Milk Crates

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I have always liked milk crates. When I was a kid, they made for great fortresses, traps and storage for action figures. When I got older, they were a cool tie-in to music, with crate digging vinyl being a romantic idea that I rarely actually participated in. Then I finally moved into my own house and they were a useful way to move stuff in, a perfect size carry a good amount of small items without getting too heavy or unwieldy.

A lot of the same ideas from above are some of the same things that make milk crates a great tool for homebrewers. The biggest thing I use them for is to hold large numbers of bottles. Standard sixteen quart, square milk crates hold twenty five standard, long neck, twelve ounce beer bottles. Obviously, that is one more than a case.

A five gallon batch, for me, usually yields just over two cases. Yes, a full five gallons will yield you fifty six or so bottles, but in reality, with loss for trub, racking, et cetera, fifty bottles is usually right around where I land.

Until recently, I had a huge number of cardboard beer cases in my basement. This worked out fairly well for a long time, rotating out old cases pretty regularly. Last Winter, though, I started getting some water in the basement and lost a lot of cases. Some others seemed okay, but eventually got really gross thanks to hidden dampness.

If you’re a homebrewer, let alone a homeowner, you know that mold is one of the last things you ever want to find. It didn’t get that bad, at least not that I could find visibly, but there was definitely some musty odors and I went on a mission to eliminate all cardboard from the basement.

I had about five milk crates that have been kicking around since the days when they were used to by Magneto to cage the X-Men in some very epic battles. To hold all of the bottles that I have accumulated in over three years of brewing, though, I needed a lot more.

After asking around, I got a few from some friends and got the advise to ask at gas stations and grocery stores. The advice didn’t pan out for me, but it is worth a shot if you’re looking for some free milk crates.

Then I decided to take my search online. There seem to be a pretty steady stream of offerings for milk crates on Craigslist, but they are obviously in demand because they disappear as quickly as they show up. Some of these listings offer free milk crates, most list them for a few dollars and some have seemingly absurdly high prices for “vintage” and “antique” crates. Ultimately, this approach never worked out for me either. If you live in a more populous area, it may work out better for you.

Eventually, I was getting frustrated and decided to suck it up and pay for some new milk crates from The Container Store. At $10 a piece, these things were not cheap. They are advertised as “the real thing” and really are identical to some of the milk crates I have from old dairies, just without the logos. This is great, because they are extremely sturdy and a durable, especially compared to flimsy imitations available at places like Target and Walmart, but it makes the price tag sting all the more knowing that most other ways of acquiring these crates are much cheaper, all be it for second hand merchandise.
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At this point, I was up close to fifteen milk crates, which was enough to get by, but I was still keeping my out for more. And that was fortuitous because a couple weeks ago, on a drive home from an adventure with Amy involving retired horses, ringing rocks and a new German restaurant, we passed a yard sale in the process of shutting down due to rain.

They were packing their stuff up in milk crates. After passing the house, I got Amy to drive around the block to come ask about their milk crates. A brief interaction, trip in the rain to a barn on the property and $20 later, we went home with ten more milk crates.

Now, after months of searching, I finally have enough milk crates to house all of my bottles with a few left over for other uses. All of my brewing equipment lives in the basement but most of the brewing takes place in the kitchen and backyard. Carrying all of the little gadgets for various brewing tasks can take a few trips, but a milk crate can cut down the stair workout.
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Aside from moving lots of small things, the crates are great for carrying one large, heavy, awkward, liquid filled item. I recently told my horror story of breaking a carboy, but even with durable plastic, the threat of dropping and spilling all your hard work is ever present. Five and six gallons carboys both fit nicely in my milk crates, which are equipped with handles that make them much easier to transport, especially on the aforementioned stairs.

Milk crates may not be the easiest items to procure, but they are well worth the effort, weather you’re a homebrewer or not. And get that cardboard out of your basement.

Week Thirty One

IMG_3928I hope you learned from my mistakes last week. Or at least were able to relate. Anyway, back to normal this week. No theme, but maybe a couple out of the ordinary posts.

The things I’ve gotten the most comments about since starting this blog are my labels. I try to post the label for each batch I write about, but I haven’t really talked about them at all, so I’m going to try to sum up my general process for making labels this week.

I have mentioned before that I was on a quest to gather milk crates. I have been pretty successful in that quest and now I’m going explain some of the many reasons that milk crates are awesome. Not just for homebrewers, although that will of course be the focus, but they’re pretty great in general too.

Anyway, beyond that, I will have some tasting notes and maybe cover some older batches. I have some bottling to do this week, but I don’t plan to brew anything new for a little bit. I have one batch of something a little different going that I haven’t covered yet, but I’m going to wait a while to talk about that (TEASER). Otherwise, I’m not planning to brew for a little bit. The next two batches I’m planning are ten gallons. For them to happen, I’m going to need a new kettle. When I get that new kettle depends on when I can afford to pay for it.

That could be a little bit yet, but that is okay. As I said, I have bottling to do and at the moment, I’m not necessarily short on bottles, but my supply is limited. What I’m getting at is that the next few weeks will consist of more drinking than brewing.

Although, I would like to do a batch of Yellow Cat Sweet Cider soon…

Evergreen Imperial IPA Tasting Notes

Original Post: Evergreen
Style: Robust/American Porter
Brew Date: June 2, 2013
Tasting Date: September 19, 2014
ABV: 10.6%
IBUs: 158 calculated… probably somewhere between 80-100 in reality.

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I just opened the beer in the sink, as I’ve learned well is the only way to do it. The geyser of beer flowed straight down the drain, and in fact, continues to now. I must say, though, the aroma is still exquisite.

There is a lot of Citra and Columbus hop aroma being blown off as the beer erupts out of the bottle in foam form. Considering that this was brewed well over a year ago, that is pretty impressive.

Okay… its been a couple minutes, I’m going to go see if the beer is ready for me to pour it into a glass yet.

I got it. I’m down to somewhere between eight and ten ounces, so this may be a pretty quick set of tasting notes, but I’m ready to get started.

I’m drinking from my Duvel glass, which is my favorite thing to drink IPAs from because of its curvy shape and extremely wide top that lets me get most of my face inside to sniff things out. The Citra hops are still the most evident aroma. There is some citrus, but despite the name, I get just as much pine from these hops. Simcoe is rearing its head, too with some slightly harsh, bitter, dankness evident. As I sniff harder and harder, I’m starting to get some alcohol fumes, as well. At over ten percent, that is to be expected and is actually hidden fairly well.

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Now, to finally take a sip… wow. That is bitter. Maybe it is closer to the 158 IBUs than I though. The extremely high carbonation makes it ever more prickly. There is some estery fermentation character, but it is knocked out by bitterness and alcohol before any more sensory information can be gleamed from it.

There is some hop flavor still here, despite being fifteen months from brew day, but it is definitely diminished. That fermentation character was not detectable when this was fresh. The hops have faded but they are not going down without a fight.

The hop bitterness is still intense and the flavor is still heavily leaning on pine. This beer is obviously strong, there is so much flavor that there is obviously a lot of… stuff in it. The actual alcohol is not overly apparent, though. It was originally masked by the hops and bitterness, not the fermentation character is surpassing the actual hop flavor while the bitterness still looms over everything.

Have you noticed that I have yet to mention malts? There is a reason for that. This beer is intensely dry and bitter. There is not malt flavor to speak off. It got a healthy dose of sugar during fermentation and the grist was made up of only American Pale Malt with tons of light extract and a small amount of wheat extract. No character malts. And that is just fine. This is the malt character I want from huge, resinous DIPA. Namely: none.

To match the mess of flavor and aroma going on, this beer also looks like a disaster. It is orange with yellow highlights and cloudier than your favorite Hefeweizen. There is so much yeast build up in these extremely over carbonated bottles that it is ridiculous. This one, honestly is not as bad as others that I’ve had.

As this beer warms, I’m getting more citrusy hop flavor from it. It is almost all pine while colder. I’m not sure how to explain that, but it is interesting.

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Anyway… this beer is a disaster. But a fun one. Fantastic Damage? Beautiful Struggle? I don’t know. Here’s the thing: I kind of love it, but I don’t expect anyone else to. I think it is a wonderful recipe that was pretty badly botched during packaging. Considering this was already my second attempt at this beer, I should probably just move on, but I still really want to give it another shot next Summer. I’m not saying I’m definitely going to, but… maybe.

I also think that this and Fruit Spectrum would be a very nice pair of IPAs for a commercial brewery. One showcasing fruity Southern Hemisphere hops and one showcasing citrusy/piny American hops.

And again, despite its extremely aggressive flavor, the 10.6% ABV in this beer is well hidden. I’m just about done with my bottle now though, and it is becoming apparent. Bottle bombs, sneaky alcohol… this beer is all kinds of dangerous.

Hogun’s Mace Robust Porter Tasting Notes

Original Post: Sour Porter
Style: Robust/American Porter
Brew Date: August 20, 2013
Tasting Date: September 19, 2014
ABV: 7.2%
IBUs: 32

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First of all, I’m breaking my own rule of doing tasting notes in the time it takes to drink a twelve ounce bottle of beer because I only have this beer in larger bottles. This is from a German half liter bottle (I believe it originally held Reissdorf Kölsch).

The carbonation is perfect. That still surprises me considering that this was pasteurized after less than twenty four hours in the bottle. Whatever got into the carboy was pretty voracious. It pours close to black with a spritzy tan head. This isn’t the thick foam you normally expect in darker beers, despite the color. It is smaller bubbles, almost soda like. The thin, dry nature of the beer is already evident from that.

Taking a sniff, I get the roasted malt and some candy-like sweetness. It is an odd aroma, not at all unpleasant, just unexpected. On the first sip, the initial flavor is just what I’d expect from a porter. It matches the color, dark and rich, although the mouth feel is decided thin. The flavor transitions very quickly.

Before the beer ever makes it to the throat, the tang becomes evident. It is not sour, but definitely tart. It gives the impression of sweetness, although, as I’ve mentioned, the beer is actually extremely dry. I haven’t had this in a while and I’ve learned a lot about sour beer since then (comparatively, I’m still very new to it). I was hoping I’d have a better idea of what type of wild yeast or bacteria got into this, but it doesn’t taste like anything I’m familiar with.

The flavor I’m thinking of is rum cake. Maybe not rum cake… fruit cake? I don’t know, some sort of dark, sweet, heavy, bread-like cake. It doesn’t taste like molasses, at least not compared to Portly Porter, but it is that sort of sweetness. Less refined.

IMG_3955This is the sort of beer I imagine being made during prohibition. Or in the early days of the original porter beer from eighteenth century England. Something is off, but it isn’t offensive. Just a bit jagged around the edges. It is actually extremely interesting.

I keep expecting to taste some coffee but it isn’t coming. There is definitely, some roast from the Chocolate Malt, but the tangy sweetness keeps it from going anywhere near the normal comparison to coffee.

As the glass gets lower, some red highlights are becoming apparent. It looked black at first, but there is some light coming through as the volume goes down. The actual head didn’t last long, but there is a constant stream of bubbles around the perimeter of the glass.

IMG_3959Now that I can see through it, the fact that it is very clear is more apparent. Considering the age, that may not be surprising, but with the infection, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The bottom of the bottle doesn’t have much yeast, either. I guess since it was pasteurized so quickly it makes sense, but with how quickly it carbonated, I thought there might be more.

This is not the beer I planned for and it’s probably not something I would purposely repeat, but I’m also very glad that I took the action that I did in bottling it despite the infection. It is fairly enjoyable and extremely interesting. I have no idea what got into the beer and couldn’t repeat this if I tried. It is good that this beer existed, even if there is only one bottle left.

Hogun’s Mace (Accidentally Sour) Robust Porter

I made reference to this beer yesterday.  It was days away from being bottled when fermentation seemed to be kicking back up.  Steamtoberfest had recently become infected and it looked like this was going the same direction.  I took a different route, though.  I’ll get back to that later, first I’ll explain what my intentions were with this beer.

It had been close to a year since I had made CVP (Cherry Vanilla Porter), which was one of my favorite beers and it was time to do another porter.  I did not want to do another flavored beer, realizing that Val’s Porty Porter with molasses and CVP were my only porter batches, it seemed like it was time to do a straight up porter.

I loved CVP, though so I wanted to stick fairly close to that recipe.  In the time between the two batches, though I had moved to all grain.  I kept the specialty grains from CVP, Munich and Chocolate Malts, and debated wether to go with American Pale Malt or Maris Otter for the base.  I wanted this to be a Robust or American Porter, and leaned that way with the hops, but I thought the extra maltiness brought on by Maris Otter could be quite welcome.  Ultimately, I decided to use a bit of each.  I didn’t want the full flavor of the Maris Otter to interfere too much with the other flavors, but I knew it was a relatively simple malt bill for a porter and wanted to give it a little bit of depth.

IMG_20130820_160241Hops came up in the last paragraph.  The hop bill was another internal debate.  I wanted detectable hop character, and for some of that to be distinctly American, but I didn’t want it to be the main attraction.  Tröegs’ Dead Reckoning Porter was something I was drinking at the time.  It is very hoppy for a porter, with a lot of Chinook character.  I decided to keep the bitterness restrained but add a decent charge late in the boil.  An ounce of Cascade with ten minutes left gave a decent bump in IBUs but was mainly intended to bring the American hop character I wanted without being overpowering.  Another ounce of Willamette at flameout was meant to add some Earthy hop aroma.  Willamette hops are not as distinct as Cascade, thus they were added later. 

For yeast, I went with Windsor dry yeast.  I’m a big fan of this stuff, but it seems to have a lot haters on the internet.  I’m not sure why people don’t like it.  Personally, I like its character a lot more than S-04, the other dry English ale yeast that is readily available.  There are a lot more options if you go with liquid yeast, but if you want dry, they may be your only choices.  I’ve seen claims that Windsor often stalls out early, but I haven’t had that experience in a several times that I’ve used it.

My goal with this beer was a relatively strong, but balanced and easy drinking porter.  Deep Chocolate Malt roast character backed up by bready Munich and Maris Otter malts.  Mild citrusy American hop character with some Earthy, English hop like aroma and a subtle balancing bitterness.  Characterful ester filled fermentation flavor from an English yeast and warm fermentation.  Then there was the pesky wild yeast.

I can’t be totally sure, but I think that the infection came from the turkey baster I used to take gravity samples, which had previously been used for the same purpose on Steamtoberfest.  That was, of course before the infection showed its face, but apparently after it had gotten in.  I mentioned that I thought the infection got in from the air allowed in around the cap I had on Steamtoberfest’s carboy.  It is possible that it originated on this turkey baster, though.  It is the only thing I can think of that came into contact with both batches.

Wherever the infection came from, I caught it very early and was ready to bottle the beer anyway, so I made a possibly risky decision.  I bottled it anyway.  I didn’t know what was causing the renewed fermentation, but small patches of new bubbles were forming all around the top of the beer.  Normally, you never want to bottle anything that is actively fermenting because you are likely going to be creating exploding bottles.

I do have one recipe that calls for bottling during fermentation, though.  Yellow Cat Sweet Cider is bottled, allowed to carbonate and then pasteurized.  That cider is very actively fermenting with predictable ale yeast, though.  This was a wild yeast (or bacteria) of unknown origin.  I bottled the beer before bed one night and put it into boxes, covered them and did what I could to ensure that if any of them did shatter, they wouldn’t scatter and shoot glass in all directions.

When I got home from work the next day, I opened a bottle and was surprised to find that it was just about perfectly carbonated.  I opened a second and got the same familiar pop.  It was time to pasteurize. 

The beer definitely got a tart twist from whatever got into it, but it was caught early enough that it didn’t go full on sour.  In the short time it was in the beer, the wild yeast did dry it out quite a bit.  This was very dry and a bit thin for a porter.  It was not what I intended, but it was still pretty enjoyable.  I was a little surprised every time I opened one that they were all evenly carbonated.  I am down to (I think) two bottles left and it has been a long time since I’ve had any.  I will drink one of those bottles for tasting notes tomorrow and try to get more into the flavor that resulted from the infection.  For now, my original recipe is below.

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Hogun’s Mace Robust Porter

Style: American Porter/Robust Porter

Brew Date: August 20, 2013

Serve Date: September, 2013

OG: 1.060

Expected FG: 1.006

Approximate ABV: 7.1%

IBUs: 32

Fermentables:

53% American Pale Malt

33% Maris Otter Malt

7% Chocolate Malt

7% Munich Malt

Hops:

1 oz East Kent Golding @ 60 min

1 oz Cascade @ 10 min

1 oz Willamette @ Flameout

Yeast:

Windsor English Dry Yeast

Wild Yeast?

Steamtoberfest: Patient Zero

IMG_3947I brewed Mocktoberfest Ale in 2012, just before brewing my first lagers. In 2013, I decided that I would go ahead and use lager yeast, using the water bath method to try to keep the temperature down.

I saved several water bottles and froze them, then rotated four at a time from the freezer to the rubbery-plasticy tub of water that I placed the carboy in and filled with water. I draped a towel over the top of the tub to keep in the cold, not an easy task in August.

Switching the water bottles out twice a day made this one of the my more labor intensive batches. So, of course, it was my first batch ever to get infected.

I made one terribly foolish mistake. I used a plastic carboy topper, which fit over the outside of the carboy, instead of a normal rubber stopper. These things are good for the beginning of fermentation because they let more CO2 out than the airtight rubber stoppers. I discussed the fact that I had issues with blow off after switching to plastic carboys. My blow off tube doesn’t fit properly in the larger openings of plastic carboys and the very active fermentation of the first couple days after brew day often blow the rubber stoppers right out of the carboy.

IMG_3945The plastic toppers are nice for letting the extra gas out, but they also let stuff in. During that crazy fermentation, there is so much CO2 being put off, that nothing has a chance to get in. As soon as it calms down, though everything from oxygen to wild yeast to bacteria can get in. And that is what happened.

A pellicle began forming on top of the fermenting beer. It was thin and white with lines forming a spiderweb that looked like old, cracking paint. At first, it started to smell a bit solvent like. It was not pleasant, but rather than dumping it, I decided to just move it into my closet and wait and see what happens. It is still there. The pellicle is still there.

It has bubbled up on occasion, big swamp like bubbles. I look at it almost every day, but I haven’t opened it up or done anything to check its flavor or aroma in about a year.

IMG_3946With this batch hidden in the closet, I gave the recipe another go, this time switching back to ale yeast because time was now of the essence. That batch got infected, too. As did a batch that I had brewed before that was just about ready to bottle. I will cover that batch tomorrow and explain what I think happened.

For context, I brewed the first Steamtoberfest on July 22, 2013. Then I brewed the batch I’ll be talking about tomorrow on August 20, 2013 and the second attempt at Steamtoberfest on August 24. Hopyard Harvest was my next batch on September 4. This really was the dark time. All of these batches were disappointments and I have to admit that I was starting to question my my continued brewing. I took a little break, not long, but if that next batch hadn’t worked out, I don’t know if I’d be writing this right now.

I’m going to skip posting the recipe for this beer for right now. I hope to some day do something with the beer, whether that is using it to blend with another beer, turning it into vinegar, bottling it straight or dumping out… I don’t know, but I will definitely post about it one way or another.

 

 

Hopyard Harvest Pale Ale (2013)

 

Last year was my first season of growing hops. Everyone says not to expect to get any cones your first year. I did get a few cones on two of my five plants, though. Sure, it was only about two ounces of wet hops, but how could I not try to brew a harvest ale?

IMG_20130903_165138I knew it wouldn’t be enough for a full five gallon batch, but I thought maybe if I added some pellets for bittering and only brewed a two and a half gallon batch, I could get some nice aroma from a flameout addition with those hops.

I was wrong.

IMG_20130904_152051At the time, Amber Malt had just become available at my local homebrew shop. This malt is best known to me for its use in Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA. This malt blows past toasty and verges on roasty. In small doses it can add great complexity, but it is, in my opinion, very easy to overuse. Dogfish Head obviously know how to utilize it. I didn’t.

What I’m getting at with all this is that my beer had no hop flavor and a surprisingly harsh roasted malt character, despite its relatively light color. This beer was, paradoxically, dull and tasteless as well as surprisingly harsh and unpleasant at the same time. It looked very pretty in pictures and that was its only redeeming quality.

People on Facebook were impressed by the beer I had made with the hops that I grew all on my own. I am fairly confident that this year’s harvest beer will be better. I’m not sure that it will be great, but better than this… that is almost guaranteed.

If you’re going to use Amber Malt, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, you need to balance it. It is an extremely flavorful malt. It can add great complexity, but use it sparingly or be prepared to load up on hops to balance it.

I haven’t even mentioned my yeast choice yet. S-04? An English ale yeast that adds a lot of esters? Why? This is supposed to showcase the hops, but the truth is: I had an extra packet of this yeast and wanted to get rid of it. I didn’t have high hopes for this beer to begin with, so I figured why not clean out my stash?

Anyway, my recipe is below, but don’t use it. Please.

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Hopyard Harvest
Style: American Pale Ale/Harvest Ale
Brew Date: September 4, 2013
Serve Date: October 12, 2013
OG: 1.043
Expected FG: 1.012
Approximate ABV: 4%
IBUs: 29

Fermentables:
92% American Pale Malt
8% Amber Malt

Hops:
.3 oz Magnum @ 60 min
1 oz Wet Centennial @ Flameout
1 oz Wet Cascade @ Flameout

Yeast:
Safale S-04