Category Archives: Homebrewing

Competition Results

Last Sunday was the first homebrew competition I’d ever partook in.

Hoptron Brewtique, along with Port Jeff Brewing, were running it.  They would taste beers from 25 homebrewers.  The beers would be judged by 5 people: Hoptron’s two owners, the owner of the nearby Tap Room (who also runs Beer Fields), a local food and beer blogger, and Mike Philbrick, the owner and Brewmaster of Port Jeff Brewing. The brewers of the top 5 selected beers would then re-brew their recipes to compete at the Beer Fields Festival in late June, where the public would taste and vote on them.  The winner gets to brew their beer at Port Jeff Brewing, where it will then be served at local bars and restaurants.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous. I’d never had anyone other than family and friends taste my beer. Sure, more often than not, they say they like them.  But in the back of my head there was always the possibility that they are just being nice. This time I was going to get an unbiased opinion.  And while that excited me, it also worried me.  What if they tell me it’s terrible? I’ve gotten to the point where I’m pretty passionate about my brewing. To have someone – especially people who are knowledgeable about beer (more so than I am) – tell me my beer sucks or isn’t all that good, would deflate my already low self-esteem. I’ll admit I went into it on Sunday expecting just that to happen.

But the furthest thing from that happened.

Let me quickly digress before I get into the results. One of the best parts of the whole thing was that I got to talk to some other brewers. One thing I learned is that homebrewers are pretty friendly, even in a competitive setting. I’ve never been to a homebrewing club, so my interactions with other brewers is pretty limited. My brother-in-law is a homebrewer, and we have some good conversations, but he lives down by Philly, so we don’t get to talk often. It was great discussing our process and methods.  I met one guy who is an extract brewer, and he lit up when I told him to never let other knock that method of brewing. That felt great. If most homebrewers are like the guys I met this weekend, then I think I want to join a club.

Back to the competition.  After a period of time, the judges came out and said they were taking a short break to sober up. They said they had chosen the top 10, which they would narrow down to 5 shortly. Mike Philbrick said he had just judged two other competitions, and this by far had the best group of beers. Then they announced the top 10, and lo and behold, I was one of them!  That alone gave me validation. The top 5 didn’t matter at that point. I was happy.

Then they went back to tasting. After a short while, they returned with the top 5. I was selected! I couldn’t believe it! Erin, Maureen, Mindy, Sammi and Melina went nuts. I got to speak with Mike, as he was giving the top 5 the judges’ critiques. He really liked the BPA that we submitted. His only criticism was he said we should ferment it a tiny bit warmer to get a little more phenols from the yeast. Other than that he didn’t have a bad thing to say about it. His compliments really meant a lot to me.

So now it’s time to re-brew this sucker for Beer Fields.  Come down and vote for us!

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Homebrewing


Nerding Out….

Ever since Erin and I bought our kegerator, we’ve had a chalkboard to show what was on tap. The board we had was poor quality, as it didn’t take the chalk very well.  To be honest it got tiresome to nicely draw up the names of the beers.  I’d occasionally get lazy and just write the names in a rather messy fashion.

For a while we talked about getting a better chalkboard, but then two things inspired me to go a different route.  One was the electronic board at our favorite local brewshop, Hoptron Brewtique. They had a programmer write up some code that connected to their point of sale system, and using a large screen TV, displayed not only what was on tap, but also (based on data from the POS system) approximately how much beer was left in the keg. A pretty awesome idea.

The second inspiration was the tap list that was created using the Raspberry Pi mini-computer. This was made by a programmer for his home brewery. Now, Hoptron is a business that put quite a bit of money into their setup. But this was done by someone at home on a low budget. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

It dawned on me that I could and (more importantly) should make something similar. I had an old PC that we were planning to get rid of, and a 19 inch flat panel monitor that we had no use for. I was going to use both to build my own electronic tap board!

Now, I’m a web developer by trade.  I’ve never built a desktop application before. I also didn’t want to go nuts building a complex back-end database (which would require installing Apache or IIS.)  Like I said before, I am lazy.  I wanted this to be light-weight, easy to build and maintain, and uncomplicated. I decided to go with XML files for the data, and an AJAX front-end…all JavaScript.

I designed my interface, took my recipes and labels, and put them in an XML file.  In a seperate XML file, I added some cool beer quotes and facts that would randomly display in rotation with the taps.  And then wrote the JavaScript code to read and display everything.  The result is an attractive, yet easy to work with display. The only special requirement this has is it must be viewed either in Internet Explorer, or an IE emulator in another browser.  The reason behind this is because most browsers do not allow you to read local XML files as part of their security setup.  So to get around this I had to read the XML files using the old ActiveX controls.

The results work beautifully. The monitor is mounted using a TV wall mount.  When you call the main HTML file, it asks you to set the taps.  This info gets stored in cookies (they expire when you close your browser, much like a session variable), and once you click ‘Update’ you’re off to the races.  I made it so it I can easily add more taps with a few minor code changes.  I set my browser to full screen, and it looks great!

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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Homebrewing


Getting the old competitive juices flowing.

So I brewed the latest variation of our new red rye on Saturday morning.  It went well, and aroma of the rye smelled absolutely fantastic.

But then we got a shock that night.  We went into town to Hoptron Brewtique, and learned that they are holding a homebrew competition in late April. Erin convinced me to sign up for it.  So I did.  CTB’s first competition.  Now that we’ve signed up, I’m very excited about it.

But then I realized we need to figure out what to enter in the competition. I could bottle a few of this rye, but it’s an experimental batch.  The same goes for the pub lager that’s still fermenting.  Heck, even the IPA has some differences in the hop schedule that makes me unsure if it’s going to work. I want something tried and true.

When I asked Erin, she said without hesitation “BPA.”  The BPA is our Belgian-American pale ale, which I’ve dubbed Queue Tordue. It’s Belgian, German, and American malts, American hops, and Flemish yeast.  I created it after Erin tried Ommegang’s BPA, and begged me to brew something along the same lines for her birthday last year.  I took my favorite pale ale recipe and replaced the base malt with Belgian Pilsner malt. I then scaled the hops down a notch so as to not have them conflict with the esters from the yeast (I think the hops and yeast in Belgian style IPAs often conflict with one another). We also dry-hopped it with cascade hops. The result was an excellent copper-colored Belgian ale, with just the right American hop flavor and aroma.  It was beautiful.

Perfect for this competition.

Plus, I have the ingredients on hand.  I was planning to brew a batch.  My issue is I need to get this one going now.  There isn’t a lot of time to brew, ferment, and bottle-condition a beer.  I’m going to have to convince Erin that I need to brew one night this week.

Either way, people need to watch out.  Because Le Chat Avec La Queue Tordue is coming…..

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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Homebrewing


Water Issues

Sometimes you just need to learn things the hard way.

We’ve been going through a string of bad batches lately.  Several of our beers had an aftertaste that should not be present in the beer.  Some, like the RyePA, were still drinkable (and actually pretty good).  Others, like the porter and brown ale, really were unpleasant.

I went back and analyzed my entire process to try and figure out what was going on. I recently went back to using my 5 gallon brewpot, because the 8 gallon pot was ruining my stove. In doing so, I’m only boiling wort that I extract from the mash. Once the boil is done I add my malt extract, chill the wort, then top off with water.

I knew the partial boil and late extract additions had nothing to do with it.  I’ve produced a lot of great brews using this method. I know it works, and works quite well when brewing partial mash and extract with grains recipes. I wondered if I had some bad extract.  But I used extract from several different places. There’s no way all of them had bad stuff. Plus most of the extract we use is from Northern Brewer. Their extract is extremely fresh, and of excellent quality. It just couldn’t be the extract.

Finally I did something I’ve read about, but never done before in my time as a brewer: I examined my water. How very stupid of me to ignore it. I’ve read about using a good water source countless times, and never done it. Part of the reason why I never did it was because my tap water was filtered.  We had an under the counter filter installed, and it worked well.  Over the summer we had to remove it. Instead of getting another under the counter filter, we went with a large Brita “tank” (for lack of a better word) that you place in your fridge. But instead of filtering my brewing water, I just used the unfiltered tap water.

I didn’t think this was an issue initially because at the time I was doing full boils. Boiling the full amount of water used got rid of any chlorine, and my resulting beers were fine. But now I’m back to doing partial boils, and using unfiltered tap water to top off. That being a problem foolishly never even crossed my mind. I believe that gallon or so of unfiltered tap water is the root of the issue. The tap water has chlorine in it. I’ve read that some chemical compounds in hops react with chlorine (if it is present) to produce some unpleasant aromas and off-flavors.

So when I brewed the lager a week ago, I ran everything through the Brita. Yesterday I brewed an IPA, and did the same. Hopefully that eliminates the issue. The downside is I have an amber (which the gravity sample tasted great) and an Irish Red conditioning.  Both were brewed using with unfiltered tap water. They are likely going to have an off-flavor.  Live and learn, I guess.

Moral of the story: Pay attention to your water!

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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Homebrewing


A new brew…..sort of.

Last summer I came across a recipe that piqued my interest. It was very simple, but looked tasty.  It was Ken Lenard’s Memory Lapse Pale Ale.  I’ve tried some of Ken’s recipes before.  I like how he keeps things relatively simple.  This beer looked almost like a Sam Adams Boston Lager type of brew.  A simple malt bill with American Hallertau descendant hops.

So I ended up brewing it, except I used a pilsner base instead of plain two-row.  I also dry-hopped it with a small amount of those same hops.  The resulting brew wasn’t bad.  Erin felt it was decent, but needed some work, as it lacked some complexity.  I agreed, although (as is usually the case) the last two pints that I drew from the keg before it kicked were quite nice.

I’m finally getting back to this one, as I really want a noble hopped daily drinker. Based on my notes I’m working to give this brew a little more pizzazz. The malt bill needed work, so I am adding a little bit of Munich Malt, and a very tiny amount of Honey Malt.  The hops are staying the same, except I’m adding some Crystal hops at flameout.  Crystal hops are another American Hallertau descendant, but they were cross-bred with Cascades.  So they are mild and spicy like Hallertaus, with a bit of the Cascade aroma.

Finally (and most importantly), I am using a new strain: lager yeast.  Well, kind of.  I am using California Lager yeast, which is sort of a lager/ale hybrid.  Lager-like character at ale temps.  If you’ve ever had Anchor Steam, this is the strain that they use.  We still don’t have true lagering capabilities, so this is as close as we’re going to get.

I brewed this yesterday.  We’ll see about the results in a couple of months.

Next up: BPA


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Homebrewing


Been a while…

I haven’t posted in quite a while.  Maybe it is because I’ve had a few failed batches lately.  My first pumpkin ale, and my Mocktoberfest both were ruined.  One by sudden and extreme surge in the temperatures in the area back in September, the other ruined by infection.  Pouring 10 gallons of beer down the drain (especially when you consider the time that went into making them) is heartbreaking.

Then I brewed a second batch of pumpkin and just got a taste.  Of course I forgot to add vanilla to the secondary.  It’s still good, just not as good as it normally is.

Dammit!  I’ve just been bombing it this entire Fall.

Well…not entirely.  There was my new IPA, which showed a lot of promise.  It needs a little more body to it.  I used a little too much corn sugar (intended to dry out the finish) and it made it a bit too thin.  However the flavor is certainly there.  It went over well with several IPA-lovers that I know.

And then there was the BPA.  THAT was a hit.  Just the right combo of American hops and Belgian yeast character.  Erin loved it.  That was a keeper.

There was also the batch of Red (possibly the last ever in its current form).  I’m working on a new and improved version.  Also currently on tap with the pumpkin batch is a pale ale that I slapped together with some leftover ingredients.  Initially I wasn’t crazy about it, but it’s aging fairly well.  I may keep that recipe around and work on it a bit.

On deck are a few interesting prospects.  In the bright tank is a modified version of Bob Davis’ Coal Porter.  And yesterday I brewed a beer for the holidays: a rye IPA.  On Wednesday I plan to brew something new and exciting.  I’m basing it on recipe from HomeBrewTalk.  It’s a brown ale that uses a good portion of Special B malt, a darker crystal malt that I really like.  I’m also going to toast some base malt for it to give it added depth.

On a different note, I’ve sort of gone back to my roots.  Last year I got a nice 8 gallon brewpot.  While I love doing a full boil, it was messing up my stovetop.  The stove also struggled to get all of that liquid to a boil, which slowed down my brew day.  So I’m putting that pot away until I have a place where I can use a propane burner, and going back to my good old 5 gallon pot.  Back to partial boils and late extract additions.  I don’t really mind though.  I made great beer with that pot, using those methods.  I can get to a boil much faster.  Plus my wort chiller cools it down a heck of a lot quicker.

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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Homebrewing


Homebrew, minus the “Home” part…

It never ends.

I recently bought a new fermenter to make my pipeline a bit larger. And for good reason, I seem to be brewing for events more than for myself.  Two batches are sitting for next week (Erin’s birthday weekend upstate).  Those are the BPA and new IPA.  Those will be racked for clearing this week, and kegged next week.

Then we’re having a party for our friend Kevin.  He’s been going through a rough patch, so we’re doing something nice for him.  Two batches for that event: the pumpkin batch I brewed in August, and a batch of Red that I brewed a week ago.

Finally there’s the Mocktoberfest.  That’s the only one that’ll be kept for home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing homebrew with everyone.  But this is starting to become a job, in a way.

After the fermenters clear out for all of these batches, then we’re good to go with some new stuff.  I’m probably going to brew another batch of pumpkin ale, along with something else.  I’m not sure what though.  If the IPA comes out nice next week, maybe that.  Or I’ll brew a batch of pale ale or another Red, which I always enjoy. Either way I need to get that kegerator going.

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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Homebrewing