Sniff, sniff

February 24, 2011

We just couldn’t stop sniffing. Two really good-smelling things the other day:

1. our Templeton Rye barrel

2. our Baltic Porter

Our homebrew club combined those two into a glorious, whiskified brewser of an olfactory experience, as we racked 53 gallons of our Baltic happy dagger into Mr. Barrel for a long, long nap. The beer smelled good, the barrel smelled good and the melding of the two has been teasing my brain for the last few days.

The next step is kegging, but for that, we must wait. November? We’ll see what happens…


Welcome, Gabe!

February 14, 2011

The world is a better place. My friend Gabe joined the ranks of homebrewers over the weekend. We fired up a stout over the weekend (and sampled a gaggle of tasty brews along the way).

Raise one!

Brewing Illuminator–a beer for the fast lane

January 28, 2011

A few days ago I mentioned my doppelbock collaboration with Eric Sorensen of Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery–Des Moines, and it’s time to dive a little deeper into what that’s all about.

Enamored with the story of the origins of doppelbock, a couple of years ago, I thought it might be interesting to recreate that experience and fast on doppelbock for the duration of Lent as the Paulaner monks of Neudeck ob der Au–who are credited with developing the beer that is today know as doppelbock–would have done.

When the idea first came about, my work situation wouldn’t have allowed me to do it–long, hot, fast-paced hours hardly resembled a monk’s life, my wife quickly pointed out. So the idea was put on hold to ferment–until now.

I approached Eric last August at a beer festival and he quickly signed on to work with me on scaling up one of my homebrew recipes to brew at Rock Bottom.

Yesterday was our long-awaited brew day.

Between August and January, Eric and I have exchanged countless messages hammering out the details of the recipe. In my opinion, he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty to accommodate my little project, and for that I’m very grateful.

The goal was to produce a bold, unfiltered doppelbock, packed with calories and carbs so that I don’t wilt away on my journey. It’s heavily reliant on Munich and Vienna malts (and friends), and hopped with just the right amount of Magnum and Liberty hops. The OG starts at 1.076 (after having a couple bottles of Three Floyds’ Creeper recently, I was certain that though it’s fun to make beers big and meaty, this beer couldn’t be so big that it lost some measure of drinkability–and I needed a somewhat manageable alcohol content). To be historically accurate, we would have needed to  crash this beast at a ridiculously high finishing gravity, so, that’s one place where my purist tendencies will be left by the wayside. Eric needs to sell the remaining beer, after all.

We kicked off a double brew day at 9 a.m., and after doing Illuminator and then a porter, it was a long day. Thank goodness for short bursts of beer samples and someone else cooking lunch. As a few folks know, this isn’t my first time raking grain out of a mash tun. Brewing is hard work and attention to detail is paramount. It felt good to mill hundreds of pounds of grain, hit a mash temp (158F) and turn a few valves. Though the life of a professional brewer isn’t as glamorous as some folks might think, at the end of the day, one is making beer, and that is very rewarding, making all the heavy lifting, cleaning and other mundane tasks worth it.

For me, it adds a layer of investment to this fast, which will be no easy task. I made that beer. And so did Eric. I can’t fail. Aside from the delightful read that will be on the other side of Lent, there’s too much good to come from this project. I don’t know what, but it’ll emerge.

What was it like for a monk to drink beer for 46 days? Stay tuned.


To follow along as this project progresses, check out Diary of a Part-time Monk.

PS: guess what’s going in here:

AC/BC launches in style

January 25, 2011

4 mash tuns, 6 guys, 60 gallons of beer and a brand-new club

When I moved to Adams County, Iowa, nearly four years ago, my biggest fear was that I would be a beer geek all alone. Thank goodness a pipe burst in my basement, bringing Monte to my house, wrench in hand. He saw kegs stationed on my kitchen floor, and I was delighted to learn that I would have company after all.

A similar scene played out when John stopped by in his big, brown truck to deliver a package.

And there was Goldy. And Bob. And Jimmy and Kyle. Michelle and I launched The Beer Education Project and hosted monthly tastings, which revealed the willing palates of many other beer geeks-in-waiting. And so talk of forming a homebrew club for a little motivation bounced around from time to time.

More than a year after the name Adams County Brew Crew (AC/BC) was conceived, we finally registered our club with the American Homebrewers Association and planned a kick off brew-in.

Missing a few of our core members due to scheduling issues, Steve, George, Jon, Kyle and I descended upon Monte’s shop on Jan. 22 to brew some 60 gallons of Baltic Porter, 53 gallons of which will be aged until Thanksgiving in a Templeton Rye barrel.

And so it begins. Lock up your daughters…

Etched in chalk

January 12, 2011


Wonderful Beer Wife and I stopped by Rock Bottom-Des Moines today for a late lunch, and noticed by their chalkboard that it was time I shared a little information on a project that I’ve been working on for a few months, though for the moment, it’s only time for the short story.

I’m working on a book, and part of that plan involves more than a little doppelbock. Graciously, Brewmaster Eric Sorensen has agreed to play along, and scale up one of my homebrew recipes for a one-off commercial release.

We’re slated to brew on Jan. 27, and have a Fat Tuesday release party planned for March 8. Illuminator Doppelbock will begin flowing at 6 p.m., and at 7 p.m. we’ll turn loose a crawfish boil for your tastebud pleasure.

This is a special day for a humble homebrewer, and I invite you to carve out some time in your calendar to join us for the festivities.

Rumble Seat

December 23, 2010

As you can see, yesterday was a good day.

Our humble group of southwest Iowa homebrewers have a plan in mind, and yesterday I trekked to Templeton to pick up the sacred vessel which will bring us together one glorious January day to produce that blackened Happy Dagger I love to shove into myself.

Stay tuned…

Carbonic Plague: a wild hop experiment

November 29, 2010


A little back story: last fall, a friend tipped me off about some wild hops growing in the ditch on a gravel road just outside Carbon, Iowa (pop. 28).
This September, I went out and harvested. A couple of weeks back, I carved out a brew day, and planned a basic pale ale to test drive this unknown hop.


The beer, Carbonic Plague, is now in the keg, and it’s time for a report on the experiment. I didn’t have high expectations, and I’m here to say that it turned out fairly decent. I used a simple grist of seven pounds pale malt, one pound honey malt and one pound crystal 80L. Fermented with Wyeast 1056, I used 1.5 ounces of Carbon hops at 60 minutes, 30 minutes and two minutes to get a feel for their performance.

Not at all sticky and lupulesque, I guessed they wouldn’t be big on bittering. I was right. What I was wrong about was their flavor and aroma. I feared they would be weedy and unappealing. In the end, they imparted lovely apricot and peach notes, underscored by pleasant herbacious nuances.
If I had my druthers, it would kick a little more bitterness, but they’re worth what I paid for them. I will definitely harvest again next year, using them primarily for late additions.
Take a walk in the country, and keep your eyes peeled. You never know when the hop saints will shine down a blessing in your path.

A slice of Oktober in Manning

October 13, 2010

Over the weekend, Wonderful Beer Wife and I roadtripped northward to Manning, Iowa. We’d been invited to come up and do a little beer work at Manning Heritage Park‘s inaugural Oktoberfest celebration, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the circa 1660 German Hausbarn, which was dismantled and shipped to Manning, then reconstructed to help rejuvenate this small Iowa town. It’s a beautiful structure, juxtaposed a historic Iowa farmhouse, church and conference center.

People in historic preservation talk to each other, and my new friend Freda had gotten my name from a Saundra, who works with the French Icarian Colony Foundation near brewvana headquarters. To be honest, Freda seemed floored that there was such thing as a beer geek, craft beer subculture and beer judge. To have me willing to come up and drink beer at her party seemed a great honor.

Me? I’m just a guy that likes beer. Sure, I’ll come pour it and talk it.

So one thing led to another, and I agreed to give some local homebrewers feedback on their beers in what became a makeshift, non-sanctioned and very smally-hoped (is that a word) homebrew “contest.” This vibrant sixty-something (I suppose) tracked down a flight of twelve beers and if anymore had showed up, I’d have wished I’d lined up a little help. Thank goodness Michelle could steward and pour for the other reason we were there–a tasting of four examples of Oktoberfest.

We brought along oktoberfests from Hacker-Pschorr, Flying Dog, Schell and Boulevard. Unofficial exit-polling marked the Hacker-Pschorr and Flying Dog as crowd favorites.

The layout had us starting earlier than the oompah band and in the entry way, and I was amazed at how many folks took an interest and hung around well after the band started. We ran dry and moved toward Spaten Oktoberfest, which was on offer at the bar. On the dance floor, we found Gary and Jean Arp cutting a rug. They are a memorable pair. When they had walked in the door, decked out, they were quick to advocate for the good beers of Nebraska Brewing Company, a motion I’d second. Gary followed with a broad smile, admitting that his son, Tyson, was head brewer there. Cool parents for a guy who brought back a bronze from the GABF for his barrel-aged Melange a Trois this year.

It was a good evening, and I look forward to being a part of it again next year.

Hops gone wild

September 12, 2010

Last year, a friend turned me on to a patch of wild hops growing not far from where I live. It was a little late in the year to take advantage of the intel, and so this year I was determined to take advantage of the opportunity to a) score some free hops; and b) see if they were worth using at all.

I stopped to check on them a couple of weeks ago and they were a ways off. Rain and house-guests have made it difficult for me to get back to them every few days, as was my plan, but this morning, determination won out and we made it just in time. The edges are just ready to brown.

They’re drying in the sun on a window screen as I type and I hope to experiment with them within a month or so. Wet, they smell awfully weedy, and I’m not sure they’ll be happy for anything beyond bittering, so I’ll start them in a beer that’s “dumpable.”

My plan is to brew a Scotch ale (not dumpable). I intend to run a second sparge for a made-up, hoppy beer I’ll call Hop Kirk, just because I’ve been wanting to name a beer that for a while. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Has anybody brewed with wild hops? I’d be interested to hear about your experiences…

Jimmy’s Kvass

August 30, 2010

I’m no expert on kvass.

Jimmy’s the same brand of intrigued guy about drinks of this ilk that I am, so much so that he tossed together a small batch as an experiment. He brought me a sample the other day and I’m not sure that my opinion means squat diddly, but I enjoyed it. Was it a good example of kvass? No idea.

My expectations were that it would be a hazy light yellow in color with a very thin body, and a tealike light bready flavor.

My expectations were mostly wrong.

It was packed with plenty of body. And flavor, this glass was laden with it: a tart and tannic, sourdough bread, orange, with a bread and yeast nose like mad. Like I said, I don’t know if it was good or not, but I found it engaging. Jimmy did his version with pumpernickel bread with a few raisins.

Can anybody out there enlighten me on the profile of kvass? Feel free to comment…


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