The Cascades are peeking through! Since I took this photo a week ago, they’ve already grown another foot.

In other homebrewing news, after a very long hiatus, I’ve been tending the kettle once again having recently brewed an Amarillo IPA, dunkelweizen, imperial stout, roggenbier, milk stout, and ordinary bitter. I also just added five pounds of raspberries to my three-year-old lambic, and it’s starting to slowly referment. I’m also taking my first foray into wine with a pinot noir that’s currently fermenting, and I’m planning on a common perry soon, as well. I’ll provide updates as things progress. 

As much as I love my local homebrew supply shop, plunking down my hard-earned cash for bag after bag of vacuum-sealed hops, especially during the expensive years when global harvest yields were poor, has never been high on my list of ways to spend my weekend mornings. 

But while the prospect of becoming completely sustainable as a homebrewer is really just an impractical dream for most of us (I don’t know many people that have space for acres of two-row barley, or a dedicated malting room for that matter), I took one small step closer to this utopian vision over the weekend as I harvested about five pounds of fresh hops from my very own Cascade bine and incorporated some of them into my first wet hop IPA.  

On the subject of harvesting hops…you’d be wise to wear a long-sleeved shirt picking your way through the thorny bines, as I came out of the whole process looking like I got into a fight with a cheese grater with dozens of bloody lacerations all over my forearms. Stung like hell when I washed up at the end of the day. My troubles were worth it, however, as I yielded enough whole hops to nearly fill an entire grocery bag. I plan to dry most of them and store in zip-lock baggies in the freezer for future brews.

For the wet hop IPA, I realized that the hop backbone of my beer would of course still need to be pellet hops, as the nearly 5:1 bittering equivalency between whole hops and dry pellet hops made anything else impossible. Like I’ve done with the past several IPAs that I’ve brewed, I went with a hop bursting technique, basically back-loading all the hops toward the end of the boil. I’ve had great success with this technique, getting a much more pronounced yet smooth bitterness.

As far as what approach to take in using these fresh hops, it dawned on me that one way to go about this would be to repurpose my mash tun as a glorified hop back, essentially recirculating the hot wort through the bed of hops to draw out the wonderful lupulin. I’m sure it would’ve worked fine, and I believe this is basically how some pro brewers do it, but in the end I opted to keep it relatively simple and just buy two nylon straining bags and steep the hops for about ten minutes at flameout so as not to drive off any of the precious acids that contribute that fresh, dank aroma to the finished beer.

Here’s the recipe I went with:

Single infusion mash, 152 degrees for 60 minutes
O.G. 1.067
F.G. 1.017
ABV 6.5%
IBU 153 (so says the online calculator I used)
SRM 13

10 lbs Maris Otter
1 lb Caramel 40
0.5 lb Caramel 80
0.5 lb Victory
2 oz Columbus pellet hops (@20 minutes left in boil)
2 oz Chinook pellet hops (@15 minutes left in boil)
2 oz Centennial pellet hops (@10 minutes left in boil)
2 oz Cascade pellet hops (@5 minutes left in boil)
12 oz Cascade whole hops from my own hop yard (@flame out, let steep for 10 minutes)
Safale US-05

Within the past couple of weeks, hundreds of hop cones have emerged from my Cascade bine…I can already taste the fresh hop ale!

Yes, I am still here. Just haven’t had the time/motivation to pay this blog the attention it needs with other priorities at the moment. But I did want to show off how my hops have been doing so far this summer, particularly the Cascades which have really flourished in their third year. They’re just starting to flower, so I’d expect within a couple weeks these bines will be brimming with beautiful hop cones. And, I think I was able to recruit someone to help me out with the harvest…

Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing in California, is a man on a mission, a search for the authentic, no matter if it’s beer, food, or any other of life’s facets.  

“Mediocrity is dumbfounding to me,” Koch said. “One day, the thought of overly commoditized beer will be confusing for people. They’ll say ‘What? You actually drank that?’”

Stone hit the Twin Cities market in a big way this past week with a flurry of events and promotion around some of their decidedly non-mediocre beers including Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Ruination IPA, and the bold Stone Imperial Russian Stout. During a press event at the Happy Gnome I attended yesterday, Koch spoke on a variety of craft beer and industry topics, including preemptively addressing the room full of media by noting “in answer to the question that’s inevitably out there…they sold out years ago.” I failed to ask Koch what WAS his favorite Goose Island beer.   

Founded in 1996 in San Diego, Stone is the 15th largest craft brewery in the country, with international designs that include opening a full-scale production brewery in a yet-to-be named European locale (it’s down to Berlin or Bruges, according to Koch). The brewery is one of the fastest growing in the country, expanding production from a relatively meager 400 barrels in its first year to more than 115,000 in 2010. Not surprisingly, a “significant” amount of the brewery’s overall sales come from its home state, according to Koch. Yet with their rapid expansion, that number is presumably evening out with Minnesota marking the 34th state “to have the distinct honor and privilege of delighting” in Stone’s offerings, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the brewery’s famous “you’re not worthy” attitude and slogan. Tack on its wildly popular Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, an oasis of a gastropub in a sea of chain restaurants that Koch said has helped make a significant economic impact in San Diego thanks to increased beer tourism (ahem, Surly!), and it’s easy to see how Stone has made some huge ripples in the beer industry pond.

“Craft beer is a thing of joy, adventure, and creativity. I’m very proud to be a part of what we do,” Koch said.

Last year, U.S. craft brewers saw volume and sales increases of 11 and 12 percent respectively compared to 2009, according to the Brewers Association. It’s a continuing upward trend for the segment, despite the overall U.S. beer market remaining flat. Yet, craft beer market share by volume still hovers in the 5 percent range, with commodity brewers making up the vast majority. This doesn’t dissuade Koch, however, as he noted Oregon’s craft beer market share is nearly 30 percent, a potential window into what could be possible here in Minnesota.

“Places that do good business, do good business,” Koch said. “If a dozen breweries opened up here and the beer sucked, that would suck for all of us. If we operate on the artisanal side of the equation, the category will succeed. … As Sam (Calagione of Dogfish Head) likes to say, ‘together we are heavy.’”

Personally, I’m pretty pleased to see Stone here, as it saves me a trip to Hudson. Although, I’m having a bit of trouble squaring Koch’s nearly fanatical stance against the likes of Anheuser Busch Inbev while he simultaneously uses ABI’s local Twin Cities distributor to get his products to bars and retailers. Strange bedfellows, I suppose (and not sure what the alternatives might be, Stone is able to self-distribute in California). But with a deluge of out-state breweries flooding the local market recently (with more to come like Brooklyn), it remains to be seen if Minnesota beer drinkers will embrace these new offerings alongside their locally produced brethren, or be paralyzed by too much choice.

Life has been a bit chaotic the past several months between a very busy work schedule, helping raise our very active 15-month-old daughter, and once again battling poorly designed crib assembly instruction manuals as we eagerly expect our second daughter any day now. Not surprisingly, this blog has suffered.

While I haven’t been writing much, I have been able to carve out the occasional time to enjoy a beer or two, and I’ve also managed to brew a couple nice beers here and there including what I’m calling Freedom Stout, an homage to my wife who will soon be able to re-join me in the ranks of craft beer aficionados once we deliver our baby.

In the winter, I’m rarely able to get out into the garage for an all-grain brewing session, usually too cold with a detached garage, so I tend to do more extracts in the comfort of my kitchen. In thinking of Freedom Stout, I was inspired by my friend Eric’s (aka Bearded Brewer’s) Stout Chocula homebrew which he recently wrote about, as well as one of my perennial favorites Founders Breakfast Stout. I wanted to brew a more sessionable stout in the 5% ABV range that didn’t bowl you over with booze, but still gave you some of the nice roasty qualities along with some coffee and chocolate undertones. Think Guinness meets Surly Coffee Bender.

I decided to use Midwest Supplies’ Peace Coffee Java Stout recipe kit as a foundation (more out of convenience), making some personal tweaks and adjustments to get to the beer I wanted. I brewed the beer a few weeks ago, which I’d characterize as an oatmeal coffee chocolate stout, and kegged it last night. It really turned out fantastic. Here’s the recipe I went with for the 5 gallon batch:

From the Midwest Supplies Peace Coffee Java Stout kit:
   6 lbs. Dark LME
   8 oz. Chocolate Malt (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. Flaked Barley (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. Caramel 60L (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. Roasted Barley (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   1/2 oz. Challenger pellet hops (in boil at 60 min)
   1 oz. Tettnang pellet hops (in boil at 5 min)
   4 oz. Peace Coffee whole beans (ground and cold-pressed in 48 oz. of water, added to secondary)

Stuff I added:
   8 oz. flaked oats (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   2 oz. black patent (steeped at 152 for 30 min)
   4 oz. cocoa nibs (secondary)
   Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley

60 minute boil
O.G. 1.046
Fermented at 68 degrees F for 14 days
F.G. 1.010
Racked to secondary with cold-pressed coffee and cocoa nibs for 4 days (appeared to be a very minor refermentation in secondary, I’m guessing thanks to the cocoa nibs)

I somehow managed to pull myself out of parental obscurity long enough to write a cover story on Twin Cities homebrewing for Vita.MN

Big thanks to @esch for letting the STRIB photographer stop by on a smoked hefeweizen brewday to get some shots.

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