Farewell To My Brew Dog

January 29, 2014

In late July, 2004, we brought home a tiny puppy. We named him Simon. The tiny puppy grew into a gigantic dog. Simon gained many nicknames over the years – Tonka, TK, Chuckie Wiggles, Mr. Beans, Charlie Pickles, and on and on. He also earned a title: Brew Dog. Simon was my brew dog.

If I was brewing, Simon was there. It didn’t matter if it was hot out; he’d still park his butt next to the burner.

Cold? He’d happily plonk himself down on his blue brewday blanket and help. Invariably, if I was brewing, he was underfoot.

…unless maybe there was some Q on the smoker. Then he’d be 20 yards away.

Or if the spent grain had been chucked over the hill.

Or maybe Jess was baking something delicious.

Still, those distractions were temporary. Simon would always find his way back to the brewing action. Because Simon was a brew dog. Simon was my brew dog.

Goodbye, Simon.

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Tasting Notes: California Common Beer (Beer #86)

January 20, 2014

I tried to pull a small sample glass for these tasting notes. The keg decided my sample would be even smaller than expected when it kicked on me. Steamdrank, we hardly knew ye.

In late October I brewed a California Common Beer. It was my first try at a style that’s typically defined by a single commercial beer – Anchor Steam Beer. My beer wasn’t a clone, or even an attempt at one; it was an attempt at formulating a recipe and brewing a beer that fits the guidelines. To that end, I think I did OK.

Moderately high hop aroma – woodsy, cedar and spruce hops with a touch of herbal mint character. Medium toasted bread / bread crust malt aroma, with a touch of medium caramel. Medium-light fruity esters – hints of sweet cherry and tangerine. Somewhat sweet smelling.

Medium amber color. Huge, moussey bone-colored head with very good retention. Brilliant clarity.

Moderate maltiness and moderate-high bitterness. Bread crust / toasted bread malt flavor with a medium caramel flavor. Medium-high hop flavor, notably woodsy, cedar, lightly spicy, moderate spruce. Attack is off-dry to semi-sweet. Finish is drying. Hop bitterness lingers into finish. Low-moderate sweet cherry esters throughout.

Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Smooth. Slight warmth in finish.

Overall Impression
Hits all of the marks for the style, particularly in the balance between toasty malt and hop flavors associated with Northern Brewer hops. Fruitiness might be a little too high for the style, and the beer is a little bit too sweet. Otherwise a very pleasant, easy drinking, well balanced beer.

I am extremely pleased with how this beer came around. I entered it in a couple of competitions in late November and it did well – scoring mid-30’s in both, winning a silver medal in one of them. At the time the beer was young, murky, and kind of muddled tasting. Now, two months later, it’s showing wonderfully. Too bad it’s all gone.


Brew Day: American Amber Lager (w/cereal-mashed grits)

January 7, 2014

I brewed on Sunday. It was the first time since a month ago when Jess and I co-brewed a 10 gallon batch of triple-decocted German Pilsner. I was supposed to brew this beer last weekend with a handful of non-brewer friends who I won’t see again until April, at which time we’d tap the kegs. Something came up and that get-together had to be canceled. The harvested yeast wasn’t getting any fresher, so I brewed.

Today’s beer was 10 gallons of an American amber lager. It’s not a BJCP-style beer, just something I wanted to brew to share with friends. Here’s my recipe:

  • 36.2% US 2-Row
  • 36.2% Munich
  • 13.6% Flaked Maize
  • 9.0% Grits
  • 2.3% C40
  • 2.3% C60
  • 21g (20.5 IBU) German Magnum 13.5% AA @ 60 min.
  • 28g (9.1 IBU) Tettnang 4.5% AA @ 60 min.
  • 14g Liberty 4.3% AA @ 15 min.
  • 14g Perle 8% AA @ 15 min.
  • 14g Liberty 4.3% AA @ 2 min.
  • 14g Perle 8% AA @ 2 min.
  • 90 minute boil
  • 1.056 Target OG
  • 35 IBU
  • 9.1 SRM
  • Step Mash: 20 min @ 125F, 60 min @ 150F, 10 min @ 168F
  • WLP830 German Lager, WLP838 Souther German Lager (split batch)

I designed the recipe with 5 lbs of flaked maize. But I accidentally only ordered 3. A friend grabbed the other two for me and was going to bring them to the brew day last week. Since I never got the corn from him, and since it was just me brewing (meaning I didn’t need to stick to a short single-infusion brew day), I improvised and grabbed some de-germinated grits at the grocery store. Minimally grits need to be boiled prior to mashing. Ideally they should be cereal-mashed. I had the time, so I went ahead and tried a cereal mash. It was straightforward, but was kind of a pain in the ass. To the 2 pounds of grits I added 5 ounces (about 15% of the grits’ weight) of crushed 2-row and mixed them in a pot with enough water to form a thin porridge. I heated it to 158, left it there for probably 15 minutes while milling my grain, etc., then raised it to a boil, where it was held for a half an hour. Like a decoction, it needed constant stirring as long as the flame was under it. I found I needed to add a cup of boiling water to the grits about four times during the boil to thin it back out. Once done, I ran about 2 quarts of the wort from the mash tun into the grits pot and stirred it in to aid in pouring the grits into the mash and avoid having grit-balls in the mash tun.

The corn-like aroma from the boiling grits hung heavy in the kitchen. It was a summertime smell, half-way between fresh corn on the cob and the “used corn” smell of a pig sty. It had a certain “country” quality to it. Hopefully this lends a prominent corn aroma & flavor to the finished beer without coming across as DMS. I think I might try the process again for a cream ale. That time I’ll skip the flaked maize altogether and go with a big batch of grits in the mash.

Whirlpool kettle allows for a nice hop cone to form in the concave bottom.


Back to Bloggin’

January 4, 2014

A lot of time has passed since I last posted anything to this site. We haven’t given up on brewing. In fact, the opposite is true; we started brewing so much that I couldn’t keep up with this site. We brewed over 35 batches of beer since I last posted ten months ago! I was unable to post a brew-day write-up about each of them, so I sort of gave up altogether. My goal going forward is to journal any brew days that are interesting for any reason – new process, new ingredients, new equipment, experiments, group brew days, that sort of thing. And, more importantly to me, I need to get back into taking detail tasting notes for each batch. This is a good place to post them.

Speaking of new equipment…

Last summer we set out to design and build our ideal brewery – one that we won’t outgrow, one that will last the rest of our days in the hobby. I think I succeeded. Above is a single tier, three vessel, dual pump, 15 gallon HERMS brewery. The core details are:

  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 20 gallon tangential inlet combi-tank (brew/whirlpool kettle)
  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 15 gallon MLT with bottom drain
  • Stout Tanks and Kettles 15 gallon HLT with HERMS coil
  • Blichmann Floor Standing Burners, mounted in…
  • Brew Stand bolted together from strut channel
  • Chugger Pumps
  • Convoluted Counterflow Chiller
  • Control Panel for pumps and HLT burner

I aim to create a complete write-up describing the step-by-step process for brewing on this thing. A video sounds like a decent idea as well. If you have questions about our setup, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll address them in future detailed coverage.

We’ve only brewed on this new system a half dozen times or so, but the process is starting to get dialed in. Will this system make us better brewers? Probably not. But it was fun to build and is even more fun to brew on.

Everyone wants to know what it cost to build. The answer: a lot. You can make great beer on a much simpler, less expensive system. But this is a hobby and you can put as much into your hobby as you want, and for us this was money well spent. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll document my brew day for this site…