Big Things Happening

Hello out there. I’m resurrecting this space after a long hiatus. As you can probably tell, I’ve given a few things a facelift and will be making some updates in the upcoming weeks. A lot has happened since my last post. In the middle of the summer, Jen and I received some amazing news:


That’s right, on April 4th we’re expecting our first lil’ brewer-to-be. Everyone is happy and healthy, but also very busy getting ready. Needless to say brewing has taken a backseat to more important things. One of which is a long overdue kitchen renovation. Since we’ve done most work ourselves, the house has been a construction zone for the past few months. Fortunately the sheet rock dust has settled and we’re 90% complete:


The kitchen was where I mashed, sparged, chilled and transferred wort on brew day. Now that everything is brand spankin’ new, and considering how messy brew days can be, I’m planning a dedicated brewery. More than likely this will be moved outside since brewing equipment isn’t exactly baby proof! Thinking through changes has been a good thing because I’m re-evaluating my setup and making some upgrades. The goal is to build a brewery that allows for a smooth and relatively short brew day. It also has to be compact when not in use.

So there’s a ton of exciting things on the horizon! I’m hoping to find time to keep things updated here. There’s a few batches I’ve brewed recently that I’ll be posting about soon. Instead of posting shortly after brew days and documenting the batch’s progress, my approach to writing will be a bit different. I’m going to focus on specific homebrew topics and use my homebrew batches to relate my first hand experience. I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from reading other homebrew bloggers’ techniques. The collection of articles available on these sites are great resources. I hope my contributions will be just as valuable.

See you soon!

Philly Beer Week: 8 Days down… 2 to go!

It’s been eight days since Philly Beer Week officially kicked off at the Independence Visitor Center and the grand finale has yet to come. What better week to extend by a few days?!?! I’ve never made an effort to fully experience the sights, sounds, and suds of the city wide celebration until this year. Armed with the official PBW 2012 iPhone app, I carefully mapped out the events I wanted to attend. You really need a well thought plan with literally hundreds of events ranging from tap takeovers, opportunities to meet the brewers from around the world, food/beer pairing dinners, classes and a slew of other beer-centric shindigs. Here’s where my adventures have taken me:

Friday – Opening Tap – Independence Visitor Center
After the Mayor tapped the third annual firkin of Brotherly Suds on a gloomy evening, we shuffled into the Visitors Center to sample the best local breweries had to offer. Many brewers were there pouring some limited releases. The crowds were manageable but there were too many new beers to recall all the standouts. I do remember enjoying new offerings from Yards and Boxcar, Manayunk Brewery’s Grand Cru, Dogfish’s 75 Minute IPA and a sour quad aged 17 months by Stoudts. Good to see a big Barley Legal crew out to support Vince and Lappy receive kudos for Belge.

Saturday – Appel Arts and Music Festival
Okay not exactly a Philly Beer Week event, but a great time nonetheless. Beautiful venue and perfect weather! Flying Fish was the beer vendor so we stayed hydrated. Tedeschi Trucks Band headlined and played a great twilight set to close the fest. Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra were pretty good too. More to come later about this one.

Sunday – Rest
REALLY wish I went out on this day. That is all…

Monday – Belge Release Party – Iron Hill
Iron Hill in Maple Shade hosted their Belge release party with two of the collaborators behind the brew: Chris LaPierre and Vince Masciandaro. Their trip to Belgium is well documented on other sites if you want to read more. Along with the peat smoked blonde, the Hill offered a flight of beers from both Iron Hill and Brasserie Dupont. Dupont Belœil and Iron Hill’s Saison were my favorite. As an added bonus the “Three Stooges” brewed and homebrew clone to compare to the Belge. I found it more malty with less up front smoke, but equally as enjoyable as the real deal.

Tuesday – Celebration of Sours! – Eulogy
This was more of a pilgrimage then a night out. Eulogy is known for it’s wonderful collection of Belgian beers, but this was an achievement even for them. Phenomenal sours and two I’d consider the best I’ve ever had: Hanssens Gueuze from a firkin and Cantillon St Lamvinus on draft. Truly incredible blends and beers I’ll remember long after Beer Week.

Wednesday – Dunkel Dare – Frankford Hall
Marc Summers. Physical Challenges. Slime. Authentic German beer and food. What better way to spend a beautiful Wednesday with friends? The place was packed as Marc Summers hosted a round of “Dunkel” Dare the same way I remember it from the early 90’s. Great Lakes beat Vicorty and I hear they went on to win it all. Victory did, however, have the better selection on draft, including Summer Love and Prima Pils. The night was complete after a Franziskaner and some green slime.

Thursday – Farmers Cabinet/Boilermaker
Both bars had some really unique events this night so I went bar hopping. The first stop at the Cabinet featured three brewers offering eight variations of the same low alcohol base beer. Surprise, they were pretty much all sour! Stillwater had saisons spiced with different teas (vanilla chai was my favorite), Evil Twin made eight “Bikini” beers of various IBU’s, but the standout was Cabinet’s golden ales. Each variation was aged on different wood. The cherry wood and hard maple versions were both great with subtle differences. The Sour Bikini collaboration by Jeppe and Terry was awesome as well.

Boilermaker featured two breweries I’ve been especially excited to try: Tired Hands and McKenzie. The tap list was great with a lot of each breweries beers, but they’d have to wait. I was here for the blends. There one light and one dark featured beer. The dark variation, a blend of Tired Hands’ Guillemot and Mckenzie’s Dark and Stormy was a wild ale with so many complex flavors. Definitely a favorite of the week.

Friday – Rest

Thats it for now. Enjoy the last bit of PBW. I’m off to brunch.

Brewing Log – Rye Saison and Saison #2

Soooooo……. about those brewing updates I promised last post. Here’s some notes from my first two attempts at brewing a Saison.

Rye Saison and Saison #2
My infatuation with brewing farmhouse ales has hit full swing. I’m really trying to hone in on a great saison recipe. The Rye Saison I brewed for Big Brew is now just a memory. I didn’t take any tasting notes, but recall the sharpness from the rye being pretty dominate. There wasn’t too much flavor from the spices or citrus in the mix. I wanted to start the recipe with a very small amount of blended spices and gradually step them up in the next batch (if needed). The phenols from the Wyeast 3711 fermented intentionally warm (+70F) really came through, which I think also accented the rye. Overall I was very happy with the finished product for a first attempt.

For my second attempt I decided to cut the rye and opted for a higher percentage of wheat. I used a combination of wheat malt and flaked wheat, which really contributed nicely to the mouthfeel in my opinion. The amount of spices was increased to allow more perceived flavor. The last major difference I made was keeping the fermentation temperature closer to 65F. This batch was brewed on 4/28 in order to be kegged for Jen’s surprise 30th birthday party on 5/18. Given the fast turnaround time the beer was a little cloudy, but it could’ve also been from the wheat. The keg kicked in a couple of hours, which is always a good sign! I was very pleased with the way it turned out. It was definitely an improvement from the first attempt. Here’s the recipe:

Jen’s 3-0 Saison
Brewed April 28, 2012
Yeast: Wyeast 3711
Starter: No
Batch Size (Gallons): 5.5
Target Original Gravity: 1.055
IBU: 26
Efficiency: 79%
Boiling Time (Minutes): 60
Color: 5 SRM
Mash: Single Infusion @ 151F (60 minutes) – Batch Sparge

Grain Bill:
5 lb Pilsner (48.5%)
21 oz White Wheat Malt (12.7%)
1 lb Flaked Wheat (9.7%)
1.5 lb Munich Malt (14.6%)
1.5 Pale Malt (14.6%)

60 min 1 oz Tettnang (4.8%)
20 min 1 oz Czech Saaz (3%)
15 min Irish Moss
10 min 1 oz Czech Saaz (3%)
5 min Spices:
Coriander (16 grams)
Grains of Paradise (1/4 tsp)
Star Anise (6 blades)
Bitter orange peel (1/2 oz)
Sweet orange peel (1/2 oz)

Because Wyeast 3711 is such a beast and I’ll be brewing with it again soon, I decided to wash the yeast from this batch. There’s a ton of instructions and how to videos on the various methods to harvest yeast. I basically follow Bernie Brewer’s how to on The only things I do differently is use less water (and jars) and place the carboy on its side when allowing it to sit. This way the yeast gets disturbed less when pouring into the mason jars. Here’s some pics of my process:

Brewing Log – Dieci Anni Di Dolci

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been meaning to post some updates about the beers recently brewed and currently fermenting. This is the first of various updates I’ll be posting in the next couple days to document many of the notes I’ve taken.

Dieci Anni Di Dolci Russian Imperial Stout
This will probably be the last update about the RIS for a while. In case you missed it, I decided to prepare french oak cubes soaked in bourbon. After an extended stay in the primary fermenter, I finally transferred this batch almost two months after it was brewed. The gravity at this point has remained at 1.029 for quite some time, indicating that the yeast is pretty much done. The oak cubes had a chance to soak up the bourbon for a little over a month. They were added to the secondary carboy after being strained from the bourbon. I didn’t want to add the bourbon for fear that the flavor would dominate the finished product. There was only a shots worth of french oak infused bourbon left, so I saw no use in saving it. Time to enjoy one oaky boilermaker!

it’s hard to tell the difference between the beer and the bourbon since the whiskey’s color changed drastically

a little more head space than i wanted for this long conditioning stage. hopefully the glass will help keep the oxygen out

Over the next 6 to 10 months, I’m excited to taste small samples to see what flavors the oak imparts. The reading I’ve done on oak cubes indicate that different flavors develop throughout this maturation process.

Barley Legal Big Brew at Iron Hill

The AHA Big Brew is officially in the books and Barley Legal threw one hell of a party. Think beer festival, tailgate and Cinco de Mayo all rolled into one. Toss in over 440 gallons of beer brewed by about 50 brewers and I’d call Big Brew a success. It was great to get out of my comfort zone and “mobile brew” a couple batches. Our gracious hosts at Iron Hill prepared over 300 gallons of 1.050 ish 2-row wort for brewers to use if they didn’t feel like performing a mash. I decided to do one 5 gallon all-grain batch, but also made a smaller 3 gallon batch from the wort prepared by Iron Hill.

The 3 gallon batch was a breeze: Boiled the 5 gallons of wort down to 3, added a bunch of random north western hops and pitched some Chico yeast. Nice and easy. For my all-grain batch, I decided to use a slightly modified version of the AHA’s Ardley Brown Ale recipe. The minor changes were made because I’ve decided to attempt a sour. That’s right… I’ve officially made the leap to bugs and bacteria. Since I’ve been digging this style so much lately I decided why not? The modifications to the recipe included:

  • Hop additions reduced to 1 oz of EKG at 60 minutes and 1/2 oz of Fuggles at 30 minutes to minimize any aromatic hops from clashing with the wild yeast.
  • Mashed higher than suggested at 153F. This was done to allow some residual sugars to remain for the slower fermenting wild yeast.
  • Used Belgian Ardennes yeast and the dregs from bottles of Russian River Consecration and Jolly Pumpkin La Roja… DROOL. These were all pitched at the same time. This decision was made after reading a great article by The Mad Fermentationist
  • Substituted a couple of ounces of amber malt with some white wheat malt since it’s what I had on hand.

The batch went pretty smooth considering the unfamiliar surroundings. I mashed with a much higher water to grain ratio to reduce the need for a third batch sparge. My mash temperature also dropped 3 degrees after 30 minutes, so I added some additional hot water to raise it back up. Other than that it was smooth sailing. What really impressed me was the club’s chilling station, which consisted of a baby pool filled with ice that had a pump and hose connections. My wort was chilled to 80F in 20 minutes. Hats off to Jim for putting it together.

Even though it was a busy day brewing I still had some time to make my rounds. Some of the all-grain setups within the club are incredible. I also got to sample some great homebrews and received some nice compliments about Rye Saison that kicked by the end of the day. Great food, prizes and awards given… there was even a goat. Hats off for everyone’s hard work in putting this together, but especially to the officers: Evan, Devin, Ryan and Cleteur. Also a big thanks goes out to Rick and Jeremy for setting up the three tap system to pour our beers. Don’t miss this event next year. It’s bound to be even better in 2013. Here are some candid pics I took throughout the day:

AHA Big Brew – May 5th

The first Saturday of May is commonly known as the date of the Kentucky Derby. While thousands flock to Churchill Downs to enjoy the race, Mint Julep in hand, homebrewing enthusiasts around the world will raise a glass of another libation: Homebrew. The celebration is to commemorate National Homebrew Day and the comradery this hobby brings. Across the globe homebrewers of all levels will gather to compare techniques, share a pint and most importantly, brew beer.

As you can probably tell from the flyer above, Barley Legal will be celebrating at the same location they have for the past few years. If you’re looking for something fun to do on Cinco De Mayo, I strongly urge you to make an appearance at Iron Hill. You don’t need to homebrew to enjoy the day! There will be enough Barley Legal homebrews to go around. A facebook page for the event can be found HERE.

According to the AHA there was an estimated 6,700 homebrew enthusiasts gathered at 308 registered sites in 2011. Based on reports from these locations, a grand total of 14,800 gallons of beer was brewed. These numbers alone demonstrate how widespread this hobby has grown. I think it would be great to collect as many stories, pictures and accounts from Big Brew Day as possible. If you’re a beer blogger and plan to post about the Big Brew Day in your area, please drop me a line with a link. I’ll be sure to post a rundown of everything I receive.

For more information regarding locations, recipes and how you should celebrate National Homebrew Day, please visit the American Homebrewers Association’s page.

Isaac Budd Farm and homegrown hops

It should come as no surprise that I’m a hop head. I made the decision earlier this year to try my hand at growing some hops. There’s a lot of great resources online to find what grows best in specific regions and how to design a garden. Since rhizomes tend to have small yields the first year, I decided to purchase crowns from Great Lake Hops. Crowns are cut from plants over a year old and in theory should have better yields. I highly recommend Great Lake Hops because the plants I received were beautiful and packaged carefully. They even sent an extra crown free of charge!

But this post isn’t about my amateur attempt at growing hops. Instead, it’s about how I spent last Saturday. Early in the morning I took a ride up route 70 to Isaac Budd Farm in Southampton. This family owned farm sitting on 166 acres is where Mike Visgil and Sarah Puleo staked out the land for their hopyard. The carefully planned, grassroot operation has been moving along nicely with the help of friends. There’s a lot of work involved with preparing a one-third acre hopyard, but the engaged couple have decided to do it right.

Mike and Sarah have planned an all organic hopyard using debarked black locust wood as the basis for a trellis system. By the end of the day the final posts of sixty were in the ground. These will be tethered together with heavy duty steel chords that will give the vines room to climb. While they’ll have a bunch of varieties, Cascade and Nugget will be the majority of what’s planted this season.

The thought of fresh lupulin grown locally is something to get excited about. Mike told me that a majority of hops sold will be wet, but they will eventually offer dried hops. I think this is a great strategy considering wet hops represent a potential niche market. Logistically, they have to be grown locally to be used within miles of the crop. Mike and Sarah hope to distribute to local breweries as well as homebrewers. Since the couple are members of Barley Legal, I’m sure they’ll be some great homebrews to come this fall.

Thanks to Mike and Sarah for having us over and being apart of their project. The gator ride around the property was awesome too! I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated on their progress. Hopefully I’ll have some promising news on my adventures in hop growing to boot. Here’s some pics of my day at Isaac Budd Farms and my homegrown:

Barley Legal Cereal Contest

Homebrewers are responsible for some of the craziest ideas imaginable, so it’s hard to stretch the boundaries. Leave it to Barley Legal to come through with some beers that could’ve been created in the Wonka Factory. One of our members Kirk (winner of Sierra Nevada Beer Camp and brewer of Alternate Ending) came up with a challenging contest originally suggested by Denny Conn. The mission: Brew a beer of any style using at least one pound of commercial cereal in the mash. Teams and cereals were randomly picked at a meeting over a month ago. Last Tuesday the concoctions were brought in to be judged by the BL panel.

As you can probably tell, our team drew Froot Loops. We ultimately decided on a Berliner Weiss since we had a smack pack of Wyeast 3191. The grain bill was a whopping 6 pounds of grain (pilsner and white wheat malt) with a measly amount of Hallertauer hops. We kept it simple with a no sparge, single infusion mash. Of course there was the super loops too. For an added touch of… something… another pound of loops were added to the whirlpool. Wyeast Kolsch blend was used with the 3191 to make sure this one fermented out. Overall, it was a fun day talkin’ about brewing and enjoying some GREAT beers. By the end we had five gallons fruity gray wort. Some green food dye was added after fermentation to make it presentable. I swear this isn’t a late April Fools.

Surprisingly all the beers entered were very drinkable… all things considered. Each team tackled the challenge of incorporating the cereal differently. I can only imagine what the new guys attending their first meeting thought of this madness! Thanks to Kirk for organizing and everyone who participated. Here’s the results with some descriptions and pics:

Barley Legal Cereal Contest

1st Cocoa Pebbles (Mild ale with toasty character/Pebbles in mash)
2nd (tie) Cinnamon Toast Crunch (Jamil’s dunkel recipe/2 lbs of CTC in mash)
Lucky Charms (Irish stout/Oats and Charms in mash, boil, and “dry mallow”)
3rd Froot Loops (surprisingly turned out with some decent funk with some loop undertones)
4th Peanut Butter Captain Crunch (PB&J wheat beer/1 lb in mash, boil, and “dry crunch”/Raspberry puree)