For Thanksgiving 2013, I brewed my first Biere de Garde, after discovering the style and then reading Garrett Oliver’s suggestion that it’s the perfect pairing for the holiday feast. My brew was a hit. At Thanksgiving 2019, we drank the final bottle from that batch.
Friday we drank another final bottle that had been lurking in my cellar, an Eisbock brewed in 2013. Even as many obscure beer styles are pioneered or revitalized in the homebrewing community and then are taken to the public by mainstream craft breweries, Eisbock remains relatively unknown. I expect this is due to the fact that freeze-concentrating beer, at a production scale, would require specialized equipment that most breweries won’t acquire.
Then yesterday we drank the final bottle of a 2011 smoked porter (excellent) and one of the last few of a 2015 smoked porter (one-dimensional).
It may be a stretch to call homebrew art; I see it as more of a craft. Art or craft, it’s something that can only be experienced a finite number of times. The act of tasting it simultaneously depletes it.
A collaboration beer born from the local social network a2mi.social. George suggested a Black IPA; I had Centennial hops to use up so decided to brew “Black Hearted”, an improvised recipe loosely inspired by Bell’s Two-Hearted (though we also used a bunch of newer wave hops in addition to Centennial).
Easy brew day. For recent brews, I had the grain crushed at Adventures in Homebrewing and experienced a middling 70-75% brewhouse efficiency. Their mill is set to a cautious crush. For this brew, George crushed the grains quite fine and we fly sparged slooooowly, which I credit for the whopping 94% (!!) efficiency we experienced. (We did have a stuck mash but got out of it quickly). 94% is not out of the question: Kal, the creator of The Electric Brewery on which my system is modeled, claims to get a consistent 95% efficiency.
For Round 9 of the Knob Creek sour barrel project, we brewed a Berliner Weisse. This was the simplest recipe I’ve brewed: 60% Pilsner malt, 40% Wheat malt, 1.040 OG (our actual was more like 1.035). No hops: hops inhibit lactobacillus and there’s no hop character needed for the style.
Spencer and I brewed a quadruple batch (23 gallons) – this included an extra 5 gallons to be shared by the group, covering the angel’s share and making for fuller take-home portions. I thought I’d get by with reusing the yeast cake from a batch of cider; that failed to take off so I pitched a fresh packet of US-05.
I brewed my first Flanders Red – my first sour beer – in 2010. Other AABGers brewed sour beers but they weren’t yet commercially ubiquitous. I knew mine was good when in a head-to-head tasting it was plainly superior to Jolly Pumpkin’s La Roja.
In a stroke of beginner’s luck, that beer placed 1st out of over 1,000 entries at the 2012 Homebrew at the W.E.B. competition. I won a $1000 gift certificate, which I spent on the two kettles that are are the foundation of the brewing system I use today.
Coming full circle: this is my third Flanders Red, all using the same recipe. This time, instead of fermenting with my own microbial culture mix, I’ll be doing a clean ferment and adding it to the Knob Creek barrel (round 10!) along with my co-brewers.
The recipe was formulated by the AABG’s Jeff Rankert. Hard to see how the maize would be historical, but it should give non-yeast microbes more to chew on.
I started growing hops at my parents’ home in Chicago in 2008. In the summer of 2011 we moved them to Michigan and I built this trellis:
Now that it’s time for the trellis to find a new home, I’m writing up my design for posterity. Notable aspects include that it can be harvested without ascending a ladder and that the top is mounted on a tree.
Each of the three hop plants (Cascade, Mt. Hood, Centennial) has its own starting frame. It runs up the yellow chain for 5 feet, then starts climbing a line up into the trees:
The frames are a 5 foot tall 4″ x 4″ vertical post with a short 2″ x 4″ crossbar at the bottom and a longer one at the top. The ends of the bottom and top crossbars are connected by chains, allowing the hops to spread laterally as they grow out and up to the top crossbar. The chains are attached to metal eyelets at the top and hammered in with large galvanized staples at the bottom:
From the eyelets on the top crossbar, six synthetic rope lines (two from each base frame) run up to a steel ring hoisted in a tree, where they clip on with carabiners:
A pulley wheel is tied around a fork in the tree, and the ring is on a long synthetic line that runs through this pulley wheel. At harvesting time, the ring can be lowered from the ground, using the pulley, and the carabiners unclipped for transporting the bines to a picking area. Then the carabiners are reattached and the lines are raised again, all without use of a ladder.
The good and the bad
With 7 years of experience, I can comment on how the design worked.
Ease of raising and lowering: not having to climb a ladder is great.
Longevity: the entire system has held up well, including the synthetic lines, which I never took in for the winter. I don’t think jute or a similar natural twine would have lasted. One wood staple came out from a frame, which is an easy fix.
Shallow climbing angle. I should have mounted the ring higher in a tree, kept the lines tighter, or planted the hops closer to the tree. As it was, the bottom of the climbing lines flattened out under the weight of the plant and the hops needed some help to grow in the right direction. Manual training of hop plants is not uncommon, but I think a steeper climb would have avoided this.
Mowing around the trellises was tricky, both around the bases and under the lines. This meant grass and other unwanted vegetation encroached on the hops.
I was afraid I’d get tangled in the lines while sledding in my yard; this never happened, but could have.
Separate from my particular growing setup: I lost interest in growing hops. I’ve stopped training or harvesting them. A fresh hop beer is fun to make, but not worth (to me) the hassle of training and maintaining the bines. And trying to preserve and package hops for use throughout the year is tedious. They won’t stay good as long as professionally-packed hops from the store (I know: in one season before I had kids, I spent hours and hours drying my hops and turning them into plugs). Once the charm of growing them wore off, it made no sense to spend my time on growing instead of buying pounds in bulk.
2018-08-23: kegged. I hadn’t stirred in the leaf hops and they had formed a thick layer on top, with the top half being dry. So the practical impact of the dry-hopping will be less than 4 oz for 5 days.
The cider itself was clean but dull before dry-hopping. To test the idea of dry-hopping, I’d pulled a 1 liter sample and added the equivalent of 4 oz Mosiac per 5 gallons. The result was fascinating, like a white wine with tropical fruit notes.
I’ve become inconsistent with taking final gravities, especially if the batch is many months old or is being stabilized. Here it’s both, and I never measured the FG. Let’s assume it’s 1.000 which would be an ABV of 6.5%.
Quick active fermentation. Racked about 16 gallons into the barrel a few weeks later, reserving one 5 gallon share to drink clean.
One participant in the barrel project wasn’t able to participate this round, so we covered his share by adding a carboy of 2-year-old Quadrupel ale I had lying around. It was too dull and boozy to drink and had become slightly oxidized. This will slightly boost the SRM of the combined beer and the other 90% of the fresh beer should cover up the oxidation notes.
I first created Zingibier, a “grand cru” style spiced Belgian ale, in 2010. With beginner’s luck, it won a gold medal in the 2010 National Homebrew Competition, and the recipe is featured on the American Homebrew Association’s website.
The beer is tough to categorize. It’s a strong (~8%) wheat beer that uses a Belgian Witbier yeast and spices typically associated with the Witbier style: coriander, bitter orange peel, and chamomile. It also packs a prominent ginger note, with the ginger sufficiently cooked as to not contribute heat.
A homebrewer friend recently brought a $200 TrailKeg to a club meeting. It is shiny and cool and … a thneed.
Instead, you should use a carbonator cap ($8* as of this writing) and some 1 or 2-liter plastic bottles (free after you drink the seltzer water). While TrailKeg claims superiority over the glass growler, the carbonator-cap-and-PET-bottle (PET = #1 plastic, i.e. a soda bottle) combo delivers in most of the same ways:
Has CO2 input for carbing the beer and keeping/serving it under CO2.
In December 2014, a friend of a friend acquired a 53 gallon barrel that had previously held Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve whiskey for 9 years. It made its way from Kentucky to Ann Arbor and now lives in my basement.
Since then we’ve rotated beers through it. In order of fill date:
We empty + refill every six months or so. The brewers are a rotating cast, with people dropping in and out. We typically aim to bring 11 shares of 5 gallons each, filling the barrel to the top and leaving some extra to top up the angel’s share.
This barrel has produced consistently good beers and the sour character is now well-established. Beers from this barrel have won silver and gold medals in the American Wild Ale category at the 2016 & 2017 Michigan Beer Cup. Brewers often perform a tertiary fermentation on fruit – tart cherries are a favorite, this being Michigan – and sometimes blend with young or clean beers to cut sourness to taste.