Monthly Archives: July 2015

Brew Day: Australian Sparkling Ale

Northern Brewer runs specials from time to time where if you spend X number of dollars you get Y for free. I have a Dark Star Burner in my basement still in the box that I obtained from one of these promotions. Last October I didn’t have quite enough in my shopping cart to get the free burner, so I bought this Australian Sparkling Ale kit with the idea I would brew it at some point in the future. I have never brewed, drank, or even seen an Australian Sparkling Ale so I am excited to try one for the first time.

Australian Sparkling Ale is similar to California Common in the sense that both styles are synonymous with one commercial example and one hop. Fullsteam’s flagship is a California Common, Smuttynose collaborated with Stoneface and Deep Rhythm on one, but the archetype will always be Anchor Steam. With Australian Sparkling Ale, the style practically starts and ends with Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. Yes, the same Cooper’s as the Cooper’s Ginger Beer kit I just brewed.

While California Common almost always uses Northern Brewer hops, Australian Sparkling Ale employs Pride of Ringwood hops. Modern ANZAC hop varieties like Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin tend to be fruity, Pride of Ringwood is spicy, herbal, and quite distinctive.

I first heard of the style in the January/February issue of Zymurgy. Author Amald Turrczyn Scheppach discussed how the style was developed by British immigrants trying to replicate Burton-style ales in colonial Australia. Just as many American beers in the colonial period used molasses to compensate for the scarcity of malt due to its abundance, in Australia they would use abundant cane sugar. The article suggests making invert sugar. Failing that, Belgian candi sugar is supposedly a good substitute, while cane sugar is something of a last resort.

The Zymurgy article claims the blend of yeasts in Cooper’s Sparkling ale has a profound impact on the beer. Although Cooper’s sells their own branded dry yeasts, and there are liquid Australian Ale yeasts available, it is not the same yeast used the commercial beer. Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is bottle conditioned meaning the same yeast used to ferment the beer is used to naturally carbonate the beer. The article suggests culturing the yeast from the bottle to replicate the esters and high attenuation. If I could find any of Cooper’s beers in a local bottle shop I might try it.

Cooper’s malt extract uses the same barley and comes from the same malt house that Cooper’s uses for their commercial beers. If trying to straight up clone Cooper’s Sparkling Ale it would make sense to use their extract. Making invert sugar and culturing yeast from the bottle would certainly be going the extra mile. I am content not trying to clone Cooper’s Sparkling Ale so I just used the ingredients and instructions that came with the kit. The sugar contribution in the kit is a 5 ounce addition of corn sugar which should lighten the body of the extract kit. If I had light candi sugar I would use it, but I already used it to brew WAR IPA.

I bought the kit with a packet of Nottingham dry yeast, but the recommended liquid yeast coincidently is WLP023 Burton Ale which I have been used in my Hot Stove Porter, Curly’s Milk Stout, and Midlands Mild. I can harvest slurry from Midlands Mild and have all the yeast I need for this batch. I am guessing the idea with the yeast selection is perhaps to tie the style back to it’s Burton roots.

Instead of pre-treating my water with a campden tablet, I ran all of my water through a water filter. This method is workable when you only boil 2.5 gallons and can filter top-off water while the wort is chilling in an ice bath.

The instructions said to add the last hop addition at 20 minutes left in the boil and add six pounds of liquid malt extract at 15 minutes. Adding all that extract at 15 minutes instead of flameout will reign in the bitterness to a degree as the thicker the wort the lower the hop utilization. It took awhile for the wort to get back to boiling after adding all that extract. I turned up my burner, looked away for one minute, and had a huge boil-over on my hands!

I have been brewing a lot of kits as of late. This beer is all about trying something new. Were it not for home brewing, who knows when I would be able to try an Australian Sparkling Ale? For my upcoming brews I will get back to creating and brewing my own recipes.

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Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: 2015 AHA Rally at Samuel Adams

I can’t believe it has been a year already since last year’s American Homebrewer’s Association (AHA) rally at the Samuel Adams Brewery. It was interesting revisiting my post from last year. I touched on the challenge Sam Adams has in maintaining their “craft beer cred” so to speak. Since then there was a Boston Magazine article where they ask, and Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch laments whether the craft beer movement has left Sam Adams behind. That was followed by a scathing rebuttal from local beer and homebrewing blogger Vinny Mannering which went viral.

Unlike last year where I could only make it for an hour or so due to work obligations, this year I planned ahead and took a half-day. If my girlfriend hadn’t been stuck in a meeting we would have been better able to time the rush hour traffic. Instead we were stuck for a half an hour in the I-93 tunnel.

As we walked in the AHA volunteers gave us bracelets and free gifts from Grog Tags. The tags should work great to label my fermenters. The only real special beer being poured in the tasting room was a new Mesquite Brown Ale, a brown ale with smoked malt. The smoke was restrained and was a very interesting contrast with the caramel sweetness from the base brown ale. This one is a winner for me!

To go with the burgers and hot dogs they had Boston Lager barbecue sauce and IPA mustard, both excellent. The crowd was large enough that brewery staff opened seating in the beer garden next to the brewery. My only complaint is that a four ounce sample doesn’t quite provide enough time to truly enjoy the beer garden experience on a beautiful summer evening.

My favorite part of the evening was the AHA VIP cask tasting inside the Barrel Room. The three beers served on cask were Winter Lager (?), Revolutionary Rye, and their Rebel Rider session IPA. All three beers worked well on cask; the spices in Winter Lager were apparent. The one that really stood out was Rebel Rider. I agreed completely with Deadspin’s assessment of Rebel Rider when I bought a six-pack of the bottled version: that it felt watered down and didn’t compare to Rebel IPA or the excellent Rebel Rouser. Lightly carbonated and served at cellar temperatures, Rebel Rider was a completely different experience. The low carbonation made the beer feel more full-bodied, and the warm temperature really allowed the hop flavor and aroma to shine. If there was one takeaway from a brewing standpoint it was the importance of carbonation levels and serving temperature.

Admittedly not all of their 60 beers are five-star classics, but I still love Samuel Adams and will defend Boston Lager, Summer Ale, and some of their other beers to the hilt. They have also done a great job of late serving and selling different and experimental beers at the brewery. That way if you have visited numerous times like I have it is a different experience every time.

We bought growlers of a Black IPA where all of the proceeds benefit Ales for ALS, and a hoppy amber ale. Both growlers had QC codes to submit feedback on the experimental brews. We also purchased shirts, stickers, and received a free pint glass thanks to an AHA Member Deal.

There were some great raffle prizes. Unfortunately we didn’t win any. Beer & Wine Hobby had a kiosk at the rally, and I spoke briefly with Gennaro the owner on our way back to the car. He thanked me for sharing a picture of their new all-grain room on social media, and talked about how they have greatly expanded the grains they are carrying at the shop. When I stopped in to pick up ingredients for the North Shore Brewers Galaxy IPA and another upcoming beer, I didn’t have a time to check it out. I look forward to spending more time there next time I stop in.

The rally was a fun time. Samuel Adams was an excellent host. I am debating whether or not to check out the rally at Maine Beer Company on September 2. If the Brewers Association board of directors will all be there I am sure they will be serving some special beers for the occasion.

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The fight to legalize beer mail

Craft Beer & Brewing defines “beer mail” as:

Beer mail is actually not mail at all since it’s illegal to ship alcohol via USPS (and craft-beer lovers always obey the laws). It is, however, a shipment of beer sent from one craft-beer lover to another. When one receives beer mail, it is often an event
eliciting social media status updates such as “Unexpected beer mail arrived today from @phacebook . . . taking the afternoon off to gawk at my new haul of whales. #whalezbro #craftbeer #beermail.”

That’s right, it is currently illegal to send beer via the United States Postal Service. Whether it is two craft beer lovers trading beers, or a homebrewer sending their beer to someone who lives far away or sending them to a competition.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier is proposing legislation to legalize beer mail:


Ever want to send wine, beer, and liquor through the mail? I’m introducing a bill that would allow the U.S. Postal…

Posted by Congresswoman Jackie Speier on Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The last thing I want to do is veer my homebrewing and beer blog into politics. My feelings on politics are that it is actually the world’s second oldest profession and it bears a striking similarity to the first. To me this is common-sense legislation both major parties should be able to get behind. If the Republicans are the party of small government that they claim to be they should support removing unnecessary government regulation. If the Democrats are the party that protects the “little guy” against big business this bill is a chance to stand up to the big distributors who might oppose this legislation. Anyone who can count realizes the postal service needs every penny of revenue they can get.

Here is a letter I have sent to my congressman Seth Moulton:

Dear Congressman Moulton,

I hope you will support Rep. Jackie Spier’s (CA12-D) legislation to legalize sending beer, wine, and liquor via US Mail. There is a thriving community of beer lovers who trade craft beer with beer lovers in other states. Homebrewers would also love to be able to send their homemade beer and wine to friends and family who live far away via US Mail. Currently it is illegal to send “beer mail” via US Mail. Instead of that revenue going to the perennially cash-poor USPS, it goes to private carriers.

This legislation would be good for our district and the commonwealth. We are fortunate to have excellent craft brewers, vinters, and distillers in our district and in Massachusetts that are highly sought-after. If it is easier for their products to be shipped, even if only on a small scale like beer trading, it will greatly benefit these local small-businesses.

Thank you!

I am not holding my breath waiting for beer mail to be legalized, but at least people in a position to change things are talking about it. Even if this bill doesn’t pass now, the longer the conversation continues the better chance there is of the bill passing someday.

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Tasting Notes: Crackerjack Cream Ale

Crackerjack Cream Ale is the only beer I have brewed on an annual bases in my almost three years of homebrewing. I guess that alone makes this a special beer. Year-on-year I have only made subtle tweaks to the recipe.

The beer pours straw colored. The fizzy head is thin and white. Head retention is low which is typical of the style. The beer has almost brilliant clarity. This is the best looking beer I have brewed in a long time.

Cream Ale is a delicate beer and the aroma is no different. There is some sweetness from the malt and corn, almost like a creme liqueur. As the beer warms there are faint notes of white grape. I’m guessing it’s a combination of hop aroma and esters from the yeast. Whatever it is it is low enough to be appropriate for the style.

Boiling a smaller percentage of my wort on my electric stove-top to obtain a more vigorous boil has made a huge difference. The improvement in clarity of this beer compared to Summer Somewhere cannot be understated. I get a hint of DMS from Summer Somewhere which also could have been caused by the use of corn and a weak boil. This beer used four times the amount of corn and has a much cleaner malt flavor.

As I intended, the beer does push the envelope a bit for the style in terms of malt and hop flavor. Like a Cracker Jack, Crackerjack Cream Ale combines caramel flavor and corn. The late hop additions are designed to balance the sweetness from the light caramel malt.  It does do that. The beer looks like an American Lager which makes the relatively bold flavor a bit surprising. Some might feel the beer is on the sweet side from the use of the 10L Caramel malt.

The beer is light bodied with medium high carbonation. It is very crisp and very clean. There are no technical flaws that I can tell. In a beer this light those flaws have nowhere to hide. I was able to ferment the beer at a cool enough of the temperature that the esters from the yeast were restrained. This is a beer that should taste as lager-like as possible, and it does.

This might be the most crushable beer I have ever made. This would be a decent beer to drink while playing Beruit or flip cup. Someday when I purchase my dream house I will have an epic housewarming party. Instead of potluck or BYOB, it will be a “Stock the bar” party where I will ask invitees to bring a bottle of booze as a gift. I’ll provide all the food and brew two or three batches of beer just for the party. This is one of the beers I will have on tap. It’s drinkable and light enough for guests who may not be regular craft beer drinkers. It is also flavorful enough for a beer geek to enjoy.

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Brew Day: North Shore Brewers Galaxy IPA

My father has been in the painting business since before I was born. Most of that time he has been a painting contractor. For most of the last 10-15 years he has been contracting and sub-contracting exclusively, but when I was growing up he was still climbing ladders and swinging a brush. During the summer and on weekends I would go on estimates or go to job sites with him. Every once in awhile somebody would see this kid just hanging out, maybe reading a book or listening to the radio, and ask if I would follow my father’s footsteps and take over the business. If my dad was around he would usually answer for me and say something along the lines of, “my son is smart, he will have a job where he uses his brain someday.”

While my intelligence, and certainly my common sense is up for debate, I did end up working behind a desk. Any desire I might have ever possibly have to pull a Peter Gibbons and forsake cubicle life for blue collar work went out the window after this brew day. The summer of 2015 has been kind of a dud. My girlfriend was calling June, “Junuary” due to unseasonably cold temperatures. Andy and I were fortunate enough to plan a brew day on the first day temperatures crossed 90 degrees. Not only was the heat oppressive, there was no wind, and for most of the day there was no shade in his yard.

The beer is part of a project with the North Shore Brewers. One of the members Eric, suggested different members brew the same beer, but each of us with a different hop. With all of the new hop varieties that are being released it is difficult to familiarize yourself with all of them, let alone brew with all of them. Other members are going to brew the same recipe using El Dorado, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, Calypso, Mosiac, Riwaka, AU Summer, Equinox, Wakatu, Bullion, Waimea, and Zythos hops. I chose Galaxy because when I brewed Summer Somewhere I could only buy Galaxy hops in an 8 oz bag, and that recipe only required 2.5 oz of hops.

The recipe was designed to highlight the hop we chose to brew with, not entirely unlike the Cabot Street Hop Harvest. The base malt was American 2-row barley which is neutral in flavor. There was a little Carapils malt for head retention, and some corn sugar to add alcohol and lighten the body. The common recipe called for Chico (Safale S05/1056/WLP001) yeast. I wasn’t able to make a starter for liquid yeast, and planned on buying a sachet of S05. The homebrew shop was sold out of S05, but they did have BRY-97 American West Coast Beer Yeast. A recent post on Brulosophy compared S05 and BRY-97 showed that that the flavor profiles of the two yeasts are almost indistinguishable.

I also didn’t amke time to treat any water. I bought eight gallons of distilled water and added gypsum and calcium carbonate. Distilled water is devoid of minerals, and the yeast need calcium for healthy fermentation. Starting with a blank slate I was able to set my mineral levels exactly how I wanted to accentuate the Galaxy hops.

We also brewed Northern Brewer’s Cascade Mountains West Coast Imperial IPA All-Grain Kit. I was able to plug the recipe into BeerSmith Mobile to help Andy calculate how much mash and sparge water to heat up, and what temps to heat it up to. There was 15 pounds of grain in the recipe, so I had us boil for 90 minutes. By collecting more wort we should have collected more fermentable sugars from the grain, while the longer boil makes sure the beer isn’t too watered down.

After brewing in such oppressive heat I felt like I had just finished a crossfit WOD. It reminded me of my dad climbing a ladder for all those years in similar conditions. After brewing on Sunday, Monday was a good day. I was inside in an air conditioned room. I couldn’t complain.

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Extract versus All-Grain Brewing

As an intermediate to advanced brewer, I probably brew with malt extract more than most other brewers of a similar level of experience. A lot of it has to do with the limitations of brewing on an electric stove inside a one-bedroom apartment. The only all-grain, full boil batches I brew are with my cousin/brewing partner Andy every couple of months. At home I can brew one or two gallon all-grain batches on my stove top using the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method. For my full, five gallon batches I brew at home I typically use a partial-mash method where I mash about one-half to two-thirds of my fermentable sugars, and top off with malt-extract and/or other sugars to make sure I have enough fermentable sugars for the yeast to convert into alcohol.

Like most brewers I started brewing with malt extract. Extract can come in dry or liquid form. There are pros and cons to liquid as opposed to dry extract that could be it’s own post. The biggest benefit to dry extract is that it is easier to use in small quantities. If I have a one pound bag of dry extract, but I only need 8 ounces, I can measure out what I need, tightly roll up its plastic bag, and easily save the rest for later. With liquid extract oxidation is more of a concern after you open the can or bottle it comes in.

Both are made roughly the same way. A maltster will mash grains to make a wort, just like an all-grain brewer would, but then the malt house will then reduce the wort into liquid extract syrup or evaporate it into dry extract. Extract brewing is roughly similar to making your own tomato sauce at home, but using canned tomato sauce as a base instead of peeling and mashing fresh tomatoes.

The great thing about extract is that it is the easiest way to brew. You do not need to buy large amounts of grain. Since the maltster has already done the work of mashing the grain, you do not need to buy or build a mash tun and other equipment required to brew all-grain at home. You also cut the time of your brew-day in half by not having to do a mash rest. Extract is a great way for a beginner or somebody who is intimidated by all-grain brewing to get started.


Extract will also have all the nutrients and salts the yeast will need for a healthy fermentation. The minerals from the maltsters source water are still in the extract. The only adjustment you need to make to your brewing water when brewing with extract is make sure the water is free of chlorine.

You can make excellent, even award winning beer with extract, but it does have it’s limitations. There are far more varieties of grain than there are extract. It would be almost impossible to brew a Vienna Lager with a base of Vienna Malt because there is not a Vienna Malt extract available that I am aware of. When mashing your own grains you also have more control of the body of the beer. If mashed at a lower temperature the beer will be lighter-bodied with a more fermentable wort, or if the mash temperature is higher the beer will be fuller bodied.

The ingredients for all-grain brewing are less expensive than buying malt-extract. Once you make the initial investment into buying and or building equipment for all-grain brewing, you will be paying less on ingredients per batch.

There are limitations to how light an extract beer can be. The process of making the extract naturally makes it darker. I brewed the extract version of Pa’s Video Board Lager with only pilsen malt extract; the lightest malt extract available. The extract beer was noticably darker than the all-grain version. The difference is purely cosmetic, but if you brew a witbier with extract don’t be disappointed when it isn’t exactly white.

This topic came to mind in the past couple of weeks as I started working on a recipe for a Northern English Brown Ale. I could do my regular partial mash, but I have a lot of things going on this summer and a quicker brewday is appealing. The less time I have the stove going during the summer is also better. I am confident this beer will come out excellent either way. I will probably decide when I go to the homebrew shop this weekend.

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Tasting Notes: Jay Thinks He’s Weizen

Jay Thinks He’s Weizen was a slightly modified version of Jamil Zainasheff’s Harold is Weizen recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I brewed the beer to bring to the North Shore Brewers June meeting. The meeting was a style meeting where members would try and discuss different homebrew and commercial German Wheat beers. I kegged about half the batch in a Party Pig to bring to the meeting, and bottled the rest.

The beer pours a hazy dark-gold color. The head is creamy with above average thickness and retention. Un-ripened banana permeates the aroma along with notes reminiscent of Cream of Wheat. Given more than half of the grist was wheat, this is appropriate.

The beer is medium-bodied. The medium-high carbonation is pleasantly puckering. The flavor is soft and elegant. It reminds me a bit of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, one of the classic commercial examples of the style. The bubble gum and banana esters from the yeast, blend perfectly with the wheat. Balance is provided by the medium-high carbonation and very subtle phenols. As the beer warms the clove flavor from the phenols become more prominent. The beer finishes a little sweet. I think the beer would have benefited from more hop-bitterness.

The beer has no major flaws. Everyone from the club who tried it enjoyed it. Chris Lohring, owner and brewer of Notch Brewing who was at the meeting tried some and didn’t spit it out. I would give it a grade of a B or B-plus.


My previous hefeweizens had much more pronounced phenols; a clove like spiciness. This is probably due to the fact I used a swamp cooler to keep my fermentation temperatures low. I definitely prefer the smoother flavor of this beer. When I brew another German Weizen/Weissbier I will be sure to increase the International Bitterness Units (IBUs) by about 25 percent, and maybe employ a small late-hop addition like I did with the Walk-off White.

Last night I drank a Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and a bottle of Jay Thinks He’s Weizen back-to-back. The Kellerweis had a certain crispness that my beer lacked. Sierra Nevada is most know for their Pale Ale and IPAs, but they make excellent German-style beers. Their Kölsch and Vienna Lager are both outstanding. The Kölsch definitely pushes the traditional envelope in terms of hop-flavor. For my next hefeweizen I think I will do the same.

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