This is a new style for me. Most of the beers I've brewed lately have all been pretty high in gravity, so I want to brew something sessionable. Sessionable doesn't have to mean flavorless, so I looked through some flavorful beer styles that were sub 1.040. Scottish 70 Shilling jumped out at me. This is also perfect, since with the holiday season fast approaching, it's nice to be able to offer guests a beer that won't knock them on their ass in a hurry.

Our friends Kiernan and Shannon are having a house warming party this December, and I'm brewing them a couple kegs to help celebrate. Since one of the two kegs will be half of the Pliny the Elder clone I recently brewed, we decided the second should be something with more mass-appeal. My Blonde Ale fit the bill nicely. Also, since my last two batches were big Double IPAs, this is a welcome change. As is usually the case, I'm forever tweaking my recipes, and this one is no exception.

It's time for something malty, roasty, and dark. The nights are getting chiller, and I'm in the mood for a big stout. Lately, I've been drinking quite a bit of Sierra Nevada's and Deschutes' stouts, both of which are fantastic examples of an American stout with a big hop character. One thing I noticed about both recipes is that they use black barley rather than roasted barley. So I took that idea and ran with it.

Oh Double Jack... I love this beer. I feel it's one of the best beers in the country, and happily defend that statement. =) Seriously though, when I decided to clone some of the best IPAs, Double Jack was one of the first to come to mind. Not much warms my heart more than ripping the foil off of a DJ bomber, popping the cap, and catching a whiff of what's inside. There's a good reason Firestone Walker manages to win brewery of the year about 50% of the time.

I had planned on writing a post detailing my Electric HERMS once it was complete, but we moved houses shortly after it was. Since I needed to change the system to accommodate the new house, I figured I would wait until I had everything settled before I bothered. I've brewed a few batches on the system in it's current state, and I'm pretty confident I won't be making any changes in the near-term. So here's a breakdown of what I'm using now.

I was planning on brewing a Double Jack clone this weekend (that keeps getting pushed back), but with the move looming, I never got around to making a starter this week. So on Saturday I scrapped that idea, and flipped through the future batches I have planned to see what could use dry yeast. My Amber Ale fit the bill nicely. I've brewed this beer a few times, and most recently back in February. The recipe is pretty close to where I want it, so I only made a few small tweaks this time around. I dropped the C60 to 14oz, and the C120 to 7oz. We added 8oz more Munich, and threw in 1oz Chocolate (up from a pinch) to make up the color difference. Finally there's .5oz of Galaxy added to the dry hop.

PBW is awesome. Unfortunetly, it's also expensive. Many homebrewers (myself included) turn to Oxiclean as a suitable alternative. It's main ingredients are pretty similar to PBW -- sodium carbonate (washing soda), and sodium percabonate (the oxidizing agent). The problem is: Oxiclean simply doesn't work as well as PBW. It doesn't remove caked on crap as well as PBW does, it doesn't rinse away as easily, and if you have hard water, it can leave hard water scale on your equipment. So where's the missing link?

...or the list of things I would still buy "if I had to do it all over again"

Home Brewing Starter kit

This is without a doubt the one thing every person wanting to start home brewing should buy. It seems like a no-brainer, but people ask me all the time if the kits are 'worth it'. The basic home brewing starter kit will come with just about everything needed to brew a batch of beer, and you'll continue to use everything in the kit, for years to come. Carboys look cool, but they aren't necessary (hell, I still use buckets). The capper, hydrometer, and bottling wand are all super handy. And most importantly, buying a home brew kit will start you down the road of home brewing; best money I've spent on this hobby.

It's that time of year again, time for the invasion of Pumpkin Ales. Wait? They were on the shelves in August? Ok. What. The. Fuck. Pumpkin beers remind me of Halloween, and cool Sunday afternoons in November watching football. Can someone please let the kind people at Boston Beer and BMC know that in Arizona it's still 105* or higher in August, and the last thing on earth we want is a god damned pumpkin ale when it's 105*? Pumpkin is a harvest ingredient. Pumpkins are harvested in the fall. Anyway, you get the idea....

I've yet to sort out my refrigerator woes from last week, but there's still beer that needs brewed. My Crossfit box, East Valley Crossfit is hosting a huge breast-cancer fundraiser called Barbells for Boobs on October 6th. Here's a link to the event page on Facebook if anyone is interested; it's a pretty cool event that raises money for breast cancer exams. The event centers around the Crossfit workout 'Grace', which is 30 Clean and Jerks (ground-to-overhead) @ 135lbs for time. Since this is one of only 10 stops on the Pink Bra Tour, there are going to be a TON of people there, so I'm brewing 10 gallons for this, knowing even that won't be close to enough.

My Fiance and I are moving a few miles down the road, and our current condo is up for rent. We're starting to pack things up, and that unfortunately includes all my brewing gear. I still have a few beers in the pipeline, so you'll see a couple posts in the coming month or two. Although after that, expect a bit of a lull, as I won't be brewing much in the next 4-6 weeks.

On the bright side, our new place has a two car garage, backyard, and back porch, so brewing will be much, much easier. I have to admit, I won't miss brewing in this tiny condo. Anyway, stay tuned, I've got some fun stuff on the way.

After spending eleven days in Austria in April, I have been itching to brew a Munich Helles. This is the standard style of beer served all across Bavaria and Austria; if you simply order a beer, you'll be served a Helles. My only problem brewing a lager is, my fermentation fridge sits in my garage, which is ridiculously hot during the summer. That little mini-fridge has no problem keeping my ales at 60-68* in the summer, but it really struggles to cool a fermenter down to 45-50* when the garage is 105. I found that with a fan blowing on the condenser coil the fridge was able to cool down to around 50*. With that sorted out, the brew day commenced.

After some friends and I tore through the better part of the Pliny clone I brewed, I'm short an IPA on tap. At the moment there's still some of my Ruination 10th Anniversary clone left, but it turned out a bit sweet, and it's a sipper for sure. I want something hoppy but drinkable, so I'm brewing a tweaked version of my Hop Knot Clone. I absolutely love the grain bill for Hop Knot, as well as the yeast character. The hop character is also fantastic, but I want to try to throw some CTZ in the recipe to see how it tastes with some of that dank/resinous quality that CTZ has.

It's been a good while since I've brewed anything malty. Everything I've made for the past five months has been pale other than the Black IPA I made. Even though it's really hard to imagine the cooler temps of fall when it's July in Arizona, I'm going to brew an Altbier in anticipation of the cooler fall nights. I really didn't stick to a specific style for this one (Dusseldorf or Northern German), and I'm using decidedly American ingredients for this batch. Which makes this beer sort of an American Altbier.

It's finally here, time to brew my 2012 edition of Nuclear Penguin. This beer started off a little over a year ago when I brewed a clone of Dogfish 120 Minute. It turned out pretty awesome, and despite all the tedious work that batch required, it was really fun. So after the beer was done, tasting delicious, and aging gracefully in bottles, I starting thinking about brewing it again. But much like Sam and crew did on Brewmasters, I went back to the drawing board, and thought about what I wanted this beer to taste like. I didn't necessarily want another 120 Minute clone, but rather a 15%+ ABV IPA that was more of a blend of Pliny the Younger and 120 Minute.

What. A. Brew. Day. Literally an hour after I was telling my fiance how much I'm enjoying brewing indoors on my new electric system, the power goes out. Fantastic. Thankfully it didn't catch me at too inconvenient time during the brew day, but what a pain in the ass. I suppose I should talk about the beer before I get too far into my mishaps. I'm brewing a simplified version of the Honey Blonde I've brewed in the past. I'm switching to a single hop (Centennial), and only using a single specialty malt (C10). The one thing I always liked about that beer was the cracker-y/biscuit-y character that it had, so I changed 30% of the base malt to Marris Otter, to bring some of that character back. Other than those changes, it's the same beer.

For those that aren't aware, the hop harvest is here. Over the next month to month and a half, the hop farmers will be harvesting their 2012 crop. Now is the time to buy your hops for the year. I know it can be difficult to predict what you're going to want or need for the next twelve months, but you'll get good prices and the freshest hops right now.

There are a lot of amazing commercial and home brewed IPAs these days. Unfortunately, there are plenty that miss the mark, by a lot. I see recipes posted on the web and forums that make me shake my head in disbelief. I realized though, there's a lot that goes into making a good IPA, and it's not as easy as simply throwing 400lbs of hops at the kettle to paraphrase a commercial brewer. So let's go over some of the more important steps to brewing a good IPA, and how to fix some of the common mistakes I see.

This beer wasn't originally on the schedule. Double Jack was supposed to be the next beer I brewed, but that changed after a trip to San Diego in mid-June. Stone had just released their 10th Anniversary Ruination, and I tracked down a few bottles while I was in town. This special release of Ruination has exactly twice the hops(5lbs/bbl) and more alcohol(10.8%) than the standard Ruination. After my first sip, I knew I needed to try to clone this beer. It's definitely one of the best Imperial IPAs I've ever had.

I'm proud to call myself a home brewer, but I often get an odd look from people when I tell them so. Their response is usually : " home brew beer. Like...... in one of those Mr. Beer things?" My answer is always a balancing act between being too direct, or not direct enough. The direct version being: "No, it's nothing like Mr. Beer. It's just like (insert local craft brewery)." But where does the stigma from home brew come from, and how can we avoid it? Let's talk about methods to legitimize your beer others eyes, and make them excited to try it.

...kettle, I just need to decide what to do with it, haha. Seriously though, I just bought a new 15 gallon kettle from Spike Brewing. It's a very nice kettle for the price, but I need to decide what to use it for. It's going to become either a new mash tun, or a new electric kettle. As a mash tun, it would replace my beat up 48qt cooler. As a kettle it would replace my beat up 32qt aluminum pot. I do plan on replacing both at some point, but I'm not sure which to do first. For now, enjoy the stainless bling pictures.

With my last couple beers being high gravity/high alcohol IPAs, and the next few beers planned are high alcohol IPAs, I need to squeeze in a beer that's a little more drinkable. It's been almost a year since I last brewed my Pale Ale, so I figured I would knock out a batch before my Fiance and I run back to California again this weekend. It just so happened that August (Owner of our Crossfit gym) picked up a Kegerator for the gym a few days ago. So I made this a 12 gallon batch, rather than the 6 gallons planned, so that we have beer on tap at the gym in a few weeks.

 **Update** I brewed an updated clone here. It's dead on. Use that one.

It's been awhile since my last post, but I've got a good one for today. Ahh, Pliny the Younger... This beer is like the mystical unicorn to me. I would still love to try it some day, but I've yet to talk myself into making the trek to Santa Rosa in February. So, I decided to brew a clone. The only unfortunate part is, I won't know how close the clone is, since I've never had the real thing. I've had the Elder so I do have something to go off of, but we're still shooting in the dark here. Maybe I'll build up the guts to send a bottle to Vinnie. Anyway, on to the recipe formulation.

For the first brew in my IPA Clone Series, I'm brewing Four Peaks Hop Knot. I love this beer. Not only because it's local and I love to support Four Peaks, but it really is a flipping fantastic IPA. It also just won Gold at the World Beer Cup for American Strong Pale Ales, so apparently I'm not the only person that loves it! This batch will be going to the East Valley Open Weightlifting Comp at East Valley Crossfit on June 23rd. Despite the tight deadline, everything turned out well.

We're over 105* (middle of May as I'm writing this), so it's officially Summer in Phoenix. Time to say goodbye to 90* temperatures, I'll see you again sometime in late October. I'm definitely in mood for something nice and citrusy for the hot weather. I absolutely love Lagunitas - A Little Sumpin' Sumpin', but the 7.5% ABV sneaks up on you. So I want to make something along those lines, but with less booze.

This is a topic I've brushed on before, but I get plenty of questions about it. So I decided to do a full post dedicated to my favorite fining agent: gelatin. If you ask people their feelings on using gelatin to fine beer, you'll get a number of different opinions. Personally, I find it invaluable to clear my beer quickly. Fining one's beer with gelatin isn't difficult, but it does require a few specific steps. Here's the process I've had success with.

4500w Element
Well, my HERMS build is moving along. One of the biggest hurdles with the system was figuring out how I was going to GFCI protect it. 50a GFCIs are $100+, and the range won't run properly on one. 30a GFCIs are $65, and the dryer won't run properly on one either. Also, since we rent, I don't want to make any permanent changes to the condo. The plan was to buy a 50a GFCI Spa Panel. Use a 50a range cord to connect it to the wall outlet, and another 50a range cord to go from the spa panel to the control box. That would have cost around $125 just to get power into my control box, and I would still have to pull the range out from the wall, unplug the cord(that's all the way down by the floor), and plug in the spa panel every time I brew.

Lots of goodies
Over the next couple months I'm going to be building two HERMS brewing systems. One that's primarily propane, and one that's all-electric (for now at least). Yes, this does sound a little strange considering I already brew on a HERMS system as I detailed here. Well, my good friend Greg and I share that brew system. It's a mixture of his parts and my parts, and it's turned out some great beers over the past couple years. It's been particularly nice for me, as I live in a small, up-stairs condo, with a small kitchen, and no backyard. Having propane burners and a back porch to brew on has been fantastic.

HBC 342 Pale Ale in the afternoon sun
I was placing an order for hops with Farmhouse Brewing Supply when I noticed they had some experimental hops in stock -- HBC 342. Impulse kicked in, and I bought around 12 ounces to play with. The spec sheet of the hops is here, but to summarize, they are a fairly high-alpha hop with a "pleasant aroma" described as "citrusy and watermelon". That sounds good. So I took my standard Pale Ale recipe, and replaced all the hop additions with HBC 342, only changing the bittering charge to keep the IBUs the same.

My Girlfriend (now fiance) and I just got back from an 11 day trip to Austria. We had an absolute blast. Saw some beautiful places, ate some great food, drank some great beer, and I suppose most importantly, got engaged!

I was re-reminded on this trip how nice a well brewed Munich Helles can be, which is the de facto beer style in Austria and Bavaria. Unfortunately, after eleven days, I was ready for something with some American hops, so it's nice to be home.

Obviously I don't have too many home-brew related updates at the moment, but there's some stuff in the pipeline, so I'll have some more posts up soon. But in the meantime, Prost!

My Black Rye IPA is finally on tap, and tasting delicious. I had talked about the recipe here, and I found out shortly after I brewed this, that Firestone Walker is brewing nearly the same damn beer. Now I'll be honest, I had heard they were brewing a Black Rye IPA, but I had no idea our recipes would be so flipping close. Their beer is a little bigger (8.5% ABV), looks to be a little less dark, and uses a slightly different malt bill, but it still looks remarkably similar.

Beer reviews aren't something I ever intend to post, as there are a million blogs that do just that. But this isn't exactly a review, and it's worth sharing. Two weekends ago, my friends and I, had an IPA and chicken-and-waffles night. One of my friends makes knock-out chicken and waffles from scratch, and I happened to have a fridge full of awesome IPAs.

It was definitely a great night with great friends. My boy Greg made some killer ribs on the grill, and Floyd's chicken and waffles didn't disappoint. Pictured above were eight of the beers we sampled. My Furry Penguin was also there, as well as about eight others that Greg had picked up.

Double Jack was the clear favorite. Followed fairly closely by Hopslam. Furry Penguin was the third favorite. Hoptimum was good, very pungently hoppy, but overly bitter compared to some of the other beers. Union Jack and West Coast IPA were excellent as always. Scuplin and Mycenary were both about three months old, and a little past their prime. It showed compared to some of the fresher examples. Odell's IPA wasn't the hoppiest beer of the night, but well liked. Sierra Nevada made a strong showing, Ruthless and Torpedo were also well received. And last, but certainly not least, Hop Knot stood it's ground against some tough national competition. I'd say it was in the top third of the pack; great beer.

In other news, my Amber Ale placed 2nd in a local competition last weekend with a 39! None of my other beers place, but I'm still excited regardless.

As hard as I try, I never get sick of IPAs; it just doesn't happen. I can drink IPAs all night, and still crave an IPA the next day. I'm probably in the minority here, but my taste buds are always craving something extraordinarily hoppy. In Vinnie Cilurzo's words, I've definitely had a lupulin threshold shift.

I have my own IPA and DIPA recipes that I am absolutely in love with, but as they say, variety is the spice of life. So I'm going to spend the next few months trying my absolutely hardest to brew spot-on clones of some of the best IPAs in the country. Typically I take some creative liberties when I brew clones, to tailor them to my tastes, but for this little run, I'm going to brew them as exact as I can.

I'll be working off of known clone recipes, and a few of my own to try to replicate these beers. Other than Pliny, the commercial examples are all available here in Phoenix, so it won't be tough to see how close my attempts are.

In no particular order, the line up is:
  • Russian River - Pliny the Younger
  • Firestone Walker - Union Jack
  • Bell's - Two Hearted Ale
  • Russian River - Pliny the Elder
  • Four Peaks - Hop Knot
  • Firestone Walker - Double Jack
    Thankfully I have all the hard-to-find hops needed for these recipes. Union Jack and Pliny the Elder should be slam dunks, since there are well established recipes for those. That is assuming I can muster the brewing prowess. For Hop Knot, I've already put together a solid recipe, but it still needs some very minor tweaks. Pliny the Younger, Double Jack, and Two Hearted Ale all required some research, but after a lot of digging, I've got some good info.

    Look forward to recipes and brew day notes here soon. The Younger is first!

    Amber and DIPA

    My two most recent beers are finally carbonated, conditioned, and tasting their best. The first is my Amber Ale, and the second is my Furry Penguin that was brewed here. Below are the tasting notes.  

    American Amber:
    **Update (05/18/12) - This beer took Silver with a 39 in the Great Arizona Homebrew Competion!!**

    Clarity is good, but not brilliant. For some reason, this beer never fully cleared up. Color is a beautiful deep red. Aroma is a mix between citrusy hops and sweet toffee from the caramel malt. Taste is more of the same. Malt sweetness hits first, then some hop citrus, then some bitterness in the finish.

    I'm very happy with this beer, but the recipe still needs a little tweaking. I'm thinking a little less C60, and a little more dry hops. It's really close to where I want it though.

    Furry Penguin Double IPA:
    I absolutely love this beer. Clarity is fantastic, color is golden with a little orange. Aroma is heavy citrus notes, with some sweet tropical fruit character. There's also a little oily, resiny, dank character in the background. The taste follows the aroma. Sweet citrus, tropical fruit, and a smooth but firm bitterness that doesn't linger.

    Definitely a dry beer, but there's some light background sweetness that keeps it drinkable. This beer is just a mouthful of hop oil, which I absolutely love. I'm submitting this one to the NHC this week, so let's all keep our fingers crossed that it does well.

    Photo credit:

    Over the past year I've really studied the differences between professional brewers and home brewers. While there are many, one of the big differences in hoppy beers is that pro brewers whirlpool their wort post boil (hot), and home brewers typically do not. Pro brewers often add copious amounts of hops during this time, while it's rare to see home brewers add hops after flameout, and delay chilling their wort. After thinking about this for awhile, I realized, why not?

    If you've been brewing for any period of time, you've certainly re-brewed a batch you've brewed before. Unfortunately, repeatability is one of the more challenging things for a home brewer. We, as home brewers, don't brew the same beers day-in and day-out, and we often don't have rock solid, repeatable processes during the brew day. I know I've had this issue myself, and it's definitely something that bothers me. I've found that keeping better brewing logs can really help.

    Brewing a 120 Minute IPA clone is much like having a newborn: It's very temperamental, and it needs fed twice a day. In all seriousness, this beer is a lot of work. You need to be very organized, and very sanitary, as you'll be messing with your fermenting wort daily. So here are a collection of tips and tricks I learned along the way that will help should you want to tackle this beer.

    After this post discussing my plan to brew a cross between 120 Minute and Pliny the Younger, I got some feedback that I should post the recipe and process for the original 120 Minute clone. Most of the info is detailed here, but that thread is a million pages long and the information isn't condensed. Unfortunately, there's a flipping ton of information about this beer, so hold onto your hats, this is going to be a long one.

    Kill the Flash
    Please, for the love of good looking photos, turn off the flash. Flashes on most consumer cameras are nearly useless. Unless you absolutely can't see anything in the photo without the flash, you're better off without; it's that simple. Photos of people and things almost always look better without the flash, and beer definitely falls in that category. Flash light reflects off the glass, and washes out the photo. Improve the ambient lighting if you need to, or find another location to shoot before you turn the flash on.

    Let's face it, every new recipe we brew is a gamble. As we become better brewers, we learn how to make more new beers successes rather than failures, but it's never a sure thing. Every brewery is different, every brewer's process is different, and at the end of the day, we're all counting on 200 billion organisms to ferment our beer the way we intend. So what am I getting at?

    Since I started this blog, among other things, I write about the beers I brew. I typically post my recipe and brew day notes, and then I've tried to follow up with a post describing how the batch turned out. Well I've thought about it, and I don't believe that's the best approach.

    First and foremost, I know that few people reading this blog care about what beers are going to be on-tap at my house soon (at least outside those that drink my beers). So there's no need to attempt to capture someone's interest with a good looking recipe only to make them wait 4-8 weeks to see results. That leads to the second point: People are result oriented; I know I am. I write to share. Whether it be a new trick I learned, best brewing practices, or great recipes, sharing is very much a part of the homebrew spirit. But unless I know a process works, or that a recipe turned out well, I'm typically not inclined to try it. If a recipe I brewed turned out like crap, I want the results right next to the recipe so someone won't make the same mistakes I did. Since I don't have a journalism background, I've been having to learn some of the tricks of the trade the hard way, and it seems that reporting half of a story isn't best practice.

    So I'm going to take this blog in a slightly different direction, at least in terms of the posts related to my batches. I'm going to hold off posting the recipe and brew day notes until the beers are done. I'm not doing this to cover up my less than stellar batches, but rather to shrink the distance between concept and results. Unfortunately this does mean that there will be a lag time before my next post regarding my beers. Don't fret, I'll keep my blog updated with other content in the mean time, but after my Furry Penguin is done fermenting, it'll realistically be one to two months before you'll see another post regarding a recipe/brew day. After that, I'll be back on schedule.

    That's the long and short of it. Stick around because I have some really cool beers planned for the next few months, and I look forward to sharing the creative things i stumble across along the way!

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