool, and showed me how they were set up.
  • While the lauter finished, Dean showed me the grain room, where they store the specialty grains, and do the crushing (for those who aren't familiar with the brewing process, the grain needs to be crushed before mashing, where the sugars and flavors are extracted).
One of the things that struck me about the whole process is that while it is the same process I do at home, the scale is so much bigger! I have no problem carrying a pail full of grain to be crushed or to mash in, but they use a forklift with a big plastic chute on it! The tuns we were dealing with are 9 barrel tuns--a barrel is 31 gallons. I brew in 5 gallon batches at home on my stove, just for perspective. So one 9 barrel batch is 55.8x what I brew at home! And we brewed 2 of them.
  • The collection finally finished, Dean started cranking up the steam jacket on the boil kettle and got that going. Somewhere along the line we picked up the 3.8 lbs of fuggles pellets that went into the brew, and once the boil got going, I dropped those in (at right). Man the aroma of boiling wort is fantastic!!! It really fills the air with the smell of sweet sugary, malty goodness--tempered with a nice earthy (with fuggles anyway) hop smell! WOW!
  • While the first batch boiled away, Jonathan and Rob from the Sam Adams Creative Dept. came in to interview me (on video) about the competition, the beer, brewing, etc. I had a lot of fun with this stuff, since I like to talk about beer and brewing -- and me, sometimes too :-). The interview phase went on for a while as it was interrupted for other stuff.
Another interesting thing about this kind of working brewery is that there are tours coming through all the time. Every so often I'd look up, and there's a group coming through taking pictures, learning about how beer is made. I wonder how many of those pictures I am in--as far as they knew, I'm just another brewer at Sam's!
  • Just before lunch, I had another view of the glamour side of brewing. Andrew, who now had joined Dean and I, had me clean out the mash from the first batch. So, imagine a great big pot full of steaming, wet grain. Dean pulled up in a forklift with a pallet that held 3 plastic 55 gallon barrels and handed me a shovel! We opened up the port in the side of the lauter tun and a bunch of grain plopped out in to the nearest barrel. So this was my next job--and I don't want to scare anyone who might enter a future competition, it was fun--filling the 3 barrels with the spent grain.
  • There's a neat feature in the tun that helps a lot, a push-arm that you can drop down. To picture this, think about a big automatic stirrer (there's a motor on top of the tun that drives it) spinning slowly to keep the grain from clumping while you lauter. So after the lauter and collection is over, the remaining water in the tun is drained out (and thrown away) and the vanes spin a bit faster to cool the grain down from 170 degrees and to help the liquid flow. So this push arm is up above the grain bed until you are done and ready to clean out. Then it drops down and pushes the grain along the bottom until it reaches the door, and I scoop it out into the barrel! I actually think it was about the same amount of work (for me) as dumping one of my batches at home--but I don't need a forklift!
I also found out where all that spent grain goes. Dean said that a farmer down in Foxboro comes and picks it up regularly. I think it makes good mulch--there usually wouldn't be much sugar left for it to be a feed, I would guess. I have never seen animals eating my grain, anyway.

So the rest of the day was a lot of the same kind of thing:
  • Mash, lauter, collect and boil the second batch
  • Add the hops to the boil
  • Clean out the boil kettle from the first batch
  • Clean out the lauter tun from the second batch
  • Admire the fermenter where my beer was going
One thing you should know about cleaning up in a brewery, is that it involves a LOT of water! You get to play with hoses indoors, and all the floors are cement with big drains in them. The hoses are industrial as well, so they are about 2-3 times the diameter of your typical garden hose and hold a lot of water. Everything liquid or nearly liquid goes down the drain.

Andrew had me clean out one of the fermenters. In my brewery at home, a fermenter is a glass bottle that holds 5-7 gallons of liquid. I can pick them up, rinse them out, move them, no problem. At Sam Adams, a fermenter holds hundreds of gallons and is made of stainless steel. They also have a conical bottom, and when the fermentation is finished the yeast collects there. They also fill with CO2 (carbon dioxide) as a result of the fermentation, since they are sealed well.

The first step was dumping the yeast out the bottom onto the floor, and it came out in this pale stream, until it hit the floor with a spat! (photo above) So I hosed that out for about 20 minutes as it kept coming out. Andrew came over and opened up a port in the side of the fermenter, and you could SEE the CO2 coming out! You don't want to breath that stuff, but it was kind of cool to watch it. He had me spray in lots of water to rinse down the sides and "knock down" the CO2 as well. This went on for a while in a sort of on-off cycle until it was finally pretty clean. It made me appreciate how simple dealing with a glass bottle can be--until you break it.

Although all of this may sound kind of boring, and maybe like I was just cheap labor (I joked about that myself), BUT this was really fun and exciting for me! I got to play with the "big boy" toys, if you will, something an amateur brewer rarely gets to do. I'm happy to clean out grain to be a part of the process and understand how they make beer professionally-and how close to what I do at home it is. So when 5:00 rolled around I was somewhat tired, but very happy!

Stay tuned for part 2....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Patriot Homebrew Competition: How I got here

For those of you who are wondering about the competition and how I got from David Homebrew to Homebrew Winner, here's how it worked:

I love oatmeal stout! When I started brewing, it was the third beer I brewed (the first was dictated by the kit I got, the second was a Dunkelweizen). I have been working on perfecting my recipe since then. I submitted an oatmeal stout to last year's Patriots Homebrew Competition (2008), but it didn't get very far for a couple of reasons. First, it had a thin mouthfeel--an oatmeal stout should be full and creamy. Second, I added whiskey soaked in toasted oak chips, so it probably should have been categorized as a "specialty" beer. I filed that info away and did some research in the meantime.

Fast forward to fall 2008...

I brewed the stout again, this time aiming for bigger mouthfeel and a slightly tweaked flavor. I had an additional year of home brewing under my belt, so I think I was a better brewer than in 2007 when the previous version was made, as well. I also decided to eliminate the whiskey and oak flavors in favor of a better base beer. Everything fermented the way I wanted, and I kegged it, then bottled enough for the Sam Adams competition using "carbonation tabs" to carbonate the bottles, while the keg as force carbonated with CO2.

When the entry date rolled around, I dropped my bottles off at the brewery, and that was that until the judging.

The Patriot Homebrew is a three round competition, which is a tad unusual.

In the first round , the judges determine the best beer from each category of beer entered. There were about 200 beers in the competition, I'm told, and there are 23 categories. Not all categories have many entries--in most competition stouts and IPAs have the highest number of entries, while you can only expect a couple American Light Lagers. They are typically judged by 2 judges per category (other than the ones that have large numbers of entries, where the category might be judged by 4 or 6 judges each taking half or a third of the entries).

In the second round (the same day as round 1), a smaller group of judges, usually the ones with the most experience, (Nationally ranked) evaluate the 23 beers that were chosen as the best in each category. In most competitions, they pick the top 3 and award 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. In this competition they were asked to pick only the top 5 beers and not to rank them.

I was notified a short while after the competition day, that I had been selected as one of the top five. Boston Beer asked me to bring over some additional sample of the beer, as well as the recipe, so down to the brewery I went, and dropped off the material.

Round 3: Boston Beer company (Sam Adams to most of us) chose the judges for this round, which took place several weeks after rounds 1 and 2. There are a couple of blogs and even a video describing the judging, so I won't go into the details, but they picked the winner. Hey, it was ME!

So a day or so later, Boston Beer called to tell me that I won! Wow, what a cool thing! Unfortunately, they wanted to hold the info for a few days so they could notify the others in the top 5 and get the press release written. So I kept it under wraps except for my family and close friends-which was pretty hard because I just wanted to shout about it!

Things got very exciting once the news broke. More on that in the next post.

Monday, August 3, 2009

BCTC 2009

I took my first trip to Cooperstown this past weekend, but it had nothing to do with the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead, I went to savor the many fine beers that were being shared at Ommegang Brewery's "Belgium Comes to Cooperstown" festival. This was my first time, and I shared the experience with fellow BFD members Jeff and Pam, and Lyn and Mary Alice. You can see some of Jeff's photos here.

The setting was amazing: tents and campers spread across a big farmers field, all full of beer and beer lovers! A couple thousand strong, we came from all over to share our love of fine beer and to enjoy the August weather. This was sort of a "Beerstock" event, where old acquaintances were renewed and new ones made. The place was full of beer literati, appreciators and homebrewers like me. It was a great opportunity to mix and mingle, and I had breakfast with the editor of Yankee Brew News and shared homebrew at the campfire with Tom of Monks Cafe in Philly, and beer reps and brewers from several breweries. Where else can you do that?

There was actually an organized festival here, and Ommegang did a nice job of it. The main event was a 4 hour beer tasting with great beer from the US, Canada and Belgium. Some of the high points for me:
  • Sly Fox Black Raspberry Reserve - a very nice wheat ale that used fruit puree so the sweetness fermented out and you got a nice, slightly tart fruit flavor over the base beer.
  • Keegan Ales had a really interesting coffee stout, which tasted like coffee. Possibly too sweet for many, I enjoyed it.
  • Allagash Interlude - what can I say--worth the trip!
  • Duvel Green - A very pleasnt Belgian Golden Ale.
The only downside of the event was that a number of the breweries ran out well before the four hour period was up-before half-time! Attendees at BCTC know their beer, and evidently swarmed their favorites, because beers like Kwak, Nostradamus, Duchesse de Bourgogne, and Victory Abbey 6 and Wild Devil were gone, gone, gone!

After the tasting event, things really moved on. Troegs' crew was smoking a pig all day, and that came out and was shared all around. Campfires were lit and beer was poured and shared. I met a group of the folks in the Philly beer scene: Tracy and Whitney from Victory, Susie (the beer lass) from Sly Fox and all sorts of others. It was a really magical evening, and I look forward to doing it again in 2010!

So, those of you that love beer, this is a festival to put on your calendar! I'll see you there!

The award winning beer...

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This is the award winning beer--the first time I've seen the label

A friend sent me a link to this photo on Twitpic today. I don't actually have any bottles with the label on them--the ones the brewery sent me to taste were hand written--even more rare, I guess. But this is pretty cool. They also made tap handle(s?) that will be used at Gillette Stadium.

For those who are wondering, the beer will not be in general distribution, unlike the Long Shot competition winners. This competition is only open to folks in the Northeast, and the beer will only be served at Gillette Stadium (or at my house). At Gillette, it will only be served in the Samuel Adams Brewhaus on the first level concourse. Luckily, I have seats on that VERY SAME level, so I can get down there to drink my beer!

The beer wil debut at Gillette on August 20, 2009 at the first home pre-season game, and it will be there for the rest of the season! So, all you stout lovers, head to Gillette: beg borrow or steal Pats tix. Here's a hint for you: pre-season tickets are the easiest to come by (some folks sell them for less than face value), and spending a nice summery evening sitting in the stands and enjoying a game that doesn't count (unless you are on the field trying to win a job) and savoring a craft beer is a pretty nice experience!

I hope to see you there!

Why the blog? What about the beer?

Hi and welcome to my blog, "About the beer".

I am building this to share my experience brewing, but the even that is pushing me to do this NOW, is that I won the Sam Adams Patriot Home Brew competition in 2009 and I'm going through all the hoopla involved in winning. No doubt about it, it is fun! And I'm having so much fun that I want to share it with my friends and family, and maybe other folks out there who like good beer.

A lot of this will come across as "bragging", and OK, some of it probably is. I keep telling people that after hearing all the complements about my winning beer (an Oatmeal stout) that I won't be able to get my head through the door. But at the same time, this is something to be shared and savored, and it is my 15 minutes of fame. Most of all though, I'm really proud of making a beer that has achieved such success. I hope the fans at Gillette Stadium enjoy drinking it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

But I also brew for fun and friends, and I'm going to talk about that as well, particularly when the whole Patriots thing is over. So I hope you enjoy it, I know I will!