Powered by Blogger

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Bringing Home The Bronze

This has been a full weekend of beer for me.

My homebrew club's World Brewers Forum started off the festivities on Thursday night. John Palmer and Sam Calagione both gave great talks, and we raised about $1000 to benefit Barry Anderson and his family. We also had 12 wonderful beers on tap, ranging from Saison to Stout to Steam. The first keg to run out was an Imperial IPA weighing in at 390 IBU, or about 2 pounds of hops in a 6 gallon batch.

On Friday my wife and I went to a tapping of Sierra Nevada's 2006 Harvest Ale, a wet hopped ale that is only available in very limited quantities for a few days each year. The tapping was at the Falling Rock Tap House in downtown Denver, and we set a new record by selling out the keg in 31 minutes.

Friday evening we were part of the GABF Brew Crew, pouring beer in the Mountain region. We started off at Mountain Sun, one of my local favorites, where we enjoyed and enjoyed serving their FYIPA and the award winning Hummingbird Ale. After that we moved to the Ram and Big Horn Breweries. They had about 10 beers to choose from, including a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel aged Dopplebock. I also got to be present in the Samuel Adams booth when they started serving the Utopias, their 25%+ ABV beer. There were about 200 people gathered around the booth counting down to tapping time, and I got have one of the first pours. I also got to try some Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA served through Randall the Enamel Animal, as well as their 120 Minute IPA and my new favorite, the Festina Lente. Pouring beer at the GABF is a very cool experience, and next year I think I'll try to do it for more than one session.

Saturday turned out to be the best day of all. We went to the afternoon session to taste and to see the results announced. My Whale Tail Pale Ale was entered as part of the Pro-Am competition, and I was looking forward to comparing it to the other 35 entries. I did have the chance to taste most of the others, and all of them were outstanding. Luckily for me the Pro-Am division was the first one announced, even though it was 70th on the list. I was stunned to hear my beer announced as the Bronze medal winner. I was awarded the medal below as well as a year's supply of Briess malt and Wyeast yeast. We tasted dozens of incredible beers that day, and finished the night back at the Falling Rock with what seemed like most of the other brewers. Truly an amazing day.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around doing so well in the competition and to finish writing thank you notes to Odell Brewing, the Brewers Association and Sam Calagione who had the idea for the Pro-Am in the first place. This weekend was like no other, and is sure to be one that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Great Beer: Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

Dogfish Head Brewery is one of the US's most hop-heavy brewers, and the 90 Minute is way up there on the hop list. It falls between their 60 Minute and the 120 Minute IPAs in terms of bitterness (90 IBU), alcohol content (9% ABV) and price (4 12oz bottles for about $10). The Dogfish Head website recommends drinking this IPA from a brandy snifter, though I've found that the bottle works just fine too.

The taste is much fruitier than a standard IPA, and you can definitely sense the higher alcohol content. This is not your normal IPA, and should be sipped and savored. The lingering hop aftertaste can stay with you for hours. This is also a great beer to pair with food, especially with bigger tastes such as grilled meats and strong cheeses.

Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head, will be speaking at the World Brewers' Forum during the Great American Beer Fest. Perhaps, perhaps Randall the Enamel Animal will also make an appearance.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five Barrels of Fun

On August 5th I had the chance to brew a batch of my Whale Tail Pale Ale with Doug Odell of Odell Brewing on his five-barrel system. My recipe was chosen during a homebrew competition at an AHA Rally at Odell, and the grand prize was having the recipe scaled up to commercial size and entered in the Great American Beer Fest Pro-Am competition. The batch is also currently on tap at the brewery's tap house and will be available for tasting at the GABF.

This was my first homebrew contest, and I was stunned to hear that I had won. I later found out that the judging panel had included Jeff Lebesch from New Belgium, Colin Westcott from Hops and Berries, and Ray Daniels, author of Designing Great Beers. Charlie Papazian almost made it as well. The recipe I entered was a Pale Ale that I have been tweaking for several years.

Doug and I traded a few emails to get the recipe down to begin with. Since I use a different strain of yeast than they do at the brewery Doug went to the local homebrew shop, bought a tube and began cultivating enough to use for a 155-gallon batch. He also set about trying to find hops to match the recipe.

When the brewing day finally arrived I was very excited. I would be brewing almost half as much beer in one day as I had in several years of homebrewing. The process began as it always does: cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. All of the pieces got a thorough sanitizing and a good scrubbing. We then mashed in with 280 pounds of grain and let it rest until conversion was complete.

After recirculating and sparging the sweet liquor we pumped it into the boil kettle and started it heating. While waiting for it to boil I shoveled out the spent grains and cleaned the mash tun. Once that was finished we were almost at a boil. Once we had full boil I got to do one of the best parts of the whole process: adding almost a pound and a half of hop pellets. Nothing compares to the smell of hopping. I also added almost four more pounds of hops during the course of the brew. Being an American style Pale Ale the hops are to me the most important part of the whole recipe.

After boiling for 90 minutes we were ready to whirlpool the wort to help the hops settle out. Afterwards we ran the wort through a chiller to bring it down to 70 before pumping it into the conical fermenter. After that, the yeast was pitched and we were on our way to beer.

After primary fermentation was complete the beer was racked to a secondary fermenter and another six pounds of hops were add. Once complete the beer was chilled, filtered and then kegged. I've sampled the beer at their tap house, and I am very pleased with the way it turned out. It is nearly identical to the homebrew version. Being able to buy my beer on tap is an amazing feeling.

I had a wonderful experience brewing this beer with Doug Odell, and I learned a great deal from him. I also got to see and use a much larger setup than I would otherwise have had access to. While the principles are the same, there are a lot of different processes and equipment. The five-barrel system is full-fledged commercial beer production equipment, similar to what could run an entire brewpub. I have been planning to construct my own half-barrel system, and now I have some great ideas.

I'd like to thank Doug Odell for giving me the opportunity to be brewer for a day, all of the judges who liked my beer, the AHA for arranging the contest, and the Brewers Association for putting together the Pro-Am competition.

In all, this experience has taught me many things and has made me appreciate even more the culture of beer that exists along the Colorado Front Range. There are smart and talented people, great breweries and beers, and the AHA is always working to keep making things even better. Best of all, we are the home of the Great American Beer Fest. This year's Pro-Am will hopefully be the start of a long tradition.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Pils Tasting

After finally working out my keg problems I have been able to carbonate and taste my Pre-Aged Pils. This batch was a test to see how well an ingredient kit stands up to several years in my basement. The answer is: fairly well.

The brew is much darker than any pilsner I've seen, probably due to the use of extracts and the age. There is also almost no hop flavor, smell or bitterness, also probably due to the age of the hops. Even with the addition of some other old hops they might as well not have been there at all. The taste is pretty decent however, and for a free batch it is great.

I did have good luck with the carbonation though. I put the beer under 40 psi of CO2 for 2 days, then bled off the pressure and set the serving pressure to 10 psi. The first two pours were almost all head, but now it appears to be settling down. Maybe I need to wait a little longer between venting and tapping.

On another note, there was a picture today in Modern Brewery Age of Doug Odell and me brewing our GABF Pro-Am entry.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

3 Kegs

This has certainly been a keg-centric day. A keg of my ProAm entry, a new corny keg for my Pils, and a new set of connects for my ancient keg.

Doug Odell let me know that our ProAm entry, a scaled up version of my Whale Tail Pale Ale, is in kegs and on tap. One of the prizes for the Best in Show at the Odell contest was a keg of the finished beer, so I picked it up today. They also have it on tap in their tap room at the brewery. I was able to buy my own beer commercially for the first time today, and it was great. I'm very happy with how it turned out, and I can't wait to see how it does at the GABF.

I also picked up a new refurbished corny keg at Ft. Collins' new homebrew store Hops & Berries. For such a small shop they have a huge selection. Their kegs are tested, reconditioned and include all new gaskets. I also picked up some new quick connects for my old keg, some yeast nutrient, and a single growler lid to replace one I threw out by accident.

Finally, I was also able to finish kegging my Pre-Aged Pils that I had problems with last week. I siphoned it out to my new keg and put it under pressure. It looks dark for a pils, but is clear and smells good. With luck just two more days. I also replaced the quick connects after siphoning to prepare for my next batch.

A full day of beer, finishing with a first taste of my WBF beer, Charles Bronson Common Beer. Seems pretty good, but this is bottled and individually carbonated, so the kegged and force carbed should be even better. Time will tell.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Keg Problems

Looks like my keg problems were worse than I thought. I'm not able to properly pressurize, the gas just back flows out of the top of the gas quick release. I'm hoping it stays clean until I can buy a new keg or replace the seals.

I think I'll drink a little for Labor Day regardless.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Pils Report

Just finished kegging my Pre-Aged Pils. I had some problems with the keg, as one of the values has lost its gasket. I put it on the beer side and I'll just have to keep a tap on it. Also, once I looked more closely at a keg left it the basement by my house's previous owner, it turned out to be pin lock rather than ball lock. This is a pain, especially since I just bought a new lid for it. Oh well, maybe I can use it for a hop back in the new system I am designing.

Overall the Pils seems to have turned out well. Darker color than I would shoot for with all grain, but for extract it looks ok. It finished at 1.014, with no noticeable hop aroma. I'm chilling it now to prepare for force carbonation, and I hope to drink by Labor Day.