Suds With Securb: Homebrewing 101: Adventures in Extreme Home Brewing

I was a messy kid. My bedroom was legend as a teenager for the piles of clothing and electronics parts that kept all but a square foot of the floor from sight. Now in my adult life my neatness skills have certainly improved, however even at age 40 I am still a messy kid, only bigger.The reason I am telling you this is I want to talk a bit about home brewing. If you brew at home there is a mess of mammoth proportions that must be cleaned up afterwards. The combination of this mess and a brewer who cannot contain it can lead to the contamination of an entire batch and flush two weeks of fermentation time down the drain.

To make my life a little easier I brew at a “You Brew” store in Nashua, New Hampshire called Incredibrew. They have been owned and operated by Dave Williams and his wife Nancy for the past 10 years, churning out gallon upon gallon of quality beer and wine.

Dave and his staff will walk a first time brewer through every step of the brewing process. They will help you select a beer from their hundreds of proven recipes, and take you step by step through the brewing process right down to the bottling and labeling.

Even after 3 years of brewing at Incredibrew and becoming an Incredibrew “veteran,” Dave still keeps a watchful eye over me. I am a bit of a klutz and as I stated previously a messy kid so I get special attention. Dave is always on hand to answer my questions and share a brewing story or two.

The great thing about Dave is when a customer wants to run off the beaten path with a recipe and try something new, he will actually listen and find out what the desired result is. He will guide in the proper direction to ensure that the finished product is actually going to end up meeting the brewer’s taste expectations. He didn’t even blink when a customer walked through the door with a bag full of Jolly Rancher’s Watermelon candy to make a Watermelon Hefeweizen. If that inspires you to make a Watermelon Hefeweizen you do have to bring your own Jolly Ranchers, but everything else like the grains, hops, extracts are all readily available.

It typically takes only 2 hours to brew a batch of beer at Incredibrew. Two weeks later you return to bottle, slap on your labels and you are done. The other great thing about brewing at these “You Brew” type homebrew locations is you can make a much bigger batch than you make at home. Most home brewers make 5-gallon batches. Incredibrew brews in 13.5-gallon batches copper kettles.

The typical batch will yield roughly 6 cases of beer at a cost of $15 -$18 per case. Some of the more intense recipes are a little more expensive due to the large amounts of ingredients needed. But even the most expensive beers at Incredibrew will save you a ton of cash.

Incredibrew’s Abby Ale costs $130 per batch and taste incredibly close to Chimay. So for roughly $2 per 22 oz. bottle you can have a beer that you were paying $7 per liter for at your local packie.

Even my Barleywine, which has been dubbed the most expensive and highest ABV% beer brewed in Incredibrew history, was a fraction of what I would pay for the same amount of Barleywine.

Incredibrew also has one of New Hampshire’s best beer assets, Manager Mike Roy. Mike eats, sleeps, talks and walks beer.

Mike manages Incredibrew and is a brewer at one of New Hampshire’s finest Brewpubs, Milly’s Tavern in Manchester, and a beer columnist for 168 Mag, a local entertainment magazine.

Milly’s Brewpub made New Hampshire brewing history this past December by making the first commercially available Barleywine in the city of Manchester. So when I decided to make my Beergoggles Barleywine I of course had to ask Mike for his input. With a few quick calculations on his calculator Mike figured out the exact hopping I need to do to get my desired effect and I was ready to roll into Barleywine time.

So I know at this point some of you are saying to yourself, “What is this Barleywine he speaks of?” No, it is nothing like wine. It is an ass kicking high gravity beer.

Ironically, we touched on Barleywines in my “What the hell is a Barleywine?” column last February. In a nutshell a Barleywine is an English Style House Ale that has the ABV% (alcohol by volume) and the IBU’s (International Bittering Units) pumped up to limits that hit 9 – 12 ABV and in some cases 50 – 90 IBUs! The American versions of these fine ales have more of an emphasis on the hop bittering.

When I first started out on my quest to make a perfect Barleywine in August of 2003, my goal was to make a knockoff of Stone Old Guardian. Reaching for such lofty heights from a novice was a recipe for failure, thus I fell short of the goal.

My one big mistake was using Cascade hops. Although they are still in my recipe to this day, there are no Cascade hops in any of Stone Brewing Co.’s products. Mistakes aside, I was still very happy with the final results.

The batch was christened Beergoggles Barleywine because I felt with the high ABV% this beer could make anybody look good. This is also around the time that my brewing buddies and I took on the moniker Paper Street Brewing Company.

Paper Street Brewing Company is a little nod to the movie Fight Club. If you can remember, the communal home in the film was called The Paper Street Soap Factory. We figured if you have all of those guys in the house and all of that equipment your efforts would be better off home brewing.

For my first batch of Beergoggles Barleywine I used Incredibrew’s stock recipe slightly tweaked. I started with 4 lbs of crystal malt, 1 lb of Wheat Malt and 1 lb of Cara-Pils Malt for grains, 4 gallons of pale male extract and a half gallon of honey.

I did decide to go with more of a West Coast hopping to get me a little closer to my desired flavor. Substituting the suggested Kent hops for Centennial, Chinook and Cascade hops, we fermented the Barleywine with White Labs Trappist Yeast. The Trappist yeast gave the beer a beautiful spicy flavor. Our finished product clocked in around 9% ABV and tasted fantastic.

A few months later I stepped back to the plate to tweak my recipe. Notions of duplicating someone else’s product were long over since I had a base and wanted to brand this new effort my own. In November 2003, I brewed the “Reno” run of Beergoggles. There was one major and one minor change in Beergoggles this time around. I stuck to the original recipe however I did not filter the beer.

There were many changes that I wanted to make to the hopping and the yeast, but if I made too many between batches it would become more difficult to detect where subtle flavors and changes were coming from. I did sneak in another change on the label, swapping in Janet Reno as the effect of consuming too much Beergoggles Barleywine.

The next batch of Beergoggles was made a few months later and dubbed the “Whoopie” run. This time around I stuck once again to the original recipe and still did not filter it. The big change was adding a slight touch of cinnamon to the mix.

When I first brought up the idea of the cinnamon everyone threw his or her arms in the air. I was definitely breaking the style guidelines of a Barleywine. So what was this beer now? A winter beer? An Imperial Winter Beer? Mike raised an eyebrow at this decision but begrudgingly said, “Go for it”.

With the slight touch of cinnamon that was added I felt it was safe to continuing calling Beergoggles a Barleywine. Two cinnamon sticks were dipped in the beer for the last 5 minutes of the boil. I didn’t want the cinnamon to be in the forefront of the palette as I was hoping it would add some woody tones and play off of the honey and Trappist yeast a little bit.

Low and behold it worked; the Barleywine came out fantastic. You can barely taste the cinnamon even if you are looking for it but it does add a nice dynamic to the palette.

So you would think that I would be done and Beergoggles was now perfected, right? It would have been until I read about White Labs High Gravity Ale yeast. With the proper amounts of sugar and careful fermentation White Labs states you can get your beer up to 25% ABV.

So back to Incredibrew I went. I left the base reciple the same: unfiltered, west coast hopping and a touch of cinnamon. The big change this time would be the yeast.

Most recipes at Incredibrew call for one vial of yeast. Beergoggles has always had 2 vials pitched into the wort. So to take Beergoggles to another level we went with 3 vials of White Labs High Gravity yeast.

The first two vials were immediately thrown in to the wort. Another change is we didn’t add honey to the boil. The first gallon of honey was added 4 days into the fermentation to give the yeast a little more sugar to work on. This worked out a little better than expected until the beer was threatening to blow out its pressure gage and a blow off tube had to be added to the fermentation keg.

About a week later the Barleywine started to calm down a little bit and the yeast started to settle down. Next it was time to add more fermentable sugars and pitch more yeast. The third and final vial of yeast was pitched into the beer along with another half gallon of honey. A week later and the beer was still fermenting away and the OG was around 1.023. It was looking like the ABV was going to settle at around 16%!

The only thing left to do was wait for the beer to finish fermenting and then name it. This beer was going to be huge and I wanted to put a big girl on the bottle. That being said this beer was christened “Camryn” after Camryn Manheim from ABC’s legal drama, The Practice.

You would think with a 16% Barleywine we would be done but we are not even close. The next step is to go back to the “Whoopie” recipe and replace the Cascade hops with Columbus or Amarillo hops, maybe even both. If that works out well that recipe will in turn get hit with the High Gravity Ale Yeast the following time around. We have also kegged some of the “Camryn” for next year’s Christmas beer bash. Around September we will add some oak to the keg and let it sit for a couple more months. There are plenty of other recipes I will be trying out between now and then.

I planted a Bing Cherry tree in my front yard that should be bearing fruit this year. Cherry Dopplebock or an Imperial Cherry Hefeweizen is on the list of experiments of terror I am thinking about brewing. When I do brew them I will be visiting Dave as I have no desire to turn my kitchen into something that looks like a high school chemistry lab.

So if you are new to home brewing, I recommend starting off with a point of reference in a proven recipe. There are a ton of them for free on the web along with bountiful great free information about homebrewing. Here are my home brewing reference picks to get you on your way.

Northern Brewer
Need a home brew kit or a 27-gallon fermenator? It doesn’t matter what your skill level is as a home brewer. Northern Brewer has everything you could possibly need.
Description on their website: Since 1993, Northern Brewer has been committed to bringing you quality brewing ingredients and cutting-edge, no-nonsense brewing technology. Freshness counts. When you buy from Northern Brewer, rest assured you are purchasing the freshest possible ingredients. Our point-of-sale system allows for rapid product turn-around. This means we are rarely out of stock, and our inventory does not sit on the shelf for months. We destroy perishable inventory that does not meet our freshness standards.
Want to look up a style you never heard of or see if your homebrew qualifies for a gold medal at the GABF? Then this is the website for you. They have detailed descriptions of every beer style known to man.
Description on their website: The purpose of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills. The BJCP certifies and ranks beer judges through an examination and monitoring process. We were founded in 1985, and today we have over 2,000 members throughout North America and around the world.
The Boston Wort Processors website has a wealth of information about home brewing including tips and links to other resources.
Description on their website: We are a homebrew club of 80 or so members who meet monthly to discuss homebrew styles, techniques, recipes, activities, and equipment. More importantly, we meet to share our homemade brews. We find that by sampling many beers, and talking with other homebrewers, everyone learns a lot about making really good beer.
I have been using White Labs yeast for 3 years and have always been more than happy with my end result. Not only is there a wealth of information about yeast on their website but also home brewing recipes from some of the best commercial brewers in the world.
Description on their website: Founded in 1995 with the introduction of the Original Pitchable Yeast, White Labs is committed to delivering the best quality yeast and unparalleled customer service. We’re also devoted to making professional brewers and winemakers, homebrewers and shop owners as knowledgeable as possible about beer, wine and fermentation sciences. We’re glad to answer any questions our customers may have, either by email, phone or through this websites extensive yeast and fermentation sciences library.