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)

Less is more. Saison brew day

For the past month I’ve been finding some great examples of farmhouse ales. From the Saison du Buff collaboration to a funky Bam Biere by Jolly Pumpkin, these beers have been my “go-to” styles. Farmhouse ales from the Wallonia region of Belgium and northern parts of modern day France represent a diverse range of flavors. In addition to sampling, I also picked up Phil Markowski’s book about Biere de Garde and Saisons. The diversity makes sense given the beer was brewed traditionally for sustainability. Batches were brewed in the winter to be consumed by workers during the late summer months and never left the farm. Besides historic research, the book provides a basis for recipe formulation. It was definitely a great buy which I highly recommend.

With Iron Hill in Maple Shade hosting Big Brew Day on Cinco de Mayo, I thought a Saison would be perfect to brew for the occasion. I choose Pilsner as my base malt considering most recipes use this. There are examples of unconventional grains being used so I added a decent percentage of rye malt to give some spiciness. One of the facinating things about saisons is how some brewers use a mix of spices while others rely soley on the yeast strain for that distinct saison flavor profile. I decided to go with a less is more approach and mixed a small portion of multiple spices that will hopefully add a sutble note. Monday night brewing went perfectly and I hit almost every number. My OG was a couple points high, but that’s never a bad thing! Here’s the run.down:

Big Brew Day Saison
Brewed March 26, 2012
Yeast: Wyeast 3711
Starter: No
Batch Size (Gallons): 5.5
Target Original Gravity: 1.056
IBU: 33
Efficiency: 75%
Boiling Time (Minutes): 80
Color: 5 SRM
Mash: Single Infusion @ 148F (60 minutes) – Batch Sparge

Grain Bill:
7.87 lb Pilsner (69.22%)
2 lb Rye Malt (17.5%)
1 lb White Wheat Malt (8.8%)
8 oz Munich Malt (4.4%)

60 min 1 oz Northern Brewer (8%)
20 min 1 oz Strisslespalt (2.3%)
15 min Irish Moss
5 min 1 oz Czech Saaz (3%)
5 min Spices:
Coriander (9 grams)
Black Pepper (1/4 tsp)
Star Anise (3 blades)
Orange peel (1 whole)
Grapefruit peel (1/4 of skin)

Catching up…

Hey now! It’s been a while, but there hasn’t been much brewing lately. I’ve been out-and-about recently enjoying some great music and also drinking some quality brews. My brewing efforts have revolved around carefully watching over my RIS, Dieci Anni Di Dolci. It’s been fermenting for over a month at ambient temperatures between 62-72F. Airlock activity has slowed and the yeast is slowly falling out of suspension. My last gravity reading was right around 1.030, which would indicate 71% attenuation. Hopefully these warm temperatures allow for a couple more points to drop. The hydrometer samples still have a “hot-liquor” taste that I think will mellow as it ages… still very tasty.

In the meantime, I’ve been preparing a nice twist for this brew. My goal was to make this something special, so I’ve incorporated medium-plus toast french oak cubes soaked in bourbon. Many expert brewers say the cubes should impart different layers of flavor and are intended for longer aging as opposed to the chips. The bourbon… why the hell not?! My process involved the following:

  1. Measure 1 oz of oak cubes
  2. Using a vegetable steamer, sterilize the cubes for 15 minutes
  3. Clean and sanitize mason jar
  4. Add cubes to jar and fill with enough bourbon to cover the cubes.

That’s it for now… hopefully some brewing is in my near future. I’ve been reading up about and tasting some great saisons and biere de garde styles. But for now here are some pics of my bourbon oak cube experiment:

The Session #61: What makes local beer better?

This month’s Session coincides perfectly with a lot of local happenings in South Jersey. The topic is local beer and our host is Hoosier Beer Geek. Matt poses the question: What does it really mean to be a local beer and how is it better? For my contribution I want to focus on my local brewery, Flying Fish.

The “local” moniker is used very loosely to describe craft beer. Isn’t every craft beer local to some geographic location? In most cases local doesn’t indicate much about ingredients: Grain, hops and yeast are shipped thousands of miles for use in “local” craft breweries. Water is sometimes treated to change the profile so certain styles can be brewed. This separates the finished beer from any local identity it may have. So is the term just a marketing ploy by these brewers to encourage consumers to buy fresh? I’d like to believe the answer is no.

Flying Fish has always embraced its New Jersey identity. You’ll find images of the state and sayings like, “Proudly brewed in New Jersey… you got a problem with that?” on their pint glasses and t-shirts. But they don’t stop here. The brewery has found a way to successfully highlight the local flavor of the Garden State with their Exit Series. Here’s a description taken from the website:

The Exit Series of beers is a multi-year brewing experiment to brew a series of beers as diverse as the great state of New Jersey. These big beers–in size as well as flavor–will celebrate each exit of the state-long artery that connects us. Each beer will focus on a unique aspect of an individual exit.

For those who have never had the pleasure, the NJ Turnpike is the main artery of the state and, in some cases, can cause some severe road rage. You wouldn’t think this portion of I-95 would work to showcase local ingredients, but somehow it does. Last night was the release of Exit 8: A Belgian-style brown ale brewed with chestnuts and honey which can be found right off the Turnpike in East Windsor Township. This offering, much like the others previously released, is a very well made beer any resident of the state should be proud of. The nuttiness of the chestnuts comes through nicely and compliments the breadiness of the Belgian yeast.

In addition to the Exit Series, Flying Fish stays true to it’s “local” distinction in other ways. Distribution is kept within a 100 mile radius of the brewery so it’s always fresh. Their beers can be found at local sporting events, including Citizen’s Bank Park and Campbell’s field. Owner Gene Muller is a big advocate to change the current state law that will encourage growth for the NJ beer industry. This company doesn’t just preach local… they back it up too. As we speak Flying Fish is moving from their original home in Cherry Hill to a bigger facility in Somerdale. Will this move change their local identity? Fuggedaboutit!

Help New Jersey Craft Brewers!

Monday is a big day for craft beer in the Garden State. New Jersey’s Senate Law and Public Safety Committee will be voting on a bill that will bring some significant changes to the craft beer business. Some of the most noted changes are:

  • Allows one company to open more than two brewpubs
  • Allows production breweries to sell beer for on and off premise consumption
  • Allows breweries and pubs to conduct informational tastings on and off premise
  • Allows brewpubs to distribute beer through wholesale network

The law in New Jersey currently prohibits the amendments listed above and are a real hindrance to the breweries in the state. Passing this bill would not only be a huge win for the breweries, but consumers alike. It would provide more opportunities to experience the craft beers New Jersey has to offer, create jobs and encourage tourism. Sounds like a win-win, right?

You can help NOW! Please email or call the members of Senate Law and Public Safety Committee by the end of this week and let them know you support this bill. This is an opportunity to directly influence the direction of craft beer in New Jersey.

Visit the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild for information. A copy of the bill can be found HERE

Members of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee

Norcross, Donald – Chair
Audubon Commons Shopping Center
130 Blackhorse Pike
1st Floor
Suite D-3
Audubon, NJ 08106
(856) 547-4800

Greenstein, Linda R. – Vice-Chair
7 Centre Dr.
Suite 2
Monroe, NJ 08831-1565
(609) 395-9911

Bateman, Christopher
36 East Main St.
Somerville, NJ 08876
(908) 526-3600

Holzapfel, James W
852 Highway 70
Brick, NJ 08724
(732) 840-9028

Sacco, Nicholas J.
9060 Palisade Ave.
North Bergen, NJ 07047
(201) 295-0200