The Challenge

Milliona Days IPA, Rye-nosaur Porter, and Willie's Scottish Ale
Milliona Days IPA, Rye-nosaur Porter, and Willie’s Scottish Ale

Humbled by our very first all-grain experience we took a few weeks off to recover and brewed a quick partial mash to help rebuild our confidence. During that time we were invited by a friend to join a small local brew club to share, learn, and just “nerd out” about all things related to beer and homebrewing. It was a fun and educational experience. If you’ve never been to one we’d highly recommend it. It was during this meeting that we were introduced to one of the best parts of a homebrew club; the brewing competition.

One thing to keep in mind about Jesse, Dennis, and myself is that we can get pretty darn competitive. Maybe not “trash the board when losing a game of Monopoly” competitive. However, you’d be surprised how intense things get when we’re betting $1 per hole on a par three golf course. It’s not about the prize, it’s about the pride that comes with the victory. So if there was ever a way for us to elevate our brewing prowess, putting a challenge in front of us was definitely the way to do it.

The rules were pretty straight forward; brew any kind of style you want, but it must include at least 5% rye malt. Living on the west coast we figured there were going to be a ton of Pale Ales and IPA’s entered (we were right by the way) so we wanted to try something a little different. During our research we came across a recipe for a Rye Porter which peaked our interest. The three of us love darker English style beers so we developed our recipe and began prepping for brew day.

With the highly coveted prize of bragging rights on the line we were able to shake off our first all-grain experience and approached this brew with laser precision. You can call it skill if you want, but we’re convinced that something else wan, beer, s going on that night because weird things were happening. PH reading? Perfect! Pre-boil Gravity? Perfect! Original gravity after boil? Nailed it! Even our final gravity before bottling was dead on. Everything, literally everything, was bang on. It was an exciting, but weird experience. So far this was the best brew day we’d ever had and, after the first tastes, it turns out it was the best beer we’d ever made. Things were looking good for our first contest submission.

If you’re not familiar with how most beer competitions are scored, feel free to visit the BJCP’s (Beer Judge Certification Program) website. It’s based on a set of guidelines for each beer style describing what the beer should and should not be. In the end your beer is given a score between 1 and 50. Usually a score between 30-40 is considered very good. Anything over 40 is regarded as a world class example of that style. We were all nervous leading up to competition night and, unfortunately for me, I was unable to attend the event (stupid family vacation!). After a few days of vacation, and a great dinner, Brandi and I were winding down for the night when I received a text from Jesse “Awesome event. Porter went over very well. Didn’t win, but it scored a 34!”. This was followed by a few explicits, fist pumps, and big smiles. Not too shabby for our second all-grain ever.

After such a glowing review and constructive feedback, we’ve since tweaked our recipe and it is now quickly becoming our “signature beer”. It also pushed us into asking our selves a question. If we could develop 1 or 2 more exceptional beers, could we make this a business? If so, what would those other beers be?

Stay tuned for those answers and more in our next post!

Adventures In All- Grain

First ever beer brewed? Check. Second beer brewed properly? Check. Legendary home-brewing status achieved? Not even close. Time to play with the big boys and brew our first all-grain!

Before we got too far into our first all-grain brew, we delayed the brew date a little longer so that we could do some proper research on what it was we were actually supposed to be doing. There was a lot more to know this time around and we were being extra causious. We learned our way around a mash tun and plate chiller we’d borrowed (again, THANKS JACK!!) and even ventured into constructing our own recipe. We’d also spent countless hours reading and watching YouTube how-to videos. Things were shaping up and, unlike our first brew, we felt we were prepared. Or so we thought.

Mash Tun Filled!
Mash Tun Filled!

For this brew we had planned for simple IPA using only Cascade for our hops. We decided to brew a “full bodied beer” which meant we’d “mash in” (steeping the grains for you non brewers) at a higher temperature. This would also mean we’d need more grain as well. We had read that it’s best to slowly add the water and grain bit by bit. What we didn’t realize was that you should have a nice layer of water BEFORE you start adding the grain. So, by the end of the mash, all that thick doughy grain at the bottom of the mash tun had made its way under the false bottom and was now preventing any wort (none fermented beer) from draining out of the tun. This is what you call a “stuck mash” and, let me tell ya, it sucked. We’re talking three hours to drain the mash tun kinda suck. Eventually that painfully late night ended with the yeast being pitched and the fermenter being transported down to Jesse’s basement to do its thing. It would be clear sailing from here on out. Right?

Not exactly. I said that we used Jesse’s basement for our fermentation room, but what I forgot to mention was that we were brewing in the middle of a cold January. Unfortunately for us, that part of Jesse’s basement was not known for its heat retention. Needless to say we were freaking out after we racked (transferred) the beer into the secondary. Why was our gravity still so high? Were we going to end up with a 3.5% IPA? Fun fact: if yeast is too cold it’s not going to ferment much of anything. So, after our initial freak out, we moved the carboy to a warmer climate. Luckily things finally kicked into gear and the airlock began bubbling like it should. While we were at it we had also noticed, from our gravity sample, that this beer was seriously lacking in the hop aroma and flavour department. We decided to give dry hopping a try and threw an once into the carboy for good measure. Disaster avoided!

You can dry out the grain to use for making bread and other great snacks.
You can dry out the grain to use for making bread and other great snacks.

The results were not bad actually. I think Dennis described it best as “a good entry level IPA for the none hop head”. Bottom line was, even with all of our trials and tribulations, we ended up with something that was miles ahead of the two extracts we’d previously brewed. We would end up doing one last extract brew, but from here on in it was all-grain for us.

Something good was happening here, but we didn’t start to really tap into our full potential until our local brew club threw out an interesting challenge.

Check back soon for our next post “The Challenge“.

In The Beginning…………..

It seems like ages ago when Dennis, Jesse, and myself finally stopped procrastinating and began brewing our first beers. In fact it wasn’t even a year ago. Jesse and myself were already big time beer nerds and had talked about biting the bullet on a starter kit numerous times. It wasn’t until Dennis had his first sip of Old Yale Brewing’s “Sasquatch Stout” (not a bad choice for your first craft beer) that the question was finally asked “so…is there a reason we’re not making this?”. That was a damn good question Dennis. This was the final push we needed to make us drive down to Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies and gear up to brew our first batch. It was an exciting time!

Dennis' first taste of craft beer.....and it was awesome!
Dennis’ first taste of craft beer…..and it was awesome!

We tried making things easier on ourselves for that first brew by starting with a partial mash recipe (whatever that meant). However, we had big stars in our eyes and went straight for our favorite style at the time. Scotch Ale here we come! We had our gear, ingredients, and some great beers ready to enjoy back at Jesse’s while we brewed. Everything was set and it was gonna be awesome.

Minus 9 and Broken Label bubbling away!
Minus 9 and Broken Label bubbling away!

Was it ACTUALLY awesome though? Yes and no. A more appropriate word to describe it would be “CHAOS”. Up until that point we had done little to no reading on what we were supposed to do and were relying HEAVILY on the instructions that came with the recipe, which seemed to assume that the reader had brewed before. Our measurements were right’ish, temperatures were taken with a meat thermometer and our times were…eh…close enough. Our original gravity reading was…oh…is that what that floaty thingy was for? We even dropped a label from one of the extract buckets in the boil for good measure, which inspired its name “Broken Label Scotch Ale” (Don’t worry we fished it out). It was one hell of a learning experience that’s for sure and we learned a lot. On top of that we were hooked.

The very first bottle we ever capped!
The very first bottle we ever capped!

It wasn’t long until we picked up more ingredients, borrowed some better gear (THANKS JACK!!), and began brewing our second batch, all the while dreaming out loud about what this could be leading to. “If we actually get good at this, could we turn it into a business?”. That question was running over and over in our heads, as I’m sure it has for many ambitious first time home brewers. Our first two batches tasted ok. Definitely drinkable, but the highest compliments we’d received were “not bad” and the occasional “good”. Are you kidding me? “Not bad”?! “Good”?! We were after words like “fantastic”, “amazing” or something similar with a well placed explicit. These “good” descriptions just wouldn’t do. After only two brews we were done messing around with extracts. Things were about to get serious.

Minus 9 Cream Ale and Broken Label Scotch Ale.
Minus 9 Cream Ale and Broken Label Scotch Ale.

Check back soon for our next post “Adventures In All-Grain”!