Monthly Archives: June 2015

Working for a brewery

Shortly after visiting Newburyport Brewing Company last summer, one of my colleagues started working part-time for the brewery at events and tastings. A few weeks back he mentioned that the company might need another person to work these events. I casually told him to pass my name along. Before I knew it I was working at a tasting at Ralph’s Wine and Spirits in Hingham just two days later! I work for the brewery on a casual, or on-call basis. If they need me to work, I receive an email and let them know if I am available to work or not.

That first tasting in Hingham was a lot of fun aside from the fact it took over two hours to get there from the brewery. I was stationed next to Foolproof Brewing. The owner of the liquor store had somebody bring down Heady Topper and Sip of Sunshine from Vermont. I had had Heady before, but this was my first time having Sip of Sunshine. The consensus seemed to have been that it was actually slightly better than Heady Topper. I don’t disagree, but both beers are so excellent that you are splitting hairs to pick one. I would need to have a full can of both to really evaluate.

I have poured at O’Neil’s in Salem when the brewery sponsored the live music, at the Craft Beer Cellar in Westford where I received an “industry discount” at the store, and a couple weeks ago the WZLX Craft Beer Festival in Worcester. The latter was the first big beer festival where I was on the other side of the counter pouring beers instead of drinking them. The radio station did a great job organizing the event. They hooked up each brewery with a can of Heady Topper, they fed us between sessions, and made sure we had plenty of ice.

I spent many years working full and part-time in retail until I finally left two years ago. When your body isn’t used to standing on concrete for eight to ten hours, you are hurting at the end of the day. I wanted to check out Armsby Abbey after the festival with my girlfriend, but by the end of the day we just wanted to go home. I slept like a baby that night.

On Father’s Day I was pouring at Jewell Towne Vineyards which straddles the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. As much as I know about beer, I probably know as little about wine. It was still fun to take a quick tour of the vineyard. The people at the vineyard could not have been more nice. I was able to sample the reisling among a few other wines. I thought they were excellent and I made sure to purchase a couple of bottles. Jewell Towne wines are available at the Beverly Farmer’s Market. I would encourage local oenophiles to check it out.

It is fun meeting people and just talking about beer. It is as much of a hobby as it is a part-time job. I haven’t had a chance to hang out at the brewery too much. I have no great insight into how the company is run or what the next beer they’re coming out with is. Hopefully at some point I’ll get to talk beer with John the brewmaster.

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Brew Day: Coopers Ginger Beer

Along with a fruit beer, a ginger beer has been on my girlfriend’s wishlist for a long time. Crabbies is the most prominent commercial example of an alcoholic ginger beer. Locally Ginger Libation by Green River Ambrosia is out of this world. I have heard a “Drunk and Stormy“, a Dark and Stormy with Ginger Libation is to put it lightly dangerous.

If you google “homemade ginger beer” there are 1.8 million results including recipes for both making non-alcoholic ginger ale and an alcoholic ginger beer. Guess which kind I am interested in! One article that intrigued me was How to Make a Ginger Bug. Essentially the process involves creating, for lack of a better term a starter wort to use to wrangle and culture wild yeast.

In the end I decided to just brew a kit. After looking around I settled on a Coopers Ginger Beer can kit.  A can kit is a beer concentrate that you add water and sugar to to create a full batch. In most cases it is essentially hopped malt-extract. Since the extract is already hopped, there is no need to boil. Inside the lid of the can is a packet of yeast. In the early days of the homebrewing renaissance, can kits were it. They weren’t necessarily designed to make great beer. They were designed to make cheap beer at home easily.

Seminal hombrewing books like How to Brew and The Complete Joy of Homebrewing included instructions in how to make the most out of can kits and how to use them as ingredients in recipes. Tip one was to not use the yeast that came with the kit. There is no way to know how old that packet is. Usually the yeast itself does not compare to the excellent dry yeasts you available today that only costs a few dollars. The second tip was to use malt extract instead of the table sugar the instructions on the can said to use with the extract. Malt extract will not only make a less harsh tasting beer, it will also make sure the yeast have enough nutrients to properly ferment the beer. Some of the recipes included a late hop addition to provide more hop flavor. The can kits on the market now are a vast improvement on the kits that were out there 20 or 30 years ago and can be used to make very good beer. Cooper’s is a brewery from Australia that also sells kits and homebrew ingredients. Their products are excellent across the board. Every time I am at The Outback, I wish they had a Cooper’s beer on draught instead of Fosters.

If I was brewing a conventional beer where the flavor comes from malt and hops, I would use dry malt extract. In a ginger beer where we are fermenting simple sugars, and the flavor comes from the ginger, it is not necessary. I found an entire thread with ideas of how to pimp a Coopers Ginger Beer. I am taking a cue from Ginger Libation and adding a can of frozen concentrated lemonade and limeade. The concentrates should add some degree of citrus flavor and additional fermentable sugars. Since they are frozen the concentrates do not contain any preservatives that would kill the yeast. Instead of raw sugar I added brown sugar to provide some caramel notes to balance the heat from the ginger. After using too much water, I threw in an extra pound of corn sugar and frozen ginger root to try and make sure the beer isn’t too watered down.

I have never brewed a can kit before. I started brewing with un-hopped malt-extract and boiling hops. I remember going to the homebrew shop to buy ingredients for my second batch wonder what the heck all of these cans were. Now, two and a half years later I am going back a step behind where I started. It is the easiest way to make beer at home. This batch took all of 20 minutes. With all of the beer I have that needs to be bottled, easy was certainly appealing!

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Becoming a Recognized Beer Judge

I finally received my Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) tasting exam results this morning after waiting patiently for eight months. After taking the online and tasting exams on very short notice and only studying for a few weeks, I managed to pass with a score of 65. It was like college all over again.

BJCP Certificate

That score is high enough to earn the rank of Recognized. It is the lowest ranking for a beer judge, but I made it over the line. To move up to the rank of Certified I would need to gain three more experience points from judging competitions, and take the tasting exam again with a score of 70 or higher.

I would like to judge in more competitions and gain more experience. Sadly, after this weekend there are no more official competitions scheduled in New England for the rest of 2015 at this time. There were a few local competitions earlier this year that were scheduled on the same day. That doesn’t make it easy to rack up experience points.

I am happy to have passed an exam that people spend months and even years preparing for after cramming in such a short period of time. It was exactly 17 days from the time I passed the online exam until I took the tasting exam. In looking over the feedback from the exam proctors and looking at the scoresheets I filled out for the exam, I think some of my scores were too high. I gave a Dry Stout, which was Guinness Draught doctored with liquid butter, a score of 22 when it probably should have been much lower. Taking the test closed-book without having all of the styles memorized also showed in my scoresheets.

I studied for and took the exams to become a better brewer. Being a judge is the best way to learn how to critically taste a beer and diagnose any flaws or off-flavors. After studying for the exam it became perfectly clear why I was so disappointed in Andy & Juli’s Weddingfest. In that sense the entire experience was a success.

Since I took the exam in November the beers I have brewed have been better. I certainly am more aware of the pitfalls which can ruin a batch. The next step is continuing to brew and learn about ingredients first hand. I have become active again with the North Shore Brewers. Going to meetings and talking to other brewers is a great way to learn to brew better beer.

It is all onward and upward! Well, except for the fact I have three batches that need to be bottled soon.

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Brew Day: Crackerjack Cream Ale

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) describes cream ale as “American lawnmower beer.” For an ale brewer, cream ale is as close as you can get to brewing an American-style lager. If you have a friend or relative who is a Bud/Miller/Coors drinker, and you want to brew something he/she will like, a cream ale is a solid choice. The style was developed by ale brewers seeking to compete with the pale lagers that were starting to dominate the market.

Corn is my favorite adjunct to use in beers where un-malted grains are appropriate. I have used corn in past cream ales, an experimental stout, an ESB kit, and a Golden ale. The craft beer community is starting to come around on corn, and move beyond the hyberbole of the 1980s. The other adjunct that works in the style is rice. In large quantities corn can give the beer a subtle sweetness and impact the flavor, while rice tends to increase the overall dryness of the beer. Of the big macro brewers Miller uses corn, while Budweiser uses rice.

If brewing an all-extract cream ale, Jamil Zainasheff recomends using rice syrup with the extract, as corn syrup is essentially just sugar. If an extract brewer can even do a very small partial-mash he/she will be able to get the lightness and character from the adjuncts by mashing them with some base malts.

When brewing with corn or light barley malts a rolling boil is very important to prevent DMS making it into the final beer. DMS imparts a canned corn or cabbage flavor in the finished beer, think Rolling Rock.

My recent beers have also been lacking in clarity which I partially attribute to trying to boil too much wort on my stove top. When I boil four gallons of wort in my eight gallon kettle, the boil is very soft. In addition to boiling off chemicals like DMS, a rolling boil promotes clarity. In hindsight I probably should have boiled for 90 minutes. To obtain a more vigorous boil, I boiled a smaller volume of wort and boiled in a 5g kettle. With its smaller diameter more of the wort is over the burner, and having less empty space in the kettle will maintain a higher temperature. The changes worked like a charm. I will probably do this for all of my batches brewed on my stove-top.



Cream ale is an American original, and I brew my cream ale with mostly traditional ingredients. I use 6-row barley, plenty of corn, and traditional Cluster hops. To give the beer a little extra body and malt flavor I included some Vienna malt and Caramel 10 malt. To further balance the beer there is a small late-hop addition. Many cream ales have no hop flavor or aroma. This beer should have a low levels of both.

Fermentation temperature is critical. The beer won’t taste exactly like an American lager, but generally the cooler you ferment ale yeast, the cleaner the flavor. My trusty swamp cooler should help hold temperatures in the low to mid 60s. My erlenmeyer flask cracked, so I used a packet of Safale S05 dry yeast. There are pros and cons to dry and liquid yeasts, but in this case the dry yeast should have no effect on the taste of the beer. Hopefully the beer will finish clean and crisp.


This is a re-brew from last summer. I brought two gallons to a cookout and left with zero. From what I recall the beer was excellent. Ideally I would have brewed this beer two months ago and it would have been ready for a beautiful summer weekends already. It should be ready for Independence Day weekend if I can bottle it in time.

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Three brews for the price of one

So much to brew, so little time. I have at least a dozen beers I’ve been meaning to brew, but haven’t. I have recipes saved that I developed months and even years ago that I haven’t brewed. Split batches are a great way to make multiple beers at the same time. A brewer can split a batch at almost any point in the process. Brulosophy conducts several experiments by splitting batches and only changing one variable.

After mashing and sparging you can split the wort and do separate boils with entirely different hop schedules, brewers can split the batch after the boil and pitch more than one type of yeast. or as I did this weekend you can split a batch after primary fermentation. Curly’s Milk Stout was in the primary fermentation vessel for three weeks and was ready to be racked into a secondary vessel. This was the perfect time to split the batch and make my coffee and chocolate variants.

At the moment I had two one gallon growlers and threw five gallon carbons available. I am using the growlers to experiment with the chocolate and coffee. The rest of the beer will sit in the carboy. After tasting how my last batch improved with age, I think additional time to condition will be good even for the regular version.

Homebrew shops sell cocoa nibs. In the process of converting a cocoa bean to chocolate, the nib stage is somewhere in the middle. Instead of using nibs out of a bag, I wanted to use a local chocolate. I stopped by Winfrey’s in Beverly and bought some dark chocolate bark, broke up a piece into smaller pieces to fit inside the growler, and racked a gallon of beer on top of it. I have a feeling there will be little chocolate flavor, or the chocolate will be overpowering like Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock. If the beer has a similar chocolate character to Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout I will be quite happy.

Ideally I would have used a local coffee in the coffee version. After recently purchasing a mill and brew coffee maker we have several bags of different Starbucks coffee roasts. I chose to use Sumatran Dark Roast. The flavor is bold enough to not be drowned out by the flavors from the beer, while its earthy flavor would blend nicely with the English hops. Initially I was going to add one scoop of beans, enough for one cup of coffee. When I poured the beans in the growler, one scoop didn’t look or feel like enough so I threw in a second scoop. The acidity of the beer should extract plenty of flavor from the beans. Not grinding the beans should make sure grounds do not end up in the bottle or clog a siphon. Another advantage of adding the coffee now is that it should add a smoother and bolder coffee flavor like a cold-brewed coffee.

I will let all three beers age for two-ish weeks. I am going to be quite busy the next couple of weekends. I am quite interested to see how the three beers come out.

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Tasting Notes: Camp Randall Red IPA

In the Camp Randall Red IPA I was trying to make a hoppy, but fruity red IPA. Unlike a lot of IPAs on the market that seek to minimize hop and yeast flavor with most of the flavor coming from the hops, I wanted all of the ingredients to play a role. In my mind a red or amber beer should have malt flavor. Even a hoppy amber or red IPA shouldn’t taste like the grist is only plain, American 2-row barley, that just happens to be a little darker than a regular American IPA.

The beer pours dark copper. The head is thick, white, and frothy. The retention is good and there is beautiful lacing in the glass.  The beer is cloudier than I had hoped. Clarity varies from bottle to bottle, and depends greatly on the pour. Clarity has been lacking in some of my recent batches. I have an idea why that is and what I can do to fix it. The clarity isn’t a major concern and doesn’t effect the taste or overall experience, but it is an area for improvement.


The aroma is a blend of sweet tropical fruit. There are notes of mango and melon. As the beer warms there are subtle pomegranate aromas as well.

At the front of the pallet the beer starts sweet. Then assertive grapefruit and passion fruit flavors from the hops make themselves known in a big way. When I shared the beer at last week’s North Shore Brewers meeting one of the other members remarked that I must really love hops after tasting the beer. That made me smile to myself for a second.

The malt flavors are multi-layered. The aforementioned sweetness from the Honey and Caramel 80 malts give way to a deeper, more fruit-like sweetness which the Caramel and small amount of Special B likely provided. The Munich malt adds additional malt flavor in a more light-handed way than just using more Caramel malt. There is also the subtle toasted notes from the Vienna malt. The malts and hops combine to give the beer a crisp finish.

This is a beer that shows my growth as a brewer. I tried brewing a red IPA last year. It was okay, but didn’t have anywhere near the complexity that this beer has. With this beer I was able to apply what I’ve learned about water and ingredient selection. The malt bill was complex, but it wasn’t a “kitchen sink” beer where I threw in so many ingredients that the overall flavor became muddled. I formulated the recipe with an idea in my head of what I wanted each ingredient to contribute and the finished beer was pretty close to that vision.

This one is a keeper!

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Brew Day: Midlands Mild

One of the stated reasons I saw as to why Guinness developed Guinness Blonde American Lager is that people don’t drink stouts during the summer. I get not wanting a boozy, heavy beer on the beach or at a cookout, but Guinness Draught is actually a good summer beer. It is light at 4.2% ABV, roughly on par with the deluge of session IPAs that have hit the market. It is certainly drinkable enough for a day-long cookout. People just can’t get past the color of the beer.

To show once and for all that dark beer can be enjoyed during the summer I am brewing another session beer style from the British Isles, a mild. At 4.5% ABV or under, the beer is light enough for a hot summer day. The style was traditionally consumed by English miners and factory workers. If you can enjoy a mild after a day in a coal mine or steel mill, I’d say it is okay for mowing the lawn.

Mild is one of my favorite styles to brew. Once one the most popular style of beer in England, few commercial examples survive. The mild lost ground to imported pale lagers, while craft beer drinkers in England have gravitated toward bolder styles like bitters, stouts, and even contemporary American craft styles. Coincidentally, the English Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), an organization dedicated to preserving traditional English styles, has made May Mild Month. There has even been a movement to grow the style in the U.S. an American Mild Month has been announced. I brewed my mild on May 31, just sneaking it in there.

The style parameters are fairly broad. The hop flavor and bitterness is low to none. Dark or roasted malts are there to dry out the finish ever-so-slightly. Sugars and other adjuncts can be used, but to me in a beer with 4.0% ABV that is light-bodied to begin with it makes little sense. When brewers started using sugars to cut corners it lessened the quality of the beer and hastened the demise of the style. Mild is the perfect canvas to showcase the floral and fruity flavors produced by English yeasts.

One of the perks of being able to brew your own beer is the ability to brew hard-to-find styles like mild. Every time I brew a mild I feel like I am helping to keep the beer alive. There are occasional examples that can be found locally. Riverwalk Brewing in Newburyport brewed an excellent example with their Route 3 Mild. Samuel Adams Ruby Mild was in the Harvest 12-pack last fall; it was a caramelly, more heavy mild ale. Beer Works Dublin Dark has been classified as a mild, my notes indicated I felt it was too dark and roasty for the style. Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia brews their Brawler year-round which I enjoyed on our recent beercation.

For this mild I decided to start from scratch. While the organizers of American Mild Month want to create an “American Mild”, my mild will be more traditional. As a loyal follower of Aston Villa of the English Premier League I have met a lot of fans online from the Birmingham and the West Midlands, which coincidentally is the spiritual homeland of the style. My yeast in this beer is the same WLP023 Burton Ale from Curly’s Milk Stout. Burton is also located in the West Midlands.

I developed the recipe almost a year ago. I ordered the ingredients at the same time I brewed the Hot Stove Porter. I had been meaning to brew this beer for a long time. I don’t specifically remember what I was going for in terms of malt flavor. Tasting the malts today before milling I was concerned the recipe may have too much brown and light chocolate malt. After judging caramelly English Brown Ales at a recent competition I am concerned the beer might be too porter-y. In the end I decided to just go with my original recipe and hope for the best.


I also did not have my brewing water pre-treated with a campden tablet. I boiled my mash water to boil off the chlorine and let it cool to the strike temperature for the grain. I used approx 2/3 gallon of distilled water, and tap water ran thru a water filter to top off the boiled wort to get to 5.25 gallons.

With cool weather expected this week I was able to save the runoff from the wort chiller for my next batch instead of using it for a swamp cooler.

A low alcohol beer doesn’t take long to ferment. I could probably bottle the beer next weekend, but I’ll probably wait another week. Low in alcohol and hops, the beer is best enjoyed young. The beer will be ready for Fourth of July cookouts and the last couple months of summer.

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