Monthly Archives: November 2014

Shop Small: Check out a Local Homebrew Shop

The local homebrew shop (LHBS) is the lifeblood of the hobby. If you have one nearby it is the easiest place to buy ingredients. It is also where most homebrewers get started.

If you are a reader of this space and have considered getting involved in the hobby, a LHBS is the perfect place to start. If you have a loved one who loves beer, the staff at a LHBS can help you select the perfect kit to guy as a gift. You can walk in, talk to a human being, and ask questions. Their business depends on new customers like you. You’re not wasting their time by “asking stupid questions”.

Even after brewing for a couple of years I’ll still chat with the staff and other customers at the LHBS. When I picked up my stir-plate, they made sure I didn’t buy too small of a flask and made sure I had everything else I needed.

When you shop at a LHBS you are supporting a local business, its employees, and keeping the money you’re spending in the local economy. Find a LHBS using the American Homebrew Association’s directory. Check out your LHBS!


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Taking the BJCP Tasting Exam

I made it to the Rising Tide brewery where the exam was held about 5-10 minutes before the exam was set to begin. The only seat left was at a table in the front of the space in the brewery set aside for the exam. As the exam began, I looked over to my left and saw three people at that table start their evaluation of the beers and whip out the BJCP Guidelines. I didn’t realize the exam was open book, so I pulled out my iPad and opened the BJCP app to reference the style guidelines as I judged the beers.

The gentleman administering the exam then walked by, said the exam was indeed closed book and took my iPad and iPhone. I felt like a kindergartner whose toys had been taken by his teacher. Evidently I was sitting next to the exam proctors who are supposed to have the answers.

The exam itself consisted of judging six different beers. Since the exam was clearly closed book I was fortunate that I was familiar with all six of the styles. When judging beer in a competition setting style adherence is clearly important. When the exam is graded the proctors will be looking at the descriptiveness of the comments, what off-flavors or defects in the beer did the exam-taker (me) notice or not notice, and what if any suggestions to improve the beer were offered. As I studied for the exam, the feedback on the scoresheet seemed to be what separated the good scoresheets from the better ones.

The actual beers at the exam can be a curious mix of beers. If the exam consisted of six commercial and/or award winning homebrew beers it would not be the best way to evaluate a prospective judge’s ability to notice flaws. Two of the beers I tasted were well known commercial beers that had been altered so that they would taste like they had obvious defects. One was a blend of three different homebrewed beers that were each six months old. There was one unaltered homebrew that I thought was excellent and gave a 39, and there was an unaltered commercial beer that as soon as I found out what it was kicked myself for being overly critical in my comments and giving it a score in the mid 30s. Just like a competition, the condition of the beer when it is served is out of the brewers hand. I think all the beers we judged came out of growlers and were on the flat side which can certainly effect the aroma, mouthfeel, and flavor of a beer.

After the exam I mingled a bit with the other exam takers and the exam administrator. Speaking with them made me feel like I did okay on the exam. If I finished with a score of 70 or higher I will be attain the rank of a Recognized BJCP judge. From there based on the exam score and accruing experience points judging at competitions, a judge can move up in rank from there. It is also possible to retake the exam to try and obtain a higher score and ranking.

It can take several weeks or even months to receive the results. These are people with jobs who do this in their spare time. If I pass the exam I can see myself judging locally at competitions. I don’t think I see myself taking Written Proficiency Examination or aggressively trying to move up the ranks, but if I find I enjoy judging who knows? If the experience can make me a better brewer that was always my main intention. I certainly think that it has.

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Judging at the Best of Boston Homebrew Competition

As preparation for my upcoming Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) tasting exam in Portland this weekend, I judged at the Best of Boston Homebrew Competition last weekend.


My only previous judging experience was at the Boston Homebrew Competiton run by the Boston Wort Processors Homebrew Club. That day I judged stouts in the morning, and light hybrids in the afternoon. This time around I wanted to experience brewing something completely different, and was assigned to Belgian ale in the morning and American ale in the afternoon. The former consisted of saison, bier de garde, and Belgian specialty, a kind of catch-all for any Belgian beer that did not conform to any particular style. Having brewed none of these, I made sure to study in the days leading up to the competition.

This was the first edition of this particular competition and it was run by The Homebrew Emporium. Last time as a novice I was paired with experienced, certified judges. This time around there were not as many experienced judges. In the morning I was paired with a novice judge who worked at a tea house. It was different and fun to be the person offering insight and guidance. At our table was a mechanical engineer and MIT grad who really knew his stuff. He was not certified, but he was in a study group for the exam where the group studies, tastes, and critiques a different style of beer every week to prepare for the exam.

The quality of beer at competitions runs the gamut from excellent to undrinkable. In the Belgian category we were fortunate to have several excellent beers. Having a smaller and less experienced group of judges enabled me to judge the mini-best in show round. At a competition, not all of the judges in a particular category can judge every beer. If the awards were based only on the score, and certain beers were tasted by judges who gave more generous scores, those beers would have an unfair advantage. In the mini best-of-show round, three or four of the highest scoring beers are set aside. Either all of the judges, or at a larger competition the highest ranked judges in a category will taste all of the beers and decide what order to put them in. Once a winner has been declared for every category, this process is repeated for the best-in-show round.

The winner was a patersbier, or table beer. It is the style of beer that Belgian monks drink every day at the monestary. This beer was clean, crisp, refreshing, and just estery enough to add complexity. After a long day of silence and tending to an herb garden, I would gladly drink a stein or two of this beer. In second was an excellent Belgian IPA. Instead of brewing an American IPA with a Belgian yeast and calling it a Belgian IPA, this beer tasted like all of the ingredients were Belgian: malt, noble/Continental European hops, and yeast. There were several Saisons that I enjoyed. The third place beer was a saison that ticked all of the boxes in terms of flavor and used brettanomyces (brett) adeptly.

The American ales I judged in the afternoon were a relative disappointment. I think less-experienced brewers gravitate more to American styles since it is what they are most familiar with. The competition wrapped up fairly early. Several of us went to Redbones in Sommerville for food and drinks. The beer selection was quite good, they had Ipswich Ale’s Oatmeal Stout on cask which was excellent. If I didn’t have to drive home to Beverly I would have had a few more. I made a couple new friends including Dave from Back to Basics Beer who I was paired with in the afternoon. He retired from the Coast Guard, bought a farm in the South Coast, and has been brewing for 15 years. It was great to have the opportunity to pick his brain.

While I was in Cambridge I stopped at the Homebrew Emporium and picked up ingredients for the next collaboration Andy. This time, we will be brewing together at my place. At this point it is too windy and cold to brew outside. This will be a special beer that nobody else will be able to exactly duplicate. I look forward to showing Andy and his wife Juli my setup and how I brew at home.

It was a fun day and I learned a lot. Hopefully it will hold me in good stead this weekend. One of the judges from the afternoon session said he thought I would be fine and do great. I hope he is right!

(I suck at names. To anybody I met last week, I apologize for not mentioning you by name. I should have taken notes for the blog if nothing else. Again, I suck).

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Free Beer Contest Winner!!

In honor of The Would-be Brewmaster Facebook Page hitting 100 likes I awarded one lucky fan a free sample pack of my homebrews.

Instead of cutting up little slips of paper, writing every fans name on one, and pulling a name out of a hat, I used Woobox to pick a winner. All fans had to do to enter was to like and/or comment on this photo.

The winner is Charles Hildebrand of Salem!

Free Beer Contest


Thankfully this means I don’t have to pack and ship beer to some far off locale. I will have another giveaway once the page has 200 fans!

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Tasting Notes: The Sustenance (American IPA)

This is a beer that I dedicated, not one, not two, but three posts to. This was as near and dear to me as anything I have tried as a brewer, which is ironic because most of the recipe came from a professional brewer. Even though this was an extract batch where water chemistry is less important, it was still the first beer I applied what I had learned about water.

On a scale of one to ten with ten being the most satisfied, I would give the beer a seven. I did a side-by-side comparison of The Sustenance and The Substance:

The can I cracked open was three months old, but still had a noticeable hop aroma. The clone didn’t have as pronounced of an aroma, but it had slightly more hop flavor. I think the hop bag I used in an almost full carboy didn’t enable enough of the hops to be in contact with the beer. I would also whirlpool for 15 minutes instead of the 20 minutes that I did to try to capture more aroma and less bitterness from the late hops.

I think using the campden tables to de-chlorinate the water made a huge difference. When my girlfriend tasted the beer she noticed the difference right away. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but did say the beer tasted a lot better. Well, that was easy and something I should have started doing a long time ago.

If I were to do the extract version of the recipe again I would use more corn sugar and less extract to try and match the attenuation in the commercial version. Honestly, if I were to brew this again I would want to do an all-grain, or at least a partial-mash batch. I would be able to more closely match the color, and by mashing at a lower temperature create a more fermentable wort. Even adding most of the extract at the end of the boil, the clone is still noticeably darker.

As the picture shows, the clone has a much larger head. The bottles aren’t gushing, but the beer is very foamy. Even when poured slowly there is a thick white clumpy head. The beer itself is almost opaque. The beer looked clear all the way until bottling. Initially I was afraid the beer became infected at bottling, but luckily the beer hasn’t started gushing and it still tastes fine. Another adjustment would be to use less priming sugar.

The beer is entered in the Best of Boston Homebrew competition where I will be judging tomorrow as a final practice before my tasting exam on the 22nd. If the beer comes in with a score higher than a 30 on the BJCP 0-50 scale I will be pleased.

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Win free beer!

I had been running a contest to drum up likes for my Facebook page that as soon as the page hit 100 likes that I would select one lucky winner to receive a sample pack of some of the very beers you have read about me brewing on this blog

If you are a fan of the blog, have a Facebook account, and like free beer, all you have to do is Like The Would-be Brewmaster on Facebook, like, comment, or share the post pinned to the top of the page (one entry for each), and you are automatically entered. It is that easy!

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Brew Day: Pa’s Video Board Lager (Pale Lager)

Our grandfather was certainly his own man. He had his views and opinions and was never afraid to share them or make excuses for them. When he was a younger man craft beer wasn’t exactly a thing yet. In those days at a bar there would often be a price for a domestic beer (Budweiser, Miller, etc.) and a price for an import which usually came in a green bottle. The imported beer would usually be a bit more, but the import was perceived to be of a higher quality which was likely why that was what Pa Chalifour liked to drink.

The local Budweiser brewery is located in Merrimack, NH. When the textile mills were in their hay day, the Merrimack River was also among the most polluted bodies of water in the country. Pa Chalifour was certainly old enough to remember how the Merrimack River would change colors every day depending on what color dye the mills were using. I am sure the water used to make Budweiser is perfectly safe, but he would bristle at the notion of drinking a “Merrimack River Budweiser”.

One of the recipes I always wanted to brew from the Complete Joy of Homebrewing was the Heiniestella European Delight. The recipe is exceedingly simple:

6.6 lbs (2 cans) of the lightest unhopped extract you can find 1.5 oz Perle hops – 60 min .5 oz Liberty hops – 2 mins

Use a lager yeast if you can get your temperature cold or use a clean ale yeast. However, the cleanest ale yeasts don’t flocculate well, so you may want to use some gelatin or isinglass to get it to drop bright

Last year, right around the anniversary of Pa Chalifour’s passing I thought brewing a beer that Pa would have loved would be a great way to honor him. The beer would also be ready for us to share with the entire extended family at our annual Christmas gathering.

I made a few key changes to the recipe. I converted the original extract recipe to an all-grain recipe by replacing the extract with Belgian Pilsner and Carafoam Malt. The Heiniestella would finish around 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), too small for our tastes, so I increased the grain bill hoping to finish around 6.5% ABV.

The big challenge we had was that we did not have the ability to ferment the beer at lager tempertures, in the mid 50F range. The California Lager WY2112 strain has a clean lager profile at temperatures as high as 65F. The trade-off is the low attenuation meaning less of our fermentable sugars will be converted to alcohol, so the finished beer will be sweeter and fuller-bodied than if we used a yeast with higher attenuation. I balanced that by using the leftover 0.5 oz of Liberty hops (assuming they came in a 1 oz bag) as a dry hop addition.

The finished beer didn’t conform to a particular style due to the alcohol level and hop flavor, but it was excellent. We have a large extended family, and we kicked the 5 gallon batch in no time. For this year we brewed a 10 gallon batch, plus the 5 gallon beginner, all-extract version I came up with and had already brewed for Learn to Homebrew Day.

It had been a long time since we brewed a 10 gallon batch and the rust showed. We also didn’t have our digital thermometer to keep track of our mash temperature. According to the refractometer our starting gravity was only 1.043 where it should have been 1.064. If that reading was accurate that means we ended up with significantly less fermentable sugars than I had hoped. The beer may only finish between 4.0% and 4.5% ABV. I am not sure why our efficiency was so poor. I suspect that our mash temperature was too high and/or we sparged too quickly. This was our first batch with our new screen in the mash tun so the water may have ran off more quickly that it did with the old screen. A sparge arm may be worth investing in as well to control the flow of water on top of the grain bed.

Our low-budget, gravity fed setup. Courtesy


New bazooka screen, courtesy


If the ABV is low it won’t be the end of the world. It just shows how important and how challenging it can be to come up with a process, dial it in, and repeat it every time. Extract is idiot-proof in that regard since the maltster who made the extract already extracted the fermentable sugars from the grain. The beginner version may well be closer to the intended beer than the “more advanced” all-grain version. It will add another dimension to when I compare and contrast the beginner version of the recipe with the all-grain.

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Beer competitions and becoming a judge

Competitions are an important for the homebrewer, especially a “would-be” like myself. It is not always easy to get constructive feedback on your beer. Most of my friends aren’t hardcore craft beer aficionados. When you share your homebrews with a Bud Light drinker he/she will probably say the beer tastes like a Sam Adams because it is likely the only beer that the person can think of that has actual flavor. Even when you share your beer with a beer geek, if he/she isn’t familiar with the brewing process he/she won’t likely be able to offer any advice to improve you beer.

Most competitions are use Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) judges, scoring, and style guidelines. Not all of the judges who judge your beer are certified by the BJCP. Any brewer or beer lover who feels like he/she knows his/her stuff can judge a competition as a novice judge. The competition organizers will pair or group a novice judge with an experienced or certified judge(s) to provide guidance. My girlfriend and I volunteered as novice judges at this past Boston Homebrew Competition (BHC) organized by the Boston Worts.

At the competition the stewards will organize and deliver the beer. The judges will take a look at the bottle to make sure it’s filled properly. From there the bottle is popped and poured into small sampling cups. First the judge will smell the beer and take in the aroma. Then the judge will look at the beer and take note of the appearance to see how the color, clarity, and head match the style of beer. After that the beer has had a moment to warm. The judge will stick his/her nose in again to get a second sniff of the aroma. By then the judge will taste the beer taking note of the flavor and mouthfeel. The judge will score and comment on the beer’s aroma, appearance, flavor, and overall impression.

When most people drink a beer he/she will mentally ask “does this taste good?” Beyond identifying obvious flaws, when a judge tastes a beer the question is “does this beer taste how it is supposed to?” In the past I have entered beers I really liked into competitons, but because the judges felt they didn’t conform to style the scores weren’t as high as I had hoped. When I judged at the BHC I was assigned to the stout category. I remember having several beers that were entered as Imperial Stouts that were enjoyable beers, but they didn’t feel heavy enough to be an Imperial Stout. I wrote on a couple of scoresheets that I would have given the beer a higher score if it was entered as a Foreign Extra Stout.

Judges become certified by the BJCP by passing an online test and then passing an in-person tasting test. From there based on the number of competitions you judge and passing additional tests, a judge can move up in rank. After judging at the BHC I started thinking about becoming a certified judge. What made me decide to make the leap was that I felt that the knowledge gained as a judge would help me as a brewer to make better beer. As great as constructive feedback is, it would be nice to place or even win at a competition.

On their website the BJCP recommended that a prospective judge find a place in a tasting exam before taking the online exam. When I looked initially I didn’t see any tasting exams in New England. If I am going on a plane somewhere it will be somewhere warm and where I can gamble, not to take a beer test. I checked back about a month ago and saw there was an exam in Portland. I contacted the judge administering the exam. He got back to me a couple weeks later advising that he had two open spots and that I needed to pass the online exam and forward my certificate.


For once my “jack of all trades” approach to brewing paid off. Having brewed several different styles I was familiar with the different styles going in. As a beer drinker I enjoy almost all styles, that certainly helped as well. Entering and judging as a novice gave me a decent background on how judging works. Beyond that I reviewed the study guide on the BJCP website. The off-flavor flash cards were particularly helpful.

After a few days of studying I passed the online exam on my first try. I have now officially achieved the ranking of Provisional Judge. Yes, the test was open-book, but it was timed. Answering 200 questions in 60 minutes is a challenge. The questions were true/false, multiple choice, and the dreaded multiple answer. I am an excellent test-taker. In the past I finished all the questions on the Wonderlic Test for a job interview. For this test I was able to answer all 200 questions in 44 minutes.

My tasting exam is on November 22. I anticipate this being more challenging for sure. The week before I will be judging at the Best of Boston Homebrew Competition on November 15 in Cambridge to help prepare. If I am going to try to find parking in Cambridge it had better help!

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Tasting Notes: 1944 Brown Porter

No, I didn’t brew a porter and not write about it. If you recall my new fall seasonal beer was originally Bill’s Brown Ale, an American Brown Ale. That beer used balanced Willamette and Cascade hops as well as darker malts and molasses.

The finished beer didn’t have a distinctive American hop flavor and came out a bit darker than I had anticipated. When I had my first sip my first thought was that the beer tasted like a porter. The molasses I used to prime the bottles and carbonate the beer had a profound impact on the color and flavor. There was a noticeable difference from when I sampled the beer out of the fermenter on bottling day and now.

My intuition was verified when I entered the beer in a competition. The judges seemed to have liked the beer, but felt it did not conform to the American Brown Ale style. One judge said it tasted like an “older style” brown ale which I took to mean less hoppy. They both said the beer would have scored much better as a Brown Porter. In contrast to the Hot Stove Porter which is a Robust Porter, a Brown Porter has less hop flavor and roasty character. It can be broadly described as a more traditional, English-style porter.


The beer pours an opaque dark brown color. There is a thick off white head that persists beautifully. The aroma is sweet and balanced by notes of chocolate and toasted bread. The toasted aroma flows into the flavor. There was little citrus flavor from the Cascade hops; you really have to seek it out to find it. The Willamette added an earthy flavor that works nicely and reinforces the English feel. Carbonation is medium-low with a creamy mouthfeel, and a slightly dry finish.

I am happy with the beer even if it wasn’t exactly what I was going for. I do want to try another American Brown Ale. I may brew a one gallon test batch to see if I can come up with a beer with a lighter beer with a more assertive American hop flavor. I might tweak the 1944 Brown Porter for next fall. My first thoughts would be to use an English yeast and maybe an English bittering hop like Challenger. I entered the beer in another competition, but this time as a Brown Porter. I am interested to see how much higher the beer scores.

Given my initial thoughts and the judges feedback I decided if the beer walks and talks like a porter, I might as well call it a porter. In 1944 Major League rosters were decimated by World War II. Most of the players left were too old or injured for military service. This depletion enabled the hapless St. Louis Browns to win their only American League pennant before moving to Baltimore.

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