Recently I stopped by a convenience store to buy a six pack of beer. I drink good beer, I’m about the full experience; taste, aroma and not just to cop a buzz. So, only craft beers pass my lips and they aren’t cheap at over ten bucks in this case. The beer that caught my eye was an IPA from the granddaddy of the craft beer movement Anchor Brewing. In case you are not aware of Anchor Brewing it was a funky old brewery in San Francisco that had been founded in the late 1800s. It was purchased by Fritz Maytag of the Maytag appliance family, in the late 1960s. I first became aware of Anchor beer when I opened my grandfather’s fridge in the ‘70s to find a six pack of Anchor Steam Beer. Steam beer is a style that became popular during the California gold rush when beer was brewed in less than stellar conditions. Because of this the beer would explode out of the keg with force. Since this was also the height of the Steam power era the term; “Steam” was applied to this style. Anchor has copyrighted the term Steam Beer so you won’t be seeing any other commercial “Steam” Beers. However the Steam beer style has another name, California Common. This is basically beer brewed with lager yeast at ale temperatures.
By the sixties beer was becoming bland and fairly hard to tell apart, Anchor Steam was the first to break that trend and bring back flavorful beers of times past. They brought back India Pale Ale with their Liberty Ale, their first Christmas offering. Now they have a Christmas ale that uses secret spices that subtly changes every year. I have a friend that treated me to Anchor Christmas ales that he had saved over the years, an amazing blast to the past. Anchor also brought back the Porter a style that had all but disappeared. They were the pioneers that opened up the frontiers of beers of substance that had almost gone the way of the dinosaurs. Now they flourish with more styles to delight the soul and taste buds. Within a decade of Anchors appearance a California Senator, Alan Cranston legalized home brewing of beer. This ushered in a new wave of interest in beer not allowed in sixty years since prohibition.
One of the many reasons that I home brew is that it is cheaper to brew your own beer, but it does take time and patience something many of us don’t have in this day and age. I once calculated that I could brew 10 gallons of my lightest beer for under twenty dollars, that was years ago and I haven’t recalculated. Think of it though that’s eighteen six packs for twenty dollars comes to $1.11 a six pack. While there are other costs involved such as time and energy, but, you have to agree, that is quite a savings.
Recently I attended a meeting of my home brewing club the Sonoma Beerocrats. The club had recently purchased a water test kit that is for home brewers to test the water that they brew. That talk was presented and beer poured by Mike Kelly and Kevin Teel. Mike did an excellent job of pointing the importance testing the brewing the brewing water and how certain aspects of water can complement or detract from the quality of the beer you brew. Things like alkalinity, ph., water hardness, chlorine and other things water picks up on its way to the tap. I learned long ago the water is nature’s perfect solvent and will absorb almost anything it runs into. The options are to use Reverse Osmosis water or Distilled or Ionized water which is as devoid of contaminants. The downside is that buying and transporting enough water for brewing is an arduous task lugging over ten gallons for brewing as Kevin Teel stated. The cost of an RO system or a distiller can be prohibitive as well as the time effort to process the water.
There are ways of crafting your existing water to meet the needs of the style of beer you are brewing that are simple. However, it takes knowing what your water has in order to bend it to your needs. This is where the water test comes in. The club purchased a LaMotte Water Analysis kit for Home brewers with a ph. tester that Mike was very pleased with. After the talk various members submitted their water for testing. I’ve always felt that my water was good enough as is because it comes from a spring. After listening to a couple of club water talks I’m beginning to consider taking on yet another task when I brew beer. What was reassuring was to hear Mike Kelly say that even after reading the leading books a hundred times he didn’t understand it all. He understands enough because he makes great beer.
I’m looking forward to have my water tested soon so I can see where it stands in terms the styles that I like to brew. So far the assumption is that my water is hard which is conducive to brewing dark beers. Which must be true because I get rave reviews on my dark beers. But then again folks tend like most of beers depending on their preference. Still it would be nice to know now that I know how important the water is to brewing. Hopefully I will be reporting the results of my water’s test results. Cheers!
Last I wrote I was feverishly working on my garden, battling Bermuda grass and reviving hops and asparagus. The battle overcame my writing time due to exhaustion, I did a lot of digging, digging out Bermuda grass rhizomes, asparagus crowns and hops. The Bermuda grass is an ongoing battle with hope I just have to keep at it. The asparagus and hops seem to be revived. No sooner had Summer arrived that I discovered that roots had choked my septic system. There seems to be a theme here, roots, digging deep and getting to the root of the problem. Can you dig it? After this summer I sure can, but a back hoe is looking like a good investment.
In spite of the detours, I found time for brewing endeavors though not as much as I hoped. The Imperial Stout was bottled and shared with friends with rave reviews. I brewed a simple all extract recipe that has yet to be bottled, perhaps I’ll find the time soon. I did make the effort to attend a beer club meeting last week on the Kolsch style of beer by Joe Hansen-Hirt whose enthusiasm of brewing I enjoy. His presentation did not disappoint. As with most presentations dealing with beer styles there is an overview and history of the style, sampling of commercial examples of the style with commentary and critiques. Then Joe presented his examples of his Kolsch styles beers as did others.
My take on the Kolsch style is that it is a light pilsner like ale, a quaffing beer one that you can drink a few of without dire consequences like some of the more popular ales like IPAs. This is what inspired Joe to pursue this style, that is served in its own special 200ml glass so it stays cold. It is also served fresh not more than a month old . Cami Kent brought a generous helping of beer brats along with at least two styles of potatoes to complement the featured beer .Cami hoped that this would start a trend instead of the usual pizza. A smart move since pizza might not pair with every beer style despite its reputation for pairing with most.
The next meeting that I plan to attend is about water as it pertains to beer. Water chemistry is an integral part of brewing as brewers have generally tended to brew beers that complement the chemistry of the water. I learned from e Bryon Burch that dark beer tended to tended to be brewed where the water is hard. Apparently my water is hard and since my dark beers tend to get noticed I’d say there is a connection. See you soon.
One of the most important aspects of home brewing for me is the fact that it is a skill that allows me the ability to make one of the most satisfying beverages known to man. Taking this a little further, if there were no place to buy beer I could still enjoy it. I have always had an interest in self-sufficiency and part of this is having a garden. Right now I grow over a 100 lineal feet of hops along the fence of the garden, space that would otherwise go to waste. The most important part of beer, where the sugar for fermentation comes from, barley is something I have actually grown. However, I’ve never done the processes that convert the barley to malted barley. It is something I’ve wanted to try, but just haven’t felt I had the time to do it, besides it’s too easy to buy already malted barley. But, what if it wasn’t available? Well then game on! I have an article that details the steps and homemade apparatus to make malted barley. Basically it is like sprouting any seed like alfalfa only on a larger scale. Once the roots get to certain length the sprouting grain is kilned to stop the germination. It’s that simple but another step that is just a little too time consuming in today’s modern world. But if all that were gone then there would be nothing but time.
Now back to the garden which is reserved for the growing of food: asparagus, artichokes, chard, beans, corn, eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, raspberries and much, much more. While it is time consuming it is immensely satisfying to know that rather than solely relying on the super market we can go out to the garden and harvest what is available. Want chives for the potatoes? Bingo! All it takes is a walk out the back door to harvest artichokes, or chives, lettuce, chard and other staples that would cost a small fortune at the store. All of this is just a stone’s throw from the kitchen, talk about convenience. Ok, there is a cost to this and it is something we all seem to want to run from, it is a bit of work. Strangely, I have found the physical work that I once disdained, incredibly satisfying, I almost can’t believe it.
I have gone into full combat mode in the garden to eradicate an invader that threatens the entire garden: Bermuda grass. Makes a lovely water resistant lawn, but turn a blind eye and it will entwine your hops, asparagus and anything else with its alien like roots. I’ve had to dig up my seventeen year old asparagus bed and replant because the Bermuda grass roots were so embedded with the asparagus crowns. One of my hop varieties about the same age stopped producing a few years back. I dug those up too and replanted. The last few weekends I’ve been removing the luxurious lawn that was the garden path because it was the hotbed of Bermuda grass insurgency. I have to say that it is sad to trade lawn for dirt path, but Bermuda grass is not something you can let creep in like racism, hate or corporate greed. At least I can do something about Bermuda grass.
On Saturday May 3 Home brewers across the World in 49 States and 14 countries simultaneously brewed 17,000 gallons of beer at 383 events with 8500 participants in Celebration of National Homebrew Day. In 1988, May 7 was announced before Congress as National homebrew Day a decade after home brewing was again made legal by President Jimmy Carter signing into law California Senator Alan Cranston’s bill to legalize home brewing. The American Home brewers Association created the big brew as an annual event to celebrate National Homebrew Day on the first Saturday in May. Anyone can host and register a Big Brew event, even Homebrew Shops.
I attended my first event this last Saturday at The Beverage People in Santa Rosa with my club The Sonoma Beerocrats. There were three Brewers: Nancy Vineyard, Co-founder and Co-owner of the Beverage People, Ron Slyh, president of the Beerocrats and myself Steve Lundborg of howdoyoubrewbeers.com. There were four other Beerocrats brewing beer at home at the same time we were brewing at The Beverage People, too bad we didn’t have a simulcast to link us all together. I brought my brewery and equipment to the beverage People the only one to do so and I understand why. While it was a lot of time and effort and trouble, (my brewery didn’t fit in my camper shell so I had to use me older truck) it was very rewarding to mingle and meet new people despite the chaos that comes with such an outing. I had never brewed away from home so the comfort of knowing where everything was and having a set routine was absent.
Each of us that brewed used a recipe from top award winning recipes, I chose the all grain Imperial stout that the brewer had featured his own home grown hops Chinook and Kent Golding’s. I have quite a few bags of vacuum packed Chinook hops stored away so I used those my Kent Golding’s never produce so I had to purchase those. The Imperial Stout had such a huge grain bill I stuck with the 5 gallon recipe. To say that the brew went smoothly would not be the truth, however it was a successful brew. I ended up wort and it is fermenting, that is success at this point, even better is that it tastes good, when done. The best part of the event was sharing information and connecting with other brewers. I was able to reconnect with someone who was instrumental in my Understanding all grain brewing.
When the day was done and the equipment was packed in the truck, I realized that the most important part of the day was sharing with each other our passion for brewing. I got more out that few hours of contact with other people interested in brewing than I have in last decade of brewing at home. So it was a little distracting, but so rewarding to connect with other likeminded folk, something I haven’t done much of, and I’m changing, happily I might add.
For the past four years, one of my most prolific Hop varieties Nugget has been in decline in my hop yard. Usually the first to shoot out of the ground and produce mass quantities of hop cones, it is still the first out of the ground, but then peters out and produces a small amount of cones, not enough to produce a batch of beer. The first question asked when I tell my tale of woe is “Well, How old are they?” MY reply is that I think about 12 to fourteen years old. The usual conclusion is that they need to be replanted. Another is that the mysterious illness that wiped out the hop crop in Sonoma County, where I live is the culprit. The Chinook variety a high alpha acid hop that I use in my IPA recipes, is late to appear and then bursts into bloom, handily the top producing variety that I have. My Cascades the aromatic and most widely used of my hops have begun to show signs of the same decline as the Nuggets.
As I started to dig out the Nuggets it became clear as to what might be going on, the first insertion felt like I was going into solid wood. It was very close it turned out to be a thick mat of roots, which took some effort to rip out. The older roots were about an inch in diameter with some rot in the center, Aha! This is proof that the plants were tired and root bound, as well competing with other weeds Bermuda grass, black berries etc. The soil was heavy clay not nice loamy drainable soil. So I dug out the first 12 inches of old soil from a two foot wide by 16 foot long trench. Then I filled it with a purchased garden soil mix that has more potash and potassium than Nitrogen. To that I added back a wheel barrow load of horse manure and a few shovelfuls of the original soil. Then I added some mineral and planted what appeared to the healthiest of the cuttings that I had pruned form the mass of roots. After three days only one the eight cuttings looks like they won’t make tithe other sixty or so cull tings I stuck in the dirt pile I dug form the trench at least half of them are looking good. So I will be curious as to how the experiment proceeds. Most likely I won’t know until next year whether my hunches are right.
What I do know in conclusion that more diligence on my part with feeding and caring for the hops is what is needed now to insure a steady supply of wet hops for my beer. A Japanese pioneer in permaculture said that the best fertilizer is the Farmer’s shadow. So in that vein I’m becoming more vigilant over my hops crop and garden in general. A garden is so magical, a place where the healthiest food is growing footsteps from your door.
Last Saturday, I spent a few hours learning about mini mashing from the fabulous Cami Kent and about the Oatmeal Stout style from the informative Kevin Teel who won Best of Show for his Oatmeal Stout at the California State Competition 2013. Upon entering the Beverage People classroom, I noticed a row of 15 canning jars each filled with water and grain. They were warm to the touch lined up from light to dark. Each jar represented what each specialty malt brings to the mash and or wort. Cami spent the morning blending each of the jars with the same ratio of base malt and water heated to mash temp of 155 degrees Fahrenheit to duplicate an actual mash scenario. Cami began this nano-mashing exbeeriment, as she refers to it to determine the character that each malt would bring to a beer before committing to an entire batch only to find it didn’t work. She also found that this exbeeriment helps fine tune her palate for each of the malts, which in in turn helps her beer judging chops. We were all invited to sample a taste from each of the jars, as Cami answered questions and made additional comments. This kind of interactive learning is what I love about belonging to the Sonoma Beerocrats.
This was only the beginning, next we learned about the Oatmeal Stout Style from Kevin Teel. As with Cami’s talk there was an excellent handout detailing the history of the Oatmeal Stout Style, which used oats for their oily sticky quality that rounded out sweet stouts and availability when other grains ran short. They flourished in the late 18th Century and on through the next being supplanted by milk stouts. This was one of those styles that pretty much died out only to be revived later by a modern brewer, in this case Samuel Smith, which was the first sample we tried because it is considered the bastion of the style. While I don’t remember all of the beers sampled I do remember the Anderson Valley version. Kevin discussed the qualities of each beer as it hit the palette. While I’ve been exposed to this way of sampling beer, it is still new territory for me, like tasting wine and identifying all of the characteristics with descriptive words beyond “Hey, it’s good”. This is something that will undoubtedly change as I become more aware and comfortable with the process. Home brewers tend not to be a snobbish group, quit the contrary they love to share their knowledge. Which is what Kevin did as he discussed his two beers, as we tasted those he dissected them and what he would change or do differently.
Afterwards we tasted a Raspberry Porter made by club president Ron Slyh and Dustin Carver which was then aged for two and half months in a whiskey barrel. It was enjoyable and inspired me to brew a raspberry stout recipe I heard raves about and will certainly be asking for input from Ron and Dustin. Three hours later I left my head swimming with information and good beer.
I read the information in the above link and was shocked at what the commercial breweries have done to our beer, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The ingredient in question is the same one that has sparked controversy in soft drinks and the health issues caused by its use. I’m of course talking about high fructose corn syrup, yes corn syrup not barley which is the traditional grain of choice in beer, unless you’re of Mayan ancestry in South America. The poster child for this travesty was none other Guinness, the Irish stalwart of beer. Most of the other top name breweries are also doing this. Why? Well because it’s cheaper than doing it the tried and true way.
Here’s the real reason you should cringe: Most if not all High fructose corn syrup is made from GMO corn. There has been debate on the safety of GMO corn since the beginning. Some very big and very nasty corporations have committed some heinous acts on farmers and citizens of Earth to promote GMO products. Frankly, I don’t trust them and neither should you. If they had their way the only corn products you could buy consume or grow would be owned by them. There are crops that cannot be replanted from seed saved from the previous crop, because they were genetically modified so the farmer would have to buy seed for every crop. And heaven forbid if some neighboring farmer should have his fields cross pollinated by patented corn. The Corporation will unleash their legal team on the unsuspecting farmer, it has happened.
But I digress, you however have the power if you so choose to use it, to produce your own beer as god or whoever intended it to be. I checked and fortunately Barley is not on the list to become a GMO crop, but I wouldn’t hold your breath as wheat and rice are. The biggest alarm for me is that corn sugar is what I’ve used to prime bottled beer and is listed as an ingredient in a beer recipe that I would like to include in a beginner’s book I’m writing. The reason for using corn sugar instead of cane sugar is due to the fact that cane sugar imparts a cidery taste to beer whereas corn sugar has a neutral taste. Unfortunately, corn as a crop has a 90% or better crop domination of being GMO. OK, so use barley instead of corn sugar. I personally like to brew beer with all barley malt, I think it tastes noticeably better. And after what I’ve read I might start growing and malting my own barley.
I finally kegged one of my favorite beers, a Porter, between all of the chores I have going on, with spring like weather prompting plant to grow and garden chores now on the list. This recipe called “Entirely Yours” was crafted by Paddy Giffen while he worked at the Beverage people. It is a robust yet balanced brew that calls on five malts for the delicate flavor profile. There is something hearty about this beer that became evident when compared with Budweiser’s porter which paled in comparison. This beer is also my wife’s favorite beer of the four that brew regularly. Two of those recipes were developed by Paddy Giffen, a master at formulating beer recipes according Byron Burch. This two beers always get noticed, once at a beer festival a renowned brew guru wanted to talk to me about the beer, but alas we never connected. I once received a nice note from a professional brewer who tasted the porter who left a note it said Good Job! Which was very nice to hear from a skilled professional, but I have to credit the recipe creator. I merely cooked it up. With the right recipes and instruction you too can brew excellent beer.
Today was a typical Monday squared, daylight savings, the twice yearly bane of my existence as I must change every device that is related to time at work; clocks, thermostats and timers. On the plus side were reports and inquiries about the cider. The first was from my associate in the great cider awareness project; who wishes to be anonymous and will be identified as Mr. B. He reports that a neighbor of his is quite fond of the cider, having successfully persuaded my associate to part with a substantial portion of his cider. He keeps asking about the cider and wants to meet the Brewmeister, as Mr. B occasionally refers to me. Fortunately for me, Mr. B has kept my identity as he puts it as mysterious as Kaiser Soze from the movie “The Usual Suspects”, for which I’m grateful, as I just learned that said neighbor was arrested.
At lunch, I saw Frank, to whom I gave a bottle of cider awhile back because he had expressed an interest in brewing. Because I rarely see Frank as he works at a different location, I just happened to have some the cider the last time I saw him. “Hey Steve that [cider] you gave me was really good,” He said with genuine appreciation. Then his tone changed slightly, “it was bitter” he added inquisitively. “It’s supposed to be acidic”, I replied to reassure him that was normal. While that is true, “tart”, would have been the better word. Then he said enthusiastically, “I really liked it, I poured it into a glass and concentrated on it. When I was asked what I was drinking I said it’s something special.” Then he asked me the question I love to hear “you made that”? Yes I did, I replied. Then he asked if I sold it, and expressed a desire to have more. Great compliments, but no I didn’t sell it, too much hassle. Then Frank told me I should follow my passion, which I’m doing by making people happy. His support and kind comments made what had been a trying morning a very distant memory.
An unexpected endorsement came from a British gentleman, whom I respect greatly, who doesn’t drink anymore but was curious about what I had put together when he became aware that I was making cider. He said that he used to enjoy Scrumpy, a British term for craft made cider when he was in Britain. When we ran into each other next, he said he enjoyed the cider and that it was spot on. It was the spot on that caught me, so l told him that I was using a British Cider making manual as my guide to making cider. A week or so later he when he returned the bottle he commented, “It was very good” which he repeated as he left. For me it is satisfying to see folks getting enjoyment from something I produced. It’s not an ego thing it’s more of a gratitude that I’m able to spread a little more joy and happiness on the planet. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do this too?