Blogging a Path Through Homebrew Perdition

Catching Up

Old Humperdink

Several weeks ago, Malin and I did a side-by-side tasting of my recent home-made Old Humperdink Barley Wine against Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot (2010).

Both beers are very similar in color and clarity. In this photo, Bigfoot is the one on the right – with the bigger foam. Both beers are remarkably smooth and drinkable considering their dangerous strength: 9.6% for Bigfoot and a whopping 10.8% for Old Humperdink.

Both are hoppy, but Bigfoot is noticeably hoppier. It is also richer and more complex in malt character. I wonder how they achieve such an amazing profile – a pleasant blend of breadiness, caramel, chocolate, and residual sweetness. Old Humperdink is no slouch, but it lacks some of the depth – particularly in the hints of dark malt character. Perhaps a touch of chocolate malt should go into the next barley wine we make.

Sierra Nevada’s website says that Bigfoot is hopped with the three C’s: Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook. Old Humperdink is hopped 100% with Zeus hops (part of the CTZ family: Columbus-Tomahawk-Zeus).

Sierra Nevada is brimming with sweetness and complex malt flavors, but is tempered by an equally huge hop bitterness and immense evergreen and grapefruit hop flavor. Old Humperdink on the other hand is a little more light-handed. Despite our beer being bigger and stronger, it doesn’t punch you in the face (or in the palate rather) quite as firmly as does the sasquatch. Old Humperdink has a straight-forward maltiness with some caramel and toffee notes and a very spicy and resiny hop profile that has a touch of evergreen, wads and wads of tropical fruit, and a hint of mint and herbs.

I personally think I have a ways to go before I make a barley wine as good as Bigfoot, but Malin actually liked mine better. I’m planning to send Old Humperdink to both the Peach State Brew Off and to the NHC. I think it could fare pretty well.

Beermuda Triangle Homebrew Competition

Speaking of contests, we entered La Brabançonne Grand Cru, Old Humperdink Barley Wine, and Back-Breaking Brown into the Beermuda Triangle Homebrew Competition, hosted by Hop City, Octane Coffee, and Five Seasons Brewpub.

All three beers made it to the semi-finals (top 20), and Back-Breaking Brown landed in the finals (5th place). The top five finishers, me included, received gift cards for the three hosting businesses. We used the Hop City gift card today.

I plan to use the Five Seasons Brewpub gift card in a few weeks once the winner is on tap. Yes, the winner of the contest gets their beer brewed by Five Seasons and served on draft at the brewpub. From what I heard at Hop City today, it should be pouring in four weeks’ time.

Yankee Doodle

We’ve cooked up three batches of beer so far in 2010. Back-Breaking Brown – an Imperial India Brown Ale – was the inaugural batch and is amazing. We used 1/2 pound of whole leaf hops for that one: Magnum, Nugget, Simcoe, and Chinook. The beer finished at about 8.9%abv, and is deadly smooth for that strength. If I do say so myself, it masterfully blends the perfect amounts of malt complexity, dark malt character, residual sweetness, and raging hop flavor.

The second batch of the year was sort of like a scaled-back version – a hop-bomb American brown ale. We call it Hump’s Yankee Doodle Brown. It stands at around 5.8%abv and was made with over four ounces of whole leaf hops: Magnum, Amarillo, Cascade, and Crystal. It has a very pleasant citrus and peach fruitiness to the hop profile, a strong bitterness, and a dry malt backbone that has just enough sweetness to keep the dry bitter finish from being brutal.

Our most recent batch is Hump’s Irish Dry Stout. I don’t want to rename it again (last attempt was not nearly dry enough, so we renamed it and reformulated a better recipe for this title). But I might have to. It did not finish dry enough. I still want to warm it up before coming to the final verdict (it’s at 64 deg.F; maybe 70 deg.F can squeeze out another point or two of attenuation). Either way, it tastes good, so we’ll be sucking some down on St. Patty’s Day.

Brew day for the stout was a serious pain in the neck. The grist included a decent bit of unmalted barley (1 pound of flaked barley, 1 pound of unmalted roasted barley), and the manifold on our mash/lauter tun didn’t like it. After fighting what was almost a stuck mash, we finally got it through. Based on the mash schedule – which included a protein rest and a few decoctions to heat it up to what still amounts to a low temperature saccharification rest – I expected it to attenuate very well. Alas, it was not meant to be. It got down only to 1.015 (shooting for 1.012 or lower). Perhaps a warmer climate will help it finish…

The Display Shelf

This month’s session topic – provided by The Ferm – is a great one: The Display Shelf (aka When to Drink the Good Stuff). I am personally a big fan of saving beers for just the right occasion. Okay – maybe I’m not fan; maybe I’m just neurotic.

Any time I brew a beer that seems like it could age well, I save at a minimum two bombers. I open one when it’s one year old, the other when it’s two years old. In fact, I have a bottle of Hump’s Fiftieth Brew that is just over two years old, waiting for the right moment to be opened and consumed. I have a wine fridge that used to hold wine but recently holds only aging home brew. The bottles to its right are the overflow – too many aging bottles to fit in this thing.

The Stash

I’m also an acquisitive sort when it comes to shopping for commercial brews. I frequently stop by the local fan-frickin-tastic bottle shop (Hop City in midtown Atlanta) to see what’s new. They are the only place in town that I know of that will break up six-packs. Other places do something similar, but to a lesser degree – letting you buy singles from a limited selection or making you buy in increments of six. Hop City is much more lenient and enabling for the “I wanna try a little bit of everything” kind of shopper. The commercial selection is generally kept at serving temperature (vs. cellar temperature) and is tucked away in the same fridge that dispenses the home-made stuff.

The bottom shelves of this stash feature the older bottles – a few vintages of various beers. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and Bigfoot are most prominent since they are the most recent additions from the 2009/2010 winter season and thus on top. The Weyerbacher Heresy is actually from last year (I haven’t bought any of the currently available vintage yet). Buried beneath are various offerings from Clipper City, Dogfish Head, Victory, J.W.Lee, Thomas Hardy, and others.

If you were to look closely in this fridge, you’d see that the single oldest bottle contains 750ml of Chimay Grande Réserve from 2001. This was a gift from my brother-in-law. He suggested I hang on to it for awhile. So I did. Next time he and my sister are both out this way, we will open it. I’ll have to nab a new bottle, too, and do a vertical tasting. It will be interesting to see how this beer had changed after 10 years of aging (most at cellar to room temperatures, but the last few years at lagering temperatures).

Another interesting option tucked away in here is the jeroboam of Double Bastard. This one is big enough that the “right time” will be when plenty of good friends are around. Perhaps that will be on our next Brew Day — we try to do three batches or so a year where we invite friends over to help brew and to partake of the ever-growing selection. I guess you could call it our “inventory management” function – it’s how we keep the selection from growing too big.

I actually have another stash of refrigerated brews, too – “on deck” if you will. It usually features up to four 750ml or 22oz bomber bottles and up to a dozen 12oz/33cl bottles (okay, sometimes more than a dozen). For these beers, the right occasion is “tonight”. This particular night for example, the wife and I split a bottle each of Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Founder’s Imperial Stout – both quite excellent.

The final area where we stash brews is our unfinished storage area. It’s in the basement, so it stays at a decent temperature for aging/cellaring (though a little on the warm side during the summer). Only home-brewed beers live in this part of the house. Currently, we have some Hump’s La Brabançonne Grand Cru waiting to be sent off to the Peach State Brew Off (or maybe the NHC – don’t have enough for both, so I still have some decision to make there). Those bottles are nearly a year old, but the rest of the bottles in this picture are much more recent. Despite the labels you see, there are no Samuel Adams or Sierra Nevada brews among them.

Decisions, Decisions…

Deciding when to open these brews is always a tough decision. We’ve got enough of a selection, that there is always something interesting to nab almost no matter what we feel like. And yet, typically we just reach for home brew.

For tonight, we celebrate with something newer: a bright, super-hoppy, home-brewed Imperial India Brown Ale that we’ve dubbed Hump’s Back-Breaking Brown. I like to break into the old stuff every once in a while, but when you’ve got beer that is so good when it’s fresh, that’s where the hand tends to reach (at least mine do).

So the display shelf gets more and more trophies. And then we invite friends over to beat back the horde before it takes over. Lather. Rinse. Repeat…

Hump’s Holidays

The Big Bastard

Other than New Year’s Day this week, the holidays are behind us at the hump-house. The whole family had a rather wonderful week. And there are a few exciting things to report on the beer front.

For starters, I received a very pleasant surprise from my folks with the Jeroboam (aka Double Magnum) of Stone’s Double Bastard pictured here. My dad thought I could put the giant glass bottle to good use in my own brewing. I don’t think he was particularly knowledgeable of the actual beer inside, but it turns out to be damn fine beer.

Somehow I’m going to have to arrange a party in order to actually empty this thing. Three liters of 10.5%abv beer will require more than just a casual evening with just me and Malin. Perhaps I’ll break this one out at the next brew day if there is a sufficient crowd to drain it (without impairing anyone’s ability to get back home).

Another tricky thing will be cooling it. It is incredibly big and will not easily fit in a fridge due to its height. I think I should be able to squeeze it alongside a corny keg in the “cellar” fridge though. I may have to temporarily remove a few other gems down there to make room.

In case you can’t really tell how big this thing is from the picture, below is one that shows the scale a little better. The small bottle next to the big one is a normal 750ml bottle of wine:

Another wicked thing about this big bottle: it is locked closed with a chain and a small padlock (keys included, thankfully):

Another Fine Scotch

Another great gift I received this season was a bottle of 10-year-old Talisker. This is one of the malts I’ve mentioned to my wife (so she must have told her mother-in-law about it).

I sampled a small dram of it yesterday. It has a sweetness – almost like a fine aged Rum – and flavors of floral honey. It does have a decent bit of smoke in the aroma, but it is fairly soft in the mouth and only reveals itself towards the back of the palate. It is smoky but not particularly peaty (missing the pungent peat-bog earthiness that can sometimes accompany the smoke). The body is full and velvety. It is a subtler and sweeter beast than the Lagavulin – and much subtler than the Laphroaig. But, despite the fact that it is not an Islay malt (it instead hails from the Isle of Skye), it is not a big departure from the other malts I have. It too is quite smokey. That was one of the reasons I’d expressed interest in it to Malin.

Now I just need to get my hands on the other two Islay malts known for their peculiarly strong flavors (especially in the peat and smoke departments): Ardbeg and Caol Isla. After that I may expand my horizons towards very different Scotch whiskies – like the Macallan.

The Keg Conversion

This holiday season, I’ve converted a 1/2 barrel keg (standard 15.5 gal Sankey keg) into a new hot liquor tank for brewing beer. Actually Doug, at Just Brew It, did the conversion for me. I dropped the keg off at his store, and he chopped off its top, drilled the necessary holes, installed the new doo-dads (a stainless steel valve and a thermometer), and welded on a carbon heat shield to protect the thermometer:

I’m looking forward to brewing with it on New Year’s Day.

Recent Brews

Speaking of brewing on New Year’s Day, I’m pretty stoked about the recipe. I’m making an Imperial Brown Ale, but based on a hob-bomb brown ale, not a nut brown ale. It will basically be like a Double IPA, but with a darker grain bill to provide a richer malt base with a nutty and chocolaty character.

I currently have this year’s Holiday Ale on tap. Hump’s Holiday Ale 2009 is a spicy English stock ale. Unfortunately, it is spicier than intended. I will certainly have an even more restrained hand with next year’s holiday brew. Fortunately, it is still quite drinkable. It tastes very much like a liquid gingerbread cookie. It is surprisingly similar to last year’s Gingerbread Bock, despite using a little spice, a touch of vanilla, and a very different base beer.

I also have my Zeus single-hop barleywine on draft right now. It is freakin’ awesome. ‘Nuff said.

IPA Battles

On a completely unrelated note: a few weeks ago I did a side-by-side comparison of the two local IPAs — Sweetwater IPA and Terrapin Hopsecutioner.

Overall, both beers are fantastic examples of American IPAs. But if I had to pick a winner (which I hate to do since I enjoy both of them very much), it would be Terrapin. The Hopsecutioner has a very pleasant evergreen character to the hop flavor and is a little bit drier. The Sweetwater’s hop profile is also very nice – lots of bitter citrus fruit – but is missing the evergreen notes that I personally find quite appealing.

The real verdict: there is no loser here. Georgia residents, support your local breweries and buy more Sweetwater and Terrapin! I’d highly recommend starting with one (or both) of these.

Ode (in Haiku)

Oh, dear Sweetwater
India Pale Ale. You are
very delicious.

Celebration Ale
from Sierra Nevada
is deliciouser.

Hump’s Old Humperdink,
you are in fine company.
Hoppy beer is best.

Zeus, Columbus, and
Tomahawk are fine species.
All-time favorites?

Centennial and
Amarillo are very
close as second place.

Kent Goldings are great
but are harder to get here.
Brits must be hoarding.

Some hops are noble.
They are nice but not my fave.
They do make great beer.

Hoppy IPAs,
I pledge allegiance to you.
Now I say, “Good night.”


Rock Art Brewing

Rock Art Brewing has come under flagrant legal attack from the makers of Monster Energy Drinks. They received a cease and desist order asking them to stop the production and marketing of their “Vermonster” barley wine. The makers of Monster Energy Drink, Hansen Beverage Company, claim that the beer’s label is a copyright infringement – which is pretty obviously bollocks.

To support Rock Art Brewing, boycott Monster Energy Drinks. And show your support by buying something from the Rock Art Brewing online store – like a shirt or a glass or something!

RIP Greg Noonan

Gregory J. Noonan, a pioneer craft brewer that started Vermont’s first brew pub and author of Brewing Lager Beers, died this past Sunday, October 11th. I had not heard of or read anything of Mr. Noonan prior to hearing about his passing, but various beer authors on the web have written tributes describing his legacy. I’ve put his book on my Amazon shopping list to learn firsthand more about this man’s work posthumously.

In Progress…

On the homebrew front, we’ve got a couple of new ones racing for an opportunity to be consumed.

Hump’s Devilish Nectar is a Belgian Strong Golden Ale that is finally almost finished – after five weeks of slow fermentation. The beer is finally down to 1.014 (9.4%abv!). I think it will get even lower (1.010 -> 1.012), so I’m patiently waiting. The yeast are still in suspension and there is still the occasional bubble slipping loose from the fermentation lock.

Hump’s Estate-Hopped Rye is a Rye Pale Ale made with our homegrown hops. We just brewed it this past Sunday (10/11), but it’s already mostly finished. Attenuation appears to be complete. Now, we just wait for the yeast to flocculate and fall out. This beer is very malty with a restrained rye character and a somewhat restrained hoppiness. The hop plants were not very productive this year, so we didn’t harvest enough to make a hop bomb. But it does have a distinctly grassy hop flavor throughout that is quite pleasant – and quite a surprise for Chinook hops (which are usually resiny and piney/evergreen, sometimes with grapefruity bitter citrus).

Seven Drunken Nights

After typing my notes into for Terrapin’s and Left Hand’s latest collaboration (Midnight Project Batch #2 – Depth Charge), I was treated to a musical jig: a MIDI rendering of an Irish folk song named Seven Drunken Nights.

This musical treat was offered up to exalt my latest achievement: 700 ratings.

Somehow, these milestones never feel like a chore, no matter how long they take me (so unlike my day job…).

The brew was marvelously – perhaps even ridiculously – thick with the taste of espresso beans. It is a strong (8% abv) sweet stout loaded up with Jittery Joe’s espresso. A very nice way to close out a rough week at the office and usher in not only the weekend but also what will hopefully be a wonderful Autumn. The weather sure has been nice here lately, anyway.

For those of you that read these posts via Google Reader or other RSS reader/aggregator, you’ll find I post much more frequently in the form of status updates for Hump’s Brewing’s Facebook page. For those that read these posts from Facebook, you’ve already noticed this recent phenomenon.

For the benefit of those not yet on Facebook (likely few), I’ll recap the past couple of months…

Devilish Nectar

I cooked up Hump’s Devilish Nectar nearly 4 weeks ago. It will be a Belgian Strong Golden Ale – like Duvel, Delirium Tremens, or Piraat. Unfortunately, this batch appears to have gotten “stuck”. After nearly 3 weeks of fermentation, it was still up at around 1.030. It is still fermenting, albeit very slowly. At this rate, it may be quite some time before it finishes attenuating – at will hopefully be a nice and dry 1.010 or so.

I’ve already tried lugging the fermentor up from the basement (since it is usually about 3-4 degrees warmer upstairs), but that didn’t appear to jump-start it in any significant way… And now that beautiful fall weather is here, it’s cooling off upstairs and down.

Estate-Hopped Rye

I already harvested my hop plants this year. After drying, the yield was quite small – about 2 ounces total. I have 1.5 ounces of Chinook, 0.1 ounces of Horizon, and about 3/8 ounces of Willamette.

My plan is to cook up a Rye Pale Ale pretty soon using all of them – hopefully next weekend (10/10).

Old Humperdink

I bought a bunch of half-priced whole-leaf Zeus hops a few months ago with the intent of using them in a big, bad American Barley Wine. I still haven’t brewed that batch because it has been too warm in the basement for a clean fermentation of such a big beer.

Now that the weather is cooling off, I should be able to get to it soon – perhaps I’ll cook it up on Halloween day!

Tafelbier Brew Day, Regal Bitter, New Labels, etc.

Tafelbier Brew Day

A few weeks ago we had another “brew day”. This is basically where I invite people over during a brewing session. One might think that the presence of others would make the process go more quickly or more smoothly. Unfortunately, neither are true. But they do provide good and entertaining company and help me drink the stockpile of beer in the cellar. Unlike the last brew day, only two showed up, although we did have some stragglers – folks that live in my neighborhood – stop by, too.

The brew of the day was Hump’s Farmhouse Table Beer – a Belgian-style Tafelbier. It’s finished fermenting, and I’ve been meaning to keg it for several days now but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. It will be a mighty good thirst quencher after it’s carbonated. It has a decent bitter citrus quality to it thanks to fresh orange and lime zest (not to mention some oranges and lemons – peel, pulp, and juice). It will be a nice refreshing brew, low enough in gravity to pound a few pints without being worse for the wear.

Part of the brewing fun is, of course, drinking good beer with good people. First up on the roster were the homebrews on tap at the time:

  • Hump’s Red Bedlam – Nectar. Lovely, hoppy, complex, malty goodness. An “India Amber Ale” as I like to call it.
  • Hump’s “Welcome to the World!” Wit – A coconut-pineapple Witbier. Refreshing and intriguing. Did I mention delicious?
  • Hump’s Toucan Stout – Holy smokes is this smooth. A dangerously drinkable “Foreign Extra Stout”. It’s on the high side of the style which makes it awfully close to “Imperial Stout” territory.

Next in the line-up were a few commercial brews:

The final beer we tried that day was the brew we had made at the previous brew day: Hump’s La Brabonçonne Grand Cru. This beer has turned out nicely. It is very malty with a dry and spicy nose followed by a surprisingly sweet flavor – that is far from cloying thanks to a dry (and well-attenuated) finish.

Here is a pic of the Tafelbier, fermenting away. Next to it is the bottle of my favorite brew consumed that day:

Regal Bitter

This past weekend, I cooked up another tasty brew. Like the last batch, this one too is a low-gravity beer, expected to end up not much higher than 4% abv.

This one is a low-alcohol interpretation of an American Amber Ale. And not just a plain ol’ amber, mind you, but a west-coast-style hop-bomb amber!

Into this low-gravity brew I added a good bit of Centennial and a dash of Amarillo hops. Both are known for their pleasant and very citrusy flavors (lots o’ grapefruit). Since it’s a small beer, almost all of the hops were added late in the boil to insure a balanced (and not overly-bittered) product. Like all beers I make with lots of aroma hops, the fermentor smelled wickedly awesome – percolating away while the pungent wreak of resiny hops reels up.

Punjabi Pale Ale and Company

I’ve been working on beer labels this week. I’ve actually finished them all. I’m now caught up. I’ve got a label for every beer I’ve brewed (except this latest one – but it’s still in the primary fermentor, so it doesn’t really count).

I think I’m most fond of the label for my most recent English IPA:

I hope no Indian takes offense at the name or imagery. I do know that the Punjab region straddles both India and Pakistan and that more Punjabi people live on the Pakistan side, but I was struck by an image of Punjabi army men and thought it would make great imagery for an India Pale Ale. You’ll see there are rather obvious similarities with the outfit that Miles wears in the label above.

I also actually tasted this brew for the first time in a while. It’s been out of a keg and in bottles for quite some time. I broke out some for sampling Sunday night with a couple of friends. It was much smoother than I remembered. The almost-overpowering flavor of floral and earthy hops had settled down. Also, the aroma was much more pleasant and less vegetal than I remembered. Age in the bottle has served this batch very well. It was delicious.

Another recent label that I rather like is a special label for my coconut-pineapple Witbier. It was brewed to honor the birth of my newest son, Ewan.

Tasty Tidbits

And now a summary of a few other remarkable commercial brews that have found their way to my palate:

  • Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. This brew was almost too bitter. It is unrelenting. It was tasty, but a whole bomber is a little hard to get down the gullet.
  • Ommegang Bière De Mars. A surprise delight. A wonderful Belgian Pale Ale – malty with just the right levels of richness and funkiness.
  • Reunion – A Beer For Hope 2009. This year this beer was apparently brewed by one of my friendly neighborhood breweries: Terrapin. It was a very refreshing brew, though I seem to recall that the big amber rye from last year was better.
  • Harpoon Leviathan Big Bohemian Pilsner. Another surprising delight. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I am sure that what was delivered was great. A very decadent and tasty brew that is perfumy and malty. And really big, too (9% abv).
  • Dieu du Ciel Équinoxe du Printemps. I just polished off 33cl (~11 ounces) of this tonight. It was another tasty offering from Dieu du Ciel. This brewery has got a good track record with me – I’ve liked pretty much all of their beer that I’ve tried. This one was no different.

I still have some more tempting morsels in the cellar, too. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post some notes on Stone’s 13th Anniversary Ale (double IPA), Great Divide’s 15th Anniversary Ale (oak-aged double IPA), Dogfish Head Sah’tea (new interpretation of old world Finnish fermented beverage), or Allagash Confluence (funky Belgian-style specialty brew).

And now for your moment of Zen:

Recently at Hump’s…

We’ve been having some fun around these parts lately. From tasting some amazing beer and enjoying good beer with good company to brewing up some tasty brew, we’ve had a decently full month.

Allagash… And Others

One of the best beers I’ve tried in the past month is “Les Deux Brasseurs” – a collaboration between Allagash and De Proef. The label described it as 100% brett fermentation, and this beer did not disappoint. It was very funky with earthy and acidic qualities – very intriguing. It was an awesome brew from start to finish.

Another Allagash creation I tried recently was a cask-conditioned version of their Curieux at The Porter. I found the bottled version of this brew to be absolutely awesome, so I was a bit disappointed when I tried this interesting-sounding variety. Unfortunately, the cask did little for this beer. The low carbonation and slightly warmer serving temperature made the beer taste too sweet and too alcoholic. I think the lack of suds was the worst. Slightly warmer serving temperatures usually do great things for a beer, but the whiskey quality in this brew is strong enough (from its aging in bourbon barrels) that the warmer temperature mainly accentuates the strong taste of ethanol.

Two other really nice finds this past month include Struise Black Albert – a complex and dry “Belgian” imperial stout – and Victory Wild Devil – an absolutely amazing version of their Hop Devil that is fermented with brett (wild yeast). The Black Albert is good but is probably not really worth the exorbitant price ($13 for a 33cl bottle). The Wild Devil, on the other hand, is worth every single penny I dropped for it. I would (will?) buy another.

I still have some other great brews to get to: Stone 13th Anniversary Ale, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Great Divide 15th Anniversary Ale, and Smuttynose Baltic Porter among others.

The Fellow Homebrewer

This past week, my family was treated by a visit from a friend of mine from high school. He and his wife came over for Thai food and beer. I had him taste the three brews I currently have on tap, and he in return brought some of his own homebrew to taste.

His brews were really good. First up was a Belgian IPA that was very smooth. It didn’t have the harsh bitterness or clashing combo of licorice esters and over-the-top perfumey hops that I’ve found in some examples of this growing niche style. He brought two bottles – the same batch but dispensed from the keg a few months apart. Interestingly enough, the “older” bottle was a little softer with hop flavor and much stronger in peachy esters. Both were good.

The second brew he brought was an amber ale – like a strong and extra rich Irish Red or “80 Shilling” Scottish Ale. I think it was big enough to perhaps be most at home in the style of American Amber, but that style is so broad that it can include some serious west-coast style hop-bomb interpretations… It had an amazingly rich malt character that I’d love to emulate (I asked him for the recipe).

His third brew was another beauty: an 18-month-old Raspberry Imperial Porter. Even after 18 months, it had an intense raspberry aroma and strong flavor, too. The combo of raspberry on the front with bitter chocolate in the finish was really marvelous.

Hump’s Farmhouse Table Beer

Yesterday, some friends came over to brew some beer. We cooked up a low gravity Belgian-style table beer. I actually got wicked efficiency (no doubt because it was such a small amount of grain compared to all of my other recent brews – the weakest of which has been 6.2%), so the beer should end up around 4.0%abv (whereas I originally planned for less than 4). I may “water” it down a little with an orange and lemon peel tea. I meant to add fresh orange and lemon peels to the boil but completely forgot (doh!). After sampling some later this week (once fermentation is complete), I’ll decide if that sort of citrus character would complement/improve the beer.

Hump’s Old Humperdink Barleywine

Next month I will cook up a big, bad-ass American Barleywine. I’ve got a ton of Zeus leaf hops, nearly 20 pounds of malt, and some dry malt extract (to fortify the mash and insure a silly gravity brew – and to use as a yeast starter since I’ll need a really big population of the little boogers to thoroughly attenuate this monster). I’m hoping that this big brew will be drinkable in time for Christmas.

Father’s Day the Hump’s Way

Brewin’ It Up

Today Hump’s celebrated father’s day by making what every dad really wants on this day: awesome beer.

Ahhh… Can’t you almost smell the sweet wort and fresh German Perle hops?

And here we have the spent grains, still sitting in the mash tun, waiting to be pitched into the compost.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good shot of the whole brew stand on this outing. But I did get a snapshot of the stand’s “control center”:

It’s a bit hard to tell, but on the right is a valve to turn on/off the water, and to its left are two valves to turn on/off the propane supply. The top valve controls – you guessed it – the top burner (the hot liquor tank as it’s called), and the bottom valve controls the bottom burner (the kettle).

My brew-stand is fairly bare bones, and I got it at a steal of a price. Doug, the guy who fabricated it and who also happens to own/operate Just Brew It!, has fancier models that include metal/rigid lines for propane integrated with (i.e. welded onto) the brew-stand. My low-budget fastening method involves flexible gas lines and zip-ties, as you can see from the picture.

Daddy’s Day

To celebrate the occasion in style, Malin got me a bottle of 16-year-old Lagavulin. How awesome is that?!

I tried a tiny dram of it side-by-side with the 10-year-old Cask Strength Laphroaig I got for Christmas.

They are both very smoky. When sipped side-by-side, the palate quickly acclimates to the smoke, and you get a lot more nuance from each one.

The Laphroaig is a little warmer – not surprising given its cask strength (55.7% abv). It pours slightly lighter in color with just the slightest hint of green hue. Its flavors feature more peat-moss with notes of salty ocean water and seaweed. The body is fairly velvety with a touch of honey-like maltiness towards the end.

The Lagavulin is smoother and slightly richer. It starts with subtle hibiscus flower and honey up-front and then finishes with touches of dark malt character like slightly overdone toast.

It’s hard to pick a favorite. The Laphroaig is more eccentric and a better value (i.e. a less expensive than Lagavulin). The Lagavulin is more straight-forward. I can certainly see how some may show disdain for the crazy range of flavors in Laphroaig, whereas Lagavulin is more refined and sweeter. They are both very smokey, which I think is why I like them.

As both of these were gifts, I need to keep a good thing going by finding a way to get a bottle of Ardbeg as a gift. That will complete my trifecta of what are generally considered to be the strongest tasting whiskeys available. But I’d just as happily accept any other Islay whiskey – Caol Ila, Bowmore, Bruichladdich…


Last night, after taking the family to a birthday party for a one-year-old, we headed over to a new area near Georgia Tech campus: Brickworks at Midtown West. Therein is a fantastic beer and wine shop named Hop City and, right next door, location #3 for Atlanta’s very own Five Seasons Brewing.

We made a quick dash into the bottle shop to see if there was anything new and found a new variety of Mikkeller Single Hop IPA. Recently, I found three of them in a local shop, and they were all pretty good:

In case you can’t read the labels, the picture features their Cascade, Warrior, and Simcoe single-hop IPAs. The idea is that they use the same recipe for each beer, but use a different variety of hops. Each beer uses one and only one hop variety. The Warrior IPA was my favorite, and I’ll be on the lookout for Warrior rhizomes next year so I can have some of my own.

The new variety that I found last night is, unfortunately, not pictured. It features a variety of hop I’d never before heard of: Nelson Sauvin. After googling it, I found that it hails from New Zealand and supposedly imparts a Sauvignon Blanc grape character to a beer. It didn’t taste like grape to me, but I did notice a slight sourness on top of the usual grassy citrus and pine notes. In any event, a worthy beverage…

After perusing Hop City for new stuff, we went next door for dinner at Five Seasons. My wife and I had mixed impressions of the place. The presentation of their beer sampler was unimpressive and the glasses they used (double-tall shot glasses) are horrible for sampling beer – no aroma escapes the glass geometry which makes everything taste more bland, like tasting a beer with a cold.

Two of the six beers in the sampler were very good: the Venus Belgian White and the Decadent Brown. The others were decent, too, but just not as good. I also tried a pint of their “mild” ale, on cask. It was quite disappointing – too mild in flavor and tainted with a strawberry funkiness.

We had a similar opinion of the food – some bright spots, but not that great overall. The menu looks great – interesting “feasts” (dinners for two), pizzas, small plates, etc. The delivery was a little hit and miss, though.

We ordered a kid’s mac and cheese for our older son, and it came out ridiculously over-cooked. Well, I guess kids like mushy noodles, so I guess we can cut them a little slack here.

For ourselves, we had fried sweetbreads over barley-pearl risotto (not bad; we always appreciate seeing sweetbreads on a menu), lamb tenderloin with rosemary demiglace and smashed potatoes (worst value: small portion, slightly overcooked lamb, too much potato, demiglace was a bit weak), and cajun-style grilled ravioli with andouille sausage and crawfish (my favorite – spicy, very flavorful).

We were then a bit disappointed with the service when presented with the dessert menu. They were pretty much out of everything but failed to mention it when they gave us the menus. We had a frustrating time figuring out what they did have. Their home-made ice cream was good, and the fruit was ripe and sweet. The pecan tart – called Coca-Cola Rum Pecan Tart – was too dry, and had not even a hint of rum-and-coke flavor (which I was hoping for given the name). My wife really enjoyed the flourless chocolate cake.

All in all, it was a bit of a mediocre visit. The price was too high for the quality of food and service. The other Five Seasons locations are usually highly rated, so perhaps this new location just hasn’t gotten into its groove yet. There are also many other types of food on the menu. So we’ll probably return and see if we don’t have a better experience. But unless either the beer or food is really great next time (hopefully both), we may not return for a trip #3 since The Porter and The Bookhouse Pub are so close to that part of town…

Did someone say Piña Colada?

Welcome to the World!

Tonight, I added the 1.5 pounds of frozen pineapple and 1.5 pounds of fresh coconut to the Witbier I brewed to celebrate the arrival of our latest son, Ewan.

I was dismayed to see that after almost three weeks in the primary it had only gotten down to about 1.030. I used Saison Dupont yeast (Wyeast 3724), and I’ve heard and read about this yeast doing exactly this. It is very finicky and frequently slows down nearly to a halt, even after a rapid start.

I added the fruit to a clean carboy and decided to go ahead and rack the stuck beer, hoping the extra sugar will help get it going again. As another prod to get it going again, I’ve moved it out of the basement and into the kitchen – which is a good 4 degrees warmer. I’ve read that warming it up near the end of fermentation helps to keep it going – even as high as 85 degrees! So hopefully the shift from 74 to 78 will get it back in gear.

I have to admit that, even grossly under-attenuated, the beer tasted awesome. It was sweet, but the sweetness will go away once it is finished fermenting, so I’m totally stoked about the final result. I just have to be patient and possibly let it sit for several more weeks before it is ready.

By the time it is done, it will be disgustingly hot and sticky here in Georgia. Oh, wait – it already is! In any event, a cold, tropical-cocktail-inspired Belgian Wit will be just what the doctor orders to cool off.

Toucan Stout

Today I nabbed ingredients for our next brew: Hump’s Toucan Stout.  This will be an “Export Stout” – a version of stout brewed for export to tropical markets. It is generally fuller and much, much stronger than a standard “Dry Stout”, and often fruitier, too. The classic example of the style – Guinness Export Stout (not available in the US and not to be confused with Guinness Draught and Guinness Extra Stout which are) – isn’t particularly fruity but is punched up with subtleties of brett fermentation. Or so I’ve read. I’m not sure which markets still get Guinness Export Stout, but I didn’t see it the past two times I looked for it in the UK and Europe.

This brew will be hopped exclusively with German Perle hops, and I’ll be using Wyeast 1187 – an English/British style of yeast known for its complex fruity esters.

Brew day will be this Sunday. The opportunity to brew will be my father’s day gift…


Hump’s is now home to four hop plants. The Chinook plant we started last year is doing really well. It started slow but is a monster now, already covered in spurs.

We added three more this year: one each Centennial, Horizon, and Willamette. I actually bought others and gave the rhizomes to a friend of mine. He had a couple more Willamette (both of which have unfortunately already passed), one Cascade (which may produce grapes since the rhizome was apparently fused to a grape rhizome!), and one Glacier.

I thought the Centennial died, but a little over a week ago it started getting some new growth. The other two new ones, Horizon and Willamette, are doing great – much better than the Chinook did last year when it was fresh in the ground.

Hopefully later this season we can cook up some frighteningly bodacious wet hop ales.

Georgia and Beer

Over the past several months, numerous new breweries have come to the Georgia market: Moylan’s and Bell’s most notably. We’ve had some other new brews popping in here and there, too: Yeungling and New Belgium on the almost-micro-brew-but-not-really front and French Broad (from Asheville, NC) on the authentic micro-brew front.

Last night I was able to try an interesting specialty from Sierra Nevada: Brown Saison. This beer, unlike almost every other Sierra Nevada brew I can remember, was exactly as described. It was Belgian, it was fruity, vaguely Saison-like, and brown in color (though not too dark). It was distinctly missing hops. This from the brewery whose “doppelbock” (Double De-Bock-le) tastes like an American IPA.

I’ve been stockpiling interesting brews from a new beer, wine, and homebrew supply store in the city. The store’s called Hop City. Their homebrew supply selection is weak (but of course I’m spoiled, since Just Brew It is probably the best in Georgia). But their beer selection is phenomenal. Of particular interest: Struisse Black Albert and Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. I’ll post reviews once I try them. I’m quite excited about both of them (and about numerous other bottles hiding out in the stash downstairs).

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