My Brewing Process, Updated

Back in January I posted a brief overview of how I brew. Well, January was almost six months ago and several things have changed. Brewing commercially every week at Habits Gastropub has prompted me to rethink some things and really focus on simplifying my system to make brewing beer as stress free and easy as possible. After a 12 hour brewday, it’s hard to summon up the energy to brew in a complex way. It has also prompted me to get some better tools and equipment. So, here is my new setup…

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My Brewing System and Process

Everyone brews differently. Everyone has little things they could do better and little tricks that other people haven’t seen before. The best way to learn about these, I’ve found, is actually just watching someone else brew. But since that’s sometime hard, here is a quick walk through of how I brew my beer in my apartment. Let me know if you see anything interesting or anything I could be doing better!

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2014, A Year in Upalong Homebrewing

I started brewing in 2010 which makes 2015 my five year anniversary, so really wanted to make 2014 a big year for my brewing. I spent more time brewing in 2014 than any other year of my life. I produced 37 unique beer in batch sizes from 3L to 20L brining me to a total volume of 375L. And that’s not counting the test batches we did for Habits!

January

I started last year at a sprint. To use up some older Citra hops I brewed Foolish Gommel, a Zombie Dust inspired American Pale Ale. I’ve never been happy with using English yeast in APAs, and this was no exception. Likely not trying that again until I’m happier with my overall APA recipe (I brewed a nicer couple later!). I also experimented with really hopping the heck out of Sorghum syrup to make a gluten free beer. Sorghum syrup has a bright lemony character, so working with that rather than masking that made a nice, very juicy, pale ale. I also had a less than ideal extraction for my robust porter, Pepperrell Porter, which was just OK this time around.

Near the end of the month I brewed a second batch of my Chardonnay-oak aged Rye Saison with Nelson and Amarillo. I tried out the dry Belle Saison yeast in that batch and the results were not as dry and crisp as I like. I’ve brewed Lauds three times last year and this first batch of 2014 was the weakest. I rounded out the month with a small Summit SMASH, which was lovely and reminded me how nice a simple clean beer can be.

February

My first sour mash went really nicely and turned out as a nice 2.5%, very tart but clean beer. I brewed my Table Beer (None) with lots of rye and wheat and, while it was a touch phenolic at first, it clean up into a great little beer at 3.3%. Not far off La Petite Princesse Bière de Table, I later found out when trying a bottle.

March

I bought some apple cider and fermented it in the gallon jug it came in. Turned out alright, if a little bland. I also did a small batch of a juniper smoke ale which really tasted lovely with the bright berries cutting through the big smoke malt character. I could see brewing a larger batch of that. The first batch of Funk Island, my Brett Pale Ale, was attempted in March with a sluggish fermentation (didn’t culture the vial up enough) and way too many hops (same blend as the Sorghum beer). The beer was almost too intense to drink! In contrast, a very simple American Strong Ale, Smallwood, made with just Special B, 2-Row, and a bunch of Cascade tasted fantastic and ended up being a surprise dark horse candidate for homebrew of the year.

April

Basilica Blonde, a simple Belgian Pale ale using Westmalle yeast, was really enjoyable over the summer. I’d brew that again almost unchanged. Terse, which went on the yeast cake with some Brett Brux Trois (the not-Brett, Brett), turned out less well as I used a touch too much caramunich which made it a little flabby. It improved as it bottle conditioned, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Looking forward to trying my hand at that again.

May

I brewed another, more successful, APA using some Ontario (Clear Valley Farms) Wild Turkey Hops. They had an interesting earthy cranberry character which made the beer more of an experiment than a real star in its own right. Though the APA base was much better than the one used in January. In preparation for summer I brewed Lester’s Farmhouse using American Farmhouse Blend and a bunch of Simcoe hops. Lester’s Farmhouse has become my favorite summer beer and I’m looking forward to brewing batch #3 this summer! I also tried out the yeast in a dark and an amber saison (3L batches) which were both a little less good than expected! Though promising.

June

In the hot summer months I put together my second ever Weizen. Heffy Weizename ended up alright, but a little too low on yeast character to really shine. I’ve got ideas for next batch, though since I don’t love Weizen, we’ll see when that is! Continuing with the culturing of the American Farmhouse Blend (I wanted to see how out of balance it could get through continual reuse) I made a Ginger-Brett Sasion which had a really interesting fermented ginger character (though not enough!). I also brewed three identical beers with different base malts (Vienna, Pils, 2-Row) to mix after conditioning to figure out ratios for saison recipes. Near the end of June I brewed an Imperial IPA using the Vermont Ale yeast, which was interesting, but not the clean, dry yeast character I love in hoppy beers. Again, a touch more English.

I got the results from my first competition back in June. I entered six beers to the Great Canadian Homebrew Competition and ended up with three best of styles (Oak Aged for Lauds, Dubbel for Vespers, and Stout for Amherst Rock Imperial Stout) and third best in show for Vespers. Pretty encouraging results! The feedback for the other three was super useful too.

July

In July I cultured up some Crooked Stave dregs into a starter and then brewed a small 3L beer with them to build it up even more before adding to the secondary of a future beer. The beer was strongly blue-cheese and cherry funky. Not entirely unpleasant or pleasant! I brewed a much better APA, Avalon Ale, using a bunch of Topaz hops and the Vermont Ale yeast from the DIPA. Near the end of the month I started the long process of brewing my Imperial Saison which would be aged on Ontario Peaches and the Crooked Stave Brett (CY-001). The base was just an amped up version of my standard saison, though mashed hotter to keep it feeling “imperial.” The final beer, which had three weeks on the peaches, tasted pretty awesome. A little tart, a little funky, and lots of peach. My favorite homebrewed beer of 2014.

I brewed my Lauds both again at home (batch #3) and then at Indie Alehouse for the Homebrew Tap Takeover which was a heck of a lot of fun. Probably won’t get to do it again next year since July was also when things at Habits gastropub started getting serious and we started piloting some beers for the future nanobrewery.

August

The apartment finally got too hot for my temperature control to keep things in check. Saisons only! I brewed a simple saison trying out the French Strisselspalt hop which had a lovely fruity character. I then made another sour mash and blended that into a sasion wort near the end of the boil. The saison from that had a little nice acidity, but I also tried out the Wallonia Farmhouse yeast in that batch. While flavourful, the yeast character wasn’t as crisp and peppery as I liked. Still, the sour mash blend approach is something I want to try again. Maybe with a small sour wort beer instead of sour mash.

September

I brewed up a small Sweet Potato beer with Melanie to nod to pumpkin beer, though she used older spices which made the spice character less great than it could be. Funk Island, my Brett Pale Ale, made a comeback in September when I brewed it with a very large (one week+ growth in step starters) Brett L. starter. Lightly hopped with mosaic and dry hopped with Citra, it was one of my favourite beers of the year. Going to brew a larger batch before the summer!

October

I ran into a bottle neck when I bottled all of August’s saisons. I didn’t have enough bottles, so I had to slow down brewing. I just brewed a little ESB using Ontario Select Malts (Ontario grown) instead of Marris Otter. Worked out alright, though I think the malt is more like 2-Row than a proper English malt. I also took a second shot at my Barleywine, though it’s too soon to tell how that will end up!

November

I brewed a dry stout which I primary fermented on French oak cubes. I also brewed a simple wort that I added De Bom sour blend to. Too early to tell much about either of these two

December

A rebrew of my Dubbel, Vespers. It’s still fermenting, so it will be awhile before I get to try that one. I think it’s just about ready to move over to bottles and free up my fermenter for an Imperial Stout!

Review

Overall, 2014 was a good year for brewing. My favorite beers of 2014 were my Imperial Farmhouse Ale aged on Ontario Peaches (The Landwash), my very not funky and lightly hoppy (Mozaic and Citra) 100% Brett Pale Ale (Funk Island Batch #2), and my now classic Lauds, a Chardonnay Oaked Rye Saison (Lauds Batch #3). All three of those will be returning in the new year!

My goals for 2015 are mostly concerning making better hoppy ales and trying different malts. The Assemblage experiment I did last year (same beer except for the base grain) taught me a lot about grain, so I hope to keep focusing more on malts and using those better. Same for water conditioning which I’ve been working with much more since drinking some Hill Farmstead beers and really noting that, above all, what made them shine was the water minerality. I see many more saisons and SMASH pale ales in my near future, with careful patience and attention to water.

On to 2015!

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Results of the GCHC

I recently submitted six beers to the Great Canadian Homebrew Competition (put off by Canadian Amateur Brewers Association), which is mostly Ontario-based.

I submitted Funk Island (Brett American Pale Ale), Vespers (Belgian Dubbel), Amherst Rock (Imperial Stout), John Barleycorn Must Die (English Barleywine), Pepperrell Porter (Robust Porter), and Lauds (American Rye Saison aged on Chardonnay Oak). Anyway, I won some awards! There were 22 categories (abridged BJCP, including cider and mead) awarded and I got to the top of three! Pretty happy and looking forward to getting my score sheets to improve the beers.

10. Stout
1st Place – Imperial Stout (13F) ‘Amherst Rock’

15. Dubbel
1st Place – Belgian Dubbel (18B) ‘Vespers’ (A bottle of this was at a NL quad tasting recently!)

19. Smoke-Flavored & Wood-Aged Beer
1st Place – Wood Aged Beer (22C) ‘Lauds’ (American Rye-Saison aged on Chardonnay Oak)

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BOS Best of Show
3rd Place – Belgian Dubbel (14B) ‘Vespers’

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Best in show was a Raspberry Berliner by David Scannell & Sara Tapal (of Toronto), second was a Pilsner (“Jaromier Lager Czech Pilsner” by Mike Handry and Blake Anderson). The winner gets to brew their beer on a production scale with Beau’s, which I hope Beau’s keeps to and ends up brewing a production Berliner, it’s long overdue in Ontario!

Congrats to everyone who entered!

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Trying to Keep Up!

Wow. It’s been a busy winter for homebrewing. I can’t seem to keep my blogging up to pace with my brewing! My last post talked about my Porter and Lauds, but since then I’ve brewed a table beer, a sour mash (more on that in another post about to come), a cider, a juniper smoke beer, a brett c. pale ale, and an American strong ale. So, more about those below.

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Posted in American Pale Ale, Sour, Summary

Two Re-brews, Pepperrell Porter and Lauds

Two of my favourite beers from last year were my Porter and my “Chardonnay aged” rye-saison and since one of my resolutions this year was to dial in a few of my recipes I decided to make my first two larger batches this year rebrews.

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What Happens in a Mash?

Often, when talking about homebrew with folks who are either new to the hobby or who just drink beer, explaining malts and the mashing process is often the hardest part. In this post, I want to try to explain the mashing process in non-technical and straightforward language. Though – warning – I do present the technical terms when they arise!

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