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Lots of homebrew fun this evening while I watched Monday Night Football.

I racked my spiced pumpkin oatmeal ale to secondary after a very vigorous and thorough primary. I used a healthy 1000 ml starter, and it fermented out pretty quickly, just about three days before it dropped to 1.012. Smelled awesome coming out of the fermenter, a subtle cinnamon, clove and nutmeg spicyness. And it tasted nice and caramel sweet. Really looking forward to it around Halloween.

I also racked my double IPA to secondary, and dry hopped with a half ounce of Simcoe and a few ounces of Willamette. Never tried this combo, and am curious to see how it comes through in the finished product. I’m hoping for a nice punch of pine from the Simcoe, hopefully balanced by the earthy woodiness of the Willamette.

The fermentation on this one, however, is what has me somewhat baffled. I brewed this about a month ago, and after fermentation began within 12 hours of pitching the yeast starter, it really never stopped…just a steady, even fermentation for a few weeks at about 68 degrees. While a relatively big beer at 1.080 OG, I’ve never personally seen an ale ferment this long (even my Let Me Out Imperial Stout finished earlier), and it had me a little concerned something was off in some way. I took a gravity reading the other day once it appeared the bubbles in the air lock were significantly slowing (once every five minutes or so), and it was close to the target FG of 1.015, so I let it sit for another couple days to clean up any remaining diacetyl that might be hanging around. Tasted about right coming out of primary, so I’m hopeful I’m just overly paranoid and things turn out well.

In total, I have five beers at various stages of fermentation, with my lambic experiment leading the way at a few months in the carboy. For that one, I’ll likely rack onto fruit early next year, letting the brettanomyces that’s already in there kickstart another fermentation. There’s a very thin white film of bubbles at the top of the beer, which I’m assuming is the krausen line, given how slow brett fermentation typically takes.

Next on the home brewing agenda is either a nice oatmeal stout, or possibly a coconut milk stout, inspired by Town Hall’s version I enjoyed just a few weeks ago on cask (and coincidentally Best Beer of the Fest at last weekend’s Autumn Brew Review).

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“Are you in line?”

“Is this the line?”

“Are we in line?”

“Do you see a line here?”

Not sure if it was more crowded this year, or if the heat was messing with people’s ability to discern the pouring lines. But once everyone actually figured out how to get beer, this year’s Autumn Brew Review held at the old Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis proved to be another success.

Don't think she's a fan of accordion

Don't think she's a fan of accordion

I was happy with the day on at least two fronts. The weather generally cooperated (even though it was jungle hot and the skies opened up at the very end), compared to last year’s event which was blustery, overcast, and cool. Also, my brother, who’s normally a strict brown ale kind of guy (I told him I’d make him a beer called Cry Baby Brown soon), surprised the hell out of me by willingly venturing into the depths of some very hoppy IPAs and DIPAs. Bell’s Hop Slam turned out to be his favorite of the day, so I hated to break it to him that the beer’s seasonality made it one of the tougher ones to find every year.

As for me, after trying about 40 different offerings, a few certainly stood out in my mind.

First, there’s a reason why the line at the Surly booth was 100 deep all afternoon. Surly head brewer Todd Haug certainly knows what he’s doing, and the brewery’s Jesus Juice, their Three anniversary braggot aged in a pinot noir barrel, could be the best beer I tried all day. A superb combination of sweet caramel, spice and honey notes, matched with a vinous wine-like characteristic that makes for a hugely unique and complex beer. I could have stood there getting refills all day, but at more than 10% ABV I likely wouldn’t have made it past 3 p.m. A definite A+ in my book.     

Furthermore’s Thermo Refur was also unbelievably good. According to co-founder Chris Staples, they brew with a boat load of dark malt, organic red beets in secondary, and a medley of five different yeast strains that give it a distinct barnyard mustyness. Love the actual beet flavor, which leads to a slightly bitter finish and puckering twang. I’m not even going to try and classify the beer, other than to say it’s some sort of sour ale, but it all seems to work very well together.     

Brau Brothers’ Purple Sting with Lemongrass also proved very unique, and very enjoyable. Dustin Brau described it to me as a buckwheat honey rye ale infused with lemongrass, and you certainly get a nice mellow rye characteristic that blends into a mildly citric, dry finish. Compared to Jesus Juice and Thermo Refur, this one is definitely more of a session beer that I would love to see in bottles at some point.      

The day’s entire line-up, in order of imbibing:

  • Southern Tier Unearthly IPA – the name speaks for itself
  • Bell’s Hop Slam – yep, still awesome
  • Tyranena Hopwhore – nice and hoppy, kind of reminiscent to their Scurvy
  • South Shore Nut Brown – not that familiar with these guys, but a very nice, biscuity brown
  • Brau Brothers Fresh Hop Lager – really enjoyable, a combo of about four or five fresh hops straight from their hop yard
  • Brau Brothers Purple Sting with Lemongrass – phenomenal
  • Ommegang Biere de Mars – love this beer, great example of a biere de garde 
  • Surly Brett – wow, the brettanomyces is potent in this one, might need some time to mellow
  • Surly Jesus Juice – an A+ for sure
  • Surly Bourbon Barrel-Aged Smoke – fantastic beer, much smoother than one might expect
  • Surly Darkness 2009 on cask – nice roasted notes, not as sweet as I remembered, looking forward to Darkness Day in October
  • Dave’s Brew Farm McAnderson Scotch Ale – have heard alot about this small brewery, but wasn’t too impressed, a little too much husk-like graininess in this one that turned me off
  • Moylans Hopsickle Imperial IPA – didn’t care much for this, almost TOO bitter, if you can do that in a DIPA
  • Two Brothers Cane & Ebel – not bad, could drink a few of these
  • Two Brothers Triple – very nicely done, sweet and smooth
  • Furthermore Thermo Refur – awesome
  • Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin Extra – a winner
  • Victory Wild Devil – another winner, love the combo of Brett and hops
  • Victory Yakima Twilight Dark IPA – kind of reminded me of an IBA, nice dark malt and Yakima hops in here
  • Bell’s Old Ale – very impressed, definitely more on the English-side of the style spectrum
  • New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale – much better in my opinion than most others out there
  • Summit Oktoberfest – a nice example of the style
  • Summit Oatmeal Stout – love this beer, wish they’d bottle it
  • Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence – dark fruits, some chocolate  
  • Ommegang Rouge – to this point I’ve been on the fence with sour ales, but this is a great beer, Flemish red aged 18 months in French oak
  • Tyranena Chocolate Imperial Porter – roasty and some coffee notes, pretty nice 
  • Tyranena Scurvy – tried this before at the brewery, and still enjoyable, nice citrus notes
  • Magic Hat #9 – a decent pale ale, not sure what the “secret ingredient” is in this one but I didn’t pick up anything too noticeable
  • Magic Hat Lucky Kat IPA – not bad, maltier than I expected
  • New Belgium Hoptober – at first thought this was going to be a Marzen, but not in the least. A nice blonde with some mild hop spice
  • New Belgium Sunshine Wheat – not a fan, too light for me
  • Brau Brothers Sheephead on cask – decent pale ale, fresh hopped and you can definitely tell the difference 
  • Rock Bottom Intoxicator Rauchdoppelbock – beechwood smoked malt in the aroma, pretty solid
  • Rock Bottom Bastogne Blonde – pretty nice, yeasty Belgian nose
  • Fitger’s Blue Label Grande Reserve – a nice Belgian dubbel with toffee and dark fruit flavors
  • Barley John’s India Brown Ale – very smooth
  • Barley John’s Wild Brunette – a great brown ale, love the wild rice
  • Granite City Duke of Wellington Pale Ale – plain, not much going on here (or my palate is fried)
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Magic Hat

800px-Pumpkins

Based on the number of search engine referrals I’m starting to get from people looking for pumpkin beer recipes, as well as the flurry of Twitter chatter on the topic, I’m guessing home brewers everywhere are getting ready for fall.

I brewed a pumpkin ale last year, and it turned out pretty well. As part of the recipe, I added about 30 ounces of pumpkin pie filling from a can directly into the boil at about the 30 minute mark. It definitely darkened up the beer, which I was OK with, and you could certainly taste it in the finished product (though it wasn’t as pumpkin pie-like as some might prefer).

But this year, I wanted to switch it up a little, more for the sake of experimentation than anything. Instead of using pumpkin pie filling from a can (which I’ve since learned may not really be pumpkin at all, but rather cheaper forms of squash), I wanted to make this year’s batch as authentic as I could.

So I drove around town Saturday morning, hitting up every grocery store and roadside vegetable stand I could find in search of the gourd. Unfortunately, my efforts proved fruitless (ha!). I realized I was probably a few weeks early before pumpkin becomes more readily available, as noone had it in stock. So, I reluctantly resigned myself once again to using pie filling (100% pumpkin…I checked), but this time in the mash instead of directly in the boil to see how it impacts flavor and aroma.

However, if you do procure a pumpkin and want to prep it for the mash, you can simply cube about 5 pounds worth, lay it out on a cookie sheet, and bake the pumpkin at 375 degrees for an hour to soften the meat. Add the slightly cooled pumpkin directly to the mash along with the grains. Not sure how much fermentable sugar might be added with this method, but I’d expect fairly negligible amounts.

For this year’s version, I also opted to switch up the grain bill just a bit…I backed off the 2-row by a few pounds compared to last year’s recipe, as I didn’t want the beer to be an ass kicker in the 7-9% ABV range (I also did away with the brown sugar for the same reason). Also, instead of using Carapils to add some mouthfeel and texture, I went with oatmeal, which I thought would add a bit more interest and complexity to the beer.

Here’s the recipe in its entirety:

Mash at 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Boil volume 6.5 gallons (batch volume 5 gallons)
Target OG: 1.056 FG: 1.014 (should get it to about 5.5% ABV)

7 lb 2-row pale malt
1.5 lb Vienna malt
1 lb Munich malt 
1 lb flaked oats
0.5 lb Crystal 60L
.25 lb Chocolate malt
30 oz pumpkin pie filling (not spiced, just straight pumpkin…add to mash)
2 oz Willamette (add at 60 and 15 minutes)
Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale (1000 ml starter)

Spices (add at 10 minutes)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks