Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Good ideas gone bad

Well, it may have finally happened. I might have created my first homebrew candidate destined for an unceremonius end of its existence - down the drain. Thus is the plight of my S^4 Ale, "Stewarts Sloppy Seconds Strong Ale".

Some weeks ago, Stewart's brewed their annual barleywine, and Ric was kind enough to call me and ask if I wanted their strong runnings. They had sparged all they were going to need, but since it was a barleywine... lots of sugars were left in the grains. I very excitedly accepted and had my wife run over three carboys around noon. They filled them full sometime around noon or one, and I swung by around 5:30 to get the wort.

I got the wort home, poured 13.5 gallons of it from the carboys into the kettle and heated it up to 165 degrees. I then steeped some additional specialty grains (Crystal, etc) for extra color and flavor, and after 45 minutes began the boil. I boiled for about 75 minutes, adding 3 oz of Kent Golding 5.7%AA for bittering, 3 oz of Fuggles for Flavor, and 2 oz of Willamette for Aroma. The Willamette was a last minute addition because the Fuggles didn't have any aroma to them at all... (they were about a year old, but sat in my deep freezer the whole time). I got about 9 gallons of 1.080 wort into the demijohn, pitched 2 packages of Nottingham Ale yeast, and it fermented like crazy for several days - everything seemd just fine.

Fast forward several weeks, and I have now kegged 5 gallons and bottled the other 4 or so gallons. The bottles have been sitting around for a week, and I figure I'd crack one open and see what it tastes like, even if it is still a little flat and young.

An initial flavor of cherries and ripe red fruit quickly fade into Nyquil and lighter fluid. Imagine 2 seconds of excitement followed by several seconds of washing out my mouth with water and spitting it into the sink.


Well, I am not sure... but lets run through the possibilities for giggles.

Now, all that said - It may still be too early to tell what's gonna happen here. With some extended aging, the fusels (if that is indeed the problem) may break down and actually mellow out. Same goes if I had a hop problem - those flavors should also mellow.

Is "S4 Ale" ever going to be a great beer? Doubtful... but at this point I'll settle for something that doesn't compel me to grab a match, or threaten to cause organ failure.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Weekend of beer

Wow, What a weekend.

It began on Friday, when I took the day off to go and provide labor to the Twin Lakes Brewery in Greenville. Mark has been very kind and worked with me to schedule an opportunity, and after many changes it finally happenened. My morning began there at 4am, where we filled the tun with some foundation water and opened the grain hopper slide valve... They had milled the first batch the previous night, so I had a slight reprieve from hauling grain bags. One the grain was mashed in, the tun's steam jacketing quickly raised the mash to temperature. We were ready to mash out and transfer sometime around 5:30am. That's when the fun began...

We opened the valve at the bottom of the mash tun and waited for the grain slurry to run down into the lauter tun. Nothing came out except a tiny trickle of wort. A flurry of panic and activity ensued for the next 45 minutes trying to unclog an enormous plug of grain right at the exit of the mash tun, which is near impossible to get at. I won't explain exactly how the situation was resolved, but suffice it to say that the solution bordered on dangerous. The guys (Mark, George, & Jack) were acutely aware of that fact and did everything they could to position folks out of harm's way. I dare say DuPont would be proud. No one got hurt or scalded, and with only a minor mess to clean up, the grain slurry ran into the lauter tun in short order. I asked Mark if that had ever happened... he said no, it was a first.

Since there was such a long delay, the grain hulls got a little soggy, and we ended up with a stuck mash 3 times on the first batch - It took about 2 hours to sparge enough to get the required 725 gallons. The remainder of the batch went without a hitch.

I witnessed and participated in all kinds of very interesting activities:

While they ran the first batch's wort through the heat exchanger to the fermenter, they began mashing in the second batch. This time mark gave me some directions and let me actually add the foundation water, and do some of the mashing in. While the second batch mashed, we did many of the activities listed above. Time came to lauter the second mash - STUCK AGAIN, just like the first batch. I couldn't believe it - that had never happened before, and it happened twice in one day. Fortunately this time they knew just what to do, and we had the mash unplugged and in the lauter tun in under 10 minutes. The second batch lautered EXTREMELY well, and we didn't get a stuck mash at all.

About the time they were finishing up lautering the second batch, I headed out to get some food - it was about 1pm and I was starving. I ran down the road, grabbed a sandwich from Einstein Bros, and came back to find all the overhead lights out. "What's up??", I asked... no one seemed to know - It hadn't ever happened before. About 15 minutes later... BAM!!! Everything shut down, after they had been boiling for about 20 minutes. No electricity meant no steam boiler, and no steam boiler meant no boiling. Long story short, an Electrician from Shure-Line showed up, checked around, and they found that some power lines had gotten twisted due to the high winds. He couldn't fix that, and it was going to be 4pm at the earliest before Delmarva could show up. To pass the time, Mark, George, Jack, another avid homebrewer Ryan, and I sampled the two beers I had brought - Hopocalypse and Saison. They seemed to enjoy them. About 3pm, I bid my farewells, knowing full well that 4pm to Delmarva means like 5 or 6pm. Mark was concerned that they would have to dump the second batch - but I don't know how all that turned out. I will have to find out this week.

It was a fantastic experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope I get another opportunity to do it again. I am also very appreciative of how much hard work being a professional brewer is, and admire them for being able to do it day in and day out - I don't think I could.

I arrived home to find a cord of wood dropped off on our driveway, which meant more labor as it was hauled around back and stacked. An hour later, I sat exhausted on the couch, relaxing until our club meeting that night. The meeting went well, although many of us departed early (9:30pm - 10pm), myself included. It had been a very long day.

Saturday was the All-Grain demonstration at How Do You Brew? in Newark. About 6-8 people showed up to watch us brew 10 gallons of Oatmeal Stout, which went pretty well. I missed my mash-in temperature by 5 degrees - I hit 148 instead of 153, so it may be more fermentable than I wanted, but fortunately it lautered very well. We got all the wort volume needed in about 30 minutes and didn't have a stuck mash at all, and were right on (if not a little higher) gravity-wise. The whole process went much faster than the last demonstration, and I was packed up and headed home by 5pm - so it was a 6 hour brew day. I went home with very little dirty equipment to clean, 1/2 of the batch (5 gal), and enough 2-row for my next 10 gallon AG batch - Many thanks, Joe and Marlana!

On a related note, I think I have several theories on why my last few batches have all ended in stuck fermentations, and I hope to eliminate that little nuisance going forward. I think alot of things have all come together to cause the problem (finer crush on the grain, longer sparging times, thicker mashes, etc) and once I work through them it should go away. I also have a much better perspective after watching a 1450 lb mash get stuck several times, and seeing what kind of clarity they typically look for before running to the kettle - As homebrewers we may spend entirely too much time on the inconsequential minutia instead of seeing the big picture - Is crystal-clear wort a requirement to make good tasting beer? Hardly. Is a stuck mash a big deal? Not really.

I have alot of stuff to do tonight while the wife is at Welding school - Keg the 10 gal of Nightmare Stout and rack 10 gal of Porter to secondaries and throw in bourbon oak chips. Doesn't sound like much, but between the cleaning and sanitizing of 2 kegs and 2 carboys - it takes time. I'll probably still be racking when she gets home.

Next brews on the Sever agenda:

Of course I think I am going to run out of time & allowed capacity well before I get through all of that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Meeting Friday!!! (Oct 20th)

We have a meeting this friday at Jeff Ramberg's house. Scott sent the address out yesterday... use MapQuest or Google Maps to get directions.

At the meeting, Oliver Weatherbee is going to bring some iso-alpha extract to do a demonstration with using Coors or some other needlessly flavorless beer. It actually provides bittering without requiring a boil!! I will probably bring a growler of my latest batch of Oak Vanilla Porter, which needs help. I'm not sure if its a lack of bittering that is the problem, or if I somehow got something in it... We'll see.

I'll also try to bring a couple bottles of my Oktoberfest - It turned out GOOD, but I'll have to sneak it past the wife... oh wait. She'll have to help me counterpressure fill it, so no sneaking.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006



Yeah. I got the stuff. I know you all want it. Now stop drooling already... and go get your own.

Monday, October 09, 2006


There's something to be said...

...about tried & true, particularly as it pertains to brewing recipes. I feel like I really kind of stepped "outside of my box" this summer and fall and brewed some pretty wacky shtuff, but at the same time I feel like I've made alot of beers that aren't up to my typical caliber. I guess that is all part of learning and growing in your passions...

My last two brewing experiences have really kind of shaken me to the core.... My nightmare stout of two weeks ago is now sitting in secondaries, looking decidedly more brown than black and with a not too distant resemblance from the stuff I poured out of the steam cleaner tonight when I did our carpets... Yuck. I still keep hoping that it will drop clearer and turn a nice dark stouty-like color, but I'm seriously doubting it anymore. Not wishing to be beaten, I had my wife go out and buy another pie pumpkin, which is already roasted and ready for a minimash - but quite honestly, I have to say I don't give a $#!t anymore. I don't care if that beer beat me this time around - I want to get back to brewing stuff I like and know I can do well, so it is probably either going to go in a pie or down the garbage disposal.

I brewed a barleywine with a buddy this weekend (see Gnarlywine at, and while the experience went relatively well - I still had issues with stuck sparges and MASSIVE amounts of break in the kettle. When we racked it into the fermenters, it looked like someone puked in our carboys. I assume it is still doing OK downstairs... it looks ugly as hell, but it is still bubbling every 5-10 seconds or so, so the yeast are still chewing on something... but again, I am nervous if that beer will come out OK.

Truth be told, I'm feeling a little shaken and off my game. I think for a while I'm going to hang up the wacky hat and get down to what I do best - browns, porters, and stouts - with a few hop monsters thrown in to shake things up. My brewing schedule for right now is looking like the following:

Lots of familiar recipes in there, along with one or two "experimental" batches, but even then the experimental batches are very tame. Note to self... contact ATF and find out what it takes to brew more than the 200gal limit in a year. I'll pay the taxes, dammit!!!

On another note, I've got about 9-10 pounds of whole-leaf hops headed my way from I ended picking up quite a haul of Amarillo, Columbus, Simcoe, and various other whole-leaf varieties that aren't available through our local shop, and for a very reasonable price. Freshops rocks! One of the more interesting varieties is a pound of Pacific Gem hops, which are supposed to be around 13-15%AA and have a blackberry character... Can't wait to brew up some porter or ESB with those things.