Growing Hops, the Easy Way

What I love about this hobby is that you can expend as much energy and money as you want. Or as little as you want. Or, you can start simple, and get more complex over the years. If you’re thinking about growing hops, here’s my advice: Get your favorite hop rhizome, put it in the dirt, and let it grow. Around September or so, when the hop is big and slightly dry but not brown, pick them, and throw them in a beer you’re making. That’s called a ‘harvest’ ale. Or, dry them out, and store them in airtight bags in the freezer. That’s pretty much my hop growing and harvesting process. It’s easy, fun, and saves significant money (hops are the most expensive ingredient).

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front yard, growing on a string

The hop plant, it’s important to remember, is essentially an invasive vine. It will grow all by itself, thank you very much. It will not only grow, but will grow vigorously and fast, and get bigger each year. So I don’t feed them special stuff, or worry too much about watering them (although I occasionally do). I did build a simple little box for them, which keeps the plant and soil contained. But a pile of dirt would work just as well. They also like to climb up strings, but that’s also optional. I’ve heard of people letting them grow like a giant bush. As you can tell from the picture, I train them to climb up strings, first vertical strings and then horizontal.

When September rolls along, and feel them with my fingers. If they are slightly dry, and have a subtle newspaper crunch when I squeeze them, I go ahead and pick (it’s tempting to pick them too soon, so that’s something to worry about). If you want to save them for later, I dry them in a food dehydrator for a few hours or so. Although a similar method is to place them on a screen of some sort (like a window screen), and let them naturally dry out for a few days. I have done that in my garage with success.

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my dad gave this to me as a gift, perfect application

Because you don’t know the alpha acids in your homegrown hops, it might be a good idea to dry hop with them. That way you get all the flavor and aroma without the bitterness. When it comes to DIY projects that make sense, this one is a no-brainer.

Have fun!

Beer 25: Belgian Golden Strong, 25 m boil, with Vitality Starter

This was a clone recipe from Avery Brewing’s “Salvation”, a Golden Strong Ale. My first attempt at the style, and my first attempt at a new technique (more on that later) – and this beer appears to be really good. At least, that’s what several of my homebrewing friends have told me, and I trust their palates much more than mine. I should note that I’m still very knew at brewing and at tasting different styles, so I refer to my local homebrew club for advice. So, not knowing what a Golden Strong is supposed to taste like, I thought I had detected a little corn, which is considered an off-flavor. However, all my homebrew friends said it was on point, on style, and tasted good, which made me happy. I also tried a a commercial example, and it tasted exactly like mine. This is a simple, highly drinkable, high alcohol beer. You get a little banana and clove from the yeast, but not much; you get the ‘graininess’ from the malt, and it’s shockingly smooth going down. This is a dangerous beer to drink, my friends. I’m not sure what the crystal malts actually did to the beer; it’s certainly not sweet.

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Belgian Golden Strong Ale (5 gal.)
12.6 lb. 2-Row
3 lb. Pilsen (BE)
.6 lb. Caramel/Crystal 20L
.6 lb. Caramel/Crystal 10L
1.2 lb. Corn Sugar (@ flame out)
——————-
2 oz. Sterling (@ flame out)
2 oz. Fuggle (@ flame out)
——————-
Abbey Ale Yeast (liquid, with vitality starter)

So the process with this beer was pretty standard. I started with 8 gallons of water, heated the water quickly to 149.5F mash temperature. I soaked the barley for 30 minutes, stirring several times during the mash. I crushed the barley fine for greater efficiency. After 30 minutes of soaking, I went ahead and squeezed the bag of barley, discarded it, and quickly got to a boil. Because of the low bitterness, I only boiled for 25 minutes. I also decided to only add hops at flame out, which gave me a pleasantly low amount of bitterness. I used a wort chiller for about 7-8 minutes, which lowered the temperature to about 120 degrees, and then put the hot, unfermented beer in a freezing cold upright freezer to finish off. One hour, 30 minutes exactly. After about 4 hours of passively chilling, the beer was at 73F – close enough for me to pitch the yeast and let the temperature ride to my desired fermentation temp of 70F. With Belgian beers, I like to ramp the temperature up during fermentation, so two days after brewing I ramped up to 75F, and two days after that, 80F. As usual, when fermentation was complete, I cold crashed, added gelatin, and bottled. As usual, I never had to move the pot of beer throughout the entire process.

Oh wait. I forgot to talk about the yeast.

‘Vitality’ starter is a concept I got from brulosophy.com, where admittedly all my ideas come from (except for One Pot Brewing, that’s mine). Instead of making a traditional starter two or three days in advance, which involves planning, equipment, and time; with a vitality starter, the goal is to wake up the yeast up on the same day you are brewing. It gets the yeast horny and ready to go. Right up my alley. Here’s my interpretation. After mashing, I filled up a few sanitized glass jars with hot wort. Then, after cooling to around 70F, I put the yeast (in this case, Abbey liquid) into one of those jars, saving the others for future batches. I simply let the yeast sit in the jar full of wort until it was time to pitch, about 5 hours later. Did it work? I think so. The next morning I noticed a nice foamy krusen starting, something I am not used to with liquid yeast. Liquid yeast, having far fewer cells than dry yeast, is the only reason I would use this method, especially using liquid yeast with high alcohol beers.

 

Beer 24: Dry Hopped Belgian Tripel

Another solid beer from my silly little system. Honesty, after 24 drinkable, decent beers – some better than others, but all just fine – I don’t consider this an ‘experiment’ anymore. One Pot Brewing is a way to make good beers fast and easy. Anyway, the idea for this particular beer was really simple: a nice Beglian Tripel with a little Centenial dry hop character. And that’s pretty much it. It’s not the best beer I’ve had, and improvements could be made, but I enjoyed drinking it. And yes, it’s gone, so I have to remember what it tasted like. At first I thought it had a touch of cider, possibly due to stressing the yeast, and there might be some truth to that, but I think I was confusing that with a slight tinge from the hops – something I’m not used to tasting in a Tripel.

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When it comes to the yeast, I took advice from Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes, a book I’ve been getting a lot of recipes from lately. He says to use a Beglian Strong Ale yeast, as opposed to the traditional Monastery or Abbey yeast for a Tripel. Based on this beer I would have to disagree. The yeast is too subdued.

This recipe is purely from memory. I went into my garage today and realized I had erased the recipe from my white board. Yeah, I’m getting sloppy, but that’s my style, so whatever. I’m two batches ahead right now, so this beer is dead to me.

Dry Hopped Belgian Tripel
10 Ib. 2-Row
3.5 lb. Pilsen (BE)
.5 lb Belgian Aromatic
1.5 lb. Corn Sugar (FO)
————–
2 oz Sterling (FO) 30 minute boil
2 oz Fuggles (FO)
—————–
Abbey Ale Yeast (liquid)

I’m pretty sure I did a 30 minute mash, 30 minute boil (or less), no aeration before pitching, no starter, and the partial chill method (using a wort chiller to get to about 110 degrees or so).

My next beer with showcase a new method for me: the ‘vitality’ starter method. Stay tuned.

 

Using a Wort Chiller with One Pot Brewing

While my method doesn’t require extra stuff, it’s certainly compatible with it. Like a manufactured home, upgrade according to your taste and budget. For most brewers, a wort chiller is a required piece of equipment. It quickly gets the unfermented beer cold enough to add yeast, thus reducing the risk of infection and moving on with the process. But, since they are expensive and not absolutely necessary for brewing good beer, I never took the plunge. From the beginning, I chilled in my bathtub, which works just fine, although it’s not the cleanest environment in the world. Recently, after getting a fermentation fridge that gets really cold, I decided to stop chilling altogether, using a no chill method: simply throw the hot unfermented beer in the fridge for 18 hours and then add the yeast. This also seems to work just fine. But, especially with an old fridge, it takes a while. The main drawback with no chill, however, is hoppy beers. IPAs can come out too bitter. For me, that’s a problem because I make a lot of them.

Enter wort chiller.

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So I borrowed my friend’s wort chiller, just to experiment with yet another method for chilling: the partial chill method. If you’re a rabid fan of brulosophy.com like me, you might be familiar with how it works. Basically, you chill the beer to 100F, or 80F, or whatever temp you want (depending on the season), and then you let it finish chilling in the fermentation chamber. After trying it on my latest two batches, I really like this idea. It sounds more complex than it really is. It’s fast, convenient, and consistent with quality brewing practices. I adds only about 7 minutes to the brewday, and cleaning literally takes a minute.

Yesterday, for example, I brewed a Belgian Golden Strong Ale in exactly 1 hour, 31 minutes, while my 2 year old son was taking a nap. 30 minute mash, 25 minute boil, chilled for about 7 minutes or so, had the fermentation chamber set to -10C, and let the beer finish chilling for a few hours in the fermentation chamber before pitching the yeast. That’s what I love about One Pot Brewing: at the drop of a hat, providing you have ingredients on hand, you can simply brew a beer and get on with your day.

Beer 23: Almost Flawless IPA

Huge hop aroma notwithstanding, this is a near perfect IPA (in my humble opinion). It compares with New Belgium’s Rampant IPA, one of my favorites. The key, I think, is a slightly complex malt profile, a hint of sweetness in the nose, and a soft bitterness which makes it very drinkable, and a big double layered hop flavor. The flavor is excellent, owing to large amounts of Centenial backed by Cascade (one of my favorite combos).

Another difference is yeast. As I look through my brewing notes, I realize that every time I used San Diego Super yeast I made an incredible IPA. Coincidence? Probably not. Damn you brulosophy.com! I do think the San Diego Super yeast makes a difference, but I can’t explain what exactly that is. I hate to say it, actually, because it’s drastically more expensive than the cheap pink packets of Safale-05 yeast. I think Marshall Scott from brulosophy.com is right when he says that San Diego makes the IPA more interesting, complex, and malty; as opposed to the ‘punch in the face’ hop forward beer produced by the typical California Ale yeast (or US-05). However, I do wonder if hop aroma is effected negatively by San Diego. With 7 ounces of dry hops, I would like to think this beer would have a giant hop aroma. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s pleasant with a slight sweetness that makes you think of the malt and alcohol.

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IPA (6 gal.)
Sat. June 11, 2016
10.3 lb. 2-row
4 lb. Maris Otter
3 lb Munich
(40 minute mash at 147)
————
2 oz. Centenial FWH (30 minute boil)
1 oz Centenial FO (used a Wort Chiller)
5 oz Centenial DH (3 days)
2 oz Cascade DH (3 days)
——————–
San Diego Super Yeast and Safale 05

6/11: started with 8 gal. water, used culligan filter attached to potable hose, added gypsum to water, 40 m mash, 30 m boil, had 7 gallons of water at beginning of boil, put 2 gallons cold water in freezer to add later, used wort chiller for this beer
By 8:24 pm the chilled wort was in freezer. under 2 hour brewday. The new upright freezer is a beast. it gets cold fast. after 6 minutes it was at 36 C. fell asleep and forget to pitch yeast, pitched the next morning.
6/13: noticed fermentation in the morning, white foamy.
6/20: a week later, hydrometer reading says 1.010. added 7 oz dry hops
6/23: three days later, cold crashed. added gelatin the next day
6/27: spigot is clogged with hop junk and sediment. this has happened before. I put the pot at a steeper angle and add more gelatin.
6/28: still clogged a bit. had to suck on the spigot a few times, like a baby sucking a bottle. that worked. bottled 29 22 oz beers.
7/1: almost carbed. tastes great.

My IPA philosophy has come along way. In the beginning, I kept it very simple: 2-row, sugar, and dry hopping with Centenial only. Now I find myself adding a bunch of Munich, some Vienna, Maris Otter, and a little Honey Malt from time to time. Again, I like both methods. Depends what you’re in the mood for.

Procedure wise, I changed things up a bit. First, I used my friend’s wort chiller, which works very nicely with my system. Chilling lasted only 8 minutes or so, followed by using a cold fermentation chamber to complete the job. The brewday was under 2 hours so I’m not complaining. And wort chillers, I noticed, are incredible easy to clean: just spray them off with a hose. Second, I did a ‘diluted’ or ‘concentrated’ wort. I’ve done this many times before a la Charlie Papazian and it makes practical sense. I made about 5 gallons of wort and added about 2 gallons of cold water while chilling. Basically, I turned the beer from a smaller batch DIPA to a larger batch IPA – which is what I was going for. Third, I didn’t use sugar for this one. I wanted it more malty and less dry. It is. Fourth, I did a 40 minute mash, instead of my traditional 30. Not sure that made a difference. Lastly, I used my new upright freezer/fermentation chamber. It was amazing. Not only does it get to freezing temperatures fast (in the summer); not only does it chill the beer fast; not only is it energy efficient. But, most importantly, the shelves are customizable, which allows me to place the beer at the exact height that is perfect for bottling. In other words, the beer never has to move throughout the entire beer making process (chill, ferment, dry hop, bottle).

Beer 22: Another Summer Jalapeno Beer

What we have here is a nice, light, crisp, jalapeno ale. Jalapeno dominates the aroma and flavor, but it’s very drinkable, a balanced bitterness, and the barley has enough complexity to add depth and flavor. The hops are not present. Bell peppers give it a garden-like quality that I don’t think you would get with the jalapenos alone. A good beer.

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If my memory serves, this is the fourth beer I brewed using some combination of peppers, two of which are on this website. Most similar to this one, beer #6 was a summer Jalapeno Beer. It had a big jalapeno aroma and flavor, an earthy garden quality, and a light, crisp malt profile with a hint of sweetness (using Caramel Crystal malt for the sweetness). I noted that two jalapenos didn’t give the subtle burn I was looking for, and that three might be perfect. I was right. The three peppers in this batch gives a nice, subtle, lingering heat that coats your mouth. I also tweaked the barley a bit. I like using Munich and/or Vienna malt for complexity, depth of malt flavor, and a touch of sweetness, rather than using Caramel Crystal altogether. That seems to be a trend right now. But I also threw in a pinch of Honey Malt, just for shits – not sure what that did.

Chipotle makes an excellent beer too. Beer #10 was a Chipotle Golden Ale, which was also delicious, had a great chipotle flavor, but lacked heat as well. My notes say “add jalapenos.” So of course, now we come full circle, and I’m saying to myself: why didn’t I put chipotles in this beer! I think that would be the best combination.

Other possible improvements: a large flame out addition of  citrus or orange hops, like Simcoe. That might be good. Or a more ‘piney’ hop, like cascade or centenial.

As you can tell by my notes below, this was another victory for shitty brewing practices. I mashed only 30 minutes, and boiled for only 35 minutes. No off flavors that I can tell. I also diluted the beer, by adding 1.5 gallons of cold water after the boil. No apparent drawbacks: the bitterness seems spot on to me. Worse, I chilled this beer slowly for apparently two days before pitching the yeast. I remember waking up the following morning: Oh, shit, I forgot the pitch the yeast last night! US 05 did the job, just like it always does (oh, and don’t forget, no yeast starter or agitating the wort before pitching). Life is pretty good.

Pepper Pale (6 gal)
Mon, May 23, 2016 5pm
5.1 lb 2-row (30 min. mash)
4 lb Munich
3.8 lb Vienna
.3 lb Honey Malt
——————-
.5 oz Magnum (35 min. boil)
2 oz. Sterling (flame out, no chill method)
1 oz. Anthium (flame out)
———————-
3 jalapenos, sliced (flame out)
2 green bell peppers, sliced (flame out)
———————-
Safale US-05
——————
Monday, May 23: 30 minute mash, 35 minutes boil
no chill: after boil, added 1.5 gallons of cold water, then let sit outside for 10 minutes, then placed in cold fermentation chamber very hot (69C)
Wed., May 25, morning: beer at 26C (still hot), pitched yeast anyway
Monday June 1st: hydrometer 1.010, cold crashed, sample has nice heat
next day: added gelatin
Thurs, June 2: bottled 38 22 oz bottles (that’s a lot)

New Upright Freezer: the Solution to Bottling from a Fermentation Chamber

My minimalist philosophy of reducing wasted motion has forced me into this purchase (riiiiiight). After much thought and failed attempts to find a cheaper alternative, I finally scrapped my old craiglist fridge/fermentation chamber and replaced it with a new and improved upright freezer/fermentation chamber. This is by far the most expensive piece of brewing equipment I have, and will, buy. But damn it’s nice.

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How did we get here? When I first started homebrewing, I worried too much about fermentation. For good reason. Temperature does matter, and temperature swings matter. I distinctly remember opening a batch of super fizzy, overcarbonated beer. I had been fermenting in the basement: too cold, too slow, a brewer too impatient, leaving an underfermented, fizzy beer. Learning my lesson, I started fermenting in the kitchen, which was probably still too cold in the winter, but an improvement nonetheless – no more fizz bombs. Yet having a fermenting beer in the kitchen is not ideal, or practical, and involved moving the beer too much in my opinion. My ultimate goal was to never move the beer.

Thus, 50 or so batches latter, I got a 30 dollar fridge, rigged it with an STC-1000, put a heat lamp in, and began experimenting with the convenience of temperature control. This was great. I never worried about temperature, I could make excellent Belgians, and I could use it to cold crash. However, I had three problems. First, because it was old, it took forever to get really cold. In the summer, it took days to get to freezing, and was horribly inefficient. Because I was using it to chill my hot beer, that was an issue. Second, the top freezer was unusable dead space. I could barely fit my pot in it, leaving no room to dry hop or add gelatin. Third, it’s too short for bottling. My bottling wand would be too low for comfort. So, when the beer was ready to bottle, I would have to move it to the freezer part. That stirs up the sediment and it’s God damn heavy. If you’re going to have a fermentation chamber, and if you’re going to bottle directly from it, then an upright freezer makes the most sense. It puts the beer at the perfect height for bottling. Continue reading

Beer 21: a tasty Bell’s ‘Best Brown’ Clone

I don’t make Brown Ale’s often. It’s not that I don’t like them – I like them just fine – it’s more that I don’t want to invest the time to make one. I mean, I can only make so many beers in one year; I could be making something epic like an IPA, Belgian Tripel, Barley Wine, or Scotch Ale. However, we are hosting a retirement party for my father-in-law, and this is the perfect beer. When I think of an excellent Brown Ale, I look no further than the largest craft brewery in my state: Bell’s Best Brown Ale (which, by the way, is located about 2 miles from my house). Brown in color, crisp, malty, slight sweetness, clean water profile, burnt caramel notes, toffee, hints of raisin (I made most of that shit up but I think that’s what I’m supposed to say when talking about a Brown Ale). I cannot remember where I got this recipe from – probably a book at the library – but I do remember it was a credible source.

This beer has a phenomenal aroma. The caramel nose is very impressive, actually. The flavor seems spot on. This beer checks all the boxes: malty, slight sweetness, caramel, raisin, toffee, etc. I like it. I think the water profile could be cleaner and crisper but, other than that, I’m not sure how to improve this beer. It’s a nice Brown. I would like to swap out the 2-row with Maris Otter, and see how that tastes. I also wonder what Safale US-04 would taste like, instead of US-05.

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Best Brown Ale Clone
8.5 lb. 2-row
14 oz. Caramel 60L
16 oz. Special Roast
14 oz. Victory
3 oz. Chocolate malt
—————–
.5 oz. Magnum (30 m, 30 minute boil)
1 oz. Fuggle (flame out, no chill)
—————————-
Safale US-05 yeast

May 6th, 2016: brewed 4:00pm
started with 7 gallons of water
mashed for 1.5 hours (picked up Immanuel from day care)
boiled 30 minutues
Let sit on deck for 40 minutes to cool down, then added ice cubes, put in cold freezer/fermentation chamber at 2 degrees C.
6/7: 2:00pm, beer at 75F. 3:00: pitched yeast
6/11: bumped up temperature from 67F to 72F
6/12: hydrometer reading says 1.010
6/15: bottled 26 22 ounce bottles, placed in 70F closet to carbonate for a week.

Beer 20: Dry, Bitter Belgian IPA

The concept for this beer was a hybrid of my two favorite beers: IPA and Belgian Tripel. The recipe can from Gordon Strong’s new recipe book. This is a good beer, and it came at the perfect time, as I was craving an IPA and Belgian Tripel, all at the same time. However, the beer’s not exactly what I expected, especially looking at the recipe. Clearly this is due to method, which I’ll talk about. What I really wanted and expected was a nice, dry, Belgian Tripel with a huge hop aroma and flavor. What I got is basically a Belgian Strong Ale with some bitterness and lemony hop flavor. Definitely not bad, and very drinkable, as any Belgian should be.

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Belgian Tripel IPA
8.5 lb. Pilsner malt (Belgian)
2.8 lb. Vienna malt
2 lb. Cane Sugar
————–
2 oz. Denali hops (FW, 30 min.)
3 oz. Denali (FO, no chill)
3 oz. Denali DH (3 days)
WLP 545 Belgian Strong Ale Yeast
——————
4/16: brewed, took about 2 hours, no chill
4/17: 1:00 pitched at 75F
4/23: hydrometer reading 1.010 (sample tasted very bitter)
4/24: 1.008 (tasted less bitter) noticed slight sulfur smell, decided to let clean up for a couple days
4/26: Dry hopped 3 oz Denali
4/30: bottled 30 22 oz. beers

Why is this so bitter? Probably because of the ‘no chill’ method. The combination of high-alpha hops added at the end of the boil (flame out) with the no chill method added more bitterness than I wanted. With no chill, you have to be careful with the flame out hops; they continue to extract bitterness as they sit. The bigger mystery is why this beer doesn’t have a hop aroma. With three ounces of Denali dry hops, there should be a better aroma. Or, perhaps Denali isn’t good for aroma? I’m not sure. In hindsight, I would probably go with Simcoe instead.