Tag Archives: homebrew

Hoppy American Wheat

Drinking outside is always better.

I’ve been doing malt focused lagers and ales over the past few months. With Spring right around the corner I felt it was about time to get some hoppy beers on the brewing schedule. I had a leftover Brooklyn Homebrew Hefeweizen beer kit that I picked up a while back, so I decided to leave the grain bill pretty much the same, ferment with neutral ale strain at cooler temps, and dump a buttload of hops into it. It has received quite a reaction from tasters over the past month so I thought I’d post some tasting notes.

Appearance. Cloudy bright yellow with a dense rocky head that lasts forever from the use of 50% wheat malt. Wheat is a wonderful contribution to any beer in my opinion.

Smell. Bright citrus peel, grapefruit, tropical notes of mango and papaya and a background spicy note. Lemon meringue pie also comes to mind. Aroma is still jumping out of the glass after six weeks in the keg thanks to an unusually large dry hopping.

Taste and Mouthfeel. Bold bracing bitterness up front and not quite enough malt behind it to back it up. I added a small bit of melanoidin malt to replace my normal decoction mash schedule that I would do for a hefeweizen. Mouthfeel could be fuller to balance the hops, but I think next iteration I will opt for low crystal malts instead of the melanoidin malt like carapils of carahell, mostly because I keep those around for other beers. There is a minerally edge to the bitterness, probably due to the IPA-like dosing of gypsum in order to bring out the hop perception. There is a spiciness that I believe is coming from the dry hop NZ Rakau that seems a bit out of place to me.

Overall Impressions. This is a really great beer. Super refreshing, hoppy, and goes down easy for when Spring (finally) comes around. I think for my next iteration, I might reduce the bittering charge and lower the amount of gypsum and CaCl to try to eliminate the mineral/chalk taste on the tongue. I will also leave out the Rakau to possibly eliminate the spicy note (I believe I only used it because I had it set aside with the Nelson Sauvin for another beer) but other than those few things, this beer is going into the brewing schedule rotation.

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2012 New York Wet Hop Amber Ale


I had the opportunity to brew a wet hop beer this year using locally grown hops from Long Island, NY.  Brooklyn Homebrew received the hops from Farm to Pint just a few hours after picking.  Benjamin (the owner of Brooklyn Homebrew) and I brewed an American amber ale to highlight the wet hops.


Yeah, the wort is actually in there somewhere.

The brew day was a bit unusual because of the large amount of hops.  We used over two pounds of whole cones in the boil.  Most brewers only get to do this once a year so we weren’t quite prepared for so much vegetable matter.  They absorbed more wort than we had anticipated, even after increasing our pre-boil volume to compensate.  Because we didn’t know the alpha acid content of the fresh hops, we decided to bitter at 60 mins. using processed whole leaf hops with a known alpha acid to make sure we had sufficient bitterness to back up the substantial malt backbone that included 2 pounds of Munich and 1.25 pounds of Crystal 20L.

After fermentation was complete, there was very little hop aroma coming from the carboy and hydrometer sample.  This was surprising because of the quantity of hops used.  We split the keg and I decided to dry-hop my half with some of my dried home grown Cascade and Columbus hops to boost the aroma.  Here are the tasting notes on my half of keg.

Appearance: Cloudy and hazy, most likely from the whole leaf keg-hopping.  Amber colored with orange highlights.

Aroma: Initially this beer had very little in the way of hop aroma even with (seemingly) a ton of delicious fresh hops.  All you could smell going into the keg was sweet malt and alcohol, not very promising.  Dry-hopped in the keg with one ounce each Cascade and Columbus, both home grown, dried, vacuum-sealed, and stored in the freezer.  The keg hops brought out delicious strawberry, hay, and fresh cut grass that only lasted a few days.  Bubblegum is also present I think as a combination of the mixed berry and sweet malt flavors.

Mouthfeel/Taste: Too much crystal malt, cloying sweetness that is not balanced by wet hop flavor.  Makes this beer hard to drink.  Only positive aspect is the nice biscuit note from the Munich malt.

Overall:  Definitely too much crystal malt, but I’m not sure where we went wrong as far as hop aroma/flavor.  The hops smelled great when they arrived in the crate but we were unable to get that character into the glass.  It’s possible that we didn’t use enough hops, but after listening to Sunday Session with Steve Dresler from Sierra Nevada about wet hop beers, our ratio of 8 oz. wet for every 1 oz. of dry hops (we would have used in a normal batch) was very similar to his ratio.  Next season, I’ll dial back the crystal malt quite a bit.   I may even make it a pale ale and increase the quantity of fresh hops towards the end of the boil to capture that great aroma.


Looks great, tastes meh. 

9 lb (70.6%) Standard 2-Row; Rahr – added during mash
.5 lb (3.9%) White Wheat; Rahr – added during mash
2 lb (15.7%) Munich TYPE I; Weyermann – added during mash
1.25 lb (9.8%) Organic Caramel Malt 20L; Briess – added during mash
19 g (2.1%) Columbus whole leaf  – added during boil, boiled 60 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 20.0 m
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 20.0 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 15.0 m
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 15.0 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 5.0 m
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 5.0 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil
1.0 ea WYeast 1272 American Ale II™
1 oz Cascade Dry Hop – added to keg
1 oz Columbus Dry Hop – added to keg
Chalk: 4 grams in the Mash
mash pH: 5.68
Gypsum: 5 grams in the Boil
Actual IBU’s should be around 45, since the bulk of the hop additions were “wet”
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“Welcome to Brooklyn”

Extra Virgin Shoot

Just a quick post for anyone relaxing in front of a TV tomorrow.  I make a guest appearance on the Cooking Channel’s show Extra Virgin with Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos.  It was filmed this past summer and airs tomorrow, December 25 at 6:30 PM EST.  I teach them to brew a batch of beer and also bring over some of my homebrew to share at their backyard BK barbecue.  I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I’m hopeful that there’s a cable TV somewhere in my extended family.

If you miss the “Welcome to Brooklyn” episode tomorrow, you can catch it again January 12 at 10:00 PM or 2:00 AM or February 2 at 9:30 AM.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Inaugural Thanksgiving Lambic.

Thanksgiving Lambic Brew Day 1

Homecooked Lambic Style Brewday

Sour beer is currently trending commercially and in the homebrewing world.  I will readily admit that I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to tasting and brewing these styles.  I’ve had a few of the classic examples like Rodenbach and Cantillon, but not often enough to have a strong understanding of these beers.  In fact, in honor of Zwanze day (which I skipped to brew a split batch of Kolsch/Munich Helles) I tasted my first Cantillon Geuze ever.  I’ll be saving some wort from my brew day to get a starter going from the dregs of this bottle (and a few others) for my next Lambic batch.

One of the main hesitations in brewing sour beers for commercial and homebrewers is the amount of time it takes to “sour” a beer.  Most sour beers use a combination of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus over the course of one to three years to achieve the correct balance of flavors.  For a homebrewer living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, a carboy taking up real estate for one to three years in order to sour doesn’t make much sense.  For this reason, I decided to start brewing sour batches at my parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania.  I go home every Thanksgiving and Christmas so why not brew a lambic or other sour beer while I’m there and let it age in a relatively stable environment.  The ultimate goal is to have several batches of young and old lambic to blend together into a gueuze.  I also noticed that every “clean” beer I brewed there (outside at least) turned out to not be “clean”, most likely infected by the microflora wafting over from the barn across the street.

I started the tradition this Thanksgiving.  Since the holidays can get kind of hectic, I decided to keep things simple and use only extract (4# wheat DME and 3# Pilsen Light DME) with a small dose (3.5 oz.) of maltodextrin to make sure the brettanomyces had some sugars to chew on for the long haul.  I used ~1.5 oz. French Strisselspalt hops (2.3% AA) to get to roughly 10 IBUs (there is quite a lot to talk about concerning aged hops in lambics, but that will be the subject of a future post).

 Mom's Lambic Pic

Hide your lambics away from your parents! Its fun! (photo credit: Mom)

Fermentation is the critical part of sour beers.  In a traditional spontaneously fermented lambic, the microflora (saccharomyces, brett, pedio, and lacto, etc.) floating in the air drop into the cooling wort.  The yeast companies sell proprietary blends of yeast and bacteria for attempting to replicate well known sour beer styles like lambic and Gueuze. Inoculating the wort with a pre-made blend of souring organisms is in no way the same as allowing spontaneous fermentation, but we’re not brewing in Belgium.  I have my first sour Flanders Red going as a split batch with Ray Girard using the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend and the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend, so I wanted to try out another sour ale mix.  White Labs recently released WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend which seemed like a great choice for a lambic.

Several prominent homebrewers suggest first pitching a neutral primary yeast strain and then the sour mix.   With this method, the primary ale strain does the bulk of the fermentation and then the brett and bugs come in later and finish off the longer chain dextrins to give the beer that signature funk.  The results are much more consistent and controllable this way, but others contend that the beer never quite gets sour or funky enough.  I chose to skip the neutral primary strain and pitch just a single vial of the WLP665.  Lambic producers don’t pitch a neutral strain and I wanted to follow their process as closely as possible.  The beer may not be as consistent (too funky, too sour, too nasty) but that’s where the art of blending gueuze from different batches of lambic comes in.

I brewed the day after Thanksgiving this year, and when I left two days later, there was no visible fermentation activity. Pitching such a small amount of yeast (~7 billion cells in one vial) had me worried that the primary fermentation would be really ugly, but it can’t be any uglier than spontaneous fermentation.  The brett should clean up any off flavors and nasty byproducts from an underpitching the yeast.  Fermentation eventually took off (even in the cool 60F closet) and after bugging my Mom for days to tell me what was going on with it, she finally sent the above pic.  The krausen nearly knocked the breathable silicone stopper out of the carboy!  We’ll have to wait at least a year to taste the results, but I’m already looking forward to my upcoming Christmas lambic brew day.


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Oak Series Part Two: Brown Porter

The second batch in my oak experimentation series was an English style brown porter.  I again brewed ten gallons of wort and split the batch into two six gallon carboys.  Each carboy received half of the washed yeast slurry from the UK IPA batch. After seven days of fermentation, I oaked one carboy with one ounce of medium toast American oak cubes and let the oak stay in contact with the beer for 27 days before kegging.  The other carboy was oak free as a control.

The oak presence did not seem as strong as I would have expected.  Trying both beers side by side, they seem like two completely different batches.  For one, the non-oak version is much more clear than the oaked version.  Surprisingly, the oaked version finished at 1.009 and the non-oaked version finished at 1.015.  I don’t think it was an infection from the oak because I boiled the cubes in water before pitching them.  That slight difference in finishing gravity gave the oaked version a drier finish and accentuates the roasted, bitter finish which borders on astringent.  I think the oaked version would be better if it hadn’t finished so dry.  There is a slight astringent, tannic flavor that is present in the oaked version as well as subtle notes of vanilla and campfire.  The non-oaked porter seems more balanced and easier to drink because of the slight residual sweetness expected in a brown porter.  This sweetness also allows the fruit and berry notes produced by the yeast to play a bigger role.

I feel like this was the correct oak choice (as opposed to French or Hungarian oak), but I would like to brew this again to see if the finishing gravity phenomenon happens again. If the oak somehow kick starts another fermentation and dries out the beer further (which I find hard to believe), I would bump up the crystal malts in the recipe to account for this or possibly mash a bit higher.

Both beers were delicious on their own, but I blended half of each batch into one keg and the results were amazing.  So amazing that I served it at the Lagunitas Tap Takeover/Kyler’s Homebrew event at Brouwerij Lane a few weeks ago and it seemed to be the most popular of the three beers that I poured. So amazing that every time I try these beers side by side I end up dumping one glass into the other.

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Brew n’ Chew 5.

Just a quick one to let you know that I will be competing in the Brew n’ Chew 5 tomorrow 9/16/12 from 3-5pm with some other members of Brooklyn Homebrew.  Along with seven other teams, we will compete for best beer, best food, and best pairing for a chance to win some awesome prizes.  Tickets are $25 (most of the proceeds go to charity) and available online only right now here.  Come out and support your local homebrewers!

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Popular Mechanics Mention.

Just a quick blurb from a Popular Mechanics article I was mentioned in about award-winning homebrew.  I’ll be back soon with some for real content when I’m fully recovered from some kickass pneumonia.


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Looks like the release party for the Lagunitas Fusion Ale 9 (NYC) with be at D.B.A. in Brooklyn on July 30th starting at 4:20 (go figure).  Come out and support your local homebrew champion (me!) and taste a brew available only in New York City.  I haven’t tried the beer yet but of course it will be delicious.  I was up at Brouwerij Lane tonight (enjoying a delicious sour beer sampler) and we discussed hosting an after party there on our home turf (possibly with some of my homebrews on tap), so stay tuned for that.

Lagunitas Fusion 9 NYC Release Party!

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Lagunitas Fusion Ale 9 (NYC)

Just kidding, not an IPA but a rare Lagunitas Farmhouse Gueuze, in a metal cup nonetheless.

I recently competed in a homebrew competition put on by the Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, CA.  The idea behind the event was to have all the homebrew clubs in New York City hold interclub competitions and the winners would compete against eachother in a best-of-show style judging.  The judges were numerous craft beer bar owners and the craft beer legend Ray Daniels. The only requirements of the competition were that the beer had to use an American style yeast and could not be a lager due to tank space.  The prize for winning was an all expense paid trip to Petaluma and the ability to brew your beer using the Lagunitas brewhouse.  Once completed the beer would be shipped out exclusively for the New York City market.  A slightly tweaked version of my Black IPA won top honors in both competitions and I flew out to Lagunitas last week to brew my beer.

I was accompanied on the trip with two of the judges chosen at random, Kirk Struble from 4 Ave. Pub in Brooklyn (among several others) and Carolyn Pinkus owner of the Stag’s Head in Brooklyn. The brew would be a collaboration between the three of us and the head brewer Jeremy Marshall would allow us pretty much free run of the place.  Upon entering the tap room I noticed that the previous group from Chicago made a Black IPA as the “Fusion 8”.  After a lengthy discussion, we decided not to do my recipe and do another black IPA but instead to go against the grain and make the lightest beer in Lagunitas history (12.2ºPlato or about 1.050 specific gravity) using roughly half Northwestern Pale malt, halt wheat malt, and five bags of flaked oats (which was maybe 5% of the grist?).  The real fun part was when we dosed it with a bunch of experimental and not-yet-named “ghost” hops for bittering and dry hopping.  One was the HBC-342 known as the “watermelon Jolly Rancher” hop in some circles and a variety so secret it didn’t even have a name or alpha acid percentage on the box.  There were just big bold letters “EXPERIMENTAL”.  We opened a bag and the first whiff was of the produce section in a grocery store followed by a distinct cotton candy smell.  We also used Citra to dry hop which is exploding in popularity right now.  After learning that these hops came from the Perrault Hop Farms, I jokingly coined the brew the “Perrault Assault” White IPA, even though we used the house English yeast that they use for their IPA instead of a Belgian strain typically being used in White IPAs.  We’ll see if that name actually sticks when the beer gets to New York.  The beer should arrive in the greater New York City area around July 30th and we’ll hopefully be throwing a release party at Brouwerij Lane if all goes well along with some of my homebrew on tap (!!!).

3/16/2012 Update:  Morebeer.com is selling the HBC-342 experimental hops by the ounce so grab some while you can.

Here is a crapload of random pictures from the trip to Lagunitas Brewery:

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First Split Batch Ever.


At some point, almost all homebrewers will split a batch.  This can mean many things, but usually it means to take one wort and separate it into more than one fermentor and change one variable such as yeast, dry hop, fermentation temperature, etc. This allows for a somewhat accurate (albeit subjective) interpretation of what that variable brings to the table.  It came a surprise to me that I’ve never personally broken up a batch, besides a couple of collaborative brews but one of those was a barleywine and the other a sour ale still fermenting after nine months. If you’ve been following this blog you’ll probably have noticed that I’ve moved up to ten gallon batches, which makes splitting that mich easier.  No need to buy smaller fermentors (three gallon glass or plastic carboys for splitting a five gallon batch) I can just use my standard six gallon joints to get my experiment on.

The first batch on the new ten gallon system was a closet-cleaning batch which I had low expectations for.  I call it a closet cleaner because I tried to use up what I had remaining from previous batches.  That included three different base malts and a pound of special roast that I bought from the Brooklyn Kitchen when I first started brewing about two years ago.  I chose to split the batch up and use two different yeast strains to see how they stacked up against eachother.  I chose two English strains, Wyeast 1187 Ringwood Ale and a dry pack of Safale S-04 Whitbread and used organic New Zealand Rakau hops along with one of my new favorites, Glacier.

Appearance:  Both beers are amber to copper colored but the Ringwood version is much clearer.  I remember that I added gelatin to the Ringwood in order to have it ready for one of Josh Bernstein’s homebrew tours, but ended up serving them both for comparisons sake.  The S-04 is much cloudier and stays in line with my experience of dry yeast being a bit less flocculent than its liquid counterpart (S-04/1098 Whitbread and S-05/1056 American Ale). Dense white head lasts a few minutes.

Aroma: Both have a distinct baking spice and cocoa smell with some toasty bread crust behind it. I also sometimes get some floral notes, possible from the late addition of Glacier. The Ringwood strain gives me a slight cherry note when I really get my nose in there.

Taste: Both of these beers benefit from being served somewhat warmer as the gentle breadcrust notes seem to blend in with the fruity hop profile a little better.  When cold, the toastiness fromt he Briess Special Roast seems to be prominent and a bit harsh for my tastes.  The Ringwood tops the S-04 in this category with gentle notes of peach and cherry that linger in the mid-palate. The S-04 seems a bit bland in comparison and seems somewhat neutral, with a slight tartness.

Mouthfeel: This is also where the Ringwood trumps the dry yeast by being more full bodied and “chewy” without seeming under attenuated and sweet. The S-04 seems a bit thin and not very exciting. The Ringwood version reminds me a lot of a fresh Newcastle Brown.

Overall impression: The recipe needs some work mostly in the hop profile which seems a bit disjointed and generally too prominent for an English style brown. Doesn’t have that intangible quality I look for in a beer that makes you want reach for another sip.  Unfortunately, I don’t plan on working on this recipe but I do feel fortunate that I now have this knowledge of the different strains side by side as well as a good sense of what special roast does in a recipe.

Recipe to follow:

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