Home Brewing


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…

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)

Two years in the ground, and my hop bines are finally starting to show some production.

At the beginning of the growing season, I transferred my three bines to a sunnier location in the backyard beneath an existing clothesline pole that I planned to use as the backbone of my trellis system. I trained the bines to grow vertically, using some metal garden stakes and strong twine to create a simple support structure tied to the top of the seven foot pole. From the pole, I then ran a series of thick pieces of clothesline to my garage, providing about 25 feet of additional runway for the bines to grow horizontally.

The idea seemed to work well, as the longest of the Cascade plant’s two stalky trunks has grown to about 18 feet so far this year. Small hop flowers are beginning to emerge from the winding runners, with a few legitimate cones taking shape. It’s a pretty cool feeling knowing that I’ll be able to harvest these guys and use in one of my own beers before the end of the year, perhaps in a fresh “wet hop” style pale ale.

Unfortunately, the Fuggle and Horizon bines haven’t fared as well, only reaching five or six feet with no flower production, which is in line with their growth last year. In fact, the Fuggle bine looks like it is nearly dead, with most of its yellowed leaves withered away to the point where it now more closely resembles Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

I haven’t done a ton of research into it, but I suspect these species may be more temperamental than Cascade, as I really didn’t do much in the way of fertilizing (thus the yellowed leaves, likely an iron deficiency), and I watered only occasionally when Mother Nature hadn’t provided recent moisture. Anyone else growing these hops with any luck?

Some pictures from the weekend:

Hello friends, it’s been a while. My apologies for letting this little beer-soaked corner of the Internet go to seed. But I think I’m back, at least more regularly than I have been of late. 

Since brewing a traditional hefeweizen back in March (which turned out fantastic, despite a mucky sparge), it had been nearly five months since I broke out the mash tun and brew kettles, by far my longest hiatus since I began ardently home brewing about five years ago. So I went back to the recipe vault to pick something well-suited for the coming fall season, with football and leaf raking around the corner.

After some debate between a saison (which is still on the agenda in the near future) and a pumpkin beer (again, something I’ll do soon), I opted for a fairly standard brown ale, probably a little more American in attitude than your traditional English Northern or Southern varieties thanks to the somewhat aggressive hop schedule. The genesis of the recipe itself, which some of you may recognize, comes from the Surly AHA Rally wort provided by Todd Haug, with some minor variations. It’s the same general recipe I employed for my Wild Rice Brown brewed earlier in the year, minus the wild rice, and I also backed off on some of the base malt this time around to try and bring the alcohol down a bit.

Here’s what I went with:

OG: 1.058
FG: 1.015
IBU: 43

ABV: 5.5%
SRM: 16

Single infusion mash at 152 degrees F
Boil Volume: 6.5 gallons
Batch size: 5 gallons

8 lbs. Castle Pale Ale Malt
12 oz. Brown Malt
4 oz. Caramel 80
4 oz. Caramel 120
1 lb. Brown Sugar
1 oz. Willamette (60 min)
1 oz. Willamette (30 min)
1 oz. Columbus (2 min)
Wyeast 1335 British Ale II

The brew day itself went fine, however I think I collected the wort too quickly (about 20 minutes) as my efficiency was horrendous. I missed the mark on the OG pretty dramatically, coming in at 1.040, which will likely put this beer at the 4% ABV range after it ferments out. Technical failings aside, it’s not a big deal in my opinion, as it should make for a more sessionable beer.

As if the excitement of brewing my first beer in ages wasn’t enough, I also invested in a new digital temperature controller that allowed me to convert my basement refrigerator into a fermentation chamber. It was stupidly simple to set up, and I’m now in full control of my temperature settings instead of leaving fermentation in the whimsical hands of Mother Nature depending on how hot or cold the ambient air in my house happens to be.

With this newfound control, I’m planning to brew an Oktoberfest this coming weekend, my first attempt at a lager. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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