I’ve been neglecting to take pictures for this blog for quite some time. I look back at the past few posts and see no images. How boring. I apologize. Unfortunately, this post is no different.

But I promise to get pictures soon. I have to show everyone my new rig. I just bought this week a three-tier metal frame for all-grain brewing – professionally built by the operator of my local homebrew store. He was very generous in price since this piece was a “pilot” rig. It was one of his earlier ones that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of more recent systems that he’s built.

Along with a rig that will make brewing much, much easier, I also upgraded my propane setup. I bought a new regulator, new fittings, and some longer hoses to get (supposedly) four or five times the heating capacity out of it. Apparently, turkey fryer systems come with gas lines, fittings, and regulators that limit output to 30,000-50,000 BTUs. But with the upgraded equipment, It’s been suggested that I’ll see 175,000 BTUs. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll be able to heat up water way faster than before, which should make brew day go faster.

The three tiers alone would make brew day go faster, too. No more lifting heavy, full pots or mash tuns to gravity feed to the next step. Everything is at the right height to naturally feed down to the next tier. The only lifting I’d have to do is during an uncommon decoction mash: I’d have to feed mash out of the tun and into the kettle and then lift it up to the top tier to boil it and then feed back into the mash tun. Since a decoction is usually only a gallon or two (at least when I’ve done it in the past), it’s not hard to lift…

I still have a little more to put into my rig, but I have time. It’s just right for now. My next step will be to convert a 1/2-barrel keg into a hot liquor tank. I fear that may warrant a special occasion like a birthday or something before I spend the money on that upgrade. It can be done very cheaply, but I have my eye on a few things that would make it much easier to use but at a potentially hefty price (like building in a thermometer probe and a sight glass).

Village Idiot

My friend and co-worker, Rob Homer, has begun brewing this year. I took the whole family over to his house last weekend to brew a batch with him and to taste his first creation – an English Brown Ale that was based on a modified recipe of my own: Hump’s Holiday Ale 2007. And Malin and Will got to hang out with Tracy and their three kids (all of them are older than Will but played well with him).

Rob’s brew turned out pretty tasty. And it is remarkably different than the homebrew of mine on which it was based. The spices are almost imperceptible (whereas I think they were too strong in my brew). The finish is fuller and sweeter (which I kind of like). It has a very English character to it from the yeast, decent depth and complexity, and is smooth and without any real flaws. It may have a bit of extract “twang”, but it’s hard for me to tell. I could never pinpoint the twang in my extract homebrews, but I did feel that was something was slightly “off” about it – and it was something I detected in Rob’s brew too. Once I started using more specialty grains, the off flavors seemed to fade from my beers – as far as I could tell anyway. Quality took another jump when I went to doing a 5-6 pound mini-mash in every batch. Going to all-grain hasn’t seen a similar jump in quality, but it is more rewarding on days where everything goes right. And it also gives you more control over the finished product, so I think it’s worth it overall (despite the amount of cussing I do on brew day).

Rob has told me that he is not a fan of really bitter beers, but he did express an appreciation for the smell of hops (one good whiff of your hop ingredients while you’r brewing and you’re hooked). He remarked about how he wanted to change up a kit IPA recipe he has, moving some of the bittering hops towards the end or just using them as dry hops instead. So I took some commerical brews for him to try – two beers that, based on what he’s told me about beers he likes, I was pretty certain he was going to like (Clipper City Heavy Seas Hang Ten Weizenbock and Sweetwater Happy Ending Imperial Stout), one total unknown (Allagash Grand Cru), and one that he’d likely have trouble with (Sierra Nevada Bigfoot). He loved the immense, fresh hop aroma and balanced, malty finish of the Sweetwater Happy Ending (who doesn’t!!??). I left the rest with him. He has since called to tell me that he really loved the Allagash Grand Cru and that he did not care for the Bigfoot. C’est la vie!

So while I was there, we cooked up a Belgian Wit. It began life as a Hefeweizen kit that he received for Christmas. But it included a plain dry yeast (not even a Weizen yeast – just normal ale yeast). So we jazzed it up. We added some flaked wheat, flaked oats, and 2-row malt (the lattermost having sufficient enzyme content to convert the proteins and starches in the unmalted grain into sugars) and then some CuraƧao orange peel and some ground coriander. Finally, we pitched liquid Witbier yeast to make sure the finished product had the right qualities.

It will probably be ready for him to keg this weekend, so maybe I’ll get to try the fruits of our labor this upcoming week.

And next time I brew, Rob has asked to tag along to see the all-grain process. It will likely be a little bit like the last time I had company: my friend Jason helped me cook up an Imperial IPA that turned out awesome, but he got to see me stumble through the steps (it was only my second batch on my all-grain rig at the time). This time it will be my first batch on the brand new rig, so I’m sure there will be some more stumbling. But if the beer turns out anywhere near as good as that last time then it will be more than worth it.

BTW, he calls his brews Village Idiot (hence the title of this section).

‘Tis the Season

It’s that time of year again: hop rhizomes are coming to stores soon. I placed my order today. I’ve got seven rhizomes coming: three for me and four for Rob (he’s really diving head first into home brewing). In addition to my current Chinook plant, I’ll be adding Centennial, Willamette, and Horizon plants. I ordered Cascade, Mount Hood, and two Willamettes for Rob (though we may go back and forth before the final split is really nailed down).

Despite last year’s disappointment (no hop cones popped up, so no fresh hop homebrew), I’m hopeful about this year’s prospects. We moved the Chinook plant to a garden we recently built up (freshly cultivated with high quality soil). It should fare much better there than its previous home. We’ll also be wiring it up differently so hopefully it will run and run and grow and grow (along with the three new plants, of course). I’ve heard that Centennial can be a little fragile, especially if there’s too much moisture where it is planted (susceptible to mold), but if it thrives, that will be awesome. It and Columbus are probably my favorite two hops right now (and Columbus is apparently far too fragile to reliably grow here in the south).