Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sapwood Cellars: Maryland Brewery in Planning!

I’m founding Sapwood Cellars, a brewery in Maryland, with my friend and fellow homebrewer Scott Janish! We'll produce a spectrum of barrel-aged bottle-conditioned mixed-fermentation beers along with fresh hoppy ales for onsite consumption. I’ll post occasional updates to The Mad Fermentationist along with the usually scheduled homebrewing content. However, if you don't want to miss a single development, sign-up for the email list at Sapwood Cellars or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Expect a wide range of beers, especially releases that evolve from batch-to-batch with a focus on experimentation, local ingredients, and education. We’ll be almost as open about the Sapwood Cellars beers as we are about our homebrews. You’ll get to read about both our thought and brewing processes as always, with the added fun of tasting the results!

I never had a long-term plan for brewing because it was a hobby. I liked drinking beer, so I took a homebrewing class my senior year at Carnegie Mellon. I enjoyed brewing, so I started a blog. I had fun blogging, so I wrote a book. I’ve had a couple offers to brew professionally over the years, but none of them were tempting enough for me quit my day job. Founding a brewery comes with extra headaches and risks beyond brewing, but ownership will allow me to brew with fewer compromises. At first we’ll be more like professional homebrewers, rather than the next large regional craft brewery, but we’ll follow the brewery where it takes us!

Partnering with Scott makes the numerous tasks and significant risks manageable. When we first met I was impressed by his IPAs, and we bonded over hop oil calculators. His deep-dives into mouthfeel, hop chemistry, and a variety of other topics on his eponymous blog continue to impress. I got lucky and he'd been quietly considering opening a brewery on his own right before I floated the idea of teaming up last summer.

In February, while I was recording The Sour Hour, I mentioned the brewery because I assumed we’d have a logo and polished website by the time the episodes aired in late-April... our placeholder splash page is up, a logo is in the works, and it’s only late-May. Given the uncertainty of our timeline, I’m not going to guess at when we’ll be brewing or serving beer but we're charging ahead on all fronts!

Head over to Scott’s blog to read his side of the story!

Drinking NEIPA at NHC Baltimore.


Sapwood Cellars

Our Story
Sapwood Cellars is a Maryland brewery-in-planning dually focused on barrel-aged mixed-fermented beers and fresh hoppy ales. Founded by two passionate homebrewing ultra-nerds, we share a love of brewing science, local ingredients, and the craft of beer production. You may have read our blogs, magazine articles, or book on American sour beers, but likely haven’t tasted our beer. Follow along as we continue to brew peculiar beers, with the added enjoyment of drinking the results!

Expect beers that are balanced, drinkable, and highly aromatic without tongue-scraping bitterness from hops or piercing sourness from mixed-fermentation. Beer should be a pleasure to savor, not a challenge to conquer.

Sign-up for email updates to keep tabs on our progress, learn about opportunities to help, and be the first to know when beer is available!

Our Name
All wood first starts as Sapwood, which is the delicate new growth just under the bark. It plays an integral part of a tree’s maturation by carrying water between the leaves and roots, carefully distributing built-up reserves to the roots and leaves as the seasons demand. Eventually, Sapwood hardens into the heartwood of which barrels are made. Sapwood ties together the two sides of our production: Sap for the fresh IPAs and Wood for the acidic barrel-aged beers. Cellar is the brewer’s term for the fermentation space but also evokes the cool quiet resting place of barrels.

Who We Are
Mike Tonsmeire - mike@sapwoodcellars.com

A homebrewer since 2005, Michael writes The Mad Fermentationist blog and the Advanced Brewing columnist for Brew Your Own Magazine. His book, American Sour Beers (Brewer’s Publications, 2014) is a resource for homebrewers and craft brewers alike. He worked as a consultant for Modern Times and a dozen other craft breweries.

Scott Janish - scott@sapwoodcellars.com

A homebrewer since 2012, Scott writes for his own hop-focused blog, ScottJanish.com, with a focus on academic research and applying the latest science to brewing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Oerbier Special Reserva-Inspired... Originally

De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva is a personal favorite. Strong, malty, funky, vinous, and each vintage is a bit different. I'm not usually a fan of vertical tastings, especially for precisely-controlled beers (I don't get much out of comparing ten vintages of Bigfoot!), but splitting bottles from all eight releases of Oerbier Special Reserva was a fun way to spend an evening a with friends!

Microbes isolated from De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva.I wanted to have my own lower-alcohol inspired-by stockpile of something similar. Without much to go on I sent a "Brewed In 2010" bottle to Nick at The Yeast Bay so he could revive De Dolle's house-Brett. Normally I'd just pitch dregs, but I didn't have much hope given the alcohol and age. I then built-up Wyeast’s supposed isolate of De Dolle’s brewer's yeast (3942-PC), soaked oak cubes in Port, and ordered ingredients for a rich-malty base beer (my recipe) - that recipe was a draft for what eventually became Modern Times Empty Hats.

That's about when things started going wrong:

The 5 L flask filled with Saccharomyces fell off the stir-plate and shattered.
    Luckily I had T-58 on hand (a cache of dry yeast is invaluable).

The two isolates Nick pulled from the old/strong beer didn’t seem to do anything over a year.
    Empty Hats dregs to the rescue (which seemed appropriate).

Even with dregs the beer wasn’t developing interesting aromatics.
    Tart cherry juice concentrate thanks to King Orchards.

Bad beer happens. If you've never brewed an off batch, either you have and can’t taste it or you're the world's best and most boring brewer! One of the keys to brewing sour beer is learning which bad beers are worth trying to save, and which should be dumped. I’ve had a few of both. If a beer is OK the easy solution is to add fruit or hops for intrigue. If the beer just isn’t coming along, aging with additional microbes is my usual route. If you detect off-fermentation character (e.g., nail polish, vinegar) there isn't much hope other than blending.

Three-and-a-half years later a train-wreck has become something weird and interesting! Glad to be a homebrewer with some extra storage space and no deadline. If you want to hear more about the batch, listen to my interview with Drew Beechum on Brew Files episode #3.


Smell – Rich savory cherry (think venison roasted with cherries and spices). Salivary-inducing acidic aroma. Hint of praline. Clean coconut-ethanol high-note as it warms. Subtle earthy Brett.

Appearance – Clear brown with ruby-amber highlights. Thin off-white head, decent retention for a sour beer (returns on a swirl after it falls).

Taste – Toastiness of the malt is still there with mushroom-earthiness, and the dried cherries. Spice from the oak. Bare butterscotch diacetyl (or more likely oxidized caramel malt?). No sign of the alcohol, but at "only" 8.5% that isn't too surprising. Port-like with acidity in place of sugary sweetness.

Mouthfeel – Medium-low carbonation, nice for a big/dark/sour beer. Pretty good mouthfeel thanks to rather moderate attenuation (FG 1.011).

Drinkability & Notes – A sipper, but that isn’t surprising giving the intensity and variety of flavors. Big, bold, sharp, weird character from malt, microbes, wood, and fruit that mostly work together.

Changes for Next Time – Impossible to replicate this one, but it turned out well despite all the twists and turns. 16 oz of sour cherry concentrate did well in a complex beer that I didn’t want to dilute.  I finally gave Nick a bottle of this batch as a thanks when I visited him in February.

Nick giving me a tour of his home-lab.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Craft Brewers Conference 2017: Recap

With the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) back in DC for 2017 I was asked to sign copies of American Sour Beers as I have at Great American Beer Festivals and Homebrew Cons before. All of these events are under the umbrella of the Brewers Association which also houses my publisher, Brewers Publications. That was only good enough for a day pass to the expo, so I applied for and received my first media pass for the full experience!

CBC is a bigger, more expensive version of NHC. Rather than homebrewers from around the country, there are thousands of professional brewers. With those larger brewery budgets come more vendors, sponsors, and events.

Drinking beer at Smithsonian Natural HistoryWelcome Reception at Smithsonian Institution

The last time I was drinking beer in a museum it was seven years ago at the Lambic Summit at Penn Museum. Drinking (mostly) solid local beer is the crowded Smithsonian Natural History Museum didn’t quite measure up. Although I had fun chatting with Brewmaster Alexis Briol from St. Feuillien (a technician as he described himself) and a many other people I ran into! We should have headed over earlier to the Smithsonian American History Museum which was much mellower, and had a better selection of beers.


In a move that would be nice for NHC, seminars started a bit later in the day. While there were a few technical topics that piqued my interest (e.g., A Practical Perspective on Foraged and Agriculturally Based Beers, and How Dry Hopping Affects IBUs and Bitterness) most were on the less glamorous areas of safety, regulations, and business (e.g., Contract Details for Purchasing Equipment in the Brewing Industry, China Market Overview: Export Opportunities & Trademark Issues, Arming Reps for Success in Today’s Beer Market). The National Homebrewers Conference tends to be far more about brewing itself, CBC more about topics specific to craft brewing (surprise!). I can always download and listen to the seminars later if something becomes more relevant. The State of the Industry is available on the Brewer's Association website.

Book signing at CBCSigning Books

Always nice to sit next to John Palmer while signing books! Excited for the new edition of How to Brew as well! I answered a few questions for John about sour beers over the last year, humbling to have input on the fourth edition when I learned to brew from the third! Also fun to talk to Brian Burke who is opening Burke Brewery in Massachusetts (a family name and location, not sure if any relation - but hopefully enough for a free pint once they're open anyway).

BrewExpo America

The Expo was out of control. Two gigantic halls, hundreds of vendors, many with bottling lines, brew houses, and other equipment set up. However, photos were not allowed so nothing I can show here.

I did stop by the Sahm booth when I saw a copy of American Sour Beers up next to the Sensorik, the same style as on the cover. I signed their copy and took a business card... a few weeks later a box of glasses showed up that you'll be seeing photos of in tasting posts.

The most fun part of the whole thing was bumping into people I knew at the Expo and around town. Jeff from Bootleg Biology, Jeramy and Greg from Commonwealth, Blane from Sinistral, Matt from Modern Times, Adrian from Ocelot, and Garrett from Old Trade.

CBC-Week Events

So many brewers were in town every beer bar in DC had about nine events that week. I moderated a talk between Walt Dickinson from ABInBevWickedWeed and Nathan Zeender at the Right Proper brewpub. The bar was mobbed and acoustics weren’t great, but getting to ask those two about their views on house cultures, fruit, and growth was fun even if I was the only one who could hear their answers. Not surprising that Wicked Weed sold out given the massive scale they are expanding sour production, including contracting fruit like most breweries contract hops.

Stan and Scott talking hops.After that event I walked next door to Howard Theater for the Here We Grow featuring a band and beers brewed by 3 Floyds, Creature Comforts, Beechwood and other with the new Yakima Chief Cryo Hops lupulin powder (LupuLN2) and debittered leaf... promising stuff! I took home some samples of Citra and Mosaic to brew my next IPA with.  I also had the fun of introducing two of the biggest hop-nerds I know, Stan Hieronymus and Scott Janish.

The next day I was planning to stop by the Right Proper Brookland production location to chat with Fonta Flora, Scratch, and Jester King on my way to the conference. I left six hours later after trying a range of wonderful foraged beers with commentary from some of the best brewers in the country… never made it to the convention center.

Beer festival at 3 StarsI went back to work Thursday but that night I walked down the street to 3 Stars Brewing for an event that featured beers from Other Half, J Wakefield, Aslin, and a few others. Enjoyed getting to try a bunch of South African hops in Other Half’s Other Southern especially. The only beer I’d had with them before had actual passion fruit in addition to Southern Passion hops, not exactly a showcase for the hops. Was nice to try a few J. Wakefield beers and actual meet John after emailing back and forth a few times over the years.

Is CBC Worth $1650 for a Homebrewer?

No, but then that’s like asking if buying a 30 bbl brewhouse is a sensible idea for your hobby. I got much more out of it than I would have a few years ago, but that was because I kept bumping into industry folks! Not sure I'll make it to Nashville for 2018, but you never know!

The best beer I had all week.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Beet and Brett Saison

Brew a variety weird things, sometimes get weird results. While my first accidentally-double-sulfited attempt at a LODO Pilsner was meh, the other half of the wort (recipe) fermented with Bootleg Biology’s Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend was a terribly sulfry, eggy, farty mess. The Brulosophy LODO experiment ran into similar (less severe) sulfur issues even with the correct dosage of metabisulfite. What’s happening?

Shredded beets ready to go into the saison.Most of the aromatic sulfur compounds in beer are relatively volatile. Yeast are required to convert the other common fermentation off-flavors, like diacetyl and acetaldehyde, into relatively flavorless compounds. Sulfur aromatics can be carried out of the beer by CO2, either from the yeast or artificially by force-carbonating and degassing. Another approach is to precipitate the sulfur as copper sulfate. I’ve visited breweries that recirculate through a short length of copper pipe to accomplish this.

All beers contain sulfate (SO4) thanks to contributions from the water and malt. Sulfate doesn't taste like sulfur, although it can contribute a mineral off-flavor in excess. While some (especially lager) strains produce above-threshold sulfur aromatics normally, usually these blow-off on their own unless fermentation is abnormally cold, pressurized, or weak. When you add bisulfite (HSO3) in the form of sodium metabisulfite (SMB) as an oxygen scavenger it releases free sulfur dioxide (SO2) most of which oxidizes into sulfate or off-gases. What happens to the remainder? Well  at least some of it ends up as foul hydrogen sulfide (H2S). So in LODO Brewing, the SMB dosage has to be reduced if you are taste sulfur in the finished beer. Relevant research for wine making.

This is just a few minutes after adding the beets, instant color!Rather than turning to copper, or intentional oxidation, I decided to add three shredded beets (14 oz) to secondary. My theory was that beets’ sugar would cause the yeast to scrub the sulfur while their earthy flavor complimented the yeast hiding whatever sulfur remained. By sheer luck it worked! Not to say it is a perfect beer, but it is drinkable and the sulfur was gone after a few months... Not exactly a solution built for a commercial brewery with a sulfury lager. I could have added fruit to accomplish the same goal, but berry saisons usually fall flat without acidity or sweetness behind the aromatics.

I shared a growler of the beer with Todd Boera from Fonta Flora last week while he was brewing a collaboration at Right Proper. He gave some positive feedback (no sulfur, nice beet expression). I had loosely based my amounts and technique on the recipe for his Beets, Rhymes, and Life in Stan’s fascinating Brewing Local. I also got to share my Juniper Kviek with Marika and Aaron from Scratch Brewing, she said that it reminded her of their Sahti (not a big surprise given we cribbed the Eastern Red Cedar additions from that recipe in their Homebrewer’s Almanac).

The local NPR affiliate stopped by that day for a story on the collaboration and changes to the DC beer scene: Take Time to Smell the Beer

Beets by Drie

The finished beet saison!Smell – Earthy, loamy, beety. Still fresh, maybe a hint of cherry and spice from the Brett. The beet flavor isn’t overpowering, this is just a mild saison given the low gravity, 100% Pilsner malt, and lack of natural conditioning.

Appearance – Shocking magenta with a slight haze. Todd mentioned that they really see the color of beets dissipate in the bottle, but not in the keg. No idea what causes it though (pH? Fermentation? Doesn't seem to be oxidation). Head has just a hint of pink for the short time it stays around.

Taste – Mildly spicy yeast, fresh earthy beets in the finish. Minimal sweetness, pretty dry, clearly whatever leached from the shredded beets was fermentable. A hint of bitterness, but no other hop character. Just a touch of sulfur, thankfully!

Mouthfeel – Light and thin. Medium-plus carbonation. Not far from seltzer.

Drinkability & Notes – Bright, weird, and refreshing. A bit single note with the beets, but it is a remarkable improvement from the train wreck it was!

Changes for Next Time – Less SMB. A maltier saison would support the beets better. I’d like to taste it with a little citrus zest and/or ginger as well... so that's what I did!

With the keg half empty I shredded 70 g of ginger into a French press, steeping it with a cup of boiling water for an hour. It's a technique I used in the blog's infancy to make Ginger Beer. I added half of this intense tea to the keg along with the zest of one blood orange.

Ginger-Citrus-ified Beets by Drie

Smell – Assertive spicy fresh ginger layered onto the earthiness. Reminds me of a Reed’s Ginger Beer rather than Ommegang Hennepin (which has a touch of ginger). Citrus is in a supporting role.

Appearance – Nearly identical magenta, maybe a hair hazier. Head retention isn’t improved.

Taste – Ginger and citrus are there in the flavor as well, but they leave more room for the beet. The earthiness is mellower. Yeast character is the odd one out. Surprisingly brings out the sulfur a bit more in the finish, not objectionable though.

Mouthfeel – The ginger adds a tickle of heat at the end, but otherwise the same light quenching body.

Drinkability & Notes – A more crowd-pleasing beer, less of a study on vegetable beer - the topic of my most recently submitted BYO Advanced Brewing article (subscribe). The potent ginger makes me think cocktail more than beer. Less interesting, but more drinkable and food-friendly.

Changes for Next Time – Less ginger, or a bolder base beer. Interested to see if it calms down in a week or two.

Monday, April 17, 2017

New Zealand: Beer and Hops on the South Island

It is always easier to say “No.” Every year I get a few invites for international trips combining speaking, judging, and/or brewing. With only so many vacation days each year, I can't go everywhere I'm invited. I love talking to locals with shared interests (and the free flight and hotel doesn't hurt), but it means a few days spent being on rather than relaxing. Sometime though an event, place, or people are enough to turn my answer into "Yes." Nelson, New Zealand and the 2017 NZ Home-Brewers Conference was the most recent thanks to organizers Karl, Ed, and Mike!

Drinking in Christchurch

Two flights at Pomeroy's PubWe left our house in Washington, DC on Thursday afternoon and after three flights and a total of 24 hours in transit we arrived in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon. The city was hit by an Earthquake in 2011 that killed 183 people and is still knocking down damaged buildings. We were surprised how quiet it was on the weekend, I guess when the area around it is so beautiful, why live downtown?

Our first stop between the airport and our AirBnB was Pomeroy's Pub for two sampler trays (one of theirs and one of other local beers). It set the tone for much of the beer on the South Island, lots of British-inspired, with some American craft beer leanings, and the foundation for emerging local trends. The next day we met with the Chch Homebrew Association at Volstead Trading Company (excellent beer bar) and then onto dinner at Twisted Hop Pub (a local brew pub) with a few of them. Both breweries we visited in Chrischurch had some excellent house beers (Pomeroy's English Mild and Twisted Hop Twisted Ankle) and some I'd rather forget... from their guest taps with overdone adjuncts.

A honey shack along the side of the road.We also stopped by FreshChoice for bottled beers to sustain us on the trip around the country. Despite being hyped in America, New Zealand hops aren’t especially played up. Almost all of the local IPAs that highlighted a particular variety used American hops (e.g., Liberty Citra Double IPA). It was actually the emerging New Zealand Pilsners style that usually showcased Nelson, Motueka, and Riwaka! In general I was let down with the lack of local adjuncts used (certainly a handful of honey, wine grape, and manuka-smoked beers) especially from the likes of Garage Project. Freshness was a big issue too, many beers are given long shelf-life (12-18 months) and still a good number were out of code.

I bought honey at a self-serve roadside honey shack, and Audrey tracked down thyme honey for me at a farmer's market. Regrettably I didn't get to come home with hops (I'll have to order some in a few months when the new harvest is pellitized).

Rippon Vineyards on Lake Wanaka.One interesting note is that bars are required to serve at least one low alcohol beer, which adds an incentive to brewers to brew them. The best of the ones we tried was White Mischief, a peach gose from Garage Project. The North Island, especially Wellington, is the center of the brewing industry, but there are still quite a few breweries in and around the cities on the South Island.

South Island Tourists

After a couple days we set out on a circuitous five day route to Nelson. We drove about three hours a day, but the scenery was beautiful and ever-changing. Down through Tekapo (a dark sky reserve) for stargazing at Mount John University Observatory, by Lake Wanaka (with a stop at Rippon Vineyards for beautiful scenery and serious natural fermentations), and up the West Coast with hikes to Franz Joseph glacier and onto Fox glacier by helicopter. We walked along the coast at Gillespies Beach, where there was no shortage of flat rocks, and a calm inlet perfect for skipping.

NZ Hops facility.
Hop Harvest

Our first day in Nelson we went on a tour of the New Zealand's hop growing infrastructure. Along with 20 local homebrewers we were joined by the other Americans (BJCP President Gordon Strong and Brulosophy Captain Marshall Schott).

We have top men working on it right now.We essentially ran the steps that hops take in reverse order. Starting at NZ ("N-Zed") Hops. This is the cooperative processor owned by the hop farmers. The guide noted that a few more farms were coming online this year and they expect a substantial expansion in acreage over the next three years. This is the building where your Nelson, Mouteuka, and Riwaka (if you can get it) are pelletized and packed for distribution. Harvest was well underway (an average year) and the place smelled intensely resiny. I would have loved to see the pelletizer in action, but the highlight was the storage room, it was like something out of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Up until now they have only done larger packages in-house, but starting this year they will be packing 100 g and 1 kg packages on a new machine.

Green Bullet hops being harvested at Mac Hops
Next we were onto Mac Hops, the largest grower in New Zealand. That day they were harvesting Green Bullet (the hop, as we were told several times, is the signature of Steinlager). They grow a variety of hops to stretch the harvest season. The machinery was fascinating, and we could get a bit closer than I would have expected. They dry and bale the hops on site and send them to NZ Hops where they are tested for moisture before processing.

I took a few videos of the various stages going from bines to dried whole hops (sorry for a few vertical shots mixed in...). They are basically in order from the bines hanging moving to have their hops plucked off, through the machines that remove leaves, and finally to loading dried hops into the baler. We didn't get to see into the oast, so the drying process isn't recorded. They are selling this 50 acre farm (to a private equity group that Modern Times has signed a bunch of contracts with) and using the proceeds to purchase 100 acres of land to build a new farm.

We had lunch at The Moutere Inn (the oldest pubs in New Zealand) where I tried Townshend Trial Hop 2 an subtly hopped beer brewed with an experimental variety (later I'd hear it was one of the breeder's current favorites, more herbally-balanced than the big tropical bombs they are known for). 

Nelson Sauvin hops, in Riwaka.Our final stop was at the New Zealand Hop Research Station. Our group started in their test brewhouse (for single-hop trial batches). Here promising hops are added to a simple standard base beer, something like a Pilsner fermented with US-05. They use a neutral bittering hop and load up the experimental hops at the end of the boil and in dry hopping. Regrettably they didn't serve us any samples!

Dr. Ron Beatson gave us a tour of the field, has been the driving force behind their breeding and selection programs. We didn't get to see the Nelson Sauvin "mother" (the one that all are propagated from) but we did see a few of her daughters. He cracked a few jokes about selecting the Cascades (now called Taiheke) for their breeding program in the 1980s. While some of their hops are bred manually, others are in secret test sites around the country with several female plants and a single male to pollinate. He said the same thing I had heard about Riwaka, beautiful hop (my Riwaka Hefeweizen), terrible agronomic properties. 

Our last stop was a tour of their chemical analysis lab where we got to smell samples of hops and some concentrated oils they had steam distilled. The lab also handles fruit analysis, and it was blueberry season.

Test brewery at the New Zealand Hop Research Station in Riwaka.Dr. Ron Beatson in a field of New Zealand hops.

Hop oil steam distillation rig.

One of our flights at BrewMania, four beers three votes.


The next night I was honored to be asked to judge at BrewMania. A bit less so when I realized all 100 homebrewers there were also judging. It is a really unique contest with less structured judging (and feedback) than the standard BJCP contest. To be eligible for the overall win each brewer is required to submit three beers. The 10 tables are each presented with four beers for each round with no stylistic consistency, and each judge gets three bottle caps to vote for their three favorite beers. The beer that receives the fewest votes is eliminated. If any of your three beers are eliminated, so are you!

For the final round of the night each table gets the complete flight from two remaining brewers head-to-head. This whittles the 20 remaining brewers down to 10. The goal is to showcase your range of brewing skill, so when picking between equally good flights the one with more variety (saison, Baltic porter, and coffee IPA) is preferred over limited range (APA,  IPA, and DIPA). The next morning I really was honored to participate in the best of show where along with Gordon, Marshall, and a few local judges to select the top three brewers. The winner didn't quite have the variety we were looking for, all were pale fruit beers (rhubarb Berliner, apricot sour, and raspberry saison), but they were of a higher quality than any of the other entrants.


Jaime sparging on the Grainfather.Saturday was another unique event, MarchFest: a beer and music festival at Founders Park where each of the 16 participating breweries releases a new beer at the festival. It included a few excellent hoppy beers (Eddyline Black IPA and Moa Riverside Recliner) considering their freshness. Rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, although the full pint option for pours may have had something to do with that!

During the first few hours of the event I brewed a version of Nu Zuland Saison with Jamie McQuillan. He's a sour specialist, reigning NZ Homebrewer of the year (including the top beer with a 49 with his riff on my no-boil Berliner with plums), and as I found out the next day winner of BrewMania 2017! He's also in the process of opening a brewery (New Zealand is much less strict, so he'll be able to essentially sell homebrew at first).

It was my first time brewing on a Grainfather. Surprisingly compact, and a smooth brew day considering we were out of our element and people were coming up to ask questions. We did neglect to realize it had an automatic 60 minute boil shutoff timer which threw off our timing (not bad for the worst mistake the first time brewing on a new rig). Malt was mostly local Gladfield Pilsner, which was surprisingly toasty. Without a way to reseal the 100 g of Nelson Sauvin for late-fermentation dry hopping we opted for only two additions, hop-stand and brew day dry hop. We pitched Belle Saison along with the dregs from two bottles of each of our homebrew. Excited to hear how it turns out when they hold the tasting between our batch and the ones brewed by Gordon and Marshall!

Gordon bashing on NEIPANew Zealand Home-Brewers Conference

My last full-day was spent talking and listening at NZHC. Nice to attend a homebrewing conference in English after Florianopolis, Brazil and Drammen, Norway (my Portuguese and Norwegian are not strong). I presented about the advantages homebrewers (BeerSmith podcast on the same topic) have over commercial brewers to the general session, and then about sour beers to a break-out (along with head brewers David Nicholls of Moa and Jason Bathgate of MacLeod). Good response, and glad that sours are taking hold! As several people mentioned, New Zealand is still a few years behind the US, but that gap is closing quickly!

It was nice to catch-up with my friend Sean Gugger, who took some time to come to Nelson in the midst of nine month working at Batch Brewing in Sydney (not to be confused with Bach Brewing in New Zealand). He met up with us at the after-party at The Free House where I had one of the best hoppy beers of the trip, Behemoth 6 Foot 5 from Andrew Childs who had sat on the Going Pro panel earlier in the day. Also had fun chatting with Annika Naschitzki of Tiamana, a passionate German brewer.

With our ten days spent we started the long trip home. With the International Date Line working in our favor we landed in San Francisco 8 hours before we took off from Auckland. As a weird side-note, being in the Southern Hemisphere for the vernal equinox meant that we'd been in all four seasons during a two week period: when we left DC it was winter and then arrived in New Zealand for the end of summer, by the time we left it was autumn and returned to spring.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Australian NEIPA: Spunding, and Dry Yeast

Vic Secret hops floating in the wort right after adding.Another hoppy beer... another New England IPA! My goal for this batch was a bright hop-saturated fruit-bomb, or at least a beer to replace the terrible, oxidized mess of an IPA I had on tap! Luckily passivating my Ss BrewBucket Brewmaster with 5X-concentrated StarSan solution (as they suggest) before this batch was successful. Neither the stainless steel nor beer discolor as they did during the previous IPA fermentation. Now that I know the fermentor can produce good beer, I'll say that I like being able to monitor/control the beer temperature via the thermowell, but wish it had an 8 gallon capacity instead of 7. Despite a few drops of FermCap S I still had to clean krausen and hops out of the airlock a couple times during the first two days of fermentation.

Hops and yeast in the airlock 24 hours into fermentation.To make this batch as New-England-y as possible I selected two fruity Australian varieties, Galaxy and Vic Secret. I've found Galaxy to be one of the least consistent hops (Bad: Galaxy-Hopped DIPA, Good: Galaxy Wit), but thankfully these smelled wonderfully of passion fruit on opening. This was my first time brewing with Vic Secret, and they struck me as a slightly milder version of Galaxy with more herbal notes. I didn't realize until after brewing that this is the same combination of hops in Avery Raja.

My usual process for NEIPAs is to dry hop around day three/four and then again post-fermentation cold in the keg. For this batch I dry hopped on brew day when I pitched the yeast and again under pressure by racking the beer into a flushed keg when it reached 65% apparent attenuation. I set my spunding valve to 13 PSI and allowed the keg to sit warm for 12 days while I was in New Zealand. I would have aimed closer to 25 PSI, but the markings on the valve are unreliable and I wanted to minimize the risk of over-carbonation. Dry hopping during conditioning has two potential benefits for hoppy beers. First, by holding pressure in the beer less volatile hop aromatics will bubble out of solution (carried by the same CO2 that we want to carry them up to our nose from the glass). The yeast will also scavenge any oxygen introduced during kegging, hopefully extending the life of the beer (although the longer time warm could sacrifice hop aroma). You could accomplish the same goal without a spunding valve if you were confident in what your FG would be... .001 drop from fermentation produces .5 volumes of CO2.

Hop-heavy krausen on the BrewBucket lid at kegging.The last unique feature of the recipe was the SafAle S-04 English ale strain (Whitbread?). I'd heard good results things about S-04 in NEIPAs from Ed Coffey. I also wanted to see if it was an option for brewers without regular access to liquid yeasts. Happy to report it does a nice job, a suitable choice even if you have access to 1318, but don't want to make a starter. There are a few other dried English strains that might be worth trying as well!

The other half of the wort is fermenting with my house saison blend and 10 oz of rosemary honey, minus the dry hops for now.

Queensland NE-Australian-IPA

Smell – A wonderfully saturated hop aroma with tropical fruit and a bit of resin. Really pushes fermentation-adjusted aromatics without the more forceful/raw aromatics of a post-fermentation addition. Despite 8 oz of dry hops the aroma doesn’t leap out of the glass (could be yeast or hop variety).

Northeastern Austraian IPA!Appearance – Hazy without murk or particulate, not far from a pale hefeweizen. Head retention is alright, but not as dense or thick as some previous batches of NEIPA.

Taste – Bitterness is soft, closer to 40 IBUs than 70 on my palate. Nice long finish of saturated hoppy goodness: indistinct tropical and light fresh pine. Slight yeastiness and doughiness of fresh bread. All the flavors I want are there, but the hop volume is lower than I expected. No diacetyl or other noticeable off-flavors.

Mouthfeel – Really soft mouthfeel thanks to the mild bitterness and lack of harshness from boil hops. Chloride, protein from the oats, and higher FG all contribute as well. Moderate carbonation, still climbing a bit as it sits cold and on pressure.

Drinkability & Notes – New England IPA taken to its softest and juiciest. Easy to drink with enough hop character to bring me back for a second pour, but it isn’t as intense as my favorite batches. The S-04 performed admirably, although it seems to get in the way a bit compared to 1318. It doesn’t pop with a unique character like Conan or Sacch Trois either. A solid choice, but not a new first choice.

Changes for Next Time – Despite the 70 (calculated) IBUs from the hop-stand, it could use 10-20 IBUs from an early-boil charge. Bitterness is a much more complex topic than it seemed when I started brewing, my friend Scott Janish posted a great summary of recent literature discussing how dry hopping tends to pull beer towards 25 IBUs. I could certainly see jumping the cold/carbonated beer to a serving keg with a third dose of dry hops…

Spunding valve in action on a previous batch.Recipe

Batch Size: 6.00 gal
SRM: 3.6
IBU: 69.2
OG: 1.064
FG: 1.018
ABV: 6.0%
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74%
Boil Time: 60 Mins

71.4% - 10 lbs Rahr Brewer's 2-Row
14.3% - 2 lbs Dingemans Pilsen
14.3% - 2 lbs Bob's Red Mill Quick Steel Cut Oats

Sacch Rest: 45 min @ 156F

2.00 oz Galaxy (Pellets, 14.8% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
2.00 oz Vic Secret (Pellets, 17.8% AA) @ 30 min Hop Stand
4.00 oz Vic Secret (Pellets, 17.8% AA) @ Primary Dry Hop
4.00 oz Galaxy (Pellets, 14.8% AA) @ Conditioning Dry Hop

8 g Calcium Chloride @ Mash
5.5 g Gypsum @ Mash
1 tsp 10% Phosphoric Acid @ Mash
.5 Whirlfloc @ Boil 5 min
.5 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient @ Boil 5 min

SafAle S-04

Recipe scaled to be brewed as is.

Brewed 3/11/17

Mashed with 3 gallons distilled, 4.5 gallons DC filtered, 8 g CaCl 5.5 g gypsum, 1 tsp of phosphoric acid. pH 5.44. Sparged with 1.5 gallons distilled. Hops are 2016 harvest.

Collected 7 gallons of 1.060 wort.

Chilled to 68F.

Pitched 5.75 gallons of wort with S-04 directly (not rehydrated) plus 4 oz of Vic Secret, loose.

After 48 hours it reached 70F internal. Moved downstairs to 55 ambient to slow the yeast and help the hops drop out.

3/15/17 Kegged with with 4 oz of bagged/weighted Galaxy. Current gravity 1.022. Attached the spunding valve after purging and pressurizing the head-space.

3/27/17 Reached 13 PSI, FG 1.018. Chilled in kegerator and attached to CO2.

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