Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"


Darkness Day 2012 at Surly Brewing Co.

For the third year in a row, I woke up super early on a Saturday to go stand in line  at Darkness Day, Surly Brewing Co.’s annual release of their Russian imperial stout seasonal offering. In 2010, friends and I arrived in line at 7:45am and were about half way through those who received one of the 1,500 wristbands available, giving us the right to purchase up to six bottles each of Darkness at $18 per bottle. In 2011, we arrived at 7:15am and were right in front of the last group in line to receive wristbands. Freaky!

This year, me and some guys from my homebrew club got in line at 5:15am to ensure that, with all Surly’s exponential growth and popularity over the past year, we’d be one of the lucky 1,500 people to receive wristbands. We were successful! I can’t be completely sure, but it seemed like based on how many wristbands Omar had left when walking by that we were 3/4ths of the way to the end of the line. We probably could have arrived around 6:00am and been ok, but that’s still super early anyway, so I’m glad we didn’t push our luck. Definitely colder this year (30 degrees) than in years past, though Darkness Day was also a week later this year, so that didn’t help with the temperature. Plenty of campfires going in line.

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Nordeast Big River Brew Fest homebrew competition results 2012

The Nordeast Big River Brew Fest homebrew competition, put on by my homebrew club (Nordeast Brewers Alliance), culminated with the sour/wild/brett beer judging and best-in-show judging today along with the announcement of winners for all categories. Check out the image below to see the winners of the competition: I picked up three medals, a silver and two bronze. Check out my scores and the feedback: Read the rest of this page »

Indian Pale Ale

I had some colleagues from India visit on a work trip in early September. Of course, when they asked what I would like them to bring from India, I requested spices… for brewing. This presents the perfect opportunity to make an IndiaN pale ale! How could I pass it up? I must admit, I’m not very knowledgeable regarding Indian cuisine so I had my brew club help draft a list of requests based on their culinary experience. Here is everything I received:

Since the hop harvest/brew day timing didn’t quite work out this year, I ended up drying all the hops I picked. In effect, I’m sort of combining my hop harvest pale ale into this Indian-spiced concoction of a brew day this year. However, I am still playing it safe. No spices will be added until secondary fermentation and I think I will buy smaller secondary fermenters to split the batch in half, dry-hopping both but only spicing one. This way I’ll still have some unadulterated homegrown hopped IPA and not too much spiced beer (incase it turns out over-spiced). Haven’t quite decided what spice I will add yet, but I’m leaning towards just the amchoor powder (dried mango). I’m thinking it could add a complimentary citrus/fruity note.

Here’s the base recipe (grain bill from Brewing Classic Styles, hops dictated by my homegrown supply, save for the magnum bittering addition I had lying around) and pics from the 10/7/12 brew day: Read the rest of this page »

First batch of cider

Inspired by a recent cider-centric BrewingTV episode, I managed to get a contact through my homebrew club in September for some homemade cider. The guy has seven apple trees in his Victoria, MN backyard and had pressed the cider the very same day I picked it up, drove home and began the fermentation process. Can’t get much fresher than that! $25 for 5 gallons. Happy to pay that price, especially because the guy made it himself. The batch I picked was a blend of Macintosh and Prairie Spy apples.

I hadn’t done much research on making hard cider prior to the BrewingTV episode and was pleasantly surprised at how easy this is compared to all-grain (and even extract) brewing. No boiling involved! Here’s the process: Read the rest of this page »

CUJO SPICE 3.0 pumpkin helles lager

For my annual fall pumpkin beer this year, I decided to switch up the base recipe. In 2011 I did a rye ale base and in 2010 I did just a basic amber/pale ale base. 2012 is the year of the lager for me (#2012!), so I opted to do a helles base. Thought it would set a decent, unobtrusive stage for the pumpkin to shine through. Also, pumpkin… halloween… hell-es… Sounded appropriate.

I brewed this on 8/26, back when it was still relatively warm out. It was really tough to get the wort down to lager pitching temp (low 50’s). My ground water+immersion chiller only took it to 78°F, after which I transferred to the fermenter and let it cool further in the fridge. I woke up by happenstance at around 2:00am (5 hrs. after putting the fermenter in the fridge) and the temp had made it to the low 50’s, so I pitched at that time. When I woke up the next morning, the temp had continued to drop all the way down to the mid-low 40’s. Oops! I turned the temperature regulator up further on the fridge and brought the temp of the wort back up to the 50’s over the next day. I believe this attributed to a slow start to fermentation. All in all, it took nearly 36 hrs. for visible signs of fermentation to show. Something I’ll make sure to do better in the future is to calibrate the temp of my chest fridge/freezer further ahead of time when I plan to ferment in there. For this brew day, I didn’t turn up the temp until I started brewing. I really should allot 48 hrs. to accurately move the temp from 37°F (where it generally sits) up to the low 50’s for lager fermentation.

Here’s the recipe (based on Jamil’s helles in Brewing Classic Styles):

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SaiSon of a bitch (SOB) 2.1

I recently whipped up another batch of S.O.B., as my neighborhood drank most of the first at our National Night Out block party in August. There were only minor changes made from the first batch. More table sugar to further promote a dry finish and some alcohol heft, an ounce more caramunich and some year-old homegrown Cascade hops as part of the bittering addition (as opposed to the year-old homegrown Hallertau hops I used at this step in the first version).

Man, I love WLP566 Belgian Saison II. The attenuation level is quite high and it begins working very soon (two hours?) after pitch. I left this one in primary for 12 days but almost all of the fermentation activity was done within seven. Enjoyed the first pint 19 days after brew day, which was a bit longer than the fist batch (16 days) but that was intentional, as I had more time to leave this one in primary to ensure it fermented as dry as possible.

This might be my most favorite beer I’ve made. I love the style, love the yeast, love how it turned out (twice in a row!). Yes, Saison is my favorite summer beer by far. Here’s the recipe: Read the rest of this page »

Feedback from the MN State Fair homebrew competition 2012

Big white State Fair ribbon is on the far right:

I got my official scores and ribbon this week from the MN State Fair 2012 homebrew competition. I noticed the judges generally gave  me lower scores this year than last year in this particular competition, yet this year I placed. This leads me to believe they scored everyone lower than last year. For instance, last year I entered five beers into this competition and scored 21.5, 33, 35, 36 and 37 yet I didn’t place in any of those categories. This year I entered four beers and my highest score of 33 was the only one to place. Funny, as 33 was my 2nd lowest score last year.

Here are my 2012 State Fair homebrew comp scores: Read the rest of this page »

2012 Minnesota State Fair homebrew competition results

Today I hit up the State Fair with the wife, kiddo and friends to check out the best-in-show judging for the 2012 Minnesota State Fair homebrew competition. 680+ entries submitted by 350+ brewers, making it one of the largest annual homebrew competitions in Minnesota. My California Common placed 3rd in category 7 – amber hybrid beer. This is the same beer that got me first place in the <6% ABV competition put on by my homebrew club in June, the Nordeast Brewers Alliance.

Speaking of the NBA, I was one of five club members that placed in the 2012 State Fair competition:

  • Category 7 – Amber hybrid: 3rd place, Grant Wright
  • Category 13 – Stout: 2nd place, Nathan O’brien
  • Catgory 15 – German wheat and rye: 3rd place, Davis Kessler
  • Category 16 – Belgian and French ale: 3rd place, Tom Burtyk
  • Category 17 – Sour ale: 1st place, Tom Burtyk
  • Category 19 – Strong ale: 2nd place, Tyler Bye

In addition to the California Common, I’d also entered a maibock, scotch ale and a rauchbier. I’m interested to see what my scores were for those when we receive scoresheets in the coming days.

You can find all the winners of the 2012 State Fair homebrew competition in this picture below: Read the rest of this page »

Single hop experiment

Back in July, my homebrew club put on a really cool single hop experiment and tasting event. Whomever so inclined brewed up a batch or two of IPA using the exact same grain bill, yeast strain and just one type of hop. Each brewer signed up to use a certain hop ahead of time so we could be sure to have a wide range of hops to sample. I didn’t have time available to brew a batch for this, but attended the event along with 40 or so others – club members and non-club members alike, some of whom were associated with 612 Brew, Boom IslandHarriet Brewing, Northgate Brewing and Northern Brewer. Read the rest of this page »

Getting ready for Oktoberfest

Got my “Osk”toberfest kegged this past weekend (named after one of my dogs, Oscar). I knew my volume was high and that it wasn’t going to fit into just one keg so I ended up cleaning all three out, filling one and then putting the last half gallon or so in another.

I made a mistake, however. I stopped syphoning too late and didn’t have enough volume to get it going again. I had two choices in my mind: I could try to suck the beer through the syphon to get it going again or I could put a funnel on the keg and just pour the last bit in. I went with the latter option, choosing potential for oxidation over potential for infection. In retrospect, I could have syphoned some volume back from the full keg into the carboy, thus allowing me to get the flow going again into keg #2. I probably would have done that if I would have thought of it. I won’t let this happen again, however. I’ll just loose an ounce or two and let the flow continue as I move the syphon hose from one keg to another. Read the rest of this page »