All posts by Marc

The Monster Mash was a Brewyard Smash!

And by “brewyard” I mean the parking lot at Princeton Homebrew where 7 of us did a single mash to produce some 42 gallons of wort.

If you have been by Princeton Homebrew lately, you’ve probably laid eyes on the Monster Mash Tun. Its a 60-gallon, stainless steel homebrewers dream. The only problem is that we needed to create a false bottom to filter the grain from our beer. An effective false bottom is like a fine balancing act. If the filter is too course, grain husk will get through into your beer. If its too fine, all the grain will compact on the false bottom and prevent any water from making its way through the grain bed, resulting in worst of all brewing blunders, a STUCK MASH. So, you’d probably be thinking that we would pick a recipe to test our false bottom design that almost ensured success. Something like the brew we did last year at the Group Brew — a light saison with 9 lbs of grain per 5-gallons. Nahh, over several glasses of Hobo Juice at Princeton Homebrew, we decided the best idea was to Go Big or Go Home! We attempted to mash what will easily turn out to be the most difficult grain bill that this mash tun will ever see.

There were 17.5 lbs of grain for every 5 gallons of beer we were creating. And worse, 15 of them were brown malt — which basically pulverizes into a fine dust when milled. Setting the stage for a stuck mash.

Our false bottom combined high-end metal fabrication and items from the dollar store. Trenton Sheet Metal plasma cut a piece of 1/16 stainless steel and mounted hinges and stainless screen along with some 2-inch feet to keep it up off the bottom of the mash tun. And over drain we put a sink strainer over the top of an egg beater — no lie. Turns out our this last line of defense actually kept a decent amount of grain our of our wort!

A special thanks to Sir Al Buck and his magical box of stainless steel sanitary fittings, tri clamps and gaskets! And of course, this day couldn’t have been possible without the vision, cheerleading and Hobo Juice provided by Joe Bair of Princeton Homebrew.

Ithaca Raises the Bar at the Firkin

Wow, what a meeting! Brewery Rep Extraordinaire, Eric VanZile took us through a series of beers that ticked all the boxes — a session wheat beer, some gigantically hoppy brews and even a 2-year old Belgian quad. Eric’s been at Ithaca for seven years and seems to have had his hands in every aspect of the company. Its evident in just a couple of minutes of talking to him that his enthusiasm for the brand and his passion for craft beer is not something that was memorized off the company brochure. Eric is the real deal.

I’m not sure about you, but a certain brewery’s apricot beer kinda spoiled my pallet for fruit beers. I’ll admit, I drank my share of a “numbered” beer back in the day. I even stumbled on a six-pack holder in my basement just recently. But the beer never really stood up to the test of time for me. You know that album that you have such fond memories of, but then you go back and listen to it a few years later and you can’t imagine what you were thinking? Well, those VT fruit beers were my Stone Temple Pilots. I mention this, because I had never actually tried Ithaca’s Apricot Wheat until the other night. But, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. I assumed it was going to be some knock-off trick beer that was super sweet and with an over the top fruit flavor. It was very well balanced and had a surprisingly crisp, dry finish! Given its mass appeal, its not hard to believe that it outsells all the other labels at Ithaca.

Next up, we all dove into a huge pile of fresh cascade, chinook and crystal hops and rolled around for a half hour. Well, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that. But the CascaZilla definitely left your pallet with the feeling of doing a cannonball into a pool of hops.

When we started planning this meeting over the Summer, I mentioned to Bryan Liegel, the owner of the Firkin, that it would be really cool if he could arrange to have a special Ithaca brew on tap the night of the meeting. I had no idea that we’d be pulling pints off one of only 2 kegs of Ithaca’s Outdoor Harvest Ale in South Jersey. There were only six delivered to the entire state. It’s a fantastic example of a hoppy American pale ale made entirely with hops grown in NY State. Do yourself a favor and get over there to try some of this before its all gone. [Edit: its gone!]

Next up was the Flower Power IPA. Don’t let the name fool you. This ain’t no delicate session beer. Its a big pale ale with an extremely hoppy profile. Forget about the trip to India, five additions give this enough hops to preserve it to Mars and back. Let’s call it a Interplanetary Pale Ale.

Another seasonal was up next — Cold Front is a Belgian Style amber. Belgian farmhouse yeast and some subtle noble hops really give this one an authentic flavor.

The last beer of the night was a really special one. The Excelsior TWELVE was a beer brewed for their 12th anniversary — TWO YEARS AGO! Yes, that’s right, we had a beautifully-aged 10% trappist ale to cap off the night. Speaking of aging, ALL of the beers we tasted were beautifully conditioned. None of those “green beers” that immediately had you thinking about how you should squirrel the rest of the six pack away in the basement for a few months.

Ithaca is making flawless beers with quality ingredients and bold flavors. They’re pushing the limit on popular styles and seem to be one batch ahead of everyone else. To sum up, Ithaca has their tongue firmly planted on craft brewing’s 9-volt battery and they can’t bring themselves to pull it off. Kudos!

Thanks, Eric! Thanks, Ithaca! And thanks Bryan for being such a great host to PALE ALES!

Visit to Harvest Moon Brewery ON the Harvest Moon

Yes, that’s right — the PALE ALES were at the Harvest Moon Brewery on the actual Harvest Moon of 2011.

And what a night it was. For those of you that may have skipped this meeting because you hadn’t been impressed with HM’s selections of the past — its time to give them another try. We sampled 7 fantastic beers on Monday! HM’s new Head Brewer, Kyle McDonald, walked us through each beer. Overall, Kyle is taking HM’s taps away from the English styles of their previous brewer and toward the German styles, but with some American influence.

MoonLight Kolschbier. There are no big malt flavors or huge hop additions to hide an off-flavor in a Kolsch. I knew it was going to be a good night as soon as I tasted this light, crisp straw colored brew. Kyle said he experimented with a batch of this at traditional kolsch fermentation temps (cooler), but the tiny flavor difference it added was not worth hogging up a tank for. Cooler fermentation = slower fermentation. So, this one gets brewed at traditional ale temps.

Simcoe Double IPA. HM filters all of their beers. But there was no filtering out the hop haze on this one! Big, bold and well-balanced!

MonkeyShine Weizenbock. Melanoidins galore in this wheat beer. But a fine example of the style nonetheless.

Lemon Sorachi Saison. I am pretty sure that we tasted a young version sample of this same batch of beer back in July at our Saison style meeting. The 3 months have done it a world of good! Its a whopping 9% and it tastes like a 5-6% brew. A couple of people noticed a coconut flavor that was probably the result of four pounds of lemon rind! Sorachi and saison were meant to be together.

Jimmy D’s Firehouse Red. This beer commemorates a heroic firefighter from New Brunswick that lost his life saving others. A portion of every pint goes to support a camp for kids with severe burn injuries. So, drink several!

Full Moon Pale Ale. Not only were we fortunate enough to drink this beer ON a full moon, but this particular batch was just shipped off to the Great American Beer festival for judging. I think we were all in agreement that this is a guaranteed medal winner. Good luck, Kyle! Our very own Dave Rawlins is headed out the the GABF to help HM pour brews next week.

Schwarzbier. Personally, I think it might have been a little too toasty for the style. But it was really chewy and rich. In a word, FANTASTIC!

This was a great night, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Kyle for hosting us and keeping us well lubricated! Thanks, Tony (color) and Dawn (B&W) for the great pics in a very challenging light!

Kane Brewery Tour

Over 30 PALE ALERS trekked out to the Kane Brewery last night just outside Asbury Park. Michael, Glenn, and Clay were on hand to take us on a tour of their 7,500 square foot brewhouse. According to Michael Kane, it was exactly a year ago that they signed their lease and started retrofitting the building and installing equipment.

Kane has a 20-barrel system with a 25-barrel mash/lauter tun — giving them room for some big beers. Their fermenters are 40 barrels, so every brew day is a “double batcher.” Their system was designed and built by DME in Canada. But it seemed like the installer that DME sent down was worth his weight in gold. In addition to helping them plan for expansion and future improvements, his technical understanding of the power and plumbing requirements was invaluable to Kane’s subcontractors.

According to the brewer, Clay, the steam jacket system they have is so fast and efficient that the kettle is at a full boil as its being filled! And the boil is so vigorous that they their hop utilization is better than they expected. They actually plan to dial back some of the bittering hops because of this!

It was an honor to be among the very first people to try their first 3 production-sized batches. I don’t recall a meeting where a series of beers from a brewer were so well received and “favorites” were so evenly split. First up was the Single Fin at 5.0%. This Belgian Style’s sessionability was not at the expense of a full flavor and aroma profile. A 5.5% Rye Beer called After Glow was up next. Even though the grain bill was about 20% rye [edit: it was only 10%], the rye was not over the top. Instead it seemed to create a dryness that was well balanced with the rest of the malt. Last was a 6.5% West Coast Style IPA called “Head High.” Another fantastic, well-balanced beer!

This might be a good time to mention that all three of these beers were VERY boldly hopped. All of them had well balanced — but distinct — hop flavors and aromas. According to Clay, they intend to keep things going in this direction by combining West Coast hopping schedules with East Coast styles and carving out a new style palette along the way.

If you missed the meeting, Kane’s tasting room should be open to the public in a week. Of course, check their blog for the latest news out of Kane and be sure to friend them on Facebook. Thanks, Dawn, for all the great pics!

Saison Style Meeting Recap

Many thanks to Paul Corkery and his wife Robin for hosting us at their home. The grill was cranking out some great food and the corn was easily the best I have had so far this year. Good thing we had some beer to wash it all down!

We had about 30 folks in attendance when we called the meeting to order at 7:30 (including 3 new members).  Before diving in the style discussion, we talked a bit about some ideas we have been working on for an October Big Brew. Clay Spence gave us a little history about the beer we are trying to replicate — a historical porter from the 18th Century. The basic concept is to use a ton of brown malt and create a beer with a very high finishing gravity, but a very low ABV. This creates a beer with a velvety mouth feel that is 2nd to none. Our original plan was to malt all of the grain ourselves using solar power. But after germinating a test batch of 9 lbs of barley, we quickly realized that this is a huge undertaking with wide variety of points of failure. The slightest mistake in the germination phase might result in a 5 gallon batch of vinegar. But, it was the horrid smell of the germinating grain was the final nail in the coffin on that idea. Instead, we may malt some of the specialty grains used in the batch. More details on the Big Brew will come out as we get closer. Meanwhile, you can follow the malting experiment at the Princeton Homebrew Facebook Page. For now, hold October 22 on your calendar.

Ryan Hansen, PALE ALES VP, kicked off the style portion of the meeting with some history of the saison style as we tried some craft brewed varieties, including a skunked Saison Dupont Avril (3.5%), the Saison Dupont (regular), and Fantome. There were at least a dozen homebrewed saisons being passed around too. Al Buck, Chief Yeast Propagator at East Coast Yeast, was on hand to sample beers and provide feedback.

Be sure to check out the Club Calendar for the latest details on upcoming meetings. Thanks for the great photos, Dawn!

June Meeting Recap: We All Had a Golden Ticket

Ed “Willie Wonka” Goracy of Hub City was an amazing host last night. Not only did we get to tour one of the largest beer warehouses in the State (Great Wall of Coors by Kate), but we got to try some really special beers. I was incorrect in my email yesterday about which “deconstruction” beer we were tasting. Turns out Sam Adams released an entire series called Deconstructed. Its is basically the Latitude 48 IPA recipe brewed with different hops resulting in six entirely different tasting beers — one hop in each beer. It was a great way to isolate the different hop varieties! When a guy that runs a warehouse with 18 tractor trailer deliveries a day tells you that you got the last case, you know you got something very special. Thanks, Ed! And the Longshot series was really good too. Well, the lavender beer got a few grimaces from the rooom, but the belgian style IPA and blackened hop beers were both crowd pleasers. Definitely worth trying to find a sixpack if you didn’t join us last night. In total, I think we had about 35 folks in attendance with at least 5 first-timers.

Thanks, Dawn for all that great pics!

Charlie Papazian Meets with PALE ALES

Charlie Papazian, the Godfather of all things homebrew, came out to a PALE ALES meeting in 2000. Here’s an excerpt from the May 2000 issue of the PALE ALES newsletter recapping the visit:

Charlie Papazian, homebrewing guru, kicked off his East Coast tour in Princeton this past April 8th at the Susan Paterson Center in Princeton. No surprise that it was one of the biggest events hosted by the club, with close to 90 people in attendance.

Charlie regaled attendees with many humorous stories about homebrewing. Some that stick out:

* Charlie had been using this Lager yeast for over ten years to make all of these great eclectic beers. He had gotten the yeast from someone at Coors, but never knew what it was. It turned out after many years the strain was identified (by the id number on the vessel), and he found that he was fermenting Budweiser!!!

* Charlie mentioned that in many blind taste tests of local American beers verses big name imports, that the American beers typically always win. Of course, when the labels are visible, the opposite result occurs. As he put it “We drink with our eyes.”

* In early brewing days, Charlie had fashioned his brewing recipes
for 13 gallon batches, an odd size. Someone had asked him – “Why 13 gallons Charlie?”. His response “That’s the most beer you can fit in a trash can!”

* Some insights into Charlie’s first batches of beer (many of which
were quite undrinkable!) – he used baker’s yeast and cane sugar, and he stirred with his hand.

* Other words of wisdom – Support your local homebrewer. Buy good ingredients. Relax, have a homebrew.

This was my first encounter with Charlie and I found him humorous, honest, friendly, and laid back – in short, very much into the spirit of the event and homebrewing. (Myself and half a dozen PALE ALES members also joined Charlie and wife Sandra for dinner at Triumph prior to the event.) Charlie chatted with whoever approached him and of course signed many a book that evening.

After Charlie’s talk, people mingled, drank and ate, and we held the
BYHB, with ten people moving on.

Speaking of food and beer, both were plentiful and excellent. Stouts, bitters, Stickebier, pale ales and many others mingled with many exotic food offerings from club members. (Maybe, we should have something like this every year – like around the Holidays). River Horse Brewery glasses signed by Papazian were given out to attendees as door prizes.

Kudos to V-P team Andrew Koontz and Laurie Harmon for finding this excellent meeting place (two fridges, free parking, a full kitchen, and lots of space!!) Also, thanks to all the volunteers who helped things run so smoothly!

The nominal admission fee of $5 covered all of the club’s expenses. Charlie’s other expenses (except dinner and cab fare) were covered by tour sponsors Crosby & Baker, White Labs, and Briess. IMHO, one of the best events yet hosted by your friendly neighborhood homebrew club – PALE ALES. Who knows maybe we will host Michael Jackson next?