Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Hops of the 2009 Harvest

This past Sunday, I hand plucked about 10% of the hops off the lower portion of the bines from my Fuggles hill. These were the oldest and most ripe hops, having set the spurs in early June. They were feeling papery, and the tips of the petals were beginning the brown. These were certainly the runts of the bunch, and I'm thinking the incredibly cool, rainy and cloudy June and July we had here in Boston contributed to the scrawny first harvest. The remaining hops at the top of the bines are easily 2-4 times larger and more robust looking than the ones picked in this first harvest. Nevertheless, I proceeded, figuring that I'd gain some drying experience, including some expectation of what the yield will be, comparing the wet + dry weight.

Pre-drying weight, I had ~10ounces of wet hops, and after 2 days drying, this was reduced 2.55 oz. I set up the hops in a perforated metal basket that came with my 7.5 gallon stainless turkey fryer, and put a small fan underneath to keep good airflow. This rig was set in the bedroom that has constant A/C going, so a very low humidity level. During the drying period, the smell was more green, vegetal, and chlorophyll-y. Maybe a touch of subtle hop aroma hanging in the background. Definitely disappointing, but I'm still hopefully that the cones left on the bines will be of better quality.

And if worse comes to worse, maybe I can just use these definitely low AA% and low aroma hops in a sour, or maybe an experimental hop tea with a coffee press for an attempt at a post fermentation hop addition.

There is definitely some bitterness, aroma and flavor there, as after I packed the hops, there was what appeared to be quite similar to an early June white pine tree and oak like pollen crust on the inside of the stainless bowl. Not pollen, as these are female flowers...these are lupulin granules. When I brushed this yellow dusting with my finger, the granules smeared like a dry, but oil filled dust. I dared to taste it, and ...yep, there's a little bit of bitterness, as pathetically un-obtrusive as it should be, having rubbed pure lupulin on my tongue (even if it isn't isomerized).

I stuffed them in to a gallon ziplock bag after weighing, amazed at how much volume a mere 2.5oz takes up before compression or pelletizing. I zipped the seal about 95% closed, then pressed air out slowly, then rolled the bag out to squeeze just as much air out of the bag as I possibly could.

So, it was still fun to pick my own (pitiful) hops, and hope for better things. If nothing else, I can certainly take solace in the fact that I know that in the future I'll get a really good yield from this hill, and the other 1 year old hills that are building root systems this season. And maybe I turned someone on to the homebrewing culture, after answering questions multiple times , after passers-by were halted in their tracks at the Fenway Victory Garden, aroused by the curiousity of the odd looking climbing vines...er, bines


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wood beer cases: Image transfer, bumble+pot&kettle

Some pictures from today
J and I found that we needed to dip the bottlecap a couple times, so the teeth didn't show through the wax too prominently. The wax seemed to coat much much thinner, requiring three dips vs two, when it was fresh out of the microwave (hot) vs. cooled a bit to room temp.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stonginton Pale Ale: First Tasting

At last, the final test bottle of the wedding beers has been cracked, and the good news is...it is downright tasty. The Stonington Pale Ale is my first stab at the APA style, but I gotta say, it is right on the mark. The beautiful orange color, a bit hazy from the hops. Nice sticky creamy head, stands about two inches, and clings to the glass. Grapefruit/tangerine on the nose and taste, with just a touch of pine/resin, and a clean crisp mouthfeel. Very dry, just a little sweetness, but this beer won't leave you feeling full...you'll want another one. The clean bitterness comes in at the end, snapping the palate shut. I was concerned about the Zeus adding a harshness, but my fears have been quelled. I project the maltiness may come out a bit more in the next few weeks of conditioning in the temp controlled bedroom, but the hops are just where I want 'em.

A few seconds after the swallow, you find yourself wanting that next mouthfull. This ale is just south of an IPA, in the west coast style in the bitterness and abv department, it should be quite the hit with the beer fans at the wedding.


I also stuck on the labels that arrived from sheetlabels.com while I was in Europe two weeks ago. Very happy with them, terrific print job, and the waterproof ink and adhesive will stand up to the ice bath these beers will be subjected to at the wedding. Here's a little shot of the newly branded bottles standing proudly on their matching Stonington Pale Ale wood beer case.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wood beer cases: Another Production Update

As I set up the kitchen counter to begin the image transfers on to the Stonington Pale Ale wood beer cases, Esther cracked a 1 1/4 year old breakfast stout tonight. While I don't have the record of the recipe in my notes, I do remember this was one of my first partial mash batches, where I used 1lb of oatmeal, 3 or 4 lbs of 2 row, probably ~2lbs of various roasted specialty grain, 6lbs of dark LME (ducks for cover), and British ale yeast. Aged on ~6oz of cracked coffee beans in the secondary for 1 month. And sitting quietly, covertly, undisturbed underneath several cases of empty bottles. I mistook the bottom case to be also empty, having thought the last bottle breakfast stout was consumed over 6 months ago. What a happy find.

So, yes, Esther cracked that bottle tonight. Y'know...to help complete the quest for five cases worth of empty 12oz longneck brown beer bottles needed to bottle the pale ale this Friday. But, the stout is now in its prime, any harshness that was present in the earlier part of its life, is now completely mellowed out to satisfying and rich, but smooth roasted stout goodness. Beautiful cappucino colored head that falls to a small, but tight creamy cap. Beautiful stuff, even at the end of a hot August day.

Anyway, back to the reason I'm posting tonight...the image transfers. I didn't know how long the blender pen would last, but tonight, I found out...it lasted for what would be the equivalent of 4 cases, or 8 relatively large transfers. So, we'll have to go out and get more to finish the rest of the cases (9 more!? ...sheesh, who's idea was this anyway), but I hope you'll agree, the results are exactly what I was hoping for. Took me ~1.5 hours to do the cases tonight, but that included stopping for dinner, unpacking and repacking the cases w/ bottles, a moment or two for some admiration, and the vastly improved photo snapping (more on that later).

Labels: final designs

These are the final label designs, that were sent to the printer.
Just some minor tweaks, re-wording, layout to fit templates/full bleed, etc. fr0m the last iteration.

Labels-ordered from sheet-labels.com

Just uploaded the label artwork files to www.sheet-labels.com, I should have them in my hot hands by next week.

Kinda expensive on a per label basis, but the printed samples they sent to me really sealed the notion that they are commercial quality, and will be perform as needed in the wedding day ice bath.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kate the Great (redux: the first pour, 2009)

Keeping it liquid

After considering and comparing the merits and disadvantages of dry vs liquid yeasts from the homebrewing perspective, I decided to post on BA to open a quick dialogue, hoping to understand a bit more why there are a limited selection of (relative to liquid) pedestrian, but extremely convenient and inexpensive dry yeasts available.

Here's that discussion.

Just received a corroborative response from Wyeast yesterday:


There are two primary reasons why we don't offer dried yeast, the first
being that it is very hard to keep a culture pure when putting it
through the drying process, and we pride ourselves on offering an
absolutely pure culture to our customers. The other reason is the stress
that is placed on the yeast when it is dried would turn the bulk of our
liquid strains into a yeast that would give you horrible results from
poor performance of off flavors. Dried yeast has to actually be reverse
engineered so that the end product gives you an adequate result, and
that process is very time consuming and expensive. I hope this helps a
little, please let me know if I can be of further assistance.


Brian Perkey, Customer Service Manager
Wyeast Laboratories, Inc.
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